Dare to Dream


Success: Ben Franklin Style

In Benjamin Franklin’s The Art of Virtue, he offers us concrete advice in the form of thirteen virtues required to attain genuine success.  What are they?

Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, Humility.

I love the advice in Humility which is to imitate Jesus and Socrates and would like to start there, but I’m going to exercise restraint (needed to wrap my mind around all this in view of career/writing), start at the beginning of the list, and work through it.

Temperance. Defined technically as moderation, especially in “eating and drinking.”

There’s wisdom in that moderation, but it stops too short.  If we apply moderation more broadly, then what we’re really doing is giving ourselves room to integrate balance.  We all know what lives and careers are like when we’re not balanced.  We’re stressed, tense, likely candidates for being maxed or burned out.  But balanced, we are mentally, emotionally, and physically stable.  We’re better equipped to deal with challenges and to handle success, well, successfully.

Success and its absence each carry equal but different challenges and joys.  So balance is essential to our well being, and moderation, or temperance, is essential to balance.

So don’t apply temperance just to food and drink.  If you do, you’re shorting yourself.  Apply it broadly, knowing that in doing so, you’re increasing success on both a personal and a professional level.  And you’re doing so by integrating temperance.

Silence. So many people underestimate the power of silence.  Don’t be one of them.  Silence can express approval or disapproval.  It can start or stop a disagreement.  We’re warned that our tongues get us into more trouble than our acts.  What we speak carries power and authority and consequences.

We’ve all heard the term “rush to judgment.”  At one time, we were sick to death of hearing it.  From our characters to ourselves, when engaged in conversation, negotiations, discussions, when silence comes, our instinctive reaction is to fill it.  Typically, when we do, we’re not pausing to fully consider the weight of our words, or the intended or unintended consequences.

Silence can speak volumes.  It can grant peace or urge others to act or behave in a specific way.  It can give others the opportunity to pause and weigh the consequences, intended and unintended, of their words and actions.

Let me share a couple examples.  In a radio interview once, a host stepped over the line.  I could have fired off a blistering retort.  But if I had, my message would have been lost.  Listeners might have enjoyed it, but they would not have gotten the bigger message and that was the purpose of the discussion.  The host would have looked bad.  Really bad.  Making someone else look bad is never a good idea.  It’s tacky, testy, and just plain mean.  So I opted for silence.

Well, silence on the radio means dead air.  One thing radio cannot have is dead air.  Since I didn’t fill it, the host did, and did so in an amazingly more congenial tone.  You see, in that pause, the host realized my response would make him look bad, and honestly, he might or might not have hoped for an angry response.  But in not getting one, in getting silence, the onus fell back to him.  In one glance, he knew that while the bait had been noted, that it was bait had also been noted, and I wasn’t going to swallow it.  Silence did more than a shouting match could have done.  He paused, he thought, he elected to be civil and he did so knowing that I could have zapped him and didn’t.  The interview not only continued on message, it went longer than expected and ended on good terms.  What could have been a lose/lose situation became a win/win situation.  Not by what was said, but by silence.

In the realm of disagreements and personal relationships, we all know there are millions of times when there is no right thing to say.  When anything said will inflame or infuriate.  When silence is indeed the best available option.  Like everything else, silence has its season.  There are times to speak up, and times to stay silent.

Not silent and seething.  Silent and peaceful.  Because you understand another’s perspective, because you realize there are added stressors that have nothing to do with the current disagreement.  Because silence is, for whatever reason, the right thing to do.

Have you ever been in an intense conversation and the other party looks away.  Do you remember the powerful impact of that?

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed, so sad or hurt or discouraged or in such deep emotional pain that you’d cry out for help but you’re so down you have no idea what to ask for?  No clue what it will take to make things right?  You mentally search and search and end up not uttering the first word because your stuck and can’t find the word you need to convey all you’re internally feeling.  Silence.

Have you ever said something you wished you hadn’t?  Said something that was wrong or hurtful or that created or perpetuated a circumstance or event that you wished you could take back, could have avoided?  Silence.

The less said on some things the better.  Words can harm or heal.  Injure or refresh.  Infuriate or soothe.  (Note that balance–either or, one or the other.)  Words are the outward manifestation of internalized thoughts.  We think it, then speak it.

In the interim silence, we hear and then process what is spoken, and then we react to it.  Words can be a blessing or a curse.  They can invite or shun goodness or evil.

We deal with the results of our words all the time.  So considering them warrants thought and consideration.  If we’re dealing with more negatives than we’d like, with more curses than blessings, and we want to change that balance, then we might want to remember that silence is golden.

A perk that comes with that due thought and consideration is that we speak less to regret, we avoid many unintended circumstances, and when we do speak up or out, others tend to really listen.  And those things add sparkle to the gold in silence.

Order. Whether it’s order in our personal lives or in our professional lives, we appreciate the benefits of order.  We like finding what we’re looking for, we like knowing where what we need is located, we appreciate the time we spend constructively rather than wasted because we’re functioning in crisis-mode, in chaos.

Some say they’re free spirits, they detest the rigidity in structure, they like living on the edge, being constantly surprised.  In some things, those adventures can appeal.  But those same free spirits who detest rigidity in structure wouldn’t have that attitude if they say, needed immediate medical attention and the emergency room was in chaos, or the grocery store was in such disorder that the needed items couldn’t be found because they hadn’t been ordered or delivered or put on the shelf. They wouldn’t like it if their bank was in such disarray that it couldn’t process their deposits to cover their checks or prepare their statements.

In writing, without order, what the writer is hoping to communicate can’t be understood.  The characters lack credibility because they’re acting on motivations that aren’t clear.  The sequence of events are out of step and because they are they make no sense. The writer’s message is lost.

Even those who hate order need order in their lives.  A big misconception is that order restricts when the exact opposite is true.  Order liberates.

Time not spent looking for things is free to be used on other things.  Order provides a framework in which we can function.  The absence of order is like playing a game where you don’t know the rules.  You can’t win or lose because the game can’t be played.

Imagine trying to accomplish a goal, to realize a dream, to reach new heights that every atom in your being urges you to reach without order.

You can’t develop a plan, you can’t take concrete steps to make that dream a reality, you can’t stretch because the space needed to do so is filled with the clutter of disorder.

When you “get your house in order” you pave the way for the mundane and ordinary to be just that.  Expected.  Done quickly because you know what needs doing, when it needs to be done, and so you do it and then those things are done and you’re free to move on to other things.  There is goodness and joy in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.  We can look at clean floors and feel good because our kids or grans or our spouses or parents aren’t tiptoeing through clutter.

Now before you minimize the importance of those clean floors, let me ask you this:  Have you ever tried to blaze a trail through a floor filled with clutter?  Have you ever tried to focus on something really important to you but couldn’t because ten other things were screaming at you inside your head that they needed to be done–now?  Have you ever tried to make sense of something that was in total disorder?

I remember once pulling an audit on an escrow office that was in total disarray.  Multiple sets of books, multiple policies issued under one number, multiple everything.  I ended up having to go back years, to when the disorder started, work with a calendar and four colored pens to figure out exactly what happened and why and when.  It took months to get that house in order, but once it was, it took snippets of time to maintain.  Cutting through the clutter took effort and energy and tons of patience, but the lesson was well worth learning.  If you get your house in order and keep your house in order then you don’t spend all your time in frustrated disorder.  You’re free from that bondage.  You’re liberated.  And liberated, you can use that time for other constructive purposes–including time to dream.

Imagine writing an entire book without punctuation.  We all know that one comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence.  What do you think the odds are for a reader to understand a entire book with no punctuation?  Would your purpose in writing it be fulfilled?  Would it be successful at offering insights, understanding?  Would it open the door in a closed mind–or even have that potential?

No.  All of the hopes and dreams for that work would be lost.  No one could make heads or tails of reading it other than to identify the words.  The punctuation instills order.  It allows us to share what we want to share by structuring the work so that it relates what we mean for it to relate and it makes sense to readers.   When we convey what we want to convey in a way that can be comprehended and understood, well, that’s success.

We tend to extend our personal habits to our professional ones.  If we get our personal house in order, typically that carries over into our professional lives.  When our personal and professional lives are in order, we are more apt to succeed–and to dream bigger dreams because we have the time saved from the lack of disarray.  We’re free from disorder and its many frustrations.  We’re enjoying the blessings of order.

Resolution. When we are resolved, we endure, we sacrifice, we push through obstacles, walk extra miles.  We do what we must do because we are determined, fixated, motivated.  We do what we must do because we’re resolved.

Few good things in life come without effort and focus. We’ve all heard the old saying about the harder we work, the luckier we get.  I don’t recall  who first said it but credit him/her with saying it and thank him/her for providing the rest of us with an important key to success.  When we’re resolved, we’re exercising restraint, self-control, discipline.  We’re exercising temperance and resolve.  (Note how the virtues work together, in harmony.)

If instead when the going gets tough, we walk, we’re exercising the lack of those things and that lack of resolve assures that we’ll fail to achieve the success we’re seeking.

Now if we fail and pull back, regroup, and seek constructive ways to avoid mistakes and succeed, that takes resolve.  And that isn’t truly failure because we’ve gained wisdom and knowledge:  things required to assure that our next effort doesn’t fail due to us making the same mistakes.  If we exercise enough of these types of failures and we actively continue our pursuit, eventually we will “fail” our way to success.

With each attempt and “failure” and reassessment, we don’t repeat our same mistakes.  We might make new ones, but again, when we fall back and regroup, try again, we filter out mistakes and eventually succeed.  The key to success is resolve.  We don’t fail, fall back, and quit.  We analyze, figure out where we went wrong, develop a plan that avoids those mistakes, and then try again.

Success comes in trying again.  That’s exercising resolve.

Remember:  if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  If it isn’t worth doing well, why do it at all?  You’re investing your time–your life–your most precious commodity and to invest something so precious it’s life’s treasure, you should be investing in something worth such an investment.

So resolve is essential.  But in what you invest requires your resolve, too.   And that’s the part that too often falls to convenience’s sake, expediency’s sake.  If I do this or that, maybe I can accomplish x.  That’s not resolve.  That’s settling.

Resolve is going after that which you most want.  Not settling for what you can get.  You were created for purpose.  Your destiny isn’t to settle.  It’s to excel.  To excel requires you to heed the virtues.  In doing so you increase your odds for real success, your best success, because you’re working in harmony with the totality of those virtues.

Think of this as a round bench with seven legs.  Each leg carries a portion of the weight placed on the bench.  Each leg keeps it balanced and level, makes it sturdy and strong.  Take out a leg or two or  five (due to neglect or damage or lack of interest), and then ask yourself:  Will the bench will hold as

much weight?  Will it have the strength to support major success?  Your destiny?

The weakened bench might hold a little weight.  It might even hold a little more than a little weight.  But it will not hold the most weight.  It can’t.  It’s weaker.  So to achieve major success, your very best, all of your personal destiny, you need all seven legs in place, tended to, and strong.  Then you’re in a position to enjoy the full fruits of your personal destiny.  Your greatest success.

Resolve is required.  No one achieves their best with half-hearted attempts.  Running a scatter-gun approach.  Dipping in a toe.  Making a single attempt.  Lacking total commitment.

This is why it is critical we decide specifically how we define success and what we consider our greatest success.  Defined and identified, then we’re in a position to commit and to plan the means for achieving our success.  Then we look at that plan in light of the virtues and make sure each leg on our personal stool stands strong and bears its weight.  That the supports are present and secured in place.

Then we can resolve to be resolved.

One of the most damaging phrases to success I’ve ever heard is, “I’ll try.”

“I’ll try,” implies effort but also doubt.  Doubt feeds fear, and fear undermines success.  It holds you back.  It openly states a lack of faith, commitment, and resolve.

Make your resolution.  Write it down.  When doubt encroaches–and it will–refute it.  Double your resolve.  And claim your success.  It is your destiny.

Frugality. We’re all familiar with the challenges that come with excessive spending.  With waste.  Whether it’s wasting money, energy, or time.

Growing up, the first financial lesson my parents taught me was to tithe.  The second lesson was that you never spend all of what you make.  Whatever you earn, you live beneath your means and save a portion of whatever you earn.

Those were lessons for which I’ve always been grateful, and ones I wish my parents had taught others, including our leadership, which even after seeing the fallout of not doing so has continued to live above its means.

There are huge benefits in frugality.  I’m not suggesting that we all become cheap, or that we do everything on the cheap.  I don’t believe that’s what Franklin meant, and I know it isn’t what I mean.

Frugality is avoiding waste and abuse, it’s spending wisely, thoughtfully, purposefully.  And frugality isn’t limited to money, though the wisdom of the virtue there is certainly clear.  It’s about any and all commodities you possess.

Your time, for example.  Be frugal with your time, avoiding waste or abuse in it, spending it wisely, purposefully and thoughtfully, and you’ve created an atmosphere conducive to success.

Your possessions.  Avoid  wasting what you have, abusing it, and you retain more longer, you also prove trustworthy as a steward for more.

In your job, if you’re frugal–not wasting or abusing your boss’ resources, the time for which you’re being paid, the products you provide, the services you render–you’re a good employee.  Trusted, singled out for promotion because you are invested and treating your employer and his resources with the same respect and regard you do your own.

Frugality doesn’t mean to short-change or short-cut, or to undercut quality.  It means to seek only quality.  Quality time, quality use, quality for effort expended.

Quality is elevated in frugality because the negative opposites of it are eliminated.  Can or will you eliminate all?  Probably not, but you can do your best to do so.  And that is an environment that invites success.

Industry. An industrious young man took risks.  Many claimed he was crazy, wasting his time.  He was called a radical, an upstart.  He made waves, challenged the status quo, angered many people, and his impact is still felt some two thousand years later.  He was industrious.

He embraced virtues and acted.  And therein lies a good lesson for us all.

You can have a fantastic idea, but if you don’t analyze it, weigh its value, consider its risks, its potential benefits–do your homework–and then act to manifest it, all you have is an idea.  It won’t manifest because it can’t.

Likewise, if you don’t weigh and consider every facet you can reasonably weigh and consider, at best you have a half-baked idea that might or might not enjoy some success.

Great success historically requires thinking outside the box, but it requires thinking inside the box, too.  You’ve heard it said that there’s no need to constantly reinvent the wheel.  But there is or could be value in improving what exists, in honing and making a better wheel.  So don’t misunderstand the dynamic.  Thinking outside the box can be beneficial, but it can also be a diversionary tactic.  One that claims your imagination, your energy and effort, and actually deters you from your greatest success because in the end what you achieve isn’t necessarily better only different.

Industrious seeks better.  In simplistic terms, Ben Franklin had poor eyesight.  He was self-taught.  Being self-taught meant extensive reading.  Extensive reading during only daylight hours limited the time he could invest in learning.  Need motivated him to become industrious to increase the time available for learning.  Candles and poor eyesight were obstacles.  But this industrious man considered the challenges and found ways to overcome them.  He did extensive work on glasses and electricity–and on many other things.  He thought outside the box but also inside the box.  A need that needed to be filled.  An obstacle that required a solution.  To fulfill those needs and solve the challenges in those obstacles, he became industrious.  And because he did, he benefited and so do we.

Sincerity. This virtue is hugely underestimated today, and that is in no small part a direct result of the existing culture of greed and corruption.  We’ve learned to be suspicious, to doubt others’ word, to be wary of scammers and thieves of property and even identity.  We know that there are those among us who make careers out of beating the system, using what was intended for good in ways that personally benefit–legal or not.

