When goals collide

scream and shout

A friend’s two-year-old once pitched a tantrum on a stairway landing between two floors of the family home.

What provoked the meltdown? Once the furious howls subsided, he choked out the following explanation: He wanted to be upstairs with his dad and downstairs with his mom. He wanted both, at the same time. He didn’t want to choose.

I don’t know about you, but I can really relate. Especially, during the past few weeks, as I’ve gotten increasingly busy.  At any given moment, I’m conflicted about what I should be doing—and doing next. There are so many things that need to be done, all vying for my attention.

Such conflicts are especially common in times of transition, at least that’s true for me. Right now, I’m juggling freelance writing with blogging, leading a writing workshop for foster kids, and looking for more paying work. I’m also trying to organize my home—a task that’s especially pressing since my lease is up in a couple of months, at which point I’ll need to move. (Speaking of which, I’ll also need to find another place to live.) Also: resolve legal matters relating to the Plan B Nation trademark, prepare my 2011 taxes, help out a friend with cat care, and pack for a trip to Boston. Plus: Be happier!

Not surprisingly, such internal conflicts are fertile breeding grounds for dissatisfaction. In her mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert notes that Rumi once advised his students to write down the three things they most want in life.  If any item clashed with another, he warned them, they were destined for unhappiness.

But while this may be a sound observation, it doesn’t tell us how to deal with such conflicts when they arise in the course of daily life.  How do we best move forward while engaged in an internal tug of war?

While I don’t have a magic bullet (sorry!), I do have a few strategies that have helped me in the past, and to which I’m now resorting.  As is so often the case with this blog, I’m sharing what I need to remember.

1. There’s no “right” decision

Consider the situation. Decide on next steps. Once you’ve made an informed decision, do your best to ignore that voice that’s second-guessing you. That nagging sense that whatever you’re doing isn’t the “right” thing? It’s just not true.

2. Keep moving forwards

Some years back, at a similar point of overwhelm, I remarked to a wildly efficient friend that I was tempted to give in and simply do nothing at all.  He gave me a horrified look: “No, no,” he said. “That way lies madness!”  Which made me laugh, which is always a good thing. And besides, the point’s a good one.  A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, as the old saying goes.  For me, tracking progress is an essential strategy here.

3. Exercise

Sadly, I’m not one of those people who enjoys the actual experience of exercise, so I often let this one slide.  That being said, I always feel so much better after I’ve gotten moving that I’m determined to do better in making it a regular part of my life. In the meantime, as they say in 12-step programs: “Take my advice. I’m not using it.”

4. Say No

This is no time to add to your to-do list. Be ruthless (or as ruthless as you can be) about saying No. Need help? Read this.

5. Self-compassion

Simply put, give yourself a break. Recent research suggests that self-compassion is more effective than self-esteem in fostering contentment. Recognize that you’re in a tough situation and doing the best you can.  If you need some help in figuring out how to go about this, Buddhist teacher and psychologist Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance is a great starting point.

As I look ahead to the rest of the day, I still have that anxious feeling. Then I remind myself I’ve written this post. And that’s, at least, a start.

5 things I learned when The Organizer paid a visit

The Organizer takes stock

My friend Heidi is a professional organizer, and when she heard that this month’s Life Experiment is all about Creating Order, she offered to get me started.

I jumped at the opportunity.

She arrived promptly at 8:15 am, full of reassurances. “I don’t make judgments,” she said, more than once. “It’s about you and how you live.  My work is very personal, and everything is confidential.”

I’d done little to prepare for the visit; Heidi wanted to see what things looked like when I hadn’t made a special effort. Before we got to work, I took her on a quick top-to-bottom tour—from my clothes- and book-strewn bedroom to my chaotic basement, a potter’s field for old electronics, work files, and memorabilia.

Over the next two hours, we made substantial inroads, far more than I would have thought possible for such a short session. We started out by going through piles on my dining room table, where I’d gathered some of my most challenging small organization projects.

For example: What do you do with that collection of random screws, nails, and other mysterious hardware items?

Answer: Your throw it out.

Now this might not be the case for someone who is handy and does lots of home improvement projects, but as soon as Heidi told me I could pitch this stuff, I felt instant relief.

And, as she explained it, that’s a big part of what a professional organizer does: Gives you permission to toss stuff that you can’t seem to toss on your own.  (Or, as she diplomatically put it, surveying my living room: “It’s my job to get you to think about things, so this sort of situation doesn’t ensue.”)

