- by Alyson Shane
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was small I wanted to be a golfing farmer. Then I wanted to be an artist. Then I wanted to be a writer. Of course, nobody took the first one seriously, but pursuing a career in a creative field was strongly discouraged. "There's no money in creative pursuits" I was told, over and over again.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting on the Roost rooftop patio a few weeks ago celebrating my second anniversary as a full-time business owner.
Not only do I get to do the creative work that I love to do (writing) every day, but I get to leverage the thing I love to do another thing that I love (helping people) while building the life that I want for myself. That's pretty incredible.
So with that revelation in mind, I wanted to touch on a few things that I've been reflecting on over the past few days as I ponder what got me here, and how things have changed in these past two years:
Outgrowing Corporate Life
The advice I got the most often when I was growing up was "find a job and keep your head down" which - in case you haven't met me - is the polar opposite of who I am as a person.
I'm not a lady who keeps her head down and her mouth shut, and it always proved challenging in work environments where I didn't have the control or opportunities to experiment, try new things, and get creative with problem-solving.
For a long time I thought it was character flaws that were keeping me from being a happy employee. Why couldn't I just fit in? Why did I have to challenge my supervisors when I thought I knew of a better way to do something? Why did I continue to lose motivation after the first few months of doing the same tasks day in and day out?
Mostly I wondered: why did everyone else not seem to have these same challenges?
It was crazy-making, and it wasn't until I started freelancing in 2014 that I started to experience the kind of control and freedom that I'd been looking for and failing to find in my corporate life.
I realized that the problem wasn't me, it was the work I was doing and the places I was doing it.
Let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with a corporate job if that's what you want, but for some of us it feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole every day.
It's nice to not feel that way anymore.
Finding Amazing Opportunities
The one thing that I don't think I was prepared for was the amount of opportunities that being a business owner afforded me, and how much those experiences have enriched my life.
I used to wile away my days at my desk, watching people on Twitter share talks and presentations and workshops and all these fun and exciting-looking opportunities. I wanted to be doing those things, but I didn't know how to get there.
Here's the thing about being a business owner, though: in order for your business to be successful you have to put yourself out there.
This is where that whole "being unable to keep my head down / mouth shut" aspect of my personality really acts as a blessing: I'm comfortable putting myself out there and getting up in front of people, so I'm comfortable with the hustle associated with promoting and building a business.
These days I write articles, run workshops, speak at conferences, and I even have my own print column. While, yes, I could have certainly leveraged my personal brand to find these opportunities, having a business gets me in front of other professionals in a way that being an employee at someone else's company didn't afford me. And honestly? That's probably the coolest part.
Learning to Manage Others
In 2016 my business grew enough that I began working with outside contractors to help manage my workload. By the time I rebranded and launched Starling Social earlier this year I'd already been working with contractors for a while, but formally announcing that we have a team felt like a huge accomplishment. Looking at our About Us page and seeing more faces than just my own is still a bit mind-blowing, and I'm so thankful to work with the passionate and dedicated people that I do.
On one hand, having someone help you manage your workload is a huge boon. On the other hand, sharing my thoughts and developing the processes needed to effectively on-board others was scary. My anxieties make me afraid of failure and "being wrong" and it was intimidating to open my business up to other people and let them in.
That being said, being forced to take a long, critical look at how and why I did things helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the value of using the right tools, processes, and documentation to run my business and serve our clients.
They say the best way to understand something is to teach it to someone else, and that applies in business, too.
The single biggest change in the last two years is the confidence that I've developed as a result of being a business owner.
I can feel it permeating every conversation I have; there's a security, a solidarity in my sense of self that just wasn't there a few years ago. Of course, I still have moments (or days, or sometimes even weeks) of doubt and struggle, but overall working for myself and managing both clients and contractors has helped me grow into a significantly more confident person, both personally and professionally.
I have anxiety, and until recently I was seeing a therapist who was helping me work through some traumatic childhood experiences that contributed to those feelings. While therapy was invaluable (really, I can't recommend it enough if you feel like you need it) it was the daily practice of getting up, working by myself all day and facing my problems and challenges head-on, and reflecting about those challenges in a safe space that really contributed to my increased overall sense of well-being and confidence.
