Yes, I love lists. But I'm not "that person" who looks at a terrible situation determined to find the silver lining. Yet alone a list of items. Somehow that changed a few weeks ago when Black and I were working on a Book Bite about exercise. In the P.S. section, which explained why the excerpt's as relevant today as when it was written, we commented that the pandemic made me look at exercise as a way to help reduce my stress and that maybe we should write a separate post about positive changes we've made due to the pandemic. (Similar to the positive things that happened to me years ago when my husband got fired.) As often happens, I thought it was just another one of Black's countless ideas for posts that I'd file away – except it really did get me thinking. So, I decided to create this checklist, although I struggled to keep it to only five things:
- Exercise (Stomp?) Away Your Stress
Yes, the pandemic really did make me look at exercise (again) with fresh eyes. I've always had a love-hate relationship with it, made worse by the fact that Black has always embraced it, keeping to an exercise routine for decades with nothing stopping her (when the pandemic hit, she turned her balcony into a mini-fitness center), which often makes me feel guilty. But like most people, I found my stress levels reaching a new high over the last nine months. One day I'd just had enough (the particulars aren't important) and had to get out of the house, so I literally stormed out the door. Well, the first trip around the block was more of a stomp than a walk, but by the second lap I was on a nice pace, breathing again like a normal person and the steam coming out of my ears had disappeared. By the time I turned the key to re-enter the house, I felt human again. Now I take a walk almost every day although sometimes it does start out as a stomp.
- Give Yourself Permission To Slowdown And Enjoy
Before the coronavirus, I used to look forward to those rare days when I didn't have to leave the house. Between playing chauffeur for my daughter (even once she could drive, I found I still enjoyed taking her places as it gave us quiet time in the car together), seemingly endless errands, dinners with my mom, and plenty of Red & Black meetings, having a day where I could truly stay home was a novelty. Well, today, it's the norm. But a funny thing happened. Instead of things being less hectic, everything seemed more complicated and I found myself busier than ever. Some was self-inflicted as I decided to work on "home projects" that previously I never had the time to do or had previously neglected. Regardless, it has taken me much longer than I'd care to admit to realize that it's ok to "enjoy" doing nothing or doing something for the pure enjoyment of it.
- Turn Mountains (Of Paper) Into Molehills
One of those "home projects" (working from home muddies the distinction between work and personal projects) was to finally start tackling those constantly growing piles of paper that have accumulated over many years. (Yes, years!) Although I sometimes feel like it's one step forward, two steps back, I can now look around me (literally) and realize that I've made huge progress. Black always told me that the piles represented unfinished work, and their mere presence caused stress. Now that the piles are shrinking (not as fast as I'd like but still moving in the right direction), combined with giving myself permission to take breaks, I'm staying motivated and feeling a sense of accomplishment.
- Never Ever Take Your Health For Granted
I'm one of the very fortunate people who always assumed when I woke up in the morning that I'd go about my day and be able to physically do everything I needed to do. Yes, there might be a few aches and pains, or I might get a stomach ache, or catch a cold or even the flu. But I was basically healthy. The same for my daughters (ok, my older daughter's the type that overreacts to a hangnail while the younger one rarely lets anything slow her down). Pre-pandemic I never really thought about our health, except when I reviewed our health insurance. But the coronavirus made me realize that in the blink of an eye everything can change. It's made me realize how fragile life is and how it's so easy to take your health for granted – until it's gone.
- Focus On What You Have … Not What You Don't Have
It's human nature to focus on what you don't have, what you want, what would make you happier. Rare is the person who's completely happy and satisfied with where they are, literally and figuratively. That's not to say that one shouldn't have goals, ambitions, desires, things you want to improve, things you want to accomplish. But there's a huge difference between wanting all of that at the expense of ignoring what you already have. I like to think that I've always appreciated the most important things in my life, which is first and foremost my daughters. But living during a pandemic made me realize that even when it came to them, I needed to focus less on what could be better and fully appreciate that they are happy and healthy. At the risk of oversimplifying things, it's appreciating that the glass is not only half full, but that it has any water in it at all.
