How A Coffee Mug Inspired Me to Write (Again)
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
“A year from now, what will you wish you had done today?” Liam Linisong
The gift shop was the last place my parents and I stopped after perusing the Oklahoma City Museum of Art on my birthday in July 2018. I love a good mug and a good quote, so when I rounded the corner and saw shelves full of mugs featuring quotes, I came to a halt.
Before I could look over all the quotes in bold, black fonts on the smooth, white mugs, my eyes fell upon one in particular, like a beam of light shone on the mug so I would know it was “the one.”
For four years since I examined that mug in the gift shop and claimed as a birthday present to myself, that quote has played a role in my life, reminding me to think about what I want to achieve. What if I took just one step today? A year from now, wouldn’t I be glad I took that one step today?
This quote has come in clutch because I often forget about entire parts of myself and my dreams when I bury myself in my work.
The Dragonfly Home is a non-profit in Oklahoma City that serves human trafficking victim-survivors. I’m one of the Co-founders and the Director of Communications & Development. To be there from the beginning of this organization, building it piece by piece, program by program with my fellow co-founders has been incredible.
I am lucky enough work every single day in a cause I’m passionate about. I work with kind, smart, dedicated people, including my fellow directors and the people on our staff. I have a good amount of freedom to set my own schedule and we organizational leaders encourage self-care, mental health, and a supportive work environment.
My work has, understandably, been all-consuming since we founded in March 2016. I have willingly and gladly thrown every bit of time, energy, and internal resources into building this organization from scratch. How could I not? Dragonfly walks alongside people who have exited from the dark violence and severe trauma of sex trafficking and/or labor trafficking as they courageously navigate healing and pursue an entirely new kind of life of their own choosing. It’s a privilege to do this work.
I don’t regret a single moment I’ve spent working at Dragonfly, and I expect to continue working there for a long time. There’s so much more to do! Dedicating myself to this cause and building this organization is one of most important things—if not the single most important thing—I will do in my life.
My dream job is nonetheless so consuming that I’ve needed this little mug and the words emblazoned on it to remind me that other parts of my life deserve my attention, too.
The first goal my mug prompted me to pursue shortly after I got was my podcast. One year later, by my birthday in 2019, I had published 8 episodes of my podcast. As of September 2021, I had about eighty-five episodes! It’s on hiatus now but it will be making a comeback soon.
The quote comes up at expected intervals, like my birthday (of course), New Year’s Day, and Leap Year (four years from now, what will I wish I’d done today?!). It has prompted me to add a certain exercises to my routine, kick sugar out of my life entirely, and create habits and systems that make life so much easier.
Like clockwork this year, almost four years to the day since I got the birthday mug, the question on the mug popped into my head and stopped me in my mental tracks.
I’d raised my arms in a V-formation, one of the stretches in morning movement routine. I wasn’t thinking about profound goals; I was just trying to wake up while my coffee brewed. Though the mug is in my usual rotation, I didn’t even have to lay eyes that morning on it for the quote to float through my mind.
“A year from now, what will you wish you had done today?” I knew the answer immediately: write.
Write! This word has been a constant refrain in my heart since July 28, 2011 while I was on a flight from Roanoke to Tulsa (that’s a story for another time).
I’ve written significant, though still incomplete projects since then. I might go months without writing, but I can’t escape the call. It’s always in my mind, though sometimes the words feels more faint and far away.
Whenever I write, feel undeniable joy and a sense of freedom in my soul.
Despite that, more often than not I make the decision to allow some kind of work to trump writing. Usually it’s my work for Dragonfly, but sometimes it’s housework or fussing with writing-adjacent work (don’t I need to build my social media to eventually market my as-of-yet unfinished book?). If it isn’t actual works tasks taking up my time, I give into feeling too depleted or too exhausted or too busy to write.
I definitely have the freedom to build habits and create systems to allow myself the time to write. I’m just not making that decision.
But while I want to take personal responsibility for my decisions, I’m starting to realize that I need to have grace with myself.
Recently, a mental health professional suggested that I minimize what I feel and experience because I compare myself to others. My struggles seem paltry in comparison to the enormous challenges that so many other people overcome, like the resilient and determined human trafficking victim-survivors we work with at Dragonfly.
My work of the last six years has been incredibly hectic in the best way possible. So much building and growth, so many new opportunities to apply for funding, train new staff members, reach new audiences. So many wonderful things just over the horizon and the chance to make even more of a difference.
It’s also true that, while it’s often inspiring, my work is emotionally challenging, never-ending, and tiring. I don’t like to mention that part it because I’m so grateful for it. Nevertheless, there have been plenty of challenges to overcome and the stakes of our mission at Dragonfly are incredibly high.
However, things are starting to look different. From brilliant staff members going above and beyond in their positions to creating a new routine for myself, I can see that my life juuuust starting to open up a little bit. I’m realizing that I can live up to my high expectations for myself and my work ethic, as well as have some breathing room for other things.
I think I’m finally in a place where I can legitimately make the commitment to myself to write.
In a conversation I had the other day, I heard myself say, “The commitments I make to myself are very important to me. But when I make some commitments to myself—like writing—I will always break them due to work—even though no one else is asking or expecting me to! It gets so demoralizing that I just don’t even bother making those commitments to myself anymore.”
It was an important revelation.
According to the Four Tendencies framework by Gretchen Rubin (which I love and talk about all the time and through which I see the world), I’m an Upholder. In a nutshell, this means I readily respond to and meet the internal expectations I have for myself and external expectations of others without needing accountability or much convincing. When I make a clearly defined commitment to myself, I can meet it and keep it up without too much fuss.
For example, I’ve made and followed through internal expectations like writing morning pages very regularly; completing a consistent list of chores every weekend that set me up to have a better week; and creating, recording, and producing nearly one-hundred podcast episodes simply because I wanted and decided to.
It may seem overly simple, but all I need to do is decide to make the commitment to myself to write and then make a system to enact it. This process has worked for many so many times, and now that my eyes are opened to this revelation, rays of hope are breaking through my heart that I can finally make this work.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire
I have a no less than a literal (figurative) metric ton of ideas that I want to write, but the priority tugging at my heart is to write for this blog. There’s this sense that writing the blog will lead to these other ideas becoming a reality. Not really sure how or why yet . . . but I know it’s true.
I’ve made a few paltry efforts to post on my blog, but they’ve been sporadic at best. Even though I think often about the blog, I’ve only written a handful of posts over the past few years. Why?
I’ve been letting perfect be the enemy of good.
Any time I even thought about my blog, let alone actually tried writing, a flood of questions filled my mind. What should I call my blog? What categories should I have? How do I organize it? What do I write about? Does it all have to be super important and impactful, or do I just need to freaking start writing whatever is on my mind? Do I need the perfect plan or trust the process that as I write, the plan will come into focus?
My desire to have the perfect blog was keeping me from writing it at all. My heart ached to write, but I wouldn’t let myself because I couldn’t plot out my path perfectly.
I may be unsure about the specifics of my writing, but at least I have plenty of experience taking steps of faith toward the unknown.
Pretty much everything I’ve done has had plenty of things I was unsure about: moving to a new state by myself, going to law school, pursuing anti-human trafficking activism instead of a traditional legal career, founding a nonprofit, and starting a podcast, just to name a few.
One thing I know for sure is that in every single one of these has worked out and I’ve figured things out along the way. I’m a person of faith, so I pray for wisdom and insight. I’ve always received what I needed at the right time, met the right people, gained skills I’ve needed, and successfully navigated twists and turns. Those steps of faith have always resulted in something bigger and better than I ever could’ve expected.
Writing is a new opportunity to exercise my risk-taking muscles and leap into the unknown.
Without getting too precious or finding fault, by giving myself grace and taking personal responsibility, I’ll establish an internal expectation to embark on this new journey. The biggest risk is making the commitment to myself that writing will no longer be a sporadic activity that I only engage in when it’s convenient around my work schedule. Instead, I will make writing a priority, something that I actively make time for.
Mark it: July 9, 2022. One week after my birthday. The fourth anniversary of reading that question by the mysterious Liam Linisong on my mug: “A year from now, what will you wish you had done today?”
A year from now, I won’t just wish I’d started today. I’ll look back at a year’s worth of adventures in writing.