Thoughts

You’re Already There

I passed a bit of a milestone this past weekend: 8 months of daily yoga. 240 days of making time to get on my mat and give my muscles a good attending to. I can now do an extended chair pose without my thighs weeping with agony and betrayal. I’m this close to achieving crow pose (arm balance) without falling. It started as a 30-day challenge, but so far I haven’t had a desire to skip a single day. On the days where I feel too tired for a heavier workout, I focus on stretching and meditation; on days when I have more energy, I go for the high-intensity ones, but every day I make a point to change into my yoga pants. A year ago, I never would have imagined I could become this exercise-focused person.

The other thing I’ve gained from my practice is a sort of perspective on what it takes to go from day 1 to day 240. The answer: just me.

Throughout the routines, it often comes up to set an intention for the day, or to think of a mantra to help focus throughout the meditations, and I found myself noticing a trend of where my thoughts go.

My intention is always to challenge myself and discover something new.

My mantra has become: I am what I am. I am all that I am becoming.

And the more I think about that mantra, the more I love what it suggests: You are already everything that you want to be.

Everything you want to accomplish, everything you want to learn/develop/become is already part of who you are today.

You might not see it very clearly, or even believe it at all, but it’s true. It has to be. You look at Olympic gold medalists, Oscar winners, entrepreneurs behind successful businesses — they didn’t get bodysnatched one day to become the sort of person who gets what they want. They’re the same people who used to have a dream and who one day woke up to what they needed to do to achieve it.

Everything it takes to achieve your dreams is part of you.

There is nothing in the world you can’t do (inside the realm of physics and reason) if you set out to do it. What is it you want? To shed those last 10 lbs? Run that marathon? Get that promotion? Figure out what you need to achieve the goal, then brush off your self-discipline, you perseverance, you courage — whatever you need to get into action to see it through.

Have a little faith in yourself.

Then go out and become everything you were meant to be.

The Ball and Chain Called Fear

Nah, I haven’t made a switch to writing horror short stories, just musing today on fear, and how it really does hold us back from so much. Even things we’re not aware of.

We all enjoy living in our safe little bubbles, don’t we? To some degree or another, we prefer to control our environments to protect ourselves from that uncomfortable feeling that THINGS ARE OUT OF OUR HANDS.

Understandably. That’s kind of a scary thought. It’s one thing to know that you can’t control everything — people cancel/change plans and you shrug it off; you go ahead and plan that outdoor event because, meh, it might rain but that won’t ruin your day — and a whole other thing to accept that this truth applies to every area of your life.

How much do you stop yourself from doing every day because the consequences are unknown? Your spouse did something this morning that annoyed you, but you don’t want to start a fight, so you don’t say anything. You see a job opportunity that REALLY sparks your interest, but you don’t apply for it, because what if the salary isn’t as much as you earn now or you don’t like the new team as much?

In thinking about it this morning, I realized that I need to wonder how much success I’ve missed out on because of my fear of failing at this whole writing thing.

I’ve taken a lot of chances since I’ve started publishing. Moving into full time writing might have been my biggest one, but, for some reason, not the scariest. Maybe because there were still so many elements about it that were in my control.

I’ve also put money into courses and promotions that I thought would be more of a help than they turned out to be (experience and lessons learned! Never a waste), and listening to advice that simply didn’t work for me.

I’ve also passed over opportunities because I didn’t feel I knew enough about the situation/subject to go for it. Marketing for me is a four-letter word, and I feel as though I spend half my work hours (and off hours, and trying-to-get-to-sleep hours) trying to figure out what steps I can take to reach more readers without being gross and salesy or that, ideally, won’t cost me my first-born child’s soul to do it.

The point of this post? I guess it was just a chance to be honest about the fact that despite everything I’ve accomplished so far, I’m still afraid that this is the end of the road. That I’ll never figure out how to move beyond the point where I am… unless I open myself up to whatever comes next. This post is a way to remind myself (and possibly you) that there is no such thing as a bad choice. They’re all just opportunities to develop and learn.

