Of Bullies and the Lasting Impact of Words: Why Trying EVER Skincare Seemed Like a Hard Thing To Do

“Self-conscious” means to have undue awareness of one’s self, one’s appearance, or one’s actions.

I remember the day self-consciousness replaced self-confidence.

In 4th grade I was a rough and tumble woods girl, living in the upper peninsula of Michigan. That April we moved to Florida, land of incessant heat, burning sun, and a life indoors. I finished the school year as the new kid and the outlier position held through the end of 5th.

My parents chose a private school for 6th, a small Christian academy, with the hopes it would be a better fit. The idea was that small classes would mean more attention around kids from better families who were being raised “right”. Despite having had a much rockier time trying to fit into Sunday School cliques full of girls who’d grown up together in the south than I had in public school, I was looking forward to the new school too. It would be a fresh start.

In anticipation for The First Day, I was given a perm, which I tried to brush straight and instead created a burning bush of redheaded frizz. I then pasted it back on the sides with two gold toned barrettes. My curly bangs refused to lay down flat and fluffed up, poodle style. One of my front teeth had not fully come in, having been damaged after a balcony fall I’d taken as a toddler. The other front tooth had a small brown cavity. Besides a smattering of freckles, my pale skin was punctuated with a few bright red spots: my first zits.

I walked into the brown paneled and brown carpeted classroom and sat down at a brown desk in the second row, in the second seat from the back. I put my teal binder squarely on the top and set my red pencil case next to it. I looked ahead to the green chalkboard and the cursive name of our teacher written in white chalk. Nervous butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Tension buzzed in the air.

The seats in front of me filled with kids, most of whom were welcoming each other with high fives and laughs of recognition, a clan of kids who’d been here together for 5 grades before. I pushed away fears of being, ‘the new kid’. Today we all had the first day of junior high. I sat up straight, determined to be a good sport, to get good grades, and to make this a very good year.

A shiny tan girl near the front of the class in the row to my right turned back and smiled. She had on a peach top and jeans and peach socks to match her top. I thought she was smiling at me so I smiled back, wide and pleased. She covered her mouth with her hands and giggled and looked at the boy to my left.

“You’re right! She’s hideous!”

My body froze even as my blood rose high with hot shame. I tried to swallow the embarrassment watering in my mouth. The teacher stood in front of the class and began her welcome to the new year speech. I don’t remember hearing a word she said but I did understand something loud and clear:

Kelly H. and her Many-Colors-of-Benetton snottiness had just christened me with the nickname I’d have at that school every day for the two years I went there:

Hideous.

Paul added a noun: Hideous Iguana.

As in, “Hey Hideous, pass me the scissors.”

And, “You can’t sit there. This is a Hideous Iguana-free zone.”

Daily stomachaches, school absences, mounting shyness, and interior self-loathing took over. I saw what they saw: an ugly reptile who didn’t tan, who had a weird name, who wasn’t worth getting to know. I don’t remember smiling there again.

It took a few years but I eventually learned first not to brush out perms and then to stop getting them. I learned how to put on make up, at least the basic, “natural look”. My teeth were repaired. I got glasses and then contacts and then grew my hair long. Everybody left Junior High. Kelly and Paul and their friends probably changed too. They are probably kind hearted adults with families who don’t even remember me or what they said.

It’s just interesting how some things stick to a recipient like crazy glue. I think 20 years had to pass before I didn’t feel hideous. It was maybe 10 more until I’d be writer enough to Tell This Truth. There’s been lots of living in between and that brings us to Now.

At 41 I am still part woods girl who likes a clean face. I like washing with cool water and skin that can breathe. It took my lifetime but I now like my pale skin and salted caramel freckles. I’d go around like that all the time except another part of me likes a little dress-up now and then. I’m not very skilled at putting it on but there are occasions that benefit from a little tint and enhancement. For the most part, my two halves make their peace.

