Is “Follow Your Dream” Good Advice?

“Follow your dream.” Maybe your parents gave you that advice when you were in school. Or maybe you read it in a self-help book along the way. Following your dream is certainly a deeply rooted idea in American culture – the idea that if we just do what we love, we’ll be rewarded – if not with riches, than with self-satisfaction and happiness.  Think of Olympians who say that their parents always supported their dream or Broadway stars who say that living just barely above the poverty line for many years was all worth it because they were following their dream.

When I was little I was convinced that my dream was to be a writer. I had a romanticized view of what that might entail and like most kids had no idea what the day-to-day reality of being a writer might really be, how difficult it was to be published and obtain some level of success at writing. Economic realities meant that I always had a job during my college years, seemed to always owe someone money and upon graduation with a Bachelor’s in English, was faced with the same question repeatedly from well-intentioned friends and family: “What kind of job can you get with an English major?”

Turns out, there are many jobs out there for good communicators, but the one I dreamed about, penning the great American novel, seemed awfully naive in the face of mounting bills and debt. After taking the summer to go home to San Diego and think about what I should do, I resolved to return to L.A., resume my part-time job of English tutoring at UCLA and search for “real” jobs.

After a couple of months of interviewing, I was rewarded with a job offer that I thought wouldn’t entirely compromise my dreams. A technology company wanted to hire me – an English major with no technical background – to write their user manuals. How bad could that be? I would be paid to write, albeit, about the ins and outs of test equipment and communications protocols. I was thrilled that I could pay my bills, pay off my debt and enter the real, working world. My writing dream wasn’t completely sacrificed, I thought.

But writing user manuals became tedious and un-fulfilling, to say the least. Fortunately for me, the head of the marketing department noticed my writing skills, my youthful enthusiasm and my desire to be more involved in the external-facing aspects of the company and offered me a job where I could apply my skills to public relations, event management, advertising, collateral and many other aspects of marketing communications. 25 years later, I’m still working in technology PR and marketing, but for myself and from the comfort of my home, with my own consulting practice that I’ve built over the past 19 years.

Did I follow my dream? Not exactly. When people ask me if I like my job, I always say that every job has good days and bad days, fun parts and frankly, soul-sucking parts. There is the reality: 25 years later I have a mortgage, one child in college and one heading there in a few years and a lifestyle that requires both my spouse and I to contribute. There is also another reality: I’ve quietly pursued my original dream, fiction writing, on the side and discovered something important – while I still love to write, I am probably not cut out for the life of a full-time writer. The reality is that even my so-called dream job has good days and bad days, enjoyable activities and those that are painful.

So what do you do when you discover that your dream isn’t truly what you had in mind? You move on. There are parts of my day job that I still enjoy and parts that I don’t, but all in all, it continues to reward me both financially and intellectually. Separately, I continue to pursue the parts of my childhood dream that fulfill me – taking classes to improve my creative writing skills, penning the occasional short story, continuing to work here and there on the novel I “finished’ a few years ago, when the mood strikes me, and writing this blog.  Outside of work and writing, there are other passion-fueling activities: family and friends, music, sports, great books, food and wine, watching my daughters imagine, explore and wrestle with their own dreams.  Some might say I didn’t follow my dream and I guess I didn’t follow the track exactly. Still, I can’t help but wake up some mornings feeling blessed and lucky, that despite it all, I am living the dream – maybe not the one I’d imagined, but one that fulfills me, nonetheless.

How about you? Did you follow your dream?  Or find another along the way? Do you encourage your kids to follow their dreams? How do you support them in their quest to pursue a dream while still preparing them for the realities of the world?

Rejecting the Kindle: Why I Still Need Real Books

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

Having been both an avid reader and a fan of technology most of my life, it would seem that jumping on the e-reader bandwagon would be a no-brainer for me. I’ve worked in technology for more than 20 years and have embraced it all the way. Between all of us, my family owns five Mac laptops, four iPhones, a desktop Mac, an iPad and a PC (only because I have to for work). We all use a variety of social media and applications including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In other words, there is no technology resistance around these parts.And yet, I just can’t seem to bring myself to make the jump to e-readers.

I figured that owning the iPad would bridge that gap. I wouldn’t have to switch to purchase a reading-specific device like the Kindle; with the iPad, I could use all of my familiar applications and start making the transition to downloading and reading books on that beautiful device. I’ve tried it exactly twice and while I did manage to finish the two books I downloaded, the experience left me…well, cold.

