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I am a media and government professional living and working in Columbus, OH. I offer public relations support, graphic design, copywriting, copyediting, and event planning services to clients in all market sectors.

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Connecting With Your Why

Last week, I read an article from Entrepreneur.com about ways to improve your life for tomorrow. I keep coming back to the first point– “connect with your why.”

Connecting with your why will help you to increase your energy levels, think more clearly and be able to overcome adversity and setbacks. Your why is the reason you do what you do on a daily basis. It excites you so you can barely sit still. When you discover your life’s purpose, your why, your life will never be the same again. There is no greater advantage than getting connected with your why.

That sounds really nice, right? I want to be so excited that I can barely sit still!

Well, here’s the thing about that. Finding your “why” involves, frankly, a lot of time and effort that most of us don’t want to invest. And I think we live in this world where we are pushed forward, pushed into choosing career paths at 18, and there’s no way that leads to a life that excites you.
purposegraphic

I’ve read several times that your “why,” or your life’s work, or your purpose is seated at the intersection of your passion and your talent–two more things most of us don’t know. What are you really, innately good at? And what do you love to do most–what do you do in your spare time, or what would you do if money weren’t an object? Do you even remember what you like to do? Do you have enough spare time to figure it out? Are you in tune with your surroundings enough that you know what the world needs? All the sudden, this whole “finding your why” is sounding…not easy.

I often ask people if they love what they do; I rarely get good answers. I get things like “Well, I really enjoy talking to people and being helpful.” Or maybe, “Well, I was always really good at math.” Sorry, but I don’t think those people are connected to their why.

Before we had the word job, we had the word vocation. This is a word I really love. It comes for the Latin vocare, which means “to call or summon.” Your vocation is truly your calling. Do you feel that way about the thing you spend 40-60 hours a week doing? Does it engage you fully? More than that, do you feel like you’re contributing to the world  in a meaningful way?

This makes it sound like we all need to be doing Doctors Without Borders. That’s not my point, and also that’s not a sustainable economical model. Take an electrician, for example. The world definitely needs electricians. And let’s go ahead and say that this particular electrician is great at it and gets paid for it. We are 3/4 of the way to finding out the “why,” which is probably more than most of us can say. The “you love it” part of the above diagram is made up of passion and mission. I don’t know enough about electricity to say anything worthwhile about what an electrician enjoys about their job, but I feel like some of them may have pretty good answers for passion and mission.

But passion and mission are the sticking points, aren’t they? Why is it so hard to figure out what you love doing? As Steve Jobs said, “you’ll know when you find it,” which I think is infinitely wise. We have to be open and willing to listen to whatever the world is telling us (and, more importantly, what we’re telling ourselves). That’s scary. Listening to your inner voice can be hard. What’s it saying? What if it’s saying something you don’t want to hear? And worst of all, what if you can’t justify your passion into a plan for a vocation?

Well, no matter. I remember reading something, probably ten years ago, about a guy who wanted to be a writer but knew that he needed insurance and an income in the meantime. So he got a nursing degree and worked contingency. The rest of the time, he wrote. He made it work. He made real time to pursue his passion until he started selling his work. The kicker here is that you’ve got to be self-motivated, but hey. It can work, right? You can connect to your why without quitting your job tomorrow. Stephen King taught in a high school until he sold Carrie. He didn’t just say, “sorry, wife and kids. Gotta connect to my why and stop making a living.” As always, it comes down to living with intention. And, as always, easier said than done–but really worth it.

Can You Improve NOW?

Recently, this article from Entrepreneur.com about ways to improve your life for tomorrow got me thinking about how we go about effecting real change–and, more often than not, how we fail in effecting that change.

The article’s point is that there are things you can do that will almost immediately change your life. My first instinct was that it was total BS, that real change is never immediate. Sure, you can start working out every day, but most of us stop doing that after a few weeks. You can start waking up earlier, but that usually falls by the wayside, too. How do we get change to stick?

Well, if I knew the real answer to that, I would write some pop psychology book and get rich.

The easy answer (well, “easy”) is that you just have to actually be committed to changing. Maybe something has to happen in order to spur you into action. Change requires an inner resolve. If you lack resolve, you’ll never achieve anything. “Just do it,” Nike says. Easier said than done, I say.

The difficult answer is that we’re all motivated differently; moreover, we don’t see results from most efforts to change for a long time. And, as Carol Dweck would say, we’re taught to expect “now” instead of “yet.”

