Bucket List Item: Write a Novel

The first bucket list item I want to focus on for my Tuesday posts is very timely. The month of November begins tomorrow. Every year, I have wanted to participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place every year in November. The idea is that you write about 1700 words of a novel every day throughout the month of November and at the end of the month, you have approximately a 50,000 word novel… actually, probably more of a novella, but it’s a manageable task with a huge outcome.

Back in September, I mentioned that I have a novel running around in the back of my mind, just waiting to get out. This is why my daily wring goal, and this blog, are so important to me. One day, I want to get that novel out of my head. You may be thinking that that is what I will be writing this November, but it isn’t. I need to test my hand at this novel writing thing first. I need to work on developing a story arc and creating dynamic characters that people want to read about; I need to come up with compelling obstacles and interesting ways for characters to overcome them; and most of all, I need to know that I am even capable of writing anything resembling a novel before I take on the great story in my mind. The NaNoWriMo program structure helps me break novel writing down into a manageable task… a SMART goal.

I first heard of NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I have friends who write a lot and have participated in the past. They seemed to enjoy the challenge and many wrote novellas that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. None of my friends actually published their NaNoWriMo work, which actually seems less threatening to me than the thought of trying to write a book that is intended to go out into the world and be read by millions, or even dozens, of people. I think that type of work needs more planning than the structure and timeline of the program allows. This means that I can simply work on writing a story with a beginning, middle and end. While, 50,000 words in a month seems overwhelming, I have learned through this blog that 1-2 thousand words a day isn’t. It’s given me the confidence to sign up for my first ever NaNoWriMo. I’ve finally realized that life isn’t just going to pause and open up a perfect window long enough for me to write. If I want a novel written, I need to make the time and do it, so here goes.

That’s right, I start writing a novel tomorrow and , if all goes according to plan, should be 50,000+ words in by the end of November. I’ve brainstormed a few ideas and may post a few excerpts here for review from time to time. I’m hoping this will give me the push I need to get moving on my main novel again. Architecture school was a big distraction, but if I cross writing a novel off my bucket list, I’ll be halfway there. Publishing and selling a novel is the other half of this bucket list item, but I’m now realizing they don’t necessarily have to come together. Maybe I have more than one story to tell and my biggest challenge is simply to get started and get one out of my head. The fast structure of the program won’t allow me to get hung up on any one little element, I just have to keep writing. I’ll definitely keep you up to date on how it’s going in my Monday morning check-ins, so stay tuned.

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The Bucket List Job

It’s been a few days since I’ve written here. It’s not that I’m not sticking to my writing goals… I’m actually exceeding them. I’ve been hard at work 6+ hours per day writing complete project descriptions for all the items in my architecture portfolio. Unfortunately, I did not get in the habit of doing this as I worked on and completed projects; so I have to go back and write them now. It’s not as easy of a task when some of the projects happened five years ago.

One of my bucket list items involves working for the top architecture company in the world. That doesn’t happen easily. I need a tightly wrapped up and polished portfolio and a killer resume. I’m working on ensuring I have that right now. Instead of going to work, I go to “work” on my job credentials. I try to spend at least 6 hours a day on this process, as well as increasing my knowledge base by learning a new skill. I am hoping all of this extra work will help me get in the door and get that coveted interview. I usually do well once I hit the interview stage, and have never not been offered a job after an interview (knock on wood).

I don’t write this to brag. I write it because many people have a specific job or employer in their bucket list and that doesn’t happen by just sitting around and waiting for it. If you want that job, you need to prepare for it and be the absolute best candidate for it. Depending on the job, that could take days, weeks, or months. In my case it is taking quite a bit of writing and editing. I am finding myself often stretched to my mental limit by the end of the day and just unable to write another sentence. Today I took it a bit easier and went for a nature walk in the afternoon to refresh my mind and found that helped me be able to write more here. I’ll try to keep up that process so we can stay in touch, but please be patient with me if I miss a few days during the writing period.

