Tagged: personal

Modern Romance

- 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):

  • Fargo
  • 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."

Tags: Life Personal

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Introducing: Starling Social

- 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.


My TEDx Speaking Experience, Part I

- by Alyson Shane

(Image via TEDxWinnipeg)

Recently I announced that I had been selected as a speaker at this year's TEDxWinnipeg event. This was amazing news to share, but prior to applying to speak I had a lot of unanswered questions:

What was the application process like?

What would happen if I was selected as a speaker?

How would I prepare to deliver my talk in front of a room full of hundreds of people?

What kinds of supports were in place to help me hone my talk and meet TEDx standards?

... and so on. The questions seemed endless.

With this in mind, I was thrilled when the TEDxWinnipeg social team contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in a series of posts about my experience. As a writer and a advocate of knowledge-sharing, this felt like the perfect opportunity to share what I'm learning as I go through this process, as well as the challenges and hurdles come with being selected to speak at a TEDx event.

Below is an exert from my first post in the series:

I’m a writer, and I own a digital marketing agency, so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people interact online. I’ve also been deeply influenced by the people I’ve met online throughout my life, and wanted to speak to those experiences and share them with the audience.

That being said, a good talk isn’t just about telling your own story; it’s about sharing information and ideas with your audience, so I made sure that my talk also focused on the positive power of digital communities in broader, less personal examples, as well. Because while a compelling story is great, a good TEDx talk needs to also introduce an idea or concept, because the talks are about sharing ideas, not just stories.

Check out the rest of my blog post about being a TEDxWinnipeg speaker here.


Why I Marched

- 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!


Setting Intentions for 2017

- 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.

Your turn

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.

Your turn

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.

Your turn

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.

Your turn

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.

Your turn

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.


A Letter to My University Self

- by Alyson Shane

Earnest inspired today's post with the project of sharing some thoughts about university life, and writing a 'letter to my college self.' (As a student loan refinancing company, they have some great advice about the financial side of your University experience as well.)

It's weird to think that it's been six years since I started university. So much has changed, and things have worked out in unexpected and amazing ways. I remember being so anxious, so scared, as a student, because I worried about where my life would lead me.

Which is why I decided to pen this letter. It's to myself, at 23, as I was about to start my first year at the University of Winnipeg. Below are some things that I wish I could go back and say to myself:


Dear Alyson

I'm writing to you to address some of the fears that I know you're having right now. Leaving your "safe" government job to pursue your education has been a difficult and emotional process, and there have been a lot of moments of anxiety and uncertainty leading up to this point.

But you're here now, and here are some things that I wish you could take forward with you. Maybe they'll make those moments of doubt a little less overwhelming:

University is Not Like in the Movies

You know how most movies and TV shows portray university as being this coming-of-age, self-discovery and self-actualization process? It's not really like that at all.

The tight-knit groups of friends are the ones who are in specific programs, or already knew each other from high school. At 22, you'll be older than most of your classmates. Every time you walk into a new classroom, you'll be walking into a room of strangers.

This is going to terrify you.

But eventually you'll get used to choosing to sit wherever you want; you'll start to feel more comfortable asking to join tables of students; you'll speak up in class because you don't worry about "sounding stupid" in front of your friends, which will soothe your anxiety.

There are times that it will be lonely, but soon you'll come to relish your spares in-between classes, writing in one of the library hallways with the floor-to-ceiling windows, watching the snow fall. The times where you were forced to be self-directed and independent will help shape how you feel about yourself in the future.

It won't be what you expected, but that will be okay.

Your Career Will Work Itself Out

There was a quiet dread which hung over my university years.

After a few exams I established that I was, in fact, smart enough to be in university (something which has been expressed to me several times by other people) but a lingering fear held onto me for my remainder of my time as a student:

What was I going to do after I graduated?

For most university students, this isn't a huge problem; most people live with their parents while attending post-secondary, but I wasn't afforded that luxury. I was pretty lucky as a student: I managed to find some decent paying jobs with flexible hours during the school year, and always managed to find some full-time summer work, as well. But after university... that big, looming space full of uncertainty sometimes felt like too much to bear. I struggled to determine what I wanted to do, exactly, and where.

