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Category Archives: Redefining Work

The delicate balance of developing a business and overcoming the tendency to value work just a little too much.

Lessons in Entreprenuership: Balance

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Lessons in Entreprenuership: Balance

Last month I began writing about what I learned about balance during my first year as an entrepreneur. The thing is, just as I began to write this piece to share my lessons learned, I learned something else.

I wrote over 800 words about the challenges I encountered while learning to balance professional responsibility, home management, and emotional health. Then for some reason, I stopped writing. Not just the draft I had been working on. But I stopped writing anything at all. I stopped making time for it.

I was busy balancing several professional projects, establishing new contracts, preparing presentations, and wrapping up the last art class of the year. I tried to stay on top of household chores and I even took time to cook with my boys and enjoy simple moments in life. Sounds like balance to me. It feels like quite a sense of relief.

For years, I felt like I was juggling umpteen different tasks, spending my waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours spinning plates. I lived in fear that these plates will come crashing down as we walk the tight rope.What an exhausting feeling!!

Sounds like a circus act. But really, does life have to be a circus act?

Sure, we all struggle to balance the housework as kids, pets, and mishaps. We struggle to find time to have fun without neglecting our workload. We try to hard to get those bills paid, holiday gifts bought, and credit card balances down.

Sure, we live in a world of excess. But we don’t have to do it all.

I struggled with balance long before I was an entrepreneur. I think back 12 years ago, to when I was taking classes in community college. I took classes 4 days a week. I had three jobs, which I worked 6 days a week. Remember, thought there was only 7 days in the week.

It made no sense. I never had time to breathe.

The closest thing to “escape” I had was my homework. As I wrote papers, I found a bit of peace. I wrote about culture, economics, society, food, history, science, nature, and philosophy. I found a place where I liked to reside.

No wonder I went on to excel in academics. No wonder I was crazy enough to write my thesis while on bed rest with my second pregnancy.

I did good to get stuff done. But I failed miserably at balancing my life.  In time it caught up with me. Exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue. Complete meltdown. Profound insight. Whatever you want to call it. I clearly had something to learn about living in balance.

And so now, after a year of being an entrepreneur, having been involved in more than twenty different projects, having addressed some of my core emotional issues and unpacked a load of baggage, having decided to home school my first grader, I think I have learned something.

We have to stop finding relying on distraction as a driving force in making decisions.

We don’t want to put away the laundry. So we pretend like its not there. We find a distraction. Preferably a more important distraction. “I really needed to clean my home office.” When we do this, we try to manipulate reality. It’s different than procrastinating, because for a moment we believe that other task is gone. You know that one task you dread and try to forget about. Maybe it is a grant report, a conversation, or shoveling the snow. It’s fine and dandy to put things off and procrastinate.

But when we use one thing to forget about another, we are actually abusing the preferred task. Think about it.

Does your office deserve abuse? Or that creative endeavor? Or that chocolate cake you want to bake?

No. They don’t. They deserve your attention. They deserve the respect of your choice. It’s time to make that choice be part of our conscious decisions.

We have to realize that it is up to us to manage our own time.

When we let ourselves be too busy, we are doing something wrong in our lives. We negate the power of personal choice.

I’ve always loved the perspective that when we say, “I don’t have time” we are really saying “I don’t have time for that.” Essentially, we are choosing not to give a task our time. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as others who may be counting on us are not neglected.

Today, I am choosing not to give certain projects my time, because I trust the judgement used to make my priorities. I know that I will tend to them fairly when their time comes. But for now, they shouldn’t get in the way of today. The projects I choose to give attention today deserve that attention. It is my choice to use my time.

We have to let some things go.

We hear a lot about sustainability these days. You know, the idea that we should be able to continue operating in the way we currently are, without detrimental effects in the future. Are you able to continue functioning the way that we are right now, without facing collapse? If so, then it may be time to make some changes. It may be time to step off the tightrope, set down a plate or two, or even question our role in the circus all together.

We have to make time for ourselves a priority.

Let me say it again. We have to make time for ourselves a priority. We all have the thing we love to do in life. It helps us be our best. It speaks to our soul. For me it writing and drawing. In the past month, I haven’t taken time to even make a journal entry. Taking the time to draw or paint for myself is even harder. It is too easy to put these activities last on our list. Not anymore. It is time to give our passions more value than that.

What is your passion? Does it deserve more priority than what you give it?

