50.3 – The Journeyman

I’ve had some coaching conversations as of late, and one of the things I’m still mulling is my mission/vision/purpose. I’m pretty clear on my talents, but I’m always looking to investigate my impact. I’ve spent many years cycling through a variety of thoughts and emotions about the work I’m doing or could have been doing, and so on. So it’s interesting that I came across two videos last week that struck dramatically different cords with me.

Colman Domingo at the 2024 Oscars. GEORGE PIMENTEL/SHUTTERSTOCK

One featured actor Colman Domingo. He has been doing deep and beautiful work for many years and this is truly his season. He had several huge projects all at once, and was nominated for an Oscar for his 2023 portrayal of political activist and Civil Rights leader, Bayard Rustin.

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with Colman, long ago, and I have it on good authority that he’s still the sweet, genuine person he was then.

At the Oscars, Colman gave a red carpet interview with Laverne Cox wherein he described himself as a journeyman actor.

“I’m a journeyman actor – someone who’s just been dedicated to the craft of doing work that matters.”

~Colman Domingo

I looked up journeyman to confirm my understanding, that he was a person who was devoted to his craft, to toiling, to doing the work. That maybe he wouldn’t be the lead of Mission Impossible or a huge, commercial franchise, but he would do meaningful work and do it well.

A fellow children’s author who embodies this for me is Nikki Grimes. She has published or appeared in over 100 books and has won numerous awards (including a Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award!). For many people, she is not a household name. But if you follow her social media accounts, you will see her talking about yet another project she’s writing or editing or submitting for publication. Head down, toiling, creating good work.

Autor and Poet Nikki Grimes
Photo credit: Aaron Lemen

Journeyman. This is me. Sometimes I do wish for a little bit of breakout success as a new author. That maybe I’ll get paid higher advances, win awards, garner attention and signing lines at book festivals. But when I talk to kids or teachers or parents individually, they tell me how much my books (two published as of this writing) mean to them.

As I think about the project coming out later this year and the new one I’m conceiving now, I know they matter. I know they are meaningful contributions to the world of children’s literature. They will touch at least one heart and represent another step on my journey.

So I felt kinship with Colman and Nikki. And then I saw something completely different. I came across an author who ostensibly writes middle grade (for ages 8-12) as I do. I saw comments about how kids loved her books and based their description, I felt surprised and disappointed I hadn’t heard of them before. I wanted to know more about this author and about her books! So I looked her up.

In brief, I found her showcasing her children’s books in a way that highlighted them only as products. Commodities. She seemed so disconnected in fact, that I had the strong suspicion she didn’t write them at all. I soon discovered I was right. Her books were ghostwritten by someone else. I don’t have a problem with ghostwriters, as everyone involved consents to the arrangement. But I felt genuinely hurt at the portrayal of books for kids as lifestyle props for adults. I was sad! But it helped me understand myself better. Gave me another lens for viewing the work.

It clarified my reason for doing it at all. My books are not just for social media likes, to show the glamorous life of an author. Hint: writing middle grade books is real work, not glamor, lol! I write books about being true to yourself, to help kids become more fully human. To help them be more courageous, compassionate and wise. Some people write books to make kids smile, or think or learn something new. But as journeymen, we’re doing the work because that’s what matters.

So Far, So Good

It’s official. I’m on sabbatical from my job of a decade.

And I know because yesterday was my first day “at work” and I was like, I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. Just kidding.

Sort of.

More on that in a bit.

In addition to working full time, in 2018 I added part-time author to the mix, which led to 7-day work weeks for months (years) at a time. Can you say burnout? I had it. Bad.

My day job was not time consuming or difficult, but for various reasons (COVID, alignment, household changes, etc.), in recent years I’ve I found it stressful and energy draining. I love the organization and the mission and my coworkers, too! But it was clearly time to step away to find and live my ikigai.

The day I put in my notice was not planned. One day, I really couldn’t take it any more. Between anxiety and extreme fatigue, I had to take immediate action. And I knew it had to be a complete break, not a stepping back or a slowing down.

