Life Work

Don’t wait until you have your sh*t together.

Just be like Nike and go do the damn thing.

Let me tell you, life can get hectic. It’s been difficult to even come up for air at times. I haven’t even taken great care of the blog lately, but hopefully, that will change after implementing a few habits that will fit some writing and web page maintenance into my daily routine. But I don’t have to have it all figured out to do some amazing stuff. Here’s how I go about doing it.

Keep learning as you go. (And never stop.)

My education does not end at my bachelor’s degree. Sure, I don’t have to show up in a classroom to learn these days, but I’m always learning something new. Whether it’s on the job, or while I’m enjoying some time off, I’m still learning every day.

It may look like I have it all under control on the outside. Some days, I do. But there are definitely days where I’ve gotta wing it and see what happens. It involves a bit of risk-taking, which I’m also still learning how to do. I’ve always played it on the safer side of things since that is how I was brought up. Now I am discovering how rewarding it can be to take the chance to pursue what I want.

Stop procrastinating.

Procrastination has always been my worst enemy. I’ve been hesitant to pull the trigger on some things because of whatever excuse I could figure out. Some were legitimate concerns, such as financial cost, time commitment, etc. Others were quite plainly, just dumb. (Ex: *deciding to scroll through my phone on social media for 2 hours instead of doing something useful*)

Hustle while you wait.

I had to switch my mindset if I wanted anything to change. And it was hard. It took several weeks to really start getting this through my thick skull. I went from thinking “I want to do X, but…” to thinking “What can I do today to get to X?” and it has been life-changing. I stopped focusing on my barriers and started focusing on the actions that I can do in the present moment that would help me get there.

This part of the habit-changing process is boring, tedious, and ruthless. It is the ugly side of every transformation. Nobody really discusses this part. Because it’s not motivating or sexy. It’s hard work. It can even get really painful. This is where you get into the rhythm of doing something regularly, even when you don’t feel like it.

Go get what you want.

Add a 2-year-old toddersaurus rex into the mix, and it can definitely get easier to give up and throw in the towel sometimes. This is where persistence is key. If I fall, I’ve got to get back up. That’s really important.

Sometimes that means writing a blog post while on the kitchen floor playing with cars and a teddy bear with my daughter, who insists that her mama should play. And while chasing a cat out of a Christmas tree every 10 minutes or so. No matter what, I’ve gotta press on. Every minute counts.

Think of the long-haul instead of short term success.

Recently, we’ve put a house in rehab on the back burner because of other jobs and projects that had greater priority. (because of money!) One of the most time-consuming parts of this thing so far has been laying down the new flooring. I knew that if we tried to do it ourselves, we would never make our 2020 deadline we set for ourselves for the house to be complete.

Thankfully, I was able to bring on some additional help who had some experience laying down flooring because frankly, I had none. Zero. This was the first house I have tried doing this sort of thing on. And with just two of us, it took 10 hours to get the majority of the flooring down. (Not bad for a couple of rookies!)

Find the silver lining in every situation.

Sure, it would have been easier for me to just give up and have my hired help do all the work, but I wanted to learn, too. I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to learn something useful for future projects.

Just because I didn’t have the experience in something, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give it a good try. I approach anything unfamiliar with that mindset. I just need to try. I don’t need to know everything or have all my sh*t together to do something today. I’ll get there.

It took a lot of trial and error for us to get into a groove. But as we learned, we got faster and more efficient at laying each part down correctly. And little by little, the house was transformed. It started to look amazing. Change is hard, so there’s definitely strength in numbers. The people in your corner can make all the difference.

Focus on today.

There’s also another way to look at how important the present moment is, especially as a parent.

Whenever I come home from my day job, it seems like my daughter grows just a little more each and every day. She’s also learning new things and slowly changing herself as well. It’s amazing to see how much she’s changed from last year.

PJ went from crawling and cooing into being a talkative, bubbly and fiercely independent little girl who can run circles around me today. And next year, she will change even more. It’s a wonderful, yet bittersweet thing for me to witness. And she’s definitely not waiting until she feels like she’s got it all figured out. She’s just going for it!

Self Improvement

Failure is awesome! How I avoid getting stuck when I feel like a loser.

Failure is good. Repeat with me. Failure is good.

Yet for the longest time, I was deathly afraid of it.

In the past, I would do anything in my power to avoid a mishap or a faux pas like it was the damn plague. It was so bad, it crippled me in situations where I needed to jump in and make an urgent decision, or caused me to act irrationally in front of other people. This fear of failure, quite ironically, made me fail even more sometimes. The anxiety from it all prevented me from learning valuable lessons from my missteps in my life, both personally and professionally.

