Am I (Blank) enough?
While reading through the journal I keep to record and corral my thoughts, a theme emerged –doubt.
1) Do I like writing enough to qualify as a writer?
2) Am I qualified enough?
3) Am I disciplined enough?
4) Am I talented enough?
5) Am I dedicated enough?
Again, and again, and again I asked these questions. Am I (fill in the blank) enough? Does my work have worth? Does my work have appeal?
It is boring how much I drone on about my validity.
And why all this doubt? Because I do not feel like I have made it. Or that I will ever make it, that elusive state at which I can exhale and allow myself to feel a modicum of success.
I worry that my doubt is a sign I should stop, a warning signal telling me I am moving in the wrong direction. But every time I explain my project, all I receive is encouragement to continue. And so onward I push, although without the external recognition that, despite myself, I crave.
My urgency for answers stems in part from the urgency of the situation. The stories I am uncovering about people living on the margins of society are not confined to Mercy Housing and Uptown. I have focused on these places because they are emblematic of the hardship of finding housing with limited resources; they underscore a problem that extends throughout the nationwide.
Something to prove
Last week my mom told me, upon reading my last several blog posts, that I seem to have something to prove to the world. I thought I had veiled my secret well beneath assertions of honesty and truthful revelations. But my quest for authenticity, my wrestling matches with doubt, and my hazy self-awareness tipped her off to the truth. I should never try to fool my mother.
She was concerned because -and here is where she revealed her bias -she thinks I am good enough. She thinks I should relax, enjoy my accomplishments and stop worrying so much. She is right, of course.
But can I? As long as I can remember, I have felt a driving need to produce and to prove. With each accomplishment, a voice telling me I could have done better. With each success, the thought that it was unearned. Relaxation and contentment are foreign concepts in my emotional lexicon. Nothing is ever enough.
Did my feelings of unworthiness come, as my mother worried, because of inadequate parenting? Of course not. I used to enjoy blaming my anxieties on external factors, especially on my upbringing, but I after years of introspection I believe my proclivities are innate. Certainly she is not to blame. Her life is a testament to the benefits of trusting one’s own strength. I have always admired her ability to make it through the tough spots in life, with a smile and a cry on the other side of a struggle. She does not walk through life with anything to prove, and never taught me I was anything less than enough.
Still, my mind refuses to believe my mother’s example. I am a positive person when it comes to trauma, to crises and setbacks; I smile through injuries and car crashes; I even rationalized a silver lining in destitution. Yet, when it comes to recognizing my successes, I turn a blind eye.
I have written a story about my life in my head. It reads:
Five ways to dismantle barriers in life
Today is a perfect day to review my five ways to dismantle my barriers. A combination of the five things holding me back has made me feel particularly stressed about my writing, a state of mind that, unfortunately, makes me less inclined to write and more inclined to stress. As I allow anxiety to take over my mind, writing becomes near impossible. Procrastination rules the day. Feelings of worthlessness abound. This moping, non-productive combination then fuels more stress and inhibits more writing. It is a vicious cycle, and almost impossible to break.
Still, over the years I have developed a few strategies to drag me out of these doldrums. What follows are my favorite tactics for rejuvenating my mind and my work.
1) Smile -I try to smile as often as possible, but when I am stressed or otherwise distracted, I tend to forget. Smiling boosts my mood; I am more likely to work harder, longer and more effectively if I am in a good mood. And all it takes is a smile. As a corollary benefit: when I am happy, others around me are more likely to be happy and the good mood just keeps going around. Smiling while I write also allows me to remember that I like writing, I find it fun, and it is not as awful as I make it out to be in my head.
2) Create a task schedule -I love schedules. When I was in school, I would create minute by minute schedules for my days so that I eeked out as much productive time as the day would allow. During exam periods, these schedules, written in minuscule handwriting on post-it notes, became even more complex. Every breath had its place. Now that I am in the real world and can no longer subsist on adrenaline and carrots, these types of intricate schedules tend to fall apart within moments of starting my day. As hard as I try to adhere to them, something (inconsistent bedtimes being the top contender) always disrupts the order.
