What Should I Do With My Life? – Why It’s Impossible to Deny Who You Really Are

When I started telling people how I’m thinking of going to school for creative writing, many of them said “Of course you are.”

I’m surprised at how many people recognized the writer in me before I recognized him myself. As I’m contacting former professors and professional colleagues for letters of recommendation, I’m receiving a lot of positive encouragement regarding my writing pursuit:

“I’m not surprised to hear about your interest in writing (after all, you won an award for the best journal in the Foundations of Computer Science course and consistently wrote great journals in the other courses you took with me).”

“I’m sure you’ll do well. I remember how your eyes lit up when we interviewed you and I mentioned writing skills!”

“Seriously, even when it comes to simple email messages, your writing is tactful, thorough, and engaging. You’d be a fool not to make your career in writing.”

Their comments reminded me of other compliments that I’ve received, and I began to piece together all of the signals that I’ve missed regarding my interest in writing.

I remember how when I was in college, I was attending Computer Science classes. Once all of my programming obligations were done, though, I’d spend my free time writing. I’d publish my thoughts and experiences online, on a website I hosted from my dorm room. It was fun for me, and I did it purely for recreation.

When I took the website down because I moved home during the summers, people would contact me saying they missed my writing. They wanted their daily dose, and were anxious to find out when the site would be back up. Although I was only writing for fun, people were telling me they were basically addicted to it.

I should have taken it as a sign. But I missed it.

Later, when I would channel all of my feelings into poetry or fiction stories, people would be impressed. When those who were close to me actually had an opportunity to read some of the things I’d written, they’d say “Shaun!? What are you doing in computer science? You are a writer!”

I should have taken it as a sign. But I missed it.

I remember how a girl once read the intro to one of my stories-in-progress. She asked for more, but when I explained that I wasn’t planning on continuing that story, she got mad. She glanced down at the last page, looked up at me with a face of disappointment, and then said “I think I’d actually pay to read more of this.”

I should have taken it as a sign. But I missed it.

In spite of all these obvious signals, I imagined that my writing was just “a silly hobby.” I thought that it was only a side-project, or a thing to do to pass the time. How could it possibly be anything more?

Instead of focusing on writing, I really concentrated on my computer education. They say that “hindsight is always 20/20,” and after many years in the computer industry spent working jobs that I didn’t enjoy, I looked around at the career path I had taken and wondered “What the hell happened?”

At the end of my college career, I stopped writing for a long time. I told myself how “Now it’s time to get serious. Now the fun is over, because it’s time to work.” I didn’t understand that work could be fun, if I’d only chosen a career path doing what I loved to do.

Writing is my passion. I know that now. Strangely, others seemed to know it before I did. So I’ve made some mistakes. Thankfully, it’s never too late to turn back.

In 2007, four years after college, I started this blog. I’ve tried to move it forward ever since. It’s not perfect, it’s relatively unknown, and I only consider it mildly successful — but it’s fun for me.

I like making observations about life and sharing my perspective. I understand how nobody will ever relate to every single thing that I say, but people will still read for their own reasons. And sometimes, I’ll write something that really strikes a chord with someone, who knows exactly what I’m talking about. They’ll contact me, tell me their story, and thank me. Hearing from people that become inspired by my blog makes it all worthwhile. It encourages me to keep writing.

Now, after four years of blogging, I’m trying to take my writing to the next level. I’m trying to get a formal writing education and Master’s Degree. There’s a chance I won’t be accepted into the creative writing workshop, and that fear of failure terrifies me.

That said, it’s impossible to deny who I am. I am a writer. I write because I must. To not write is suicide. It’s difficult to express, but really everything that I do gets tucked away in my brain like it’s being “saved for later.” All of my experiences can be used to illustrate an idea, describe a point I’m trying to make, or even inspire a fiction story.

It’s like there’s a tiny, unsatisfied writer in my head who is watching the world through my eyes. Whenever something interesting happens, he won’t shut up about how “This would make a great story!” Furthermore, he won’t let me sleep or relax until I’ve written something down for the day. He’s a determined little pest.