There’s something about the feel of a book, the smell of the paper – whether it’s bookstore-new or an old classic that has been handed down and sitting on a shelf for years. The weight of a the hard cover, the examination of the artwork, the reading of the inside flaps and back-of-book blurbs. Even paperbacks have a charm totally lacking from the sterile screen of its e-reader cousins.

I can’t quite give up the thrill of browsing a bookstore and picking up each title, trying to decide which one to read.  I still love having my own library of books at home, browsing the shelves that hold both new and old. My worn copy of  Gone with the Wind, spine still intact, but pages yellowing, brings back memories of learning to love books at the ripe age of 10. My collection of used paperback classics with their highlighted passages and folded corners recall hours spent in Royce Hall classrooms and Powell library, dissecting characters, motivations and themes. Each spine on the shelf  represents not just the story contained within, but a story that is uniquely mine.  I can’t quite get that same feeling from a collection of electronic files residing on a mobile device.

I know, I know…the Kindle and its ilk are the future. It’s great for traveling, you can pop it conveniently into your purse or bag and take it anywhere. If someone gives you a great tip on a new book, there’s no ordering from Amazon or driving to the Barnes & Noble or heading to the library to see if it’s available – in just a few clicks, it’s all yours. Immediate gratification.

I guess in this world of fast-paced, 24×7, mobile and always-on living, it seems silly or quaint to want to curl up on the couch with an old-fashioned book. And I’m sure eventually, the e-reader will win me over. For now, I have a stack of books to turn to, each one ready to tell me a story. So call me old-fashioned. Or call me Ishmael. I’m just going to keep turning real pages for now.

Summertime….and the Livin’ Should be Easy

It has been more than two weeks since my last post and I can only blame it on…summertime. That’s right, it’s all summer’s fault with its lazy, long days that meld into night, the intoxicating smell of a neighbor’s barbecue at sunset mixed with the faint fragrance of summer flowers, the way the sun emerges from the June gloom daring you to come out and play instead of sitting at your desk all day.

Well, it’s not entirely summer’s fault. It’s true that I’ve chosen long walks in the sunshine, dinners in the backyard, sipping wine and conversing until the darkness forces us inside, and hours in the patio chair with a good book over more productive pursuits.  And of course, my older daughter is home for one week before she heads back to college and summer swim training, so I’m trying to squeeze the most out of every second that she is here.

I am trying my best to enjoy the quiet moments and the slightly slower pace that summer allows. Those who know me know that my very nature fights against a relaxed pace, that I am forever looking to “do”.  During the summer, though, a little voice seems to whisper that life is fleeting, that savoring the moments is the smart pursuit, that maybe in the slow-down, my mind and body can regenerate and renew, preparing me for the inevitable onslaught of Fall, when there will be plenty of time for productivity.

A recent NY Times blog entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap” echoed my sentiments and made the point that Americans in the 21st century, in particular, are constantly self-imposing this “busyness” upon themselves. I plead guilty to what the author describes. It’s true I have plenty of activities to stay naturally busy: I work full-time, have two daughters, and attempt to pursue a second, part-time career by taking classes and working on my writing.  But the pace at which I live my life means that I sometimes try to fill those scarce, quiet moments when they present themselves with even more activity. In living a life of productivity, I realize I sometimes forget the pleasure in doing nothing at all.

I would argue that social media has enhanced our desire to be constantly busy.  We’ve all had to endure the postings of folks who really don’t have much going on in their lives and frankly, no one wants to hear about the fiber content of your breakfast cereal, how many hours you spent at the gym today, that you’re out of toothpaste or that your child finally went “poop on the potty” (yes, these are all real posts). That said, social media can make us feel that we must have something to say at all times, that we should be doing something exciting or productive at every moment — something worth proclaiming (or tweeting and posting, in this case) at the top of our lungs to show the world how busy we are and most of all, I suppose, that we are relevant.

So, I took a two-week break from writing, from the wheel of constant productivity, to try to sit back and enjoy the moments that are not filled with “something to do”.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not very good at it. I like being productive, being involved, contributing…yes, being busy. But it’s summertime. And I’m going to try my best to soak it up.

