Build Up or Tear Down?

Stones on the Beach

I have a habit of making cairns, especially when we spend time on the rocky coast of Maine. There is a challenge to find the right stones that will fit together, balance against the wind, and rise up to leave their mark on the landscape. These reminders provide some sense of identity along the somewhat anonymous coast that someone stood on that spot and created.

When creating in this space, one must acknowledge that eventually the pounding surf will remove all evidence of your work. The never-ending cycle of water will topple any temporary reminder of any creation, but something compels us to create near the ocean despite the inevitable. Something about letting the ocean reclaim these stones seems appropriate.

After creating these three cairns the other day, we walked further up the coast to another small beach and passed a couple with a child. We did the obligatory head nod and smile as we passed and eventually we turned around and headed back past our creation. To my surprise, we saw the couple and child again, at the site of our creation. Instead of admiring our work, they were standing at the path and throwing rocks to topple the cairns.

They must have seen it in my face when I gazed upon their actions and they spoke first.

Did you create these?


There was an awkward pause. Stones in hand, they looked at me as if they had done something wrong and were waiting for some clue from me on how to proceed. It was a struggle to fight my initial instinct to be angry or upset at them. I did not own the stones, the ocean, or the coast. My creation was temporary and the changing tides would return these stones to their rightful home within a few hours anyway, but the rush of emotion was still present. I knew I had to say something.

It is totally okay. Some people build up, and others tear down.

I smiled. Eventually they smiled too and restarted their stone throwing and we moved on.

When you build something, however temporary it is hard to watch it used for something else when you knew its original purpose. Change can be hard. What seems like tearing down, may just be a new and innovative use for what you built. But when someone else sees a new use for your creation it can still feel like a loss to you. Perhaps your creation had its run, served its purpose, but its time has passed.

So when someone is changing your creation ask yourself, is it time to build up or tear down?

The Successful Solution Trap

The Successful Solution

Success is great. The trouble with success is that over time, you begin to rely on that success the next time. And the next time, and the next. The prior solution may have been great, and after a few successes, you may even have a few various solutions up your sleeve. Maybe you even have five. But these are a pretty solid five solutions that have worked in the past. You rely on them, and they solved a lot of issues.

But what about when there is a need that doesn’t match your five?  How many times is someone describing their issue, their problem, their need and you are just trying to figure out how to make it fit into one of your solutions?

This success solution trap became real to me a few weeks ago.  I took a call.  I listened for a few minutes.  I had a plan.

“This should solve your issue, and I will send over an outline.”

I opened up an old document that was a successful solution in the past, made a few changes and sent it over.  The reply was not what I was expecting.

“What is this? How is this going to solve our issue?”

I stepped back and replayed the call in my mind while looking at my notes. I was so worried about fitting their issue into my solution, I even ignored my own notes. Shortly after, I re-drafted a new solution and sent it over. It was the right fit, and much more creative than my old canned solution.

It takes a little more work, but new creativity beats old successful solutions. I want to learn from the past successful solutions, but not become a slave to them.

An Online Game to Change Your Life

I had the privilege of watching Jane McGonical speak at a conference.  She is a game designer who is on a quest to make our reality more like a game, with quests and “epic wins” that are celebrated together.  When I saw her name on’s front page yesterday, I was compelled to watch her again.  This time a much more vulnerable Jane gave a moving talk about her own struggle dealing with a severe concussion that left her bedridden and suicidal.

True to her belief that games can be harnessed to change our world, she created a game to help herself, and all of us with the things we struggle with, or need to overcome.  The game is called Superbetter, and can be found at  We have discussed here a few times the power of setting goals, and Jane takes this to a whole new level by making it more like a heroic quest, that harnesses our allies, encourages us daily and finds very creative ways to assist us in our journey.

Take the first step.  Watch Jane’s talk, or if nothing else, watch the intro video on her website at Superbetter.  You goal may not be a dramatic as Jane’s was, and may be about losing weight, becoming more healthy, or lowering your stress level.  Whatever the goal, the site has tools to help you accomplish this and create resilience to help you in your life.  I was moved and signed up for my own quest right away.

