Tag Archives: commitment

The Good Suspects

I talked about good being the enemy of the goal in this post. Sometimes we’ve got more tasks than time–more portions than space on the plate.

I picture all these competing interests and demands like a police line-up, and I’m behind the one-way mirror trying to figure out who to blame when I fail to achieve a particular goal.

This isn’t just the cover picture of my old site. It’s a jumble of all those competing interests clamoring for my attention. No wonder my life is a shambles!

I’ve finished two novels, and brought two other manuscripts to the ~75% mark. One got put on hold due to close associations with the classified nature of my military job. The other is a collaboration with a friend in the States and is awaiting some of his hacks on the first draft (plus it still needs the ending). I have another five fantasy novels and two fantasy-westerns loosely outlined, along with seeds of two more modern day dramas… plus a possible light-hearted fantasy project brewing as a break from “serious” books. I want to get those done. I committed to digging in and cranking out words.

That’s when my anti-social life blossomed into a dozen opportunities and conflicting interests.

I took some time for personal reflection to think about my current host of demands. Here’s the wall of “good” formed up like a defensive line to stop my forward advance toward completing my novels:

A guest saw my Dungeons & Dragons books and asked, “You play D&D?” I haven’t played in years… but it’s an itch in the back of my mind. “My friend and I were looking for someone to run a group…”

That expanded into two groups. Then I heard about a potential opportunity for a recurring “learn D&D” tabletop gaming session at the Base Library. My inner nerd wants me to think of all the ways tabletop RPGs encourage social interaction, math skills, group problem-solving, while fostering creativity and relieving stress. Why wouldn’t I jump at that prospect?

The local writers group is about to be sponsored by the Base Library, leading to increased advertisements and marketing. That may mean an influx of writers (one can only hope). But that means that the three or four of us regulars will want to step up our game to ensure we’re providing a welcoming and worthwhile investment of time. This means critiques or feedbacks as well as preparing topics or activities for meetings. The writer in me jumps up and down at the possibilities.

I got to do my first book signing a week ago, which was a surreal experience. We didn’t sell a ton of books (I fear Chicken Soup for the Soul has lost a lot of its original popularity), but I still got to meet some people and shake some hands. On top of that, all the books at the Exchange have one of my bookmarks, pointing people to my site.

I also got word that another Chicken Soup submission is in the running for an upcoming book. So I’m excited to think that I’m garnering some professional recognition for all this effort toward writing.

On that front, NaNoWriMo is coming up – and I want to win again this year. I also serve as the Municipal Liaison for the event, which means organizing and facilitating events for all of Okinawa. That’s a commitment, for sure—one I love and won’t give up.

As a NaNo ML, I got randomly selected to help mentor a five part Creative Writing NaNo Prep course from Wesleyan University on Coursera. It’s an incredible opportunity to not only learn new tools and practice my craft but to provide encouragement to others on the same journey. I’m honored and ecstatic to be a part of it, so I want to give it my best.

But I have a PT test coming up and fitness is always a concern for me. As a military member I have to adhere to standards, and I’m one of those people where if I’m not giving it my constant attention, I slip back into bad habits and a bulging waistline. I’ve got a month and a half before my next test, so I have to be on top of this priority if I want to keep my job.

My faith is a big part of who I am and how my family approaches the obstacles and trials of life. We don’t want to toss all that aside in the jumble of events and obligations, so we’ve been talking with some friends about a Bible study… which sounds awesome. Informal get-togethers for fellowship, praise, and study are one of my favorite spiritual activities. Like a fitness routine, a regular spiritual discipline keeps me focused on what I claim is important to me, while keeping me grounded in what I consider good moral and ethical values. So I don’t want to ignore that.

I had the privilege of filling in on the piano at the Base Chapel for six weeks while one of the musicians was in the States. I love playing music for worship services; it’s something I can say without arrogance that I do quite well. Still, that means a commitment to rehearsals and practice when I don’t know the songs the leader has selected. That’s more time and effort pulled in yet another really good direction.

The other day, I got a text from the guy I assisted asking if I want to play with the service on the regular. That’ll free up the usual pianist to employ some of his other manifold talents, like playing the saxophone. It would be amazing to hear some good sax riffs in the middle of the music; there’s such a rich sound when we can incorporate more than the standard keys / electric guitar / bass. I want to play, of course I do. But that’s another long-term commitment.

