Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just For Today

If you've ever taken a yoga or meditation class, you might have heard the phrase, "just for today." It's one of my favorite phrases. Why? It's a reminder to be present and think about the here and now. Use it as an opportunity to take a breath and focus. Here's my Just For Today List:

Just for today, smile more. See who returns your smile and be thankful for that gift.

Just for today, have fun. My favorite way to incorporate a little fun is to turn on music and dance with my kids. Try a new fitness class or funny movie. Anything that releases those feel good endorphins counts.

Just for today, add a little color to your life. Wear bright clothes. Buy crayons and color away (bonus points for staying in the lines). Paint a room. Buy flowers. Notice the positive shift in your mood.

Just for today, enjoy your family. Ignore the irritating habits that normally drive you crazy. Give them a hug and appreciate who they are.

Just for today, do something that feeds your soul. For me, that's writing. What's your passion?

Just for today, indulge. Watch that awful movie you secretly love. Treat yourself to a mocha. Add fifteen minutes to your walk/run. Savor it.

Just for today, try something new. A new route home. A new book. A new dish for dinner. Let it shake up your routine. Enjoy the experience for what it is.

Just for today, help a friend. Take him/her a meal. Offer an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a hand to help them up.

Just for today, go to bed a little early. Your body and brain will love the extra snooze time.

Just for today, give yourself a compliment. Beautiful new dress? Great hair? A job well done? Take note and let your self-confidence blossom.

Just for today, pass on a kindness. Open a door. Buy someone's coffee. A little kindness has a ripple effect. Be the one who starts the cycle.

Just for today, be honest. With yourself. With your loved ones. With your co-workers. Do this with grace and authenticity.

Just for today, be thankful. For whatever or whomever made your day.


Monday, March 28, 2011

My Inner Critic

I believe Mondays are the worst day of the week. Bar none. I don't know why, but I typically receive the worst news on Mondays. I don't mind jumping back into the daily work and school routines, but I loathe the problems that seem to crop up on this dreaded day. The worst, by far, is self-doubt. For writers, it's also known as the Inner Critic. My Inner Critic is a bitch. She represents my worst fears and my darkest doubts. And she loves Mondays.

I hate to fail. I really do. I work hard to avoid failure (at least as an end result). But every Monday for a few weeks, I've received a rejection from an agent or two. I don't know why they all come on Mondays--perhaps that's the day these agents clean out their inbox, who knows? Regardless, my Inner Critic immediately begins to chip away at my resolve.

"Quit," she whispers. "Let it go. This dream will never happen. You're not a writer. You can't do it."

Sometimes I believe her, and I consider walking away. Don't get me wrong. I believe in my writing, I really do. I know there's room for improvement, which I constantly strive toward. But I'm a solid writer with publishing experience. I also know that in this business, you need at least one other person who believes in your writing--an agent or editor. Without someone like that in your corner, your chance at success dwindles. My Inner Critic knows this too.

"You're not good enough. You blew it. You have no idea what you're doing. Get a real job," Inner Critic sneers.

Self-doubt is the most insidious, damaging energy we encounter in our day. That internal voice slowly, steadily breaks down our confidence with harsh words and carefully planted seeds of uncertainty. We stumble on our path. We question our capabilities and fortitude. We lose sight of where our dreams can take us. We might even give up.

But your Inner Critic isn't done. Giving up doesn't mean she's won. It means you've opened the door and let her in. Inner Critic will attack your parenting, your weight, your self-worth, your finances, your hobbies--nothing is off limits. I don't know about you, but I have no desire to open that can of worms. So how do you combat your Inner Critic? Good question. Today I haven't been all that successful. Normally I'd recommend smiling. Do what you love. Ignore that voice. Push forward. Take a break. Laugh. Whatever method allows you to push that voice to the back of your mind where it's harder (or impossible) to hear.

I wish I could tell you there's a simple, magic formula for eliminating this voice. Maybe there is. I believe it varies depending our personalities and dreams. Our Inner Critics go after our fears. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to deal with that. I do think the worst thing you can do is give in and give up. Perhaps we need to alter our expectations or open our minds to different possibilities. Just don't let self-doubt win. Don't let that Inner Critic have free rein with your fears.

