Twenty-six before twenty-seven

February 7, 2011

Another year, another list.

And I’m coming to realize that this system means you have to do more things every year, and I’m not sure if that’s a sustainable model.

But that aside, let’s talk about successes from my 25th year of life. There were many.

#9 Be more fearless + #11 keep getting better at being myself

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that 2010 was transformative in this area. My coaching with Regina was instrumental (master of smokescreens! hindering my own vision!). Now, even if I do put up a smokescreen or see fear looming, I can be with it. And I can even ask it questions.

#7 Redeem hurtful and negative things for good

I can’t get into specifics here, but this has been incredibly powerful for me and my relationships. So powerful that I didn’t even need to include it in my 2011 list — because I’m now doing it by default. Highly recommended. Are you making a list? Put this on there. Trust me.

#3 Pray + #5 appreciate the everyday

These are inextricably intertwined. It’s beautiful. They’re both about intention, so it’s no surprise.

#12 Read at least 12 books

I rocked this one. I revised my goal twice during the year — bumping it up to 20 and then 26, and ultimately getting to 30. I know this pales in comparison to the Powell’s employees who read 200 books every year, but it brought me back to my bookworm childhood roots. I was very tempted to make my new goal 52 books in 2011, but I refrained.

Highlights include: The Housekeeper and the Professor, The Book Thief, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Emily’s Ghost and Cutting for Stone. And unless you want to sink into a deep existential crisis, do not read two beautifully written but ultimately hopeless books about mental illness (in my case, A Man Walks into a Room and The Unnnamed) back to back.

#13 Have an adventure in a new place

Las Vegas! The Grand Canyon! Hood River! I’m really not sure how I even found time for all of these places, but I am very sure that it was a good year.

#19 Hire an honest-to-goodness business coach and/or assistant

Both! And they are both fabulous. I let myself believe that I took my sweet time on this so that I’d end up with just the right people. And I did.

Part 2 of this goal was to start treating my business more like a business and less like contracting. On that front, I incorporated my business and hired an amazing calligrapher to do my logotype. Two of my best decisions from the past 12 months.

Etc.

I hosted a very successful spring swap (#14), became a diehard Zumba fan (#15), and watched many movies — though I doubt it was 25 from our Netflix queue (#18). I also continued to volunteer for everything that was presented to me (#21) and, lo and behold, I’m now overwhelmed by opportunity and am in the process of scaling back. I’m not sure how I failed to see this coming.

And this has nothing to do with any of my intentions from last year, but I discovered two new loves this year: asparagus and pistachios. It was clearly a good year for my tummy too.

The new twenty six

  1. expect less → do less. After two years of giving “expect less” a very high priority on my year’s list, I’ve finally realized that, although my expectations of myself are often too high, that isn’t something that’s going to change in a year or two or twenty. In the short term, I have to focus on what I’m going to do with those expectations. Intention is important, but 2010 had a lot to teach me — a highly intentions-focused person — about the value of action. Which leads us to…
  2. act in the knowledge that actions (external) can change your heart (internal). I always want to evolve from the inside out. Sometimes it simply doesn’t work that way. This is an entirely new concept for me but last year, I learned that it’s true.
  3. be patient → be at peace
  4. take a deep breath and completely redefine my project rates (and trust that what feels right will actually be right)
  5. start saving in a serious and organized fashion
  6. leave the country (for pleasure and for a short time)
  7. create a hard limit for concurrent projects — and enforce deadlines
  8. read 26 more books (one every two weeks)
  9. try six new Portland restaurants (one every eight weeks)
  10. keep one evening open each week for all but six weeks out of the year
  11. try 52 new recipes (one every week)
  12. learn to play at least three songs competently on the guitar
  13. discover a new camping spot
  14. reinstate the four-day work week
  15. plan a surprise
  16. take a letterpress, calligraphy, cooking, wine pairing, etc. class (choose one or more of the above)
  17. eat a fruit I’ve never had before
  18. eat a vegetable I’ve never had before (or previously hated, like my new friend asparagus)
  19. set aside daily time for prayer and study
  20. be more flexible
  21. give generously
  22. be deliberately and specifically thankful every day
  23. achieve one or more of the following personal fitness goals: work out three or more times per week on a consistent basis; reach my goal weight; and/or get back to being able to swim a mile continuously
  24. scrapbook something
  25. paint something
  26. give acceptance and encouragement at every opportunity

Organized under Life. 2 comments.

Saying no

November 12, 2010

My mom, who always knows what I need to hear, sent me ten tips for saying no last week. They are courtesy of Poppy Smith and they are now living on the bulletin board in my office as a constant checklist for every time I answer the phone, read through an email, or consider a new opportunity.

Ask yourself:

  1. Does this request make my life more frantic or more fulfilled?
  2. Will this negatively impact my marriage or family?
  3. Is this something God is asking me to do?
  4. What are my gifts and strengths? Does this fit with them?
  5. Am I doing this so I will be liked, admired, or included?
  6. Do I feel bad if I don’t step in? Why is this?
  7. What good things will be sacrificed if I agree to do this?
  8. How can I say “No?” What phrases work for me? (Thank you for asking me but I have plans; already committed; my plate is full)
  9. Which priorities and values matter most to me?
  10. What changes are needed so I live out my beliefs?

Organized under Finds, Life. 2 comments.

Being fearless

September 27, 2010

Over the last five (five? is it really five?!) months, I’ve drafted quite a few posts for this blog. I wrote about email and its constant companionship (for better or worse). I wrote about my logotype redesign (isn’t it beautiful!) and the challenge of being a creative (in my case, a designer) hiring another creative (in my case, a calligrapher) and how the whole process taught me an empathy for my clients that I never quite grasped before. (I also now understand the 10-mile-long emails that you send me when I first show you the designs for review because I’ve sent one. Yes, I was that client.) I wrote about my pixel-perfect process and how I move items back and forth (and back and forth… and back and forth) one or two pixels in Photoshop a million times before I settle on a placement. Because that one pixel can be the difference between good design and just-okay design. Sheesh. (And this is why I struggle to even find words to reply when I get emails like, “I love the design! Can we just move the logo from the left side to the right side?” If one pixel makes that much difference in my little designer’s eye, drastically moving the logo completely changes the design.)

