Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Motivates Me: Time To Go Back to the Beginning




I haven’t been writing.

And when I say I haven’t been writing, I mean it’s been months. Not just days or weeks. I’m talking months since I’ve written much more than a Facebook status update.

I tell myself the noodling around I did on my novel in November for NaNoWriMo counted as writing. But it didn’t. I spent so much time revising while getting reacquainted with the characters I had abandoned since the previous year’s NaNoWriMo attempt that the actual writing of new words wasn’t really happening. And then I abandoned it again.

I tell myself I don’t have the zen writing spot in the house I moved into six months ago or the house doesn’t seem to have the right juju. But I have a whole office to myself (with a door that closes!), and I smudged my house to evict bad juju (twice).

I tell myself that I’m blocked because the last piece I wrote, a piece that was quickly accepted and published by the Washington Post, left me dealing with horrible internet trolls whose comments I had to stop reading, whose tweets I had to ignore, whose snap judgements made me question why I bothered to open myself up like that.

I tell myself I don’t have time. But I could make it.

I tell myself I don’t have the energy. But I could find it.

I tell myself I don’t have anything to write about, but there’s ALWAYS something to write about.

I tell myself that my hair stylist is right, that I’m not writing because I’m happy. And while it’s true that my most prolific periods have been during challenging times in my life, I can’t rest on that as an excuse because I plan to be happy for a very long time.

So what the hell is wrong with me?! Where are the words?!

Well, it turns out I might have finally found them hidden within a deeper message in someone else’s words.

I recently finished reading the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. It’s a research-based theory of motivation that explains how businesses attempt to motivate their employees in all the wrong ways. Most people assume that external motivation like money is the best motivator for hard work. But that’s not the case. In fact, studies show it often diminishes intrinsic motivation, decreases performance and kills creativity. So what does work? An approach that includes autonomy, mastery and purpose. Hmmm, I totally dig that.

I also liked the author’s explanation of the “Sawyer Effect.” Based on a fence whitewashing scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this theory asserts that (1) rewards can turn play into work and (2) focusing on mastery can turn work into play.

As I read the book, I tried to apply this theory of motivation to various parts of my own life. First, I realized that’s probably why the promise of a weekly allowance no longer motivates my kids to exert much effort into their household chores. And then I realized it might be why I’m not writing.

One of the reasons this blog has collected so much dust is because I started writing for other outlets. At first I wrote for free, because let’s face it, everyone knows what the Huffington Post is and it’s a great addition to a writing resume when you’ve never gotten paid for freelancing gigs before. But then I branched out and started writing for cool websites that not only shared my work, but also --oh my gosh! -- gave me money too.

So I wrote more. And got paid more. It’s not that I needed the money from freelancing. I already have a full-time job that pays the bills. No, it was the rush I got thinking I had turned something that was once a hobby into something worth being paid for.

But that rush is gone. Because just as the Sawyer Effect states, those rewards turned my play into work. I had to research media outlets, figure out what kinds of angles they wanted, how much they paid, how to submit pitches, how to write a pitch, re-submit pieces with suggested revisions. I found myself using a voice or phrases that weren’t quite my own because I was writing for a certain audience, a certain editor. I found that editors were altering my work more than I wanted, moving things around that I had placed for very particular reasons, changing headlines to get more clicks. And now with so much politically charged material out there, it took another step for me to figure out if I want to be associated with certain outlets that have veered in a more political direction than I’m comfortable with.

I’m an editor myself so I get it. I understand that’s all part of the game. I just feel like maybe it’s time to bench myself from the game for a bit so I can find my voice again.

One day during a recent meditation session my mind wandered to my writing, and I decided to follow it. At the dead end of those thoughts, I saw a big sign: Go back to the beginning.  

So I took that sign, combined it with the Sawyer Effect and ended up back here. At my blog. That I started over seven years ago with no writing background, no audience, no voice that I knew of yet, no clue whatsoever. What I did have was a desire to direct my own path (autonomy), an urge to make progress and improve at something that mattered to me (mastery), and the yearning to do something in the service of something larger than myself (purpose).

Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. 

Those three motivators were the reasons I wrote every single day. I didn’t earn a dime. For a long time, my only audience was my parents. I wrote quickly, yet from the heart, without the fear of editors chopping my words. I actually enjoyed writing, to the point that I craved it, that something felt missing if I went a day without writing something, whether it was published publicly or journaled privately.

I want that back.

So now that I’ve had my aha moment, that I realized rewards might have turned my play into work, it’s time for me to focus on turning that work back into play. I want to enjoy writing again. I want to find my voice again. I want to use that voice to work on different projects, namely, that novel I’ve had written in my head for years but only pay attention to every November. I want to get back on the roller coaster that started it all.

Here I am.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What the First Day after a Summer Co-Parenting Pass Off Looks Like




At 5:30 Saturday morning I left my children at an airport with their father. The kids are spending the summer overseas with him, and I won't see them for 10 weeks. Pass offs never get any easier, especially when the separation is so long, and my emotions are like a ping pong ball bouncing all over the place. This is what the first day after a co-parent pass off for an entire summer looks like:



5:30 am: I stand by my car at curbside drop off with tears streaming down my face, waving at my 8-year-old daughter through the sliding glass door as she cries and waves back. Her father must have called her name because I watch her turn and walk away. I stare at the empty space for 5 long seconds before walking to my car and driving home alone.

