Friday, April 17, 2015

Some Things I've Learned While Pursuing a Master's Degree

Some things I’ve learned about Purpose while pursuing a Master’s degree.
·      Something can be very difficult and still bring a lot of joy.
·      When pursuing a Purpose, a goal, a dream, a vision, obstacles will arise.  Some of those obstacles are drama, that is, they aren’t very significant and will pass quickly.  Other obstacles are quite serious.   They are not drama.  They are real.  The response should always be the same: How quickly can I deal with this so I can get back to my Purpose?
·      Purpose may take up most of your time.  More precisely, you may not want to spend your time doing much else.
·      The opposite of failure is not success, but focus.
·      When in Purpose, you may find yourself wondering what you did before your Purpose.
·      Life will become limited in width, but become greater in depth.
·      You may want to share your experience with others.  Some will understand.  Many won’t.  The ones who understand are also pursuing their own Purpose.  The ones who don’t are to be pitied. 
·      Time will become much more precious.
·      This cannot be done alone.  One requires a Muse.  At least I do.
·      Your Muse, your driving force, your creative spirit, will become even more precious during this time.  At least mine has.
·      You will not have to remind yourself to Get Started and Keep Going.  That’s about all you will do.
·      You will wonder how you will manage your life.  More, you will wonder how you managed your life previous to your Purpose.  You will wonder how you managed life before you met your Muse. 

·      At least I do.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Mandolin Wind"

“I recall
The night we knelt and prayed
Noticing your face was thin and pail.
I found it hard to hide my tears.
I felt ashamed.
I felt I let you down.
No mandolin wind
Could ever change a thing,
Could ever change a thing,
No, no.
The coldest winter
In fourteen years
Could never, never change your mind.”

Rod Stewart – Mandolin Wind

Nobody likes difficulties.  Less than I like difficulties, I dislike seeing those I love go through difficulties.  For some people I love, it’s been a tough time.  There seem to be seasons that are particularly harder than others, and if we allow them, these seasons can change us or make us forget our Purpose.  In my own life, it may seem I’ve forgotten mine.  At one point I was writing at least one blog a day.  One month I wrote 55 blogs.  This month I’ve written one.  My difficulty was one I’ve chosen, a Master’s degree program in history.  It feels like the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time and it takes up most of my time.  And perhaps some are wondering if I’ve given up on my Muse, on my house on the beach, on the dreams that I wrote about so often.  Or perhaps some are wondering if I’m just taking a break from all of that until school is done.
Here is my answer to both questions:
I’m not giving up.  My goals are the same.  I’ve just added a new one, one that takes up a lot more time than I had imagined. 
But here’s the thing:  I’m never, ever, ever leaving my Muse.  Granted, I still need to schedule things so I can start writing again.  I still need to use my time more efficiently.  I’d still like to write blogs, if not every day, far more often than I’ve been doing this year.  I’ve found a new Purpose, but it doesn’t replace the first one, my commitment to my Muse.  (In fact, I’m still writing three pages a day in my journal every morning.)
What does one do when life gets in the way of goals? First, life didn’t get in the way.  I made a decision to get more education and my Muse told me it was a good decision.  (She was more prepared for this than I was.)   Life getting in the way includes things like needing to buy new shoes or get a haircut or put gas in the car.  And even those activities aren’t obstacles if I stay present.  I needed the shoes.  I needed the haircut and the gas.  But everything I do, however seemingly significant or insignificant is meaningful.  And in everything I do my thoughts go towards my house on the beach and a life with my Muse.

Giving up cannot be an option.  Even pausing isn’t an option.  I need to be here every day.  I need to write and I need my Muse like I need to breathe.  And, as difficult, as my education is, it was not only the right choice, it is the choice that will help me reach my dreams.  No “mandolin wind,” no matter how cold and hard it blows, no difficulties, no delays, no amount of work will change a thing.  I will Get Started and I will Keep Going.  It’s all I know how to do.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

JLA: Year One and Purpose

“Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun.
And the first one said
To the second one there,
‘I hope you’re having fun.’”

