"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.


 
 
“We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means,
which the God of Nature has placed in our power.”
-Patrick Henry

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I was thinking that I might fly today

Just to disprove all the things you say

It doesn't take a talent to be mean

Your words can crush things that are unseen

So please be careful with me, I'm sensitive

And I'd like to stay that way.


These are the opening lyrics to the song “I’m Sensitive,” by singer-songwriter Jewel. It’s a song I first heard back in high school, and one I secretly dubbed as “my theme song” because, well, I’m sensitive. And, I think I would like to stay that way, thank you very much.

But I didn’t always view my sensitive nature as one of my strengths. In fact, I spent most of my adolescence and early 20s trying to change what I saw as a serious character flaw.

Growing up, I was told on more than one occasion, “You’re too sensitive, Sara.”

Hearing that cut through my tender heart like knife, which I thought only reiterated what everyone else saw in me. I was, indeed, too sensitive. I needed more backbone, I needed a thicker skin, I needed switch off my emotions. But try as I might, I couldn’t. And after many failed attempts to change my sensitive nature I realized something that literally rocked my world...

IT’S FREAKING AWESOME TO BE SUPER SENSITIVE!!!

Being super sensitive isn't a character flaw at all! Actually, it's one of my greatest strengths!

Being highly sensitive allows me to feel more intensely, to love more deeply, to dream more colorfully, to care more compassionately, to live more fully, to write more richly, to experience absolutely everything on a level that is compounded compared to what most people experience.

I refuse to look at the negative aspects of this trait any longer, and instead focus only on the blessings it brings me.

For instance, when I write a story, I can feel every single emotion my characters might experience in a certain scene, which only breathes more life into them.

When I conduct an interview for an article, I can meet the person I’m speaking with wherever he or she is at, which I’ve found makes them more comfortable sharing their story with me.

When a friend is hurting, I hurt too, which allows me to offer genuine compassion and empathy while still providing them with strength they can’t give themselves at the moment.

When someone is lonely, I not only remember but feel the hollowness from my own experiences with loneliness, and it makes me quick to offer friendship.

The reason it hurt so much to be told I was too sensitive wasn’t because I had a serious character flaw. It hurt because, essentially, I was being told not to be me. In my mind, what I really heard was…

You’re too Sara, Sara.

My sensitive nature is part of my core. It runs through every single fiber that makes me who I am as Sara Rae. It doesn’t make me wrong, or bad. It makes me, me. Why would I want to change that?

Over at Jamie Ridler Studios, today’s Wishcasting Wednesday prompt asks, “What gifts do you wish to share?”

I wish to share my sensitivity, because I do see it as a gift now. And it’s that gift of sensitivity that fuels so many other gifts I wish to send out into the world: my writing, my stories, my creativity, my passion, my perseverance, my dedication, my friendship, my compassion, my love and my time.

Leaning slightly toward the “heightened” end of the sensitivity spectrum allows me to feel everything in the deepest recesses of my heart. And it’s there, in that tender spot where all the emotions collide with amplified sound and sensation that my authenticity resides.

Your One Step:

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.”

What trait or characteristic might you be viewing as a weakness when, in reality, it’s one of your greatest strengths?

Take some time to journal about this trait and the ways it has actually benefited you.


 
 
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
-Theodore Roosevelt

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"If I could get paid for just generating ideas, I wouldn't need my day job," I joked recently with a friend.

Sometimes my thoughts feel like a Jackson Pollock painting—splatters of color and creativity flung this way and that in random patterns across the canvas that is my mind.

Generating ideas and new, creative projects is not a problem for me. Every day seems to bring some sort of "What if I tried ______?" or "Wouldn't _____ be cool?" aha moment. But taking those exciting "Aha's! from intangible concept to I-can-see-and-touch-it reality can be a struggle.

It's not because I'm incapable of taking the ideas from point A to point B. While I may not know all the answers up front, I do know how to ask questions to find the answers. I do know how to reach out to others who may have the answers. I do know how to take inventory of what I already know to happily discover that I do have some answers. And guess what? You have the ability to do all this to. You know how to ask questions. You know people. You even know more than you think you know.

The quote at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites because it reminds me we are never without resources. We are never truly stuck.

