Your Pain is REAL… But It Doesn’t Have to Define You

Pain is such an intimate thing. 

I’m talking about any kind of pain — physical, emotional, spiritual. We experience pain in a way that makes it almost impossible to describe to someone outside ourselves. And for that reason, the experience of pain can be an immensely isolating experience. 

Have you ever had an injury or an illness or even an emotional wound that affected you in such a way that you wished for someone to just climb in your head and share that experience for a second, just to make you feel like you weren’t alone? To have someone say, I know what this feels like and I know how badly it hurts. 

I know I have. 

The reason I began thinking about this is because I identify as an HSP — a “highly sensitive person.” This designation refers to an innate personality trait in 15-20% of the population in which the wiring of a person’s central nervous system causes “hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity.” 

Basically it’s the neurological equivalent to a perfect storm of FEELINGS. 

What that means for my daily life is that I’m hyperaware of sensations in my environment and I’m also often unable to cut off my cognitive and emotional processing of those sensations. 

Over the years I’ve come to accept and appreciate this as a superpower. It allows me to be highly empathetic to others, extremely self-aware, and a simple smell or the heat of the sun on my face can send a wave of the deepest joy throughout my entire being. I wouldn’t trade the capacity for that kind of transcendent beauty for anything. 

BUT… because of this trait, I’m quite literally wired to experience pain differently. 

Anything from the smallest paper cut, to a pounding headache, to a broken bone, to a broken heart… there is no blocking it out for me. I can’t compartmentalize it or bury it or rationalize it away, and the sensation often consumes my thoughts. 

My husband Jason and I often joke about this by referencing my need for a “pain journal” where I can write down the various sensations I’m aware of on a regular basis. The truth is though, while we joke about it and make light of it, when I dig deeper I can admit that my relationship to pain is something that I actually feel incredibly self-conscious about. 

I’ll find myself in situations where even the tiniest sensation of pain becomes problematic. For example, since I started my running challenge two weeks ago, my toe joints in my left foot are incredibly sore. Objectively, it’s such a simple and insignificant injury, one that most people probably wouldn’t think twice about. But, with every step I take through our house, a neurological signal pulses throughout my entire body alerting me to this pain in my foot. 

That’s when the inner conflict starts. 

On one hand, out of self-compassion I want to honor my authentic experience of that pain, however mild or severe it might be. 

And yet on the other hand, I find myself judging that experience, feeling weak and fragile, and wondering why I can’t push past a simple sensation -- especially when other people experience far greater pain or adversity on a regular basis. 

This conflict becomes even more heightened when someone else is involved. 

For example, if Jason and I are in the gym, I know (cerebrally) that I have to push beyond a certain threshold of discomfort in order to get stronger. But there’s a difference between discomfort and pain, and sometimes an exercise creeps past discomfort and into pain. It could be a sharp sting in my wrist or a tweak of my knee or those pesky sore toes, but suddenly I have to stop what I’m doing and listen to my body.

Those are the moments I feel most isolated because I want to be able to push that pain aside and challenge myself, but I also recognize the reality of what those signals are telling me. I do my best to communicate this to Jason, but the more I try to explain it, the more critical I become of myself and the more alone I feel in my experience. 

This is going to sound strange, but this is the most honest discovery I've made about situations like this, and it's the most important thing I want to share with you. In those moments of vulnerability and isolation, I can feel myself clinging to my pain

feel myself defending it. I feel myself wanting to stay there in that sensation, as if to provide my own source of empathy and validation that I can’t seem to find any other way. Can you relate to that feeling at all?  

Here's the danger with that behavior: In seeking someone who will say “this IS real, this IS painful, this IS hard” I only end up giving that pain more power over my thoughts and my decisions. 

I know there are some of you out there with chronic pain, and I just want to say I can’t begin to understand what you go through on a regular basis. It’s possible that this talk of sore toes and weak wrists is so insignificant compared to what you have to deal with (there I go judging again🙄), but I’m hoping you can still relate to how complicated and isolating the experience of pain is and I'm betting you too have struggled with how much attention to give to the very real sensations and challenges you're facing.   

Universally speaking, I feel it also should be acknowledged that this conversation is applicable to our society at large right now. There is SO much personal pain that is playing out through conflict on a national scale here in the US. There are people -- especially those that identify themselves as people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, the poor -- who are likely experiencing pain beyond what I could ever imagine as a white woman of privilege. I know that. And yet I still can feel the collective pain that our nation is trying to make sense of. 

very time someone says “it’s not that bad” or “you’re overreacting” or tries to otherwise minimize the pain that is being felt across all kinds of cross-sections of our society, I see this same phenomenon play out. I see humans clinging to their pain, holding it up and declaring “my experience is REAL and I won't allow it to be minimized.” That instinct is understandable and truly valuable because my hope is that in sharing our pain, we’re able to become more empathetic to one another. 

However, whether it’s on a personal level or societal level, clutching tightly to our pain doesn’t necessarily serve us. Defending our pain only keeps us locked in a room with it, unable to see the light that lives on the other side. But then judging ourselves for feeling pain doesn’t help us either, it only compounds the hurting. 

So where does that leave us then? What do we do with this pain that is so very intimate and personal and very REAL, but that doesn’t serve us either? 

Well, the way I see it, we have a few choices. 

Option #1: We can let pain own us. We can give it the power to affect how much joy we let in, how many people we let close. We can use it to build walls instead of bridges, and we can cling to it so we feel seen. We can allow it to make us doubt ourselves and our capabilities. We can let it steer our thoughts to self-loathing or self-criticism. And when we do that, we are letting it define us. 

OR…

Option #2: We can let pain exist without giving it power. We can let it be seen without letting it get fed. We can acknowledge it without cozying up to it. We can experience it, learn from it, be angry at it even, without letting it cloud all that is joyful and beautiful and hopeful.

I know which of those options I’d prefer for myself. 

As I finally put these thoughts to paper, eventually I came to this mantra for myself: “Your pain is real, but it doesn’t have to define you.” 

Your pain is real, but it doesn’t have to define you.

This is what I say to myself so that I can acknowledge whatever pain or sensation I’m feeling — physical, emotional, spiritual — and I can give myself permission to sit with it without judgment. Not to “push past it” or cast it aside. Not to pretend it doesn’t exist or that it’s a figment of my imagination. But it is also what reminds me that I can acknowledge its presence without defending it to the point that it defines me. That I don’t have to cling to it so tightly that I never learn what good things are on the other side of it. 

This week my challenge to you is three-fold:

  1. If you too struggle with pain in any sense, consider using this mantra with yourself. Practice holding space and being your own advocate so that you can feel seen, but in that same breath see if you can loosen your grip on your pain a bit. See what positive sensations you make room for when you release your hold on it. 
     
  2. Practice radical empathy with others when they’re in pain. Instead of using phrases like “it’s not that bad” or “it could be worse”, make them feel seen and understood. Even if you can’t relate to their pain, make them feel as though it’s valid. It’s REAL. It’s not an illusion. This just might be what they need to hear in order to loosen their grip on it too.
     
  3. Dwell in a place of love. We are living through a tumultuous time of pain for us humans these days. We see it play out in acts of hatred and violence like this weekend’s events in Charlottesville, events which feel like they only lead to more pain and suffering. But, as this letter says, if we continue to double-down on this pain in our instinctive search for empathy, I fear that we’ll never make it to the other side where the transformation lives. So I want to acknowledge the tragedies big and small, collective and personal that are very real across our world right now… without allowing them to define us. Let’s shed light as best we can on the pain that’s being felt, but let’s not dwell there. Let’s dwell in a place of love instead. Let’s look for the light. Let’s make love louder.   

I want to leave you with this incredible video, one that I stumbled across on Twitter months ago but that I had forgotten about until I started reading this week’s letter. It’s the story of Ruthie Lindsey whose path led her to chronic pain but who has chosen not to let her life lead with that pain. 

It’s incredibly inspiring, and I hope whatever pain you may be encountering in your life right now, however big or however small, that Ruthie’s story helps you see the light and beauty that exists as well. 

 
 

How To Stick With A Goal When Progress Feels Invisible

How to stick with a goal when progress feels invisible

Sometimes it comes out of nowhere — that feeling you get when you finally work up the courage to take on a new challenge or make a change or set an audacious goal.

You could be cruising along on autopilot, comfortable and in control, but one day you feel this tiny spark of What if.

What if I taught myself how to code a website? 
What if I committed to 100 days of painting? 
What if I stuck to a work out schedule for the next twelve weeks?
What if I saved up my money to start my own business six months from now?

What if.

The seed of possibility is planted and it’s enough to snap you right out of that autopilot. You crave new territory to explore, new parts of yourself to awaken. 

That beginning feeling is intoxicating, isn’t it? It’s a crackling simmer of excitement and energy and heat.

That energy is enough to finally get you started toward your new goal. 

So you begin. 

You buy the supplies. Or write out your schedule. Or announce your intention.

In the early days, the thrill of possibility keeps you showing up.  

It’s fun learning something new! you think. 

The feeling of accomplishment, the boost of confidence you experience from making a commitment and working toward a new goal.  

But then it happens. 

You hit The Wall. 

The Wall is that stage when the novelty of a new goal wears off, the fire and excitement settle into a subtle background hum, and the reality of the work sets in. 

The excitement continues to fade when you realize it's impossible to see the progress that's unfolding.

The improvement in your art from one day to the next is nearly imperceptible. 
The photos of your weight-loss journey from one day to the next look identical. 
You feel no more competent in that new skill you’re learning form one day to the next. 

Those are the moments when The Wall steals your momentum and you consider quitting. Why? Because...

When you’re in the midst of a transformative journey, the incremental progress is usually invisible.  

Over the years, I’ve committed to several of these kinds of transformative goals, both big and small. Thirty days of hand-lettering. A year of making art everyday. Learning Italian. A month of meditation. Most recently, twelve weeks of running. 

I love these kinds of challenges. That spark of desire to push myself to new territory and snap out of my comfort zone hits me unexpectedly, and I just go for it. 

But with every single transformation I’ve committed to, whether I completed it or fell short, The Wall was always there. 

Which then leads me to this question, the one that you may be asking yourself at this moment: 

When you can’t see or feel progress in the moment, where do you find the motivation to keep going? 

How do you push past The Wall and follow through on your commitments long enough to see real transformation? 

My answer comes down to two pieces of advice: 

1. Hold on to the belief that transformation IS happening. 


    This is easier said than done, but what helps me when I’m in that gap before real change is visible is to remind myself over and over that I DO believe the thing I’m doing is getting me closer to my goal (or else I wouldn’t be doing it.)

    So, for example, let’s take my recent commitment to start a running practice (despite my intense loathing of this activity for most of my life.) Four days in and already The Wall has arrived. The newness is gone and the reality has set in that it’s going to take several more weeks before I can feel or see real change in my fitness. 

    UT, every single time I lace up my shoes, I remind myself that there’s just no way that running 4 times a week for 12 weeks doesn’t improve my fitness. Just no way. 

    o even in these early days when I can’t experience the progress I want to see at the end of my challenge, I keep my attention on the fact that I do know it’s happening. That simple belief is sometimes just enough to get you to show up for that commitment or challenge the next day.

    2. Shift the measure of success from progress to presence. 


      Speaking of showing up, I think that’s the other key to pushing past The Wall. So often when we set goals in our minds, we think of them in terms of these visual progress bars. How far have we come? How far do we have left to go? 

      The downside of that progress mentality, though, is that in the beginning when that progress bar feels so small, or when you look at how far you have to go without any visible signs of transformation, it can quickly become disheartening. You’re putting in work without seeing much return yet, and it becomes easy to convince yourself more work just isn’t worth it. 

      That’s when you have to change your measure of success from progress to presence. 

      Rather than looking ahead or looking behind, consider being right here, right now, in this moment in your transformation. 

      Take this one single day or activity in isolation, and make completing THAT the win. Heck, make just showing up the win. 

      If “success” becomes about just showing up to meet the challenge of the day — sitting at the desk, lacing up the shoes, getting out our your supplies —  that feels a lot less daunting than worrying about completing some mental progress bar that feels unreachable. 

      If you take enough of those present moments, those days that you showed up, and you stack them end to end, eventually you do arrive at that final transformation down the road. And you’re probably more likely to finally arrive at that destination because you were able to fight past The Wall, even when you couldn’t draw motivation from any results or progress you could see.  

      When progress feels invisible, shift the attention from progress to presence. The win is showing up.

      If you are in the midst of trying to make a big change right now or if you’ve challenged yourself in the past but given up because you couldn’t see real progress, I hope today’s letter gives you some insights on new ways you can approach transformation in the future. 

      Big change happens in tiny moments, but if we want to keep those tiny moments going, we have to find ways to reframe our obsession with progress and seeing or feeling results right away. 

      Forge ahead with the belief that change IS happening, even if you can’t see it today!  

       
       

      What Do You Need To Stop Doing To Live A More Vibrant Life?

      For the longest time, I felt like being the best version of myself meant DOING more of the right things. 

      I always had this mental list going of what I needed to add to my life: 

      Carve out more time for art. 

      Go for more walks outside. 

      Spend more mornings in my gratitude journal. 

      And so on and so forth. 

      The list of ALL THE THINGS I needed to do more of continued to build, but in my mind I doubted how any of them I could squeeze into a life and a daily schedule that already felt full of things TO DO. 

      Finally, though, I made a pretty simple realization that changed my approach to living more vibrantly: 

      Living a more vibrant life is as much about the UN-doing as it is about the doing.

      Living a more vibrant life is as much about the UN-doing as it is about the doing.

      It’s less about adding more items to our already crammed schedules and instead taking a critical look at what we can subtract.  

      Carving out more time for art becomes more feasible when it’s actually just spending less time binge-watching TV. 

      Going for more walks outside becomes more feasible when it’s actually just spending fewer days eating lunch at my desk watching clips on YouTube (yes, I really do that most days 🙄.) 

      Spending more mornings in my gratitude journal becomes more feasible when it means spending less mornings scrolling through news updates on Twitter.

      We think our schedules are maxed out when in fact they are ripe with opportunities to do more of what lights us up — IF that is we’re willing to replace the things that give us empty entertainment or instant gratification for the things that will actually move the needle toward a more vibrant, fulfilling life. 

      So my challenge for you this week is to ask yourself: What in your daily life is it time to UNDO? 

      What can you subtract in order to do more of those things you’ve been wishing you could just fit in? 

      Maybe this week you consider making a To Do List an then making a To “Undo” List. 😉

      It’s never easy to shift habits or schedules that have been on auto-pilot for so long, but on the other side of those difficult shifts is usually a healthier, happier existence. 

      Wishing you a productive week of un-doing!

       
       

      Patience Is The Key To Building Something That Lasts

      Patience is the key to building a creative business that lasts

      I’ll just come right out and tell you guys — year 4 of running Made Vibrant is shaping up to be uncomfortable for me. 

      What I mean by that is, for the first three years of building the business, my strategy remained largely the same. Explore, experiment, create, fail, and share it all with you in an effort to provide valuable wisdom. 

      That strategy has worked undeniably well in attracting an audience of eager readers and establishing a group of awesome customers. But the truth is, creating *NEW* things has now become well within in my comfort zone.

      Need a boost in revenue? No problem — I’ve got 10 ideas for products or offerings that I can whip up and launch. I’ve done it so many times now that I feel confident in my ability to create and sell a new product. 

      BUT… new products are not necessarily what my business needs right now.

      A lot of things changed this year -- things that have an impact on my overall strategy moving forward for Made Vibrant. The biggest one is obviously that Jason and I got married, and we decided we want to start collaborating on projects a lot more due to the overlap in our audiences and the way our voices/skills complement one another (BuyOurFuture, a one-time payment for everything we’ve ever created and ever will create in the future, being the most obvious illustration of that new collaborative direction.) 

      With over 36+ products between us, Jason and I realized that if we are going to work together to create content, we need to know that a) the 3+ years of content we’ve created is being utilized to its maximum potential and b) that our existing products and offerings have systems in place to continue to sell without too much ongoing maintenance. 

      In other words, it was time for a transition in both of our businesses from creation mode to optimization mode

      I know I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to create something new every year for the rest of my life in order to keep my business revenue healthy and thriving. Instead, I want to put systems in place that will attract the right customers for the right existing products, offer up the right valuable content at the right time, and continue to sell great products I’ve already poured time and money into. Not that I don't ever want to create something new again (quite the opposite, I'm itching over here!!), BUT I want to know that anything new I do create is on the foundation of a system that will continue to work for me. 

      It’s about making sure that my creative work is sustainable. 

      But this is where the notion of patience comes in. 

      For the past six weeks, I’ve spent nearly every day learning new email software (Drip), sketching out complex purchasing workflows, rewriting old content to breathe new evergreen life into it, rethinking how to personalize messaging so that you as a subscriber will get content tailored to where you are in your creative journey… 

      And, honestly, it’s been a slog. It's many hours of intense focus, feeling confused, always overwhelmed, and none of it is exactly glamorous or interesting enough (yet) to share.

      Meanwhile, when I look around I can see friends and peers launching new podcasts, creating new products, sharing on social media on a regular basis, being "out there" --and I can’t help but feel a little envious. I mean, that’s the fun part of running a creative business after all --making stuff and sharing it. 

      But every time I start to feel like the world around me is moving forward while I feel like I’m standing still, I remember what I’m trying to build and WHY. 

      I want a creative business that lasts.  

      The ethos that Jason and I live by is about working to LIVE, not living to work. We mold and shape our businesses in whatever way is most beneficial to designing the life we want to live everyday. 

      For us, that means flexibility. It means being able to travel or take time off or take a creative risk, without feeling like we’re perpetually in “launch mode” or “creation mode.” I have no doubt that we will always be creating, but as you know, creating from a place of scarcity is never as freeing or as rewarding as creating from a place of desire. 

      Right now, putting these complex systems in place for sustainability (i.e. flexibility) is requiring tons and tons of PATIENCE.

      Patience in fighting my instinct to share on Instagram every day. Or create that shiny new course idea I have. Or re-open the iPad Lettering for Beginners course just yet.  

      It’s holding out on building new skyscrapers across my bustling city so that I can repave the roads and reinforce the foundations of all my existing buildings. 

      And as the saying goes, “what got you here, won’t get you there.”

      I know I talk a lot around here about starting before you’re ready and just beginning something, even if you don’t know what or why yet. I still stand by that advice if you’re at square one and need to get some momentum going. 

