Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I've been alive long enough to know that even when I'm headed in the right direction, some floundering is inevitable.  It looks like this:

- I'm Wonder Woman!  I can do whatever I set my sights on, and I'm going to change the world, live my best life, and take charge.  I've got this!

- Wow, this is really hard, but I'm going to do it!  Watch me go!

- See?  Early success!  Told ya so!

- Hmm.  The early success didn't get me all the way there.  This might be really hard.

- Oh crap.  I don't know what I'm doing.  Everyone thinks I'm doing fantastically, but clearly, I'm a mess.  I don't know if I can do this.

- I think I'll just go back to bed.  I'm shutting down.  It's all I can do to shower and brush my teeth, let alone change the whole world.

- Whimper.

- My house is a mess and the stack of mail is about to topple over and I haven't eaten a fresh veggie in two days, and now I'm sick, and when I look at my to-do list I want to throw up.

I have had a busy week since I last checked in, and some great things have happened, but I have also lost momentum.  After throwing myself a birthday party (30 people!) last Monday, I chaperoned my daughter's class field trip to a National Park for a few days, came home, attended a professional conference, and then hosted two of my best friends from out of town for two nights at my house.  On Sunday I did my longest run yet (eight miles in an hour and nine minutes - very proud of myself), sent my girlfriends home to their equally busy lives, and then....crashed.  My mental house came tumbling down, and all my optimism disappeared with the full knowledge that I am unemployed and single and that no way could I make my dreams come true.

I used to believe that my crashes were proof positive that I would fail, that I was a fraud, that I couldn't hack it.  The little gremlin whispers in my ear just like everyone else: it says I'm not good enough, that my dreams are foolish, that I'm a lazy stupid girl who will never get what she desires.

But I don't believe that any more, even in my crashes.

The amount of work I need to do is stunning.  Job seeking in one's forties is no joke: I have a short timeline before I will have to eat rice and beans and worry about paying the mortgage, and I can't just go couch surf, because I've got a daughter and a dog and a cat and a mortgage and I need health insurance.  And real life doesn't stop just because I have this important task, and there are as many demands on my time as ever, and I haven't juggled them well.  (A week off of job hunting makes me hyperventilate.)


I've survived worse.  Much worse.  And I've gotten on my (professional) feet before, and I can do it again.

Today, I'm recognizing that I'm floundering.  I'm acknowledging that the last week has thrown me off course, and that my unfailing optimism is actually failing, and that the gremlin in my ear isn't even bothering to whisper any more, choosing instead to hurl insults at me in a voice so loud that I wonder if the neighbors can hear it.

But I have a trick to get through it.

I'm going to persevere.  I don't care what that stupid voice in my head says.  Today I'm buckling down, making my to-do list of thank you cards for networking meetings, reading lists for my new field, phone calls, scheduling, organization.  I am going to make this happen, and failure is not an option, and it's time to move forward.  The gremlin can yell at me that I'm a fool and that there's nothing special about me and I should just accept some awful job at a low wage and deal with it like so many others have had to do...

But I won't do it.  I'm going to tough it out, keep going.  Because I know that stopping now is guaranteed failure.

I know how to climb the trail to the top of the mountain.  I know how to show up to chemo....over and over.  I know how to survive divorce.  I am going to do this, no matter how hard it is, not just because I must (though that's real, too!) but because I refuse to give up on myself, and where belief and optimism fail, I'm going to rely on pure stubbornness.  I simply refuse to quit, despite the odds, despite anything else.

Let's get this thing done.


If you're reading this because you're stuck, and you're thinking, "Okay, how the hell do I get from "Help me, I'm drowning!" to "I've got this, let's go!" I might actually have some practical advice for you.  I've floundered a billion times, and I'm still here, and some of my flounders have been huge, so I might even be an expert on this.  It helps to have a technique, and here's mine.

Step One: Flounder.  You're doing that now?  Great!  Check it off on the list!  Everyone flounders.  Congratulate yourself for identifying that you're floundering, because that's actually huge.

