Unmistakable No.

1 2 16

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


Brave Wandering Practice

10 23 15

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)

In Service of Clarified Butter

2 9 15
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!

1 27 15

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!



Door’s Open, Come On In

The Quest2016 is so energizing. It girds me to stay grounded right now, while looking forward onto the horizon. I still have wake-up-with-Christmas-morning levels of anticipation and excitement.

Quest2016 Prompt 2 comes from Jonathan Fields, author of the book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance and energizer of the Good Life Project. Here is his highly hypothetical, launch-you-into-the-future, break you away from your limitations nudge toward bigness.

You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

What's Knocking Question

So this may look familiar to you, and that’s because this is the same question (like, literally the same Post-It note) from the #DareToExcel challenge this summer. The question remains the same friends. The question remains the same. And that makes me feel, for once in my life, that I am doing something with some consistency – and that I might just be a few steps in to the path of practicing living with the answers.

About 11 months ago I made this video as part of the Quest. It took all of my courage, for so many reasons, but I started asking the first big question: HOW? That video was a tide change for me. It was a launching point. A demarcation between the ebb and the flow. Something.

So, I decided to make a video response to Prompt #2. Here’s my response to What’s Knocking, even though I’ve gone and written a whole bunch of other stuff about it here anyway.

I could just leave it there, without addressing the whole financial and other freedom to dedicate (the requirement to dedicate that time) to answering the question. But I won’t.

There’s another angle to Mr. Fields question that I’ve been thinking through too. And maybe this resonates with you. It’s a bit off the cuff – but we’ll see what comes of it. (and, let me know if this resonates with you!). If I were to accept the challenge Mr. Field outlines – if I were to accept the funds and live the question – how would that change the current balance of where I place my effort in my days?

Here’s what I mean: Right now I work full time. I love my job-job. I also am responsible for running a household-of-one (cleaning, feeding myself, paying the bills, shoveling the snow) and managing a teeny-tiny farm. Those are all, to an extent, the super-high priority things. Those are the things I have to get done because the social and economic order of the world puts priority on them. So all of this fun stuff like writing to you each day and quoting and collages and writing prompts – it has value, but no one is going to die and I am not going to get fired if they don’t get done. They are, despite their contribution to my well-rounded and need-for-creative-outlet-ness: optional.

So, what if that shifted. What if I could spend all day observing this place and writing and making a mess? Would I still want to engage with those activities as much? What if I love diving into the creating because it’s not part of the ‘have to’ list – would it be as much fun? What if it was my source of income? Or it had deadlines? Or it had to be approved by an editor? Would I be so spirited and eager to show up and generate so much crap volume each day and think about my creative process all the time, and lose time seeing the world and wanting to translate it in my head when it becomes the thing I should be doing, instead of the thing I am doing instead of the thing I should be doing? Or would this just become on of those other should things?

I think, or I wonder, if all of this writing and quoting – if it’s so fun because it serves the purpose of distraction, of fun thing to look forward to – and how my perspective of it would change if its role in my life changed to mandatory. I don’t have answers for that right now, but I’ll think about it. And I would love your thoughts on this, and if you struggle with this too. Me thinks this is also some sort of real or perceived barrier I toss up to prevent myself from moving forward with pursuing creative things professionally – the dear that the joy would be sucked out if it became my job.

So, I guess those are all the big questions that come out when you open the door!

I wrote a whole bunch more (less refined) words on the topic (along with adventures in pig processing) in yesterday’s TinyLetter too. You are welcome to take a peek if you want to climb inside the head of a crazy person.

Time to go find out #WhatsKnocking at the doors of all the other Questers!


I Will Not See This Coming

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 11.20.17 PM

Welcome to Day 1 of Quest2016! Today’s prompt is from Susan Piver – “What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…”. Thanks so much to Jeffrey Davis and the team at Tracking Wonder for hosting this second year of the quest. If you want to learn more, or participate (You should! It’s free and awesome!) visit this link. I’ll be sharing my responses to the Quest2016 each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of December. I wrote a bit more about what the Quest is, and what it means to me, here too.

From this morning…
It’s December 1, and I just did chores without gloves on. It’s that warm out, it’s just that unseasonably warm out. I didn’t see that coming.

And that’s how most if this year has been.

And this is exactly what I most need to tell myself about 2016…that I will not see any of this coming.

If 2015 has taught me anything, it’s that there is a great mystery in exactly what will churn itself up minute to minute, day to day, and week to week to make up this thing we call a year. Looking back one year, to all the hesitation and nervousness and unsure-ness as to the precise contents of my life’s suitcase, I could never have predicted I would be so BIG and full and alive as I write this now.

One year ago I hoped that things would get better. I worked hard to make a plan, a map, that would sail my ship back to the island of brightness I know my best self can inhabit. I had an amorphous vision, lots of feelings (many of which were totally contradictory), a shit ton of uncertainty and a fierce determination. But, frankly, that was it. I didn’t know what life was going to look like. I didn’t know if I would still be farming, where I would be living, how I would spend my days, if spring was going to come again. I didn’t have any answers. I just had a suitcase piled high with ginormous questions.