Let's try the quote on for size, shall we?

First, clarify the goal. Keep in mind it doesn't have to be specific or polished. Just name your heart's desire in its current form. Then turn each part of the quote into a question to define the steps you can take to reach your goal.

If I use myself as an example, it might look something like this:

What's my goal?
To support my family through my writing.

What can I do?
-Make my writing a priority by making for it by setting limits on other activities.
-Submit one story idea a week to various publications.
-Enter one writing contest a month.
                           
What do I have?
-The Writer's Market book—a plethora of publishers, publications and contests to which I can send my writing.
-Control over my schedule.
-Connections—reach out to them and return the favor when they need help.

Where am I at?
-In a day job that pays well so I can save for my future and fund future training and learning opportunities.
-In a position to use my current clips to fuel bigger projects.
-Writing regularly for four publications with which I have an established rapport.

Breaking those great big, crazily creative ideas down into more manageable bite-sized pieces makes them look exciting and doable, not scary and impossible.

It redirects my focus.

It calms my anxiety.

It boosts my confidence.

It brings me one step closer.

Your One Step:

Want to give it a try?

Write down the following quote in your journal or on a blank index card:

"Do what you can, with what you have, with where you are."

Below it write your goal. This can be a long term goal, a monthly goal, a weekly goal or even a daily goal. The size of the goal isn't what matters, but the progress made toward it.

Below your goal, write the three clarifying questions:

What can I do?

What do I have?

Where am I at?

For each question, shoot for at least one step, but be careful not to overwhelm yourself. Creative beings tend to have this habit of getting so excited about a goal or a dream that we try to accomplish more than we reasonably can without experiencing burn out. I'd suggest limiting yourself to three steps per question.

Write down those steps.

Refer to them often.

Cross them off your list as achieve them.

Celebrate them.

Move forward.


 
 
"Your body is free but your heart is in prison. To release your heart, you simply reverse the process which locked it up. First you begin to listen for messages from your heart—messages you may have been ignoring since childhood.
Next you must take the daring, risky step of expressing your heart in the outside world. As you learn to live by heart, every choice you make will become another way of telling your story. If you stop to listen, you’ll realize that your heart has been telling you so all along."
-Martha Beck from Finding Your North Star


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I knew this day would come eventually. So the fact that it's here doesn't really surprise me. But it doesn't make me any more ready for it either.

Tonight I hit a speed bump on the path of my 180-day journey. I'm feeling so very small and ill-equipped. And my dream? Well, it seems so very big and unattainable.

I know I'm making progress. I witnessed that progress first hand today as I conducted an interview for my very first story with my newest freelance client. But tonight, as I struggle with getting fonts to cooperate on the new Web site I'm building, as I feel a twinge of panic when I think of all the tax information I need to learn, as I wonder what on earth the next step—the right step—is, I begin to question if I can do it.

Am I really cut out to lead a life less ordinary, and a life more creative? Or is it nothing more than a silly childhood dream, and I should just accept my lot of being that ordinary gal, working an ordinary day job, living an ordinary life.

Ugh. The though makes me want to cry. I can feel the tears sting the back of my eyes just thinking about never getting beyond ordinary.

And then I remember something said during today's interview.

"What do you want? What do you need?"

These are the two questions this particular life coach asks her clients when they come to her for help finding their north star.

I think someone or something was trying to send me a message through today's interview. Feeling rather tender and withdrawn, I couldn't help but think this life coach could be talking directly to me—not just giving me insights and direct quotes for my article.

So what do I take from it? Well, for starters, I'm taking a deep breath...and maybe self-medicating just a tad with some divine tiramisu frozen custard. But after that I'm going to ask myself the questions I'm dubbing the Dynamic Duo.

Number one: What do I want?

I want to lead a life less ordinary...one that even makes me say, "Man, that's cool!"
I want a career that's built around my life, not the other way around.
I want to support my family through my writing, my words, my creativity.
I want simplicity.
I want to live near the mountains and in a climate that lets me enjoy the outdoors more than four or five months a year (without the risk of sever frostbite).
I want control of my schedule.
I want more time to enjoy my family and life.
I want to explore and travel.

Number two: What do I need?

