“You can only do the best you can do. Sometimes that is survival and sometimes that is stellar. And that’s okay.”
This has been a mantra of mine for years. Until my twenties, I had always marveled at how charmed I felt my life was. Things generally went well if I worked hard. When they weren’t as great, I knew that it was temporary and soon I would feel back on top. I was lucky. I had a good family, good friends, a good education. And then, really for the first time, life got in the way.
When I was 24, my first husband and I decided to have a baby. We went through almost 4 years of infertility and 2 miscarriages before I finally had a successful pregnancy. My husband was deployed for about half of that time, so I was left to cope on my own. This was my first real survival mode. I got up every day, went to work and went out with friends. But emotionally, I was just trying to get through the day. I was grieving the miscarriages every moment of every day, and all I wanted to do was to get to the end of the day so that I could go to sleep and not think about it. I did what needed to be done and only what needed to be done. And that was okay.
Over the next few years, we had a baby, he got out of the Navy and went to law school, we had two more children and moved back to my hometown. When the boys were 2, 4 and 6, my marriage fell apart. He moved out on Halloween and confessed his infidelity on Christmas. I filed for divorce the first week of January and by early February, my youngest son began to have seizures on the hour every hour for two weeks. This was real survival mode. If my children were clean and fed, that was successful day. And that was okay.
The process of the divorce and getting my son healthy both took about a year. Once we got a good diagnosis (epilepsy) and the right medication, his seizures slowed to once each month for a year and then were well controlled for nine years. He is now seizure free and has been released from his neurologist.
There is nothing wrong with survival mode. When life gets tough, we need it to kick in so that we can get out of bed each day and do the things we need to do. We need to survive. We need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. But we also need to be aware when it is time to move out of survival mode so that we can get back to life.
My son was diagnosed with epilepsy for ten years. I also had two other boys who went through the normal ups and downs of childhood. And I was a single mother for eight of those years. But there is a point at which you realize that you are through the worst or at least managing it, and survival is not enough. For me, it took some time after the seizures were controlled to get out of survival mode. I still had to grieve the loss of my marriage and accept my own situation and new reality. I probably spend most of 4 years in survival mode. This is not to say I didn’t have stellar days or experiences, but mostly I was getting through. When I began to realize I needed more, I started dating and started writing. I started putting myself out there to market my writing and eventually wrote my book. I got married. I blended a family with my new husband. And I am still going.
What I learned is that survival mode is a necessary part of life. I learned that the more you survive, the less you feel set back by life getting in the way. I learned that when you decide it is time to get on with it and live your life, make plans, set goals and then go after them, you start to achieve stellar. Stellar is defined by knowing it is time to step up and take charge and then doing it.
I tend to be a perfectionist. This quality is both productive and destructive. When you are in survival mode and you are beating yourself up for not excelling every day, you are destroying your own self-esteem, and it becomes self-defeating. You have to be able to accept that survival, when that is all you can do, when life gets in the way, is an accomplishment. But when you are headed into a stellar period, that same perfectionism acts as drive to do more, learn more and keep pushing forward. The key is to recognize when it is time for these shifts. You know when survival is all you can do...but you also know when it is time to do more than just survive. So do it!
I have a very typical divorce story. The details are unique, but so often, we, men or women, get caught up in bad marriages that take us away from who we are meant to be. We find ourselves consumed in a game of emotional survival and get lost from our own dreams and goals.
As women, mothers, men, fathers, we often find ourselves caught up in the busy tasks of daily life. We often prioritize the needs of others thinking, “I’ll get to it when I have time” with regard to our own goals. And weeks, months and years go by.
One of my biggest fears in life was not that my dreams would go unfulfilled, but that I would allow myself to let life go by without fully pursuing them. I could accept that I may not achieve every goal that I set, but I was determined to make sure that I showed up for my own dreams - and that I showed up prepared.
There were many years when I did not pursue any of my dreams. I was caught up in a bad marriage, a divorce, a sick child, raising three young boys by myself. These are all really good reasons to put things off. I didn’t have time to write. I didn’t have energy to write. I didn’t have the creative space in my mind to write. These are the thoughts that steal your dreams. And guess what. You can change them.
