"Happiness is not a matter of intensity
but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."
-Thomas Merton


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When I got the assignment to write a story about life balance, I couldn't help but think someone definitely had a sense of humor. Me? The girl who flies by the seat of her pants, the girl who's had a reputation for burning the candle at both ends since the fifth grade, the girl who wishes her body didn’t require sleep so she could use those few hours for something a little more productive...this is who you want to write a story on life balance? **Pause.** **Think.**  **Nod.** Well, OK then. Let's get writing!

My favorite aspect about freelance feature writing is that I'm always learning something new. I was fairly certain I'd  be doing my fair share of learning with this assignment.

With each life coach, psychologist, holistic health professional and yoga instructor I interviewed, I realized all of them could be talking about me when they described they're typical client.

I've been so busy "doing" these first 20-some days of Project 180 that I've started to lose my sense of "being." I'm tending to my many projects like a series of spinning plates that are on the verge of toppling over and shattering everywhere. Instead of feeling inspired and motivated, frustration and panic has settled over me. I want to get back into my workout routine, but that takes away from time that could be spent writing or creating journals. I want to ease into the day with prayer and meditation, but I didn't get around to packing lunches the night before. I want to get into work on time (without "bending" the speed limit the entire way), but—oh!—just 15 more minutes of sleep, puh-lease!

I knew bringing my dream into reality was going to require work. But this—head pounding, chest tight, stomach queasy, nerves on edge—WOW! I'm beginning to question if I'm really cut out for this whole crazily creative, entrepreneurial path I embarked on. I mean, I'm only 22 days in. I could still turn around.

Then I remembered something one of my story sources, a wellness coach, had said.

"If you want to get yourself to where you want to be, you have to look at the mind, body and spirit together."

Where was my mind? Disorganized chaos. A nonstop flow of thoughts. Negative.

Where was my body? Tired. Not exercising. On overdrive.

Where was my spirit? On hold. Weary. Starving.

Yep, a classic picture of imbalance if there ever was one.

So I whipped out my handy index cards—seven of them to be exact—and at the top of them wrote the days of the week, Monday through Friday, leaving Saturday and Sunday flexible and open for relaxation and creative serendipity. I scheduled out the weekdays. I immediately blocked off 7-8 hours of sleep (body), 9-1/2 hours for my day job and commute time, and two hours for the basics (getting ready in the morning, making dinner and daily basic housekeeping.) That left me with 4-1/2 hours to foster a greater sense of balance while dreaming up some creative magic.

It didn't seem like much time at first, but oh what a little creativity can do. Take a look,..

Learn the Meaning of Enough:
Dedicate the day to two projects, and two projects only. Dedicate an hour to each and realize this is enough (the rest will still be there tomorrow). For me, it works best to use the first hour in the morning before work. Going into work knowing you've already invested in your dream makes any day job more bearable. The other hour is placed in the evening. And just like that, I've put in two whole beautiful hours devoted completely to my dream.

Call It By Name:
Assigning those two hours a specific focus keeps my mind from wandering to the other items waiting in the wings on my "to do" list. I've even heard of creative magic makers who take this step as far as giving each day a catchy name, like Marketing Mondays or Writing Wednesdays to really drive home that idea of focus. Others will write down that hour’s focus on a Post-It note or index card and keep it in sight while working…just in case thoughts begin to drift. Do whatever works for you...just stick to the task at hand.

Just Be:
If we're always "doing" we burn out. After all, there is a reason we're called human beings. We need to take time to just be, to feel our bodies, to move, to explore the world around us. That's why one hour of my day is now dedicated to something enjoyable, calming and soothing. Reading is something I love to do, but as a writer definitely do not read enough. Now that I've barred myself from purchasing any more books until I read the ones already lining my bookshelves or serving as make-shift living room furniture, I figured it's time to start reading. So half an hour a day is dedicated to reading. (I'm starting with The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.) The other half hour is spent catching up with my favorite blogs, checking in with friends on Facebook or watching a television show or playing a game of Scrabble with my husband.

Make Every Moment Count:
I spend over an hour every day commuting to work, which made me think, "What can I do with that hour to make it work for me?" So I loaded my ipod with spiritual and inspirational podcasts for the drive to work (feeding the spirit), and creativity podcasts and other "educational" programs for the drive home (feeding the mind). And during that half-hour lunch I get each day at noon, I head out to my car, journal in hand and spend 30 blissful minutes moving the pen across the page (feeding the spirit and mind)

Get Up and Move:
When you add up the time, I'm still left with two full hours—ample time to take a spin class, crank out a long run followed by some strength training, develop my fairly new yoga practice and still have time to drive home from the gym, shower up and get on with the rest of my day. Exercise makes me feel alive, strong and confident, which is why I know I need to make it a priority in my life.


Mind, body and spirit. Work, rest, play. When these areas are moving together in synchronicity that’s when we begin to feel alive. That’s when we can settle into our creative groove and let the magic happen.

But it takes practice. It takes some trial and error. It takes a little self-love and self-acceptance when you do fall of track. But did a few bumps and bruises keep you from learning to ride your bike as a child? Nah! In fact, I wear my skinned up and scarred knees as a sign of courage—proof that I am willing to fall down and get back up however many times it takes.

