What I Learned from 2017

It’s been a rough year, although I realize how blessed I am to have the life I do. I don’t have complaints about what the year has brought. It’s just been hard for many reasons. There have been lots of emotions and new experiences. Some relationships got stronger; others need some TLC. I can’t change anything that happened in 2017 so I have to live with and learn from every decision, choice and action. So, here’s what I learned about life and myself in 2017.

You have to nurture relationships, even the ones you’ve had your entire life. You can take for granted what’s always been there. Every relationship takes work. Relationships do change. I’m further apart from others now than I was 10 years ago, while other old relationships have been renewed and made stronger. Whether you are 10 miles or 1,000 miles apart, you have to put the effort in, or then suddenly people just become somebody you used to know. My list of relationships that matter isn’t very long. I’ve considered myself a failure at relationships most of my life. I attribute most of this to fear, not being uncaring. When you’ve lost a lot, it’s hard to think anyone will stick around. I’m going to try harder to reach out, not retreat, as that’s been my MO for far too long.

20 years is a long time. It’s two decades. It’s long enough to have completely changed or evolved. My mom’s been gone for 20 years. So, I should be all healed up, right? No, the distance between the loss and the present doesn’t matter. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Really horrible things happen to people all the time. There’s nothing that will ever make it okay. In two decades, I’ve forgotten a lot, and I hate it. I hate that it’s hard for me to remember how she sounded or what her hugs felt like. That’s what 20 years does; it eats away memories and moments you want to hold onto.

We have to move. Not just from our condo but out of this city. I don’t dislike Charlotte. It’s fine. It’s got what most major cities have, but it has never felt like home. And, it never will. I’ve been trying to get to the West coast for over 10 years. I just need a few things to happen, and we can go. I like to wander. I’m not lost. I’ve lived in my current home for over four years. That’s longer than I lived anywhere since leaving the home I grew up in. Yes, it’s time to go. We hope you’ll visit us because we’re going to move somewhere you’d actually want to go.

I really like my husband. I already knew this, but it was confirmed. I say this because it’s important to like your significant other, not just love him/her. He really is my best friend. We can have fun anywhere. He’s so funny and kind. I’m so glad I still like him, and I guess he still likes me, too.

Deserving happiness is different than finding it. I’ve had many people tell me I deserved to be happy. Am I deserving because I’m out there doing good in the world? Do I deserve it because I’ve had a lot of pain? To say I deserve something without knowing if I’ve worked for it seems hollow to me. I don’t deserve happiness any more or less than others. What matters is if I think I deserve it, and if I’ve got the guts to find it. Happiness isn’t at the end of rainbows. It doesn’t happen if you win the lottery. It’s not what comes after you’ve crossed off all your “happy list” items. Happiness is not constant but also not fleeting. I don’t get to choose my happy days, and I also can’t snap my fingers and get happy.

If you’re going to put everything into a brand, it should probably be your own. I’ve worked for years helping other brands grow and telling their stories. I’ve had a lot of success and become a better writer and marketer for it. But I also realized that the harder I work for someone else’s brand has little correlation to being recognized or trusted. I, honestly, don’t know how much more I can do to get a seat at the table. I know I deserve it. So, if others don’t then that’s their loss.

Big brands just don’t get marketing (most of the time). There are exceptions. In my experience, the bigger the brand, the more bloated the ideas. If I could say one thing to CEO, CMOs and all the leaders, stop marketing to yourself. You are not your audience. Your personal preferences should have zip to do with marketing. Instead, look at your data and understand your customer. Until leaders can do this, these brands will continue to lose market share and fans. If you’re not disrupting your industry with logic and creativity then you’re dying.

I should trust my gut more. I’ve been a freelancer for over a decade. I’ve worked with some great people and brands. I had never really had any nightmare clients. Well 2017 changed all that. I had several horrible experiences where I should have listened to my gut. When someone comes on too strong and sounds like an evangelist, this is a red flag. If someone hires you for your expertise then disagrees with whatever you say, then they obviously don’t need you. Don’t keep going back for more. And when someone doesn’t value your time, they don’t value you. I had a call with a prospective client, wherein I had sent her specific questions to facilitate the conversation. When I called her at the agreed upon time, she was out shopping. I asked if it was still a good time, and she said yes. She hadn’t looked at the questions, and I could barely hear her. She wasn’t taking me seriously, and I should have ended the conversation and the relationship then. In 2018, I will not chase any work like this. I’m going with a strict zero tolerance rule on people being flaky, rude, belligerent, arrogant or petty.

I have a great belief in the power of learning and growing. I’m a bit disheartened by the fact that there still is much hate, indifference and ignorance in this world. That means so many aren’t learning or growing. They are devolving instead of evolving. No matter what level you are at in living a “healthy, normal” life, heed this advice. Be bold. Be you. Be hopeful.

