Making Stuff: An Act of Love or Bravery?

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Can you believe it’s the last Wednesday in February, y’all? To a summer gal like me, the end of February is a welcome sign that we’re kicking through winter. This year the date brings another milestone, too. Today’s the last day of my first blog experiment. This month, I did something that took me weeks to build the nerve to try: Host a linky party, which is a way to start a conversation for blogs.

In this case, I invited bloggers to submit stories centered around mending self and making stuff. After all, these actions have changed my life, so I wanted to surround myself with gutsy women who are out there doing them, too. There are countless ways to interpret the theme, so I was curious to find out which stories would emerge.

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This week I’m privileged to feature a story that spans a lifetime of making. It comes to us from poet and teaching artist Ren Powell, a Californian who has settled in Norway. (Can you blame her? Check out that shot of her by the lake.) Her post, “The Making of Objects,” brought up a mixture of emotions for me. In fewer than 700 words she traversed the decades and made me want to shout with frustration and longing and finally, vindication.

Powell’s story begins and ends with making things for people she cares about. On the surface this sounds sweet, and it is. But as Powell well knows, making objects isn’t just about making objects. She calls it an act of love; I call it an act of bravery. No wonder I’m drawn to the topic: Anything that combines these two acts is what matters in this world.

What strikes me about Powell’s story is the ease and regularity with which society dampened her voice. Whether she was 8 or 18 or 28, her call to create was present. However, as is often the case with women who express themselves, there were consequences. Each time someone diminished her work, she responded. More often than not, it seems, her reaction involved holding back.

amateurish.pngPowell is hardly alone in this response. (Cough, cough. Ever heard the phrase, “Takes one to know one?”) When people are are told repeatedly over time that their efforts have little value, they hold back as a means for survival. As someone who’s recently learned to overcome past fears and embrace my creative voice, I was particularly struck by this quote: “I studied art in school. In college. I won little, local awards for poetry. But unless it was sanctioned by the gatekeepers who put monetary value on things, it was amateurish in my mind, and amateurish was a bad word.”

And so, I relished the ending of her story with enthusiasm. No longer crippled by the hesitance of youth, she found a way to embrace her creativity. In the end, love gave her the strength to embrace her medium and own her creations. I, too, have become weary of the gatekeepers and hope we can all learn from Powell’s post.

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Thanks again to all the writers who joined me on my linky quest. Here’s a recap. Enjoy!

Initial Invite: Join Me in February: Mend, Make, Change

Week 1. This New Year, What Will You Create?

Week 2. Why Women Write: Global Edition

Week 3. Women and Husbands: Two Stories of Empowerment

Week 4. Making Stuff: An Act of Love or Bravery?

 

Go Find Your Like-Minded, Weird, Lovely Friends

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So I have to tell you about a first-rate thing that happened last weekend. Consider it my own personal proof that life’s more fun when you get over your hangups and let yourself be who you are. For crying out loud, you guys, is anybody else tired of being concerned about what everybody might think of us, anyway?

Here’s the deal. I love thrift shops. I adore them so much I’ve devoted entire blog posts to celebrating good ones like Top Drawer of Austin, Texas. I’m also a huge fan of people who build community, which is what draws me to bloggers. So a few weeks ago I had an idea for putting these two together in a way that brought me so much joy it made my head want to explode.

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It wasn’t all that complicated, really: How about I reach out to the Twin Cities Blogger Collective and invite them along on a thrift-shop hop? We’d visit a local thrift store or two, take pics, then write about it. Yes! I was drawn to the idea and it was simple enough. But simplicity wasn’t my problem. No, my issue was much more diabolical. In order to follow through with the outing I envisioned, I’d have to get over my fear of not being liked.

First of all, I’d never met anyone from this collective of women bloggers. I’d recently joined their Facebook group, but that was my only point of contact. Okay, I had met one, but she hardly counted, as she’d told me about the group in the first place. That left 108 ladies I’d never seen face to face.

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Spolier alert, I pushed past my doubt and reached out to the bloggers. Here I am with Sarah, the Recreational Gardner herself. We explored two fine Minneapolis thrift shops, Junket: Tossed and Found and Time Bomb Vintage.  (Photo by Recreational Gardner.)

Second, I hadn’t entirely gotten over my shyness about taking photos in public. Sure, taking a quick phone snap is practically the norm. Even so, wearing a DSLR around your neck feels like an invite for unwanted attention, regardless of whether or not this is actually true.

