10 Goal Setting Steps to Success

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is something about the cooler weather and beauty of the leaves turning colors that bring a refreshing change in perspective. Nature is discarding the old to make way for the new.  There is a fresh beginning in the atmosphere as school starts across the country and fresh excitement builds.

Starting a school year is a great time to re-evaluate your goals.  Remember those New Year Resolutions?  If you haven’t checked in on them yet, now is a great time.  Never made a resolution?  Now is a great time to set some realistic goals.  This is a great time for students and parents alike to set up goals for the year.   This is a great time to set up a vision.

Where do you start?  How do you set goals that will make a lasting impact? Should they be long term or short term? 

Let’s demystify the practice of great goal setting.  Here are 9 simple steps to goal setting and achievement.

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals | John Doerr

1.      Evaluate/Discover Your Why: Goals, by nature, are to help you become a better person, better at something.  They are a progression toward success.  Before setting a goal, it is essential you discover your strengths and weakness.  What are you good at?  What are you not good at?  What skills do you have?  What skills do you need?  What are your fears?  Weaknesses? Passions? Values? Knowing where you are starting from is essential to know how to get where you are going.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail Big, To Dream Big – Denzel Washington | Goalcast

2.      Dream Big: Life is short.  What is the point of goals if we are not dreaming big!  Some questions to ask might be if today was your last day, what three things would you like to do? What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Why is that important? What does success look like in 3 months? 12 months? 5 years? Make a mission statement.  Have a word to ground you this year. Put that mission statement and word in a place you see it daily.  I use my planner and have the mission statement and word as my wallpaper on devices.

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3.      Triplets: Setting goals takes utilizing little action steps.  I use the triplet technique.  What three things will I do every morning and every evening?  What three ways will I connect with my family and friends?  What three things will I avoid? What three ways will I reward myself for success?

Everything About Vision Boards – How to Create and Use a Vision Board

4.      Vision Board: I love a good vision board!  I also, love one that is easily changeable.  A good vision board should show the END GOAL.  This will serve as motivation on those days you have no energy or desire to put in the work.  Those days will come. I use magazines, art, leaders, and celebrities I would want to immolate, and quotes on mine.  I have a financial advisor that had a voided check written out to him in the amount of $1,000,000.00 on his board with a glamourous house.  I have a friend who wanted to go to Harvard.  Her board had a picture of the school and the campus colors.  Once you have a board, put it where you will see it all the time.  My son has his in his room.  I keep mine in my planner (so I can see it no mater where I am).

SMART Goals – Quick Overview

5.      Set some realistic goals: Often I am asked if a student for school should focus only on academic goals.  I say no.  A student is a person; a person should focus on all aspects of their life when goal setting.  When setting goals, consider setting personal goals, family/friend goals, and academic/professional goals.  Each goal needs to be clear.  Have a purpose behind the goal.  The reason for doing something is essential to motivation to succeed.  Set the action steps up right then.  Set target dates to achieve.   I like to start with three goals in each category for the year.

Target dates are flexible, but help give a deadline to work toward.  These should be specific.  The key to goal setting success is specificity and motivation.  The more specific the goal, action steps, and target date are, the more likely you are to succeed.

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6.      Monthly focus/Action Steps:  Each month, I choose a new word to focus on that supports my yearly word.  I start the month looking at what I need to do more of and what I need to less of.  This helps me set my monthly smaller goals in each category (personal, family/friends, and professional/academic.   I also use this time to break each goal down into tangible smaller action steps I can reach in a month. 

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7.      Track Progress: It is easy to get discouraged when you do not see progress.  Good progress is slow progress.  Those who follow me, know I love tracking progress in all aspects of life. I bring this same practice into my goal setting.  Each month, I use the Habit Tracker for each goal I have.  This lets me know which days of the month, how often I am succeeding, and how often I am not succeeding at my goals.  This is a quick look at where I have succeeded and failed. I use this simple document (free download below). Each goal gets its own monthly tracking grid.

