How To Make Sure Future-You Is Proud Of Today-You

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“Why wasn’t this done on Friday?! This could have been done on Friday!” he said to me in a loud voice filled with frustration and fury.

I purposely allowed a 5 second pause, then calmly responded, “I would be happy to help figure this out and look into it.  As you know I was off on Friday, and we gave this to Kathy and Jake. This wasn’t my project….”

Cutting me off, “Joni, everything is your project!”

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Realizing the absurdity of what he just said, he laughed a little too…but then got right back to business explaining how very true that statement is. Everything IS my project at work. So I have to laugh every now and then or I’d flip out and be found somewhere downtown wearing my pants as a hat.

My personal life sometimes looks very similar to this. I don’t know about you, but the person who sat in my office yelling at me has a twin cousin very much alive inside my head. This drill sergeant manages the Joni Command Center, following up with all of my extra-professional projects. She sounds very similar:

“Joni! This was supposed to be finished a week ago! What happened?!” her voice shrill and panicked, often in the wee hours of the morning.

“Look, I needed a break. It was a grueling week and I just needed the mornings to sleep in last week.”

“That’s no excuse! There are never any excuses to give up on anything!”

No I fortunately do not battle with multiple personalities nor any other psychological or hallucinogenic disease. But I am pretty strict with myself and set a lot of goals. I wonder why I am this way…

I think part of the reason is that I’ve lived long enough to look back and see what I have and haven’t accomplished. I’ll think things like, “If I had started practicing German every day like I said I would when I got back from Germany 2 summers ago, I could probably be pretty good by now.” Well I haven’t. And thinking about it that way makes me want to call in dead and spend a month playing catch up.

But that also inspires and excites me. If I got started on this project and chipped away at it, little by little, every day? Hot damn I would have SO much accomplished a year from now!

I think it’s kind of like compound interest. The earlier you get things started, the greater your return will be because you invested early. For example, if I had $1,000 when I was 20 and shoved it under my pillow, what would I have today, 9 years later? $1,000, which is actually less than the $1,000 I had 9 years ago because of inflation hovering around 2-3% in that time period.

If I had gotten my head out of my ass and invested that in even a crappy mutual fund of 5%, thank you compound interest I’d have $1,551.33 today. Feel free to check my math, but regardless of if your answer is different, it’s going to be more money than if I hadn’t invested in anything.

And that’s the point. It’s important to invest in yourself, and to invest early. I don’t know, I look around and I see so much wasted talent. Strong, creative, intelligent people who will tell me of their dreams and aspirations, and then nothing will come of it. It has bothered me over the past few years, but there’s nothing I can really do about it but be encouraging when it’s appropriate. Which is why I’m here.

Life is going to happen to all of us, but there has to be some kind of a drill sergeant in all of us to get things done and make sure we understand our responsibility. Sometimes being the only person responsible for living your life in a way worth writing a book about can be scary. But shit, that’s why we can laugh at the whole situation sometimes and realize we are human. Some days we will make great progress, some days you’ll just sit and stare at your computer and not type a single word.

At least we are trying – if you’re not, start! Invest in yourself. Give yourself a little kick in the ass if needed. Do you want to look back in 10 years and realize that your dream of, whatever it is, never happened? Or would you rather look back and laugh with the drill sergeant, admiring the work you two have accomplished. You’ll tease her for being such an ass some days but grateful that she was because now, future you, can enjoy the benefits of all that hard work.

I want to look back that way. Some days feel like just another day, but God what a great day to be alive and able to do whatever we want. Today, just like any day, is the first day to making our crazy childhood dreams come true. Let’s take this day and go GET IT!

Why We Should Eat Elephants

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In moving forward in any large, giant endeavor, I’d say the hardest thing to do is avoid becoming overwhelmed. I mean, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. But sometimes you take a step back and look at that elephant in dismay and realize…that fucker is huge!

I took a step back a week ago and saw 3 elephants in front of me. My dream of becoming a self-employed writer, paying off student loans/saving to buy a house, and planning a wedding/getting married. Those 3 monsters are sitting in front of me, and I’ve decided to eat them all at the same time. Taking a look at all of them, I was left debilitated and overwhelmed. What do you do when you feel like you have taken on too much?

I go online shopping. And that’s the worst, as it effectively makes sure that none of those things make any progress. But it wasn’t my fault! It was the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, who can get work done when that is going on?! And football season is coming, I had to stock up on some gear!

Ok fine, I lose. I’ve wasted a week and didn’t do anything productive because I got scared and overwhelmed, which is frankly embarrassing. But there’s nothing to be scared of, I’m the one that decided to do these things. Plus they are all super awesome, why would I hold myself back? Well no more, I’m hungry and I’m going to eat these elephants. It’s a weird analogy especially because I’m a vegetarian, but it works for me alright?