Think about it. There’s no way to have a long-lensed camera suspended on your chest AND appear casual at the same time. You might as well hang a sign on that industrial Sony strap. It might boast something like, “HEL-LO, fellow shoppers! You may be here for a spontaneous afternoon jaunt, but I actually planned this. I really, really like this place, and I drove 18.8 miles one way just to come. (True story.) What’s more–and this may be the hardest part to admit–I genuinely care about what happens here today.”

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This is my favorite image from our trip. Yes, it’s a bin filled with typewriter keys. I was  drawn to their stark beauty, and it felt good to run my fingers through them.

I know. My dilemma may not sound like life and death, because of course it isn’t. But I believe there are too many of us walking around, holding back back the best parts of ourselves. What a damn shame! Not only does this habit require a great deal of personal energy, but the world is missing out because of it.

Since starting this blog just over a year ago, I’ve grown braver about reaching out. I’ve learned skills that have helped me feel more empowered. I’ve gained inspiration from creative women all over the world. So when the idea came along to connect with actual people in my own city, it was easier to push past my fear and just go for it. And thank God for that, because the afternoon was ridiculously fun.

Four bloggers responded to my Facebook invite to meet me at a local thrift store, and I was able to sync schedules with one right away: Sarah of the Recreational Gardener. She figured she could score some thrifty yard art for her garden. We agreed to meet along the Minnehaha Mile, a collection of hip neighborhood shops in Minneapolis. We’d head to Junket: Tossed and Found, then walk a block to Time Bomb Vintage.

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Truer words have never been spoken. This sign accompanied the rack of ties hanging on a  display at Junket.

Both shops are nothing short of delightful. The displays are arranged so lovingly they actually talk to you. That’s right. Within minutes of our arrival, a photo in a small green frame spoke to me. (Literally, assuming you count thought bubbles, which I clearly do. I mean, obviously.) It reassured me that I’m among friends and don’t have to be embarrassed.

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Here it is, the photo that reached through the cosmos and spoke what I needed to hear. Check out the kids! I snapped this shot without noticing them. Later, while cropping this image, I saw them for the first time and laughed out loud.

I’ve come to believe this advice is is true of the world as well. There’s no need to feel ashamed. And who are the best reminders of this? Our very own like-minded, weird, lovely friends. So get over yourself and go find them, wherever they may be. Look online, head to a meetup in your city, invite that work acquaintance to coffee. Sure, not every lead will pan out. But that’s okay.

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I thought of my grandmother while taking this shot. She collected napkin rings and had two  displays of them hanging on her dining room wall. You could tell she treasured them, and each ring was different from the one next to it. Dosie was an artist who passed away when I was in middle school. Oh, how I’d love to have an adult conversation with her!

Know that it’ll take time, but seek your community. Surrounding yourself with your people is one of the best ways to draw you out of shyness and into your best self. Find those who are already doing what you want to do. Learn from them. Pay careful attention. Then over time, figure out which ones you can come to meet, online or in person. In fact, I’ll leave you with one final piece of thrift-shop wisdom: “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

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Find your community and you’ll be one step closer to living this out.

For the bloggers among you, do you have your own story of creating opportunities? Join my February linky party: Make, Mend, Change.

So what about you? Who are your like-minded friends? Let me know in the comments!

Want to Finish That Project? Let’s Try This.

I’m going to guess you’ve got at least one project that taunts you. It wants to be finished, and Lord knows you’re ready for it to be done. Yet there it is, in all its incomplete glory, still hanging around. In my case, the unfinished projects tend to be DIY, home-decor related. Don’t look too closely, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got one for every room of the house. And so, when I chose to take on a far bigger project–starting a side business–I knew I needed to do things differently.

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A workshop I attended this summer called Start Finishing resonated with me. When starting a project, I discovered, we’d all benefit from establishing a success pack. (Read Part 1 of this article to become equally convinced.) I sensed setting up a support network would be critical for me, since starting a side gig would be a long-term task.

Let’s Do This, Together

If I intended to pull this off, I wouldn’t be able to rely solely on the bursts of enthusiasm that typically bring me through projects. And so, I set off on a hunt for pack members. I scoured online communities, reached out to people I know, and looked for gatherings in my hometown.

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Over the course of the next two months, I became obsessed with my success-pack search. Though I work full time, I sent out feelers during free time: in the mornings before work, while watching TV at home, and on weekends. Once I got going, I went from having almost no resources, to gathering more than I knew what to do with.

