For me, what you do before you go to bed, is just as important as what you do when you first wake up. I’m a morning person. Generally, I’m up by 6:30am. And feel most productive when I have finished at least a 1/3 of my to-do items before noon. But given the amount of stress that I’ve been under lately, I’ve begun to take some time to myself at the end of each day too. I evaluate how the day went, what progress was made and make plans for the following day. Lately, I’ve become more intentional about establishing 5 or 10 minute rituals for myself that ground me and really cause me to think about my most immediate needs and how I will achieve them. And also, allow me to think deeply about if the actions that I am taking are bringing me closer to my “ideal life.” What rituals have you created for yourself? How are you bringing yourself closer to achieving your goals, dreams?
When I turned 30, I made the decision to devote a portion of each new year of my life to the craft of learning at least one new skill. This year, by December 31st, I plan to be at minimum highly proficient in spoken and written French and have a deep knowledge in building websites. During this process of learning at least one new skill a year, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Namely, how I best learn new things, how quickly (or slowly) that I can learn and how to best utilize this new information moving forward.
I heard about Timothy Ferriss a few years ago. The author of several successful books, most notably The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body and The 4 Hour Chef, he mainly discusses the process of learning something new, particularly how to learn something new in the shortest time possible with the most efficacy. I am a big proponent of the idea that you should never stop learning, especially something new. I have a ton of new things that I want to learn. The things on my short term list would be: Spanish, coding, how to swim, krav maga, and the tango. What are the new skills that you would like to learn? What best practices have you learning that anyone can apply to learning something new?
I usually have a reading list a mile high of books that I’d like to read: classics that I’ve never gotten to (see: Ulysses or Oliver Twist), critically acclaimed novels that every writer and wannabe alike seem to have read (The Corrections or Infinite Jest), books recommended to me by others (Give Me Everything You Have or How to Be a Woman), etc. With most of my time going to professional or personal obligations, one of my favorite past times — reading — is something that I unfortunately have had to put on the back burner. This Spring, however, I will be doing a fair amount of traveling and will have some down time. During that time, there are a few books that I’ve moved up on my list that I hope to get a chance to read. They include:
1. The Great Gatsby — This is the book that I am reading now for two reasons: in anticipation of the movie to be released on May 10th and in preparation of my book club discussion this Sunday. I haven’t read this since high school so I am enjoying re-reading it.
2. Blog, Inc. — I’m perpetually intrigued with how people have managed to turn passion (and side projects) into profits. I’m hoping to gain some new insights from this book.
3. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil — I heard about this novel after reading a NYTimes interview with Katherine Boo. I’m a fan of her writing and a recommendation from her goes a long way with me.
5. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior — Kingsolver has been a very successful writer doing something a lot of writers haven’t been able to do — establish both critical and popular success. A few posts back, I blogged about reading books included on the New York Times top 100 list and this book is one of them.
6. The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus — The premise of this book sounds super interesting — an epidemic occurs in which the voices of children have become suddenly lethal to adults. An incredibly original concept, I’m really interested to see how Marcus brings this world to life.
7. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schultz — This was another book recommended by Katherine Boo. Also, I have read some of Schultz’s other work and find her to be a fine writer. The premise is also interesting to me — why do people have a desire to be right all the time?
Those who know me know that know I am currently going through one of the most difficult periods of my life. My mother’s seriously ill and my finances are tight, all of which converged as I began launching my first business. It’s amazing how one minute life can be great and one phone call can change all of that. As a result, for the last 6 or 7 months, I have been forced to respond to my new circumstances in improvisational and creative ways. Nothing stays the same. This much I know. But when life happens, your response is crucial. I’ve had to learn how to not just cope but thrive amidst very difficult circumstances. Here are a few of my best practices for making it through an extremely tough time when there seems to be no end in sight:
1. Prioritize self-care. When I’m stressed, its very difficult for me to eat well, especially several times a day. I subsist on coffee and maybe a small snack per day. But this is way too little and not healthy. Its of paramount importance to prioritize your health while going through a stressful, difficult situation. In not maintaining your health, you compromise your ability to fully make it through your current circumstances.
