Random thoughts with a spattering of thoughtfulness.

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Walk the Walk

Without Fail…

So… Several weeks ago I discussed the importance of daily practice and letting go of fear and doubt. I announced I would practice writing daily and since then—not only have I not posted anything—I’ve done absolutely nothing. I should also make it known that, earlier this month, I announced in a staff meeting at work that I was going to study for the GRE and try to make the February application deadline for the master’s program I’m interested in. Again, I’ve done absolutely nothing. So, what happened?

It seems that as soon as I commit to a goal I pretty much send it to an early grave. Turns out, there’s a lot at work behind the scenes that causes this phenomena.

First of all, Our Scumbag Brains…

In his 2009 blog post, Shut up! Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them., Derek Sivers discusses why announcing our plans has such a detrimental effect.

Telling others about goals to create a level of accountability makes a lot of sense. We think if we tell other people, those people will hold us accountable. But, what really happens is the act of telling gives our brains the same level of satisfaction as if we had actually completed the task. Since our brains are chemically satisfied, we are less motivated to actually do the work.

And what about accountability? We choose to tell people who love and support us. The problem is, they also tend to be the people who love and support us even when we fail. Accountability goes right out the window because the people we expect to hold us accountable support us regardless of the outcome.

Worst of All, Fear…

After my last blog post, I had great ideas planned out for the next several days worth of content. I had time scheduled specifically for researching and writing my posts. I even started the research. Then, I did nothing.

As soon as I’d made the commitment, fear took hold. All I could think was, “Who cares?” The self-talk was debilitatingly negative. Thoughts like:

“No one cares what I have to say.”
“No one reads my stupid blog anyway.”
“What difference does it make?”

Through my interest in Pat Flynn, I also learned about Nicole Dean from NicoleOnTheNet.com. What interested me most about Flynn’s interview with Dean on the Smart Passive Income podcast (SPI009) is Dean’s motto, “Making the web and the world a better place.” Dean operates with the perspective that if you’re going to put anything on the internet, you should at least try to make it a better place.

As I was drowning in fear, all I could think was how am I making the web a better place? Is what I’m doing worthwhile or am I just wasting space. In that place of fear I felt like such a waste of space. For two or three weeks, the mere thought of this blog was tied to negative feelings and self-doubt.

Finally, I remembered it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if anyone or no one cares, it doesn’t matter if this is a waste of space and no one ever sees, reads, or remembers it. I’m doing this for me. I’m doing it as an outlet, to practice, and to learn. To heck with what anyone thinks about it or if they even care enough to think about it.

I regained my confidence and still took more than two weeks to finally sit down and write.

Just as bad, Time…

I’m a slave to my 8-5 and I hate it. I’m a slave to my mortgage and my bills and my student loans and I hate it. I want so bad to get out from under all of this. There are so many things I would do if only I had the time.

It’s 2:30 pm on a Sunday afternoon. I spent this morning feeling sorry for myself and thinking about things I would do if only I had the time. Then I realized how much time I was wasting. It’s important to have downtime, of course, but sitting around feeling sorry for yourself is nothing more than a waste of time. I will still take time to relax, but I’m going to try to be more conscious about how I do it and when I could put my time to better use.

There’s so much I need to learn and so much I need to do if I want to free myself and regain ownership of my time. I’m often intimidated because I feel like I need more formal education, which costs money I don’t have and debt I don’t want to incur. I need to remember, however, and everyone should remember, that we have access to invaluable resources world-wide. There is a wealth of knowledge at the click of a button. It’s only a matter of using our time and the world wide web more productively.

I can do this, if only I can stay focused.

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Learn to Do Anything, Guaranteed!

Practice–It’s that simple
(and that hard).

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m working to learn more about freelancing and online business in the effort to at least generate a part-time, secondary income working from home. I also mentioned, not for the first time, how much I love to write.

So, last night I applied for work as a transcriber with some online transcription company. The application process consisted of a brief test designed evaluate the applicant’s command of the English language. I thought for sure I blew it clean out of the water. Then, I got the results today and “my number of errors was outside their allowable margin for error.” I *gasp* failed!

After traversing several phases of self-talk (failure, doubt, it’s-not-me-it’s-them, etc.), I set my ego aside and decided I must need more practice. Weekly isn’t enough. I have enough ideas, I need to practice daily.

So, whatever it is you want to learn, and whatever level of skill you currently have, if you want to get better, practice. The more you practice, the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll get.

