Friday, April 30, 2010

The Fantasy of What I Could Be

About two years ago I read a fabulous life-changing article called:

The Fantasy of Being Thin

I had the FoBT in spades. Like many women, I was waiting for my life to begin after I lost weight. I needed a new coat, for instance, but didn't want to spend the money until I lost 20-40 pounds. I had so many plans but felt like they wouldn't be able to come true (or wouldn't really count) until I lost some weight.

I can remember as a child hearing "you are such a pretty girl, if you just....." There was always a qualifying statement. Need to stand up straighter. Need to lose some weight. Need to close my mouth. Need to ....whatever.

Never mind that I wasn't very overweight as a child. I look back now on those pictures and I am shocked. Sure, I was never petite. I was tall for my age and my bones are thick so I could be skin and bones and I would never be described as "delicate." I was a little chubby, perhaps, but never by much--not until years of dieting and hating myself caused more weight gain in my late teens (particularly once I was in college).

Still, like many young girls, I suffered through a lot of teasing as a child. We moved a lot; I was an only child. I was probably too smart for my own good (smarts are really not valued in women until college age or older--let's face it, smart young girls find things can be a bit tough). I was impossibly shy and rather scared of life. One of my big problems was that I believed myself to be fat. In fact, I believed I wasn't just a little fat, but so fat that no one could possibly love me, let alone like me. I was convinced of it and it shaped my world.

Fast forward to a year or two ago, when I stumbled across a little article (linked above) that told me that I could learn to accept who I am today and get on with my life. I shouldn't have to wait for some mythical fantasy of what my life could be like when I accomplished the things I wanted (like weight loss) but could do the stuff I want now, if I would just believe in myself as I am now.

Powerful stuff.

I wanted to share it with all of you out there who might stumble across my blog. Whatever things have been holding you back--the Fantasy which will make your life better--when you get more money or lose weight or finish your education or find a boyfriend or ....whatever. You need to give that fantasy up. It doesn't mean that you won't get more money or finish your education or whatever the Fantasy is. I'm not telling you to give these things up, necessarily.

I am asking you to stop waiting for that mythical point when you will have "arrived" and life will be better because you've gotten that Fantasy. You need to accept who you are NOW, right now, in this stage of your journey. Do the things you have been wanting to do.

I have a beautiful coat which makes me feel sexy. I didn't have to wait until I lost weight. If I should lose weight in the future, I can get a new coat. Then again, the same goes with if I gain weight. Really, my life will go on just the same. There are things out there I need to do and I can't sit around and put life on hold because of some goal which may or may not be reasonable.

Learning to love myself is a difficult journey, one that I don't manage to the same extent every day, probably nobody does. I can't say that I don't look in the mirror and think I'd be better if I just lost a few pounds. That thought does come back. Old habits are hard to break.

However, I urge everyone to do as I am trying to do--work on self-acceptance and live life to the fullest now--as you are now. Because who you are now is worth it. We are worth it--just as we are.

P.S.: Before I get a bunch of comments about losing weight and how I should go about it, please look at the same site's FAQ and some of the links there. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Update on Quest's Progress: 1st Month

The road to Hell may or may not be paved with good intentions, but my Quest's path certainly is (hopefully it is leading me to a slightly better place--and one with a better climate since I'm not crazy about hot weather!).

I've made some progress on my three goals:

1. Cleaning my Office: I removed all paperwork and other obstacles from the floor (but some of it is still on my dining room table because I don't know what to do with it). The reason things make it to stacks in the office is because these things don't have a real home. A place for everything and everything in its place! I don't fulfill either of those two dictates. The office is better but some of it has simply migrated so this task can't be called complete yet.

2. Writing my Novel: Less progress to report here, mostly because I told myself that I'd do a bunch of house cleaning and organizing BEFORE writing. If this is my most important goal, I need to learn not to place obstacles in front of it.