As I recovered from my divorce, I began to reevaluate what I wanted in my life. I wanted healthy and happy kids. Obviously that was and is the most important priority. I wanted a healthy relationship that filled me instead of depleted me.
I wanted to be a published writer.
And so I began to write. I became very intentional about writing consistently. I would put the boys to bed, and sit on my bed with my laptop on a pillow in front of me, and I would write. I had no specific goal in mind for what I was writing. But I started with blogging. And then I started with promoting the blogs on social media. And then I began communication with Huffington Post. And then I began to blog for the Huffington Post.
I realized that my blog about online dating resonated with people. After all, who hasn’t had a bad date? So I put the blog in book form. I expanded it and began to send out queries. I was rejected - a lot. I kept writing and kept trying to find my voice. I kept updating and editing. I knew that persistence was the key, as I had read many writers’ stories of rejection and perseverance.
Many times I wondered if I needed to define a more linear path. I was scattered in many directions blogging about online dating, divorce, blended families and more. Should I try to slow down and focus more? Should I stick to one specific topic? I couldn’t answer that, so I just kept on keeping on. And I kept writing.
So when I volunteered to write a script for a local pageant, I was prepared when the essay judge asked to see my book. He just happened to have a publishing company. And he agreed to publish me a week later.
Here is what I have learned by putting my own dreams aside and then rediscovering them. You have to be on your own priority list. People say that all the time. But if you don’t prioritize your dreams, you are doomed to regret. First, you have to know what they are. Self-awareness is a big thing for me. I think very few people have it, and I want to be one of them.
Know what you want. And then charge toward it. This means you have to take time, even if it is a miniscule amount on a regular basis, to pursue your dreams.
Be prepared. Do the work. If you do not put in the time to know what you are doing, when the opportunity arises, you will not be ready. I didn’t know exactly how to pursue my writing, but I was working and editing and tweaking continually so that when something happened, I was ready.
Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to put it out there. Some people feel like putting their dreams out in the world front and center is too big of a risk - that if they don’t achieve them, people will think they are a failure. To that I say, “Who cares?” You are trying. And when you put it out there, who knows who will be listening? I had no idea the essay judge was a publisher. Thanks goodness I put it out there.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. We all have ideas of what our dreams should look like. Sometimes life takes you down a path that looks different but still takes you where you want to go. Be open to different views of the same dream.
Don’t let setbacks set you back. They are going to happen. I never expected to be divorced. I never expected to have a kid with a chronic illness. Get through it and get back to your goals.
Don’t give up. I started writing about online dating more than 5 years ago. I had time where I was more active than others because, let’s face it, sometimes life just gets in the way. But when you prioritize your dreams, even when life gets in the way, you make the effort to get back to it. Five years later, I am published.
To find out more about my book chronicling five years of crazy dates and tips I learned along the way, please visit my website www.sweetenthedeal.com.
I am a planner. Google calendar is my friend. I have five kids’ and two adults’ calendars on my phone, with alerts programmed to mine and theirs (though the youngest two don’t have phones yet). If you don’t put it on the calendar, I make no promises. Even with the best laid plans, in my life, in a blended family of seven, I often resort to hanging on to the top, spinning with controlled chaos, and waiting for the slow steady revolution of a calmer day — if it comes, it lasts only until you have a split second to breathe, and it spins again.
It started on a Friday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. Up to that point, my day had been relatively uneventful. We were going to have the three teenagers scattered for the night, but rides were arranged and I was planning a low-key, dinner-and-a-movie evening at home with the younger two. Then I got the email. And the chain of events, thought not all directly related, unfolded over the next three days and the top began to whir.
“I am not going to make it home in time to go get the check, so can you go by and pick it up? I will send directions. By the way, I forgot my phone at home today.”
Okay, so, I knew he forgot his phone at home since he drove two hours out of town and I hadn’t heard from him all day, and when I checked, it was still on his night stand. And I knew I might have to go pick the check up. But considering it was 4:00, and I had not heard from him (after all, he was with people with phones) and since he had to pick the girls up from their mother’s by 6:00, I thought he must have gotten out on time. When I got his email at 4:20, I was at the grocery store getting dinner. I flew home, dropped the groceries, got back in the car and raced to his office. While reading his email telling me to hurry up so he could get to the girls, I missed my turn, drove 10 minutes out of the way, because I am still learning my way around my new city, and barely made it to get the check by 5:00.