Of course, I wanted to know what Black would have to say on the topic. Not only is she extremely pragmatic, but if there's anyone who tends to live in the moment, appreciating what's here, right now, it's my sister. On that she was consistent, but the pandemic did add an interesting twist …
I have always said that you have to live for today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. The pandemic has not changed that – but has made me realize that how we each live our lives today will have a ripple effect on the lives of so many others.
People have told us they're using our sisterly banter to start conversations with others (family, friends, and even in classrooms), so Black created "Conversation Starters". Stay tuned as we'll be introducing new topics on a regular basis!
||I have two confessions. First, until we wrote our book and you insisted on having it printed in the U.S.A. , I never thought about the importance of buying American-made products. I had always focused on price and quality, not where it's made. My second confession is even though I became more mindful of buying American, I still didn't do it. But when I heard President Biden, in his first address to Congress , say, "All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products made in America that create American jobs" I realized that not only should I do more, but I wanted to. But how? Especially as I need to be cost-conscious and products that come from overseas are usually cheaper!|
Saying it is the first step to doing it. Then, get in the habit of always "checking labels" – whether it is a bigger purchase, like a car or major appliance, or smaller items, like clothing or household items. And, understanding your motivation might help. Is it a function of being patriotic, or about job creation? (FYI, buying American has a ripple effect as it helps the companies making the products and also companies that support them – from suppliers to energy providers to accounting firms.) Maybe it is related to climate change (shipping products across the world increases carbon footprints). How much "extra" are you willing to pay for environmental and safety reasons? (Many countries can produce products cheaper than we can due to less stringent (or non-existent) regulations regarding pollution, human rights, and consumer safety.) So, deciding "why" you want to "Buy American" will help make it an important part of your buying decisions.
THE CONVERSATION STARTERS
- Are you already buying American-made products? If not, why not?
- Black likes to say, "Printed in the U.S.A. is the most expensive sentence of our book, as it more than doubled its cost." Why do you think she did it? What would you have done?
- When the U.S. government says it's going to buy American, that can have a significant impact. Do you think that one person can make a difference? Explain your answer.
We ended our March column, RED & BLACK … Don't Regret Your Regrets?, with me telling Red, "I do not 'do' regrets," but our actual conversation continued as she wanted to know how that is even possible to do. Knowing that she loves lists, I decided to put one together for her.
As a bit of backstory, having loved ones die, especially untimely deaths, can have a powerful impact. That is what happened to me growing up. It made me realize that the future is not a guarantee, but merely an incentive. And that, in turn, had a direct influence on my priorities. And, how I approach life … with no regrets.
You Love Them, Let Them Know
This is probably the most obvious, but if "postponed" can become an extremely painful regret. Since I learned this at such an early age, I have been doing it almost my entire life – and can tell you that it quickly becomes a habit. Not sure how to start? Make a list of the people you love, and either through words or actions (or both), let them know. It can be a simple call or visit (virtual counts), or an unexpected email or note. Or, a long letter. FYI, this also works for people you respect, admire, or appreciate.
- Maybe You Do Not Need To Work Less
As a die-hard workaholic and someone who proclaims, "I have no life," you might think this falls under "Do as I say, not as I do." Yet, if you were to track my time, you would see I always carve out time for exercise and try my best to be there when my sister and nieces need me. Pre-COVID, I always saved Saturday evenings for dinner with dear friends. Work/life balance means finding time for the things that are most important or bring us the greatest pleasure, which is different from saying "I need to work less."
- Be Brave
This is semantics. If I said, "Take risks," I would get push-back as most people are risk-averse. For me, I look at risk-reward; does the upside potential outweigh the downside risk? Over the years, I have done things that did not work out as planned. Do I wish I had not done them? No, I look at what positive things came out of the experience (many mistakes can be fixed) ... even if only lessons learned. Research shows that people's biggest regrets tend to involve things they did not do when they had the opportunity, not the things they did.
- Worrying Wastes Time (And Cause Wrinkles)
Time is a precious commodity as you can make more money, but you cannot make more time. So, why waste any of it worrying about things that are beyond our control? The next time something has you worrying, decide what you can do to change the outcome. If the answer is "nothing," then think about what you need to do to prepare for the worst-case outcome. Then, shift your mindset and focus on the best-case scenario. (I know Red often thinks I am an "eternal optimist" and sometimes has a hard time reconciling that to me being pragmatic.)
