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240731542552026114_Yb4YysjJAhhh! Interview week!

It’s totally bittersweet for me, but I think this was my most favorite week of the whole season! It was so much fun to see the questions my fellow Season 7 rockstars came up with and I had a blast answering them.

You may learn a few things about me that you didn’t want to know and for that I don’t really apologize…I’m quirky and I’m told its a pretty lovable trait. ENJOY!

Where do you see your self (or hope to be) 6 months from now? A year from now? 

In 6 months, I’m hoping to have a new job as a wellness coach {preferably working from home}. I will have the Elevate retreat, BiSC and a trip to the NC beaches under my belt and be reveling in all the magical memories I’ve made in 2013. I’ll be feeling connected to my authentic self and be fine-tuning my life to reflect that.

In a year, I hope to be feeling settled in my new career, and fresh off of another successful Holiday Council. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be feeling ready for a year filled with peace and enjoyment following all the changes I’m making in 2013. I imagine that participating in Elevate this year will push me well beyond my comfort zone and into that sacred zone of authenticity I’m seeking. So anything I do in 2014 and beyond will just be that much more awesome because it’ll be coming from a place of authenticity and fierce self-love.

What’s the best book you read this year? 

Well since I’m completely addicted to erotica – I’d have to say that Bared to You and Reflected in You by Silvia Day were my favorites. But the Fifty Shades trilogy was a close second. Try as you might, you will not get me to admit how many times I’ve read each of these books, but it’s a shameful amount! {Maybe these should be listed for the guilty pleasure question too!}

Do you feel like blogging about your life made you look at it differently?

Absolutely! I think I benefitted immensely from having to actually articulate my thoughts. While I’m not as good at it as some of my fellow bloggers, I did manage to stumble upon some realizations that I would never have made if I hadn’t been writing for an audience. Knowing that people were reading and possibly identifying with my transition made me dig a little deeper than I might otherwise have done.

Which current living celebrity do you think you’d be best friends with in real life?

I mean, I’m pretty amazing so I think they would all love me. But I have a thing for adorable southern girls. I’m just so fascinated by them and completely enthralled. So I think a spunky southern girl like Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler or Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland would be my ideal celeb bestie.

Did anything happen during the season that surprised you? 

Several people that I know in real life contacted me mid-season to say they had been following my posts and really identified with them. I hadn’t expected that! At all.  If I’m being honest, I was surprised when you lovely internet friends commented or tweeted me because I half expected most people to not relate to my self-perceived problems. So surprises all around!

What quote best summarizes what you’ve learned during the season?

“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” – Asha Tyson

What is your guilty pleasure? What is it that totally lights you up that you’re afraid to admit to? 

Well I’m not sure some of you can handle anymore guilty pleasure admissions from me…BUT since you asked – I have a thing for really juvenile romantic comedies. Movies like A Cinderella Story, Freaky Friday, What a Girl Wants, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants {1 & 2!}, 13 Going on 30, The Prince & Me, The Princess Diaries, Son in Law, Uptown Girls – all in my DVD library. I’m not sure whether this or my smut addiction should be more shameful. But you can bet I’m not losing any sleep trying to decide!

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we started blogging for Stratejoy?

I’m happier. I’ve relaxed my expectations of myself a bit and tried like hell to lose the guilt. I’m enjoying what I have in the present and not pinning all of my happiness on some future date or accomplishment. It’s fabulously liberating!

How did you fit blogging into your life? – Did you have a routine? Did it add joy or stress? Did you think about it over the week or just sit down and write? Etc.

I have a really random writing process to begin with and I knew it would be a bit of a challenge going into this adventure. I found that some weeks I was really inspired to write and others I was letting all the shit in my head get in my way. All those voices that say I’m not a great writer, no one will identify, my problems aren’t big enough for anyone else to care – they can all overwhelm me and leave me with the worst writer’s block. Add in the health problems I had in the fall and the plague that my little one and I both had twice and you can see why some weeks were more of a challenge. Thankfully, the completely adorable and wonderful Katie is a loving blogger momma and she put up with my incessant tardiness. {Love you sweet Katie!}.

I’d say overall the experience added joy to my life though. While I did struggle at times, the need to write something that seemed worthy of sharing was a great motivator to look more closely at myself and inspired some awesome discoveries! I am forever grateful to Molly for allowing me to be a part of Season 7! For the small amount of stress it caused – it added 10 times that much joy. So I’m pretty sure that’s what winning looks like.

How did people you know react? – did you share it openly, were family and friends supportive, did you censor yourself, etc.

I’m the kind of person who worries what other people think about me and I wasn’t sure how anyone would react – so I didn’t tell everyone I know in real life. As the season progressed, I found myself sharing with more people than I originally did. I didn’t have a single person judge me negatively – everyone had a positive reaction. I was honestly amazed that so many people could relate to my issues – which seems ridiculous to write because the whole premise of Stratejoy is that we all have these things that we struggle with and it brings us together to love and support each other and then realize we are all NORMAL. Why I didn’t think this same premise applied to the people I know in real life seems a little silly now.

Did you dig as deep as you could and open up as much as you could?

The simple answer is no. There just isn’t enough space for me to share all the chaos in my head when I’m limited to 500-1000 words per week. But I shared openly and honestly about the transition I’m going through. I share even more about myself on my personal blog so feel free to visit if you just can’t get enough of me!

When you’re curled up on the couch reading with a mug of something warm, what’s the book and what’s in the mug?

I drink a ridiculous amount of coffee {though I’m strictly drinking decaf now} so I’m sure I’d have coffee in my mug. I’m either reading some of the smut I mentioned in a previous question or some story about a group of girls that travels and has fabulous experiences. Because apparently my life is fueled by coffee, sex and wanderlust! Win!

What’s on your bedside table?

A hair tie, one earring, an iphone dock, a picture of me and the little person when she was a baby and a water bottle. Clearly I need some lessons in styling!

What were you like in high school?  What parts of you have remained the same?

Hmmm…high school. This is a tough one. I feel like high school was a bit of a blur. I went to a really, really small school {like 40 people in my class small} and we were all obsessed with having long-term boyfriends. Mine was older so I spent the vast majority of my time from sophomore year on with people who had already graduated. I didn’t partake in all the fun high school things. I rode a Harley with my boyfriend and watched his band play gigs in bars and whatnot. I was waaay too cool for high school. Of course, looking back I can see I was just a lost girl looking for somewhere to belong.

I didn’t really share my innermost thoughts with my peers. I was nice and had plenty of friends – I was even voted Miss Senior and was on the prom court junior and senior years. But I was more concerned about graduating so I could get married and have babies. I’ll go ahead and insert all the lyrics of “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks here because THANK GOD those prayers were not answered! I’m not sure I can say that I’m anything like my high school self, but then I’m an old lady. 2013 marks 15 years since I graduated. Wowza, where has the time gone?!?!

Who are the top 5 people on your “list”?  (You know, the list…  Those 5 people you could sleep with if you magically met them and your partner would have to be okay with it, because damn! You just slept with Johnny Depp!) 

Oooh, such a naughty question! I love it. And maybe I’m just boy crazy, but I hardly think 5 covers it!  So…

Sam Seaborn – {West Wing-ers tell me you agree!} He’s pretty much my ideal man. Be still my heart!

Chace Crawford – I don’t even care that he smokes pot. He’s beautiful.

Channing Tatum – Hi, did you see Magic Mike? Gah!

Bradley Cooper – Back off ladies! I get him first!

Ian Somerhalder – Those eyes, that jaw, the smile, OH MY!

And honorable mentions for Patrick Dempsey, Josh Lucas and Gerard Butler. I mean, I’m not going to turn them down or anything.

If you could give yourself 5 months ago one piece of advice, what would it be? How about you 5 months from now?

Worry less. Don’t lose sleep or sanity about things you can’t change. And stop caring what other people think. Make yourself happy and let the rest go.

In the movie of your life, which actress/celeb would play you? 

If I get to choose, then I totally pick Blake Lively. I mean, could she BE any more gorgeous? And that hair. We’ll pretend like the slight resemblances we have {i.e. long blondish hair and blue eyes} make her the perfect choice. Great, it’s settled. Nice to have you on board!

There you have it. If you have a great answer to one of the questions, I totally want to hear it in the comments below!

Guilty pleasures or “list” candidates anyone???

NicoleBioBadge

Image via: Pinterest!

 

p.s.  The 3rd Stratejoy Essay Contest is open for entries!  Ready to win the $500?  Be featured here at Stratejoy?  Yes!  The theme: “How has a transition revealed a more authentic you?”

p.p.s.  The next Book Club/Tribe Chat Fest is going to be about marriage and partners.  Juicy, juicy. We’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story and will be jamming about it on February 13.

It’s funny what a little new-found self awareness can do for you.

I have been a full-time freelancer for over three months now and I feel like I’m doing pretty well. It was something I worked toward for two years and it has its tough moments, but overall, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. So what did I do on Saturday morning while I was dicking around on LinkedIn?

I applied for a job.

Like, a full-time, 9 to 5, “stab myself in the head” job. I really don’t know what I was thinking.

Actually, yes. I do know what I was thinking. I was thinking that I’m getting really annoyed applying for health insurance on my own and that it would be awfully nice to have a “real” job that supplied it for me. I was thinking that sometimes I don’t leave the house for days on end and I’m dying for some human interaction. I was thinking that all of my nice clothes are going to waste because my new work uniform has become my Old Navy yoga pants with the hole in the right thigh.

What I really did was let fear apply for that job.

I failed to consider that for the first time in a long time, I don’t dread Monday mornings and I don’t sit in a cube all day stewing in negative thoughts. I feel a lot more…calm. I was letting the small things that I do have control over convince me that getting a 9-5 again might be a better option.

Even scarier? They e-mailed me within 24 hours and asked me to come in that week for an interview. And I wrote back right away and said yes. (WTF IS WRONG WITH ME?)

BUT (here’s where the self awareness part comes in) – I sat here just now and said “I don’t want to go to that interview. I only applied out of stupid fear. I need to e-mail them now to cancel.” I recognized how I was sabotaging myself before I got in too deep. I’m proud of myself.

I feel like this is exactly what I do to myself when it comes to food as well, but the food thing is on a WHOLE other level. As soon as I find myself in control of my eating for a week or two, I freak out and eat fast food for weeks on end. I feel like I have this bizarre subconscious fear of success.

What kind of person actually fears success???

Or am I just afraid of change in general?

Either way, my health is #1 on my list for 2013 (woohoo, Stratejoy Holiday Council!) and I’m finally going to make the time to try and start working through my issues. A lot of my goals have been career-oriented the past few years, so I’m excited to find peace in that part of my life and start focusing on getting healthy again.

Well my “ah ha” moment has come and gone. My life hasn’t suddenly turned into a magical wonderland, and I’m still feeling lost much of the time.

I take some comfort in the fact that I have a general idea of where I’m headed because that is way more than I had when I started this journey.

But I want more.

I’m facing some major changes in my life and I don’t like feeling this uncertain.

I wish I was the kind of person who didn’t fear change. I wish I didn’t have a massive fear of failure. I wish I was at the point where I trusted myself enough to make the right decisions. I’m really trying to be that person, I’m just not there yet.

I’m terrified that I’m going to make the wrong decision. I’ve already wasted time and money pursuing a career that turned out to be wrong for me. Then I did it again. What if I’m destined to be the girl who constantly changes her mind? What if I change my whole life to pursue yet another goal and then discover I got it wrong – again? I’m not sure how I would even handle that.

On one hand, I feel like I know myself better now than I ever have. I’m more in touch with my desires, my hopes and dreams, my strengths and even my weaknesses. But what if I’m wrong? What if I’m just so desperate to find myself that I’m inflating my interests into passions?

All of these questions have been rattling around in my head since my public declaration a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to work through them, but I just haven’t reconciled all of it yet.

What I have done is explore a few options that could lead me to a career with a wellness focus. I applied to a graduate program in kinesiology, and was accepted for the Spring semester. I’ve researched a couple of certificates that I could obtain if I decide that graduate school isn’t my best option.

If I do decide to pursue another degree, there are still some hurdles to jump over. While the program is a great fit for my goals, isn’t exactly perfect for my life. My previous program was completely online so it was easy to fit into my schedule.

The new program would require me to attend class a couple of nights a week – and the campus is a little over an hour from my house. As much as I like the program, that is a big deal {and potentially a deal-breaker} for me.

I don’t mind driving to the campus, but it is far more complicated when I have a little person at home. I don’t know how she would cope with me being gone a couple of nights a week. Also, I don’t want to continue to work on the weekends and miss even more time with her so I’d have to find a part-time job during daytime hours that would work around my school schedule.

There are just so many details that need to be worked out that it starts to feel a little overwhelming. Somehow my “ah ha” moment has turned into a continual spiral of questions that I can’t seem to get a handle on.

The further I delve into my psyche, the looser my grasp on that ever elusive balance is. Instead of clarity I have confusion and fear.

I know I can’t let fear rule my life. At some point I have to choose to jump into the unknown or remain in the same stagnant place I’ve been. I’m trying hard to work up the courage to jump because I really don’t want to be in the same place when November 2013 rolls around.

Image via: Flickr

I have some great news. Like life-changing news. I’m kind of surprised and giddy – and definitely ecstatic as I’m writing this.

You know how we’ve all been searching for purpose – spending our time journaling, blogging, reading and thinking about these big transitions in our lives?

Some of us have put it into words and others have just implied it, but we’re all searching for an “ah-ha” moment – the kind where we see a light shining through the fog of uncertainty. Where choirs of angels sing hallelujah and we suddenly have a whole life plan planted in our brains by some divine intervention.

Well that may be a tad dramatic, but hey if you didn’t already know this about me – I kind of have a flair for the dramatic. {Don’t judge me!}

Anywho, I’ve very recently had one of those coveted “ah-ha” moments. And now that I’m past it, I can’t even believe I didn’t see this sooner.

I’m not sure I would have gotten here if it weren’t for doing all the wrong things leading up to it. So now I can celebrate those things instead of regretting mistakes and missteps in my path thus far. I can’t tell you what that does for my sanity.

I feel lighter. I feel happier. I feel a little less lost in the big world with no idea where to go.

I’d been feeling like I was on the verge of this since I’d started blogging here at Stratejoy – I even told Molly so when we were discussing Elevate. It was so close I could almost taste it, but then it simultaneously seemed like I was never going to get there.

And then I did. And no choirs sang or lights shone. No secret life plan magically appeared. But with this clarity came peace.

Leading up to this, I’d spent a ton of time thinking about things that make me light up. The things I really enjoy doing that I could possibly turn into a career. It ended up being a decent sized list, but many of them aren’t things I actually want to pursue for one reason or another.

Next I made a list of the things I want out of life – I know I want to travel, have flexible work hours, possibly work for myself at some point, and I want to feel like I’m helping others. I want to empower someone else to improve their own life, especially women and young girls.

I feel really strongly about this particular demographic because I grew up with low self-esteem. I know what it feels like to feel bad about yourself, how hard it is to change when you don’t have a positive female role model who you really relate to.

Even into adulthood I’ve struggled with knowing who I am, what I want and how to love myself even when I don’t know the answers to these things.

I’ve longed to be a woman who felt she belonged in the world and had some positive contribution to the world. I want to change lives – and not because I want some glory or admiration for myself. This isn’t about me.

I want to show young girls and other women that their lives matter. That being comfortable in their own skin and taking good care of themselves is far better than chasing the latest trend and trying to be someone else.

