“It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined.” – Henry James
Happy weekend, my friends.
Some friends and I were talking about the coming of spring a few weeks ago, before spring had actually hinted that it might someday grace us with is presence.
“One day, you just walk out of work and know that it’s different,” one friend commented. And it’s true. A few weeks ago, during one of DC’s deceptive warm spells, I stepped outside and knew that winter had lost. It got cold again; we even got more snow. But this cold was different. It was spring cold, an early spring blizzard, a last gasping of a dying season.
And now we have longer daylight hours and the hope of a 70-degree day and I think I’ve said goodbye to my sweaters and my down jacket and my pink boots and my other sweaters. I hear birds in the morning, birds that must have been curled up under overhanging eaves somewhere during the frigid early morning hours of January and February.
It really does happen all at once, and yet, sort of only in retrospect. All of those little pieces add up when one is looking the other way and then suddenly, a new picture, new warmth, a new season emerges.
Isn’t this how our lives and jobs and dreams change, too? In the wee hours, when we aren’t looking, perspectives and tracks and goals and plans are re-shaped and then one day, we’re surprised to find that everything is different. But we really shouldn’t be surprised we know, because of course it is; if we would only look, we can see all of those little winding paths that brought us here.
My work is reflective of all of those seasonal changes too. A million little threads of my actual skills and experience and random gigs and assignments and a hodgepodge of work that was terrifying in its unpredictability suddenly all bound together and now make up a much more tangible, realistic, coherent picture. Suddenly I have work and the trust of others and confidence in my own abilities that was only a distant cloudy illusion before. Suddenly, there’s warmth and (some) security and excitement where there was only terror and trembling steps and a lot of unknown before.
And I know that this can’t last, that we aren’t meant to thrive in safe corners, and that more uncertainty surely waits around the next bend. But the reality of small successes, the fulfilled promise of spring, all of those little courageous moments that led to a happy ending of sorts, remind me that insecurity and terror and those uncertain times are ok because underneath that frozen soil, bulbs are preparing to bloom.
So here are some helpful ideas for thriving through those cold times of uncertainty. Keep dreaming. Spring is coming and one day, when you least expect it, you’ll walk out of work and it will have arrived.
1. Keep building threads. Everyone has a dream or two. Even in hard times, busy times, tired times, keep pushing. Maybe it’s not possible to work on your dream 5 hours a day. But 10 minutes might be a possibility. Maybe you can’t be a full-time writer/artist/musician. But you might be able to do a sporadic project or two. So get up earlier or go to bed later or stay off of Facebook during break and use those ten minutes to write or network or brainstorm or create. All of those tiny fragments are far more important than they might seem.
2. Hold specifics loosely. Dreams are helpful. Rigid maps are sometimes not. Goals and lists and specific plans are useful in the small moments but sometimes need to be released if the big picture is to happen. Don’t be afraid to let go of your pet steps in favor of the bigger dream.
3. Expect the unexpected. Very few successes happen on schedule. Most great stories, career or relationship related, begin with some version of “When I was least expecting it.” Be ready for a door to open that you assumed would stay closed; keep an eye out for those open windows of opportunity that you might be overlooking.
4. Remember how the cold times felt. They’ll come again. Discouragement and anxiety and frustration and fear are a part of the cycle of being human. When they re-appear after times of success and excitement and joy, don’t be surprised. And don’t turn back. Accept the season as a part of reality and continue to press through to spring.
5. Stay inspired. Keep reading those authors, listening to those podcasts, writing those poems, going on those runs that make you feel inspired and excited and more alive. All of that pent-up energy and inspiration may not have anywhere to land right this second, but one day, you’ll suddenly need that stock of wisdom and inspiration and encouragement.
How do you stay motivated during the winter-season of creativity?
March is here! Hooray! I’m not even going to spend one second talking about the ridiculous spring blizzard that is currently blasting us. Spring will win. Winter is on its last breath. Soon we’ll all be taking selfies in front of the cherry blossoms. So there.
The #imagesofsummer hashtag photo challenge is helping me remind myself that summer always returns. Join in! You can participate if you have a blog or a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account.
February was one of those months that was good in a bunch of ways that I didn’t expect it to be. My original goals for February didn’t all happen, but other good things stepped up to replace them:
Here are some of my favorite Instagrams from February:
Goals for March include:
What do you hope to accomplish in March?
Do you ever feel like your creative well is running a bit dry? I think spells of lethargy are normal, even for the most creative and original of people. But I get frustrated when these strike, when times of unfinished drafts, ideas that I can’t seem to push through to completion, and great ideas that I don’t have the energy (or courage?) to turn into reality seem to take over my existence.
I’m a big believer in the idea that the surface problem may not be the real problem – often my surface symptoms of irritability, stress, or ennui cover up deeper issues that I need to face.
