Isn’t this a relief? But what if you’re your own worst critic and don’t have the luxury of thinking your first pieces are “good stuff?” Whether or not you think your words beat out bread slicers for best innovation, it won’t matter if you don’t persist in getting those words out of your head and into the world for folks to see, visit with and imbibe.
Yes, the words you use are accessible to vast hordes of people. Yes, lots of folks know what they mean. Yes, they’re common as joy and pain, and swathe open spaces like sunshine and rain (random song reference… sorry). Thing is, no on can compile words into story like you can. Just like no one has your handwriting, the distinct timbre and lilt of your voice, your exact mannerisms, or brow furrows, no one can construct your story like you can. If you gave several different artists the same color palette, all their works would be distinct.
No one can color that verbal canvas like you
So persist, because no one can color that verbal canvas like you. Doesn’t matter if your word-paintings start out like stick figures in primary colors. Keep writing, reading, and learning for access to greater word palettes and more nuanced gradation. When it comes to learning, no one ever “arrives,” so keep the heart of a student.
And stay motivated, because change will come if you keep honing your chosen craft.
And persevere, because your words, your writing can help color someone else’s understanding of this journey called life. It’s possible the timbre of your writing, the lilt of your tone can strike the heart of another for good like no one else’s can. It’s not your job to figure that out, though. Just write. Hone. Craft. Improve. Seek feedback, and after you do all that, keep writing.
There are so many things I’d tell my younger self! Things to remember, reassure, and redirect. Life is full of teachable moments. Here are five things I’d tell 16-year-old me.
When you start working for more than school credits, save more money so you won’t have to play catch-up later. Retirement looks far away, but the years will hop, skip, and jump away from you. Whatever you decide to save with those upcoming paid jobs, you really can up the amount and save more. Wondering where you’ll find it? In your wallet when you pay for lunch at the food court 5 days a week. Drop that to one or two days and save the rest of those dollars. Trust me, it’ll add up over time.
Just live. Your soul mate will show up when it’s time. Be open to your meeting not looking like an animated film about princesses or mermaids. Huntee, know that love ain’t like TV or movies. Sometimes it requires warm-fuzzies, other times it requires forgiveness and grit…and maybe grits even now and again. SIDEBAR: Practice making sweet AND savory pots so good, it’ll make you want to slap yourself.
Speaking of slaps, let’s go from the food-related humorous figurative sayings to the really serious issue. Your already know to NEVER accept that behavior from any romantic interest. But baby, add this to your quiver of self-preservation. RUN at the first sign of emotional abuse. No one’s perfect, but if that person tries to ascribe traits to your character that don’t exist based on their insecurities, bounce. For example, if that person accuses you of cheating because your smartphone battery died, you fell asleep, and he could’t reach you, but you’ve been nothing but faithful, bounce. You’re not a counselor. I can say with authority, you won’t choose that profession, so don’t feel bad that it’s not your job to walk them through their emotional morass. Tell them (with love and kindness) to take that to a counselor… and to the Lord in prayer.
Let’s talk about those after school routines… the ones you hate. Hon, I know you want to be “good and grown” and make your own choices, but the need for routine will never go away. It’s the one way to make sure you keep focusing on and plugging away at your goals.
Adults aren’t lying when they say “This too, shall pass.” Some sayings withstand time’s tests. This is one. Sounds trite, but it’s true.
Need drives me. A need to achieve everything on Maslow’s entire hierarchy.
Work feeds my wallet so I can feed my face. Can’t recall how many times my parents reminded me of 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (NIV).
The thought of going without Mom’s peach cobbler or sweet potato pie (not really pressing needs) or even her stick-to-the ribs casseroles was enough to propel me to work. As an adult, I work for the same reasons. Money buys food, shelter, water to bathe and keep my living spaces clean. Those dollars also buy power to warm my home and provide a comfy place to rest, recharge and go at it again.
Yes, need drives me. But it’s not the only thing. I also work to afford as much safety as possible.
Unfortunately, that won’t provide me with another type of warmth. Psychological warmth, which isn’t the same as trying to psych myself out when I’m cold. For me, it means those intimate, reciprocal relationships that make me feel warm and fuzzy, in tune with and accepted by others. From the connection with my immediate and extended family and fiancé, to my longtime friends and other loved ones, that need for connection and to impart warm fuzzies to others drives me to pick up the phone to just say hello.
From there, I do the specific work I do because maybe one thing I write and report will cause someone to smile, to peek at or examine life through a different lens or to look at others with more compassion and kindness. Maybe it’ll cause someone to say “Hey, I never thought about it like that before.” Or “I’ve never met anyone like that before, but we seem have things in common.”
The small part I play in the universe may cause someone to consider something, anything from a different perspective. Changing the world is hardly the goal, but maybe something I write or say can cause positive ripples, change someone else’s mind, and propel them to do great things in the world. That’s the kind of change I may never know. We may never know all the lives we reach with our kind words, smiles, or our written words.
There’s also the accomplishment factor. I recall one of the proudest moments during my teen years when I edited our high school yearbook as a sophomore. It was produced and delivered on time. It had been some years since that had happened at my school. That was THE goal that year, and I did everything I could to make it happen, including staying many an afternoon after school to make sure deadlines were met. At the end of that school year, we gathered everyone in the school cafeteria to make an announcement. It was worded in such a way to gear up folks for a disappointment.
