New Beginnings: How to follow through on resolutions 12 days into the New Year

take nothing leave nothingIt’s been a long time since I’ve written. I experienced a number of extremely difficult challenges in the early to mid-part of last year. And while none of those challenges actually precluded me from writing, by way of time consumption, I didn’t write here. I didn’t focus on creating the deliberate slow-paced, self-designed lifestyle that I wanted for myself. And I’ve fallen into some consumerist and stressful habits.

Yet with the soul searching, and reading, and studying, and praying, I have been put in a situation that allows me to start building something for myself and my new husband. This past October, my then-fiance was awarded a graduate assistantship which gave us housing at virtually no cost. So at the start of this year, we downsized from a two bedroom/two bathroom apartment to a 400 square foot studio (more thoughts on this next time).

I have the opportunity, time and space now to get my career together, without the pressure of a huge onslaught of bills. I do have some serious financial obligations, but nothing is so pressing that I’ll lose any sleep. Anyway, with all of this available time, and unlimited potential before me, I see how I could easily become a freeloading slacker. Being slow-paced isn’t necessarily being lazy. It’s just living a productive, meaningful life, without the chains of societal expectations holding you back.

So last year, while struggling through the consequences a job termination, totaled car (no injuries), and death in the family, (all of which occurred within a calendar week) I filled my mind with positive and productive ideas to keep me moving. At times, my state of physical and emotional burnout overtook me. And then there was the craziness of planning our November wedding in an extraordinary short period of time.  Outside of those moments, I was flying high off of everything that I was reading and a few ideas stuck with me. I wanted to share those ideas that I came across/figured out for living a meaningful, deliberate and productive life:

  1. Talking about an action depletes the energy needed for that action.  This basically means if you need/want to do something, don’t say you have to do it. Just do it.  Don’t share your excitement of this great idea you have, because if you do, you won’t have the energy to do it. For me, this is a big one: I’m all talk and no action sometimes.  I’ve probably heard this statement a thousand times from my husband, but it wasn’t until I read it in The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity by Edwene Gaines that the idea actually stick with me.
  2. Find a way to keep yourself accountable. This seems to contradict number uno, but this just means have a system in place to make sure you’re doing what you’ve set out to do. I don’t mean telling other people your goals and having them check up on you. Keeping myself accountable to other people, ie telling them “I’m going to work out 5 days a week,” doesn’t work for me. Either they annoy the heck out of me or make me feel guilty for not reaching my goals. What I’m talking about could be as simple as putting quarters in a swear jar or marking off items on a check-list.  For me, writing this blog reminds me to stay focused on the life I want to live. It is a way to chronicle my journey.  I think detailing your day in a journal, after you complete whatever it was you set out to do, is very effective and is a positive way to track your progress.
  3. Lower your standards, especially if there is something you are just getting started with. This is one I keep seeing from different bloggers, the first was Kazumoto from AJAAT (click the links in his article, they’re good further reading on the subject.) If you say, “I’m going to write a thousand words on my novel today,” and you haven’t written anything in a month or two, chances are it’s not going to happen. But if your goal is to just write something in your novel today, you’ll reach your goal if you write five words, fifty, or five thousand. (I’m totally, obviously not talking about myself, here). Now I don’t mean to produce poor quality on purpose.  I just mean, just do something, or do more than nothing. Let me tell you something: it is easy as heck to just do a little better than nothing, and as many of the others have said, you may find you do a quite a bit more than nothing (no pressure though).
  4. Be mindful of the process, and don’t fixate on the end goal. I seriously want write a whole post on this, but in brief, the idea is to immerse yourself in the task at hand. Don’t do something just to have it finished. If you focus on the process, before you know it, you’ll actually finish instead of lamenting how much time it is going to take.  So many of the things we love can be tedious. We plateau, get stuck, have to back-up and redo. A task you thought you liked might become tedious if you’re having trouble.  I am very much guilty of fixating on the end goal. But I noticed when I focus on the process of the task I’m completing, I enjoy myself more, and the task actually gets completed. Less stress in the end.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope these four thoughts can help you stay motivated with your New Year’s resolutions, life goals, or whatever ticks your clock. I’m signing off for the night.

Thanks for reading.

Peace and Blessings.

