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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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.

 

 

Learning to Let it All Go.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been working this month on emptying a storage unit. This might not seem like a daunting task to those of you have a small unit somewhere, however, mine was the size of a semi-truck trailer and packed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. I’ve had it since we moved here from another state, 7 years ago. There was no room in my then-boyfriend’s house to bring all of the furnishings of another house in. So, the kids and I chose the items that were most important at the time and we boxed up the rest and stuffed it into a giant locker to deal with later.

Now is later and we have had to go through each and every one of those boxes and choose how to deal with all of the furniture, most of which I still don’t want. It’s been quite the process. At least 80% of the unit consisted of items we either threw away, burned, or drove directly to the nearest Goodwill. I have a small pile of several Rubbermaid totes in the corner of the dining room now that contain items I need to get on eBay. The kids have their memory books from elementary school, Irreplaceable photos and other precious mementos. I have my great-grandmother’s cedar-lined chest.

However, most of the items we thought we “needed” 7 years ago, were completely outdated to fit into our current life. One of my daughters was still a student when we moved and is now married and a mother of two adorable boys. Her needs and even wants are drastically different than they were before. The same was true for all of us. At the time of the move, I was a size 10. Now, after quitting smoking and sitting an architecture drafting desk 12-15 hours a day for 5 years, I am somewhere around a size 20. It’s definitely going to be a while before I’m back in that size 10 and the clothes are out of style and/or not appropriate professional attire anyway. There were at least 15 boxes of stuffed animals. When we moved, my kids were… well, still kids; now they’re all young adults and have moved beyond their old toys. There just wasn’t much left for us in the unit.

It was an important lesson for me. By locking the things of our life (things we thought were meaningful enough to carefully box up then pay someone to move and store) up for 7 years, most of them weren’t important of even useful anymore. We develop such an attachment to things in our life. We worry about them, dust them, display them, move them around, insure them, and then constantly worry about them. Once they’re tucked into the drawers and corners of our life, we stop noticing the drain that caring for them has on our life. It’s easy to forget that there’s a drawer somewhere full of things you haven’t used in years, but might need someday. These things seem harmless, out of sight and out of mind, but they weigh us down, much the same way as my storage unit was weighing me down. when I saw it finally empty, I didn’t feel sad, I felt relieved that it was finally done. But I’m not stopping there. I’m starting the process of doing the same thing to every drawer and corner of the house. I’ve gotten through a few already.

I’ve set a goal in my Level 10 life plan (Physical Environment sector) to go through 5 drawer or cabinets a week and eliminate everything that isn’t useful, or beautiful or doesn’t bring me joy. I may end up getting rid of 80% of my clothes during this process, because many things I once loved don’t fit right now or don’t make me feel beautiful. I once had the mentality that if I loved it once, I would love it again someday. This process I went through today clearly illustrated that that is not likely to be the case and now I feel better about letting it all go to make room for the things that are meant to be in my life now. I’m not suggesting the mementos need to go, I’m definitely keeping my great-grandma’s chest; but I’m feeling better about letting go of what is no longer meant for me.

I will now have room, and a little extra cash, (that storage unit was expensive every month)in my life for all the things I intend to bring into it. I will no longer hold onto the things that have come to me by default, simply because they were helpful or useful at the time I acquired them. Freeing myself up for the future I’m designing feels amazing and I hope some of you will join me in finally getting rid of all the excess draining your life’s energy.

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Finances… Otherwise Known as Torture.

Finances are one of those topics most people dread talking about, reading about and, more than anything, doing anything about. Dealing with finances usually means lots of numbers and even more deprivation. Do you enjoy your morning cappuccino? If so, that’s too bad, because most financial advice columns are going to tell you that’s the first thing you need to give up to become financially fit. It’s a numbers game, and if you feel like you’re winning at it, just read a few tidbits of advice and you’ll feel like a loser pretty darn quick. This is especially true for me right now. I’ve been a full-time college student for 5 years now; there’s no going to architecture school part time. This means I’ve incurred a mortgage-worth of student loan debt and, since I was rarely able to work more than 12 hours per week, my finances are a mess in other areas as well. The financial segment of the Level 10 Life didn’t look so good during my assessment.

I have a small IRA that would make a 21-year-old pretty envious… which would be great, if I wasn’t 45 already. By now, I’m supposed to have 3-times my annual salary saved and I’m only at 1/100th of that. I had a small 401k once upon a time, which saved us from homelessness during the recession, but unfortunately disappeared in the process. I wrote down my expectations for Level 10, cried a while, ate way too many cookies, and then resolved to figure out (somehow) how to get there. One thing I realized is that I will never live enough hours to get there on wages alone; it’s going to take some other strategies to do it. So, I spent the last half of August reading about finances. I’m not talking about the articles that tell you give up that morning coffee because, let’s face it, at this point that is not going to cut it. I’m talking about how money works and especially, how it works most effectively.

I decided to start living on only 70% of my already meager income. Since I’m not working at the moment, this amounts to back child support my ex owes me from 15 years ago, when he decided not paying child support for over a year sounded fabulous. We came to an agreement at the end of that time that he would continue to pay support when the children were grown until that back support was paid off. It’s a small amount, but it’s something. I also contacted all of my utilities and negotiated lower rates on my monthly bills, redid my car insurance and am emptying out and selling items I’ve had in a storage unit. I’ve cut my monthly bills by about $400/month and am making a little money on the storage unit stuff. I’m also helping a friends who just had surgery by cleaning her home once a week for a few weeks. But just having money coming in isn’t as important as how to spend it, so I created a financial plan and have stuck to it for the first month so far. Here’s how it goes.