That being said, Heidi certainly didn’t pressure me; she mainly just asked questions.

“Why do you need the instructions to your blender?” she inquired.

I skimmed through the little booklet. “Look! There are recipes! I’m going to put this with my recipe books.”

She gave me a long look. “Really?” she said. Really?

After that she let it go, except for one final observation. “I’ll bet you never go to that blender thing to make a recipe out of it. (Chances are she’s entirely right, but for now, I’m still keeping it.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve made an effort to be more organized (over the years, as I recounted in Salon, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on storage), and some of Heidi’s tips—such as the adage to “put like with like”—were already familiar to me.

But other truths came as either novel insights or much-needed reminders. For the record, here they are:

1. No one wants your old cassette tapes.

No one. Absolutely no one.  After a rejection from Goodwill, I’d been planning to move on. Heidi told me not to bother.

2. You don’t have to be like your parents

“I’m sort of like my mother,” I explained, as I dithered over whether to discard some melted-down candle remnants.

Heidi’s matter-of-fact response: “You don’t have to be.”

3.  Just because something was once pretty doesn’t mean it still is.

“I loved this,” I said wistfully, gazing at my one-time favorite Vera Bradley tote bag, now torn and stained.

I wondered if I should keep it—until Heidi’s voice broke in. “You can’t donate that,” she said practically. “You have to throw it away.”

A scummy candle holder with a floral pattern elicited a similar response.

Me: “It’s sort of pretty.”

Heidi: “Not so much anymore.”

Bonus tip:  If something has sentimental value but no current use, think of taking a digital photo and discarding the object itself.

4.  Projects take less time than you think they will . . .

“It’s going to take me hours just to go through that,” I said gesturing to a pile of boxes on the stairway landing as we emerged from the basement.

Heidi stopped me right there. “Why?” she said.

“Oh, you know,” I said vaguely. “Lots of random things in various places, have to go through it all.”

“Well, let’s just see,” said Heidi.

And you know what? Most of those boxes were empty, except for packing materials. After five or 10 minutes, only a small stack of papers and binders remained to be sorted.

5.  Unless they take more

As she gathered up her things, preparing to leave, Heidi said: “You know you have a lot of work to do, right?”

The words brought me back to earth. I’d felt like we’d accomplished so much! And yet, this was just a beginning.

“How long do you think the whole house will take?”

“Well, it depends on how much time you spend but, maybe  . . . a month or so?”

Happily, one month is exactly the length of my Creating Order Life Experiment. Three days down, 27 to go. Yes, I’m just getting started.

Special offer: Heidi—whose full name is Heidi Robinson—is offering a two-hour organizing session for $50—that’s 50% off her usual rate—to the first five Northampton-area Plan B Nation readers to contact her. You can reach her by phone at 413-219-7433 or email her at heidilisa43@yahoo.com.

Life Experiment #2: Creating Order

“Order is everything,” my friend Melissa once remarked, more than two decades ago.

When an offhand comment sticks in your mind, there’s likely a very good reason why, and in this case, that reason is readily apparent everywhere I look.

I am living in chaos.

It is a fertile, vibrant chaos, to be sure—fascinating books, scribbled notes, Christmas decorations, piles of colorful clothes, fliers for events I’d like to attend, bowls of local apples and onions, recipes I’d like to make. At times, I view the mess as akin to compost—materials that make my days both richer and more nourishing.

But mostly it’s a way better metaphor than it is a way of life. It’s frustrating, and it’s time-consuming, and sometimes it’s even expensive. (This morning, I searched for some books about organization that I’d picked up years ago. Tellingly, I couldn’t find them.)

Which is why February’s Life Experiment will be about Creating Order.

As some of you may recall, I’ve dubbed 2012 my Year of Experiments. Each month, I’m embarking on a new set of activities around a particular theme. At the end of each month, I’ll give some thought to how my life has shifted and share the results.

In particular, I’m interested in how activities that are apparently unrelated affect and inform each other. Here, I think of the old saying “Trust in God and clean house.” (Not to be confused with another old saying: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry.”) How will bringing order to my living space change my life in other ways? Stay tuned for the answer.

Or better yet, join me! Make February your month of creating order—or pick a Life Experiment of your own and watch to see how things change.

