Raise your hand if you've had this conversation before:
"Where do you want to go for dinner?"
"I don't know, where do you want to go?"
"Nah, I asked you. You choose."
"I don't care."
"Well you must want something. Do you want to go to Five Guys?"
"Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know. Where do you want to go?"
AD FUCKING NAUSEAM.
Nothing makes me want to put my head through the wall faster than this conversation, and it's one I've had dozens if not hundreds of times from both sides. And then something changed. This year, I decided I was going to own my decisions, whether or not they were raving successes or piles of hot garbage.
And you know what happened?
My relationships changed. I got more confident with each decision. I got more vulnerable, but also had better connections with the people around me ('cause that's how vulnerability works, folks). I learned more. I saw more. I did more— all because I was willing to take lots of very tiny risks. (Because honestly, most of these decisions are tiny on an infinitesimal scale. Whose life was ever changed by a choice in restaurant?)
So why do so many of us have these asinine conversations (which I'm pretty sure no one enjoys)? Why do we play this game with one another where we are both unwilling to commit to one choice over another (even though I'm convinced we all have an option we're secretly rooting for)?
Firstly, fear. (Because when isn't fear involved?)
1. Bad things will sometimes come of your choices
I promise. But bad things will come regardless. It's how you deal with them that matters.
Avoiding choices will in no way keep unfortunate life circumstances at bay— in fact, avoiding making choices difficult or otherwise will probably only compound any issues you fear occurring. Procrastination makes literally nothing better. (Or have you learned nothing from undergrad all-nighters?)
There are two things you need to consider here. The first is that there is much less to fear from your choices if you lower your expectations. Because we have so many options these days, our expectations are sky-high. If we have 163 dish soap options to pick from, one of them must be our ideal dish soap, right? And when it's not? We're disappointed.
This might be a trivial example, but this could be applied to nearly everything. You applied to six different universities out of dozens of options, therefore one of these universities should be the university of your dreams. Except perfect doesn't exist, no matter how many options we're given (okay, maybe if we were given actually infinite options, but I don't math, so let's just stay away from that).
If we stop expecting perfect, we stop feeling so let down by the outcomes of our choices.
The second thing to keep in mind, is that you only have control over your choice, not what comes of it. I know, that probably makes you want to slap me (which wouldn't be particularly Stoic of you, now would it), but it's an inescapable fact. Making a choice is like pushing a little paper boat out to sea— once its left your hands, it's up to the wind what happens. Once you see where you're going, you can decide what it is that you want to do.
And then you make another choice, and another choice, and another. It's turtles all the way down (which, by the way, was such a good read and I highly recommend it).
2. Lack of confidence is also a problem here
Past me (let's call her Danna 1.0) would have been petrified of making choices— big or small.
What if I make the wrong one? What if the movie I pick sucks (and they laugh at me)?
What happens if the restaurant I choose sucks (and they laugh at me)?
You can see where this is going here. Nothing horrified me more than the idea that the choice I made would somehow lead to someone else's displeasure or lack of enjoyment and they would blame me for it, and cast me aside (no one said this was logical, let's be honest).
Abandonment, ridicule, judgement. When we choose, we're vulnerable (a good thing). We're saying "I like this and I hope you do too." We open ourselves up to just a tiny bit of rejection.
And that's scary. So we say we don't care. We pretend we don't have an opinion or a preference.
Two things are happening here:
a) there are too many available options and it becomes impossible to decide what is best: the paradox of choice. (Easy solution).
b) we're pretending we don't care so as not to have to own our decision (a less easy solution, but probably the more common problem—although I could be projecting here).
3. NARROW YOUR CHOICES
Yes, choice fatigue really is a thing. We are faced with hundreds of little decisions to make every single day, with hundreds of options presented in each scenario. The result? We get stuck, unable to decide which of the options will be best for us, all the while having sky-high expectations. (With so many choices, one of them will be the perfect match for us, right?) If you're interested in exploring this idea more, I highly recommend checking out this short but impactful TED talk by Barry Schwartz.
The simplest solution here is to narrow your choices intentionally. Whether you're the choice maker or the choice giver, this guiding principle will make your life so much easier. Tell those presenting you with options to give you fewer choices from which to pick. And then just pick one. Worst case it's not that great and you've learned something new (like how to avoid that Thai food place where you got food poisoning on your birthday).
