2019: My year of focus

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I always dedicate the new year to a word. Last year’s word was confidence, and it was a life changing year that included clarity, a job change, expanding my comfort zone, and the birth of a novel after a devastating drought of inspiration.

If you’d like to read the details of my past 4 word journeys, including the game changing details from my year of confidence, here they are:

Part 1: The words that led me to my year of confidence

Part 2: A look back at 2018, my year of confidence

I’ve been considering my word for 2019, praying and meditating for the past few days on the one that will further my journey. My word for 2019 is FOCUS, and I’m so excited to take my life path to a whole new level.

But it goes further than that. The truth is, my word for the year is actually FIVE words: Pray ~ Plan ~ Focus ~ Execute ~ Persist. These words take the past 4 word journeys of intention, perseverance, faith, and confidence, and bring them all together to my 2019 year of focus—the year I stop getting in my own way. Over the past several years, I mistakenly believed my own worth was tied to how many plates I could keep spinning at the same time. It turns out I can keep a lot of them spinning, but I lost myself at the same time. Suddenly, the process became more important than the outcome. My dreams died a slow death as tasks became my bloodstream. I realized I was letting my family down, I was losing my dreams, and I had lost myself.

I don’t care what it is, anything that steals your zest for life needs to be stopped. I had lost my zest for life.

And then, I regained it.

Here we are, just about to enter 2019, and I have the promise of an almost finished novel in my grasp, one that gives me the same excited feelings I had when I prepared to publish my very first novel. That’s huge!

I have end goals in mind on this journey of focus. I expect this year will see strides made in my writing and publishing career, and in my overall health. But my attention is on the journey itself. What can I do now that will get me closer to my desired result? Which small goals can I make that will bring me further down this road? Instead of focusing on the big things I want, my focus is better served by looking at the steps just in front of me and continuously moving forward. And if I slip up, my focus needs to not be on the mistake, but on brushing myself off and moving forward once again.

Advertisements

A look back at 2018, my year of confidence

breaking free

If you haven’t already, go back and read my last post on the words that led me to my 2018 word of the year. Those words were:

2015: Intention

2016: Perseverance

2017: Faith

At the end of 2017, I was reeling from three months that included a massive fire that devastated my hometown, a failed book release, a writing project that took my failure to a whole new level, plus the realization that I couldn’t handle the busy life I had created for myself. I was still in school, working full time at a job that was eating me alive, volunteering as a mentor at my church, and completely failing my family since I had nothing left to give.

I was broken. I questioned everything about my life. I felt like a massive failure, adding up all the years I’d dedicated to writing books and the lack of success that had come from it. I forgot about all the accomplishments I’d experienced in past years because 2017 was just so bad.

My word for 2018 became confidence, because my confidence was utterly shaken. I needed a year to get a grip and realize my worth. It wasn’t just about confidence in who I was, it was also confidence in WHOSE I was. Despite every flaw I owned as my identity, I needed to remember that I was God’s daughter, completely loved and cherished. My mistakes, my flaws, my carefully laid out plans, my intelligence or lack thereof, my job, my successes, my failures, my extra 20+ pounds, my bank account, my ideas for how I wanted my life to be, and my disappointments in how I hadn’t yet reached that bar….none of these things defined me. What defines me is that I am God’s creation and He delights in every single thing I do. He knows what I’m capable of, and is excited to see me accomplish it.

But before I could accomplish anything, before I could understand my worth, before I could get even close to feeling confident in who I am and whose I am…I needed a break.

I knew this deep down, but I didn’t know how to make this happen. So God made it happen for me. At the beginning of the year, my mother-in-law required full-time care in her home. She was returning from a care facility following surgery after a bad fall, and was confined to a wheelchair. Much of her available funds were used up, and we were running out of options.

It’s you, I heard God tell me. You’re the one who is supposed to do this.

20 years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom to my firstborn, and was getting ready to start working again. After a brief stint at as a hotel worker, I decided to take courses to become a certified nursing assistant. Over the next few years, I was able to juggle motherhood while also working at a convalescent hospital, and working as an in-home aide to the elderly.

