Narrowing Focus to Broaden Success

There are many reasons that I’ve had a hard time picking a specific career to pursue. One of which, is the fact that there isn’t really one singular thing that I was ever able to imagine making me feel fulfilled and happy for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for all the many talents, interests, passions, and abilities that I have. The problem has always been that there isn’t enough time in a day to devote myself to all of them the way I’d like to.

Even this blog stands as an example of my difficulty sticking with one theme or niche and really remaining faithful to it. The name of this blog is Protect the Innocent because when I started it, my goal was to make a blog with vegan commentary and to give advice to new/rural vegans. I wanted this blog to be my little attempt at activism. However, despite my deep concern and interest in this important topic, it quickly becomes oppressive to me when I feel unable to write about anything else.

It seems like I always end up either doing nothing at all when I can’t decide where to put my focus and energy or I just do a little bit of everything. The problem with the latter is that then I am unable to really delve deep into any of the things I want to do. I’m not able to master anything or do any really big time consuming projects. My energy is always being scattered and worn thin trying to pursue all of my many interests at once.

I get anxious when I think about narrowing my efforts. It feels like I am sacrificing so many things when I center myself on just one. I know it doesn’t have to mean I never pick up my other hobbies again, but it’s still hard to reassure myself in that regard. I’d really like to try to structure my time more effectively. Perhaps I can focus on just one thing certain days of the week or set an entire month aside to really delve deep into a certain project or skill set.

I think setting up a more diverse, yet focused schedule for myself would be an excellent way for me to make more meaningful progress towards my various goals. I also believe this could solve my issues with burnout and lack of inspiration. This way I’d be able to give myself a break from one thing, while still feeling as though I’m doing something meaningful in the meantime. The most important step is going to be the first one. I need to set aside time to work out this schedule for myself so that I can move forward with a clear intention and reserve my mental energy for the task at hand.

Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

Have you ever had a great idea for a project or personal goal, that seems super inspiring and exciting at first only to devolve into another disappointment as soon as you start taking real steps toward it? This happens to me ALL the time. Everything feels so much easier and more seamless when it’s just an idea. Unfortunately, our minds forget to factor in that embarking on new endeavors is challenging and often not immediately rewarding in the way we imagined it would be. This disparity between imagination and reality can cause us to give up on the idea too quickly.

For example, I just bought myself a spontaneous gift, a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet. For those who haven’t heard of this before, it’s a tablet that allows you to create digital art on your computer. It even came with access to a couple different softwares for making said art. I’ve been giddy about getting this tablet for days. I kept checking all day yesterday to see if it had arrived yet. I couldn’t wait to get home and start creating. I even told my coworkers about it and promised to show them all the cool things I would draw with it over the weekend.

Once I got home and got everything set up and ready to go, I was immediately filled with self doubt. I had hoped the software might be more simple and intuitive than Photoshop. However, the two seem nearly identical to me. There are just SO many options. I don’t even know where to begin. I figured I’d at least be able to do a simple drawing as well as I could with pen and paper, but I was dead wrong. So far I haven’t been able to make a single thing. Instead of drawing, I spent the better part of my evening doing research and watching tutorials.

Now this is normally the part in the process where I give up. I feel crushed not only that I can’t do what I thought I’d be able to do, but also that I “wasted” so much time and money believing I could. Thankfully, I am no longer the self-defeating person I once was. When I started to feel frustrated and like I wanted to quit yesterday, I just repeated my new mantra: It’s okay to be a beginner. The progress I’ve seen in my drawing over the last few years just from doodling every day has bolstered my self-confidence. I KNOW I can do this. I’ve done it before. I won’t let my ego stop me, just because it feels insulted we aren’t already the best at something we’ve literally never tried before. Sure, it feels good to be the best, but it feels even better to learn new skills and watch yourself get better and better.

My mindset is totally different this time around. I am more determined than I’ve felt in years. I’ve fucking GOT THIS. I know that determination is all that I need. That alone is a guarantee that I’ll master this new art form one day. It sure as hell won’t be tomorrow or even next week. Maybe not even next year. But I will be better than I am today by the time I reach each of those future dates. And eventually I’ll be better than I ever believed I could be. Instead of letting my total lack of ability right now discourage me, I’m using it to inspiring me. Won’t it be so freaking cool and impressive once I figure this out?! How proud I’ll feel. How fascinating it will be to watch my amazing sponge-like mind absorb this new knowledge and build a new talent. Right now, I don’t even know what this new software is capable of. The possibilities are endless.