3. Volunteer work: I did get a lot done for both of the nonprofits I volunteer with during this month. One of them had a big event in April which I did a lot of work on for them. I enjoyed myself and it was nice to have more time to devote to these tasks. I still have some paperwork and other planning for them which I need to organized so I didn't complete everything I wanted to, but my theme was about "Get Things Started" so I think this qualifies.

As for my list of 41 Things to Do Before I Am 42:

I can mark as completed--
32. Dress in a costume in public (I've done this before; I want to do again)

This was a bit of a cheat because I actually do this several times a year for historical reenacting. I knew I had events coming up. My intent when I wrote this was to have a new costume and do something a bit more than usual. Still, I did go out in costume (and people took pictures of me) and I had some new parts to my costume, so technically, this is completed.

The rest of my list isn't a cheat and will take a little longer to accomplish. I'm working on some of them soon (including making eggrolls--I bought the ingredients and plan on doing them this week).

Meanwhile, I think I can sort of claim victory on these:
30. Get a few readers on this blog (and have a few of them comment kindly)
31. Try a new hairstyle

I have had some readers stop by and two of you have left comments on some of my posts. Thank you for the feedback! That is very kind of you. This blog is such a personal quest, I wasn't sure anyone would find it worth reading or commenting on so I really appreciated your thoughts. It is weird to write into the ether like this and find strangers who are willing to be friends. :)

I also was given a pretty hair barrette (not in a style I usually wear) and I've worn it several times now. It isn't a drastic new hairstyle, by any means, but it was a small departure from my usual style, so it will count for now. I can decide if I want to pursue more drastic hairstyles or costume opportunities later.

For now, let's count 3 of my 41 things as complete!

I call this first month a (qualified) success. After all, I'm still here and trying to figure out my life. Better, I had a job interview for something I'd actually like to do so that is a hopeful sign that things might turn around for me.

Starting on April 28 (today), the second month of my quest begins. I've decided that my theme will be "Get to What Matters" and my goal will be to concentrate on the two or three things which matter the most to me: my goal to write a novel, my volunteer work, and applying for jobs. I will keep it simple--as much as possible--and figure that if I can keep up with my normal schedule of volunteer work, get some job applications in, and spend time every week writing my novel, this month is a success. Anything I manage to do on top of those things is bonus!

Photo from Koalazymonkey's Flikr Photostream

Monday, April 26, 2010

Petty Irritations and Control

Do you have any little things that annoy you? You know, something like a squeak in the floor of the kitchen when you step on it. It happens every time you go to get a glass from the cabinet but you never get around to doing anything about it.

Maybe it's some little thing your spouse does, like squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle (I do that!) or forget to close a particular door every time he goes into a room (my husband often forgets the door to the garage and I worry about animals getting into it--we had a possum once). Maybe it's the "idiot" who cut you off in traffic or the seemingly inconsiderate traveler at the airport who hit you with his shoulder bag. Or the mean man at the library who gave you such a hard time because you didn't recognize that the little sheet of blank paper left next to a machine was, in fact, a signal that he was still using the machine and would be back in a few minutes.

I think we all have little petty irritations or grievances which fill our days, some days more than others.

I've been thinking about the ones that have bothered me lately:

1. Never hearing back when I've applied for a really great job I'm qualified for, as if I'm not worth the time.

2. Noisy teenagers from the local high school peeling leaves off our bushes (making one completely stunted since it gets the most attention from several different students each day as they pass by). Why do they do this?

3. Two floor areas in the house have squeaked when we walk on them since we moved in 11 years ago. They are starting to annoy me but we've not gotten around to fixing them.

I have the usual run of other petty annoyances: snoring, cats which wake us up in the middle of the night, noisy neighbors, spam email, the fact that honey almost always crystallizes before you can finish the bottle, etc.

It's all minor, silly stuff really, but I've been thinking about how many of the things that get on my nerves are probably really about a feeling of a lack of control.

