Category: Personal Experiences

2018 A New Year, A New Story

What will you be focused on in 2018? I believe that deciding on what you will focus on will decide the kind of year you have.

2017 was a year that started in November 2016 for me. I, like many other people, assumed I knew the direction the world was moving in. There were new challenges ahead that we had to face, but there were also expanding opportunities. I did not think Hillary Clinton was the right leader to guide us to this new world but she was a better leader than the alternative, at least she wasn’t looking to take us backward.

After the election results came in I spent November 2016 in despair and afraid.

But life went on. There was a wedding, the holidays, and a new year which meant it was time to set up new goals.

My goals for 2017 was to become more selective about who I associated with. Debate less about politics and discuss more issues. Make new friends and be an impact in other people’s lives. I was going to pay attention and be involved. I was going to join the resistance. I signed up for every publication, association, and nonprofit that would tell me what I needed to do to fight against the tyranny that was trying to rise.

January 1st started with a minor car accident and the month did not get any better. A couple weeks later I was in a hospital bed with a kidney stone and sepsis. It was the first time I ever truly acknowledged that my life could end without warning. I had been worked up about the election and all that was going on in the country and I realized that none of that mattered as much as caring for myself.  I took a closer look at what I wanted to do and where I wanted to fit in. I couldn’t jump at every request to contact my representatives or feel righteous outrage at every Trump tweet. I needed to live.

In February my husband and I took a much-needed vacation to the beach where I got to reflect. I realized that I needed to find some balance.

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2017 was still a year of political firsts. I attended my first protest and went to my first candidate meet and greet, had my first campaign sign, and led a series of neighborly bi-partisan political talks.

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There were many great moments in 2017. I went to NYC for what was supposed to be a  business trip but ended up being more of a solo tourist trip. I got to be in the live audience of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert the night that Michael Moore was his guest.

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I repositioned my career to try to help as many people as possible adjust to what I believe are the realities of work, which is rapid change, no job security, and the need to be self-sufficient.

I started writing more political pieces.

I experienced 90 minutes in an isolation/float tank, a few times.

I cooked more this year and tried a variety of new recipes.

I drove to Dillard GA with my boys and a friend to see the total eclipse of the sun.

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I binge watched all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones.

I learned how to use the nice camera that I have had for 2 years.

Overall, the year had more ups than downs on a personal level. On a political level, I am starting finding my voice and trusting that this is a nation of laws and checks and balances. I need to stay involved and rally for the future that I would like to see unfold, but I also need to live for the little day to day moments.

As we welcome in a new year I look forward to focusing on a new story. 2018 will be a story about self-improvement and new friends and continuous work toward a future of greater opportunities, creative expression, and spiritual connection for all.

Happy New Year and may 2018 be your best year ever.

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The Creative Life of a Freelancer

In one big sigh, I finally released all the frustration and disappointment I have been carrying around for several months. It caught my husband’s attention and with immediate concern, he asked,

“What’s wrong?”

“I just have so much to do.”

I am sure this confession was confusing to him. For months I have been acting like I have everything handled, things were slow but that was a good thing. I needed some downtime. Money was still flowing from other sources. In my mind, and from what he understood, I was doing what I wanted and needed to do.

But in that moment and all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed.

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No Boss, No Deadlines, No Commitments

I have been freelancing for 12 years now. My favorite thing about being a freelancer is the freedom to refresh my career.  I recently heard Satya Nadella on NPR talking about hitting refresh on Microsoft. He used the Internet browser as a great metaphor for what it means to refresh.

“The browser has this beautiful logic when you hit refresh on your browser. It doesn’t replace everything. It replaces only those pixels that need to be replaced. “

That is a perfect metaphor for refreshing a company, including one as small as a solopreneur.  I tend to hit refresh every year around this time. Some years I have replaced quite a few pixels. This year I am more focused on rearranging the pixels.

I can do this every year because I have no boss who needs to approve my decisions. I can take my time on implementing the changes, and if a change is not working out the way I thought it should I can pull back.

But last night, all at once, I saw how my pixels should be arranged. At the same time, I knew what I had to do to rearrange those pixels and I was all of a sudden overwhelmed.

Freelancer means being “a creative”

I think we all understand that the world of work is rapidly changing. Developers continuously introduce tools to automate tasks. Professionals are expected to increase the breadth of their expertise. An emerging generation with new ideas and assumed expertise are competing for work at lower rates.

When you are on your own, defining your offerings, seeking work, pricing your offerings, and delivering expertise, the world will change and pierce through everything you have built or think you know.

This is why I refresh every year. This is why being a freelancer means being “a creative.” If you are building your brand and offerings on fulfilling an obvious and existing need, you won’t last long out here in the wild. Like an artist, a freelancer has to look for the connections that other people miss. A freelancer has to have a vision of where they would like their industry to go. A successful freelancer has to have a desire to make a mark on this world, if not a ding in the universe.

