RESOLVED 2014!!! FOCUS

Wednesday, January 1:  Happy New Year!!  It’s that time of year again, time to get on track with life!  I’m always enthusiastic about turning the calendar to an untarnished new year, and getting a fresh start on what I hope will be the life of my dreams.  However, I know it’s a challenge to keep myself disciplined.  Accomplishing my New Year’s Resolutions in past years has always been a mixed bag.  I achieve some of what I set out to do, and other things I don’t even touch.

“If you have the capacity to be more than one thing, do everything that’s inside of you.” ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes

This is the problem.  I want to do everything that’s inside of me.  And because of that, I actually never get anything done!

I am like the Cathy in the cartoon of the same name.  I’m the Cathy of a million brilliant possibilities.

I am pretty good at many things, but not great at any one thing.  I can write fairly well and I can do statistical or financial analysis.  I can figure out Excel spreadsheets or Word documents.  I can live abroad or at home.  I am filled with wanderlust and, alternately, with homebody tendencies.  I love solitude and intimate social gatherings.  I can help organize U.N. delegations to Middle East Peace Conferences (Annapolis 2007) or help organize events for the Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice 2008) or organize debates among students. I can teach adults or children; I can teach Koreans, Omanis, Saudis, Vietnamese, Americans or Mongolians.   I can do diligent research and draw overarching conclusions, or I can wander around dreamily through foreign lands.  I can exercise religiously or I can lazily sit around reading a good book for hours.  I can take pretty good pictures, but I’m too impatient to actually learn how to improve.  I can be incredibly organized, or I can be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants operator.  I can study a foreign language until I’m blue in the face, scoring well on written tests, but I can never gain any facility with the language.  I am an excellent student, always.  I have been a reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, an intern (State Department), an intern again (MSI), an English teacher and an ESL teacher.  And of course a mom.  Let’s not forget that.

I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in International Commerce & Policy.  I have ESL and Virginia teaching certificates.  I have written a novel from start to finish.  I have written short stories and poems and research papers and blogs.  I have worked as a cash control “banker” at Busch Gardens and as a bank teller, a loan officer and a credit analyst. I am pretty good with numbers and pretty good with words, but not great at either.  What does one do with such a broad sweep of mediocre abilities, and such a variety of interests?

Staying close to home this year.  There's plenty to explore in the Americas.
Staying close to home this year. There’s plenty to explore in the Americas.

The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.  It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean.  ~ Toni Morrison

I admit now to stealing a great idea.  I read about this idea on someone else’s blog.  This person, I can’t even remember who (sorry!), advised people to choose a word for the year.  After a great deal of thought, here’s what I’ve come up with:

FOCUS

“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.”  ~ Oprah Winfrey

When I met Annette of Beauty Along the Road in Monterey, Virginia this fall, she inspired me to give some serious thought about what I really want to do. Annette and I brainstormed many ideas and when I left her, a lot of possibilities were floating through my head.  At the time we met, I was feeling frustrated with my teaching job, and felt horribly depressed at the thought of continuing to teach.  The college-level students I was teaching were immature, disrespectful and entitled, and I frankly hated teaching them.  I believe I shouldn’t have to deal with classroom management issues in college-level classes; the classes I taught felt like teaching middle school, and if I wanted to teach middle school, I could go to work for Fairfax County Public Schools and make a lot more money.  Not that I want to do that, believe me.  Not only was the pay extremely low after being paid well working abroad, but the hours were longer and the job was more demanding, thus leaving little time to devote to what I really love.

If you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.  ~ Howard Thurman

What I love is writing.

Now of course I know that trying to become a published writer is a difficult road.  Most people have to have a day job to support their writing habit.  But I was inspired by Ann Patchett in her fabulous book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  She always knew she wanted to be a writer.  She built her whole life around that purpose, and looked for a job which would pay the bills but not impinge on her free time.  She knew teaching would drain her of her own creativity, so she became a waitress, and then a freelance writer for Seventeen.  That was how she paid her bills, until she made it big with her novel Bel Canto.

