Scheduling Creativity

Don’t wait to be compelled to do great work.

Richie Norton

I’ve always been a creative person. As children, my sister and I spent hours drawing every day. I honestly probably have my parents’ relative poverty to thank for that. When you come from a family that doesn’t have the money to take you places and buy you new toys all the time, you learn how to entertain yourself with creativity. Not only did we draw constantly, we even made little clay figures, modeling them after Pokémon, or what have you, that we couldn’t afford. It’s funny how the things you once felt cheated by in life become the things you are most grateful for and vice versa.

Anyway, for the majority of my life, my creativity was dependent on “inspiration.” Initially, this wasn’t hard to come by. It is easy to feel inspired and excited by simple things when you are a child. However, once I got into high school, that inspiration started to dwindle. This could also have been a result of my increasing anxiety causing me to start overthinking my process. Whatever the cause, I began creating less and less. It didn’t seem worthwhile to make the effort if the outcome wasn’t going to be something amazing. My ideas weren’t good enough, in my opinion. I wasn’t good enough.

Eventually I stumbled upon the fact that many great artists and writers had struggled with the same issue of motivation. It wasn’t that history’s greatest works always spurred from incredible ideas or the energy of inspiration, rather they came from dedication, hard work, and persistence. Many writers swear by having a writing routine where they write a certain amount every day, regardless of if they feel like it or have anything interesting to say. Despite this, I continued to resist this idea for years. Only recently have I begun to see the value in this method.

The hardest part for me, is accepting that you will certainly create more, but each work may not be as incredible as ones that have been passionately inspired. However, with this regular practice, when inspiration does strike, you will be able to use the skills you have been honing to produce the best version of the work you’ve been inspired to create. In addition to that, inspiration will find you more often if you work at it instead of just waiting passively for it to find you.

Since I began writing and drawing every single day a few years ago, it is stunning how much I’ve improved. (I actually don’t know if my writing has really improved, but my drawing definitely has.) Perhaps more important than the higher quality work I am able to produce, is what I have learned along the way. I’ve learned that the outcome, the product, of creativity isn’t what I’m really after. There is a special joy in producing something from within our own minds and seeing it materialize in the world. Writing and drawing and other artistic endeavors are not a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. They are like dancing.

Dancing is certainly a form of art, but unlike other artistic modalities, these is less focus on a “product” and more focus on the experience in the moment, whether or not their is an audience. Capitalism has obscured and cut down the spirit of creativity within each of us. It has taught us that only certain people are “talented.” Only these talented few have any right to spend their time in artistic pursuits. And even then, only if they are intending to market their work in some way and make a profit. Never simply for personal fulfillment or fun.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself “creative” or “talented” I believe that artistic expression is an essential, inherent part of being human. I also believe that it is one of the only ways that we are truly free. Don’t allow anyone to take away that freedom. Don’t allow the world to sever the connection to your imagination. I guarantee you that you friends and family would love to see what you are able to create, irrespective of how “good” it may be. Few things make me happier than seeing the drawings that the children I work with make. Some of my favorite art has been made by my best friend who I’m sure wouldn’t consider herself very talented.

Talent is irrelevant. Art is a glimpse into the mind, the soul, of another. There is an inexplicable intimacy to art. That is what makes it beautiful. So please, express yourself freely in whatever way that brings you joy. Share yourself with the world. Make creativity a regular practice. Even if only for yourself. It’s worth it.

17 Ways to Develop Your Creativity

Rest

Introduction to REST APIs — RESTful Web Services - DZone Integration

When was the last time you really allowed yourself to do nothing? Not planning for the day ahead, not going for a walk, not even doing yoga and meditating. Really and truly nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a day where every second wasn’t accounted for with some form of activity. I used to think that as long as I wasn’t at work, I was resting. Now I realize life isn’t that simple. Even on my days off, I have a rigorous schedule to follow by the minute. I am constantly checking the clock, checking my to-do list. Sometimes my relentless repetition from day to day has the effect of turning even fun, lighthearted activities into chores. Chores I nevertheless continue to perform, forgetting that my original intention was to enjoy myself.