You really should watch that, but in case you didn’t, her basic point is that the word “yet” is very powerful. She references a school in Chicago where if kids don’t pass, they get a “not yet” instead of a “failed.” And this has worked with remarkable success. She talks about the development of a growth mindset as opposed to a mindset that accepts failure. Just by changing the verbiage in low-performing schools, teachers were able to effect amazing change in students in just a few years.

Anyhow, I wonder if that’s how we should go about improving our lives right now–by learning to say “not yet” instead of “never” when “now” doesn’t work out. Sure, the ideas in Entrepreneur.com sound really nice. Taking a gratitude walk is a lovely thing, but who among us is going to do that daily? And yes, we should all be committed to exercise and fitness, but I’m sure as hell not going to the gym every day and I also refuse to give up Taco Bell. The one tip I really like, “get connected with your why,” is something that’s going to take real time, investment, and effort. It’s not going to happen overnight.

This is kind of catch-22. How do we see results from our efforts immediately, but accept that we won’t achieve our goals immediately? I think that’s the power of “yet” that Carol Dwyer is talking about. (Seriously, if you haven’t read Mindset, you really should.) The sad fact of the matter is that it’s really easy to commit ourselves to lofty principles and ideas, but it’s much more difficult to carry out in your daily life. As committed as I am to my life ethos, I fail in some way almost daily. Almost daily! I think of my life mantra: “Live with intention and direction. Love fully. Be busy, but always 1000% present in the moment. And always, always jump with both feet.” I literally fail at that almost every single day in some way. Sometimes I’m really busy and I’m not present for anything. Sometimes I get cold feet and don’t jump at all. But I tell myself that I just haven’t achieved all this yet. That helps. It’s easier to accept that change isn’t immediate, that progress is gradual, that you can remain committed without succeeding daily or immediately or even the majority of the time.

So the short answer, I think, is that you can’t improve your life right now. Not in any meaningful way, and probably not for the long term. But by embracing “yet,” you can take the first step and actually keep going.

Be A Better Writer

Came across this recently:

Because I hate clicking through things on Slideshare, and because some of these tips were obvious/stupid/bad, here are the ones I personally need to think about.

  1. Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph. Another way of putting this is, as Henry James would say, “kill your darlings.” If you’re so in love with a word or a sentence or a paragraph, kill it. For most people, myself included, those “darlings” include the first and last paragraph.
  2. Write a lot. Practice makes you…a little better than you were before.
  3. Write with the same voice you talk in.
  4. Deliver value with every sentence. Even in a Tweet. Else, be quiet.

    It’s so easy to just ramble. And to not choose your words wisely. It’s like in Dead Poets Society: “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys—to woo women—and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

  5. Use a lot of periods. Forget commas and semicolons. BUT I LOVE SEMICOLONS.
  6. Be honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. This is one of those obvious tips, but it’s the hardest one to follow. 
  7. Make people cry. Make them feel the potent moments. Again, obvious. This is every writer’s goal, right? All I want to do is reduce someone to tears! 
  8. Write every day. Writing is spiritual practice. You are diving inside yourself and cleaning out the toxins.
  9. Bleed in the first line. Make it human.
  10. Don’t write if you’re upset at someone. Then the person you are upset at becomes your audience.
  11. Risk. Don’t stop writing until you’re afraid to hit publish.
  12. Time heals all wounds. Write about the hard stuff from the past. I don’t think that time heals all wounds (re: the Dixie Chicks, “They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting”). But I don’t think the best time to write is after you healed. It’s when the wound is still raw. Though I guess I would argue for anyone in the creative field, wounds stay raw forever. 
  13. Don’t ask for permission. You don’t need anyone’s permission to tell the truth/your truth. 
  14. The last line needs to go boom! UGH. But at least last lines are easier for me than first lines. 

Reactive marketing

A phrase I hear around the office a lot is “reactive marketing.” What does this mean? Well, to me, it means that it’s marketing without a plan–marketing that does what’s asked, but lacks strategy.

Example: Department X needs a flier. Marketing makes the flier. Done!

That’s reactive marketing in a nutshell. Another level of reactive marketing…

Example: Company B just released a YouTube video. WE NEED A YOUTUBE VIDEO RIGHT NOWWWWWW!

Ugh.