It all boils down to this: People really are “made” for things. Creative types need to create. For me, it’s writing stories. For others, it’s writing music. Similarly, some people need to build homes, or design buildings. Some people need to take cars apart, and then put them back together. Some people need to paint. My point is, there’s something in this world that we are constantly drawn to, because we are made for it.

How you spend your time defines who you are. Your interests are your passions, and your life’s passion is the one thing that simply won’t go away.

It’s what keeps rearing its head when you ignore it. It’s what you think about doing when you’re busy doing other things. It’s what keeps you up at night.

It’s what you are. And it’s impossible to deny who you are.

You may be able to set it aside for a few years to focus on other priorities — but your true calling is always in the back of your mind, waiting for its turn to take the reins. Once it finally does, you’ll feel a bit foolish. You’ll realize “Oh yes, of course. Of course! This is what I love to do! This is what I should be doing! Why didn’t I start doing this sooner?

I don’t know why I didn’t start sooner. It’s probably a combination of having too much pride, not wanting to admit that I made a mistake, and the fear of having to start over again. All this considered, I’m excited to really embrace who I am.

I am a writer. What are you?

Be true to who you are

Give Your Goals Some Breathing Room

A friend of mine was getting married. One of her friends who was part of the bridal party was notorious for running late all the time, so in anticipation of her being late to the wedding, she was told the wedding was much earlier than it actually was. On the day of the wedding, she arrived in a panic since she was over an hour late. The bride explained how she knew her all too well, and had actually given her a fake starting time for the ceremony in order to give her some breathing room.

Maybe it was a bit embarrassing for an instant, but I’m sure that she was quickly relieved that she wasn’t late at all. I found this story both funny and endearing. We all know people who are habitually late to everything they’re invited to, and although that characteristic can be infuriating when you’re trying to meet for dinner or a movie, it can be endearing once you’ve accepted that person for who they are.

Running Late

Although I’m quite punctual when it comes to making plans, when it comes to meeting goals I can often fall behind. For example, I’ve had this recent goal to write 80 pages of a manuscript as part of an application to the University of Iowa’s Creative Writing Program. It’s one step in a larger plan to transition to a writing career.

The thing is, 80 pages of a book-in-progress is a lot to ask of me. In my experiences, fiction is SO much harder to write than blog posts or journal entries, because you have to make it all up from nothing. Furthermore, you can’t just write down a general idea — you must write down everything. Every motion, every decision, the beginning, end, and all of the in-between stuff. So although I’m good at coming up with main ideas for stories, when it comes to the task of actually writing them I lose focus.

I frequently know where I want my story to begin and end. Connecting the two using complete chapters with believable characters in a coherent storyline is the hard part. In order to even come close to achieving that, I must force myself to focus on the small parts. I keep my head down and my pen to the page and press the story forward even on days when I don’t want to.

Now, my goal was to write 80 pages by the end of October. It’s practically the end of October, and I only have 51 pages written. I’m short of my goal.

The thing is, I tricked myself — much like the bride fooled her friend.

When I gave myself this assignment, I tacked an index card to my goal board. It read: “80 page manuscript due November 30th”

While working towards this goal, this is the time frame I thought that I had. I planned accordingly and worked towards it, but didn’t quite make it. Fortunately, I gave myself some breathing room.

That is, when I set out to apply to the school I knew myself well enough to understand how it was going to be really difficult. Not wanting my future self to fail at meeting the goal I wanted to accomplish, I exaggerated the requirements for the application.

An “80 page manuscript due November 30th” was my first deadline. It’s a personal deadline that I made for myself with the understanding that it’s what I needed to shoot for, but was likely to miss.

When I reviewed the University’s website again today, I saw that the actual requirements and submission deadline were different:

30-80 page manuscript must be postmarked by January 3rd

I felt so relieved! I imagined that I needed to get 80 pages written by the end of October, so that I could have another few weeks to review and edit it, so it could be ready for submission by November 30th. As a result, I’ve written 51 pages towards an 80 page goal that’s really only the maximum number of pages. Furthermore, I have a whole extra month to finish and refine the piece I plan to submit!