My musical skill got me an offer to play for social hour at the upcoming Air Force Ball. I can literally sit an hour at the piano playing nice chit-chat music with my eyes closed, so I thought “sure, why not.” But since agreeing to what I thought would be mindless, easy fun, this turned into an ensemble of violin, flute, and piano, playing a lot of songs I’m only barely familiar with. I have a month to learn 15-20 new songs well enough to play professionally.

Meanwhile I still have a wife and kids, and an office job, not to mention the chaotic demands of the squadron’s flight schedule, where I’m usually one of the top three flyers out of several dozen for hours and sorties on the jet.

I’m not sharing all this to say “Yay, look at my busy life.” It may not come through in the text, but there’s a panicked desperation in my mind as of the man overboard flailing for a life preserver.

Clearly good is becoming the enemy of some goals. I imagine it’s the same for many of us, because modern life and society are relentless in their demands.

But there I am, behind that mirror, looking at all the good suspects arranged before me. The truth is, I don’t need a one-way mirror and a line-up to figure out what’s to blame.

A plain mirror will do just fine.

Good vs the Goal

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” 

The oft-quoted adage conveys important wisdom. In our efforts to make something the best it can be, we might pour too much effort or time into a project when “good enough” would suffice. Perfection is notoriously impossible to obtain, especially when we rely on our subjective judgment to make determinations. Most of us are never so confident as to say something we do or create is perfect… but it’s what many of us strive for nonetheless.

Wise people recognize when “good” is good enough, and refocus their attention or resources to accomplish the next task instead of perfecting the first.

Yet I find a related lesson as I consider that first quote:

We must not let good become the enemy of our goal.

In life, if we’re open to new ideas and watching for new opportunities, there are always choices and options available which seem appealing or even ideal. It’s too easy to follow these rabbit trails into tangential tasks and irrelevant efforts that feel good but never satisfy our deeper desires.

Motivational speakers and writers issue a common refrain: if you’re going to succeed at the most important thing to you, it has to become the most important thing to you.

Sometimes that means getting up earlier. Working on the weekend. Putting in some hours working at your passion, after you’ve already put in a full day’s work on the job. Other times, it means forsaking what’s appealing for what you’re accomplishing. While friends party or catch a movie, you grind a little more today so you start tomorrow further along the path to the goal. When genuinely good commitments are asked of you, sometimes it means saying, “I can’t do that right now.”

Speaking of financial stability and living within one’s means, Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

His program applies this principle toward financial management, and participants cut unnecessary or excessive expenses while planning and monitoring their budgets down to the penny. The same concept applies to anyone who sets out to accomplish some difficult and demanding long-term goal–except it means cutting irrelevant activities and expenditures of energy, and focusing in on the actual priorities we claim mean so much.

I’m presuming you’ve already made some goals and decided certain activities are worth your effort–perhaps fitness achievements or weight loss, perhaps a career in writing or art or music, maybe some professional education or advancement with a clearly laid-out path and requirements.

Step one is to figure out what matters to you and commit to it, not as some hobby, thing on the side, or “personal interest.”  Of this you can be certain: Make such a decision, and those good temptations and worthwhile distractions will come out of the woodwork. So what’s the way forward?

Make the most of your time.

Sometimes we can kill two or three birds with one stone. As I type, I’m sitting on the bike, finishing an hour pedaling away. I’m knocking out my exercise for today while getting a blog post typed up while taking time for personal reflection while meeting today’s word count goal.

In a similar vein, while waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, I’ve typed up blogs or short stories, outlined D&D sessions or book ideas, coordinated events or meetings, and so on.

When I feel rushed, I consider my YouTube video history, the “hours played” on various video games, or the Netflix log of shows I’ve watched. We all have 24 hours a day, with probably 8 hours that we allocate as we see fit.

Long-term effort made of small steps and good decisions is the only path to success and accomplishing some of our goals. I can’t get fit in a week of high-intensity workouts and crash-diets. I won’t write a novel by sitting down and cranking out 80,000 words in a couple days. I’m not likely to see a million dollars drop into my bank account so I can pay off all my debts and save for retirement. Regular, disciplined effort is the only way forward.

Small steps add up to big results.

A few hundred words isn’t much, but when I write 500 in the half-hour before work, then 600 at lunch, then 250 while waiting to pay my groceries, then another 800 before bed… that’s how progress is made.

Paying an extra $50 or $100 on a bill until it’s gone means that I have that money plus the amount of the regular bill available to apply elsewhere in the budget. This is a big part of how Dave Ramsey’s program eliminates debt: small steps that build momentum.

Still, all too often there’s a whole gang of “good” calling for my attention.

I may have to learn to say no.

