Unmistakable No.

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The final Quest2016 nudge is from Srinivas Rao, host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast where he has conducted over 500 interviews with thought leaders and people from all walks of life.

The Big Question:

What will you do in 2016 to assure you and your best work are unmistakable?

The Big Answer (It’s actually small.)


I’ll be the girl yelling NO from over in the corner. You’ll know it’s me. It’ll be unmistakable. And maybe my firm stance in NO will help you to practice this tiny (but powerful) word as well.

I want to, need to, practice saying NO.

I have hit some threshold. Maybe an age, maybe a sense of overwhelm, maybe a desire to linger more, to diver deeper. Maybe I have just seen the light.

The overwhelm is no longer satisfying. The small tasks no longer enjoyable. I don’t need to, and no longer want to, take on every (often undesirable) task doled out around the conference room table. That request where everyone looks down at her notepad as to avoid taking on yet another task, but where I would not-at-all-sheepishly raise my hand and say “Sure, sign me up for that!” with every legitimate ounce of enthusiasm. Because, when you are young and new and underfunded and trying to make your value known – that’s part of how you do it. Because, that’s what I was taught. Because, that’s what’s gotten me this far. But, that’s not what I need anymore, at least right now. I get it now. I get that I don’t need that now.

I’m practicing delegating. Honing. Valuing myself enough to get paid, and sufficiently, for the work I am doing. Because, what I want is to do a better job on fewer things.

Because now, now I feel solidly lodged in the places I want to be professionally (okay, at least at my job-job). I actually am somewhere. It feels good. It feels comforting. And I have appreciated that arrival, and savored it. And, quickly decided that I’m secure enough that I can actually just hold still, and do my own work. And that means saying NO. And focusing on making good of the work at hand. And delegating. And building a tiny wall with a sign that says “Keep Out. I am Important and Busy”. (That’s sort of tongue in cheek, but sort of not) Because, the biggest lesson I have learned this week is that I have to own it. Own the pitch. Own my sense of value. Work into the big, fullness of my self. And the only way to do that is to really puff out my chest a little and see how much I can expand. Because if I don’t believe I am big and good and worth it, no one else will.

I want my job-job to feel manageable and contained, because I want to make the space for the creative work, the farm work, the real work in this year ahead. Because that feels like the meaningful work, the heart opening work, the direction I want to go.

And, to get there, it involves NO. No to overwhelming job-job projects. NO to social events I don’t really want to attend. NO to the tiny things that turn into the big, time-sucking things. NO to washing the dishes right away if there is writing jumping out of my fingers instead. NO to things that don’t support, grow, expand or explode me. NO to anything I have started that just doesn’t fit the way I want (because quitting isn’t always quitting.) I think you get what I’m saying…so I’m just going to depart here and go out and do what needs to get done…

A few helpful resources of overwhelm, focus, NO and big projects…

Note to Self: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Getting Organized
SARK: Micromovements

Princess Stories

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A List! A List! I am going to write a list as a response to Jen Louden’s prompt for #Quest2016. Because there is nothing more satisfying than composing a good list. So, here goes (with a few not-so-tongue-in-cheek additions).

Rounding out WEEK 4 of Quest 2016 is personal growth pioneer, JEN LOUDEN. She’s the author of 8 books on well-being and whole living, including her most recent book, A Year of Daily Joy. She believes self-love + world-love = wholeness for all. (Anyone who can include an equation in her bio is a rockstar in my world!)

What’s the story you most desire to bring to life in 2016?   

What’s the story your just-right client reader-buddy and stationery purchaser most desires to bring to life in 2016?

[Oh my god Vanessa, please tell me all about the amazing bedtime stories your Dad told you when you were a little kiddo!]

Where do your two three stories overlap?

Not A List – Princess Stories

When I was a kid, my Dad would come in to my room and tuck me in. I think I always had to be officially tucked in. I couldn’t fall asleep without this ritual. If I snuggled into bed, but it took took long for my parents to finish dishes and walk back to my bedroom, I would fight off sleep and eventually get out of bed and kid-pitter-patter back to the kitchen to remind them to come tuck me in. And Dad, Dad told me the most amazing princess stories.