Phew! Now the relaxing evening can begin, I thought, as I drove at a more reasonable pace to drop the check in the ATM, and stop to get a bottle of wine at the Rite-Aid, and get $20 extra for the one going to the movie later. Wrong. When I got home, his phone rang and it was daughter number one. She began to explain a change in plans that included her mom dropping her off at a birthday party (this was planned) and then bringing daughter number two to our house instead of him picking her up as usual (this was not planned). Apparently, the ex had left him an unreceived message indicating this change earlier in the day. I explained the forgotten phone situation to daughter number one, and told her I couldn’t get a message to him, but if needed, daughter number two could be dropped off at our house, and he would just realize it when he got to her mother’s house. Long pause for relay of this information to the mother, followed by the mother taking the phone. A repeat explanation of the forgotten phone and she is dropping daughter number two by our house. Daughter number two gets dropped by (late) and I race to the mother’s house to try to catch him so that he doesn’t worry why she is not there. Before I make it, my phone rings and he is calling from our house. Oh well, I tried.
I fixed dinner (late) and fed those that were home. Son number one was at the football game playing in the band, daughter number one was at the birthday party, and son number two was headed out to the movie. Husband and I caught each other up on our day before I started son number three and daughter number two toward bed. By the time they were in bed, husband leaves to get oldest two home by ten. All go to bed and I lay half asleep waiting on son number two to get back from movie that he shouldn’t have been allowed to attend, because the 8:00 p.m. show was sold out and the 9:00 p.m. ended past his curfew. Oh well. I tried.
The next two days went something like this: Son number three (who is kid number four) and I arise at 5:45 a.m. to get to his swim meet an hour away. Husband and kids one, two, three and five get up thirty minutes later to squeeze in every ounce of sleep and meet us at the swim meet. Meet ends by noon, we grab lunch and everyone goes to get a Christmas tree since the next time we are all together will be two weeks away. I skip the tree purchase to run by the store to get hot chocolate and jeans for son number two who told me the day before that he only had one pair for his upcoming week-long trip with his father.
Husband bought tree with lightning-quick speed, and calls to see where I am. I rush home to get decorating started. Son number two thinks that everything is taking too long, and moves from the couch to couch lamenting this torture. Son number three and daughter number two are giddy and “helpful” getting into everything and impatiently waiting to be able to put the ornaments on. Son number one keeps disappearing to play guitar and/or text his girlfriend who he is trying to arrange to come to the movie in the street downtown later, because we are trying to fit some “fun” into the weekend. Daughter number one helpfully puts lights on the tree in the foyer, only to discover when she gets to the end that she has a receiving end plug for the lights and can’t plug them in to the wall.
“I have a problem,” is followed by her walking off and leaving me to re-do the lights. We finally got things decorated with EVERYONE pitching in, like it or not, and in the midst of me making popcorn and daughter number one making hot chocolate (or should I say “burning” hot chocolate) to take to the movie. I realize I have not considered that this brood might need to eat dinner, and we are minutes away from leaving for the movie. We stop to grab dinner at a drive-through and eat on the way to the movie. We get to the movie and set up seven camp chairs, distribute popcorn and burnt hot chocolate, console son number one whose girlfriend cancelled to get her ears pierced, and shivered though an unusually cold (for Lower Alabama) night.
Sunday, son number three and I got up at 6:00 a.m. to get to day two of the swim meet an hour away. Husband and kids one, two, three and five slept late and went to church. Son number three and I grabbed a calm lunch on the way home, arrived home to get son number one ready for symphony practice, and then youth group (which he now will not miss due to the girlfriend’s attendance of the same group), got daughters one and two ready to return to their mother’s and got sons one, two and three to shower and make lunch boxes before hitting the bed.
Husband and I hit the bed not sure how we were going to get up the next day, and realizing that we have not gone to the grocery store for the week. Oh well, we tried.