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I Don’t Have a Five Year Plan

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I’ve always had a plan. I am a planner. Not to say I’m not up for spontaneity, but you won’t find me waiting for a table on a Saturday night because I’d have a reservation.

I’ve always wanted to be in control of my future. Planning seemed the logical path. However, most of my plans have required revision and rerouting. It’s important to be flexible. Not everything can be planned for in life.

I was an ambitious planner in my teens and 20s. I had a vision. I knew what I wanted. I did everything I could to get there. I had lots I needed to check off my list. My young self never got tired (even migraines rarely slowed me). I was emphatic about what and who I was going to be: happy, successful, something.

I finished my second novel at 25. And was busy planning for more. I was submitting poetry and fiction to journals weekly. I was writing pitch letters to agents, researching everything I needed to do to get noticed and basically doing everything to say I’m a writer!

This was early 2000s. Online journals were fairly new. Pitch letters were mailed. Social media hadn’t really become a thing. Back then self publishing was not what you did as a serious writer. So for years, I was planning and working every day. I stayed convinced I could be something. I paid little attention to my own world; wrapped up instead in the worlds I had created.

Perseverance would get me noticed I thought. But it didn’t. There were small victories: short stories and poems were published. A few agents actually wrote me back. So I kept pushing until I had to walk away. Had to find a new plan and tame that dream.

By this time writing was my job. I realized that in marketing I could get paid for writing; it just wasn’t going to be my story to tell. So I rechanneled my energy. I could be a success in marketing. So I went to grad school. Worked all day and went to class at night. Those were long days, but it kept me busy. I needed to be busy. And needed to believe this plan would work. I would shape brands and make the money I deserved. Ambition suited me well; always has.

After grad school, I got a new job with unlimited possibilities. I threw myself into building this brand and increasing business. Work became all I was. My personal life was in shambles so I needed the diversion. Most weeks I worked 60 hours. There was no boundary between life and work. I answered emails late at night and calls on Saturday mornings. Because in my plan if I just worked harder and longer then I’d get where I needed to go. WRONG.

Life’s not fair. Rewards rarely come for the ones always there doing what they say they’re going to do. People will use you, manipulate you and disappoint you. I was burning out when another offer came my way. This opportunity had more structure and a chance to build a marketing team. It seemed like a win. I still had so much drive; so much I wanted to offer.

I did a lot in my time there. But there were still long hours and lots of miles traveled. What was worse was the wall of frustration. I couldn’t get excited about a project because I knew like the 100 before, it would go nowhere. When you don’t allow people to succeed and shine, you dim their passion. When passion is extinguished there’s no resuscitating it. So I had to go leading me to where I am now.

Which is me not really having a plan. I mean I do have a broad picture in mind. And I still keep lots of running lists of what I need to do to further myself. I’m not always motivated. I’m not always my own cheerleader. I could do more.

My plan looks different now. It’s not about money or status or titles. Success looks a little different now. I want to be excited every day about what I’m doing. It’s about loving writing again and not looking at it as a chore.

What will I do without that five year plan that every guru tells me I need? I’m just going to be a rebel. Look, I had plans. They didn’t work out. I waited patiently for that big break, for someone to tell me I was talented. I’m still waiting. Waiting for that one post to go viral or for one publisher to think I’ve got what it takes.

Yet I still feel like a failure 93% of the time. I still worry every day I haven’t lived up to my potential. I’m still haunted by things I should have done differently. I think these things, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Maybe I wasn’t ready for success earlier. Maybe my voice has to get stronger.

So what do I do? Keep writing. Keep posting. Keep believing that if it’s good stuff people will read it. I once heard that dreams can’t become more than that while you’re still sleeping. I’m awake now. Wide awake.

How I Explained Anxiety

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Anxiety is kind of Depression’s first cousin. They often go hand in hand. And they feed each other, but anxiety is somewhat different. Whereas depression makes me want to cocoon and pull away, anxiety makes me feel like I need to do something. I’m just not sure what. In my early 20s, anxiety manifested itself as panic attacks that were often triggered by being in large social situations. I felt pressure to act normal, but I felt invisible and had no desire to be chatty. It was a push pull. I was pushing myself to be social while really wanting to be alone. For some reason being in big groups of people made me flashback to funerals, and my mind would go to places I didn’t want it to.

I didn’t really understand it as anxiety then. I was more like, “Get it together, Beth!” I have and will probably continue to be super hard on myself. Isn’t it funny how hard we find it to be kind to ourselves? It’s something I still wrestle with, but I’m much better than I was in the past.

But anxiety is still part of my life. It’s not something easy to explain even if you have awareness. Yet it’s something I think is important for those to understand who don’t suffer from it. I’m blessed to have an amazing man in my life who accepts all my flaws and wants to genuinely understand what I go through. Recently, I was able to explain it to him.

