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Four Easy (Not Really) Lessons

I’ve officially been on sabbatical for two weeks (out of the eight weeks I’m taking), and I can already tell you that time off, while extremely important for self care (and for getting things done, like packing up this house and moving our home elsewhere), is also a valuable learning tool.  What could one possibly learn from an unpaid vacation?  Read on, Dear Friend….

Lesson #1: Prioritize Your Priorities

The primary purpose of this sabbatical is to pack, move, and then unpack and settle in.  So what does one do when one is not actively engaged in packing, moving, or unpacking? Those first few days of my “time off”, I had zero clue what to do with myself!  I even went so far as to look at sites on what to do when one retires, all of which had three things in common:

  • They all suggested taking up a hobby.
  • They all suggested taking up a sport.
  • They all suggested getting a part-time job.

Which left me wondering: if you’re so bored now that you’ve retired that you need to develop a hobby, take up a sport, and gain a part-time job, then why the hell did you retire in the first place?  This got me thinking a lot about my own priorities, and about priorities in general.  

Most people have a list somewhere in the back of their brain (or, perhaps, if they’re lucky, in the front of their brain) of the things that are the most important in their life.  Now, these may be things that are truly important–things without which life becomes bland and/or unlivable–or these may be things that are peripherally important–things that are necessary to facilitate the truly important things.  My experience of abject boredom during that first week of my sabbatical made me take a long, hard look at my own priorities, and sort through and differentiate the truly important from the peripherally important.

So what is truly important?  In the interest of not boring you to tears with the details of “my little life”, let’s answer that question in an “across the board” fashion:

  • Peace
  • Love
  • Happiness/Fulfillment

Yes, I know that might sound trite, but I have found it to be an ultimate truth.  The hippies in the 1960s got it right: so long as you have peace in your life (a life free of drama llamas, including yourself!), love in your life (whether from a beloved, or from family and friends), and you are happy and fulfilled (able to do things that make you smile and laugh, as well as feed your passions), pretty much anything could happen in “your little life”, and you’d still come out relatively unscathed on the other side of whatever happened!

Boredom, at its deepest core, is a feeling of emptiness: it’s that thing we feel when we’ve lost sight of our priorities, and forget for a moment to simply enjoy the peacefeel the love, and focus on happiness/fulfillment.

Lesson #2: Plenty Is As Plenty Does

We live in a society where the word plenty somehow automatically equates in our minds with monetary wealth, but when it’s all said and done, ultimately, money is one of those priorities which is peripherally important.  Money is a thing which may help facilitate those three things that are truly important, but it doesn’t lie at the core of any of them.  Plenty, on the other hand, often does.

Plenty is actually defined as “a large or sufficient amount or quantity; more than enough”.  

I ached over the need to take this sabbatical, because I was afraid it would interfere with my previous definition of plenty: i.e., plenty of money to pay my bills, help out around the house, and purchase the furniture and things we’re going to need in our new home.  What I have found over the course of the past two weeks is that I have exactly the same amount of that particular definition of plenty, whether I’m working my tail off every day or not.  Meanwhile, when I’m not working my tail off, the really important plenty has increased three-fold: I may not have plenty of money, but I do have plenty of peacelove, and happiness/fulfillment!

The bottom line is: plenty is as plenty does.  When you sit around focusing on money as the definition of plenty, all you ultimately wind up with is realizing precisely how poor, financially, you actually are.  In the process, you also end up killing peacepushing away love, and feeling sad/unfulfilled.  However, when you focus on the really important plenty, you find yourself doing plenty:  enjoying peace breeds more peace; recognizing love breeds more love; focusing on happiness/fulfillment breeds more happiness/fulfillment!

Lesson #3:  Don’t Complain, Explain.

To complain is to explore a situation by focusing on the most dissatisfying or annoying parts of that situation, whereas to explain is to explore that same situation by focusing on the most relevant and meaningful parts of it.  Complaining shatters peace (it is the ultimate drama llama bait!), annoys love (it pushes people away), and denies happiness/fulfillment. On the other hand, explaining can actually bring about peace, foster love (as it encourages people to listen and then attempt to meet genuine needs), and lead to happiness/fulfillment.