There’s just one sticky wicket with which to contend: I still feel shame when I shop for make up. I still feel like I’m posing. I resist spending money on myself. I struggle to see the expense as “worth it”. The drugstore is full of marketed chemicals and the department stores are full of Girls Who Know What They’re Doing. My planned response has worked for the past 5 or so years:

avoid it as much as possible.

Fair skin wrinkles the least. Red hair grays the slowest. My acne is finally gone. I use cocoa butter to moisturize at night and the lightest, cleanest sunblock I can find for the day; light makeup when necessary and act like a desire to do anything different is irrelevant. Play it cool, hippie girl.

When did that stop?

Last year I realized I’d aged more in the past 2 years than I had in the previous decade all together. I can usually drum up enough existential intelligence to brush off any fear of aging. I can welcome “wisdom streaks” and “laugh lines” and look forward to becoming a tough old bird with long white hair. Well, I thought I could…until stress pushed the fast forward button and just like the sudden transition from woods girl to bullied pubescent, I was changing from young mom to peri-menopausal hag with nitro speed.

I looked in the mirror and felt, “hideous”.

Around this same time my daughter-in-law got involved with a skin care company called EVER. She’s fair and redheaded like me and since having babies, her skin is the most sensitive of anyone I’ve met. Chemicals aren’t safe. EVER’s top line is expensive, at least from the perspective of water-and-cocoa-butter, and I listened from a distance, cheering her on but knowing I’d never sign up.

Your face isn’t worth spending money on.

Melanie started posting before-and-after photos. EVER isn’t a cosmetic company; they sell chemical free skin care products that are botanically derived and not tested on animals. These are products that claim to clear complexions, remove age spots, improve tone and wrinkles…you get the idea. I wanted to remain skeptical.

None of that stuff really works.”

Photo after photo showed bare, clean faces in natural lighting with younger looking skin. There was a visible and noteworthy difference. The dark circles of mommy-fatigue had faded. Conditions like eczema and rosacea healed. Make up became unnecessary; these women’s faces glowed, dewy and healthy. I’m talking Anne of Green Gables kind of purity here. I refused to be impressed.

Photos can be edited. Don’t be the idiot who believes everything she sees.”

Melanie and I met for lunch. It’s really hard to argue with what you see in person. She wasn’t wearing make up and it was a work day. Despite having two very active and intense little boys who I know to be early risers and who sometimes get up at night, Melanie looked like she’d just had 6 months of great sleep. If photos could be doctored up, there was no way she could fake looking that fabulous.

Even if it works, you don’t deserve it.”

She showed me the prices and sales structure. Wine parties and home demonstrations, social media sales, contests, glossy marketing graphics and sample kits. I’d artfully dodged selling any kind of multi-level product through the years: scrapbooks, jewelry, vitamins, shakes… I’m a former Amway brat. That’s not my style. I have a full time job and a novel underway and four teenagers and a dog. I’m not a “hair girl”. I don’t like “high maintenance.” I’m afraid of being considered “vain”.

You selling beauty is not a line anyone would buy.”

It was in the midst of a personal inventory exercise that I changed my mind. A meme in my social feed reminded me to, “be the person you needed when you were younger.” I gave that one some serious thought.

Back then, I needed to hear good things about myself, the way I was changing, and who I was becoming. That girl had pretty green eyes. She could draw really well. She loved reading and talking about books. She ran like the wind (and needed a good sunscreen). She needed to hear that everybody gets acne at some point and that some day, it all goes away.

So I actually stood in the mirror and told my 41 year old self these very same things. I made a list and stuck them to the mirror. I like her. I like her curves and her face and her mind. I like her curiosity. I like her long red hair and her green eyes. I like how she can raise one eyebrow without moving the other. I like that reads the newspaper and books and is trying to write them too. I like that she still runs fast. I like that she chose great friends. I like that when she feels challenged by something, she figures it out and knows how to dig in and learn something new.

I am not hideous and never was.