I want to be a model of a woman who loves herself, who finds joy in ordinary places, who celebrates her individuality – and I want to pay it forward.

So what exactly was this “ah-ha” moment, you ask? Because I know I’ve been leading you on a little bit. And that is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. I’m not holding back for dramatic effect, but rather I’m indulging my natural tendency for storytelling.

I never realized this about myself until I was writing on a fairly regular basis. I’m not usually someone who can write informally and just pour out my thoughts. I’m a storyteller. I can see it when I look back over my posts thus far on Stratejoy, and on my personal blog. So this post will be no different.

I remember being in nursing school and absolutely hating it. I am completely enthralled with the human body and all that it is capable of. I could read for hours about the intricacies of each system and how they are all so interconnected. The problem, for me, arises when the focus turns to treating disease in the human body.

After I finished my bachelor’s in nursing, I thought that public health would be a good fit for me. It was less focused on the patient lying in the bed and more on the population as a whole. Public health focuses on preventing disease or restoring health after disease, but again it is on a broad scale – focusing on improving the health of the population.

This was better than nursing for me, but it still didn’t feel quite right.

After all this soul searching, talking to close friends, sharing with all of you and journaling my little rear end off – it clicked.

I’m passionate about wellness. I want to help individuals prevent diseases caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and high stress levels. I want to help young girls make health a priority and develop habits that will carry into adulthood.

I’m never more impassioned that when I’m discussing my latest workout regimen, sharing how to eat a cleaner diet, or thinking up ways to alleviate stress.

I haven’t settled on a specific job yet, but I have a ton of ideas.

Maybe I’ll work in corporate wellness – designing programs to encourage wellness behaviors and working with individual employees to achieve them. Maybe I’ll open my own gym or wellness center in the future. Maybe I’ll start a running group in my city. Maybe I’ll found a non-profit that focuses on the health of younger girls and gets them moving.

Who knows. But I’m excited to explore all these options, set some goals and get started.

Cue the angels, please!

Image via: Flickr

On January 28, 2006 I packed up my green ’99 Dodge Caravan with a few of my belongings, picked up my best friend and drove from my home in Rhode Island all the way to Los Angeles. One of the boxes in my van held dozens of bound spec scripts that I was convinced would play an integral part in me becoming the next Tina Fey.

On July 1, 2006 my mini van crossed the Rhode Island border, still filled with my worldly possessions, my best friend and my box of scripts. We weren’t there to visit; we were there to stay.

We didn’t get in a fight, we didn’t go broke and there was no family emergency back home…so why did we leave?

Love.

Ugh.

We had both become romantically involved with two guys right before we were leaving for LA. My friend started dating her dude a couple months before we left. My boy? Oh, it was just the guy I had been obsessed with since high school and thought I had NO CHANCE IN HELL WITH EVER. Seriously. He was that guy – the one you have to build up courage to talk to and when you finally do, you say something really awkward that you regret for days afterward. So yeah, that guy finally decided he liked me back…ONE WEEK before I moved across the country. Perfect timing, Andy. Truly impeccable.

My friend and I didn’t really date many people before that point, so we weren’t just going to ditch our LA plans for a couple of guys we liked. We were strong independent women and we were going to do something awesome!

…Yeah, that mentality lasted approximately two seconds and then for t/he entire time we were in California, we just missed our men folk. It was really exciting and really annoying all at the same time. Going to Los Angeles was my plan…I was going to move out there and write for sitcoms. That was all I cared about and I never considered love or starting a family or anything “boring” like that.

Well, I have a funny thing to tell you, kids: Love always wins.

Not only did my friend and I move back home for love, we both ended up marrying those guys. My friend has two beautiful children and I have a 10-year-old stepson and an insane dog that I cradle like a baby. Things have a weird way of working out.

Let me preface my next statement by saying that if I had to go back and make the decision again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am a wife and stepmother and I honestly never really knew that was going to be in the cards for me. However, that little twist that life threw my way really confused the heck out of me for the next few years.

The issue? I still wanted to be a comedy writer. A real, big-time comedy writer for a movie or a TV show or something really rad. It all seemed so possible and so within my reach when I was living in Los Angeles. Settling down in Rhode Island made me feel like I had to give up entirely on that vision…and it sucked.

Let’s be honest…it still sucks.

“But, Mary – won’t your husband move to California with you? Doesn’t he support your dreams?”

Yes, my husband would actually love to move to California. He lived there until he was 12 years old and all he talks about is going back. One slight issue, though – he has a son. And his son has a mother that lives in Rhode Island. And his son isn’t going to move across the country because daddy’s wife wants to write funny things. So we stay here because my stepson is actually really cool and my husband loves his son more than California.

I’m doing what I know needs to be done, but it doesn’t mean I have to be thrilled about it. I have just had a lot of trouble translating my dreams in to something that the smallest state in the Union can actually offer me. My quarter life crisis has stemmed from me trying to find something as fulfilling career-wise that I felt comedy writing was going to be for me.

It’s been a long road of failed jobs and total confusion, but you know where those last six years of craziness have led me? Back to being a writer. Go figure. Not a comedy writer, mind you, but at least I think I’m finally headed back in the right direction. You can’t fight against doing what you’re meant to do…it has a sneaky way of finding you again when you least expect it.

{Image via Fotopedia}

The best part about temporarily living in another country is that I’m surrounded by only the most essential elements– my husband, my computer, a camera, a few art supplies and an eighth of my wardrobe. (While they are essential, my cat and pillow-top mattress had to stay behind. Trying to fit either of those in the plane’s overhead bins would probably be frowned upon.) There’s a strong sense of stillness, simplicity, and space– both physical and emotional– that brings my attention to what’s important.

The downside to this is that I have nowhere to hide from myself, from the parts of me that I try to push down, that I don’t want to deal with. Back home, I’m pretty sure that 90% of my waking hours are occupied with some sort of distraction, be it real life stuff like work, mortgages, and errands, or the important stuff like time with family and friends and my many hobbies.

But, as Brene Brown recently tweeted, “It’s so easy to buy into the idea that if we stay busy enough the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”

In the mostly distraction-free environment of my temporary home, I have no choice but to face some of the harder challenges and thought patterns that have plagued me for ages. I’ve always been the self-aware, hyper-reflective type, but somehow, being in a place that’s a little less familiar and less comfortable has made me give pause to these voices and determine whether they are welcome visitors or not.

This is simultaneously awesome and awful. On the awesome side, thoughts become less scary once you shine a light on their shadowy side. This is the case for most of my insecurities, from my unease around bar culture to traveling outside my comfort zone. They are much less of a big deal in reality than they are in my mind– something so obvious, but a necessary lesson I must continuously learn.

On the awful side, there is the incessant questioning– not (usually) in a self-doubt/inner-critic kind of way that I used to be oh so good at, but in a way that poses, “This is who I am; are the choices I’m making ACTUALLY reflecting my values and the vision I hold for my life?”

… On second thought, this question itself could theoretically go in the Awesome category because it comes from a place of inner strength and fierce love. What’s challenging is the uncomfortable feelings arising from the discovery that you’re not living in alignment with your values. Or seeing how you aren’t moving towards some of the goals you had previously set for yourself. And what do you do when you discover that the something you had thought you wanted no longer rings true?

Take my Etsy shop as an example, something I had planned and started to build before coming to Ireland. I even declared it one of my Stratejoy goals to work on my graphic design and photography skills in order to build my shop. With the twelve hours of quiet time I have during the day while my husband is at work, you’d think I’d be able to get around to creating more invitation designs and increasing my product offerings, even with all the other projects I’m working on. Yet, except for a handful of hours, I’ve continuously put it off.

Enter the incessant questions: I ask myself if having an Etsy shop is something I really want to do. I ask if it reflects my values. I ask if I want to develop an identity or career as an invitation designer, or a designer in general, through Etsy or otherwise. The answer I get is no– at least not long-term.

Invitation design is not a passion pursuit for me; I don’t feel like I’m being of true service to others and I don’t find the anonymity of Etsy inquiries/transactions to be particularly enjoyable. I do not want to turn my personal blog and online presence into a promotional vehicle for marketing myself (which is a surprising revelation, as I always thought I wanted to establish a legit online business). I truly love and appreciate good design, but worrying about the space between letters and print specifications myself kind of makes me crazy in practice. I’ve worked in the advertising industry and in marketing positions and have no intention of returning. So I’m left asking why I’m bothering with this path at all.

The answer to why I’m bothering (with this or with some of the other goals that I hold onto but don’t really work towards), is that I’m afraid of having nothing if I let it go. Being a designer is the only semblance of a professional identity that I have left, especially during this time when I’m on this sort of sabbatical away from home and life as I know it. What’s left at my core without the labels I formerly or currently identify myself with?

*Sigh.* More questions. But I trudge along, picking up my internal flashlight and shining a light on those places where fear is still hiding. What is left at my core? Well, I know I’ll always be me, without any specific labels. I’ll always have my values to lead me.  Then I’ll get quiet and continue to listen for the whispers of my heart.

{Image via creatocrat}

I never pictured myself the entreprenurial type.  The idea of striking out and doing anything on my own felt painfully uncomfortable.  I don’t know anything about running a business.  How could any take me seriously?

I’m a super rule follower.  That’s probably why I ended up with a government major and a government job.  The government provides tons of manuals and rules and requirements.  You don’t have to come up with anything yourself.  In fact, it would best if you didn’t.

But it turns out I wasn’t so well suited to cubicle work.

After Kate was born and Dan and I decided I’d stay home with her, I not-so-secretly found myself gleeful over getting to leave the workforce.  Not that motherhood doesn’t offer it’s own set of challenges.  Really, it should come with combat pay.  But motherhood wouldn’t require me to input data into spreadsheets that I didn’t understand or care about.

So I quit my job and made motherhood my full time job.  But that didn’t feel that great either.  I needed something else, something more to get back to my identity and the Sarah I knew before she was a wife and a mother.

In the height of the loneliness and identityless feelings, I looked back on all my previous jobs.  Did I want to go back to work full time?  Where?  Back to a job like all the other jobs I left?

When I thought back to my employment history, it read like a textbook case of a misplaced girl with a liberal arts BA and public policy Masters.  And nothing about those jobs said “Sarah.”  They only said “traditional path.”

Since I’m a rule follower, I assumed that traditional path was the only path.  The only right path.  There could be no other way.  You don’t just make your own way!  That would break about 565,598,716,894 rules in my Good Girl Playbook.

But I finally saw what all those jobs didn’t have in common.  Anything I loved doing.

It was all rote, paperworking stuff, Excel-filled, jammed printer trauma drama.  Nothing I did felt important or meaningful.  I’m pretty sure no one was interested in my thoughts and ideas.

Writing, sharing, storytelling.  That’s the stuff I love.  I started my blog because work crushed my soul.  So after I left the traditional work force, I wanted to more with my writing.

But I was scared.

I didn’t get a degree in writing.  Or blogging.  Or social media.  Or creative endeavors.

Who was I to call myself a writer?

But I knew I didn’t want to go back to anything I’ve done before.  So maybe it was time to do my own thing.

Coming up with something I loved to do while still being Kate’s mom presented a challenge.  I still wanted to stay home with her.  But I needed something outside motherhood that made me feel good about myself.

So I started toying with the idea of freelancing.  Freelancing is a tough road.  One just doesn’t decide to be a freelancer and sit back while publications vie for one’s writing.  It would require putting myself out there and selling myself, two things I don’t find particularly comfortable.

I almost quit when I realized I would need to write pitches and send them to editors.  Unsolicited.  And say I’m the best writer to take on that pitch.

Oftentimes I find myself falling back into these old constructs where I decide I can’t fully embrace this newer, stronger version of myself because that’s not how I’ve always seen myself.  I’ve fallen all over the less-than-confident spectrum throughout my life.  I’ve told myself, oh I could never do that, for no reason other than I just decided I could never be good enough.

Owning my talents and skills is not my best thing.  And telling other people about my skills and talents?  No, thanks.

But after becomming part of the Stratejoy community, I saw these other young women who admitted, yes, it’s scary to put yourself out there and do new things, but what they have to give is meaningful and valueable and so worth celebrating.

So I decided to take a risk and pursue freelancing with everything I had.  I made a website.  Contacted publications.  Pitched articles.

Sometimes I heard a thanks, but no thanks.  Sometimes the editors didn’t email me back at all.  But one time I got back a yes.  And that one yes was all I needed to start owning my new path.

My first article came out in Washington Parent Magazine this month.  Seeing my name in print just about blows my mind.

When people used to ask me what I did, I used to mumble and fumble around for words and say oh, I’m just a stay at home mom.  But now when people ask me about myself, I say with confidence, I’m a writer.  I blog.  I freelance.  And I’m a mom, too.

Setting up my own rule book?  Yeah, it feels pretty good.

Multicolored telephone wire woven into baskets, 18-inch eagles crafted from recycled newspaper,  old steel drums cut and shaped into beautiful mermaids. I adore how simple materials, odds and ends that some people deem garbage can  be morphed into beautiful forms of art.

When I was living in Hartford, CT as an AmeriCorps member I was certainly lacking in what most people deem necessities. I didn’t have a real bed, nor a table or chair, but I did have books, and I did have art. I had small masks from Santo Domingo by my windows, paintings and giant collages created by my half-blind grandfather decorating my walls, and a tiled-metal-work mirror from Mexico adorning my “night table”.

Thinking about it, both of my parents place a high value on art. They took my siblings and me to museums in nearly every place we went, bought paintings from local artists, and we always had a plethora of sketchbooks, colored pencils, paint, beads, and other craft supplies to entertain our minds’ latest creative endeavor. There is so much I appreciate about this. Without a doubt it’s a value that I would like to pass on to Geoffrey’s and my future children and it is unquestionably part of why I want to go to graduate school to study…folk art. That’s right, I want to go on in school to get a PhD for doing research on 1) the use of recycled materials in folk art and 2) the way women’s art cooperatives create financial opportunities and may help prevent issues of violence against women.

Deep breath. Yep. Oh folk art how you make me swoon.

Last May, I went to visit my amazing, go-getter of a friend who was working at a health clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I knew I would be spending some time with her but I also knew I had to visit some artisans in Haiti. Since I was still an AmeriCorps member and knew I’d have a while  before returning to school I figured I might as well get a head start and conduct some independent research while there and see if this was indeed what I wanted to dedicate several years of my life to doing.

That solidified it.

One afternoon, my friend and I journeyed to Croix-de-Bouquets, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince of metal-workers. Walking through the dusty streets, men worked outside pounding out steel to shape into gorgeous wall-pieces. As we walked by, artisans beckoned us to enter their homes, to see what they had created. I was in love and perfectly content having my eyes scan the walls looking at tree-of-life after tree-of-life, roosters, elephants, people carrying baskets of fruit, profiles of women with hair spiraling out into the wind. Gasp, this was exactly what I wanted to do! What was preventing me from choosing this as a career path, especially when it was something that I loved?

Another day I rode with my new friend on his moto-taxi to visit a women’s cooperative that created flip-flops, wallets, and bags from old chip bags and the woven plastic from bags of oranges. That was an interesting visit as most of what I learned, do to my inability to speak Kreyol, came through hand motions and observation.

A third trip out into the city took me to The Apparent Project, a compound where men and women rolled strips of boxes and paper into spherical beads to thread into gorgeous jewelry.