The entire process of selling a house, packing your belongings, finding a new home, and then moving your stuff and unpacking it into said new home sucks.  I’m not talking a little amount of suckage, like “wow, rainy days really suck”, I’m talking major, industrial vacuum cleaner level suckage, like “you stubbed your toe on the couch so hard you’re now bleeding? Man, that sucks!”  The whole thing is a bigtime complain vs. explain opportunity.

I’m not gonna lie: I spent most of the period just prior to taking this sabbatical complaining.  I complained about the lack of sleep I was getting, due to early call-times by our real estate agent for showings, as well as other issues.  I complained about the size of the yard at every home we looked at.  I complained about having to put my much-loved stuff in storage.  I complained about having to take the cat out of the house in ninety degree heat on short notice.  I complained about how the entire business of having to keep the house spotless for showings while also having to pack impacted my work schedule. I complained, and complained, and complained.  Consequently, there wasn’t a moment of peace to be had: I officially became a drama llama.  I drove my Beloved bugnuts, which had some serious ramifications in the love department.  I was constantly unhappy and unfulfilled, and pretty much on a mission to get everybody else on the unhappy/unfulfilled bandwagon.

And then something wonderful happened: I stopped complaining and started explaining.  I’m still not getting enough rest, but in two more weeks, we’ll be in our new home, and I can sleep whenever I please (between unpacking and homemaking, of course).  The yard at the new house isn’t exactly huge, but you know what? It has an actual tree, and less yard just means less to mow!  I am presently staring at blank walls and mountains of boxes, true, but all the stuff that’s already in storage is probably safer for the move than the stuff presently sitting in boxes in my office, so now I wish I had packed it all from the get-go! We may have had to take the cat out of the house on short notice, but guess what? We made new friends!  Finally, in keeping the house spotless for showings, I discovered there are more fulfilling forms of work than my work-work: making Suzanne smile is the most rewarding thing in my corner of the universe!  Guess what? Now I have peace, and I realize just how deeply I’m surrounded by love, and I’m as happy and fulfilled as the loudly purring cat who is presently asleep in my lap!

Lesson #4:  Your Stuff Should Tell A Story

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks (and the months prior) deciding which things to throw away, and which things to actually wrap lovingly in bubble wrap and put in boxes.  As a borderline hoarder (who is in love with a chronic purger), that has been a really tough process for me.  As an artist, I have a desperate need to be surrounded by pretty things. That has made putting things in boxes very tough.  I also tend to attach memories to things (more on that in a moment), so throwing things out is very hard for me.  As the boxes have mounted to fill our entire storage space, and now my office as well, I find myself wishing I had learned the previous three lessons sooner than now….

Because if I had, I would’ve realized: your stuff should tell your story.  If it doesn’t actively tell your story, or if it doesn’t help you tell that story, then you don’t actually need it in your life.  When I say it should tell your story, I don’t just mean that your stuff should somehow be symbolic of your actual autobiography. What I mean is way deeper than that: it should tell the story of what you wish and want your life to be.  It should represent a deep expression of those truly important priorities we talked about in lesson onepeacelove, and happiness/fulfillment.

This theory came into play a lot when I was cleaning out my desk.  Obviously, my desk is where I do all of my day-to-day work for Iaconagraphy.  It is also where I keep all of my important documents (like Michelle’s birth certificate), my myriad notebooks for online gaming, and all of my snack food.  Betwixt and between all of that, there are also a thousand dead lighters, a vast collection of character-shaped erasers, and various other flotsam and jetsam from my life (such as saved movie tickets and things “I might scrap one day”).  In short, apart from those important documents, there was a lot of crap in my desk!  There were legit six boxes of cookies in my snack drawer!  Six boxes!  

