I may need to reinforce some limits around my writing time, allowing myself just an hour each day. At least while I am still working full time in clinical research. I can lose literally hours off the clock when I am researching or writing on a topic that interests me, and I get to play with words, ideas and stories.
This week I am at a regional work meeting in Belgium and I am called upon social with my colleagues. I enjoy the opportunity to meet 1:1 or in small groups and have face-to-face conversations with those I usually interact with via phone or email. However all of the initial small-talk required when meeting so many new people drains my energy.
It occurs to me that maybe my soul is asking for a more minimalist approach to work networking and people-time, and this is another reason I am bringing this current phase of work to a close by September.
I feel at my best when I am doing “deep work” which involves thinking, reading, writing and synthesizing research. I still intend to make time for teaching, offering workshops and facilitating small group meetings. But my best ideas and most productive periods seem to emerge after periods of luxurious solitude and reflection.
This summer I am planning for 4-6 weeks off starting in August/September, if I can make it work between work “ventures.” Let’s see if I can honor that and keep the personal and family budget discipline it will require to make this break happen without undue stress.
I know if I declare this intention in writing, there is a higher likelihood I can make it happen. I am not as good at having accountability to others (it can sometimes cause me to rebel), but I tend to be better at honoring my word to myself.
What makes you lose hours off the clock? Do you have a creative practice or hobby that, when you start working on it, causes you to lose all track of time?
This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.
The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.
Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.
I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.
On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.
Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.
We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.
We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.
Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.
Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends?
I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.
Yesterday I made an exception to my usual no alcohol rule and had a “Pink Killer” Belgian beer which had grapefruit juice and a lovely fruity finish. It was on the lighter side in terms of alcohol content, and I enjoyed it.
This was during a walk around the historic downtown area with two colleagues, one who had arrived a few hours earlier than me on Sunday. He had headed straight out to explore, as it is his first work-paid trip to Europe, and he does not want to miss a minute of the experience.
I used to do more of that, but this time, when I arrived after no sleep on the overnight flight, I treated myself to an short nap and some quiet and solitude during the afternoon my hotel. While I felt a little guilty about not making use of the sight-seeing time, I know it is a necessary part of centering myself for a busy and people-filled week.
I realize now that my choices reflect a feeling of sufficiency instead of scarcity in my beliefs. I do not feel a desperate and grasping sensation of never having this opportunity again. Instead of telling myself that “I’m missing out” I say instead “I am taking care of myself.” That makes a huge difference in the way I show up and honor my needs without guilt or shame.
Granted this was not an automatic process, and involved a little self-coaching when I started feeling bad about not getting out. It was a conscious choice to tell myself a different story, to help take a perspective that is nourishing to me. It takes practice, and requires patience with old patterns. But the more practicing I do, the easier it gets.
I once took a sick day from a temp job because I was reading a book I loved so much I literally could not put it down. That was in my 20’s and the job was in an office, for a bank, nothing I was passionate about, though it paid the bills.
Lately I have been toying with the idea of writing fiction, and there is a story that I have begun getting down on paper, a few paragraphs here & there in my journal. There are a few characters forming in my consciousness, and it is a “road not taken” kind of story perhaps relating to aspects of my own life. But the characters are distinct from me, and seem to have minds of their own.
I’ve been considering how to get more time for my writing. Even though I have not interviewed yet for a position that is kind of exciting to me, I worry that a new job means I would have to focus more on that work, and less on my own creative endeavors. Then I remember the advice that Liz Gilbert gave to a writer during her podcast “Magic Lessons.” It was to “have an affair” with her art, which in her case was painting.
She explained that people who are having affairs, despite having busy lives, somehow find a way to fit those steamy encounters into their lives. The affair provides a nuclear energy boost, and even though it is not front and center in terms of one’s time and one’s external priorities. Sneaking away to do this thing is delicious and exciting. And our creativity has a desire to have an affair with us.
This feels like where my writing resides right now, in that “stolen” morning time before I get myself ready for work. It is sort of a sacred time for me, and while I keep up the appearance of a “normal” life on the surface, I like having this other aspect of me. I do not share it with everyone (or in the case of this fiction, anyone), and yet it excites me.
When I stopped doing a daily post for a while, thinking I would give myself more time, I actually struggled with getting the energy to get my “regular” things done. While I know I do not have to post publicly every day, but then I *DO* need to generate my work anyway. Because it sustains me and thrills me.
There is some part of me that knows that if it were the main event in my life, it would not feel this exciting and thrilling. Keeping a life that sustains me, and work that pays well, as long as it is not too all-consuming, allows me to find excitement and spark during these stolen moments with words, color and creativity. And perhaps that is why it is so appealing, because it is a treat I give to myself.
Are you having an affair with your art? Do you sneak in the time no matter what else is going on? I would love to hear if this concept resonates with you.