The architecture portfolio is a unique process. Once the project descriptions are complete and edited to perfection (or as close as I can get), I will begin working on the creative layout for the portfolio and collecting all the necessary pictures and scans. Things get moved around and blended with the project descriptions until it all looks like a slick magazine that someone would actually be interested in reading. A lot of architecture students just create boards of each project, but a compelling narrative enhances the overall appeal of the portfolio and encourages people to take more than just a cursory glance… hopefully.

Living the bucket list isn’t just about buying things and experiences, because some of those experiences can’t be bought. Sometimes you have to put your nose to the grind and do the work required to reach the goal. I’m hoping all my work will pay off and I can soon check this item off the list as accomplished.

SMART Goals

I’ve written a lot about SMART goals and I thought I would use this post to explain what I mean by that, for those of you who might not be familiar with the acronym. I first learned of SMART goals in a PE class I had to take while pursing my recent degree. At the time, I didn’t pay as close attention as I should have. I’ve always been a goal setter. I routinely set 1, 5 10 and 25 year goals and review them every year right after New Years. I know this is a somewhat cheesy time, with all the New Years resolutions being made and soon dropped, but I don’t have an active lifestyle in January and so it’s a good time for me to review how things are going.

I was taught to make goals by a high school teacher. He said it was good to have a roadmap of where you wanted to go, so you could use it to help make difficult life decisions. That sounded good to me. I knew at the time where I wanted to end up… Academy Award winning actress with a long list of movie credits to my name. If you’ve been reading the rest of my blog, you’ll know right away that somewhere along the line I detoured far away from that path. It was on my goals list, but I never even came close to achieving it and there’s a good reason why.

In the past, I made goals much the same way most people do. I thought about where I wanted to be in 1-25 years and wrote it all down as “goals”. Maybe I wanted to be a millionaire in 10 years? I would simple write down, “have a net worth of $1,000,000” on the 10-year page and move on. The goals were general, had no supporting interim achievements, and the time limits were rather fuzzy. That “have a net worth of $1,000,000” goal has been on my 10-year page since high school. Since I wasn’t near achieving it, I never moved it to the 5-year or 1-year page. It was more like a wish than a goal, and that was the problem with the vast majority of my goals. Sure, I achieved a few of my goals here and there… most often the shorter term goals that I was already working on and had a plan to finish.

When I completed the PE class, I quickly forgot about SMART goals. After all, they were only for fitness and who had time for any of that in architecture school! I was busy, busy, busy and my singular goal was to graduate, first with my bachelors and then with my masters degree. I knew exactly what I needed to do to achieve my goal. I showed up for the classes I was signed up for, I did the work to the best of my ability, I increased my abilities, and then I was permitted to take the next semester of classes and repeat the process until I finished. School is an easy goal. Sure the work is hard and the hours can be brutal, but most schools have the path laid out for you… all you have to do is walk along the path until you reach the finish line. Many others have walked the same path and achieved the same result. When you are setting your own goals, the path isn’t always so clear.

In my 5th year professional practice class, our professor asked us to write goals and whipped out that long forgotten SMART acronym. This time, I paid closer attention. Turns out, it wasn’t just for fitness, but for all goal setting exercises. The key to a SMART goal is that it is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely…. SMART! This is what my goal setting needed all along and is why getting through college is such a good example of how to set a goal. Lets break this down.

