Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens
My apologies for being gone so long. To say life has been nutty lately would be an understatement. As a recap: the last two weeks of August my boys were with their father and I had delicious, rare alone time at home working feverishly on my new book. It’s southern, semi-historical fiction and a lot of fun. I was really in the groove. It was amazing to have the freedom to write, work out, take walks, etc. I was SO excited when the boys returned, however. For two days beforehand, I organized the house, their toys, books, etc. I prepared meals like veggie lasagne, freezing half. I was determined to start the new school year on the right foot. School would start, I would focus 3 to 4 hours a day on my book with the goal of getting through half of it by October.
Little did I realize that I was entering a crazed period. The first week with my boys should have been an indicator of what was to come! School hadn’t yet started, my nanny was away that week, and to add insult to injury, my freezer broke. Repairman couldn’t come for two days. I lost just about everything.
Second week, school still had not completely started for my oldest (we had one day off and one half day for some reason with two intensive back to school nights!) and the preschool for my youngest wouldn’t start until Sept 9th—and only half days till Oct. 1! I also had five articles to write for clients. Oh BOY! No work on my book could be done while I struggled to finish two cancer articles, one pregnancy article and begin two more bylines for an author/client. I was very grateful for the work, because as luck would have it, my car broke down. And when I say broke down, I mean completely broke! I had wanted to sell it and get a hybrid this Fall, but in this condition, there was no way. The transmission cost $3,500 and required me to be without my car for a week. During this time, I had also started yoga teacher training. All the times were not completely convenient for me or my babysitter. Some morning training started at 6:30 / 7a.m.
Finally, last week, as the crescendo, someone hacked into my email system, compromising clients and friends and family—even nearly fooling my ex-husband into giving him money—pretending to be me having an emergency. My computer had to be shut down, the FBI contacted and an expert hired to fix and clean my machine. All this delayed my projects and even infected one of my editor’s machines.
So, what valuable life lessons did I learn during this period? Plenty!
Lesson One: Prepare/Plan ahead.
From the freezer incident, I learned how great it was to cook ahead of time. With many of my frozen foods thawing, I began to cook with abandon, preparing marinated chicken dishes, cooking meats and fish, making sandwiches with cooked meats, and having every meal accounted for the entire week. Life went smoother. Similarly, the computer incident taught me that while some things can’t be helped (we still don’t know exactly how the hacker gained access to my account), I can back up my important documents with a new hard drive.
Lesson Two: New Beginnings are Energizing.
Cleaning the freezer, I realized how much I had kept in there that I didn’t use for years. Throwing out the old and cleaning the freezer, energized me. As I slowly restock the freezer, I am conscious about what I put in and what I will actually cook within the week.
Lesson Three: Let People Help You.
The car incident and my yoga training needs taught me to ask for help when I need it and to accept that help. I have no problem helping others. I do, however, feel badly about asking for help. But friends often want to and are honored when you trust them with important things, such as your children. As a single mom without family nearby, I need to reach out more. I started doing that and am grateful for the car borrowed and the help with my kids on days that I need it. I know that I’ll respond with love and assistance in the future.
Lesson Four: BREATHE.
Sure, I had a lot of expenditures and demands on my time and stress that didn’t allow me to focus on my goal of putting in more writing on my book. I did, however, keep my cool. I credit that completely with yoga and meditation. Instead of snapping, getting distracted, thinking (too many!) negative thoughts, etc. I took deep breaths and centered my mind. Daily yoga (even if at home for 20 minutes) and 10 minutes of meditation each morning or evening stilled my mind. I have to distance myself from all that stresses me and all that is out of my control, to garner the perspective I need to focus on all that is possible.
Lesson Five: Slow Down.
If you’re stuck in the fast lane, spinning from moment to moment—something HAS TO GIVE. For me, these weeks were crazed because I had so many school and athletic demands for my oldest son and a preschool getting out at 11:45 a.m. daily for my youngest. ( Oct. 1st, we start full days!) It seems that California schools start later and ease into their year more slowly than East Coast schools. That’s just life. I also had soccer games and deadlines and yoga training. At the time, it felt like I couldn’t say no to any freelance projects as the car breakdown and all the school payments from PTAs and ed foundations and other multiple requests, meant that I could have easily spent nearly $6,000 additional this month alone. Now, I’m slowing down. There’s no reason to take every assignment or go to every event or contribute to the point of insanity.
Lesson Six: Success isn’t a Destination, It’s a Daily Journey
As Andre Agassi said in a recent interview (Q&A in the October 2013 issue of The Red Bulletin): success isn’t a destination. “Setting goals and always meeting them doesn’t make you happy. It’s how you feel every night when you go to bed.”
“Success isn’t what comes out, it’s what you put in,” says Agassi. “Doing things completely or not at all. Caring about what you do. … Don’t lie to yourself and look for shortcuts. Success isn’t a result. Success is a way of living you choose for yourself.”
Lesson Seven: Concentrate on What You Can Do
Instead of letting fear take over when stressed, focus on what can be done. For me, I could worry about losing clients or worry about paying all the bills and berate myself for not logging more pages in my book. Instead, I chose to concentrate on my strengths and what I could do—triaging daily what needed to be addressed. Agassi put it perfectly in his advice for child athletes (which is applicable to all of us setting goals): “You should concentrate on the things that you can influence—you can control your attitude, your work ethic, your concentration. If it’s windy or hot or something aches or you’re tired from the match yesterday, then you have to accept it.”
For me, each day, I have to concentrate of being present with my boys. Listening to them. Being in the moment at dinner, or during bathtime. It all counts. Making sure I don’t freak out, and am a good role model. That’s what matters most, at the end of the day, this matters so much more than whether I logged 10 pages. I will, however, log more pages as my schedule allows.
Lesson Eight: Be Kind To Yourself
Beating myself up will never help me accomplish my goals. Sure, I could have handled some things better. I could have backed up my computer, for instance. I could have stayed up till 1 a.m. and logged more pages in my book. But rehashing all of my mistakes and beating myself up doesn’t do anything. Over the past month I’ve really been introspective and honest about past mistakes and while that can be helpful when trying to improve, it can also be destructive if I let negative voices into my mind and constantly berate myself. Instead, as I drift off to sleep, I say to myself: I am doing the best that I can. I am exactly where I am meant to be right now. I am enough.
Final Lesson: Laugh Every Day
Even during all the mess, I love that my four-year-old, especially, makes me laugh. He demands that I look at him when he makes silly faces. He dances. He prances. He tickles. He skips. We have secret codes and games that make us laugh. Our latest is when he starts talking gibberish like Mr. Chatterbox and only I know what he’s trying to do as it’s our favorite bedtime story. We also have a daily competition on who loves each other most. “I love you more than an eagle!” he says. I respond: “I love you more than a pelican!” These moments last a lifetime. They sustain me. I only hope that as my little one gets older, I can keep finding ways to laugh a little each day—in spite of how my day may proceed.