Crossing the Midline – Life Act II

My friend, Gretchen, left us all this blessing on her bathroom mirror. “You’re going to be OK”

Our lives are our stories. If 50 is the end of Act I and the next Act is about to begin, then these short moments right now are my intermission and I’m pausing to reflect on my first Act. Typically, Act I introduces the characters and setting and then leaves you hanging with a problem.  Act II is usually shorter and ends in resolution (and often a pretty good song and dance number, too).

Yesterday was my friend’s funeral/celebration of life. It reminded me that our world is broken as evidenced by her tragic death, and by the numerous bumps and bruises we all experience in our lives.  In the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, my favorite part is when Marlin is lamenting  that he didn’t do his job to protect his son.

Marlin:   I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

It is so true. Good and bad things happen to us and other people…and we have no choice sometimes but to let them. I loved the message at her service …be joyful, enjoy every beautiful moment, give your life to the things that matter, and use the gifts you’ve been given.  She did, despite the harder things that happened in her life. Her legacy speaks volumes. Act II for her was 7 days. Was there a resolution for her second Act? Yes.

She left us all with the blessing (above) for our lives. (It figures it would be from a book called Numbers. Math teachers!)

And now here I am. I’ve made it across a line…I’m not sure if it’s actually my true midline, but I do know one thing…. I’m going to be OK.

To Gretchen – Goodbye

Kerrie, me, and Gretchen at my wedding.

I lost my dear friend, Gretchen, this week. My heart aches. I have 11 days before I “cross the midline.” She had just crossed it. Our birthdays always marked time for me. Growing up, my two best friends (Gretchen and Kerrie) and I had our birthdays within four weeks of each other. We hit all major milestones together…. one right after the other. I was the “youngest” and was often told I had to sit in the backseat of the car for this reason–joyful ribbing only best friends can dish out.

I am devastated by this loss. Childhood friends are a special breed. They are more like family than friends. When you grow up with someone, the set of shared roots and experiences is a base which feeds the rest of your life.

Some of my favorite memories, in no particular order:

  • Running miles and miles and miles and miles and miles together in Cross Country and Track
  • Throwing a Danger Mouse party (no one really appreciated Danger Mouse the way Gretchen and I did)
  • Naming our fetal pigs in biology class (Ham and Cheeks) and building our science poster on Idiot Savants (I was the idiot and she was the savant)
  • Game nights through the years
  • Sleepovers, MTV and Atari at Kerrie’s house
  • Weaning her daughter, Hannah, to a bottle when I took care of her for several weeks (Gretchen needed to finish up the school year after she had run out of official maternity leave)
  • In 8th grade, after Greg Chavez broke my nose with a hockey stick, Gretchen accidentally realigned my nose while swinging her track bag around in circles. It was a direct hit. Ouch. Saved me from surgery, though.
  • Dancing and singing on stage in our various school musicals and choir events
  • Crying on each other’s shoulders at the loss of our beloved Cross Country coach, Don Osse
  • Road tripping to see our friend, Kerrie, in Texas to get our crew of children together (poor Hannah was stung multiple times by multiple creatures during the trip …bees and jellyfish)
  • Cruising to the Bahamas and running around Disney World after high school graduation
  • Singing karaoke with Gretchen and Hannah and dancing with Lee to Just Dance WII on many a New Year’s Eve night
  • Campus Life events and Chinese fire drills
  • Belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart (among other songs on the radio) while driving around Lakewood in the cars we had nicknamed
  • Receiving Gretchen’s Math Analysis (pre-calc) notes as my birthday gift
  • Calling her by my term of endearment: Gretchy Wetchy Wootchy Cootchy

Staying in touch with friends is not easy after high school and college…even when in the same state. I was fortunate to have a standing date with Gretchen every New Year’s Eve. If we didn’t catch up during the rest of the year, we both knew games and pizza awaited us on December 31. And like family, we picked up right where we left off. I treasure those moments.

Life is fragile and it feels far too short. Fifty years…and I knew Gretchen for 42 of them. She told me just last week how “fifty didn’t hurt too much” and I didn’t need to worry. Gretchen told me she was happier now than she ever was in her 40s. We chatted about her Tesla, her tiny house construction, retirement plans, her kids and Bob…an awesome future ahead. I am grateful for that conversation. Gretchen was an authentic, competitive, fun-loving, faith-filled, “say it like it is”, and forever friend. I mourn the loss of this life for us all.

Senior Cross Country season.