I recently decided to cut myself some slack in not posting as often on my blog, giving myself Tuesdays and Thursdays off my internal obligation to write, so that I could free up time to work on a few other things, like my coaching homework.
Observations so far:
Yesterday I felt an urge to fill my usual writing time with media input instead, in the form of podcasts and audio books. I had a hard time turning these off as I was getting ready for the day. It’s like I was trying to get a cheap thrill rather than the nourishment I usually feel in writing.
I had a lot less energy for work-related stuff, and even for coaching homework. I felt like something was missing; I sensed a loss of what gives me a zip of energy in the morning, the process of creating something complete, even if short, and publishing it.
I had a sense of dragging myself through the day, trying to “bribe” myself to do work, but not managing to stay very focused. Usually I have a lot of meetings scheduled on Tuesdays, and this time, I only had one. There may be a certain calm before the storm at work, as it is close to fiscal year end for us (April).
I did some hand-written journalling throughout my day as I tried to get myself out of this “funk” but it just seemed to weigh me down further. Yuck.
I procrastinated on things I wanted to get done, rather than tackling them right away in the morning like I usually do. There was a lot of thinking and noodling around, and some research, but it did not feel very satisfying, and I did not complete anything on my list. Lot of of unsatisfying starting and stopping rather than follow-through…
Conclusion: Sometimes time is not the relevant variable in our day. The energy we bring to a task is just as relevant, and the resistance we feel toward doing some tasks can be very draining. I realize that even though I had blocked off time to do the necessary things I’d planned to do, I just didn’t get the “oomph” needed to do them. Maybe it was just a bad day. This is very atypical for me, and when I get going in the morning, I am able to knock a bunch of things off my list by noon, giving me proper momentum in a day.
The other possible factor: I have been procrastinating at completing the budget and finance piece of my coaching homework. I know this is dragging me down as well. Last August I purchased a “Money Clarity” course – there were 10 lessons space over the course of a month. I did the “easy 6” and skipped the 4 hard lessons. It’s time to come back to those now. There is no way I am going to figure out my “next big thing” without getting very comfortable with my money management.
Much as my “inner brat” likes to throw a tantrum rather than work on this, it is time to face the facts and live and spend more consciously, rather than throwing my money away or spending frivolously instead of intentionally. I have done this close and intentional observation work before on food. Like Geneen Roth says in her book Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money many of the principles are the same, but they take hard work at first, until they become more regular habits. It is time!
While it is natural to feel resistance to change, sometimes our long-term well-being depends on it.
In this big, wide world with so many channels, choices and chatter, it can be hard to find our focus and stick to one main goal. I really struggle with this intention. I like to take on a lot of new things, but then sometimes I find that they “pile up” and start to crowd my life, in a way.
I generally try to put a constraint around things like the blog, for example. I give myself a limited amount of time each morning 30-45 minutes, to write the content. Sometimes if I am looking for photos to add, it can take up to an hour. But I try to make sure there is a limit. I could literally spend hours writing if I allowed it (and maybe someday I will), but I have a “regular” job. At least today that’s what allows me to pay my bills and not strangle my creativity by trying to make it pay.
As I near my 200th post (this Saturday!) I am considering whether to impose another constraint, to help me focus on larger projects that have been scratching at my consciousness. Since October 1st I have been posting daily here. Sunday is a haiku and it is short and sweet, though I cannot always resist 2 or 3 verses. And Saturday has become a blog share day, to pass along some love to other blogs I have discovered and enjoyed. So in a way, I already imposed some constraints that helped me find writing rhythm in my week.
I truly enjoy this daily ritual, writing whatever I happen to be thinking about each morning. So I hesitate to pull it back. It has given me structure and focus, and even when I have had to travel for work, I planned ahead and made sure to plan short posts sometimes scheduled for while I would actually be on an airplane.
There is a little thrill when we hit the “publish” button (do you get that too?) and our work goes out into the world. Even though I try not to get caught up with how many “likes” or “views” any particular piece has, I sometimes do consider it. Truly it fascinates me, which topics resonate with people, not always predictable and often a surprise for me.
Now that I have had some time to develop a regular writing practice, though, I strive for a bit more focus on some longer and “meatier” pieces, perhaps to submit to publications. I told my husband: I have a book in me (or three) and I would like to consider whether that is my ultimate goal. I sense a transition in my own creativity, and may need to constrain one area of my writing, so I can generate greater focus on another part. So again I toy with a frequency that will work for me.
When I imagine cutting back to once a week, as many bloggers do, I get this “muzzled” feeling which I do not like. I then consider 3 or 4 times a week as a reasonable limit. It allows for me to get my blog “fix” and generate some short(ish) pieces as warm-up writing and to keep myself loose. But it also allows for those other mornings when I can assign the time to a few project ideas that are longer and more involved, that require some editing and polishing.
Are there areas in your life where you recognize constraint helps you focus? Do you struggle as much as I do when you first consider cutting something out to make room for other things? I would love to hear about your experiences with this in the comments.