Archive for the ‘Success’ Category

Praise for Invisible Work

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Invisible Work

“Nobody notices what I do until I don’t do it.”

If you’ve seen this quote before, I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a timeless truth to this sentiment. I’ve been noticing lately the explosion of blogs and programs designed to help you ditch the 9 to 5 and live life large. The featured photos are always exciting and exotic – think yoga on a curtain-draped patio in Bali or climbing mountains in Patagonia. Many of these imagined scenarios sound lovely, and make my life feel frumpy and boring in comparison – which is the point I guess. It IS important to examine our own lives and think about what we really want, instead of just doing the same thing day after day for lack of any better ideas.

But what is with this pressure to be youthful and exciting? It’s as if our lives can’t have any meaning unless we push the boundaries, searching for that next amazing selfie backdrop to make our Facebook friends jealous. I know that some people genuinely crave adrenaline to feel alive (my husband is one of them), but I also know that some people find just as much bliss watching mist settle over a pond (I am one of them).

I also happen to believe in the value of seemingly boring work. One of my favorite book series as a kid was the “Dragonriders of Pern” series by Anne McCaffrey. The dragonriders were the heroes of course, daring, respected and influential. Oddly though, I was always more interested in the people who took care of the “Holds” and “Weyrs” where everybody on Pern lived. I thought about the logistics involved with feeding and supplying all of those people. Where would it come from? If I were in charge, how would I manage it? How would I delegate the chores? I wasn’t interested in fighting dragonback – I wanted to organize.

This is exactly what those self-help blogs aim to save us from – “Drop that scrub brush and become a dragon rider!” If you are truly discontent with your current occupation, then by all means, change it. But for those of you who toil away in jobs that will never look good in a photo, take pride. We need to stick together. War correspondents, dolphin trainers, and wilderness guides may have better stories to tell, but the world would miss us more if we all stopped doing what we do.

This Rap Song Says it All

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If I could pick a theme song for Legendary Learning, this just might be it (please note that there is some foul language, and mistakes with the transcribed lyrics, but the message is there):

I’m not usually a fan of rap music, but these guys have a gift for lyrics and rhythm that make me want to stand up and cheer.

I was first introduced to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis the same way so many other people found them, through their immensely popular “Thrift Shop” video on Youtube (my son told me I HAD to see it). I loved it, and started checking out all their other songs on Youtube, which convinced me to buy their new album The Heist.

So why does this particular song resonate with me? Because it reminds people that no one is born talented. We all are born with certain gifts and natural inclinations, but it takes a lot of work and practice to turn those inclinations into something big.

The title of the song, “10,000 Hours” is borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, in which Gladwell highlights the extraordinary advantages of culture and timing in predicting success. He also argues throughout the book that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice for anyone in any field to achieve recognition in that field.

Working 10,000 hours isn’t a guarantee of success; there are plenty of poor souls who have worked at least that long with nothing to show for it. But if you look at any acknowledged expert, whether in sports, the arts, business, medicine, science or whatever, they will have spent an average of 10,000 hours to get to that point.

There are a lot of factors in success, but hard work seems to be the one that most people try to skip. Macklemore is now delivering that message to every young person who listens to him. He talks about the long grueling hours in his mother’s basement (how many great ambitions must have started in the basements and garages of this world!), the struggle to improve himself, and his dedication to becoming a musician. He also takes a shot at “No Child Left Behind,” suggesting that the school system did not expect much from him, especially with his low SAT scores.

In Macklemore’s words: “Take that system. What did you expect? Generation of kids choosing love over a desk. Put those hours in and look what you get. Nothing that you can hold, but everything that it is.”

I like it.

Getting Things Done When Everything Keeps Getting Undone

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Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Here we are in 2013. This is the time of year when we all look back to take stock of what we have accomplished and renew our plans for the future, right? Does this make you feel giddy or defeated?

Does it feel like you got anything done last year?

This is particularly hard to answer when you have children, no maid, and forgo a fulfilling career to be a homeschooling parent. Life seems to move forward in a blur of activity from morning till night, but it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing to say “Here’s What I Did!”