Gretchen’s awesome scholarship.

All decked out for the New Wave dance at school.

Gretchen and I shared a love for the British cartoon character Danger Mouse and his sidekick Penfold.

Two of my favorites: Gretchen and Pluto

Gretchen is ready for our big adventure together.

My favorite picture of Gretchen and Kerrie

More post-graduation fun.

1920s murder mystery party when we all turned 20.

One final slumber party.

College graduation.

The reason for our road trip to Texas.

Getting together in our 30s

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My Three Pictures

IMG_6249

A goat, my boys, and a ruin. Pictures that tell me how to live.

Walls need life. My new office had a blank wall that glared at me. I didn’t like that glare. So I began to think about what I would like to look at when I stared at the wall. Rather than think of my office walls as I did in my 20s, where I put up pictures declaring my adventures, or in my 30s, where I created strange interior design themes, I declared this time would be different.  I decided it was time for the pictures to tell me a story rather than me tell a story with the pictures. I set out looking NOT for great photography, but pictures that spoke words I needed to hear every single day.

Picture #1: Mountain Goat on the Top of Peak 9 in Breckenridge, Colorado

This picture is about possibility, hope, and potential. It reminds me that there is life outside my office walls. It reminds me that the world is bigger than whatever is going on at work. It reminds me of happiness for today and the joy awaiting me tomorrow. It tells me of the beauty, diversity, and complexity of nature. It reminds me of my strength and the need to take risks and reach forward every single day.

Picture #2: My Boys (at Ages 8 and 10) on the Beach

This picture is about innocence, sweetness, and unconditional love. It reminds me of who I am, whose I am, and who I need to be. My kids are young adults now. They are faced with the fears, pain, and troubles that can come with growing up—things they never imagined would happen when they looked out into the ocean that day. This picture helps me wrap my children around my heart each day, regardless of time or age, and pray for their safety and health as they step further into the ocean of life. The picture helps me appreciate the fun we had as a family despite the financial ruin we were experiencing at the time. It reminds me how we all put our arms around each other, held each other up, and made the best of moments even in the hardest of times. It reminds me of loving unconditionally and how I need to be love to my family and the rest of the world every single day.

Picture #3: The Observatory at Chichen Itza

This picture is about perspective. The Maya who built this incredible structure were once a thriving civilization in the Yucatan—a culture who made incredible discoveries for their age. They knew the cycles of the stars and how to architect structures with precision accuracy to point to the heavens and create shadows to cast time on the ground. This picture reminds me to never stop asking questions and to be a true scientist and philosopher as I study the world. The picture also is a warning to never be so sure of myself to think that I–that we– can’t end up in ruins. Nothing on Earth is guaranteed or forever —not successes, not failures, not cultures, not peoples, not countries, not even our planet. This picture tells me a story of greater perspective every single day.

—————

My son saw my picture selection sitting out before I took them to work.  Like any good artist, he wondered why I would want this set. They had nothing in common. No similar theme– not time, not subject, not place, not artistic quality.  He thought they would look strange on my wall. They do. And, I love them every single day.

 

The Blog Contract: Why Writing Changes My Life

Hmmmm. What am I signing up for now?

I have no idea who reads this blog. Whoever you are, I thank you. Whether you know it or not, you hold me accountable for what I say. And what I say translates into what I do. So, thank you.

As humans, it is impossible not to think big thoughts—all of us—from a tiny child in the south Sahara to an old Buddhist monk in Nepal to a young mom in Jersey. We all ponder and stew and think about the same questions. The meaning of life on a big scale. The meaning of life on a small scale. Our purpose. Our aspirations. What will happen to us, our world, our children? We ponder the things that break our hearts and the things that fill us with joy.

But what do we do with all these thoughts? Most of us hold them in our hearts. Or we discuss them with trusted friends. And…sometimes…we take those thoughts and put them into action.

I do not pretend to think any piece of prose or poetry I’ve ever written is somehow so enlightened it answers all the questions for me or for anybody else. But it has helped me discover what is important to me and, curiously, forced me to live out my words in profound ways.

Blogging has become strangely contractual. I can say something out loud and it floats away into the ether, but when I write something to the blogosphere, it sticks. I’ve made a public contract with my words. And then I get to live into those words.

Many changes I’ve made over the last two years—from big things, like my job, to taking classes, even to daily actions—are due to this public contract and due to you, O Blog Reader, who sealed it when you read it. So, thank you, again.