2. Take a moment each day to express what you feel. Every day, I cry. I take a moment to myself to just release what it is that I am feeling. But I only give myself 10 minutes to do so. Whether, its in the morning or at night or sometime during the day, I do it. And then move on.
3. Do 10 things every day to move yourself forward. You have to fight for the life you want. Life may look different after bad news, but you have to push through it. Staying busy has really been a godsend for me. Doing 10 things every day that will take my life into a different place, has allowed me to take some sort of control.
4. Celebrate small victories. It could be a hello or a kind word or basically anything. But being present in the moment to acknowledge the good and the positive is an excellent strategy when it seems as if life has thrown you bad lemons.
5. Exude the opposite of what you feel. In other words, the more anxious, worried and sad that I feel, the happier, friendlier and more generous I have decided to become.
6. You may not choose what happens to you but you can choose how you will respond. Early on, I made the explicit decision to choose to learn from these experiences and that this sort of thing happens to people every day. I am no different than anyone else.
7. Surround yourself with a support system. The only thing worse than going through this would be going through this alone. Don’t walk through something like this by yourself if you don’t have to.
8. Have faith. I have leaned quite heavily on my own faith during this time. As many do when things are not good. But I don’t think this caveat applies to just the religious. I think having faith in that life happens to everyone and that life is series of ebbs and flows can be a powerful realization. Things can be great, things can be miserable. Know that this too shall pass.
The above video is an interview with comedienne Tig Notaro. Her career is on the rise, thanks to a resounding endorsement from the formidable Louis C.K. But before all the recent accolades came her way, she experienced the following: a bad breakup, life-threatening pneumonia, her mother’s death, and then being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a double masectomy. Yet Tig managed to survive it all.
How you respond to difficulty has a huge impact on how you will move through it. The choice is yours.
It will make a significant difference in everything you do. Be (more) interesting. Interesting can take different forms. Find what is authentic to you and makes you stand out. Hone in on that. Perhaps you’re funny or slightly mysterious. Maybe you are deeply intuitive or a bit eccentric. Whatever it is that makes you tick, use that and make yourself more interesting. If there is one thing that will kill any sort of relationship or interaction, its being a bore.
You should know by now that Marie Forleo is one of my all time fav success stories. As an entrepreneur, she has established a platform that’s inspirational, eclectic and open. The above is a video she did with “fascination expert (I love it!) Sally Hogshead. Sally makes the point of saying that everyone has the ability to be fascinating. One tip is to start with something external. Perhaps its a cool or vintage piece that you can add to your ensemble that will be a conversation starter. I’m currently growing an afro. A huge one. Make yourself interesting externally someway while crafting your inner diva (or divo). Be (more) interesting!
We’ve all been there. Whether its before a major life change, trying something new, or even thinking about stepping outside of your comfort zone. There is this thing called doubt. Self-doubt to be more specific. Self- Doubt is a relative of fear, insecurity, and disbelief. It causes us to question ourselves and our ability to embark on the next step. I know that in my own life, professional, personal and otherwise, self-doubt and I have been intimately acquainted. I’ve had moments where I’ve questioned my ability to be an expert, start my own business, or try something new. And I can see, looking back, how self-doubt has kept me from fulfilling my true potential. Moving forward, I have made a conscious decision to put myself first and have faith in my ability to achieve whatever I set my mind to. Sure, its not easy. But I think its important to examine the role that doubt and its relatives play in our lives. Its natural to experience moments of frustration and fear when thinking about moving outside our comfort zone. But if we don’t move outside our comfort zones every now and then, how do we truly ever understand the depth and reach of our potential? Below are a few of my favorite quotes from famous people on how they deal with self-doubt:
“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” — Khalil Gibran
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie
“People who fail to achieve their goals usually get stopped by frustration. They allow frustration to keep them from taking the necessary actions that would support them in achieving their desire. You get through this roadblock by plowing through frustration, taking each setback as feedback you can learn from, and pushing ahead. I doubt you’ll find many successful people who have not experienced this. All successful people learn that success is buried on the other side of frustration.” — Tony Robbins
“When in doubt, do it.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” — Paul Tillich
“For every seed of doubt, create an action plan.” — Angela Jia Kim of Savor the Success
“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” — Honore de Balzac
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” — Norman Vincent Peale
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” — William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” — Robert Hughes
I am the face of NOT living in the moment. I’m always thinking about the future, trying to learn from the past, and scrambling to complete things in the present. The fact of the matter is is that each day, each moment that we have is unique and special and we will NEVER get it back. Because of this, I’ve been much more intentional about how I spend my time, who I spend it with, and making sure that I handle business at home first and then commit myself to creating experiences, in the moment, that will help shape the person that I am supposed to become. It’s hard to do this. Especially when you have the pressures of life knocking at your door every day. So, I have created a few tips that I use of make sure that, each day, I am living in the moment.
