Making my Own Opportunities

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

There is some controversy about where this quote comes from. It has been attributed to a Roman philosopher named Seneca, to the football player Darrell Royal, and an American insurance salesman and writer named Elmer Letterman.

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You gotta read this, Daniel. So good!

Before you start imagining me, sitting at my desk, reading classic literature and smoking a pipe, let me tell you where I actually found this quote. I found it in the wonderful novelist Nick Offerman’s book, Gumption.

Not quite as regal sounding as a Roman philosopher or great American writer, huh?

When I read this quote, it really resonated with me. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it or some iteration of it before, especially since it goes hand in hand with things like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “you better work, bitch.” However, I think it stuck with me because it doesn’t attribute success to just hard work. Yes, hard work is essential to accomplishing your goals, but in this day and age you could be the hardest worker and still get nowhere.

As a fellow millennial, Daniel, I’m sure you’ve heard all the terrible things people say about our generation. We’re all selfish and entitled and don’t know the meaning of hard work. As a fellow millennial, you probably also know that this is complete and utter bullshit.

It seems like every person I know who’s close to my age works their ass off. All of my friends work forty or more hours a week, find odd jobs around town to make extra cash, and still need to pinch pennies every single week. You can just glance at the news to see that people our age are having a hard time finding steady work, even with college degrees, and yet for some reason lots of people seem to think it’s our fault.

We’ve been preparing all our lives for our lucky break. Now we just need the opportunity.

After reading this quote, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own goals. Some of them I have been actively working towards, like running a half marathon. However, I realized for some of them I’m just sitting around waiting for the opportunity rather than using my time to prepare for when that opportunity arises.

Maybe the previous generation was right about me. Maybe I am just a lazy, entitled millennial.

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Me after a long run. 

One goal I’ve had since I picked up a pen was to write a novel. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school and I would love, love, love to publish one of my stories for the world to enjoy.

Except, in the last four years, I haven’t been preparing for it at all. I have written three, maybe four short stories in the past four years. That might sound like a lot, but that’s definitely not enough to prepare to be a writer. I’ve been sitting around, waiting for something to strike suddenly and change my life rather than getting up and changing my life myself.

I feel like I also sit around waiting for easy opportunities rather than taking advantage of the tools at my fingertips. Yes, it would be so much easier to get picked up by some big publishing company and have them edit and promote my work, but that won’t happen until I get my name out there. And how can I do that? Well, in this magical age of the internet, I can self publish. No one’s stopping me from writing my stories and posting them somewhere. Maybe even on a WordPress blog. What a concept!

This is where I subtly work in our new blog, Write Makes Right. See how I did that? I’m a marketer.

But there’s more to it than just posting what you’ve created on the internet and hoping people will stumble upon it. If I want to make my writing dreams come true I have to be my own editor, promoter, and manager.

Terrifying? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Sorry for this one being a bit rambly, Daniel. Nick Offerman talks so much about creativity and hard work in his novel that, once I finished it, I was eager to get out and just do something. Anything! I just felt the urge to create and write and this blog post is a product of that passion.

This is also an example of how I need to hone my skills if I’m going to be my own editor.

See you next week on Write Makes Right!

–EMS

I Fell Down a Hole

I have always considered myself an organized and responsible person. In college I never missed an assignment or flunked a test. After graduation, I worked diligently until I found a job and had a steady income. Nowadays, I rarely miss work deadlines, show up at least five minutes early to everything, and never run out of clean underwear.

I have also always believed that life is all about balance. No one can be organized and regimented all the time, me included. I am very responsible when it comes to work, exercise, and other household chores, but I am definitely not organized when it comes to my hobbies.

When it comes to my main hobbies, like reading, writing, crocheting, and horror movies, there is absolutely no gray zone. I swing between being completely obsessed with a book or project for days at a time and having zero interest in even thinking about it.

I recently came up with a name for my habit. I call it falling down a hole. giphy
A few weeks ago I was sitting with my coworkers outside, enjoying the sunshine and talking about books. We were talking about our favorite genres and, of course, I brought up my obsession with scary stories.