Step Two:  Wallowing.  Spend an hour or a day wallowing.  Yup, tea and bubble baths and trashy magazines and television and whatever you do when you're wallowing.  Nothing self destructive - I don't recommend drunken anything because it always makes me feel worse in the end, tempting though it may be.  But as you spend this day wallowing, know that this is a limited timeframe.  You're allowed to wallow, because you're human, and damnit, you're going through a hard time.  But wallowing has an expiration date.  You are not going to stay wallowing, and you  know this even when you are in it.  Once you decide to wallow, set an end date.  Yesterday I woke up with a horrible head cold, and it was my wallow day.  I wallowed the entire time my daughter was at school....and then perked up enough to mother her.

Step Three: Get physical.  I don't care if you're five hundred pounds and consider exercise a trip to the basement, or if you're an Ironman(woman), get moving.  Do whatever suits your body, but push it a bit.  For me, this would involve doing two things: a yoga session for a half hour to an hour, or a run outside.  Maybe for you it's that, or a class at the gym, or a walk around your neighborhood, or a bike ride, or "chair aerobics" with one of those programs for seniors that are on television.  I don't care what it is, but move.  When we're stuck and floundering, it seems like our systems shut down, and getting moving will get your blood flowing again.  Plus, it sends a message to our brains, "Hey, we're taking care of ourselves.  Doesn't that feel good?"  Also, even though it won't realign the planets or solve your problems, it allows you to feel awesome about doing something that you know is good for you.  It helps reset everything somehow.  Don't skip this step, whether you "care" about your health or you ignore it.  It's not to be skinny or fit, it's just to reset the wallowing, to stop floundering.  It's important.  It will make you feel good, and it's worth it.

Step Four: Journal.  (Today, this is mine.)  Pour out your hopes, your dreams, your fears.  Let the gremlin's voice go down on paper, and maybe argue with it.  I don't think that there is a right way or a wrong way to journal, but I do believe that journaling has magical properties.  Seeing your problems in black and white sometimes makes them look like what they are - it shrinks them to their correct dimensions.  No bigger, no smaller.  And sometimes, identifying the problems are half of the way to getting to the solution.  And sometimes, journaling tells you just what to do.  You knew it all along, you'd only forgotten, and the journal reveals your truth and helps you get unstuck.

Step Five: Clean your house.  With your journaling top of mind, go grab a couple of projects that have been nagging at you.  Scrub the ring in the bathtub, get caught up on laundry, organize the junk drawer, or whatever it is that needs doing.  Clean for a couple of hours.  Really.  "WAIT!" you tell me.  "My house is not the problem!  I don't have a JOB!  I need a JOB and I don't want to be a maid!  This is not the time to clean my house!"  I know, I know.  But here's the thing: it also has magical properties.  Take a project that has been nagging at you, and accomplish it.  Send your mind the signal that you can get it done.  Also?  Enjoy the results.  Look!  There was a big pile of mail, and now there is a clean desk.  Walk into the kitchen, and see a sparkling sink and clean counters, and think "ahhhhh!" instead of "uuuugghhhhh."  Tell yourself, "Man that looks so much better!  I'm so glad I did that, because I love how great it looks now!"  Step back and smile, enjoy the fruits of your labors.  Reflect on how long that mess had been bugging you, and how great it feels to have it dealt with.  Remind yourself that it's a metaphor for other things that you can accomplish.  (Note: set a time limit on cleaning, just like you did on wallowing.  This is not the time to transfer all of your energy into painting every room in your house, because you really do need to work on your bigger issues in life - finding a job, making it through your divorce, etc.  You want to make a difference in your home, not completely re-do it right now.)

