This morning I was contemplating joyfully and with some curiosity the blank canvas that is the next chapter of my work life. It feels like a fresh start, that opportunity to re-invent my daily rituals, hone my purpose, and choose the colors for the palette.
Though I am not a visual artist, and only dabble with colors and fun materials now and then, I can appreciate that excitement of a blank canvas. As a writer, it is a little like the blank page, that space of infinite possibility before the words start spilling out. I face it with excitement, and a little unknowing. Where will this go? What am I trying to say?
Since I generally write to understand any new concept, or even myself, there is always an air of mystery about it. As a blogger, I have learned to embrace the empty page as a sacred space where I am invited to create. It is our greatest privilege as humans, our creative energy, and I think it is where we meet our divinity.
I find that I want to experiment a bit, not to rush into splashing color onto the page, but to spend some time preparing the colors, feeling what wants to emerge. I greatly appreciated my solitude yesterday and the ability to respect the rhythm of my body, working and resting in a ratio that felt right. My coach and I decided on some “homework” for the next week, and I was able to accomplish the items on my list.
If I were an artist, I would run my hands along the blank canvas, noting its texture and honoring this gift. I shall have to resist a trip to the art store to do this, but maybe it is time to get out my colors and sketch pad.
Do you have a ritual for honoring the “blank canvas” times in your life?
I had a weird feeling as I was doing my chores on Sunday, getting ready for the upcoming week. My husband has been on vacation with me for the past 3 weeks of my sabbatical and he has to head back to work tomorrow. It was that “Sunday blues” feeling…
But then when I remembered I am not going back to the corporate job I had before, I had a sudden burst of happiness and relief. This was quickly followed by the realization that I do not have an income right now, so will begin work in earnest to conjure up freelance consulting projects.
I will work from home and finish revising a piece for I was asked to write for my alumni magazine. I will narrow down my focus and the “offer” for my consulting practice, attend a session with my coach, and schedule networking appointments. I will go to a Zumba/dance class for fun in the evening. I will de-clutter and map out my plan for the next couple months. I look forward to these activities, so the Sunday blues is not necessary. That feeling is simply a habit, not actual dread for the week (as I used to experience so regularly, especially facing the hundreds of emails post-vacation).
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I know my former team will be meeting in Miami this week. I won’t be there, but I was initially involved in choosing the meeting date. I will miss them, but I am relieved not to attend the meeting. Is this feeling vicarious dread for the cross-functional meetings they will have to endure (that I found so painful and pointless)?
Perhaps. That is some weird pathological empathy, methinks. Maybe I will explore this with my coach.
My husband suggested my blues may be related to the uncertainty of not knowing what is next. I agree. I will need to make my own decisions about where to focus and what to prioritize. While I also did this before, it was often more a function of which department was most “on fire” rather than what was truly most important.
This week is mine. I get to define how I will spend it, as we all do. I will choose how to make the most of it. This new beginning is a time of joy, gratitude and opportunity. I will overcome those habitual responses, and embrace my freedom.
Do you ever sing the Sunday blues? Are there ways you can change your tune?
I was sitting in a cafe yesterday writing in my handwritten journal, having dumped coffee on it 10 minutes earlier in my haste to start eating my breakfast.
The older man asked me, “are you a dedicated journalist?”
I responded, “I do enjoy writing. And I do it every day, or nearly so.”
“Wow,” he said, “I write often but sometimes not for months.”
Then he told me a story of some notes he’d taken last November while his wife was sick and in the hospital for 2 weeks with a mysterious illness. She asked him to record some of the things that happened, and the symptoms. He said it was hard to go back and write that up, even though he had a lot of notes.
I commented on writing about times that are difficult in our lives. It can be difficult, when the event or period was emotionally charged in some way. It requires us to relive that time, and sometimes we re-experience those emotions. But at the same time the writing is therapeutic, and it releases something, like therapy when the story is told and “witnessed” by ourselves or a compassionate person.
We talked for a couple minutes and he apologized for the interruption but I went back to think about his question, “are you a dedicated journalist?”
I love the act of writing, so much so that I lose myself in it at times.
It occurs to me that Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert have written about this concept at times, the sad fact that we only value things that we get paid for in this society.
But some of us create art, writing, music, poetry because we must. Not because we expect to get paid. I mean, certainly making a living is important. In fact, I need to dig up some consulting work in the next couple of months or I’ll be looking for a “regular” job again. But sometimes we must release something in us onto a page. Brene Brown said once in the Magic Lessons podcast “unused creativity metastasizes.” I believe it.
Maybe I’ll add “dedicated journalist” to my Linked In profile and see what comes of it.
When I quit my job in the corporate world recently, most of my colleagues were excited for me. They assured me that they knew I would succeed at any chosen path. It was a confidence-booster. I was grateful for their kind words.
There were people who seemed very worried and concerned for me, leaving the “mother ship” as I used to call my former workplace. What would I do if I did not find another “gig” right away? Or if it did not work out to be self-employed?
To be honest, fear of failure was not on my mind. I am more concerned about decisions I will make about which direction to pursue. Since I was a young girl I wanted to do LOTS of different things in my life. I still remember being very distressed when someone asked what I was going to be when I grew up (around age 6). I listed off a bunch of things: teacher, writer, doctor, actor, store owner, etc.