She has some words of wisdom for aspiring writers:  “Even if I don’t believe in writer’s block, I certainly believe in procrastination.  Writing can be frustrating and demoralizing, and so it’s only natural that we try to put if off.  But don’t give “putting it off” a magic label.  Writer’s block is out of our control, like a blocked kidney.  We are not responsible.  We are however, entirely responsible for procrastination and, in the best of all possible worlds, should also be responsible for being honest with ourselves about what’s really going on.”

I have to stop procrastinating (though I’ve never called it “writer’s block,” because I don’t believe in it either).

Besides my desire to write, I also have the desire to travel. The one good thing about teaching ESL, the only good thing, was that I was able to live abroad, and to travel extensively.  But am I willing to put up with one to have the other?  Maybe I have no choice, but I’d like to create another option.  Carol of The Eternal Traveller inspired me to try a Travel Writing Course from the Australian Writers’ Centre in November.  I completed it and now am armed with some knowledge about the process.  I know, I know, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I loved living and working abroad, but now, I can’t do that because of family matters.  So, I would like to use my hard-earned Master’s degree to find a job in international development.  At least I could feel like I was contributing to something I care about.  So if I need to work to pay the bills because I can’t make any money in writing, then I need to find a job I love, a job that has meaning to me, and a job that I don’t have to take home with me.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for, and if you dream of meeting your heart’s longing. ~ Oriah

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to take off from teaching next semester.  Yes, I’m quitting my job, at least for spring 2014.  That gives me 6 months to be FOCUSED.  Because if I don’t get something else going here, then I’m doomed to continue teaching.  That is NOT the option I want for myself.

Ultimately, I know I don’t have control over whether I get anything published or not, but I do know that I will certainly never get anything published if my work is sitting on my computer unseen by anyone else.  I also know that I will not get a new job unless I am applying for jobs.  I just can’t see strangers knocking at my door begging me to come to work for them.  I have to actively sell myself, sell my writing, sell my ideas: a very unpleasant business all around, and a terrifying one.

I went through this business of applying for jobs in 2008-2009, for nine grueling and demoralizing months.  I had just finished my Master’s and I thought I would easily get a job. After all, before I became a full-time mom for 15 years, I had never had trouble getting any job I wanted. However, after 250 job applications, I had 5 interviews and 1 internship, which lasted for 9 months at Management Systems International, until I got hired to teach English in Korea.  Believe me, I don’t relish the idea of doing this again.  But my alternative is to stay stuck in a job that pays nothing and goes nowhere and drains me of all my energy.  I have to do it again.  I have no choice.

In order to stay focused, I need to cut back on my blogging because, although I love blogging, it can be addictive and time-consuming.  I’m addicted to it because it gives me immediate gratification; I can see the stats and encouraging comments that push me to write more.  Blogging serves one purpose in that it gets me writing, taking photos, pushing the boundaries of my world by trying to see it in a different light.  It also gives me encouragement and helps me gain confidence, something I find hard to come by.  But. It isn’t contributing to my goal of getting articles, or my book, published.  And it certainly is not going to get me a job.

So, to keep things simple, here are my seven FOCUSED resolutions for 2014.

1.  Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.

Multitudes of travel publications.  Surely there's one that will take my work. :-)
Multitudes of travel publications. Surely there’s one that will take my work. 🙂

2.  Finish revising my novel by the end of February.  Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps.  Begin a new book after I get that process underway.

3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).

4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)

5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January.  Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!).  Take a road trip.  And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.

Staying close to home, with a possible (?) trip to Costa Rica... :-)
Staying close to home, with a possible (?) trip to Costa Rica… 🙂

6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.

7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.

walks near home
walks near home

At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable. ~ Christopher Reeve

“If you want to write, practice writing.  Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.” ~ Ann Patchett

“Forgiveness…it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.  Every time I set out to translate the book…that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper, … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence.  Every.  Single.  Time. … I do believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.  Forgiveness, therefore, is key.  I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.”  ~ Ann Patchett in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

***********************

Ultimately, my dream is to combine writing and travel somehow, either by planning and offering writing retreats in far-flung parts of the globe, or by going abroad for several months at a time and writing like my life depended on it.  Writing retreats would combine my natural teaching ability, my wanderlust, and my writing dreams.  However, I feel the first step is to get published, so I can establish some credentials, and some credibility.  One step at time…..

