Refocus

04/27/2011

10 Comments

 
"An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities."
-quote from yesterday's cup of Yogi Tea

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Usually, I am a huge fan when the world seems to send just the right word at the right time. But I must admit that I snarled a bit, and maybe even rolled my eyes when I read the inspirational quip on the paper tag attached to the tea bag for the blueberry green tea I was about to enjoy.

"An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities."

"I know...I know..." I murmured.

What I'm learning during this whole 180 process is that it's not enough to be thankful for the moments when I'm flooded with more story assignments than I can juggle, when I receive a comment on the blog, when I sell a Re.Told Journal, when someone signs up for a workshop. Oh, I definitely celebrate those moments. But the true test in this journey comes in finding the silver lining in the journey's more frustrating moments.

While venting about some of these frustrations to a colleague recently, she proposed the following challenge:

"What if you told yourself it wasn't going to happen? Give up. You will never be a writer. You will never sell enough journals. You will never fill your workshops. What if you just walked away?"

What? Here, I'd called her for a telephonic pep rally, and she was telling me to give up? Was she serious?

She encouraged me to just try that thought on for size. Sit in it for awhile. Notice how it made me feel. Does it make me raging mad and hellbent to not see the dream die? Or does it offer a little bit of relief by eliminating some of the pressure I've knowingly and unknowingly placed on myself? I'm still sitting in it. And truthfully, it feels like an itchy sweater that's too snug. And ugly. A very scratchy, snug, ugly sweater.

It's Wishcasting Wednesday over at Jamie Ridler Studios. Before I launch into this week's wish, I have to give props to Jamie and her day of wishes, because right now as I dance with the chaos of my life's current state it is a constant that keeps me showing up to share my thoughts on Project 180. (I promise, you'll soon see more consistent postings here, both related to and independent of Wishcasting Wednesdays.)

Today's prompt asks, "What do you wish to focus on?"

I never thought I'd say it here on Project 180, but here it goes...

Today I wish to focus on anything BUT my creative projects. That's right. I'm taking on my colleague's challenge. This doesn't mean I won't acknowledge or work on the projects. It simply means I'm freeing myself to go with the flow, to stop and listen to the world and to myself in order to see which of my many projects naturally draw me in. During this time, which projects feel like play and leave me wanting more? During this time, which projects remain in the wings untouched because they simply don't speak to me as loudly? It's my hope that removing the laser beam focus from specific circumstances will help me gain a clearer perspective on the bigger picture.

Live Creatively!

Sara


Your One Step:

Have you ever noticed that when you hold a book really close to your face, you can no longer read the entire sentence? All you can see is a word or two, words that have no real meaning when isolated from its larger context. Sometimes when our focus becomes too narrow we can miss the bigger picture.

So this week I challenge you to let off the trigger of your laser beam focus on a particular area. Take note of how it makes you feel. How does it affect your attitude? Your energy? Your day to day habits?

Trust me, I realize this can be very scary, especially if you tend to be a bit of a planner and control freak like myself. But just try it. Even if it's just for one day or one hour of the day. This week, stop squinting in an effort to gain greater focus. Instead, open your eyes wide. You just might see something you hadn't let yourself see before.


 
 
"Some people think it's holding on that makes us stronger;
sometimes it's letting go."


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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a runner, and as such I draw several comparisons between running and various life experiences.

And one of the parallels I’m drawing currently is based on a mantra my high school cross country coach would use whenever he saw one of his runners tiring and mentally giving up on herself. “Stronger as you go! You’re stronger as you go!”

I’ve applied this simple four-word phrase to several situations. It’s been my rock in the middle of a grueling marathon and a half challenge to climbing a particularly steep hill while mountain biking with my husband. And now, I’m applying it to the high-wire balancing act I find myself caught up in as I seek to find contentment in the chaos. And it’s made me take a closer look at my definition of strength. Where I once thought “strength” meant to work harder, do more, push through, I’m learning it is really a state of being. Think of it as a tree, a tree that is rooted and grounded in who it is. When harsh winds blow, it’s roots dug deep beneath the earth prevent it from being tossed back and forth or—worse—snapping in two. Likewise, when we are rooted in who we are, it is easier to tap into that inner strength and weather life’s storms.