What about you? How do you balance pursuing your interests and passions with the demands of “real life” and other commitments? Got any tips for readers? (That really means please can I steal some good ideas because I’m desperate.) Let me know in a comment below.

 

Going Camping

This year I set a goal of writing at least 1,000 words per day. Ideally, that means writing every single day, but the sad fact is, real life happens and it’s rarely on friendly terms with our goals.

I stayed just ahead of January and February, but the first week of March beat me down. I want to pretend I tried hard, but I succumbed all too easily to a combination of upper respiratory congestion, heavy duty medication, and—worst of all—a really exceptional new PS4 game. (Read about the culprit here.)

One of the keys to carrying out the goals we set is accountability of some sort. Telling a friend or declaring a new effort on social media is one way of improving our chances. Our commitment is out there for others to challenge. Are we going to follow through on what we said?

Today was one of those days someone asked about Book Two, and I found myself equal parts embarrassed and grateful—glad for someone who asks the question since that’s encouraging, but disappointed by my failure to make progress.

So with all that in mind, I go to my inbox and find reminders for Camp NaNoWriMo which starts in April. 


If you’re not familiar, National Novel Writing Month is an event every November where writers crank out new fiction novels of 50,000 words or more, and I’ve participated three years now.

After November, the organization doesn’t just take the rest of the year off; they run less formal events in April and July. Unlike November’s event, Camp NaNoWriMo participants can write whatever style of material they want – musicals, plays, scripts, novels, non-fiction, poetry, whatever. And instead of a hard goal of 50K words, participants set their own goals based on whatever commitment they can make.

The site has incorporated new trackers and resources: you can log word count, or pages, or hours spent if you prefer. Their writing resources page covers a surprising variety of topics from planning to revising and everything in between.

Here’s my commitment: I am going to participate this year, and I’m going to pour my effort into the sequel to Diffraction. NaNoWriMo’s 50K is a bit much. However, if I’m keeping up my normal effort, then I should be writing 30K words throughout April no matter what (including any side projects, blog posts, and personal journal writing). So my happy medium is going to be 40K words put into the draft of Book 2.

There it is, out in the public eye.

This Year's Projects

So I discovered that roughly two months of NaNoWriMo pace at my “second job” / “jobby” is too much for me. 

 

Yay! But also “OW! Thank God it’s over!”
 
I wasn’t about to miss out on November. I had a project bouncing around in my head since last November, waiting for its moment in the spotlight. The idea of psychic reconnaissance 30 years in the future proved to be a lot of fun for me to write. So 50,000 words later, Perdition is probably 80% complete. (I had some scenes I toyed with beforehand, and I have some gaps to fill in.)

On December 1st, I transitioned to my new goal–the “Christmas present to me” of completing and self-publishing my fantasy novel I’d written and revised off-and-on since 2008. Diffraction made it out the door laaaate in the evening of the Winter Solstice here on Okinawa, an appropriate timing for the struggles of the main character as an outcast and religious rebel in her community. Several friends bought copies, and a couple people read some of it on Kindle Unlimited. Then I ran a NYE giveaway and got 70 Kindle copies out there into the ether. Plus I have a shipment of paperback copies coming my way, with a few committed purchasers waiting. 

It’s no break-out success but I’m happy with it. 

What’s on tap this year? 

1. Finishing Perdition. It would be silly to leave it on the back burner when it’s this close to done.

2. Critique my wife’s NaNoWriMo draft. Jem surprised me, our writers’ group, and pretty much everyone who knew how her progress had been going. A day into the event, an idea sparked her creativity and she started brainstorming. But with about 4 days left in November, she had maybe 10K words. So instead of giving up, she declared “I am doing this.” And she knocked out the 50K before the deadline. She did awesome, and as she’s my biggest supporter and fan, I want to be the same for her. 

3. I hope to return some attention to short stories and flash fiction like Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. I also want to get back to my Echoes project on WattPad, which has been ignored for the past two months. 

4. Most of all, my goal is to return to the Bordermarches and pen another book in my fantasy world (I have six or seven planned, in different time periods). I hope to put Diffusion into public sales by Dec 21st. In fact, I took time last night to touch up one of the first scenes.

I figure if I could manage 50K in a month while forsaking almost everything else, then manage touching up and publishing a 140K word fantasy novel in the run-up to Christmas, then a goal of 20K words a month is reasonable. If I do really well, I’ll finish the first draft of Diffusion in time for Markday (Midsummer), which would be a lovely treat.

Hopefully, I’ll get to spend more time with all of you lovelies on WordPress along the way. I always enjoy reading about your journeys, wherever they may lead. Thanks for joining me on mine. 