Let me help you with that.

Here are my top 5 antidotes for homemakers frustrated with perpetual lack of accomplishment:

Reframe your noble purpose

One of the things that really stuck in my memory back in physics class was the concept of entropy, or the way that nature tends to move from order to disorder in an isolated system. I’ve always thought this concept applied spectacularly well to a household, particularly one with children in it. As a “home maker,” it was always hard to really say what I did or accomplished during the day, other than hold back the forces of entropy. This sounds much more majestic than: washing dishes, folding clothes, cleaning up messes, pulling weeds, changing diapers, cooking meals that are immediately eaten, or any of the other things homemakers routinely do. The problem with housework is that you spend a lot of time re-doing things that keep getting undone. It’s demoralizing.

That’s why you have to reframe the idea of housework in your mind. It is not an exercise in futility – but a vital force weaving order from the void of chaos! How’s THAT for purpose? Looking at it this way helps to put your work in perspective. What you do is valuable and would certainly be noticed if you stopped doing it. Nature depends on us to keep humanity humming along.  I write more about this here.

Do something every day that cannot be undone.

I heard this tip a long time ago and it is so true. Of course, everything will become undone in time, but some things last longer. Create one scrapbook page, organize a drawer, write a page in your journal, draw a picture, purge your children’s outgrown clothes, read a book, plant a tree . . . you get the idea. Give yourself the gift of progress, however small it may be.

Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.

One of the most enduring principles of learning, time management, and eating elephants is to break something big into little parts. You may not have time to clean out your whole refrigerator, but perhaps you can just manage the produce drawers. Maybe the next day you’ll have time for one shelf. Don’t keep putting off a job until you have time to do the whole thing, just break it into chunks that fit the time you have. [Note: I do not condone eating elephants – it’s just a metaphor.]

Keep a journal.

You do way more than you think, even if it seems mundane. There are moments of beauty and grace sprinkled throughout your days, and keeping a journal will force you to notice them. You may be driving your kids to baseball practice for the 100th time but today the kids invented a new game in the car of telling stories backwards. Or maybe you struck up a conversation with someone new at the playground or rescued a stray cat or made four jars of sauerkraut. These little things add up to a full life, but if you don’t add them up, you’ll forget where they all went.

Keep learning.

Washing dishes is repetitive, but learning is cumulative. It builds upon itself, broadens your perspective, and engages your curiosity all at the same time. You may be wondering how on earth you would have time to learn anything when you have so much else to do, but this falls under the same category of “Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.” Pick something that interests you, but is challenging – something that will make you grow. If it is a book, read a few pages a day. If it is a musical instrument, practice for 10 minutes a day. If it is a foreign language CD, listen for 10 minutes on the way to the grocery store. Then, make a note of what you learned in your journal each day. At the end of the year, you really will have the satisfaction of a particular accomplishment.

These years when your kids are at home will be gone sooner than you can imagine, and then you will have time to accomplish some of the other goals lingering in the back of your mind. But right now you are doing a very important job. Don’t beat yourself up over days lost to seemingly meaningless logistics. And don’t beat yourself up if your house is a mess either. You are in the midst of a long-term project, nurturing people that will change the world . . . and THAT is an accomplishment to be proud of!


photo credit: Bill Stickers -c via photopin cc

Even Schools are Recognizing the Value of Personalized Learning

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Photo by WBUR Flickr Photostream/Creative Commons

Photo by WBUR Flickr Photostream/Creative Commons

I heard a report on my local public radio station about the finalists for the federally funded “Race to the Top” competition. According to the Department of Education website, the sixteen winning “districts will share nearly $400 million to support locally developed plans to personalize and deepen student learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student to succeed in college and their careers.”

The report I heard focused on the three small California districts that won, beating out several bigger districts. What are these school districts doing that won them the cash prize?

They are personalizing their students’ curriculum.

