January 17th, 2015 by Katie Morton
Photo Credit: Raneko / Creative Commons
I’m a planner. A dreamer. I love the idea that you can come up with a blissful vision for your life and then live into it, like you’re sliding into a well-worn pair of pants, which of course is a wonderful idea in theory that never works out that way. And so I feel like my biggest struggle in life is to BE HERE NOW, in the messy reality of my life, not how I wish it was.
Today I went to a class about self-publishing fiction. The whole first class was dedicated to pursuing a traditional publishing deal.
WHY did I just sit through a class that’s supposed to be about self-publishing that was about the EXACT OPPOSITE: how to get an agent and get a publishing company to notice you?
Because, as James Altucher would say, we’re all just waiting to be discovered. There are so many of us out there who are waiting for our big, life-defining moment. To lose 40 pounds and to be crowned the proverbial prom queen, to win MVP, to have our moment in the spotlight. To get told—by somebody else, by somebody “important”—for one minute that we’re good enough. That we’re doing it right.
And we’re raising a generation of kids who are told at every turn that they are perfect, that they are more than enough, that they are our everything. And that’s fine. Life will teach them whatever it is that they need to learn.
But about us.
You are doing it right. You are enough. Except you, me, we all need to stop waiting for validation. We need to stop waiting for our lives to come together and feel right. This is it. Today is all we’ve got.
Stop waiting to get picked, and take a good hard look at the life that you’ve built for yourself and see that it’s good…no, that it’s amazing, that it’s better than we could have imagined at some small, stunted, scary part of our lives when we were hard on our luck.
When I look back at all the jobs I’ve had. All the piddly summer jobs that I thought didn’t matter, that in retrospect were the best jobs of my life. Lifeguarding? Are you kidding me? BEST. JOB. EVER. I got a suntan for a living. Yes, saving lives = big responsibility and all that jazz, and it all boils down to AWESOME. Incredibly, because I was a stupid teenager, I didn’t know at the time that this was the best job in the world, that every day was a paid 8-hour meditation session.
Then there were the corporate ladder climbing jobs in my 20s and 30s…in DC when I was so poor it was preposterous, and in NYC when I gradually went from bleeding cash to making more money than I knew what to do with (the answer was that I stuck it all in a retirement account because thank God I am a nerd, and I never knew a time would come when I’d be unable to contribute to that fund).
But still, I didn’t appreciate those jobs to the levels they should have been appreciated any more than I had the good sense to appreciate being a lifeguard. I thought there would be a ticker tape money parade until the end of time. Ha ha. And duh.
These days I’m kept up at night by commercials about contributing to my child’s college fund. And so I’ve learned to be incredibly grateful for now, and the small, quiet jobs that I’m enchanted by, that I might be tempted to take for granted, but by now I know better. That I get paid to sit at home in front of a computer is nothing short of sorcery.
But even still, it’s tempting to take this for granted, these moments, these days. To think instead ahead to when my daughter will be older and more independent, and to when perhaps I will have some success in my fiction career.
But to think that way means to think it will be better when my daughter doesn’t care for me as much, because that’s what happens when a child moves from thinking her mother is her world to realizing that her mother is the same level of delusional batshit annoying as any sitcom mother, but probably worse, because she’s here, live, in the flesh, trying to harsh my buzz and tell me what to do, man.
I was watching author Barbara Brown Taylor talking to Oprah Winfrey, and they were scoffing at how so many people feel the pull, the call for a bigger life. They were discussing with a slight hint of disdain that not everyone is supposed to live a big life, that there is magnificence in the small, ordinary moments of our lives. Easy for them to say as they sit comfortably on their oversized flawless white cushy TV chairs.
But of course they’re right. Taylor said the most important thing people can do in their lives is to look at the big red X beneath their feet and to really be there, to live out of their current circumstances rather than trying to live into a fantasy. I had a huge A-HA moment at hearing that advice, because it’s rare to hear someone say that—unless it’s someone trying to dash your dream or protect you from failure, two sides of the same coin.
Because of course, we’re all familiar with the warning that there’s risk in standing still on that big red X. There’s great risk in doing the same thing over and over again and freezing in place. We rot. We all know that living an inspired and meaningful life means to have big goals.
To keep moving ahead.
When it comes to living your life out of a vision, vs. living your life out of your current circumstances, it’s my firm belief that you must do both every day. It’s important to dabble equally in hope for the future, and in the glory of now. Have a vision for a fabulous life, and hold it in your heart. But then keep your eye on the prize, which, ironically, is your life exactly as it is right now.
When you’re in the present and allow yourself to feel the joy inherent in it, you get to feel how great your life is, the ordinariness of it, right now.
