On Writing

I share honestly. Transparently. And it feels incredibly liberating. Except when it doesn’t. Because, I too live in the real world.

I have been following writers for as long as I can remember. I loved to read as a little girl. Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Harriet the Spy, Trixie Belden, and a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And, as I grew up, I continued to passionately pursue reading as a hobby.

And secretly I dreamed, someday, that I might be a writer.

I shared both the passion of reading (and the desire to write) with my mother, who introduced me to authors that challenged me and inspired me. We would share our favorites, and sometimes, we’d argue about the philosophies shared by the writers.

Mostly, I just borrowed her books and never returned them. (Sorry, Ma!)

One of our common favorites was Pat Conroy. I found The Water is Wide first, and then moved on to The Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, Beach Music, My Losing Season, South of Broad, and his memoir, The Death of Santini.

What always fascinated me about his writing, and what I believe I connected to the most, was his raw vulnerability. The more I read about him, the more I learned and realized that much of his personal life was reflected in his stories. I discovered that The Great Santini caused friction in the family, because it reportedly revealed family secrets. His father, after reading, was initially angered, and then eventually set about to prove himself to be a better man than he read in the pages of that novel.

The power of words, written, can truly change the course of a person’s life.

While I don’t have family secrets, I do have a past, and there has been pain and failure and shame (I hear that I not alone in that fact). And, yet, it is my pain, failure and shame that have shaped me and given me the strength, insight and desire to make it all worth something. If I can take my fears, doubts and mistakes and somehow inspire someone else, it will be worth every tear I cried while trying to find my way to the light.

Recently, when someone commented on the transparency in my writing, I was reminded of Conroy, and the inspiration he had on my early life. His pioneering way to writing, personally, passionately and clearly, without losing his power, he was a true professional. Turning Pro, as I have written in a previous post, is not easy, but I do believe, at least for myself, it is necessary.

I found this quote shared by Conroy toward the end of a forward in Writing South Carolina: Selections from the First High School Writing Contest — a publication for high school students in Beaufort, SC in 2015.

“To write is a form of nakedness that all of you are going to learn about when this book is published. It is an act of courage to write anything, but it is an act approaching madness to want to do this for a living.

Go deeper. That is my advice to all writers. Then go deeper again. When I look at myself in the mirror, I’ve no clear idea of who that guy is looking back. For fifty years I’ve been trying to learn the essential truth of that one man. I’m not sure I’ve scratched the surface of that unending mystery. There are enigmas buried inside you in the deepest waters. Whether they be angels or moray eels, whether they be godlike or demonic, it is your job to discover them for yourself and no one else. You write for yourself. You write for no one else. It is your art that you are seeking, and if you are very lucky, it is your art that is desperately trying to make its own voice heard to you. Listen. Pray it is calling your name.”

I write from the heart, and if it’s worth reading, I can only say, it is calling my name, and I believe it is my duty to respond. We’re all called to something, some time. I pray you are brave enough to answer.

The Thing About Trolls

Not the cute “Hair Up” “Dance Dance Dance” variety. The Internet variety.

I have learned a lot about trolls over the past several years. Ever since I have been encouraging conversations about the local economy and small businesses in an online forum, I have been dealing with the most interesting people.

When one troll didn’t like the fact that there were rules in our forum, and he didn’t agree with them, he created his own forum, named it the same thing, just changed one word. And told everyone that his was a FREE forum, where everyone could post whatever they wanted.

At the time, this stole my joy. I was hurt, frustrated, angry. I wanted to know how to “fix” it and figure out what I had done to deserve such “cruelty.” To make matters worse, one of the members of this new group took a screen shot of a photo I had shared of myself and Craig at a Spring Training game, on the berm, with a subtitle — “This must be where the money is going!” Yep, the $12 ticket to the “cheap seats!” 🙂

I can remember how frustrated I was, but the key is, today, I can look back on them and recognize that they have made me better. I didn’t let the trolls stop me. But they did effect me. And, over time, I have learned how to deal with them. I found a way to accomplish what I feel I was put on this earth to accomplish — in spite of the haters.

The cool part is, at this point, all these years later, there seem to be fewer trolls lying in wait, ready to pounce. Maybe mom was right, if you ignore them, they will eventually find someone else to pick on. Sadly, there are people who find satisfaction in the anonymity that being a troll provides them. But you cannot let them win. Someday, I hope we as a society work to solve this problem, but in the meantime,

You cannot let them steal your joy, or keep you from your purpose.