 

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Learning to Let Go: Excitment and Motivation

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I’ve been taking sometime to look back at how far I’ve come in a year as an entrepreneur.

I left my full-time academic job in July of 2012, but it wasn’t until November of that year that I began marketing myself and my talents. I didn’t have a network or a whole lot of support. I knew very few people in my town. Most of the folks I knew within the state of North Dakota, I knew because of my career, in some way. It was scary and I was lonely.

But things have changed.

Today, my young philosopher overheard me calling a friend. “Mom, you know I can’t even keep up with all the people you know!”

I thought to myself, Wow. I really do know a lot of people! Things have changed in a year’s passing.

I was quiet pleased with myself. I took time to give myself the praise, “You have done well finding good people to connect with. It certainly does make life quite a bit richer.”

But that’s only the beginning.

After today’s Farm Beginnings Session, I was extremely motivated.

We talked about mission statements and marketing. I didn’t realize I love this kind of stuff so much, but I do!

I left energized, wanting to share EVERYTHING I learned with my husband, who had to work today.

I left wanting to revisit my visual business plan.

I wanted to get home and beg my chickens to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE start laying eggs again.

I was ready to dive into next my proposal.

I wanted to go set up for the art class I teach on Monday.

I couldn’t wait to start thinking,

and reading,

and researching.

I wanted to start compiling information for my presentation at Farm Beginnings in December, in which I will be talking about how to tell YOUR story.

So much excitement!

But this was familiar…

My mind was reeling with ideas, but I was tired.

I had a quick thought to leave myself a voice message, telling myself about ALL this excitement.

Wait, I’ve done that before. And it wasn’t good.

(Remember, I struggle with issues such as overworking and undervaluing myself.)

It is easy for me to believe that I need to prove my worth through what I do.

In my final 3 months as Vice President of Land Grant programs, I would call my office phone on my drive home. I would leave myself messages about all the things I needed to do the next day.

This my friends, is not a good habit.

I thought it was brilliant at first, but it certainly led to some earlier morning cursing when I checked my voicemail each day.

*Light-bulb moment* Maybe that has something to do with my own disdain for to-do lists. To-do lists are made with our own self-talk imbedded in them. They can be painful if that self-talk used in writing them is overly critical, judgmental, or down right mean.

Hmmm….

The point is I had been down this road before. So I backed up.

I did a U-turn before I got to the point of giving myself a to-do list on a Saturday night.

I retraced my steps.

I slowed down and took a look around when I got back to the excitement.

Was it impractical to think I could manage to do all the things that I wanted to do tonight? Or even this weekend?

Absolutely!

I suddenly remembered that I had been here too, and that there was a bit more worth exploring.

I remembered the first time I shared my business plan with the folks at the New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation.

I remember the amazing amount of things I wanted to do when I came home.

And I remember not doing anything!

Instead, I was still.

I enjoyed the moment. I felt the excitement.

I didn’t force it into a product or accomplishment.

I let it be part of me.

And I wrote about it! It was my second blog post ever!

I was on the road I wanted to be on. And, I even took it on a little further.

I mentally broke these tasks up by priority and complexity and I scheduled them into my calendar when I got home!

This is truly a first.

I came home, motivated and yet tired, and said to my husband, “Michael, next weekend, I would like to schedule a time to sit down to go over my business plan with you.”

And then, I let everything else “to-do” settle in my calendar and in my brain.

I let the excitement reside in my body as joy.

And then, I played the piano that magically found its way into our house this afternoon.

Thank you so much, Michael. Thank you!

Young Philosopher’s Thoughts on Fun and Work

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This morning over breakfast, my oldest son shared some words of wisdom with me.

“You know, Mom, when we get old… like you are… we don’t have to stop having fun.”

I sat there thinking, Old? I’m not old!

“But I know one thing for sure that keeps old people from having fun.”

“What is that?” I fearfully asked.

Straight and forward, he declares, “Having a job.”

I’ve spent much of my time pondering the value of my skills, the marketability of my strengths, the need to align myself with projects that energize me, and the need to increase my profitability as an entrepreneur.

The great wisdom of a six-year-old says, “The only jobs worth doing are the ones that would be fun. Like testing race cars! So you can have fun and make money.”

I won’t be testing race cars, but we did go on to discuss the kinds of work that lend to an ability to have fun.

In the end, he declared that I write too many emails.

He stated, “It’s like a problem you have, Mom. Writing emails. It’s not fun, and it keeps you from doing fun stuff with us.”