As I was going through all of that stuff, it occurred to me that the vast majority of it was autobiographical, but patently did not tell the story that I want or wish to tell.  It was autobiographical in that yes, I really like cookies, I smoke a lot (I have to, to maintain the necessary intake of coal tar to keep our disabling psoriasis on at least an even keel), I like quirky things, and I really enjoy scrapbooking.  But the story that all that stuff told was not the story I want or wish for: instead, it was a story of getting fat, being annoyed (because there are few things more annoying in life than a dead lighter), putting my own quirkiness in a drawer or on a shelf, and never having time to do the things I really enjoy.  So the cookies went to that great cookie graveyard in the sky, and the lighters joined them in the trash bag.  I kept the erasers as a reminder to stop putting those quirky parts of me in a drawer or on a shelf, and I resolved to actually scrap the things “I might scrap one day” as soon as we’re settled in our new home.

Everything I pack now is weighed against the question: does this tell my story as I wish or want my life to be?  I have a feeling this new lease on life is going to lead to a lot of throwing things away during my unpacking process!

So what dowish or want my life to be? What’s my story?  Once upon a time, there was a guy who had to die to learn how to live.  He loved the ocean, he loved a beautiful, brilliant woman (who loved him in return), and he also had the love of good friends and extended family.  And one day, he realized the ocean wasn’t someplace you go; it’s a feeling.  So he decided to surround himself, and the beautiful, brilliant woman he loved, with that feeling every day.  He realized the call of the gulls as you lie on the beach is really friends talking to friends, so he decided to be a seagull, and finally embraced his wings.  He discovered that cleaning and homemaking and creating beauty all around him gave him the peace he craved, so he decided to do those things all the time, instead of the things he had been doing, which made him perpetually cranky and constantly reminded him that he was financially poor, making him very, very sad.  He finally understood just how loved he was, and he basked in that, the way sunbathers bask in the sun.  And the dead man who learned how to live and his beautiful, brilliant woman, and his good friends and extended family lived happily ever after, and they were all fulfilled.

What’s your story?

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Freedom Friday: Free To Be Your Business Brand!

For those of us in multi-service businesses (where you offer more than one type of service, such as what I do with Tarot/writing/art/ministry), typical business plans, marketing schemes, and business classes can leave us scratching our heads and wondering where the hell what we do fits in.  The truth is, however, what you do is not your brand: You are your brand!

Find the You in your business, instead of the business in you.  Ultimately, you are the fire that fuels your business; you are the soul that’s driving the “shell” of the thing you call your business. Every single thing you do–every service you offer; every item you sell–all comes back to you.  If you weren’t there, if you weren’t passionate, if you weren’t working your ass off on the daily, this business wouldn’t exist.  That’s the you in your business; without you, there wouldn’t be one. Which is why you need to find the you in your business, instead of the business in you. You know it’s in you–you’re the one working hard on it every day.  But have you ever paused to realize that none of this would be happening without your heart, soul, and fire? All of the things you offer–whether products or services–are simply reflections of you!

Stop second-guessing and doubting yourself.  As the face of your brand, if you doubt you, what the heck do you expect your potential customers to do? Do you actually expect folks to spend their hard-earned money on something that even you don’t completely believe in? People only put their money where their mouths are when they see that the brand is worthy.  If you don’t believe you’re worthy, they’re not going to, either. With that mindset, you’ll not only wind up financially destitute, but also desperate and depressed!  As addressed in Monday’s post, second-guessing and self-doubt also cost you valuable time every week, so nip that in the bud right now!

Find your why.  We talked about this on Monday as well: everything is easier when you have a deep reason why to help motivate you.  Why are you showing up for this every day? What is driving you? What is fuelling you? Is it the feeling you get when you help someone, or how rewarded you feel when someone genuinely loves your product? Maybe it’s that you want to matter in the world, while helping others realize they matter, too.  Or maybe it’s that you want to finally be financially okay enough to support the ones you love, and give back to them, for all that they’ve given you.

