Stop telling me to be Grateful

I’m afraid that being grateful doesn’t cut it for me when I’m in a bad mood, silently seething or persistently dissatisfied.

I wish it did!

Tell me to “focus on what I’m grateful for” when I’m pissed off, and I’ll roll my eyes, and think, ‘yeah, yeah whatever. I’m grateful for the sunshine. my kids. blah blah blah.’

Somehow the word represents a Pollyanna state of mind, a person with no cares, who’s just HAPPY about everything, humbly laying down so the steamroller of life can flatten them out – and saying thank you. Whatev.  The gap between gratitude and a grumpy state of mind is vast.

Now, when I’m in a pissy mood, I WANT a way to get back to a resourceful state – that’s the outcome I’m after. But forcing myself to list out what I’m grateful for is too big of a mental shift. Doesn’t work.

Here’s a better word for me: Appreciate.

Appreciation vs Gratefulness

Here’s an example:

“I’m in a bad mood and feeling negative about X. But hey, I’m grateful for my kids, my job, my colleagues, my health…I have no clue what I’m going to do about X; maybe I’ll be let go, maybe I’m no good…”

“Even though I’m in a bad mood and feeling negative about X, I appreciate that I’m not dead, I’m still employed, I’m probably processing what happened last week, this is the best job I’ve ever had, and I can do something about it.”

Somehow I find Appreciation is a feeling I can still access, even when I’m in the middle of a funk. I come up with more genuine thoughts and insights.  My brain grudgingly acknowledges appreciation in a way it refuses to do with gratitude, and my gremlins start to loosen their stranglehold.

I see this as a fast mental question to help me bump out of bad moods.

Even better for me is writing or talking through something with my husband – but sometimes a quick fix is all you have time for.

Image credit: René DeAnda on Unsplash


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Chaotic, complete mess mornings

It’s hard to stop the chaos train, once it pulls out of the station.

  1. Bad sleep because coughing hurts and I wake myself up every hour or so, coughing.
  2. Daughter 2 wants to cook sausages at 7:53 am, and we leave for school at 8 am. I say no, too late, have something else. Daughter 1 puts her two cents in as usual…
  3. Daughter 2 gets mad, goes into hissy fit mode – “I won’t eat, then” leaves kitchen seething. Finding a jacket, backpack, socks all go wrong for her, as she’s completely in lizard brain now.
  4. Daughter 1 starting to stress out about being late to school (what do you think will happen if you’re late?).
  5. I get the dog, two daughters, myself in our 1960s Wagoneer, pull out the choke, start it up, wait a minute, 1st gear, let the clutch out slowly…stalls. Try with choke in – stalls. Try again revving engine – stalls…Get it finally to stay on when I rev the engine…stalls when I get into gear. Try various combinations keeps stalling.
  6. Daughter 1 starting to cry! (It’s okay, let it out, cry if you want to, I say)
  7. Daughter 2 seething in backseat.
  8. Daughter 1 wants to call Dad – so I give her my phone, she calls.
  9. Husband can’t tell me what I’m doing wrong! I’ve driven this car countless times! Argh.
  10. I give up on the car, tell the girls they should walk to school.
  11. Daughter 1 pretty much sobbing, now. Both girls get out, start walking to school.
  12. I get the dog back in the house, jog down the street to catch up with them…I want to help them handle things, calm down!  Boy, we need a bit of emotional intelligence training…
  13. I get to our corner, just see them a block ahead already, running, turning the corner…too late to catch them.
  14. I head back into the house and try to recover from the last 20 minutes…

I know it’s all going to be fine! They’ll come home and be back to normal, loving girls. And this is something we can LEARN from, like all fails.

I’ll have a talk with them together and separately, though, to explore what triggered it, what their patterns are, whether being late to school was as bad as they’d feared, what we could do differently next time and how to deal with emotions.


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Lecture – a medieval technique that’s out of date

Lecture:  A medieval word which comes from the Latin for “a reading”. Monks would read a precious manuscript aloud so everyone else could copy it down. A transfer of knowledge “at scale” using the best technology at the time.

1375-1425; late Middle English < Medieval Latin lēctūra a reading.

Is listening to lectures an effective way to learn in school?

Not according to several studies – and common sense! Here’s one particular study from a few years ago:

To weigh the evidence, Freeman and a group of colleagues analyzed 225 studies of undergraduate STEM teaching methods. The meta-analysis, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation. “The change in the failure rates is whopping,” Freeman says. And the exam improvement—about 6%—could, for example, “bump [a student’s] grades from a B– to a B.”

