Nan S. Russell
Author & Speaker
 
[ If you’re interested in a particular theme or topic I write about,
quickly find it in the blog by subject archives.]

Some people collect coins or books, kaleidoscopes or post cards. From flea market enthusiasts to junk-yard pickers, you name it and someone seems to collect it. While I can add my name to tangible collections through the years, what I really collect is quotations.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to sayings and quotations of insightful and thoughtful words that offer a bit of inspiration, re-frame my thinking, or provide encouragement. I’m amazed how a sentence or two can do that for me.

Like a treasure unearthed, when I find a quotation that speaks to me, I have to have it. For the past 32 years, I’ve logged favorites in a database (thanks to my techie husband), acquiring quite literally thousands of quotations for daily reflections or nuggets for writing and sharing.

A new addition to my collection came after the 2013 death of Pulitzer Prize winner and acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert, whose cancer battle left him unable to speak for the last few years. While reading about his life, I found these words by Ebert written after more than a decade with debilitating and disfiguring health issues:

“We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

That simple thought — a request of sorts to “try to contribute joy” — humbled me. It’s not (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

“That’s my dream,” I overheard her telling a friend in the dressing room next to mine. “But it will never happen,” she added quietly, “I might as well forget it.” But she hadn’t given up. Not yet anyway. An unmistakable sliver of hope was embedded in the word, “might.”

The substance of her dream didn’t matter. What caught my heart was the ache in her voice. That overheard conversation happened more than a decade ago. At the time, her words reflected my own dream-struggle, barely held together with a frayed emotional tether being weakened by each rejection. I was seriously considering giving up my life-dream of being a writer.

My growing fear about that happening nudged my persistence, as a long forgotten line from the movie Flashdance, echoed my biggest worry that: “When you give up your dream, you die.” It was around that time, my husband gave me a plaque that sits on the bookcase in front of me. It reads “Dream Really Big” in bright colors. He knew, like I did, that something in my soul would die if I gave up on my life-dream.

I didn’t give up, and a few months later I got the opportunity to write for a regional magazine. Two years later, I (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

When we lived on the East Coast a few decades back, we saw the musical, Wicked, on Broadway. So recently, when the traveling show came west, we were excited to share it with our granddaughters and their parents. As the closing duet, “For Good,” started, so did my tears. The words, “because I knew you, I’ve been changed for the better; changed for good,” got me thinking in this, our anniversary month, about our marriage and my life.

The tangible results of us falling in love includes two girls, ages nine and twelve, who call us Nana and GrDad and delight our lives. Plus their father, whose creative zest and loving ways make us proud, and an amazing daughter-in-law who completes our family with authentic warmth and grace. All four, by their very existence, nudge me toward my better side.

But the intangible impact of falling in love with this man who shares my life is profound. I am a better person because I know him; love him; learn from him. I am more tolerant, loving, curious, adventuresome, joyful, and optimistic because sharing a life with him has enabled me to become a better me.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not claiming some magical happily-ever-after fairy tale experience. I don’t profess a marriage without mistakes, scars, or life-happens-shifts that challenged, pushed, and (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

I begged my parents for dance lessons. Sometimes when I walked with my mother the five blocks to the neighborhood grocery, I’d catch glimpses of dancers in the upstairs studio across the street. On other days, I’d watch as leotard-clad girls, not much older than me, emerged from the doorway stairs to the sidewalk. At six, I longed be one of them.

But, it was not to be. I didn’t understand back then my parents were in what today might be called a “rough patch.” We’d moved from Montana to a warmer climate for my brother’s health, only to have a house fire consume most of what we owned. Medical bills and Dad’s slow job search meant no money for “wants” at a time when we didn’t even own a car.

At eight, I still asked for dance lessons. My mother found a freestyle class at the Y and signed me up. We rode the bus together to two classes before I quit, telling Mom (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

I once had a boss who informed me there was no such thing as company politics. At the time, I decided that depended on whether you were the person wielding power or influenced by it.

I’d categorize self-serving antics, sabotaging behaviors, information hoarding, and artful manipulation under the heading of organizational politics. I’d throw in veiled threats, perpetuated mistruths, finger-pointing, and coercion. There’s a long list of behaviors I’ve personally experienced or witnessed in the workplace under the politics label. And I’m sure you can add more.