      However, if you’re in a place where you need some time to regroup, to reconstruct the foundation of your creative business, or to be strategic about what you’re building… I encourage you to stay patient.

      Fight the urge to get that instant gratification and pull your focus away from the work you’re doing in the trenches. Remember that you’re putting in this time now for an upside that will be SO worth it in the future. 

      Patience asks us to reject what’s comfortable or easy in order to build something that lasts. 

      Patience helps you win your own game by allowing you to focus and prioritize. 

      Patience helps you win your own game because it teaches you to stop caring about the path everyone else is on and keep your attention on your own. 

      Patience helps you win your own game by giving you permission to work on what lasts rather than what’s popular. 

      Whether it’s in business or in life, great things take time. Patience is a skill worth cultivating if you’re in it for the long haul!

       

      Consider reminding yourself of your WHY and what will be waiting as a reward on the other side of that patience if you keep going. 

       
       

      Who Are You Giving Away Your Power To?

      There are a few core philosophies that I feel have made a huge impact on the trajectory of my life. 

      One of those core philosophies is the idea of ownership

      To me, ownership is the idea that while we are not always responsible for the circumstances that life throws at us or the cards we are dealt, we ARE responsible and in control of how we react in any given moment. 

      Life is a series of unpredictable questions, but ownership is about accepting that we get a say in how we answer them. 

      The first time I made this realization, it also occurred to me just how many excuses I was making in my life: 

      "I can't be a designer because I don't have a formal degree or training.”
      “My creative voice isn’t as unique as xyz artist.“
      “I’m a really sensitive person and rejection hits me particularly hard; that's why I'm not putting myself out there more.” 

      Those things may or may not be true, but one thing is sure: I was using them to opt myself out of things I really wanted. 

      It took me a while to see that self-limiting thoughts like these were really my way of choosing the easier route in my life. 

      Yes, I said easier. I know, I know… if you’ve ever found yourself in a spiral of self-doubt, it certainly doesn’t FEEL easy, does it? 

      But the truth is, if we accept our perceived limitations, we never have to push ourselves beyond what’s comfortable, and that can be the easier choice. It means we never have to rise to the challenge of overcoming those limitations. Of pushing past what we think is possible. Of OWNING the fullness of the life we’re capable of creating for ourselves. 

      See, with ownership comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes fear — fear of failure and carrying the burden of potentially disappointing ourselves. 

      But, trust me, what we risk in taking responsibility for our lives is far outweighed by what we stand to gain — our POWER.

      There are SO many times in life when we surrender our power to other people or even things. 

      Here are a just a few examples of ways we all can give away our power without realizing it: 

      To a significant other… 
      When we put the responsibility of feeling loved on the actions of a partner, we forget we have the power to love ourselves. When in a relationship, it’s natural to get caught up in what that person is or isn’t giving you, but in doing so you could be setting yourself up for always feeling disappointed, or even worse, unlovable. We have the power to make ourselves feel loved and cared for first, and realizing that power can often lead to more fulfilling and sustainable relationships. 

      To social media… 
      When we determine our self-worth based on the number of likes on a photo or the number of followers we have, we're letting arbitrary numbers and an algorithm dictate the confidence we have in our work. We're giving an app permission to take our power -- the power we have to cultivate our personal taste, to authentically love what we create, and to experience the pure joy of the creative process. 

      To our parents… 
      When we make choices about our careers or the path we choose based on what our parents want for us (not what we want for ourselves), we give them the power to dictate our happiness. We can still be grateful for the lessons they've taught us while staying true to where our hearts lead us.  

      Think about it — the list goes on and on, in moments both big and small. 

      The bad driver on the freeway who you give the power to steal your good mood. The teacher who said that one thing that one time and who still has you questioning your talent. The peer who you secretly envy and who diminishes your confidence because you keep a close eye on their work. 

      Each of these instances feels like it’s connected to an emotion we can’t control, but in truth WE are the ones that leave the door wide open for these feelings to creep in.

      So what do we do instead? How do we reclaim the power we have to control our own satisfaction, confidence, and love for ourselves? 

      By choosing to focus less on the validation we crave from others — whether it be a partner, a family member, a friend, or a stranger on the internet — and more on ways to find validation within ourselves. 

      We do it by wearing that outfit that feels edgy or quirky but that makes us feel beautiful. 

      We do it by sharing our creative work and not looking at how many likes it gets. 

      We do it by silencing the self-critical tapes on repeat in our heads and rewriting them with compliments to ourselves. 

      We do it by remembering that no one else on this earth has to walk the path of our decisions each day, only we do. So, though people close to us may not understand every move that we make… respectfully, we can choose not to care all that much anymore. 

      So, this week I challenge you to ask yourself: Who or what are you giving away your power to? 

      And, what’s perhaps more important -- what is one way you can take it back? 

      Wishing you all a powerful and confident week!  

       
       

      Ask Me Anything: How To Deal With Comparison, Finding Confidence When You're Lacking Experience, and Knowing When To Course Correct

      The questions in this post came straight from Made Vibrant readers in my email community, Self-Made Society. If you're not signed up yet, do so here! I asked subscribers to write back with one question they have for me, and I received dozens of responses, spanning topics like my creative process, creative business revenue streams, email list growth and marketing, pricing, and personal motivation. 

      I tried to answer them all by breaking them down into categories. This group pertains mostly to confidence and the creative mindset. 


      On dealing with comparison...

      Question:

      “Do you have a specific practice to help yourself when you start comparing your journey, yourself or your gifts to others?” 
      -- Submitted by: Rachel S.

      Answer:

      For a long time, honestly my strategy for dealing with comparison was just to try and avoid it altogether. I’d be on social media and scroll past a photo of a fellow artist that made me feel like my work wasn’t good enough or I’d start comparing my journey to theirs, and when I recognized the presence of that feeling, I’d simply hit unfollow. I thought, You can’t feel bad about what you can’t see, right?

      But I knew that wasn’t a winning strategy forever, because in doing so I wasn’t actually confronting the source of that comparison: me.

      Comparison is a natural part of the human condition. It stems from our deeply rooted biological wiring that tells us there are limited, finite resources and we need to be on alert to compete with those around us for those resources to ensure our survival. While this is incredibly helpful when we’re all cave people living off the land, it’s NOT very useful when we’re cultivating our creativity.  

      Finally I’m now entering a phase where I have enough confidence in what I’ve created these past few years that I don’t need to avoid comparison anymore. In fact, now I use that feeling as a guidepost, bringing my awareness to my own desires. When I scroll past an artist or fellow entrepreneur and I have that feeling, now I can ask myself: Where is this coming from? What it is that I see that person doing or having that I feel envious of or that makes me feel less than?

      Is it that they’ve developed a unique and distinct artistic style? Great, then I know I just need to create more things to work on that. Is it that they have dozens of comments from fans who love their work? Cool, then maybe it’s time to prioritize my community more. See what I mean -- I still experience that feeling, but now I can recognize it and use it as a motivator to keep creating (without beating myself up.) I don’t let comparison discourage me, I let it encourage me to keep going, to keep working.  

      **In short: If comparison is holding you back from creating, then do yourself a favor and block it out to focus on your own work. Keep your eye on your own journey, and don’t waste any precious time focusing on others. Cultivate confidence in the things you DO have, rather than what you don’t. And if you’re at the point where you’re ready to widen your view again and keep tabs on what peers are doing, then consider using that feeling of comparison as fuel to push you toward the desires that are still within you.**  

      Further reading: What To Do When Comparison Kills Your ConfidenceAre You Limiting Your Possibilities with a Scarcity Mindset?Room For Us All

      Consider using that feeling of comparison as fuel to push you toward the desires that are still within you.

      On creating with depression (or, in my case, anxiety)..

      Question:

      “I was wondering if you have any tips/ideas about designing with depression. Or more accurately, dealing with depression while designing. It's really hard for me to keep my creativity when I'm having a rough time and it kinda shuts down almost completely.”
      -- Submitted by: Perlin A.

      answer:

      As much as I wish I had a definitive answer for this, I don’t want to belittle the struggles of depression by pretending I know what it’s like to try and design with depression. I don’t. However, I do struggle with anxiety. Two years ago I went through a period when I was starting my business where it got so bad it was affecting me on a physical level -- dizziness, chest pains, shortness of breath. Every day it was all I thought about and it made working really difficult. The worst part was feeling like it would never get better. That every day was going to be like that going forward.

      I don’t know what brought about the change for me -- maybe the exhaustion of living like that for a few months -- but finally I said to myself: What if I just try convincing myself that it WILL get better, whether I believe it at first or not? What if I operate on the assumption that things WILL eventually improve?

      That shift in perspective was enough for me to start making the tiniest moves to climb out of the hole I felt in. My new belief freed up enough hard drive space in my brain that I could start to see the changes I needed to make to at least limit the things that were causing me anxiety, and to be more discerning with the projects I took on.

      As for how this applies to your story, my advice would be to first try my trick of convincing yourself that it won’t always be this hard. You may not even believe yourself at first, but trust me when I say that the underlying belief will give you a tiny bit of relief which you can use to free up a bit of energy and clarity. Then, I’d also say get really acquainted with yourself and your intuition. In my guide Connecting With Your Core, I talk about developing a language between your head and your heart. If you can develop a sense of mindfulness within yourself and clue into even the slightest things that either lift your mood or keep you feeling shrouded in depression, then you can take actions to do more of what lifts you up and less of what keeps you down.

      On a more practical level, my guess is that it’s not very predictable when you’re going to be feeling motivated to design or when you’re going to need time to take care of yourself. I know there are many MV readers that also have chronic illnesses and can relate to that. Because of that unique circumstance, I recommend coming up with a work process that allows for extra flexibility and time cushions. Maybe you take your design timelines and build in a few extra days when working with clients. This means that if you wake up one day and you’re not feeling it, you can focus on some other aspect of your work that doesn’t take quite as much brain or will power.

      **In short: Believe that it will get better. Build in time and processes that allow for flexibility, and give yourself permission to take care of yourself.**

      Further reading: Connecting With Your Core

      Build a process that allows for flexibility, and give yourself permission to take care of yourself.

      On finding the motivation to course correct...

      Question:

      “When you are in a ‘I don't like what I'm currently doing.. what's next for me’ phase.... What helps you take action?”
      -- Submitted by: Phil Aube

      Answer:

      Well, maybe this isn’t the most relatable answer but it’s the honest one! Here’s one gift-slash-curse that I’ve always had deeply embedded in my personality: once I make the realization that the current path I’m walking is the wrong one, it becomes actually painful for me to keep going down that path. Painful in this sense just means my core self feels so uncomfortable and resistant that it’s all I think about. I’ve become so intimately acquainted with my own core self and what it wants that when I’m out of alignment, it’s like my own inner voice is screaming at me “TIME TO CHANGE COURSE!”

      So to answer your question, what helps me take action is the recognition that the sooner I course-correct, the sooner I alleviate that psychic pain. Even if making that shift is uncomfortable (which it always is), I just remind myself that staying stuck on the wrong path is the MOST uncomfortable thing because to me it feels like a waste -- wasted potential, wasted time. We only get a certain number of moments on this earth and I intend to spend mine wisely (aka BRIGHTLY.)

      **In short: Ask yourself what’s more uncomfortable: taking action to get back to a path where you DO enjoy the way you’re spending your time (and life) or continuing to waste minutes and days and months doing something you know is out of alignment with what you truly want? Then, use that answer to motivate you to action.**

      Further reading: The Clarifying Power of Regret

      What’s more uncomfortable? Taking action to get back to an aligned path or continuing to do something you know is out of alignment with what you truly want?

      On balancing the less exciting parts of a creative business with the things that light you up...

      Question:
       

      "How do you refocus when you feel like you're just ‘checking boxes’ in your business? I understand that every day I'm not going to be completely passionate about every aspect of my business and some things are going to make me uncomfortable and I'm just going to have to DO THEM. But I also realize that energy and sharing my passion about something is what attracts people and I'm MORE effective when I'm passionate, white hot and excited.”
      -- Submitted by: Dr. Lauren Frauenheim

      Answer:

      I feel like this question is at the heart of what it means to run a soulful, heart-centered creative business! The foundation of your question is how to balance things that are necessary but less than stimulating in your business with the things that really light you up and get you excited.

      Honestly, this is a toughie for me because I think the answer is different for every person and where they are with business! I will say that I don’t believe anyone, especially solopreneurs, can run a business and be on fire with excitement for every single task in keeping up that business. That’s like online biz utopia and I’m just not sure that’s practical for most of us. The key, then, is in making sure that the aspects of running your business that you’d consider merely “checking boxes” are not stealing precious energy from the heart-aligned aspects. What I mean by that is,  while a task like emailing clients/customers maybe not soul-stirring or get you fired up, you just want to make sure that task is not soul-DRAINING. If there are aspects of your business that are actually taking a negative toll and preventing you from shifting your energy to that white hot excitement in other aspects, it’s time to rethink those tasks. See if you can outsource them or reframe them or do away with them altogether and change up your process to minimize that kinds of energy-zapping.

      On a more macro level, aside from just daily tasks, there may be times that you find yourself in a “checking boxes” phase altogether -- a time when you have to hit pause on the more creative and exciting projects in order to focus on ideas that are less exciting but more predictable in terms of income. This could be because you’re in a tight financial spot and you need to focus on bringing in some immediate cash so that you have the breathing room to feel excited again. As a creative who has found herself in that phase on more than one occasion, I think it’s perfectly normal. After all, we can’t do our soul’s work to our best ability when we’re worried about paying the bills all the time. So I think it’s totally helpful to give yourself permission to focus on the more “business-y” goals for a second in order to make breathing room for the white hot excitement. (And hey, if those things are one in the same, well more power to ya!)

      **In short: Not every aspect of your business is going to light your soul on fire with excitement and come flowing out of you with ease. That’s okay. Just make sure that whatever those less-than-thrilling aspects are, that they are a) not negatively impacting your spirit and b) at least helping you get to place and a greater goal that DOES light you up.**

      Further listening: I go into these ideas more in-depth in my interview with Tiffany Han on her podcast, Raise Your Hand Say Yes.

      The key is in making sure that the necessary mundane tasks are not robbing your soul of the joy it feels overall in your creative business.

      On finding confidence in your own creative process...

      Question:

      “How do you start a branding or an illustration project when you have a great idea of a theme, but you don't have any clue how should it look?”
      -- Submitted by: Zsuzsanna Németh

      Answer:

      The first thing I’ll offer up to you that might be a helpful mindset shift is this: there actually isn’t a way something “should” look. That’s what YOU get to create and decide! The whole fun of branding or illustration is uncovering the creative solution to a project throughout your process, whatever that might be. So perhaps it might free your creativity up a bit to start viewing your process in a spirit of openness as though it’s a discovery, rather than a linear path from idea to execution/solution. Viewing it in the latter way -- as if you’re “trying to find the right answer” -- puts pressure on you to hit a bullseye versus being open to new ideas and discoveries.

      Something that also might help you is developing a clear process for yourself to help you get from point A -- like a “theme” -- to an end product. For example, in my branding process, I have many different “checkpoints” along my process that carry me through to a final brand. I begin with a conceptual brief, then I decide on five tone words, I create a mood board, pick out exploratory colors, then choose typography, design a logo and round it out with graphic elements. Each part of that process is like another tiny ingredient or piece that I can add to my branding stew, which helps me land on a “flavor” that feels right rather than just trying to go from a general theme and stare at a blank piece of paper (or Illustrator art board!)

      **In short: Break your design process down into bite-sized stages and allow yourself to be open to possibilities during that process. The more you can view your work as a discovery process rather than a test, the less pressure you’ll feel and your creativity will be free to express itself.**

      The more you can view your work as a discovery process rather than a test, the less pressure you’ll feel.

      On teaching yourself a new creative skillset without becoming overwhelmed...

      Question:

      “I have always had an interest in graphic/web design, and decided to start pursuing that as a career. My original thought was to go back to school… but I'm now going with Plan B, which is teaching myself. Sounds awesome in theory, but lately, I've been feeling overwhelmed and discouraged - there are SO many different classes to take and programs to learn that it just makes me want to take a nap and forget about it! There's also the recurring feeling that most creatives have of, ‘LOL there's no way I can do this and come out as talented as these people I'm looking at on social media.’ “
      -- Submitted by: Nicole S.

      Answer:

      As far as the idea of “I’m not as talented as these people on social media,” that kind of comparison is natural when you’re starting out, especially when you’re self-taught. See my earlier answer about comparison on that front!

      I did also want to offer up some advice about teaching yourself graphic and web design, which is what I did! In the beginning, it’s all definitely very overwhelming: Which programs should I learn? Are my skills good enough, etc? Most people make the mistake of thinking they need to learn everything under the sun and master all the programs, which can oftentimes leave you feeling, as you said, like all you want to do is take a nap! My advice is to start with one very specific skill and one program in mind to learn. Once you get comfortable and master that, you can layer in new skills and new applications over time, as the opportunities pop up.

      For example, I started out learning photoshop so I could create graphics to spruce up my blog (this was back in 2011!) Since I had a very specific program (Photoshop) and a specific reason for using it, it helped me seek out the online courses and resources that pertained to that one thing. Then I learned how to create blog post graphics, then a new blog logo. Once I felt comfortable, more people were asking to hire me to do their branding and I felt it was time to expand my skills to Illustrator. The same thing happened when I got a big branding project and they wanted a Brand Guidelines PDF -- that’s when I felt it was time to invest in learning InDesign to create a document like that.

      **In short: Start with one specific skill and program to teach yourself, then upgrade or evolve your skills as the circumstances require more of you. Keep expanding your portfolio as you keep creating work. Narrowing your focus will help you fight that feeling of overwhelm, and the only remedy for comparison syndrome or lack of confidence is to keep creating until you believe in your voice and your own work.**

      Further reading: Follow Your Curiosity And It Could Change Your Life

      Start with one specific skill to teach yourself, and upgrade or evolve your skills as the circumstances require more of you.

      On figuring out the entrepreneurial path that best aligns with who you are...

      Question:

      “My question is all about how to start the entrepreneurial journey. I'll soon be out of college and would love to start by own business(es) but I'm quite lost regarding what to do... where to find the clients, and especially how to convince them I'm adequate enough even if I'm new-ish (but know I can do a good job nonetheless because I have the skills). Actually I modify that first part: not how to find what to do but how to prioritize as well so that it aligns with you!”
      -- Submitted by: Camila R.

