Juggling Fire

Juggling fire

A friend of mine told me about a talent show she was a part of on a church camp. Everyone was super-excited about it, especially the children. They so wanted to be involved, to be important, to have their moment of fame at the front of the room.

They thought long and hard about what their ‘talent’ was going to be. What they were going to do that would wow the crowd. Their imaginations went into overtime.

One ten-year-old boy said to his mum, ‘I know what my talent is. I’m going to get some sticks, set them on fire, and juggle them. Then, I’ll have a bucket of water behind me, and once I’ve finished juggling, I’ll throw the burning sticks over my head into the bucket of water to put them out.’

Now I’m telling you, that would have been very impressive. Amazing.

Especially since the child has never juggled before, and hasn’t played with fire much either.

Needless to say, his mother suggested that he think of something else.

The thing he actually did was also pretty impressive, even if it wasn’t quite as showy: He ate an entire bag of Minties (I don’t know how long that took.)

minties

Look, it’s funny, but I see myself doing this in my own life.

Moz and I got engaged while he was still in his last year of high school. (I graduated the year before; I know, I’m a cradle-snatcher.)

When he first asked me to marry him we kept it very quiet. It was a secret from everyone.

Then the time came to ask my parents. They gave their permission, but they suggested (strongly) that we didn’t announce the engagement until after Moz finished high school.

I was so frustrated. Why couldn’t we share our good news? For that matter, why couldn’t we just go ahead and get married? What was all this faffing about for?

But I realised over the next few months that I wasn’t ready to announce our engagement. I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t done all the thinking through of what that would involve, what making such a huge change to my life was actually like. I knew we had made the right decision, but the timing wasn’t quite right. The four months between getting engaged and announcing it to the world were necessary for my mental health.

Right now I can make the same mistake with my writing. I would like my stories to take off, to be best-sellers. I would like my blog to go viral. I would love to be a household name.

Or would I?

Because every time a little bit of ‘fame’ comes my way I recoil. I get overwhelmed. I start to ask, ’Is this what I really want?’

I think God is being gracious by holding things back. I hope that one day I will be mature enough to handle a little bit of fame, and a larger number of book sales. But I want to wait until the time is right.

I don’t want to find myself onstage, hurling burning sticks in the air and hoping I can catch them without being hurt or hurting anyone else. There are things I need to put into place in my business and in my life, so that if I get my fifteen minutes of fame I will cope with it well and it will be a blessing to others.

For now,  I’m learning to juggle. And Minties taste really good.

Is there something in your life that is waiting for the right time? Do you feel like good things are being held back? Is there a skill you need to learn so that when the time comes, you will be ready?

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It Works!

Intro

If you’re like me, you see the amount of books and articles about how to change your life for the better and you wonder if the ‘three easy steps’ outlined therein actually work.

I mean, we all know that we are striving for a more peaceful, less busy, more organised lives. We all know that we should cut down on what we’re doing. We all know that we should rest more, simplify, find jobs that work with our personalities, remember to make time for ourselves, watch less TV, pay less attention to social media, read more, exercise more, etc.

But sometimes I wonder, does it actually work?

I mean, I wrote a whole book on saying, ‘no’. I wrote about setting priorities and about not letting the need define your response. I wrote about all sorts of good ways of getting more energy back in your life.

Some days I feel like I really need to go back and read my book again.

Others look at my life and tell me I need to go back and read my book again.

Yes, my life now is full. I have plenty to do. I have exciting projects coming out my ears. And from the outside it may look like I haven’t made any progress at all.

But I have.

And I’ll tell you how I know that.

Last weekend was one of those weekends where everything happens at the same time and you can’t spread the commitments out.

On Friday I had my parents 50th wedding anniversary. And the best way to celebrate that was to have a dinner party at our house. So we did. Eleven of us over for a candle-light dinner in my lounge room.

50th anniversary cake
The beautiful cake Elford’s Cakes made. It’s based on the original cake, of course.

On Saturday there was a book fair. Me, in a room full of people, selling my wares, giving a reading and a talk about my publishing journey, from 9 am until 5 pm.

TIA book fair
The view from my book-selling table

On Saturday evening our church had a women’s ministry evening and I offered a writing workshop as part of that. In my house.

Writers workshop
We had such a great time. The food-to-people ratio was pretty good too. 

Now, last year, any one of those events would have been enough to tire me out. And I admit that having all three of them in a row sent me into a bit of a spin. But this year it was different.

