The Myth of the Spinning Plates

 My email inbox was full of promise this morning. Then again it is almost every morning. Everyday I am bombarded with articles that offer solutions to my problems. And, these solutions, they will solve those problems permanently. Yep, I was just given the key to achieving better health by walking thirty minutes a day. I’ve been aiming for better health for years and I am so relieved that I can achieve this lofty (albeit relative) goal once and for all with a simple, quick solution. And it gets even better. By reading these articles I can also declutter my home for good and permanently lose that extra ten pounds by doing one simple trick. So why am I not jumping on these miracle solutions? I would be crazy not to make my life shear perfection in a matter of days. I’m not rushing to apply all these miracle solutions because I finally realized the myth of the spinning plates.

Do you remember the spinning plates act at the circus? The one where the girl starts a few plates spinning on top of slender poles, then goes on to add more and more plates on poles. They are usually all in a row and she must continually go back to the first few plates to give them a little nudge and keep them spinning while she continues to add plates. For the finale she stands there for a moment with all her plates spinning at the same time–but only for a moment.

 It’s the perfect metaphor for life. We set things in motion: jobs, family, home, hobbies, events, then we start the mad dash between them, keeping them spinning. At some point most of us discover that perhaps we’ve put a few too many plates in motion.They are wobbling all over the place and people are starting to notice. My personal plate is a little heavy around the middle, my house plate has a thick layer of dust, my kid’s plates are wearing mismatched colors and are smeared with chocolate. God forbid someone throw another plate at me like the committee I would hate to say no to. Let alone a day or two of illness that would keep me from being able to do the mad dash of plate spinning and bring on massive wobbling.

Once I got this metaphor I could also see the good news and the bad of this reality. Bad first (let’s get it over with). You will never permanently lose that last ten pounds. Your house will never be organized for good. You will never achieve perfect health. As humans we are constantly changing and therefore our plates are constantly changing. As my kids get older I have to physically care for them less (let that plate start to fall) but I’m now teaching them bigger life skills; like how to find and keep a job (finger’s crossed). I might be able to get one or two closets cleaned out and looking marvelous, but as I do this, new piles and messes are forming around my house. It’s part of four people with multiple interests living in one space. My youngest is taking up golf so now we add his golf bag and supplies next to his dad’s in an already-pack (but once organized) sport’s closet. 

The good news–these are your plates. You get to decide if you want to add a room-mother plate or just how decorated and fancy all the holiday plates need to be. If you back up and look at the big picture, that last ten pounds may not look like a priority in relation to all your other obligations. And they don’t have to be perfect. Let me repeat that. Your spinning plates don’t have to be perfect. They will wobble, they will get dirty, one or two may even fall, but you will survive. Even the girl at the circus can only hold on to the illusion of perfect for a moment.

Part of midlife is making peace with your plates. After years and years of working your ass off trying to achieve all-plate perfection, you throw up your hands and decide to allow them to wobble and you stop giving a damn who sees it. I’ve consciously decided to let a few plates fall (que the gasp.) Yes, I’ve broken the cardinal American rule of never, ever quitting. And in contrast to every motivational speech I’ve ever heard, I don’t feel worse. I don’t feel like a loser. I feel better, lighter, more in control of my life. That also freed up room for me to slowly add some new plates. Not ones that were randomly flung in my direction, but plates I lovingly chose because they dramatically added to the quality of my life. 

So how do you escape overwhelming plate spinning? Start with your inbox. Unsubscribe to all the empty promises and obligations you didn’t even know you had (Was your child’s party Pintrest worthy?). Take a good look at your current plate load. Are there any you can let go of? Can you also let go of the useless guilt that might come with that action? Once you’ve done that you can get all zen about the plates you still have in the air and embrace them as your ongoing, ever-changing life. Peace of mind comes from seeing through the myth of the spinning plates.

I’m in the Mood for Love

Do you remember the feeling of falling in love for the first time? God I do. It was a completely blissed-out ride on a ton of happy hormones. It was feeling stupid happy with a really doofy grin on my face all the time. Damn that was fun. 

Sometimes I want to relive that, well, the feeling at least. (My husband might have something to say about me falling in love again with someone else.) But the cool thing is that I can get it and not rock my marriage apple cart. It’s not always easy to find, but sometimes I can find it in a book. And when I find one of those books, one that brings back that same fantastic feeling, I don’t want to finish it. I don’t want the feeling to end. I want more from that writer.

That was the kind of book I wanted to write. One that transported my readers back to their high school days and all the wonderful (and a few not so great) feelings that went along with it. I wanted to write something that someone would pick up after a particularly trying week that would make them laugh and sigh and bliss out and OK, cry some too. From all the reviews of “Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story” and “Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamer’s tale” I think I accomplished that. 

Mood or feeling is one of the top reasons someone picks a book but it’s often overlooked in the writing process. 

As a writer I know it is easy to get caught up in the mechanics of what I am doing. I get focused on grammar or sentence structure or plot points and get all tangled up in the details and lose sight of the big picture, of the mood I want to create, of how I want my readers to feel. 

I’ve found a fantastic writing guide called, “Wired for Story” by Lisa Cron. It’s about the psychology behind what readers are looking for in a story, how the brain works when someone is reading a story, and how to develop your own story for maximum reading pleasure. I’m only halfway finished reading it but it has already made a major impact on the way I am creating and developing my next series. It has helped me focus more on the aspects that will pull my readers in and less on things that can be a distraction or even irritate a reader. I’ve had a few LOL moments when Ms. Cron points out common mistakes that I’ve made or read that leave readers wondering “what just went wrong here?