      Answer:

      Here’s the thing about starting out and know what aligns with you. Unfortunately there's just no other answer than: experiment. When you’re fresh out of college, those first few years you are changing SO much. You’re figuring out where you want to live, who your friends are, how you want to spend your time, etc. so that target of alignment is going to be constantly shifting. To really know what you want at any given moment, you’ll need to engage in all kinds of things and activities. The best advice I can give you in the regard is to PAY ATTENTION. Get to know yourself, your intuition, and the signals your body sends you. What kinds of activities feel freeing and which feel confining? That will help you navigate and course-correct as you move forward.

      As far as turning all of that into your own business, yes, it can be hard when you’re starting out and you don't have that much experience. (You may know that your skills are good enough, but you also need to show that to others if you want them to pay your or hire you.) Just remember that you are in control of how much experience you get. If you believe in your skills (and it sounds like you do) but people won’t hire you without experience, find time to take on small projects free of charge. Ask for testimonials. Hone your process. Use those experiences to build a portfolio so that when you do try to get paying clients, you have something to point to. Everything will likely feel uncertain in the beginning because you’ve never done it before but the more you’re able to withstand that uncertainty, the faster you’ll be able to get that experience and the more confidence you’ll have in charging what you’re worth.

      **In short: Learn what you want and what feels good to you by experimenting. Test the waters on many things, and prioritize accordingly. If you’re worried about lack of experience, take on small projects for free to build a portfolio. Don’t just tell people what you can do, show them.**

      Further reading: 5 Crucial Steps To Building A Profitable Online Business (see especially point #4: Do the work.)

      Learn what you want and what feels good to you by experimenting.

      On honing your creative voice...

      Question:

      “How long did it take to get your "voice" dialed in? Did people respond right away or did you have to make stuff for a while until you got it right?”
      -- Submitted by: Katy S.

      Answer: 

      I would say that the first iteration of trying to hone my creative voice was when I started my first blog back in 2011. For the first three years or so I didn't really feel like I knew what my voice was -- what I wanted to talk about, what made me different, how I wanted to write. But the best decision I made back then was to write on a consistent basis, because that’s how I was able to not only get better at infusing my personality into my writing, but to look back over the course of time and find patterns.  

      To answer your question specifically, no people didn't respond right away. There was a long part in the beginning when I was really just experimenting and figuring things out, without expecting anything in return from readers. Then, I feel like once I got some clarity on my message and my voice, I started communicated with more confidence. That allowed me to attract an audience of people that “got it” and that’s when the response started to happen. People started to resonate. But it all begins with that exploration and clarity phase. It begins with letting go of perfectionism and the fear of “getting it wrong.” If you’re able to start from a place of curiosity and embrace the messiness of the beginning, that’s when you’re on the journey to finding your voice. It's about finding what YOU love and what you want to create. Once you have a better sense of that, share with confidence to a clearly-defined audience and things will surely start to resonate.

      **In short: Finding your creative voice takes exploration and creating with consistency. Once you narrow in on what you want to share and your unique way of sharing it, doing so with confidence to a clearly-defined audience is the recipe for creating something that resonates.**

      Further reading: 5 Tips For Uncovering Your Unique Creative Voice

      Finding your creative voice takes exploration and creating with consistency.

      On the value of experimentation..

      Question:

      "If there's one vital/helpful information you hope you knew before you started this journey, what would it be?"
      -- Submitted by: Lyndee Katanyag

      Answer:

      Great question! SO many things! But if I had to boil it down to one impactful thing, I think it would be this reminder: Life is an experiment.

      I’ve written about this many times in different ways (like here and here) but the main reason this is a powerful guiding force for me is just that it reminds me that you won’t know unless you try. Every person, every business, every life -- we’re all different. The advice or blueprint that works for one person doesn’t always translate to another. We’re all looking for the roadmap not realizing that no one holds the right one because no one has ever lived THIS life, THIS way, at THIS particular time before. So the only real way to know what feels right in your gut, or what works for your business, is to get out there and experiment. Create, test, try, fail, and learn from the results.

      There are still times when I find myself stuck thinking and strategizing and standing still, afraid to move forward because of the What ifs. And I KNOW there are SO many creatives with so much potential out there right now, afraid start the blog or start the business because they don't know if it's the right thing. What they don’t realize (and what I had to learn) was that ANY move you make is ultimately the right one because just one step forward in reality (even the wrong step) will teach you far more than standing still or moving forward only in your mind. We can make all the assumptions in the world but until we actually run the experiment, until we actually do the thing, we won't really know the outcome.

      This one phrase also reminds me that the variables in this experiment of life are always changing. If my aim is to design a life and business around my values, then I have to constantly be checking in with myself to ask what those values are. I have to understand that I myself am a moving target and sometimes the only way to know if something aligns with my vision for my life is to simply go out there and try it. If I fail or if I decide it doesn’t feel right, I can remind myself that it’s still a win because I learned something from the experiment.

      **In short: To learn, you must DO. And to do, you must embrace experimentation. The circumstances for the experiment of life are always changing, so give yourself permission to evolve along the way.**

      Further reading: Life Is An Experiment; How To Embrace Experimentation In Your Creative Business

      To learn, you must DO. And to do, you must embrace experimentation.

      Hope you enjoyed this Q&A post -- more installments coming soon!

      How To Start A Creative Business: Focus on the Foundation First

      I started my first blog back in 2011. 

      May 18, 2011 to be exact. How do I know this? Well my first post still exists. You can read it here. (But not yet! You have a whole email to get through first before I lose you to the time machine/rabbit hole known as the internet. SO keep reading then you can satisfy your curiosity by seeing what the 2011 version of me found so interesting to write about…)

      Back when I started this first blog, I had just ONE intention: get the thoughts and ideas swirling in my head out and “on paper.” I felt like I had things to say and every day that went by without saying them felt like a waste of creative potential.  

      My own self-doubt was my greatest challenge, so just hitting ‘publish’ on a post was a HUGE win for me. The more posts I published, the less fearful I felt. The more confidence I gained. 

      Once I got a handle on my doubt and cultivated the self-discipline to sit down and actually write, my One Intention evolved. 

      I actually want people to read this, I thought. So I shared links to my blog posts on Facebook with my friends. And on Twitter with people following me. And people started to read my posts and share them. I started to build a tiny audience of people who cared about what I was making and what I had to say. 

      For the next three years, it didn’t even occur to me to try and turn this creative outlet into a business. I let pure passion and curiosity direct my time and attention. I taught myself design and Photoshop. I honed my voice and my writing skills. I learned how to stick to a content schedule and to get over my perfectionism. I figured out what I believed in. 

      All of these things turned out to be essential in building a strong foundation for the creative business that would evolve from it all by 2014 when Made Vibrant was born. That’s when my One Intention became finding a way to turn my creative expression into something of value for others, something my small audience of people might pay me for. 

      Now… why am I sharing all of this with you and taking you down Made Vibrant Memory Lane? 

      It’s actually to illustrate a point that I think could help SO many of you out there, especially those of you still searching for a way to turn your skills and passions into a business. It's starts with this advice:

      Focus on trying to walk before you try to run. 

      I know you’re probably searching for the blog posts or the online programs or courses that are going to give you that one magical shortcut — the thing that is going to take you from no audience to a paying audience like yesterday. And it’s only natural for you to want that, especially with how many more resources there are now online about how to start your business. 

      Trust me when I say this, though:

      Searching for a shortcut is actually just distracting you from the one tactic guaranteed to be effective: putting in the TIME. 

      Searching for a shortcut is actually just distracting you from the one tactic guaranteed to be effective: putting in the TIME.

      Every day and month and, yes, YEAR that goes by while you try to plan out the perfect strategy, that is all time that you could have spent actually making something, which is the foundation for any profitable creative business. Time you could have spent honing your voice and your skills. Time spent figuring out what YOU believe in.   

      It’s all too tempting to focus on the big, complex, well-oiled machine thing right out of the gate. You want the polished brand, the booming blog, the online products bringing you passive income, the adoring audience with thumbs and hearts and comments at the ready, the segmented content based on interests, the podcast interview requests, the book deal and the sponsored travel.

      If this is what you’re chasing down though, it’s likely that you’re going to find yourself with a lot of half-baked ideas, more spinning plates than you can handle, and a lot of unmet expectations. 

      Instead, I recommend doing what my 2011 self did. Begin with ONE intention: to get your ideas out of your head. 

      Hone your message. Develop your confidence. Figure out what you want to say. Better yet, figure out HOW you want to say it by going within to understand who you are and what makes your perspective on the world one-of-a-kind.

      To put it simply: focus on the foundation first. 

      All big, beautiful trees must begin with a seed, right? This seed may be a simple beginning, but it is powerful with potential. From it, a network of strong and sturdy roots begins to spread, creating a foundation that will support whatever complex growth this tree might undergo in the future. 

      If I was starting my business over from the beginning, here’s how I would start simple and layer in the complexity as I grew. 
       

      1. Begin by making things FOR YOURSELF. Practice getting those ideas out of your head and into reality. What is your craft? How can you improve it and develop your own unique recognizable style or approach to what you do? Do you enjoy what you do? Would you still do it if no one ever paid you for it? There is no shortcut to making things, so start TODAY. Quit strategizing and start making.    
         
      2. Share your work (consistently). Once you know your intention is pure and your craft is somewhat focused, you’re in the best place to connect with an audience. However, you can’t build an audience of people who value what you do if they can’t see what you do. Create a portfolio. Share your writing. Post your artwork. Take on pro bono work. Whatever you need to do to make your work visible, do that. Stay connected to your audience with a newsletter or through email correspondence — social media changes all the time but email is still the best way to maintain a line of communication with your audience that you control. 
         
      3. Identify ways to package your skills. AFTER you’ve spent time building an audience and you know you have something that connects, consider ways that someone could pay you in exchange for your skills, services or work. Then... ask. Avoid making assumptions about what people will or won't pay for. Instead, test those assumptions by making the ask and learning from the results. 
         
      4. Evolve, evolve, and evolve some more. It’s entirely possible that you’ll go through several ideas — some winners, some losers — while you figure out a business offering that connects with your audience AND makes you sustainable income. That’s okay. That is the core challenge of being a creative entrepreneur. If you can’t find a way to enjoy that process of trial and error, well it’s possible that owning your own business may not be the right path for you. 
         
      5. Optimize your processes and deepen the connection with your audience. Many people make the mistake of trying to over-optimize before they have any sustainable revenue streams, and this is what leaves them completely overwhelmed and exhausted. (I've been guilty of this myself.) It’s probably not all that helpful to distract yourself with automation and list segmenting and marketing to new audiences if you don’t even have a product or service offering that is working yet. Remember, focus on the foundation BEFORE you add unnecessary complexity to your business. That is the key to not completely burning out before you land on something that works. 


      I know we all want to skip ahead to “the good part.” The part where it’s all working smoothly, we're making a sustainable living, and we get to spend our days creating and doing what we love. 

      But trust me, for the sake of your creativity and your sanity, begin with the roots and THEN branch out as you go, when it makes sense. 

      If you give yourself permission to block out the branches for now, to focus on the foundation — planting the seed or strengthening the roots — you may finally get that “shortcut” you’ve been hunting for in the form of some good old fashioned hard work. 😉

       
       

      Knowing When To Scrap Your Plan & Embrace the Art of Course Correction

      At the beginning of each year, I make a plan. 

      The intention of this plan is to offer myself a macro-level target of how I want to feel, what I hope to accomplish, how I want to stretch myself, where I hope to travel, and then, after all that, how I plan to actually fund that ideal with the various business offerings and ideas I have. 

      The great thing about making this kind of plan is that it gives you something to aim for. Without something to aim for, the uncertainty and the infinite possibilities that laid out before us at all times become almost too much to bear (at least this is the case for a sensitive, worrisome soul like me.) 

      So yes, in January, Jason and I both made The Plan for the year, and I found that comforting. That is until about six weeks into 2017 when I looked around and began to notice that the foundation upon which this Plan had been built started to shift. 

      For one, Jason and I decided to get married (just a tiiiiiiny little curve ball I hadn't accounted for!) We also agreed to team up together on BuyOurFuture, something we had only tossed around as an idea before. More and more of those unforeseen things started to pop up and before I knew it, our circumstances had shifted. Our priorities had shifted. More travel had been booked. Motivation for certain projects had gained momentum while feelings about other projects had cooled. In other words, LIFE had happened to us (as it tends to do), and my big macro Plan was starting to seem pretty ill-suited to the circumstances I found myself in. 

      But this shouldn't surprise any of you, right? I'm sure many of you can relate now that we're almost halfway through 2017. This is how life works.of course We can't predict the future, so of course a plan we make in January needs to be adjusted come May to take into consideration new developments. 

      Now, normally I would agree whole-heartedly with this. In fact, any of you who've been getting these newsletters for months or years know that I'm no stranger to a good old-fashioned course-correction. 

      For some reason though, despite the ever-sharpening realization that this Plan of mine needed a major overhaul, this time around I stayed stubbornly on the same path. I found myself still desperately clinging to intentions that started to feel less and less aligned every day. 

      To offer up some specific context, here's what a big part of my plan for this year looked like — reinvesting time and energy into my hand-lettering work and resources. The Better Lettering Course is one of my best-selling products, I LOVE when people tell me it encourages them to express creativity they didn't know they had, and these days there's obviously no shortage of people hoping to practice their lettering skills. 

      Great! Or so I thought. The idea all along had been to focus my attention on updating the Better Lettering Course, creating my new iPad Lettering for Beginners course, and writing high quality content in the form of weekly tutorials to increase my sales, stabilizing Made Vibrant's monthly revenue a bit to balance out BuyOurFuture. From a business perspective, this plan is literally foolproof. I've already tested the revenue lift from adding content to a weekly lettering newsletter -- it consistently moves sales of the course. 

      So, still armed with my Plan, I buckled down to get the new course ready before we left for Italy, with the intention of spending May and June working on the content to attract new customers and lettering lovers who'd be interested in purchasing one or both courses. 

      The only problem? I'm no longer the same person who made the Plan five months ago. Heck, I'm not even sure I'm the same person I was five weeks ago before we left for Italy.  

      While on our trip (and, if I'm honest with myself, even before that) I could feel myself coming back to life again after a period of intense creative fatigue. 

      See, when I made my big 2017 Plan, the truth is that I was tired. I don't mean physically tired, I mean creatively and spiritually tired. 

      Bringing to life my digital mindfulness magazine Color Your Soul at the end of last year was incredibly rewarding, but it also required a level of introspection and creative production that I couldn't imagine. That, coupled with my daily art project where I was spending hours reflecting on my own life and expressing it on a daily basis, ultimately left me feeling burned out. Last year was a season of intense growth and creative production, and I think part of this 2017 Plan was my way of reaching for permission to take a step back and nurture projects that a) had already been for the most part created and b) required less soul-baring vulnerability. 

      But, with enough time and space to recharge, throughout the past month or so I've been able to feel myself missing that soul-baring work that is SO central to what makes me feel vibrant. Missing it A LOT actually.

      That rich, messy space between personal growth and creativity is where my soul wants to live, it just needed a reboot to come back to it with a fresh perspective and renewed gratitude. I can now feel the pull of my art studio coming back to me. I'm aware again of those daily insights that were always revealing themselves to me last year — when I was open to them. 

      All of these shifts became even more apparent while we were traveling through Italy. Each new experience and smell and thought and conversation filled me up with inspiration. My soul was doing a happy dance imagining what art and writing and ideas might be created from it all. 

      But… 

      Then we returned home and guess what was waiting for me: The Plan. 

      There it was enticing me with its comfort. ("You don't want to go back to that place of scary uncertainty, do you? Here's a nice, tidy plan you've already taken the time to lay out!")

      There it was taunting me with its criticism. ("Can't you just follow-through completely on ONE thing you set out to do?")

      There it was persuading me with its sunk cost bias. ("You've already invested all this time and effort… You don't want all that to be for nothing, do you?") 

      For all these reasons I told myself I needed to stick to The Plan, despite my intuition telling me it was time to course-correct. 

      Until, thankfully, I called upon the same lesson I've had to learn over and over and over again: 

      The pain we experience in our own evolution only comes from our resistance to letting go of what came before. 

      Maybe I was clinging so tightly to this path I'd mentally carved out because of the creative fatigue I mentioned. Maybe it was because I was sick of having to make yet another shift or course-correction, and I just wanted that sense of completion that I so rarely get when I'm evolving all the time. Or maybe it's because I had a sunk-cost bias that was holding me back from changing directions, feeling like I had wasted time and energy on something I was no longer going to see to fruition. 

      Whatever the reason, my spirit was now asking me to engage in a different pursuit, and I know from experience that my brightest life exists in listening to that request and letting it lead. 

      I don't regret making The Plan -- I needed it. I needed it so that my creative spirit could rest for a while, to grow stronger again and to gain some perspective. But, now she's back. She's well-rested, dialed in, and she's ready to find the next challenge that makes her feel vibrant and alive. 

      So it's time to write a new Plan, one that is better suited for this recharged soul.  

      The new plan is to make magic again. 

      To me that means writing more. Painting more. Having real conversations. Going deeper. Uncovering more. Seeking out new challenges. Sharing my daily experiences in a way that goes one step deeper. 

      It means re-committing to the idea that Made Vibrant as a business isn't just about teaching art, it's about BEING art. It's about using creativity to discover and RE-discover ourselves. 

      When I ask myself how I want to be spending my time in the immediate future — making lettering tutorial videos or sharing the deepest, realest parts of my ever-evolving experiences as a creative person — the next iteration of the Plan suddenly becomes abundantly clear. 

      I won't cling to a roadmap that no longer feels aligned with who I'm becoming. 

      I won’t cling to a roadmap that no longer feels aligned with who I’m becoming. 

      Now... What lessons do I want to offer up to you from this experience and this latest shift of mine? 
       

      #1: PLANS ARE INCREDIBLY VALUABLE AS A PLACE TO *BEGIN*.

      I'm still a big believer in planning because, as I said, it gives you something to aim for. Something -- even the wrong thing -- in my opinion is more valuable than standing still. Even the mis-steps and the dead ends teach us something. As the author Garrison Keillor says, "It's all material," and I believe that to be true about writing AND about life. Without my own experiment of trying this version of my Plan and having that feeling as a point of comparison, I wouldn't have the conviction that I have right now to rededicate myself to my art and more soulful content.
       