So, whenever I deal with a troll today, I consider several things before I respond (if I respond at all).

First, what do I know about them? For me, personifying the troll, helps me try to see things from their perspective. If I can’t figure out what their angle is, I create a story for them in my head — Most of the time, it goes like this: “Wow, this person must be hurting. I wonder if she had a crummy childhood, or maybe he found out his mother is sick, or her husband is cheating on her.

This helps me put the situation into a little bit of perspective — even if it’s not really true, I need to realize that there is probably something underlying, and it’s not me. 

There have been cases when it has been me. Not necessarily something I am proud of, but when you’re dealing with real people — people you know and think you can trust in the community, the emotions become a little more personal.

There is one time, early on in the development of the community, that I allowed my emotions to get the better of me and I engaged. I reacted to the situation, and then, I immediately regretted it. I then publicly apologized — I did not delete anything, and I swore that I would never do that again.

So, what I do now, is consider the words I want to say — I might type them as if I am going to comment, or send them to myself in a text (I do this a lot!) But I do not engage publicly in a negative, argumentative way. I read their comment, and generally find a way to tell them that I hear them, but that it’s not something I agree with, and we can agree to disagree.

If it seems there’s no way to resolve the situation, I will let it go, without comment. Sometimes, this is not possible, because the troll is waiting for you. And, they might escalate it to call you out and ask why you haven’t responded. In these cases, I normally, send them a private message, and comment (for the sake of the peanut-troll gallery) that I have done so.

You might be asking why I care, why I engage, why these people matter.

The answer is, they might not matter to the end result, but the path toward connection and transparency requires that we acknowledge that there are those who will disagree with us. They have the right to their own opinion. And, by refusing to lose our cool, or worse, shut it down, delete the account, and let them feel the satisfaction of “winning,” we are sending the message, that what we are doing, what we’re working to do is bigger than them, and, over time, this message will be what people remember. And the trolls will eventually grow tired. As long as we don’t give them what they want — which is usually the satisfaction that they brought you down to their level.

Taking the high road, and yet, allowing yourself to stay connected and accessible, is the hardest choice — but in the end, I believe it is the best choice we can make — if we’re doing work that matters.

Whatever it Takes

It’s easy to point the finger. But what makes us stronger is taking responsibility for our role in success (or lack thereof).

If we’re stuck, how did we get here? And what is it going to take to get unstuck?

Chances are, we didn’t get here overnight, and we won’t get there overnight either.

The pivotal moment comes not just when we’re able to take an honest look at ourselves, but when we’re truly willing to take that step away from what is comfortable.

Warning
It’s going to be hard. The labor is going to be painful, uncomfortable, challenging.

Especially when we’re still holding on to the history, the good old days, the golden years. What got us here won’t get us there.

When we get to the point that we realize that there’s some undoing that needs to be done, some bridges that need to be built and some forgiveness that needs to take place — that’s when the real work begins.

What do we want, going forward? And, if we want to get there, what are we going to need to do?

“Whatever it takes” isn’t a popular idea. But it might be the only way we turn the corner and change the trend away from the negativity toward a brighter, happier, more profitable future.

Who’s Driving?

On my 30th birthday, I was still shadow-boxing, battling to discover the answer to the question, “Why am I here?” I thought I was born to be a mother, and yet that had yet to happen. I write about that in another post. I can recall the day of my birthday very clearly. It was very uneventful.

That’s what makes it stand out in my mind. I was angry. Bitter and frustrated that nothing seemed to be going the way I wanted it to go. But it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted. It was empty — and I abhorred that emptiness.

I was angry at my ex-husband for not realizing that my 30th birthday was supposed to be a special day. I expected him to do something, and he didn’t. And it hurt me so much that I spent the day pretending to be happy, while inside I was anything but.

It’s ridiculous that we can get so angry at others for not meeting our expectations — even when we’ve never even shared that we have these certain desires.

So, I took control. A day before my birthday, when it occurred to me that nothing was going to happen on my birthday unless I did something, I started to call all of my friends, and family and planned my own party. It came together beautifully. Everyone was there to celebrate with me, and to love me. But it wasn’t enough. Because it wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was a surprise party. But the truth is, that would have been impossible – because I also wanted to control it all! 🙂

When I look back at that time of my life, I realize that what made me the most angry was that I had no control.