1. Every day, start up a conversation with a stranger. It sounds crazy and frankly, it can make an introvert like me nervous as hell but I think this is a good way to live in the moment by engaging with those in your space. Even if its just a brief hi, how are you with a genuine smile, engaging with those near you in an authentic, natural way is a great tactic for living in the moment. Besides, you never know who you will meet!
2. Be intentional but not rigid. Being intentional is very important for me. I am a compulsive goal setter and I supplement those goals with to-do lists that are designed to draw me closer to my goal. But I think its really important to not be inflexible. I think staying resolute, hard-working and determined are important but also remaining open to possibilities and a change in plans is also crucial.
3. Be generous. I am learning that there is no down side to having a generous spirit. Helping people, in ways that are appropriate and genuine, offering advice, showing up, being available, these are all traits that, I feel, are returned to you ten-fold. Now generous does not equate to naive but living with a gracious spirit is a wonderful way to live in the moment.
4. Ditch perfection. I used to be so obsessed with perfection that nothing ever got done! Now I’m over it. I just do the best that I can do, make sure it adheres to the quality standards that I have devised for myself, and then I move on!
5. Make time for YOU. Self-care is crucial and critical. Not just exercise and proper diet but monitoring the stories that we tell ourselves. If you want to achieve greatness, you need to take care of you first. Although our days are busy and we want to take care of everyone else, take at least 30 minutes to give yourself a pedicure, meditate, drink a glass of wine — take time each day to do something that gets you off, that tells you that you love you. Build a relationship everyday with yourself!
6. Journal. This is something that I admittedly, have just started doing again. I recently went back home to Louisiana and I found my journals from back when I was a teenager. I really valued reading my thoughts and feelings at that time in my life. Journaling is a great way to chronicle moments in your life. And its also fun to revisit journals at a later time.
The above YouTube is a video from one of my all time favorite female business owners, and a friend in my head, Marie Forleo. Above, she and actor John Pais share a few tips for living in the moment. Its not easy but I promise, its worth it!
Yesterday evening, I read a very interesting article over at the Wall Street Journal called “Why Divas Need Make No Apology.” The article deconstructs the meaning of “diva” into both negative and positive traits. In contemporary pop culture especially, diva seems to take on a slightly derogatory meaning. It tends to describe someone who is demanding, arrogant, and always needs to be the center of attention. But this article posits that “healthy divas” have a great deal of traits that others could learn from. Firstly, they always demand their worth and never settle. Secondly they advocate for themselves and others. Thirdly, they are hard workers who believe in themselves and exude confidence.
There is a fascinating anecdote in the article where a comedian describes an article that he read:
“Dan Nainan, a 31-year-old comedian in New York City, says he became more assertive and inflexible a few years ago, after reading a newspaper interview with a call girl. “She said that when she charged $500, men treated her like dirt, so she upped her price to $3,000, and now men treat her like gold,” he says. “That really opened my mind.”