Proactive marketing, of course, is easier said than done. It’s led by marketing, not by other departments or individuals, and requires marketing managers to look in advance–ideally a year or more–to plan the department’s needs…and, most importantly, anticipate the needs of other departments.

This requires communication, but it also requires marketing to understand what the organization’s goal is. Is it a better distributed pipeline? Is it to gain leads? Is it to educate the organization’s audience? Is it to gain an audience? (Wait, do you know who your audience is?)

Depending on the overall goal, proactive marketing can look vastly different between organizations. Too often, marketing is lumped together as simply communicating what the organization does– we create flyers, advertisements, press releases, etc with the mindset of conveying information. That will always be a necessity, but it shouldn’t be the majority of what you do. Define your audience and goal, then work from there. I like to use a monthly calendar that maps out any events/conferences/trade shows, and let that inform my marketing materials and PR. Just pick a starting point!

It’s all too easy to let the economy or competitors lead you into the realm of reactive marketing, unfortunately. And even the best laid plans can go awry, as we all know. Just because your competitor does something doesn’t mean you have to copy it, though human nature tells us otherwise. Though your first few stabs at a truly proactive marketing plan may need reworked, I would encourage you to make marketing a more involved aspect in other departments via your proactive plan.

Want more on proactive marketing? I like this article.

The social media time suck

A recent article by Charles Chu said that in the time we spend on social media, we could read 200 books a year. It’s an awesome article, and you should check it out here.

Chu calculates that we spend 608 hours a year on social media and 1642 watching TV.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers HORRIFY me. But before you scoff at them, do the math: 608 hours a year is about 12 hours a week, or a little less than two hours a day. I would be willing to bet that you spend 1.67 hours on social media per day.

The 1642 hours breaks down to 31 hours a week, or 4.5 hours a day. And before you scoff at that, let me ask you if you’ve ever binge-watched a TV show. (Here’s a 2014 infographic of how long it would take to binge-watch your favorite show. That 31 hours a week looks a little more reasonable now, doesn’t it?)

I consider myself pretty high on the productivity scale. I read about two books a week, and I’ve never had cable–though I do use my ex’s Netflix, my ex’s mom’s HBO Go, and my own Hulu account. I also use my ex’s mom’s cable login for FX. A girl’s gotta watch American Horror Story. Don’t hate.

This past week, I tried to (sort of) keep track of my time in regards to entertainment. I’m not going to say I did a great job, and most of these numbers are estimates, but we’ll go with it.

168 hours in a week
-4o hours at work (most weeks it’s more, but we’ll keep it at 40)
-42 hours sleeping (average 6 hours a night)
-2 hours commuting (I’m very lucky- very short drive to work)
(I’ve used up half my hours at this point)
-2 hours running errands (grocery store, vet, post office)
-8 hours reading (an hour-ish per day)
-5 hours eating/cooking (I cook a lot)
-3 hours with the dogs (sometimes I just watch them do things and I find it hilarious)
-4 hours doing crossword puzzles (I obsessively do NYT crosswords…obsessively)
-6 hours writing (this varies widely–sometimes it’s much more or next to nothing)
-5 hours client work (again, this varies widely–sometimes it’s more like 20)
-10 hours time with friends (dinners, happy hours, boxed wine, whatever)

I’m down to 41 hours left now. And sure, I’m not averaging in the fact that some weeks, I take a lot of long baths, or doctor’s appointments, or the time I spend aimlessly wandering around my house. But even if you cut that down to 30 hours to accommodate random daily tasks…where is that 30 hours going?

Kind of scary, right? How many hours a week can you simply not account for? (This reminds me of Law & Order, where the suspect literally has no clue what they’ve been doing or where they are.) Even if I grossly underestimated on my hours above, I’m still probably missing 20 hours. That’s a part-time job. What am I doing for 20-40 hours a week? 

This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyways: if I don’t remember what I’m doing, it must not be very important. I don’t think I’m spending that much time aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds or watching old episodes of Sex and the City…but what if I am? Am I really wasting that much of my life?

There are plenty of articles out there on how to reduce your time on social media and make yourself more accountable, so I won’t bore you with the same ideas on how to form habits, how to break habits, and how to make yourself wake up earlier. I’m only going to suggest that you figure out how many hours a week you can’t account for. If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

 

Saying Yes

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”

I read that a few days ago, and I loved it for a few reasons: one, the word hearty is underused; two, it got me thinking about the adventures I’ve turned down and why; and three, I wondered how exactly I was supposed to know when I was being encountered with “my adventure.”

