Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Moving Day!

Written by Karen D. Swim

Happy Wednesday! Well, this blog has moved. If you typically access this blog from the tab on my website, I have not yet updated the navigation. Please bookmark our new address. Although I have talked about this move for quite some time, the execution has not gone as planned. Thank goodness for MERRY tips! The move and brand new design were to happen simultaneously. However, I could not bear the frustrations any longer, so last night I picked up and moved (with help from my awesome web host!).

So, no Men with Pens pretty custom design (yet) but commenting will be easier and I will have comment luv (yippee). I was so excited last night I woke up at 3 am and watched the news! Yea, bad idea, but the 3 am ABC news is very interesting, kind of BBC mixed with Good Morning America mixed with carnival. Hmm, this could explain the later dreams about Bette Midler.

I'll be back tomorrow to hit you with the happy stick in the blog's new space. I'll be sure to update you on how to keep subscribing too, one of the many things that must be figured out today.

Have an awesome day and if you've got wordpress tips, I'm sure to be asking lots of questions on Twitter or Plurk today!

Peace and love,


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Making MERRY from Failures

Written by Karen D. Swim

Are you familiar with the sound effects that accompany total failure? It sounds a little like this...did you hear it? Exactly, it is so silent you can hear dust move across the floor.

Public failure can be especially difficult. There is no covering it up when you blow it while others are watching. Yet, it's not often humiliation that stings the most, it is our own heartbreak when our results don't live up to our expectations. The reel of negative self talk plays in a never ending loop. My MERRY tips have helped me to hit the pause button on the torture tape and move on.

  1. Mourn the Loss. Yes, it is a loss! To deny what you feel only prolongs it. I give myself a specific time period to mourn the loss. I find that 6 1/2 minutes works magic. I can cry, brood and feel sucky and then it's time to move on.
  2. Examine your Expectations. Were your expectations realistic? There's a fine balance between aiming high and setting yourself up for utter disappointment. The balance lies in managing your expectations. Aim for the moon, but if you land in the stars, celebrate your accomplishment rather than mourn your failure.
  3. Re-evaluate your motive. If you launched a product to make a zillion dollars, land on Oprah and party like Diddy with no thought of the end user and their benefit, well your profits may fall short of expectations. Yes you rock, but you must rock with purpose.
  4. Roll up your sleeves and learn. Failure teaches us tremendous lessons if you're willing to learn them. Perhaps the results fell short of expectations but there is much to be gained from the experience. Be willing to honestly examine your process, preparation and attitude. Take notes and use what you've learned to continue to move forward.
  5. You're not done yet! So you bombed, it's not the end of the world. I can prove it, you're here reading this post aren't you?

So there you have it my MERRY tips for recovering from failure. How do you move on when something has not gone quite as expected? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Belief + Preparation = You Taking the World by Storm

Written by Karen D. Swim


Actress, comedienne, and author Mo'Nique exudes confidence. She has overcome barriers and created her own reality in a town where that is not easy to do.

So, it should come as no surprise that while mindlessly flipping channels I stopped to hear her share the secret to her success. I expected to listen in for a few minutes but finger on the remote I sat transfixed for the next half hour rapt with attention.

I feasted on the meal of her wisdom and now I'd like to share a few morsels with you.

Belief + preparation = any d*** thing you want!

Talent is meaningless without belief and preparation. There are many great novels tucked away in bottom drawers, canvases shoved into the corner of basements and songs never heard all by people with tremendous talent. When you believe that you deserve success, you will prepare for it. In fact you will prepare relentlessly knowing that you will make it. And when that break comes, you will be happy but not surprised because you believed.

My big break came not when the big deal came but when I decided it was my big break.

The book deal, promotion, award, appearance on Oprah, and huge check are not what will define your success. Your success begins within, when you decide you are worthy enough to have it.

When they speak of me of course I want them to say, she was funny, or she was a great actress but most importantly I want them to say I stood for something.

Fame, fortune and even wealth are window dressing. Living with integrity and standing for something has a lasting impact on the people you will touch in this lifetime. Go out and grab your success but make it count for something bigger than you.

Do you believe? What are you doing about it? Share boldly in the comments.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Inspiration

Words and Photo - Karen D. Swim

"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another."--John 1:16, New International Version (NIV) Bible

I am painfully aware that I cannot live one day withoutGod's grace. Today I am thankful that the supply of unmerited favor is not finite. Grace has given me more than I ever deserved or could ever earn in a lifetime. The knowledge of grace bows my head in humility and fills my heart with thankfulness.

Grace enables me to look upon others with a compassion that comes from the knowledge that we are all in this race together. Imperfect creatures faced with the same 24 hours in a day to strive to be better, to do better. Grace humbly reminds me that I am not worthy to judge your perceived faults for I have many of my own. Grace encourages me to reach across the divide and extend the hand of friendship, understanding and love.

As I pour from the cup of grace, it is continually refilled from the source that will never run dry.

Yes, today I am so very thankful for grace. Are you?

P.S. I took this photo several years ago in Maui with a disposable camera. It is a triumph that my thumb does not appear in the photo, so please extend a little grace as you view it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Are you a commitment phobe?

by Karen D. Swim, Photo: Jeff Belmonte,


”Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes... but no plans.” --Peter F. Drucker

Do you have a fear of commitment? According to, "Commitment phobia is the fear and avoidance of having to commit, particularly to relationships." The site offers a commitment readiness test to help you assess if you are commitment phobic or "ready to take the proverbial plunge?"

Commitment phobia is not exclusive to relationships. You may fear making a commitment to yourself. You will not invest the time and resources in your goals and dreams because you are not quite ready to take the plunge.

Commitment to yourself requires a willingness to accept change, and that can be scary. However, change is necessary as standing in the same place, doing the same thing will yield the same results.

"The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt but in spite of doubt." --Rollo May

Commitment moves your "I Want" to "I Will." When you are fully engaged, losing is no longer an option. Tiger Woods did not delay surgery because he wanted to win the US Open. He made a firm commitment, stating his intention to win the US Open.

Melanie Roach captured the #1 one spot on the four woman 2008 Olympic Team. Melanie has a full life as the mother of three small children under the age of six, one of whom is autistic, owner/operator of a gymnastics training facility with over 500 students, wife of fourth term incumbent Washington State House of Representatives legislator, and Sunday school teacher! Yet, she committed to her dream of making the Olympic team and made it happen.

As in relationships, commitment does not come without bumps in the road. You are certain to hit some speed bumps along the way. Work through them and keep moving forward. As you move through challenges you will find that your commitment will deepen. Do not fear the challenge, fear quitting!

Are you willing to take the plunge for YOU today?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gone Fishing!