I heard this phenomenon referred to the other day as “internalized capitalism” and I hated it. Is this really why I feel the need to always be productive? I may not be someone who obsesses over their actual job, but I tend to turn my own personal pursuits into a job. I am my own task master. But behind my own neuroticism, is capitalism really running the show? After all, why do I feel the need to be productive all the time? I’ve always thought working only as much as I absolutely have to and saving the rest of the time for myself was a rebellion against capitalist ideals. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that very system managed to seep into my mind somehow anyway. Why am I so afraid to rest? Why does “wasting time” feel so taboo?

Part of the conversation on “internalized capitalism” was really interesting to me. The hosts of the podcast mentioned that perhaps we tie our self worth to our productivity and usefulness to others because at the end of the day, none of us really know why we’re here. I thought that was a fascinating idea. Without inherent direction or purpose, we subconsciously decide that our purpose is production and selfless service. On paper it doesn’t sound like a bad purpose. It’s quite noble to dedicate your life to serving others. The problem only appears when we decide this is the only thing that matters.

The search for meaning is a perplexing one. Why do we humans long for a reason? Do other animals question their purpose? Do plants wonder why they exist? It seems self evident that we would want to find meaning in the chaos that is existence, but what makes us so sure there is a meaning in the first place? Furthermore, why is the idea that our purpose is to simply exist so unsatisfying? What is it inside of us that makes us desire a reason for being alive? Isn’t just being alive enough? Can’t we just be grateful and enjoy it? Then again, perhaps our innate need to understand this mystery implies that there is an explanation out there somewhere. Whether or not we’re meant to find it in this life is another story.

I’ve always liked the idea that we get to choose our own purpose. The meaning of life is for us each to interpret for ourselves. However, why is it so hard to fully commit to our own interpretation? For instance, I would say the purpose I’ve assigned to my life is to love and be loved, to learn, to experience, and to enjoy. When I break down my day to day existence though, does it really reflect that purpose? Not really, but how can that be? I get to choose the purpose, and I get to choose how I live, don’t I? Our actions are so often counterintuitive to our own wishes.

Given that none of us really know why we’re here, why is it so difficult for many of us to simply rest? I think part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to rest, I’ll never find the motivation to get back up again. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest right? Humans aren’t objects though. I shouldn’t fear slowing down every now and then. Objects are moved by external forces, momentum keeps them going, and once they stop, they never know when or if they’ll be propelled into motion again. Living beings are different. My energy, my movement comes from within. It’s important to rest so that I can refill my energy stores. There is an elegant dance at play, an eternal struggle to find balance between these two states.

I want to learn to trust my body, to listen more closely when it whispers what it needs, to stop denying it’s pleas for rest. I’ve been pushing myself for so long now, it seems like my body only ever asks for rest. I’ve tricked myself into believing this is all it has or will ever ask for. That it’s my job to overcome this desire for inertia each and every day. I’ve lost faith in my own resilient spirit. I’ve forgotten that it’s a joy to move, to create, to explore. Allowing myself moments of stillness won’t leave me trapped there. I’m sure that if I were to only give myself time to rest, once I was replenished, I’d be eager to get back to “work.” Maybe intervals of rest would keep me from feeling like my life is work at all.

I may be pleasantly surprised like I was after my stint of working from home. I had thought working from home would be ideal for me. I had always wished for that or even not having to work at all. Yet, after a few months I was actually dying to go back to the office. All that time alone had the opposite effect. I wasn’t happier. I was being consumed by my own self-destructive behaviors. I had worried that it’d be a huge burden to go back eventually, but I was surprised to find myself overjoyed when my time at home finally ended.

Try to give yourself at least a few minutes of true rest today. Sit in the grass and stare at the clouds. Listen to your favorite album start to finish. Have a long bubbly bath. Take a nap without guilt. It’s been so long since I’ve incorporated rest into my life, that I’m honestly struggling to come up with examples. What do you like to do to rest? I would love to hear your ideas. Maybe you’re an introvert and rest looks like spending time alone. Or maybe you’re an extrovert and to replenish yourself you like to spend quality time with loved ones. Whatever it is, you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of rest. Use it as an experiment if you like. How might rest give you the energy you need to more fully enjoy the busy moments?