I need a career that requires and embraces my passion for writing and creativity, a career as a freelance features writer and author.
I need a consistent exercise routine.
I need to learn.
I need to feel free.
I need a way to generate more income through my writing.
I need room to breathe.
I need to find my voice...and feel comfortable using it.
I need to embrace my fear.
I need to take the leap.

Whew! Even this simple act of declaring my wants and needs makes my heart feel a little lighter. I do know what I want. I do. And I bet you know what you want to.

Your One Step:


If you've recently hit a road block in your own path, why not give this exercise a try? Get out your journal or a blank index card and draw two columns. At the top of one column write, "What I Want." Above the other write, "What I Need." Now, set a timer for five minutes, and go, go, go jotting down the things you want and the things you need.

Once you have your list, you may want to read it aloud. Hearing your own voice declare your heart's desires can make them all the more real. Refer to the list often, daily even, to remind yourself of why you are working so hard for your dream. Let your wants and needs guide your day-to-day decisions so each day brings you one step closer to the fabulously creative life you were meant to live.

 
Setting Limits 03/02/2011
 

“Yesterday is a canceled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have—so spend it wisely.”
-Kay Lyons


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Time is a funny thing isn’t it? So often we complain we don’t have enough of it…but last I checked the world’s clock hasn’t changed. There are, and always have been, 24 hours in a day. (Unless, of course, you observe Daylight Savings where you lose an hour one day a year in the spring and gain an hour one day a year in the fall, but we won’t go into that here.)

So why is it that some people seem to accomplish so much in their day…their week…their year? I think it has something to do with the saying, “time is money.”

Think about it…in order to save money for the things you want, be it a vacation, a house, a rainy day fund, you have to create a budget. You have to set limits on your spending in order to make your money work for you.

I think our time is much the same way. The more I observe the people who are making their 24 hours work for them, I am not only astounded by the amount of work they crank out but intrigued by how they do it. I’ve come to the conclusion that they are able to do it because they assign their time a set value. And once assigned a value, they budget that income to make the most of it. Just as we choose what will—and will not—be bought with our money, this group of magic-makers sets limits on what will—and will not—receive their time.

Over at Jamie Ridler Studios today’s Wishcasting Wednesdays prompt asks, “What limits do you wish to set?”

I think you know what I’m going to say.

I wish to set limits on my time.

I wish to assign my time a value, to treat it like money, a limited resource, to spend only on the things that will give me the greatest value.

For me, that means mapping out a visual cue for how I want to prioritize and spend my time. On of the first things promising reporters learn in journalism 101 is a concept called “the inverted pyramid.” It’s visual tool used by journalists and other writers to illustrate the placement of the most important information first within a text, followed by the second most important information and so on.

If I were to follow the inverted pyramid format to budget my time, my spiritual and emotional well-being would be placed at the top. This would mean my top priority of the day would be spending time praying, meditating, reading and journaling—the activities that feed my soul and help me gain a clearer perspective on my day.

The second and third tier would be dedicated to “family time” and “physical health,” respectively.

The third tier goes to my writing. Some might question why I didn’t make this my top priority. My reason is that in order to have something to give to my writing and art I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself on a spiritual, emotional and physical level first. If I go into my writing running on empty, my writing will be empty as well.

The fourth tier is shared by the “must-do’s” (the day job, household chores, and the basic responsibilities of living a grown-up life) and the “like to-do’s” (lunch with friends, going to the movies, hiking in the woods, etc.)

The fifth, final and smallest tier goes to the time-wasters—those “check-out” activities that provide the brain with a break, but don’t offer much more in the sense of a return on my investment. Into this category goes time spent on social media, surfing the Internet, watching television, unnecessary shopping trips and the like.

If time is money, how will you spend it?

Your One Step


Is it time you put yourself on a time spending budget, too?

If so, try keeping a spending log of how you spend your time over the next three days. It doesn’t have to go into great detail. Just write down the activity and the time you spent doing the activity. If you’d like to take this exercise one step further, consider jotting a quick note about how you felt after you did the activity. Did those 30 minutes on Facebook leave you feeling connected and fulfilled or did you feel guilty that you didn’t use them to go for that run you promised yourself earlier in the day?