That's right--probably most things that annoy us are things which we can't control. I can't stop the teenagers from taking leaves off our bushes or make our neighbors be quieter. I certainly can't stop spam email or any of the other little annoyances which can pound at a person like the torture of dripping water. We could probably fix the squeak, but considering how long it's been and how many other small household projects need to be done, that can basically go in the same category.

My railing against these things in my head is really my frustration at dealing with a lack of control. I don't think any of us like to admit how much is out of our life is outside our ability to control.

What can we do? One, recognizing the problem might help. I need to recognize that these things sometimes get on my nerves more because I feel more out of control than usual. I may blow up over small things or be driven crazy by a squeaky floor that has been there for 11 or more years because other things seem out of control and I feel helpless.

Two, taking control of some aspects of life which can make a difference might help. I use To Do lists and posts like this to think through what I want to do and how to proceed. This at least gives me an illusion of control.

Three, the one thing we can control is our reaction to these annoyances. I can chose whether to let it drive me crazy or take it calmly. My own reactions to these irritations is the one thing of which I am in complete control. I need to remember that and take advantage of it.

Of course, I can also think about getting rid of some irritations. For a long time, some of the kitchen cabinets would not shut properly. About a year ago my husband spent an hour fixing the doors and now they all shut wonderfully. I enjoy being able to close the doors and have them stay closed. One irritation down, with little effort. We should all try to identify the little things like this which can be fixed and get them done when we can. It can make a startling difference in attitude.

There is some justification to sweating the small stuff and paying attention to those little irritations, especially the ones we can fix. Some we can fix, and for those we can't we need to recognize the larger problem and control our reactions.

I think the squeaky floor just went on to my long to do list. :) For the rest, I'll just have to work on my patience.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What Does My Remarkable Life Look Like?

I read a number of self-improvement blogs, whether geeky tips for computer optimization or personal finance articles or how to organize your life or seek happiness. One of my regular destinations is Unclutterer. They have a new article up (on Wed) about pursuing the life you want. It got me thinking about my life.

I am married, with no children (and rapidly reaching a point where children are unlikely outside of adoption) and still seeking who I am and what I want from life. I do have a vision of what I'd like to have in my life in the future (although it is rather vague career-wise).

My vision? My husband and I are collectors and long ago outgrew our tiny first home which we've lived in for 12 years. I want a larger home where we can have room to display our collections.

Ideally, this home would have a bit of property around it (not so big as to overwhelm us with work but large enough that neighborhood noise is less likely to trigger my anxieties). This may sound crass and materialistic but the major view I have of my life involves real estate, not because of some "keeping up with the Joneses" thing but because having that sort of place would allow us to pursue things we really love.

Space like that would allow us to entertain and share our collections with people. Also, we'd have to have more money so presumably my future self has found a career where I'm happy and earn enough to live in a nice house; hopefully we'd have both the time and money to pursue our hobbies and spend even more time with our volunteer work (which is already a large part of our lives). We'd have time to be passionate about the things we care about already. I'd prefer if that future career was something related to my passions: perhaps teaching or working with a museum or leading a nonprofit to further a cause I believe in (like literacy).

At various times I've wanted one child as part of this future (I'm an only child myself so I am experienced with the up-sides and down-sides of having only one). I am not always certain about this because my husband and I enjoy our life together as it is now, for the most part, and I worry how it would change with children.

I realize that many people can't understand how two well-educated people who work with children in their volunteer work could be less than eager to be parents, but it happens. It is our choice. For a long time, we were simply delaying the decision while I went to school. This was partly because of schooling and partly because I honestly feared pregnancy.

My mother wanted two children but I was an only child. This came about because she was physically unable to have a second child. She was pregnant several times, including after my birth, but I was the only one to make it full term. When I was old enough to understand this I became obsessed with the idea that I would have difficulty carrying a child full term. I asked my doctor ten years ago and he said that I should be fine, but I've always harbored that fear. I just didn't want to go through that heart break. Since I was already uncertain if I wanted kids, this added issue was enough to delay making a decision.

