The thing about birthdays

Today's a rare occasion which calls for a rare blog post. It's my birthday! Yay!

(all pictures were taken today, on my best birthday ever, doing all the things I love)

But I haven't always reacted to the 23rd of December that way. Ever since I turned twelve, it's been kind of a touchy subject, and now it's turned into a family joke. Yesterday when the clock was about to tick 00:00, my parents asked: "So, any age crises or hate speeches about your birthday planned?"

Okay, so I should probably tell you what happened on my birthday seven years ago.

It begins with little girl with a big dream. At that time I wanted to be a singer. I'd participated in my school's talent shows and little contests, but I was completely ready to make it in the real world (or so I thought, but who could've told me that bullying and a severe case of stage fright would get to me so hard just two years after that... But that's a whole other story for another time).

At that twelfth birthday begun a habit that's been tormenting my birthdays ever since: thinking about everyone my age who've achieved much cooler things in their lives than me and hating on everything I've done all my life. (You know how you sometimes stop to think about some stupid thing you said three years ago. It was like that, but even cringier.)

I know, sad. Kids all around the world have much worse problems and there I was complaining that I'd survived yet another year.

So that was how it went down each year after that. Last year it started well, but then I wrote a list of twenty or so points about why my birthday was the worst day of the year and then presented it in front of my whole family and cried.

But that's where this year's birthday comes in. Why is it any different this time?

During this year I've really worked on myself. Most importantly self respect and self love. When December came around and I started planning what to do on my birthday, I also started making a mental list of all the reasons my birthday is the BEST day of the year.

I realized my birthday isn't the day to hate on myself and belittle all my accomplishments.

That's what New Years is for.

Just kidding.

I just had to stop taking things so seriously. I don't have to grow up just because I'm a legal adult (have been for a year... wow, I'm old) . That says nothing about what things I can like or what I can do on my free time (except that as an adult I can go to night clubs and stuff, so I guess that's kinda cool).

My birthday is the best day of the year because it's a celebration of how far I've come, of all the things I've done and all the fears I've overcome. It may be a slow progress sometimes, but that's totally okay. Nineteen years isn't even 20% of my entire life.

I don't need to have everything figured out yet. I don't need to be a teen author or find success before my twenties to be worth some fun and  have right to celebrate my birthday.

And if Peter Pan thinks I'm too old for Neverland, I'll just have to build my own.

Which is super awesome, and possible, because of all the things I've done and gone through during these 19 years. The thing about birthdays is that they're everything you make them.

In a way, they're just like regular days. Just a little more special. Because cake. (although I could just eat cake every day since I'm so grown up. Aww yeah)

So happy birthday, me. In your own weird way, you're pretty awesome.

Share this with someone who hates their birthday, or just struggles with growing up as much as I do :)

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!


No writing progress: reinventing myself

Nearly every post I've made on instagram for the past month has been full of apologies. Apologies for not writing enough, for not sharing my journey enough, for not inspiring people enough. I've felt like I'm not BEING enough.

The truth is that I've felt inadequate to speak, to write, to feel and to do pretty much anything. One of the worst feelings ever is to never be satisfied with oneself.

In many ways, I've also become much better at appreciating and loving myself this year, but this fall has been one of the toughest few months of my life.

So much has happened, and the first memories that pop into my mind are the happiest moments I've ever been blessed with. They feel glazed-over, blurry almost, as if they weren't really mine. They feel like surreal dreams and ever so often I have to pinch myself to remember how amazing life has been to me, and how much I've grown and learned this year.

I was beyond excited for university, to be a real adult and enter the big world of possibilities, wonder and the awesomeness I'd only read about in books and seen in movies—the kind of stuff I didn't really think I'd be able to experience myself.

I wrote full-time for a few months in the spring, launched my website, traveled multiple times without my family, made incredible new friends, said goodbyes and hellos, danced til 3 am (and then realized I had no idea how to get back home). This year I've seen myself become much braver. 

There were days when the introverted part of me wanted to crawl under a rock and stay there forever, and days when I hated the idea of going to school because everyone else where so much more talented, experienced and able to say things without tripping over words and forgetting how to say normal phrases in Finnish.

Most of those days I did what I had to anyway, tried to ignore those feelings but still felt guilty for them. I had every single reason in the world to be the happiest girl on earth. Why was I still hurting? Why couldn't I act like everyone else? And why in the world was I so tired and sick all the time?!

Some days I escaped, hid away, pushed things forward or just didn't do them at all. Some days it wasn't my choice.  I was sick a lot and had problems with my health all the time. It was a good excuse when I couldn't physically write. But most days I couldn't write, talk to anyone or not even face the real world because I didn't feel good enough to even exist.

I like to think of myself as a self-aware person who listens and cares about herself. But this fall has made me realize that I lie to myself all the time. I lie that I'm fine and that I'll just do everything I need to do tomorrow, until it just becomes too much and I can't do simple, normal things because I break so hard.

These past few months have basically only consisted of cycles of me tearing myself apart and gluing myself back together.

The truth is that I haven't been able to write for about two months. The truth is that I don't want to write instagram posts and lie about writing when all I can write is one line and then close the document because it makes me so guilty. I felt lazy and I hated myself for it. I was a terrible procrastinator, but the things I did to avoid writing were also kind of necessary to cope with the rest of my life.

I'm not sure exactly what to think of myself right now, but luckily I still have time to figure out who I want to be in 2018. There's one week left until my nineteenth birthday, and I'll spend this time doing things I love—which includes writing on my novel and reminding myself of how much I love it, painting and crafting Christmas presents for my loved ones.

Who I have been the past year or who I am right now doesn't really matter.

Why glue together broken pieces when I could get a completely new, shiny vase? :)

This won't be my last post of 2017, that's a promise. No more apologies, no more guilt and no more feelings of not being enough.

You're perfectly enough the way you are, and so am I. All you really need to do is to smile more, because there won't ever come a day when the world won't need the joy you have to give.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

How to get unstuck

I have had a problem for the last two weeks. I've been sick and all sorts of other things have been going on as well. So I kind of lost my writing and productivity groove. Now I feel like I have so much to get back on track on, that there's no chance i'll be able to do everything. And all my life, I've had the problem of having too much to do, but now it's even worse. 

We all have a different definition of what success is to us. Some think it's money. Some think it's fame. But something we all could agree on is that it takes productivity to get success. Luck is a thing, but it's rare, and you can't count on it. 
So we have to do things to get somewhere. 

But what if you feel stuck, and can't get anything done? 

If you're in a rut, unable to fill in all the little boxes in your great, endless to-do list, here is what you should do: 

1. Reevaluate your goals. 

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can do in a month (Tim Ferriss).

New Year is not the only time to think of and set goals. To be productive, you have to be constantly reevaluating and re-prioritizing. It's not enough to do it once, twice or even five times a year.

If you feel like you can't get anything done, the problem is often in your goals. Either they're too big, or your priorities are wrong. One tip I heard some time ago was that you should set three goals per year, three goals per month and three goals per week. This way you can always see how your smaller goals fit with your big ones, and if you're actually getting any progress.

After you think about your goals and make changes, you also need to make a new plan to achieve them.

You have to take small steps every day, and we have a plan to know what those steps are.

If you want to write a novel, it's easier to chop the amount of work into smaller chunks, like chapters or scenes. With a plan that consists of small goals, your bigger goals feel more achievable. If you do not yet have a plan for your goals, make one. Like, now.

2. Focus on one thing at a time. 

I have a problem with trying to do everything at once. We call it multitasking, but a more suiting term would be productivity-murdering. Instead, if you try to focus on one thing at a time and give that task all of your attention, you'll get it done much faster, and it will also give you a self confidence boost to help you in your next task. 

As you make your plan for reaching your goals, prioritize. Try to be focused and finish tasks one at a time.

Let me repeat that because this is important:

Finish tasks one at a time.

3. Change your environment. 

When I feel like a scene is particularly difficult to write, I often go to write in a different location. I am not sure about the psychology of it, but it always helps. Changing your surroundings will change your mindset for productivity. Even if it's just a different room, or a different part of the room, going somewhere else for a moment will definitely help with your productivity. 

Also, when you're taking a break, don't stay in the same place. Go for a walk, look out the window for a while or go into another room and stretch or something. This will help your mind clear up as you get back to work, and you can see what you're creating in a different way. 

4. Set a timer. 

If your workload feels overwhelming, you should set the timer for 20 minutes, work as hard as you can for that time period, and then take a break. This technique is also called the pomodoro technique, and it has become more popular in recent years. 

Ever since my first Nanowrimo, I've done writing sprints. What you do is that you take your timer, set it for 5-30 minutes, and then write until the timer sets off. In Nanowrimo it is often a fun competition, where you see how many words you can write in that time and then compare your results to your writing buddies'. 

It's not only super fun, but it's helped me win Nanowrimo two times. It makes writing much easier, and faster, too. 

5. Clean up. 

This sounds weird, but cleaning or arranging helps with getting unstuck. I often it do by accident as a way to procrastinate, but afterwards I am able to be so much more productive.

As writers, we are often messy people, and our desks are full of piles of maps, character profiles, timelines, chapter outlines and loose post-it notes. Just cleaning those piles into a folder can help you organize your mind.

While you organize, your brain has time to process the information in front of you and the information already in your head. There are so many things to remember when writing a book that sometimes your mind gives up and gets blocked.

Just like running helps you clear your mind and get energized, cleaning helps you sort all the information into the right places so that your brain can keep working. 

I hope these tips help you get unstuck, if you're feeling like you're getting nowhere. I'm going through a period like this right now, and writing these things down and finally getting a blog post out really helped me get back into the productivity groove of things.

Sometimes you just have to force yourself to do stuff, especially if it's hard. Because if you really want something, you will have enough willpower. Even if it feels impossible. 

When you are overwhelmed, simplify. In the end, it's really not that complicated. If you want results, you need to work for them. If you want to have finished product, you need to finish it. 

Really, it's that simple.

And when you feel like there are a thousand things on your plate, it's very hard to see that it's actually not as impossible as your brain makes it out to be. You are in control of yourself, and you can do anything. 

See you soon! I'd love to hear about the results you get with these techniques. Please comment below and tell me if they are helpful to you, and what I might have missed :)

Love, Em.

Aim Higher

This blog post was inspired by the 2016 movie Hidden Figures.

Katherine Johnson: I will have you know, I was the first negro female student at West Virginia university graduate school. On any given day, I analyze the binomial levels air displacement, friction and velocity. And compute over ten thousand calculations by cosine, square root and lately analytic geometry. By hand. There are twenty, bright, highly capable negro women in the west computing group, and we're proud to be doing our part for the country. So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it's not because we wear skirts. It's because we wear glasses. Have a good day.

So, first off, if you haven't seen this amazing movie about these incredible, inspiring three women, you're missing out. Hidden Figures was thought-provoking, heartwarming, empowering and gave me so much to think about. It not only touched on topics like racism, discrimination, equality and motherhood, but also chasing one's dreams and aiming higher--even as far as the moon.

I was so shocked at how I'd never heard about these women before, but while the unfairness of their entire situation made my brain boil, I got so inspired by their stories and the message: to aim higher.

Aim higher.

As children, our imaginations run wild and free, giving us aspirations and dreams higher than the skies. We don't doubt ourselves when we're little. As a kid, I used to say I wanted to be a mermaid, a princess, a warrior, a wizard, a pirate, an artist. Adults laughed sweetly and smiled at these dreams. If I'd say the same things as a grown-up, I'd be labeled insane.

So maybe I don't want to be a princess anymore. But I still have big dreams--big enough to make some people give me either a frown or a laugh when I talk about them. Because I'm naive like a child.

Hidden Figures is based on the book by the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly, which I haven't read, but I LOVE this quote:

“Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status--none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions.”

We live in a world of restrictions and unfairness. But our mindsets could change it into a world of possibility and equality. It all happens in our heads. To think like these three women is to have courage and hope. They were not satisfied with how they were treated, how they were underestimated and run over. Gracefully, they respected the system, but worked their way around it.

The world is more fair than it was back then (though we should definitely not underestimate the problems which still exist and cause suffering for so many people), but there are different things holding us back now.

Time. Money. Family. Toxic relationships. Work. Social standards.

We are protected, and restricted, by a society which has a tendency to favor those who work themselves to depression, lose their dreams and forget their reasons to live. We are robots, walking with our devices in our hands, worrying about more than our brains can handle, sleeping less, laughing less, loving less. We are unhappy. Suicide rates are rising. We are afraid of terrorism. Of poverty. Hunger. War.

Is that how far we've come? Or rather, how far backwards we've gone--from a world of insecurity... to a world of insecurity?

Katherine, Mary and Dorothy aimed for the moon. What are we aiming for? 

As a society, we should be aiming for security, equality, peace. Malala Yousafzai fights for education, because education is what changes the world. She is an incredible person, who I need to meet at least once in my life. Malala has said: "Let us pick up our books and pencils. They are our most powerful weapon." I'm a writer. If I would've never been taught to read and write, my life would be full of emptiness and I'd be a lost girl without passion or dreams. 

I believe in the power of stories. Hidden Figures tells a story that I needed to hear, and it's one of the most important and inspiring films I've seen in a very long time. Shouldn't we all live lives that are worth making movies about and tell stories worth telling--stories capable of changing the world?

Aim higher in everything you do.

I want to do something that has meaning. I want to have an impact. From looking at the state of our current world, there's a lot that needs to be changed. 

One scene I'll never forget is when Mary Jackson is at court, convincing the judge to allow her to study night courses at an all white high school, so that she can become an engineer for NASA. Mary had the kind of spirit and determination I want to have, and that I want others around me to have as well.

We're not alone.

We're together so that we can inspire and lift each other up. Educate each other. Care for each other. Love each other. Laugh with each other.

To aim higher is to do something we've never done before. It's scary, but the scariest things are the most impactful--the most important. We cannot underestimate the power we all have. We cannot keep each other from doing things, from growing stronger and following our dreams. We should all aim higher, by lifting each other up.

We all need to strive to be more like Dorothy Vaughan. Like Katherine Johnson. Like Mary Jackson. To be the first. To change things. If not to get to the moon, then at least to make Earth a better place.

This blog post was the most difficult one I've ever written. Because this topic is so important, I had to rewrite, restructure and rework it for three months before I finally fought my perfectionism and clicked publish. Your words matter more than you know, and you need to put them out there even if you don't feel like you're capable of it. You are. You matter.

Please share this and keep writing the words that shout to be written--the thoughts that make your heart beat and keep you up at night.

Em. :)