After doing this exercise for a few days, you’ll have a pretty good picture of where you spend your time. Now is the time to be honest with yourself. Is your activity log an accurate representation of your values and goals? If it doesn’t match up, try creating an inverted pyramid of your time. (I drew mine on a blank notecard so I could carry it with me in my wallet.)

Refer to your inverted pyramid as a gentle reminder whenever you get the urge to spend those precious minutes on an activity that won’t give you much in return. You might be surprised at how the savings add up.
 
 
"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.
 
 
"You can only become truly accomplished at something you love...
pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that
people can’t take their eyes off of you."
-Maya Angelou

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Oh my. Where did the night go? I was typing away, writing an article on tai chi that's due in a couple of days, when I glanced up at the clock. 10:40 pm! Eek! I'd better save this story right where I'm at, take off my reporter hat and put on my my blogger hat.

Ok. Now that I'm properly attired to blog, let's talk about today's step. I guess I sort of did already, didn't I? Today my step involved working on an article for a local magazine. It doesn't surprise me that I lost track of time while deciphering my chicken scratch notes and composing my thoughts...writing has always had a way of enveloping every inch of my being. Nothing else, except for the challenge of long distance running, makes me every inch of me feel so incredibly alive. So completely present.

A few Christmases ago, my sweetie gave me a copy of The Truth About You by Marcus Buckingham. Part motivational book, part find-your-life's-purpose toolkit, The Truth About You comes with a small, pocket-sized notebook Buckingham calls a "(re)memo" pad. The reader is to use the (re)memo pad to take note of the activities that create that magical sense of being wildly alive and "on fire." These activities and their characteristics would fall under the "strength" category. The notebook also includes a space to record all the activities that create a drained, spent and otherwise disinterested feeling. (And yes, this second list can include things we are "good" at. Simply being good at something doesn't make it a strength.)

I don't know why I thought doing the exercise would lead me to some crazy discovery, enlightening revelation or otherwise out-of-body experience. What appeared in my top 10 list notes were things I've loved doing since I was a kid.

1) creative writing/storytelling
2) feature writing
3) learning new things
4) singing/performing
5) being creative/making things (art projects, crafts, etc.)
6) challenging my body/staying active (running, biking, etc.)
7) helping others/knowing I made a positive difference
8) exploring/hiking & "playing" in the woods
9) traveling
10) spending time with those closest to me

What I absolutely adore about the project I worked on today—and the new one I will work on this weekend—is that it engages so many of these strengths. It's feature writing, so that takes care of one of the top 10 strengths. But it's also creative writing in the sense that my mind is engaged in creative play as I try out and decide which lead will work best, or how to construct this thought while creating a smooth, logical transition into the next. Writing a story is like puzzle play for me. I spill all my notes, quotes and thoughts onto the page, and then shift them around, one by one, until the lock into place to create a seamless, sturdily constructed story.

The project also engages my love for learning new things. When I went into this study I knew very little about tai chi...other than the fact that I think that's what I saw a small group of students doing occasionally on my college's campus lawn. But I was more than willing to learn more about tai chi in preparation for my interviews and even more eager to attend a class and try it out first hand.

And because it's a physical form of exercise, this project can also fall under the category of challenging my body. My main forms of exercise are long distance/endurance running and spinning (cycling), both of which are high intensity and fast. To slow my body way down would definitely challenge for this frenzied multi-tasker.

The fifth strength this project enlisted was my desire to help others...at least I like to think it does. I like to believe that after this story is published, someone will read it and want to try tai chi for themselves. Maybe it will be the first step for someone who is struggling to maintain good health and self-care. Maybe it will bring friendship into the life of someone who feels lonely and isolated. Maybe it will save someone's life, as was the case for one woman I interviewed who used her tai chi breathing exercises to bring her heart back into a sinus rhythm during an episode of atrial fibrillation. I may never know for sure, but I find such joy in the possibility of being able to help someone in some small way.

Everyone has strengths. Everyone. The challenge isn't so much to identify what they are, for I truly believe the foundation of our strengths are laid early on in life. Where I believe the real challenge lies is in giving up the things we are good at, think we are good at or are told we are good at, but that don't bring any sense of joy or fulfillment. As a people please, this was a difficult challenge for me. But when you let those things go, there's more room for the things you are good at—and ENJOY—to flourish more than you ever imagined.

