Know Thyself

dec 20 2014jc small

A new year arrives on Thursday and I find myself at a crossroads.

Now, I don’t mean to trivialize problems far greater than mine that others are facing. For me, life is generally good. I mean, come on…look at that cutie on the left (obviously Angus, not me).

But in some seriousness, I’m wondering what is becoming of this ‘writing career’ I’ve been inching toward the past few years.

You may, or may not, have noticed sporadic posts on this blog over the past few months. The birth of a child has been more than a slight detour off Routine Road; it’s been a total loss of pavement, sending me white-knuckled over a field of potholes, ditches and sharp rocks.

And that’s thanks to just one healthy kid! I feel nothing but the utmost admiration for those who have more than one, or whose children have medical issues, and manage to get things done. You people are amazing.

Still, this new priority has entered my life and as I’ve become frustrated in my other endeavors, I’ve had to ask myself, “What’s really important to me now?” I’ve grown tired of beating myself up for not accomplishing everything I’d like to accomplish.

To carry on a cliché: There has to be a better way.

A time management course I took in October gave me the tools to look at the various roles in my life: Dad, Husband, Son, Brother, Friend, Author, Blogger, Engineer, Athlete, Student, and Chef to name a few. The idea was to honestly probe each role in order to determine my goals and discover what matters in one’s life.

As it turns out, a lot of things matter. I want to be an awesome dad, a loving husband, a thoughtful son, a fun brother, and a true friend. I want to become a successful fiction author. I want to regularly blog brilliant words of wisdom. I want to make meaningful contributions at work. I want to fit comfortably in my pants again. I want to read and study “the classics.” I want to give those 10-year-old, souffle-making Masterchefs a run for their money in my own kitchen.

That’s just a sample, but as you’ve figured out by now, there’s not enough time in the day to be really good at all of those things. We mammals require this ridiculous thing called sleep.

Therefore, the question of “What’s really important to me now?” naturally becomes, “What’s really, really important to me now?”

The list becomes smaller at that point. Family will always be #1. The job supporting my family becomes #2. Right now, to do those two things well, seems to require 90% of my time (I’m only counting the time I’m not snoring in bed). The other 10% is enough time to read a chapter or section of a book and take notes, or draft a blog post, or cook a fun dinner, or unwind by playing a game on my tablet.

#1 may get less time consuming with Angus, or more time consuming, as he gets older (the answer seems to depend on who I ask). My hope is that I can implement more automation and delegation for #2, making room for other roles on my list.

So, did you guys catch it yet?

The sharp readers likely noticed “Author” is off the shortlist. Following much thought and consternation, I’ve realized my top two priorities don’t leave me the time required to enter that ‘fictive dream state” required to write a novel at the level of quality of which I’d be satisfied. The planning, researching, outlining, writing, rewriting, and rewriting again, cost more time than I’m willing to pay right now. Those are minutes I can spend playing with Angus, talking with my wife, running errands, cleaning the house on a regular basis, and gaining knowledge through reading and study.

Writing a novel is still a dream of mine and always will be. I can’t wait to chase it again. But I’m no longer going to get down on myself for not giving it the attention it requires.

Of course, things change and only a fool sails against the wind. It will be interesting to see where things lie in the middle of 2015.

I hope you all have a Happy New Year and wish you success in your own goals!


0 thoughts on “Know Thyself

  1. First of all, it’s lovely to see Angus (he has really grown) and another post from you.
    Phillip, do what you need to do. Angus, your job, your wife, your friends–they’re all important to you. And I know that you’ll return to novel writing when the time is right. One of my good friends is a dad. He and his wife just welcomed their second son the other day. He also is a budding novelist, but put that on hold because of his family. So, I totally get the need to prioritize.

    I haven’t written anything on my novel in almost two months. My weekly deadlines haven’t really allowed me to do much. I hope to get back into writing in the new year.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Linda. It’s a struggle to figure out where we need to put our focus, but I think it’s an important exercise. One of my priorities is to focus on regular blog updates, so you’ll be seeing more of Angus for sure. 😉 I hope you’re able to get that writing mojo back in 2015!

  2. “I’ve grown tired of beating myself up for not accomplishing everything I’d like to accomplish.” This line smacked me in the face, Phillip. I could say the very same thing. I appreciate the honesty in this post. I think we can all relate to struggling with our priorities. The start of a new year is the perfect time to reflect on our priorities. Family is always first. I do hope that you’ll keep your blog going even if it’s for our periodic Angus fix. 🙂 I’ve always enjoyed reading your words, but I completely understand how you feel. Thanks for sharing the photo of dapper little Angus, boy has he grown! Wishing you all the best to you and your family, Phillip.