Two examples.  Hawaii had a program where it picked up half the fees for kids without insurance, so they could see doctors and get meds and be cared for.  It was working out great.  Children who needed care were getting it.  But soon parents who had insurance for their own children dropped those policies.  It benefitted them not to pay for their kids’ insurance when the state would pay those expenses for them.  After just seven months, Hawaii had to drop the project.  You see, the program was designed to help those children who otherwise couldn’t get what they needed.  It wasn’t designed to help those who could get what they needed but were born to parents who expected the state to absorb their parental responsibilities.  So before the program could bankrupt the state, it had to be stopped.

The parents who elected to abuse the system caused its elimination.  That was a lack of sincerity that caused traumatic consequences.

Now some would say, why should I pay for what others get for free?  Where is the sincerity or justice in that?

To them, I say, these were children, not able adults unwilling to work or adults who live with a sense of entitlement–as if others owe them something.  Perhaps their parents didn’t make wise choices, perhaps their parents lacked sincerity, but that’s not the issue.  Those parents might or might not have had extenuating circumstances that put them in a horrific position.  But that isn’t germane in this case, either.  What is germane is that it was the children who were impacted and the children who suffered the consequences of the lack of sincerity–regardless of its source.

Sincerity in our actions, in our deeds, in our behavior has an enormous impact on our success and on the  quality of life we experience.  Every day of our lives, at any given moment in our lives, we make choices.  Some good, some bad.  We live with the consequences of both.  So do others in our circle of influence.

Let’s look at a few simple facts:

Someone lies to you.  Do you ever again believe them without wondering if they’re being truthful this time or lying again?

Someone violates your trust.  Even with the effort and time required to rebuild it, when an issue arises that requires trust, do you give it–without remembering the violation?

Someone manipulates you.  Or tries to manipulate you.  Are you eager to embrace that person?  You might forgive them on moral grounds–because it is the right thing for you to do–but does that require you to put yourself in the position of being manipulated again?  It doesn’t.  Common sense and logic warns against it.  Forgive them, yes.  But don’t ignore the insights you’ve gained into their character.

When someone is genuine, sincere in their assertions and actions, and in the manner in which they conduct themselves and their lives, they avoid violations of this type which raise questions in others’ minds.  General doubts and concerns due to culture occur, but specific offenses and abuses aren’t in play.

Now you can’t control what others think and do or how they behave.  Some will look at you and attribute their own motives, acts, and behavior to you, expecting you to be and react as they would.  That’s human, but it also leads to a lot of false conclusions.  You can’t control that.  Only they can.

What you can control is you:  your thought life, your physical life, your spiritual life, your conduct, and your behavior.  You know your motives, your reasons for doing what you do, when you do it, the way you do it.

If you act with sincerity, you’ve spared yourself  the hardships and results of violating others.  You’ve also spared yourself self-inflicted violations.

Again, note the interaction in the virtues and how one leg of our bench is interdependent on all the others.

Sincerity isn’t a facade.  It isn’t a face we put on to greet the public.  It’s a mindset seated in principle and ethics, in morals and in faith.

It’s a belief that seeming genuine isn’t our best.  To achieve our greatest success, we must be genuine.

That’s sincere.

Justice. Inside us beats a heart that cries for justice.  We want wrongs made right.  The unfair made fair.  We want the guilty to pay, the innocent spared, the liar exposed, the thief caught, the criminal punished.

We don’t just want justice, we crave it.  We rely on it to keep our streets and homes safe, our society one in which we feel secure and in which we aren’t ashamed.  We want the bad guys to lose, the good guys to win, and for all things to work out right in the end–however we define right.

And sometimes they do.

But sometimes they don’t.

A hard lesson for me to learn to the point of acceptance was that people aren’t all basically good.  They aren’t all ethical, they aren’t all moral, and they don’t always wish, hope and pray for the greater good.  They could be all those things and more, but some choose not to be for a myriad of reasons.

We’ve heard justice prevails, it all comes out in the wash, what goes around comes around.  All those sayings and many more.  But we look around and we see horrible deeds go unpunished, wicked behavior by the lowest of standards reap rewards.  We see injustice and at times we begin to doubt justice exists.

Let’s dispel the rumors.

Justice exists.  The perimeters were set forth thousands of years ago in the form of basic truths and they haven’t changed.  Truths are like that.  They’re universal and they’re enduring.

What might or might not be enduring is the legs on justice’s bench.  We let this or that slide, let someone fudge a little, fail to hold lawbreakers accountable, and we make the legs of justice wobbly.

You see, the law isn’t what’s defined justice all these years.  People have defined justice. Justice is.  But the choices made either support or diminish it.  And each time justice is circumvented, it becomes a little harder to sustain.  The bench legs grow a little more wobbly.  It isn’t that the truth has changed.  That justice has changed.  The support for it is what changes.

Realizing that the truth remains and justice is justice regardless of whether or not it’s supported or enforced or deliberately manipulated or circumvented doesn’t alter justice.  It does alter the application of justice.

So we choose.  We live in a country where justice is to be applied equally.  If it is, great.  We’ve fulfilled our personal obligation in fostering it.  If it isn’t, then we haven’t.  That’s the long and short of it.  The rest is just clutter.

Justice isn’t just about what a court or government decides is just and then renders.  It’s what people demand from its courts and government.  Justice isn’t just about what’s outside of us, either.  It’s within.  Our craving for justice requires we be just.  In our opinions, in our attitudes, in our acts.

An example.  You go in to negotiations.  Your objective is to make the best deal you can.  On the other side of the table sits one whose objective is to make the best deal s/he can make.  If you both negotiate in good faith, then eventually you end up somewhere in the middle.  If both leave that table feeling good about the deal, you’ve achieved a fair deal.  A win/win situation.

But when those negotiations are not held in good faith, and a win/win situation isn’t sought, someone loses.  Too many feel good about winning in a situation where someone loses.

I’m not talking about a competition, or a foot race here.  There are times and situations were there are winners and losers and that’s that.  We enjoy our wins, mourn our losses, being philosophical and sincere in recognizing that no one wins all the time, and then we press on.  I’m talking about the situations where one person deliberately sets out to take advantage of another.  Who permits or allows someone to make a bad deal because they can.  Is that just?

Some would say if s/he’s dumb enough to do it, yes.  But one who loves justice will not.  One who loves justice realizes that if you make a killing at the negotiating table the first time, there won’t be a second trip to the table because the other party will be dead.

The death of your opponent isn’t success.  It’s suicide.  Because there are only so many people who can and will sit on the opposite side of that negotiating table.  In short, you run out of victims or potential partners.

Implementing justice is spiritually mature.  It’s seeing the wisdom and benefits of having both parties walk away feeling that they’ve made a fair deal.  In a fair deal, both parties feel invested, enthused, excited.  Both parties see merit in the project or product or service, and both look forward to the process of fruition.

Some will disagree.  Some will say that you must go for the jugular, get all you can, take all at any cost.  And some do function that way.  Some even appear to prosper . . . for a time.  But is that prosperity truly success?

When justice isn’t applied within or without, what’s left is spiritually bankrupt.  How many people do you know who are spiritually bankrupt and content?  Fulfilled?  Sleep well at night?  Meet their eyes in the morning mirror and like what they see?

It is the unseen in us that craves justice.  And it is the unseen in us that blesses or curses, praises or condemns us for our part in embracing or shunning it.

Justice isn’t for the fainthearted.  It isn’t for the weak.  It is for those strong enough to be vulnerable and strong enough to do the right thing even though the tangible, physical and immediate rewards for such are invisible to the naked eye, intangible, or inconvenient.

The bottom line is that if we want justice we must be just.  We must object to injustice in all its forms.  Even when it’s not politically correct, or when we’ll take heat for doing so.  Even when it’s out of vogue, or it would be oh-so-much easier on us to ignore, to pretend ignorance of it, to walk away.

Justice is blind to many things, but not to the truths within us.  If we want it, we have to insist on it.  Because injustice is often presented because it ruffles fewer feathers and causes fewer challenges.

Yet the consequences of going along with it is you only gain greater challenges, more complex challenges, and the absence of justice.

And then we crave it all the more.

Moderation. The wisdom of the ages is to be moderate in all things.  We see what happens if we get too far to either side–we have no balance.  Hard to function with no balance.

If we eat too much, we gain weight.  If we eat too little, we lose weight.  In all we do, we see the benefit of balance, or moderation.

From bodily intake to taking time off from work, we see the challenges that arise when the balance is broken.  We’re right back to our bench.  Moderation means all the legs on the bench are the same length.  Overindulgence in any area, and those legs are too long.  Under-indulge, and they’re too short.  Either way, the bench isn’t useable for normal function because it’s not stable.  It rocks and wobbles.  It tilts and jerks.  The bench can’t be a successful bench because it lacks moderation–or legs that are all the same length, which then spread the weight placed on the bench.

At times, we all indulge in excess.  We all reap the rewards or challenges from doing so, too.  The problem is that we tend to not consider those consequences until after we indulge.  We know we should.  We know it’s best.  We know, and yet we indulge anyway.

Human beings are basically self-indulgent.  We want what we want and we want it when we want it, which more often than not is right now.  We rationalize, deceive ourselves and others, talk around, avoid, deny, refuse to accept–all to foster our desire to do what we want to do.  And the more certain we are that we shouldn’t indulge, the harder we try to all those things we know we shouldn’t, or some combination of them, to justify our actions.

We talk ourselves into this extreme action, do it, and then live to regret it.

The wise part of us says we knew what we were doing, and we asked for it.  The wise part of us accepts personal responsibility for the action.  But those among us who have yet to reach that emotional and spiritual maturity look for someone else to blame–anyone else to blame.

The consequences of the indulgence are suffered either way–in accepting responsibility for your actions and being personal accountable, or in blaming someone else, denying your responsibility and shunning your accountability.

But the truth is this:  You suffer the consequences.

If you accept responsibility and are accountable, you can atone by taking constructive action to correct the challenge and by choosing not to engage again.

If you deny responsibility and are not accountable, you’ve got bigger problems that will keep coming at you until you get the message that if you indulge, you are indulging.

If you blame others, you’ve added an entire new level to the consequences challenge.  Why?

Because you’ve attributed blame to someone blameless.  That’s unjust.  (There’s that interaction between the virtues again!)  Then you suffer the consequences of that infraction, too!

Moderation isn’t intended to restrict us from anything.  It’s purpose is to keep us healthy, our personal scales balanced.  But to implement moderation in our lives requires restraint.  Self-control.  Discipline.  It requires us to examine the value of moderation–and that includes our mouths.

Moderating speech–what we say, how we say it, to whom we say it–is a huge key to success.

If we indulge in gossip, we should expect at some point to be the topic of it.  If we lose our tempers and speak harshly, we’re likely saying things for which we must later apologize.  At best, we’re generating a lot of bad will.  If we’re harsh and vindictive, we’ll have earned our reputations for being so.

Are any of those things healthy environments for success?  Our greatest success?

Be moderate in all things.  I’m far from the first to say it, and far from the first to know a great piece of advice when I see or hear one.  This is great advice.

Physical, emotional, or spiritual moderation isn’t being lukewarm on anything.  One can be passionate and moderate.  Determined and moderate.  Bursting

with joy and be moderate.  One can enjoy a fabulous meal, lap swimming, and still be moderate.

Moderation helps us build balance, avoid injury, preventing us from going over or under on nearly everything on every front.  It is a process.  Moderation also helps us maintain balance.  Achieving is but a part of success.  Maintaining what we achieve is essential to achieving our greatest success, and that requires moderation.

Cleanliness. We think of cleanliness in terms of our body, work area, home.  In terms of keeping things neat and tidy.  And those things are very important.  We know the disease and challenges that can come from germs and bacteria, from the lack of cleanliness.  But how often do we consider the cleanliness of our emotions?  Of our minds?

Remember, we’re three-dimensional human beings:  physical, emotional and spiritual or mind, body and spirit.

We know from virtues already covered the challenges that occur with imbalance.  Without moderation.  When we lack temperance, silence, order and justice.  We know that the virtues are interdependent and one enhances and strengthens the others.  So why then knowing these things do we not consider the cleanliness of our emotions and our minds and spirits equally important to that of our physical being and world?

When emotions are unclean, they’re warped.  They skew our sense of well being, twist our mindset, our perspective.  They too often turn dark and menacing, destructive.  Our relationships with others suffer, our sense of worth and value suffers.  We suffer.

When our minds are unclean, our thoughts take us down wrong roads, polluted roads, roads that make problems bigger, harder to tackle, fearful roads.  We start to compromise on ethics, our sense of right and wrong gets muddy.  We say and do things that we believed we’d never do–that we know are self-destructive to do.

Unclean attracts unclean.  What we tolerate or attract we claim.  What we claim either is or becomes us.

This makes the purity of thoughts extremely important.  Where the mind goes, the body follows.  Not sure who said it, but I’ve lived enough to know it’s true.  Let me share a specific.

When you’re around positive, upbeat people, you’re more apt to be positive and upbeat.  When you’re surrounded by negativity, it is really hard not to be negative.  It permeates your defenses against it.  It massages and manipulates what is into its darkest forms.  We all know that our mood or attitude impacts our perception.  So if our thoughts are dark, we’re going to become dark.  It’s the logical, morbid path.

We all go through dark times.  Losing someone we love–grief is truly merciless–being falsely accused of infractions we did not commit, being lied to or about, not getting a promotion we deserve, doing the work and someone else getting the credit, being used, abused, asked questions that let us know someone is indifferent as to whether we live or die, only interested in how they’ll be impacted and if they will get their rightful share of what we leave behind.  The list is endless.

Our thoughts in these situations are naturally dark, and we have to exercise discipline and control to overcome them and not let them taint our entire lives, because unchecked, they will.  They’ll color everything, spreading and seeping into every crevice and cranny until our total being is tainted.

That requires us making a conscious choice to not allow it.  When our minds turn dark, we have to force ourselves to turn back to light.  When someone hurts us or wrongs us, we have to forgive them and then turn to those who love us and treat us well.

We control ourselves in these situations.  No pill, no wallowing in self-pity, no casting heaps of blame elsewhere will fix anything or do anything to get our minds clean and our thoughts positive.  We must choose to be positive, to think positive, to act on positive thoughts.  If we do, then the rest of us will catch up.  Where the mind goes, the body follows.

Just as unclean bodies are home to bacteria and disease, unclean thoughts are home to mental dis-ease.  Mental dis-ease fosters physical disease.

When gloom and doom occupy all your thoughts, there’s no room for success.  There is room for physical illness.  Then you’re focused on fighting the illness and there’s still no room for success.

Cleanliness isn’t just about the physical.  It’s about the physical and the emotional and the spiritual.  The spiritual realm is home to virtues, to ethics and standards and morals.  Like the virtues themselves, the balance between our three-dimensions requires balance to create conditions that are conducive to success.  To create the balance  required to nurture the path of success.

Cleanliness works in tandem with order and the other virtues to provide the forum, and working in tandem with the other virtues provides the means for the vehicle–that would be you–to achieve and maintain your best success.

Tranquility. We think of tranquility and imagine a place or sense of calm and peace and serenity.  Then we look at life and see challenges and obstacles and problems, and we shout our frustration, “Hey, wait a minute.  Knock it off, will  you?  I’m trying to be tranquil here!”

How in the world are we supposed to be tranquil in a world full of upset?  People are tense, frustrated, grouchy, annoyed, irritated and impatient.  They’re about as tranquil as a keg of TNT with a lit fuse.

