Best blogging practices – 20 ways to improve your posts

I’ve been blogging since 2010, and now and then I like to review a bit, take stock, and see what I’ve learned along the way. This is my current roundup for bloggers…whether you’re just starting, trying to grow a following, or simply writing to express yourself…this isn’t about list building tools or social media magic. These are my favorite dos and don’ts for blogging as a writing form.

  1. Be yourself, be authentic…it’s tempting to try to sound like popular writers…as clever, as moving, as profound as others out there…and maybe you will be all those and more. But regardless of anything else your writing evokes, it should be real, sound like something you would really say. That will come across as natural and genuine, and be much better than trying to copy someone else, however successful. No one can speak in your voice and style but you.
  2. When you have an idea for a post, write it down. You may remember it later when you sit down to blog, but you may not. (I always think I’ll remember, and often I don’t. I finally learned to take my own advice here.) I’d say the same for a specific phrase or thought you want to use…easier to write something down in the moment than try to remember the perfect word flow two days later.
  3. Use photos, quotes, stories, and tell your story. Even if you write a food blog or a DIY blog, or write on a very narrow subject matter, you’re still sharing your point of view. Using tools to bring your personal style and voice to your writing is always a good thing. In general the more successful blogs are well-defined in subject and tone. Readers know what to expect, and that’s helpful for building a following.
  4. Before you publish a post, use the preview function and read your post as it will appear when you’re done. No one’s perfect, and I’ve caught many a typo in my work. No matter how much you try to prevent spelling errors or spacing issues, sooner or later something will slip by your eagle eye. Don’t let fear of making mistakes be a barrier to writing. And remember, even after you’ve published a post, you can edit and update it when you see your mistake.
  5. Similar to #4, read in preview mode for the flow of your content. Often I let a post sit in draft form for a few days and re-read it to be sure I like the flow, and that I’m not wandering off topic. Re-reading your work after it sits for a while will help you see it with fresh eyes, and as a whole piece. That said, as a blogger, you’re not attempting to write a novel or produce a white paper. Don’t over-critique or analyze your writing, or you’ll never hit the publish button.
  6. Some writers follow the same format for all their posts, and others use a variety of writing and formatting styles…list posts, holiday or birthday wishes, photo posts, poetry posts, vacation or travel posts, pet peeves or random items…anything can work, as long as you’re writing from the heart. If you’re concerned about falling into a rut, ask input from other bloggers you admire.
  7. Some bloggers follow a calendar for blogging with different types of posts on different days of the week. I haven’t done this myself, but I see the benefit. If you’re struggling to be consistent, or come up with material for your blog, consider developing an editorial calendar with a strategy of specific types of posts on specific days of the week.
  8. You can link to other sites that give a writing prompt, and that’s a great way to connect with writers who have similar interests. It’s also a way to grow your readership.
  9. If you use photos, edit them! You can probably crop, enhance, or somehow improve your photos to make them more appealing for your post. You can also find free photos on sites like Pexels.com.
  10. One of the best tips I can offer is: be consistent! When I post consistently and regularly, I notice I have new people following my blog. When I neglect my writing, that usually results in losing readers, and slows growth. Having said that, I try to remember that I’m blogging / writing out of choice, and if life is crazy, I don’t let blogging make it crazier. I want the blog to work with my life, not the other way around. Priorities and balance are important values to hold in the blogging world. It’s easy to get lost in the challenge of posting, being relevant, creating new content.
  11. Use categories and tags for your posts, these will help readers find your work.
  12. Link your blog to at least a couple of social media sites…I link to Twitter and Facebook. From everything I read, it’s best to not be active on too many social platforms…just dilutes your efforts and will be too distracting to try to keep up for most people.
  13. Invite comments! And when readers comment on your blog, respond to them. Some successful bloggers don’t do this, and I’ll admit, I’m sometimes guilty of missing this opportunity as well. But I think it’s a good practice to follow, and helps build a community, helps you get to know people who are visiting your blog regularly.
  14. When someone follows your blog, check out theirs. I don’t always follow a blogger who follows me, but I try to visit in response to a follow notice. If nothing else, I can leave a comment, thank them for following me, and see what they’re writing about. I’ve found some wonderful writers doing this, and again, this helps to build a community.
  15. Once I connect with another blogger, I try to read their posts often. That doesn’t mean I read everything, but I try to visit their blogs regularly, as a way of maintaining my place in the community. When I read other blogs, I often comment. It lets writers know I’m engaged and part of the community.
  16. Be generous. I don’t always post to be informative…some of what I write is more in the genre of personal growth/development, working out my issues by writing them out. Perhaps even through those posts someone may learn something. (One of my life functions is being a cautionary tale.) But I also like to write posts that are intentionally educational or informative, whether a list post, like this, or sharing a recipe or new website I’ve found, a tool or app that works well, or even a link to another site or article I find valuable. I also love to feature quotes…those are simple posts to do, but they can have a big impact.
  17. It’s ok to share your ups and downs. As a blogger, writing directly to readers, you can say just what you want…what’s on your heart. While I don’t think blogging should be an exercise in self-absorption (not every post on my blog is about me or my life) this is your opportunity to use your stories and insights to offer a message…a message of caution, of hope, of perseverance, of triumph, of loss. Sometimes my posts are about something funny, and I like that too. Mixing up the serious subjects with something lighter is a good thing, I think. Whatever you choose, let the sincerity and real-ness of your stories shine through.
  18. If you’re writing about difficult personal issues, be careful and thoughtful about what you share. Whether you have a small following or a large one, once you launch a post into cyberspace, it’s out there. My personal opinion is that you can share a lot generically, but respect the privacy of others, especially anyone you may reference  directly in your writing. Some bloggers are very open about any and everything going on in their lives, relationships, health, etc. I prefer to keep my private life private, at least in the details. I’m ok to write in broad strokes about relationship challenges, struggles with personal issues, etc. I can do that and still maintain a certain level of privacy and dignity. If I write about a struggle, I’ll be honest with what I say, but I don’t have to disclose every detail to make a point.
  19. I don’t use profanity in my posts, though some very successful writers do. That’s not who I am, and I don’t need to write like it is. Some bloggers introduce controversy, others have a very empathetic/sympathetic tone to their writing. I think it’s ok to occasionally mix your emotional tones, but I wouldn’t do it often. Readers grow to expect a certain vibe from you, and it’s probably best to be consistent in general. Look at how your favorite writers do it…don’t copy their material, but you can learn from a successful blogging formula or strategy. Again, very important to speak / write with your authentic voice.
  20. Be friendly! Friendliness will come across in your writing tone. Even if your writing is very dark and emotional, readers will likely connect better with you if you sound approachable; if you sound relatable; if you sound like a real human being they could sit down and talk with.