Would-Be Entrepreneurs And Bloggers: There Are Tons of Resources Out There

By getting a little brave and reaching out, I learned an important lesson: There are tons of success-pack resources out there. Here’s a list I’ve found helpful.

RESOURCES: NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE

Blogging Courses from WordPress. My blogging journey began with a free online class from WordPress, Blogging 101: From Zero to Hero. As promised, I went from no blog to fully functional one in 30 days. Granted, I devoted significant time to it each day, and I dove headfirst into the community provided. But the structure paid off, and I’ve loved blogging ever since. If you’re curious, give it a try!

Live Your Legend (LYL). If you want to surround yourself with can-do types, see if there’s an LYL local group in your city. This global movement is dedicated to helping people find work they love. See the TED talk from founder Scott Dinsmore. Tragically, Dinsmore passed away in the summer of 2015, but the community he built lives on with enthusiasm.

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Here I am at my very first LYL Local meeting (Minneapolis, January, 2016). Within minutes of walking in the door, I was welcomed with a mug of tea. Then I got to hear stories of ventures being carried out by this crew of creative, committed folks. Interested in simple living? Our group’s host has a site for that: Joel Zaslofsky.

Facebook Communities. I found a few good ones early on, and they helped me feel supported right away. I’m amazed by the active encouragement strangers give each other in online groups like Blog Share Learn, Design Your Own Blog, and The Women of Midlife. Search an activity, and you’re sure to find a FB group talking about it. It may take some trial and error to find the right ones, so don’t be shy. Take part in the conversation, and start picking up new skills.

Mastermind Groups. If you’d benefit from regular check-ins with a small group, I highly recommend tracking down one of these. Masterminds, which typically happen as video chats, bring together 3-5 people working toward sharpening business and personal skills. They share ideas, provide accountability, and track progress.

I love living in a world where I can meet soul sisters across the globe. There are three of us in my mastermind: an English teacher in Germany and an artist in New York. Lucky for me, their group had an opening after someone dropped out. I was super impressed when I discovered these crafty ladies had created an ebook together last year. Check out their workbook Stoke Your Creative Fire.

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My mastermind buddies and I chat weekly. Yes, my tea mug is a permanent fixture. The wall art behind me was created by grandparents. I like to think their artistic legacy flows through my veins, an idea that boosts my new venture.

Tracking Wonder. Someone in this online community blows my mind every time I visit. The group serves mission-driven professionals and has the tagline, “Be radical. Lead with your ideal.” Its community has an active forum that shows people living this out every day. Their projects help me see beyond limitations I put on my own ideas.

Rising Tide Society.  This group, for small business owners in creative industries, encourages members to “grab a cup of coffee and start learning.” In addition to their online support on topics like blogging, branding, and life-work balance, the group hosts TuesdaysTogether meetings in cites across the United States. (Yes, they happen at cool coffee shops.)

Fizzle. In a world where we expect online stuff to be free, it can sometimes feel jarring to be charged for something. But Fizzle, Honest Online Business Training, is a shining example of a principle we should all embrace: Good content is worth paying for. The site features a host of video classes on topics like video production, social media, and connecting with anyone.

RESOURCES IN MY HOMETOWN (These Are Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.) Check your Region for Something Similar.

Twin Cities Blogger Collective. I’m super pumped to have discovered this crew of capable women, who write about a bevvy of things like this:

Springboard for the Arts. This organization provides professional development, health care support, and incubator programs for individuals making a living through the arts.

Pollen. I always enjoy popping onto Pollen Midwest’s site. As if its job boards, events, and stories of local entrepreneurs weren’t enough, the site’s design is gor-geous. Seriously. These people know the meaning of good design.

Women Venture.  This nonprofit helps women create and grow small businesses. At their information session, I learned the two most common types clients start are food trucks and fitness ventures. Also: The organization serves men, too.

Whew. This may be the longest post I’ve written, so kudos for making it this far! I hope you’ve found some tools or inspiration for that venture of your own. So, what resources do you use to stay connected and complete projects? Do tell.

 

Finishing Projects: Build Your Success Pack

A few weeks ago, I announced my intention to start a side gig. Admitting this terrified me, and talking about it hasn’t gotten any easier. That said, I’m also drawn to bringing you along with me, in case you have similar dreams of your own. Whatever life project you’re undertaking (starting a business not required), I’d love to provide inspiration for your journey. And heck, I’d even consider it a good thing if any of my failures help you figure out what to avoid.

