Showing Up on Bumpy Days

“Never goes smooth. How come it never goes smooth?”
-Captain Mal Reynolds, Firefly

That’s the line I often think to myself when something breaks, someone has a fever, something was forgotten, someone makes a huge mess, someone turns a series of should-be-fast tasks into an eternity of kiddo-dawdling when I really need to get everyone out the damn door. Arrrrgh! It’s one thing after another. Can’t I have one day– just one day!– where things go right? PLEASE?

Picture of chalkboard that says, "How come it never goes SMOOTH?"

Note: I’m not talking about the big stuff here. When the huge hard things happen, we meet that as we must. Sometimes we need to drop everything and massively shift priorities. We do what we must to get through the big challenges in life.

What I am talking about now is how I can get thrown off by the ubiquitous small-to-medium things going wrong. The flocks of tiny daily derailments, and the medium-sized jolts that still happen with depressing frequency.

These things can really get me off kilter when I seduce myself into planning with a sweet bubbly mix of optimism, expectations and lofty goals, expecting smooth sailing as the default– only to have messy real life, the actual default, show up instead. (Again. Like usual. Because, well… real life is real life.)

When bumps hit, we must absorb their impact somewhere. And real life tries day after day to bump my creative work right off my plate into a splatty mess on the floor, right next to my toddler’s breakfast food that I haven’t had time to wipe up.

Letting my writing time go to handle a minor bump or two? Or writing through it but letting my sleep and basic self-care go instead? No big deal if it happens once in a while. But doing it all the time leads to a pattern in which certain work simply does not get done. Because slightly bumpy days? Are actually most days, and if I don’t make my writing happen most days, well… I’m sure you can see where that leads. (Hint: not much of anywhere.)

My number one strategic bump absorption technique involves putting two kinds of time chunks on my calendar. The first is dedicated core time for my writing + coaching. The second, equally important chunks are open, empty space.

That overflow space can be filled up with handling minor crises if things go amiss, or it can also be filled with extra creative work or other things I’d like to get done if things go well. Having that space for potential bump management means that I can safeguard my creative work and keep showing up for that.

I can’t plan for the individual bumps, as I never know when they’ll happen or what form they’ll take. I have to plan for bumpiness in general. Holding space and building buffers is how I do it. There are surely other ways, too. What matters is noticing if the entropy of bumpiness has made a pattern of siphoning off the time + energy your creative work is calling for… and finding a way to create new patterns instead.

It doesn’t always work. Some days are easier, and some days are harder. Our ability to adroitly deal with bumpiness will, of course, be bumpy too. There are certainly days where dropping some creative work time ends up being the best choice out of an array of not-great choices. And that’s okay.

Perfection’s not the goal– the goal is overall consistency in a way that’s compatible with real life, not idealized life. Some derailment is normal, but if you create conditions that allow you to show up more than you don’t show up, you’ll make progress.

Bumps aren’t the exception– they’re the norm, as our creative work must also be our norm. Don’t wait for smoothness; you’ll have a long wait coming. To make creative work happen, we’ve got to find ways to show up on bumpy days.

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Big Dreams + Creativity: Exchanging Wisdom with 17-Year-Old Me

My feelings about big dreams, creativity + ambitions have changed a lot since I was younger.

"It's rough out there... don't lose hope," says a cute dog.

Doodle by Jenipher Lyn Gallardo. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I’ve learned things that would have saved my tremendously idealistic 17-old-self worlds of pain and helped her to finish what she started. But on the other hand, she knew truths deep in her bones that I sometimes struggle with now.

So she and I sat down for a conversation in my head (like you do) about getting meaningful, passionate work truly DONE. Here’s what we shared with each other.

What I Know Now, and Wish I’d Known at 17

1. Getting enough sleep doesn’t take time away from your dreams. It helps fuel you so that you have the emotional energy to bring your best self into them.

2. Just because it’s gotten hard, doesn’t mean you aren’t good at it.

3. Sometimes your standards for yourself go up before your skill itself increases. This recurring discrepancy might make you think your work’s suddenly gone down in quality. Hold space for all of you to grow.

4. You are not your dream and your dream is not you. Your enoughness doesn’t hinge on any accomplishment.

5. Just because it’s tremendously important doesn’t mean it has to be serious all the time. Laughing (lovingly) at yourself is a great coping mechanism when you are working towards dreams.

6. Don’t wait for the Muse to show up. Show up for her, every day. That’s how she’ll know you mean business… and she’ll start showing up even more for you.

7. It takes a lot longer than you might think to manifest the biggest of those big dreams. Make a plan and keep showing up. Be patient. You can do it.

What I Knew at 17, and Now Tend to Forget

1. When the Muse knocks on your door, invite her in and ask her to tea. Drop everything and create with her.

2. Having big dreams can be exciting and fun. It doesn’t have to feel like work to create and to move towards big dreams.

3. You don’t need to buy anything to make some version of what you’re dreaming of. Use whatever supplies you have already or can find for free.

4. One person who loves your work is an audience. They count. (Thanks always to my first-ever first readers, sisters Jennifer Kuleto and Erin Astrup, and mom Carole Hart.)

5. 36-Year-Old Me, you’ve given up on things I thought for sure I’d finish, and yet you’ve accomplished things I never would have dared to dream. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

6. Learn by doing. You don’t have to wait for an expert to show you. Start.

7. Put your work in the world. It’s got a long way to go, AND it’s already good enough.

What do you know about big dreams that you’d like to remind yourself of?

This post about ambition + diving in is part of Jenipher Lyn Gallardo’s Book Launch Blog Party, a celebration of her just-released book How Being Stubborn, Depressed and Unpopular Saved My Life. Jenipher’s book of doodles, quotes + stories is a super-awesome + inspirational book for tweens, teens and women of all ages.

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31 Ways My Toddler Helps Me Nurture My Inner Artist

My toddler is a great creative playmate and teacher. Here’s a snapshot of some of the things I’m grateful to be learning or doing with him:

  1. Enjoying bright colors
  2. Playing mama’s drum together
  3. Noticing my assumptions about the world
  4. Learning how to be more flexible
  5. Taking delight in the small things
  6. Scribbling with crayons
  7. Laughing because the other person is laughing
  8. Getting dirty
  9. Remembering that every object can be a toy
  10. Trusting my intuition
  11. Examining my impulse to say no
  12. Blowing bubbles
  13. Exuding enthusiasm and praise for the smallest successes
  14. Exploring textures
  15. Choosing to be in the present moment
  16. Walking barefoot on the grass or sand
  17. Forgetting about making a mess
  18. Acting on impulse
  19. Saying hi to all the dogs and cats on the block every day
  20. Talking to strangers
  21. Remembering how to be fully process-oriented
  22. Dancing wildly around the living room
  23. Taking naps
  24. Learning how to meditate or exercise in 5-minute chunks
  25. Learning and singing new children’s songs
  26. Making up new silly lyrics on the spot for familiar melodies
  27. Following the giggles
  28. Rediscovering creative potential in everyday objects like boxes and paper
  29. Figuring out how to make weird noises of all kinds
  30. Appreciating the creativity inherent in chaos
  31. Daydreaming

How do you and your child share creative joy? What do you learn from playing with your kid?

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