I wish I could do all these things perfectly myself; sometimes I’m more successful than others. But these are the guidelines I try to follow. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear from other writers!

~ Sheila

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Be. Do. Have.

Priorities. Do you know yours?

Think about it.
It’s easy to live life turned upside down, to focus on the wrong things.

Culture tells us to have, have, have.
Or maybe the message that resonates is do, do, do.

Have the biggest and best, the most, the most talked about, the most envied.

Do the most exciting, the most unusual, the most adventurous, the most noteworthy.

It’s all about who is the most popular. We took the old competition from the playground to Instagram and Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest followers.

Do and have focus on the externals.
But it’s the internal that’s important.

Who are you? What are you? Do you know? Are you living in integrity with your values? Are you living up to your aspirations?

Have you done the work to BE?

Being is harder to do well than doing or having. You can experience (do) and accumulate things (have). But to really BE… aaahh…that’s inside work. You have to grow from within, and you have to do the work for yourself.

Of course you’re going to do and have as you develop, as you move through life. Impossible not to.

But I’m talking about priorities..where’s your focus? I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

On the adult path, it’s easy to get caught up in doing, and having.

You want to nurture a career, or you’re trying to be a successful entrepreneur. Maybe you’re busy with a family, or some other personal calling. It’s so easy to be enticed by having…having a nice home, a great car, all the things that say you’re successful, that you’re living the life you deserve.

The crazy thing is, it can take so much work to keep life going, when it’s consumed by the externals. You get lost in trying to get ahead, and staying current with the latest trends is often just a merry-go-round of keeping up.

Latest styles, newest apps, hot new phone, social media followings, kids in all the right groups, moving ahead with the job.

Exhausting.
Stop. Be still and listen.

Listen to yourself. Are you in there? We are human beings, not human doings.

Did you forget to be? Just be.
When I think of being, I sense stillness. I hear quiet.

There is self-talk. Reading. Growing.

When I let myself be, I sit with a cup of tea and nothing else. No phone. No laptop.

No distraction.

