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)

I just came off of a two-week period where I did more "promoting" than I have ever done in my career as a business owner. (Some of you that got all of the sales emails can attest to that!) 

And, I’ll admit it, 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.

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 tackled this last week!

      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.

       
       

      Selling What Is True To You Over Selling What is Easy

      Selling-What-Is-True-To-You-Over-Selling-What-is-Easy_header.png

      Last week I released the final Color Your Soul issue of the year, the Wonder Issue.

      As I was putting together the finishing touches — formatting the magazine, finalizing graphics, creating the daily challenge booklet — I found myself reflecting back on the evolution of this strange idea I had over a year ago.

      My vision was to create a monthly mindfulness experience, a kind of peaceful, soulful and heartfelt alternative to a lot of the overwhelming content I was starting to see geared toward creative entrepreneurs:

      I was seeing so many articles about how to DO more; so few articles on how to BE more.

      So many people teaching you their blueprints on how to make, sell, and promote; so few offering you a means of self-awareness to write your OWN blueprint from scratch.

      This weird hybrid subscription idea was hard to communicate, mostly because I’d never seen anyone create something like it. Kind of a membership community; kind ofan art experiment; kind of a digital magazine; kind of an online course subscription.

      The form felt a bit nebulous, but the mission was always clear: cut through the noise to deliver insightful and inspiring content that would help people feel closer to their core selves.

      The only problem, I quickly learned, is that people are already convinced they NEED the “how to do more” stuff. They are willing to pay for something that feels like an easy step-by-step process to a guaranteed return on their investment. (By the way, I know this because I consider purchases in the exact same way. What am I going to get out of this? Will my money be well spent? It’s a natural part of purchasing psychology.)

      As it turns out, that makes promoting something like Color Your Soul a bit of a challenge.

      Our little community has reached more than 50 active subscribers now, all of whom I’m so grateful for. But let’s be completely transparent here — the revenue generated by those 50 subscribers to this unique product is far less than what I’d make if I created the 124th “How To Succeed on Instagram” e-course. That’s just the truth.

      I want to share that fact honestly with you all because I KNOW so many of you creative entrepreneurs are faced with the same dilemma out there:

      Do I make/sell what feels EASY or do I make/sell what feels TRUE?

      Ie. Do I go with the sure bet or do I gamble on a vision that feels uncertain?

      Well, only YOU can truly answer that question for yourself and your business, but here’s the real heart of the message I want to hit home with you today: the fact that it is more challenging to sell something with deeper, more intangible benefits does not mean that it is impossible, nor does it mean it’s a bad business move.

      If you gave me the option of standing on a street corner and selling Big Macs or selling a delicious and healthful kale salad, I know which of those options is going to be the “winning” business venture. The Big Mac is scrumptiously artificial and instantly gratifying. The kale salad? It may also be delicious (let’s assume it is) but its real benefit is in the nourishing impact it has on your health and your body. That’s a selling feature with a payoff that’s hard to fully communicate.

      But you know what? When given the option, I will choose to sell the kale salad every time.

      With so many Big Mac products already for sale out there — delicious and gratifying, sure, but ultimately artificial — I will happily challenge myself to continue to create healthful kale salads in my business because I want to continue to create things that are nourishing, both to MY soul as the creator and to YOUR souls as the recipients.

      If something is not wildly profitable, that does not mean it is not worth doing.

      If something is not wildly profitable, that does not mean it is not worth doing.

      You have to remember that there are all kinds of different value metrics to measure when it comes to evaluating your ideas. Money is just one of them.

      There are also things like impact (does this project help a lot of people?); growth (does this project help me grow in a way I desire?); and, my all-time favorite, whole-hearted expression(does this project allow me to express my core self in a way that feels good to my soul?)

      Color Your Soul definitely fits squarely into that last category. What it lacks in highly scalable profits, it more than makes up for in the immense joy I get putting it together and in seeing the real, lasting change it creates for subscribers. I get to use SO many of my gifts and learned skills in one single project, and the final outcome is something that feels uniquely ME through and through. I would never want to trade that experience for something that is “easier” to sell.

      We as creative (and soulful) business owners must come to terms with this: Some things are just simply harder to sell. And that's okay.

      Oftentimes the things that are more pure of heart or enriching to the soul, they aren’t the things that people are convinced they need. But that doesn’t automatically mean they aren’t worth doing or that they can’t contribute positively to the overall economics of your business. That’s why it’s so important to establish your values as a business so you can see those more intangible benefits more clearly.

      For myself and for Made Vibrant as a business, my central driving ethos remains to choose what is TRUE to my core over what is easy, every. single. time.

      As we wrap up 2016 and you take a look at the projects you’re considering for the new year, my challenge this week is for you to take another look at that idea you have that you LOVE but that you’re afraid no one will want or buy.

      It may not be easy to sell, but does it feel TRUE to your core? If so, could it be time to give yourself permission to go for it anyway? Will you look back and be glad that you went for the kale salad instead of the Big Mac? (If you hate kale salad, feel free to replace with the healthful treat of your choice.)

      Running a values-based creative business is complicated stuff. It’s always a delicate puzzle determining which ideas are worth pursuing, which ones will bring you money (because there’s nothing wrong with earning a sustainable living), and which ones you want to tackle because it lights up your heart.

      The fact is, the only person who can navigate that delicate puzzle is YOU. But I hope in pulling back the curtain just a tad and showing you that profits aren’t the only measuring stick for the projects I take on within Made Vibrant, that you feel empowered to see your creative business ideas perhaps in a new light.

      Wishing you all a wonderful week!