A few years ago we decided to try to have a child, but nothing came of it. I'm 41. It might not happen (and yes, I realize if it does I'm actually more at risk for complications in pregnancy than if I had done it earlier). We've decided to accept the idea that we may or may not have a child (and since our current situation without jobs--and hence without health care--it would be lousy timing to happen right now anyways).

So, my "Remarkable Life" may or may not be childless -- but it basically just involves who we are today but with more room, money, and time to pursue the things we love--both as a career and for fun.

Check out the Unclutterer article, which is very well written, and the comment section and think about what your remarkable life would look like.

We have to know what we are heading for if we are going to reach it. Knowing a little bit about the destination I am trying to reach will, hopefully, make it easier for me to make the decisions now which will get me there.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happiness, Time, and Money

Funny how life works out. I have more time this month than last month. Not because I found how to sneak more hours into the day (wouldn't that be helpful to many people?) but because I am no longer earning money--I lost my job.

When we have plenty of time, we have little money. When we have plenty of money, we have little time. I'm not sure which makes us happier. In fact, I think I prefer the time over money and I think my husband misses the money a lot more.

My husband (also unemployed) is rightfully concerned about our lack of income. There are things we want to do which we simply can't afford to do right now. This is frustrating and, frankly, worrying. When we were both employed, we were making more money than we ever had together. We paid off our debts and put some money in savings. We are in a much safer place than we might otherwise have been at this moment, because we were careful.

(We had both been unemployed at the same time over a year ago, with debt and no money in savings and that was truly painful so when we both got hired at companies last year, I vowed to pay off the credit card and put money in savings. Hurrah, foresight. Here we are again, but with a better position).

If we are careful and no emergencies come up, we might make it for quite awhile. Of course, his car is starting to make weird noises and probably needs to be taken in to the shop, and our cat is sick and the vet has been expensive, but.....still, we are pretty lucky.

I'm happy about the increase in time we have. Sure, I'm worried about the lack of money but I really hated that job and I really love spending time with my husband. I'm seeing the bright side to our situation right now.

Strange, though, I have so many more hours to do what I want--and I think I'm getting even less accomplished. How do activities swell up to fill our days? This week went by so quickly and the three or four things I wanted to accomplish still are before me, not behind me. It is some sort of weird goldfish principle with time.

So I face two paradoxes:

Apparently, you can have time or money, but seldom both at once. Either way, you will find it hard to do the things you want to do.

The more time you have, the more you will fill it with small tasks and you won't actually get more accomplished.

I'm happy to have more time but unhappy that I don't seem to be making better use of it. Also, some things we wanted to do when we had time take money so they are out. When we do have money again, we won't have the time because it will take awhile to build up vacation time. Catch 22?

Do you find yourself filling your time with emails, blog reading, and small household tasks and never getting to the important things on your list? If so, what tips can you give me? And is there any solution to the money/time paradox??

-Beautiful Photo from ToniVC's photostream

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Intentions, Unfinished Tasks, and the Lure of Books

I'm embarrassed when I read my last post. I seemed so sure of myself as I set out to tackle my unruly office.

I meant well but didn't get too far. I did take everything on the floor of the office and place the stuff on the dining room table. I didn't get much farther.

Why? I don't know. I was upset with my husband that morning and ended up retreating to a book. Books are a safe refuge. I often have buried myself in a book to get away from life. I can remember doing this as a child.

I'm an only child and was frequently lonely. However, you can't be truly lonely surrounded by your fictional friends. I would read new books or reread favorite books (some I would reread yearly). During my dissertation I would sometimes escape to read a book or reread an entire series of books which I loved. Luckily, I am a fast reader (100 pages an hour, if the book is good).

So, I was supposed to clean the office (that was my one goal for the day) and instead I had an argument with my husband, made a mess of the dining room, and then retreated to my book.

I enjoyed the book but was left feeling guilty that I didn't follow through on my plans. I'm writing this a day or two before you are reading it, so hopefully by the time this is posted I will have gone back and finished what I started.