None of these entries were published. Something got in my way. And now I’ve realized that’s because they were all a giant smokescreen for what’s really been going on in my business.

It turns out that I’m a master of smokescreens.

I learned this because of Regina and her magical powers of discernment. I decided to do some work with Regina around setting boundaries with my clients (and, let’s be honest, with everyone in my life). Because (surprise!) I haven’t taken a Monday off for almost as long as I haven’t written here, and instituting a four-day work week wasn’t the magic bullet to erecting boundaries. Our coaching went something like this:

Session 1: What do my boundary issues really look like? Oh, wow. Yikes. My boundaries are non-existent and even when I’m forced to create a boundary, I do it reluctantly as a last resort that’s really too late. My big take-away: I need to create boundaries for my clients’ sake, not just for my own.

Session 2: What stops me from setting the boundaries that I know (intellectually) I need to set? Lots of dialog around the reptilian brain and survival responses. At some point, my brain decided that helpfulness was necessary for survival. If I’m being super extraordinarily helpful, it’s less likely that I’ll let anyone down. And if I don’t let anyone down, I can placate my giant, debilitating fear of failure and keep it at bay. My homework: Do some things this week without preparing or agonizing. Make a fancy meal without a recipe. Send an email without proof reading. Try something new that I might totally suck at and/or that I know nothing about. Oh, this is also the session where I told Regina that I usually don’t get much out of coaching or counseling because I always stay two steps ahead. In fact, I feel compelled to figure out where they’re going with their advice or assignment, and I make sure I’m already there long before the assignment ends. She called this sabotage. That hurt a little but, well, it’s true.

Session 3: Look at me and how I rocked my homework! I improvised a pasta dish when I didn’t even have the right ingredients; I figured out substitutions without a cookbook or Google or anything! I wrote some emails and didn’t even comb them for dangling modifiers. Oh, and I volunteered to play the guitar in front of people in five weeks and I can barely even play a chord or two. Clearly, I’m getting past this whole fear of failure deal. Whew. That feels great. Regina’s response: That’s great! Yay you! But there’s something else here. I’m not convinced you’ve made a breakthrough. We need another session.

Session 4: Regina called me out on my best, and sneakiest, defense mechanism and smokescreen. I’m not in my struggles. I talk about them in past-tense — and, as I observed, it’s almost like I’m discussing them in third person, that’s how removed I am from them. It’s an intellectual discussion of this thing I used to have a hard time with, but here’s what I did about it and look how far I’ve come and, sure, maybe there are still things around that that are hard, but I have X and Y and Z to fix that too. This has always seemed perfectly natural to me. If I know something’s wrong, I’d be crazy not to fix it. Isn’t this how everyone — or at least everyone who cares about improving themselves — behave? But really, this communication style is of huge benefit to me. First, and most obviously, it safeguards against ever looking (or feeling) like I’ve failed. Second, it enables me to relate to and empathize with people (which I love! I’m the counselor!) and appear authentic without actually being authentic. The thought of faking authenticity hurt me to my core. Suddenly it all came into focus: Even by trying not to fail, I’m failing. It’s an endless cycle. There were tears. I was incredibly discouraged. Failure is inevitable? That’s just not okay. But this gave me an opportunity to be in and with my struggle. There was no where else to go. And that was huge.

Smokescreens hinder your own vision.

I may have been creating diversions to distract other people, but they were impairing my vision too. Within two weeks of my fourth session with Regina, everything I wanted to do with my business became clear. And it happened through osmosis. I wasn’t even trying to strategize my business; I was too busy trying to dig out of the giant mountain of overwhelm (ahem, 18 concurrent major projects plus minor projects for ongoing clients) I’d created for myself. But the curtain was torn away and I couldn’t help but see everything, even with the 0.0001% of my brain that was available. All of the practical, strategic work I’d tried to do — before the emotional work that I didn’t know I needed to do — finally paid off. Reward!

The power of choice.

This has been a big topic for me this summer, emotionally, spiritually, professionally. There’s an inherent, intrinsic power to choosing something. Even when you’re choosing something that feels unnatural, something that’s hard, something that’s contrary to what your thinky-brain says you should choose.

Let’s say you’re out to dinner with friends. You’re still looking at the menu when your waiter comes over, and before you can say that you need more time, someone in your party orders for you. Now, they ordered the butternut squash ravioli for you — and that’s the entree you were leaning toward anyway. But you didn’t get to choose it. It was forced on you. Part of you would rather have the eggplant parmesan (even though you hate eggplant) if that means that you could’ve picked it yourself.

The result (eating butternut squash ravioli) is the same. But you didn’t get to choose it. And now you’re sitting there indignantly picking at one of your favorite dishes like it’s cold gruel.

Fear precludes choice.

If I let my fear of failure run amok, I let my fear make my decisions for me. All of my choices — what projects I take, how I manage those projects, how I run my business, what services I offer — are dictated by fear, by what will please everyone, by what won’t let anyone down, by this mystical idea of helpfulness. And I trudge onward, being helpful, helpful, helpful! (fear), acting cheerful and accommodating even when I’m really not (faking authenticity), and forgetting at times that this is my business and I have choices about how I run it.

Make no mistake: Helpfulness is good.

More than good. It’s fantastic. It’s one of the things that make the world worth living in. And I truly believe that I am a helpful person by nature. I’m also an accommodator by nature, and while that can be dangerous, it’s also beautiful. I have a great big heart for people and their fledgling businesses and I want to make their websites gorgeous and their businesses successful and profitable.

But as Sarah wisely wrote, I am not scalable. It’s impossible to help everyone in the world, and although that’s so obvious, it gets my little heart a-racing. But I’m better equipped to do the things I loveand I’m better equipped to help the people I do help — if I prioritize my helpfulness. Logical. Obvious. And still a little painful to accept.

Fear is scrappy.

My fear hones in on — and abuses — my desire to be helpful because it’s effective. Because it’s so important to who I am. Fear wouldn’t bother associating with part of me that’s easily abandoned, because fear is scrappy and knows to form alliances with powers that will help it stick around. It’s like a tumor that wraps itself all up and around a very important part of the brain. If you remove the tumor, you’ll damage the brain. If you leave the tumor, the person keeps having periodic seizures and piercing headaches, but the rest of the time, they’re perfectly healthy and totally themselves.