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56 thoughts on “RESOLVED 2014!!! FOCUS

    1. I love that, Gilly: “Gilly of all trades mistress of none!” That’s me too. And thanks for admiring my “focus,” which at this point hasn’t actually happened. Wish me luck because it will certainly be a challenge for me to focus!!

  1. Oh my! That is one big “to do” list, Cathy, but I shouldn’t expect anything less. I’m pretty sure you can make some of this happen. You always are full of great ideas. So, go right ahead. Enjoy your holiday, and then FOCUS! I wish you the very best in 2014, and I hope that by this stage in 2015 you have an answer or two, or at the very least are happy with where you are in life. Be happy, Cathy. There’s but one life. 🙂

    I have one last family dinner to cook, then whisk the tree down, and I’m gone. This blogger won’t be around to distract you- I promise 🙂
    Have a fabulous time!

    1. Yes, Jo, it is ambitious, especially anything that involves selling myself or my work; I don’t take rejection well, so often find myself getting depressed when I try to do this! The problem is that now I’ve reached a point where I have no choice!

      I’ll try my best to be happy, Jo, but sadly it doesn’t come as easily for me as it does for you.

      I have to pack today and take down my tree too; then off to California tomorrow! Have fun in Tavira!

      1. I was just reading stuff about rejection….as I just got yet another rejection for a job I really wanted 😦 Competition is still very fierce right now!! Rejection is just part of life, hard though it may be. Here’s an interesting read on rejection that I found, maybe it will help you: http://www.wikihow.com/Handle-Rejection

        I also came across this that really spoke to me. I hope it helps you:

        • Journeys — no matter what they are — do not always add up, make sense, or go in a straight line.
        • Every obstacle informs and every step matters.
        • When you feel lost, you aren’t. You just can’t see what’s up ahead.

        so, just keep focusing on what’s ahead 😉

      2. Thanks for linking to this excellent article about handling rejection, Toby. I think it has some really useful advice. I know that rejection is part of life, and I know it’s something you need to get used to if you’re trying to push outside your boundaries, but I also know that a continual barrage of rejection, time and time again, is hard on a person’s confidence. I never felt so depressed as when I applied for 250 jobs, day in and day out, and never got anywhere. I now have an understanding of how people feel when they lose their jobs.

        I love your three bullet points. Especially the last line: When you feel lost, you aren’t. You just can’t see what’s up ahead. I’ll have to keep that in my mind as I go forward this year. 🙂 Thanks so much for your words of wisdom. xxx

      3. well they weren’t my words of wisdom, I just wanted to share what I found. I getcha and you’re right, that much rejection is hard on one’s confidence. I’m struggling with that right now as I keep missing out on one job after another. playing phone tag with another current prospect. hoping this is “the one” and I can stop this search already. sigh….here’s wishing us both great things for 2014!!

  2. oh my, there is so much I want to reply! I fear I won’t have the time right this minute. but know this: you and I have very similar desires. I have always wanted to be a writer (and here it is, hubby is interrupting me now…) but have zero clue how to go about doing that. Travel writing would be great, alas….see my previous sentence 😉 I started doing some research just last week but I need to find a different job before I can focus (may I borrow your word? he he) on doing some writing on the side….that will hopefully give us a little extra income when we retire to Spain.

    before I go I wanted to say that the period 2008-2009 was not a very good time to look for a job. The economy sucked so I think you may have been a little too hard on yourself. I know this because I too was looking for a job in early 2009. I too never experienced not finding a job within a couple of months. my situation at the time improved so I decided to stay put. Things work out the way they do for a reason, I truly believe that.

    okay, that’s it from me for now. I might be back later to add more. but your goals are great!! I applaud anyone that can write down their goals. Me, I just fly by the seat of my pants (read: goals are in my head rather than written down). Here’s to a great 2014 and may you fulfill all your goals!!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouraging reply, Toby. I know the economy was bad in 2008-2009, but when I saw my younger colleagues (all of us graduated with our Master’s in May 2008) getting jobs, it disheartened me and made me conclude that it was my age and my being a stay-at-home mom for 15 years that were the deciding factors.