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Let’s talk about finishing projects. Are you a finisher, or more of a chronic starter? For me, ideas come fast, but willpower tends to lag. I routinely start WAY more projects than I complete. But this venture, my dream to to build a side business, is different. It’s tugging at me in a deeper way. So much so, that I’m actively putting structures in place to propel me from dreams to action.

This past August, at the summer camp for entrepreneurs called Camp GLP (a.k.a., Good Life Project), I attended a workshop that’s been gradually changing my life ever since. Led by Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing, Start Finishing was a session that provided us with 10 keys to finishing any project. Together, they’ve transformed my habits and equipped me with a structure to follow. (I hear he’s turning this workshop into a book. When he’s done, I’ll be first in line to buy it, unless you beat me to it.)

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The notes I took during Start Finishing continue to inspire me. “Impact doesn’t come from things you might do.” Indeed, Gilkey, indeed.

Right now I’m working on Key #4: Pick Your Success Pack. As you’ve probably guessed, a success pack is a collection of people that helps you make things happen. Gathering this crew is super important, but it’s a step people tend to blow past. An individual may think teams will come down the road, or worse, that he or she is obligated to go it alone.

Last month I attended an info session for budding entreprenuers at WomenVenture, a MInneapolis nonprofit. It’s devoted to helping women “achieve economic success through small business ownership.” There I learned that women are particularly susceptible to overstretching their emotional and financial resources. They’re more likely to believe they have to do it all, especially in the early days of their businesses. If not corrected, this miscalculation can lead to massive frustration, often causing the venture to fail.

During Start Finishing, Gilkey put it this way: “Every successful project has a team behind it.” I already believed this, but the part I hadn’t considered was the importance of building a team from the start. In fact, you’re considerably better off if you establish your success pack before you begin.

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The project-starters among you may be surprised, as was I, that doing the work doesn’t even come till Gilkey’s Key #9 (yes, of 10). Preparing for your project, as it turns out, is critical to success. Big sigh! Yeah, sure, I get this intellectually and have known it for a long time. Even so, planning ahead doesn’t come naturally to me.

My shiny-object personality is precisely why I’ve relied so heavily on Gilkey’s recommendations. I’ve found them helpful because they’ve taught me what to do and when. They’ve given me confidence to know I’m on the right track and keep going. In this case, Gilkey says a solid success pack includes four roles: guides, peers, supporters, and beneficiaries.

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Guides know more than you and have the ability to teach it. Peers understand what you’re going through, as they’re doing similar projects. Supporters cheer you on along the way. They may not understand every detail of your project–and they don’t need to–but they DO care about you. Presumably, they’re fun to hang around, which will come in handy when you’re ready to celebrate a milestone. These can be large or small, but make sure to plan on regular intervals to recognize them.

Gilkey emphasized the importance of sharing and celebrating socially. He made a point of telling us that “any progress counts.” Boy, is this last piece of advice tailor made for you and me or what? It’s easy to minimize things you’ve already done, focusing instead on the mountain of tasks ahead. Finally, beneficiaries are the ones who’ll make use of your project’s end result. Understanding their needs is vital, so you’ll want to check in with them regularly, too.

Can you identify people in your network who might carry out these roles on your project? Think about it, then think about it some more. Then, if you feel inspired, feel free to chime in and let me know. I’d be curious to hear what your project is (or not), and how you’re using success packs to help you get there.

By the way, I’ll be sharing more about my process of picking a success pack in Part 2 of this article. Until then, happy pack building!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Podcasts Keep Me Sane: 5 Surprising Ways

I couldn't help but take this shot of the blooms intersecting the path.

be_a_bigger_vesselIf you and I were lounging at a coffee shop, I’d be curious to hear what you’re up to, but I’d also want to know how you’re really feeling. Not one for small talk, I’d probably tell you my real deal as well. And if we’d been meeting regularly, you’d already know all about my tendency to seek out new ways to improve my state of being.

Personal development fascinates me, but in the past five years or so, it’s also become a necessity. I’m a lucky one who experiences mild depression and anxiety, which of course you’d already know. As with the countless others blessed with this condition, I’m usually on the lookout for ways to keep it at bay.