5:45 am: My drive home parallels the beach where I frequently go to watch sunsets, and the colorful sky reminds me how early it is. I have nowhere to be, so I pull over and watch the sunrise. Sitting in my normal sunset spot but facing the opposite direction, I realize I had never seen the sun rise from this beach I had been to a hundred times before. It is awesome.

6:00 am: I cuddle with my boyfriend and my dog, and I cry.

6:15 am: I call my mom. And I cry.

6:30 am: Time for action! Strip the kids’ beds. Start a load of laundry. Put away Xbox remotes and school backpacks and stray Nerf darts and dirty socks. Start a list of things to buy in 9 weeks before the kids come home. Throw away all the random clutter the kids told me not to throw out “yet” because they’re gone now and in 10 weeks they’ll never remember the shoebox filled with cut up pieces of cardboard or the year-old Dave and Busters tickets they found two days ago or the paperclip necklace that kept mysteriously showing up after I disassembled it. And pencils. Where did all these pencils come from?!

7:00 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on my deck with coffee, a book and Facebook sympathy and support.




8:00 am: I have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Tidy daughter’s room. Trash more random kid junk. 

8:15 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on the couch with a book and my foot spa. Is this day over yet?

9:00 am: Kids call during a layover. They sound so far away.

9:15 am: Have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Hang Nerf guns on designated hooks. Clean son’s bathroom. Trash more kid junk.

10:00 am: Have I eaten anything since the banana at 4:30 this morning? Tropical Smoothie run. Surely this super healthy smoothie and questionably healthy breakfast wrap will energize me and put my day on track for mega productivity!

10:30 am: The food failed to energize me or generate mass productivity. Back on the deck with more coffee and a book. My brain isn’t processing what I’m reading. I watch the kids swimming at my apartment complex’s pool below. Just two days ago it took me 15 minutes to drag my daughter out of the water. As we walked home she said, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her I realized she was having fun with her friends but it was time to shower and get ready for bed. “No, Mom,” she said. “I don’t want to leave you for the summer.” That was when the real tears started for both of us.

11:30 am: I’m taking a bubble bath. Not a typical Saturday morning activity for me, but today hasn’t exactly been typical.

12:30 pm: Overheated and totally relaxed from the bath, I let myself take a snoozer. 

1:45 pm: Feeling a bit more human after a nap and a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. I look at my planner and sigh at the extensive list of to-do’s I created for myself days ago, anticipating I would need distractions from the emptiness I knew I would feel. But I know not a single item will be checked off that list today.

2:00 pm: Back on the deck with coffee and a book. I contemplate going to the pool, but it’s crowded and my introverted tendencies are on high alert. 

2:30 pm: Deck to couch to kitchen to bathroom to deck to kitchen to deck to couch. TV on, tv off.  I should go somewhere, leave the house. I should stay home, I’m exhausted. Music on, music off. It’s not so much the silence that makes me unable to sit still. It’s the lack of their presence. 

4:30 pm: Boyfriend and I settle on the couch for a night of binge-watching the new season of “Orange is the New Black.” After the first episode, he picks up sushi so we can eat and watch in our comfy pants. I’m not going anywhere the rest of the day.

7:30 pm: On our way to the beach! I realize I’ve never watched both the sun rise and set in the same day from the same spot on my favorite beach.

7:50 pm: Daughter FaceTimes! The kids reached their destination safe and sound. Tween son is too cool to chat, but daughter looks tired, happy and beautiful.




8:26 pm: Sunset.

8:45 pm: Back in comfy pants. One more episode of OITNB. Wine.

10:00 pm: Time for bed. This tough day is over, and tomorrow it’s time to end my pity party. Daughter’s room will become the staging area for vacation packing. Meal planning will begin that includes more grown-up food and less chicken nuggets and squeezable yogurt. A new routine that includes exercise, guitar practice and writing will fill the hours I’d normally spend wearing my mom hat. 

I know the summer will fly by. I know my kids will have fun. I know I’m allowed to have fun too. And I know I need to spend this time reenergizing and doing things I can’t do when my kids are around. Let the summer begin!




SUNRISE
SUNSET


Sunday, June 5, 2016

This is How to Crush a Bucket List: A Year in Review





Ask just about anyone you know if they have a bucket list of awesome things they want to do before they die, and chances are, they'll say yes. 

"I want to travel the world," some will say.

"I want to start my own business," others will say.

"I want to win the lottery and retire at 45, never to work again," other (delusional) friends might say.
But how many do you know who are actively working on their bucket lists? It wasn't until I finally started knocking items off my own bucket list that I realized how long I'd been hiding in the category of all talk and no action.