All of that and more is true, but tranquility isn’t finding peace and calm away from storms.  That doesn’t exist in life.  Tranquility is finding and keeping your peace during storms.

Do that, and you’re halfway to success.

Let me share a quick example.  Yesterday, I got a phone call from a solicitor wanting money.  I explained that I had recently donated to such a cause.  The man’s voice elevated and he snapped at me, saying he knew that, which was why he was calling.  He wanted more.  They’d just had an incident and needed a good deal of money fast.  I have an aversion to be yelled at, especially by someone wanting something from me.  Yet this was a good cause.  I paused a second then decided the cause shouldn’t suffer because this guy wanted someone to yell at.  He was obviously having a bad day, so I cut him some slack.  I suggested he mail me the information and said I would look at it.  He got belligerent, pushed, and made a smart remark that crossed the line, then ended his tantrum with a “Are you going to do this or not?”  That was the one.  The proverbial straw.  I said I wasn’t and to remove me from their list.  I hung up with him screaming at me.

Now we can make allowances for people.  We can be compassionate and understanding and accommodating.  Often that exercise of self-control is mistaken for weakness and others attempt to bully us into doing their will.  As you can see from the above example that was a mistake.  This group lost a supporter.  The man lost his dignity–and I dare-say that if he spoke to others as he did to me, he’ll soon find himself reported and lose his job.

I hung up and forgot the incident, when on about my day, did my work and lived my life.  I expect he screamed until he felt less stressed, griped to someone else, muttered and muffled and maybe even went home complaining about that mean woman who wouldn’t do as she was told.  For him, you see, it was about control.

The point is I was surprised by his behavior but I didn’t lose my peace over it.  Tranquil in the storm.

I’ve had to really work at this one, I confess.  And at times, I fail.  But in this incident, I saw the value of holding my tongue, keeping my peace, and staying calm.  One temper is bad.  Two is much worse.  I wanted to blister the man’s ears and give him a lecture his mother should have given him long ago.  But I didn’t.  Hard?  Yes.  Worthy?  Yes.

It was a choice.  And I made the one I felt was right and best.  That’s all we can do.  Our best, and that’s why I chose that story to share.

We aren’t going to live in a tranquil world.  People are messy.  Life is messy.  A lot of lives are a lot of messes.  Most are out of our control.  But not all.  Our reactions, however, are within our domain.  We choose whether to fire off that hot retort or to stay silent until reason reigns and we settle back into our peace.

I’d be remiss if I claimed to be able to do this alone.  I’m not that strong.  I rely heavily on faith for

calm during storms.  It gives me all I lack on my own to allow me to struggle through the urge to blast or blister.  I’m grateful for it.

When we’re tranquil and not anxious, we’re mentally, physically and emotional positioned to be open to thoughts and ideas, to new potential, possibilities.  We make better decisions, analyze more clearly.  We’re sharper, quicker, wiser, stronger.  Our imaginations have room to play, to project, to expect.  We can focus on those dreams and wishes.  We have room in our lives to foster success.  We have room for the vision we need to achieve our best success.

Chastity. Most today see the word chastity and think of refraining from intercourse, but that barely scratches the surface of chastity.  A better, more comprehensive understanding would be in considering chastity morally pure.  That we can wrap our minds and hearts around and know that we’re getting a fuller intent.

Moral purity isn’t just having pure morals.  It’s pure motives and pure intentions, too.  It’s the absence of manipulation, of dirty-dealing, of using underhanded methods or means.  Moral purity is respect.  Respect for self, for others, for property, for everything.

A person who embraces moral purity tries hard to treat others well, to respect their boundaries, their hopes and desires and to encourage them in the pursuit of their dreams.  It means to doubt or err on the side of morals or ethics.

For example, we’ve all heard the slogan, “Do it anyway.”  Well, if “it” is to face your fears, speak out against something wrong, embrace courage, then it’s a positive thing.  Constructive.  Morally pure or chaste.  But if that “do it anyway” is used as encouragement or enticement to do something you know is wrong, illegal, harmful or destructive to yourself or to another, then it is not morally pure or chaste.  It’s corrupt and used as a license to do what you want to do that you know you shouldn’t.

Moral purity isn’t placing yourself in a position of superiority or above it all.  It’s trying to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time in the right way.  A way that respects you and everyone and everything else impacted.

If we check the dictionary, being chaste means being restrained and simple, free from unnecessary ornamentation.  If we apply this to the physical, we easily grasp the intent.  In applying it to the emotional and spiritual, we see the merit and grasp a fuller, deeper value.

Often we make things complex because we take what is and attempt to weave it until it becomes what we want it to be so that we can feel comfortable and justified in doing what we want to do.  Doesn’t make it right.  Doesn’t make it best.  Just makes it palatable because in our minds we can rationalize our wants and reconcile the differences.

Unfortunately the very thing that became our “valid excuse” often comes back and bites us on the backside.  Then, we typically ask ourselves, “Why me?” or some other like question that removes responsibility for the action or deed from us.  It doesn’t work.  It’s a facade, an illusion, a delusion.  And eventually we realize it, accept it, and then we go on, wiser for the experience.  But until we reach that point of accepting responsibility and changing our mindset, we are pummeled with the consequences of our actions.

In short, successful people are ones who are not continuously and repeatedly being pummeled.  They’re accepting responsibility for their actions and deeds, restructuring themselves to avoid those same challenges again, and moving on.  They’re embracing the full intent of chastity.

Humility. When you mention humility to someone often the reaction you get is that they confuse humility with humiliation.  The two are poles apart.

Humility is realizing you don’t know it all, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t even know all the questions.  It is not being so full of yourself that you place yourself on some kind of pedestal from which you are destined to fall.  Being humble in spirit, or demeanor, is a mark of true success.  It is respecting yourself and others, understanding your

value and worth and the value and worth of all others.

I remember once as a small child, a visitor came to our home.  He spent hours and hours telling my father and I how smart he was and how stupid another man was.  This was an uncommon dialogue in our house, and after the man left, I asked my dad why the man did that.  He explained that when people feel unqualified or inferior or uneasy with themselves, they make those kinds of assertions to justify themselves (assert their worth) to others.   They try to build themselves up by tearing others down.

It doesn’t work.  I was maybe ten or twelve at this time, and my reaction was surprise and dislike.  I disliked what this man was doing, talking hatefully about the third man who wasn’t there to defend himself.

My dad went on to say two things I’ve never forgotten:

1.      If you’re smart, you don’t have to tell anyone.  They’ll know it.  And no matter how smart you are, someone else is smarter.  Listen and learn.

2.       You never build yourself up by tearing someone down.  Instead, you tear down two people.  The person you’re talking ugly about and yourself.

Those were valuable lessons that speak to the virtue of humility.  Something else my dad said that I’ve clung to like a lifeline over the years is that if you’re on a ladder and want to step up to the next rung, extend a hand and ask for help.  Someone of character will reach back down and help pull you up.  And while you’re on that ladder, look down.  If someone is extending an outstretched hand, reach back down and help pull them up.

That visual image is to me the epitome of humility in action.  It embraces compassion, respect, honor, dignity.  It speaks to elevating all.  And isn’t that the ultimate exercise of humility?

In The Art of Virtues, Franklin says to imitate Jesus and Socrates.  Can you imagine a world like that?

Jesus was an upstart, but amazingly perfect.  He was betrayed, abused, sold, falsely accused, denied, lied to, lied about, run out of town and murdered for doing absolutely nothing wrong.  He had every right to be bitter and all the power in the world at His command.  He could have cleaned house in the blink of an eye.  Instead, He interceded on the behalf of those who had done all these horrible things to Him and asked that they be forgiven.  That’s humility.

That’s the ultimate self-control.

He got ticked off, too.  And experienced every other human emotion a mortal can experience.  Yet He held to virtue, to His beliefs, to what He believed was good and true and right.  Humble and magnificent.

Socrates, the enigmatic and wise mentor and philosopher, condemned for teachings considered heretic but whose ideas on logic influence today.  Ideas seated in humility and logic and wisdom passed on to his students.

Both Jesus and Socrates had ample opportunities to inflict humiliation.  Socrates is a bit of a mystery, but Jesus elected not to humiliate but to heal.  Again expressing amazing and admirable self-control.  Embodying humility.

And so there you have it.  My personal take on each of Ben Franklin’s success-gaining virtues.

Digesting as I’m writing this, I think about all the research I’ve been doing lately on potential villains.  Since they are villains, the subject matter has been dark.  I’ve seen corrupt people use and abuse for the purpose of personal gain and greed.  Seen people willing to destroy millions of others to achieve their personal goals or inflict on others their personal ideology.  Others who destroy lives of those who “get in their way” or even those who dare to disagree with them.

I’ve seen things that even a writer who has written many, many books on terrorism and who has studied terrorists for years wishes she could erase from her memory.  Things that curdle blood and encase your heart in ice so you freeze out the pain of man’s inhumanity to man.

Some of these people have risen to high positions in their companies, organizations and governments.  By the standards of many, they’re successful, their acumen admired.

Me, I wouldn’t consider standing in the same room with them without my back being against the wall and direct, unobstructed access to the door.  I don’t think Ben Franklin would, either.

People who arouse those types of feelings in us, we don’t trust.  We see no signs in them of any of the virtues Ben Franklin considered keys to success  or I explored.  Which leads me to conclude that people define success differently, and that each of us must define it about ourselves and our lives to ourselves.

Others try to define success for us.  They typically relate it to money, position, power or other such things.  But Ben Franklin knew better and so do I.  If you have to sell your soul to gain success, your net worth is a total loss.  You’ve gained nothing and lost everything.

You might live in a fine home, have expensive things and stuff.  But those things are traps that can imprison as well as embrace.

Where there is no peace or contentment, where we feel no sense of value or worth, or that we’re contributing something worth being contributed, we’re not enjoying success.  We’re enjoying the physical facade of success.

But it’s empty.



Yet we can enjoy genuine and real success.  The kind that is home to contentment and feeling fulfilled and valuable and worthy.  Starting today, right now, this very second, we can enjoy true success to its fullest physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Because we know that it takes all three to achieve our best success.  That the keys to doing so are in embracing these virtues.

We know the value and merit and blessings of seeking success Ben Franklin style.❖

Life’s Messy. Clean It Up!


My mailbox has been flooded with emails from people seeking counsel who are scared and angry about all that is going on in our country and in our families.  They’re fearful of the direction we’re taking as a society, fearful for their children, and fearful of being stripped of everything that makes them Americans.


Because there are so many, and because right now my commitments are heavy, I can’t address these things in one-on-one conversations as I typically do.  So I’m going to address the concerns here as best I can.


Know that I’m not an attorney.  I am a doctor, but not a medical doctor or a psychiatrist.  My degree is is philosophy, theocentric business and ethics.  I am, always have been and will be, a simple woman struggling on her spiritual journey through life like everyone else.  And the authority to whom I go before tackling or responding to anything is God in prayer.


I will be speaking frankly about matters that impact large numbers of us.  Some won’t like what I have to say.  Some will.  Others will be outraged and feel compelled to blister my ears.  I’ll be frank.  You’re welcome to respectfully disagree.


You’re not welcome to be verbally abusive, and if you are, I won’t read what you write, so the greatest good that will come of rants is the release of stress you feel in posting.  Respect is the key word.  For you and for me.  For all.  And with that said, let me address your concerns.


Life is messy.  And we make it more so by the choices we make.  We think of choices only in terms of being those things we decide to do.  But what we decide not to do, and refusing to make a decision at all is also making choices.


We often are confronted with a challenge that we don’t want to face.  Maybe it cuts down to the bone or makes us uncomfortable, so we avoid it.  That’s making a choice.  It’s choosing to ignore a problem.


Now what happens if we have a hot water heater that goes out?  It starts leaking water.  Okay, if we ignore that, what happens?  It floods the floor.  If that floor is concrete, the impact might not be too bad.  But if it’s carpet or wood, we’ve got a bigger problem.  The carpet gets soaked, water creeps up the wall.  If we continue to ignore the problem, the carpet and walls mold.  Now we’ve got a bigger problem.  If the floor’s wood, it buckles.  We have a hot water heater that’s out and a buckled floor:  a bigger problem.

But if when the water heater goes out, we address it right away, we minimize any damage.  And there’s the lesson:  you can’t ignore problems and not suffer stiffer consequences.  In other words, you reap what you sow.  Ignore it, pay the price.  Handle it, and you pay that price.  You choose which price you pay.


The water heater challenge is the same as all the challenges written about in the emails.  Let me share my perceptions, starting with the broadest and winnowing down to the up-close-and-personal.


Our country.  We’re in an identity crisis, of two minds, and therein lies the host of all our problems. On the one hand, we have those who embrace traditional values.  On the other, we have those who embrace progressive values. The two have co-existed in our nation for a long time because each side exercised civility toward the other.  That’s gone now, and there’s a propensity to shove down the throats of others what one wants.  Coupled with corruption and greed, it’s dangerous to our republic.  And we all know corruption and greed are running loose in our country.  We need a major broom to clean it up.


We also need a better understanding of how we got in such a fix so that we don’t end up right back where we are.


In my humble opinion, we have several contributing factors:


*   Many citizens have never read the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, though they’ll cite snippets from it all day long.  The Declaration of Independence  doesn’t grant us rights.  It states that our rights are endowed by our Creator. Here’s a snippet from the Declaration of Independence:


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”


(Read the whole thing at:



Endowing and securing are very different things–and we citizens have allowed the difference to get muddy.  We’ve done so largely through our decision to ignore, to do nothing, to permit government to do what it would, and because we have, like the water heater that went out, we’re suffering more damage.


Freedom isn’t free.  Liberty isn’t free, either.


From the very beginning (as you’ve just read in the Declaration of Independence), America was founded on  the spiritual principle of citizens’ rights being endowed by our Creator.  Going back, we know the first book printed in this country was the Bible, and it was printed by the government to promote literacy.


There have always been strong spiritual bonds between America and God.  At least, until the last few decades.


Now  we have a president who says we’re no longer a Christian nation.  We have jihadists with ties to groups who have murdered our citizens holding conferences in Illinois hotels.  We have organized groups attempting to remove God from everything possible–our schools, our government buildings, our offices, and I daresay before long our private lives and homes.  We’ve allowed it to happen.  We’re reaping the consequences.


Not so long ago, families went to church, they prayed together, they stayed together.  Were there exceptions?  Of course.  But the majority of American families were engaged spiritually.  Today, they’re not.


In a discussion not long ago, one went on so excited about being a missionary to Africa.  My reaction was when are you going to use missionaries here, at home?  I got a blank look, and then the man laughed.  But I wasn’t being funny.


Right now in America, for the first time, we have more single-family households than married households.  That has a significant impact on our children, our adults, and our society.


Single moms, bless them, are struggling all too often to be all things:  mother, father, provider–all of it.  Something’s got to give.  And because mom comes home dragging and then does dinner, deals with the kids’ challenges, does the house, pays the bills, and on and on, she’s exhausted.  What gives?  Too often, spiritual instruction, guidance and direction.  Far fewer attend church.  TVs, CDs and video games have become child caretakers.  Keep ‘em occupied for a few minutes of peace.


Easy to see the challenges and easy to see the need for respite, but the bottom line is that kids aren’t getting what they need spiritually.  Fewer parents are living it, so they can learn by example.  Fewer parents are teaching it, or providing an environment where it can be taught.


Proof of this lack in our society was evidenced in a street survey done recently by one of the major networks.  On the street, they asked random people to name the Ten Commandments.


