This is a special interview series with the alumni of the Anti-Procrastination Course, where I invite them to share the lessons they learned from the Anti-Procrastination Course and showcase their accomplishments since completing the program.
Have you ever had people tell you that “It’s too late to do [X]” or “You’re too old to do [X]; don’t bother”?
For a long time, this was what PE reader Diana faced. Despite having a passion in writing, she never actively pursued it. Firstly, there were the critics who discouraged her. Then, there was her background, which had nothing to do with writing. And then there were life’s various responsibilities like motherhood and work. These led her to put off pursuing her writing through her 30s and 40s.
So when Diana signed up for Anti-Procrastination Course in 2013, it was an emotional experience. I still remember when she unveiled her list of fears to all of us in class (one of the many exercises in Anti-Procrastination Course): some of which were downright painful, some of which were brought up tears in her. These included
- people from her past telling her, “If you were going to be a writer, you would be one already.”
- fear that it was perhaps “too late” to pursue writing.
- fear that she was perhaps “too old” to pursue writing. (Diana was 61 when she took the course.)
- fear that people she cared about would be ashamed of her.
- fear that because of her age, the “peak of [her] intellect [might be] far in the past.”
But was it too late? No, of course not. When I heard those fears, it was clear to me — and I believe Diana knew it in her heart too — that they were nothing but untruths. That for all intents and purposes, she already had everything in her to be a professional writer. That her procrastination in writing in the past was nothing more than a symptom, a culmination of various fears from her past, and the very unveiling and processing of these fears during the course marked the start of her reclaiming her passion into her life.
So imagine my joy when I received an update from Diana early this year. Not only has she completed the manuscript for a book that she had put on hold for over 20 years prior to the Anti-Procrastination Course, she has also completed the movie screenplay she was working on during the course itself!!!
Today, I have Diana here on PE to share her writing journey, her upcoming book Misho of the Mountain, and lessons she has learned from Anti-Procrastination Course that helped her in her journey. I find her story inspiring — finally pursuing her passion after putting it on hold all her life!!! — and hope you can get pointers for your own journey. With that, let’s welcome Diana Diehl!
Q) Hi Diana! Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and what do you do?
Hi Celes and everyone, I am a 63-year-old writer and artist living in San Diego. My background is somewhat diverse: I have been a physics major, a vet, and up until recently, an IT lead at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, developing websites for scientists and engineers.
It may seem left brain-heavy. But throughout my life I have maintained a deep appreciation for art, especially the written word. I loved writing since grade school and would win awards for it. I reveled in essay tests and rose to any challenge if it involved writing.
Q) Why didn’t you pursue writing early on then?
I had to make a choice between sciences and literature, thinking I could do only one or the other. I chose science and became a physics major, later switching to a veterinary career. This led to non-writing vocations. At home, creative writing was on the back burner as I worked a heavy schedule and raised my 2 sons through my 30s and 40s.
Writing seemed impossible to me. I kept receiving messages from those close to me saying, “If [you were] going to be a writer, [you] would be one already.” Laziness? Poor self-esteem? Either way, I listened to them.
Still, I wrote and stashed ideas away. At age 40, I wrote my first draft of what would later be my book Misho of the Mountain. I tucked it away and did not truly return to writing until 20 years later, when I was 60.
Q) What triggered you to return to writing?
Medical leave for a heart condition made me reconsider what made me happy. There was some painful and liberating self-evaluation–a look at my unfulfilled dreams and desires. (I refined this and got the biggest dose of honesty in Anti-Procrastination Course, but more about that below.) I had to think deeply about what gave me the most energy and made me smile, which turned out to be writing and art.
So I left my job at the supercomputer center a few years ago and reinvented myself. I started networking and met a Hollywood producer. I did a little pro bono work for him and his team, and they invited me to work on the screenplay for a sci-fi film.
Q) How did you know about PE?
It was 3 years ago, around the time I was wrestling with my own shortcomings in making my career change, always putting off what I wanted to do—running from the things that gave me joy. I did a web search on “procrastination” and your site showed up. Celes, your approach, attitude, and your brand “Personal Excellence” reminded me of a college professor who held a sincere regard for excellence and encouraged students to follow their dreams. These resonated with me.
