Feel overwhelmed, but push through it. You can.

Sometimes life comes out of nowhere and surprises you, and not in the “You just won the Publisher’s Clearing House” kind of way. Sometimes you just get instantly bombarded with life, so much life that it feels like you don’t know which direction is up anymore. It’s really easy to sink in to those moments and let them take you over, I can be the first to attest to that. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. You just have to push through it.

At least, this is what I’ve been told tonight. And I believe it.

Tonight was one of those nights that I got bombarded with a bunch of information and situations in a very short amount of time. And though I tend to think of myself as fairly resilient, apparently tonight I wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out what to do, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t think straight. Just hours prior I’d literally poured tears from my eyes in laughter after watching an episode of South Park, an episode I’ll end up writing about here another night. But all it took was a couple of key situations and an article about the closing of Grantland to make it feel like the walls were closing around me. Funny how the human psyche works.

To be honest, I wanted to bury myself in the feeling of it all. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, I wanted to doubt, I wanted to berate my plans and my attempt to follow my dream. I wanted to go to bed. I really wanted to go to bed. But instead I picked up the phone and called a friend.

“I think I just feel overwhelmed,” I eventually said after venting to my likely-just-awakened friend.

“And it’s OK to be overwhelmed,” she responded. “But you have to keep going, you have to take little steps. It’s a big project you’re taking on, right?”

We have a habit of underestimating the amount of stress we’re taking on in our lives, in the situations we handle every day. Because we’re used to handling them every day, we think they’re normal, that they’re just something we should put up with. Par for the course. We forget that sometimes our par is actually really, really challenging.

I got reminded of that today when I heard about another friend going through tough times. Don’t get me wrong; I acknowledge I’m going through some stress trying to start the business and deal with being in a new place. But it pretty well paled in comparison to the situations I’d heard about, and I guess it put things in perspective. Which led me to write this.

We’ve all got “big projects” we’re taking on at one point another. I’m lucky enough that mine is starting a new business, for others it’s taking on a new job. Some are battling depression and anxiety. For some, their “big project” is just getting out of bed in the morning, or finding a reason to push through to tomorrow. No matter the project, when we’re overwhelmed we have to do two things: we have to keep going, and we have to take little steps along the way.

One of the things that I’ve tried to recognize is when I need to make a phone call. Many of my friends have been on the other end of the line, essentially acting as a sounding board while I get all the confusion out of my head. Usually, just the act of talking with someone gives me the clarity I need to figure out my next steps, something about hearing it out loud and being acknowledged seems to break the cycle that takes place in my head. Without that venting process, things can get pretty negative.

I used to try to keep my struggles to myself; I figured if people cared, then they’d call me to check and see what was going on. And then I realized that I don’t always keep in touch, and I still care about what’s going on with them! They probably feel the same way! Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have a friend come in just at the right moment to offer advice or comfort, but sometimes we have to go find it ourselves. Regardless of whether our friends reach out to us or not, they still care and want to help. The key is to gather whatever resources are needed to push through the feelings of being overwhelmed.

Sometimes we need to just step away: play a game or read a book, take a long walk or talk with a friend, something to step away from the source of stress. I love to try to bury myself in the problem when I’m starting feel overwhelmed to try and fix it, but I have to acknowledge that I don’t handle the situation as effectively as I could be after recharging a bit. I think that goes for most of us.

Feeling overwhelmed is natural, and it happens to all of us. Life is unpredictable; sometimes we get more thrown at us than we could have possibly been ready for, and that stress affects us. To come back from that feeling, we have to acknowledge it and accept it, accept that it’s OK to feel that way, and then we need to push through it, taking small steps. A few small steps can lead to some slightly larger steps, and then larger still, and before you know it you’re back up and running.

But no matter the circumstance, don’t stop, don’t give up. You have the energy you need to come back stronger than ever, and tomorrow just may be the day you find it.

-Josh

Featured image comes from this Huffington Post article on dealing with being overwhelmed. Check it out if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

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It’s not enough to be good at what you do. You have to follow through when you’re done.

I took a golf class my Senior year of college; I needed a few extra classes, and I’d always thought about trying my hand at the sport. Plenty of people play it, it’s a “business sport,” and I guess it didn’t look that hard.

