- by Alyson Shane
Last night I was checking out a post on the amazingly well-named "Gates Notes" blog, run by Bill Gates, where he shared 5 of the best books he read in 2017. Of all the "roundup" type posts that tend to pop up this time of year, I like literature-related ones best because it gets me thinking about all the books I've read, and all the books out there that I've yet to add to my collection.
I definitely don't read as much as I used to (except that time I read all of Alias Grac's 564 pages in a week on vacation*) but I still manage to make my way through several books a year. However, seeing how much Bill Gates manages to read while also, y'know, being Bill Gates definitely acted as a reminder that I ought to spend more time with my nose stuck in a book.
* My god I can't wait to get down to Belize in January, read a shit-ton, and plan this wedding.
In any case, below is my roundup of 5 amazing books I read in 2017:
This one was hands-down my favourite. It's been a while since I've sunk my teeth into a good Stephen King novel; he kinda lost me with From a Buick 8 onward and I've never really gone back since (I think the trick is to go back and figure out which of his old works of horror and fiction I haven't read pre-Buick 8, and work my way up from there.)
As the name of the book implies, it's about writing. Not just why writers write, but an in-depth analysis of the challenges of being a writer, of struggling to have people accept your craft, and why you feel compelled to do it. It was nice to read about my craft in the words of someone who, arguably, is a much stronger wordsmith than I am, and who has been at it much longer than I have.
I also enjoyed being reminded of how funny he is; how quippy, with those weird little sayings that always made his characters that much more believable. His was a refreshing perspective on the art of writing, and reminded me that I should read more about what I do, not just the ways I do it.
Obviously I read Bernie Sanders' book, which was released in November 2016. I was pro-Bernie from the moment he appeared on the political stage (ask me about my views on climate change, free post-secondary tuition, or the need for universal health coverage.)
Since I was already pretty well-versed with his political ideas, and why he believed them to be true, the book served as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of how he and his campaign managed to harness the sentiment of a growing, engaged Millennial class of voters and capture the imagination of people like me to the point where he was able to, with no campaign money, no political organization, took on the Democratic Party establishment.
I haven't read any Margaret Atwood since my binge on Alias Grace a few years back, and it was refreshing to return to an author who spends so much time analyzing her character's motivations and fears.
The novel's main character, Joan Foster, is an author who lives secret lives from the people around her, constantly worried that she will be "found out" as being less than she is perceived to be (as someone who regularly deals with anxiety and impostor syndrome, this book was often like having my own worries read back at me.)
I felt like Joan was symbolic of contemporary womanhood: trying to be everything to everyone, all the while hiding, deliberately ignoring, or shaming herself for her fantasies and talents, and it was lovely to immerse myself in Atwood's witty and often surprisingly sharp prose.
Okay, so technically I haven't finished this one yet, but I'm close.
I haven't picked up a Murakami novel in years (I voraciously read through several of his novels in my late teens, my favourite being Norwegian Wood, which I highly recommend) and his brevity was an interesting contrast from Lady Oracle, which I finished shorty before starting this novel.
Like many of Murakami's novels, Colorless Tskuru is a Bildungsroman (hi, Rhetoric degree) though significantly less whimsical than some of his other works. The novel focuses on "colorless" Tskuru Tazaki, who is nicknamed as such because all of his childhood friends have a colour as part of their last names. One day during his college years he comes home and learns that his friends have cut all ties with him, seemingly with no reason. This devastates Tskuru, and leaves him feeling empty or "lacking in color and identity" according to Murakami. The novel begins when Tskuru is 32, and follows him as he travels to visit each of his former friends to discover why they cut ties with him in order to gain a sense of closure.
Since I haven't fully finished the novel I won't delve too deep into what I like and don't like about it so far, but I wanted to include it because reading work from non-English speaking authors is always an interesting experience. I mentioned Murakami's brevity above, and I'm continually impressed with his exploration of heartbreak, loneliness, and the human psyche without delving into the flowery language that tends to gum up English authors when they start delving deep into a personal or psychological problem. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the novel concludes.
