What’s Your Excuse?

We all have one.  Or several.  Most of us have two or three undeniably difficult life situations that  severely slow us down, trip us up, discourage even the most positive among us, or make reaching the goal appear next to impossible. 

It’s these excuses that we hang on to for dear life.  Because if we didn’t have something or someone to blame for holding us back, we’d just have all those dashed dreams, broken hearts, and unrealized goals staring us in the face. And that can be unbearable.

But what, pray tell, would happen if we willingly let go of even one of these excuses? 

Sometimes we have no choice.  The elderly parent we’ve devoted our life to taking care of suddenly passes away.  The relationship we’ve strung together on alternate weekends and bank holidays unravels to the point of no return.  The child we’ve loved and supported for two decades joins the Army and is deployed to an undisclosed location.  The job we’ve tolerated in order to provide our family with health insurance has laid us off.

At midlife more than any other time we are faced with what Judith Viorst calls “necessary losses”.  In her book by the same name, she describes the loves, illusions, dependencies, and impossible expectations we all have to give up in order to grow.   

In theory we know the drill.  None of us get out this gig alive.  But it never really seems to apply to us.  Until it does.  Somewhere around the middle of our lives we may find that we’re spending more time at wakes then we’re spending awake.

That’s when it hits us.  What must we do now that we really understand our clocks (and I’m not talking the biological kind) are ticking?  What are we capable of in spite of our limitations?  If mothers can lift automobiles off infants, what can we do if we are focused, fearless, and unapologetically fabulous?

The phrase I’ve found myself using more these days than, say, a decade ago is, “I don’t have that kind of time.”  What I really mean is that I no longer choose to spend it the way other people might or the way I used to.

If I want extraordinary results in my life, I have to put in extraordinary effort. I’m not implying this has to be extraordinarily difficult.  If it were, few would have the fortitude for it.  More than anything, it seems to be a matter of deep practice or putting in the time… 10,000 hours to be exact.

We have all achieved extraordinary results doing things we love for people we love.   This is why we continue to do them.  We may not experience these results daily, but often enough to keep putting in the time.

The time and effort I put into writing may only seem extraordinary to those who find writing difficult.  Because these people might never spend a Friday night blogging  about midlife’s mysteries, they probably assume I find this task equally daunting.

On the contrary, the best part of my day is when I can finally sit down and capture the relentless flow of words and ideas that demand my attention from moment I am conscious.  Because of this, every night before I go to sleep, I make sure I’ve written at least one good sentence, preferably a paragraph.

It wasn’t always like this.  I would squander time, talent, and opportunity through indecision, inaction, blank page paralysis, and other (absolutely legitimate) excuses (see first paragraph).

I get better at writing by writing.  I get better at writing by reading great writing.  I get better at writing because I love to write. 

You do the same with parenting, running a business, taking photographs, event planning, playing the cello, designing websites, preparing taxes, or planning a trip to Timbuktu.  You, too, have a deep practice that you easily devote 10,000 hours to that make you exceptional, whether the world, your family, or your colleagues recognize you for this or not.

While I may never fully realize the impact my words have on others, I do realize the impact a good accountant has on my business, a good travel agent has on my opinion of west Africa, an excellent party planner has on my niece’s 6th birthday, a good photographer or designer has on my book jacket cover, or a great cook has on my waistline.

Because the world needs your contributions, I encourage you to unabashedly give one of your  excuses the boot.  Maybe not your favorite one, but the one that seems a little lame even to you.

For example, I often convince myself I can’t possibly write a book when I work 60 hours a week.  The truth is I need the structure – and income – of a day job to support my creative efforts.  And I can cut back to 40 hours without robbing my employer of my services.

So, no excuses!  Go do that thing that you love.  You know, the one that you’re probably doing this weekend anyway, yes?

And, please, don’t be shy about telling me what it is.

Unleash Your Creativity

Try as I might to ignore it, this year I’m having one of those big birthdays that others refuse to let pass quietly. 

On the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I was on a plane that had to make an emergency landing.  I decided then and there that turning thirty was better than dying in a plane crash. 

When I turned forty I was so disgruntled I had to remind myself about that earlier ephipany as I reluctantly drug myself to a friend’s house for what I expected to be a private pity party.  Once I arrived at her place students, friends, and family surprised me with a party so touching that pity had no place at any party since. 

What I didn’t know then that never ceases to amaze me now is that my forties have been my favorite decade.  If someone had told me life would become so juicy at midlife, I would have never believed them. Partly because our culture tries to convince us that adventures in love, life, and living large only happen to the young and reckless and partly because I didn’t think I had it in me.

If the past few years are any indication, I have to believe things are only going to get more interesting. This is not because my life is easier. On the contrary, new challenges I could never have imagined earlier pop up daily. 

It’s just that one day I decided it was time to grow up and do what needed to be done.  I also discovered I could do this without compromising what mattered most to me. Now I have the resources – confidence, experience, health insurance, and a steady income – to deal with the daily drudgery as well as the delights.

This doesn’t happen by default.  For things to get more interesting, I have to get more interesting.  I can’t do this simply by planning for retirement. I have to practice the power of full engagement each day. To be an excellent educator, I have to be a life long learner.  To be a success, I also have to be willing to be a life long loser since success for me has never been an immediate outcome of trying something new.

With this in mind, I’ve decided the most meaningful way to celebrate my life so far is to share what I do best with the people I love most.  I’ve decided to write a Midlife Manifesto called Words to Live By and create a video and ebook that I can deliver straight to your computer just for the asking.  This does two things.

1)  It catapults me out of my comfort zone and lights my creative fire by forcing me to learn something new, necessary, and, after the initial frustration, fun.   2)  It gives you something that is personal, something you can share if you want to, and hopefully something that will be meaningful to you as well.

Since the big day is just a few months away, I have some essays to write.  Fifty of them to be exact. 

The next few months you may see a frenzy of activity on this blog site as I feverishly post the essays in progress.  Or you may see the occasional ramblings of a distracted writer who has suddenly decided cleaning out the refrigerator or alphabetizing the can goods is top priority. 

This happens to creative people.  It could be happening to you, in fact. Like preparing for an intense workout, we sometimes need a warm up activity before committing to the inevitable.

I used to facilitate a weekly creativity group.  Coaching people into coaxing out their creative side remains one of my all time favorite things to do.  But the biggest thing I learned from that experience is in order for me to help others unleash their creativity, I must unleash mine.

So here’s to a couple of months of unprecedented creative outpouring.  When it’s time to roll out the finished project, I hope your spirit will catch fire and you, too, will unleash your creativity in all kinds of unexpectedly brilliant ways .