Living Without a Backup Plan

Author Jess Witkins

Author Jess Witkins

On today’s blog, my adorable friend Jess Witkins has stopped by to share her story of taking the plunge from living a life of drudgery to living life on her terms. From time to time, I’m going to share stories like hers because I think it’s so important to remind ourselves that it is indeed possible to make the changes in our life that we so deeply desire.

And for those who are wondering where the heck I’ve been and how my “Year to Live” has been going, I’ll have updates in the weeks to come.

Jess, take it away!

*****

Hello Everyone! I’m so honored Ingrid asked me here. She’s been such a phenomenal friend and confidante, even acting as a beta reader for me on my book. When she asked me to share my story, about quitting my job and taking the blind leap into the unknown, I said YES!

Here’s my wild adventure, gory details included. ;)

For six years I worked in retail for a large department store. It’s identity shall not be named in order to protect the damned. I started working there in college, and after graduation, I freaked about becoming an “adult.” So I took a full time position at the store and bragged to my dad that I finally had health insurance.

I’m Such a Grown Up!
In a matter of months, I earned my way up the chain to being the top Sales Manager in the store. I oversaw all the commission sales departments and had a team double the size of any of my peers. We all had to wear multiple hats in our roles, so I also oversaw all our fundraising and new hire training.

Me and some of my Sales Team

Me and some of my Sales Team

I was good at my job. I just wasn’t happy.

I had not dreamed of being a Sales Manager. Far from it! I dreamed of being Anne of Green Gables, writing lavish love stories much too great for the likes of baking powder companies.

“Cordelia, you have an exquisite alabaster complexion.”

But I digress…

For years I tried to apply for different jobs, transfers, and nothing ever synced. My mental state was fried. I would come home from work crabby and do nothing but vent. I tried getting back into hobbies, like writing. I started blogging, which helped, but I never made any headway on my book.

The Last Straw:
When we got a new store manager, things took a turn for the worse. She was a first time store manager, and instead of acting as a mentor, was more like a school marm. She criticized a lot if things weren’t done her way.

My friends and family had told me to quit multiple times. But what would I do financially? Where would I go? All I’m trained in now is sales!

At some point though, enough is enough. I can’t pick out one moment; it’s more like my moment was tied up in years of moments – folding sweaters, calling about credit card complaints, and getting people the next size up in shoes.

I took the wildest leap of my life and turned in my resignation…with no back up plan.

Problems Ensue:
My brilliant idea was to return to school for a Master’s in writing. The problem was that I had already missed the deadline for enrollment, which meant waiting another year.

But I went to a writers conference, which thankfully I had paid for while still employed, and boasted of my great plans to return to school!

Ingrid and I hanging out with the WANA’s at DFWcon.

Ingrid and I hanging out with the WANA’s at DFWcon.

A-Ha! Moment:
One of the writers at the conference asked me WHY I was going back to school. Did I want to become a teacher? – No. Did I want to become an editor or start my own publishing house? – No.

All I wanted to do was write books.

“You know you don’t need a Master’s Degree for that, right?” she said.

And she was right.

A Drastic Change of Plans:
Over the next several months, my lifestyle changed. I was unemployed and racking up debt on my credit card, but I was writing. I used the time off to plant my butt in a chair and finish the first draft of my book, a feat I had never before accomplished.

I also filled out more applications, revised more resumes, and did more interviews than I can keep count of.

Life of a Writer

I’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t easy. Financially, it was the most difficult time of my life, putting additional stress on my relationship as well as my bank account. I know that I am fortunate this all worked out in the end.

I did have to take what I call an “in the meantime” job to get by. Despite my years of leadership experience, I accepted a manager in training position with a chain company. The hours were nothing like they promised me, working sometimes until 1am. And I kid you not, at the Leadership Training with the Regional Manager, he spent the first half of the day discussing the importance of using a planner!

#HeadDesk

What was different about this job than my last was that I knew this was temporary. It was a survival job until I found the right job, which did come. I reached out to a few college mentors of mine to see if they knew of any openings, and one of them got back to me that she was looking for a new Executive Assistant.

Paving a New Path:
The rest is history, as they say. I accepted the Executive Assistant role and began my newly balanced lifestyle that included both work and writing.