I started reading this memoir shortly after the 2016 election which left me, like many other people, reeling and feeling as though they fundamentally didn't understand the surge of white anger happening in America. I was grasping for some sort of understanding of the kinds of people who would vote for someone like Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's memoir about growing up in a small Appalachian town was exactly what I needed to broaden my horizons.
The memoir is part reflection, part sociological analysis of the "hillbilly culture" he grew up with, which acts as both a source of pride, and a social mechanism which keeps people firmly in their socio-economic place, unable to (and in some cases, unwilling to) do what was necessary for a better life for themselves. It was a stark, eye-opening analysis of what's happening in rural America, and how the social rot encouraged by "hillbilly culture" has affected the United States.
Did you read any amazing books this year? Tweet at me and let me know!
- by Alyson Shane
Recently I've been struggling to figure out what to write here.
When I was writing content specifically for my industry it was easy; I just picked a topic, found some supporting articles, and wrote to my heart's content. I'm good at breaking down complex ideas into easy to understand written documents, posts, or essays.
Writing has always been my superpower.
These days, though, it often feels like it fails me. Not because I don't have the words, but because I often worry about the repercussions of what will happen if I say anything. If I open myself up, again and again, as I examine new and old wounds, learn from my mistakes, reflect on the past, figure out who I want to be... all that good shit writing has always helped me do.
But I've been stifling myself recently because I've been trying to avoid instigating any contact from my family. My brother, in particular, tends to reach out every few months in some sort of angry, nasty, or passive-aggressive way. His words don't hurt, but it's difficult to know that he's clearly grappling with some narrative of what happened between my parents and I, and why I'm not in his life, than what actually happened.
So I'm just going to lay it out here, simply, and put it to pasture:
In February of 2014 I asked my parents for space from my mom for a while. I was starting therapy and my therapist suggested I put a some distance between my mom and myself while I started to unpack the abuse I'd experienced growing up, and the anxieties and issues I still experience as an adult as a result of what I went through.
My dad suggested I write my mom an email explaining my reasons, so I did. My mom never wrote back. My dad, when he did, told me to "have a nice life," and said he hoped I was never in a position where "I had to choose between my spouse and my child."
Since then I haven't spoken to my father. The only other time I've heard from my mom is when she left a series of comments here, on my blog, to let me know what a selfish person I am because I chose not to be present when my nephew was born.
(And really... oh well, if that's what she thinks. Not like I was ever winning her over, anyway.)
But my brother. The one who follows me online, reads my updates, and is clearly upset with me to the point of sending me multiple messages, comments, and tweets over the past few years. What does he want? An apology? Some sort of explanation?
Maybe he, too, is just trying to be heard in a family that doesn't actually listen to one another.
Sometimes I lie awake at night and I think about my siblings. So close, yet so far away from me. I say words, I type thoughts, but talking to them has always felt like I'm talking to a brick wall.
Like I'm shouting into the void.
It always has, honestly.
A few months after my parents stopped talking to me I received an email from my aunt in Toronto. She said "I would just have to say that it is extremely unfortunate that your distain for your mom has resulted in such complete alienation from the rest of the family" which came as a shock to me at the time because my aunt witnessed firsthand the abuse I experienced growing up.
She, more than probably anyone else in my life, should have been able to remember how things went down when I asked for space. She, of all people, should be able to look a lie in the face and say "no, that's not what happened." But she didn't, or couldn't.
And at that point I realized that, maybe there's just no going back.
I'm just never going to make any of them, my dad, my brothers, my aunt... any of them, see me for who I am. To them, I'm an idea of a person. A ghost version of myself who does and says things with a completely different set of morals and values than who I am.
