“Only Leave Unfinished…”

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A lovely quote. There’s just one problem with it: in its current iteration, it’s crap. I mean, what life dreams have you ever had that could be accomplished in one day? Can you become a pro athlete, write a novel, finish a painting, or raise a child in one day? No. No, you cannot.

I generally don’t like articles that talk about “harmful trends” in our society, so it unnerves me a little bit to be writing one. I view the internet as a clarifying instrument, simply allowing humans to be who they are in new ways, and sometimes faster ways. I’d argue vociferously that the internet has, on the whole, made humanity better off, and one thing I actually love is the proliferation of inspirational quotes, how-to blogs, and general “you can do it!” attitude.

And with that said, I get the idea behind this quote: don’t sit around, don’t wait to seize the day. Get going with your life! But it’s also true that while humans have the capacity to look to the long term, we’re hardwired to follow a now-or-never path, especially when we’re stressed. Get the food now. Escape the rabid bear now (that one is actually very good advice). Survive now, achieve your objective now, and let the future sort itself out. Inspiration that falls into the same trap, especially with creative endeavors, really just lights helpful guideposts along the trail to burnout.

The truth is, we can’t write a whole opera, novel, or thesis today. The now-now-now drive that keeps us going often flares dangerously high and begins to consume us. It’s 9:15PM and we need to be going to bed. It’s 10:20 and we just want to finish edits on that one last chapter. It’s 11:10 and we figure there’s no reason not to stay up a little later, given that we’re already going to be sleep-deprived tomorrow. After all, we know Picasso didn’t actually mean today, but we should get as much done as we can, right? As much as humanly possible. If we just push a little bit harder…

To quote Martha Beck, from her book 4 Day Win:

Pushing ourselves to extremes can keep us in a near-permanent state of fight-or-flight response. This level of exhaustion is like being run over by a steamroller very, very slowly. At first you hardly notice it – you’re just a little tired and cranky. Then you can’t get up without coffee every day. Then the coffee stops helping, even when you add several candy bars. Then you get eye bags the size and color of mature eggplants. Then you start crying whenever you have to get out of bed. Then you develop muscle tearing, viral infections, memory loss, and the inability to read anything longer than a haiku. Then you fall over in the Phoenix airport and have to be taken to the hospital, where they install you in the emergency room next to a man with nine fingers who’s being interrogated by the police with questions that include: “So what happened after the second time he shot you?” At least, this is the way I personally experienced it (really).

And this, in my humble opinion, is almost as bad as not having started at all. For one thing, before you started, you got a nice endorphin boost from imagining how great it was going to be once you achieved your dreams. Now that you’re burned out, you have only exhaustion, and the fact that your dream seems to have betrayed you. Not only that, you’re losing tons of time in which you could have been making slower, more polished progress towards your goal, and this is definitely a tortoise-and-the-hare situation. A slower and more measured approach, involving actions you turn into daily or weekly habits, will result in more and better progress over time than an all-or-nothing, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends mania.

So…today, take a step to bring a dream into the realm of reality. If you want a dream house, search online for the houses you find prettiest and note down details, or make a room list, or doodle your perfect garden. Maybe look up some architects and contractors in your area. If you want to run a 5k this summer, go out and get yourself some running shoes, and maybe take a short walk to start breaking them in (also pick up some band-aids. Trust me). Write a few sentences of that short story you’ve been meaning to finish. Most importantly, set aside time tomorrow to do the same thing. Brainstorm where you can find a few minutes: a bus ride, a lunch break, a few minutes in the early morning.

You don’t have to finish today. You just have to start, and start making room for change in  your life.

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What it Looks Like to Freelance

Today, I ran through a monthly/bimonthly process, looking for work. I have a few recurring jobs, and with royalties changing each month, some months I don’t need to look for other work. Every once in a while, however, I either know I’ll be having a down month with royalties, unexpected expenses come up, etc.