This year I could spend the time leading up to the weekend getting organised and ready. I could put some normal commitments on the back-burner and take them up again after the busy weekend was over. I arranged to have the party catered so that I didn’t have to cook, and I arranged my son and his girlfriend to clean up for me on Saturday so I came home to a clean house. I could think this all through. I had the time to think.

This year I had the time to rest afterwards.

On Sunday I chose not to go to church. I sat in bed and read a book (Katherine Scholes, The Perfect Wife, great, if you like literary fiction) and then in the afternoon Moz and I went for a drive.

This year I was fine. I could cope. I felt tired but I didn’t feel completely empty.

And today I’m ready to get back into it. To write this blog. To do my editing job. To potter around and do the banking and make dinner and do all the things I didn’t get done on the weekend, as well as the things that my work-from-home life entails.

I think that last year, or the year before, a weekend like the one just gone would have wiped me out for a week. I would have got sick. I would have used up every last bit of my resources and I wouldn’t have had time to recover.

But now, now that I’ve changed my life, I’ve made choices that work well with who I am and how I do things, now I can cope with the occasional full-on weekend. And I can cope with the rest of life as well.

I’m not perfect. My life is full. Maybe I’m still saying ‘yes’ too much and need to keep saying ‘no’ more. I know I need to keep an eye on it. I’ll need to keep an eye on it for the rest of my life. But I am improving. And my life is improving as a result.

It does work.

I’m so grateful.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

What makes you a Success?

to-do-list_o_915180

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t put it up because it’s January and EVERYONE is writing about goals and resolutions and so on right now. But I’m going to post it anyway, because it’s what I’m thinking about as I start this year. My birthday is in January, so as well as the big New Years Day thing, I also have the next year of my life to think about. January for me is all about goals, dreams, plans for the year ahead.

And what it means to have those plans succeed.

Success. What does it mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?

How would you define a successful year? What makes you successful in your career? What does success mean in your family?

I’m a bit of a list addict. When the weekend comes I like to write a list of everything I want to accomplish in the two days. My list will have bigger tasks like ‘change the bed linen’ and smaller tasks like ‘clean up the kitchen’ (alright that can also be a big task – it depends on the day), and even hobby tasks like ‘read book’ or ‘bake cookies’.

If I cross all the tasks off the list by the end of the weekend I judge it to be a wildly successful weekend. But what if I don’t manage to get to all the tasks? Is the weekend a failure? Am I a failure?

I listened to a podcast interview by Steve Laube a literary agent, about success. He was talking about how writers define success and how it can be a dangerous thing. He said that some define success by sales numbers, ‘I’ll be successful once I sell 50,000 books,’ or by income, ‘I’ll be successful when I make $100,000.’ But, he says, what if you only sell 45,000 books? What if you only make $98,000? Are you a failure? If you haven’t ticked over that success milestone does that mean you have failed?

His point was that it is better to define success as the impact that you have on people – that even if you impact one person’s life for the better by your writing, you have therefore been a success.

We can apply that to our general lives too. We might never be millionaires, we might not ever be able to be Prime Minister, or a movie star, or the CEO of our corporation, or any of these high-impact people, but if we can impact the lives around us in a positive way on a day to day basis then we can also say that we are successful.

I agree. Money or fame or power are not good measures of success. They are more like gaping bottomless pits that suck you in and suck those around you into the abyss as well. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. I’ve never really been close enough to find out.

So yes, doing good to others, spreading the light however we can, reaching out and making anyone’s life better, that is a good measure of success but there’s a risk with this kind of thinking.

The risk is that we stop trying. We can be tempted to not push ourselves, not try hard, not grow, because all we’re doing is just trying to help the people around us, trying to shed light, and isn’t that enough? Just being a nice person? If that’s the definition of success then why bother training? Why bother learning? Why bother developing our artistic skills? Why bother with academic excellence?

But I believe excellence is something worth reaching for. Learning and growing and improving is a life-long journey and if we stop doing any of that then we stop living. Or at least we stop living a life filled with any richness.

My dream for my writing career is that I can make a living by what I write. That is what I think would constitute a wildly successful writing career. It is what I’m aiming for. My big shining city on a hill that I’m toiling towards. This is not something that I expect to tick off my list any time soon, but it’s the thing that will keep me striving for excellence, will keep me training and working.

And failure in my writing career is defined solely by this:

  • I fail if I stop writing.

So in between the failure and the big shining city there is a wide plain of moderate success:

  • I am successful if I put aside the time to write.
  • I am successful if I hone my skills, train in character development or descriptive writing.
  • I am successful if I bring a book to publication.
  • I am not a failure unless I fail to do that which I am called to do.

