Growing up, I attended church faithfully every Sunday. It was something we did as a family, (and the rule in our house). While I sat in abject boredom during the sermons, I loved it when the congregation sang the hymns or the choir performed. I’d belt out the words or ad lib during those old-time, gospel spirituals that had everyone standing on their feet and clapping to the beat. We were black and Baptist, and carrying on the traditions of our ancestors. The music seemed to uplift the soul, make a believer out of a non-believer. [Read more…] about You Got to Move
When I sit down at my desk in the morning, night is still fully in place. My companions are the muffled sounds of cars speeding down the Gardiner Expressway, the tick tock of the living room clock, and my partner’s snoring seeping through the walls. It is — living in a busy downtown Toronto neighbourhood — by all accounts … quiet. It’s the time of day I am most focused, when I can hear myself think.
I wrote this blog post last November. Then, the weather changed on a dime. Strong, 100km winds one day, then rain, and then the potential for snow. We feared winter’s ugly wrath, and that there was no way to sidestep it. All we could do was suck it up. And as Canadians, the plan executed flawlessly — was to spend the next few months complaining about how cold it was, how miserable it was outside, and how we couldn’t wait for spring.
Now, it’s April. The snow is (mostly) gone. It’s warmer (I’m running in shorts). The days are longer. And we’re still complaining about the weather!
And like we can’t sidestep winter or the early April snowfalls, sometimes you can’t sidestep doubt.
Don’t Open that Door
I write frequently about doubt. Why? Because it’s a constant companion on my creative journey, especially when I’m nearing the end of a project, taking on something that’s outside of my comfort zone, or anticipating my editor’s critique of my manuscript. The biggest challenge sometimes is to not open the door to doubt.
There are times when it’s too tempting to let doubt in, and if we do it can throw us off course. Instead, maybe we need a little pep talk, and here’s what we could tell ourselves…
Dare to dream. Dare to imagine that we live in a world where we can — without the judgment of others, without asking for outside approval — be ourselves. It’s a world where we can follow our heart’s true desire. It’s a world where we can freely do what it is that we want to do and what we feel called to do. It is a world of hope and possibility.
What I Say to Myself
I am a writer. I say that with conviction. It is, today, an affirmation of who I am. I am a writer. Not because of my novels or other published works. I am a writer because there is, deep within me, a will far greater than my own that compels me to write. It is a calling. I have chosen to heed the call.
My day is not complete if I have not put in time at the page. It reminds me of the days when I went without having a coffee. I was cranky. (I don’t drink coffee now, so if I’m cranky it’s for an entirely other reason). When I do not write, or when I don’t write enough, I’m irksome and irritable. In a way, I lose my humanity. That’s why each day I show up at the page. If I don’t, I risk losing myself. Writing grounds me in the day, helps me to be present in the now. Writing, I hang on to myself.
Weather the Storm
Stay focused on the work before you. Perhaps doubt is trying to tell you that the road ahead is somewhat uncertain. Even so, you can’t let doubt have dominion here. All you can do is show up, begin where you are, and the rest will follow.
What challenges do you face daily in your creative pursuits? Are you weathering the storm? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
When I moved to Toronto in March 2013, life overwhelmed. New job. New love. Figuring out how to make this new city feel like home. In an unexpected way, I found comfort reading Rhonda Bynre’s The Magic. Writing a daily gratitude list is a lesson and practice from that book that has stuck with me. When you count your blessings at the start of your day, it’s hard to be grumpy, cynical or pessimistic. Like writing, it’s an act that anchors me to the present moment.
Life is busy. I know. Building a career as a writer around a day job and other life responsibilities isn’t easy, especially with so much pressure for us to be ‘connected’ 24/7. But sometimes the greatest gift we can give ourselves — one that offers perspective and the possibility of unforeseen insights to move us and our dreams forward — is to step back and give thanks for the blessings in our lives.
Turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, log in to your social media accounts … you’ll witness a startling truth. We live in an age where it’s not just easier, but more the accepted norm, to criticize, insult and belittle each other. Instead of working together to build each other up, we’d rather tear each other apart. We focus more on what divides us than what should unite us. We’re constantly separating ourselves into camps — liberal/conservative, republican/democrat, vegan/carnivore, introvert/extravert — convinced that one is better than the other. And worse, still, we show little or no willingness to understand the other point of view. It’s become an unattractive state of being.
Yet there is so much more to life, and we should relish the very gift of waking up each morning to see a new day. Cutting through the noise, my daily gratitude list reminds me of that. In this life, I’m grateful for my partner, family, friends, and job. For the people working to improve the lives of others. For the positivity I welcome into each day, doing my best to bring joy wherever I go. Grateful, yes, to see the beauty that is this world.
Doing What You Love
Everywhere you turn, someone is offering advice: Ten Ways to Maximize Your Instagram Engagement, Five Simple Ways to Advance Your Career, Eight Tips for Effective Time Management, et. al. We scramble to take it all in and sign up for multiple newsletters, online training/webinars, or search for the next great app promising to improve productivity (I’ve done it all). And the next thing you know — badda bing badda boom — you’re living someone else’s dream.
