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My first published work appeared in my third grade school calendar. It was a poem about icicles. January. Picture illustrated by some fifth grader. The family considered it to be a Big Deal.

(And yes, my mom still has a copy of the calendar in her “Erin Box”. It’s right next to the macaroni picture frame from kindergarten.)

Fourth grade brought along the awesomeness entitled “Lion and Giraffe Make a Monkey out of Monkey”. That one was voted the best short story in my class. I kid you not.

Somewhere along the line, I started using my grandma’s computer and that oh-so-cool Print Shop Deluxe software to make a family newsletter. I’m relatively confident I spent an entire page covering dinner and a summer stock theatre outing.

High school introduced me to the world of and fanfiction. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I relentlessly wrote boyband fanfiction for pretty much my entire high school career. Sometimes I split stories with a friend. Sometimes I crafted stories alone, usually for an email loop where my stories were delivered chapter by chapter to people who actually seemed to want to read them for some reason.

Unfortunately, the heavy demands of a college and then graduate education in the healthcare field required me to switch my brain over to the world of scientific literature and research analysis. I learned to extract what I could from a research article and use it to fuel some sort of report, for which I was usually at least a page short.

Yes, I’m that girl. The one who gets the assignment for a 12-page paper and turns in a 10-pager because I just can’t freaking write any more. I actually had a professor tell me once that she was tempted to take off points for a midterm paper solely because I hadn’t met the page requirement. She ended up giving me full credit because I had a logical argument, covered all the content requested, and had a ridiculously long reference page to back me up.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped writing for fun.

(I also picked up a wicked romance novel habit. The only one sad about that is my bank account.)

I’ve never been a journal girl; probably because I’m not all that into the whole self-analysis thing. I’d rather shove everything in a box and move on.

But as my life did one of those Earth-opening-up-and-swallowing-me-whole things this summer, something kept tugging at me to write again. And then along came Stratejoy.

As much as I feel like I need to write, every damn time I sit down at the computer, I get some resistance. All of a sudden the idea burning in my head doesn’t sound that important and… what’s that, Pinterest? Oh, you’d like me to spend the next 45 minutes creating my imaginary wedding? Sounds fantastic!

Something in me knows that writing these posts means being horrifically honest and admitting things that I don’t even acknowledge to myself. I can’t do anything less for the women of this community.

Now I truly understand that saying about writing being like opening a vein. I. Get. It.

Will I keep up this level of personal writing after Season 7 is over? Probably not. Much as I love y’all, this shit is hard.

But in the end, it is so worth it.

Image credit: Erin Kohlenberg

Whether it’s the lure of seeing your name in print or the satisfaction born from such a huge accomplishment, even people who have no clue where apostrophes belong have “write a book” on their bucket list.

And secretly, I do, too.

However, it’s more than that. I want to tell a story.

To tell the truth, though, I’m not much of a storyteller. Instead, I am fascinated by words. By syntax and diction and metaphor and every other literary term you resigned to forgetting after college.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve kept a journal since the age of 11, and it’s the only way I have ever been able to fully express and work through my thoughts and feelings. In high school, I wrote the worst poetry imaginable, filling several notebooks that should probably now be burned. In college, it took 6 months of being a psychology major before I realized I could major in stories and poetry and words.

Then I spent 4 years building my own personal library. I spent many an all-nighter falling in love with Keats and Wordsworth and Blake, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot, Alexander Pope and Shakespeare. Since those days, I’ve had obsessions with Cormac McCarthy, Barbara Kingsolver, Elie Wiesel, C.S. Lewis, and Dostoevsky. Oh, and I’ll always have a not-so-secret love for J.K. Rowling.

And while all these literary loves may occasionally annoy my husband, they all seem to tell  my heart and mind and brain the same thing: I, too, must write.

And so I have a little hint of a story rattling away in the back of my mind. Sometimes, in my spare moments, I struggle to procure the words that would do this story justice. Other times, a torrential rain of words threatens to burst out of me, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from running out of my office on the 22nd floor and write the day away in my own little world.

Maybe one day I’ll have my book, my name in print, and an enormous satisfaction from such a huge accomplishment. But even if I don’t, I know this: Writing is my life line. When I stop writing, my brain gets tangled up and anxiety sets in. No matter what miscellaneous professions I step into over the years ahead, I will always consider myself a writer.

Image via (yes, I love my Moleskine)


Registration for the Holiday Council 2012 is open!  21 days of  wrapping up 2012 and dreaming and scheming for 2013 + juicy writing challenges + kick-ass interviews with rockstar women + all the support and camaraderie that you could ever imagine. Want a piece of this? Let’s go!

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

I was so excited to be chosen for Season 7 here at Stratejoy. I was surprised and could barely form a coherent sentence when Molly called me because I was so giddy.

As soon as I got the email with information about our first few posts, I got to work. I was excited to be writing, and had so many ideas and thoughts pouring out of me. Sometimes more ideas than I could fit into 500-1000 words.

As luck would have it, the universe decided to throw me a curveball after I wrote my third post. I’d just outlined my focus for the next few months and I was ready to get started on the things I’d challenged myself to do.

Then my sweet little boxer, Emma, got sick. Really sick. I’ve been dreading the day for many years because I knew it would be overwhelmingly painful for me. She has been my companion for eight precious years. But I couldn’t let her suffer so I sent her off to doggie heaven {as I told the little person}.

Naturally I was very emotional for the next few days. I didn’t venture out of the house. I ignored everyone’s calls and just let myself be sad.

I went to work that weekend and tried to get on with life. In the back of my mind, I was starting to get nervous. I’d been avoiding journaling because I wasn’t ready to write the story yet. I was avoiding writing my next post because everything I could come up with seemed trivial and uninspired. I was getting behind on my posts and it was stressing me out.

I started my usual spiral of negative self-talk. I told myself that I was going to fail at this. That I said all I have to say in the first few posts. That I was fooling myself by thinking I could write anything of value.

Sometimes it’s really ugly in my head. I don’t know how any of us can get to the point where we treat ourselves so horribly. I would never talk to one of my friends the way I talk to myself. Yet I continue to treat myself this way.

As the days slipped by and I still couldn’t write anything, I turned to my journal for inspriation. Maybe I’d find something in there that I could expand on. I reread a few entries and stumbled on one talking about my inner critic.

And there was Molly’s voice in my head telling me not to blindly believe the critic. To voice the bad thoughts so I would understand they aren’t the truth – and then move forward with the actual truth.

The truth is my inner critic was twisting my fears into factual statements. I am afraid to fail at this, but I don’t believe I have yet. I believe I’ll continue to rise to the challenge. I believe continuing to learn and grow is the purpose of blogging here – and I’m doing just that. One baby step at a time.

I watched a video recently of the lovely Nicole Antoinette speaking at WDS 2012. Her overall topic was running, but she discussed how big sexy goals are accomplished one tiny unsexy step at a time. {Obviously this applies to areas outside of running, as well}. Talk about the perfect time to stumble upon the video!

I didn’t take any giant leaps this week on my journey, but I did take one tiny unsexy step. I was able to recognize the negativity running rampant in my head and stop the cycle.

I know, life isn’t always going to go perfectly. In fact, it will likely be filled with many unexpected challenges. My hope is that I can get to a point where those challenges don’t set off a negative mental spiral. A point where I can treat myself with the love and forgiveness that I would show to others.

I definitely have a ways to go before I accomplish that goal, but I plan to continue on with all the baby steps. One foot in front of the other until one day I realize I’m living the life I’ve been striving for.

Photo credit: ME

 

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.

 

One of the truly amazing things about life is that you never know when inspiration is going to smack you upside the head.

In early March, I received a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know. Lee Anne was a fellow Stratejoy tribe member and Brooklyn resident, and wanted to introduce herself when she saw that I was part of the next season of bloggers.

A few weeks later, she posted the following status: “Anyone up for this Mad Men viewing party at the Roosevelt tonight?”

As it turns out, I had been planning on going to that same party but my viewing buddy had taken ill (read: hangover) and was no longer able to make it. I told her I was down.

During one of the commercial breaks, as we were standing amidst a sea of dapper men, whiskey cocktails and candy cigarettes, Lee Anne asked me, “So, what do you do? I know you’re a writer, but what else do you do?”

I was flustered. “Oh…um. I’m not really a writer, outside of Stratejoy. I mean I like writing, but no one pays me to do it or anything.”**

She looked at me like I was stupid. “So? I’m an actor. I don’t get paid to do it every day, but it doesn’t mean I’m not one. It doesn’t matter if no one pays you, you’re still a writer.”

I was completely floored. I had never met this person before, and all she knew about me was whatever one could glean from two Stratejoy posts. But her words were powerful.

Ever since that conversation, bits and pieces from my memory will pop up at random as I go about my day.

Writing “books” when I was young and covering the front with clear tape to make them look fancy and laminated.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of my very first blog post (March 18, 2002).

Journaling. ”This is what I did today” journaling to Joy Juice journaling to journaling as a method of escape during a rough patch I went through while studying abroad in Australia.

Finding joy even in writing insignificant “come with me to this random event!” emails to friends.

Taking a course this past fall called, “Career Changing In Your 20s and 30s,” and doing an exercise where we had to reflect about different stages of our lives, and at those times, what we wanted to be when we grew up. “Author” appeared in every stage up until adulthood.

My whole life was flashing before my eyes. Only I wasn’t dying, I was living.

When Lee Anne referred to me as a writer, something I’ve never thought to call myself, it resonated with me because I was just beginning to rediscover my love of writing. You see, despite the fact that I’ve churned out hundreds of blog posts and thousands of pages of academic papers over the years, the times I felt truly alive while writing were unfortunately few and far between.

Until, that is, I started writing for Stratejoy.

All of a sudden, because of how deeply I care about each of these posts, the effort I started putting in far surpassed my average. Even in just those first 2 posts, I put in so many hours of writing and rewriting and “holy shit, when did it become 2am?” situations.

I felt a mixed sense of relief, excitement and achievement when I had an idea about my 2nd post that turned it from my crap excuse for a first draft to what ended up here. I am insanely proud of that piece, not necessarily because it’s all that amazing, but because never before had I transformed my writing from something I hated to something that so accurately reflected what I wanted it to be. It was the most gratifying, fulfilling experience I’ve had in a long time.

Writing has been staring me in the face since I was old enough to string words together, and it seems ludicrous that it took some innocuous words from a near-stranger to bring me this moment of clarity like DUH OBVIOUSLY I WANT TO WRITE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE AND PROBABLY EVEN IN THE AFTERLIFE AS LONG AS THERE ARE LAPTOPS IN HEAVEN (or wherever I’m going to end up, which is up for debate).

Only now comes the hard part: the questions laced with doubt.

Am I good enough?

How do I get started?

What would I even write?

I could never make a career out of writing, could I?

Does anyone care about what I have to say?

Perhaps the most pressing question of all is, “What about life after Stratejoy?” When I no longer have quarterlife crisis blogging to keep me happy, how do I keep my passion alive without reverting back to mindless blog posts about my weekends?

When the well of inspiration runs dry, how do I find a new well?

As long as I figure out how to answer this last question, I know I can be happy. Sure, I would love to get paid for my writing – to have the kind of job where I’m consumed not with corporate jargon but with the best way to phrase a sentence. But I accept that if this isn’t in the cards for me, as long as I can foray the “YES” feeling I get when I write Stratejoy posts into something else, I’ll be okay.

All I need to do now is figure out where to go from here.

 

** In college I actually made $300 by successfully submitting a story to Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV. It’s so cheesy that I am fully and completely embarrassed by it.

(Photo credit: CC Chapman)

The most riveting and terrifying aspect of my life is that I never know what to expect next.

Six months ago my job with AmeriCorps ended and I transitioned to working with the organization I was with part-time; I began working as a barista at a coffee shop I respected for their sustainable business practices; and I was teaching a class at UCONN on Creative Democracy and Community Building.

Three months ago I become engaged; found out I lost my part-time non-profit job; and finished my super awesome teaching gig at UCONN.

Now, I’m working full time in the coffee business and sitting in limbo-land awaiting my next step.

Apparently I can’t figure out how to manage my time effectively. I tend to have this problem. The time I did best in college was when I was taking seven classes, reading a book for entertainment each week, and working to pay rent. Everything I did fell right into an appropriate time frame because it had to not because I had ample time to accomplish everything. Right now, I’m at the point where I’m paralyzed with all the crap I have to do and I don’t even know where to begin.

In fact, there’s a little recorder that plays over and over in my head each day:

Dear Camila just so you know you have to plan your wedding, take the GREs, start working on your blog, keep in touch with friends, clean your apartment, cook dinner, pay the bills, call your brother, hand wash some clothes…

and the list goes on.

This my friends is where you come in. I’ve found in the past that when I have folks checking in on my progress and holding me accountable then I’m waaaaayyyyy more likely to follow through with my intentions. Or, put in a more eloquent way in the words of my favorite author, Paulo Coelho,

“…when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

If I pronounce wholeheartedly what I aspire to achieve in these next five months, work just as fervently to accomplish them, and have the support of other lovely ladies, then I’m confident that they will become tangible and not just meandering thoughts.

That being said, here’s what I’m pronouncing as my foci for the next five months:

1) Writing

I have always loved twisting words together to create poetry and stories. The first poem I ever wrote was about an owl. I have it somewhere, the little words typed up on a typewriter and cut out into a bizarre shape. Being that the only time I had frequent access to typewriters was when I was at the American School for the Deaf, I probably wrote the poem in Kindergarten. At age nine I wrote songs with my brother and friend Mia. Some of them were ridiculous “Lanza lanza in your panza, footsie wootsie in your tootsie” while others were a little better “I must go away from my land, go and march with that awful band. They’re mean and cruel and awful here, please oh please help me dear.” As of late though, I have not been that great about keeping up with my writing. No, I’ve been neglecting a craft I love. Writing on Stratejoy will certainly help me, but in the next five months I would also like to

a) start writing on my blog again at least once a week

and

b) draft poems for a poetry book. The theme of “loteria” a.k.a. Mexican Bingo has always fascinated me and I find the images that are a part of the game intriguing and beautiful.  This would be the premise for the book I would like to create.

2) Organization

People make two frequent assumptions about me. One is that I’m quiet (this assumption is true until I get to know you), the other is that I am an organized neat-freak. Ha, HAHAHAH, Ha ha. Lies. I’m incredibly messy which drives my family and fiance mad. I leave remnants of my existence wherever I go (don’t worry, I’m not like this in the homes of strangers). I am however somewhat organized in my chaos. I have lists of books I want to read on a Google Doc. I have specific notebooks for specific purposes. I like to wash dishes. However, I still suck at paying bills. I don’t always know where I keep my keys, and I often “wing it” without knowing the details of how I’m going to get things done. This has resulted in spending the night at Starbucks/Union Station; having nightmares that my wedding is next week and I’ve done barely any planning; and having my internet and phone disconnected. As such, here’s what I’ve got in mind:

a) create a financial plan. I would like to know when I need to pay what bills, how much I’m making and figure out how I’m going to make it through  the summer with a limited budget.

b) create an educational plan. In 2013 I yearn to go back to graduate school as well as become trained as a doula/midwife. I’ve been out of school way too long for my liking. I want to look up graduate schools in the Northwest, programs for doulas/midwives, and prepare to take the GREs..

c) plan and execute a phenomenal wedding: I need the nightmares to cease. I need to get a handle on this wedding since it is in less than five months and I don’t even have a wedding dress yet. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Even thinking about it makes me nervous. I love planning and I’m incredibly excited for Geoffrey and I to marry, I just feel like I’m so far behind.

There you have it, just small components of my infinite dreams that never cease to expand and fluctuate. I set them forth into the world and ask for you to conspire with me to fulfill these little puzzle pieces of life that I have trouble fitting together and bringing into reality. Now it’s time to let the progress begin.

Sitting in a bright red Ikea chair at a local coffee shop, it hit me. The deadline smacked me across the face like the icy wind on the walk to the shop, and I knew, I was screwed.

It was the day I was supposed to unleash my brilliant, value-packed, fabulous new email opt-in on the world – and my manifesto wasn’t done. At least not totally. After weeks of hashing it out, scrapping sections, and letting my heart pour on to the page, it still. wasn’t. done.

Balls. Suck to the 10th power. FML. I had worked and worked and put in the hours and my best, and I had failed to meet my own stupid deadline.

This could have been the part where I gave up. But, the thing was, I had already done so much. After diving into painful memories from my past and listening intently to the stories of other women who , my philosophy has risen. Through all of the hurt and anguish and labels and expectations I saw so many women going through, I found where my truth had been hiding in plain sight. Who knew my universal truth would be found in my story – and more importantly, be reflected in the stories of others?

The manifesto I wanted to write wasn’t done – but there was a lot that was. So I edited everything into a short 14-page PDF, and I called it the Undefinable You Manifesto. Designed in Word and put together in about a half an hour, it was perfect. It wasn’t I had planned, and somehow, that made it even better.

It’s really hard to describe how I felt in that moment – vulnerable, but in my power zone. Crazy, but totally in my element.

Well, duh. How could I feel anything else? This manifesto was everything I wanted for the world. And of course I’d release it like this! It was so me. And I guess that was really the point, wasn’t it?

I’ve never really felt like I had a life’s mission before I hit the publish button on this thing. Not one that was huge and big enough for my tribe to get behind – but yet, here were these people reading what I had to say, ready to believe in me if I could just rise to the occasion. And when the time was right, it dawned on me – I wanted to build my business up so I could give it all away.