The innovation of ideas birthing art, the impact of art cooperatives on an individual’s or a family’s financial sustainability, the way that something can be created from nothing- all of these fascinate me and are precisely the reasons that of all the graduate programs I could choose, this is what I need to study.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was researching schools in Portland, Oregon where my fiance and I are moving after our wedding. For a long time, I didn’t know if I should look into sociology, anthropology, or women’s studies. They’ve all been programs I’ve been considering but I never knew exactly which one I should pick.  I mean, each one has it’s pros and cons. Then I found it. An hour away in Eugene, if I apply, and I’m accepted, I can go for a Masters and a Doctorate in Folk Lore. What could be more perfect then that?!? Then of course there’s the question of what countries would I want to focus on? What questions would I want to ask? How could I go back to school and also be a doula/midwife? And of course, there’s the question that keeps popping up and I keep pushing aside… the question of what would I do next? Would I become a professor? Would I start or work for an NGO? I don’t even know. Perhaps that’s just another question for another time.

The white expanse of a blank Word document sat in front of me. The cursor blinked, unmoving, taunting me with its stillness. Blink blink. There were, quite literally, no words.

A few weeks ago, I was put in touch with the executive director of a non-profit via a colleague of a friend of my dad’s (Networking: not just bogus lip service from your college career counselor!). I went to his office and we had a really great discussion about where I’ve been, where the organization is going, and a possible marriage between the two.

I assumed that the director had only agreed to meet with me as a favor to the person who had referred me, so naturally I was surprised when he said:

“I think the best way to proceed from here is for you to write up a job description of what you’d like to do. When you’re done, send it to me and we’ll go from there.”

This brought me to the blank Word document and the dreaded blinking cursor.

(Coming to a theater near you, the newest Hollywood suspense-thriller – The Blank Word Document and the Dreaded Blinking Cursor)

I tried to write down some bullet points.

Report on –

Blink blink.

Manage process for –

Blink.

Liaise with –

BLINK BLINK BLINK.

All I had were those résumé-friendly action words. This paltry excuse for a job description had the potential for a whole lot of doing, if only I knew what I actually wanted to do.

Yet the god damned cursor kept blinking at me. On off on off on off.

“STOP IT!” I wanted to yell. “Don’t you know, you blinking asshole, that I just started this quarterlife crisis blogging thing and I just wrote a post about how I don’t know how to articulate what I want to do with my career yet here you are expecting me to articulate what I want to with my career? VODKA. NOW.”

Blink blink.

I eventually calmed down and knew I had to get something substantive down on the page. So I thought more about our conversation. I thought about what the organization does and how I might contribute. I thought about job responsibilities that I would excel at, as well as ones that I knew I couldn’t even do yet but that I wanted to grow into.

And just like that, I created my dream job. It might be a dream job limited to one employer, but it was something. It hadn’t been easy, but it hadn’t been that hard either.

I sent it off, and got a pretty quick reply that the director was impressed with what I wrote but wanted to revise it a bit before setting up another in-person meeting.

For the first time in my 2 years of job-hunting (because even from day 1 at my last job, I was always looking to leave), I felt like I was on the cusp on something wonderful.

No more working for companies that I didn’t connect with.

No more time spent doing mindless tasks that I’m pretty sure did not add value to anyone or anything.

No more feeling like I was underqualified for everything, or being rejected because “you’re great but we just want someone with 7 to 10 years of experience.”

For the first time in years, someone saw me as the capable, intelligent, driven person that deep down I always knew I was, but that I had lost sight of during the disheartening process of having my résumé passed over several hundred times (since March 2010 I have applied to 693 jobs).

Finally, after several weeks of waiting, I received another email from the director. He was still revising my job description and would get back to me by Monday to discuss next steps.

BOOYAH!

And then I noticed something weird: the subject of the email.

“Internship”

I’m sorry…what? Where did that come from?

This one word brought everything to a halt. My chest tightened, and I felt that pit in my stomach that you get when you’re hugely and suddenly disappointed.

I know an internship isn’t the end of the world, and I don’t even know any of the details yet. But I do know, with this being a non-profit, that I would be foolish to expect there to be any money. That’s really what kills me. Unpaid internships are wonderful if you’re in college, but at this stage in my life I’m just not down with working for free.

Money may not be everything, but without it, it’s sometimes hard to have anything. And it’s really hard to make your student loan payments.

Seeing as all I have to go on is this one-word subject of an email, I may have jumped the gun as far as going into full-blown panic mode (okay, I definitely did, I know I’m being irrational but I can’t help it). I’m just…bummed.

I know the important pieces of the puzzle are still there: this organization still wants me. They still see my potential to provide value. I still got to tell an employer what I wanted to do for them instead of vice versa, which, FYI, is different than it was with the other 692 jobs. I guess I just thought that last piece, the piece where I get a biweekly paycheck, would have fit in too.

But I’m not just sitting around while I wait for the details of this internship. I’m going to keep sending out resumes, keep networking. There’s still a job out there for me, and I need to be prepared in case this isn’t it.

Time to open up a fresh Word document and compose another cover letter.

Blink blink.

 

Photo credit: madame furie

 

Some days I do well.

I take care of the house.  Put away all the laundry.  Plan dinner.  Keep Kate happy.  Take time to blog.  Write.  Think about me and my path.

And some days I don’t do well.

I’m fed up with motherhood by 10:00 a.m.  Don’t go to the grocery or plan a dinner for several nights in a row.  I can’t keep up with the house, my wood floors speckled with goldfish cracker crumbs, crayon wrappers, sippy cups.  There’s no time for me.  No thinking space.  No self-care.  No writing, socializing, centering.

Those days are my dark days.  When I enter the what-am-I-doing and I’m-a-terrible-mother-wife-dog owner-person spiral.

But I know I can do better.  It’s just going to require a lot of putting myself out there, a good deal of faith in the process, and a whole lot of self love.

I’m taking small steps here and there to get back to the Sarah I knew before marriage and motherhood and grown up responsibilities that came on fast and furious.

I thought back to what I love to do, pre-everything.

Write.

Share.

Teach.

And how I could put all those parts together into something that was workable for me as a mother, me as a wife, and me, as, well, me.

So I started putting a little plan into motion that got me back to my writing roots.  In January I started pitching publications with story ideas.  I started taking my writing craft seriously.  Got deeper into blogging.  Went to my first blogging conference.

I also want to work on this part of me that longs to connect, share with others.  Motherhood, while a lot of things, is a lonely enterprise.  So I thought about what else I loved, and realized it was right in front of me.  I’ve been taking group fitness classes for years.  But I never thought about actually teaching group fitness.  When the thought first crept into my mind, I thought, no way, no way could I get up in front of a group of people and lead a class.

But then I thought, why not me?  So without giving myself time to think too hard, I signed up for a step aerobics training, spent a weekend stepping my heart out, and received the highest score possible, advancing myself onto the next round in the process.

All these things are wins.  The writing.  The conferences.  The training.  The tiny plan I had that snowballed into more than I thought I could ever acheive at this phase in my life.

But even when I feel I’m making strides, that crisis feeling pervades my thoughts.

Is this path finally the right path?

How will I know?

I think I am figuring things out…but am I really?

What if things don’t work out?

What if all this is a big mistake?

What if I fail?

What if, what if, what if?

Even though I’ve created a plan and set the wheels in motion to get back to my identity and myself, I still feel cautious, timid about where I’m headed.  I’m not completely confident in myself and what I need to do.  And I struggle to even share and rejoice in what I’ve accomplished so far.  I barely manged to squeak out this post because I hesitate to put my big goals and acheivements out there for fear I’ll end up on my face the next day.

But then I thought, hey, isn’t that why I’m here, at Stratejoy?  To share and learn and be supported through this quarterlife crisis?  So I can share all those good things I’m working on and get support when I’m feeling stuck and low on confidence.

Over the next five months, I’ll share those good things and those not-so-good things.  How I’m managing to take care of myself admist motherhood and marriage.  My progress on my writing goals.  And my process of becoming a group fitness instructor.  But above all, I hope to find that confidence I lost when all my major life transitions landed me in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory.

I’m really into fresh starts.  And I believe we can all have a fresh start anytime we want it.  So I’m declaring a fresh start.  And I hope you’ll join me.

 

 

Fireworks by SJ PhotographyI have a confession. A bit of an asterisk to my last post, if you will.

Remember how I said I quit my job recently? Well, even though I fought through my Analysis Paralysis and decided to make a real change to my work situation, I haven’t found it so easy to shake the tendency to obsess over what people may be thinking about my choices.

Putting aside the issue that it’s awfully Big Head of me to think that people are overly interested in the in and outs of my life (seriously, my logical brain knows that’s not the case), here’s how my inner Crazypants tends to see it: Me, in one corner, beginning to make choices that resonate with my heart and core values, facing off with “them” in the other corner– all those people who have ever expressed disapproval of my actions or whom I’ve felt project certain expectations onto me. I’ve held onto their words like bruises on my spirit.

The result? I have spent entirely too much time trying to hide myself and my story. Case in point: Until the opportunity to temporarily relocate to Ireland for my husband’s job came up, I did not tell anyone (other than my husband) that I had already quit my job. (Note: I’m not at all proud of this secret-keeping, and I’m a little nervous admitting this to you all.)

After all, I was the “by the books” girl who lived up to the labels of “responsible” and “studious” and “stable.” I’m not supposed to just up and quit my job without a plan, especially in this economy/at my age/with my future to think about (or whatever else people like to say to squash your dreams). So I acted like I didn’t. I became skilled at changing the subject whenever jobs came up in conversation, and only explained my situation once the next step, our Ireland trip, was established.  Not exactly the picture of authenticity, something I cherish as one of my eight core values (the others being creativity, compassion, connection, wellness, balance, intention, and learning, for those who are curious).

It’s not just the big stuff either. You know those statements Real Photographers and Real Graphic Designers make along the lines of, “Just because you have Adobe Creative Suite/a digital camera doesn’t mean you’re a graphic designer/photographer”? That kind of attitude makes incredibly hesitant to share my own work. If I do, I fill the air with caveats like, “I’m still learning” and “This is JUST a hobby,” no matter how much I’m enjoying the process. Shame, embarrassment and self-consciousness are emotions that I am all too familiar with. But during the past few years, these emotions have somehow seemed less scary than  vulnerability.

Well, there’s nothing like a public blogging gig to make a person face their issues with opening up to people!

If there’s one thing I want to work on during my time as a Stratejoy blogger aside from learning to live in alignment with my values, it’d be my confidence. I want to show up, as I am, unedited. To know the difference between holding my dreams close out of loving protection vs. out of self-consciousness. To chip away at my perfectionism. To be comfortable with the fact that there WILL be people who disagree with my choices, and it won’t mean anything more significant than they don’t agree with my choices.

I don’t want to be a person who compartmentalizes, allowing some to get to know this part of me and others to know that part. How exhausting. I don’t want to be a person who attempts to exert control over other people by assuming what their reactions are going to be. I’ve already begun to discover that people are generally much more open and supportive than I give them credit for. And those who aren’t? Maybe it’s okay for me to distance myself from them for a while as I grow my wings again.

I’ve got a whole arsenal of ideas to help me along the way. It’ll take a few doses of boundary pushing, intravenous injections of Fierce Love, the support of this amazing Stratejoy community, and a commitment to what I like to call The Confidence Project (I’m channeling a little Gretchen Rubin here). I’m already out of my comfort zone as I get settled into a brand new country for a few months, and I hope to continue challenging myself to do the things I’ve been putting off out of fear, like:

• Go public as a blogger with IRL family and acquaintances (in progress!)
• Become a runner and train for a race
• Strengthen my design and photography skills so that I can tend to my fledgling Etsy shop and/or do more freelancing
• Commit to the tattoo I’ve been thinking about for three years
• Get comfortable taking photos in public
• Reach out and connect with local creative bloggers/artistpreneurs
• Write my personal manifesto and live it
• And maybe even vlog (*shudder*)

I very intentionally chose Ignite as my word for 2012. After an tearful moment in the car listening to Katy Perry’s “Firework” on the radio (what did I tell you about emotional breakdowns in the car?!) I could think of no better word to sum up what I want to achieve, even if it seems incredibly big, bold, and scary. But I’m ready to set my life ablaze, and let the phoenix that rises from the ashes be of my own making.

{Image via SJ Photography}

While I’ve never thought of myself as a lazy person, when I think critically about my life and why certain aspects of it leave something to be desired, I find a common theme.

I love the path of least resistance.

Who doesn’t? It protects you from getting hurt and lets you watch countless episodes of 30 Rock instead of doing…anything.

It’s also boring and unfulfilling, and I refuse to continue on this way. So here I am in the Frost-ian yellow wood, and I’m choosing my own personal road less traveled.

In order to keep myself focused and away from the road that will drain me of all ambition, here are some goals that I’d like to stick to for the coming months.

Get a job that I don’t hate.

While I sincerely hope to find a job I absolutely love, I would be willing to settle for something that doesn’t make me miserable.

No job is perfect, and I realize there’s a give and take between the different aspects of any position. I’d accept a lower salary to work at a really awesome company. I’ll commute further for an amazing boss. But I refuse to settle across the board.

Develop healthier habits

I’m purposely keeping this vague because I want it to be both realistic and permanent. When I tell myself that eating a cupcake means I may as well just starve myself until the following day because THERE GO ALL MY ALLOTTED CALORIES, I’m wasting my time.

The fact of the matter is, I’m a big drinker with a major sweet tooth and a passion for finding the best burger in New York. I’m not saying any of those are particularly great habits to have, but I also know that it’s unrealistic to try and suppress them completely.

Instead, I just want to come out of this feeling like I’m making more responsible decisions. You know, like choosing to eat yogurt instead of cookies for breakfast. Baby steps.

Attend one adult gymnastics class

I was a competitive gymnast until the age of 14, and I’m dying to feel that springy floor beneath my bare feet again.

Initially, I put “gymnastics class” down as the ultimate weight loss reward to work towards. After losing 10 pounds, I would get a massage. 20 pounds, I’d buy a new watch. When I had lost enough weight to be perfectly happy with how I looked, I would finally allow myself to go to gymnastics.

I fooled myself with this line of thinking for a long time.

Eventually I realized that I wasn’t putting off gymnastics because I wanted to earn it. What kind of bogus, ascetic life am I leading here? Here’s a thing that would make me happy, and I mean soul-satisfying happy, not just new-episode-of-America’s-Next-Top-Model happy. All I need to do to is show up and pay $28. And I won’t do this…why?

Because I’m scared of what people will think, that’s why. Putting this class as the light at the end of the weight loss tunnel was a convenient way of ensuring that I would never have to go until I was thin, and then, woohoo, no one could judge me.

That’s some bullshit. Gymnastics makes me happy.

I’m going.

Learn the Single Ladies dance

This is so not even remotely a joke.

In the spring of my sophomore year of college, I discovered TDC (Tufts Dance Collective), an on-campus dance group that accepted anyone who wanted to join, no auditions necessary. I was a devoted member through graduation, and it was through TDC that I found my real enthusiasm, if not always talent, for dance.

So now I’m going to bust out my black leotard and weird robotic hand, grab 2 friends for backup dancers, and have a total Beyonce moment.

Volunteer twice a month

I attended orientation awhile ago for New York Cares, a group that can put you in touch with about a billion different volunteer opportunities in any given week. Yet I have volunteered all of zero times. Boo.