The first thing to remember about freelancing is to avoid burnout and not take jobs that will drain you for little return. The filters I set when I check on job sites will automatically filter out most of the jobs. Working for $2-3/hour is feasible in some parts of the world, but not where I am. I generally search for flat-rate jobs and do a calculation of hours I need to make the job work for me. If you’re mixing freelancing with a startup business, it won’t help you to get more jobs that don’t pay well – you’re sucking valuable energy away from your own work, and injecting misery in as well.

One of the other things about freelancing is being flexible. There are a few job categories I browse because I’m already good at them. There are also job categories I browse to see if anything looks interesting, or like something I could get good at. Often, I’ll play around with basic exercises online in whatever the area is. The more skills you have, the more adaptable you are.

The last thing to consider is pay schedules. When you start with a new freelancing site, make sure you know when the money is coming in. One of my freelancing sites got absorbed into another, and there was a month of total chaos. Nobody needs that. Just figure it out so you aren’t letting unnecessary stress into your life.

It really is that simple. Three main things to look for, a few extra or different jobs here or there. Questions? Let me know!

 

Building Your Perfect Life: Do Whatever the F*ck You Need to Do

I am, on occasion, asked what my process is for finishing books – specifically, how I stay disciplined enough to do so. The answer, unfortunately (after hysterical laughter), is that I do anything and everything that works. I thought this was a terrible answer until recently, when someone got the look of inspiration in their eyes, and now I think it might actually be helpful. So here goes:

Do whatever the f*ck you need to do.

Some mornings, you will sit down and you will have a clean office and a cup of steaming hot coffee and the birds will be singing and the words will flow from your fingertips like you have a personal muse. Some mornings, you will have slept terribly and you will be angry about something (or A Lot of Things, Goddammit) and the words will still somehow come out well because you are so incredibly grateful to have something else to think about that isn’t the power company and its unworkable billing system (of course this isn’t an example from real life, why would you ask?).

On those mornings, you will think you are set. You have cleaned your workspace or done your outlining or whatever and you will feel virtuous because you are accomplished. Good for you. Also, gird your loins, because while you’ve managed to forget the Other Kind of days, they haven’t forgotten about you.

You know the kind of day I mean. The kind where your clean office and fresh coffee and snazzy outfit and 8 hours of sleep are not helping you at all. You’ve got a clear schedule and you are getting nowhere.

But you have to get things done, or else you’ll get nowhere in life and you actually won’t be able to pay the power bill, as opposed to having the money but not being able to figure out the billing system (yes, I’m still bitter). So, without further ado, here is a (probably incomplete) list of tactics I have tried to get myself done with my work. I have used any and all of these:

  • telling myself, “you’re sitting in this chair for the next four hours either way, you bitch, so you might as well get some work done”
  • bribing myself with candy
  • bribing myself with music
  • bribing myself with dance breaks
  • making a pretty to-do list with lots of colors of ink and pretty ticky boxes
  • writing little inspirational messages to myself, again with lots of colors of ink
  • going to work out
  • playing music
  • not playing music
  • reminding myself to change out of my pajamas
  • changing back into my pajamas because they’re comfy
  • going to get all the blankets I can find and building myself a blanket cocoon on my work chair
  • pondering the possibility that my husband might leave me for a more successful author
  • telling myself I can’t get more coffee until I’ve done at least X more sentences
  • telling myself that I can’t get up until I’ve written just one sentence. Just one.
  • okay, now one more
  • and another one, because I am a filthy liar
  • writing sprints (20-25 minutes on, 5-10 minutes off)
  • doing sets of jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups between writing sprints
  • turning off my internet
  • writing in a notebook instead of typing
  • promising myself that I can walk to the library and get any book I want if I just get my words done for the day

I mean this literally: do anything and everything that works. Don’t get hung up on sticking to some perfect schedule, or thinking some type of motivation is too silly. Whatever works that day, use it.

What are your favorite tactics?

On Freelancing and Health

The short version of this post is: trust me, take care of yourself or everything – including your work – will suffer. You can easily be more brutal on yourself as a freelance boss than your company was in your last job.

