Happy Thanksgiving! And an Update

So, it’s Canadian Thanksgiving this long weekend, which means today most everyone I know will be sleeping off the turkey-induced ‘itis.  Lucky for me, the fam and I will be celebrating it today, being the holiday Monday, instead (awww, yeahhh…!) so there’s that to look forward to.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I like to think of it not so much as a historical celebration (lol…whole other discussion right there…) but rather, as a chance to focus on the things in life I am truly grateful for. The usual suspects are there, of course: my wonderful mother, my awesome brothers and sister, the incredible friends I have, and most everyone I’ve encountered who has enriched, and continues to enrich my life in every way. I am also really thankful for a number of key folks who have allowed me to express my creativity – in terms of my photography – in very specific and rewarding ways (I participated my very first group exhibitions this year, all within mere months of each other – three this year alone!)

But I am also really, ridiculously grateful for some of the tough situations I’ve been through lately because they’ve allowed me to see, for one thing, what a fantastic support system I have, and secondly, in many ways I’ve shown myself just what I am capable of taking on and getting done.

You may have noticed a distinct lack of activity on this here blog over the last, ohhhh two and a half months or so. It isn’t because I went into hibernation, or moved to Antarctica for the summer (hehehe, no. Penguins are cute…but not that cute.) It’s more or less been as a result of me trying to take on what ends up being more than I can realistically handle, and then failing woefully at much of it.

The thing is, I told myself at the beginning of the year to say YES. To take on every opportunity and just go at it with gusto. The problem is, when you say yes to everything without proper planning, you can very quickly find yourself in a hole of your own creation.

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I have had a lot of personal successes (see thanksgiving, above :)) but I have also unfortunately dropped the ball in a few key areas professionally because I was too busy trying to juggle a bunch of other balls, so to speak (okay, I think this metaphor’s stretching a little…)

This has left not only me disappointed, but also people who were counting on me to deliver, and for that I have been truly sorry. (I’m really sorry!)

My reaction afterwards has often been to simply push the events to the back of my mind and buckle down, and brace myself for the next round of storms, but…no. I’ve gradually come to the obvious conclusion that I need to face my failures in order to have any semblance of success. Learn the lessons so as not to repeat them.

I’ve identified a number of flaws which cause me to continue to repeat my mistakes, simply because I’ve neglected to address them. And I’m done with that.

Hence, this *extremely* public accountability speech.

The Problem

I’m going to start with the idea of responsibility. I often fail because of a misunderstanding of my given responsibilities. I’ve gotten too used to working things out at my own pace, and for a perfectionist/procrastinator like myself, this may be fine for working out the great Canadian novel (lol, no not really) but when it comes to delivering for someone else, I need to snap out of it. It’s really all about learning the fine art of time management, which of course brings me to my next point:

The notion of deadlines. As a writer, deadlines are essentially my bread and butter. But also, my entire career thus far – since university graduation three years ago – has been freelance. Blogging, mostly, in the hopes of building up more of a portfolio than what I graduated with (so far so good) and also with the aim of building up a network through my contacts for interviews and reviews (also not bad.) But what it all meant was that I became a bit lax about maintaining deadlines for myself. When you can submit a post at any time of the day or night, with no thought to the news cycle or worries about a story making it to the printing press on time, deadlines begin to feel more like gentle suggestions rather than rigid rules.

Now, blogging doesn’t pay super well. Not yet, anyway…but it will! (Yes, I know. I’m convinced that all writers are by default optimists. No one else does this so long for so little O.o) So this year I began to branch out into copywriting. It wasn’t the entertainment writing I was used to from the previous two years of blogging, but all writing in my mind can be good creative practice, no matter what style.

But this is one of the areas where I almost crashed and burned. Copywriting, by default, means you are simply one part of a greater machine, usually working for a client with no time or money to burn. It’s also often one of the most crucial parts of the process. So if you find yourself slipping, it isn’t just you – it’s the entire project.

This is the confession part. I slipped up. Not to the extent of disaster, but enough to fracture the client relationship and severely disappoint myself.

In fact, I was afraid that I would never be hired as a copywriter by anyone ever again (fear can be such a magnifying glass, sometimes.) Now, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was enough to shake me into making critical changes in my workflow. Because just like pain is an indicator that something is wrong, sometimes a little disaster is necessary to allow you to create a Disaster Prevention Plan.

The Plan

For starters, I’m shaking up my schedule. I’ve tended to write at various times of the day, working the writing around my life. But I am beginning to realize that consistency is the key to almost everything.

So I’m building myself a writing schedule. I have noticed that my most productive writing times are either first thing in the morning, or early evening. For the purpose of my current academic schedule (I started my Masters this fall) the mornings are the most feasible, as my classes are mainly in the late afternoon / evening. So that’s part one: designated work time.

I’ve developed a system whereby I schedule phone alarms (loud, grating, strident alarms…ughh) to remind myself to get started on work that needs to get done. The idea is that when I find myself losing focus or procrastinating during said work time, these alarms will jolt me out of whatever it is I’m doing and force me to refocus on what I really need to be doing at that moment, in order to accomplish whatever given assignment is on my plate.

The second part of this Disaster Prevention Plan is this: learning to say no.

It is my belief (reinforced by experience) that a huge amount of success comes from simply letting yourself be open to opportunities and change. I have benefited from this many, many times. But what I have also realized is that there’s being open to opportunities, and then there is biting off more than you can chew. The responsible thing is to realistically look at your situation, at your plans, at your ability to deliver, and then decide whether or not you can take something else on.

It can be hard when all you are thinking about it how to make that next payment, or how to promote yourself that much more, but when you make a promise and fail to deliver, you can trust that that client’s testimonial is not the kind of promotion you’re looking for.

Because I am a recent returnee to the world of academia, I have tried to make a point of cutting down on any extraneous activities that will take away from my core focus right now – which is to learn. But I am finding some of my old habits creeping through and showing up in unwelcome ways. Obviously, in this situation, it’s a lot more cut and dried. Your performance is tied to your grades. But even more than that, being a graduate program, your overall professionalism is taken into account even after you graduate, because the professors whose classes you attend are the same ones who work and have ties in the industry you find yourself in once you graduate. So it becomes a situation where you can either create your own opportunities by sustaining a good relationship with the people you might find yourself working with down the road, or you damn yourself to further years of professional frustration.

A bit melodramatic, perhaps, but the older I get, the more I realize just how ridiculously important relationships are. Not what you know, not even who you know, but who knows you – and what they think about you. As the fantastic and wise Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So those are the first two things I am working on. I may return to this as time goes by (public accountability FTW!) but this is one thing I needed to lay out in the open.

Because not only is this my year of saying Yes, it is also the beginning of a hopefully lifelong habit of transparency that I’m aiming to cultivate for myself, in all areas of my life. Because to be honest, it’s just a lot simpler when all the cards are on the table.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see more of you. Once again, Happy Thanksgiving!

…Unless you’re a turkey. In which case I’ll say, You had a good run, friend.

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