I am a skeptic at heart, so I poked around your site trying to find the phony façade, the fake Pollyanna sunshine attitude. Instead, I found this incredibly authentic—and I’m going to expose my agism here—young person saying these wise things and who seemed genuinely dedicated to helping people. Instead of quoting some guru, you researched your own material and had your own insights. I appreciated that.
Q) What led you to join the Anti-Procrastination Course?
To jump-start my transition to writing, I researched, read, and discussed in many venues. I attended online seminars, joined a small publishing group, used Meetup.com to find like-minded people, attended book fairs and talks about writing and publishing, and read inspirational books about living a creative life.
Somewhere in all that [though], I discovered that my biggest obstacle was me. I combed the Web for help in my biggest enemy: Procrastination.
After some unsuccessful results in looking for assistance, I saw your announcement for the Anti-Procrastination Course, Celes. Taking your course was one of the fundamental steps in making a successful transition to writing possible.
Q) Prior to AP course, you told me that you’ve attended classes by other self-help providers and didn’t feel they were helpful. Can you tell us more?
I just didn’t feel like some presenters were genuine. I felt like they were always selling the next book or course. Life coaches have to make a living; after all, self-promotion is an important part of being your own boss.
However, with their courses, I was left with 1) a sense that the course was more about self-aggrandizement of the trainer, and 2) a sense of let-down—that you never got to the information that could make a difference. Not unless you attended the next course.
Then there were the crystal-blue-persuader-we-are-all-shining-stars courses with lots of focus on the mystical and admonishments to think positive. This sounded pretty, but it didn’t give me the real tools to get to the heart of the issues. I needed results.
Q) Weren’t you concerned that AP course would be another of these bad courses though?
Indeed. I did have that concern. But there was meaningful content on PE, not just a promise of information if you just took Course X. Your anecdotes felt personal and genuine, so I felt it was the worth the risk.
Also, I know that participation often yields more tangible results than just reading a book, so I took the plunge.
Ultimately, I am not a big believer in self-help courses. Their promotional material often make me avoid them for the above reasons. That is, until I found your site.
Q) And you joined Anti-Procrastination Course. Your goal during the course was to work on your procrastination in writing. Can you share some of your breakthroughs?
Uncovering my fears and inner resistances was the most sensitive part for me—very emotional. Even though this was just one part of the course, it was the part with the biggest impact on releasing me from procrastination. It turns out that fear was a big motivator and demotivator for me. Looking that in the eye and admitting that I was fear-driven was difficult—and humbling.
“Uncovering my fears was the most sensitive part for me—very emotional.”
I realized I was afraid of failure and success. I was afraid of what certain important people in my life would think about my writing. I was afraid of what the ”ghosts” were saying. By ghosts, I mean naysayers in my past whom I had adopted as part of my own inner voice. Although those people were no longer in my life, the voices remained. They had become my voice, and I had to admit it.
“What exactly was it I wanted? I had to think about that.”
Equally important was my examination of the interplay between my fears and my desires. What exactly was it I wanted? I had to think about that. More importantly, I had to write it down and remind myself of my goal on a regular basis.
And I had to make a plan.
Trying to get something done without a clearly delineated goal and a plan to attain it AND a passionate desire to reach it is like saying I want to go someplace fun without picking a destination, or planning a route, or setting aside the time and resources to get there.
Q) What exact steps did you take to work through your fears?
- I was very afraid of what people I cared about–and even strangers–would say about my writing. In addressing this, I had to print up my manuscripts, give them out, and be willing to accept that someone may not like them. I started a blog and used it to expose my ideas. I had to be okay with negative comments about what I said or how I said it.
- Accepting criticism is another challenge. In addressing this, willingness to listen and learn is key. This all ties in with a fear of not being good enough. I had this idea that what I did had to be perfect right from the start, which I learned didn’t have to be so.
- Finally, money fears. These were very critical. In addressing this, I asked my financial planner, “Can I do this?” I did some research to find out what the investment would be (specifically for Misho, since illustrations cost money and illustrated books are more costly to publish) and if I could afford to take this risk with retirement so close.
These all helped me move forward in my writing.
Q) With these steps, you just finished the manuscript for your first book, Misho of the Mountain — that you drafted and put on hold over 20 years ago! Please tell us more.
Misho of the Mountain is about a little seed named Misho with big dreams on an exciting adventure. Along the way, she finds out dreams don’t always come true and must deal with many emotions before she can learn where real happiness comes from. It’s a read-aloud children’s book to help parents walk the fine line between encouraging their children to reach for the stars and prepare them for reality.
Misho’s story is deeply personal. Like I shared above, I first wrote it when I was 40, about 23 years ago. However, I put it away when a close friend had a strong negative reaction to it. I was going through some tough times in my life so it moldered away in a box.
A couple of years ago, I pulled it back out and realized the message was still important to me and might make a difference to someone else. After recovering the manuscript from a floppy disk, I rewrote it several times, finally completing it.
It may sound grandiose, but I hope Misho’s message can save lives. I am alarmed by the number of suicides in teens and younger these days. I believe children are saddled with incredibly unrealistic expectations of beauty and success and fitting in. We all naturally have big dreams, but when we don’t achieve some of them or bad things happen, we are not prepared. This does things to us inside. Some of us don’t know how to face failure without a break-down of self-esteem.
I see Misho’s story as a tool for parents, teachers, and mentors to open a dialogue on the roles of exploration, failure, risk taking, and hardship, with a subtext about the real source of beauty.
An except of Page 1 of Diana’s manuscript for Misho:
There is a forest
So far away
You could not get there
If you walked all day.
In the middle of the forest
At the top of Tall Tree
Grew a spiny pine cone
With a tiny seed.
A curious owl
Landed right on Tall Tree
And said, “I am Tomo.
Who-ooo might you be?”
“My name is Misho;
I’m just a seed now.
But I can be more—
Once I figure out how.
Q) That’s amazing. And you’ve completed your movie screenplay that you were working on during the course too!! Please tell us more.
Writing the screenplay was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. When I was invited to write the screenplay for White Storm, a full-length, science-fi action film, I said, “Yes!” How could I not?! Then the fear hit. I had never read a screenplay before. Screenwriting is a very specialized skill.
I ordered books and ran to my local library to learn everything I could. Over the coming months, the producer and I met halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego for all-day work meetings—8, 10, 14 hours! Then I’d write like crazy, trying to turn his concept into the serious noir, action movie he wanted.
The first completed version was almost entirely scrapped when he (the producer) decided to change directions. I procrastinated horribly at some stages until I took your Anti-Procrastination Course, Celes.
In the end, I learned a new skill and gained a lot of confidence.
Q) All in all, what did you find most helpful about the Anti-Procrastination Course?
- I loved the fact that it streamlines the process of attacking and overcoming procrastination in a straightforward and very doable way. It approaches the root causes and gives practical exercises for getting past the problem. Seeing how simple it CAN be was liberating. I learned that I am not intrinsically lazy and that procrastination is not my normal milieu. It allowed me to whittle it down my lifelong issue of procrastination from a mountain into a molehill.
- The course allowed me to examine and admit fears that were causing my procrastination. If you are a Master Procrastinator like I was, there is often heavy stuff lurking in the shadows of your brain. The course brings to light these shadows, including uncovering your fears and inner resistances, such that you can then work on them. The material is well organized and flows from topic to topic in a way that builds knowledge and helps evoke self-awareness.
- The participation and listening to other people, along with the assignments, was key for me too. This was something I wouldn’t have gotten from, say, just reading a book. I can be a very logical, rational person. I can read about things and say, “Yup, that’s the problem.” But an emotional lesson requires different circuits in the brain to engage. Listening and sharing [in class] helped me engage with my own emotional past and present. So when I said, “Yup, that’s my problem right there,” I could feel it, too. Then I could start fixing.
- Lastly, Celes, you were very respectful of class members. You repeated questions and answers, reinforced important points clearly, and acknowledged participation in a supportive manner. Your style of delivery was genuine and appeared effortless, making it easier to absorb the material on a meaningful level. Because of that, the course felt like a safe space. It made me feel like we were all part of a group.
Q) Diana, I’m really happy for you! Having completed your writing for White Storm and Misho, what’s next for them?
- Whitestorm: The studio, Filmpaint Inc., debuted the proof-of-concept trailer at Comic-Con. Now they are waiting for big budget dollars to produce it. There has been talk about a re-write into a television series. The intellectual property belongs to FilmPaint and is in their hands. Many movies never get made despite huge investments in early pre-production. They’ve put a lot of sweat and love (mine, too!) into it and I hope it gets picked up!
- Misho of the Mountain will be published in January, 2016. We’ll be taking pre-orders in December, 2015 on our website, http://misho-of-the-mountain.com. Once it’s in publication, it will be available on the website and Amazon as a hardcover and an e-book. Early subscribers to our website will be entitled to special discount for both formats.
Q) Great! I just subscribed to your site and will be sure to get a copy when it’s out. :D What will you be working on next?
- Marketing Misho of the Mountain, will take much of my time in the next year or two after. I may pursue having it translated for international markets.
- I’ve got several writing ideas. I’m itching to start a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel whose characters keep tapping at the inside of my skull (sorry, no zombies).
- I am part of a grassroots art group, the Azalea Park Mosaic League. We’ve set a goal to put glass and ceramic mosaics on almost anything that stands still and gets tagged with graffiti. I just finished my first mosaic for the league, titled “Marine Layer.” I’ve worked on it for the last couple of months, and it’s ready for installation. (Yay! Another project finished.)
Celes’ Post-Interview Notes
Diana’s story is a perfect example of how dreams come true when you work on them. Like with my client Larry who started pursuing his higher path when he was 57, thereafter joining and serving Peace Corps a year later, there is no “too late” when it comes to your goals. There is only “right now.”
I can’t wait to get Diana’s book, Misho of the Mountain! It’ll be a 60-page illustrated book with 5 chapters and color illustrations. For those of you with nieces, nephews, or even your own children, it would be a perfect book to educate them with; even if you have no children, it’s a book with a great message and worth having a copy (I realize that sometimes children’s books have the purest, best messages — even better than some adult books). Sign up for her newsletter and be notified of early bird prices when she starts pre-orders.
Links to Diana’s works:
Anti-Procrastination Course, 2015 Run [Update: REGISTRATION CLOSED!]
Many of you have been inquiring about the course in the past week and seats are quickly filling up! For those of you interested in the Anti-Procrastination Course, registration is still open and you can read more or sign up here. At this moment, over three-quarters of the class have been filled up! We have participants from US, Canada, Holland, UK, Sweden, Spain, Singapore, Malaysia, and North Africa! Here’s what the new registrants have been sharing: “Cannot wait until this new course starts!!! The last one has changed my life. :) Thank you Celes!” — Farah, 46 “Hi Celes, I want to commit with the course because I think that beating procrastination is something I have been trying to postpone all the time (as everything in my life)… always thinking I can do it by myself… but the reality is that this is not true. During some periods in my life I have been super productive; but only when my objective was clear. But all my life I have been a heavy procrastinator… doing everything in the very last moment, arriving late to all my appointments… And in the end living a crazy life, sometimes chaotic, always stressed and running, with no time to relax myself, and feeling I could do much more in my life… So I think I really need the course. And I’m motivated. I’m looking forward to start the course!” — Alice, 35 “I have been postponing a lot of important things in my life. I want to take control of my life priorities and achieve my life’s purpose. Unfortunately, my procrastination habit has held me back from discovering my passion and working towards it. I’m always thinking that I can start it next week or next month and that goes on forever — and this has so far been 10 years. Through this course, I want to take immediate action on my priorities like discovering my passion.” — Sai, 34 “I want to find a new, more fulfilling job. [For years,] I have been taking the same type of jobs but end up feeling unfulfilled. At the moment, I feel stuck and have been procrastinating on my career for 6 months. Through this course, I hope to work on my career and work toward my dream job.” ~ Ann, 52 Class starts on the coming Saturday, Sep 12. I’m closing registration in the next 4 days or once class is full. I only run this course once a year, so don’t miss your chance. I look forward to working with you guys soon! :D All AP Details, course schedule, FAQs, details: Anti-Procrastination Course Announcement Page Direct registration link: Register for Anti-Procrastination Course Any question on the course? Post them at the course announcement page. I reply within hours.
Update, Sep 10, 23:59pm: Thank you to everyone who registered – registration is now closed and we have a full class for the upcoming course! To those of you who’ve registered, look forward to working with you in the months ahead! :D Thank you!
Next up, an Anti-Procrastination Course alumni who has built 2 blogs with 90,000 monthly pageviews… while holding a full-time day job. Read Matt Leyva’s amazing change: Running 2 Blogs with 90,000 Monthly Pageviews — While Holding a Full-Time Job