My coworkers, Stephen and Meredith, said that they had read some Stephen King, but can’t read a whole lot of his work. For every book of his they read, they have to read something light-hearted to “recover.”

In my entire life, I’ve never had to do that. When I finish a scary story, I don’t try to find some way to escape from my terror, I revel in it. I finish a scary story and then immediately search out the next scary story I can find. I can’t get enough. I need more, more, more. A few years ago I read my first novel by Jack Ketchum. It was gruesome and terrifying and stomach-turning and I immediately wanted more.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. That’s basically my policy when it comes to my hobbies.
Well, it is until the switch in my brain is suddenly flipped off and I lose all interest. And when I say a switch if flipping, I’m being very serious. It’s not a gradual thing. I put something down and then just don’t pick it up for months and months.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll finish a book if I start it and if I’m crocheting something for a friend I’ll always finish it. But if it’s something I’m just goofing around with then there’s a good chance I’ll put it on a shelf and just forget about it. I have so many partially finished novels and crochet projects just laying around.

You’d think for being the most organized person in my office I’d be more organized when it comes to my own hobbies, but nope! Apparently all of the energy I use to stay on track I use at work.

Fuck everything else in my life I guess.

-EMS

Going Camping

This week, I had planned to write the beginning of a short story that we would both contribute to. I was really looking forward to kicking this off and even had a few ideas for how I would start things.

And then camping got in the way.

This weekend, I’m camping in Dworshak State Park with a group of friends. I’ve been looking forward to this for months and months, and yet it still managed to sneak up on me. So much for being the organized Smudde child. So, instead of kicking off our fiction writing collaboration, I’m just going to talk about why I love camping.

When we were kids, we would go camping every summer. Sometimes we would camp with our neighbors, the Mesners, and other times we’d invite people from the Smudde clan to join us. I remember swimming and biking and roasting marshmallows. Some of my favorite memories are of us sitting around the campfire, blowing bubbles over the flames and eating scotcheroos.

When I was little, I think I liked camping because it felt like an adventure. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t really call what we did camping. We had running water and flushing toilets and sometimes even electrical hookups so we could watch videos on our tiny TV. But, to a seven-year-old, it felt like we were really roughing it and it was exciting. I felt like I was in one of my fantasy novels, the young heroine searching for a lost treasure or some mythical woodland elf presiding over her kingdom.

Twenty years later, I still love to camp. Even at 26, I still feel like I’m going on an adventure, but now it has the added benefit of getting me away from my responsibilities. Nowadays, I have way more on my plate than I ever did when I was a kid and every year it becomes harder to de-stress. After work, I go home and try to relax, but inevitably find myself looking at my work email or thinking about an upcoming project that I need to tackle. On the days where I don’t do that, I sit around and worry about finances, about my career, about literally everything in my life. The only time I can seem to shake this off is when we go camping.

When we arrive at the campsite, the very first thing I do is shut off my phone and put it away. Basically when I go camping I disconnect from everything, but not just to relax. While camping I physically cannot connect so I’m never tempted to look at work email or poke through social media.

Going camping is not only an adventure, it’s also the easiest way to get away from everything that causes me stress.

I am so excited to head out to Dworshak this afternoon. I’m looking forward to drinking a beer by the campfire. I’m looking forward to finding a sunny spot by the water to read my book. I’m looking forward to waking up to birds chirping rather than a noisy alarm. I’m looking forward to spending time with people I love away from the stress of real life. It’s going to be a kick ass weekend.

Sorry I didn’t start our short story this week like I promised, Daniel. I’ll try to kick it off on my next post.

-EMS

 

Handling Stress Like a Champ

As you already know, this week has been crazy. Next week I’m travelling to Virginia for a conference and I have been desperately trying to get everything done before I leave at 5 a.m. on Monday. I’ve been so busy I’ve been taking my work home and working until about 7:30 at night. After I put my work away, I usually turn on Netflix and have a beer to recover.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just trying to set the scene because, after scouring my brain for writing topics, I finally settled on something I’ve been familiar with this week: stress.