Why I’m Ok With Not Being “The Hot Mom”

At my younger daughter’s graduation dinner the other night, my mother and I were talking about perceptions that my friends had of her, as a young mother. My daughter, knowing some of the history, said, “Grandma, you were the cool Mom! And the hot Mom!” Yes, it’s true that my mom was way “cooler” than I will ever be and my house was frequently the place you came to let your hair down, talk about your troubles and of course, party. Times were different and my Mom was only 18 years my senior. As my male friends can attest, my mom was, indeed, “the hot mom” on the block.

Then, an interesting thing happened. My mother asked her granddaughter: “What would you and your friends call your mom?”  Without hesitation, my daughter threw out three words in quick succession: “Successful. Smart. Hardworking.”

Now, I must admit, I’m female and I’m vain, so part of me was hoping she’d include the word “hot” in there somewhere! But all in all, I’d have to say that I felt immense pride and pleasure in her words.  There are so many moments spent raising children, most of them wondering if you’re doing the right thing. You know you are often making mistakes and you just hope they aren’t the sort that will take permanent root in your child’s psyche. The moments when you know you’ve done something right are few and far between, and often don’t come until after your children have become adults and flown the coop. That’s why hearing these words from my younger daughter – with whom I seem to battle so much these days – was so rewarding.

I’ve always been a working mom and don’t expect that to change. I know that I’m fortunate, having been able to start my own business when my oldest was just a baby and to be able to work from home for the past 19 years. I know for many working moms it’s not that easy and they have to add a commute and a typical 9-5 corporate day to their endless juggling. Like every working mother, at times I’ve felt guilt at my desk, thinking about my children, and guilt with my kids, thinking about work. I’ve multi-tasked to exhaustion, questioned my sanity, and wondered if what I was doing was right for both me and my kids.

At the end of the day, work became important not only for my sense of self and to be an equal partner with my husband in providing for our kids, but also critical to the values I wanted to impart to my girls. I wanted to show them that women can be whatever they choose: that they can have both a family and a career, that they can be successful in the corporate environment or forging their own path, and that they can find a partner in life who respects and takes pride in their success.  To find fulfillment in my job and to share that with my girls has been an essential part of my parenting.

So the other night it seemed that in just a few select words, my younger daughter told me all I needed to know about my choices. That she sees me as successful, smart and hard-working, gives me insight into her perception of moms and women, as a whole. And it gives me hope that she understands that hard work, a good education and a whole lot of enthusiasm and drive will also bring her success, in whatever way she chooses to pursue it.

So while she could have really made my day by adding “hot” to the already stellar list of adjectives, I’ll take what she has given me and know that on this long journey we call parenthood, I’ve done something right!

Getting Used to the Big Numbers…or 50 Things I’m Grateful For

At the end of this year, I will have to face a large number, a number that means I have reached five decades of existence. Why is this so difficult? After all, they say 50 is the new 30, a milestone, to be sure, but certainly not considered old age anymore. And as my husband is fond of saying, “it beats the alternative”. Maybe I fear it because I never imagined getting to this number. Like all kids, I couldn’t wait to be 16 so I could drive a car, 18 so I could go to college, become an adult and vote, and 21 so I could drink (ummm…legally). While I wasn’t anxious to reach the age of 30, I imagined where I would be and what I would be doing at that age (the year my first child was born, as it turned out –didn’t figure that!) and I could even see beyond that horizon to where I might be at 40. But 50? That’s just not a number I ever imagined.

So I’ve decided in an attempt to get used to that frightening number that I ought to start making lists of 50 that are not so scary. Like 50 things I’m grateful for, 50 things I’ve accomplished, 50 things I have yet to do, that I’m looking forward to doing some day.  50 places I’ve traveled and 50 I have yet to visit, 50 great novels (definitely won’t be including 50 Shades of Grey), 50 songs I can’t live without (maybe “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” should be on there), and maybe 50 posts I want to write. By making these lists maybe I’ll become accustomed to that scary-looking number by the time I get there….or maybe I’ll just have to drink a lot to hide the pain.

My inaugural list is 50 things I’m grateful for. Here goes:

1)   My health and that of my loved ones.

2)   My husband and the fact that his personality is the opposite of mine.

3)   My daughters.

4)   My Mom and Dad.

5)   My friends who are still my friends.

6)   My friends who are no longer my friends, but who helped shape me.

7)   The people who loaned me money in college.

8)   Every teacher who told me I could do “it”, whatever “it” was.

9)   My first love.

10) Being able to attend, and graduate from, UCLA.

11) Working from home for almost 19 years now.

