The Thing You Have to Understand Is That You Are Different

blog img_You are different

:: Not everybody wants to escape the 9-5 world. 

:: Not everybody who is deeply unhappy in the 9-5 world makes the leap to self-employment or any other kind of cubicle liberation. 

:: Not everybody wants to start a blog. Or launch a website. Or create an Etsy shop. Or write a newsletter for an audience of raving fans.  

:: Not everybody believes it’s possible to liberate themselves from unfulfilling work and build an online presence that sells their good and services, all while tapping into their innate talents and skills and abilities. 

:: Not everybody is comfortable sharing their art – whether that’s writing, graphic design, fine art, photography, business & marketing strategy, or any other kind of creative pursuit – in a public venue. 

:: Not everybody feels the fear and does it anyway. 

:: Not everybody chooses the friction of being visible over the much more palatable friction of being invisible. (Inspired by Mark Nepo

:: Not everybody chooses to feel utterly alive doing what they love to do, despite being terrified a crash and burn scenario could be imminent.  

:: Not everybody decides to take action on their dreams despite the naysayers who proclaim it’s not possible to do work you love and be well-paid for it.

:: Not everybody believes that creative sovereignty is a worthwhile and achievable goal.  

:: Not everybody keeps marching to the beat of their own quirky drummer when it would make much more sense to cave and get a job. 

:: Not everybody understands the liberating and undeniable joy of being unemployable. (I am full-time self-employed, but I consider myself unemployable.) 

:: Not everybody reads blogs like this one for marketing advice/how-tos/inspiration. (Thanks for that, by the way). 

:: Not everybody believes they have to ask permission from some kind of “gatekeeper” to do their thing, pursue their art, and sell it

The thing you have to understand is that you are different. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Revel in it. Fall in love with it. 

 

What would you add to this list? What do you believe/do/practice that goes against the accepted wisdom about how to earn a living or pursue your creative work? Please share in the comments!

On Goal Setting, Guilt, and Planning 2015 Around the Metric of Creative Fulfillment

Goals 2015 blog post image_resized

Image by FidlerJan

Ah, the beginning of a new year.

It’s that time when all around the interwebs, you’re exposed to endless talk about planning and goal-setting for 2015, and doing your 2014 year in review. And let’s not forget, it’s also the time for setting some “stretch” goals for the coming year, often referred to as “big hairy audacious goals.” (Why “hairy,” I wonder? I’ve always been puzzled by that phrase. I prefer my goals hair-free. But I digress.)

I’ve listened to a bunch of podcasts, attended half a dozen webinars, and read numerous blog posts in the last six weeks about goal-setting systems and templates and philosophies and rules.

And I’m ready, I’m “ready-eddy-eddy” as Sponge Bob would say, to plan my 2015. In fact, at the end of November I bought a big ass 2015 wall calendar, and I cannot tell you how excited that one simple purchase made me feel! I fairly floated home on a cloud of unfettered fantasies of a rockin’ 2015 in which all my dreams come true.

And then I remembered the goals I set for 2014 that didn’t quuuuuite come to pass.

The 2014 Postmortem

Recently I looked back through my journals from the last two years, specifically, the parts where I wrote down my goals for the following year, and what I discovered left me feeling a wee bit sad and disappointed.

Because even though I’ve been working ridiculously hard for the last two years, there were still many things I said I was going to do in 2013 that I never got around to doing, and even more things I had planned for 2014 that didn’t happen.

I’ve been ruminating about this for weeks, trying to uncover the reason for this sorry state of affairs, and what I’ve concluded is this: my approach to goal-setting in 2014 was based more on what seemed logical and realistic, with a focus on what I “should” want as a writer, copywriter & marketing strategist for hire – and less on what I really, truly, madly and deeply desired.

And while I’m sure there are many circumstances in which being “realistic” and “logical” makes the most sense, I fervently believe that, as Will Smith has said, “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.” And in my case, it was also the road to unfulfilled goals, and their corollary, disappointment and guilt.

The big picture assessment of where my 2014 goal-setting and goal-achieving missed the mark is that I chose some of the “wrong” goals, and the way I was going about achieving even the “right” ones was misguided.

Let me explain.

4 Insights on goal-setting based on my 2014 experience, and where I derailed:

#1: If you don’t choose goals for the “right” reason, that is, goals that actually light you up and tap into your natural skills, gifts, talents and abilities, and even more importantly, goals that take into account what you actually WANT to be doing, they’re much less likely to get accomplished.

For example, one of my goals for this year was to increase my income by 30-50%. I knew I could easily achieve this by reaching out to more healthcare and real estate-related clients, because I’ve done a lot of marketing communications in these two niches for the last few years, so finding additional clients in these categories wouldn’t be difficult.

And at the beginning of 2014, I set out to do just that. I made an initial list of 50+ healthcare and real estate clients to reach out to, set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my weekly outreach and results, and set about contacting potential new clients. Then about 4 weeks in, I lost all motivation to continue down this path. Even though it felt like a revenue increase slam-dunk, my heart just wasn’t in it. I love my current real estate and healthcare clients, but I simply don’t want to take on new writing projects in these niches unless something uber-interesting comes along.