I still have to remind myself that while I may not be moving forward as fast as I like, I’m a lot closer than I was before. Sure I’m still paying off debt, and that’s hard, but I can see and touch my dream of being a writer now. And that’s something I’ll never give up again.

*****

Tell me about your dreams!

What things have you had to give up or overcome to pursue them?

Author Bio:
Jess Witkins claims the title Perseverance Expert. From party crashing as an Oops Baby to paving her way through pop culture, Jess explores it all. Her special skills include: pretending to be an orphan, severe allergic reactions to the sun, having an I-Tunes collection full of 90′s Hits, and quoting movie lines from the Oscar winning film, Spaceballs. You can catch more Jess at her blog, Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project or on Twitter, @jesswitkins.

Depression and The Creative Mind– Embracing Our Normalcy

Robin Williams

I know there are lots of people speaking out right now about Robin Williams and I don’t mean to jump on a bandwagon here but I genuinely feel moved to speak out since the tragedy of his death brings up a very important issue that’s close to my heart. The issue of depression and the creative mind.

I, like millions of others, fell into shock upon hearing the news that one of my favorite actors of all time had taken his own life.

What? How could that be? He was such a brilliant artist! So full of light!

Then, remembering what I’d been told years ago about the fact that all comedy is birthed from pain, I sat back in quiet reflection and deep compassion.

But of course.

And then sadly, it all made sense.

Light and dark exists within each one of us, just as it does in the outside world. The capacity to which we can shine our light seems to mirror the capacity to which we feel and experience darkness. It’s a doubled-edged sword that has some of us walking the edge of the blade from time to time. In reflecting on the enormity of light that Williams emitted on such a consistent basis for all the world to see, I can only imagine the level of darkness that he dealt with behind closed doors and the demons he must’ve faced.

Artists are, by and large, deeply sensitive souls. We have a heightened awareness of the world around us, which moves us to a place where we must express. Our feelings and thoughts are too overwhelming to stay within us. Within these relatively tiny temples of ours.

This buildup of feeling is where art is born.

Some studies show that the brains of creative types have a harder time processing emotions therefore they must create in order to understand what they’re feeling. To understand the world around them. This is when art doesn’t feel like a choice but more like a calling. A need. Makes perfect sense to me. Others simply feel moved by what they see or hear and are inspired to translate that into artistic expression. To communicate an experience.

The origin of creativity is as individual as the person. That we know. But what isn’t quite understood is whether creativity makes one more vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression, or whether it’s the other way around. That falling in to the depths of despair causes one to then create. Either way, there seems to be some link. In Van Gogh Blues, Eric Maisel says that most every artist out there battles with bouts of depression. We don’t have to look far in the writing world to see evidence of this with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy. And, of course, those who could no longer face that battle anymore and chose the ultimate way out like Silvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.

In her article, A Little Weird? Prone to Depression? Blame Your Creative Brain, Dr. Susan Biali outlines a few main points drawn from a book written by neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen. Her summary includes the importance of surrounding ourselves with a solid support system and allowing ourselves to nurture and treasure our art as the gift it truly is. But most of all, she makes you realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with you and says, “this book will make you feel blissfully normal in your strangeness. It was pretty much one big sigh of happy relief and recognition for me.”

And I think that’s the bottom line. Is realizing we are completely normal. That despite feelings of isolation, we are not alone. That what we experience as artists is the same across the board. And that outward success many times has little effect on what we experience inside.

If we can preserve the sanctity of our journey and allow this awareness to help us navigate darker times with greater ease, perhaps there will be more acceptance of the process and less of us who feel inclined to take that final step. Martha Graham told us “no artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

So with that knowing let’s have the courage to embrace our true nature, recognize the gift in our own “spark of madness,” reach out to others when we need support, and no matter what, just keep on marching.

 This blog entry was originally published in the August issue of Author Magazine.
Image courtesy of BagoGames via Creative Commons. 

Live This Year As Though It’s Your Last

2013-07-15 17.02.46

Over the past month or so, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the trajectory of my life. This tends to happen each year as my birthday approaches. I naturally do a sort of “year-end-review” and this year I was deeply motivated to make a real shift in my life.