Be more proactive about men/dating/trying to not be single for the rest of my life

If you were under the impression that, as a single New York woman, my life is a whirlwind of dinner dates with handsome investment bankers and groggy Sunday mornings trying to remember the name of the guy next to me in bed, I’m sorry to disappoint. I’ll let you in a little secret:

I have no game.

None. At all. I cannot flirt my way into or out of any situation. It’s pathetic.

That being said, I could still try a little harder.

I recently went on a St. Patty’s-themed pub crawl. I ended up talking to a guy, similarly decked out in green, who was cute, smart and nice. He mentioned that his friends wanted to hit up a different bar. I mentioned that I wanted to hit up the 45-minute bathroom line. Since he would be long gone by the time I returned, I said:

“Why don’t you take my number? Maybe we can meet up later.”

If you aren’t in total shock at how I could possibly say something like this, clearly you don’t suffer from the same fear of men that I do.

Telling a guy to take my number was an exception, but I want things like this to become more of the rule.

So there you have it. A few goals, ranging from the necessary to the ridiculous. I hope that in 5 months I will have made at least marginal progress on all of these.

The path of least resistance can eat my dust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: theilr

sarah bagley

I started my career in county government as a camp counselor.  Charged with a dozen five-year-olds, I spent my summer leading sing-a-longs, helping chubby fingers hold paint brushes, and making sure no one drowned at the local pool.

I loved everything about that job.  The kids ate me up, vying to sit in my lap, wanting to know if I could move in with them and their families.  After that summer I knew I had to get serious about a profession, so I lapped in all that goodness and tried to hold onto the fun and responsibility of my summer camp career.

Soon enough I found myself on the verge of graduating and an uncertain future.  So I did what any good undergrad from U.Va. did.   I entered a Masters program.  I powered my way through my Masters in Public Policy while balancing my second job with the county: working at a teen and community center.

I adored working with the teens.  Sure, they were surly and kind of rude.  And forever making trouble.  (Here’s a tip: when you see a group of teenage boys walk into a bathroom with pool balls from a billiard table, call a plumber right away.)  But they were also full of energy and spunk and challenged me to constantly think of new ways to entertain them.

As I wrapped up my Masters degree, I knew it was time to move on.  Obviously I couldn’t stay.  I got my Masters in Public Policy to, well, write and analyze policy.  Not run a teen center and help 8th graders with math homework.  So I applied for a job at the county’s budget office.

And I got that job.  I looked just like every one of those analysts in the office.  A BA in government and a MA in public policy/administration.  I could write, analyze, and use Excel.  It would seem I fit right in.

Right away I felt underwater.  Everything was complicated.  I tried and tried and tried but nothing clicked.  And the more it felt like I didn’t get what was going on, the worse I felt about myself.  I clunked around the budgeting computer system, trying to find the missing hundreds of thousands of dollars I mis-entered.  The agency budgets read like Chinese.

I felt defeated.  Wasn’t I supposed to be good at this?  This office was the next logical step.  It was in the plan.  Why am I so bad at this?

Tears stung behind my eyes most days.  I wanted to do a good job.  And I so wasn’t.  I tried my best, always giving everything I had.  But each day felt like I was jamming myself in a hole that didn’t fit.

About a year into my job, I found out I was pregnant.  I assumed I’d go back to work after my daughter was born.  I never thought I’d be stay-at-home-mom.  But as her due date approached and still no child care on the horizon, my husband and I decided to tighten our budget and for me to stay home.

Since I knew I wasn’t the world’s best budget analyst, I didn’t feel sad about leaving my job.  I assumed it was for the best.  But a couple months into my stay-at-home gig, I realized I wasn’t all that good at this staying at home thing either.

Then everything started to blow up.  I felt alone, isolated, like I was the only one in the world feeling all misshapen and out of place.  Clearly, I wasn’t built to be a budget analyst.  But I wasn’t doing so great at mothering all day either.  This signaled to me that I’d never be good at anything.

Around this time, I happened to find the Stratejoy blog.  I’m not exactly sure how I got here.  I think amongst the Twitter and Facebook and blogging rabbit hole, I found the Stratejoy community and thought to myself these people are my people.  I think they get me.

It seemed I wasn’t the only one struggling.  Whether it was motherhood or marriage or being a single girl or divorced or whatever, there was a lot of struggling going on.  But also a lot of earnest.  A sense of grasping for joy, a happier life.

That resonated with me.  Yes, I am struggling.  True, I am feeling identity-less.  No, I’m not sure where I’m going.  But, absolutely yes, do I want to live my best life.  My blog is called Sunny Side Up.  Because no matter how down and out I’ve been (or will be), I am certain there’s a path to a better way.

So here I am at Stratejoy, sharing my story in the hopes that something will resonate with you.  So you won’t feel alone.  And I won’t feel alone.  And together we can come to terms with struggle and instead of letting it eat us up, we can work through it to live a life on our terms.

Introducing: Camila

“Love-wise I couldn’t be better. I just have a wedding in August to think about and I thrive on planning events. Career-wise I’m an absolute disaster”

“What are you?”

This is undoubtedly the question I get asked the most frequently.

I know what they really want to know though. They want to know about my ethnic background because between the cowboy boots I’m wearing, the ring in my nose, my coca-cola-foam-colored skin, and the brightly embroidered clothes I’m wearing, they simply can’t place what I am. Sometimes I give the simple answer of “I’m a Mestiza.” Other times I give the longer answer:  “well… I’m Spanish from when the conquistadors came to the Southwest in the 1500s, Mexican, Swiss-German, French, Italian, and Ute.”

Behind both of these answers, however, there is the truth that I am a mutt, a smorgasbord, a convergence of crossroads. Growing up between the free-thinking art town of Santa Fe, New Mexico and my family’s gorgeous ranch in conservative small-town Colorado was simply a part of life for me.

Being a nomad was the norm. I was accustomed to dropping everything at my dad’s declaration of “time to go to the ranch”, packing up and heading northward for feeding cattle, irrigating pastures, baling hay, and going on cattle drives (yes, I do mean like cattle drives in the Westerns) with my wonderful younger siblings and lovely parents. I was used to working my curvaceous Latina butt off to excel in all my classes at Catholic high school in Santa Fe. I was used to striving for excellence at everything I did.

My main philosophy throughout my youth was You should always bite off more than you can chew because you can always spit some of it back out. At least this philosophy got me into a prestigious university in upstate New York that I loved for four glorious years before I graduated… thought I knew what I was doing… and then it all kind of came undone.

When my friend Hala told me that after graduating from college I would experience an existential crisis, I thought she was kidding. I should have know better that life crises are often true. I mean… when my parents reached mid-life crisis time they got divorced, my dad became a woman and my mother moved in with her boyfriend and began expressing ideologies I scarcely knew she possessed.

For the first year after graduating college I happily declared to Hala that no, I had not yet experienced my quarter life crisis. Instead I was ecstatically working for poverty wage as an AmeriCorps member with an organization I strongly believed in. My day-to-day focus was on inspiring young people to create social change. How could I possibly go wrong?

Slowly though, the stress of working for $800 a month while paying off hundreds of dollars in student loans and hundreds more in living expenses became overwhelming. I was living in a living room with my only furniture being a bookcase… I didn’t even have a bed. The youth I worked with were amazing and constantly inspiring. They were great. The only problem was I only really got to see the results of my office work twice a year. For the remaining 360 days of the year, the feeling that I was not appreciated in my work place began to make me feel a little worthless and to question why I was continuing to do the work I was doing. Then, this Fall, I found out through the grapevine that my job ceased to exist.

That was the bad news for Autumn 2011. The good news was that my incredible, creative, compassionate boyfriend who bought me a piñata (yes a piñata!) for our first Valentine’s Day proposed to me in a castle after hiking up a quiet mountain path and having a homemade picnic!

Love-wise I couldn’t be better. I just have a wedding in August to think about and I thrive on planning events. Career-wise I’m an absolute disaster. Currently, I’m working at a socially conscious coffee shop making latte leaves and emptying coffee grounds. It’s a job that I enjoy well enough; it encourages me to be in the moment. This isn’t what I want to do forever though.

I want to be a doula/midwife and bring life into the world. I want to return to school and study the impact of folk art on women artisans and the way artists use recycled materials in their creations. I want to be an outstanding wife and eventually a fabulous mother. I want to journey the world with my husband-to-be and have conversations with random people. I want to be a poet and a novelist. I want to breathe in contentment knowing that the footsteps I leave behind on this earth are meaningful. I know I can do it, I just need to figure out how in the world it’s going to happen.

Introducing: Caiti

“I was living a life that wasn’t mine. It was society’s. The expectations and opinions of certain influential people around me. Fear-avoidance. I had become a passenger in my life, simply along for the ride instead of owning it.”

I don’t know why most of my emotional breakdowns occur while driving my car. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m in charge of 3000 pounds of metal and mechanics that have the power to potentially kill me if mishandled, yet I barely feel like I’m in the driver’s seat for my own life.

My subconscious can’t seem to handle the irony.

Until recently, I have been a “by the books” kind of girl. Midwestern born and bred. Top of my high school class. A scholarship to my first choice college (University of Missouri), where I majored in something that seemed practical and responsible (journalism/strategic communications). I fell in love, attended grad school, got engaged the very day I finished my Master’s degree, and promptly moved in with my mister. How about a job related to my major? Planning a wedding and getting married? Buying a condo? Moving on to jobs #2-3, complete with a nice salary bump? Check, check, check and CHECK. On the road of life, I was cruising along and passing all the major milestones right on cue.

Here I was, with everything I want–scratch that–with everything I thought I should want, yet I only felt numb. An incredible amount of time was spent glassy-eyed, zoned out of the world around me. It was all I could do to get through the days without crumbling into a pile of flesh and tears. Work was a blur of time bookended by forced morning conversation at the coffee maker and counting down to 5:00. The major I chose in college for its practicality led me to an industry that was slowly suffocating me with its sea of gray cubicles, florescent lights, and people who seemed all too comfortable with the status quo. Even the parts of my life I claimed to love– my relationship with my husband and my friendships– were just shrug-my-shoulders fine.

During the long drive home from work on a day much like every other, I had to brake quickly in the stop-and-go traffic, a completely routine annoyance. But for a moment, the fog lifted. I looked out the windshield over my white knuckles gripping the wheel and saw the highway in front of me for what seemed like the first time that day, that week, that month. How did I get here?

No, really, how did I get here?

Had my life really turned into a series of beige blurs between Point A and Point B, stopping only to check the box next to each “accomplishment” on the List of Things to Achieve to Have a Solid & Stable Life? Wait, who the hell wrote that list anyways? It surely wasn’t me. Where were the check boxes for passion, for the people who are so smart and funny and creative it makes my heart hurt, for the projects I could get lost in for days? Where was the adventure and traveling and learning about the world?

I was living a life that wasn’t mine. It was society’s. The expectations and opinions of certain influential people around me. Fear-avoidance. I had become a passenger in my life, simply along for the ride instead of owning it.

My quarterlife crisis in a nutshell: I can’t keep living half alive.

After enough stress to cause an ulcer ten times over, I made the one change that was weighing on me most heavily. I quit my job. With no plan. With no real idea of what I want to do professionally. But somehow, in the process of grabbing the wheel, I’ve been able to start to steer myself down a new road that doesn’t seem so bleak. Within the first month of this year, opportunities that seemed like pipe dreams have lit me up– from the chance to feature my artwork in a magazine to steadily growing my blog.

And in a crazy turn of events, my life will literally be hitting the road as my husband and I relocate to Dublin, Ireland, through October.

It’s time to feel alive again, to feel the fire burning in my belly for my work, relationships, and new experiences. My “by the books” life will become a life worth writing about, and I can’t wait.

 

I never had any intentions of being an entrepreneur. Really I didn’t.

I thought I was just starting blog. Harmless, really. Then, it was a month-long course on blogging. No biggie. Then, I made my first affiliate sale. Oooh, that was pretty exciting. Then, I was writing and marketing an ebook.

Okay, so it was a slippery slope.

Who am I kidding? I showed all of the telltale signs of the would-be entrepreneur.

The inability to stay at a job I couldn’t stand and couldn’t change. (Seriously, I’ve had 36 jobs.) I had to stop participating in student council, because I blew a fuse or ten when I realized all they did was fundraise for parties and dances. So much for wanting to get the curriculum updated and get the school more active in the community. That may have also been why I was voted most likely to be a politician… in 8th grade.

I joke about it, but honestly, stepping into this new role has changed my life in ways I struggle to describe.

Let’s jump back to the summer of 2010. I was working at a Starbucks, slinging coffee out a window to people more or less unhappy with their lives. (The only notable exception to this was Phil Knight and his wife, two of our regulars.) Life was okay. Except that I knew I was handing a false answer to their problems out the window.

When I wasn’t making coffee, I was online. I’d started blogging in my spare time, downsizing my life, and doing more of what I loved. And what did I love? Writing. Sharing. Even when only an hour of my day could be devoted to this secret passion, it lit me up like the 4th of July.

When I first got started, I did it all for the love of writing. All of these thoughts and ideas had been building up with nowhere to go, and when I started blogging, it was like the floodgates opened. My heart soared every time I penned something. Little pieces of me scattered online and throughout the world.

Now it’s October 2011, and I have built myself a job and the makings of a business. In the past year, I’ve written about half a million words. No exaggeration. Between college, writing for pleasure, and writing for business, the flow of words has been more akin to tsunami force than that of the steady river metaphor I had considered using there.

With no qualifications, I wrote ebooks that real people bought. I offered my services as a branding coach and a copywriter – and real people paid me with real money. Danielle LaPorte says the universe speaks in cashflow, and it certainly did to me. The whole thing still blows my mind.

It’s amazing on so many levels, but entrepreneurship is not easy, especially if you’ve got workaholic tendencies. It feels like your work is never done. There’s always this inner conflict going on. How should I be spending my time? How much time with my daughter is enough? How many hours a week should I work? How many would I like to work? How many do I actually have to work to pay my rent?

We take the structure a workplace provides for granted. The thing with being the one calling shots is just that – you’re the one calling the shots. There’s no one else to blame. It’s all on you. Every decision you make about your schedule, your rates, everything. I’m a fan of bootstrapping, but now I dream of the day I can hire my very own virtual assistant. (I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the heavens will open up and angels will sing.)

Have you considered starting your own business? I’d love to hear about your ideas, and if you have any questions about how I made the transition, I’m happy to answer them! (Molly and Hannah, I want some input here from you guys, too!)

The universe is trying to tell me something. I’m convinced.

After a summer of stressing over getting someone to rent to me, I applied to a random Craigslist housing ad. I found a nice two bedroom within my budget. It was a little further out than I wanted, but there was no application fee – which *fingers crossed* meant no credit/rental check.

It’s like the universe wrapped its arms around me and gave me a hug. She rented based on character, not background. And she was one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met! You just don’t meet people like that anymore.

Then came the cherry on top – the best writing gig EVER lands in my inbox. Cue me dancing a jig! I can’t give details yet, but it’s with a company I would sell my left boob to work with long term.

A place to live and steady income. Did I just achieve some stability? Why, yes, I think I did. Count this as me exiting fight or flight mode. Unless I’m crazy, that should mean I make better decisions for a while.

At the end of this five months, I’ll be ready to pop. As in, the brand new baby boy will be making his arrival like a soda can exploding in the freezer. I’m so excited for him, but I’m afraid for me. My doctor said I have a high likelihood of getting extreme PPD again.

Last time, it destroyed my life. This time, I have a much better support network. I have a wonderful doula, and I’m not in a relationship with someone I can’t stand – progress, right? (In fact, he makes me quite happy. And makes trips out when I get cravings. Yep – he’s a keeper.)

The next several months are going to be jam-packed full of goodness. But, it’s also just jam-packed – you know, crappy airline style where the seats are too close together kind of packed. I’m not crazy enough to hope for balance, but I am dreaming of joy. Even when things go bonkers, I want to feel the deep joy of knowing I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be doing what I’m meant to be doing. To commit to joy, I’m making three goals for my time here at Stratejoy.

My three goals for the next five months are:

To prepare as much as I can for the new baby. Mentally, this means making sure I have a network of wonderful women to connect with. I think Stratejoy is going to help with that a TON. Physically, it means yoga and setting up the nursery. (Because you KNOW it’s fun.)

To write my manifesto. Because I can’t write it until I understand all of the in’s and out’s of what I think. This is me committing to self exploration in away I haven’t before.

To open as many doorways as I can for my writing career. This means getting coaching, applying to grad school, working with amazing clients, and doing whatever I can to propel my writing to the next level.

It’s a good thing I like challenges, because this one is going to be one tough mother.

 

I’ve often thought of our generation as lazy, selfish, and self entitled.

I’ve never been more disgusted with the laissez-faire attitude toward rape and sexual assault as I am when faced with young men my own age. The fact that homophobic slurs like “fag” and “gay” are now part of everyday derogatory vernacular makes my skin crawl. That television shows like Jersey Shore persist and flourish is a testament to our own self indulgent nature.

We’re portrayed — sometimes unfairly — as petulant and utterly lost behind our curtains of hair.

And then, I started to think about it.

As twenty (and thirty) somethings, the bar is set very, very high. We often look up at these outstanding men and women in our niches and industries, only to compare and fall vastly short. We long for and seek out meaning in our vocations — not because we believe we’re entitled to it, but because we know that a life without meaning is a life not worth living. We’re not working for the weekend. We’re not even working for retirement.

Our deep-seeded desire to challenge the status quo and change the world doesn’t come from self-entitlement or peerenting (wtf, really?). It’s because the world is broken and we want it to be better. Not just for ourselves or our parents or siblings or friends but for everyone. Thanks to the deluge of information on the internet, we watch as disasters and violence and worse befall the world. We donate. We start charities, like Katharine did, but we ultimately end up back at square one.

The stigma remains that young people don’t know anything and that they should leave the big world-altering ideas to the older generations. It’s not like this is new. Every generation that ages thinks that the generation after is useless at doing anything other than being young and self-indulgent and utterly useless.

We get to hear all about how the modern young person is too concerned with having meaning in his/her job. Or that the modern young person mistakenly thinks that they’ll change anything in this world. After all, didn’t we watch Wall Street crumble and take the rest of the world with it?

Oh, but no one went to jail. Oh, and the status quo remains unchallenged.

Whether or not people choose to acknowledge it, the Millennial is an agent of social change, capable of starting revolutions and internet-driven wildfires. The revolution was not televised; it was Twitterized. It wasn’t some stodgy old dude sitting in an office somewhere that said, “Oh, yes. There is an opportunity to connect people all over the world with a social experiment. I think I’ll invent the next big internet… thing.”

Hell no.

It was three young dudes that said, “Y’know what? This is an opportunity to create a social experiment on the web. Let’s get a few people together and make this happen!”

They dreamed it. They worked it. They busted their asses before their experiment took off.

With stories of success like that, it’s no wonder that more and more millennials are leaving corporate and industry long before retirement to do their own thang. The traits that make us unemployable in the traditional sense are the same traits that make us into such an interesting breed of entrepreneur.

Some of us work our asses off to make a few bucks here and there, just because we love what we do. Others expect way too much, way too soon, and end up right back where they started: running reports and praying to the Code Gods that SQL Server won’t fritz out and erase your databases. And still more of us will astound you with how much we can accomplish in one sitting if we’re motivated to do so.

How do you motivate a Millennial?

Show us that our work actually matters. No one likes to feel like their work is being lost in the shuffle. We like to know that what we’re doing actually contributes to the greater good, whether that greater good is in the company or in the world. Yes, we’re confident and ambitious and need all kinds of love to do a good job in our work.

But when we really and truly believe in what we do — whether that’s personally or professionally — we’re capable of great things and great work.

Watch and we’ll astound you.


Image by Michael Lokner.

 

Working with rock stars is exhausting.

Wait, let me rephrase that.

Working with amazing people is exhausting and not for the reasons you’d think. They’re not divas. They’re not snobbish. They are kind, considerate, beautiful, exhilarating individuals that really and truly shine. I’m blessed to be their friend. I’m honoured to be their aesthetic architect. Dually if I have the privilege of both.

They’re writers and coaches. They’re agents of social change. They’ve inspired many people in their work. They speak and it is gospel. They’ve shaped the futures of countless people just by existing and sharing their stories with the world.

When I sit down to really reflect on the whole “why the living hell would they want to work with little ol’ moi?”, it can be just as empowering as it can be confusing. Here I am — twenty-four years old — rubbing elbows with the biggest, baddest mamajammas (and just plain mamas) online. Really? ME?! Bloody hell, that can’t be right.

I’m the stage manager to their actress; the prop master to their director; and the choreographer to their prima ballerina.

While I may be in charge of crafting things behind the scenes, I can hardly say that what I do is inspiring to hundreds, thousands, and millions of people. What I do is create solutions for problems using design as both my medium and my toolset, where the problem is online aesthetic and visual branding.

In spite of all the inspiration and the unbridled amazing, it can get depressing.

While I’m fairly certain that I don’t require the limelight or for people to pay attention to meeee, working with the online equivalent of rock stars (no matter how clichéd the term has become) is a reminder of how much farther I need to go, both professionally and personally.

Let’s face it: I don’t want to be just a web designer or a mama or a branding specialist or a writer or a gamer or… you get the picture. I don’t want to be just anything. The grand scheme of it is to be as many things as I possibly can be without either exploding or imploding from pressure (be it external or internal).

I’m at least part-way responsible for the online development of these personal and/or professional brands/websites. I’m happy to lift them up and help them shine even brighter.

But it’s hard not to feel left behind sometimes.

It’s hard not to feel insignificant.

It creates a problem of comparison.

I could sit here and rattle off the ways in which I fall short. In comparison. The real problem of comparison creates an ego issue, where my self worth can get tied up in their success. The faster and more expansive their success, the better I feel. The slower and less expansive, the worse I feel.

It’s easy to get caught up in the comparisons, especially when I consider my definition of success: financial solvency and freedom to choose. These are people that can work a few hours a day, travel with their beautiful families (or by their sexy, sexy selves), go to yoga, and still manage to make a significant impact on their worlds.

A year ago, I was busting my ass just to make a cool couple hundred.

Six months ago, I busted my ass just to make a few dollars here and there.

The fact of the matter is this: I am a slave to my own ambition. I’m impatient. I wail and cry and beat on the wall until my hands bleed (no, not really). I beg the universe to give me a sign. Any sign. Anything. I’m often thrown into emotional purgatory as punishment, where I sit in dark rooms and brood about my path for days at a time during Vivienne Westwood retrospectives.

I had to stop comparing.

Shortly after my face-plant in the fall, I did the Joy Equation. I plucked myself out of melancholy and forced myself to recognize joy and to recognize the successes in my own life, not just in others’. I had — scratch that, have — an overwhelming tendency to want to be the best, when the best is often both a fallacy and an impossibility.

And, just like my view of balance, the theory of “the best” is bullshit.

No such thing. You can strive all you want, lovelies, but you ain’t nevah gonna get there. There’s always someone bigger and better than you at whatever you do.

My autumnal face-plant forced my to recognize that.

If I sat back and compared my life to everyone else’s, I would ultimately become a derivative; an unoriginal carbon copy of someone else. I’ve sought my whole life to avoid that. I don’t want to be like anyone. I just want to be myself, whatever that self may look like and whatever that self happens to mean in the grander scale of things.

When I tie up my own self worth in the success of someone else, I hand over the reins to chaos and uncertainty. By grasping the reins tightly and saying, “This is your stop, love. Go forth and prosper.” — I’ve retained control and managed my expectations of the situation.

The problem of comparison is self-destructive.

Ultimately, my success and self-worth are no one’s responsibility but my own. It’s not up to my clients and friends to take me along for the ride. It’s not up to my husband to build me up when I feel dismal (although, snuggles certainly help). It’s not up to you — my lovely Stratejoy family — to agree mindlessly with the things I write about.

I think that the more I explore the notion of self worth and success, the more comfortable I become with knowing there’s no such thing as stability within either of those concepts. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a battle waged on many fronts.

Most importantly, it’s far more rewarding to smile at my accomplishments and connections than it is to wonder, “What about me?”


 

June 4, 2001 – High School graduation day.

I was wearing a white dress, a white cap and gown, and walking down a cement hill leading onto the track on a rainy evening with 300 of my classmates.  We walked out to a song that wasn’t Pomp and Circumstance (because my school couldn’t get it right), holding index cards with our name written out phonetically on it so the Principal would announce it correctly as we walked across the stage.

It was a day I had been waiting for since my Freshman year, because to me, graduating from High School meant officially entering Adulthood – moving out of my mother’s house and living on campus, meeting new friends, joining sororities and student organizations, scheduling my own classes, going to parties, not having a curfew, and living the independent lifestyle I had been craving since I walked into high-school.

And then it happened.

Fast Forward: Late January, 2011.

I logged into Facebook and saw an invitation to my 10 Year High School reunion.

< insert emotional breakdown here >

“Holy shit,” I thought to myself,“Where the hell did those ten years go?  And how do I get them back?!”

After graduation I had a plan: graduate from college, graduate from law school, work for the Federal Government, travel the world, and get married by the age of 30.

Clearly that was my imaginary plan, because my actual plan consisted of: graduating from college, losing my mother, moving to Philadelphia and drinking my body weight in vodka, sabotaging friendships, getting my heart broken, spiraling into depression three times, and getting bitch-slapped with a Quarterlife Crisis.

We spend our whole lives worrying about the future.  Planning for it.  Trying to predict it.  As if figuring it out will cushion the blow.  But the future is always changing.  The future is the home of our deepest fears and our wildest hopes.  But one thing is certain –  when it finally reveals itself, the future is never the way we imagined it. At least it wasn’t for me.

I thought by now I would have my shit together.  Ten years is plenty of time to get through law school and become a Special Agent for the F.B.I., or finish culinary school and open up my own restaurant.  Yet here I am at 27, single, childless, unemployed and freaking out because my classmates have gotten married, had babies, traveled, and lived these rock-star lives and I feel like I’ve failed miserably.

I’m not saying I need a relationship or a child or a fancy-schmancy ‘Corporate Executive’ title to validate my accomplishments since high school, but I just want to feel like I’ve done something with my life these last ten years that doesn’t involve empty bottles of alcohol, depression, and broken hearts.

Why are we so quick to notice our failures instead of our achievements?

“Look, I did what I was supposed to do – graduated, got a job, and married before I was 30, and now look at me.  Look how well that turned out.  Would you really be happier if you lived the life you planned, rather than the life you’re living now?”

My friend, a successful business man in his late thirties with an MBA, who is currently going through a divorce.  After having a conversation about high school reunions, I got to thinking:

Why do we insist on growing up so quickly and having our lives all figured out by the time we’re 30?  And for those of us who don’t have it figured out right now, why do we feel like we’ve failed?

Truth is, I don’t think I would be happier had my life gone according to plan.  I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I know there’s a reason why I lost my parents and battled cancer at such a young age.  I also believe that this Quarterlife Crisis hit at a time when I really needed to figure myself out.  Even if I don’t have all of the answers yet, perhaps I’m one step closer to finding them.

I can’t help but wonder – of my high school classmates who are married, have children, and have fancy schmancy jobs, how many of them are authentically happy?

Maybe I’ll find out at my reunion.



{photo credit: Bredgur}

Ahoy, mateys!

(I’ve always wanted to say that.)

By the time you read this, I will be finishing up a week  on the Cayamo Cruise. I’ve been wanting to go on Cayamo since I first heard of it three years ago, and I’m finally getting the chance! It’s basically a music festival on a boat, and it’s how I’m celebrating the end of my “Day Job”.

One of my New Year’s Resoloosetions* was to see more live music this year.  As a performer, sometimes the only live music I get to see is when I peek in on the set of someone I’m sharing a bill with, or get to stay and watch someone I’m opening for.  Many of my fellow musician buddies have shows the same nights I do, and it’s hard for me to stay out late to see a band in Atlanta when I live an hour away (and let’s face it, I am not 22 anymore.  All-nighters hurt!)

The downside of this is that my own music suffers.  In the same way that people who read more tend to have an easier time writing, I think musicians who actually go out and listen to music have an easier time making new music.   Also, I LOVE music. And it sucks not regularly experiencing something you love, right?

So, the cruise.  A friend of mine gave me this cruise as a gift (say it with me now, “Holy Crap!” I know. She is awesome.) and I cannot think of a better way to kick off the next six months of my life.

Several of my favorite songwriters will be on the boat this year, including Shawn Mullins, the Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin, and John Prine. If my intentions are to be more active, play more music, meet more musicians and travel more — well, I’m pretty much setting the tone right off the bat!   There will be dozens of shows, impromptu jam sessions, open mics, in addition to all the partying that most people go on a cruise for.

The day this post goes live, I’ll be returning to port, probably completely blissed out.  I’ll also be returning to, well, real life.  It will be the first time that I’ll be facing the fact that I don’t have a job…at least not an office job.   I’ll be coming down from a vacation and realizing that it wasn’t a vacation – there’s no desk to go back to. I’ve entertained the thought, tried to imagine how it will feel, a bunch of times, but I don’t think I will fully grasp the enormity of my decision until I get back home.

And actually, that’s probably for the best.  If I think too much about it now, the chance of me backing out increases.  If I think too much, I start to hear all the voices of concerned authority figures, parents, relatives and friends, telling me how impossible it is to live a creative life full-time.  These people want to keep me safe, to make sure I have it as easy as possible, that I don’t have to worry about things… but I can’t let fear take over at this point. Just because those voices are repeating the same messages over and over again, doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is true.

The truth is, I would rather be just a little bit worried about where my next paycheck is coming from if the real payoff is that I am spending time making my dreams come true.   The truth is, I have a husband who is more than supportive of me going after it, and many friends who rally behind me like awesome, loud cheerleaders — and their voices rise over the worried muttering of all the others.

Here’s to jumping ship, and boarding a new one.

* Note: A resoLOOSEtion is not the same as a resolution.  The latter implies that you’re gonna be a big fat failure if you don’t stick to it, whereas the former is a fun guideline that’s OK to stray from.  I made resoloosetions to take the pressure off of myself and it seems to be working!

[photo credit: bluespf42]

I remember the moment like it happened yesterday.

It was a Tuesday morning in March and I was laying on my bathroom floor in the fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably.  My entire body felt numb, I couldn’t stop crying, and all I thought was, “I just want to stop feeling this way.” I had spiraled into my second bout of depression, this one much uglier than the first.  I knew why I was crying, why I felt numb, and why – for a split second – I was contemplating suicide, but I didn’t want to admit it.  Because when you admit something and put it out there, it becomes real.

It’s scary admitting I have contemplated suicide once in my life, but I know I would never go through with it.  My father killed himself when I was 12 years old and I was the one who found him.  At the time, I didn’t understand suicide or the kind of impact it would have on a child.

Even at 27 I still don’t understand it, but I know how emotionally damaging and soul-crushing it is to lose a father at such a young age.  The image has scarred me permanently.

I’ve been fighting depression on and off for the last eight years.  My first battle occurred in June 2003.  I was a Sophomore in college, trying to get out of an abusive relationship, and my mother had just passed away.  My world shattered instantly. I lost my mother, I had no father, I left my boyfriend, and I nearly failed school because I was too depressed to get out of bed, let alone go to class.

As I was laying on the bathroom floor that morning in March, images of my parents flashed through my head.  Moments of happiness.  Scenes from my childhood.  Memories of us laughing together.  Seven years of not grieving properly for my mother, and 15 years of not properly grieving for my father had finally caught up to me.

It takes courage to seek professional help.

“I need help,” I whispered.  I had finally said it out loud.  Even if I was the only one who heard it, I put it out there and it became real. I knew right then and there that it was time for me to work through my pain of loneliness and depression.

Two days later, I had an appointment with a therapist.

I wasn’t going to apply for a Season 4 Blogger position because I thought I had already conquered my Quarterlife Crisis. At the age of 25, I beat my battle with cervical cancer and was in remission, my nonprofit organization was successful and making strong profits, and I had survived the loss of both of my parents.  I had my life on track, a solid career path, and I knew what I wanted.

Looking back on all of it, and seeing where I am right now, I realize that I wasn’t dealing with a Quarterlife Crisis; I was dealing with a series of unfortunate life events.  Losing my parents.  Getting cancer.  It can happen to anyone, at any point in their lives.

Why did it happen to me at such a young age?  I’m still trying to figure that out.

I thought my run of bad luck was over, but then my law firm announced dissolution in December.  Two weeks before Christmas, the Managing Partner took me into his office and told me not to come back after the holiday.  I was devastated.  I took for granted the comfort and security that comes with having a full-time job that provides health insurance, a retirement fund, and free coffee every day (hey, it’s the little things).

If that wasn’t enough, my nonprofit was suffering from the terrible economy, clients decided they weren’t going to support us for 2011 because they didn’t have the funds, and my volunteers resigned.  When it rains, it pours.  Once again, my world shattered instantly and I felt like a complete failure.

Winston Churchill said:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I joke with my friends about how I feel like I’m 45 trapped in a 27 year old body.  I feel like I’ve been through hell and back, and you know what?  It sucks.  I’m in the midst of my Quarterlife Crisis, but I’m determined to come out on top.

For the first time in my life, I have no commitments, no deadlines, and nothing holding me back from living life on my own terms. So, I’m going to make the most of this tragic situation and turn it into an incredible opportunity. Im going to spend as much time as I want teaching English and traveling the world, and the most exciting thing is that I get to share this journey with you over the next six months.

New experiences, fresh opportunities, beautiful sights, amazing discoveries, and lots of soul-searching.

My goals for these six months:

1. Get certified to teach English. The 4-week program is going to be very intense and rigorous, and from what alums have said, it’s very bootcamp-like.

2. Embrace my fears, doubts, and insecurities as I spend the next six months living abroad on my own. I don’t like emotions and I’m very good at pushing negative feelings away, so I really want to work on this.

So, here I am, calling on you – my readers, my friends, my Season 4 ‘sisters,’ and Molly – to keep me accountable.  With a huge life-changing event such as this one, comes tons of emotions, insecurities, fear, and doubt. I’m trying to brace myself for what comes next, but I’m hoping you can support and push me as I work to complete these goals by the end of my Stratejoy adventure.

It’s going to be one hell of a journey, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

[Note from Coach Molly: Damn, Kate.  I knew all of this, but to watch it come out in one big massive post, tears me up and my heart wells at what a rough go it’s been for you.  But I know you are strong, and even more importantly, you are open to hope.  And new opportunity.  And grace.  You are facing your life and this next adventure with courage I can only hope to have.  I will so be here beside you (or across the ocean from you!) to support you through your goals.  Especially that lovely embrace of your hard stuff.  We are all going to be here for you.]

[photo credit: Leonard John Matthews]

WrBriJoyiting is my primary method of tackling the messy parts of life.  I’ve written about my break up from start to finish and I’ve tried to be honest and open with what worked for me.  I don’t often read through my archives, but I know other people have.  I hear of people who have been sent there because they’re going through a break up too, and that’s amazing to me.

That’s why we share our stories.  I share my story so people know they’re not alone in their struggles.  I share my story because maybe something I learned the hard way can be taught the easy way.  Just like the stories of other women inspire me to be stronger, bolder, and more fearless, maybe my story will inspire a woman fresh from a break up to keep going.

I hope so.  I’m living just one little life, but writing it down makes it possible to be bigger.

I would never describe myself as ballsy. I have a job that I like because it’s easy, not because it’s challenging, and I would never claim it’s my passion.

The big life decisions I have made have always felt too easy.  I applied to one PhD program, got in and went.  I interviewed for one job, got it and moved two weeks later.

I am incredibly grateful for it all, believe me, but it feels a whole lot like lucky breaks and less like I own my life.  I want to know I deserve this amazing life I live because of risks I took.  I want to set my life on fire and reclaim ownership of it.

I want to get every thing possible out of the next six months of writing here.  I want to share my journey of reclaiming my life and living boldly.  Here is what I am going to be aiming for:

I am so ready to share this journey with y’all.

[Note from Coach Molly:  And we’re so ready to tag along for your journey, Bri!  I love the goals you’ve articulated for owning your life.  And I’m going to throw out an “Everyone deserves to boldly love themselves!!”  Hellz yah.  Please know that I’m here for you as you ask for what you want and all the excitement and fear that comes with it.  Stepping into your own life is a gorgeous thing.]

INTRODUCING KATHARINE:

Just when I thought I had it all, I suddenly had nothing.

I wanted to go to culinary school.  I had a childhood dream of opening up my own Bed & Breakfast near a ski resort in Colorado or Utah, serving up the world’s best pancakes, French toast, and eggs benedict.  Food was my passion and creativity, and growing up I loved to cook.

But when it was time to grow up, I had to make a choice – culinary school and one year in Paris on my own dime, or four years of college on the University of Pittsburgh’s dime.  It was a no-brainer – I went to college.  My mother worked for the University, which meant free tuition, and I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

I transplanted myself in Philadelphia in 2005 and had successfully climbed the Legal ladder working at a small, prestigious law firm in Center City.  I co-founded a grassroots nonprofit organization to increase awareness for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer, making valuable strides in my community to prevent, protect, and educate women on the devastating disease.  I joined a co-ed street hockey league (I never played the sport before), traveled around the country to compete in National tournaments and have won five championships and an MVP trophy.  In five years, I have built a strong foundation for myself through careers in law and nonprofit, sustaining valuable friendships, actively participating in sports leagues, and establishing a freelance writing presence.

Professors and teachers can prepare you academically for the real world, but no one can prepare you for real life – those unexpected moments that either make you or break you.

I had a plan for 2011: re-brand my nonprofit organization, celebrate the purchase of my first house, and start graduate school.  Two weeks before Christmas, my plan suddenly shattered and that foundation I spent years building crumbled beneath me.  Volunteers resigned from my nonprofit organization and my law firm dissolved.  Just when I thought I had it all, I suddenly had nothing.  My nonprofit was failing miserably, I lost my job, and I spiraled into a third bout of depression.

No one prepared me for entrepreneurial failures or a job loss.  No one told me how terrifying it is to watch your plan shatter right in front of you.  No one told me how emotionally draining it is to pick yourself up after all the hardships.  You can’t teach these things, you can only learn from them.

I don’t know what happens next.  I thought at age 25, I had already conquered my quarterlife crisis (more on that next week), but after suffering a devastating job loss and entrepreneurial failures, maybe I’m right in the thick of it.  I thought I wanted the Corporate 9-5 lifestyle, but after spending nearly a decade in the legal field, I realize it’s just not me.  I want adventures, creativity, passion, and to live life on my own terms. Except now I don’t know what that involves.

I’m moving to Prague, Czech Republic on March 17th to pursue a TEFL Certification and look at culinary programs.  I’m absolutely terrified.  It’s scary when you realize your dreams could be come reality. What if I fail at this?  What if I hate being abroad for so long?  What if I’m not cut out for teaching English or culinary school?

Rocky Balboa said:

“It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

I’ve been hit with too many devastating events in my life, and each time seems to beat me harder than the last.  It’s time to move forward.  It’s time to take my life abroad and test my limits.  It’s time to create my own happiness and discover what it means to live life on my own terms.  Eventually, you reach a point in life when you stop questioning your decisions, your abilities and yourself, and just do it.

Make your dreams come true.


Dear Marian,

You’re a funny one, aren’t you? I know high school is being a bitch and a half right now and your boyfriend is a crazy person and you pretty much hate everyone, but I promise: College classes are better than high school classes, you will not be with that boyfriend forever and, trust me, it isn’t you; the people in Greenwich actually do suck.

You may attend a certain college for the wrong reasons, but it will end up being the right place for you. There, you will find a group of friends who adore you more than life, you will find out who you are without your high school sweetheart AND you will end up traveling to 13 countries in the span of a year. You will switch your major from Spanish to Gender Studies, just because it’s more fun. And that’s one thing I crazy admire about you, Past Marian, you don’t stress about what you should be doing. You just do what feels right.

And so far? It’s played out pretty well. There will be a period after graduation where you’ll feel 100% stressed and frustrated about what you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll make a huge effort to get a “real” job and you’ll end up quitting it anyway to go solo. It’s not particularly scary, but don’t stress when you end up having to leave New York. There are bigger and better things to come. Also remember that you kind of always knew you weren’t supposed to be at a desk so when everyone starts congratulating you about your “new life” and how exciting it must be, don’t freak out when you just smile and nod and don’t actually feel any passion towards your cubicle and phone extension. It’s not you and I hope you celebrate that.

While I’d like to give you some grand advice to help plot your way through breakups and travels and horrible grades and great grades, everything you do leads to where you are now. Which is in sunny New Zealand with the greatest person on earth. And while you still may be floundering with the whole “What the hell am I doing” part of your life, you are with the right person and you have the amazing flexibility to do and go whatever and wherever you want. You never succumbed to what was popular; you never pretended to be something you weren’t; you never listened to anything but your heart.

Make sure you never lose that quality. Make sure you don’t let other people’s failures and bad advice get in your way. Writing this now, though, I know I have nothing to worry about. While life doesn’t get any less stressful in the next ten years,  you’ve managed to kick so much ass. For this, I am completely and brilliantly proud of you.

Love,

Marian

Last week I finally realized that I am worthy of good things in my life.  In light of  this new realization I have dreamed up some goals for 2011.  I hesistate to use the word “resolution.”  Resolutions sound so absolute and are hard to keep-in fact I think they almost set you up for failure.  But goals, goals are measurable.  I can do goals.  Goals motivate and inspire me.  Here is what I am working on in 2011:

Real Life

Work It

Lovers and Friends

With Sprinkles on Top

So bring it on, 2011.  I have a feeling this is going to be my year.

It’s about to be a new year, y’all, and I’m ready.  I have loved this last year, loved every frightening thrilling minute of it and I haven’t forgotten the lessons it taught me: trust, be patient, plans may change & get busted up & that’s ok.  But I feel a calmness & an energy that I haven’t felt in a long time; I know some of the major things I want in life, and I’m ready to take steps toward them.  Some may be missteps; I might fumble; I might fail.  I’m ok with that.  I’m taking action this year.

I am a superhero in 2011.  I am action-girl, Nikki of new ideas, make-it-happen-momma.

I am going to put myself out there & trust that good things come of it.  I am going to tell people what I want, even if I have no idea how to get it or what form it will take.  So here goes:  I want a creative job; it might be a career, it might just be a job, but I want to make money doing something I enjoy.  I want a serious relationship; it’s been a long time & I’m ready.  I want a home that feels like mine; it’ll be a while before I can own one, but I want a place that feels like my own.  I want financial stability; I want adventures and a savings account to be equal priorities.  These may sound like little things, but they’re big things to me.  After a long time wandering & wondering, I’m feeling clarity.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of an explosion of awesomeness in my life.  Bring it, baby.

I’ve already told you my intentions for 2011, now here are some of the seemingly-innocent-but-totally-superhero actions I’m gonna take:

I’m making it a habit to write every day.  POW!

I’m launching and developing my new, improved personal website, The Grateful Sparrow (follow me!).  ZOOM!

I’m paying off all my credit card debt by my 30th birthday (May).  BLAM!

I’m learning to edit video on my computer.  SMACK!

I’m honest in all my relationships and not letting fear of vulnerability get to me.  BOOM!

I’m finding a living situation that better suits me.  ZIP!

I’m saying yes to opportunities for new adventures that come my way.  CRUNCH!

I’m expressing my authentic self, everyday, and following my joy.  BAM!

I’m making a profit from my art & creativity – writing, acting, blogging, sculpture, design, etc.  ZAP!

I’m taking time for myself, treating myself with respect, but NOT accepting excuses.  I’m better than laziness & ambivalence.  CRASH!

I’m living to the full extent of my fabulousness this year, and I’m not letting fear get in my way; in 2011, I’m trying.  I’m giving myself a fighting chance.  It can’t be harder than what I’ve already been through, in fact, I know things are only getting better.  2011 is going to be amazing; a year from now, I’ll hardly be able to believe how far I’ve come.

Cheers to a new year.  Let’s do this.

[WonderWoman photo source]

Mention the phrase “quarterlife crisis” to someone over the age of 45 and they’re likely to laugh and roll their eyes.  Then, if you’re lucky, they will tell you that your generation is selfish, spoiled, dependent, lazy, and self-indulgent.  “When I was your age, I worked two jobs, was married, owned a house and fed 3 children!” they might say.  We kids have made up this quarterlife crisis thing because we just don’t want to work hard.

That’s rather insulting and Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, agrees.  Arnett’s main focus of research is in the area of development, specifically “emerging adulthood.”  He has conducted various studies of individuals in their late teens and twenties in order to demystify this challenging period of life.  According to Arnett, emerging adulthood is characterized by these key features:

it is the age of identity explorations;

the age of instability;

the self-focused age;

the age of feeling in–between;

and the age of possibilities.[1]

Tell me that doesn’t sound like you—or any of your friends.

Your parents and their parents may not have had it very easy, but our generation faces some unique circumstances.  We grew up during the Clinton Era, one of the most affluent in US history, which gave us high expectations for our experience in the “real world.”  Yet the reality is that right when we were about to head off into the land of golden opportunity, our dreams were dashed by downsizing companies, outsourcing, bursting real estate bubbles, thieving CEOs who drained bank accounts, and the exponentially increasing costs of higher education.  Pension plans and employer 401k contributions are rare, and we probably won’t see any social security.  People are marrying and having children at a much older age, thus lengthening the time between graduation and “adulthood” and that feeling of being “settled.”  And, ok, so maybe more and more of us live at home with our parents and our salaries barely cover the bills—but don’t despair.  There is some light in this tunnel.

Our generation has also experienced one of the largest technological booms.  My first cell phone was a tiny Nokia with like, a 16-bit screen and all you could really do was make phone calls and text.  Oh, and there was DOS.  Remember audio-cassettes?  If you didn’t know how to read maps or hadn’t memorized “Never Eat Soggy Wheat,” then you were S.O.L.  Now you can send emails, listen to music, find the nearest coffee shop and then tell 100 million people what you ate at said coffee shop all from a little piece of plastic that’s the size of your palm.  I mean, wow!  We’re no Jetsons, but we’re pretty damn close.