Paul McCartney – Band on the Run

JLA: Year One written by Mark Waid and drawn by Bryan Augustyn is a revisionist origin of the Justice League of America, featuring four of the original seven, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter.  This version adds the Black Canary, who in the original stories didn’t become a member for several years.  JLA: Year One also omits Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as part of the membership.  The membership is incidental; what really matters here is the story.  The story is powerful, full of hope, pain, disappointment, struggle, defeat, and, ultimately, redemption and victory.
I’d like to think of JLA: Year One as an analogy for life.  It seems, at least, to be an analogy for my life.  In almost every area of my life, things, just a few weeks ago, looked, like the first chapter of JLA: Year One, promising, colorful, and in a clear direction.  Then difficulties set in.   In JLA: Year One, over 300 pages long, the heroes are constantly beset with difficulties. 
There are external difficulties, enemies to fight, a public to convince, and relationship and job difficulties in their personal lives.  But there are also internal difficulties.  The five super-heroes have to learn to trust themselves and each other.  There are mistakes, misunderstandings, and even seeming betrayals by one of the team members and by a representative of their financial benefactor.
There are points in the storyline where things seem absolutely hopeless. In fact, they are.  There are no alternatives – except one: Keep Going.
What does it really mean to keep going?  What it doesn’t mean is to ignore the peril or ignore the past.  It means to take a full assessment of the risks, to change where change is needed, but to not quit.
For a brief moment, I wanted to quit school.  In my online courses, I was strongly critiqued in, of all areas, my writing.  Besides feeling embarrassed, I felt incompetent as both a writer and a student.  Had I made a mistake entering the program?  Am I a bad writer?  Do I have any skills at all?  Am I a failure?  Have I done anything meaningful with my life?  The questions got scarier and darker, but through further conversation with and more feedback from my professor I was able to make course (no pun intended) corrections.  Will they be enough?  I won’t know until next week’s grades come out, but if not, I’ll Keep Going.

Again, sometimes there are no alternatives but to Keep Going.  But we have to know what it is we are going towards.  For me it’s a Master’s degree in history and life with my Muse.  Very little else matters.  Working towards those goals is the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time and I feel privileged to be able to do it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Finish Line

In the last week, while undertaking a Master’s program in History I have realized some truths about myself.  In this case, some truths take precedence over others, but here’s what I understand.
First, I’m smart, but there are a lot of people who are smarter than me.  I think many of them are in the program with me.  I mentioned in my last blog how reading the online posts from my classmates made me feel outclassed.  I wondered if I had done the right thing by getting into the program.  Like many people I was given (and, worse, believed) message after message about how I was not as smart and not as capable as those around me. 
However, there is a greater truth: lack of experience is often mistaken for lack of intelligence.
In the 1980’s there was a game called Trivial Pursuit.  Generally the winners of this game were people who had read more (an ability anyone can cultivate) or people who were older and simply knew more through being around longer.  The game was about the pursuit of the trivial.  It didn’t require a higher IQ, just a little more reading (or some accidental exposure to facts) and a few more years of life.  Each of my colleagues brings different experiences and that makes them good at what they do.  My experiences make me good at what I do, too.
With regard to my colleagues, I have no doubt that some are smarter than me, and maybe some aren’t, and maybe some are just as smart as me. Obviously I’m intelligent or I wouldn’t have been accepted into the program at all. But here’s the thing:  it’s not intelligence that will help me reach my goal; it’s determination.
Here’s another truth:  determination comes at more than one level.  Obviously the determination to finish the program is needed.  But so is the determination to finish the homework each week.    So is the determination to do the necessary readings.  So is the determination to stay focused.  That’s my biggest struggle – staying focused, sometimes from moment to moment.  Maybe I need meds.  Or maybe I need to learn specific strategies to stay focused.  Or maybe I need to accept who I am and work with it.  What I realize is that we all have obstacles.  Every one of the students in the program is struggling with something that makes this program more difficult.  Steven Pressfield said, “Here’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t:  the hard part isn’t doing the writing.  The hard part is sitting down to do the writing.”  It’s the same for students.  The work itself is challenging.  But it’s not as challenging as getting to the work, getting past the fear, past the distractions, and embracing the commitment to put aside everything else and sit with my Muse and work.

