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How to Be Prepared for Absolutely Anything in Life

Be prepared like Noah

This quote is a great reminder that preparation is never a waste of time or energy.

I have one very distinctive personality trait that I can remember possessing as far back as grade school, throughout college and I still exhibit it to this day. It’s that I love to be over prepared. So much so, that I sometimes plan for extreme scenarios (coming down with pneumonia, driving off with my laptop on the hood of my car, sustaining a small house fire) and get my ducks in a row early and often so that I wouldn’t miss a beat, personally and professionally, should any of this happen.

In school, I would begin and often complete a semester-long project during the first 2 months. I would spend the rest of that time working ahead on other coursework – or as I did my senior year – starting my own PR consulting business. I often had fellow classmates or roommates ask me why I would work ahead when I didn’t have to. My response was always something along the lines of “I’d rather know I have it done now than risk something coming up later and not being able to finish it in time.” Yes, I sounded like a nerd then (and I still sort of am), but this personality trait proved to be a very strategic time management technique that has served me well throughout my life.

For all those times that I prepared and worked ahead on something and never got sick, injured or had technology malfunction on me, I was rewarded with free time to use however I wished. Sometimes I would work on other projects and sometimes I would simply relax. I also graduated college in the top 2 percent of my class without ever having to pull and all-nighter (where’s my plaque for that?).

I still plan in advance and have developed quite a few time-saving hacks that allow me to set my own schedule, take unlimited vacation days and travel throughout the year. When I’m in the groove, I work hard. For example, I’m actually writing this blog on January 2nd – Happy New Year! And this published live while I was playing with my son.

Being prepared has helped me to look like a professional and serve my clients well. It’s one of the things I am most complimented on and I take it very seriously. So how do I manage to stay ahead of the curve balls life so often throws our way? Here are 4 tips I personally use to be prepared for absolutely anything in life.

  1. Train in all areas of life

During “crunch time” when I have many projects that all seem to need to be delivered on the exact same day, I’ve found mental toughness to be a great asset. A daunting to-do list can be paralyzing, but if you can push through this mental barrier and just start somewhere, anywhere, that is 80 percent of the battle. I’ve found my own mental toughness to be closely linked to my physical strength. This is why, in addition to being a passionate entrepreneur, I remain a dedicated athlete. Physical activity is a part of my daily routine and I prioritize it.

I’ve had people ask me, “What are you training for?” My response is always, “Life.” It’s true. I am always training for life and that includes physically, mentally and spiritually. If you are equally strong in all three of these areas, you will be better equipped to handle whatever life throws your way.

  1. Clear your bandwidth daily

I refer to my workload capacity as my “bandwidth” and I have found that I can accommodate far more tasks than I ever thought possible if I make a conscious effort to clear this bandwidth daily. I try and zero-out my task list each night so that I can start each day with a clean slate and a narrowed down list of true priorities. If I can do it now, I do. This technique has allowed me to jump on spur of the moment projects and other work opportunities that I would have had to pass up had I not had the clear bandwidth. It also greatly reduces the stress that comes with a full day’s work combined with emergency projects or unexpected setbacks like a sick kid.

  1. Be productive not “busy”

There is a difference between being productive and being busy. I’m sure you can think of at least one person you know who always gripes about being so “busy” yet you know there isn’t that much on their to-do list or that they waste time in various ways. Productive people accomplish just as much (often more) than a busy person in far less time. It’s the concept of working smarter, not harder.

When I get in the zone on a work project, I shut out all other distractions (no TV, muted phone, no social media, no other windows open on my computer) and accomplish the task in half the time it would take me if I was multitasking. Aim to be productive, not busy and you will be far more resilient when reacting to life’s curve balls.

  1. Celebrate when everything goes as planned!

Finally and most importantly, stop and enjoy the free time you’ve earned by being prepared. As I mentioned, I often use this time to work ahead on pet projects or relax with “me time.” It all depends upon my mood. Planning ahead is not meant to be a trap where you continue working endlessly, rather it’s about working efficiently and using the time this hard work has earned you to do other things you love!