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One of my favorite ways to stay sane is photography walks. The act of putting one foot in front of the other is meditative on its own. What turns the experience into pure luxury, though, is taking photos along the way.

Slow Down Your Insomniac Monkey Brain

Thanks to my techie man, I recently made an unexpected discovery. Podcasts helped lessen my insomnia. This was no small feat, as I’d wrestled with it off and on for years. Insomnia breeds relentless thoughts. If you’ve ever experienced monkey brain in the middle of the night, you’ll appreciate the power of anything that can calm it down.

As it happens, distraction has been surprisingly effective for me. Turning off my screwball worries thoughts and replacing them with others’ ideas, is usually enough to put me to sleep. I began by listening to meditation episodes. Over time, I progressed to other non-stressful topics like wellness. Generally, in the half hour or so it takes to get me from awake to asleep, I learn something new while I’m at it.

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I came across these beauties on a walk in my neighborhood. I couldn’t tell you how long I spent crafting this shot, but that’s precisely why I find the process so healing.

If you’re curious about how this works: I play my podcasts through Stitcher, which knits content together like a custom radio station. It also helps me organize my podcasts into categories. At night, I listen with my ipod, complete with headphones so I won’t wake my sweetie. I download episodes into the Listen Later feature, which allows me to put the device in airplane mode and avoid having a wi-fi signal near my head.

Listen to Positive Voices During Walks, Commutes, or Workouts

Over time I incorporated podcasts into other parts of my life: workouts, walks, and commutes. This isn’t to say I’m consuming podcast content all the time. But I have found it helpful to have my podcasts ready when I need them. When I find myself obsessively repeating a conversation in my head–say, on the drive home from work–instead I hit play on an interview with a writer or entrepreneur. It’s amazing how quickly my attitude improves when I focus on positivity and knowledge.  Hearing the voices of can-do types reminds me of what I, too, can do.

I couldn't help but take this shot of the blooms intersecting the path.
I couldn’t help but go for this shot of blooms intersecting the path.

Learn Some Healthy Moves

Wellness is a popular podcast category, and I’ll tell you, I eat it right up. One show that’s become a comfort to me is The Healthy Moving Podcast with Jennifer Hoffman. In fewer than 15 minutes, each episode brings an appealing combination of physiology, stories, relatability, and how-to’s. In her encouraging tone, Hoffman has provided me with strategies for easing worry with movement, setting up a dynamic workstation, and navigating uncomfortable transitions.

My hope for this one was to set a mood. I wanted it to capture the hazy quiet of this particular morning.
My hope for this one was to set a mood. I wanted it to capture the hazy quiet of this particular morning.

Her episode that’s stood out to me the most, though, is Be a Bigger Vessel. I heard it this past spring, yet it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s centered around a breathing exercise that expands the thoracic muscles. As Hoffman points out, too much of the fitness industry is focused on making us smaller, especially–and now for a quick editorial from me–if we happen to be a woman. Instead, Hoffman encourages us to think about the benefits of becoming bigger.

Expand Your Mindset

Expanding our breath feels good. But so does expanding our mindset. If we can find a way to see ourselves as bigger, we become capable of holding more. The key, though, is that we must choose what to put in our newly enlarged vessel. I like the part when Hoffman asks us listeners to think about what we’d like to make more room for in our lives. She then provides her own answer, which is so good I couldn’t come up with a better one if I tried: more margin.

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Encountering a gaggle of these dudes is a common occurrence on my walks. Sure, Canada Geese want nothing to do with me, but I find them amusing and I just plain like the guys.

Let Yourself Be

As someone who spends waaaay too much time running from place to place, the idea of creating more margin sounds divine. More unplanned time to sit and simply be. More space around my brain to cultivate new ideas. More time to recover from whatever the last task was, which–let’s be honest–probably wore me out. More time to walk and, yes, take photos with care. For me, this will require a new discipline of saying no a little more often. Wait, a lot more often. But I’m committed to making it happen. I believe the extra margin will be worth it.

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What About You?

As always . . . now I’d like to hear from you. Do you listen to podcasts? What are your faves? More importantly, what would you like to make more margin for in your life, and how will you go about doing it?

How I Beat My Nerves At Summer Camp for Adults ( . . . or Did I?)

Yes, I did make it to camp, and here's proof. All photos in this post not credited were taken by me.