And then I said, maybe in a whisper, a few other things as well. I said I wasn’t ready yet to have white hair. I don’t want to look this tired. I’m not ready for wrinkled skin. I need to use more sunscreen. Cocoa butter isn’t enough at night. It isn’t the natural process of age that has changed me: its stress and a lack of proper care.

A difficult divorce from an abusive marriage. Single parenting. Auto-immune disease. A remarriage and modern family. Job changes. Anxiety.

Old voices.

Proper care can come in a variety of forms. I made another list for the mirror: a list of things that I want to do for Tia before she turns 42. This decade is still young. It’s a decade of children leaving the nest, of new opportunities, of full nights of sleep and of creative ideas. It’s a transition time, similar to ones known in the past, and this time I’m going to be the person to myself that I need. I’m going to recognize the changes my human body, my animal, is going through and I’m going to do some things that help ease it through the adjustment. I’m going to do this because I like this soul and I like this body and it has served me well for 42 strong years. It deserves to be loved and cared for and also to be stood up for, protected.

At Christmas, Melanie gave me a tube of the EVER Daylight Radiance moisturizer with SPF. Sunblock has to be a part of my life. I live in Florida with fair skin and burn in minutes. Finding one that doesn’t lead to a break out has been hard. This is actually the first one I’ve ever (ha!) used that isn’t the least bit greasy. It doesn’t smell like sunblock. Chemical free and citrus smelling, it feels good to use. When I put it on in the morning I feel a small boost of gratification that I’m putting something special on a special person. I’m taking care of my animal and I’m glad.

Because I use it every day, I’m going to soon need more. And because my water-and-cocoa-butter regimen is anemic and needs an overhaul, I’m going to give this chemical free, plant-based program a try. I’m going to have a home party with wine and a demonstration and the social media party of month long sales. I can’t make this a business, which would probably get me my stuff for free, because I definitively don’t have time. But if I do earn enough to start the regimen, I’ll take the before-and-after’s. I’ll see if I can get my outside to match my insides, the parts that feel strong and healthy, rested and young. If not, I’ll know that I tried but I’ll know more than that too:

  • Someone else’s valuation of who you are does not determine your worth.
  • Painful experiences can become material later.
  • Mean people suck.
  • People also change.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Sixth grade was over a long time ago. You’re an adult now. Get the heck whatever you want for your face.
Hiking at Mt. Ranier last year, healthy, happy, and strong.

Hiking at Mt. Ranier last year, healthy, happy, and strong.

 

  • Update: We did have that party. My friends and I danced barefoot around a fire ring and threw scraps of paper into the flames. On the papers were all the baggage-y hangups we’d carried that weren’t useful to us anymore. Melanie did an outstanding demo, the wine was great, and my favorite EVER products are in my make up drawer. Hint- SMELL THE GOSH DARN LAVISH!! :swoon: Want to try or buy EVER?

 

 

 

Novel Notes: Creating a Scene Plan

5 scenes in I can already tell a spreadsheet scene plan is going to be a powerful tool for me to use.  I think I got the idea from Novel Writing for Dummies, though I’m not positive; I’ve got several help-books going at once. By using my 3 act summary in Scrivner and character list, I can now further break down each act into individual scenes, track who the characters are, and what needs to be accomplished within each scene to keep things progressing. One act in, I can already see how this illuminates the path ahead.

Photo taken at Clark's Fish Camp in Mandarin

Photo taken at Clark’s Fish Camp in Mandarin

What Flannery accomplished in 2 hours a day, most of us won’t do in a lifetime.

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”   – Flannery O’Connor

 

It reminds me of another quote I’m fond of, that I can’t remember who said, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

I’m currently enjoying a bit of a writer’s high. After pounding away for almost a year and a half on a novel that is progressing slowly, inch square by inch square, but by getting up per the habit anyway and inching along, I had space provided when this mysterious muse decided to plop itself down on my brain and funnel its words out of my fingers. I don’t even care that it’s for an entirely different story. The feeling of my fingers airily skittering over the keyboard as words fly out without effort is worth it.