I really do believe that being your own boss is one of the best things you can do to build up your self-confidence. It pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone in so many small ways every day.
Business is growing and these days it feels like I have more stuff to do than hours in the day, but that's okay. I'm learning to develop and maintain a work/life balance, which can be hard sometimes when your work is the thing you love to do.
I believe that people create their own luck, though to be perfectly honest most of the time it still feels like I stumbled into this amazing, stressful, and challenging opportunity even though I can look back and see the years of work and dedication that it took to get here, even if I didn't know that this was where I was going. And honestly, that's the coolest part: not knowing where this adventure is going to take me.
I'm really excited to see what the next few years bring my way.
- by Alyson Shane
Most years we volunteer but 2017 has been so crazy and hectic already that we nixed the extra responsibility. Instead we just camped and roasted in the sun and took in as much music as you can reasonably cram into bright, hot days without giving yourself sunstroke.
We saw The Barenaked Ladies, City and Colour, Begonia, Charoltte Cardin and omg John K. Samson and The Winter Wheat.
John and I held hands and sang along to Pamphleteer and it was sort of perfect.
At the Big Blue stage at night there was lots of crowdsurfing. Kids climbing up into the crowd and floating around on top of others and I thought
That shit is so dangerous.
And I swear as I thought that some young dude who was crowdsurfing but was busy trying to selfie fell down and right onto his back in the crowd. Which made me realize that I'm old now because my first thought wasn't "oh no! Back to dancing" it was
He could have broken his neck!
When I was younger I just wanted to party all the time. I didn't care if I hurt myself. I was just in it to win it and the hangovers and bruises and fuzzy memories be damned. But now that I'm getting older all that stupid stuff I used to do that seemed like no big deal at the time suddenly seems so much more serious.
Like man you only live once so you gotta take care of yourself.
Which is why buddy taking a selfie while crowdsurfing freaked me out so bad. It reminded me of what a reckless dummy I used to be.
So I went and hung out in the beer garden with my friends.
Which is what adults do at festivals, anyway.
- by Alyson Shane
Yesterday was TEDxWinnipeg.
It was amazing. It was a whirlwind. It was so much more than my tired, fried-out brain can describe right now.
Instead, here's a photo essay:
Of course I woke up at 4:45AM
a full hour before my alarm was supposed to go off
as evidenced by my unimpressed post-shower face (was I even awake then?)
Does that look like the face of a girl who got 5hrs sleep? I hope not.
Luckily I was able to pull myself together within a reasonable time frame.
Winnipeg looked gorgeous during my bike ride to the convention centre, of course.
I left a bit early so I could bike there slowly and collect my thoughts and feelings
and to try and get in a little "me time" before a whirlwind day.
I got there for 7:15AM and the space was largely empty except for the volunteers and organizers running around getting everything ready.
We took a bunch of group shots of all the speakers, organizers, tech peeps, and etc before the crowds started milling in, and then it was ready to go!
There were a bunch of fun activities for guests to do, including this fun board which I kept coming back to look at throughout the day.
I was busy as heck, but I managed to squeeze in a few selfies with some lovely people before the day got started.
TEDxWinnipeg people unite!
This guy was an amazing support, of course.
Halfway through the morning Brent pulled me aside to let me know he had something for me:
It was a vintage AOL trial disc! Anyone remember these?
My talk touched on my high school years spent using the "Trial" button on our NetZero install because my parents refused to pay to get dial-up internet at home (don't even get me started on that gong show), so this little trinket was super thoughtful and hilarious. Thanks so much, Brent!
(Side note: I'm so thankful for high speed internet)
Then it was back into the swing of things.
I spent a lot of time in the green room backstage, but I made sure to make it into the crowd for Jon and Rana's talks. We'd spent so much time rehearsing together that I really needed to be in the crowd to experience their talks.
Spoiler alert: they both knocked it out of the park. I was in tears!
Before I knew it, it was my turn to present.
What can I say about speaking?
It was intense. It was exhilarating. It was fun and stressful and amazing.