Dumb analogies aside, I can put a stamp on today and be proud of it. I sat down and wrote something. Which is a practice I, WE, need to do everyday. Just a little progress every single day and we will make our goals happen, and our dreams realities.

I’ll be back to take another bite tomorrow.

The One Thing That May Be Holding You Back

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“Ding Ding Dong Dong Ding Ding D-ZZZ!!” That’s the “Bell Tower” alarm from my iPhone in the morning, and me promptly shutting that thing up. This is how I begin every weekday, and the routine repeats itself about 4 times every morning.

Why is it soooo hard to get out of bed? Some mornings after hitting the shut-the-fuck-up button I will just lie on my back and think about that question. I never have many problems getting up on the weekends or when I’m on vacation? Why is it so hard on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? Friday I don’t seem to have quite the same trouble.

Well one reason in my particular case is that I am setting my alarm for 4:50am when I don’t really have to be up until 7:00am. Crazy right? Why would I get up before I have to? I ask myself that question just about every morning too. But actually, it’s not really that nuts.

When I can get up and work on a project for myself before I give my day to my employer, those are my very best days. I’ve discovered that when I can get up at 5:00am-ish, devote an hour or two to writing or whatever other project I have going on, I am less frustrated that I am spending 9-10 hours at the office on someone else’s agenda. I’ve already made time for myself and have made progress in my own life. I’ve taken care of myself and I’m therefore more available to give to others.

But no matter what, it is a struggle to get and keep the ball rolling. To stay motivated. To get up even though you are sleepy but you know how good it’s going to feel to have accomplished something towards your own self-fulfillment. Then why is it a challenge when you know how happy you’ll be?

I’ve discovered a possible answer. “Many of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” And thus begins the powerful book I’ve been fortunate to get my hands on called The War of Art. It is a witty, straight-to-the-point, kick-in-the-ass book that I’m fairly certain was written just for me.

“The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

1. The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art…

2. The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3. Any diet or health regimen.

4. Any program of spiritual advancement.

5. Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals…”

What writer Steven Pressfield does so well in this book is points to a reason why we can’t get out of bed. Why we are so afraid of sitting down to write, paint, start that business. Why we are so terrified of failure. Why we are so terrified of success. It’s a reason that makes perfect sense to me, as with every page I turn, this monster that hates success gets more developed and becomes something that I can point to.

And like any good war strategy, when you can define and understand the enemy, you can defeat it.

Is it spiritual mumbo-jumbo? I think not. I have been around the church circuit a few times in my day, and while there may be such thing as demons and spiritual warfare, I don’t think that’s what we are talking about here. I don’t think you have to subscribe to any kind of religious doctrine to elicit Resistance, but rather, it’s a common plague that affects not only myself, but the people around me.

I am starting to understand why I see wonderful, talented people around me absolutely wasting their time and not pursuing the greatness in them. I am not talking about people who are perfectly happy doing what they are doing – those are the people we want to be. I am talking about people who have said to me, “Joni, I want to change my life.” Instead, they are staying at a job they are way too over qualified for, staying at a job they hate, out drinking every free moment away, talking about going to school but just won’t take that first step, complaining about a rut in life but not doing anything to change it. While I am understanding, it still kills me!

And I want to help. I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but this plea is not only for me to win that battle with the Bell Tower alarm. This plea is for you to get up and win your battle over Resistance too. Life is way too short to let your dreams stay in your head.

So what I do when I’m lacking inspiration is I look to those who are doing what I want to do. I have several friends that have overcome Resistance and I love them for it. I want to be like them. For example, while I complain about my boss’ antics sometimes, that guy is out there making his dreams happen, running 2 businesses and having fun while at it.

I’m “friends” with an acquaintance on Facebook who is, I’d say by any margin of measurement, a successful photographer. Before I decided to get up and win too, I was very jealous of her amazing life. She’s photographed people from Clint Eastwood to Courtney Love, and seems to have so much fun photographing everyday people even more. She’ll give herself a break every now and then and go to Costa Rica and enjoy a yoga retreat. She truly seems to get up everyday and enjoy what she’s doing.

Sure I’m sounding a bit creeper right now knowing what this chick is up to and don’t really know her that well, but I’m going to take inspiration wherever I can find it. Because my battle with Resistance is pretty tough right now as I am very distracted. Then when things start going well and new opportunities present themselves, I get overwhelmed and recoil, apparently in fear of either success or failure. I’ll instead give in to the TV, laziness, or partying carelessly.

But every day is a new day. Have you been avoiding taking that first step towards starting your own business? Do you want to lose weight, promise you’ll start tomorrow, but tomorrow never seems to come? Are you a silent artist who knows you have talent, but haven’t picked up your guitar, camera, paintbrush, or pencil?