Step Five:  Okay, now we're getting down to it.  Make lists.  I like to make mine in categories: Job search, Consulting, House, Mothering.  I use a Gmail calendar, but at first, I put it down on paper in a chart style, with huge lists of everything that needs to happen.  Then, I prioritize.  I rank each item, and then start to assign things dates, and then try to assign times.  When I realize that I've put 72 hours worth into a day, I back up and spread it out.  When I realize that I've overbooked my social calendar, I start canceling things.  Write down what you need to do.  Put it in black and white, and then put stars or numbers beside the most important things.  If you're like me, your list would be impossible to accomplish in less than a decade, even though you thought it was just for the week.  Notice that, and cross things off, or bump them to a "someday" list.  Try to be optimistic but realistic about what you can get done, but do not let the length of the list stop you from attacking it.  Choose the top items, and focus on those.

Step Six: Keep looking at step five.  Keep those lists going.  Find something to be proud of each day.  I find that having a couple job accomplishments (setting up a new meeting, reaching out to my network, changing my resume, etc.) each day gives me momentum to keep going, and gives me energy.  If you're really stuck, start a bit slow - don't overwhelm yourself and send yourself back to wallowing.  Be realistic about what you can do, and commit to getting a portion of the list done every day, and manage the rest of the list.  (It wasn't done today, so I'm making it tomorrow's number one priority...)

Step Seven:  Keep cycling through all of this.  Every day, try to exercise a bit.  Every day, manage your house a bit - not just loading the dishwasher after dinner, but catching up on what needs doing.  Every day, do some self care (a home pedicure, a cup of tea on the porch swing, time out for reading, etc.).  Allot space in your calendar for these things, and use them as rewards.  You can NOT spend every minute of every day solving the problem that sent you floundering in the first place.  Once you've hit the top goals on your to-do list each day, make time for the rest of life: parenting, self care, exercise, etc. are all important, and when you're doing them, don't feel guilty about it.  Feel proud that you managed your top items, and know that you'll tackle your next items tomorrow.

Step Eight:  Schedule your day.  Have a plan for each day that incorporates all your steps.  Mine looks like this:
- Early morning, before my daughter wakes up: Exericise.  (I find that it sets the tone for the day.  Amazes me every time how I can wake up unmotivated and sluggish and feeling like the sky is falling, go for a run, and come back thinking, "I've got this!"  Endorphins are powerful.)
- Get my girl ready for school, pack lunches (mine included: if I make myself a salad when I'm packing her lunch, then I remember to be healthy mid-day when I'm feeling lazy and snack-ish).
- Take a moment to sit and reflect.  Today, that's here with this blog, but often it's just sitting quietly, sometimes with Mark Nepo's "Book of Awakening", or journaling with pen and a book.  Just ten minutes usually.
- Knock off a couple items on the household to-do list.  I've got the dishwasher running, laundry going, etc.  Today's household task is to tackle the mail pile (ugh) - I will feel so much better when that's done.  Today I have one hour to do this.
- Revisit the to-do list.  Make sure that you're taking the right steps for your goals, that you know what you need to accomplish to move forward.
- Buckle down.  Do the thing that is making your flounder, the scary thing.  For me, that means this job search stuff.  Do it in time blocks: today I'm going to start with two hours.  It might not be enough, but it's a heck of a lot better than sitting there thinking "It's too big!  I can't do it!" and two hours sounds like all I can handle today.  I must do it....but I'm relieved that after two hours I'm off the hook, and that gives me strength to keep going.  When I'm not floundering I can do eight hours, but when I'm floundering (like today) I've learned to shorten it.  Something is better than nothing!

Each day, repeat the steps.

If it was easy, everyone would have the picture perfect lives seen in Real Simple.  (If I see one more article about how to organize one's laundry room to color-coordinated perfection, I'll lose it.  I do not know one single person with a beautifully decorated laundry room, and I'm tired of seeing messages that say I am disorganized if my laundry room isn't beautiful.)  You aren't required to be perfect - you are only required to do your best, to make progress, and to keep going even when you want to quit.

I'll let you know how I do with all this.  I'm still floundering.  It helps me to remember that I know what I need to do, but if you'd like to send good wishes and prayers that I can make this happen, I really appreciate them.  It's all uphill right now, and though I know I've climbed some big hills before, it's still a lot of work, and it's still scary, and my muscles still burn and protest.

And to follow my own advice.  Reluctantly.  Deep breath.....

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