I love to work. I feel pride when I create an excellent product, or write a smart and convincing paragraph, or (more recently) learn a trick in Excel that allows me to sort efficiently through data to find fact-based answers instead of opinions or conjecture.
I feel most like myself when I’m working well. While I don’t live to work exactly, I do gain a lot of personal fulfillment from my career. When I’m putting in a lot of hours or trudging through a difficult project (like I am now, with a dark and twisty project I am managing that sometimes feels like it is managing me), it is easy for me to flip to the dark side. I can begin to despair: I am terrible and worthless and stupid and eventually they will notice and my career will be over. Which, as a side note, might be because smart girls are socialized to believe they received innate smartness at birth instead of learning that good results are achieved through hard work.
Have you been here too? Have you obsessed over the tiniest details of your workload on a Saturday afternoon while going through the motions of a weekend shopping trip? Do you stare out the window of the car mentally re-hashing a meeting or remembering things you should have or could have done while the other passengers are jamming out to AC/DC? (You do still jam out to AC/DC, right? There really is no better driving music.) Have you spent too many evenings in a row, crashing on the sofa after dinner and binge-watching television that really isn’t that interesting (I’m looking at you, The Killing) so you don’t have to think or talk or decide anything?
When over-focused on work results, I begin to slip out of my personal life. I lose track of time, or forget things I would otherwise always remember. I recognize it quickly, but sometimes it takes me a few weeks to take action. (Once I act, I always feel really stupid for waiting so long.) When the working is too big and the living is too small, what I really need is to create something beautiful.
The underlying problem of it all is that I’ve forgotten to do the things that make me feel alive and proud in my non-work hours. When work demands a lot, it is too easy to give up writing time, blogging time, photography or reading or biking or yoga classes. But I’m learning that it is precisely those things that I often consider selfish or unnecessary extras that keep me alive. To bake bread, plan a delicious dinner party, browse a used book store or plan a trip or choose a new fall color scheme for this space.
When work gets hard, I must force myself to remember what is so easy to forget: I get to choose what I do, what I value, and where I focus. This week, I choose to live a beautiful life.
I mentioned last week that I’ve been working on my blog, putting in the time behind-the-scenes to make this space better. I’ve been re-labeling categories and editing or deleting tags, which requires spending a lot of time in my old posts. Lord have mercy, the graphics. Nothing humbles the spirit like the blog posts you wrote three years ago.
I have a lot of work to do before this first step is complete, but as I review and organize my old blog posts, I’ve noticed something. Again and again I’ve told you about these great ideas I have, some new routine I want to adopt to improve some facet of my life or some new skill I want to develop — and then, nothing. Nada. Just a bunch of quiet, a mention of what I ate for breakfast or a quick photo of a fish I caught, until I’ve come up with some other new and different goal, skill, adventure to talk about.
I talk about things here as if I have everything under control and really believe in my success. I write about a new idea or habit with the attitude that once I’ve written about it, it’s basically done. But that isn’t how things work. Writing down a goal or telling you I’d like to change my habits or patterns makes no difference in my actual habits or patterns. Whether I post it on the internet or attempt to make some kind of related graphic does nothing to change that — I still have to do the actual work.
It’s easy to forget the work, isn’t it, when we’re so full of ideas? It’s exciting at the beginning. Those first few steps are pretty fun. But now that I’ve re-categorized 50 blog posts and deleted the 100 tags, I am so over this whole blog-improvement effort. I want to move on to the next step and start working on cool new content and moving my blog to a new host. I’m tired of trudging through the muck of old blog posts that probably aren’t all that good anyway.
But if I really want to change anything, if I really want any of my ideas and adventures and attempts and habits to stick, to become part of my real life, I need to go deeper than the surface and really put the time in. That’s true when I’m working to become a morning person, or plan our meals each week, or add a little sparkle to my daily life, just like it’s true when I want to make my blog work better for you.
This middle part — the part between starting out on a new journey and completing your goals — it’s kind of boring. I’d like to skip right over this part and get to the good stuff, but I don’t have any good stuff right now. Instead, I have long, steady, tedious work that continues. So far, this work has created a new menu for you on my blog — a menu that isn’t quite finished. Well, the menu itself is finished, and if you look up top you can see it right now(!!!). It has drop-down menus to find content by category and sub-category. The content isn’t fully aligned to the menu yet, so there might be a few surprises in there. But I’m working, and I really want to finish this thing, to complete this task as well as others that will follow. Only 350 blog posts and 800 categories to go.