  • Graduating college is specific. It requires you complete a set number of credit hours in specific subjects, maintain a specific grade point average while doing this, and show up to class a minimum number of days. It is incredibly straightforward in its specificity.
  • It is measurable. At any point along the way, you can measure your progress, You can determine how many credit hours you’ve completed and what your GPA is. You also know exactly how many credit hours you have yet to achieve.
  • It is attainable. As I said before, many people before you have made it through the process and many will make it through after you as well.
  • Is it relevant? Not every career requires a college degree, but for me, architecture does. If I want to be an architect, I have to have that degree to even begin the testing. Therefore, in my case, it’s relevant. It’s aligned with my other goals and essential to their achievement.
  • It is timely. There is a time limit. A bachelors degree is supposed to take 4 years, and in my case, the master of architecture degree was scheduled to take another one year. You could argue that some people take breaks, or do fewer classes at a time and stretch out their degree, but an architecture degree doesn’t make that option very practical. In architecture school, you take a studio class each semester. Each studio follows the one before it and is only offered one time a year. This means that you put yourself an entire year behind if you don’t stay on schedule. This timely schedule forced me to hustle down the path instead of talking my time. Regardless, when you take on college, you usually have a target graduation date and a plan to achieve it.

You don’t start college by just opening up the course book and playing a game of eenie-meenie – minie – moe or picking classes on a whim. If you just said, “I want a degree” and started taking whatever classes you wanted to, you might one day take enough of the right classes to earn a degree. However, this is not the best strategy… it’s not SMART.

The same is true for my $1,000,000 goal. If I keep putting it on the 10-year list, I may one day achieve it in spite of myself, but I’m not as likely to. The better option is to look at those who have done it before me and figure out a clearly defined SMART path that I can take to achieve my financial goal. I’m currently still partially in the research phase of this goal, but I’ve also taken positive action in several areas. I’ve set up my accounts to generate long-term passive income, instead of just paying my bills today. I’ve invested money in BitConnect and have watched it achieve a 30% ROI in only 45 days. I’ve taken specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely steps towards ensuring my achievement of this goal and the goal itself has changed. My goal is now to achieve this first million in 3-1/2 years and I have the skeleton of a plan to get me there. I will flesh out this plan as I learn more from my research.

This is the better path to actually creating a set of goals and not just a simple wish list. My next step is to take all of the other items on my lists and transform them into SMART goals. I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion and you will consider transforming some of your own goals into SMART goals. Please tell me about them as you go along.

By the way, I ate the frog again this morning! Day 2 of accomplishing my treadmill and clutter reduction goals… Woot!!! Now THAT is SMART!

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I Ate the Frog!

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” or alternately, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” This is a quote popularized in the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, which provides multiple strategies for procrastinators to get over their procrastination and get things done. I am a procrastinator and this morning I ate the frog… in fact, I ate two of them.

Yesterday I talked about how I was neglecting my SMART Goals in certain areas of my Level 10 Life, including the Health & Fitness and Physical Environment categories, and needing to focus more on those areas. I was specifically struggling with a seemingly simple goal of getting on the treadmill for 10 minutes each day and getting through the additional accumulated clutter in my home due to emptying my storage unit.

This morning I got on the treadmill and walked for 10 minutes before I even allowed myself to have my daily cup of coffee. It felt good to get it done and I checked it off as complete with a little more flourish than normal. It made me happy to see this accomplished. Many of you may be thinking,, “Only 10 minutes walking on a treadmill? That’s nothing. Why don’t you try for more?” Well, I have tried for more…. and failed. I’ve had a gym membership for 5 years, but almost never go. I used the excuse that it took too long to drive to the gym, work out, shower and drive home. It was an easy excuse because my lifestyle at the time didn’t allow for that amount of time to devote to anything for myself, including for my health. So, last fall I bought a treadmill. It was expensive, but I figured after spending that much money on equipment and having it conveniently located in the living room of my home, I would have no more excuses. Yet, I seemed to find them in spades. I didn’t have time at the end of the day; I had to get up too early to drive an hour to school every day; and I didn’t want to walk for an hour every day. Remember, I’ve allowed myself to get used to a very studious, sedentary lifestyle. This is why my writing and reading goals are so much easier to accomplish. So when I devised my fitness goal, I wanted to make sure it was something that would create a habit. It’s not going to make me lose 50 pounds by January, but it will develop the habit of getting on the treadmill every day and walking. The only problem was, even that was challenging me, until I made it a frog that needed eating. Yep, walking for 10 measly minutes on my treadmill is currently one of my frogs. But today, I did it. I felt a lot better about myself than I have in weeks just by eating that darn frog. Tomorrow, I will get up and eat it again… before my coffee. The next, and the next day, and for many days after that, I will get up and eat that 10-minute frog until it doesn’t feel like a frog anymore, but more like a lifestyle. When that happens, I’ll gradually increase my time. For now, getting on it and walking for those 10-minutes is enough.