      #2: DON'T LET YOUR LOYALTY TO A PLAN PROPEL YOU FURTHER DOWN A PATH THAT DOESN'T FEEL TRUE.

      That doesn't necessarily mean give up before seeing a plan to its completion; it just means be honest with yourself when it's time to shift gears and then (here's the kicker) actually take steps to make that shift. Pay attention to the signs your intuition is trying to share with you about charting a new course. Recognize your sunk cost bias, and ask yourself if it's worth continuing down a path that will only be harder to shift the longer you're on it.
       

      #3: ALLOW YOURSELF TO EMBRACE THE EVOLUTION.

      Listen, in my opinion, if we're doing this whole human being thing correctly, then we're going to be changing all the time. Every six months I feel like I'm a new version of myself with slightly (or not so slightly) different wants and needs and desires and dreams. We have to honor that if we're really interested in living full-color, vibrant lives. Is it frustrating to constantly feel like you're in a state of flux? Well, yeah, but it's also what makes life fun and exciting. The sooner we embrace that, the more time we'll spend in alignment with what our souls truly want.
       

      #4: HAVE SOME SELF-COMPASSION WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF LEARNING THAT SAME LESSON OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

      That last statement I made about "allowing yourself to embrace the evolution" — yeah, I've probably written a newsletter about that exact topic in different terms every six months for the past three years. And yet, every time I'm in the midst of another shift, I try to fight it. And I have to learn the SAME set of lessons all over again. The newest difference though? I'm no longer interested in beating myself up over it. With every new evolution, I'm able to pivot a little faster, with a little less guilt, with a little more self-compassion, and I know I'll probably continue to do that for the rest of my life. You too might have to relearn the same lessons, but as long as you're becoming more resilient and still finding your way back to your truth each time, I think that's all we can ask of ourselves. 

      ___


      So that's where I am. Riding the wave of this latest shift, rewriting The New Plan as I go. 

      I've given myself one week to plan the launch of the iPad Lettering for Beginners course (because, y'all, it's a badass course that teaches you every nook and cranny of my favorite digital art app Procreate app and it deserves to be shared.) But then I'm going to scrap my long-term content plan in order to transfer my limited time and attention back to creating what makes my heart happiest… The soulful, creative stuff. The never-ending journey to becoming vibrant. The always fascinating, usually uncomfortable lifelong process of designing our lives as we peel back the layers of ourselves. 

      I hope you'll still be right there with me as I figure it all out! 

       
       

      My Rules For Selling Authentically (Even When You’re Terrified)

      When my husband Jason and I decided to combine forces and offer all of our courses and products under one big “BuyOurFuture” launch earlier in 2017, that sales process required me to do more "promoting" than I have ever done in my career as a business owner.

      I’ll admit, even three years into my business, that process was not entirely comfortable to me. There were still plenty of moments before I hit send on a sales email or posted an announcement to social media when I thought to myself: Is this too much? Am I being too "salesy"? (Whatever that means.)

      My guess is you’ve been there too with a product or service you’ve tried to sell. Maybe it felt weird. Maybe it STILL feels weird. 

      Well this week I wanted to share with you how I’ve learned to push past those fears and sell in a way that feels authentic to who I am and in a way that feels aligned with Made Vibrant as a brand. 

       

      A FEW REASONS WHY SELLING FEELS ICKY SOMETIMES:

      1 | It requires vulnerability. 

      At its core, selling is an ASK. It’s going out on a limb. It’s putting yourself in a position of potential rejection, and the truth is that we’re hard-wired to avoid rejection. My bet is, if you’re afraid to sell something you’ve made or promote it more, the #1 thing holding you back is this feeling of vulnerability. 

      You’re worried someone will judge you for trying, or that someone will call you a “sellout,” or maybe you’re worried no one will buy so deep down you’d rather protect your ego by not really trying to promote at all. 

      I'm certainly not immune to this. I told Jason when he came to me with the idea of combining forces for BuyOurFuture that I didn’t think anyone from the Made Vibrant audience would buy. In fact, I told him I felt incredibly uncomfortable making a $2,000 ask to my audience, especially when my products normally range from $20 to $400. 

      Where was all this self-doubt coming from? The truth is, I was afraid. Afraid of putting myself out there and being rejected. Using the rules I outline in this article below, I was able to push past that fear, and boy am I glad I did because the Made Vibrant crew actually brought in 25% of our BOF sales (THANK YOU for that, by the way.) 35% of sales were attributed to Jason’s audience, 35% attributed to sources outside our audiences, and 5% were attributed to both of us. That outcome just goes to show you that challenging our assumptions about ourselves and risking that vulnerability can actually pay off.
       

      2 | We've experienced bad selling. 

      We’ve all had that awful feeling when someone is making a “hard sell” to us in a situation that feels unwelcomed. Maybe it’s a sleazy car salesman trying to "close the deal" when you’re only browsing or one of those mall kiosk people chasing you down to rub “life-changing” lotion on the back of your hand or even an internet marketer pulling the old bait and switch on a webinar that they’ve insisted is information only. Ew, right? Those feelings usually feel extremely dissonant to us and conjure up feelings of dishonesty and unease. 

      That’s why when it comes to selling ourselves, we’re acutely aware of NOT creating those feelings for other people. As sensitive humans interested in living authentically, we’ll do anything to avoid being lumped in with those kind of promoters in the world, the pushy ones, the chasers, the bait-and-switchers.
       

      3 | Persuasion can feel inauthentic. 

      It would be fantastic if we all made our amazing products and the amazing-ness was enough for people to find them, buy them, and love them. But, unfortunately, in this attention-fragmented world, that’s just not the case. 

      There are SO many messages people are getting every day, and in order to make a purchasing decision, sometimes they need a bit of convincing. 

      When I said that word convincing just then, did it make your gut wince a bit? 

      My guess is it did because you don’t want to “convince anyone of anything.” Am I right? I know this because that’s exactly how I felt too. Until I realized that even the most eager customers want some level convincing. 

      Heck, even I, headed to Madewell to purchase a replacement pair of my FAVORITE black skinny jeans (because my other ones that I wear every single day wore a hole right in the crotch ), even I want a little convincing while I’m in that darn store. And I drove to the mall with the intention of buying! Even in that scenario, a sales associate telling me that those are her favorite pair too or that the wash looks great on me -- those are sales messages I welcome because I want to WANT to buy those jeans. Know what I mean?

      The point is: People want to feel good about the money they spend and the purchases they make. So persuasion doesn’t have to mean manipulation; it can simply mean offering up as much honest information as you can about your product/service and its benefits so that the person purchasing feels great about spending their hard-earned money on your stuff. 

       

      MY 5 RULES FOR SELLING AUTHENTICALLY:

      So by now you might be thinking… yeah, yeah… I already KNOW why I hate the idea of selling, but what the heck do I do about it?! Great question. 

      Fresh off of the BuyOurFuture launch window, a time when I’ve done more “selling” than any other project in my life, I thought I’d offer up my personal five rules for selling authentically. These are the ways that I’ve developed over the years to overcome some of the hangups listed above, while still feeling true to who I am in the process. 
       

      1 | Give value before you make an ask. 

      This should be Online Business 101 stuff here, but it begs repeating. For any of you out there who haven’t come across this basic tenant of digital marketing, here’s the first foundational key of building an audience that trusts you enough to pay for your products or services (especially as an infopreneur or freelancer) -- GIVE before you ask to take. 

      In business as it is in friendships, it’s about trust. Every time you deliver value to someone without asking them for anything in return, you’re making deposits in a trust bank. You’re showing them that your primary focus is not to squeeze every last cent out of them, it’s primarily to HELP and secondarily to earn your living. 

      Now, the downside of this giving model is that in a world where we have free YouTube tutorials and free blog posts and free email courses and free ebooks… the reality is that there will be an expectation among certain followers that they can get everything from you for free. These people might be especially enraged when, after weeks and weeks of, say, helpful Mondaymorning emails and free workshops, you release something with a price tag on it. 

      That’s okay. That’s the cost of doing business, and you can’t worry about a small faction of your audience that has no intention of helping you support yourself. 

      That group of people, however, is different from the group who may never buy from you but who love and appreciate every ounce of free value that you offer. In order to make this give-then-ask approach feel sincere and not like a transactional way to guilt people into buying from me, I’ve mentally made the decision that if someone stays on my email list for the entire life of my business, signs up for every free workshop and downloads every free worksheet, and never buys a single thing -- the genuine truth is that I care about that person as a member of Made Vibrant too. I make that decision in my mind because then delivering value does not become about trying to create some sort of power dynamic where you expect something in return.

      Finally, notice I said give before you ask, not “give before you take.” In order for selling to feel authentic, you have to remember that it’s an ask, not a demand. Framing it that way in your head will help you write language that separates you from the mall kiosk salesmen that you’re trying to so hard to distance yourself from.  
       

      2 | Think permission, not interruption. 

      Now let’s talk about the context under which you’re promoting yourself or selling a product. 

      In those examples I listed of times you and I have been sold to when it felt icky, it’s not necessarily because of the selling exclusively (hello, we humans like to BUY stuff in case you haven’t noticed.) It was likely the context under which you were being sold that made you feel uneasy. It was likely in a scenario where you were being interrupted. You never raised your hand or provided permission for that person to peddle their wares to you, so it probably felt especially abrupt to be pulled out of your current objective and state of mind to listen to a sales pitch. 

      Instead of providing an interruption for people, try providing an invitation for permission. Seth Godin talks about this a lot, but it goes back to what we discussed in the last point: trust. 

      Someone could offer you permission in the form of signing up for your newsletter, or making a previous purchase from you, or clicking through an email or even following you on social media. They have said, “Hey, I’m interested in what you have to say,” therefore you’re no longer interrupting them without prior context. 

      (This is why private Facebook messages from your college friends trying to sell you Rodan + Fields or [insert other product here] feel weird to you. You haven’t given permission to be sold to so it feels out of context.)
       

      3 | Build an amazing product and price it fairly. (Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean “price it cheaply.”) 

      The first two points are helpful basics for selling authentically, but this point is the ultimate key to not feeling gross when you’re promoting: Make sure the thing you’re promoting is GREAT.

      It becomes SO much easier to sell to your audience when you believe sincerely in the benefit that your product or service offers. When you focus on that and re-frame selling as a way to help improve the lives of people with your kick-ass product, then it becomes a HECK of a lot easier. 

      Think of it this way: someone, somewhere is desperately looking for the awesome thing you’re offering. (If they’re not, you may want to rethink your product or service concept.) How happy will they be if they’re able to find your product? But, that’s not going to happen if you don’t tell anyone it exists.

       

      4 | Remember that the alternative to making money is NOT making money. 

      AKA it's perfectly okay to not want to be broke. There’s no shame in the earning-a-living game.

      Whenever I feel uneasy or scared about putting myself out there and promoting my projects, I remind myself WHY I’m doing it in the first place. Not only do I believe in the things I create and the value they offer, but I have no problem admitting the life I want for myself includes being my own boss. I can’t maintain that life if I don’t earn money, so when it comes time to launch something or promote it, I remind myself of the two choices I have: 1) avoid the fear of selling but risk not making any money OR 2) put myself out there so I can keep doing this work that I love.

      We don’t get mad when the plumber sends us the bill for fixing the toilet. Not if it’s fairly priced and he did a good job. That’s because we understand he’s using his skills to support his lifestyle and his family. So, remember, you’re doing the same.

       

      5 | Talk like a human. 

      Mostly I've found that what makes selling easier is by simply talking like a REAL person, a person who has a thing they sincerely believe can help another person.

      It's about being honest, and it's about being earnest.

      If I lead with transparency and sincerity, ultimately I feel  people can sense that. And if my product isn't a match for what they need, at least they know I'm not trying to swindle them into something.

       

      BONUS: DON’T DEFINE YOURSELF BY THE NUMBERS.

      Here’s the last caveat that I’ll add to all of this: Remember that you are MORE than your sales. Or your bank account. Or your social media followers. 

      Sometimes you’re going to create things that no one buys and you’re going to wonder WHY. You’re going to feel like you went out on a limb, you overcame all the fears I listed out above, and you tried to sell in a way that felt true to you. And YET -- you’re still going to feel like you did something wrong. 

      Please don’t let that feeling stop you. Take a look at your plan and view it as an experiment. What can you change? Can you provide more value or context up front to earn trust before you make the ask? Can you tweak your product so it’s even more amazing and a no-brainer? Can you adjust the language in your sales pitch to be more honest and authentic to who you are?

      Selling is not easy, but it does get more comfortable the more that you do it. You gain confidence every time you shimmy out on that limb and you make the ask. 

      People can't buy what they don't know about, and people WON'T buy what they don't care about.

      People can’t buy what they don’t know about, and people WON’T buy what they don’t care about.


      Do it in a way that feels honest and contextually relevant. Lead with value. Communicate in a way that sounds like YOU. 

      THAT is how you earn a living WHILE making the world a better place with your creative gifts. And there's certainly no shame in that.

       
       

      Why Dreaming Small Could Be The New Dreaming Big

      1.14_Dream.jpg

      The other day I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram (ugh, I hate even typing those words of admission, but alas it’s true!) and I saw some version of this quote:

      “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

      I found myself stopping abruptly mid-scroll, staring at these words. Why? I mean, it’s not the first time I’ve seen them after all. For some reason though, this time around they hit me right in the heart, and even more surprisingly, they actually made me mad.

      Who says our dreams have to be BIG, anyway? I retorted defensively in my head.

      I understand, of course, the positive intention behind these words. They’re about courage. About believing we’re capable of more than we might first think.

      But (as most of you know who have been on this list for a while) increasingly I’m becoming more suspicious of this word MORE.

      Why must we always be told to want more? Why must we always be told to want bigger?

      Everywhere I look, I see these messages repeated: Dream bigger. Aim higher. Achieve greatness. Put your big, bold vision out into the universe and you can make it happen.

      But do we ever stop to ask ourselves if a big dream is what we really want? 

      But do we ever stop to ask ourselves if a big dream is what we really want? 

      In the first few years of Made Vibrant, I was fortunate enough to have a few moments and experiences that felt like I was on the road to achieving my “big dreams.” Being asked to give a TEDx talk, or being featured in the Wall Street Journal, or flying out to Brit + Co to film a course... honestly, at the time these all felt like inflection points. Like Made Vibrant was “leveling up.” Like all my dreaming big was adding up to something.

      But you know what? When I look back over the past three years and I think about the moments when I felt the most content, completely happy, like I had to stop and pinch myself because I was living the dream, it wasn't in those "BIG break" moments. It was actually the opposite. It was always in the moments where I had scaled back my ambition enough that I could LIVE more. Those periods when I felt I was finally able to breathe. The real dreamy moments of gratitude when I thought to myself “wow, I did it” — those were the times when I was able to take walks outside without feeling guilty for spending time away from my to-do list, or an hour in my studio, or that I could easily make time for weekend girls’ trips and weekly family phone calls.

      Inside those small moments are where my REAL dream lives.

      The dream of being able to support myself financially with my work, but while also being able to carve out the time to live. After all, what is ambition and achievement worth — however big it is — if you’re miserable while you’re getting there?

      The beginning of Made Vibrant was all about focusing on growth. I wouldn't go back and change that because there’s no doubting that accumulating an audience of people that trust you and like what you offer takes some of the financial pressure off.

      BUT what I'm hoping to communicate in this letter is that if I could go back to the beginning and offer up any wisdom from my current self to my former self who was just starting out, I would change my aim. No longer would I be chasing after this "dream big" mentality. Instead I would ask myself to dream deeper. To dream truer. And yes, to even dream smaller.

      Because in a way, my seemingly small and simple dream — to live well, make art, help others, not stress about money, and answer ultimately to myself — that actually IS a pretty big dream when I consider it. It’s certainly not something that was a real probability at most other times in history. With that context, I can see just how beautifully audacious my small dream truly is.

      So now let me ask you... what do you REALLY want for your life or your creative business?

      Do you actually want to be traveling all the time, hiring the ten person team, winning over the listless crowd? If you do, that is totally cool. Follow that pull.

      BUT, if for some reason that is not your dream, and instead your dream is to fly off to the mountains for the week with your family, or to take the afternoon off for a surprise road trip with your spouse, or to spend a day ignoring your to-do list to finger paint with your kids… I want you to know that I believe that’s a dream worth dreaming too.

      Truthfully I've been asking myself this a lot lately as I finish up the proposal for my first book. My curiosity has led me down the traditional publishing route, but with every step I have to check back in with myself and make sure I can clearly answer this question: WHY am I doing this?

      Is it because it’s part of the big dream I’m supposed to want, or the real dream I actually want?

      Just asking that question brings me back to my purpose — to get the Made Vibrant philosophy out of my head and heart and into a tangible, shareable, lasting piece of art — rather than the other achievement-based traps that accompany the book publishing process.

      Anyway, I hope the thoughts this week will encourage you to look at your goals and your dreams through the lens of your core self, and for some of you, I hope it takes a tiny bit of the pressure off.

      What do you want for yourself apart from what the world wants for you? Now go get it. 😉

      I’m off in the mountains this week with family, gearing up for my next project being released next Tuesday! Can’t wait to share it with you guys!

      Have a fantastic week!

       
       

      Following Your Intuition, Even When It's Complicated

      Jason and I got married on Tuesday! 

      Yep, after almost seven years together, we decided to make it “offish” as the kids say with an intimate ceremony at our favorite cliffside spot here in San Diego. Thankfully there was very little stress, very little to plan and we were able to devote our full energy and attention to the joy of deepening our commitment together (not to mention, you can imagine there was lots of laughter!) 

      Gorgeous photos by the very talented Jamie Street from Rad And In Love!

      Gorgeous photos by the very talented Jamie Street from Rad And In Love!

       

      I’d love to share more specifically about why we opted for a non-traditional wedding (aka. no engagement, just the two of us, etc.), but as I was reflecting back on the history of our relationship last week, it occurred to me that I’ve never fully shared just how unlikely it was that Jason and I got together. That’s partly because this story feels intimately personal to me, but also because I never really saw how divulging it might serve to help others. 

      With hindsight, I can now see just how pivotal the beginning of our love story was in defining the unfolding of my life. Within it lies a fundamental lesson I feel is worth sharing, which is why I’ve finally decided to dig into it today. 

      So cozy up! Let's get personal! 