I was nervous leading up to my talk and was so worried that I was going to forget something, or flub my lines, or, well... anything!
But I'm pleased to say that I nailed it. I did better than I could have expected and I'll be sharing more thoughts on my experience in an upcoming post for the TEDxWinnipeg website (so stay tuned for that).
Then it was over!
I posed for a few quick snaps at the end of the day (this is my speaker buddy, Amanda, who was an incredible help and support throughout the entire process) before heading out.
I was utterly wiped after such an emotional, busy, and exhilarating day.
(But not too tired to go for pizza and drinks at my favourite local pizza joint Super Deluxe Pizza.)
Now if you'll excuse me I need to go and sleep for a week.
Want more info about my TEDxWinnipeg expeirence? Check out my blog post series on the TEDxWinnipeg website what it was like to be selected as a speaker, and preparing to present my talk.
Update: the TEDxWinnipeg live stream is still up! My talk is around 3:20:10 in the 'Afternoon Talks' section.
- by Alyson Shane
It's almost here! TEDxWinnipeg is just a few short days away, and I'm putting the final touches on my talk and cramming in as much rehearsal time as possible.
Putting this talk together was fun and challenging, both on a personal and professional level. It was hard (and worthwhile) to find a way to tell my story and illustrate how the digital communities I found online helped me overcame a wealth of personal issues in my youth to grow into the person that I am today, and to illustrate how digital communities throughout the internet continue to have the same positive effects on people all over the globe.
I've also been lucky enough to be able to share my experience in detail as I work through my talk and prepare for the big day. You can find my first post here, and if you missed my second post, you can find it here.
Below is an excerpt from my third and final post in the series:
My talk is about digital communities who come together to support one another, and in the process of preparing to speak I’ve found a wider, extended family with the TEDx speakers and organizers in my daily life. The irony is not lost on me, I assure you.
I’m a writer, and writing is a solitary pursuit, so I’m used to sitting alone and plugging away at my keyboard in silence, and the prospect of working on a talk on my own didn’t faze me at first.
But working on a TEDx talk is hard work, and having someone I can message with questions, concerns and frustrations who is as embedded in their experience as I am has really helped me stay focused and on track, especially in moments when I doubt my message or my own abilities.
It's been an incredibly humbling and eye-opening experience to work alongside the other presenters and watch as their talks come together, and I can't wait to see everyone on June 6th!
- by Alyson Shane
The other night we were sitting on the couch trying to figure out what to watch.
I wanted to watch IT and John said "Stephen King really has a thing for coming-of-age flashback movies about kids who experience something scary together."
Which was true, but I hadn't really thought about it quite like that before.
We sat there, scrolling through our movies and talking about which ones we'd seen; which ones sucked, which ones were better than we'd expected; which ones made us cry.
I reminded John that I'd never seen Fargo, and we started to go through a list of movies that I've never seen (which is apparently appalling, but I'll post here to the best of my knowledge because I have no shame):
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- Adventures in Babysitting
- Bubba Ho-Tep
- The Man With the Screaming Brain
And more, I'm sure.
As we listed them off John turned to me and laughed and said "I'm going to write these down in my Notes app so I have them on-hand and can reference them at all times."
"Don't!" I laughed, mostly joking.
"Look" he said, showing me the title of the Note (which read "Movies Alyson hasn't seen yet")
"I put it right here at the top next to my To-Do list so I see it every time I open the app."
- by Alyson Shane
What is Starling Social?
Starling Social is the name of my business. We specialize in social media management and copywriting (content marketing) designed to help our clients tell their stories and connect with their customers.
I started freelancing in the summer of 2014, and while working under my own name was great for a while, I realized that as my business started to grow and I began to bring on sub-contractors to help me manage my workload, that using my own name just wasn't going to cut it anymore.
I've been working on launching my new brand for the last half of 2016, so this feels like a really long time coming. I'm really excited to finally be sharing this news with all of you!
You can read more about Starling Social on our first blog post.
What Does This Mean for My Blog?
What it means is that I can (finally!) get back to the kind of writing that I enjoy: the kind which doesn't have to stick to a certain style, which discusses more of my life, opportunities, thoughts, and experiences.