Your One Step:

I'm going to borrow the (re)memo exercise for today's one step challenge: For the next day, keep a small notebook with you everywhere you go. The minute you recognize yourself as being "in the zone" while doing a certain activity write down the activity and the way it makes you feel. For example, "I am writing a feature story and I feel excited, energized, creative and eager to learn more."

Also log those moments when an activity bores you. For example, "I'm helping a friend spruce up their resume. While I enjoy helping my friend, editing and rewriting content that is formal and static leaves me feeling bored, drained of creativity and eager to get the project over with."

At the end of the day, take inventory of the things that fueled you, and the things that drained you. Therein lie your true strengths and where you might want to focus more of your daily energy.
 
Less is More 02/23/2011
 
"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary
so that the necessary may speak."
-Hans Hoffman
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What I love about dream boards (or vision boards) is that they create a space for our innermost wishes, some of which we are aware and others still waiting to be discovered.

As I continue to walk down the path of my 180-day journey, I'm taking more and more cues from my current dream board, not just in my professional endeavors, but my home life, too. One word continues to present itself when I look at my board: SIMPLICITY. From the image of a spacious, open, sparsely decorated yurt to the picture of a couple who gave away the majority of their possessions with the exception of a few limited "luxury" items (a surf board, lap top, ipod and ipod dock), each makes me reevaluate the items in my home and the role they play in my life.

Are the items necessary? Do they support who I am or what I want to become? Do they foster my creativity, or do they hinder it? Do they give me time or rob me of time? Do they make me feel happy and fulfilled or regretful that money spent wasn't put into the "Dream Fund" instead?

Over the past week or so, I've taken up a habit of keeping a box on the main floor of the house and a box in the basement. Each day I devote 5 minutes—or more if time allows—to decluttering my space. We're not talking major overhauls here or transformations. It's been as simple as seeing a shirt in my closet that I haven't worn in a year. Into the box it goes. Or, opening up my kitchen drawers while making dinner to see that I own six spatulas, two soup ladels and three vegetable peelers. Into the box goes the excess. And all of those CDs collecting dust on the bookshelf in the basement...why don't I import the songs that make me feel happy, alive and creative onto my laptop and sell the actual discs to the used book and music store. That extra bit of cash could go into the "Dream Fund," toward a workshop or purchase some fun new art supplies.

It's been an eye-opening experience. One that's led me to the conclusion that owning a lot of "stuff" only causes us to want even more "stuff." When my husband and I go camping, I'm in my most content state of being. And yet there are so few creature comforts surrounding me. Our stuff is not who we are. It only blocks that which we already are or want to become. When we learn to live on less stuff we open ourselves up to opportunity and serendipitous blessing.

That's why today's wishing prompt over at Jamie Ridler Studios couldn't be more appropriate: What do you wish for your home?

I wish for simplicity and space. I want to pare down my husband's and my home to the basics plus a few limited "luxuries" (my laptop, ipod and stacks of books would be on the list for sure) to make room for new dreams and new opportunities to enter our space.

I want us to have space to think, to dream and to create without distraction. I want us to have space to simply be.


Your One Step:

You've heard of the expression "take five" in reference to taking a break, right? Well, today I'm challenging you to "take five" from the clutter in your life that's stunting your creative growth. At some point during the day, set a timer for five minutes. During those five minutes look through your home, office or studio for five items that no longer bring you joy, fullfillment or creative inspiration. Get rid of them. You can gift these items to others who may have use for them, donate them to a second-hand store or find a way to recycle them. The only rule is you cannot hang on to them. You're challenge is to clear the space...then sit back and watch what this great big beautiful world has in store for you!
 
 
"All of us have moments in our childhood where we come alive for the first time. And we go back to those moments and think, this is when I became myself."
-Rita Dove

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I didn't post yesterday...and you know what? I missed it!

But I miss my sister, too, and she was in town for the weekend. So I set aside my original plans to spend some time with her. While she was here, my family and I watched some old home videos my dad found in the basement. My favorite was, hands down, the one from the Christmas morning I received my first diary.

