It’s OK. You Can Still Have a Gold Star When You Finish.
Creating a reward system that isn’t dependent on others.
Every time I finish writing a story for Medium, I reward myself. Because I’m seven, that reward comes in the form of M&Ms. Just a handful of candies to celebrate a job well done; a Share Size package will keep me in business for about six Medium stories for reference.
As a matter of self-control, I don’t buy the Econo-size giant bags from the grocery store. It would probably be more cost-effective, but I know me. I’d find a reason to eat them. Also, I have children, and giant bags of candy are harder to hide. That means every six or so stories, I end up with an empty wrapper at the bottom of my desk drawer.
The first couple wrappers appeared because, again I’m seven, and I failed to throw them out. The third was added on purpose. I had a collection going, and it seemed a shame to break it up. By the sixth, I moved them from a haphazard pile in the bottom of a drawer to a dedicated file folder. I actually took the time to file trash. Not in the tongue-in-cheek Michael Scott joke way. I have a file folder with old candy wrappers tidily tucked inside.
For the first few wrappers, I wasn’t sure what I was doing with them. I’m a fairly neat person. My desk stays incredibly organized. A part of my morning ritual includes cleaning up stray coffee cups or children’s toys that accumulated on my desk since the last time I’d written. I was Kon-Mari’d well before she hit Netflix. Suffice it to say; I’m a neat and tidy type of human. It’s not in my nature to NOT throw away trash.
But the M&M wrappers accumulated nonetheless.
Again Gwenna, why?
When I moved them into a file of their own, it was because I recognized them as a tangible marker of my writing career. I’d written enough stories on Medium and rewarded myself often enough to earn these paper trophies.
We’re all well aware of goal-setting. Set mini-goals, middling goals, pipe dreams, win Pulitzers and Nobel’s at the end of it all. It’s not a lesson on which we need more exposition. We get it. Goals=good.
We’re all probably set on reward systems as well. Give yourself something to work towards at each step, something more than just “Okay, done, next.” Rewards=great.
But these candy wrappers I keep in a file folder go beyond goal setting and reward systems. At first glance, they are remnants since I already got my payout. I ate it. It was tasty.
The bags, one corner ripped off, serve as a reminder of all I’ve accomplished so far. They are a tally of my history; my goal-setting, mission-accomplishing, chocolate-loving successes.
These M&M wrappers are my gold stars.
Now every time I open that folder and add another wrapper, I enjoy a brief glimpse at everything that brought me to this point — a full-time, making-it-work, getting-paid writer with valid thoughts, stories, and a beautiful readership full of people who keep coming back for more. Each one of those brown, yellow, orange and blue wrappers (I like all the flavors, don’t judge me) represents a whole lot of work, a little bit of celebration, and a growing confidence in my abilities.
That’s really something for a girl who spent most of her twenties in less than self-assured realms.
When it comes time to goal set and devise a reward system, don’t overlook the value of being able to look back over all your past successes.
Generally, humans are pretty good at remembering the bad stuff. We tend to cling to our failures, our misses, and our flops. If we’re good at it, we hold onto the lessons they taught us as opposed to routinely punishing ourselves for riding a learning curve.
The lousy stuff stores pretty easy. But we let the good things slip away, like dreams upon waking. We have to take extra steps to record all the positive moments. We need a way to document the best, happiest bits in our history. For me, it’s M&M wrappers.
What is it for you?
How can you document your pathway to where you are?
What can you do to remember the thousand little steps and met mini-goals that will bring you to where you are going?
Beyond one of the strangest versions of historical documentation, these M&M wrappers are a reward system unto themselves- one that is not dependent on the validation of others. It does not matter how many clicks my story got, how much engagement it received, or what my payout was.
The candy bags don’t record that.
Each of those devoured handfuls of candies and the wrappers they left behind celebrates my doing what I set out to do.
No one else has to validate my experience. Yes, I still want other people to love my stuff. I still need the gratification of seeing the numbers and reading comments of people who appreciate my words.
To be blunt, I enjoy being paid for my work a lot more than I enjoy the M&Ms.
But I have at least one method to remind myself that no one else has to love my work as long as I do. I am doing my life’s work, one M&M bag at a time. They are a collection of positivity that lives in a file folder in my desk drawer.