I think you can see from this list though that the goals that are on the success pathway are goals that are within my control. Goals that depend on me, not on external forces. Goals like exercising every day, rather than a goal of losing 10 kg which has a lot of factors you may not be able to control. Goals like mastering that piano piece or practicing five hours a week, not goals like winning Australian Idol. It is easy to fail if your definition of success depends on something that you cannot have a hope of controlling. Some people call these systems, not goals. I’ll probably write another post on this in the future because I think it needs some unpacking but just bear it in mind right now. When I talk about never failing, I’m talking about reaching for goals that depend on your own input, not externally defined goals.

Success and failure are not binary concepts. Success is not an on-off switch.

Rather there is a continuum from failure (which I think is only final once you’re dead) to wild and absolute success. And every step you take towards your shining city is a successful step. Every setback is just that, a setback. If you pick up and keep going, you have not failed.

 

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. What do you see as success? What do you think about goals? What are your goals for the new year?

How to ask

Buy my book

Well friends, this is the last post in this Saying No series.

It’s not that I’m going to stop writing about this stuff, it seems to be something I love to explore, but I’m going to be writing about it less regularly and writing about other things more, and I’m going to give my artist a break 🙂

And of course, it’s time to write some Christmas posts, isn’t it?

I’m also going to add a little more to the saying no posts, include some thoughts that have been sparked by your comments, and wrap it all up in a ribbon and make it into a book. I’ll let you know when it’s for sale!

I’ve talked in this series about losing the ‘shoulds’, about figuring out priorities, about making rules beforehand so that we don’t have to make yes/no decisions on the fly, about pushing ourselves sometimes, and resting regularly. I want to finish with something that came up the other day when I was chatting to some good friends over lunch.

We were talking about this blog and the conversation moved to discussing methods of asking people to do things in such a way that they feel free to say no. It got me thinking about things from the other side of the fence and I thought I’d explore the idea.

An interesting thing has changed for me as I’ve been writing this series. Now, when people have asked me to do something they preface the request with ‘you can say no, but …’

‘You can say no, but would you like to come to the quiz night on Saturday?’

‘Feel free to say no, but would you like to be a part of this fundraiser?’

‘I know you’ll probably say no, but there’s a dinner on and I’d love you to come.’

It’s been wonderful. My friends are so great. They can see that I’m working on something here and they are trying to help.

Some requests are not so easy to refuse.

I think one of the worst ways of being asked is this, ‘What are you doing on March the 21st?’

This method of asking assumes that if there is nothing booked into your calendar then you are available for whatever event the person is asking you to.

However, what if there is nothing booked in your calendar because you need the day off as a rest day? Or sometimes you even need to wait and see – if the week before turns out to be huge, then maybe you need to turn the event down.

Now this is difficult, because sometimes the person asking really needs to know how many people are attending an event so that they can plan properly. And sometimes people are putting off answering because they are waiting to see if a better offer arrives, and that’s, honestly, a little rude.

Tasmanians have a dreadful habit of booking tickets to things at the very last moment. We’ve had some big name performers cancel their tours because people couldn’t make up their minds whether or not they wanted to come. I guess this is another place where there needs to be a bit of balance.

Having said that, I still think there’s a better way of asking.

How about, ‘Hey, could you check your calendar and get back to me? I’d love to invite you to this thing on March 21st if you would like to come. I need to know numbers by Feb 20th.’

Or ‘I’d really like to get together with you for dinner, I know you’re busy but I’m free on these days, would you be able to make it on any of those? Or maybe you could suggest one that works for you? I don’t mind how long I have to wait, I’d just like to spend time with you.’

Or ‘There’s this really great event happening that I’m sure you’d like. Have a think about it and get back to me.’

I can see a pattern in these invitations, they all give the invited person time to think. This may purely be my introverted nature but I really hate being put on the spot. I like to have a chance to think about anything before I give an answer. So maybe this is what we can do. Give our friends time to think and the freedom to say no without guilt. Do you have suggestions for good ways to ask? Let us know in the comments.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I pray that each of us grows in wisdom about when to say no and when to say yes so that our lives fill up with meaning, joy, and peace. And yes, feel free to say no, but when the time comes, will you consider buying my book? 🙂

The Star Chart

Star chart

I wrote last week about allowing myself to say no and how I managed that this year by designating this the Year of Saying No to Everything. I also wrote about how bad I felt every time I let someone down, even if I knew that saying no in any particular situation was the right thing to do.