Two decades later, God was telling me to take those skills and apply them to caring for my convalescing mother-in-law. Here’s the thing—I had a rocky relationship with my MIL. A few years ago, we got into a blowup over something, and it ended poorly. The situation was never resolved, and both of us swept it under the carpet. However, I’m deeply affected by conflict. Every single time we visited after that, I’d end the evening in a full-blown panic attack that felt something like excruciating, doubled over stomach pain, triggered by anything that started to look like an argument. And I was supposed to care for her full time, 24/7?

“I’ll do it,” I told my husband.

The result was more than I could have imagined. Yes, there were some rocky moments in the time I cared for her. We had a few arguments. There were some frustrations. But more than that, we developed a better understanding of each other. I became fond of her, and protective of her well-being.

But there’s a deeper reason why God instructed me to take this on—I needed a break.

Caring for my MIL is a funny way to take a break, but that’s exactly what happened. After two weeks of trying to juggle my job and being a full time caretaker, plus hyperventilating about the college classes I’d signed up for that were just about to start, I took family leave from work. I got 6 glorious weeks away from the newspaper so that I could focus on my MIL’s care. I was also able to devote more energy to my classes, which included creative writing and literature, two classes that transformed my writing endeavors.

And I started scaling back and learning to say no. I let go of a few obligations that were sapping my energy. I slowed down. I gave myself permission to stop writing books, and wrote only for me instead. I learned how to do one thing at a time. I’m not going to pretend it was all wine and roses—I was still caretaking, and I struggled with never having a moment just to myself. But life became simpler, my brain less foggy, and the weight began to lift from my shoulders. I started recognizing myself in the mirror, no longer seeing the unrested, emotional girl weighed down by that day’s top headlines.

As the layers of my trodden newspaper self began to peel away, my confidence began to increase. Remember my word for the year? Confidence. I was still in the infancy of this word when I began looking for other work, hoping to score something before my family leave was up. I had sought out work before, but I never actually believed I’d get hired anywhere else, even with a pay cut, because I didn’t have a college degree. This time was different. I knew I’d reached the point where I could no longer go back to the newspaper, even if it meant I had to take a pay cut….even if it meant I didn’t have another job. In my time away, I realized I was dying a slow death in my job, that this wasn’t the place for me. I’d been lucky to have this job, it opened a lot of doors for me and taught me so many things. But I was not meant to do this job. It belonged to someone who was passionate about this line of work, not me. I applied to a few interesting jobs, including a real estate marketing job that involved every single thing I loved about my current job, and left out all the stuff I hated. I applied, and wrote a killer cover letter that shared every single reason why I belonged with their company.

Long story long (you can read the full story here), I got the job! I worked at the newspaper for only two or so more months before I left. I’d been there a total of 11 years. In that time, we were owned by three corporations (including the New York Times), I met my husband there, I got my own column, we won the Pulitzer Prize (for our coverage of the fires), and I met a lot of wonderful people, some of which I know I’ll remain in touch with.

I know this is going long, and I apologize. Thank you for sticking with me this far. It’s just that this year has been one of transformation, all because I decided to focus on growing my confidence and letting go of a lot of things that were weighing me down. As I mentioned before, writing was one of those heavy things, which is crazy. But as I mentioned earlier and in my last post, my last few writing projects had failed. I was reeling from my horrible attempt at writing a book right after the Santa Rosa fire tragedy. I had released a book at the end of 2017 and another at the beginning of 2018 (the final installments of the Hope series), all to a lukewarm audience because my heart just wasn’t in it. All that work felt like it was for nothing, and I stopped seeing writing as something I loved to do, and started seeing it as something that was letting me down. It wasn’t making me any money. No one was reading my work. It was all a huge waste of time. Giving myself permission to stop writing felt like a huge weight off my shoulder. I also stopped blaming myself for these failures, offering grace to myself, instead. Somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn, believing MORE was the best option until my plate was so full, even tiny droplets were tipping the scale. The fire sent me over the edge, but if it hadn’t been that, it would have been something else. I’d lost my margins, to the point that writing—my one escape—no longer filled my soul. The idea that I might never write another book was both terrifying and relieving. I actually accepted that this was the end.

