Posted in Goals, Life


Not long after we started dating, I noted MFB’s desire to hit the gym for an hour every day.  This surprised me, because I tend to view exercise as a physical torture.  Why do it on the weekend, when you’re supposed to be relaxing?

“It helps me keep my center,” he explained.

The concept of finding a point inside yourself that gives you focus wasn’t entirely new to me, but I’d never heard it phrased quite like that.  An image came to mind of a plank with a fulcrum at it’s center, giving it perfect balance.  That picture has remained with me over the years, a visible reminder of two parts that must both be in the correct place in order to work.  If you add unequal weight to the ends of the plank, you have to move the fulcrum in order to keep it balanced.  If you move the fulcrum, you must add weight toward the other end of the plank to keep it balanced.

A couple of years ago, I started working for a company experiencing explosive growth.  It’s exciting to be in the middle of that, but my work hours rapidly expanded, and why not?  I was an empty-nester with a deployed spouse, so there was nothing to pull me home at a decent hour.  And look how much I was accomplishing!

What I ignored was the toll the long hours were taking outside of work.  Regular exercise (did I mention I view it as torture?) was the first thing to be jettisoned, because it’s really easy to talk yourself out of taking a walk at 10 pm.  Eating habits?  My spouse is the primary cook in our family, and in his absence I was too tired to prepare meals for myself.  Sleep?  It’s hard to rest when your mind is constantly reviewing the events of the day and dreading the stack waiting on your desk for tomorrow.  The things I enjoy doing, such as writing, kayaking or scrapbooking?  Hah!  I was too busy to indulge.

I didn’t just lose my center; I smashed that plank into a million pieces and buried the fulcrum under a mountain of pig slops.


If I were to write a list of decisions that have changed my life, attending that writers’ conference would be on it.  I spent an entire week doing nothing but writing, sleeping, eating, making new friends, and learning more about writing.  All of that was beneficial, but the greatest gift was one I didn’t expect — time.  Time to reflect, time to ponder, time to take a hard look at my life and see what needed to change.

Time to put my life back in balance.

It began with a statement from one of the conference presenters, something along the lines of ‘To be successful, you must first know what success looks like.’  I wish I could remember who said it, but I lost track of everything else in the session because suddenly I wanted to envision what my success looked like.  I started slamming notes into my laptop, and when I stopped, I realized I had written a detailed description of a destination.  What was missing was the path to get there.

Laying out that path was rough, and I knew walking it would be even harder.  The direction I needed to go was clear, but the sheer number of steps involved seemed overwhelming.  Time and again my finger drifted to the ‘delete’ button, tempted to eighty-six my dreams as I had so many times before.

But this time felt different. Something had changed; I had changed.  I was older, and if not wiser, more experienced.  I had completed large projects over the course of my career, and those opportunities had taught me how to eat an elephant.  You simply carve off one slice at a time.


When my plane touched down in Florida on Sunday, it carried more than people and luggage.  Inside my laptop was a detailed list of SMART goals I needed to accomplish in order to achieve what I defined as success.  There are many steps involved, but the first is the most important:

  1. I will get my life back in balance by working no more than 9 hours a day and 1 Saturday per month.  I will no longer bring work home, even mentally.  I will rely on my team to perform to the best of their abilities and remember there is always tomorrow and the work will still be there.

In order to be specific (the ’S’ part of a SMART goal), I had to include that bit about not bringing my work home with me, wrapped inside my head.  I didn’t realize the extent of the problem until I caught myself thinking about work-related matters no less than seventeen times, and that was just on the drive home from the airport.  I had to forcibly remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to think of work unless I was driving to my office or sitting at my desk, and that doing so would keep me from quitting my job because of burn-out.  I also refrained from opening my email, which I hadn’t checked at all while I was in Arizona.  The temptation to view it on Sunday night was strong, but every time I wavered, I recited Step Number One.

It was no surprise when I sat at my desk on Monday morning and logged in to find 223 emails waiting for me.  I did what I could, and left the office when I’d hit my ninth hour.  Then, because I wasn’t exhausted, I came home and worked on the outline for my book.  The world felt right because I could create, and I could create because I found my center.

And that is what success looks like.

Posted in Writing

All In a Day’s Work

I’m currently staying in Arizona, anticipating attendance at a writers’ conference later this week.  I have been having a great time, and the Catfish-I-Haven’t-Met is now the Friend-Who-Really-Exists.  My travel was uneventful, the hurricane stayed out of my pocket of Florida in my absence, and I am so relaxed right now I can’t even get worked up over the Saints loss to the Vikings.  In short, life is good.

Which is why it’s time for another Reader Rant.

My reading preferences cross a lot of genres, but I really enjoy romance, fantasy, supernatural and mysteries.  Bonus points if they are combined (I’m envisioning Arrested by the Alien Vampire right now, and it’s amazing.  Someone should totally write this.  Or just design the cover, which would be filled with blue muscles and a look of utter adoration on the face of the alien as he gazes at the woman he’s hauling down to the station.)

Ahem.  Anyway, one of my chief complaints over the years has been a lack of variety in the protagonists’ careers, and while all of the genres are guilty of this transgression, I’m looking right at you, Contemporary Romance.  Why, in this day and age, are the men still magazine publishing tycoons and the women working as executive assistants?  And why is ‘bada$$ ninja sniper’ the only alternative to this?

Too many authors treat the protagonists’ means of making a living as an afterthought.  They choose to focus on the story and the action, and relegate the job to the background.  I get this, but it’s lazy.  Most people spend an awful lot of their time at their job, and the standard work week in the USA is considered to be 40 hours a week minimum.  Many of us work more hours than that, so how does that not impact the story itself?  And is the CEO/Admin pairing really the only possible way you can imagine them spending time together?