Words For Hire has gone fishing (metaphorically not physically) but will return tomorrow with the catch of the day. Got any fish tales of your own to share? Feel free to leave a comment!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Song Are You?

by Karen D. Swim

Musical notes

What song are you today? Are you a lilting melody with haunting string accompaniments, or a stately, solemn piece with a repeated bass? Perhaps, you are a symphonic harmony building to a crescendo, or a song with shifting moods and busy texture.

What song does your family hear when you greet them at the breakfast table? What song do you play when you stop at the morning coffee shop? Are you a hard driving bass line with raging guitar chords as you make your daily commute? When you arrive at the office, is your greeting Vivaldi or is it humming in angry dissonance and tortured angst?

I rose this morning a song of praise, counting my blessings and rejoicing at the start of a day. My lips dripped sweet melodies as I greeted those I encountered. The soft sweet melody rose to a resounding crescendo of CAN, WILL, BELIEVE as I reviewed my goals for the day. With the sounds of belief firmly implanted, a rising drumbeat transitions me to a heart pumping, energy charged beat that screams Let's Get It Started!

What tune are the chords of your life playing?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Achieve A Lot with Just A Little

by Karen D. Swim

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."
-- Vincent Van Gogh

As we begin the second half of 2008, it is a good time to evaluate and adjust if necessary. In considering my own journey I realized that the only thing separating me from achieving all that I want is “a little.” The path from average to great is only a little farther away. Consider the impact of just a little.

  • Adding a mere ten minutes to a run can burn an extra 100 calories.
  • Ten dollars a month can prevent a child from starving.
  • You can develop a new habit in 21 days.
  • A dash of salt can season an entire dish
  • Making one more sales call at the end of your day can help you win President’s Club.
  • A basketball team can win a game by one point.
  • You only need one publisher to accept your book.
  • Tiny mustard seeds grow into shrubs three or four feet high.
  • A tiny variation in a single gene determines how acutely you feel pain.

What impact would a little extra effort have on your business, your life? Would your family benefit from one hour of your focused attention? How would one extra rep impact your workouts? Would one additional client per week make a difference in your business? Could a tiny change in your budget help you meet your financial goals?

What about you? Can a little go a long way in your life?

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Divine Slap on the Head

by Karen D. Swim
Photo: Ian Britton,

For the past week my truck has been doing community service. As such, my only transportation has been my two feet (you don't even want to know what happened to my bike!). My typical errands are roughly 5 miles. Normally I enjoy the additional exercise and the good feeling of being environmentally friendly. Yesterday, however, I was not feeling quite so gracious. I strapped on my backpack and headed out in the hot, humid weather. One mile into my errands the internal conversation began:

I really wish I had my truck. What was I thinking? Stupid pinecones, don't they know people walk here. Geez, trim your hedges it's like a forest out here. I wonder if I look fat in this shirt. This heat is really going to destroy my hair. Hey, wild bunny..oh man is that dog poo?

I got to my first stop,sweaty, cranky and in no mood to go on, but I had no choice. I started my internal grousing again.

It's hot. Man, how much further. Oh man it's hot. I'm tired, no you're not tired,this is nothing. Is that a...

My litany was interrupted by the sight of of someone heading my way. I spotted the pink sponge rollers first, and then took in the elderly woman in a sleek wheelchair. I perked up as our paths drew closer. We smiled and exchanged greetings and then with a hearty smile she said: "I wish I could walk." Oomph! Talk about a divine slap on the head. I continued on and uttered to myself, "I can walk, and for that I should be thankful."

I quickened my step as I asked forgiveness for being such a petulant brat. I had two legs able to carry me on 5 miles of errands with a sack on my back. The woman in the wheelchair reminded me that I was indeed blessed to be able to walk.

I continued my errands with renewed gratitude for the many gifts in my life. My eyes were open to the people and places I passed along the way, and the journey was much faster with a better attitude. I even took the long way home.

While I am in no way proud of my bad attitude, I am thankful for the gentle reminder to count my blessings.

Today's post is a bit of a departure from the typical Fierce Friday fare. However, I believe true fierceness is tempered with humility and thanksgiving. If you have had a tough week, I invite you to let go of what went wrong and focus on all the ways that you are blessed. Your list of blessings will far outweigh your list of annoyances.

Thank you for reading, commenting and continuing to inspire me to be a better person.

What was your most memorable or recent gratitude lesson? How did it impact you? Let's learn together. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What I Learned from Bullies

by Karen D. Swim


I am firmly convinced that the little boy who took my milk money in first grade is either a CEO or a convicted felon. Hopefully, he channeled his alpha tendencies in a positive manner and is a CEO, but the latter choice would not surprise me!

We all knew bullies growing up. Heck, some of you may have even been that bully. Not all bullies asserted their authority physically, some were geniuses at mental torture. Others reigned their kingdom with superior skills and an authoritative tone. Yet, looking back I learned valuable lessons from each and I believe became a better person as a result of my encounters with them. So, without further ado, my bully hall of fame and the lessons they taught me.

Joaquin (First Grade Bully)

Joaquin was a tough little kid who ruled the school yard with an iron fist. He took my milk money for weeks before I gained the courage to tell my parents. When my mom came to school and personally advised him to leave me alone, he suddenly became just another first grader. Lesson learned: Bullies are tough, but moms are tougher!

Leticia (Grades 1-6)

Leticia came from a big family and she was loud and bossy. She ruled the tether ball court and we all patiently awaited our turn each day allowing us to kick our butts. Leticia was not unstoppable but her confident attitude led us all to believe that she could not be beaten.She was allowed to wear her hair and clothing styles that my mom forbid for me, which added to her standoffish cool. We went on to become great friends. Lesson learned: The right attitude will make people sit up and take notice, that and a cool hairstyle.

Alexis (Middle school)

Alexis was the quintessential teenage mean girl! She hated me and found new ways to torment me almost daily. She befriended another mean girl and together they were Evil and Evil personified. What incited their hatred? A boy of course. I have a permanent bump on the back of my head courtesy of Alexis. I later learned that the torturous duo each came from less than ideal homes. Lesson learned: Bullies are often acting out their own internal pain. Be empathetic, don't take it personally and when they come near you run like the wind!

All of these bullies and the ones I later encountered in Corporate America taught me strength. I learned to stand up for myself and not allow others to walk over me. I learned that fear was my true bully not people. Leticia also taught me to aim beyond my comfort zone. Because of her, I practiced tether ball at home every day preparing myself to beat her. I may not have become a world class tether baller but I did stretch myself to new limits.