Result: While I got a few awesome new clients in creative fields in 2014 (Yay – these are my dream clients!), I mostly let myself coast with current healthcare and real estate clients. As a result, my income in 2014 was pretty much the same as it was in 2013.

Solution: In 2015, I’ll be making a concerted effort to reach out to creative service providers and other potential clients in my ideal target audience. Actively marketing to the kind of clients I have a strong desire to work with means the daily marketing will get done, because my heart will be in the marketing, and in getting these clients great results.

Inspirational quote that sums up this point, from Brendon Burchard: “The journey to legend begins the moment our bias for ease and comfort is overpowered by our drive for challenge and contribution.”

So for better results? Drop the “bias for ease and comfort” – love that.

#2: Setting huge goals, then not chunking them down into the smaller, manageable pieces that can be accomplished daily, weekly and monthly, is a recipe for failure.

What happens here is, you look at this huge goal, and because it’s so big, so daunting, so seemingly insurmountable, you have no idea where to begin. And because you don’t where to begin, you procrastinate. You don’t take action because you don’t know which action to take first, and next, then next after that. And then your dream turns into a sad, dessicated husk that drifts away on the wind the first time you whine “I can’t figure this OUT!” (Or maybe that’s just me.)

For example, this year I wanted to begin writing my book for and about creatives, the details of which I’m still sorting out. I took a course in how to write a book proposal, I joined an amazing online writer’s group made up of lovely and ambitious souls who are also working on books and book proposals, and in which there is an infinite amount of advice and support; I even wrote up a skeleton outline of the book. But alas, that’s where it ended.

Result: Because I didn’t break the project down into its attendant daily, weekly and monthly tasks, it felt like such a bear that I didn’t move forward on it after the initial flurry of activity.

Solution: For 2015, I mapped out my entire year in “skeleton” form. It’s not overly detailed at this point, but it has my big goals and intentions for the year sketched out, by quarter and by month. I chose 2-3 key goals to focus on each quarter, then broke those down into my monthly and weekly action items. Next I made an extremely detailed plan for 1Q that includes my blog and email newsletter editorial calendar, marketing, promotions, and client outreach for each month, and the bigger creative projects I’ll work on. I don’t do the super-detailed planning more than 3 months in advance, but with the skeleton plan for the entire year in place, I feel on purpose and directed. Which is a vast improvement from last year, when I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants for most of the year. Having a written plan with an actual timeline feels so much better – and oddly, more liberating.

#3: Having too many goals is also a dream killer.

There were so many things I wanted to accomplish in 2014, so I attempted to work a little bit on each of them, all the time. There was the book, a new interview series for the blog, the 6-month class I took the second half of 2014, regular blog and email newsletter content, the client work, the outreach plan to get new clients, the website rewrite, the guest posting blitz, and at least half a dozen other big-ish projects.

Result: Lots of things started, few completed. This left me feeling exhausted, creatively unfulfilled, and cranky. Lesson: Lots of loose ends and unfinished projects is not good for your creative mojo.

The solution: The cure for this is to focus one’s “whole-hearted creative attention” (a Danielle LaPorte phrase) on two or three main projects at any one time, and forget the rest. With that in mind, my three top priorities for 2015 are: writing the book and all activities related to that project; building my online platform and email list, both to support the book release and to increase revenue for my copywriting and marketing consulting business; and to increase my revenue by 50%.

#4: The corollary to this is not knowing which goals to prioritize (or in my case, not validating your dreams by prioritizing your most heartfelt goals).

What I found was that the goals I was actually most excited about – interviewing other creatives for a new blog series, writing my book, and creating products – took a backseat to the day-to-day grind of client work. I told myself repeatedly throughout the year, “I don’t have TIME to step away from client work to work on my book or interview series or product creation. Between clients and deadlines and marketing my services, I just don’t have time!” That’s probably not coming across as shrilly here as it did in my head all year long, but it was a constant, annoying refrain.

Result: Because I wasn’t carving out big chunks of time to work the goals that actually meant the most to me, there were many times during the year I felt resentful and dissatisfied.

This culminated in an “episode” at the beginning of July that scared the bejesus out of me: I was driving to the location of where I do onsite work for a client, and about half a mile from my destination, I started having trouble breathing, my heart was racing, and I felt like I was dying. I considered pulling over and calling 911, because I literally could not breathe. I didn’t know if it was a heart attack, a panic/anxiety attack, or some other inexplicable health-related thing. I made an appointment with my doctor, who suggested an EKG and a chest x-ray, neither of which turned up anything troublesome, luckily. And that’s when I started seeing an acupuncturist regularly, because this thing, whatever it was, didn’t go away. It lingered in more subdued form for months. And it still crops up from time to time even now, usually when I’m feeling stressed. Anyhoo, I’m convinced the July episode was my body’s way of telling me to stop grinding through the kind of work and the kind of schedule I don’t love and find a better path. Duly noted, plan in progress.

Solution: This is not about not having time, but about prioritizing my most important goals and rearranging my schedule to make the actions required to achieve them possible. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and if people with way more time constraints and family and work obligations than I have can create their art and meet their goals, so can I.

At the end of the day, if I wanted to work on the book, do the interview series, and create the products in 2014, I could have pushed other things off my schedule and carved out time to do them, but I did not. I have to give my goals the same weight I do client work, by doing something as simple as adding a non-negotiable hour of writing/creation time into my schedule 6-7 days a week, first thing in the morning, before I do anything else, including client work.