      When Jason and I met, I was 21 years old, only a few weeks away from graduating college. We actually met because I booked him to come speak to UF’s Ad Society, a student advertising club I was running at the time. Leading up to his speaking engagement (he Skyped in to give a talk on creativity to our group), we hit it off right away, trading sarcastic spars and picking up on each other's left-field references without missing a beat. He was funny and creative and completely sure of himself, and when we finally met in person, there was this hard-to-describe ease that existed between us, like we had already known each other for years. 

      The only problem with this tiny spark I felt deep in my gut? I was already in a relationship at the time. 😬😬😬 A happy one, at that. To make matters even more complicated, Jason was in a relationship too, one that was going on three years, with mine going on for over a year. To top it off, my boyfriend at the time was enrolled in law school in North Carolina and I’d accepted a job in a nearby city in order to be closer to him after graduation. 

      I convinced myself that the indescribable feeling I was having was just a kindred-spirit friendship with Jason. Nothing more. I buried the truth and I continued planning out the beginning of my post-college adult life, taking comfort in whatever control I had during such an uncertain time in my life. 

      As the weeks wore on, though, and this new chapter edged closer, the gravity of this fork in the road began to dawn on me. I had a sense that whatever choices I made about my future after graduating would lead me to very different outcomes, which forced me to confront my REAL feelings for Jason. 

      That’s when my dilemma really hit me. I had a choice:

      Be true to my feelings, end my current relationship, hurt someone I cared about deeply and take a complete left turn from the adult life I was planning for myself? 

      OR… 

      Choose not to rock the boat, deny my feelings because the fallout from my decision would be just too much to handle, and stick to the plan. 

      I distinctly remember confiding in a close friend for the first time at a Starbucks, tears in my eyes as I admitted how torn my heart was. It felt like such a lose/lose situation: listen to my heart and hurt so many people around me (including, it felt like, both of our families who were friends and invested in our relationship) or deny my feelings and experience the guilt of knowing I wasn't all-in on my current relationship. (Plus, of course, the potential regret of never seeing where the magic between Jason and I could lead.) 

      My friend, trying to offer me advice the best way she knew how, said: "I think you shouldn't make any rash decisions. You should move to North Carolina and see if you feel differently once you're there." 

      I’ll never forget the feeling I had in response. 

      As soon as the words left her lips, I felt my stomach sink. It's as if in that moment I experienced the full guilt of what it would mean to continue on a path that I knew was no longer what I fully wanted. I don't think I've ever heard my intuition speak as loudly or as clearly as it did in that moment. 

      I refuse to live a lie. 

      That’s what my intuition was shouting, loud and clear, so that my brain could understand it. 

      Once I allowed myself to see the truth -- that I DID want to understand what that magical feeling could lead to-- I knew what I had to do. 

      I broke up with my boyfriend the next day. It is still one of the hardest things I've ever done. 

      Knowing in your gut what is right and then acting on that knowing are two very different things. 

      The fallout was in fact exactly as complicated and messy as I thought it would be. Trying to explain to my parents what the heck I was thinking; the realization that I was about to start a career in the same city as my now ex-boyfriend, states away from Jason; untangling our lives and erasing the plans I’d made while simultaneously trying to build a foundation for a new relationship, without even really understanding why I’d blown up my life for “this feeling” I had. 

      At times the odds seemed stacked so highly against us that I started to believe the look on everyone’s faces and wonder myself if I was crazy. Was I being too impulsive? Was I having a quarter-life crisis? Was I wrong for betting all my chips on a feeling I couldn’t explain?

      Still, that voice in my gut was whispering: You know this magic exists now. You can't un-feel that or pretend it's not real.  

      It felt different. Full of potential. There was an ease to the way I felt around Jason, like I wasn’t trying to BE something for him… I was only myself. 

      Now, quick caveat: I don’t mean to overly romanticize the whole situation. You can’t build a life together on just one feeling or one spark. Those early months (and honestly, first few years) were a huge challenge, turning this gamble of ours into something sturdy and real. 

      Those first six months of long distance dating in the wake of our bold move was rocky territory. We both felt guilt, and excitement, and fear, and hope. It was messy.

      All the while, though, I kept coming back to my core compass, promising that if it made its will known to me, I’d muster the courage to act on it. 

      And that was almost seven years ago. 

      Now, I obviously don’t know what would have happened if I’d have made a different choice back then. But what I DO know is that choosing the riskier, truer thing at that fork in the road has only turned into a snowball of other risky-but-true decisions, which has now led me to an authentic life I love with a person I believe to be the right partner for me. 

      ***

      Here’s what I hope you’ll take away from this story, as a lesson that applies not just to love but really to anything in life. 

      When faced with this kind of dilemma, ask yourself one question. 

      What will I regret more, rocking the wrong boat or missing the right one? 

      What will I regret more, rocking the wrong boat or missing the right one? 

      I knew I would regret missing the boat when it came to Jason. 

      And that doesn’t mean it was guaranteed to work out. Even if I would have run into a dead end in our relationship I KNEW it was more important to me to follow the pull of my heart and deal with the consequences of rocking the boat, especially once I realized it wasn’t a boat that was right for me anymore.  

      For as many challenges as our love story has presented, it’s worth well more in terms of the joy it’s brought to me. I can only imagine how many more evolutions and changes it will undergo throughout our lifetime together, but I welcome that journey. 

      Take a few seconds today to close your eyes and tap into your core. Where’s it pulling you? What hard decisions might you have to make in order to take action on where you know it’s leading you? And… the most important question… will you regret missing the opportunity waiting for you on the other side of those hard decisions? 

      Thanks for all the well wishes last week and the warm congratulations from so many of you on social media. We definitely felt deeply committed to each other regardless of getting legally married, but I do have to say that making it official and having one day done our way to celebrate that commitment was a joyful experience that I’ll never forget. 

       
       

      Why We Need To Stop Waiting For Stress To Disappear And Make Changes TODAY

      “Things will be better next month when everything calms down.”

      “We’ll be less stressed once the kids are older.”

      “Work is crazy but once I get that promotion I’ll be able to breathe.”

      “If I can just make it to the summer, then I’ll finally be able to relax.”

      How many times have you said some version of those statements to yourself?

      "It’ll be better WHEN…"

      I had a version of this moment this weekend. I’m SO close to releasing the new version of the Better Lettering Course tomorrow with a new blog and community site to house my love of hand lettering.

      But, as I've been focusing on that major overhaul, I’ve had two other semi-secret projects running in the background, and I’ve found myself stretched thin yet again. (I’m noticing a pattern here of vastly over-estimating what I’m capable of devoting time to and vastly underestimating the amount of time and energy any task will require. Let’s call it an “opportunity for growth,” people!)

      Anyway, I found myself in one of my classic Caroline meltdown moments, feeling the weight of just how many things I’d committed to. I was telling all of this to Jason and these words came out of my mouth: “If I can just buckled down and make it happen, things will be better next month.”

      I paused.

      Really?! That's the strategy I wanted to go with? "Things are pretty tough right now and my brain is so full that I can't remember my middle name BUT... yeah, I'll just keep doing that until some undisclosed date in the future..."

      Umm... no thank you.

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with that sentiment of course — work hard now to reap the benefits later — except that it gives us permission to avoid making any real changes to the way we work NOW or the way we’re operating in the PRESENT.

      When we wait for stress to magically disappear, we're postponing joy for a day that may never come. 

      When we wait for stress to magically disappear, we’re postponing joy for a day that may never come.
      Postponing Joy

      Instead of letting ourselves off the hook and blaming our stress on timing, we should be using those feeling of overwhelm as an indication of what’s not working. Instead of trying to wait it out like a storm that will pass, we should take the control back into our hands and remember... we have the power to control our own weather.

      When I really think about what gets me into a stress mess, it’s often because I’m prioritizing work or trying to please others over making time to take care of myself and engage in habits that keep me grounded and present.

      These feelings of "there's not enough time" are my first indication that the design of my life is starting to drift away from my values, and I need to use that trigger as a powerful reminder to shift it right back again.

      To make that shift back and to start alleviating stress TODAY rather than some distant date in the future, here are the two questions I'm trying to ask myself:

      1. What’s one thing I can do TODAY to help me redistribute my commitments and priorities?

      That could mean making a big, tough decision like ending Color Your Soul, or it could just mean taking a look at my to-do's and trimming back what isn't absolutely essential to the work I'm focused on. The idea here is not just to WAIT and HOPE for your schedule or workload to rebalance itself, but to actively contribute to a better balance.

        2. When I feel overwhelmed, what are three small time investments that will help bring me back to center right NOW?

        Again, when I find myself in a frenzy, it's typically because I've been prioritizing work over the things that keep me centered and vibrant, many of which are daily routines like devoting time to my Five Minute Journal to practice gratitude, spend time in stillness outside and make time to freely create in my art studio. Those are three small things that I can devote 15 minutes each to, but I have to prioritize them and see them as important if they're going to do their job to keep me joyful even in times of stress.

        ***

          I know it’s cliche, but none of us knows how long we have on this earth. Waiting for a day when it’s "all better" or when we have the space and time to be our best selves is too risky. We have to make TODAY that opportunity. We have to decide that the time is now.

          Today, I'm taking my own medicine. I'm slashing my to-do list left and right and I'm devoting time not just to DOING my best work but to BEING my best self. When I place equal emphasis on those two things, that's when stress starts to dissipate and I stop waiting for a better day; instead, I create it.

           
           

          Setting Business Goals: Start Playing For The Post-Game

          Today I want to talk about a new way that I’ve begun to approach my creative work and setting goals in my business.

          Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the term “goal setting.” The biggest lesson I’ve taken from the past two years has been no longer defining my own progress by achieving goals but rather defining progress by better aligning my business decisions and my actions to my inner core values. This alignment-over-achievement shift has been a game-changer for my overall happiness and well-being.

          HOWEVER… I’m also aware that goals can add value to my life, if framed properly. Rather than chasing them down as a way to seek validation, I’ve begun to see them as an effective tool for bringing purpose to my daily routines.

          Waking up every morning with a purpose and a primary focus feels good because it provides me with a clearly defined metric for progress at the end of the day. “I set out to accomplish X and I got one step closer today. That brings me a sense of satisfaction.”

          But even when we frame goals with this lens of purpose, there is a trap that we so frequently fall into when we set goals: We fixate on one anchor point as an artificial “finish line” and we fail to plan for sustainability beyond that point.

          Untitled_Artwork (25).png

          Let me illustrate this with an example.

          The Better Lettering Course is relaunching next Tuesday with a fresh coat of paint and an all new blog and resource center for hand-lettering newbies. I’ve been working on this on and off for months, and more intently for the past few weeks since Color Your Soul ended.

          In the past, I would have fallen into my same old trap, creating this “Launch Day” finish line in my head and allocating all my time and focus on working toward a polished product to reveal on that one day. I’d probably spend way too long obsessing over the details of the website, making it pixel perfect and as impeccable as possible for the big reveal. I’d put together a plan for announcing the launch on social media, and when that day rolled around, I’d pat myself on the back for making it to the finish line. Then... I'd set another finish line goal, and shift my attention there.

          The only problem with this? The re-launch of the course shouldn't be the finish line; it should be the BEGINNING.

          The real underlying purpose here is not to have a pretty website, it’s everything that goes beyond that point: having a plan to deliver value to site visitors interested in lettering; converting those interested into course buyers; nurturing a community of letterers; encouraging them to share the course with their friends; and, ultimately, creating a sustainable revenue stream for Made Vibrant. THAT is the real purpose… not just a pretty website and seamless launch day.

          Do you see where I’m going with this?

          It’s time we start “playing for the post-game.” 

          To take whatever we instinctively set as the “finish line” and to mentally move it backwards to encapsulate the real goal: sustainability beyond the finish line. (Okay, I’m aware that I’m mixing metaphors here with the post-game and the finish line thing, but whatever… SPORTS.)

          My mental milestone is no longer next Tuesday when the site goes live. Instead, I’ve set my calendar to one month after that when I can see if all the changes I’ve implemented have moved the needle for the course and its sales numbers. I plan to treat THAT Post-Launch Day with equal focus and attention that I would a website launch day.

          How many times have we over-worked ourselves to launch a product, but neglected to plan for the promotion to actually make it successful? (*cough… Color Your Soul…cough*)

          How many times have we put all our eggs in the basket of a presentation or delivering to a client only to neglect following up afterward to close the sale or maintain the relationship?

          How many times do we focus on getting a new customer instead of keeping that customer happy?

          Why do we do this? Well, I think it’s for a few reasons. First, as designers and creatives, we tend to over-emphasize the part of the process that we like because it feels easier for us. We experience less resistance. It’s obviously way more fun for me to make cool graphics and pick out fonts and tweak copy on my website than it is for me to plan out strategic email campaigns or follow-up sequences.

          Second, we focus our attention on protecting ourselves where we feel most vulnerable. When we launch a website or a product, it feels like we’re opening ourselves up for public criticism. It may sound silly but a glaring typo or a broken link feels like a flashing reminder of our flaws, so we do everything we can to avoid feeling exposed or embarrassed. Far less people are going to see the follow-up emails and the marketing campaigns beyond the product launch, right? We feel less exposed, less at risk, so we spend less time protecting ourselves in that way.

          By becoming aware of our tendency to ignore these “post-game” goals, we can actually start identifying a purpose that speaks to our long-term intentions.

          We truly do ourselves a disservice when we pour all our time and energy into one of these “finish line goals” without a strategy to sustain or leverage that hard work well beyond the finish line.

          So here’s my challenge to you this week:

          Plan BEYOND whatever milestones you’ve set for yourself so your hard work can be sustained. 

          Plan BEYOND whatever milestones you’ve set for yourself so your hard work can be sustained. 

          How to tactically put this into motion:

          • Think of one goal that you are working toward right now. (Could be work-related or it could be life-related.)
          • Identify what you’ve instinctively set as the “finish line” in your head. (The website launch, the book release, the weigh-in day, the big presentation.)
          • Now mentally push that finish line back to include a follow-up, post-game period and ask yourself: What is the long-term benefit I’m trying to aim for?
          • What can you do during that post-game period to contribute to that real, bigger purpose you’re working toward?

          Let’s be honest…the after-party is where it’s always at, right?! Let’s add a little more of that to our “goal setting”, shall we?

          Have an awesome week!

           
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          When Success Is Framed As Alignment, There Is Room For Us All

          I have to admit something to you guys.

          As much as I like to think I’ve arrived at a place where self-doubt doesn’t have its hold on me, there are moments when I’m reminded that's just not the case. Self-doubt is a natural part of leading an authentic, creative life. The secret is in how we answer those moments of doubt, which is a lesson I had to learn yet again recently.

          I’ve been working on updating the Better Lettering Course for the past few weeks, and honestly I’ve been really enjoying myself. It’s been so long since I focused solely on lettering, and in turning by attention back to the course, it has reinvigorated my love for the art form that first awakened my own creativity.

          But, as I’ve been diving into the course and the world of lettering more, I’ve also become aware of just how many lettering sites and resources are now available out there — many, many more than there were a few years ago when I started the course.

          I search the word “lettering” on Pinterest this weekend and was instantly confronted with a sea of images of talented artists and ways that they are teaching lettering.

          Upon seeing this overwhelming group of people doing something similar to what I'm doing with the lettering course, this is the question that immediately popped into my head:

          Is there even ROOM for me here?

          That’s a question I’ve asked in one way or another so many times over the course of my creative career.

          Is there even room for one more personal growth blog? 
          Is there even room for one more acrylic abstract artist? 
          Is there even room for one more online business in a sea of so many?

          Have you asked yourself a version of this too? My guess is you have because this is a cunning way for our Fear to stop us from ever trying or pursuing the projects that call to us. "There's already so many ____________ out there, why should I even bother." That's a convenient way for us to excuse ourselves from making things or taking a risk, isn't it?

          Now, let’s actually break this question down and really try to understand what it is our ego is asking here.

          First off, it's a question born out of a scarcity mentality about how the world works. What does this idea of ROOM mean anyway? It assumes that there is one Table of Valid Successful People and that there is a finite number of chairs around that table. That's kind of BS, right? Life is not a zero sum game. There is no such table, and there certainly isn't a finite number of ways for us to become Valid Successful People.

          Which brings me to the next underlying layer of this question: What is success anyway?

          This question inadvertently defines success based on achievement rather than alignment. When we ask ourselves “Is there room for me?", what we are actually asking is “Is there room for me to be successful?” We don’t realize it, but it’s our ego hungering for validation and fearing failure.

          One of the most profound shifts I’ve made in my life is changing my definition of success from being achievement-based to being alignment-based.

          No longer do I define “success” exclusively in the sense that people buy my products or like the things I make. Those things rely on achieving some form of external validation, and I’ve found that no matter what milestone I hit when pursuing external validation, ultimately it only leads my ego to hunger for more or to aim even higher. In other words, it's a recipe for dissatisfaction.

          On the flip-side of that, however, alignment-based success says that the goal is to design a life and business where I can live out my core values on a daily basis. That is the source of all things good for me: happiness, satisfaction and freedom.

          So when I ask “Is there room for me?” and I do so in the context of comparison or self-doubt, I’m slowly allowing myself to drift right back in that old achievement-based success framework, one where something isn’t worth doing unless I can gain financial success and visibility. That’s NOT what I want my life to be about chasing after.

          When I shift this framework back to alignment, I can ask the question again, this time with a clarifying addition:

          “Is there room for me to do the work my heart is calling me to do?”

          When I frame it that way, I'm able to see that the primary goal in pursuing this idea or project in the first place is to express my core self. To follow a hunch or a passion or a curiosity or desire that is stemming from inside the deepest part of me.

          And when I frame it that way, I can see much more clearly this definitive answer: YES. Yes, there is ALWAYS room in this world for people doing the work their hearts call them to do. 

          “There is ALWAYS room in this world for people doing the work their hearts call them to do.”

          Whether pursuing this desire becomes financially successful or not, I can’t guarantee. Whether anyone will actually read the blog you want to create or see the film you can’t help but want to make or buy the lettering course you are sprucing up… those are all questions you'll have to answer based on the unique relationship you're hoping to cultivate between your creativity and your income.

          But if we’re simply talking about this question of “is there room for me?” OR "is this thing worth trying even though there is so much already that has been created?"… my answer will always be yes.

          There is room for me and there is room for you and there is room for us ALL to make the things we’re called to make. There’s a galaxy's worth of infinite room where we can all try and learn and experiment and teach and lift each other up as we do so.

