tired + uninspired.

Yesterday was a weird one, guys.

It was also an exercise in flexibility and in being patient with myself when things don’t go to plan work-wise. So often, I share the positives of freelancing and being out on my own, so today, I thought I’d give you a peek into the days that are less straightforward, the kind of days that can make me play head games with myself if I’m not careful.

I barely slept on Wednesday night (as many of you know, sleeping — or not sleeping — is a recurring problem for me), so my day yesterday started on a very wrong, very tired foot. When Matt left for work at 6:30, I resisted the urge to try to fall back to sleep and instead started working right away. Since I was already up, I figured I would get an extra early start on my to-do list for the day, and then take a break later on if I needed it. Everything was going OK for a while. I knocked a lot of items off my list, and I was feeling pretty good — even if I was still super tired.

At the beginning of every week, I loosely plan out how I’m going to spend my time for the upcoming days, so I knew the plan for yesterday was to be as productive as possible on a few miscellaneous projects in the morning, leaving the afternoon open to work on writing the book. By the time I got to that afternoon portion, though, I was dragging.

When I opened up my work in progress and started trying to type out the next words, I was suddenly totally overwhelmed. My mind was entirely blank, which made me feel terrible about myself, only making me feel less inspired. I sat in front of my computer stuck in this vicious cycle for about 30 minutes.

When it became clear that staring at the screen was only making things worse, I considered my options. All of my other urgent work items had been taken care of, so I thought about parking myself on the couch, granting myself an official half day, and simply sleeping it off with some Hulu in the background. Then, I remembered that one of my goals for August is to avoid low quality “me time” — basically the textbook definition of binge watching.

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Instead, I gave myself permission to grab my book (I’m nearing the end of The Nix, which I would definitely recommend) and get comfy in my office chair. I left my laptop open in front of me so I could keep an eye on any urgent emails coming through, and started reading. If my problem was writer’s block and a lack of inspiration, getting lost in a good book seemed a totally worthy solution, even if it wasn’t part of my plan and even if it felt like a bit of an indulgence. I spent the rest of the afternoon that way, and it was (obviously) an infinitely more productive alternative to watching four episodes of the Kardashians.

Learning to give myself grace on days when I can’t simultaneously be the perfect boss and the perfect employee is an ongoing process, but I realize on days like yesterday that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I don’t need to be “on” or “off.” There are plenty of gray areas in between, and when I allow myself to exist in those areas, I make better use of my time than when I simply get discouraged and give up. And in my world — where words and creativity are the tools of the trade — spending the afternoon with a good book is the equivalent of spending an afternoon in meetings or workshops with upper-level management (and I know this because I spent five years in corporate America!), because it’s a dedicated period of learning and development. I’m a book lover, so I can’t pretend that it’s not also a treat, but remember — it doesn’t need to be all or nothing, one or the other. I’m working on figuring that out myself each and every day.

Happy weekending, friends. Wishing you lots of rest and inspiration!

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my bed (a sleep + work update).

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The big news in the Kosik household is that we are getting a new mattress this weekend.

If you think that I’m being sarcastic when I say that’s the big news, I promise you that I’m actually not. My husband — who is a major research buff — has been diligently (obsessively?) comparing mattress models for the past few months, and last week he finally picked one. It’s getting delivered tomorrow morning and, honestly, there’s so much excitement about it that I’m not sure anyone will even be able to sleep on the mattress we already have tonight. It’s like Christmas morning! When we moved in together, Matt inherited the bed I brought with me when I first came to New York back in 2012, which happens to be an older Sleep Number model — and he likes to joke that we’ve been sleeping on a “giant raft.” I’m pretty content with what we have, but he’s convinced that getting a new mattress will help solve my sleep issues. With that logic, I’m willing to make the investment and give it a try!

Given this major new development, I thought I’d do a quick check-in about my sleep problems — what’s worked, what hasn’t, and how I’m managing my insomnia these days. For those of you who are new to the blog, I started struggling with sleep about three years ago. I go through periods during which I literally just can’t fall asleep for days at a time, or (even worse) when I’ll sleep for a total of nine hours in a three-day period before I break down and take an over-the-counter pill. I’ve talked to several of my doctors about these issues, and we haven’t been able to work out a great solution, so I’ve more or less been figuring it out as I go for the last year or so.

