Sort of Summer Break

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I hit the submit button and the electronic gradebook registers the final grades. There is a great sense of relief. I still have to print and sign hard copies of my reports, but I have met my deadline and my students can move on with their academic careers. Tomorrow, I will wake up early and go to the beach.

I still have a lot to do over the next three weeks. I need to revise my academic article, do research for my tutor conference presentation, prepare for fall classes, and participate in an online course through the Editorial Freelancers Association. It won’t be all work though, my daughter and I have scheduled four days in Orlando, and we can’t wait to go on an adventure.

I also look forward to catching up on some reading within the blogosphere. I haven’t really been able to write much this week, much less read what everyone else has been up to. That makes me sad. I love being immersed in the world of writing, especially inspirational or personal journal writing. Over the next three weeks, I will wake up, read, and write while enjoying my morning coffee. Perhaps, I will even unwind in the evening with a glass of wine and more reading and writing. Time will go by too fast, I know, but I hope to spend some quality time with some nonacademic words for a change. Basically, the next three weeks will be my opportunity to recharge and regroup before heading into the busy fall semester.

I pull out my Rituals for Living Dreambook and add a couple goals to my long-term plans: book agent and $40,000 a year with Crafting the Message. This evening, I will start breaking those goals down into small, reasonable action steps. I light some incense and let the smoke waft up past my vision board.  Each time I walk in the room, the smell will remind me to stay focused and to stay relaxed. That’s the key.

When I studied Tai Chi in college, I fell in love with the concentric circles and the energy flow. The idea behind Tai Chi is to use your opponent’s energy to neutralize the attack. It’s the physical embodiment of the ying/yang concept. Each gentle movement guides energy into a new direction. Pursuing your dreams is a lot like that. Life is a constant onslaught of incoming challenges. The most efficient way to achieve your dreams is to use that energy; neutralize the obstacles by redirecting the force to your advantage.

I never stop. Even when I am relaxing or going on a “sort of” summer break. That doesn’t mean I am pushing myself, or exhausting myself. I am just redirecting energy.

A Very Rough Draft

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I reach the word count limit of 3750 words, but I haven’t finished the article. I highlight everything in the last subsection because I know I need to revise it. I estimate that have at least another 600 words to go, so I will have go through the manuscript and make it more concise. That’s actually one of my favorite editing jobs, trying to convey the same message with fewer words.

I have to admit this article is currently a rough draft . . . a very rough draft. It’s so rough it deserves the empty descriptor “very,” the kind of word I would immediately cut out of a draft. It reminds me of my life in general. Right now, it’s a rough draft . . . a very rough draft, and I still need to do a lot of editing to make it more concise.

Fortunately, this is the last week of classes for the summer and then I have a short break before fall. It won’t be three weeks of vacation, though. I scheduled a four-day trip to Orlando with “the little,” but the rest of the time I will spend planning for the academic year ahead. The difference between dreams and goals are action steps, and I will need to schedule a whole lot of action steps to get where I want to go.

I hit the save button and close my article for the evening. Although being productive is important, so is resting and regenerating. Tomorrow, I will wake up early and start again.

Pacing Tiger: Dealing with Anxiety

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It feels like being trapped in a cage with a hungry tiger. The cage is small and you can’t turn your back on the pacing animal that wants to maul you. Any sign of fear or aggression will trigger an attack, so despite the fear and tension, I must remain calm and avoid any indication of my inner reality.

That’s what anxiety feels like to me. I have come to realize that my anxiety can sometimes be triggered by “neediness.” When a lot of people need my help at the same time, or one individual becomes excessively reliant on my help, I become overwhelmed and frustrated. As a teacher and graduate writing consultant, this is not a helpful trigger to have.

I can’t exactly cancel all my appointments and take a mental health day every time anxiety hits. It’s a regular part of my emotional cycle. The only thing I can do is manage it. I take a lot of deep breaths to center myself and release the tension. I take a 10 to 15-minute break every hour, so I can consciously refocus my mind. I remind myself that each request for help is an opportunity to connect. Most importantly, I must remember that I am not anyone’s solution. I am just here to facilitate an individual’s discovery of his or her own solution.

Helping others understand that I am not the solution to their problem is sometimes a careful dance. It is natural for individuals to try to impress the urgency of their situation on those around them.

Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I often pushed my anxiety on to others. At times when it felt like my life was spiraling out of control, and I was on the verge of panic attacks, I would snap at others for their insensitivity. I would resent their lack of accommodation. I would blame them for the way I felt due to their “inappropriate behavior” or “lack of attention.” My diagnosis helped me see how relative everything is.

Now that I have space between my emotions, thoughts, and action, I can make room for multiple perspectives during tense situations. It is not always easy, and I am not always successful in the attempt. Yet, more often than not, I can recognize how important someone’s problem is to them without accepting responsibility for it myself. (Unless, of course, I truly instigated it.)

Today, I move through one moment at a time. I try to find the points where I can make small positive contributions, and acknowledge the things I cannot do anything about. I have no magic spell that will make the tiger vanish, or unlock the cage, but I can look the fickle creature in the eyes and step softly in our familiar, cautious dance.

Evolution is Exhausting

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I try to increase my energy level with a sheer force of will. I want to focus, be productive, but my brain is drained tonight. Not even an afternoon coffee could stimulate my intellectual faculties. It’s not just my mind that is worn out; my muscles ache from yesterday’s workout. My triceps, my biceps, my quads, each movement stretches a tight pain out of my body. I’m emotionally drained, too. Implementation of a new element into one of my course threw everything out of balance and I have been concerned about how it will affect my students.

This is the cost of evolution. When you push yourself to keep improving, eventually it takes its toll. That doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. It’s just time to rest. Since I can’t get any work done now, I decided to develop another plan. Instead of working tonight, I will set my alarm for early tomorrow and go to bed early tonight.

I grab a bottle of Diet Coke from the fridge and the Captain Morgan from the cupboard. I mix a drink and settle in. What will my writing reveal tonight? It has already revealed that I am not Wonder Woman, no matter how much I want to be. I have my limitation, but I am happy to have the opportunity to reach them.

We often forget to be grateful for our difficulties. Many of my students are first and second-generation college students who struggle to work and go to school. When they are stuck in the struggle, they forget it’s the very thing they came to America for, the opportunity to evolve. We forget that evolution isn’t easy. The evolution of a caterpillar into a butterfly is not painless. It is stressful.

We should each keep that in mind. Ease is not evolution. To wish for ease is to wish that things stay the same . . . forever. If you want more, to become better, stronger, wiser, richer, happier—whatever you want more of—you will need to struggle. You will need to evolve, and evolving is stressful. Evolution is not for the weak.

How we define the stress is the important part. If we view stress as a noun it is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances,” but if we use it as a verb it means “give particular emphasis or importance to (a point, statement, or idea).” So, stress could be a difficulty we must endure, or serve as an emphasis highlighting where we need to grow. Pointing out what we must overcome to evolve.

You’re not Superman or Wonder Woman. There will come a point when you might start to feel overwhelmed. When that time comes, rest, but don’t quit. Evolution is exhausting, but it’s worth it.

When You Don’t Feel Like Adulting

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The digital clock on my tablet reads 8:58 am, and it is time to head inside to work. I snap the keyboard cover over the touch screen and put it in my backpack. Standing up from the quaint bistro table, I toss the backpack over my shoulder and head to the automatic doors. Like a magic portal, the doors transport me from a sunny, subtropical paradise into the artificial chill of the Green Library. I find myself slightly annoyed, not because I dislike my job. I love my job. I just don’t feel like upholding my adult responsibilities today. I want to write, read, doodle in my art journal, and enjoy the sun. Basically, I want to relax and play.

I find my resistance a bit humorous since I only have to work five hours today. I have plenty of time to do my own thing; although, the idea of going to the gym at 5:00 pm makes me feel petulant. I have a feeling I am going to be a bit sassy with my trainer today.  I have learned that if I acknowledge and accept these feelings with the same patience I would extended a strong-willed toddler, my day goes a lot smoother.

Would I be happier if I were home today? Probably not. I would probably lament the wasted time and opportunities lost. In fact, when I leave work today, I know I will change into my gym attire then go to the coffee shop right next to the gym to work on my scholarly article for a couple hours. I am just having one those generally dissatisfied days.