When I stepped into Project 180, I stepped out of my fitness routine. I stopped running. I stopped going to spin class. And that yoga class my friend invited me to would just have to wait. I’d reached my goal of running 5 marathons before turning 30 and reached my time goal of sub-4:00 hours. I deserved a break. And to be honest, that break from the gym and the bike felt good...for awhile. But then I started to notice subtle little changes physically, emotionally and creatively. Life just wasn’t working right. Everything felt...rusty. My thoughts were scattered, and in the rare moments where I was able to concentrate they were foggy at best. My body felt felt run down. My creativity was lackluster.

I tried working harder. Longer. I felt worse. Then I sat down and had a long heart to heart with myself, carefully examining all the things I’d changed in the past couple of months. It didn’t take me long to see the correlation between my physical health and my creative health. I’d stopped moving my body. I’d stopped the activities I’d always banked on to clear my thoughts. My physical self had become stuck, and as a result my creative self had, too.

Today’s Wishcasting Wednesday question over at Jamie Ridler Studios asks, “What do you wish to tend?” I wish to tend to the Creative Trifecta: Body, Mind and Spirit. You are only as strong as your weakest part, and so I’m renewing my commitments to being strong in all three areas. Yoga on Mondays, spin on Tuesdays, writing on Wednesday, strength training on Thursday, art on Fridays, and the weekend free to engage in some old-fashioned play. On each day I’ve carved out some quite time to read, reflect and reconnect with my faith. Last week, I cleaned out the cupboards and cabinets, eliminating our home of all artificial and over-processed foods, chemically-infused cleaning products and paraben-laced toiletries.

I still feel and hear a few creaks, but we’re working them out one step at a time.

Live Creatively,
Sara

Your One Step:

How about you? What’s the balance of your Creative Trifecta look like these days? Is everything working in sync, or do you feel a bit of a hiccup in a certain area? This week, I encourage you to pick one area that’s feeling a little rusty and do one thing to bring it back into balance. Perhaps it’s trying a new healthy recipe that uses all whole, clean foods (foods that are in their most natural state).

Perhaps it’s setting the alarm 10 minutes earlier or using 10 minutes of your lunch break to pray, meditate, practice yoga or journal. Perhaps it’s trying a new form of exercise. It doesn’t have to be a major overhaul. Just adjust or try one thing and make note of how you feel either in your journal or here in the comments.


 
 
“The splendid discontent of God with chaos made the world; And from the discontent of man, the world's best progress springs.”
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down...” or so the lyrics go. Although today would’ve been more appropriately described as “Snowy mid-April days and Mondays always get me down...” I realize I live in Wisconsin where forecasting the weather resembles a game of roulette, but after yesterday’s mild temperatures, crisp blue sky and full sun, awakening to a gray skies and a few inches of heavy, slushy snow made me want to climb back under the covers and try again tomorrow.

I stumbled sleepily toward the coffee maker. As I poured myself a mug of rich, black Sweet Nectar of Life, I realized it wasn’t the weather that had caused my emotional funk. No, this overwhelming frustration caused by an internal battle between chaos and calmness has been fighting itself out for quite some time now. I’m just beginning to feel the bumps, bruises and wounds from the brawl.

“You’re doing too much,” is a common warning from my husband who, sadly, gets a front row seat to my mini melt-downs (which have been happening more and more frequently these past few weeks, I’m saddened to say).

And just this past Friday, a childhood friend looked at me and said, “You can’t do it all and expect to do it all well. Something is going to suffer.”

I may not admit it to their faces, and I may counter what they say with a thousand and one reasons why I need to be doing it all...but deep down I know they’re right. My upbringing was very black and white. This right. This is wrong.

From a young age I was taught the message that I was not a quitter. And for the most part it’s a principle that’s served me well—especially in the middle of a marathon when every muscle fiber and joint is pleading with me to stop.

