The Ah-Mazing Life of Danielle (and Annoying Audrey)

Well, Jupiter Girl is still hanging out in her cave, waiting for inspiration to strike her in the head like a rock or something. So I decided to step in and take charge of things for a while. And believe me, I am really good at taking charge. Plan your party? Manage a work project? Write your blog? I’m your girl!

Danielle and iPhone Downtown

My name is Danielle. I live and work downtown in a major metropolitan area, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adore everything about life downtown. The fast pace. The restaurants. The nightlife. Just yesterday, I hopped on a Jump bike during my lunch break and rode over to my favorite independent coffee shop, where they make an ah-mazing pumpkin spice latte. Seriously, I don’t know how people can stand it out in the suburbs, where you have to get in your car and drive like, twenty minutes to the nearest Starbucks.

Danielle and Audrey besties

Now everybody say hi to Audrey. Audrey is my bestie. My partner-in-crime. My sistah from another mistah. I don’t know what I’d do without her. But between you and me, Audrey can also be pretty annoying. When I started going to the gym to get in shape a couple of years ago, Audrey started copying me. I lost a few pounds and felt pretty good about that. But next thing you know, she’s lost a ton of weight, gotten super strong, and now she’s a fitness instructor. Seriously, Audrey?

Danielle and Audrey gym rats

It’s like it’s her life goal to show me up. I bought a sleek little downtown condo last year and adopted a cat. So what does Audrey do? She buys a ginormous house out in the ‘burbs, and adopts a cat plus two cocker spaniels. So extra. And then this summer, I text her some photos of me relaxing by the pool. So of course she has to show me up by traveling all the way to the beach.

Audrey at the beach

Ok fine, to be fair, she did invite me to go with her to the beach. But I couldn’t get away from work. You see, I have a very busy job. When I was a girl, somehow the idea became engrained in me that I could do anything. I could become a pilot, or a veterinarian, or a lawyer. But I had more exciting ambitions than that. So I studied computer software engineering, and went to work for the U.S. government on a top-secret assignment. I get to work with ah-mazing technology and even travel the world.

Danielle working outdoors on her computer

But don’t tell Audrey. She thinks I’m just an accountant.

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Wild and Precious…and Lukewarm (aka: Goal-Setting)

One Wild and Precious Life

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the 5-yr. life plan I wrote several years ago. Because you know, sometimes it’s good to give your life a check-up, to see how you’re doing on achieving your goals, and to adjust them as needed. Three years into my (very sparse) plan, here’s what I’ve managed to accomplish:

Career: I graduated from college, adding two very useful Computer Information Science Degrees to my useless B.A. degree. Check! I obtained a great job doing something I actually love, which has a great salary and benefits. Check!

Future career goals: I just happen to be really good at my job, and continuing to climb the ladder is inevitable, as long as I keep learning, staying ahead of the curve, and adding value to the agency I work for. Within five years, I hope to still be doing what I love, but perhaps in the private sector, where I can make more money, travel for work, and work remotely. I’d also like to see at least one of my novels published.

Financial: I like to keep these goals private. But my plans are positive and practical.

Social: Still nada. With the exception of the wonderful man I dated just over a year ago, I have been without any friends for more than seven years.

Future social goals: I’ve given up on the idea of my anemic social life changing, and decided to just embrace the “only” life. It can be lonely, having no one to call and chat with, or invite out places, or share joys or sorrows. But this has been my life for so long now, that I figure I can survive it indefinitely. Once in a great while, I go out to a Meetup with groups of strangers, to chat in a restaurant or go for a hike, just to pretend like I have some sort of social life. Sometimes, this is even fun.

Family: Five years from now, I will officially be a single empty nester. One kid is already a young adult, with his own life. One is a high school senior, on her way to university next fall. And the youngest has begun high school. So I guess my goal is to just keep loving and supporting them until they’re on their way. After that — who knows?

Future family goals: Well, I guess five years from now, I will be my own family. I would like to have a dog, if my lifestyle allows for it then. I would also like to continue supporting my grown children from a distance, as they start their own independent lives. I can totally see myself living somewhere far away from here, too, since I will have nothing left to keep me here. Seattle, maybe? San Francisco? London? Maybe a new location every year, if my work enables that kind of mobility. But these are all desperate ideas, since I’m honestly clueless about how to plan my future family/self goals. I guess I don’t really know what I should want.

Heading somewhere maybe who knows?

Health: I’m still doing what I should. I exercise daily (running a lot, going to the gym, and occasional tennis Meetups). I eat a mostly plant-based flexitarian diet. My weight is still in the ideal range, and my clothes fit well. I sleep regularly, see the doc regularly, my iron levels are finally within normal range, so my hair is growing again. Yay! I focus on self-care. I don’t have any bad habits to break. I feel good, and content, and just happy enough, most of the time.

Future health goals: I guess I just want more of the same.

Relationship: Last year, I had a wonderful, fulfilling, far-too-short relationship with the man who was perfect for me in every possible way. I pictured a future with him. I pictured an amazing future with him.

Future relationship goals: There will never be anyone who can take his place. I have zero interest in even trying. I do not plan to ever be in any kind of romantic relationship or date anyone else ever again, so I can cross this one off for the rest of my life.

Travel: Luckily, my kids and I have been able to do a bit of fun traveling within our state within the past several years. Yosemite, Disneyland, lots of beaches, and plenty of great day trips and camping trips. I also got to travel vicariously when my daughter went to China for ten days.

Future travel goals: I hope to travel out of the country at last within the next five years. I just have to figure out how we’re paying for kids’ colleges first. I’d also like to return to New York City for a visit, hopefully with my kids. I’m also considering doing a RunDisney 1/2 marathon one day with my daughter, mostly because running in costume is more fun than no costume.

Somewhere in between the big goals, I sometimes throw in a small, short-term goal or two. But to be honest, I don’t have any tangible small goals right now. Sometimes, I feel like I’m running out of ideas. I already have plenty of hobbies — reading, hobbies, watching sports and movies, music, handicrafts…What should I do next when nothing else seems particularly interesting or fun or useful? It seems so lukewarm to me, to plan to do something just for the sake of saying, “I’ve done that.” Where is the joy or meaning in that? Is it just to make conversations more interesting for you people who have friends? Is it meaningful because you work toward these goals with people you’re close to?

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I guess I could plan to do new things just to have something to blog about, to make my blog posts more meaningful. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I blog about the goal I’ve accomplished which had great meaning to me somehow? I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, etc.

Be! All That You Can Be! (aka: Personal Mission Statement)

got purpose

I grew up with one foot on each side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. During the week, my brother, sister, and I lived in the east bay with my mom and stepdad. And every other Friday evening, our mom drove across the bay to drop us off at our dad’s house in the city.

 

emeryville mudflat sculpture

 

That meant a lot of time stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A lot of time munching Happy Meals in the car, admiring the Emeryville Mud Flat sculptures through the window, and trying not to drive Mom bonkers. Once in a while, our favorite commercial would come on the radio, and we kids would belt out the jingle at the top of our lungs.

“BE! ALL THAT YOU CAN BE! YOU CAN DO IIIIT! IN THE AAAARRR-MY!”

No, none of us had future aspirations of joining the military. There was just something about those lyrics. The excitement. The passion. The promise of possibility. If you just do this thing, then you can grow to become all that you can be.

Be all that you can be. Just like I can’t forget singing that jingle at the top of my lungs as a kid, that idea has stuck with me throughout life. Each one of us was born with a certain measure of potential. We all have talents — some well-honed, some raw, and some yet undiscovered. We each have gifts, whether they are the skills we gain from developing our talents, or some special spark in our personalities just waiting to catch fire. And every one of us is capable of growing, of taming those gifts and using them to enrich our lives, and the lives of others. To achieve excellence. To be all that we can be.

Mission-Vision-and-GoalsEarlier today, I attended a leadership class in which we explored our strengths and weaknesses, passions, goals, and values. Then we took those pieces we identified and spent time crafting our personal mission statements. For many, this was a very challenging exercise; one that may take much more time to complete and get just right. For me, the pieces of the puzzle linked together almost like magic, until my personal mission statement appeared on the page; the phrase which captures who I am, what I value, and what I hope to achieve in life.

“To share my gifts with others, to live as a positive example and inspiration to those around me, to be all that I can be, and to find joy in the journey.”

That’s it. Me in a nutshell. My life’s purpose, in one neat quote.

Steven R. Covey, author of the iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, considers a personal mission statement “like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.” Others who tout the importance of a personal mission statement suggest memorizing it, or hanging it up in one’s home or office as a daily reminder of your sense of mission.

So how do you go about creating a personal mission statement?

  • Determine your core values. What is most important to you in life? Family? Faith? Creativity? Generosity?
  • Identify your contributions. What do you want to do? What are you passionate about? Giving back to your community? Climbing the career ladder? Raising happy kids?
  • Set your goals. Be sure that these are tangible and attainable. Which goals matter most to you?

Finally, take what you have discovered about yourself and use this to create your own personal mission statement. It may help to read some examples of other mission statements, for inspiration. Remember that there is no right or wrong mission statement. This is your baby. You own it. Also keep in mind — your personal mission statement is not set in stone. It is okay to revisit it and refine it from time to time, as your goals, priorities, and values may shift.

personal mission statement example

You will know that your personal mission statement is just right when you believe in it; when it expresses the core of who you are.  Now write your phrase on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror. Add it to a bookmark. Repeat the words to yourself when you need to get back on track to achieving your goals. Or shout it at the top of your lungs like a kid on a road trip. Whatever works. Let your personal mission statement be a lighthouse to guide you home, and to help you in your quest to be all that you can be.

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

A Souffle is Not a Life Goal (aka: Pondering the 5yr Plan)

“What is your dream?”

future aheadOne of my coworkers wrote this question on the top of a large white board that hangs outside his cubicle. Over the course of a few days, other workers stopped by to scrawl their ideas on the board, some realistic, some not so much. I paused a few times just to stare at the blank white space, as though waiting for inspiration to appear below the colorful writing.

But nothing came.

What is your dream? Sometimes, I look around the internet and begin to feel left out of this whole passion movement. “Follow your passion.” “Don’t give up on your dream.” “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I feel a flutter of panic – wait, I’m supposed to have a dream? I’m supposed to have some specific, long-range goal that fills me with fire whenever I think about it? But what if, right this moment, all I have is a half-dozen lukewarm short-term goals? I would really like, for example, to learn how to cook a soufflé. Does that count as a dream? Is it healthy to crave a simple glass of water, or must I desire the entire lake? perfect cheese souffle

It isn’t that I never have large goals. I have set and fulfilled some rather large goals in my life, which were important to me at one time or another along the journey. But now?

Then I had a bright idea – Pinterest! Surely Pinterest can help me to organize my muddled dreams and goals for the future. Okay, I’m totally kidding. Except for the occasional awesome recipe (like soufflés, for example) or hilarious joke, I mostly find Pinterest a dull way to spend time. But the other day, a particular post jumped out at me: The 5-Year Plan. So I clicked the link, and found this:

5-Year Plan Template

Well, that seems so simple. It should be easy to make a 5-year plan, right?

Wrong.

It was far easier to come up with tentative, bucket-list style plans that may or may not ever happen. It is far, far harder to make attainable, realistic, mid-range plans, especially if you also have to muster up some passion about them.

Career – This is the simplest. Finish earning my two college degrees and a couple more IT certs. Get a decent, full-time, well-paying job in the industry – preferably one that will lead me down the Systems Admin/Network Admin trail. This is definitely my career goal. Am I confident about it? Absolutely. Passionate? Some days.

Financial – This totally depends on the career goal.

Social – Umm…next?

Family – Well, I’ve already got this great family with my three great kids and me. Adding a dog would be cool, if our landlord allowed it. I hesitate to use university as a family goal, since a college education should be my children’s goal for their lives, not mine.

Health – Stay healthy. Keep on keepin’ on.

Relationship – Nada.

Travel – This is the only life goal that really gets my heart pumping. I have a long list of places I am dying to visit. But within 5 years? That all depends on financial goals, which all depend on career goals. So it is really hard to invest energy into getting passionate about it.

After pondering this plan, I also perused a few other websites about creating a 5-Year Plan. But the ideas were quite similar. Decide where your passions lie (Travel, doing fun things with my kids, my career path, writing). Write out a 5-year plan. Then create short-term objectives toward reaching that goal. Since the only solid plan I made had to do with career, the next step was easy: get off the computer and do your homework, dummy!

The perfect soufflé can wait.

So Many Poppies (aka: Follow the Yellow Brick Road)

wicked witch of the west

I’d be all, “Why are you green?”

I would have made a terrible Dorothy Gale.

Let’s just say that if a giant twister had picked up me instead of her and transported me to the magical land of Oz, then we’d be looking at a whole ‘nother story.

For starters, I would have questioned everything. Was the tornado actually a wormhole to another dimension, or am I lying in a coma and experiencing all of this in my mind? Did the Munchkins relocate to Munchkinland on their own accord, like some sort of Little People Cult Compound, or were they segregated from the rest of Oz society and banished there like Native Americans to a reservation? Also – does Glinda the so-called Good Witch really expect me to hike for miles along a brick road while wearing uncomfortable, tacky pumps that had just been on the feet of a dead woman?

magic sneakers

Still tacky, but probably a lot more comfortable than the slippers.

I’ll just walk in my bare feet, thanks.

Then there’s that little issue of people. Er…or whatever one would call the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale was clearly not an INTJ. Would I have stopped to help the Scarecrow down from his stake or offered oil to the Tin Man? Well, maybe. But I doubt I’d start telling them all my business, the way naïve, trusting little Dorothy does. Because you never know who might be hiding beneath that friendly scarecrow mask.

True, they turn out to be good guys. And true – they discover that the four of them have a shared goal of reaching the Emerald City, and so help each other along the path. Kind of like Harry Potter and friends, supporting one another through their years at Hogwarts and beyond.

Huh. Guess that makes me like Voldemort. Only without the evil and horcruxes and megalomania.

The other problem I would have if I were in Dorothy’s place is the poppies. Those lovely poppies, blooming so innocently along the path. See, that is already an issue for me at times. The Emerald City always glows in the distance like a giant jewel. Maybe it is the goal of completing a novel and getting it published. Maybe it is finishing my second-time-around college education. Or some other huge life goal. And all I have to do is stay on the yellow brick road. See yellow bricks? Keep walking forward. Keep studying the things it will take to establish you in your new career field. Keep writing and editing your novel.

sleeping in the poppiesBut then, there are those damned poppies.

Other exciting things to study that are not related to my career. Brainless television shows and book candy. Writing countless stories and blog posts and poems that are not my novel. And okay, it’s not so bad to stop and gather a few every now and then. But sometimes, I lose sight of the bricks. Off I go, skipping across another field of poppies, until I am completely distracted and filled with the intoxicating fragrance, until yawn…I just want to take a nap and forget about responsibilities and goals and…what novel? Zzzzz…

Dorothy needed a nudge to wake her up and set her back on her path. Luckily, she had the watchful eye of Glinda the Good Witch, who sent down soft, cold snowflakes to revive her (and her apparently good-for-nothing friends, who fell asleep, too). And hooray! They were back on track, and on their way to the Emerald City.

Follow the yellow brick road

Sometimes, I need a random snowfall to shock me awake, too. Or maybe an alarm clock. Or hypnotherapy. Whatever it takes to make sure that I stop playing in the stupid poppies and get back on my merry way. Because the Emerald City awaits. And the only thing that’s going to get me there is the power of my own two feet – ruby slippers or no ruby slippers.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It (aka My Dream Job)

Maggie Q as NikitaI have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. My dream job is to be a spy. It is such an ideal career for someone like me! Just imagine – I could live overseas, speak different languages, wear cool disguises, and spend my time deciphering codes, solving puzzles, and extracting sensitive information all in order to protect our nation’s security. And maybe I’d even get to do occasional amazing things, like skydiving at night, or rappelling down the sides of buildings, or sparring with bad guys who get in my way.

Well, unfortunately, I discovered my dream career a few years too late. Apparently, the CIA does not hire people over the age of 35 to work as Operations Officers. And also, it’s not the kind of job that goes well with parenting three kids.

Sydney Bristow Alias

Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, the best female TV spy ever (in my opinion)

My inner child is crying. “Waaah! I wanted to be Sydney Bristow! So unfair!” The life of espionage is so seductive. And is it any wonder? Film and TV role models of female spies, like Sydney Bristow, Nikita, and yes, even Foxxy Cleopatra are super sexy, intelligent, and independent. Plus, they can kill a man with their bare hands. Plus, they get to use high-tech gadgets like tubes of lipstick that take photos and lift secret files from an enemy’s computer. And they get to do all of this while wearing disguises, like Spy Barbies.

Beyonce as Foxxy Cleopatra

But alas, such a life is not meant for me. I guess it’s just as well. I’m actually scared to death of heights and could never bring myself to jump out of a plane to complete a mission. Guess I will have to face the fact that I am only a typical soccer and gym mom, teacher, and suburb dweller who bakes fresh bread and never does anything out of the ordinary.

Or am I?Spy hiding