So I crafted a message and stepped into my truth, fear and all. And after six weeks of knowledge transfer, I put on my out of office in late December, informing anyone who writes me there, that I’ll take a peek again in April (which may turn into… something else).

Before 2023 ended, I began working through the ikigai exercise. Generally understood as your reason for being, your ikigai is the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid to do. Unsurprisingly, writing came up quite a bit (along with teaching and coaching – also not a surprise). As you might’ve guessed, my focus for the next few months will be writing, writing, writing. I will resume coaching (shout out to my newly earned credential!), but on a limited basis for now.

My third book (!) is due to publish in October 2024, and while the hard part is over, there are still a few more steps in the short term. Yesterday, I took the first one. I’m in copyedits, which means I’m polishing the manuscript.

I started with a baby step – one chapter – my favorite approach, just to make sure I knew what was I doing and also to ease myself back into this project that I haven’t seen in about two months. Today I had a bigger goal – five to seven chapters – and met it within two hours, which is great because I allocated four. So that’s my work for the next week – polishing the rest of my new book! I aim to finish this round by next Friday if all goes according to plan.

Soon I will tell you about my first bullet journal, which arrived today. I’ve never attempted this organization strategy, but I’m hoping it will be useful and fun. Have you ever used a bullet journal? How did it go for you?

Happy New Year!

This is the year I turn 50.

More than any other milestone birthday, I’ve found this one to be a north star. Magnetic. Orienting.

A few months ago, I began reflecting on how I was feeling, what I was doing, and what I wanted to be different at 50. I discovered burn out and overwhelm and the profound desire to dig deeper into the work I’ve been assigned.

Freedom and impact presented themselves as key words during the introspection. And while neither is likely to be my one word of 2024 (I’m still mulling on it), they remain as beacons, helping to illuminate my choices this year.

What’s driving you at this moment? And where are you heading?

Food for thought

The Japanese word for mission (shimei) means to “use one’s life.” For what purpose do we use our lives? For what purpose have we been born in this world, sent for from the universe? ~Daisaku Ikeda

Some people spend years seeking, but never really finding, their mission. Others seem born understanding their place in the world. I believe each life, no matter how many breaths allotted on this this plane, is here to accomplish something. Perhaps  some are more fortunate than others in being able to discern (and even work to fulfill) their mission early in life.

When you can’t perceive your mission, you may feel your life is meaningless. But this is false. Reflecting on the events and the nature of your life can provide a window.

Even when, or especially when, your overwhelming experience is pain, you can find a way to use the events of your life to create more peace – for you and for those around you.

This is I think is the key from the statement above. It says “For what purpose do we use our lives?” This implies choice and effort rather than a passive anointing.

You needn’t await permission or a special phone call. You can look at your current circumstances and ask yourself, what can I do where I am, as I am? How can I create value here and now? Your answer may evolve over time, and based on your capabilities. It can be as simple as creating a more hopeful environment at work, or as complex as finding ways to eliminate lupus.

The point is to use your life in a contributive way. In so doing, you can better discern what you can do best; how you can help best.

For what purpose do you use your life today? How will you develop yourself to do even more tomorrow?

What is your heart’s true desire?

Pele, a Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, “shows us that fire can purify, release us from the old to make way for the new, and ignite our passions.” I pulled this goddess card just before the new year. It was divine timing as the cold days of winter are the perfect time to consider what warmth we can create and incorporate into our daily lives.  Pele suggests a few things to get your life in alignment with your heart:

  • IMG_3969Make sure your career matches your true interests
  • Take a class or start a hobby that really excites you
  • Change jobs
  • Go on a wonderful trip
  • Invest time and money in manifesting your dreams
  • Give yourself permission to go for it
  • Start a new business
  • Make an honest assessment of how you spend your time
  • List your priorities

Every so often, I ask myself how I want to feel or what I want to accomplish. Those moments of clarity are sometimes breathtaking, pushing me to reassess the choices I make on a daily basis. Why would I make choices that hinder or even sabotage my desires. Is it fear? Disbelief in my ability? Perhaps I don’t really want to do/accomplish {fill in the blank}.