I’m doing a fear-obotomy. Will the helpfulness be damaged? I’m fortunate; the only helpfulness lost is the forced-on-me helpfulness. The helpfulness that’s directly connected to the fear. The good news: The great, big, Lake Superior-sized body of helpfulness that’s connected to choice remains intact.

Will some people think that I’ve become unhelpful? That I’ve decided I no longer care and that I’m a miserable excuse for a web designer? Unfortunately, inevitably, yes. And that admission is terrifying, because my survival brain would rather just deal with the barrage of things that make me miserable and frantic and overworked than fail to meet even one person’s expectations.

But it’s surgery time, and that’s a risk I have to take to thrive.

Organized under Life, Solopreneuring. One comment.

Occupational hazard

April 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, I attended a business networking meeting. There are many chapters of this specific business networking organization, and each chapter can have but one representative from a given field. One florist. One event planner. One car detailer. One CPA. One fitness coach. One doula.

And, of course, one “web person.”

That term makes me cringe and laugh and want to turn into the Incredible Hulk all at once. It ranks up there with people asking me to fix their computers and saying, “My best friend’s sister made a MySpace once, so I know all about web design.” (What are you supposed to say to that, anyway?)

This web gig? It’s a little-understood — or, in some cases, misunderstood — profession.

Unfortunately, for many people, technology is an amoebic blob that encompasses anything loosely connected to post-Industrial Revolution advancements. From the remote for the DVR to online banking, it’s all in there. And someone who can fix one thing can fix all the others. Right?

You also have the tech-savvy populace — the people who recognize the delineation between computer technicians and system administrators and “web people.” And God bless these people, because they won’t ever show up to a consultation and ask me to figure out why they’re getting virtual memory errors. But chances are that they still don’t have a firm grasp on the specializations that comprise each of those top-level groups.

Case in point: In said networking meeting, there were not one, not two, but four insurance agents. One does life insurance. Another does auto and home. A third does corporate insurance. At the end of the day, they’re all in the insurance field. But their specialties make their businesses distinct. They work in an industry where specialization is understood, accepted and appreciated.

Growing pains.

Insurance has been around for quite some time. Specialization became important as the needs of businesses and individuals expanded, gradually, over time. I’d guess that there was a time when customers expected every insurance agent to be a jack-of-all-trades — and when that agent tried to explain the difference between auto liability and homeowners insurance, their customer glazed over in a matter of seconds. Much like the glazing that happens when I talk about visual design, front-end markup, user experience, interaction design, application development… you get the idea.

In other words, growing pains are often resolved with time.

And with necessity. In the case of insurance, having some understanding of the types and terminology became essential to everyday life. Without car insurance, you could have your license and registration revoked. Without homeowners insurance, you could end up homeless because of a fire or flood.

I would argue that technology professions are becoming more important to daily life, and they will only become more so. But not knowing the difference between design and development isn’t likely to leave you destitute. At least not yet.

Responsibility.

As “web people,” we can’t sit back and wait for time and necessity to do the work for us. It might work out, but it’s likely to be painful (for our clients) and slow (for everyone).

Be brave.

Back to the networking meeting. Naturally, I sat down to chat with said sole web person, to find out what he actually does.

Like most “web people” out there, he started with a long list of things that he and his employees do. But after we talked for a few minutes, I found out that they really specialize in content management system development and hosting. In fact, they do those two things almost exclusively, despite feeling this obligation to offer a laundry list of services. Very narrow and specific, but extremely effective for the Right People.

We are fundamentally scared of saying “I don’t do that.” If it’s because we can’t do it, we’re afraid of looking incompetent. If it’s because we won’t do it, we’re scared of losing the client. In either case, it feels like admitting defeat.

But “web person” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I may not want to be generalized, but when I force myself to do it all, I perpetuate the misconception.

I thought back to client consultations from months and years past and thought of the number of concessions I made because of fear — things I said I’d do because I can, not because I want to or because it’s my thing. This phenomenon goes way beyond web people. I’d be hard-pressed to find a solopreneur out there who never felt pressure to offer services beyond their target specialty.

We need to stop being scared and start being true to (or, for starters, finding) our thing. Specialization is scary, because specialization is a sign of growth and it requires us to say no. But when we’re true to our thing, we get to work with Right People and stop forcing the square peg into the round hole.

Now, that isn’t to say that jack-of-all-trades-ness is inherently bad. If you have a lot of different skills and services to offer, and all of them are true to you, you should absolutely pursue those. Your thing might even be a combination of seemingly dissimilar skills, and when you bring them together, ta-da! Brilliance! But in the same vein, just because two things are similar doesn’t mean you’re required to do both things. You just do your thing. Whatever that looks like. Period.

Each one of us teaches people how to treat us, our business and our industry. So “be brave” could also be translated as “teach by example.” Treat your business with respect and the others will follow.

Organized under Design, Solopreneuring. 3 comments.

Welcome, baby Cosette!

March 29, 2010

This weekend, I hosted my fourth in a series of six parties in a month. (And that’s not counting dinner parties like last night, where we ate this wonderful, creamy soup with biscuits and this rich, gooey cake with vanilla bean ice cream and played pictionary telephone until our faces hurt from laughing.)

It started with a Night at the Academy, and then I had a spring swap, where eight of my stylish friends brought stuff they didn’t use anymore (you know, all those beautiful things that you once loved and can’t bear to give to Goodwill but are also taking up valuable space in your garage/attic/closet/purse) and we traded them for stuff we could use. There were many coin tosses, rounds of ro-sham-bo, and much posturing over some West Elm sage-colored curtains, a set of cake stands, and a cruet. But the little metal monkey photo holder? That was ALL MINE.

Party number three was held in honor of Saint Patrick, who may or may not have been Irish and whom I may or may not have incorrectly referred to as St. Patty (it’s Paddy! and apparently everyone knew this but me!). Eight of us crowded around two folding tables for corned beef, Irish (or, as I’ve learned, bastardized and Americanized) soda bread, cabbage, red potatoes, carrots, and these amazing cupcakes:

Guinness cupcake + chocolate ganache + Bailey’s frosting + shamrock sprinkles? Why, yes, thank you.