Live Creatively!
Sara


Your One Step:

My creative cohort, friend and life coach Jeanette Stevenson uses the most beautiful illustration in her workshops for living life in balance. She asks someone from the group to demonstrate the yoga tree pose. As the person stands on one foot with the sole of the other foot placed against the inner thigh of the supporting leg, she asks the group to look closely.

What we notice are the teeny, tiny, mini micromovements the person is making to maintain their balance and grace.

Maintaining balance in life or a creative endeavor, she says, is much the same way. To create a life of balance we must be able—and willing—to make small adjustments as needed. To move this and shift that in order to make sure the mind, body and spirit are all getting adequate nourishment.

What micromovements can you make today?

Can you get up just five minutes earlier to meditate on a favorite quote, positive affirmation or verse of Scripture?

Can you take a night off from checking Facebook and call a friend instead?

Can you let the dishes sit in the sink while you play a game with your child or spouse?

Can you turn off the television to read, write a few pages in your journal or work on a piece of art?

Sometimes it’s the tiniest shift in our movement that creates the greatest ripple effect.


 
 
"The so-called 'secrets of success' will not work unless you do."
-Anonymous


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"Do what you can do, and God will do what you cannot do."

Have you ever read or heard something that cut you to your core? That sucker punched you when you least expected it? This quote from a well-known speaker and preacher got me. Hard.

For months I’d been griping and complaining about my day job. How it robbed me of my time, my energy and, worst of all, my creative drive. I whined nonstop to anyone who would listen (or pretend to listen) how all I really wanted to do was write.

There was one teeny, tiny problem. I wasn’t writing. At all.

This quote—these 13 little words when strung together—brought me face to face with what I’d been trying to avoid for months now. The work. The old fashioned, roll-up-the-sleeves-it’s-time-to-get dirty work that any goal worth achieving requires.

Don't misunderstand me. I strongly believe our thoughts and the law of attraction do play a role in our success. I had vision boards and dream boards decorating my desk at work, adorning my refrigerator. There were Post-It notes with quotes and inspiring messages plastered all over my bathroom mirror, car dashboard and computer monitor. But I also believe visioning is just one part of the equation. To gain anything of real, lasting value, you have to pair that burning, inner desire with a healthy dose of sweat equity.

Wishing could only do so much. I’d already wished my circumstances were different. I’d already wished I were living the writer's life. I’d already wished I had something with my name on it lining bookstore shelves. I’d already wished my way into the byline of all my favorite magazines. I’d already wished I were working from the cozy comfort of my own home. I'd already wished I had the freedom to work my job around my life, not the other way around.

But all that wishing with no writing was like sitting in a car wishing I’d get to my destination without putting gas into the tank. Whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I didn't spend them writing or seeking out story leads. I didn’t spend them researching publishers or crafting query letters. So how on earth could I realistically expect to see my first children's book in bookstores if the story was still in my head? How could I expect to quit my day job to write full-time when I wasn’t even writing part-time? Something had to change, and it wasn't the images on my latest dream board.

I had to make the decision that my writing would be given the same priority I gave my running while I was training for a marathon. Any coach will tell you that visualization is an important aspect to athletic success. The more an athlete visualizes herself running strong, pulling ahead of the pack and crossing the finish line in personal record time, the more likely it is to happen. But the athlete must also train her body. She must make the time and the commitment to run the miles.

As a runner, accomplishing my marathon goals was important to me. But was it more important than my life’s purpose? One evening, I asked my husband about this.

“Why is it that I was able to make the time to train for and complete five marathons—something most people won't do even once in their lifetime—but I can’t seem to get myself to give that same level of dedication and sacrifice to my writing?”

He simply replied, “I guess it all depends on how much you want it.”

Touche.

How much did I want this? How important was my writing to me really? Wasn't it something I wanted not just for recreation and creative escape, but also for my profession, my purpose?

Both the thought of it being that important and not being that important to me made me feel cold, clammy and sick.

Was it fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of sacrifice? Fear of what might be?

The only way to find out was to start doing something. Anything. Write a sentence. A paragraph. A page. Just get the pen moving. Make the time. Step out in faith. Do my part, then sit back and let the supernatural do what I cannot.


Your One Step

What project or goal have you been putting off?  The next time you notice a long-time goal just sitting on the shelf collecting dust, take 10 minutes to journal about the following questions:

Is this something I really want?

This can be the scariest question to ask because it involves a great amount of transparency and vulnerability with yourself. Still, be brave and be honest. There's no use in pursuing something—or feeling guilty about not pursuing something--if it doesn't light you up.

Are there too many things demanding my attention making it difficult to accomplish things of real value?

In today's society, we wear our jam-packed agendas like badges of honor. But why? For whom? What obligations are currently on your calendar that, if eliminated, could free up just a couple of hours for you to pursue your dream? List all the obligations that fall under that category, then compare the benefits you receive from each to the value of your goal. Then pick one obligation, take it off your schedule and make room for your dream.