These negative work cultures are fraught with fear and distrust. Fear you’ll step on a career grenade, lose your job, be labeled a trouble-maker, or relegated to a non-promotable category. Fear you’ll say the wrong thing, fall into project quicksand, find no support, or be kept out of the loop. These soul-depleting cultures trample self-esteem, negate initiative, encourage survival behavior, and diminish motivation.

But I learned in 20 plus years in management something else about company politics. It doesn’t (continue reading →)

The Titleless Leader, Trust Inc, Winning at Working 

Ours wasn’t a big house, but at night my bedroom at the end of the hall seemed a great distance. Plus the windowed door at the foot of my bed, leading to our back yard, appeared as a magical portal for nighttime monster entry. When I was old enough to know there weren’t monsters waiting in my room, I still anguished over the walk to that dark place.

Even into my teens I longed to ask mom or dad or my older brother to walk me to my room and check for monsters. But by then I understood I was responsible to handle them. Lighting the bedroom was step one. That involved a rapid move to the end of the hall, then a quick reach around the door jamb to turn on the light switch. The light transformed my room into one where stuffed animals rested on a pink bedspread, and purple butterflies graced the walls.

I don’t remember when my bedroom monster-hunting ended, but I do know I’ve been battling various monsters most years since. Not the ones who lurk in closets or under beds, but those that impact (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

I was haunted by the regret I’d feel if I didn’t at least try to see my mother. And so, with trepidation and fear of what that deepening pain might become, we left for California. The last few times I’d visited, she didn’t know me, mistaking me for her sister or not seeming to find a connection at all. While my brain understood, my heart didn’t.

It hasn’t always been like that, of course. Currently, my mother lives in a skilled nursing facility in northern California near my brother and his family. The impact of two strokes enhanced by growing dementia rendered her, at 97, fragile, quiet, and distant.

I knew the odds of reaching her were slim, but my soul ached to tell her, once again, how much I loved her before that opportunity was gone. That was the state of my heart when my brother, husband, and I entered the familiar place where mom has lived the last few years.

At first, I didn’t recognize the frail woman slumped in a wheel chair in the hallway as my mother. She was smaller and more “out of it” than I’d seen her; her head down, focus fixed. My brother, (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

“People find life entirely too time-consuming.” This aphorism from 20th century poet, Stanislaw J. Lec, captures how many of us feel at times. There’s too much to do and too little time to do it. But for me, spring offers an antidote. It reminds me it’s time to pause and notice that winter is gone and life’s natural rebirth has arrived. I’m drawn to spring’s beauty as trees and plants renew with bright, vivid green growth, and flowers venture toward the sun.

But in all of life’s busyness, this yearly reminder to notice what’s happening around me isn’t enough. So, it’s with that perspective that I share a piece from my journal written 16 years ago. Finding it recently nudged me about the importance of everyday noticing; I hope it nudges you, too.

[On the shores of Loch Ewe in Inverewe Gardens, located in the Highlands of Scotland, I’m sitting in bright sunlight listening to water softly lick the grassy slopes. Across the loch, there are mountains, and sheep, and a post card village with tiny white houses. It’s an image of a simpler life where nature’s sights, sounds, colors, and smells comprise a world quite different from the one I’m used to. Vibrant impressions weave together as I write. I look again, a bit closer, seeing now the heather covered hills peppered with ruined stone walls. A sharp chord sounds in my brain as I note these markings of hardships and struggles. (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life 

“I don’t know,” a young acquaintance mused. “I’m thinking about grad school, but it’s more work than I thought to prepare for the GREs. Then, if I do all that and don’t get into the program I want, it’s a waste of time. Plus, did you know it could cost more than $40,000 to get a masters degree? I don’t want that kind of debt, plus I’ll likely never make it up in a starting salary.”

By the end of answering my question about his post gap-year plans, this young man described several options he was pondering for his future. Woven into the threads of indecision and idealism were limiting beliefs:. It’s “too hard.” It’ll take “too long.” It costs “too much.” He had yet to discover who he was doing the work for.

He’s right. Getting the work you want, creating your future, developing your skills can be hard, take time, and cost money. But it isn’t a generational issue; it’s a life-potential issue. No matter our age, we can hold similar self-limiting beliefs.

When we think we work for other people instead of working for ourselves, we’re less likely to (continue reading →)

Winning at Working