Roadblocks

2013-09-22-roadblocks

While I was wedding planning, I found a great website: apracticalwedding.com. It offers sane wedding advice and a lot more besides. My favorite essays there deal with balanced relationships, thoughtful decision-making, women in the workplace, and entrepreneurship. Today there’s a discussion about roadblocks — the real barriers and self-imposed excuses that keep us from achieving what we really want in business and in life.

You all know about my goal to become a full-time freelancer. It’s been almost a year since I first posted about it. Today I have one regular client and a few Elance jobs under my belt, but other than the tax bills I just paid (OUCH) there’s not much evidence of progress. So what’s standing in my way? What are my roadblocks?

I’ll be honest: there’s a lot of fear. Fear of leaving my team in the lurch when I quit. Fear of failing to earn enough money. Fear of networking. Even fear of too much success — attracting so many clients that I get overwhelmed with work and can’t execute any of it well, ruining all my contacts and overworking myself into misery.

In the past, the best way for me to overcome roadblocks has been through research and preparation. Entering new situations unprepared makes me incredibly anxious. So I have learned to set myself up for success by picturing in detail how things will happen. If it’s a job interview, I can try on the outfit I’ll wear and drive to the location the weekend before, just to make sure I’m familiar with the place. If it’s my wedding, I can fill out the license application ahead of time so I don’t make a poorly considered choice on the spot (like my coworker who wasn’t prepared to decide her name change when she went to get her marriage license — she thought she had until the wedding date). If it’s woodworking, I can sign up for a workshop at Home Depot before using my new power tools at home.

The problem comes when research and preparation stop me from taking action at all. I’ve been reading articles and books on freelancing for several years now. I’ve created budgets in interactive Excel spreadsheets. I’ve done actual freelance assignments for actual clients. Still, I don’t feel prepared to take the leap.

Some practical roadblocks did clear last month when I married Dan. As his legal spouse, I’ll be able to go on his health insurance policy when I quit, at a much lower rate than private insurance. I also get the official commitment that he can support me financially if my income starts out slow. What’s his is mine, even more than it was before, and that’s really reassuring. Plus, my freelancing business and website carry my full name. I had worried about the problem of rebranding myself if I married and changed my name long after my business was established. Now, though, I can make that transition while the business is still in its baby stage. I’ve already bought the new URL and started working on a site migration plan.

My biggest remaining roadblock seems to be the false belief that I can and should be 100% prepared for everything. Of course nobody advises abandoning your day job without any safety net. But maybe I’ve done my due diligence. Maybe it’s time to gather my knowledge and climb over this roadblock with confidence, even though I can’t clearly see the other side.

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Scintillating scotoma

This happened to me again just now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scintillating_scotoma. It starts as a blurry spot that obscures the center of the vision and then grows outward concentrically in a ring or crescent shape until it finally disappears after 20 minutes or so. It affects both sides of vision, as it is apparently something that happens in the brain, not the eyes.

I don’t like it at all. It keeps me from effectively using the computer, reading, driving, etc for up to a half hour. Fortunately it doesn’t cause any pain, only visual disturbance. Various articles I’ve read explain that it’s related to migraine. They say there’s no need to seek treatment unless you’re experiencing pain. Indeed, there is apparently no treatment for the visual effect.

It has been happening to me every few months for probably 10 years. The first time, I was working at Michaels and I thought I might have to go to the hospital. But it faded quickly, and I looked it up online afterward.

This is an excellent depiction of what it feels like (focus on the center of the image):

Bodies are so weird.

Have you ever experienced anything like this?

The 90 percent problem

2013-12-06-ninety-percent

I have a persistent problem with completing things.

Maybe you experience it, too?

You start planning a project — how exciting! Inspiration is everywhere. You gather supplies and dig in. Submerged in a flurry of tasks — whether it’s painting, calculating, organizing, cooking, writing, building — you keep pushing until you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You step back to take a breath and admire your nearly complete hard work.

And you don’t step back forward to finish it.

It’s probably because you noticed some critical detail you forgot, or because you left the hard parts for last. Whatever the reason, the project sits there, 90% finished. It taunts you. But you can’t regain your momentum.

When I started writing this post, I googled the phrase “the 90% problem” to see if others had written about it. Of course they have. There’s even a Wikipedia article on the ninety-ninety rule, which is an adage from software development that states:

The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.

Sounds awfully familiar.

I’d like to get better at finishing the things I start before moving on to new ones. The next few weeks will be focused on Christmas prep and travel, but in January the first thing I’ll finish is my craft area you see above (did most of it in one weekend, and it’s been sitting at 90% since our housewarming party). Pinky swear.

Checking In

So much has happened in September! Since I didn’t take time to write any posts this month, here’s a recap.

We traveled to Atlanta. Dan’s longtime friend and his wife hosted a huge group of friends at their new house as a last hurrah before their first child arrives in November. People came from as far as Switzerland! It was an incredibly hot and humid Labor Day weekend full of beer, food, cornhole, swimming, and rowdy fun. I was pretty proud of the kimono shirt and felt shoes I made as a baby gift.

2013-09-atlanta

The day we got back, we found our new home. After a month of rental house searching left us frustrated, we were amazed to find something truly ideal! It’s a Craftsman bungalow in Hillcrest, one of our favorite urban neighborhoods, just two miles north of our current place. It has a beautiful private yard, original built-in cabinets, two bedrooms and 1.5 baths, and a fantastic location. I’ll share more photos and details later. We set a moving date of October 18, giving us time to pack thoughtfully and enjoy a few final weeks in our downtown condo.

house-backyard

I reconnected with my inner artist. Karen found a groupon for Paint and Palate, an amazing concept where you take a guided painting lesson while sipping delicious wines! We did a simplified version of Monet’s “Beach at Pourville Sunset 1882,” but I’m saying mine represents La Jolla Cove.

2013-09-paint-palate

My car had issues. Poor old Camry… It lived in snow and salt and ice for a decade before I brought it to gentle California. The undercarriage now has major rust issues and I have to replace a big portion of the muffler system. I’m waiting on a salvage part to save money. Meanwhile, the interior driver’s door handle has broken. It started with the plastic bezel surrounding the handle, which I cheaply and easily replaced myself. But now the handle mechanism itself has broken. I can still use it to open the door if I hold it in place a certain way… But I’m going to have to fix it soon.

2013-09-camry

We made holiday plans. Last year we decided that two giant trips to Ohio within two months was just too hard on our pocketbooks and our sanity. So we’ll only be in Ohio for Christmas (though it will be ten days! We just booked flights for December 22 through January 1). That will make this the first Thanksgiving ever that we won’t see any of our parents. But we have an excellent plan instead. We’ll spend Thanksgiving at the northern California home of Dan’s aunt and uncle. And, if our jobs approve extra vacation time, we’re going to take a big California road trip on the way there and back. I really hope we can make it work.

2013-09-trip-plan

We threw one last party downtown. It was the Padres’ final weekend series, so we had a dozen friends over to grill out and watch from our balcony as the home team beat the Dodgers. We served rosemary beef burgers, jalapeno cheddar turkey burgers, hot dogs, and pumpkin chocolate chip bundt cake with ganache. And there were fireworks!

2013-09-bball-party

We started packing. A lot of our stuff — especially books — was already boxed up from the flood, and we’ve never unpacked it because repairs were STILL ongoing. So we had a big head start. Over the past few weeks we sorted through all our belongings to decide what to keep and what to sell or donate. We took a carload to Goodwill and sold several items on Craigslist for a good price. Craigslist is the best.

2013-09-packing

We explored Cabrillo National Monument and tidepools. Even though it’s just a quick drive away, we hadn’t visited the tip of Point Loma since before we moved here. There was so much beauty! I was completely enchanted by the cliff trails, the tidepools, and the city skyline over Coronado.

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The Padres played their final home game and I took my favorite stadium photo of the entire season (even though the crowd wasn’t very big).

2013-09-stadium

Last Tuesday… THERE WAS A SECOND FLOOD. Same neighbor, same washing machine issue as the first time. I am not even kidding. I almost cried when the building manager called to let me know. The repair crew was actually in our unit at the time, touching up some poor workmanship from the previous seven weeks of repairs, so they were able to stop the damage before it reached as far as last time. But they still had to start back at the beginning… carpet padding removal, blowers and dehumidifiers, drywall demolition, etc. We were devastated. The good news was that all our packed moving boxes were still in the office — none were in the living room yet. Can you imagine how concentrated the damage would have been??