In general, I am a “say yes” type of person. There are very few things and people I’ve said no to, mostly because I just like to see what happens (doesn’t sound like I’m living very intentionally, does it…). I give people way too many chances, I overextend myself by committing to things I don’t really want to do, and I spend a lot of time saying yes to people who don’t say yes to me. This all sounds bad enough, but all the white noise created from saying yes to everything has, I think, probably made me miss out on some pretty important adventures.

Part of living with intention is knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why you said yes to this and no to that. Why you chose X instead of Y. It’s actually being able to expound reasons for your actions. Moreover, living with intention is being able to have GOOD reasons. Saying yes for the sake of saying yes is not a good reason. And I have definitely spent years of my life saying yes simply because I didn’t want to say no. What, god forbid, if I missed out on something? Guess what–fear of missing out is not a reason to do something. It’s an idea precipitated by we millennials that is probably rooted in social media. I’ve gone on a lot of dates with guys simply because I thought I might be missing out on something, when really I should have told myself, “wait, I am an adult woman, and if I don’t think there’s anything there–then there isn’t.” I’ve also said yes to clients and projects that I knew I wouldn’t be invested in…for what reason, I have no idea. Just said yes for the hell of it.

When I think about the adventures I’ve openly said no to–and truthfully, there are very few–I said no because I was concerned about what someone in my life would think or feel about it. Another way of putting that is FEAR. Fear is dumb. I don’t have many regrets, but wow, I’ve turned down some adventures I’ll never get back.

enhanced-13593-1395329522-8I’ve always really liked this Natalie Goldberg quote (if she sounds familiar, it’s because she wrote the monumental Writing Down the Bones) because in order to write anything meaningful, you have to get over that fear of splitting yourself open. You have to get over the fear of what someone else might think, you have to get over the fear of sucking, you have to get over the fear of being wrong, and you have to get over the fear of not meeting your own expectations. For some reason, I’ve always taken that advice when it comes to writing, but never about life.

So this is a problem, right? I say yes too much, and thus fail at living intentionally. I have said no to things out of pure fear–worse, not even my own fear at doing those things, it’s been the fear of what someone else might think. All of this has led me to miss out on some things that I know would have been monumental in my life. How can I be sure that when that big adventure comes, I will be ready to get it that hearty yes?

I think the biggest thing I need to do is quiet the noise. Cut out the people who don’t contribute anything meaningful. Cut out projects that aren’t fulfilling. Doing those two things will give me fewer opportunities to say yes to stupid stuff, and those important queries will come through a little louder. The second thing, and the harder thing, is to push past the fear. Send the letter, take the job, break up with someone, tell someone you love them. What do you have to lose?  If you’ve been vulnerable and open in your life and your decisions, then you have nothing to lose by pushing past your residual fear.

The third and final thing I need to do–and maybe it’s what you need to do, too–is to be really honest about what kind of adventure I want. What do I want my big adventure to look like? Is it about love? A career? A journey? Is it an amalgamation of those things? If I had to choose, which would be the most important? When you determine what kind of adventure you’re hoping comes knocking, it’s going to be  a lot easier to say that hearty yes.

Making Time For Everything

The thing I hear most from friends, family, and the guys I date is “you don’t have enough time.”

What they mean is “you don’t have enough time for what I want you to have time for.”

The easy way out would be for me to say that we all make time for what we want to make time for. And yeah, it a very basic level, that’s absolutely true: if you want to do something badly enough, you will make time for it. Of course, organizing your life and budgeting your time is more nuanced than just “want to do” versus “don’t want to do.”

To be clear, I didn’t always live my life this way. When I got out of a long-term relationship and my ex moved out, I made a concerted effort to really live my life how I wanted to. That meant pushing myself, learning more, working more, and creating a schedule that worked for me consistently. I had let a lot of my life go when I was in that relationship, and I was determined not to let that continue.

So, this is what works for me. But honestly, it probably won’t work for you. Productivity and routines are different for everyone. For example, I really like this blog, but what she does would never work for me.

