The Best Times Are the Hard Ones

What if I told you, all of you who are just starting out as a self-published author or internet entrepreneur, that right now, when you are often frustrated, sometimes lost and occasionally pissed off, this is the best time in the life of your business?

“Karen, stop drinking,” would probably be your first response. And while I have been drinking more recently (holiday tradition) I’ve also been gob-smacked by the Universe with this message and compelled to share it.

It all started with Adele. In an interview she explained that her new hit, “Hello” is not about a couple or lost love, it’s her talking to the girl she was a few years ago before, as she says, “the world fell at our feet.” When you listen to the lyrics from this perspective you hear someone who isn’t unhappy to have found success (on a mass scale in her case) but someone who fondly remembers being young and free and hungry for the fame she now has.

Once the song got me thinking I started to see the same theme everywhere. The end of the year is a time for reviewing and reminiscing. It seemed like every TV show I watched or podcast I listened to was waxing nostalgic for the past–be it a year, a decade, or just the past in general. Over and over I heard people sharing stories about their trials and hurdles and how they overcame them. What I heard in all those stories was a deep sense of pride for the ah-ha moments when they found solutions and for persevering. I heard a lot of funny stories about working together and forming bonds over late night deadlines, sparsely-funded road trips to meet potential buyers and three-person staff meetings over a five-dollar pizza. It seemed like everyone who had “made it” missed some of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants excitement of their early years.

It was definitely a message I needed to hear. I tend to focus on my next challenge, what I still need to do, how far I am from where I want to be. I forget to stop and look around me and note where I am now, how far I’ve come already and the really great people I’m meeting along the way. I’m currently struggling to create my 8-novella series. The two novels I’ve already published (link here) had been percolating in my mind for years before I got the stories down on paper. When I did start writing I was able to complete each one in a few months.

Vivienne’s story is newer, revealing itself as I write (and rewrite). I’m proud of what I have so far but it has been ten times harder to produce. There are definitely days that I wonder if I’ve bitten off too much. Book eight feels too far away for me to even picture. The trick I’ve discovered on those days is to project forward and pretend that all eight novellas are completed, published to great reviews and solid sales. If I look back on today and see my frustration as part of the process I feel better. I feel less like I’m spinning my wheels and making little progress.

In other words, the trick is to see now from the other side.

As we all gear up for 2016, working to grow our businesses and create our art, take a minute today to appreciate where you are now. Journal your hopes and dreams, challenges and fears. Appreciate how much all those drive you to keep going and do better, that way when you get there you can stop briefly and rest on your laurels then jump into a new challenge knowing you’re ready to enjoy the process of getting there all over again.

Now open a tab for YouTube, que up Adele’s “Hello” and sing to the struggling you as loud as you can.

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The One Question to Ask Yourself During the Holidays

Nine drummers drumming, a drum roll please. The big question, the ONE you need to ask yourself this holiday is…Why?

It really is the magic question, especially this time of year. Your answer can bring clarity, reduce stress and guilt, and make your entire holiday season more meaningful. For every task you “need” to do to prepare for the holidays ask yourself why.

Why am I sending Christmas cards? I asked myself this one as I was picking up fifty custom picture cards from Costco. My answer was to touch base with friends and family–most of whom are now on Facebook. So, they’ve seen pics of my family all year and they pretty much know what we are up to. Hmmmm. If I cut the list down to the ten or so people who are not on Facebook I would probably have time to make them some sort of homemade card with a sweet note and pictures. Sounds so much more fulfilling and a much better use of my time.

Why am I putting up a Christmas tree? I asked myself this a few years ago. Our family travels every Christmas to visit family. So I used to put the tree and unravel the lights and put the ornaments on,struggle to keep the dog’s tail from knocking the ornaments off then we would…leave. It seemed even sillier when we would return from our trip after new years eve and I would need to take it all down in addition to all the other post-trip tasks. I had some guilt when I packed it off to Goodwill, but I reminded myself that someone else would get so much more enjoyment out of it than we were. Now I go for a little garland and a few lights (’cause the lights are the best!) and it looks just as festive to me.

Which has brought me to the big why. Why are we doing this at all? Our family isn’t religious so celebrating Christmas is as odd as if we just picked some other religion’s customs and decided to randomly adopt them. I wouldn’t get a menorah just because I like candles. I feel like that would diminish the importance of the symbolism for the Jewish religion. Last year, after asking myself this question, I started to focus more on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. After looking at some of the customs I felt like they made sense to me. To celebrate I thinly sliced an orange and dried it in the oven. It made the house smell wonderful and when I hung the dried slices in the window they were a bright reminder of the longer, sunny days to come. I’ve actually always liked the shortest day. I’m not a winter person and I love the idea that on that day we turn a corner and little by little start moving back to more sunlight and warmer days. The new custom felt so much more personal and significant.

What customs do you follow that you’ve never questioned? Are they still valid? Do they add to your family time or detract? Do they help you connect with friends and family? Are they significant in your life? Comment below and let me know if asking why changes anything for you.

P.S. I’m still going for less (see last week’s post). I’ve been tackling my closet and the junk drawer. The growing donation pile reminded me that this is also a great time to get last minute tax deductions for donations. They can make a huge difference come tax time and someone can enjoy the things you no longer need–win/win!

A Season of Less

I’ve always been kind of contrary. I like the idea of doing the opposite of what’s expected or what everyone else is doing. It usually puts me in a place where it’s less crowded and less chaotic and I like places like that.

Being on the verge of Christmas Chaos had me thinking today–thinking about what I could do to feel good and not overwhelmed and spent by the end of this month and the end of the year. I looked around the house and it hit me, I want less. I would love to start 2016 with less.

So here’s my plan, everyday in December I will throw out one large trash bag worth of stuff and fill another large trash bag of stuff to be donated. By the time January rolls around I’ll be ready for the new year, new projects, new ideas. I’ll have a clean (or at least cleaner) slate.

The more I thought about it the more I saw the modern logic to my plan. December used to be a time of filling your house with stuff; food stuff, indoor projects, stuff you needed to get through the long winter. Homes were literally stuffed to the rafters with the provisions needed to last until spring. It was a great idea for a little house on the prairie.

But for a modern, post-industrial household it’s not only unnecessary, it’s demoralizing and frustrating. With so much cheap (really, really cheap) stuff available we’ve filled our houses to the rafters with knickknacks, geegaws, gag gifts, maybe-someday clothes, etc. Today, Cyber Monday, my email inbox was overloaded with millions more items I could add to the pile, each for a price so low it was hard to say no. All that stuff looks great until the boxes arrive and you realize you have no place to put it.

I’m not religious and don’t really celebrate anything this time of year but this year I’m changing all that. 2015 is the start of Declutter December. Anyone and everyone can celebrate but it works especially well for contrarians, people like me who tend to run in the opposite direction when I see the crowds approaching. Something tells me I won’t have to wake at 2 a.m. to go battle someone for the last box of trash bags.

So, who’s with me? Who else wants to declare today the start of Declutter December?

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.