The University’s website indicated other parts of the application that I had forgotten about: Letters of recommendation; official transcript; a personal statement. I started working on these other requirements today, so that they will also be ready before the January 3rd deadline. I feel like I’m going to succeed at this, because even if I don’t finish and refine all 80 pages of my manuscript, at the very least I will have enough to submit my application.

When it comes to reaching your bigger goals, especially the ones that are long-term, there will be a lot of opportunities to lose focus. My past self was really clever, purposely inflating my goal in order to ensure that I’d take action early and work towards it. I clearly knew that there would be days that I’d lose to other priorities, whether they were unexpected obligations, or days simply lost to “putzing around.”

I think that’s normal. Whenever you make plans for what you want to do with your life, you can’t be expected to be working on those plans all of the time. You’re going to lose some days. You might fall behind. If you leave yourself some breathing room, though, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how you’re still on time.

Hidden Forms of Procrastination

I was reading an article about how writers envision their “perfect writing space.” Once they have the space to do it, they’ll dedicate a room to their craft, purchase an expensive writing desk, and furnish their writing space with things that inspire them. After their perfect writing space is made, though, they prefer to write anywhere else.

I couldn’t help but laugh about it, because I’m guilty of this myself. In my last apartment, I had a 5′ x 9′ pantry attached to the kitchen. Instead of using this tiny room for storage, I had a great vision of using this tiny room as my dedicated writing room. I imagined myself hunched over a small desk, writing into the late night, and finishing the first draft of my first book — all because I could finally get some privacy to focus on my writing.

I set my thoughts into motion. I covered the cold tile floor with some carpet. I bought a small writing desk, and assembled it inside the room. Finally, I sat in every chair on the sales floor in Office Depot and selected the most comfortable one. My writing room was complete.

And yet it wasn’t. I had started writing longhand, but I imagined that if I was going to get serious about writing, I needed a laptop. It would be my “dedicated writing laptop” for my “dedicated writing room.”

I spent the money to get my laptop, but then it mostly remained untouched in my writing room. From the little use it was getting, I had essentially purchased a $1000 paperweight. Why wasn’t I writing?

I imagined that it must be because my writing room was so drab. White walls, with nothing to draw inspiration from. I bought and framed a 30″ x 24″ poster of Rocky, the greatest underdog story ever told. I hung it on the wall across from my desk so that it could help inspire me. But it wasn’t enough.

I bought a corkboard, and hung that on another wall. I used it to capture all of my great writing ideas as they came to me, by writing the ideas down on an index card and tacking them to it.

I bought a surfing calendar, and hung that on the wall next to the corkboard. It helped hide the ugly breaker box, reminded me of each passing day, and made me smile whenever I checked out the new month’s surfer girl.

I bought a tiny corner shelf, which I mounted across from the door. It was just big enough to hold a radio alarm clock. This way I could keep track of time, and maybe listen to the WRIF as I worked.

I bought a small, single-shelf bookshelf. I mounted it behind me and above my desk. I filled it with some of my favorite novels, a pocket dictionary and pocket thesaurus, as well as some “How to be a Writer” books, my favorite of which was called “How to Write a Damn Good Novel.”

My Writing Room - Never Used - #1

My Writing Room - Never Used - #2

My Writing Room - Never Used - #3

After all of this preparation to build my perfect writing space, I still avoided it. The only time I went in there was to water the plant.

What was really happening, was that I was using the idea of writing as a form of not writing. I was imagining that I could build a writing space so that I could look at it and say “See? I am a writer. Just look. Look! Look at all this writing stuff!”

The truth is, the time spent creating my writing room was a form of procrastination. It was tricky though, because it was a hidden form of procrastination. I fooled myself, because I honestly felt like the things that I was doing were productive. Later, when I moved out of that apartment and realized how I failed to write anything at all in that room, I understood just how stupid I was being.

There’s an episode of The Office where Michael Scott has quit his job to start his own company. On his first day of his new life, he plans to start working “after breakfast.” In order to avoid having to deal with the overwhelming amount of work he has to do, he simply keeps making breakfast.

Michael Scott - "After breakfast"

I think that in some ways, we all have these goals that we’re planning on doing, but when it comes to actually doing them we get scared. We think that we’ll fail, or become overwhelmed at the amount of work ahead of us. Consequently, we choose to busy ourselves with other projects instead.

