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Living with Intention

March 21, 2017

Tags: dream, passion, intention, joy

Do you have a life dream, an inner passion? Maybe you’d like to start a business, train for a marathon, go back to school, or write a book. Or maybe your desire is to spend more time in the garden.

Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside. It is the task of the sculptor to chip away all that doesn’t belong.”

The key is to know your intention, what gives you joy, and chip the rest away.

No one has more than 24 hours each day. Too often we fill our days with what we believe we should do, and the rest of the time we entertain ourselves with distractions.

I count myself lucky because I found my passion at a young age. From the time I can remember I loved hearing stories. My parents read to “us kids” (five of us) each evening until we could read to each other. I never thought of where the stories came from until, at the age of eight, I saw a novelist interviewed on TV. That’s when “writing” became my answer to the oft-asked question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would be a writer. I would write stories.

I was already filling my little pink diary with secret poems and story ideas. Soon I graduated to a journal. I wrote at night when I was supposed to be sleeping and hid my writing between the mattresses of my bed. Soon I began to dream of sharing my stories through publication. I not only wanted to write stories, I wanted to write stories others would enjoy.

My first poem was published in a teachers’ magazine when I was in fifth grade; my teacher had caught me passing it to my “boyfriend” and submitted it. Two years later, another teacher gave me the first-place ribbon for her seventh grade book”award. If you know a girl with a dream, encouragement is a good thing!

Through the years, my life became more complicated, expectations grew, and my days were filled with schoolwork, friends, jobs, appointments. We all have life choices, and sometimes those choices take us to unexpected places. After a brief marriage, I found myself a single parent, and from then on, my daughter, Katie, was my first priority.

By this time I had a responsible position, writing for a research organization in a variety of corporate communications roles. Though I derived satisfaction and respect from my work, my intention burned bright. I continued writing stories in the dark of night, because everything else came first.

When I focused on my intention, I knew what to carve away. Intention gave me a clear direction about where to focus my time and energy, simplifying my days, opening my life to success. Nighttime was the only time I had to myself, no distractions. Often my need to write was greater than my need for sleep. Like a mad scientist, I kept at it.

I’ll never forget a particular Saturday morning. I had spent Friday evening with Katie, then six years old. After putting her to bed, I went to my typewriter. For months I had been working on a novel and I now visualized the end. At sunrise, as I pulled the last page out of the roller, Katie came into the dining room in her pajamas, rubbing her eyes, and said, “Mommy, did you stay up all night?” I smiled and said, “Yes, and guess what. I finished my novel!” She was so excited, she ran to her room and returned with her favorite teddy bear sticker and stuck it on the file. Though that first novel never made it to publication, I’ve kept the sweet memory as well as the manuscript file, sticker and all.

What do you do when you finish a novel? I opened a new file and started the next one.

My first published book was not fiction, not my dream, but I knew that publication of a nonfiction book is helpful in attracting a publisher for a novel. The idea came in a flash and I sent a proposal off to a publisher. When I received the contract, I realized I hadn’t thought this through. I had only eight months to do the research and write the book. Something had to give.

Certain things were nonnegotiable: family, work, my physical and spiritual health What else was there?

Television. That went first. Today it would also be social media.

Next came my social life. I enjoyed eating out with friends, going to movies, plays and the ballet. But late evenings were the only times I had to spend long hours writing, and I soon came to realize how often I was saying “yes” to friends out of obligation. I learned to say, “I’m sorry but I need to focus on my writing.” Those who merely wanted to have a good time quickly fell by the wayside; the friends I kept were those who respected my work and cheered me on.

To keep up with true friends, I learned to combine social life with family, work, and health. I walked at noon with office colleagues, and invited other friends to join Katie and me on weekend walks or bike rides, often followed by brunch at a favorite restaurant.

Housework—dishes, dust, laundry—it’s unending! I splurged to have a cleaning service in regularly to tidy up. I paid the price in many ways to follow my intention.

And cooking! As much as I enjoyed making the occasional special meal, daily meal preparation was not my favorite activity. As a shortcut, I resorted to spending one evening each week chopping, cooking, and filling freezer containers with a variety of meals to enjoy for days to come. Having ready choices each day was a relief, giving me more time with my daughter and more time to write.

Lucky for me, Katie is quite artistic. After her schoolwork was done each evening, we sat at the dining room table together. We respected each other’s need for quiet creative time. She filled her sketchbook, I kept writing.

In the office I became a manager, then a director. As I took on more responsibility, I learned to delegate. And I brought that skill home. I found new ways to both connect with my daughter and give her increasing independence. I interested her in “playing house”—making her bed, picking up her room, doing her laundry, setting the table, packing her lunch—until she was ready to take on these activities herself. Teaching her chores took more time than doing them myself, but the end result meant growth for her and time for me. In junior high—a difficult time for any girl—she joined a softball team and we got her a puppy. Every summer together we chose two weeklong camps for her to attend, rich with outdoor exercise and experiences. She learned new skills and made new friends, and I gained more time for myself.

I submitted the nonfiction manuscript on time, and when that first book launched with success, the publisher sent me a contract for another. Now I was prepared, and that second book took me only six months to write. I had learned how to focus on my intention. I never took a day off of work for either book, except for resultant publicity tours, which were both exhausting and exhilarating. Celebrate every success!

Focusing on my dream was not just about managing my “outer” time, what I did each day; it also included my “inner” time, my thoughts throughout the day. I think of it as holding my dream like a lover. When you have a new love (or even an old, “comfortable shoe” kind of love), he’s on your mind a lot. When you pass by a store window, you might see something you’ll want to get for him; when you page through a cookbook, you’ll search for a meal that’s sure to please him. You think of him when you fall asleep at night and when you wake in the morning. The songs on the radio are all about him. He’s in your mind. When I hold my writing in my mind, everything and everyone around me informs my scenes and characters and I’m eager to get back to it.

It certainly wasn’t always easy. Deadlines at work, emergencies at home, social obligations—obstacles often threw me off track. But over the years, instead of thinking “I don’t have enough”—a vision of scarcity—I’ve learned to embrace a vision of abundance. In focusing my life on my intention, and carving away what doesn’t belong, I have all I need to accomplish what I want to do. Intention gives us power to overcome the obstacles. It gives us direction in simplifying our lives.

Where does your passion lie? What gives you joy? Set your intention, simplify around it, and see what happens!