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives.” I encourage you to take even the tiniest step today and do something toward your goal. If it’s choosing the low-cal dressing at one meal, writing down a to-do list, calculating how much it would cost to do that trip around the world, researching what new job you’d like to have. Just do something.

As for me, today I won my battle. I got my ass up and made it to the most challenging place to get to – my desk to write.  “All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.”

Switching Gears by Taking Back What’s Rightfully Ours – Monday

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I don’t know about the rest of you, but no matter what is going on in my world, it is the biggest challenge of my week to peel myself out of bed on Monday morning. It’s not that I hate my job, because I don’t, there’s just something about switching gears from life unplannned, to a scheduled regimen of when to be in the office, when to take lunch, when to go home, etc.

Regimens are easy once we are in them – it’s just getting them started. Think about how easy it is to go to the gym when you are used to going, but when you haven’t for a while, getting to that first workout is the hardest task on earth.

And every single week, the majority of the American labor force makes this gear shift every week from weekend to work week. To help me with my gear shifts, I’ve been testing what exactly makes me happy on the weekends and trying to apply those things as much as possible to the work weeks – especially to Mondays. Dammit I don’t want to have a case of the Mondays every single week for the rest of my working life, and I’m on a mission for all of us.

Considering this mission, I was putting on my makeup this morning composing an ode to my beloved coffee, when this song came on my Spotify station. The lyrics that struck me so hard that I literally poked my eye with my mascara wand were the following:

“I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea
I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential
And I know that one day I’mma be him…
See, I observed Escher
I love Basquiat
I watched Keith Haring
You see I studied art
The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot
I will not be a statistic, just let me be
No child left behind, that’s the American scheme
I make my living off of words
And do what I love for work
And got around 980 on my SATs
Take that system
What did you expect
Generation of kids choosing love over a desk
Put those hours in and look at what you get
Nothing that you can hold but everything that it is…

Cause the moment is now, can’t get it back from the grave
Part of the show
It all fades away
Lights go to black
Band leaves the stage
You wanted an encore but there’s no encore today
Cause the moment is now
Can’t get it back from the grave”

I put the majority of the lyrics here because I think it’s more powerful in context, but these words keep ringing in my head this morning,

“The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot.”

Macklemore studied art. And he is 100% right to study those who have succeeded in something that you want to do. I have zero desire to become a rapper, and if you know what I look like and how awkward my general mannerisms are, you’d really find that hilarious. But I think observing and learning from what he has accomplished could help me in my craft(s). Which is easy for me to do, given that he too is a Seattle native and I love to see fellow Seattlites succeed.

In doing so, I’ve noticed a pattern in his music. He has his demons and he works every day to fight against them. I do too – they are different but they are there, fighting with everything they have to stop me from composing. To stop me from believing. To throw me on my back every time my dream starts to get a little momentum.

And what I love about Macklemore is he is a fierce fighter who is winning his battle, and inspires me to be more. Give more, write more, fight more.

He is pushing forward, and encourages me to as well. His regimen is ongoing, it doesn’t start or end on Monday. For me, the battle of Monday and the switching of gears is one of my demons, when it really doesn’t have to be. I shouldn’t switch gears at all! I don’t have to take the weekdays off to live my dreams. Succumb to the monotony of an office working world. Sure, I could easily feel like a number, a drone, a desk jockey – but I’m not. I’m creative, artistic and passionate, and while I drive to work on Monday mornings just like millions of other Americans, there’s something different about me. Because even in my Mondays, I search for inspiration to compose art, and keep my heart open to my dream.

And I think you can too. I think we all have that inner person who taps out during the work week, who really should never have to sit out at all. That true being that we really want to be. Whose talents, if realized, could propel us to joy and success we can’t even imagine.

So for this Monday, I put on my prettiest dress, even bothered to curl my hair, because this isn’t just any Monday. Today is the beginning of something big. I know this because I’m going to make it happen. Great painters became great because they paint a lot. And I will become great because I write a lot. Even, and especially, on Monday.

Schoooool’s OUT. for. SUMMER!

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I always have that song stuck in my head this time of year. “Schoooool’s out…for…SUMMER!” sings Alice Cooper to me whether I’m brushing my teeth or writing marketing copy. If I let myself daydream, I can see images of the kids from, “Dazed and Confused,” tearing out of their classrooms in freedom and a fat Ben Affleck running around trying to beat up that freshman kid that got away.

The reason this happens to me is it’s graduation season. That predictable time every year where your Facebook blows up with complaints about finals, and Instagram fills with photos depicting proud scholars at either study sessions or graduation parties.  CNN, Fox News and NBC will regularly run stories calculating the likelihood of these weary academics landing actual jobs. More talk about “the economy” will fuel over-makeuped newscasters, as they express concerns that Bachelor’s and Master’s alike may very well go back to barista-ing in the coffee shop concocting double tall, nonfat, extra hot, sugar free vanilla lattes.