Yesterday I finished a huge project and submitted it.  There’s a (good) chance the professor will send it back for revisions.  I don’t care.  I got it done.  If I have to fix it, I’ll fix it.  If I don’t, then I will have a very happy moment.  Either way it will be done, now or later.  But when I finished it, I felt like celebrating.  I anticipate many celebrations like that in the next 17 months and one week.  There will be many times when I can say, “I did it!  I finished it!  I slayed the dragon!  I was able to Get Started and Keep Going…all the way to a finish line!”

Friday, March 20, 2015

80 Hours

I just had the craziest idea:  what if, in the next two weeks I committed to studying for 80 hours?  How would this be possible?  It’s possible because, as my Muse said, I have the best job in the world.  I have the next two weeks off.  If I committed 8 hours a day, weekdays only, as if it were an actual job, I could do this easily.  Of course, experience has taught me that I shouldn’t wait until Monday (it’s Friday now), but that I should get started right away in case (when) an interruption arises.  Not counting tonight, I have 16 days until I return to work.  If I worked every day, I’d only have to work five hours a day, not eight.  Of course, rather than break down like that, it’s best just to set the larger goal (80 hours) and work as quickly and as well as I can.    Here’s another way to look at it, 16x24=384.  That’s 384 hours in the next two weeks, not including tonight (also not including anything else like sleep).  If I focused, would it really be inconceivable to work for 80 of those hours towards my dream?
This idea comes at a good time because, really, the only things I want to do now and for the next two weeks is be with my Muse as I read, write, and study.  I need her inspiration and encouragement every day.  I can’t do this alone.  In regards to the Master’s degree program that I enrolled in, I realize I have enlisted in a serious undertaking.  It’s real and I’m not a child or an adolescent who needs his hand held by anyone but his Muse.   It’s real and it’s huge.  I have more work ahead of me than I’ve ever had in my life and I’m scared and excited at the same time.  I was going to use the word “terrified,” but I’m not terrified.  In fact, when I think about it, I’m not even really scared.  But I was for a while. 
When I first looked at the amount of work involved and when I took measure of my online colleagues, I felt overwhelmed and outclassed.  At one point about a week ago I seriously considered calling the school and withdrawing.  Then a couple of nights later I had a dream in which my professor told me I was failing so badly that I wasn’t getting an “F,” but an “N.”  (I know there’s no such grade, but that’s how badly I was doing.)  Fortunately, I was able to talk to my professor that day (a productive and encouraging conversation!) and I’m not failing.  Besides, it’s only the second week.  But here’s the thing:  this will not be easy.  I’m trying to earn a Master’s degree in American history (just writing those words makes me happy) and it’s just going to be hard.
M. Scott Peck starts The Road Less Traveled by saying:
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

I hope these ideas, attributed to and borrowed from Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, apply to a Master’s program.
That last sentence was written with a smile.  It may be possible to transcend the difficulty, but it won’t be possible to transcend the work.   If I want a Master’s degree in American history (again written with a smile and great excitement), I have to do the work.  I’ve been fortifying myself by listening to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  I’ve read it and referred to it many times, but only recently did I think about the title – The – WAR – of – Art.  I’m in a war.  I’m fighting the internal Enemy and all that it throws at me.  I’m fighting fear.  A beloved mentor said this to me:
I will quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune:  “Fear is the mind killer!”  Sounds like you’re holding on too tight.  Remove the chains of fear from your mind and you’ll be fine.  Remember, you’re doing this for yourself.  Clear your mind of self-doubt and affirm your essential self.

My teacher is right in all but one thing:  I’m also doing this for my Muse, because this degree is not the end, it’s just the beginning of the life I want with her.
I’m also fighting all the usual fights – distraction, procrastination, lack of self-care, poor time management, and responding to crises rather than planning ahead. 

But, again, here’s the thing:  I’m aware of how precious time is, because it is short.  To build on Peck’s argument, one not only has to know and accept that life is difficult, but one should know and accept how difficult it is.  What I’m doing is extremely difficult; but it’s not impossible.  It’s been done literally millions of times before.  It’s not inconceivable that I could study for 80 hours in the next two weeks. God has given me the mind and my Muse has given me the motivation.  Now all I need is to Get Started and to Keep Going…for 80 hours.