A scenario could go like this:
Lovely Person A: Hey, let's get food. Greek or Italian?
Spectacular Person B: I'm not so fond of Greek— Italian it is!
If you're the one offering the choice, you could follow the scenario above, or, if you're feeling particularly brave, offer only one option.
Lovely Person A: Hey, I'm really craving pizza. Want to come with me to my favourite place?
Spectacular Person B: Fo' shizzle.
This works much better than asking someone where they want to go for dinner when you've had a raging pizza craving for the past four days, and hoping that they stumble upon 'pizza' as the option of choice.
The hardest part will be finding people who still say fo' shizzle.
4. practising making and owning small decisions (then try for bigger ones).
If you're used to pushing decisions off on other people like I was, this will take some time. It will take some time to feel comfortable with putting your opinions out there, and leaving yourself a little bit open for rejection, and a lot open to learning from the mistakes that will come from owning your decisions (yeah, you get to own the mistakes, too).
You'll notice here I've mostly been talking about simple things that don't really have massive impacts on our lives: food, movie choice, etc. But practising owning these choices will help you when you've got real life-changing decisions on the line. You don't want something that is really going to have a great impact on your life being in someone else's hands because you were too chicken-shit to take control yourself.
When someone at work asks you what you think the next step will be for an important project, you're better equipped to tell them what you think.
When you're trying to decide whether or not to stick with a job you hate or pursue a business interest, you own that decision you know is right in your gut, rather than deferring to someone else.
When a relationship is failing, you take action to move things forward, rather than waiting for the other person to act (which, speaking from personal experience, may never happen).
Things will sometimes suck. They will suck whether you choose them or they happen to you involuntarily. Having the confidence to make choices means that your relationships are not going to be one-sided. It means you're both allowing yourselves to be vulnerable, get there, and let yourself be seen— whether it's with friends, family, or a romantic interest. And that confidence is magnetic.
Just ask yourself which person you would rather be spending time with: the person who carries on that nonsensical waste of time conversation ("You choose", "No, you choose!"), or the person who says "I would love to take you to my favourite restaurant. Do you want to come?"
If the people around you care about you, they will be happy to spend time around you even if you take them to see Transformers 8, even if you order shitty Greek food.
Maybe you will even laugh about it together.
Maybe you will pick their new favourite restaurant, or take them on the best vacation of their lives.
You never know unless you decide.
You might have heard of it.
If not, here's the gist: 30 days. 50,000 words. 375,000+ participants.
NaNoWriMo is when thousands of writers from all over the world get together in November to produce what is usually epic crap (and I mean that lovingly, NaNoers, I do. You know how it is).
I'm gonna tell you why you should do it.
My first NaNo was in 2004. I was 13. The website looked something like this.
The website and branding has since had a makeover, but the joy and madness remain the same.
To my complete surprise, I actually finished the full 50,000 words. And I bet you're thinking it was an amazing novel filled with prose that would make the muses swoon.
It was hot garbage. But it's still one of the accomplishments I'm most proud of, even after more than a decade of writing, a few more NaNos, and degree, and a successful design business.
You should do it, too.
Here's why (and it's not because you might get published).
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Because good writers are good readers.
1. It pushes your comfort zone
But I don't waaaaant my comfort zone pushed, you think. I know. Me either. But it's one of those things that's always super rewarding when you're on the other side of the uncomfortable and often steep journey up. The years I got the most out of the NaNo experience were the ones when I said I was too busy, and I couldn't do it. The ones when I had to use all my wily know-how to wrangle writing time into my schedule.
There's always time if you want it badly enough.
2. Amazing community
I've met and bonded with some of the best people I know through NaNoWriMo (Fran, if you're reading this... 'wassup?). There's nothing like 30 days of late nights and frustration to bring people together. The NaNoWriMo website itself is host to many incredible forums where you can race for your daily word count with fellow writers, or crowd source really sketchy information you might need for your crime novel (like this, or this, or this).
Even better, there are tons of local NaNoWriMo groups. Just check out the website and see if there is one near you! What's better than suffering alone? That's right, suffering together in a coffee shop.
3. You build indestructible habits
If you divide 30 days by 50,000 words you get, roughly, 1667. So every day for the month of November, you write 1667 words (or, if you're anything like me, you write 1667 a day for the first week, nothing for the next two, and then throw away all other responsibilities during the last four days of NaNo to hit your word count).
