Something I Miss

Black and green olives; Hershey’s Kisses in cross-stitched reindeer mouths; Christmas stories read in a deep, low voice; children reaching for presents, eager to give and receive; sleeping in the car, waking up just enough to wrap my arms around my father’s neck as he carried me inside; and unwrapping one present, just before climbing into bed.

Christmas Eves at my grandparent’s house were simultaneously a rather stressful event and one of the most calming and relaxing evenings of the year. This year the memories seem to be stronger. I’m overwhelmed by the memories of rural Arkansas, of family, of Christmas decorations, of playing Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and of Christmas dinners with those powdery cookies filled with pecans, but mostly by the memories of hugs and smiles, of laughter and stories, and of songs played on the organ.

We had the last of these Christmas Eves several years ago. Since then all our lives have changed more than we could’ve imagined. Grandpatta passed away; Shawn and Christopher had another baby; Kelly finished school, got married, and moved to Mexico/Germany; Dad got a new job, and Mum travels with him; and I’ve finished school, moved to Missouri, and visited Europe a few times. Then Grandmomma started to lose her memory because of a medication she had been on.

I’ve never missed our silly traditions that came from being in a far-too-crowded home on the day before my favourite holiday so much. But this year and last year, I’ve not had anyone to do most of my traditions with, and it breaks my heart. I always knew my family would be spread across the world, but I had never thought about how that would affect the holidays, most specifically Christmas. This year has been a little easier to handle, but it’s also been the most difficult to plan and hasn’t felt like Christmas at all really. I found out on Christmas Eve that I’d be able to see my parents the next day and that we’d be going to visit Grandmomma, which helped it feel slightly more like the special day it is.

But nothing feels right without my sisters, who are currently in Florida and Germany. It’s been two years since I’ve spent a holiday with them (and since Kelly and Angél got married). And that was a dream. All our silly traditions with movies, food, and stories flood my memories. They bring tears of love—a love that could never be replaced or even matched.

I miss our Christmas traditions. But far more than that, I miss my sisters, and I dream of the time we will see each other again.

What’s something/someone you miss? What are some of your favourite Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments below!

Setting Goals

I think everyone knows the struggle of setting goals. Whether it be writing, exercise, reading, creating, or monetary goals, we can’t seem to stop ourselves from creating giant mile markers in our lives. We usually set the goals when we’re feeling on top of everything and ready to tackle the world, but we don’t often take into account that once that motivation starts to fade, the things we’re enjoying and planning to accomplish tend to become the same things that stress us out to no end and are put on the back burner because life just gets in the way.

My writing goals for 2016 are a great example.

Goals Accomplishments
Screenplay(s) for Eragon

(because everyone knows it needs to be redone)

It hasn’t even been started.

…but I did reread the book.

Novel It has been started, but it is only at 4187 words out of a minimum goal of 65000.
Ten short stories Three shorts stories were plotted, but none were finished.
Twenty poems Eight poems were written.
YouTube scripts (one a week) Only about ten YouTube videos were written, and only five recorded.
Blogs (two a week) Well, this went well for a few months, and then everything went awry, and I’m just starting back up (yet again) with a goal of one post a week.

Originally my goal was to finish my novel and the screenplay by June on top of half of the other goals as well. What I didn’t account for was my motivation or stress levels. I quickly encountered problems with that blog of mine disappearing, trying to balance part-time fast food work and a few full-time level freelance gigs, trying to find new roommates, looking for steady work, and traveling.

The thing is, though, that if I had taken a few things into account and simply structured my goals and my schedule better, I could have easily accomplished these goals.

  • Set aside specific days to work on specific projects.

I’m far more likely to work on them and reach my goals, even if I’m still not very good at sticking to it. I’ve been trying to write blog posts on Thursdays so that I can have them ready to post on Mondays. Although I’ve been awful at it for the last few months, when I push myself to do it, I can easily whip out a blog and put it up on the editing page that Azelyn and I use.

Now this technique looks different for writing my novel and all my other projects. Starting in January, I’ll be aiming to write a minimum of 2700 words a week for six months. I’ll be trying to split that throughout the week, but I will be setting aside the most time on Sundays and Fridays to work towards this goal. I’ll be planning like this for my other goals as well.

Here’s what my average weekly writing schedule now looks like:

SONY DSC

Now this might seem excessive (it certainly does to me), but if I routinely follow this schedule and manage my time, it should be relatively easy to follow. I’ll definitely be allowing myself to work ahead on any/all project if and when I like, and I’m quite excited to do so.

  • Set smaller goals at different increments that will help you reach your larger goal.