This fear of failure still grabs ahold of me sometimes, but I find it a little easier nowadays to shake it off and try again. Instead of spending my energy obsessing over the things I didn’t do right, I now look at it like this – what actions worked and what actions didn’t work? I’ve failed at so many things. I guess you can say I’m awesome at failing. The master of fails! This is because a failed attempt means that I’ve merely discovered something that doesn’t work. That is great information to use for another opportunity to try again later… and then probably fail again. But wait! Another failure means more information to add to my knowledge arsenal. Sooner or later, I can get enough of whatever it is needed to do the thing… and finally, succeed.

Have you ever seen a child learn how to walk? That skill we take for granted took many failed attempts for us to achieve. What about talking? Using the bathroom? Eating with chopsticks?

All of those things required practice, right? And part of practice is learning from any failures along the way.

When I think of the word ‘practice’, I immediately think of my experiences learning how to play the violin while I was younger. In school and professional orchestras, to chamber groups, to duet and solo pieces in competitions. I couldn’t tell you how many times I screwed something up or played the wrong notes during a song in practice or in performance. This was one of the major ways I’ve learned to overcome my fear of failure – and to embrace it as a necessary part of the learning process towards success.

After a while, I began to think that it wasn’t the failure itself that I was afraid of – it was the fear of the unknown. As a human, I am naturally inclined to avoid things that could end badly for me or put me in harm’s way. So when I cannot anticipate the outcome or the consequences of an action or a decision that I must make, it can easily scare the crap out of me. It is a natural reaction for me to have. I just had to learn how to pause and override that knee-jerk reaction to become more comfortable taking risks. And it was definitely not easy. It took years (and more failures) for me to get to where I am at today.

I wanted to list my go-to’s here that I like to use whenever I start finding myself in a rut and when I feel stuck in a hopelessness pit. Some things won’t work for everyone, but the point is to try it out and see how it feels. And to keep failing at it until something works, I guess! Here are some of the perspectives I like to keep in mind when everything just seems pointless.

1. Cognitive Bias is not my friend here.

When I start beating up myself for something that blew up spectacularly in my face, it can get me stuck in a revolving door that makes every failure confirm what I already know at the time – that I sucked and my current attempts have been hopeless.

This bias is supposed to help make sense of the world around me and to help me make decisions in my environment as quickly as possible. But sometimes, it ends up putting me on a negative loop that can knock me out and even pin me to the ground. When I finally get over the emotion that comes with a setback, I try to look at things objectively and outside of myself. Once I get past the fact that I goofed, I can start seeing everyone else goofing up around me, too. And guess what? It’s normal! It’s okay. Just a small stepping stone to where I need to go.

2. I can’t control the weather outside.

There are just some things that I cannot do anything about in life. I mean, what do meteorologists on the weather channel do? They don’t get to decide the kind of weather we have, either. Their job is to merely forecast the weather. What is forecasting exactly? Well, it’s basically another word that means a very educated guess.

So there are going to be other things I can’t control, like getting passed up for a raise or promotion, or whatever other people decide to think about me before passing their own judgments. What I can control? My own actions and reactions. For example, I am still going to do my best to get to my job on time, even when others around me keep showing up late. Persistence is key.

3. Practice Gratitude.

So, I recently tried to make a pumpkin pie completely from scratch. Yes, the pie crust, the filling, even the whipped cream was all made from scratch. And I’m definitely not a baking expert. What happened, you asked? The crust and the whipped topping turned out great, but the filling? It turned out rather bland. It was edible, but it tasted like disappointment.

The final product. Still not terrible for a first attempt!

But hey, I have the opportunity to attempt the recipe again, and I know what I did right, and I know I can find out after a few more attempts what I was doing wrong. I’m definitely thankful I can afford the basic ingredients for all of the recipe testings that I do in my kitchen!

4. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone to grow.

This can mean changing something in my daily routine to keep things interesting, or even getting rid of a habit or an action that does not add value to my life. But change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit. If losing weight was so easy for example, then the fitness industry wouldn’t be close to being worth $30 billion today – just look at all of the Planet Fitness gyms popping up.

Failure is part of the growth process. Don’t be afraid to make some changes!

5. I am not defined by my mistakes.

It’s hard to not use my accomplishments as a way to validate my self-worth. I still struggle with this one some days. Actually, I only realized this recently while I was listening to Work it Out, which is an audiobook made by Amazon for its Audible app. In the first chapter, Mel Robbins is talking to a woman named Rebecca, who has way too much on her plate and cannot figure out why she can’t say no to additional projects. The reason? It went back to her childhood.

She was scared that if she turned anything down, it would make her less valuable to her workplace. Rebecca was also afraid of failure, too. She felt her accomplishments were a big part of her worthiness to not only her company but also to her husband and family members as well. Apparently, this began for her at childhood, where she would knock stuff off a to-do list for her father to gain his recognition and praise. I realized I was doing the same thing for a long time, and wow, did that wake me up!