New Haven United has an aggressive plan to provide each student in grades 6 through 12 with their own digital tablet, along with hiring extra math, literacy and assessment coaches to help teachers personalize instruction. Lindsay Unified is shifting all their students to performance-based learning, which allows students to work at their own pace through all the material required for ultimate graduation. Galt Elementary District is implementing StrengthsExplorer to create a blend of individualized online learning with classroom instruction for each student. Apparently, the students in these districts have responded very well to the changes. Teachers at Lindsay Unified describe a new excitement for learning when the kids realize they really can move ahead whenever they’re ready, even if that means the kids move up to the next grade level’s material.

I think this news is very encouraging. Could it be that educational authorities are recognizing the value of self-directed learning? I mean for real – not just warm fuzzy platitudes. It would seem so, at least in part. These Districts are still controlling what their students learn, but at least they’re giving the kids some latitude with how and when to learn.

Not everyone can homeschool, and I’ve often wondered how public schools might implement the advantages that homeschooling offers. Hiring enough teachers to create a student to teacher ratio of 6 to 1 would be amazing, but prohibitively expensive. Perhaps the next best solution is technology. Why should all kids have to sit through the same lecture when some kids already know the material, some kids have no clue what is going on, and other kids are simply more visual or kinesthetic learners? Providing every child with a digital tablet or some other regular access to a the Internet would allow access to the information students need to know, whenever they are ready to learn it.

Just this one innovation, if it was really used, would give kids some sense of control over their own education. Of course, it would be even better to let kids have more of a say in the content of their curriculum, besides just picking a few electives in high school. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. That’s the ultimate control isn’t it? Controlling what kids learn, and in autocratic countries, controlling what adults learn, too. I’m not insinuating that this is done with evil intent. On the contrary, I think authorities generally have noble intentions of doing what is best for their students. They truly want kids to succeed.

My argument is simply that top-down curriculum is not as effective as passion inspired curriculum. It would be lovely if our kids readily absorbed all those carefully chosen textbooks we give them, but if they’re not interested, very little of that information is going to stick with them. Why waste everyone’s time (teachers included), when kids could be investigating things they are really curious about? I would also argue, that even with the best of intentions, we can’t know best what anyone else should learn. We can share what we know, but every child will grow up to do things that we cannot foresee. The best we can do for them is to avoid squashing their natural impulse to learn, and give them the tools and resources to find what they need, when they need it.

Oh well, these winning school districts are off to a good start. Other districts will be watching to see if these innovations produce results. In the future, hopefully more schools will be leveraging technology to give kids more control over the delivery of their curriculum and at least some customization based on learning styles and strengths.

Bollywood Dancer or Dentist?

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Photo Credit: Naeeme Brahimjee

I was chatting the other day with one of my daughter’s dearest friends from school – I’ll call her Padma. She was telling me how much she wished she could be a Bollywood dancer when she grows up, but her parents don’t approve. They want her to be a dentist.

This is perhaps understandable. If breaking into the dance industry in Bollywood is anything like it is in the United States, she’ll have tremendous competition and very few career opportunities. Her parents also don’t approve of the skimpy outfits. Again, I can understand that.

But as I watched Padma at the table with her friends, she could  barely stop moving to the beat in her head. Her hands danced of their own accord. My daughter tells me that she goes home from school everyday, turns on her music and dances for hours before doing her homework. She has had Bollywood dance lessons for three years, and reportedly, she is very good. I couldn’t help thinking to myself that this girl would not be a happy dentist.

Of course, her parents know her better than anyone, and maybe they are aware of some underlying fascination she has with teeth, but I suspect the real reason is that dentistry is a respectable career with a decent chance for earning a good living. Padma’s brilliant older sister is already attending an elite university majoring in engineering. My understanding is that the main reason the parents live here in the United States is so that their children can have the best education. Eventually, they hope to return to India. Having a daughter set her sights on Bollywood probably wasn’t what they had envisioned.

This conundrum reminds me of the opening story in Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element. He describes the 1930s childhood of dancer Gillian Lynne, whose teachers despaired of her slow progress and inability to hold still in class. Her mother took her to a psychologist, dreading what the diagnosis might be. After spending some time with the child, the psychologist informed the mother: “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”  This was the beginning of a wonderful joyful career for Gillian. She became a prima ballerina with the Royal Ballet Company and later, started her own musical theatre company, working with Andrew Lloyd Webber to create shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

This is a great story, but I know that not every aspiring dancer finds success. Many never make it. Dreams crushed, they have to start over again with something else – perhaps dentistry. But does this mean they shouldn’t try?

