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6 Simple Life Lessons To Be Learned From Spoon Theory

6 Simple Life Lessons To Be Learned From Spoon Theory

If you’re like most people you’ve probably found yourself repeating that there aren’t enough hours in the day. But what if when you woke up every morning you had fewer to work with than everyone else? What if instead of 24 hours you had only 12 Or 16? How would you compartmentalize your day? What would you prioritize and what would you set aside?

What if time wasn’t an issue but the time-saving tools available to you were? I’m not talking about smartphones, tablets, and the other electronic devices that simplify tasks, I’m talking about your own body. Imagine going about your day—cooking breakfast, driving to work, sending emails—with only one hand or without the ability to see or hear. There might be as many hours in the day for you as for everyone else but you suddenly feel like you need twice as many, because every task you complete (major or minor) takes twice as long.

As impossible as it might seem, millions of people living with chronic illness or disability cope with these challenges every day. As a person with a visual impairment I often find myself struggling to explain the daily challenges that living with a disability present in a way that doesn’t evoke pity. Instead I aim to educate and motivate others to face their own challenges, because to suggest that so-called able-bodied, healthy people don’t face challenges is unfair. However the key I’ve learned is perspective. It could be worse: you could be dead.

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Recently several friends and I were discussing the day-to-day challenges of living with a disability or chronic illness: from the minor inconvenience of asking a friend to drive you to the grocery store, to the sometimes incapacitating exhaustion that can make getting out of bed and brushing your teeth seem insurmountable. In reflecting on how to articulate these challenges, a friend helpfully directed me to Kristine Miserandino’s “Spoon Theory” article. Miserandino (who has Lupus) created Spoon Theory to describe the way that people with chronic illness or disability have to measure out the energy it takes for them to function. The idea struck her one night while at a diner with a college friend, when her friend suddenly asked her what it was really like to live with Lupus. Miserandino grabbed up all of the spoons on the table, handed them to her friend and directed her to imagine beginning the day with a certain number of spoons (twelve in this case). As she listed the tasks she performed each day (from dressing for work to cooking dinner) Miserandino took away one spoon. The game became a useful way for Miserandino to walk people through the myriad of obstacles she faces daily. Spoon Theory has become shorthand in the discourse to express the overwhelming exhaustion and frustration of running low on energy. “I don’t have enough spoons” can mean anything from “I’m too tired to cook” to “do I really have to get out of bed today?”

As I read Miserandino’s article I started thinking about how transferable Spoon Theory can be for anyone because it speaks to the importance of prioritizing life’s responsibilities and placing things in a practical perspective when the to-do list seems intimidatingly long. Here are six simple things Spoon Theory can teach us about the role that mindfulness plays in taking each day as it comes.

1. You can’t do everything: deal with it

In a world where smartphones, tablets, and digital assistants allow us to schedule every moment of our days, we’ve created an illusion of endless opportunity. Nothing gives me a thrill more than ticking off an item in my iPhone’s to-do list – but more often than not, I’m still left lying in bed frowning at the boxes still unticked. Part of this has to do with the practical reality of living with a disability; certain things just take twice as long. A fifteen-minute run to the grocery store might turn into a two-hour long adventure depending on public transit, cabs, and friends with licenses. This doesn’t stop me from filling my daily diary with a list of items that would make even Wonder Woman run for the nearest mountain retreat. I always wake up thinking I’ll have time to clean my house, run errands, work both of my jobs, solve the problem of world hunger, cure Ebola, and cook a meatloaf. The truth is even the most active, able-bodied, time-efficient person still winds up with the same number of hours in a day as anyone, and everyone needs to pause and recharge occasionally when we run out of spoons. Learn a lesson from T.S. Eliot: Measure your life in coffee spoons, not ice-cream scoops. Take time for yourself and
accept your limitations.

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2. Accept help when you need it

We’re not meant to journey through life alone and sometimes we make our lives more complicated when we pretend we have superpowers. This is actually one of the hardest lessons for people with disabilities and chronic illness to learn, because we live each day trying to prove to the world that we can achieve independence. When I feel overwhelmed my friends will point out that I’d make my life a lot easier if I’d stop being stubborn and accept help will ease my burdens rather than be an admission of defeat. It’s a lot easier to cart a sick guide dog to the vet in a friend’s car than in a cab. When someone offers to help you, let them. You’re not being weak. You’re being human.

3. Celebrate your body

As Baz Lurhman tells us in Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen, “It’s the only one you have.” Be grateful it works. Just pausing to admire a sunset or jogging on a crisp, autumn morning might seem mundane, but it’s a luxury that many with chronic illness or disability don’t have. You won’t always have the energy to revel in your body, because you’re not a superhero. Just as you need to learn to accept your limitations, you must also learn to see your strengths for the gifts they are.

4. Help others when you can

Sometimes there’s nothing quite as frustrating as looking for help and finding none. Even something as simple as holding the door for someone whose arms are full of packages is a gesture that acknowledges the fact that we all need a hand sometimes. If you find at some point during the day that you have a spoon to spare, share it with someone who could use another one.

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When I was in college, I lived on the top floor of a walk-up apartment and I used to walk to the grocery store regularly with my guide dog. While I enjoyed the independence, I sometimes forgot that I could only buy as much as I could carry. Plus, what I could carry was limited to one hand since the other was a full keeping a hold on my eager-to-please Labrador. One afternoon I returned to my apartment (weighed down with bags) to cook dinner for myself and my roommate, and It only occurred to me as I approached the stairway that I wasn’t going to make it safely up three flights of stairs unless I made several trips. I needed the exercise, but I’d already walked home. I was sweaty, my dog needed water, and my shoulders were aching. After resignedly setting down several packages, I made my first trip upstairs only to discover on my way back down that one of my neighbors was on his way upstairs with the rest of my groceries. “You looked like you could use a hand,” he said simply. It might seem insignificant, but he gave me back fifteen minutes of my life that I could spend casually sipping my wine and chatting with my roommate while I chopped vegetables – and I’ve never forgotten that.

5. Make time for loved ones

Miserandino points out in her article that sometimes the simple pleasure of going out to dinner with friends after a long day will cost her a spoon. A spoon she might need to clean her house or go to the store. She writes that Spoon Theory forces you to think about everything you do. Relating the story of her first use of Spoon Theory with her best friend, she recalls saying “I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted spoons, and I chose to spend this time with you.” We all have to make choices about how we spend our time. A wasted spoon is a wasted opportunity. Choose your spoons wisely and if you have the time and the energy for others, take advantage of it.

6. Do at least one thing every day that makes you smile

In the same way that our hours are numbered, so are our days. The difference is that we know how many hours we have left in a day but we don’t know how many days we have left of our lives. Whether it’s sending your best friend a selfie you took of yourself in a silly hat, reading your favorite book on your morning commute, or pausing in your work to give your dog a five-minute belly rub, take the time to make yourself smile. Every time you smile or laugh, your brain releases endorphins which are basically the body’s natural opiate for reducing stress and pain. This is how we recharge our batteries. Watch a hilarious movie. Have a chat with a friend. Click through pictures of cats on Instagram. Ultimately, do whatever it takes to replenish your supply of spoons.

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Featured photo credit: Colorful Spoons via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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