Tag Archives: Success

Writer’s block?

I’m in a sort of writing limbo these days. I feel this urge to write all the time, every day, like a craving for chocolate.  The difference is that writing requires too much effort on my part, whereas eating chocolate is just easy and divine.

I’m not sure why this has become such a struggle for me. I blame it partly on the fact that the magazine I usually try to submit devotions to every couple of months still has not released their theme questions, which makes it really hard to write pointedly about any of their scheduled topics.  Every time I check their website, I hope those questions will be there to spark some inspiration. But alas, only the theme titles are given, which are sometimes rather vague.  And so, when I have these good intentions of starting a draft, I let myself go back to Facebook and recipe browsing and don’t get any writing done at all.

Then there’s the obvious problem: time.  As a mom of a toddler, I don’t have an abundance of free time like I used to.  I can’t binge-watch Gilmore Girls for six hours anymore.  I can’t lounge in a recliner reading chick lit for long.  I can’t spend half the day shopping for nothing in particular.  The days I’m not working are dictated mainly by my son’s schedule and needs.  Yes, my husband is there too, but even with the two of us, there’s still no shortage of things to be done at any given moment.  The two hours or so when he naps each afternoon are a godsend, but they fly by too quickly.  Do I spend that time working out?  Do I make some healthy freezer meals ahead of time (something on my mind with a new baby on the way in just a few weeks)?  Do I take a nap? Do I run errands, clean house, do laundry, call my mom?

All of these are valid reasons not to do something, but not really excuses. Yes, I am pretty busy every day, but there is still time left over when I could be writing.  Even twenty minutes a day would be beneficial, and I would feel like I’m getting somewhere.  I tend to choose exercise, or cooking, or reading, or just watching zombie movies and Doctor Who with the hubs, rather than writing.

The other major reason for my laziness is that I can’t seem to narrow down what I want to write about.  My blog isn’t for income, it doesn’t have to follow any set format or quotas, it’s just for me.  Yet, I always wonder what would grab the most interest for readers.  Even though I only have a handful of followers, and a few Facebook friends who sometimes read what I share, I definitely care what they think.  I care what you think, if you’re kind enough to be reading this right now.

I want to write something that matters.  Maybe not to a lot of people.  I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with reaching a small audience, but I still want my words to matter to people in it.  I want to take the time necessary to home the right words for what I try to convey.

The thing that paralyzes me the most is this insecurity about what I have to say.  Daily, thoughts flit through my head, ideas for new blog posts, but then I second-guess myself.  Who really needs another article about gaining patience with toddlers?  Or another complaint about the state of public education today?  Or another commentary on the weather, or another devotion on perseverance through trials, or another recipe for zucchini-carrot-flaxseed muffins?  Who cares about my memories of my two brothers as we grew up?  Who needs to read about my son’s milestones, or how nervous I am getting about baby #2’s impending arrival?

Yep, I don’t quite have a handle on where I want to fit in the blogging world.  It shouldn’t matter to me this much; I should stick to writing what I know and if I feel led to share it, to do so.  But the little voice in my head keeps holding me back.

Who knows? Perhaps I will get up the nerve to publish this piece, despite its rambling nature.  I think I’m not alone in this struggle.  Regardless of how insignificant our work as creative people may be, we still yearn for meaning and purpose in what we create.

Wishing each of you a safe space in which to express whatever your creative little hearts desire…

Seeking the applause

I’m a pretty shy person.  When I tell students that, they always look a little shocked and say, “But you’re a teacher!”  I know, as a teacher I have to stand up in front of groups of people every single day and speak and lead.  This is why I was so hesitant to go into teaching in the first place.  Fortunately, I eventually discovered that once you know your students, teaching is not the same as public speaking.  It’s building relationships with students through the material, so once I get beyond those initial days of new classes each fall, the fear and shyness usually subside.

Being an introvert, I don’t particularly enjoy the spotlight.  I don’t want people looking at me for any prolonged amount of time.  I don’t like talking on a loudspeaker, for instance, or dancing in a silly video of all the teachers that the whole school will see.  I read some verses once at my church one Sunday, and the entire week prior to that day, I felt so anxious about it, worrying over what I would wear and whether my voice would sound weird. (I know, right?  As if anyone there would care.)

