For close to two years, I have kept the commitment I made to myself at the beginning of this Grand Adventure, to figure out my personal issues with a focus and intensity that I was not able to achieve at home amongst my “normal life.” For a number of reasons, that commitment meant not doing any projects. No job, no side-gigs, no diving headlong into whatever scheme I come up with next. The one exception I have allowed is this blog, which I feel has been helpful for me in sorting through what is going on inside of me.
This commitment not to take on projects has been incredibly difficult to keep because I want to, need to, need to, be doing something, working on something, anything, to feel good about myself. Having a project feels just close enough to the feeling of working toward a meaningful goal that it easily deludes me into feeling like I’m making progress in my life—until I step back and see that what I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into is nothing more a series of passing interests.
Wow, that was hard to write.
I’ve kept that commitment for two full seasons of travel, until my savings ran low enough that I wouldn’t be able to continue without a significant influx. And by winter of 2018, I was feeling like I could, maybe, possibly try out a small, short-term project to make some money and see how I handled it.
It raised $3,606 gross, though after printing, shipping, fees, taxes, and various other expenses, I kept less than half of that, yet it will enable me to travel for one more year.
I consider this project very successful, not so much because of the money it earned, though that was important, but because it did not wear me out and is giving me hope that I can do other projects, or freelance work, in the future in different, more sustainable ways than I ever have before.
I’d like to share with you what I did differently and better this time as a result of what I have learned over the last two years, presented in terms of how I thought about the various aspects of the work, previously vs. on this project.
My mentality before: “Like everything I do, this project is an important part of the grand scheme of my life and whatever happens will go on a “permanent record” of sorts and reflect on me forever and always.”
My mentality this time: “It’s just a calendar, just a little idea I had and we’ll see what happens.”
I decided at the outset not to put too much weight on the importance of this working out, and that even if it did, not to put too much weight on that either. It is just a fun I idea I had that I hope some other people will also like. Several people have already asked if I’m going to do this every year, and while that is flattering and I would like to do it next year at least, I’ll only do it for as long as it makes me happy to continue.
Before: “Work as if the weight of the world is resting on the outcome and every decision is critical!”
This time: “Enjoy the process because nothing is resting on the outcome.”
I also gave myself permission at the outset, and repeatedly throughout the project, to quit at anytime before launching it on Kickstarter. Once I had backers, I was making a commitment to delivering what I promised. Since the vast majority of the work—making the calendar itself—was done before launch, I could pull this trigger most of the time.
Each time I faced a big hurdle or something started stressing me, like making the video, which wasn’t going according to plan and I had to keep reworking the plan, knowing that I could walk away at any time and be okay with that, genuinely okay with that, no matter how much work I had put into it, was so freeing that it often allowed me to have the creative insight to find a different solution.
Before: “I need to produce something that will help other people because I know what is good for people and the world.”
This time: “This is something that I care about for me, it came out of my Grand Adventure and will feed back into my Grand Adventure, and if it can benefit others, that’s lovely.”
I am so glad that this resonated with some other people and that many complete strangers were willing to give me money to have a copy, not out of pity or to support a friend, but because they really liked what I made, but with respect and affection to everyone who bought my calendar, I didn’t do this for anyone else. I did it because I wanted it. Because I had been looking for something like this and couldn’t find it, and because making it brought me joy. I think that comes through in the design and attention to detail, and it sustained me when there were bits that weren’t so fun.
Before: “The plan I made at the beginning was a good plan and I will make it work no matter what gets in the way.”
This time: “The plan I made was a good idea, but now that I have more information, it is subject to change at anytime, and I have the capacity to roll with it.”
When I started getting stressed about something, instead of forcing it to work the way I had wanted it to work and getting frustrated and drained and more stressed and having that affect my relationships, this time I noticed the stress in my body and took a step back. I would ask myself what it was that I was trying to accomplish and whether that could be done in a different way or a way that was easier or more in line with my objectives and values. And then I gave myself time to answer it or to find the answer. I often had no idea at first and had to wait a day or two, but when I opened up that space, and allowed myself to not know immediately what solution would come, there was always a different way that came to me that felt better and easier and more life-giving.
Similarly, when I noticed that I was continually putting off a particular task, I would stop and ask myself what didn’t feel right about it, or notice what was going on in my body, and give that feeling some space. I couldn’t always put my finger on what wasn’t right about it, so then I just let the issue rest and often I would find out a few days later that I really didn’t need to do that anyway or that something else worked out in an unexpected way that ended up being better. I tried to trust my intuition and energy, even when it didn’t make sense to me.
Before: “What other people think of my calendar matters a great deal so every criticism will make me rethink the design bit they are criticizing, whether I should do this at all, and possibly the entire trajectory of my life’s choices.”
This time: “If someone makes a useful suggestion that I think could enhance the design, I will be grateful for it, but since the calendar was only for me in the first place, I only have to please me in the end.”
I think this is different than just shrugging and repeating, “well, you can’t please everyone.” I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it feels different.
It is also not a casual disregard of anyone else’s thoughts and feelings, but more of an acknowledgement that if someone doesn’t like it, it is not about me. And if someone does like it, it is not about me, either. Neither the praise that I got, nor the few criticisms, affected me all that much.
Before: “Breaks and time off are a waste of valuable time and I have a deadline to meet.”
This time: “Breaks and time off are taking care of my body and mind so that I will be more productive when I am working.”
Working on the project day by day, I noticed when I was getting tired and took breaks or quit for the day earlier than I otherwise would have—meaning, before I was about to either go to bed or fall asleep at the computer. I did not push past my limits but honored them and so was able to work longer-term without getting as tired. I even took a couple of days off here and there entirely, even though my internal monologue was telling me that that was ridiculous and unnecessary and I had work to do and things that need to get done, and that there’s no real purpose or benefit to taking a day off, it’s not like I’m getting other things done…yet I still let myself do that and then when I came back to the work I was more present and involved and I worked better.
I did get tired by the end of the project, and was quite ready for it to be done for this year, but I didn’t wear myself out or work to the point of exhaustion or hating it.
Before: “Writing marketing copy and advertising and interacting with the people around me are just items on a to-do list.”
This time: “Relationships are more important than profit. In fact, relationships are the most important thing.”
A calendar is just some ideas on paper, but people are important and my relationships with them, whether a single interaction or a long-term customer, friend, or family member, have the power to either hurt or bring peace to a real, living, feeling person.
So I wanted to go about those interactions being mindful of the person in front of me or on the other side of the computer. That included not flooding social media with advertisements, not spamming anyone, keeping promises even when it was more expensive than expected and meant a lower profit margin (like using 100% recycled paper), and thanking every backer individually to cultivate and express gratitude. I also didn’t engage with the few bits of criticism I did receive, because I was more secure in myself and did not feel threatened by them.
In my personal relationships, before I would get snippy with people when stressed, but since I was much less stressed and wasn’t freaking out every few days, I interacted more easily and comfortably with the people around me, and they also noticed the difference in my attitude and level of stress at home.
The bottom line is that I have done enough interior work over the last couple of years to be able to approach this project completely differently than I have any project or work or job in the past.
I was of course gratified that other people responded well to my idea, and it helped financially, I won’t discount that, but the project was really something that I wanted to do for myself and in a way that felt good to me. It also proved to me that I could do something again without burning out.
The whole process was a very different experience from anything I had done before and I think a much better one for it. And it gives me hope that I will be able to do other projects or freelance work in the future, creating a more comfortable financial situation, while pursuing my interests and using my talents and skills in a sustainable and fun way.
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