I don’t want people to be disappointed in me. Though I know in my head that I can’t meet everyone’s needs and expectations, I really want to.

I have thrown party-plan parties where nearly no-one has shown up. I don’t want anyone to go through that. I have organised prayer meetings where week after week no-one has come along but me, and I would almost prefer to be burnt-out than have another person feel that loneliness and failure. (You might have guessed that I’m not the world’s best salesperson. What my friend is, the one I talked about last week with the amazing fundraiser, I am the diametric opposite.)

I want to be able to go to all the things, meet all the needs, comfort all the people, serve on all the committees.

It’s just impossible.

But what is also impossible is living with the feeling of having let so many people down.

Now that I’m getting used to saying no, I’m realising that I’m not necessarily doing a bad thing by letting them down. There are many instances where I would just be an unnoticed extra in the room. There are other times when maybe God wants the person to learn from something falling over (I’m pretty sure that’s what was happening in my prayer group), and that if I show up and be the comforting person I will be stepping in the way of God’s plan.

If I want to follow God’s path for my life then I can’t veer off onto something else anytime someone asks me for a favour.

So this year I decided to reward myself for saying no. If this was the lesson I needed to learn then I needed a shot of encouragement each time I managed to decline an activity.

Moz made me a star chart with a little path of hearts leading the princess to the castle, and I bought shiny gold stars from the local newsagent.

Every time I’ve said no to something this year I have got a gold star on my chart. I am building up to a reward at the end.

I usually check with Moz, “can I have a star for that one?” and he usually says yes. He sees the stressing and overthinking that goes on whenever I turn something down.

Here’s an example:

I was invited out to dinner with a friend on a Friday night. My friend is lovely, she really understands me. She said, “If you can’t come because your introverted self needs time at home, that’s fine.”

My introverted self did need time at home. But the teaching at church and in some podcasts I was listening to was about how important it was to eat with people. How eating together connects us and makes us family. And this friend is very important to me. But at the same time, so was Friday night date night with Moz (we eat takeaway and watch a movie together) and I didn’t know what to do.

Moz was happy with whatever I decided. My friend was happy with whatever I decided. I had to make the decision. I had to set the boundary. I took ages to decide and in the end I sent her a text Friday morning saying no, I wouldn’t come.

Did I get a star for my star chart? You betcha! And that shiny gold star made me feel better about the decision, which I’m sure now was the right one.

You may have no difficulty deciding what is right for you to do and what is not necessary. I know that for some of you who are reading this blog you just can’t understand what my difficulty is and think I should just get over myself (I thank you for continuing to read it anyway). But I hope that for some of you, my journey is providing a helping hand on your own journey.

And maybe it’s not saying no that is the difficult thing for you. Maybe a star chart could be helpful in another area of your life – you could get a star for every half-hour walked, for example. Or for every time you do the dishes before going to bed.

For me, saying no is difficult, but the star chart helps. The reward helps. I can do a hard thing and then get some tangible appreciation of effort outlaid. It’s helping me to train myself in setting boundaries and the little tool of giving myself a gold star when I succeed has made a big difference to how I feel.

Only three stars to go until my final reward. Which I’m pretty sure is going to be a weekend away alone – just me and my books. And a whole heap of chocolate.

Temptations (Part 2)

Temptations 2

Following on from last week’s blog about the temptation to justify my need to say no, my other big temptation is to pretend that I know what I’m doing now. That I have put all I’ve learned into practice and that now my life is perfect. That I don’t have problems with saying no anymore. That my life is in balance and if you just follow my ten steps then your life will be in balance too.

I can’t say I’ve got it right yet. I’m trying and I’m getting things more in order. But there is so much more to do, more growing to go through.

That’s life though, isn’t it? You keep learning until you die. I intend to keep learning and growing until I die.

So all I’m trying to do here is pass on some lessons I’ve learned in the past year or so in the hope that they will be helpful to someone else.

Actually, what I’m trying to do here is put into one place what I’ve learned from my own life and from many different places.

I tell my students (I lecture chemistry at university level) that the best way to learn something well is to teach it to someone else. (It’s true, but it also helps me get through my own workload if the students do some of it themselves). So by writing all these lessons down for you, I hope to learn it more thoroughly myself.

I hope I help me. And I hope I help you.

Next week I’m going to tell you a lesson I learned about obedience. Who and what deserves our yes and who does not.

What lessons have you learned about saying no? Is there anything that you would like me to look at through this series? Please let me know in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42