My favorite definition of a brand comes from Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” That means your personal brand has to be interesting enough for someone to say something about you. You have to stand out. To achieve sales you have to stay top of mind. To keep clients you have to remain the expert, navigating through the rough waters of change.

That means to be a freelancer is to be “a creative.” To live the pain and sufferings of a creative. To wallow in the doubts and darkness the way that creatives do.

And to emerge with a new vision and an urgent and overwhelming need to get to work.

Related Articles:

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Freelancer?

A Vacation Everyone Should Take

Are You Really that Busy?

Reclaiming Idealism

I have been working with a long-time friend on re-developing my personal brand. I say “re-developing” because it is a process of reclaiming the energy, the passion, the purpose of why I do what I do. I started by reclaiming the title “Idealist”.

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When I launched my personal brand in 2005 and gave myself the title Idealist, it had two meanings. The first meaning was that I helped my clients come up with and stretch the ideas of what was possible for their business. The second meaning was that I was extremely optimistic about the future and I embraced that my optimism was a bit idealistic.

Many people helped me grow my business. I learned a lot from them and am forever grateful for their time and insights. But in many ways I allowed their insights and advice to destroy my idealism and to sidetrack what I was trying to accomplish. Over the years, I began resisting sharing the raw personal stories that I believed were so critical to connecting with other people in the world. I dropped the title of Idealist in favor of “being taken more seriously” and I focused less on stretching ideas and more on outlining paths to the typical business metrics.

The silver lining is that I vastly improved my business skills and knowledge. However, the greater good that came out of my years of rejecting idealism was the void I felt. There was always a feeling of dissatisfaction after a job well done. There was the numbness I experienced as I went through the routine of mapping out a plan to meet a goal. It was obvious what I was doing was working, doing a job. I was back on the hamster wheel that once drove me crazy enough to leave a good steady paycheck and to leap into the unknown. I say this was the greater good because it was this void that reminded me of my purpose.

The darker the world got the more I realized my light was no longer shining. We are living in precarious times right now. I believe it is vital for each of us to find our light to shine our way through to better times. My light is idealism, whether it is in the form of helping people stretch the ideas of what is possible, being unrealistically optimistic about the future, or identifying the silver lining of tough situations. It is my purpose of why I do what I do.

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How Worrying Almost Killed Me

It was just a Kidney stone, caused by an infection, caused by an excess of sugar, caused by me trying to comfort myself, which all landed me in the hospital with Sepsis. You can read that horrifying story on Healthcare in America. 

Read how I changed my outlook on life on my post, Don’t Worry, Be Happy – How I Plan to Survive these Turbulent Times,  in Organizer Sandbox

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What to expect (and not to expect) when passing a Kidney Stone

One of the greatest benefits of the social web is the ability to read other people’s stories when you are going through a particular issue. This has helped me through a few medical procedures I had to experience the past couple of years. However, over the weekend I could not find anything about Kidney Stones, which is such a common issue. I did not know if what I was going through was “normal.” Turns out, it was a bit extreme.

Read more in Healthcare in America

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Do You Have What It Takes to be a Freelancer?

I have been on my own since 2005. It is a rollercoaster ride. At one point I considered getting off the ride and joining a company. That would be sacrificing the flexibility I had been enjoying. I spoke with my son about it. He asked me why I was considering a “real job.” I explained that I would like a steady paycheck. His response was “I know that money gets tight sometimes, but when you are rich, you are really rich!”

I laughed and decided what I really need to do is manage my money, time, and activities to achieve the stability I was seeking. In my article, Top 5 Ways to Survive as a Freelancer, I highlight a few practices that have worked for me.

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Kick the Habit of Seeing the World through Labels

Once upon a time, while I was in the midst of discovering myself, what I believed, where my place was in this world, and what impacts I could make, I would get very frustrated to know that many people had already put me in a box based on what they believed.

Frustration is a feeling caused by a blocked goal. My goal was to explore myself and my world and that was often blocked by other people’s quick assumptions.

Today, what used to make me frustrated now fascinates me. I listen with great curiosity what people believe and why. I am drawn to every cognitive study that I can understand. I want to know more about what I consider to be self-made little prisons called belief, perhaps so I can ensure that I don’t accidentally create such a prison for myself. Perhaps so I can help people escape their own prisons. But more importantly, so I know how to interact appropriately with people who have confined themselves in a cell of beliefs.

One of the main cell bars that create this “prison of belief” are labels. We have a need to label everything we come in contact with. This is part of how we begin to understand our world from birth. We come into this world and our friends and family apply a label to everything we experience. “I am your mommy”, “Let’s drive in the car”, “A cow says moo.” All of these labels seem not only harmless but imperative. We have to have labels to have language. We have to have labels to understand relationships between things. The problem is we become addicted to labels. Everything has to have a label and those labels have to have meaning or we get anxious.