Here's the thing: a writer is someone who writes. Not someone who is published. Not someone who has a bestseller, but someone who writes— even when they're not inspired, even when they don't have the best idea, even when it's hard (especially when it's hard).
They sit down and they commit to writing every single day (or thereabouts). Participating in NaNo? That gets you 1667 words a day for 30 days and the foundation for a serious writing practise (plus, the know-how to build basically any other habit). It gives you to the tool to make shit happen in your life, day by day, one tiny step at a time.
Building discipline (AKA: good habits) into your life is a practise— the more you do it, the better you get at harnessing the power of habits to change your life. All those successful people you see out there?
Need some encouragement?
4. It's a stepping stone
Sometimes we just need to prove to ourselves once that we can do something we thought we never could.
Write a novel? Ooh, I've always wanted to. I wish. Someday. Maybe next year.
These are things I hear people say every single year when I mention a) I write, or b) I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (yes, again). And my response is always the same:
So do it.
Do the thing. It will not be any easier or more convenient next month, or next year, or when you're done school, or when you have a different job, or a better baby sitter, or the perfect desk, or a fancy pen. The work is still the same.
What will be easier? The next time you need to do something you thought you couldn't do— because you've already done one impossible thing.
“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland
5. It's great practise
Getting started with a new hobby or skill can sometimes be pretty disheartening. You want to draw, but the awkward scriggles on the page just don't match the beautiful art that's in your head. What's the point of putting in hours for something that just doesn't seem to be very good? (Fact: everyone starts out as complete shite.)
Deliberate practise aside, it seems to just be the case that everyone has within them a relatively large number of crappy words, and it's your job to get them all out on your journey to becoming a better writer. No one's first ten thousand words are great. Or even hundred thousand.
The good thing about NaNo? The pressure to write anything absolutely amazing the first time is off. Everyone knows they're going to churn out 50,000 of some of the worst words ever set down to paper. The point is that you get them out. You get started on that path to becoming a better writer (though the principle applies to music, visual art, jogging, etc), and you're already leagues ahead of all the people who never got past that first sentence.
Plus, when you're done, you'll now have a shiny first draft you can get to work revising. Has anything ever been more exciting?
6. Why the shit not?
No, seriously. Why not?
"Everyone has a story to tell. And everyone's story matters."
If you're reading this far, I'm sure you've been convinced, and I can't wait to hear all about it. Join me in the Facebook group where we're absolutely going to be talking about NaNo, and be my NaNoWriMo buddy over on the NaNo website.
To NaNoWriMo 2017! All hail the winners!
I'm kind on board with the belief that everyone can enjoy a good fantasy story.
After all, fantasy isn't really one kind of story. Anyone who has read a book can tell you that Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and American Gods have very, very few things in common. Sure, there's often magic, sometimes fantastical settings (although sometimes not), occaaaasionally mythical creatures— but beyond that? The many books that fall into the fantasy genre are as varied as... a very varied thing.
I've always loved fantasy, but I find that there are lots of people who enjoy many of these books, even if they think they don't! So whether you're a life-long devotee, a recent convert, or a newbie gingerly dipping their toes into the water, I think there's something on the list of beloved reads for everyone.
pre-s: I'd totally love for you to leave some of your favourite fantasy reads in the comments.
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So begins the tale of Kvothe— currently known as Kote, the unassuming innkeeper— from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief, and the infamous assassin.
Kell is one of the last Antari-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
If you are to survive, you must believe. Shadow Moon has served his time, but hours before his release from prison, his beloved wife is killed in a freak accident. Dazed, he boards a plane home where he meets the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, who professes both to know Shadow and to be king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange road trip across the USA, encountering a kaleidoscopic cast of characters along the way. Yet all around them a storm threatens to break. The war has already begun, an epic struggle for the very soul of America, and Shadow is standing squarely in its path.
4. The Vorrh
Next to the colonial town of Essenwald sits the Vorrh, a vast—perhaps endless—forest. Sentient and magical, the Vorrh bends time and wipes memory. Legend has it that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now, a renegade English soldier aims to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a strange bow, he begins his journey, but some fear the consequences of his mission, and a native marksman has been chosen to stop him. While fact and fictional blend, and the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate hangs in the balance, under the will of the Vorrh.
Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated as an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill—and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.
Marjorie Liu, SANA TAKEDA
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.
