Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part II

This series came to fruition because of a combination of inspirations (you can read Part I here). First of all, I signed up for a writing class at Portland Community College. Generally, I make an effort to take a few writing workshops a year, but usually the inspiration to actually put pen to paper comes and goes as quickly as the 2-hour workshop itself. When I started this blog, I was dedicated to posting every week—and I did, for quite some time! That quickly slowed down because of dates, or dancing, or drama…or all of the above distractions. They always seemed to sidetrack me from my one true passion—writing. Armed with the PCC class, I knew it would be at least 6 solid weeks of writing accountability, and hopefully, consistency.
Also, it’s October. Yay! Do you know what comes after October? That’s right, November! Do you know what November means to an English nerd like me? That’s right! National Novel Writing Month  AND Wordstock! I haven’t dedicated myself to NaNoWriMo in several years, and now is the perfect time to do it. Also, in past years I’ve always been travelling during Wordstock, so I’m anxiously anticipating my first experience with that. Anyway, read on for my thoughts for Part II.
A few months ago I made a conscious decision to ask myself some hard questions.
I looked in the mirror and questioned, why don’t I make as much money as I should?
I had been doing two jobs for the price of one for a while, and if I’m being truthful, I had known I was underpaid long before that. I had always worked hard with an open heart, knowing it was for the good of the team. Then I thought about all the times I was short on funds, working paycheck-to-paycheck, missing trips or events because I didn’t have the extra cash. I wasn’t drowning in debt or anything, but a sneaker wave could come at any time, and if it did, I could be in big trouble. It wasn’t fair!
So why didn’t I make more money when it was obvious that I deserved fair compensation? I had never asked for more than what was offered. I work hard and am loyal to my company, but I also tend not to rock the boat. You know which people never advance? The ones who never question the status quo. In order to stand out, I had to stand up. Through personal examination and talking to many wise friends, I learned to never expect anyone to grab my hand and lead me to higher ground. I needed to figure out my own unique way to escape those rising waters and succeed.
Here’s a little food for thought that inspired me from the Coffee and Pints blog, created by two of my former coworkers.
Communicate with your manager and peers. They were not hired to be mind-readers. If you don’t make your interests known, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will figure it out and be able to help you.
Make a plan and write it down. This is critical when your goal is something bigger and more multifaceted like earning a promotion or finding a new job. Once your plan is written, ask a mentor or someone you respect professionally to review and discuss it with you. You’ll not only get feedback but the act of sharing it will make your goal seem real and less ephemeral.
Have an open attitude. An interesting thing happens when you begin to initiate. As you take action to move in the direction of your goal, others begin to respond, sharing ideas and information. And sometimes, if you’re open, the conversations that ensue lead to new opportunities.
Believe in yourself. You made it this far, of course you can go further. We all have self-doubt. Nobody likes to fail. Push through all of that and initiate—and don’t ever stop.
In the past, I’d get a physical reaction even to the thought of confrontation—and that is exactly how I saw asking for a raise—however well-deserved it was. But I kept telling myself I was worth it. I saw the proof in front of me in the proposal I wrote.
Write your thoughts down. Speak from your heart. If you think that you don’t have the strength to back up what you need to say, practice. Use YOUR voice. You decide what is in your heart—you decide how you want to say it. No matter what the topic, if you speak your truth with 100% conviction, then you have done your best.
Use the Four Agreements in every interaction.
Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity.
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you.
Don’t make assumptions. We all know what happens when you make ASSumptions…
Always do your best. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
If you’d like, please share a time when you used effective communication by being impeccable with your word, and describe how you did it.