It will work itself out in the end. You'll have a few ups and downs, and learn a few heard lessons along the way... but eventually you will develop the confidence and self-awareness to shape your own career and not depend on employers for your self-worth.

You will wind up running your own company, and you'll fall in love with the hustle and excitement and ever-changing nature or business. It will work itself out.

Enjoy Your Time as a Student

University was the first time I enjoyed being in an academic setting. Growing up I was told repeatedly that I was lazy and unmotivated, and that I should give up on any thoughts of attending university because I wasn't smart enough to do well.

You're going to feel anxious and stressed at first, but eventually you're going to fall into the natural ebb and flow of classes, homework, exams, and studying each term. You'll come to appreciate the excitement of a brand new class with a new professor, the feeling of finishing a term paper, and handing in an exam at the end of the year.

Most importantly, make sure to take time to yourself during the day. Find a quiet spot in the library, or on some remote nook or cranny in Wesley Hall. Spread out your snacks, your water, your homework, and enjoy the feeling of happy solitude that will often wash over you during these moments.

Being a university student is like being in a little world of your own. It's not quite high school, and it's certainly not the professional working world, and though you won't fully grasp it at the time, the experiences and time that you have will help build your confidence and independence in a way that nothing else in your life will have allowed to date.

It's Going to be Worth It

The single most defining thing that came from my time as a university student was that I learned to believe in myself.

I know that you don't believe in yourself right now; you feel like it was a fluke that you got accepted in the first place, and I know that impostor syndrome will plague for years after you earn your diploma.

Completing university didn't magically transform me into the person that I am today, but, looking back, it was a stepping stone along the path to believing in myself.

Stay strong,

Alyson (Your Future Self)

Do you have anything you wish you could tell your younger self? Tweet at me or let me know in the comments!


The Catharsis of Crying

- 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!



Reflections on 365+ Days of Business Ownership

- by Alyson Shane

A few weeks ago I passed a significant personal and professional milestone:

June 30th, 2016 was my one-year anniversary as a full-time business owner.

The past 365+ days have been an incredible journey; I've learned a lot, made mistakes, discovered a lot about myself and my life has changed in so many ways that it felt appropriate to share some of the things I've learned this past year with all of you:


It's okay to not be a "good employee"

I'll be honest with you: I used to get depressed when I thought about my career. Even after going to university and working roles that were actually in my field (instead of being an accountant, oh my god) I'd still hadn't found a job that did it for me. I'd think of all those years ahead of me, likely spent in dull offices, trying to find a position or organization that hopefully wouldn't bore me to tears after six months and it was so depressing.

I also had a lot of anxiety around being a "good employee." I didn't like sitting at a desk for a pre-determined amount of hours, asking for permission to take an extended lunch or book an appointment, taking a vacation, or playing office politics (ugh). I'm also not afraid to stand up for myself and point out when I think something unfair or just plain wrong, which doesn't bode well in the world of 9-5's.

So what feels different? The biggest thing is that while I'm beholden to my clients, and I technically have more "bosses" now than I did before, we have a mutually respectful relationship which can be hard to find in the office world.

I'm honest with my clients, and they rely on me to create the right content and steer them in the right direction, which results in a level of respect and collaboration that I was never able to enjoy when I worked for someone else.

Your value isn't just tied up in your qualifications

Before I went to university the advice everyone gave me was "you have to go to university! You'll never be able to get a decent job if you don't go to university!" So that's what I did. I spent three years at the University of Winnipeg earning my Bachelor of Arts, and you know what? Not one of my clients has ever asked me about my formal education.

To be clear: I am in no way saying that getting an education isn't worth it. University was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot, but when it comes to running a service-based business my experience has been that it's more important to be able to demonstrate your value and your skills than it is to have a piece of paper that declares it for you.

Instead, people look at my website, blog, social feeds, and where I've been published or asked to speak to see examples of my knowledge.

You can say no to things that you don't want

One of the most empowering things that I've learned in this past year is to say "no" when something doesn't make me feel good. I don't take on projects that I don't want, and I don't work with clients that I don't like.