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8.      Reflect and Review: Achieving goals is a process.  We learn through reflection and review.  Without evaluating where we have been and where we are, there is no way to achieve accomplishing what we set out to do.  Weekly, my family reflects on what we are grateful for.  Life is hard and failure is a part of the process.  But focusing on this can be debilitating in a number of areas.  Finding one to five things a week you are grateful for, helps change that process.  Each month, we look at the top 5 things we accomplished.  Then we look at where we failed to make progress (or flat-out failed).  The Habit Tracker helps us evaluate.  But, we also discuss how we are feeling about our progress and WHY we failed or succeeded. I know I am pushing knowing the why, but reasons we do things helps us understand our success and failures. 

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9.       Revise: Reviewing and reflecting on goals is not helpful if you do not take action on what you learned.  Use this time to re-evaluate and revise your goals.  Life moves at a fast pace.  What may have seemed doable a month ago, may not be impossible in that time frame.  You may need to move your action dates.  Or maybe, you realize a goal is not for you.  This is the time to see what needs to change in your goals, your life, and action to make success a reality.

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10.       Reward: I love rewards!  I am a firm believer in rewarding yourself for achieving the difficult.  Knowing there is a reward at the end of the line, is great motivation to keep moving when things get hard.  Sometimes it is a simple matter of making a deal with yourself. When a goal is achieved, or a significant milestone, reward yourself.  Lost weight? Get new clothes.  Learned a new instrument?  Set up a concert or video share? Mastered the sewing machine?  Share the product with your family and friends.  Rewards can be big or small. 

Goal setting is so important to self-growth, growth in business, growth in our relationships and so much more.  Teaching our children how to set and achieve goals is a life lesson that will benefit them in more than just academics.  Doing this together as a family will strengthen your bond.  Goal setting as a family also gives an added benefit of built-in accountability partners. 

Lessons for Our Children: Life is Sacrifice

Sacrifice.  Most of hear that word and think of sacrificing sleep, or spending time at home for one more hour of work. 

Throughout history and religion, there are countless stories of father’s laying down their lives for their children or sacrificing happiness for the happiness of their children.  From Abraham and Isaac to God and Christ, to Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian bookshop owner, who uses his rich imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp in the movie Life is Beautiful.

But sacrifice is more than just the grandiose gestures.  Sacrifice for your children is a daily cross to bear.  Although moms across the world sacrifice sleep, beauty regimes, time with friends, and often put dreams on hold, fathers sacrifice time with children, being at games and recitals, and seeing the tiny changes that lead to the big results.

How many times did your dad sacrifice watching his favorite movie so you could watch yours?  Or your husband sacrifice sleep to get the yard ready for your kid’s birthday party or build that Christmas present?  Or sacrifice a promotion for time with you and your child so your child could stay in the same school and graduate with his friends? Or when their country calls on them to serve, unceremoniously answer the call. 

Sacrifice is life.  Men have an uncanny way of showing this without making it an “all about me” parade.

Father and Son competing at ESPN Wide World of Sports together

My husband has made countless sacrifices to create a better life for our family and our son.  It is scary to hear your child be given a lifelong diagnosis.  It would be easy, and we know parents who have, let the diagnosis become a crutch, a way to explain away poor behavior, a way to not invest in the next generation.  But my husband did not.

Enjoying the gym Dad made for him

He took this word from the doctor’s and decided it would NEVER define our child.  He sacrificed his money to new tools, modalities, and things that would help our son learn to grow into the great man he is sure to be.  He built an entire Ninja gym in our garage so my son would have somewhere to go when it rains (which happens almost daily here), sacrificing his “Man Den.”

My husband sacrificed his time – in the critical ages of birth through five – as he deployed half the year every year, during the war so our son could have the medical care, quality home, and best education possible.

He sacrificed his career switching career fields so our son would have more of a chance to have a father in his old age.

Dad coaching in the long jump

The sacrifice of time is just not away from the children.  It is away from the things they prefer.  My husband has spent the past three years coaching my son in football, track and field, and long-distance running.  He sacrifices his Saturday mornings of sleep to get up at 5:00 am to run, work out and coach our little one to be better today than he was yesterday.  And those lessons extend beyond the field and track. They cross into school, family obligations, and even into what he wants to do when he grows up.

Sacrifice.  It is hard.  And we ask our fathers to do that every day.  Yet, we seldom say thank you to them.