I am absolutely no stranger to stress. In high school, I took Advanced Placement classes and participated in the marching band cult. In college, I took an average of 5 classes a semester, worked part time, had an internship with the communication department, and helped run the Association for Women in Communication. Honestly, between the ages of 15 and 22, I was made entirely of stress.

Nowadays, my life’s a bit more lowkey. I work 40 hours a week and, after work, I go home and do what I want. So this week has been a little rough because I’m definitely out of practice with the whole managing my frustration thing. I’ve really had to summon up the work ethic and serenity I had in college.

Before I jump into my methods for stress management, I don’t want this to be a humble brag. I know in high school and college I was an overachiever and was even called a “unicorn student” by my advisors. I’ve never sought out that type of glory and I absolutely don’t revel in it. It’s just who I am and I’ve come to accept it. I’m a neurotic ball of nerves when it comes to work and I would definitely not recommend being like me.

0 out of 10, would not recommend being me.

Here are my tips for managing stress. This post is honestly more for me than it is for you, Daniel, or even our readers. I will be referring back to this while I’m in Virginia to keep me from pulling my hair out.

  1. Make a list of the shit you gotta do: Yes, this is a very basic tip, one you probably learned in your high school health class, but it fucking works. I still rely on my to do lists because it takes  that overwhelming sense of “oh fuck, I have so much to do” and puts it on paper. When I looked at my list for this week, I actually only had like four things to do and four things is much easier to swallow than a million things.
  2. Prioritize that shit: Again, a simple tip, but when I say prioritize I don’t mean just list things in the order you should do them. First, list things as “I will die if I do not do this” or “I can survive without doing this.” Then, move on to what you need to do to keep your job and your house. Then and only then figure out what order you should do it in. When you first start making your list, you might feel like everything on your list is life or death. I can assure you that it’s seriously not. Me printing the materials for my meeting seemed like a huge ordeal, but it did not come before me calling my student loan provider to pay my bill because not paying that bill could compromise my financial situation. See? It’s easy when you think about it.
  3. Make sure you make time for you: This might seem to contradict the last point I made, but I would argue making time to relax is essential to surviving. If I just wallowed in my stress and continued to work through the night, I would feel like death all week. I’ve been making time for Netflix and beer because, without it, I might not survive to make it to work the next day and then nothing would get done.
  4. Budget your time: This is essential, especially when I’m working on a writing piece. It’s so easy to spend hours and hours working on a piece and forget you have other things to do. So, when I’m at work, I set time limits on certain project. For example, yesterday, I have myself three hours to draft my homepage article. No more, no less. That way not only could I get that article done, I wouldn’t waste an entire afternoon switching out adverbs to make the article perfect.
  5. Accept that not everything will get done: This is where that prioritized list comes in. Sometimes you just honestly do not have the time to finish everything and instead of compromising your sanity to try and get everything done, you just need to accept it. I did. This week I had an annual report I needed to finish, but it was such a big task I knew if I worked on it I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. So I took a look at my list of “what do I need to do to keep my job?” and decided that the little things were more important than the report. And guess what? I felt so much fucking better.

Those are my tips for how to survive stress. Hopefully these are helpful.

Also, have I mentioned how much I’m looking forward to Saturday?

-EMS

 

The Best Kind of Overwhelmed

Dude, it was amazing to see you this weekend! I already miss you like crazy, but I’m glad you made it home safe. And I’m serious when I say I literally miss you like crazy. This morning, I woke up at 2 a.m. and thought I heard your voice out in the living room. That’s the level of crazy, and exhausted, I am.

Before you left on Monday, you bought me a copy of Norse Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is a book I’ve had my eye on. I was so excited to start reading it, so I took it home and…put it on the huge pile of other books I’m excited to read.

Like the title of this post says, I am the best kind of overwhelmed right now. I have SO many books to read and podcasts to listen to and movies to watch, it’s a little intimidating. However, after spending a few months in a media rut, I am ecstatic to be in this position.

At the end of 2016, I was having a really hard time finding a book series that I could get into. I was craving the full immersion I experienced with series like Harry Potter and The Dresden Files, but just couldn’t find anything I really liked. I also just finished watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix and was dealing with the void that left, so I couldn’t really turn to TV. And, to top off my media rut, I had listened all of my favorite albums into the ground so even music felt boring.