However, I’m starting to realize that there are certain situations in which I actually want to be recognized.  When it comes to an area where I feel skilled or qualified, I crave some attention.  While I don’t necessarily handle praise very well at times, I still desire that recognition.  I grew up doing all kinds of music–piano, flute, and singing–and I sometimes miss the praise I would receive after a successful performance.

There aren’t so many opportunities for me to sing for an audience anymore.  I sang many national anthems at the high school where I teach, kicking off their basketball games each winter.  Hearing my voice ring out powerfully through the gym gave me a sort of thrill.  I also used to sing solos at my old church, and even though my body trembled with fear each time, it was always one of those “glad-I-did-it-now-that-it’s over” situations.  I liked it when fellow congregants came up to me and told me they loved my song or that it moved them to worship.  I loved it when my then-boyfriend (now husband) said my voice gave him goosebumps and made him want to cry.  I loved feeling like I was truly good at something.

Being a grown-up with a more realistically attainable job than that of professional musician, I find myself missing the days when I could have my own tiny piece of the spotlight.  Yes, nerves were always a factor, but that anxiety was tempered by the confidence in my ability to sing, along with the pure joy it brought me.

Nowadays I feel a bit left out when I’m not asked to sing for events or groups.  I feel like I’ve lost that part of who I am, and the people who don’t know that I sing and play the piano have an incomplete picture of me.  It’s like they don’t really know me.  Even though my performing days are gone for now (other than singing silly songs for my son), I still think of myself as a singer.  Just the other day, the song “Someone to Watch Over Me” popped into my head, and nostalgia hit as I recalled how many times I used that piece for local theater auditions.

Music isn’t the only arena where I feel like I’ve lost a piece of myself over the years.  Maybe it’s partly because our society is set up to praise youth and their accomplishments.  Just take a look at the constant awards ceremonies that parents today are asked to attend for their kids.  You get a trophy for practically everything when you’re young.  (Kindergarten graduation?  Okay, I know the kids must look super-cute in their caps and gowns, but still.  Really?)

I always felt accomplished in running, in music, in writing, and let those things provide me with a false sense of who I was.  I was special because I was good at those things.  Yeah, I did work hard at times, but much of the time, I just enjoyed cultivating my natural abilities.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the pride and satisfaction of a job well done.  Yet, how dangerous it can be when we let our abilities and accomplishments cloud our perceptions of who we truly are.  Yeah, this is where I’m going to get “spiritual”.  I think that gradually,  I’m learning again to rest in who I am in Christ.  It’s an ongoing process, one that can be painfully eye-opening.  I remember a similar adjustment as a freshman in college, and again as I entered the workforce.  We all search desperately for a place to belong, a place to feel talented and valuable and significant.  Perhaps the saddest part of this is that so many are trapped in that never-ending cycle of strive, strive, strive to be the best, which apart from God, doesn’t lead to satisfaction at all.  It leads to disillusionment.  I do believe that only in Christ can we find our true identity.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Romans 8:38-39, NLT

“But now, this is what the Lord says–he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”–Isaiah 43:1, NIV

What an awesome reassurance!  Even if I built up an incredible list of accomplishments throughout my life, the euphoria wouldn’t last.  It wouldn’t be enough.  It wouldn’t bring lasting peace and joy.  What I need is to know whose I am.  I don’t deserve anyone’s applause, but I’ll take what Jesus is offering–perfect, unconditional love that will never fade or disappear.

Sugar fast–birthday

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Let’s just start this post off with the happy truth: I’m most definitely NOT giving up sugar for my birthday.

My so-called sugar fast has been going great (it’s not even an actual sugar fast, just a buying-candy fast).  I started it back in mid-April and have only bought candy twice since then.  If you are my friend Taryn or if you’ve known me for more than, like, five minutes, you recognize this as a tremendous improvement.  I love candy so much and was known to be crazy obsessed with it at times.

But I’ve been much better about it.  Occasionally I get a few pieces of candy from someone (such as my boss at our monthly faculty meetings), but overall I have been avoiding it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Out of my house, stays out of my tummy.

So here I am to say that this week, I’m taking a little hiatus from my candy-purchasing embargo.  My birthday is this Tuesday, so I’m going to be a little extra indulgent towards my sweet tooth.  Some say that’s one of the keys to sticking with many diet or lifestyle changes–allow yourself the occasional controlled “cheat” day or meal, and then keeping to your improved lifestyle will be much easier.