This #FathersDay week, let’s make it a point, to continue to thank, celebrate, and edify our fathers.  Let’s remember that #dadsmatter.  Let us show them we know this and we are so grateful for them.

Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

Loitering. Looting. Larceny.  The streets are full of people making awful choices.The headlines read of significant disruption.  It is scary – regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or health.

We live in a society where we wonder, where have all the good men gone, as a popular Bonnie Tyler song puts it?

We wonder how we have come to a place of violence over diplomacy, hatred over love, and narcissism over selflessness.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

It starts with our dads.  It takes a dad to teach manhood. 

Moms are great teachers of academics, compassion and mercy, but, sorry moms. There are somethings we women just cannot do as well as men. One of those things is teaching a man how to be a man. 

What our society is calling out for is for dads to be recognized for their importance and necessity. 

Before you read this and think, “I am single mom, I don’t have a choice,” or “my son’s dad walked out on us,” or “that is just not an option;” let me encourage you in is.

There are so many ways to be a father figure to the next generation that does not require biology.

There are so many ways to be a dad to those in your neighborhood, community, and churches.  All it takes is the willingness to pour into the hearts of kids and the effort of setting aside an hour a week, a call a day, showing up to the milestones.  Be a coach.  Be a mentor. Be a Big Brother.  Be a youth leader. Be willing to answer the call.

There are men who want to help. Men who want to teach and mentor; all they need is someone to ask. A group of 600 men answered a call to come to a breakfast at school. The results were astounding!

My brother and his beautiful family

One dad who has really epitomized this heart for love and mentoring is my brother, Jason Black (if you have time, check out his story of surviving two near death experiences and rising above it; you won’t be disappointed). 

Jason spent his years growing up helping take care of us (there are seven in total).  Having spent this time investing in us, we were not surprised he delayed having children.  What did surprise us was that he had four biologically and found he still had more love to give.  He then adopted two more. 

I was privileged to live with this family right after grad school for a couple of years.  I got to see firsthand the heart of this father.  He faced challenges of multiple kids, finances, and the strange looks as people saw his two children of color and one child with special needs.

Never did he let these challenges affect how much love he poured into his kids.  Each child, with different needs, are loved the same amount.  They are held to the same standard of excellence.  They are encouraged, challenged to be their best, and taught how to stand up for what is right and excellent while accepting responsibility and accountability for their actions – good or bad.

Khristian – the Strong and Confident

My nephew was adopted from the foster system at eight.  He struggled with identity, self-esteem, and accepting love – for good reason.  He had been in the system his whole life, in more than five foster homes by the time he came into our family life, and the stories he could tell you would astonish the most hard-hearted.  He had lived a hard life no child should have to live. 

When Jason and Tausha took on this opportunity to love someone more, they knew it would be a challenge (what kid isn’t).  This actually disrupted the birth order in the family making my nephew the oldest; it brought in anxiety and frustration to the house as everyone transitioned to a new normal.  They had been warned about having a child of color and the stigma, racism, and anger that would follow them around the rest of their lives. It would have been easy to quit or say no from the get-go. 

But they did not. They chose to love instead of ignoring.  They chose to accept this little guy the way he was.

Khristian is now a star athlete on the high school football team.  He was featured as an upcoming athlete to watch as he begins embarking on transitioning from childhood to adulthood and the college world.  He has grown from a shy child into a confident, loving, intelligent man.  This was possible because he was invested in by a man who was not genetically tied to him but is now tied for life through the bond of love.

Khristan and his three younger brothers

Khristian is a man who steps up in times of trouble and anxiety.  When his younger brother was bitten by a Western Diamondback Rattle Snake and spent two weeks in a hospital having multiple surgeries and treatments, Khristan stepped up at the house as a leader to his younger five siblings. While his parents took shifts at the hospital, he helped with homework, calmed nerves, and helped with all the little things that often get missed in times of great stress. He took the leadership learned from his dad and invested love where it was needed.

When I look at this family, I see exactly what our society needs.  We need more men to pour into the others. We need more Jasons who are willing to step up where there are holes in the community.  We need heroes.  We need to celebrate men and the importance of them. 