Invest in rest (and live better. Seriously.)

Missing the Point

I’m still rather new to the practice of setting intentions for myself. I’ve been trying to take a moment each morning to set daily intentions and then return to those intentions throughout my day in order to guide me back onto the path I want to take. Trying to set intentions so far has only really emphasized exactly how scattered I am throughout the day. It’s quite hard to focus on the energy I want to cultivate. Half the time I have completely forgotten what intention I’ve set before I even leave for work.

My experience with intention setting has still been able to serve me, albeit not in the way I thought it would. It has shown me just how often we lose sight of what really matters to us. Even though we’d all like to be kind, we can instead be very short-tempered and aggressive. Even though we’d all like to be generous, we still pass up dozens of opportunities to share our abundance each day. Even though we’d like to be closer with our family, we end up arguing over dinner instead. Even though we’d like to relax, we end up pressuring ourselves to do more.

This just goes to show why setting intentions for ourselves is so important. Rather than setting one for the entire day, at first it may be easier and more realistic to set intentions for smaller tasks. I think often we have been so pressured by society to embody goals such as productivity and progress, that we forget to ask ourselves if those goals are in alignment with what we really want for ourselves. For example, every weekend I get excited at the idea of having time to relax and unwind from a hectic work week. Yet somehow I end up being just as busy on my days off. Instead of giving myself permission to rest, I see this free time in front of me and immediately start to fill it with errands. After all, I don’t want to “waste” this time.

If you take a step back and think about it, wasting time is really a matter of perspective. What makes something a waste? Is it a waste of time to play catch with your dog instead of doing the dishes? Is it a waste to watch a movie with a friend instead of writing that essay due next week? It all depends on what you’d like to prioritize. If you want to prioritize a clean house, do the dishes. But if you’re prioritizing taking good care of your fur babies, playing with your dog is the right choice. If your schoolwork is most important to you, you’d want to take care of that right away. But if you find it more important to set aside time to bond with your friends, go ahead and watch that movie. We get to decide what the best use of our time is, not our parents, not our friends, and especially not society.

Most of the time when we do something we regret, it’s because we lost sight of what really matters to us. We say we want to be closer to our loved ones, but when we talk to them, we end up getting angry at every little thing they say, correcting them whenever we get the chance, or arguing about things that aren’t even that important to us. When emotions like anger or fear bubble up inside of us, that is a great cue to take a deep breath and try to remember our intention. What do I want to get out of this conversation? Am I trying to be right? Am I trying to be the smartest person in the room? Or am I trying to show this person I care about them and have a lighthearted chat?

I love the question: would you rather be right or happy? It’s a great model to use for whatever intention you may set for yourself. If you’re like me and you find yourself spending your only day off giving yourself more work to do, try asking: would I rather be productive today or would I rather give myself a chance to rest and recover? Usually both options are completely valid and valuable in their own unique way. It’s not about what you should be doing. It’s about what you’d like to do.

Try setting an intention for at least one small part of your day today. You might decide to set the intention to be calm and mindful on your drive home from school or work. Seems simple enough right? But notice if you still manage to become enraged when another car cuts you off or is driving too slowly. When this happens, as it likely will, gently guide yourself back to your intention. Was your goal to get home as fast as possible? Or was it to have a calm and enjoyable drive? No need to be hard on yourself for getting off track. Stay curious about your automatic reactions. Isn’t it fascinating how our minds are able to defy our best efforts? Keep practicing and it will feel even more rewarding when you notice your ability to focus become stronger and stronger.

