Procrastination is not a SMART friend of mine

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Time to put out the garbage? Suddenly, doing the dishes seems appealing. Followed up on that job interview yet? Hmm, I wonder what’s stored in the garage. Booked your yearly check up with the dentist? Wow, I had no idea how many cob webs the corners of my house had.

I’ve often wondered if anyone actually shows up for courses on overcoming procrastination. I would certainly sign up for a course like that because, in theory, it would provide me with useful tips. In reality, I would probably come up with an excuse not to attend and then just say the class got cancelled.

Seriously, though. Procrastination for me is intertwined with the depression and anxiety I experience. The more anxious I feel about something, the more depressed I feel about not getting the task done, which results in me going out of my way to avoid doing it.

Yup, putting things off is my forte, which is why the SMART method of goal setting works so well for me.

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic

Timely

I try to use this goal setting method in all areas of my life. Sometimes I need to remind myself I can only do one thing at a time. Sometimes, instead of a to-do list, I write an accomplishment list.

Most New Year’s resolutions fail. Why? Because people set vague, unrealistic goals. For example:

This year, I’m going to exercise.

Okay, good for you, but in my mind, this resolution raises more questions.

  • What type of exercise will you do?
  • By this year, do you mean every day or some random day within the next year or once a month or something else entirely?
  • How will you know when you’ve met your goal?
  • How often, what time of day and where will you do the exercise?

And so on. What about saying this instead?

This week, on Monday and Wednesday at work, I’m going to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Much better. You’re Specific about when you’re going to do the activity and what the activity will be. You’re Measuring it by stating how many days you’re planning to follow through on this plan. It’s certainly Achievable and Realistic. Lastly, setting a Time limit completes the statement. SMART.

Some resolutions, however, are too vague and need to be broken down into mini SMART goals to get that one task completed.

From now on, I’m going to eat healthy.

Great plan! Do you know how to eat healthy? What does being healthy mean to you? Mini SMART goals might be:

  • On Monday after school, I’m going to write up my definition of healthy and how it relates to me.
  • On Tuesday before breakfast, I’m going to print a food diary I found online.
  • On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m going to write down everything I eat as soon as I eat it.
  • On Friday before bed, I’m going to review my definition of healthy and compare it to what I’ve been eating for the last few days and find any gaps.
  • On Saturday after my swim, I will plan my meals for the following week by making a grocery list.
  • By the time I go to bed on Sunday, my grocery shopping will be done.

And the next week you start over. By breaking down your goals into bite-size pieces, you’re setting yourself up for success. And if you aren’t able to complete each mini goal by the end of the week, don’t beat yourself up. All that means is either you need to be even more specific or you’ve given yourself too much to do. You could make the above SMART goals more achievable as follows;

  • Monday and Tuesday before bed, I’m going to research online about healthy eating.
  • By 3pm on Thursday, I will have written down my definition of what eating healthy looks like.
  • On Sunday during lunch with my health-conscious friend, I’m going to ask them how I get started.

I use SMART goals to feel good about myself and keep procrastination at bay. Have you turned your New Year’s resolutions into SMART goals yet?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Fear of commitment?

ID-100104103 A few years ago, I thought I had it all figured out. I had taken an online program to re-evaluate my strengths and interests and to update my resume. Shortly after that post, I did get a part-time job with a non profit. That contract ended 5-months ago and, although I still do the occasional project with them, I’m not getting the regular income I used to receive.

Yet I still find myself in the same predicament. I’ve decided I want to work in social services, partly as a result of the experience I’ve had being in the system and partly because I love advocating for others. Many months later of hemming and hawing over which program to take at which school and I’m still trying to make a decision.

Paying for school is not a problem, as I can apply for the Opportunity Fund which assists people with a disability obtain training in the field of their choice. However, I can only apply to the fund once I’ve been accepted into a program. Basically, my fear of no longer being a generalist (which is what got me here in the first place), is what’s stopping me from making the next step. Or maybe it’s another type of fear that’s holding me back.

Fear of commitment perhaps? To specialize in a specific area is daunting to a generalist. Am I not limiting my options by doing so?

It could be fear of failure. What if I don’t get into any of the programs I apply for? What if I get into a program but then am denied the funding?

After so many uphill challenges in the past 5-years, maybe my fear is about being successful. What does that even look like?

I think it’s time to change my definitions of success, failure and commitment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help! I need somebody!

ID-10088431“I can do it all my own self” is what my 3-year-old daughter was often heard saying. And that hasn’t changed. By the time she asks me for help, she has worked her now-14-year-old self into a frenzy of panic and anxiety.

I guess she learned from the best, because I am terrible at asking for help. On an intellectual level, I understand that it’s fundamentally impossible to know everything. If we knew it all, then we wouldn’t have to hire a lawyer or a gardener or talk to a sales person in a store.