As technology expands, so do our horizons.  Through the internet and cable television we can see how the other billions of people on this earth live.  We no longer connect with just our friends and family, but with the whole world.  Access to information is instantaneous (at least for much of the developed world and non-communists countries).   We can run a business from our home.  We can run a business out of a hotel room or on a boat or on a space ship if we’d like.  It’s no wonder we are confused, overwhelmed, depressed and won’t settle down!  One of the worst things about having options is that if there are too many, you become paralyzed.  However, we. have. options.

So you want to know what I really think?  I really think that deep down, the people who scoff at us are really just jealous. They are jealous because they let their vibrant years slip past them in a haze of “yes sir”s .  Instead of blazing their own trails, they blindly followed others through the forest.  They didn’t question authority and challenge convention.  And now, they feel trapped by the lives they allowed others to create for them.  That must suck.  Hopefully that will not be us.

This period in our lives—the quarterlife crisis, emerging adulthood, whatever you want to call it—is not self-indulgent.  It isn’t laziness.  It isn’t selfishness.  We are being responsible.  We owe it not only to ourselves, but to the world to become leaders and freethinkers.  Yes, by taking this time to connect with ourselves, and remember our core values (if you don’t know them yet, The Joy Equation can help you with that!), we can become of service to the world.  This journey is about gaining self-awareness.  The discovery of our gifts will allow us to shine.

Even though this quarterlife crisis thing is a pain in the butt, it’s just another step we have to take to become the adults we want and need to be.


[1] http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/windingroad.htm

(photo credit: emerging photographer and my brother Clarence G. Richardson III)

The date:  November 24, 2015

The Scene: In studio for KCRW (CA local NPR station)’s live radio show “The Treatment” – interviews in Arts and Entertainment.

Welcome to The Treatment; I’m Elvis Mitchell.  Since her debut in the cult classic trilogy “Atlas Shrugged,” based on the controversial Ayn Rand book, my guest Nikki Klecha has caught the attention of audiences with memorable supporting roles in some of the last five years most notable indie films.  She’s here with us today to discuss her most recent project, the award-winning film “The Hum,” her inspirational website, and her first novel, due out early next year.  Welcome, Nikki; we’re glad to have you here.

I’m so incredibly happy to be here; thanks for having me.

Now, Nikki, your LA story is an interesting one; tell us a little bit about your journey.

Well, about six years ago, I was done with Los Angeles.  I was a burned out actor; I’d been working hard & feeling like I was getting nowhere.  I took some time out, traveled for a while —

Australia, right?

Yes, four months in Australia, which changed my perspective.  I realized, I don’t have to be miserable (laughing) I don’t need this career that frustrates me and I’m not tied to LA, there are many other things I can do to be happy; it was a revelation.  So I planned to move, sold all my furniture, and the day I sold my bed was the day I got the call that I was cast in “Atlas.”

If you love something let it go and if it comes back to you… right?

I guess so!

So, you stayed  in LA, obviously, and “Atlas Shrugged Part I” was the first time we, the movie going masses, heard of you.

Right.  The film came out in 2011 to great reviews, and the next thing I knew, doors were opening!  Things still moved relatively slowly, of course, I’m not a household name, by any means, but I just managed to ride the wave of that movie.  I was in the right place at the right time.  And with the subsequent success of Parts 2 and 3, I was able to pay off my credit cards (something every LA-actor dreams of!) and really focus on my writing, acting and building my website.

After the Atlas trilogy, you filmed “The Writers,” which gained a strong underground horror-fan following.

Yes.  That and my most recent film, “The Hum” were labors of love; all the cast and crew were friends, and I’ve known most of them since college.  They were so much fun to make.  And I must be the easiest actress to work for in the horror genre; I was honestly terrified half the time!  (laughing)

Tell us a little about the film you just mentioned, “The Hum;” it just premiered at Sundance and took home some awards, correct?

It did, yes!  That was a dream come true, going to Sundance with a film, especially one that was such a collaborative effort between friends.  I think we all feel like, finally, finally we’re hitting our stride and doing what we came here to do, after 10 years of struggle.

You also run a successful blog called The Grateful Sparrow, which I must admit, I’m a little addicted to.

Are you?  Thanks!  Yes, it’s my baby; I think of it as a daily jolt of inspiration.  I believe that we each have the power to change our lives for the better, whether it be through a large change, like quitting a job or moving, or a small change in mindset.  I hope the site helps people see that and gives them the courage and inspiration to take their next step toward a happier life.

And you’ve written a novel; have you always wanted to write, or is this a new endeavor?

Oh no, I’ve always loved writing; ever since I could read, I’ve been writing.  I just love stories.  For years now, I’ve been freelance writing – in fact, 2011 was the landmark year where I was able to not have a “day job” for the first time ever! – for various online & print publications.  I’ve always had “write a novel” on my bucket list, and now, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the attention I’ve received from the films and the blog, I have a publisher lined up and I’m finally doing it!  It will be available early next year.

And I understand we can look forward to seeing you in the next Michel Gondry film?  Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes!  And I am kid-on-Christmas-Eve excited!  He’s my favorite director; I love the imagination that goes into his work.  We had our first table read the other day and the storyboards are just incredible.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s going to be a dreamy, lovely story of friendship and the absurdities of love.  I can’t wait to start shooting.

And, as if all that isn’t enough, what’s on the horizon for you personally?

Well, I just got married and got back from a two month honeymoon; we bought around the world tickets and continent-hopped.  It was amazing.  We just bought our first house, and I’m ready to settle in, be in one place for a while, and nest.  I think I’ve earned a little down time.

Well, don’t take too long off, we’ll miss you.

(laughing) Ok I won’t.

You can catch Nikki Klecha in the award-winning film, “The Hum” in limited release nationwide, on her blog TheGratefulSparrow.com, and keep an eye out for her book next year.  Thank you so much for coming in, Nikki.

It’s been my pleasure.

[Photo: me doing a Sirius radio interview for a film I was in, “Family”]

I’ve never been a perfectionist. Never cared about being The Best. My grades were mediocre, my extracurriculars nonexistent, my past jobs relatively “meh.”

A good friend of mine in college would stay up until 4 in the morning doing classwork, obsessing over each detail, devastated if she got below a B. I was perfectly happy to scrape by with Cs.

Now I often find myself staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning blogging, responding to comments, learning about my new industry. I rarely go out, preferring to find ways to land new clients than suffer over a pint. I’ve become the quintessential Davidson student, except now I’m out of college and my only excuse is that I’m striving to be better.

But I never feel better. I constantly compare myself to other bloggers. Constantly.

I never used to be hard on myself and now that’s all I do. Recently, one of the top bloggers EVER commented on post of mine and told me I was wrong. That was well over a week ago and I still feel like shit. I’m sure he’d tell me to not take things so personally.

Thing is, “Social Media Consultant” is just one of those jobs that’s still pretty undefined. It’s not an industry that’s been around for long, it’s not particularly clear what one does as a SMC, so I’ve had to figure it out on my own. Half the time I’m proud of myself, the other half  I think “I have no idea what I’m doing – why would anyone pay me for this?!” Especially when a hotshot blogger tells me the facts don’t match my opinion. Or when every blogger in the world is doing affiliate programs and I just can’t figure it out. Or when I see that the majority of the shit I’m doing isn’t done by anyone else.

And yeah, I know, forge your own path and all, but how many people actually succeed doing the complete opposite of everyone else? And wouldn’t it be better to do the things I’m supposed to do? Like create an actual business or write a post worthy of ProBlogger? But I can’t seem to write social media advice that fits in with the masses and can’t give said advice without sprinkling in a swear word of some kind.

So yes, lately I’ve been hard on myself. Doubting myself. Trying to figure out how what I do fits into the industry as a whole. It’s really freaking hard, because something I’ve always prided myself in is my ability – my necessity – to be different. To try the complete opposite of what everyone else is doing. And sure, my blog has grown considerably in the past six months. But it’s no ProBlogger. And growth is still slow and I still feel like the “right” people don’t take me seriously. But I don’t want to do the things that require me to be taken seriously. I don’t want to own a business. I don’t want to write a 7 Step Guide to Twitter or create an infoproduct or attend a conference. I don’t want to not swear.

Why can’t I just create a site where people who aren’t too fussed with the rules of social media come and hang out and talk to each other? And why can’t I work a normal 8 hour day and not feel guilty about all the things I should be doing? Like guest posts and products and sucking up?

I’m hard on myself because I’m young. And I hate being “professional.” And I don’t want to be like everyone else. Can’t I do my own thing and still be successful? Why do I have to put up with A-listers who mostly talk out of their asses and follow the same formulas over and over? Why do I have to put up with trolls and blog readers who send me emails offering up advice that I don’t want to take? Why do I have to put up with the bullshit?

Now I’m just ranting. You know when something’s a little off in your life and you go past feeling sorry for yourself and go straight into blaming other people? Yeah, that’s where I’m at. I still can’t figure out though if I’m pissed at the world, pissed at myself, or just too scared of failing to do what’s right for me and not for everyone else.

[photo credit:  las – initially]

Los Angeles is moody and so am I.

The clouds are hanging low over LA today with a fog (or is it smog?) blanketing the mountains that just won’t lift.  It’s cold and drizzly and it suits me fine.  I’m not in a bad mood, I’m just in a mood; I’m a little bit quiet, a little bit sulky, a little bit heavy.  Not really unhappy, just pensive.

I have a lot to think about, a lot of decisions to make; every person I talk to since I got back from my all-you-can-jet adventure has asked, “what’s next?  Where are you moving?  What’s your goal?  What job are you looking for?”  And all I can say is “I don’t know.”  I.  DON’T.  KNOW.

Somewhere deep inside me, I know it’s OK that I don’t know what’s next.  Deep in the core of me, I am trusting that things will come into place and that I’ll find the answers in my own time and that where I am now is where I need to be now.

That’s all very zen of me, very positive and inspiring and blah blah blah.  But my brain is FREAKING OUT, people.

For the first time in my life, I have credit card debt, I’m unemployed and directionless.  Nothing, absolutely nothing is calling my name, making me feel any passion whatsoever.  The thought of acting makes me feel frustrated and tired, moving is overwhelming, travel reminds me of my empty bank account, and a “grown-up job” gives me dread-filled heartburn.

Honestly, the only thing that inspires me at all lately is writing for you.

Yes, I realize this is uncharacteristically negative of me.  I’m not depressed, really I’m not, but every time someone asks me the well-intentioned questions of “what do you do” or “what’s your plan now,” I feel like I’ve been given a final exam that’s 90% of my grade, and despite all my hours of studying, I’m drawing a complete blank.  Just like in a nightmare of the same nature, all my fears are magnified.

I’m scared of staying in Los Angeles and getting wrapped back up in thought patterns that make me miserable.

I’m scared that moving somewhere is just running away and won’t actually change anything.

I’m scared of putting my whole self into something (a career, a relationship) and having it fail, end, scar me again.

I’m scared of never even finding anything worth putting my whole self into again.

I’m scared of looking back with regret.

I’m scared of being broke, of getting sick without health insurance, of always struggling.

I’m scared of wasting my life.

I’m scared of always being alone.

I’m scared of being unfulfilled and uninspired, and boxing myself in.

I’m angry with myself for not being able to let these fears go.  I have had a truly remarkable year, and yet when these feelings take over, it’s as though everything amazing I’ve done means shit.  All I can see is what I don’t have.

It’s a struggle to let go and trust.  It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught as an AP Honor Roll student and good kid and responsible adult.  It’s hard when people ask what’s next, expecting a plan of action, and all I can say is, “we’ll see.”  It sounds exciting, I know, and I feel like it should be, and sometimes it is, but more often it’s just this weird state of limbo and waiting.

Am I expecting too much?  Am I being too passive?  Is this trusting patience or is it suspended animation?

I feel like I should (there’s that “S” word again) be taking action, making something, anything happen.  Like I’m being unforgivably wasteful with this time I’ve been given.  But I’m afraid of taking action in the wrong direction when I don’t feel strongly in any direction.

And then sometimes I have this creeping feeling that something absolutely friggin’ AMAZING is just around the corner and this period of inactivity is a break I should savor because the shit (the good shit) is about to hit the fan.

My parents gave me a sculpture by my favorite artist, Brian Andreas, when I graduated High School.  It is an angel, it hangs above my bed, and written on it is: “In my dreams, the angel shrugged and said, if we fail this time it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.”  It has always really inspired me but lately it feels like a warning.

The world is in my palm, and it’s terrifying.  Imagination don’t fail me now.

half moonI asked Chelsea what came to mind when I said the word “halfway” or “half,” seeing as we’re now halfway through this third guest blogging season here at Stratejoy.  Her response?

“House?”

Ok… so maybe that’s not the idea I was going for.  I was thinking halfway points, halftime shows, even Halfway, Oregon (yes, that’s really a city – I checked).  But halfway?  As in, I’ve written half the amount of posts I’ll write here this season?  That’s exciting and a little sad – I don’t want it to end!

Chelsea and I started ruminating a bit on the general idea of “halfway,” and she suggested that the existence of a halfway point signifies an end – which, in the case of my contributions to this blog – there is an end.  We’ve committed to so many weeks and that has a number and we’re halfway to that number.  But, in general – in life – we’re in a constant state of movement, moving forward, transition even.  Yeah, there’s technically an “end date” (morbid, yeah), but we don’t know it and so “halfway” is kind of arbitrary in the great big scheme of things.

However, when there is an end date or time, or a goal with numbers and steps that can be defined – halfway is kind of a big deal.  Halfway through my workout motivates me to keep working, to push a little harder until I reach my goal.  Halfway through a task on my to-do list ramps me up and makes me want to just blaze through the rest.  It’s motivating.  It’s exciting.

In this case, it’s crazy.  Really?!  Halfway?!  It’s motivating and energizing yes, but I don’t want it to end!

Blogging for Stratejoy this season has been an incredible commitment and experience.  Commitment, yes because even when I’m not keeping up with my own blog, I’ve committed to being here and showing up for you.  And I’ve loved to share my stories and hear from amazing new voices and hearts that have offered some really awesome insight along the way.  It’s been awesome to have a writing commitment that’s focused (we have topics! and deadlines!), but that’s personal.  It’s wonderful to share my stories and find so many kindred spirits who relate to thoughts and ideas I’ve shared.

So… halfway through, let me just say THANK YOU for listening and for showing up here with me.  I’m excited for the second half, the next part, and for learning more about myself along the way.  We’ve covered a lot in the first half, haven’t we?

I mean, we met way back in August and I talked about the overwhelming confusion that comes with realizing I could actually have and do anything I wanted… so then what was I supposed to do?  Hello, Quarter-Life Crisis.

It’s helpful to have a little background, so I spent the next couple of weeks talking about my history with ad agencies and media buying, move to freelancing and contract work, and my move across the country from Minnesota to Colorado.

Digging a little deeper, I talked about how I fell in love when I wasn’t expecting to and how I believe that relationships in our life are on a collision course – we find who we need when we need them, right?  Honestly, this was one of my favorite posts so far this season.