Of course, I say “without effort” and that is the funny irony! I had to first cultivate the habit, which has taken a tremendous amount of effort, much of it not fun and with no promise of any reward but the satisfaction of having done it.

So, here’s to you, 5 am! In the hours I rarely knew waking unless nursing a baby, I now have a fully summarized plot outline, start to finish. I have a cast of 9 crystal clear characters with histories and layers and a part to play in the story. I have a title, a vision for cover art, and have begun a scene spreadsheet. I say weird writer-newbie things on Twitter and sound more like a word nerd than ever before.

The terrain of writing is gradually inclining. Fleshing out all those story scenes is no doubt going to have some arduous progress and probably a few slips and slides backward too. At least I have a plan and a habit. I also have experience with ant sized increments forward. I know I’m optimist by nature but I can’t help feeling I might have a winning formula there.

Incidentally, Jacksonville achieves connectivity through its many bridges over the St. John's River.

Incidentally, Jacksonville achieves connectivity through its many bridges over the St. John’s River.

Dreams as Plot Lines

I discovered something interesting about writing as a practice this week.

First, my disciplined habit: It’s my practice to get up early, usually around  5 or 5:30, in order to write in a quiet house before our days get started. Most days this hour will be the only hour where I am completely alone, which ups the ante of making sure I have it. Introverts need time alone to recharge their batteries. If I never write see commercial success with writing, I will still need to get up and write every single day. Most days, it feels essential to my survival.

Still, I’m not a morning person so how this practice came to be was the first series of steps. Coherent thought before dawn is not my forte. Getting up early hasn’t been productive enough in the past to make the lost sleep worth it. When I started working full time a year ago and my teenagers cranked up the velocity of their own trajectory into their wild beyonds, I started feeling out of breath and out of time. My waking hours are simply just very, very full. No two ways about it. Writing and time alone had completely vanished except for my time spent driving between the last carpool stop and the office and then again in the evening, navigating a hairy rush hour home.

When I got sick of rotating through loud pop music stations on my commute, it dawned on me that I could listen to books and podcasts that could at least keep the craft on my mind. And, one of the first themes I heard when I got this new habit underway was the value in setting a regular time slot in place in order to hammer out words. It’s a practice, a discipline…decidedly not inspirational or focused on a muse. It’s just getting up and grinding it out so that the muscles are trained and the space is created. When the muse does decide to show up, so goes the thought, there will be space available to inhabit.

Interestingly, I found that when I get up at 5 instead of 6, I’m actually more alert. I’m so enamored at the gift of this quiet time alone and the outlet to express that the words are pouring out. I don’t have many mornings where I’m sitting wondering what to say. My story lines are picking up seamlessly most of the time. If they don’t, I write on something else. No big. Just do it.

My rule is that I must be in bed the night before by 9:30, asleep by 10:15 and I must sleep in at least one weekend morning. If that doesn’t happen, then no getting up early. This is as much for health and sanity as the writing habit is. My life has too many demands on it for me to devalue rest.

So that’s the background. Last Monday night I slept fitfully, stuck in a reoccur-ant nightmare cycle. I kept crying in my sleep, waking up, going back to sleep, and falling right back into the same dream. I often dream in full color, with plots, characters, and even soundtracks. It’s not that dream was so frightening; the moment that kept replaying was the disastrous discovery of the protagonist. She was shocked, horrified, dumbfounded…then immediately surveying the damage. That one scene kept going without progressing forward. My alarm went off in the middle of it and I deliberately went back to sleep, thinking I could snap it into closure. Twice that happened. The scene did not progress and eventually I had to get up or be late for work.