Good intentions only get you so far. Following through is the part I am still working on in my life.

As Hamlet says,

"And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action."

Well, cleaning the office may or may not have "great pith and moment" but I certainly lost "the name of action" again. I am a better planner than a doer sometimes.

This is one of the things I am working on during this year long project. Books are great and I'm not going to stop reading. However, I can't let books or other things (like minor disagreements with my husband) put me off from the tasks at hand.

Good intentions are only useful if followed by good actions. This month's theme may involve starting tasks but that doesn't mean I don't want to also finish tasks.

This is especially important when you have one task linked to another. I told myself that I couldn't get started on writing my novel until I had things a bit more under control. I defined that by a clean office and organized bills and other paperwork and a generally clean house.

This is an easy sort of procrastination. You decide to put off doing a task you really want to do by assigning some other tasks first. You then put off those tasks. Serial procrastination! And you can't be blamed for not writing your novel--after all, you still have to clean the house. Ta Da! Excuses are furnished, no extra charge.

I see what I am doing to myself. Now the question is--can I fix the problem??

(I read an interesting article on procrastination which deals with a topic I've seen before--what is essentially productive procrastination--procrastinating on less important things to do more important things and making the procrastination habit work for you. If you are like me and suffer from this problem, you might want to read it to see if it helps you.)

(I'm going to try moving to MWF posting starting this week and see how it goes....)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cleaning House and other Hard Things

One of the things on my to do list was cleaning the office. This may not sound like much to people who keep their rooms neat and tidy by default. The problem is really that my "office" has become the room equivalent of a junk drawer.

When company was coming over we'd pick up all the stuff that was out and shove it in the office and close the door. Something doesn't quite suit the decor of the living room? Shove it in the office. Don't have room for this? Shove it in the office. Just got back from a trip and have a bag you haven't unpacked but have company coming over soon? Shove it in the office.

When we first moved into this house 11 years ago, the office had three filing cabinets and one bookcase in it. The desk moved in shortly thereafter plus a rocking chair. It was a mostly empty room. However, my husband and I are avid readers and obsessive collectors. Also we are both researchers so paperwork/filing can get quite complex. More and more stuff moved into the office. It now has 6 bookcases, 4 filing cabinets, one table, one steamer trunk, one rocking chair, one desk and chair, a quilt rack, a shelving unit of boxes, three filing carts, and a microfilm machine. All of this "fits" into a 10x10 room.

Add to this the stuff we've shoved into the room and you have piles on the floor everywhere so that you can't walk around the table and trunk in the middle of the room to get to other parts of the room.

I've tried cleaning it before but every time I get close to finishing, something happens and more stuff gets shoved in there.

So here I am again, with a huge office cleanup facing me today. I'm going to pull everything on the floor out of the office (leaving behind the furniture and anything that is "in its place." Then I will start finding places for this stuff. I will need to do more than that to get the room figured out but first I just have to be able to walk around the room. It seems like a place to start.

It is always hard to start a project that seems overwhelming, especially one that you have tried to do several times but always ended up as a failure.

I'm going to try to analyze what went wrong the last times I tried this project as I clean out the room today and see what I can change about how we relate to this room. It's the only chance I have of making real progress.

Real progress--that's what I'm looking for, starting today!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

41 Things to Do Before I'm 42

I like lists. Did I mention this?