2013-09-second-flood

I finished a few freelance projects. I haven’t been pursuing new work since the flood disaster and house move have taken so much of my attention. But I did take on some small projects from an existing client, and finished a large project that began in July. It feels good to have some extra cash going into our move, and I’m glad I haven’t completely dropped the ball on my freelance career building initiative.

2013-09-freelance

We took a beach day. It was in the 80s this weekend so we took advantage of the late SoCal summer and spent Saturday afternoon at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach. Dan took a long run while I walked a few miles up and down the coast. Then we swam and played in the surf — it’s rarely warm enough! — before eating a picnic on the beach. By then it was late afternoon so we stayed to watch the sun set over the Pacific. Truly lovely.

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It’s hard to believe that today is the last day of September. I’m looking forward to everything October will bring!

Technicalities

I’m switching this blog from WordPress.com to my own private hosting account. This will allow me more control of its appearance and all the juicy technical stuff. In the meantime, apologies if you see anything weird here! Back-end website management isn’t my specialty, but with Dan’s help (and lots of tech support articles/calls) I’ll get it all sorted out eventually.

What changed me

A recent post on Oh Joy asked, “What are the events or moments that changed you?”

My life has been pretty blessed, actually. I’ve had a happy childhood, a loving family, good friends, academic success, early career stability, and no major tragedies. So there’s been no single event that made me wake up and smell the coffee.

Still, I can think of a few important things that set my course.

1999-2003-band-progress

Music. In sixth grade, I learned to play the flute. Woodwinds practiced separately from the brass and percussion. I vividly remember the chills I got when we played in ensemble for the first time. We weren’t good, but it didn’t matter. The chills. Soon I moved on to saxophone, and it turned out I was good at it. Band defined my high school experience. Though I started out painfully shy, I grew bolder and became a section leader. I found good friends and a few boyfriends too. We performed at football games, national competitions, and even Disneyworld. Band taught me more than music. It taught me how to step forward and solo.

St. Peter's Square, May 2007

Italy. My family took a whirlwind Europe tour when I was 18. The whole experience was eye-opening in the best ways, and I especially fell in love with bella Italia. I made my way back two years later for a summer program. It was incredibly intimidating and rewarding to navigate foreign social situations, travel by train and bus, and become a gelateria regular (the clerk knew my name). Then in 2007, right after college graduation, I returned alone for two weeks with a backpack and no plan. I stayed in hostels and overcame my fear of befriending strangers. I carried on hourlong conversations in another language. I lived spontaneously. It made me feel like I can conquer anything.

Mine was the first on the right

Cubicles. When college spit me out into a full-time corporate job, I struggled. I had a hard time sitting still for nine hours straight. There weren’t multiple classes to walk between and to engage different interests. There weren’t even semester course changes — this was forever. I could see the sameness stretching forty years ahead, and it suffocated me. As a result, I’m now on my fourth job and working on the fifth. Cubicles showed me that I want a different path.

So, what changed you?

On kindness

This apartment flood disaster has really thrown me off.

2013-08-04-carpet

The gale-force fans and deafening dehumidifiers have messed with sleep for five days now.

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The furniture clutter is fraying my nerves. Tonight our place will finally be dry enough to put some of it back, but we won’t do much because the carpet and baseboards won’t be repaired for days yet.

2013-08-06-office

The blocked-off kitchen (complete with dehumidifier hose down the drain) is keeping me from cooking and eating well.

2013-08-06-kitchen

But there have been bright spots.

Our building manager skipped his Sunday breakfast to dive into disaster control. Several friends offered to help move stuff. Two of them are even cooking us dinner tonight. We hadn’t seen them in awhile, but they noticed our flood photos on Facebook and offered their home as a refuge for an evening.

Kindness matters. It’s memorable. In the end, it’s more important and lasting than so many of the things we strive for.

I just came across a commencement speech on kindness. Here’s the gist:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded… sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

In general, I think, I’m nice to people. But am I actively kind? Defending and helping people is so different than just being generally nice — it’s much harder, and also much more rewarding for everyone.

So today I’m grateful to all the kindness people have shown us. And I resolve to show more kindness in return.