But I’m learning that the concept of “quitting,” like so many other concepts, is surrounded by shades of gray. There is quitting, but there is also acknowledging when something—be it a job, a relationship, your city of residence, your hobby, your faith—no longer fits the way it used to or no longer fulfills the need it once did. Here, in this place that feels a little but like wearing a pair of footie pajamas that are a size too snug, is actually a blessed place filled with choices. You aren’t stuck with option A) quit and bail or option B) stay and be miserable. Here in the gray, you have a rainbow of options.

A great tool for exploring your options when you’re feeling stuck is a dream board. I created the one pictured here as part of Jamie Ridler Studios’ dream board telecircle. At first glance, I wasn’t very happy with my board, and considered starting over. It was too busy...too messy...to chaotic. The bright, vivid background inscribed with the lyrics of Garrison Starr’s “Hey Girl” seemed to clash with the simplistic, calming images and words I’d pasted on top. Oh, but hang on a second! A closer look revealed that the dichotomy illustrated on the page so beautifully captured the tumultuous scramble between where I’m headed and where I’m at. So I left it. And I have to say, my board has grown on me. I especially like the image of the woman in the white tank top, her arms up in the air as if to surrender her need to force things to happen and instead let things naturally fall into place. (I think she is really doing a yoga pose, which is fine by me because increased mindfulness is a top priority for me this month.)

The board has inspired me to carve out time for a mind-mapping session in my journal. I need a clearer picture of what ideas/commitments should be my top priorities and what actions they require; which ideas/commitments need to be placed on the shelf for a bit (shelving ideas is a huge struggle for me, a topic I’ll dig into on this blog very soon); and which ideas/commitments no longer fit or won’t deliver the greatest, lasting benefit for the investment of my time they require.

I’m learning there is contentment in the chaos...if we only sit long enough to let it emerge.


Your One Step:

Break out the scissors and glue and get comfy with a big stack of old magazines! It’s time to make your very own dream board.

Feel free to devote an entire afternoon to its creation as I did for mine, or make a mini version you can complete in about 30 minutes. Put it in a page in your journal or on the ever-so-handy (and portable) large index cards. Another fun way to create a “dream board to-go” is to use one of those acrylic photo key chains. You know, the kind where you insert your own photo?

To do this, cut an index card down to size. Select one or two smaller, powerful images or phrases and glue them to the board. After the glue has dried, insert the board into the frame of the keychain. Viola! Instant portable inspiration.


 
 
“I’m going to conquer it. ALL of it!”
—Molly at HerSpeak

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I came across the above quote on the blog of a fellow Wishcaster. (And as I later discovered, a fellow Wisconsinite! Such a small world indeed! Molly’s blog is filled with creative beauty—I encourage you to check it out.)

I instantly fell in love with the boldness and bravery in these eight words, and adopted it as my unofficial mantra for the time being.

Just say it aloud. “I’m going to conquer it. ALL of it.”

Did you feel that?

What I also loved about the phrase is that it’s universal. We all have something—and “it”—that we wish to conquer. What’s yours?

If you’ve been following Project 180, you know that for me personally, my “it” is to fashion a life around my writing and daily creative expression. As I drove to work this morning, feeling slightly discontent as I wished I could’ve stayed home to work on any number of writing and creative projects, Molly’s quote came to mind. And as silly as this may sound, something deep inside told me that in order to conquer my “it,” I needed to declare “it” to the world.

“I’m going to be a writer,” I said in a small, timid voice just above a whisper.

I said it again, this time a little louder.

“I’m going to be a writer.”

Then again, louder still. And again. And again. And again until it was a full out shout of declaration.

“I’M GOING TO BE A WRITER!!!”

I’ll be honest, it felt a little embarrassing at first. I mean, I was not just talking to myself…I was full out shouting at myself.

But I have to say, by the final shout it felt outright liberating…and real.

Oh, I’m going to conquer it. ALL of it.


Your One Step:

Now it’s your turn. What’s your “it”? Do you wish to be a writer, as well? A painter? A coach? Do you wish to own a home? Take control of your finances? Travel to exotic lands? Take a moment and identify your “it.”

Have you named it?

