If You Knew How Much Time You Had to Spend

Sherri Tobias

It’s time. It looks like I’ll be going back to school this fall not only as an instructor, but as a student. I’m all set to begin a doctoral program in August.


Am I nervous?


Excited about the challenge?


Is this the best way to spend a large portion of my time over the next four years?


This fall will be a chance to test the water and see where the opportunity leads. During the four-plus years I’ve been on A Path Not Chosen, the issue of how I spend time has been at the forefront of my mind.

None of us knows how much time we’ve been given, so do we make plans for the future or live like there’s no tomorrow?

And what does it really look like to live as if there’s no tomorrow?

  • Eat, drink, and be merry?
  • Carpe diem–seize the day?
  • Set up camp on the top of the nearest mountain and wait?

Or do we simply keep walking (justly, mercifully, and humbly) equipping ourselves for the future yet content to simply enjoy the journey as it comes–no matter how long it may be?

Would you change anything you’re doing if you knew how much time you had left to spend?


July 8, 2014

I’ve sat on this bank before in the summer.
Melted sunshine drizzling into diamond-flecked rivulets.

Mosquitoes nipping.

Dragonflies dancing.

Sweat sneaking down my spine.

The water looks the same as it did last year (and the year before that),
Wending its way through a loamy trough cut willy-nilly by a giant’s plow and his dancing horses.

I kneel down at the river’s edge,
The dampness of grass and moss tickling its way through rolled up jeans.
Last year (or was it a year before that or a year before that?),
Two other sets of summer-skinned-and-scarred knees bent on either side of mine,
Pressing into the river’s edge.

We practiced fishing with our hands,
Plunging our palms into the gold rushing by,
Drawing out treasures and whirligigs and smiles.

Now, alone at the water’s edge,
I search for past years’ gems.
Within the sameness that is not at all the same,
I cannot find what I am looking for.

Yet the river runs on.


June 13, 2016

You joined me again at the river’s edge.
This time on a stony shoal jutted out from the river’s bank,
Slowing the water’s rush into soothing shallows.

A time both long and short,
A time both sweet and tart,
A time when we realized how very old and young we were growing—
Both at the same time.

We reclined side by side,
The spring sun toasting our faces,
Our toes cooling in the river’s eddies
That whirled round river rocks and pirouetted past pebbles.

We allowed the world to slide on,
While we contemplated whether it was summer enough to wade in—
Or even plunge into the swimming hole around the bend.

It was a smiling time of living in dreams not relegated to night.

The temperature crept summer-ly so slowly,
I did not notice how long I had closed my eyes
Only to open them and find you poised on the far bank—
Ready to dive into rain-swollen rapids rushing past our pebbled peninsula.

As you slid silently into the sun-glinted river’s run,
Down-streaming toward deltas and the deeps beyond,
I scrambled to join you—just as far as the swimming hole—
I stumbled, a stone knifing through my knee’s skin,
Bleeding tears into the flow that
Wended you invisible round the river’s bend.

I had slept too long in the shallows,
We would not drink of the depths together—
This time.
Can we ever this side of Jordan?

And the river runs on.

~~To Be Continued~~

I’ve finally added a new stanza to a poem I began almost two years ago.

Whether you work forty hours a week in a traditional job, run your own business, or juggle a portfolio career that incorporates a variety of job opportunities, life can become overwhelming when our boundaries are too large or nonexistent. If you’re feeling like life is out of control, maybe it’s time for a monthly checkpoint. Think back over the last thirty days and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you where you expected you would be a month ago? Explain.
  • What progress have you made toward your goals (if you had any)?
  • Would you say life is playing the same old song or have any surprises altered your path?
  • When you have had a choice about participating in an activity how long did it take for you to make the decision?
  • Have you been the person you want to be?

