Overload

The few weeks since my last post have just flown by with way too much going on to accurately document.

So here are the highlights:

Wilson took miss Ellie of Elliana & Adria’s blog for a walk on the Friday after Halloween. Yes, in costume. Don’t think they were this well behaved though. Most of my pictures look like this:

Fun times.

While I’ve been slacking as of late (more on that in a moment), I did start off strong for NaNoWriMo and have already written 12,000 consecutive words for my new novel. That means I’m not skipping ahead but trying to write sequentially as much as possible. And I found a cool image art for the book since it is, after all, a novel on serial killers:

This week I was honored to record an interview for entrepreneurs with the site Mixergy on outsourcing, systems and how every single owner can begin this process. The interview will be up soon and I’m so excited to see it live!

Once that was recorded I jetted off to Boston for the week so I could spend a day with my wonderful mentor and coach, Fabienne Fredrickson, and so many inspiring entrepreneurs.

The location couldn’t have been more beautiful in sunny but cold Stamford (hey, I’m a CA girl!) but we did enjoy the view of the harbor and the awesome fall colors:

Since I’ve been Jack Kerouac-ing it I have fallen dangerously behind on my noveling. As in, if I don’t catch up my legions of NaNo Buddies will hunt me down and beat me. So I will be catching up this weekend (promise!) and hopefully reaching my next goals expediently. In fact, I’m going to stop writing here so I don’t burn out my writing brain.

p.s. While I’m in Boston there’s just no way I’m skipping Cheers!

Less than a Day Beach Vacay

Original title was “one day” but then I realized I didn’t stay a full day in vacation mode. More on that later.

As an entrepreneur running my own business one of the things that gets thrown around a lot online is freedom. Like Jonathan at the Illuminated Mind in this post about Burning Maps, and the basis of Chris Guillebeau’s blog the Art of Non-Conformity (and his life) encouraging travel, the frequent topic of writers like Corbett Barr and Everett Bogue,  Colin Wright at Exile Lifestyle and so many more. Actually, I’ve met Chris, Corbett and Everett (all in SF last year) and I know they’re each living the life they want and inspiring others to do the same.

If you pursue entrepreneurship long enough you may realize that freedom isn’t one size fits all. It’s not prescribed with one week in Hawaii, two days off a month for rock climbing and 10am yoga classes. The true freedom is not to envision and achieve “this life” that other people live but to define and create your own. For me that’s a mix of national and international travel, a home in the country with a huge hammock and lots of land and long dinners with friends and celebrations with family.

Let me tell you, it’s hard not to jump on the $300 one way to London deal going on right now… so hard. Because I could work from London although my sleep schedule would be a mess and I do have the funds to snag a great flight deal and stay in a hostel while seeing the city.

Instead this weekend I made a trek to the beach and boardwalk in Santa Cruz to enjoy the sand, surf and seafood. It all began on Saturday, returning from a conference in San Francisco I rolled down my car window while crossing the Bay Bridge and thought “I love the smell of the ocean… I should go to the beach!”

Yes, that was the extent of my planning.

Less than 24 hours later I’m on the boardwalk, my car parked 4 blocks away at the motel and it’s awesome. Santa Cruz is just over the mountain from my grandparent’s home in Gilroy and our go to spot to celebrate birthdays. The last time I came to the boardwalk was to celebrate Grandpa’s 89th in the summer of 2009.

Aren’t they cute?

But since we visit the wharf I don’t typically get to go down to the beach. This trip I went to the beach, got a little sunburned, took pictures and relaxed.

It was precisely what I needed to clear my head, get a change of scenery and appreciate the freedom that comes with my business.

Sunday night I walked the boardwalk and wharf:

Grandpa hated this ride which he took me on when I was about 10. He spent the entire time telling me that it was structurally unsound and we were going to die!

Monday I did calls from the beach:

and I also managed to fit in a swim, watching breaking news (which never happens as I don’t have cable) and getting a great night sleep. Although I arrived at 3:30p Sunday, was working by 6:30am Monday and on my way home by 12:30pm Monday, it was a great “day” at the beach.