       
       

      The Clarifying Power of Regret

      This week was Thanksgiving here in the states, so Jason and I flew back to Florida for the week to be with our families.

      I spent the time away filling up on stuffing and mashed potatoes while simultaneously detoxing from social media a bit (both were equally satisfying.)

      With all this happy family time, it might seem a bit odd then that this week’s topic of interest is regret, but in fact it’s this very topic that’s given me a new lens with which to view my experiences, including family holidays.

      It first came to my attention as Jason and I were driving to the airport to catch our flight back to California. We were listening to an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show with guest David Heinemeier Hansson (also known as DHH, co-author of a favorite book of mine, REWORK, and co-founder of Basecamp.)

      During this interview he made reference to something called the “regret minimization framework” which, as it turns out, is just a fancy term that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos applies to his approach to decision-making attempting to minimize that number of things he’ll regret at the end of his life (a framework that ultimately led him to take a chance on this crazy idea for “selling books on the internet.”)

      I wrote this phrase down the second I heard it, mostly because I’m honestly so unaccustomed to thinking about regret and the very mention of it had my ears perk up.

      I guess I’ve always thought of regret with a negative connotation. It conjures up some left turn in your life or event in your past (or perhaps post-tequila-shot decision) that you dwell on which ends up spoiling your present. That never seemed very productive to me.

      I’m one of those people that believes every decision, every success, every failure, every path ends up leading you to who you are -- and really, making you who you are -- so what could there be to regret, I would wonder?...

      But when I heard this term in the interview, it’s like I suddenly understood the idea of regret with a fresh perspective. I no longer saw it in the context of a present regret for a decision made in your past, but as a future regret for a decision made in your present.

      In imagining a future version of yourself, perhaps even at the end of your life, suddenly you’re able to see more clearly which actions in the present support the deeper (often dormant) values that your inner core is longing for.

      While considering this, I was reminded of a podcast interview I did with my friend Tiffany Han a few weeks ago and I remembered she too had discovered the clarifying power of regret.

      When confronted with those big leaps that we often want to take but we're fearful of, she asks herself:

      “Will I regret NOT doing this a year from now?”

      Once faced with that question, it then becomes easier to sift out the difference between “I don’t want to do this because it’s not in alignment with who I am” and “I don’t want to do this because I’m scared.”

      It’s funny though, whereas many people might find this idea of regret the thing that helps them get the courage to take a risk or conquer a fear or finally pursue a dream, in applying this to my own life, I discovered something altogether different and surprising to me.

      I realized that my dormant values aren’t actually about expressing my creativity or stretching my boundaries; when I consider what I might regret at the end of my life, most of what comes up for me is about family.

      As we rode along in the car on the way to the airport, I reflected on the Thanksgiving week we’d just had. Trying to balance my family, his family, seeing all my brothers and sisters, new nephews and nieces, trying to fit in a few friend visits. Trying to give everyone time, and attention, and yet still trying to carve out tiny pockets of self-care and introvert-crucial silence. And here’s the honest truth: it wasn’t EASY.

      I don’t mean that necessarily in a negative way, I simply mean that when it comes to the routines of regular ol' everyday life that we cultivate, there’s a comfort there. There’s a rhythm. We know what our needs are, the needs of our partners, of our children or our pets, and for the most part, each day is simply our best shot at the delicate balance of meeting all those needs.

      Family holidays, on the other hand, are kind of like an episode of Needs Gone Wild. There are so many more factors, so much more nuance and history and complexity that goes into the orchestration of all these various relationships coming together. And for me at least, all of that complexity comes with a little bit of unavoidable anxiety.

      However, this lack of ease that I describe seems to fall away and the complexity matters so much less when I look back and frame the week around the context of REGRET.

      I simply ask myself: Would I look back and wish I would have braved the uncertainty of the Needs Battlefield in exchange just a few more cherished memories with the people I call family? And when I sit with that question, I see the answer is almost always YES.

      This “regret framework” allows me to peel away the subconscious label of obligation that family holidays often reflexively invite, and instead I can see them with a deeper perspective of gratitude and joy and even privilege. It may not make the scheduling or the navigating any easier, but at least I can bring attention to how lucky I am to have so many people pulling at my time and my attention.

      And that’s the value that this whole idea of regret has brought me the past few days. It’s given me a new filter or test to hold my actions and decisions up against in order to get more clarity.

      We can actually use regret as a tool for clarity in navigating life’s big decisions. 

      We can actually use regret as a tool for clarity in navigating life’s big decisions.

       

      The more I thought about it, the more powerful this idea started to become for me because it is advice that has the advantage of speaking to each person individually.

      When you think about it, regret is actually a relative concept -- something that bends for each of us depending on what we value at our core.

      So, the beauty of using Jeff Bezos’s “regret minimization framework” (we gotta get a sexier name for it, Jeff) is that for me, it might mean saying yes or making more time for family functions even if it means plucking me out of my comfort zone here at home because deep down I ultimately value family, connection, and shared memories.

      For you, it could mean saying yes to that risky business idea even if it means overcoming your fear of rejection because deep down you value creativity and curiosity.

      Regret is that rare concept that might exist in an ethereal space, but we seem to feel it and relate to it in a very tangible way. If you can tap into that not as a way of dwelling on your past, but as a way of ensuring the future that you really want, that’s when you can discover the clarifying power of regret.

      Your challenge this week is to simply ask yourself: At the end of your life, what’s one thing that comes to mind that you think you’d regret not having done?

      Bonus challenge: Go DO that thing. (Or perhaps take one baby step action toward that thing this week.)