I know that whenever I have an approaching deadline, suddenly the task of doing laundry doesn’t seem so bad. In fact I look forward to it. While I’m at it, I figure I’ll also change the sheets, and then make the bed up real nice. Similarly, I’ll decide to wash the dishes, and then the task expands and I’m suddenly be wiping down the kitchen counter. That leads into cleaning the whole kitchen, and before I know it the apartment is spotless.

Although I’m proud at the cleanliness of my apartment, I then go into panic mode. My deadline is much closer, but I’m no closer to finishing my work before it arrives.

Hidden procrastination is tricky like that. You’re accomplishing something, but at the cost of not accomplishing something else. By saying “Yes” to the distraction, you’re saying “No” to the thing that really needs to get done.

Maybe that thing that needs doing is bigger, more important, and consequently more intimidating — but if you say “Yes” to procrastination often enough, you’ll never achieve the real goals you’re anxious to accomplish.

Fight back. Ignore the hidden forms of procrastination in favor of the real tasks that need doing. Don’t tell yourself you’ll start after breakfast, or once the laundry’s done. Not later, now.

My new apartment lacks a writing room. I wrote this article while sitting on my sofa. I’ve learned that I don’t need a dedicated writing space to be a writer.

To be a writer, I just need to write.

How to Improve Yourself Gradually

When we crave change, we often want the end result now. You want to be thin NOW! You want to be rich and successful NOW! You want to be an expert in something NOW! What you don’t want to do now, though, is any of the in-between work. It’s like you want to start the race at the finish line.

In my recent interview with Kristy Victor, she touched on this idea of wanting the end result immediately. She describes it as a recipe for failure. For me, it was the most important point she mentioned in the interview:

Expecting immediate change sets you up for failure. You need to take everything one day at a time. You didn’t gain the weight overnight and it most certainly will not come off overnight. You must set small and attainable goals for yourself so you’re not overwhelming yourself with the final “big” goal.

After she mentioned it, I started thinking about the notion of gradual improvement. For example, since I started going to the gym almost a year ago, I’ve gradually worked myself up to the point where I can run all out for 15 minutes straight. Although it’s not the most impressive physical feat ever, it is something I couldn’t do a year ago. I slowly gained the ability by increasing my endurance gradually.

At first, it was a painful process. In school I was never an athlete of any kind, so I rarely ran at all. I remember some of my best times for “running the mile” were in the 11-12 minute range. Later, when I was out of school and had entered the work force doing mostly desk jobs, I naturally became less active. So when I finally made the decision to get in shape, my body seemed to fight me against that decision.

I’d warm up for 5 minutes on the elliptical, or the treadmill. No big deal. I’d use various weight machines for the rest of my workout, alternating muscle groups (upper- or lower-body) depending on what day it was. Also no big deal. When I went to do 30 minutes of cardio, though, my body reacted like it was being tortured.

Gradual Improvement on the Treadmill

30 minutes doing only a light jog was killing my feet, shins, and knees. I had always grown up with the mentality that “if it hurts, don’t do it.” This is why I was never a runner in school: if I ever started to feel pain, I’d quit. Now, as I start to grow older, and recognize exercise is a necessary evil, I needed to push through the pain in order to get fit.

I remember getting changed in the locker room after those first workouts. When I removed my running shoes, my white socks had turned red. My feet were literally bleeding from running. A lifetime of never needing to run caused my toes to grow up tight against one another, all cozy-like. Consequently, when I started running in spite of the pain, my toenails tore up something fierce.

It was embarrassing and painful, but it was par for the course. My feet always healed, and as I ran more and more they bled less and less. Now they don’t bleed at all. My body adjusted.

As for increasing the duration that I could run, I started off running for a few minutes at a time, then returning to a light jog. I think this is called “running intervals.” I’d run for maybe 2 minutes, then jog 2 minutes, then run 2 minutes, jog again, etc. I’d continue this until I was too tired to run any longer, and if any time was left in my 30 minutes of cardio, I’d walk or jog until my time was up.