We’ve heard all of this before. Have gratitude. But it bears repeating, because this is all going to end, whether we like it or not, so we might as well enjoy it.
These are the days. The good old days. Happy days. Cherish them. Hug your family and friends tight.
Give your heart a break, every day, and be here now. Let your heart rest on the life you’ve built, for everything you have right under your nose. Not all the plans and the mile-long to-do lists, but whatever is happening all around you.
This morning when I brought my daughter into her preschool class, she was greeted by her best friend, who promptly invited my daughter to her house. These four-year-olds then set about planning how this playdate was going to happen. My daughter recited our address for her friend, who then said, “But I can’t drive.” My daughter offered to drive, as if this is something she does every day. The other four-year-old then lamented that she would have to bring her car seat, and she can’t carry it by herself. My daughter admitted she doesn’t have two car seats.
This is often how we operate in life. We have our vision for how we want our life to go. We want a playdate with fate. Then we set about planning how this is all going to unfurl, but we’re not equipped to get ourselves from point A to point B. At some point we need to make our request and then trust that it will either unfold for us or it won’t, but either way, there’s good stuff right here for the taking.
These two friends have all day to play with each other at preschool. They could stop planning their playdate and just start playing, any minute now.
This reminds me of the time I stepped out of my apartment at some ungodly hour of the morning while the sky was pitch black and the moon was shining. There was a little frog sitting on my doorstep, far away from the nearest source of water. I knew if I left him there, that as the moon sank and the sun rose, he would dry out, shrivel and die.
So I would rescue him. But man, that frog made it way harder than it had to be. First, in order to escape me, he jumped and jumped, slamming himself repeatedly into a brick wall. Then when I finally held him cupped in my hands, I could feel his fear. Where was I taking him? What would become of him? And when I neared a source of water, instead of waiting patiently to be set down, when he heard the roar of the stream swollen by the rain rushing ten feet down beneath the bridge under my feet, he threw himself out of my hands and down into the water.
This is how we act in the hands of the Universe / God / the Force / The Field of Possibility: thrashing blindly, struggling every day against what is, arguing against our realities, not wanting to trust, being unable to gratefully accept that no matter what happens, we’re all going to be okay.
Let your heart rest. Even when you suspect you’re in the hands of a giant who wants to eat you, it will be okay.
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December 31st, 2014 by Katie Morton
Photo credit: Miquel Angel Pintanel Bassets / Creative Commons
Happy New Year! This year I’ve got a super-charged way of creating motivating resolutions, and a method that helps you stick to your plans every day. There are 8 Steps:
Step 1: List 25 Lifetime Goals
Go ahead and be audacious. You don’t need to share these with anybody, but you do need to go ahead and write down the 25 things you’d most like to see happen in your life.
Step 2: Boil Down Your Lifetime Goals to 5
Take a look at your big list and prioritize the five that are within closer reach in terms of timing, and that most reflect your values and what’s important to you in life.
Step 3: List 25 Goals for This Year
Write down 25 things you could resolve to do this year that could bring you closer to these 5 lifetime goals.
Step 4: Boil Down Your Goals for This Year to 5
I know it seems crazy to make these long lists and then cut them down, but your goals and lists are far more inspiring when you need to reach for more—and then hone your focus to your priorities. It reminds you that you have options and that you’re free to choose how to spend your time; and it reminds you of what actually matters to you.
Step 5: Create a Daily Routine
Based on your 5 goals for this year, create a daily routine that incorporates small daily habits that will move you towards your goals.
Personally, I love my daily walks in the woods for both stress relief and fitness, so that’s staying in my routine.
Step 6: Create a Daily Worksheet
Based on your anticipated daily routine, you’re going to create a worksheet that you can look at every day so that you can be reminded of what you need to do to reach your goals.
My daily worksheet includes a series of charts and checklists that cover the different times of day and different goals I have, like:
- An early morning routine so that I get my meditation, journaling, and novel writing done.
- An exercise chart so that I know what physical activities I have planned for which days.
- A dinner section so that I know what to shop for and prepare each day of the week.
- My work schedule so that I can fill in my to-do list for each day.
- A chart to remind me to spend 10 minutes tidying each floor of our home every day.
Step 7: Decide How to Use Your Daily Worksheets
When will you refer to your worksheet? Where will you keep your worksheets so that you remember to check off your goals every day?
If you prefer paper, you could keep your worksheets in a binder on your kitchen counter or desk. Or you could put one worksheet inside a clear plastic holder and write on your worksheet each day with a dry erase marker. Or create digital worksheets and keep them in a folder on your computer. Create a calendar reminder so that you remember to use your worksheets.