To Jane, thanks for being vulnerable and for creating a tool to help us find our way out of whatever we struggle with…whatever holds us back.  Maybe together we really can change the world.

When Dreams Don’t Work Out

Let’s face it, not all of our dreams work out.  We set goals, we have a vision of the future and something derails, delays, or simply denies it from happening.  What do we do in the face of this failure?

I suppose we have a choice to make.  We can choose to pick up the pieces, see what we could have done better (maybe), and start to aim towards another dream or goal.  Or, we can become tainted, cynical, and hardened.  Yes, those seem like two extreme views, but by not consciously picking the first, we tend to end up in the second even if we do not realize it.

Life can at times be harder than we imagined.  When I think about life, there are way more long-periods of monotony with brief moments of excitement (good or bad).  What seems to break up the daily routine of life is a dream.  The strange little hope that you can make a difference, do something great, and alter your story and the stories of those around you.

So the next time that dream starts to become just a faded light in the rear-view mirror, stop looking back, look forward and find the next dream…and the next…and the next. Make the choice, and don’t let the hardening of disappointment in…dream instead. 

Collective Challenge Day 17 (the check in)

Day 17.  We are past the half way mark in our Collective Challenge.  I took a few days off for two reasons.

1.  Since we are refraining from the news in the hopes to break off some of the negativity of the news cycle and quiet things down a little, I didn’t want to become just another source of noise for all of you.

2.  I started my first fully online class last week and a big part of the class is online postings, and that consumed a lot of my time.

During one of the online conversations (the folks in class are all over the country, from Vermont to California) I shared that a group of us were collectively trying to avoid the news.  They found it interesting and wondered how it impacted me.

So far, despite my initial discomfort with changing my routine each morning, it has been a great experience.  I feel less negative about things: life, the state of the world, my own community.

How is the challenge for you?  I wanted to hear from you to see if this little experiment is working.  Keep it up, just a few weeks left.  You can do it, you are going to make it.

P.S. Yes I still watch football, just not the news about it before or afterwards.

Collective Challenge Day 6 (My 50th Post!)

Two ceremonious events collide today:

1.  We are just about done with our first week of the challenge, and the comments (especially from yesterday’s post) and the phone call from a friend confirmed that we are doing something great together.  Sometimes I wonder if these ideas, questions, or challenges are just ramblings…and it is typically when I am doubting this blog or myself that one of you confirms the impact it has had on your actual life. It is this confirmation that helps us press on together.

2.  This is my 50th post!  This is a milestone.  As I shared with you before, I have not always been the type to sit down and set yearly goals.  Last year I did.  One of those goals was to actually write on a regular basis.  I was inspired by a friend who helped me realize that I didn’t have to write an entire book in a weekend, but could begin by regularly disciplining myself to write.  

Remember part of this challenge is to Dream Big.  Sometimes once you identify that dream, trying to figure out how to accomplish it can be overwhelming.  But the first step is making a decision to start towards that dream.

It was gaining the understanding that a small decision made every day could really change your life that helped me know where to begin.  I didn’t have to do it all at once, and neither do you.  This blog is the result of a small scary decision made on a regular basis!

I know I say this a lot, but thanks again for being part of this journey together.

Collective Challenge Day 5

At this point, we have this first week in the bag.  Only a few more days left in Week 1 of our collective challenge.  Enough about me, I would like to hear from you.  How are things going?  How does your world feel?  Are you feeling better?  Worse?  Stir crazy?

Did you find a way to be generous?  Was there a creative way that you inspired hope to someone else?

Are you starting to dream big?  What is that thing you would really like to do?  This one can be hard.  Our lives periodically seem to adjust into autopilot and just cruise along maintaining what we already have.  What did you want to be when you were growing up? Was there something you wanted to do?  Someplace you wanted to go?

Keep up the challenge, you can do it!  Don’t be afraid to share your progress, it may just encourage the rest of us.