For instance, we were busier than usual last weekend. All of the things on our calendar were wonderful, good, things and involved time with people we enjoy and activities we both want to pursue. But I found myself feeling stressed, rushed, and overwhelmed. I caught myself partway through the day on Saturday and was able to check my mood and actually enjoy the wonderful time that we spent with friends, but I couldn’t peg the source of all of my angst.
Then during Sunday morning’s sermon, this line struck me: “Scarcity has a snowball effect – scarcity begets scarcity.” One of my notes in the margins of my journal says: “Acting as if I’m strapped for time, I am living under a scarcity mindset and will never have enough to share.” Ouch.
These few words, and my entire weekend, taught me a valuable lesson: perspective really is everything.
If I feel like I don’t have enough time, don’t have enough energy, can’t give any more – well, then, I won’t.
But what if we applied this to creativity? When I’m feeling listless and uncreative, when I’m having difficulty pushing projects through to fulfillment, what if a simple shift in perspective changed everything? A scarcity mindset say that I can’t think of a good blog post, don’t have time to read, can’t get home in time to make dinner, definitely can’t fit those people into this week’s schedule, don’t have time to implement ideas, don’t care enough about my projects.
But what if I operated under an abundance mindset instead? I have plenty of time, ideas, and energy – more than enough to share. I don’t need to be stressed – there is time enough to do everything that I need to do. I love sharing words and blog posts – even if they aren’t perfect, it’s ok to release them. So this week, I’m trying to remind myself to have an abundance perspective.
Still not sure how to break out of the creative rut? Try taking these 5 steps. A little change of perspective can work wonders.
1. Choose to do something imperfectly rather than not doing it at all. I’m a perfectionist, and so often my fear of mediocrity or failure keeps me from acting. Bravery is a discipline. Complete something this week even if you fear it’s not yet ready or perfect.
2. Make your space more conducive to creativity. You don’t need to do an entire home makeover to make your home more creative-friendly. I spent an hour yesterday pushing some side-tables and our couches around after buying just one new lamp. But three of our rooms look completely different. They’re so much cozier and I was more excited to get up and work today just because of the changes.
Suddenly, all of my internal stress over how our house decor wasn’t complete or perfect was gone as I realized what a happy, cozy little home we have. Sometimes all that I need to do is simply clean off my desk so that I can focus on being creative rather than on all of the little mundane tasks on my list. Spend a few minutes looking at your home through the eyes of an abundance mindset and your creative juices will thank you.
3. Give yourself permission to stop stressing over what you aren’t doing. I haven’t blogged as much as I would in an ideal world. But I’m reminding myself that that is ok, because less blogging time has meant more (abundant) time making our home cozy, more time focusing on projects that are good for my career, more time completing projects that I wasn’t finding time for, more time spent with Mark. Next year promises to be a very busy season for us and I’m trying to embrace this little bubble of abundant calm that God has given us rather than frantically trying to squeeze the most productivity out of every moment.
4. Stop wasting time on things that steal from your abundance mindset. Sometimes, in an effort to inspire myself, I get on Facebook, my blogroll, Pinterest, Instagram. This rarely helps. Most of the time, if I already am having difficulty creating something, these outlets just make me more frustrated, discontent, and creatively stumped.
5. When creative blocks strike, DO something. Attack life with an abundance mindset. Explore a new trail, bake something, edit some of your pictures, do a small simple craft, take out a piece of paper and brainstorm. Instead of trying to find inspiration, create something (even a memory) that is small and simple.
How do you remind yourself to create with an abundance mindset?
When I began looking at January in preparation for this post, I realized that I never actually wrote most of my goals down in any tangible way. Not sure how I missed that (baby brain?), but whoops. Especially considering that writing my goals down makes me 42% more likely to achieve them.
So. A list of specific goals and action items coming soon in writing. All of that aside, January was a good month. I entered 2014 determined to exert more control over our food budget, to read more, to cook more.
Here are some Instagrams from January.
My goals for February include:
What do you hope to accomplish in February?
Also, if you are in the mood for a fun photo challenge, join my #imagesofsummer challenge. I’ll be sharing warm, sunny images each weekday throughout the month of February and I would love to see your photos! Here’s how you can join:
1.Upload a bright, warm, summer-mood picture onto Instagram.
2. Hashtag it with #imagesofsummer.
3. Tag me on Instagram (emilyamccord) to make sure that I see it.
Every week I’ll be featuring an #imagesofsummer participant on Friday’s post! Don’t have an Instagram account? Share your image on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog instead. Link back to The Orange Slate and shoot me an email (theorangeslate at gmail dot com) with a link to your post to ensure that I see it.
I am so looking forward to all of the pictures reminding us that spring and summer are just a little ways away!