What about you? Did you encounter bullies on the schoolyard (or in the workplace)? What lessons did you learn? The comment box is open and all are welcome!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Riding the Wave of Imagination

by Karen D. Swim, Photo: Juria Yoshikawa,

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."
-- Albert Einstein

Children are quite inventive. A spoon can function as a microphone, drumstick or magic wand. Blankets and chairs can instantly be transformed into a tent in the wilderness or a fort requiring protection from the bad guys. In childhood we give free reign to our imagination and allow ourselves to be catapulted as far as our minds will take us. And then we grow up.

Imagination is: 1: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality 2 a: creative ability b: ability to confront and deal with a problem : resourcefulness c: the thinking or active mind : interest (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Imagination unleashes possibilities not yet seen. Children are able to do this effortlessly as their logic has not yet fully developed to hinder the process. As adults we imagine but often reason it away with logic.

Imagination however leads to innovation which is one of the keys to business success. Giving free reign to your creative senses can help you solve problems and challenges in your professional and personal life. With imagination we can find breakthroughs and inventive solutions. If only we are willing to exercise the mental muscle that asks "what if?"

Another benefit of imagination is hope. Imagining what could be gives room for our dreams to grow and restores hope in our potential. We see ourselves and our surroundings from a different perspective when we let go and take a magic carpet ride over the horizon.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to imagine without censure? I triple double dog dare you to let your imagination run free today. There's room in the sandbox (also known as the comment box), come in and tell us your stories. Imagine the possibilities!

somerights20Photo licensed through Creative Commons, some rights reserved. Please do not copy or distribute without attribution to the photographer.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Footprints in the Sandbox

by Karen D. Swim

This weekend I had the opportunity to catch up on blog reading, and I'm so glad I did. My friend Nadine Touzet, wrote a guest post for The Passion Project Blog which discussed Where You Go to Discover Your Passion.  Nadine shared that childhood memories offer a multitude of clues about your passion.

The post inspired me to dig for treasure in my own childhood, and I discovered that my passion for the written word has been a constant presence in my life from early childhood.  I have memories of reading Shakespeare with my dad, climbing trees to read a book, making my imagination come alive with stories and poring over the dictionary with excitement wanting to learn every word.

My first day of kindergarten Mrs. Sonnenberg stood at the door to greet her new students, many clinging to their parents in tears. I was normally shy but on this day I strode up to my new teacher and with a huge smile announced: "My name is Karen Denise Wilson and I know how to write it too." I launched into a litany of my other reading and writing skills as my mother gently ushered me into the classroom.   I later learned my mother was surprised (and amused)  that I never shed a single tear and was all too ready to take on this school thing without her!

All of these memories validated (for me at least) that indeed we are born with our unique seeds of greatness. We are blessed with those special traits, characteristics and talents that make us unique. Sometimes we go off track and must find our way back to that child who will remind us of who we were truly meant to be. Over the next several days, we will take that journey together. We will retrace our passion footprints and revisit the lessons learned in the sandbox. I look forward to your comments, suggestions and stories as we share a few laughs this week.

What about you? Can you recall vivid clues to your passion from childhood?  Please feel free to share in crayon or ink. All discussion is welcomed. :-)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Be Unstoppable!

by Karen D. Swim

IMG5It was one of those days. My cell phone began ringing during my yoga workout interrupting my desperate attempt at achieving balance and peace. Each call brought news that tightened my body into knots of tension - car problems, client problems, lost invoices - and so on and so on. At this rate, I would need a boxing workout with a sparring partner to get back on track!

I managed to regain a sense of calm but the entire day unfolded like a conspiracy to drive me insane. At 7:30 pm I threw in the towel and half collapsed on the couch. I was exhausted, my neck hurt, and my hair looked funny but I was calling it a day. I mindlessly flipped through a magazine, my eyes too tired to even focus on the text. I flipped a page and saw bold black letters set against a gray background that read UNSTOPPABLE. I sat up and simply stared believing the message was meant just for me. Today, I felt far from unstoppable. I looked and felt like a train wreck but somehow the words had penetrated and got me thinking.

There are days when I do feel unstoppable. At times it begins with an external event, such as a great run or workout, a client project that went well, a trip to the hair salon or those shoes that make you feel like a million bucks that triggers internal feelings of absolute fierceness.

As I read the word, it ignited my desire to be unstoppable every day. I want to be a force for change in my own life. Hand me that cape because I am going to conquer the world! wonderwoman3

Challenges, distractions and annoyances should not change the course of your day or focus. Rather those things should come up against the impenetrable force field of your positive power and disintegrate at your feet. Bad hair days, broken cars, checks that really are not in the mail are no match for the unstoppable man or woman. We are fierce, and we are unstoppable!

What are your tips for being unstoppable? Speak your mind in the comments.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Take a Laugh Break

by Karen D. Swim

When was the last time you laughed so hard your tummy ached and tears flowed from your eyes? If your answer is "today" good for you! However, if it's been a few days or even a few months, then I invite you to share a laugh with me today.

Unlike children, adults do not routinely collapse in giggles. Allow me to share a few logical reasons you should laugh well and laugh often. Many studies show that laughter has positive health benefits. Laughing:

  • reduces stress
  • lowers your blood pressure
  • elevates your mood
  • boosts the immune system
  • improves brain functioning
  • protects the heart
  • connects you to others

and a good laugh has been shown to have aerobic benefits equivalent to 10 minutes on a rowing machine.

Laughter is great medicine and best of all it is free and accessible to all, so go ahead and have a good laugh today and everyday.

What tickles your funny bone? Have you found yourself laughing less lately? What can you do to add humor to your life? Let's share a giggle or two in the comments.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Are You Ready to Get Lucky?

Push Button For Luck

by Karen D. Swim, Photo credit: kamaru,

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.--Seneca

The Detroit Pistons made it through 82 regular season games and won a spot in the playoffs. Reserve Guard, Lindsey Hunter had been inactive for most of the season but he too would participate in the playoffs.

Like his teammates Hunter wanted the team to become the 2008 Champs. After all, at 37 this could be his last season. He wanted the ring and they now had an opportunity to go all the way. When the time came, Hunter was ready. Physically and mentally prepared, he sprang into action and energized his team at crucial moments during the series. He showed no sign of rust from lack of playing time, in fact he looked better than most of the starters who had played all season long.

Are you ready for opportunity? If the phone rings today and you are asked to give a presentation for the biggest client you've ever landed, are you ready? If offered a chance to exhibit your work, are you ready? If your boss quits and you are suddenly in line for a promotion, are you ready?

Far too often in life, even if we are technically ready, we are not emotionally or mentally ready. We make excuses as to why we cannot seize opportunity when it lands on our doorstep. "I don't have enough experience." "Well, I would if..." "I just don't know if I'm ready for that." Any of these sound familiar?

" prepared in season and out of season.."--II Timothy 4:2, NIV Bible

Perfect alignment rarely, if ever happens. You have to be prepared in and out of season when opportunity comes your way. If called into action, are you ready to bring your "A" game? How do you get prepared? You practice. Lindsey Hunter practiced all season long to play mere minutes at the end of a long season. You have to train your mind, body and skill set as if every day you will be presented with your shot at the championship. Look deep within your soul and ask yourself what you really want. Are you ready to have it?

It's fun to share, so please join in the discussion and share in the comments!

Monday, June 02, 2008

I Am an SOB!

by Karen D. Swim


Yes, you read the title right, I am an SOB, Liz Strauss said so! I was honored to be named by Liz as a Successful and Outstanding Blogger(SOB) last week.  How do you earn the right to call yourself a Successful Blog SOB? In Liz's words:

"They take the conversation to their readers, contribute great ideas, challenge us, make us better, and make our businesses stronger."

However, this post is not an excuse to toot my own horn (c'mon you know me better than that, right?). This morning before I sat down to write, I read Joanna Young's post on Gratitude.  It was the perfect complement to my thoughts today and for the month ahead.  Joanna writes:

"Gratitude shapes your language and your world.  Regular practice in writing with gratitude gets you writing about what's good, but also what's real.  It's a powerful form of affirmation.  The more you write this kind of stuff the more it becomes what's 'normal' to you; it influences your language and your beliefs.  It starts to shape and create your world."

I agree with Joanna. Life is never perfect, yet even in the midst of challenges we can walk in gratitude. Choosing to be thankful changes our perception. We are able to see beyond the problem or challenge to the potential and possibility.  Problems are only as big and consuming as we allow them to be.

The SOB honor is meaningful to me because at its essence it embraces gratitude and giving back. Liz Strauss is the blogger we all aspire to be.  She is one of the industry's leading blog writers but she generously extends a hand to bring others to the top too.  Liz has a passionate commitment to create connections online and offline.  She not only talks it but definitely walks it. Thank you Liz for lighting the way and modeling excellence.

Liz's nod is an affirmation of my own purpose and encourages me in my mission of creating connections. However, I could not do this without all of you dear readers.

I am so thankful for all of you taking time to participate in this community. I look forward to hearing from you and learning from you each day. You have made blogging a passion not a labor. I look forward to the second half of this year. It is my hope that our connections grow stronger and that we expand the circle of community. Again, I say thank you.

How important is community to you? What makes you feel part of a community?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I Believe In You

by Karen D. Swim

Photo credit: Flickr | darkpatator


Today I want to give to you a gift that has meant so much in my own life - the gift of belief.

My all time favorite teacher was Mrs. Lorna Hart. She was my first grade teacher and had a profound influence on my life. Mrs. Hart was the first adult other than my parents who truly believed in me. I always made good grades, but Mrs. Hart nourished my love of learning and filled me with confidence to keep reaching even higher. She set her expectations high and I rose to the challenge.

She did not believe that I was perfect. She did not believe that I would never fail. Like my parents she believed that I had the ability to keep moving forward, growing and learning along the way. Belief gave me the courage to eliminate "I can't" from my vocabulary. It gave me confidence to continually test the limits of capabilities. Her belief rubbed off on me and I began to believe in me too.

Over the years I have been blessed to have other people come along just when I needed the reinforcement to give me the gift of belief. Before I declared "I am a writer," someone else said "You are a writer." Those words echo in my soul every day giving me the power to pick up a pen and practice my craft. Having someone tell you that they believe "you can" is the ray of light that causes the bud of your talent to come into full bloom. A whispered encouragement can cause your heart to soar and restore your confidence.

"If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning."--Mahatma Gandhi

So, today I want to shine the light on you and tell you that I BELIEVE IN YOU. I believe that you can start that business, write that book, make that career transition, get that promotion or run that race. I believe that you are good enough, bright enough and strong enough to boldly go after your dreams. I believe that NOW is your time to shine and you will seize the opportunity. I BELIEVE IN YOU.

How has belief or the lack of belief impacted your life? Can you recall the first person who truly believed in you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Post About Nothing

by Karen D. Swim

This is a post about nothing. Seriously. There are no neatly bulleted or numbered lists telling you how to, when to, or why to. Do not look for the deeper meaning because there is none. This is not a gimmick or cheap marketing trick to get you here and then wham surprise you with a brilliant post that moves you to tears. It really is about absolutely nothing. Nada baby, zilch! So don't say I did not warn you.

Most people are familiar with the oft quoted 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want) but one of my favorite verses is "he leadeth me beside still waters (quiet waters in some translations), he restoreth my soul." When I think of still waters, it immediately fills me with a deep peace. The stillness here I believe refers to internal as well as external. In my mind the still waters is a place of deep restoration and tranquility, a place where nothing is happening.

In our fast paced world, we don't leave room for nothing. Children who are doing nothing are given something to do. In the workplace, doing nothing could be grounds for termination. Even our conversations have to be about something.

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.--Ariel Durant

Yet, doing nothing has its merits. Seinfeld was a show about nothing, or rather the mundane, everyday that makes up our lives. You know the stuff we miss because we're too busy doing something.

In those nothing moments, my mind is allowed to roam free. My senses become more attuned to the world around me. My breathing slows and my body relaxes. Inspiration is allowed to flow freely and my creativity is sparked. Nothing seems impossible when I am doing nothing.

If it has been awhile since you did nothing, join me by the still waters today. We can do nothing together.

I would absolutely love to talk about nothing with you so please spark a discussion by posting your comments. If I'm out doing nothing, feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Backward is the New Forward

Progress, noun: 1) a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage: the progress of a student toward a degree. 2) advancement in general. 3) growth or development; continuous improvement. 4) forward or onward movement

While the dictionary includes "forward" as the direction of progress, onward can be lateral or even backward.

“We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”--C.S. Lewis

When I was a child, my mother would hang clothing on the line to dry when the weather permitted. I would always beg to just put them in the dryer but my mother insisted it was a waste of energy.

I abandoned my mother's ways when I left home too busy and progressive to bother with a clothes line, that is until I got married. I bought a clothesline and hung the clothes to dry outside on nice days because as it turns out mother was right.

Progress is not defined by the speediest course of action but the most prudent. Albert Einstein said “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." Einstein may have been on to something.

Many are opting for simplicity, abandoning cars for bicycles and McMansions for independent living. We are going organic and green and railing against the forces that remain staunchly rooted in the status quo. Progressive thinking has led us to the realization that moving forward means stripping some things away.

Writers seem to have an inherent grasp of this concept. We have embraced technology but we also hold on to the tried and true. We use our computers but still carry our moleskins, notebooks or like Melissa Donovan our Watson Guptill Fickle Writer. We may buy the executive desk but often abandon it for a spot in the garden or the small table in the corner where the light hits just right.

The Kindle and audiobook are mere supporting players in our reading repertoire for we still love the weight of a book in our hands and the sound of a turning page. We see the complex but appreciate the mundane. Our stories are often not about the technological prowess of mankind but simply mankind. The writers eye sees through the maze of detail and is able to ferret out the steps that will get us to the goal, in whatever direction they lead.

What are your thoughts on progress? Have you ever moved backward to advance? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Bigger Picture

by Karen D. Swim

"I have seen the bigger picture and I can't do everything and have everything. "-- Dr. Miranda Bailey, Grey's Anatomy

The Bigger Picture does not always come into focus all at once. Very often we only see fragments at at time. The pieces do not fall into focus until we take a step back and examine them with our attention on the whole rather than the detail that makes up the whole.

We can become so enmeshed in the detail that we no longer notice each piece until we are so worn out and worn down they shatter around us. The pieces were never meant to be the focus, yet we become obsessed with the minutiae and lose sight.

To focus on the bigger picture we sometimes have to let individual pieces go. The process can be painful, as we realize that sometimes we must let go of things we love for things we love more.

So what is the bigger picture? Although your picture may vary, we all share five common traits.

  1. Time is finite. All of us are given the same 24 hours each day. No one can bargain, pay, or earn more time.
  2. We are mortal. Our time on earth will one day end.  We do not have forever but we do have today. 
  3. We are human. We cannot do everything and have everything. We try but something will always suffer.
  4. We don't need all the pieces to see the bigger picture. The pieces may change over time.  Some may move to the far end of the board as others take center stage. The big picture dictates the pieces you bring into focus not the other way around.
  5. There's always a bigger picture. Always.

After losing my husband, I struggled with my bigger picture.  Marriage made it easier to stay focused, balanced. It was an anchor of sorts that kept me from drifting too far. As a widow, I took on every piece that came my way without any focus on the bigger picture. 

Life changes - children growing older, job changes or just the process of aging and wanting something different - may shift our bigger picture. Those same changes can also serve to remind us of the bigger picture.

As for my own journey, I learned that my purpose in life really did not change. The core of who I was created to be, do and give to the world is not dependent on a single piece.  With the death of my husband, my pieces shifted but the bigger picture remained intact.

How about you? Do you ever lose site of the bigger picture or purpose? Tell us about it in the comments and anything else that's on your mind.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fashion Your Own Style

by Karen D. Swim

dreamstime_4591582Several years ago I sat visiting with a friend on a hot, lazy August day. As we sat laughing and chatting, her 8 year old daughter emerged from the back of of the house and struck a fierce model pose. She was wearing boldly patterned shorts in colors so vibrant that it felt as though I was peering into a kaleidoscope. She had paired the shorts with a striped top in an entirely different color pattern. My friend beheld her daughter as she stood there smiling, and cried, "You can't wear that!"

"Sure she can," I responded. "Alex, honey, you can pull off anything with the right attitude!"

My friend and I exchanged laughter and Alex went out to play wearing an outfit that entirely reflected her style.

This 8 year old knew something that many adults have not yet learned. Finding your own style may mean fusing different elements to create something that is uniquely you.

fusion In physics when you fuse two light elements they form a heavier nucleus. This is accompanied by the release or absorption of energy. The power that fuels the sun and the stars is nuclear fusion.In fusion cooking you combine widely differing ethnic or regional ingredients, styles, or techniques, such as French Thai. The results can be an amalgam of taste and textures that are bold and flavorful.

Whether you are a writer, accountant or fashion designer you can blend together wildly different elements to create something that reflects you and your individuality. Ellen Wilson wrote a post on unleashing your own personality this week that perfectly illustrates this point.

You don't have to follow a straight line to get to your journey. In fact you can do the whole route on a windy, twisty road with stops along the way. Valerie Gonyea, refused to be boxed in by traditions. This accountant turned recruiter has conducted her career entirely her way.

As you continue to move forward on your journey, do it your way. Mix it up and try different elements to create something entirely different. Just remember to hold your head up high, smile and know that you are better at being you than anyone else can be!

Have you experimented with blending elements in any area of your life. Tell us about your experiences and results in the comments section.

Photo Credit: "Strange Fashion Child" ©Rebecca Abell,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

3 Proven Methods to Drive Away Your Customers

by Karen D. Swim

Are you looking for ways to alienate your customers? Do you want to achieve brand visibility by being the most reviled in your industry? Well if this is your goal, I have just the solution for you!

Yesterday, American Airlines announced that it would begin charging $15 for the first checked bag. This in essence means that there is no free luggage, at least not on American. However, kudos to them for being the first U.S. carrier to charge for all checked bags. Go American!

You too can be just like the airline industry. Listed below are 3 proven methods to drive away your customers.

  1. Treat your employees badly. When employees are undervalued they will respond by handing your customers as gently as a sack of rotten garbage. Don't worry if you are a solo practice with no employees, you can eliminate the middle man and offer rotten service directly.
  2. Ignore a problem until it gets so big that you almost have to shut down your entire operations, causing a delay to every customer you are currently serving. This one method alone can not only drive away customers but crash your entire business.
  3. Cut back on expected services, lay off staff and raise your prices. Now this method is absolutely priceless. I get chills just thinking about the repercussions.

Airlines have been so successful with these strategies that customers are all buzzing about how to avoid flying with them. Analytical customers are even questioning if the new policies are discriminatory.

The real beauty of their plan is that I suspect it has been in the making for years. Is it possible that these major businesses failed to make internal changes to sustain leadership and now conveniently blame their failure on the economy?

Do you have surefire tips for driving away customers? Share them in the comments!

Disclaimer: No customers or employees were harmed in the writing of this post. Please do not implement these tactics. This post is meant as a tongue in cheek lesson of what not to do. The author takes no responsibility if you choose to disregard this warning and try this at home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Three Tactics for Managing Roadblocks On Your Road to Success

by Karen D. Swim

Photo Credit: © Elena Elisseeva |


You're tooling along on the road to success confident of where you're headed when you encounter the dreaded roadblock. What do you do?

This month we have been focused on moving forward, but what do you do when your journey is interrupted by those awful orange cones? Below are three options that will help you navigate the roadblocks that hinder your progress.

Wait it Out

Orange cones in the road may only signal a temporary road closure. As you idle your engine and wait, review your purpose for the journey and your directions to get there. Use the break in the action to renew your energy and enthusiasm or attend to other minor tasks are you wait. Check the oil and fluids, kick the tires and make sure you have enough air. When the road crew removes the cones you will be ready to move on with confidence.

