The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Trust

When I finished my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I had a literary agent reach out to me and request a full manuscript of my novel. The manuscript wasn’t ready at the time, so I kept working on it, rereading, rethinking, and revising, until I had a solid, workable draft to send. I sent it to her a few weeks ago, and last week, she let me know that she wouldn’t be interested in representing it.

Of course, I was disappointed. It felt like a squandered opportunity. Like maybe I should have worked harder before I sent the manuscript because she reached out to me, after all, and maybe I had disappointed her. Maybe I missed a big shot. Maybe I missed my only shot.

Logically, I knew that wasn’t true, but still, I struggled for a little while with feeling like a failure. Rejection is a part of being a writer, and I will face it 100+ more times if I take the process of getting published seriously, but that opportunity felt different, and I let myself wallow a little bit. Eventually, I realized, that it wasn’t just the rejection that hurt, but the missed opportunity to accomplish something. I told my husband, as he was trying to comfort me, that what truly felt so bad was that I wanted validation through my accomplishments.

I started a new job last month, and it’s different from any other job I’ve had in that it isn’t focused on tasks. For the most part, I am in control of my schedule and I get to decide how to spend my time. I’ve been having difficulty acclimating to this because I go in to work feeling like I have nothing to do since no one has assigned me a specific task, and I leave work feeling like I did nothing to contribute to my team since I didn’t complete a specific task. The rejection from the agent came during the height of my anxiety about this new job, and the two experiences really held a mirror up to my insecurities.

Even though I’ve worked hard on self-acceptance and personal growth this year, I still seek esteem through what I do, rather than who I am.

If I’m too busy focusing on tasks and results, then I will miss chances to be creative and innovative.

When I started to rethink my approach to my new job, I gained some confidence to be curious. I gained some trust in myself to approach my supervisor with ideas, instead of asking her for more tasks. I redefined my work day as a chance to experiment, instead of an obligation to produce something.

That newfound trust is something I’ll have to keep working on in every area of my life. I’ll have to keep trying new things.

I’ll have to keep going for it.

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That trust won’t be static. Some days, I’ll still feel anxious. Some days, I’ll still ache for validation through accomplishment, and that’s okay.

When it comes to writing, this trust is highly valuable.

If I miss opportunities to create and innovate because I’m too worried about creating a product, then I miss the whole point.

If I trust myself to write the story that’s in my heart (sorry for the cheesy cliché, but I can’t figure out any other way to say that), then I’ll write something that matters; then I’ll know when enough is enough and my manuscript is ready; then I’ll trust myself to go for it.

Some days, I’ll let rejection wash over me, and some days, it’ll get me down. Some days, I’ll sit down to write and feel great about even just a few words, and other days I’ll feel shitty for not finishing something; regardless, I can keep training myself to trust in the process.

I can teach myself, through my words and my actions, that I’m valuable with or without an accomplishment to show for the day.

I can redefine what accomplishment means.

I can trust that my definition of what’s good is good. I can let less productive days be merely blips in my existence.

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What could you gain from trusting yourself? What insights could you glean from focusing on process over product?

How to Spend Time Meaningfully

My husband likes to give me a hard time about supposedly not being able to relax. Whenever I fall a slight bit ill, he is quick to blame it on my stress.

The thing is, while I acknowledge that he is partially right, I also find it hard to totally agree because I have had a tendency to merely maintain an appearance of business by wasting time, rather than actually working to get anything meaningful done so that I can fully relax later.

I have to give myself credit, though, because I’ve been getting a whole lot better with time management as I’ve been seeking employment, as I’ve become more serious with my writing, and as I’ve gotten to know myself better, but wasting time is still something that plagues me. Now, though, it’s more because I have a broad definition of what it means to waste time, than because I’m actually still sitting around wasting a lot of time.

When I’m honest, wasted time is only time that’s spent on things that don’t bring me joy.

When I’m being a harsh self-critic, though, wasted time is anything that doesn’t produce some sort of quantifiable result.

This is where my husband likes to prod at me about relaxing, and this is where I can agree that he’s right.

I picked up this desire to remain ever busy, or appear to be ever busy, from my dad, who picked it up from his dad. I admire my dad and grandpa, and I want to make them proud, but they are a little too extreme in their efforts to spend their time purposefully.

My grandpa has been the property manager of a block of apartments for as long as I can remember, and he always has a project to do over there. When he’s not working hard on the apartments, he’s got a project at home. My dad has a long list of projects, too, lest he be caught idle for one second. I have a distinct memory of him, having just barely recovered from back surgery, hastily planting a tree in the backyard. He didn’t further injure himself, but if he had, then he really wouldn’t have saved any time by getting to work on the yard sooner than the doctor recommended.

When I was younger, if I didn’t have something that I had to do, I was constantly bored.

I even had a list of activities, much like my dad and grandpa have their lists of projects, so that I could stay busy when there wasn’t anything to do. But, I didn’t usually enjoy the way I spent my time. It always felt like I was doing things just to fill the hours until there was something I had to do, which is a habit that stretched long into my adulthood.

As I’ve discovered more about myself through writing and challenging myself to try new things, I’ve grown less anxious about wasting time.

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This is largely because I’ve developed hobbies that aren’t mindless scrolling or binge watching, and because I actually enjoy these hobbies, I’ve stopped seeing them as ways to waste time.

I can now sit down to read, more often, without thinking “I should be working harder on my own novel,” or I can sit down to write without thinking, “I should be doing the dishes,” or I can sit down to practice my calligraphy without getting antsy to clean the house, or do those chores that I used to feel were more important.