I call this blog “crossing the midline” and I feel like the counter on this site is ticking down faster than ever. Looks like I have only 40 days to go before I cross the literal midline (assuming I live to 100). I started this blog to record my internal journey toward some self-made line in the sand, but I’m not sure if I can quit writing when I get there. If there is one thing this blog has taught me, life is too short NOT to keep taking chances, pushing forward hard, and making the most of every single moment.

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Trish Cozart                   Date

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You                            Date

 

Face to (Inter) Face

“Sure, sounds like that would be a book I’d like to buy, too. Thanks.”

I just finished up nine intensive graduate credit hours in the study of User Experience, Interface, and Interaction Design. It is hard to recap all the nitty gritty details of my learnings–all the new vocabulary I learned, cool tools I’ve played with, and code I now understand how to use, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of the most valuable lessons I learned. It is one anybody can use to evaluate any website. All you need to do is take a giant step back and look at it from a different angle.

I’m used to doing all the typical web designer things. Interviewing users. Making personas. Working to understand my audience. Building a content strategy. Testing prototypes. All of these are foundational tools in web design. And, trust me, they are still important.

So what else is there to do? What I’ve recently learned is the art of looking at your website from a human point-of-view. I know this is scary…especially if you’ve seen all those creepy movies where people fall in love with their computers…but trust me on this. What I’m about to reveal will change the way you look at your website…forever.

Here it is: Treat your interface like a conversation.

Pretty simple advice. But what does it mean? It means to actually write down the conversation you would have with a REAL human being if you were to deliver the same information on your website, but in person. How would you say it? What would you want them to do or how would you like them to respond? You’ll be surprised what you discover. For example, depending on your audience, you might choose to change the words on typical action buttons that say “Go” (boring and not something you would ever say) to “Let’s Play” (something you might actually say).

Here are some pieces of advice for your future interface conversations.

  • Be considerate. Don’t go too fast in your conversation or go too slow. Make sure to explain what needs to be explained and don’t get too wordy when it isn’t needed (just like a real conversation).
  • Be brave. If 90% of your users want to take the conversation down a certain path, don’t make them listen to the “extra” information that is only needed by the other10%. Design for the majority and provide a path for further conversation for everyone else. No one likes the guy at the party that doesn’t know when to stop talking.
  • Make a good Impression. Just like good eye contact and a well-pressed shirt are important when making a face-to-face impression, so is the visual appeal of your website. Much is said nonverbally in human conversations. The same is true for websites.
  • Don’t speak a foreign language. It isn’t nice to use vocabulary (visual or written) that your user doesn’t understand or use regularly. You wouldn’t do that in person, now would you? And when using icons for ideas, use idioms, not metaphors. Digital natives don’t have a clue what a file folder is. That may have been a nice metaphor for those of us who lived with file drawers, but it doesn’t make any sense to the NextGen.
  • Fun matters. My favorite conversations are when I spend at least a  bit of it sharing a smile or a laugh. Not all interfaces are suited for comedy…that’s not what I mean. But every interface can be enjoyable to use, whether it is a slick way a transition is made, use of a friendly tone, or a conversational label on a button..happiness makes a difference.

To my fellow website enthusiasts…give it a try. Look at your site differently. Try writing the conversation out first and see how it changes or leads the design. Then get ready to sit down with a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the chat with your computer.

Blockchain My Brain, Please!

I made it through four whole weeks at my new job. I know, you are supposed to give any new job three months before you feel comfortable, but I can’t wait that long to blog about the leap off the cliff I made into a wild new world that speaks a different language. I can’t hardly walk down the hall without hearing words like ecosystem, derisk, mod, bailment, value prop, and blockchain. Granted, I came from a world that spoke a foreign language of its own, but I’d forgotten how strange the language of any specialty is…computers, business, medicine…we all speak a different dialect at work, don’t we? It seems so normal when you are around it day in and day out, then …BAM… one day you change and it feels like you just stepped into a foreign film….with no helpful subtitles.

That’s why I’ve decided I need to blockchain my brain. The amount of new material and acronyms I’ve had to process over the last four weeks really needs to be kept in several thousand online Trish brains (blocks) that can be verified and retrieved. My one brain is just not sufficient. I mean, if there can be cryptocurrency flying around the internet, then why can’t I have cryptotrish flying around it, too.

Picture it. I am staring at my computer around 3:00 and my eyes are starting to glaze over while adding comments to a white paper or trying to compose an email and I can’t recall the right words…..hmmmm….. disruptive precision agriculture….hockey stick growth….monetizing with loss leader pricing….