Take the Suggested Detour

Detours keep you moving but may add a few extra miles to your journey. Don't view a detour as a setback but a continuation of the adventure. You may discover things along the suggested route that you otherwise would have missed. When I worked in Corporate America my company decided to centralize all of marketing to New Jersey. I didn't want to move (suggested detour) and I opted not to accept offers from the other companies that sought me out (suggested detour #2). Instead, I chose to take time off from work to do nothing (alternate route of my choosing).

Take an Alternate Route of Your Choosing

Choosing my own route turned out to be the best thing that could have happened in my life. I had no idea where any of the roads would lead but trusted that still small voice that said "turn off here." Roadblocks can be a divine signal leading you in a different direction. If the suggested route doesn't feel right to you, plan your own alternate. You may even decide to change your destination entirely, like I did.

As you move toward attaining your goals you will eventually hit a roadblock. Do not allow those orange cones to distract or discourage you. You will get to your destination, perhaps a little slower or by a different route, but you will arrive.

Please join and add to the discussion. What tips do you have for do handling the roadblocks in your life?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Above the Noise

by Karen D. Swim

Are you struggling to be heard in a noisy market place? Do you feel like even if you yelled at the top of your lungs no one would notice or care? It may be time to sing at night.

In 2007 a report found that birds in noisy urban areas began singing at night in order for their melodies to be heard above the clamor of city life. Researchers at Sheffield University studied robins in and around Sheffield and discovered that the robins adapted the time of day they sang in order to be heard. The report joins a growing body of evidence that birds are changing their behavior to adjust to modern life.

Our world is noisy. In every industry there are a multitude of choices and it seems everyone is delivering their message and attempting to be heard. Whether you have a blog, book, product, service or are in the job market it seems that millions of people are already out there singing at the top of your lungs.

The robins are not singing to attract or please people. Robins sing to attract other robins and to ward off rivals. In the bird world they are among the earliest to join the chorus at dawn and the last to fall silent at dusk.

"Be like the bird that, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings."--Victor Hugo
It can be downright discouraging believing that you cannot possibly be heard above the noise. Rather than give up, consider the robins. You don’t have to sing your song at the same time of day or even in the same pitch as your competitors. Adapt to modern life just like the birds by finding and singing your own tune at your own time.

Photo credit: | Kerri 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Power of A Moment

by Karen D. Swim



Brief encounters can pack a powerful punch. This is the thought that ran through my mind as I watched the big fat raindrops fall from what had been a beautiful clear sky.

It was quiet and peaceful, a perfect Saturday. I ran errands enjoying the easy tempo of the day. The sun began to fade behind the clouds and the sky darkened. Just as I entered the long drive of my development, huge drops burst forth from the sky. The winds grew high and the drops fell hard and heavy. And then as suddenly as it started, it ended.

I reached my door with canvas shopping bag and noticed that the door was drenched with water, and the dirt from the garden had scattered around the walkway. In less than a minute the brief thunderstorm had transformed the landscape around it.

Like the thunderstorm, our thoughts, attitudes and actions impact the landscape and people around us. As we rush about through our days we may forget that we are connected to the world and people around us. Every small encounter has an impact. In other words we matter, so our words, actions and attitudes matter too.

In less than a minute we can transform ourselves too. In a moment of stress, taking a minute to breathe deeply and focus only on the rise and fall of breath can lower your blood pressure and calm your mind. A minute enjoying the world through your child's eyes can give you a new perspective. As I entered my house I renewed my determination to be present and to relish each moment.

Each moment does count, what will you do with yours today?

Join the discussion and share your thoughts! if you like what you read, I'd love it if you would add the blog to your reader. Thanks!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tips for Managing Your Energy When the Battle Grows Fierce

by Karen D. Swim


This morning I opened my devotional and the following words jumped off the page and opened my still sleepy eyes:

Each of us must decide where we're going to put our energy when the battle grows fierce.

The headline was particularly meaningful this week as I have read and listened to many others who are feeling the strain of keeping things in balance. Yvonne Russell wrote about managing the noise level in a Web 2.0 world and Wendi Kelly blogged about managing the multiple priorities in our lives. The demands for our time and attention seem to be growing at a rapid pace. We have to treat our energy as a precious commodity. As Ellen Wilson wrote this week "It pays (literally, because that is the currency that gives all the goods we need for survival) to think about how you spend your precious energy."

So how do we pick our battles? How do we choose where to put our energy?

Keep your Eyes on the Prize
The answer in my morning devotional was to keep your eyes on the prize. We're all in a race but what are you running for ultimately? Take some quiet time, shut off the noise and list what's most important to you. Are your day to day actions aligned with your guiding values? Your values, your purpose are your constant gut check as to where, how and with whom you spend that precious commodity known as energy.

Just Say No!
Women in particular seem to have a hard time saying "No." We want to support, nurture, do and help everyone but there's not enough of you to go around. I've learned to say "No" but even I still experience those times when I say "No" but feel guilty about it. This can be especially difficult when if time and and energy permitted you would say "yes." If you struggle with saying "No" learn to not give an immediate answer. Distance yourself from the pressure of the situation by saying "I'll have to get back to you," or "I have to check my calendar." Follow up by politely but firmly declining. Remember that YOU own your time. It is yours to spend as you please. You do not have to explain your reason for saying no.

Shrink your World
When my husband was diagnosed with cancer I became a full time caregiver. My world became smaller out of necessity. My husband was obviously my top priority. I also continued running and training for a marathon, stayed connected to friends and my church family. I had to narrow my focus and ignore everything else. Sometimes you have to prune your life. In planting, pruning removes the non-productive, diseased or unwanted. When you properly prune plants and trees it enhances the health, strength and beauty. Pruning your life can produce the same effect and is a practice we should all engage in periodically.

You do not have to read every blog post, accept every invitation or join and participate in every social media forum. Choose your battles based on your ultimate prize, your body, mind, soul and loved ones will thank you for it!
How do you manage your energy? How do you make the tough decisions?

Photo: Yuri Arcurs |

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

by Karen D. Swim

Dusty camps littered with tents and the eyes that seem to long for hope haunt my thoughts on this day. The people of Darfur are suffering and there is barely a whisper of protest and support from the International Community. While I know that there is suffering in all parts of the globe, I wonder how we can ignore 2.5 million people who have been displaced.

For five years the conflict in Darfur has raged on, leaving in its wake widespread murder, rape, abduction and displacement. Various estimates indicate that 200,000 to 400,000 people have lost their lives. The Sudanese government has been escalating its attacks. On May 4, a Darfuri school was bombed killing at least 13 people, including 7 children.

Commercial trucks bearing food from the World Food Program were hijacked forcing the U.N. to cut its rations in half. Human rights organizations indicate that malnutrition is a concern in many areas of the region.