No-Stress

Now the long version:

My health in Cubicles ‘R Us was…not great. I’ve pretty much made my peace with that, prompted partly by a post on APW that I cannot for the life of me find. The long and short of it was the author saying that when her life had gone to hell and she and her husband wound up eating takeout every night because they were exhausted and stressed and just trying to stay alive, her body kept going. It had gained weight and developed some health problems, but it kept going, and she was grateful for that.

When you put it that way, it’s difficult to be too mad. I was sitting all day, eating junk food, not getting much sunlight, and dealing with a constant acid-wash of anger and stress. I had a vivid memory of this the other day as I found myself walking the path that would bring me back from the bus stop. I remembered that usually when I walked that, I was trying desperately to get the anger out of my system. And my body, bless it, kept going. Still, I don’t miss that.

kim jong un stressful

Okay, this guy has it worse.

I had this deep-seated belief that all of it was going to clear up when I started freelancing. I was going to be so much healthier! I could get up and stretch and go for a walk whenever I wanted! I wouldn’t have junk food in the house! I’d be able to open the windows and have fresh air!

freedom

And then, with remarkable self-delusion, I plunged into a wildly unhealthy pattern in my freelancing. My planner was a riot of color: up at the normal time from my cubicle days, make a super healthy breakfast, be hard at work by 7AM, work on my projects AND contract projects until my super healthy, from-scratch lunch that was somehow supposed to take zero time to eat or make, keep working diligently through 5PM, make a super healthy dinner, and…somewhere in there, work out. What’s weird about this isn’t that I planned it, it’s that I actually pulled it off for so long. I worked 12-14 hour days, feeling self-righteous and smug in the extreme, until…

stress-meme

I totally crashed. Because I was working myself into the ground. Because no matter how many times I told people at work that research showed wildly diminishing returns on overtime, freelance-boss-Moira didn’t seem to believe that. Even when my returns on time spent showed exactly that pattern.

This turned around, in fact, only when I acknowledged that it was actually hurting my productivity. It turned out that if I put in more than one or two long days every three weeks or so, I got LESS done in 12 hours than I did in 6. It turned out that successful writing was composed of almost equal parts writing and not-writing. Stage 1: notice that unhealthy practices affect work.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to get past Stage 2: start taking care of myself for my work’s sake. Stage 3, of course, was taking care of myself for my own sake, and I’m still struggling with that. I’ve found that it helps to make a bucket list. But the good news is, every time you stop working at dinnertime, it gets a little bit easier to do.

What does my schedule look like now? Sleep in a little bit later (as much as possible, rise with the sun), a fairly leisurely breakfast with B, stretching and a brief meditation before launching into work, a late lunch (usually very simple, lots of fruits and veggies), another couple of hours of work, working out, dinner, and reading or hanging out all evening. Weekends OFF. This is a constant struggle not to slip into, “just another hour,” but I swear to you it is worth it.

Your ideal schedule won’t look like this. You may be a night owl. You may have a metabolism that needs lots of protein midday. You may want to start your day with a workout, or need to make regular time for other self-care like therapy. These are all really important things to consider. Try to start noticing little things, like when you’re thirsty or your skin feels dry or you hate one pair of pants because they’re wildly uncomfortable. Believe it or not, these observations will set you on the path to your best schedule, simply by teaching you what your body needs. (Remember: the mind-body divide is completely made up.)

So, please, do yourself a favor, and start listening to yourself. If you can’t let yourself do it for your own sake yet, do it for the sake of your work or your family. Try the baby steps of asking your body what it wants to eat, or making sure to get water whenever you’re thirsty, or stretching when your back starts to ache. Try to think up one thing you’ve been wanting to do that has ZERO impact on your work. For me, I’ve started whittling. Set aside time for that thing. Write a list of things to do when you feel helpless and overwhelmed, to try to turn things around. Set an alarm in the evenings to remind you to get to sleep. And start trying to cut yourself a little bit of slack.

Learn from my mistakes!

