Taking the Leap

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Wow, it has been a while since I posted anything. I probably have two readers- myself and my partner, so I am not too worried that there are endless amounts of you weeping from a sense of abandonment by my absence.

In this post- let’s talk about how it feels to jump from the safety of being an employee, to moving out on your own, doing your own thing.

It is equally exciting and terrifying.

So, the sensible way to go about this is to save up a bunch of money, build the business while working a full time job, and then make the leap. Maybe I would take on a part-time gig for some financial stability and possible health insurance until the business can cover those expenses.

Or, I could go through a major life trauma, get my brain scrambled, be fired from a contract due to said brain scramble, get on unemployment, apply for a ridiculous number of jobs, manage to blow every single interview for the first time in my life, and then have unemployment run out. I was lucky enough to have five months of emergency funding intact and have a good buddy say- hey, I have a bunch of contract work for you. You ready?

Guess which method I would have preferred?

But here is the thing- while I have had moments of “Oh my God I am going to end up living out of my car with my cat on a leash!!!” I have also had more focus than I have been able to achieve in a couple of years.

Part of this is the knowledge that I don’t have much of a safety net. While I am fine in the short term, if I don’t grow what I have, I am screwed if the market dries up and I can’t come up with a solution. So, there is no room for me to mess around. And funny enough, I am grateful for the pressure.

I also need to acknowledge my privilege here: I am educated and skilled. I have an associate’s and bachelor’s degree in fields that are relevant to my field. And the work I do is in demand. Healing from trauma has shifted my focused and changed my personality in ways I am still getting used to, but my foundation is pretty strong even if I can’t seem to get an employee position to save my life right now.

So- the thoughts and steps I am focusing on are:

  1. Plan, and plan, and make more contingency plans.
  2. I have more strength and knowledge than I think I do. I can do this.
  3. Take one step at a time.
  4. Touch every project I am involved in at least once a day. This may mean just reviewing some notes, or making significant progress depending on the day’s priorities.
  5. Do not lose focus.
  6. Stay open to other opportunities for income. This way, if one stream of income completely tanks, I will have others to rely on as I rebuild.

So, here is where I’m at. And now that I’ve made this transition, I hope it means I will have more room to build, write and create.

If this resonates, if this is you right now, you aren’t alone. Life happens, things go down that can injure and break you. And healing is not linear. It takes time to figure out everything that is broken, how it is going to heal, and how things need to change. And that is okay. You will get there. We both will.

Time Flies- How the hell do I get it all done?

It’s been almost three weeks since I published anything, reminding me that part of developing anything, including a calling, is the time and discipline to work towards what you are going for on a regular basis.

So- what does that look like exactly?

A prevalent line of thought in creative discipline is: if you really want something you must spend time every single day working towards that goal. You must find the motivation within yourself to create that discipline by sheer force of will. Or, if this is really your calling, you will magically find the time, energy and resources to create something- it will pass through you as if by magic. Like JK Rowling, barely scraping by financially, writing Harry Potter out long-hand in coffee shops, to become one of the world’s most beloved writers.

Yeah, no.

Right now I am visiting my sisters and their families. Between the two of them, there are a handful of children. They are amazing children, each one of them a light in my life. And yet, I watch my sisters, their spouses, and their schedules and I can’t imagine any of them squeezing fifteen minutes out of their day to deep dive into a creative activity towards a larger work.

So, if this is you, recognize: in the world we live in today, free time is often a privilege. Part of this is due to wage stagnation- so in order to survive, we are working more hours. At the same time, the cost of housing has gone up, especially in cities. So, free time is a luxury many of us don’t have.

If this is your reality, give yourself a break and stop listening to people who tell you “you don’t really want it, or you would find the time”.

You can make more money, but you cannot make more time.

So, how do you carve out a way to create the time that you need?

Start with small steps

Break down your goal into the smallest steps imaginable. And I mean TINY. And, if that seems too huge, don’t even do it all at once. Give it 10 minutes tops. Or just break down one of your goals.