They couldn’t do it.


Since we have taken our collective morals and ethics from these, we see a gaping hole where our foundation used to be.  If a society is spiritually bankrupt (rampant corruption and greed, lack of morals and ethics, ignorance of the basis under which society functions) then our water heater is out and we’re flooded and molded.


There was a time when spiritual matters were reinforced in schools and publicly.  We had the Commandments posted in classrooms, we prayed in school.  Government meetings began with Invocations–when Congress convened the first time, it began with a three-hour prayer.  But today we hear separation of Church and State, and many adopt it as part of our foundation.  It isn’t.


The separation of Church and State does not appear in our Declaration or in our Constitution.


By our lack of objection, our apathy, by not tending to our water heater, most don’t realize that, and accept that it is rooted in one or both.  It’s not.


Perhaps more would realize this and rally against removing our spiritual foundation from our government and by extension our society if they read the documents.  But Civics is no longer a requirement in schools.


The result is that most students never read either document, never study the history of our nation.  They don’t know what is in those documents, so they take whatever they’re told at face value.  And unfortunately too many who oppose our roots are the only voices being heard because they’re the only ones talking.


Civics should be required in all American schools.  American history should be required in all American schools.  But unless those who believe that insist–and, in my humble opinion we should insist because this is the study of how our government is structured, how it works–civics will remain an elective–at least, until it disappears, and odds I fear are that it won’t take long until it does.


As I write this, text books are being rewritten.  They’re reportedly banning words like American and founding fathers.


Why?  Because “people of the United States” gives us a less arrogant and more global feel.  Some say, a more European feel.  Founding fathers?  Because it’s too gender-biased.

Not to be glib, but good grief.  The goal of making men and women the same isn’t going to work.  Why?  Because we  aren’t the same.  To deny it assures only that we’ll have a generation or two of totally confused people who can’t tell up from down.  Women are built different, they address challenges and triumphs differently, they face conflict and resolutions differently.   There’s a reason we’re different and it’s apparent.


Americans are Americans.  We founded America for a reason.  We declared independence for a reason.  Why deny who we are to make ourselves more acceptable to others?  Political correctness is the cited rationale.  In my humble opinion, it’s flawed to the core.  But unless Americans tend to that water heater, we’re going to find ourselves no longer us. And we’ll have ourselves and our ignorance of who we are perpetuated and unchallengeduntil we truly are no longer us.  Then changing back will be impossible, short of a second Declaration of Independence and war, and that isn’t apt to happen because too few know too little of civics and history, and are too apathetic to willingly pay the costs of individual freedom:  the costs of liberating the American spirit.


By tearing our foundation out from under us, by not investing in our spiritual lives and teaching it to our children, by not investing in even reading the Commandments and Declaration and Constitution and remaining ignorant on its tenets, by not requiring civics and history be taught, by not speaking out strongly against corruption and greed, by embracing apathy and disengaging from events by ignoring them, we’re reaping exactly what we’ve sown.  And recognizing it brings us to a critical point.  One where we must choose to continue on this path and live under whatever restrictions are imposed or to actively engage and direct our course.  It’s our call to make, and each of us make that call.



We are three-dimensional human beings:  spiritual, emotional, and physical.  And we’re under attack on all fronts.


So let’s take a look at that.  Spiritual matters are based on a foundation.  When you rip out the foundation of a house, the house collapses.  In many ways, that’s exactly what’s happening to us.  We’re not feeding our spiritual selves, when we fail do to so, we diminish the integrity of the structure.  We lose our moral compass.  It’s like muscles we don’t exercise.  Use or lose it.  The muscle is still there, but it’s weak, and we pay the consequences of that in a million ways.


Our rights are granted by our Creator.  The Bill of Rights (the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution)  guarantees us rights.  The first Amendment reads:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”



(Read the whole Bill of Rights at:  http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html)


Note that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.


That’s not a suggestion or a recommendation.  It’s a blatant directive.  So why then are  Christians being persecuted in the United States when doing so is a direct violation of the First Amendment?  Why is it being quietly endured?    Particularly as we see concessions being made for other religions that are perceived forbidden by Christians?  (I’m referring to the school in Virginia where concessions are made for Muslims, to corporations providing prayer time for Muslims but not for Christians or members of other religions.)


Simply put, it’s happening and being endured because we’re allowing it to happen and enduring it.  When and if we choose not to do so, we’ll take action to change this.  And frankly, I hope we don’t wait too long.


There is a faction of radicals rooting in this country.  These are not peaceful people who desire to co-exist.  Their foundation is based on the belief that all must convert to their faith or be killed.  That’s not peaceful coexistence, nor is it a type of spiritual warfare Americans are accustomed to or one they embrace.  So it’s difficult for many, particularly those who aren’t engaged in spiritual matters, to understand the explosive potential and very real ramifications of allowing this movement to go unchecked.  Americans have rights, but their rights cannot infringe on the rights of others.  That’s the part that gets forgotten far too often.  That infringement.


Whether or not we’ll awaken to this before or after crisis, I have no idea.  If before crisis occurs, America and Americans will continue to be proponents of freedom of religion.  If after, it won’t.


Events over the past few decades and particularly those occurring now do not bode well for that freedom.  And before you say I’ve gone off my rocker, understand that in a recent article we learned that by executive order $23 million went to people with ties to Hamas relocating to the US, with the U.S. taxpayer paying their expenses until they get on their feet.  This while Americans are unemployed and skipping meals to make ends meet.


Unless Americans engage and raise their voices demanding their religious rights, I fear it and many other freedoms and personal liberties will too soon be no more than memories for those old enough to remember former times.


America is a nation of immigrants.  The difference in our society then and now is that then when people immigrated, they embraced our culture and society.  They became Americans.  Now that isn’t the case.  Even those in America illegally protest in the streets asserting “their rights.”  What rights?  Rights are afforded to citizens.  Those born here and naturalized citizens.  But citizens.  Non-citizens have rights in their native countries.


But the muddying of this too we have tolerated to our own detriment and to the detriment of all those who immigrated legally, did the work and made the effort to become citizens.  Our lack of respect to them is equal to our lack of respect for the gifts of citizenship provided us by all birth to those who fought and died for it since our republic was born.


The bottom line on spiritual matters: Trust God, get to know Him, invest in learning His laws and teaching them to your children, and love your country enough to insist on the freedom and rights granted to you by your Creator and the government charged with securing those rights, given its power to do so by the consent of the people.


Remember your rights aren’t granted by the government but by our Creator.  The government’s job is to secure them.  If it isn’t doing so, it’s our fault.  They function with our consent.


Government running amok, not representing the will of the people–that’s not the government’s fault.  We have the law, the tools needed to bring it in line.  We haven’t.  That’s our fault—and our problem.


Once again we’re back to choice.  We can choose to not tolerate, not be politically correct but morally and ethically and spiritually correct, or we can choose not to be.  It is our call to make and we each make that call.  We object, or agree, or ignore.  Regardless, we choose.  And we reap what we sow.


The good news is we can change our minds and elect not to continue to sow what we’ve been sowing at any time.  God’s there, waiting for us to embrace Him.  The government is there.  I can’t say it’ll eagerly embrace citizens asserting their opinions or rights, and recent evidence proves they don’t much care for it.  They’re name-calling and attaching insulting labels to those who dare to speak out.  But there are those pesky rights that are laws of the land to contend with and they back up the citizens. If we insist our leaders abide by them, they will or they’ll be replaced by those who do.  If we don’t insist, we’ll get more of the same.  More greed, more corruption, more rights removed from us. This too is our choice to make.


We’re a resourceful country.  We’ve made, in my opinion, some wise choices and unfortunately some very unwise choices that are seated in corruption and greed and in disregard or apathy.  Choices that carry consequences, and  in this simple woman’s view, we’re paying the price for those unwise choices now and we’ll continue to pay the price for our decisions, actions and inactions.





Everyone who’s run a household knows you can’t spend more money than you make without consequences.  Thomas Jefferson warned the same thing for our government.  Yet Congress continues to spend beyond its means.  We pay for it.  That’s not a wise choice, and it carries steep penalties we’re experiencing now.


Everyone who has been the head of a household, or even responsible for themselves, knows the value of rules and self-discipline.  Rights carry responsibilities.  One can’t be embraced without incurring the other, and yet more and more people place blame elsewhere and absolve themselves from personal responsibility–or try to do so.  More and more exercise little or no self-discipline.


It doesn’t work.  We see that now in so many ways I’d need a book just to list them.


An unwise choice is in blaming others, in not stepping up and being accountable.  In accepting personal responsibility.  We see it all the time in our leaders, and in our homes.  It’s crippling us as a nation and it’s destroying our homes as refuges of serenity.

In the past years, we’ve seen Republicans and Democrats voting their party, not their conscience.  They promote the party, defend the party, protect the party.  The problem is that while we function under a two-party system, we are all Americans and we’re not all members of either party.


Leaders elected represent us all.  If our leaders would vote for their country,  then many of the challenges experienced would cease to exist.


But make no mistake, our leaders pledge allegiance to their parties because we the people don’t demand that they instead pledge allegiance to America and Americans.  We tolerate, and the blame for that is ours.  If we insist their decisions be made on the basis of the good of the nation, then they will react to our insistence and do so.  Otherwise, they’ll be invited to seek other employment–and they know it.


You know, our founding fathers were very astute.  But the idea of a career politician was repugnant to them.  Serving your country was something you did because it was your duty.  Then you went home and got a job and worked for a living.  As farsighted as they were, they didn’t see the career politician, and more is the pity.  Because if we removed the eagerness to keep their jobs, the hunger to be re-elected from the equation of leadership, we the people would be better served.  We would have leaders not seeking power and personal gain, but truly leading out of a passion for making our country stronger, its people more secure and wiser.


Again, we choose.  If we don’t like what we have, that’s our responsibility to accept or change.


An unwise choice is in the largest transfer of wealth any nation has ever experienced.


We don’t make much here in America anymore.  We buy from other countries.  That’s an unwise choice.  It takes our wealth and relocates it to other countries who don’t afford us the same privilege.


Yes, we do sell some products overseas.  But they’re taxed much higher.  We outsource.  Send jobs elsewhere.  We endure enormous trade deficits.


We do these things thinking short-term.  We’ll save this much.  We’ll have higher profits.  We’ll look better on our reports to stockholders.


The problem with that is the results are short-term.  Long-term, we’re once again, cutting the foundation out from under ourselves.


Why does a country so rich in resources and in ingenuity with the capability of being self-sustaining deliberately and willfully make itself dependent on others?


That’s a fair question.  Yet this simple woman has yet to hear an answer that makes sense for America.


We need our wealth here.  We need our jobs here.  We need to take care of our own by assuring they have jobs to go to upon graduating.  Helping others is fine.  But as any mother can tell you, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be in a position to take care of anyone else.   So when will we do this?


Who knows?  We aren’t doing it now.  Just recently, over $2 Billion that was released out of the stimulus fund–you know, the one that we had to urgently enact to keep unemployment below 8% (it’s now 9.4% and that’s with fuzzy math enacted) and to create “shovel-ready” jobs that we haven’t created–isn’t going to do spit to help Americans since over half of it is going overseas to foreign countries.  That provides no release–and no stimulus to America or Americans right now.


I know no mother who would permit her own to starve to feed another dessert.  But in a real sense, that’s exactly what we’re doing.


Again, our choice.


There are an entire host of unwise choices, and it isn’t necessary for me to point out each and every one.  You know them.  You’re living them.


The fearful part is that our children and our grandchildren are living them and the consequences for them will be far more difficult than they are for us.  Why?  Because they’re not being taught our history, the ideals, the values, the traditions of our nation.  If those rewriting text books have their way, they won’t even recall a time when we were called Americans.


Deny the old what they need to exist, indoctrinate the young, and what you’ve got is a transformed nation that has no memory of the land of the free our founding fathers created and we Americans embraced. They’ll have no founding fathers.


Those who embrace traditional values have been silent for a long time.  So long that the only voices heard have been those who oppose our traditions. The responsibility for that is ours, not theirs.

Now, much is happening on many fronts that we strongly oppose and we’re silent no more.  That’s confusing to some, an irritant to others.  Those opposing that which we advocate are outraged at our “disrespect” in exercising our freedom of speech.  Of course, they have removed themselves from experiencing what we will experience if we let them enact what they wish as they choose.  (I’m speaking specifically of the proposed health care reform here.  We’ll be stuck with the turkey (God help our seniors) but Congress will be exempt.  It will retain its option of choosing from its current twelve (12) options for health care.)  This “exemption” applies to other things as well.  Members of Congress not paying taxes, bouncing checks, getting sub-prime plus personal mortgages.  That’s our problem and we’ll pay for it too, but we’re also to blame for permitting it without enacting stiff penalties and consequences.


One would have thought we’d have learned the lesson in sub-prime mortgages, but we didn’t.  We’re doing the same thing now, putting ourselves in the same position with “cash for clunkers.”  One day, I pray we awaken.  Fiscal responsibility is crucial.  The alternative is collapse.


We’re emotional about these things, and grateful we should be that we are.  An absence of emotion about not only the course of our very lives but the way in which we’re allowed to live them is worthy of emotion.


But that isn’t a license to despair.  It isn’t a harbinger of the death of hope.


The news isn’t good.  That’s the bottom line.  We can wallow in self-pity that our choices have put us in this position or we can do something about it.  In this country, one person has the power and authority of one.  That goes from the top down and from the bottom up.  If you’re not exercising your share of that authority, then don’t complain.  Do something about it.


It’s easy to get bogged down in feeling small and helpless.  It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed that you give up, toss up your hands and then bury your head in the sand.  But here’s the thing.  Sooner or later you have to lift your head.  And when you do, you’ll have had no part in what you see there.  If you’re an American, you have a vote.  Use it.  You have freedom to express your opinion and have your voice heard by the leaders you elect–they do work for you.  Use it.




Whether you’re talking about your country, your city or your home, adults, you’re the leaders.  Take control, set the example, do the right thing because it’s the right thing.  Take responsibility, exercise discipline, be fiscally responsible–and insist that your public leaders do so as well.  Let them hear from you–often.


The best you can do for yourself, your kids, your family and home, your city and state and country is to take personal responsibility for yourself, your actions and deeds.  In doing so, you become a living example.  Not just one that spouts platitudes, but a person of substance who lives their convictions.


Right now, to be totally blunt, we lack true leaders.  We lack those who embrace traditions and values and ethics and responsibility and self-discipline and respect.


But if we are or become or strive to be better at those things, if we remember our roots, the source of our rights and afford respect and proper positioning of those critical things in our lives, we will resolve many issues.


The fix for our ails begins at home.  In your home and in mine. Seize the reins, take control, and do what’s right.  So what if it’s not popular or you’re ridiculed for it?  You’re being ridiculed anyway.  Every time you swallow another mouthful of that which violates what you stand for, you’re silently ridiculed.  And self-ridiculed because you knew it was coming, and you didn’t stand up.


I realize this is long, and I apologize for that.  But as I said at the beginning, my mailbox has been flooded and the phone’s been just as busy.


Repeatedly we hear, “but these are complex issues.  The answers aren’t that simple.”


They are that simple.  The issues are complex, not impossible to resolve.  They’re intricate but not difficult if your moral compass is intact.  You want solutions and to resolve them?  Then choose to do so.  Let the change begin with you.


Focus not on the problem but on the solution.  Once identified and understood, continuing to harp on the problem doesn’t do anything to fix the problem.  It’s the same for those who’ve suffered and never get past it.


