The fact that I’m turning 30 this year has put a lot of self-imposed pressure on me to, you know...do ALL THE THINGS.
And goal-setting has always been a particular passion (/obsession) of mine.
I just love them (goals, that is).
I constantly want to set goals and figure out ways to meet them. And when I’ve met them, I want to set some more.
It’s less about the “meeting” of the goals, and more about the journey it took to get there, ya know? I love that part.
So, as inspired by Em Is For Marvelous, I jotted down some goals for July and August. For the rest of this month, I want to:
Send a “thinking about you” card once a week
Plan out who will get a card each week
Go for a walk (at least) once a week
Re-read & implement HNP Program
Try new morning routine:
Water before coffee
Set up ed cal for SolidAsArak.com
Create weekly schedule, including:
Blog post writing/editing/finalizing
Social media content creation
Complete Content Brew or Become a Better Blogger (Skillshare) courses
Set up savings account for self-employment tax savings
Trademark “Jenna Arak” and “Solid as Arak”
Create Instagram editorial calendar
The Eventual Millionaire by Jaime Tardy
Expecting Better by Emily Oster
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Every night, when I’m making my to-do list for the next day, I check a couple of things. I check my calendar. I check my weekly work schedule. I check my Potential Client Tracker. And then I check my goals.
I always want to make sure I’m leaving room for them.
As you can see above, I’ve already started making progress!
I created a weekly schedule, following Jenny Shih’s method to ensure that I was actually taking advantage of the fact that I work for myself - by setting my “working hours” and deciding what work will get done on each day of the week (while also leaving space for the miscellaneous stuff that pops up, of course!).
I’ve also decided that I’m not allowed to buy any more books (well, not many) until I read the ones that I have. So I’ve listed those I really want to read (as well as the books decided by my book club) and split them up into months, so I can focus on only 3-4 - or maybe 5! - books at a time. And I’ve already crossed one off!
I have a lot yet to do, of course. For whatever reason, my July goals list (which was drafted in mid-July, mind you) is a lot longer than my August list. We shall see how well that pans out. Trial and error (or success!), right?
Do you have any monthly (or yearly) goals? How do you track them and make sure you’re doing what you were so resolute about doing back in January?
I can’t believe it’s been almost seven months since we last posted.
I knew it had been awhile. I knew we were letting things slip, but I hadn’t realized it was that long.
Oh well. It’s not the worst thing in the world. This blog is supposed to be for fun, for sharing some insight into our lives; not as something else to add to our to-do list or to get “just right”. There’s no pressure when it comes to this blog. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
It seems fitting though, that the last thing I posted here was about “Turning Pro” as a writer. In the months since that post, I have quit my job to write full-time.
It still feels weird (and incredible) to write that. It is undoubtedly the best decision we have ever made. Or, at least I feel that way. I can’t speak for Aaron, who likely misses (even if only a little) my additional income.
Aaron was the catalyst for this change, though. He was the one - and still is the one - who pushed me to do what I really wanted to do; what I loved to do. What, it seems, that I am actually pretty good at. Most days, he has far more confidence than I have in myself and that has been nice. When I worry or when I stress, I have an eternal cheerleader who is somehow able to convince me that I am good enough, smart enough, talented enough. That we can and will not only make this work, but actually knock it out of the fucking park.
Though I have had moments of worry or uncertainty, they’ve been rare so far - and that’s mostly thanks to him.
What else is new?
In the one month that I’ve been a full-time writer, I’ve had two pieces published (one that is a more creative piece and one that was a business-related guest post) and I’ve done copywriting work for two fantastic new clients (as well as some pro bono work for a few friends).
Aaron is still working with the Ontario Reign and, despite the commute, he loves it. In fact, I think I complain about his commute more than he does. Moving out to the east side of Los Angeles really changed everything for him, in terms of the time he was spending on the road every day, so as difficult as that move was for me, I’m thankful for it. It’s changed our lives in a lot of ways.
