‘Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit my Job.

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This probably isn’t the week to try to quit anything, except going out.

I quit my job with Neighbors of Four Points magazine several weeks ago. I was just ramping up the search for a new position when the coronavirus smashed everyone’s plans on the whole planet to bits and caused the cancellation of pretty much everything but healthcare.

On the one hand, I don’t have to deal with trying to work from home while the kids are not in school for what is currently going to be three weeks. My freelance client has even put projects on hold. As an introvert, nothing pleases me more than being on my own, whimsical schedule. And we are all healthy and not immune-compromised at our house. There’s a lot to appreciate, not the least of which is Texas Governor Abbott giving the okay for restaurants to deliver alcohol during this time of crisis.

On the other hand, as a person who needs a job, the current situation doesn’t bode well. Hiring copywriters isn’t a priority right now. A lot of people assume that because my husband has a fulltime job, I don’t need to work; I just do it for personal edification or shits and giggles and to keep from being bored. These people don’t know me very well; I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself with a stack of books, puzzles and some wine without anyone paying me. We need my income. And while we can keep ourselves in food, clothing and shelter for now, my being unemployed for who-knows-how-long is stressful.

It’s a weird time. My kids are happy the state testing they dread every year has been canceled, and I am enjoying the change in routine, but I know it’s going to be challenging after three weeks. Despite the fact that I taught school for ten years prior to having my own children (or perhaps because of it) I know I’m not cut out for homeschooling. And I know I need to get a job. And I know there are immune-compromised people suffering from coronavirus or from anxiety about contracting it and a bunch of other people irrationally hoarding things and making it harder on everyone. My 68-year-old mom is still going to work in the lab at the hospital every day, and my sister is still stalking the streets of New York City providing necessary health care to those who live there. There is a lot going on and virtually nothing going on all at the same time.

This is going to be the thing our kids remember. Like we remember where we were when the Challenger exploded or when the World Trade Center was hit. Like our parents recall their exact location when John F. Kennedy was shot. But this one is global; it’s an experience youth around the world share. Twenty years from now, my kids might run into someone from Italy, Australia or China, and they’ll ask each other, “What happened where you were during the coronavirus pandemic?” Since this is not an acute event but a lengthy pandemic virus, they will have a lot to talk about. And what will they remember about how the adults in their lives handled this challenge?

Business Advice You Probably Shouldn’t Take

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image credit: nicoletaionescu

 

UPDATE: Since I first posted this, I did decide to merge my business blog with my personal blog. Since I consider the business of uncomfortable emotions part of my business, it made sense.

When I first started a personal blog back in 2008, I was nervous about putting my most private thoughts and feelings out there on the internet for anyone to read. However, I quickly discovered that, guess what? NO ONE READ MY BLOG. I was equal parts dismayed and relieved.

Years and several blog iterations later, I was waiting on the corner for my kids to get out of school when another mom I barely knew said, “I read your blog. It was really great.” I froze. This random woman now knew some really personal things about me, and I felt VERY uncomfortable.

Since that day, I’ve made peace with putting my life out there. My goal was to acknowledge the emotional struggles we all have — the ones we sweep under the rug so we can pretend everything’s hunky dory — and help people feel relief in the knowledge they’re not alone. Now, when people tell me they read my personal blog, Riding the Wave, and tell me it struck a chord in them, I’m pleased.

But how does THAT blog mesh with this business-related one? Both are under my name; I even have them linked together. Anyone I do business with can click on over there and peer into the chaotic chasm of my brain. “Uncomfortable” doesn’t do it justice.

I could discontinue my personal blog or write it under a pseudonym. I could at the very least un-link it from this one or quit splashing it all over social media. But in the name of authenticity, I just can’t do it, even if it’s a terrible business decision. Sure, there’s a place for business and a place for emotional messiness; that’s why I have two different blogs. But the emotional messiness is real, and I’m not going to force it to live in the closet. It’s exhausting trying to keep it in there; the closet’s just not big enough.

You don’t have to empty the contents of your brain onto the page the way I do in my personal blog, but maybe you can let your guard down concerning work a little. And maybe we can all strive to make it feel safer to do that than it does now — not make it the death of your respectability. We can be good at our jobs, we can be focused, efficient hard workers, AND we can have some mess in the background that roams around the house instead of keeping to the unseen storage spaces. It’s not weakness; it’s normal.

The Pros and Cons of MLMs

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An MLM can be just the thing…or not.

A couple of years ago, I signed up for an MLM (multi-level marketing) program. If you don’t know what that is, let me give you some examples: Rodan & Fields, Lularoe, Juice Plus, Beachbody or (old school) Avon. Basically, it’s a business in which you sign up to be a representative, sell products for the company and receive a commission. You also recruit other people to sign up and receive some sort of bonus for that. MLM’s are sometimes called “network marketing” or “direct selling.” Some MLM’s are reputable, some are not.

I got involved in Beachbody, because I loved their workouts and products and I really liked my local team. I enjoyed the camaraderie, group exercise aspects and getting to know new people. That’s what kept me active as a coach for several years.

But then, I started to feel stressed. I felt pressured, mostly by the more centralized leadership, to sell more, recruit more people. Not only is the structure set up to encourage that with discounts and incentives, I felt the pressure on conference calls and company-wide videos. I have never been the sales type, but I stuck with it because I loved my local team so much, and I believed in the product.

It wasn’t rewarding anymore. I felt pressured to post on social media three times a day, call or message people every day; it made me crazy. I hated trying to recruit people. I know there are people out there who make it work for them, but it just wasn’t me.

I took a step back. I had gone out of my comfort zone and tried something new. I was glad I gave it a chance but had to admit it wasn’t for me. I then remembered something a friend told me once, when I approached her about becoming a Beachbody coach. She said, “I told myself I’d never do another MLM.”

It’s not that I think they’re terrible; they’re just not something I can be successful with, at least not without compromising my principles and making myself crazy. Having been approached about several others, I now can’t help but thinking it feels somewhat akin to “drinking the Kool-aid.”

I buy MLM products from several of my friends, because I want to support them and because the products are high-quality. But I can’t in good conscience get more involved, partially because I’m not really your “rah, rah, make it the best day EVER!” kind of person, and MLM leadership seems to be comprised of a lot of those people.

MLM’s can be great for some people. They allow people to be their own bosses to some extent, work out of the house, and sell quality product without high overhead.  If you do want to participate it one, be sure to do your research so you know the in’s and out’s of what you’re committing to beforehand.

For me, though, the tradeoff — having to adhere to the MLM structure in order to be successful — isn’t worth it. If you’re like me, maybe do your own thing. Take what you need, leave the rest.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_tashatuvango’>tashatuvango / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The Devil’s in the Details

49601215 - busy mother coping with stressful day at homeI am a detail-oriented person. I put everything on my calendar, rarely forget an appointment and follow up on what I say I’ll do; it’s important to me.

I am organized. I have labeled folders nested in labeled folders on my computer, and more often than not, I can put my hands on exactly what I need in a matter of seconds. I keep detailed records of business contacts, because I want to remember what we talked about on the phone, even if I don’t hear from you again for six months.

I get a lot of praise for these qualities, and they have served me well throughout my adult life, both in business and personally — certainly with my kids. BUT (there’s always a but) there’s a downside to being a detail-oriented person. Sometimes I get bogged down in those details, let them stress me out and forget the bigger picture. And in business and in life, you need both perspectives.

If you’re stressing over all the things you “have” to get done today — appointments, phone calls, social events, the kids’ soccer snacks or what you going to eat for dinner since you didn’t get to the grocery store — stop, breathe, take a step back and remember the bigger picture.

Even though you didn’t get to every task you intended to today, what good came out of it? Did you enjoy talking to people, have some quality time with your family, take some time for self care? Isn’t it a beautiful spring day? The world is still turning, the sun is still shining and the universe is still in balance, right? Breathe. It’s okay. We are all better workers, friends, parents and community members when we don’t get too submersed in the minutia of our daily lives.

Yesterday, I was hell-bent on getting some addresses mapped out for the most efficient delivery of magazines to our clients. It was late in the day. Then, my youngest called to me in the kitchen, and I saw that his volcano experiment had gone really, REALLY awry. There was dark red liquid ev-ry-where. After we cleaned up, I was exhausted. I sat back down at my computer with bleary eyes and tried to make sense of addresses and maps….

Then, I sighed, shut my laptop and ended up napping on the couch with my oldest kiddo tucked under my arm. There would be time enough tomorrow to obsess over maps. This is the big picture that can’t be ignored if happiness and contentment is your goal: family, friends, community. I invite you to try it.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_highwaystarz’>highwaystarz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Don’t Feed the Stress

stress feedingStress. We talk about it a lot, usually as a negative thing. This business meeting or that family gathering was stressful. I have so much going on, I’m stressed, and I can’t sleep. Too much stress, or the wrong kind, definitely has a negative impact on our health and happiness, but it’s also an important part of who we are as humans.

The phrase, That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, is actually based on scientific evidence. According to one study at UCLA, “People with a history of some lifetime adversity reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than not only people with a high history of adversity but also than people with no history of adversity.”  (Seery et al., 2010, p. 1025)

The key there, of course, is “some.” In the same study, researchers found that people with  the highest amount of lifetime stress had the poorest mental and physical heath. Everything in moderation, also has its foundations in fact. What does this mean for our everyday lives? We don’t necessarily have to view a brief period of moderate stress as a negative.

This morning, I woke up not having slept well. This is my deadline week (which might have you wondering why I’m spending time writing a blog post), I have birthday parties to plan and just a LOT of things to get done in the next several days. As I helped the kids get ready for school, I could literally feel my shoulders tensing up into my ears.

I know how this goes; I’ve been here before. I get anxious that I won’t get everything done, that I’ll forget something. Then I get annoyed at just about everyone who talks to me. I don’t like myself like that. So, I sat down to write in my journal. What I worked out, after rambling on for several pages is this: I was feeding the stress.

I was feeling the pressure of all the things I needed to do, and I was egging it on with self-doubt and self-judgment for bad behavior towards my family that hadn’t even occurred (yet.) This is what made me feel awful, not the stress itself.

As soon as I realized what I was doing and removed all that other stuff, I found the stress actually fed me! That feeling of having a lot to do got me motivated, energized. So much so, I decided I to post here before getting down to the nitty gritty. And, reminding myself that magazine deadlines are not life-or-death helped me get to a more calm and focused place as well. This must be what people who say they thrive on stress are talking about.

If you don’t feed the stress with all of your other baggage, stress can actually fuel you. Caveat: we’re not talking about chronic stress; you can’t operate this way all the time without negative repercussions. (This is where the whole “learn to say ‘no'” thing enters in.) But periodically, a stressful week can give you a sense of purpose and at the end, a feeling of accomplishment.

Instead of automatically assuming stress is bad, realize it’s more how we manage it. You can let it take over and freak you out, or you can harness it and allow it to fuel you to excel without letting it take over your life.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_antonioguillem’>antonioguillem / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Working for Yourself (Esteem)

Rejected_Stamp_shutterstock_65298541_260Freelancing is hard. I got a rejection email yesterday, for a project I thought I was perfect for. I was surprised and disappointed. It caused me to question myself, my career choice, my direction, my abilities. A bit of imposter syndrome snuck in. I don’t have a degree in journalism; I don’t have an MFA; I didn’t write for the school newspaper. Maybe I’m just a hack.

It’s easy to become insecure when something you truly want and think you’re good at doesn’t work out for you, especially if you get no feedback as to why. It’s even more likely you’ll question your worth if you’re taking an unconventional path.  You read what other people in your field are doing, what official qualifications or experiences they have, and you contrast yourself against them. You don’t have what they have, and that breeds self doubt.

Of course you don’t have what they have, but if you are pursuing you passion, don’t let doubt creep into your brain. If it is your calling and you are committed, you DO have something to offer – likely something unique that springs from your own path to where you are now. There’s a reason you love this thing – photography, graphic design, real estate – and it’s probably not because you suck at it. And, if you love it, you breathe it. You read professional journals, talk to others in your field, go to seminars; you are constantly learning and growing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a PhD in underwater basket weaving. Grab your snorkel and raffia and dive in! (unless you’re a surgeon, in which case, we all kind of want you to have gone to school)

In your quest for knowledge in your chosen field, you may…no, you will come across experts that give you six tips on how to be successful in the biz or the “one habit every successful person has.” That does not mean you have to do it that way. Read up, by all means, but not all advice applies to you. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Above all, be true to yourself. If going to every godamnned networking meeting within fifty miles of your house makes you want to vomit, don’t do it. Find another way that suits you. We all have to do things we’d rather not from time to time, in order to be successful, but we still need to be ourselves.

It takes bravery and a thick skin to freelance or run your own business. It takes the kind of person who can get knocked to the ground repeatedly and get back up and move forward again, even if it makes said person kind of feel like shit. You don’t have to have a positive attitude all the time. You don’t have to pretend that rejection doesn’t hurt or cause you to question your abilities. You just have to keep moving forward. Keep fighting the good fight and stay open to opportunity. Something good will happen, and it may or may not be what you expect.

If you’re an unconventional aspiring writer (or aspiring anything) check out Jeff Sommers blog, The Unconventional Writer.

The Balancing Act: How to Stay Focused Working at Home

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An inviting workspace can make all the difference.

I love working from home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Officing out of the house, I don’t have to put up with morning rush hour or comply with workplace dress codes, like having to wear pants. But there are a lot of distractions at home, so I’ve developed a few techniques to keep me focused:

Set up a designated workspace.

We form associations with places. You want to associate your workspace with work, whether you have your own room for an office or a little nook off the kitchen. Take time to tidy and organize it; clutter is distracting. Decorate it with attractive objects — photos, artwork, plants — so it’s an inviting space. If you have a door to close when you need quiet, all the better. Similarly, it can be useful to avoid working in your bedroom, so you associate that space with sleep, not busy brain work.

Make a schedule.

Write it down, and stick to it, as if your boss were watching you. Working from home affords us greater flexibility, but allowing yourself to get distracted by washing dishes or going down the Facebook newsfeed rabbit hole isn’t conducive to getting things done. I put not just my work hours but individual tasks on my calendar, color-coded by task type (work, family, personal). That way, I can ensure I have a balance of each. Yes, it has to be flexible; unexpected things come up. But then I can rearrange my predetermined tasks for another time, without worrying I’ll forget something. I actually print my calendar page each day, so I can take notes on it and have it visible to me at all times. Avoid wandering into your office after hours to do “just one thing.” Write yourself a note for the next day, if you’re afraid you’ll forget it. Not working during off-hours is just as important as working when you’re supposed to.

Pick the right time.

I work most effectively while my children are at school (no surprise there). I delegate tasks that require the most focus to those hours. If I feel productive during the day, I can relax and enjoy my kiddos when they get home. On busier days, I save the tasks that require less focus for the time when the house is lively with the laughter and occasional fighting of children. Some people work best in the evening when the rest of their family is in bed. There is no one right time; the key is to pay attention and find your own most-productive hours.

Turn off your phone.

Texts are a constant distraction. Ever end up on a group text with 26 other people? Turn off your ringer, or leave it in another room when you really need to focus. Even if you aren’t checking it, hearing the constant buzzing and beeping shakes your concentration. This extends to the TV and any other distracting noises.

Working from home can be wonderfully flexible. You can more often work how, when and where it suits you. But, because you aren’t living by someone else’s rules, you have to be intentional and make your own. And, when your rules cease to work for you, the beauty is you can change them or throw them out altogether. Rules weren’t made to be broken, but they were made to bend and be reshaped from time to time.

 

Building Your Business…or Not

I originally posted this on my personal site, but it’s actually more of a business post on gaining a little perspective. This is not about working harder, but taking a step back.

IMG_2515When my children were babies and toddlers, people would often tell me, “Cherish these years. They go by too fast.” But, there were many times when I thought they couldn’t go by fast enough. From the day they were each born, I loved my kids unconditionally and with an intensity that overwhelmed me, as if my heart would explode with the hugeness of that love. But, I also struggled.

Not getting enough sleep was hard. Failing at breast feeding was devastating. Not having time to myself and being constantly “on” for my children, the first of whom never did nap regularly, was something I wrestled with constantly. I was, at times, bored with staring at an infant who’d yet to even make eye contact with me, bored with playing  trains for the eleventh hour, bored and defeated by the unimaginable loads of laundry small children produce. Ironically, in addition to needing more alone time, I also craved adult company, as evidenced by my constant chattering at Jason when he got home from work.

There were good times, though. There was the time I watched Jack run and laugh carefree through the wildflowers in the park and wished he’d stay that uninhibited forever. There was the first time he planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. There was toddler Gage, dressed in only a diaper, dancing to techno music in his bouncy way and the thrill of watching each of them take their first, unassisted steps. I’m smiling now, with the memory of these milestone events, but I am relieved children don’t stay toddlers forever.

Now Jack is nine and Gage is six. Time has started to speed up, as they both spend a good portion of their days away at school and then, afterwards, often at their friends’ houses. I promised myself when they were young, I would not tell people with babies to cherish the moment; enough people tell them that. My message to them is this: it is hard when they are little, but it gets easier.

As my kids have gotten more self-sufficient, and it’s no longer necessary for me to follow them around, making sure they don’t maim themselves on sharp corners or walk into traffic, it’s been easier to lose myself in my writing. They go off and play, and I have the time and energy to plot advances for my freelance business. This is good for me, but I have to be mindful not to swing too far the other way – get so caught up in work that I miss the kids’ ever-dwindling childhood. Jack only has two years left before we hit the dreaded middle school years, and I want to invest my time and energy into fostering a close relationship with both of them, so they’ll come to me when they need help. This is why, despite my overachieving, perfectionist brain, I have decided to be okay with taking freelance work as it comes, and not intentionally growing the business like I could. There will be time to grow business later, but I don’t get a second chance at being present for my kids in their formative years. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I regret not building a business? Maybe a little, but knowing the tradeoff was being there for Jack and Gage, my first, foremost and most important responsibility, I have no doubts my priorities are in the right place. And that makes every decision, business or otherwise, so much simpler.

Two Tools For Your Small Business: Simplicity and Intuition

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I made an exception. My personal goals for the year are to to focus on simplicity and listening to my intuition. This works in business life as well, and it’s not a huge leap to see how.

Simplicity

There are millions of tools available to help grow, maintain and organize your small business – CRMs, finance software, newsletter programs…It’s a long list. How do you know what will truly help you?  While there are a variety of useful tools out there, some will actually make your life harder and cost you money, because they are designed to be much more complex than what a sole proprietor needs. Simplification: does this app, feature, program, gizmo make your business life easier or harder?  Does it save time, or does it waste it? My father and I owned a consulting business for a number of years, and I was often dragging him, kicking and screaming towards new technology, but I learned something from working with him. Sometimes, the latest and greatest is not what you need; sometimes simpler is better. This is why I track my business expenses on an Excel spreadsheet instead of with QuickBooks (or whatever the kids are using these days.)

Intuition

Do you ever get a sense about a particular project – a bad feeling? Oftentimes, we ignore those feelings and jump in anyway, because we are programmed to ignore what we can’t immediately explain. Sometimes, when your gut feeling tells you not to accept that client or that you don’t have the bandwidth for a new project, you need to listen. One of the beauties of working for yourself is you can choose what and whom you work with. Exercise that right and try to get past your people-pleasing tendencies. Don’t be a “yes” person; if a client asks you to do something that’s outside of your expertise – something that deviates from the intent of your business – don’t do it simply as an effort not to disappoint them. People you want to work with will respect you for setting clear boundaries. And, you can develop a referral list. A lot of people ask me about social media marketing. I am a content writer, but I know a good social media consultant, and I refer people to her. That way, everyone wins. I don’t have to post to Facebook for people, my friend gets business, my clients gets what they need, and it comes back to me in the form of referrals she sends me for people who need content.IMG_7279

Simplicity and Intuition – they are two aspects of life that are hard to find under all of the information, advice and products we are exposed to, but if you trust your intuition and search out the simplest answers to your problems, business or otherwise, everything is a lot less daunting.

Do It Again: How to Cope With That Task You Hate

44126362 - young employee shouting into a red phone

I have never liked calling people on the phone. Save a couple of teenage years when the receiver was permanently affixed to my ear, I’ve always avoided phone conversations when possible. When texting became prevalent, I and a billion other introverts jumped for joy.

So, imagine my chagrin when I found myself in an occupation – one I love – that required an occasional phone conversation. Not only that, but (cue scary music) I HAD TO CALL PEOPLE I DIDN’T KNOW. I would put off these phone calls repeatedly for more important things…like picking lint off the carpet or lining up all the notebooks on my desk. And then, oh look, it’s really too late to be calling people now.

You may not fear the phone, but we all have business tasks we are required to do to get our jobs done – ones we’d pick a root canal or a fork in the eye over tackling, necessary though they may be. I’ve overcome my anxiety about calling people I don’t know with a few tactics that apply to any hated task:

Just Do It. Then, just do it again. The more you practice that task you hate, the more you’ll do it automatically without wasting energy on mental excuses. I have even called people by choice on occasion, just for the phone practice. The more the calls go well, the less I fear making them.

Do It First. I make calls in the morning, so I don’t have time to come up with avoidance tactics. It takes self discipline to do chores (whatever you view as a “chore”), and self discipline takes mental energy, which I have more of in the AM.

Break It Down. Divide the hated “to-do” item into smaller chunks and approach them one at a time, so it feels less overwhelming. For example, instead of calling a long list of people, I do a few at a time and take breaks to do more palatable tasks in between.

Reward Yourself. It worked on Pavlov’s dogs, and it works on humans, too. For example: “After I make all my calls, I’ll fix a second cup of coffee.” This way, your brain is focused on the reward and more motivated to get the task done.

Farm It Out. Hire someone else to do that thing you hate. Odds are, there’s someone out there who loves it as much as you revile it. Then, you can spend your hate energy drumming up more business for yourself.

You may never learn to love that thing you hate. I still don’t get giddy over calling people to solicit content for the magazine, but I don’t get hives over it, either. Once you get over that hurdle for the thing you avoid, you can spend more time and energy on the things you love. And, if that thing you hate is writing blog posts or content for your website or newsletter, well, you know who to call.

Woman & phone image: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15′>bowie15 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>