But, oh, party number four. This is where the real magic happened. I’ve been planning, I mean, looking forward to this shindig for months. It started with an invitation that was mailed in a box (as all good things are).

Now, I’m not a very “themey” person by nature. And that’s an understatement. My favorite fashion and decorating mantra is from Clinton and Stacy: “It doesn’t have to match; it has to go.” Instead of trying to pick a theme or buying out the baby girl isle at Party Depot, I trusted my instincts and brought together vintage, outdoorsy-chic (the mom-to-be’s nursery theme) and feminine.

Sign calligraphy by Jenna Hein (of course). Outfits from various sources, including Baby Gap and Janie & Jack. Candle from Anthropologie.

Okay, this is not the greatest photo, but I need to tell you something. These paper pom-poms by orangekisses are a-ma-zing. In December, I followed the Martha Stewart tutorial for making these myself, and the end result was less (way less) than stellar. Suffice it to say that they were not part of my Christmas decor. I’ve also tried the MS kit (available at Michael’s), which yields better results but still not anything I would show off. But orangekisses! Pure bliss! I’m not sure if it’s the quality of the tissue or the way they’re assembled (or both), but transforming them from flats to puffy balls took less than an hour for all five, and they’re perfect. Round and fluffy and delightful (as opposed to loppy, wilted and irritating, as my previous attempts were). You can’t even tell that I carelessly tore the tissue in a few places. As far as tissue paper crafts go, this is as close to foolproof as you can get.

I also made this tart (which happened to be my first tart) and it was a huge success. Dorie Greenspan knows how to wield a mean spatula and her baking cookbook is the quintessential guide for anyone who has ever made, or wanted to make, a show-stopping baked good.

Of course, we all know that the best part of any shower is the gifts! And let me tell you, these girls know how to wrap. All-time cutest assortment of gift bags and wrap.

That giant jar on the right? Filled with diapers and everyone had to guess how many were in there. For reference, there were 44. And the mom-to-be tied for closest guess at 45. (I think she’s ready for this whole mom thing.)

I’m not sure if I had more fun picking out the baby clothes for the clothesline or the items for the memory game:

Showing off all the items also gave me the opportunity to talk about Etsy and how amazing it is. Where else can you get baby earflap hats made from felted cashmere sweaters?

Oh, and in case anyone is interested, I made a PDF of my game sheets for the shower. Page one is the memory game; you bring a tray out for a short period of time (say, two or three minutes) and then after you take it away, your guests have to list everything they saw. (Bonus: Everything on the tray is a gift to the mom and baby.) Page two is a game where the mom-to-be chooses which traits she hopes the baby will inherit from mom and which from dad, and your party guests guess her preferences. Enjoy!

Everyone got a few trinkets to take home with them…

I should’ve taken photos of all the different ones, but the muslin bags were stamped with various images. I topped the lip gloss tins with the world’s smallest nests and mushroom birds. Inside the muslin bags were a tiny lined notebook and a bit of chocolatey goodness. Because the sherbet punch and pear tart didn’t put us into enough of a sugar coma already.

Thanks to all the wonderful girls who came and made this such a lovely day for Sarah!

Organized under Craftyness, Design, Shopping. One comment.

Not-so-happily ever after

March 10, 2010

We all love to talk about our most fabulous clients — the ones where everything clicked, where the stars aligned and the heavens opened and sun flooded down and everything was right with the world. Every time you propose an idea, they happen to email you at the exact same moment with the same idea! It’s like working with your muse, your best friend, your brother-from-another-profession. I call these the “happily ever after” clients. It’s likely that they’ll send you lots of referrals and talk you up to their clients and send you work on an ongoing basis. Awesome! The upper echelon of self-employment bliss.

If your business was a reality TV show, this client would be The Bachelor — except that he’d send all the other girls home after the first date and propose to you right then and there.

Chances are, you had a good feeling about this client from the get-go. You knew from your first meeting, call, email or retweet that this was one of your Right People. You spoke the same language, you had the same vision, and your gut (don’t undermine the gut!) said this was going to be great. If you’re a designer, maybe you and the client used the same style terminology to describe their future collateral. If you’re a writer, maybe you had the same sassy tone and style standards in your correspondence.

But what about those times when you’re wrong? When your seemingly-Right-Person is a Wrong Person in sheep’s clothing? I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not batting 1000 in weeding out right vs. wrong people. Sometimes it goes something like this. Sometimes it feels like crawling out of the flaming river of death. And sometimes, after both of those, I have to deep-clean the house and eat these cookies out of the bowl with a spoon.

Somewhere along the way, we all learned that romantic fairy tales — of the Cinderella variety — are, well, tales, and only marginally tied to reality. Even in the healthiest, most stable relationships, things like work and communication and reflection and understanding are required for success. And let’s face it: We’ve all (or most) had relationships with people where we worked really hard and communicated fully and reflected often and practiced empathetic understanding and it still didn’t work out.

Yet, in our relationships with clients, we seem to expect a “happily ever after” from every relationship. When we don’t get it, we feel like we did something wrong. Despite telling ourselves it’s not you, it’s them, there’s still that little voice inside that says, but if you’d just…

Seriously. It’s not you.

I can say this, honestly and sincerely, to every single person who has experienced a client break-up. Whether you’re the breaker-up-er or the break-up-ee, it’s all about fit. There isn’t something fundamentally wrong with you or your services or your craftsmanship or your work ethic or your approach. Is there something wrong with them? Wrong isn’t the word I’d use; not ready for what you’re doing seems more accurate.

As one of my friends wisely said to me once, “Sometimes, it’s like you’re trying to sell them a Super Bowl commercial, and all they want is a stick in a bucket.” Sound familiar? If it does, you’re dealing with poor fit.

Keep trusting your instincts.

It’s all too easy to draw everything into question after a bad break-up. If I was wrong about them, how can I be sure about the other prospects I’m talking to right now?

Think back to a bad break-up with a significant other. The feelings are similar, are they not? And yet, in life, you figured out how to rest in the complete amazing-ness of your true self and continue putting yourself out there.

