Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No

Just when I think I have this reinvention thing figured out, I discover I have to learn a new trick.
When I first left my job and decided to dramatically refocus my energies, I soon discovered that saying yes to things I might have previously avoided opened many new doors.

My first yes was to delivering a talk. I didn't like the idea of public speaking any more than most people. I'm a shy person although people often don't believe me now when I say that. Apparently I've learned how to masquerade as an extrovert. Put me in a room filled with people milling about and you will soon see my introvert assert herself, but give me a microphone and center stage and I step into my inner performer. I didn't know that about myself and it has been one of my delightful discoveries along the way.

That was eight years ago and half way through the year I'm on schedule to do ten talks so far. I've learned that once you step through that door you have to keep practicing that skill. That is especially true of public speaking so I keep myself out there and speak about a variety of topics.

Reinvention is a mix of creating opportunities by actively seeking them out as well as responding to those that knock on your door. And some of those that knock don't always present themselves as the major door opener that they prove to be. For a long time I said yes to those knocks on the door just to see where they might take me. It all seemed like a grand adventure. 

Lately though I've been noticing a change. I've started to say no. I've begun to create CRITERIA! If you say yes often enough you create a lot of activity. Some of it is meaningful, some of it less so. I have a better sense of those things that can be time drains and I have personal goals on which I want to focus. Sometimes I feel like that proverbial crow drawn to a shiny object that can distract me far too easily and yet...I've learned that sometimes that distraction is important and opens a new door. How do I discern a distraction from a door? I'm not sure and the fact is a distraction can be a door also. It may well be an opportunity that I'm saying no to and I hesitate each time that I do that, but I need to preserve room for the opportunities on my plate.

So what about these criteria? I've realized that public speaking takes time, even on familiar subjects, but especially when developing new material. Like many shy people who present publicly, I prepare. Actually I over prepare. I rehearse until I can speak spontaneously. I design my visuals and handouts. I work hard at my talks and that takes time. In addition to actual time, public speaking takes psychic time and energy. It will never be an effortless expenditure of energy for me so I need to be careful about my mix of activities and realize that time takes many forms. There is time to prepare, time to present and time to embrace your public persona. I suspect extroverts need less of the latter, introverts need a lot.

Recently I've turned down some speaking engagements, some that were at times when I needed to leave time for creative energy for artwork or writing and others which weren't in my sweet spot. I mention creative time because I've learned that it isn't the same as calendar time. It starts with calendar time being available, but it doesn't work on anyone's schedule, including mine. If I have a creative project I need to leave time for things to bubble up when they're ready. So I need a buffer of psychic time for speaking and bubble-up time for creative work. Then there are all of those things that just take good old fashioned time, often more than we anticipate.

One of my projects involved doing 17 oral histories out of which I developed artwork. Now "doing" means creating questions, drawing out my subjects in an interview, video recording, transcribing, editing the video and creating documentation. While I had grants to do them, I put in many additional hours and it proved to be a much bigger project than I had imagined, albeit very meaningful. Now I often have people tell me they have someone interesting for me to interview and I have no doubt that they are, but I'm done with that. It is a huge commitment of time and not inexpensive if I were to get paid for that time. And then I remind myself that even if they paid for my time, I'm not in search of money making projects. I am in search of projects that take me in certain directions related to my artwork and writing and there is a choice about how I spend my time. So one of my criteria is purpose. Not just is it worthwhile or meaningful, but does it advance my purpose. And so I've turned down interview projects with some regret. I always hate to walk away from a good story.

And about those money making projects...even while working on my many creative projects, I've often done consulting projects in my old field of finance. Each time I do one, it takes awhile to get myself back into that space. I still enjoy the problem solving aspects of the work, but it is not where I find my larger meaning in life. When you are immersed in that world you don't spend much time thinking about larger meaning. Your focus is on making a living and you are absorbed in that world. It took me some time to unhook from that and it has become harder to re-enter that space. Part of the difficulty is in giving up control of my time. Time and flexibility have become more important to me because I have other things I want to do and money is no longer the yardstick.
When I got a call on a job the other day, I had a different reason for saying no; the often stated "I want to spend more time with my family". In this case family meant my mother who is in her late 80s, 500 miles away and experiencing changes in living arrangements and health. I am well aware that this is time for which I don't get a do-over so want to be there for her. She needs me more now and I am fortunate to have control over my time to make myself available.

So I've become more discriminating in what I say yes to, weighing time, priority and purpose. And yes, I realize it is a luxury to even be able to think about purpose and I am very grateful to have those choices.

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