Do you feel prepared for the obstacles that life throws at you or are you often blind-sided and left scrambling to pick up the pieces? Tell me how you prepare (or want to better prepare) yourself to handle life’s curve balls by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Twas the Week of Christmas…

Twas the Week of Christmas

(It’s become an annual blog tradition…a fun twist on a familiar favorite!)

Twas the week of Christmas, when all through the house
not a computer was turned on, not even a mouse.
Their cords were wrapped up in the corner with care,
in hopes that I had strength to leave them there.

Miss Pinot was nestled all snug in her bed,
while visions of toy mice danced in her head.
For once taking a cue from my sleepy, gray cat,
I settled my brain for a short winter’s nap.

Is it possible to tune out all of the clatter,
to focus on Christmas and what truly matters?
No doubt it would feel different to completely unwind,
what’s the worst that could happen, we’d have a good time?

So from now until next week, the blog posts can wait
there are loved ones to hug and cookies to bake.
This short disconnect will help creativity to soar
and inspire me to write even better than before!

Until then, don’t worry what to do with your time,
make your own holidays as relaxing as mine.
Here’s my final wish before the exit I make,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a short break!”

happy holidays

 

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Life

 

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9 Warning Signs That Networking Is Wasting Your Time

bored businessman

Anyone that has gone to enough networking meeting, mixers, socials or luncheons can relate to this topic. There are simply times when you know you are talking to someone who will never be qualified to refer business to you or who won’t even remember your name and what you do more than 5 minutes after you part ways.

But in these same instances, there will be business contacts that will forever change your outlook (and income) with a few simple introductions. So how do you distinguish between the two? Here are 9 warning signs that networking with these particular contacts is simply a waste of time.

  1. They give you their business card before you give them your name

I appreciate people who cut straight to the chase, but being greeted with someone’s business card before I’ve even had a chance to tell them my name is just plain annoying. Before you get to know me or I get to know you, there is no way I trust you and like you enough to buy whatever it is your selling. In fact, I’m quite certain I’ll grab that business card as a ticket out of that conversation and drop it in the trash on the way out. Be wary of these type of networkers as they clearly only have their own interests in mind.

  1. You describe your job and their only response is “Oh.”

Once you tell someone what it is you do for a living, it’s a bad sign if they have absolutely no further response than “Oh.” They don’t have any questions, comments or stories related to this topic? This is a sure indicator that these people are either not into you at all (and unlikely to keep you in mind for future business) or they are terrible conversationalists – neither of which you want to spend any more time around than you absolutely have to. Get out now!

  1. You describe your job and they reference a negative industry stereotype

If someone does give you more of a response to your job description than “Oh,” you still don’t want it to be a negative connotation they have about the work you do (I heard you guys are sleazier than a used car salesmen. Or I bet you’re charging me for this conversation right now, huh?) It’s a hard enough battle to make someone like you from a blank slate, combating a pre-existing stereotype is a whole other war – and one that you are not likely to win in the short amount of time that networking mixers afford.

  1. You describe your job and they totally don’t understand what you do

Another big, red flag is if you’ve given an adequate and elementary description of your job and they still can’t grasp what it is you do for a living. A blank stare, confused face or redundant questions are a sure sign they have no clue as to the value you provide. If you’re struggling to convey this concept to them, you can be certain they won’t be able to accurately tell anyone else what it is you do and hot leads are never going to happen. Cut your losses, fake an important phone call and walk away.

  1. They never even ask you what you do

The last several warning signs were nice enough to assume your networking contact will even bother to ask you what it is you do. Sometimes you don’t get this common courtesy! If they’re rambling on, basking in the attention of explaining their “fulfilling” career of selling erasers, don’t waste any more time waiting around for the obligatory question of, “So what do you do for a living?” It’s likely not coming, nor would they pay attention long enough to understand.

  1. They have a hard time describing what it is they do

If you do end up listening to the ramblings of what they do for a living and realize that you could do a better job explaining to them what their core responsibilities should be, this is a warning sign that they likely won’t be in their position for too much longer. Don’t waste your time…or a business card. Politely scoot away for a drink of water and some better conversation.