As a reminder, here are my suggested guidelines for Life Experiments. (I described these in more detail in a previous post.):

1.  Select process goals, not outcome goals

2. Select activities that are directly related to your larger goals

3. Pick activities that are satisfying (and even fun) in themselves.

And now, here it is, my personal Life Experiment #2: Every day I will take one or more specific and quantifiable actions aimed at creating order at home. (Examples: I will take 10 articles of clothing to Goodwill. I will spend an hour sorting through office papers.)

I’ll keep myself accountable by tracking the actions I take each day. (In case you’re wondering, an update on January’s Life Experiment is shortly forthcoming.)

 ♦

Order, organization, neatness—these are not qualities that come naturally to me. I will never be that person who, as happiness maven Gretchen Rubin once did, explains my compatibility with a mate in terms of a shared affinity for order, (“He’ll  say ‘Let’s take 20 minutes and tidy up,’” Rubin told the New York Times, in describing her husband.)

I do, however, think that I can do better.  Maybe a lot better.  I plan to give it a shot.

2012: My year of experiments

The Chemistry Of Inversion

In Working Identity—one of my all-time favorite books about career transitions—author Herminia Ibarra urges us to approach our lives as a series of experiments.

Instead of researching, planning, and executing our next moves, we need to live into them, says the Yale-educated professor of organizational behavior, who conducted an extensive study of successful mid-career changers.

As she succinctly sums it up, “We learn who we are—in practice, not in theory—by testing reality, not by looking inside. We discover the true possibilities by doing—trying out new activities, reaching out to new groups, finding new role models, and reworking our story as we tell it to those around us.”

This is advice I’ve taken to heart in my own journey through Plan B Nation, and I often return to Ibarra’s book when I’m feeling lost or confused.

Among Ibarra’s suggestions is to try new things and see what happens:  “Only by testing do we learn what is really appealing and feasible—and in the process, create our own opportunities,” she writes.

More specifically, she proposes “crafting experiments”—getting started on one or two new activities while making sure you have a sound way to evaluate results.

This year, I’ll be adopting Ibarra’s approach with a slight twist. Rather than focusing just on my career, I’ll be experimenting more broadly. I’m interested in my life as a whole, not just in paying work (critical though that is).

Here’s what I’ll be doing: Each month, I’ll embark on a new experiment—a concrete set of activities tied to a particular time frame. At the end of the month, I’ll reflect on how my life has shifted as a result of taking these actions.

One of the things that most intrigues me about this approach is the idea that experiments often take us in unexpected directions.  We may not get what we thought we would, but we may get something better. Or if not better, different. Or at least interesting.

All of my experiments will reflect three criteria:

1.  The activities are process goals, not outcome goals: In other words—things that I can accomplish on my own, without the world’s cooperation. (Example: Writing a book is a process goal. Selling a book to a major publisher for eight million dollars is an outcome goal. Make sense?)

2.  The activities are not directly related to my primary goals: This one is a bit murkier, but basically I’m curious about how taking actions apparently unrelated to life’s big challenges may paradoxically help us surmount them. Is this true? We. Shall. See.

3.  The activities are satisfying (and even fun) in themselves: Life coach Tara Sophia Mohr, who writes the Wise Living Blog, urges us to “create goals that feel like huge gorgeous presents to ourselves,” having found that they are “not only more fun but also more effective.” This sounds almost too good to be true, but Ms. Mohr, who is equipped with a Stanford M.B.A., makes a pretty strong case here, and I’m going to give it a try.

And now, here it is: 2012 Life Experiment #1: Over the next month, my plan is to connect (or re-connect) with 30 people—and then observe what follows.

I’m a pretty social person, so it’s not altogether unlikely that I’d be doing this anyway without giving it much thought. But that’s exactly the point. Over the next month, I plan to be mindful of such connections—savoring the pleasure they bring, curious about where they’re leading. Because, when all is said and done, the spirit in which we go about things tends to be at least as important as the things themselves (as I wrote last night in my final post of 2011).

As always, you’re welcome to join me—or to share your own life experiments (or pretty much anything else). In the meantime, have a great day—and a great start to 2012.

Calm wonder

A few weeks back, I received an eloquent holiday letter from a friend who has faced some hard times in recent years but has steadily been moving forward into a vibrant and fulfilling new life. Along with recounting the year’s highlights—foreign travel, news of her kids—she spoke of her theme for the year ahead: Durable calm.

Over the next few days, I found my mind returning to these words—and mulling over how I’d describe the spirit in which I’d like to move through my own 2012.