To combat the difficulty of keeping a tight schedule without losing my mind, I have created a schedule comprised of tasks not times. Every day has a function (bill paying and chores, writing, researching, relaxing). I have no quota of work to complete, and the tasks can be done in any order at any time. As a result, I accomplish something each day. Like smiling, knowing that I have kept to my schedule makes me happier, more productive, and more willing to work hard. By outlining my days I am able to focus on the task at hand; I do not have to worry about paying bills on Thursday, for example, because I know they will be paid on Monday. This frees my mind to concentrate on writing well during my writing days and not stress about writing during my non-writing days.
Five Things Holding Me Back
As I mentioned last week, my energy in recent months has been focused on goal-setting. The corollary of goals, in my mind, is personal authenticity. Attaining my goals, therefore, is possible only when I begin to attain authenticity. The best place for inspiration in these endeavors is the Rich Roll Podcast. At the end of episode 88, Rick entreats listeners to write down everything holding them back in life. I decided to choose the five most prominent detractors from my goals, and share them here. They are not groundbreaking or unique, but they are constant obstacles in my life. Defining them has made it easier for me to discover solutions for their management.
And so, here are the five things holding me back in life:
1) Inconsistent sleep schedule -I never leave work at the same time, which means I never go to bed at the same time. Even though I often wake up within an hour of eight every morning, my inconsistent bedtime means that the amount of sleep I secure each night is variable. Add to that my two early mornings (Saturday at 5:30 for marathon training group long-runs, and now Wednesday at 5 for runs with Back on My Feet), and exhaustion becomes almost normal. I am a morning person, and so writing at night, after work, is impossible. When I cannot wake up early enough, I feel as though my whole day is wasted and, despite daily evidence to the contrary, I convince myself that beginning writing at noon will yield no results.
2) Time management -I wish I could say that all my time management problems would be solved by normalizing my sleep schedule. Although the unreliable start times to each day are a contributing factor, they are not the only (or even the main) reason I cannot manage my time. In an ideal world, with an ideal schedule, I know I would find ways to procrastinate. Telling myself I have poor time management creates an excuse for my bad behavior and compounds the problem.
Goal-setting (and attaining) is possible, even when planning seems overwhelming
Setting goals, and then working to attain them, makes me feel good. This is only a recent realization. I always admired the tenacity with which I watched teammates and classmates and friend set and tackle goals. I yearned to feel the accomplishment I saw in their faces when they broke records on the cross-country course, were accepted for prestigious internships, received awards for their hard work. Every time I tried to emulate these people, I became overwhelmed. I did not fail, because I could not begin. And I learned to avoid setting goals.
This is not to say that I sat in a hole and wallowed all day, but that I became complacent. I learned not to take risks because I was incapable of following through with projects; the anxiety and guilt that followed any (failed) attempt to do something great was paralyzing. On occasion I would surprise myself by landing an internship, making a professional connection, publishing an article. But because I did not view these accomplishments as progression toward a goal, but merely as lucky happenings, they remained scattered occurrences.
I continued to avoid goals, even when the Uptown Stories project began and the path for my future became more clear. Instead of writing a timeline with specific goals, I continued to attacking each day in a desperate attempt to accomplish everything at once. The result: I accomplished few things ever.
Because I had no clear goals, my one objective, to become a writer, always received the short end of the priority stick.
I was dissatisfied but because I had mushed through more than twenty years in this aimless fashion, I did not know how to change. My attempts to set goals and build habits resulted, as they had during my school and college years, in panic. I remained convinced that I could not put forth the effort needed to become the person I wanted to be.
In December, 2013 I reached a low point in my motivation: marathon training was over; I had no UptownStories projects on the horizon; I was hamstrung with fear every time I tried to write.
The importance of standing up the the challenge.
I miss seeing blogging on my weekly calendar. Since stating my hiatus two and a half weeks ago, I have tried to steer my thoughts away from writing here and toward pieces I want to publish. Even though writing posts can be time consuming and stressful as I try to think of relevant and interesting topics, I realized during my break that this blog has become a grounding element in my routine.
I resolved at the beginning of this year to write once per week, regardless of how inspired I felt, because I was sick of listening to my excuses to avoid writing. I have always considered myself a writer, but in the past have been too lazy to do much to advance my career. The effort required always seemed too great for my ability. I was better at convincing myself I could not or should not write than at tying myself to my computer and writing. I created accountability when I added the task of blogging to my calendar; I did not want to break my commitment.