And then…

I woke up from a dream, a man’s face in my mind. I knew his fate. It was followed by a story that began flowing through me. The muse was back! I raced out of bed to my computer where I typed out the layout to my next book as fast as it was coming to me. I stayed there for hours, getting every detail down. Before I knew it, I had the plan for my next book, the characters, the setting…everything! This was a week into my summer vacation. I had planned on spending the summer reading everything I could get my hands on (thanks to my awesome literature class), and this novel was completely unexpected. Well, I did both. I read as much as I could, soaking up words from authors I loved, learning how they did it through each story. I read across genres, from classic literature to sensual romance to spiritual inspiration to contemporary fiction…and everything in between. And I wrote. The story snowballed as I wrote it, the characters becoming three-dimensional as they surprised me, told me their backstories, revealed their weaknesses, and took me on twists and turns in an adventure I’m not exactly writing, but transmitting. The story is flowing through me in ways I can’t describe. I’m just the scribe.

This brings me to today. The story isn’t done yet. I had to put it down while I finished my fall finals. Those ended last week, this week is Christmas, and after the holiday, I’m back to the story. My goal is to finish the rough draft by the middle of January, and have the rough draft done a few months after that. Once again, I’m excited about writing, and that’s the best feeling in the world.

To cap it all off, here are some of the accomplishments of this past year of confidence:

– I mended my relationship with my MIL

– I quit my newspaper job and found a new job (that I love!) in marketing

– I relearned how to slow down

– I started writing my next novel

– I read 53 books (and counting! The year isn’t over yet!)

– I became more sure of who I am, WHOSE I am, and what I actually want out of life

This last one is a work in progress, and probably always will be. Confidence will always be a work in progress. Any word I’ve worked on over the years is a work in progress.

I am a work in progress.

However, each word has taught me a little more about myself, and has paved the way for each new year’s adventure. Which leads me to my NEXT adventure—2019, and how I tied all of these words together for this next leg of my journey…

To be continued…

The words that led me to my year of confidence

Every new year, I dedicate that year to a specific word that will shape the next 365 days and hopefully take me further in my improvement journey. I always pray and meditate on this word, waiting on God to reveal the things in my life that need my attention and the theme that will guide me throughout the next year. At the end of each year, I’m amazed at how perfect that word really was, and how much it’s transformed my life.

Here’s a recap of the words I’ve chosen since I started recording them here:

2015: Intention

2016: Perseverance

2017: Faith

And then there was my 2018 word of the year: Confidence

To say this year has been transformational is an understatement. The goal of 2018 was to not only be confident in who I am, but WHOSE I am. It was to build myself up, because at the end of 2017, I was a complete shell of who I was supposed to be.

However, it’s hard to talk about my 2018 word without recapping the past year’s words. So let’s take a look back.

In 2015, my word intention was meant to ensure every action I made was intentional. What ended up happening was a mini crisis of the soul, leading me to a soul retreat in August of that year, which then led me to writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul—a book I published the following year that not only described ways to make creativity a priority in your life, but also explained the ways we block our own creativity and how to break through those blocks. Not only that, but the month before I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I live-wrote my Peter Pan prequel book, Loving the Wind, releasing chapters after writing each one. This was one of my favorite books I ever wrote, as it practically wrote itself. I ended 2015 with one published book (Come Here, Cupcake), two more books written (Loving the Wind and Creative Soul), and a feeling that my year of intention was a success.

In 2016, my word of the year was perseverance. I was riding high off of my 2015 accomplishments and was ready to continue the momentum. I mapped out each month of the year with lofty goals, and then tacked it to my wall so I could stay the course. What was supposed to be motivational ended up being incredibly stressful. By that summer, the list was gone, and I chose to go at a slower rate. Ha. My slower rate meant that I added college to my already packed life, and I ended the year with two more books written back to back—the 2nd and 3rd books of my Hope series. At the time, I reached a breaking point at my job where I knew I’d have another nervous breakdown (related to my 2015 crisis of the soul) if I didn’t find a new place to work. I’d always felt like I was stuck where I was, lucky to even have a job, because I didn’t have a college degree. I figured I had a handle on my life structure—I mean, I laid it all out in Creative Soul. I was an expert on this! And so, adding college courses was a piece of cake. I could totally succeed as a student while also juggling family life, a full time job, volunteer work, and writing books.