The second goal was to reduce clutter and I ate that frog after I enjoyed my coffee to wash down the first. I went through 4 drawers of clothes in my bedroom and 2 boxes from the storage unit. I now have a whole garbage bag for Goodwill, a few well organized drawers full of clothes I actually enjoy wearing, and a little more space to get around my dining room. I spent an hour on this project today and didn’t find it to be as difficult as I was imagining in my head. I will put in another hour tomorrow morning and then take a day off. I’ll continue with the 2-days on / 1-day off schedule until I’ve made my way through the whole house. What’s more successful than before? I used to wait until I thought I had time to complete a whole room before I would start and then I would be frustrated by the time I was finished because it always took longer than I anticipated. This time I set a timer instead and focused on smaller areas. I worked on one drawer at a time until the timer went off and then spent a couple minutes over the hour organizing that last drawer. Like with the treadmill, I felt accomplished. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but by focusing on smaller chunks, it no longer seems so overwhelming.

How are you coming along with your goals? Are you feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start on them? If so, maybe you have to find a way to break them down into smaller pieces so they are manageable and start taking small actions in the right direction. If I can do it, I know any of you can.

I leave you with the fortune cookie from my dinner tonight, which I think is actually quite fitting for this point in my life, maybe in yours as well. Feel free to share with me.

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Needing to Focus

As I review the first couple weeks of my Level 10 Life, I’m noticing some disturbing trends. It seems that certain habits aren’t getting done at all and others are done every day. Writing this blog is an exercise designed to improve the career segment of life and it has been going well. I’m enjoying the writing process and hopefully you’re enjoying being along on this journey with me. Reading 30 minutes every day is designed to improve my personal development sector and something I generally don’t have a problem accomplishing. But there are other categories, especially 3 of them, where I’ve given myself the simplest habits and still can’t seem to accomplish them.

In the family and friends category, I find myself avoiding my “call or meet a friend once a week” habit despite it’s apparent simplicity. Only, it isn’t simple. You see, as I reflect on why I’m not making those calls, I’m realizing that many of my friends are in very negative places right now and I’m struggling to not feel drained. I am usually the one who reaches out and then I feel emotionally drained after the conversation from being supportive of all the stuff they’re going through and never getting reciprocal support for the things I’m struggling with. While I do want to continue to be there for those friends, I’m considering an amendment to the SMART goal. I’m thinking my goal needs to be to find additional friends who can be mutually supportive to balance out my time with the other friends. On the surface, this feels selfish, but as I look closer, I think it’s probably better for all of us. No one deserves to have a friend who is resentful of the time they give you, and I’ve become that; I’ve become resentful of one-sided relationships that take away all of my energy. In order to be a better friend, I need to stop relying on those relationships for something they aren’t giving and expecting to get something our of them that I’m not. I am not really sire if changing goals is “technically” allowed, but I think this is a good call.