Let’s say your ex was kind and intellectual, a fantastic cook, a triathlete, and took care of abandoned kittens in his free time. Are you going to go and date someone who’s cruel and hates books, whose culinary claim-to-fame is instant Jello, who can barely walk from the car to your house, and who kicks kittens for fun? (No kittens were harmed in the making of this description.)

Yet this is what we do (or think about doing) with our business. Don’t give in. You know what’s right for your business, and your instincts are rockin’. Soon, someone’s going to come along who desperately needs that package that Wrong-Person-so-and-so told you to trash. Vindication!

Is there anything worth gleaning?

One of my favorite (and by favorite, I mean most despised) phrases is, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” In silver medal position is the ubiquitous, “Can I give you some constructive criticism?” In both cases, whatever follows needs to be handled with a hazmat suit and a strong cup of coffee.

Someone may approach something in the worst way possible. They might ambush you by mentioning it in passing, or they might sucker you by toting it as constructive, or they might just be rude and careless and coming from a Not-Your-Right-Person place. And experience tells me that 98% of what they said is complete rubbish. But there can be something to glean from that 2% if you can wade through and discard everything else. You may disagree that that section of your copy is poorly written or that your website sidebar is confusing or that your communication with clients is not timely or consistent. But maybe you could reach out to people you trust and ask for their input on that section of copy. Or maybe you could strategically rearrange your sidebar and see what happens.

Now, there’s a giant caveat: If that 98% is just going to ransack your hard-fought strongholds and pillage your creative spirit and and leave you without the energy or desire to reflect on the 2%, don’t bother. It isn’t worth it. Someday you can come back to it, or (if it’s really important) someone else will come along and give you the same advice in a loving, respectful, encouraging way. (If this is you, go read about having shoes thrown at you. I think you’ll like it.)

Maybe, just maybe, this is happy after all.

In other words, give yourself permission to cut your losses. You could’ve dragged out this relationship for weeks, months, years and been utterly miserable as they put you in a teeny tiny box and/or treated you like a monkey-puppet and/or took up space, time, energy and creativity that you could be using for real Right People.

Sanity check.

Do you run into trouble discriminating right people from wrong people? How do you improve your screening process while still listening to your heart/gut/intuition? Or maybe you don’t have trouble with this, in which case, please share your magic formula. (Does it involve a strange test in a temple by a samurai?)

Organized under Solopreneuring. 2 comments.

A Night at the Academy

March 6, 2010

In case anyone else is hosting an Oscar party this weekend, I thought I’d share the ballot that our guests will be using to pick their horses (so to speak) on Sunday evening.

Ballot preview

Yes, there are about 6,328 different ballots floating around out there, including the the official Oscar.com printable ballot, the Evite ballot, and a quite lovely ballot from Twig & Thistle.

But my husband, the brilliant movie aficionado, wanted a weighted ballot, and I had to agree that that would be most awesome. Sure, I could’ve printed one of the other ballots and told people to give themselves extra points for some things, or scribbled notes on each one, but that is so not my style. It has to be pretty or it isn’t worth doing. Period.

So without further ado, a PDF of our ballot. Two sided, prints on 8.5″x11″.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Organized under Design, Life. 3 comments.

Round-up

March 4, 2010

These last few weeks, I’ve been working on some posts about some meatier stuff. (I know you’re thinking it isn’t difficult to get meatier than the dry cleaner and books, and I’d have to agree with you. But I digress.) Stuff like my codependent relationship with email and how I’m trying to fix it, and shoulds vs. wants for small businesses, and my get-things-done-without-feeling-like-a-productivity-robot secrets, and a certain occupational hazard that shall for now remain nameless. In the meantime, I should be writing about design stuff or client stuff or being-authentic stuff, but I haven’t because I’ve been in this hi, overwhelm, meet insecurity place where even writing that sentence is hard. Because I have a whole giant system for addressing overwhelm and I’m used to it working. But then insecurity has to swoop in and ruin everything. Thanks a lot.

All of that to say, it’s way past time to do a round-up of all the super awesome and wonderful stuff that’s been going on in the midst of stuff gone awry. Hopefully this round-up will become a regular habit.

The books! Oh, the books.

I am now on books four and five of twelve. I usually have this rule about reading multiple books at the same time (and it’s called I can’t stand the thought of my books resenting me for sitting there, bookmarked and lonely) but I quickly realized that I’d be in Gone with the Wind for quite some time and needed a second book that doesn’t require its own boarding pass when I get on an airplane. I’ve also concluded that any book about books is a quick sell with me. You could tell me that The Principles of Microeconomics was a book about books and I’d probably read it. Case in point:

“It was a paradise of learning, and I prayed for eventual admission… My fingers itched to take a few off the shelves, but I didn’t dare touch even a binding.” (The Historian)

Four-day work week? Yep. Check.

I can’t say it’s any easier, but I’m sticking with it. I’m fairly certain I imagined that hours would magically appear in the days I would be working and that would somehow compensate for the day off. With no one volunteering to switch from 24- to 32-hour days, I’m brainstorming other solutions.

The Oregon Coast makes me glad to be alive.

So do a lot of other things, like baking and my husband. But I got to spend not one but two weekends at the coast this month and it was pure bliss.

Ever wondered what to do with those 30 bone china teacups and saucers in your china cabinet?

Me neither. But apparently, my mom and Granny actually do ask themselves these kinds of questions. My mom and I planned and served (with the help of my generous husband) a seated four-course high tea dinner for my Granny and 25 of her closest friends. One of my colleagues pointed out how amazing it is to not only have an 80th birthday but to have that many dear people to share it with. I have to agree.

Bear in mind that all of those teacups, saucers and hand-painted china plates have to be washed. By hand. Along with the 25 wine glasses and everything you served from, cooked in, and baked on. Consider yourself warned.

I pitched my tent!

I had a Wilderness Concierge session this week, and oh. my. gosh. Kelly is brilliant and supportive and encouraging and makes you feel like everything you say and think is not only sane (whew!) but also meaningful, valuable and useful. I’m so stinkin’ excited I want to run around yelling LOOK AT ALL MY AWESOME NEW STUFF! Except that wouldn’t be a good idea, because all that new stuff is still in my head. And if people tried to look in there, well, a) things could get pretty messy, and b) it might look something like this. A whole world of weird in there? Yes, indeed.