  1. They quote you for their services within the first 10 minutes

Whether it’s a networking mixer or a one-on-one meeting, unless you directly ask someone for a proposal for their services, you’re completely correct in feeling shocked when they openly give you a quote for something they deem you “must have done now.” People like to buy, they don’t like to be sold. If this person hasn’t yet grasped this concept – or social awareness – they are not likely to be making too many other quality contacts that could benefit you either.

  1. They are constantly looking around for other people to talk to

Have you ever been talking to someone that you feel is always looking over their shoulder at the people passing by or checking their watch? Yeah, they’re not fully engaged in your conversation. Don’t take it personally; these people may truly think they are being discrete. But do take note and mark their business card diligently with a “never talk to again” or NTA label. Only invest your time in people who are willing to invest some of theirs in you.

  1. They forget or mispronounce your name before the conversation ends

And finally, if by the end of your 1 minute and 30 second conversation they have already forgotten your name, it’s not looking hopeful that they’ll remember to contact you or pass along your information to anyone else who could use your services. I would give an “A” for effort, but even being called “Susan” instead of “Stephanie” is something I simply cannot reward. Come on people! You have a business card in your hands and I’m likely wearing a huge “Hello My Name is…” name tag – double check your resources and call me by the right name!

What are some of the worst experiences you’ve had in networking meetings? Share your stories by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time Management?

time trap

We devote so much time and energy to improving our time management. There are websites, blogs, educational programs and entire shelves in bookstores dedicated to this very topic. After all, time management is the “holy grail” of happiness and success, right? We think it’s what allows us to do it all and do it well, take on more projects, get that raise and provide for our family. But what I’ve recently come to find is that the entire concept of time management is one big lie.

Controlling time, by any means, is simply not possible. There are things we do to make ourselves feel like we are in control. These things, like waking up early, working faster, skipping lunch breaks and staying up late may insulate our happy little bubble of managed time, but there are no more hours in our day and everything comes at the sacrifice of something else.

Technology has only aggravated this problem by making us feel like we can be ever more efficient with our time by being hyper-connected and multitasking every hour of the day. We think that if we can get more done today, that tomorrow will be less hectic, that tomorrow we will have time for our hobbies, that tomorrow we will be less stressed and more happy. But tomorrow is a moving target and every day is just as busy as the one before because we simply aren’t able to manage time.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few of life’s truths that have helped me to recognize the deadly traps of time management:

We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time.

As I said before, time management is a lie. We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time. We aren’t in control of time, but we are in control of our actions. How we choose to use the time we’ve been given every day is the most critical decision we have to make with our lives.

Rather than missing the forest for the trees by worrying about how we can answer more emails in a day, worry about why we even want to be answering so many emails in a day. Look at the bigger picture of your life and begin to prioritize what will matter most in the grand meaning of your existence.

You don’t “have” to do anything.

Another one of time management’s deadly traps is overwhelming ourselves with everything we “have” to do in a day. When I looked back at my Google calendar from a year ago, it’s interesting to see everything I packed into my schedule and marked with a star as a “must do” task.

What would have happened if I simply didn’t get to it that day, that week, ever? Minor consequences, if any. I have to constantly resist creating additional and unnecessary pressure in my life. We all do. If you feel like there is so much you “have” to get done today that you can’t meet a friend for lunch or take off an hour early to see your son’s soccer game, closely evaluate these tasks again and you’ll be surprised as to how this new mindset will show you how things can – and will – wait.

You will never have more time.

No one is able to “make time,” they must prioritize. We all have the same number of seconds every day so when someone says they’ll try and make time for that tomorrow, you know that it’s simply not a priority.

Another trap is saying you will take on a task when you have more time. You will never have more time. You must either do less or do it faster to make room for something else in your life. Again, it comes down to priorities.

It will never take just a minute…half hour…hour.

This time management trap is one of the most subtle and therefore extremely sneaky. It’s being unrealistic with how long it will take you to complete a task. We begin our busy day with a task list orchestrated by the minute only to find that we are constantly falling behind and chronically late. Does this sound familiar? It’s likely because you think a task will take half the time that it actually requires and so you overbook your day and scramble to get back on track. This is a frustrating and stressful life to live.