Thank you to the Foreign Candy Company for supplying my school’s foreign-language club with Bon-Bons, these delightful little chewy fruit candies that the students just go nuts over.  They arrived on Friday, just in time for my birthday week, and yep, I broke my rule that day to get myself a bag of strawberry-flavored treats!  I honestly worried that they might sell out by midweek, as popular as they are with the kids here.  That package was tasty, and I don’t feel the need to stock up on bags and bags of it or anything.

Anyway, I am looking forward to enjoying a little break from my rule, and just enjoyed a delectable Ghirardelli chocolate…mmm! I will gladly return to abstaining from candy-buying by the end of this week, though.  (My hubby asked, only partly in jest, if I’m also going to drop my rule for Halloween week, Thanksgiving week, Christmas, etc.).  Ha!  Nope!  I really don’t think I will.   Maybe once a month I’ll give myself a free pass, but no more than that.  I’m excited by how much less I crave the stuff compared to before, and how much more I savor the candy treats I get now that they’re so much rarer.  Now, they are an actual treat!  Plus, once the other school-group candy fundraisers begin, I have an excuse for saying no!

Good luck to you with whatever your goals may be, readers.  Keep on pluggin’ away!

Beyond comfortable

So I’m on currently on a “put myself in uncomfortable situations” kick.  Not sure what brought this on, but twice now in a week I’ve willingly done something that makes me feel…awkward.  Anxious.  Out of place.

First was the staff dance that teachers and other adults in my school perform every year at the Homecoming assembly.  Yeah, I’m not big on dancing-at least not in that situation.  I’m all for shakin’ it on the dance floor at a wedding, but the teacher dance has always been an activity I avoid like the plague.  Making a fool of myself in front of the whole student body is not my thing.  I figure, I probably embarrass myself unintentionally during class at least once a day anyway, so why add to the humiliation by doing so on purpose?

It was so sweet being on maternity leave last year at Homecoming time, so I didn’t have to deal with it at all.  Almost every other year of my career, I was in charge of Student Council, which meant I was basically in charge of ALL of Homecoming.  I figured that, plus fall cross-country coaching, should excuse me from pressure to participate in anything else.

Anyway…back to the point.  I’m attempting to do the teacher dance this year.  I still, admittedly, have zero desire to do it, but here are a few reasons that override what I want.

Sometimes, as teachers, it’s good to let students see our goofy side.  It opens up conversation and builds connections.  Plus, I’m no longer a coach or club sponsor, so I do feel I ought to be involved in something in the Homecoming festivities.  And the biggest reason for making a fool of myself  in a dance routine?  It’s important to step outside of our “comfort zone” once in awhile.  Students are required to do stuff they hate, stuff that doesn’t interest them, stuff that terrifies them, on a regular basis.  Some are uncomfortable with reading, or group work, or tests, or speeches, or artwork, but they have to try all of these at one point or another.  Everybody has to go along with something they dislike from time to time, whether for work or relationships or general life-sustenance.

Doing this dance is my feeble attempt to show students that they shouldn’t be content just doing what comes easily or naturally to them.  There’s value and purpose in venturing beyond those things.  You never know where that first step into uncharted territory may lead.  You might discover a hidden talent or passion.  You might create a new friendship.  You might gain opportunities you never even knew existed.

For me, this is just one brief dance routine with coworkers, which I don’t expect to enjoy, but it’s yet another tiny step towards a braver me.  Heck, I was petrified of public speaking when I began teaching, but I did it anyway.  I found that once I got to know the kids, it wasn’t public speaking at all.  It was simply sharing subjects I love with others.  It still scares me an awful lot, but that’s nothing compared to the fear I had thirteen years ago.  There have been some rather amazing experiences and moments with my students.  Having the courage to face my fears is what brought me into those magical moments.

So, even if I look like Elaine from Seinfeld when we perform in a few weeks, it’ll be okay.  I’ll know why I’m doing it, and I’ll attempt to hold on to a shred of dignity (but I confess, I plan to be well-disguised the second we step onto that gym floor!).

Here’s to trying what isn’t easy!  After all, how many worthwhile things in life ever are?

How not to treat your wife

If this title scares you, don’t worry; this will not be a rant against my husband.  Even if I did have that sort of anger boiling up within me, this would not be the appropriate place for that discussion.