This is incredibly hard to do; we're conditioned to believe that every opportunity that comes our way may be the last, and especially when you're new to being a solo business owner it's hard not to think "if I don't take this, will I regret it? Why am I turning down money? Who in their right mind turns down money?!"

Except money isn't the key to happiness. Instead of chasing money, I chase value. I've turned down opportunities that could have resulted in a nice boost to my bank account, but which would have made me miserable, and I don't regret them at all. Instead, I focus my energy on finding opportunities and work that are more suited to my tastes and personality, and it feels amazing.

Irregular income takes some getting used to

Before I started working for myself I would say things like "I could never go from biweekly payments, it's so scary!" and you know what? It is, and it takes some getting used to.

Being paid on a monthly or irregular basis means that I have to pay more attention to my bank balance than I did before, but since I was planning to leave my 9-5 I spent a few months building up a nest egg which rolls over from month to month. That way I know that I have enough to cover my living expenses for a few months if a bunch of work dried up at once.

However, I think that this is worth mentioning: even though I get paid irregularly, diversifying my income feels more secure than a single job ever did. When I worked for someone else if I lost my job 100% of my income was gone, but now if I lose a client I just hustle a bit harder and find another one to replace that dip in my income.

Also, as I said above since all of my earning potential is wrapped up in how hard I work it often means that I make double or triple one month what I made the previous one.


The freedom of managing your life is the most worthwhile thing

This is the single biggest takeaway that I can share with you.

I grew up believing that my work was just a means to an end; that I shouldn't expect to like my job or my work and that sitting at a desk doing uninspiring things for 40 hours a week was all I could ever hope for out of my life. This is such utter bullshit, you guys.

I've enjoyed a year of having the freedom to choose the work I want; to take an afternoon off to go shopping with a friend; to work on a Sunday or during the evening; to take a 3-week vacation to Central America and to work on the road.

I do what I want and am building my ideal life on my terms, and I get to grow something amazing and completely my own all from scratch. The work I do is fun and rewarding, and most importantly it makes my clients feel good, too.

Personal takeaways from 365+ days

I used to feel trapped by my life.

I didn't know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go professionally, and I felt shackled to a corporate work and life that I resented and which, frankly, wasn't a good fit for me. It wasn't until I started building my client list and hanging out with other creatives and entrepreneurs that I realized that doing the thing that you love for a living is the key to being truly happy all the time.

The past 365+ days have been an exercise in un-learning a lot of things that I thought I knew about my value as a person and a creative professional. I've also learned so much about myself and have developed such a deep appreciation for my life that I can barely put it into words. It's been an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.

Thank you to my fantastic partner John, my incredible and supportive friends, and to my clients who do me the honour of working with me.

Alyson


How Social Media & Blogging Helped Me Discover Who I Am

- by Alyson Shane

**Trigger warning** For some of you who come from abusive relationships, some of the content in this post may act as a trigger. Please read responsibly.

The other day Meg Athavale of LUMO shared a terrific article on Facebook called "The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship" and one of the sections of the article really stood out for me:

Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management--also known as "fake it till you make it."

This really struck a chord with me because as someone who makes their living online, keeping my personal brand as authentic as possible is one of my biggest priorities. Sure, I may not blog or tweet about every tough therapy session or anxiety that pops up, but as a business owner with an audience I believe that I have a responsibility to be transparent about the challenges in my life as well as my successes. I am a human being, after all.

With that in mind, I wanted to discuss the struggle that I've faced with reconciling my "authentic self" (aka, the one you see here, on social media, and in person) with the person that I was raised to believe that I was.



Some backstory

For those of you who don't know me personally, I haven't spoken to my parents or the majority of my family since early 2015 (you can read more about that here). Recently my brother had a baby, and I had to make the decision to not reach out or be involved. This wasn't a decision that I made lightly, but it was the right one for me and my mental health, and I stand by it.

This decision prompted my mother to leave a comment on my blog. Some of her statements (minus the attempts at gaslighting) included:

  • For some reason Alyson, which I have to confess, escapes me, you seem to be under the impression that you are far superior to the rest of us.
  • Maybe because you are a, 'writer', and can use, 'big', words, you think it gives you an advantage that we don't have.
  • I think you need to get down off that pedestal you've erected for yourself and get rid of your overblown ego.
  • You are so focused on living up to your superficial, 'queen of the Internet', alter ego, that you no longer know how to be a decent human being.
  • Could it be that there is a wee bit of human in you after all?