Start tracking the time it takes you to do common tasks to gain a better sense for how much time they require. This will help you to manage yourself regarding time.

Only in very rare instances does something have to be done “now.”

This final time management trap is the one that really gets under my skin because it’s the result of someone else trying to manage your time for you. Your boss, co-worker or spouse asks you to do something and insists it has to be done right now. Does this sound familiar? We all know that person who feels like everything they have going on is urgent and you should drop everything you’re doing to make it a priority. Yet, once we do complete the task, they don’t even touch it until the next day, or week, or at all.

Don’t get caught up in someone else’s urgent trivialities. It’s a power game and their effort to control you since they likely feel out of control with other aspects of their life. Directly question if it truly is something urgent; make them justify it. Then, push back. Let them know you have other things going on and matter of factly state that it cannot be completed until next week. I always say that if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. Learn to identify those people who “cry wolf” with your time.

In the end…

What’s the moral of this life lesson? It’s that the time given to us each day and the number of days we’re given in our life is completely out of our control. We can continue to waste these precious moments trying to find time hacks and ways to cram even more into our days. Or we can stop living the lie of “time management” and starting actually living.

So how should we manage our time? We should take more naps, longer lunch breaks, a long walk and turn off work after reasonable business hours have passed. Yes, there will be tasks left to do, but there will always be tasks left to do. Even if you worked 24 hours a day, there would be something more to fill your time – or you would invent it. You are the only person who can and should prioritize your life. If you don’t work to find a balance, you will simply work and work and work until that becomes the only meaning in your life. And that is a very sad day, indeed.

So, have you fallen into the deadly trap of time management – working longer and harder in hopes that it will make tomorrow less hectic…but it never does? Share your own struggles and triumphs by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Life Lesson: 5 Ways to be Your Own Advocate

you-must-be-the-change-you-want-to-see-560x560

Throughout my life, I’ve learned a time or two – the hard way – that no one else is going to seize opportunities for you or voice your opinion. You must be your own advocate.

My most vivid memory of this life lesson was on the campaign trail in my former career. Our candidate was elected and the celebrations were coming to a close. Yet, one big question remained. What do I do next? Do I have a job? We were promised that, yes, we would all be placed somewhere within the new administration; however, days then weeks passed without any senior staff members sitting down with me to discuss my future.

It wasn’t until I started asking some of my peers that I found out that job conversations WERE taking place – for those who were bold enough to wait outside the office door and track down senior staff to MAKE them have this conversation. The people that controlled my fate were beyond busy and weren’t going to make time for me unless I demanded it. I had to become my own advocate if I wanted that job I was promised.

Things worked out. I was finally given the attention I demanded and got the job (I thought) I wanted. While I didn’t stay in this role long, it was a necessary turning point in my career and in my life. I was slapped in the face with the reality that if I didn’t muster up the courage to seize my own opportunities, they were surely going to pass me by.

I want to now share with you some of my hard-learned lessons on ways you can become your own advocate and seize life’s many opportunities – before someone else does.

  1. Build your personal brand

If you’re committed to becoming your own advocate, you must work to build your personal brand just as a publicist does for celebrities. This doesn’t mean securing guest appearances on the Today Show, but it does mean creating a valuable set of skills and qualities that can be marketed to potential clients or employers. Here is a great starter guide to help point you in the right direction. A strong personal brand is a valuable asset and wise investment of your time because it follows you wherever life may lead.

  1. Network internally and externally

For some reason we think of networking as only taking place at socials and mixers where everyone is wearing a stick-on name tag and shoving business cards down each other’s throats. This isn’t reality – and hardly even “networking” in its truest sense. Be aware of opportunities to network internally as well as externally.

No matter your current job, there is a valuable opportunity to build relationships with (and impress) your peers and higher-ups. This is an obvious opportunity if you want to move up within your own company, but it’s also valuable if you want to move on. You never know who other people know and the more people that can recommend your work, the more opportunities you will have at your finger tips.