Besides, my husband could teach a lot of guys a thing or two about building a strong relationship.  I look around at other couples and think, Wow, I am so lucky!

After following The Amazing Race’s most recent season, I’ve collected some pointers for any single guy looking to get married in the near future.  Inspired by Travis, the hotshot E.R. doctor, these tips are absolutely meant to be taken seriously.

Number One: Do not get involved with your subordinate.  Nicole and Travis met when she was doing her residency under his leadership.  They apparently have never escaped that teacher-student dynamic.  She continues to see him as her superior in every way, not only in their medical careers.  This creates a ton of problems for their relationship.  During several legs of the race, she cowered under his domineering personality. If you cannot treat your partner as your equal, then perhaps you should reconsider the wisdom of the relationship.

Number Two: Do not delude yourself into believing that you are always right.  This reverts back to #1.  Yes, there are probably areas in which you will excel.  However, there are also areas in which your wife will excel.  She might even (gasp) be better than you in some areas!  For a successful relationship and marriage, it is essential that you recognize your own fallibility.  The season finale was incredibly irritating because Travis could not admit, even for a second, that occasionally he might not be perfect.  Everything that went wrong for them was her fault.

Number three: Do not verbally or emotionally abuse your wife.  Travis criticized his wife and harped so relentlessly on her shortcomings that she only became more agitated, therefore making more mistakes.  You know what, buddy?  It’s okay to get frustrated when things aren’t going your way, but it’s not okay to assume you absolutely could have done any better on a task than your wife.

Many variables can affect the outcome of each leg of the race.  Who knows?  Perhaps it was your negative attitude and not-so-subtle disparagement of your wife that actually lost you the race.  Maybe if you had tried being supportive of Nicole while she was struggling, rather than making her feel worse about it, she might have remained calmer and finished her tasks more quickly.

Single guys, look at how the winning team played: they were kind and generous to one another and even to all the other teams.  They supported one another and praised each other’s strengths rather than criticizing their weaknesses.  Nice guys don’t always finish first, but they did this time around.  By avoiding the mistakes Travis made, you could gain a wonderful, amazing marriage.

That’s worth so much more than a first-place finish in The Amazing Race.  Yep, I’d even say it’s worth much more than a million-dollar prize.

Packing light

Allison Vesterfelt’s book Packing Light put into words many of my struggles over having too much. It’s a great read for many reasons. It prompts a great deal of introspection. How does one learn to live with less?  How do you know when you’ve accumulated too much? This applies not only to possessions, but also to relationships and experiences.

Stuff

I know I have accumulated too much stuff.  Much of it has a permanent residence in our basement, packed away in boxes.  Dishes and appliances and gadgets we don’t have room for in the main part of the house (if we haven’t used it in three and a half years, do we really need it?)  I hate the idea of being weighed down by all these things.  Will I use them someday, will I not?  Who cares?  They’re stressing me out and so not worth it.

I really hate the idea of my child being weighed down and obsessed with possessions as he grows up.  I recently read a mom’s blog posting about taking away all of her children’s toys, and I wanted to shout, way to go, sister!  I hope I would have the guts to do that for the right reasons.  She says her daughters soon adapted and earned back one or two toys, and they actually prefer having less stuff to worry about.  They use their imaginations more as they play.  They don’t have to spend forever cleaning up the clutter because there isn’t much.  I feel like I could be the same way if I’d give up a lot of the junk in my home and life–freer, more creative, more contented.

On the road

Packing Light chronicles the author’s fifty-state road trip.  That alone was enough to hook me into reading it. Road trips are amazing!  While the book doesn’t sum up every single state and its highlights, it gives the reader a taste of the trip, letting the imagination fill in the blanks.  Reading it made me consider where I want to go–I’d absolutely love to see parts of the country I’ve never yet explored. Boston and Philadelphia, for fascinating history.  Colorado, for whitewater rafting and hiking and mountain biking and all that beauty.  Sequoia National Park because holy cow, those trees are unbelievable!  Ahh, I can hardly wait for my next chance at a good road trip!