Recently a woman who is very religious and chooses to only know about her religion and close her eyes to any other religions labeled me as a Pagan. I have no religion. I have theories, but no beliefs. I have traditions, but no rituals. This was not something she had a label for, so she pulled out the incorrect label of Pagan and assigned it to me. She found this label in the history of her own religion who once taught that those without religion are Pagan. She did not understand that Pagans have beliefs and rituals and believe in spirits. I do not have beliefs and rituals. I am open to the idea of spirits. I am even open to the idea of God. Her label did not match the definition of me, but it was the only label she had that came close, so she applied it to me. Thankfully Pagan witches are no longer burned, drowned, or hung in a cage, so no harm done.

But sometimes our labels do cause harm. I recently was monitoring my young son’s debate on Facebook where he was defending the casting of a homosexual character in the new Star Wars movie. One very passionate person who opposed the idea defined the homosexual label as sexually deviant. He went further to define sexually deviant as a child molester. To him, all homosexuals were child molesters. This is a very harmful belief that distracts from the real dangers of molestation and can cost lives for many various reasons.

We are obsessed with labels and those labels direct our belief system. Labels are what define for us what is right or wrong and what our roles in life are. You are a woman so your role is to be a caregiver. You are a man so your role is to be a provider. These beliefs simplify, but they do not enable growth and exploration. Growth and exploration come when we suspend beliefs and question everything.

Why do we believe in labels? Because they give context to this crazy world. Labeling others helps us believe there is a reason behind the madness.  We believe in labels because it gives us a sense that someone, some group, or something is in control.

I listen to a wonderful podcast called Hardcore History by Dan Carlin and he did a show about the start of WW1 where he opened by explaining that people believe in conspiracies because it is more comforting to think there is a secret group somewhere in control than it is to think that everything is random and that the act of one man can change the course of the world.

 

In the enlighting TED talk called The Power of Self-Deception, Michael Shermer gives the audience a thought-experiment. You are walking through the plains and you hear the grass ruffle. Is it the wind or a predator? If it was the wind, but you believed it was a predator, no harm done. If it was a predator and you believed it was the wind, you are dead. This thought-experiment shows why we need to label everything in our environment and why we are willing to believe the worse case scenario almost everytime.

Not long ago I posted an article on Facebook about how children raised in a secular home turn out as pretty good people. A Facebook friend questioned what would be the motive for a person to behave morally if they do not believe in God. I am fascinated by that question no matter how many times I hear it. Do we not all experience the joys of being good to each other and creating an environment of peace and happiness whether or not God exists? Perhaps,  if we focused on just being good to each other more and focused less on labeling and imposing our beliefs on each other, we can find the comfort, control, and understanding that we seek when we choose to believe.

The Value of Understanding Other People’s Beliefs

I saw a news story today that bothered me a bit. Apparently, the United States Air Force is threatening to not let a soldier serve if he does not agree to violate his own beliefs. What are his beliefs? He’s an atheist.

A person who does not believe in God. That used to bother me and make me a little sad at one time in my life. “How can you look at all the majestic and wonder of the world and the Universe and not believe there is a God?” I thought. Then I would comfort myself in thinking that this person probably was still searching for his or her beliefs and they would eventually find God. This year I had a revelation that opened my eyes and heart to what it can mean to be an atheist. More on that later.

I was raised a Christian. I went to a variety of different churches growing up. When I was 20 years old I sat down and read the whole bible front to back. I discovered I needed more than just the Judeo-Christian bible to grow spiritually.

That is when I began exploring Buddhism. Through the years I have become a student of religions. I am always listening to and reading about what other people believe. Much of what I learn does not resonate with me, but other parts of what I hear become like missing puzzle pieces that connect with ideas that have resonated with me. You can say I am a spiritual explorer picking and choosing the pieces that fit me best.

And why not? Why does anyone have to align themselves with only one belief, one dogma? How can anyone say one religion is the only truth and all others are living a lie or a partial truth? I love the story about The blind men and the elephant. Each man can only feel part of the elephant and thinks they know the whole truth based on the little section they have access to. We only have access to parts of stories. The more we explore the more we can learn.

 

But the question I used to have in my mind was “where do atheist fit into the story?” If they do not believe in God what can I learn from them? For a long time, I assumed they were people who believed only in science and nothing else. I assumed that perhaps they had something happen in their life that made them close the doors to the idea that there was a God. It was sad.

Then, one evening after a huge rainstorm had passed by leaving a field in Atlanta wet and muddy, my 2 boys and I stood in the humid air with a crowd of others who were waiting for a music festival to resume. It was the Candler Park music festival and the next person on stage was going to be an English chap named  Frank Turner. He began to play and we began to dance around – not really knowing his songs yet and therefore listening closely in order to learn more about this chap.

Then he began singing a song to the tune of a church hymn. But the catch phrase of this catchy song was “There is no God.”

Below are a few lyrics that stood out for me. :

I know you’re scared of dying man and I am too,
But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t gonna see us through,
If we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time,
Then in the here and now then we can try and do things right.
We’d be our own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve

There is no God,
So clap your hands together,
There is no God,
No heaven and no hell.
But there is no God,
We’re all in this together,
There is no God,
So ring that victory bell.
Maybe it was the air (it was a music festival after all). Maybe it was the English accent. Maybe it was the clapping of our hands during the song. All I know is all of a sudden Atheism made sense to me. The line that resonated is “we are all in this together.”
For months after hearing this song I had to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew. I had to take the puzzle piece of atheism and include it in my spiritual picture that had been created from many other spiritual beliefs.
In the end, I still believe in God, but I have become more grounded and believe in taking more responsibility for myself and my fellow man. We’re all in this together.
With this in mind, if that atheist in the Air Force is flying to protect my country and my family because we are our “own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve”…then please let that man fly and stand up for what he believes.
My lesson is that assuming someone else’s beliefs are wrong and not listening to why they believe what they do, not only will cause you to treat them poorly, but you will also be missing out on the gift of connecting with another spiritual heart and learning from each other.

What It Is Like to Be an Introvert – Or to be ME

I have seen lots of articles the past several years about Introverts. It is one of a few times I do not feel there is too much being written about the subject.

When I was growing up, extrovert vs introvert was not a conversation.

I do remember an activity at school where the people leading the activity wanted to help you determine if you were a leader or a follower. This memory is very vivid, probably because as far as I remember this was the first time where I knew who I was and that I did not fit into either category being presented. I was neither a leader or a follower. I was independent.

Since then I have grown to understand and deeply appreciate the scene in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer where Herby suggest that they all be “Independent Together.”

Perhaps I never got past the parallel playing stage while growing up. There could be a variety of reasons for that.

  1. I was the only girl
  2. My brothers were 6 and 8 years older than me
  3. There were not a lot of kids my age in my neighborhood

As a grew into an educated adult – I was no longer so sure of who I was or why I was who I was. I worked in sales, and was good at it, but did not like to attend too many social events. I was good at sales because I believed in what I was selling and I sincerely wanted to help people, not because I had a large network and knew how to schmooze (not that extroverts only do that.) I was put into leadership positions because I loved educating my team, but I did not love managing people. Over the years I began to have an identity crisis. The articles about extrovert vs introvert that began showing up in the last decade were exactly what I needed to begin to understand what was going on with me. So I might as well add to the millions of posts out there with my story.

Being an Introvert does not mean being shy. My younger son has told me that my superpower is that I can talk to anyone, and I can. Both my parents were that way. I was raised in a world where nobody was a stranger. I also truly enjoy getting in front of a group of people, 20 people or 2,000 people, and giving a presentation. If I feel I have something of value to say – the larger the audience to say it to, the better. Perhaps that is why I fell in love with social media.

Social Media appealed to me. It was my Siren Call. But it did scare the heck out of me because I felt vulnerable. When you share your views on social media they are out there to be discovered and discussed by anyone. It is not a moment in time like a presentation or a conversation.  Yet, the lure of what could be accomplished with social media forced me to overcome my fears.

Anyway, being an Introvert is defined as “a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.”

Here is an example. This is a Saturday of a long weekend. I have planned a weekend that I am looking forward to of reading and writing and making plans for the company that I now lead. I am listening to music and writing in my journals. I have so much to learn and so much to share and so much to try to understand in the world and so much to reflect on that I simply will not have a lot of time to allow too many people to interrupt me.

I do like people. I do appreciate my friends and love the time we spend together – but I need time to be with me because frankly, I am damn good company for myself and I want to take some time to hear what I have to say.

Love and Peace to all! From an Introvert who does not answer her phone often.

The Shock of Robin Williams Death

When we go to the movies, we get to escape reality. When someone like Robin Williams is in the movie, especially a comedy, we get to feel like the world is ok. Everything will work out in the end and we will get to laugh along the way.

The shocking news that Robin Williams took his own life took my breath away last night and has left me confused and sad today. Not because he was someone close to me, a friend or relative, but because he was so distant from me. He was, as he says at the end of Aladdin, he was mythology – our mythology.

His suicide was a slap of reality. Perhaps things don’t always work out in the end and sometimes we will not be able to find the humor in a situation. Sometimes the joy we are experiencing is all just pretend – just an act.

It does seem that Robin Williams was our mythological Genie, imprisoned by an awful spell of depression, compelled to grant us our own wishes to escape our own reality. I felt this tribute on Twitter last night was the most appropriate of all. “Genie, you’re free.”