The longer I keep my distance, the longer my mom has to gaslight, manipulate, and convince my family that I'm what she always told them I was: some selfish, horrible person who doesn't care about anyone but herself. The longer I'm away the easier it is for my brothers to believe it. It's easier for my aunt to believe that this is the way I wanted things to be. It's easier for my dad to believe it, and keep refusing to stand up and do what's right; to say "I'm sorry. I should have stood up for you."
Because at the end of the day all I've ever wanted is to be heard. To feel like my emotions, experiences, and thoughts have value. To not have to constantly battle against the false narrative that was created about me, and which persists to this day, stronger than ever, in my absence.
It's why I started writing.
It's also why I stopped. Or have mostly stopped.
I started feeling like here, too, anything I said was going to just get twisted around or misinterpreted. My blog, a place where I once felt I could be completely and utterly myself... became the void I've been afraid to look down into. To shout my thoughts and fears into.
But, y'know... fuck it. The truth, my subjective truth based on the actual facts and events that happened, is out there now. There's not much worse I can do to draw any ire than state the facts as plainly as I see them.
So now it's time to get back to the business of why I've always written: because it helps me as a person, and is something that I love, long for, and can't help but do.
I'm so ready, and happy, to get back to this place.
- by Alyson Shane
Went to bed feeling like hell last night and woke up feeling worse today. Aches, pains, lethargy, you name it I've got it.
Except nausea. Thank god I rarely get sick to the point that I throw up.
The last time that happened I was working in a small office and I took (gasp) two days off in a row because I was honestly just puking everywhere. It was awful.
When I went in on Wednesday the office manager said "hey just so you know our boss noticed that you took two days off and you're on his radar."
Apparently he had calculated that if I kept taking sick days at 2 sick days per month (this was in January) omg I'd wind up taking 24 sick days that year.
So I walked into his office and said:
"Hey, if you have an issue with the sick time I'm taking please speak to me about it directly. Making assumptions about my sick days isn't cool and if you're going to start accusing me of abusing my sick time in advance of me doing so I'd appreciate it if you didn't go through the only other person in the office to let me know you thought it was a concern."
Which I thought was reasonable. I like to think of myself as a relatively reasonable gal.
It didn't go over well.
A few months later when I left and started running Starling full time I promised myself that whenever I felt sick I would take the damn sick day if I needed it, and I've been doing pretty good so far.
There have been a few days when something unavoidable is planned/due, but overall I handle them pretty well, I think.
Usually my sick days look like this: sleep in as late as I need, tackle as much necessary work as I need (responding to emails, reviewing copy, reviewing reports, etc) and then I make lunch and engage in a low-energy task like reviewing ad performance or adding to a content library.
If I need to lie down and nap or something, though, I do it so I can get back into the swing of things in the AM. No sense over-exerting myself if I'm going to be useless for the next few days as a result.
I don't kill myself if I'm feeling sick, and I don't expect the people who work for me to do so, either.
Like I said, I like to think of myself as a reasonable gal.
Now if you'll excuse me I need to go have a little lie-down. My head is killing me.
- by Alyson Shane
Over the moon.
So, so lucky.
- by Alyson Shane
It's nearly here. My 30th year.
Part of me almost didn't expect to get here, if I'm being honest.
Because for most of those 30 years, I didn't feel like my life was worthwhile.
Sure, there were pockets of happiness; moments that shine. But for the vast majority of my life they were few, and far-between.
I was never excited about my future. As far as my parent's vision for my life was concerned, I wasn't good for anything other than a "safe" job. That the best I could (and should) hope for was to find a union job (so I couldn't get fired), and to "keep my head down" until I retired quietly.
(and look - that's a great path for some people. No shame in a unionized job. But it didn't exactly leave me feeling as though I could possibly do anything else.)
I struggled in high school as a result of a messed-up home life. I was often too anxious to go to class, so I'd skip. Then, because I'd already skipped 2, maybe 3 classes that week, I'd just skip the whole week because it made me too anxious to go into class, be singled out by the teacher, and be reminded of just how far behind I was.