When I wrote my first post about my sleep (or lack therof) a few months ago, I was totally blown away by the outpouring of love and support. It’s amazing how many people have had a similar experience to mine, and I sincerely appreciated every single suggestion I received.

Sleep — and getting back some level of normalcy with my sleep cycle — has continued to be a priority for me. Each month, when I put together my list of monthly goalsSLEEP is always listed at the top of the page. I’ve gone through a few pretty rough periods — recently, for about a month and a half straight, I was waking up at 2:00 AM no matter what time I went to bed — but in the last week or two, I’m finally starting to see an improvement. Here are the small changes I’ve made that seem to have made the difference…

  • I’m eating smaller portions at dinner. I mentioned in my last post that I’ve recently switched up my daily routine. Incidentally, because of my new schedule, I’ve been eating lunch later in the day (usually around 1:30 or 2), and I’m finding myself less hungry at dinnertime. Dinner used to be my big meal, but ever since my evening appetite has decreased, I find that I’m falling asleep faster… and actually staying asleep through the night!
  • I’ve given myself permission to fall asleep to a TV show. For so long, I was trying to follow the “no screens” rule before bed, because so many experts say that watching TV or playing with a phone late at night is bad for insomniacs. Recently, I’ve been watching episodes of The Brady Bunch on Hulu as soon as I start to get too tired to read, and usually, I’m out cold within ten minutes. If I happen to wake up again in the middle of the night, I put my headphones in, turn the episode back on, and fall right back to sleep again. It just goes to show you that everyone’s different and that rules (like “no screens”) don’t necessarily apply across the board.
  • I’m “taking back my bedroom” with my new morning routine. This one might sound like a bit of a stretch, but hear me out — in my last post, I mentioned the fact that I’ve been bringing my laptop into bed to work for an hour or so every morning. Usually, I use this time to draft emails, take care of general administrative stuff, and tend to any follow-ups… pretty much any project that doesn’t require a lot of of focused brainpower (for instance, I never do serious writing in bed). By 9 AM, I’ve completed about half of my to-do list, and the day just feels like it has a lot more momentum. Ever since I started doing this, I’ve been sleeping better. My theory is that taking this time for myself each morning (even if it’s work time) has finally made my bedroom feel like a less stressful place. For so long, I felt totally out of control as soon as I got into bed and tried to go to sleep. When I’m working, I feel so in control, and it’s like this crazy switch has now flipped in my brain that allows me to feel that same control when it’s time for bed, too.

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I knew that I was really starting to see progress when I realized yesterday that I’d been having dreams every night for the last week. Dreams! I haven’t had vivid dreams like that since the insomnia set in a few years ago. It’s been a bizarre experience having them again, but believe me — I’ll take it. It will be interesting to see if this new mattress helps even more!

It can be such a struggle not to sleep, and I hope these tips can help you if you’re also feeling the pain. Sweet dreams, and happy weekend snoozing, everyone : )

(P.S. — Monday is giveaway day! See you then!)

 

the work-from-home “should list”

I just got back from a weekend in Savanah, Georgia, where I had a chance to celebrate the bachelorette party of one of my closest friends! It was so fun to have lots of girl time, and Savannah also happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. I couldn’t be more honored to be part of this wedding!

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After a whirlwind weekend, it’s always a little stressful to settle back into my everyday work routine, especially since I’m trying to catch up on “life stuff,” too! Since this is a pretty typical challenge of working from home (I feel like I can both be unpacking and answering all of my e-mails at the same time!), I thought I’d share more today about what I think it takes to really be successful outside of a standard office. I get questions about this a lot, and although I’m definitely not an expert yet, I do have some thoughts about what you “should” do to get the most out of the experience. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my first few months:

  • You should be motivated and self-directed. When I first started telling people that I was leaving my 9-to-5 job to work from home as a freelancer, the first reaction I got from many of them was, “I could never do that because I couldn’t force myself to get things done. But you probably can.” I’ve always been pretty proactive, which is a total necessity in my new life. If you’re not someone who’s driven to get things accomplished on or ahead of a schedule — even when no one is reminding you and there’s no official risk of being fired — working from home could definitely be a stretch for you.
  • You should understand your ideal work habits. It’s pretty amazing what you can learn about your work habits when you get to explore them outside of a traditional office environment. For the first few weeks after I went freelance, I tried out different things — working in lots of coffee shops, sitting in my home office all the time — until I had a feel for what would be most efficient and effective. In the end, I’ve found that I work best when I spend the first half of the day with my things spread out on my coffee table and the second half at my desk. I think you have to be open to figuring out how to make the most of your work-from-home routine.
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My typical morning work environment.

