What Jane’s Been Up To: 2016

May 31, 2016

Where has Jane been?

I’ve been wondering that myself. I’m discovering unfinished or out-of-date posts on my site, correspondences I thought I had answered, a library book that got “lost” in the back of my car, even a bill I was sure I had paid. I’m finding things in the wrong places, often while I’m looking for other things.

My license expired in the middle of a week I spent in Florida (yes, with a rental car for the entire time), somehow coming as a complete surprise. Although I have since renewed it (and placed a reminder on my 2024 calendar so that this doesn’t happen again), I can’t help feeling like my life is spinning out of control.

I suppose I really don’t have the right to whine about this. For one thing, I know very few people who are not facing similar situations to varying degrees. For another, the clutter and overcommitment in my life are of my own making. (Did I learn nothing from that section of the perfectionism book?) Still…

Becoming invisible

I think there has always been a certain “managed messiness” in my life. Being on the road for long stretches over months at a time made things worse. I’d get home for a few weeks and rein things in a bit, at least for a while. Then three years ago, I started work on the perfectionism book, a journey that took some painful twists and turns, but finally ended up going to press last August—with a different publisher and no co-author (as originally anticipated).

This project consumed a tremendous amount of my time, energy, and concentration—often at the expense of social connections, a sane workout schedule, and good eating habits. I was also dealing with gall bladder issues and writing in between attacks until I had the thing removed a week after submitting the finished manuscript. Not fun!

Although I managed to squeeze in a 10,000-word booklet for ASCD during this period, my speaking work slowed down and my usual promotional activities virtually stopped. No conference appearances. Podcasts were put on a back burner, as were the “Pads” on the Back translations, and almost all work on my site. Throughout 2015, I continued paying for the service I use to send out my newsletters, however I only managed to send out two for the entire year.

A necessary break (and possible career apocalypse)

Some of this downturn has been deliberate. I absolutely needed a break. I cut back on my hours and blocked off a bit of time, including turning down a number of opportunities for work, just so I could catch my breath. Whether by my hand or a complicit and protective Higher Guidance, I’ve had a chance to just be home and not on a deadline for quite some time.

But keeping my head down for this long comes at a cost, and it’s always a bit nerve-wracking when things get really slow, which is what has happened in the past year or so. Book sales dropped off precipitously and aside from a half dozen nuisance solicitation calls every day, my phone effectively stopped ringing. Regular clients started hiring exclusively from agencies and speakers bureaus, and places that wanted me didn’t have the funding to make it happen.

Although I’m finding and tying up a lot of loose ends (which is great), I’m also left wondering where all this is headed. This is hardly my first career crisis, but I don’t feel particularly done yet. So what do I do with this (relatively) free time? I’m feeling ready now and it’s definitely time to let the world know.

Building the foundation

I started this business in 1982 and have been through the usual ups and downs many independent contractors face. If time has taught me anything, it’s that the wheel does keep turning. When things slow down, it always seems to be the pause I need to get my legs back under me for the next stage of the journey.

I have no idea where I’m headed professionally, and that’s never been a comfortable place for me, but I certainly have plenty to keep me busy while I’m waiting for whatever is ahead. This has been a great opportunity to catch up, clean up, and build the foundation for the next chapter of my life and work.

So I’m facing the big projects and “hard stuff” I have not been able to work on—for whatever reasons. I’m set up on a new web host, making improvements and additions to this site, and taking my work in some new directions. I’m committing to continuing the newsletter for the rest of this year and am looking for new ways to remind people I am still very much alive.

Letting things go

I’ve been working to get on top of my life for several months now, making incremental progress in between marketing, travel, and being sick with a bug that lingered and morphed into other bugs from last Christmas until Valentine’s Day! (In an odd way, even that felt like a part of the clearing-out process.) I have managed to go through several closets, shelves, drawers, and files, reducing and reorganizing, with bushels of recycling and six carloads of donations to various shelters and organizations.

This feels fabulous, even if it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The bedroom and my closet and dresser are done, as are the hall closet, and parts of the kitchen. But in addition to the physical stuff—and mind you, I’ve barely touched my office or studio, both of which need some serious de-cluttering—I also have terabytes of data, documents, photos, and music files to go through.

Simplifying my life involved getting rid of our 800 number and fax machine, and updating business cards and this site accordingly. When I switched web and email hosts, I set up new email addresses, and have spent days switching everything over—a tedious enterprise if you’ve never had the pleasure.

“Letting go” also means shifting my focus to highest-priority goals, dropping ideas and projects that have lost their relevance or appeal, and doing things in new or different ways. My last journal-type blog like this (“What’s Jane Been Up To”) was a one-time entry in September of 2013. Other than occasional progress reports on the book, I wrote nothing since then, and I’m not likely to bother. (The piece on Writing About Perfectionism pretty much sums up most of 2013-2015 and will stand in place of the yearly journal blogs.)