All I wanted was what I wanted. I thought I knew what my life should be. I was bitter that things weren’t going the way I had planned.

And the more I tried to control everything, the more out of control my life became.

Eventually, the bottom fell out. Except it didn’t happen all at once. My bitterness made it a slow, painful process. My anger was my cross to bear, and I played the victim like a champ, so the bottom didn’t come quickly. It came ever-so-slowly, like a gigantic bandaid being ripped off one day after another.

Until I was numb to the pain, and just going through the motions — pretending to be alive.

I am so grateful for that painful journey.

Because, today, because of that painful journey, I know that I am not in control. I still struggle with this (every day). I still want to be in control. I want to be able to skip to the last page of the book, so that I can make certain I will like how the story ends.

But, I realize today, that I am not driving.

I am in control of only two things — my thoughts, and how I react to those thoughts. How things turn out, is not within my control. And when I finally came to accept this, it allowed me to truly begin to enjoy the journey.

I just know that my job is to show up, do my best, give my love, and know that I have done my part. The rest, is not up for me to decide. And, that’s ok, because I finally know why I am here: to help others find their purpose, by helping them see the goodness — no the GREATNESS that exists in the world when we realize we’re really not driving. 

Skin in the Game

Why Emotional Labor isn’t Optional

We like the sidelines. The gray area. The safe zone. The periphery. I used to like all of those things too. But there was something about those places that kept me feeling empty. Maybe even a little bit isolated from everything that seemed important. Life, however was relatively “easy.” I didn’t have to think too much. Because, I wasn’t invested in much — which, in the end, left me feeling unfulfilled, and in some cases, uninvited.

I looked on with detachment at the “movers and shakers,” wondering how I might be invited to their game. I really thought it required some kind of invitation. And, since I wasn’t invited, I didn’t think there was any way I could make a difference. Apathetic, disengaged, lacking purpose, and for the most part, going through the motions. And, wondering if this was all there was to life.

But, then I discovered my voice. And, I took a few risks. To my surprise, there wasn’t an echo. Someone listened. And I realized I wasn’t alone.

I soon began to learn that it’s not being invited that makes things happen — at least not anymore. Today, everyone is invited — as long as you’re willing to put in the emotional labor of caring about the people in the ring.

The first step is to invite yourself.

I can say that now, that I have spent some time doing the emotional labor, because I realize how incredible the reward of doing work that matters is. I didn’t set out to be here, writing, sharing, guiding and coaching. But I learned by doing, and inviting myself — something I wish was easier, so that more people might join the good fight.

But, then again, if it was easy… everyone would be doing it — and that would… make it challenging, harder… ?

Wait. What’s wrong with that?

A world filled with people who take it upon themselves to lean in, make a difference, care? Wow, I think that would be wonderful. And yet, you’ll hear things that make it sound like that wouldn’t be such a great thing.

Nice guys finish last. Why bother? Who cares? The ends justify the means, right? It’s quantity, not quality.

But.

What if all of that is a fallacy? What if we bought that from someone who didn’t really know what it took to live life in pursuit of purpose?

This goes with anything, and the question I am emboldened to ask now, more than ever is: Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years?

Sure, you can choose not to do the emotional labor. You can take the easy way.

But at what point will taking the easy way get you where you want to be? At what point do you decide to pursue your purpose?

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It’s Your Turn

When you find someone else finding themselves, it’s almost as exciting as when you find yourself!

Recently, one of the key members of my team, Jessica, started participating in an 8-week challenge. Participants were customers at a local gym, and the final weigh in was yesterday. She lost 19.2 pounds.

But, that’s not the biggest win of that challenge. At the end of the challenge, she shared a video about how she was feeling, and reflecting on how she felt before she started the challenge.

“I wasn’t saying yes to me. That’s all it was. I just needed to share that with you, because it’s life changing. LIFE Changing. To make that first step. And then from there on, momentum catches on, and there’s no stopping you. Once you get going, there is no stopping you. It’s like going downhill, there’s no stopping you.”

Sometimes, you just find exactly what you need to find in the messages people are sharing. But this one, was a lot closer to home for me. In her words, I saw myself. And yet, her confidence in sharing that video, is something I admired and respected immensely. It’s something I continue to be challenged with.