As you can see in my planning chart above, I’ve come up with specific goals for each week, and even each day. Obviously, nearly every day has overlap, but I vary the degree of difficulty/time commitment from day to day. But the most important factor is that I have a minimum goal for every week.

I’ve found that having weekly goals helps me most, but some people prefer daily, monthly, or quarterly goals. Having the weekly goals, but a daily plan gives me some leeway on what I should/could accomplish in a given day. I’m already aware that there will be days or weeks that I cannot finish the tasks I’ve marked. My schedule and the goal to work slightly ahead will help when those times arrive.

  • Work ahead when possible.

I know this is something I tend to hate thinking about, just like many of my friends do. But sticking to a schedule and getting ahead of the original plans can not only help reduce stress in the future, but it can also help your creativity become an integral part of who you are and get you in the habit of working on your projects, even when you don’t feel like it.

  • Find someone to help keep you accountable.

This can occur in so many different ways. I’ve tried several systems, and each has worked in its own time. Currently I use a combination of a couple accountability techniques: inquiring, nagging, and punishing.

Azelyn and I already talk on a daily (or as close as we can get) basis. However, amidst our regular conversations and fangirling, we still constantly ask each other how our projects are coming along. Largely, this is just because we’re curious, nosy, and each other’s number one fan. But also, we do it to ensure we’re actually being productive. The nagging is very rarely towards Azelyn, and it’s usually just about getting her post on our editing page earlier so I don’t have to edit it super early on Sunday morning. It’s a whole other matter for me. Azelyn is constantly nagging me about any and every project I’ve set before myself because I am the queen of procrastination…which is one of the reasons we’ve added punishments to our accountability. Right now, this is specifically meant for our blog posts, but once the new year hits, it will also include my videos and my novel word count. We’re still working out how those punishments will work out; but for the blog, every day that I fail to write a blog post past its deadline, I owe her a dollar. (Right now that’s up to $13. *oops*)

  • Reward yourself for reaching your goals.

Now I have no idea how I’ll do that this coming year yet, but I have a few ideas in mind, given that I have the money. This could be as little as eating a cookie when you reach your weekly word goal or as big as taking a vacation when you finish your novel. But whatever it is, don’t make the goals too small and the rewards too big. Make sure you actually have to work in order to be rewarded; then the victory will taste even sweeter.

What are some techniques you use to help set your writing (or life) goals?
What are some of your favourite reward systems for reaching your goals?
Let me know in the comments!

White Colours

The golden hues and raging reds
fill the skies before they’re dead.
A vast blank page left laying out
for everyone to see in doubt.
When light seems bright but life seems gone,
remember to look at the dawn,
where the hidden growth shines deep below the snow,
and the brown and orange give way to hope.
Just look and see the somber joy give way to happy sadness
as a new time begins and we all raise our glasses.
Take the time to see the glory of it all,
with your eyes half-masked by the cold’s call,
because the journey’s just begun,
as the silver bells are rung.
And as green takes the place of gold,
remember what you were told:
Be merry and bright.
For the time is right
for you to grow
and to let what has been hidden show.
As the whites and deep greens fade to kaleidoscopic hues,
make sure you’re the one to choose
what you’ll be and who you are.
Because you’ve already come so, so far.

Anxiety and Job Searching

Last name. First name. Address. Phone number. Why did you leave your last place of employment? What experience do you have? Why do you want to work here? Where do you see yourself in five years?

These questions are only a few that are permanently seared into my brain from the endless hours of applications that I always seem to be filling out. I recently started a part-time seasonal position. I love the job so far, even with being completely exhausted at the end of my shifts, being hit on by complete strangers, and awkwardly trying to talk friends into buying things when I used to be the one talking them out of their impulse buys. But because it is a seasonal position, I still need to find another position to start come January.

The majority of looking for work is just mind-numbing monotony, but it becomes a whole different thing when you add a mental illness to the mix. Having anxiety disorders can make submitting the applications and resumes, making follow-up phone calls, and being interviewed nearly impossible.

Because of facing the seemingly impossible time and time again, I’ve started noticing patterns in my application processes and anxiety levels.

The constant uncertainty of applying and interviewing in exhausting and worrying as it is. But when an anxiety disorder is added to the mix, the nervousness becomes a toxic fear. You constantly worry if you put down the correct information. You wonder if you smiled enough during your interview. You dwell on how well you shook the interviewer’s hand and if you should have done it differently. You think about whether you called too soon or too late to check on an application. You are terrified at the thought of going into an interview and forgetting the answers to basic questions. You overthink the pre-interview exams, wondering if you had typed just three more words if you would get the job. You obsess about whether your outfit was too colorful, too dull, or too casual for the interview.