But I decided to write it down. I still had 15 minutes in my practice time slot. Writing down dreams usually results in scenes of ridiculousness; some sci-fi fantasy mystery psychic nonsense that doesn’t seem nearly as coherent on paper as it did near midnight during REM sleep. This one was different. In a very Anne Tyler/Nora Ephron way, this one has an interesting arc with an even more interesting cast. I wrote it down Tuesday morning and have worked on it every day since. The characters are snapping into focus as clearly as if they were walking up and shaking my hand.  Title, outline, and cast were all there in the dream, streaming out through my fingers onto the digital page.

“Your job is to write it down” said more than one of my audio books. I think I get it now.

Photo taken on the dock of Mandarin Park @Julington Creek after a perfect summer rain.

Photo taken on the dock of Mandarin Park @Julington Creek after a perfect summer rain.

12 Reasons Why I Am Not Leaving Facebook in 2014

The word on the street is that there’s an exodus taking place: people are leaving Facebook in droves. The buzz about teens leaving has been around for awhile- Mashable even did this nifty statistic chart showing the age contrast of Facebook users since 2011. And to be sure, there are some gaps there. Articles like this one highlight some of the negative feelings attributed to Facebook. Then, right around the new year, The Huffington Post sent out this post on 11 Reasons Why You Should Leave Facebook in 2014, which quickly became viral for those making resolutions, specifically among the “I hate Facebook” crowd.

There are some good points to consider in all this leaving. Privacy concerns are certainly valid- and Facebook does not have the best reputation for protecting user privacy in recent years. Some users object to feeling tracked or becoming a commodity. They don’ t like having their habits watched. There’s more than one soapbox shouter out there protesting the way Facebook decides what you see (and what you don’t). Even more disturbing are the stories of Facebook making people sad, like the Utah Valley University study that concluded,

 “those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives.”

I can’t say I’ve never experienced a little jealousy online now and then. What I can say is that I’m in no rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or unplug off the internet grid, and I won’t be leaving Facebook in 2014. Here’s Why:

  1. I work from home. For the last 9 years I’ve worked online, from home, and with the exception of my family, can easily go for a string of days without seeing another soul. While that might sound charming in a romanticized version of Little House on the Prairie: The Long Winter, its actually quite difficult at times. Social media has risen commensurate with the rates of work-from-home habits and I can see why. Facebook is my water cooler. I use it as a buffer between tasks at my desk- a way to take a quick break and see what’s up.  I can participate in a conversation on my terms- quite helpful when one is multi-tasking and managing as much as I am.
  2. I like staying up to date on what my friends want to tell me about themselves. Sure, we curate what we want others to see. Sure, this might not present the most well-rounded and accurate truth of who we are. But c’mon people- hasn’t that been the case forever? I’m not going there to see all the nitty-gritty intimate details about the people I know. The ones who share that kind of information are boundary-crossers in my book, and that also tells me something about them, and I usually feel grateful for the low-stakes revelation of that and adjust my interaction accordingly. But everyone else? What they choose to reveal about their likes and dislikes, ideas, thoughts, families, feelings of gratitude, smiles-of-the-day…well all of this helps me see a new side of them. This has enriched relationships that are even already quite close, like those of long-standing friends and family. I think I can say in all honesty that my relationships are better for expression than without it.
  3. I keep my lists to people I actually know. I can’t help but wonder if some of the Facebook haters out there just burned out with ridiculous levels of saturation- feeds full of faces and information that they don’t know and don’t care about- because they “friended” everyone they could find. Sorry Charlie- you confused Facebook with Twitter, at least in my opinion. Each platform has it’s strengths. They are not always interchangeable, no matter that you can cross post and duplicate much of your content. The people on my Facebook friend list are actually friends. Or, they are people I’ve met (in person) who I interact with with the expectation of friendship.
  4. Word-of-mouth is still the fastest way to spread the news. I read the Sunday New York Times for relevant world and cultural news. I use social media for breaking news and to at least be a little fluent on what’s trending. I almost never “watch” the news on TV.  But if something big happens, its still on social media first; this is especially true for anything local.
  5. Crowd sourcing is groovy. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve needed to find something, had a question that required an answer from the voice of experience- and by putting it out there on Facebook, received an instantaneous and diverse plethora of options. Facebook wasn’t always like this but now that’s achieved the mass that it has, I source as often in my feed as I do my searches in Google. Well, almost.
  6. I learn stuff from people I find relevant. I guess Your Feed May Vary…but mine is full of friends sharing art, helpful articles, happy news, regional experiences, opinions…and these all matter to me because the people behind them matter to me. I prefer this over TV and other outlets that try to tell me what matters and who should matter. This could change if ads become audible commercials that auto-play. But for now, I glaze over the ads and pay attention to what my friends have to share because I find it interesting.
  7. I don’t find my self-worth online.  Social media can be a dicey playground for the insecure and the vain alike. A picture is supposed to show us who you are and when it comes to the amount of selfies you post, less is probably better than more. It helps to feel secure enough in your own appearance and abilities to not need a lot of ego stroking and validation online– the one’s who don’t are the usually the ones saying they felt invisible or, they’re the one’s posting a new selfie 4 times a day or, they’re the one’s who get mad and stalk off because they think everyone else is bragging about being better than them. I think social media might possibly just magnify whatever issues we already have- so if your opinion of yourself is determined by others, heal that first instead of blaming Facebook. It will follow you wherever you go.
  8. It gives me a place to express.  I used Twitter to learn how to express a thought in 140 characters or less. It taught me to write shorter sentences. I use Facebook as a writing tool as well. Writers love having readers; Facebook naturally provides that. So I use my status updates as way to practice the best way to convey thoughts, stories, ideas and questions. The instant feedback is right there! Where else can a writer find that? What I say and how I use it is under my own control- I see that as powerful opportunity to attempt to sharpen my own skills and perhaps, do something good. This has worked for business growth as well- as evidenced by the way pages can allow a business to use Facebook to interact and develop their audience connection. As a creative and as an entrepreneur, I see this as one of Facebooks’s current greatest benefits.
  9. Boundaries will always matter, no matter where you go. Recently there were several stories about how Facebook ruins marriages. My feelings on this go back to the “social media magnifies what’s already there” that I mentioned above. If you’re a cheater, its certainly faster and easier to accelerate your sinnin’ on Facebook. If you’re a stalker, you’ve usually got a great way to feed your demon. There’s a long list of fairly innocent blunders we’ve probably all made a few times as we navigated what’s become internet etiquette. I’ve definitely learned a few awkward lessons along the way. But at the end of the day, boundaries are necessary everywhere you go. There are things you don’t say out loud and things you shouldn’t do. Anonymity or privacy online doesn’t change that. If you’re leaving Facebook because of a boundary issue, it will follow you- promise.
  10. I like learning new things, new ways, and dislike ruts. I always get a kick out of the people who groan and gripe about the many Facebook changes. “Oh no! The columns changed!” “I hate this new look!” On and on and sometimes away they go. Do we all remember how much things have changed since 1990? Remember when “smartphone” wasn’t a word? ADAPT people. This is when we live. Things change. Faster than before.
  11. I still remember (and enjoy) the delight of being able to connect with people I’d lost contact with in one big room. I joined Facebook as soon as it was public. It was thrilling to think of someone long lost, and to search their name, and voila! Up popped a recent photo! A way to chat! A way to reconnect! My oldest friend, the one I went to kindergarten with, is on my Facebook feed. I have friends from all the places I’ve lived, ones from before my divorce and after. Friends from my children’s baby years and play dates; friends from work, friends from 6 churches. There isn’t any other way I could do this is one place, with such ease, every day. It’s beautiful.
  12. I don’t let teenagers be my guide. Okay, so yes, teenagers are leaving. I have three of them and none of them care for the site much anymore. Which is actually fine by me! I understand they don’t want their parents and grandparents and priest all seeing what they do everyday. I can keep tabs on their lives without stalking their walls.  Reasons 1-11 are all better with my peer group anyway. Our teens are cool. They are smart and innovative and I’m sure they’ll come with great new ideas. They will do this elsewhere, as they always have, and it will be exciting. But I don’t have to follow their every trend. I like it over here with the grown up’s; the water (and the wine) is fine.

