Breathing Through Stagnation

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I haven’t been blogging lately because I have felt stuck in a motivational malaise. I think part of it is due to financial stagnation. Since I am an adjunct instructor, I don’t teach for most of August and the payments for the fall contract don’t kick in until late September. This year, Irma also cost me hours at my part-time writing consultant job. Although I also run my own academic editing and coaching business, the beginning of the academic year is always slow.

I always plan for this economic downturn, but I hate to see monthly expenses eat away at my savings, even if it was saved for that purpose. The financial stagnation chips away at my motivation. When I have a goal, I like to see forward momentum, no matter how small. Right now, my goal is to save the down payment for my own condo.

I left a job in academic administration and moved out of my apartment during a bad bipolar episode seven years ago. I have rented a couple rooms since then, allowing myself the financial freedom to restructure my life in a way that would be more beneficial to my health and the well being of my daughter. Now we are ready for a two-bedroom condo of our own. We should be ready to buy this spring. It’s hard to be so close, and yet be in a position where you must simply wait. I have never been good at waiting. I like to doing.

For now, I take deep breaths and try to focus on other things. I finished my academic article, did my research for a conference presentation, and now I am reviewing and revising my business plan for the upcoming year.

Sometimes stillness can be as unsettling as chaos, but I know things will soon change. They always do.

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.

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.

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.

Bee in My Bonnet

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I jab at the keyboard like the keys have offended me. It’s 7:30 pm, and I am sitting in the Miami heat having a cup of coffee as I try to override the mounting irritation. I need to complete a couple projects this weekend, but I am currently angry at a particularly rude individual. The individual was not rude to me per se, but rather rude adjacent, attacking a peer and disparaging others.

As the debate regarding the appropriateness of the individual’s behavior percolated, I found myself irritated that such a debate was even taking place. I try to stay calm because I know it is my personal bias rearing its ugly head. I am irritated because I know that if I had behaved that way, retribution would have been swift and from multiple sources. Although I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, such behavior would be deemed inexcusable. I would have been taught a lesson. I would have been put back in line, roughly if necessary. Yet, I am supposed to make accommodations for others who are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. I struggle to take the higher road that would not be extended to me.

Perhaps tough love begets tough love. I was always taught that tough love was the best way to handle inappropriate behavior, and I experienced it first hand when I had a bad bipolar episode five years ago. But is tough love really the answer? Obviously, I still have some unresolved resentment to the method. My hatred for the participants bubbles just below the surface. There is a trust that has be broken, and perhaps, it will never be repaired.

It did, however, modify my behavior. I learned how to feel one way, but behave another, at least until I could process the emotions at a later time. Sometimes it feels dishonest, even if courteous. But, isn’t that maturity? So here I am, trying to focus on what I need to do, despite the irritating rage swirling inside me.

The key is recognizing that my perception of reality is just that, a perception. My anger was triggered not by the event, but by what the event represented to me. I take a few more deep breaths. My mind is still not convinced. I am still not ready to let it go, but at least I have some space between my emotions and my response. I know in a day or two I will be fine, the incident far behind me. The trigger, well that is a different story. Perhaps there is some damage that can’t be repaired. At least I can choose how to respond.

Handling Productivity Pressure

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The ground is covered with recent rainfall and the air is thick with humidity as I walk to the Green Library on the Florida International University campus. I have a morning shift at the Center for Excellence in Writing.

I am definitely feeling the pressure today. Not stress. Just productivity pressure. I have multiple projects that I want to complete this summer and work that I need to catch up on after two days of jury duty.

In the past, I would have felt guilty for taking the time to blog, or I wouldn’t have blogged at all, deeming it a self-indulgent, low priority on my list of tasks to complete. I have since come to realize that my writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is an integral part of who I am. As my fingers fly over the keyboard the pressure starts to subside.

I start to tick of the days tasks in my mind. First, I need to respond to student emails. This has the highest priority because they are working on a literary research paper, and for many of them, this is the first time they have ever had to do academic writing of this type. I break their assignments down into manageable steps and give them feedback alone the way. Students have my email and my phone number, and I try to respond to any questions or concerns as soon as they arise. Before going on jury duty, I worked with the writing center at Miami Dade College to make sure each student could have a one on one appointment with a writing tutor during my absence.

Once I answer emails, grade assignments, and input grades into the gradebook, I need to move on to my own research and writing. I am working on a scholarly article to submit for publication. I have already read 25 peer reviewed articles and compiled my notes into “literary review” spreadsheets. I now have two weeks to finish 2,500 to 3, 750 words before my appointment with a peer who will help me review the structure and content. Even as a writing coach and an English instructor, I use peer review to improve my writing.

In addition to the academic article, I am doing research for a tutoring conference this October. A couple of my peers and I will be presenting on a panel, addressing our roles as mentors as well as writing coaches. Our work together may also result in an article for publication, but our main concern right now is preparing for our presentation.

During the break between summer semester and fall semester, I would like to record some video lectures to improve the online content of the blended courses I teach. I pay close attention to student feedback. If my students seem to have difficulty understanding something, I automatically assume there is a gap in the instruction that needs to be filled, and I look for ways to fill it.

Finally, there are my own projects. My poor neglected novel and Crafting the Message instructional videos I would like to produce. Those two must wait patiently.

I guess my leisurely summer is over. I enjoyed a slower pace during June, but now it is time to kick it into high gear. I usually work well under pressure as long as a stay organized, and I start early. I also make it a habit of breaking things down into manageable steps as well, just like I teach my students. The deadline for my scholarly article is not until September, but here I am, working on the first draft in July. I know when the Fall semester hits, those 50-60 hour work weeks will start.

I have also learned that I need to take time to be creative. Writing, painting, drawing, and art journaling can help keep the creative impulse fresh and creativity is key to productivity. I also recognize that I also have to exercise to relieve the tension (I look forward to my appointment with the trainer later today). Finally, rest is also important. It’s funny how exhausted you can get from thinking. It’s a different kind of tired than the physical exhaustion you feel from manual labor or exercise. Mental exhaustion leaves you feel tense instead of relaxed. The gears in your mind seem to slow down and then screech to a halt as you try to push yourself beyond your capacity. That’s when I read or watch a little Netflix.

So, there you have it. The messy hodgepodge that is swimming around in my mind today. I feel ready to face the day and tackle each task one by one.

What about you? How do you handle productivity pressure? How do you keep it from turning into more destructive forms of stress?2013-09-10_1378814124