Organized under Design, Life, Solopreneuring. 2 comments.

My first official three-day weekend

January 25, 2010

…and I have to say it was a little rough.

I’m sure those of you who worked today are pretty short on sympathy. Oh, poor Allie *had* to take a day off… I have the world’s smallest violin for you. Yeah. That’s fair.

But the purpose behind this experiment is setting boundaries, right? Taking Monday off is more symbolic than anything else. I got to the point where I was doing some kind of work every day. Taking phone calls at obscene hours. Using an FTP client on my iPhone to fix minor stuff (usually because a client accidentally broke something) while I was driving. Sitting on a ferry in the beautiful Pacific northwest and feeling anxious because oh my gosh I can’t check my email what if someone needs me. This needed major action.

The boundary-setting is bigger than setting boundaries on my time; I have to set boundaries with the kind of work I do and how I allow people to treat me and how I treat my business as whole. But time was the most natural place to start — and I’m already finding that, when you set time boundaries, some of those other boundaries are naturally (by necessity) created for you. I’m excited to see how this progresses in the weeks to come. But for now, I’m pretty gosh darn excited.

Because I went to the dry cleaner!

This seems so beyond small, but I have been trying to get to the dry cleaner for more than four months. It was so out of hand that it was my new years resolution.

You see, the dry cleaner that I like isn’t close to anything else. Not that it’s very far, but it isn’t on the way to anything, adjacent to anything, or otherwise located so that I couldn’t help but stop by. I have to go there on purpose. And I was always too frantic during business hours on weekdays to get there. Either I was making the most of the hour I set aside for requisite errands (a dozen errands in an hour? no problem!) or it was 4:58 and there was no way even I could jet over there before 5.

Today, I didn’t have any excuses and I didn’t have all these things to see! emails to answer! people to meet! because I wasn’t on a minute-by-minute schedule. I could take 15 minutes to drive over, drop off my clothes, and drive home.

And because I’m a total Monica (oh, the dance of the clean clothes!), it totally made my day.

But it almost didn’t happen.

I picked up a couple of new client prospects on Friday. (Actually, I was inundated with new prospects last week (!) — not big corporations or high-paying gigs, but super-creative work for super-nice people [i.e. the best work] — which is extremely exciting and is part of the reason why this three-day weekend was killing me… but I digress.) One of them is on a tight timeline, and the person who referred me told me up front that this potential client was leaving on Monday and would be gone for two weeks. So I emailed right away and asked if we could set something up for Monday.

Yes, Monday. I knew I shouldn’t, but what’s one little meeting over coffee? (This is every addict’s reasoning, BTW.)

Well, he was leaving Monday morning, so he wanted to meet over the weekend. But I had to draw the line somewhere. (Conveniently for me and my inability to create boundaries, I had plans for both Saturday and Sunday, so it would’ve been a glaring red flag to squeeze in a meeting in an already-full calendar.) I suggested that we set something up for the week he returned and suggested dates and times.

He wrote back and said he was going with someone else. That I couldn’t meet the timeline he had in mind.

Now, in well-adjusted-person interpretation, this means, “He is not my right person and has no respect for my time and boundaries.” But in Allie interpretation, it means, “I am insufficient and failing my clients and no one will want to work with someone who (insert healthy boundary here).”

Fortunately, miraculously, I didn’t cave in and set up a Sunday meeting. I held my ground. And my reward was the dry cleaner. The dry cleaner! Man, that was great.

Hey, Friday? I’ll deal with you next.

Taking an honest-to-goodness weekend makes Friday into the day when everything must get done to a point where I can leave it for three days. And frankly, putting that much pressure on poor Friday makes her into a bit of a bitch.

But then I realized that Friday has always been a pain. I wasn’t working into the night (and still not feeling completely at peace about things) because of my four-day work week. It was par for the course with Friday. The usual. Not worse, not better.

So there may have been a little cheating.

I did take a client technical support call (their email was down!), and I answered a couple of emails (mostly personal emails! promise!). But overall, it was a success. Especially considering that this was the first day for another experiment (more on that later), so I was doubly “depriving myself” of things today.

And, bonus! My to-do list (for life things) is at a manageable place for the first time in months. I didn’t even feel busy today, but apparently it was just the amount of time I needed to get everything wrangled. Wait, I get this and the dry cleaner even though I cheated? I can’t wait to see what next Monday brings.

Organized under Life, Solopreneuring. 3 comments.

Twenty-five

January 22, 2010

Last year, I made a list of 24 things to do before I turned 25. This was actually my second time making such a list, but the first time around, I filled it with typical type-A, overachiever-type things and composed my list 36 days before my birthday. While I was planning a wedding and getting ready for Christmas and about to help my husband move to Oregon and in month four of working for myself full time.

Needless to say, my 23 didn’t go so well, at least not before 24. Less than half of those items were done. But now, another year later, I can give myself a (tiny) pat on the back because, hey! I’ve done a lot of those things! And I did things from my 24 list too!

The really weird thing (to me) is that I didn’t look at either of these lists for, well, almost an entire year. It wasn’t until I started thinking about writing my 25 before 26 that I went back to look at 24. It wasn’t like I printed out the list and posted it on my bulletin board where I’d be reminded every day. Hi! We’re all the things you should be doing with your life! And therefore whatever you’re doing right now isn’t good because it isn’t one of us. (And yes, that really is how my to-do list talks to me.)

Instead, it was the conscious, deliberate act of writing them down that caused them to happen. Just like Havi’s personal ads. In the comments, I referred to myself as “the girl who needs serious lessons in asking for stuff.” And yeah, that’s still true. But apparently I was doing a better job of asking for things than I thought.

Other than writing the list, I can’t think of any days that I sat down and said, Alright, today is the day I do this thing. But along the way, without so much as remembering they were on the list, I managed to simplify, to expect less, to be thankful, to have adventures, to give generously, to be more fearless, to apply for challenging business opportunities, to finish a writing project, to volunteer, to read, to sew, to host fabulous parties, and (my personal favorite) to redeem hurtful and negative things for good.

