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Thursday, September 28, 2017

To Maximize Happiness (and Productivity) Find Your Flow

Nothing could be more peaceful than
sitting on the back steps, listening to
the quiet sounds of our "lawn crew"
at work.
I'm pretty sure we have all had moments when we are hit with the realization that, right now, at this moment, everything just feels perfect. We may not remember them as long as some of those days, when it seems like we are channeling Murphy (the one with the law named after him/her). They are the counter point, but I have found that being aware of my feelings, the energy levels of my body and the world around me and looking at it all from a somewhat analytical mindset from time to time is helpful.  Over time, this process has enabled me to spend more time "in the flow" as I say: when things are going along as they should, with more ease and less interference, as it might be if one was floating down stream with the current.

Of course, like that current, the flow is ever changing. When I was a young woman, I enjoyed the abundant energy of a "type A" personality, could -- and often did -- go "at mach 3 with my hair on fire" for hours, and sometimes even days on end. And balanced this out, as all things must be, with days of essentially complete collapse/rest.

Then I became a mom, and everything changed! Even a breastfeeding, "baby-wearing" (though the term had not been invented yet) family-bedding mom of one really can't sustain that pace. Before I went crazy from "not being able to get anything done" I managed to analyze the situation and realized:
  •  prioritizing tasks, based on what was actually important to me and my family helped -- beds did not have to be made, for example 
  •  priority #1 was going to be the kiddo -- which should be a "d'uh" but one never really realizes the extet to which babies change things
  • breaking tasks into 10-15 minute bites was both possible and worked.
This routine worked through the mommy years until my husband and I divorced, he ended up with the kids (long, sad story) and moved far away. Gradually I fell back into the "mach 3" routine as I tried to find a balance between work and passion. Eventually I worked my way around to life and livelihood being congruent, as I worked in graphic design, a career path that just longs to suck one into the rhythm of 24/7 and total collapse. It is said, only partly in jest, that many take to drink, and the art directors drink whiskey. I did manage to avoid the whiskey, but not a trip to the ER with a devastating headache. What I thought was a migraine proved to be "only" a tension headache and produced the advise from a wise young doctor: quit the job or get used to it. I quit on the spot. This issues was not the work, but the boss, who would not let me DO what needed to be done.

My solution to that conundrum was to start my own company. From the frying pan to the fire? Not really. I have always been willing to take risks when I was betting on myself and have never lost one of those bets. I was still, during those years, willing and able to make a "no matter what" commitment, and having given that commitment to myself, I set about making it happen. At one point, early on, I found myself without transportation, having lent my truck to a boyfriend who proceeded to break and refuse to fix it. We were living in a small community, with no jobs and no alternative transportation to the nearby towns where I could have sold my services or applied for other work. I was lucky enough to have a friend with an extra car who was willing to loan it to me -- but it was several states away! I took the first payment for the first job my fledgling company completed, bought a bus ticket to pick up the car and prayed for enough left to buy gas to get it back "home."

"Home" in quotes, because the next thing that happened was I made myself homeless by moving out of the now-former boyfriends home and into a camp ground. I was only there a few days, when an acquaintence, who happened to have been that first client, caught wind of my situation and suggested I qualified to go to a woman's shelter, which I did. Before I even got there, while living in the camp ground, I grabbed a local paper (from out of a trash can... I was broke, yanno?) to look at the classifieds and began applying for anything that had a hint of possible. Before the first week in the shelter was up, I had employment in my field, riding herd on 6 web sites and doing advertising for a local realty company. With a job nailed down, and a paycheck just a couple of weeks away, my focus turned to housing. I needed something cheap where I could run my own business after hours and live as well. I found a former fish house -- cement building with electric, water, sewer, sink, toilet and shower -- that the owner was willing to rent under my conditions and moved in the day I had my first paycheck in hand. I was in the shelter less than a month. 

Things were hand to mouth from then on for years, but that is how "no matter what" commitments work. You do what it takes. But riding through cycles of working pretty much 24/7 (between a 9-5, M-F and my "off hours" contracts) and periods when I initially got really scared I would never get another contract -- and paying attention to the ebb and flow -- showed me that there WAS an ebb and flow. The lesson I needed to learn was to take the down time as the necessary R&R between the times of total immersion.

Once I learned that lesson, I was on a roll! For years I happily rode the roller coaster, and even added to the chaos by beginning to paint and sell the "Pennsylvania Dutch" hex signs of my family heritage and tradition.

Eventually the realty office closed when the principals retired, I took my unemployment check on the road, moved to Maine,
The "old homestead" the month we
moved in.
eventually found a homestead and "retired" to another life -- and another flow -- one which revolves around the planting, growing and harvest cycles, around season and weather and yet still must encompass the hex sign orders, which increase from year to year.

It is amazing how much things can change in 9 years. Now I am pushing 70, and although healthy and active, my energy level and stamina is not what it was when we arrived at our hilltop home.
Despite having two new knees (which I had needed for years but could not take the down time to have replaced until after retirement) I often joke that I need a new body to go with them. Arthritis is beginning to plague me, I run out of steam more quickly and do not have the strength I had even a few years ago, despite continuing to do all the same stuff. Once again, the flow changes and I must change with it. Is it easy? Heck no! But by staying aware, analytical and conscious, it is happening and I continue to continue. My y'all be able to do so, as well.