My 2017 Values

For the third year in a row, I’m completing the Design Your 20XX workbook, a tool developed by GetBullish creator Jen Dziura for those of us who find extreme joy in advance planning. The Design Your 2017 workbook contains some updates from previous versions which I found to be thoughtful improvements as well as good fun (we should all have To-Don’t lists!), but one of my favorite prompts, which I’ve come to rely on as a measure of my year-to-year progress, remains a cornerstone of the workbook: Define your values.

In a greater effort this year to establish accountability, I decided to share some of the work I did. Below is a list of values I identified for myself in 2017, ranked in (general) order of importance. I find it beneficial to rank my values because it forces me to examine which ones I prioritize over others and why. In the process of ranking I also ended up removing some of the values I had originally listed because A), I found they fit into other, more specific values I already had on the list, or B), they turned out not to be actual values.

The result is an honest hierarchy of values:

[1] Finding my voice and using it.

[2] Getting paid to improve my skill as a writer.

[3] Respect + acclaim as a writer and communications professional.

[4] Healthy habits + self-care.

[5] Nurturing meaningful, supportive relationships with friends and family.

[6] Maintaining cool, collected, highly competent confidence in professional or stressful settings.

[7] Making more money.

[8] Keeping a clean, well-organized, elegant apartment.

[9] Dressing like a sophisticated, bad-ass woman of the world.

[10] Doing my best to make the world a better place through proactive kindness, awareness + action. Also, feminism.

[11] Saving money.

[12] Expanding my network of interesting, like-minded friends + peers.

[13] Meeting more of the people I admire/potential mentors.

[14] Community building for introverts.

[15] Developing a fit, controlled mind.

[16] Accomplishing more in one week than the average person.

[17] Whiskey.

[18] Voracious reading.

[19] Trying new things that take me out of my comfort zone.

[20] Travel.

[21] Good food, coffee + alcohol.

[22] Running longer distances.

[23] Being exceptional, weird an unlike anyone else.

[24] Improving my French language skills.

[25] Making an entrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Don’t Need Permission

Don't Need Permission

Some things you don’t need permission to do, but here it is anyway:

It’s OK to date people who ultimately aren’t right for you, as long as you’re having fun. (If it feels like a burden, shut. it. down.)

On that note, it’s OK to change your mind, even after it seems the opportunity has passed. It is never too late to change your mind.

It’s OK to want to be in a relationship.

It’s OK to not want to be in a relationship.

It’s OK to not know what you want.

It’s OK to be driven by making more money.

It’s OK to not travel abroad alone.

It’s OK to take your time.

It’s OK to be alone.

It’s OK to fail repeatedly. Keep trying, keep experimenting.

It’s OK to not be the best. Keep practicing. Stay curious and in awe.

It’s OK to disagree with others. Stand up for your opinions.

It’s OK for others to disagree with you. Keep an open dialogue.

It’s OK to be wrong. There’s dignity in acknowledging your mistakes and gracefully correcting them.

It’s OK to be vulnerable.

It’s OK to choose safety over risk.

It’s OK to not be enough for someone. You don’t have to be anything for anyone.

It’s OK to not be objectively successful.

It’s OK to not always be the perfect model of a good feminist.

It’s OK to relax with an alcoholic beverage most nights in a week.

It’s OK to put getting enough sleep before ambition. It’s extremely OK to spend less than 50, even 40 hours a week working.

It’s OK to be too tired to be around other people. Your friends and family will love you at your worst, but deserve to have you at your best.

It’s OK to opt out of drinks at the new cocktail bar your friends are going to because you’re saving up for a trip abroad, or to buy a condo, or because it feels fucking good to have $15,000 that you didn’t spend on cocktails and duck fat fries sitting in an untouched bank account somewhere.

It’s OK to not know what to say all the time.

It’s OK to not know what to do all the time. And it’s OK to do something that turns out to be a mistake. It’s OK to fuck-up with the best intentions.

It’s OK to need things from people, and it’s OK to ask for those things.

It’s OK if you have to ask for something more than once.  It’s OK to repeat your ask until you no longer need to.