This year, I’m carrying over several of things from 24. Those work-in-progress-ey kinds of things, like:

  1. expect less
  2. be patient
  3. pray
  4. be thankful
  5. appreciate the everyday
  6. do acts of selfless kindness
  7. redeem hurtful and negative things for good
  8. give generously
  9. be more fearless
  10. remember that having an open heart is always worth it
  11. keep getting better at being myself

I was tempted to carry over even more things from 24, because many of those things are things that I want to continue doing in 2010. But instead, I’m getting more specific. Whereas 24 had things like keep reading (so many lovely books!) and have an adventure (honeymoon in the Cook Islands! road trip to Canada!) and host fabulous parties (progressive dinner! game nights!), 25 has things like:

  1. read at least 12 books
  2. have an adventure in a place I’ve never visited before
  3. host a spring swap
  4. try Zumba
  5. give myself permission to be imperfect (i.e. adopt a wabi sabi mindset and start giving myself what I seem to be very able to give everyone else)
  6. take a letterpress class (for crying out loud! this is the third year this has been on the list! why do I put off things I would love?)
  7. watch 100 50 25 Netflix queue movies
  8. hire an honest-to-goodness business coach and/or assistant (i.e. start treating my business more like a business and less like contracting)
  9. record more of my dreams
  10. keep volunteering, even when no one takes me up on it
  11. write at least two real cards or letters every month (cannot include: thank-you notes and occasion cards, like birthdays and weddings)
  12. give acceptance and encouragement at every opportunity
  13. set boundaries
  14. remember that everything is spiritual

Organized under Life. 3 comments.

2010 reading plan

January 19, 2010

Among my many goals for 2010 are two reading goals. There should be three (one for online reading — news journals, blogs, etc.), but for now there are two: religious and non-religious reading.

#1: Non-religious reading

I’ve seen lots of tweets about people reading 52 books a year; more reasonable people are aiming for 26 books this year. I don’t know about you, but with Gone with the Wind and Les Miserables on my 2010 reading list, I can’t even see myself wrapping up a book every other week. (Les Mis is 1,488 pages; divided by 14 days, that’s slightly more than 106 pages each day. Umm, hi! This is your job and your gym membership and your sleep calling, and no.)

In the spirit of being sane, I’m shooting for a book a month. That’s 12 books, people. And for heaven’s sake, can someone make some book recommendations that are less than 1,000 pages? Or maybe just help me make selections from this list, because I can’t seem to narrow it down.

#2: Religious reading

Disclaimer: I normally don’t talk about religion online, because it’s such a polarizing issue (yuck), but in the spirit of authenticity, this is one of a few brief (and totally non-inflammatory, I promise) faith-related mentions.

After experimenting with a few different “read through the Bible in a year” reading plans, my heart was led to draw up my own reading plan for 2010. In elementary school, and then in college, I spent a substantial amount of time in the early Old Testament — and I’m sure there’s still plenty I can get out of those books, but it didn’t feel like I should be focusing (i.e. getting bogged down) there this year.

I soon realized that there are 260 chapters in the New Testament, which happens to be the same number of weekdays in one year. (52 weeks times 5 days equals 260.) So the basis for this reading plan is to have readings for each week day, leaving the weekends open to catch up on what I missed, or study one of the readings in depth, or focus on teachings from the Sunday message, or something else entirely.

Each day, there’s one chapter from the Old Testament prophets, one chapter from wisdom literature, and one chapter from the New Testament. Aside from placing Job at the end of the year instead of the beginning, everything is in canonical order. If you want to read through the whole Bible (including the Torah and historical books) in a year, you need to add about two chapters a day from those books (or about eight chapters each weekend).

In case this is helpful to anyone else, I created PDFs of the reading plan in a small bookmark format and a larger half-page format.

What are you reading this year?

Organized under Books, Life. 6 comments.

Instituting the four-day work week

January 16, 2010

I’m always experimenting with new structures and systems to make me more effective in what I do. It’s a big part of my DTO, obsessive organization thing.

Sometime last year, I read this post and was inspired to experiment with a four-day work week. To say it was a miserable failure is an understatement. It failed for a number of reasons, big and small.

In setting business and personal goals for 2010, I found that whole four-day work week lingering around. Apparently I wasn’t done with my experiment. There was a goal statement (someone else’s goal statement, in fact) that kept coming back to me: One day off every week. One week off every month. One month off every year. And if that’s the end goal, it seems like the first baby step is the one day off every week part.

This person might’ve been talking about one literal day off every week, not one “work day” off every week. But I’ve been feeling a strong (overwhelming, unavoidable) need to set boundaries and find balance. Like many solopreneurs, I do some kind of work every day, and I take phone calls/requests/meetings/etc. from clients when I really shouldn’t and everything in me is telling me not to. (Like when I’m in a hotel room, at 2 a.m. on a holiday, on a road trip. But I digress.) Clearly, I need some boundaries.

First, I needed to identify the reasons this work plan failed last time and take conscious, deliberate action to address those issues.

Problem #1: Friday.

When I worked an 8-to-5 job for someone else, Friday was the day when productivity was at its lowest. I rarely had meetings. Emails were slow. There may have even been an occasional two-hour lunch. You could take Friday off without doing too much suffering the next work day.

But in my business, Friday is often my busiest, most productive day. I thrive on going into the weekend with to-dos checked and emails answered. And it seems to work the same way for many of my clients as well. Trying to take Friday off was setting myself up for failure.

Monday, on the other hand, tends to be a very administrative day — billing, proposals, correspondence, planning. And while that all has to get done, I can fit it into the administrative time that I set aside from every other day. So the first problem had an easy solution: change the day. (Duh.)

Problem #2: Email.

If I read an email, I can’t stop thinking about it until the issue is resolved or a response is provided. I blame this on the spaghetti brain phenomenon. But no matter the reason, I can’t try to take the day off when I’m on my laptop or iPhone checking email all day. In fact, this was how my four-day work week died the first time around. I would come online “just to answer a few emails,” and before I knew it, I was revising design mock-ups and troubleshooting technical issues and I couldn’t quite figure out how it all happened.

Solution #2: Put the email aside. Post an auto-responder on my email account so the sender knows that I’m out of the office, and then leave the email alone.