Are there no tears left for Darfur? Has the world turned its back on this genocide? We have failed Darfur miserably. After the May 4 bombing, it took the international community more than 48 hours to respond. Almost one year ago, the U.N. approved a peacekeeping force for Darfur. To date, less than a third of that force has reached Darfur.

You can support Darfur by making your voice heard. Amnesty International has local groups worldwide who have united to help Darfur.

United States citizens can email or print a petition to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice urging the US Administration to put an end to the devastating violence in Darfur by getting UN-AU boots on the ground with everything they need to protect civilians.

There are also countless organizations such as Save Darfur that are working to bring about change. I urge you to get informed, and then get involved. Darfur is running out of time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Assumption is the Feast of Fools

by Karen D. Swim

As a teen I often quoted the familiar phrase "a-s-s-u-m-e makes an a** out out of you(u) and me." I have no idea where the turn of phrase originated or even why I said it so much, but as an adult I still fancy the simple message. Assumption can be good or bad. Being taking up into heaven is the good kind of assumption. Assuming power can also be good. If anyone wanted to assume my financial obligations well that would rock too. Assumption is bad when it is arrogant and pretentious.

I had a boss once who screened potential sales candidates by driving by their homes. If they lived in an apartment, she would not hire them. If they lived in a home that was "not nice" or in a "bad neighborhood" she also would not hire them. Her logic being that a successful sales person would own their own home in a "nice" neighborhood with acceptable curb appeal. Would you agree with my former boss?

My boss' assumptions were based on her value system and personal measure of success. This is where we can all get into trouble. By failing to expand the prism of our perceptions we risk becoming a horse's patootie. What if the salesperson was renting because they had made a conscious decision to donate 50% of their income to a children's charity? Or perhaps that person owned a home in another location and kept an apartment to avoid a commute. What if the salesperson owned the entire building? Could they have purchased a home in a less than desirable neighborhood that was on the verge of revival?

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.”-- Orville Wright
The human race is diverse. There are cultural, gender, generational and individual differences. It is risky to assume facts not in evidence. Assumptions can hinder your personal growth, relationships and even impact your professional life. We must be willing to look past the top layer to discover the complexities that lie beneath. We are cheating ourselves and others if we hold on to a narrow world view where we expect everyone to be just like us.

How can making assumptions about the actions and comments of others affect the facilitation of a group? What are the cultural implications?

Photo Credit: © Brian Dunne |

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ease On Down the Road

by Karen D. Swim

All this month we've been talking about moving forward. Last night as I reviewed the events of the day I found myself singing "Ease on Down the Road" from The Wiz. I have not thought of or heard the song in a number of years but it is a happy song and a great road tune.

Unlike the characters in the Wiz, at the end of our road there is something far better than the Wizard. Put on your dancing shoes or if you're like Brett Legree, go barefoot and sing along as you dance on down the road to your destiny!

Do you have a song that gets you moving down the road?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Before You Move Forward, Clean House!

by Karen D. SwimI have been planning a blog move for a couple of months now. Planning to move my blog has not been unlike planning to move from your home. I have had to view potential new homes (blog platforms), put in offers (for domain names), manage financial details, research and hire professionals to help me move. Finally, before physically boxing up my belongings, I have had to evaluate what is truly important.

No one wants to pack up unnecessary junk and take it into a bright shiny new place, yet so often we are unable to let go of things we no longer need. I had cleared away some things but still had items, which I was not sure if I should keep or let go. This past weekend Amy Palko and Joanna Young swept in like the crew from the show “Clean House” and helped me sort the trash from the treasure.

A move forces you to reevaluate your possessions in a new light. You only want to spend time packing and bubble wrapping the things you really want and need. Books, bobbles, furniture and clothing that filled your home suddenly seem better suited to donate to charity or simply throw out.

Moving forward can feel labored and difficult when you are carrying boxes filled with things you no longer need. It is difficult but essential to retire those things, which have outlived their usefulness. We must also clear out the emotional and mental clutter. We leave behind old attitudes and thoughts as we pack up the moving fan and relocate.

Moving is hard work but becomes harder when we over pack. Taking the time to clear away the junk is well worth the effort. When you do the hard work in advance you can then move forward to your new destination with confidence knowing that you’re only taking what you need and nothing more.

As you move forward this month, are you holding on to things that you no longer need? What is preventing you from letting go?

Photo Credit: gesika22 |

Friday, May 09, 2008

Strap on Your Heels and Take a Step Toward Your Dreams

by Karen D. SwimImage courtesy of Eliza Petrol Patent Peep Toe

"The journey of a thousand leagues begins from beneath your feet."-- Lao Tzu
We have reached the end of the week which means it is Fierce Friday! What have you done to make your dreams happen this week? It does not matter if your dream is one mile or ten thousand miles away, you will never get there if you don't move. As you look out over the horizon you may be overwhelmed by the number of miles that must be covered. So quit looking over the horizon. No matter how much you look and agonize about what has to be done, you still have to move to get there. The journey begins from beneath your feet.

Yesterday Timothy Carter wrote that today is the time for action. Not tomorrow, or next week, but today. Today, you can take a single step. That single step will empower you to take another and another and soon your single steps will bring you to your destination. The first step can be the scariest but also the most powerful. When you take that first step you own your dream. Feel the power baby you are making it happen! It is not a pipe dream but a vision and you have taken the first step of your jouney.
When we are sure that we are on the right road there is no need to plan our journey too far ahead. No need to burden ourselves with doubts and fears as to the obstacles that may bar our progress. We cannot take more than one step at a time.--Orison Swett Marden
Jen Knoedl took a step and rocked the house! Read about it here. She could have given herself a thousand reasons why her dream was impossible but instead she moved. Erica Ortiz is passionate about her dream of racing Top Fuel. She needs money to make her dream happen but she has not let it hold her back. One tip at a time she is moving toward her dream. You can help Erica by making a donation. Single steps will get Erica to her donation, and they will get you there too.

Erica would probably tell you that you can't race if you don't get in the car. So get in the car already and start your engine. Better yet, get in the car in a fierce pair of heels. We'll meet you at the finish line waving the flag in your honor. I'll be the one holding the lip gloss.

What are you waiting for? What's holding you back?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Forward Momentum Begins With Standng Firm

by Karen D. Swim
Photo Credit: Kimba, Flickr

As the mighty winds blew and the rains beat down, a Father grabbed his young daughter and stood her in the doorway in the hall. With his hand upon her trembling shoulder he looked into her eyes and said, "Daddy has to leave but I want you to stand right here. Do not move, no matter what happens. Her little heart beat faster as she drew strength from her Father's voice. Nodding her head, she squared her shoulders and stood.

