Is 2016 The Year to Realize Delayed Dreams?

My oldest son is sixteen and he’s in the middle of the frustrating process where the whole world starts to ask him what he wants to do for the rest of his life. He has to start thinking about a career, so he can plan on a college, so he can plan his high school classes, etc. Like most kids his age he doesn’t want to think past the next comic con.

Through him I’m remembering that time in my life when I considered so many options then had to discard some as unreasonable, too expensive, out of reach. Each career path I considered spoke to some part of me; my creative side, my logical/planner side, my feminist side, etc. I eventually aimed in the direction of advertising and PR then wound up in special events and teaching. (Because face it, very few end up where they thought they would at sixteen.) But some of those dreams never died. The part of me they represent never got a moment to shine or at least step up to the plate and try. It’s those delayed dreams that I’m tapping into now as an entrepreneur.

Now, this point in time in history, is a unique time that is perfect for so many people to be able to keep their day job (or not) and try something new, something they’ve always wanted to do.

Writing novels is that for me, and I get to combine it with owning my own business, another path I’ve always been interested in. I met a woman today who had always thought being an editor would be great. She’s a librarian (a great job for a lover of words) but we talked about how she could easily do side work editing books for self-published writers. It was such a fun conversation. I loved seeing the wheels start spinning and the lights go on that long-forgotten dream. It was fantastic being the person who is already on the path getting to point it out to her.

So, what are your lost dreams? Did you write them off because in the past you had to open a brick and mortar store and start-up costs would be too high? Did someone tell you that you didn’t have the skills to compete in a particular market? Did you hear scary stories about how little creative people make and that you might end up living in a cardboard box if you take that career path? Well, the world has changed. You, my friend, and I are lucky enough to live in a time when anyone can open an online “store” and reach customers world-wide. You may not be an expert but you are still ahead of someone and they could seriously benefit from your knowledge. And creative work is still hard, but it’s easier to go around the gatekeepers and find your audience than ever before.

Next month I’m going to teach a series of classes on how to self-publish. Am I an industry leader? Hell, no. But I’ve been there and learned a lot of good lessons along the way. I’m green enough to remember what it’s like to be starting out with no clue what to do. Industry leaders are great but they can be so deep in an industry that their advice is too complicated for a beginner. It’s just another way that I’m following those dreams, going back to the what-if’s and exploring all the possibilities I saw when I was sixteen.

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The Best Times Are the Hard Ones

What if I told you, all of you who are just starting out as a self-published author or internet entrepreneur, that right now, when you are often frustrated, sometimes lost and occasionally pissed off, this is the best time in the life of your business?

“Karen, stop drinking,” would probably be your first response. And while I have been drinking more recently (holiday tradition) I’ve also been gob-smacked by the Universe with this message and compelled to share it.

It all started with Adele. In an interview she explained that her new hit, “Hello” is not about a couple or lost love, it’s her talking to the girl she was a few years ago before, as she says, “the world fell at our feet.” When you listen to the lyrics from this perspective you hear someone who isn’t unhappy to have found success (on a mass scale in her case) but someone who fondly remembers being young and free and hungry for the fame she now has.

Once the song got me thinking I started to see the same theme everywhere. The end of the year is a time for reviewing and reminiscing. It seemed like every TV show I watched or podcast I listened to was waxing nostalgic for the past–be it a year, a decade, or just the past in general. Over and over I heard people sharing stories about their trials and hurdles and how they overcame them. What I heard in all those stories was a deep sense of pride for the ah-ha moments when they found solutions and for persevering. I heard a lot of funny stories about working together and forming bonds over late night deadlines, sparsely-funded road trips to meet potential buyers and three-person staff meetings over a five-dollar pizza. It seemed like everyone who had “made it” missed some of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants excitement of their early years.

It was definitely a message I needed to hear. I tend to focus on my next challenge, what I still need to do, how far I am from where I want to be. I forget to stop and look around me and note where I am now, how far I’ve come already and the really great people I’m meeting along the way. I’m currently struggling to create my 8-novella series. The two novels I’ve already published (link here) had been percolating in my mind for years before I got the stories down on paper. When I did start writing I was able to complete each one in a few months.

Vivienne’s story is newer, revealing itself as I write (and rewrite). I’m proud of what I have so far but it has been ten times harder to produce. There are definitely days that I wonder if I’ve bitten off too much. Book eight feels too far away for me to even picture. The trick I’ve discovered on those days is to project forward and pretend that all eight novellas are completed, published to great reviews and solid sales. If I look back on today and see my frustration as part of the process I feel better. I feel less like I’m spinning my wheels and making little progress.

