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Archive for September, 2011

Fear of Failure

Lately I’ve been feeling both uninspired and anxious about the freelance projects I’ve accepted, to the degree that it has adversely affected my mood when I’m trying to do other things.

Upon reflection, I think my difficulties stem from a mindset I’ve fallen into over the past year or so. Much of my freelance work over that time has involved tasks that I don’t find stimulating or that I don’t see as valuable.

One example of the former would be inputting metadata tags for the various components of a science or social studies program. It has a purpose, but that purpose is purely for record-keeping, and the work itself is both tedious and detail-oriented. An example of work that doesn’t feel valuable to me would be writing large numbers of multiple choice questions for a given set of textbook content.

I’m not fond of multiple choice questions to begin with; I think they are overused and have limited value as measures of student knowledge unless they are used as a small component alongside different sorts of assessments. This basic dislike pales in comparison to the problems I have with writing dozens of multiple choice questions for, say, a single chapter, a process which entails increasingly awkward contortions of language and eventually a focus on minutiae simply to ensure that each question is vaguely unique. That’s simply overkill. It’s also difficult, at least for me.

So lately I’ve lost most of my appreciation for the process of doing my job. Instead, I’ve come to base my evaluation of my success upon my output. And the only aspects of that output that I can take pride in are the speed and efficiency with which I complete my assigned tasks. I established a reputation for getting things done ahead of schedule and in good enough condition that they required relatively minor adjustments to meet the project standards.

The problem with that sort of value system arises when I’m handed an assignment that has very tight deadlines, very vague guidelines, or both. In those cases, it’s quite hard to work ahead of schedule. It’s equally hard to produce work that won’t need significant revisions, because the standards being used to assess the work are moving targets. In those cases, I find myself becoming very anxious and often irritable. Instead of being the team player that I’ve prided myself on being in the past, I start seeing the project as an opportunity to fail by the metrics that I’ve established for assessing my own value as a writer and editor.

I don’t really know what would happen if I did “fail” on a project by turning work in late or in mediocre shape. I’m fairly certain that I would survive and continue to receive contract offers. But I’m frightened by the prospect and upset when confronted with projects that might derail what I perceive to be an excellent record. It’s especially difficult when I perceive corrections as slights or I get annoyed because I don’t respect what I’m working on and so think of the changes as just more running on a treadmill.

Having identified these challenges, I’m not sure what to do about them. I don’t know how to go about finding different types of freelance assignments that might feel more fulfilling. I’m also uncertain how to adjust my perspective on work in a way that would let me appreciate the process of working on the kind of assignments that have been coming my way since the ideology of standardized testing overwhelmed the mindset of the K-12 education publishing industry.

I do think that, if I get the opportunity to work on more stimulating projects again, I have to shed this fixation on speed and avoiding initial mistakes. And if I’m going to be a professional, I need to accept the change requests whether I respect the work or not.

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Anger Management

So, in the last two-three weeks, I’ve been getting angry more often, typically at things that frustrate me in one of two ways:

  • Specific, concrete problems that I think I’ve fixed that don’t stay fixed. Examples include an alarm clock that keeps losing power/shutting off because of a loose power cord connection, plotting an alternate route to school (I’ve had to change routes THREE times now since the start of September due to road construction), a kitchen faucet that continues to leak in spite of my going to great lengths to replace a gasket, a backyard irrigation system that needs to be recreated with new parts because the sprinkler heads I bought don’t distribute enough water to keep the non-shaded parts of the lawn from drying out even when they get watered for a few hours a week, and so on.
  • General, amorphous problems that have no fixed solution but require regular attention. These include trying to get a handle on the kid’s Internet usage habits, working with Will’s fine motor skills and ability to remember his homework, helping Anna deal with loneliness at a new school, listening to Lisa deal with changing requirements for her job, a stovetop that collects stains every time anything is cooked on it, some drainage issues in the utility room caused by broken drain pipes we can’t afford to fix, Lisa producing a ton of dirty dishes every time she cooks that I have to clean, and so on.

It seems like I’m losing my temper rather quickly when these sorts of things coincide/overlap. And I’m not entirely sure why it has gotten worse in the past few weeks.

The only big changes that I can identify are:

  • I’m lifting weights again versus doing body weight exercises.
  • I completed my last freelance assignment and haven’t had a new contract.
  • I’ve tried to use time to write fiction and failed to muster any real interest in doing so.

I’ve had a talk with my wife about my behavior and I’m trying to focus on more positive reactions. From a rational perspective, I feel like I am reacting to certain stimuli as if I were in a very stressed environment, and I don’t feel like that makes sense. So there’s an underlying factor and I’m still trying to piece it together.