[Enter the blockchain brain.]

Suddenly, I retreive the answer and am served up with a dozen choice synonyms to boot.

I guess the internet is already a brain trust far bigger and better than mine. But sometimes it is just too overwhelming to search the whole thing when what I really want to recall is in my own brain (I know it is in there somewhere) and I just can’t quite grab the right information in the moment. Instead, I wake up in the middle of the night screaming “valley of death” or “bleeding edge!” Scary as those phrases sound, thankfully, my entrepreneur husband isn’t even phased or worried by these nightmares. He just answers back mumbling in his sleep….”ramen profitability, baby.” Sigh. I guess I’ll give it another two months.

Blockchain: A blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as ‘completed’ blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically. —Investopedia 

Counting Up?

Is this hourglass counting up or counting down?

Season 15: 2017-2018
10X50m kicks
1:00

These were the notations written on the whiteboard at the swimming pool this morning.  So many things to count. The number of seasons, the years, the length of the pool, the repetitions, and the minutes. It made me think.

Why do we count everything?

It hit me hard.

Probably because lately I’ve been doing a lot of counting. I’m counting every day right now. I’ve been counting my last of everything at my current job. Every meeting gets harder. Every minute is bittersweet. I’m having trouble choking down the tears and staying in good spirits, while simultaneously telling everybody how awesome things are going to be without me. Telling them how excited I am for the great opportunities my leaving provides.

Yep. I’m counting.  I’m also counting the impossible number of hours of work I have left to transition my job. But why? Why so much counting?

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we always have to know how much longer…how much more….how much further? Why do we encourage each other by saying, “make it count”?

Just maybe the counting comes from our desire for control and the counting helps us govern our own little worlds because, on a grander scale, we know we live in a world in which we have no control.

And why does most of our counting feel like a countdown…. number of dollars left in the budget….  number of laps left to go ….number of days left to live? Why do we always seem to count down? Why don’t we count up?

When I count up and not down, I am never done. There is always another lap to swim, another race to run, another skill to learn, another friend to meet, another day to embrace.

But, today counting up seems out of reach. I’m still stuck here counting down… desperately wishing I didn’t have to count at all.

Walking Away

It isn’t walking into an unknown future that’s scary. It’s the leaving.

There are few things harder than saying goodbye. Goodbye to people you love. Goodbye to a life you knew.  Last week I went to a funeral and watched my childhood friends and next-door neighbors say goodbye to their mom. Goodbyes are really, really hard.

Yesterday I made a difficult decision. I can safely say the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Now I have to say goodbye to my team. I must let go of work I’ve been doing for more than 25 years and embrace an unknown future. I can’t even imagine the words coming out of my mouth.  It isn’t the decision that is making my stomach do back flips.  I stand solidly behind my choice. No, the pit in my stomach comes every time I picture the farewell. It’s a sinking feeling I get when I chat with a teammate, a friend, who doesn’t know my internal struggle or can’t hear my heart screaming, “I don’t want to leave you!”  The goodbye will only sting them for a minute. I know my team will continue joyfully enjoying their work and each other — their hearts fully intact. It’s mine that will remain silently shattered.

Goodbye

It’s not the jump

that hurts,

nor the landing.

The fall exhilarates,

then the world solid

beneath your feet.

No, it’s not the ground

that hurts,

it’s the goodbye.

— 2/16/18 TC

 

 

What We Do Matters: A Revelation

Move over Justin Timberlake. This lady can out dance you any day of the week…even Super Bowl Sunday.

Revelation isn’t a book in the Bible most people look at with fondness. In fact, it is one of those books more likely to elicit nightmares, good sci-fi, or wild, fear-driven testimonials.  It is also a book frequently misunderstood. But this week, as I listened to a Revelation sermon in the car (having missed church), I heard its meaning loud and clear. The message: what we do matters.

How we treat people. How we treat our world. How we respond….it matters. Not because some set of good works saves you from a fiery pit in Hades (because it doesn’t), but because what we do each day matters or can matter in the life of another. And that….that is what life is all about.

Today I had a conversation with one of my bosses. After almost nine years working in an office next to mine, I am amazed how little she understands me—who I am and what I care about. I told her I could care less about climbing the corporate ladder. And so, she asked me, “What do I care about, if I don’t care about my career?” I told her…helping people. It is that simple. Helping people on our team. Helping our clients. Helping people in our center. Helping people in our company. Helping people in our world. Like circles forming ever outward from a pebble thrown into the lake.  Tiny pebbles matter. Details matter. Little things matter because big things matter.