“I just wanted to tell you…(BIG PAUSE) that the yearbooks… are here.” There was another palpable pause. One of my friends let out a scream, then the room was an avalanche of cheers. That, right there? Gave me the one of the biggest senses of accomplishment. These days, I experience that in multiple small doses peppered with the opposite emotion.
I love the feeling when I finish a writing project, be it a blog post in my spare time, a writing challenge, or something written for work. I’m driven because I love the feeling of setting a goal and meeting it, be it large or small. Doesn’t really matter if it’s writing and mailing cards to others, to shredding that pile of old mail, to washing and folding that laundry to cooking or baking something something that tastes so good, it makes me want the slap myself.
From tiny things to the more weighty matters, completing goals reaffirms the idea that I am more than capable of doing what I set my mind to do, including reaching my potential as purposeful writer and storyteller. But walking into that purposeful and confident writing starts with putting one word on one piece of paper, or typing a word into a document. Then a phrase, sentence, paragraph, and giving the mind freedom to let the story unfold. Keeping my basic needs met, those on the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs keep me going, as well as the intrinsic need to accomplish everything inside and sometimes just outside my wheelhouse of potential.
Doing what I do daily is the only way “do” will transform into “done”. “Done” breeds that sense of accomplishment which motivates me to… do more.
Because any question or comment is liable to get me singing the closest related tune floating through my mind, I started singing Change the World by Eric Clapton.
Yup, “If I could change the world, I would be the sunlight in your universe. You would think my love was really something good, baby if I could change the world.”
Then I got stuck on the love being something good. Wouldn’t it, if there were more of it?
Here’s why my mind is stuck on love.
Both of my stories for work dealt with tragic anniversaries. A new exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery marks the centennial of United Sates involvement in World War I. One hundred years since 116,000 lives were claimed during the Great War from combat and disease. Those were just folks from the USA. Looking at each country, the number totals spike into the tens of millions. That’s a LOT of people.
Sunday’s second story covered the kickoff event for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in a local county. The whole thing made me want to go weep in the station vehicle. Nine photos were perched on concrete stairs leading to a stage in the middle of a town-center style shopping center. Each photo represented a life cut short by criminal activity. From the cute little boy with chubby-looking cheeks, to the 18-year-old young lady who perished in the Virginia Tech shooting nearly a decade ago, to a 22-year-old who was gunned down, and his family still doesn’t know why.
Each photo represents an unknown number of family members and friends who are left to grieve absences that will never be filled by another human being on this planet. Ever. Each photo possibly represents an unknown number of first responders who may never be the same after working the crime scenes where these victims died.
Where do the tragic ripples end? I have no answer for that, but what seems certain is that somewhere, somehow, love for these victims was absent during the slivers of time it took to commit each crime. Can’t help but think that’s a truism, whether any victim’s life is taken by a stranger, an acquaintance, spouse, lover, or parent.
It’s not up to me to hash out each case and condemn any person. What I deduce is rooted in another song. The world just needs more love dipped in compassion and sprinkled with patience.
If I could change one thing to make the world better, that would definitely be it. Love. More of it. I’ll let it begin with me, and put it to practice the next time I want to curse out an awful driver on the Beltway.
There’s a reason some folks list parents among the most inspiring figures in their lives. I’m no different. My mother and father are two of the people who continually animate me in my quest to keep pursuing my goals. Whether I gather that inspiration when I speak with them or by simply reflecting on their sacrifices for their children, they consistently top that list of personal influencers who keep me trying my best. When I grow weary, their example and kind words remind me to rest awhile, regroup and get up and back to chipping away at making those goals reality.
She, as the oldest of 11 children, was the first to leave home to build a life for herself. Fresh from high school, she traveled west from California’s Imperial Valley to “the big city,” San Diego. Those years were filled with school, work, socializing and dates. She saved up and bought her first car there and ended up teaching a cool Deep South fellow, the sweetheart she met there, how to drive. Mr. Deep South Navy man eventually became her husband… and my dad. My dad would occasionally regale us with tales about olden day driving lessons, and how my mom could stretch her money as a young single woman. She was no crybaby, though. Mom was persistent and she really could (and still can) make a dollar out of 15 cents.
Mom’s inspiration is especially palpable now. With a recent cancer diagnosis, the strength she’s showed in this post-operative period has cemented her place as one of the greatest people I know. She’s a woman with a faith which, from what I can tell, has not wavered during this challenging period. Not only has she not drop kicked her God belief during the ordeal, she also shows a resolve to regain her former strength and ease back into her daily routines with the help of my siblings and my Dad.
Speaking of Daddy, his brand of inspiration got on my nerves when I was a kid. I didn’t realize his influence was taking hold way back then. See, he would leave work every weekday, some days a bit before dawn when he used the city bus to hop across town to work. He got on my nerves because if we were supposed to do chores before he got home he would always arrive too soon. Wasn’t really too soon. We were just too busy lollygagging instead of working on our tasks.
But his consistency and example during my childhood helped impress in me the importance of routine: To work, back home. To church, back home. To the grocery store to get something Mom forgot and needed for holiday meals, back home. Of course we broke the routine every now and again, but that early example left an enduring mark in my mind.
There are many more personal influencers in my life from a longtime friend from church who is battling Multiple Sclerosis, to elementary, high school and college pals who are living their dreams, and to my dear fiancé—they all inspire me to keep plugging away at my goals and developing into the best version of myself.