When my kids were little, I didn’t stop them from climbing trees, but I had two rules. One was that they shouldn’t climb higher than they were willing to fall. The other was that I would not help them climb any tree, no matter how much they begged for a boost. I figured if they weren’t able to climb the tree by themselves, then they shouldn’t be climbing it. Of course, this meant that they kept trying until they figured it out or grew bigger (and therefore better at climbing).

If Padma really wants to become a dancer, it will be up to her to make it happen. She will have to work very hard, find mentors, do the research to find out what she needs to do, and take the fall if it doesn’t work out. If she isn’t willing to do those things, then chances are she wouldn’t have the determination to become a professional dancer anyway, no matter how much she loves it.

It would be great if her parents got behind her, but they only need to give her a chance. Dreams are always worth pursuing, no matter how crazy. Who knows what amazing things Padma might accomplish? Very often, following one passion can lead to something quite unexpected in another field. But if she lets the dream go, settling for something sensible, she may spend the rest of her life looking for the thing that was lost.  Even if Padma tries it, and later changes her mind, she still will have learned a lot about her self and had a chance to grow stronger – ready for the next passion to pursue.

What about your kids? Do they have any dreams that seem impractical? Do you have the courage to let them try?


Source: (page 1-3) Robinson, Ken, Ph.D. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Viking, 2009.
Photo credit: naeem.ebrahimjee via photopin cc

Hire More Staff for Your Homeschool

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Homeschool help

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that homeschooling parents have to know everything from grammar to calculus because they will be directly teaching it to their children. Not so!

Of course, knowing a lot of stuff is helpful, and I am a huge advocate of parents learning at the same time their kids are learning. But there is no need to know everything about everything as long as you know how to find somebody else who does.

I’m not just talking about the ability to look things up to find answers – I’m talking about mentors. Mentors are other people in your child’s life who are willing to share their interests and experience. They can be youth leaders, teachers, museum volunteers, coaches, tutors, neighbors, family or friends. They can even be virtual mentors: those that are too far away or too famous to meet, but an inspiration nonetheless.

The great thing about mentors is that they can help your kids see what is possible. If your son enjoys playing the guitar, he will be even more inspired by seeing a talented musician play. If your daughter can’t resist climbing on things, sign her up for a class at a real climbing gym. Whatever their interest is, mentors can take it to the next level. They are an invaluable part of your homeschool staff.

Mentors can also inspire greatness. We all need role models, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right role models in our media driven culture. If you ask kids who they admire, they may only know the names of movie, music or sports celebrities. That’s why you need to introduce them to other role models that might appeal to their personal interests (unless their ambitions point toward movies, music or sports). Maybe an animal lover would like to know about Jane Goodall or Eugenie Clark. Maybe an adventurous type would like to know about Ernest Shackleton or Jessica Watson. Find movies or books that will help introduce these people to your kids, then see if they want to learn more.

Here’s a source of role models I came across recently: The (En)Rich List. This is a list of 100 inspirational individuals around the world whose work contributes to a prosperous and sustainable future. Their work may not appeal to young kids just yet, but older kids and adults might want to find out more.

These famous people may not know it, but they can be mentors in your homeschool. You don’t even have to pay them. Their example can work right alongside yours, providing motivation and inspiration to your kids. Meanwhile, real in-person mentors can be teaching your children new skills and higher expectations.

There is so much to learn in this world that you cannot possibly teach your kids everything. Nor should you try. Let other people help you. Then, when you get a chance, pass it on. Share your skills and experience with someone else. You and your kids will learn more, meet new people, and have a much better homeschool experience.


photo credit: DailyPic via photopin cc

Put Some Sparkle on Your Worries

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"All we are, or have been, or ever will be, comes from the quality and force of our thinking." - Orison Swett Marden

The other night, I found myself laying awake worrying about things. Instead of conveniently scrolling along in a nice neat list, my mental worry list is more like a spider web.  As I think about one thing I must do, it leads to two or three more things that go along with it, and so on, in never-ending circles. My problems are not terrible – I really have no reason to complain. It’s just the usual overload of paperwork, bills to pay, dirty house, grass that must be mowed, work deadlines, logistics, and big decisions to make about where our family goes next (a constant challenge for military families).