The ever-fleeting life mission? I want to give a million dollars or better a year to women’s empowerment causes. And not just money. I want to work side by side with an organization to help get women the skills they need to succeed and being self empowered. Because once they become empowered, they can self-actualize.

And then? They can unleash their dreams on the world. Beautiful. Legendary. Audacious. Because that’s what’s it all about for me. My message is to never settle – and my mission is an extension of that. If ever I’ve felt joy, this is it.

My big holiday wish for all of you is for you to find the same peace out of fear, joy in the hard moments, and love so deep for yourself that you can miss a deadline and be okay. Happy holidays everybody!

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.” – Julia Cameron

Money hasn’t been an easy subject for me for a long time. When I was a kid, I was a saver. But my mom would “borrow” my money, so I learned to spend it when I had it.

Now, I owe $30,000 in student loan debt, due to start being paid back in June. And a baby due February 29th. As you can imagine, “I got my mind on the money, and the money on my mind.”

I even had this (stupid, stupid) idea that would have allowed me to spend the year justifying making a limited amount of income. If that isn’t self-sabotage, I don’t know what is.

Earlier this year, I was talking to a couple of friends who had already broken the 6-figure boundary the year before. It was crazy to thin they were doing things not so different than what I was doing – they were just doing them on a bigger, more frequent scale. They were pursuing their dreams – but they knew their dreams had dollar amounts attached to them. But it all seemed so far out of reach. I couldn’t imagine $30K a year, let alone adding an extra zero.

As a would-be entrepreneur, I knew I had to do better if I wanted to make a living doing what I loved. But how? Where the heck do you even start when your perception of money is so warped? A friend said it best – “Your people like you. They want to see you succeed.”

Talking with Molly cemented it. She recommended Overcoming Underearning and I Will Teach You To Be Rich – and I pass that recommendation on to you! Ramit’s tips are solid gold. (Heh.) And Barbara’s are great, too – especially if your problems with money stems from a fear of failure (or success).

My financial goals for next year are ambitious and exciting. Now, I know I deserve to earn more than minimum wage. I’ve got skills! Even more than that, I have the confidence to know I’m worth more.

Danielle LaPorte talks about your money shoes – you can only earn what you’re comfortable with. And $50,000 is a very comfortable starting point for me these days. My goal for my business next year: Breaking the big $100K.

One hundred thousand dollars. $100,000. A hundred G’s.

When I imagine my life, I think about how exciting it will be to pay off my student loans. Zero debt. Automating my bills and savings. Having savings. Starting a retirement fund. Donating to causes I believe in! Visiting France. Ooh la la!

When I close my eyes, I can picture myself doing each one of these things with elegance and joy.

This past year, my business made more than I’ve ever made in a year before. And I’ve only been in business – really – since June. That feels sooo good. To know that I can do what I love, make an amount of money I’m comfortable with, and not be afraid of wealth anymore – those are some pretty sexy money shoes.

What about you? How is your perception of money treating you?

 

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!)

I’ve been grappling with writing this stupid manifesto for months now. I’ve known it’s needed written since May. I’m really excited to write it and share it with the world! But somehow, it keeps getting pushed to the backburner. Why?

Well, honestly, a couple of reasons.

I don’t have a solid grasp on what it needs to say. I want this short piece to form the foundation of everything else I do from this point on. The holy grail of my blog. The big idea – the mission – that inspires everyone else to get onboard and go with me wherever this crazy train goes.

That’s pressure. Self-applied pressure, granted, but still. What if I decide to change course midstream? Will my people still be behind me? Will they still be interested in sharing a mission and taking it to new heights on different levels? Will they even like the idea I start with?

For any of you familiar with the StrengthsFinder test, my chief strength is input. That means I absorb information like a sponge. I’m great at synthesizing ideas, but I have issues standing behind an idea or way of thinking for long because I’m constantly analyzing and adding new information.

Okay, confession time.

I’m afraid of commitment. Not like I can’t hold down a relationship type of commitment. It’s more like I’m terrified of committing to an idea or belief system. And it’s starting to hold me back.

That’s why I’ve been holding off on writing this thing. It’s a statement of what I believe and what I’m looking for. And being in the midst of a QLC, these are the major things I’ve been struggling with. Most of August, I felt like I was stuck and had no idea which direction to go next.

That’s when I started the Joy Equation. Now, being a writer in the lifestyle design niche, I’ve seen a LOT of personal development guides like it. I’ve even started a few of them.

But, as I started to go through the exercises, I found that I wasn’t just engaged – I was smiling the entire time I was going through the guide. Even with the tough topics, I was so happy just to have it written and out of my system! What a relief. I did think something – something I could stand behind without any doubt.

Like my values! I thought I had them pretty well refined, but it turned out I had been operating under limiting beliefs of sorts. I’d never given myself room to explore what my values looked like in a larger context. The definitions helped, too. Defining something makes it easier to understand and implement.

Here’s what I came up with:

This was such a massive discovery for me. I knew freedom, adventure, and community were important to me, but romance was like finding a missing link.

It was everything I could never find the words to describe before. I knew I was passionate, but finding such a perfect word was empowering and revitalizing. It was like, “Holy crap! I can finally explain to my partner why little things are so important to me!” It was a revolution for my heart.

So here I am now. This is me presenting what I believe without question. The first words in my manifesto are…

“I believe you are beautiful, brilliant, and unique beyond any doubt. There is nothing you can’t do, and there is no situation you can’t overcome.”

Because it’s my truth. And I can commit to truth.

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.

 

When I hopped on this Stratejoy blogging train, I knew that committing to three specific goals was part of the deal. Seemed like a great idea. You know, so I can report back and share what I learned and experienced along the way.

Well guess what? We’re less than three months in and I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch. I’ve decided to kibosh not one but TWO of my goals.