Once when I was teaching swimming, I had a student who was struggling to learn how to dive. She was perfectly capable, but something wasn’t clicking for her. So we broke it up into steps:

  1. She sat on the edge of the pool with her feet in the gutter (it was like a step) and slid in. Something she had done a million times.
  2. Next she rocked from sitting to bringing her weight into her legs and jumped in.
  3. We added in the arms in the right position. She looked adorably ridiculous.
  4. We added more of a roll to get into a better position
  5. We added a push off to the roll into the water
  6. That push became a jump.
  7. Then she was diving.

Each of these steps is called an “approximation” in training. You can train yourself, your kids, or your pets to do any number of things if you break it up into tiny enough steps. Of course, it helps when you actually want to do the thing.

Do these seem like an enormous number of steps for a simple action? Probably. But once you get going, you will get through them faster than you think. And you will find as you learn you can set yourself up for more successes where once you only saw an abundance of steps.

So break it down. To the smallest steps possible. This list is for you and no one else. If that step is “touch my guitar” or “unroll my yoga mat” – that is a valid step even if the only thing you do is touch that guitar for two weeks straight. Eventually that will become a minute of practice, then five minutes, until you are rocking a half hour.

What can you outsource?

Okay, here is the part where the more money and privilege you have, the easier it is to figure this out. So if this is a stumbling block- take a deep breath. There are ways around this.

Look at your schedule. How much stuff are you doing that someone else could be doing for or with you for a faster go of it?

Things that help:

  • Auto bill pays
    • This is a huge timesaver if you can set it up right.
    • This requires multiple checking and savings accounts.
    • Use one account for your automatic deposit from your paycheck
    • Set up a checking account for your housing, transportation, food, phone, internet, utilities. You can combine them as you see fit, go with what makes sense to you.
    • Set up your accounts to automatically take your paycheck and divide it up to the various accounts you need to cover on a schedule that works for you.
    • Set up those accounts to automatically pay your bills on schedule. If I have to trigger it manually (rent) I like it in a separate checking account than auto payments like my cell phone and internet bill.
    • Check it every so often to make sure everything is running smoothly.
  • Laundry & Cleaning
    • If you are spending time on your cleaning, that you could be spending doing other stuff, ask yourself why.
      • How many people are in your household?
      • How many adults are capable and not doing their fair share?
        • If this is the case- let me remind you- your time to develop yourself is just as important as every other adult’s time in your household.
      • How many kids, and teenagers are not helping?
        • Side note- I’ve known three year olds who were trained to sort their laundry.
        • We have a ton of young adults who don’t know how to do basic cooking and house cleaning. The upfront time might be an investment, but in the long run, they need these skills when they live on their own.
    • A lecturer I listened to once got herself 30 outfits for 30 days because her grad school left her no time to breathe. She went to the laundromat once a month to have one full day where she studied while laundry was going. More expensive? Depends on your living situation. But she had a designated day where no one bothered her.
    • House cleaners. Seriously. If you can afford it.
    • Working from home- if your job allows it, having a day or two a week from home can open up your schedule. You have no commuting time, you don’t have to dress up, and you can often flex your work around your needs. This can free up a couple of hours per day plus gas money.

It is okay to get brutal with cutting or swapping things out. This is a dance of trial and error. It will never be perfect, so think of it as a percentage game. In fact, think of almost everything as a percentage game.

Now, take the steps you broke down and the swaps you just made in your schedule, and make a list. See which steps you can hit each week without making yourself nuts. (Remember, percentage game.) See what works, see what doesn’t. See what moves you closer to your goal, let yourself get rid of or push pause on the steps that don’t. Slow movement is just as valuable as deep fast changes here.

And of course, good luck! You’ve got this! Just take it one step at a time.

Building a Foundation

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When inspiration strikes- it is tempting to do one of two things- if you have the room, jump in with both feet- slack on the rest of your life and pursue your fantasy. Conversely, if debt or children anchor you in place- it is easy to drift off into fantasy about destinations to visit and completed projects without taking steps to actualize them.

So… where do you begin if the world is a dumpster fire, you are carrying massive amounts of debt, maybe running after a couple of fast growing kids while holding down a job?

There are two things you need: money and time.

Which comes first? Money or Time?

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There was a survey in 2018 that indicated about 40% of Americans would struggle to pay a surprise $400 expense. And while there have articles written stating those statistics might not be entirely accurate- it is a sobering thought.

So- where do you fall- can you handle a $400 expense? What about $1000 worth of surprise expenses in one month? How is your credit card debt? Are you able to handle your monthly expenses?

I know it can be soul crushing- but you absolutely need to look at those numbers first.

Money

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I’m not going to scream at millenials about how to save money they should skip Starbucks and not spend $9 on Avocado Toast. That is completely counter-productive. If you are rocking five to six figures in student loans, Avocado Toast is the least of your problems and you can’t budget them away. (We will try to tackle student loans in another post.)

But I am going to borrow David Ramsey’s first baby step and say- figure out how to start putting aside money. This could be a slow climb, or you might find something you can sell and get chunks done at once. I completely recognize that this could take some people a year, and others a week. But move towards this. Save until you have at least $1,000 in emergency savings, and then take a deep breath.

Side note: I can’t stand David Ramsay’s political and religious views. He is a conservative Christian and a Republican (last time I checked) both of which tend to be problematic for this progressive queer person who is working to understand how race class and privilege are impacted by my actions and interactions with the world.

However, his financial education products really work, and he is great at motivating people to get out of debt. If you choose to follow his program, please bear in mind that when you give his company money, you are also funding his interests.

My personal belief is that if I am going to put money, energy or time towards a conservative company such as his, I will offset it with other time energy or money when I can, towards the causes I believe in.

Once you have that 1k, or if you already have it, that is time to reassess. Did the relief knowing you have some money to cover you urge you to continue to secure yourself financially? Did it light a fire to get rid of your credit card debt? Move towards that. (We will talk about different financial educational products in a different post.) Do you already have those things taken care of, or are you ready to make room to figure out time?

Time

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Time is often overlooked as a product of privilege. If you have to work three jobs to stay floating, have kids, have a bunch of debt and need to work to pay it off, live in a big city where the rents are sky high- you don’t usually have much free time.

So the first is managing what you have.

There are lots of stories out there about that great struggling author who got up at 5 am to write before the kids woke up and produced an amazing novelist career. Yeah, 5 am would probably kill me. If you are a morning person, go for it. If getting less sleep is the only solution, go for it. But if that is not possible for you due to necessity or disability, don’t beat yourself up. Your dreams or drives are no less valid than some supermom who has her life hacked down to the most minute multi-task.

Some tricks I have used:

  • Lunch breaks– if it is a 30 minute, it is researching something on my phone, or taking notes about my project while I eat. If it is 1 hour, I’ve used it to work out or work on tasks I’ve specifically brought with me to get done.
  • Working on the bus or train– depends on the project, and sometimes harder to do.
  • Outlining/Listing– Getting very specific about the steps I need to take so that I know what I can knock out during lunch breaks while eating the next day at work
  • Get in early or stay late at work– I’ve flex-timed my work so that I could make room for creative projects. But I’ve also used the time where I would normally sit in traffic, to sit in a break room and work on something. If i am using the internet, I will create a hotspot with my phone plan in order to not abuse the company wifi policy.
  • Sleeping/Meditation to binaural beats or meditation playlists– If my sleep sucks, my day is going to suck and I won’t have room for any creative thought. While there is a lot of hype about meditation music with binaural beats in terms of whether they work or not, they pretty much knock me into a coma. I will use them to fall asleep, or for 30 minute meditations if I need a nap during the day.
  • Outsourcing- aka, pay someone else to do it– obviously this one only works when you have spare cash. But when I am in the zone of a project, paying someone else to walk the dog, clean the house, or do the laundry every once in a while. If I had the cash, I’d be happy to pay someone to do that stuff all the time, especially if they have their own company. But alas, I don’t.

For the parents out there- google Mommy Hacks and see what comes up. I won’t ever tell you how to hack your time because I absolutely know I can’t keep up with you as is.

But the main thing I think is important to remember- that hour extra you leave your kid in daycare so you can do something for yourself isn’t going to kill them, and is highly beneficial to you.

One moment they are angels and the next, evil crotch goblins you have allotted a couple decades of your life running a marathon to turn them into good human beings. So, as I find good resources I will totally list them for you, but I know that every family is different, and finding that money, time and space is a challenge.

So, my main advice for parents:

  1. Your sanity is more important than your kids having your attention all the time. Whether it is daycare, play dates, or community support- don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself.
  2. If you are partnered with someone who also has an itchy soul and is trying to accomplish something: play fair, negotiate time, and make sure you find balance with who gets the time to work on their dreams.
  3. Creating time for yourself won’t kill them. Having a parent that is more emotionally and spiritually fulfilled will benefit them. You will probably like your kids more.
  4. Ignore anyone who tells you that you are being selfish, you are not a good parent, you are neglecting their needs, or you are less than. If your kids are well fed, going to school, taken care of, not ignored, have clothes on their backs and are surrounded by love- they will be fine.

Follow Your Curiosity

What happens when you don’t know what the hell you want to do? Your soul feels restless, but there is no burning idea or goal springing to mind. Feel familiar?

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love has some great talks out there on the subject. And her advice: Follow your curiosity.

How great is this?

First- if you don’t have a burning desire for something specific: there is nothing wrong with you. You are absolutely normal.

But how? How do you wake up your curiosity?

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has a few ideas you might find helpful. The Artist’s Way has quite a following. And there are coaches and group leaders out there that teach classes based on the steps in this book. But you don’t actually need to go that far.

To get a sense of how The Artist’s way was born, I found this great video on YouTube.

What I love about this video, is Cameron’s story about using creativity to help her write sober. It is easy to look at her and see this best selling author who is beautiful, experienced, successful, and potentially unrelatable. But here she is, with a very human story.

For those of us who have experienced trauma around religion, or just don’t believe in God, Spirit or any Higher Power- her definition of spirituality and God has a lot of room for flexible interpretation. As she says in the above video- she wasn’t down with praying to God, so she chose the spark of life that allows plants to grow. Pick whatever you want. Take the parts of her work that move you and leave the rest.

So go out and explore! What are you drawn to? What are you interested in that you can actually do, rather than daydream about on pintrest? Start to follow that, and see where it takes you.

What if what we were told about pursuing our dreams is bullshit?

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What was your first dream? You know, the one you really wanted as a kid? When did you learn that you could never achieve that thing you wanted so badly? When did it go from something you enjoyed to something you had win at? When did it stop being enough that you loved it?

As a child, my life revolved around weekly dance classes taught in a large, mirrorless room with a linoleum floor in a local synagogue our teacher rented. I was a weird kid; large, sensitive and awkward child compared to my classmates. I was often picked on. But dancing brought me into a whole other world.

When I heard music I instinctively created choreography in my head, moves I couldn’t begin to achieve. Dancing meant moving through time and space, a routine playing itself out, carrying me with it. As music is often similar to math, the creation of a dance felt like the fulfillment of a complex formula, bending and swelling with the inevitable rise and fall of the song.

My sister was built for dance more than I was, and switched to a hard core ballet studio. In 7th grade, I switched as well. I was big, sturdy, well rounded. Teachers were completely unimpressed with me. And Goddamn were they clear about it.

I knew I would be better suited to choreograph than perform, but there was no question about continuing my ballet education. There was no place for me, and I didn’t know how to carve one out for myself at thirteen.

We were told as little children we could accomplish anything we wanted. But by the time we hit puberty, we were told we were only worthy if we could eventually be the best at whatever it was we wanted to accomplish. It wasn’t enough if we enjoyed it, only if it could “go somewhere”. So- I switched. I jumped from dancing to acting. I tried to love it like I loved dance and pursued it with determination.

Acting fell by the wayside by the time I was in my early twenties. The stage was a great outlet for an abundance of feelings I had no place for. But auditioning, and constant rejection, did not support any kind of mental health. Plus my parents were not behind this. The model of the starving artist was at the forefront of their minds. And they stressed a fallback plan and argued over my college choices.

From there I bounced. From fallback plan to fallback plan- trying to eek out some satisfaction. I was told, often, to grow up, surrender to a 9-5 office gig, build a career, build a business. I did all those things. And every time I walk into a new office I feel allergic to the fluorescent lighting, adrift in office politics and social cues. I managed to create a career while feeling like I’m always treading water.

To make it worse, ideas about my talents, strengths and place in this world was often wrapped around religion and spirituality. That my talents and accomplishments were not mine but somehow a reflection of the divine Sky Daddy and his plans. And my struggles were due to my own lack of alignment with His plan.

Funny thing, those gifts always managed to focus on serving others in ways that didn’t serve me. The message was clear- it doesn’t matter what you want, it only matters what God, Spirit, or The Universe wants for you. That is why you are hitting dead ends. And after trying and failing at so many things, how could I not internalize the idea that God wanted me small, working in a job I hated just because I could be good at it?

It was sometime in my twenties that I decided all of this was bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.

It is a bullshit idea that worth is only determined by achievements. Your art has value if you hang it on your bedroom wall, fail to sell it in a regret-sy shop, or place it in the finest gallery on earth. It just doesn’t have equal monetary value. That’s it.

Take money out of the equation and followers have become the benchmark of success. “You do you” is accompanied by “then post it on Instagram”. Social media is a great way to get voices and viewpoints amplified, but it is all too easy to compare one’s inner journey to someone else’s retouched image of success. It’s sometimes hard to remember that this, too, is bullshit.

And finally, the idea that you owe it to your family, the world, or your God to pursue a career or goal you don’t like, just because you are talented at it, is beyond bullshit. Depending on the situation: it can be abusive.

If the soul feels stretched out and free by doing yoga, building tables, or performing poetry slams- does it really matter if the person doing these things is a guru, craftsman or professional writer? As long as your day job supports you, isn’t the process of stretching that soul from its default cramped position important in and of itself?

And what if we could go back to that formative time when our hearts were so wide open and ask, “Do you love it? What about it do you love? How does it make you feel?” Can you imagine how different your life would be if when struggles hit, someone helped you strategize how to continue to enjoy the journey rather than focus on what you may or may not be able to accomplish? What if they helped you figure out how to make and manage the money you need to support the dream, rather than abandon the dream to make money?

Because that is where I am, trying to figure out what my soul’s needs are while finding that next gig that will keep me fed, clothed, sheltered and not eating cat food when I am old. Pretty simple, right? A small task that leads to lots of big questions:

  • What feels satisfying from the inside out?
  • Can I erase decades of programming that dictate how success should look?
  • Can I focus on the journey?
  • Can I let go of comparing myself and my path to those around me, especially those I knew as a child who went on to do amazing things?
  • Can I turn jealousy and envy into happiness for others and a deeper motivation towards my own creative self-expression?

I don’t know, but I wonder what our world would look like if these had been the questions we were taught to seek answers for all along.

Every once in a while I will go to a tarot reader. I like to find random ones who haven’t read me before. And when the topic turns to career, I sometimes get a puzzled look at my plus-sized self. They will say, “I have no idea what this means, but for some reason I see you dancing.” I smile and nod. This doesn’t surprise me anymore.

I don’t focus on the road not taken, or feel I missed my calling.(With the exception of this post.) But I wonder what stamp was left on my soul. This type of rejection is so common, we just consider it a part of growing up. It’s just something to learn from. But when the focus is accomplishment, what is the lesson and does it really serve us? Right now, from where I stand, I don’t think so.

How This Started

The idea for The Itchy Soul Project started years ago. The question is how- how the hell– do we find ways to create meaning, and satisfaction, in our lives and livelihood in a world that feels like an ongoing dumpster fire?

Then Trump was elected, and for many of us it feels like someone through gas on that dumpster fire. And to be honest, it seemed that all I could do was survive. The room for anything beyond covering my bases in life was non-existent.

Then the worst day of my life happened.

On May 18, 2018 I was in my mother’s living room. I had been home for a few weeks to help her out as we figured out how to get her back on her feet. And after what seemed like a day where she was rallying. I left the room for a few minutes to flip the laundry and text my sister. I was about to settle into my bottom floor bedroom when I realized I left my charger upstairs.

That is when I found her. She her heart had stopped, she wasn’t breathing.

On May 18th, after doing CPR, after EMT’s restarted her heart, my mom died in the same hospital she gave birth to all four of her daughters.

There are so many things that happened between that day and now. A year of grieving, anger, and profound sadness. And figuring out how to move through the deepest sadness I’ve ever known.

I can’t continue to pursue my career and pretend that it is enough. That it is satisfying enough.

I have an itchy soul. And it is time to figure out how to scratch it in a world that still feels like a dumpster fire. And help other folks with itchy souls figure out how to navigate their dreams in ways that are inclusive and intersectional.

So- if you are out there, welcome. I hope that when all is said and done, something I have found, reviewed or posted speaks to you and helps you on your way.