This post is a chance for me to grab on to fear and do my best to throw it aside for the next twenty-four hours and to be happy with who I am and what I have to offer. To find new ways to let my Me-ness shine through so I can take one step closer to achieving everything I’m striving for.

And maybe I wrote this post to prove a point to myself: that if I can write a blog post that scares me a little, then I can do anything. Baby steps.

What have you done to get past a fear that was standing in the way of something you wanted? Or, if that obstacle is still there, what is your plan to overcome it? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

“I’m real” and other lies we tell ourselves

That’s not to say it should be a lie, but more that, as I’ve learned, it often feels like one.

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that you’re not actually worth your accomplishments and that, at any moment, someone could pop up and shout, “You! You aren’t actually the thing you claim to be, so sit down and stop pretending that you are!”

This sort of fear is good if you are, say, an actual fraud. Perhaps it will stop you from doing something fraudulent.

For the rest of us, it’s the irritating voice in our heads that stops us from celebrating/talking about/recognising our own achievements to anyone beyond our immediate toddlers or cats. And even then, it might be a whispered “Woohoo”.

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Ever feel like this when people ask you about your goals and ambitions? This image basically sums up most of my social interactions if ever I think that question will come up

I was facing my own inner heckler early last week. Here I am, getting ready to publish my 11th novel since Nov 2013, and I’m still sitting here firmly believing that I don’t know enough about my business after three years to make this a successful launch. I just shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, because whatever. It’s just a story.

“I’ve already published a book this year. People are going to get tired of hearing from me, so they’re going to ignore/unfollow/block/report me for spam” <—– ACTUAL THOUGHTS, PEOPLE.

How am I supposed to sell books when I’m too worried to stand up in front of wonderful readers who tell me they love what I write and let them know I have a new book? How am I supposed to reach new readers, if I don’t feel I’m worthy of the incredible reviews and messages I get from my existing readers?

So I took these thoughts and insecurities to one of the few Facebook author groups I love, and within an hour, I had a dozen replies from other authors (many of whom I really look up to and admire) telling me they experience the exact same thing.

This made me feel so much better!

I might be a fraud who is incapable of retaining a single piece of information about the business that I have dedicated three years to building…… OR I could be like so many other people and just think I’m a fraud who is incapable of, etc.

THE BRAIN IS STUPID, FOLKSIf you haven’t figured that out by now, then you are the most well-adjusted person in the world and should probably talk to someone about that. It’s not healthy.

Of course, as I was realising this about my business, I also realised how much I do it in the rest of my life, as well. I got married two weeks ago. Hitched. Was made an honest woman out of. I shared the news on social media, but sort of in passing. During all of the lead-up, during the planning for all the events that go with the big day, I felt really awkward and uncomfortable making a big deal about it. I didn’t want to appear vain or self-absorbed, so I internalized everything, and, as a result, ended up walking away feeling a bit like not many other people cared. Why would they? If I’m all calm, cool, and collected, then where is their motivation to be all bubbly and excited and bouncy?

This is a mistake I will not make for the reception in July, gosh darnit.

So why am I posting this?

Because I want you to know that you’re not alone. Yes, I’m making an assumption that you feel like this, too, but that’s only because every single other person I have spoken to has expressed understanding, empathy, and “THAT’S TOTALLY ME” whenever I’ve brought it up.

It might not be over everything. You might go crazy and shout as loud as you can when you get that promotion at work, but maybe you hush up when something you’ve been working on (your garden, a poem, a song, a robot you plan to use for your eventual world domination) goes really well, because you don’t feel that you’re REALLY a gardener, a poet, a musician, or an evil mastermind. You’re just playing at it. It’s not REAL.

But there’s the true lie. If you do it, it’s real. You really are those things. It’s time to admit it.

So I challenge you to do so in the comments. What’s something that you’re really proud of yourself for achieving/doing, but are never comfortable telling people about? I want to know!

Do What You Love?

As I reach the mid-way point in my 12-month “Full-Time Author Test”, I thought I’d share some of my experiences and perspectives on the mission of “following my dreams”.

When I first stepped into the FT arena, I had a plan. I weighed out all the pros and cons, talked through every element that I should watch out for: money, isolation, mental health, etc. I waited until I was sure I had a solid foundation before I took the leap.