Okay, suspension of disbelief people. This was in the 80’s, before princesses earned a bad rap. This is back when princesses were super-rad, ass-kicking maniacs. Well, I don’t know if that’s true. But here’s what I do know…Dad would tell me these stories of a ‘princess’ who basically could do whatever she wanted. Not in a spoiled and snotty way, in a seriously accomplished and determined way. She fought the bad guys and won – every time. She went on adventures. She did some royally cool stuff in castles that I can’t quite remember. These were not love stories. These were adventure stories. And, I would live them in my head as my Dad told them, as if each princess and her narration was a video game, kicking ass at some new level of the You-Can-Do-Anything Metaphor Video Game of Life. The princess always fought hard, thought hard, and made it through to the end. This was our time together. A nice little Princess Story ritual.

Years later, Dad copped to the truth. Mr. Dad Pants was super-keen on metaphor, and these Princess Stories were his way of saying You, daughter, can do absolutely anything you want in this world. It doesn’t matter what it is – you can do it.

And you know what, his stories totally worked. He managed to raise a daughter with a big, expansive sense of adventure and daring and limitlessness. I am grateful to my Dad to this day for telling me these Princess Stories. For telling my teeny-tiny self how big the world is, and that I really can do anything I put my mind to.

So, let’s just say that’s the keystone in the storytelling history here.

List One
What’s the story you most desire to bring to life in 2016?
This is so much more than just one story, oops.

  • I want to tell myself the story of a woman who does for real business as unusual in 2016, in a way that can substantially, financially replace twenty percent of the income that she currently earns at her job-job.
    I know, I know – this isn’t really the sort of story that you release into the world as a narrative. But if I have learned anything in this year, it’s that if I want something to come true, if I want to live it, first I have to see and believe that it can happen. I need some more Princess Stories here. And the first step toward that is telling myself over and over again that I can do this, and visualizing how I do this. So, that story starts tonight, and every night, as I fall asleep in bed – visualizing this story into place.
  • A visual story of these quotes that have been appearing every night for the last (almost) year. I want to bring them to life through paper goods like stationery and calendars and other design-like things. There are nearly 365 (almost there!) of these little gems, and I am feeling more and more like they tell their own visual story, and that they want to be shared with the world in a new way.
  • Other people’s stories! At a creative-person-happy-hour earlier this month, I was meeting new people and feeling happy-hour free and got brazen and carefree in describing myself. I was with a lovely gaggle of people, and we were pressing each other hard to describe what we did – as some of us do what we love and create on the side, and some do it as a focal point, and none of us had really, really clear definitions. At one point I like telling other people’s stories slipped out of my mouth. I do like telling other people’s stories. I love getting to know people. Interviewing. And that magic you are trusted with when it comes down to distilling and translating the little slices someone has handed you and making some sort of beautiful little mixed drink out of it. I learn so much when I write stories about other people, these mini biographies. And, it is hard work. It is slogging-through-six-inches-of-snow-and-ice work. I feel so much responsibility to get it right, to be true to the person at the center of the story. I get stuck. I push hard. I work hard. I love the beginning (interview), I get mired in the middle, and I love the outcome. I want to tell more of these stories, but I want to learn how to make the process smoother.
  • A children’s book about the dear, sweet dog Fierce I was lucky enough to spend 8.5 years of my life with. To say the least, this dog was the love of my life. I started writing about her this summer, in a magical, mystical, farm-dog with a human twist sort of way. She wore and apron and a bandana and she was the heart of the farm. She died in November, and without meaning to be melodramatic or silly sounding – it was the most heartbreaking thing that has happened in my little life. It still is. So, it only seems fair, beyond the hand-painted marker at her grave out in the pasture, that she be properly remembered through a series of stories for children with beautiful illustrations. 
  • I really just want to submit at least one essay to Modern Love. It doesn’t have to be the best thing I have ever written. It just has to be something. Because, this is going to be a new practice for 2016. Not just writing things and squirreling them away in my cheeks until they are as full as rodent cheeks can get. But writing them and sending them out into the world – without attachment to outcomes. A different kind of practice.
  • That you don’t have to be perfect. That’s pretty silly as ‘stories’ go, but I want to continue to hold this idea of imperfectionist in mind and hand in the year ahead. To write, and keep writing. To make, and keep making. To live, and keep living – without the need to be perfect. To trust my gut and just get stuff out there. To be bold and be brave and be free and full of typos and not worry so much.