As I kept returning to the gym to repeat this strategy, I noticed that I could always run a bit longer than the time before. I’d run for 3 minutes, and rest 2 minutes. Next time I’d maybe run for 4 minutes, and rest 2 minutes. Although I didn’t keep exact records of my forward progress, the important part was that I was aware of my body’s capabilities, and witnessed how I was gradually improving them. Like I indicated earlier, I can now run all out for 15 minutes straight. Furthermore, I’m starting to notice my body looks leaner; my muscles are more defined.

I want to be fit. I want to look muscular and attractive. I don’t want to do the in-between work, but there’s no other way to do it. You can’t start at the finish line, you have to start where you are.

This applies to anything worth doing. You set goals for yourself because they’re something you need to work towards. For me, gradual improvement applies to my body, my blog, my career, and my hobbies. It won’t matter if it’s piano lessons or Donkey Kong — it’s like anything else:

If you do something, you get better at it. If you do something long enough, you get great at it. And if you do something every day, you’re bound to reach the finish line.

Start today. Gain gradually, and don’t give up.

Live Fit, Live Strong: Kristy Victor’s Tips on Fitness Success

I knew Kristy Victor in high school. We fell out of contact, and years later I saw her on Facebook. I was shocked at her radical transformation. I barely recognized her! Kristy had successfully reshaped her body from “pleasantly plump” to a bodybuilder bombshell! I was anxious to talk to her about how she did it. Please enjoy my interview with Kristy below.

Welcome, Kristy! For the benefit of those who don’t already know you, will you please give us a 5-second description of yourself and your profession?

I am a personal Trainer from NJ and NPC bikini competitor. I’m passionate about health, fitness, and helping others.

You’ve been invited here today because of your radical physical transformation. Tell me, when did you begin this quest for change?

I actually began my weight loss journey in 2007. I had gained a lot of weight and got all the way up to 185lbs. I started following the Beachbody workout, Turbo Jam. In about four months I had lost 45lbs.

That’s great! Was gaining weight the primary reason you decided to start this journey? Tell me about the moment you made the decision to really get serious about getting in shape.

Well, I have always worked out but didn’t always know what I was doing. Weighing close to 200lbs was definitely an eye opener, and that’s when I decided to change. I didn’t want to be so out of shape and unhealthy.

I’ve seen your before and after photos. They’re incredible! What kind of training regimen did you do in order to get where you are now? Did you have a personal trainer to help you along the way?

Kristy Victor - Before and After - Click to enlarge

Initially I used Turbo Jam and the meal plan that went with it. For a while after that, I simply followed a lot of different workouts from fitness magazines I subscribed to. Starting about seven months ago, I started training with a Bikini and Figure Competition Training Team, Team Bombshell, and that is how I came to have the body I rock today.

You are definitely rocking a “bombshell” body, Kristy! Well done! But was there ever a time during your training that you felt like quitting? What kept you going?

Oh yea, definitely. There are days where you are totally wiped out, and the last thing you feel like doing is another hour of cardio. It’s the desire and drive I have to be at my best, and the passion I have to succeed in my training that always keeps me going. I always remind myself how there is someone else out there that isn’t taking time off, someone else out there that’s working harder than me — and it’s hard to quit when you look at it that way!

Losing weight and getting fit is something many of us aim to do, but from your pictures it’s easy to tell you’ve taken physical fitness to the next level. Where has your love for working out and reshaping your body taken you?

After losing the initial 45lbs, I decided to become a Personal Trainer. I love health and fitness, and now I can help others set and reach their goals. That in itself is very fulfilling, and I absolutely love what I do! I also started competing in bodybuilding competitions. I’m currently participating in the bikini division. I will be switching into the figure division next season.

Congratulations! How do the competitions work? How did you and your team do?

The team consists of hundreds of girls from all over the world. It is based out of Daytona Beach, FL, so if you are outside of that area you train online via email. There are so many shows throughout the season and many of them compete together, but the show I just did was a smaller show, so I was the only Bombshell there.

The competitions are split up into divisions; Bodybuilding, physique, figure, fitness, and bikini. They are broken up into height classes as well. 5’4 and under and 5’4 and over usually. Sometimes there are more height classes if it is a bigger show.