Being bipolar, I have learned how to separate feelings and thoughts. Thoughts create feelings and feelings create thoughts, but if you can stop the transaction for just a moment you can see how illusionary it can be. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have a good day at work today, unless I decide my irritation is a valid emotion. So, I recognize it for what it is, restlessness. There are so many things I want to do today, and there’s no possible way of doing them simultaneously, so my brain has thrown its metaphorical hands into the air and said “Whatever!”

I remind myself that there is plenty of time to do everything, and everything will get done as long as I do one thing at a time. I remind myself that what I consider work and play are so closely aligned they are almost the same thing. I purposely designed my life to be that way. I remind myself that I like getting paid. Being free is not fun when you are broke. I remind myself that the sun is almost always out in Miami, and that after a couple hours, I would be so hot that I would want to come back in. I remind myself that I signed up for the gym because I wanted to be strong and active. It’s all about the story I tell myself, so I choose the story that makes me the happiest.

Core Values Part 1

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I sip my coffee in the cool of the air conditioning as I look out the window. The sunlight bounces off everything outside like a spot light in a house of mirrors. Today will be another hot Miami day. I take a few moments to enjoy a casual Sunday morning. I already completed two of the projects that I had on my to do list this weekend. Later, I will work on my academic article.

I pull out my Rituals for Living Planner and review the work I did, yesterday. In the section on discovering my core values, I identified 10 from the list that were most important to me. They align easily with my mission statement. Here are the first five:

Kindness: This is a trait I highly value in others as well as myself. It can also be one of the most challenging. Kindness flows easily when we feel generous or when we believe someone is worthy of kindness. Other times, kindness doesn’t flow quiet so easily. My resent post on tough love illustrates that I sometimes struggle with this concept. For me, kindness is an act of compassion that can meld with the idea of self-sacrifice. I have had to learn how to establish boundaries as well. Sometimes, kindness can also be “no.” There is no rule or formula for kindness. For me, kindness is simply taking a moment before I react and trying to decide what would be best for the other individual as well as myself.

Purpose: My bipolar disorder has taught me that this is probably the most important value for me. Without purpose, I fall into depression and lethargy. I need a reason to exist. The consumer cycle of going to work each day to make money so that I can turn around and spend the money on more things is not enough to get me out of bed in the morning. I need to be making a positive impact on the people around me in a way that supports my personal mission. That’s why I developed a personal mission statement and use it as a gauge for my actions.

Expression: As a writer and an artist expression has multiple purposes. It’s explorative, communicative, cathartic, and often helps me to connect with like minded individuals. That is why I have built a life around those core value, helping students and aspiring writers learn to express themselves through written communication.

Balance Between Individuality and Community: Although individuality and community are often represented as two separate value, I see them as intertwined like ying and yang. Asserting individuality often taxes our communal connections, and upholding community can sometimes stunt individuality. Since I feel strongly about both of these values, I simply try to keep them in balance.

Learning: This value is the core of my happiness. I have a deep need to learn new things, a drive to read and research, to take courses and acquire new skills. I am also drawn to people who like to learn. I love people who get excited by some new idea. That’s why I am involved in higher education. There is always something new to learn. Even teaching is a learning experience.

Those are the first five values on my list. I will share the other five in my evening post.

What are some of your key values? Have you actively designed your life around your key values? What stories do you tell yourself about the importance of those values in your life? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Rituals for Living by The Dragon Tree

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I dump my colored pens onto the table and open my new planner. I uncap the orange pen and start to answer the first question: “What are you longing for most in life?” With each consecutive question, I uncap another pen, filling the planner with a rainbow of color.

This is not just another planner, it’s my new Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner from The Dragon Tree. I have written before about my struggles to commit to my weekly planner. Although, I love the concepts of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the planning tools, though effective, felt a little too linear for me. I wanted something that was more like an art journal. I feel like I have found it with this new tool.

The Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner starts with probing questions about core values and your vision for the future in many key areas of your life. It then uses a mind mapping technique for goal setting in 1, 3, and 10-year intervals. The ritualize section helps you break down your dream into actionable steps, then monthly and weekly calendars help you stay focused on those long-term goals on a day to day basis.

I am really excited about using this book because I feel like I can use my right brain and left brain together. I feel like there is plenty of room to make my planner colorful and personalized. More importantly, it fits in my backpack, so I can use it review it often.