List Two
What’s the story your just-right reader-buddies and stationery purchasers most desires to bring to life in 2016?
I am working on this. Literally. Last year any time there was a question about ‘your audience’ I flailed wildly. I don’t have any idea who my audience is. I could make some guesses about who they would be. But I didn’t have an audience, so I couldn’t ask them. This year is different. There is an amazing group of people to run with, and to read with. I don’t think client is the best word, nor audience. But maybe those will just have to suffice. Maybe onlookers because it has an air of rubber-necking, of peering in because there is a chance of humiliating disaster and maybe that is the reason they stick around. Well, I asked this amazing group of people I get to hang out with – and hopefully I’ll hear back over the next few days. But, I didn’t want to delay this post – so for now I will give you assumptions, and we’ll see how close they come.

  • The literary loving stationery fiends are looking to correspond, thank you, pick-me-up, and just send a note created by an independent artist that is: evocative, unique, literary or historical, with feeling and visually engaging.
  • Onlookers are interested in livening up a part of their own selves, which they are already bravely and wildly on a path to doing, but want the occasional reminders to be brave, imperfect, adventurous, bold, honest, imperfect, real and human. They don’t want to tell stories, they just want to live truthfully. And breathe deep. Don’t we all just want to translate that internal, human, gobbledegook experience into something real, readable, and tangible?
  • Freeland clients are looking for (literally) someone to tell their stories on time, with clarity, and with whatever voice is required. They are looking to tell a specific story, and I will use my detective powers to figure out what story they want to tell, and tell it for them.

List Three
Where do your three stories overlap?

  • Adventure
  • Believing in one’s self brazenly enough to dig deep and do what needs to be done
  • Moving forward in spite of (or even because of) imperfection
  • You Can Do It

Welp. This is the most anticlimactic blog post ending ever. Maybe I’ll stop back in after I get a better sense of the stories of the onlookers for the year ahead. We’ll see.

In the mean time, go tuck in a child and tell them a kick-ass Princess Story.

Brave Wandering Practice

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I’m winding my way through the Quest2016 Questions…Here’s some pondering on last week’s prompt from Todd Henry, “foremost voice and authority on how teams and individuals can execute brilliant ideas every day.” He’s also author of a lot of good sounding books*. Here’s the question at hand:

It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you running your race, or someone else’s? 

Races imply finish lines.

That would imply that I have been training and signed up for something and I stood with bated breath at the starting line when the gun went off for some sort of competition. That I am running among some crew of people that are vying to cross some sort of finish line first. Argh. All of that competition makes it so easy to get off course. I know that is not what this question is getting at, but why do I have to be running a race? The competition, the anxiety, the stress, the singular focus?

I know – it’s a metaphor. I get it. It’s probably mean and snarky that I’m saying it doesn’t work for me.

But that helps me hone in on what this question does mean.

If I were to re-write the question, it would ask: It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you charting your own back-country trek, or someone else’s? 

You see, I don’t know exactly what I am doing here. So ‘race’ just doesn’t seem like the right metaphor**. I’m not on a course. It’s not a 5K or a marathon. And it’s not that I’m just not in a race, I don’t particularly want to be racing. That just implies some sort of short term over-exertion followed by a finish line.

I want practice.

Regular. Daily. Practice.


Practice. To get quiet. To tune in to the voice inside. To play. To uncover my strengths, and through repetition, repetition, repetition – hone them to become as easy as breathing deep. So that when there is a race to run (an article due, a house to design, a poem to write, a prompt to respond to, a book to write) it’s second nature to line up at the starting line and stay focused and sprint in a totally-perfect-to-me-way on that one jaunt – and then recover and keep training and be ready for the next race.

Because this isn’t just one race. And if I face whatever this one creative life is as a race – and not a wonder-filled and wandering journey – if I pretend that I already know the route and the destination – I think I’ll be selling myself short. Just think of all of the trees and skylines and vistas and sunrises and sunsets that I won’t see if I am just focused on one thing ahead.

So, instead of #BraveRace, maybe it’s just #BraveWanderingPractice

*Todd Henry’s books:

**Okay, so I am on a little bit of a race. Today is Day #352 of the #365Quote Project, which is really just a year of very specific, yet not-very-specific practice. If this were a race (which is isn’t, because I just can’t quite see it ending on January 10th) that day would be my finish line. And, what have I learned in this race? I’ve learned that I need practice. That it take a lot of wearing-my-blinders kind of practice to stay honed and centered on what my voice is. What it feels like it coming from me, and not what I think others want to hear. And, to stay tied to that feeling of authentic curiosity and creativity that is sparked from within, and from DIT – not just from following some LEGO kit***.