          The moment we assume that there is one container limiting the expansive potential of each of us, we deprive the world of witnessing the beauty of our collective vibrance.

          Next time you find yourself down a deep rabbit hole of self-doubt, asking yourself if there is room for you to do that thing you so deeply want to do, shift yourself back to a framework of alignment rather than achievement.

          Remember that YOUR goal is not to succeed “in comparison” to anyone else, but instead your goal is to rest your head every night knowing that you did everything you could to release the gifts you have inside you.

          The world could use more of that. The world could use more of us all.

          My question of the week to you is:

          What will you do with your room? What will you make? What will you try?

          That's it! Have an amazing week! And THANK YOU sincerely for offering up a few minutes each week to read my words. It means a lot to me!

           
           

          Why & How To Share Political Opinions Through Your Creative Brand

          Who wants to chat about POLITICS today?! **crickets**

          Okay, okay. I know you’re all probably mentally and emotionally exhausted from the tumultuous few weeks (who are we kidding… MONTHS) we’ve had here in American politics, but I promise this letter is not intended to add to the fatigue. 

          Instead, it’s meant to illuminate a very real, timely question that I know some of you might be grappling with: When and where and how is the best way to communicate your personal opinions if you run a creative business? 

          I posted this image on my Instagram last week, and two comments in particular inspired this week’s letter:

           
           

           

          I especially like this from @alexisannecreative: “…how to find the balance between speaking up and not wanting to offend anyone.”

          That’s really the question here.

          Maybe I’m just primed for it, but it seems like everywhere we turn, people are sharing their personal opinions in professional spheres. You can see it in the political thread running through a number of the Golden Globe speeches, or in athletes using their public platforms to protest, or in big companies issuing public statements clearly taking sides on political issues.

          Again, maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and more politically informed myself, but it seems that the default response used to be neutrality, with certain individuals taking a stand when pressed by the media or special circumstances. But now, especially with the growing effect of social media on our culture, the default seems to be in actually taking sides. In fact, customers have come to demand it of big companies, holding them accountable to “mission statements” and “core pillars” that once were relegated to annual reports and email signatures.

          In other words, if you’re a brand that claims to stand for inclusion, customers are saying, "Prove it."

          But that’s big business, right? What about small business? What about those of us who have created companies based on our own personal values?

          The lines between professional and personal have continued to blur as more people become “brands” in their own right. As a small business or a solopreneur, it’s hard to know where the jurisdiction lies for political and personal opinions. For some it may feel completely taboo, like terrifying territory.

          There was definitely a time when I felt that way, especially in the beginning of my business. While I relished the opportunity to infuse my brand with my own life and personality, I intentionally steered clear of topics that might polarize my tiny, growing audience. Things like politics, religion, my struggles with anxiety, my relationship… dipping my toe into these territories felt like I might instantly be called “out of bounds” and be docked 100 points by some invisible business authority.

          I can say that I was afraid of offending someone, but let’s get really honest here — I was afraid of hurting the potential of my business.

          I didn’t want the angry commenters, the unfollows, the unsubscribes that were sure to follow drawing a line in the sand.

          However, little by little, as I started to find clarity in my values, I also started to find confidence in my voice. I experienced the freedom that comes with authentic sharing — showing up in the wholeness and complexity of my true self, without fear of what other people might think of me. I started sharing my opinions on topics like mental health and politics and causes I cared about.

          I DID get the commenters, the unfollows, the unsubscribes (everything I had feared), but something really amazing and unexpected came from that.

          My truth acted as a magnet, drawing me closer to those that shared my values and driving away those that did not. This left me with a community of incredibly open, uplifting, and REAL people who were more interested in the grit than they were in the gloss.

          (Let it be known this also does not always mean a community of people who all AGREE with me; it simply means people who care about and value the things that I care about and value, even if we disagree on the best way to uphold those values.)

          This is why I’ve always built the foundation of the Made Vibrant brand on authenticity, because the more you share your truth (however uncomfortable or scary or polarizing), the more you actually strengthen your brand foundation.

          As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Part of attracting an audience that resonates with your brand is about drawing a line in the sand about what you believe. Every time you share something that feels intimate or vulnerable or even controversial, that is another opportunity to forge a deeper bond with the RIGHT people.

          I offer that example up to you not as a means of saying “You HAVE to talk politics in order to be authentic.” Not at all. What I mean is “Authenticity is in aligning what you do with who you are.” So if your core self feels compelled to share your voice in that way, do not be afraid of “sifting out” people along the way. After all, one of the best parts of forging your own business path is carving out a space where you're allowed to be unapologetically you.

          This is the same litmus test I offer up for anyone wanting to share anything actually, not just political views. I had a friend once ask me my thoughts about swearing in her content. She swears in real life — it’s just how she likes to communicate — but she was worried about offending people and not being “professional.” I asked her this question:

          “If you arrived at the end of writing a long blog post to your audience and didn’t swear, would you feel like you were holding yourself back? Like you weren’t being yourself? And, if so, would that bother you?”

          Without missing a beat, she said YES. Well, that was a clear sign to me that being authentic to her meant communicating the way she likes to communicate so that she could feel like herself within the business she was creating.

          (For contrast, I’m not offended by swearing at all and I certainly have been known to drop a few choice phrases for emphasis, but I don’t feel stifled or restrained by not swearing. It doesn’t feel central to who I am or how I communicate. So my answer to that litmus test would be no… hence why you don’t see me dropping f-bombs left and right!)

          So that would be my first question to anyone grappling with whether to share political views through their business:

          Do you feel your true self being restrained in a way by NOT sharing? And… are you holding back because you’re afraid of alienating people or because politics just aren’t that important to you?

          Either option are totally your prerogative and getting clarity might help you better own whichever position you choose.

          If you DO decide that sharing your political opinions feels important, and you’re wondering how to do so while still being respectful and not controversial for the sake of being controversial, here’s my approach:

          Don’t make it all about what you’re against; instead make it about what you STAND FOR.

          Taking a political stand in your biz: Not just about what you’re against; about what you stand FOR.
           

          I can talk about standing up for love over fear, without bashing those who are afraid.

          I can share about standing up for tolerance without mocking those that are blind to their biases.

          I can spread empowerment without condemning those that stay silent.

          Because the truth is, those values are all important to me whether in the context of politics or whether in the context of everyday life.

          I don’t always get it right, but I’m intentional about the words I use and the values I demonstrate, not just the ones I claim I care about.

          If I do decide to refer to a particular event or cause, my approach is to lead with information. I do my research, and I try to remember that at both ends of any issue there are always people, not generalized populations as we sometimes forget. Ultimately I only share something when I’ve decided it’s against my own values NOT to share.

          The truth is, it’s hard to stand up for what you believe in when it comes to anything in life, not just politics. Why? Because taking a stand is an act of vulnerability. You’re risking rejection and alienation, and we humans fear both at our deepest core.

          But, there comes a time when you have to decide what is more important to you: the freedom that comes with sharing your voice and your values, or the security that comes with keeping your opinions private?

          I’m in no place to judge anyone for decisions that affect their businesses or their lives, so I say the choice is up to you!

          Again, I’ve always aimed to bend my business around my life, not to shape my life around my business. Having this clear hierarchy makes decisions like this pretty clear. If I’m feeling compelled to share a piece of myself and to take a clear stand on something I believe in, I’ll accept whatever business consequences follow because a vibrant life for me is one where I’m able to share my full truth.

          I hope those of you who have been wondering how to navigate these questions have found value in the way I approach the topic.

          Share your truth in whatever way feels right to you!

           
           

          Celebrating Our Beautiful Failures In Business

          In business and in life, we talk a lot about the topic of “failure.”

          The fear of failing keeps so many of us from taking risks (or trying anything at all) and it’s responsible for keeping people stuck in jobs they don’t like or businesses that aren’t working.

          In response to this, a new conversation around failure has been forming in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, one that says: “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying something different…” or “Failure teaches us more than success ever will…” or “Fail forward.”

          These aphorisms can be motivating, and I love that they aim to re-frame the negative feelings we have toward failure, but more often than not they represent only TALK.

          How many business owners or creatives do you see actually showing you their failures? Not just brushing them under the rug but REALLY shining a light on them and celebrating them?

          I know I’m guilty of this. I can write newsletters about experimentation or my processes for making tough decisions in my business, but I admit there’s a part of me that always tries to spin these moves in such a way that avoids calling them what they really are: failures.

          Honest question: did your heart sink just a bit when you read that word… “FAILURE.” It has quite a specter to it, doesn’t it? It feels almost taboo when you’re highlighting it so directly like that, not side skirting or spinning it to make yourself feel more comfortable with it.

          Which is exactly why I want to join in this reframing conversation around failure but in a way that isn’t just talk. I want to gloriously and openly share with you all the experiments I undertake in my business that DON’T work out, and I want to do so without shame.

          Maybe then it will encourage us all to be a tiny bit braver in pushing our own creativity and exploring new territory in our businesses.

          So, today, let’s talk about my most beautiful failure to date: Color Your Soul.

          If you’re a member, you’ve already been alerted to this, but for those of you who don’t know yet, unfortunately I’ve come to the decision that January’s issue of Color Your Soul will be its last.

          I can’t say ending the subscription hasn't crossed my mind the past few months as the product never truly gained the numbers I needed it to in order to be financially viable. However, I loved creating it SO much and loved the community within it so much that I truly think I was blind to the toll it was really taking on me. Until last week.

          There are so many reasons I arrived recently at this difficult (but right-for-me) decision, and I want to share those with you guys so that you might be able to learn from my own experience.
           

          The Time Cost

          I don't think I ever fully expressed just how much time and effort goes into the creation of the monthly Color Your Soul issue AND the creation of each new monthly workshop or course.

          Between selecting the theme, gathering inspiration and resources, creating the art pieces and preparing them for the issue, formatting everything into the magazine and the website, each issue easily took me over 40 hours to put together.

          I was happy to invest that time so that each element of the issue would be personal and heartfelt, but when I compare the time investment to the financial return, as a business owner I just can’t justify it.

          Admittedly, the bar that I set for each issue from the beginning was a bit ambitious, and while I'm proud of the quality and heart in each issue, I'm sure I could have been much more diligent about projecting out the time I set aside to complete each issue every month. I shared my thoughts on the importance of time management in last week’s email, and this is definitely a case where the time efficiencies of the product itself really hurt the product’s viability.
           

          Fragmenting My Attention

          The original vision for Color Your Soul, aside from being a soulful answer to all the strictly business related resources out there, was actually intended to be a way to consolidate my various courses and projects under one roof.

          Ironically, this project has actually done quite the opposite for me. In an effort to promote and boost subscriptions, I’ve done my best to deliver new and interesting instructional content each month, basically doubling my amount of offerings and products in the process. Even if I’m not actively working on or promoting each of these courses/workshops, they take up mental space for me. I have to admit that keeping up that level of mental rigor and stamina has finally caught up with me and I’m ready to once again commit to curtailing my offerings so that I can focus on the few that bring me the greatest joy AND the most significant financial impact.

          I’ve always said that there’s a rhythm to running a creative business, one that is like breathing. There is a time for expansion and time for contraction. Expansion is always more comfortable for me, but I look forward to learning how to get comfortable with contraction too.
           

          Taking my own creative biz medicine

          You have heard me talk about this on workshops and in recent newsletters. The challenge of being a person who wants to make 100% of their income from creative pursuits is that you have to constantly balance the desire to follow your ideas with the practicality of what brings your business money. That's the puzzle.

          After writing the very practical steps in last week’s newsletter and being reinvigorated by the concepts in the Make Money Making workshop, I’ve realized that I need to take my own medicine. I need to let go of what’s not working (CYS only brings my business about $600/month right now) and I need to restructure things so that I can use my gifts in a way that is sustainable for me and beneficial for you. Otherwise, nobody wins.

          Step 4 of last week’s process was this: Start by acting on your Big Brick Wall and your Big Cracked Door. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, Color Your Soul is my Big Brick Wall. I never found a process that allowed me to maintain the vision of the product AND nurture the community AND promote it to new audiences AND have time left over to sustain my other business channels. As I said before, there are two ways to act on a Brick Wall, and that’s either to try and improve what’s not working or to simply let it go. In this case, letting it go is the right (but hard) choice. 
           

          Living the Made Vibrant ethos

          Ultimately it comes down to this VERY important and very simple fact. Without realizing it, pouring my time and attention into this project without a healthy, stable return has left me feeling stretched thin and without time and attention for the other things that keep me centered in life.

          Things like painting, and getting outside, and connecting 1-on-1 with Made Vibrant community members like you. (You should see my inbox right now… it’s not a pretty sight!)

          If I'm honest with myself, these past few months I've not been living my best and brightest life. It was hard for me to see before, but I can see that now.

          As much as you love and believe in an idea, as much as you WANT to sell what is true over what is easy, you also have to accept the reality of what you’re sacrificing to bring that idea to life, and for me, it’s just too much.
           

          What I learned

          Though every business and every person is different, there are a few practical lessons I learned from this experiment and I’d like to share those with you.

          First, answering to a monthly recurring offering felt inflexible and confining at times, like it was looming over my head and it was a deadline I could never get out in front of. That’s not the way I want my business to feel, and that's a lesson I'll take forward with me when developing new offerings. The allure of recurring revenue was in its ability to provide somewhat predictable (read: stable) income. In theory that’s great, but in practice it feels incredibly restraining. In the future, I’ll go back to embracing ideas with a more flexible structure so I can uphold that value of flexibility.

          Selling (and explaining) something that hasn’t been sold before is not easy. If the product itself didn’t take so much time to produce, I would have invested more time in communicating what Color Your Soul was and the value it provides. The lack of time efficiencies never allowed me to do that well, which can account partially for the slow trickle in of subscriptions.

          Start small! If you have an idea for a product, fight the urge to apply all the bells and whistles you envision from the outset. Had I started with a version of the product that was more stripped down, I could have been more intentional and efficient with the time it took to produce, and I could have grown it slowly and steadily as subscriptions increased.
           

          What I hope you’ll take away from this

          You’ve heard me talk about this in theoretical terms before but right now you are seeing it play out. We have ideas and they don’t always work out the way we envision them. That is OKAY — Experiment anyway. Experience anyway. And check back in with yourself often so you can learn firsthand what lights you up and what drains you.

          Our ideas don’t always work out the way we envision them. That is OKAY. Experiment anyway.

           

          Color Your Soul was a beautiful dream of mine that I got to see turn into a reality. Maybe there are things I could have done differently to make it successful and sustainable, but I wouldn’t go back. I have learned a lot these past few months about what brings me joy and what doesn’t, what people are willing to pay for and what they’re not, what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are. That insight is invaluable to me.

          It hurt to close the chapter on Color Your Soul as I know it. It hurt to send emails and refunds and to feel like I was disappointing people. But with everything in me I will fight the instinct to feel shame or self-doubt around making this decision.

          Failures can be beautiful and glorious and valuable. We could use a few more failures, in fact, because it highlights two truths I believe dearly: We won’t ever know unless we try, AND Living a vibrant life demands the courage to let go of things that no longer align with our values.

          To me the the principal metric of success is that I keep growing and keep stretching myself — and I keep sharing these pursuits with you all honestly because I want to inspire you to do the same.

          I’ve always told you guys that I want to bend my business to my life, not the other way around.

          I want to keep molding my offerings as I grow and evolve, and I want to keep experimenting until I find the right mix for the life that feels most vibrant to me.

          That thing I tried? Yeah, it didn’t work. Now.. onto the next.

          If you’re a subscriber and didn’t receive my other emails, feel free to reply back with ANY questions about this change and what it means for you.

          Love and light to all of you this week!

           
           

          What To Do When Your Creative Business Isn't Making You Money

           

          If you’ve taken a peek around Made Vibrant before, then you know my #1 priority is never money or “success” as it is traditionally defined.

          I’m of the mindset that inner alignment and building a life that brings you sustained satisfaction based on your unique values is always the primary goal. I’ll never try to sell you the “six-figure dream.”

          That said, turning your creative gifts into a full-time income can be an incredible way to live out your values in a flexible, impassioned, and impactful way, so this complex relationship between creativity and money is one that I feel compelled to explore with you.

          That’s why I want to continue our conversation from last week about the survey responses I received from so many of you at the end of last year.

          When I asked about the relationship between your creativity and what brings you income, only 30% of you currently said you have a business that provides your full-time income, yet 70% of you said that’s what you are working towards.

          That got me thinking about ways I can help you close the gap and help more of you that want to have a full-time creative business, get there (on your own terms and in your own way, of course).

          One of the hardest parts of being a business person AND a creative person is that you are often paralyzed by possibilities. Which ideas to focus on, how to structure your day, how to balance practicality and idealism… these are all issues that I continue to confront, even now as I approach my fourth year in business.

          It can often feel like you’re in a complicated maze of decisions, like you have 20 buckets before you and all you feel like you’re ever doing is filling them up one tiny drop at a time.

          But, after two strong and profitable years in business, working less than I ever have with more joy than I ever have, I want to share with you the exact process I engage in every time I discover my business isn’t making the money that I want it to be making (or every time it becomes clear to me that I need to make a shift in how that money gets made.)

          The most distinct personal example of this is probably back in 2014, when I was just six months into starting Made Vibrant as a freelance design business. I seriously considered shutting it all down and getting a job again because I was bringing in just barely $1,000/month, which wasn’t enough to maintain the lifestyle I was living. Before I threw in the towel though, I wanted to know in my heart that I gave it my very best try.

          The process outlined in the steps below is exactly what I did to take my business from a struggling crapshoot to a strategic, fulfilling, profitable business. In a matter of just three months, I was able to lift my monthly income to $4,000/month. Those shifts I made quite literally saved my business, and this process is how I’ve approached things ever since.

          My hope is that by outlining some specific steps you too can take, that it will empower some of you to formulate your own action plan instead of staying paralyzed in the dark when it comes to your creative business. If making a full-time income with your creative gifts is something you envision for yourself, I truly hope that today’s letter will provide you with some ways to confidently move toward that future.

          Alight, buckle up… here we go!


          Step 1: Identify the core limiting beliefs that are holding you back.

          You guys are one step ahead because we already tackled this!

          Just as no bucket can remain full if there’s a leak in the bottom, no business can thrive with an owner who is self-sabotaging. Many of you are solopreneurs or have small teams, which means your mindset and behaviors greatly affect every inch of your business operations.