Plus, in getting to know myself better, I’ve learned that I thrive in a more structured, routine environment, and I can relax better at the end of a day if I’ve accomplished a few goals. Sometimes those goals do involve cleaning, but more often, now, they’re creative or personal goals.

I’ve been able to create an effective structure for myself with these four strategies:

1.Set Intentions

At night before I fall asleep, and/or in the morning while I journal, I make a plan for the day. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, and it’s usually nothing more than: “Today I will ___ and ____ and ____.” But, even having a few intentions for the day helps me to accomplish meaningful things, which helps me to relax easier when I’ve fulfilled those intentions.

2.Limit or eliminate multi-tasking

I’m terrible at multi-tasking, as I think we all are, but it’s always a good to have a reminder to stay present in the moment and focus on one task at a time. The more energy I put into the task-at-hand, the more I can get out of the process, and the sooner I can move on.

3.Experiment

I’ve tried different kinds of daily routines, different browser applications to block the Internet, and different timer techniques. Nothing has stuck, but I continue to experiment. Some days, I need to set a timer to get things done, and some days I don’t. I used to have email and other distracting sites consistently blocked for several hours during the week, but I would just find workarounds by going to different browsers, so now I only use the option where I can block the Internet for an hour or more at a time when I’m really struggling to stay focused, but, to be honest, since I took the daily block off the Internet, I haven’t needed to to block the Internet much. I guess it’s the whole, what is forbidden becomes more appealing concept.

I continue to experiment with ways to avoid distractions, and I have found so much freedom in allowing myself to try different techniques, rather than relying on one.

4.Stop to reflect instead of deflect

I mentioned something similar in my last posts about goals and procrastination, but I’ll mention it again because it has been working so well! When I start getting incredibly distracted, it’s most helpful when I shut things down or turn things off, and consider why I’m having so much trouble focusing, because when I deflect, I waste time.

It seems like reflecting would be the real time waster, but it’s not.

Maybe I’m working on the wrong thing that day. Maybe I need to take a prolonged break. Or maybe I just need that moment to reflect, and then get back to working on something meaningful (or those occasional obligatory tasks).

Having a structured routine in which I can accomplish some goals has, paradoxically, given me freedom.

When I went about my days without any intentions, I was much more rattled by anxiety about “getting things done,” and by the evenings, I would feel bad that I hadn’t accomplished more with my day. While I don’t think it’s wise to only permit myself to do things I enjoy after I’ve accomplished a certain amount of things, I do find so much more joy in relaxing and exploring my hobbies when I’ve worked at a few goals or fulfilled a few intentions. When my husband badgers me about relaxing, he’s not saying that I should sit around and do nothing, he’s saying that I should invest my time in things that bring me joy, and I can agree with that.

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I’m curious to know about your relationship with time and routines. Do you find yourself worrying over wasted time, or does it not phase you? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

I Like Working Toward Goals – 19 Before 2019

I like doing nothing. I like having no plans.

My favorite weekends are the ones where I stay home and do whatever I want whenever I want.

On the other hand, I like feeling accomplished. I like knowing that I’ve completed something.

I’m incredibly task-oriented and I feel exhilarated by crossing something of a to-do list.

But, I am a very inconsistent person.

Having goals and plans also causes me anxiety.

Realistically, it’s a normal level of anxiety. It’s completely manageable, but sometimes the pressure of having something to do keeps me from setting goals.

The more I learn to manage that anxiety that comes with having goals, though, the more I want to set goals. The more I want to accomplish something worthwhile, or truly, just anything at all.

When I worked at the library, one of my jobs was to shelf read, which was exactly what it sounds like. Each month, I’d be assigned a section of the library to keep in order. This wasn’t my favorite job, but I became motivated to do it as I learned to appreciate the beauty of a freshly read shelf. All the books pushed forward. All the spines in line. Mmmm. Such a beautiful sight.

I’ve learned that I am happiest when I’m working toward something.

It doesn’t have to be huge or earth- shattering, having a freshly organized row of books on a shelf certainly isn’t changing anybody’s life, but I like that feeling of making progress on a project or task.  I like that feeling of stepping back when it’s all done and seeing the results of my hard work.

I don’t use to-do lists to get that exhilarating feeling of accomplishment much anymore, because of the aforementioned anxiety, but I have begun the practice of setting intentions before I go to bed at night. It might seem like this practice in it of itself could cause anxiety, but I limit myself to only choosing three things I’d like to do the next day, and it is  a helpful practice because it ceases any worries I have about tomorrow and knowing that I have a plan allows me to rest my mind before sleep. It’s also helpful for waking up in the morning because I’m motivated by the intentions I set.

For the next 3 and a half months of this year, I’m motivating myself beyond daily intentions with the mega to-do list – 19 before 2019.

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My intention with this to-do list is not to panic over getting these things done. Most of the tasks I’ve put on here are simple tasks that can be completed in an afternoon or less (3 and a half months isn’t really that much time, anyway), and the ones that aren’t quick to complete are tasks I had intended to do anyway, like finish my novel and send out 5 queries! Now, I simply have the added bonus of being able to check that box when I finish it.

I’ve done a strange thing all my life, which is to resist my desire to be organized and accomplished. I attribute that to paralyzing perfectionism, but I’m learning to fail without it completely stunting me from ever trying again. I may not finish all these 19 tasks, and that will be okay. The point is to give myself something to work toward.

The point is to learn and grow.

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What are some goals that you’ve set out to accomplish before the new year? Or, are you waiting around for that fresh-start feeling that comes with January? Or, have you transcended the temporal and markers of time mean nothing to you? (Please tell me your secret).