Right.

I ended 2016 with two more published books (the ones I wrote in 2015), two more books written (Hope at the Crossroads and Hope for the Broken Girl), an A in the two classes I took, and the worst flu of my life, possibly brought on by sheer exhaustion. Yeah, I persevered, but I ran myself ragged doing it.

In 2017, my word of the year was faith. While 2016 had been a success, I also realized I was trying to do everything on my own. I was also reeling from the 2016 election and was just feeling completely dejected over the direction our country was taking. And so I started the year with a 7 day fast. I was already super sick and my appetite wasn’t there. Still, surviving on just juiced vegetables was an incredible experience. Once I got past the hunger, I felt surreal. My body buzzed with a different kind of energy, and my mind was clearer than it had ever been. I spent those 7 days in deep prayer and meditation, and ended it with excited anticipation over the faith journey I was embarking on. It went fairly well until the last quarter of the year, when Santa Rosa was struck by the devastating Tubbs fire, and I watched my hometown burn. I still worked at the newspaper (remember that job I’d been trying to leave?), and I poured myself into my work. For two weeks, my job made sense. College classes were cancelled during this time, and I dedicated all of my energy into my job, working overtime and focusing on all fire-related aspects. I was all in, along with my colleagues. And when those two weeks, I crashed. The reality of the devastation was all around those of us who lived there. Everyone knew someone who lost their home. A whole portion of our town was missing. Dozens of people had died, and their stories were devastating. The adrenaline that had fueled me was gone, and I was left with a sense of survivor’s guilt and an overwhelming feeling that I hadn’t done nearly anything to help those who had lost so much. I still had my home. So many people didn’t.

To make things worse, I’d been planning on launching the 2nd and 3rd books in my Hope series around this same time. I held off a few weeks, releasing Hope for the Broken Girl at the end of October, but didn’t celebrate its release one bit. It was largely ignored because I just couldn’t bring myself to market it when my whole town was in charred ruins. I chose to wait until 2017 to publish the 3rd book, and I felt miserable that a book I’d been so excited about in 2016 was released in such a pathetic manner. Honestly, I should have waited much longer to publish.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I chose to write another book right after the fires. I thought it would be therapeutic to write after so much letdown. I was wrong. I’d chosen to write the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake, an adorable book that was different from every genre I’d ever written, and one I had been struggling with for years in coming up with a decent sequel. This was NOT the book to write at this time. The end result was a horrible rough draft and an intensified feeling of failure. I was coming apart at the seams. With this added pressure I’d placed on myself, along with college courses, a job I hated, and a tanking author career, I finally reached my breaking point.

Which brings me to my 2018 word of the year, CONFIDENCE.

To be continued….

This is 41

This is 41.

This is lots of laughter, so much love, life done well, dreams coming true, and a peaceful soul, combined with moments of negativity, tears, impatience, discomfort, and fatigue. This is being human for 4 decades and feeling more myself with every year that passes.

There’s so much more I want out of life, and yet I love my life. Every year gets better and better, and I feel so lucky to be this rich in love and life.

Today has been a very happy birthday, this past year has been one of my best, and I’m excited to see what this new year brings.

My morning routine: A peek into the first hour of my day

writing.jpgThe New York Times recently published an article by author Benjamin Spall about the morning routines of successful people, which serves as a tease to his newest book, My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. “Your morning routine helps to ground you, and using it thoughtfully will help to set the tone for the rest of your day,” he wrote.

I agree with Spall. I love having a morning routine! It’s the one thing that sets the tone for my day. It’s the time when I can move slow, spend time in absolute quiet, and focus on where I am now and where I want to go in my life, writing career, faith, and so on.

