On Failure and Change

It's been just over a year and seven-and-a-half months since my last post. Sure, I've thought about the blog. I've thought about writing posts to update you on the staying power of the various challenges, posts explaining what I've been doing, posts of all sorts, but nothing made it into type. As is the case with most things, I had a variety of reasons/excuses - stress from work, frustrations with responses to my posts and/or challenges, major surgery and corresponding recovery, fewer ideas that seemed good enough to write about, a house full of cats, etc. Yet I continued to pay the annual fee to keep the site up if, for nothing else, than to showcase the logo my amazing friend Sam made for the blog (thanks, Sam!). 

So no blogging, and pretty much no writing at all, for over a year. Much frustration stemming from my job. I started seeing a counselor at some point. I had surgery about a year ago (a hysterectomy necessary because of fibroids; very glad I did it). Toward the end of my recovery, I decided to start lifting weights so I wouldn't be completely worn out by work, and I haven't stopped, which means I've been lifting weights for 13 months, which is definitely some kind of personal record.

So that was good. But still - so much anxiety and stress coming from work! I was actually looking forward to a major surgery because it meant time off work! Then I was really looking forward to our September vacation in Aruba because it would be more time off work! Work sucked!

Not our dog. 

Not our dog. 

And Aruba was awesome. We explored the small island, swam, drank island beer and ate locally caught snapper. I sat on the beach and read book after book. It was ideal. Except I was still plagued by anxiety. One day, I became convinced that our dog, Hazel, had bitten someone and no one was telling us because they didn't want to ruin our vacation. I had no reason to think this. Then I started thinking about tsunamis and wondering if Aruba could withstand one, and then terrorist attacks... Wow, I thought, I have got to talk to my counselor about my anxiety when I get back, because I am ruining an otherwise perfect vacation with paranoid thoughts. What is the matter with me?

I was also between books at that moment. I'd brought my Kindle, loaded with books I wanted to read, books I'd seen on sale that looked interesting, books I think I should read and will burden myself and my Kindle with forever, unless I actually read them. What I didn't have, though, was a reading plan, so anything was up for grabs. I'd read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, The Girls by Emma Cline, and Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola.

Hmm. In retrospect, maybe it's no surprise I experienced some real-life anxiety after reading those three back-to-back. Nazi Germany, murder and alcoholism, anyone?

At any rate, I decided the next book I read was going to be something I knew nothing about. I didn't remember purchasing it or why, but I liked the title a lot. The book I opened next was 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works -- A True Story by Dan Harris. I read it in two days and it turned out to be largely about how Harris nearly lost his career because of panic attacks, then discovered meditation and everything was okay, better than okay, maybe even kinda great. Life could be great. That was the message I took from Harris's book.

Sure, I've sucked at meditation in the past, but I had to do something. Back in our hotel room that evening, I downloaded the app Harris recommended, Insight Timer, and started meditating. That was September 5, 2016. I've only missed one day since then (a story for another time). Some days my meditation is stupidly short, but the habit is still there. Other days, I can sit for over an hour. Shortly after I started, I saw a recommendation on Reddit for another book, The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa (aka John Yates), a guide to the stages of meditation. I used that for a while, then tried some guided meditations, and now I'm back to The Mind Illuminated method, because it seems to work better for me. 

Almost immediately after I started meditating, my anxiety began to subside. I started building on the good habits I already had in place, adding journaling and better food to my routine, but I was still getting a lot of stress from work. It began to seem to me that I was merely coping with my situation, and I would continue to be coping until I made a bigger change. Making a bad situation somewhat more bearable wasn't exactly what I had in mind, as it turned out. 

But it's difficult to make a job change, so I kept putting it off, until I finally found the nudge I needed. It took the form of an otherwise benign bit of workplace feedback shared by a friend (thanks, Dave!). I talked to Dave in the morning, went in to work a few hours later as scheduled, and told my boss I wanted to step down, stop managing people, and get on with my life. 

If you're reading this, that particular bit of news probably comes as a surprise because I haven't told very many people. I told Eric (yes, after the fact), Dave, and a few friends I thought would understand because they had a good idea what my job was like. I didn't want to discuss it, I didn't want opinions on my decision. I was committed to doing it. But when you tell people you've decided to step down at work, giving up both responsibility and money, that's seen as the kind of failure you want to avoid, but to me it was something to be celebrated and I wasn't willing to mourn the death of my career with anyone. I'd bought back my freedom from anxiety, worth it to me at pretty much any price, and it was celebration time! 

(Two things: First, my experience managing people is exactly that, my experience, and says nothing about the position, the company, or anything other than me and my experience managing people. Some people love it and that's great. They can manage me. Two, I've further rationalized this sort-of secrecy by telling myself it'd be different if I'd changed companies or something. Then I would have told everyone. But maybe not. I still don't really want to talk about it, other than to people who know what my job was like for me, and how easy and stress-free the position I'm in now is by comparison. Also, look! I'm writing! Definite proof of a positive change.)

So there I am these last few weeks, freed from my job stress, happy and excited and full of energy and optimism about the future, and trying to decide what to do next. My ideas gradually shifted from money-making ideas, sped up toward creative ideas, then slammed right into writing ideas, where they are stuck like they'll never move again. 

(I am also entertaining ideas of doing sketches of the cats, but that seems more like a hobby we don't really need to go into that much, but if I get to be any good at it, maybe I'll post them here.)

And that is how I found myself reading someone else's blog post, "10 books that will make you a better writer (and why)" by Shaunta Grimes. In her list, I found a book that sounded appealing and had a low price (I'm trying to be more frugal now that I'm making less money) called Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon. 

52smallchallengeslogo

I read that one in two days, although it's much shorter than 10% Happier, so not really all that impressive. Still, it was what I needed. It helped me get a grasp on what to do next, but perhaps most importantly it helped me realize that what happened next didn't have to be something BIG. I don't have to decide between starting to write a new novel or revising the one I was last working on. I don't have to write a publishable essay about my work transition. I can just, you know, make a little blog post about the shit that's happened. No one reads the blog anyhow. It's a safe place. With a neat logo. 

This isn't going to be a true resurrection of 52 Small Challenges as it was, in that I'm not going to challenge myself with something new every week. I would like to share my current challenges weekly, as in what I'm working on, and update you on some of the previous challenges I undertook, because you really need to see how the laundry room ultimately turned out, and I know you want to hear about the food waste disasters we've had recently. Or whatever. 

I also want to try new things and talk about them, but maybe not on a schedule. I might even share some fiction, if I get to that point. Basically, I want to use the blog to talk about what I'm doing, how it's going, and hopefully hear what you think. Maybe my posts will be dull, maybe they'll be more interesting, but no matter what I think they'll be more true to who I am than what I was writing before. 

There you have it - 19 months of failure, change, progress, and a more hopeful future. And a picture of a cat. 

Lulu Was. Not. Happy. about that time when we had to replace the bathroom sink. 

Lulu Was. Not. Happy. about that time when we had to replace the bathroom sink.