I connected with my law school mentor this week. It’s been a while since we were in touch. She shared some good news I wanted to hear, and I shared a link to the panel on creative writing projects by
prisoners INCARCERATED PERSONS I attended last week.
It was just a few emails, sent back and forth while we were each doing our own regular work. Nothing important, really. I asked about her daughter’s first year away at college; she asked how my husband’s job was going and if we’d fallen in love with Chicago yet. [Quite well, and yes! a little more every day.] She asked about my current work, and I wrote back about my ongoing project and how I was surprisingly very happy even though I wasn’t currently practicing law. She replied,
Wow, [pink-briefcase] — that is amazing. Those are some incredible skills you are learning. What is the hardest part? Where do you see yourself after this?
We talked a little more, about law school rankings and the future of legal education and the flowers blooming there but not here, but those twenty-five words worked a powerful magic in my heart.
. . . .
I have a supervisor that isn’t my supervisor at work. He is kind of a mentor, kind of a boss, and kind of a friend. I’ve learned a lot working for/with him. Every now and then, when things get rough and I start to feel on edge, I read over an email he sent one day, which started off:
Your professionalism, persistence, patience, exemplary work ethic and positive attitude have been evident to all throughout this project.
On days when nothing goes right and all I can do is put down my pen and shake my head and pour the tea and start over again, this sentence waits for me. I look up and see it, hanging on my blue bulletin board right above the empty jar that once held black-raspberry jelly my husband’s grandmother made us for Christmas, which now holds pens and highlighters and a pair of scissors, and I read those words. I remind myself that one bad day cannot cancel out months of hard work.
. . . .
I’m not sure that either of these mentor-friends knows how important their words were/are to me. I didn’t write back “HOLY COW THAT IS SO NICE I’M GOING TO PRINT OUT THIS EMAIL AND HANG IT ON MY BULLETIN BOARD AND LOOK AT IT EVERY DAY FOREVER.” I said thank you and continued on, slightly embarrassed about all of the fuss. No perfectionist really wants to be congratulated for doing a good job (don’t I always do a good job? I always try to do a good job! why is this time different? did I screw up something terribly last week?! . . . ). But as awkward as I may feel when I first receive these affirmations, I am completely changed by knowing that people I trust think these things. I am confident and brave and resilient because I trust their opinions of me to be true, even when my opinion of myself falls far short of their esteem.
We talk a lot online about how words have consequences, but we often really mean that words have negative consequences. We criticize and condemn each other too freely, with too little concern for the way another might feel to read a scathing review, a bullying comment, a snide remark. We forget too quickly that it could easily be the negative comments they are printing out and hanging up on the blue bulletin boards of their hearts. Negative words do have an undeniably strong hold on us, but I’m becoming more aware of the immense power positive words hold as well.
It’s been a long winter. I can’t remember a day that I haven’t made the choice between snow boots or regular boots. The snow boots usually win out. I’ve worn my full-length eggplant purple coat nearly every day since the package arrived in our gym. [We get packages delivered to the gym in our building. It’s a little strange.]
There are a lot more weeks of winter-ish weather ahead, but I’m so ready to wear something different. I’ve been online window-shopping like nobody’s business. I know it’s better to spend your clothing budgets on quality, not quantity, but these items are just thrifty enough that I might pick up one or two to add a little spice to my sweaters and wool slacks while I wait for signs of spring.
Except, probably not the shoes. I think it’s going to be a while before I can go outside without warm socks. But a girl can dream, right?
The sun is shining today, so even though it is literally 12* with a wind chill of 3*, I went out to grab lunch. I need to see the sun, my body soaks up the light and immediately converts it into happiness.
I’ve discovered this winter that while my calorie counts and daily food costs are lower when I pack my lunch, I really need the break that purchasing a meal requires. I need to stand up and physically step away from my desk. I need to bundle up and walk the block or two to grab warm food. I need to see other humans living and thriving in this cold to remind me that I can live and thrive too.
Today’s lunch: teriyaki chicken on napa cabbage with two BBQ pork bao, purchased from Wow Bao. I love Wow Bao. The WordPress App has trouble embedding links now, but if you’d like to check out Wow Bao just visit http://www.wowbao.com.
This weather has reminded me that I am strong. Because honestly? It has never been so cold that I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Is it a little crazy to walk four blocks to yoga at 9 p.m. during a polar vortex? Perhaps. But I did it anyway.