      Wishing you all a week filled with minimal regrets ;) and Happy It’s-officially-acceptable-to-listen-to-Christmas-music Week!

       
       

      My 13 Ingredients For A Vibrant Day

      I’ve never been the type of person to have one static daily routine.

      I feel like I’m always testing and tweaking, adding and subtracting things to my routines in order to find new ways to keep myself feeling energized, focused and, well, VIBRANT.

      Over the past few years, this has led me to all sorts of interesting experiments trying to optimize my day. I’ve tried things like meditation, morning reading, waking up earlier, waking up later, taking more breaks, the pomodoro technique, mid-day walks, ending my workday at a specific time… the list goes on.

      Each tiny change did feel like it had an effect on the way my day unfolded, but none so much as the changes I’ve made recently. Over the past four weeks, I feel like I’ve finally arrived at a recipe for what leads me to a consistently good day.

      And it actually starts with the realization that it has very little to do with the specific systems or tasks I integrate into my day.

      Instead, I’ve discovered that the quality of my day is directly related to how many of my core values I put into motion.

      Instead, I’ve discovered that the quality of my day is directly related to how many of my core values I put into motion.

      In other words, it matters less WHAT routines I engage in, and it matters more WHY I engage in them. It’s less about the systems, and more about the values those systems represent.

      Let me explain...

      I know I’ve mentioned this more than a few times the past few weeks, but I’ve started a daily gratitude practice using The Five Minute Journal. It only take a few minutes a day and it’s incredibly powerful. It gives me an opportunity to bring more awareness to all the goodness in my life and to connect with my intuition before I start my day.

      One of the most interesting discoveries from this new practice of mine comes from the final question at the bottom of every page, one that I answer each night before I go to bed:

      "How could I have made today even better?"

      This simple question has been a sort of revelation for two reasons: 1) it gives me a daily opportunity to evaluate what I would like more of and what I would like less of in my daily life and 2) I began to realize there was a noticeable pattern that emerged from the days when I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing I would have changed. 

      Those were the best days, and after more and more of those days started popping up, I was able to ask myself: What things did I do differently on these days to separate them from the I-could-have-made-it-better days?

      That’s where I started to see a pattern emerging. It wasn’t a list of specific things I did on each of my best days, but I did realize that there were things I did that fit within a specific list of VALUES -- values that (unsurprisingly) line up quite well with my core values.

      13 of them, to be exact. And, let me just say, I know 13 may sound like a lot to you. But it’s not about trying to “cram” each of these values into an already overbooked daily schedule.

      It’s about identifying what core elements contribute to you feeling like your best, brightest self, and then finding tiny ways to live out those core elements inside your existing habits.

      Like I mentioned, maybe for you it’s about adding one positive action that aligns with your core values and subtracting one habit that detracts from your core values.

      Either way, I think the actions we take day in and day out matter. I often talk a lot about big conceptual topics here in these letters, but every now and again I like to break things down into their most practical, tactical pieces so that you feel inspired with ideas you can use TODAY to start living a more vibrant life.

      All that said, here is MY personal list of the 13 ingredients that make a vibrant day. I encourage you to write down your own list and maybe experiment with a few of the ways I listed below to LIVE OUT your values and put them into action on a regular basis. Enjoy!


      Psst. At the end of this article, download your own free color-it-yourself daily checklist!


       

      1. Gratitude - Did I practice (out loud or on paper) what I’m grateful for?

      For me, it all starts with gratitude. Gratitude allows me to bring awareness to the things that already bring me joy and satisfaction in my life, which starts my day off on a happy and peaceful note (rather than a very reactive, stressful feeling which is often how I feel when I start my day with email or social media.)

      Ideas for folding gratitude into your day: Taking 5 minutes in the morning to write down what you’re grateful for; using The Five-Minute journal; swapping gratitude texts with a friend; reciting your gratitude before dinner with your family; writing down 3 awesome things in your life before you go to bed at night.
       

      2. Stillness - Did I take at least five minutes to be still with myself and my feelings?

      I’m finding more and more that stillness or presence is a crucial element for getting in touch with my intuition and feeling connected to my core. When I take that time out to get into alignment before moving forward, it sets me up to have MY most vibrant day, rather than just reacting to all the shoulds that tend to pop up.

      Ideas for folding stillness into your day: Starting a meditation practice; sitting with your morning coffee AWAY from a screen; finding a favorite spot outside to sit and take in the day; spending five minutes in stillness at your desk to get centered before your workday.
       

      3. Intention - Did I set a goal or purpose for my day?

      As someone who values flexibility immensely, I used to think that days where my schedule was wide open and my to-do list was nebulous might be my personal idea of heaven. Turns out, not so much. In my recent experiment, I found that days when I didn’t write down a focus or intention for what I wanted to accomplish that day (even if what I wanted to accomplish meant watching 3 hours of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, thanks Sundays!) I ended up feeling like the day passed me by. Days where I did set a purpose or intention gave me a loose-but-guiding structure which helped me feel focused.

      Ideas for folding intention into your day: Using a planner to write down your to-dos, taking five minutes to block out time on your calendar to work on certain tasks; writing down one big task you want to complete for the day or one desired feeling that you want to work toward as a huge post-it on your desk.
       

      4. Productivity - Did I accomplish at least one thing I set out to do?

      Intention is awesome, but the even more satisfying part of setting the intention is actually following through with it. If I’m able to focus long enough to complete just one of the tasks on my intention list for my work, I feel pretty darn good about myself. If I lose focus and I let myself get distracted, I find that I don’t feel nearly as peaceful at the end of the day. Keep in mind though, “productivity” is less about feeling guilty if I don’t get everything done on my list and more about feeling good about taking one step closer to whatever my goal of the moment is.