All the money I receive for the month goes into a “holding” account. This is a savings account that earns interest. This is not the money I will spend this month; it is for next month. This way, I know for certain ahead of time what amount I am working with and what I can and can’t afford that coming month. Plus, the money earns a small amount of interest while it waits to be divided. At the beginning of the month, I divide up the money in my holding account as follows:

  • 35% – Needs – these are things I need to live, like food, shelter, transportation for work, electric and natural gas. The food included here is the basics. Anything fancy falls under the wants.
  • 21% – Wants – this is anything I want, such as wifi, cellphones, restaurants, movie night, or that morning cup of coffee. It doesn’t matter what these items are, but I cannot exceed this pre-determined amount in the month. If the budgeted funds are gone, I have to do without it until the next month. If I want to upgrade to the iPhone X, I might have to give up coffee for a few months. Simple and effective.
  • 14% – Debt Reduction  – I have a small amount left on my car loan and will soon have to start paying on student loans. The required monthly payment is in the needs category above, but whatever amount is here is what I add to the payment of my highest interest debt so that I get the loans paid off faster.
  • 10% – Passive Venture – this is set it and forget it investing. I have a small investment account with a low-fee index fund and a couple shares of stock, all of which have reinvested yearly dividends. It is usually making money at a slightly better rate than inflation. I’m working on diversifying my portfolio now to include bonds, gold, and commodities to protect against market fluctuations. There may be other opportunities for this segment of money at a later time, but right now this is where it’s going.
  • 10% – Active Venture – this is the money that supports the side-hustle. This is the money that could be used to start an online dropship business or purchase real estate.
  • 5% – Retirement – There’s a lot of advice on retirement funds. I have a Roth IRA and try to make sure I fund it to the max whenever possible. Even when I can’t, I always try to put in a small part of my income into it so I feel like I’m making some kind of progress.
  • 2.5% – Emergency Fund – I’m determined to be ready if another recession hits. I’m working on having a 1-year emergency fund to keep me going. It’s being funded slowly but surely and is always kept in an interest-earning (1.2% APY) savings account. I’ll be moving it to a higher-interest Beam account (2-4% APY) as soon as they get to me in their gradual roll-out process… I’m on the list!
  • 2.5% – Personal Goal – I think it’s important to have something you’re working for that is set aside from the rest of your finances and special. In my case, I’m going to Italy… maybe not this year, or next… but eventually. It keeps me excited about my financial plan because if I stick to it long enough, I will have an amazing trip to look forward to.
  • Charity – You may have noticed that the above categories add up to 100 already and may think I’m being awfully selfish. In reality, I am donating another valuable resource at the moment… time. Non-profit organizations definitely need money to keep them going, but they also need people willing to donate their time. While I’m working towards putting myself in a good place financially (so I can ultimately give more money) I am donating my time on a regular basis. It’s important to me to always give back somehow, so that will always be part of my financial plan.

I know my plan may take a bit of tweaking as I go along, but it’s a good mix of taking care of my current needs and my future needs simultaneously. It’s hard to get used to living on 70%, but as I see my investments going up, my loans going down and my net worth being positively effected, it makes me feel better about that awful budgeting and even allows me to fully enjoy an occasional cappuccino, guilt free!

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Getting it Done

Today I’m looking at my Level 10 goals new habit list and I’m finding myself completely unmotivated to do any of them. It just seems to be one of those days. I really didn’t even feel like getting out from under the covers this morning. This happens once in a while, but usually only when it’s cold outside. Right now it’s over 80 and sunny here in SW Michigan and I’m a little confused about why I’m not in the mood to do anything. Now some of you can maybe relate… maybe you don’t like working out, or cleaning the house, or studying for monstrous tests, or eating healthy? The problem is, that I also have things on my list like… call and talk to a friend, sketch, walk in nature, read for 30 minutes, and write for 15 minutes… and I don’t even want to do any of those today. So what am I going to do?

Well, I may have procrastinated a little bit, but I’m forcing myself to pick 3 items off the list and do them anyway. The first of these was to call a friend (Friends & Family goal)… Done. It wasn’t hard, it didn’t hurt, and despite the fact that I didn’t want to do it, I felt a little better after it was done. The next one I’m tackling is right now… write for 15 minutes (Career goal). Writing about the fact that I am not in the mood to write seems a little awkward, but I’m getting it done, and maybe working through this mental block at the same time. The third task I’ll tackle today is to go walk in nature (Personal Development goal). There’s a beach down the road and only a few more pleasant days to walk on it this year… plus the vitamin D may help with this funk I seem to find myself in today.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Progress in life usually isn’t made in big changes; it’s in small daily habits that we barely notice. Today I may not have wanted to participate in my new, better daily habits, but I know they are for my own benefit, so I did them anyway. I also may not feel very good about having gotten them done, or the way I got them done, but that’s ok. Some days are always going to be better than others, but when I look back on my habit tracker in 6 months, I’m not going to see any of that. In 6 months, I’m just going to see that check mark in the box that says, “I did it!” and because of that I will become the person I’ve intentionally decided to become instead of just the person who takes what life throws at them. Because of these 3 check marks today, I may eventually move closer to level 10 in 3 different areas of life. Because I chose to something, anything, instead of nothing, I have accomplished something I set out to do and can feel successful.

The lesson I’m taking away is that life, and achieving your dreams, is not always going to be easy. Sometimes life is hard, sometimes just showing up is enough, and sometimes showing up is the hardest part of all. Today I showed up, even though it was hard, and I am a better person for it.

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