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”


There are great examples of better pedagogy (teaching methods) out there – here’s one described by Sal Kahn.

“Many college courses in the humanities focus on discussion over lecture. Students read course material ahead of time and have a discussion in class.

Harvard Business School took this to the extreme by pioneering case-based learning more than a hundred years ago, and many business schools have since followed suit. There are no lectures there, not even in subjects like accounting or finance.

Students read a ten-to twenty-page description of a particular company’s or person’s circumstance—called a “case”—on their own time and then participate in a discussion/debate in class (where attendance is mandatory). Professors are there to facilitate the discussion, not to dominate it.

I can tell you from personal experience that despite there being eighty students in the room, you cannot zone out. Your brain is actively processing what your peers are saying while you try to come to your own conclusions so that you can contribute during the entire eighty-minute session.

The time goes by faster than you want it to; students are more engaged than in any traditional classroom I’ve ever been a part of. Most importantly, the ideas that you and your peers collectively generate stick.

To this day, comments and ways of thinking about a problem that my peers shared with me (or that I shared during class) nearly ten years ago come back to me as I try to help manage the growth and opportunities surrounding the Khan Academy.”
Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined

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If I was rich (in money). and failure.

I’m happy and blessed in so many ways – I love the vast majority of work I do, have a lot of the 21st century skills that apparently are critical to being valuable at work, love my husband, have pretty wonderful relationships with my kids, live in one of the best places on earth.

But monetary wealth isn’t an area where I feel rich.. or literally AM rich. And if you don’t believe that being a victim is useful at all, then you have to take personal responsibility for everything in your life, rather than blame anything external…

It’s a bit of a bummer. So my financial situation is my fault, my result, my failure, no one else’s.

When you’re young, it’s all about your ‘potential’.  You have time! But what about when you end up in your 40s and are nowhere near where you’ve imagined you’d be?

What have I missed? What should I do now?

  1. Moving from country to country slowed down increases in income, as you have to start over each time.
  2. Having my husband unable to work full time from 2003 on, put me in the position of primary earner, which I’d never really planned for. I never WANTED to be a CEO, or wanted to relocate for a job.
  3. Working remotely for smaller companies limited my ability to advance internally – there was nowhere else to go within the organization.
  4. Working remotely meant I wasn’t a known element in the local tech scene – completely invisible. So no reputation, no colleagues to vouch for you as you pitch for available roles.
  5. Tech companies like to hire entry level and grow internally.   I have TOO much experience for entry, NOT ENOUGH experience for VP/Director roles, so very few fits.
  6. My fear and terror at running out of money, and not being able to see where else I could contribute.   – great. Now I’m creating it.

Am I a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit anywhere?

I’ll let you know when I get to the end of this tunnel and have an answer.  There has to be an end . It can’t last forever!

“Failure is not an end. If you give up when you fail, you’ll never learn anything. Instead, look at failure as an opportunity, as the beginning of a new journey. If you do, you’re much more likely to try again and succeed at something else.”  (From


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Forget the signal to noise ratio. Signals themselves are a problem now.

Anyone else observing how the problem is no longer finding valuable learning sources among the ‘noise’?

The sheer volume of quality content being produced daily, weekly, monthly means there’s more good info available than you can ever hope to absorb, use, or apply.  It’s overwhelming.

First – I’m not going to talk about ‘fake news.’ If you want to learn how to critically look at news reports, recognize the inevitable biases, and not get sucked into believing everything you read, I suggest you go here.

Here’s where I’m heading:

There are SO MANY areas where the best way to learn the latest strategies and innovations is through online experts rather than formal education. 

I can get more good quality ideas and relevant information through experts on these topics than I could in a formal academic course: sales enablement, account management, customer success, entrepreneurship, ed reform, project-based learning, e-learning, edtech, learning coding, wordpress, email marketing, social media marketing…

But the problem is:

  1. I’m a learning junkie and want to know about things
  2. There are A LOT of quality experts/sources on the subject(s)
  3. Experts and sources are publishing constantly.
  4. Experts are emailing their list constantly.
  5. New discoveries/strategies

Example: I follow some quality  education writers and news sources – KQED’s MindShift,, Will Richardson, Most Likely to Succeed, EdSurge, Buck Institute for Education,, Tony Wagner, Linda Darling-Hammond…These are ALL quality sources. But even scanning everything produced that hits my inbox would take hours per day.

Example: I’ve been working on a career shift this past year – I love Scott Barlow, Liz Ryan, I’ve signed up for 4-5 ‘experts’ free workshops/workbooks/mini-sessions that crossed my path on Linkedin or other sites. I get on their email list and start receiving interesting stuff 4- 5 times a week… each. The time it would take to read, absorb and then apply all the steps they suggest = more than 50 hours a week.

Other areas overrun with people apparently making a living from being an online expert to a niche audience: productivity, goal setting, healthy eating, fitness, meditation, motivation, getting organized, raising your kids, how to become an online expert and make a living at it…

The problem now is NOT finding good, quality content that will help me. My problem is there is TOO MUCH.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOOOOVE that people are creating their own way to contribute. I think that it’s only going to grow. As the amount of knowledge and content in the world grows, it becomes valuable for someone to help people do the hard yards.

If you can save me 50 hours of researching online to find something that works for helping my daughter discover her passion/direction, then that’s valuable. If you can help my sister in law when she needs new strategies for my 7-year-old autistic nephew as he grows up, then that’s valuable.

The explosion of signals means a new approach is necessary. Here’s what I’ve come up with that works for me:

  1. Before you start, decide exactly what your goal is. Solve a problem, gain an understanding, try a new approach…Always keep it in mind so you recognize when to stop.
  2. Realize it’s impossible to actually analyze or even review all the good material or ideas available.
  3. Pick one expert to start with, and bookmark the rest (I use to save pages/articles so I can find them later).
  4. When the advice all starts sounding the same, when all the advice resembles what you’ve read before… STOP. Now go do something with it and take steps to achieve your goal.

gooddailyquotes-com-qh1_back_gt_gallery_foI’ve come to the realization that on the topic of education, I’ve come to step 4 – the themes are repeating, and while I’ve not read all the great articles or discovered all the notable experts. It’s time to STOP absorbing. I have enough to work with – now need to go finish off my site, and put my ed news stream into maintenance. I’ll stick with ModernLearners and MindShift and mute the rest!

(It’s often said that 65% of the jobs our children will hold haven’t been invented yet, which rings true if you think about how many new jobs have sprouted up in the past two decades. I’m betting a portion of the new jobs will be self-made jobs, where someone helps others solve a specific problem they’re facing…by curating and distilling down the quality information out there and providing a solution that works. It’s already started in a big way, and the need for it will grow as knowledge grows.)

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Software Trials – learning enough to buy…but not too much.

How do you get a prospect to experience enough during their trial to be confident it will solve their problem, but not get bogged down in details?  If you’re the salesperson responsible for building trust and progressing the sale with prospects once they’re trialing, here’s a simple way to look at it.

Start with Value

What is valuable to THEM? What problem do they need to solve? What’s not working or needs improvement?

You probably know the top value propositions of your solution, your ideal customer profiles, and hopefully the top buyer personas. It’s your job to take all of that and provide personalized interactions that provide value every time.

The prospect will be educated on your solution before they ever meet with you. You are there to provide personal attention: establish trust, give them confidence in the company’s ability to execute and connect the dots between the solution and the problem that they need solved. Make their trial experience as personal as possible by aligning everything to their goals and pain points.

Get to First Value FAST

Is your software rather complicated? I worked for one company whose software didn’t really get customers excited until they’d migrated or uploaded some of their own content into the trial – generic examples were great in theory but not in practice. We didn’t want to spend too long setting up the solution or taking them through a dozen technical content migration steps, before they were able to see the software working for a real scenario, solving their problem. So even though we could have taught them how to do it, we always set up their content ahead of time, and gave them an overview of how we did it instead. This kept the trial completely focused on their desired outcome. This helped a lot.

When you’re doing a software walkthrough – give them context and a basic understanding of how the software works, sure, but DO NOT walk them through everything – focus on what they are trying to accomplish. If you’re in love with the product you’re selling and know it inside and out, it can be hard to hold yourself back, I know  (oh, look at this fantastic new feature we just released that lets you do X…).

Teach them just enough to accomplish their goals. Best to leave “mastery” for later, once they’ve bought – leave that to your onboarding team! Another reason not to encourage them to master your software during the trial is:

Another reason not to encourage them to master your software during the trial is:

Time and Effort are LIMITED

Buyers will have a certain amount of time AND EFFORT that they expect to devote to their trial evaluations, whether they know it or not. Every time your prospect reads an email or watches a tutorial or learns an Admin task that they don’t care about, it is using up precious time and energy.

I vividly an insurance call center prospect of mine who was a lovely person, so enthusiastic in the beginning, keen to test. Unfortunately, on Day 1 of the 30-person trial pilot (which took 6 weeks to arrange), we ran into an I.T./Active Directory issue that put it on hold. They stood down the pilot group, had to start over so their IT team could look at the A.D. info we used and vet that it was OK.  Enthusiasm dried up  – testing was harder than they thought and they got exhausted. We rescheduled for 2 months out after the busy season, but her will was gone – we’d used time and she’d used up some of her internal credibility on us. We did not succeed in getting the trial going again.

Years ago, I ran into this on the buyer side – I’d run across something on email marketing integration with, and reached out to find out more. The sales rep didn’t answer my request for basic info, but booked a call with me instead. I thought he’d answer my questions, but instead, he proceeded to ask me a heap of context/qualification questions for 30 minutes. I had to book a SECOND session with his technical specialist for the demo! You’d think it would have been wonderful – after all, they had more info on our organization’s situation than anyone else, but no…1.5 hours for a tech-savvy sales exec to get a basic understanding of the product’s capabilities was way too much time. If it was this hard to get the info I wanted out of them, imagine what a trial or pilot would take!

The more efficient and targeted-on-their-pain-point you are, the more effort and time you keep in reserve for the rest of the process. 

If you do this right, there will be times where the prospect surprises YOU! Once when working with an I.S. team for a Fortune 500 company, I’d understood their pain points, walked them through testing the single product we had that would solve it, and provided all the rich technical documentation they wanted to review.

They seemed happy at the time but then stopped communicating. After a few ‘value’ emails, I called to find out what was left to test, worried that something had happened I wasn’t across. They were sold! They’d included our solution in their budget and were working through internal approval processes. It met their needs perfectly, we were easy to work with, and the product was easy to use. They’d seen probably 40% of what most of our customers did.

PS: if they do not have a specific pain point or desired outcome in mind, or you don’t know what it is…might as why you’re working on it…


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What IS “Critical Thinking” anyway?

One of the important skills for the future, which all kids need to develop (according to a growing number of researchers and forecasters), is ‘critical thinking/problem solving.’

But what is critical thinking, and how do you learn it?

Critical Thinking is…

Critical Thinking Background Concept

crit·i·cal think·ing  noun

  1. the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.
    “Professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking amongst their students.”

But what does that mean? And what does this look like, when we’re living in a world with SO MUCH available information, areas of specialization, that it’s impossible for anyone to take the time to analyze and evaluate every topic or decision point that comes their way.

Next, I searched on Tony Wagner (author of Creating Innovators, Closing the Global Achievement Gap, and most recently Most Likely to Succeed, books I’ve read that stress this future skill).  Here’s a summary from Tony Wagner’s site on critical thinking and why it’s important:

“The idea that a company’s senior leaders have all the answers and can solve problems by themselves has gone completely by the wayside…The person who’s close to the work has to have strong analytic skills. You have to be rigorous: test your assumptions, don’t take things at face value, don’t go in with preconceived ideas that you’re trying to prove.”
—Ellen Kumata, consultant to Fortune 200 companies

And in an older article of his, I found this:

To compete in the new global economy, companies need their workers to think about how to continuously improve their products, processes, or services. Over and over, executives told me that the heart of critical thinking and problem solving is the ability to ask the right questions. As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.”

Last fall I went through this Udemy Course: Develop your Critical Thinking Skills – Easily! which I really enjoyed (once I found the speed controls anyway; the instructor speaks very slowly). It goes through how to evaluate a claim or argument as well as the evidence supporting it.  The authors say, and rightly so, that thinking critically is being able to think more logically and rationally and being able to present your point across in a clear and convincing way.”

So when talking about critical thinking, that’s what we mean – testing our ideas, thoguhts, beliefs, models, reasoning, etc. for soundness, validity, based on evidence.

How do you learn it?

Well, I suppose you could take the above Udemy class that I did!  That helped me recognize logical fallacies, bad evidence, encouraged me to look for my own biases…but well, it wasn’t applied learning, really – I can’t say I’ve picked up a habit of looking at real life or work issues more critically as a result.

So here are some other more tangible activities as well:

Notice and Wonder

This past weekend I heard a talk by Anna Sharfeld, 6th grade teacher at Hollister Elementary, on critical thinking and math. She has a lovely, simple technique to get her students starting to ask questions and explore a problem/scenario more deeply: Notice and Wonder.

screen-shot-2016-03-15-at-6-40-46-pmFirst, she asks her class what they NOTICE about an image/problem/scenario. Everything gets written on the board like the image at the right.

Then, she has them WONDER: ask questions. What do they wonder about the image?  Have a look at her blog posts on this particular lesson! Quite amazing. (I think I would have loved math if this is how it had been done when I was a kid.)

She described taking the numbers and question OUT of a word problem, for example, and then doing NOTICE and WONDER – the kids explore what info they would need, what the question they’re solving for might be, etc.

While this is not evaluating evidence for an argument, it is questioning assumptions and getting them into the habit of asking questions and exploring a topic from all angles!

Socratic Questioning – High Tech High

There are some good stories illustrating critical thinking in schoolwork in Most Likely To Succeed – both the book and the film! (But I have the book on Audible and it’s a nightmare trying to find anything.) Here’s another example from online resources at High Tech High, the school used as an example in MLTS: Socratic questioning.

In Socratic questioning, the teacher asks a series of questions that force the student to defend a claim. This essential step ensures that the [project] involves critical thinking. It is inspired by the dialectical method in Plato’s dialogues. The teacher opens with a question, the student responds, and the teacher asks another question based on that response. This back and forth continues until the student realizes that his reasoning is flawed, or not.

This process resembles the tying and unraveling of a knot. Prodded by the teacher’s questioning, the student will sometimes get stuck, unable to defend her reasoning. The teacher then helps the student unravel the knot by asking another series of questions, or by assigning a follow-up writing assignment that modifies the argument or rethinks the claim entirely.

In the following example, a student defends his claim that egalitarianism is the most just social philosophy. The teacher asks a question about an area of interest for the student—sports—in order to make connections with ideas studied in class.

Teacher: Do you believe the salaries of professional athletes are morally justified?

Student: Albert Pujols just signed that big contract with the Angels and he takes up 1/10 of the MLB paycheck. I don’t think you need 300 million dollars, or whatever it is. They don’t need as much as they get. I’d be fine playing for a million. 

Teacher: Okay, so, what’s an idea that can be used to make an argument that they shouldn’t be paid that much? 

Student: They don’t deserve it. They were born lucky. It’s all luck. 

Teacher: Really? Doesn’t Pujols take batting practice? Doesn’t he work hard?

Student: I’m sure he does, but how should I put it … I think it’s more like he doesn’t do as much work as others do. My neighbor has three jobs and he doesn’t make nearly as much. It’s not fair. 

Teacher: Can you think of a situation in which it would be fair for Pujols to make that much money? 

Student: If it benefits the disadvantaged.

Teacher: John Rawls called that the difference principle. Is that what’s happening now?  

Student: Not really, but people like to watch him. You can say they benefit from that.

Teacher: You started by saying athletes don’t deserve to make that much money, but then you said that they can make a lot of money if they follow the difference principle. Now, how can we apply that to your case study regarding water in Haiti? How can egalitarianism help Haiti?

Student: In Haiti, people don’t have homes or jobs after the earthquake. Egalitarianism can help make sure everyone has jobs.

Teacher: You might have to invest money for education and create incentives for companies to do business there. That would cost money. Where would it come from? 

Student: I’m not sure. Maybe we could give money to them. From taxes or charity.

Teacher:  Why should I have to pay taxes for the Haitian people? Forcing me to pay taxes for something I don’t care about is a violation of my right to benefit from my own labor. What’s your response to that?

Student: I don’t know. 

Teacher: Think about it. We will continue talking about this in the debrief.

At least two things are accomplished through this line of questioning. First, the student has to defend a claim using reasoning and evidence, which is the most fundamental aspect of critical thinking. The teacher’s questioning provides counter-claims with which the student does not agree and to which the student must respond. Second, the student applies general concepts to specific cases, and must be prepared to defend the efficacy of those concepts in support of his claim.

In the above example, the student was asked to apply the difference principle to a case we did not study in class, but which he studied on his own—the water crisis in Haiti. And there’s the rub. It’s one thing to defend an argument that has already been made, but since the goal is to learn how to think and not regurgitate previous arguments, the student is asked to apply concepts and argument skills to other examples. In this case, the student was asked to follow up in writing, but if more time were available the teacher could continue his line of questioning until the knot, previously tied, becomes unraveled.

And thank you, Buck Institute for Education, for this collection of further resources which I’ll start digging into: 

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