Now, if only I can find a great cheap flight to London in the fall…

Working at Home

Since September of last year I’ve been working from home as a freelance contractor. I love how much I can get done in my yoga clothes including actual yoga in my spare bedroom! As I continue to work from the same space, I’ve found there are a few things I need to do to keep sane.

Walk

At least around the house, outside twice a day and longer jaunts to the park when it’s not raining. I used to do laps around my office or up/downs on the stairs to keep from getting sore from a lack of motion. Now there’s no one at the next desk annoying me so I have to really make sure I keep moving. The dogs keep me on my toes too, up and down a few times a day just to open the door so they go outside.

Clean

I’ve started doing small Saturday cleaning projects because when I stay in the same space day after day the small things really start to annoy me. Last weekend it was my bathroom drawers and cabinet. They’re now organized and clean and wonderful! Today I tackled a few projects, the big one was finally dusting the last bookshelves in the office and organizing the closet.

The closet goes through phases and it’s always a challenge to keep clean. When I started using dual monitors in January I stashed the boxes and corresponding cables next to the desk. Where they sat. For a month. I had an overflowing box of cables and wires and electronic junk and no space to empty the monitor boxes so I could move them to the garage. Well no more!

Now the closet is quite streamlined with Banker’s boxes for papers, projects on the small table and even a basket so I can collect crap and put it away instead of throwing it inside. Of course I can always close the curtains to hide my mess but I know it’s there. Mocking me. Reminding me as I work that everything is out of order.

I also managed to grab my zip ties and clean up the overflowing Medusa-esque bo of electrics that used to vex me. Here’s what everything looked like when I was done:

I also found my camcorder so it’s time to charge that up for my trip back East and get my DSLR ready too. The only thing I can’t figure out is this pseudo-charger looking thing. It doesn’t belong to my laptops, cameras, camcorder, ipad, ipod, printer, cell phone, or scanner so I’m lost. Any ideas?

Music

One thing I hated about working in a traditional office was the background noise. Co-workers who called their boyfriend five times a day. Farmville noises. The twilight movie one person listened to daily. Music was a great way to drown out that noise and focus on my tasks. Now that I’m at home the noises are a bit different. Mostly barking dogs, a neighbor who likes Taylor Swift acapella and one particularly annoying neighbor with diesel muscle cars, no common sense and a penchant to waste gas by letting cars run and rev for hours every day.

Music once again saves me from raving at the rednecks. At least until I can find a house and move out to the country!

 

Ego and Fear and Money, oh My!

I’m going to resist classifying this post because, as y’all should know by now, I just write what comes into my head.

Ever since my trip to Colorado I’ve been really thinking about my life on the meta level – why do I do what I do? What’s influencing me? Who is influencing me? What guides and directs my life and actions and thoughts on a daily basis?

Really, this post is all about motivation but you can partially blame it on the Wizard of Oz DVDs I ordered in January. I can’t help it. I’m from Kansas and I like sparkly shoes.

While I can’t definitively isolate all of the positive influences by which I want to influence my life, I did find three not-so-positive ones that I’m now hyper aware of:

  • Ego
  • Fear
  • Money

None of these things are bad by nature but when the control your motivation, watch out!

Ego, aka ‘because I’m important’

This one is born and bred in the school system, I swear. Who gets attention in schools but the kids who know the most, have the neatest handwriting and excel in academics? They get bumper stickers and certificates and recognition in school assemblies. From a very early age we’re conditioned to want that recognition and do whatever it takes to achieve it. Don’t think I’m the artsy kid who felt left out because I could draw better than spell. Oh, I got those little certificates and I’m sure there in a file cabinet around here somewhere! And I can’t draw. At all.

For the most part this evolves but still, no matter where your passion and strengths lie, it’s ingrained to be the best, the star, the one who gets attention. When that ego gets in the way of everything else it’s a dangerous thing, baby. When you act the way you act, work the jobs you work and communicate the way you communicate to feed your ego it’s a losing battle. Because the most powerful things we can do is serve others.

Fear, or ‘oh crap!’

I’ve written about this before, but oh how do I fall back into it all the damn time! Making decisions based on fear (of running out of money, of looking stupid, of becoming like people I dislike) means that I’m working against, instead of working towards an outcome. And if I’m just running from something, I’m going to be running all over the place without a real direction.