***Building with LEGO kit instructions makes kids less creatives (Psychology Today)
+ Why You Should Care About LEGO and Creativity (Note to Self)
+ Are Legos Stifling Creativity? (UW Business School)

Used Car Salesman

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Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year? 

I’m sitting at the north end of the borrowed hardwood kitchen table, squarely facing the antique, white, double-basin kitchen sink and the stretches of golden, wooden counter top on either side. Although it’s just me in the house, I know that I am not alone. My right eye is just waiting to catch the skitter-skatter of country mouse scampering across.

I know he (or she) is here. I came home, after a day away for Christmas, to find (the quite lovely) pattern that mouse claws or front teeth nibbled away from the surface of the now-hardened pork fat drained off the Christmas Eve ham and into the faded, green Pyrex dish. Placed sink-side, the salty greasy goodness was impossible for him to resist. I also find his little poops under the sink. I’ve heard a mousy squeak once or twice as well. He, or she, or they – they’re good. Sneaky. Stealthy. Efficient. They do their best work when alone, in the dark, stealth-like. Knowing what’s best for survival, he scoots around the spotlight, the daylight, the snap of the trap, and people in general. He doesn’t need applause or recognition. He does best when completely invisible to the surrounding world of humans and farm cats and possums and raccoons.

I’m the same way.

Most of the time.

I write in private. Often at night. I share through online platforms and social media. I write letters. I share writings with a few friends through the good old fashion mail. I make tiny collages. I craft spaces. I design things. I make space.

Somewhere along the way, for a reason I have not yet been able to determine, I decided it was best to not be showy. To not be overly-visible. Not loud. Instead to be demure, quiet, reserved. At least in person, at least in my mannerisms.

I don’t mean this as in to hide entirely, but instead that it feels most authentic to not run around being loud about my feelings, my successes, my work, my accomplishments. That the cream rises to the top. That it’s better to have sweet potato substance on the inside, rather than an ethereal, fluffy, meringue-like substance on the outside. (Let me tell you, meringue does not last very long and it’s mostly air and it gets soupy and almost disappears as you try to spoon it out of the pie plate less than twenty-four hours after it’s been baked.) This is the part of me that hardly posts any photos of my self to the internet. Who wants her words to speak for themselves, instead of any photo or image or aesthetic getting in the way.

This may very well be that so many of my mentors, the strong women who have taught me the most, the women I look up to – they own their success so much that it speaks for them. They don’t have to preach, they don’t have to broadcast. They just have to step up and own it when the recognition or praise or gratitude is offered. (And they, and I, we sure do know how to write a kick-ass cover letter or resume or grant application – because that’s sometimes that fits into the quiet and mouse-like category).

In looking back, these words from Quest2015 sum it up pretty well: I am repelled and repulsed by the idea of self-promotion, and I don’t know to what degree that holds me back from being missed. How much of that is fear of the spotlight; how much is lack-of-confidence in my ideas and writing and creativity; and how much is just my personality. If we want to be creative business people, there is a certain amount of self-selling and self-advertising and self-involvement that is part of the process, no? What is the line between sharing a genuine creative product and pushing an empty creative product that is more about you and a snazzy head shot and pretty website? Are we selling ourselves, or our creative work? (Man, that sounds snarky, and I apologize). I am so skeptical and afraid of selling myself.

That is the quiet (although obviously still pretty passionate and opinionated) me. Happy to wile away during the dark hours. Mostly content and most effective when I don’t have a goal, when my mind wanders, when I am making as a way of figuring. When I am lost in the work.

We’ll call that Mouse Me.

Mouse Me isn’t afraid of making her work public, she’s just incredibly afraid that in sharing or having an audience or crafting and creating with a certain purpose in mind – that she’ll lose the golden thread that keeps her head, hands and heart connected to each other and to the work. That she will lose track of the why, where, when and how that the good stuff comes out.

But there’s more than just Mouse Me who lives in this house, lit by the glow of burning midnight oil.