I’ve often heard from others that you reach a certain point in life where your truth can no longer be denied. I recently told a friend that I seem to have come to a place where I have zero tolerance for bullsh**, pardon my French. ;)

We spend so much of our early years trying to please others and fit in, be it conscious or unconscious. I think everyone does this to some extent. It’s a survival tactic. Deviate too much from the pack and you’ll be rejected. And in the wild, this can mean the difference between life and death. So it’s simply primal. And completely normal for us to want to fit in.

Parker Palmer talks about this in A Hidden Wholeness, as do countless other writers and philosophers. But there comes a time in life when certain things just no longer work. You realize what you can and can’t tolerate and staying true to your inner integrity becomes more important than pleasing the outside world.

Not that this means we become cold, heartless individuals only after our own agenda. Quite the opposite. Being true to who we are at the core and sharing that with those around us only makes us that much more accessible and respected by others because we’re all wired to respond to truth.

Others may not agree with us but they don’t have to. That’s the beauty of it. We can agree to disagree but still maintain a respect for the other.

I think this naturally comes with age. As we get older we start to realize our time here is finite and that we need not concern ourselves with things that don’t matter.

As for me, I’ve set the intention beginning today, to live this year as though it were my last. An old acting friend of mine made this proclamation last fall and I’ve witnessed as her life has blossomed over the last year so it’s inspired me to do the same.

What does this mean?

This mainly means finding enjoyment in my everyday life with the people I’m with and the things I do. It means branching out and taking risks on projects that have been calling to me for quite some time. And not holding back but really going for whatever calls to me. Making pleasure and enjoyment the main priority.

And overall, just living life to the fullest!

You see, for years I’ve supported my art doing jobs I came to loathe.

Yes. I know. It’s a strong word but it’s true. And having reached this level in my life where I can’t do anything I don’t enjoy anymore , I made the bold move this month to quit my job and solely do what brings me joy. Or at the very least, is enjoyable on some level.

I know even the best jobs aren’t always enjoyable but it’s about setting the intention that matters.

I believe it was Steve Jobs that said he asked himself every morning upon waking, “If this were my last day on earth, would I be doing what I’m about to do today?” If he answered “no” too many days in a row, he knew he had to make a change.

Simple yet brilliant advice. And advice I plan on taking to heart every day over the course of the next year.

So how bout you? What would you do if you knew this was your last year on earth? What changes would you make right away? Who would you choose to spend your time with? What would your daily life look like? What legacy would you want to leave behind?

Play with it. Envision it. Have fun with the idea of it. Perhaps it’ll inspire you in some way. :)

 

Fear and the Ultralight Surprise

DCIM103GOPRO

Last week I was in Florida at my family’s annual Fourth of July trip. Every year we rent a house on the beach where around 17 of us gather for some R & R. Typical daily activities include eating, sunbathing, drinking adult beverages and eating some more. Some of us venture out and kayak or scuba dive but for the most part, we park it on the beach and just hang.

It’s so lovely, though more difficult than it sounds when you’re used to being busy all the time. It can actually be hard to do nothing. It’s not until I board my plane each summer and literally feel my muscles start to melt into my seat that I realize how much I need that time away. How very important it is to vacate your life or at least take a break for a bit.

So mid-week came and our itinerary was unchanged from previous years. Wake up, eat a leisurely breakfast, then slowly make our way out to the shore. But on Wednesday afternoon, my cousin Jourdan came into the house and rather urgently requested we get down to the beach right away.

“Make sure you’re down there in 2 minutes!”

Hm. That’s funny, I thought. There’s never a rush to do anything around here. 

Exactly two minutes later, we hear this buzzing noise coming toward us and there appeared this itty bitty flying machine. Looked like part jet ski, part hand glider. Someone scrambled for the binoculars and all of us stood mouths open wide.

“No way!”

There was Ashton, one of my cousins, seated in that crazy looking flying mobile.

Shouts of excited came over everyone as we found out that there were 7 of us going up. My Uncle Mark turned to me and said, “Ingrid. There’s room for you to get on there too!”

Oy. Have I mentioned lately about my fear of heights? It’s not horrible but I certainly choose to stay away from activities that involve venturing higher than a one story building. But I thought, if given the chance, I’ll do it. If my 10-year-old cousin can do it, so can I!

And I did.

IngridFlyBoatCan’t say I wasn’t freaking out almost the entire time I was up there but once I was back on solid ground, I can say I’m SO glad I did it.