Which brings us to the Health and Fitness category. I’m struggling with 2 of the 3 goals in this category and doing pretty well at the third. The problem is, that this category is one I feel really needs a lot of work right now. I quit smoking 5 years ago, when I started school, and have doubled in size since then. I get out of breath easily, ache all over, and feel like if my body & health don’t get the attention, I might not live long enough to accomplish the things on my bucket list. I’m just now starting to have grandchildren and I want to be around, and actively able, to participate in their lives for quite some time. So for the remainder of this week, I’ll be heavily focused on the 3 SMART goals for that category. I will be getting on the treadmill for at least 10 minutes, 5 days each week. I will be getting to sleep (or at least laying in bed in the quiet dark trying to sleep) by midnight each night. I will continue to restrict my calorie window to no more than 10 hours. The 10-hour calorie window has been going well, but neither of the other 2 have happened a single time in the last 3 weeks and that just cannot go on. For the next couple weeks, these will be my priority and I will “Eat the Frog” by trying to accomplish the treadmill first thing in the morning. We’ll see how it goes.

The third area I’m currently struggling with is the Physical Environment category. This was going quite well initially. You might remember reading about emptying out my storage unit and letting most of it go. The only problem is, I brought home some of the more valuable and unique items with the intention of selling them and they are now cluttering my daily personal space. I need to spend a day photographing and posting these items for sale so they can move on to new homes where they will be useful or bring their new owners joy. Their presence (this overwhelming clutter) has also alerted me to the added items I have laying around the house that are not useful, or beautiful and don’t bring me joy. So after everything is photographed and posted for sale, I need to go through every corner of the house again and purge the clutter. I think once the physical clutter is gone, I will feel much happier in my physical space and hopefully be able to focus better on the other habits I need to work on.

So those are my 3 struggles and how I plan to tackle them in the next few weeks. I hope you will stick around to hold me accountable here and maybe find a couple things you need to work on as well. If you are looking for someone to be accountable to, feel free to share in the comments and I’ll check in periodically to see how you are coming along. I hope we can all help one another get closer to lives we want and deserve!

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2017 Road Trip – Day 5

Today is the big travel day home. We aren’t even stopping much along the way. We’ve decided to take a short detour east so we can go through Indiana and miss most of the horrible traffic that exists between Chicago and Michigan.

We began the day driving through massive downpours almost all the way through Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. We stopped at a Perkins somewhere in Arkansas because I’ve never been in the state and I can’t count it as having been there if we simply drive through and never set feet on the ground.  Now I can say I’ve been there, although we didn’t see much through the rain. We did count our blessings that the rain had held off for all of our earlier adventures though, because we had pretty darn good weather for most of our trip.

We headed north through Missouri then southern Illinois, where we found Casey, Illinois. I have always loved the idea of road trips because of those fun roadside attractions that you can spend 5-10 minutes at. These are often unplanned finds and, for us, Casey was one of those places. Casey is home to some of the World’s Largest Stuff… a lot of it actually. With 8-1/2 hours of driving this day, we didn’t opt to drive around Casey and see them all, but we did see the World’s Largest Wind Chimes, World’s Largest Rocking Chair and World’s Largest Mailbox. There were giant pencils, rulers, and other items scattered around town as well. It was a fun break and something that we had been missing the rest of the road trip.

We stopped for dinner in Terre Haute, Indiana. It wasn’t too far past Casey, but we were getting hungry at this point and wanted to see the city. Terre Haute is a nice size city and we found Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant and had very yummy supper.

We still had about 3 hours of driving left and arrived back in Michigan shortly after 10pm… not too shabby for a 600+ mile drive in a single day. Looking back, I think if we were to do it over, I would have stayed in Indianapolis for the night and stopped a few more times along the way. Spending almost the entire day in the car was a bit of a challenge. In the end, we came pretty close to our $1000 budget and Indianapolis would have pushed us too far over, so it was the right choice at the time and we made it just fine.