The woman who had asked the question had good intentions, I suppose, but she laughed and said, “Oh honey, you can’t do ALL those things. You will have to choose one (or two).” I was immediately sad and surprised too. Seriously? You could only do ONE thing in your life?!? Crap!
I suppose that was much more true then than it is today. So she was not really trying to burst my bubble. She just did not understand my intention. I got bored easily when I mastered things. And I suppose that might have been a clue that I had an active imagination and could create compelling visions of possibilities in my life (and maybe a sign of a.d.d.)
It never even occurred to me that I might try one of those careers and fail. My parents, bless their hearts, had helped instill confidence in my abilities, and in my resilience. I still remember my Dad teaching me about “meta-cognition” when I was in grade school. Thinking was important, he said, but understanding HOW we think (or learn) is even more important.
Recently as I was completing an application for a fellowship I had a major realization – sometimes I have a greater fear of success than I do of failure. Huh? Who is afraid of success?
As an introvert, I have often looked to leaders or people who are very successful in their careers (say, in public speaking) and thought: that’s so awesome. But I would hate to be surrounded by all those people all the time… yikes. While I like some professional acknowledgement, fame has never really been a goal for my life. I value my privacy and solitude too much.
It did not occur to me that success can look a lot of different ways, or that I could succeed in a career and set appropriate boundaries around my time and space. When you are successful, people seek you out. I guess another of those fears has to do with the future – if I succeed, people will have even greater expectations of me. I will have greater expectations of myself as well.
Where does that end? Oy! The thought makes me tired.
Right now I am considering my definition of success, first of all. For some people, that means money, a nice home, a fancy car, a corner office. I am not the kind of person that craves a lot of material things. I feel pretty weighed down by things, actually. I love going on vacation adventures, so regular travel is part of my success definition.
I love time and space. I love the ability to think, learn new skills, take classes, design workshops and collaborate with my favorite people. The spaciousness of my days has been a distinct benefit to this sabbatical, and I am trying to figure out how to build this into my new gig.
My hubby might say that success means I can retire early and do whatever I want. While that is a lovely idea, I actually enjoy working, when I do the kinds of things that make my heart sing. Success is about giving back, because to some extent, I feel I have already succeeded in my life. Sure, I failed at certain things I tried. But I learned so much along the way.
Truly I am happy in my life, right now, and I appreciate the wealth of my relationships. Ultimately is that not the best measure of success?
This week’s edited piece is from a post I did back in December 2017. As I get ready to meet some deadlines for writing projects, it is a great reminder to just get the work drafted.
To those of you who are waiting for your blogs to be perfect to publish them, here is some advice I got originally from Brooke Castillo of the Life Coach School podcast.Do B minus work, but get it started ahead of time. It echoes advice I have received from other authors like Anne Lamott and Brene Brown: settle for shitty first drafts the first time out (SFD’s – aka stormy first drafts).
This is great advice for those of us who suffer from perfectionism. Often we procrastinate because we worry about our idea not being good enough or our final product not being polished enough. This is especially true for women, it seems, so we delay holding up our hand when we already know the answer.
We may need to practice greater confidence when it comes to starting things. Just getting started, and getting it out, we overcome the “activation energy” it takes to get the momentum moving. For me as a writer, I seldom struggle for a topic. Give me a topic and I can rattle on all day about it if you want.
But when it comes to telling a story or constructing an argument effectively, I know it takes me more time to get it right. Even if the words flow out, and they typically do when I give myself uninterrupted time to write, the final product is not complete.
It is best when I allow the words to flow and not worry too much about structure or ultimate form of a piece. When it comes to blogging, it is inherently a shorter form. I struggle with not going on for TOO long, so I often write a first version during half an hour in the afternoon and then return to edit in the morning when I am fresh.
At that point, I typically add graphics, correct grammar, perhaps cut out sections or paragraphs or sentences that wander and make sure the idea makes sense.
Not worrying too much about the reception of an idea is another way to get the work out there quickly. We can only know what is in our own minds, not what will resonate with others. So it is best not to worry and obsess about what they want, and focus instead of what we want to say (despite my recent worry about this).
What I realize now is that my blog has become a place where I can try out ideas, play around with stories I find interesting, or concepts I am trying out in my life. I have nothing specific to “sell” out here, and sometimes I have gotten useful feedback on my ideas.
The practice of sitting down once or twice a day and getting those ideas onto the screen has helped me clarify some of the questions I ask myself. Over time, the answers get refined, and the focus gets clarified.
If I do not start with B minus work, there is no opportunity to shape and polish it to become “A” work. But one of the great secrets to adulthood is that there are no grades anymore. We do not have to rely on others’ evaluations of us to be successful.
Every day we can decide how we want to assess our own success, and the quality of our days. That is probably the best news ever. If we can be kind to ourselves and acknowledge that we did the best we could for that day, it is always enough.
This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.
In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).
In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.
I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.
Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.
If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.
Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.
What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?
My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.
What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know.
I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.
Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.
What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.
I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).
I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.
When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.
There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.
As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.
What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?