Not minimizing their challenges, but in constantly reliving the past, we’re stealing momentum from our futures and we’re certainly not seeing the good in our present, or addressing what we need to address.


The saving grace in all that’s wrong is that there’s a lot right.  So long as we have life, we have the opportunity to shift and make different choices.  We can choose to change.  We can start today to embrace those things we want present in our lives.  We can shun those things we don’t want in our lives, too.


If we stumble and fall, it’s okay.  We can choose to embrace or shun again tomorrow.  We can learn and grow and make change upon change and choice upon choice day after day after day.


You see, America was built in such ways.  Americans have defined America in such ways.


It isn’t making the wrong choice that hurts us.  We try and fail our way to success all the time.


It is indifference that is the greatest danger to us and to our country.  Taking our gifts of freedom and liberty for granted.  Blindly following like mindless sheep.  Considering what is happening too boring, too annoying, too much trouble to care.  We skip speeches that impact our daily lives to escape into a game or a movie.  I love movies and games, too.  But I live my life before and after them so priorities must be set.  How they are set is our choice.  Life is messy.  Sometimes, very messy.  But it is our life, and if we don’t like the mess, we can clean it up–and watch the ripples.


From personal experience and investment, that is the best advice I have to offer.

Start at home, not in the building, but inside you, where the real you lives.  Do what you can do, identifying what most matters to you and then pray.  A lot.  Be lavish with it.


It isn’t necessary to be elaborate, just sincere and genuine.


One of the most valuable lessons that we forget to remember is that we’re bound by the natural world in which we live.  But those of us who believe are not bound by our own limitations.  We serve a God who knows no limits, has no boundaries, and He is with us always, in all we do and don’t do.  He’s there when we’re on top, enjoying success, and when we’re as low as we can get, our knees scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel.  When we’re lost in the darkness reaching blindly for a door to the light, He takes our hand, guides us.


We live in the natural.  But we serve the King of the Supernatural.  We have limits.  He has none.  And walking with Him, we can move mountains, alter our positions, our circumstances, face our fears, our shortcomings.  We can change our world.


We choose, dear ones.  We choose wisely or unwisely. We do our part as best we’re able and rely on and trust Him to do His part.  We fail.  He does not.

The bottom line in all things is that He gave us free will. That’s the freedom endowed by our Creator.


What we do with it is a different matter. Yet again, we choose. If our lives are messy.  Clean them up. How?


Grab a Bible and a broom.


It’s that complex.


And that simple.❖

Writers’ Zone Special Project: Planning

Writers’ Zone Special Project


©2003-2010 BY VICKI HINZE

This article title might be “Planning a Strategy” or “Focusing Your Efforts” or, for those of us who tend to think in terms of war rooms and need aggressive outlooks to start the day, your “Attack Plan.” The title is insignificant.

Really, call it by whatever name works for you. (The basis for that reasoning is the creative nature of writing.) A writer must always respect the muse—the gift of writing—and give it its due.  So whatever you personally find to be a constructive trigger is “the right way” to approach this vitally important endeavor.

What does matter is that we start at the core and work our way outward.  By core, I don’t mean the core of the project, though, as you’ll see, the same principle applies, I mean your core, as a human being, because that truly is where the base point of beginning for everything about you, including every work you ever produce, forms.

So the first question in developing your plan is in understanding why you need one. And the first question in dissecting that is in asking one question: Why is writing vitally important to you?

No clue?  Well, that presents a challenge, but don’t worry.  Recognition is the hard part. Finding a solution merely requires a little sleuthing.  We can sleuth.  And you’ll have another chance to answer that question in a little while, so don’t waste energy feeling out of sorts because you got socked with the first question of the New Year and you had to answer, “I don’t know.” You’re in good company.  Great company, actually.  The company of many, many other writers.

But now recognizing that not knowing is a disadvantage, and disadvantages, particularly  ones, in a dynamic industry such as ours are not worthy of being embraced, let’s vote to ditch this one. Exploring is a great place to start.

As I mentioned, I often encounter writers who have not asked themselves that question—Why is writing vitally important to me?—or they have asked and accepted superficial, skin-deep answers. The wise writer will dig deeper, for in our motivation rests our dedication. And we all know writing well requires a supreme amount of dedication.

Feeling compelled to write without knowing why limits the scope and focus of the writer’s thinking, which limits the scope and focus of the writer’s writing. Purpose is essential.

Through purpose, writers touch lives and offer readers opportunities that they would not otherwise have. Opportunities to have open minds, whereas they had been closed. To see something in a new light, or from a new perspective. To gain understanding and insight into other human beings, into situations, into that which before reading your book had been an obscure, unknown entity to the reader. (Remember, what is common to you is often alien, unexplored, or not fully understood as significant to others.)

Through purpose, the writer also grants him or herself the ability to feel fulfillment from what s/he writes. If you have no idea what you hope to achieve, how will you know if you have achieved it? How will you know whether or not you’ve conveyed a constructive means in your work to depict that achievement? How will your readers know it?

Let’s explore what happens when you, the writer, lack that fulfillment. We all know that writing requires an enormous amount of self-discipline. You must choose to get up and get to the computer, the typewriter, or the pad and write. No one is standing over your shoulder forcing you. Starting a book is easy. It’s finishing it that’s the hard part. So what inspires you to finish?

Some will say, “I have to see what happens.” Others, “I just want to finish the blasted thing.” Still others find a myriad of responses somewhere in between, some resonating of being unable to sell anything but a finished product, some at needing to put closure to this project before beginning another with greater financial or artistic opportunities. But these responses too are skin deep.

When you get down to the core, what makes a writer finish a book is discipline. And like all other life skills, discipline must be respected, and honing it requires understanding it. In that understanding is the seed for purpose in your writing.

Purpose gives the writer the motivation to adopt discipline. Discipline maintained feeds the writer gains (in the form of seeing the book develop and the pages mount) and that feeds the writer’s sense of purpose being pursued and fulfilled, which gives the writer a deeper sense of commitment. That commitment builds momentum, which generates its own enthusiasm and energy, and leads to a greater dedication to purpose, completing the circle.

If you were to write out the process simply, it would read something like:

Purpose = motivation = discipline = commitment = momentum = purpose.

That’s why knowing your personal purpose for writing is essential. It drives 
what you write. How you write it. Who you have say what you want said, and how you choose to show it. The same principle applies to each writing project, be it book or short story or article.

For the project and for the writer, the human being of the writer, the question remains the same: What do you have to say that you want others to hear? Why?

Despite the professions of some, shall we say, less than generous souls, writers tend to be very human. As human beings, we all want to make a difference. We want to know that our lives mattered. Our work mattered. At the end of our lives, we want to look back and see that we’ve made a difference, served some purpose, and achieved something.

The nature of that “something” varies from person to person. (And we’re grateful for that variety; it expands everyone’s horizons!) It’s our job to find our own personal “it,” to empower it, utilize it so that at the end of our days, when we look back, as everyone inevitably does, we don’t see the one thing no one wants to see: regret.

That’s the value in seeking our purpose. In knowing what we hope to achieve. Now, don’t be misguided into thinking that getting a grasp on your purpose must be some mystical, complex maze. It doesn’t work that way. Norman Vincent Peale put the whole process quite succinctly when he said: you can’t have everything you want, but you can have what you want most.  So . . .

•    What do you want most?

•    What do you want most as a human being?

•    What do you want most as a writer?

•    What do you want most to convey to the reader in your next book?

Responding to those questions collectively can make clear to you your purpose–and reveal the direction and purpose in your novel. Awareness of these purposes keeps you on track and the work on track, and so your motivation is established and understood, and the momentous process begins.

Again, I ask you: Why is writing vitally important to you?

I offer this advice: Pause here and dig. Deeply.

By now, I hope you’ve explored the questions to you and you can answer this question:  What do you want most as a person, as a writer?

If you have explored and you can answer that question, then you now know your purpose—and the goal you must master to feel fulfilled as a writer and a human being.

This kind of “soul” work, while vital, is often uncomfortable. We drag out things 
from our innermost recesses and put them under a microscope. We see things we like, but we also see things we don’t like.

Human beings typically prefer not to see uncomfortable things in themselves, and writers get a double-dose of that dislike. As humans and as creative artists.

Because we’re creative artists, an enormous amount of “us” goes into our crafting a cohesive and believable “something out of nothing” book.  To be cohesive, we must write with brutal honesty.  Even lies (that are convincing) have seeds of truth in them.  And to be believable, we’re required to write with authority and conviction.  (Nothing wishy-washy creates or maintains the fictional dream.)

Yet when we see our flaws, we run the risk of having them magnify before cast doubt and us on our ability to create our fictional worlds.

This creative-mind challenge can be a major obstacle to writers. It can make them frigid writers, make them afraid to commit to essential novel (or career) decisions, make them afraid to take a creative stand.

That fear and those obstacles have a dastardly impact because writers make decision upon decision in creating a novel. So how can we take this honest look inside and not create the obstacles?

We have to have the courage to ditch the fear.

A helpful way to go about that is to look at what we as writers do NOT have to do:

We don’t have to become frigid writers, or be afraid to commit, or be afraid to take risks or creative stands.  We can choose to avoid these negative things.

We don’t have to knuckle under and be afraid to explore because we fear what we’ll learn.  Some say that all of fiction is about the human condition.  Writers are human, too.  We can choose to explore our own human condition and trust that what we learn will give us greater insights into ourselves and others.

We don’t have to reconcile ourselves to never writing the best book possible because we know that to do so, we have to be open from the soul out in our writing to achieve our best.   We can choose to take the risks, expose the soul.

We don’t have to suffer self-condemnation—the worst criticism of all. The kind that cuts so deep a reviewer, an editor, a publishing house, a reader could never reach them.  We can acknowledge errors, forgive ourselves, and press on.

We don’t have to do any of those things or make any of those choices.  Yet the obstacles are real, and doing nothing leaves writers—all writers—in the middle of what seems to be a dilemma.

This dilemma holds true for all writers, regardless of where they are on the writing or selling ladder:  a brand new writer, one with three or four books who is building a base and career, or a well-established Times best-selling author.  No writer is exempt from fear or from obstacles.

Now why is that so?  And how can we make these unavoidable obstacles less frightening and disruptive?

Understanding is the key.  Understanding that, regardless of position or status, as people, we change. What we considered of vital importance at one point in our lives/careers, we now consider just one of the challenges and/or perks or costs of doing business. What we considered trivial at a specific point, as we grow, becomes more important.

Let’s look at an example, using the career of one commercial fiction writer.  (Note that the writer’s focus, fears, and challenges change but are always present in some form.)

As a new author:  When you’re writing your first novel, your main goal is to write a book, and to write it well.  You focus intently on craft and, once it’s written, you give attention to selling the book. To protect your interests, you must study the business and industry.

As the author of four books:  You’re building a decent reader base, and you’re moving up the publisher’s list. You’ve learned a lot about what happens to your book inside the publishing house and how the business works.  Now, when you write the book, you do so knowing a great deal more about craft and how you work best. You’re studying more advanced writing techniques, and it’s evident to you now that writing is a craft that can never be mastered.  Not just by you, but by anyone.

You’ve written books before and you’re developing a pattern, adopting methods of writing that work well for you.  You’ve also screened out methods that don’t work for you.  You know that writing a book isn’t easy, it’s challenging and it will always be challenging.  But writing a book is now a familiar procedure.  You know that you can do it because you have done it before—and you have finished other books.  There is no doubt in your mind that you can also finish THIS book.

Now your publisher wants to send you on tour. You’ve got to go to bookstores in different cities, do radio spots and TV spots and news interviews, and perhaps give short talks here and there along the way.  This “interviewing” and “speaking” business is new to you.  It’s unfamiliar.  You’re trying not to panic, but it’s clear that you have to move outside your comfort zone.  You focus serious attention on marketing and doing interviews and on public relations.  It’s imperative that you learn to handle this new challenge well.

Now, you’ve written more books, you’ve moved up the publishing ladder, and you’ve made the bestseller list.  You’ve hit the TIMES!  Here, you’re confronted with still a deeper layer of the proverbial onion that holds an enormous potential for fear and obstacles, and self doubt.  (I’ve yet to meet a first-time bestseller who doesn’t doubt it was a mistake.  Or an author who has had multiple bestsellers who doesn’t worry that the new book will perform as well, be as well received, as successful as the last or another previous book.)  And once again, you’ve got to tread outside your comfort zone to gain the skills you need to handle yourself comfortably and successfully.

My point is, that with each change in your career status, you change as a person. Hopefully, you’ve become more confident in your craft and business skills. You’ve experienced new things, gained new skills (necessity forces that), and that, too, changes you.  Every experience we have alters our perspective as a human being.  And you can’t alter the human being without altering the writer inside that human being, too.

So how do you tread through this myriad of “discomfort” zones successfully? The answer is surprisingly simple. Mindset.

A creative mind is adventuresome and constructive. Don’t you love the idea of nothing becoming something? Writers feel that with every book. So extend the experience you gained in respecting your creativity to your career. (“Something good CAN come of this hard look into my deepest self.”)

Use it. Not just in writing the book, but in compiling, crafting and developing your career strategy.

Treading into a discomfort zone—which can be anything outside the realm of your current experience–doesn’t have to be a painful act, though sometimes it is. It can be scary but it’s always beneficial in the long run. All it takes is a positive mindset, a marrow-of-your-bones belief that good will come of it. An unshakable awareness that by pulling out those skeletons—those flaws we hate to see—and subjecting them to intense scrutiny, we gain. And we do.

We gain insight and understanding, and (this surprised me) the deep insight can be extremely cathartic.

This is really personal, but let me give you an example of what I mean. I write healing books. Regardless of genre, I write books wherein a character heals internally. That’s my author theme. Healing books.

Do explore and see the common thread all your books have. Every author, whether s/he realizes it or not, has an author theme. Working with yours and not against it assures you of writing your strongest and best work, and (I’ll warn you now), these are the most difficult books for you to write. Bare truth always demands our respect. Your theme is in every book, so take a look and see what every one of your books has in common.

Hint: it’s typically an emotional thread like healing, or redemption, or protecting.

So I write healing books. And in my first marriage, I was a victim of domestic violence. While I talk openly about it (I believe that’s the only way to break the cycle), I only wrote about it passively.  In the books, the abuse had already happened and was over.

I did a series of these books—Seascape Series. In none of them did I write about abuse actively happening. I couldn’t. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was hiding from the hurt. The memories. Translation: this was a major “discomfort zone” for me, so I avoided it. I could write about the experience of having abuse in my past with authority and conviction, but not about it happening now, in the present story.

When I discovered this—that I was hiding—I stepped out of my comfort zone and into discomfort.  I wrote about active abuse in ALL DUE RESPECT.

Now realize, I’ve been remarried to a wonderful man for nearly 25 years. It took me a long time to figure this out; what I was doing, I mean.  And ALL DUE RESPECT was hands down the most difficult book I’ve ever written. I guess I’ve done about 30 or so books now, and this one was by far the most challenging. Why?

Because during the writing, I remembered and relived and endured the experiences again. And during the writing, when someone approached me from behind, I did jump out of my skin. I’d catch myself backing up against walls to avoid the “sneak attacks.” All the old stuff I haven’t thought about for years came back, and it hurt.

Yet, I saw things differently. Time and experience had changed the view. And while, for a few weeks after I finished the book, I was still jumpy, I wasn’t terrified to the bone anymore. It—the abuse—had lost its power over me.  A power I hadn’t realized it still held.

