We’re on a roll

Don’t you just love it when everything in your life seems to finally fall into place, after months, sometimes years of feeling things will never work out for you? I don’t know if it’s the longer, warmer, almost springy days outside, but I feel full of the new evergy that goes with having reached a milestone.

After only a few weeks on my creative writing course, I have finally figured out that I want to explore life writing, so as to be able to tell the many family stories I always enjoy talking about. In a way I’d always thought I might like to – but now I know for sure. As it were, there’s a new Life Writing course starting just as my current course finishes, and I take it to be a sign.

Around the same time I will also start the 30 days challenge, where I will be exploring blogging about “Knowing yourself” , a theme I’ve always been fascinated with. 30 days, 30 posts is the plan. This will come with tons of advice on blogging/ publishing/ selling yourself, which I know will give me lots of ideas how to take things forwards.

Plus, things at home are good with my boyfriend having returned from 18 months abroad, with exciting ideas for a new business we could create together. It’s almost too good to be true.

There’s still the “small” matter of jobs to be sorted – just because I have dreams to follow doesn’t mean I can quit the day job straight away. But somehow day job doesn’t seem so dull when it’s the least important thing in your life…

Quiet

This week I am reading a book that is already changing the way I see myself – more so than the rest of my self help library put together.

I first came across Susan Cain’s “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” it in a TED talk she gave when the book came out. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Her core message: “not everyone is an extrovert, and yet the world (ie the United States) is entirely geared towards extroversion” seemed a little, well, obvious. I also thought that her saying we should listen to the quiet types more sounded like wishful thinking. And yet…

I got given the book last week, and since it was free I had nothing to lose reading it. I found it a thorough study packed with scientific facts about introversion, and for anyone who is an introvert (me included), it makes for fascinating read.

You quickly learn that no, you are not the way you are because you are mindblowingly dull – something I was led to believe by my extrovert family growing up, and the fact that even my uni friends called me Granny. Turns our that, as you suspected all along, while other people were busy talking they weren’t doing all that much thinking. Which of course, you were most of the time. So really, introverts do have superpowers, they are just a little bit hidden from full view.

I wish I’d known this when I was little; I might have grown up a little more confident, a little less doubt-ridden. I would probably have made different career choices. But the important thing is looking forward, it will allow me to take stock of how far I got, and where to go from here.

Year of Writing and 30 Days Challenge

It is now early February and I am wondering whether it is allowed to change your year theme only one month into the year. I’d originally picked 2013 to be my Year of Creativity, but it now seems to make perfect sense to focus explicitly on a Year of Writing. Which doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything else than writing, but in a way I can use all creative things as a way to feed my imagination and channel it into writing of some description – creative or otherwise.

What I want to fit in the year:

  1. Daily writing practice, first thing in the morning, every day no matter what. This is in order to provide quantity (if not quality), trusting in the process that a little everyday should contribute to SOME overall improvement. I picked the morning because that’s when I have the most energy for the day, and also it’s nice to do something for yourself rather than stumble out of bed and run to work, only to return home, brain-dead, 10 hours later.
  2. Creative writing exercises – on top of the practice. This is currently done through my creative writing class and when this finishes I have lots of creative writing books to guide me.
  3. Maybe join a book-club, because I still love reading and it’s nice to share comments with others. This might depend on what groups I cam join locally.

30 Days Challenge

In order to boost my writing and channel in into a play project, which I will HAVE to share with the outside world (at least to some extent), I have just signed up to John Williams and Selina Barker’s 30 Days Challenge. I think my project will be the “Know Yourself” blog, for which I already have a few ideas. What I would like to come up with at the end of the challenge is:

  1. Find a concept that works (on the “why” of the blog). At the moment it’s a bit vague
  2. Find an audience – have a clearer idea of who might read it + get feedback from the other people on the course.
  3. Find my “voice”/ style for this type of writing

Above all I am hoping this will set me up for a project I can continue on for the rest of the year. It definitely looks like I’ve  got my work cut out but it’s good to finally – finally -be working towards something concrete, and have a clear focus on what I want to do. Somehow it doesn’t feel like work but a gigantic year of play, which I guess is exactly the idea.

Creative writing

In my previous post I mentioned how taking a writing course had helped taking me out of my comfort zone. This was a major understatement. Attending a creative writing course is the most terrifying thing I’ve done in a long time, and in fact on my way to lesson 1 on the first day, I kept thinking of my first day at the “big school” when I was 10.

I guess this means writing is important to me, more so than any other activities I’ve done in recent years. I didn’t get nervous going to the sewing class; I couldn’t have cared less about making a fool of myself in the painting class (which was just as well, because I really sucked). But since I have it at the back of my head that I could, perhaps, be a good writer when I grow up, this was really terrifying. What if I was crap and everyone noticed?

In lesson 1 I didn’t dare read anything out to the class. Others read what they had written. Some of their texts were good. Most were average. We were all beginners.

Lesson 2 came and I was determined to read something out loud. I read a short piece. The teacher seemed unimpressed. My piece was average. What I had been so afraid of had materialised – I was in a beginner’s class and I was not particularly good.

But you know what, I’m still fine. The world didn’t come to an end. I still want to write; if anything, I want write more. I want to keep sharing my average writing, because that’s the only way to get feedback and progress. There I said it – I may be an average writer but I intend to become a very good one. It may take a while.

Know yourself

Two or three years ago, I found myself in the position where my life didn’t seem to work for me anymore: the job I’d always dreamt of having felt infulfilling, and the frustration of it had begun to trickle through all aspects of my life. Every night I came home tired and in the mood to rant. I resented the lower salary that comes with working in the arts sector, and as I turned down holidays abroad with friends or buying a nice pair of shoes, I couldn’t remember why I ever thought to work in the arts in the first place. I stopped going to concerts, seeing exhibitions or watching arty films – the very things that had been so important to me for so long, and had lead me to work for a prestigious arts organisation. As I lost passion for what I did my life felt increasingly routine; I felt empty, and I felt trapped.

I can’t remember how I first heard of Marianne Cantwell’s Free Range Humans course, but I enrolled in 2011. The course was great, but it left me feeling more inadequate by the end of it because it seemed that I was the only participant without the first clue of what my dream life was (in hinsight, I probably wasn’t). After finishing the course, I resolved to spend the whole year “defrosting”, ie trying to find what it was I really wanted to do so I could start building this wonderful life so many people seemed to be enjoying.

I tried all sorts of courses – photography, sewing, mediation, painting, creative writing – whatever appealed, in search of what it was I loved. Some of those led me to a continued practice that still feed my soul and imagination today (like photography) or helped me grow as a person (meditation should be compulsory at school); others served to satisfy my curiosity and take me to the next level of the quest. Collectivelly, these courses took me right out of my comfort zone, helped me expand, and get closer to knowing what it is that truly makes my heart beat.

During that year I also followed many blogs and coaches about how to make a living doing what you love – there are dozens out there – and what struck me is that although their advice is absolutely sound, it is always a bit unsatisfying. Most of them promise to help you find your dream life even if you don’t know what your dream is, but this is largely misleading. For people like me who were lost, you may get a handful of exercises to somehow point you in the right direction (who do you admire? what can you not live without?), or to keep a journal to keep track of progress; but these seem to be a bit empty when it comes to connecting the dots and finding something that truly gets you fired.

I appreciate we are the only experts on ourselves, and no one can ever tell you what your dreams are, but I think what they forget to tell you is a/ how difficult it is to find out more about yourself and b/ it’s going to take years. And as you keep changing, it’s going to be a moving target. I wish I’d known that from the start, so that I wouldn’t feel so bad that I still don’t have a big project lined up.

Still, I have more and more clues than I did before. I also feel I know myself, as a person, much better than I did. I know I need to fill my time with arts and creativity in order to be happy; I also want to take on more serious creative writing. As I contemplate future projects, a little voice also tells me I could write about knowing yourself, to try and fill that void that left me, and probably others, wanting. I’m not sure what shap it will take exactly, but I like the idea.

Baby it’s cold outside

It’s snowing outside – London is expecting another two days of heavy snowfall – and even as I sip a nice hot cappuccino at my desk, I wish I could be in my bed. I’d bet all my colleagues do as well as everyone is in slightly slow mode, not talking too much, perhaps not working too much either. I’ve just been having a short break and watching a Seth Godin video someone posted on facebook.

As I waited for my train this morning (which was a long time, the first few snowflakes having brought chaos to rail transport), it stroke me how different everything looked with a little white coating. The opposite platform, the rooftops, the trees around, even the people, who had largely given up style for comfort on a cold day. What a contrast to yesterday which was clear and crispy and somehow full of light wintery joy. Or the previous day when it rained buckets, and we were all just grumpy.

I thought it’s amazing how weather changes physically create a slightly different decor to our lives every day. Every morning things are almost the same, we wake up and the world is still in place as normal, including us, but somehow there is a subtle difference in the air. As if you came home one day and your entire house had been painted a different colour while you were away.

Considering this, I thought no wonder we all  feel dramatically different from one day to the next – and that’s just talking about the weather, before even thinking about any interactions with the outside world. As we look at altering our lives for the better, through a career change, or maybe a diet (there’s a lot of these around in January), progress is going to inevitably seem easier some days than others. Some days a career change will seem the obvious path we were always destined for, and others it will be an unrealistic fancy. On Monday we’ll want to shout about it on rooftops, and on Wednesday, we might pretend to really love our 9-5 because that’s the only thing we feel good at.

That’s when suddenly the penny dropped for me, as I was freezing my butt on the commuter train platform: why everybody’s been saying that in order to get anywhere, you NEED to do stuff whether you feel like it or not. You’ve got to write that blog post even though you don’t feel like it, because you’re tired from your day and think it won’t be good. Have to get put your trainers on and run even if it’s a bit cold and you’re a bit hungover. Have to turn up on the yoga mat every morning if you want to nail that sun salutation. And not be too judgmental of the results, is the only way to keep progressing.

This is what I am doing today, with this long-winded, possibly incomprehensible blog post. I hope this is what you are doing too. Let’s make sure we find a way to do it again tomorrow, and the day after – even if we’re all snowed it.

When the going gets tough

I never paid much attention to the statistics on the “most depressing day of the year” (yesterday, apparently), but for some reason today 15th January I seem to have reached rock bottom. It seems only last week I was beaming with the fresh energy of a brand new year, ideas of creative projects, the drive to make them work, and the overall impression everything was going to work OK. What happened between then and now, I am not sure. A week happened; what’s in a week?

Maybe there’s the fact that I am facing a bit too much uncertainty right  now: will my boyfriend find a job soon, will we have to move to a new place? will my company go bankrupt? will I have to quit? can I face applying to a new 9-5 job? who would even hire me? how can I work for myself? do I really have what it takes to cut the mustard as a freelancer, or am I just kidding myself? You get the gist. I feel depressed, cue the fact that I am -yes, shh – even writing this post from my desk at work. DAMN.

Part of me thinks it will be better tomorrow (after all, not every day can be the rubbishest of the year). Part of me fears that, while I may shove all these issues under a metaphorical carpet tomorrow only to feel better, the problems will remain unresolved, waiting to resurface on the next rainy day. I’m not so worried about the ones I have no control upon – after all, I’ll be fine whether we move, and whether I lose my job, even though my boyfriend is unemployed. But I won’t be fine if I don’t make an effort to move my freelance career forwards, even if I don’t even know what that career will be.

Anyway, if you know a quick fix for this let me know. If you don’t either, maybe we can take advice from Michael Nobbs, of SustainablyCreative.com, who is doing brilliantly at focusing his energy to further his creative career, one small (some might say tiny) step at a time. Every single day. I’ve been following his micro podcasts from deepest Wales as a quiet, gentle way to remind myself to keep believing in the dream, no matter what. It’s truly inspiring stuff, you might want to try it too.