I am being.

When you give yourself time to be, you order your life from the inside out.

I can hear you now…all the busyness of living is crowding your thoughts. You’re thinking, even as you read, how impossible to carve out time for self, for quiet, for being.

My friend, I’ve been there.

Been so weary at night that just going to bed felt like winning the lottery, a prize to savor at the end of a long day of mothering. A long day of giving. A long day of othering.

I know what it’s like to need every last-minute of sleep, because there just aren’t enough to begin with, and getting up early to nurture self seems too hard, too much to face at the beginning of another day of living outside of self.

I know what it’s like to run so long and so hard that you finally feel like a shell, given out, needing to replenish but hardly knowing where to begin. Because there’s always more you need to give, even when you don’t have it yourself.

When I began to run dry, early in my years of mothering…it wasn’t a lack of love, but a lack of time to be…I had to learn the old wisdom.

You can’t give what you don’t have. You have to feed yourself first, in order to have strength to care for anyone else.

When I began to know this…not just intellectually, but deep within my spirit…I made some changes.

I started taking time to read again. How had I let that slip away?

I found time to write, a simple journal of thought, intention, hopes, and dreams.

I found time to play. I got intentional about saying yes to things that would take me out, would give me a change of pace.

It was slow at first.
But at last, I had a sense of being me again. I wasn’t just doing, or having.
I was being.

Rushing through life at the speed of busy, overwhelmed, always thinking of what’s next…that’s no way to live.

It’s counterintuitive to do less in order to be more.

But that’s what I needed to do…what I had to do.

Now, years later, I know the lesson well.

When I feel myself slipping back…getting caught up in the doing, and especially in the having, I reach for being.

Being quiet. Being still. Being myself.

There’s only so much of me to go around, and if I deplete my store of me, I won’t be able to be the wife I want to be, the mom, the daughter, friend, writer, doer.

When I overdo, I am undone.

The art of being doesn’t require lavish amounts of time or money.

It does require regular time. Sometimes money.

But mostly, being requires planning. Some thought, intentionality.

When my priorities are in order, life flows smoothly. I can do for others without losing myself.

I don’t need to have more stuff in my life to make up for not having a life.

Be. Do. Have.

In the right order, it all flows. As it should.

It’s great to do, and wonderful to have. But you need to be, first. You need your foundation…clarity of thought, rested spirit, values and priorities in order; enough reserve of yourself that you have something to give to others.

It’s a hard lesson to keep hold of. I have to right myself on a regular basis, reset, retrace my steps. But having done it now… oh, a few thousand times, over the years… I know when I’m off balance again, and how to restore order.

You can apply the same formula to many things. My new site, for instance, follows Be. Do. Have.

First, the mission of Story Revisioned is to be a resource and a lighthouse to others. (BE)

Second, the goal is to offer products that are valuable for anyone who wants to go beyond the wealth of free resources available for the taking. (DO)

Third, the dream is to create a community of readers and followers who share their stories of ups and downs, failures and successes, the how-tos and the nitty-gritty; and to build a platform that is transformative for participants. (HAVE)

The goal is to help: one person, a hundred, a thousand, or a million. And if that’s possible, it will grow out of being, before doing or having.

The Book…

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Like many, I struggled with questions of purpose for a long time. My epiphany…that I am in charge of choosing my purpose…was profoundly meaningful. Crafting a statement of purpose is rewarding and fulfilling. It can provide direction and insight for many life choices, and help us see ourselves more clearly.

As I worked through my process to find answers, I made notes, and from those notes, wrote a book, Choose Your Purpose, Love Your Life http://amzn.to/1sv2Wa3

You’ll find questions, answers, tools, stories, and more in the book. I invite you to read, and to choose purpose for yourself. You’ll never look back, I promise!

Design your life plan. Using the guidance and formula I share, you’ll be more than successful; you’ll be satisfied. And that’s a very fine thing, indeed.

Slow learner, late bloomer

I often refer to myself as “a slow learner and a late bloomer.” I say it a bit tongue in cheek, with self-deprecating humor.

It’s not completely true. But sadly, it’s more true than not.

I like to see myself as thoughtful, cautious, mindful.

How is it then, that some of my past decisions I look back on with the familiar, “what was I thinking?!” question?

Just this week I had a chance to make a choice, a big choice, about direction in life.

There was a need, and I could be part of the solution.

It was tempting, so tempting, to say yes. To rise to the occasion.