But these aren’t things you can control or change.

However, these are some of the tips I’ve gathered for myself as I’ve looked for jobs over the last few years. I hope they can be of some help.

Searching for jobs to apply to:

Start specific and move towards generalized positions.
If you start with specific positions that you believe you will love, you may just get a dream job of yours because you took the time to look and apply. If you don’t find a dream job, look for another in your field. As you go along and apply to those positions, start looking at more general positions that might hire you on the spot. I usually aim to apply for five specific positions for every general position I apply to when I’m first looking. Then as time goes on and I’ve applied to the specific positions, I switch to one specific for every five or so general applications. That way I am always applying to the jobs that most appeal to me while I seek potential employment in the meantime.

Check at your local library and in the newspaper.
There are still several companies and small businesses that do not have job listings posted online, let alone online applications. Going to a library and looking in the newspaper is a great way to see when those companies are hiring.

Filling out applications:

Set a minimum and maximum number of applications to apply to in a given day.
Job searching is a job in itself. It can potentially take hours of work just to finish one application. Make sure you’re filling out applications. But make sure you are taking the time to make them and your resume look good and for you to take breaks. Applying can be mentally and emotionally draining, so be sure to get some fresh air, sleep, food, and relaxation.

Organize the applications.
I usually start off organizing the applications by due dates, then interest, then company/position. It isn’t often that applications have due dates, but I have applied to many. These jobs are usually highly competitive, and even if you don’t think it’s worth the effort because of lack of experience, you should apply. When organizing by interest, I simply go by the job descriptions that are readily available and start with those which seem most aligned with my goals and interests. Once I’ve done that, I go through and look at the companies and what they stand for and what perks are available for employees.

Submitting applications:

Double check everything.
I’ve realized while or shortly after submitting applications before that I’ve made a mistake. This can not only be embarrassing, but it could also cost you a position. When filling out paper applications, I prefer writing everything out in pencil first and then going back through and looking over it all before I fill it out in pen.

Try to make your resume unique to the company and position to which you are applying.
This isn’t always possible, and I’m beyond aware of that. But when you are submitting applications to companies and positions that you are truly interested in, it helps when you have things that stand out to HR.

Write cover letters.
I hate this. I really do. I am awful at writing letters to my friends and family; writing letters to complete strangers and trying to convince them to hire me is even worse. However, this could greatly help when applying, especially to your dream positions. Make the cover letters very specific to the company, and if possible, find the name of the supervisor or manager that would be overseeing the interviews and hiring process. Doing so has gotten me a few interviews that I hadn’t thought I would ever be considered for.

Follow-ups:

Call the companies to which you have applied.
I hate this about as much as cover letters, but when you call a company to ask if your application has been reviewed and/or if interviews have started, it shows initiative. I tend to call anywhere from three to seven days after I’ve submitted everything.

When possible, walk in to ask about your application.
There are many places that do not allow this anymore for security reasons. But if it is allowed, walking in can show initiative as well as put a face and personality to your name.

Interviews:

Arrive early.
Not only can this show that you are prepared and diligent, but it also gives you time to stop and breath before your interview. Taking several deep breaths can calm you. I also tend to bring something relaxing to do or work on while I wait. Usually I take a sketchbook and a book with me and will pull one of those out until I am called for my interview. This helps me to relax and empty my mind a little as well as helping me to act a little more like myself than my panicking brain normally allows in stressful situations.

Come well-prepared.
Show up with a printed copy of your resume, a portfolio (if applicable), questions that you might have about the position and company, ideas for what you could do in the position to improve efficiency or set the company apart, an expected (and usually negotiable) salary, and a smile.

Save questions about things such as sickness policies for after you are hired.
There are many questions that I tend to have about companies’ policies that I want to ask during the interview; however, asking the right questions at the incorrect times can take a wonderful interview and ruin it in seconds. Stop to analyze the interviewer and the situation before you ask the question, and if needed, write it down as a question to ask later.

Be honest.
Yes, embellishing yourself can be good, but don’t overdo it. Tell the truth when you’re asked a question that is meant to analyze your leadership skills or your personal interaction. In my experience, even when the truth seems as though it could harm my potential for being hired, it has always been praised. I’ve even gotten further in some interview processes and even hired after/because of my responses. Obviously those responses weren’t the only things that led to my being chosen, but I have been told that my honesty is something that interviewers have admired.

 

What are some of the things you do that help you remain calm and diligent throughout the process of looking for a job? Let me know down in the comments!