Especially as we get older, we develop all these fears and almost ALL of them are irrational! Though I must say, when the pilot initially sensed my trepidation, he did commend me.

“If you’re scared that means you’re intelligent. It’s the ones that get on here and have no fear whatsoever that have no wits about them. If you’re smart, you’ll be a bit scared.”

Not that that eased my fears much but I will say I learned how important it is to challenge ourselves. Especially in terms of fear. Because when we do things that scare us and live through it, we soon start to realize there’s no real reason to fear. And that doing things that scare us can actually be quite fun!

I’m just grateful I have a family that gets me out of my box. Can only imagine what they have in store for next year. :D

So how bout you? Is there anything in life that you’d love to do but are too scared? Have you ever done something you were afraid of? How’d it turn out? What’s one thing you could do TODAY to overcome an irrational fear?

Click here for more info on The Flying Boat in Pensacola, FL

To Respond Or Not To Respond

photo-16

Over the weekend, my boyfriend and I were walking our dogs down to the local taco shop to grab some breakfast. We live in a very urban area so lots of comings and goings. Restaurants, clubs, lofts. At one point, a man walked by us with a rolling trash can, making that awful grating noise, and our dog Cody started growling.

This didn’t faze me one bit since Cody is a very vocal dog and will sometimes growl at random things. He’s a rescue dog. We give him grace. But this time, Greg pointed out why he was reacting this way.

Apparently back at his old condo, one of the maintenance men was walking by them and messed with Cody by jabbing one of those long trash picker-upper tongs at him. Even though the man was playing, Cody viewed it as an attack and started barking. Because of the fact the man was dragging a rolling trash can along the pavement, Cody now associates a trash can with fear and feels the need to protect his pack.

We laugh and can all see this as illogical. But how many times since infancy have we made these associations ourselves? We have an experience that changes our perception of the world and we start reacting to the world from that perception. That belief. Which is great when we’re young because that’s how we learn to cope.

Some associations are good. You put your hand on a hot burner and learn never to do that again. You pet the strange dog which then sends you to the ER for 5 stitches in your lip, you learn to be wary of strange animals.

When it becomes an issue is when the stories you’ve told yourself no longer serve you and actually prevent you from forward progress in your life. Perhaps you notice a repetitive behavior pattern in your relationships. That no matter who you’re with, it always ends this way. Or perhaps it’s with money or your career. Perhaps anytime you’re up for a promotion, you somehow manage to sabotage it.

Psychologists call this a Pavlovian response. It’s a way in which we’ve been conditioned to respond to our environment and are often unaware of the stimulus and its effects. It’s so much a part of us and our behavior that its become the norm. We just automatically react in a certain way.

Cody, the fierce sled dog

Cody, the fierce sled dog

Recently I took an entrepreneurial workshop in LA that dealt partly with this notion and how to dissolve those responses that don’t act in our favor. Because if you’re setting out to create a business and wish to be successful, you’d better know where your blind spots are. If you’re interested in more information about this workshop, message me and I’d be happy to talk with you about it. It’s fascinating work.

Many of us have these self-imposed barriers we’re trying to knock down in our lives in order to get what we want, right? Whether it’s a promotion, a better job, a healthier relationship, more money. I imagine we all have some aspect of our lives we’d like to improve so as your friend, I’d like to encourage you to explore this for yourself. Because the fact is, we’re all governed by our inherent responses to things until we become aware of them. And even then, it’s difficult to unwind the tie because many of them are years if not decades deep. Awareness, though, is the first step.

So how bout you? Can you recognize any rolling trash cans in your life? Reactions to things that are illogical upon reflection? What area of your life would you like to improve? Any methods, books, or workshops you found useful that you’d like to share with the community? Do share. :)

 

Our Greatest Obstacle to a Great Career

“Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand.”
- Larry Smith

In this poignant and energetic TED Talk, Larry Smith argues that good careers no longer exist. And that our choices boil down to having a great career or having a dismal career. With nothing left in between.

Having read enough of Seth Godin and having witnessed the job trends through the years, I tend to agree. If we want a great career, it’s no longer enough for us to just show up and prove our “competence,” as Smith says. This may have worked 50 years ago but no more. It’s essential that we tap into our greatest passion if we expect to have our greatest career experience.