Instagram is new hottie, along with Snapchat, Vine, and others. I use those too, though I doubt they’ll top the centrality of Facebook. And, don’t look now: those other sites aren’t fundamentally so different as to avoid the snare that too much social screen time can cause period, no matter where you go. The New York Times recently coined a “new” condition for us to fret over: Instagram Envy.

Photo Taken on the Baldwin Rails-to-Trails bike path, Jacksonville, Florida

Photo Taken on the Baldwin Rails-to-Trails bike path, Jacksonville, Florida

What Happens When You Unplug? Using Technology-Free Time to Make Smart Decisions

I’ll start with the scary part.

Last year, about 13 months ago, I thought I was having a heart attack. At 38. I was driving out of the Target parking lot in the afternoon. I was also talking on the phone, checking for texts from two of my kids, trying to get to another child’s bus stop on time to pick them up, and trying to figure out to do with a major work problem happening California-time (rush hour in my time zone is right about the time the west coasters are back from lunch, ready to go bull-dog on their to-do lists). I had cold groceries in the car and the ice cream was melting. Another driver had just cut me off. My neck was clenched; I could barely breathe. It hurt down my shoulder and arm. I had a splitting headache.

Later, in the emergency room, we would tally up the actual count. I had been doing 8-12 things at a time during a 3 hour window of the afternoon. It wasn’t a heart attack. It was just fried circuitry. My mental machinery was maxed out. I was so plugged in that I didn’t realize my body was screaming, “STOP!”

My mantra for the next several weeks became, “Do one thing at a time. Do what’s essential.”  If you’ve ever tried this, it can be incredibly hard. No more multi-tasking. No more hyper-availability. No more non-essentials. I was gone for a little while. The world did not fall apart. But no doubt about it, there was a learning curve, folks.

I’m happy to say with heart-felt conviction that it paid off. I’m healthier this year. I have dedicated unplugged times; a few each day and the entire weekend as well. My family will be the first to say that I still face the temptation to do too much with my smartphone. It can, after all, do  a lot of things, for which I am extremely grateful. I can not imagine the amount of coordination, logistics, and organization I am responsible for would happen if I didn’t have the benefit of technology so literally at hand.

Still. Any time-out will quickly separate the essentials from the non-essentials. Not all of it is obvious. Sometimes it requires a significant step back to be able to see what you need. And then changes can be determined. One thing your smart phone can’t do is make a smart decision for you! You might be too plugged in to even hear what else is going on.

What else are you missing?

We have to relearn some things and learn to trust that everything isn’t going to fall apart if we put technology away for a little while. It actually, might be falling together. Quietness is a gift that reveals what we need to see. It also free’s us to more effectively focus on what we’ve chosen to pursue.

In a recent article triggered by the viral phone video, NY Times writer Nick Bilton shared a few recent cultural instances where unplugging puts the focus back on being present, beyond no-texting-and-driving or putting away our phones at the movies:

…the Unsound music festival in Poland banned fans from recording the event, saying it did not want “instant documentation” and distractions that might take away from the performances. In April, during a show in New York City, Karen O, the lead singer of the rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, told audience members to put away their phones (using an expletive to emphasize her point).

A number of New York restaurants, including Momofuku Ko and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, have prohibited people from photographing their food. (Note to foodies: Your quinoa does not need to be artfully posted with an old-timey look on Instagram.) And, of course, many mothers and fathers who fought to keep the television out of the kitchen may see smartphones as the next threat to dinnertime civility.