I love the fact that self publishing has given so many aspiring writers, like myself, the opportunity to offer their stories to readers. But in the crowded chaos stories can start to sound the same. One plot can sound a lot like so many others. When that happens the way to distinguish your work is through mood or feeling. There can be hundreds of stories about first love but the one that captures that giddy feeling and conveys it to the readers will be the one that stands out. 

So, what are your mood books? Do you have a favorite book or author that you always go to when you are looking for a certain feeling?

Vacations in Tomorrowland

Although I only became an authorpreneur a little over a year ago, I’ve been working from home by contract for the past eight years. It’s a sweet set-up if you know how to work it, but it took some trial and error to find a good balance of work, family and play in my life.

Take vacations for example, my family just returned from a week in Florida for spring break. These trips mean the world to me because we only have a few more with our teenage sons. It’s prime family time but for me it’s also work time.

When you’re your own boss your work goes with you everywhere.

That rankles some. It goes against the traditional idea of vacation where work is left behind to give you uninterrupted time to focus on your family and create fun memories. But after working this way for over eight years I argue that although the traditional idea of a vacation may no longer be an option for me, the replacement is just as good and possibly better.

The key to enjoying your working entrepreneur vacation is to let go of traditional notions of work days, weekends, home time and vacations. Because so much of society still functions on those concepts it can be hard at first. Moms working from home can feel the same guilt as those who work at an office. It’s the classic contradictory pull of family when you are engaged with work and work when you are engaged with your family. Reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey gave me my first spark of the idea of breaking my day into smaller chunks and integrating my work and home life. It took some trial and error. There were so many factors I could now incorporate into creating my ideal schedule–my kids’ schedules, the fact that I’m a morning person, the best days and times to grocery shop to avoid crowds, the best times for me to exercise, and my own style of working. What started as chaos has now become a relatively smooth running schedule that allows me to focus on those things that are important to me. I get to be the mom who never misses a school event. The concept of rush hour traffic is completely foreign to me now and my family never has to skip a trip somewhere because I don’t have enough vacation time saved up at work.

But yes, I am that woman, the one with her laptop at Disney, cranking out email replies over Mickey-shaped waffles at breakfast. From the outside it might look like I’m the work-obsessed entrepreneur unable to set my work aside and spend time with my family. But my family and I see a very different picture. They see my chunks of work time as downtime to play a video game or catch up with friends or do a guy thing that I have no interest in. We’ve all adjusted our idea of vacation to include chunks of play time interspersed with my work time.

Ironically while I was in work mode checking social media on this trip I ran across a fantastic article that confirmed my theory that the way I work is the wave of future.  Brilliant futurist, Faith Popcorn posted an article with her predictions for the shape of work in 2025, The Future of Work. She paints a somewhat scary but mostly exciting picture of successful people who use technology to manage multiple income streams and build a life that works for them. It not only confirmed the validity of my current work status, but sparked some great conversations in our family about what work and family and play might look like for our kids someday.

Running your own business while juggling home life isn’t easy. I have more things on my idea list than I could possibly complete, all of which need to be balanced with the work already in progress and dentist appointments, family reunions and the occasional wine and Nexflix marathon. But I’m making it work and focusing on the upsides because I’m building my business and at the same time I’m still making vacation memories with my family.

Do You Feel Pushed Into Social Media?

I’m not sure if it’s a generational thing or an introvert thing, but I have to admit, I’m just not that into social media. There, I said it. I feel a little better already for confessing that I’m an introverted, 50-year-old library geek who loves to write and read books, but struggles to come up with one thing to say about them (even my own) when I’m on social media.

Even before I self-published I wasn’t exactly drawn to Facebook or Twitter. It wasn’t that I didn’t see the appeal for others or understand the potential reach of these sites. It was more a case of feeling like the fish out of water or the round peg in a world of square holes that kept me from joining in. For me, and other introverts, there is no notion of wanting to share the minutia of my day or invite people I’ve never met into my world. As an author this is doubly true because quite often my world is completely imaginary, all in my head, and subject to constant rearranging until I get a feel for a strong character or story that is ready to be typed into existence. I think all authors wonder if they would be committed if we were required to share what’s really going on in their heads.

Which brings me to my hairdresser (big leap, I know, but stay with me). Mid coloring she shared that everyone in the shop was highly encouraged to use Instagram to build their clientele. We empathized about feeling awkward posting pictures of our pets and food or sharing details about our family life worldwide, but that’s the way it’s done now. Even employees who aren’t self-employed are being asked to open up and share with potential clients. 

I want to tell the world about my books. I’m proud of my work. I’m just struggling with a way to do this that feel genuine and comfortable for me (and fits in my almost-nonexistent budget). I’m already starting to gravitate toward Pintrest and my natural love for it makes using it for my business so much easier. When I connect with someone on there it’s usually due to a genuine shared interest. Maybe this is due to the fact that I’m a pretty typical Pintrest user. According to both Ignite Social Media and Digital Marketing Ramblings the average pinner is a middle-income, very active mom (nailed me). It’s not as easy, but I’m finding my way on Twitter and Goodreads too.  Both feel like a version of LinkedIn for self-published authors, a place to go for tips and support, a hang-out for the less-corporate types. 

The other ironic benefit of social media has been not feeling as alone in my alone-ness. Introverts find each other on social media by opening up and talking (and laughing) about how difficult and strange it feels to open up on social media. I would love to hear from more introvert entrepreneurs. I know it’s against your nature, but take a minute to comment and let me know you are out there and the social media that is working for you.