And then the book came out and the most magnificent thing happened: a reader wrote me a letter saying I’d written the story of her life. If my character—a woman I, the writer, had created out of thin air (and perspective and experience)—could find a way out of the situation without being destroyed, then the reader felt she could, too.

Healing books. She felt she could be healed. Me, too.

So that’s the bonus in pulling out the scope and looking at those rough spots inside us. They’re hard, they sometimes hurt, but they help, too. Readers and you.

Now we see the distinct correlation and value of purpose and fulfillment in our lives, and how that translates to purpose and fulfillment in our work.

I want to reiterate that this exploration inside the writer and the human being can’t be done once and forgotten. With every experience, we grow and change, and we determine whether those changes are constructive or destructive.

No one else gets to make that choice for us. We make it (and too few remember that avoiding making a choice IS making a choice). Far too many writers forget that.

It’s said, that is the base reason for the high rate of alcohol and substance abuse for writers. That, in my humble opinion, is because having a creative mind opens the writer’s soul and we mentally and emotionally experience our stories.

This means we have to have broad shoulders and deal with conflicts and crises. Conflicts are, after all, the spines of our stories and nothing we can dismiss and still have books. Yet, particularly early on, in trying to market our works or get them published, we hear “no” from editors and agents far more often than we hear “yes.”

Rejection is hard for even the heartiest of souls to bear when it comes over and over again and acceptance and/or appreciation is minute or absent in our lives. But if we are centered by our purpose and choose to deal constructively with these challenges—where we feel something “good” can come of them—then we’re afforded the protection of personal fulfillment and feeling we’re making a difference. That makes us far less likely to abuse anything, and far more likely to enjoy renewed determination to achieve our goals. I can’t stress enough the importance of that to all writers.

I’d also like to expose a myth. Some writers, especially early on in their careers, think selling and money will be enough. That gaining fame and fortune equals fulfillment. That isn’t true, and you need to know and believe it.  It isn’t enough and it doesn’t fulfill you.

Fame and/or fortune might make your life physically more comfortable, and it might or might not help you emotionally, but neither one will do a thing for you spiritually. If you deem what you’re writing—not editors, reviewers, or readers, but you, the writer—to be destructive, it could harm you spiritually, but neither fame nor fortune will satisfy you. That takes purpose and a sense of fulfilling that purpose, or gaining ground on a path toward fulfillment.

Now why is that?

Again, the answer is amazingly simple, just not something we’ve slowed down and thought about much in the realm of how it relates to our work. So let’s do that now.

As human beings, we know we’re three-dimensional people: physical, emotional, and spiritual. If you think of yourself as a three-legged stool and each of these three aspects as a separate leg, it’ll be easy to visualize what happens if you short yourself on any one of the three. You wobble and topple over. A writer needs balance. Balance facilitates harmony. And harmony facilitates a great environment for creativity.

Understand that I’m not saying your life has to be tootling along and everything going well and there are no bumps in your life’s road. That isn’t going to happen—and hope it doesn’t: What would arouse your passion to write about anything?  What I am saying is that you need to seek that balance in dealing with challenges that arise.

To do that, ask yourself a simple question: Is this action/reaction constructive?

Test it to the physical, the emotional, and to the spiritual sides of yourself. If the action/reaction passes the test, do it. If not, dig deeper for a more constructive solution.

In ALL ABOUT WRITING, I wrote about common sense guides that, when I lectured on them, became referred to by listeners as “keys to success.”  For space reasons, I can’t explore them in depth here, but I’ve tried to incorporate the principles, as they pertain to planning, and to give you the tools from them that you might find helpful.

If you have taken the time to develop and write down a plan for your book, a plan for your career, that respects all of your three dimensions, then these plans will respect your creativity (which won’t tolerate be taken for granted).

Having a respected and respectful plan firmly entrenched in your mind makes you consciously aware of what you want and need and hope to achieve. That awareness carries over from you to your work, and over into your life. It aids you in making concrete decisions (to act or react) in ways that are in harmony with you individually, which is one of the strongest reasons possible to make that investment in planning.

Remember: your greatest creative achievements come only when you act in concert with yourself.

We’ve progressed. We have identified our purpose, our reason for writing. We’ve had the courage to explore and dig deeply within ourselves, though it stomped on our “discomfort” zones. We’ve discussed how harmony in the human being inspires harmony in the writer. And we’ve explored all of our three-dimensional selves and given equal weight to each aspect: the physical us, the emotional us, and the spiritual us.

All of this exploration identifies what we need to feel we’re meeting our destiny in writing. But how do we translate this need for a plan into a concrete plan? One for our career? And one for our book?

I’m going to share my personal plan so you have an idea of how I try to implement the points discussed in my life and career as a writer. Its basic structure hasn’t much changed over the years, only its content.

Some of what I do might appeal to you. Some of it won’t. Remember, you choose what goes into your plan and how you use it. You choose what things level the three-legs of your individual stool.

Some call this a plan. Some call it a goals list. Some call it an annual strategy report. I call it my Dream Sheet.  The name we hang on it doesn’t much matter.  It is what is on your Dream Sheet that matters immensely.  How it helps you focus, elevates your awareness, and reminds you to consider what you most want matters. So call it whatever suits you, but please put your Dream Sheet down in writing.  Writing it all down gives the decisions you’ve made elevated importance.

Here’s the sample:

Each year, typically during the month of November (although with two weddings and a deadline this year, it was in late December), I take some quiet time to reflect on the past year. To look at what I’ve done with my writing—both on craft and on the business—and to choose whether or not these actions were constructive and/or effective.

Each year, I develop a Mission for the New Year. About five years ago, that mission was Aids4writers, “doing good for goodness’ sake.”   Due to your requests, I’ve kept the program going, though I answer questions privately, share notes and tips publicly and have renamed the program WRITERS’ ZONE.

This program has become an important part of the fabric of my life.  A mission should be important—not to anyone else because it will effect how they view you, but to you, the human being.

For example, 2008’s mission was a revisit of another years’ mission for me.  To build the coffers in the Edna Sampson Benevolence Fund.  Edna was my mother, a great lover of books and even more of writers.  She died in 1997.  Ancient City Romance Writers started a Benevolence fund to help other writers and named it in her honor.  I support it, and this year hope to do more to financially support it. This fund pays dues for writers who are in financial straits and who would otherwise have to drop out of their writing groups.  A committee administers the fund.  I don’t know where the money goes or who benefits from it; only that it helps writers who need help.  Good for goodness’ sake.

What is your mission this year?  Decide, and let it help you develop your Dream Sheet.

I’ve found that by setting Goals, directing focus on what I’ve done, what I want to do, where I’ve been, where I’m going, where I want to go, and coming up with concrete steps to get there, I feel I have a little more control over my life. I know that many of the goals I’ve set and accomplished, I accomplished only because I focused on them.   What are your goals?  Focus on what you want, need, and what steps you’re going to take to achieve those goals.

Understand that you won’t reach every goal.  One of mine for the past five years was to sell my book—any of them—to the book clubs.  I didn’t give up.  I carried it over year after year, and at times I sighed over it.  But I believed enough to just keep putting it on the list.  Then, LADY LIBERTY, sold to Doubleday Book Club, The Mystery Guild Book Club, and Rhapsody Book Club all at once.  It finally happened!  And when it did–wow—it really did!  Proof that persistence pays.  That goals are met on their terms in their time, but you have to give them the opportunity to happen.  You have to do your part.

Here are some suggested Dream Sheet topics I use year after year:

Mission Statement: What is the most important thing to you that you wish to accomplish in the coming year?

•    Virtue: Each year, I choose (and often have to repeat!) a specific virtue to work on that I feel will build my character. In 1996, it was Patience. In 1997, Compassion.  In 2001, Judgment.  Choose a positive influence and focus on it all year.  (Warning: you’ll often curse yourself for this. “If only I wasn’t focusing on patience this year, I’d give so-and-so what for doing such and thus.”

Also, be aware that some of these little jewels require more than a year on your list.  So you’ll have a “Primary” virtue upon which to focus and a “Secondary” one.  At least, I do.  (Actually, I could have a string of them a mile long, but I’m human.  I can’t do everything at once.  So I pick the one I think needs the most attention and focus on it, keeping the second most needy in mind.)  This year, that’s Harmony and Grace.

Writing: often we get so caught up in selling, we forget that we can’t sell that which isn’t written. So what exactly do you want to write next year? Be it a specific book(s) or article(s) or poem(s). Write it down. It makes it more real, helps you to visualize it written more easily.

Sales: What do you want to sell next year? Make a list, and be open to recognizing opportunities to market these listed projects. (Writing the list gives you focus. You are paying attention to this, and see these opportunities when they arise.)

•    Promotion: Published or (as yet) Unpublished, what concrete steps are you taking to get your name out there? Do you produce a personal newsletter, send cards, write articles for organizational newsletters?

•    Business: What aspect of the business are you most unfamiliar with? Which facet of the publishing industry would you most benefit from studying intently? Is it publishing itself? How does your industry work? What happens to a book once it arrives at a publisher’s house? What about retail sales? Negotiation tactics? Wholesalers? Distribution? Marketing? Advertising? What about publishing contracts? Pick a topic and invest—in yourself!

•    Craft Education: What aspect of your craft are you least comfortable with executing? Theme, character, plotting, description, pacing, style? Choose one, and next year work at developing your skills in that area.

•    Reading: Too many writers stop reading. Don’t! It’s a terrible, terrible mistake, because not only do you stop seeing successful authors’ methods, you also get out of touch with what’s being published. So make a commitment to yourself to read. Books like yours, those unlike yours, articles, periodicals–fiction and nonfiction. This deepens your creative well. You know more, you have more to write about. Make a monthly commitment that is realistic for you, and honor it.

•    Outreach: What are you doing to reach out to help others? Are you doing critiques? Sponsoring or supporting a benevolence project? Writing a how-to article on something with which you’re extremely familiar that could help others? It’s important to feed the mind and the soul.

Make your goal list as detailed as you like; whatever feels comfortable. The important thing is to think about these things. Choose and decide rather than just drift and feel frustrated because you’re not satisfied with your personal progress.

I have a copy of my Dream Sheet on the wall near my computer in my office. Another copy in my Daytimer, and a third in my top center desk drawer. For years, I’d tape one to the mirror in the bath, so I’d see it first and last thing each day, and review it when brushing my teeth. This constant reinforcement may seem unnecessary. But I credit it with helping me enormously at staying focused on what I want and how I’m going to achieve it. Constructive reinforcement is a good thing. Positive and empowering, and especially in the early years, when writers hear “no” a lot more than they hear “yes,” we need positive empowerment.

So those are the sections of my plan: Mission Statement, Virtue, Writing, Sales, Business, Craft Education, Promotion, Reading, and Outreach. See which of those work for you or bring to mind other sections that would assist you, and draft a plan.

At the end of the year, when you review to see how many of the stated goals you’ve accomplished, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown. I’m always amazed at the progress, not that I meet every goal. I don’t. But I do meet more of them with a plan than I met without one. And I do enjoy more of my life feeling balanced—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—that I consider a huge blessing. I hope you will, too.*





We’ve heard since the cradle that no man is an island.  No woman is, either.  Every day we interact with others:  friends, relatives, coworkers, strangers.  And with each encounter we are presented with both challenges and opportunities–and the choices are ours to make.


These aren’t necessarily enormous choices, though they can be.  But what is really on my mind at the moment are the little things.  Those everyday choices that present themselves unexpectedly and require decisions on our part that won’t change the world, but certainly can impact us and our feelings about ourselves as well as those within our sphere of influence.


Say, for example, you’re at the store and you buy several items and hand the cashier a $20.  And you get too much change.  That’s an encounter that requires a choice.  Do you inform the cashier, return the money, or do you consider it a windfall and keep it?


Either choice tells you more about who you are.  Either choice leaves you with a stronger sense of self.  But which self?


Common sense says you return the money because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s a no brainer choice, you say.  And yet people everywhere choose to keep the money that isn’t theirs, and they don’t see it as stealing–which it is–they see it as an unexpected windfall.  Some go further and see it as a blessing.  God knew they needed money and this is his way of giving it to them.  Still others will tell themselves that it isn’t like stealing from a person; it’s a company and they put the screws to people all the time.  (Haven’t you heard that a lot about insurance companies?)


But all of that is just corruption and evil blowing smoke to shroud the truth.  If it isn’t yours and you take it, it’s theft.  In this, there is no gray.  Taking the money is wrong.  You can rationalize any way you choose, but the truth is the truth and the truth is it’s theft.


The line in this situation is clear for those who choose to see it.  Those who don’t wish to see the truth will find a way to justify their actions.  Doesn’t make it right.  Doesn’t alter the truth.  But it does make living with the lie a little easier on them.  Or so they think at that moment…


But there’s an old saying about what goes around comes around.  And another that says no good comes from ill.  I don’t necessarily agree with that–good can come from ill if one learns from the errors they’ve made.


When did the lines become so blurred between simple right and wrong?  When did it become acceptable to twist the truth until it becomes more palatable?  And how do we view these events, or ourselves later?


Those are questions I’ve pondered a lot, and ones many, many others have pondered long before me–and no doubt will ponder long after I’m gone.  And the answers, like most answers, aren’t in the hands and heads of others.  They’re within.  They’re the results of our choices.


Each day, when these encounters present themselves, we make decisions that are a reflection of who we are and what we believe.  We might not see the encounters that way–they are often small things we consciously deem insignificant in the larger scheme of life.  But these small things, being reflections of our inner selves are neither small nor insignificant.  They’re important.  They are the sum of who we are and who we choose to be.


I recall something that happened many years ago–I was maybe nine or ten; don’t recall exactly.  But boy do I recall the event.  I was shopping in a department store and found a cigarette case.  I opened it and saw a wad of money.  Even now I recall thinking someone had just cashed their paycheck.  This was grocery and rent money.  Being a family that lived on a tight budget, even at that age, I knew that no grocery money meant going to bed hungry.  And so I took the case to the front of the store and handed it to a security guard, and then I backed away and watched.  This guard, representing authority to me (uniform and all), took out the money and put it in his pocket, then tossed the case into the Lost and Found box.   Even now I can’t explain the level of disillusionment I felt then.  Disappointed, yes, but far more than that.


I learned a lot that day.  I learned the type of person I didn’t want to be.  And knowing that is just as important as knowing what kind of person you do want to be.  He stole.  Someone went without groceries and rent money.  Someone lost faith that people could be honest and not steal.


Today I wonder what impact my choices and his choices had on the owner of that case.  What encounters did she experience?  What small things that seemed insignificant colored her perspective of people from that point on?


See what I mean?  No man or woman or child is an island.  Our choices and decisions impact others and their choices and decisions.  And their beliefs about other people.  We tend to forget that.


Too often we think of ourselves and how things impact us.  But  we fail to take that next step and consider the impact on those we influence.  A simple smile to someone having a wicked day can change an attitude.  A snarl can, too.  Again, you choose.  Will you be patient and compassionate or impatient and self-centered?  Maybe even self-righteous, or self-righteously indignant?


It’s easy to do the right thing when you have nothing to lose.  It can be very difficult to do the right thing when it costs you mightily.  But is it any less or more right–a lesser or greater testament to the truth–than accepting too much change from a sales clerk?  The consequences might be stiffer, but there are still consequences, and they do extend beyond the reach of the initial action or inciting incident.