Uh oh. A failure detector should start going off now, shouldn’t it? Goals are meant to be achieved, are they not? To Do lists are meant to be crossed off, yes?

Well, as I spend more time talking with Molly, listening to my own thoughts and instincts, and learning from like-minded people such as yourselves, I’m discovering that’s not necessarily the case.

Goals are meant to be exploratory and motivating. They’re meant to encourage us to ask for more for ourselves and our lives…for no other reason than we deserve it. But goals also represent a point in time. They were established and embraced on a certain day, with certain thoughts and feelings and assumptions as context around them. So when those thoughts, feelings and assumptions change – and they often do – our goals might end up feeling a little less worthy of our effort.

That’s exactly what happened to me. My goals worked well for the person I was in February months ago, but they don’t fit so nicely with the person I am now. Instead of wasting time chasing after two accomplishments that I wouldn’t even enjoy or feel inspired to complete, I’m bailing on them.

But, since I can’t leave you (or myself) hanging, I’ve come up with two new goals that I feel a little more excited about.

Old Goal #1: Run a half marathon.

New Goal #1: Run a 10 km…and maybe a half marathon later this year.

The rationale: I’ve ran half marathons before. And I’m confident that I will again some day….in fact, I already have tentative plans for running one in October. I enjoy the challenge, the stretching of well-used leg muscles, the discipline of training, and the adrenaline rush and exhilaration of running among a crowd. But right now, I don’t need another challenge.

What I need is to swing my pendulum from the “over achiever” side into the “easy come, easy go” side.

Then, and only then, will I learn how to settle somewhere in the middle, playing the ambitious role sometimes and the chilled out role other times.

I’m still committing to getting in better shape, that hasn’t changed. But instead of following a tough and disciplined training schedule right now, I’m going to focus on variety. On going outside if I hear my sneakers calling my name. Or hitting the gym if it’s raining and cold out. Or going for a lane swim, if I’m in the mood for a quick, all-over workout. Or, going to yoga whenever I’m craving more of a mind-body connection. I’m going to cut myself some slack and just go with the flow.

And since I’m already registered for the Bluenose Marathon, I’m going to drop down to running the 10km. It’s a totally achievable target that will still lead me to feel physically stronger and more alive than I do today. Now that sounds like a goal I can get behind!

Old Goal #2: Share my story with a group of women in my community.

New Goal #2: Draft a book proposal.

The rationale: This one’s pretty simple. First of all, I love the being an analyzing, instinct-embracing, ballsy woman. I love sharing optimistic perspectives, personal realizations and insights with others. Second, I dream of writing a book some day. I don’t have a solid idea, I don’t even have a first chapter. I have nothing but a wish and a prayer…and fear. Conclusion? Instead of waiting, I’m just going to start. A dear friend of mine sent me a book proposal template that has come highly recommended to her. I’m going to take it and see what I can come up with. I’m going to organize the thoughts floating around in my head into a first draft of a book proposal.

I have no idea what’s going to come out. It might be total crap. I don’t even know where I’m going to find the time or clarity of mind right now to do this. But I’m going to. Because it’s important to me. And it’s what my heart wants; even if it makes no logical sense.

I don’t have a formulated plan for building an Internet-famous blog, going on a speaking tour, and creating a tribe of followers. I had intended to come up with one, which is why writing a motivational speech of some sort in order to build some profile seemed like a good goal at first.

But, I’ve decided to say fuck it (as I often do). I’ve decided to rip the band-aid off and start writing. Maybe that proposal will go in a file never to be seen again. Maybe it’ll be so bad, all I’ll be able to do is laugh. Maybe it’ll turn into a free e-book I can give away. Maybe it’ll become a presentation I can deliver after all…some day, somewhere. Maybe I’ll be inspired to keep writing book proposal, after book proposal until years from now, something sticks. I don’t know.

But right now, something inside me says that trying is better than knowing. It also says that listening to yourself if better than telling yourself.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

{Photo credit}

INTRODUCING AMANDA

It was time to get out. I wasn’t sure where the road was going to take us but we needed a fresh start, like, yesterday.


I sat down in the passenger-side seat of my silver Toyota, desperately fighting back tears and failing miserably. I clutched at the box that held my officely possessions and just… stared. My then-fiancé placed a comforting hand on mine. In 2008, at twenty-two and twenty-six, we’d both been terminated from our positions as programmers for our rather boisterous opinions regarding unpaid overtime and the slave-labour hours we felt that we were working.

“We hated working there anyway,” he said, turning the engine on and gently pulling out of the parking lot. “It’s better this way. Now we can move to Vancouver, just like you wanted.”

I didn’t have the courage to say that I had no idea what it was that I wanted; all I knew was that it was no longer an option to stay. Our hometown had gotten too small. Our career options as programmers were limited to three major arteries within the city. It was time to get out. I wasn’t sure where the road was going to take us but we needed a fresh start, like, yesterday.

Fast-forward to a year later, just before my twenty-third birthday.

I glanced down at the wedding rings on my left hand but my resolve didn’t waver. If he was determined to find himself then so was I. I packed the final load into the $600 Honda Accord that I’d bought from some dude in North Vancouver before hugging my husband goodbye. He was on the path to becoming a police officer. I wasn’t really on a path at that point but I didn’t have the courage to tell him that the last eight months had been a waste. I’d been toying with the option of becoming a Real Designer, possibly of the Industrial variety; I’d always been interested in how products are designed. Sadly, the “education” left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

And so, I was returning to the city that had reared me in the first place.

I’d taken a job in a career centre. It paid well, I liked my work, and I enjoyed the people I worked with. As I worked with clients, I found my entrepreneurial spirit to be alive and ass-kicking; I began to daydream about opening up a business and actually doing web design for money. By the time July 2009 had hit, the husband had put his police quest aside so that I could come back home. By January 2010, I had established myself as a WordPress designer and developer with a party-time demeanour and a “sure can” attitude. People from all around the globe were asking for my services and I was flying high.