I touch on this a little in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, stressing the importance about creating a routine that dedicates time toward your craft. At the time that I wrote that, my morning routine included two hours of writing time before I started getting ready for work. Nowadays, I don’t have as much time in the morning for that much writing, and now save it for short evening and long weekend writing sessions. But my morning routine is still a must, and I can’t imagine going through my day without it.

Here’s what it looks like:

No. 62 (Black/Blue/Violet/Blue) 1967 by Bob Law 1934-2004
Picture of me running at 5 a.m. in the dark.

I wake up somewhere between 5 and 5:30 a.m. I refuse to wake up by an alarm clock (unless I absolutely need to wake up earlier), and I’m lucky that my body likes waking up at this time. My coffee is on a timer to start brewing at this time. While it’s brewing, I go for a morning run. If I do this first thing in the morning, I won’t have time to come up with excuses to NOT run—and believe me, I have them. Before I run, I hate running. I don’t want to go. I have to basically put my shoes on and go outside without even thinking about it or I’m just going to talk myself out of it. I remember this one day I got all the way to my front yard and looked up at the starry sky, mesmerized by how bright the stars were and how dark everything else was. It was just enough time to decide I was not going to run, and so I didn’t. Yeah…better to just lace up and start running before my brain starts working. Besides, I LOVE running after I’m done. I’m totally terrible at it, and still only run slowly and short distances, but every time I run I feel strong and know I’m improving.

coffee1By the time I make it back to the house, the coffee is done brewing and I have 30 minutes to 1 hour before I need to start getting ready for work. I drink a glass of water, and then grab my coffee. I diffuse essential oils (my favorite blend is Northern Lights Black Spruce, Lime, and Cedarwood for a tropical rain in the woods scent) and sit in my cozy chaise lounge chair between my desk and bookcase. Here, I start with my morning devotionals, and maybe a chapter in whatever inspirational book I’m reading. I tend to save my spiritual and inspirational books for the morning, and my recreational, fiction books for during the day and in the evening. Yup, that’s right—I’m a polybibliophile.

If something grabs my attention or requires further thought, and if there’s enough time, I’ll meditate/pray and journal. I journal most days, but not every day. If I don’t have time but there’s something I need to address, I’ll jot a few notes in my journal, and then finish that thought on my lunch break. Or I decide my morning routine takes precedence over getting ready for work, which means I take up the half hour I’d normally take to make food for the day. So far, I’ve only been a few minutes late for work, so I’m good.

And that’s it! Basically, before I’m required to be all things for everyone else, I’m all things for ME through exercise, spirituality, and inner reflection.

Do you have a morning routine? If you don’t, I encourage you to start one. Instead of getting up at the absolute last minute and heading straight into your day, try waking up earlier and enjoy quiet time before you have to be busy. Even just fifteen minutes could change your whole outlook. Try it, and then tell me if you notice the difference!

If you DO have a morning routine, tell me about it in the comments!

Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

crown

There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

Just a place

I’m on my lunch break right now, taking a class where the teacher is really into breaks. “Shall we take a break?” he asks every 30 minutes, which sounds awesome, except I’d rather get out early than take frequent breaks. Our dinner break is an actual 1 hour and 40 minutes (it’s an 8-hour class), and so I left campus and am now parked across the street from the courthouse so I can eat my dinner and read in the shade until it’s time to return.

This is an interesting place to pause. There was a time when the courthouse gave me panic attacks. I spent months in and out of this building, working out details to a messy divorce that included custody, child support, and eventually a restraining order. I was lucky to be dating a law student after some time, as he set me up with a pro bono lawyer when things took a turn for the worse. It was likely the only reason he crossed my path, as we were incompatible as human beings. But in this, I owe much to that connection.

Still, the courthouse was a place filled with scary memories, one I stuffed way down deep. I hadn’t realized how much this place bothered me until a few weeks ago when faced with jury duty. I got the call-in option every day, and I almost forgot to check for Friday. Last minute, I realized I’d been summoned.