I allow myself a short while to consider, but not wallow in these ideas, and then I make a new set of decisions to break through the deadlock. As we begin the new year, I am embracing the vigor and enthusiasm that come with exploring and cultivating my passion. I’m excited.

Given your true desires, do you use your time wisely? Are you clear about what’s important to you? Is there something new you want to learn this year? How will you fire up your life in 2015?

Failure is not an option

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I “happened” to be at the right place and time when I heard this question was posed. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, although it was the first time in a while. It had the same impact it always does. It unsettled me.

When I hear that question I immediately feel a vibration. Tension. Something that lets me know I’m not quite in alignment. There’s something I should be doing, but I’m not. I always brush it off. Avoid it. Continue with whatever I was doing at the moment. Last night was no different, although I did eventually think about that question today. More on my answer in a minute.

As for the question, a friend seemed to think it’s all about fear. In other words the question really is: What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? But after some reflection, I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. The question I think is really: What would you be doing if you were living your divine purpose? If you were doing the exact perfect thing that only you can do? If you were contributing to the world exactly what you were born to contribute (and therefore could. not. fail.), what would it be? If there were ZERO chance of failure in an endeavor, what would you do?

#BlackGirlMagic Illustration by Vashti Harrison.

When I consider the question from a standpoint of fear or avoidance – what am I scared to do because I might suck at it – the quick and obvious answer usually comes back as something related to creative writing.  But when I think about it from the standpoint of purpose, I’m actually not so sure. I’m realizing that all of my talents and interests, although seemingly unrelated, all fit together in a perfect tapestry. I’ve spent so many years complaining I was a jack of all trades and a master of none, that I’ve never considered how they all complement each other.

I’m coming to understand, and I think deep down some part of me knows the answer, but I’ve never been still enough long enough to discover it.  My work now is to really figure out the true answer to the question, and then actually do it. After all, failure really isn’t an option, but I at least have to get started, no?

On Being a Vessel

I was sleeping. I normally don’t dream or at least don’t usually have memories of dreams. This night was no different. It was maybe a year or so after my mother died. In any event, I was sleeping. Soundly. Suddenly, I woke up with this idea. It wasn’t an idea I wanted to have. It wasn’t an idea I had been mulling or chewing on. It was an idea that showed up, fully formed, in my consciousness. It demanded I wake up and write it down.

Footsteps at Palm Beach Shores

Efforts to ignore it and go back to sleep were wholly ineffective. It came with its own adrenaline rush and there was no pushing it off for the sake of shut eye. So there I was, in my office, trying to capture this idea that didn’t come from me, but was certainly coming through me. I remember feeling desperate to get it all down. And when it was all typed out, I felt as if I had just given birth. Having never actually birthed a human, I can’t be sure, but that’s about the closest I can get to describing it.

I knew at that moment I did not have the resources to make this idea a reality (yet). I thought then that it was at least 5 or 10 years in the making. I went on with life, not giving much thought to the idea.

This was around 2004 or 2005.

Since then, every two or three years, the idea gently resurfaces, as if to remind me it still exists. But earlier this year when it resurfaced, it was LOUD and demanding! Some aspects of it had changed, and it wanted me to know. I’m talking about it as though it has a life of its own. It does.

I felt scared because it seemed as if the time was getting closer to bring it from the world of the formlessness into the world of form, but I’m. Not. Ready. At least so I feel. Felt. Feel? I don’t know. It felt urgent. Like hurry up! Interestingly, there are still many pieces I don’t possess. But recently I realized that’s okay. Since I need help, I’ve now asked for it. I’m praying to meet a mentor who can help me. And I know that if I am truly a vessel for this, as it seems I may be, the path will be illuminated if I will just start walking.