I included the most recent commercial by pop superstar and diva Beyonce above. Whether you are a fan or her or not, Beyonce knows how to command an audience and she knows her worth. As I push through to the next phase of my personal, professional and financial lives, I’m going to find my inner diva. And release her!
In 2012, I made the decision to read all 100 of the books listed on the NY Times Best Books of 2011 list. Each year, The Times lists “the best” books published in that year spanning fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Since I began to expand my brand, which includes writing, I thought it would be a useful experiment to begin reading books that were critically praised in order to establish for myself what exactly makes good writing. Every year, there are tons of lists of this type but I picked the New York Times book list because of its established reputation and visibility. Although last year, I only managed to read 30 out of the 100, my experiment taught me so much that I decided to try it again this year. So far, I’ve read fiction books like Richard Ford’s Canada, Bernice McFadden’s Gathering of Waters, and Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy and non-fiction ones like The Grey Album by Kevin Young and Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.
The books that I read last year and this year spanned a number of non-fiction topics from scientology to grief to parenthood to the African roots of Alexandre Dumas. My fiction reads were equally as diverse and encompassed short stories, poetry, novellas, and novels. Most of the books I read were incredibly well written, interesting and in some cases, simply fantastic. Although the writing styles, topics, and themes are wildly different, I found a few basic rules for good writing that were overwhelmingly present in everything I read. These include:
Rule No. 1: Find a good editor. And in some cases, a fact checker too. Having written for quite some time, I can tell you that the final piece is almost never the first draft. For me, the first draft is the outline and the final product is pulled together though copious revisions and editing. If the piece is non-fiction, a fact-checker is especially important. Good writing and good editing go hand in hand.
Rule No. 2: Write good sentences. This seems intuitive but it needs to be stated. I believe that writing a book or story is a bit like architecture, the foundation needs to be strong before you begin adding things to it. The foundation for writing is really good, well-crafted sentences. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a book that exemplifies this rule. On a craft level, this book is a primer on how to write. Well-written sentences are the foundation of good writing.
Rule No. 3: If writing on a familiar topic or theme, be creative and talk about something new. Kevin Young’s The Grey Album is a perfect example of this. The book is a collection of essays on different aspects of African American artistic culture: music, acting, literature, etc. but Kevin Young introduces new ideas, new concepts throughout. Even the way the book was written and organized was fresh; its had a very improvisational jazz like feel to it. Add something to the conversation, especially if the topic is widely written about.
Rule No. 4: Feedback is critical.It’s important to find readers. And not just anyone. But someone who can give honest feedback as to what works and what does not.
Rule No: 5: Read more. I have always loved to read so this one is easy for me to follow. It was important for me to read across subject matter, tone and genre in order to understand the multiplicity of ways that people can tell stories. Fiction is just as valuable to me as non-fiction. Being a voracious reader has never let me down.
Rule No. 6: When one word will do, use one one word. This rule is perhaps the hardest for me to follow. I am the queen of long sentences. But over the years, I’ve learned to never use three words when one will do. Use adverbs sparingly. The right word will always win over the right phrase.
I am a compulsive goal setter or rather, a compulsive planner. I am one of those people who has a list for everything — the grocery store, a to-do list for the day, a goal list for the week, etc. The idea of having a plan settles me, it gives me direction, and orients me in a way that makes my goals, big or small, seem achievable. I find power in the planning. As I try to make major changes in my personal, professional, spiritual, and financial lives, planning has been at the core of this process. Figure out what you want, set a goal and then stick to a series of steps that will get you closer to achieving it. Each morning, after meditating, I look down at the goal list I prepared the night before and mentally organize my day around those goals. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons that I have learned through this process is to not be so rigid with respect to planning. I’ve learned that flexibility is key. If something isn’t working, rather than trying to make it work with one method, I now pivot and try to find alternative ways to meet my goals. Or, if need be, I re-direct my goal. The YouTube video above is a TedTalk that I particularly like that speaks to the power of a 200 year plan. The author of the talk explains above but the idea behind it is creating a plan wrapped in your core values that will outlive you and leave a legacy. The ultimate in a powerful plan!