The dogs were overly excited at the prospect of going for a walk among the crowds. I wasn’t. just getting them leashed up was increasing my blood pressure. What happened is that I wanted to go support my friend Amy who was having a book launch event for her first novel. I thought I could “swing by,” not realizing there was a local festival of sorts going on at the park she was at. My parking preference was in the shaded parking garage across the street from the park, and that was full. I went to the upper deck level, also full. The road was closed at the next street, and we ended up about 6 blocks away, requiring walking downhill about 2 blocks and then along the beach the rest of the way. I had no idea where I might actually find Amy in this crowd. It was a very warm day, and I couldn’t leave the dogs in the car in the sun. Usually I would have left them at home, but I thought this was a quickie thing, after I had run other errands.
So…dogs happy, me not so much.
You might remember that Harley is blind and deaf, and he’s a 5# Yorkie. Easily trampled if you’re not watching closely. Bo is a senior beagle who acts like a curious hunter when walking in crowds, and he loves to bay Hello to anyone within ear shot. Sasha, the circus dog, is a toddler and acts like a neglected one in desperate need of attention to anyone within licking distance. My hand is still sore four days later from the strangling it took to hold onto their leashes. All’s well that ends well, though. We all survived, and I got to see Amy. Later, the dogs were exhausted, and we all took naps when we got home.
I have known Amy for about 4 years. We have had a friendly acquaintanceship, and I was proud of the fact that she called on me to advise and coach her through the publishing of her first book. As it happens, though, my expertise is more along the lines of assessing readiness and supporting the writer through the writing process. She had already written her book and needed editing and publishing guidance. I referred her to another friend, and they created magic. Check out her book here. It’s for young adults about a girl who is raised by her grandparents when her mom becomes a drug addict. I was enthralled, and moved.
My own book idea about the grieving process, or how I changed as a result of grief, or inspiration for living through grief, or something (you see part of my problem, right?), has been languishing for two years and counting. I don’t remember how long it took Amy to write hers, but from the time she first contacted me about it until publication was barely a few months. I was extremely happy for her, and yet I felt that sinking feeling of failure that I had not even finished my first draft.
Amy’s brother John was assisting at her table at the park. She was busy autographing books and talking to customers, and so John and I chatted. I said something about her great beginning and my slow meandering in Neverland, and he said, “Action precedes motivation.” Light bulb!! Yes! I remember that, needed to hear it, and immediately resonated with the expression. I had heard this before, and in fact, have been known to use a version of this old saying myself. John Maxwell includes his version of this in his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: The Law of the Big Mo. It’s all about Momentum. (Disclosure: I am certified to teach Maxwell’s 21 Laws, so no surprise that I connected to it right away.)
The gist, of course, is that it’s important to prime the pump first to get some momentum going. But…it’s easier to steer than to start, right? The paradox is that motivation is key in developing momentum. I think of it like riding my motorcycle: it’s easier to stay upright if you ride faster instead of slower, but you still have to turn on the bike and start in first gear just to get going. Arghh! Which is where the action part comes in. Putting my butt in the chair in front of the computer and working on it, not waiting for Inspiration to tap me on the shoulder and whisper “Now.” Once I do this, the inaction gene is deactivated, making room for more action. Momentum can spread and generate more enthusiasm. Bottom line: I need to make it happen; I can’t just wait around hoping it will happen by itself.
The book writing isn’t the only place I find myself languishing. This semi-retirement phase I’m in is an incubator for doing a lot of nothing, a breeding ground for inaction. I was reminded of this when another friend of mine, Christine, came to visit this past weekend. We used to work together, and we were able to get a few things checked off the Work Bucket List when we collaborated. She was in town to celebrate a professional accomplishment, her achievement as a Fellow of the Institute for Court Management. I myself had completed that designation about 15 years ago. Christine included me in the Acknowledgements section of her final research paper, noting that I had been “an inspiring force” in her career in the court management world. We talked a lot of about who else is doing what these days, and I felt a dullness about not seeming to do anything productive, noteworthy, or innovative any longer. Which isn’t true, but it felt like at the time we were talking.
For a bit I felt out of touch, irrelevant, and like I had aged out of the system, so to speak. It’s been 3-1/2 years since I left my last full-time paid employment, and sometimes I still miss the everyday buzz of being on the go. (I sometimes live vicariously be binge-watching The Newsroom or West Wing.) I wondered if I had finally exhausted my Personal Sabbatical that was supposed to be only one year and speculated that maybe I should consider re-entering the World of Work. When I quit my job, I thought I needed time to grieve and to evaluate my purpose and place. I was offered a leave of absence (two to three weeks, ha!), but I turned it down because I didn’t know how long it would take to find myself, reinvent myself, or ignite the fire that had burned out. Starting my Duggan Difference consulting business a few months later had the effect of short-circuiting my plans, and it’s only been in the last few months now that I have finally felt the release of the old me and my former life as a wife and court administrator, and accepted the changes in myself and my life that have come about. With probably 25 more years left on my personal calendar, though, you can see that I might need to find a few things to do yet, things that make a difference. Do you ever feel that way? I haven’t actually known too many people who have retired; most of them get another job or else they died prematurely. And when you are solo, it’s harder to keep the batteries charged. There must be more; there is always Something More…for me, at least. I just need to know what it is.
Maybe that means that I am now in a better place, to do better work…better writing… about all these changes. I haven’t just crossed some line in the sand where before I was that, and now I am this. Rather, I have been straddling the fence between this and that, and now I have chosen a side to jump to. As I’ve said before, it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything except eating bonbons and watching soaps all day for the past 3+ years. I have continued to contribute to the world by fostering and rescuing dogs, by creating beauty in the form of an updated house and yard and glamper, by teaching classes and generating new court leaders and gardeners and writers, by reaching out to support other widows or others who have had some setbacks, by adding positive and productive energy into my neighborhood by serving on the Homeowners Association board, etc., etc., etc. Hmmmn, just reminding myself of these things is slightly motivating. Obviously, I’m not done with my life yet.
When it comes down to it, my motivation for living despite the uncomfortable, sad, sometimes lonely vacuum that comes about during the grief process is the result of the actions I have taken to not fall victim to feeling sorry for myself or wallowing in self pity or isolating myself from a world that doesn’t make sense any longer. So John was right; action precedes motivation. And if it works for living, it surely must work for working. So today I am sitting at my desk, even though it’s going to be a pleasant 90 outside, the sun is shining, and the spring weather beckons me to laze away the morning. Already I feel energized from cleaning my desk, organizing my thoughts, and writing this blog. I am primed to do more writing, so off I go!
I hope you, too, will consider that taking the first step for anything is a huge step. I’m not an advocate for The Grind, always working, always pushing and grasping and digging in. I have learned a lot about peace of mind, relaxation, and appreciation. That is worth knowing about! But there is a time when either working or playing, just doing something can yield enough spin to set that flywheel in motion, creating more momentum. Before you know it, you’re on your way to a better … whatever, or another whatever, or a new whatever. Live, laugh, love. Action precedes motivation. True dat!