12)  When I was still commuting to work every day, getting to drive down PCH every morning.

13)  All the clients who have hired me, those who have referred me and most especially, those who have hired me repeatedly to do work for them.

14) A good night’s sleep, when I get it.

15) The fact that my husband likes to cook.

16) The fact that one of my daughters has already taken after him in the cooking department.

17) The unconditional love of dogs.

18) Getting to spend part of my childhood in La Jolla.

19)  Music, music, music.

20) Books, books, books.

21) Daffodils in the spring.

22) Good wine.

23) Good, strong coffee.

24) Mint chip ice cream.

25) The scent of fresh lemon.

26) Pilates, without which I would be an injured, aching mess.

27)  Nordstrom’s customer service – can you beat it?

28) Getting to sit in the front row of the David Cassidy concert when I was 9 years old.

29) Getting to sit third row and front-row, center, respectively, at two Dave Matthews concerts as an adult and experience it with each of my daughters.

30) Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.

31) The beach.

32) Sunsets, especially at the beach.

33) Bangs…without them I might have to resort to Botox.

34) Online shopping.

35) Being able to live in California.

36) Not having to live in Texas.

37) Watching sports on a big screen TV.

38) Sunday’s Los Angeles Times…in print

39) The trip to England, Scotland and France I took with my best friend for high school graduation.

40) The opportunity to spend time in my husband’s native Sweden.

41) Dishwashers.

42) The advice of friends and colleagues who experienced things before me and shared their wisdom.

43) Clothes that don’t wrinkle.

44) The iPhone.

45) Summer.

46)  The Hollywood Bowl.

47) Writers.

48) Getting to watch my older daughter swim at Olympic Trials.

49) Friday evenings.

50) Getting to watch both my girls mature, follow their passions, learn from their failures and enjoy their successes.

Break out of the Bubble, Suburbanites!

I have come to realize over the years that my family lives in a bubble. I did not grow up in the bubble, but education and hard work afforded my husband and I the opportunity to make a good living and provide a nice lifestyle for our family. So we moved to the suburbs and began our life in the bubble.

I first realized the downside of the bubble when my older daughter was about ten years old and we traveled to Cerritos for a swim meet.  For any of you not familiar with Los Angeles and its surrounding urban and suburban areas, Cerritos is a working class area in Southeast Los Angeles. The population of Cerritos, according to the census bureau, is predominantly white, however, compared to where we live in Westlake Village, Cerritos has a much higher percentage of Hispanic, African-American and “other” citizens.  I’ll never forget my daughter’s eyes as we pulled into a convenience store parking lot so we could use the restroom and grab some water bottles. They were wide with what I quickly realized was fear and apprehension and she leaned close to me as we walked towards the store and whispered, “Mom, is this a bad area?”

Cerritos is not a bad area. But Cerritos is “different” from Westlake Village. It more accurately represents the “melting pot” that is Los Angeles. The part of Cerritos where we landed that day was not pretty or well-kept. The cars in the parking lot of the convenience store were primarily pick-up trucks and older model Fords and Chevys, not BMWs and Mercedes.   From this scenario, my daughter inferred that Cerritos must be a “bad” area, that the patrons in the convenience store might be criminals, and that we must not be safe.

Since then, I’ve had several of these experiences with both daughters whether traveling for soccer games and swim meets, attending events or just stopping off the freeway on the way to some other destination.  And occasionally, we have visited places that truly were “bad” areas. I can recall a very sketchy spot in Long Beach, a Holiday Inn with bars on it and sirens that wailed all night. And of course, attending a concert at the L.A. Sports Arena, visiting the USC campus (Boo! Go Bruins!) or trying to find a short cut to the airport, you can’t help but go through some sections of town you’d probably rather not.

Let’s face it: most of us who moved to the suburbs did so because we wanted to raise our children in safe, pleasant areas with access to good schools, and we were fortunate enough to be able to do so. That said, I think it is vital that kids (and parents) get out of the bubble that is suburbia on a regular basis. The problem with being in a lovely, protected bubble is that it gives you the false impression that everyone lives in it and, dare I say, cultivates a sense of apathy towards those who exist outside of the bubble. When you live in a lovely suburban area, you don’t have to acknowledge that poverty and homelessness exist (save the odd shopping cart lady that roams the grocery store parking lot). You don’t have to face the reality that many children grow up in neighborhoods where just getting to school is an effort and dodging bullets is commonplace. Your are lulled into thinking that everyone must have your “first world” problems of where to book your child’s next birthday party or which high school has the best track team, whether you should vacation in Hawaii or Tahoe this year or whether you should get a manicure only or spring for the full mani/pedi instead.