Tonight I'm going to shut mine up with a hot bath, a cup of tea and a journal. I want to write down my priorities so I have something to refer to every time I feel self-doubt creeping in. I hope you find the perfect method for keeping your Inner Critic under control.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Eat Your Words

You know the saying, "never say never?" The older more mature I get, the more I find eating my words to be a repugnant palatable experience. No really, I don't do. I'm talented at using the word never. At least I used to be. My mom has a video of me, lurking somewhere, where I emphatically proclaim, "I will NEVER have children." Three children later, I can only shake my head. I believe I also said I'd never live in a small town, I'd never wear pink and...well, let's just say I've swallowed my words by the mouthful on numerous a few occasions.

And you know what? I'm irritated okay with it. No one enjoys admitting they're wrong. I'm no exception. Ahem...let me rephrase that. I'm a Leo. As The Queen of Everyone royalty, I hate to don't like to admit I'm wrong. As my husband can attest, I'm wrong about one three times a year. I know this because he marks it on the calendar. No kidding.

The reason eating your words can be such a difficult powerful experience is this--it's an opportunity for growth. Admitting you're wrong can do two things. 1) You acknowledge you're human, and 2) you can learn from it. If you're on the other end of it like my husband, you find it incredibly gratifying to be right once three times a year.

Reality checks are dumb humbling and necessary. How else would we stay grounded? Those little (or big) reminders keep our egos in check. They teach us to play well with others. They open our minds to a variety of opinions and perceptions. We don't all have to agree, and we don't all have to be right all the time. If I can admit that under duress, anyone can.

So the next time you consider using the word never, think twice. If necessary, eat your words. Do it with a grimace smile. And don't let your spouse mark on the calendar when you're wrong. Resist the urge to mark on the calendar when you're right. Mostly because you'll never have enough space to write appointments, birthdays and reminders. ;-)


Friday, March 18, 2011

For the Love of Reading

I love to read. I will read almost anything I can get my hands on. I say almost, because there are a few people, namely psycho religious/political zealots, who have books on the market that I would sooner burn than read. Beyond that, I'll read magazines, nonfiction, fiction, memoirs, newspapers, blogs, and the back of cereal boxes. The reason I read is simple. It provides the opportunity for me to open my mind and embrace change.

Notice I said OPEN my mind. Which is why I don't read books by psycho religious/political zealots who have books on the market. Ahem. Okay, now that that's off my chest...

Reading transports you to another world. Say you're reading an anatomy book (yes, I'll cop to this one). You're transported into the human body and its intricacies. Maybe you read a memoir, and vicariously live through the author's experiences. You feel the suspense of a great mystery, and the action of a epic fantasy battle. You even learn that your favorite box of cereal comes with 11 essential vitamins and minerals AND a proof of purchase you can mail in for a cheap toy. This is powerful stuff! :)

A few years back, a book hit the market by the name of The Secret. WAIT, don't run! Stay with me here...I had mixed feelings about that book. I loved how it opened up the door to possibilities. The book provided the framework for people to take a good, hard look at their lives and begin changing things for the better. But it frustrated me because it also tried to convince us that if you just think really hard about winning the lotto, owning that sports car, marrying Hugh Jackman, you could make it happen. Most of us quickly figured out it doesn't work like that. Regardless, it planted the seed that you could try. *Note--this isn't a book recommendation. Some people love books like this, others hate them. My point is to find one that draws a strong reaction from you.

Think of the last thing you read that blew your mind. Whether it made you cry, lifted your spirits, opened your heart or entertained your imagination, think about how strongly it spoke to you and why. The last amazing--I'm talking A-MAZ-ING--book I read spoke to me as a writer. The author made me remember why I write. The impact was powerful, because this industry is harsh on it's best days. But to be honest, I read something every week that strikes a different chord in me. (As a side note, I highly recommend that you email the author who wrote the book that impacted you and tell him/her so. I did and received a gracious response that completely made my day).

