Saturday, May 31, 2014

Goodbye, Old Friend

Four years ago, I moved into the city - Philadelphia, for those who aren't familiar with my location - on a personal quest: to figure out life, establish my independence, and re-find myself. I know, it sounds cheesy. But as a person who's life often feels a bit like an adult version of pin the tail on the donkey - feeling about randomly trying to find where you're going, only to realize you're completely turned around and you've actually directed yourself all the way to the opposite side of the house - it's one hundred percent true. Three years prior, I'd gone through a divorce, and more recently I'd suffered a rather significant personal crisis that I needed to at least attempt to shed. (I've chosen not to disclose the crisis, as the exact details don't seem necessary for the point of this blog, and it's one of the few things about myself I don't discuss publicly. Let's just say it was a humdinger that put me at a low I'd never experienced before).

In Philly, I started over. I became a regular at local restaurants, coffee shops, and stores. People recognized me and my dog walking down the street, and I recognized them. I made friends, I got involved in my coworking community, I became more or less a fixture in the leadership of several professional organizations. I started to grow into my element, and for the first time in years, feel not only independent, but happy in that independence.

Let me be clear, it wasn't all roses. In fact, I went through some terrible times in that apartment. Those walls, floors, bed, shower saw more tears than I can count. Heartbreaks both personal and professional happened over those years. People who faded from my life, or I from theirs. Positions I felt I deserved that were given to others for reasons that to this day still hurt a bit. There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of difficult times there. But I persevered and I continued to strive towards my goals. One foot in front of the other, as my grandmother always said.

This past year, I decided to make some major changes in my life. After years, I stepped down from my leadership positions, feeling that I'd done what I could do, and it was time for others to have their chance. I started to shift much more of my focus to mental health awareness and advocacy, with the goal of eventually establishing a successful non-profit. I took a part time job at a conference center, and for the first time in eight years, I have to get up and dressed and start working by a time set by someone other than myself. It's a major change, but I have to say, I love having the structure for at least part of my work week. Most notably, I have become part of a new family through my current relationship. In April, I signed a lease on a house in Cherry Hill, and I gave my 60-day notice at my Philadelphia apartment.

Yesterday, my dad and I finished cleaning out the apartment, removing (or trashing) the few remaining items that were still in there. As I stood in the empty rooms, I experienced what felt like a bit of time travel. Random images of the last four years, flashes of occasions that happened in those very rooms, or just outside in the surrounding neighborhood. I thought about all of the laughs that had echoed in there, and the tears that had been shed; the way too numerous to count solo song and dance concerts that I performed while listening to iTunes and cooking dinner; the first time I'd attempted to get Cinn (my dog) to go up the elevator, and how far she'd come in conquering that fear over the four years. I felt that "feel" that only my apartment had, even cleared of my things. Like an old, familiar friend, always there for me to come back to. I checked my mail one last time, in case forwarding mail wasn't quite as accurate as it claimed. And then, with one last sigh of nostalgia, I closed the door on that one bedroom apartment that had gotten me through so much, looking at the sign that I'd taped to the door informing people that there was a dog in there and to make sure she got out in case of fire or emergency. It felt wrong somehow to take it down, that last remnant of my and Cinn's adventure there, so I left it.

As my dad hugged me goodbye and I made a joke about it being the last time he had to worry about finding a parking spot to come visit me, a famous literary line popped into my head: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Dramatic, I know, but I think it sums things up nicely. Overall, I'll remember the good, with a quiet respect for the tough times that became learning experience. Over those four years, I do think that I established my independence rather well, and I have a bit better idea of myself. I never did figure out life. Maybe someday. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Excuses, Excuses

One of the pieces of inspiration that's most stuck with me is something I read in the book The Artist's Way. The author, Julia Cameron, was discussing excuses that we make for ourselves. It went something like this:

Question (Excuse): Do you know how old will I be by the time I learn to play the piano (insert desired skill/task/project here). 

Answer: The same age you will be if you don't. 

The point? It's very easy to make excuses - no funds, no time, no resources, too old, too young, and the list goes on. These excuses, as they pile up, can also make the goals we're attempting to reach overwhelming. Often, we don't intentionally use excuses to stop progress. They are based on legitimate obstacles. How do I fund this new project? Who will help me (since I don't have the funding to pay people)? Where will I find the time? As they build up, they become seemingly insurmountable. After all, it can be rather tough to work on something when you have no time, money, or resources.

In addition, there are what I call the emotional excuses. I'll never be successful. I'm not good at stuff like this. I can't do this on my own. I'm not strong/smart/savvy enough to pull this off. I call these emotional because they play on our confidence and self esteem. They piggy back on our self doubts, or the criticisms of others. And while you certainly do need to think about your strengths, and the fact that you may eventually need to call on others to work with you, this doesn't mean that you'll never succeed, that you can't do it, that you're no good, that you shouldn't start at all. Yet this is often what we tell ourselves. 

I am absolutely guilty of both types of excuses. The trouble is, all too often, I don't recognize them for what they are - things I'm telling myself because I'm afraid to move forward. I'm afraid I'll fail. I'm afraid I'll make a fool of myself. I'm afraid I'll prove the naysayers right. Often, these fears are subconscious. There are perfectly convincing arguments for not starting something until you have the time, money, resources. The problem with this is, you could be waiting forever. It's unlikely that you'll fall into so much money that you can stop whatever you're doing and start your project from scratch without any affects on your finances. It's equally as unlikely that you'll suddenly have more hours in the day, or that all of the right people will stop what they're doing and volunteer to come help with your project, whatever you need. And so, we have to start somewhere. It may be putting out a couple of dollars to get things started. It may be recruiting friends who are willing to help, and while they might not be next in line for CEO of your project, they are willing to offer up their resources, and willing to do it for free (you hope). 

When the lists of tasks, time, and resources required gets overwhelming, break each aspect of the project into tiny, manageable items. Address one of these items daily, or at least weekly, until you have completed the list. As you go along, you might well find that you now have a project you feel comfortable putting some money into to get started.  Or you might find that you already have some traction, and getting the resources you need to go further isn't as difficult as you thought it would be. Or you might simply have more confidence in yourself, which to me is the best outcome of all. It's this confidence that will help you recognize the excuses for what they are, push pass the fear, and get you on your way. 

So my suggestion is this: make a list of all of your obstacles. Look at them, and call yourself out on your excuses. If you find an obstacle to be "legitimate" (ie you truly are physically unable to perform a task, or it requires legal licensing/certification that you do not possess) make a list of ways that you could work around it. I'm willing to bet, though, that the majority of obstacles will really be ways that you've been talking yourself out of moving forward. Once you recognize the excuses for what they are, things seem much more manageable.  And that's a great place to start!