At the end of January, my plans fell through. There were delays in my latest book release, and that delay led to a drop in sales, and a delay in the release of my next book. Those delays and sales drops meant a hit to my finances, and in May, I was sure I’d have to cut my 12-month trial off early to go back to work.

Fortunately, my support team is the best I could have asked for. My fiance and I sat down and rearranged our budget to make sure I could take another six months without any more of a hit. We’re currently working on some really fun promo material for my next series to try to get some new eyes on it. We’re talking about beginning a new project – a podcast about two artists living together, following different streams of our craft, and the ups and downs of it all.

Even when the pitfalls loom, I’m so grateful I have people who will help me stay on a solid foundation.

I knew before I went to full-time that money would be tight. I chose to skip Ottawa Comic Con this year so I could afford the GORGEOUS covers for my new series (the cover reveal is coming July 1 to my newsletter subscribers!). My social life is in a bit of a lull, because I don’t have the easy-access cash to go out very often. Every coffee I buy is a debate of whether I should get out of the house for a while and spend the $1.89 on a Tim’s cappucino, or if I should stay home and make one for free.

And money isn’t the only challenge.

One of the most common questions I’m asked when I tell people I write full time is whether I have issue getting to work in the morning and if I get distracted by everything going on at home.

My problem actually lies on the reverse side, as my fiance can tell you. I’m a bit of a workaholic. I begin my day when he leaves for his dayjob at 6:30a.m., and there are many times I’ll continue working until dinner 12 hours later. In my case, my self-discipline has grown in knowing when to walk away at the end of the day. To leave my work in my office as best I can and appreciate the rest of the day outside of my books.

The work-life balance is harder to handle when they’re one and the same (as they’ve always been, because an artist can never really get out of her own head), so I practice this by going out for long walks most days of the week.

There have been days where it’s taken all of my energy to sit down at the computer and get to work because I feel I’m not making any progress in my business. FAILURE is a terrifying word, and even though my rational brain knows that there’s no such thing – because even if the details don’t go according to plan, I’m still going to be ahead of where I was at the beginning of the year with so much more experience under my belt – it’s still a prospect that makes taking the next big step scary. Being your own boss, trying to make a go of it in the arts in a city where the arts have a hard time taking hold, means a lot of uncertainty.

I’m not saying this to whine or seek sympathy – again, I KNEW this would be the case. I’m sharing it for those of you who are on the fence to make the same leap and take risks with your dreams.

It’s a big choice. It’s a scary choice. If I were on my own and didn’t have the support of my family, I don’t know how well I would be holding up.

On the other hand, I can say, without any doubt, that I have no regrets about making my choice. For the last six months, while I’ve still had to wake up to my fiance’s alarm, I have never dreaded getting out of bed in the morning. My to-do list is always full of tasks I look forward to tackling.

I may cry, I may stuff my face with cookies, I may even bury myself in books for hours in the evenings, but every day I get to wake up and do what I love – do what I’ve always dreamed of doing with my life – and the reward for that is priceless.

So should you take the risk and jump into your dreams with both feet? That’s up to you. Be sure you’re ready for it and you know what’s coming. But once you’re really really certain – take a good look at what’s holding you back.

Life is crazy, loud, and full of uncertainty anyway – why not lose yourself in something that makes you look forward to greeting each  day?

 

Dreamchasing: A touch of inspiration

On May 1, I have my first public talk of the year on the subject of inspiration and the importance of setbacks on the path to realising your dreams.

Read on for an abridged version of the talk

***

Stories are such an important part of our lives. They’ve been a part of human culture from as far back as we can track, and the tradition carries on in obvious ways today. We tell stories every single day, whether it’s telling our friend something that happened to us at the bank or sharing our plans for the weekend with our families. We read them to relax before bed; we watch them to escape from the daily grind.

But the truth is stories are more than something we share with each other, it’s what we are. Every single one of us has a story to tell, but also one to live.

My plan was to continue on the same theme I’ve touched on before – the importance letting inspiration guide you. Because what else drives us to get out of bed in the morning and slog through the rest of our responsibilities other than the energy that comes from chasing our dreams?