          If you’re not flourishing financially in the way you want, the first crucial step is to take a hard, honest look at what could be preventing your progress on a personal level. Once you find a way to start rewiring or rewriting some of those stories, you’ll find that everything else in your business will begin to flow more easily.

          (I’d like to add that I don’t consider limiting beliefs to include things like very real health or mental health challenges, which require a different approach to treating and thriving. Limiting beliefs represent the false, invisible barriers we place on ourselves mentally, things that we have the power to flip the script on if we are willing to work at it.)

          Going back to that crucial moment in my first year of my business, I had MAJOR limiting beliefs around my lack of confidence and my fear of rejection. These barriers prevented me from sharing my design work or art (which was an important part of attracting clients) and it led me to set my prices WAY too low, leading me to be overworked and underpaid.

          Once I was able to confront these self-imposed limits head on, I could work past them, eventually sharing more of my work and raising my prices, which I know contributed significantly to the lift (and survival) of my business.

          After you’ve take the time to reinforce the foundation, that’s when you can move on to the business itself.


          Step 2: Evaluate revenue streams at a macro level.

          Some of you out there may have one single thing that you create that brings you money. Maybe you sell jewelry or you are a freelance designer and that is 100% of the work that brings you income.

          That business structure allows you to focus on one main thing, which may be an efficient use of your attention and focus, but it also leaves you incredibly vulnerable because the health of that one business line defines the health of your entire business.

          My approach from the beginning has always been to diversify with multiple revenue streams so that the success or decline of any one income source won’t be the end of my business. (It also is a natural consequence of being a multi-passionate and curious person. I have new ideas and those create new revenue streams!)

          While I believe this strategy is beneficial overall, it does also present me with a challenge, pulling my attention in multiple directions. This is why it’s incredibly important at regular intervals to check in and ask ourselves:

          What do I want to continue to work on and what can I let go of?

          Every time I’ve realized I’m at a road block with the profitability of my business, it’s usually because I’m wasting energy on something that isn’t quite working or I’m NOT giving my full attention to an opportunity that is ripe for the picking.

          So, this step becomes about understanding what is working, what’s not working, and why.

          Here’s how to make that deduction:
           

          1. Start by breaking down every single source of income by product stream, and take a look at how much profit each one brings you monthly.

          I still to this day do this on the first of every month. I export the data from my payment processors like Stripe and Gumroad, and I enter it into a spreadsheet where I separate the transactions by project, total them up, and add them to a master sheet that shows me totals for the year on all of my various courses and products.

          salesdash.png

          Thanks to spreadsheet magic, it only takes me about a half hour every month, but it’s incredibly powerful because it forces me to check in on a monthly basis and identify where my energy went vs. where my money came from at a high level.
           

          2. Once you have your revenue totals, go project by project and write down your input vs. your output.

          In other words, answer these two questions:

          • Output: What did I get out of this project?

          This goes for money, obviously, but it also refers to other things. A project could bring you joy, creative growth, cultivation of a skill, collaborations with great people, etc. In my business, these are all things I want to take into consideration, though understanding that if financial lift is my primary goal, then that metric is what needs to carry the most weight at that time.

          • Input: What did I put into this project?

          The same guidelines hold true for this question. You want to consider cost as well as other things. How much money did it cost you to produce that revenue stream? How much time? Energy? Did it take joy from you? Did it take patience from you? These are all things I write down.
           

          3. Now identify your Power Player and your Dark Horse.

          Your Power Player = the revenue stream that brings you the biggest profit for the the least sacrifice. (ie. Output is disproportionately larger than input.)

          Your Dark Horse = the revenue stream that feels like it has the most potential, if it was cultivated properly.

          That could mean it’s the one that is the most enjoyable but still isn’t very profitable, or it could mean the one that brings you a decent income but it’s taking too much from you and needs a process overhaul to be enjoyable and efficient.
           

          4. Lastly, put each of these various projects through your “value filter.”

          In other words:

          What are the things you care about most, and does each of these projects align with those values? What do you want to be working on?

          Keep in mind, there’s a balance at play here between doing work that lights you up, but also being realistic about what is working from a business perspective (we’ll dive deeper into this next week.)

          Again, if you’re in a place right now where financial stability is your goal, you may have to cultivate the projects that aren’t the most ideal in terms of aligning with your values, but that can serve as a stepping stone to doing that bigger, more meaningful “heart work” after you’ve reached a more stable footing.

          By this point, at the very least you should start to see a much clearer picture of what is actually bringing you money and what is not, as well as what is an opportunity and what is a time suck.

          This exercise is what led me to start shifting away from client work in early 2015 because I saw that my online lettering course was bringing in almost double the income of my client work with far less time spent and far more joy.

          By shifting resources away from a revenue stream that was a losing game for me to one that had great potential, I was able to use my very limited time a lot more effectively.


          Step 3: Evaluate work processes at a micro level.

          The top-level evaluation in Step 2 may be enough to illuminate changes you want to make right now in your business in terms of ways you want to allocate your resources. But, here’s the next logical question: What if you can’t just cut off an entire income source cold turkey? What do you do in the meantime as you transition out of it or as you redistribute your attention to new projects or opportunities?

          What if you see a Dark Horse — an opportunity that could prove to grow into a Power Player for you if you just changed some things around?

          The answer is in evaluating each revenue stream or product on a micro level.

          It’s time to take an honest look at the product or service itself, your process, your costs, and your daily routines to see where you could be slowly leaking resources — time, money, or joy.

          In my experience, there are usually three different issues at play when it comes to optimizing a revenue stream on a micro level. You can adjust the product, the promotion or the process.

          Your goal at this step them becomes to:

          1. Go through each source of revenue in your list from Step 2 and rate them on a scale of 1-5 in terms of each P: product, promotion, and process.

          This will help you more clearly narrow down what it is about each individual product or service that's working or not.

          By far the biggest hurdle for me in that bunch has been process, mainly because of the slow improvements I’ve had to make on my relationship with time.
           

          Some thoughts about time

          Time is sneaky little thing! If I was a betting woman, I would wager that mismanaged time is responsible for the majority of businesses that aren’t where they’d like to be financially. There are a few different lessons I’ve learned about how to cultivate better habits with time, and it’s improved my business significantly, so I wanted to dive into that one significant detail here.

          When I was doing client work and only making $1,000 a month, Jason sat me down and very kindly but honestly asked me if I was using my time effectively. I was defensive, of course, claiming that I was using every hour I could and doing my best, darnit!

          Still, he asked me to do a simple math exercise which really highlighted for me the fact that I was losing a LOT of time without even realizing it.

          He said:

          Think of every hour in your day as one block. How many blocks of actual focused work would you say you can do every day (not answering emails, checking social media, doing admin work… but actually doing focused, project-based design work?) 

          I answered 5. 

          5 hours = 5 blocks. 5 blocks a day, at 5 days a week means I essentially had 25 blocks a week or 100 blocks a month of potential “work time.” 

          At the time I was charging roughly $75/hr, which meant the total possible income I could be making as a designer every month if I booked my schedule was $7,500 (compared to the $1,000 I was making.)

          So why wasn’t that happening? Why wasn't I making $7,500/month?

          Well, that exercise made me realize a few things. #1) I wasn’t estimating my projects very well (I’d quote a project at 20 hours and spend 40 completing it.) And #2) I wasn’t booking my projects in an efficient way (without the visual “block” reference, I was only taking on one project a month because I was afraid of not having time to complete it. However, now armed with a way to estimate my time and conduct my time effectively, I felt empowered to get out there and book more business to fill up my “blocks.”

          I’ll admit, it felt a little restrictive at first, and honestly, humbling. Am I really not savvy enough as a business woman that I have to map out every single hour of the day to book clients? That’s how it felt. That is until I started seeing the monthly revenue climb. More projects, less wasted time, more confidence, less second-guessing… it turned into a snowball that was actually working.

          After I started to notice that, I was more than happy to put up with more structure than I was used to and trade a little bit of flexibility for the peace of mind that my effort was paying off.

          Here’s what we creatives need to understand:

          Structure is essential to efficiency, and efficiency is essential to profitability.

          I know it’s not sexy. I know it sounds cold, and boring, and not the exciting artistic impact that we all want to make on the world, but remember:

          It’s much harder to make our mark on the world if we’re scrambling for income.

          It’s much harder to make our mark on the world if we’re scrambling for income.

          Time efficiency can be the (unsexy) ally of beautiful, soulful art.

          If we reframe structure through this lens, we have a better shot at building thriving and sustainable businesses.

          Aside from the time block method, I also try to use tools like Toggl to keep track of how many hours a single project takes, which allows me to really factor in the time spent as a cost.

          It might take some mental effort, but evaluating the nitty gritty details of each project and business line will arm you with the information you need to make smart improvements to your business.


          Step 4: Start by acting on your Big Brick Wall and your Big Cracked Door.

          Now that you’ve taken a critical look at your creative business from a macro perspective and a micro perspective, it’s time to make some decisions about how to act on this information.

          Prioritization is key here because if you feel like everything has to change at once, it’s likely you’ll start to feel overwhelmed and nothing at all will change.

          That’s why I prioritize by looking for one Big Brick Wall and one Big Cracked Door.

          These are two terms Jason and I discuss in our Make Money Making course, but they are my way of evaluating how to move forward when I feel I’m at an impasse in my business.

          A brick wall = An obstacle you find yourself repeatedly bumping up against.

          A cracked door = A sliver of opportunity presenting itself to you.

          Your BIG Brick Wall is the brick wall that sticks out to you most. It’s the one challenge that you find yourself repeatedly coming back to most often. It could be on a macro level -- one revenue stream that just doesn’t seem to be working. Or it could be on a micro level -- a product, process or promotion issue -- that’s undercutting everything you try to do in your business. There are two ways to act on a Brick Wall, and that’s either to try and improve what’s not working or to simply let it go.

          Your BIG Cracked Door is the opportunity that feels like it has the most potential. It could be an existing product that is performing better than you imagined and could benefit from more time and attention, like your Dark Horse from Step 2. It could be a promotion method that is working extremely well but that you haven’t set aside time to crank the volume up on yet.

          You can even take the two birds, one stone approach here by simultaneously letting go of your Big Brick Wall in your business to divert your energy and attention to your Big Cracked Door.

          That’s what I did when I transitioned away from client work over to products and courses. In doing so, I wasn’t spreading myself thin because I was eliminating one thing while replacing it with something that was a better fit for me, which is really what this entire process is about: figuring the best use of your limited time and attention to make the biggest financial impact on your business.


          Step 5: Strengthen the communication with your audience.

          By this point you will probably have an idea of how to better focus your resources, which is a great start. But it won’t matter how efficient your processes are, how amazing your products are or how well-tailored your revenue streams are if you can’t form a meaningful connection with your audience. That’s why I had to include communication as the final step of the process.

          In the Better Branding Course, I talk about getting clarity around the 4 Q’s of your business, which will help you form clear and concise messaging on your website, your social media posts, your newsletter -- every single touchpoint you have with your intended audience.

          Those 4 Q’s are: Why? Who? What? And How? (… and in that order!)

          Why?

          As Simon Sinek says, “start with why.” Why does your business exist? What is the underlying mission behind your work? Defining this and weaving it throughout your work will help you attract your ideal audience and it will help you stand out in a sea of other similar businesses. Speaking of your ideal audience...

          Who?

          Who do you want to serve? Who are your trying to connect with through your work? Who will pay for your products or services? Try describing this group of people not in terms of their age or gender, but in terms of what they believe and what they care about. Like two puzzle pieces fitting together, your WHO should be a specific type of person that will resonate with your WHY.

          What?

          What are you promising people? What benefit do your specific services or products bring to people’s lives? Think of this not in terms of any details about your products but in terms of how your products make people feel and in what ways you make their lives better.

          How?

          Finally, how do you deliver that benefit to them? Through beautifully designed jewelry or online courses or colorful art? This is where you get specific on the things you sell and offer your audience.

           

          Once you can clearly and easily define these four things, you can weave the answers to these questions across every single aspect of your brand. As long as you are communicating these things clearlyauthentically and consistently (all three are very important!), you’re setting your business up for the best chance it has to achieve your financial goals.


          I know there are a TON of moving parts to this puzzle, and a LOT of information I’ve laid out here, but that’s because it is the true reality of running a creative business with soul.

          There are people out there that would like to pretend that running an online business is as simple as blogging consistently, delegating a few things, building an email list, selling an online course and watching the money roll in. They paint this picture because it is what helps them sell the course promising to show you how you can do it too in “7 easy steps.”

          As for me? My goal has always been to show you guys my personal journey in business -- the complex decisions, the emotional hangups, and the messy evolution of it all.

          In my experience, running a creative business is damn hard. It’s a constant battle with your own self-doubt, managing the ebbs and flows of the inevitable creative cycle. It’s sticking with projects long enough to see them through, but knowing when to let go of ideas that aren’t getting you where you want to go. It’s constantly holding on to what makes you unique, and it’s being brutally honest about your own strengths and weaknesses so you can carve out a path for yourself that is sustainable and authentic.

          But it is also immensely joyful. And freeing. And constantly illuminating. This business has given me the financial fuel I need to live comfortably, yet also the flexibility I want to travel and make space to grow.

          I hope the steps I’ve outlined above help you form a game plan if you’ve been stuck, and I hope it serves as a road map for what’s possible with effort and persistence.

          Keep shining, keep making, keep working toward whatever vision you have for your life, and I’ll keep being here sharing what I learn along the way!

           
           

          27 Limiting Mindsets That Could Be Holding You Back Creatively & Financially

          Back in October, some of you will remember that I sent out a long-form survey to get to know you guys better. I wasn’t interested in the typical stuff — how old you were, where you come from, where you found Made Vibrant, etc.

          Instead, I wanted to open up a deeper dialogue. Things like -- What does success look like to you? What relationship do you want to have between your creativity and your income? What do you think is holding you back?

          As I pored over HUNDREDS of entries, I felt l got to know each of you in a much more vulnerable and intimate way. (Thank you for sharing those things with me, by the way.)

          Turns out that last question -- what do you thin is holding you back? -- was quite illuminating. 

          I was struck by just how diverse and specific the answers were regarding the limiting beliefs and mindsets that keep us from our full potential. With every new entry, I felt I unearthed another fear that I myself had experienced, but that I hadn’t specifically identified for some time.

          Which got me thinking…

          It’s impossible to work to break through our limiting beliefs if we can’t first identify exactly where they stem from.

          So that’s what I want to attempt to do in this newsletter. I went through all your responses looking for patterns and I plucked out 27 distinct mindsets or limiting beliefs that you all feel are holding you back in one way or another.

          I want to encourage those of you that feel a sense of potential for your life beyond what you’re experiencing right now to carefully cull the list and write down which of them apply to you.

          I’ve also shared some links to past articles related to some of these mindsets so if they call out to you, you'll have some actionable advice on how to work past them. (You guys know me... I can't just leave ya hangin' with a list of things holding you back without some direction on how to change them!)

          Next week I plan to elaborate on this list by speaking specifically to those of you that want your creativity and your art to become your full-time income. If you're wondering why you're not making more money with your creative pursuits, step one is identifying these self-imposed limits below. If that step isn't taken, all the business help in the world won't solve a foundation that's cracked. So, let's start here, let's get honest about what habits and old mindsets have been deepening their grooves in our heads, and let's BREAK THROUGH in 2017.

          (One caveat: some of these obviously overlap and share similarities, but I wanted to break them out into their most granular characteristics so that we can really see how broad the idea of Fear is and how it manifests in so many different ways.)

          1. Lack of Self-Worth - 

          "I don’t deserve good things."

          I listed this first because it is probably the most insidious of all the following self-limiting beliefs. If we don't believe we're deserving, we're always going to be sabotaging the good things that unfold in our lives. This is work that takes time to break through, but once you truly believe you are enough and that you are deserving, it makes the rest of this list become a heck of a lot easier!
           

          2. Lack of Confidence - 

          "My skills aren’t good enough or I’m not unique enough to make my work valuable."

          See this article: Confidence And Learning To Trust Yourself

           

          3. Financial Anxiety - 

          "I hate looking at or dealing with all things money-related so I just hide from my accounts and hope things get better."

          See this article: How I Wiped Out $7,500 in Credit Card Debt in Six Months



          4. Lack of Motivation - 

          "I don’t feel enough of a catalyst to work towards my goals; I say I want things, but I struggle to take action to make them happen."

          See this article: Is There A Secret To Sustained Motivation?



          5. Overwhelm - 

          "I have no idea where to start or what to work on."

          See this article: Using Prioritization To Make Values-Based Decisions
           


          6. Guilt of Success - 

          "I’m holding myself back for fear of alienating a family member or partner."

           


          7. Fear of Public Failure - 

          "I’m afraid if I try things and fail, everyone will see me negatively."

          See this article: The First Helpful Thing Failure Teaches Us

           


          8. Fear of Success - 

          "I'm afraid that if I accomplish my big dreams I won’t be ready for it or I'll have to sacrifice too much to get there."




          9. Perfectionism - 

          "My skills aren’t where I want them to be and my work is never close enough to perfect so I don’t put anything out there."

          "An imperfect reality will always beat a perfect mirage."

           


          10. Fear of the Unknown - 

          "I keep myself limited because it’s comfortable and a lot less scarier than putting myself out there and not knowing what will happen."

          See this article: Are Your What Ifs Helping Or Hurting You?

           


          11. Fear of Commitment -

          "I’m afraid that if I go down one path I’ll be stuck doing that forever and I won't be able to change my mind."

          See this article: Are You Giving Yourself Permission To Evolve?

           


          12. Lack of Discipline - 

          "I can’t get myself to sit down and put in the work or stick to a consistent schedule."

          See this article: Why It's Harder For Some People To Form New Habits

           


          13. Self-Sacrifice Syndrome - 

          "I feel responsible for everyone else (my family, my partner, my kids) so I put myself and my dreams last."

          See this article: Re-defining What It Means To Be Selfish


          14. Fear of Rejection - 

          "I don’t want to go after projects that I want because I hate the feeling I get when people say NO."

          See this article: How To Deal With The Pain of Rejection



          15. Fear of Asking for Help - 

          "I'm at max capacity and I know I need help in order to move forward but I don't want to feel like a burden and I have trouble delegating."

          See this article: Why Is It So Hard For Us To Ask For Help?