The Power of NOW

I think I figured out what prevents most people from becoming a minimalist. I know I spend a lot of time blaming advertisers and our personal greed, but that’s nto the only the problem. See, here in America, we have this NOW mentality. I need to lose weight NOW. I want to get out of traffic NOW. I need the iPhone 5 NOW. (Remember, we were talking about the iPhone 5 for a year before they even introduced it.) I can’t wait for Modern Warfare 3 to come out; I want to play it NOW. We live in a world of midnight releases, sneak previews, and early-bird specials. The problem with slowing down our lifestyles is our inability to wait. Instant gratification seems to be the cornerstone of our society.

If you want to have less stuff, and be less stressed, consider being patient. You see a cute pair of shoes at the mall… instead of buying them right away. Wait. Go home, pay some bills. Feed your dog; go for a walk. Look at all the other shoes you have and don’t wear. I bet you’ll think twice about getting them if you have to go back to the mall.

The point is this, we need to get out of this “I need it NOW” mentality. Yes, advertisers feed off of this. But once you realize what they are doing to your brain, you will be able to recognize it. Think about it: Why do advertisers prey on the NOW mentality? Because that is where they have you at your weakest: your impatience and your dissatisfaction with what you already have. If you were patient and satisfied with what you do have, then they’d have to sell you on quality, wouldn’t they?

Instead of saying how wonderful and high quality their product is, they tell you they are running out, or the sale only lasts a few days. “Hurry, or you’ll miss it.” I remember Toys-R-Us was running two-day-sale commercials for two months! It’s not really a two day sale  if it lasts for more than two days, is it? They fed into your now mentality.   Macy’s has a one day sale like every week. The “Buy it NOW” thing is going on all the time. You are in a crazed frenzy trying to get something NOW, but the NOW is always here. it will always be here. You can’t be anywhere other than now, so why worry about things that aren’t here NOW, and deal with what is. There will always be a sale or a discount or something you want NOW.

The NOW mentality is very much tied into mortality. “You don’t have forever you know, so do X, Y, and Z, NOW or you will miss out.” Our way of life forces us to be concerned about being in another situation, not enjoying the one we are currently in.   If we were enjoying the NOW, we wouldn’t be worrying about what ISN’T here NOW.  And then, we wouldn’t be worried so much about mortality, would we. We’d be enjoying every moment and making the most of our NOW, and the end wouldn’t be so bad.

My Comeback!!

I started writing this post in my head at least a hundred times: my comeback post. I’ve neglected this blog since my double move: once to a temporary location, and 3 weeks later to semi-permanent location. While I’ve neglected my blog, I haven’t neglected my decluttering efforts.  My new apartment is smaller than the old, and I had to clear out some things to make room for the what I actually needed.  Nonetheless, I have items spilling out of closets and drawers.  It is self-evident that my de-cluttering efforts have not reached their full potential.

It’s become clear to me that I need to get reorganized. I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. What better way than to do it than publicly on a blog? But instead of milking my comeback post into 5 comeback posts, I’ve decided to squeeze them all into one post. This way, I can quickly update you on what is going on in my life.

The Four Agreements: This is an excellent book, by Don Miguel Ruiz,  for dealing with some of the stress in life.  There were two agreements that I found the most applicable to my life. The first was,”Don’t take anything personally.”  Aside from its obvious meaning, Ruiz explains that what people say and do has nothing to do with you.   I followed that agreement almost perfectly for one week. My life was utter bliss.  I didn’t care about people cutting me off in traffic. The words and actions of others were rendered insignificant.  This is great for sensitive people, like me.

The second was, “Don’t make any assumptions.”  I think it pretty much speaks for itself in terms of meaning. The reality is that we have no clue about what is going on in other people’s heads. You may think you know, but you don’t. Once you stop assuming, and start asking questions, everything becomes much clearer.  Ultimately, this is a great book. Buy it. I will be reading it again soon. Oh! This book goes really well with Ruiz’s book The Mastery of Love.

The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Living: This is a wonderful decluttering book by Francine Jay. No, I haven’t decluttered yet, but I have read the book. This book changes your relationship with stuff and forces you to think about the items you actually need.  The book also makes you consider the life cycle of stuff (old cell phones, for instance). You bought it, now you must dispose of it properly. I think of it as a sort of punishment for being irresponsible with my spending habits.