Tell others why.  This goes hand in hand with shameless self-promotion, which we’ll be discussing momentarily.  You know why what you do sets you on fire (hopefully), but why should it set others on fire? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for your potential customers?  Like it or not, the ultimate question that gets people spending their money is “what’s in this for me? What am I going to get out of this?”  You need to be able to explain that to people in a way that gets them as excited as you are. Set your customers on fire (well, not literally), and they’ll light up your bank account with their gratitude (and keep coming back for more)!

Shamelessly self-promote.  If you’re ashamed to promote yourself–you are your brand, remember–how do you ever expect your customers to be proud enough of what you do to invest in it? People aren’t going to invest in something that brings shame, to you or to anybody else. They’d be nuts to do that!  Everybody’s got enough baggage of their own, without shelling out to buy yours!

Make marketing an act of love.  This is perhaps the most profound lesson I’ve ever learned in business. (Thank you, Jonathan Mead!) Interruption marketing–the traditional style of marketing, like commercials on TV (they interrupt your favorite shows, who wants that?)–does little but annoy people.  If you turn marketing into an act of love, however, you can share your passions (which ultimately means sharing your brand), and get other people passionate right along with you, and passionate people are paying people!  What does it look like, to turn marketing into an act of love? What does that even mean?  You need your customers to care about you, right? If they don’t care, they’re going to keep on walking, right out the door or directly away from your webspace, which means they won’t be stopping to spend a dime on what you have to offer, services or otherwise.  In order for them to care about you, though, you’ve got to genuinely care about them.  That’s right: they have to stop being dollar signs with feet, and become actual people. People that you care about; that you care what happens to.  This means developing a level of emotional investment in your customers which most businesses nowadays frankly do not do.  Remember the good old days (you may have only seen these on TV or in movies; that’s okay) when the local hardware store was where all the little old men hung out on the weekends and played checkers? They were there because they cared about that business, but more importantly, because that business cared about them. They formed real relationships with the shopowner.  You need people to build real relationships with you and with your brand, and the only way to do that is if your marketing becomes an act of love!  Show people your why, and then let them know that you genuinely want that level of passion in their lives–not just because you want to make a buck, but because you want their lives to be better!

Be genuinely, wholeheartedly, and unabashedly you.  Show yourself to the world; all of you! No, I am not advocating buck-naked ad campaigns! What I mean by this is to never be afraid to show your customers that you are vulnerable; that you have a softer side. Never be afraid to let them see your “weirdness”, either, because we all have “weirdness”, and nobody likes to feel like they’re alone in theirs! If you will show your customers that you are a real person, with real issues and a real life, just like theirs, they will be much more likely to believe in your brand.  This may put some people off, but that’s okay: those people were never going to “buy you“, anyway.  The people who flock to you–who understand you, and come to care about you, while you care about them–these people are your tribe.  All those other folks–the naysayers and the critics; the ones you’re so afraid are going to judge you–those people aren’t your tribe.  Those not-tribe-people will never become customers anyway, so quit worrying about them!

If you need further help finding the you in your business, or finding you in the first place, I offer a wide range of readings for Business and Self-Discovery.  My heart is right here waiting to start an inner dialogue with your heart, and get your business working for you, instead of you working for your business!

And if you need to change your perspectives on being a multi-service business, check out Emilie Wapnick’s site for Multipotentialites. It literally changed my life; hopefully it will help you the same way!

 

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Ignorance Ain’t Bliss….

How often do you feel ignored?  Do you steadily feel like you’re putting all your energy and passions out there, but that everyone–including the Universe itself–is turning a deaf ear and a blind eye in your direction? I used to feel that way more often than I’d like to admit, until I finally realized that the person ultimately ignoring me the most was me!

That’s right; I was ignoring me even more than all those other people I was trying to get through to and the Universe (The All; Deity), combined!  Sound nuts? I mean, how do you ignore yourself?  Even when nobody else is paying you any attention, you listen to you, right?  Don’t you? Or do you just sit around and wallow in the fact that nobody’s listening?