    1. I always appreciate you stopping by with so much to say, Jill. Thank you for that and as I mentioned to Linda, you’ll definitely continue to get your Angus fix. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful 2015 and meet all of those goals which matter most to you!

  3. The good thing about writing a novel is you can do it at any age. People publish books in their teens all the way up to their 90s. There’s nothing wrong with putting your focus where it needs to be. The blank page will be waiting for you when you’re ready. Have a Happy New Year! It’s always fun to celebrate the first holiday with a baby. 🙂

    1. Great point, Carrie. I don’t think the fiction writing bug will ever leave me. I know I’ll get some of that time again, even if it’s several years from now…when the kid(s) are working on his(their) homework, dad can spend time on his. 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful 2015. Here’s to a successful new year!

  4. Phil, I always read your posts, but since commenting isn’t built in to my RSS reader, I rarely jump on my PC to respond… but I need to now. I’m right behind you, as far as doing what’s really really important to you, and letting go of the rest. But you’re missing some important points.

    First of all, not having time to write is where you freakin’ started. That’s where this whole endeavor came from – when you said “If only I had the time, I would write”. You didn’t realize you had a choice to take the time, and you did amazing things once you started figuring out HOW to have the time. For anything you wish you could do, the stars will never align to make that happen for you – It’s always difficult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. In my small circle of friends, I can tell you about a few of them who have a couple kids and write consistently. One homeschools her 2 kids, and she published her first book this year.

    Second, because I know you, and I feel the same feels, I know that you will never reach a level of complete satisfaction in anything you do. Even if you only focus on family and job, you will never have enough time, enough money, or to be able to say you’re as good as you could be. Not accomplishing everything you’d like to accomplish is inevitable – it’s how you’re wired. Beating yourself up for it is a choice.

    Third, why would you sacrifice everything you want in this life in order to make someone else money? If your job is keeping you from doing what you need to, there are a gazillion ways to put food on the table for your family, and a billion of them don’t involve compromising your values. It’s just a matter of choice.

    If you don’t want to write, that’s fine, just say “I don’t want to write anymore,” “I’ve lost interest,” or whatever, and go about your business. But because I care about you, I cannot let you go back to “I would if I had time/money/resources” – because you do have everything you need to make it happen, if you just get resourceful and think about it.

    1. Wes, you are a consummate friend. Often, you know me better then I know myself and remind me where my faults lay (I mean this in the best possible way). I do appreciate what you’re saying here. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

      Maybe this last post was a bit of catharsis, organizing and expressing my thoughts, and I’ll be back at it in a week? Maybe not. I know it’s easy to see this as another example of my usual hand-wringing, but I think this time, it’s different. Let me try to explain why.

      As you’ve noted, perfectionism is one of my character flaws. It’s easy for me to throw my hands up and say I don’t have the time for this or that, because I can’t do it justice. There’s no doubt that I’m afraid of failure, no matter how much I tell myself it’s a requirement for growth.

      But, I hope I can reassure you, it’s not that I don’t want to write a novel anymore or that I’ve lost interest. It’s just that on the scale of all the things I care about it right now, writing a novel is less important to me than making sure my family knows I love them — through time spent playing or soothing Angus (which is good for him and also good for my wife who needs some “adult time” by the time I come home); through running errands since mom is the only food source and he won’t take a bottle; through cooking and cleaning while mom is doing the aforementioned playing, soothing and feeding.

      Writing a novel is less important to me right now than being successful at my current job, which like any job, has things that annoy me, but also has many aspects I enjoy excelling at. It also allows me to provide a good home, good healthcare, and good income to invest and fund future financial burdens (e.g. Angus’ college fund), all through a job I can handle pretty capably most of the time. Making someone else money doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not making me any money. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. I support them through my skillset (technology) and they support me through their skillset (selling insurance and financial instruments).

      Everything in life has an opportunity cost, and I’m trying to figure out what I’m willing to pay. Right now, I’m willing to pay writing a good novel for those other things in my life. I feel I can gain more intellectual benefits from studying a couple of paragraphs in the The Odyssey for 20 minutes than getting into writing a scene, only to have to stop and cook dinner or soothe a crying baby, losing all of that natural momentum that a story from the heart requires, forcing me to start over again just to stay consistent. I feel I can gain more pleasure from playing a game on my tablet for 15 minutes, than trying to figure out how far a horse can travel in one hour over the Missouri highlands in Winter so I can give my book some verisimilitude and a reader won’t toss it out because he figured the author couldn’t be bothered to put in the proper effort.

      Again, this is all just for “right now.” Yes, it’s easy for “right now” to extend to the grave, so one thing I’ve recently taken to heart is the need to consistently reevaluate priorities.

      This is where friends like you come in and make sure I’m doing so. Thanks for being there and helping me work through these problems. You are a true friend.