But the opportunity wasn’t one I wanted, not the direction I wanted to head in, not by a long shot.

But I also couldn’t completely walk away. I have some commitment to this work already, and it’s not really possible to break it off cold. Nor do I think that would be the ethical choice.

Instead of accepting the opportunity offered, taking the all or nothing approach, I found a third way. I found a way to honor myself, and the need that is before me.

The specifics of the situation aren’t relevant to anyone else. What is important is that I’ve learned to listen to myself, to recognize that giving in to a need on someone else’s part, even if the task is something I could do, isn’t the right answer, if everything inside me says that “yes” is the wrong answer.

I’ve finally realized an honest “no” is better than a grudging “yes.”

For someone like me, programmed, it seems, with a “yes” policy, this is big.

I was brought up to put others before myself, and to do what I can to contribute, to help, to do my best.

Somewhere along the way, I let those attitudes become a default for better judgment, at times, and quieted the voice in my head that I should have listened to, more than once, when I’ve been at a life crossroads. I defaulted to saying “yes,” when “no” was the real answer.

Opportunities aren’t necessarily right for your life, just because they appear in front of you, because they’re the path of least resistance at the moment. Or because someone else thinks you’d be perfect for the job.

It’s taken years to ask the question, “what do I really want?” and not see that as a selfish position, in the face of the needs of others. I’m speaking mostly of professional life choices here, but in any context, I think it’s important to honestly confront personal desires. I can’t make a real choice if I don’t even recognize the options.

This self-blindness hurt me, my marriage, and created a lot of angst, as I tried to whole-heartedly honor commitments my heart was never in, in the first place.

So finally, I see…being honest with myself, first, is the best way to be honest with others. If I’ve committed to work because I feel pressured, rather than inspired; if I feel on the spot to be the solution, rather than feeling a desire to rise to the occasion, I need to heed those feelings. I am not the right person for the job.

I’ve tried to honor the commitments I’ve made, as I moved through life. But some I shouldn’t have made, and it took me a long time to acknowledge that reality. I owe it to myself, to my marriage, and to others I interact with to be honest rather than hiding behind a veil of being nice.

The word “no” doesn’t make me a bad person. How did I confuse the two…”no” and “nice?” This sounds like I’m just spineless, but really I’m not…I just haven’t recognized my patterns in this area until recently.

Hindsight is 20/20, and finally, finally, I can bring that clarity of vision to the present. I can say “no” when that’s the right answer, and know I made the right choice.

 

 

Revise your story

I’ve written about finding myself in a hole, here, feeling the darkness, and climbing out, step by step. Some of the progress was circumstantial: my situation changed, and with those changes, my outlook looked up.

But it wasn’t all that tidy. Long before the big changes occurred, I began stepping toward righting myself. Why? Because at the time, I didn’t know how, or if, life would hand me the turnaround I wanted, needed.

And if not? Then what?

I couldn’t stay where I was. I began the trip back to normal without knowing what life would look like. I just knew I couldn’t stay in the hole, in the dark.

These are the next things I did, after recognizing I had to begin the climb on my own. If you find yourself in a similar hole, maybe some of these steps will help. Nothing here is magic, or ground-breaking. But when I’m struggling, it helps to have a path laid in front of me. That’s all I’m offering here…just outlining steps so you don’t have to do it yourself. No right, no wrong, just suggestions.

  • Make a plan, whether big or small. To come out of the darkest time, I had to have a plan. I couldn’t be sure what I would do eventually, but I had to start working toward next. And that’s what I would suggest for anyone trying to see daylight. Whether you’re between jobs, relationships, coming out of depression, trying to adjust to a new place or time in life…make a plan.

But be easy on yourself. Recognize that when you’re in flux, a lot of what you’re working with may change. Will change.

When I find myself in disarray, I need to rebuild structure and order in my life. I like to set goals for myself, targets that are reachable, but nothing that demands action tomorrow. Time pressure isn’t helpful in a vulnerable state.

There are reasons for this. Setting goals that are a few weeks, or even months, in the distance, gives me something to work toward and plan for. But if you’re in a fragile place, you don’t need the pressure of immediacy. I’ve found this type of medium-range goal planning is comforting.

By putting my goals a few weeks out…or even a little longer, if that’s feasible…I give myself something positive to work toward, without stressing myself in the moment.

This type of planning allows time for other events/forces to unfold.