Risk

This book stirs up in me a desire to live boldly, to not settle for less than what God has in store for me.  Vesterfelt quit her teaching job and left all of that security behind to travel for six months.  Maybe for me, living out a bold faith doesn’t have to mean quitting my day job and driving cross-country.  Then again, maybe it will someday!  Who knows? For now, it means taking risks where I am–forming and strengthening relationships no matter how temporary they may be, trying new lessons in my classroom knowing some will fail, starting a blog and letting friends and strangers into this inner world that might be surprising.

It’s about listening to that quiet voice inside saying, You don’t need all this. Letting go of anything that hinders my walk with Christ, anything that replaces Him in my life.

One final thing I love about this book: the author encourages readers to share the book.  The final page even has space to write your name before passing it on to someone else. It’s totally in keeping with the nature of the book–sharing things and experiences rather than being controlled or held back by them.

Part 2: Will I be missed?

I assume it’s natural for just about all of us to ponder our place in the world from time to time…our place in our families, our circles of friends, our workplaces, our schools, our places of worship. When I posted about my desire to be missed if and when I leave my church, this was not to say that I have no friends in my church or that you should pity me.  It was about pinpointing the kind of person I want to be now, in my church.  Being missed would indicate that my presence had value, that was really here. It would indicate that I was here for a reason.

This often crosses over into other areas of my life, particularly at work.  Surely we all (a la George Bailey) have had that thought cross our minds, that questioning of what things would be like without us.  It’s the way we evaluate ourselves, the way we gauge our success or failure in any given venture.

I wondered about it long before I finally quit coaching cross-country.  Who would take over the job after me?  How much better would the team perform with someone else coaching them?  What would the kids, parents, staff, other coaches say about me once I was gone?  I wondered about Student Council and what would happen if I weren’t involved.  How would Homecoming go without my expertise?  What would the kids think of the new advisor? I wondered how my substitute teacher during maternity leave would be.  I was torn between hoping for an incredible sub so my students wouldn’t suffer and hoping for someone terrible so my students would be glad to see me return.  (Fortunately, I ended up getting the best of both worlds–students said they loved their sub, but they really missed me.)

Here’s the odd thing: the more I thought of how I might be perceived and remembered, the more motivated I became to do better.  Not due to some innate drive to be successful, but due to fear.  Fear of potential negative impressions made.  Fear of potential ridicule by others. Fear that when I eventually would resign from coaching, the overall feeling of everyone affected would be…relief. Oh my gosh, what could be worse than sensing that once you had left your position, people were going to cheer?  They’re not cheering for a job well done; they’re cheering because the terrible, lazy, talentless, uncaring, stupid, selfish person who was ruining the whole organization was finally gone.  Yes, I realize this is a pretty bleak way to view oneself.  Extreme.  Sometimes self-talk can be that way.

Let’s be honest.  In all likelihood, most of the jobs/groups/organizations I am a part of will continue just fine without me, and have already done so.  My school still has a cross-country team, but I am not the coach.  Homecoming and all the other Student Council events still take place, although I’m not in charge anymore.  I don’t need to think any more or less of myself than I am.  Somebody will take over my roles; the world will keep on turning.  Some things will be better without my presence, and some won’t.  Maybe my absence won’t have much of an impact at all.  Maybe, though, there will be a few who will say when I’m gone, I really miss her.  Maybe someone will have been changed for the better, because of me.  I guess I can only hope that like George Bailey on Christmas Eve, I’ll one day get to see something good that has come from my life.  Maybe a lot of  somethings.  It may not be in this life, but maybe God will one day show me, show all of us, how He chose to use us to accomplish His plans on earth.

So I have to accept that I have limitations.  I probably can’t actually be best friends with everyone in my church, much as I would love to (it is an incredible group of people!).  I’ll spend what time I can with whomever I can, getting to know them, playing with their kids, praying when they’re hurting, listening when they just need to vent.  I’ll accept it when  I can’t make it to community group because my baby is crying or I’m too tired from the work week or we need to visit family members out of state.  I’ll do my part to be there for my church, but try to remember that not all of it is up to me.  That’s where the concept of “the body” of Christ is so key.

If I can channel the fear of not being missed into positive actions, I will.  I can’t help sometimes thinking about the future and what people will say about me.  I’ll use this to help me become more connected in my church.  I’ll use it when making lesson plans and helping students.  I’ll use it constantly in years to come as I raise my son.  This fear can be healthy, if I let it teach me how to live more fully in the moment.