But, in the best laid plans, all of my intentions this time fell apart, and for the last month I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a topic.

One of the reasons we chose May 1 as the date was because my book was supposed to be available by now, and I was to announce my book launch. So I’ve been in a rut. A delay came up with my current book that set me back a month and a half with a financial hit. That delay led to a cascade of other delays, and rushed deadlines, and extra work that’s had me buried under heaps of hair-tearing frustrations. Buried under all of that was the message I wanted to give for my talk.

Because how could I offer a talk on inspiration when I had so much trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? It’s not like anyone else here can relate to that feeling of being at a bottom of a pit and believing it’s impossible to dig your way out – right?

And obviously all of these frustrations and disappointments and sense of stagnation are permanent, and I’m never going to move forward and nothing is ever going to change – right?

The more I asked myself these questions – and realised how silly they were – the harder I searched for a topic. Along the way, I started thinking about how much is actually going well for me right now, and as I thought about all of these positive things, I came back to this idea of story, particularly the story of chasing your dreams, and how the plot is never as straightforward as it seems from the outset. Because that’s a hard truth about dreams and inspiration – the results are never as easy to reach as they might appear from the beginning.

At the beginning, everything seems rosy. The inspiration to achieve a certain dream comes to us when we’re not thinking about it – in meditation or while we’re doing something mindless like walking or washing the dishes. In that flash of epiphany, we get a glimpse of that ideal painting we want to create, or the business we want to start, or the novel we want to write.

The inspiration comes without any obstacles and appears as the finished project – the glory of what COULD and WILL be.

Only it’s never that easy as “see it and make it happen”, is it? Almost immediately we stumble on the roadblocks that hold us back. Money – skills – strategy – other people.

This is where a lot of people throw up their hands and walk away. When you can see the final result so clearly in your mind, the realization of how much effort needs to go into it to realise that final product can seem daunting. The steps can seem greater than anything you feel prepared to deliver.

But what if we look at these projects with an analogy.

What if birth is the inspiration and death is the final result? Do we really want to rush to reach that end? Snap our fingers and say “Well, that was fun. What’s next?” No, we want to draw it out. We want to experience things as they happen – so why is it so hard to do that with our dreams?

I believe one of the greatest reasons for frustrations and disappointments is that we tune out our inspiration and we listen to what people are saying. People, right? They always get in the way. Especially when we try to step outside of the expected norms of society to do our own thing, which is what we do every single day when we’re on the path of realising our dreams.

When I decided to leave my job behind and write full time for a year, many of my co-workers asked me – out of genuine and kind concern – if I was sure I was ready to make such a big decision.

I saw what they meant. Not only would I have to be able to cover important expenses like rent or food, I would also need to invest in the business. I would also be isolated, so have a higher chance of depression. There were days when I debated the wisdom of my choice, and if I’d been any less certain, I would have allowed those questions to hold me back.

But when we’re sure of what we want in life, the voice that guides us to take the leap will be louder than the ones that tell us to stay put – as long as we’re listening for it.

And the voices of opposition don’t stop after you’ve taken the first step. Reviews, feedback, nay-sayers, they’re always around, and they’ll weigh us down, even if they’re not aware they’re doing it. Even if their intention is to be supportive and caring. It often has nothing to do with being mean, it has to do with you stepping outside the bounds of expectation.

And the farther you go outside the norm, the louder those negative voices become. So what’s a dreamer to do? If it’s clear that the people around you don’t like what you’re doing, or think you’re not great at it, or that you won’t succeed, then the only obvious decision is to give up and walk away.

Thank you.

Wait, what? If it sounds ridiculous when I say it, why do our brains make us think it’s a really great idea when we tell it to ourselves?

If realising our dreams was supposed to be easy, we could pick them up at the corner store.

In my own experience, every mistake I make, every perceived failure, every negative review is essential for my progress. They teach me so much along the way – even if the lesson is how to drown them out.