I did a huge amount of decluttering before I went to Atlanta in October. Yet, I still have too much crap.  I was pretty satisfied with what I had accomplished before my trip.  When I came back, however, I still felt like there was way too much stuff hanging over my head. A month later, my apartment is a mess and there is still stuff everywhere. I feel like I’m pretty close to where I was before started on this “Joy of Less” journey. Still this is a great book. I didn’t follow the author’s instructions to a tee. If I had, I’d probably be in a lot better shape. The book was so good, I will be trying to decultter Francine Jay’s way and not the cheating way.  My biggest takeaway from “The Joy of Less” is that having open space (not a ton of clutter) gives you space to live your life and do the things you want to do. Think about that.

Writing: I’ve gotten overly ambitious again. I’m restarting my freelance writing/editing/proofreading/social media consulting business again. I’ve designed a logo and everything. I’m also participating in NaNoWriMo. More than likely I’m not going to finish my novel in a month because I haven’t been writing.  That’s okay though. I’ve at least started my super controversial novel. Also, I’m back to blogging.

Thesis/Grad School:I need to spend another semester on thesis: boo 😦 But I’ll be able to get my story closer to how I want it to be.  Unfortunately, this means I’ll need full-time income to support myself. Grad School is expensive.

Business: Recently, I’ve been inspired with another business idea. I spent all day Saturday perusing the internet for manufacturers and the like. Sorry, I’m not going to tell you what it is until it launches. I’m a bit superstitious.

Health: I’m participating in a weight-loss challenge with 9 other family members, which is kinda cool. It’s a Biggest Loser-type challenge. Except, I’m not sure I’m losing weight; the plan is to step it up this week before weigh-in on November 16th.

So that is pretty much everything that is going on in my life right now.  I have many new goals that I’m trying to implement all at once. I’m making a comeback! (and you can too).

Inspired by Anti-Procrastination Tuesday by Amy on New Nostalgia, I’m starting a new segment of my blog that briefly details what I did each day (or week) that brought me closer to my goals. It will be sort of like a gratitude journal, something I can look back on when I need motivation, and hopefully something that will inspire you to take baby steps daily to reaching your goal.

Have a great week, all!


Career Choices

I have talked very little about my career choice since starting this blog.  I know I’ve mentioned becoming a teacher in my “priorities” blogs, but I’ve questioned this career choice since I majored in elementary education for 2 semesters back in college.  I keep coming back to it though; I don’t know if that says something.

Career choices overwhelmingly influence how you spend your time, how exhausted you are, and how slow paced your lifestyle will be.  Teaching is a great slow paced career because you most likely get summers and major holidays off from work. I love the whole concept. Yes, you bust your butt 9-10 months out of the year working with students.  It is a great career for anyone who likes the idea of built in breaks.

And it’s a great career choice for me because working with kids is rewarding (even though it is exhausting), I love reading and writing, and staring at a cubicle in a windowless office all day is a miserable endeavor. I planned on easing into teaching and getting more experience by becoming a substitute teacher first.

Yet, the certification tests, fingerprinting and all of the other requirements seem daunting, and every time I seriously start thinking of teaching as a career I freak out and back away.

Last night, however, it occurred to me that I need to get a full-time job pronto. I’m 25 (about to be 26) and I haven’t had a full time job since I first graduated college in traumatic 2008. I’ve only had two full-time jobs (ever) and both laid me off in less than 4 months.  The summer of 2009 I started my part-time job hopscotch.  Needless to say, I’ve been rather pessimistic about the job market.

I’m still not sold that a full-time job is the way to go in terms of the slow life. Full-time jobs may provide some benefits (literally), but I’ve found that full-time fosters an overwhelming commitment to work. There is nothing wrong with loving your job or enjoying what you do, but I know people who answer work emails, call into meetings, and tell people to call them when they are on vacation.  I don’t want that.

That doesn’t change the fact that I’ll need the full-time income come January.  Mistakes in my past require me to work to pay for them.  And I didn’t pay for grad school with cash, either. I’m going to have to suck-it-up and work a little more than I’d like to for a while.  I will not, however, work myself into complete exhaustion. Hourly, wage jobs seem to encourage that.  The best thing I can do is minimize consumption of goods and services, and maximize my saving potential.

So, I came up with a solution to my “I need a full-time job” problem:  First what I’ll do is get work as a writer.  I should have no problem finding a “writing job” because my master’s degree is in, you guessed it, writing. After I’ve settled, I’ll slowly obtain the requirements to become a substitute teacher. That way, I can work on them when I have time, not when I’m focused on other things.  Once I’ve fulfilled all of the requirements, come November after I’ve defended, I can look for a part-time substituting job. The idea would be, by January, to earn full-time income by working both jobs part-time.  I like the variety it provides.

Both career options offer flexibility.  Substitute/full-time teachers are off in the summer and during holidays, and writers can often work from home.  I get the best of both worlds…

Sorry about the super late post everyone.  It seems I may have too much on my plate and need to cut back even further. New changes in my life coming about soon.

Multitasking Means Never Finishing Anything

Since I’ve slashed my priorities, I’ve felt my stress level greatly reduced. However, I’ve been struggling to keep the priorities I’ve settled on, as my only priorities. Throughout the month of June, I kept trying to devise ways to add exercising back into my routine (because I’ve gained quite a bit of weight, again), but theoretically, there just isn’t time. How could I incorporate a regular work-out routine when I could barely make sure I eat three, healthy square meals a day.

Furthermore, I’m an idea gal.  Mostly I come up with business ideas, but sometimes I come up with ideas of things I want to try, or write.  Unfortunately, I’ve become notorious for starting something new (business idea, hobby, project, etc) and then stopping when life gets in the way.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that I can’t do  a million things all at once. I can’t learn how to play guitar, become an expert at salsa dancing, develop fluency in Spanish, get my master’s degree, write 3 different books, and start a couple of small businesses all at once.  And I’m not counting all the professional-type items I’m trying to pursue.  I always  want to do everything–have to do everything–to be this perfect person.  While that may be far reaching, it’s still something I want. But I have to tell myself no.

I’m working on a bucket list (coming soon) to sort of placate my desires temporarily and work on them one at a time.  So when I do have free space in my schedule I can work on a particular hobby until I’m satisfied with it.

For some reason, I thought that being in grad school would give me time to work on my different hobbies, crafts, and business ideas. I frequently read on the news “College Student Develops Multi-Million Dollar Business.” Let me just tell you: you don’t have time for that in grad school. Let me rephrase. You don’t have time for that in grad school if you want to sleep.  I even hear stories about students studying writing, like me, and then publishing books. Sometimes I can’t help but beat myself up about not being able to overachieve. What I’ve failed to consider is that generally these students don’t have to work part time jobs to pay for school: they just have money readily available from their parents.  I don’t know where they get the time, though. Even when I took a semester off working, I focused my attention exclusively on my classes. I was too burnt out to do anything else. This blog has an awesome infographic that explains why media multitasking leads to burn out. But I don’t think this is limited to media consumption. It’s also applicable to activity consumption.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone doesn’t have the energy or the time to do a thousand things all at once.  If you multitask, you won’t be able to put your best effort into each and every one of those things. And you may be disappointed with the outcome.  If you don’t believe me, here’s scientific evidence and here are 5 examples on how Multitasking can be bad.

New Month, New Priorities

Photo Courtesy Kevin Rosseel, Washington, DC

Saturday, I took and passed (still waiting on the essay portion, though) the examination required to start substitute teaching in the fall. I don’t have to think about teaching certification until my scores come back (4-6 weeks).  I felt a huge mental burden was removed after finishing the test.  I almost wish I had taken the test back in February… With that priority out of the way, I can turn to focus on other matters.

Since I eliminated exercising for the month of June, I could do nothing but think about how I wasn’t exercising.  While I managed to get a couple of biking sessions in, they were by no means a focus or a priority.  I decided to take a slightly different approach to losing 10 pounds by my birthday (it’s August 9th). For July, I’m going to try biking to work to increase my “exercise” without dedicating an hour 5 days a week. I don’t work far from home; it’s just 1000 degrees outside and I always have a ton of stuff. I’m doing it anyway.

My new priorities are below. These are by no means in order of importance:

  1. Master’s Degree- ie lots of thesis writing and revising
  2. Lose 10 Pounds- more raw meals and increasing physical activity indirectly
  3. Finding Housing– Moving August 1, with the boyfriend  (who btw is an awesome music producer, hear it here)
  4. This blog, of course (I’ve been slacking, this post is late, sorry)
  5. My part-time work-study job (cuz I have to go to work to earn some $$)

So far, I’m feeling optimistic about this limited focus plan. I have given myself permission to not worry about things I’d be worried about otherwise. And I’m getting things done that I’ve been procrastinating forever. For instance, I didn’t feel like working on my thesis because the thoughts about the certification exam were bogging me down.  Now all I can do is think about how I’m going to make my thesis better.