Something happened (a trigger) a few months ago that really spiked my anxiety. Our HOA sent us a letter claiming that someone had reported that one of our dogs attacked another dog. I got the letter after work so there was no way I could respond or find out more information. Logically, I knew the accusation was false. Our dogs don’t run wild. They are always with us. To our knowledge, nothing like this had occurred.

But anxiety doesn’t mesh well with logic. Suddenly, I was thrust into fear and panic.  My dogs are my children. I love them more than just about anything or anyone. This letter made my mind race thinking someone was watching us or deliberately making false accusations. I felt as though my dogs were in danger. I was really upset. I couldn’t eat dinner or focus. It may seem like an inconsequential event but for me it was much more. So I took the time to explain it to my significant other.

I told him that when something irritating or upsetting happens to you, it’s just this one thing. You can be mad or frustrated but still think clearly toward a resolution. He’s a super chill kind of guy (I’ve heard him yell once in three years) so not much ruffles his feathers. I then told him that when something like this happens to me, I’m not just contemplating this one incident. It’s like a wave of every trauma I’ve ever had sweeping over me. It makes me feel like I can’t breathe, like there’s something stomping on my chest. For him, it would be like standing under a waterfall and there’s one tiny drip.  For me, the levee just broke, and the water is furious.

My therapist gave me props for being able to take him through my experience.  It was one of the first times, I could step outside myself and express the feelings and thoughts I had. I think it gave him a greater appreciation of my struggles. Anxiety affects millions of people. It can be debilitating, and lots carry around shame on top of it.  Our brains are highly complex and often because of trauma we’ve experienced or chemistry, it can’t always look at a situation clearly. And that’s okay. There are ways to get through it. Deep breaths and focusing on ways to manage or resolve the situation work for me. But I’ll be honest, I also take medication. You can find something to help, just don’t suffer in silence.

After I wrote this and before I posted it, I thought maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe someone might judge me or not want to hire me. Then I remembered that I must live what I say. I can’t be scared. I can’t control what other people think. I am taking this opportunity to be honest so that maybe it might help someone else be able to accept their own struggles. That’s all and to admit I’m human. I think most of us are all doing the best we can every day. I’ve always believed that life will rarely turn out as expected but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great.

P.S. The HOA sent the letter to the wrong unit. Our dogs were cleared of any allegations. Deep breath; crisis averted

How I Developed a Work Ethic

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I owe much of my work ethic to my mom who was my number one role model. My mom worked hard and believed that in doing so she could make a better life for us. When I was five or six years old, she had a full-time job as a teacher, went to graduate school at night 45 minutes away and had a second job on the weekend. As a single mom, this was hard work. She was lucky to have help from her parents, who often babysat.

But I knew that my mom was trying to better herself, not just to make more money but to be better educated and prepared for the future. My mom pushed me hard academically. We began discussing where I’d go to college when I was in kindergarten. She made it very clear that she had big plans for me, and I embraced those plans. I wanted nothing more than to make her proud.

So by watching her work hard and having her push me hard, work ethic became engrained in my brain. As a child, I won lots of awards and was routinely the brightest star. I won those awards because I worked hard – this was way before the “participation” trophies.

I was always very interested in making my own money. Before I could actually get a job, I talked my friends into having yard sales and made hair bows that I also sold to my friends. By the time I was 12, I did have a job, although it was only on Saturdays cleaning offices. At 16, I had a real part-time job and never stopped working. I worked throughout college as a nanny and then of course after graduation, I got my first post college job, which was a wonderful experience, mainly because of the mentors I had. I already knew how to be on time, be reliable, ask lots of questions, think about the things no one else was thinking about and never think something wasn’t my responsibility just because it was outside of my normal duties.

No one is born with work ethic. It has to be developed. Even if you didn’t have to get a job until after college that doesn’t mean you don’t have a work ethic. We shouldn’t equate having a job to work ethic. It’s not the same. Work ethic is about looking at a position or your career as more than just a paycheck. It’s about looking at any job as an opportunity. I’ve had lots of jobs I didn’t love. But I always showed up and tried to find opportunity in all of them.

I thank my mom almost every day for so much that she imparted to me. I’m so glad that she was such an amazing role model who told me I could be and do anything. Not everyone has that kind of cheerleader. And maybe that’s why not everyone is able to develop work ethic. Whether you are 20 or 40, you have learned or will learn that life’s not fair, and it rarely turns out as expected. But we must make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt. Having a strong work ethic has helped me get through many of life’s hardships. To me, it’s a critical asset to have in life. And even if I won the lottery, I’d still want to work (just maybe a little less and with a view of the beach!).