I recently read a wonderful book about the importance of failing. How every failure can open the way to opportunity. Last year, I gave myself the goal of making as many mistakes as possible, and, yeesh, let me tell you, I succeeded. Every delay that happened at the beginning of this year can be attributed to the mistakes I made last year.

But I learned from it. And more importantly, I learned it for myself. Because we pass many people in life who believe they have all the answers, and sometime these people are exactly who we need to meet at exactly the time we need to meet them, but at other times, the lesson they’re trying to teach us is not one we’re ready to learn, or they’re delivering it in a way that makes us think we can’t succeed. We have two choices when dealing with this latter group: we can discount what they say or we take their advice and find our own ways to learn the lesson. Only then can we move forward with the confidence that our dreams are our own and not someone else’s.

Everything is learning.

The challenge is holding on to your faith. Believing that the more you work, the more you’re moving forward, even when it doesn’t feel like you are. Even when all you get is obstacle after obstacle.

Does that mean sometimes changing the method you’re using? Yes. Does that sometimes mean taking a break from your task to hone up on your skills? Absolutely. But even delays in reaching our dreams are worthwhile if it means we’ve learned something along the way.

The challenges are no less important to the journey than the successes.

The same is true of any story, and, absolutely, every single one of us is a story.

Imagine you’re reading a book, and from the front cover to the last, there’s nothing but good things. The hero meets the girl, gets the girl, gets the dream job, rises to the top in a matter of years, has kids, grandkids, and spends the rest of his retirement travelling the globe in his private jet that he can afford because his life is so perfect.

That sounds great for him, but boring for anyone else.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be reading that book thinking, “Where does the dragon come in? When does the wife get abducted by aliens and he needs to use all his riches to build the space module to go after her? When does he DEVELOP?” Because I guarantee that a character with that much perfect will be the same man on page one as he is in the final paragraph.

And the same is true for every single one of us.

Achieving our dreams is a fantastic, wonderful, ultimate goal, but the ups and downs are required for any good journey. Any good story. Drama, loss, fear, excitement, wonder – they’re what make the plot interesting.

If you have a dream and you’re on the fence about going for it, what’s stopping you? The fear that you won’t achieve it? All that’s standing in your way is you. The worry that you don’t have what it takes? You probably don’t. Not at first. But you’re not achieving your dream based on what you know now, you’re achieving your dream based on everything you’re going to learn between the starting point – today – and the end goal, which could be tomorrow or ten years from now.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be painless, but every lesson you learn along the way will give you the satisfaction of moving forward – the knowledge that you’re on the path you know in your gut you’re supposed to take.

You can’t prepare for everything, but if you keep the goal in mind – that perfect image of the final result – you can weave your way through the minefield that comes when you get distracted by your loud, muddled thoughts and get caught in the quagmire of opinions, and mistakes, and what some people might perceive as failure.

But even in those moments, remember the wise words that an internet meme once shared with me. “When things don’t go according to plan, yell PLOT TWIST and move on” – because it’s just part of your story. It’s part of the journey. And when you finally reach that top step and grab your dream – that perfect image that inspired you to push through the troubles to begin with – appreciate every spill and tumble you took to get there, because without one of those falls, you might not have reached the goal.

We all have our own stories to tell, but, more importantly, we are all stories. Every morning, wake up reminding yourself of that. Every day is a new blank page, just waiting for you to fill it with your own words and your own dreams. So what are you waiting for? Go on out there and chase them.

How do You Read?

I’ve been pondering this question for the last week or so as I face a challenging read.

When it comes to books, I’m a completionist. I’m pretty sure I could count on one hand the number of books on my DNF (did not finish) pile. No matter how much I might be tempted as I go, I always hold out hope that the end will be worth the rest – that I’ll come across the one sentence that makes the novel worth reading. I know how hard authors work to make their voices heard, and, as one among the ranks, I feel I owe it to them to listen.

But how far does/should that go? Pleasure reading is supposed to be a relaxing escape. Whether it’s to learn something new, or experience a new world/group of characters, where does the line fall in whether it’s worth continuing?

In this situation, I’m focusing on the positive qualities of the book and will see it through to the end, but I’m curious about other readers and how you decide when enough is enough and it’s time to move on. By a certain page number? After catching a certain number of errors or cliches?