I’m not saying that anyone should feel guilty for having the means to live in a nice suburban enclave. But when you live in the bubble, it’s easy to forget what’s outside of it and to have your children grow up being only vaguely aware of how fortunate they are.  And when you are finally confronted with something “different” as my daughter was in Cerritos all those years ago, your reaction is usually to dislike, distrust or fear that which is different from you and your experiences.  Exposing your kids to different places, cultures, races, religions and yes, economic situations, is just as important as sending them to school. If they never see outside the bubble, how will they learn to tolerate, accept and be understanding of other people and their situations?

In Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have such a sprawling expanse of humanity in every flavor and form, just a car ride away from wherever we are. Alright, so the traffic can sometimes make it a rather long car ride, but I have to say I’m often shocked when I hear suburbanites in my area tell me that they never venture farther than the next suburb over.  Our city is rich with diversity, cultural experiences and educational opportunities that most of us never take advantage of, to our children’s detriment, I fear.

I know one of my resolutions this year is to get outside of the bubble more often and to see areas of my city I’ve only read about in the paper or just haven’t made time to explore. My older daughter now attends school and lives in Tucson, and given some of the less than glamorous neighborhoods in close proximity to campus, I think she has become more comfortable with the inherent heterogeneity that exists outside of the bubble.  For my younger daughter who is naturally tolerant and accepting, but often harbors fears about the unknown, I’ve recognized that even a hockey game at Staples Center, a swim meet in Oxnard or a walk around West Hollywood can provide her with the valuable lesson that not everyone looks, dresses and acts like her, nor do they have access to the many resources she and her friends do. It doesn’t make these people and places “bad”; it just makes them different.  It’s an ongoing process, but I’m determined to have my kids see that while it sure is great to live in the bubble, getting outside of it on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do.

When it comes to reading, does anything go?

I have always been an avid reader and am a huge believer in the power of the written word.  One of my earliest memories, when I was maybe four years old, is of sitting on my family’s couch, literally surrounded by massive piles of books, all of which I was sure I was going to read that very day.  I know that I owe part of my passion for reading to my mom who modeled good reading habits for me and always seemed to have an Agatha Christie or other such mystery in her hands.

As a parent, I have always tried to instill this love for reading in my two daughters with, admittedly, mixed results. While I read to them both from babyhood until beyond the time they could read for themselves, and while I continued to model good reading habits with my own reading, my older daughter really never adopted a passion for pleasure-reading, but merely read what she had to for school. My younger daughter, on the other hand, does enjoy reading and has always reserved time in her schedule to do so, but as the burden of school-reading increases, I can see that this passion could cool over time, if we’re not careful to continue modeling and encouraging.

Given this passion for reading, I’ve always believed that “any reading is good reading”.  While I want my kids to read challenging works, classic stories and thoughtful literature, I’ve never discouraged them from picking up less intellectually demanding material like The Clique series or Pretty Little Liars books. These books serve a purpose, as well – they provide great escapism, simply story lines and again, they count as reading time (and time spent away from the computer and phone).

But I recently read some disturbing news that made me question whether any reading is good reading. A recent article in the Huffington Post about the results of a Renaissance Learning report, revealed that American high school students are primarily reading books that are designed for a fifth-grade reading level.  The most popular book among high schoolers last year was The Hunger Games – a book that is ranked at a 5.3 level, meaning it is just above a fifth grade level.

While The Hunger Games is a great story that both teens and adults have embraced (see my previous blog post on this topic; in short, I loved it), the repercussions of the study’s results are clear: if kids aren’t reading material that is challenging enough for high school – much less college – how are they to improve their reading and writing skills enough to think critically and to synthesize and analyze higher-level curriculum?   Unfortunately, the article points out, this study reflects trends in national reading scores which remain low and have dropped significantly between 1992 and 2009.

So do we let our kids read whatever they want – comic books, tween “chick lit”, Seventeen magazine?  Or do we push them to read books that are indicated for their grade level and challenge them?