For a time, anyway.

Transitioning in and out of love with my business, I decided to dive head-first into a moonlighting career as a game journalist. I attended conventions, conducted interviews with developers and designers, and wrote my little heart out. Life was the best it could have been for the fleeting months when I was able to focus my fire on writing. When the money stopped rolling in for my business, I rolled over and attempted to reconnect.

Burn out hit me. Rock-bottom came next. I fumbled around, looking for signs of the end of this intellectual and emotional purgatory. The little stick – yes that little stick – said a mouthful when I found out that rock-bottom had actually just been a kink in the cycle. Mine, to be precise.

As I claw my way out of a Quarter-Life Crisis, I’m also grappling with the implications of “mama-to-be” without letting on that I’m just as panicked as excited. Weaving my way through the intertwining (and seemingly disparate) paths of “entrepreneur” meets “mama” meets “twentysomething” is a journey that I’m looking forward to sharing with all of you.

I can NOT believe this is my last Stratejoy post.  I seriously might cry, y’all.

The adventure I’ve been on these last six months with Marian, Lindsey, Alisha, Renee, Doniree, Molly, and all of you has been indescribably life-changing.  I didn’t know I had it in me to write like this, to be so honest and transparent with strangers (a lot of you aren’t really strangers anymore!); I didn’t know I was capable of inspiring other people.  I was a girl who felt lost and misunderstood, even to herself.

You, by reading and through your comments, have shown me I’m not alone, crazy, or lame.  You have made me buzz with joy, knowing I’ve helped you see your QLC differently and knowing you relate to what I’m going through.  Your comments have made me laugh, cheer, think and cry, and your friendship and love has given me the strength to be honest and strive for better.

YOU are Stratejoy.

This community has been an incredibly important part of my life these last six months and, though I’m SO sad to not be writing here anymore, I know I’m not leaving.  I can’t wait to see what brilliant wisdom the Season 4 bloggers have to impart, and I’m sure I’ll be continually inspired, by them and by you, for a long time to come.

Since my first post went up in August, I’ve grown from having no idea what I want to having clear vision of my future.  I’ve become more confident and balanced, more self-aware and honest, more excited and proactive.  I’ve faced my fears, learned to love being single, and proclaimed “Quarterlife Fuck Yeah!!!”  It’s been a terrifyingly awesome journey.

Thank you for sticking with me through it all; thank you for helping me grow into the woman I now am.

Because Stratejoy inspired me to make this next step, I have an announcement to make here.  Y’all are hearing it first.  Today – right this minute – I’m launching my new website, The Grateful Sparrow (if you were following me before, it’s different!) and I want to invite all of you to be a part of it.

I’m committing to talk about joy.  Your experience of it, lack of it, the process of finding it, growing with it, keeping aware of it.  I want to inspire you to live a life you love and love the life you live, every day.  I want it to be your go-to source for a jolt of inspiration and to jump-start your daily gratitude.  It’s the anti-kumbayah; your happiness is serious business, and it’s totally within your control.

Molly & I agreed Stratejoy and The Grateful Sparrow are totally BFFs; let’s keep building this community of amazing, inspiring people and keep the love flowing!

CHEERS to everything you’ve taught me and everything we’ve shared, t0 changing the way we look at the QLC, to being fucking amazing strong women, and to who we are and who we’ll become…

All my love,

Nikki

[Note from the Coach:  Nikki- Damn straight! The Grateful Sparrow and Stratejoy are totally BFF’s!  I know these last 6 months have been full of twists and turns and challenges and surprises, but through it all- you have remained utterly open and present.  To life.  To the possibility of joy in the moment.  And it’s been a gorgeous, gorgeous thing to witness.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing it with us.  Your authentic voice and soul sister stories will be missed.

But… As we all know- you’ve got a new “home” from which to keep inspiring us.  And a big wide world to explore.   And bunches to love to share and receive.  From one joy-embracer to another– all my wishes for success in any path you choose to skip down, Nikki.  It’s yours for the taking.  And yes, we still have an outstanding date to play on lawns, drink wine together, and dissolve into multiple bouts of laughter. Soon, I promise.  Nothing but love, Molly]

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.

I have had a string of bad days.  Not “my dog died” kind of bad, but more like the kind of days when you just want to hide from the world.  Usually these kinds of days are riddled with self-doubt.  They are filled with surges of confidence that quickly disapate.  And I spend copious amounts of energy doing the things that I think will lift my spirits only to feel even worse than I did before.

I took my medicine.

I journaled–tried to acknowledge my fears with words.

I texted, tweeted and wrote to friends.

I took long, scalding showers.

I turned on Britney Spears and did funny dances with the kids.

It didn’t work.  Despite doing all of those things, each day was filled with moments where I sat on the edge of the sofa with eyes full of tears that would not fall.  So one night I said to myself, you know, maybe I don’t need to try to fight these feelings so hard.  Maybe I need to go ahead and acknowledge these feelings–embrace them even–and just be.

Normally when I reach this point, I dig through my nightstand drawer and consult a spiritual text (of which there are many).  But instead I looked up my astrological profile.  I know, funny isn’t it?  I was grasping for something, anything, that might help me understand why I was feeling this way, why I so often feel this way, and this is what it told me:

. . . . Cancerians are family centered, tradition bound, tied to the past, fearful of the future and of the unknown. Security is one of their major goals. . . .  Cancerians look toward introversion and melancholy. They are as restless and moody as the shifting tides. They…like to retreat into dreams and fantasies and to shelter themselves in the relative safety of the past.

. . . . They tend to be exclusive in their social contacts; at the same time, they are particularly touchy about being excluded by others. And they never forget a slight. . . .

. . . . If they are disappointed, they become withdrawn and hostile. . . .

