FIRST MONDAY: Do What You Can!

Last night I had dinner with a woman whose 9-year-old niece has a best-seller on Amazon!

As I listened in polite amazement I was thinking back over the past 20 years
of my own life and wondering where did I go wrong? 

·      How many TV shows did I watch instead of sitting
down to write?

·      How many dishes did I wash instead of sitting down
to write?

·      How many papers did I grade instead of sitting
down to write?

·      How many days did I spend doubting instead of sitting
and writing?

What did this little girl figure out in her few short years that I haven’t yet in my long life?

And here I am at the end of another year with an unfinished manuscript on my night stand. What is wrong with me if a 9-year-old can write a best-seller and I can’t even finish a manuscript?

It’s easy to get discouraged, isn’t it?

I work with students all the time who start out strong, then get lost somewhere
along the way.  The first few weeks of the semester they’re smiling and engaged. They tell me they made straight A’s in high school and plan to be doctors, lawyers or computer engineers. They sit in the front row and turn in their assignments on time, but then just before the mid-term their attendance gets a little sketchy. They become less engaged in class discussions and start turning in late work! By the time the semester skids to a close the A student is clinging to a C and bargaining for bonus points.  While their appearance on the first day was clean-cut, by the last day they’re wearing tattered sweats
and sunglasses to hide the dark circles–too many sleepless nights—maybe spent studying not partying—it just depends if the A student is still striving or if she’s given up.

I get it.  There are a thousand and one reasons why that thing you were hoping to accomplish didn’t pan out—it turned out to be harder than you thought, required a bit more time and effort than you anticipated. Now you have to regroup and decide whether you want to invest that much of yourself to get it.

How bad do you want it?

Sometimes unforeseen circumstances derail you, take you off course and the thing you’re going for gets pushed farther from your reach. Now you have to wait. But the same question applies: 

 How bad do you want it?

If the goal that we’re after is worth having, there shouldn’t be anything strong enough to keep us from attaining it.  Here we are at the end of another year, but this is not the time to wallow.  This is the time to do what you can. 

If you’re a college student, recognize that this is not high school. There are different expectations, different study habits, different responsibilities. You may have to re-group and try again, but do what you can.

If you’re an adult pursuing a dream, recognize that failure is not the end. There are many pathways to success and myriad ways to accomplish your goals. Fear less. Trust more, but do what you can.

It’s amazing that a 9-year-old could write a bestselling book, but you know how she did it?  By following directions for a class assignment.  She began by simply doing what she could and she did her best. I believe if I just did what I could there’d be room enough for her talent and mine on Amazon’s best seller list. 

I won’t stop pushing. What about you?

Phillipians 4:13

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Mayhem Monday: Get Back in the Game!

I slump onto the step out of breath, sweat drips off of my chin. My heart pounds like a bass drum.

“You okay?” It’s a familiar question.

“I’m fine,” my usual reply. I just need a minute.

A pause.

A few seconds to catch my breath then I’ll begin again. I’m not much of a long distance runner. You won’t see any selfies of me on social media from the Boston marathon. But I do believe in the hard push, even if it’s short bursts. I recognize the health benefits of interval training which involves high level intense activity for short periods of time followed by short recovery periods. This kind of exercise works for me. I get bored with doing one type of exercise for an extended time, so I like knowing that in 5 or 10 minutes I’ll get to do something else.  It’s also motivating to know that even if this exercise that I’m doing right now is difficult, I only have to endure it for a little while, then I’ll get to rest or switch to something else.

As I consider this rhythm with my exercise routine, I can see how this also works with other aspects of my life and work.

There are times when every day is a push. I’m running from one thing to the next, hardly able to catch my breath, and I feel as though my heart is going to jump out of my chest from all the stress!  But then there’s that blessed rest at the end of the week, when I can collapse on the sofa and do absolutely nothing for hours. Hallelujah!

The problem comes when I pause too long. The rest has to be long enough for me to recover from the work, but not for my muscles to get cold. Although the weekend rest is relaxing, if I sleep too long on Sunday, it will be that much harder to move on Monday.