We can do better than looting in the streets.  We can do better than ignoring men.  We can do so much more than accepting the narrative women are better than men.

Let’s celebrate how much men have, and continue, to do for our children, our communities, and our nation.   Let’s spend this week leading up to #FathersDay remembering how important the family unit is.  The father unit is.  Let’s celebrate #DadsMatter, #BackLivesMatter.

Get involved. The nation has spent the past two weeks calling out for dad’s, mentors, and leaders to step up. The phone is ringing. Are you going to answer?

An easy way to celebrate dads this week is to join a youth group, coach a sports team, volunteer with a literacy program, or join Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

Don’t let genetics be what stops you from being the mentor and coach so many of our youth are hungry for.  Let me know what you did. Send me you stories and be sure to use the #dadmatter.

For more resources on how to get involved, check out Mentor, The National Mentoring Resource Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.  

Failing the Apocalypse on Easy Mode

Abandoned grey brick building ob blue sky day

“I can’t seem to find a groove.”  “All the doors keep shutting in my face.”  “If schools don’t open back up, my kid and I might not be on speaking terms till graduation…eight years from now.”  “Last night I ate an entire bar of cookie dough and hid in my closet for an hour just for some peace and quiet.”

Sound familiar? 

Parenting was hard before COVID-19, but at least there was a break with school and playdates.  At least there was a distraction with school projects and team sports.  At least it did not feel like you were in this on your own with no instruction manual.  Can you relate?

Countless friends of mine who were so excited for a “forced stay-cation” with their spouses only a few weeks ago, are now praying diligently for their spouse to go back to work and leave them alone.

Work, for those who are blessed to be employed, has begun to feel like every move is the wrong move.  Teams no longer work like well-oiled machines.  The discord and frustration have heightened as plans to re-open and get “back to normal” seem to be weeks away or worse ill-advised.  Minutia seems to be the focus instead of quality production.

Design desk with woman head in hands

Emotions are high. Patience is low.  The threads of relationships have started to fray. As a friend jokingly stated a few weeks ago, “We are failing the apocalypse on easy mode.”

Before those emotions take over, think about what that statement means.  We are not combating corpses that have come to life to eat our brains.  We are not fighting Thanos.  We are not fighting aliens who want to take over the planet. 

We are fighting a virus invisible to the naked eye. We are fighting our own selfish desires to have what we want when we want it how we want it.

The playbook for this fight?  Be in the comfort of our homes, watch Netflix, eat bonbon, and enjoy a walk outside with the people we love the most. 

So why is domestic violence growing at an alarming rate globally?  Why are we finding ways to yell at each other?  Why do we feel like we are alone in the fight?

 “Why” is the wrong question.  We know why. 

It’s time we ask what are we going to do to change this behavior and emotional state?  In ourselves.   For our families, friends and coworkers. 

Data Charts and Bar Graphs

1.       Metrics:  Anyone who has worked a single day in any industry hears the word metrics and knows their bottom line will be affected by this one six-letter word.  Those in production industries work diligently to get their metrics up and keep them up.  Metrics are great for giving us an insight into how we are doing and where we need to work a little harder or differently.  This is a successful model in businesses across industries.  Let’s use this model in our personal lives. 

Set a metric for the production of quality family life.  How much time do we spend investing in our families compared to watching that Netflix show?  How often do we have to nag/ask our teenager to do their laundry versus them doing it themselves?  How often are we serving others versus serving ourselves?  These key metrics can give a great baseline for significant growth in our personal and professional lives. 

One Small Positive Thought in the Morning Can Change Your Whole Day

2.       Change your Focus: The most impactful leader in history, once stated, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Another way to say this is where your focus is, there your heart will be also. 

In his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling gives an excellent realistic view of the world using stats and studies from his years as a physician and academic.  Rosling uses global trends in health economics to show how much better the world is than we allow ourselves to believe.  Understanding stats and metrics are so much more important than the number.   Let’s use stats as therapy.   Change the focus from the negative to focusing on the positive and the progress made and keep moving forward.