In other words, the trick is to see now from the other side.

As we all gear up for 2016, working to grow our businesses and create our art, take a minute today to appreciate where you are now. Journal your hopes and dreams, challenges and fears. Appreciate how much all those drive you to keep going and do better, that way when you get there you can stop briefly and rest on your laurels then jump into a new challenge knowing you’re ready to enjoy the process of getting there all over again.

Now open a tab for YouTube, que up Adele’s “Hello” and sing to the struggling you as loud as you can.

Make Yourself The CiC (Chick in Charge) of Your Life–Part 1

When I worked in an office I always thought job titles were kind of a joke. I can’t say I stressed out too much over what mine was as long as I was doing work I liked and it came with a paycheck, you could call me whatever you wanted. When I became a stay-at-home mom I decided to give myself the title Chick in Charge. I wanted to have business cards made so I could put them in the fish bowls on deli counters and win a free sandwich.  It started as a joke, but the more I thought about it the less silly it became. If I wanted to be taken seriously in all the work I do I needed to take myself seriously.

This past week two writers had me thinking again about the work I do, all my jobs, and how I see myself in those roles. First the wonderful and wise Kristen Lamb posted an article “Good Girls Don’t Become Best-Sellers—Channeling Your Inner “Bad Girl” to Reach Your Dreams.” In it she encouraged female writers to take on some male traits and take their writing careers more seriously. She made some fantastic points and reminded me that this is a process I am working through right now. I’m proud to say I’ve definitely made some of the moves she suggests in the post. The second post was by the writer February Grace. Her post “The Worth In All Our Words” addresses the question of when we should call ourselves writers and how this can be debated even within the writing community. Both posts brought up my own ideas about what constitutes “work” and how that work is valued by myself and others. This is such a huge and important topic that I want to address it over two weeks (possibly more).

This week I’ll look at ways we diminish our work as women and how we can give it more power in our lives and in the world. Next week I’ll talk about specific ways you can be more in charge of all areas of work in your life.

So, let’s start with my jobs. I’m a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), a writer and an adjunct instructor for a university. All are equally important jobs even though only one has a paycheck. There have been times in the past sixteen years when mom was my only job. Those were important times for me because I felt like I was making a huge contribution to our family and society but that wasn’t the message I was getting. Unpaid hours spent doing repetitious work can feel as if it has no value and mothering is a job that only becomes obvious if it isn’t done. To make matters worse, it is definitely diminished and written off as women’s work, something uninteresting to the menfolk and not worth discussing in mixed company. This is when my idea for my title Chick in Charge was born. Sure I wanted free food but I also wanted the acknowledgement that I worked. It helped, having a title, but I still wanted the world to give me something that I wasn’t giving myself–credit, worth, value.

Skip forward to today. I truly do have three jobs and I know I am not unique among women. Millions of us take on jobs to add to our family income. I write but I have friends who sell different product lines or make items that they sell online through Etsy or Ebay. Most of us are not making huge sums of money but that’s just one of the reasons we don’t take our work seriously enough. Just like mothering our work is often written off as trivial or unimportant by both ourselves and others. We buy into the erroneous idea that you have to be on the level of Beyonce or Oprah before your work can take priority and be valued. But here’s the catch, Beyonce and Oprah started out like everyone else. They were very small potatoes at one point in time but what they didn’t do was believe that what they had to offer the world was of little value. They believed in the value of their work.

It’s taken me a long time, but that’s where I am (or at least that’s the direction I am heading) and the first thing that had to happen is I had to decide I truly was the Chick in Charge of my life. I needed to run my life with all the seriousness and intention and passion of any CEO. I needed to set some goals and then put things in place to reach for those goals. I also needed to create my own employee rewards program where I celebrated each milestone and goal reached in a way that was meaningful to me.

Key to this whole process was to trust myself, my instincts, when it came to what I wanted to achieve. The world wants to tell you what goals you should set–junior should be reading by age X, your first book should sell X number of copies in the first month, you’re only a successful writer when the NY Times or USA Today says you are. The problem is these goals are set by people who do not know your kid or your business. Maybe your kid is a wiz at music but reading just isn’t coming as quickly. If you follow your knowledge as CiC you will know when he or she is ready to read or potty train or whatever. You will also know when you have succeeded in your business because you sold X number more than last month or you finished writing a particularly hard piece.