. . . . At their best, Cancerians of both sexes are among the most loving of people, profoundly intuitive, and quick to grasp and respond to the emotional needs of others. They inspire and nurture growth. It is Cancerians’ task to find safe haven in which their sign’s exquisite sensitivity can bloom and flourish. Otherwise, the crab my find itself dominated by the prickly, grasping side of its nature.

Sigh of relief.

I am not sure why, but I found this comforting.  I’m not a huge believer in astrology; I don’t read my daily horoscope or consult the position of the moon and stars to chart my life plans.  But in that moment, it was as though it answered all of these big, scary questions that have been hovering over me these past few days.  Why am I like this?  Why do I feel like this?  Is this okay? In that moment I accepted that it was okay being me.  It was okay that I am emotionally-unstable.  (Okay, I had to chuckle at that last line, but it’s so true.)  It was a reminder that I can love all of me, even if there are parts of me that literally drive me crazy.  It is just who I am.  And I can’t force myself to become someone I am not.

So these bad days, though they do suck, are okay.  I have them.  I had them in the past and there will be many more in the future.  But I don’t have to fight with them all the time.  Sometimes I can just let them be bad.

(photo credit)

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 had a home.  I have lived in 7 states and 14 cities.  I have lived in condos, apartments, townhomes and big suburban houses.  Yet, I have never felt like I had a home. Even now, as I settle into my third year in Chicago, it still does not feel like “home.”  So last year, what I set out to do, via the wonderful world wide web, was try to find my community.  I knew that if I could just create one, build one,  or simply find one, then maybe I would feel a little more settled–I would feel connected.

It is so easy to  get caught up in the minutea of our lives.  We allow ourselves to be so wrapped up that at times it feels as though you are the only one suffering.  Yet, that’s not true.  Through this experience with Stratejoy, I realized that although the details in each blog post are different, the themes are the same.  Ultimately, it is not My Story.  It is not Doniree’s Story.  It’s not Renee’s Story, or Lindsey’s Story, or Marian’s Story, or Nikki’s Story.  It is not Your Story.  It is Our Story.  It is the Human Story.  We are navigating through this life together.

One thing I have learned over the past few years is that the more I share my past, the more I release its power over me. I have many scars that bleed, but each time I recount a story–relive the injuries–a cut closes.  A wound heals.  I move on.  Each time I share a dream, the more vivid and attainable it becomes.  I become inspired.

While I have yet to figure out what I really want to do with my life–besides write–I know that whatever work I do must be centered around community, connection and healing.  Blogging for Molly and Stratejoy has given me that opportunity to do just that: find a community, connect and heal. When you read my words, we connect.  And as we connect with one another, I connect more with myself.  And it has helped me to heal.

(photo: free woman holding bunch of pink budded twigs by pink sherbet photography)

Pretty much ninety percent of the time, I’ve got a notebook and a pen with me.  The other 10% when I don’t have a physical pen and paper, I have the Notebook app and Evernote apps on my phone on the front/main screen of my iPhone, and they’re constantly being filled with ideas and jotted notes.

Inspiration hits at the most random times.  On my yoga mat’s a given.  Half-pigeon pose?  I’m dealing with feelings, emotions, and creativity.  Ideas run like crazy.  Final savasana?  Sometimes I transcend.  Other times I make grocery lists.  It really depends on the day, but just about demands that somewhere within my reach after class ends, I have a way to write down the epiphanies I had or the acorn squash I need to pick up at Safeway.

I also have really great ideas in the shower.  There’s something about being alone with your thoughts – no texting, no email alerts, no nothing except for cleansing steam, soap, hot water, and firing connections in my brain.

It’s pretty reliable that if I shower regularly and stick with my yoga practice, my mind stays fairly fresh and balanced, generating new ideas and connecting new thoughts all the time.

Except when it doesn’t.  And when I’m stuck, when I’m at a dead end, feeling uninspired, running up against the dreaded writer’s block, and staring at a blank computer screen or note book page – I have a few things in my arsenal that I pull out when I need to be inspired.

Here’s what I do when I need to kickstart creativity:

Do

Switch up my routine.  Take a different bus, work in a different coffee shop, go to a new yoga class.  Visit the gym at a different time of day than usual, try a new place for lunch.  Cook something new.  Do something that requires my brain to make new connections, try on new perspectives.

Cook.  There is something so incredibly therapeutic about cooking.  I love cooking for and with friends, but when I need to unplug and completely reconnect to me, I cook for me.  I concentrate on chopping vegetables, measuring tablespoons, waiting for oil to heat.  I turn garlic and onions carefully in the skillet, and study the contents of my cabinets and refrigerator for the right combination of flavors for the food that’s cooking.  I kitchen dance. I nourish my body, whether that means paying careful attention to get a ton of nutrients and vitamins in my system or if it means sinking into a rich, creamy bowl of soup or pasta.  Sometimes Doniree’s Test Kitchen works out well, and I come up with delicious meals that demand replication, and I share them with friends.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well and I toss more than I keep.  But it’s about the process as much as it’s about the flavors.  The process of learning what does and doesn’t work, and the process of such active participation in what I put into my body.  For me, there are fewer more reconnecting and inspiring acts than conscious cooking.

Hear

French Cafe music on Pandora.  When I need to write, I work well when I’m working with music that either doesn’t have words, or doesn’t have words in English.  If I can’t sing along, I focus more on what I’m doing.  Also, French music in general makes me daydreamy and romantic-feeling, so inspiration’s nearly a given.  Just try not to be inspired listening to Carla Bruni, eating croissants, and pretending you’re actually in a French cafe.  Just try.

Other [Mostly] Chick Music. Feist.  Florence and the Machines.  Lissie.  La Roux.  Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Metric.  Karen O doing just about anything.  Taylor Swift.  The Weepies.  You get the idea.

Connect

Process. The people in my life are brilliant, smart, deep, spiritual, critical-thinking, bright lights of inspiration.  My boyfriend keeps me on my toes and holds me accountable to truly living what I believe in.  My girlfriends are radiant women who are authentic and honest.  Others in my life are motivated, smart, and inspiring.  Being in the presence of – and actively contributing to – relationships and conversation is a huge source of inspiration in my life.  They ask thought-provoking questions, hold me accountable to never being anything less than my most authentic self, and create a safe space for hashing out tough thoughts and feelings.