The drive there, my stomach did numerous turns. It never occurred to me why I was so nervous until I was almost there.

Oh. Oh yeah. That’s why your nervous.

The memories flooded back as I walked the steps to the courtyard, recalling moments of unrest and fear I wouldn’t be heard. Before I had a lawyer, I was ignored. Nothing I said mattered. The threats. The fear. The phone messages. The bruises. It all fell on deaf ears. But with a lawyer, I was no longer invisible. I didn’t even have to speak, which was good because I was too afraid to say much of anything. The case closed with two years distance granted between us, allowing me the time I needed to heal and give our kids a solid foundation.

I wasn’t alone as I waited to find out if I’d serve on jury duty. One of my coworkers was also called to be there, and we both waited around a few hours together. I kept a book handy, and took turns reading and sharing conversation, along with occasional glimpses at a woman quilting on the TV. The longer we waited, the more this menacing courtroom became just a room with chairs. Nothing to be scared of, unless boring PBS shows freak you out.

We were eventually dismissed for the day, told to return Monday. When that day arrived, the two of us waited in line for security to check us through. They confiscated my dangerous water bottle, and we were sent upstairs. I was just around the corner from the courtroom I sat in more than a decade earlier. But this time, my fears stayed away. We filed into a different courtroom to await our personal verdicts on whether we’d be part of the jury or not. The judge went through his speech, fifteen minutes to be exact, and then he dismissed us. All that for nothing, my coworker grumbled.

But it wasn’t nothing for me.

In those two partial days, I received a new memory of the courthouse. The bad taste I’d last experienced was washed down by two very ordinary days. It took away the scariness and made this place a building. It became so ordinary that on my hour and forty minute lunch, I’ve chosen to spend my time here, finding solace in the shade of a tree while facing this place. It’s just a place, just a building, and I happened to experience both scary and ordinary moments here.

And that is all. I just had to share.

Finally, I can breathe

Things are different in my reality right now. Slower. Calmer. Happier.

Make that immensely happier.

You may have noticed I was going through a terrible time a few months back. Then you may have noticed how quiet I’ve been since. That’s because this year of confidence has included a lot of change with it:

1. I started caring for my mother-in-law full-time in January.

2. I went on family leave from my job.

3. I questioned every single thing in my life, including my writing career.

4. I quit a few things that were once very important to me.

5. I went back to work with a new attitude, and felt lighter after my time away.

6. My mother-in-law moved into a new apartment, and life went back to normal.

7. I quit my job.

breaking freeWait, what? Yep, you read that right. I QUIT MY NEWSPAPER JOB! For those of you following along, you know this is huge. I’ve been wanting to leave for years. When I published my first book 6 years ago, I was certain I was only steps away from leaving my full-time job and writing for a living. It didn’t happen with that first book, but I figured maybe it would with the second. Then the third. Then the fifth, the seventh, the ninth… When I published my tenth book, my hope was lost and I stopped seeing the point.

Here’s the thing. I was putting so much weight on my success as a writer that I stopped feeling joy in it. I was miserable at my job and I was desperate for my writing career to save me. But it just wasn’t happening. I stopped enjoying writing, which was kind of like not enjoying breathing. Writing is everything to me. I love the shape of words, how they sound to the ears and feel in the mouth. I love the way they look on paper, the swirl of cursive or the nobleness of typed fonts. I love the way you can string words together in ways that evoke powerful emotions or breathless moments. I love reading these strings of words, and I love creating them. So when I stopped seeing the point in writing, I stopped seeing the point in life. Couple that despair with the immense weight of stress from my job, and I was absolutely miserable.

And then there was that mental breakdown thing. All that angst I was feeling served as a monumental block against all my creativity. This was not only devastating, but a blow to my ego because I’d stepped away from everything I preach about when it comes to staying creative, including the tips I’d laid out in Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

In other words, I was human.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mental breakdown was just me reaching my breaking point when things were about to change. EVERYTHING was about to change, and it all started when I took time off work to care for my mother-in-law. Not only did it help my mother-in-law and me to develop a much closer relationship, but it also gave me the space I needed to BREATHE, to put things in perspective, to figure out what I wanted in life, and what I didn’t want. I began letting go of things that were no longer feeding me. I slowed down. I prayed more, and sat in silence more. I felt the grip of fear release its hold on me, and began experiencing moments when I knew what I wanted out of life, and it wasn’t at my job.