Agnieszka loves her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river— but the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things.
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral, drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock. Though he hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Enter the world of Paige Mahoney, a gifted clairvoyant, a "dreamwalker," in the year 2059. Her natural talents are considered treasonous under the current regime. Snatched away to a secret prison, she encounters another race, the Rephaim, creatures who wish to control the powers of Paige and those like her. One in particular will be assigned as her keeper, her trainer. But his motives are mysterious. To regain her freedom, Paige must learn to trust, in the prison where she is meant to die.
NEIL GAIMAN, SAM KIETH, MIKE DRINGENBERG
In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.
11. The Magicians
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he’s secretly fascinated with a series of children’s fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory.
They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city. But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming.
Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Abhorsen, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.
At the dawn of the 1800s, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history when most people believe magic to be long dead in— until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight. Soon, another practicing magician comes forth to become Norrell's student: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
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Is there anything better than a beautifully narrated audiobook, a cozy blanket and a cup of tea (or coffee, I guess, if you're one of those people) on a cool autumn day?
No. The answer is no. I admit it: I'm a person who enjoys a bit of atmosphere, a bit of gloom. The bare branches with the vibrant autumn leaves whisking down the street, the overcast sky and crisp air. It's enough to make anyone feel just a little bit more magical.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
If you’re on Jordanna Rowan’s blog, you probably already have a definition of mindfulness. But, to be sure, let’s define it for the sake of this post.
Mindfulness, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In a nutshell, mindfulness is having a strong connection to one’s own mental state and overall thoughts. If you’re living a mindful life, you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings in each moment.
I'll be honest, I love a good TED talk.
They're short and to the point. Just long enough to get you interested, and just motivating enough to get you started on a new journey. More than once, I've taken what I'd learned from a TED talk and applied it to my life, creating positive changes to my character and habits that have stuck with me to this day.
I love how TED talks give you a great kicking off point to explore a subject— kind of like those 'brief history' guides, that seem to cover just about every topic imaginable— and I've often gone looking for more material after watching one.
So, without further ado, here are 12 life-changing TED talks, and the book that you'll want to read after.
I even went through 7/8ths of a masters in Library Information Science, thinking (mistakenly) that since I had such a passion for books, that was the career for me. Bad graduate school choices aside, books have undoubtedly shaped my life, supporting my dreams or helping me make a change when the time was right.
Today I'm sharing with you ten to twelve (I think twelve) books that have shaped my life in some way or another. These are a mix of fiction and non-fiction of many varieties, and you may find yourself a little baffled by the collection. But hey, it's like one of those treat bags you used to be able to get at the corner store for a dollar. You never knew exactly what was going to be in it, but there was always at least one thing you liked. And you don't even have to pay a dollar.
If you were to ask the average middle class North American what they would change in their life, you’d expect to hear things like, “I’d love to get in better shape!” or, “I wish my financial situation could be a bit better”, or even “I want to spend more time outside, enjoying nature.”
But hey, we’re all pretty busy, right? As much as we’d like to improve our lives, who’s got the time? Between a busy work week, spending hours in traffic on your commute, and paying for your house and car, there’s no time for working out, or money left over at the end of the month to put away.
Did I draw you in with the dramatic and controversial headline? I hope so.
As a blogger of two dear blogs, editor of a digital mag, and an online business owner, I read a lot— especially online— about following your passion. About stickin' it to the man (do people still say that?) and striking out on one's own to create the business of their dreams (tried that road, longer than expected, and came with shitty directions).
We're supposed to tap into our womanly intuition, listen to our hearts, and follow our calling so we can make waves in the world, so we can inspire other women everywhere to do the same, to take their destiny into their own hands, rather than bumbling along on the conveyor belt.
I struggled with anxiety for many years.
In some ways, I'm still coping with anxiety— it's simply not winning anymore. It never really goes away, though. It's still there, in the back of my head, the worries and panic a little quieter now.
On another day, I'll share my anxiety story (because I know that when I was first experiencing how terrible and alienated anxiety and panic disorders could be, I would have given anything to know that so many other people were experiencing the same thing— that I wasn't some kind of freak), but today I wanted to share a few things that helped me cope.
A caveat? This is what worked for me. I'm not suggesting that this will work for everyone, and I'm certainly not offering medical advice. This is what helped me, after many years of suffering and depression, begin to live with anxiety, and not merely exist with it.