The other thing you have to have is a view of the big picture. You need to know where you are heading (in general) so you, and sometimes only you, will know that you are making progress. I guarantee that Beyonce and Oprah and all super successful women saw themselves in a big picture long before they were actually there. I have my big picture. I know my kids will survive high school (and I will too) and go on to live happy lives doing things they love. I know I will write more books and continue to gain more readers who tell me how much they enjoy reading my work. I also know I will be taking some fantastic vacations and doing things that recharge my batteries and keep me excited about my goals. Self-care is definitely part of being a CiC.

Which is what I will address next week. I’ve put some systems in place and changed a few things in my world. None of it was earth-shattering or huge to others, but it was all important to me. It was all to acknowledge my worth and value as the chick in charge of my own life.

Are you a CiC? When and how did you take charge of valuing all your work? Share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

The Myth of the Spinning Plates

 My email inbox was full of promise this morning. Then again it is almost every morning. Everyday I am bombarded with articles that offer solutions to my problems. And, these solutions, they will solve those problems permanently. Yep, I was just given the key to achieving better health by walking thirty minutes a day. I’ve been aiming for better health for years and I am so relieved that I can achieve this lofty (albeit relative) goal once and for all with a simple, quick solution. And it gets even better. By reading these articles I can also declutter my home for good and permanently lose that extra ten pounds by doing one simple trick. So why am I not jumping on these miracle solutions? I would be crazy not to make my life shear perfection in a matter of days. I’m not rushing to apply all these miracle solutions because I finally realized the myth of the spinning plates.

Do you remember the spinning plates act at the circus? The one where the girl starts a few plates spinning on top of slender poles, then goes on to add more and more plates on poles. They are usually all in a row and she must continually go back to the first few plates to give them a little nudge and keep them spinning while she continues to add plates. For the finale she stands there for a moment with all her plates spinning at the same time–but only for a moment.

 It’s the perfect metaphor for life. We set things in motion: jobs, family, home, hobbies, events, then we start the mad dash between them, keeping them spinning. At some point most of us discover that perhaps we’ve put a few too many plates in motion.They are wobbling all over the place and people are starting to notice. My personal plate is a little heavy around the middle, my house plate has a thick layer of dust, my kid’s plates are wearing mismatched colors and are smeared with chocolate. God forbid someone throw another plate at me like the committee I would hate to say no to. Let alone a day or two of illness that would keep me from being able to do the mad dash of plate spinning and bring on massive wobbling.

Once I got this metaphor I could also see the good news and the bad of this reality. Bad first (let’s get it over with). You will never permanently lose that last ten pounds. Your house will never be organized for good. You will never achieve perfect health. As humans we are constantly changing and therefore our plates are constantly changing. As my kids get older I have to physically care for them less (let that plate start to fall) but I’m now teaching them bigger life skills; like how to find and keep a job (finger’s crossed). I might be able to get one or two closets cleaned out and looking marvelous, but as I do this, new piles and messes are forming around my house. It’s part of four people with multiple interests living in one space. My youngest is taking up golf so now we add his golf bag and supplies next to his dad’s in an already-pack (but once organized) sport’s closet. 

The good news–these are your plates. You get to decide if you want to add a room-mother plate or just how decorated and fancy all the holiday plates need to be. If you back up and look at the big picture, that last ten pounds may not look like a priority in relation to all your other obligations. And they don’t have to be perfect. Let me repeat that. Your spinning plates don’t have to be perfect. They will wobble, they will get dirty, one or two may even fall, but you will survive. Even the girl at the circus can only hold on to the illusion of perfect for a moment.

Part of midlife is making peace with your plates. After years and years of working your ass off trying to achieve all-plate perfection, you throw up your hands and decide to allow them to wobble and you stop giving a damn who sees it. I’ve consciously decided to let a few plates fall (que the gasp.) Yes, I’ve broken the cardinal American rule of never, ever quitting. And in contrast to every motivational speech I’ve ever heard, I don’t feel worse. I don’t feel like a loser. I feel better, lighter, more in control of my life. That also freed up room for me to slowly add some new plates. Not ones that were randomly flung in my direction, but plates I lovingly chose because they dramatically added to the quality of my life. 

So how do you escape overwhelming plate spinning? Start with your inbox. Unsubscribe to all the empty promises and obligations you didn’t even know you had (Was your child’s party Pintrest worthy?). Take a good look at your current plate load. Are there any you can let go of? Can you also let go of the useless guilt that might come with that action? Once you’ve done that you can get all zen about the plates you still have in the air and embrace them as your ongoing, ever-changing life. Peace of mind comes from seeing through the myth of the spinning plates.