      As far as travel writing, I haven’t yet tried to put into practice all the things I learned, but I found the Travel Writing course through the Australian Writer’s Centre (online) to be full of practical advice. Where I had no clue how to go about it before, I do now. I highly recommend it.

      I do believe you’re right that things do work out for a reason, and having had the experience of living and working abroad for 3 years was really an amazing thing for me. I guess the reason it worked that way was so that I could discover my threefold passions: travel, writing and photography! Have a great 2014, Toby! 🙂

      1. I remember you talking about that writing course and I think I bookmarked it. I will have to look for it and check it out! yes, your 3 year stint abroad is some great experience for sure! what I wouldn’t give to do something like that! I read blogs of younger people doing these teaching abroad things and wish I had done that when I got out of college. alas….there’s that “things work out for a reason” thing again 😉 I actually had no idea that existed so it’s not like I missed out but boy, I wish I had done that. I probably told you this already that I’m considering doing that when it’s time for us to move to Spain. we shall see….anyway, look at me going on and on. say hi to California for me!! I spent my “formative” years there (from 11 to 25 and again from 28 to 31….oh, the memories….)

      2. I’ll bet you have great memories from California. That writing course is great. I wish I had done the teaching abroad thing when I was much younger myself; it’s not so easy when you’re older and have family connections.

  3. I wish you well in reaching some of your goals Cathy, but do try and relax a little along the way. I have been lucky in not needing to work over the last five years and I have no burning ambitions – just to be happy, travel and take photos. Although there is ONE book over which I have been procrastinating for several years. Maybe this year IS the time to revisit it. I don’t do resolutions normally, but the one thing which I will focus on this year is Health. I must walk more, drink more water, eat less and drink less alcohol. I hope to join you on your 5 walks a week, but today has been just too damned wet and miserable 😦
    I know – procrastinating again.
    Have fun in SoCal and the SUN!!!
    Jude xx

    BTW one of the best ways to hone your travel writing skills is to enter competitions. I also know of a lady who runs a travel writing club where members write assignments and assess each other’s work, this might be of interest to you. She has lots of useful info on her site.
    http://www.lizcleere.com/2013/06/10-tips-on-how-to-write-for-wanderlust-magazine/#.UsQ-45XuND8
    http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/articles/advice/how-to-become-a-travel-writer (advice on travel writing)
    http://helenwatsontravelwriting.blogspot.co.uk/ (this lady has won travel competitions, she writes beautifully)

    1. Hi Jude, Thanks for all these great and informative websites. I already subscribed to Wanderlust and am so excited about spending time perusing this. The other websites are great too. I’ve bookmarked them all and will check them out much more thoroughly when I return home from California on Jan 13.

      Health is definitely something I need to focus on this year. I’m going for a walk and then off to California this afternoon! 🙂

  4. You’ve made a great start by sorting your ideas and committing to them. Best of luck with the job searching and the travel writing. And remember that Australia has the highest number of magazines per capita in the world, they all have a travel section and most of them you can find online, so you could be pitching your local travel stories to them. I can’t wait to hear about all your successes.

  5. Enter Dai, aka Jack of all Trades. You are not alone Kat. That was a long blog and got me wondering. I wish you lots and lots of luck and happiness Kat. Costa Rica sounds warm and that sure is appealing right now. I’m off to the UK in another 13 days and my biggest dream is to laze away an hour or two in a hot deep bath. What a miserable ambition to have Kat, just a hot bath. You’ve stayed in Nepal so you’ll understand what I mean. I also have to buy a million and one things for the family here and some new clothes for myself. Shopping in the UK is so sane. The clothes fit me, they don’t shrink three sizes after washing and I don’t even have to bargain down the inflated prices. When does your blog rationing start ? Maybe I should do the same here. Yesterday morning I had 485 items in my Yahoo Inbox and I’m so fed up with all those shares and notifications. They are running my life. So I responded as fast as I could, giving far more attention to the people in WordPress than to the quick commenters in facebook.. But you know what happened Kat ? After a couple of hours the number of unopened messages in my Inbox had gone up to 487, not down as I was expecting. So I gave up and went down to the city with Kumar. Oh well, I’ll sort it out somehow. Hugs for you Kat.