We can (and should) learn from each other — not just our peer groups, but the generations before and after us. (More on that in a coming post). But this moment in time, whatever you’re not doing, if you’re stuck, or if you’re just not moving forward, take Jessica’s advice.

Say YES to yourself. It truly is life changing — it has changed my life, and continues to be the only way forward for me at any given moment.

Everyone else might be standing (or sitting) around you, telling you they believe in you, but until you make your move — until you say yes to yourself, everything is going to stay the same. But when you do make that first step forward, the propellers will turn on and the jets will start doing their thing.

We’re waiting for you. It’s your turn.

Keep going Jessica!

Get Over Yourself!

 

Great advice from a local restaurant owner

We (my local business network) had a meeting of the minds this morning. We had a lively discussion about how local business owners can work better together, and ultimately drive more awareness and foot traffic to the stores that are, historically called the “backbone of our community.”

Our host, a local restaurateur participated in the conversation, and helped re-ignite my passion for small business, which for the last 8 years has been at the core of everything I do.

Owning a small business is hard. In the initial stages of building and growing, it seems there’s little time for rest. We’re pulled in hundreds of different directions, and that’s not even counting the direction of “home.”

As big box brands have strengthened their grip in our small towns, and made it more and more difficult for the mom and pop to survive, friends and loved ones are warning new entrepreneurs against starting a new business.

And yet, here we are, in the trenches. Believing not only in ourselves, but also in the communities we choose to build our business, that we can make it happen. And, it creates a contradiction – We know, in order to succeed, we must compete, but not at the risk of isolation.

Most of the time, my involvement in these conversations circles around what we can do as consumers to raise awareness. But today, the conversation was packed with wisdom that we can all apply to ourselves. We have to remember that we’re not in this alone.

The message he shared caught me off guard, and yet struck a chord deep inside:

“Get over yourself”

It wasn’t said in anger, or frustration, but out of love. The tough love that we’re not so used to these days. We’re soft. But there’s no room for soft in the small business trenches.

I have paraphrased what this wise, young entrepreneur shared:

“We, as business owners have a duty to bring our best. We can’t keep thinking it’s the customers’  job to “shop small.” We have to make the shopping local experience BETTER. We need to work together, share and talk about what makes us choose Lakeland. We also need to support other small businesses — outwardly. We might not like everything about them, but we ALL have a duty to SUPPORT LOCAL and encourage others to do the same. We need to get over ourselves. We chose this for ourselves. We choose it every day. So, the only way to improve our situation, is to make it possible for all of us to thrive.” — Marcos Fernandez, Owner 1961

To apply this to anyone, regardless of their chosen profession, it might read like this:

“We, as human beings have a duty to bring our best. We can’t keep thinking it’s someone else’s job to support our efforts. We have to make what we do BETTER. We need to work together, share and talk about what makes us choose to do what we do. We also need to support other human beings — outwardly. We might not like everything about them, but we ALL have a duty to SUPPORT HUMANS and encourage others to do the same. We need to get over ourselves. We chose this for ourselves. We choose it every day. So, the only way to improve our situation, is to make it possible for all of us to thrive.” —  Awesome Human

If we want others to support us, we have to commit to supporting others. 

Because I work with and live the life of a small business owner, when I look another micro-business owner in the eye, I can see my reflection. I know they know. And that is all it takes for me to charge my batteries and ignite the passion to carry the flag of my brothers in arms.

We, as human beings are all fighting the same challenges. We’re not alone, we’re in this together.

We don’t need to explain the challenges, but we do need to stop blaming and resenting the big box (or whatever our personal challenges might be) and focus our energy on uniting on the one thing we all believe — that the lifeblood of our work is being awesome!

If small business is the backbone of a community, an alliance among all of us, arms locked in unison, becomes the arms that embrace and connect the community together. It’s not their job — it’s ours.

Re-discovering Passion

By Sarah Keener

Tonight, I had an incredible opportunity to attend a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit which is a community of believers, walking with the homeless.  Gospel, Inc is a grassroots organization where the volunteers and leaders are right out there, befriending the homeless of our amazing city.

I’ve been to these dinners before.  A prayer, a speech, a sad video, they ask you for money, you fill out your envelope, you go home full of good food and with a few dollars less in your pocket.  This wasn’t that dinner.