Since this first month of my quest involves setting forth my plan, I thought it would be fun to make a list of 41 things I'd like to do this year.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. Take a class in letterpress printing
2. Go to visit my Grandma again (she lives out of state and is 91)
3. Visit a cave
4. Sightsee in my own city for several days
5. Write to someone in secret code
6. Plan a scavenger hunt for someone and follow through and do it
7. Paint something (a project)
8. Mosaic tile something (a project)
9. Sew a piece of clothing from scratch (I started a vest but didn't finish it)
10. Finish the clock I started to make but never completed
11. Paint a wall some color other than off white (every room but our bathroom is white)
12. Buy and wear some funky, impractical sandals just for fun
13. Roll down a grassy hill
14. Try new recipes
15. Make eggrolls
16. Make Cornish Pasties from scratch
17. Make some of my own jewelry (beads, perhaps?)
18. Go to the desert to look at wildflowers
19. Go Antique store shopping in LA
20. Go to the Rose Bowl/Pasadena Swap meet on the day antique dealers are there
21. Bargain for something at a garage sale
22. Try a fruit I've never eaten before (passionfruit, or something else?)
23. Cut up a whole pineapple the proper way (I've read about it but never done it)
24. Give a speech in public on a topic I care about (I've not had the chance to do
this lately)
25. Get something I've written published (either fiction or nonfiction)
26. Take a fiction writing course (I've done it before but want to do it again)
27. Make a Christmas Ornament
28. Paper mache something
29. Try a new board game or two with friends/family
30. Get a few readers on this blog (and have a few of them comment kindly)
31. Try a new hairstyle
32. Dress in a costume in public (I've done this before; I want to do again)
33. Get my face painted like the kids do at carnivals or fairs
34. Bungee jump (or the equivalent fair ride where they fling people upwards)
35. Ride a train longer than two hours--preferably a day long trip or overnight
36. Have a massage and a facial
37. Try at least three different types of cheeses I've never had before
38. Make my own ice cream
39. Make my own bread, with yeast I raised myself
40. Act in a scene or play in front of an audience at least once this year
41. Have a dinner party where more than one couple is invited to our house
(family doesn't count in this case)

If I do these things, it would be quite a year, wouldn't it? Do all this plus get organized at home, make progress on my three projects for this month, and find a job? Sounds like I better get to work!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fear, Procrastination, and Getting Started

Fear. Considering how often I've mentioned it since I started this blog, you might think it rules my life.

I suppose in some ways it does (or at least, it has) but the main reason why I've been focusing on it is because I think it is a main reason why many of us don't pursue our goals.

We fear failure; sometimes we even fear success. We fear pain and death. Many people fear being alone and will accept being in a bad relationship rather than face loneliness. I saw a family member freak out during the earthquake on Sunday--sheer panic took over and she was hyperventilating, squeezing her husband's shirt so hard he thought she was going to strangle him, and squealing for the full 30 seconds of that earthquake. It was a bad earthquake in Baja, California, but where we were it caused very little damage in our city and caused no damage in her house or ours. However, it did bring out fear. She spent the rest of the evening asking if we thought an aftershock would come, and if it did, when would it strike. Since they are impossible to predict, we just did our best to comfort her.

I know that I've had some really bad times with fear at earlier times in my life (as I explained in a recent post). I've been working on facing these fears and getting beyond them, as much as possible.

Since I lost my job last week, I thought I'd be facing a lot of new fears. Perhaps I will soon, if I don't find work after awhile, but so far it has been kind of nice.

However, I know that I still have to fight my great enemy, procrastination. Too often fear leads to procrastination. I've read about it many times and know all of the tricks one is supposed to use. However, most of them don't really work if you've let the habit of procrastination take hold of your life and/or you are plagued by fears. I know this from the years I spent writing my dissertation. Fear and procrastination can control your life and, even when you recognize the problem, it can be hard to do what you need to do.

Here are a few things that have worked for me:

* I make lists. This gives me a sense of control and a reward for doing something--I get to cross something off my list!)

* I set a timer. Sometimes I can avoid the internet/email siren call by setting a timer for tasks. I tell myself, "I'll work on this for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, I'll take a 10 minute break (also on timer) where I get to do internet stuff." I can have a very productive afternoon if I remember to set the timer, actually pay attention to it when it rings, and pick useful stuff to do (not just busy work that seems productive, but actual things that matter).