Why do we set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class? - Yogahub

The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

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Being Better

Sometimes I get frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle that my mind traps me inside of. I spend most of my time just anxiously trying to occupy myself with nonsense activities to make the day go by faster. It seems like I am always looking for things to waste my time with. What makes this so frustrating is that there are actually a lot of important, helpful, productive things I could be doing with my time instead. I come up with lots of great ideas of how I can be more helpful around the office. I am always getting excited about all the ways I plan to improve my performance at work and prove that I am a valuable asset to my friends and coworkers. But despite all of my initial enthusiasm, once the time comes to sit down and do the work I’ve planned for myself, my anxiety always overwhelms me, paralyzes me.

I spend so much time feeling guilty for not being better. I am so smart and capable. I know I could do far more than I currently do. It’s just difficult for me to switch my energy towards more important pursuits over the ridiculous personal projects I am always working on. I blame my anxiety, but even that doesn’t fully make sense to me. I don’t have any explanation as to why doing these things cause so much fear and hesitation. In the rare moments when I am feeling calm, it seems more than possible for me to accomplish all of these lofty self-improvement goals, but once I begin to feel those first twinges of anxiety, it seems like all I can manage to do is survive. Avoiding that anxiety becomes my top priority, the only thing that matters above all else.

With our therapist at work leaving this fall, I feel even more pressure to amp up my work performance. It’s made me realize I’ve been leaning on my coworkers too much. I feel like I’ve been making them carry a lot of my weight this past year and a half. It’s crazy to me it’s only been that long. It feels like I’ve worked here all of my life. I really don’t want to ever leave. And I’m so tired of feeling guilty for not being more of a help to the people I work with. I’m tired of being afraid of them resenting me for it. Also as a state funded facility, I become more and more anxious about job security every day. At a small organization like ours, we really can’t afford any extra dead weight. I want to do my part. Even more than my part. I want to secure funding so that we can all feel safe to continue working here. I want to go home at the end of the day feeling proud for all I’ve accomplished for this organization that has given me so much. I want to feel like what I do here is really making an important difference.

I think one of my main issues is getting carried away when I am in my more upbeat, hopeful moods. I come up with so many ideas and tasks for myself to complete. Writing them out in never-ending lists only serves to make me feel even more overwhelmed. I know that what works best for me is to break down those long lists and schedule one task or so per day. That way I am able to actually accomplish a lot of my goals without feeling suffocated by the pressure of doing them all at once.

It is quite fascinating to me just how eager, happy, and excited I am able to get at the idea of doing all these extra tasks, but then just to put pen to paper or pick up the phone to make a single call sends me spiraling into fear and self-doubt. Not only that, I feel guilty for always using my anxiety as an excuse. I shouldn’t need someone to hold my hand and force me to do the things I want to do.

For the rest of today at least, I am going to try to stop my thinking mind from keeping me crippled and terrified. Instead of spending my energy contemplating and worrying about what I’m going to do before I do it. I am going to try my best to pick a task, take five long deep breaths, and then just do it. No more thinking. No more wondering if I should be doing something else, if I could think of a way to do it better, etc. I am grateful for my intelligence, but often it feels like a curse more than a gift. Wouldn’t it be lovely to just be able to act without thinking all the time?

Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that this is just one single day of my life. I remember all of the countless others that have come and gone without much consequence. It won’t kill me to do things differently or test my limits for one day. If it turns out to be unbearable, I don’t have to do things the same way again tomorrow. There is nothing to fear in trying and failing. It’s okay if something makes me feel anxious. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling that way. It is the avoidance of that feeling that is truly causing me all this grief. I want to practice making peace with my anxious feelings rather than running from them. I am going to make today different. Even if it’s just today.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

You Deserve to Rest

I have been feeling exceptionally tired and unmotivated these past few days. I am starting to think all the business I’ve been experiencing has finally burned me out. Thankfully I have a nice long holiday weekend coming up. I am even planning on taking a few extra days off to make it super juicy and relaxing. The only issue is that even though I am desperately needing it, I have a really hard time actually allowing myself to take breaks. It makes me so anxious and even makes me feel guilty at times.