Standards of Living

My mother has told me that, in her circle of friends, people now speak in hushed tones about the fact that their children’s generation will have a lower standard of living than they do. They are worried, very much so. They feel this is a sign of impending doom.

She and I, on the other hand, are not so sure about the doom part. Certain things about standard of living are pretty much unarguably good: people being warm and dry, in houses that aren’t hazardous to their health, with enough food to eat and clean clothes to wear. We want children of all generations to have access to good schooling (and I mean public schooling, with good-quality textbooks, access to the internet, and well-maintained buildings with art and other extracurricular programs), as well as access to jobs when they graduate from school. We want people to have not only their rights, but knowledge of them, and jobs where they are given leave to go vote (because that’s the law, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t always happen). We want people to have health care, access to healthy food, and paid sick leave and family leave.

Sometimes, though, I think that a “falling standard of living” means something else entirely: less money in the bank, less people able to afford five- and six-bedroom houses, less free money for closets full of clothes they don’t wear. I’m guilty of wanting all of this at some time or another. I wanted shiny cars. I found myself wanting to drop hundreds of dollars on clothes that I didn’t absolutely love. Who doesn’t want to have so much money that they never have to worry again? I get it.

But, as we start to get rid of more and more stuff in anticipation of moving at some point, I realize just how much I had that, instead of adding to my life, actually detracted from it. I felt suffocated by things. I was actually afraid of moving because I was going to have to pack things I never used and never wore. I didn’t buy things I really, really liked because I told myself, “I already have one” (except, one I didn’t like at all). I bought things for the person I wanted to be, not the person I was, and then I felt too guilty to spend money on things I liked.

And it isn’t just me. I saw executives with fantastic cars that, as I said a few weeks ago, they only drove between multimillion dollar homes they never saw, and the parking garage at work. They had it all…theoretically. But their home lives were falling apart, and they never got to see the people they loved. Did they have a higher standard of living than me? In every survey or economic measure, yes. But I’m not so sure they were happier.

Don’t let anyone tell you about your standard of living. If you’re happy, if you have what you want or it’s within reach, let yourself be happy and not anxious. Please, remember that there are not only billions of dollars spent each year trying to get you to want things, there are also a lot of economists and sociological scholars that got used to a culture of buying new things all the damned time – a dress here, random party decorations there, something off an infomercial…

We have student loans. We often don’t have the jobs we want. All of these are legitimate problems, and they need solving. My point in this post is not to discount any of that. It’s just to remind you that no economist or social scientist can tell you more about how happy you are, or about your standard of living, than you can.

Building Your Perfect Life: On Turning Down Work

I’m about to do a weird thing: I’m about to turn down a job. This flies in the face of my recession-honed instincts, and stokes the the but-now-I-have-no-corporate-overlord fears about ending up in a refrigerator box. More jobs mean more money, more money means more of a cushion if there aren’t jobs later.

Sometimes, however, more jobs means less energy for my own work, for the work I am trying desperately to get off the ground. I’ve learned to prioritize two things with jobs:

  1. A good pay rate
  2. Lack of drama-llamas

These are actually the same issue, but more on that in a moment.

The good pay rate should be self-explanatory, but I find I often have to explain this to people. I have taken my monthly expenses and divided them by 20, approximating working days in a month, and then I subtract the number of days “paid for” by royalties I made two months ago, as they’re paid on a two-month lag. Those “paid for” days can be used for my own work. For the rest, there is the rate I absolutely need to hit, and then a rate I strive for as my experience increases. So when I look at jobs, I estimate how much time it’s going to take, and then see if it falls within the range between my necessary rate and ideal rate. (Or higher. I could go higher, too.)

So I have my rate, and I have the returns on my own work. My rates on my own work are steadily climbing, and have now reached 54% of my ideal daily rate and 67% of the daily rate I most frequently get (I’m working on bringing those two into line).