I admit, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, since students are and should be expected to read works of literature in the classroom that are “at grade level”, I’m inclined to let mine choose what they read for pleasure. On the other hand, I’m cognizant of the fact that a steady diet of Pretty Little Liars is certainly not going to expand their horizons (much less their vocabulary) substantially. In a perfect world, they would choose to read much more challenging works during their free time, but even I am tempted to pick up the occasional People Magazine at the hairdresser’s or the latest pop culture phenomenon, Fifty Shades of Grey because it gives me a respite from some of the deeper and more thoughtful works I usually read (side note: don’t bother with “Grey” or at least, don’t spend any money on it. My take: it’s poorly written, the plot is old and tired, and the dominant/submissive thing was done so much better by Anne Rice in The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and Exit to Eden years ago. Sorry, but poor writing, no matter how sexually explicit, turns me off).

So, should we try to encourage our kids to reach more intelligent and stimulating works? Should schools do more to encourage the reading of classics and weightier modern-day works?  Or should we just focus on encouraging the act of reading – regardless of the material? What do you think?

Saying Goodbye to Who We Used to Be

This weekend, my former writing instructor, Tod Goldberg, wrote a tribute to Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who passed away last Friday. Tod wrote eloquently about what The Beasties’ music meant to him. One line of his tribute really stuck with me:

…you begin to recognize that the sadness you feel isn’t just about the loss of that person’s life, but also the recognition that who you were when you met that person is long gone, too.

This simple truth helped me understand why we can be so overwhelmed with sadness at the passing of someone we’ve never even met. After all, while we might feel like we knew Adam Yauch or Clarence Clemons or Whitney Houston or any of the countless others who we’ve lost recently through their public personas, most of us have never met, much less been a part of these people’s lives. What is it then, that causes the heart-wrenching void we feel when a favorite musician, actor, novelist or other public person dies?

As Tod so perfectly articulates, it’s the knowledge that who we once were, at a certain place, in a certain time, is gone forever. The young child, sitting in a mother’s lap, listening to a beloved story, the awkward pre-teen dressed to impress at a first dance, the college student, cramming for finals in a dorm room, the young parents trying to quiet a restless newborn in the wee hours of the morning. We recognize in the passing of the people who formed the backdrop to our lives that we can never again be who we were then – that a certain part of us has disappeared forever. It’s bittersweet, the acknowledgement that we’ve matured and grown, left behind pieces of ourselves in the process that only seem more dear to us with the passage of time.  Through the faded lens of nostalgia, even the bad morphs into good and we long for the feeling of being in that place and time again.

The loss of who we were seems to hit especially hard at this time of year, with Spring turning into Summer, the time of graduations and moving on. At this time last year, I was planning my older daughter’s high school graduation. Amid the excitement of parties and celebrations and orientation for her new life on a university campus, came the sad acknowledgement that things in our house would never again be the same, that a special period in our lives was about to depart from us forever and that we would all be changed. Walking her new campus during orientation, I was struck with nostalgia for my own college days, so much so that even the tough times began to seem perfect and magical.  It wasn’t simply my youth that I missed. It was the person I was in those days – the person I was before launching headlong into adulthood and the working world and before becoming a wife and mother. It was a time when I wasn’t even aware of all the milestones I was checking off – milestones I now realize are all in my rear-view mirror.

Ahead of me lies one daughter’s middle school graduation, the other daughter’s completion of her freshman year in college, our first summer without two children at home, and at the end of the year, a significant birthday that marks the passage of way more time than I’d like to admit.  I don’t mean to seem so morose – I embrace the future and look forward to all that is new. But I can’t help missing those people, places and times now departed. Because after all, their loss means saying goodbye to who I was when I encountered them – a part of me that I have to let go.

Why Do We Procrastinate With the Things We Love?

Sunday morning admission: I am currently suffering from a bad case of procrastination. If my children read this, they will laugh and feel vindicated. I am not the family member who typically suffers from this condition. I’m the one who gets things done, who takes control and finishes what I start.  I do this at work, with the household chores, with activities that need to be scheduled and arrangements that must be made. Why then, do I find it so difficult to do that which I profess to love so much?  Why am I procrastinating with my writing?