The reason that I'm sharing these personal details is because I don't believe that vague descriptions adequately convey the narrative I grew up with. The comments you see above (which thankfully aren't a part of my life anymore beyond being a very helpful example for the sake of this article) were the things that were told to me on a daily basis.

Needless to say I entered adulthood as a pretty unhappy, insecure, and confused individual.

Discovering myself online

When I first started blogging back in 2003 I couldn't have predicted the multitude of ways that it would eventually come to change my life. I've always gravitated towards writing as my favourite form of self-expression, and blogging has always seemed like a natural and easy way to do it.

My blog is a reflection of who I am and the things that I feel are valuable and important to share, and from day one it caused issues between myself and my family. As illustrated in my mother's comments above, my ability to articulate and share my thoughts, and my willingness to do so, was seen as attempts at being superior and were frequently thwarted with threats of getting "cut out" of the family.

Despite this resistance from my home life I soon realized that I had found a community of like-minded individuals who wrote, shared, and published with the same authenticity that I wanted to be doing. In the late 2000's I started reading Raymi the Minx, the busblog, oceanaria, and a plethora of now-defunct but wonderful blogs who inspired me to be myself, no matter what. I'd always grown up believing that "nobody cared" about my thoughts or feelings, and the blogging community taught me that it wasn't true.

Around 2009 I also began discovering social networks. In particular I gravitated towards Twitter, which helped me express myself and connect with people whom I likely wouldn't have met otherwise. I doubt that I would have met Stef, Colin, Adrian, LJT, Kevin, and a variety of other wonderful people whom I now count among my dearest friends if it hadn't been for Twitter, and being active on this social network helped me expand my reach and connect with colleagues, clients, and a support system that I had never imagined was possible.

Around 2011 my active presence online as well as my obsession with internet culture and memes led to some of my Twitter followers (jokingly) dubbing me the "Queen of the Internet". As odd as it sounds, this nickname, however in jest, helped me start to develop a confidence that I had never experienced before. Suddenly people were turning to me to ask questions about social media and blogging on a regular basis. I started speaking at Red River College's Creative Communications program, at the MBlog conference, and my work was published in the local paper.

Contrasting these successes against the person that I had always believed myself to be (the selfish, superficial person who didn't care about anyone but herself) became harder and harder. Not only were my friends, colleagues, and peers informing a narrative which challenged my previous thoughts and feelings about myself, but I was starting to slowly stop believing those things, as well.

The catalyst

In retrospect the biggest change in perspective came when I published my post Living with the Mean Reds, which detailed how it felt to live with anxiety and feelings of low self-worth every day. At the time I was terrified of hitting "publish", and I was overwhelmed and surprised at the outpouring of support and kind words that I received as a result.

Social media and blogging provided me with a supportive community where over time I was able to learn to shed the negative self-image that I'd grown up believing. By having a space that was completely free from my family's influence I was able to start growing, learning, and not being so afraid all the damn time. I started a business, I started therapy, and I started investing my time and energy into the things that really mattered instead of indulging in drama because I felt obligated to participate


Support from these communities help me finally realize that refusing to make room for the negative things in my life doesn't make me a bad person. It means I have a deep enough understanding of my needs to make hard (and sometimes unpopular) decisions.

Why does this matter?

Social media and blogging are extremely powerful tools which can connect us with people all over the world. They allow us to find communities and support systems online we can start to explore parts of ourselves that scare us, or that we don't feel we can express to the people in our day-to-day lives.

By finding ways to express myself online I was able to discover things about myself, make connections, and find opportunities that simply wouldn't have been available to me otherwise. The encouragement I received from my followers, readers, friends, and my very supportive partner led me to where I am today, and though I'm not perfect I'm working hard at building the life I want and deserve.