Of course, that means that we’re still living with mom, though the goal is to move out by the end of this year. That’s always been the goal, of course, and I want to stick to that, even with my changing career path. As I just mentioned, this year living at home has been life-changing. I’ve fought it internally and I’ve had moments (more moments than I care to share) where I felt embarrassed or as if this didn’t fit within my “life plan”, but ultimately, it’s been the best decision we could have made. We have paid off all our of debt (not including our student and car loans, though those are up next; being knocked out one at a time) and we both are now doing the work that we love and are made to do. Teigen has a constant companion in my mom’s pup, Lola, and I get to spend an inordinate amount of time with the person I love most in this world, next to Aaron: my mama. Even though it took me awhile to see the many positives of the situation, this has been the best move for us. And I’m so thankful to my mom for allowing us the opportunity.
There are a lot of exciting things coming up for us! I’m taking a long-awaited (and much-needed) trip to San Francisco and the Bay Area in late June/early July and Aaron is joining me in Roseville (outside Sacramento, where our besties live!) for the 4th of July. I’m turning 30 in six months (!!!). And we’ll hopefully have a booming business, lots of published writing, and a new home to speak of in the next year too.
I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful for this life of mine. For my husband, my family, my puppy, my friends, and my work. It’s so much more than I could have ever hoped for and I don’t want to forget for a second how blessed I am.
As I write this, I am sitting perched above a gorgeous home in the Hollywood Hills. I’ve got a great view of the city – of Santa Monica and Century City and the palatial homes sitting above the 101 freeway.
It’s really the perfect environment to write. It’s quiet, save for the soft hum of the freeway. It’s absolutely beautiful. I have a block of time squared away for just this – writing.
And yet I’m struggling. I’m finding it so hard to focus and get words on the page
I recently read Steven Pressfield’s “Turning Pro”, in which he speaks at length about the difference between professionals and amateurs. More specifically, he notes the different habits between the two groups.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I know I still sit squarely in the “amateur” camp. I don’t take my desire or whatever talent I may possess very seriously most of the time.
In the book, Steven talks about the moment he turned pro. And the moment Roseanne Cash turned pro. And a few other examples of those key, pivotal times that people who knew they had a greater obsession, a fervent passion, went from being amateurs to being professionals. Steven notes that you’ll remember the moment you turned pro in the same way that you remember the moment you first heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
I was so fired up when I finished the short book (and I highly recommend it!). I was almost sure that reading that book may have even been my “turning pro” moment; that perhaps I had suddenly made the internal switch from amateur to pro and would magically have the habits to support it.
It’s been a few days and I still think I have work to do. I suppose every day, even as a pro, you have work to do, but I know I haven’t yet rid myself of my amateur habits.
Last Friday night, I had the perfect opportunity to write. It was the first time in a long time that I had nothing to do and nowhere to go on a Friday night and it felt incredible. Freeing. There were so many things I wanted to do: I wanted to do laundry, I wanted to organize my room, I wanted to pack for a weekend trip to Palm Springs, I wanted to finish writing our wedding thank you notes, I wanted to wash and restraighten my hair, I wanted to read some of Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit”, and most of all, I wanted to write.
But I didn’t do any of it. Seriously, not any of it.
I had three (at least) glasses of wine, looked at way too many pictures on Facebook, half-watched TV, and passed out in bed around 11pm. Not exactly the activities of a professional writer.
And it’s hard not to get down on myself when this happens. It’s hard not to wonder if I just don’t have this in me and I will always be the amateur on the outside looking in.
But I know I am smart and I know I am capable and I know I can get things done when I need to: I do it every day at work and in many areas of my personal life as well.
I may not yet be the “professional” writer, but I know that I want to be. I know that I want it so bad, it’s all I can think about for a good portion of my day, every day. And I am acutely aware of the difference between where I am now and where I want to be. I can make up that difference. I can make greater strides and try harder and do better. And sometimes, I’ll drink three glasses of wine and spend way too much time looking through the Facebook photos of someone I barely knew in high school instead. That’ll be unfortunate, and I’ll be pissed at the opportunity squandered, but it won’t be an indication that I need to stop; that I need to give up.
I fear I may always have some amateur habits, or that I’ll sometimes still slip back into them. But from what I learning, the professional in me won’t see that as an opportunity to stop. I won’t turn back.
WARNING: This post includes feelings. And complaining. Mostly, complaining about my feelings. I hope you'll proceed with the non-judgiest of caution.
Marriage is all about compromise.