I explained how my background in homeschooling helped teach me to teach myself and be one of those self-starter kind of people that – as a freelancer – not only appreciates being able to work on her own schedule, but is learning that the same model in school of “work til you’re done” holds true in the working world.  That lesson was born out of learning that when you can work anytime, it’s sometimes easy to work all the time and I finally started to explore finding that balance.

I talked about debt and money issues and how our tastes and interests change over time, covered friendships and the rituals that surround those, and talked about brilliant joy and its presence in my life.  More recently, I talked about fear and subsequently what might happen when you throw that fear out the window.

Today, I’m reflecting.  Looking back at how much I’ve shared and excited about the second half – about peeling back another layer and moving forward.  Halfway.  Can you believe that?

I’m just curious… what’s been your favorite post so far?  What else do you want to know about me?  What can I keep in mind moving forward into the second half of this season?


{photo credit}

It’s a crisp morning somewhere in the Midwest. I wake up to a little dew on the grass in my backyard. I put on a sweater and enjoy my coffee on the back deck. I listen to the birds greet the new day and watch the squirrels quarrel in the branches. My cat sits beside me. I take a moment to myself.

My husband rouses and kisses me good morning. We go about our routine: eating cereal on the couch, packing our bags for the day, catching up on email and news. I blow dry my hair and apply my makeup. I slip on my shoes and climb on my bike.

I’m ready to ride to campus.

I pass a few of my students on the way to class. I start my mornings teaching Feminist Community Building in the Blogosphere. It’s a graduate-level course and I’ve been mentoring some of these students since their freshmen year. I feel connected to them, I see myself in them. I want to open the academic world to them and tell them everything is going to work out just right as long as you believe in yourself. Class goes by quickly. It always does when your students are as excited about the material as you are.

I pack up my bag and grab a cup of tea with a colleague. We were in the same Masters program together. It’s nice to catch up with someone who knew you way-back-when. She tells me about her kids, how they’ve grown into fine young men and are now playing hockey at a Big 10 school. I like to watch them on the weekends. It’s nice to have someone to cheer on. I invite her and her husband over for a fondue night this weekend. She agrees to bring wine and I request Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck. I remember when I introduced her to it and I’m in the mood for nostalgia.

I have to head back to my office for my scheduled office hours. I know at least one student mentioned she would stop by. I climb the stairs to my office. It’s a small space; books occupy three of the four walls. I settle into my chair and flip on the lamp. It’s one of the first lamps my husband and I bought when we moved in together. I make a mental note to visit IKEA soon.

My student never stops by, but I spend my free time ignoring the book I’m working on. That next chapter can wait just one more day. Instead, I book our hotel in Rome. We’ve been planning to celebrate our 10th anniversary in Italy for some time now. We bought our plane tickets last weekend. I choose a cute boutique just outside the historical center, but close enough to all the right bus routes. I can’t wait to show my husband the city that shaped who I am so many years ago. I catch myself daydreaming about Sant’Eustachio cappucini and frutti di bosco cornetti fresh-baked and still warm. I grateful we can afford to take this trip for our anniversary and that we’ve budgeted wisely.

After my last class of the day, I ride home. Tonight is stir-fry night but it’s still too early to start cooking. Instead, I start a pot for tea, put my slippers on, and settle into our rich burgundy couch. I should probably proofread a section of my book before I send this part of it off to my editor. My cat hops up and starts to purr. I’m grateful for our comfortable, albeit small home, for our friends, and for our comfortable salaries.

I reflect on my day. Cozy. Comfortable. Productive. Progressive. I feel like I’m making a difference in my students’ academic lives. I’m writing for me. I still adore my husband. I feel complete. I feel validated. I feel loved.

These are my big dreams. What are yours?

[image via mhobl]

Looking back, it’s possible that quitting my job with the United States House of Representatives wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, but I’m starting to realize it was one of the first authentic decisions I’ve ever made.

I was the classic surface-level over-achiever. I knew what it took to look good on paper. I knew when to flash my pearly whites when meeting the right people. I knew how to think out loud to those who could make something happen for me. And all of that landed me a job managing the schedule of a freshman Democrat in Congress who represented a Republican agriculture district in a state that produced a controversial black President in an election that produced a volatile social and political climate. Yeah, I was on the front lines of political assault.

Day in and day out, I’d answer the phone to angry constituents, outraged over the first inklings of universal healthcare. There were injured veterans who couldn’t afford the gas to get them to the VA hospital. There were lobbyists demanding five minutes of my boss’s time. There were weekend events at fundraisers, schools, and legion halls. There were conference calls during evening hair appointments. There were orders coming from too many chiefs. And did I mention I was commuting 90 miles round trip?

Six months into it, I knew not even the student loan payback was making my “dream job” worthwhile. I was not happy. I started looking into getting my teaching certificate, was offered a job at a coffeehouse closer to home, gave my two week’s notice, and barely looked back.

That was July of 2009 and is nowhere near the end of my story.

I started working at the coffeeshop 5:30am-2:00pm five days a week. It was wonderful at first. I was even promoted to manager in September. But it went downhill quickly. I was told my teaching certificate would take six years part time. The hours and social environment of the coffeeshop became toxic.

I broke down.

In January 2010, I demoted myself and cut back my hours to focus on freelance writing. I was crushed when writing didn’t pay my bills immediately so I started waiting tables at a cute little Italian restaurant… and again, I found myself working seven days a week. Stressed. Unhappy. Worn thin. After nearly a month straight without a day off, I knew I had to make a decision before yet another meltdown.

I finally said goodbye to the coffeeshop. I now work weekends at the restaurant while I wait to start my graduate studies next week (!!!). I have rediscovered a love for cooking and a surprising devotion to bikram yoga. I ride my bike to the farmers markets and catch up on feminist literature in the sunshine. I play video games with my husband late into the evening. I plan real and fake vacations. I enthusiastically look forward to football season. I listen to way too many podcasts. I ignore my messy kitchen. I am learning to sew, to bake, and to love myself authentically. It seems I’ve found all I need but I know my journey is only beginning. But, for the first time, I’m excited to continue down this path because it finally feels just right.



When I was a kid, I did NOT want to be an actor.  I felt very strongly about this.  There were two career choices in my mind: librarian or archeologist.

I wanted to be a librarian so I could read all the books (I don’t think I really understood the concept of a library), and I used to sit at the kitchen table with a pile of my parents books and stamp their inside covers.  There was a singular satisfaction in the guuush of the ink pad, the smaaack of the rubber stamp, and the authority I felt it imbued in me.  I would often curl up in the corner of the couch with a book, wrapping myself in the worlds I imagined from the words on the pages.

I wanted to be an archeologist because I was fascinated with history and I liked playing in the dirt.  In middle school, I even got to assist some University students on an archeological dig.  Now, when I say I was fascinated with history, I don’t mean names & dates, I mean “how scary would it have been to be part of a wagon train out west!” Or, “I wonder what it was really like in the Royal court of medieval times!”  I soon discovered I enjoyed dressing up and making believe I was living in another time period much more than I enjoyed carbon-dating chicken bones.

Then, at 12 years old, everything clicked. I watched Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of “Much Ado About Nothing” and I wanted to BE Emma Thompson.  Her character Beatrice was strong, sarcastic, funny and atypically beautiful.  I wanted to be that person, I wanted to play in that time period, I wanted to know those gorgeous words.  I immediately pulled my parent’s worn Complete Works of William Shakespeare off the shelf and tried to read it… the whole thing.  It was slow going, but that didn’t stop me.  For months, I walked around the house quoting “To be or not to be…”  I didn’t understand the meaning of all the words, but I loved the visceral feel of them rumbling in my throat and spilling from my lips with a life of their own.

At thirteen, years before ever kissing a boy, I was in love with William Shakespeare.

I was hooked and there was no denying it.  I worked in the local theater, took acting classes and did school plays.  I watched the Tonys and sometimes the Oscars and buzzed with the excitement of my future.  I went to college on an acting scholarship and did at least one play a semester.  As if cashing in on my childhood preparation, I played Hamlet in a University production.  I made it to the regional finals for a prestigious national acting award.  I imagined myself onstage in London or packing up my car, traveling state to state working in professional theater.

And I fell in love with a boy.  A real one, who was very much alive and woo’d me with words that were more beautiful to me than those of Shakespeare.

I graduated college and went to London.  And got rejection letters from every theater I sent my resume to… except one.  I did a play in a pub, west of the West End.  I saw as much theater as I could afford.  Sitting in the dark, heart fluttering in adoration, I saw Dame Judi Dench live onstage with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  I backpacked Europe.  I missed the boy desperately.  After 6 months, I decided to move to LA, not because I was an actor and that was the hub of the acting world, but because the boy lived there.

I moved into his life.  He’d been “the One” for 5 years; we lived together and we fell apart.

And then I was in this city I had never imagined myself in, frightened and grieving and resolving to make just one thing work out in all this mess.  I threw myself into my acting career with every ounce of my being.

It didn’t take long to learn that theater in LA is the bastard stepchild of movies, and treated like the dirt below the first step on the ladder to success.  So I turned my focus to film, learning the differences in acting techniques and how to play for the camera.  I auditioned for commercials a five year old could’ve written and got an agent that never called – not even once.  I let everything else I loved – writing, yoga, travel – fall by the wayside in the blinders-on pursuit of an LA success story.

Imagine having a college degree – magna cum laude, no less – in your field but being told it was a waste & you should’ve started at 5 if you’d really wanted this career.  Imagine having to pay for a job interview, and at the interview, having to sign a waiver that you understand this interview in no way means you’re even being considered for the job.  Imagine walking into a room full of people that look just like you, except hotter.  Imagine being told you’re the best candidate for the position except they can’t hire someone so short.  Or brunette.  Such a shame, we’ll keep you on file.

Five years of this and, instead of hating this absurd industry, I hated myself.  I wasn’t good enough, tall enough, thin enough, connected enough.  Despite being told in classes and on set, as I’d been told my whole acting life, that I was talented, I was never given the professional chance to prove it and therefore it started to lose meaning.  I didn’t believe in myself and I didn’t like the person I’d become.  The joy and creativity were gone; I was no longer an artist, but a face-for-hire.

And dating like a 5th member of Sex and the City, although exciting, was unfulfilling.  The Ex was a constant shadow over every relationship and I wondered if the part of me that knew how to love had faded away like Hamlet’s speech from my memory.

I’ve already told you about the breakdown.  About carrying the lonliness and failure achingly in my gut.  About crying, uncontrollably, every day.  About the feeling that a huge chunk of my heart was dying.

I decided that, in order to save myself, I had to stop acting.  I felt like a failure and a big ol’ mess, but my amazing friends were supportive & encouraged me to take a break and regroup. And in the stillness and emptiness that followed, I could just faintly hear, from across the world, an adventure calling…

to be continued…


[photo source]

So, we’ve established a few things.

I used to work in advertising, I’m certified to teach yoga, but have yet to actually do so, and I have a tendency to be overwhelmed by the reality that every single thing I’ve ever wanted might actually be possible.

This story is the part about working in advertising.

Business

Two years, lots of clients, and many, many bosses.  On paper, it was a really sweet job.  I had an amazing mentor, strong connections with co-workers who became close friends, and great learning experiences so early in my career.  I also got sweet freebies like tickets to concerts, great meals, and lots of happy hours. Turns out there’s a lot of drinking in advertising.

I negotiated ad rates for commercials that aired on tiny radio stations in Small Town, USA.  I managed multi-million dollar campaigns for a client on national broadcast television.  I had folders, files, binders, and bookshelves.  In by 6AM, staying until 9PM.

I was a Media Buyer.  Capital M, Capital B.

And I was exhausted.

Business Casual

Thing is, the best part of my job wasn’t even really my job at all. As sort of a side project, I was contributing to a website, writing about media trends and the pulse of pop culture.  I decided that I wanted more of that, less of the other stuff.  I loved the feeling of hitting “publish,” of seeing my byline at the top of an article I’d researched and written.  It wasn’t even my column.  I filled in from time to time when the columnist (my boss, my mentor, my most inspiring colleague ever) was out of the office.

The awesome thing about working for a well-established, 75+ year old advertising agency with national clients is that your career path is really, really clear.  Very vertical, very specific.  That’s awesome if you want to move up.

From internship to executive, there was a predetermined path to success.  The problem is, I wanted to create my own path.

There was this tension between old media (them, and what they did exceptionally well) and new media (me, and what I wanted to live and breathe), and eventually I ran out of steam trying to reconcile the two.

Casual

Right about this time, I met a kindred spirit and contemporary that became the catalyst for lighting a fire under my ass, as some might say.  Rod was an SEO specialist, also in the the Minneapolis ad agency circuit.  He saw an opportunity in SEO/SEM that wasn’t happening in the brick-and-mortars that employed us, and he left his agency to start his own business.  Within weeks of our first brain-picking, I-thought-it-was-just-networking lunch meeting, we were obsessed with encouraging each other to make a real, live run for it.  Follow your dreams, live everywhere, do everything.

I started wrapping my head around this idea of a life of writing, travel, and teaching yoga on a beach in Hawaii.

It was the first time I was really turned on to the idea of a “virtual” career.  Our cohorts nowadays are calling that “Location Independent.”  I’m calling it “I-knew-I-wanted-to-be-free-to-move-about-the-world-before-there-was-a-name-for-it-I-just-didn’t-know-how.”

It took another year or so to extract myself out of agency life, out of media buying, and into full-time everything else.

And then November happened.

Photo credit: {via}

In less than two months, I’m going to be 25.

Um, WHAT?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Seriously, what? Can someone please come over and sit me down and explain how I went from high school to college to being four years out of college to being in my two month countdown to turning 25 years old? Because I sure as hell can’t seem to figure that one out.

When people bring up my birthday and my eyes go all dinner-plate-big, they remind me that “age is just a number” and that “25 isn’t any different than 24.” To which I say, “flkjgflkghj,” because 25 sounds like a much more serious adult age than any age I’ve ever been, and let’s not forget that at 25 I can much more inexpensively rent a car. Let’s not forget that.

Truthfully, I have no idea what will be going on the day I turn 25. I know it’s only two months away, but in my current roller coaster life, two months is two eternities. It was only four months ago that I signed on to write for Stratejoy, and I did so from my parents’ couch in Arizona, surrounded by no job, no place to live, no life plan, and a crush on a boy in San Francisco. In the four months that have screeched by between then and now, I got off their couch, got in my car, and drove my no job, no place to live, no life plan, and big crush from Arizona to San Francisco to see how things played out. Here’s how they played out:

I arrived in San Francisco on a Sunday night and checked into a hostel in a questionable area in the pouring rain. It took three minutes for me to question my sanity, three hours for me to call my mom hysterically crying, and three days for things to unravel with that boy.

And so, less than a week into my “Nicole is so brave and moved to San Francisco!” plan, I had lost the only real connection I had to an entirely unknown city and was staring down an overwhelming case of “What now?”

I needed to regroup.

I needed a friend and a bubbly drink and a plate of cheese and I needed them now. Jamie agreed to come out with me, to take our we-met-through-Twitter friendship offline and finally squeal and jump around together in person. A drink later, we realized we were best friend soulmates. A day later we signed a lease together. A week later we decided to join creative forces to relaunch Shatterboxx Media, her kickass awesome graphic and web design company. And four months later we’re really doing it, working from home, expanding the business, pursuing our writing, exploring the city, and drinking a damn impressive amount of wine along the way.

Which makes me wonder, if four months can give me an entirely new life, top to bottom, can something equally as soul changing come about in the next two?

I don’t see why not. Stay tuned.

photo credit