It isn’t often I do a follow-up post but this one is much warranted. Back in August, I decided it was time to start saying No to things. If you didn’t catch the original post, you can find it HERE. (Go ahead, go read it. You’ll want the background so you’re caught up with my epiphany.)
It was a crazy time where I’d said yes so much I had boxed myself in with no free time. Every night of the week – every week – was jam packed. More often than not, I wasn’t at home with my family. I was feeling the pressure. More acutely my family was feeling the strain, even while rooting for my success. In a somewhat rare moment of clarity I stepped back and took stock. I prioritized my obligations. I started saying No.
What lessons did I learn? First and foremost was the reality that I either have time to volunteer in a writing organization or write, but not both. It is somewhat of a catch twenty-two for me. So many opportunities came from my time organizing and leading but in the end my writing had suffered. In a chain of events outside of my control, the organization was dissolved and I found myself with an extra chunk of time back. A chunk that I hadn’t realized was as big as it had become.
My production of words on the page exploded. Writing was fun again instead of something I was always too tired for and forcing myself to do. I finished revisions and sold another story with all that free time. I still belong to several writing organizations and I attend meetings somewhat regularly but I’ve stopped volunteering for leadership roles that require more than that. Even when others have asked me to step forward, I’ve graciously refused. In the long run, the time writing will pay off far more than the satisfaction of leadership. Especially when you can never please all the people all the time. Of course my inner overachiever is still struggling with this – especially when I have been approached – but I’m holding strongly to this stance for the time being.
It feels good to protect my precious writing time.
What about all the time spent away from my family? My day job has added a travel requirement to support system conversions over the next twelve to eighteen months. The hours I spend at the office every week has increased as well. I spent two weeks away from home in late October and it was much easier on the entire family because I’d been spending more time with them in the months leading up to it. It was still hard. In retrospect it would have been far more difficult if I hadn’t made changes beforehand.
I realize that my children are growing faster than I can keep up with and I’ll never have this time with them again. My oldest is four years away from college and adulthood. My baby is in Kindergarten and learning to read. At this rate, I’ll blink and she’ll be dating. Earlier this week Baby Sister begged me to come home early so we could decorate the Christmas tree. When I found myself with an afternoon free of meetings, I did it. I’ll never forget her screams of joy when I walked in or her cries of “you came home early”. I tried not to dwell on the fact that her shock and joy were more of an indication of how often I’m not able to do that and embraced the happiness of those stolen couple of hours together. No, the time away from my family I’d been spending doing things like Rock Opera rehearsals and Board Meetings that, while they gave me great personal satisfaction and exposure to opportunities and potential fans, wasn’t worth the time away from my family.
One of my closest friends shared an epiphany she had recently after she funneled a lot of energy and money into an endeavor that didn’t yield her the results she was after. Her words have stuck with me. Paraphrased, she said she was done acting like she was further down the path than where she really was. I likened it to my tendency of trying to fit in with, and do all the same things (like be on panels at writing conferences) that all my more successful writing friends are doing. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and feel bad that you don’t have all the same successes. One of my best writing buddies had three books release this year from three different publishers. I finally asked him how many novels he had finished and how long he’d been writing. His response: twelve completed novels over ten years. It was then that I knew that I hadn’t put in the same effort so it was ludicrous to expect the same kind of success. Instead, I need to do the work and hope I find similar success when I get caught up to where he is on the path.
I’m working on my third novel. One that feels different. Important maybe. A story so compelling and unique I hope it would stand out from the crowd. Something that’s never happened before is also happening: the characters won’t let me rest until I’ve told their story. I like to think that I cleared out the clutter of my life enough to find this particular tale. I only hope I can do it – and the characters who sprung fully-formed into my head – the justice it deserves.
I’m sure there are still lessons to be learned in the world of saying no. But so far I’m loving the rewards!