      Ideas for folding productivity into your day: Prioritizing your to-do list so you have one most important thing that you want to tackle; breaking down your goals into small and practical steps; giving yourself a small reward for getting your top priority task done each day.
       

      5. Creativity - Did I make something purely for the joy of making it?

      Expressing myself and using my creativity is simply what lights me up. Lucky for me I’ve built a business around using my creativity so I’m making things all the time. However, I’ve learned that I need to carve out even just the tiniest bit of time to make something NOT for any business purpose -- just for myself.

      Ideas for folding creativity into your day: Spending a few minutes in a sketchbook; taking a break in between tasks to doodle in your planner; spending 15 minutes after the kiddos go to sleep to work on a new hobby; creating experimental art with new tools and apps on the iPad (this is me lately!)


      6. Nourishment - Did I feed and hydrate my body with what it needs to feel energized?

      I don’t know about you, but all it takes is one migraine headache and what started as a good day can go off the rails REALLY fast. And that’s exactly what happens to me if I don’t drink enough water -- I get a splitting headache and feel like calling the day quits right then and there. Similarly, if I go out for an indulgent and heavy lunch, it leaves me feeling lethargic and sluggish and it feels like the rest of my day revolves around debating whether I should take a nap or not.

      But, when I drink plenty of water and nourish my body with delicious but healthful food, I seriously feel like I can run the world. I have energy, it’s easier to focus, and on top of all that I feel good about contributing to my overall internal well-being.

      Ideas for folding nourishment into your day: Drinking at least six glasses of water (one day I’ll get to 8, but for now 6 feels like a win.); eating well-balanced meals that are energizing; keeping healthy snacks on hand; maybe limiting it to one glass of wine instead of two during the week. ;)


      7. Movement - Did I move my body?

      If you’ve been following these newsletters long enough, you probably caught wind of the fact that I HATE exercise. I loathe it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the value it brings to my life in terms of how much energy I have, how strong and confident I feel, and the overall calming effect it has on my anxiety. Lately Jason and I have found a rhythm and we’ve been able to keep up with a consistent schedule of exercising about 3-4 days a week. (Truly, you have no idea what a WIN this is in my book.) But, even on my “off days” I find myself now wanting to take a walk or do some yoga just because I view it as that time when I can get out of my head and into my body.

      Ideas for folding movement into your day: Start your morning with a dance party; take a walk around your neighborhood; play tag with the kids; try a new workout class; do five minutes of yoga in your PJs first thing in the morning.
       

      8. Laughter/Joy - Did I laugh and feel lightness?

      Luckily I have a partner in life that helps out A LOT with this. Sometimes I get so “busy” though that I forget to build in time to have fun. Fun and laughter and joy can sometimes feel like such frivolous things, as though they’re inessential. On the contrary, I think they are SO essential to relieving tension and getting back in touch with our childlike inner selves.

      Ideas for folding laughter into your day: Planning a harmless prank on a coworker; playing a game with your kids; doing a silly dance around your living room; watching a hilarious video on YouTube.

      9. Delight - Did I do something for myself that felt beneficial to my soul?

      We have to fill up our own tanks before we can give to others, and that’s what delight is for me. It’s doing something that might feel a bit self-indulgent so that I can feed that personal, core self. Whatever small delights makes your soul happy, carving out time to integrate more of those into your day can make a big difference.

      Ideas for folding delight into your day: Walking the aisles at Anthropologie; drawing a bubble bath; listening to my favorite sing-along album; taking ten minutes out to snuggle with my pup; painting my nails; listening to my favorite funny podcast, making cookies for no reason.
       

      10. Community/Connection - Did I connect with another human in a meaningful way?

      Even as an introvert, the days when I spend a few minutes to reach out and connect with another human end up feeling more full and satisfying. For me, community is about so many things: it’s about not feeling alone in the world, like someone else sees and understands me; it’s about cultivating relationships that provide me with emotional support; and it’s just about getting out of my own head and bouncing ideas off another person. Some days that means just giving more attention to Jason and doing something that allows us to connect outside of our autopilot work-from-home routines, or some days that’s sharing a Skype call with a friend.

      Ideas for folding community into your day: Calling a family member to say hello; having a meaningful email exchange with one of your blog readers ;); having a pleasant conversation with the kind barista at your favorite coffee shop.
       

      11. Service - Did I help someone?

      I love helping people and even if it’s a small gesture, I feel my best when I’m providing value or support or kindness to another person.

      Ideas for folding service into your day: Holding the door open for someone at the grocery story; showing a coworker how to use a new tool; volunteering at a local charity; responding to an email inquiry of someone asking for advice.
       

      12. Knowledge - Did I learn something new?

      I’m a curious person by nature and there’s something so satisfying to me about learning something new. I love looking for opportunities to stimulate new areas of my brain and challenge myself intellectually.

      Ideas for folding knowledge into your day: Listening to an interesting podcast; reading a thought-provoking article or long-form essay; taking an online class; spending a few minutes on a learning app (I’m currently learning Italian on Babbel.com!)
       

      13. Nature - Did I go outside and experience the natural world around me?

      Going outside is my simple cure-all for making just about any day better. Feeling present to the beauty that is around me and detaching myself from the screens that I’m constantly surrounded by helps me slow down and feel alive. Whether it’s the sun on my face, fresh air in my lungs or the sounds of birds chirping in the distance, it might sound cliche but it’s soothing to my soul.

      Ideas for folding nature into your day: Sipping your morning coffee on your porch; eating lunch outside; taking a lap around the block of your office; having a “walking meeting”; tending to a garden; playing with your kids in the yard.

      ***

      It may seem like a lot seeing them written out this way, but if my daily journaling has taught me anything, it’s that so many of these were already naturally a part of my instincts. This just gives me a new awareness to act on those instincts. And I love combining them too: I can block off a half hour in the middle of my day, take a walk down to the ocean listening to my favorite podcast, sit on a rock watching the waves for a few minutes and in that half hour alone I’m able to experience movementnaturedelight and stillness.

      Now I want you to think about what those elements are for you. What’s YOUR personal recipe for a vibrant day? Is there any missing from my list that you’d add to yours?

      This week I challenge you to write down your own “recipe for a vibrant day” list and see if you can integrate a small action in each category into your day for the whole week.

      You don’t have to turn your life upside down, but my hope is that just by becoming aware of the tangible actions that bring happiness to your day, you may find a basic formula of values that you can use to boost the number of GREAT days you have.

       
       

      Want to track your recipe for a vibrant day?

      Here's a fun and free color-it-yourself worksheet. Download the version with my 13 categories or write in your own in the blank version. Track each element so you can see what you might need to bring more attention to! 

      Re-defining Success Through Internal Validation, Not External Validation

      On Monday I posted this little illustration to Instagram, which many of you (as in like… DOZENS of you) commented on with a collective AMEN and I figured that served as an indication to me that this topic might be one worth going deeper on:

       
       

      When I posted that image, I remember the exact state I was in, and maybe it’s one you can relate to it.

      Just a few moments before I had realized I was feeling uncharacteristically tired (typically an indicator something is out of sync), so I took a second out of my day to ask WHY? (High five for recognizing my Indicators; Double five for getting curious about it!)

      Without realizing it, over the previous few weeks I had let myself drift back into an exhausting state of “success chasing.”

      “Success chasing” is what I call the state where I’m fueled more by my desire for external validation than I am by my satisfaction with internal validation.

      Success chasing is where the driving force behind my decisions, productivity, and general output comes from wanting to “achieve” something or be recognized for something rather than the satisfaction of creating something from my core self.

      Now the trickiest part of success chasing is that it often disguises itself as motivation. And motivation feels like a very good thing -- it fuels us to go after our goals.

      The problem, though, is when that fuel is coming from a place of lacking, ie. the distance between ourselves and that external validation we crave.

      We see what we want. We realize we don’t have it. We work hard to get it. Right? Well unfortunately that particular line of logic also means that our work is stemming from what we don’t have.

      That I think is what so many of you latched onto in that illustration. The world around us not only feeds us messages reminding us of what we don’t have, but it also makes it pretty clear there are a few traditional things we should have: million dollar businesses, big girlboss-y teams to nurture, and a rapidly growing fan base.

      But... there’s an alternative.

      There’s the fuel that actually comes from internal validation instead. From recognizing not what you want to have but how you want to feel. Not what you want the outcome to be, but what you want the process to be.

      Instead of success chasing, it’s what I call creative satisfaction (satisfaction as in fulfillment, literally the opposite of lacking.) It’s that feeling that you’re designing your life in a way that’s deeply aligned with your values. It's a fullness; an integration.

      And THAT feeling creates its own kind of fuel, a different kind of propulsion that isn’t rooted in a sense of lacking or deficiency. Instead it’s one that’s rooted in abundance -- an overflowing sense of joy and confidence.

      Here’s a little diagram to show you the difference as it sits in my head (I'm a sucker for diagrams!):

       
       

      Now how do these two types of validation relate to success?

      Well, in our culture, we often label the external validation framework as the one that defines “success.”

      Why? Because it’s the one we can see.

      It’s the one that gives us things we can measure like money and followers and best-selling books and website traffic.

      The other framework is much more personal and intangible. Oftentimes, the only one who can even identify it or quantify it is the person engaging in it.

      But is there any reason that the second diagram shouldn’t still be a perfectly acceptable framework for success?

      In fact, most of us would probably agree that out of the two, it’s the only one that’s really sustainable.

      In the traditional version, the joke is actually on us because we never actually catch up to that nebulous benchmark of external validation. We experience tiny milestones along the way, but without cultivating a practice of appreciation, we end up staying in that “hungry” state, resulting in an excruciatingly endless hunt.

      And the other framework? Well that’s the one I finally came around to with my revised definition of success in that first illustration.

      I found my way back to it by reminding myself that every Monday morning I wake up with equal amounts of peace and excitement. No dread, no expectations hanging over my head, no orders to follow. I’ve reached a point in my professional life where I thankfully control every facet of how I run my business, and that includes NOT waking up on Mondays in a frenzy. It also includes making things I love, that I’m proud of, and answering ultimately to my intuition.

      As a sensitive and creative soul who values flexibility, that IS my ideal.

      What could be more successful than carving out a life for yourself that allows you to live your values daily?

       

      And so if there’s one thing I want you to take away from this letter and my wacky diagrams, it’s this:

      You get to DEFINE what success means to you.

      Keep in mind though, if you do select Diagram #2 -- the path of alignment -- you WILL have to choose it over and over and over again. Your instinct WILL be to drift back into Diagram#1 and into the chase for external validation. You’ll want the milestone, the public pats on the back, that glorious feeling of being accepted into the tribe of humanity.

      Trust me though, all of that will ring hollow compared to the glorious, sustaining satisfaction of being accepted BY YOUR INNER SELF every single day.

