Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Morning Thoughts

Alarm clock

As I lay in bed this morning in that hazy, transitional state between waking and sleeping, having the same conversation with myself that I do every morning after my alarm goes off for the first time – about if I have to wash my hair that day or if I know what I’m going to wear to work and if that means I can stay in bed just a little longer – during this familiar phase of slipping between awareness and unconsciousness, I had a vision. I saw myself on a long road made up of days where I have to get out of bed and go to work; an endless, changeless, relentless grind of the same thing, day after day, on and on, for the rest of my life. It was terrifying. Is this all there is for me, my foggy brain wondered? This constant repetition of the white-collar worker’s assembly line: wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed, get in shower, brush teeth, put on clothes, drive to work, work, drive home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed . . . ?

Once I finally roused myself and my full faculties came online, I of course realized that what I saw in my vision isn’t my whole life, that I have passions and pursuits that I care deeply about, and that the job I have is a necessary part of the whole. It keeps a roof over my head, food on the table, gas in the car. And what is more, fortunately for me I don’t hate my job. I work for a good company, I enjoy my co-workers very much, and my boss is a good guy. Yes, there are things that I would change, and there are things I hope to change, but honestly, it’s a good gig, as straight gigs go. I’m lucky, and grateful.

And it allows me to do things that I might not otherwise get to do. It gives me the freedom from worry about where the mortgage is coming from so that I CAN focus on my passions and pursuits in the time I’m not earning a living. And for that, I am grateful.

The episode this morning reminded me that I have a choice about how I see my life. I can either wallow in the things I don’t like about where I am now, or I can be grateful. Wallowing is seductive, like soft sheets and a warm bed – it feels good to wrap myself in the comfort of the familiar, ignoring the pull of the world around me. But eventually I have to get up and face it, and the longer I wallow the harder it gets to throw off the covers and start a new day. What would be better is to begin each day with an eagerness born of gratitude, to take a moment before getting up where I think about all the amazing people and opportunity and love I have in my life. When I start thinking about that stuff it makes crawling out of my comfy bed a lot easier.
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photo credit: cdw9 It’s Too Early!! via photopin (license)

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The Disappointment Trap

Disappointment

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned too well over the last few years it’s how to avoid disappointment.

The journey of self-employment is a near constant cycle of hope and rejection. I can’t tell you how many times over these past four years I’ve been encouraged about something that has happened – an exciting conversation with a potential client, positive feedback from mentors about the direction and scope of what I was trying to achieve, actual interviews that I walked out of totally convinced I was going to get the gig – only to be disappointed when it didn’t come through. I learned, like so many people learn, to stop wanting whatever it is that I’m pursing so that if it doesn’t happen I won’t feel so devastated.

This seems like good advice, and you hear it a lot. I’ve reduced or eliminated a lot of pain over the years by teaching myself to not want things. That piece of business? Yes, it would be great, but you know, it’s probably not going to work out, so I’m not going to think about it. That trip? Yes, I’d love to go to that place on business, but I’m not holding my breath. These are the kinds of things I’ve said to myself to spare my feelings, and they work. I’ve gotten really good at not getting my hopes up.

There’s something else here to think about.  The advice about not getting your hopes up is usually accompanied by the assurance that if you don’t, when something good does come through, it’ll be a wonderful surprise. That has certainly happened – some things I wrote off did actually come together. You think I’d be more excited about it when it happens, but it’s anti-climactic: “Oh, wow, ok. I got it. Great! Now, what’s wrong with it?” I have so trained myself to be disappointed that when something good does happen I can’t allow myself to enjoy it.

I’ve decided that this is a big problem and I don’t want to live this way anymore.

This decision is, of course, loaded with emotional risk. If I start wanting things again I’m sure to be hurt and disappointed. It’s inevitable. But I think I know now the price I’ve paid for emotionally detaching myself from the pursuit of what I want – I’ve lost  a lot of my former passion. I’m having to work hard to muster the enthusiasm required to build a business, which is a recipe for disaster.

Now, understand, I’m not totally disengaged – anyone who knows me knows that. I’m just not inhabiting my life as fully as I am capable of doing, and by holding back I’m cheating myself and everyone around me. So I’ve decided to risk my heart again, to want things, knowing I will be hurt. Instead of trying to avoid disappointment, I’ve decided I’m going to go all in, all the time, and if I get disappointed I”ll just get better at accepting it and moving on.

Living is risk. Loving is risk. But if you don’t take the risk you most definitely won’t reap the reward. And the reward isn’t necessarily achieving the thing you want – it’s the joy that comes from knowing you’ve given everything you have pursing your desires. You leave it all on the field, on the stage, in the meeting, on the canvas, on the page. That’s what’s real. That’s where the love is. That’s where you’ll find me.

photo credit: Scott Ableman via photopin cc
 

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Change is Good?

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Change is good, right? That’s what people say. “If you’re not changing you’re not growing.” “Don’t be afraid to relinquish who you were for who you might become.” All that stuff.

Well, I’m here to tell you I’m sick of it. My life has been nothing but constant change for years now, and there’s no sign of a change-free period any time soon. I have done my best to embrace all the changes, to be happy about them because I’ve always been told that it’s all for the best. Maybe one day it will be. Maybe one day I’ll look back on all this and laugh at my consternation and confusion and worry. But “one day” seems an awfully long way away and is no comfort to me right now whatsoever.

Something happened this past week that brought the state of my life into sharp focus.  A little over a week ago I was asked by some friends to stage manage a dance show. This is the first stage management gig I’ve done in years and years, and the first dance show I’ve ever done. I was nervous. I came into the process very late; I only got to see one rehearsal before we were in technical rehearsals (that’s where we go to the theatre and set up the lights and sound). The schedule was extremely compact and there were frayed nerves and people stressing out about getting it all done.

But get it done we did, and the end result was beautiful – and I remembered how to be a stage manager. It all came back to me effortlessly, like breathing. I knew what to do and when to do it. I knew the language, and the rhythm. I knew what was expected of me, and I gave it. I knew what was expected of the others around me. I had a place. I was home.

The difference between how I felt doing the show and how I feel about the rest of my life is night and day. I went to bed last night dreading having to face what was waiting for me this morning. Not because I dislike the work – not at all. I enjoy the work and my co-workers. It’s the uncertainty of it all that gets me down. We’re forging into brand new territory with our clients, and we (my co-workers and I) are trying to find a way through when there are no paths. We’re still figuring out how to work with each other, too, which makes me feel even less like I’m standing on solid ground.

I’m tired of it. I am so tired of not knowing from day to day what’s going to happen. I wish I could be that person who lives for change, for the unexpected, for the daily challenge of figuring out what’s going on and conquering it all. I’m not that person. I’m not a lot of things I thought I was, and the process of finding that out has been spectacularly painful.

This is what I have discovered:

  • I’m not extraordinarily self-confident. This was the biggest shock; I’ve always believed that I have a core of confidence that can’t be shaken.  Well, it’s been shaken. Badly. I am in the uncomfortable position of feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing at all, and it’s frightening.
  • I’m not impervious to slander. I used to think that other peoples’ bad opinion of me just rolled off me like water off a duck’s back, but I have recently been profoundly hurt by the betrayal of someone I thought I could trust.
  • I’m not a perfect judge of character. I tend to put on my rose-colored glasses when dealing with people, which leaves me open to the kind of betrayal I recently experienced.
  • I’m not as worldly or sophisticated as I once believed. I used to think I was good at navigating the complexities of modern life. Now I’m pretty sure I was just fooling myself.

So what does that leave me with? Have I been mistaken about who I am my whole adult life? Maybe. There are a few things I still believe are true:

  • I care about what I do.
  • I need solitude as much as I need the company of others.
  • There is an artist inside me struggling mightily to get out.
  • God loves me.
  • There are people in the world who love me.
  • There are people in the world that I love.

That’s all I can be sure of anymore.

There are no easy answers. There are no platitudes that can make this period in my life any less difficult than it is. Those catchy phrases are written by people who have lived through tough times and survived. I admit to looking for wisdom and encouragement there myself; there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Maybe I’ll write one, too, when all this is over. But for now, as much as I’d like to just go back to bed, I won’t – but don’t ask me to be happy about it.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks

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What If?

What If

I’ve had some encouraging signs of late that my employment situation might be taking a turn for the better.  I’ve been contacted by a couple of friends who have offered me gigs, short ones, but paying gigs nonetheless, which is a huge improvement over what has been happening for months now, which is a whole lot of nothing.  Last week I completed my last contract of the year, and the client (instead of doing what I all but expected them to do which was tell me they didn’t need me anymore) might actually hire me to run the whole show next year instead of just the piece I’ve been doing for the last three.  I have also been added to a resource list for future technical director gigs through the audio visual company I’ve been using which is fantastic because I love that work and it would most likely mean some travel which, even though it wouldn’t be to any exotic locations, I would welcome because I miss going places terribly.  I’ve also been promised that my friend for whom I do copywriting work has a lot of stuff to keep me busy over the next couple of months.  So, all in all, things are looking up.

When I get a break in the weather like this it allows me to step back from myself and gain some perspective on where my head has been.  At times like these I play a game I call “What If?”  This is how it goes:

I start by asking myself a series of questions:

“What if I stopped worrying about how much I’m not working?”

“What if I stopped obsessing about how we’re going to pay the bills?”

“What if I stopped being angry that I can’t afford to buy new clothes/shoes/anything?”

You get the idea.

Next, I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to stop worrying/obsessing/being angry about all of this stuff.  I empty my mind of the anxiety and pressure of my concerns.

I know what you’re thinking, and I think it, too:  Denial is more than just a river in Egypt.  This is not an attempt to deny the reality of my financial situation or my need to be employed or any of it.  What I am doing is giving myself permission, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to feel what it would be like to stop worrying.

And when I do, the result is amazing – I suddenly feel light, unburdened – and I find I have the capacity for joy.

I think we live in a complicated world that is full of noise, and motion, and pressure.  I get caught up in it, forgetting to stop and look around me.  All too often I allow my anxiety to overwhelm me and rob me of enjoying the many good things in my life.  The cycle is insidious, and I don’t realize how down I’ve actually become.

I want to break the cycle.  I want to get up every day and look at it as a gift to be enjoyed.  I want to stop focusing on what life owes me, and start focusing on what I can give.  I want kindness and compassion to be my first response.   I want my better nature to be in control.

I can do all of these things whether I have a job or not.  I don’t have to wait for my life circumstances to improve before I can be happy.  Life will always be a struggle – as our context changes we just get hit with new sets of problems.  The trick is to find that peace within you that can’t be shaken.  I’ve found that the beginning of that peace comes when I stop worrying.  After a while, the anxiety eases; this of course makes it easier to get things done, which lowers my anxiety, allowing me to get more done, etc., etc.

So the choice is between the vicious cycle or the virtuous one.  The first is hard to break; the second, easy to ignore.  But this is the real battle – the one that happens in my heart and mind every day.  I have found that the struggle to be fully alive and present is so much harder than figuring out how to earn a living.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.   The book is part diary, part memoir, and chronicles the first year after I was suddenly laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

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