The last time I found myself in limbo, I did exactly this. I put some targets on a calendar and made a tentative plan, based on what I would do if…

If certain things worked out this way, then….

If things worked out that way, then….

By thinking through options and possibilities, I worked through scenarios that helped me plan.

  • Share your plans with a person or two you trust. Ask for feedback. Having someone think with you is helpful…helps you see possibilities you may be missing, and can be a reality check. This is especially important if you’re in unfamiliar life territory.
  • Write your goals. Make lists, keep a journal. Writing is good therapy, and putting plans down on paper or on screen will help you focus. It’s also useful to be able to look back, to see progress, or to remind yourself of thoughts or plans you lose sight of.
  • Mark any significant dates for the next year on your calendar, and use those as sign posts for progress, for interaction, for incentive. When you see a date on your calendar a couple of months out for meeting family, for attending a special event, for something you can be excited about, the calendar gives you hope. Don’t discount this as reason to get through the day, week, or month. Let your calendar be a daily reminder that life is happening all around you, and you have a part to play.
  • Decide what you want to change, and what you can change. Is it location? Job? Habits? Name the goals, then put realistic dates on your calendar…when will you achieve your goals? Or what stages will you mark as advancements? Or achievements?
  • Learn a new skill. Nothing boosts the ego and wakes up the mind like a challenge. This is a great way, and a focused way, to work toward life goals. Learning a new skill can help you step toward your goals. Join a class if possible. Leaning with a group is a good way to connect with kindred spirits, and can give you new sources of support.
  • I am sold on the power of doing something for someone less fortunate, or for a good cause. Nothing makes you feel better than contributing. Again, this will work only if you’re healthy enough in mind and body to get out and connect with others. Take this slow. Don’t overcommit your time, money, or self. If you have healing/growing/recovering to do, you need to protect yourself.
  • Find outlets for creativity, and for physical activity. You need to nurture your body and your spirit. Don’t neglect your need to be active, and to exercise your creativity. Whether you’re inspired to create, or driven to release your energy, you’ll benefit from movement and stimulus. Nothing is more deadly than sitting still and drowning in despair.
  • Find someone to be accountable to. You could make this a mutual thing, or just ask someone to provide this for you. Knowing that you’ve committed to sharing your progress will give you another incentive to make progress. Decide how often you’ll connect, and any other parameters you want to set. Be serious about accountability; it can be a wonderful aid to get you through difficult tasks.
  • If you can afford it, work with a life coach. Life coaches are not therapists. The function of a life coach is to help you find your voice and motivation, and to hold you accountable to the goals you set. In my opinion, you want someone who will hold a mirror to your life, and be a voice of encouragement. I would stay away from the drill sergeant type. You want someone who will be honest and firm with you, but you don’t need someone who will use guilt or other negative styles of communication.

I didn’t suffer with clinical depression, and I can’t address that condition. Clearly, individuals with mental health issues need more than a list of helpful suggestions to right themselves. 

But you don’t have to be clinically depressed to struggle, to feel lost, to feel stuck, and sad, and down. That’s the mindset I’m addressing.

Even if you seek help from a coach or counselor, you have to begin with yourself. Recognizing you have to do something different, then taking the first small steps to begin…that’s the hardest part. Finding your resolve, getting off the sofa or out of the bed, beginning

You can do it. Only you can do it.

I’m not a counselor, but I’ve been there, in the hole. I know what it’s like to sleep poorly, waking up with thoughts racing every hour or two, to dread going to work or getting out of the house because you feel like you have to put on “the face” of normalcy. I know finding the desire to do anything can seem like a mountain.

It is a mountain. But you can climb it. If you can’t find the heart to do it for yourself, find someone else who inspires you, or choose someone you want to inspire. Do it for your spouse, your kids, your legacy, if you can’t do it for yourself.

Sooner or later, you will be doing it for yourself. You will be inspired, and inspiring. You’ll have a story to share, a success to celebrate, and a renewed life.

No one can predict your outcome. No one else can write your story. Find your brave, even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you. Open up to those you trust. Give others opportunity to help, to support and encourage you.

Hear my voice, if you can. That’s one of my goals…I want my voice to be an encouragement. Not because I have it all figured out, but because I know how hard this is. Eventually, you’ll know you can do it, because others have done it. You can be strong, you’ll find your way. And in turn, you will be a voice of encouragement.