“Calm” felt right. It’s not a quality that comes naturally to me—I tend towards the frantic and anxious—but it’s one that I’ve come to value more with each passing year.  I tried it out this week and noticed that even repeating the word in my mind seems to help ground me.

“Wonder” is another word that captured my imagination.  The idea of greeting the world with curiosity rather than with judgment. Of being interested in things as they are and less wrapped up in my ideas of how I think they ought to be. This certainly isn’t to say that opinions don’t have their place, just that I think that my life would richer if I carried them a bit more lightly.

In recent days, I’ve tried invoking the words—calm wonder–when I’m feeling uncertain or lost, and I’ve been struck by their capacity to remind me of what I care about most. Real meaning won’t be found in robotically checking off the next item on my to-do list but rather in taking time to experience life in all its confusion and beauty.

Calm wonder isn’t a goal in itself—a sort of New Year’s resolution. Rather it’s a container, the spirit with which I’d like to infuse everything I do. It’s also a sort of touchstone: When I’m stressed out and on the move, invoking the words orients me. It invites me to return.

I’m starting 2012 in a very different place from where I started 2011, and for that I am mostly grateful. I love my friends and the place I live. I love writing this blog. For the first time in more than two years, I’m reeling in more paying work than I can easily handle.

Which is all the more reason to be clear on my intention to cultivate calm wonder: to focus not so much on getting things done but on the doing of them.

Woody Guthrie’s 33 New Year’s resolutions (summed up in just 2 words)

Earlier this week, I wrote about how I’m not really a New Year’s resolution kinda gal, but if I were, I’d draw inspiration from a tattered handwritten document penned in 1942.

Drawn up by legendary singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, the 33-item list is a quirky and sweet reminder of how the quality of our lives depends not so much on huge accomplishments but on the countless small actions and habits that constitute our days.

For the record, here is what the 30-year-old Guthrie sought to do in the year ahead:

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

As I read over this list one more time, it struck me that the whole rambling lovely mass could be summed up in just two words: Be kind.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be kind to your community and the planet we all inhabit. While concrete goals are great—and certainly have their place—it’s the spirit in which they’re undertaken that lies at the heart of it all.

Note: Big thanks to my friend and law school classmate Ted Mills, who shared the Guthrie list with me on Facebook in response to my previous post. Here’s the link he posted.

Stuck on New Year’s resolutions? Try this instead

Up Above!

I’ve always loved the idea of New Year’s resolutions—the clean slate, the fresh start, the optimistic resolve—but for all my ever-so-good intentions, I never quite seem to keep them.

So this year, I’m trying something new. Instead of establishing a list of goals and struggling (and failing) to reach them, I’ve decided to think in terms of possibilities.

Inspired by an essay in Wise Bread, I took 20 minutes out of Christmas morning to scribble down 100 things that I want to do—things that, at some level, seem to be calling to me. Nothing was too big. Nothing was too small. As more thoughts came to mind later in the day, I added them to the list.

By the time I was finished, I had some 85 items ranging from going to Thailand to taking a photography class to buying a KitchenAid mixer.  To someone else, this compilation might appear a weirdly random assortment. To me, it makes total sense. Reading it makes me happy.

Let me be clear, this is not a to-do list—it would take me years, if not decades, to accomplish everything I wrote down, and besides, that isn’t the point. What I was after was something more intangible, a framework for thinking about what matters to me and how I spend my time.

Looking over my list, I was instantly struck by how the things that call me come in clusters. Travel is a big one—no surprise—but so is organization, or rather the idea of creating a more ordered home and with it a more ordered life. Creative work, time in nature, and cooking with friends are other recurrent themes.

I was heartened to see that my big changes of recent years—most notably my move to western Massachusetts from the Boston area—have made it far easier for me to spend time in ways that feel meaningful. It was good to feel that I’ve been heading in the right direction.

And as interesting as what I wrote down was what I left out. Many (though not all) of the things on my list are inexpensive or free. Big-city glamor is in notably short supply. Making waffles, playing mini-golf, cross-country skiing. Stringing white lights around my living room windows. Re-learning how to knit. Corralling kids to make a gingerbread house and holiday cookies next year.

Thinking in terms of possibilities seems especially appropriate for Plan B Nation, where we need to be open-minded and strategic if we’re to move forward.

Rather than choosing a single concrete goal—say, getting a job at X organization–we’re well advised to think more broadly. What is the essence of what we want? (Meaningful work, an income adequate to support us in other life goals, interesting colleagues.)  What are some alternate paths to these same ends?