Problem #3: Guilt.

Honestly, this is the biggest hurdle. I feel guilty when I’m not working. When I worked for someone else, I celebrated the days when I could leave work at the office. Now, I feel this strange insufficiency and fear of neglect when my work doesn’t cross my mind 85 times each evening and 324 times every weekend.

The solution for this one isn’t as easy as the first two. But I think it involves embracing the guilt for what it represents: that my business is important to me and my client relationships are valuable. (There’s also this little issue of me needing to be the best at everything and never wanting to let anyone down for any reason, even if they’re being completely unreasonable. But that’s a big work in progress, and a story for another day.)

Problem #4: Catch-up.

We all need a day to catch up from time to time. But I found that even my “day off” wasn’t sufficient for me to catch up because I was mired in daily stuff. And then I would feel inadequate and un-entrepreneur-ey because I couldn’t catch up. And then I’d think of all the other entrepreneur-ey things I “should” be doing, and add those to the impossibly long to-do list that needs catching up on. And repeat.

Addressing this problem is a big lesson in boundaries. I’m giving myself permission to use my extra day off to catch up, but I’m not giving myself permission to tell anyone that I’m in the office. As far as the world is concerned, I’m unavailable until Tuesday. This means that I can’t do anything that won’t give me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. In other words, using that day off for working has to feel worth it.

So, starting this Monday, I’m officially out of the office on Mondays. (I cheated a little since Monday is a national holiday, but we all have to start somewhere. I may be known for working holidays from time to time. Or regularly.)

New issues may arise this year, and they’ll need their own solutions. But for now, these are the ground rules, and I’m not making any excuses. (Okay, maybe one or two, but that’s it. Promise.)

Organized under Life, Solopreneuring. 4 comments.

(Re-)Birthday

January 5, 2010

Well, today happens to be my birthday. So it seemed like the just-right day for a little blog re-birthday. (Fun!)

Once upon a time, the internet was a much less crowded, much more anonymous (or so it seemed) place. We’ll call this way-back-when time the 90s. It was a time before Facebook, before Wordpress, before terms like social media and blog and tweet were even coined. (Okay, so tweet was a legitimate word back then, but you get my drift.) Young, aspiring web designers had domains, and most of those domains had journals (i.e. blogs) where melodramatic teens and pre-teens wrote overly-personal accounts of their thrilling personal lives.

Unless you were me and were terrified of ever hurting or offending the characters (i.e. friends and family members) in your entries, in which case you wrote your journal under a pseudonym in abstract hyperbole. But I digress.

That was my first blog, and when that chapter closed, I didn’t blog for awhile. And then I started this blog, which I affectionately called Red Herring, in 2005. Its sole purpose was to give me a place to post noteworthy links, quotes, short diatribes, and other diversions (thus the name). At the time, I called it “micro-blogging.”

In 2010, we would, by and large, call this kind of blogging tweeting.

And (shockingly), that’s what I now use Twitter for, among other things. (Duh.)

I’ve found that what I really need this space to be is a place for expression. Because sometimes, people like Eileen and Briana and Havi and things like daily life inspire me to write about heart things — purpose, meaning, head-heart stuff, intuition, spirituality. And other times, people like my clients and my husband and things like my own crappy (awful, horrible) user experiences inspire me to write about head things — usability, politics, Wordpress, marketing, organization, standards-compliant design.

This, of course, breaks all the rules of blogging. Because blogs (especially those associated with your business) are supposed to be focused and topical and a bunch of other adjectives that I honestly can’t relate to. Ultimately, social media is about authenticity. And how authentic could I really be if all I blogged about was web design, development and strategy? I love my clients, I love my work, and I’m thankful every single day that I do what I do. (Seriously.) But that’s one part of me, one part of my life. There’s a whole lot more.

And if I can say so, that “lot more” is pretty cool.

Of course, this led me to need a new name for the blog. I started off trying to be clever. (Too clever.) I came up with pub and had an ohmygosh how brilliant moment. Pub is short for publish, which is what you’re doing when you’re blogging. (Obviously.) Pub is also short for publications, which is what I do for a living. And best of all, there’s the pub — as in the place you go. Because sometimes I just want to have a beer (or four), sing Auld Laug Syne and eat some mozzarella sticks. (Know what I mean?)

Clearly, I needed to go back (way, way back) to a less clever, more (you guessed it) authentic place. And that brought me to a planner that I designed in 2006. On each page, after the appointments and the to-dos, there was a spot for a “P.S. (Pretty Sweet)” — something thoughtful and lovely to complete each day. Honestly, I failed (miserably) at finishing each day on that note. But it’s a worthy aspiration, and one that I’m not quite done with.

Here’s my place for those pretty sweet things. I can’t promise they’ll be daily, and sometimes they might not be as sweet as they should be. (Like when I go on a six-paragraph rant about Adobe or Paypal or invasion of privacy, because seriously, it’s coming.) And sometimes they’ll be photos or quotes or things that are just barely longer than 140 characters. But no matter what they are, they’ll be authentic. And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty goshdarn sweet.

Organized under Life. 3 comments.

iMac

December 26, 2009

Apparently the new 27″ iMac can also be used as an external display — and at $100 less than the non-LED 30″ cinema display, this almost sounds reasonable. But wouldn’t anyone else like to see a standalone 27″ cinema display also at a price point closer to $1k? Just seems wasteful to have a whole (brand-new) computer that I don’t use.

Organized under Technology. No comments.

Handbag Parade

November 10, 2009

As every retail website is not-so-graciously reminding us, only 44 days until Christmas! For the next few weeks (or longer), I plan to blog about my favorite Etsy finds — gifts for others, gifts for yourself, swoon-worthy things that you wish you had an excuse to buy. And it seems fitting to start with my guiltiest pleasure: handbags. I have my eye on three lovelies right now, and since they’re all different sizes, I’m having difficulty convincing myself that I shouldn’t get them all. The smallest is the Leila clutch by percyhandmade, a petite dream in gray dupioni and white lace. Then of course, there’s the Johanna by bagonia… oh, the trimming. Last but not least, there’s TheLeatherStore’s leather laptop bag. Perfect pockets, beautiful lining.

Organized under Shopping. No comments.