Each of us has a place, each story has value. If your story has derailed, dig deep. Begin your revision. This is my time, and this is your time. ~ Sheila

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts. ~ Rick Warren

 

 

 

 

Cautionary Tale

Driving through the mountain west, sun shining on sparkling snow, white contrasting with the grays and reds of mountain rock, I’m captivated.

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I’m enchanted by beauty and nature, the privilege of seeing this land that’s so scarcely populated. The footprint of humanity is small here.

This is bliss, this cold December day a time of joy and sweetness.

A year ago I could not have imagined this day, full of light and companionship, easy silences punctuating quiet talk during the drive.

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I thought today: if I could have known, a year ago, this day was coming, would it have made a difference? It would have made it easier to work though a hard time of life.

But maybe working through the hard time, with no certainty of good to come, made today possible?

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I don’t know, can’t know, exactly what forces sculpted the days and weeks between last year and this. I know a little of the changes that occurred, that made a difference. But I don’t know all.

This is what I do know.

The hard times in life have purpose. Whatever the hardship is, working through it, surviving it, learning from it, gives rich color and depth to time that follows.

I haven’t experienced every sorrow life has to offer, thank God. But I’ve been through some of the fires. The fires taught me no life is immune or safe. Something touches each of us, either directly, or through someone we love.

The hard times taught me patience and perseverance. I learned to let time do some of the work for me.

I learned to face hard truths with honesty.

I learned to forgive myself and others for mistakes.

I learned to value the pain of others because of my pain. When you really understand the hurts and losses of life, your ability to empathize grows exponentially.

Last year was a year of loss, change, upheaval, conflict, depression, uncertainty.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve passed through such a season. Life has handed me other losses, taken my joy for a time.

And that is life. No one is immune.

I’m reminded, afresh, that we all weather seasons, and change.

Each time I’ve experienced a time of darkness, I’ve learned from it. It’s slow at first…whatever knocks you flat, takes you out, leaves you reeling…those forces don’t retreat easily.

Loss, death, illness, tragedy, conflict, displacement…there’s a continuum of pain, and ability to recover.

I couldn’t change the fact of my father’s death. I had to reach acceptance.

I was able to reclaim my marriage. I had to allow time for growth, and perspective, for healing.

This is my path, steps to return to joy.

  • Remember to breathe. It’s ok to grieve and to shut down for a time. But you must breathe, you must do a minimum to maintain your physical self, with rest, with food, with action.
  • As soon as you can, feed yourself hope. Since the beginning of people, hearts have broken, loss has devoured. You will likely recover, overcome whatever is hurting you. There are lives all around that testify to the power of the human spirit to survive, conquer, thrive. If others can do it, you can too. Tell yourself that. Say it even when you don’t believe it. Say it until you can believe it.
  • On days that you can’t do anything positive for yourself, at least do no harm. Don’t make big decisions, don’t rush into anything, don’t burn bridges today that you may need to cross next week.
  • Look for the unexpected. Each time I’ve experienced a trough of life, there’ve been good things come to me, unexpected lights to give me a path back to life. The unexpected may be a circumstance, an insight, a new friend…anything. But you have to be open enough to receive. Don’t block help or hope.
  • Forgive: yourself, others, mistakes, misunderstandings…get the negatives out. Holding it inside only hurts you. You don’t have to share with anyone else unless you choose. But even talking out loud, ranting in private, will give you release, and let you find the words you need to say. It gets easier with practice. If you can’t say the words, write them. Just get them out one way or another.
  • Be kind to yourself. Whatever you can do to soften and soothe and heal, do that. But, don’t take a positive and turn it to a negative…don’t comfort yourself with so much “comfort” food that you gain weight, or run up debt trying to buy your way to happiness. Keep your kindnesses positive.
  • Give yourself and the situation time. Lots of time, if you can. Time can’t heal everything. It can’t replace every loss, and it isn’t the cure for all illness. But it can do a lot, if you let it. Practice patience, with yourself, the circumstances, with others.
  • Make a promise to yourself. Promise you’ll learn from this, that you’ll be stronger and better for having this experience. Make sure you keep it.
  • Use your story. Your story will be a powerful way to connect with others going through a similar experience. And believe me, whatever you’re facing, someone else is facing too. You don’t have to share everything to share something. You’ll find solace and give it too, by opening up, when the time is right. Promise yourself that you’ll do what you can to add light, not dark, because you went through hardship.
  • Find something to be grateful for. Even the smallest thing you can name counts. Keep adding to your list. Find a beautiful image, a book, a song, a view, a friend, a pet, to focus on.
  • Don’t grow bitter. Bitterness poisons life, and nothing is worth that. If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, honor them by returning to life. If you’re mourning something else in your life, honor yourself by refusing to give up. Know that one way or other, soon or later, you’ll sing again, be joyful again.
  • Seek professional help if you can’t find your way. It’s out there, and it will be worth it. Sometimes the best thing we do for ourselves is admit we can’t do it alone. That can be an act of bravery, and your first step away from the dark.

