Work, Success and Failure, and Dear Lucky Agent

They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work again. I’m sure nobody included housework in that count. Yet I still smile when Mom said I was going to work when I mentioned a blog post I needed to write in a timely fashion.

You can tell it’s a new year because I’m ramping up all the things I want to do and actually getting on a schedule. By March it will be a habit, and October will throw so many things my way (like getting ready for NaNoWriMo in November) that it will start to slide. I usually prefer to reassert the regular schedule of things in December, and I learned last year that taking time off from writing didn’t do me any good.

So I’m also challenging myself to send an entry to the Dear Lucky Agent contest from Writer’s Digest. The deadline is looming, but I think I have time. Mom’s here to help me out, and it’s so nice to actually get a little extra sleep – or time to write a blog post before bed.

For a long time I considered myself a writer: one who writes. I love to write and pour over the words on the pages and it celebrates my lifelong love of books. Lately I’m considering that I might simply be a novelist. I write novels. Even my short stories seem like they just want to turn into novels – or worse, series of novels.

That kind of commitment to a project isn’t the hard part. I have found ways to get the kids to sleep long enough to turn out one more page, one more chapter. It’s one way to push myself to learn to type wicked fast. I read this article that said you should learn to at least type 1000 words per hour, and I know I can do better than 3 times that fast (when making it up off the top of my head, not transcribing) when I focus. If I wrote longhand, which I tend not to if there is a computer within reach, I know I can type 100 wpm or better.

It’s the editing I need to work on. Unfortunately I don’t have 40 hours a week to put toward the writing and editing to get to the master status, but I do as much as I can with what I have.

I have a part-time job at the YMCA and I read one of the little quotes on the wall for the first time that said something about how you can’t achieve anything if you don’t first expect yourself to do something better. I think I’ll have to write it down next week. It’s absolutely true. If I never expected myself to do anything, it wouldn’t get done. However, I juggle the housework and two kids and a couple part-time jobs along with the writing. My best friend told me that I get an amazing amount of things done. I’m pretty sure it’s because I don’t give myself the choice to accomplish less.

I did write down this quote: “Failing is a part of success. To make goals effective, you have to fail at them 50 percent of the time, or they didn’t stretch you far enough.” Chip Wilson, courtesy of an article by Ella Lawrence called Set Your Course from Yoga Journal.

According to that idea, I do not challenge myself enough since I do not fail 50 percent of the time. There is a limit to how many challenges one can take on, and the line between “failing” and “overwhelmed” can be subtle to many of us. Maybe it isn’t about taking on more things, but taking on enough to do as much as you can. Instead of doing one task to a 100% level, you try two at the 90% level. When you get two to the 95% level, you take on a third and all three drop to 80%. Is 80% failing? That might depend on where someone sets the curve. I wonder if the word fail – failing – failure is what bothers us most. To admit we failed is to be defeated. It isn’t something that we allow to change us into something more. Every choice we make defines us in life, and every day reflects upon what has come before and ripples into what will be. A failure today might mean success at something else in the future, but if we don’t allow failure in any form we will never learn anything. Or maybe that’s the whole point. We are afraid to fail (as a society) so maybe that means we’re really afraid to learn.

What have you challenged yourself to do lately?

Why Do You Do What You Do?

I vaguely remember when I was five – I wanted to be a bus driver. It was one of those passing fancies. I don’t remember if it was driving the big vehicle around the town or picking up and dropping off all the people, but that was what I wanted to do. For at least a week.

There were random other thoughts between that time and when I started thinking seriously about The Future. When do we think we’re old enough to decide what we really want to do For A Living? And why do we think we have to focus on one career?

Some careers, like medicine, may very well need that kind of emphasis. When you go to the doctor, you want to have an expert, right? Well, I see a doctor who adjusts my back who also has a photography hobby – and they sell. I might even buy one at some point, but I love waiting in the rooms with his pictures. [Even the one with the pink flowers.]

Maybe it’s part of the mentality of ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ It might be true that a person will never master a subject by flitting from this to that. But what about the people who don’t necessarily know what they want to do, or can’t support themselves doing it? And I suppose we also have to consider the lowly jobs we take to pay the bills that were never what someone would choose to do.

On the other hand, there’s a certain appeal to me for something like a toll booth operator. During the slow times, I’d have a notebook or laptop or something and be writing. Well, at some point I’m sure I’d rewrite and edit and do all that other stuff.

I get asked a lot how I go from a career in engineering to staying at home as a mom and writing books. I think it’s only because people aren’t accustomed to people who are good at math and English; so many times a person is strong in one or the other. My husband can’t spell to save his life. When out with my friends, I often split the bill because I can do the math without breaking into a sweat or punching it into the calculator.

But I’m still curious when we start with our little dreams and go to The Future Career. Are we really given the tools to prepare in high school? How many kids know what most jobs do, and how many dream jobs are difficult to break into? When did we decide we’d major in Underwater Basket Weaving (code in my parent’s household for a major where no one could land a paying job) and then wonder why we couldn’t pay the bills?

What about when you study to be an engineer, like a girl I knew in college, and decide a semester before you graduate you don’t want to do it? She was a waitress, then became a bookkeeper.

How much of what we do defines us as people, versus the things we do outside our jobs? Do you dabble in different things to know who you are and what you like? I tend to dabble, if only because it amuses me when other people say they’re bored. I can’t say I play guitar well, but I know a few songs. I read books about anything that captures my fancy, figuring at some point knowing how to knit might serve me well – even if I only do rectangular things like scarves and dishcloths.

Being a dabbler also means I have many hobby items that lay untouched for periods of time, like the harmonica and the bead board and the calligraphy pens. I’m not sure any of it defines me.

I’m also not always sure how to answer the question of what I do. If I’m a stay-at-home mother, I ought to have an awesome home and that would be my focus. That’s a stretch, though I do put effort into it. If I’m a tutor, I’d have teaching plans and ideas about that, but I don’t always. If I’m a writer, I spend most of my time shaping words into the ideas I wish to convey.

Haha, I’m probably a writer, but I retain a few technical skills and an ever-widening domestic ability. I’m still at a loss for what that means. One day it might come out in a story, but I’d probably have mixed so much fiction into it no one will know which parts are true, including me.

And I won’t lie, I like it that way.