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And the typical afternoon!

  • You should be flexible. Every day is different, and even though I tried to set some rules for myself when I first started working from home, I’ve learned that I’m more productive when I allow myself to be a little less rigid. When I allow myself to lean into the different routines of each day, everything works better.
  • You should be able to be patient and forgiving with yourself. Since every day is different, there are definitely days when I get more accomplished than others. This was true in my old job, too, but I think I’m more aware of it now because I put added pressure on myself to really come through and be successful (and because now, if I’m not focusing 100% on work, I can read a book or run some errands instead of just messing around on the internet, which somehow feels like cheating the system!). I still have to remember to be kind to myself on those days, and I can’t allow myself to discredit the work I’m doing by being my own worst critic.
  • You should be prepared to develop some workaholic tendencies. When your home is your office and your office is your home, all of the lines that separate your professional life from your personal life get pretty blurry. In my former life in corporate America, I didn’t even get my work e-mail on my phone. These days, I’m constantly connected to my e-mail, and I’m usually sending messages first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to sleep.
  • You probably shouldn’t enjoy being in your bed too much. While I definitely wish I was a better sleeper, I’m honestly kind of relieved that I’m not someone who likes to snooze until 10 in the morning or lounge in bed all day. There are moments when I feel tempted to snuggle in a little longer, but if that was more of a habit, I think that working out of my home would prove a much bigger challenge.
  • You should feel really confident about what you’re doing. Other people aren’t always going to understand your job. In my experience, they may not buy into the “work from home lifestyle” or give a whole lot of credibility to your work simply because you don’t report in to an office every day. I’ve learned to let these comments roll off my back — but, admittedly, that’s easier on the days when I’m feeling extra confident about my work and how I choose to do it. It’s important not to allow negative attitudes to throw you off your game!

my word for 2017.

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all finished out the holiday season with plenty of good vibes and that your 2017 is already feeling fantastic : )

Over here, it’s (unfortunately) looking like the first sleepless night of the new year (ugh), but I’m super excited about this post, so I thought I would get a jump on it, anyway!

Last week, I blogged about the word I used to set up my intentions for 2016 (check it out here), and I spent some time over the last few days reflecting about my word for 2017. I feel really great about using this word as a theme, and I’m psyched to be sharing it with you here. I hope you’ll help keep me accountable! My word for 2017 is…

ABUNDANCE

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Although I couldn’t have predicted it back in January of 2016, last year ended up being about paring things down. As most of you know, once things calmed down a bit after our wedding in June, I was forced to think really hard about the parts of my life that I could strip down, dismantle, and simplify. I needed to take a super close look at the things that were most important to me, and in doing so, I had to give myself permission to let go of the stresses and expectations that were making me feel so crummy all the time (and for no good reason). Lots of reflection and worrying brought me here, to this brand new world of freelance writing and the completely different lifestyle that has come with it.

I am so grateful for last year’s focus on peace. Without it, I’m not sure I would have understood how important it was for me to make some life-shaking decisions over the past few months. But after a year of stripping down and simplifying, I’m ready to take a new approach to 2017, which brings me to: abundance.

My goal for the coming year is to approach every aspect of my life with the expectation that there are abundant opportunities open to me. I want to put in an abundance of work and (hopefully) reap abundant rewards as a result. I am ready to approach my professional life with new energy and commitment, and I don’t want there to be any limits on what I’m willing to do in order to grow my writing career. In my personal life, I want to seek abundance, too. I’ve always tended to feel like there is some sort of cap on the amount of joy allotted per person (it’s silly, I know) or on the extent to which every day can feel special or magical — and I’m going to work hard to change my perspective on that. In the three months since I’ve decided to totally switch gears, I’ve realized just how abundant the opportunities are for us to enjoy the simplest things in our daily routines. In 2017, I am going to try to squeeze every last bit of that goodness out of life. I also hope that I can grow to be more abundantly generous in my relationships this year.