  5. I made a similar choice after a particularly frustrating time working and authoring. I quit until I had time to devote to the craft. You have a full plate and need to live as well. Having said that I feel if you wanted to write you would no matter what. It is just not the right time now. Be kind to yourself and do what you really want to do. Happy New Year Phil. Don’t stay away.

    1. I appreciate your words of wisdom and experience, John. You’re right. If I want to write, I will write no matter what. I still plan to do so, it just won’t be in the form I most desire – a novel. I plan on regularly posting on the blog again and noodling with short pieces here and there. Just going to have to put the novel on hold. Happy New Year to you as well!

      1. Short stories are great and in high demand. Happy 2015.

  6. Two words: Transition period. Your beautiful boy is only a few months old. You’re adapting. Things will settle into a form of “normal,” and when you’re comfortable with that, you’ll probably find little clumps of time.

    We’re all behind you, dood!

    1. I think you’re right on that, Kevin. Appreciate having your support! In the end, sleep is a necessary part of living.. Maybe a break is just as an important part of writing. Happy New Year!

  7. Ah, what a wonderful picture of Angus! And you look cute, too 😉
    Never say never, Phillip. You are a writer whether you are writing at this moment or a year from now or 10 years from now. What I’ve read on Wattpad and on your blog convinces me that you are a writer. It is part of who you are. But you need to stay sane and you need to stop beating up yourself just because you’re not superman. You set the priorities that you need to set now and you can adjust them as time goes on. I don’t believe you will give up writing entirely, but right now you have a lot going on. Look, I don’t even have a kid and I grouse about finding time to write 😉
    One thing I would suggest is that you keep a small notebook near you, either at work or home or both, and just write in it when you feel like it. I carry one around and I might write in it only occasionally, but it gives me some comfort to have it nearby. Sometimes at work, I’ll take it out and rant about something that is bothering me but that I don’t feel comfortable talking about with coworkers. It’s writing nonetheless, whether it’s an idea for a poem, a story, or just venting. It reminds that writing is part of who I am.
    And don’t let this blog go 🙂 If you post only once a month or less, if it’s only a picture of Angus, it’ll be good to keep in touch. Happy New Year, Phillip!

    1. Marie, your kind words are treasured. Thank you. 🙂 I’m very excited to get back to writing a novel, and I like your suggestion about keeping the notebook nearby. I’ll definitely do that. And not to worry, I will be making regular appearances on the blog. They’ll probably be less frequent, but hopefully more substantial. Of course there will be regular Angus!

      Hope you have a Happy New Year in 2015, Marie.

  8. Angus is a cutie and you are right to focus on family and work. However, I wouldn’t completely throw in the towel. Simply write for fun, to unwind at the end of the day. You don’t have to write to please us. Write to please yourself. If it is not fun, if it stresses you out, then don’t do it.

    Happy New Year and I wish you be the best in 2015.

    1. Thank you for the advice, Nila. I’ll definitely still be writing. I just won’t be putting pressure on myself to get a novel done. I think that will help me enjoy more of the writing that I do engage in.

      Happy New Year to you as well!!

  9. It’s the nature of Life for priorities to shift. And you have even more excellent reasons for such a shift now. As Carrie noted, novels can be written (or revisited) at any age. The same holds true for blogs—or so I hope. 😉 Go with what works for you—not what others or “experts” say you should do. That’s advice I’m finally taking this year, too.

    Enjoy the New Year and the wonder that is Angus. 🙂

    1. Good advice all around, JM. Hope you have a wonderful New Year as well!

  10. I think everyone here has already given you the best thinking points (and sorry I’m late to the party – my own tykes keeping me busy :-)) but I have one thing to add (and it’s from my own personal experience so tell me to sod off if it has no relevance) – what does your wife think?

    Guilt kept me from writing until my youngest was 4 (he’s 7 next month). I could guarantee the second I thought about doing something selfish, all hell would break loose. No matter how much my wife told me to bugger off and leave her to it, I didn’t feel right doing much of anything that wasn’t family focussed. Even now I feel like I’m indulging myself when I’m writing rather than spending time with the family or earning ‘proper money’. When I told my wife this (well, when she prised it from me would be more accurate) she gave me the stare and told me that was my own shit and I had to deal with it (she’s done that several times…). When the time was right she’s helped me find time in the day and make time in the day (which to be fair is much, much easier as the kids get older).

    Like you I don’t think I could have physically done much (certainly of any quality) when the kids were really small (every family has challenges as well which make every situation unique), but I do wish I’d dabbled a bit more. Noted down an idea here, written a short story there. Basically practised with no pressure to actually turn it into something suitable for public consumption. Then, when the time was right, it would have been easier to bring it more to the fore because everyone around me would see it as something I was simply ramping up rather than starting up.