I missed the sermon on Revelation this Sunday because on my way to church, I pulled over to help a stranded driver. As I towed his broken car to a nearby parking lot, I noticed he wasn’t alone in his vehicle. His wife was in the passenger seat. It was 12 °F. And, come to find out he had three kids under the age of five in the car, as well. No repair shops were open and they were miles from home (Canada). Stuck. I invited them to stay with us and we helped them get their car running again. A new battery, an alternator fix, seven grilled cheeses, and some long games of “pirates on trains” later, they were ready for the road. By morning, the family was on their way to Arizona, as planned. We will likely never cross paths again, but our stories will ripple out and out and out. How we treat people…it matters.

What do my kids’ old Fisher Price pirate ship, Brio train tracks, and Playmobil miners make? One very big adventure for these two little Saskatchewaneans.

It also happened to be Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, and as is tradition, our youth group made 200 lunches and spent the day handing them out to homeless folks downtown—people sleeping outside, without nachos or big screen TVs. We also handed out hand-knitted scarves and hats. My favorite gift was to an older lady who was elated to get the chicken hat. I don’t think she was homeless, but it didn’t matter. She loved that hat. She started doing the chicken dance with us. No Super Bowl commercial could have competed with the smile on her face. People….they matter.

As I walked down the street, one of the high school youth turned to me and said, “This makes me happy and it makes me sad. The last guy I gave a lunch to said he hadn’t eaten in five days. I gave him two lunches! Can you believe we thought it was hard to go a whole day without food?”

I nodded in agreement. Speechless. I couldn’t have said it better. Walking downtown with youth, contemplating how fragile life is….it matters.

I am so grateful tonight for my warm bed, my family, my life, and the chances I’m given every single day to live out my purpose. What a revelation.

Hunger Pains

Lesson for the week: Hunger can be good and bad.

Are you hungry? Many of us are on new 2018 “diets” and we know the deep rumble in our stomachs. It’s the bad kind of hunger. The kind that hurts and nothing can quench it (at least nothing that won’t make you feel bad about yourself for failing). Or the kind that is unquenchable because your cupboards are bare. Hunger isn’t always about food, but after running a 30-hour famine retreat with my youth group this weekend, I can tell you sometimes it has everything to do with food. For 815 million people around the world, hunger is a way of life. Malnutrition is responsible for half of all deaths of children under age 5. Sobering. Are you hungry?

Many people around the world walk several hours a day to get water just to quench their thirst, and when they return, there is only water for dinner.

Hunger can also sometimes make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. Last week I was hungry for a nap. After late nights of working and a long plane flight for business, I hungered for just a few minutes of sleep. While waiting for the front desk to text me that my room was ready, I fell asleep by the pool of my fancy hotel. The security guards thought I was a homeless person and put me under “house arrest” until I could produce an alibi. Once I did, they left, with no apology. The front desk heard about the incident and when I finally got to my room there was a bottle of champagne, macaroons and a handwritten apology from the manager. The range of emotions was broad and deep. (I actually wanted to take the champagne outside and share it with all the homeless people.) Hunger. It makes you do things you normally wouldn’t do.

Hungry for rest? This is a nice place to lay your head. Or maybe not.

Hunger sometimes makes us do things we shouldn’t, too. Jean Valjean can tell you that. So can my son. He knows hunger this week. He desperately wanted to go to college after taking a semester off to heal from a herniated disc–one that prevents him from sitting for any reasonable length of time. He thought he was better enough to go this semester, but it was just his hunger talking.  It only took a week in class to realize the pain was too much to take. Sometimes we do things because of hunger that we shouldn’t.

Sometimes you just hunger to sit down for a meal on campus like everyone else.

Hunger can also be good. It can make you try things…challenge yourself. I also did that this week (it’s been a busy week). It was the good kind of hunger. The type that makes you realize there are opportunities to feel full again. And just peeking in the bakery window at the macaroons is sometimes enough to motivate you to change. I’ve seen the pastries. I’m ready to change. My son has tasted the pastries and now he wants them even more. Hunger can be good.

Hunger to change.

Hunger to solve problems.

Hunger to heal.

Hunger to feel better.

Hunger to serve the world.

It’s 2018. The start of something new. Are you hungry?