  1. Actively seek opportunities

Life will rarely ever spoon feed you your next big break. You need to be out in the field – everyday – hunting down opportunities. The people I know who are their own best advocates are the people who get aggressive about knowing all the opportunities that are available to them at any time. They may not be in search of a new job, but they still keep their ear to the ground for anything interesting going on. By the time you realize you’re ready for a career change, you’re already behind the curve. Stay connected on social media, inquire within companies that interest you and keep an open conversation with your peers – who should also be on the hunt!

  1. Stay educated

I can’t stress enough the importance of becoming a lifelong learner. This makes you well-rounded, knowledgeable and interesting. It also keeps your eyes and ears wide open to an array of opportunities that people who are less informed would overlook. Staying well educated is like staying in shape. If you should be presented with the opportunity to run a 5k – or interview for a job – you are fit to jump right in with far less preparation and training than those who do not “stay in shape.”

  1. The right time is always now

Finally, develop a sense of urgency in your life. As your own advocate you cannot become complacent. This is one instance in life where patience will not serve you well. You cannot afford to wait around for the next opportunity to present itself; otherwise you will risk falling into the trap of waiting around forever. Opportunities are always around us. While not every opportunity is a large stepping stone to our dream career, those tiny pebbles do stack up. Get excited, get motivated and become urgent about your need to advocate for your best interests.

What are some ways in which you could benefit from being your own advocate? Share your experiences by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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7 Ways to Effectively Manage Busy People

busy people

Whether it’s a client, a boss, a friend or a spouse, we all have those one or two extremely busy people in our lives. I’m not talking about the “busy bodies,” but the truly busy, nose-to-the-grind-stone people who are booked almost all day every day with important tasks.

While their exhausting schedules challenge them, they also challenge us with how we can break through the noise to communicate with them. The good news is that it’s not completely impossible to get timely responses from these people. It simply takes managing them in a different way. Here are seven ways to help you effectively manage busy people and their busy schedules.

  1. Use clear and concise messaging

Getting answers from a busy person can be like pulling teeth. Even if they get the time to read your email or listen to your voicemail, they’re usually called away to the next task before they can provide you with the information you need.

Reduce the friction of this process by using clear and concise messaging. Your emails should be brief, to the point and should highlight exactly what you’re asking of them. Dates, times and location should also be bolded or underlined so they pop out. By cutting to the chase, you save them the time of reading through paragraphs to get to the point and increase the chance they’ll have enough time left over to shoot you a quick reply.

  1. Consolidate the number of messages you send

There may be times where you need 3 or 4 things from a busy person in a single day. This most commonly happens when it’s one of my clients. Rather than shooting off an email every time I have a question, I keep a running list for that day (or that week) and several hours before close of business, I consolidate these requests into a single, clear and concise message.

Think of it this way, the more messages you throw into an already inundated inbox makes it even less likely that you’ll hear back from them that day, week…or ever. Be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  1. Schedule meetings far in advance – and confirm them

Finding a tiny time slot on a busy person’s calendar can create a game of email or phone tag that just never ends. For my busiest clients, we scheduled our reoccurring meetings for the quarter or even half of the year all at once. This got the meetings on both of our calendars nice and early and allowed us to plan around those dates. Expecting to find an open time in a busy person’s calendar just one week in advance is like walking in to the most exclusive salon in town and asking for an appointment that day. Maybe you’ll get lucky, but it’s far more likely you’ll get asked to come in 10 weeks.

Additionally, once you have these meetings set far in advance, be sure and follow-up several days before the meeting is set to take place. It’s likely the busy person has long since forgotten about this obligation. If they don’t have a secretary (or reliable calendar reminders) there is a good chance that you’ll get stood up.

  1. Provide briefings prior to events

For some of my busy clients, I schedule them to attend events such as fundraisers, public appearances, speaking engagements or media events as part of our communications and branding strategy. In these scenarios, it is also my responsibility to adequately prepare them for such events with details like directions, what to wear, other dignitaries in attendance, how long they’ll be speaking and what topics they should cover.

I place all of these details in a single-page template that serves as an event briefing and send them several days in advance to prepare my clients in mere minutes for the event. They love the efficiency of this process and the depth of the details I provide. As a busy person, your life is a whirlwind. If you can help them to feel more prepared and organized, you will quickly make a good impression.