I was watching an anime series last night and one of the characters was insisting that the others value the time they have for resting and to make sure they allow themselves to recover when they get the chance. I’ve been hearing similar sentiments a lot lately, especially online. In a society so focused on being as productive as possible in every moment, it can make resting seem like a waste of valuable time. Or even something you have to earn. But it isn’t a waste to rest. And you don’t need to do anything special to deserve it. We need to allow ourselves those slow, silent, calm moments. Resting is productive. It is essential care that we must give our bodies and minds. If you are on a long journey and break your leg, it is much more productive to rest and let it heal than try to continue and prevent your leg from ever getting better.

Even though logically I acknowledge all of these arguments, it is still hard for me to make time for resting. For example, I haven’t allowed myself to take a nap for years. Even though I have just gotten a new game for my Nintendo Switch that I paid a lot of money for, I can’t seem to allow myself any significant amount of time to sit down and actually play it. Even when I finish my to-do lists ahead of schedule, I end up tacking on more things instead of enjoying my free time.

This weekend I am going to try to actually schedule time for taking it easy. Apart from teaching yoga on Saturday morning, I am going to have five days off. I’m hoping that by planning a break for myself it will be easier for me to honor that time to myself. I want it to be something I can look forward to as I make my way through another hectic week. I’ll even plan some nice self care activities to treat myself with. One of which is going to be doing some LSD with my best friend and my sister. It has been far too long since I’ve tripped. A nice brain-reset is long overdue.

It seems like I am much better at giving advice than applying it to my own life. But I hope that even though I struggle to allow myself the rest I need, I hope that for those of you reading this that you will make time for it. You really do deserve to rest, to relax, to unwind. It isn’t a waste of time. It is an important act of self love that will benefit your physical and mental health tremendously. You are worth so much more than your productivity. You deserve to rest.

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Doing Things Differently

I follow very strict daily routines. There was never any real reason that I began doing things in this particular order. It just kind of fell together that way. Now it’s become a pattern that, although has its variations depending on what I may have to do that day, has become very domineering. It has started to concern me as it’s begun to strongly resemble OCD. This all day ritual that I must perform or else I won’t be able to feel okay. Not that I feel no anxiety even when I’ve completed everything perfectly.

I know that the obvious solution is to stop letting myself do things in this order every day. Then I will see that everything is still fine when I divert from my normal routine. But like any form of addiction, I usually tell myself, “But I don’t want to stop.” This feels like only a half-truth at best. Regardless I need to stop so that it doesn’t continue to escalate and become an even more overpowering compulsion. I’ve already seen it slowly expanding to consume every waking hour. Once upon a time, it was merely my mornings that were off limits. I’ve left lovers in bed so that I could start my reading and study Spanish. At that point it still just felt like being efficient and productive. Come afternoon I would be free once again to do anything I’d like.

But now that morning routine has bled out into the afternoon, the evening. It sounds crazy even to me, but yesterday it was a great internal struggle to allow my best friend to come over and hangout for a few hours. I dearly love her and don’t get to see her often enough, partly due to this madness of mine. Still I was so tempted to make up an excuse not to see her so I could make sure my day was an exact photocopy of the day before. I’m not sure if anyone in my life right now is even aware of this issue to be honest. If anything they just admire my “commitment” and “productivity.” Little do they know it’s more like an illness than a virtue.

Nevertheless, I am going to try to change, if even just a little bit. Yesterday I had my friend over. This morning I accidentally slept in, so since things were already going to be slightly off, I managed to do my yoga and meditation first thing. It was very interesting. I want to encourage myself to make small changes to my rigid routine every day. Just to prove to myself that I can. Maybe eventually I’ll even set aside a day to make totally different.

All of this sounds completely insane to me as I write it. I can’t imagine what it sounds like to someone who’s never experienced anything like this. I wouldn’t even know what a normal person’s days look like at this point. It seems like most people just sit around all day. Whereas I feel compelled to fill every single moment with something, even if it’s something silly. Now that I think of it, although I always have something playing on YouTube or Netflix, I can’t remember the last time simply watching it was all I was doing. It is usually just on for background noise as I work on something else.