I know only a few people read my posts (mostly my mom), but I enjoy the consistency of writing each week and the accountability created by posting my writing in a public forum. I enjoy forcing myself to pick a topic and to edit my words into coherence. I enjoy believing someone might recognize themselves in my words.
Announcing a break from this blog was necessary to relieve some of the pressure I was beginning to feel. Polishing a manuscript for submission, crafting a query letter and mentally preparing myself for rejection were new and taxing processes; they required all of my energy.
The letter has been sent and I have given myself time to assess how I want to proceed with my writing in the future. With this plan in mind, I am confident (at least until I give self-doubt a moment to creep in and pollute my mind with its negative jabbering) there is life after rejection. I am confident I will have another creative idea; I will find the strength to write another query letter; I will continue to write.
I have chosen a path both challenging and full of happiness. If I continue along it, I will succeed. Because success, to me, is not about seeing my byline in a national publication (although that would be nice), it is about surrounding myself with people I love and work I enjoy. For now, that means re-adding this blog to my weekly calendar, engaging with the Uptown community, and sharing the stories of people living on the margins.
How I fought Resistance and won (for now).
I’m back. But I do not want to write. I do not, do not, do not. I submitted a query yesterday for an article that has taken me the better part of a year to complete. I have never sent a query before. It was a terrifying undertaking and took me a few weeks of research and writing and editing to summon the courage to pass it along to an editor. I know this process is routine for most writers, and it may become easier for me as time goes on, but this first time seemed almost impossible.
And now that it is through, that all 230 words of self-promotion have been released from my control, a large part of my mind says I have done enough. I can stop working. I can relax. But I know these murmurs are a fallacy designed by Resistance, enemy of work and friend of procrastination. Resistance wants me to stop producing, even if stopping means feelings of failure and depression. Anything is better to Resistance than hard work.
A small break
I am taking a small hiatus from my blog. I am in the process of finishing a big writing project and I need to spend as much time as possible working on the finishing touches. Between writing, work and life I do not have enough time for both this project and my blog. The stress of balancing everything is overpowering the joy of writing. I wish I were the type of person who handles multiple different endeavors at once with poise, but I am not that talented. I refuse to sacrifice my happiness, peace of mind, or personal relationships for my work. And so, I will return to this blog when life has settled, with more stories of struggle and authenticity and Uptown.
How rejection in LA led to fulfillment in Chicago
A little over three years ago I moved to Wisconsin after a short stint at home in Los Angeles. I was recovering from a divorce and had no money. In nine months of living in Los Angeles I had not succeeded in finding a permanent job even as a waitress, a profession in which I have years of experience. I faced a choice in March, 2011: I could stay in Los Angeles for another month and hope that a job materialized before the end of April when my funds would run dry and homelessness would begin; or I could spend my last dollars on luggage and a plane ticket to Wisconsin where my friend had promised me a bed (rent free) in her mother’s house.
Despite the potential consequences of staying in Los Angeles, the decision to move was not easy. I had come to the west coast full of hope that I would reconnect with the city of my childhood and find success under its sunny skies. These delusions lasted about a week.
Is gentrification negative or neutral?
A friend told me the other day that gentrification is a neutral word. Her comment was in response to a sentence in an essay I am writing, in which I use gentrification to imply a societal force with solely negative consequences. I shrugged off her critique and told myself that, because she has not spent the past year and a half working with and conducting research about residents of affordable housing buildings who are experiencing the effects of gentrification, she cannot understand the full connotations of the word. I chose not to change the offending sentence. Almost two weeks have passed since that conversation and I cannot shake her words.
Gentrification has always held negative connotations for me. The moment I learned the word, while on a car ride with my dad through a rundown neighborhood outside of downtown Los Angeles, I have had an unkind opinion of people who support gentrification. I have never believed that poor people should be forced out of their homes because they do not have the resources or knowledge to stand up to their wealthy counterparts, the common course of gentrification..
Gentrification happens for a variety of reasons, but a prevalent theme is inexpensive real estate in a neighborhood that is proximal to, but not as cost prohibitive as, a popular or affluent neighborhood. Young people are drawn to the cheap rents in these areas and, after a period of time, developers take notice.