I recently returned from a summer camp for adults–for entrepreneurs, to be exact. If you’re anything like me, you want to believe summer-camp nervousness is limited to the kiddos in our lives. Adults, on the other hand, are evolved enough not to experience such trifles. Sigh. I really want to tell you my newest camp adventure came without any nerves, that my grown-up poise shone through at every moment. Darn it all, though, I never have been good at telling lies.

Campers arriving--yes--in a real school bus and everything. Photo by Gregory Berg, Enso Photography.
Entrepreneurial campers arriving, in a school bus and all. Photo by Gregory Berg, Enso Photography.

Here’s what actually happened. For weeks beforehand, palpable unease overtook my body. Two afternoons prior to camp, my hesitation grew so strong I contemplated skipping the whole thing and staying home. It wasn’t that I was concerned about meeting new people, though the weekend would be nearly 2,000 miles from home and I didn’t know a soul. No, what worried me was this: I’m not an entrepreneur.

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This is Jane. We met while making bookmarks together at the crafts table. After camp, she and I became accontabilibuddies. Every two weeks, we call each other to discuss three-month goals we’ve set for ourselves professionally and personally. Photo by Gregory Berg, Enso Photography.

For 20 years I’ve worked as an educator, mostly in the nonprofit sector, at jobs that galvanize employees but tend to bleed them dry. As it happened I’d been dreaming about entrepreneurship for the better part of a year. Deeply in awe of people who build their own opportunities, I secretly wanted to join their ranks.

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A highlight of the weekend was hearing from Jonathan Fields himself. This quote came from a talk about his 10 Commandments of Epic Business. I took notes like a madwoman! It relates to Essential #3, “Thou shalt train your mind in the alchemy of fear.”

Dreaming was one thing, however. Openly admitting it, surrounding myself with actual business owners, would be quite another. I was pretty sure my arrival at camp would be accompanied by sirens blaring, “Imposter alert! Watch out, all you REAL ENTREPRENEURS, there’s a phony in your midst!”

My entrepreneurial dreams started to sink in about a year ago. I didn’t know what I expected this to mean (spoiler alert, I still don’t), but I sensed some internal shifts. My creative side starting acting braver, weirdly, almost without my knowledge or permission. Something inside had grown tired of feeling invisible and decided it needed more light.

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As a (lucky) member of the camp crew, my days were full of activity. I recharged with quick walks to the lake.  Unless otherwise credited, all photos in this post were taken by me.

Last fall, a girlfriend and I started a journaling project. For the next 52 weeks, we’d follow prompts in Cheryl Richardson’s Life Makeovers. The book promised “practical and inspiring ways to improve your life one week at a time,” and we figured our lives were good candidates for some renovation.

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My response to our Week 2 prompt: Choose the quality you most want to cultivate, then write a positive statement that affirms it. Must use present tense.

And so, I began. I started calling myself an artistic, entrepreneurial spirit. At least in my journal, my head, and weekly talks with my girlfriend. A few months later I started this blog. This act alone emboldened my creative confidence, immediately and with force.

My first day as a Camp GLP crew member. Did I really look this angry, Gregory? Photo by Gregory Berg, Enso Photography,
My first day as a Camp GLP crew member. Did I really look this angry, Gregory? Photo by Gregory Berg, Enso Photography.

I enjoyed expressing my voice, unencumbered by the hierarchy that sometimes dogs my day-to-day. Unexpectedly, I found joy in community of bloggers I discovered. What a gutsy group they turned out to be!

Fast forward half a year. One summer night I found myself awake and grumpy in the middle of the night. To combat my negativity, I chose to fill my mind with something better. Browsing one of my favorite podcasts, Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project, I spotted the promo for Camp GLP. I noticed the call for volunteers and filled out the application, right then and there.

Before I knew it, I found myself at camp in New York, surrounded by 370 kind, innovative souls known as fellow campers and crew. Over the next 4 days, I received the kick-start I’d been seeking.

I attended workshops on things like finishing projects and understanding revenue models. All of them energized me and sparked new ideas. Arts and crafts projects–LOVE THESE–were a key part of my camp experience. When I got the chance I enjoyed solo moments, on a patch of grass under a sunny sky.

Most importantly, though, I met people who inspired me. People who make podcasts and write ebooks and travel the world and create documentaries and make a living through art. They believe it all can be done, not only in ways that serve communities with compassion, but also that energize the creators themselves.