           


          16. Lack of Patience -

          "I want to see the results of my hard work right away so when I don't see something payoff immediately, I quit."

          "Give it time."

           


          17. Second-Guessing Everything - 

          "I’m afraid to make a move one way or another for fear I’ll make a 'wrong' move, so I waffle on everything and stay stuck."

          See this article: Are You Afraid of Running Your Business The Wrong Way?


          18. Over-Optimization Syndrome - 

          "I need to know the BEST, MOST EFFICIENT, MOST EVERYTHING way to do something or it’s not worth doing at all."

          See this article: How To Make Big Choices With Less Stress?

           


          19. Need for Comfort - 

          "I’m afraid to make any financial investments in my business or myself because I’m comfortable with the life I have right now."

           

          20. Need for Struggle - 

          "I tend to not trust things that come easily or that just flow."

           


          21. Fear of Selling - 

          "If I try to promote my work or earn money with my creativity, I feel it undermines the authenticity of the work."

          See this article: Selling What Is True Over Selling What Is Easy

           


          22. Fear of Judgment - 

          "I care too much about what people think about me and it prevents me from doing anything that feels risky or vulnerable."

           

          23. Lack of Self-Trust 

          "I can sense my intuition sometimes and what my ‘gut’ wants me to do, but I don’t necessarily trust it; it doesn’t feel practical."

          Watch the workshop: Connecting With Your Core

           


          24. Lack of Focus - 

          "I have SO many ideas that I end up making a tiny bit of progress on each one but never finishing."

          See this article: Framing Your Year With Thoughtful Reduction

           


          25. Lack of Expertise - 

          "I feel like I’m good at a lot of different things but not great at any one thing."

          See this article: How Do I Create A Brand When I Have Many Different Interests? 

           


          26. Fear of Disappointing People - 

          "My family or people I care about expect something different from me and I don’t want to let them down."

          See this article: Do You Feel Pressure To Make Everyone Around You Comfortable?

           


          27. Inflexible Idealism - 

          "Everything I work on at all times must be 100% in line with the vision and values I have for what I want to do and who I want to work with."

          See this article: Defining The Relationship Between What You Love & What Makes You Money

           

          (One you won’t see on the list “Lack of Time.” Time is simply about prioritization so if you don’t “have the time” it’s because you’re not “making the time” and that means something else is filling up your days. The answer to why those activities are getting all of your attention is hidden in one of the items listed above. 😉 )

          Your challenge this week is to identify which fears/beliefs/mindsets from the list above describe the challenges you face when navigating your own personal evolution.

          ou can see just based on the fact that I've written articles pertaining to a majority of these topics that they are all things that have crept up on me at one time or another. Thankfully, though, by confronting them head on and taking steps to overcome them, I've been able to stretch my own boundaries and continually raise my own expectations for what's possible in my life. 

          I'm hoping this list is the beginning of that process for some of you! 

          Wishing you a limit-busting week!!

           
           

          State of the Union 2017

          Happy Monday, my dear friends!

          Boy does it feel good to be back in your inboxes. The holidays were an amazing time to slow down and be present with family and friends, but given how much I love my work, a part of me has definitely been itching to get back to it!

          We actually just moved back in to our place yesterday after two months of living in a temporary unit thanks to some flooding, and the timing has me even more excited about the new year since it feels like our place has become new again! I took the opportunity to finally deck out/cozy up my studio space, and I’m thrilled with how it’s coming along. I’ll be sharing more updates as it comes together over on Instagram, so check back there if you want to see how it comes together!

          Last year I kicked off 2016 with a post idea that I stole from my friend Paul Jarvis titled “State of the Union, 2016.” To continue with the tradition, today I wanted to share with you guys the highlights from last year, what lessons I learned, and where I think this year could be headed. Let’s get into it!

          What Went Well

          Painting!

          It’s hard to believe that my obsession with acrylic painting originated only a year ago because it has become such a huge part of my daily life. At the beginning of 2016, I knew I wanted it to be the year that I really started to embrace my identity as an artist. I knew creating art was central to my core being, but there was a part of me that was still lacking confidence since I wasn’t “trained” as a painter. I knew the only way to overcome that insecurity would be to create A LOT of work, which is why I challenged myself to a year-long painting project, Abstract Affirmations Daily, creating and sharing one hand-lettered abstract painting a day.

          Even though I wrapped up the project before the year was over, without a doubt I can say my “plan” to gain confidence and find my voice definitely worked. I don’t think you can go through that amount of paintings or spend that amount of time (around 400 hours!) without gaining confidence in a skill! I formed my own processes, experimented with all kinds of mixed media, changed up my style several times, and now I can look back on this huge body of work with immense pride and joy.

          When I originally had the idea for the project, the business side of me wanted a way to justify the time I knew it would require (and the cost of my art supplies) so I wondered if I could sell prints of each of the pieces. That may have been the biggest surprise of the year with the Art Shop bringing in over $10,000 as a revenue stream.

          Previously I had the notion that physical goods are hard to make any money on because of the low margins and high time/cost investment. I still believe that to be true but selling prints has shown me that if you have something people like and support and you’re willing to put in the effort and overcome the hurdles that pop up along the way, physical goods are definitely a viable (and fun!) business opportunity.

          Color Your Soul

          This was the other big win for me last year. Color Your Soul was something I had envisioned for over a year — a kind of hybrid monthly mindfulness subscription that was part community, part online learning, and part content/art discovery all built around one monthly theme.

          Now, four months in, I can honestly say it’s my favorite thing I get to work on every month. I pour such love and care into every single aspect of the subscription, and I can see that come through in the responses I get back from subscribers. The biggest surprise has come in the form of the private Slack group that accompanies CYS. I’ve been blown away by the quality of conversations and connections forming there. It’s such a beautiful thing to see other soulful creatives sharing their insights and their challenges, getting feedback on ideas and helping each other. In a way it makes me feel grateful to be somehow offsetting some of the more surface-level interactions that social media so often facilitates.

          Now that I have a few months under my belt, I definitely intend on trying to up my marketing game for this offering, mainly because I’m that confident in the experience it provides and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice by keeping it largely hidden from sight. Color Your Soul is definitely one of those things that for me blends art and commerce beautifully and I want to be able to show people you CAN actually earn a living off of some weird idea that is hard to explain. It may take longer and be harder to do, but it’s worth it.

          I went back an re-read my State Of The Union from last year, and one of my goals for 2016 was to throttle up the intersection of creativity and personal growth in my work. Looking back at Color Your Soul and my Abstract Affirmations project, I feel I definitely followed through on that intention and it’s allowed me to carve out a little niche that feels 100% me. The fact that I am making a sustainable living doing that? Well I can’t ask for much more than that.

          Moving to Oceanside

          On a personal note, the best move I think we made last year was moving to a condo in Oceanside, CA. Finding this place is a perfect example of why I say “you get what you settle for” because we turned down tons of potential properties before we found this place, which we actually discovered by accident. It popped up on Zillow outside the general areas we had been considering, but with its modern style and location just two blocks from the ocean, we decided to check it out. I’m so glad we did because it only took us a day to snatch it up before anyone else could. Despite a little plumbing snafu that forced us to move into an empty unit for two months, living here has been beyond a dream. The natural light and panoramic views of the California coast have me waking up to gratitude every single day. I’m someone who draws a lot of inspiration from my environment, and I definitely think this home has played a large role in making last year so incredibly rich and joyful for myself and Jason.

          Fitness

          I honestly can’t believe I’m even saying this but… 2016 was a good year for fitness. For years I’ve struggled to stay consistently active. I’d find something I liked (barre workouts, for instance), go all in for about a month or two, and then something would knock me off the wagon and I couldn’t get back on.

          Around June of last year though, Jason and I made the commitment to start working out again together, despite the fact that working out as a couple has not worked well for us in the past. (Picture me throwing a temper tantrum because Jason told me to use heavier weights. It wasn’t pretty.) We joined a local gym here in Oceanside and stayed consistent for about three weeks when… the gym went out of business. Now, in the past I would have taken that as a well-timed sign form the universe that I am simply not meant to be “a fit person.” But, determined not to lose our momentum, we worked out a deal with our property manager to use the small “amenities” gym of a condo about a half mile walk from us, and we actually stuck with it!

          With the exception of a few trips (many of which we actually worked out in hotels while on the road — who are we?!) we’ve been able to work out about 3 days a week. In no way is my health perfect but I feel really great about the slow, steady and most importantly SUSTAINABLE progress I made in 2016 to making it a real lifestyle shift. I still hate the gym, but at least now I have a love/hate relationship where I can see the benefits it’s bringing to my life, benefits I definitely want to keep making a priority.

          Now… let’s talk about what didn’t go so well…

          What didn’t go so well

          Better Lettering Course

          The proof is in the pudding, folks. If you neglect a revenue stream, it will show up in the sales. Better Lettering Course was my first online course and it has brought my business over $100,000 since its creation (that’s nuts considering it’s a $20 course!) But, in 2016, with my focus moving to painting and creating other courses, I no longer felt inspired to tend to that community and improve that low-priced course. Sales went from about $3,000/month at the beginning of the year to about $500/month in the last part of the year. I still am very passionate about hand-lettering, and I have a lot more to teach on the subject (including iPad Pro lettering and more digital topics that have become relevant since the course was created in 2014), so I have a plan to update and revive the course to give it new life. Stay tuned for that in the next month or so.

          Being glued to screens

          I spent way too much time on a screen in 2016. Even though I feel I was able to cultivate more balance in my work schedule by taking walks, spending time painting, reading, etc., the time I DID spend with my phone in my hand or in front of my laptop was not spent very intentionally. If I’m being honest with myself, I got way too sucked into the trap of trying to “keep up with” technology, which probably just stems from a place of not wanting to be left behind in my business. Too often I felt stretched thin, in a comparison mindset, and, honestly, kind of addicted to the validation of this little screen in my hand.

          As I took a step back over the holidays, I was reminded that it’s not the amount of Instagram posts or one’s use of Snapchat that ultimately determines the growth of a business. It’s doing things differently and authentically enough that you create real connections with other humans who want to share your work. I’m going to do my best to remind myself of that in 2017. While social media can still be useful and fun, I want to make sure I’m keeping my usage in check.

          What’s ahead in 2017

          Travel!

          Last year Jason and I were finally able to pay off our debt, putting us in a position to spend more money on something we both highly value in 2017: travel. As of right now, we have three big trips planned for the year: a family trip to Asheville, NC; a two-week vacation exploring Italy with two of our friends who moved to Sydney last year; and a week-long trip to Iceland for a friend’s wedding!

          To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. I think back to three years ago when we were over $100,000 in debt, living modestly and busting our butts to build the foundations of our businesses. These trips were just a dream at that point, but with smart saving, hard work and values-based living, we’ve been able to design a life with enough financial room for the things we care about.

          ps. Jason and I also have a fun side-project to share our travel adventures in the future, so you'll be able to explore these new places with us!

          More unconventional projects

          While I love online courses as much as the next person, I really want to stretch myself to create more things that go beyond what’s typically seen in the online business world. I want to embrace experimentation, put aside my fear of failure, and try out some things that are a bit unconventional. I have no idea what this means specifically yet, but ideas have been brewing in my head for new art experiences, short films, interesting product pricing (like the Vibrant Stuff Bundle!) and fun software tools. I want to continue to challenge myself to create things that are beyond what you all are seeing out there in order to keep you (and ME!) inspired.

          Learning to focus

          Man, this is what I struggle with the most as a creator/business owner. I come up with a plan, but then I lose interest in following through when a shiny new idea comes along. I’ve enlisted the help of the self-discipline master himself Jason to act as a sort of project manager for me and to implement a level of accountability to my focus. Like anything that you want to improve within yourself that doesn’t come naturally, I think it takes time and intention to slowly shift those habits over time. Rather than declaring some resolution to focus more this year, I’m viewing 2017 as my year to learn how to focus, acknowledging that it will take time and practice to cultivate this skill.

          More writing

          It’s funny, I’ve been writing consistently through this newsletter for three years now and yet there’s a part of me that still struggles to call myself a “writer.” I see similarities in this lack of confidence with my hesitance to call myself an artist in 2015. That’s why I want to continue to make writing a priority this year, and i want to work to integrate this more fully into my identity as a creator. Could this mean there’s a book on the horizon? Who knows. You guys will just have to stick around to find out. 

          My word for the year: LIGHT

          Finally, for the past few years I’ve chosen a guiding word for the year and I know many of you do the same. In 2015 my word was SAVOR; in 2016 it was CURATE; and now my word for this year is LIGHT.

          Here’s how I see that potentially manifesting in my life, though I’m sure it will change and take on new meaning as the year unfolds:

           
           

          I find it interesting that for the past two years my words have been verbs, while “light” is more of a noun. That shift reflects a broader shift I’ve seen in my growth journey which is that the past two years I’ve been focused a lot on DOING, and now I’m sensing a move toward BEING.

          I used to be largely focused on what I want to be creating and how I want to be creating it. But now I find myself more interested in how I show up in the world as a person, separate from the things I’m creating. Just an interested observation I thought I’d share!

          Alright friends! That’s the state of things around here. I’d love to hear how your 2016 went — what worked? What didn’t? What’s your word for the year? Feel free to hit reply and I’ll do my best to get back to you. I love hearing from you all and getting to know you better.

          Looking forward to another year of growing together and navigating this thing we call life!

           
           

          People Won't Know What You're Capable Of Unless You Show Them

          It’s no secret that possibly the biggest thing that holds so many of us back from making or creating at all is a desire for perfectionism.

          We all want our work to be high-quality and fully-formed right out the gate, right? It’s only natural.

          Thankfully, though, over the past few years, I’ve seen a shift in conversation encouraging creatives to overcome this barrier of perfectionism. This conversation has given birth to ubiquitous mantras like: “Done is better than perfect,” “Aim for progress, not perfection” and “Start before you’re ready” -- all of which is advice I can certainly get behind.

          Personally speaking, perfectionism is actually something deeply rooted in my consciousness, being the over-achieving, academic kid that I was growing up. For the past six years I’ve worked to overcome this mental barrier nearly every day, trying to create and share my work despite the voice in my head that naturally likes to point out every flaw or short-coming or opportunity for improvement.

          Today I want to share with you one specific mental shift that helped me start to make that journey from perfectionism-induced paralysis to prolific production (holy P's!)and it may just be one take that you hadn't yet thought of.

          It starts with a story.

          My first job out of college was at an advertising agency in North Carolina. The office was in an old renovated tobacco factory, with industrial-chic brick walls and polished concrete floors. There was ping pong and shuffleboard, dry erase marker frenzied across glass walls, and a coffee bar at the center of the office to work and hang out with fellow co-workers. It was the epitome of what I imagined was a “cool place to work,” and I couldn’t believe I’d snagged such a coveted spot.

          But there was a problem — I was so eager to get my foot in the door of the advertising industry and this “cool firm” that I ignored the fact that the only position they had available when I graduated was in the media department.

          In short, this meant I spent my days formatting spreadsheets, running banner ad campaigns, and fielding calls from media reps at niche financial magazines. (You see where I’m going with this, right?)

          With every passing day, I could feel the walls closing in on the creative essence that I now know to be at my core.

          I’d gaze longingly at the creative department that sat in the pod of desks nearby. I’d see them revising logo concepts and brainstorming wild campaigns and editing TV spots. I wanted so desperately to be there with them. Knowing inside the kind of creativity I was capable of and realizing that nobody else knew the potential inside of me inflicted on my heart a slow, desperate kind of suffering that’s hard to describe.

          I would daydream about someone from the department marching over to my desk and asking little 22-year-old me: “Hey Caroline, I know you’re super creative and we could use a little extra brain power over here — can you come help us?!” It took me months to actually snap out of my delusion and realize: that is NEVER going to happen.

          Why? Because I hadn’t given them any reason to.

          No one will know what you’re capable of unless you SHOW them.

          No one will know what you’re capable of unless you SHOW them.


          That’s the simple truth.

          In an interview I watched recently, Glennon Doyle Melton said this when talking about the feeling of envy:

          “There’s nothing more painful than seeing someone else do something that you feel like you were meant to do.”

          We’ve all had that feeling, right? You come across something another person had made and it HURTS. You don't want it to feel that way but you can't stop it; the envy creeps in. When that hot feeling of envy rises up in us, it’s usually because we’re actually mad at ourselves for not acting on the potential that we know is within us. We don’t want to feel the disappointment in ourselves, so we pass it off onto another person in the form of envy or jealousy.

          Back in 2011, I was itching to start my own blog. I had SO much I wanted to say and share and create, but I couldn’t settle on a name and I had no idea how to customize my blogger template and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write about… so I just waited.

          I waited for A YEAR. I waited until I finally paid attention to that hot envy I felt when I stumbled upon every favorite blog I saw, and I decided that it was time I stopped whispering to myself “I can do that” and I started proving it by putting in the work.

          Again: No one will know what you’re capable of unless you SHOW them.

          Don’t just expect people to sense that you’re a writer; start a blog or self-publish a book so you can show them.

          Don’t just expect people to guess that you’re an artist; post those paintings on Instagram and show them.

          Don’t just expect people to assume you’re musically gifted; publish those tracks to SoundCloud and show them.

          Right now you might see sharing your work as scary, especially if you feel it’s not perfect. (Reminder: no one’s is.) You don’t yet have that perfectly cohesive Instagram feed or every page of your blog beautifully designed or each lyric of your song in its poignant beauty.

          That’s okay.

          Look at sharing your creativity less as evidence of your magnum opus and more as the first line on your resume showing others what your potential is.

          With every new piece of art that you make and share, it’s like one more little beacon of proof showing the world (and, more importantly, yourself) what you’re capable of.

          I guarantee you, if you simply BEGIN and you share consistently for just one month, you’ll start to experience the thrill of taking what is inside you that’s begging to be expressed, and letting it see the light. That is the soul’s ultimate feeling of freedom, and it’s better than any drug. (Full disclosure: I don’t like drugs, so that's an easy comparison for me.)

          The truth is:

          Imperfect freedom tastes so much better than perfect confinement. 
          Imperfect reality feels so much better than perfect fantasy. (Because it's real.)
          Imperfect progress is so much more satisfying than perfect stagnation.

          Your challenge this week is to identify what potential is inside you that you’ve yet to share.

          What are you capable of that you can start SHOWING today. Then, make that plan and simply begin.

          The tools that are available to us as creators have never been more accessible or more plentiful. Get out there and use them.