So, as I was laying there going around and around my spider web, I took a moment to step outside my head and notice what I was doing. The tone of my thoughts was all negative: poor poor me. So, I forced myself to rephrase everything. Instead of thinking,”I don’t have time to do these pages – I’ll never get them done in time,” I thought, “I got one good page done today and I’ll make another one tomorrow.” Instead of fretting about all the time I spend driving my teenage daughter to/from school and gymnastics, I thought about how she talks to me the whole time. If I weren’t driving her, I may not get a chance to hear all about her day, or her plans for her next art project, or the funny things that her friends said. When she gets her driver’s license, I’ll have more time for myself but less with her, so I should really be enjoying these moments!

I took everything that was pestering me and put a positive twist on it, and I felt much better. In all the places where I felt self-doubt (“Will anybody like this?” or “Am I doing the right thing?”), I decided to just concentrate on how I felt about doing my work or the decisions I make. I have no control over what other people think, and I can virtually guarantee that there will always be someone who disagrees with me. So, it’s better to just think joyful thoughts (“I like doing this. It’s interesting!”) and not sap the energy from my work. The spider web is still there in my head, but now it’s all sparkly with dewdrops in the morning sun (how’s that for positive spin?).

My husband took a training course once where the instructor demonstrated the amazing power of positive vs. negative thoughts. He had people stand up and hold their arms out to their sides as firmly as possible. The instructor first instructed the volunteers to announce positive things about themselves (“I’m strong. I can do anything.”) while he pushed down on their arms and they resisted. Then he had them switch to negative statements (“I’m weak, I never do anything right.”) while he pushed down on their arms with identical force. The difference was remarkable and apparent to everyone in the room. It was much much harder to hold up their arms while repeating the negative statements, even if they didn’t personally believe what they were saying. Just the act of saying negative words was enough to weaken the strongest among them.

One of my favorite success gurus, Orison Swett Marden, said it well: “All we are, or have been, or ever will be, comes from the quality and force of our thinking.”

I’m going to write those words on a card to post above my kitchen sink. Even though I KNOW about the power of positive thinking, it’s easy to forget when life piles on. So, I urge you to do it. Write those words somewhere you will see them everyday and find a way to turn all your negatives to positives. You ARE strong. Make it happen!

Our New “Sputnik Moment” – More Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians

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Maybe it’s just my selective hearing, but it seems like everybody these days is talking about how desperately the United States needs to entice and retain more students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, especially in response to our perceived technological race with China.* On Monday, I heard a very interesting talk by Ann Lee, author of What the U.S. Can Learn From China, in which she mentions China’s ability to churn out highly qualified math and science students. In contrast, statistics of U.S. graduates in 2009 show that we graduated roughly 89,000 visual and performing arts majors, but only 69,000 engineering majors, and 22,000 in the physical sciences or science technologies (see source). President Obama even alluded to this as our new “Sputnik Moment” in his State of the Union Address. Technological innovation and research are being hailed again as the answer to our economic, security, and way-of-life problems.

I’m not going to argue with this (yet*). It would be great if we could invent a long-lasting solar battery, learn to capture CO2 from the atmosphere, desalinate seawater cheaply and easily, find a cure for AIDS, etc. There are lots of ways that technology could really help us right now. The problem seems to be that not enough U.S. students are interested in or capable of rigorous study in these fields. So, naturally, policy-makers are thinking of every way possible to provide incentives for students, training for teachers, and more rigor in our national curriculum. It’s just ironic that we are paying so much attention to China’s school system in hopes of learning how to boost our kids’ STEM literacy while the Chinese are looking closely at our school system for ideas on how to boost creativity in their own students.