Used Car Salesman Self also lives on this rural farmstead. He is my alter ego. (Okay, I guess we should call her a she, but I just can’t, because I see a slightly rotund-in-the-belly man with greasy, tousled hair and a dark mustache, wearing a short sleeve, white, button down shirt when I imagine this self. Oh, and he has a donut. He is almost always eating a donut.) I’ve written about him before, but really – he is the part of me that is a 100%, fear-less, crowd-pleasing, success when given a microphone and a captive audience. (And – here is where the EGO-alarm in my brain sounds off and my shoulders tense up so much they almost eat my ears. Because, this is the part where I have to say that I am good at stuff. Or, where I at least think that I am good at stuff. Man, it’s so hard to talk about the stuff I think I am good at.) So, I’m just gonna say it. I can be really good when I live really big and loud and bold – and not just clickety-clacking away at the kitchen table on a Saturday night with one eye watching for mice. Just give me a microphone. Promise.

Gah. So what does this all mean? I’m not entirely sure. But here’s what I do know. The most reverberating words of Mr. Gilkey’s prompt?

p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.

I think it’s a question that, as I type, may just turn into an answer. I’m not sure what I want to amplify. I do think that I want to figure out how to step out of the dark intentionally and consistently to find a more public voice for my creative self that still feels snuggle-y, brave, confident and – more than anything – authentic. How do I pick-out the best parts of Mouse Me and Use Car Salesman Self and knit them into a creative professional who is confident sharing and (gack) promoting her work in a meaningful way? What voice do I use for this sharing? How do I encourage Used Car Salesman Self to pick up the microphone a little more often? And how do I even make a teeny-tiny microphone for Mouse Me so she can sing in the dark kitchen and everyone can hear? (Oh, but dear god there will not be singing.)

How can I stand out in a way that isn’t stepping out in front of the crowd with a giant spotlight and sparkling red tap shoes, but more of a cool road sign that says Roadside Attraction Ahead for Curious Navel Gazers and Life-Figurers?

So, I guess the answer is two fold. The first isn’t what part of my work, but how do I actually want to amplify the work itself – by merging the strongest parts of myself into a coherent whole? (Not a donut hole.) The second part is about the work itself – how do I stand up and find more roles as storyteller, facilitator, speaker in my creative work – all the ways the Used Car Salesman shows up and really rocks it?

This (still slightly behind the pack answer) is to the Quest2016 prompt by productivity specialist & business advisor, CHARLIE GILKEY. He’s the brain and heart behind Productive Flourishing, best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle and driven to figure out how to help Creative Giants be their best selves in the world. Here’s his big question:

Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year? 

Instead of considering simply doing more work, take the time to consider which elements of your work would most light you up to amplify. What’s holding you back from amplifying it? Do you think it’s that obscure little thing no one will care about? Or is it that once you amplify it, people will care too much and call the Imposter or Weirdo Police?

There won’t be a time in the future where it’ll be easier to amplify that part of your work.

p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.


In Service of Clarified Butter

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Early on in the #365Quote Project. February 9, 2015.

For this (I’m-super-behind) Quest2016 prompt CHRIS BROGAN asks us

How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016?

I’ve noodled this. I’ve put it off for a week. Because 1) there is no oomph for me right now – everything in life feels temporarily very stuck – including words and feelings, 2) all the answers are (unabashedly?) selfish feeling and 3) all I can actually think about is clarified butter.

So let’s start there, with the butter – because there is nothing better than butter. I swear it runs in my veins. I’m not kidding. Butter, unlike liquid oils is part fat, a small portion water and 1-2% milk solids. Because of the milk solids and water, it doesn’t take nearly as much heat to brown or burn butter – when compared to other fats. So, clarified butter just the fatty goodness of butter, without the water and milk solids – and it’s required if you are, say, frying or high-heat-long-time cooking something in butter. (Let’s just pause here and say – YUM).

In theory, making clarified butter is easy. In theory, almost everything is easy – no? Throw your butter into a heavy pan, heat at a low temperature until it melts. Until the (totally delicious) milk solids float to the top and some of the water evaporates off. Skim off the milk solids, strain the liquid through cheesecloth – voila – clarified butter. But, cook it too hot, you get browned butter (still delicious, but not what you are going for). Cook it too hot and too long, hot burnt mess. Don’t cook it long enough, just a pile of melted butter. And, you’ve gotta skim, and pour – and anyone who knows me can voice that I am terrible at pouring anything. So, it takes some attention. Some focus.

Distilled. Impurities removed. Clean. Clear. Condensed. Powerful. Refined. Purified. Specific.

Clarified butter serves a very specific purpose. High heat. You can’t really use it for baking. It’s not so much fun to spread on bread.

