I've been thinking a lot lately about an old Mennonite saying: "Speak to what you know."
They use this as a way to avoid casting judgment, and generally just living life in a way that helps everyone walk humbly. This means don't meddle in people's business and don't talk authoritatively about something you know very little about. I'm not the best at following this advice, since, as an observer, I'm absorbing everything around me and drawing conclusions (for better or worse) by what I see, hear and experience. Hannah told me about this saying years ago, and somewhere it grew into an offshoot phrase in the last several months:
"Stand on the ground beneath your feet."
What does this mean? Well, for me it reminds me to look at what's entrusted to me today, not what I hope to have in five years. It helps me prioritize how I spend my time (on my own ground and not others'). And I suppose what it's really done is point out when I'm standing on ground that doesn't reflect who I am in my heart.
When greener pastures distract you from your own
We're all familiar in some way with the "greener pastures" dilemma. When I look back at my life, I realize I've never really lived with ease and often I would compulsively evaluate and change my life on a dime. This wasn't because I never made enough money (I've made a lot and I've made a little). This had nothing to do with how my body looked (I've been a size 4 and size 12 in the last three years). My greener pastures dilemma sprung from that fact that I thought life wasn't so much for living as it was for performing. I lived under a banner that said I must continually strive in order to survive. I was conditioned to look with an arm's length approach at my life, to judge it, reorder it, make a spreadsheet and set an improvement plan in motion.
What I see more clearly now is that much of the time, I wouldn't even give the ground under my feet a chance to become familiar. I never let my heart and feelings have a say because I was taught feelings should be never be trusted. Without the heart and mind co-mingling, I've learned that life becomes very robotic, hollow and uncreative. When the heart gets silenced, so does everything else: self-expression, creative problem solving, art, generosity, and so on.
Everything's changing 'cause that's what life does
With my heart and mind co-mingling, a lot began changing. Lee showed up at the precise moment I'd be ready to take the next step. I remember crying in his arms after having a series of business proposals rejected. We had only been dating a few months and this was one of my first tastes of being seen. I lamented, "But I just want you to see me as a badass businesswoman!!" And he said, "But babe, I don't see you as a badass businesswoman..." My heart and face dropped at the same time. I knew he meant well, but I'm glad he clarified: "You're so much more than just a businesswoman. I wish you could see you the way I see you." That was probably the exact moment that I started examining my relationship with my career.
In the last six months or so, I began looking at the ground beneath my feet and often felt this nauseous whirl inside me. It didn't make sense -- I was still a writer while working in content marketing. I was leading people in a small virtual production team and making a way for new book projects. I was "impressive" as a businesswoman and owner calling all the shots (whatever that means). There was one thing, though, that always stood out: my experience as an entrepreneur was missing that gusto so many accomplished entrepreneurs insist upon. This doesn't mean that entrepreneurs never get tired, but there is something deep down inside that keeps them motivated to keep plugging away. I thought that perhaps there could be a half-step toward being a happier entrepreneur. I decided to shut down my blog and ebook production, and just focus on books. Maybe this is what I needed to feel inspired, I thought.
In a weird sort of warp speed marketing voodoo, I changed the branding, logo and layout of my business website in less than 10 total working hours -- switch out this, polished that, deleted this. Done! The only problem is that I turned us into the exact same production machine but with different makeup. Not to mention ...
I was still nauseous.
I was still unsettled.
I finally had to admit to myself that the things I was actually doing on a regular basis like processing invoices, finding project software, talking with frustrated clients, organizing projects and cleaning up staff errors (which, thankfully, were fairly rare) were still making me miserable. The most sobering moment was realizing in my pursuit of being an entrepreneur, I'd never really given myself a chance to be an artist. It took a lot of soul searching to also realize that the façade of my work had buried my heart.
Planning not to have a plan
Changing directions (again) feels real embarrassing, y'all. It's tough to write this kind of farewell to content marketing, and then a month(ish) later realize that you've changed your mind again and are actually scaling back/shifting even more. I shut down my work website (which took at least 3 weeks of dramatic pro-and-con evaluation), work Twitter, work Facebook, and I migrated the work blogs to this site here (which is a branding no-no if you're trying to grow a business brand, but clearly that's not helping me find work that I truly love, so bye-bye business brand).
The plan right now is to have none (sort of). Rather than trying to keep growing a network of editorial and design contractors, I talked with Kris (my design director) and Rachel (my irreplaceable copyeditor) and told them what I needed to do. We agreed to try a different approach: a publishing squad, in which we remain freelancers with an accessible virtual team. This frees us up to take care of clients who just need our services, but also makes us more appealing to larger clients because we have a virtual team with several years' experience in traditional and self-publishing, marketing, editorial, design and so forth.
Most importantly, this new setup is giving me permission to work only on projects and with authors that expand my creativity (what a blessing, I know). As a byproduct it's enabling me to look at marketing with a fresh set of eyes. In the coming weeks, I'm going to take these years of marketing knowledge (and editing the best subject matter experts in the marketing industry), and create something that works for me as an editor-at-large. At the same time, the ground under my feet is shifting in plenty of other areas of life: I'm planning a wedding and practicing the art of collaboration and communication with my soon-to-be husband. With any luck, the ground beneath my feet just might bloom.