I always considered myself a go-getter, an A+ student, on the top of my game and a perfectionist who could handle anything and everything.
With this attitude, I constantly allowed myself to take on more and more responsibilities.
I took the maximum number of college credits possible at one time. I worked 2 jobs. I helped my parents with housework. I did volunteer work at the local community center.
All in all, I always got the job done. With responsibilities that seemed enforced, I craved a kind of work that was driven by my own passions, by my own choice and schedules. My hectic life was organized by color-coded chaotic clarity in the form of diaries, Evernote lists, sticky notes, wall calendars, and planners. I would imagine when it would be empty of seemingly enforced responsibilities.
I would imagine what it would be like to finally fill my over-planned lifestyle with the schedule of my choice, with tasks that were aligned with my dreams. Essentially, I wanted my drive to be for my dreams- not just for a job that was paying the bills, or a degree that I needed for my career, or some volunteer opportunity that looked good on my resume.
Eventually, things boiled over. I completed grad school. I worked a couple of years at the job I was hoping to leave. I got married and moved out of the country. I ended up finally being able to focus on the one thing I had been dreaming of focusing on all these years.
And just when I thought it was time to whip out those weekly planners, my motivation seemed to be nonexistent.
It simply vanished.
I was finally in a new setting, with no real responsibilities on my shoulders or anyone to answer to. I was finally my own boss and thought I was totally ready to pursue my dreams. But for some reason, the drive that helped me achieve everything that I had in the last decade or so seemed to be missing.
It was then I realized that the issue was not with time or the freedom to choose, but with someone to answer to. My driving factor.
For all these years my driving factor was perhaps a feeling of failure and adherence to perfectionism. Fear of bad grades, feel of being unemployed, fear of disgrace from the local community, fear of my own low self-esteem and judgment, fear of deadlines, fear of being less than perfect.
Now that the fear was gone and I was free, I was doing almost nothing. I started to actually miss those meager tasks that I wanted so desperately to rid myself of not too long ago.
I toyed with the idea of where to start and what color my days should be marked (guilty as charged) and what my day should look like and how I should schedule every minute of my day. It was a couple of months into freedom when I finally realized what I was doing to myself, and that I had no fear of the most important thing- fear of myself.
I know, it sounds pretty weird, why should I fear myself? I guess fear may not be the best word. But the fear, the adrenaline rush you feel when you have a deadline to pursue- that’s the boss on our heads when we have to complete something for work or school. And now that I was the boss of my own self, I needed to create some guidelines and build a system of fear.
No- this fear could not be enforced color-coded. That was just a relief from the chaos that organized my long and complex hours.
The only real way that I learned to be my own boss, and to finally find the drive to pursue my dreams of writing and reading and everything else I would imagine in my busy days was to be afraid of my own self, of my own failure, and the consequences of my own laziness.
I did a couple of things to get out of that sickly rut.
For starters, when I felt like I was planning to much, I just got started. I didn’t delay with the thoughts of the schedule. I threw my schedule out of the window and got started and ran with it. That was good enough to build my momentum enough that scheduling came naturally as a part of the process afterward.
I also created a rewards-punishment system for myself. Yes, it is definitely what I did with my middle school students from my busy days to ensure they did their homework and extra credit and were excited for reading (sadly, for reasons other than reading). But never underestimate the power of Pavlov and his salivating dogs. Classical conditioning all the way.
I started small and made my way forward by carving my life around my dream work. I wouldn’t eat lunch unless I finished a task. I couldn’t have ice cream that night if I didn’t complete my day’s work. I couldn’t cuddle with my husband laying next to me (the most tempting of all) until I finished what I needed to.
And sure, in the beginning, it seemed like a chore just as much as my busy work did not too long ago.
But once I got started in the process and was in the zone, it didn’t feel so much a chore as what I was imagining all along.
I may not be where I dreamed I would be at, with my in-home dream office and beautiful wall calendar and on-time scheduling- but I am sure on my way there.
I am my own boss (of pursuing my own dreams)- and I am scared enough of myself to finally be motivated enough to love what I’m doing- and keep doing it.