      Last week I came across an interview of Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, on 99u.com and this excerpt that speaks to this notion perfectly:

      “...I frequently get emails from young people starting out and asking, ‘How do I make a successful website or start my own thing?’ And, very often, it’s tied to some measure of success that’s audience-based or reach-based.’How do you build up to seven million readers a month or two million Facebook fans?’ But the work is not how to get that size of an audience or those numbers. That’s just the byproduct of what Lewis Hyde calls ‘creative labor,’ which is really our inner drive. The real work is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on those numbers—on that constant positive reinforcement and external validation. That’s the only real work, and the irony is that the more “successful” you get, by either your own standards or external standards, the harder it is to decouple all of those inner values from your work. I think we often confuse the doing for the being.”

      A few weeks ago I was gifted a Five-Minute Journal and since the Color Your Soul theme this month is Gratitude, I’ve been trying to cultivate a gratitude practice for the first time in my life. (ps. it’s working. The gratitude thing is for. Real. ) Every day the journal has a line for you to write your own "I am" affirmation, a guiding belief that you can repeat every day to yourself. As of last Monday, here's mine:

      “I am ALREADY successful because I have designed a life that I wake up excited to live every day.”

      This week I challenge you to redefine your idea of success and write your own “I am successful” statement, one that acknowledges the way(s) that you are already a success.

      Remember, this doesn’t mean that you have to stop striving, stop wanting to be better, or stop trying to create a brighter life. It just means that you take a moment of gratitude for how far you’ve already come.

      When you already feel successful, you move forward from a place of abundance, not scarcity.

      When you already feel successful, you move forward from a place of abundance, not scarcity.


      When you are fueled from that place of creative satisfaction, you’re striving from a sense of peace, not poverty; fullness, not famine. From a place of WANT, not from a place of need.

      I hope this week’s letter has given you the permission you need to redefine success on your own terms. Be careful not to “confuse the doing with the being,” dear friends.

       
       

      Learning To Dance With The Opposing Forces Within

      Let's talk about... BALANCE. It’s a topic that weaves its way into our conversations a lot these days.

      Balance between life vs. work. 
      Balance between the hustle vs. the flow. 
      The art vs. the commerce. 
      The deep vs. the light-hearted. 
      The masculine drive vs. the feminine intuition.

      I find myself caught in the tug-of-war between ALL of these forces on. the. regular.

      What about you?

      My instincts tell me that as an intuitive, soulful maker, you too probably experience the constant push and pull of opposing forces like these.

      For me, the struggle that plays the most prominent role on a daily basis is the one between wearing my bosslady, make-it-happen, business hat and my intuitive, sometimes idealistic, feel-it-out artist hat.

      One moment I’ll find myself watching a video on Gary Vaynerchuck’s YouTube channel lighting a fire in me to tackle my goals with gusto, work harder with more focus, and to dream up new ways to grow Made Vibrant as a business.

      Later that same day I’ll find myself reading a post from Liz Gilbert reminding me to return to my truth and to create whole-heartedly, without worrying about what everyone thinks or what will make me money.

      BOTH people inspire me. BOTH messages speak to me. I find myself benefiting from BOTH perspectives at different moments in time.

      But, instead of embracing this complex mix of inspiration, here’s what happens instead...

      I find myself swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other, convinced that no, THIS is the right side of the fence to be on, and inevitably I feel like I’m somehow cheating on the part of myself that’s still clinging to the other side.

      “I need to embrace that I’m running a business here and not view my work so idealistically.”

      “NO! I need to return to the purity of making and not put so much pressure on my work to be financially fruitful.”

      NO this is right.

      NO that is right.

      And before long my brain and my heart feel like they're literally engaged in some epic version of tug of war.

      It’s exhausting.

      Then, after a couple deep breaths, I take a step back and ask myself:

      What if it’s actually just somewhere in the middle?

      We are complex humans with the capacity to hold all sorts of opposing forces within us at the same time.

       

      Yes, we're makers AND business owners. We carry both masculine AND feminine facets. We believe in striving forward toward goals AND taking gratitude in what we have now.

      The problem lies in our attempt to create false dichotomies where they need not exist.

       

      It is not either/or, it is yes AND.

      I’m a little bit of Garyvee AND a little bit of Liz Gilbert. I’m deep and light-hearted. I thrive on a mix of still satisfaction AND fiery forward-motion. My truth is somewhere in the middle of all that.

      The distress and exhaustion of our “struggle” doesn’t actually come from traveling back and forth between the two; the distress comes from FIGHTING the urge to travel between the two. In pretending that either one is a static solution rather than a dynamic flow.

      We have to learn to see this pendulum swing from one end of a spectrum to the other not as a struggle or tug of war, but instead as a DANCE. A waltz where the passage is fluid and purposeful and graceful.

      When you lean into that pendulum swing and embrace it as aligning with one of the varied, complex parts of you (rather than fighting it every step of the way) you’re able to fully integrate all the complex parts of yourself AND benefit from the middle-ground that each one creates.

      Our instinct is to place the world around us and ourselves into neat little boxes. Our brain takes comfort in the categorization of things.

      But the more comfortable we can get with this squishy, uncertain middle ground, the more confidently we’re able to ride the inevitable waves of the creative process.

      Sometimes the work that lights us up to the core is not the work that makes us money.
      And sometimes what makes us money isn’t the most fulfilling work we do.

      But I’m learning that I want to live somewhere in the soupy middle of the two, putting my business hat on when I need the financial wiggle room to create and putting my artist hat on when I need to fill up my soul. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I may just get to wear both hats at once.

      Your challenge this week is to write down a list of 5 “opposing forces” that you find yourself waffling back and forth between.