That's one of the many pieces of marital advice I've collected over the years. It's one of the keys to a successful marriage, I've been told, and I do believe it to be true (though I'm certain marriage is about a lot of other, more positively-associated, things too). But as accurate as the adage may be, that doesn't make it easy.
Aaron and I have now been living with my mom* for a month.
Compromise is the reason we moved away from our home in the first place. There are benefits to both Aaron and me, no doubt - we both have the opportunity to save money, for instance. And my mom is a loving, giving, and fun roomie! But at the same time, I now have a 4+ hour commute to work every day, while Aaron's commute to his new job (which we knew was a significant distance from our home when he took it) has been cut in half.
And it's tough. Spending at least nine hours at work and another four hours in my car every day is seriously wearing on me - even after only a month. I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn't realize quite how draining it would be.
There have been nights where I've called Aaron in tears as I sat in what could very accurately be described as a parking lot at 9 o'clock at night, trying desperately to get home with enough time to check my Facebook and cuddle my dog before I passed out. Only to wake up 5 hours later and do it all over again.
I know I'm not the only person with an awful commute (especially in Los Angeles!) or one-half of the only young couple that's moved back in with mom and dad, but the potential camraderie of this shared experience is one I'd sooner do without.
It's a strain on my energy. It's a strain on my sanity. And, most importantly, it's proven to be a strain on our young marriage. We spend hardly any time together and when we do one or both of us is tired (usually both of us) and cranky (mostly me). More often than I'd like to admit, I consider Aaron and his new job to be the catalyst for our move and I am bitter that his life has been made better by our compromise, while mine has gotten worse.
I'm not truly worried about the state of our marriage. I know we love each other fiercely and this is one small, short experience at the beginning of a lifetime together. I also know that, however much I am struggling in this moment, we are both benefitting greatly in the long-term by the choices and changes we're making in the short-term. And finally, I know that we could have - and probably will have some day - far worse struggles to overcome.
Nonetheless, I am struggling - whether it be with good reason or not - with this first big, real compromise and test of our commitment to each other and our future. I want to find a way to make it easier, not just for me, but for both of us, while also quickly building toward our next step. I don't know what the solution is - undoubtedly, it will involve more compromise, but I know the rest of our lives will. It's just a matter of finding a good balance in that compromise. That delicate evenness where both parties are sacrificing a little and gaining a little, but both in the pursuit of a shared, strongly-desired goal.
We haven't found that balance yet, but we'll work toward it together. And I'm thankful that I have this current experience to guide us and prove that, however hard it may be, we can do it.
*I feel it's necessary to note that my mom is wonderful to live with. She has done laundry for us, cooked meals and made leftovers for us, and watched our sweet puppy girl during those many hours we spend at work and sitting on the freeways. She alsoalwayshas wine waiting for me. She's a joy; the feeling that we have to rely on her to get where we want to be, is not.
I was the editor of my high school yearbook. And the co-captain of the dance team. And a member of our Senior Council (I ran for President, but lost, tragically). And I share all of these anecdotes quite proudly to this day. That, in and of itself, should tell you a thing or two about me.
Even still, I was never the girl that was sad to leave high school. I didn't cry at graduation - I rejoiced. I was so excited to move on and move up - to learn more and do more and be more. And, despite life's little (and really fucking big) bumps over the past ten years, I have absolutely loved my life since I left Village Christian High School.
I was the kid/adolescent/teenager/actual-adult-right-now who always wanted to be grown up - I can't remember a time in my life that I didn't want to be interacting with and imitating the "grown ups" in my life. And though I'm sometimes nostalgic for more innocent days, I quite love living as an adult. I love the freedom, I love the responsibility, I love, love, love my husband, and I even love the bills! I really appreciate the way my life has turned out - both by choice and by chance - and I don't often reminisce on my past, because I'm fairly busy relishing how fucking amazing I have it.
But I was able to reminisce a bit this weekend - at my ten-year high school reunion - and I realized how much I really had missed high school; maybe not the overall experience, but certainly my classmates and our camaraderie and our countless, incredible memories together. Even the partners - girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands - we've picked to accompany us on our journey since high school fit seamlessly into our tight-knit group.