Published on TheMuse: 5 Strategies Introverts Can Use to Boost Their Energy Levels When They Need it Most

Do you ever feel sapped of the energy you need to get through an important meeting at work? Or wish you could postpone that networking event because you need a chance to gather your strength and wit at home?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone in feeling like this!

As an introvert in the communications field, I enjoy speaking in front of an audience and forging new relationships just as much as my more extroverted peers. But I’m often in awe of people who go from multiple meetings during the workday to an after-hours networking event with the same lively charm and gusto they had at the beginning of the day. The energy I have for such activities is limited—and I usually need a good break to recharge between engagements.

Continue reading.

How to Stick to Your Writing Plan Under Any Circumstance

coffee and writing

I am writing from my favorite neighborhood coffee shop. When I arrived there was one open workspace left—the lopsided table next to the window, where it’s too hot to savor a cup of coffee (iced coffee is not my thing). I was hoping to grab a seat at the bar, where it’s cooler and easier to concentrate with an elevated view of others in the shop hard at work coding and penning poetry.

Sitting next to the window, the sun washed out my lap-top screen, so I pulled out my notebook and put pen to paper. I will not be deterred.

I don’t know about you, but I get discouraged when I run into even the slightest hint of adversity, and am much more likely to veer off course, away from my original intention, when conditions aren’t just right.

It’s a bad habit that affects my life in big and small ways. I’m trying to change it.

For me, the first step is reminding myself of what my priorities are. I came to this coffee shop to write a blog post. I did not come to be comfortable, to get the perfect spot, or for the coffee (well, not entirely).

The second step is giving myself permission to take as much time as I need. Sometimes the thing that is making it difficult to do the thing I set out to do is overwhelming. It requires a not-easy-to-come-by solution that I need IMMEDIATELY so I can move on to the Very Important Task at Hand. So, I just can’t even.

But if I have no competing obligations—if there are no external commitments for which I need to wrap up, pick up and go by a certain time, then there’s no reason why I can’t take as long as I need to to find a solution that allows me to move on to the real work.

The third step is getting a little egotistical. Or perhaps more appropriately, asking what type of person I want to be. Do I want to be a person who doesn’t get anything done because life is challenging and full of less than ideal circumstances? Do I want to be the type of person who keeps laziness, fear and lack of conviction as life partners?

Frankly, the idea of that type of person disgusts me.

I want to be seen as someone with ambition, vision and a record of success—someone who has her shit together. In order to achieve that, I can’t forsake productivity because of imperfect conditions. If I let every little thing get in the way of my work, I can’t applaud myself for having great conviction, or much passion for my projects.

In the time since I started writing this, I forgot the uneven surface of my table, and how hot it feels next to the window with the July afternoon sun pouring onto my workspace. I actually ran out of pen ink, so I switched back to writing on my lap-top. But I have a finished blog post.

Takeaways from the Balanced Team Chicago Salon

When I was invited to attend the Balanced Team Chicago Salon, I was excited for the opportunity to bring my PR and communications perspective to a networking event I knew would be full of developers and designers. At the intimate un-conference held in Pivotal Labs’ Chicago office last month we discussed collaboration and workshopped creating, leading and working as part of a balanced team. By definition the event was open to all professional disciplines and areas of expertise.

Rounding up even a small group of people from different professional backgrounds and disciplines to participate in a workshop seems like a difficult task. Whether people aren’t interested in learning about the work that others do, they’re not convinced they’ll get anything out of an event that’s not part of their professional niche or they fear not fitting in, I don’t know. So I appreciate when an event successfully makes all feel welcome, even and especially when that event is attended primarily by people in a certain industry or field, as the Balanced Team salon was.

And I am all the more appreciative when that event also turns out to hold value for all participants. The Balanced Team Chicago Salon certainly did for me. It was worth it to meet new people doing things with technology I hardly understood. There was meaningful conversation around what all of us do and how we can effectively collaborate together on a team.

