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!

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!

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.