It may sound like this isn’t a huge issue and that I must be accomplishing a lot, but sadly that isn’t always the case. A lot of the time, there are other things I actually need to be working on, but I never get around to doing them because I’ve already filled up every second of my day with other projects. It is becoming impossible for me to shift my priorities and focus on the things that need my attention, but aren’t every day activities. I feel like this leads to me appearing lazy or letting people down. It’s something I’m unable to explain or even justify to anyone else. So far I’ve been able to manage it, barely. But I fear that if I don’t actively work on dismantling this toxic, overbearing routine I won’t be able to manage it forever.

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Priorities

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I feel I may have revealed a bit too much of myself to my coworkers this morning. When I get nervous, or in this case, excited, talking to people I’ll often say things without thinking. I went to college with someone we used to work with, although neither of us ever really acknowledged it. I mentioned that I thought this other woman probably disliked me because she was an overachiever in college, going to fundraisers, very active in all of our psychology clubs, etc. I, on the other hand, was somewhat of a slacker. I did the bear minimum that was required of me. I was a member of Psi Chi, but basically only so I could put it on my resume, I never went to meetings or anything. I didn’t even go to my own induction ceremony. I blame that one on social anxiety though.

Everyone seemed to get a kick out of hearing about my college memories, but I immediately began to regret being so honest. I’m often afraid that my coworkers will get irritated with me for being lazy or a slacker. Now I feel like I’ve given them even more proof of my poor character, more proof that they’re right to think that. I don’t really picture myself as lazy though. I guess I’d describe it more as selfish. Maybe that’s even worse, now that I think about it.

The thing is, I get a lot done everyday. I have dozens of tasks that I diligently complete day in and day out. The problem is that none of these things really matter to anyone but me. The rest of the world could care less if I study Spanish or workout and do yoga for hours or read. These are all personal endeavors. Ideally they are things that are about self-improvement. But in what ways am I really trying to improve myself? To who’s benefit? It’s probably time for me to reevaluate my priorities.

Since I entered the working world, my mindset has always been me against them. The working poor, against the corporate machine. Even though I must partake in this system to survive, to play the game, it always felt like an act of rebellion to do as little as I could get away with doing. If I was going to be paid nothing, I was going to do as close to nothing as possible. Spiteful, yes, but in my mind it only felt fair. If I didn’t matter to the place I worked, then they didn’t matter to me. This is a mantra that for so many years I burned into my heart and mind. Always playing the part of the petulant child.

I never expected to find myself working for a place that I do genuinely care about. A place that also seems to genuinely care about me. I work with such incredible people. I don’t want to let them down. I love my job. I love what I do. I believe in what we do. I want to be helpful. I want to prove that I am worthy of having a place here. But no matter how many times I resolve to do better, I always find myself falling back into old patterns. Shirking my responsibilities just because I can, because it’s even easier to do here where no one is breathing down my neck, micromanaging my every step. Everything in me, everything about who I’ve been, keeps tempting me to take advantage of that. It’s nearly irresistible.

I am tired of feeling guilty. I am tired of feeling like I am letting everyone down. I am tired of feeling like I am taking advantage of an organization that is truly a benefit to this world. I really want to go above and beyond what is asked of me here. I have a lot of ideas too. I know I am smart. I know I could really make a positive impact for this organization, for the kids we see here everyday. I could really help them. I’ve just always been afraid of showing my full potential. Any other job would take advantage of that. I’ve seen it happen to my mother and my sister. I’m also afraid that I won’t be able to live up to the standard I set for myself. I’m afraid I’ll crack under the pressure of always doing my best. When no one expects anything of you, there is no pressure, it’s easy to impress when/if you need to.

After working here for a year and a half though, I think I finally feel safe enough to show my true colors, to really contribute as much as I can. Self-improvement may once have looked like only inner work, but now I think it looks like giving back, sharing my intelligence and creativity with those that will be able to benefit from it, to be an asset to my friends and coworkers, to finally utilize this freedom and agency at work to be all I can be. I know I can do this. I want to do this. I’m going to enjoy doing this.

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Time Wasted?