Writing is the thing I’ve most wanted to do since I can remember. All of us have ideas about what we will be when we grow up, but then life happens and oftentimes, we don’t end up where we thought we’d be. I have no regrets about my educational and career paths, but about ten years ago I felt something was missing. Turns out it was the writing. As a kid, I spent countless hours penning stories and poems in my room. I kept detailed diaries and rarely missed a day’s entry. I wrote letters to friends and relatives and even to my girlhood celebrity crushes (David Cassidy, I apologize for the stalker-like notes I’m sure I sent to you). My best friend and I created “magazines” for our own amusement and when we temporarily lived in different cities, receiving her magazine in the mail and creating one to send back to her was often the highlight of my week (by the way, this friend, Ms. Caitlin Rother, is now a very successful writer…go figure!).

I went back to my creative writing roots several years ago by taking some courses through the UCLA Writer’s Program. I started with short stories – the first of which was dreadful, as I’m sure my former instructor would attest. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised and when it’s not, well, the results are less than stellar.  But with time and practice, I reconnected with my writing passion and finally had one of my stories published. Soon after, I realized that I really wanted to write a novel. I had an idea – I just needed the time and energy to execute it. At the time, I had several demanding clients in my technology PR practice, my kids were young and equally demanding, and life moved at a frantic pace. And yet, somehow, I was determined to write, and at the end of three years, produced a first draft.  I began pitching and querying agents, embarking on what I’d hoped would eventually be a new career. Of course, as any experienced writer will tell you, it’s just not that easy and, now, I realize that maybe the novel just wasn’t that ready. After many promising responses and requests to see more pages or the full manuscript, I ended up with a drawer full of rejection notes and a bad case of the writer’s blues. Things got busy on the work and home front and I put my novel aside.

But the writing bug didn’t disappear. Seven years later, I’m back in a writing class, trying to rewrite the novel.  It’s a painstaking process that often involves revising the same five pages fifteen times.  I know that the odds are against me and that perseverance is the main ingredient for success, and after all this time I have to ask myself if I truly want this as much as I’d thought when I was a ten-year old, scribbling stories in my room.  The answer may be no and if it is, I have to be willing to just enjoy the process for what it is. The good news is that there are now a myriad of other publishing options (self-publishing, ebooks and the like) and new, creative outlets for writing that never existed before, like this blog.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: procrastination. It’s easy to understand why humans procrastinate when it comes to mundane or dreaded tasks like laundry, grocery shopping or reorganizing a closet. But why do we procrastinate when it’s a task we presumably enjoy, an activity that is supposedly so close to our heart’s desire?  In the past two weeks, though I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about my novel, I’ve yet to put more than a sentence on the page.  Even for this blog, I realized that my goal of a weekly post is two days overdue and getting myself to sit down and type this required two cups of coffee, a completely silent kitchen and more than a little self-bribery (i.e. trying to tell myself that I could look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds and the Sunday paper only after knocking off a full page of something – anything!).

At the end of the day, do we procrastinate on the activities we love out of fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? For myself, I can only think that it’s a little of both. If I write and fail, I will wonder what the point was, why I spent so much time in pursuit of a dream that may not come to pass. If I succeed, I will wonder how I can possibly meet the expectations and requirements of the editing/publishing process, how I can ensure that my novel is not a one-hit wonder, and how I might balance my current, financially rewarding career with writing. Procrastination is my defense mechanism, the thing that makes me pause and question myself, the process of reminding myself that nothing is quite as perfect as we imagine it might be. Succeed or fail, there will still be good days and bad, things about writing I love and things about it that I hate.

For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that for a few moments this morning, I managed to conquer the procrastination monster and pen a few paragraphs for this blog.  I’ll reward myself by reading the Sunday paper and wasting some time on social media…until I realize that my writing class deadline for the next installment of my revised novel is due on Tuesday…and I go to battle with the procrastination monster all over again.

Is Adversity a Requirement for Success?

My younger daughter recently had shoulder surgery – not something you plan to deal with when you’re an active 13-year-old whose sport happens to be swimming and who enjoys a full social life. Just after her surgery, I overheard a conversation she was having with her older sister who is away at college. My little one was clearly trying to stir up some sympathy from her sibling and was bemoaning the fact that she has to wear a sling for eight weeks and will then have the daunting task of trying to regain her strength to get back in the pool and swim over the course of the next six months. My older daughter dispensed these words of wisdom to combat her sister’s complaints: “Adversity is a good thing.”

This gem was spoken by the same girl who complained incessantly when her iPhone went in for repair and she had to use that “awful, ancient” Motorola Razr for three whole days: “But Mom, it’s impossible to text on this thing!  And it has no Internet!” Imagine the adversity of having to use a 6-year old cell phone for three whole days!