I took my rant to a friend last year, where I commented that I was so thrilled to read something the other day where the heroine worked in a grocery store AND THE HERO DIDN’T ‘SAVE’ HER from this terrible job.  The author treated her protagonist’s work situation as perfectly acceptable, because people who stock produce need love, too.  The author also understood that ‘success’ is not defined by your job.  A Fortune 500 CEO is no more ‘successful’ than an electrician.

Somewhere in this discussion arose the need for a ‘what career should my novel’s heroine have?’ flow-chart.  The bean-counter in me prefers a matrix over a flow-chart (nice, orderly boxes!), so I’m offering up some employment suggestions to get you started.  Please note that since men are stereotyped as much as women, most of these careers would be a refreshing change for either one.

A brief preview is listed down below; the expanded version is available here: All in a Day’s Work

Location Overdone Ambitious Blue-Collar Bad A$$
Office Secretary, CEO Director of Business Development Facilities Maintenance Collections Agent
Airport Flight Attendant, Pilot CEO, Airport Authority Procurement Board Baggage Handler Federal Air Marshal
Newspaper & Magazines Journalist, Photographer Production Manager Distribution Press Operator
Places with Food Chef, Bakery Owner Franchise Owner Inventory Stocker Food Safety Inspector
Places with Drinks Bartender, Barista Brewer Beverage Delivery Bouncer

You’re welcome.

Posted in Vacation, Writing

Cat-Fishing Vacation

“So how’s the software conversion going?” my friend asked.

“About like you’d expect,” I sighed.

She oughta know.  Of the three major financial software conversions I’ve done over my career, two of them were done while I was working for her.  Software conversions follow the same Rule of 3 as home construction projects:  no matter how well you plan, it will take 3 times as long and cost 3 times as much as your original estimate.

The comparison is particularly appropriate at this time, since I also happen to be in the middle of a kitchen remodel that should have finished last month.

“It’s a good thing you’re taking this vacation.  You really need it.”

Truth.  She’s my best friend, so she knows that in addition to the remodeling and the conversion, I’m also dealing with some extremely stressful personal issues.  She really should be asking me if I intend to come back, and if not, do I still want my Amazon history erased before MFB can see it?

I put my vacation plans into motion last spring.  A lunchtime conversation with this same friend wound up on the topic of doing things just for ourselves, and not our family, our friends, or our jobs.  Right at the top of my list was this enduring fantasy I’ve had of taking a vacation by myself.

Totally selfish, I know.  It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with my loved ones; it’s just that the notion of spending a week doing things that only I enjoy is incredibly appealing.  When I’m traveling with others, I can’t stay holed up in the hotel room vegging out.  I have to participate in activities, and I have to socialize.  I have to do things.

Don’t get me wrong, I always have a good time.  We aren’t doing things that I hate, it’s just that we’re not doing anything I would love.  My introverted self loves things like spending the entire day in my pajamas reading a book, which my extroverted family members view as a violation of the Geneva Convention protocols.

Thoughts of fantasy-fulfillment usually remain just that – thoughts – but this one wouldn’t leave me alone.  A casual lunchtime conversation with ‘hey, maybe you should check out a writing cruise,’ instead morphed into a week in Arizona, where my chances of getting seasick are considerably lessened.

My fantasy came to life in two phases.  The first was when I looked at my various travel rewards statements and realized I had enough points to pay for a flight and hotel, which eliminated any lingering guilt over doing something fun without my spouse.  The second happened a week later, when I stumbled across the announcement for a writers’ conference.

Arizona is a place I have wanted to visit for years.  You wouldn’t think it would be a tourist destination in September’s brutal heat, but this is where my Friend-I’ve-Never-Met lives.  Talking about her always sounds like an online dating testimonial:

“Oh, we met about thirteen years ago, when she commented on something I wrote.  I answered back, she replied, and I don’t know, we just clicked!”

Today’s version would involve pulling up the Nerds United app and swiping right to meet a fellow introverted, book-loving, language nerd who happens to enjoy writing.  (Does this app exist?  It should.)

We’ve wanted to meet up in person for a long time.  The stars aligned, so I booked my flight.  I also told my staff that if they contacted me during that time period, they had better start that conversation with “I’m only calling you because _______ is dead and if I don’t resolve _______, the United States will be forced to surrender to Liechtenstein’s invading forces.”

Having related the above, I do have to acknowledge the small possibility that I am being cat-fished.  Since we’ve never met in person before, ‘she’ might be an overly-large balding man with hairy knuckles and nefarious intentions.  The odds of her being fake are pretty slim, though, since she is listed as one of the convention’s instructors.

In addition, there are the relatives.  Her sister knows my aunt.  Her aunt knows my cousin.  I’ve personally met one of her cousins, not a distant cousin, but a ‘your parent is my parent’s sibling’ cousin.  We both could hold a family reunion, and the same people would show up.

The whole ‘published author’ thing tips the scales further in favor of her being who she says she is, but what if Amazon is involved in the scheme?  They’d be the perfect partner in crime since they already know everything about me, right down to my fondness for brazil nuts and love of old Barbara Cartland novels.  (Don’t judge.)

But in order to orchestrate an evil scheme on this level, she would have to be an absolute genius.  It would be the Greatest Cat-Fish Ever.  “They found your grandma’s body in a ditch, clutching an empty Diet Coke can,” my kids would tell their children, “and they never did catch the guy.”

Which really makes this all the more reason that I have to go.  I am morally obligated by the Rules of Literary Engagement to carry this through to the end.  *Reference Rule 172, Section 6, Penalties for Early Plot Cancellation.

Even if – especially if – Amazon is involved.

Besides, the prospect of impending doom still sounds more appealing than another week at the office.