One of the challenging things about being a freelancer was that I had to shift the primary focus of my blog to topics relating to my professional life. I've always been a big supporter of knowledge sharing, and by publishing content that was helpful and informative to others, it also helped demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about when it came to social media and content marketing.
While it was fun and refreshing at first, I quickly started to realize that the more I blogged about what I did, the less I blogged about who I am. What I care about, my values, and so on.
With this in mind, one of the biggest changes you'll notice here is that I'll be blogging more about my life. What I'm up to, my thoughts on being an entrepreneur and business owner, etc, reflections on my industry, and so forth.
What Comes Next?
You can follow along with everything that Starling Social is up to by visiting our website and blog, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can also sign up for our newsletter and get a FREE copy of my new ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You and Your Brand.
And me? I'll still be here, blogging away like I always have.
So hello, and welcome back. I've missed all of you.
- by Alyson Shane
There are few things as powerful as a strong one-person performance, and while Severn Thompson's performance in Elle wasn't completely solo, the 90 minutes that she spent on the stage, almost entirely on her own, were appropriately gripping and moving.
Exploring French-Canadian History
Elle is a theatre adaptation of the Douglas Glover’s 2003 novel of the same name which is currently playing at the Prairie Theatre Exchange. The story focuses on the tale of harrowing survival in pre-colonial Canada, and weaves in themes of feminism, magic, and terror into a gripping performance that demands to be seen.
The play, and the novel upon which the play is based, are an interpretation and expansion of the incredible story of Marguerite de La Rocque de Roberval, played by Severn Thompson, a French noblewoman who travelled to Canada and was marooned on the Isle of Demons, a phantom island, an island off the coast of Newfoundland. She was marooned by the captain of the ship, her relative, who dumped her overboard as punishment for taking a lover during the voyage.
Marguerite is joined by her lover Richard, her maid Damienne, and a boat full of broken tools. Discovering that she is pregnant, she struggles through a series of hardships as her pregnancy progresses: Richard becomes ill and dies; Damienne, too, eventually succumbs to starvation and sickness, and, pregnant and alone, Marguerite's spirit begins to break.
A character who began as a confident and aloof young woman is suddenly left to face the harsh Canadian winters alone, and Thomson's portrayal of a woman whose spirit is breaking in front of you is chilling take on dark humour, to say the very least. As she climbs inside the skin of a bear, worn-out, cold, and ready to give up, she is discovered.
Itslk, played by Johnathan Fisher, is an Indigenous hunter who believes that Marguerite is a spirit, having watched her emerge from inside the bear. He teaches her how to hunt and cook meat, and the real and spirit world begin to blend as Marguerite becomes more in touch with her newfound home.
Intimate and Gripping
Being the sole (or largely solo) actor on stage can be daunting, and often falls flat, but Thompson's depiction of a woman going through a traumatic experience and surviving managed to be both alarming and darkly funny. At times, when Thompson is describing their dire state on the island, living off of “books, bird bones and tennis balls” you almost feel bad for laughing as she trounces around the stage.
The most striking part of the performance, however, was how the stage was integrated with the story. The entire play takes place in front of a large structure which resembles a rib cage (an homage to the bear Marguerite finds, perhaps?) and is the perfect play to see at the Prairie Theatre Exchange because of the smaller stage size and the intimate setting.
By using a long sheet and wrapping it in various ways around the structure the stage is transformed from a ship, to a tiny tent, to the belly of a bear, and more. At one point, while Thompson wound herself up inside the sheet, crying out, it could almost be believed that she was truly losing her sanity.
Elle is a play worth seeing, and a reminder of the hardships that faced both colonists and Indigenous peoples alike all those centuries ago.
- by Alyson Shane
Before I go further, I want to acknowledge that the march I'm discussing was held on Treaty 1 territory.
I mention it because it's important for me to acknowledge that I marched for treatment, rights, and freedoms that many Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women and girls, still do not receive despite the fact that we marched on their traditional lands.