In spite of a few worries I had going into the weekend - would I have fun (yes!)? Would I spend time with people I didn't know as well in high school (yes!)? Would the presence of my high school boyfriend be more than slightly awkward (yes, yet again!)? - I had an amazing time.
The day before my reunion, I had a conversation with a trusted acquaintance. I expressed my excitement and my nervousness, and we talked through what was really running through my head: What exactly had I done in the last ten years? What had I accomplished? What I had won and lost? What mistakes had I made? What had I learned? How was I a better, smarter, kinder person thanks in no small part to the lessons of high school and of time, generally?
I reflected a lot on my shortcomings - on the mistakes that I had made and the regrets that I still held onto. She, of course, pushed me to consider what I had accomplished and what I had to be both grateful for and proud of. All of these things are important to me and weighed on my mind as I left for my reunion on Saturday.
But when I got there, none of it really mattered anyway. It didn't matter what we'd done (or what we hadn't), who we'd married or how many babies we'd had. What mattered was that once, at one important point in time ten years ago, we were 130 kids spending nearly every second of every day together, growing and learning and hurting and laughing together, depending upon one another for nearly everything because nobody else quite understood what we were going through. And I spent Saturday night relishing in how important all of these people - quite literally, all of them - had once been to me, and how thankful I am that they're still a part of my life, however big or small.
All plans and questions and nerves aside, I was honestly surprised to have as much fun as I did, interacting with my old classmates - hearing about weddings and babies and new careers - given I thought I knew everything about everyone via Facebook, and that they, of course, knew all there was to know about me.
I'll be cliche, because thankfully it was true - it was as if no time at all had passed. And, despite my experience in and love for digital communication, Facebook never has been - and I suspect never will be - a substitute for the importance of face-to-face interaction.
I have grown a lot and accomplished a lot and made a lot (A LOT) of mistakes in the past ten years, but in so many ways, I haven't changed at all. I will always be the girl who takes (and posts) all the pictures. I will always talk quickly - and far more than is necessary - when I'm nervous. I will always be the Yearbook editor. I will always worry (at least, a little) about being liked. I will always miss just the innocence and ease and fun of ten years ago. And I will always, always cherish these memories.
On our honeymoon, I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. And it was phenomenal. I think it helps to love books in the personal development/self-help/non-fiction genre, but truly I think anyone interested in breaking poor habits and sustaining good ones (or anyone interested in psychology generally) would love this book as much as I did.
In the book, Duhigg describes the "habit loop". The habit loop consists first of a cue ("a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use"), then of a routine (this can be physical, mental, or emotional), then of a reward (if you like the reward, your brain decides to automate this loop for the future!). As Duhigg describes it: "Over time, this loop - cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward - becomes more and more automatic." We continue performing the routine that we've associated with the cue, because we believe it gets us that reward. Duhigg also notes that there's no secret formula for quickly changing habits, but it helps to dissect and identify the different parts of this loop: first, identify your routine, then you experiment with rewards, then you isolate the cue or the trigger that is setting the entire loop in motion. Interestingly, Tim Ferriss (a great resource on quickly learning new skills) also advocates for what he calls "sequencing", wherein you master proficiency by reordering your thinking - or learning the skill backwards or the opposite of how you'd expect to. (Note: Tim has a one-page "list-icle" about this - and other tactics for mastering new skills - in the October '13 issue of Women's Health, if you're interested!). It seems to me, that sequencing is very nearly what Duhigg is suggesting as he breaks down the most simple and effective way to diagnose and change a bad habit.
So, of course, as soon as I put the book down, I immediately started testing out the cycle on my own habits, and Aaron's too. I first listed three of my bad habits, according to me (1. Communicating negatively/impatiently with Aaron, 2. My lack of healthy eating/exercise, 3. Drinking wine too regularly), then asked Aaron to list three of his own. He had a really difficult time with this (apparently, Aaron's quite pleased with all of his habits as they are), so he picked two and I chose the last one: 1. Being more reactive than proactive, 2. Being indecisive, 3. Farting incessantly in front of his new wife.
Following that, I tested Duhigg's framework on each of my bad habits. (Aaron, understandably, no longer wanted to play with me and had since gone off in search of another Mythos.)