Well, at the beginning of 2017, I decided to re-read The Dresden Files. It had been a while since I had read the whole series and I knew that I liked the series. It wasn’t something new, but hey, at least I knew it would keep my attention. The only copies of The Dresden Files we have are signed hardcovers. Not only are hardcovers difficult to fit into a purse, I didn’t want to risk banging up a SIGNED copy.

Thankfully, the local library had the series. How did Arthur put it? Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!

I walked down to the public library and found Storm Front, the first of the Dresden Files books. I grabbed it, but then kept poking around, looking for other books that might look interesting. Long story short, I ended up walking away with five books, four of which I had never heard of.

I read all of them in a month. Seriously. I hadn’t felt that excited about reading since high school.

That is definitely where this reading frenzy really started. By walking into the public library, I caught the reading bug and it has been fantastic! I’m currently finishing the Hannibal Lecter book series and have Norse Gods, two Jack Ketchum novels, the Exorcist, Apt Pupil, a Michael Crichton novel, and the third Dresden Files book to read. I’ve also had to physically resist picking up a copy of Lazarus Rising and The Magicians. I have way too many books to read as is.

Oh, I also have 1984 to read for my book club. Woe is me, I have too many books to read.

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This podcast is literally my aesthetic.

When you were in town, you also showed me this podcast phone app and sent me a few podcasts to check out. Well, I’m happy to report, I have fallen directly down the hole that is podcasts. I’m currently ten episodes into Nightvale and have seven other podcasts I’m dying to listen to. To try and get through Nightvale, I’ve started spending my lunches at work coloring and listening to podcasts. Adulthood at its finest.

And, too top off this media influx I’m experiencing, I have a growing list of movies I want to watch. I’ve been reading a ton of horror novels and have felt very inspired to go out and check out some of the classic horror films I have missed. I want to watch all of the Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, and Hellraiser films as well as go out and find other classics like Poltergeist, The Exorcist, and Suspiria.

tumblr_oivjh6wp9h1s1v3r1o1_500The problem with this is I only have to many hours in the day and eight of them are taken by work and another six to eight are taken by sleeping. I also have other things I need to accomplish, like exercising, cleaning, and other adult responsibilities. It’s been a hard week for me because I literally just want to sit at home in my PJs and binge everything. I don’t want to work or exercise or do ANYTHING but read and listen and watch.

I went from being in a rut to having WAY TOO MUCH to do. When it rains, it really fucking pours.

-EMS

So What Now?

Sometimes I find it funny how alike we are, Daniel. This morning I sat down to write my blog post, but couldn’t find any inspiration so I sat for twenty minutes looking at old Tumblr posts I like to distract myself. Yesterday, on my lunch break, I re watched a bunch of old Jenna Marbles videos instead of reading my book or working on one of the many goals I’ve set for myself because I was tired.

You mentioned that your friends and family are out hustling and getting things done. Well, just so you know, in between these small bursts of productivity in my life, I’m re watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and eating cereal for dinner because I have no motivation to do anything else. I guess I’m not as much of a hustler as you think.

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I’m not going to lie and say I don’t have anything in my life that I find exciting. I enjoy running and crochet and reading, but sometimes my stress gets in the way of these things. I’ll come home after a hard day of work and want nothing more than to just sit on the couch, browsing Tumblr on my phone with the TV on in the background. On those days, I usually have to force myself to get up and do something. I know I’ll feel better after I find something else to do, but I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Anyway, I didn’t want this post to be a long-winded lecture about motivation and pushing yourself to achieve your goals. I am by no means an expert on motivation and nine times out of ten my motivation comes from a feeling of anxiety. Like I said in my last post, I feel anxious when I’m unproductive and adding anxiety on top of my stress is not a good thing.

What I want to talk about is my answer to “so what now?” What comes next for me? Where do I want my life to go from here?

Last October, I turned 26 and officially moved into my “late twenties.” It wasn’t a hard milestone for me. I’m happy with where I am at 26, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could possibly regret in another ten years. When I turn 36, will I look back and wish I had had the motivation to get up and do something different with my life?