Whether you prefer paper or digital, keep copies of your progress so you can look back at the end of the month and evaluate how well your routine is working for you. Then make adjustments to your worksheet if necessary at the end of each month.
Step 8: Swap Perfectionism for Persistence
This is the most important step. It’s easy to make a mistake on a resolution and to use that one screw-up (or even a series of screw-ups) to toss the whole enchilada. Instead, it’s imperative to remain curious to find out where you went wrong and correct course.
For example, if you cheat on your resolution to eat healthy—because you’re human and you will—don’t beat yourself up and then quit. Instead, do a post-mortem to see how the mistake happened, and then make an adjustment, either to your attitude or to your plan. Repeat, ad nauseum.
Keep tracking via your daily worksheets, and adjust as necessary. And voila! You’ve got yourself a winning resolution.
Are you making resolutions this year? If so, sign up for Katie Morton’s newsletter to get a free copy of her ebook 10 Steps to a Blissful Life to learn how to break bad habits and live bigger.
December 15th, 2014 by Katie Morton
Time management sounds like such a dry topic, but it’s really about letting some things go so that you can do what you love. These two strategies won’t work for everyone, and it’s of critical importance to discern which strategy works best for you.
Strategy 1: Creative Mayhem
Elizabeth Gilbert is my success icon. She’s a fulltime fiction author and she has made it BIG in self-help circles due to her memoir Eat Pray Love and her participation in Oprah’s Life You Want Tour. Lucky for me, Elizabeth reveals quite a bit about her inner workings via social media.
Elizabeth says that when she goes on a writing bender, the results are, as she describes it in a Facebook post: “Un-showered, greasy hair, eyes tired, totally falling down the rabbit hole of research…this is me, living my dream.”
I have a friend who can finish writing an entire book in a matter of days—including her book The Time Travel Directorate via the Creative Mayhem strategy by setting aside several hours per day and typing like her fingers are on fire. She’s written six books this year. She has a fulltime job, so she can’t let everything slide, but she lets go of the stuff that will still be there when she gets back. This strategy just plain works for some people.
This is the perfect description of Creative Mayhem. You’re singularly focused. You’re going to do what it takes to get the most important thing done, and pretty much nothing else. Ask yourself, “What’s the single most important thing I need to accomplish?” and then do just that.
To employ in this strategy, you have to be willing to let the small stuff slide, the medium stuff slide, and even some of the big things, at least for a time. You don’t need to spend time showering, cleaning, cooking, balancing your financial portfolio, or mowing your lawn, so don’t! Go ahead and put your time where it counts.
You’ll get the most important thing done! Obviously this is a major victory. How many people in life accomplish the one thing that’s most important to them? Well, you can too, with a very straightforward and simple strategy. In short, don’t sweat any stuff, except for your number one priority.
While Creative Mayhem works for some people, it can lead to serious burn out in others. I’m almost done with my second novel in a trilogy, and there are times when I’ve let creative mayhem creep in; it’s not pretty when it happens to me. I’ve worked so long and hard that my brain finally craps out and I look up in a daze when there’s simply no work left in me, the house looks like a tornado just blew through it, and I can hardly carry on a conversation.
When I feel burned out, I’m not as likely to write again for a few days, which can turn into weeks, and even months. It took me YEARS to write my first novel, and it’s because I would go in fits and spurts via the Creative Mayhem strategy.
Let’s say you’re into painting or making jewelry for puppies or whatever, and you go down the rabbit hole and you’re unshowered, etc., etc. When you’re not even taking part in basic hygiene, maybe there are a few other areas of your life that are in dire straits, like your finances, or your relationships, or for others, their mental health. This is why it’s important to discern which strategy works best for you.
Strategy 2: Creative Restraint
This strategy involves balancing your time between priorities. I’ve heard that we shouldn’t even bother striving for balance, that it just makes people sad and crazy. I tried to find a coherent article that explains this, and the internet is littered with pieces boldly complaining that work/life balance is a big fat myth. Does this mean we should all surrender to feeling depressed and defeated because we will never achieve balance?
I don’t know about you, but balance isn’t an option in my life—it’s a must. Balance or die, man.
When I’m most productive and managing my time well, I write anywhere from one to three hours in a day, but then I go on to fulfill all of my other obligations in life, like exercising, showering, working, and cooking meals. At this stage of my life, I’m trying to take care of my family and every day is just plain better when dinner makes it to the table, even while getting books written.