Each competitor will perform posing for their specific division and the judges will then line you up and “compare” everyone in groups of five. First callouts are a good sign — it tends to mean you’re more than likely making the Top 5.

You have to start with local or regional shows. Placing in Top 5 in a smaller show qualifies you for the national level. That’s where you can win your Pro Card. Every show is different regarding which placings receive Pro Cards. Most of the time there is one overall winner (per height class in each division), but sometimes it’s Top 3.

Kristy Victor - Muscle Beach 2011

I’m no expert in working out. In fact, I only go to the gym about three times a week. What tips do you have for maximizing my workout?

First, I’d see what your goals are. Are you looking to put on some lean muscle or just lose some weight? Do you just want to be healthy and active? Would you like to compete in some type of competition?

I like to know exactly what a potential or current client’s goals are first, and then I can take their training to the next level. Also, what they are currently doing and if they have any sort of limitations. After I find out all that, you may regret asking that question!

Ahh okay, so you tailor the workout specifically for the client. Good to know! Now, I always heard that “3 sets of 10 reps” was a standard workout, but recently I read an article disputing that idea. In fact, it said 3 sets of 10 reps was probably the best way to guarantee you’d see no results from the time spent in the gym. What are your thoughts on this?

I absolutely agree. Your body adapts to everything you do, so if you continually put it through the same routine, 1) it will get less and less challenging and 2) you will “plateau,” meaning your body will remain the same in spite of the time you spend in the gym. Variety and switching things up is key. In other words, change the number of sets, reps, and type of exercise regularly. Try adding in some cardio or plyometrics between sets. You always want to keep your body guessing, that is the only way real change will occur.

I know that many people struggling to get in shape start strong at the beginning of the year (largely due to New Year’s Resolutions). As time goes on, though, they stop working out as often, and eventually quit completely. What recommendations or strategies do you have for anyone wanting to stay strong and stick with it?

First of all, everyone must think about what they really want. Of course we’d all love to lose, say, 15-20lbs. But the majority of people that start out strong won’t see instant results. That’s perfectly normal, but it causes people to get frustrated and give up.

Expecting immediate change sets you up for failure. You need to take everything one day at a time. You didn’t gain the weight overnight and it most certainly will not come off overnight. You must set small and attainable goals for yourself so you’re not overwhelming yourself with the final “big” goal.

Let’s say a small goal would be to lose 5lbs this month and stay on your meal plan. That is a small and very attainable goal. Once you start seeing results from the small goals, it will motivate you to keep working harder to reach the next goal and the next.

Truthfully, a lot of people would benefit from having a trainer in these situations. A trainer can keep them working hard and motivated to keep going. Without someone to motivate and support them through the difficult road ahead, they get frustrated, fall out of the routine, and completely give up. If you can’t afford a trainer, simply teaming up with a buddy will help. Make a set date and time each day to get in your workouts together. You can motivate each other to eat right and stay on track.

Great advice from someone who’s done it successfully. I love it. Can you tell me, what’s your proudest achievement?

Absolutely the moment I stepped on stage at my first bikini competition. I had always been shy and very self-conscious and never showed my body in public. Just the fact that, even though I was terrified, got right up on that stage with 100+ people looking at me, was huge!

I can only imagine what that must have felt like! Congratulations again — you look fantastic, and are an inspiration to all of us wanting to reshape our bodies! So what’s next for Kristy Victor?

I am currently building my in-home personal training business and group fitness classes. I’m also pursuing my B.S. in Sports Management/Health and Wellness to further my education, so that I can be the best trainer I can be. I plan to make my figure division debut sometime in the New Year around January/February in the pursuit of my Pro Card. Then, wherever life takes me!

I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors. Thanks again for sharing your remarkable story. Where can we find out more?

Come visit my website at www.victoryfitnessnj.com and my blog page at www.fit4lifewithkristy.com. Thanks for having me! 🙂

Kristy VictorKristy Victor is a personal trainer who lives and works in South Jersey. Her fitness motto is “If you’re not challenging your body, you’re not changing your body.”

Do you know anyone like Kristy that might be interested in sharing their story? Please Contact Me!