Which brings me to turning down jobs. If someone came up to you and offered you two thirds of your requested salary for a job, you’d probably turn them down flat. However, as a freelancer, your pay rate is dependent upon how much time is going to be taken up with re-work, and while pinning down expectations can substantially minimize this, you might still end up with some.

Which means you have to develop a spidey-sense. Because if a job is going to create rework request after rework request, stressing you out and ruining your creativity, it is not worth it. You might as well have been working on your own projects, or at the very least, spending that time searching for new clients. Say it with me again: it is not worth it. Avoid the drama llamas of rework. Avoid them like the plague.

(This isn’t to say that you have to be rude. In fact, if someone offers you a job that doesn’t pay well enough, most freelancing sites allow you to turn it down without ever being in contact with that person. Simply learn to say, “I won’t be able to accept this job,” or, “that’s out of my price range” politely but without apology, and get on with doing other excellent work.)

Meanwhile, without further ado, here are a list of things that foretell the possibility of rework drama llamas and Generally Bad Freelancing Conditions:

  1. Looking for “only the highest quality work.” I have yet to see a single job posting that asked for the highest quality work that does not also pay less than every other comparable job available. By now, I don’t even bother reading them. (Actually, that’s a lie, every once in a while I get sucked in. Still the same thing.)
  2. Promising that what you create will be a bestseller. In a former life, I did some finance work, and we were cautioned about all of the laws around guaranteeing returns. I’m not in that world anymore and so the rules don’t apply, I guess, but I’ve developed a hardcore mistrust of anyone who does promise such things.
  3. Jobs that ask for unpaid trials first. Asking for a sample of work with the resume is one thing (if you want to ghostwrite, you have to show that you can write, after all), but asking you to edit, write, compose, or whatever for free, putting in a significant time investment, is Not Cool.
  4. Bad vibes. I can’t even describe this. It’s like when you meet that one person at work or in a social setting who just…seems like bad news. It’s so much fun! They’re so charismatic! You wish you could get away with coming back from lunch tipsy and telling secrets in the cubicles. But you know. You know it’s going to go down in flames. You know with clients, too. Trust your gut.

Are there any you would add to this list, internet?

Account for ALL of Your Work

Short and sweet today! The core of your work – the writing, the painting, the consulting – is not all of your work. It never will be, even if you work for someone else. It has taken me years of trying to answer emails on my lunch breaks and in the evenings, and trying to search for contract jobs in my free time, among other things, to learn this.

Don’t be like me. Allocate time to  your emails, your research, your downtime, your family time. Schedule it. Put it on the to-do list and treat it seriously. It’s going to take up your time one way or another on the work end, and it may slide on the home end – which is not what you want at all.

Account for the administrative side of your work. You’ll be glad you did.

Marginal Progress: An Update

(This is a follow up to the “Fear of Failure” post a little while back – I figured that inspirational posts are many, but results posts are few, so here we are!)

One of the major comments I hear from aspiring writers is that they don’t have the time to write. Luckily, this isn’t true. I wrote most of Shadow’s End in chunks of about 10-15 minutes on bus rides and lunch breaks. Fellow authors brace their notebooks on the steering wheel while they wait for their kids to come out of school, carry notebooks in purses and suit pockets, and tap out passages one handed with a baby in the other arm. (A lot of the writers I know aren’t full time writers. You’d be surprised how many of the people who have multiple books out still have a day job, in both self-publishing and traditional publishing!)

This is important. You look at a book, perhaps, and think: “Oh, my God, I could never write a book. I only get a few sentences done at a time.” Heck, even I’ve done that. I’ve made the mistake of looking at a book as a monolithic entity, and I implore you not to follow in my footsteps because, well…that’s terrifying. You can’t write a book. Books are huge! They take a lot of effort. Paragraphs, on the other hand, are only moderately difficult, and sentences are pretty manageable.