I also want to preface my post by saying that as a white cisgender female, born in Canada to a middle-class household, with a post-secondary education, I understand and accept my privilege. I do my best to be aware of that privilege and to be respectful and accepting that there are gaps in my perspective, knowledge, and understanding. I want to be clear that my perspective can't (and shouldn't) be representative of, or exclusionary to, others. I also apologize in advance if I unintentionally exclude a specific group from this post - it's not my intention to do so, I am just going to write what I can from the heart in the best and clearest way that I know how.
Without further ado.
Why I marched
I marched because I believe in equal rights. I believe that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, place of birth, skin colour, mental or physical ability, and religious beliefs should have a place within our society. Everyone has the right to feel safe and respected, and I support a movement which makes equality one of its core principles.
I marched because I stand as an ally behind the LGBTQIA community. I recognize that there are struggles and issues that I can't possibly start to understand due to my privilege as a white cisgender woman, but I stand behind these groups as an ally because I believe that we should be able to love whomever we want, and to have our sexual and gender identities respected and supported by our families, communities, and governments.
I marched because I value our sexual and reproductive rights. I believe that everyone deserves to have access to medically sound, high-quality sexual information and counselling, reproductive care including birth control, and access to safe, legal abortions regardless of their income, sexual and gender identity, race or religious belief. I support helping individuals make well-informed and medically sound decisions about their bodies and sexual and reproductive health.
I marched because I stand as an ally behind minorities and POC. As a white woman I accept that there are struggles that I will simply never face due to my skin colour. With that in mind, I do my best to be an ally to movements like Idle No More and Black Lives Matter. I acknowledge that it is not my place to fight on behalf these groups, but to express my support in the ways which are appropriate.
I marched for our planet. I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of our planet, and to stop putting our convenience and comfort before tackling issues like climate change. We need to end our dependency on fossil fuels and transition to green, renewable energy sources which won't cause further damage the planet and put the future of our species and the rest of the life on this planet at risk.
I marched because I have made mistakes. Opinions grow and change over time, and I know that in the past I have made thoughtless and hurtful comments, and have acted in ways which could have been more kind and well-informed. I am continually doing my best to learn to be an ally, and to learn from my past missteps and do better moving forward.
I marched for my future children. I want to bring children into a world where they don't have to feel ashamed of who they are, what they look like, what their mental or physical capabilities may be, and who they love. I want to be a part of a movement which encourages the best in our society, and which is pushing for a future that I can be proud of.
What can we do now?
Naysayers on the internet and elsewhere have tried to downplay the importance of this movement, saying that it will "die out", "go nowhere" after the initial march has ended, but don't believe them. The cause will only die out if we stop caring about each other and putting in the time and effort to make our voices heard, and that won't happen.
Here are some ways that we can do our part to keep this movement alive:
Acknowledge our privilege
It took me a lot longer than I care to admit to come to terms with my privilege. It's hard and uncomfortable to look critically at yourself and realize the ways in which society treats you differently than other people, but being able to is essential to being an empathetic ally to other groups.
If you aren't sure what any of this means, BuzzFeed has a handy and easy to understand quiz which breaks down some ways in which you may be more privileged than others.
Speak out + listen back
Talk to the people around you about politics and issues that you care about. If you don't feel like you care about any issues, read a few news articles and make a list of the things that you agree and disagree with. Now, google those points and learn as much about them as you can.
Next, ask the people around you what their thoughts are on those topics. Don't be afraid if they're different that yours: instead, look at it as a chance to learn about a different perspective than your own. Ask questions and be curious and respectful, even if you disagree.
Don't be afraid to be wrong, or to admit that you don't know something. Everyone is learning all the time, you and me included.
Get out there
It's easy to be an armchair activist, but until we start getting out from behind our computer screens and showing up to events in our community we can't really begin to understand what other people are thinking and feeling.
Show up to town hall meetings, political debates, free lectures and rallies when you can. It's okay if you don't feel comfortable, and don't know what to say or do. Just showing up and listening is more than a lot of people are willing to do.
If you live in Winnipeg and want a friend to come with you, let me know and I'd be happy to join you.
Did you attend any the Women's March rallies? What were your experiences like? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments, because I'd love to hear from you!
- by Alyson Shane
2016 was a whirlwind year, and now that I'm home from our holiday trip to Windsor to visit John's family I finally have a little time to think, reflect, and plan my next moves for the coming year.
I'm not a big believer in "resolutions" to be honest; I prefer to look at each new year as an opportunity to commit to doing more positive things in general, rather than saying "this year I'll read 50 books!" or "I'm going to enter a bodybuilding competition in 2017" (lols for days).
Below are a few of the intentions I plan to set for the coming year, and some tips to help you set (and really work towards!) your own:
Do more yoga
A few months ago my friend Jackie and I went to Moksha Yoga Winnipeg for some hot yoga, and as I sweated and strained I felt the same kind of runner's high that I sometimes feel during a particularly good run. I left the class feeling renewed, exhilarated, and sweaty as hell, and it was wonderful.
Since then I've been trying to work doing yoga into my regular workout routine; I've been doing this easy 10-minute video at home during my 'lunch break' each afternoon. It's fast, simple, and a good way to break up my workday and spend a few minutes in a (somewhat) zen-like state.
In addition to all the feel-good mental benefits associated with doing yoga it just feels good to connect with my body and stretch out muscles that I don't normally use while sitting at my desk typing to you.
Do you have any fitness goals in the coming year? Whether it's taking up running, swimming every day, or just stretching more during your linch break, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Costs. How much are you spending on fitness already? Are you willing to spend more? If you need special equipment, are you willing to invest additional funds?
- Time. Ask yourself honestly: how much time will this take each day, or week? Include travel time, changing, showering, etc in your estimate.
- Other obligations. Saying "I'm going to go to the gym every day!" is great in theory, but harder in practice. Block an average workweek out by hours, including commuting, meal prep, and other daily tasks to see how much time you reasonably have to meet your goals.
Delegate more (effectively)
One of my biggest learning moments came last year when I found myself looking dejectedly at the Crowdfunding Crash Course ebook I had been putting together. I'd spent heaps of time compiling the existing interviews, blog posts, and a bunch of extra goodies into an ebook format, only to totally and utterly lose steam when it came to designing the layout, which I didn't want to do.
I kept putting off the thing I didn't want to do until it felt like I'd put it off too long and the project felt irrelevant. I beat myself up really hard over it, and it's hard even admitting that I let it stagnate. However, it taught me an invaluable lesson: delegate tasks you don't like to the people who can do them for you.
That's why of my personal and professional goals is to delegate more of my workflow to others, and to learn to do so more effectively. Delegating properly and supporting the people who you work with means developing the proper systems to manage everyone's time and keep things on track, which I need to spend more time doing this year in order to meet this goal.
Whether you're working in an office, a stay-at-home mom, or a busy business owner, knowing where you need help and asking for it can go a long way towards good mental health. Below are some things you can ask yourself before you start pushing to-dos off your plate:
- What tasks or processes do I enjoy doing the least? We tend to put off and procrastinate on tasks that we don't enjoy. Identify the ones you like the least (doing your taxes, following up with clients, etc) and find people who can help you do them.
- Ask: can I trust this person to do a good job? Take time to talk to and properly vet anyone you're thinking of delegating a task to, especially if it's a business-related one.
- Let go. If you believe that you can trust someone to help you manage your to-dos then trust in their abilities and don't stress too much. Make sure to review everything they do, but give them the space and support to do it properly.
(ooooh yeah, the new year means motivational images like crazy)
Spend more time on business development
This dovetails into delegating more effectively; when you run your own business and are managing client expectations, pitching ideas, going to meetings, writing copy, and doing all of the other day-to-day tasks that involve running a business it can be easy to forget about the most important business you manage: your own.
I've asked many mentors and friends about this, and they all agree: the first thing to slip when you start getting busy is your own business development. However, ongoing business development is critical when it comes to long-term success, and in 2017 and the following years I want to make more time to focus on building my business as well as my clients' businesses.
Some steps I want to take in this area are:
- Redefining "work". Most people look at business development as work, but writing and being creative are things that I enjoy, and I need to start re-framing business development as things I like doing in my leisure time when I'm not taking care of clients.
- Delegate more effectively. This deserves a second mention because I struggle with it and it will be essential to finding time for business development. Being too busy blocks my creative process.
- Work in inspiring places. Sitting at home with my laptop on a Saturday afternoon feels a bit boring, so getting out to coffee shops and bars where I can sit and work outside of the house will help me feel invigorated and encourage me to be creative.
While my focus is on business development, the steps below are designed to help anyone with a creative passion that often takes a backseat to other things in life:
- Assess the benefits. Write down the benefits of spending time on your project. Some benefits could be "improve my craft or practice", "move my business forward", "earn more revenue" etc.
- Schedule in time. I talk about scheduling a lot because it is the most important way to stay on track. Look at your calendar and block out time to work on your projects or hobbies, and stick to them.
- Find mentors and inspiration. Talk to other like-minded people in your field, join an active Facebook group for people with similar interests, and read blogs and books about your passion or hobby to stay inspired.
Read more books
One of my favourite things to do is start my workday with a thermos of coffee and the front page of HackerNews (among others). I spend 20-45 minutes every day reading articles, bookmarking important information, and adding to my list of resources.
However, as many of you know there's a big difference between reading several articles a day and reading a good, old fashioned book.
Last year I read about a dozen books, which is pretty good, but I read pretty quickly and honestly there's no excuse other than I've chosen to prioritize other things. This article about finding time to read was a bit of a slap in the face, and has helped me decide to make reading physical books a priority this year.
Making time to read more can be challenging (believe me) but below are a few things you can do to make more time to sink into a juicy novel or two over the coming months:
- Schedule in time to read. I find that it's easiest for me to make time to read before bed, after my day is done and I can relax. If this doesn't work for you, make a point to read on your lunch break, during your commute (if you don't drive) or over your morning coffee.
- Make a list of books you want to read and review it often. Fill your list with books by people you admire, interesting fiction (reading fiction makes you a better person), and books that capture your interest and which you are genuinely excited to read.
- Prioritize reading. It's easy to get sucked into an Instagram black hole or get swept up with the latest mobile game, so put your phone face down and store your laptop out of view. Focus on your book (or e-reader) and nothing else for as long as you can. Trust me, it'll be hard at first but the more you do it the longer your attention span will get.
Forgive more readily
Forgiveness is hard. It's easy to stay mad at people, or to hang on to hurt feelings and resentment. I told my therapist today "it's easier to be angry than it is to empathize with someone" and it's true, but hard things are the things worth doing because they make us better people in the long run.
2016 was the year that I started to learn to forgive people: my parents and family who failed me, people who hurt my feelings, acquaintances or strangers who spoke or acted thoughtlessly, and, most importantly, myself. I started to learn to forgive myself.
With that in mind I'm going to do my best to be a positive influence on those around me, and to learn to forgive more easily and not hold onto anger, resentment, and guilt.
It seems like everyone has an axe to grind with 2016; whether it's the loss of a favourite celebrity, a personal issue that you haven't resolved, a conflict with a coworker, or something else, below are a few ways you can move towards forgiveness this year:
- Accept that you can't change people. Many of us spend heaps of time stressing and worrying about other people (myself included) but the key to letting go is to accept that you can't change how people think, feel and act. You can only do the best you can and hope that others understand your actions.
- Stop creeping. Social media has made it easier than ever to "check up" on people, but opening up that Incognito tab only helps hold on to any negative feelings you may be harbouring. It won't make you feel any better, so just don't do it.
- Recognize that you're doing the best you can. You aren't perfect. You'll say awkward things, unintentionally hurt other people's feelings, and misstep because you're human. It happens, so do your best to say "I made that mistake, but now I know and I can do better next time."
What are your intentions for 2017? Tweet at me or comment below and let me know what you're doing in the coming year.
- by Alyson Shane
How many times did you cry this week?
I cried 4 times.
- On Tuesday: I felt overwhelmed with my workload for the week (short weeks are hard.)
- On Wednesday: I was thinking about my Grandma, and was excited about seeing her this Christmas.
- On Thursday: In therapy (obviously.)
- Today: Watching this interview with Gord Downie and realizing how short my time with the person I love might be.
This used to be something that I was embarrassed about, but over the past few years I've come to accept that crying is just part of my existence. I used to fight it, and try to hold the tears back whenever they came, but these days I just let it out.
It's the best thing I've done for my mental health, if I'm being honest.
A Cryin' Shame(ing)
When I was growing up, my family members made fun of me for crying so much. I've always been moved to tears easily; the second something tugs at my heartstrings - good or bad - my eyes well up. My aunt once told me that she "worried that I was depressed" as a teenager because I cried at the drop of a hat.
In our household, crying was seen as a sign of weakness and something to be ashamed of. Allowing other people to see real manifestations of your feelings wasn't appropriate, and we were regularly warned against the dangers of sharing our thoughts and feelings with other people.
I remember, once, after a breakup in high school, I was crying in my room and my mother popped her head in to see what was wrong. I said "I'm so sad" and she replied by saying "I hope you don't act this way in front of your friends, or they'll start to get tired of hearing about it and stop being friends with you."
My family, which is of British descent, subscribes to the "suck it up" mentality: publicly displaying emotions of heartbreak, sorrow, or anything other than the status quo was always strongly discouraged, and my brothers and I were shamed and often belittled whenever we allowed our emotions to "get the better of us."
But in the last few months and years I've allowed myself to start getting over those fears. When I feel overwhelmed (which is often, running a business is a scary and often stressful undertaking) I just allow the few tears to come, and then wipe them on and move on with my day.
Anxiety and Crying
I have anxiety.
Anyone who has ever felt anxious knows that the plethora of negative emotions that come with it can often feel completely overwhelming, and for a long time I felt guilty because I used crying (secretly) as a coping mechanism. I cried in bathroom stalls and in my apartment when nobody else was home. When I was a kid I would go for long, extended walks through my neighbourhood because I didn't want my family to see or hear me crying.
For years, whenever I cried, or felt like I was going to cry, I would shame myself and feel guilty for not being able to prevent it.
I can't control my emotions.
I'm immature because I need to cry.
I'm not a good person because I cry easily.
However, in therapy (and with some supports from my friends and partner) I've come to realize that crying is just a part of life, and is a normal part of being in touch with my emotions. I used to feel guilty and get upset whenever I cried because I was trying to hide from my own thoughts and feelings, and I am so done with feeling guilty over crying.
Crying and Coming Together
The thing that's changed the most for me, and what led me to write this post, is that crying in front of other people has had the opposite effect from what my family told me it would: it's brought me closer to them.
John and I cry in front of each other regularly. Often, when we talk about our lives, our families, or our feelings for each other, one or both of us will start tearing up. Sometimes, when I talk to my friends about my anxiety, or things that are challenging me, I shed a few tears. And you know what? They don't hate me for it, and it doesn't make them want to be my friend any less.
In fact, knowing that I can be open with the people in my life in such a deeply personal way has been illuminating and life-changing. I can be myself; my sometimes-sad, anxious, messed-up self, and I can cry about it and be honest about it and it's the healthiest change that I've made in a long time.
Benefits of Crying
In fact, crying is actually good for you. Here are a few reasons why:
- Tears remove toxins. Tears actually remove toxins from our bodies. Tears help humans remove chemicals that build up during emotional stress.
- Crying relieves stress. Ongoing levels of stress can increase your risk of a heart attack and can damage your brain, and crying can help alleviate those stressful feelings.
- Crying lowers your blood pressure. Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately after a "big cry."
- It reduces manganese in the body. Crying reduces the body's manganese level. Manganese is a mineral which affects our moods, and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum.
- Crying means you're human. All mammals' eyes are moistened and soothed by tears, but humans are the only mammals who express tears as a response to emotional stress or stimuli. Tears (and showing emotions) motivate us to empathize with each other, which encourages us to work together and survive.
So you know what? The next time you're feeling overwhelmed, or really happy... just cry it out. Hell, ugly cry if you must. There's no shame in it (as I'm slowly learning), and it's actually really good for you to cry it out sometimes.
Here's to a good cry!