Enjoy the Little Things

3.       Be Grateful: We are not fighting zombies!  We are not fighting aliens!  We get to spend time with our families.  We get to have a home-cooked meal at the kitchen table.  We get to get back to our roots.  1950’s America has been idealized for decades.  Now is our chance to get that back; only this time we are working from home on a more flexible schedule. For more ways to shift to a grateful attitude check out my blog on the power of words

New Years Resolution Quit Making New Year’s Resolutions

4.       Work on that New Year’s Resolution: Did you know 80% of New Years Resolutions fail?  There is a lot research into why this is.  Time. Thinking not doing.  Doing it alone.  Not tracking progress.  Forbes, BusinessInsider, and Psychology Today all address this.

We have been given the opportunity to not only have the time to work on these resolutions, but to do it in an environment with our best support system – our family.  Want to lose weight?  Use the time you would have been commuting for a work out with your partner.  Want to get better in your industry? Read together for one hour a day.  Want to know what is really happening in your teenager’s life?  Get on the video game with them.  You get healthy, spend quality time, and invest in each other.  For more ideas check out my blog on surviving social distancing

Woman pointing a viewer to be the solution

5.       Be the Solution: We know there is a problem.  Instead of complaining about the problem, choose to be the solution.  Find ways to get involved.  For some great resources on how to get involved in all aspects of the community including first responders, teachers, religious leaders and more, check out my articles on ways to give back and Captain Corona and the 19-COVID Warriors by @MelissaGratia.

 This is not the apocalypse. There is time to redeem 2020 and really begin to change the world, our world, our communities, for the better. We don’t have to fail quarantine and social distancing.  We have everything we need to use this time to reset and refresh.  It’s time to choose.  Where is your focus?

The Power of Words: Or How to Create a More Positive and Productive Environment

“My kid has too much autonomy. I just had to calm her down from a screaming fit,” my manager told me as we have a one on one monthly meeting via Skype for Business.  “I am so tired.  A day feels like a month and a month feels like a day.  I can’t even keep track anymore.”

“I can’t wait to get back to normal when my kid can get out of my hair for once,” a friend expresses over a virtual cup of coffee.

“Can you believe the curriculum they are teaching?  Who comes up with these questions?” A post repeated on social media.

“I can’t wait for my spouse to go back to work so I can get back to routine with my child.  My spouse just gives in to any whim.  I am going backward,” said spouses across the world who are not used to 24 hours 7 days a week contact.

 Sound familiar?  Maybe you have said one of these? Thought one of these?  Posted one of these? 

If you have, you are not alone.  What do all these things have in common?  They are all complaints

MRI scans of the brain and complaining
Images of the Brain Complaining
CREDIT: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain

What Complaining Does to the Brain

According to Travis Bradberry, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart,  a typical person complains once per minute in a typical conversation!  This is very unhealthy because our brains are creatures of lazy habits.  When we repeat our pattern, our brain takes less work to repeat than learn. 

Think of teaching your kid to tie a shoe.  When we first begin the process there is push back, frustration, a lot of concentration.  But once it is learned, and repeated (usually multiple times a day), it becomes second nature, and the child no longer thinks about the process. 

The same is true with our words.

Images of D. Emoto's research on the power of words on water crystals.
The pictures show the observations of Dr. Emoto. The nice words of affirmation create beautiful geometric shapes while the negative words create damaging shapes.

Words Have Power

On Solomon Island giant beautiful trees sometimes need to be cut.  When this is a particularly challenging task, the locals perform a special curse. They join together and yell insults and other derogatory words at the tree, and according to local legend, the negative energy transfers to the tree which then falls within a couple days.

In his book, The Hidden Messages of Water, Dr. Masuro Emoto, reports on his studies on the effects of words on water crystals through high-speed photography and found water crystals formed beautiful geometric shapes when words of love and gratitude were spoken near the water, but destructive shapes when evil words were spoken.

If this is what happens to plants and crystals, how much more does words affect the human mind and health?

According to Stephen Parton, complaining actually KILLS YOU.

Try the Complaint Zapper

How to Move from Complaining to a Gratitude Attitude

Solomon, credited as the wisest man ever to live, said “the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit,” (Proverbs 15:4) and “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” (Proverbs 18:21).  Did you know there are over 126 passages in the Bible discussing the tongue? 