But, you’re probably getting tired of the butter analogy, so I’ll move on.

And here comes the selfish part – when I think about who I serve and why – the answer is me me me me me me me. (Oh wait, more butter.)

This has been a clarified butter year for me. Literally. I have been tending to my one hundred and thirty five pounds of butter on the stove. Heating it up. Melting it down. Watching for the white, crackly, solids to float to the top – and skimming them off. Tending to temperature and skimming and timing and – yes – even efficient pouring.

I’ve been finding my voice by standing over that pot and skimming off the tiny bits of floating white. I’ve been distilling my sense of self into something understandable, translatable, powerful, potent and useful for me. I have been refining this thing that I am, stripping away water and milk solids and all of the other things that brown and burn at high heat and intensity.

And all of that time in the kitchen, over the pot of melted butter, has made for one very selfish feeling year. Maybe my most selfish year. (Well, ask my parents what I was like as a teenager, maybe this is nothing like those years). My most selfish adult year. I have, literally, been focused on serving myself. I’m behind on thank you notes and birthday cards and (now) Christmas presents. To say the least.

This past year I have been serving myself. The year ahead…I will still be serving myself. And what – what do I do for this little audience of one?

I write and I hone and I clarify and I craft. Because, as Brenna Layne says it so powerfully: “Writing is how I make sense of the world.” I do it because the writing itself is the process of warming and skimming and pouring that butter through the cloth. The writing is the only way that I can process and filter and file everything soaked in through these six sense (you know, the heart is a pretty big sense). And, quite frankly, it’s all begging to be shared. Maybe the it isn’t begging, but there is something in my brain that just wants to share it. Without even thinking.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Maybe it’s because I live alone in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s because I have always been this way. Maybe I am shy. Maybe I just feel most own-it, confident, brazen, brashly myself with pen in hand instead of telling stories at the dinner table.

It doesn’t matter. I write because it serves me. It helps me iron out the wrinkles of the day. It helps evaporate the water in the butter. It let’s the irksome milk solids float to the top.

It doesn’t matter if any of it is good. It (most of the time) really doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. It’s about the process. It’s about making the time to make life make sense. It’s about living firmly rooted in a practice. Because all of those things help me stay present and distilled down to the important, heat-tolerant stuff – and help me keep moving forward. Boldly and bravely.

And here’s the thing, the thing that confuses and bowls me over and blows me away. The times when I write and I am most grounded and most me and most present and vulnerable – those are the times when the most people respond. Respond to something that I have written. And that sets me back to the pot over the stove, to stir and skim and continue to focus on this practice. The practice of being grounded and clear. The practice of sharing.

I will continue to clarify my own butter in the year ahead. To stand over the stove and melt and stir and distill and purify. Because in that clarity, when I make that space for myself – then I can hear and share my own voice most effectively.

And, why does that matter? Because each day as I write more and more, and share more and more, and get braver more and more, and try to find and stay in that place of authentic me-voice-self-ness – I need more and more to be able to find that real voice within myself. The voice that translates and processes and makes sense of everything that I see, and the voice that gets written publicly to share all of those thoughts back out. Because, I need to stay continually grounded in my self and my perspective to avoid getting pulled away by the gusty winds of well, what do they want to hear?*

*Whew, in seeing that on the page, it’s a double whammy. The intention was about my writing. Because I see how lackluster and dull and antiseptic and cloying and boring and dead it is when I try to write with that question in mind. AND, in seeing those words there – holy how if I am now a recovering super-duper-people-pleaser.

The #Serve message from Quest2015 lives here: In Service of Happiness

CHRIS BROGAN explores how people use content and community  to build marketplaces around areas of belonging. He is CEO of Owner Media Group , providing simple plans and projects for business success. He is also a highly sought after professional speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting, including his forthcoming book, Insider: Strategies and Secrets for Business Growth in the Age of Distractions

Compensation! Compensation!

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Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now?:

  • Quality of life
  • Quality of work
  • Quality of compensation 

Compensation! Compensation! Compensation!

But it’s not what you think.

(First, I’m confused because this question asks within the framework “in your work,” but the life / work / compensation triad throws me off. Because those things contribute to my whole life, not just my work life. So, just a note that I am applying this question to my whole life, not just my work life. Because, well, I tend to take a holistic approach – and they are all invariable connected.)