Ok, good. Now, declare it. Out loud. And when I say “out loud,” I mean say it loudly. Start in a whisper if you must, but say it over and over again until you become more comfortable hearing it. I promise, the more you hear yourself saying it, the louder you’ll want to say it because it’s now no longer a wispy thought being tossed to and fro in your mind. It’s real. It’s been given a voice and announced into this great, big beautiful world for you, and only you, to conquer.

And, dear reader, I just know you’ll conquer it. ALL of it.

Many thanks to Molly of HerSpeak for inspiring today’s post.


Live Creatively!
Sara

 
 
“I am convinced all of humanity is born
with more gifts than we know.
Most are born geniuses
and just get de-geniused rapidly.”
—Buckminster Fuller


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Fuller’s words strike a chord in me. As children, we dream up “genius” ideas by the dozen every single day. Our imaginations and creative powers come into this world uninhibited. But over time, whether it be through a harsh word, a school bully or ongoing pressure from society, that inner genius light begins to dim.

I am forever grateful for the teacher who saw a flicker of a creative spark in a simple mystery story I wrote in third grade for extra credit.

When I handed in my story, this teacher didn’t just slap a smiley face sticker at the top of the page and write the extra credit points in the grade book. When she saw I was still writing stories long after the initial assignment was handed in, she didn’t just smile and say, “Isn’t that cute?” to the other teachers. No, she decided it was her turn to do a little extra credit work of her own.

I can still remember sitting at the table in her office, going over the plot and mechanics of my simple story about crime-solving twins Bobby and Mindy Roberts (yes, his name was Robert Roberts). Meeting with me probably cost her a total of 15 minutes from her day, but the impact of those 15 minutes still resonate nearly 22 years later. Those 15 minutes opened the doors to my love of story and words and my current desire to create a life around my writing.

I still have the original story, a single sheet of paper worn and creased from being unfolded and read, refolded and tucked away many times over the past two decades. And as I read my one-page mystery through an overly critical, adult lens, I’m sort of stunned that this teacher saw anything in it at all, really. It’s riddled with holes and improbabilities, and more than a few misspellings. But all of that makes me realize it wasn’t so much what this teacher saw in the story as it was what she saw in the student who wrote the story.

She looked past the misspellings and sometimes awkward syntax, and read between the lines to see a child born with gifts…her own “inner genius” that came in the form of a passion for stories. This teacher realized the power to encourage or discourage, nurture or neglect, build up or stomp down was in her hands.

That same power is in your hands, too.

Your One Step:

Today is Wishcasting Wednesday over at Jamie Ridler Studios. Today the clever and creative Jamie asks, “What do you wish to read?”

I have two answers for today's question.

I wish to read my own published stories and books. I wish to read my articles featured in magazines across the country. And as I do, I wish to read the smile on my face as the happy satisfaction in knowing that is how I earn my living, that with every word I write I am fulfilling my life's purpose.
 
I also wish to read between the lines and, like this teacher, see the flicker of a creative spark, the "inner genius," in others.

So for today’s “One Step,” I ask you this: Who will you choose to be? Will you be the person who encourages the “genius” in others (and by “others,” I mean you, too) by giving five, 10 or 15 minutes of your time to help bring someone's inner genius to life? Or will you only see what’s in front of you, and consequently miss the color and depth hidden between the lines?

Make a choice and live it out starting...now!

Live Creatively!

Sara


 
 
“First comes thought;
then organization of that thought into ideas and plans;
then transformation of those plans into reality.
The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”
Napoleon Hill

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When I started Project 180, my intent was to blog everyday for 180 days—right up until my 30th birthday—about the step I took toward a life inhabited and supported by my creative endeavors. But as the date and time stamp between blog posts reveal, I haven’t been very consistent as of late. And that’s a very uncomfortable and confusing place for me.

On one hand, I feel as though I have stayed true to taking one step—however small it may be—every day. I’m now writing regularly for three local publications. I’m putting myself out there by sending my freelance resume and writing samples to just about every local and regional publication I can think of that’s within 50 miles of home. I made some significant progress in the research stage for a historical travel feature I’m interested in writing. I narrowed down a few potential publishers for my picture book manuscript. I’m redesigning my business website so I can bring Stepping Stones Studios (my creative journaling workshops) and Re•Told Journals (my line of handcrafted journals made from upcycled vintage books) under one roof. (It’s just about ready to go! My goal is to launch it before the end of the month, so stay tuned.) I established more connections through Facebook and Twitter. Even in the home, my husband and I went through our budget with a fine-tooth comb to see where we can save even more. I even went WAY out of my comfort zone and created and excel spreadsheet complete with mathematical functions to help track our spending. (The poor left side of my brain didn’t know what hit it!)