I had professional help this year, and it changed everything. You don’t have to commit to long term counseling or therapy to reap great reward. Sometimes you just need a jump start. Or if you need ongoing help, the sooner you begin, the better.

I’m thankful for the lessons learned and road traveled. And I look for ways to share, to give back. I’ve promised myself that good will come of my journey, and I mean to see that promise come true. It wasn’t my goal in life to be a cautionary tale, but it seems to be my fate.

Well, so be it. We give as we can, and from what we have. If I can help anyone by encouraging with my words, I’m content.

Stories I tell myself

Funny how pride can trip you up. Funny how it can blind you to reality, especially when part of what you’re proud of is that you always live in reality.

Well, does anyone? I like to think I do, and sometimes that’s true, at least as clearly as I perceive reality.

But not always.

Lately I’ve been looking at the ways I interpret my life, and choices, and I’ve realized: I haven’t always lived in reality. Oh, it looked that way. But it wasn’t true.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

From another life, years and years ago, when I was a 20-something and doing all I could to keep my head above water, holding life together with two little ones and weathering the challenges of life with a medical student husband, and then a resident husband, living 1200 miles from family, I told myself how strong I was, how mature I was. I was doing my part. I was brave.

No.

The reality was, I was foolish.

Why did I think I had to do what I did, largely without help, and trying to make it look easy? Who told me that was a mature choice?

No one told me. I just assumed that’s what adults did.

It would have been more brave to have admitted I needed help, I was in over my head. But I was so busy being strong, being mature, I didn’t let my guard down long enough to admit those needs to myself, much less to anyone else. I was so busy being mommy, being adult, I let go of being Sheila, and I certainly let go of being wife.

The reality is, I made it through those years. We made it. We survived. We even appeared to thrive.

But there was a toll, some of which I feel to this day. The coping skills I learned during that time of life weren’t always healthy. I learned to do a lot on my own, to shut out a lot. It’s not behavior that encourages partnership, and our partnership has suffered through the years because of habits formed when we were very young.

Oh, we moved on. We moved beyond. We didn’t stay totally stuck in that time. But we brought along some of the damage, some of the baggage, without really recognizing it.

So now, I see. I reflect, I think back to those babies, those 20-somethings raising babies, and keeping up with the challenges, because we didn’t know it was ok to show weakness, to ask for help. We thought it was brave to do it on our own.

Is it brave to stand without help? Maybe. Sometimes. It depends on how healthy you are, and what it takes out of you to do it. Some of the damage we created then we couldn’t see at the time. We were too busy being strong to recognize how weak we really were.

Some of these patterns I’ve seen, so many years later, and I look back and wish I could do over. I don’t exactly know how I would do it differently. But some things would change.

We ran a marathon that almost killed a marriage, left us shells of people who only knew how to keep going, keep being brave and strong and adult.

I realize, I told myself a story about what life would look like, about what adulthood meant, about what marriage meant. I didn’t know I was making it up, out of a lot of assumptions and vague beliefs. I thought I was living in reality.

One of the ironies of life is that in a time I thought I saw so clearly, I was blind. In a time I thought I had a lot on the ball, I was just juggling balls, not seeing how close I was to dropping many things.

In hindsight, and with clarity, I see so much that was hidden from me then.

I wonder what I’m missing now?

Life is a process, and each choice brings us to the next choice. I’m more thoughtful now about the stories I tell myself, the certainty I feel when I assess. I’ve learned that just because I can handle a situation on my own, that isn’t always the best decision. Sometimes the best choice is to invite others to join, to help, to help me see clearly. To help me live in reality.

Stories are fun, sometimes funny. They should teach us too, help us know the traps to avoid and the joys to embrace.

I don’t know what my story will do for others. Will it be a cautionary tale? Or a story of life reinvented, mistakes recovered, joy restored?