 

So think about it. What happens when you unplug? When you log out of certain social media outlets? This lesson definitely has a business trickle down effect. As a consultant, I favor marketing methods that are some what active even in your absence. In my opinion, that’s where the most value is. I’d venture a guess there are few people who truly prefer being virtually on-call for their business lives 24-7 (or even half that!). Work can be enjoyable… but even if it’s your dream come true, there are still hours you’d like to be sleeping, relating, playing, exploring, etc. It’s great to develop platforms that work for you even when you’re not around.

At the same time, you can’t outsource your life. There are some things that require your honest presence in order to succeed. If you are going to be logged out of them for long periods of time, they may not be the best option for you at all.

My lesson was that I need breaks. I make smarter choices that align with my values when I set the phone down and walk a way for a little while. My smarter choices yield better results, as true whether it’s about ice cream or business.

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district

 

 

 

The Power of No: Setting Personal and Work Boundaries for Greater Productivity and Integrity

Why can’t people get work done at work? It was the premise of a very good talk by Inc. columnist and 37signals co-founder Jason Fried at TEDxMidwest. He articulated the need of “creatives” – designers, programmers, writers, engineers, etc- to have long periods of uninterrupted time to get things done. And, how businesses that spend a bunch of money on a place called “the office” have staff and employees who don’t get their work done there!

I found it to be validating. Liberating. Because saying yes to everything only leads to burn out and overwhelm.

Listen to what he says about work “moments”:

Jason Fried TED Talk, “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”

He’s got nothing nice to say about managers and meetings. From what I’ve seen of traditional salaried, cubical work, I’d have to say I agree. His work-sleep phase analogy was brilliant.

As a creative, as an entrepreneur, and as a working parent I’ve learned to embrace what I call, “The Power of No”. While a lot of women’s self-help focuses on learning how to say no (and not feel guilty about it), I find it to be addictive and empowering. Being able to say no enables a boundary to be upheld. Being able to say no also offers the flip side of the coin: the ability to say yes with passion, authenticity, and honesty.

When my children were little, I said no to a lot of outings and obligations so that I could say yes to their naps and reasonable bedtimes. When I’m faced with multiple personal growth “groups”, all with evening meetings, I might say no to 4 so I can truly participate in 1. I frequently say no to distractions by turning off social media and my phone volume so that I can say yes to a few hours of writing. And yesterday I said no to a freelance opportunity because my current projects require my focus and an authentic yes.

At first it was hard. Sometimes it still is. It can feel like letting people down or missing out; they don’t always enjoy being told no. But building the boundary makes me a better writer, a better wife and mother, a better business owner. The benefits outweigh the challenges by far.

Speaker and writer Mike Robbins, in an article that appeared on The HuffPost Healthy Living blog wrote, “…saying “no” is one of the most important aspects of living a life filled with balance, integrity, and authenticity. Our ability and capacity to say “no” with confidence is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. This is about creating healthy boundaries, honoring ourselves, and being real — it’s not about being closed, cynical, or unwilling.” He went on to point out that being able to tap into the power of saying no offers us freedom and liberation but also helps those around us to trust we mean what we say.

I appreciated Fried’s suggestion of creating no-interruption times.

  • Cancel the next meeting. Just don’t have it. Everything will be just fine.
  • Switch from active communication (meetings) to timed-choice methods: email or IM
  • One afternoon a week of silent work- “No Talk Thursdays”

“Giving someone a few hours of uninterrupted time is one of the best gifts you can give” he says. Better than software, a new computer, or anything else you could offer.

So think about that. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time. Unplug over the weekend. Put earbuds in and tune out distraction. Set boundaries and be unafraid to speak up about them when making appointments. Choose your communication method and teach people that’s the best way to reach you. And then say no. As Jason said, “everything will be just fine.” Keep track of your productivity and you’ll probably find you are better than fine: you are managing life instead of life managing you.

 

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, "Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods"

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, “Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods”