Month: April 2014

How to Succeed at Almost Anything

I took a rhetoric course in college of which I understood approximately 2%. This was probably because 98% of the textbook was written in Greek. That’s probably an exaggeration–I didn’t do so well in math that semester either. While I didn’t learn much about rhetoric, I did learn how to succeed at almost anything.

Each week our professor asked, “What was this week’s reading about?” And each week the class sat blinking. Maybe our responses were profound in Morse Code–either way, our professor wasn’t impressed. “OK, then,” he said one day. “Write an essay on this week’s readings. Compare and contrast the arguments, then pick a side and justify it. You can use your books. You have an hour.”

I skimmed the book and had no idea what I wrote, but it took the whole hour.

A few weeks later he handed our papers back and announced that save for one A and a smattering of Bs and Cs, most of us failed.

“Pss! Whadya get?” whispered my classmate. I turned and whispered back, “An A.” Her jaw dropped. “How did you do that?”

“I honestly don’t know. I just . . . followed the instructions.”

I didn’t consider myself particularly smart–in fact, there were a few students who talked circles around the rest of us about the intricacies of rhetoric (they probably spoke Greek too)–so I was as shocked as my classmate about my grade. That’s when I realized I didn’t need to be the smartest kid to succeed. I just needed to understand my professors’ expectations and follow basic instructions.

I ended up getting an A in the class and graduating school with the gold cord of honor.

It seems too simplistic to even point out, but this principle will serve you well long after your classroom days. Do you want a job? Do you want to win an audition?

You can perfect your resume, write a dazzling cover letter, and hone your interview skills to CEO-level awesome, but I guarantee none of that matters if you don’t follow the instructions on the application.

I know we live in a culture that prizes leadership. And as I type this, I find myself squirming at the idea of stepping in line. But here’s some real-talk:

There are times to deviate from instruction, to break some rules, and buck some systems. But for most of us, before we can rise or out-maneuver, we have to learn how the systems work.

Before we can be a good leader, we have to learn how to be a good follower.

Now, I think there are two kinds of followers:

  1. Those who like to be told (dependent)
  2. Those who like to be instructed (independent)

The first kind can result in blind acceptance and an inability to critically examine systems. The second kind–the kind I’m totally biased for–develops confident, multi-talented people and strong, independent thinkers. And these are the kind of people who inspire, the kind of people who enact change, the kind of people who should be leading.

The ability to self-start, self-teach, and self-direct is invaluable.

There are, of course, a few more traits that play into success: passion, hard work, courage, and persistence, among others. But it all starts with a few fundamentals.

Someone recently asked me about my proudest accomplishment. I couldn’t pinpoint one that screamed “Look at me!” So I told him I’m proud that I know how to follow directions.

I’m proud because it means I can do anything.

Even pass a Greek rhetoric class.



From Confrontation to Compassion | Love Ann Joy

My article From Confrontation to Compassion is live on Love Ann Joy today.


I talk about a bump in a particularly important relationship and the 5 ways Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book How to Have that Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding helped us transform conflict into deeper understanding.

If you don’t know Cloud and Townsend, it’s time to meet them. They’re great. Seriously. They offer accessible, yet really profound insight on emotional health and healthy relationships.


Surf over to Love Ann Joy to read From Confrontation to Compassion and, of course, leave a comment!

Life Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Wonderful

“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

This is good, because my life is not perfect, but I do have some really wonderful moments every now and then. For instance, I ran into an old flame a few weeks ago. We’d never really officially ended, we just fizzled out a few years ago when I moved from the sweet and slow Midwest to the D.C. area. Life got crazy and it was too hard to make time for each other.

After reminiscing about the times we spent exploring and traveling, I decided it was time to rekindle things with him. His name is Canon SX10. It’s a strange name, but it suits him.

For our first outing, we went to the Cherry Blossom Festival. Thousands of people were out, but they all seemed to vanish when I peered into his lens–that’s how you know it’s a really good date.

Since then, we’ve been exploring more in our few spare moments. We’re taking it slow, and making sure to appreciate the good, the lovely, the pure, and even the quirky–wonderful, holy gifts in this imperfect life.

What things make your life wonderful?

Review: How to Tell a Story

For the past few months I’ve been on a kick about good communication. I think it’s inextricably linked to good leadership. But what comprises good communication? Is it logic? Frequency? Relevance? Diplomacy? Clarity?

I downloaded Donald Miller’s new eBook How to Tell a Story and gobbled up its 34 pages in about an hour. Miller helps answer my question, suggesting part of clear communication is found in its form–specifically, story form. He explains the simplest structure of story by introducing a fixed plot in which you can insert any character or tension, and use even to organized the events of your day.

Why should we turn mundane daily details into stories? Miller gives the following reasons:

Those who tell good stories:

• Communicate more clearly.
• Write better books, blogs and articles.
• Give better speeches.
• Are chosen as leaders.
• Are never unhappy.
• Are filthy rich.
• Are better looking.
• Experience a sustained feeling of euphoria.
• Can eat gluten without consequences.


Mmm. Gluten.

Miller calls story a “sense-making device,” as our brains are scientifically documented to engage with its organizational structure. In short, “stories cause the brain to come alive.” They can help us make sense of our experiences and communicate them more clearly, which can really come in handy in job interviews, teaching, marketing, fundraising, donor relations, sales, dating, evangelizing, getting your kids to pay attention to you . . . you get where I’m going?

For my 2 cents, How to Tell a Story is well worth $Free.99, and I am excited to incorporate it into my everyday interactions.

Here’s to good stories and great storytellers!

Update Your Wardrobe for Under $20

WardrobeSpring is a great time to overhaul your wardrobe. But times are tight, people. I get it. Especially if you have a family, are in a committed relationship with your budget, and/or are still paying off school loans. My friend Sarah showed me how to update my wardrobe for under $20.

You’ll need:

  • 1 free afternoon
  • 1 bottle of wine and some snacks
  • 1 dedicated friend (bribe with wine)
  • 1 photo device 
  • 1 high-energy playlist

One Saturday last fall, Sarah and I downed a bottle of wine as we combed through every item in my closet, chucking the unnecessary, ugly, and out-of-date. With the remaining items, we put together head-to-toe outfits and took snapshots of each, compiling an online lookbook to make dressing easy. By weeding out the junk and salvaging the underused items, I gained several new professional outfits and cut my morning dressing routine time in half. And the best part? It only cost a bottle of wine and some snacks.

I gathered 4 bags of clothes for Goodwill and consignment and had a blast playing dress up, but the process was also a bit overwhelming.

Tips for Wading through Your Wardrobe

1. Recruit a voice of reason. An honest friend is invaluable. When I was on the fence about a clothing item, I deferred to Sarah. Sometimes her facial expression was the motivation I needed to chuck an unflattering, out-of-date, worn, or no longer age-appropriate item.

2. Have you worn it in a year? If you haven’t, don’t throw it away just yet. Ask yourself a few questions: Does it fit? Is it in good shape? Is it flattering? Do you love it? If you answer more yesses than nos, then ask why you haven’t worn it in a year. Do you love it, but just not know what to pair it with? Then it’s time to play dress up! (And refer to tip 1.)

3. Mix and match. Experiment with underused items to create new outfits. If you can find the perfect combo for that paisley satin top, knit vest, or cowgirl boots, go ahead and keep them! If not, it’s time to toss them in the black Hefty clothing coffin.

4. Say cheese! Take pictures of your “new” outfits. Seeing yourself through a different lens gives you a more objective perspective. This might sound scary, but I promise the results are not all bad. Sprinkled among the “Eeks!” and “Ugs!” were a few “Wows!” and “Hey! I look kinda hots!” Also, wine helps.

4. Looky Looky! Upload photos of your outfit combos to a site like Dropbox, Google Picasa, or make an album on your computer. If you’re stumped for what to wear in the morning, pull up your wardrobe lookbook–it’s like catalogue shopping every morning and there’s no “Does this dress make me look fat?” because your outfits have already been vetted by a trusted friend.

5. To donate or consign? A little extra cash helps ease the pain of parting with your stuff. If you have a lot of gently used, high-quality, or brand name items, you can make a few extra bucks by taking them to a resale store like Plato’s Closet or other local clothing consignment boutiques.

6. Make a shopping list. Now that your closet is clean and organized, you might notice you’re missing a few staple items. Button down white shirt? Black pumps? Pencil skirt? Black fitted tee?  Make a list. You now having a shopping guide to help maintain your organized and purposeful wardrobe by avoiding future random or impulse purchases.

There still a few months of spring left, I think hear my junk drawers calling my name!

Do you have favorite tips for getting organized? Share them in the comments.