(Second, I really wish I had some sort of witty story or metaphor from real life that I could incorporate here. Sort of like Brenna Layne’s response that includes construction workers, gourmet recipes and piano recitals. But I don’t. And I’m feeling quite linear – so we’ll just go for it.)

I pick compensation. Here’s why.

If my work is my making and writing – and, by this I mean my chosen work, then I’m in it for the compensation. Because the compensation is rich and deep and sustaining. It’s what keeps me going.

You see, the compensation I receive is connection and a deep sense of community. An amazing network of support as I develop my voice and a body of work that grows from daily practice – along with a way to share it all. I am rewarded with rich feedback and response from mentors and human beans I admire. Whose opinion and response and conversation means so much to me – because I respect these people and what they make, are, and do in this world. And being connected to this sense of community, and a growing connection to my own voice, connects me to my own sense of self. And connecting to my own sense of self helps me connect most deeply to the golden thread that leads me forward in an authentic way.

So, if I had to pick just one – it would be compensation. Because the ‘payment’ I receive in exchange for the ‘work’ I enjoy doing so much is valuable beyond words. Meaningful beyond cash value. As precious as anything in the curio cabinet or bank box.

As a person who just wants to connect, and deeply, the halo of relationship that floats around my work is the most valuable resource I have.

(Oh, and let’s be honest. I love the totally scattered, hodge-podge, run-around quality of my life. And, well, we all know that this year is absolutely not about quality of work, it’s about just going for it – and accepting imperfection.)

Other thoughts that came to mind in response to this prompt included a response in line with the following two definitions for compensation.

1. Biology. the improvement of any defect by the excessive development or action of another structure or organ of the same structure.
2. Psychology. a mechanism by which an individual attempts to make up for some real or imagined deficiency of personality or behavior by developing or stressing another aspect of the personality or by substituting a different form of behavior.

Today’s Quest2016 prompt (well, last Thursday’s)  comes from SALLY HOGSHEAD,  who is well-versed in understanding and leveraging your value by the way you captivate and influence those around you. Her recent book How the World Sees You applies her research in the science of fascination to leaders and change-makers who want to be more of their best. Thanks to Jeffrey Davis and the Tracking Wonder team for making the Quest2016 happen!



Stop Being Free.

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Last year I planned to stop being nice. I’m gonna admit, I’m doing a pretty okay job at it. Not being so nice translates to an amazing sense of personal power. Maybe a slightly precarious sense of power, but I’m trying it on none the less.

This year I’m going to stop being free.

No, it isn’t what you think. Keep reading.

I’m glad this year’s version of the question is different. The difference is in the final words: higher payoff activities. I like this. I like this because my goals in the year ahead are actually (finally) about business as unusual. This last year has been about bailing out and balancing my boat. About re-sculpting my inner sphere (although, let’s be honest – that is a plodding and perpetual journey). The year ahead, the year ahead is about translating everything bopping around within myself into business as unusual. With a focus on the business.
This year ahead is (and it feels so fun to be honest and out loud about it!) to focus on translating what I currently do for fun into something that can supplant part of my currently earned income at my job-job. I’m not as concerned about the income part, but about the time part. There is only so much of it, and I want to be intentional about how I fill it.
Because, I need to stop doing more in order to focus on what I really want to be doing.
And that means I need to stop being free. I’ve been writing for free, and taking on projects without compensation, for a few years. Not all of them, but those in new areas for me. Because I needed to get to know people here. Because I needed a little portfolio. Because I needed to earn my own confidence before selling myself as someone who writes things. Free was great when I had extra time. Free was great when I was just getting established. Free was a great way to scatter a lot of seeds and find out which ones germinate.
Free is a bit like a wish. Free has hesitation. Free does not establish my value, to myself – and to the world.
But that free time is over.
It’s time to start thinking of myself as a freelance writer – and using that parlance to enact some power toward my future goals. It’s time to start using that language. It’s time to transition to getting paid for the words I put on the page.
That’s part of the big plan to make this farm-writing-creative life something more sustainable for my energy and my livelihood. There’s a lot more to that plan, but the first step is to stop piling on new things that don’t route my precious ship in the exact direction I want to be blowing.

Tuesday’s Quest2016 nudge is from John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, a marketing consultant, speaker and author of books like Duct Tape Marketing.

What can you stop doing in 2016 such that it would allow you to focus on higher payoff activities?