I made the most progress deconstructing my bad habit of not exercising. And by "not exercising", I mean mostly not varying from a sedentary position. Pretty much ever. I hate it - both the fact that I don't exercise and the actual act of exercising. Once I'd diagnosed my bad habit (the easy part), I tried to identify my routine: I get up in the morning, I usually (/always - sorry, mom!) skip breakfast, I work all day, I get home late and I'm tired, I play with my puppy, I work some more (often accompanied by wine; see Bad Habit #3 above), I'll maybe watch some TV or read my book, and I'll pass out. Though there are variations, that pretty much sums up my 24-hour cycle on a regular basis. You'll note there's zero percent exercise throughout.
So, rewards. What could possibly be rewarding about this routine? ALSO EASY. My routine, as it stands, allows for: relaxation after a long/tiring day, time to get more work done, the opportunity to zone out and/or be lazy, a chance to catch up on all of the television shows you kids tweet about or (much more likely) my latest book, and on some occasions, this routine - by not forcing me awake for early morning exercise - allows me to sleep in.
Now, my cues: what are those triggers that put my routine in motion that then (possibly) give me the rewards described above? Well, sometimes I wake up too late or I'll go to bed late. More often than not, I get home from work very late and I'm exhausted. My first instinct is to sit down on my couch when I get home - at which point I'm much more likely to drag my laptop or my puppy or my remote into my lap than I am to get up and be active. And, almost always, I drink wine.
So now I have a lot of different options - any number of the above cues might set my routine in motion, in the hopes that I'll garner one of the rewards also noted above. The question is - which reward am I getting that's made my loop concrete? Which reward is the one that I don't want to lose, so I continue to follow my habit loop over and over again?
According to Duhigg, that's the part we have to figure out - because once you can isolate that reward, you can come up with new habits that lead you to the same conclusion. For instance, if the reward for me is relaxing or getting even more work done after I get home, maybe I need to practice exercising before work in the morning, so I can spend my evenings doing whatever I want. Or perhaps the reward for me is sleeping in a bit later - in which case, I'll want to try exercising after work and going to bed earlier, so I don't feel deprived of sleep or forced to wake up earlier. You have to test each reward until you've found what it is you're really searching for by performing a habit over and over again - and what new, positive habit can take its place.
I haven't quite figured it out yet - for the poor habits I listed above, or any of the myriad bad habits I'd like to change. But that's okay. I know I can only successfully change or develop one habit or skill at a time (that's an important tenet of one of my personal favorites, Maneesh Sethi's, philosophy), and I feel incredibly empowered by the knowledge The Power of Habit gave me and my understanding of how to make any positive personal change at all.
If you're interested in more information about habit formation and change, first, read this book. Duh. I didn't type all of this for nothing. I also highly recommend the other two resources I mentioned: Tim Ferris (particularly his book, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life) and Maneesh Sethi (of "Hack the System" fame). They both speak more about gaining skills than changing habits, but much of their advice works for both. I absolutely love this sort of information, so you can expect to hear a lot more from me on the topic too.
Now you: If you could change just one of your habits, what would it be? (Hint: If you fart incessantly in front of your partner, that's a great place to start.)
We have two very big financial goals over the next year: 1) to pay off our debt and 2) to save up a down payment on a house.
Looking at our goals now, 365 days (or less!) from when I hope they'll be accomplished, it seems like an incredibly daunting and unrealistic task. But both Aaron and I are pretty determined to do it, and we've made some tough (for me) decisions to make it happen. To begin with, we'll be moving out of our adorable apartment at the end of this month and moving in with my mom. This has been the hardest change for me to come to terms with, even though it will undoubtedly be the only way we meet our goals within our timeframe.
I should say first that I think we're incredibly lucky for several reasons: 1) My mom is willing to let us move back in and only pay our share of utilities, food, etc., 2) My mom has enough extra room that we'll have our own bedroom and living room, separate from the rest of the house, 3) My mom is 100% the best person I know and the best roomie I've ever had, so we have no qualms about living under the same roof yet again. I'm so thankful for these things and I'm so glad that we have this option - there isn't a second, throughout this entire process, where I haven't been reminded of how lucky we are and how much this will help us get to where we want to be much faster than we ever could on our own.