      Then I encourage you to think about (or write about) how you possess both opposing forces WITHIN you and giving yourself permission to embody BOTH.

       
       

      How To Embrace Experimentation In Your Creative Business

      To start today’s letter, I have a few questions for you:

      • Do you ever feel like you TRY too many things? Like you have too many interests?
      • Do you ever feel judged for having a different vision every few weeks?
      • Do you beat yourself up over not being able to “nail down” or “button up” your creative business?
      • Do you have a million projects/ideas you’re juggling at once that you LOVE but the world keeps telling you to focus and pare down and it leaves you feeling like an amateur.

      I hope some of you are nodding your heads hard because this is probably one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with as a creative, and I had no idea it was still an issue for me until recently.

      A few weeks ago, I did a podcast interview with a friend of mine from the early early days of blogging, Kelsey Cronkhite of Pinegate Road. Kelsey and I talked about a lot of things (and I totally recommend listening to the episode!) but one tiny part at the end had me thinking long after we hung up.

      When Kelsey asked me what particular mantra was guiding me at the moment (1:19:10 mark of the ep if you want to listen), the first one that came to mind was one that has guided Jason and I in life and business for years:

      “LIFE IS AN EXPERIMENT.”

      This simple phrase has always reminded me to keep a mentality of exploration and adventure as I approach both life and business. It reminds me of the importance of testing assumptions and pushing boundaries. You can’t always think or plan your way through things… you have to test and try and be willing to find out.

      BUT, then Kelsey asked an interesting follow-up question:

      “What would you say to someone who IS a planner. How can they go from that ‘wanting to have it all figured out’ stage to actually taking that first step?”

      Without thinking about it too much, my answer was:

      "You make experimentation a part of the plan.”

      What I was trying to say was that experimentation CAN be purposeful and intentional and you just have to remind yourself that trying things is actually a more efficient and effective way to figure things out, rather than just thinking about something and making assumptions.

      The funny thing is though... 

      I desperately needed to reminded MYSELF of this advice.

      As much as I still try to use the ‘life is an experiment’ mantra to guide me, if I’m really honest with myself, I still carry some kind of guilt around how much experimenting I do -- especially in my business.

      Just in the past year alone with my business I’ve tried: a daily art project, selling art prints and originals, filming two new art classes, live paid classes, free email courses, redesigning my website, launching a monthly subscription, the list goes on and on and on.

      The truth is I love to learn BY DOING. I love experimenting -- thinking something will yield a certain result but then testing it and trying it only to find it yields a completely different result.

      So why then do I find myself feeling GUILTY over all this experimentation?

      Why do I feel like all this experimenting should have led to some grand conclusion by now?

      My word for this year was CURATE, and -- as our best-laid plans often tend to -- that hasn’t quite panned out the way I intended it to.

      I think subconsciously I wanted this year to be some sort of “graduation” from trying so many things, not because I no longer wanted to try new things but because I thought I SHOULD be reaching that point in my business where things felt more stable, more concrete. Like it was all supposed to lead to some big moment of clarity and then I would continue on in a clear and methodical way from that point forward.

      But I'm learning to appreciate the fact that, for me, I don't think there is some final destination of clarity. It's a mirage; a horizon line that keeps moving the closer you try to get to it.

      And now that I’m thinking about it, if there WAS actually an end to all my experimenting, I would be so sad!

      I love making exploration and discovery a part of my business. I love trying several different things and being surprised by the outcome. I never want to lose that.

      So, thanks in part to the unexpected reminder from Kelsey’s interview, I’m taking my own advice and making experimentation a part of the plan.

      I’m finding my own peace with it by making it intentional. I’m raising it up as a CORE VALUE in my business, and in doing so, I'm removing that guilt around needing to have some static trajectory or plan.

      I never want to pretend to “have it all figured out” and when people think of Made Vibrant and of me, I want them to think of someone who tries a bunch of different things.

      If the mission of Made Vibrant is about doing the things that light you up at your core, trying and learning and pivoting and re-calibrating and testing and exploringMUST be a part of that too.

      No longer am I going to see myself or my business (even subconsciously) as flaky or chaotic or disjointed. Instead, I choose to see it as exciting, ever-changing, unpredictable in the best way.

      Yes, there is definitely value in focus. I’ve seen the benefits of trimming back and editing down so you can be a lot more effective, but being focused and being experimental do not have to be mutually exclusive. Just ask any lean startup trying to get their business off the ground. In fact, a part of the experimentation process I want to embrace is the skill of letting go of a project or tactic once I’ve learned what I needed to learn.

      So this week, my challenge to you is to look at your track record in a new light.

      All the things you’ve tried, all the things you’ve quit, all the times you’ve shifted directions or hopped off one train and hopped on another -- I want you to see those moments as indications not that you are flaky but that you are courageous and well-rounded.

      Experimentation in business doesn’t have to mean a lack of focus; it can mean courage and well-roundedness.

      And, if you’re on the other side of things and you have trouble doing things in the first place for fear of having to switch gears down the road, fear not!

      Make experimentation part of the plan and encourage yourself to do one thing today as part of your intentional, experimental process.

      I think what makes having your own creative business so fun is allowing yourself to learn things by engaging in them. I think I forgot that for a while, but I'm grateful I've been reminded.

      "Having it all figured out" is over-rated in my book. The fun is in putting the puzzle together, not in seeing the final product.

       
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      How Do You Know When It's Time To Quit?

      Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a project or task and you wanted to quit?

      I bet your inner dialogue started tossing out all sorts of motivational mantras to encourage you to push through. Maybe something like...