Thirty days ago, I thought I’d settled on boundaries for work that would challenge me, but still allowed enough flexibility for the inevitable surprises that life throws at us. I would be teaching one class and writing through the end of the year. I planned to keep up with weekly blog posts and finish a writing project by September 30. I said no to several opportunities without any agony or pain, but then…

  • A conversation led to a short-term job opportunity that would require about forty hours of work over a period of four weeks.
  • I hit a wall with the writing project.
  • I allowed myself to spend too much time on research and learning other skills as a form of “constructive procrastination.”
  • I fed my feelings of inadequacy about marketing by listening to too many “gurus” telling me ten different “most important” things I ought to be doing to build my writing business.
  • I went through an “I like being a wall flower” phase and retreated from social media and writing blog posts.
  • My husband and I have been processing a tragedy that occurred within one of our circles of friends during the last few weeks.
  • I’ve been under the weather most of the last month and truly ill for about ten days.

If you’re anything like me, a list this short is just a taste of all that has happened during the last thirty days. While I’ve made progress toward some of my goals, I’m not where I’d hoped that I would by the beginning of November. I can look back at several decisions I made that did not fit within the original boundaries I set up for my work load this fall. On the other hand, some of my deadlines were unrealistic, so I’m reassessing and refining my expectations. Here are few things I’m learning about setting boundaries while living a portfolio life.

Know Your Boundaries

Boundary 1: Time

Do an audit of your current obligations. What pieces of your life are non-negotiable? If you can, estimate how much time you spend on each one each month or week. Family obligations, relationship building, self-care (sleep, exercise, meals, and down-time), and work will likely top the list. Once you fit those items into your schedule, what is left is your negotiable time. You may have more than you thought; you may have less. If a new opportunity cannot fit into your negotiable time, it doesn’t fit within your boundaries right now.

Boundary 2: Values

Do you know what you value most? Look at your time audit. What does it reveal about your values? Now, look back over your checkbook or finance software for the past year. What do your money habits say about your values? Do you like what you see? If you don’t, then its time to re-evaluate. Take the time to come up with what you value most and write it down. Put it somewhere you can see it often. When presented with a new opportunity ask yourself it aligns with your most important values in any way. If not, say ‘no’ and move on.

Boundary 3: Your Limitations

Embrace your limitations. It does no good to compare yourself to your neighbor or the virtual super-humans who rule the social media world. You have your own unique set of limitations that shape your life path. Don’t allow a limitation to dictate what you can and cannot do; on the other hand, embrace your limitations, because they allow you to find rest and satisfaction in the choices you make.

The portfolio life allows us to pursue a variety of interests, but you have to know your limitations, values, and time restraints. You can’t do it all—at least all at once. Pace yourself. Enjoy the journey. Know that life circumstances flex and change. Though a valuable or exciting opportunity may not fit within your boundaries today, down the road it just might. Or you may discover something better. Limitations and boundaries aren’t liabilities in the portfolio life; they are your guides. How about your boundaries? Do you say ‘yes’ too often? Does your schedule feel out of control? Or have you committed to things that are at odds with your values? 

The original concept of a portfolio worker is credited to Charles Handy who wrote about it in his book, The Age of Unreason. Jeff Goins builds on Handy’s idea of a portfolio worker in his book, The Art of Work, and applies it more broadly to a person’s life–a portfolio life .

Read more posts from Exploring the Portfolio Life

Exploring the Portfolio Life | Second Thoughts

Post 3 in Exploring the Portfolio Life: With major financial outlays on the horizon for our family, the siren song of the “secure,” full-time paycheck once again had me fishing for a job, and I began to doubt the commitment I had made.

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The concept of living a Portfolio Life excited me enough that I created a new blog to chronicle my journey. I had high hopes when I wrote my first post back in April 2015, but then reality hit. I didn’t have time to develop one more blog, so I never published it.

I forgot about that cyber real estate until WordPress reminded me of its existence after an automatic update. I re-read A Freelancer’s Manifesto and decided I’d been possessed by an overly-enthusiastic street preacher the day I wrote it. I’m glad I wrote it, however, because I needed to hear that sermon again.

With major financial outlays on the horizon for our family, the siren song of the “secure,” full-time paycheck once again had me fishing for a job. I threw out my line and got a nibble—an interview. On top of that I had an unexpected offer to teach a class with the possibility I could do both the class and the full-time job. The class was a bonus, but what I really wanted was that full-time security blanket.

To put a long story short, I’m teaching the class, but I’m not working full time. The first twenty-four hours after learning I’d snagged a blue gill rather than a trout stung. That experience, however, gave me a fresh reminder of how much moxie it takes to be a job hunter. Putting yourself out there time after time with no results can chip away at your self-confidence and self-worth. I’ve had to relearn that job hunting is a bit like a game of poker. Only one person can win each hand, but no matter how much you want to win, don’t ever throw your self-worth and self-confidence onto the table as part of your bet. No job is worth gambling those away.

With a few days of hindsight under my belt, I’m thankful for the way things turned out. The three-hour class fits into this portfolio life I’ve been fashioning since April. It provides a bit of income, allows me to keep my teaching muscles in shape, and won’t derail the other projects that I have in the works.

I had to recommit to the choice I made to live a Portfolio Life after spending a couple of weeks backtracking and doubting that choice. It’s not the first time this has happened, and it may not be the last. But every time I’ve chosen to follow the “safe route,” it turns out to be a detour that brings me back to the path where I started. It’s easy to look at those rabbit trails as failures, but when you’re living a portfolio life, the detours simply add another page of experience to your life’s portfolio.

How about you? Have life circumstances ever caused you to doubt your chosen destination? What have you done to turn yourself back around?


The original concept of a portfolio worker is credited to Charles Handy who wrote about it in his book, The Age of Unreason. Jeff Goins builds on Handy’s idea of a portfolio worker in his book, The Art of Work, and applies it more broadly to a person’s life–a portfolio life .

Read more posts from Exploring the Portfolio Life

Exploring the Portfolio Life | Second Thoughts

Post 3 in Exploring the Portfolio Life: With major financial outlays on the horizon for our family, the siren song of the “secure,” full-time paycheck once again had me fishing for a job, and I began to doubt the commitment I had made.

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Are you a portfolio worker at heart? Is it time to take the plunge into freelancing?

Someone who lives The Portfolio Life is a freelancer as they are not employed by one company. The very slight difference between the terms lies in the type of work each does. The freelancer usually focuses on one type of work whereas the portfolio worker has a variety of specialties, doing different types of work for different employers or clients. For example, I am a freelance writer and editor, but I also have worked for a variety of educational institutions and companies as an instructor or a coach.

I’ve flirted with freelancing for a couple of decades, but it’s been an on-again-off-again relationship. Freelancing has its perks and perils, but I finally realized it was time to admit, commit, and submit to this lifestyle so I wrote this short manifesto.


First, I need to admit that I’m not wired for the 8-5 life of an employee, and I need to admit I enjoy the challenge and flexibility of taking on projects on my own terms and my own time despite the reduced financial security and the fears that freelancing stirs up.


Second, I need to commit to this choice. It’s time to stop playing the field, searching the want ads, and refining my résumé in hopes that I’ll find the perfect, full-time job. It’s time to embrace the freelance life and do what needs to be done to make this a lasting relationship.


Third, I need to submit to the realization that I can’t do it all, but my work and my art can manifest itself in a variety of ways. I also need to submit my work to the world. It’s time to dust off my creations and get them out in the open. It’s time to serve others with the gifts I’ve been given by helping them bring their dreams to life.

What a relief it was to write that. Making this decision was long overdue for me.

What about you?



The original concept of a portfolio worker is credited to Charles Handy who wrote about it in his book, The Age of Unreason. Jeff Goins builds on Handy’s idea of a portfolio worker in his book, The Art of Work, and applies it more broadly to a person’s life–a portfolio life .

Read more posts from Exploring the Portfolio Life

Exploring the Portfolio Life | Second Thoughts

Post 3 in Exploring the Portfolio Life: With major financial outlays on the horizon for our family, the siren song of the “secure,” full-time paycheck once again had me fishing for a job, and I began to doubt the commitment I had made.

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Following my last breakup with a J-O-B, I gave myself a few days to gulp, regroup, and consider what would come next.

After years of making ends meet with adjunct teaching positions and part-time contract work, I had thought I would get on the full-time career track once my children were out of school. When I finally found a way to hop on the corporate freight train (which was not easy in my mid 40s), I realized that my free-wheeling-stay-at-home-contract work-Mom days may have ruined me for working a traditional 9-5 job.

Though I’d read just about every popular book on the subject of finding the perfect career or small business, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for. So when Jeff Goin’s book, The Art of Workkept popping up in newsfeeds and e-newsletters, I said, “What can it hurt?” (But inside I thought, “I doubt it will help.”)

While the book didn’t cover a lot of new ground for a self-help junkie like me, it gave me a name for an idea I’d been chewing on during the eight months I spent at a forty-hour-a-week job. Not long after I began work, I began chafing at the single-taskedness (I know that’s not a word.) of that position. I began to wonder how could anyone do the same thing for thirty years. On darker days, I wondered what was wrong with me, and why I could not be content with my perfectly good job with a respected company. I liked my co-workers and the steady income but realized I longed for the flexible schedule and daily variety that I’d found in being a mother, a teacher, and a whole host of other volunteer roles. So when I arrived at the chapter that described a portfolio life, I had an a-ha moment. I knew I’d already found how I wanted to work when I grew up

The original concept of a portfolio worker is credited to Charles Handy who wrote about it in his book The Age of Unreason. Goins takes Handy’s idea of a portfolio worker, who earns a living through a variety of income sources and endeavors, and applies it more broadly to a person’s life–a portfolio life.

To a certain extent, this is how I have lived my adult life, but I didn’t consider it a legitimate way to live or work. I saw it as a temporary phase I was going through so I could help my husband make ends meet while raising our children rather than an intentional perspective on work and life. Sometimes I feel I’m living in an extended adolescence career-wise because I’ve not established myself in a profession. Every now and again I still catch myself quipping “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

As I worked through the fallout of my last big job breakup, I began to realize that what seemed to be haphazard, fruitless years of jobs, education, and volunteer work, may actually be seeds that could blossom into a satisfying and eclectic portfolio life.

I wrote the draft of this post five months ago thinking I would start a new blog about my explorations of a portfolio life, but I haven’t had time. Recent events brought this post to mind when I needed to hear it again, and I realized it was time to dust these ideas off and share them on my current blog as a series.

So if you’d like to explore the portfolio life with me, stay tuned for more posts in this series: Exploring the Portfolio Life.

Read more posts from Exploring the Portfolio Life

Exploring the Portfolio Life | Second Thoughts

Post 3 in Exploring the Portfolio Life: With major financial outlays on the horizon for our family, the siren song of the “secure,” full-time paycheck once again had me fishing for a job, and I began to doubt the commitment I had made.

read more

How are your listening skills doing these days? Do people really listen to you when you talk? Do you really listen when others speak?

When no one’s listening, communication breaks down and misunderstandings increase. One way to “reset” our ears is to spend three minutes in silence each day, according to Julian Treasure in his TED Talk, “5 Ways to Listen Better,” in which he warns us that we are losing our ability to truly listen.

Silence is a rare commodity even in nature, but one way you can experience it is to take a trip to your local Best Buy. Go to the headphones section and make your way to the Bose Sound-Canceling display. Choose the most expensive display model, wipe the ear pieces with an antibacterial wipe, and pop those puppies on your head. In an instant, you will experience the sound of silence—something you may never have experienced in a world where we create machines to generate white noise to drown out more noise. (Which I suppose may be how these headphones actually work, but trust me, this is closer to silence than running a fan all night will ever be.) When you take the headphones off, you’ll experience sound differently for a time, and you’ll be actively listening to what is going on around you. (Of course if you have more fun money than I have, you could always take a pair home so you can experience silence anywhere headphones can be worn.)

Your eyes also benefit from silence. In a way, reading is like hearing through our eyes. Many of us spend hours staring at words and pictures on a computer monitor or smart phone. Receiving information through the Internet is a bit like sweetened, condensed communication (as opposed to milk). A little goes a long way, and it needs to be diluted with less over-powering input to avoid sensory overload, which also can thwart our ability to listen well.

I’ve cut way back on my social media consumption over the past few weeks. At first, it was necessary as unexpected events limited my free time. Then, I realized I didn’t need to read every Facebook post. I didn’t need to know about breaking news stories first. I don’t need to weigh in on every trending hash-tag topic. I still check out my close friends news feeds, but I may not like and comment as often. If a friend really needs feedback, I know I’ll get a private message or phone call or face-to-face chat. I’m not shutting down my accounts, but I’m cutting back on my consumption for now. By building some silence into my life, I hope I can listen better and communicate better.

What about you? Do you need to build some social media silence into your life?

Last night, I had about 450 minutes of respite from Input, and I slept well.

Deep sleep visited me, unlike the night before—a night of restlessness born from a bubbling slough of unconscious anxieties. The battles I fight right now are mere skirmishes, practices even. In that sense, I have no right to become anxious or sleepless, and yet it happens more often than I like when I allow Input to balloon out of control.

Sleepwalking days follow wakeful nights. I’ve dubbed them “Lost Days” because though I move and function and take care of vital tasks, I’m not one hundred percent. The lack of sleep puts stress on my immune system like a hot day taxing a freezer sitting out in the full sun. I feel physically ill. Sometimes I even run a slight temperature. I am mentally fogged. Taking a long afternoon nap in bed perpetuates the problem of night-time insomnia for me, so I fight through the long, Lost Day, catching a cat nap on the couch when necessary, and then go to bed at a reasonable hour, surrendering to sleep and the comfort of blank sheets.

When I awoke at 5:30 a.m. this morning, I tried to return to the bliss of sleep’s respite, but I could not. Instead, I realized the previous day had been spent recovering from an Input-binge hangover. The last couple of weeks have been full of information and social media and reading and researching ideas for projects in progress. Not only was my desk cluttered, but my mind felt cluttered.

This morning after my night’s reboot, it was time to create a blank slate in my work space as well. So, between 5:30 and 6:04 a.m. I did just that.

  • I cleared my desk.
  • I pulled all of the sticky notes off the wall in front of my desk except for one, “…the blank page is a magic box.” (J. J. Abrams, TED Talk)
  • I thought about writing on paper, but instead I chose to clear my computer—metaphorically. I shut down all programs except my word processor. I did not check email. I did not check social media. I went straight to my no-distractions blank page mode in Scrivener (the writing software I use), and I began to write.

It was a clean start to a new day.

How will you reduce your Input load today?


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I started meeting with some younger writers about three weeks ago. (And yes, younger refers to their ages not their writing abilities.) We’re getting together to share what we’re writing, help each other with writing problems, and encourage one another. Sounds simple enough, right?

Sure, if you don’t mind being vulnerable and turning yourself inside out for the world to see. Readers who have never written something intended for an audience beyond an English teacher may not have experienced the odd combination of terror and excitement that comes when you first read your own work to people you don’t know well. I imagine, however, that most can identify with this sentiment pulled from my About Page:

Sometimes it feels like our story isn’t worth sharing. It’s not as perfect, polished, or awe-inspiring as the person next door…we feel like our lives are just a trickle in the grand scheme of life.

Have you ever compared yourself and felt that way? I do this more often that I like to admit, but now, whenever those feelings rear up inside me, I remind myself how ugly it is when my eyes roll back into my head and stare at myself rather than looking outward as they should. It may seem that keeping focused on others means we shouldn’t talk about ourselves, but that can’t be the answer. We’d become a planet of mutes, which is difficult to imagine. And what about exhibitionism, tattle telling, slander, gossip, soap operas, and the like? We all know people who have no filter or can’t stop talking about themselves or use story as a weapon to hurt others. Do I really want to encourage that kind of behavior? The answer is, of course, no. So what am I saying?

Have the guts to own who you are and know your story. Be ready to share your story* when it can redeem the moment and encourage others.

I’m working on owning my story. I still stumble over my words when I am put on the spot and must reveal I’m a writer. On the other hand, I’m becoming less afraid to share other parts of my story—scenes and chapters that in the past were too painful to even think about much less verbalize. Think about your life. When have you experienced pain, failure, or embarrassment? Now, think again. When have you experienced good, beauty, and redemption? Think on those things. Share them when prompted. What’s your story?   *When I say “story,” I don’t mean that you tell the 15-volume, one-million-word version every time you share it. In life, abridged versions are usually desirable.

Photo Credit: L. Yost