Now that I’m home, I’ve discovered a whole new set of nerves. These particular butterflies flit in a new pattern, carrying uncertainties on their tiny backs. “What does being an entrepreneur really mean,” they want to know. “What makes you think you’ve got the energy to start something new?” Oh, how I wish I could jump on their collective wings and take flight!

For now, though, I’m content with my role. My current job is to befriend them first, or at least get used to their presence. I want to let them take their time, while I take mine as well. As the journey unfolds, I’ll figure out where we’ll be traveling together months, a year, whenever from now.

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I’ll leave you with this quote from a productivity workshop led by Charlie Gilkey. You, too, can benefit from his wisdom by checking out his podcast, The Creative Giant Show.

So, what about you? Are you feeling any butterflies? What kick-starts are you seeking? Feel free to share in the comments!

Tonight My Gratitude is Golden

They say gratitude changes everything. All I know is I’m filled with it right now, and I want the moment to last. I feel compelled to thank this sweet girl tonight, especially since this blog is about taking tired things and making them new.

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Normally her papa’s the one who plays with her, while I keep myself busy doing who knows what. But tonight was different. Tonight it was just us. I was the one she came to, consumed with reminders of play. What I didn’t realize, she knew implicity: It was time to get off the lounger, away from the TV, out of that relentless head.

Tonight, grass was the place to be. Sprinting was all that mattered. That, and a red tennis ball. I need more of this. Play over planning, body over mind. Hands in the air like I just don’t care. And so, to our Golden girl I say, “Thank you. You helped me more than you know.”

What about you guys? When was the last time you played, just for the sake of it?

My Very Own (Life-Sized) Upcycling Project

If you’ve been following along, then you’ve read about some things I’ve made and why they mattered to me. And if you’ve seen my About page, you also know this blog is about more than crafts. Sure, upcycling is a hot word in the handmade marketplace, and why shouldn’t it be? Buying an old item that’s been transformed by hand is just plain cool. For me, though, upcycling is personal. I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of finding tired things, seeing what they could become, and making them better.

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Photography has become one of my favorite ways to take care of myself, a huge part of my upcycled life. I find it relaxing and empowering at the same time. Like all shots in this post, I took this while on a stroll around my neighborhood.

And guess what, you guys? There’s no getting around the fact that I, too, could benefit from some upcycling. If you wanted to (and if you were on your A game), you just might be able to make the case that the past several years of my life have been one giant upcycling project.

I discovered what it’s like to live with a husband whose sobriety becomes alcohol abuse. I learned to forgive addiction and the man who has this disease. I found ways to accept the world–and especially myself–for not being perfect, either. But I also got divorced and did my part to make damn sure we did it with mutual respect. (He did his part, too, by the way.)

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I’m taking an online photography class, which prompted us to play with scale. Here, I took something small and made it big, the most important player in the scene.

Along with some tenacious colleagues, I completed a high-profile, multi-year work assignment with too few resources. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about the night the divorce lawyer met me at my office at 8:30–yes, p.m.–after which I kept working. Finally, I wore myself down to the point where anxiety kicked in. Yes, the diagnosable kind.

There was the chaos phase, then the transition. Next came the rebuilding. Slowly, bit by bit, I managed to construct a solid foundation under my feet. At some point I knew it was there, but I didn’t trust it for awhile. In time, I found my peace again.

I picked up new ways to take care of myself. I figured out how to thrive in my job without letting it consume me. (Okay, some days I’m better than others.) I shifted my priorities and learned the value of taking things slowly. After even more time, I found a sweet new love. Yeah, I still get impatient and tired and restless sometimes. Every single day, though, a moment of gratefulness comes for the phase where I’m living now: growth.

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I tromped through some shin-length weeds to get this shot. Balancing the pink with the grass and sky was great fun. Bonus: The bee in flight!

Things are germinating now, no question. And that’s where this blog comes in. It’s my primary way of capturing the seeds. Some are tiny, happy ones. They grow quickly and show their beauty right away. Others are so big they scare me a little, as I don’t know what they’ll become.

I can tell they’ll take longer to establish roots, but I can feel their presence. They’re here, all right. As I encounter these burgeoning things, I hope to do right by them. I hope to notice them, determine what they are, and make sure they get the light and water and kindness they need.

I Stopped The Monkey Brain (at Least for an Afternoon)

takeawalkI wonder what you call it when you’re doing too much and your frenetic mind takes over. My mom uses the term over-functioning. I once heard a therapist name it the monkey brain. Me? I like to describe as it as kicking into machine mode. Whatever your words, I hope the experience happens once in a while and hasn’t become your lifestyle.

