Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Pep Talk: Let's Fly Away

I like to break the process of goal achievement into three handy sections: The Beginning, The End, and The Really, Really Slow Part.

The Really, Really Slow Part happens, as you may have guessed, in the middle. It's the part where you're actually doing things. The part after the Beginning, which is when you're so hyped up on the possibilities that you're convinced you're moving forward at warp speed. The part before the End, which is when you're just waiting to put that final button on your project so you can bust out champaign and--depending on the size of that particular milestone--weep.

The Really, Really Slow Part is, in my experience, a lot like the middle part of a commercial flight, after the thrill of take-off has ended and the pilot has given you the okay to bust out your laptop. Rumor has it, planes are really fast. I suppose this must be true, because it only takes me about four hours to fly halfway across the country. But flying doesn't feel fast the way driving does, when you get to see the scenery zip by, the dashes on the road getting sucked up under the wheels of your car, one right after another.

No, the view from the window suggests that flying is a slow and laborious process, given that you can see the same stupid corn field for fifteen minutes. Yes, yes, I get the science of it, and the fact that the plane is really far away from the earth and blah, blah, blah. But that doesn't change the way it feels to someone who is more accustomed to land travel.

And that's what it is to pursue a previously unsought dream. You may feel stuck, but if you're still working and you're still focused, there's a good chance that you're actually moving forward at warp speed. You may not be able to see it, because you've finagled yourself into a brand new position where everything looks different. But you're moving. And if you keep your focus on what you're doing for a little while . . . on the work and milestones and all that . . . when you peek back out that window later, you'll probably find yourself looking at an entirely different terrain. Mountain ranges?! Where did the corn field go?

Of course, you'll get restless over the mountain range, too; we're programmed to get a little antsy. But just know that that mountain range is temporary.

So is the time when you're embarrassed by your lack of experience. And the time when it feels like every 20 actions yield one result. And the time when you feel like a bumbling moron because not even you can commit to a firm list of priorities.

You are moving forward. You are changing for the better.

As the person standing on the ground, staring up at the underside of your plane as it whizzes by, I am telling you you're on your way.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Pep Talk: It's Your Call

There just isn't time.

Between personal obligations and professional obligations, between caring for ourselves and caring for others, between catching up and moving forward, there just isn't time.

As I write this I am worn out and aggravated that I didn't have this posted this afternoon. I'm aggravated that I didn't do about six things I swore I'd do this weekend. I'm aggravated that when I look at the next days, weeks, and months of my life, I'm not sure where I'll find the time to move forward.

And chances are, you've got a little bit of the same thing going on.

So tonight, as I sit achy and bleary eyed in front of my computer, I say to myself, "This life belongs to me."

All of it. Every square inch of it is mine. Outside forces can hit it, and sometimes they can shake it pretty hard. But how I live is up to me. The same is true for you.

It certainly doesn't feel this way, of course, when a friend is calling for our help and a boss is pressuring us for extra attention and the distant light of our dream career threatens to flicker out with our neglect, but here's the beautiful, hideous kicker:

We chose that friend. We accepted that boss. We conceived that dream. We are living the life we chose. Our frustration is born of success, of past goals met and incorporated into our lives. Is it a bit much at times? Sure. But here's the next big news:

We choose what happens next. When it's time to let go of old milestones, we can. In the case of friends and family that we want to hang on to, we have every right to consider our own mental and emotional health when we determine how to respond to their needs. And when we approach a new day and a new schedule, we get to do so knowing that each new day is a new opportunity to declare our priorities, to define ourselves, to shape the big, wide open future that stretches out before us.

And so, with that in mind, I'll be scraping the pout off of my face and putting myself to bed, so that I'll be plenty rested to seize ownership of the morning . . . another morning that belongs entirely to me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Naysayers and Say-Yayers

People love to warn others of impending doom.

When I was spending a summer at my parents' house in Lubbock, right after my college graduation, I signed up with a temp agency, hoping to scrape together enough money to move someplace interesting and theatrical, like Chicago or New York. I interviewed with the owner of the agency, a lumpy, unhappy looking man in a brown suit sitting behind a beige desk in a khaki office. He looked over my resume, then told me they had an opening right there in the agency.

"You'd be working full-time," he said. "Permanent. You'd be placing people in jobs."

I had a sudden vision of my soul lying limp in the corner of the office, flopped against the wall like a worn pillow, wheezing, "Why, Abi? Why have you done this?"

I politely declined, informing the gentleman that I was only planning to be in town temporarily; I was an actor and would be moving to a theatre hub soon.

The man made a few notes on my resume and said, without looking up, "Heard a statistic recently. Less than half of one percent of people who try to make it as actors actually succeed." He looked at me then, as if to triumphantly view the shattering of my ambitions.

I smiled back, assured him I knew how difficult it would be, and asked him to call me if any temporary positions opened up.

Let me tell you, when your career plans involve acting, you get this speech a lot. Same with writing. And probably with any other art career a person would wish to pursue. What kills me is that so many of these anti-pep talks also come from within. Seasoned veterans with lofty careers warning you in arrogant tones that "If you can do anything else in the world and still be happy, for heaven's sake, do it!" Now, I get this line of thinking for would-be Marines and young women who declare they want to have 12 kids and raise them alone. But for a wide-eyed young artist pursuing what he or she loves best, or at the very least, what he or she believes he or she loves best, I think the statement is overkill. Very few deaths result from young artists pursuing a very difficult career that they don't love enough. Usually the "nightmare" that ensues involves a couple years of frantic trying and failing, several months of your standard early adulthood depression, and eventually a little bit of self-discovery and personal rebirth as our harried-but-wiser artist embarks on a new path.

My personal theory on the naysayers is this: people (and I humbly include myself in this) love being able to say, "I was there." Even more, we love to say, "I suffered through that." And even more than that, we love to hold up our suffering and say, "Behold my credentials! Honor my sage advice!"

And the result is many young actors, writers, painters, and puppeteers shuffle home with their heads lowered, feeling as though they've failed before they've begun, and weakly promising themselves that they'll still make their dreams come true, even though that person clearly doesn't believe they can.

Now, obviously I can't very well end on that dumpy note; not in a blog dedicated to Pockets of Joy . . . Pockets of Joy like supportive friends, inspiring mentors, and those few but satisfying moments when your own personal naysayer looks at how far you've come and says, "Well, I'll be."

Hopefully you're blessed like me, and your social circle is bursting with good hearts and good energy. Undoubtedly, you also run into doubt in your journey, whether it comes from other people or boils up unexpectedly inside your tender little gut. I want to make sure you're armed against doubt, and that's why I'm starting Sunday Pep Talks.

Starting this coming Sunday, I'll be posting weekly Pep Talks, designed to give us all a boost for our weeks . . . a dash of hope here, a spritz of can-do there, maybe a pom-pom or two. Because as my brother, the ultimate Pep-Talker, says, "There's no reason you can't do whatever you want to do."

No reason at all.