Nicholas D. Kristof noticed this in a recent New York Times article: “But this is the paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Almost every time I try to interview a Chinese about the system here, I hear grousing rather than praise. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.”  He wrote: “One friend in Guangdong Province says he will send his children to the United States to study because the local schools are a ‘creativity-killer.’ Another sent his son to an international school to escape what he likens to ‘programs for trained seals.’ Private schools are sprouting everywhere, and many boast of a focus on creativity.”

Isn’t that great? I love that the Chinese want their kids to be more creative, but it’s sad that so many of our kids are not prepared for the academic challenge of STEM fields. Perhaps the best solution is somewhere in the middle. Is it possible to build more rigor into our children’s education without squelching their creative spirit? I think so, and there are two big things that would help: giving kids ownership of their education, and  inspiring them with the best examples we can find.

1. OWNERSHIP – I’ve written before about my thoughts on systematic science vs. haphazard (self-directed) science education. The main point I want to emphasize here is that timing is everything. I disagree strongly with Nicholas Kristof’s opinion that the U.S. should start serious academic training in preschool, as they do in China. It is true that preschoolers are very malleable and easy to teach at this age, but they have far more important things to be doing with this precious time than getting a headstart on high school. Kids are BORN creative. If China (or the U.S.) wants their people to be creative, they don’t have to do anything special, they only have to avoid stopping it. That means letting children play, explore, touch, listen to stories, laugh, help, and be loved. As children mature, they are much better equipped to take on abstract studies of reading, writing, and arithmetic. As teenagers, they are more than able to take on rigorous studies if they are so inclined. The problem with pushing academics too early is that it kills curiosity. Once intrinsic motivation is lost, schools must rely on external motivators (rewards and punishment) to make up the difference. From what I have read about China’s education system, their rewards and punishments are more consequential than ours, and maybe that is why their kids take studying so seriously. But I think the best solution is to let kids direct their own education for their own reasons, because curiosity and ambition are powerful forces all on their own.

2. INSPIRING EXAMPLES – Passionate teachers, mentors, museums, science centers, movies, demonstrations, exhibits, and fairs like the Maker Faire are all wonderful ways to show kids the possibilities of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Reading well-written books by authors who are truly passionate about their subject is another way to spark interest. Textbooks are usually not inspiring because they are written by a committee whose sole purpose is to instruct. Even if you don’t live close to a metro area with museums, science centers, and events to visit, make an effort to find inspiring examples for your kids. Work with your homeschool group to find local mentors or teachers for workshops and field trips. Are there any blacksmiths in your area? Beekeepers? Interesting retirees? We once made friends with an elderly woman who power-walked through our neighborhood every morning. We gave her bags of oranges from our tree and she invited us over for lunch one afternoon so that her retired husband could have someone to talk to. It turns out that her husband was a retired astrophysicist. As we enjoyed the gourmet home-cooked Chinese feast our friend had prepared for us, her husband talked non-stop about his fascinating research on comets. None of us had ever been interested in comets before that day, but his passion was contagious. When we got home, my kids all wanted to look up comets on the Internet so we could see what he had been talking about. If I had tried to introduce comets as part of some science curriculum, there is very little chance it would have made any impression on my kids. But a real person with real enthusiasm is hard to beat.

Fortunately, we also have access to very interesting people via the Internet. In my next post, I’ll talk about STEM- related websites that might inspire your kids.

*I’ve also heard reports that recent college graduates with engineering degrees can’t get jobs, but I’ll save that for another post.



Techie Trick for Getting Your Act Together

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In my ideal world, I would have a cozy little office all to myself with inspiring pictures on the wall, roomy bookshelves, and a private corkboard for posting goals and reminders. It might look something like this:


Image from

But, I don’t have space for my own office yet, so I need to borrow a corner of the living room, next to the drum set and our bulging family bookshelves. It’s hard to feel like it’s really my own space, so in the past, I confined all my thoughts and inspiration to various notebooks and planners. The problem was . . . I felt scattered. It seemed like all the bits I needed were spread out, and easily forgotten. I’ve also been trying to get away from a big heavy planner because it usually doesn’t meet my needs and I end up wasting paper.