But in all seriousness, I thought about these words of wisdom and how Daughter #1 came to the recognition that adversity can be a positive and not a negative. As it turns out, my oldest does have some valuable lessons in adversity that she can share with her sister when it comes to their chosen sport of competitive swimming. Daughter #1 has been swimming on a team since she was five years old, on a competitive, year-round club since the age of nine and is now on partial scholarship, swimming for a Division 1 college team. During her years in the pool, she had an almost comical (though, in reality, not funny – or fun – at all) number of coaching changes – particularly during her formative periods. She also witnessed all of her best friends leave the team or quit swimming entirely, and struggled through a two-year plateau where she did not see a millisecond of improvement in any of her best events. She experienced most of this during her high school years, continuing to attend nine practice per week, including three mornings where she had to rise at 4:15am, drive 15 miles to the pool and practice from 5-7 am, attend school all day, return to the pool for practice from 4-7 pm and then conquer the usual homework and chores most students have to deal with.  She struggled to balance swimming, school, family and social life. She was fortunate to have a few good friends, her family and a couple of special coaches who encouraged her to stick with it and if you ask her now, she’ll tell you she is happy she did and could not imagine her life without swimming. After breaking through that time of struggle, she was recruited to one of the top college swim programs in the nation and in June, will compete at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

While I admire her, I do tease her when she talks about conquering adversity. After all, she is not living in a war-torn country with the threat of dropping bombs all around her or living in an impoverished, third world nation where she goes hungry every night, nor does she suffer from a debilitating disease. When we speak of adversity, then, we are speaking of a very personal kind of adversity that does not even begin to compare to what some in the world unfairly struggle with every day. Nevertheless, though it is all relative, she has experienced struggles and difficulties and has come out the other end stronger and a better person.

More importantly, this issue of adversity got me thinking about what we give our children, what we do for them and whether or not it helps them, at the end of the day. As a child who was raised by a single, working parent struggling to make ends meet, I worked hard and saved to make sure that my family never had to face the same. As a child of divorce, I promised myself that when I got married, it would last, and knock on wood, here I am, married to the same guy for 26 years now and going strong.  As a child who attended four different schools in sixth grade alone and was uprooted numerous times to different states, cities and neighborhoods, I made a pact with my husband that we would raise our children in the same place so they wouldn’t have to experience that upheaval. So far, so good – we’ve been in the same house for nearly 14 years and our daughters have grown up and gone to school with essentially, the same group of kids.

’m happy that my husband and I were able to provide these things for our children and I certainly don’t regret following this path. But I do have to wonder: is it really a good thing that I’ve protected my children from so much adversity?  I look back at my own childhood and while there were many difficult times that I would never want to repeat, there were also important lessons learned. Having a mother who struggled financially motivated me to begin working at the ripe, old age of twelve and never stop. I was determined to work hard, have my own money and not be dependent upon anyone. It also motivated me to achieve in school so I could attend a good college and have a higher-paying career.  Being the child of divorced parents taught me about relationships – what I wanted from them and more importantly, what I didn’t want.  Having to move and uproot was painful, but it taught me how to adapt to new situations quickly, how to make new friends and how to adjust to new surroundings. I learned valuable coping skills that contributed to success in school and have been advantageous in the business world.

As I look back on the lessons I learned from my childhood experiences, I wonder if my husband and I have somehow done our daughters a disservice by giving them a stable, financially comfortable upbringing in which they can avoid much of the adversity I dealt with.  Where will they learn the importance of hard work? How will they know the value of financial independence? Will they be able to adjust to new situations and new people? Can they handle the only constant in life – change – when it is thrust into their paths?

While I don’t know for sure, I am at least comforted that somewhere down the line, my older daughter began to view adversity as a good thing and is now trying to impart this wisdom to her sister. She may have overcome a different kind of adversity than I had to, but it’s clear that she has still learned the crucial values of hard work, persistence and perseverance. There is relief in the knowledge that she is almost at the end of her freshman year and thus far, has successfully navigated life away from home – adjusting to new surroundings, making new friends, succeeding in both the classroom and with her sport.  I can only hope that the same will hold true for Daughter #2 when it’s her turn – that maybe her sister is right that the small adversity her shoulder surgery thrust upon her will result in some valuable lessons about determination, hard work and resilience.

Do you think adversity a requirement for success? How do we give our kids a comfortable life without sacrificing the lessons that can only be learned by struggling a bit?