And that’s why I’m grateful for having had the courage to listen to that ‘still small voice’ that encouraged me to follow my heart’s true desire. Writing. It’s the one thing in this life that makes my heart sing. So, every day — no matter where I am in the world, no matter the challenges life throws at me — I write. It’s how I know, as my friend Adrienne reminded me, that I’m doing my best to “stay grounded in your conviction that you’re doing what you want to do and feel called to do.” And best of all … I’m doing it my way!
When you dare to declare your dream to the world, there’s bound to be people who’ll tell you you’ll fail. They’ll laugh or ask if you’ve been drinking. They’ll be a family member, friend, or colleague. Some will even stop talking to you. Why? You have something they do not: the courage to act, to imagine what is possible and go after it.
That’s why I’m grateful for my friends who’ve been with me from the beginning of my writing journey. Not sure how to proceed after receiving the umpteenth rejection letter, they encouraged me to keep writing. Sharing the news my first book was accepted for publication, they cheered, “Yay, you!” When a reader posted a harsh review, they told me to keep writing. And on the days I doubted myself and my talent, they told me to keep writing.
These are my personal cheerleaders who believe in me when others don’t, and that makes all the difference.
As Melody Beattie reminds us, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
That’s why today, and every day, it’s important to take a moment to count your blessings.
What’s one thing that you’re grateful for today? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
In November 2015, I pulled the plug on social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger. Then I went beyond that. I limited my use of e-mail, kept the TV off during the day (until my partner came home from work and turned it on), sent few text messages and, when I wasn’t working at my day job, kept my mobile on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
I went dark, off the grid. This was, in part, inspired by a story I’d read two years earlier about a family that decided to live like it was 1986 again. No computers, internet, or cell phones. And they dressed the part, too, with mullets and cut-off jeans. They brought 1986 to the 21st century to embrace the simplicity of that era. That said a lot, to me anyway, about how we’ve evolved — and the role technology has played in that evolution. Would I want to return to 1986 (I was thirteen then)? Probably not.
While I didn’t go to that extreme, I required a much-needed timeout from social media because I felt overwhelmed. At that time, I was working on the rewrite of a novel and trying to stay current on industry trends. Suddenly, I felt like everything was coming at me fast and furious. On Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or my inbox, the bombardment was unrelenting: ‘advice’ on holiday book marketing, or writing and selling your novel, or how authors can use Facebook Lead Generation Ads, or how to grow your followers, et. al. Overwhelmed, I couldn’t hear myself think, didn’t know how to proceed.
Being overwhelmed had a spiraling effect. I don’t know how to move myself forward, couldn’t concentrate, and then procrastination set in. And boy, oh, boy, did I embrace procrastination! Frustrated (and it was all my own doing) because I wasn’t making progress, wasn’t pushing the boundaries, wasn’t bringing my writing projects to completion. Everything stalled, and I was left flailing.
So, I went dark, off the grid. For two weeks.
An Uneasy Relationship
Now it’s 2019, and I haven’t gone off the grid again. As a self-published author, I recognize and appreciate that social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. — can be powerful tools in the promotion of my author brand. It’s still not something that comes easily or naturally to me, but I’m grateful for the exchanges on Twitter and Facebook that connect me with other writers/artists facing similar challenges. Holed up in my own world, I’ve become part of a community that supports and encourages each other. And it’s great to connect with readers, too.
Social media has a way of sucking you into the vortex. A decision to check in ‘quickly’ on Twitter can blow apart your day. That’s why social media is both my friend and my enemy. I took the timeout because social media felt more like my enemy.
My enemy. Because, real or imagined, some days social media has dominion over me. Am I engaging enough? How many likes did my post get? Has anyone responded on Facebook? I get all worked up about if I’m doing it right, if I’m doing what I should be doing to be successful (if I’m listening to all the expert advice out there).
The social media world is constantly evolving. Late in 2018, as I started to catch up to some changes that had occurred in recent months — and realized I was far behind in the game — I panicked. I felt like I immediately had to get up to speed. Overwhelmed, I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus and, worst of all, couldn’t write. I took a day and a half to step back, breathe and then come up with a plan to move forward.
You Need a Plan
When I went dark three years ago and pulled away (briefly) from social media, I was happy with the results. I wrote. More focused, my productivity skyrocketed. That meant I ran more, and got out of the condo to explore my neighbourhood, discovering new restaurants and shops. I read more, challenged myself in the kitchen and organized my spice cupboard (the latter is back in a state of disarray). I felt relaxed and, at the end of each day, a sense of accomplishment. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
The exercise made me realize, as an indie author — or any artist these days — you can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to social media. But you still don’t have to let it rule the day. Yes, writers like Stephen King, Paulo Coelho and Jodi Picoult use social media (and brilliantly at that), but if you asked them I bet they’d tell you they had a plan for social media management. You need a plan, too, but one that you’re comfortable with and let’s you pursue your creativity your way. It’s a little like writing or painting or making music … you have to find your voice.