  1. Anticipate their needs and questions and address them before they have to ask

When communicating with a busy person, you should strive to answer all of their questions before they have to ask. This eliminates back and forth communication that can drag on for days – even weeks.

For example, when setting up a meeting, don’t simply email them with “Can we schedule a time to meet?” This question produces so many more questions. Instead, be as descriptive (yet concise) as possible. Include why you want to meet and approximately how much time you’re asking of them. Also propose several dates, times and locations from which they may choose. This allows them to confirm all of these details for you within a single response, rather than through an unreasonably long email chain.

  1. Make meetings as convenient for them as possible

Simply put, come to them. In most cases, I think it’s fair to schedule a meeting somewhere mutually convenient for you and the person you’re meeting. But for a busy person (especially one who is paying me or may potentially pay me), I make it as convenient as possible for them. Why? Because every minute they spend commuting to a further location is less time they can dedicate to our meeting. I’d rather drive a little further and make the meeting last a little longer. It also shows you respect their time and it also provides them with a good first impression of how easy you will be to work with.

  1. Minimize their to-do list (take on as much as you can for them)

Finally, lessen their load as much as you can! For my busy clients, we will cover a laundry list of to-do’s during each meeting. While they’re perfectly capable of taking on many of these tasks, it’s not their time best spent. I take on as many of these tasks as I can; leaving them only with the smallest items that absolutely cannot be done without them (like asking a donor for a large amount of money). But even for these tasks, I still work to prepare and remind them so that it’s as easy as possible. I never mind taking on these tasks, because when they’re in my hands I know they’ll get done when I want them done. And with busy people…well, that’s just not usually the case.

How have you made dealing with very busy people easier? Share your experiences and insights by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Why We Need Rainy Days

cat looking at rainy window

It has been a gorgeous summer in Pennsylvania. After a long and cold winter, we have earned these warm and sunny days – and there have been many! A couple of weeks ago I had some (rare) free time during a Sunday afternoon. My first instinct was to find something to do outside that would allow me to enjoy the day; however, the skies were ominous with a pending thundershower. As I stood by the window, I took a deep breath and felt a wave of relief wash over me. What an odd reaction to have to a dismal day? No, I didn’t feel sad, depressed, frustrated or annoyed. I felt relieved.

Reflecting on this feeling and the circumstances of the day made me realize something quite important. We all need rainy days in our life. Obviously the rain nourishes and revitalizes the earth, but it does the same for us.

My relief came from not feeling like I had to find something to do make the most of the nice weather. I had an excuse to be inside – and to just slow down for a little bit. On this particular afternoon, I watched a movie from start to finish (a nearly impossible feat for a mother of a toddler). That’s it. That’s all I accomplished and had nothing to show for it. Or did I? I felt focused, rested and happy. It’s the first time in a long time that I turned off all other distractions and was fully present in the moment. I can’t remember the last time I did this, can you?

On a sunny day, I feel like I need to be outside walking, running or at the park with Holden. I feel guilty making him play inside when I know all too soon winter weather will come rolling in and we’ll be locked up for months. Even when we’re inside during naptime, the blue skies inspire me to tackle work projects and chores at a dizzying pace. In the afternoon we’re on the go again, running errands or back to the park. And after dinner? You guessed it; we get outside as a family! I’m proud of my active lifestyle that has allowed me to accomplish all that I have, but even hybrid moms need to idle every so often.

On a rainy day, we move slower. There’s no rush to get to the park; it’s not even an option. Naps seem to last a little longer and watching more television than usual is completely acceptable. If errands can wait, they do. Getting toddler in and out of a car seat is even more of a miserable chore when rain is pounding on your back. Maybe best of all, without the sun shining through the windows, I don’t notice the little finger prints that should be cleaned off as well as every other surface you can imagine. It all waits and we rest.

I don’t take for granted that the “sunny” days, when I feel energized and productive, will always be around – so I make the most of them! But I no longer dread the “rainy” days that serve an equally important purpose. These days revitalize my soul and force me to slow down long enough to appreciate the need for balance. The weather is a funny thing; somehow it knows exactly what we need even when we do not.

What purpose do rainy days serve for you? Share how you have found balance in your daily life!

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Life

 

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