So, when I look at that I see that I have made progress over the past several weeks! I have...even if I didn’t write about it. But right there—right there in the admission of “I didn’t write about it” I struggle with feelings of defeat and failure.

But to be honest, some days are just complete and utter melt-down days where throwing myself on the floor for an all out hissy fit, complete with tears, pounding fists, kicking fit and screams of, “I quit”—sounds more appealing than writing a blog post. Mainly, it’s difficult to write something inspiring and encouraging on those days. And I want Project 180 to be a place of “sparkly glitter-filled rainbows and unicorns” as a co-worker of mine would say. Not a scrapbook of my occasional pity parties. I’m beginning to wonder though, if that’s cheating you, dear reader...and cheating myself. Because the fact of the matter is THE CREATIVE PROCESS IS MESSY. It includes feelings of self-doubt, hissy fits and pitty parties. I’m learning that I need to accept that. I need to live that. And I need to share that.

This gorgeously messy creative process is a part of my transformation process—my personal 180. And like the creative process, transformation is messy, too. So today, as Jamie Ridler Studios poses the Wishcasting Wednesday question, “What do you wish to transform,” three key areas come to mind:

1) My Blog, Project 180: I need to transform the format so that it isn’t so rigid. Some days may lend itself to a 500-word post. Other days may offer just enough time for a sentence—or quick phrase—that describes the day. And though I promise to always have a kernel of inspiration to offer, I’ll make a conscious effort to be more transparent, to share those mini-meltdowns, my occasional feelings of self-doubt and, most importantly, the lessons I’m learning through the “growing pains.”

2) My Overall Well-Being: More sleep. More mindful eating. More physical activity. More spiritual nourishment. More “unplugged” activities. More intentional relationships.

3) My Schedule: Right now, this is best described as a cacophony of chaos. I’ll be doing a little mind-mapping and journaling to whittle down the essentials and highest priories in both my business and personal life. Then it’ll be time to bust out the White Out and overhaul the planner. If there’s one major lesson I’ve learned so far in this journey, it’s that being busy doesn’t necessarily equate being effective.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in the transformation process is the patience it requires. And so, I leave you with the following quote:

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.
Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them—every day begin the task anew.”
- Saint Francis de Sales

Live Creatively!

Sara


Your One Step:

For this activity you’ll want a piece of poster board, a marker, a glue stick and five photos of yourself from five different phases of your life. (You’ll be gluing these photos to the poster board, so you may want to make copies of the photos first.)

Glue the photos to the poster board in ascending order, making sure to leave a fairly generous amount of space between photos. Underneath each photo write your answers to the following questions:
  • What one word or phrase describes who I was in this stage of my life?
  • What was my personality like?
  • What were my likes?
  • What were my dislikes? 
  • What were my hopes and dreams at this age?
  • What were my fears at this age?
After you’ve answered those questions for each of the five photos, take a moment to reflect on the similarities and differences between your answers for those different stages of your life. You may want to journal about any discoveries or thoughts you come across during this part of the activity.

Now think of the significant events and people in your life that may have influenced who you were and what you became. Jot those names and events down in the space between the photos.

When your finished, consider these questions in your journal:
  • Do you see any patterns in your own personal transformation?
  • What feelings arise as you look at the various steps in your journey to the person you are now?
  • Do you see a pivotal moment or shift in your journey?
  • What person or event do you feel influenced your life the most and why?
  • What would you like to say to the “you” in each photograph?
  • What’s the overall feeling you have toward your journey and the person you’ve become? Is it love? Acceptance? Regret? Hope? Spend a few moments writing about that. If the overall feeling is negative, what steps might you take to create more self-love and acceptance?
Live Creatively!

Sara