Look at that bicep. Please. I worked hard on it.

Look at that bicep. Please. I worked hard on it.

It’s nearly 7am. I’ve been awake and sitting at my computer for an hour. If you look at my browsing history, you can follow my attention (or inattention) span. I won’t bore you with the details of bouncing around between my bank account, Facebook, and articles about murders recent or historical. The point is that I got up this morning for one of my weekly accountability calls and it’s not happening. (It’s the puppy’s fault.)

Normally at this time, I’d be writing my weekly blog post and the newsletter I email with its link. I actually started a post, but a) I needed to look up some key terms and images and b) the topic I picked was TOO HARD to complete in the allotted time.

So now I’ve started another post (you’re reading it!) and I have to get it done before… Well, before I… And here’s the problem: I can do it whenever I want, so whenever I feel like I don’t want, I can also not do it.

I am my own boss. I am accountable only to me.

Okay, that’s not strictly true. I have a family, I have creditors, I have a community, I have clients. I have two working dates today. But nobody’s looking over my shoulder, and although my accountability partner will probably ask what I was able to accomplish this morning, if the answer was “nothing,” the consequences would be limited to shame and forgiveness.

I often say that as a self-employed person, my two biggest problems are my employee, who is easily distracted, and my boss, who is not very well-organized.

On the other hand, I’m the master of my own schedule and accountable to no one but me. And that can be a problem.

See, I love accountability, but I hate the word, not-quite-but-almost-as-much-as I hate homework. Yet homework was a boon for me. Without the structures of formal education, I would never have read so many parts of so many books I was supposed to read all of.

More significantly, I would never have written the papers, exams, and poems I wrote. I would never have completed the screenplays or videos I learned from, or memorized the lines for plays I performed in.

Did I do the work for a grade? Not usually — but I did do it because I committed to it when I signed up for the class, and because it had a due date, and because the fallout of not doing it was not merely the disapproval of my teachers but the loathing of my self.

Getting accountability back into my self-motivated, self-driving life has taken many forms, not the least of which is recurring accountability calls both planned and spontaneous. Other ways I get accountability into my life:

  • I pay for it. Nobody told me I had to get physically stronger, but when I decided to make that a priority, I started investing time and money in Kettlebell training, which I’ve been doing for 4 years now. On my own, I would not get up before dawn 2-3 days a week and move heavy objects through the air for an hour, but working with a series of wonderful trainers, I’ve been able to lift heavier things in more ways for longer than I imagined possible.
  • I make dates. (See above; nobody stands up a 6am training date without excellent reason.) Sometimes I joke about how in the old days, you had to show up for a date, and now, cell phones — but I still show up, 99% of the time. (And I feel disproportional shame for the 1%, due to early programming that flakiness was next to uncleanness on the sin scale.) I make play dates, work dates, due dates, doctor dates, video-call dates, sexual hygiene dates — if it needs to happen, I put it on my calendar, and my calendar is my boss.
  • I tell people. Lately, I’ve committed myself to two theater projects that are both beyond my individual capabilities because I wanted to do some things that scare me. And I’m scared. And I’m doing. So that works. Even though every day I’d like to tell people I lied and that I’m not going to perform burlesque on my 50th birthday and I’m not going to create a theater piece from scratch in time for the performance dates I’ve booked and paid a deposit for. But I will. And I told people that I’d join my life to another person with all that I am and all that I have, and I did, encompassing all sorrows and joys, all hardships and triumphs, all the fullness of life.

These are the three components of accountability, and they work best when they are intimately entwined. These are also the components, I realize, of my writing coaching: People tell me they want to write better / more frequently / more effectively, then they pay me to meet at specific times to get shit done, and it gets done.

If you’re like me, and the story you tell yourself is that you lack sufficient self-motivation for “success” because your definition of success is either too narrow or too outward-focused, yet you want to be vulnerable to the world because you believe the world needs more people who can embody and exemplify the importance of imperfection in a truly human existence — well, I’d like to meet you. You sound scary and intriguing.

But if you need to build in more structures in your life, try putting these three pieces together — pay for it, make a date for it, and talk about it — and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

Composition note: I’ve been trying to get more “strategic” with my blog instead of just writing about how I feel and what I think in the moment. At the same time, I lose interest in what I’m writing if it’s not about ME. But my strategy is to be overt about how talking about ME will teach you something about YOU. Let me know if it’s working. (Also, goofy titles.)

If you want to be more accountable with your writing, working with me on your book, your blog, your website, or your sequence of 50 poems about the ways to lose your lover, I’d love to help, right here. To hear me reveal my projects and my thinking in public, listen to Liz Applegate’s new podcast, Midlife Schmidlife.