A couple of years ago, I had this “master plan” for artistic “world-domination”:  I had my shops at Cafepress (they’re still there), and I set up a brand new shop at Red Bubble (because the way Cafepress figures royalties just wasn’t cutting it; nor did they provide the artistic freedom I required), and I submitted two book covers to a site called The Book Cover Designer (where aspiring authors can come purchase cover art for their books).  In addition to that, I also started the ball rolling for literary “world-domination”, by publishing two novellas with Smashwords.  I set up my original professional Facebook page (now defunct; I’ll get to that in a minute), and I started pushing everything I was offering with everything I had.  Two people actually listened to all of this by continually liking, sharing, and pushing my business (those two people are still with me, and I’m eternally grateful for them). No one else came to the party–neither lifelong friends nor family members bought a damn thing. I was crushed, not only financially, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (hence that page now being defunct).

In 2014, I decided to try it all again. I set up this blog, and I set up a Twitter account, and I set up a brand new Facebook page, and I linked everything together.  I revamped my webpages. I made more and more art; I worked on a new novel (which is still coming, y’all!).  I started entering contests at art places (and lost all of them).  I began to spend on average 18 hours a day, trying to make texture sets and things I could sell to subsidize my income (and sold none of them). I would do a blog post every time something new hit my shops, and then post that like crazy on Facebook, and once again, those same two people listened, but once again, they were pretty much the only ones. Meanwhile, I drove everyone around me bugnuts crazy with my demand for silence and my workaholic work schedule while sales continued to plummet, and I remained broke as bedbugs.

In September of 2015, I was officially at breaking point.  I sat down and finally did something that I had never thought to do before: I listened to myself!  Instead of sitting around and continuing to wallow in my misery–which was not only financial, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual by this point because I felt like I had very few people in this world I could truly count on–I looked inwards and up for the first time, instead of outwards and down.  And my life suddenly began to change!

How do you listen to yourself?

Start by asking “what actually makes me tick”.  What drives you? What are you so passionate about that no matter how shitty things get, that one thing still causes you to get out of bed in the morning and face the day?  What fires you up?

For me, everything came down to my spirituality.  No matter what road I’ve walked in this mundane world–and no matter how fraught with misery that road has ever been–I’ve always been able to keep going because of my faith.  Now, that might not be your primary driving force–your driving force might be model horses, or cooking, or family–but whatever it is, you desperately need to find it, and define it.  Art was not my driving force. Writing was not my driving force.  The thing driving both of those aspects of my life, and everything else in my life was my quest for not only spiritual meaning, but for bringing that meaning into other people’s lives.  So I began my journey as a Professional Tarot Reader, and I got ordained.  I changed the focus of this blog to reflect that, and since doing so, not only am I listening to me, but so are other people!

Look at all the things in your life that do not communicate your driving force, and get rid of them!  What are you doing, saying, or relaying (through your behavior) that goes against your driving force?  If your driving force is cooking, for example, how often do you actually sit around and complain about the mundane aspects of it, like going to the grocery store or washing dishes?  If your driving force is model horses, how often do you sit and wallow in your losses at shows, or in your lack of funds, instead of making the most of what you do have?  If your driving force is your family, how often do you sit around and wallow in the worry of that blessing, instead of celebrating the blessing?

My workaholic schedule and penchant for wallowing in the financial nightmare that was my life at the time kept me from the thing that I’m absolutely the most passionate about: my spirituality.  There was no time for me to learn more, much less teach anybody else.  Inside, I was screaming for a release from that, but outside, I just kept plugging away at the same old grind.  That’s part of what I mean, about not listening to myself.  What I was doing was patently not who I am, but it was the face I was putting out there, not only to the world, but to the very people I loved the most.  So when I finally listened to myself in September, 2015, I made the decision to get rid of all the things that were not communicating my driving force to the world:  I got rid of the flashy sales pitch, and replaced it with genuine advice and (hopefully) tidbits of wisdom.  I got rid of the workaholic schedule that allowed zero time for anything other than more and more stuff that wasn’t selling anyway.  I got rid of my tendency to very publicly complain about my financial crisis, and in the process, replaced that with an attitude of gratitude for what I do have, and came to live in a place of spiritual abundance, whether my finances were following suit or not. And, again, people are listening!

Figure out what does communicate your driving force, and persistently shout that at the world.  No matter how vulnerable it might feel at face value, put the real you out there to the world!  This is probably one of the scariest things you’ll ever attempt to do, unless you’re really into jumping out of airplanes or taking saunas in a bath of spiders, but it’s worth it! You are worth it!  Why waste time wallowing, when you could be filling the world with your exuberance–and your light–about the things that matter to you most?  If the thing you define as your driving force is keeping you stuck in a mire of misery, why are you so passionate about it in the first place? Maybe it’s time for a change.

This might seem like a strange issue for a writer and artist to have, but learning to put myself out there in my own words, the way I actually talk, and just be genuinely and authentically me, and genuinely and authentically passionate about my passions, was one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve ever had to learn to do.  I’ve been taught my whole life that if you “write in dialect”, everyone in the world is going to think you’re an idiot first, and not take you seriously second; that nobody is going to listen to that.  When one of those two people that worked so diligently to push my business first told me to “just be you, and people will respond to that”, I literally told her she was nuts!  But guess what? She wasn’t nuts (okay, well, maybe she is in some ways, but only the best ones)!  Once I began to put my passions out there in my own voice, the way I actually talk, people started listening, because they saw I wasn’t some smarmy used car sales person of art and writing, but that I am an actual person, with a genuine and authentic heart, who actually gives a crap about them, rather than just needing them to give a crap about me!  I stopped wallowing, and started bursting with exuberance–and light–about what drives me, and the response has been amazing!

Take stock of your blessings, and be actively grateful for every single one of them.  No matter how crappy your life may feel right now, there are still wonderful things in it, if you’ll just stop a second and look, and focus on those instead.  You’re still breathing if you’re reading this, and that’s a blessing!  You have internet access or a cell phone if you’re reading this; that’s a blessing, too!  You probably had breakfast this morning, and will likely have dinner tonight.  You have a roof over your head, and no matter how shabby or un-posh it may be, at least it keeps you from dying of exposure.  Your kids may drive you absolutely bug-nuts crazy, but at least you have kids, and if you’ll take a minute to think back on all the times their hugs or laughter have instantly made your life better, you’ll see that they are blessings, too.  Be actively grateful for each and every one of those things: take a little time out of every day to thank whatever Higher Power you believe in for giving you all those things because trust me, not everyone is as blessed as you are right now.

A year ago, I was miserable and living in my own self-inflicted slavery to the almighty dollar.  I completely lost sight of all the blessings in my life, turning most of them into curses instead.  I now have two lovely semi-adopted children, but both of them provided constant interruptions to my work.  I have a fantastic husband and incredibly special woman in my life, but I could never seem to have enough cash on hand to show either of them just how special they are to me, and that was a constant source of depression.  I have an amazing Mother, but her expectations of greatness for me were just one more disturbance of my personal peace; one more demand on my life.  My best friend of almost forty years was just one more distraction who constantly interrupted my flow.  Instead of living like that, I should just be actively grateful for each and everyone of them!  Guess what? Now I am!  And I’m finding it’s a lot easier to listen to myself when I’m spouting “thank you, Lord”s than when I’m constantly bitching and complaining and whining.

Ignorance ain’t bliss, but if you want other people to stop ignoring you, first you’ve got to stop ignoring yourself!  Get in there, and learn who you really are, and then put that out there to the world, no matter how scary that might be.  Nobody wants to hear you wallow, but excitement is contagious!  Your life may seem small and cruddy on the outside, but on the inside is where stuff matters, and the world in there is expansive and generous and full of infinite possibilities, if you’ll only take the time to look, and then flow with those necessary changes to put that out there, to the rest of the world.  You won’t be sorry you did! Trust me: I’m speaking from experience!