A Theme in Review

At the end of 2020, I was feeling adrift. I’d been having a good start to the year, even with the pandemic; I was lucky enough to stay healthy, my family did too, and I had plenty to keep my hands and mind occupied.

Around August, things changed. Some personal tragedies and circumstances cast me adrift, making me feel listless and unfocused. I searched about for a theme, and–with help from some kind friends–settled on something around January that I felt could guide me: The Year of (Just Enough) Structure.

In short, this theme was about moving forward on projects while streamlining my routines to give every single day a good foundation with room to improvise and experiment. I had learned that if I tried to enforce too much structure on myself, I would feel claustrophobic, and, conversely, if I didn’t have enough structure, I would feel lost. So the goal was to find the best middle ground.

It worked. I put systems in place, wrote more than I had in years, learned new things, created, read, grew. Then… well.

The thing most people don’t seem to realize about depression, about anxiety, is that you can be okay, you can be great, and then one day, you’re not. It’s not even something I realized until I was facing it. I thought I was fine, thought I was okay, until I looked back a couple weeks and realized Oh, something’s gone wrong.”

I will be the first person to say, You need to talk to someone.” I have that someone, as well as a good support structure made up of my partner, friends, and family. I’m okay. But something had gone wrong, and my theme was acting more like a guilt machine than a guiding light.

I floundered with that for a while. My theme had been going so well and suddenly it wasn’t. Did that mean I abandoned ship? Did I try to get back on track? I want to say I had a blinding flash of insight and everything turned around, that I went back to normal–whatever that is–but I can’t. That’s not my story, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s truth. Instead, I had to live with myself, to explore what I felt and why I felt this way.

I’m still doing that. My theme, The Year of (Just Enough) Structure, was cast aside. I learned a lot about myself during the four months I worked within it, and it still guides me right now, but I realized I needed a new theme.

A friend advised me not to focus on a whole year; it’s just too long of a period of time. Instead they suggested a Chapter,” as this next step, this next theme, is just turning the page, exploring a new scene, a new phase of my life. I love that sentiment. I thought about what felt off, what I felt I needed in this next phase, and yet another friend encouraged me to remember something I’d once adapted from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist and Mike Schmitz’s review of that book:

Creativity is connecting dots in ways only you can. If you don’t have enough dots, find more.”

That sparked something within me. It was something I needed to hear, but it also triggered a lot of thoughts within me about the smallest pieces, the little things, the steps that add up. I had visions of impressionist paintings and wildly colorful mosaics, where each individual dot or tile looks inconsequential but adds up to the bigger picture. I even thought back to Atomic Habits, one of the books that changed my life, and about how each tiny habit added up to a bigger day, a bigger identity.

So, I settled on a new theme, and it fits so well. I’ve entered The Chapter of Dots, the chapter of my life in which I’m focused on doing the little things that add up to the bigger picture, like the dots in Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Giverny. I also want to take this time to remind myself, too, that it’s okay to spend time collecting dots–inspiration–to bring back my creative spirit. It’s already helping.

June 18, 2021 Productivity Themes


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