Rather than running from our sense of inadequacy or feeling so embarrassed by being a beginner that we quit, we can choose to savor where we are right now. I want to remember what it feels like to be this know-nothing novice. I want to remember so that I can feel all the more joy in a few years when I look back on how far I have come. Every single expert was a beginner at some point. Would being an expert even hold any satisfaction if that weren’t the case?

Being a beginner is exciting! You are learning a new skill. What a wonderful way to exercise this incredible muscle we call the mind. That is part of the reason we are here on this earth, to learn new things, to explore, to experience. We won’t be able to do any of those things if we only allow ourselves to do what we’re already good at. Being a beginner is a beautiful thing to be. Choose to enjoy it.

Mantras to Practice:

  1. It’s okay to be a beginner.
  2. I am making progress toward my goals each day.
  3. It’s fun to learn new things.
  4. I enjoy challenging myself and building new skills.
  5. Practice makes progress.
Embracing a Beginner's Mind | Harlem Yoga Studio

Why I Write

I feel like I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to write about for quite a long time now. When I first started writing every day, it was something I looked forward to. Now it’s nearly become something to dread. I can’t think of anything that I want to say. Even looking up writing prompts hasn’t been much help. Today I’ve finally decided to just write about the reason I write in the first place.

I let myself get too caught up in the details. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to write about. It’s the process itself that I enjoy. Sure often a certain topic I’m passionate about in the moment makes it easier to get into that flow state, but it isn’t necessary. More than anything, I just like spending some quiet time alone with my thoughts. Writing gives my brain something specific to focus on. It’s a chance to let the rest of the world fade away for an hour or so.

I love the way it feels rapidly hitting the keys on my laptop. I love the sound they make. I love watching the words magically appear on my screen. It doesn’t matter what those words are or whether anyone will read them. There doesn’t always need to be a lofty purpose for everything that I do. Sometimes it’s nice just to do something anything, with focused attention. This is the real reason that I write. It doesn’t make a difference if I have nothing to say.

Living with anxiety for so long has taught me that most of the time those anxious feelings come from trying to live in the future. Anything that can consume your attention and ground you in the here and now is wonderfully calming. The hard part is getting yourself to sit down and focus when you’re worrying about something. I’ll often find myself desperately trying not to worry about something in the future. What would be more helpful is finding something in the present to give my full attention. I don’t spend time trying to find the most productive or important thing to focus on. I just have to pick something.

This is why intentions can be so helpful. It’s easy to lose your center as your move through your day. Today my intention is to be present and enjoy myself. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t always have to take life so seriously. It’s okay to just be happy about the little silly things like seeing those baby geese by the pond on my way to work or snuggling with my dog for a few minutes on the couch this morning. Everything is just fine. Life is beautiful and I’m grateful to be here.

You Should Be Writing Every Day. Here's Why (and How to Do It)

Remember Why You Started

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly how I ended up so enmeshed in the repetitive behaviors I now perform daily. I thought back to the first time I remember giving myself a similar list of tasks. In the beginning, I remember it being so exciting. I had big plans about bettering myself and working towards becoming the person I wanted to be. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals. However, sadly I seem to have lost the passion that drove me to start this journey in the first place.

It feels like in the last few years, I’ve started to stagnate. These efforts at self-improvement were supposed to be fun. I want to get back to that passion that I once had. I was energized by these activities rather than exasperated by them. I believed in myself, in my potential. I was excited at the idea of reaching my goals. Somewhere along the line I seem to have lost all that faith in myself. I lost sight of the self love that once spurred me onward.

Thankfully, spring always reawakens something inside of me. I feel filled with a new energy as the air begins to heat back up and the sun reemerges. And with the coming spring, I’ve also had an important realization. I’ve been scrambling around inside my head trying to figure out a way to make time to meet a new vegan friend I met online. I’ve been ridiculously stressed out by the effort of trying to cram yet another activity into my already busy schedule. Only after a few days of this psychotic planning did it suddenly dawn on me, it doesn’t even matter if I miss doing all of my usual things for ONE day. How obvious.

The whole point of the things I make myself do everyday is self-improvement. Doing them every day was just a way to get into the habit. It was just supposed to give me direction and a way to feel productive on days when I had nothing else to do. I don’t know at what point it started to dominate my life instead. It seems like for years now, I have been prioritizing these “hobbies” over everything else in my life. I don’t make plans with friends and family because I tell myself I don’t have time for it. I neglect other, more important things, in favor of completing my these rituals. Only very recently have I realized how absurd that is.

These activities were supposed to help me become a better person, not prevent me from living a normal life. The ultimate goal isn’t 365 consecutive days of checking off these arbitrary boxes, the goal was to use my time wisely and learn new things. It completely defeats the purpose if in the end these habits inhibit my life rather than compliment it.