Here are a few thoughts I came away with:

  • A truly successful collaboration between professional disciplines, unique skill-sets and areas of expertise is going to take us out of our comfort zones. It’s important that a safe space is created for asking intelligent and dumb questions alike. If we don’t develop working relationships that allow us to ask the questions that feel foolish, we can’t come to understand everyone’s role on the team or how we can all help each other.
  • A good collaborator makes an effort to understand how her colleagues and clients think. I think this is key for professional communicators. When we’re in tune with how stakeholders in our work think, we can tailor how we communicate, or the message itself, for those different thought processes, and thereby improve productivity on our team.
  • Collaboration is a skill that must be practiced. A collaboration-focused work philosophy involves actively seeking out projects that get us working with a variety of disciplines and work styles.
  • We should aim to develop a balanced professional network. A friend of mine who was also present at the workshop pointed out during the discussion that we should seek happiness in our professional lives the way we do in our social lives. Many of us have developed a network of select friends who fulfill our various social needs. Likewise, we should think of our professional network in terms of our professional needs—who belongs in your network to meet those needs? What kind of contacts can contribute to your overall professional satisfaction and success? Probably a group of people with an array of knowledge and skill-sets. Seek them out to develop a balanced professional network.

 

Balanced Team at Pivotal Labs Chicago
Discussing public relations with a dynamic group of designers, developers and artists. Photo: Tim McCoy

 

Published on DailyWorth: Why I’m Done Being a ‘Nice Girl’

I do not plan to be a nice person this year.

I’ve made a lot of friends by being friendly and uncontroversial toward everyone I meet — in short, by being nice. For a while, this worked well enough. I do not like conflict, and getting along with everyone made it easy to avoid.

But it also made it hard to negotiate a good salary. I once stayed at a job where I was miserable and underpaid because my college career center taught us that it’s unprofessional to leave too quickly. (Looking back, I suspect this was to deter students from accepting internships only to quit for more lucrative opportunities a week later.)

As I got further along in my career, I asked myself why it was so important to please everyone — and I realized that it wasn’t.

Continue reading.

Published on DailyWorth: How I Built A Business After Being Laid Off

In January 2014, I was laid off. It had been my first salaried position with benefits, and it lasted only six months.

Before that was a string of unpaid internships and part-time work that allowed me to get some experience on my resume without the financial independence I craved. The salaried position had started to change all that: I moved into a new apartment and was on my way to having a responsible amount of money in my savings account. Then it ended — abruptly.

My plan had always been to start a writing business after a few years of saving. But faced with the awful void of unemployment, I thought it might be prudent to start building my business ASAP. The endeavor would keep me productive, add new skills to my portfolio, and save me from having to explain a gap on my resume while I hunted for new employment.

Continue reading.

Design A Productive, Meaningful Work Week: 8 Tips

Planning The Week

How do you structure your week to get the most out of it?

What does time spent meaningfully mean to you, and how do you guarantee an entire week full of meaningful work and leisure?

These questions have been on my mind a lot lately. In balancing blogging projects with a contract position that currently has me in an office three days out of the week, I have to stick to the work schedule I set for myself, otherwise projects fall through the cracks. For me, a week full of meaningful work and leisure entails producing my best work and meeting all of my professional goals and deadlines, then maintaining a social life, getting out for a run at least three days a week and making semi-regular trips to the yoga studio. All this is non-negotiable, which is why I’ve been especially interested in figuring out how I can continue to operate at this capacity without burning out.

So I began to experiment. And while I’m still learning as I go along, I can share what I know works:

1. Wake up earlier than necessary. If you’re anything like me, your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. If I sleep in and wake up to a sense of urgency and disorganization, I carry that chaos with me all day. But if my morning is leisurely and productive, I’m unstoppable for the next 15 hours. I find it much easier to kick ass in numerous, impressive ways on days when I give myself enough time to 1) take pleasure in my morning and 2) knock something off my to-do list before 6:30 a.m.

If you’re wondering what exactly one does with mornings if not sleep in until the last possible second, I recommend any of the following:

  • Get a quick work-out in. Half an hour is all you need to go for a run, lift weights, practice yoga, or see how many push ups you can do.
  • Make an awesome breakfast. Even if all you can stomach at this hour is a cup of tea, sit down somewhere with it, slow down and savor.
  • Plan your day: What business-related items are you going to accomplish today? What will you achieve in your personal life? How will you make the day meaningful?
  • Write a to-do list and cross one item off of it in the early a.m.–before whatever hour you typically start making things happen.
  • Gather inspiration: read, journal, check the news. Whatever gets you excited to start the day and tasks at hand.

2. Get enough sleep. I find this one the most challenging because it almost always involves sacrifice. It is the choice between staying out late with friends and waking up at 5 a.m. to run. While it’s tempting to prioritize both over sleep for one night, I’ve made this mistake enough times to know I’ll start falling behind on work the next day and may not catch up for days. It’s the threat of this pattern that gets me in bed with a book and a cup of tea at a reasonable hour, even when I feel capable of working well into the night.

3. Make time to work-out. I know I could work through a work-out or a yoga class I had planned for my day, but I rarely do unless I’m incredibly pressed for time. When I take time away from business and personal commitments to focus on my body and release built up tension I feel more energized, more motivated, and more capable. It is the next best thing to sleeping–sometimes even better than sleep–when I feel like I need to re-charge.

4. Set deadlines. Before I’d worked with any editors or found my first client, I was accountable to no one but myself for producing my work, which made it really difficult to get things done in a timely manner. Now, whenever I have a task that needs doing and affects no one but myself, I set a due date and put it in my calendar.

5. Go off the map. Unless the task at hand is marketing, I’ve started to make myself completely unreachable while I’m working: I turn my phone notifications off, log out of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, and head somewhere I can’t even access the internet if I’m writing and know it won’t be necessary. Eliminating distraction is crucial with all the miscellaneous bits of life crowding around and threatening to spill into prime work hours. Yes, I would like to tweet a link to that article and then maybe do a load of laundry, but first I am going to work without distraction for a few hours.

6. Write out daily to-do lists. My relationship with lists goes far beyond grocery shopping; I think, dream and imagine by lists. I also work by them. If I’m seriously concerned about the likelihood of accomplishing a set of tasks in a day, I write them down in my little blue notebook and cross them off as I go. The commitment of pen on paper is like a sacred pact that I wouldn’t dare break.

7. Plan the next day ahead of time. Planning leads to getting more done. If I think about what I want to accomplish before jumping to action, I can structure my day so it’s easier to transition from one priority to the next. One of my favorite things to do is work in a bar or coffee shop and invite friends to join me for a drink after I’ve finished my projects for the day. Or, a friend will join me for work and together we’ll do instant happy hour.

8. Organize the day around peek times of productivity.  I work best in the morning, and I know that if I put off writing until the afternoon it’s probably never going to happen. So mornings are for work. The dishes in the sink, the run to the dry cleaners, the sending of the weekend brunch plans email–all of that must wait until I’ve used up my prime concentration hours. I don’t need to be brilliant and focused to take the trash out.

What does a productive and meaningful work week look like for you, and how do you make it happen?

 

Published on Be a Freelance Blogger: How To Start A Blogging Business When You’re Broke: The Magic Of Profit From Zero

You know that feeling that you’ve completely lost control of the situation? That terrifying, groping-around-corners-in-the-dark sensation that accompanies the death of a really good plan you had?

That’s how my blogging business was born.

Around the time I was financially desperate enough to scrounge for stray dimes rather than use my debit card to pay for a coffee, I decided it was time to start a business.

To learn what in the great, untamed universe possessed me, and how I did it, continue reading my guest post over at Be a Freelance Blogger.

How To Live Under Financial Strain With Dignity

Dignified Living

Have you ever felt that you’re on the verge of greatness…if you could only land that perfect job, figure out your career, move out of your parents’ house, or find time outside of three minimum-wage jobs to start your business?

It feels like your life has been put on hold, and it’s a frustrating place to be, isn’t it? There was a time in my life when everything hinged on gainful employment. I had been living in Chicago for four years and in that time never bothered to build a sustainable life for myself. Consequently, there came a point when I had no choice but to move back in with my parents until I could fix that. This was my plan:

Step 1: Find full-time employment that isn’t soul-crushing and is somehow related to your interests.

Step 2: Do all the other things: move back to Chicago, meet awesome people and befriend them, start traveling, build a bar cart, learn how to cook nice meals and generally live proudly and with dignity as an independent young adult.

It was a terrible plan. Step 1 took far longer than I imagined it would, so I wasted a lot of time twiddling my thumbs while feeling incredibly needy, desperate and full of rage over the knowledge that I was missing out on an awesome, intention-filled life. It was not a very dignified time for me, to say the least.

