I always thought that all my insecurities would disappear as I left my teenage years. Who would have thought the familiar little monster sitting on my left shoulder would emerge from now and then?
So here is a list of things that remind me to see the bright side, and motivate me to keep trucking along.
It’s mostly a reminder to myself, but I hope that it would be helpful to somebody that comes across it.
1. Make something. If you enjoy baking, try to add something extra to your favorite recipe. My quick beer bread recipe never fails me, and it’d be extra special baked with some chopped up jalopeños and sharp cheddar cheese. If you’d rather do something else, doodle or do a simple collage in your notebook.
3. Go outside. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Bring a notebook or your camera, because you never know what you’ll find. Or if you’re up for a bit more challenge, pull out your sneakers from the closet, and go for a light run. Murakami even wrote a book about it.
4. Make you a priority. First thing in the morning: leave your computer off, stretch, take a deep breath, and drink a cup of water. If you’re a fellow coffee-head, get that pot brewing before you hop in the shower.
5. Write a letter. Snail mail is worth the wait, but an e-mail also works. Writing to a friend always helps me organize my thoughts, no matter how confused I may be feeling. Don’t be hesitant to ask your friend how she/he is doing, as well!
6. Put on a new outfit. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go buy something, because you might have clothes hiding in your closet waiting to be rediscovered. But it’s also fun to go window shopping for inspiration, and come home with something new.
7. Eat that frog. My dad gave me a book by that title when I was just a pre-teen, but the lesson stayed with me. Put away your long to-do list, and spend that time doing that one thing you’ve been putting off (or feel like putting off). Once you finish that, you’ll feel so much more ready to tackle everything else.
8. Be inspired. Compile your sources of inspiration, whether it’s a list of websites and blogs on your google reader, or a binder full of magazine and book clippings you’ve collected.
9. Get a good night sleep. It doesn’t hurt to “sleep on it” if there’s anything hovering over your head. If it can wait until tomorrow, don’t send a hasty e-mail or click around the maze of the internet world.
10. Plan a trip. It could be a day of exploring a new neighborhood in your town (searching for that hidden dessert place), or a quick trip to a nearby city. Or it could be a holiday somewhere far away. When I was feeling cold and overworked in Shanghai, I took a trip to Thailand. Escape is not the final answer, but the new surroundings can help put things into perspective.
11) Leave a thoughtful comment. It’s a pleasant surprise to open up an e-mail from a blogger, or read a meaningful comment that takes me a bit longer to respond.
12) Get a new hairdo. It could be a small change–getting your roots touched up, getting your bangs trimmed, trying out a new up-do, or putting on a fun wig. Or you could go for a new hair color or get it all chopped off!
13) Make a list. It could be as practical as a grocery list (i.e. animal crackers, dark chocolate, button mushrooms, and whole-wheat english muffins), or a list of things you’d love to do this year (i.e. go jungle trekking and learn a new language). Don’t be afraid to put some easy things on that list, too.
14) Make that dream a reality. Sometimes we don’t translate our dreams into achievable goals. For example, I wanted to learn a new language (Chinese), but it was so daunting I didn’t know how to begin. My more realistic goal earlier this year, was to be able to have a 30-minute conversation in Chinese. Now that I am able to do that, my current goal is to be able to comfortably and fluently read a Chinese restaurant menu.
15) Keep going! We all get discouraged sometimes, or hit a patch and stop feeling motivated. And this is what this list is about, because sometimes I even forget to follow my own good advice!
Here’s a wise quote by Ira Glass, storyteller and host of This American Life:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
P.S. If you have any tips of your own, please don’t hesitate to share them with me!
*The beautiful illustrations are by Su Yani, a Kunming-based artist of Lahu ethnic group.