This is why it is so important to have clear intentions for yourself. My intention somehow got lost along the way. Luckily I’m finding my way back to it. Maybe a few years ago, what I needed was to have a more structured routine, but needs change. It’s time I allow myself to change with them. These habits were meant to serve me, but instead they’ve consumed me. Now what I need is learn how to give myself a break. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. I don’t want to look back on my life one day just to see hundreds of checked off to-do lists. I want to give myself the freedom to have spontaneous adventures and make meaningful memories as well.

Tomorrow I want to give myself a long over due gift. I want to have a day off, a day free from my own demands. I want to meet someone new, get to know them. I want to explore and be curious and flexible. I want to not worry about whether or not I’ll have time to read later or write in my gratitude journal. How silly that the act of writing down a list of things I’m grateful for everyday became more important than allowing myself the time to enjoy what I’m grateful for. It’s no wonder I’ve lost all of my drive and passion. I’ve burnt myself out a long time ago. I’ve been running on fumes. It’s time to stop and recharge. It’s time to take a day just to breathe, to reflect, to enjoy the progress I’ve made, and to share my new and improved self with new people and with the ones I love, the ones that have stuck with me through all of these years of being distant and uninvolved. It’s time for me to thank them for that. It’s time for my to thank myself and enjoy how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been. Time to refocus on my intention and reignite that excitement, that passion for my life.

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Writing

I love to write. I love seeing my handwriting slowly consuming a blank page. I love notebooks and pens. I love typing even more perhaps. The sound of rapid clicks on a keyboard, the feeling on my fingertips as I am pressing the keys, is so soothing. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. I have diaries from the time I first learned how to form letters on paper. The massive amount of misspelled words stand as a humorous testament to how young I was at the time. There is just something so beautiful and therapeutic about organizing thoughts and feelings in order to release them into the physical world. Even if what is written was never intended to be read, there is still a sense of connection that is inherently part of language.

Even though I love it and I’ve done it nearly all of my life, writing has become more and more challenging as the years go by. I often get the urge to write something, anything. But when I sit down to begin, I am always gripped by panic and fear. Part of me is feeling that right now. It is a fear that makes me feel like running. An urge to escape, to look away. A fear that reminds me of being a little girl, holding the covers over my head at night, feeling that as long as I don’t look at the dark expanse of my bedroom that I will be safe from any monsters that might be lurking there.

It is terrifying to look this fear in the face, to study it long enough to even recognize what it is I am afraid of. When I really force myself, I can see that I am afraid of introspection. In order to create anything, first we must look within. When I’m drawing it is easier. There is no threat among the shapes and lines inside my head. Just images, with no emotions underneath. Writing is different. So much so that I’ve grown to dislike the phrase “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” A thousand words could reflect much more than a picture ever could. Some things can only exist within language.

When that familiar urge to write strikes me, the question that follows is always, “what should I write about?” This is usually where fear slams the door so to speak. In order to answer that question, I’ve got to go within. I’ve got to look inside of myself, to probe around my heart and mind, feeling for something that sparks my interest, my passion, my emotion. I know that I’ll find inspiration somewhere in there. The problem is what I might stumble across in my search.

The older I get, the more I find that I am keeping my mind on a very short leash. There have become more and more tender places where I dare not tread. I’m no longer even sure what exactly it is I am afraid to find. I don’t have any truly traumatic memories. Perhaps I am afraid of the good ones. That I’ll miss those old joys too much to bear. Maybe part of me is afraid I’ll look inside and find there is nothing left. Then again, maybe I am just analyzing this fear too much. After all, I am a perpetually anxious person. The majority of the time there is no cause for the nervous energy I feel vibrating through my body.

It doesn’t really matter why I feel this fear. I am forever being distracted and misguided by that persistent question, “why?” Even when I was little, I was one of those kids that had to ask why after being told anything. It feels like a phase I never grew out of. Somehow I still haven’t learned that that question often doesn’t have an answer. More importantly, that often it doesn’t really matter anyway. If you spend your life fixated on figuring out why we are here, why we are alive, why we exist at all, you will miss out on actually living. Maybe we get to choose what the answer to that question will be. Maybe it’s simply irrelevant. What matters is that we are here. Wouldn’t a better question be “what am I going to do with this life” or “how can I make this life meaningful, enjoyable, etc.?” Maybe it would have actually served me better if my parents hadn’t always been so patient with me and made me stop asking why all of the time.

Why it scares me isn’t what I want to focus on. I love writing. That is what I want to focus on. I even think I’m pretty good at it. It makes me happy. It lets me express myself better than I am able to any other way. It lets me be creative, silly, curious, focused, anything that I want to be. All I have to do is believe in myself enough to start, then I won’t be afraid anymore.

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