Surrender.  Admitting I’m stuck and surrendering to the void, to the unknown, to the frustration is typically when inspiration strikes the hardest.  I’m frequently held accountable to this idea and remind me to stop fighting the lack of inspiration and motivation and surrender into whatever the blockage is.  Surrendering is typically a sure-fire way to find the answers and ideas I’d previously been fighting so hard to find.

Move

Run, walk, stretch, twist, asana.  It’s no surprise, but getting physical is inspiring.  I run a couple of times a week at the gym, and typically listen to a podcast or upbeat music while I do.  Sometimes I listen to what’s on my iPod, sometimes I listen to what’s in my head.  Either way, the act of unplugging and hanging with you and your own body – within your own body – is really inspiring.  On top of that, I get to yoga at least a couple of times each week (my goal for November is 3-4 times/week).  I can’t sing loud enough the praises of what this practice does for connecting mind, body, and spirit.

These are a few of the things that work for me. What works for you?

{Photo credit: Rachel at Hello Gorgeous Photography}

I sat down to write this post and got halfway through it and decided there was no fluidity, no form, no voice, and the whole thing was crap.

It’s writer’s block and it terrifies me. As someone who thrives on feeling productive, knowing that I just scrapped an hour’s worth of work makes me feel helpless and worthless.

I pride myself on my writing efficiency. In undergrad, I could knock out a three-to-five page paper in less than an hour. It would be a coherent, comprehensive work, too. Often, these papers would earn A’s, especially if it was for a class I really enjoyed.

Today? The writing isn’t coming easily. So instead I refill my glass of water… tap out a couple more words…  I check the mail… reread what I’ve written… I grab some string cheese from the fridge… delete a paragraph… I put another coat of nail polish on… and decide, screw it, this idea is not happening today.

And what can I do? How do I find inspiration when my energy turns negative? How should I expect myself to produce top-notch content when I feel sour about every word I type? How do I keep that Judgey McJudgerson voice in my head from constantly judging?

Is there anything more frustrating than not accepting what you produce? Be it music, art, writing, calculations, or whatever your line of work may be. It’s like, you don’t accept it so your client or readers or whatever sure as hell won’t accept it, either. But you know you’re your worst critic, so you try to look at it with someone else’s eyes and it actually just looks worse than you thought it did and please would that judgey voice STOP being all judgey in my head?

You’re certain when you submit it, it’s all mumbo-jumbo and you’re certain you’re just about to be fired because whatever you just submitted is total crap and your four year-old goddaughter could have created something way better than this. Is it naptime yet?

But then I take a step back. I take a deep breath. I roll out the tension in my shoulders. Each article, blog post, paper I write doesn’t have to be perfection. It doesn’t always have to break glass ceilings and burst through uncharted territory and thrill each and every reader. But it has to reach a level of acceptance.

One of my idols, Jane Fonda, writes in her autobiography, “Good enough is good enough.” Sometimes, that’s the best I can do and if I put forth good enough effort, then it’s good enough for me and it’s good enough for my audience. I can be proud of that.

I’m afraid of silly things—revolving doors, salmonella poisoning, things that go bump in the night–but I’m most afraid of not living up to my own expectations. I need to let myself off the hook from time to time and for God’s sake Renee just relax. Being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect, it means being the best version of yourself and meeting yourself where you are and being OKAY with that.

It’s gonna be okay. Relax.

[photo credit: AndWat]

It came up in bed one night, our first night actually, a night that I already liked him hard enough to not fall into sex when we were still too new as an us for it to be a good idea.

And so we talked, back and forth and all over each other until 5am, telling each other about who we are and where we’ve been and what we want from these big shiny adult lives that seem to have popped up out of nowhere.

He talked about music, I talked about food. We did big picture and small specifics and if he could have read my mind that night, he’d know that what I was really trying to do was figure out how he fit into the life I was putting everything on the line to build.

We jumped from topic to topic, mainlining each other’s details, until we finally settled into the conversation about writing. It came up naturally, on the heels of a string of thoughts about overwhelming passion, and I told him that I wanted to write more than I wanted air. He laughed in a way that said, “You’re dramatic but I get you,” and it made me blush in a way that said, “Stop but don’t.”

I told him that I write to understand myself, that I have to put it, everything, down in words and throw it out into the world before it can make sense to me.

We talked about our blogs, his much newer than mine, and I shared that living my life out loud is a sacrifice I made by accident and now couldn’t get out of if I tried. I told him it’s probably a good thing that I don’t want to try.

He fell asleep before me, arms wrapped around my body in that gentle octopus way that I always say I don’t like but secretly crave, and I thought about how gradually and unintentionally my blog really has infiltrated every single part of my life. There I was, in that bed, in that corner of town, with that breath against my ear and none of it would be happening if I didn’t write about my life on the internet.

I think about this a lot actually, about how the boundaries of offline me and online me have bled together to create a mashup version of who I am and I realize that in a lot of ways, I use my blog as a filter. The people I interact with on a daily basis are all people I’ve met through my blog, and while I like that by the time I meet them in person they have an accurate sense of what it’ll be like to have a relationship with me, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to be social without a virtual ice breaker, how to show someone who I am from the very beginning, without my blog as a crutch.

This is true with friends, but it’s even truer with dating.

Any guy who’s having a relationship with me is also having a similarly intense relationship with my blog; if he’s sleeping with me, he’s sleeping with the fact that almost everything I do winds up online, and if he’s not okay with that, it’s just not going to work.

And this is the challenging part, the delicate balancing act that’s true of all threesomes, the question of which thing I’m more attracted to, the guy or my blog, and whether it really is possible to have both at once without ruining either one.

photo credit: guldfisken