The Wake-Up Call
In December 2018, I realized I needed to make changes to my daily schedule if I really wanted to achieve my goals. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel fulfilled … like I had squandered the time gifted to me to live out my purpose. I wasn’t tending faithfully to my dreams. That need for change led me to read books by Brendon Burchard, Brené Brown, Michael Hyatt and Keith Ellis — so I could be inspired to do what was necessary to live my best life ever.
I was excited, energized, pumped.
But nothing changed. Why? I couldn’t break the cycle of self-sabotage. After all these years, I was still afraid of what people would think of me for daring to be a writer. That they’d ridicule me (which people did and still do) when I talk about my dream of writing full-time. “Stick to what’s safe,” they told me. Or, “How many books have you sold?” they’d ask mockingly. “I could never do that.” And I took their fear and owned it.
In January, working the flight to London, something felt off. Usually excited to go to London, I felt numb. Listening to my colleagues talk, a calmness invaded my heart. I went quiet. I realized this wasn’t my dream. Sure, it’s great to travel the world. Having 13-14 days off each month? Freakin’ fantastic. Great benefits? Absolutely. Starting my day in the middle of the night, stuck with rude passengers and colleagues at 35,000 feet for hours, and beyond exhausted for 24-36 hours after returning home? Not my dream.
It was time to start marching to the beat of my own ambition.
The 30-Minute-a-Day Social Media Diet
I didn’t quit my job. I focused on expressing my truest voice instead of constantly giving myself over to distractions and unfulfilling activities. On the top of my hitlist? Social media.
I have an active presence on three social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. That is the order I give them priority. And now, each network gets only 10 minutes a day of my time. How do I do that? I use Screen Time, Freedom and StayFocusd.
Screen Time: Available on iOS, it lets me set a daily allotment of time for each app. When the allotted time runs out, access to the app is blocked. Be aware, though, that it’s easy to ignore the limit set, so it also requires self-discipline.
Freedom: This app allows me to block websites as well as apps on my iPhone for the time period set (make sure you create a block list).
StayFocusd: A Google Chrome extension, it allows users to limit time spent on certain websites and block access to the internet (Nuclear Option).
Three apps, using them 10 minutes a day, produces the 30-minute-a-day social media diet.
That’s how, finally, I’m mastering my day, taking control of the agenda and direction of my life.
Do you have a plan for social media management? How is it working for you? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
Every day is an opportunity to become the best version of ourselves, to push yourself to go higher. If I’m at home in Toronto, that means getting out for a long run — as long as it’s not -20°C or colder, and I’m not fighting a cold. That means, on the days I don’t ‘feel like’ writing, I show up anyway and do the work. That means that if I’m the recipient of rudeness, intolerance or impatience, I act with love and acceptance towards that person and, still, wish them goodwill.
Every day — with grace, patience and courage — I push myself to go higher.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
Last summer, I attended a weekly workout group called Move Strong Toronto. The Monday evening sessions began with a warm-up run, followed by a 45-minute bodyweight workout, then a post-workout run. Although I’m a runner, I have no core body strength to speak of, and zero flexibility. So, midway through the sessions, I wanted to cry. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t keep up. I’d failed.
Then one Monday last November, following my crazy morning routine at the time, I was out of bed that morning at 3:30, at my desk writing a few minutes later, then out the door for a run at 5:30. By 9:00, it was decided: I wasn’t going to the Move Strong Toronto workout that evening, which started at 18:45. As a morning person, I’ve always struggled with late-afternoon or evening exercise. Not being able to attend the session regularly either, due to my work schedule, I didn’t know the other participants and felt awkward around them. Why not just stay home and watch TV? The excuses not to go kept piling up.
Maybe it was all the noise the plumber made working to clear the kitchen sink’s blocked drain, but around 16:30 something snapped. I had to go. Why? Sometimes you know you must step out of your comfort zone to push yourself to go higher. For me, this was one of those times.
Arriving at RYU Apparel, Move Strong Toronto’s winter meet-up location, I was the oldest person in the room. As the workout began, it became oh so clear just how much I struggled. It was hard not to be intimidated by the younger, firmer, more flexible athletes in the room. They made it look so easy. I had to rest while everyone else continued, or when my arms and legs felt weak. And yet, when I didn’t think I could do it … I pushed on. There I was a beginner. But if I showed up and kept putting in the time, I’d get better.
That’s how you push yourself to go higher.
Let it be Your Mantra
I’m a writer. Maybe you’re a dancer, an entrepreneur, a social worker. It doesn’t matter. Push yourself to go higher is about being bold enough, daring enough, to do more and to be better. Every day. It gives us an opportunity to hone our skills and develop new ones.
More importantly, it allows us to not miss the present moment and become who we really are.
Do you push yourself to go higher? How has it changed your life? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.