“It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.” -Vance Havner

You’ve procrastinated all morning.  You keep checking your inbox or Instagram feed and haven’t touched that project you’ve been meaning to work on.  One more cup of coffee.  One more like on Facebook.  You’re staring at the staircase and then looking down at your phone to see if there is one more thing that you can use to distract yourself from actually, finally taking that step.

Spiral Staircase

 

This has been me this morning.  I have set this time aside to write and all I want to do is putz around.  I keep opening my inbox thinking, “What are you doing here again? Get to work!”  I am never going to get to the top of the stairs unless I at least start.

 

So here are some things to keep in mind to get you going:

 

  • Time blocks. What really got me writing this morning was knowing that this was my time block to write.  I have a commitment to myself that I will get a post done by noon on the weekends.  It’s now 10:39 AM and I have to start.  I have to spend at least 30 minutes on it even if I have no idea what I am going to write.  So I write.  I know some of my clients have set up time blocks for returning phone calls, responding to emails, exercising and being with their families.  Set up time blocks and make a commitment to your work.

 

  • Have a vision.  What does the top of the stairs look like to you?  My vision is “Make a difference in people’s lives”.  Writing these posts aligns with that vision.  Even if one person reads this post and changes one thing in their life because of it, then it’s worth 45 minutes of my time to make that happen.  Know why you are doing what you are doing and align your efforts with it. How will that production report affect your organization?  How will that conversation with your co-worker move you forward in attaining your vision?  Line up your actions with your vision.

 

 

  • Frequently the steps aren’t easy.  I have struggled with this.  When I was in Paris earlier this year, I ended up having to take a spiral staircase to many of my destinations.  I’m really tall and have large feet, so trudging up a small spiral staircase is not only difficult but I can’t see the top.  When we were visiting Sainte-Chapelle (a cathedral built in 1248), my friend and Francophile, Susannah, pointed to a very narrow stone spiral staircase to travel up.  I figured there is no way this building (built 8 centuries ago) is worth being claustrophobic or on my tip toes for.  I was wrong.  Against my better judgment, I followed Susannah up the staircase.  The top of the stairs revealed one of the most heart-stopping, breathtaking, stained glass-encrusted spaces I have ever been in. Take the steps–the view may surprise you.

 

 

  • Step into fear.  My friend Janine and I went to the Eiffel Tower the day after the Brussel airport bombing.  We had tickets to what I thought would be the 1st landing of the tower.  I’m not crazy about heights and I figured that would work just fine.  It turns out we had tickets to the top.  When we got to the top, there was another staircase to go up. Janine was game to go up and I was fine where I was.  She ran up the stairs and came back down to get me. “Cath, you gotta come!”  I stepped into my fear, took the steps and saw a Paris I will never forget.  If I reframed it as a challenge rather than a fear, it became much easier to conquer.

 

 

  • Have support.  I’ve already shown you two examples where my friends have supported me in venturing up staircases with terrific results.  These same friends are in “Cathy’s Brain Trust” and they give me weekly feedback on my posts.  I feel accountable to them to continue to write.  Who is depending on you?  Who are you supported by?  When pushing through to your highest aspirations, you need to make sure you have support.  My daughter is part of that group and she knows me well. Writing is definitely a challenge and I know she’s always cheering me on.

 

 

  • Be open to the unknown.  Frequently we don’t know exactly where we are headed.  We have a vision but there is so much that is unseen from the bottom of the staircase.  My friend Susannah and I were hiking in Haystack State Park.  At the end of the hike was Haystack Tower…with a spiral staircase no less.  It was a hot, humid day and I think the last thing I  wanted to do was go up the tower’s two flights of stairs.  Susannah assured me that the views were at the top of the tower.  So-you guessed it-I went up the two flights and the payoff was a view of three states at once: MA, CT and NY.  Stick it out and it will pay off.

 

 

  • One step at a time.  Many times I have clients who are frozen from being overwhelmed.  They want to take action, but when they decide they want to write a book, it’s paralyzing.  They can’t take any step because a step like “write a book” is not easily done in a morning.  The key is to break it down into chunks.  Bite-size chunks like “write an outline”, “decide what software to use” or “research books on writing non-fiction for one hour”.  Break it down one step at a time so that the step can be accomplished in 90 minutes or less.

 

This isn’t always easy when there are so many distractions in life.  It’s easy to think that skimming through and putting out fires is getting you to where you want to go.  Figure out which staircase you want to go up and start with one small step.  The view from the top is going to be awesome.

7 Lessons from Reconnecting. No Regrets.

“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an eighties girl band.  It wasn’t.  It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in our basement, slummish apartment in College town.  Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know.  She takes charge.  She’s decisive.  The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there”.  So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.

We have remained friends for over 35 years.  We all had our first born children in 1993.  We’ve seen each other marry, sometimes divorce and move to various cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale).  We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca.  We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses.  So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light.  Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French.  We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan.  We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:

  1. Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc.  It wasn’t working.  It would take several days to get confirmation.  So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward.  Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up.  We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work.  As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.  Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.

 

  1. Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.”  I also hate to appear the tourist with the pocket map.  I had to let my judgment go.  For God’s sake Cathy, you are a tourist.  Who cares if someone else knows it?  They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.”  So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais. It’s Paris.  Every street is interesting and unique.  I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out of the way café full of locals and sans tourists.  It was wonderful.  Get lost.

 

  1. Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge.  We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes.  We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative depending on the angle.  It was fascinating.  I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art….ever.  I’m more of a fast food consumer of art.  Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible, Degas…check, Renoir….check, Mona Lisa…check.  This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example.  Don’t consume, appreciate.