I’ve never been one for excess, and while my focus on abundance isn’t really about going over the top, I do want to allow myself to work for, ask for, and enjoy MORE of all of the good things that life has to offer in the year ahead.

Last year, I wore a mantra necklace (from The Shine Project, of course) to remind me to practice peace. This year, I’ve decided to give myself a daily reminder right here on my desk — there’s no way to ignore it!

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Do you have a word in mind to inspire you in 2017? I’d love to hear it! Please share in the comments below!

(P.S. — I’m still bragging my latest byline over at Refinery29. Check it out here — this was a bucket list writing opportunity for me and I couldn’t be more excited about it!)

stressed all over again.

I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about working from home or working for yourself is that it’s somehow luxurious.

Sure — I’ll own the fact that I’ll occasionally take a longer break for lunch to catch up on my TiVo, or that every once in a while, I’ll let myself stay in bed until 8:30 (for someone like me who has sleep issues and is used to a 5AM wake-up call, I assure you that this feels like cheating), but those occasions are absolutely the exception, and not the rule. To be successful in any endeavor when you’re both boss and employee, you have to be self-motivated and in a constant state of *hustle* (I say this with authority because my fellow freelance friends and I have talked about it at length).

Early on, I’ll confess that I did notice a decrease in that pesky word that we all use all the time: STRESS. I was still trying to lock down gigs and get my name out there, and to put it bluntly, there was absolutely zero demand for my work at that point. I was working hard, but I didn’t need to — I was getting things off the ground and wanted to prove (to myself, mostly) that I could make a full-time job out of writing.

Three months later, I can confidently say that stress is once again a factor in my life. I barely realized it was happening, but suddenly, in the middle of last week, it hit me: just like in my old job, I’m back to feeling the pull of what sometimes feels like a million demands and deadlines.

Just like in my “real talk” post, I promise I’m not taking this as an opportunity to complain. If anything, feeling stressed again felt a little like a blessing — a milestone to mark the fact that I’m now at the point in my (still very young, immature) writing career where my work has enough interest that I need to deliver.

What does this mean for all of you other stressed people out there? It’s a reminder that, while feeling stress can be well, stressful, it’s also a sign that you’re doing good work and that what you’re doing is valued and in demand. I know it can be hard to see that perspective when you’re in a constant rotation of projects and deadlines and meetings and family drama and relationships, but as someone who took a step out of that loop and gradually came back in, I’m here to tell you that what you’re doing is important, which is why you feel the pressure to do it at all. That being said, you deserve a break, and I hope you have a chance to take one over the upcoming holidays. You’ve definitely earned a chance to curl up with a good book and a plate of Christmas cookies, and to take a minute to reflect on all of the butt-kicking things you’ve been doing recently — because I’m sure you’re doing plenty. 

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I just wanted to let you know : )

 

three month recap.

Since I spent (almost) five years working in sales, I have a lot of experience splitting things up into quarters of the calendar year. Like any other corporate organization, my company set goals for Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4, and much of our day-to-day language was based around making the most of those time periods.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve now officially made it through “Q1” of my freelance life. For some reason, the three-month mark feels so much more significant than the two-month mark — maybe because I’ve been trained to think about my professional life in terms of three-month increments.

Last week, I was catching up with one of my closest friends, and as I was updating her about recent developments with my work, she said, “So, basically you’re constantly applying for jobs, right?” And with that, she described the way I feel so perfectly. Being a full-time freelancer means that you’re on a hamster wheel of researching new work opportunities, making the right contacts, and preparing to sell yourself for those opportunities. It’s a never-ending learning experience, and even three months in, it feels like I’m figuring out new things every single day.

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Just like I did at the other monthly milestones since leaving my old job for the last time, I’m happy to be sharing a little three-month recap with you (you can read the other recaps here and here). Here are some updates from the last month:

  • Some of my old workaholic tendencies are coming back. In high school and college, I was almost annoyingly competitive. I LOVED the adrenaline rush of throwing myself into work. Although I was grateful for my old job, I never felt 100% connected to it, and I was more than happy to work hard at the office but keep that separate from the rest of my life. I missed the feeling of loving what I do so much that I couldn’t help but blur the lines between the personal and professional, and it feels good to be tapped back into that part of my personality.
  • I’m trying to care less about telling people how busy I am. Early on, my insecurities about leaving the corporate world came out mostly when people asked me how work was going and I would just say, “So busy!” I didn’t want people to think that working for myself from home meant that I was sitting around watching TV, so I overcompensated by leading with my busy-ness instead. I’ve noticed that it’s become a pattern, and one that I would like to break. With each day that passes, I feel less like I have something to prove.
  • I’m feeling comfortable in my own skin. I’ve struggled with anxiety and body image issues for most of my life, and I always find that when I’m fulfilled in the important areas of my life (work, relationships, etc.), those inner demons get a little quieter. While I don’t think I’ll ever be totally “healed,” I’m happy to report that I’ve been having more good days lately than I was a few months ago.
  • Taking time out is important. One of my favorite things about the end of the year at my old job was taking random weekdays off in order to use up my remaining vacation days — and I miss that! Just like telling people how busy I am, hustling constantly has been a way for me to show others that the work I’m doing now is legit. Since September, I’ve done at least some work every. single. day (weekends included). With the holidays upon us, I know it’s time to cut myself some slack and allow for at least a little planned downtime. Working from home, it’s so easy to get involved in projects even if I have every intention of taking a break for a few hours here or there, so I think I need to learn how to better designate real “time off.”
  • I’m better understanding my goals. When I first started on this journey, people would ask me what my writing goals were, and I wasn’t sure how to answer — I just wanted to get started! As my portfolio of clips grows and I continue to better understand my strengths as a writer, I’m starting to have a clearer picture of where I’d like to go next.

two month recap.

 

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Image credit: Pinterest/spoken.ly

Somehow in the craziness of the world this past week, it’s crept up on me that it has been TWO months since my last day of work pre-freelancing.  It’s hard to believe how much has changed in the four weeks since my one-month recap, and I’m happy to be sharing the strides I’ve made (as well as some of the continuing challenges!) with you today.

Here are the major updates:

  • I’M PUBLISHED!  Obviously, when I left my corporate gig to become a writer, the goal was to be a published writer, and my greatest fear was that I would end up feeling totally silly with nothing to show for my leap of faith.  Within just the last few weeks, I’ve become a regular contributor to Brit + Co, and yesterday, an essay that I wrote for The Kitchn went live.  The fact that just one month ago I was working my butt of and still waiting to see a byline anywhere and now I have a little starter portfolio of clips to my name — it makes me happier than you can imagine.  (As a reminder, I link all of my work as it’s posted right here to the blog!)
  • I’m feeling the benefits of calling my own shots.  Now that I’m getting more traction and seeing the evidence of my efforts in a more tangible way, I’m really starting to understand how the hustle works.  My success — and my paychecks — are directly correlated to the amount of time I invest and the number of ideas I can generate.  As safe as it felt to get a consistent paycheck every two weeks in my previous job, I feel so much pride when I see that my willingness to put in extra work often results in a greater reward.  It’s certainly less predictable financially (especially in these early stages), but now that I can actually see how satisfying it is to make my own luck, I am all the more motivated to be my own boss.
  • I’m meeting really interesting people.  Whether I’m connecting with fellow freelancers at a coffee shop or interviewing people who are doing really awesome things for my articles, I’m loving the opportunities I have to build professional relationships in a new way.  Working from home can feel lonely at times, and I was almost entirely isolated for my first month, so it’s been totally refreshing to network with a community of other writers and creatives.
  • My confidence is growing.  As a journalism student, one of my biggest struggles was conducting interviews.  Although I’m usually pretty self-assured, if you put me in front of a source for a story, I would immediately become uncomfortable and awkward.  It’s amazing what a few years of life experience can do for your conversation skills!  I still get pre-interview jitters here and there, but it’s nothing compared to the anxiety I used to get.
  • The bad news — I’m still not sleeping.  You can check out a post detailing all of my sleep issues here, but the short update is that I am still really struggling to get enough rest.  I’m sticking to my goal of phasing out my (formerly) beloved over-the-counter sleep aids, and I know I’ll be happy I did it in the end, but right now I just feel completely exhausted.

Sometimes I forget that what I’m really creating is a “new normal,” and that someday, it won’t feel like some wild experiment that I’m still figuring out one step at a time.  Until then, I appreciate all of your continued support as I build this new life for myself — growing  pains and all.