So, a few months ago, I had an inspiration, and have been very pleased with my solution: Google. Again. I know I must sound like a paid spokesman for Google, but I’m just really excited about what I’ve learned. Now that I know what is possible with a few free applications, I can’t stop thinking of new ways to use them.

So here’s what I did. I made my own personal Google web site that is only visible to me. For info on how to do this, check out the following video:

On the home page, I posted my daily routines for different days of the week. I had figured these out earlier as a way to accomplish all the things I needed to do during the week, but kept forgetting where I had written them. I also posted my affirmations and a short list of the habits I’m trying to develop. I also added a few Google gadgets to automatically rotate inspirational quotes and display a photo slideshow from one of my Picasa albums.

On another page, I posted my goals broken down into: 10 years, 5 years, 1 year, and 90 days. It really is helpful to look at this every day and remember where I’m going.

I also use Google Calendar for all my scheduling now. I have a calendar for home, one for work, one for planned blog posts, and one for tasks. It’s easy to turn these calendars on or off as necessary to see what is coming. I can also share specific calendars with other people if I want to.

I use the task list to jot down random to-do items that pop into my head but I don’t know yet when I will do them. For bigger tasks, with deadlines, I schedule them in my “Task” calendar.

So every morning, I take five minutes to review my affirmations, habits, goals and the daily routine in my private Google site. Then I check my calendars to see what must be done for the day. All the lists I used to keep in my planner such as books to read, stuff to research, household info, etc. are now in Google docs inside a folder called “Organizing Me.” So whenever I come across a book that begs to be read, I jot it down quickly on the appropriate list. The nice thing about Google is that I can reach it anywhere I have an Internet connection and don’t have to worry about synching my laptop with my desktop with my iPhone, etc. It’s kind of like unlimited planner space without having to pack around a big heavy book.

Having said that, I still believe in notebooks and journals for creative thinking. When I am brainstorming, mind-mapping, or journaling, I still like to use an old fashioned spiral and journal notebook. It’s much easier to scribble, draw, and be expressive with just a pen and paper than a keyboard. But for things I want to refer to again and again, I like having it consolidated in one place.

I’m very happy with how this is all working for my personal organization. I don’t have much need to organize homeschool plans these days, but in my next posts I’ll show you some of the ways I kept that organized over my many years of homeschooling.

How Do You Get Kids to Try Hard?

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Do you ever worry about your kids’ lack of drive? Oomph? Follow-through? Do they forget about taking out the trash or doing their assignments? Do they avoid work at all costs? I worried about that, too.

After all, hard work is important. As I was doing research for my book, one of the things that struck me about each of the people I studied was that they were all so determined. They were diligent, hard working, and didn’t give up after failures.

For example, Andrew Carnegie had a very disadvantaged start. He was a dirt poor immigrant from Scotland, whose father, a weaver, had trouble learning a new trade once machines took over the job of making linens. The family was just barely scraping by and Andrew went to work in a bobbin factory as soon as he could. It wasn’t long before people noticed his hard work and “pluck” so he was given more responsibilities and opportunities. He worked his way up to messenger boy and a telegraph operator and eventually became a superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of  the Philadelphia Railroad Company at the age of  18. There he learned as much as he could about business and money, while making friends with very influential people. He started companies, made investments, and eventually became very wealthy.

Andrew and Thomas Carnegie, image from Project Gutenberg

The story of Andrew Carnegie is classic rags to riches, and we all love those kinds of stories – so why isn’t everybody like Andrew Carnegie? Admittedly, he had good timing by being involved with the railroad and steel industries just as they were beginning to take off. But there were other boys in Pittsburgh who were there at the right place at the right time as well. What did he have that the other poor boys in Pittsburgh did not? I don’t know the stories of those other boys, and for all I know, some of them might have turned out very successful as well. But I do know that Carnegie worked his brains out, and then worked a little bit more. He always seemed to take that extra step. When he was a messenger boy, he decided to learn every street by heart so he could deliver his messages more quickly. He learned the names and faces of all the prominent businessmen so he could deliver messages even while meeting recipients on the street. He made a very good impression wherever he went, because he tried so hard. He also kept learning, paid attention, borrowed books, and copied the manners of the “educated” upper class.