To reach a balance, I need to use Creative Restraint. This means making time daily to be creative without letting it take over my life. To get it all done, I’ve got to be creative with my time. Here I am writing this at 1:30AM. I woke up at midnight with this idea and it wouldn’t let me sleep. Why waste it? So here I am being creative in the middle of the night.
But I’m not doing the whole “creative mayhem” thing. I’ll go back to bed, and when I wake up, I’ll work on the novel. And when my daughter wakes up, we’ll snuggle and play, and then I’ll get her ready for school, then I will divide my time between my day jobs, and then it’s back to my daughter and family time.
How do I do this? I go to bed obscenely early. I mean OBSCENELY EARLY. I was asleep by 7:30PM last night. You just gotta do what works for you. And what works for me is chunking out my time into one or two hour blocks between several priorities, such as Creativity, Family Life, Exercise, Healthy Meals, and Working my jobs.
You can choose several of your highest priorities and make sure they’re addressed on a daily basis. You can achieve a balanced existence, which is great for mental and physical health.
It’s a delicate eco-system. Some days, certain priorities get completely neglected and the whole balancing act falls apart. It’s hard to reach a sense of completion, and each item takes longer to accomplish over time.
Let’s say one day you wake up with a lovely, boogery, winter cold. Your energy is low and you feel entirely miserable. You’d like to curl up and hibernate in front of the TV for a week. When you’re sick, it’s harder to do anything, from work to getting dinner on the table. If you were singularly focused, via Creative Mayhem, at least you could dedicate time to ONE thing, even if just for a short spurt. Instead, nothing gets done.
And even if you’re not sick, when you devote your time to several different priorities, then as each daily window of time closes, it’s not like, “Oh hey I completed everything I needed to do in that window of time, everything is so perfect!” No, it’s not like that at all. There are loose threads hanging, every day, at the end of every window.
For some people, making these tiny strides is an exercise in futility. If they can’t take massive action and see huge gains, they feel discouraged. The biggest risk of people using this strategy when they aren’t suited to it is that they will ditch their dream in a fit of frustration and die unfulfilled. Yikes.
Every day, I get up and I have all my windows to revisit again. Some loose ends get wrapped up, and other loose ends flap anew. If you’re suited to it, then the biggest downside you may experience to chunking out your time via Creative Restraint is that you need to get comfortable with those flappy ends flapping in your face as you close your window and move to the next activity. That’s life. We’re never done, until it all ends.
BONUS: The “Give Back” Caveat That Works for Both Types
I think it’s really fun to believe in the myth that you could be some solitary creative genius churning out work for an adoring public and people are just going to show up and give a crap. Actually, that myth sucks. Let’s get rid of it.
In order to live our dreams, we need to involve ourselves with other people. But it doesn’t work (usually) to just be a narcissistic windbag shouting, “Look at my selfies!” on Instagram. Okay, maybe that does work for some people, but that doesn’t feel good to most of us. So how do we get peoples’ attention?
Back to painting or making jewelry for puppies or whatever your dream is: that’s great if you can dedicate your life to it, but how do you get people to care? If you’re just filling your garage with paintings as a lone, tortured artist instead of offering your creativity to other people to look at and maybe even consider buying, then you’re just a painter with a hoarding problem.
The antidote is to give back. Even my author friend who can write a book in five days takes the time to give back, in the form of chairing and hosting a monthly writer’s group.
But when most of us hear the term “give back”, we feel pressured. We feel like we can barely keep our own lives together, so how the heck are we supposed to spread ourselves even more thin?
First, here’s a fantastic idea of how not to do it. I volunteered at a hospital when I was in high school, and I witnessed a fair amount of tragedy and loss. I couldn’t process what I was seeing, and I found myself distraught every time I set foot in the hospital. Could other teenagers who were more worldly, more capable, and more self-assured than I was have had a wonderful experience doing the same thing? Of course! And hats off to all of the caring medical staff who can make a hospital run. I hope that way of giving back brings them joy.
My point is that when we think of “giving back”, we often think of working in a soup kitchen or volunteering in a million other heroic ways that might not work for our specific nature. You have to find a way to get involved with other people in a way that gives you joy.
For me, it’s blogging. I try to write helpful blog posts. This is how I give back. For Elizabeth Gilbert, it’s writing a near-constant stream of encouragement and love letters to her Facebook followers. Some people don’t want what we’re giving, and some people love it. That’s cool. Don’t worry about the people who don’t need what you’ve got to give. They’ll find somebody who’s got what they’re looking for, and the people who need you will find you.
But no one will find you if you don’t give back. Try out some things. Find out what way gives you joy. And then do it. When it comes to time management, it’s not just about getting stuff done; it’s about making room for the stuff that matters.
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