What’s your DNF threshold?

Thoughts on a Tragedy

Some of you may have noticed I missed this week’s Fall into Fantasy post yesterday, and I apologise for that, but my schedule and brain have been a bit off since last Wednesday’s tragic events. I’ll be posting Week 10 as a separate post after this, but it didn’t feel right to skip over to book promotion without first acknowledging the loss that Ottawa experienced last week.

I’ve spoken about the series of events to a lot of people–hardly a surprise, I’m sure, but it’s the main subject of conversation in the Tim Hortons’ line, and I don’t say that to be flippant. Actually, I say it with a lot of pride–but haven’t yet been able to write it down. Speaking about it aloud, with others who shared the experience, gives a sense of unity. Writing it down, for me, makes it real. I think I’ve been avoiding it. Sure, my diary is probably a better place to spill my thoughts and feelings on the subject, but some of these thoughts shouldn’t be kept private.

I was stuck in the middle of things on Wednesday in a building that was evacuated early in the day because the powers that be felt we were more at risk inside than on the street with a possible shooter on the loose. I didn’t feel scared inside the office. I was huddled in the middle of the office with the rest of my team, staying away from windows, glued to the calming and rational voice of Peter Mansbridge on CBC (and yes, I say he deserves the journalistic accolades he’s been receiving). Inside, we felt safe.

I know I was never in any immediate danger. I had family even closer to the middle of things on the Hill, and was more worried for her than for me. Even so, that evacuation was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. With the situation not completely known to anyone, security and police were on high alert. Armed guards ushered us from one building to another, and down the cordoned off area of the streets, telling us to stay close to the buildings because they didn’t know if there was someone on the roof. I can tell you – outside had never felt so big or exposed as it did in those few seconds.

But that’s the end of my experience. Not very exciting in retrospect, once all the facts were known, but also not something I will ever forget.

What’s lingered for me is the loss of Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Following so soon after the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, it came as a double blow. This is the part where I get weepy.

I don’t usually get personal on this blog. I figure my personal life and my writing life are separate beasts, but again, after something like this, it’s hard not to share a side of myself usually hidden. As it happens. Cirillo was in the same regiment as my ex-husband, and they were friends. As I discovered during this event: once an army wife, always an army wife. I found it so easy to step into the shoes of Cirillo’s family. I spent 6 months while my ex was deployed overseas dreading the news his family received, bracing yourself every time the phone rang. In a hostile environment, you would expect that sort of phone call. You would not expect it when your son, your friend, your father, is standing as a Ceremonial Guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario.

My hearts and prayers go out to his family and friends, and I hope they know how proud his country is that Cirillo put on that uniform to defend our best values and rights. I also pray that his loss is not in vain, and we don’t lose those values in the face of this tragedy.

I was proud of the way Ottawa handled events. The morning after it happened, I walked to work as usual, and, of course, the subject was on everyone’s lips, but as I mentioned above, the conversations were happening in line at Timmy’s. They were happening as people were running errands and getting their groceries. Business as usual. If this was an attempt to make us afraid, it failed. On Friday, Ottawa enjoyed PoutineFest, and the crowds were out enjoying the live music and each other’s company. Not being afraid.

The tributes I’ve seen for both Cirillo and Vincent have touched my heart more deeply than any fear of that day. The way Pittsburgh played the Canadian national anthem before the game; the way the fans of the Sens, Leafs & Canadiens all stood together as one to sing the anthem across all three stadiums–I don’t know why its the hockey games that get to me so much, but I guess it’s just my Canadian blood. It’s beautiful and I’m proud to be a part of this national community.

The best tribute I’ve seen, though, is an image. I’ve shared it multiple places, but every single time I see it, it’s a punch to the feels. So many meanings and symbols, and I send hugs to Bruce MacKinnon of the Halifax Chronicle Herald for being inspired to draw it. So I end my post with that image – the sum of everything we felt; of everything that our troops represent, past, present and future.

Credit to Bruce MacKinnon

Credit to Bruce MacKinnon

RIP Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. We Remember.