It appears, in this matter, faith and science agree.  Stop complaining!

But how do we do this?

There is a lot of research on behavior showing numerous ways to modify behavior from eating too much to not sitting down while doing school work. The same theories and practices apply to our minds. Here are three simple ideas on how to move from complaining to a gratitude attitude.

From the mouths of babes: How to use positive words

1.      Replace your focus: How many times have you watched a movie or show and fixated on the message, the scenes, the story long after it ended?  Read a book you just couldn’t put down?  Where you focus is where your brain will go.

When I was learning to drive, my mother told me, “Where your eyes look is where the car will go.”  I have learned this principle applies to my mind as well. 

If I focus on negative, my tongue is negative.  If I focus on what is wrong with the world, my tongue reflects that. But, when I focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– anything excellent or praiseworthy—my entire world changes from all things against me to peaceful, strong and enduring.

2.      Replace your behavior: It is easy to say think about good things and entirely different to actually do it. One way I have replaced my tendency to complain is (as trite as it sounds) is to count my blessings. 

In our family discussions of the day, for every bad thing we say, we must say three positive things for the day.  If I had a bad day at work, I am now forced to think of blessings (that car that let me in before the light changed, my son getting his school work done early, lunch at the table with my hubby).  Suddenly, what seemed like the worst day has transformed into a really good day.   

3.      Practice. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal.  There are a lot of calendars and planners that actually have recording your blessings as part of planning for the day; our favorite one this daily planner.

I enjoy doing this as part of my daily meditation when I work out.  Using that last little bit at the end of a work out (when endorphins are naturally high) to focus on good, re-sets my brain. 

4.      Accountability:  We are only as strong as the team we have around us.  The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.

Share your desire to change focus with your spouse, friends, and family.  Then ask them to hold you accountable to this. 

May family around the Liberty Bell in Disney World.
What I am most grateful for: my family who can spending time together.

It is easy, especially in quarantine, to focus on the negative.  It is easy to want to vent this to your spouse, friends, the world.  But, I caution too much of this will physically and emotionally destroy. 

I encourage you to make shifting your focus from negative to positive a priority. Ask for an accountability partner in this.  And remember, this is a daily discipline.  This will not become second nature until you make it a discipline.  Like all disciplines, it grows with you and molds to where you are and what you do.

Let me know how this works for you.  What is working for you?  What strategies have you used?  What did not work?  I love hearing from you. 

Celebrate Life

Being the middle of seven children, I have seen the gambit in behaviors. Everything from stitches and fights to games of “War” and dances. I have been blessed to always have a sibling on my side when life turns a sour leaf and family around for holidays…and sometimes when I don’t want them.

But, not everyone is as blessed.

Special needs children are one of the largest groups of children in America…and unfortunately, one of the most often forgotten and ostracized. Many hear the words “special needs” or “Autism” or “Down Syndrome” and immediately think “stupid,” “hard,” and “pity.”

They could not be farther from the truth!

Our little bundle of joy was diagnosed with Autism at age three. And, like all parents who hear that, there was some fear and trepidation (a discussion for another time). At the time, and up until he was about five, our kiddo did not speak. There was loud screams, throwing, tantrums and the like because speech communication was not possible. Getting dressed was a chore as he could not put socks on by himself much less zip a zipper to his pants or button his jacket.

Hard. Yes. But, do I need to be pitied? NO!

You see when my son first started to say small sentences – PURE JOY! When he started to be able to zip his pants – JUBILATION! When he started to got straight A’s having to be pulled from class on a daily basis for doctor’s appointments – PRIDE would be an understatement. I even told my husband my kid was the smartest because he did what streamlined kids did in half the time!

What living with a special needs kid has taught me is… [Read more…]

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1. Celebrate Life

In our day and age, it is really easy to get down and out. We are inundated with negative thoughts and reality. News broadcasts deliver only negative news and life hits hard when it hits. Seeing the negative is like pouring a cup of coffee – most of us do it without even thinking.

Living with Autism teaches celebration of life. When you can constantly find growth it is easy to be optimistic. When you can see that life is not in a diagnosis but a person it is easy to enjoy the beauty of a hand-painted birdhouse or a freshly made pot of coffee.

Life is about teamwork. And when you have a great team (my husband is a rock star!) the support makes life that much more colorful and brilliant.

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2. Enjoy the Little Things

I will admit there are days when life feels like it will sucker punch me every chance it gets. But who’s life doesn’t do that? Living with special needs does not mean that life is easier or harder than for anyone else. It just means we (those of us who have special needs in our lives) face different challenges.

So, like every other family, we celebrate the little things.

We celebrate cutting a straight line. We celebrate our little one talking and playing WITH a peer. We celebrate the full sentence. We celebrate jokes.

These little celebrations may seem little but they are HUGE accomplishments. And they remind us that we are more than scary words. Doctors do not always know best. Just like with every other kid, our kid is more than the sum of his doctors’ visits and school meetings.

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3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Prior to special needs, I would sweat the small stuff. Little things like my sister not emptying the lint trap in our family dryer or how much the scale tipped when I stepped on it were heavy weights on my shoulders.

Autism taught me life is more than the small stuff. There are bigger things to worry about in life like family, doctors, and school.

If it is a choice between my son thumb sucking while focusing on homework or throwing a tantrum because he does not want to do homework, guess which one I am ignoring?

If it is a choice between not reading and reading a comic book, guess which one I am telling his teacher he gets to read?

If it is a choice between rocking in his seat and being quiet or jumping out of it screaming, “Pick me! Pick Me!”, guess which one I am telling the teacher to ignore?

There are big battles and small battles and some battles you just don’t fight. Special needs have taught me how to better see the difference.

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4. Don’t Miss Out!

I know many families in the special needs world. Many on the Autism Spectrum. A lot of families think this diagnosis is an end-all to life as a family. Many do not leave the home…ever. Vacation – thing of the past. Trips – never going to happen. Movies – dream on!

When the word “Autism” came into our lives, our son was not talking, not potty-trained, screamed 90% of the time, was very hyperactive and threw tantrums that would make The Hulk look like a mouse. But, we made the choice early on to not let the diagnosis dictate our lives. We made the choice to hold our son to the same standards as any other child and not let his diagnosis be his crutch.

(I know I hit a nerve with some of you just now. I know there is a spectrum and big trips are hard. I know about Regressive Autism. I know first hand about the challenges of tantrums, non-verbals, and the complete difficulty it is to even get childcare for a couple hours of respite. I understand the reason some families choose to stay home. No judgment. It is just not what we chose.)

We chose to take our son out in public to things like museums, theme parks, and, yes, movies.

We did not do this without a plan. We made sure to follow all applicable guidance. But we did discover, that for our kiddo, the exposure helped with social situations, speech, and relationships.

We have a don’t miss out mentality that has served us well.

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5. Make Time

It is easy to forget to set time aside for yourself in a regular run-of-the-mill-under-the-radar kind of life. But add in multiple weekly doctors appointments in different cities on different days, school IEP’s, parent-teacher conferences and regular life of working full-time and it becomes really easy to forget about yourself and your family.

I don’t mean you forget your family. What I mean is that it is easy to forget to spend quality time with them.

We have learned that time apart each day whether in a workout, reading a book or playing a video game (yes, I said it) is essential to sanity!

We have learned that game nights, arts and crafts and reading together unite us beyond diagnosis and beyond the stress of the battle.

We have learned that date night does not always (and usually doesn’t need) a sitter. We enjoy a movie night in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We enjoy reading to each other. We enjoy sitting out in the hot tub and talking about life. None of these cost a lot of money. None of these require a baby sitter. And all are an essential investment in our marriage.

More to Life

So, does special needs mean a life of hard work? Yes! But whose life is not hard? Does it mean my life is different than most? Yes, but who wants a normal life? Does it mean I am to be “pitied?” No! If nothing else, I have been blessed beyond most. I have learned more than most. I have enjoyed life more than most.

Don’t let the diagnosis stop you from loving and living life. Don’t let a diagnosis of others scare you off from participating in their life. Don’t let the social understanding of special needs (which is highly lacking and often a misrepresentation) be your understanding of them. Be open. Be honest. Be willing. Your life will never be the same again.