Something that’s helping me like gangbusters in prioritizing my day is a great post by Ashley Ambirge called, Million Things To Do? Prioritize by ROI. (And Then Get a Life.) I’m not exaggerating when I say this blog post has changed my relationship to my work in a way that makes me feel damn near sane most days! And a whole lot happier. I now follow this template daily for arranging my work flow.

Wins: What Went Right in 2014 (It’s All About Mindset & Clarity).

When I review my accomplishments in 2014, the thing I’m most proud of are the profound mindset shifts I made. These shifts are leading to a more profitable business, and though they impacted 2014 mostly in the 4th quarter, going forward they’ll add to my bottom line over and over again.

So we’ve all heard that saying that goes something like, “everything you want is just outside your comfort zone” right? But how many of us live by that in our day-to-work? I thought I was getting outside the ol’ comfort zone on a regular basis until I took a course called Get Known, Get Clients created by business and publicity strategist Selena Soo. Selena’s course had me doing things way, and I mean waaaay, outside this introvert’s very comfortable comfort zone each week for the six months of the course.

While there were many things I was at ease with by virtue of having done them consistently for the last 2-3 years – list-building, guest posting, target market research, branding and so on – there were other things in the course that made me wildly uncomfortable, panicked even.

Such as, you ask? Well, having sales conversations, creating a signature talk and committing to live networking, for starters. (I’d actually done the live networking thing a ton over the years, but decided I was done with it about two years ago, being an introvert and all. Until this course, when I learned how to do it without feeling like I was selling my soul to the devil.)

So, the big scary: sales conversations . . . . something I knew as a service provider I should be doing on a regular basis, but always resisted. And I didn’t feel I really needed to be doing them, because I had plenty of work. But what if all that went away and I had to start over again from scratch to get clients? That’s where it would come in super-handy to develop some skill in having sales conversations. So I committed to learning this skill.

I’ve now had a few sales conversations. Turns out? Not as terrifying as I thought they’d be. (And in case you’re wondering, “sales conversations” don’t have to feel “salesy” or icky at all. It’s about sharing how you can help potential clients who have already expressed some interest in working with you; it’s never about coercion – there’s a way to have them that doesn’t employ any of that desperate, pushy sales energy.)

And when you actually get a fabulous new client out of the practice right away, one that fits your ideal client profile to a “t,” as I did? Well my friend, that’s when your confidence soars and you commit to doing more of this thing you thought you’d never want to do. AND, you help clients achieve their goals and increase your revenue at the same time. It’s a win-win-win if ever there was one.

And the bonus is, once you’ve done something scary and uncomfortable once, that particular thing gets much easier, so you move on to an even bigger and scarier goal, and wrestle that one into submission too.

On the creating a signature talk front, while I didn’t set out to achieve this in 2014, after Get Known, Get Clients, I’ve committed to creating and delivering a signature talk in 2015, because it’s an excellent way to add high-value ideal clients to your client roster. I’ll do this in steps so I don’t become so terrified that it never happens. Because I love to teach, I plan to start by developing a small web marketing & messaging workshop for creative business builders, then after I’ve delivered this 2-3 times, I’ll step it up and create a signature talk. Believe me when I tell you that this is something that a year ago I would have never seen myself doing. Mind, expanded.

The other seemingly small but profoundly impactful thing I changed as a result of taking this course – and something that’s already increased my revenue – is talking to people one-on-one who email me to express interest in working together. What I used to do before the GKGC course was respond to client inquiries with an email asking the potential client to tell me more about their project. This isn’t because I’m an introvert or fear rejection, it’s because my daily schedule is full, and email is quicker. However, what I found (duh) is that talking to potential clients over the phone results in more clients signing on, so it’s worth the extra time it takes to schedule and have the conversation.

Lesson: Getting out of your comfort zone on the regular is necessary if you want to achieve your biggest goals, dreams & visions.

“Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world. You cannot stand still. You must go forward.” ~Robert Collier

Sweet, Sweet Clarity

I often say clarity is like gold, because once you have it, you don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter. Which results in a life of more joy, freedom, cash, and fun. And who doesn’t want that?

After my weird summer and fall (see notes on not validating your dreams by prioritizing your most heartfelt goals, above), I not only achieved clarity on what I really want to work on and what really lights me up in both business and in life, but also started taking action on said clarity. I can’t overstate how important this is for creating massive amounts of joy and liberation in your life. The resource that helped me achieve this goldmine of clarity is Danielle LaPorte’s book, The Desire Map. Highly recommended.

In a nutshell, the process involves getting clear on how you most want to feel in every area of your life, then setting your goals and intentions based on your core desired feelings, or CDFs. My 2015 plans and goals are now based on my core desired feelings, which include: Creatively fulfilled; Financially empowered; Generous; Connected, and Courageous.

Other 2014 Wins:

:: The most fun and creatively satisfying investment I made this year was Book Mama Linda Sivertsen’s Your Big Beautiful Book Plan telecourse, which is essentially a live version with one-on-one feedback from Linda of the Your Big, Beautiful Book Plan digital program (which I also bought this year)

These two resources helped me organize my copious but incohesive thoughts around the book I want to write for and about creatives. And while I didn’t start writing the book in 2014 as I had originally planned, I outlined the entire thing, bought the book domain name, and sketched out a promotion plan. The challenge in 2015 will be carving out the time to consistently take action on this massive project while keeping on top of client work.

:: I transitioned away from taking on strictly real estate and healthcare clients and started working with creative clients this year. Goooooooooaaaaalllllllll! It’s a good start, and I’ll be ramping up my outreach to these clients in 2015 so I can eventually phase out of writing marketing communications in the real estate and healthcare niches.

:: There was an increase in the number of potential clients coming to me through my website this year, which is what this introvert has always wanted. This is a result of getting clear on my ideal client avatar (ICA) and unique selling proposition (USP) and implementing these insights throughout my website, which I did in 2013. I’ll be tweaking things in both these areas even more in 2015.

Figure It Out, & Do What Makes You Happy

So that’s it, that’s my 2014 year-end assessment. I’m clear about what didn’t work, what did, and what I want to achieve in 2015. And I’m setting my goals and intentions based on what I most want, not on what I feel like I should want, or what someone else says I should strive for in my business and in my life, or on anything other than what I know to be true in my heart of hearts.

What about you?

What if you chose your goals & intentions for this and every year based on what makes you the happiest, on what brings you the greatest joy?

Of course you have to make a buck and keep the lights on, but is there a way to put more of your desired creative work into your daily life?

I’ll leave you with this, one of my favorite quotes of all time:

The great actor, director and author Sidney Poitier once said when talking about his background and achievements while accepting an award:

I knew my dreams were as valid as I was prepared to make them.

Powerful stuff.

So I ask you, are you prepared to make your dreams valid this year? I am. Please join me.

 

Resources Mentioned in This Article

Your Big, Beautiful Book Plan 

Book Mama 

The Desire Map 

8 questions to ask yourself before committing to a goal (or a person, or anything for that matter). 

I didn’t mention this Danielle LaPorte blog post in the article here, but it helped me tremendously in setting and reviewing my goals. It’s a list of 8 specific questions you can ask yourself about each of your goals & intentions to find more clarity. I found this most useful when I was trying to decide if a goal was something I wanted for the right reasons, or merely something I felt “conditioned” to want.

Ashley Ambirge on how to prioritize your projects each day – I’m following this template daily now:

Million Things To Do? Prioritize by ROI. (And Then Get a Life.)  

Get Known, Get Clients 

Here’s another piece I didn’t reference in this article, but it’s a very good one on how to do a year-end review, from the fine folks at Fizzle:

The End of Year Review and Planning Process Every Small Business and Online Entrepreneur Should Follow 

And one more quote, because I can’t resist:

There’s a certain delusional quality that all successful people have to have. You have to believe that something different than what has happened for the last 50 million years of history, you have to believe that something different can happen. ~Will Smith

May we all have a rockin’ 2015 in which all our dreams come true. 🙂 

 

Creativity is a Drug

CBD creativity quote

I planned to start this essay by saying that creativity is like oxygen.  But it’s not really like oxygen.  Creativity is not actually necessary to live from a physical standpoint, but it’s hard to imagine a rich and fulfilled life without it.

So I think Cecil has it right. Creativity is like a drug one cannot live without. Once you begin to experience the pleasures of it, you can’t imagine not having it in your life daily.

(In my mind, I’m pronouncing his name Seh-suhl like the character Cecil Terwilliger from The Simpsons, not See-suhl, the way it’s usually pronounced. I feel like that works better here. But I digress.)

Creativity is also like a muscle that must be used daily or it will atrophy. 

I created a “commandments” list a couple of years ago, ala Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project and on it I wrote “do something every day to make myself happy,” which for me more often than not means a creative project of some kind – writing, brainstorming ideas for articles and essays, cooking a fabulous meal, rearranging a corner of my apartment, capturing images with my iPhone, freeform daydreaming, and so on. 

For many months I didn’t practice creativity daily in any real way. This was when I was working a couple of part-time jobs while getting my freelance writing business off the ground.  All my writing at that time was for clients; I didn’t write for myself daily like I do now. Instead I worried daily. Fretted. Felt myself pulled daily further and further into the mesmerizing undertow of living below what my true inspiration called me to do.

I was not happy and fulfilled in my work then. But happiness is a choice, so looking back, I can see that I participated in my unhappiness by buying into the false notion that creative fulfillment is something “over there,” something that has to be put off until all one’s other ducks are gotten in a row. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

As long as I believed that creative fulfillment was something that was unavailable to me while I was slogging away writing what I didn’t want to write and doing work I didn’t necessarily love to do, then that’s where it would stay – “over there.”

But the truth is, there are ways to assure you get your daily creativity fix, even if it’s in small doses. If you’re a writer, you write. If you’re a photographer, you make beautiful images. If you’re a painter, you paint. And so on.

So I started writing for myself for 30 minutes daily, longer on weekends. Writing that had nothing to do with client work, and nothing to do with blogging for my writing business website or weekly newsletter either. I simply opened up a Word doc in June of 2013 and started “journaling” there daily.  Then later, I began writing in a physical journal again, writing my way through one journal, then another, then another after that.

And that practice is what pulled me out of my creative cul-de-sac. It’s an ongoing project, this trying to make more space in my life daily for unfettered creative practice, and sometimes it takes a back seat to client work, or marketing my business, or those boring but necessary admin tasks one must do each day to keep the wheels on the bus going round and round.

But what I notice is that if I’m not committed to accessing that well daily, the sometimes elusive substance known as creativity will shrivel, or evaporate altogether, and I’ll be staring into the abyss of the “mehs” once again.

What about you? How do you make space in your life for the creative work that fires you up? I’d love to hear how you make your creative practice a priority. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

 

Which is the Better Path to Creative Fulfillment?

creative fulfillment

If you do creative work, which is better – working a day job that has nothing whatsoever to do with the creative thing you like to do, or working a day job that features at least some elements of the creative thing you like to do?

You might think, duh, obviously a day job that features elements of the creative thing you like to do is the better choice.

But I often wonder if this is true. Is it really better to be the person who has a creative career – for example, let’s say this person is a writer and works in an advertising/PR agency – so on the plus side they get to write every day – but what they really want to do is write a novel or a screenplay or a book of essays, only they don’t have the energy left over at the end of the work day to make it happen?  

Or, is the optimal choice to be the person whose put-food-on-the-table job has nothing to do with their creative calling, and because of this has the mental clarity and space to do their creative thing on the side exactly as they please, with no compromises, and arrives home at the end of each work day full of energy and inspiration to do their creative work?

Because the advertising/PR agency person, while earning a living writing, would have a demanding job that required a lot of overtime and unfortunate office politics to deal with, which would likely leave them feeling depleted and uninspired at the end of the day, without the wherewithal to write.

(And you know what that means. Another night of indulging in your favorite Bravo-lebrities while downing a few glasses of wine, eating Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge right out of the carton, and mentally planning your exit from said day job while giving your boss what for on your way out the door. And possibly not leaving your house from Friday afternoon until Monday morning many weekends in a row while employed at this advertising/PR agency. Not that I would know. Ahem.)

The point is, this kind of relationship with our career, creative or not, doesn’t leave us much time or mental space to write that novel, screenplay or book of essays, or whatever form our creative output happens to take.

On the other hand, the person with a job not related to their creative calling, one they aren’t overly emotionally invested in because it’s simply what they do to pay the bills, might arrive home eager to get to work on their creative project. They’ve left the job at work, and aren’t assaulted by the kind of needling gremlins that come with a career you’re expected to try to “get ahead” in, so they have a mental clean slate. They have the bandwidth to be fully and totally focused on their creative output.

I’ve been on both sides – I’ve had relatively low-stress jobs not related to writing that were meant simply to pay the bills, and high-stress, time-consuming, career-oriented jobs where there was a significant amount of writing involved, but also office politics and other assorted craziness. (Such as siblings who owned the business screaming at each other in front of my office door, a place of employment my best friend dubbed the “snit factory” for its silly territorial battles and dysfunctional silent rages.)

I generally get into a more fulfilling creative groove when I’m not preoccupied by office politics, heinous deadlines, and the crushing responsibility to pick out an “outfit” 5 days a week. On the other hand, the deadly combination of underearning and lackluster work you can’t work up much passion for ain’t no picnic either.

So obviously I don’t have the answer to the what-kind-of-day-job-is-best-for-doing-your-creative-work question.  But I’m hoping to get the discussion going, so please leave a comment here and let’s debate the perils and pleasures of each approach, shall we? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

New York Experience Required

photo by kconners

photo by kconners

Nothing could top the magic I felt the day I arrived at New York’s Penn Station from Wilmington, a smallish town on North Carolina’s southeastern coast, to officially begin my New York life. I felt liberated and inspired, intoxicated by the notion that anything was possible now that I was going to be living in this magical city.

It was 1991 and my then boyfriend was getting his MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. I was living in Wilmington, earning my English degree at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. After we did the long-distance relationship thing for a while, the topic of me moving to New York came up. I was already packing mentally 30 seconds into the conversation. Back in the real world a few days later, I dropped all my classes at UNCW, began the process of transferring to Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and starting packing my belongings for real.

Luckily the boyfriend had scored a sweet little apartment on 119th and Amsterdam, in a building with a doorman and a nice restaurant on the top floor called The Terrace, through some impossible magic of Columbia student housing.  With safe shelter out of the way, my first order of business was finding a job to fill the time and my bank account until I was to begin classes a few months later.

I started looking for waitressing work.  For a girl with plenty of restaurant experience who had never had trouble finding a waitressing gig before, this turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I would comb through classified ads in The Village Voice spying ad after ad that said, “New York experience required.”  I was baffled. I had no clue what the difference between waiting tables in a small southern beach community and Manhattan’s restaurant scene was.

After a few weeks of searching, I scored a job in a casual hamburger joint thick in the theater district just off Broadway on 45th between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  I was both thrilled and terrified to be given this opportunity. Rows of tables lined up neatly along the length of the restaurant, next to the bar, in front of the kitchen, and around the corner and into the next room, as if every millimeter of empty space that couldn’t accommodate a customer was an affront to commerce. Tables were so close together you could reach out a take a sip of the beer your fellow restaurant patron was enjoying at the next table over as easily as eating a French fry off of your very own plate.

10 minutes into my first shift the need for “New York experience” started to sink in.  Navigating the cramped spaces between tables to deliver food and drinks was dicey. I was forever worried that my butt was in the face of some unsuspecting restaurant patron trying to enjoy their burger and curly fries as I delivered a quesadilla to their neighbors at the next table over.  The distance between my ability to do my job properly and invading my customers’ personal space was exceedingly slim.

Maybe this was different from waitressing in the comparatively spacious and slothlike environment of southeastern North Carolina’s beach scene. 

And it wasn’t just the space issues. From restaurant patrons who arrived at 6:45 pm, waited 30 minutes for a table, then ordered a well-done steak, announcing, “we’re in a hurry, we’re trying to make an 8 o’clock show,” to the purse snatchings inside the restaurant, and from the occasional celebrity sitting in your section to orders for things like lime rickeys and egg creams, nearly everything I encountered in my first few weeks on the job called up the phrase, “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

But I was in hog heaven, as we say in the South. I embraced every experience my new job and city had to offer, assenting to both conveniences and annoyances in equal measure, mentally placing them on my “Proof I’m a Real New Yorker” list. The vague suffocation I felt when I lived in the South began to dissipate.

I noticed New York’s peculiarities everywhere: the way the city would empty out in the summer, its residents fleeing the trapped heat and humidity to escape to the Hamptons and other beachy enclaves.  The frequent celebrity sightings, whose frequency made them ordinary. The constant barrage of people asking for money.  The ever present noise of sirens and car horns at all times of the day and night.  Getting shat on by a pigeon as you made your way across 45th street just after crossing Broadway.  (Yes, it happened to me.)

With every new first I felt my hayseed sheen begin to wear off – my first book party in a big fancy apartment on Central Park West, where clumps of minor literary celebs and starving writers from the Columbia MFA program stood around chatting about Lewis Lapham’s latest editorial in Harper’s Magazine, my first celebrity sighting (Paul Schaffer, David Letterman’s musical director) in front of Coliseum Books on 57th and Broadway, the first time I got yelled at by a homeless person I chose not to help that day, the first time I stopped being offended by the admonition of “Next!” and the absence of eye contact in line at the bank.

Like an onion, layer after layer of Southerness peeled away with each passing day.

The day I felt fully transformed into a New Yorker came one glorious spring afternoon as I was leaving the restaurant on my way to everyone’s favorite ubiquitous New York drugstore, Duane Reade. Walking across 45th Street, I spotted a crowd gathered in front of a youth hostel, where several people stood silently hovering around something on the ground, their hands clasped over their mouths, eyes wide. I didn’t want to linger, but I could tell from the shocked energy that hung in the air something bad had happened, and I was curious.

Turns out, a young man had jumped or fallen out of the window of a nearby building, landing on the sidewalk in front of the hostel.

What I remember most clearly all these years later is this young man’s enthusiastically curly red hair, springing from his scalp vibrant and alive, juxtaposed with his body, which clearly wasn’t. 

After a few brief moments of this shared experience with my fellow New Yorkers, the crowd began to disperse, collectively making its way on with the rest of the afternoon. As I walked away, I made a mental note of what I needed to buy at the drugstore.

Pay Attention to What Makes You Cry: A Navel-Gazer’s Guide to Decision-Making

I'm a writer

Something strange was happening.

For close to 6 months I’d feel on the verge of tears every time I read Danielle LaPorte’s blog. Ditto when visiting Linda Sivertsen’s Book Mama website, reading her blog posts, and especially when watching the video about her Carmel writer’s retreats.

Sometimes I’d actually shed those tears.  

Here’s how it looked:

Open email for the day.  Ah! Danielle’s newest blog post. Groovy. “Why Self-Improvement Makes You Neurotic.” Great, I love that topic!  Read. Feel wave of emotion. Tears just about to announce themselves, but don’t.  Feeling rattled and unsettled.  Hmm.

Or this:

Linda’s recent newsletter arrives in in-box.  Feel excited. Begin reading “Writing with Scissors,” about the editing process. Feel bathed in a warm glow of identification and recognition. But, wait! There it is – begin feeling weepy.

If I was keeping track of how many times this happened on my handy abacus, all the beads would be on the right-hand side and I’d be sliding them back over to the left to start the count over again. I couldn’t make sense of it. What was provoking these emotional mini-dramas?

I mean, sure, both Linda and Danielle are gifted writers and what they write about is often moving.  As a writer, I identify with many of the topics they so eloquently cover. And as an emotional creature, feeling moved to near tears while reading something inspirational isn’t unusual for me.

But this was different. It was repeated and insistent, and happened even when the subject matter was ordinary.  Feeling near tears while reading about the editing process – what gives? I was having a hard time figuring it out.  Not to mention, it was becoming a tad inconvenient to flounce around in a near-permanent state of emotional quiver. 

But I’m a world-class navel-gazer, so I knew with enough deep reflection into the minutia of my every fleeting thought and feeling I could figure this out.

After a while, it dawned on me:  the emotional reaction I’m having is because these writers are living the kind of writer’s life I want to live, but don’t – they write and publish regularly, have traditionally published books out, and enjoy creative and financial abundance, doing what they love to do. They’ve created a satisfying and remunerative writing life for themselves based on their strengths and skill sets as writers, writing what they want to write.  

I had to admit that this is what I too want to create. I’ve known it in my gut for a long time. But I hadn’t done it, nor was I even trying to do it. “It,” at the very least, meant carving out time to work on my own writing apart from client writing projects.  So the tears, near as I can tell, were because I wasn’t living in alignment with my truth (I know, I’m very sorry to have to use that phrase, and I really hope you’ll forgive me, but it works here), when faced with two talented writers who are. I felt like the kind of writing life I wanted to create was passing me by. And I ain’t gettin’ any younger, kids.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my copywriting clients to the heavens and I’m deeply grateful for the interesting projects I’m blessed to work on for them. I thoroughly enjoy writing and creating marketing strategy for them, and for my own copywriting business; it’s work that fuels and excites me.

However.

What I knew for sure was that I wanted to make room in my life for longer, more reflective writing than the kind you can do on a blog or in a newsletter that’s geared to helping your audience achieve a specific business or marketing goal.  Who knows what this writing would end up looking like, but I knew I was game to see.

So when Linda Sivertsen announced the Your Big Beautiful Book Plan Telecourse recently, I jumped at the chance to take it. Even though between client work and business classes and other commitments, I’m clocking in about 60 hours a week right now. Even though I had to charge it to my credit card, because as luck would have it, client invoices went out, but haven’t been paid yet this month. And even though I made a commitment to myself not to take one more course until I finish the ones I’m in the middle of now.

Besides, I had buying Danielle and Linda’s Your Big Beautiful Book Plan digital course (which is a separate thing from the telecourse) on my 2014 plan already – for September or October, not March, fer cryin’ out loud.  March was wildly inconvenient, March was for other business priorities, March was all wrong for so many reasons.

But I couldn’t deny the way getting the email announcement about the telecourse made me feel.  Giddy. Excited. Liberated. A big fat resounding yeeeeesssss radiating from every cell.  When I went to bed that night, I tossed and turned all night dreaming of the possibilities. I also felt weepy (see? there it is again) at the prospect of another dream deferred if I chose not to do this now.

When I woke the next morning I was certain I had to take this course, other commitments be damned.  Out came the credit card.  That was March 5.  It’s been 8 days since I did this thing that I’m sure is going to change my life. And I feel jubilant. 

And I think I can toss the Kleenex.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.  : )

To the Family Hogging the Aisle in the Biography Section of the ILM Barnes & Noble Last Night

pet peeves

 

WTF?

Was there no other place your entire family of seven could congregate?

There I was in “New Biography,” quietly surveying the selection of recently released tomes, when you all decided to have a family gathering/literature discussion in “Biography,” right behind me.

As much as the former English major in me enjoyed your amusing and thoughtful discussion on the merits of the biography of so-and-so, the sane person who appreciates her personal space felt a tad crowded by your teenage progeny hovering 6 inches from my right ear weighing the ins and outs of your family’s gift list.

Now, I realize that makes me sound like a snob, and I don’t doubt each one of you possesses intelligence vastly superior to mine.

However.

There were other people in the store also interested in access to the Biography aisle – I know this because when I looked up from the book I had my nose buried in, I saw them peer hopefully into the aisle trying to gauge the best route in, then abandon the idea because it would’ve been next to impossible to navigate your family’s  literature pow-wow.

You know, your decision to camp there for half an hour probably turned away some sales.  As hard as book stores have it in this day and age of the Nook, the Kindle, and any other reading device that may someday be invented, this is a real shame.

This habit of people treating public spaces as their home turf, while remaining oblivious to pretty much anyone else near, around, or next to them has always been one of my biggest pet peeves.   I’m willing to consider that I may need therapy and/or meds to combat this problem, as there’s no getting around the fact that it happens whenever you enter a public space of any kind, and getting bent out of shape about it regularly is really not very good for my mental health.  At the very least, I may need to sedate myself before venturing into Barnes & Noble anytime soon, or at least until the holiday shopping season is officially over.

Funny, not 20 minutes after the Barnes & Noble “incident,” I went to Target, where there was a guy in the cereal aisle with his enormous shopping cart clogging up half the aisle, while his wide stance in front of the fortified bran section took up the other half.  Even when I edged close to him to reach for a box of Special K just ever so slightly beyond where he was standing, he did not move.

Honestly.

What’s a girl to do?

I hear there are places on the interwebz you can order books and supplies online.  It’s called Amazon, maybe you’ve heard of it.  Maybe I’ll check that out next time I want to do some hassle free book shopping.  Especially since I can shop in my pajamas, all while enjoying an adult beverage.  Hmm, very civilized.

That’s Right, Another “10 Things I’m Grateful For” List

Gratitude List

I resisted doing this.

Really, I had to think long and hard before adding to the heap of words on the digital mountain of gratitude you see around the ol’ interwebs this time of year.  (U.S. Thanksgiving, for those of you not from around these here parts.)

I woke up to an inbox chock full of bloggers and online biz owners emailing messages of gratitude and directing me to their blogs where I could read still more messages re the same.

But since some kind of writing motivation lightning bolt struck a couple days ago fairly compelling me to write more often here, and today is Thanksgiving, after all, well, here I go.

Today I’m grateful for:

1. The best group of kick-ass female friends a girl could hope for.  Ronda, Annie, Kristal, Carolyn, Sharon – the brain power, resourcefulness and kindness in that group of five could light up the world for an eternity.

2. Technology.  I’m amazed, and some days, overcome, by how much my life is improved and enriched by all that technology allows into it.  Isn’t it a great time to be alive?

3. And on that subject, I’m grateful for all the eyeballs on this blog and on my email newsletter. And the smart and amazing people connected to those eyeballs.  I may not have thousands of readers, but I cherish every single one I do have.  And that is the truth.

4. The fantastic meal I’ll be enjoying later today at my friend Carolyn’s house, plus the conversation, the laughs, the camaraderie and the fellowship.  Not to mention our friend Katelyn’s famous Cheddar Cheese Apple Pie.  Getting to spend time with the adorable 4-year-old who rules the roost over there is an added bonus.

5. My family, both immediate and extended, who I’m missing this Holiday, but who is always in my heart.

6. The Deepak Chopra 21-Day Meditation Challenge I’m participating in this month.  I’ve benefitted enormously from taking 15 minutes each morning to pause and breathe and reflect on all the abundance in my life.  And Deepak’s soooooothhhinnnng voice as he guides each day’s meditation nearly puts me in a trance. Love that.  : )

7. The brilliant, sunny 62 degree day (on November 22nd, no less) here in lovely coastal North Carolina where I am blessed to live.

8. And about that . . . I’m also grateful that I get to live here, in Wilmington, NC, a place I’ve been head-over-heels in love with since I first visited back in the 80’s.  I might not go to the beach more than once a year, but just knowing it’s 10-15 minutes away brings me joy.

9. The excellent new client I started working with in October.  How lucky am I that I get to do interesting, intellectually stimulating work among a group of uber-smart and talented colleagues?  Still drinking that in.  Very cool.

10. The challenges put in my path and the hard lessons I’ve learned.  I believe these events are blessings, given to me to benefit from. (Now let’s be honest, at the time, some of those “lessons” were things I cursed and resisted.  As recently as this week.  Ha ha.  But retrospect is a very useful tool, and I’m deeply grateful for the growth that my challenges have inspired.)

11. And . . . . I could go on, but I’m starting to feel self-indulgent, so I’ll make #11 my last list item:  I am grateful for S.N., an extraordinary man I still think of lovingly every.single.day.  And miss.  Though things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, it’s because of S.N. that I believed I could give up the 9-5 worker bee life and have a business doing something I love.  It was through S.N. I saw first-hand  what smarts and dedication and hard work can bring into your life, and the experience made me believe I could do it too.  Through S.N. I saw what a successful business looks like, and felt inspired.  But mostly, it was through S.N. that I finally got what real love really feels like, and for that I am forever grateful.

And you?

What are you grateful for today, whichever day you may be reading this?  Shout it out in the comments!

And ~ Happy Thanksgiving!!!  ~ to those of you in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

5 Things I Never Expected When I Started My Freelance Writing Business

Small Business surprises

There are the things you plan for and the things you never expect.

Creating a business you love will definitely present you with a few things from each category.

When I started my freelance web writing and social media marketing business, there were things I knew to count on – the occasional flaky client who disappears into the ether and doesn’t pay; the high-maintenance client who expects the world on a silver platter, haggles over every insignificant detail and expects you to make yourself available for phone meetings at the ungodly hour of 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, when most sane people are enjoying normal activities like catching the latest episode of Mad Men; the feast-or-famine cycle that dogs you until you finally get your marketing right, and so on.

Then there were the things I never counted on, things I couldn’t have predicted.

Here are five that come to mind:

1.  That one of my best clients would come from answering a craigs list ad, and that I’d still be happily working for her over two years later.

2.  That people would offer $10 per blog post/article/piece of content with a totally straight face, then when you kindly object to working for such a rate, act shocked, haughty, self-important and stunned that you find this insulting. The corollary to this is people who will actually take those assignments.

3.  That I would have to subject myself to a drug screen, a breathalyzer, a TB skin test, a pertussis vaccine, having a vial of blood drawn, and a lengthy discussion about worker’s comp and who would cover me if I got injured on the job, for a freelance writing contract with a healthcare client.

4.  That people find it odd that I’m skilled in, a:  writing web copy, blog posts, email marketing campaigns, case studies, press releases and so on, and at the same time, b: social media marketing and strategy.  I don’t say this to brag.  It’s just that several people – including a few clients – have expressed surprise about someone being able to both write well, and plan and implement effective social media campaigns.  Yet I know many other people who have this same skill set.  Hmm, it’s a mystery.

5.  That the stories I wrote in 7th and 8th grade, and the “books” I made with handwritten content together with images torn out of a magazine as illustrations, would be turn out to be good preparation for one day launching a writing-oriented business in my adult life.

Maybe you have similar stories.  If you own a business, whether you’re a one-person show or a 10-person or more operation, you’re bound to.

If so, I would love to hear them.  Let’s all share, shall we?

Please share your story about an interesting or curious thing that happened to you as a small business owner or solopreneur that you didn’t see coming.

This should be fun.  ; )

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