And here’s the results part of the post: since I gave up on my grand plans of 4-5 chapters per day because I was in a complete tailspin about my writing, I’ve managed a few sentences here and there each day, which has usually bled into a few more sentences, and I’ve gotten 300-500 words per day done since my last post. That’s a chapter every 3-6 days, chapters that simply would not exist otherwise because I was huddled in the corner waiting for grand inspiration. Even if I never manage to write faster than this for the rest of the project, I’ll be done with a first draft in a few months (I’m about 1/3 of the way through now). The book I started in February will be drafted by midsummer, as a side project.

Is this my top pace? No. Is it a completely reasonable pace? Oh, heavens, yes. Is it something you can do, too? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. So whether it’s bringing a sketch pad or tiny watercolor kit in your purse, whether it’s bringing your sneakers to work to get in a brief walk at lunch or taking a moment to read a few poems – please let today be the day you let yourself explore marginal progress. Not everything is done in grand gestures. In fact, most of the monumental things in this world happen in dribs and drabs. You know how they say only to put off today what you’re willing to die having left undone? Yeah, that’s kind of crap. Most awesome things can’t be finished in a day.

So just work on a sentence. A rough sketch. A few minutes of stretching. I promise, those little bits add up to something glorious.

Guest Post Wednesday with Chuck Does Art

Hello, all! Today we have a guest post with, hands down, one of the most creative people I know. When I talk about people who create their best life, Chuck is a perfect example. He has not only worked hard to succeed in a very competitive field (he’s a vet!), he also finds tons of ways to bring his love of art into his life. Read, and be inspired – and then go check out Chuck Does Art!

M

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Guest Post Dino Hat

You can find the pattern for this dino hat on his blog, by the way!

Art has always been a pretty big part of my life. OK, doodling has always been a pretty big part of my life. I’m an avid dilettante of The Arts and have always strived to incorporate Art into whatever I’m doing as often as possible. This was pretty easy in high school and college, when I had plenty of time to doodle during lectures, paint posters for campus events, and design T-shirts for clubs. Once I graduated though, there were a lot less opportunities to do Art as part of my day to day life. Very few offices need silly T-shirt designs on a regular basis, or a silly music video explaining a topic in biology. My life just stopped ‘requiring’ (‘reluctantly permitting’) as much Art as it had during school.

As a sort of stop-gap measure, I started a blog to document the Art I was doing, and to encourage myself to continue trying out more Art. The blog is primarily instructionals about my various Art projects, including anything from Halloween costumes to jewelry boxes. By making tutorials, I feel like maybe my Art can reach someone else and help them do something fun and creative. Far and away the most satisfying part of my blog is when someone posts a comment that they tried out XYZ project I posted and enjoyed it. But having the blog itself still means I need to find ‘reasons’ to do Art.

Dessa Color For Blog

He also does awesome pet portraits, y’all.

I break my Art projects into two categories, which in my head I consider ‘Embellished Opportunities’ and ‘Art for Art:’

‘Art for Art’ pertains to anything I do or make that really had no other social or functional purpose. This primarily includes paintings, drawings, and other 2D Art which I make because I personally enjoy it. These pieces only exist because I took some extra time out of my schedule to sit down and be otherwise completely unproductive. It’s very satisfying, but I can’t always justify the time commitment. Lately I’ve taken to photography in order to add a bit of Art into what I’m already doing (walking around outside) without having to take extra time out of the day.

‘Embellished Opportunities’ is where I really thrive, and where I put a lot of my Art focus. These include any projects which I can justify as either a gift to someone else (usually my wife), part of a larger project or creation (such as an illustration for a paper), or culturally/socially condoned Art opportunities (pumpkin carving, Easter eggs, food art, etc). These are my guilt-free Art projects that I can ‘justify’ focusing on and really bringing to life with the pretense that it’s something I’m required to do anyways.

‘Embellished Opportunities’ can pop up anywhere, at any time, and I’m constantly on the lookout for the next one. Some are big, some are small, many are weird. My wife’s jewelry box broke? I better design a new one. My friend’s Battlestar Galactica board game pieces are unpainted? I better offer to help. We need invitation/thank you/birthday/sympathy cards? I’m on it. The Hot Dish contest needs prizes? I’ll make wooden spoon trophies!

One great ‘Embellished Opportunity’ I had lately was this past Christmas. My wife and I agreed to do only DIY presents for each other. Did we save money? Not really. Did we save time? Absolutely not. Did we enjoy the heck out of it? Yes! The types of presents we gave each other were nothing like what we would have bought (knitted hats, a Nutcracker Crèche, homemade Vanilla extract, etc), and they are so much more personal and enjoyable. Let’s face it; we’re adults. If we really want something, we can go buy it. But to make something for someone, to put some heart and elbow grease into a present, it just makes it a lot more important. This has turned into a bit of a tangent, but writing is not traditionally one of my Art categories.

guest post completed frame

One of many excellent craft projects Chuck has broken down for the less talented among us.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to find work in my chosen field, but my career doesn’t involve a lot of artistic expression. So when I’m not working, I make sure that I’m taking available opportunities to let my creative juices flow. I’m always on alert for a project in need of Art, and have the Michaels app on my phone in case I need to make an emergency trip for craft supplies.

-Chuck

http://www.chuck-does-art.blogspot.com

The Perfect Life: You Might Be Closer Than You Think

You’re closer than you think to your perfect life, and you can change more than you think to get there.

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying an exercise from one of Martha Beck’s books (sadly, I can’t remember which one): spend ten minutes per day thinking, in great sensory detail, about your perfect life.

(These are the bare basics of the exercise. There’s more detail, and I highly recommend The Joy Diet, Finding Your North Star, and The 4-Day Win!)

Beck advises that this exercise may be ridiculously difficult. Your brain will keep gamely trying to drag your thoughts back to things it perceives as threats – and in its defense, that strategy has worked out pretty well for us in the long haul. However, as we are no longer wandering the plains with lions at our heels, she exhorts us to keep at it. We are to visualize not just the external indicators, such as, “I have a nice car,” but also things like how our body feels and what our work space looks like. Which brought me to an interesting revelation: I’m not all that far from my perfect life.

I don’t mean the most perfect life I can have now, I mean my pie-in-the-sky, full-of-unicorns perfect life. And that’s right, it’s not all that far off.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that I have some strange history when it comes to money. For various reasons, I wound up with an awful lot of rich friends – like, have-their-own-yachts rich. So when people say that money doesn’t buy happiness, I’ve actually seen that played out. Not that all of those people were miserable, not at all, they had as much joy and laughter in their lives as I did, and I’m sure it’s nice not to have to worry about money – but nonetheless, their lives were just as messy and imperfect as mine, too.

Regardless, I think those of you who haven’t witnessed this firsthand might find the same thing if you make a concerted effort to picture your perfect life. Waking up with the sun, having your morning tea or coffee over a leisurely breakfast, having the time to work out or learn to play guitar – would it surprise you if these were the pictures that came to mind instead of yachts and expensive champagne? It surprised me, frankly.

So, yes. I may not live in my dream house. I may not have ten acres of land to go striding across in the mist while my dogs frolic around happily in the meadow grasses. I may be freelancing instead of working exclusively on my own things. But what I do have is a life that almost eerily parallels my dreams of perfection: time for coffee with my husband in the morning, midday walks with the dog, writing a LOT, time to go running, time to play video games, taking the time to cook my lunch from scratch instead of heating it up in the microwave.

These are dreams that were bought with late nights and weekends spent writing, but they aren’t unattainable. Like guest-posters Chuck and Emily, you may have a full career and hobbies outside of that – your perfect life might be choir three nights per week, or painting on the weekends. My dreams won’t be yours, not exactly – but what I hope is that when you take the time to imagine the scents and sensations of your perfect life, you’ll realize how in reach many aspects of it are.

Sometimes people exhort you to dream big. Today, I’m exhorting you to dream…cozy. Dream art-y. Dream gardening-ly. Don’t work yourself to the bone on the assumption that you want a Maserati – have the audacity to see if what you really want is a battered pickup truck and a Saturday hike.

-M