Yesterday was a low-key day. I had to do a bunch of things at home in the morning, so I was late getting to the office. And then I was up to my eyeballs in crunching data all day long.
One of my coworkers didn’t even know I was there, till they were leaving and walked past my cube. Then we chatted for half an hour about home repairs and the best way to store lawnmowers over the winter. I picked up some good tips that I’ll have to try.
I need a new lawnmower. My current one is 10 years old, and it’s on its last legs. And the next time around, I will do a better job of taking care of the equipment I have, so it lasts more than 10 years.
So, now it’s Tuesday. My week is pretty open, which is nice. It will give me plenty of time to focus on some projects I’ve got going, which need many hours of thought and consideration.
The merger situation is progressing. Still, nobody knows what will be happening. I got a message from one of my old coworkers, asking if I’m still interested in coming back. They are hiring for the position I seek. I told them “perhaps”. And gave them my phone number. We have been missing each other — I didn’t see their message from last week, until yesterday. I hope the situation is still viable.
Then again, maybe I don’t… I left that old job for a reason. It wasn’t the best reason, but it was a reason.
Anyway, we’ll see what happens. I’m in a holding pattern, and it’s annoying me. Then again, it is giving me freedom and leeway to focus on some of my other projects… I’m writing up a short guide for “chronic blogging” – to help other health bloggers reach more people and help folks who are in need of information and support. A few other brain injury bloggers have contacted me for tips, as I’ve enjoyed a bit of success in the space. I’m happy to help — we need all the strong voices we can get. And we need to hear from real people, not just companies selling products.
So, that’s what’s happening this week. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
For years, I have been compulsively productive. Ever since I was a kid, there was a vast amount of ideas and creativity… and, well, productflowing out of my mind. I was always up to something, I always had ideas “cooking” in the back of my head, and of all the people I knew, I was the one with the most original ideas — and the most determined of opinions.
I always thought that my ideas would turn into something more than just my ideas. I thought they might actually bring me some income. I thought that all the stories I wrote would catch the attention of the reading public and make a name for me.That never happened — mostly because I could never fully finish a lot of the works that I started, and also because the ones I did finish either didn’t make a very good impression or never got much promotion from me. I’m a creator, not a promoter. And I’m a person who enjoys my solitude. So no, a life of fame was not in my cards.
I’m not sure that fame and fortune was ever my top priority, though. Nor was publicizing the steady stream of creative works that flowed forth. The main thing for me was that I could figure out what I thought/believed… and why. I wanted to have my own mind, my own thoughts, my own outlook — not something handed to me by others. And while it never made me rich, it gave me a freedom of spirit and heart, that I haven’t often encountered in others.
It’s a lot of work, making up your own mind about things. You have to be willing to suspend a lot of your beliefs and prejudices, in order to let the truth of your situation come through. It’s also scary for some people, to admit that things are not certain, that they’re in constant flux, and ultimately, we’re both alone in the world — and never alone. It’s a scary place to be, in a world that is pretty scary, in itself.
For some reason, though, it never scared me. It was scarier for me to go along with the crowd. It felt like I wasn’t making good progress.
I need to get back to that sort of progress again. I need a break from all the social media chatter.
The past weeks have been altogether too loud for my liking. All the violence, all the threats, all the arguing, all the name-calling. It’s just too loud. And it’s a little embarrassing, hearing all my friends and relatives resort to over-simplified versions of what The Truth is. And then demanding that others agree with them… or else. And doing it on Facebook lets you say all sorts of things you’d never say to someone’s face. It lets people feel bold and outspoken, when they’re really nothing of the kind in person.
Lesson learned — it’s not worth getting pulled into debates online. Objectively, I have absolutely nothing to do with the Paris bombings. I have nothing to do with the San Bernardino shooting. I have nothing to do with gun control or troop deployments or religious convictions. And if it weren’t for the news, I wouldn’t know anything at all about any of those things — and more.
So… It’s time for me to just step away from all that loudness. The name-calling, the accusations, the culture wars.
No more checking the news to see what foolishness people are up to, today. I’m cutting back on my Facebook activity, and I am not getting into any more discussions with people about hot-button issues. There’s no point. It’s just a terrible distraction that saps my energy and leaves me with nothing left. And for what? Nothing changes from talking alone. Nothing is made better or worse by anyone getting upset and pitching a fit. It continues on with a life of its own.
I’m tired of the “emoting” scene — where people think that outpourings of prayers and good thoughts are actually making a difference. People seem to think that so long as they feel something, it matters. They care. They feel for people. They support them. They feel like they’re involved and invested. They post to social media and share and make their voices heard. But they don’t actually DO anything.
It’s become incredibly important for me to act. Do something. Don’t just talk. Take action.
And so I shall… Take care of myself. Get stronger than I am. Write to Congress. Treat people with respect and dignity. Get active. Do something constructive. Use my energy for something positive, not just running my mouth. I got some exercise this morning — and strained my hamstring a little bit in the process. Now I’m headed out for a walk to work out that soreness. I saw a little group of three deer, recently — a four-point buck, a two-point buck, and a doe. Maybe I’ll see them again today.
Because life goes on. We just have to choose what we’ll do with it.
I’ve been reading a book that I’m really enjoying — Profiles of Power and Success by Gene N. Landrum, Ph.D. There are all sorts of tasty tidbits in there, when he talks about the fourteen men and women he chose to examine as transformational leaders in their respective fields. He also talks about what miserable failures so many of them were.
Napoleon graduated near the very bottom of his class in military school. Edith Piaf never learned to read music. Isadora Duncan, who pioneered modern dance, only had one hour of ballet training and no other formal dance training. Landrum says, “great achievement has little to do with scores on a test, but more to do with performance on the stage of life. Jules Henri Poincare scored at the imbecile level on Alfred Binet’s IQ test at a time when Poincare was universally acknolwedged as the world’s foremost mathematician.”
So, yes, I do feel better. Not that I want to delight in others’ misfortunes, but hearing about how many people who changed the world for the better had either no formal training in what they did, or performed so poorly in their training, gives me hope. Because it says there’s something else at work when it comes to making your life worth living — and that something else is us.
Spurred by my enthusiasm with this book, I have been giving a lot of really serious thought to where I am going to spend my energy in the next year. I have a number of projects I would like to start (some of them I have already started), but I don’t want to spread myself too thinly, and I don’t want to sink a lot of time and effort into things that won’t pan out. I started a big project last year that took up a ton of time and seemed to show great promise, but in the end, I was looking at a likely prospect of losing money, it would have taken up far too much of my time, and I needed to back off and not pursue it further. I may pick up again later, since I have all the infrastructure in place, but I need to really think it through for it to make sense.
It took up so much of my time… only to fizzle out.
This coming year, I need to be smarter about things. A lot smarter. A lot more strategic. Less flailing around and busy-work. Less running around from place to place, and more sitting and looking at what I’ve got, prioritizing everything, and deciding how I want to handle it.
I’m already off to a good start. I’ve lasered in on two Big Ideas I have which show some real promise for supporting me and themselves.
I’ve also identified a handful of secondary ones that I want to do, just because I want to do them. Those are my “passion projects” which are all about doing things that will benefit others, rather than supporting me. This blog is a passion project for me, as is my book on TBI SOS – Restoring A Sense of Self After Brain Injury. Some things should be sold at a fitting price to people who value them and are willing to commit themselves to valuing them. Other things should be done with no expectation of return. TBI SOS is the latter. I need a balance of both, in my life. Yes, I do need to support myself and my work. But there are an awful lot of people suffering who need the help, and if I can provide it, then so much the better.
Anyway, I’ve been zero-ing in on my projects, culling the ones that take way too much time without giving much in return, and building up the ones that have a real chance of taking off. And in the past few days, I’ve made tremendous progress in the couple of projects I am focusing on. I have been planning and finding resources and getting clear on how I want to proceed. No more of the crazy running around from one thing after another. I’ve been doing that too long, and I’m tired of having nothing to show for all my work.
And it’s good. It takes the pressure off, and it also makes me a lot more productive. I’ve gotten so much done, just in the past few days, it feels like I have almost a whole week behind me. And it’s only Tuesday morning. I’ve been able to go out for long walks in the woods. I’ve been able to run errands. I’ve been able to lie down and take naps. I’ve been able to finish a big piece of a project I’ve been working on. I’ve come up with a bunch of ideas about how to streamline and automate my activities, using technology as my friend.
One example is with my blogging. I have a regular ritual each morning to sit down and write something pretty much every day. The intention is to publish something each day. But I don’t always have the inspiration or the time to do this every single morning. So, when I am feeling really inspired, I will write up a handful of posts, and then schedule them to be published at regular intervals, so I’m freed up on other days to do other things that inspire me.
And then I come back later to the writing, when I get my inspiration back. It usually doesn’t take long.
It really takes the pressure off. Committing to doing something every single day, can be hard for someone like me. Some days, it just doesn’t work out. But with different tools, I can overcome those blocks, and work around the limitations.
That’s what the folks in Profiles of Power and Success did. And if they did, so can I.
So, I’ve got a bunch of writing projects going, and in my usual fashion, I’m devising great plans for these works. I’ve always had a bit of a superiority complex with regard to my thinking. That’s mostly because I spent the bulk of my life locked inside my head, without a lot of “intrusions” from the outside.
So, of course I was the most brilliant person I knew! 😉 When you’re the only one in the room, you can easily be the smartest one there.
On the other hand, my perception of myself in the outside world has been extraordinarily poor. In my mind, I’m the dumbest person outside the safety of my own head. That’s not such a stretch, when you have trouble remembering what people said to you, 5 minutes before. Ever try to hold an extended conversation with someone, when you can’t remember what they said, a couple of ideas back?
It’s not easy, that’s for sure.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, I’ve been writing and thinking about who I could send my pieces to. My head has come up with a massive publicity campaign that will get the attention of People Who Matter, and I’m already envisioning fielding all the phone calls from people who want to explore the possibilities of what I’m suggesting. I have a whole drama designed in my mind.
The thing is, it’s starting to get overwhelming. I’m starting to freak myself out. And I have to remember why it was that I started these writing projects in the first place:
To work on my thought process.
To refine how I think and get better at research and systematic thought.
To get better at continuing projects and sticking with them till they’re done.
That’swhy I’m doing this. Not to get rich and famous, not to revolutionize a whole field of research, not to stir things up. But to refine my own thought process and become more organized, clear, and systematic in my thinking. Much as I like to dream big, the practical reasons behind this are even more important. Revolutions come and go. Rich and famous is nice, but I’m not getting there without working on myself. And stirring things up without having a solid, well-organized thinking foundation is just asking for trouble.
I’ve been unhappy with how I’ve been working, over the past… 30 years. I’ve started so many things, and then I never finished them. Some of them are really good ideas, too. And I’ve got to change this pattern where I’ll get going, then I get distracted by something else that seems like more fun, drop the thing I’m working on, and go off and do something else. As a result, I have a lot of good ideas sitting in my desk drawers that are half-baked, just kind of sitting around, gathering dust.
I don’t want them to gather dust, anymore. I want to be able to complete a project — or two or five or ten. I want to finish what I start, and be lifted up in the process. And I want to do it for the sake of doing it. For the sake of being lifted up. If anyone else benefits in the process, that’s fine, but the main focus needs to be on myself.
Okay, time to get back to work. There’s a lot of progress I still need to make.
So, I’ve had a couple of really good ideas over the past week. One of them is a redux of past ideas I’ve had, that got mired in exhaustion and confusion, and seemed to die on the vine… another is an idea that never got much traction after it occurred to me before… and the last is a brand new idea that I can’t believe I didn’t have before.
All three are very different ideas, and all three have great potential. And any of the three has the power to derail me completely… and send me back to my quagmire of confused exhaustion.
Because I could blow each (or all) of them up to vast proportions and make them into a large-scale enterprise that could easily consume vast amounts of time and energy.
I could launch a company that would provide jobs to people who need them, providing a product that fills a need that no one has managed to properly fill. I could build an app that would improve the lives of millions. And/or I could create educational materials that would provide needed information to people who struggle with chronic health concerns. And I want to change jobs to do something that suits me better – way better.
Any one of these could work – and it would be amazing to do. The thing is, I want to do all of the above — and more, but I only have so much time and energy. There’s a part of me that wants to launch into all of them, never mind fatigue and fogginess, never mind the havoc that wreaks on my system. I just want to get going – start doing it – not waste any time, just get down to it.
Last week I learned that TBI-related catastrophic response can also take the form of jumping into action before getting all your facts straight. It’s not just getting bent out of shape and melting down… it’s not just running away from what’s confusing you… it’s not just overreacting to a perceived “threat” — it’s also jumping into action before you understand what’s actually going on.
Now, pretty much everybody does that to some extent — how many times have you leaped before you looked? The thing with my reactions like this, is that I jump in head-first, all-in, before considering all the information. So, I’ll decide I’m going to start a new company or launch a new web app without really thinking through all the ramifications of doing it.
So, I dive right in, start flailing around in all directions, and before you know it, I’m — once again — mired in the fatigue and confusion and frustration of trying to get so much done with fewer resources. And then all around me, people feel the burn. My spouse, my co-workers… pretty much anybody I encounter in the course of the day-to-day.
And once again I end up with a plate full of projects, massive amounts of “stuff” I feel I haveto get done, while I’m sinking in the massive volume of details — which I am less and less able to screen out and organize.
This is how it’s been with me for years — especially in the several years after my last TBI. At one point in time, I had 27 projects going on, all of which were so vitally important to me, that anyone who tried to stop me had to deal with a crazy person. I was Type-A x 1000% and nobody could stop me from being that way. I thought I was happy. I thought I was productive. What I reallywas, was confused and panicked and engaged in a daily catastrophic response to difficult conditions I was creating for and by myself.
So, here I am today, with that same kind of mindset creeping up on me. I’m not happy in my job — that gives me stress, cuts into my sleep, and keeps me on edge. I’m short on money, which is never fun — more stress, more sleeplessness, more edginess. I’m consistently tired and in pain, which adds to the stress, fatigue, and edgy stuff. And on top of it, I have these ideas that I think would be great – just great.
What to do?
Actually, the question is, what NOTto do?
Literally, I cannot do all of this. And some of the things I dream of doing — like starting my own company — are actually not things that I excel at or really want to do. I like the idea of it, it seems very appealing to me, but when I look honestly at who I am and how I am, I realize that it makes no sense for me to take all of that on. As crappy as I feel these days, imagine how much worse I would feel, if I overloaded myself with all that extra activity.
So, I’m scaling back those ambitions. Not because I don’t think I can do them, but because I realize that I am only one person, and I not only cannot possibly do everything I want to do with these, but I also realize that I don’t wantto do everything that needs to be done. There is so much more to these projects, than just deciding I’m going to do it. I have to manage my energy, manage my fatigue, manage my whole life in addition to these ambitions, and I have seen how things can go south when I cast my net too wide. Metaphorically speaking, casting my proverbial “net” too wide in the rich sea of details around me, ends up in catching so many fish that I get pulled into the water — and I end up drowning in details.
And then I feel like crap and feel like a failure, and I cannot dig myself out of the hole, so I have yet another catastrophic reaction and I bolt — leaving behind me the projects I loved so much… as well as a big chunk of my self-esteem.
And I become even more difficult to live and deal with.
Yeah, not good.
So, here I am… cutting my catastrophic reactions off at the pass.
Harriet Katz Zeiner says that people typically display about two different types of catastrophic reaction. The six possible variants are:
Being confused, but not seeking clarification
I think the last one also involves jumping into action — I believe I have heard her talk about that. In any case, I have to say that all of them tend to be a problem for me, and they generally come in this order:
In the face of an overwhelming situation, I tend to experience:
Freezing/thought blocking – I instinctively block out the threat (but I don’t always freeze)
Being confused, but not seeking clarification – I don’t realize I need to get clarification about the situation
Flight – I spring into action to do something about the situation… and when that doesn’t work (because it often doesn’t), I go through
Anger – lashing out at people around me, throwing/breaking things, and yelling (often at bosses or authority figures, like cops)… or
Tears – which is really embarrassing, especially at work… or
Silly laughing – which makes me look like a jerk-off and a clown in tough circumstances
All of the above have been major problems with me over the years, on and off — usually at the worst possible time, and generally when I’m tired and overwhelmed to begin with.
They can happen under even good circumstances, when I’m overwhelmed with good things that are on my plate… which then progress to bad things being on my plate. Really good can turn to really bad in a hurry, when I’m going through a catastrophic response.
So what to do? Well, first off, get real about my time and energy and how much effort and attention to detail each of my projects is going to take. Let go of the idea of launching everything at once in three months, and step back to do some planning, as well as some research to make sure I’m not smoking bananas.
I need to be systematic about these things, not fly into them with all these grand plans that are just pipe dreams that will dissipate (or explode) when I’m under the gun. I need to pick and choose the things that are most important to me — and the most doable — as well as the things that will benefit me most in the short-run to get me where I’m going.
I need to be strategic about these things, as well as tactical and logistical. And I need to be smart, not wildly impulsive. And most importantly, I need to know not only what I will do, but what I won’t do.
After I figure that out, I can get started.
Speaking of getting started, the day is waiting. Onward…
Time for a change. I’ve been at this blog, now, since November, 2008, and I haven’t had a different theme since I started (I think). I’ve put in links and what-not, added stuff on the sidebar, etc. But I haven’t really done much with the look of it.
I’m not sure how I’m going to like this new theme. It’s different, obviously. And when I switched from my other theme, apparently the bridge burned behind me, and I can’t get the old one back. The design is gone. The widgets I created are gone. A lesson in impermanence.
Oh, well. Nothing like total commitment to get me back on point.
Speaking of being back on point, I need to get myself back in the game, here. I had pulled out all the stops to get this project done, and pushed a lot of other projects to the side. Now it’s time to bring those other projects back, front and center. And it’s time to dig in and make some more progress.
It does get a little tiring, being constantly over-committed. But it keeps me on my toes. And it’s how everyone at work does things. Doesn’t leave much time for digesting what’s going on, unfortunately. But maybe that’s a good thing.
All I know is that I can easily get caught in a kind of vortex of analysis. Analysis paralysis. I get caught in a loop — fueled in part by anxiety about doing the wrong thing — and I can’t seem to make progress.
This is something I am actively working to change. I have way too much going on in my life to dally. Though sometimes it is nice to take some time away and just BE.
Being can come after doing, however. What I need most, is to get things off my plate and keep moving forward. Finish the things that matter. Table the things that don’t. And keep moving… giving myself time to rest and recuperate on a regular basis.
See, that’s the thing – rest and recuperation needs to be a regular part of my life, so I have the chance to build myself back up after I tear myself down. I can do a real job on myself at times, pushing as hard as I do. And I can do a job on everyone around me, as well. I need to step back on a regular basis, take a break, get some rest, and allow myself to catch up. Most of all, I need to fully appreciate just how much I’ve done and accomplished, from time to time, so I can sit back, relax, and take it all in.
Speaking of sitting back and relaxing, I need to make some significant changes in my living space. My home has gotten pretty cluttered with a lot of stuff, and we need to do some serious prioritizing and cleaning out. The basement long ago became a catch-all for things we didn’t want to deal with. And my home office is a hodge-podge collection of papers and books and ideas and projects from days gone by — things that are long gone and are no longer a regular part of my life, but for some reason I am hanging onto them.
No need for that. I can safely let those things go. All the old books about subjects that no longer interest me… why do I keep them? Because they remind me of a time when I was immersed in those topics and they meant a lot to me. It’s more for the memories… but those memories are taking up space and time and attention that I need to free up for new things.
A new life. A new day. A new theme.
This blog isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Other things need to change for me, as well. And so they shall.