If I’m being honest, I’d have to say this Monday blog has suffered because I’ve overslept.

I use that term ironically, because I’ve hardly been asleep, though.  It’s just that this creative work has been pushed to the side by the day-to-day grind. So much so that every time I’ve come to the writer’s desk I’ve stared at a blank computer screen that merely stared back at me! Sometimes there are no words even when the words are there. They float around, but refuse to settle down. There’s so much to say, yet nothing to be said. I’m stumped by second-guesses, muted by mobs of doubt and distracted by distant deadlines. So, it has been easier to let the Mondays go by.

A pause? A few seconds to catch my breath?

That’s what I tell myself. I need to re-group. Think about what I’m doing, and what’s my plan moving forward? But, long breaks are detrimental to progress. If the creative muscles aren’t exercised they will weaken.  The difficulty I’m having now won’t last, but neither can I avoid the difficulty too long. 

I know this as I claw my way back to the writing desk! My head is still as empty as it was a week ago, my fingers still crooked on these keys, but I can’t quit! Creative work is work–it’s not easy. But nothing that is worth having ever is. If I am ever going to perfect this craft I must continue to work at it, and the only way to work at it is to work it. It’s like exercise. You don’t do it ‘cause you feel like it, you do it until you feel like it, and once you feel like it, you’ll keep doing it!

After a moment or two, I wipe the sweat with my sleeve as I begin another round. Rest time is over. Time to get back to work!

Cover photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

Mayhem Monday: Are You Stronger Than You Think?

They had no idea how afraid I was.

I could hear their voices down below, encouraging, cheerful—and their laughter. For them, this was all fun and games, but I was terrified. I wondered why I had agreed to do this. Why did I think I was up to the task? But I was stuck now. It was too late to turn back, yet I was uncertain of the way forward. I was in such a narrow spot and couldn’t see the top from my vantage. My heart was pounding and I regretted keeping on the flannel-lined hoodie.  The heat crept up my neck like mercury in a thermometer. Then I heard his voice beside me.

“Do you want to quit?”

In my mind I screamed “Yes!” But I couldn’t bring myself to say so out loud.

“Come on, you can do it!” I heard them saying.  Their confidence shocked me.

“You can do this.” He added to their assurance with his own quiet push.  “All you have to do is…”

Of course, “all I have to do”—easy for him to say. Everything is easy for him! I’m the one who struggles. I’m the one who lacks confidence. Now here I am, on the brink of something, wavering and uncertain.

It’s so typical of me.

To linger in that liminal space is always dangerous. While you waver you give yourself time to rehash all the reasons why you should quit.  You recount all the things that are against you and all your weaknesses that make this present challenge impossible.

How many writers, or artists, start their great masterpiece with great excitement only to hit a wall and convince themselves that they aren’t talented enough to complete it? How many projects have you started, then quit because it got too hard? And when you get to that point, how easy is it to get distracted by the success of others?  “It’s no use, we think to ourselves. Why did I ever think I could do this? How did I get here anyway?”

“Do you want to quit?”

“Yes!”

But, there’s a crowd of people waiting for your book, your article, your story, your song, your poem, your gift—you can’t quit now!

“You can do this” says the quiet voice right next to you. That soft, encouraging voice that you love. “You’re stronger than you think and you’re closer to the end than you realize.”

No, it’s not easy, but you’ve come too far to turn back—you might as well muster the strength to push forward.

I finally decided to push past my fear.

And when I did, something amazing happened. I pulled myself over the ledge! It had been just above me all along.  The cheers of my supporters erupted all around and I had to fight back a little tear–I made it!  It wasn’t just a physical challenge. It was a mental challenge, symbolic of every mental battle I’ve ever fought.

Perhaps you need to hear this as much as I do: the success that you think is out of reach, is not. You just have to be brave enough to go for it. Your insecurities may be drowning out the assurances of loved ones, but you can decide to push past the fear.  Move first and the mind will follow.  Stop doubting and start believing that you ARE strong enough! It is at the point of your greatest despair when you will find that you are the closest to a turning point—if not the very summit that you’ve been seeking! Just. keep. climbing.

Happy Monday!

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Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash