For most of my life, being ‘right’ was my single greatest priority. Years ago, I believed I knew everything. Okay, that’s a lie. More like a couple weeks ago I believed I knew everything.
More lies. Dang it!
Truth is, this morning I knew everything then got some caffeine and realized I was completely full of it. It takes work for me to stop and ask the hard questions daily to keep me grounded.
What if I’m wrong? Why am I really doing X? What is my motive? Am I afraid of something? Do I really believe what I’m saying I believe? Where are my pants?
I don’t spend vast amounts of time gazing into my navel searching for the Lint of Truth…especially since everyone knows the dryer has the Lint of Truth (left by socks who’ve achieved enlightenment and thus shed corporeal form).
Self-examination is still important. Alas, it’s also a tricky tightrope to walk, and takes years of practice not to fall on your head with a pole jammed somewhere painful.
We can lean toward questioning everything so much we become paralyzed neurotics incapable of making any decision. Conversely, if we don’t stop to examine what we’re doing and why? Let’s just say…
Persistence is a noble quality, but persistence can look a lot like stupid.
The Priority Problem
If I could boil down the essence of modern human angst into one core idea, I’d say we’re all facing a priority problem. We’re being relentlessly told we can have it ALL, when no…no we can’t.
I’m from Generation X, and people my age have lived fully in two completely different worlds. We were the bridge generation from the industrial world into the digital world. We played the first video games, but also remember being…bored.
I’m old enough to recall a time when if you missed a T.V. show, well sucked to be you. Television stopped at midnight only to resume at 5:00 a.m. with morning news, faith healers, and Captain Kangaroo.
Back in my day *waves cane* the phone would ring and we had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA who might be calling. The highlight of my preteen life? When I got a phone cord long enough to extend the ENTIRE PHONE SYTEM UNIT into my room.
Cordless phones? Witchcraft.
I mostly played outside in the dirt. We slinked through barbed wire to traipse through rattlesnake infested fields searching for buried treasure—finding only fire ants, rusted tools, and the joy of bull nettle.
Under my cult-leader-type influence, we set way too much stuff on fire (using that Chemistry set I got for my birthday). Being a super non-PC generation, we killed a lot of imaginary Russians, made ashtrays in art class for Mother’s Day, and we all wanted to be Bruce Lee.
***True Fact #1: Once knocked myself out with nunchucks. True Fact #2: Eventually got pretty good at nunchucks. True Fact #3: We all wanted ninja throwing stars for Christmas, and 98% of parents did not find this at all odd.
Yet, I also played a lot of Atari. I even created multiple small business ventures using child labor (little brother and friends). We pulled weeds, washed cars, picked up dog poop all to score enough cash to imbibe in Pac Man and ice cream at the corner store….
Until we ran out of money and the clerk kicked us out. Then we had to resume being bored.
In school, teachers introduced us to computers that didn’t do much of anything useful…except allow us to die of digital dysentery.
Life was comparably simple for kids and adults. Get up, do your job, stay out of trouble, and go to bed. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Mom was awesome keeping up with bills because there were only like…five of them. Television had three channels. People didn’t expect you to be accessible 24/7. If you called and no one answered?
Contrast my life in 1988 with 2018? It takes everything for me not to pack up and move to Alaska. Except I’m too lazy to pack, hate being cold and never developed a taste for moose.
But seriously. Not only are we bombarded with calls, ads, emails, real mail and junk mail, but we can’t seem to escape.
Which is not exactly what’s so bad. What’s insane is we believe there’s a way to actually keep up with all this crap. But we can’t, because our world isn’t real.
When I was a kid, I spent time at other kids’ houses daily. Not BS ‘play dates’ where everyone dresses in ‘real clothes’ and cleans the house like it’s friggin’ Thanksgiving. All this so two sticky kids can whack each other with Jedi light-sabers that LOOK like actual light-sabers…instead of a stick.
The on-line world is filtered. Since websites thrive when people click, only the extremes are ever represented. Extremes get more clicks.
We’re deluged with the extremely beautiful, thin, fit, smart, talented and the teenager who’s now a billionaire because he invented an app that makes a thousand unique fart noises.
On the other end of this spectrum sits the nine-hundred pound man, the hoarder whose home is crammed with toaster pizzas and feral cats, and the dude who believes he’s really a unicorn and suffers profoundly because he needs an implant (a horn) in his forehead to feel ‘whole.’
I have no idea what should be important when everything is important.
I’m supposed to make millions of dollars, write books that fundamentally change the global culture, never age, have six-pack abs, a perfect marriage, rescue animals, save the rainforest, all while keeping a house so clean one could perform surgery in my bathroom.
The bathroom I refurbished myself using recycled tires, wire hangars, and wooden pallets. All held together with unenlightened dryer lint and non-GMO, vegan, eco-friendly glue I made…in my ‘free’ time.
Priority? Save the planet THEN show off on Faceplant, Flitter, Sintrest and Instasham.
Busy, Busy, Busy
I’m from the buckle of the Bible Belt and we have a saying. If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.
I’ve noticed that, unless I am mindful to unplug, get quiet and recalibrate, it is super easy for me to lose my way. Why? Everything is overwhelming. I hate my phone, am afraid of my mail and won’t shop until we’re down rationing toilet paper.
Every store is a mega-store with a zillion choices. This means I go all white girl and ‘literally can’t even.’
As an introvert, I’d choose being water-boarded to shopping. This puzzled me, but then I thought about how it was when I was a kid in the 80s. Stores were smaller and there weren’t a hundred choices in pasta sauce.
Michael’s (a craft store) was the size of a CVS (corner drug store). By the time I wended through sixty-two aisles to find ONE pair of knitting needles, it was time to go to Costco…which is the size of an aircraft hangar.
Then there’s the grocery store (for the stuff I don’t want to buy in BULK) and it has fifty aisles which include toys, clothing, and shoes.
SHOES? IT IS A GROCERY STORE.
Sure, I went out to do five things. By the time I got home (nine hours later) I’d walked seven miles. I was exhausted from the mental onslaught of trying to pick between seventy-five varieties of gluten-free rice. All these stores, in order to provide everything and save time…are the largest time-killers I must contend with.
Though if I grew my own tomatoes this wouldn’t be a problem. TP is a definite priority, yet a tad more challenging. Corn cobs? Maybe grow corn, too.
Objects on ‘To Do List’ might actually appear more important than they really are. When everything is a priority, nothing is. Ironically, I actually don’t engage in a lot of social media, which is weird because I’m an expert and write blogs and books about it.
Yet, unlike other experts who claim we must be everywhere all the time and endlessly entertaining (and promoting), my priority is to write more books, not be a mega-marketer.
It’s why I created a social media/branding system based on quality, with a focus on meaningful interactions. Author engagement over author omnipresence. A brand is vital and so is social media, but our PRIORITY is to build a brand and still have time to write great books.
But social media isn’t the only place insanity can take over. I can have a Pinterest worthy home…or go to jail for murdering my family. Life is about choices and I’m pretty sure prison white not my color (and I’d miss my family).
Every day is a habit or waking, taking QUIET time to reflect, then whittling everything down to what TRULY matters.
Because ‘having everything’ is playing life like Pac Man instead of chess.
In Pac Man you never win. It just gets faster and faster and harder and harder UNTIL YOU DIE. Chess? There is strategy, patience, willingness to ‘let go’ of even ‘important’ pieces to protect the most crucial one. In chess, you CAN actually win!
Entropy is real and alive and a beast in the digital age. Much we can’t control. Trust me. Target gives no figs I really don’t want eighty aisles of STUFF…especially when they only ever have two checkout lanes open, despite having forty.
*wonders if thirty-eight of the registers are real or props*
Only So Many Figs to Give—If It Isn’t TRULY a Priority?
We might want to have everything, but everything is a lie. We can’t make all things a priority because then, well…welcome to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.
Back to those crucial questions I mentioned in the beginning? If we’re exhausted, strung out, and feeling like losers, it’s time to stop for a priority check (and a dose of reality).
The media is a lousy measuring guide because we will never be enough. If we were, they couldn’t sell us more STUFF. They sell us crap we don’t need by making us feel like losers, that we are missing out on the AMAZING…when we really aren’t.
Most of life is in the average. We’re only capable of being remarkable in a couple places. Why? Because being remarkable takes focus and a LOT of hard work. So choose the PRIORITY, then learn to be cool with the rest.
My home is clean…enough. It’s covered in cat fur but that’s because I value my pets more than the opinion of others. If they don’t like the cat fur, feel free to come over and clean. I’ll cook 😀 .
A final caveat on this? If I want my writing to be exemplary, where does it rank on my ‘list?’ Is it a priority? Since I’m OCD and a neat-freak, I know NOT to clean anything until I write. I must do this because my PRIORITY is to be a superlative author/blogger, NOT Martha Stewart for an hour before my kid and cats destroy everything.
If my writing keeps ending up at the END of my list, more hard questions.
Why am I procrastinating? What am I afraid of? Is my writing always last because I believe I don’t have what it takes? Remember noble distractions can mask as priorities.
Obviously I’m not finished with my novel because my family needed help with *insert crisis here*. Clearly family is a PRIORITY.
Maybe. But might want to do a gut check just in case 😉 .
What Are Your Thoughts? Then GET OFF MY LAWN! 😛
Do you feel guilty about doing NOTHING? Struggle to get of the hamster wheel of To Dos? Does it seem like the ‘easier’ our world tries to make life the harder it gets? Is it an active effort to keep priorities in line? Do you find your writing constantly put off for…later?
Do you miss being unavailable? And people not being ticked off because you were unavailable? Sigh. What do you miss about the ‘good old days’? I get it, modern life does have a lot of good, but I do miss having nothing to do.
Have a hard time doing anything for yourself? Because it feels too selfish. Once EVERYONE else is tended, THEN…maybe…
There are cool classes below if you want to have fun honing your skills. Otherwise? Feel free not to scroll down 😉 . Working to make this easy, y’all.
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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When: FRIDAY May 25th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST
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Hilarious! Thank you Kristen for sharing your thoughts … you were right to do so!
? Kristen, you just recapped my entire childhood, down to the barbed wire fences and digital dysentery. Love this post, because it’s so true. Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels exhausted after a trip to the grocery store!
Spot on, lady. You nailed it!
I miss real quiet time. There’s always this nagging pulse that I should connect more with my family and friends because it’s SO easy. Then, when we’re together, everyone’s checking their phones.
That’s not real connection. I miss everyone being present in the moment because that’s all there was. NEWSFLASH: that is STILL all there is. We’ve just let the digital mechanisms convince us otherwise.
And I wasn’t ever really bored as a child. I made up stories and places and friends and if my brain got too tired for that, I picked up a book. My husband was raised by ADAM 12, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and the like, but our TV was only turned on after dinner and tuned to whatever my dad wanted to watch. I’ll still sit and read (or crochet with earbuds blasting an audiobook) while Mr. Child-of-Sitcoms watches three hours of programs in the evenings.
These days kids think things like going to school are boring and playing outside is boring. It’s a sad commentary on our priorities.
I was never bored for long….ergo the fires 🙂 . WHAT? It was CHEMISTRY! And I was a super villain 😛
Maybe not right on the mark here…but my brother bought a van to replace his 13-year-old van, and the new one came with the original owner’s manual (the seller was so proud of having it to go with the van). This manual is 814 pages long! 814! pages!!
The pressure to perform/do/accomplish is absurd – and with writing, I think we all have plenty of our own internal pressures to make ourselves crazy. Heap onto that everything we read about writing, which too often either screams ‘it might seem impossible, but it’s not! We prove it here!’ or ‘Sea of crap books – is yours one of them?’ or some other crazy crap that we cram into our little over-heated brains.
heck – we pay to go to ‘retreats’ to write – we buy peace and quiet! :O)
I work from home, live alone (with Buster dog) on a one-block street. So far this morning, people have gathered in front of my house to corral a loose dog, 4 (count’em) chain saws are running in various spots surrounding me with walls of revving buzz (why do men have to rev a chain saw?), a school bus has rumbled by – twice (no kids on this street), and I’ve managed to get through 2 sentences of the same paragraph I’ve been trying to re-write.
Sorry. Overload seems to seep into our worlds from every corner, as everyone tries to do everything, all the time.
I’d like to buy one of those ‘dead’ towns in Kansas and turn it into a secret hideout for writers. One gas station. One grocery. One internet provider. One biga$$ library.
Thanks, Kristen – sorry for the rant, I blame the chainsaws…
This is so true, Kristen. I find myself getting pulled in so many directions especially at the end of the school year when there are activities I need to attend. My writing time does suffer, but I catch myself and make sure I whittle a little time here and there to get it done. It’s not perfect, but it works for the time being. 🙂 Awesome post! As always, you hit the nail on the head!
Thank you. I feel da overwhelm all too well and have been struggling to focus. Maria’s comment about “paying for peace and quiet” prompted a smile of recognition. Anyway, thanks to your blog post, I decided to assess how I spend my time. A LOT of it is devoted to health, really: food wrangling, the doctors, exercise, but I need to assess better. A lot of things can fall into important categories, so dividing up the day can be a challenge. Tough choices need to be made (note the passive voice 😉 ). Fortunately, I don’t give a rat’s app about the house, as long as neither of us succumbs to real dysentery.
OMG. Completely my childhood- minus the snakes. We had one phone and I had to pull the handset into the closet. My parents wouldn’t spring for call waiting so I got in trouble a lot for tying up the phone- although my parents didn’t find out until days later when they saw that person at the store or they finally got through.
I’ve set the expectation that I will only look at emails twice a week and it may take a day to respond to a text but I will see them sooner than emails. It allows me to funnel the important stuff to one place.
Most of my time in emails is spent unsubscribing to junk I never asked for. It feels like unsubscribing means that one will stop but they sell your address to a thousand more companies. They proliferate like bunnies!
I don’t bother unsubscribing because yes they are simply selling your email to someone new. It’s why my yahoo email long ago went feral. I have better things to do with my time. Like stick forks in light sockets.
Lol I remember playing in the dirt fondly. Jeez, I miss those days
For me as to-do’s go, family is always first (of course), then writing. My online life will always be at the bottom of the list, even though as a writer it’s super important for me. Somehow it all works out. The time I spend on my online life is quality, not quantity, and I’m constantly surprised by the return I receive.
I haven’t read ALL the above, ’cause serious writing awaits, BUT I shall when I take my next break. (See how busy we ALL are?!) If I had been holding a mug of coffee or tea while reading your words, I’d have wet boobs by now.Loved it!I could be your Grandma, so know all about ‘a different time zone!’Imagine writing your name inside your bedroom window, praying for new slippers so your naked toe won’t touch the cold linoleum…and fathoming who has a phone so you can talk to your new (rich) friend at college.(Smoke signals are not in fashion). You’ve heard a rumour about something called television? What is it? New reading glasses? And that rich girl at college also has some new-fangled heating system called ‘central?’ What a strange world we’re entering…
This is something I am *still* struggling with. Or, I should say, being okay with my choices is what I’m struggling with.
I decided to make writing a priority right after my family and day job (I need the day job to eat and have shelter, so, you know, priorities).
But my house is a mess. An awful, awful mess. Rather than clean it this weekend, I took my kids to the park then took my writing time.
I left the kids clothes in the laundry basket when they didn’t put them away rather than doing it during my precious hour of writing time.
I let the dishes pile up because it was my husband’s turn to do them, and I wasn’t doing them for him instead of write.
Yeah, I feel bad about it sometimes. Okay, a lot of times. But it’s taken this kind of prioritization to actually write books. One was published in April, one is coming out this fall, and one is scheduled for next spring.
It took me saying “no” to a lot of other things to make that happen.
So true and entertaining to boot. I especially appreciated the section just before this line: “Remember noble distractions can mask as priorities.”
There really nothing else like having a specific start time for your writing (whether that’s first thing in the morning or noon or 8:23 pm)to let us know we’re facing resistance. And recognizing resistance is step 1 in moving through it.
Thanks for the reminder, Kristen!
The Lint of Truth in my dryer comees from my T shirts. I can tell because, being made of 100% cotton they shed twice as much of their corporporeal form as my panties and most of my shorts. My T shirts just keep getting shorter and tighter every time I was them. I don’t mind too much because short and tight kinda rocks in a T shirt. Socks I don’t care about at all because I live in Florida and we don’t wear socks here. Not even in the winter because we never actually have winter here. Besides I don’t think socks look good with my sandals, the only kind of shoes I own. Tennis shoes or sneakers? Ewww.
Seriously, what a funny, entertaining and truthful post Kristen. Thank you so much. It brightened my day. I too have set my priorty on writing the best stories possible, while letting other “critical” things slide. One of the things I like to let slide is marketing my books. I hate marketing so much. It makes me feel cheap and dirty. I’m sucking it up and doing it, reluctantly, and not as much as I know I should if I want to establish my “brand.” When I can’t stand focusing on marketing my recently published novel (which is most of the time), I revert to my go-to and work on my next novel which is much more fun.
Ugh, please forgive the typos. I wish I could edit these posts.
Great post. I coach people who are addressing this very subject. Find your #1 priority, then act on it. If there are blocks, then identify them and work to eliminate them.
This is one of the funniest, most awesome blogs I’ve ever read! Talk about nailing it — Kristen, you are a hammer. I’m the generation right before Gen-Xers, but your observations still apply. I laughed so hard. Still cleaning my spurted-out coffee off my computer screen.
You nailed it once again. I found myself reflecting on my childhood, and remembering fondly about being bored. Never for long, of course, but I do miss that feelings.
And you hit the nail on the head, “Remember noble distractions can mask as priorities.” I struggle with making time to write. This past weekend, I put aside everything else and took time to write. It felt so rewarding, amazing and fulfilling. Now, I just have to carry that feeling, remember that feeling and say “no” to more things. I tend to always be busy, but not fulfilled, because I’m not making writing a priority. Bottom line. I can make up 100 different excuses, and at the end of the day, they are just that. Excuses.
Back in the day, I wrote my novels on a notebook under a tree, and sometimes on the typewriter. I am GenX, too. I have missed that feeling of dreaming and creating. It’s time to get in touch with that girl again and make her a priority, not just an afterthought.
Great post K. Loved it. You go girl! BTW – I hate shopping too. I jokingly tell folks I never got the ‘shopping gene’. But really it’s cos I’m a bit of an introvert…(can one ever be only ‘a bit’ of anything?)
I laughed my way through this post, nodding and yup-ing. I no longer feel guilty not answering a text right away or shutting everything off so I can enjoying sitting at the park. When life throws enough crap your way, you learn. Hopefully.
PS: I never liked shopping, never ever ever.
Must be a few of us out there that have learnt ‘something’ about ‘being real’ then; good to know! It always amuses me how many people use their mobiles in the cafes/restaurants – totally ignoring the person/people they’re with. The classic was recently – 4 people sitting at a table next to us, in a beautiful tourist destination in NZ – and they were all using their mobiles – doing their SM maybe – and not speaking or engaging with each other. At all. Took photos of food – posted, I presume – ate food. Paid and left. Not judging. Just observed. For me, there is nothing nicer than sitting and chatting over a meal or a coffee with OH/or friends and being ‘fully present’ to them and what they’re saying. I don’t take my mobile into a café or restaurant; leave it in the car (it’s a basic old fashioned flip-top and has very little connective ability) which I don’t use anyway; I purposefully had to go looking for it a couple of months ago (a rare shopping excursion – with only this to get) after dropping and breaking my 10 year old similar style one.
here is my trick to stay focused, I don’t answer the phone. I don’t have a smart phone. The cell I do have is a pay as you go, I use it so little it cost me about 100 bucks a year, that’s right, I wrote 100 bucks a year. If you can’t text or take pictures with your phone you can’t waste time.
If it seems important it probably is. I don’t take chances. Noting the consequences of neglect helps prioritize importance determinations.
Oh, boy, talk about a trip down memory lane. Summer holidays consisted of us kids disappearing into the wilds and not being seen again until we got hungry … and 98% of parents did not find this at all odd. True that!