Daily–Make time to make it a habit.

As an abstract concept I think we all know practice, especially daily practice, is what it takes to learn and improve anything we want to do well.

Personally, however, I’ve never really had the patience. I want to do something well and I’m a perfectionist, so when I can’t master it in whatever length of time my amateur brain imagines is reasonable, I quit.

To me, daily practice has always been an abstract concept of self improvement. I was either good at something or I wasn’t, period.

Until I made a daily habit of something simple and completely unrelated to anything I wanted to do.

I was among thousands of people who regularly lie to their dental hygienists. She’d ask if I was flossing and I’d reply, “Probably not as often as I should.” Translation: never (or, at best, rarely).

Then, she told me that my family history and personal dental hygiene may put me at higher risk of periodontal disease, so I made a commitment to daily flossing.

Having rarely flossed in the past, naturally I wasn’t very good at it. I used a massive amount of floss and it seemed tedious and time consuming. Not to mention, I had to make the conscious decision every day to take the time and struggle through it.

Then one day, without warning, I realized it wasn’t so bad. It didn’t take as much time, I didn’t use as much floss and I was much more effective at it. I also no longer had to remember to floss, it was just something I did.

That simple task took daily practice from an abstract idea to something practical that I could apply to any task at which I wanted to improve.

I also learned something else about daily practice. You improve without noticing you’re improving. Just like our hair grows and our bodies age, you don’t notice the change until the change is significant. You start out not doing so well and you continue thinking you’re not doing so well until one day, you realize you’re actually good. Then you continue at being good for a while until one day, you realize you’re great. So on and so forth.

Patience–With your progress and with yourself.

You’re not going to be very good on the first day and you’re not going to see immediate results. The most important thing is to remember that’s okay.

    If you want to paint, it’s okay if it’s not a masterpiece. Don’t quit.

    If you want to run, it’s okay if you have to rest. Don’t quit.

    If you want to be creative, it’s okay if ideas come slow. Don’t quit.

    If you want to be anything, it’s okay if you fail. Don’t quit.

It won’t happen overnight, in a day, a week, a month or even a year. But if you want to change, if you want to improve, you have to work. You have to keep practicing.

Let go of fear. Let go of comparison. Let go of anyone’s standards other than your own. Learn what you love and do what you love, because you love it. Accept mistakes as part of the process, as part of your process.

I’m sure for a lot of people this is a “Well, DUH!” post. But, I’m also sure there are a lot of people in the world just like me. Who quit before even giving themselves a chance. Who give up because they think they’re not good enough or it’s too hard or they’ll never make it. Frankly, I’m tired of quitting. I’m doing this.

The Tricky Thing About Fear

A Chain of Events

Recently, I’ve started looking for ways I can generate secondary income.

I have a full-time 9-5, but have always wanted to move in the direction of more flexible, freelance options. So, I’ve started looking for ways to generate at least a part-time secondary income through telecommute freelance work. Like a lot of 9-5ers, much of my weekend time is dedicated to maintaining my household, but last week I decided I also wanted to use that time learning how to build an effective online business, so I put in my headphones and scrolled through the list of podcasts in iTunes.

This is how I stumbled upon Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast. I listened to the first six episodes of the Smart Passive Income podcast while cleaning the house and was bombarded with ideas. I’m working through the podcast episodes in order, but I had to jump to episode 87 posted on Nov. 15, 2013. The episode is titled “Why You Belong on Stage – Pat’s ‘Braindump’ of Public Speaking and Presentation Tips” and with my own newfound passion for public speaking, I couldn’t resist.

In episode 87 Flynn dropped this little gem about fear, “When the resistance, when that fear comes into play, for me that’s a sign that whatever it is I’m trying to do is typically worth pushing through…If you are thinking about public speaking, or you know it’s something you should do, but you fear it, take that as a sign that this is something you should do.”

When I heard this in his podcast, it occurred to me that the thing I fear most is probably the thing I should be doing. I also remembered this wasn’t anything new to me. It was something I had learned years ago, but had forgotten.

A Life Lesson

In 2002, I left my family to spend eight weeks detained on a military base in a small New Jersey town for basic training with the United States Coast Guard. I was scared out of my mind when I got on the bus and the closer I got to Cape May, the more my fear escalated into panic. What had I done?! What was I in for?!

