Friday, March 30, 2012

When you have too much to do to do what you really want to do


Have you discovered that one of the best antidotes to creative block of any kind is to have a high-priority task loom? Case in point: I have an unexpected freelance editing assignment due Monday. Suddenly, clothing designs bombard me. Blog topics assail me. Spring sights in my garden present themselves for snapping. And I can't act on any of them until I get the editing done! It's the universe's way of sticking its tongue out at me. Maybe it's also winking. Hard to tell with those shades on.


That's a picture of my puto fail up there. Puto is a steamed rice cake in Filipino cuisine. It's delish, trust me, despite what it looks like right now. I was testing for doneness when the thing made like a little volcano and spewed. Yet another affirmation of my decision not to ever blog about food. Sheesh. But, as I told my sister regarding a not-altogether-unrelated subject, a few things come easy to me, while many other things don't. Even a fail like that offers a takeaway: a little photo editing, and voila! A blog illustration.


But back to prioritizing. I used to work with a very dear fella who has since passed away. His name was Hobart. He said something I remember well: "This isn't important." I was flabbergasted. Hobart was trying to tell me that the job I held at the time, and the speechwriting deadline I was on that day, wasn’t what was important. Not in the long run. I wasn’t ready to hear it. It would be more than a decade before I understood:


Never let today's urgencies rob you of today's chance to seed your future.


I spent every workday for 20 years focused on whipping out the work with which I was tasked. Promotional pieces, rah-rah-rouse the workers speeches, letters of congratulations, sympathy, apology and advocacy, op-eds, event scripts, blah blah blah. I took pride in not only beating deadlines but pulverizing them. I thought I was on track. I thought I was building something that would last. A reputation for excellent work done discreetly. The last statement is an oxymoron containing the words "reputation" and "discreetly," as the only two people who ever knew my work were my immediate supervisor and the head honcho who used my words.


In the meantime, social media was brewing. Print media was gasping. Public educational institutions were losing funding. The bottom was falling out. My head was too close to the grindstone to look at the horizon. Eventually the head honcho retired. New administration brought in middle management who was unfamiliar with my record. I knew the end was near when a temporary VP commented, "But all you do is write." She denied my request for a three percent cost-of-living raise. A paltry three percent, and still she wouldn't grant it.


I won't recount the complete story of my career meltdown here. It's enough to say that had I heeded Hobart's warning, I might have diversified my skills sooner. I might have put my ear to the ground and listened for hiring trends in my area of expertise. I might, for instance, have volunteered to take on the responsibility to create and manage my company's Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. That may have trained upper management to view me as more than "just a writer."


Instead it took job loss for me to take stock. The upside is that I've had all day every day the last two and a half years to learn as much as I can about everything that has since caught my interest: photography, blogging, social media, clothing design, fabric art, small business.


So if you have children, or you're about to graduate and begin building a career, or you are laying the foundation for the rest of your life, I will break from my rule never to dispense advice and say it again:


Never let today's urgencies rob you of today's chance to seed your future.

Urgency-induced myopia is a dangerous thing. Spend 80% of your time putting out fires, if you must. But invest 20% of your energy toward something with potential to bloom for you five, perhaps 10 years hence. Adjust those percentages and timeframes to suit your own needs.


That editing assignment due Monday? It's bringing in immediate income, and I gave my word. It will get done on time. But it won't cost me today's chance to seed my future. I'm still taking a block of time to keep up this blog. This evening I'll still be teaching dance, because I see this passion carrying into my later years. In fact, dance was a seed I planted five years ago when I was still putting in full days at my desk job.


I planted these johnny jump-ups last fall so they could have a full season to establish their roots. Luckily we had a mild winter. I look at them from my front porch and remember the exact day I set them in the ground: the day my appendix burst. I had a four-hour break from the abdominal pain that had started the day before, and I wasted no time getting out there and digging. Only later did I learn that not having pain meant my body was already being flooded with toxins from a burst appendix. 


An extreme example of "Never let today's urgencies rob you of today's chance to seed your future."


Do as I say, not as I do. ; )




30 comments:

  1. Here's to all the puto fails that become worthy enough to blog about. Loved this post!

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    1. Yep, failure is just another opportunity to succeed. Or something like that.

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  2. I, too, work with words. I am a freelance editor. At first I typed "was" an editor, but even though I get very little work anymore, I have to remember that I still "am." I had one primary client for about 20 years. It wasn't big money, but it was fairly reliable. Then last summer, the company replaced all editors with automated editing software. Yep, replaced by technology. That's when I began to learn more about the whole social media world. I had written for a web site before in a "real job," but blogging has been such a fun new world.

    This is a thoughtful post. Thank you for writing it.

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    1. Isn't it a travesty? To have people who actually think that technology can do our jobs? Everybody thinks he or she can write, and then there are the morons who think software can edit. Bah!

      You bring up an interesting point, in addition. We tend to sell ourselves short when we self-identify, don't we?

      Thank you for sharing a virtual cup of tea with me.

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  3. I love your picture of the "Johnny-Jump-Ups"....and such a wonderful blog post! I'm your newest follower from "Blogging Buddies". If you get a chance - please checkout my blog: www.godsgrowinggarden.blogspot.com
    Thanks
    Angie

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  4. Hi Angie! I am delighted by your visit. I just got back from reading your blog (thanks for the Cream of Asparagus and Rice recipe!) and admiring your gourd creations on etsy.

    Your backyard farming expertise is extensive! I am looking forward to learning a lot from you. I'm your newest follower!