Carnegie would never have been as successful if he hadn’t tried so hard. Again it strikes me – why isn’t everybody like that?

My kids have had their share of laziness, forgetting chores and other unappealing tasks, but they do know how to work hard when they set their minds to it. I wondered if this would be enough when they went off to “regular” school and had to do so much more homework along with all their other activities. But they have handled it amazingly well, maybe because they’re not sick of school yet. However, they can’t understand the attitude of so many other students who sleep in class, or goof around, or don’t pay attention. They bring me stories of how frustrated they are when working with some group projects because there are other students who just won’t do the work. They will agree to something but not deliver. Or they will deliver the bare minimum. Then my kids are stuck putting the whole project together on their own. It could be that these kids would work really hard outside of class, or for something they cared about. But it still begs the question: why do some people try hard and others do not?

I’m sure there are not any perfect answers, but based on what I have learned from the lives of successful people, I propose four reasons:

  1. Positive Attitude – People have to believe that their actions make a difference, and that there is hope for a better life. I think that most of us pick up the attitudes of those closest to us as children, so if our friends and family have positive attitudes, it will rub off. We also need to feel worthy or loved in order to face the risk of failure.
  2. Interest – In order to try hard, one first has to care about the outcome or at least care from a sense of integrity. So even if a student doesn’t care about a particular geography project or chemistry lab, they need to at least care about fulfilling a task they have agreed to do. But it’s always easier to work hard on a job that interests us.
  3. Ownership – This goes above and beyond just working hard. A lot of poor souls work hard with nothing to show for it. It’s also about going that extra step, learning to do something better or different. For this, a person needs to feel ownership of his or her own work. If they are waiting for someone to tell them exactly what to do, then they have given up ownership. It’s amazing to me that society claims to value initiative, yet tries so hard to make citizens obedient instead.
  4. Mentoring – People, especially children, need examples of what is possible. They need to know that success is possible, even for them, and they need to see what it looks like to work hard. Andrew Carnegie’s mother was a great mentor, extremely hardworking and resourceful. She was always looking for opportunities to improve their situation, and was willing to try new things. If his mother had given up, or felt like a victim with no luck, as if there was no use trying, how might Andrew have been different? He also had mentors as he grew older: all of those businessmen who were impressed by Carnegie’s “pluck” shared their experience and knowledge with him, and offered him opportunities he may never have had on his own. Carnegie also credited his childhood heroes of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce for the examples they set. Whenever times were tough, he remembered their stories and tried to emulate their courage and character, thinking to himself, “What would Wallace and Bruce do?”

As parents, the main things we can do for our kids is to love them completely; and model a positive attitude and strong work ethic. If you are reading this, then hard work is probably already important to you, but remember to keep it positive. We can also give our kids more ownership over their projects and work. If they mess up, they will generally learn more from their mistakes based on natural consequences. If we nag, criticize or punish, then that means we have taken ownership of their problem. If they ask for our help or advice, that’s different. But otherwise, allow your kids the dignity of believing they can do the job, and a chance to do it however they see fit.

One example of this is grades and school work. I’ve generally let my kids have a great deal of control over their curriculum and daily work. If they don’t want to do their math, they don’t have to. Really. But eventually they always start worrying about getting behind and decide to do the work anyway. And no, I don’t taunt them with dire warnings of failure in life if they don’t get good grades. I just have a firm belief that it is up to them, and they can be successful no matter what they decide. They have a complete sense of ownership over their education, and it shows in the way they get their work done.

The thing that we as parents don’t have much control over is interest. Our kids might have a great attitude and sense of ownership, but if the subject is really dull, they still won’t work as hard as they will for something interesting. But I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. There’s no need for any of us to knock ourselves out over every little thing. I may have to remind my kids to clean the bathroom, but they will do it, and then they’ll work for hours to make sure their own pet projects are done right. It’s important to be selective over how we spend our time. You will be amazed though at the difference it makes, just letting your kids make those decisions for themselves. Give them time. Give them space. Maybe a few stories about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce wouldn’t hurt either.