Life Accomplishments: Multipotentialite Series

This is another post inspired by Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose. I’ll be doing a few of these, as it’s one of my favorite books for multipotentialites, and it has so much practical advice.

In the book, she asks readers to make a list of everything they’ve done in their lives (read my review).

The reason is that many multipotentialites, by nature unable to settle down to one thing, often reach a point in their lives when they feel as though they haven’t really accomplished anything. While friends have gone smoothly up the corporate ladder, or smoothly down the homemaking trail, or smoothly into whatever field they’ve loved forever, for mutlipotentialites, our patchwork lives can seem…lacking.

I made my list, and it was a great exercise in reality. I’ve often felt that my life has been very piecemeal; this bit here, that bit there, this interest over here, but nothing connected, nothing coherent.

My timeline of accomplishments will never be coherent (hallelujah), but it does help me realize that I have actually done a lot in my life.

  • Painted my own storybook and table set (to match, aww)
  • Made jewelry
  • Made baby clothes
  • Made dolls (knit, waldorf, felt) and doll clothes
  • Knit a blanket for my neighbor
  • Knit a sweater for my mom
  • Won prizes for equestrian showmanship and Western riding
  • Learned to ride Western and English
  • Learned to jump
  • Learned etiquette at Cotillion
  • Learned to dance (waltz, foxtrot, jitterbug, swing, Charleston, English Country)
  • Knit mug cozies, scarves, gloves, socks, hats
  • Embroidered bags
  • Cross-stitched
  • Placed in an art show in high school
  • Taught in Taiwan
  • Volunteered at a therapeutic horse riding center and won an award
  • Wrote a novel
  • Played D&D (a performance feat if ever there was one)
  • DMed Dungeons and Dragons
  • Began woodworking
  • Made natural beauty products
  • Made herbal medicine
  • Learned Chinese and Korean
  • Learned basic Swedish
  • Drew comics
  • Traveled to Russia, New Zealand, and around the US
  • Taught in Korea
  • Designed a car with my friend in middle school
  • Made a pinhole camera
  • Developed pictures myself (from negatives in a chem bath)
  • Learned HTML/CSS
  • Graduated college Summa Cum Laude
  • Got a promotion
  • Learned to tat
  • Got the highest score on my AP art portfolio
  • Made several fantasy/sci-fi/medieval costumes
  • Sewed clothing
  • Made a quilt
  • Painted portraits
  • Owned horses
  • Made scrapbooks/art/bullet journals
  • Cut paper art

This list is like a love letter to myself, gently reminding me that yes, I have done things with my life. Yes, I have used my time well. I’m young, objectively speaking, but it’s hard for anyone over 12 to feel objective when 12- and 13-year-olds (or even younger, who am I kidding?), routinely do incredibly amazing things in art and science and performance. It’s hard, but it’s necessary. Just because I didn’t publish my first book at 10 doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. There’s no correct or best timeline for anyone.

If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like you’ve never done anything, make your own list. Include books you’ve read or games you’ve played or places you’ve lived or people you’ve met. Those are all accomplishments. And big or small, they are important.

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Mini-Habits by Stephen Guise: Book Review

It’s pretty much only coincidence that two of my three book reviews so far are by the same author. Only pretty much, because books that really stick with me (enough to get a review) are rare, and Stephen Guise has written two that have really stuck with me. They are both short. That helps. They are both immensely practical. That helps too. They both took my world and turned it very gently on its head, rummaged in its pockets, and took out all the useless bits to show me why I was wrong. That helps the most.

My first book review for Guise was for the second and most recent work of his I’d read, How to Be an Imperfectionist. Being the second book, it builds upon the previous book, Mini-Habits, about which I will now shut up introducing and get on with reviewing.

The Idea

The idea is very, very simple. Easy enough for anyone, literally, anyone, to understand. A mini-habit is a habit of doing something every day that is very small. For instance, 1 pushup a day. Read 2 pages of a book a day. Things like that.

Guise introduces the idea and then goes on to say why it works. He talks about motivation vs willpower, how waiting until you feel like doing something is the TOTAL WRONG WAY TO DO ANYTHING, and how by using such a small goal, you will hit your target every day, and most of the time, you will overachieve it. You’re on the floor having done 1 pushup, might as well do more, right? And then you’ve done 10. The key though is not to have secret goals, like, I will do 1 pushup a day, but it must actually turn into 50, and then you have the same block against doing the 1 since it isn’t actually 1, it’s 50.

It’s fascinating to read about motivation as well. He cites several studies over the years on the way motivation works in the brain, and let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Motivation fails too often to make it a good instigator of anything. Cue willpower.

Like I talked about in my review of his next book, the key is to create a positive cycle or streak of successes. Can everyone read 2 pages a day? If you’re reading this blog post, then yes, you can. It’s a stupidly simple goal. So you do that. And rather than focusing on how you want to turn that into reading 2 books a day, you focus on how you’re creating a habit of reading anything at all, every day. Every day is the key. You do something every day and it becomes a habit. You don’t have to think about it. And then you can start hitting bigger goals much more easily since you’ve got that foot in the door.

(Also, apparently, 21 days to implement something as a habit is a myth. It can range from 14 to over a hundred days, if I recall correctly, depending on the habit and the person.)

My Thoughts

When I first read the book a couple of years ago, and first had my world gently mugged, I did my mini-habits very carefully. I don’t remember what they were. I think they were fitness related, so I think I did his one push up a day for a while. But I was just beginning to work overseas, and I secretly wanted more, and what with all that and not being very aware of ownership of my own head at that point, I stopped mini-habits for quite some time.

Until this year, actually. When I came home to get better, had several breakdowns and epiphanies to boot, I found and read How to Be an Imperfectionist (HTBAI), which reminded me of Mini-Habits.