I’m doing all this a bit at a time and have given myself no particular deadline to have it all done. “Fits and starts” works fine for me and every bit of progress feels like a huge accomplishment. And even if I’m not building anything, I’m doing what feels like necessary and important work.

A new friend—and a nice way to add to the chaos

Earlier this year, an acquaintance sent us a link to a listing on Craigslist for a 3-year-old German Shepherd—neutered, microchipped, and obedience trained. I’d asked her to stop doing this, because in many ways, neither of us had really gotten over saying goodbye to our last dog six years ago. But this one, she felt, was special.

We had just gotten back from a road trip we had extended by more than two weeks, in part because we had the freedom to do so. Maybe it just felt good to be home for a while, but I wasn’t sure my heart was ready to commit to another animal. Jerry felt the same way, but we looked at the pictures and read the description and decided that if we ever were going to get another dog, this one sounded like a really good match for us.

Chaco_4068 smSo we drove out to meet Chaco, and to meet his people (who had to re-home him because one of them was ill) and, as expected, came home with a new addition to the family. Here’s a picture I took right after we got home, sitting out on the deck while Jerry was out buying the dog a memory-foam bolster bed and some organic dog food—not that we spoil our animals or anything!

It’s taken some adjustment on everyone’s part but today is Day 97 and I do believe we have been adopted. This dog has stolen our hearts as he settles into his new life and home. He has been a wonderful friend on daily walks—usually two, often three a day—and that’s been good for us. He’s the most laid back dog we’ve ever had and other than working on our manners when he sees another dog, he’s absolutely awesome. I really didn’t think we’d get another dog, but here we are, and enjoying our new family configuration immensely.

Plans

I’m not going to start on the list, but as I said, I’m not done yet. Briefly… Back in 2012 when I switched my site over to WordPress, I hired an IT guy who is now working on a new site for the perfection book and new, simpler versions of old sites for High School’s Not Forever and Magic, Miracles, and SynchronicityI’ll post links when the sites go live.

I also hired someone to convert a bunch of material to ePub formats as well as print-on-demand hard copies. Again, I will update progress as we move forward on these projects.

I’m working on the details for the jobs and conferences I have on my calendar and will continue to work on my site, the podcasts, the “Pads,” and the major de-cluttering of the house and office. And who knows, I might actually get back to this page before the year is out to add another entry!

August 21, 2016

happily stretching into unknown territoryBouncing back. Again.

In my last post (above), I noted that by early this spring, things had slowed down considerably work-wise and that I was taking advantage of the “break” to get on top of a lot of loose ends. I spent a good bit of time trying to come to terms with the possibility of not working—mainly with regard to speaking and presenting—and what that would mean to my sense of identity and purpose.

I’ve actually been quite happy being home, going through my stuff, spending more time at the gym, doing some heavy-duty crafting, and spending time bonding with the dog we adopted in February. I’ve needed this down time, but I’ve been feeling a little restless, too.

So while I never seem to know where my life is headed next, I still have ideas for new projects, things to share, new markets to explore, and the desire to move my work forward. I have connected with people who have the skills to make these things happen and the resources to proceed. I am grateful for having some time to recharge, step back to look at changes in the field—and world in general—and explore what I really want to do at this point in my life.

Someone mentioned that I have always had a strong following and while that may still be true, I also know that many of the people who had brought me in to work for their organizations or used my resources in their trainings and book studies have retired or left the field. 

I don’t think many of us can get away with resting on our laurels these days. So I’ve had to confront something I didn’t think I’d have to deal with at this point in my career. Assuming I want to keep working, I need to be a good bit more visible than I’ve been.

Taking the plunge!

When I started my business, I tried to squeeze in one or two conferences a year in addition to my regular (read: paid) engagements. As I’ve told many people just starting out in consulting: make yourself known. We now have outlets like websites and blogs that did not exist when I started out in the early 80s, but the presentations I did at conferences and conventions ended up filling gaps in my schedule year after year.

In education, these are expensive. Unless you’re keynoting, nothing is reimbursed and you also have to pay to register, even if you speak—something my friends in other fields find fairly shocking. The investment is a gamble, but I find these events exciting and wonderful ways to learn new things, see the trends up close and personal, and make some wonderful new contacts. So I was delighted when I had the opportunity to speak at the American School Counselors Association as well as an international conference on Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.

Interestingly, rather than offer to talk on my usual educational topics, I developed a new program on “Perfectionism: What’s it Costing Our Kids?” Of course, I needed new handout materials and a different electronic presentation, so it compelled a bit of creative stretching. Plus, in both instances, I only had an hour to present, which meant being organized enough to get in as much as I could in a short timeframe. The hours of preparation paid off, though, and the experience was incredibly satisfying.