    1. Hi Dai, The hot bath is a wonderful ambition. After living in Oman and Korea for three years, showers only, and after visiting Nepal, there was nothing I was happier to get back home to than my hot baths! I remember after a particularly cold night in Pokhara, when the power came back on, I lingered in a long hot bath, and nothing felt so good as that!

      Wow, you get a lot of messages, Dai. I don’t know how you find time to respond to them and write your own blog, especially with your power outages (I almost wrote power “outrages!” ~ maybe more appropriate!).

      I’m leaving this afternoon for 10 days in California, so I won’t be online much until after Jan 13. Keep warm in the meantime and enjoy your trip to the UK: hot baths, new clothes and all. I guess you’ll be going to the UK, just as I’m returning home to Virginia. Happy travels!

      My blog rationing started yesterday. No more than twice a week!! I’m really going to try to stick to that. I love blogging, but it is way too addictive and I need to get some longer term goals accomplished. I can’t always go for the immediate gratification!

      Glad to know you’re a jack-of-all-trades, like me! Stay warm! xxx

    1. Thanks so much, Lori. I know you struggled with a job search when you returned to Canada. If I can’t find anything here, I may have to resort to going abroad again. I can’t stand the idea of working here for so little pay. But I really need to stay home for now. 🙂

  6. Focus is such a great word, and it looks like you’re already well focused on what you want to do. Wishing you great successes with your plans and with your focus, Cathy. I have faith that you can do it. (Faith, by the way, is my word for the year.)

  7. You should come to New Hampshire now…. Zero degrees out and just had a foot of snow. Got up at 4 AM and spent 2 hours snow blowing.
    They’re talking of 20 below tonight. Even with all this, I must say, “I love winter..”
    I have to go over to the cottage this weekend and shovel the roof off. (About 2-1/2 – 3 feet of snow on it.)
    Right now, the warm weather in Oman sounds good.
    Spencer is in New Your City now. Going back to college.
    Take care and hope to see you up here this summer.

    Ron

    1. Brrrr! I know it’s cold up there now. I sat at Dulles Airport last evening in the snowstorm and we were delayed 1 1/4 hours due to waiting for people from delayed connecting flights and de-icing. When I finally got to Denver, I missed my connecting flight to Burbank by 10 minutes so had to spend the night in Denver where it’s a balmy 36!

      Good luck with shoveling snow off the roof of your cottage, and snow blowing. Try to keep warm but it sounds like it will be tough to do! I do hope to see you in New Hampshire this summer. Is Spencer enjoying New York? Did he spend the holidays with you?

      1. Yes, Spencer was home for the holidays. This was a first in many years.
        Spencer is so busy with school he has little time to see NYC.
        Send some of that balmy 36 degrees my way.
        Have fun and enjoy your trip.

  8. Yes, focus can be the hardest thing to achieve. You sound as though you have many really brilliant goals. Good luck with the writing and travel this year. It promises to be an exciting ride by the sound of things. 🙂 xx

  9. That’s a long list, but it’s all pretty realistic. Best of luck with it, and I do look forward to hearing about the details! It’s hard to juggle blogging with work and everything else – and looking for a job can be so tough, but when you know you have something to fall back on it’s better. I think you’re right sensing that combining writing and traveling is the way to go, and getting published is the perfect “in” for that. Again – bon chance!!

  10. I am so impressed by your fortitude, drive AND THAT LIST! You can do it! Make sure you holler when passing through Pennsylvania Cathy!

  11. Cathy, you are one amazing, multi-talented woman! I’m gobsmacked! 🙂 You’ve obviously done a great job of analyzing yourself and determining what you want. I think your goals sound fabulous. Wishing you all the best for 2014. ~Terri

  12. This post has inspired me and i am going to pinch your word for the year for me too. I love your idea of writers retreats. Imagine traveling with all that creativity. What a sensational idea. I wish you all good and grandiose things for 2014 Cathy.

    1. I’m so glad I inspired you, Jo! Good luck meeting your goals. I love the idea of organizing writer’s retreats, but I really feel I need some publishing credentials in order to sell these! 🙂

  13. A beautiful and inspiring post Cathy! I wish you good luck with all your goals. May your year be filed with amazing adventures and writing projects 🙂

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