This really hits home, from start to finish. Especially the Pac Man/chess analogy. So true.
I’m glad I’m not the only one afraid of mail, and now email. I unplug frequently, and sometimes I don’t feel guilty about it. When I start feeling that being in a cheap hotel room sounds like a nice getaway, I know it’s time to step back.
And, I have sacrificed my writing two days this week. It’s Tuesday; that means 100% of the days this week. Alas.
You’re the boss!!
As I was reading through this and laughing hard at how much I could relate to this, my phone went off with a text from CVS asking me if I wanted to refill my prescription, which is the same text I got two weeks ago that I said no to. There’s a lot out there, and I find myself overwhelmed at it all. My writing has suffered recently because I’ve been going so many places all at once and have been getting on Facebook instead of writing. Reading blog posts are a better use of time recently because I learn from them. I’ve fallen into the trap of people telling me that I have to be everywhere in order to market what I’m writing, but now that algorithms have changed, nobody sees my stuff anyway, so I just need to write and be happy, really : ) That’s my philosophy for now, anyway. Maybe the next interruptive text will tell me I should believe differently. But who cares? I’m going out to feed my chickens.
“I’ve noticed that, unless I am mindful to unplug, get quiet and recalibrate, it is super easy for me to lose my way. Why? Everything is overwhelming. I hate my phone, am afraid of my mail and won’t shop until we’re down rationing toilet paper.”
Wow, Kristen, you’ve described me!
Even recovering from cancer treatments I have maintained a long to-do list (of course it did include things like reading blogs).
I still remember that ridiculous ad for I don’t know what–“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan…”
What a horrible burden to lay on young women. It is impossible to do everything! I wish society would quit pretending that it isn’t.
I have a very hard time to do ‘nothing’ but reading your post made me realize a lot of what I do amounts to ‘nothing.’ So I’m better at it than I thought I was! But, I can relate to the feeling of losing my serenity while I live under the mistaken notion I can keep up with everything. Yesterday I allowed myself to sit and read for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and that is the first time I’ve done that since I entered semi-retirement a few months ago. I’m going to bookmark this post and re-read it when I get out of control!
Ugh. Reading this at the end of a long day when I barely managed to do all the stuff on my list…except the writing.
Fine! I’ll “prioritize” my writing, force myself to do it first so it actually gets done and all that stuff. (But seriously, thanks. This came at the perfect moment.)
This is a very well timed post.
I often feel like there is too much to do, particularly too much I don’t really want to do, but which I “need” to do.
Some of it is how we live in a world full of sales pitches, even hanging out with friends, one of the more common refrains is some variation of “have you seen/read X?” And more often than not you haven’t, and it turns into a recommendation, which is nice, but there is so much to read and see and do.
I think part of it is we don’t have a widely expressed sentiment of “enough”.
Not only do we see all these “perfect” homes and lives in images and videos (commercials and TV), but there’s also the way in which so many feel a “need” to be better than they are for the sake of others.
Growing up I often remember times where, if company was coming to visit, the house had to be particularly clean, which struck me as a little comical.
Heaven forbid they see how we “really” live.
But yeah, it is a challenge.
I try, whenever possible, to choose and say “what one thing do I really want to get done”, and until that’s done, nothing else is even considered.
But there are also times, particularly in my day job, where someone comes in, and they need answers (or help) right now, and there’s no recourse but to quickly make a note of where you left off and then go searching (in mind or in notes) for the relevant information.
I will say, I do love computers for their ability to organize, and the Find command.
If I have a random idea that doesn’t relate to “now”, but I don’t want to lose it, I write an email and send it to myself. Cause I figure that way I’ve got it, and it’s not some obscure document, it’s my email. Eventually I’ll go through and see which “random notes” still have relevance.
And sometimes I just need to put in foam earplugs (to block out the sounds of the world), set my phone to silent (but have it just in case), and go for a walk, or sit quietly.
Absolutely loved your post. Your uplifting words made me LOL and encouraged me that I’m really not strange after all because I’m me and not doing life the way folks are “expected” to these days. But hey, I’m all for the no-aging bit!