Stretching in a different direction

As I said, these ventures are always a gamble, and depending on the day or timing of the session, the location of the presentation, or how many other people are presenting at the same time, you never know if anyone is going to show up. So I was delighted that both of these events turned out to be absolutely packed with participants, dedicated folks who were hungry for information, open-minded, and very receptive to what I had to share. Even if only for the confidence and practice, I am so glad I went.

Likewise—and this didn’t hit me until I was on the plane home after the first presentation—after decades of concentrating on Title One schools with low-income, low-achieving students, this was a nice stretch to work with teachers, counselors, and others who were working with students and parents who were, in general, at the other end of the spectrum. Confirming that the needs were so similar and that the same types of strategies applied was truly fascinating.

And back in familiar territory again

During these past few weeks, I had two other jobs—one with new teachers and the other with alternative education professionals working with “disruptive youth.” Both events reminded me of just how much I still love the core of my work, as well as the depth to which I believe in the effective of these strategies I present, especially with challenging student populations.

Based on the feedback from new and veteran teachers, much of what I shared at these conferences was new—a very different angle on preventing and intervening failure, disengagement, and opposition, stuff they hadn’t heard elsewhere. So I will continue to carry on, and I’m quite excited about having some new content to offer, not to mention the possibility of branching out into a wider range of schools, as well as having something for mental health, medical, and corporate audiences.

And my phone has started ringing again. I have a confirmed job in Edmonton in March and have had several inquiries in the past few weeks, one from a recent job that just confirmed for October. This is good. Although my last trip landed me squarely in the middle of a Delta Airlines computer meltdown—and took me three days to get home—I am thoroughly looking forward to heading back out into the field again.

Going forward with the newsletter

A few days ago, I contacted someone with some questions about my newsletter. I had hired her a few years ago to set up my account and create a template which I would then use for the newsletters to follow. I had committed to a monthly mailing but, as I mentioned, this was one of several ongoing projects that got pushed to a back burner for the past few years.

I started up again this past June and by July had redesigned the content, simplifying and scaling back on the amount of information I was sharing. For August, I had identified several other pieces that I could let go, but my main reason for calling this individual was to find out how to combine several lists I had (which just about everyone was already on anyhow) into one.

She had presumably been receiving what I was sending, and noticing the gaps over the past two years. I had gotten no response or feedback from her during that time, so I assumed that other than only getting out two or three mailings in the past year and a half, everything was humming along as it was supposed to.

However, our conversation went from a simple question (which was eventually answered elsewhere) to a barrage of criticisms that began with my inconsistency (which I have been working to rectify) to the fact that I was using an old template (which she had set up) and had not converted to a more mobile-friendly format, which I knew nothing about.

She kept going: There were too many links, too much information. It was too long. I shouldn’t be using a gmail address. Factually valuable tips, despite their contemptuous delivery. (I needed to hang up long before I actually did.) 

I have a section in the perfectionism book about “pulling pearls of wisdom from piles of trash,” noting the importance of screening the feedback we get. I don’t tend to react well to shaming, much less being on the receiving end of someone’s impatient disdain. And although I could feel myself shutting down, there was a part of my brain that stayed alert for anything that could turn this project in a very positive direction. (I expect no further association with this individual. Part of my de-cluttering frenzy has included eliminating certain people from my life.)

The next day, I screwed up my confidence—worn down by that conversation but not altogether lost. I sat down at my laptop and found the information and support I needed between some instructional videos and FAQs on the mail service website, and a chat with a lovely tech support person. (No nastiness necessary, thank you!) And as a result, I have made what feels like a big leap forward.

My next newsletter goes out early Tuesday morning. It uses a mobile-friendly template with a new, clean look, carrying over the colors from the previous newsletters. It will be the third month in a row that I have sent out a mailing, so my consistency scores are going up. I have simplified the content down to small blocks of information: links about this month’s back-to-school theme, information about my consulting services and the resources we offer, and a section announcing the new perfectionism workshop and website.

I added a couple testimonials above the contact information at the bottom, customized the images, and shortened the length of the letter, maybe by half. And I got on my new web host’s site and found out how to set up and configure a new email address with “janebluestein.com” in it, as opposed to using a gmail account as the “from” address, which the chat person also advised.

By the way, this is the first time I ever got the settings to work without tech support on the phone walking me through the steps and trouble-shooting what didn’t work. I spent the day testing the send and receive capabilities by emailing a bunch of friends, so apparently I set the new address up correctly (Yay, me!!) and I think we’re ready to go.

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