One thing I noticed right away upon seeing and hearing my 7-year-old self was the genuine excitement and enthusiasm I had for absolutely everything. Absolutely. Everything. Every single present I unwrapped that morning was greeted with equal delight. Watching the video was a bittersweet moment as it brought feelings of being both lost and found. Lost in that the inner joy, that pure, radiant, contagious joy and the unshakable confidence that filled me from the top of my permed blond hair to the soles of my white, lace anklet covered feet, disappeared for a very long time. And found in that I can feel that same wide-eyed curiosity and unwavering self-belief finding its way back to my soul.

And, let me tell you, it's incredible!

Today's step wasn't anything tangible in the sense of writing, or marketing, or workshop development. No, today's step was internal. It was reconnecting the self with the spirit. And those steps, those connections with the self, are just as important, creative dreamer.

Our inner-child never really disappears. The past year has convinced me of that. It's just a matter of whether or not we slow down long enough to notice her sitting in the corner, just waiting to be asked to play.


Your One Step:

How long has it been since you invited your inner-child out to play? If it's been awhile (or even if it hasn't) why not extend an invitation today? If you're lucky enough to have a film or video of yourself as a child, treat yourself and your inner-child to a "movie date." If you don't have a film or video, a few photographs will work just as well. As you watch the film/movie or look at the photographs, note what characteristics set you apart. Now is not the time to focus on that goofy outfit or bad hair cut. This exercise goes deeper than outward appearance. This is a chance to view your soul, your heart and all the dreams you kept tucked inside it.

After you've made your list of the qualities and characteristics you noticed, pick one to try on for size once again. For the next week, inhabit that characteristic as much and as often as you can. Were you creative? Set aside part of the day to color in a coloring book or make art using nothing but the basics—crayons, construction paper, scissors and glue. Were you funny? Read a joke book, or try writing some of your own. Were you energetic? Take yourself to the playground and swing on the swings. It doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate. It just has to be you.
 
 
"What simple action could you take today
to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?"
-Anthony Robbins

Yesterday's act of typing up my story's manuscript, making sure everything was properly formatted and spaced, seems to have set the dominoes into motion.

Highlighter and Post-It notes in hand, I spent a couple of hours thumbing through my Writer's Marketplace dog-earring, highlight and flagging any page with a potential publisher. It wasn't a very big or time-consuming step, but the size of a step doesn't mean it's exempt from its own group of gremlins.

Really? You're highlighting that publisher. Did you miss the fact that only 15% of the books they publish come from new authors?

That publisher is located in New York City. Only "real" authors get picked up by publishers in New York. Maybe you should look someplace smaller.

Do you really think your manuscript is ready?

It would've been easy for me to give in, put down the highlighter and close the book. "You're right. Who am I kidding," I could say, handing over my power and dream to the group of gremlins. Or...I could flip the negative comments on their head, reclaiming the momentum to move forward a little bit more.

Yes, I did see they only publish 15%. How awesome would that be among them?

Um...I am a real author. And did you forget that I dream in two sizes and two sizes only: big and BIGGER?

It's as ready as it can be for right now. I'm not sending the publishers a solid story that embodies perfection. I'm sending the publishers a solid story with potential they can't resist.

Minor adjustments, just a quick flip of the gremlins' negative statements, was enough to fuel the desire to take another step. There's still more to do—tomorrow will consist of further research of the publishers I marked—but the momentum is set. To paraphrase Anthony Robbins, right now, the most important thing you can is to make sure you begin to create momentum.


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Your One Step:

When you're working on a new dream, especially one that's a little tender, it's easy to let the negativity of our inner gremlins squelch our momentum. To stop any negative self-talk the next time you're working on your dream, come prepared to fight it with a hefty dose of positivity.

As soon as a negative thought challenges your dream...

1) Get out a few blank index cards and something to write with.

2) Whenever you run into one of your Gremlins, stop and write down the negative message your self-doubt is sending you.

3) Now, under that negative message write the opposite, which is your truth, plus a few pieces of evidence to back it up. For example:

Gremlin: You're not really a writer.

You: I am a writer. I am a writer because I am writing right now. I am a writer because I have a story inside me that needs to be told.


Remember, as you think, so you are. So who will you believe? The gremlins or your own beautiful truth?