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.”

Sex begets Babies, Discipline begets Discipline

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Alright, alright, so discipline is not a very sexy topic, so I snuck sex into the title like a devious little writer searching for an easy hook. Sue me. In the next paragraph you’ll realize you won’t get nuthin’.

Allow me to brief you on the latest.  Since my last post 10 months ago, I’ve been hustling like a hustler.  I decided in October that $71,000ish dollars of debt was unacceptable foolishness and it was time to get my shit together.  I’ll have you know that next month I will have knocked out all of my consumer debt totaling $22,000, and will only have those tyrants that are students loans to go (yes I can hear you cheering Dave Ramsey).

But a weird thing happened when I decided to quit spending like a moron.  I started to shape up in other places.  Shortly after I began my yes-I’m-carrying-a-flask-to-the-bar-because-I-won’t-buy-the-house-wine journey, my already decent work ethic kicked up a notch and my boss noticed. Got a raise.

I woke up a couple months later and decided…you know what?  I’m going to run a marathon.  After all I used to be a sprinter, maybe this time I just won’t stop at 100m. And now 2 half marathons and a 15k later, I am just about ready to run that full marathon on June 2nd (insert internal alarm bells, “why am I DOING THIS?!”).

I started to become a better girlfriend.  I call my mother more. I even bother to walk my dog once in a while.  Ok, ok, so far I’ve just been marching to my own parade here, but what I’m saying is that WOW.  This. Feels. Good.

But on Monday I got thrown off my giant Joni-shaped parade float.  Every morning we have a company meeting called a “standing 10,” where we talk about the happenings in the company. It’s kind of like a grown up show-and-tell regarding both business and personal endeavors. So our ever-so-trendy graphic designer decided to pipe up to share a personal win.

Meekly yet excitedly she offered, “Welllll, this weekend we finally shot my video! It’s been a long road but it was awesome. Our videographer came down from LA, had a makeup artist, lights production, it was really full on…I’m excited about it.”

Everyone cheered happily and rejoiced at her accomplishment.  “That is so awesome!” piped our data entry girl.

“We have our own in-house celebrity!” shouted my boss.

And me? What did I do?  I smiled and followed along as a good actress would, but I couldn’t shake it.  Those green bony fingers wrapped around my heart, holding back true happiness for her and instead turned me inward to focus on myself and my own short-comings.  The jealousy that enveloped that moment was shocking and disconcerting, violently shoving me into the reality that I live in.

What is wrong with me?? I’m not a singer. I don’t want to shoot music videos. OK fine, if all the Beatles came back and decided to shoot a flashy reunion video and implored me to be their muse, I suppose I wouldn’t decline.

But why couldn’t I be happy for her?  Wasn’t I trying hard enough? After all, I’m in control! I have my life in order, I’ve survived my 20’s without going to jail, I’m a success!

It’s not enough.  I’ve come to realize, it’s just not enough.  Paying the bills is just being an adult. Exercising is just being sensible. Having a steady day job is how I am participating in society, and yes, reaching the dream of buying a house. But I’m just not devoting the time to the things I truly LOVE.

Were you ever asked by a high school or college career counselor, “What would you do if you weren’t paid anything for it?”

For me, the answer is to write. I just fucking love to write.  It’s the thing I love to do when no one is watching.  I remember in grad school a professor told us that the worst part of putting together a research paper was the writing, and I was genuinely offended.  Could she possibly mean that people really enjoy the researching part?

The truth is, I never enjoyed the research, but I love the art of the written word.  It is what makes me a true artist.  And that is why I didn’t go on for my PhD. That is why I was overcome with jealousy the other day – because she was pursuing her artistic expression and her dreams were coming true. All the while mine sat quietly in the catacombs of my mind.

“Well no more!!” I say.  I saw a meme posted on Facebook, I dunno, 4 months ago that said something like, “I have friends that spend their weekends partying and living it up. And I think to myself…what exactly is it that you are celebrating?”

See the truth is, after college, you feel as though you have arrived. The time to relax has come.  We do what we want, spend what we want, get married, have babies, whatever it is that you want.  But what tends to take the back seat to all of those things are our dreams. Those desires and talents that sit silently waiting for you to return and spend time with them.

And achieving those dreams sometimes take discipline.

Maybe you played guitar, or the flute.  Maybe you painted, or thought about learning how.  Maybe those Instagram photos you shoot so “likeably” reveal that you really should just get that SLR and do it.

What I am saying is that the time is now to spend time with our dreams.  There is plenty of time to work the day job. Exercise. Budget. Fall in love.  But I hope that those reading this don’t fall into the same trap that I do again and again in my life.  I abandon my best friend who has always been there for me.  My writing.

Therefore I ask – what is your dream?  And if you’re not actively pursuing it…why not?