Interesting points, my young philosopher. Interesting points.1069984_10200712373306539_90200659_n

A Page from the Past

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A Page from the Past

This week I will be going to high school. I’m a bit nervous and it feels strange. It is for a student’s assignment. She was required to interview someone and present a speech about them. Some how, she chose me. I will go to listen to her speech and answer any questions.

In ways, I am looking forward to it. So much of our interview led to conversations of success: what I studied in college, what some of my favorite past times include, how I enjoy spending my time, and what I do for a living. But it also triggered something within. I was surprised to find myself in a surreal sense of being after the interview. Had I really lived this life of mine? How did it all seem to work out so well? What about all the craziness and uncertainty that led me here? Did I really tell her that the best thing I did for my career was quit my job!? Did I really agree to go to a high school class!? Shit, I did.

My experience of high school still haunts me. By no means where those the best years of my life. I began working during my sophomore year, and was living independently by my senior year. School was a daily obligation in which every else seemed to be living a normal life. Mine seemed to be caving in on itself- and I was struggling to get out alive. That is where my addiction began.

I have known it for some time, and it remains difficult to reconcile. In fact, over two years ago, I wrote a letter to my seventeen year old self. Every word of it still rings true today. I think my seventeen year old self is a little frightened to share her story with other high school kids. It is hard to believe that such success can emerge from and be part of truly difficult struggles. They are not separate. They belong together. And amazingly enough, they are a part of who I have become. And it still feels strange.

Dear Self of 1999,

I’ve seen the work you are doing. You are working so hard- to make money, to be accepted, to understand, to dream, to forget, to hide. I see how stable you look on the outside. You hold yourself as a professional, yet you are a child. You work long hours and have profound insights to how things could be better. You see the world with wide eyes and a strong heart. You commit yourself to excellence, as if you are trying so hard to prove something. And yet, you are not able to appreciate how young you are. I know you feel far older than 17, but that is because you had to step up. You have an ability to take charge on a moment’s notice. It is as if you set fear aside. Or perhaps you let fear become your motivator. Either way, it has gotten you far in just a few years.

I remember how scared you were. How alone and worthless you felt. Rejection doesn’t even scratch the surface.

It is no wonder acceptance feels like a god send.

It is no wonder you are delighted to get to know people who might give you some sense of what “success” might look like.

It is no wonder you cling so tightly to the arms of your boyfriend.

It is no wonder that his arms are so strong. He tries so much to protect you and provide you a place that feels safe. He offers you a space you can rest your head after nights of on-going battles. In his arms, you can rest easy. You can let some of that fear go. You can express your frustration, shed your tears, and let go of shame. He helps you stay strong.

I know it is hard for you to understand, but as “normal” as this spot feels for you, it still is not healthy. You cannot depend on your parents, even though you are still so young. Instead you depend on someone else, someone who seems more stable. Yet you are desperately trying to take hold of your life by saving money, planning furiously, and trying to prove that you are “worth” something.

You see though, you don’t have to try that hard to prove it. Because your worth is based on who you are, not what you do. But I understand, what you do defines you as separate from your family- because when you are part of the violence, control, dependency, despair, and illness you feel shame and embarrassment. You feel as though you are bad. But you are not. I promise.

The praise and acceptance you get at your jobs tells you different. It tells you that because of what you do, that you are good. You mitigate these disparate messages by dissociating- splitting your self in two on your way to and from work. Shuttling your mind toward and away from cycles of struggle and success. As you build this defense, ruin continues. Chaos ensues and with great intensity. You feel it all around you and fear what the world knows of it. You fear your scars will be noticed, detailed and all.

The saddest part is that by employing these defenses, you are putting little pieces of yourself away in a box- hidden and misunderstood. Soon you will begin to miss these pieces of yourself. You will blame the one you love for not letting you be you. You’ll become scared again and feel unstable again. You will think you are free from your familial responsibility. It will be good, you need to know you can stand on your own two feet. You will need to know how not to let others drag you down. In time, you will learn so much.

I am proud of you. You are brave. You are strong, compassionate, sincere, creative, insightful, beautiful, and talented. This is who you are- appreciate the world around you. Each moment. Each person whom you admire. Each taste of egg drop soup from your favorite restaurant. Each conversation with your grandpa, each time you harvest blackberries. Enjoy your words, your art, and your gift.

I think of you often.

Self of 2011