Don't Wear Yourself Out

I know, I know, I've been pushing you to add in more research and time to write, so why am I saying "Don't wear yourself out?" Seems contradictory, doesn't it? I limit my number of applications each year to only one or two major programs, and perhaps a few small applications (e.g. for conference scholarships) sprinkled in. Much more than that and I feel like I'm depleting my resources. 

We know a few dance and yoga teachers who go full speed ahead, teaching five, six, seven, eight classes a week. But inevitably, they all hit a wall. And they don't come down softly. It's like juggling too many balls until they all crash at the same time. You don't have time for crash, let alone have a backup plan for the downfall. It just happens where things all unravel at the same time. 

Spare yourself, it's not a pretty picture. Applying for a fellowship, scholarship, or grant takes a large toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's better to save up your creative juices and focus on the few big things that you want instead of tossing your valuable energy to the four directions. Once you have those refined applications, you can always come back to them and alter them for another project later. 

Save up your motivation and your passion for what you truly want to be doing. It will shine through the writing and the project, which will make you a better applicant. Plus, working on the application will be more fun that way!

Ten Minutes a Day

I've said for a long time that I wanted to learn guitar. I thought I'd have time to do it when my husband and I lived in a National Park (where there was no internet, tv or cell reception). I certainly had the time, but I didn't dedicate the time. Last month, an event renewed my interest in making this goal happen. I voiced my interest to my dad, a musician, and within a few weeks, he turned up at my door with a guitar he'd bought for me. 

That evening, I kept in mind that I'd pick up the guitar and start learning as soon as I finished making dinner . . . as soon as dinner was cleaned up . . . as soon as I'd put my daughter to bed. And you can probably guess, I never got around to playing that evening. The time in the evenings is just too tight. 

So what did I do? I brought the guitar to work with me the next day and just pulled it out for ten minutes during my lunch break. I only practice about ten minutes a day, and only on week days, but it's beginning to pay off (thanks to YouTube tutorials and encouragement from my patient coworkers). 

So how does this relate to getting funded? If you wait until you HAVE the time to work on researching or preparing your application, it's never going to get done. You have a leg up in that you don't need to buy the instrument to get started. You already have what you need! So find that ten minutes in your day that you can use to make an investment in yourself. 

Does This Fit?

On Saturday, I was nominated to be the president of the New Mexico Fulbright Association. I have been a member of the board for the past two years so taking turns as president is a logical thing, but before I accepted the nomination I asked myself, "Does this fit?"

What do I mean by that? If you read my blog post last week, To Volunteer or Not to Volunteer, you'll know that I'm not an advocate of just piling on exracurriculars to pad my resume. If I'm going to dedicate even more of my precious spare time to things outside of family and self-care, then there has to be a compelling reason. There will always be more demands on me than I'm able to fulfill so "giving a good no," as Dr. Christine Carter likes to say, is important. 

So what criteria did I use for this decision:

1) What are the time requirements? After talking with the current president, it seems like the officers work collectively on planning events, so not many things are the president's responsibility alone. 

2) Does this make sense in the trajectory of my future goals? I know that I would like to apply for another Fulbright at some point and showing my continued dedication to the program will be beneficial in that application. 

3) Can I do this job well? Again, I wanted to talk more with the current president to know the goals of the Association (the national direction recently changed). If I didn't have ideas about how to improve the organization, I shouldn't take the job of setting the tone. See my post from last year about leadership lessons.

After considering these questions, I decided that running for president of the association would be a good fit for me. Even though some decisions seem obvious (or obviously a good thing), it's always good to take at least 24 hours and see how it fits with you. Let me know if you've experienced similar decision-making processes yourself, I'd love to hear!

There is No Such Thing as a "GOOD" First Draft

When I was writing my book, I joined a writing class that gave us time to dedicate to our work. The first part of the day was for talking about our processes and then the rest of the day was dedicated to just . . . writing. Some people um'd and ah'd about what to write, but I quickly learned that I just needed to get going. The best lesson from this class was: there are no good first drafts. 

If you are finally at the stage of putting some ideas down on paper, don't be intimidated. The first words you ever write will probably be long gone by the time you actually submit your application, but you have to start somewhere. Oftentimes, writing things down can help you think abut exactly what you want (and need) to say. It's a tool to clarify your thought processes. 

In my office, I work with some extremely talented people. For weeks, even months, two of my colleagues have been brain-storming a management plan. They round and round, talking about the components and the structure and the desired outcome. This week, I had the pleasure of being asked my opinion on their process. "Just start writing it," I told them, "you have been thinking this thing to death and it's time to put it on paper." The next day, they started writing. At lunch, I asked how it was going. "It's almost too easy, I feel like we're leaving something out," they told me. I posed an alternative, "Or maybe all your planning and talking about it made it so that the work is actually done and all was left was to write it out."

If you're waiting until you have everything figured out to start writing, you'll be waiting forever. Sit your butt down and get a draft done. It'll be a start, but from there, you'll overcome the hurdle "starting" your application and coming back to revise your thoughts will be much easier. I promise. Give it a try. 

Decorate Yourself

I bet you are really good at something. It might take you a minute after reading that sentence to think of what that is, but I know you do something better than most people you know. What is that thing? Have you ever been recognized for it? One of the things that I love about fellowships, scholarships and grants is that you can finally get noticed and congratulated for doing something that you already know how to do. 

Maybe the thing you do is obscure, like some exotic instrument or type of singing. Maybe it's something you can't possibly imagine getting funded for. But after researching literally thousands of grants, I can tell you that you'd be amazed at what types of funds are out there. 

Take a chance, look into finding a fellowship or scholarship that would compliment your unique skillset. You might be surprised. This could be your chance to decorate yourself with an accolade that nobody else can claim. 

What Gets You Down?

This week has been a very emotional week for me. My sensitivity radar has shock off the charts for some reason so all the news and daily interactions that usually pass me by have been getting me very down. As I tell my daughter all the time, everybody has feelings and it's normal to feel ALL of the emotions from joy to anger to fear. It would be really weird to not feel those things. And yet, when I'm feeling like the world is falling apart, I have to remind myself that everybody has ups and downs. 

Sometimes the downs have lasted a long time for me. Months, even close to years, but then the ups come again. So what is good about a down? For one, it makes you appreciate the ups more. Like when you experience a harsh winter, you are so much more grateful for the warmth of summer. But it can also let you tap into motivation. If something gets you so down, perhaps the only way to get out of the sorrow is by doing something about it. Your DOWN could become your UP. 

Brainstorm some things that make you feel down (I know, if you're not in a down spot, thinking about the downs is the last thing you want to do). But just generally jot down some ideas of things that have made you sad or hopeless in the past. Then think about something you can take action to do about it. There may be the seed of something brilliant in those negative feelings, it just takes some investigating!

Making Your Passion Persuasive

In ninth grade, we were assigned to write a paper on something we were passionate about. Even back then, I felt so violated and distressed about how humans treat mother nature. I wrote about how we needed, as a species, to change the way that our selfish behaviors destroy the planet. I got a C- on my report. I completely shut down, thinking that my topic was stupid or unworthy. In fact, it was how I stated my feelings. 

Capture Your Passion

Capture Your Passion

In order to be successful and persuasive in the fellowships sphere, you have to CARE about something. Passion drives you study and pursue a topic, but oftentimes our feelings block logical argument and articulate dialogue. This certainly happens to me when I try to calmly discuss politics. 

This also happened to me when wrote the first draft of my Fulbright statement of purpose essay. I wanted to describe how beautiful the Senegalese culture is. And yet, the words were so . . . dull. I couldn't articulate my feelings of love, sophistication, implication in an essay form because they were just so visceral to me. Not being able to describe how the dance made me feel was a just roadblock. 

If you are lucky enough to be passionate about something, how do you transform it into a document or relatable form? I think it helps to bounce ideas off of other people. When you have a vision in your head, it's hard to know which parts of it are coming across when you describe it. Write down, or talk about your topic and then have someone who is unfamiliar with the subject read or hear it. Ask them to repeat back what they heard, and start to note the gaps in the story. 

Having a passion is one of the great joys and distresses in life. Caring so deeply about the planet, or protecting children from abuse, or an element of culture is a gift. So try to use that gift to make a difference in the world. But don't get discouraged if your first attempt to communicate falls flat.  

When You Are Not the BEST

As a parent, I have learned that encouraging kids to have a growth mind-set is more important than outright praise. What do I mean by that? Instead of saying, "you're so smart!" or "you won!" say, "you worked really hard on that, even if you didn't get a good grad." This type of encouragement fosters the belief that a person's most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work (instead of just innately being good at a subject).

Even if you have fostered this belief in yourself, you will usually never be the best at what you strive to do. This can be discouraging, especially when you're trying to convince yourself that you deserve a large fellowship or scholarship. That nagging voice in your mind might try to stop you before you even start, cutting you down by saying, "why even bother when there are so many more qualified people who should get this?" 

But don't let the voice (which you have control over) squander your talents. You may never be the premier scholar or activist or teacher, but you have something unique to offer. 

When I was writing my book, Funded!, I was about two months into the process when I saw on my friend's desk, The Ultimate Guide to Grants (or some such title). My stomach dropped but I asked if I could borrow it. This was pretty much the book I wanted to write, wasn't it? I sat with the book by my computer for a few days, feeling depressed, but one day I jumped into the fear and cracked it open. As I skimmed through the chapter headings, too nervous to actually delve into the info, I realized this wasn't the same book I wanted to write. This was about getting funding for non-profits. I had something different, and unique, to contribute to this field that was not addressed in the tome. 

When you are beginning the process of looking into funding, your nagging mind might unhelpfully present more qualified applicants (I know a few of my outrageously extraordinary friends kept popping into my thoughts as I applied for my Fulbright). But come back to thinking about what makes you special and what combination of experiences give you a different angle than practically anybody else out there. 

You may never be the best person to win a fellowship (or write a book), but something inside you deserves a chance to try. So remember the qualities that you, only you, can offer to the world. 

Surprises Await

When I talk to groups about my book, Funded!, I liken the process of getting fellowships to getting a wonderful present. You know how wonderful it is to get a box on your doorstep? I think that secretly we all order things online so we can forget it was us who bought the thing; we can pretend someone else bought us a present. So how wonderful is it to get a "gift" in the mail? Now imagine that it's a letter saying, "Congratulations! We have selected you to be a _______(program of choice) Fellow!" Or even better yet, imagine that it's a check for $500 or $1000 or $25000? How awesome would that be? This has happened to me and each time, it's the most wonderful feeling. 

Working on fellowship applications is not easy. It's an arduous process that takes many months in most cases. But the rewards are plentiful. And best of all, if you submit multiple applications every year, a surprise could be waiting for you at any time. Planting these seeds of joy that could explode into your life unexpectedly is the best present you could give yourself. Try it out, get my book Funded! from any of the vendors listed on my site

When Less (time) is More

Have you ever found that when you have a small amount of time to get something done, you're more motivated? This is certainly how it works for me. I used to block off whole days to get assignments done or designate a whole weekend to cleaning out the shed. But really, when I am pressed for time, I'm more efficient. 

When I was writing my book, Funded!, I gave myself half an hour to write every day. Within that half hour, I aimed to get 500 words written, but if I didn't get exactly that amount, I wouldn't fret. The next day, I would come back and do the same. Had I given myself an hour (or two) to do the same task, I would have sat there not working for half the time and then at the last minute, cranked out the daily limit. 

As my mom says, nothing would get done if there weren't deadlines. And it's true. So if you're looking for time to work on an application (or do the research for your perfect fellowship), give yourself a strict time limit. Designate twenty minutes a day, or use the twenty minutes between tasks to fit in some valuable fellowship time. Giving yourself all day to do this, or worse yet, waiting until you have a whole day free, will get you nowhere. Start today and take just a few minutes to get the ball rolling. Tell me how it goes!