I immediately picked it up again, especially after reading in HTBAI how anxiety is often a result of perfectionism, and how mini-habits punches that in the face daily. Small victories which create a perpetual positive cycle, in a too-brief summation.

My mini-habits are currently; write 50 words, read 1 chapter in the Bible, read 2 pages of a book, exercise for 5 min, and meditate for 10 min. Technically, the meditation should be much shorter, but I’ve had a streak on for over a hundred days and it IS a habit now. I guess I should take it off the list and add it to the list that includes brushing my teeth every day. It’s now just something I do. That’s the goal with all of these.

In Practice

Let’s say you want to write more, which is my major goal for this year. During NaNo, the daily goal must be at least 1667 words or you won’t hit 50k by the end. I’ve done it three years in a row, so I know I can do it. Therefore I thought I must do it every day. I gave myself a little more leeway and went for 1000/day, but after the intensity of November, and the inevitable weeklong writing break I gave myself (which turned into two weeks, then three…) I realized it wasn’t working. 1000 was just too much.

I decided to use his goal of 50 words/day. Because I’m just starting out, I’m counting journaling, blogging, and fiction writing.

So far, I have done it with no problem for about a month, since I arbitrarily decided to start on January 1st (not super arbitrary, and that did happen to be the starting day for the cool habit tracker I printed out, so…).

My first real snag came yesterday. I spent all day out of my house. Sure, I had my small notebook, but I was also feeling crappy and didn’t bother writing in it. I got home around eleven, way past my comfortable bedtime (hello, youngsters), and was so knackered I nearly, nearly gave it up. But I didn’t want to have that blank space in my tracker (I need external accountability to get me to do things, and streaks of check marks help a lot*), so I pulled out my iPad and journaled. I could have spent just about two minutes doing it and written 50 words, but I stayed there for 10 minutes recapping my day, and hey presto, I did my habit. I x-ed off my day. I kept up the streak, and my habit tracker is fat and full and happy.

That’s why it works. No matter what kind of hellish day you’ve had, at the end of it, you can grab your iPad or phone and write 50 words. You can flip over on your bed and do a pushup, you can pull that book over and read 2 pages. That’s the key and the beauty of a mini-habit.

I encourage anyone who’s ever struggled with resolutions or goal-setting or good habit forming to read it and try it out.

Let me know how it goes!

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*See Gretchen Rubin‘s book The Four Tendencies to learn what kind of habit maker you are. It’s a great tie-in to making mini-habits and a fun read too.

The Missing Years: Dealing with a quarter-life creativity crisis

I recently watched Adam Westbrook’s video about the missing years on a recommendation from a friend. It changed my life. Sound dramatic? If you’ve been struggling as a twenty-something who feels you’re destined for something greater, or as a creative trying to jump to the successful period in your life, or as a graduate set adrift who feels lost, this will help you.

I’ve read a host of books about the dream life, the creative life, the twenty-something life, the productive life, the gritty life, the minimalist life, and any other book that might potentially give me the ultimate secret to finding my way. Almost every book I’ve read has given me some valuable nugget of wisdom. Slow down, everyone’s in the same boat, purpose is a by-product of pursuit, and many more. I could write a thousand blog posts about each grain of truth I’ve found.

But somehow I still feel like I’m wasting time. I’m twenty-five now. My twenties, the formative years, are half over. And I look at my dream of being an author and it still feels a decade off. I’VE WASTED TIME, I think in a panic. Only I haven’t. When I look back over my accomplishments in the last five years, they’re substantial (taught in Taiwan for a year, graduated university, moved to Korea fulfilling a dream, wrote and finished my first novel, started exercising, found amazing friends). Those are all good things that could not have happened any faster.

Now, on to the missing years. If you haven’t watched the video, here’s a brief summary. Culture, in the last few decades, has shifted to idolizing youth. Everything must happen when you’re young, including success and finding your life purpose. But that’s not how it is for the majority of people, and that’s not how it should be. Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and most other famous people had a period in their lives when they were just…working. Not famous, not making money, not necessarily even doing okay, just working. Da Vinci, hailed as the true renaissance man, had a period of time when he didn’t have a steady job and couldn’t really draw what he wanted. He worked a lot of bad jobs (sound familiar?) and kept sketching because he could. He just kept working on his craft even when it wasn’t paying the bills or wasn’t what he wanted to create.

Van Gogh, as we’re aware, lived a destitute life without fame. His work didn’t become well-regarded until much later.

Now ask yourself, if you knew that you would never be famous for what you love doing, whether that’s art, writing, or another creative pursuit, would you stop? If you were to become an Emily Dickinson, a recluse whose poems were only discovered after her death, would you still do it? Could you stop, really?

I asked myself that and realized I couldn’t. Even if I never make a dime off my writing, I’m still going to write.

So now, we come back to the missing years. I hate the idea of waiting. I hate the idea that I could publish ten books in the next ten years and maybe only the last one will get read widely. Maybe my writing career won’t take off until then, when I’m thirty-five or even forty-five. Would I stop writing now? The obvious answer is no. Of course not. If that were really the case, I’d bend down and start learning and practicing more.

But if we buy into the idea that we need to have instant success because we see others having it, we might throw everything away and relegate ourselves to a safe, secure, and ill-fitting career.

During the missing years, you have to keep working. Stop thinking about fame. It’s like the old adage of “love will kind you when you stop looking.” Fame will find you when you stop seeking it. Work hard, write or draw or whatever it is you do. Promote and market and hustle but let the result go. Don’t beat yourself up over low numbers. Build the habit of working hard. But never, ever stop.

Let those missing years guide you to your dream life, no matter how long it takes. I’m right there with you.

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Video Series: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3