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.]

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 

Some of us started 2019 with a fresh-start mindset. We made New Year’s resolutions with well-intentioned, often passionate, decisions to change or improve something in ourselves or our lives. At this point, 25% of us are still working on our New Year goals, and by year’s end, only 8% will achieve what they set out to accomplish with their resolutions.

I won’t be one of them. I gave up New Year’s resolutions a decade or two ago, not because I don’t want to improve or change, but because I’ve learned making my goals, dreams, and aspirations happen isn’t a once-a-year thing. For me, a fresh start can be any time of year. There’s power in that.

You can start anew toward life dreams, aspirational goals, unsolved problems, or relationship building anytime. The reality is we don’t need a new year to regroup, start fresh, or begin again. We can ignite these resolutions and aspirations any day we choose.

It was Walt Disney who influenced my life early on in that regard. Maybe because when I was (continue reading →)

Hitting Your Stride, In the Scheme of Things, Life 

In this month of hearts and proclamations of love, something that happened a decade ago, captured like a digital photo with its image held in my memory until called up, was triggered for me by an observation on a recent wintry weekend.

While waiting for our lunch order to arrive, I noticed a mother and teen daughter, seated at an adjacent table, attempting a conversation. The daughter started to tell her mother about school, but with each holding a cell phone and responding to incoming sounds and vibrations, the conversation was frequently paused. Eventually their attempt at conversing stopped, replaced with phone immersion by both as they quietly ate their salads

That brief encounter triggered a memory I didn’t know was stored, about me and my mother at our breakfast table. At the time, we were living in Montana and my mother, then in her late 80s, spent summers with us. Like a movie trailer, the memory offered a glimpse of me cajoling, enticing, encouraging, and coaxing her to take her pills so I could get to my “real work.” Lyrics from a Stephen Stills song, performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, “love the one you’re with,” played with a different take in my mind from the song’s intended theme.

The snapshot is clear that I wasn’t particularly engaged, nor loving. I was annoyed at (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, It's Not About Time, Life 

I laughed when I read about a Dutch entrepreneur attempting to legally change his age in order to enhance his career and dating opportunities. He reasoned his current age of 69 didn’t correctly represent his “emotional state.” Instead, an age of 49 would better reflect who he was, he said.

With this being my birthday month, his antic got me thinking that he does have a point. How old we think and feel ourselves isn’t always aligned with how long ago we were born. In fact, research confirms there’s truth to the axiom: “You’re only as old as you feel.” A recent study found that subjective age, the age we feel we are, can affect how we age. It notes that “those who feel younger than their age actually do show fewer signs of brain aging.”

Ever since my mid-40s I’ve felt at least 20 years younger than my chronological age. While I know I’m long past living in the “land of the young,” as author Chip Conley calls it, I also know I don’t relate to the AARP market or desire to live in an over 55 community.

As I add another year to this life’s journey, I’m thoughtful about the word “old.” I know “old” people half my age. In every generation — Matures, Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials, you’ll find old people: old thinking, old acting, old being. Old isn’t a certain age, and getting older isn’t a choice we’re given, but whether we get old or older, often is.

My yardstick is simple: I’m just getting older if (continue reading →)

In the Scheme of Things, Life