I feel better asking for help when I feel I can reciprocate in some way. This approach worked well when my daughter was younger. I would ask a friend to babysit her in exchange for me then taking their kid(s) another time. In small communities, trading services is a common practice; I’ll tend to your garden if you help me move a couch.

Rarely does someone come knocking at your door at the exact time you need them to. Strangely, I struggle just as much with accepting help that hasn’t been asked for as I do from asking for help. When I dislocated my ankle a few months ago, a friend of my roommate showed up at the door one day, said she had an hour to spare and asked what I needed done. She managed to clean my bathroom and do a huge pile of dishes.

Asking for help is not a weakness. It doesn’t tell others that I’m weak or not able to cope. Quite the contrary, in fact. For anyone leaving an abusive relationship or moving to a new country or sending a flare from a boat, asking for help is often the bridge between hope and action.

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Overachiever or perfectionist

PhaitoonWhat’s the difference between an overachiever and a perfectionist?

In my opinion and, using the analogy of who crossed the road first, an overachiever would cross the road to prove they could do it while a perfectionist would never cross the road as their unrealistic expectations would prevent them from ever realizing that the conditions were ideal to do so.

I definitely fall into the latter category and perhaps have stopped myself from being an overachiever because I’m a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist is emotionally draining. The bar I’ve set for myself is so high that, no matter what I do, I can’t reach it. Somewhere along the line, I decided that being successful meant that I had to get a degree. I’m not talking about a certificate or a diploma, which I would definitely look at as an accomplishment for someone else. No, what I’m referring to is a BA, MA, PhD or other professional designation.

This idea may have manifested itself into my sub-consciousness because I come from a family of  high achievers. My dad and brother both have PhDs and my mom has multiple degrees. Which, I’ve realized recently, has a big impact on how I see myself, what my definition of success is and why going back to school seems like such an important thing to do now.

But the fact is that I’m not an academic. I never have been and I never will be. I remember when I graduated from high school that I was the least likely of my friends to do post-secondary schooling, yet I was one of the few who did.

I love to read, I enjoy discussing why and how things work and I love wondering ‘what if’. But I’m more of a hands-on type of learner. I like figuring things out as they’re happening. Sometimes, and after the fact, I look at the theory aspect of what I’ve just learned to see if I’ve missed anything. I like to prove I can do something, but not that motivated to be the best at it.

Yet just because I haven’t been an academic before doesn’t mean I don’t have the capacity to be one. Perhaps I haven’t found the right topic or the right school. More likely, I’ve got to tear down those unrealistic expectations of myself that I’m so good at building and just be me.

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saving money and losing weight

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that my two constant struggles in life have been money and food. My journey into poverty has given me a crash course in learning how to value, respect and appreciate both.Stuart Miles

Ok, I’m not exactly saving money at this point, but I am definitely learning how to make it last until I get paid next. For years, I was spoiled by getting paid every week. I saw no reason to save the money for the following week because I’d get paid again. Now, however, with payday coming but once a month, I’m finally getting a handle on making my money last.

With a lack of money comes a lack of food and with a lack of food comes weight loss. I’ve done years of individual and group therapy for my eating disorder, tried a variety of different exercise gyms and diet regimes and was always told the same thing; ‘when the time’s right, the weight will come off.’

To be honest, it’s kind of reassuring to know that, when everything else seems to be at an all time low in my life, my weight decides to drop as well. And with no effort on my part except to make sure there’s enough food to last each week of the month, only eating when I’m hungry and walking places instead of using up precious bus tickets.

Because I have a significant amount of weight to lose, my current weight loss won’t be noticed by most people. And that’s fine. The important thing is that I notice it, which I am in the looseness of my pants, the fact that my towel almost goes completely around me and it’s getting easier to get in and out of booth seats in restaurants.

On the flip side, I have a significant amount of money to save. I need to pay my parents back, start an emergency fund, go to the dentist, buy a bike, start a retirement fund, sign up for a car co-op, rebuild my credit rating, etc.

If learning how to save and sustain my money goes hand-in-hand with losing weight and getting healthier, I am finally coming to terms with why I needed to experience this journey into poverty in the first place. One layer at a time.

It’s not easy being green

Kermit4Have you ever tried to be someone or something you’re not?

Whether it’s returning your body to pre-baby weight or becoming a doctor because your parents want you to be one or living outside of your means to keep up with the Jones’, trying to be someone or something you’re not sets you up for failure before you’ve even started. Hows that for the odds being stacked against you?

But accepting yourself for who you really are, flaws and all, is not an easy feat either. Especially if others see you differently or if you don’t like who you are. Even worse, is when you’re actually good at being someone or something else. On the flip side, if you really enjoy it, perhaps it’s time to change careers and become an actor.