I imagine consulting this list many times in the year ahead, especially whenever I’m feeling at a loss or stuck. Twelve months from now, I’ll definitely be curious to see how many of the items from the list made it into my life. But again, that isn’t really the point. These aren’t goals so much as potential paths: They are stepping stones, not the destination.

Why Newt Gingrich is my new role model

Newt Gingrich  For President 2012

While I’d never in a zillion years vote for Newt Gingrich, I’m awestruck—and more than a little inspired—by his seemingly limitless capacity to bounce back from defeat.

I mean, think about it: This is a guy who not-so-long-ago was dubbed the most hated man in America, the only house speaker ever to be sanctioned by its members.  As recently as last month, his presidential campaign was floundering, polling in the single digits following his campaign staff’s mass exodus the previous June. Pundits pronounced game over.

And yet today, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, he is widely viewed as a frontrunner, playing hare to Mitt Romney’s tortoise as they vie for the lead in the Republican field.

Mulling over the latest Gingrich comeback, I couldn’t help comparing his Wile E. Coyote-esque resurgence to my own tendency to give up—sometimes even before I start.

One recent case in point: I almost didn’t start this blog. For one thing, I was convinced I’d start, and wouldn’t find any readers. This would be depressing and a little embarrassing.  I recalled the words of a college classmate now a famously successful (if curmudgeonly) writer: “You know the average number of readers of a blog? One!”  Who was I to think that I could add to the conversation?

This is not, to put it mildly, how Newt Gingrich thinks. Newt Gingrich is convinced that he has something to offer the world. And if you don’t agree with him, it’s your problem not his.

In fairness, this sort of against-the-odds confidence is far easier to come by if you’re a narcissist or a sociopath or trend towards bipolar mania. There’s a brilliant scene in Gary Trudeau’s presidential campaign mockumentary Tanner ’88 where a seasoned political reporter educates a younger colleague on this point. “We’re talking about someone who wants to be the most powerful person on the planet,” he says. “We’re not talking well balanced.”  (I’m paraphrasing from memory here, but you get the idea.)

That being said, those of us living in Plan B Nation have a special need for the sort of chutzpah demonstrated by Gingrich and his ilk. We live in an era where positive reinforcements are in increasingly short supply.  Perhaps for the first time ever, we’re facing repeated rejections and setbacks in our professional lives. We have to find ways to keep going when it feels more sensible to give up.

A primary goal of this blog is to identify concrete strategies that help us do just that. For me, a supportive community has been a big piece of this. I’ve also found it helps to make an effort to keep an open mind, to remind myself that I really don’t know where the events in my life are leading.

And now I have another strategy to add to my arsenal. The next time, I’m feeling like a failure, struggling to move on, I’m going to sit down and ask myself: “What would Newt Gingrich do?”

Take stock of how you rocked 2011

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of year again, but before moving on to New Year’s Resolutions, be sure to give yourself credit for 2011.

Now, this may (at first glance) seem like a pointless exercise. Thinking back on the past year, it can be easy to focus on all that you hoped to do that’s still undone: The jobs you applied for and failed to get, the book you didn’t write, the exercise program that you planned to make a regular part of your life. (If you’re anything like me, you didn’t.)

That was certainly the direction my mind went when I first contemplated this task—which was why I was so happily surprised to see it was misleading me.  (This was hardly the first time: I’ve long recognized that just because I think something doesn’t mean it’s true.) Here’s a sampling of what I accomplished over the past year:

  • Started writing personal essays and publishing them in Huffington Post, Salon, and our local paper.
  • Launched this blog
  • Cleared out the packed storage unit that I’d been meaning to get rid of for a decade (and wrote an essay about it)
  • Completed a graduate class in a social work (and no, I doubt that I’ll continue with the program, but I’d been thinking about it for a long time and am glad I tried it out.)
  • Fulfilled a longstanding dream of working with foster kids, including planning a writing workshop to be sponsored by Friends of Children this spring
  • Got some really interesting freelance writing gigs that are likely to lead to more
  • Made lots of great friends in my great new community of Northampton Massachusetts, the first place I’ve lived in a long time that really feels like home.

There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

This was an especially interesting exercise for me given my initial assessment that this had been a long hard year primarily defined by failure. I felt like I’d spent most of the year trying, failing, getting up, then trying again. Along with the successes listed above, I’d applied for (and been rejected for) a whole bunch of different jobs. I wrote and circulated a book proposal that failed to elicit any interest from the agents who perused it. The list goes on.

Happily, I had this year’s daily log to contradict these thoughts.  As I recently wrote in Huffington Post, I started keeping daily logs more than a decade ago after trading my structured life as a law firm associate for the free-form existence of an aspiring novelist. At the time, I was reaching the end of the week in a mild state of panic, thinking “I’m not getting anything done! What is wrong with me?”

In an effort to take charge of my schedule, I started using a blank bound book — a so-called lawyer’s diary for which I had no further use — to track my activities day by day. And lo and behold, I wasn’t such a slacker after all! It just felt that way. (Lest there be any doubt, I did indeed write and ultimately publish two novels.)

Tracking accomplishments can be especially important in Plan B Nation, where many of us are dealing with more failures than we have in the past. (That’s certainly the case for me.)  The fact is, these are challenging times, and it’s not our fault. Making a concerted effort to recognize our successes can help us to remember that we do indeed have significant strengths.

So go ahead and make those New Year’s Resolutions—and do your best to stick to them. But before cracking the whip for 2012, celebrate 2011.

When is it time to change course? (HT legal realism)

Kayak sobre las nubes / Sailing in the sky

Whether you’re reading a self-help book, a leadership guide, or any number of blogs, you’re likely to hear a lot about the importance of keeping commitments.

Indeed, the ability to follow through—to exercise self-control—is critical to success and happiness, according to the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by research psychologist Roy Baumeister and New York Times writer John Tierney.

As I recently wrote in Huffington Post, there are a number of proven strategies helpful in keeping us on course, including tracking our progress, limiting our priorities, and keeping our bodies fueled with the glucose that facilitates self-control. One of the more innovative (and amusing) solutions is StickK.com, the brainchild of two Yale professors and one of their students. It works like this: Pick a goal. Report your progress. Fail to do what you promised? You are hit with an automatic penalty, such as making a payment to an “anti-charity”—a group with views you detest.

Such strategies can be especially helpful in Plan B Nation, where continued movement towards important goals can be especially hard to keep up. It’s one thing to finish a project on time when a boss is breathing down your neck. Quite another to plug away day after day alone on a seemingly unending job hunt. Over time, I’ve adopted a number of the strategies the Willpower authors describe—along with some of my own. They’ve helped me to move forward on numerous fronts, including launching this blog.

At the same time, as with pretty much everything, there are limits to willpower. Yes, thriving in Plan B requires a more-than-usual infusion of determination. But it also requires more-than-usual flexibility—a willingness to improvise, to take our opportunities where we find them. If we become too fixated on our goals, we may fail to recognize (and take advantage of) unexpected strokes of luck. Focus is good. Blinders are bad.

These thoughts have been on my mind as I wind up my first seven days of NaPerProMo. This is my personal (and intentionally silly-sounding) answer to National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, wherein more than 200,000 would-be novelists commit to penning 50,000 words in the course of 30 days. Taking this model as a jumping off point, I announced that on December 1, I would embark on NaPerProMo—National Personal Project Month—with the goal of writing a blog post a day.

It sounded like a good idea—indeed, such a good idea that I recently learned that the BlogHer network of women bloggers just concluded NaBloPoMo (National Blog Post Month).  At the same time, as I’ve found in the past week, it isn’t quite feasible, at least not if I want to write the sort of posts that you’ll likely want to read.  In large part this is because I’ve suddenly (and happily) been getting some paying freelance work, and for me, it was a no-brainer that this had to take precedence.

I remember remarkably little of what I learned in law school, but one thing that sticks with me is an arresting list of conflicting “canons of construction”—rules for how we go about figuring out what a law means.  Legal realist Karl Llewellyn famously listed 28 examples of such conflicting rules. (For example, the rule that “A statute cannot go beyond its text” exists alongside “To effect its purpose, a statute may be implemented beyond its text.”)  When judges go about interpreting laws, there are “correct, unchallengeable rules of ‘how to read’ which lead in happily variant directions,” Llewellyn concluded with dry humor in a 1950 law review piece.

Here, it seems to me, that life is very much like law. Stick to your commitments. Be open and flexible. These are both great pieces of advice so far as they go, but at times they will conflict. And at such points we, like Llewellyn’s judge, will have to find our own “right” answer. For me, right now, this means keeping in mind the spirit of my goal (writing more, building community, connecting with My People) but being flexible in how I go about it. And while I may not write a blog post each and every day, I can still keep moving forward.