At this stage in my life the biggest fear is the unknown. The most horrible, nagging question EVER: what do you want to be when you grow up? Do I really have to choose NOW? What if it (life) changes drastically? Who really sets the entire path for their life at 18, does everything they set out to do and is happy throughout?

I really like working from a place of nervous fear, that jittery, I-better-get-this-right-because-it’s-really-important-and-I-want-to-deliver feeling. Good fear is motivating. Crippling, scary-hide-under-the-bed-and-cry-because-I-can’t-make-a-decision-because-it-might-be-the-wrong-decision fear is not so productive.

Money, really doesn’t buy happiness

Despite a book which suggests the contrary from a former MSN Money editor, money doesn’t result in inner joy, peace or fulfillment. Sometimes money does help make life easier, I won’t deny it. But the idea that money, cash and more moolah will bring some kind of satisfaction is a lie. Why then does money motivate so many life decisions?

Do you work a job you hate because the pay is good? Or it’s more than unemployment? Do you engage in frugality because you fear running out of something? Do you feel the need to spend money to feel better without caring what you spend money on?  I used to notice this with friends who had parents that were absent 18 hours of the day, home just to sleep, when their child was in elementary school and junior high. ‘Cause nothing bad could happen to a 10 year old left alone all day. These parents substituted their presence, time, affection and attention with money. Poorly. Now I see adults doing the same thing to themselves! I work too many hours, didn’t have any relaxation time, managed a big account, went to the gym every day and didn’t have dessert all last month! Now I will spend $50 or $500 or $5000 on something I care nothing about as a reward. Thus, I need more money to reward myself more so I can try to feel better.

Do you know what is motivating your decisions? Have you ever stopped to think and consider it?

January Failure?

I’m torn between thinking January was a great month and a failed month.

Why failure?

  • the grocery shopping challenge never really happened
  • been working waaaay too many hours
  • didn’t get out to dance class once

Eating at home healthily, work/life balance and exercise are important to me but I’m not doing them well.

On the flip side January had a lot of change and I saw some amazing things happen.

I went to Colorado for a long weekend.

Beautiful. Cold.

While in Colorado I met with my clients and our larger team which was great.

My Grandpa celebrated 44 years sobriety and we had a party with AA (their monthly birthday meeting)

A wonderful gift was from a friend of his with audio from my Grandpa talking in AA meetings in the 1980s. Since Grandpa had a stroke when I was 5 years old this is the first chance I’ve had to hear his voice and hear his stories. He does occasionally talk saying “nice”, “fine”, “well shit” – you know, the basics.

My business is exploding and growing in big ways. It’s definitely a ride and I need to devote a lot of time to working with my VA team, my clients and collaborative partners.  As a defense against “work brain” taking over I’ve done two fun, completely frivilous projects. First I took this homemade pillow (design stolen from a magazine because I thought it was cute but would not spend $35 on a Christmas pillow):

After I bought the fabric, felt and pillow form I spent… close to $35. But I didn’t pay shipping so WIN. And, I decided to be tricky and attach the ole Christmas tree with snaps (using a felt backing so no red shows through) and then created this:

So while “relaxing” in the evening, usually watching Psych, I’ve been sewing these dorky little pillows!

Last weekend I went out with my Mom, did some shopping and enjoyed a movie and a massage 🙂 then I came home and decorated a bit:

January felt like a whirlwind of post holiday cleaning up, taxes, work, travel, planning, friends, bills, forgot to eat dinner, sewing, decorating, sleep. Not exactly a failed month but I’m working hard in February to achieve more balance.

525,600 minutes

If you’ve ever heard the music from RENT you’ll know there’s 525,600 minutes in a year. Half a million minutes made up these last 12 months of 2010.

There’s something about the end of December that always gets me thinking about what’s changed and I really can’t blame it on the media since I unplugged my television and rarely listen to the radio anymore.

Today I had a marathon call with one of my clients as we prepare to launch our first program in 2011 (you can read about it here and you should because it’s awesome). Because Alexis (my client) is completely awesome and cares about each team member and their well being we discussed if my list (which is always long after a team call) was too much. I determined that it was not and how I actually appreciated this in contrast to my last job. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Alexis: What is different from last year?