I am fortunate that I found a career that I really enjoy. When I started college, my plan was to become a writer. Well, I reached that goal and also found out a lot more about what I want from my career. I love event planning and project management and website development. If I went back and asked 17-year-old Emily if she wanted to plan events and make spreadsheets, I’m sure she’d look at me like I’m crazy. The thought never crossed my mind in high school.

So when I ask myself what now, I wonder if I should be trying new things? I know I love my career, but what if there are other opportunities out there? Would I fall in love with donor relations or nonprofit development? I don’t know until I try.

But, I also know that I’m happy where I am. I love my job and my coworkers. I live in a wonderful community, have a loving husband and amazing friends. Should I risk all of those things at the small chance there’s something else out there for me? Maybe, maybe not.

Keeping on that train of thought, if I choose to stay where I am, what’s next? Should I be looking to buy a house? Should I start a family? If I decide to keep on my current path, it would make sense to start putting down real roots. Yes, I have a life here, but I’m still renting an apartment and have made no solid commitments to my community. Should I start doing that? Is that what I want?

Right now, I just have a vague feeling that I should be doing something. Don’t get me wrong, I am making progress toward my goals. I’m working on opening an Etsy shop and I’ve been writing more, but what else will I regret in ten years?

9995fc5ecf7abe34582a61c8205a295eBeing an adult is hard, and not just because there are bills to pay and responsibilities to keep track of, but because there is so much at stake just from day to day. There are also a lot of decisions in front of me that can’t be undone.

So, Daniel, whenever you look at my life and think that I’m hustling and bustling, just remember that I have no f*cking idea what I’m doing. I feel like a 15-year-old who put on mom’s makeup and somehow managed to trick the world into thinking I’m an adult.

-EMS

Kicking my cold

Yesterday, I left work early because I was feeling sick. Well, correction, I wasn’t feeling sick, I actually felt like I had been hit by a truck. I had an awful headache and my entire body hurt. My ENTIRE body. Combing my hair hurt. Yesterday sucked.

Today, even though I’m not feeling one hundred percent better, I’m back at work. When I got out of bed this morning I still had a mild headache and some aches, but my head felt clearer and I had way more energy than I did yesterday. I could have reasonably stayed home, but I knew that the only way for me to start feeling better was to actually get out of bed and rejoin the real world. Staying in bed will only do so much for me.

It takes a lot to knock me out. I rarely take sick days because I hate feeling unproductive. On one hand this means that I’m very efficient when working on my to do list, but on the other hand it means that I sometimes push myself harder than I should. In the last few years, I’ve been getting better at taking care of myself, but I’ve also started to realize that sometimes taking care of myself means giving into my workaholic side.

Let me break it down for you. Like I said, I woke up this morning still feeling a bit sick, but I forced myself to get out of bed and go to work because I knew lying in bed wouldn’t make me feel better. It would have made me feel even worse because I would have been lying there worrying about everything that I still needed to get done and everything I was missing. I would have felt anxious and out-of-touch with the world, which would have probably just extended my illness.

Basically, lying in bed all day yesterday helped my body heal and today coming into work is going to help my mind heal. My mental and physical states are so closely linked that neglecting one for the other is honestly just going to make things worse.

I feel like a lot of people don’t seem to understand how taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body, and vice versa. People will force themselves to go into work even when they’re physically ill, not realizing how you’re physical illness will lower your cognitive facilities. Other people will force themselves into exercise routines or diets that they hate, not realizing that they’re destroying their mental health for the sake of their body, Everything is intertwined and you have to find the right balance to keep yourself healthy.

For me, that means sometimes getting up and getting things done when I’m not feeling my best. For others, that might mean taking an extra day off during an illness to make sure everything is ship shape when they head back into work.

I feel like this is a huge issue in our culture, the idea that when it comes to health everyone is the same and that one aspect of health is more important than the other. Basically, I believe that we all have to experiment with our lifestyles to find the balance that works for us. Make sure you listen to your doctor, of course, but honestly you’re the only person who can decide if your lifestyle is good for you.

-EMS