I hope it will be all those things. Let me caution you, don’t be like me. Don’t tell yourself you’re brave, when you’re only short-sighted. Don’t do without help when you really need it.

I’ve been given a great gift. I can’t turn back the clock, but the lessons of those days, and others, are living with me now, helping me see and right things that need to be righted.

I’m telling myself a new story these days. It is one of partnership, one of strength. But not strength from doing everything myself. It is strength from shared vision, shared goals, shared life.

Aaahhh…I think I’m finally living in reality.

Standards

“Get caught doing something right.”

I started working in the field of health care in 2006. I had a side-door entry, coming in through an administrative role. My experience of health care is from largely from the business perspective. Still, though I have no clinical skill myself, there’s a lot of overlap with the clinical world, specifically with staff.

I spend a lot of time working to recruit providers and nurses, to coordinate meetings, trainings, and arrange for temporary provider coverage. I write newsletters and policies and the occasional grant.

I swim in corporate email.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming…all the technology, regulation, terminology, bureaucracy, acronyms, staff changes, opinions, personalities…and that’s before patients are added to the mix…the world of the modern family practice clinic.

There are so many patient needs that this community addresses every day, with a shared commitment to ethical care and a standard of best practices.

In the midst of this busyness, there are lessons to be learned, lessons worth observing and passing on. In the whirlwind that envelopes the day-to-day of the clinic, these are the practices I believe in.

This list isn’t a standard for the delivery of health care; it’s a standard, period. You don’t have to be a health care worker to treat someone with dignity, and you can be a leader with great vision and skill even if you were first trained as a provider. These attributes are not incompatible. I’ve known people who exemplify the wonderful blend of compassionate care giver with a head for business and leadership.

These worlds, the often competing worlds of business and health care, overlap so much: they intermingle, and there is no separating them. Sometimes it is to the detriment of each. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all learn, and perhaps remove some of the cynicism in the process.

I have to believe it’s possible to bring out the best in each other. And with all the meaningless and trivial, there is actual good accomplished.

Here’s how you do it, pure and simple. Turns out, good business and good medicine have a lot in common.

  • People rise to their potential when they have clearly defined structure and expectations, and work in an environment of trust, integrity, and transparency.
  • Right makes might! Doing the right thing commands respect and gives moral authority. Leaders are most effective when they are respected. Respect is a product of living with character and integrity. (If you’re unsure about a decision you’re making, visualize yourself explaining your choice to someone you respect. If you can’t feel good about sharing your decision, you should probably reconsider.)
  • The greatest deficit in most organizations is at the leadership level. Leaders need to set the tone, remove barriers to success, then get out of the way.
  • Principles are timeless, process is not.
  • Promote an environment of creativity and thinking outside the box. When an idea has merit, it deserves recognition and promotion. But don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that because a decision or method has been accepted, it is set in stone. Leaders understand innovation is the balancing tool of structure. Great organizations regularly evaluate and adjust process.
  • Do one thing at a time. Focus! Concentrating on one thing at a time is actually more productive than multi-tasking.
  • Define the problem. When something is not working, take the time to get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes the most obvious difficulty is only a symptom of a greater problem.
  • When you’re problem solving, listen and then ask questions. Survey everyone involved. The perspective of an entry-level employee may be just as valid as the opinion of a department head. People with different roles in an organization have very different insights into how things work, and every point of view is important.
  • Separate noise from the real issues. Sometimes people are just focused on the drama, rather than the root cause. If you correct root causes, the noise will usually go away.
  • Change is inevitable. No individual, position, or process will last forever. Change can be unsettling, but it can also be refreshing.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. Apologize when necessary. Be gracious when someone apologizes to you. Set the example.
  • Express ideas as simply as you can. Be direct. Don’t use “corporate speak.” Simple is best, and people know when they’re being patronized with a lot of flowery words.
  • Promote an atmosphere of calm. Chaos is unsettling and leads to loss of productivity. People do not thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
  • Promote a positive environment. Discourage gossip. Catch people doing something right. Reward that. Honor that.
  • Give honest value and treat people fairly, and both you and your organization will reap the rewards. Perhaps not every time, but in time. Plus, doing the right thing has an impact on the doer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.”
  • What you reward, you repeat. What you permit, you promote. Set the tone, and most people will rise to the expectation.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being idealistic. Well, I’ll take that. I would rather have high hopes and expectations than weary cynicism.

Find your brave.

Go forth and slay dragons. Get caught doing the right thing.