I was told I was stupid and I felt that way, and my grades reflected the assumptions I made about my own intelligence.
I was told by my parents, and as such believed, that I was a fundamentally bad person; lazy, selfish, self-centered, and a liar. For a really, really long time.
As a result, I assumed that my life would be, as Thomas Hobbes so aptly put it: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
(Ironically I'd go on to study Hobbes in a Social & Political Philosophy class while competing my B.A., something that, even at the time, I didn't feel smart enough or capable enough of achieving.)
But things are different now.
I don't believe those things anymore.
I'm still dealing with the fallout of those beliefs, though. Not a day goes by where I don't have to unpack something in some small way.
Watching my tongue when I get upset with someone.
Not getting defensive during a difficult or challenging conversation.
Never giving the silent treatment or "punishing" my partner when I'm upset with them.
Learning to say "I'm sorry. I was wrong."
Repeating these sentences every day to myself like a prayer:
"You're good enough."
"You're smart enough"
"You deserve the good things in your life."
Some days I believe those things more than others. But I'm getting there.
Most days I look around myself with incredulity, amazed at the life I've somehow managed to build for myself:
A business that challenges and fulfills me
(sometimes more the former than the latter, but it ebbs and flows)
a partner who loves me, bumps and all,
and this incredible group of friends who love me, too.
I still have a hard time believing that I deserve it, sometimes. Even though they tell me all the time.
Like I said, some days I believe these things more than others.
It's weird to be here, at an inflection point. Or maybe "reflection point" is more fitting. Either way, looking back on the three decades I've been around, and seeing where I've gone in such a short time, is incredible.
I've made it so much farther than I ever thought I was capable of going.
I'm an engaged member of my community. I go to fun events, festivals, and throw rad parties. I speak at events and conferences about my industry and experiences. I share good, deep laughs with the people I care about on a regular basis. I tell my friends and partner how I feel, and how much they mean to me. I've moved away. Moved back. I quit my safe desk job and put myself through university. I earned a B.A. I've backpacked through three countries. I've seen a squid that glows in the dark.
I run my own company.
I run a fucking company. That has clients, pays people, and pays for my lifestyle.
(That one still surprises me.)
But yet... here we are.
A few months ago my therapist asked, what would say to my younger self, now?
What would I say to the little girl who was told, from the start, that she would never amount to anything? To the teenager who was told that she was a fundamentally bad person? To the woman who spent most of her adult life fighting back against that engrained belief?
I started crying.
"I'd tell her that it gets better. So, so much better than she could have imagined."
(I really do believe that, you know.)
It got better.
A lot better.
And I'm really, really excited to see where it goes.
Happy early 30th birthday to me.
- yr girl, Shaner
- by Alyson Shane
I have a confession: I'm a little obsessed with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its polygamous culture. Weird, I know, but bear with me.
I grew up in a largely unreligious household; I somewhat recall my mom mentioning Sunday School to me when I was a kid, but her big selling point was hot dog days and camping trips, not a deep, personal connection with some higher power. In fact, the closest I remember getting to any sort of organized religion growing up was seeing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) commercials on the American cable networks.
Partially as a result, I now identify as an Atheist, but that hasn't stopped me from developing a weird obsession with religion, especially the more "fringe" versions of beliefs like Christianity like the Mormon LDS faith. It started with Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee who apparently wore magic underwear, and became exacerbated when I started watching the HBO show Big Love, a fictional narrative about an LDS polygamist and his three wives.
I'm fascinated by sub-cultures, so it probably comes as no surprise that I was thrilled to discover that Gracie, the first play in the Prairie Theatre Exchange's new season, is all about Mormons and polygamous relationships.