So what could I have done better? I could have had little money and not let it be a problem. I could have found ways to do most of the things in Step 2 anyway and despite my circumstances.

I learned that while it may be comforting to think that life will wait around while you get your ducks in a row, the truth is that you cannot stop life any more than you can stop time; life is happening now whether you feel ready for it or not, and it will pass you by if you don’t fight for all it’s worth to keep moving. Attack with fierce and fearless enthusiasm all the time, despite everything. Financial strain is frustrating and disheartening, but there’s no reason why you can’t say “Screw, it!” and live with an impressive amount of dignity and panache anyway.

Here’s how:

Accept it. Accept your circumstances for what they are right now, and be brave enough to live without complaint. It’s difficult to live well when you can’t get past your frustration. Worse, the more you dwell on your circumstances, the more difficulty you and the people around you will have ignoring them, and consequently the more you will be defined by them.

Instead, have gratitude. What’s going well in your life? Always, always think on what you already have instead of what you’ve been missing. I highly recommend the simple therapy of sitting down to write a “grateful for” list and revisiting it to read–or better yet add to–every day. Reminding yourself that there’s more to your life than its current shortcomings can buoy your happiness to an extraordinary degree.

Defy excuses; do things anyway. Your finances are an obstacle–not an excuse. Find a way to do all the things you want to do anyway. You may not be able to do them exactly as planned, but there’s another time for that. If you imagined inviting a new group of friends over for cocktails and board games, ask your friends to provide some of the drinks in exchange for your hospitality. If you want to meet up with a networking group at a bar, you can go and simply forgo the part where you drink. I write about why booze is not always necessary for a fun, productive time in “Why A Month Without Alcohol Is Actually Something You Should Consider.”

Use the opportunity to narrow your focus. With the inability to spend much money come fewer distractions. When you can’t afford to indulge regularly in restaurant and bar outings, for instance, you’re well poised to focus on your health and fitness goals. If you can’t be routinely tempted by happy hour and overly indulgent dinners, you’re left to focus on eating healthy, basic foods with a side of exercise habits that don’t require gym access. You could start running around the neighborhood every morning, or you could try bodyweight strength-training. Or maybe your goal is to improve one of your job-related skills, like writing or coding, to land more fulfilling (and better-paid) work. You’ll have an easier time carving out a good chunk of time every day to work on honing a skill when there are fewer distractions.

Get resourceful. There’s usually more than one way to solve a problem, and there are always more options than you initially see. Practice finding them. If you’re a voracious reader used to buying all the books you read, maybe it’s time to renew your library card. Can’t afford a bottle of wine to bring to your friend’s party tonight? Everyone brings booze to these shindigs anyway–why not contribute something to snack on instead? Spring the flour and sugar from the pantry and whip up a batch of irresistible cookies. Or perhaps you want to start your own niche consulting business for entrepreneurial, hipster dinosaurs. Starting a business can be costly, but there are ways to work around most business problems without throwing much money into them.

Be kind to yourself. Have something frivolous in your life that is not about self-improvement or money-making. It should be something that’s just for you, that might be practical, but definitely not necessary. Are there any classes you’ve been wanting to take that might be offered for free or at a discounted price on some days? Or perhaps you can allow yourself to spend money only on your favorite coffee beans, or finally go get that new haircut you’ve been contemplating forever.

Be kind to others. When you’re in financial crisis mode it’s hard not to obsess over your own needs and very easy to feel as if you have nothing to offer others–after all, you’re barely keeping yourself afloat. But working with what you’ve got to do something thoughtful for someone else can help you combat that feeling of burdensome neediness, while serving another awesome human in the process. You could make it a rule to never show up empty-handed at a friend’s place for a party. (Recall cookies instead of wine–something delicious and homemade and very inexpensive.) Or leave random notes for the important people in your life to let them know how much they’re appreciated.

I hope this serves a set of principles that are easy to adopt for anyone who feels frustrated or stifled by financial strain. Obviously there are some things you really should hold off on until your finances are more stable, like living in an apartment nice enough to justify having a buffet table that does not also serve as a desk. But until then, please enjoy some dignity and awesome living.

photo credit: Monika Clarke via photopin cc