I hope you've recently read something that inspired you. Subtle or powerful, I hope it warmed your heart, or made you cry. I hope it propelled you forward, or encouraged you to slow down. Maybe it inspired you to switch cereal to one that contains less sugar per serving than your recommended daily allowance. Above all else, I hope it planted the seed of change. Read on, my friends. ;-)


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Do the Work

I do not understand lazy people. At all. I understand wanting a lazy day, or a lazy vacation, or a lack of motivation. Those are all part of the cyclical patterns of our lives. What I don't understand are the people who want the reward (fame! glory! money! credit!) but won't do the work.

Hard work pays off. Period. Laziness and entitlement? Not so much. Yet the trend seems to swing that way. Unfortunately, no one seems to notice those don't yield results.

Take the writing profession (which is only one example, but one I encounter often). I know many folks who, at some point in their life, get the idea to write a book. I think that's a worthy endeavor, but I'm biased. And I'm always happy to offer advice if asked. It's not an easy undertaking, which is why I'm happy to point someone in the right direction. Notice I said point them in the right direction, not hold their hand. I quickly lose patience with someone who wants to be told how to do every step, and they end up not doing anything for themselves. If you can't spell, learn. If you can't learn, you're not a writer. If you don't know grammar, take a class. If you won't take a class, don't be a writer. If you expect to sell a book two weeks after you send off your first query letter, stop writing and get a reality check. It doesn't work that way unless you're an author who's previously generated millions of dollars in revenue (and even then, it will be a long process).

Instant gratification and publishing are not bed fellows. Never have been. And books don't write themselves (same goes for query letters, synopses, editing, revisions, and research) But guess what pays off? Hard work. Lots and lots of hard work. This includes research, education, reading, practice, workshops, more research, more education...and I'm sure you know where I'm going with that. To recycle and paraphrase a great comment I heard recently (thanks Jean!)--it's your dream, you chase it.

At the end of the day, the book is yours to write, yours to edit, yours to sell. Here are some do's and don'ts to help:
1) Do expect to do hard work. If you love it, it won't seem like a chore.
2) Don't expect someone to make it better. That's your job (see #1)
3) Do be willing to learn. If you assume you know it all, your career will be short-lived.
4) Don't expect anyone to love it the end result. Opinions are subjective.
5) Do ask for help if you're stuck and have exhausted every possible avenue.

I wish you luck, and hope you dive right into that hard work. Remember, it pays off.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Personality Conflict

I love different personalities. The nuances of our psyches fascinate me (with the exception of sociopaths and serial killers). I'm especially interested in two groups, whom I'll call Type A and Laid Back.

Most who know me put me in the Type A category (and rightly so). I've managed to trick a few people into believing I'm Laid Back, but that belief never lasts long. I'm a classic Type A, over-achieving, driven, stubborn, competitive, intellectual who over-analyzes things to death. The upside of this personality type is that we're tenacious, leaders, detail-oriented and typically movers and shakers (though I try not to shake for the sake of those around me). The downside is, we're bossy, we mow people over if they don't move fast enough, we're perfectionists to the point of obsession, we don't always play well with others, and we don't know how to relax.

The Laid Back people I know go with the flow, don't sweat the small stuff, stop to smell the roses, see the big picture, and are team players. On the other hand, they can be unmotivated, too accommodating, and they lack direction because...well, they're Laid Back. As you can see, I don't know as much about this group, but boy would I like to know their secret.

I envy those who are Laid Back. I would love to wake up one morning and smile, knowing my day could go any direction and I would roll with it. (People who know me are laughing right now at the very thought). Despite the image our society has created, multi-tasking, perfectionism, and over-achieving shouldn't be the ideal we strive for. They're mentally taxing. They're so time and energy-consuming, there's not much left to simply enjoy life. And that's something we should all strive to do--enjoy our lives, every imperfect, crazy, amazing moment.

I'm blessed to know people who have Laid Back qualities. They step up and remind me to let go or take a step back. And I swear, I try. I hope I can return the favor. If they ever need someone to mow them, I'm happy to help. But I'd much rather be Laid Back. I'd love to take a day, a week, or a year and meander through life. I'd like to let the experiences come to me, rather than chase them down.

Maybe I'll put that on my Life To Do List. For now, I'll live vicariously through my happy-go-lucky friends and dream.