* I tell myself "I just need to get started." Instead of saying, "I'm going to clean the office," I say, "I'm just going to start cleaning the office today by putting away file folders for a few minutes." Sometimes that is just enough to break past my unwillingness to do what seems like a long and painful task. Even if I only put way the file folders, at least the office is a little better and I can do another portion later. Good chance is that I did more that just the one item, though, once I got started.

* I set deadlines. This only has worked for me when they are REAL deadlines, unfortunately. When my dissertation chair gave me firm deadlines with real consequences, I finally started making good progress on my dissertation. Otherwise, it was too easy to put it off or just work on it a bit more because it could be better. I've tried setting monthly deadlines to share writing projects with my husband but neither of us took them seriously and so we haven't followed through on this even once since I suggested it. I'm going to reexamine this idea and see if we can't do it for real, starting with the next date (I chose the "Ides" of the month--so we had to show at least 4 pages of progress in our writing every 15th of the month). Since my husband and I have similar problems with our projects, the deadline was supposed to help us but instead both of us blew it off and it didn't work.

As you can see, each of these tips is really a psychological trick to get past a mind block and get a project started.

Since this month's theme (each month will go from my birthdate of the 28th to the next 28th) is all about tackling difficult items on my list, I have to chose three items and get started on them. Cleaning the office is one of these. Writing my novel is another. I'm still choosing the third item. I want these to be projects where getting some significant progress on them will make a difference in my life. I think the third one will be about one of my volunteer positions (I do a lot of community work). I'll record my progress here.

So far, at least, I've kept up my Tues and Thurs posts. If I can manage that for a few weeks, I will probably increase the posting schedule. I wanted to start small to make sure I could handle it. I hadn't planned to be unemployed when I chose my schedule so I was being cautious.

If anyone is out there reading this, try tackling one or two projects of your own in the next month and report in on how you are doing. Sometimes having others trying the same thing can help push past the fear keeping us back!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fight or Embrace the Tide

"Vir, do you believe in fate?"
"Well, actually, I believe there are currents in the Universe. Eddies and tides that pull us one way or the other. Some we have to fight, some we have to embrace. Unfortunately, the currents that we have to fight look exactly like the currents we have to embrace. The currents that we think are the one that's gonna make us stronger, they are the ones that are going to destroy us. And the ones that we think are going to destroy us, they are the ones that are going to make us stronger. Now, the other current--"
"Vir! Yes or no?"
"Yes!... You know,....somewhat,....why?"
-Babylon 5

I just had a big change happen in my life; I was laid off from my job of one year. Strangely enough, this happened at the same time I was trying to figure out a plan for my life and began this strange quest to discover the "real me" before I turn 42.

I am trying to view this as a rare opportunity. I had just been lamenting my lack of time to pursue projects or to finish my massive to do lists (filled with household projects, good ideas for websites or books, organizing projects, things I promised my family I would do, volunteer duties, etc.). Now, suddenly, I have lots of time.

On the other hand, my husband and I are both unemployed (which means limited money and no health coverage). That is pretty scary.

I could do what I did last time I was unemployed (strangely my husband and I were both unemployed at the same time then too) and apply for any job out there (even things that I know I won't enjoy)--which is how I ended up at the workplace I just was laid off from (and where I was increasingly unhappy).

The other option is to take this as a golden opportunity and use this time to pursue my dreams. I can take the little bit of unemployment insurance money, spend lots of time doing volunteer work and personal projects, and apply only to those jobs where it would be a true vocation to me (in the old sense of the term to indicate a calling of my heart).

In other words, I don't know whether to embrace or fight the current which the universe has placed me in this week. Losing this job was both the greatest thing that could happen to me and a horrible, horrible occurrence.

These are interesting times we live in--just like the ancient curse always offers to us. Interesting times are good--but they are not easy. That's where I am right now.

I can't expect things to be easy if I am going to complete my quest, right? The difficulty of my quest cannot stop me. I must embrace this current and swim to my goal. I'm diving into whatever fate is ahead of me and hoping that I won't drown before I find what I am looking for in my future.