My home-loving introverted self may be genetically predisposed to living in the freezing cold Midwest after all. (Please note I never have to shovel snow. This may be a factor in my overall assessment.). A Saturday spent indoors baking and watching movies with my little family? Couldn’t imagine a better way to live. It turns out this whole winter-living thing is a little harder on the extroverts among us.
I’ve been struggling with writers’ bloggers’ block this week. I wanted to write about my goal to change the way I define myself. I wanted to tell you that I’ve noticed a change in how I describe myself to others: that I just introduce myself with a long list of plain boring facts without including any mystery or magic or hopes or dreams. I wrote and re-wrote and edited and began again so many times, but it never felt right. Instead of continuing to struggle to get the words in the right order and explain how I noticed this change and what I’m going to do to fix it moving forward, let me just tell you straight:
I want for my identity to be more than just a list of the things I do each day. I want my hopes and dreams to be wrapped up into who I am. But instead of trying to rationalize some alternative approach to introductions and self-awareness, I’m going to attempt each day to squeeze a little mystery and magic, some mini-version of those hopes and dreams into my agenda. I’ll give those plain boring facts a little extra sparkle.
Would you like to join me? Is it true, just maybe, that you would also like to have a little more magic in your daily endeavors? I’ve been thinking of a few ways for myself, but would love to hear your ideas too.
In the mornings:
- Make a special breakfast like my friend Osheta.
- Write in your journal.
- Stretch and use your joints for five minutes. (My yoga teacher reminded me last week that the fluid in our joints only moves when our joints move – there’s no internal pump like there is for our hearts.)
- Wear lipstick. Dust off those hot rollers for a little extra bounce. Pull out the nice jewelry.
- Play some pump-up music.
At the office:
- Make a cup of tea at 10 and again at 2. Just because.
- Hang an inspirational quote. Write something funny at the top of the daily to-do list. [While you are at it, write down the time and room number of all of your meetings.]
- Drink that entire bottle of water before lunch. Refill and empty again before you leave.
- Take your lunch break. Use it well. Turn your computer screen off, look out the window, walk outside, or read a poem. Promise to take at least ten minutes away from the screen.
- Splurge for the nice pens. Bring them to work with you.
In the evenings:
- Cook something fancy, or scramble some eggs, but turn off the TV while you eat.
- There are more than enough calories left for a little chocolate.
- Dance party.
- Dig those cute jammies out from the bottom of your drawer.
- Brush your hair. Apply lotion.
- Light a candle and write in your journal. (Or maybe something more like this?)
- Read a chapter from that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for three weeks.
A few years back I was speaking with someone I care about, and he was telling me about his ongoing job search. He said he wasn’t really going out of his way to find a better job, but he’d be very happy if something good fell in his lap. He just wasn’t the go-getter type, and was waiting for the right thing to come his way.
And I thought: “THAT IS CRAZY. HOW CAN YOU EXPECT THE RIGHT THING TO JUST FALL INTO YOUR LAP? YOU HAVE TO TRY TO FIND A JOB, YOU HAVE TO NETWORK AND GO ON INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS AND VOLUNTEER STRATEGICALLY AND, oh here’s an important thing, ACTUALLY APPLY FOR A JOB in order to get a job offer.”
But I probably said something more like “Oh, well, I guess that could work too” and then changed the subject. It’s hard to disagree with the people you love sometimes.
* * *
These past few months I’ve been waiting for Chicago to feel like home and waiting for inspiration in my writing and waiting for some kind of clarity to appear in my career path, doing exactly what I very clearly believe (see above) is not going to get me where I want to be: stalling my life until something good happens, without making much of an effort to find what I wanted. And while the rest has been beneficial for me in so many ways, it’s time to stop letting the seconds tick by without action. You can only let so many seconds slip through your fingers before years have passed, and I want every single one of my years to count.
So, I’ve chosen a word for 2014 that is going to shake things up. People do this “choose-one-word” thing all over the internet, but I’ve never done it before. Until now. Because right now I really need focus, and energy, and drive, and I think that one big word to rule them all [all the resolutions, that is] will give me a head start on making this year awesome.
So here it is, y’all. My word for 2014.
I’m going to try a little harder, do a little more, and do those things more enthusiastically. And when I see something I want to do, or somewhere I want to be, or some skill I want to develop I will think about it a little less and DO IT a little more.
So, what about you? Are you setting resolutions for the year, or choosing one word, or both? I’m probably doing both, but this is where I am right now. If you’d like, share your resolutions/words in the comments here.