Retention – Problem or Solution?

“You cannot run away from weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” – Harry S. Truman

exit

There is a proverb in the Bible–not surprisingly, found in the book called Proverbs–which warns the reader that “Even a fool is thought wise when he holds his tongue.” Sometimes the best thing one can do in a crisis or confrontation is shut up and move on. Sometimes the worst thing one can do is vent their frustration in public.

I don’t always remember that.

Couple those lapses of judgment with a very public forum (i.e. Facebook), and you have a recipe for disaster… especially when you vent frustration about your workplace and your management. Thankfully, I don’t make a habit of Friending my chain of command.

Still, I sometimes get pointed responses – either in person or in social networks. I get it that some people don’t care for whining, and some people don’t see complaining as befitting a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. I imagine many in the military would think the right thing to do is salute smartly, shut the mouth, and execute the assigned task as ordered.

So, to the whiner, these folks essentially say, “If you don’t like your job, get out.”

I see a problem with that.

I do like my job. I like it enough that I care when it seems we’re doing it wrong.

Quite frankly, I believe that’s why the organization pays me. I’m not just my crew position, qualification or office title. I’m still in the military because the Air Force still values my input and experience, and they’ve seen fit to put me in a position that should carry some influence. They expect me to bring that experience and judgment to bear in making decisions and informing leadership about the effects of how we’re doing business, good or bad.

Sometimes whining is a refuge for the weak and lazy. But sometimes it’s the last resort once dialogue has been shut down and a culture of oppression or fear has silenced official professional dissent. If I can’t say anything that changes what’s wrong, I’m still going to bring it up from time to time.

If all the “whiners” get out, then no one is left to raise concerns.

As a young Airman recently rededicated to the Christian faith, I once thought that the Base Chapel was the place to serve, and I considered cross-training into a Chaplain Assistant job. Surely there, I could really do something good, or so I reasoned. Then a chaplain friend of mine suggested, “If all of the believers get out of their career fields and work in the Chapel, then who’s left to be a positive influence in your workplace?”

Religious issues aside, the logic is sound in this case. What sort of people are we trying to keep?

Do we want only “yes men” who are willing to bend any rule and accept any treatment in order to avoid a confrontation with those above them? Does our organization need leaders with a mind of their own, or do we want only those who parrot back the opinion of leadership? If that’s what we want, then, sure, telling the dissenter to “get out” is good advice.

Are our retention rates a problem, or a solution?

In my career field, at least, we have a shortage of people. We are constantly striving to replace the experienced folk we lose to retirement and separation. We’re grabbing people with the bare minimum qualifications and putting them in demanding positions of authority, and the pool we can choose from is getting more and more shallow each year. We are considered a stressed career field.

So if I’m frustrated by the stress of the job, and if we’re doing things that encourage people to leave our career field, maybe more people getting out only adds to the problem. It’s certainly not fixing anything.

There are people who need to be helped on their way to the door: those who take no initiative, those who disobey orders or violate good discipline, those who produce little or no value added for their unit. The person complaining and trying to prevent harm to his or her institution is not in the same category. They might be going about it wrong, but they’re doing something right. They’re taking ownership of their work.

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is a tough-sounding, hard-hitting response that’s great if you just want people to shut up and color. The problem is, you all trained me to cook, and I’ve come to love it. So I’m going to keep stirring the pot, and I’m going to speak up if you’re screwing up the recipe.

That’s why you hired me in the first place.

February Resolution

“You only fail if you stop writing.” – Ray Bradbury

“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” – Steven Wright

 

It has been quite a while, and I regret being away from this for so long. “Life gets in the way” is a poor excuse.

It’s common experience that other priorities sometimes force themselves to the top of the list, but the harsh truth of writing is that people more busy than me are blogging and writing at a prolific rate.

You make time for what you love, what you want, what you need.

Writing is something I really want, so I never doubted that I would get started with this again. I thought I could in December, and when that didn’t happen, I told myself I had a New Year’s resolution to uphold.

“A New Year’s resolution to start blogging again? How trite,” I rationalized.

So now, at the end of January, I am committing to return. Perhaps this won’t have the over-reaching “every day” commitment I tried to maintain in August and September. But I will commit to frequent entries. Some of these can follow the daily format I used before — today’s Thursday Tirade about quality versus quantity, for example. Others will be whatever strikes my fancy.

In any event, I welcome back your thoughts, your feedback, and your interaction. Thanks for your patience; let’s get back into this.

– Dave