As I mentioned in Day 1, here are our final Road Trip stats:

  • Elapsed time: 5 days, 4 nights
  • States visited: 7 (Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana)
  • Major Cities visited: 2 (St. Louis, Memphis)
  • Miles driven: 1430
  • Steps taken: 34,438 (we did really well the first couple days, then fizzled out)
  • Attractions/Sites visited: over 20
  • Hard Rock Shot Glasses added to collection: 2 (St. Louis & Memphis)

I hope you enjoyed following along, but more importantly; I hope this brief road trip, planned on the fly, has inspired you to get out and start living your bucket list. I’ve added as many links to these 5 blog posts as I could, to give you more information if you want to see any of the places we did, so no more excuses.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to do it all. You just have to start… somewhere.

 

 

2017 Road Trip – Day 4

Hello Memphis! Well, we actually woke up and had breakfast in Mississippi before heading into Memphis for the day, but it’s a short drive into the city.

We started our day with a visit to the Lorraine Motel, the site where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. They have turned the old motel into an incredibly moving National Civil Rights Museum that takes you through the struggles African Americans have faced throughout the history of the USA, beginning with slavery and continuing beyond the grim day in which the beloved MLK Jr. was taken too soon. The tone of the museum focuses on the civil rights movement and culminates with the viewing of the rooms where MLK Jr. was shot and the spot on the balcony where he was killed.

The other side of the street contains the second half of the museum. Here you can learn about the crime and the events of the day and leading up to it. You can see the location the killer shot from, the weapon used, and view the balcony from the sniper’s location. The whole experience is moving and almost had us in tears quite a few times. This is not a museum you will want to move quickly through, so plan at least half a day and plan to be challenged, disturbed, and at many times disgusted with the lows to which humanity has sunk, not only centuries ago, but within the last 50 years.

The Blues Music Hall of Fame is directly across the street from the museum exit and, although we didn’t go in this time, provided a much needed uplifting of the spirit and reminded us that, although we learned a lot that morning, we were also in Memphis to enjoy ourselves and have a good time.

We headed out towards Beale Street to hear some live blues and eat a late lunch. Beale street is a very interesting place with the sounds of all different varieties of music coming from every direction and mixing into a wild, neon-lit cocktail of fun. The photos will never do it justice because it simply something that must be experienced and felt to truly understand it. It feels vibrant, creative and alive here, but also has a slightly sad and unpleasant undertone of dirty exploitation with a hint of alcoholism. We still thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was and planned to go back again after supper to catch the night-life.

My fiancée was thrilled to find another Hard Rock Café located at the head of Beale Street and we stopped in to grab another addition to the shot glass collection before heading over to the Peabody Hotel. If you visit Memphis you must plan to be in the Peabody Hotel either at 11am or at 5pm, and plan to arrive early because their will be crowds. You see, the Peabody Hotel roof is home to a flock of 5 ducks. A duck master leads the ducks down from the roof, by elevator and red carpet, to the hotel lobby fountain, where they happily swim all day until it time to reverse the process and head back to the roof for the night. This is all done with extreme pomp and circumstance and there is even musical accompaniment. The best viewing spot is on the balcony opposite the elevator and slightly to one side, so you can see most of the march. However, children are permitted to sit right up next to the red carpet and pet the ducks as they march past. My fiancée rolled his eyes at me quite a bit for even suggesting this, but was a good sport about it and managed to enjoy himself as well. It was a bit of silliness that helped balance out the seriousness of the morning.

Finally, we drove out to see Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. Neither of us are big Elvis fans, so we didn’t want to do the tour, but it was on the way back to the hotel, so we took a few minutes to see what all the hype was about. The wall full of signatures and messages was the most surprising to me… they seemed to go on forever. Of course, we added our names as well and now become part of the history of the place. If you ever visit, bring a Sharpie so you too can join us in this history.

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We arrived back at our hotel planning to nap, and head back to Memphis for supper and more Beale Street fun. Instead, we ended up having a nice prime rib supper at O’Charley’s in the Suburban sprawl near our hotel and getting to bed. Apparently we are getting too old to manage such full days and still have enough energy to enjoy the night-life too.  We had fun there earlier in the day anyway, so we didn’t feel we were missing much.

Tomorrow we head home…