Later, when basic training was a mere memory, I was discussing fear and life events with my younger sister and I remember telling her one thing I’ve learned is that, generally, the thing you fear the most will turn out to be the best thing you will ever do.

Despite the near-crippling fear I experienced as a boarded the bus to Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, I can say with complete confidence, that experience and the subsequent four years was easily the best thing I’ve done with my life to date. I didn’t let fear hold me back and the result was life-changing.

So why am I letting fear hold me back now?

A Debilitating Fear

I want to write. I love to write. For a lifetime I’ve been in awe of libraries which house innumerable resources for any topic I can imagine and I’ve dreamt about contributing to that wealth of knowledge. For years I’ve walked into bookstores, purchased random books on random topics of interest and longed to be a name on those shelves screaming for attention amidst thousands of others.

I have a passion for the written word in all forms, but I rarely ever write and I have never really worked toward my dream of being a “writer.” Why? Because when I walk around a bookstore, when I scroll through iBooks, when I look at the blogosphere–the millions of people trying to be heard–I am overwhelmed with doubt and fear. How could I ever stand a chance in such an over-saturated market?

So, other than journaling, I don’t write. Ever. Or, rarely. I started this blog and let it fizzle out. I wrote a couple articles for a local magazine and let that fizzle out. Despite my passion, I let the fear get the best of me and I fizzle out.

A Time to Change

As I was listening to Flynn’s podcast I realized I wasn’t writing, because I was afraid. And, I remembered my own lesson about fear. I decided I have to write. I have to set deadlines, I have to create more content, I have to practice, I have to get better. I can’t NOT do this.

So what if no one reads it, so what if it’s bad at first, so what if no one cares. I’ll get better with time, I’ll get better with practice. The more I write, the more ideas I will have, the more creative I will become.

So, last week I set my first deadline. I decided I would post to this blog on a weekly basis. I decided I would push through it, make myself write more, stick to my deadlines. Even if this never goes anywhere, I will practice, I will learn and I will get better.

Whatever it is you love, just do it. Forget about what other people think, forget about if you’re good at it or not, forget about the what-ifs, forget about the fear. If you’re afraid of failure it’s because you love something enough to care, so go out there and do it.

“…you didn’t build that [alone].”

I don’t usually get into politics. I’m incredibly uninformed, which I believe, rightly so, means I have no credibility on the topic. But, right now I’ve got something to say.

Obama’s gotten a lot of flack about the Romney campaign ad that quotes him saying, “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.” And, I got to thinking that doesn’t seem accurate for someone who’s seeking a second term, so I found the source and I’m linking the full transcript of that speech.

As it turns out, the context of that quote refers to the American Dream and how everyone has opportunity. The implied meaning of, “you didn’t build that” refers to mentors, teachers, people who inspired your dreams and pushed you to make them a reality. It’s about working together and helping each other.

The lines leading up to this statement were, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

There is not a single successful person who can deny the truth in that statement. Even if you didn’t have a financial investor, there was someone who believed in you, someone who supported you, or even someone who walked out on you and made you more determined.

“This unbelievable American system” is why every child grows up believing they can pursue whatever they can dream and, for those who have dreams and work for them, this is every ounce of truth. Even if there is some small-business owner somewhere in America with no public education who has earned success with absolutely no help at all, no support, no beliefs, no advice, if you’re a minority (ethnic or otherwise) you, at the very least, had help from a system of government that allows you such freedoms. Your incorporation or LLC forms weren’t denied because of your ethnicity, creed, or sex.

Americans have countless freedoms they, all to often, take for granted. We all have something to complain about. We all look at others and think of how much easier that person has it. But, really, there are a ton of success stories. There are countless Americans who worked themselves out of poverty, overcoming countless obstacles. Children from low-income households who grow up on welfare and work their way through college to become successful entrepreneurs. Single mothers who juggle being mommy with a full-time job and night classes to make a career for themselves and improve quality of life for their children.

I, personally, know of a single mother who worked three jobs to afford any extra-curricular activity in which her, now grown, children cared to participate. She managed three jobs, after-school activities for two children, and a spotless home. That, my friends, is hard work.

In my opinion, (my opinion only, so take it as you will) those of us who take our freedoms for granted are the ones who have never really (and be honest here) had to work for them. We are a generation who view freedom as an entitlement, not a privilege. The American system never promised to MAKE your dreams come true, only to allow YOU the OPPORTUNITY to make them true for yourself.

The Americans who fight for their dreams and who overcome all obstacles to see them to fruition are the ones who truly appreciate the freedom and opportunity this country has to offer. And, I’m sure, none will deny having some help. A friend who believed in you, or gave you a book, or watched the baby at night.

My rant here is not meant to be biased towards either presidential candidate. My goal is only to point out how easy it is to misconstrue meaning by taking words out of context. And, to highlight how important it is to appreciate what we have and what we’re capable of.

For all my friends and family, and to all mankind, I love you, but do a little research and think for yourself before you go hopping on the media bandwagon as it rolls by collecting mindless zombies.

What I Love To Do

To me, the most inspirational part of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 was this, “You’ve got to find what you love…the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

I love to write. And, it’s funny, because for as much as I claim I love to write, I haven’t been doing a lot of it lately. Actually, I’ve been doing pretty much none. I’ve had ideas floating around. I’ve worked on some plot development and some character sketches, even some research, but I just don’t feel ready to actually start the writing process.

I think it would be amazing to weave an intricate and suspenseful story that affects readers deep in the core of their being, inspiring them to be better people. I want to create characters to which readers can relate, but also to act as mentors offering advice for life’s difficult moments. My dream isn’t so much to sell books, or even to be published, just to have a story that will inspire people.

So, I’m tossing around ideas. More accurately, an idea or two are gasping for air in the muck which is the day-to-day activity of my grey matter. These ideas will remain just that, maybe not indefinitely, but for a very long time, I’m sure.

Why? Because I’m insanely intimidated. And, I fear I have no imagination. Or, maybe, just maybe, I’m trying to sprint to the finish line when I’m not even steady on my feet.

Another quote I find very inspiring comes from the renowned rapper Eminem. In the song “Airplanes Part II” by B.o.B featuring Haley Williams and Eminem, he rhymes, “Because he never risked shit, he hoped and he wished it, but it didn’t fall in his lap so he ain’t even here; he pretends…”

I’m realizing that I’m doing a lot of hoping and wishing, but I’m not really working. Just like it wasn’t easy for Steve Jobs or Marshall Mathers (Eminem), it won’t be easy for me. I’m not going to sit down in front of a blank screen and effortlessly churn out 500 pages or so of literary excellence.

Dreams can come true, but only for those who are willing to work for it. So here’s yet another of my favorite quotes. An American entrepreneur just after the Great Depression, Arnold H. Glasow, once said, “Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” I like to interpret his meaning as work. One must endure grueling work to enjoy abundant success.

I’ve tried to set myself on fire a few times. I’ve told myself I’m going to hone my writing and creativity with daily practice. More often than not, I find that the only thing I managed to set on fire was my ignorance. Once that sputters out, so does my determination.

Ignorance on fire. This is a turn of phrase that has stuck with me for nearly 15 years. I first heard this during my, very brief, career as a telephone sales representative—the kind that advertised paid training, after which was about where my career ended. Anyway, as the room of new sales representatives neared the end of a week’s worth of training, the instructor explained that many of us will do very well as soon as we hit the sales floor. He said we’ll make ridiculous sales mostly because we won’t really know what we’re doing. We’ll be like ignorance on fire!

I seem to approach every aspect of my life with ignorance on fire. Once I realize how much work is really involved my determination fizzles out fast. This happens with pretty much everything; writing, relationships, jobs, hobbies, etc. The few things I have completed required some form of outside motivation, typically manifested as financial or contractual obligations. Sometimes, even that doesn’t stop me. I believe I already mentioned how fickle I can be, no need to revisit that topic.

To be honest, although I know I enjoy writing, I really have no idea what kind of writing I prefer or what I want to write about. A large portion of the writing I have done has been dedicated to journaling–probably why blogging seems to be a natural next step, although I was skeptical for a long time. I’ve dabbled in poetry and the occasional short-short-story, but, other than that, not a lot of creative writing. As much as I would love to write the next literary classic, I’m not sure creative writing is my strong suit.

I’ve found that I enjoy business writing, even with occasionally dull subjects, because of the challenge of limited space. I enjoy writing with abandon then having to go back and cut out every non-essential paragraph, sentence and word trying to whittle from 700 words down to 300. Something about editing your own work to such a degree is strangely exhilarating! Of course, this is something I should do regardless because, in really good writing, if it doesn’t add essential meaning, it shouldn’t even exist.