Most of us on the other side look back fondly as well as with relief. “Ah, I remember that moment, I had the whole world in front of me.” “Damn, I’m glad that shit is over.” “Sssssssuckers!!” I’ve marched my last pomp and circumstance, but I still get that hopeful anticipation of summer that I had every year since joining the ranks of formal education.

I think we all do. That’s something we all have in common, that dream of what we would/will do when we graduate[d].  I recall in my final semesters of school often frequenting Lestat’s, a cliché coffee shop filled with mismatching antique furniture and hipsters with overgrown mustaches in an artsy district of town.  I’d plop myself down on the largest available of the mismatching furniture and surrender myself to long afternoons of composing, editing, crying over, yet another 30 page research paper.

I vowed to myself as I’d gazed over at the girl on the nearby couch with a giant scarf plucking away at her tiny guitar…? ….Mandolin? Ukulele…no…what the hell was that thing…?  Sorry, I just never figured out what that small stringed instrument was.  Anyway, I vowed to myself every time Scarfy and I sat in the overstuffed furniture that once I graduated I would come to coffee shops and just write what I wanted.

Or I would pick my guitar back up and maybe jam with Scarfy, strike up a scarf-a-riffic friendship wherein we would talk about birds and plan to hitchhike around Europe.  Maybe we’d meet some guys who also liked scarves and stringed instruments, and we would eventually be all the talk of art district coffee houses.  Eventually VH1 would do a documentary on our remarkably humble beginnings that eventually lead to folksy stardom, and our patented guit-mando-lele would make us a fortune.

But what really happened was that I graduated, spent the first month job hunting, tanning, and Happy Houring. I told myself I needed a break from writing and any kind of high-level thinking, and the most time I would spend in any kind of book was the mimosa menu at brunch. I fortunately landed a steady position at a start-up company, and have been quite busy with that ever since.

It’s a gift and a curse having gainful employment.  I don’t have the worries I had in that month between graduation and my first day of grown-up work…I know now that I can pay for those brunch mimosas.  But it’s a bit of a curse lacking the flexibility of time. As I type this I glance at the clock, buying myself a few more minutes before I absolutely have to start getting ready for the day, and sometimes my thoughts drift to…”Now when is that first meeting? Wait, do I have any meetings today? What am I going to make for lunch…”

Work takes a lot out of you, and often it takes away our zeal and time to be creative. I know that’s what happened to me for the last year. Typically when I make it to Friday after a hard week (and that’s every week), I’m all, “YEEEAAAHH!!!! The weekend is HERE!” The delirious joy I get when the Seattle college station I stream KEXP plays “the Friday song” on my drive in to work follows me throughout the day as I fantasize of the adventures I’ll have that weekend. There’s always something to do, a distraction to indulge in.  I live by the damn beach, and those waves just beckon me to them…once I get close enough the sand turns into quicksand, forcing me to stop, set out my beach towel and just lay down.

Then Saturday is gone. Sunday arrives and most of it is consumed with dread that the very next day is Monday and ruh-roh, that means back to the refinery.

But let’s go all the way back to the young college hopeful in the overstuffed antique chair. Is this they way she would appreciate me spending my time?  She was so trapped, burdened with deadlines and stressed out professors. She would often say, “I can’t WAIT until I have a 9 to 5er! When I’m done for the day, I’ll be done. Then I’ll have every late afternoon all to myself to do whatever I want. And the weekends will have no call to homework! It will truly be freedom and I’ll really be able to get all my projects done.”

I dreamed of returning to those overstuffed chairs with no due date or assignment. And at the time of this writing, I have let exactly 12 months pass since my last visit to that glorious little hole, spending my weekends instead focused on “resting” from my work week or dreading the work week ahead.

So in homage to that burdened young hopeful that was me this time last year, I will finally do it.  I’ll return to some kitschy coffee shop this weekend. I’ll just sit there and sip my coffee. Maybe I’ll bring a book, my computer, or a guit-mando-lele.

And when I gaze over at a stressed out academic, whose eyes are bagged from pulling frequent all-nighters and hands are shaking from caffeine overdose, I’ll smile and take a deep breath. One, because I don’t have a single fucking final to be worried about. And two, that I’ll have finally made it to the peaceful side of the coffee shop.

So here we are at Friday! Congratulations to all of you who are graduating this year, whether it’s high school or some level of university, it’s a huge accomplishment. And for those of you who finished your scholastic march in years past, enjoy your weekend. But let’s make this weekend count so that when Monday comes, we know that we invested time in not only relaxing, but taking those steps we dreamed of when we were still in school. After all, there’s still the whole summer ahead, and every weekend is practice to make it a good one.