On the other hand, I've struggled with it because, of course, it feels like a step back to me. Who wants to spend their first year of married life living with their parents? I have been struggling (and continue to struggle) with my pride, my concern over what people will think, my jealousy towards our peers who have already gotten to where we want to be (even if often through the monetary support of their parents), and my fear that we may not even be where we want to be after a year. Every single friend I've shared this news with has ensured me that I am being silly and that this is really a very good move for us. Deep down, I know that, but I'm still learning how to come to terms with it on my own.
I've decided that one really great way to acclimate to the move is to make our two rooms in my mom's house really ours. We started this weekend, in my childhood bedroom, by painting over the blood red paint on the walls (it was "Surfboard Yellow" before that; clearly, I had a very colorful childhood) and changing the hue to a gorgeous, mature light gray color we decided to call "Charcoal Mist". It was A LOT of work, especially given we were working during one of the hottest weekends of the summer with no air conditioning. But I absolutely love the finished product.
I'm realizing, slowly but surely, that meeting big goals and making up for past mistakes (like debt; debt is a BIG mistake, you guys) means making sacrifices and accepting that you only get big results from big changes. But I'm also realizing that I really will be able to make another happy home here for a short while - a new home, with my new husband - and, if this is the "worst" of the changes I have to make, I've got it pretty good.
I spent the majority of our honeymoon reading books and planning out the next phase of our life (and drinking copious amounts of wine). This might not sound particularly relaxing to a lot of people, but personal development and planning and organization and notebooks (and wine) are sincerely the sum of my favorite things and activities in this world.
For two straight weeks, I thought carefully about the five most important categories of my life: Love // Family // Friends// Work // Life. And then I thought what might make each of these categories better, more fulfilling, to me. I gave consideration to the components of my ideal life and how I'd like to feel on a regular basis. It might sound hippie-dippie to a lot of people (that's fine; it is), but it was incredibly stimulating and enriching to me. After several months of nonstop activity and stress, the two weeks of our honeymoon felt like a mental, emotional, and physical respite and I took full advantage of it.
Aaron is not nearly as into personal development and education as I am, but he appreciates growth and positive change and keeping his hippie-dippie wife happy. We spent a lot of the honeymoon planning together. We planned out the next steps in our careers, in our health, in our finances, and our living situation. We even talked about our timeline for BABIES (the word BABIES will always be in all-caps, because that's how I say it in my mind - with all-caps-like exuberance)! We talked about the risks we'd like to take and the changes we'd like to make. We talked about how to be better partners to each other (even only a few days into our marriage) and how to be better family members, friends, coworkers, and eventually parents. We made big plans, not because we have significant problems with who we are now, but because we know we can be (and always desire to be) better - for each other, if for no one else.
I'm excited to share some of our plans here on the blog with you: our plans to eat better and exercise more (Aaron is leading this charge, as I know I am incapable of doing it on my own), our plans to pay off our debt and have a down payment for a house saved up in one year, our plans to consciously change bad habits and develop/encourage new ones, and our plans to actively support, sustain, and nourish our marriage.
I'm excited to share it all, because we're more than aware that shit's going to be hard - and we need the accountability. The accountability, the support, and maybe the encouragement that our plans/struggles/victories are helpful to you too.
Aaron and I were married exactly one month ago today.
It. Is. Surreal.
I know everyone says this about everything important, ever - but it feels, simultaneously, like our wedding was just yesterday and like we've been married forever. It has been the best month of my life and yes, I do say that mostly because two weeks of it were spent traveling through France, Spain, and Greece. I am under no illusion that the rest of my life will be as incredible.
I kid. Kind of.
Though I've long felt that we were family - that Aaron was a perfect extension of me; a missing limb - we are officially family now, and this is the place where we will share our thoughts, our adventures, our news (BABIES!), and whatever else we feel like sharing.
We hope you'll follow along :)
I said this past month has been the best month of my life, and it has - not just because of my incredible, perfect wedding day or the adventures and comfort of my honeymoon - but because I've been lucky enough to find my perfect partner in life, who encourages my whims, supports me as I falter, and makes me laugh so hard you'd think I'd have a six-pack. (Update: I don't.) I hope I have been and will continue to be that sort of partner to him.