Where is my lab?

It’s not “normal” to take a Tuesday afternoon off to aimlessly explore a colonial city.

It’s not “normal” to go from working on high-priced corporate projects to cheap projects for non-profits.

It’s not “normal” to work two, maybe three hours a day.

It’s not “normal” to fire up the laptop at the hair salon and get a few hundred words out.

It’s not “normal” to consider two-hour lunches with friends the top-most priority of the week. Work meetings be damned.

It’s not “normal” to exercise 5-6 times a week when you’re 30+ weeks pregnant.

None of this is “normal”, but it’s “normal” things — boring obligations, alarm clocks, and time sheets — that I feel myself running from.

If our soul’s cravings are buried under what’s considered “normal”, then uncovering them requires activities way out of the ordinary.

Truth be told, I never liked “normal”, anyways.

Do you know where your lab is?

Scientists work on their experiments and research out in the field or in a clean, white room full of beakers.

Musicians toil with their instruments in recording studios, in garages, and on friends’ couches.

Athletes sweat with their sport in the gym, on the field, or on the track.

Designers envelop themselves in drawing and imagining, in Photoshop, in a studio or on pen and paper.

All of them know what their labs look like, feel like, sound like.

But… do I?

One of the best parts of the movie The Notebook is when Allie walks into her new studio, an easel and painting supplies set up next to window with a gorgeous view. Enveloped in the craft she’s so long ignored, she sits down before the easel and loses herself in her creation. Time fades to nothing…

When do I feel like that? When do you? Not often. All because we edit ourselves too much — mostly without even knowing it.

Instead of writing something, you stare at a blank page. You’re frozen, waiting for the perfect words to come in perfect order.

Instead of contacting that mentor, you think of all the reasons she wouldn’t be up for the coffee date.

Instead of setting aside some time to work on your dream project, you figure the chances of failure are so high that it’s not worth starting.

You’re afraid to make a wrong move. You freeze.

Instead of sticking to her love of painting, Allie abandoned it for years … until she was reunited with Noah. Swoon!

But, I digress.

It happens to all of us — every single day — doesn’t it?

Years ago, my lab was an office full of programmers. Then, it became more design-focused, no longer in an office but anyplace I could take my laptop. Later, it transitioned to a lab full of words, both written by me and by others.

Now, those labs are starting to fail me. I’ve known it for a while, but change can be a tough pill to swallow, can’t it?

Oprah (a.k.a. the greatest thing since sliced bread) explains it this way:

“The universe speaks to us first in whispers. And a whisper in your life usually feels like ‘hmm, that’s odd.’ … It’s that subtle. And if you don’t pay attention to the whisper, it gets louder … It’s like getting thumped upside the head. If you don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that — the brick wall falls down.”

I haven’t been listening to the whispers. I’ve been ignoring them. But, as I attempt to listen to what’s deep inside of me that’s prying to get out, I can’t afford to edit myself. It’s truth or truth. No other way.

It’s not enough to know my soul’s cravings if I have no place to indulge them, no lab to explore them. The question is…

Where do I go to experiment, to stir up something new, to create?

The road to my new lab is long and windy. It’s patched with moments of searing light and pitch black. With an undetermined destination ahead of me, my goal can only be to shine more light on that path, giving me a better chance of making the right turns.

I’ve listed below the few activities that are shining the most light on my path. The activities may change over time, but, for the moment, they’re working wonders.

1. Pen and paper: There’s something freeing about writing on pen and paper, the feel of my hand gliding over the paper with my thoughts and creations. I’m making a point to rely on pen and paper every day, to power down analytical side of my brain and power up the creative side.

More on this: The Power of the Written Word

2. Gratefulness lists: It’s been over 1½ years since I met gratefulness — 531 days to be exact. Of that time, I’ve made a list of what I’m grateful for 135 days (about 25%), and that’s been enough to change my life. Not only do I now focus on the positives in life, but I also reflect on what’s important to me on a daily basis. You won’t find much about my work in those lists, but you’ll find a lot of repetition about my people. Speaking of which…

More on this:
Being Grateful Can Turn Hard Times Into Victories: Lessons From Rocky
The Greatest Advice I Ever Gave Myself: Be Grateful

3. People over tasks: Considering the work-a-holic side of me, I’m shifting toward putting people first. I make dates with the people that light me up, and I don’t waver. Whether it’s my weekly sit-down with a friend or getting together with my family, my relationships come first, granting me energy, encouragement, and peace. I find that tasks always get done one way or another, anyways. Which leads me to…

4. Free time: Screw structure and senseless meetings. Today, my brother asked me what I’m up to this weekday afternoon. My answer? “Mmm, not sure, maybe a coffee shop. But maybe not.” I have nowhere specific to be and nothing to do at any specific time. For two reasons:

  1. I want to leave space for exploration and the unexpected — for serendipity.
  2. I want to break my mental habit of equating my business with my self-worth.

This is best described by Tiffany Ham:

“There’s always somewhere to go, someone to email, some task to check off my list. And it never ends, and it’s never complete. As soon as I’d get a handle on one thing, 5 more would pop up in its place. Because that is how I designed my life. Because that is what I invited in. Because to me busy = worthy = effort = love. Without the busy, I wasn’t able to consider myself a hard worker, or popular enough, or quite as determined to do this as I wanted (needed?) to be.”

In those few sentences, she just described my entire identity. Time to break that habit — for good.

After all, I won’t find my lab while I’m head-down in work mode, will I? It’s time to take my blinders off and start looking around to what’s been here all along.

But all of this is just my story, my path to finding my new lab, to following my cravings and whispers. I’d love to hear yours.

And so, I ask you:


Wishing you awesomeness from Nic·a·ra·gua,

— Marcella

photo credit: brahmino