In my back-to-work program, we recently completed the True Colors personality model. It’s similar to the Myers-Briggs test, but not nearly as detailed. It’s a fun way to find out more about who you are, what you’re like, how you react to certain people and situations and what type of work might be best suited to you. A quick overview of each color and a version of this test can be found here.

Although everyone has each colour* in them (blue, green, gold and orange), one or two are usually more prevalent than the other(s). The paler colours are areas you need to work on.

Most of my life I’ve been a blue with gold thrown in, but now I’m predominantly a green. Which, as it turns out, I’ve struggled for a long time NOT to be. Green’s are more logical than they are emotional and I consider myself a fairly visibly emotional person, although much less so now than I have been in the past. Kermit the Frog says it best in his song “It’s not easy being green.”

I hope that, by accepting and understanding this new version of myself, it’ll be easier to recognize which opportunities are best-suited for the person I am today.

Have you ever taken a personality test? If so, did you agree with the results? Why or why not?

*The change in spelling of the word colour is because I live in Canada, but the True Colors personality test was created in the United States.

Just get a job

Stuart MilesMany of you may be wondering why I don’t just go out and get a job. That would solve everything, right? If only it were that simple.

Looking for a job is how this all started. As fun as it is to be self-employed, it’s not very stable if you’re unclear of what you have to offer and/or are considering changing careers. I had gotten to a point where I knew I either needed to find a well-paying job with benefits,  go back to school to upgrade my skills or change careers completely.

Besides my 10-year stint in the travel industry, I’ve spent most of my life being a generalist. What this means is that I’m really good at a lot of things but don’t specialize in anything. A lot of that has to do with not wanting to limit myself, getting bored easily and being very particular in what organizations I would or wouldn’t like to work for. Getting a job for the sake of getting a job is not something I seem to be capable of; I have to care about and respect the organization I work for/with.

For as long as I’ve been self-employed (12-years), I’ve looked for jobs where I’d be the employee instead of the employer. My reasons have been to receive benefits and have a steady source of income. I was content with my relaxed search until recently.

About a year and a half ago, I became more invested in and focused on sending out my resume. I was getting frustrated because, despite my efforts, I’d had zero response besides an interview for a job I didn’t apply for (what I now know as the hidden job market). Five years ago, seven out of every ten resumes I’d send out would land me an interview. Now, if I was lucky, I’d get one. There are many reasons for this, some of which include;

  1. The economy had changed.
  2. Some of the industries I have experience in had changed drastically.
  3. My resume needed to be updated.
  4. My skills needed to be upgraded.
  5. I am very picky when it comes to organizations I would work for.
  6. I was doubting my skills, dealing with money issues and experiencing enhanced depression.
  7. I wasn’t networking.

When you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s hard to find it. When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s difficult to get there. This is the predicament I found myself in.

It was January 2012 that I finally sought professional help. I had applied for a job that I knew I was qualified for and had been involved with the organization in the past. Their application deadline came and went. The start date they listed came and went and they didn’t call me. I was furious. And frustrated. What was I doing wrong that I couldn’t even get a job for something I was well-suited for?

So I went to an information session with Employment Services. Being self-employed, I wasn’t eligible for employment insurance. However, because I was working less than 20-hours per week, I was considered under-employed and therefore eligible to receive support.

The case worker offered suggestions on how to update my resume and suggested several programs which would allow me to both explore my options and rewrite my resume. I chose an online program and spent the next 4-weeks working through their modules.

I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted to do. I learned how to modernize my resume. I set a goal to get a job in the field I was good at and already had the training for. Once said job was secured, I would upgrade my skills and go back to school to obtain the degree I needed for the career I really wanted.

During that process, I did end up getting an interview with the organization I knew I was a good fit for. Out of 150 applicants, I was one of the 7 who made it to the interview stage. I was even one of the 3 finalists from that first round of interviews. I was told I interviewed very well and was a pleasure to get to know. The reason I didn’t get the job was that I lacked the very skill that I want to go back to school to obtain.

Shortly after that, I lost my last clients due to unforeseen circumstances, filed for bankruptcy and had to apply for income assistance. I’m now in an inspiring back to work (and a stable life) program. They support women get back on their feet by supplying them with meals, bus tickets, personal growth workshops, nonjudgmental friendships, workshops on where and how to look for jobs and one-on-one support for everything from dealing with income assistance to tweaking your cover letter and resume.

I finally have the recipe and map needed to help me figure out where I’m going and what I’m looking for. Now all I have to do is make it happen.

What has job searching been like for you? Have you had to deal with other issues at the same time? If so, how did that impact you?