Here's to "fate" and all that it is bringing with it!

Photo from Three Dots Flickr feed

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Uncertainty of the Future and Fear

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought you heard a person breaking into your house? Your heart pounds as you strain to hear what woke you up but you hear nothing. If you are like me, this has happened many times when nothing is actually wrong.

Worse, I used to do this nightly and then spend an hour or more feeling like I was suffocating. I started thinking that our heater was malfunctioning and I was being poisoned by carbon monoxide. I'd have to check every room of the house and then open a window and breathe the cool air for awhile and try to calm down.

I slept poorly. Every noise made me tense. A clock ticking or a fan clicking could keep me from sleeping.

What was causing this? Stress, Anxiety, Panic Attacks--whatever you want to call this, I didn't know what was causing it or how to stop it.

When we moved to our new house, the night time terrors eased but new anxieties struck me. I was working from home and "protecting my house" during the day became my new obsession. The enemy? Anyone I could see from my front window and whom I could hear making noise. I was obsessed with tracking who was near our house.

Luckily, this too has eased with time. I've worked hard to calm down over the years. It helps that I stopped working from home (more on that in a minute).

Each of my fears listed above were irrational. I knew they weren't really something to fear yet knowing and having my stomach believe me were two different things.

I could get horrible stomach aches and intestinal distress from teenagers skateboarding on our block for a few minutes and shouting a bit. Were those teenagers likely to harm our house? No, I knew that was unlikely, but I would still fearfully peer out, feel my stomach turn, and possibly end up with multiple trips to the bathroom. Fear and Logic are not partners. My head could say one thing but my stomach seldom listened.

I think I feared uncertainty more than anything. I made plans to hedge off uncertainty. I am a huge fan of lists and calendars. I like spontaneity, I say, but my husband knows that this means what I call "planned spontaneity" where we set aside a designated time to do something fun. He can't just say, "Hey, let's go out to a movie this afternoon. Forget the plans you made for making dinner. Let's go out." The idea of doing something different from my plans can be very stressful.

The problem is--you can't stop uncertainty. There is no way to know what the future holds. For instance, I was just laid off from my job the other day. I wish I could say this was an April Fool's Day gag, but it isn't.

I had been unhappy there for awhile (I was laid off two days before my one year anniversary there). Some of my coworkers were not very kind people. Also, they did not have enough work (government contracts weren't coming in at their normal rate and that's how they do business) and I hadn't been as busy lately. My position was really a bonus--sort of like having an assistant to do work which you could do on your own but figure that the assistant can do it better (more specialized knowledge with graphics and design) and you have more time to do other things. I knew this could happen, but I guess I didn't really believe it WOULD happen.

I had been planning to write this post about anxiety even before I was called into my boss' office. One of the prime examples of anxiety I was going to use was that I had been waking up with terrible stomach aches and nausea for weeks, because of anxiety over my job. I simply didn't like going in to work. Once I got there, my stomach would settle, but it was the unknown of what the day was going to be like that would eat at me.

Now I have a new anxiety. My husband has been out of work since November. Now we are both unemployed. It just goes to show that you can never know what is going to happen. I had been applying to jobs for the entire year that I have been in this position and have had no interviews. Now I really need a new job. My husband has had many interviews since November, including two this week, but no job offers.

Life is uncertainty. I wanted to spend the year leading to my 42nd birthday figuring out how to make my life the one I really want. Strangely enough, the first thing that happened wasn't even something I was planning to do. I lost the job I hated before I found a new and better one.

Things don't always go as we plan, but I'm trying to figure out ways where I can live with that--and where panic attacks, stomach aches, and other signs of stress become a much more minor part of my day. I'm making a point to not let the teenagers outside bother me. They aren't going to hurt my house; I just need to learn to let go a little. Uncertainty and Fear may always be around, but I don't have to live my life running scared.

Photo from Stuant63's photostream

* Have any advice for someone who has difficulty dealing with fear? Have you suffered from similar problems and how did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments.