Between Two Seasons

This morning I found myself wondering if, like me, some of you are sitting at your desks feeling a bit weary. I know it’s the beginning of a new school year, with all those shiny new supplies at the stores. But the end of August always feels like I wasn’t quite done with all my summer commitments, and now I have to turn and catch up to fall.

My house looks like it, too. Sunscreen and flip-flops, vestiges of a more carefree summer, still are scattered by the doorway, but so are the boxes Wren didn’t need as she moved to her residence hall at UNI, and my light jacket I pulled out to walk my dog, Oka, the other night while grumbling to her about how it was getting dark so early again. (Yes, as a new “empty nester” I’m grumbling to the dog these days.)

Summer is so much about growth and expansion. The long days stretch out and feel like they will always be with us — and then, so soon, autumn is upon us with its shorter days, cooler weather, and the last of the flowers.

Of course, it was an ongoing process. It isn’t like one day the earth suddenly shortens the days and gets chilly; it’s been coming on this whole time beneath our level of perception. It seems like a lot happens that way, that caught up in the “busyness” of my days I sometimes lose track of the slight changes occurring around me, which seem to suddenly become big. I would have liked one more week of flowers, flip-flops, and my daughter’s laughter. I’m not quite ready yet for turning leaves, football, and sweaters.

For those of us who work all across the state in ISU Extension and Outreach, we need to keep our eyes open to those slight changes. We need to recognize the subtle shifts that signal something which will eventually become a big change or a central need. And I encourage us to think about how we do something about it, even when we’d rather stay where we were. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

We Have to Care

A few years ago, I made a commitment to having a healthier lifestyle and began seeking a plan to do so. However, I had trouble staying motivated. I’d give my attention to nearly anything other than any plan I was attempting to follow. You see, I didn’t know exactly what I cared about. Losing weight? Maintaining my health? Managing stress? I followed complicated plans that someone else cared about, because complicated must mean important. However, I wasn’t sure if I was doing these complicated plans correctly. I got bored running. I fiddled with machines at the gym. I’m pretty sure I spent more time reading about how to be healthy than doing something that would make me healthier.

A friend suggested I throw out all the complicated plans and simply move 3 miles or 30 minutes a day. Huh? I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be enough to change anything, but it was simple and measurable, and I figured at the very least I could walk around campus for 30 minutes and call it good. A funny thing happened, though. At first, I did the bare minimum: I walked (OK, I might have ambled or strolled) exactly 30 minutes. No more, no less. But I liked it. It gave me time to think, to breathe fresh air, to notice changes around me. So, I decided to shoot for 3 miles. Sometimes I walked. Sometimes I ran. Sometimes I rode my bike. I even roller-bladed around campus. Before I knew it, I was going out for at least an hour and blowing past 3 miles as a warm-up. Because it was fun. That’s when I realized when it came to my health, what I cared about was having a little island of fun in my day, not more tasks to be done.

To get stuff done, I think it’s important to know what we care about – and what we don’t; to know where the boundaries begin and end. If we’re not sure what we care about, others will have things that can sway us. It can be deceptively easy to move from what we care about, one small step at a time, to what others care about. Eventually we will be far away from the very thing that stirs our passion and gives us purpose. We think it should be easy to stay focused because usually we have some level of motivation about whatever it is. After all, it’s defined by the fact that we care about it. But it’s not that simple. Our energy levels wax and wane. Even invigorating work becomes routine and includes a few boring tasks. I’ve read the inspirational stories of successful individuals who are driven by unlimited passion and energy. And when I feel weary or unmotivated, I might think I’m just not blessed with the same zeal.

It’s easy to do the work when we’re motivated, when everyone agrees, when we’re fairly sure of the outcome. Sometimes we even think the outcome is the pinnacle, rather than appreciating the ongoing (and sometimes dull) process. But I’ve come to understand that people who consistently get things done don’t focus on one event or goal; they commit to the process. They hang in with the daily practice, the small steps, and the 30 minutes – not the outcome. In other words, if we want to be better at anything, we have to care about the process of doing it. We have to care about being someone who does that kind of work, rather than merely thinking about the outcome. Let’s care about our process, our small daily things, our 30 minutes. The results will take care of themselves. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

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