Stop using ‘I feel’ in your writing

“I think…” “I believe…” “I feel…”

Cut them (almost) all out. Draw big red lines or press the delete key really hard, and walk away.

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How to get back on track after distractions

One of the hardest parts about working from home as a freelance journalist is the solitude. My toddler is playful, active, funny company, but there are times when I feel very lonely in my mind. I get lost in everything I have and want to do. Sometimes I want someone to grab my shoulders and say, “Hey, cut it out!” when I’m procrastinating…but today I just had to do it for myself.

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How saying ‘no’ saved me last week

A photo of a busy bustling mess of people with the word "no" on top 6 times.

I’ve developed a new habit that I’m not proud of at all. “Yes” is my default answer. New project? Yes. More volunteer work? Sure. Super late notice party? Of course! This was shocking to realize because I’ve owned my “not a people pleaser” persona for years and years. I remember my parents mentioning “Devin, it might do you some good to develop a few people pleasing tendencies.” Cue a barely-hidden eye roll from 14-year-old me. My could-care-less ways changed when I became a freelancer because, at first, I wanted any work I could get.

When the first job trickled in, of course, I said “yes.” And “yes” to the next one. And so on. There was a sort of frenetic energy that willed me through my days in early 2015. I wanted to do as much work as possible, and I attacked the process of finding work with a lot of energy. That worked for me then – great! I’m not desperate for work anymore – fantastic! Everything should be just fine and dandy, right? But what about that massive knot of anxiety that’s taken up residence in my gut? To usher out the anxiety gremlin, I haven’t done anything fancy. I haven’t bought any books or hired any life coaches. I just said “no.”

The first “no”

Someone I used to work for asked if I wanted to write for her website. I was flattered that she even asked because she saved my behind more than once at my old job. I talked with an editor to find out more and at the end of the call I said I’d start working on some pitches for her. Yes, the pay was below what I want to accept. Yes, it wasn’t the exact type of work I wanted to do. Two red flags, I see in retrospect. I was excited to add another byline to my portfolio, but as I started to look for stories to pitch, I deflated. I felt anxious. Yes, I could write for the site, but it wasn’t the best use of my time. So, I emailed the editor and told her that I had overcommitted myself and wouldn’t be writing for her. Part of me hated writing the note, but as soon as I clicked “Send” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders.

The second “no”

I’m on a volunteer board that meets monthly. At the most recent meeting, one member announced there was a new sub-committee that everyone should join. That means another monthly meeting. Do you know the term mission creep? Noun: a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment. The board isn’t a military campaign, but the mission is definitely creeping. After the meeting, I texted a friend who had missed the meeting to complain. I felt trapped, resentful, and annoyed. Why? I hadn’t even agreed to be on the darn sub-committee. I felt pressure to go along with it – volunteering is always good, right?  After wrestling with what to do, I sent an email to the head of the board saying that I won’t be a part of the new sub-committee. And I felt like a new woman.

I thought that because I’m not a people pleaser type that I wouldn’t over-commit, but I was wrong. My downfall is that I like to be known as competent and hardworking. That leads me to say “yes” to too much. I know I’m not alone. We live in a culture that celebrates the workaholic mentality and encourages one-upmanship. There’s an odd little tune on repeat in our brains: “Anything you can do, I can do more of. I can do 90 things more than you do.” I’m stepping out of that mentality and I’m looking for kindred spirits to join me.

So what, my inner critic asks, you’re too good for work that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? No, not at all. I don’t labor under the idea that I have to be in love with all my work. But saying “yes” to everything and barely keeping my head above water is not the life I want to lead. Nor does it lead to my best work. Saying “yes” too much is just as damaging and self-sabotaging as never saying “yes.”

What next? How can we avoid the impulse of saying “yes”?

Be bravely selective about the clients you accept. Write up a list of questions to thoroughly vet each prospective client. The next time you’re met with a situation where your impulse is to say “yes” but you have mixed feelings, say, “That sounds interesting, can I have a day to think about it?” And then go read some strategies for turning down opportunities. Anyone who isn’t willing to give you time to think about a decision probably doesn’t have your best interest in mind. Do you really want to work with or for them, anyway?

Saying “no” scared me because I didn’t want to disappoint my current clients or discourage new clients from hiring me. I tried to be the “yes woman” and it worked for a time, but I am embracing my new no-centric attitude.

“…meeting a deadline wasn’t the reason I was loved or not loved, respected or not respected, and that life didn’t have to be an endless jog to accommodate all the Yes’s.” ~Lena Dunham

If something is causing resentment and anguish and anxiety, it’s a sign to check the reasons behind why you’re doing it. If there’s a problematic client, finish the project and decline future work. If there’s a job you’re contorting your resume for, shouldn’t you just walk away now? Take a rain check on the next extracurricular or social activity. The fear of disappointing people (or yourself) is real. But the vast majority of people, especially your close circle, will understand if you say, “I want to, but I need to say no.” And the beauty I’m finding is that saying “no” leads me back to saying “yes.” But now I’m just accepting selected opportunities that properly fit my life, and I’m much more at peace. Imagine that.

If you still have any yes’s left in you, could you share this letter with one person in your life who might enjoy reading it? It would make my day.

How to tell if all your research is actually procrastination

IMG: A bookshelf packed to the ceiling with books

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