People tend to reevaluate their lives when they go through major transitions. My divorce was no exception. It was during the dismantling of my marriage that I started on my bucket list. And if I'm being honest, I didn't even know that's what I was doing. At the time, I was just in need of a distraction, a goal, a reason to get out of bed and move. My bucket list came knocking on my door, telling me it was time, promising that the only way I could fail was by not trying.

That was three years ago. So how am I doing on that bucket list? I'm proud to say I'm kicking its ass. 
What all have I checked off? Well, a year ago I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post called, "How a Divorce Bucket List Helped Me Move On," listing six big-ticket items on my bucket list. Here's how I'm doing on that list:

1. Run a marathon



This is what kicked everything off. I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon during one of the most difficult times in my life, and that decision didn't just get me in amazing shape, a cool medal and the bragging rights to put a 26.2 magnet on my car. It also made me realize that I'd been talking about running a marathon for years in the same sentence as "bucket list" and "some day." Crossing that finish line made me realize my some day had come. And I wondered why I waited so long for it instead of making it happen.

And just like that, I wanted more of my "some day" wishes to become "now" realities.

2. Remove a tattoo



When we're 14 we think we know it all, don't we? Well, we don't. And I have a regrettable tattoo to prove it. (Click here for the story on that.) The tattoo is small and privately located, and I probably could have lived the rest of my life keeping it hidden and simply ignoring it.

But I wanted it gone.

What originally cost $40 and 20 minutes of my time is now a continuing project that has taken well over a year and over $1,000. At the end of this month I'll undergo my 12th laser treatment, and it won't be my last. Fingers crossed for lucky 13!

3. Write a novel




I've had a novel written in my head for as long as I can remember. The tricky part it seems is transferring it from my brain to my computer. I can't say I'm accomplishing this bucket list item in a timely fashion, but the novel has officially made a home on my computer with several chapters completed. I don't know when it will get done, and I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself with a deadline. Right now, the fact that I've started gives me hope that I'll finish. Write on.

4. Learn to play the guitar





I've always been really good at listening to music, but not so good at making it. A million years ago, I played the drums in middle school, but I quit for fickle middle school girl reasons. My dad picked up the guitar after he retired and listening to him reminded me that I've always wanted to learn. With his help and encouragement, I set out on this acoustical journey that has proven to be way more challenging than I expected. But I take weekly lessons, try my best to practice at home and take pride in my efforts and accomplishments.

5. Sky dive




When I turned 39 last year, I had an overwhelming itch to do something epic and a new boyfriend who was more than willing to be my partner in epic-ness. What started as an outlandish suggestion over coffee one morning turned into a plunge out of a perfectly good airplane. It was a extreme lesson in overcoming fear with a bonus shot of adrenaline. It was pure awesome.

6. Go on a solo vacation




When  my ex and I first split up, I had a hard time going out to dinner by myself. I felt like people were staring at me, wondering why I was alone. I felt awkward with no one across the table to talk to. It was lonely and boring. 

But the more I started doing things alone, the more I embraced it. So when I found out that my kids would be spending last summer overseas with their father, I decided to take advantage of that time to go on vacation. By myself. 

I spent seven amazing days in Turks and Caicos. I swam, walked, biked, shopped, read, wrote, collected shells, snorkeled, sailed, flew on a trapeze and totally de-stressed. And I ate every meal alone, a concept I never would have entertained three years ago. I treasured every second.

BONUS BUCKET LIST FUN


7. Go on a hot air balloon ride





This one is a relatively new idea and wasn't on my list a year ago. In the months leading up to my 40th birthday, I wondered how I was going to top my last birthday sky diving adventure. And one day it hit me out of nowhere that I wanted to go on a hot air balloon. 

The logistics were a bit more complicated for this one because it required traveling, working around a university's graduation and obsessing over weather reports, but it all came together in a chaotic, perfect kind of way. That new boyfriend of last year was once again my partner in epic-ness, plus my best friend who was also celebrating her birthday. 

Although both birthdays revolved around an up in the air sky theme, the experiences were totally different. Unlike the blurry rush of falling from 14,000 feet, hovering in the middle of the sky at 1,100 feet in the balloon was calm, peaceful and beautiful. I have to admit I had moments of frozen realization that I wasn't wearing a parachute and one false move could hurl me over the side of the basket. But when we started descending, I felt myself trying to stop time so the flight wouldn't end.


So what's next on my bucket list? I haven't figured that out yet. I think generally speaking, I want to continue trying new things, especially cool things I never thought of doing before. Since my boyfriend kindly amuses me by participating in my birthday adventures, I try to do the same for him. Last year we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, and I scrambled up rocks and bagged a peak when I didn't even know what that meant. 






This summer, when the kiddos are once again with their father for 10 weeks, we're heading out to Costa Rica for zip-lining adventures and sloth sightings. Other than that, I'm not quite sure what's next.
What I do know is that I refuse to sit around and wait for things to happen. I'm going to keep getting up and making things happen.



                                                                                  *****
Despite the tight squeeze in the hot air balloon basket and my fear of losing my grip on my phone and watching it plunge to its death, I did manage to take a Facebook Live video while up in the air. Check it out.



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