This wasn’t a new revelation, but for the first time, I experienced what it was like to not have to know everything that was going on in the world, keep my eyes open for trending stories, think up new ways to grab people’s attention, be on at all times… I experienced what it was like to move at a regular pace and do one thing at a time, and I liked it. And I realized that I could no longer move at the pace I was going at my job. I also realized that it wasn’t my job, but me. All this time I had been hating this job and feeling like it was the job’s fault for being terrible. But really, it was that I wasn’t meant for this job. It just stopped being the right fit, and I’d tried to make it work for far too long.

Taking 7 weeks off work helped me to not only see my current job a lot clearer, but it also helped me figure out what I would enjoy instead. During my time away, I found that job and applied. After I’d been back at work a month, that other job contacted me. I gave my two weeks’ notice a few days later. I’m now the marketing coordinator at a local real estate company, where I’ve been working for a month. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I love the work I do, and feel like I finally get to utilize the skills I have…many of which I actually gained at the newspaper.

Even more important, I feel the sunshine when I go outside, hear the birds, smell the roses, feel the ball of happiness expanding in my chest. I feel joy. I feel light. And…I feel like I can write again, which means I can finally breathe.

And it feels really, really good.

Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

Avoid a mental breakdown by adding margins to your life

doingbest

I’m keeping this image huge so that you don’t miss it. I shared this from another page on my Facebook yesterday. It not only hit a nerve for me, it hit the nerve of people who came across it. How many of you can relate to this? Are there commitments you’ve made that are now consuming your life? Are you really required to keep those commitments? Can you take something off your plate for an hour? For a day? For a week? Forever?

Last weekend I had a nervous breakdown, melting into a crazy, sniveling, pathetic creature right in front of my husband. I’ve spent months caring for his mother, something I’ve taken time off work to do. But in doing so, I’ve gone weeks without any kind of break except for collapsing into bed after putting her in bed. I’ve spent every waking moment with her. This is not exhausting work, except, it is.

Thing is, I was the one placing the shackles on me. I waited until I was going out of my mind before I finally pleaded with my husband that I needed a break. It got to the point of desperation before I said anything because I was determined to be strong and white knuckle my way through this. Also, I was the one choosing to remain in the same room with her instead of going up to my own room for some moments of solitude. I was choosing to be a martyr, giving until I couldn’t give anymore.

But that does no one any good.

This past week, I have made it a point to take at least an hour or more to myself. The difference has been amazing. Before, I felt resentful every time she needed something, and if I wasn’t careful, it showed in my attitude. But once I took regular breaks, my attitude changed. The resentment disappeared. I began wanting to spend better quality time with her instead of being in the same room and hating it.

On Thursday, my husband gave me a full day off. I slept in until 7 (I start my caregiving at 5), sat in a coffee shop for 4 hours, took a nap in the afternoon, and went to the gym in the evening. I did everything I wanted to do, which wasn’t anything exciting or glamorous, but amazing just the same. I took a day when I wasn’t needed for anything at all, and that was exactly what I needed. The next day, my MIL and I had coffee together, then we watched a movie together in the afternoon, and in between, I went grocery shopping without her and read.

If you’re life is filling up too fast and you’re feeling like you’re being pulled in all directions, it’s VITAL that you take a break. You need a margin, that empty space beside the busyness of your full-time life. It may mean you can only take one hour. If you think you can’t, you’re wrong. Ask for help. You need it. If you can manage a whole day, do it. If there’s something taking up your time without adding anything to your present or future, LET IT GO. Seriously. Remember that you’re only one person, and we’re all so much better when we let others step in and give us a hand, and when we rest so we can recharge. You are not a machine, you are human. So give yourself some grace and space.


Looking for ways to create space in your hectic schedule? Check out my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.