1. Sleep less. Seriously, this is the #1 reason I am productive. It’s not that I am wildly efficient in the hours that I have, it’s that I just have more of them than you do. During the week, I sleep 4-5 hours a night. I get up around 2 hours before I need to be at work, and those hours are for either completing a project when I’m on deadline or for doing housework, laundry, etc.

2. To expand on that, get out of bed if you wake up before your alarm. If I wake up at 4, I’m gonna get up at 4 and I will use that extra hour.

3. The last point on sleep: if you’re not tired, don’t go to bed. That sounds so silly, but if it’s 1 a.m. and I’m not tired, I will keep doing whatever it is that I want to do.

4. Teach yourself to “put the blinders on.” I work best when I plow through something all at once. When I’m writing copy or doing a big project, I simply cannot do it in small chunks. I waste so much time starting and stopping. Being able to put the blinders on and finish a project in one sitting makes me infinitely more productive.

5. Be active. At least 30 minutes a day. Preferably in the morning. Or at least at the same time every day. Everyone gives this advice, but it’s true.

6. Recharge. Literally, put your phone on the charger and then don’t look at it for XX hours. I don’t care if it’s 1 hour or 6, but not having a small electronic device controlling your life for awhile is super helpful. You can’t look at Twitter if your phone is upstairs!

7. Recharge, part two: I try to give myself one night a week where I have NOTHING on my calendar. And no one gets that time. Doesn’t matter how much I like you. I absolutely 100% need time without humans.

Famous-quotes-for-when-you-need-some-life-motivation-inspiration5

8. Use your car time wisely. I schedule conference calls for when I’ll be driving. I also only return calls when I’m driving. Then I’m not just sitting at my kitchen table, on the phone, annoyed.

9. Figure out when you’re naturally most productive. For me, it’s definitely the hours between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Once noon hits, my productivity starts waning. By 4 p.m., I’m totally worthless. My creativity, speed, focus, etc, all peak in the morning. I used to think I was a night owl, and to some extent I am, but that’s not when I am most productive. I just like reading and hanging out at night.

10. Schedule out all your time. This sounds extreme, but anything I want to do gets put on my calendar. If I want to play piano tonight, I’ll literally put it on my calendar. If I want to finish a book by a certain date, I put that on the calendar too. I know that my entire life is in my iPhone calendar–due dates for every bill, everyone’s birthday, holidays, every event, whatever. It gives me a realistic idea of how much time I actually have each day, and that’s super helpful.

11. Be realistic and be honest. If you only have an hour to give someone, tell them 45 minutes and then make sure you’re out door in 60 minutes. If you don’t have any time until next Tuesday, make a date for next Tuesday and do your best to stick with it. When you’re with them, make sure they feel like they are the #1 priority while you’re there!

12. Decide what (and who) is worth canceling for. If I cancel plans with you, you can be damn sure that it’s something important. For me to break plans or not show up to a meeting, it’s one of three things– work crisis, health issue, friend/family crisis. The end. And at this age, yeah, work comes first a lot of the time.

13. Remember that consistency is different for everyone. There are very few things I do every single day. I go to work, I’m active, and I write for at least an hour. If it’s shitty, that’s okay. But I do it. It’s part of the routine. Eventually, I’ll write out all the stupid shit and it’ll be good. But some people need a strict routine. I know that some days of the week are different than others for me, so I plan accordingly.

14. Know what factors make you unproductive. Food, music, TV, whatever it is, know what makes you unproductive and learn to eliminate it. I absolutely can’t eat while I work. It slows me down and makes me tired. I can listen to music, but not to podcasts. Definitely no TV. However, I can work just about anywhere–bedroom, kitchen, public park. If you know that you suck on Fridays, then frontload your week and take the pressure off of Friday. If you usually have a meeting or activity on Tuesdays, then take the pressure off of Wednesday. Instead of trying to push through and make yourself feel bad/unproductive/lazy, schedule that less-productive time into your week.

15. Lastly, keep improving. When I do the above 14 things really consistently, I typically have more free time to do whatever I want (though, let’s be honest, I typically schedule out my free time too). But by “keep improving,” I really mean to keep improving your process so that it stays fresh and applicable. For me, I need to always be working on a project just for me–whether that’s learning something new or home improvement. I have to make time for that, otherwise I will get burned out.

Honorable mention…just know that some days will suck. You’ll be hung over, you’ll just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you’ll get dumped, whatever. It’s okay for some days to be a total wash. It happens. The next day is a new day.