As we get older, our encounters often carry stiffer consequences.  I was a child when I learned that people in authority can’t automatically be trusted.  That knowledge has served me well.  That didn’t give me–nor do similar experiences give anyone else–the right to not treat everyone with respect.  But respect and trust are two different things.  Respect until you’re given a reason not to, trust when that person has demonstrated through his/her actions and deeds that s/he is trustworthy.


In the teen years, encounters continue.  It is a confusing time when we’re already trying to find our own feet (versus standing on the feet (morals, ethics, standards) set for us by those with authority over us.  Then chemistry kicks in to really mix us up.  Life can be tough on teens.  It’s a critical time in development, of course.  A time where they’re making life-altering, life-shaping decisions at the speed of light–and parents have influence, but peers and others have equal influence.  At times, more influence.


What teen hasn’t pushed the boundaries?  That’s part of finding their feet and growing up.  The lucky ones have parents who are there, paying attention, notice, and guide their kids through these moral dilemmas.  But what about the ones whose parents aren’t there or aren’t paying attention.  Who guides them?  How reliable is their internal moral compass?  What foundation do they have for making moral, ethical choices?  What shapes their character?


We all have a sense of right and wrong.  Of ethics.  And even if we’ve lacked positive, invested authority figures in our lives, there is that moral compass inside us that knows right from wrong and good from bad.  We sense it at soul level.  And we make choices.


My dad was a good example of what I mean here.  His father died when he was two, his mother when he was three.  He was placed in an orphanage, then a relative discovered that he and his brother had inherited a farm but to get the farm, the relative had to take possession of the kids.  That was done.  The farm was sold and the kids abused.  Late for dinner?  You don’t eat.  At ten, you pay room and board.  You want a coat?  Work, earn the money, save for it, and buy it.  He did work and earn and save, but the relative held the money and when he had enough for the coat and asked for his money, he was told it had been spent.  He went that winter without a coat.  And he left, lied about his age and joined the army.  At sixteen, he was in the jungle in a foreign country suffering from malaria.  He never went back “home.”


Now he could have decided the world had screwed him since day one.  Instead, he developed a code of ethics that still astounds me.  He was first to feed anyone hungry–always sparing their pride.  First to take in strays–people or animals, and help them find their place.  First to stand up and say, no, that’s wrong.  I won’t be a party to it.  No, I’ll stand alone if I have to, but I’ll stand because it’s the right thing to do.  He didn’t steal.  He didn’t lie.  He didn’t make excuses.  If he was wrong, he said so.  If he was right, he wouldn’t back down to make things easier on himself.  When he made mistakes, he did what he could to correct the problem and then moved on.


I admired him immensely.  He fascinated me.  How did he manage to become the man he became?  He chose to become that man.  He knew what he didn’t want to be.  He knew what he did want to be–a man of character–and so he worked at it and did his best and he became one.


My point is that many people have crappy childhoods, tough lives and yet they take responsibility for themselves and become someone they respect.  They don’t blame everyone else for their plight.  They don’t expect something for nothing.  They don’t look for ways to sponge off others and make them responsible for who they are or what they’ve got.  They see the truth, accept it, and choose to create themselves from the inside out.  They choose who they wish to be, and then work to become it.


Recently, I spoke to a young woman in her late teens who had the benefit of a great, supportive family, but she got involved with a group of misguided teens.  Many forgot they had morals and elected to delete ethics from their vocabularies and their lives.  If they wanted it, they got it, and any means were acceptable so long as they achieved their desired goal.  Sound familiar?


Unfortunately it’s too familiar.  Some would say at pandemic levels.  Fortunately, it’s not so pervasive that it’s destroyed an entire generation.  In the case of this young woman, she chose to remove herself from this group.  It wasn’t easy.  She was ridiculed.  She was verbally abused, threatened and needless to say, these actions of those with whom she chose not to associate made her life a living hell.  For a time.


Yet in the midst of all this turmoil and upset, this young woman knew innately that to stay in the group would result in her becoming like them.  And the more their true colors revealed, the more determined she became to be different.  “Mrs. H,” she said to me.  “I want to respect myself.”


I nearly wept.  I was so proud of her.  She didn’t take the easy road, she took the right one for her.  Many adults fail to do that.  They’ll take the path of least resistance, the road that causes the least amount of upset in their lives.  The one that doesn’t make them look too closely at who they really are, inside, where it most matters.  But here this young woman, under duress that would buckle the knees of most with more maturity and experience, stood up.  She chose the path where she would respect herself.  The path her internal compass told her was the right path for her take.


Her actions renewed my faith in her generation.  She renewed my hope for her generation.  She is not an island.  She lives among others.  But she saw the truth, accepted it, and made a hard, unpopular choice.  She elected to be a woman of substance.  She chose character.


As adults, these encounters often take on shades of gray that make choices difficult.  Others place us in situations where we know what we should do, but if we do it, we lose something that matters to us.  The more it matters, the harder the choice.  Yet we must choose, and we face this decision knowing that regardless of what we decide those who put us in this position will not be impacted.  They created this situation, put us in this position, but they won’t suffer the consequences.  We will.  So the bottom line is if we choose to do the right thing, then they go on unscathed and we lose something that matters to us.  Doing the right thing costs us–sometimes everything.  Yet right is right, and we know that to compromise is wrong.


We call these moral dilemmas.  We agonize over them.  Look for alternatives that would change the situation and make something bad, good for all involved.  Sometimes we’re successful, and we find such an alternative.  We take that path, the situation changes, and things are good.  Others even learn from the experience the wisdom of seeking win/win situations.


But sometimes there is no alternative.   Take the group–any group from board room to organizational meeting to little league ball club.  Situations like this happen all the time in professional and non-professional groups, I’m sorry to say.  Situations where a person of character makes a commitment on behalf of and with the authority of others, and then those others reveal themselves as users, abusers, and/or losers who change their minds and break their commitments without remorse.  They use terms like “it’s for the good of the group” or “it’s a business decision” or “we have no choice.”


They do, of course, have choices.  One such choice is not to put the credibility of another on the line and then damage that person’s reputation.  Another is to not commit until and unless you are prepared to stand behind that commitment.   There are always choices.  But too often, in these encounters, the person of character becomes the object of barbs, insults and disrespect:  none of which is earned but all of which is done so that those not of character can justify (to themselves and others) their actions.  Actions that too often reek of self-interest, expedience, and frankly, cowardice.


Is this fair?  Right?  Just?  No, it’s not.  But it is reality.  Truth.  And it must be addressed from that perspective.


So what happens to the person of character?  What happens to the people to whom the commitment was made and then broken?  And what happens to the offenders–the users, losers, and abusers?


That depends.


The person of character can choose to remain a person of character.  To insist that the right thing be done.  At times, this person acts as the group’s conscience.  The group could change, decide to stand up, make the right choices that respect all concerned.


The person of character can choose to go along with the group.  To hope that over time s/he can influence the group constructively.  To encourage others to treat all concerned with respect.  To fight the good fight–knowing he could meet with success or dismal failure.


These battles, the person of character chooses carefully.  Some battles are worth fighting.  Some are lost before they’re begun, and to know which is which requires attention being paid to that internal compass.


The person of character can fold.  Can accept that this situation will not change and, not being an island, choose to take a different path so that s/he doesn’t become a loser, abuser, or user.  Sometimes doing what is best requires us to walk away, like in the situation with the teen.


We’re often warned to choose our associates carefully.  The wisdom in that comes from knowing that we assimilate and measure (we judge and are judged) by the traits of those with whom we associate.  Take abuse, for example.  If it’s alien to us, we’re horrified by it.  But if it’s ordinary and common to us, it’s normal.  We become anesthetized to that to which we are exposed.


If we surround ourselves with those who lack morals, ethics and integrity, then that becomes normal to us.  That makes the bottom line for each of us a matter of choice:  what do we choose to be our normal?


What kind of people do we want to be?  Persons of substance, or substances lacking character?


Every decision we make–not just the big ones, or the little ones, but every decision we make–becomes a part of our personal fabric.  It weaves into our perceptions and beliefs and when we view the whole, helps us redefine ourselves.  We are constantly in a state of rebirth, and that’s a good thing.  It keeps change on the table as a constant option.  We need this.  We’re human, we’re flawed, we make mistakes.  We need that option, those chances to change.


We learn as we go in life.  We experience encounters, live the consequences of our actions and inactions (which are truly also actions), assess and analyze.  We think about the results and determine the values, good or bad, in the experience.  Then we choose and change and choose and change as the need to do so arises.  Or we cop out and choose not to change because it’s easier.  But the chances remain intact, still there, waiting for the moment we see the light and seize them.


Those to whom the commitments were made and broken will survive.  They could endure hardships, suffer consequences not of their making, but they will rise above these challenges and come out stronger and wiser because of the experience.  Personal growth forges character in such ways.


Of that I’m as certain as I am that those who wronged them will suffer the consequences of their actions.  In due season, we all reap what we sow.  We all live with the choices we make, with the reality we create.  If we use, there will come a time when we will be used.  If we lack compassion, there will come a time when we need and do not receive compassion.  It’s immutable universal law, proven, enduring–it is truth.  Personal growth also forges character in these ways, and it does take a lot of heat to temper steel.  It takes a lot of heat to temper character, too.


As human beings, we are all on different journeys and paths and at different levels of development on emotional and spiritual levels.  Those on the lowest rungs of the ladder climb, slip back, and climb again.  Those higher up on the ladder, reach down a rung or two and offer a hand to help lift others.  And those on the highest ladder rungs do what they can when they can in ways only they can to help the rest of us extend our reach, climb a little higher, develop character so that like them, we can be people of substance.


Encounters, I believe, are designed to offer us all opportunities for personal growth.  Those higher up willingly endure challenges to give us the chance to make good decisions, to gain wisdom and/or insight that serves us.  To experience so that we feel and grasp the impact of our actions on others. To grow.


We all influence, we all are influenced.  We’re not islands.  And because we do and we’re not, we either impact others and ourselves positively or negatively.  Constructively or destructively.


So the point of this article is to bring that to the forefront in thoughts–mine and yours.  To remind myself and you that so long as we live and breathe, we have encounters.  At times, we’re low man or woman on the ladder, reaching up, and at times we’re higher up, reaching down, extending a hand to others.


We reach.  We extend.  We choose.


We choose to be or become people of substance.  Wiser and stronger because we have morals and ethics and standards–even when they are inconvenient.  Even when the costs to us are high.  We choose to value truth, even if it costs us a contract, a job, a promotion or a friend.  We choose to value character, understanding that it is lasting, a real treasure worth embracing.


Or we choose to be substance lacking character and its treasures.   If we have a little trouble meeting our eyes in the mirror or sleeping well at night, well, we  rationalize, justify, and compensate by blaming others for the way we are, for what we’ve become, and we absolve ourselves from responsibility until it stares us down and demands reform.  Then we reform or do our best to kill our conscience.


If we succeed, we survive but we’ve lost our humanity.  That’s a tough life for a person who isn’t an island.


Either way, we choose.  Either way, we live with our choices.


I close with this question, which I ask of myself as well as of you:  Today, will you be a person of character, or a character lacking humanity?


It is about choice and substance.


It is all about character… ❦




What we see? Or what we want to see?


When we look at others, at ourselves, at specific things, do we see them as they are?


It’s an interesting question worth exploring, whether contemplating it for characters in a book or for life.  Unable to resist, I waded through it and concluded that we see different things in different ways, depending on when we’re looking and our emotional state at the time we’re looking.


Something that appeals to us today, well might look garish or silly to us tomorrow—or even an hour from now.  And something we thought was ugly can, from a different perspective be quite beautiful.  (Have you ever treasured something for its sentimental value?  Because it sparked a memory you hold dear?  Because it mentally transports you to another place or time and you want to visit that place again and feel now what you felt then, or to know now what you hadn’t known then?


Who or what we are looking at impacts our reaction to what we’re seeing.


How we feel about that person, place or thing can be impacted by things totally unrelated to that person, as well.  Doubt it?  Well, have you ever associated someone you dislike to an inanimate object?  Not liked it because you didn’t like the person it brought to mind?  Had a thing or a place trigger a bad memory that makes you uncomfortable? Caused you to recall something you’d rather forget?  Have you ever met someone who reminds you of someone else?  Someone that you don’t like (for valid or invalid reasons), or for a far stronger reaction, someone you fear?


In these cases, the reaction is innate, or learned from some past experience.  Occasionally, you’ll make the connection immediately, but there are times when you don’t realize until much later that you’ve labeled this new person with the connotations or traits you dislike or fear in the other individual.


If we like someone, we tend to mentally minimize or ignore things they say or do that isn’t what we would say or do.  We grant them leeway, cut them more slack than we do people we don’t like, or that we have negative feelings about.  We also tend to give more credibility  and weight to what is said by those we like.  If we respect the person or admire a trait in them, then we give what they say even more weight.  We might not always agree with them, but we don’t feel as compelled to disagree with them.


On sight, we form a general impression of someone, and from that moment on, we are no longer objective.  What we’ve seen colors our opinions to varying degrees on how we feel about what the other person says, does, and even on their views.


In writing, we study people.  Their actions and others’ reactions to them.  This is key in creating admirable characters (and characters others love to hate).  Like in most things we study, we research, and part of my research has been in the form of experiments.


A Couple Experiments…


I dressed  in jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers.  No makeup and hair a wreck–its usual state, through absolutely no fault of my beloved hairdresser, Dawn.  I went to the mall and shopped for three hours.  Not once did a sales person approach me in any of the four stores I visited.  I carried packages in various size bags–several of them–but received no offers of assistance.


A week later, I dressed in a soft creme-colored wool skirt and top, burgundy heels and a burgundy eel-skin handbag, did the makeup and hair (Dawn would have been proud–as soon as she recovered from the shock) and went to the same mall, to the same stores for similar lengths of time.  In the first two stores, I was approached by two sales persons within minutes of entering their departments.  In the third store, one salesperson not only approached me but stayed close and offered to put anything I picked up in the dressing room to try on.  In the fourth store, I had two sales persons at my beck and call the entire time I was in the store.  Interestingly enough, I had no packages and made no purchases, but I had plenty of assistance.


One could conclude  the way I looked was the only difference.  But it goes deeper.


I don’t doubt that the clerks viewed me differently, but perhaps some of the difference was in the way I viewed myself.  I walked with more confidence–not afraid I’d run into someone who recognized me.  Because I felt better about me, I expect I was a bit friendlier toward others, too.  People sense these things, and sales people have been sharply reprimanded regularly for saying, “May I help you?”  They likely have a highly developed sixth sense about who to “bother” and who to leave alone.


My point is that others reacted differently toward me, but I carried myself and reacted differently toward them, too.


This wasn’t quite a Shakespeare’s mask–we do things wearing a mask we wouldn’t ordinarily do–but reversed, it ranked similar.



Another experiment.


One morning, Dan, an employee, came into the office, whistling and happy.


During the course of the morning, another employee asked, “Dan, are you okay?”


“Sure,” he says.


“You’re a little pale.”  She smiled. “Probably just me.”


An hour or so later, a third employee approached Dan to sign some papers.  When he handed them back, this employee said, “Thanks, Dan.  Hey, you feeling all right?”


“Yeah, sure.  Why?” Dan asked.  He wasn’t as certain as he had been earlier, and he wasn’t whistling.


“I thought you might be feeling puny.  You know, sick.    Looks like you bleached your face, buddy.”


“No, I’m okay,” Dan said.


The guy shrugged.  “Maybe I need to get my glasses checked.”


A couple hours later, a fourth employee interacted with Dan, who now wasn’t as happy as usual and that reflected in his sluggish behavior.  “I don’t mean to intrude, Dan, but you don’t seem to be yourself today.”