    Since then I’ve tried my best to keep it part of my life and make it clear to those I love, and who love me, that I want to do it. Best thing I ever did was asking my wife for help to keep it part of my life.

    Worked both ways for us. She’s been retraining as a teacher She supported me getting up early every morning whilst everyone was asleep and I supported her going to night classes and did lots of bedtimes…

    Hang on! Now I write it down I see that she’s a bloody evil genius.

    (Can’t stress enough that if I’m stepping over a line, kick me back over it. Just wanted to share my own experience in the hope that it may trigger a thought. Mainly because I want you to finish Wolf’s Tail).

    1. Mobe, it would take a lot for anyone here to step over the line, so no worries there. 🙂 In fact, I sincerely appreciate your frankness and willingness to share what you’ve gone through. It always helps to hear about someone who’s gone through similar circumstances.

      And you ask a great question – “What does your wife think?” You know, it’s one of those things that I have to admit, I haven’t sat down and discussed with her directly. She knows how much I want to write and we talk about it in passing, but I’m one of those stereotypical guys…I don’t talk much and I make a lot of assumptions. 😉 So maybe you’re right here. I ought to have a discussion dedicated to the topic and see how we can work out some dedicated writing time. It could be that all of the guilt I’m feeling is just as your wife said — “…my own shit.” (Sounds like your wife and mine are a lot alike, haha).

      I also like your idea of at least doing SOMETHING, like spending what time I currently have freed up dabbling on short stories and the like. I do have plans for that, so for at least however long my time will be (self)-limited, I’ll get some writing in. It will just not be dedicated to the long-form stuff.

      One of the things I’m working on right now is getting my own mental house in order. I’ll be posting some blog pieces about it, but it turns out that I’m one of those people that NEEDS to be organized or I get paralyzed, my brain just stuffed with “you need to do this” or “don’t forget to do this too.” I’m working on a system to get all of those thoughts out of my brain and into an organized system so I know it’s there and I can FOCUS.

      Anyway, this reply is longer than I anticipated. Thanks for the advice and sympathetic shoulder, Mobe. I greatly appreciate it.

  11. Hi Phillip. One of the reasons I’m a follower of your blog is because I love the way you write. This post is reflective and honest and one that so many people can relate to. Priorities shift, depending on where we are in life. We only get one shot to raise our kids right, so putting Angus in the #1 spot on your priority list is a decision you’ll never regret. He’s going to be very demanding and time-consuming for a long time (the toddler years will challenge your sanity) … things will get “easier” when he’s school age – he won’t be as time-consuming as you know it now – but he’ll still need you in different ways. You’ll know when you can fit writing back into your life. You’ll know when the time is right, and your manuscript will be waiting for you.

    PS – if it’s financially feasible (especially if your wife also works full-time), my unsolicited advice is: hire a cleaning service! It’s so worth the money spent. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Gwen. I’ve been hearing a lot about those fun toddler years lately. 😉 Like you said, new and different challenges.

      And great advice on getting a cleaning service. I just need to convince my wife to let strangers clean around our stuff. She hasn’t cottoned to that yet…. 🙂

      1. You’ve inspired me to reflect on everything that’s happening in my life…little time for writing and blogging here, too. I’m drafting a post as we speak.

        I hope you can convince her to hire a service. It will be a sanity saver.

        1. Can’t wait to read it! I wish you luck. I’m just hoping I can keep this self-reflection and organization going and not just let it be a New Year’s fad.

  12. […] thanks to Phillip McCollum and JM McDowell, whose recent posts reflect a similar theme to this one. You guys gave me the spark […]

  13. […] My most recent malaise has propelled me to spend more time on introspection, though. It turns out I like being organized. If anything, I’ve come to realize that chaos is constricting, not structure. That may not be the case with everyone, but to quote a recent quote, Know Thyself. […]

  14. Do you ever go to writing conferences? What strikes me over and over is the number of senior citizens – most in comfort-over-fashion clothes. They’re not glancing at their watches or stepping out to answer that all-important cell phone. They’re not surreptitiously checking Facebook. They’re focused on what they finally have a chance to do without robbing time from a higher priority obligation/commitment/interest. Right now you are blessed with some awesome higher priorities – which will obviously wildly enhance your writing as you get opportunities to do so.

    As “the divorce lawyer who doesn’t like divorce,” I applaud you and honor your choices as you honor your family. If more husbands were like you, I’d – happily – have less business.

    Having said all that, I’ll continue to look forward to, and enjoy, your wicked sense of humor and delightful wit as you are able to share it!

    1. Now that you mention it Shel, the one that I did attend seemed to have an inordinate amount of potential AARP members. You make a great point and your support and compliments make me smile. 😀 Thank you so much!

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