Through wind and rain she stood. Debris scattered around the house and she stood. The storm finally ended and still she stood. A police officer picked his way through the debris and crossed what had been the threshold of her home. Spotting the little girl, his eyes grew wide, "Honey, how did you survive this storm?" The little girl declared, "My daddy told me to stand right here and not move."

Before we can move forward toward our goals we must be able to firmly stand our ground. Like the little girl, we have to find that place where we can stand with confidence when the winds are raging and the rain is beating on our roof. We must stand when the voices within and around us try to move us to the left or to the right. You don't have the credentials to do that. That sounds risky, are you sure you aren't making a mistake. The economy is bad. Be sensible, keep your day job and do this on the side. Yeah, you know the voices. The well-meaning friends who want the best for you. The colleagues who are just trying to spare you from making the biggest mistake of your life. Your own fears, doubts and insecurities. But, before you can move forward you have to learn to stand.

When I got the idea to start my business, I was newly widowed and broke. We had lived off our savings for 3 1/2 years while I stayed planted by my husband's side. After my husband's death, I briefly took a job but volunteered to be laid off when the company needed to cut back. Jobless and sorely in need of cash I devoured books from the library on starting a business. I read, took notes, and wrote plans. I dressed in layers, wrapped up in blankets, ignored my growling tummy and excitedly planned the launch of my business.

I was cold and often hungry but I was certain of my place. I was standing firm while the winds howled outside my door. It was crazy to start a business while mourning the loss of my husband and with no money. Why not just go back to my nice cushy job in Corporate and do this on the side? Yes I could have followed conventional wisdom, but I knew where I was supposed to stand and refused to be moved.

I was neither brave nor stupid, or maybe I was a little of both. I didn't know how I was going to accomplish my dream. I didn't even know what direction to head. I did however, know where I was supposed to stand until I had the answers.

I am not advising anyone to take the same route I took. I am simply encouraging you to find a place where doubts and fears (yours and others) cannot huff and puff and blow you down. Look within and find that place that you need to stand and then stand firmly. When you do take that step forward, your legs may still wobble but the ground beneath you will not be moved.

What about you? Are you standing firm or being tossed around? What is keeping you from moving forward?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Business Writing Bad

by Branden R. Williams, CISSP, CISM

Have you noticed that most of the business writing you read is hard to understand? Or that the author did not run a simple grammar or spelling check? Complain if you must about Microsoft Word reminding you to use active voice and pointing out all your sentence fragments and verb agreement. Word’s spell check feature is good for creating a document without spelling flaws; but a perfectly spelled document can still be difficult to read or understand.

“Step 1: Extinguish the precipitous rubescent LED-based luminosity.”

The Thesaurus wants to be our friend. His content is like crack—your first synonym is free. Instead of using the word “hint” you find that “clue” is a much better match for your writing. It’s a win-win (or as Michael Scott learns, a "Win-Win-Win"). Once you are hooked, the Thesaurus starts charging for finding synonyms. No, you don’t slip a twenty inside the pages of the Thesaurus, close your eyes and speak the word you need a synonym for, and the book magically falls open to a page written for you. Instead, the cost is much higher—your career.

Companies have developed a poor vernacular that removes the readability from memos, e-mails, policies, and other internal documents. We’ve all read language like what you see above and wondered, “Why can’t they just say ‘Turn off the solid red light?’” This is a major problem with writing in business. Often we write to try to sound smart; but instead our readers toss our writing in the garbage because they can’t understand it. Murky, jargon-laced writing does not make you smart, it makes you difficult to understand and ultimately an ineffective communicator.

William Zinsser highlights writing for business in his book “On Writing Well.” He says, “Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking.” It’s easy to use jargon, but hard to write in a manner that everyone can understand. Simple writing is usually the result of laborious rewriting and revising. Write (and rewrite) to a tenth-grade level and watch the clarity in your writing rise above your peers.

The other writing problem I often see is simply the abuse of our language. I’m not talking about the minor bruises from ending a sentence with a preposition, or adding ‘ize’ to any noun or adjective to make it into a verb (can we PLEASE stop that). I’m referring to the bludgeoning caused by poor sentence construction, overuse of passive voice, and cluttering phrases such as “due to the fact that” and “it should be noted.” Microsoft Word’s grammar check can only do so much. Reading your writing aloud can catch much more.

One way to remove the excess clutter from your sentences is to remove words and see if the sentence changes meaning. If the words are required to keep the meaning the same, then leave them in. Otherwise, use that delete key! Zinsser says that he hates writing, but loves rewriting.

The moral of this column is to take the time to ensure that every word plays its part in the end, just like a composer scrutinizes every note in his symphony. Better writing output shows that you care about your legacy. Just a small amount of time spent learning the language will demonstrate your utility and ensure you a spot at the top!

About the Author:

Branden R. Williams is an Information Technology and Strategy Leader sought after by the world’s foremost corporate executives. His rare combination of technology and business expertise have gained him respect and recognition among global top named clients and industry insiders. To learn more about Branden and his expertise visit his website.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Before You Move Forward, Be Still

by Karen D. Swim
© Krzysztof Korolonek |
There is a point where in the mystery of
existence contradictions meet;
where movement is not all movement
and stillness is not all stillness;
where the idea and the form,
the within and the without, are united;
where infinite becomes finite,
yet not losing its infinity.--Tagore
Standing outside with a cup of tea in hand I lifted my face to the sun enjoying the warmth of its rays. A soft breeze caressed my face and lifted my hair. The silence of the day was only broken by birds chirping overhead as they carried twigs and blades of dry grass to build a nest for their young. I lowered my face from the sun and allowed the stillness of the day to infuse me with its peace. I realized that this was the first time in a long while that I had not been in motion.

April was a month of movement. My mind, body, senses, being were in a constant state of motion as I responded to the events of the month. Even as I slept, my mind was active and often my body twitched in fractured sleep. Yet, all of the motion had not moved me forward. Confronted by barriers personal and professional, my kinetic energy had failed to move them. But now in absolute stillness, I was finally in forward motion.

As I look back on April I now realize that it was not an unfruitful month but a necessary stop in a year that has been filled with movement. Now, I am ready once again to move forward pursuing my purpose and passion with renewed energy. May will be a month of purposeful movement and one I intend to share with all of you.

This month I want to choose purposeful action that will help me to move forward in my pursuit of my goals. Measured steps that are thoughtful but powerful as they propel me in the direction I wish to go. How do we take those steps? How do we concentrate our actions to achieve our goals? Is it possible to eliminate unnecessary steps? These are all questions and topics I'd like to explore in the coming days.

If there are questions and topics that you'd like to explore please share them with me. And of course if you have an idea for a blog post, guest posts are always gratefully welcomed.

Consider this your personal invite to pull up a chair and pop in throughout the month. If you like what you're reading, I'd love it if you'd pass it on.