He goes through all the reasons we give ourselves to not pursue our dreams and passions. All the reasons we will fail to have a great career. Gotta say… I’ve used almost every one of them. And of all the excuses we give ourselves, it all boils down to one common denominator-  fear. We will fail to have a great career unless we can somehow overcome our fears.

His biggest message: hone in on our passion. And learn to differentiate between our passion and our interests. Focusing on all our interests can confuse us and dilute our energy when we’re trying to choose a career path. Rather than dwelling on ALL our interests, focus on the one thing that fires us up. Our true passion.

We’re all inventors of our own lives. What kind of inventor are you? Are you an inventor of solutions or an inventor of excuses? How important is it to you that you have a great career? When WILL it be time to pursue your passion?

 

Make the Impossible Possible

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Recently, my boyfriend and I attended the wedding of some dear friends of ours in New York. And with less than 48 hours to gallivant around one of my favorite cities in the world, we seriously pushed the limits. Squeezing in as much as we possibly could up until the very last minute.

Literally.

About an hour and a half before our flight home, friends politely nudged us out the door. Eyes wide saying, “What time did you say your flight was? You better get going!”

Not wanting to leave, we had been stalling. Or rather, I had been stalling. You see, I have a love affair with New York that goes way back. But alas, we finally jumped into a cab and off we went.

After an hour of sitting in traffic, Greg said, “No way are we going to make it.” To which I said, “Of course we will.” “No, you don’t understand. Our plane takes off in 19 minutes and we’re 16 miles away. I’m gonna start looking for rooms in Hoboken. The next flight we can take is at 6am.”

Perhaps it was the thought of not staying in Manhattan that night if we missed our flight, or perhaps it was the idea of having to wake at 4 o’clock in the morning to catch the next available flight after NOT having stayed in Manhattan, that sent me into a blaze of faith.

“Don’t worry. We’ll make it!”

He continued to search online for hotels, shaking his head in disbelief, but I was adamant. And politely reminded our driver we were going to miss our flight if he didn’t press the pedal to the metal.

Pulling up to Newark Airport with 10 minutes to spare, I ran to the American Airlines counter to alert them we were on the premises and to please hold the plane. The attendant, unfazed by my frenzy, simply pointed the way toward the security line.

Clearly she was going to be no help at all.

So I ran directly to the TSA agent at the front of security and asked him if we could pass through right away since our flight was about to take off.

“Yeah,” he said with his Jersey accent. “So long as no one else minds. Does anyone mind if these two cut to the front so they don’t miss their flight?”

Luckily no one argued.

I glanced at my phone- 5:17pm. Plane takes off in 8 minutes. I still had hope.

After scrambling through the x-ray machines, I ran the last leg of our race solo as Greg gathered up our luggage. Approaching gate A15, I saw the door slowly closing to our flight.

So close!

I darted up to the podium.

“We’re on that flight! Is there any way you can let us on?”

“No ma’am. They already closed the door. Are you Ingrid Schaffenburg?” said the ticket girl with no concern whatsoever on her face.

“Yes. But they JUST closed it! I just saw them! Is there anyway?”

“No. I’m sorry. But I can book you on the next available flight.”

Not giving up, I paused and again asked very calmly, “Please. Is there anyway you can get us on that flight?”

Then the girl standing next to her said, “Wait, I think they’re coming back up to open the door.”

Apparently somebody cared.

“But is Greg with you?”

“Yeah, he’s right there!” as I pointed to a random crowd of travelers. Not a Greg in sight.

“He has to be here…”

“He is… he’s right… there!”

And as fate would have it, we boarded our plane at exactly 5:25pm.

Greg was stumped for quite a while afterward.

“They don’t reopen the door for ANYONE! I think it’s TSA policy that once that door is closed, it’s closed. How in the world did that just happen?!”

“Belief baby. I just believed.”

Greg is now seriously considering employing me somehow in his new business after witnessing this feat that I managed to pull off.

To him, myself, and to all of us… all I gotta say is this:

If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. You can MAKE the impossible, POSSIBLE just by believing you can. And even if a door closes in your face, the possibility still remains that it will open again.

So what “impossible” feat would you like to make a reality TODAY? What dream would you accomplish if you knew you could not fail? How much do you really believe in your ability to succeed? Is there an example in your life where sheer belief led to making the impossible possible? Would love to hear your stories so do share!

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