The light bulb came back on.  My spark was re-ignited.  I remembered.

I remembered making cookies and serving them on Christmas Eve with my daughter.  (And if you know me, you know I don’t bake…that was LOVE)  I remembered driving around with my aunt and my mother-in-law, feeding the homeless chili when the weather got cold.  Most of all, I remembered being a 16 year old girl, staying at the Bowery in New York City, a senior in high school, on my senior mission trip.  We sat at a piano while a homeless man who was staying at the Bowery played and sang.  I sat right next to him.  The homeless man became a human.  His gratitude and pure love poured over me.  And I was the one who was supposed to be helping him!  I don’t remember his name, but I remember his love and passion and understanding, his story.

In my heart, I have always felt called to help the homeless.  But we need to help them beyond feeding them every day.  (Feeding them is first priority, but there must be more)  Why do we have a shortage of jobs and an overage of homeless?  While I do understand the reality that some will never be able to work due to circumstances beyond our control, some are able to work, they just don’t know how.  I was able to come out of the dinner, with a new idea, a new perspective to solve two problems with one solution.  Let’s help these men and women work, in good jobs, and make it a joint effort.

Is this going to work?  I don’t know.  What I do know, is I found my spark again.  MY cause… My reasoning.

The Heart of the Matter

Relationships are the Root of Success

Thriving communities give off a special kind of vibe. There’s an energy and a dynamic that spreads in the smiles, actions and connections that are shared among the people of any successful community. I once heard the statement: “The Roots Determine the Fruits” and it resonated with me. Another similar message was “Garbage in, garbage out.” When it comes to the health of individuals it makes complete sense.

Imagine a grove of healthy, strong trees. The strength of one does not make all of them strong, nor does one smaller, weaker tree create a weak system for all the trees’ health.

No, the roots are the foundation for the health of any organization — groves, families, cities, countries — all the goodness comes from the roots.

I spend a lot of time thinking about communities. And, about how to make them stronger. The answer is not more, the answer is better quality.

We say things like, “A rising tide lifts all ships” as if it’s a magic spell. We just need to say these words, and all will rise.

 If the fruits are a result of the roots, it’s going to take more than just a storm surge to improve the communities we live in and love so much. Our love can be both dividing and uniting, depending on where our love is coming from.

And, if the roots of our love are healthy and strong, resilient and determined to give fruit to the world, we have everything we need. People, not systems determine a healthy thriving community.

The systems, when developed in a healthy environment, unite, not divide.

Relationships, trust, respect, concern, empathy, love. That is the stuff of great communities.

Tuning out the Critics?

Make Sure it’s Not a Cop Out

“Don’t worry what other people think — you can’t make everyone happy,” has been common advice I have received in my life.

Admittedly, I am a bit more sensitive than apparently, most of the world, and I have needed to strengthen my thin skin over the years. So, I am not arguing that you can (or should) strive to make everyone happy.

However, since I come from the other extreme, I see this advice as both helpful and potentially dangerous.

Helpful, because of course, we need to be able to recognize that we will not be able to satisfy 100% of world, 100% of the time. Even I agree that is unrealistic. 🙂

But the application of this logic is also dangerous because — especially in the business world and in the organizational leadership roles many people play —  the attitude, if taken to the other extreme can result in a very cynical and isolated way of thinking, leading someone to the mindset, in which “My way or the highway,” becomes the way she thinks and acts.

Dismissing someone who disagrees with us, or failing to listen to constructive criticism can be just as dangerous, as worrying about what everyone thinks.

Creating a tribe that supports you, but also can share their concerns and carry on a healthy debate, without threatening you, or your trust is a sign of true leadership.

The trouble is, we’re so polarized and afraid of the critics throwing potshots from the sidelines, that we’re likely losing valuable insight from some people who might have a valid point, and simply want to help you see the gap that you might not realize exists.

So, while I agree, and personally continue seeking a balance between these two ideals, I caution against completely dismissing someone’s viewpoint that contradicts your own. In fact, I have found the best way to address this is to ask trusted advisors (outside the organization, or at least distanced from the decision making) for their opinion.

Seeking input from a different perspective, and consistently trying to see things from the other side, can prevent all or nothing thinking from pervading the culture of the organization.