When I was in Texas, my friend Brooke Axtell, who wrote a wonderful piece at Forbes about money, value and women's approach to our work called What is a Woman Worth?", talked about the value of our time and energy and work. I'm paraphrasing, but she suggested that I undervalue myself and suggested a way of seeing work that was so mindblowing I don't even know how to approach it. The gist was that we should strive to work smarter and we will earn more money, not just work more. I tend to go to bed with my to do list running through my head and often have dreams about things I should have done/should be doing/need to do. The idea of ever turning down a job, no matter how low paying, seems ludicrous stacked up next to rent, phone, travel, domain names, books, postage, etc.
And yet, I know she is absolutely right. My accountant told me how much I made in 2011 and I almost fell off my chair. He had to be wrong; not only was my immediate thought that the number was incorrect, but that I couldn't have and by definition didn't deserve that amount. What was also jarring was that so little was left, though if I were using Mint.com like I should be, I could tell you exactly how many thousands I paid in taxes and student loans, which is where I put any extra money that comes in, so I don't feel like I'm literally getting poorer every day, even though the truth is thanks to my three years of law school, I am. I don't think about it too often, just try to pay as much as I can to Sallie Mae as often as I can, and I have paid over $100,00 plus interest since leaving law school in 1999. I know that's something, but it feels inconsequential when faced with what I still owe.
I've made many strides in terms of breaking into new online and print markets this past year, but there is more to do. What's hard to conceptualize is the idea that I am, in fact, free to pursue whatever projects I want. I should be writing that novella and outlining that novel but I'm still so so afraid of failing that I'd rather not try. As a result, I do the same old round of status quo tasks, the anthology and diary editing, the cupcake blogging, the short story writing that I love but that so often feels frivolous. When I read something like "Do You Have a Scarcity Mindset?" and can answer yes to every talking point, I know I have a major problem. I know that I'm not "driven" and I don't "do so much" (and yes, I want to punch anyone who tells me that, because if I really worked smart, I would make more from what I do, so doing "a lot" is pretty pointless if it's not furthering my career) because it's all so haphazard, catch as catch can. I put too much time into the low paying projects and then give up on the bigger paying ones. I get stuck on the details and frustrated and don't believe in myself; I look at authors writing many books per year and hate myself for not even finishing my short story collection, even though the two are totally unrelated.
Even with blogging, I need to stop thinking I'm too dumb for tech and learn how Google Analytics works so I can blog smarter, can blog things people want to read, can even figure out what's popular. Every time I hit a stumbling block, whether with writing, editing, blogging or, well, life, I just collapse, sometimes literally, but more often figuratively. I go to the darkness because I just have no idea how to work around these things. It starts to feel overwhelming and then I doubt even the things I do think I'm good at. I tell myself it's all just luck and that I don't deserve any of the things I have gotten, or that the answer to success is pumping tons of money into silliness like book trailers or ads or publicists or whatever it is because I can't figure out cheaper ways of selling my books, when the truth is, they will sell themselves, or they won't. Sometimes the more you force it, the less you get out of it.
There are glimmers that I'm moving forward, not stagnating. I'm trying to cut out all the toxic energy in my life, in whatever form. Anything that makes me feel bad about myself in some way (even if it also makes me feel good sometimes), goodbye. I always think I'm stronger than I am until I hit a point where I realize the weakness right underneath, and those two are intertwined in my DNA. I can't collapse at the weak points, nor be bursting with hubris until I explode. I need to start by figuring out "what I want to do when I grow up" and then make a concrete plan to do it. Maybe that will involve going away somewhere to write; maybe it'll mean setting a schedule and a budget and hiding my iPhone and tuning everything out. Maybe it'll be a writing class or boot camp. I don't know what it'll be, I just know I never want to be in a situation like I was in last week, far far away from a paper check, so far that I felt like a complete failure. I never want to get used to that kind of scarcity, to accept it as what I myself am worth. I certainly don't want to pass that on to the next generation, should the universe let me be so lucky.
So yes, my mind was blown, and today I'm in a town with, thankfully, power, so I can get my work done, but whose post office is out of power. I learned a terribly important lesson which is one they teach us so early, yet I'm 36 and haven't quite grasped it. Don't put off tomorrow what you could do today. I did that the other day, not mailing something important because i figured I could "do it on Monday." Wrong. Well, I can, it'll just be a three mile walk, which is a first world problem compared to some of the hurricane devastation, I'm aware. I know there's no reason except my own stupidity that I couldn't have mailed this on Saturday, and that is a recurring issue of mine. Any angst about my birthday is less about the age, though I hate the sound of 37, but more about my lack of wisdom, my failings, all the things I thought I'd know and things I expected to have accomplished in a year's time. But all I can do is be here now, focus on the changes I need to make day to day, hour to hour, word by word, and be grateful for my health, safety and what is the freedom to craft each day however I choose, to work from Texas or New Jersey or Scottsdale or Chicago, from anywhere, really, as long as I'm actually doing the work, not just pretending to, and learning how to do it better, not just in greater but less appealing quantities. I always say I'll quit erotica when I don't have anything more to say. I don't think I'm there yet, but I know I need to push myself, both so I have a financial cushion, and so I remember why I'm doing this in the first place. It's so easy to get accustomed to a situation, to forget how miserable I was at previous jobs, to forget to be humble and grateful and know that the words are not magic entities here to carry me, but something I have to engage and grapple with, fight for, write and erase and revise, start over from a blank page every single day. So, onward, to 37 and beyond...