“Pale, huh?” Dan asked.


She nodded.  “A tad.”


“Yeah, I don’t know what it is.  It’s been coming on all morning.”


At noon Dan went to his boss.  “I’m going home.”


“You okay?”




That’s the power of perception.


Dan came to work fine, but everyone else thought he looked sick and soon Dan’s perception and the way he saw himself changed.  Everyone thought he was sick, maybe he was sick.  Their perception of him convinced him his own perception was flawed.  A well man became sick.


Is this uncommon?  Not at all.  Happens often.  We dress and someone says we look good, we feel great.  Someone says a dress is too loose, a heel too high, a neckline too scooped and it changes our perspective–particularly if we like the person who said it.  If we don’t like or respect their taste or style, what they say means less to us, but what others say to us and about us does impact the way we see ourselves.


We might disagree, but even in a dress we felt great in a few minutes earlier, we don’t feel as great in now.


Words have power.  Others judge.  We judge.  Often we judge others and we judge the way they judge us.


This interweaving of character fabric is what makes people so interesting.


Even those who say they give no power to anyone to influence them do give others power to influence them.  Why?  It’s human nature.


It isn’t just someone else’s positive or negative feelings that influence us.  That they have any influence with us,  influences us.


We like to think of ourselves as strong individuals and unique ones, too.  And we are.  No  one else is exactly the same because they haven’t lived an identical life to the one another has lived.  And even if they had approached the exact same events as another, they would experience those events from a different perspective–their own.


Yet to varying degrees, we are touched by others’ perceptions of us and by their reactions to our actions.  Take the classic mother- and daughter-in-law relationship.


The mother wants her son to be happy and for the woman he chooses as a mate to be an admirable woman who will share a happy life, be a good wife to him and a good mother to their children.  The daughter-in-law wants to be respected and admired and accepted.


It sounds so simple, and yet the horror stories of nightmarish relationships are legion.   The results can be devastating or liberating.  The costs high–and ones that are not worth paying, or ones you gladly pay to be  free of the nightmare.


Others do exert influence even when we elect not to permit them to influence us.  Take, for example, the divorced couple.  They don’t interact personally, but they share children and in matters regarding them, the couple must interact.


How they share the children and their parental obligations are negotiated.  But their futures are in ways still influenced by their past.  When they’ll take vacations, where they are legally able to go on vacation.  What weekends and or holidays will be spent with their children and which ones will be spent alone.  The marriage is over.  The influence in part remains.


How that is viewed depends on the relationship between the post-divorced couple.  If they put the children first and work in harmony with what is best for them, then both are apt to be more accommodating.  If not, and bitterness and resentment remain, things will be decidedly more difficult.


We don’t tend to go out of our way to help those who hate us.  We don’t typically put ourselves out for those who treat us badly or lie to others about what we say and do.  That’s human nature, too.


So what conclusions have I drawn?  How do I answer the initial question posed:


When we look at others, at ourselves, at specific things, do we see them as they are?


No, we don’t.


We see them as we see them through our own filters:  emotional, preconceived notions, experience, expectations, and what we want to see (rose-colored glasses).


We see them the same way that they see us–as reflections.❦



Fun isn’t just for everyone else.  It’s for you, too.  And here’s a secret tip that’s too often well-kept hidden:  YOU choose what you consider fun.  You define it, you embrace it.  You enjoy it!

Listen to the new episode of EVERYDAY WOMAN, FUN!!!

And remember, whether you’re a mom, mother, grandmother, best friend, distant relative, mere acquaintance or stranger, you too get a turn at fun.  Take it!



When Others Feed on Hurting You: Control You

We all have our soft underbelly; the one we avoid confrontation with whenever possible.  We’ve been there before, and we know how much it hurts.
Whether we call it someone stabbing us in the back, stepping on our toes or driving nails through our hearts, we get the feeling, and we’ve dealt with the many side-effects.
Joy, like life itself, is a fragile thing.  And it seems we’re all blessed (or cursed) with at least one person in our lives who is hellbent on making sure that they steal ours.  Whenever things are going well, or even when we’re in an unsettled state but we’re cooping well and still finding joy in our lives, in comes that person to steal our joy and make us miserable.
Maybe the thief isn’t getting enough attention.  Maybe s/he’s secretly unhappy and can’t stand the sight of anyone else being joyful in their imperfect life.  Maybe s/he thrives on upset.  Or feels that tearing others down builds them up.  It could be the thief is a control freak and feels threatened by you, so s/he makes it his or her business to not let you be too happy to keep you humble.  Or the thief could just not give a damn.  So what if you’re hurt?  It’s not his or her fault if what s/he wants negatively impacts you.  Or–and this is the worst possible case, of course–the thief takes joy in deliberately hurting you and stealing your joy.
Yes, sad as it is to say, there really are people who thrive and blossom and find happiness in making other people miserable. Particularly people, who for one reason or the other, don’t like them.
When someone steals your joy once, you’re inclined to be forgiving and consider it an accident.  But what if the thief does this over and again?  Always at significant moments, or over events that are significant and meaningful to you?  What do you do then?  How do you cope?

OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT.   When you’re on the receiving end of joy stealing, being objective is all but impossible.  Still, we have to do our best or remain a victim.
Try to determine why the thief is stealing your joy.  Only when you grasp their motivation can you deal with the problem constructively.

UNDERSTAND THE STAKES.  In these type situations, most often there’s something at risk. Something that puts you between the rock and the hard place.  Whether it’s your job, your reputation, or someone you love.  And you have to understand that cause-and-effect, action-and-reaction is hard at work.
So think through scenarios.  If the thief does this, you do that, where does that leave you?
What do you have at stake and are you willing to lose it?
Sometimes being the victim doesn’t enable you to avoid the penalty.  You’re caught in an emotional blackmail or hostage-type situation.  When the thief does this, anything you do results in the loss of x.  So before you do anything, you need to understand and accept that you well might lose.  Are you willing to live with that loss?

CONFRONTATION.  We typically hate it.  Some of us are better at it, more diplomatic, less emotional than others, but normal, healthy and stable people don’t relish confrontation or conflict or the upset both carry along with it.
Yet when our joy is being stolen, we have little choice.  We can step up and deal with the confrontation or allow ourselves to be victims and robbed of joy.
One or the other.  We must choose.  And we must live with our choices.
They’re never easy ones because of what is at stake and the risks of what we can lose.  More often than not, it means a great deal to us or the thief wouldn’t be trying to steal it.  So we must weigh the situation carefully and then choose.

CONSEQUENCES.  As unpleasant as confrontation and conflict is, if we’re able to work through it and come out a better place, it’s worth the effort.  Whether or not we’re able to get to that better place isn’t just our choice.  The thief gets a vote, too.  And when s/he weighs in, that vote can take many forms.  Anger, denial, outrage, justification, the false attribution of motives that are supposedly yours that are alien to you–any or all of those reactions are as apt to arise as a peaceful, imperfect solution to the problem or even a resolution with which you can be at peace.
The consequences could be alienation, distance, separation or divorce.  The loss of the job.  The loss of a loved one.
Steep consequences are possible.  Very possible because reason and logic are skewed by emotions in these situations and because our perspectives are a complex network of experiences and events–some of which are related to our interactions with the joy stealer and some that go beyond that relationship and into other areas of our lives.  Things that happened with other people, back when we were kids.  Professional things.  Personal things.
The sum of all our experiences shape our perspective and the lens through which we see the thief and the joy s/he steals.

CONTROL.  The bottom line is that we can’t control others’ actions.  We can only control our reactions to their actions.
We can choose to confront or withdraw.  To accept or distance ourselves from the thief.  To try–often for the umpteenth time–to be blunt and honest with the thief, about the pain they’re inflicting in the hope that they will choose not to deliberately hurt us again.  Or we can accept that the thief, regardless of motivation, is going to continue to hurt us and steal our joy and walk away.
In the end, we choose how much control and power over us we give the thief.
It is rarely an easy choice.  Rarely simple or free from many shades of gray.
It is seldom a choice we look forward to making or one we wanted to be placed in the position of having to make.  Yet if we do not, then doing nothing–willingly being the victim–does nothing to resolve the joy-stealing, only adds baggage to it.
So we assess the situation, no matter how much we wish we didn’t have to do it.
We understand the stakes, no matter how much we wish we never had to put things this dear to us at stake.
We endure the confrontation, even if it makes us sick for days or weeks afterward and our hearts yearn for peace.
We steel ourselves and accept the consequences for the course of action we’ve chosen to take, even if enacting it brings certain grief and mourning.
We control ourselves, our actions, making hard choices because we know that while avoiding them would be easier, living with avoiding them would not.
And we endure this, suffer through the upsets and losses we incur stopping the thief because when we look at life, its fragility and brevity–we are here but a moment–we know this truth:
If we are living without joy, we are already dead.
And that penalty is far too costly to pay.  ❧

Vicki Hinze
Affirmation.   Inspiration.  Confirmation.

Summer Writing

Summer.  We anticipate it, dream about it–and during those bleak, blustery winter days, we shiver and crave it.  We build these images in our minds of warm, lazy days when we lean back under the shade of an old craggy oak with a pen and pad or our laptop, ignore clocks and just write until the warmth seduces us into a blissful little nap.

One of my writer friends likes to garden and write, and often she pauses from one to do the other.  A favorite “summer” thing for her is to kick back in the wheelbarrow and cloud-dream.  She says some of her best ideas come then.  And there is something about summer that inspires the muse in us.  My special place is at the beach.  No dream seems too big or too complex or too risky when I’m sitting in the sand looking out on the horizon.  And nothing infuses me with the “Yes, I dare” like the sounds of the wind and the waves crashing on the shore.

But with summer comes other things that impact our writing.  And some of those things aren’t conducive to dreaming or even functioning at peak performance.  And we’ve got to deal with those things, too–hopefully in a constructive way.  Because if we don’t, then we’re not going to be doing much writing, and what we do write will only come with the pulling of hair and the spitting of nails:  two things best avoided, particularly when writing entertaining fiction.

Things.  What things?

There are many, but we’ll look at a few of the most prevalent for the largest number of people.

ROUTINE.  During the winter, the kids are in school and the writer is self-programmed, if you will, to write from, say, 10-2 every day.  Only now the kids are home and their lunch break, swimming lessons, ball practice or other activities fall right in the middle of your writing time.  This doesn’t mean that the writer does write.  It means the writer has to shift the writing time to one that doesn’t conflict with other obligations.  That might require splitting writing time.  For example, a 10-2 writer might write 9-11 and then again from 2-4.

Changes in routine are relatively easy to adopt but require discipline (on the part of the writer and on those at home with the writer) to enact and make functional.

A tip:  the writer knows when s/he produces best.  If at all possible, alter the routine around that time.

Why is routine important?  Because when the writer works in routine, mentally s/he has self-programmed to produce on that routine.  The good news is many experts say a routine can become a routine in twelve days.  (Twelve is the magic number.  Remember, many very successful modification programs are 12-step programs.)

SITUATION CHANGES.  Some people winter in Florida and summer up north, or summer in Florida and head north for winter.  Vacations.  Stepchildren, parents or others coming for a month or two or life at home is left behind for the annual move to the beach house.  Some businesses alter their hours, close on Fridays.  Half the world you need to talk to is “away on vacation.”

The writer who expects these situational changes can make allowances by scheduling deadlines accordingly, by timing projects so that as much as possible can be done “alone” versus working aspects of projects that rely on others.

It also makes it apparent why the writer’s flexibility (writing anywhere in any manner versus “I can only write in total silence in my office at the computer) is so important.

Situations always change, particularly during the summer, and so being flexible and working with those changes makes for a less frustrated, frazzled writer.  And that makes for a more productive writer.

ATTITUDE.  Because writers are so accustomed to uninterrupted writing time, or writing time with minimal interruptions, summer can bring frustration and irritation–but only if the writer allows it.  Two ways to minimize this is to set perimeters and be clear about your expectations with others in your circle.  The second is for the writer to adopt a positive attitude.  If s/he isn’t unnerved by little interruptions, then the writing won’t be unnerved by it–the process will take them in stride and work around them.  If, however, the writer is seething, then the writing will suffer the effects of that as well.  So control your emotions and determine that you will have a positive, constructive, laid back attitude about interruptions, noise levels, the busy-ness taking place around you, and write–and enjoy it.

Plan on more breaks, and if you’re usually writing 20 pages per day, scale back to 10 pages.  Lessen the demand to give yourself the latitude you need to accept these alterations and demands on your time and space with dignity and grace.  Your blood pressure will thank you.  Your editor and agent and manuscript will, too.

AMBITION.  Most people are less ambitious during the summer, and that’s true too of writers.  Many write less, or less often, and don’t require the production output from themselves they typically require.

Conversely, some writers flip their entire schedule and are more ambitious writers during the summer months.  My dear friend DELIA PARR, (Refining Emma, Bethany House), is one such author.  Delia teaches high school.  During the school year, she does her extensive research for her next novel.  Then, when school is out for the summer, she heads to the beach and writes the entire book.  Delia has worked this way for many years, and she’s found a rhythm that has been very successful for her.

Other writers research in summer, write in winter, and some don’t write at all during the summer months but focus their attention and efforts on promotional activities and all the business-related tasks that are not manuscript production.

DEBRA WEBB (Nameless, St. Martin’s), who has written 67 books in the last eight years, writes outside on her laptop so she can enjoy the summer weather.   To meet her deadlines, she can’t alter her production, but she can alter her method of producing, which enables her to enjoy the flowers she loves.

Other writers, like ELIZABETH SINCLAIR (Miracles in the Mist, Medallion Press), are equally ambitious winter and summer–no changes required.

The point is, you need to know which type of writer you are.  In summer are you more ambitious, less ambitious, or is there no notable difference?  If you know the answer to that, then you can adapt to conditions that are perfect for you.  Bottom line, you’re after what works best and under conditions where you produce your best work.  Know how summer impacts your ambition helps create your optimum environment.

ENERGY.  You can be the most ambitious person in the world, have created the ultimate perfect conditions, but still not have the energy to produce diddly squat.  What is your energy level during the summer?

Well, if you live in Florida, as I do, and you’re among the majority, as I am, you’d better know that you’re going to spend at least a few weeks feeling pretty raunchy from allergens.  People who have never suffered from allergies, often do here.

If you know that, then you’re in a position to do a little preventative work–on your production, schedule and also on minimizing your exposure.

A couple years ago, I lost my voice totally for nearly a week–oak pollen.  Many here have pine allergies, too, and the garden variety “stay inside until everything yellow turns green” allergies.

With air-conditioning filters, one can nix a lot of the impact.  By avoiding going outside early in the morning–allergens are worse then–one can avoid more impact.

Even people who haven’t before suffered allergies end up with sinusitis, bronchitis, strep, and often all this nonsense ends up with a grand finale round of pneumonia.

Knowing this, I schedule “light” springs and limit outside activities to afternoon and evenings.  Then I survive the season and am able to actually enjoy the summer.

Every area has its special summer challenges as well as its delights.  What are yours and how do they impact your energy level?

Know before summer arrives so you are prepared and plan accordingly.  You might just be able to prevent  exposure and avoid things certain to take your energy level for nose-dives.  Wouldn’t that be a blessing?

Summer can be a wonderful time for writers.  The change of pace–or not–can be invigorating.  The more we know about how the seasonal changes impact us and our work, the higher our odds of it being fantastic, fun and productive. ❦

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