 

  1. Make space for connection. I’m not positive but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, let’s grab a table and a drink.  If we stumbled on an interesting café, let’s grab some café crème.   It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminiscing about our youth.  Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible but is certainly not practical).  I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.

 

  1. Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured, it would all wash out by the end.  I didn’t feel compelled to keep track.  Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous.  Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight.  Susannah was our motivation.  She knew the best falafel place in Paris.  It might be a mile and a half away but her enthusiasm was contagious.  So what if we walk 8 miles in one day.  I was the compass.  Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy.  There are cars and motorcycles come ricocheting in from all angles and walking at the cross walk is critical.  It became a chess match as to how to get to the street you wanted without losing life or limb.  Fall back on your strengths.

 

  1. Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. So if we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we make sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare.  If it wasn’t?  Move on.  If the uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab.  If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else.  Be realistic.

 

  1. Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside.  I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down.  “Cath.  You have to go to the top.  It’s not bad.”  I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up.  Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle.  From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame.  When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it was some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands.  I thought, “What’s the big deal?”  Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and is, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in.  My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes.  I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot.  Be an adventurer.

 

This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world.  So think about it.  Who would you like to connect to again?  Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own.  There will be no regrets.

5 Surprising Characteristics of Parisians

As I write this, I have finished my first two days in Paris on my own. Paris is beautiful and enchanting. I encountered many interesting surprises around almost every corner.  I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to my hotel. The traffic as you approach the city at 10 in the morning on a Thursday was just crazy. It felt like there was only one way into the city; kind of like everyone in New Jersey trying to get into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. I was also taken aback by all the graffiti. I’ve thought that the French have it all figured out since Americans don’t seem to. But, alas, we all have our downfalls.

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The best part of the trip in was my taxi driver.   He kept calling me “My Lady”. We had a lovely conversation about his parents immigrating from Cambodia and how much he loves Paris. He explained the good neighborhoods from the bad and constantly complimented me on any French I attempted to speak. I was kind of hoping I could keep him for a few days as my guide. This young man was so polite and open, I had no idea what else was in store for me.  Can’t I just keep him? Is he the friendliest person I will meet in Paris? Who else is going to call me “My Lady”…. like ever?

 

Turns out that Paris revealed these surprises to me:

 

  1. Parisians are gracious. I had a friend advise me before I came to make sure I said “Bon jour” and “Merci.” Parisians are not a fan of the abrupt American. When I arrived at my hotel, two gentlemen opened the door saying “Beinvenue Madame, bon jour!”, with smiling faces. I think every employee in that lobby said “Bon jour, Madame!” You might be thinking, “Well, Cathy, isn’t this a hotel, shouldn’t they be that gracious?” The thing is every brasserie, cafe, shop and museum was the same tune. The sweet lyrical “Bon jour, Madame.” The Parisians graciousness made me feel welcome and humbled me.

 

  1. Parisians have a slower pace. One of my guides for a walking tour of Montmartre explained that if you purchase an espresso at a cafe, you had the right to the table for the entire day.  He wanted us to understand this in case some server tried to brush us off. This slower, you have all day, take a moment to be in the moment attitude was a big adjustment. I still ate my food too fast (especially when dining alone). I’m sure they thought I was an American Speedy Gonzales. This is in juxtaposition to say Manhattan or San Francisco when every minute counts in a race to get through the day. Savor the moment.

 

  1. Many Parisians are animated. On the drive in from the airport, there had been an accident and there in THE MIDDLE of the highway, the two men on opposites ends of the collision were boisterously yelling at each other waving their arms madly. Quite the theatrics. When the woman who was the concierge for the apartment we leased was showing us the place, she didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak French. The language barrier was crossed as she pantomimed how the locks worked, the door to the balcony, and all the various attributes of the apartment. It was hysterical. She bantered on in French stopping to ask “Oui?”…as we echoed back “Oui. Oui.” Enjoy the theatrics; they will often get you through what you need to know

 

  1. Parisians love their city. Parisian pride is even more fierce after the threat to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Recent terrorist attacks on their own and their neighbor’s soil have fueled that fire.  This kind of pride, Parisian Pride, doesn’t develop overnight. Several guides and drivers I met were incredibly proud of their neighborhood whether it was Montmartre or Rive Gauche. I had the impression that every Parisian felt as if Paris was the center of the universe. It certainly is the center of theirs. The thing is, after 8 days in Paris, I was beginning to think the same thing.  Where else can you experience world class food, wine, art, history and music? ?  When I first arrived, I took pictures from every street corner because it was so beautiful and remarkable. Pretty soon I had WAY too many pictures of rambling cobblestone streets.  Every corner, every niche of Paris has something unique to offer. It’s okay to capture the moment even if you have to edit it later.

 

  1. Parisians are passionate. I’m talking the essence of passion, the pureness of passion. I mean passionate about their interests and what there is to love about life  I went on a walking tour of Montmartre and the guide was enlivened and passionate about Montmartre and the artists who lived there (i.e. Van Gough, Renoir, Monet, Picasso….).  I went on a cheese tasting in a cheese cave from the 1600’s and our guide was passionate about French cheese.  There are over 2,000 types of cheeses made in France, and this guy knew each one, the distinctions between them AND could combine a wine and cheese so that you thought you were eating cauliflower or grapefruit.  My friends and I took a cooking class and our instructor was almost beyond passionate about the food of Paris.  He knew the history of the dish, its origins, it’s modern adaptations and had sourced every product to identify organic and GMO free.  He orchestrated 8 novice cooks to create an amazing three course lunch in a matter of 4 hours. The passion of all these Parisians was contagious.

 

Paris has been on my bucket list for over 30 years.  Ever since my 7th grade French class.  It was an amazing vacation and the thing I learned is that it’s the residents I will remember most.  The Parisians themselves are the heart of the experience.