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Seeeeee the pretty flowers. They want you to come visit. But first you must venture outside. Get ouuuuut. See them. Go.

Sure, we’re all busy, but I’m referring to a specific phenomenon here. It’s the one where your task list becomes so important you positively cannot stop. Not even for a meal, or god forbid, a bathroom break. When you work so steadily, guilt creeps in whenever you happen to pause.

Five years ago, I lived thoroughly entrenched in this state. I’d been there so long I thought fixing everything was up to me. At home, at work. Wherever I went. (Doesn’t everyone show up as a first-timer to a group activity, then walk out having agreed to run the next meeting? Ummm, no.) I had my reasons, of course. My circumstances asked a lot of me, and I had to step up.

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Seeeee the path. You can do it. You know you want to. Goooo outside.

Guess what I learned, though? Keep at the frenzied state long enough, and it’ll turn on you. You’ll be reminded you’re still human when your body or mind opts for some downtime. (In my case it turned out to be a little of both.) And when this happens, you’ll need to learn a new way.

You’ll have no choice but to find a new sense of timing, a new set of habits, a new way to look at your world, and–most importantly–a new way to care for yourself. Now, I’m grateful to say I’m better at all this. The monkey still plays in my head sometimes, but when it starts talking, I’ve learned how to dampen its sound.

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Stay inside and work incessantly, or come out and see this?

There’s no single cure for over-functioners like me. But last weekend I used a favorite trick: getting out of my head and onto a walk. I’d been working on a project for hours, maximizing productivity time. It’d gone well, but I sensed a shift into machine mode. Effectiveness was growing surly. It was time for a break. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll take a walk. Perfect chance to catch up on my podcasts.” I’m slowly building a side gig, and my Stitcher feed’s filled with entrepreneurship ones (like the well-executed Fuel to Launch).

I wish I could say my yard had a scene like this, all magazine-y and cute. But, hey, it is in my neighborhood, so I get to enjoy it all the same. What treasures can be found in your hood?
I wish I could say my yard had a scene like this, all magazine-like and cute. But, hey, it is in my neighborhood, so I get to enjoy it all the same. What treasures can be found in your hood?

Still, as I prepped for this walk, my grumpiness grew. I’d suited up, but my podcast wouldn’t download. Not the one I wanted, anyway. Not fast enough. Dangit, I wanted to hear that one, not this one. Why couldn’t I get it to work? Why was it being so SLOW? I needed that podcast, and I needed it NOW. Rhar! What’s wrong with this thing, anyway?

I felt the monkey brain taking over. I’d gone from seeking a break to forcing a project. To jamming more learning into an already-full head. Not wanting to waste another minute, I capitulated. I settled on a podcast I wasn’t in the mood for, but that was already downloaded on my device. I sulked a little, then hit the local trail. Fifteen minutes later, I was still tense. The second-choice podcast had annoyed me at every step.

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See the lovely, all bright and orangey.

And that’s when it happened. Somehow I wised up. A tiny voice said, “Turn off the iPod.” “But it’s attached to my arm,” I countered.” “How can I possibly be outside with this thing, and not even listen to it?” “Turn it off,” repeated the voice. And so I did. Pressing pause felt blasphemous somehow, but I did it anyway.

I resumed my walk. After a few quiet minutes, I began to look around. Leaves rustled, and I started hearing songbirds. I noticed the scent of earth, awakened by recent rain. Before long, my body relaxed. No longer consumed by the need to strategize every second, I spotted beauty all around me.

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I took this one just for fun. At an un-spectacular spot, I challenged myself to compose an attractive shot.

Artistry was everywhere, and I wanted to stop and capture it. And that’s just it. I had to STOP to capture it. Stop the rushing. Stop the sound. Stop the planning. Even stop the learning, beneficial as it may be. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop and let the world come in.

Capturing these droplets gave me unexpected joy.
Capturing these droplets gave me unexpected joy.

Soon I lost myself in the experience. All that mattered was each scene in front of me. That, and capturing the light. A droplet of water, perched just so, took on new importance. For the first time all day, moments replaced minutes. Enjoying the scenery, without any agenda or goal, brought peace.

In the end, I don’t know how long I spent taking photos. And you want to know what? I’m proud to say I don’t care.

Are you an over-functioner, too? In what ways do you take care of yourself?