At it's core, 'Gracie' is a play about self-discovery, rejection, and acceptance. Written by playwright Joan MacLeod, it follows a young girl from the LDS church as her family moves from America to Canada to live on a polygamous compound in British Columbia.
When we first meet Gracie (played by the incredible Samantha Hill) she's eight years old, sitting in a van with her mother and siblings on her way to their new life in Canada. Her mother is getting married, and when they arrive in their new community they're greeted by a group of individuals: boys on bikes, teenage girls carrying their babies, and her mother's new husband, to whom she will be the 18th wife.
(Please excuse me while I shudder for a moment)
During this introduction Gracie meets a young girl named Allie, and they become fast friends, and throughout the course of the play Gracie grows up right before our eyes. By the second act, which takes place four years later, Gracie and Allie are practicing for the exaltation. At school, Gracie bemoans the fact that she has to learn arithmetic in addition to other subjects like English, "science" and "social studies" where half the class studies Jesus Christ and the other studies Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith.
During this time Gracie's brother gets a job, and her sisters are both married off and begin having children with their assigned husbands. At this point, during the final segment of the play, Gracie is about to turn 16 - marrying age in her community.
During this time Gracie struggles with her changing feelings about her beliefs, culture, and circumstances, and this one-woman play quickly transforms from charming-yet-unnerving overview of a religious subculture to a moving and powerful story about the complex private lives of LDS women which we rarely see beyond TV shows or court testimonials.
One of the things that struck me about 'Gracie' was how MacLeod used to play to explore uncomfortable subjects like polygamy, religion, and alternative lifestyles and beliefs in a way which felt nonjudgemental; in fact, the play often felt more like a serving of reality than a heavily-researched theatre production.
As a non-religious person I find it's often all-too-easy to dismiss the complex, three-dimensional experiences of women raised in the LDS church. It's easy to say: if it's so bad, why not leave? but plays like Gracie do a tremendous job of reminding us that everyone is an individual with complex, nuanced views and experiences.
One moment which struck me was when Gracie refers to the 'grannies', groups of older women who protest outside the LDS compound with picket signs, outraged at what they perceive to the atrocities being committed within the community:
"They don't like the way we live even though they know nothing about us," Gracie says.
As a non-religious person, I often struggle to understand the appeal and value of religious beliefs, and I appreciated watching a performance which didn't pander to my preconceived notions about the LDS church and polygamy in general.
In fact, the play was so well-written that Gracie's experiences, interpretations, and reactions to the events happening to her family and within her community felt more like reading a young girl's diary than a fictional exploration of an unusual religious subculture.
Though I often felt gut-based reactions to certain experiences (such as her mother being someone's 18th wife, and all of the ways it aggravates and upsets my 3rd wave feminist views of the world), MacLeod does a tremendously good job of exploring Gracie's world in ways which feel authentic and realistic, without the bombast which often accompanies literary works which explore religious subcultures.
If anything Gracie acts as a terrific opportunity to explore a secretive, unusual religious subculture without feeling like a voyeur. While the play presents a myriad of uncomfortable and unusual situations that the modern girl (religious or not) doesn't experience, it does so without judgment; it really does feel like a honest, authentic exploration of one girl's perspective on a community which initially makes sense, but which ultimately she (and we) fail to understand and accept.
Gracie runs at the Prairie Theatre Exchange until October 29th, and I highly recommend catching it before it's gone. Not only is it a tremendously good play, but it's a fascinating and highly entertaining exploration of a lesser-known religious subculture.
- by Alyson Shane
Stunningly accurate image via iam-kerri on DeviantArt
I'm addicted to social media.
Most of us don't want to say it out loud, but we're addicted to the info/updates/likes/comments cycle that social media and mobile technology has brought into our lives.
As someone who spends the majority of her time thinking about branding and generating social content (both personal and professional), I may be a bit hyper-sensitive to this reality, but it's true: most of us are addicted to our smartphones.
I've known this for a while, but earlier this summer I read an article on CNET that really bothered me. The TL;DR is that our phones make us stupid. Whether they're on, off, turned face down... whatever; having your smartphone in the room with you decreases your ability to think and concentrate, making you less productive and inherently less capable overall.
With this in mind, I decided to run an experiment of sorts: I made a commitment to myself to find opportunities to physically distance myself from my phone in order to be more engaged with the world around me throughout the summer.
It's been an interesting few months, and here are the takeaways:
I Read More Books
On average, I read maybe half a dozen or so books a year.
I'm not sure what you read on an annual basis, but I've always been a voracious reader and could easily power through a whole novel in a few sittings (I read all of Stephen King's "The Shining" in a day when I was a younger) so I've definitely noticed my declining ability to sit down and read a book in the last few years.
I do most of my reading before bed, which is problematic because I use my phone as my alarm clock (a bad habit that I'm not ready to let go of, if I'm being honest) so I had to set aside time to read during my days instead, or make a point to leave my phone in another room while I was reading.
Here's how many books I've read and finished in the past 4 months:
- On Writing - Stephen King
- Lady Oracle - Margaret Atwood
- Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
- Women - Charles Bukowski
As you can tell, I averaged about a book a month, which is well beyond my annual average. I'm still significantly slower than I used to be, but it reminded me that in order to enjoy and make your way through a novel you have to sink down into it, which is something I struggle to do whenever my phone is present.
I honestly thought that it wouldn't be as noticeable as the CNET article made it out to be, but I was floored by how much more easily I could enjoy a book when I couldn't just reach over for my phone.
**I should point out that I read on average 6-12 articles a day; some for work and some for leisure, so I don't think how much I read has decreased; only what I read, and in which format.**
I Was Fully Present
This one was the hardest.
We go to a few festivals a year, and do some camping with friends in addition to those events, and I promised myself that I was going to keep my phone in my tent and on airplane mode (because I still have to check work from time to time) instead of keeping it on my person.
I realized that I'd been using "taking photos" (something I do, but not as regularly as I used to) as an excuse to keep my phone - and the comfort it gave me - around even when I didn't need it.
The hardest part of this exercise was "memory FOMO" or, worrying that I wouldn't have anything to populate my social feeds with when I returned to my everyday life. I saw people taking photos and videos on their phones around me and would often self-judge for not doing the same, which was a new and unpleasant feeling.
Instead, I'd just take a deep breath and experience as much of the present moment as possible. It was hard but, you guys, it was so good.
I Enjoyed Myself More
The biggest change (and challenge) was allowing myself to live in the present moment as fully as I possibly could.
Because of what I do for a living, I often frame content (photos, and the like) with a plan in mind: how do I want this to look? How does it reflect my personal brand? Which hashtags can I use to connect this with a broader community?... and so on.
Not having my phone glued to my palm the urge to check updates, post photos, and record my life for future social media content didn't entirely eliminate my FOMO, but it did act as a reminder that the only way to hold onto my memories was to immerse myself in what I was doing, or what was happening around me.
In a world dominated by Snaps, Boomerangs, and hashtags, it was nice to find a few moments of solitude where my digital life didn't interfere with my physical one.
Wanna Try, Too? Here's What You can Do
Going "unplugged" doesn't have to be a totally terrifying prospect (as it was for me before I started this experiment) but here are a few things that I did to help lessen my dependency on my phone that you can try, too:
- Keep your phone out of sight, or in another room, when not in use.
- Don't browse before bed! Instagram black holes steal your sleep. Read a book instead.
- READ MORE BOOKS. I prefer fiction but choose the topics you love best.
- Leave your phone in your tent while camping.
- Alternatively, leave your phone in your car, or in your purse/bag, while out with friends.
Of course, there are lots of other ways you can go "unplugged" for any extent of time, but these should set you on the right track!
Do you have any experience "unplugging" or ditching your digital device? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!
- 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.