Given the “pollenpocalypse” we’ve experienced here in North Carolina, you might think this post is related to spring and how to survive allergy season. I covered that topic last year so click here if you need to review those tips. Instead, I want to share two recent experiences that demonstrate the power of cross-pollination and collaboration.

The non-botanical definition of cross-pollination is “a sharing or interchange of knowledge, ideas, etc., as for mutual enrichment; cross-fertilization.” The term first popped up for me a month or so ago as my fellow Triangle Nia teachers and I were planning our annual spring retreat on the NC coast. The retreat involves a teacher jam, where we all select two to three songs to teach when we dance together. Every Nia class has a focus and intent and the jam is no different. A few teachers tossed out ideas related to spring and the idea of enriching one another through cross-pollination. With a little finessing, we eventually came up with the following:

Focus: Visioning how we enrich each other with cross-pollination with the intent of buzzing into the magic of limitless possibilities.

This focus and intent became the theme for the whole retreat and manifested itself in a number of different ways. The weekend involved a great deal of sharing personal stories of growth and development, both in our roles as Nia teachers as well as other personal and professional pursuits. It was amazing to see how seven women from various backgrounds found ways to connect and share knowledge and advice with the goal of nurturing one another.

I was grateful to be on the receiving end of this cross-pollination. At one point I shared with the group some of the challenges I’ve had around my desire to engage in creative writing. I currently have a couple of projects underway, but I tend to work on them in fits and starts. I’ll have a spark of inspiration that translates into just a paragraph or two on the page and then I’m not sure where to go from there. As much as I enjoy writing, it can also be a painfully slow process for me. I’m not sure how or when it started, but I developed the habit of editing as I write…which any good writer will tell you is a no-no.

Enter Robin, fellow Nia teacher who also happens to have degrees in Creative Writing and English. She shared a story with me that led to an “a-ha” moment. It had to do with the composition styles of Beethoven and Mozart. Apparently, Beethoven experienced a great deal of angst as he composed – he would scribble a few notes, then scratch some out and start over. It was almost as if he had to pull the notes out of his mind, one at a time, and perfect them on the page before moving on. On the other hand, Mozart would essentially “vomit” an entire composition onto the page and then go back and tweak it until he was satisfied. Such different methods but both ending in musical masterpieces. The amazing part was that I hadn’t even mentioned my own writing style to Robin before she shared this story, but I am clearly more like Beethoven than Mozart.

Robin had a couple of suggestions for me to make writing a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable. She recommended meditating before I write and more importantly, she advised either turning the monitor off completely or lowering the brightness so that I can barely see what is on the screen. The idea behind this approach is to just get the words and thoughts out of my head without the need to edit as I write. Genius! I am definitely willing to give it a try although I am curious about how it will work if I can’t see what I am writing. (Confession: I did not try it as I was writing this post, but I do plan to give it a shot when I work on my other writing project later this morning. Baby steps!)

Given the gift I received from Robin during this retreat, I hope that something I said or did had a similar impact on one or more of my Nia sisters. I did experience the benefits of mutual enrichment in my next venture, which was a workshop I attended in Philadelphia last week. For the last 18 months or so, I have been part of a group of health coaches who contribute items (questions) for the national Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Exam. We draft the items individually and submit them to the organization that administers the exam. We receive suggested edits to address on our own, then we come together as a group to finalize the items, ensuring that they are suitable for use on the exam.

You might be surprised to learn that there is a whole science behind constructing test items. I had no idea initially how challenging the task could really be, but I have learned so much being part of this process. Even with feedback from the testing organization, I sometimes struggled to format the questions appropriately. Thus, I relished the opportunity to go through the editing process with other health coaches.

We came together for two and half days to tackle about 125 exam items. Some items were easier to finalize then others. For example, there were some simple recall questions related to general health and wellness content, such as risk factors for certain chronic conditions. The more difficult items involved scenario-based questions testing the examinees’ knowledge and application of various coaching skills. I noticed that my items were quite wordy compared to my colleagues, so I appreciated their ability to help tighten up the scenarios I drafted. They seemed to have a knack for getting the same idea across in two sentences versus the four or five I had written. I think I contributed to the process by helping bring clarity to the central idea the item authors wanted to test.

It took working through several items before the group hit our stride, but then it became clear how we each brought our unique perspectives to the process. In the end, the exam items were stronger as a whole based on the input from each group member. I also gained some insight into how to draft stronger questions next time around, which will hopefully help the writing process go a little more quickly in the future.

I think the bottom line on cross-pollination is that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. I know it seems cliché, but it is hard to deny when you see the enhanced outcome based on the contributions of many versus just one.

Desire and Discipline

This week, I had a meeting of the Mastermind group I belong to with three other health coaches. Last summer, we participated in a visioning retreat in which I unearthed this creative itch that needed to be scratched and it manifested as the desire to engage in creative writing. The coach I paired up with during the retreat noted how passionate I was when I spoke about writing…and so I decided it was time to do something about it.

To make a long story short, I spent several months last fall diving into the writing process. I compiled all of my ideas and inspirations into one notebook. I choose one of the story ideas and I started writing. I blocked time on my calendar each week to do so. I was going strong for a while and then things slowed down over the holidays. Things picked up again for a short time in January after one of the other health coaches turned me on to and I signed up for the writing class with author Judy Blume. I was inspired by her story and appreciated her advice about the writing process. But gradually over the next month or so, I found myself devoting less and less time to writing. There was always some other pressing project or assignment that needed to be worked on and I stopped making time in my schedule for writing.

I shared my lack of progress with my Mastermind group this week and lamented the fact that my writing had pretty much ceased, although I was not ready to give up on it completely. I questioned though how something for which I had displayed so much passion last summer could fizzle so quickly. One of the other coaches gently shared with me that in her experience with creative professionals, including writers, it takes both desire and discipline to accomplish their creative pursuits. And that it is the discipline that keeps things going when the desire may be lacking.

Ping! The light bulb went off and I realized I had completely lost the discipline when it came to my writing. I was not carving out protected time to devote to this endeavor. In fact, it made me realize that I have not been doing a great job in general with time management, particularly on the days when I don’t work at my part time job. Those days are supposed to be for my other professional pursuits, including my private wellness business, my writing, and my Nia practice. I had started to let personal appointments and errands creep into those days instead of waiting until the weekend. Fridays, which are typically open for me and a great day to devote to creative pursuits like writing, had gradually started to look like Saturdays. I might catch up on email and perhaps draft a blog post, but I’d pretty much call it a day by lunch time and essentially waste the rest of the afternoon tooling around on social media or watching reruns of Friends with my daughter after she got home from school. Not that spending time with my daughter isn’t a good thing, but the TV could wait until after I finished my work.

What I am essentially trying to say is that when I take a good, hard look at my schedule, I have the time to focus on my writing. I just haven’t made it a priority. I have been letting the desire (or recent lack thereof) drive the process, rather than building in the discipline to help sustain my effort regardless of whether the desire is present or not. One of the suggestions I have seen is to write every day, even if it’s just a bunch of gibberish or a stream of consciousness. Oftentimes, we may not feel motivated to work on a task but once we get going, the inspiration comes.

The discussion about my writing was a good wake-up call for me. I am going to take a step back and re-evaluate how best to use my time in order to accomplish all of the things that I have said are important to me, including writing. It may be that I am trying to do too much and if that is the case, I will need to reprioritize and choose the ones that mean the most. Or I may find that there is ample time for all of my pursuits once I establish a little more structure to my schedule and remove some of the “time sinks” that have derailed my efforts in the past. Either way, I am feeling renewed excitement about the possibilities.