Spoiler alert: golf is hard.

Instinctively, I thought golf was just about hitting the ball. Turns out hitting the ball is just a part of the equation: form is so, so much of the game. Planting the feet, standing with the correct posture, keeping your eye on the ball as you swing…each of these points affects the distance the ball travels, the arc of its path, the amount it rolls or bounces when it hits the ground. But the part I could never seem to get a real hold of is follow through. And though my golf days are over, I still often find that I need to work on my follow through.

Back at C2E2 2013 I met Malik Forte; he’s a gaming editor for The Nerdist now, but at the time he was writing for Max Level. I was sitting in the press room working on a write-up, and he came in with one of his co-workers. I’d overheard that they were preparing for a press-only panel with Ed Boon, the co-creator of the Mortal Kombat franchise to talk about his new game, Injustice: Gods Among Us. I had my press pass, but I wasn’t on the list to go to the panel, so I struck up a conversation with Malik and asked if he thought he might be able to get me in. Though he didn’t directly vouch for me, I walked close enough to him and his co-worker that I think the doorman thought we were all with the same outlet. Sure enough, I got in.

After the panel, I thanked Malik for getting me in, and he told me that I could get access to events like that too if I just kept up the hard work. “You’ve just gotta make sure you follow up, ” he said. “It’s not that hard, you know? Just do the interview, write up the story, and make sure you follow up. Always follow up.” Doing the work is important, but it doesn’t mean much if nobody knows you did it; following up is key to success. Just like the follow-through in a golf swing creates better distance, emailing a follow-up after an article creates the connections that foster professional growth. I can’t help but imagine those follow-ups were a big part of what got him out of Chicago and in to Los Angeles.

Following-up is important for two reasons: 1) it increases your visibility, and 2) it lets people know you’re more than just talk. There are a million clichés about how much talk is worth: nothing.  The dedication, hard work, and perseverance that create successful people come after the talking is done: all those actions (including creating the work itself) are the follow through. If you can’t handle the follow through you end up bailing on your promises. And there’s no quicker way out of an opportunity in the business world than to break promises.

I used to call myself a “pressure-cooker kid” because I think at my fastest when I’m facing a deadline. The pressure makes me focus just long enough to accomplish the task, but I tend to go back to my normal, procrastinating self afterward until the next deadline looms. Channeling that pressure-cooker kid is helping me create work frequently, which is good, but now I need to do more.

Remember that star chart I showed you a few weeks ago? You’ll be happy to know that by the time this article posts I’ll have 20 stars on it, 20 days of posting something new every day, either here or at my gaming blog, Intelligame. It’s something to personally celebrate; I don’t think I’ve ever written this consistently in my life. That said, if I want more people to come to the site, then just writing the posts isn’t enough. There’s social media to post to, comments to reply to (hopefully!), blog communities to participate in…there’s much following-through to do after the work is done. And I’m finding that’s the hardest part for me to do because I’m tired and feel like I deserve to rest or relax after a post. But finishing the post isn’t finishing the job.

It’s not enough to just create content or a product anymore and expect that people will come to you, and I don’t know that it ever has been. There’s plenty of great, undiscovered content in the world, and unless you want your product to be a part of that group, you have to do more than just create something: you have to go out and find people, give them a reason to care about your product, show them a quality product and then give them an even stronger reason to come back next time. The days of “if you build it, they will come” are over; you have to build it, and then you have to convince them to come. That’s the follow through.

-Josh

Make SMART goals.

I tend to fly by the seat of my pants a lot as I’m just getting my projects up and running, but I find that the more mapping and planning I do before starting work, the more efficient my work day becomes. I feel that I’m at my best when pushing towards a goal I’ve set ahead of time, and I don’t think that’s uncommon for any of us:  we’ve been told to set goals since we were little. Still, I find that most of my larger goals end up unreached in one way or another: New Year’s Resolutions, exercise plans, and writing objectives fall apart after a few days or weeks. I tend to feel a little stupid after I realize I’ve failed yet another New Year’s resolution…but I think the issue isn’t stupidity, it’s just that I wasn’t SMART about my goal.

I’m sorry. I definitely worked way too hard to create a situation where I could use that pun.

Too often we set nebulous goals, endpoints that would be pleasant to reach, but don’t provide us any focus while we work toward them (“Lose weight,” “Be a better husband,” “Read more”). These goals summarize the action we think will improve ourselves, but we never truly know when we’ve achieved the goal or how much progress we’ve made towards it. When we don’t feel like we’re making progress, after the initial jolt of reward from working on self-improvement” subsides, it gets really easy to slide back to old habits and fall off the wagon. 

While I was working in healthcare IT, I learned about setting SMART goals: goals meant to keep you focused and oriented as you work towards success. It’s not about setting different kinds of goals, but instead refining the goals you’ve already created. SMART is an acronym that calls out five facets of effective goals:

  • Specific. When will you know you’ve actually achieved your goal? Don’t just say “read more,” instead set a number of books you want to read, games you want to play, etc.
  • Measurable. A big part of setting SMART goals is the focus on accountability, but you can’t truly be held accountable for what you can’t measure. Set a goal where you can monitor your progress over time and make adjustments if necessary.
  • Achievable. You might remember the six goals I set for myself to accomplish daily if you’ve hung around the blog a while; today, I’d call that a Homer Simpson Goal because it wasn’t really achievable. 6 daily tasks, with an overall time commitment of maybe 4 hours a day (if I was fast) wasn’t going to be sustainable, and early failure brought me down quickly. Don’t underestimate yourself, but set a goal you can achieve!
  • Results-Oriented. Why are you setting your goal? What results do you want to see? SMART Goals focus on the reasons why you want to achieve a goal, not all the specific steps you’ll take to achieve them.
  • Time-based. Want to lose 15 pounds? Great! By when? Setting a time-frame is critical to knowing if your goal is achievable, and it also helps you measure your progress towards success.

Though I’ve little experience in it right now, I can say that one of the hardest parts about running your own business in the early stages is staying motivated when there’s no supervisor to keep you in line, no sales to motivate additional work, and no schedule to tell you when you should be working (or when you should stop working). The freedom to choose your own hours, schedule, and direction is one of the best benefits of working for yourself, but it’s also one of the most daunting: How do you know what tasks to take on first? How long should you work on them? When do you know the work is done?

I like to prioritize based on my Intelligame SMART Goal: In order to create a strong core audience for the site’s expansion, I will get 2,000 views on Intelligame by January 31, 2016. If I’d simply set a goal to “Grow Intelligame,” how would I know which work to focus on? Feasibly I could say that any work I do will “grow” the site, but now I have specific metrics to pay attention to, as well as a drive to put my focus towards. I want the site to reach an audience and change people’s opinions about gaming, not just serve as my echo chamber: right now, page views help me see if people think it’s worthwhile to read the content and be part of the community.

SMART Goals aren’t the key to success when working towards goals, but they’re a great tool in the toolbox of life skills that push us towards the objectives we want to fulfill in life. What are your SMART goals?

-Josh

Featured image credit to Orange Shoe.

The Beauty of Friends and Family

I was lucky to see Naomi Klein speak at an event here in Portland a few weeks ago. While calling on the audience to do something about the increasingly tumultuous environment we live in, she said something that stuck out to me: she said that people now move around so much that they don’t know just how drastic climate change is, that without having roots in a single space for some time, it’s hard to know when things have really changed. I think our personalities can be the same way, and I learned part of that tonight as I reunited with many old friends and spent time with my sister.

I think people get attached to Portland because most everyone has roots here before they’ve even loaded the moving van to come out: most everyone has a friend or family member who they knew that lives here. Today I saw not only my sister, but a friend from when I lived in southern California, two I went to elementary school with, another two I went to middle school with, and a few other friends from more recent times in my life as well. Talking with them it was great to learn how much some things had changed, how much people had grown and accomplished…but it was also good to know that many things stayed the same over time as well. Even seeing the two elementary friends of mine chat with each other (we all went to school together, but they hadn’t seen each other in years) was just…a bit warming.

Now that I work from home, I spend a ton of time alone. I feel like I’m increasingly becoming more isolated, more introverted, more standoffish about spending time with others. I like my workspace, I like controlling my environment, and it becomes that much harder for me to convince myself to be social. Since I’ve moved out here I’ve had multiple visits with old friends that remind me that I should be more engaged, that I shouldn’t be afraid of getting social. After all, there’s a time for hunkering down for work, and there’s a time for enjoying the people around you. Learning the difference between the two is the difference between spending quality time with your loved ones and feeling guilty while wishing you’d emailed off that last report. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

Here’s a poll question for today: do you own your own business/work from home? Do you feel it’s made you more or less social? What keeps you engaged with the people you care about?

A Mini-Primer on Avoiding Cell Phone Distraction (after being totally distracted)

It’s funny; even just 48 hours after Technology Sabbath, and 24 hours after writing a post about needing discipline against technological distraction, I definitely showcased plenty of the bad habits I’d just talked about avoiding. My sister flew out to visit me here in Portland, and while we were riding the train back home I definitely broke the chain of conversation multiple times to deal with messages and emails. Sure, she took it in stride, but she shouldn’t have had to.

Mind you, we still had a fantastic evening out: we stopped at a random empanada truck on the way home and had a delicious dinner on a crisp, clear Fall evening. We chatted about home and the future, about Rockford and Portland. We joked around like brothers and sisters joke around. It really was a fun time, and I’m looking forward to more this week. But I don’t want to continually pull myself away from the experience like I did before my phone died.

Though this isn’t the comprehensive list of distraction-related phone tips I’d planned on putting together, but in the spirit of improving my actions quickly so I can better enjoy time with my sister, here are some tips I plan to use (don’t worry, you can too) to minimize cell phone distraction:

  • Place the phone on silent/turn it off. No explanation necessary; it’s the blunt force way to minimize distraction. There are more elegant solutions out there, but they may take some work…
  • Set a priority contact list, and place your phone on Priority Notification mode. Whether you’re on iOS or Android, you can set your phone to only notify you when you receive communications from certain contacts. If the thought of putting your phone on silent all day unnerves you, setting this functionality up can make sure the important calls and texts come through while the others wait for a more convenient time.
  • Set an automated away message before meeting. Remember AIM Away Messages?(Remember AOL Instant Messenger at all?) Apps like AutoSMS for Android function like away messages for your phone; they’ll automatically respond to any text you receive with a message you create. You can also use the app to put your phone on silent while it’s running so you’re not getting bombarded with notifications when someone decides to message your away response. I left this running all day during my Tech Sabbath so people would know I wasn’t blowing them off.
  • Bow out of the conversation temporarily.  People won’t like it if they suddenly get an auto-message in the middle of your conversation, so how about just asking for some space? For some reason, it doesn’t always occur to me that I can simply type to a friend, “Hey, I just ________________; let’s catch up later?” It sounds simple, but I’m imagining (or hoping, rather) that I’m not the only person who’s not thought to do this on occasion.
  • Leave the phone face down on the table. It’s easy to make the reflexive gesture down to your pocket or purse to grab for your phone, but it feels much more blatant when you place your phone up near the person you’re talking to. If you’re sitting at dinner or having a conversation, placing your phone face down, off to the side of the area gives you the ability to focus on your conversation without idly feeling around for your phone.

Maybe I’m just fixated on trying to improve my tech etiquette because this Tech Sabbath is in my recent memory, or maybe it’s that I just don’t get to see my family much now that I live time zones away from them, but I’m determined to be more present in my interactions with family and friends than I have been in the past. Here’s to deeper conversations and great memories.

-Josh

Tech Sabbath is OK, but we really need Tech Discipline.

Yesterday I took a technology sabbath, roughly 24-hours sans most digital distraction; I left my cell phone at home for the day, I didn’t once turn on my laptop or check a tablet, and my only exposure to TV or music via electronics came while I was in public spaces. Sure, I did a lot of things that day that I probably wouldn’t have done if electronics were in my life: I napped, I sorted trading cards, I went on a really long walk to a neighborhood I’d never seen before. I sat on a park bench and read a graphic novel with no soundtrack other than the breeze and the nearby docks. I sat, undistracted, in a local bar for 45 minutes without the soft glow of Facebook or Gmail’s white light to keep me occupied.

Did I learn something from the experience? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Maybe. Was it the rejuvenating, restorative shot I needed to remind me of the natural me clouded by technological interference?

Well, you can probably tell by my tone.

Search “technology sabbath” on Google and you’ll end up with a daisy chain of websites that swear up and down about how our connection with technology is ruining our ability to connect with each other, nature, God, our souls, our pets…swearing off the digital connection for a day a week is critical to finding our true selves. In fact, a comic featured on The Art of Manliness (which I can’t help but resent every time I read an article from them simply based on the assumption that there’s one way to be “manly” (which is an assumed positive, by the way)) implies that the 24 hours of technology sabbath are the only reprieve of enlightenment and spiritual awakening we can find during a week of labor with mundane, soul-destroying devices.

But the problem is that these opinions are portrayed as binary, mutually-exclusive experiences: either you can commune with God, or you can commune with technology. And, as Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Decisive, taught me (a book definitely on the Currently Non-Existent Official HTML Reading List), when you think a decision consists of two, mutually-exclusive options, you’re usually framing it the wrong way. In these situations, it’s best to start thinking about how you could technically obtain both ends: how can you receive both enlightenment and connectivity at the same time?

It was almost ironic that I brought my new copy of Chainmail Bikini with me on my long Tech Sabbath walk, an anthology of short comics written by women about the ways gaming influenced their lives. Many stories were about offline gaming: LARPs (live-action role playing) and tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons certainly commanded large portions of the book. Still, authors devoted an almost equal number of pages to video gaming: games like Pokemon and Sonic Adventure and Animal Crossing were tools of escapism as well as self-discovery as these women learned more about their gender identity, sexuality, and personalities through time spent with digital devices. These digital experiences were core to these women, possibly some of their most enlightening moments in their lives, and they wouldn’t have been possible without a bit of devotion through the digital divide. So how do I answer the Heath’s question, how do you receive enlightenment and connectivity at the same time? Stay uninterrupted.

Ellen and I talked today about our technology sabbaths today, and there was one point we definitely agreed on: it was lonely. For me, time I could have spent calling my parents or arranging to spend time with others in natural environments was instead spent idle or isolated. But with that isolation came an independence that I don’t frequently feel anymore, a presence in the here-and-now that is inherently refreshing. When I left for my walk in the afternoon, I didn’t intend to be out of the house for hours and walk 7 miles, but when I did, that whole trip was mine. No emails, no text messages, no Facebook posts or Tweets pulled me away from right where I was in the moment. And really, I’d venture that dialing into distractions, digital or otherwise, causes the disconnect we feel from the world.

Around six in the morning I checked my email and found out that the final episode of Life is Strange released today (the link is to my reviews for each episode on a different website). A cinematic, story-centric adventure game by Square Enix and DONTNOD Entertainment, the previous four episodes of the game have been some of the most gripping, entertaining, heartbreaking, engaging times I’ve spent playing a game. I knew that Episode 5 would be a dramatic conclusion to a storyline I’ve followed for over half a year, and I sprung out of bed to start the download. The first hour and a half of the episode were terrifying, heartwarming, sickening…altogether emotional, visceral.

Then the game slowed down for a second and I checked my cell phone.

It wasn’t for anything important, I don’t even think I had a new notification. It was just a dumb habit that I gave in to when a cinematic ran a few seconds longer than I thought it should have. Next thing I knew I was checking an email. I read a few lines, then reprimanded myself for the distraction. I put my phone down, but the damage was already done: some of the intensity I felt for the story was just gone, evaporated in to thin air. The rest of the game was great (I 100% recommend it to anyone, by the way), but somehow it lost a piece of its grip on me when I pulled out my phone. Technology provided me a deep, connective experience I’d been waiting all year for, and I let another piece of technology take me away from it.

Perhaps this will sound like a “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” debate to some, but I stand by the sentiment that there is no either/or solution to the issue at-hand: this isn’t a matter of technological prohibition or total immersion, but a matter of self-control and learning how to remain in the moment for whatever it is we’re doing, whether it’s in nature or on a computer with three screens. I find that I’m easily pulled from one task to another by a simple bell or chirp from a nearby device, resulting in me getting dragged between various tasks, all of which end up partially complete. Problem is that I have this same issue in reality: when talking to friends I’m not just distracted when my phone goes off, I instantly jump to the next person who calls my name to ask a question, a clattering noise in the distance, an interesting house we drive by on a road trip. When my attention moves to the next item, a piece of that original discussion is forever lost, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve somehow disrespected that first person. It’s not just that I left the conversation; it’s that a part of me was never there.

It’s easy to point to technology as the devil that “makes us do it,” yanking our attention from the world around us to whatever the shiny, new topic is. But technology isn’t the true culprit: it’s our inability to control the situations around us, and our unwillingness to say no to the stimuli that interrupt us. The great part of a “technology sabbath” is that reminds us of the focus we’re missing in life; our new ability as a society to “multi-task” (which is more an ability to “quickshift” between items; we’re usually not really performing any tasks simultaneously) comes at the expense of our ability to be truly present. But the “6 days of work/1 day of peace” metaphor seems to convey that there’s no way to get that peace during the other 6 days of the week, and I can’t help but disagree.

Spare some sort of global disaster, technology isn’t going away anytime soon (and I certainly wouldn’t want it to). But after taking that day away from technology, I realize how much I live on technology’s schedule instead of technology living on my schedule. The key to deeper interaction, to the peace and clarity we romanticize when we apply religious terms like “sabbath” to technological prohibition, is self-discipline and understanding, learning what impulses we can handle, which ones we can’t, and how we need to shape the world to fit our needs instead of the other way around. Here’s how to get started:

  • Schedule a technology sabbath of your own. Though I’ve spent a good amount of time talking about the harm of the technology sabbath mentality, having a set amount of time to go technologically-cold-turkey helps you to understand why finding the discipline is important: what parts of technology are actually beneficial and worth keeping, and what incidental impulses you want to remove from your everyday life.
  • Minimize your phone’s random distraction capabilities. When first setting it up, it’s easy to just plug in your email address, find a ringtone you like and move on, but this means the phone runs on its terms instead of yours. I’ll do a follow-up post on how to tweak your smartphone to minimize distraction and link it here when it’s complete.
  • Close your email. Whether you use Outlook, Thunderbird, or just keep Gmail/Yahoo open in a browser tab, every new email’s notification serves as another distraction from whatever you’ve decided to pay attention to. Set the expectation with those that need to know that you only check your email every X amount of time, and that they should call you only if there’s information they need an emergency response to.
  • Schedule important events, and hold to the schedule. A digital calendar is nice, but a paper calendar works wonders to create feelings of concrete commitments that require attention.
  • Learn to say no to the interrupter. This doesn’t mean that you should never have unstructured, free time, but when you’re at a party with friends, be with those friends. If you’re on a date, leave your phone on silent in a pocket or purse. If someone taps you on the shoulder or calls to you while you’re talking with a friend, tell that person you’ll come back to them in a bit instead of instantly shifting your attention. Interruptions will always happen, but you get to decide the effect they have on your life.
  • Don’t sleep near your phone. If the first thing you do in the morning is check your phone, it’s pretty easy to let that device own your day. Buy a real alarm clock, and leave your phone in a place where you have to work to get to it. You can also leave your phone in Airplane Mode until a designated time so that it functions as an alarm clock, but doesn’t bombard you with other people’s priorities first thing in the morning.
  • Know when you need to leave your tech behind. Your mind will panic when you first think of leaving your phone in the house/car, but it’s a crutch, a habit; leave it behind if it’s going to distract you from a task you need to focus on.

I’m glad that I did technology sabbath, but I don’t think it solves the problem most people are setting out to solve. Think about the last time a movie really, truly gripped you: were you tweeting throughout it? Did you leave for popcorn or snacks multiple times? Ever been with a friend and taken a selfie together? How do you feel while that friend is posting it on Instagram, trying to come up with the perfect description or just simply tweaking filters and hashtags?

Technology is just another part of our modern life, a beautiful and dangerous part filled with experiences and interruptions. The more we train ourselves to handle or avoid interruptions and distractions in our day, the more we can experience a “technology sabbath”-like peace more than once a week.

Take Yourself Seriously (Even when others don’t.)

I’m now in a precarious position when people ask me that inevitable get-to-know-you question: “What do you do?” See, I used to be able to shield myself by saying “I’m an IT consultant” or “I work in hospital labs” when on a first date, and then she would smile and say, “Oh, that sound interesting,” and then I could continue on and talk about how I’m saving money to start my own business and website. But now that shield is gone, and it’s forcing me to take myself seriously, even when others don’t.

Inherently, there’s a piece of most everyday people that winces or scoffs when they hear the term “video game journalist.” Generally the response I receive is, “Oh, so you get paid to play games?” or “Oh, my son would LOVE your job; he’s just obsessed with (insert game here)” or “Really? That’s interesting,” in the same way that a video of a person sitting in a rocking chair watching a movie about watching paint dry is “interesting.” I’ve been lucky enough to have tons of friends and family support me as I’ve made various career decisions, traveled around the country and quit various long-term, “stable” jobs, but there’s still something about that glazed-over look that I get from strangers that just…digs deep.

When you don’t take yourself seriously, it makes it that much harder for others to take you seriously. When you show confidence and determination, it makes other people wonder just what you know that they don’t, or it makes them want to follow your lead. Self-confidence is armor, shielding our soft, vulnerable ideas from the barrage of attacks that come from the inadvertent (and…advertent?) statements of the folks around us. Too frequently we get excited about dreaming big, about creating something new or taking off in a new direction and end up getting that excitement quashed by skeptical onlookers. The better we shield those ideas when they’re soft and vulnerable, the better the chance they can grow to be strong, resilient realities, backed by experience and success.

At least, that’s what I tell myself, anyway.

Today I talked with Ellen during our business meeting about the frustration I felt when talking about my ideas for game journalism, and she just kinda smiled knowingly. “It’s part of starting your own business,” she said. “You just have to think about your idea and how badly you really want it.” She didn’t phrase that as some sort of confirmation or backup about how badly I wanted my ideas, but more as a question. “Do you want the site to exist? Do you want to put in the work to make it happen? Is it really something that YOU feel is viable and possible?” I’ll admit, sometimes I’m not as confident in my answers as I think I should be.

One of my editors once talked to me about the writing I was doing for his website, and we talked about freelance journalism in general. “Even if it’s not really your job, you have to treat it like it’s your job,” he said. “Don’t look at it like getting the work done is optional because it’s not what pays your bills. Look at that work as a second job; you go to work and you do your job, and then you have to come home and do your job.” It’s especially easy to look at a lot of freelance writing as optional because there’s no direct pay involved: many game writing sites pay in “experience,” credentials, and “free” games (you still have to play and review them, which actually is real work). That mentality doesn’t get you anywhere in the long run.

It’s interesting: I searched “take yourself seriously” on Google and came up with a bunch of results, but most of them play in the opposite direction, saying “Don’t take yourself too seriously, (insert reason life is absurd here).” I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t roll with the punches, or allow self-importance to cloud our perceptions of our real impact on the world, but I think there’s far more to risk by not taking yourself seriously enough than taking yourself too seriously.

Ellen’s been working in vintage sales for years now, and it was her ability to take herself and her business seriously that allowed it to flourish, and that likely goes for every small business owner. My editor and fellow writers continue to write amidst talks about lack of credibility in journalism and lack of money because we take what we do seriously and think it’s important. And think of every professional athlete ever: they kick balls into nets, hit them with bats, or swing at them with clubs day in, day out, in a world where tens of thousands of other people dream and fight to be in the same position. At some point in time they had to take themselves seriously, too.

In just a few weeks I’ve made a ton of progress towards my goal of being a professional, full-time writer, and it’s in no small part to finally taking this goal seriously and focusing on getting back to actually writing. But I think it’s also due to my decision to take myself seriously, seeing value in my work, and sacrifice perfectionism for actual performance. A small change in perception and belief can work wonders, but only if it’s taken seriously.

Take yourself seriously. Know your purpose. Push forward.

-Josh

P.S. Here’s a comic my dad sent me the link to. Just read it!