I still wonder, however, if I need to streamline my priorities list even further.  Sometimes it still feels like I have too much on my plate. But I think the problem comes from the fact that I’m constantly thinking of new projects to work on.  More on this later… maybe Thursday 🙂

Have a great week!

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin: Set Priorities

Thank you Tim Ferris for revolutionizing the concept of work life balance.  Yet I have some qualms about his book. The 4-hour Work Week simply is unrealistic for for recent college grads with no job, no money and no small business. While it has great ideas I’d love to implement someday, and some of them I already implement (limiting news watching, email checking, etc.)  I can’t just ask my bosses to do my job from home.  Even though I could actually do my job from home, I’m a work-study student being paid by the government. Working from home as a work-study is probably illegal.

I’ve tried to find some other ways to implement Ferriss’s suggestions. But I’m not going to spend time outlining them as Improvised Life does here.  What I’m really looking for is a way to take control of my 500 responsibilities, and spend more time enjoying life.  For my friends and I, if we do have a small business, it involves selling our individual talents (personal training, freelance writing, web design, acting, etc.)  The amount of money we earn for these types of gigs largely depends on the amount of time we actually spend working.  Yes, I can revolutionize how I spend my administrative time, but outside of working, 4 hours just wont cut it.

I’m doing everything I can to make sure I can find a job (to pay back my debt) when I graduate from this master’s program. I’m also doing everything I can to ensure that my future dreams and goals met. These are my priorities:

  1. Master’s Degree- Thesis
  2. Certification activities to teach in Florida- Studying for and taking the General Knowledge Exam (GKE).  I’ve rescheduled the test about 3 times since February.  My current test date is June 30th.
  3. My part-time, work-study job
  4. Volunteering
  5. Maintaining this Blog- writing weekly (so far so good), active discussion via twitter, facebook & other blogs
  6. Maintaining my blog about writing- Writing weekly (hit and miss on posting regularly), active discussion/promotion via twitter, facebook & other blogs
  7. Creating, editing and uploading YouTube videos about being black in America- Posting weekly, active discussion/promotion via facebook, twitter, youtube & other blogs
  8. Finding a place to move for August
  9. Changing my eating habits
  10. Exercising more
  11. Freelance writing- I haven’t found any new work yet.  I’d like to for the money, but I haven’t had time to even look.

As I complied this list, I realized that I’ve spread myself far too thin- the list is exhausting just to look at.  It doesn’t include maintaining personal relationships, taking care of my dog, or doing anything fun:  these three go without saying.  Most of the stuff on this list is work related. How many priorities/interests are on your list? Some of the items on my list are absolutes, while others must begrudgingly go on the chopping block.  I decided to get down five priorities for the month of June.

  1. Master’s Degree- Thesis
  2. Certification activities to Teach in Florida- GKE is June 30th.
  3. My part-time, work-study job
  4. Maintaining this Blog weekly
  5. Changing my eating habits

It is difficult to remove some of the things I love from the list. Yet  just because they are coming off the list today, doesn’t mean they are coming off of my priorities list permanently. I have to remind myself of that, or else I’ll try to cling to dear life for some of them.

I’ve decided to take an indefinite leave of absence from volunteering and allocate that time to studying for the GKE.  I haven’t been studying at all, and the pressure for getting this test completed amplifies as time passes. I enjoy working with the kids at the Boys & Girls club very much, but I had to take it off the list.

I also had to remove video blogging and maintaining my writing blog from this list.  I don’t love the video blogging as much as I thought I would and it isn’t relevant for what I’m trying to accomplish short term.  Additionally, I enjoy maintaining my writing blog, and I think it is valuable to reflect on my writing process for my thesis; however, I actually need to get some writing done for my thesis.  Writing about my thesis all day long won’t actually get it done.

Over the last week, I went ahead and took the steps necessary to (temporarily) eliminate some priorities.  I think the hardest part was telling people: “I can’t do this anymore.” Some of them didn’t care as much as I thought they would. However, I’ve found that once I got the courage to say “no more,” I’m worried about fewer things.  That’s not to say that all of my stress has been eliminated, yet it has been greatly reduced.

I have a dry erase board on which I wrote down those 5 priorities.  I look at it every day to remind myself I don’t need to worry about anything else.