There are ways to validate my self-worth without needing to tie my accomplishments and other outside factors into it. Like when I buy donuts on Fridays for my colleagues without expecting anything in return – that is an example of kindness. It’s about the stuff that’s inside that really counts, not what’s on the outside.

Children Education

To my daughter: My childhood will not be your childhood.

Let me tell you, Dan and I have had a rough couple of months. We decided that we needed a day to reconnect and come up for air from all of the stresses of life as of late. I suggested that we have a day date — free from any distractions like the phone or the Xbox. After dropping PJ off to spend the day with her grandma, we wound up in my old hometown of Maumee. Since we were strapped for cash, a day at Sidecut Park was the most affordable choice. It was a nice way to disconnect from the rest of the world and unwind for a bit.

We walked along the riverside for a bit while taking in the fresh air and the wildlife. There weren’t many people around since it wasn’t exactly picnic weather. A few fishermen here and there, but the place was mostly deserted. This allowed us to see more deer and other animals in the area than usual. It was maybe 40 degrees outside but after all of the snow and slush, I was happy to take it.

Something happened that day that made me think.

Before we headed towards town for some more wandering (and some pizza), I went towards the river to skip some rocks. It was something I did during camping trips as a child, and it kept me occupied for a fair amount of time. Even that day, we spent about 30 minutes just throwing rocks into the river.

Then Dan confesses to me that he has never ever skipped rocks before. Like, ever.

I thought, where the heck was he when I was growing up? I’ve never heard of anyone who hasn’t done this already (in this area, anyway.)

The Maumee River at Sidecut Park.

It was interesting trying to teach a 26-year-old the art of finding the perfect rock to throw along with the techniques I used to get the rock to glide across the river. I felt like this was something that he should have learned a long time ago as if it were a rite of passage in childhood that he had somehow missed. After that, I immediately began to think of PJ. Would she be able to have the same kinds of joyful memories that I had growing up?

Obviously, my childhood will not be her own. She will have different experiences growing up because the world that she was born in is already completely different from the one I was born into. Compared to today, there was a noticeable lack of technology in the house when I was younger. I played Mario Kart on the Gamecube quite a bit, but I also had a healthy amount of time to spend outside with friends in the neighborhood. My sister and I didn’t get our first cell phones until after middle school. And I’m sure even back then, as the internet began to blossom, people were starting to become concerned with the excessive amounts of exposure towards technology that kids were getting.

But would it ever get to the point where we will forget the times where kids were able to have fun and grow up without it? Would there be more instances where I would be trying to teach a young adult an old-school time killer from my youth like Duck, Duck, Goose?

I mean, seriously! The news lately also seems to reflect this thought — the toy industry is struggling lately. Even the industry giant Toys R’ Us has filed bankruptcy and will be forced to shut down their remaining retail locations soon as a result of the changing times.

I wonder what will happen to Barbies and Legos in the future? Many toys today are already integrated with some kind of tech to keep up.

Look, I’m totally guilty of allowing PJ to watch Sesame Street on the TV while I try to hurry and get some work done. If I’m busy, I need something quick and easily available to entertain her while I take care of things. But I would hate to have her think the main form of entertainment only exists behind a screen or a tablet. This may make me seem like a horrible parent on the surface, but I want PJ to be bored. Bored out of her mind at times. I will leave her alone to play with her lifeless, boring looking toys and blocks for a while.

Now hear me out on this one.

Boredom is uncomfortable to deal with (even for adults!). However, it can foster innovation and creativity if we are allowed to simply explore the world around us. I believe the hyper-awareness of everyone’s actions on social media has made my generation the most paranoid group of parents to come yet, and this has made us constantly worried about others thoughts and judgments to our own child-rearing methods.

Of course, my child should be protected from any hazards I see around us, but I want her to learn how to create and build things. Maybe when she is older, we can try building a birdhouse together, or figure out how to grow veggies and other plants in our backyard.

PJ is not going to be able to experience everything that I did as a child, but I am going to make sure she is able to learn and play in this world as much as she can before she gets sucked into adulthood. I want her to make mud-pies and play with worms. I want her to be able to play in a sandbox and learn how it reacts to water and pressure to create sand castles. I want to teach her how to skip rocks across the water like a pro. I can’t wait to take her outside to play in the park, spend a day at the zoo, and even take her on a camping trip of our own.

Whether she is on a tablet or just existing IRL, the thing I want her to do most is to actively explore and learn about the world around her. Because it is going to be very different from mine. And hopefully one day, she can help me navigate the changes, too.