Am I afraid of the outcome? If so, why?

List all your fears associated with accomplishing this goal. Then examine what you wrote and ask yourself if those fears are valid or simply stories your inner gremlins made up about you in order to hold you back from the creatively fabulous life you were meant to live.


It's time to get real with ourselves. It's time to face our fears and reclaim our gorgeous, sparkly creative right. Don't worry. You don't have to claim it all at once. Just take a step, and watch the magic unfold.
 
 
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"Baby step by baby step, you have what you need right now to start moving
in the direction of your happiest dreams."
Marta Davidovich Ockuly

When I ran cross-country in high school, my coach called me his "ever not satisfied runner." No matter how many seconds I shaved off from my previous race, I always felt I should have run faster. No matter how many places I moved up on the team, I felt I could have placed higher had I tried a little bit harder.

I'm experiencing some of those same feelings tonight, more than decade later.

I wanted my first post, my first step, on this 180-day journey to be something grand. Impressive. Not a step, but a leap. So tonight I had it all mapped out in my mind that would finally type up the manuscript for a picture book I'd written a few years back, and that's sat in my notebook every since. It's still sitting in the notebook.

Just as I sat down with my laptop, I remembered some flyers I needed to design for the upcoming workshops I want to teach. And then there was my artist's statement I needed to freshen up and send off to the shops selling my Re•Told Journals. And—shoot! Did I post my February dream board to the Ning site for the teleworkshop I'm participating in? I'd better get to that, too.

Before I knew it, it was nearly 10 pm—already a half hour past the bed time I'd promised myself this morning having woken up much too groggy. And I still hadn't updated this blog.

SIGH...first day in and no steps taken. Or so I thought.

"Did you post to your blog," my sweetie asked.

"No," I said, defeated. "I didn't do anything. I have nothing to post."

"Sure you do. You made your flyers," he responded, as if how could I forget?

Does that count? It's just a flyer. It's such a minuscule step.

But it's a step, I heard myself argue with my inner gremlins. And, as the quote on last month's dream board read, "with a few baby steps in the right direction, you will soon reach your goal of a million miles."

After all...

How did I learn my first lead role in a musical? One line at a time.

How did I graduate from college with honors? One class and one paper at a time.

How did I complete each marathon I've run? One mile at a time.

How will I reach a life lived on purpose? One step at a time.

Tonight that step was creating a flyer. And I'm ok with that.


 
 
"It's always best to start at the beginning...
and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road."
—Glinda the Good Witch to Dorothy | The Wizard of Oz

I'm feeling sort of excited today. Almost giddy, really. Sure it helps that it's sunny and the temps are expected to climb to nearly 50 degrees...that's a heat wave for those of us stuck smack dab in the middle of a frigid Wisconsin winter.

But what really excites me is the goal I've set for myself. In exactly 180 days from today I’ll be celebrating a milestone birthday. To celebrate, I've decided to give myself the best birthday present one could ever receive...a dream fulfilled. And so, today is the official kickoff of what I’m calling “Project 180: Life Lived on Purpose."

Quite frankly, I’m done staring at a list of things I wish I could do...or would like to do...someday. What’s wrong with today? What’s wrong with taking one step everyday (for the next 180 days) to bring those dreams over to reality? At least that’s the plan. When August 15, 2011 finally arrives, I can’t wait to see what dream is waiting inside that beautifully wrapped box with the big shiny bow.

That’s right...I don’t know what the dream looks like. At least now exactly. Instead, I’m unwrapping a small piece of it each day. That's what's makes this so exciting...such an adventure! Now, I do know the dream involves writing, lots of writing...and art (maybe something with my handcrafted recycled book journals?)...and adventure...and exploration...and curiosity...and creativity...oh, yes, lots and lots of vibrant, colorful, delicious creativity.

Throughout the journey I'll jot down the lessons learned here, and hopefully inspire others who may be embarking on a similar path. (Don’t we all have that crazily creative inner child who’s screaming to scribble outside the lines again?)

I’m simply bursting with joy at the thought of launching this project...and it wouldn’t be happening if it hadn’t been for the support of many special people—those I know personally and those who I know through blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Over the past several months I have received an incredible amount of inspiration from creative bloggers and entrepreneurs...Jamie Ridler of Jamie Ridler Studios, Patti Digh of 37days, Andrea Schroeder of ABCcreativity, Megan Monique of If I Were a Rainbow, Nate of It Starts With.Us, Melanie of Dose of Creativity, Connie of Dirty Footprints Studio, my friend and creative cohort, life coach Jeanette Stevenson of Point of You...and so many other magically creative, beautiful, inspirational souls.

Speaking of these inspirational mentors, Jamie Ridler’s “Wishcasting Wedensday” prompt for today couldn’t be more appropriate. “What aspect of your personality do you wish to express more of?” she asks...

The dreamer. I wish to express my inner dreamer.

The brave dreamer. The bold dreamer. The creative dreamer.

The dreamer with child-like faith. The dreamer with insatiable curiosity. The dreamer with a wide open heart.

That’s what I wish to express today...and for the 179 days to follow.