Sharing this stuff isn't easy. It's doesn't feel great to admit that my mother is the way that she is, or that my family doesn't understand who I am, but it's the reality that I'm in and I'm thankful to be able to have a platform through which I can share these thoughts and experiences as I work through them.

Through blogging and on social media I was able to find a place for myself and connect with communities of supportive and like-minded individuals who helped me start making a place for myself in the real world and, most importantly, in my own eyes.

Most of the bloggers I've followed over the years don't know how much they helped me, and there's a good chance that if my words help someone that I may never know, either. But if reading about the challenges that I've faced helps someone else seek out the supports they need to start healing and being happy, then that matters a great deal, and I'm happy to share my stories and be a part of that process and thankful to be able to help.

As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for being here with me while I figure this stuff out.

(If anything I've described in this post re: family expectations, relationships, or narratives imposed upon you by your family sounds familiar, I strongly encourage you to check out /r/raisedbynarcissists, a wonderfully supportive Reddit community that has helped me a lot.)


Life Update: Burgers, Tattoos, Cars + VR

- by Alyson Shane

One of the downsides of being a busy business owner is that I don't often get the opportunity to share what I've been up to on a personal level. I'm working on big biz-related surprises which will hopefully help me find more blogger balance (more on that soon!) but in the meantime, here's what I've been up to in the few weeks since I've been back from my trip:


Burgers & Cars

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to test drive a Lincoln MKX, which is classified as a "luxury crossover vehicle" and is by far the fanciest vehicle I've ever been in. As someone who's spent most of her time in Neons, Vibes, and Swifts (aka, not your mom and pop kinda van) it was a pretty great experience, especially because I don't have a car day-to-day.

With that in mind John and I decided to take the Lenore Street Squad (aka our roommate, Alex and his girlfriend Katrina) on a Manitoba-based day date to try and suss out where we could find the best rural burgers (also because while going to IKEA and cramming the trunk full of stuff is exciting for me, I'm sure you guys could care less about my amazing new lamp, but anyway).


We hit up Trails North Grill, which is a super-charming burger joint located in Warren, MB. We gorged on fried pickles, salad, and (of course) burgers. I'm glad I wasn't driving on the way back because I was officially in a food coma.

Honestly it was also really nice to just get out of the city; I don't often have the chance to get to know my province a bit better, and even though some Silent Hill-esque mist descended upon us for part of the drive, it was still a ton of fun and a great way to spend some time with some of my favourite people.

Tattoos

Tomorrow I'm going under the needle and getting my first-ever tattoo!

While this is obviously a super-exciting event for me, it's also been a very long time coming. The tattoo I've chosen (it's script, actually) is meant to represent where I've come from: from a sad, unhappy and deeply depressed person to someone who does her best to take chances, challenge myself, and who works to make healthy, happy decisions instead of getting dragged back into the mire caused by unhappy and dramatic people.

When I first met with Katie from Metamorphosis for my consultation she told me that she doesn't usually do script tattoos, and as a rule doesn't do them for first-timers like me. However, after explaining my reasoning behind it, and how deeply personal the quote is, she not only agreed to design it for me, but she also told me that it was one of the best script-based tattoo ideas she'd seen in a long time!

What am I getting? Well, you'll just have to check back here and find out once it's all healed up! (Or follow me on Instagram, where I'll likely be sharing it first).

VR

Aka virtual reality!

A few weeks ago John and I spent a few days playing around in virtual reality as part of the trailer shoot for the HTC Vive game Fantastic Contraption and had an utter blast.


(Yes I'm every bit as excited as I look!)

The goal of the game is to create "contraptions" within a virtual space and send them rolling towards a goal while avoiding obstacles, staying balanced, and not rolling right off of the edge of the floating island you're standing on. The game is insanely fun and I'm really, really looking forward to playing it again soon.

Here's a little more about the game (featuring older trailer footage):

The coolest part about the shoot was that, since it was shot on a green screen background, the VR world that the player can see inside the headset can be stitched in to replace the physical world. This allows people watching the trailer to actually see what we saw, and experience the game in the same VR world that we did.

I definitely need to give a huge shout-out to the super-talented Kert Gartner for including us. I'm so excited to see the project when it's finished (and am always available for any future VR-related projects, hehe).


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