      Keep going! Persevere! Follow through! Remember why you started!

      All of that advice is immensely valuable in the right moment (and it’s certainly advice I’ve dispensed before)... but what if “pushing through” the task at hand is ultimately doing more harm than good?

      What if persevering down a path is only leading you farther and farther away from yourself?

      These are the questions I was asking myself two weeks ago when we were about to leave for our trip to Tahiti.

      I could feel myself being weighed down by the various daily commitments and projects I’d undertaken. During our trip, I wanted time and space to myself to be present and to reflect, so I decided I wanted to stay off of Instagram and social media for the duration of our stay.

      This posed a bit of a conundrum, because as most of you know, for 2016 I had committed to posting a different abstract art piece and message every single day of the year.

      I considered the possible solutions. What was I to do, program my posts and publish them while I was on vacation?

      Not only did that seem to undermine the authenticity of the project, but I also didn’t love the idea of going on the most freeing, beautiful vacation of my life only to have this daily “task” weighing over me.

      That’s when Jason asked the question I was too afraid to ask myself: “What would happen if you didn’t post at all?”


      It was the first time since January 1st starting the project I had actually allowed myself to consider quitting.

      There were plenty of moments throughout this art project when I didn’t want to do my piece for the day. Maybe I was feeling tired, or had a splitting headache, or didn’t feel inspired, or wanted to do something else, but ultimately I powered through anyway because I knew that resistance was part of the process. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of in committing to push past that resistance.

      But this road block felt different.

      It felt like I had arrived at a moment in the project when every ounce of my original intention was no longer there.

      In the beginning, my mission for undertaking such an ambitious commitment was essentially this list of things:

      • To develop my confidence when it came to painting and my own point of view as an artist
      • To commit to carving out time for creativity and make it a habitual part of my daily life
      • To push myself to explore new boundaries and share my art, even if it felt imperfect

      But now, 10 months later, my confidence had been built, my creative practice had become a habit, and I have no problem exploring the boundaries of my creativity or sharing imperfect work.

      So, if these original intentions had been met, what was the project about now?

      I realized that the project was no longer about creating; the project had become about NOT quitting.

      It had become about what other people would think if I didn't make it to day 366. What it might say about me if I didn’t follow through.

      Liz Gilbert in a podcast episode once said something I'll never forget:

      “Anything that doesn’t taste like freedom is not your path.”

      This project stopped tasting like freedom and started tasting likeobligation. Once I realized that, I knew that was my cue to make the hard choice and, yes, QUIT.

      It was such a difficult decision to make, and yet once I saw it as a possibility, it was the easiest decision to make too because I saw it as a path back to freedom.

      During my delightful week of vacation (away from social media, away from my studio, just present to the experience at hand), upon Jason’s recommendation I picked up the book “The Dip” by Seth Godin. Here’s a quote I love that feels especially appropriate:

      “Most of the time, we deal with the obstacles by persevering. Sometimes we get discouraged and turn to inspiration writing, like stuff from Vince Lombardi: ‘Quitters never win and winners never quit.’ Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

      The truth is, quitting things allows you to make room for other things. It allows you to reallocate precious resources, like your mental space and your time.

      Now that this project has taught me what I wanted to learn, I’m ready to use that time and space for things that feel more valuable to this current version of myself.

      What’s funny about this whole project as I think back to December of last year making the scary declaration that I was going to do a year-long project, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t finish it. That I would quit. I was so terrified of putting myself in a position to look like a flake.

      The irony though is that, in quitting -- in basically realizing my “greatest fear” -- I’ve also realized the baselessness of that fear.

      Just because I stopped before piece 366 does not mean that the commitment and hard work and dedication it required to complete 280 pieces simply disappears. It does not eradicate the lessons I learned along the way, nor does it take away from the people whose lives were touched, even just momentarily, by the messages of these pieces.

      And that in itself is a huge lesson I will take with me. That even if you’re afraid to start something for fear of not following through, do it anyway.

      I also learned a TON about my own artistic voice. I developed a love of painting and it jumpstarted my point of view which has allowed me to move on to huge canvases like these two that I ADORE. I never would have had the courage to paint these last year.

      I’ve brought in almost $10,000 to my business through selling prints and I learned how to get my art printed and sold without knowing the first thing about how to do that in January.

      I’m so grateful for this project for all the things it taught me, but I think the greatest lesson of ALL is that it reminded me of what is most important to me -- the belief that is absolutely central to everything I do at Made Vibrant:

      If I’m doing something that’s not aligned with my truth, my essence, my core being -- if it’s something that’s not lighting me up and I’m tempted to do it because of some type of external validation -- I always want to be the kind of person that finds the strength to walk away from that.

      So, my challenge to you this week is to think about what it is in your life that you need permission to quit.

      What one thing are you doing for everyone else BUT yourself. What thing is no longer bringing you value or joy or growth, but you continue to do it because you’re afraid of NOT doing it?

      Let my own “failure” be an example:

      When it brings you back to your true self, quitting is an act of self-empowerment, not an act of weakness. 

      When it brings you back to your true self, quitting is an act of self-empowerment, not an act of weakness.

      Once you’ve learned the lesson that a task or project or relationship was here to teach you, it’s okay to release it.

      I will still be sharing abstract affirmations on my Insta account, just not within a formal “project” basis, and I’m excited to transition what I’ve learned into the 15 or so huge canvases that are currently taking up my studio.

      Thank you guys for continuing to support every creative experiment and project I continue to take on. After all, what are we on this earth for if not to explore, discover and connect?

      I’ll tell you the one thing I don’t intend on quitting any time soon… you guys. :)