Thankful for the Balance

Think about how many times a day you thank the Universe for something. Yes! I snagged the last free muffin! Do you do this a few times a day? Now, think about how many times a day you (vocally or just mentally) complain or are ungrateful about something in your life. Uuuurrrrggghhh! The pharmacy line at Freddies is SO LONG! I personally don’t have a balance between the positive and the negative in this situation. Recently it was brought to my attention that I should be more mindful of that balance. Once I thought about it, I realized I have this knee-jerk reaction to immediately bitch and moan about something if it’s not perfectly the way I like it. I think it’s natural to be disappointed or grumble when something doesn’t go our way. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t complain, but I’d like to see if I could train myself to, instead of first having the nose-wrinkling negative reaction, be thankful for what positives are there. I see the pharmacy line is pretty long. This will give me some time to people-watch. Maybe I can develop some characters for my novel while I’m at it!
I didn’t do very much blogging in November. My focus was on National Novel Writing Month. When I looked at the stats on my WordPress dashboard, I was dismayed to see how few people had been clicking on my blog for the last few weeks. I took it very hard, thinking that all of my readers had forgotten about me, and how bummed out I was about it. Now that I have had time to breathe I realize that maybe everyone needed a break. If I had been blogging all month, I wouldn’t have had time for NaNoWriMo. If I didn’t do NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t have met all the great new friends I met during that month. I also wouldn’t have developed an amazing story that will someday be a bestselling novel! See how I did that? I just needed to follow the breadcrumbs to the place of positivity, rather than greedily following them right into negativity’s lair. The question, then, is how do I start reshaping my autopilot thoughts? I’m asking you! I don’t have an answer to this except to say that practice makes perfect. Perhaps keeping a journal of it every time it happens is the answer. Honestly, I would have time for little else in my day if I did that. Small judgments and opinions are constantly popping up in the peanut gallery of my brain. So what suggestions do you have?
I’d like to make a list of things I am grateful for right now. I missed the chance to do a Thanksgiving blog, but I think being grateful is relevant all year round. Besides, it is the holiday season, and I like to think most people become a little less cynical and a little more appreciative during this time of year.
1) The number one thing I am grateful for today is that I have a safe place where I can express my fears and questions, my triumphs and giddy anecdotes, to an audience who lovingly embraces every word, and does not judge me.
2) This should be said more often, but I am so grateful to have shelter, food, and heat. I consider myself to be somewhat miserly; I rarely have extra money to spend. What I have, though, greatly outweighs what I am lacking. Many people in America can’t say the same thing.
3) I am exceptionally grateful to have the friends and family I have acquired in the last 32 years. Every single person who has come in and out of my life deserves a medal, because they have brought me so many life lessons.
4) The last thing I am grateful for today is for me. What I mean is that I am grateful for the person I have become. I appreciate all of my experiences, my body, my mind, and my incredible spirit. I promise to use this attitude to try and see my everyday nuisances as blessings in disguise while recognizing that everything, good or bad, happens for a reason.

NaNoWriMo has begun–write now!

I started the blog this week by creating a pie chart of how my time is divided into a million pieces, how I’m soooo busy, and how I worry that I won’t have enough time for National Novel Writing Month amongst all my other bad-ass extracurriculars. Then I realized that is pushing the nerd envelope, even for me. So I pitched that concept and decided to be honest. I may not write great blogs during November. I may decide to copy and paste some of my novel into WordPress and call it a blog post. What I don’t need to do is worry that you all are judging me for not writing—except that I am writing, in enormous quantities—and do what my heart tells me, which is to live my NaNoWriMo experience and take a breather from This Curious Universe if I need one.
What I will give to you this week is a look inside my brain. My novel is going to emphasize the characters instead a plot. Have you ever seen the movies “Mother and Child” or “Crash?” Those were based on the intertwining of several people’s lives, all of which came together in a dramatic clash of action and emotion at the end. My story is heading in the way of dramatic, for sure. But first I need to get to know these people and figure out how they are going to lead this story.
If you’ve ever started writing, and all of a sudden the story took over and left you typing frantically to get it all out, then you’ll understand my elation when last night one of the main characters finally told me what her purpose was in the story. It was one of those moments where the answer was so obvious, but it had taken me the better part of a day to figure it out. I got over 2,000 words written last night, which was amazing and gave me the ability to meet the November 3rd word quota. I have never met a word quota in my life. I was so excited!
Now that I am a few hundred words ahead, I can stop panicking and really start digging in. These characters are going to tell me what they do and do not like; if they are outgoing or quiet; if they went to school or built their way up from the bottom at a small company; if they secretly snort cocaine. It takes a while to develop them and to get to know their motives and personalities. I’ve got a gay 25-year old man, a playboy ER doctor, a female black activist who is missing her pinky finger, and a grumpy Persian man who is ready to retire, among many others. Those descriptions are just one part of them, and this week I am determined to find out everything about all of my characters. Have an idea? I welcome them! I don’t want to expose too much of my story today, but I can honestly say that any plot twist you throw at me, I could probably work into my story somehow.
If you are a comrade in NaNoWriMo 2011, good luck! If you’re in the Portland area, hit me up for a write-in. I attended my first one on Wednesday with a new friend that I met at the Portland NaNoWriMo kickoff meeting and it was highly successful! Until next week…