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  5. Oh, what a pleasant surprise! I am dropping by from Etsy and I am delighted with what I just read, can you do that again and again, and again? I feel like I could read you at least for 5 years in a row :)))

    Yes, I've noticed how such brilliant opportunities arise when you have a deadline but your Hobart was a wise man. I will write his thought down and re-read until I memorize. I need this so much. In fact, I think that in our world of competition we are so proud to be the multi-taskers and know-it-alls that we simply fail to notice when to plant out seeds. But you've already said it better,

    Thank you for a beautiful moment in literary time.

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    1. Hi, Sonya! You made me blush. Shucks. Thanks!

      Great point you made. I hadn't considered that. We can get so caught up in appearing to supremely capable, at great cost to our future. Indeed, seeding the future also means cultivating a mindful, peaceful outlook in the face of today's pressing duties.

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    2. P.S. Sonya, could you please leave me a link to your blog here? When I clicked on your name it led me to your Google+ profile, but since I don't participate in Google+ I can't see any details.

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    3. Oh, I didn't know you couldn't see it!
      My blog is here: http://blog.kanelstrand.com/

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    4. I checked the Google plus now without being signed. You can see my info and links by clicking on the ABOUT tab :)

      Have a lovely Sunday!

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    5. Oh, you're right! I should stop pretending I can read at 2 a.m.ish. LOL! Thanks, Sonya.

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    6. Oh, this is so typical for me too. I totally understand :)

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  6. What great advice. I have such a strong tendency to get consumed by urgencies. My goal this year is to make writing the priority. I think I'll be there by the end of the year, but I still find myself on many days going "I'll just do this one thing before I sit down to write . . ."

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    1. If it weren't for "this one thing" my house would never be clean, Julie! It's amazing how many chores I trick myself into doing by using them as a reason to procrastinate.

      Like you, I recently declared (on Facebook) that I'd focus on writing. I was thanking all the folks who had followed me on Pinterest and explaining that I wouldn't be of much entertainment value to them because the time I'd spend pinning is time I could be writing!

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  7. You are so right. Inspiration comes at the strangest times. I liked your comment about seeding the future.

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    1. I'm so glad you came by, Donna, specifically because I can't find your blog anymore! I follow you, so I tried to click on your 2/29/12 post from the link in my Google Reader. It says the blog at dmyates.blogspot.com has been removed! Did you switch site? Please leave the new URL in reply to this, OK?

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  8. This feels like where I am right now! So many things on the to-do list. I know it will all get done, but still, sometimes it's hard to tell what is most important vs. what seems most important.

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    1. If time travel were an option, we could transport ourselves into the future and see potential outcomes for choosing the tasks that seem important now. Alas, it isn't, and I shudder to think that only a crisis (in health, family, job, etc.) distills life to what is essential.

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  9. Replies
    1. Thanks! I always appreciate your visit.

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  10. Very good advice. I need to think more about my future!

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    1. Hi, Muriel. We do tend to be lulled into the chug-a-chug of life when we're raising kids and showing up at day jobs. About the only way I used to think about my future was to worry about getting old. But, if we're blessed to live a healthy, long life, there are a lot of years between now and frailty. I realize now I need to stay curious, be open, and try new things regularly.

      Nice to see you here! I'm coming over to your blog after my editing task is done today.

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  11. Great post! Really like the advice, actually, and the burst appendix story--which is one of my big fears, actually.


    As a person trying to establish myself as a freelance writer, though, I found the work story disheartening. After all, to get the regular assignments, I need some kind of niche, don't I? Considering my age,though, if I get 20 years of paid work from now on out, I'll be very satisfied.

    Of course the other piece of me is that I'm not zealous about procuring the freelance stuff. I'm doing my blog and my book and trying to pitch articles. So I guess that stuff is other seeds.

    So far, nothing is blooming really big.

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  12. Hi, Hope. Those are good questions. Have you heard of Carol Tice? She writes at http://www.makealivingwriting.com/ She's way more equipped to answer your questions. On that site, she has a tab for her Freelance Writers Den. Among the goodies one gets for $25/mo. is a Junk-Free Job Board. If I were seeking to establish a freelance career, I'd start there. Carol's written for American Express and other well known clients.

    My seeds, at this phase of life, are decidedly outside of the writing field. Maybe it's burnout, maybe it's fear of failure. On SheWrites, I see the single-mindedness of book writers seeking to be published, and back away. I'm happy with "just blogging" for now. I'm not willing to give up my other interests to pursue writing exclusively.

    At first I flogged myself over this. Then I stumbled upon Emilie Wapnick's site, putty.com, which made me aware of the "multipotentialites" who've been made to feel bad for not deciding on one path. So I'm mulling that over. It might lead to a blog post.

    I remember your post on your daughter, and the question about whether to direct her to a specific area of strength or let her explore. It's what I had in mind when I included the line, "If you have children..." To me, developing a passion outside of what she might eventually pursue as a career could be insurance against a midlife career-related crisis.

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    1. I do subscribe to Carol Tice's blog. Eventually, I may be willing to pay the fee for the job board. Right now, I'm giving myself a few months to try to finish a few projects of my own first.

      I'm going to check out Putty.com. Sounds interesting. I want to shut my mouth and let my children do what they want. So far, I am failing.....

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    2. I'm sorry, it's puttylike.com! My bad!

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  13. I love this quote:

    "Spend 80% of your time putting out fires, if you must. But invest 20% of your energy toward something with potential to bloom for you five, perhaps 10 years hence. Adjust those percentages and timeframes to suit your own needs."

    You live it. I love that you have so many different irons in the fire. It's an inspiration to me, and I'm sure to many others too.

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