- Emotions Are Not Created Equal
Yes, Red is the warm and fuzzy emotional one, while I am the pragmatic one. But, sometimes, you have to learn to be less emotional. For example, everyone has been emotionally hurt at some point, yet I know of people who stay stuck in bitterness and never get past the pain. If you learn to forgive, you can replace the time spent being resentful with more positive things. Maybe even little acts of kindness (a smile, a compliment, a small gesture). No one ever lay on their deathbed and said, "I wish I had been meaner and more spiteful."
There is no point in regretting what you wish you had done differently, but nothing stops you from coming to terms with your regrets and moving forward with a clean slate.
So, the college applications, including financial aid, are done. And even though my daughter understood what it would entail, until you're actually in the midst of it, you don't appreciate it's a lot of hard work. And stress.
Now the difficult part … waiting. Wondering which of the schools will accept you. Hoping that you'll have options, including at least one on your "wish list". Well, before you know it, you'll hear back and will be faced with having to make a decision. One that may feel like the biggest decision of your life, so hopefully, these five steps will help …
- Yes, No, Or Maybe
Obviously, the schools themselves may help you narrow down your options (keep in mind many colleges and universities reported record-high application numbers this year and record-low acceptance rates), but you might also find yourself on one or more waiting lists. But start to review your options as they come in so you don't feel overwhelmed at the end.
- Let's Talk Money
This happened in our home … my daughter was accepted by her first-choice school, but once she was done celebrating, she needed to be realistic, which meant crunching the numbers. Some schools send their financial package with its letters of acceptance; others follow up separately. And, since every school presents its financial package differently (one of Black's pet peeves), you need to make sure you're evaluating the same things for every school, including room and board if you're considering an "away" school. IMPORTANT: Make sure to separate what's "free" money (scholarships and grants that don't have to be paid back) from loans. (Some schools may show you a total of "financial aid" that include both, which skews the numbers.)The key will be determining your "out-of-pocket" cost – which is the money you'll need to come up with – whether loans, work-study programs, family members, etc.
- Compare & Contrast There's no right or wrong way to do this. Some people, like Black, would probably create an elaborate Excel spreadsheet, some might create "T charts" with pros and cons, some might just jot down notes. The point isn't how it looks, it's what works for you – including what you're comparing. Yes, the out-of-pocket cost's important. But there are other things (whether or not they were part of the initial selection process) you need to consider, such as location, size of the school, academic standing, extracurricular opportunities, help entering the workforce after graduation, etc.
- Narrowed Down … But Not To One
When we taught at KIPP, Black would often ask the seniors to narrow it down to the top two or three schools, and then ask if the out-of-pocket cost was the same, which they'd select and why. Then she'd have them compare the difference in cost and decide if they thought it was worth it. This exercise often helped them determine what was really important. Plus, depending on your situation, there's nothing that says you can't circle back to a school and explain that you want to commit, but financially you're not quite there. If appropriate, let them know about competitive offers, and ask if there's any other "free" money available. As our mom always said, if you don't ask, you don't get.
- PARENTS, PLEASE READ! "Good" vs. "Right" Decision?
As a mom, I want what's best for my child, so I'm trying to guide (and hoping not overly influence) her college decision, especially since Black made me realize that the decision ultimately belongs to my daughter. She's the one going to college, and it's her first major "adult" decision. What I need to teach her isn't to obsess about making the "right" decision (and if she later decides the school isn't quite right for her for whatever reason, she can always transfer); instead, focus on making a "good" decision (what Black calls a "conscious" decision) where she's done her homework and has thought it through.
So, anything else? Well, yes, and perhaps the most important thing of all. And it's something that Black has told high school seniors for years, and now my daughter (her niece),
It does not matter if your college is a "bumper sticker" school or one that few people know. It does not matter where you start your college career as the diploma only has the name of the school from which you graduate. But what does matter is what you make of it. It is about more than academics – it is about experiences and taking advantage of opportunities. It is about remembering … College is not the objective – it is a step along the way – and there are lots of roads, and colleges, that can get you to your destination.