Kelly: Last December my boss told me I was “too efficient” and they were cutting my hours and pay by 20%

Alexis: You HAVE to blog about this.

So here I am, sharing my story. The company really did me a favor, pushing me out of my comfort zone to make some drastic changes in 2010.

How I responded

At first I was mad. How was it that I did all the right actions and ended up with fewer hours than my lazy counterpart? Then I got reasonable.

Nothing good was going to come from my bitterness and I’d only hate work more, if it were possible. So I decided to act, continuing to add value to the company despite actively searching for a new position. Why? Because my work history would show that I was ready for more challenges even if my current company wouldn’t give them to me.

Keep in mind unemployment in CA is in the double digits, I was accustomed to living 5 minutes from work and I become a crabby troll if I have to commute in Sacramento traffic 5 days a week.

I took Earn 1K with Ramit Sethi. Check it out. They’re opening the course again in February and if you need to make some extra cash this is the way to go.  In the summer I began working with Ramit’s course Beyond 1K. One of the members I met was working with Alexis. I sent in my resume and quit my old desk job in August.

What my old employer should have done instead

Listen to your employees. I told my managers more than once that I was interested in learning more, improving systems and connecting to our region to grow the company. Instead I was asked to take aluminum cans in for recycling.

Now, I have nothing against recycling but I didn’t believe runs to the recycling center were going to improve my resume and would probably just make me bitter about paying on my student loans for a college degree I was using to (essentially) take out trash. No exaggeration, the company eventually found two clients with mental disabilities to do the task.

If you have an employee who is efficient, dedicated and exceeding expectations give them more work and pay them accordingly. During my 12 month tenure at this company they canceled the company 401k match, eliminated holiday and birthday celebrations, raised insurance costs (company doesn’t pay deductibles) and froze all wages not allowing for merit or cost of living raises.

In addition to a low hourly rate and no substantial job benefits, the company gave me no more work, none of the challenging projects I’d asked for and cut my hours and pay by 20%.

Despite a last minute attempt to “lure me back” by offering me a full schedule and double the workload for the same pay, I declined and put in my notice. If they had listened, responded to my reasonable request and found challenging, engaging work so I could deliver more value (and then paid me for bringing more value) I would probably still be with the company.

What’s next?

Personally, I’m in a good place. I enjoy working with my clients and teams, I can clearly see the value I bring and the clients do as well and I am no longer scrambling to pay my bills.

Last year in December I worked at ResCare, Hollywood Video, the Princeton Review and wrote for 2 newspapers.

This year I am a contracted freelance worker with 3 solid clients.

Last year I was nervous, anxious, bitter and cranky about my job prospects.

This year my outlook is positive, I have a good life/work balance and worry does not consume me.

Last year I took calculated financial risks to improve my life and this year I hope to grow and evolve in ways I cannot imagine now but hope to reflect on in December 2011.

Last Thoughts

Are you familiar with the scarcity mindset? It’s the belief that there will never be enough [fill in the blank]. For my former company it was money. When I did see my former manager this fall she proudly told me how they’re saving $175 a month by having the office staff do the cleaning! She bought them a vacuum and rags and now the HR manager and admins and accounting professionals are cleaning the office (instead of serving clients and growing the business) to save a few bucks.

If there was an underlying mindset I needed to conquer in order to sign up for Earn 1K and get on track to a better financial future, it was overcoming my scarcity mindset. How could I pay a few thousand dollars for something I wasn’t sure would work? It turns out that was the wrong question. I needed to ask myself: How can I wisely invest in my future and get the resources I need to make a change?

Of all the programs I’ve seen out there the two I wholeheartedly recommend are Earn 1K (if you’re building a business) and the Money Map (monetize the business to serve your life and work) because I have completed the course, talked with the creators and worked with other students. They are not just full of advice that would take me untold years to figure out on my own but they are build to serve you. If you have questions you can leave me a comment, I am always willing to share more!

And so it begins…

Do you get excited when a new month begins? A new challenge? A new project?

I know I do. But instead of gushing about NaNoWriMo right now (not too late to join!), I have been thinking about why.