And I learned to live with those questions. I learned to be comfortable living without answers, but still grounded. I practiced saying I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I’m not sure. I let answers surface slowly, at their own (very, very slow) pace. I listened deep, and trusted that the answers were somewhere buried inside of me. And that I could find them and trust them if I held still and quiet and poke a flashlight into all of those dark and mysterious places. I learned to trust myself. I grew to listen to the tiny voice inside myself. I kept moving forward, even though I didn’t know where the path was headed. It was hard work. But good work.

But that’s enough about the past. The past is full of really good lessons, but I’m pretty determined to keep moving forward. And what I need to keep telling myself most about this year ahead is that it is chock-full of big questions and big goals and amorphous-big visions – and, ultimately, the content of the days will be full of mystery. And that the meaning of those days will only shine through as they are slowly stacked one on top of the other on top of the other like bricks as the calendar pages flip by and things happen.

And things will happen. Wonder-full things. Mysterious things. Things that don’t make sense. Things that break my heart and feel like unbearable loss. Things that break my heart into a million pieces that get reconstructed to be even bigger and better than before. Things that make me smilecry in the car or the kitchen or while walking in snowfall. Things that feel like they are throwing my boat off course. Things that guide me to a new and totally, joyfully unexpected path. Things like fireflies and fireworks and snowstorms and peonies and cake and sweet kisses and writing so much I run the ink right out of my pen. And all I can do is stay soft and open and take all these things into my heart and build them a little nest. Because, let me tell you, we hardly know the meaning of things as they happen.

What I need to remind myself most about the year ahead is that every day, every second, will be there to meet me – I just have to show up to be present in it. To Be Here Now. That practicing patience will keep me grounded. That farms and creative practices and big ideas are not birthed over night. No, everything BIG and GOOD grows slowly when we show up to glean the absolute most from every day. Like boiling the turkey carcass not once, but twice, into two batches of clear – and then cloudy – stock to store in the freezer as sustenance for the year ahead. I just have to show up, observe, notice, learn, hold still, breathe, smile (and sleep more) and dig deep. I don’t have to have the answers now, I just have to show up to catch them when they fall as bright stars out of this big Southern Wisconsin sky.

Because this year ahead is a giant, unknown mysterious ball of sparkly gold thread that will only unravel itself with the slow turn of time. I want to hold that unwinding thread softly, gently – and knit it lovingly into the arteries of my big, soft, wandering heart.

Happy Questing!
This was originally published, with a whole bunch more words, at the #365Quote Project daily TinyLetter. More on that here.

Quest 2016: A Creative Mess

Hi Friends. It’s been a while.

I stared this little nook one year ago, as a place to post my responses to Quest2015, the crack-you-wide-open visioning project for the year ahead hosted by Jeffrey Davis and his team at Tracking Wonder.

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I made the split decision to run with the wild Quest pack – but I am so glad I did. From the late nights and early mornings spent writing to the lightning-bug-in-a-jar-bright online Quest community to the inspirational prompts and people – Quest2015 really did launch me into a fantastic year of growth. Catapult may be a better word for it. I continued to write and dissect here after the Quest. The #365Quote Project was born on Instagram. That evolved into the daily #365Quote TinyLetter, my favorite daily writing practice ever. (You can sign up here.) MAKE TIME evolved from idea to real-life-on-the-farm monthly event!

And that’s just the external stuff. I also feel deeply grounded; connected more meaningfully with friends and family; alive with a spark of big dreams; mentored and electrified by a creative community nearby and across the globe; and more in love with and determined to make something of this farm.

All really, really good stuff. With a whole bunch of other really good stuff that is only half as tangible and express-able as all of that juiciness.

So what?

So…2015 is almost over. 2016 is almost here. I’ve signed up for Quest2016, although this time with a lot more thought as to whether I have the energy to tackle this big self-turning-in-side-out project over the course of the next month. We start tomorrow. I’ll be posting here some, but mostly I’ll be sharing through the TinyLetter. You can view all those posts here, or you can join the newsletter to receive one typewritten quote and daily writing in your mailbox each day. (And I swear you can unsubscribe anytime and it won’t hurt my feelings.)

I’m excited to face this Quest2016 from safely back inside my rowboat, and on a determined course. I have a firm sense of the direction I’m headed, and can’t wait for the landscapes I’ll encounter along the journey. I hope it is creative and muddy and a giant, fun mess. I am looking forward to connecting with fellow Questers (like you!) over the month and year ahead. I can’t wait to see what golden threads we spin and how big we can grow.

Happy Questing!
vanessa jean

P.S. Here’s some really good other stuff to read in reflection of 2015, and in preparation for the Quest ahead.