Today, like everyday, I had a lot I planned to do. I had to come into work instead of working from home. I still manage to do a lot of my personal tasks even while at work. Except today was a little different than I planned for it to be. I came back into my office after we completed today’s forensic interview, and just as I was about to get started on my to-do list, my coworker came into my office. He had brought his coffee, took a seat, and began to talk to me about a myriad of different topics. I closed my notebook reluctantly.

I had planned on finishing up a few things and rushing out the door once I was finished with my work for the day. However, we ended up talking for nearly three hours. Now the workday is nearly finished. Not only did I not get to head home early, but I also haven’t finished any of the things I set out to. As someone who sticks to a very rigorous, personal schedule, this causes me a lot of anxiety.

It is hard for me to deal with days like today. I feel as though time spent chatting, even with interesting people that I really like, is time wasted. Nothing quantitative was accomplished in those three hours we spent talking. I now have less time left in the day to do my “important” things. It is difficult for me to convince myself that I didn’t just waste time today by talking so much with a friend.

I think most people would find this mindset fairly bizarre. I enjoyed myself. We talked about a lot of fun, interesting things. We laughed. We smiled. And I probably developed a slightly deeper friendship in the process. But on paper, I have nothing to show for those hours. My anxiety is not pleased. I feel rushed to make up for lost time.

Yet because of the way I feel about these kinds of days, I think I cause myself to miss out on some of the parts of life that are truly valuable. I miss time with people in my life that I will never be able to reclaim. How could I value writing on this blog, journaling, reading, or drawing over genuine connection with loved ones? I don’t even understand this myself. Yet there are many days I miss opportunities to hangout because I am “too busy.” But when I really think about it, my time would probably be better spent do these “less important” activities. I am going to try hard to be grateful for the time I spent talking with my friend today. It was important to me. Even if it wasn’t necessarily productive.

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The Perception of Progress

It is wild to think that 2020 is almost over already. Normally I don’t really notice how quickly the time goes. Because of the pandemic this year, I have a better sense of just how short one year seems. As I drove to work this morning, I couldn’t help but think about how I have spent this year. It feels like I’ve made no progress at all. If anything I’ve regressed. 2020 has been a year spent just trying to scrape my way out of the black hole I’ve fallen into. I still haven’t gotten back to the surface yet, but at least I’m no longer falling.

Years like this feel wasted. I think about all the productive things I could have done with 365 days. I think about where I could be right now if I had done those things instead of just struggling to stay alive. In our culture where productivity and progress equals value, it can be really hard not to beat yourself up when you aren’t able to meet society’s standards, or even your own. Most other people my age are married or already starting a family. I don’t even want those things. Yet I still feel like I’ve failed because I am not where my peers are in life. Even though I’m personally pretty okay with my life, I feel as though others view me as a failure or feel pity towards me. And no matter how many times I tell myself that those other opinions don’t matter, it is still hard to fully believe.

Today I really want to remind myself and anyone reading this, that it’s okay to not be making progress. It’s okay to spend a year or however long you need just surviving, just trying to cope with life. It may feel like you’ve spent so much time and energy just trying to get back to the starting line, but even so, that is not a wasted effort. Even though you have a mountain you want to climb, don’t discredit your hard work just making it back to sea level. That is still something to be proud of. You’ve still grown a lot. You’ve still learned a lot in the process.

I was nearly an alcoholic a year ago, but I was able to stop. That may feel like a worthless accomplishment sometimes, but I’m proud of myself. I’m grateful I was able to get off of that destructive path when so many others never do. I spent the majority of this year under the influence of an eating disorder, and I’ve finally found the courage to try to stop those behaviors as well. I may just be clawing my way back to normal, but I know how hard it’s been and I’m proud of myself regardless.

These are the reasons the opinions of others truly don’t matter. No one knows how I’ve struggled with these things. It may appear on the surface that I haven’t done much. Only I really know how hard I’ve been working just to be okay again. So even though it doesn’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything in a long time, I’m going to keep reminding myself that I have accomplished a lot. And even though there is still just as much mountain to climb, this time has not been wasted. I have gained so much knowledge and experience. I have learned invaluable lessons that I will take with me as I continue my journey.

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