Leaving the Comfort Zone Is Not So Bad

trail @ Acadia National Park, MaineA week ago I made a change. I discovered the online publishing world is much more open and welcoming than I had thought it to be and decided to just put myself out there. It is very different from the print world and has different rules. I made a list of websites that accept submissions and made a plan to write a number of pieces and send them out.

From the start, I made a conscious decision to not promote my blog. Here I have recounted very personal feelings, sometimes so much so that it has scared me to put it out there. Up until a few days ago, I was confident that I had only been sharing these thoughts and stories with friends and family who we all know are too nice to make anything but positive comments. Knowing my audience was limited has made me feel more secure and let me move outside my comfort zone in small steps. Besides, I want to focus on the writing side, not the promoting side.

It didn’t take me long to learn that with online publishing, most websites expect you to have a blog. That means you have to share it. This week, I added the blog link on my LinkedIn page. In addition, it has been included with submissions in my contributor “bio.”

The bio was another challenge. How do you describe yourself to people who don’t know you? What do you include and leave out? If I weren’t so eager to follow my plan and get the submissions actually, you, know, submitted, I might still be pondering the bio. Instead, I put something together and will consider that a “work in progress.” There doesn’t seem to be any rule that it has to stay the same, so I expect it will change over time.

To be honest, as scary as this all is, I am excited about my plan. More ideas keep popping into my head and my bedside notebook is filling up. (Some of the best ideas come when I wake up in the middle of the night or am just drifting off to sleep.) Sometimes the ideas flow into one another, like a strange kaleidoscope of words. Today I got a rejection and am excited about it. Why? Because the website warned that they have too many submissions to respond to all. I didn’t expect a response at all if it was a no. Instead I got a, “Great post, but not a great fit for us right now.” I find it encouraging. I may even find a new comfort zone.

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Outside the Comfort Zone

rocky trail @ Acadia National Park

It’s a little after 10:00 a.m. and I have been awake for six hours. That is unusual, to say the least, for this not-a-morning-person. Why am I up so early? The brain just won’t shut off. I have been looking into new opportunities and to say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

Now that I have a mostly empty, largely quiet house, I am seeking new freelance work. I am still working on my novel, but am craving the immediacy of working with daily, weekly or monthly sources of information and entertainment. I am getting excited at the prospect of deadlines and researching stories. I want to meet new people, hear their stories, share new information. I am discovering new avenues to explore and finding that there is even more out there than I had previously suspected existed.

On the big job boards, current writing jobs have more acronyms than the New Deal. After looking them up, I find that they are really not as scary as they seem. These self-important, intimidating, all-caps letters really just add up to writing well so that people will want to read what you have written. (The concept is similar to getting key words in your resume so it will stand out.) There are classes available to improve the possibility that your work will be found in a web search and jobs dedicated to analyzing what is read and why. However, that doesn’t change the fact that good writing is essential. You can learn tricks to get people to a website, but if the content isn’t well-written, people won’t come back a second time.

The dilemma of course is the age-old problem that people have to see your work in order to appreciate it. Getting it seen can be a challenge, especially in today’s world of instant everything and information overload. With so much being put online, stuff always moves to the bottom. Wading through the trash to get to the gems can be a lengthy process. So, I am learning that to be noticed, you have to make noise, sometimes a lot of noise. You need multiple platforms. You need to communicate in every way possible, to reach the largest audience. Apparently, I now need a Twitter account. Although I see the value in Twitter (having a newspaper background, brevity is something I truly appreciate), I naively thought having one social media account was enough (though that has changed in recent months as I have also joined Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn).

Now my problem is coming up with a good Twitter Handle. All the cool kids have fun names. Personally, unlike most of my family, I have never even had a real nickname (unless you count the time my uncle dubbed me Ineeda, as in I-need-a-name). Finding a balance between clever and corny, trendy, but not dated, personal, but not too so, is a challenge.

While I ponder that, I realize it’s time to take another step – out of the comfort zone.

Family Dynamics

I recently sent my last child off to college.

This summer seemed to go faster than most. It seemed there was always someone on the way out the door. Before we knew it, we were getting ready to send one, then another child off to their respective schools. A week in between move-in days made it possible to focus on each of them, one at a time, but made for a very busy August. With last minute purchases and packing, there was little time to dwell on what all this meant, which was good, because I have known this was coming for some time. Having nine years between the first and last leaving for college has given me lots of time to think about it. Fortunately, I knew what emotions to expect.

Of course I cried while driving away from the college and know that next year will be different. Next year will be easier. Coming home and looking into now two empty bedrooms was another challenge. Though this is my fourth time as a parent of a college freshman, I am now in uncharted waters. For the first time in my adult life, there are no daily parenting responsibilities. The house is eerily quiet. I am oblivious to the local school calendar (which I am enjoying very much, especially the lack of early morning alarms). Dinner is a challenge now that most days I am cooking for two or three instead of anywhere from two to five or six. (I will likely figure that out just before they come home for break.)

Over the years, I have learned that sending kids to college changes the family dynamics. Even knowing this, the reality always manages to catch someone unawares. The first time my oldest came home from college, I was surprised by how different things were. After she left, we all arrived at a new normal. When she came home, we all were unsettled by the almost imperceptible differences. Relationships changed, in very small but noticeable ways. Her experiences had changed her and her absence caused a shift in routine, changing the relationships of those still in the house. Her siblings had grown, too, but her perception of them had stayed the same. (This repeated each time one left and came home.)

My youngest commented recently how she didn’t really think about things at home changing, as if they would stay exactly the same as when she left. I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but her perceptions are spot on. That is exactly what happens. When one leaves, one focuses on the new experiences, not on what is left behind. I did the same thing; it didn’t occur to me that life went on without me (that is, until there were events and vacations I missed and heard stories about later).

Adjusting to the new dynamics can be a challenge. The college calendar is such that you finally get used to the absence, then your child comes home. But, it is not the same child you dropped off at school. This one acts more like an adult and resists being treated like a child. Conversations take a different tone, parents know less (usually just for a few years) and house rules are challenged. Routines have changed (as they frequently do), but no one has clued in the college kid who is bound to disrupt it.

Parents have to struggle with the idea that maybe, their child knows more than they do on some topics. They are no longer the awe-inspiring, all-knowing authorities they were just a few short months ago. Sibling relationships change as well. The older ones may not be idolized anymore, and the younger ones are not as impressionable anymore. The typical arguments don’t go away (who gets to ride shotgun, for example), but they are somehow different. Sometimes the jockeying for attention gets more intense. Alliances shift. They understand each other more (or sometimes less, depending on the topic). Roles change.

Parenting an adult is much, much different from parenting a child. Physical separation makes this fact more noticeable, more dramatic. The emotional shifts can be strong and swift. In a short span, you can be incredibly frustrated at their stubborn insistence that they know more than you do (after all, even I still sometimes need advice and support from my parents) and then experience the physical feelings that go along with intense pride at who they have become. They will always be your children, but they have also somehow become adults. It is difficult to achieve the correct balance, to guide without controlling, to advise without meddling.

We have been in this place before, but this time, it is different. This time, I am the one who has been left behind. They all will return, with their own expectations, and they all will be surprised. I look forward to this coming holiday season and watching things unfold. Thanksgiving is the next time they all will be together and they will certainly have things to share with each other. It will be the first time ever they are all together as adults, since the youngest just turned 18. I expect there will be some competition, some interrupting, a couple disagreements, some conspiring, and hopefully a lot of giggles.