Monday, March 7, 2011

To Do Lists

I have a love/hate relationship with lists. I use them every day. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm the unofficial Queen of Making Lists, a title that holds no prestige, I can assure you. Most of the people I know use lists. Some are incredibly detailed (can you say anal retentive?), while others are spartan or shorthand. I fall somewhere in between. I wouldn't say that lists rule my life, but I would say they help keep me focused and on track. My typical list includes scheduling appointments, household chores, business tasks and everything in between. On the days where I get to cross items off, I'm pretty happy. On the days where I don't? Not so much.

While these daily lists certainly keep my schedule running smoothly, they're not a big deal in the long run. My life lists, however, are another story. You might also know these as "bucket lists." I think everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should have one. It's a never-ending list--you can add to it whenever the whim strikes you. There are no parameters to what you might put on this list. My motto is, the more impossible or crazy, the better. When I say crazy, I'm not referring to the adrenaline junkies who cliff jump for fun (but if that floats your boat, by all means, add it). I'm talking about the items that have no relevant, practical value to your current life. These are items that, upon completion, will make you deliriously happy.

Sounds simple, right? I wish. For some reason, people are afraid to put their Life To Do List together. The simple act of putting the words on paper makes them...real. That nasty little voice in the back of your head whispers, "How dare you dream so big?" Or "Why would you ever want to do that?" So we never write it down.

If you fall in that category, I recommend that you ignore that voice, gird your loins (I've always wanted to use that phrase) and do it anyway. Right now. What do you have to lose? It's a list! Of your Life Dreams! The beauty of this list is there's nothing that says you have to accomplish a single thing on it. No pressure. But...the genius of this list is once you put it on paper, you'll want to. Devious, right? <insert evil laugh here>

I'll help you out. In no particular order, here's a portion of my list:
1) Learn to speak Gaelic (I have no useful reason for this)
2) Visit Scotland (OK, maybe that's a useful reason)
3) Own a Friesian horse (so if I'm ever a knight, I could have the right horse, duh)
4) Meet Nora Roberts (and try not to kiss her feet and embarrass myself)
5) Buy a Kick Bike (look them up, how could you not want one?)

See? Easy enough. Now it's your turn. Go make your Life To Do List. If you have one started, add three things to it. Put the wildest ideas and dreams you have on that paper. Hang it somewhere you'll see it every single day. Then let it simmer in the back of your mind when it's not in front of you. And when you get to cross the first thing off that list, I hope you're suitably motivated to move to the next, then the next in a cascade of wild, crazy events.

It's the one list I have that I purposefully add to every week with joy. Here's hoping you never run out of ideas for yours.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Move Forward or Move On?

I had a great conversation with a friend today that really made me think (I have brilliant friends, by the way). How do you know when to keep trying or when to throw in the towel and move on? The answer isn't always as obvious as you'd think. Nor is throwing in the towel always a bad thing. Everyone I know has dreams. Some are brave enough to admit them out loud. Some have pushed them to the far recesses of their minds. A select few are diligently, tirelessly working to make those dreams reality.

But how do you know if those dreams are meant to be? If you're working toward your dream and life throws obstacle after obstacle in your path, what do you do? Unfortunately, we rarely get a neon sign that reads, "Stop, moron! You're going in the wrong direction!" Or even, "Hooray, you brave soul! Don't stop now!"

The trouble most of us run into, is in the authenticity of our dreams. By that I mean, is the dream a deep-rooted desire of yours? Or is it one that was created for you from the expectations of others? And by others, I mean family, friends or society in general (think amassing great wealth, becoming an attorney, owning the latest, greatest you fill in the blank). If the dream is yours and yours alone, have you taken every step you know, and maybe some you didn't, to work toward that dream?

If you can say with relative certainty you have, think about this: If you let go of the dream, right here and now, what's left? The answer might be painfully obvious, or as clear as mud. It's a question you might have to sit with for a few days or even weeks. If you let go of your dream, are you left with opportunity?  A blank slate and a fresh start (possibly accompanied by sadness)?  Or would you be missing a part of yourself? An essential component that helps make up who you are?

I hope you give yourself the gift of an honest answer. If your dreams are worth it--really worth it--don't hesitate to move forward. Your opportunity will come. If you discover it's time to move on, don't hesitate to hit the brakes. Make sure you take a deep breath when you do. You'll be amazed at what's waiting for you.