I’m thinking of trying to incorporate some yoga routines into my evening or morning as time permits, based on a suggestion from my wife. It might also help if I tried something else creative aside from writing, such as returning to my drawing practice.

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New Approach to Facebook

For the past few weeks I’ve adopted a new style of posting on Facebook. I simply create two short lists and post them together: Things I Like Today and Things I Don’t Like. This has been pretty effective at conveying the key things that impacted me emotionally during the course of any given day. It has also proven much more succinct than my typical Facebook posts of the past, and has engendered a larger response than I typically receive, though still pretty minor. (Then again, I have less than 50 “friends” on Facebook, by choice.)

In essence, this allows me to convey a quick summary of stuff that made an impression upon me while also offering readers a chance to ask a question should they want more detail, instead of anticipating the details that they might want to see and trying to provide those in advance. As it turns out, no one so far has asked for the additional details, even when they have “Liked” the post.

I’m thinking of bifurcating my online writing into two distinct styles: the brief Facebook update using the model described above, and the longer, more carefully thought out pieces that I can post on this blog. Leaving aside the question of whether anybody is reading either collection of communications, at least this approach plays to the relative strengths of each medium. Some recent studies have suggested that people want their online information presented either in regular, bite-sized updates a la Twitter or in longer, more thoughtful essays such as those found on the better blogs and web sites. It’s the medium-length, newspaper article style pieces that have the least pull.

If true, that’s interesting and provides something of a blueprint for me to follow in online postings. I might try to get back to updating this blog once or twice a week, but with a longer, more carefully worded post. I don’t know, it will depend upon time and personal interest as always.

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Working Out

Returned to lifting weights, upper body only, about twice a week in the afternoon or evening, in conjunction with doing morning cardio for about half an hour starting at 6:30 or 7 am.

The weight lifting follows a stretch where I completed Phases I to III of the Core Performance program before embarking on a long summer trip that required me to simplify my workout to pushups and pullups. Kept up with those after returning home, but after roughly five-six weeks of doing pushups in increasing numbers (pushups got up to 40+ a set, using hand-bars, for maximums of 150-160 in single session) my left shoulder started to bother me constantly.

So I switched back to a pretty simple workout. Bench presses alternating with one-armed dumbbell rows, then pullups alternating with standing overhead dumbbell presses. I shoot for five sets of each exercise, though if I’m really tired in a given workout, I pay attention to that and stop at four sets of the final pair of exercises. Shoulder is feeling better.

Anyway, last night I set a new 5R max of 195 pounds lifting on my own in the basement. Over the summer I did a 1R max of 225 pounds at a gym with a friend spotting me, and I think that gave me some renewed confidence. At the same time, my weight dropped down to 195 pounds, so that’s nice.

I passed on the leg weights because the squats were bothering my knee if I also tried to do much cardio and the deadlifts did the same with my back. Doing one or the other (squats/deadlifts OR cardio) seems to be okay, but in conjunction they are too much. I get more pleasure from being able to move around freely, so I stuck with a rotating program of running intervals, jumping rope, running stairs, hiking steep hills, doing burpees, doing some Tae-Bo routines, and assorted plyometric speed drills from the Core Performance program. I try to mix it up, doing whatever I feel like doing each morning before or after driving the kids to school, as my schedule and the weather permits. So far it has been enjoyable.

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First Week of Walking

Started wearing my pedometer again (it got washed in the laundry and was not working for a month or so until I ensure that it was completely dried out, then I forgot to bring it on our summer trip) starting in the morning when I wake up until the evening when I go to bed. This tracks both everyday steps (taken during activities like mowing the lawn, grocery shopping vacuuming, walking up and down the stairs to do laundry, etc.) and “focused” steps (taken during hikes, walks to the library, running, morning cardio routines, and so forth).

My results for the first week were, in steps(total miles) format:

14,411 (6.82), 10,779(5.1), 13,357(6.32), 10.060(4.76), 15,380 (7.28), 10,049(4.75), 10,545(4.99)

For averages of 12,083 steps and 5.76 miles per day.

I’ll admit that on at least one occasion I looked at my pedometer before bedtime, realized I was a few hundred steps short, and decided to walk up and down the stairs for a few minutes to get my count past 10,000 for the day! Pretty silly from one perspective.

On the other hand, hitting a minimum of 10,000 steps a day does give me a small but meaningful sense of accomplishment. And in the two weeks since I started doing this in addition to my regular workouts, I have managed to lose about 4 pounds, which may be correlation rather than causation, but still feels good.

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