The first question is, naturally, are you beginning new challenges and projects? Everyone gets a fresh start on a new month 12 times a year but aside from that – are you purposefully taking risks? Do you simply stay comfortable without stretching your limits?

Some of our challenges are external: projects at work, difficult people , grades, inflation.

Most of my challenges are internal, ways that I look to improve myself.  What are your current challenges? Where are they coming from?

There’s two camps here: people who are engaged in a challenging project and those who are disengaged. The disengaged can best be described as “coasting” through life. They’re deceptively easy to spot. When you ask what’s going on they’ll tell you about characters on a television show. When you inquire about work it’s “same old, same old” and when you ask what they’re looking forward to the answer will be ambiguous or require very little personal action.  Watching the Superbowl.  Playing Farmville. “Hanging out.”

The second question, once you determine if you have a challenge, is does this excite and energize you or frustrate you? Again, two camps: those who are ready within themselves to conquer the path ahead, even if it’s hard, and learn from the experience. Then there are those who will whine, complain and generally be miserable for every single second – even when the project is a success or not that difficult.

Of all the things we can’t control, our attitude is not one of them. No one is perfect, we all get tired, frustrated, worn down or just plain grumpy. That’s expected. But what is your usual response? Is it to gripe and complain and make everyone around you miserable? Or just complain to yourself until you can nearly taste the bitterness within yourself?

Let’s take an example.

You’re at work. Minding your own business when the manager brings you a project. Maybe it’s a pile of papers on your desk, maybe it’s an ambiguous project that you don’t even understand. How do you respond?

-text your spouse to complain

-update facebook

-start a job search on your lunch break

-push the project to the side and make a note that it’s not in your job description, your counterpart is a lazy SOB and they don’t pay you enough to do this drivel

Honestly, I’ve most often chosen that last option. Even if  I smiled, said “no problem!” and completed the project perfectly, I was still fuming on the inside. My various employers may not have picked up on my inner frustration but it certainly made me miserable.

What did my inner struggle really mean?

It most often meant I was intimidated. I can’t do this project AND everything else! I don’t know how to do that formatting or construct that email.

In addition to being intimidated I was afraid. They’re going to find out I’m a hack and fire me. I’ll look like an idiot for asking that question. I’m going to do all this work and get fired anyway!

Behind those emotions was self-righteous anger and not the good kind. I am so much better than this assignment. I shouldn’t have to figure out that when I’m so much better at this.  Um, excuse me? I have a DEGREE from a UNIVERSITY in BUSINESS. Hello?

And if all that swirling around in my head was not enough, I was frustrated. I am never going to get out of this place or stupid assignments like these. I’m going to be the only college educated lackey in the world making this salary and going nowhere.

How do you break out from the negativity when presented with a challenge?

It wasn’t easy but it is simple, at least it was to me. Instead of letting the focus settle and remain on me, my feelings, my day, my my my, I made a conscious shift in focus. Instead of caring how this was going to influence me, I did the work to serve the client because I honestly and truly wanted to enrich their life.

This change in focus gave the strength to ask clarifying questions, even if I felt stupid doing so, in order to deliver the best experience and product possible. It gave me the willingness to set aside my desires to work on the fun stuff and do the important stuff.  This shift opened my eyes to how I experienced a challenge was possibly the only outcome I could guarantee. And I had to let go of everything else in favor of doing my best work and putting it out there. Even if that best work was something that could be perceived as “beneath me” or my abilities.

Don’t misunderstand, I know that some jobs are just terrible, there are bad bosses and even worse projects. I know.

Shifting my focus did not mean I stuck around in a bad job with a smile on my face accepting whatever came my way. Actually the opposite happened, I had the confidence to step outside of the norm and take a risk, knowing that even if the opportunity wasn’t ideal my perspective was a great asset.

Challenges are now fun. Energizing. Exciting. I’m not naive enough to believe that they’re always going to turn out perfectly but the process no longer fills me with fear and dread. I’m competitive so this shift has taken me from “it will be PERFECT and I will crush you!” to “It’s going to be great and continue to improve with each iteration.” It means when a criticism comes in, an edit crosses my email or I just screw up that there’s opportunity to learn and grow.

What is your challenge? When it begins are you inspired or afraid? What can you do today to change your focus?