Thursday, December 20, 2012

the idea of scheduling, of free-form versus no-form, and making excellence a habit.

I've said it before and I may say it again: 2012 has been the single most challenging year of my life. I pushed myself past my emotional, physical, and mental limits more than probably ever before, and I came out of it not a different person, but a stronger and more resilient version of myself. 

Two of the things that were hardest for me in 2012 were related to plans: Plans that weren't well thought out so didn't come to fruition, and things that happened that I couldn't have planned for. When I sat up late one night after graduation making my 2012 Goal to be Furiously Proud, I never imagined both my grandmothers would be diagnosed with late-stage cancer during 2012. I didn't dream that the boyfriend I had then would stop being wonderful and become a huge toxin in my life. I also didn't account for the fact that my internship I was excited for would make me less passionate and want out of my field, rather than inspire me to work harder. I didn't know I would take a huge departure from politics and non-profits and rediscover my passion for teaching by training baristas.

On the one hand, that's life after college. All that is the beauty of not knowing. And it teaches you that strength and resilience.

But on the other, I realized that when I made that list in 2012, I hadn't left room for self-renewal, for a support system, for time to absorb and grieve and really take care of myself. So when January through June was really hard, July through November because months of nothingness. Of work, and sleep, and watching Friends or Sex and the City every night. I spread myself so thin that when I couldn't do it all, I made the choice to do none of it.

And maybe that's okay - maybe we all need a time to sort of lay fallow. But after a field lays fallow for a season, a good farmer plants it again. 

When I picked myself up in November and said to myself, "Okay, something has to change," I realized what needed to change was me. Since then, I've been reading about success, and effectiveness, and excellence. What turns normal people into effective people, what separates leaders from good leaders. In all this obsessive reading, I've come to believe in three big things: that obsession is a prerequisite for success; that there is a such thing as "too much" and therefore there is value in asking "Why the fuck?" then prioritizing your life from there; and that building positive habits is one of the most effective ways to get shit done.

I thought for a long time that to be artistic (which I am) meant to be free-form, to not have schedules, to just go with the flow. And while there are absolutely merits to being able to go with the flow, I realized that the way I was living was not free-form, it was no-form. It was waiting for inspiration to strike and motivation to appear and thinking that creativity doesn't happen on a schedule. In going with the flow, I was letting the flow just take me where it wanted to and that left me eating in bed watching reruns of no-longer-running TV shows, without WiFi in my apartment, not writing, not taking my camera out, and feeling very lonely and estranged from my friends and family.

When I started 2012 I spread myself too thin, I gave myself too much to do, no schedule to do it on, and no room for recovery when things went wrong. Now as I'm planning for 2013, I'm not searching for balance, I'm not going to try to DO ALL THE THINGS like I did in 2012 - I'm going to be doing a few things a lot, and one of them is making self-renewal a habit. Scheduling self-renewal and recovery. Planting seeds for habits that more success and better habits can grow out of. (You knew I wouldn't leave you hanging with that farmer analogy.)

The only balance then will be balancing obsession with habits. I'll be talking about all this more with the new blog coming soon, and as I wrap up 2012 and starting thinking a lot more about my goals for 2013.  Until then, what are some of your favorite good habits, or - my favorite question - what are you obsessed with right now?

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle.

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