Life Lately

Life Lately and What I’ve Been Into

My posting has been pretty sporadic over the past few years. When I first started this blog, I posted pretty regularly about whatever I was doing – making jewelry, hiking with the dogs in the prairie, trying out new recipes. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel that blogger pressure that what I was posting wasn’t pretty or perfect enough. And, the feeling only intensified after I graduated and starting teaching and working as an interior designer. I felt overwhelmed every time I wanted to sit down and write a post because I didn’t have perfectly styled photographs showing amazing design.

Life Lately

I’m trying to get over that. The truth is that I really miss writing and sharing, and I’m disappointed in myself for getting caught up in this fantasy of perfectionism. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my favorite blogs aren’t the pretty ones…they’re the ones where the authors are real. So, I’m going to ease up on myself a little bit and try to relax and enjoy the process a little bit more.

To get back into the swing of things I thought I would share what I’ve been into lately.

Essential Oils

I know it seems like every blogger, instagrammer and pinner out there are into essential oils these days. I was aware of them but never researched them or used them myself until I was on a plane to High Point Market back in October and had a major stomachache. My boss offered me some peppermint oil, which I skeptically applied. Several minutes later, the pain was gone, and I was instantly interested.

I started to actually read blog posts about the oils (instead of skimming or skipping them) and how they are used and looked into the different companies. I ultimately went with Young Living because it was the brand that both my boss and our office manager use and like.

I ordered the starter pack and have since added a few more oils to my collection. I plan to write additional posts on my favorite oils and how I use them soon.

Podcasts

I go through fits and starts with podcasts. I have an hour commute two days per week, and I try to listen to longer podcasts or two half-hour podcasts during those drives. Before the holidays, I lost interest in my usual favorites and listened to four audio books in a row. But, now I’m back into podcasts – both my old favorites and some new ones as well.

The Lively Show – Jess has been killing it lately. I’ve been enjoying both her honest, personal shows as well as her interviews, specifically Brené Brown (Episode #124) and Alex Ikonn (Episode #120), which I listened to twice.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin – Confession: I have not read any of Gretchen Rubin’s very popular books (they’re on my list for 2016), but I love her podcast, which she hosts with her sister Elizabeth Craft. I really like their voices, the topics they cover, and their sisterly dynamic. Plus, they usually give me something interesting to think about for the rest of the day.

The Chaise Lounge – Hosted by Nick May, the Chaise Lounge is the best interior design podcast out there. Every week, Nick features an information packed interview with a successful interior design and asks in-depth questions about how they got started in design and how they manage their business. I’m constantly telling my students that they should be listening to every episode.

The Sessions with Sean Croxton – Sean used to host Underground Wellness, which was a health and wellness focused podcast, and The Sessions is his brand new show, which is more interview based and covers a variety of topics. I was super excited to see this because my favorite Underground Wellness episodes were more focused on personal development than health. I loved the interview with Lisa Nichols and read her book after listening.

seanwes podcast – This is a new-to-me podcast with 248 episodes as of this post date. I discovered it after going down a rabbit hole of research earlier this week, which I’ll explain more later in this post. The show is entrepreneurial focused with a creative business slant, which is right up my alley. I like the longer format – they average well over an hour long – because they keep me occupied for my entire commute.

Reading

I have another post planned to wrap up on my 2015 reading and catch up on reviewing the books I’ve read so far in 2016. I discovered another wonderful podcast What Should I Read Next by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy, and have been adding books to my wish list at a furious rate. This year, I’m trying to maintain a healthy balance of fiction and non-fiction and am rereading several favorites from the past couple years. Right now, I’m about halfway through my second reading of Daring Greatly, with The Gifts of Imperfection on deck, in preparation for reading Brené Brown’s newest book Rising Strong.

I also had a great book moment in Minneapolis last week. I was on a field trip with our sophomore class and met up with an old friend for dinner. Right as we were getting ready to leave, he revealed that he regularly listens to audio books after I asked if he’d read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell during a conversation about kids and sports. That lead to a fabulous conversation about our recent favorite books (All the Light You Cannot See) and books we plan to read next. I recommended The Storied Life of AJ Fikery and he recommended 11.22.63, which has been on my audible wish list for over a year.

Bullet Journaling + Handwriting

So, the last thing I need right now is a hobby, but when Modern Mrs. Darcy referenced bullet journaling in a recent post, I was intrigued. That post and four hours on a bus with 30 college students and a wifi connection sent me down that rabbit hole of research on bullet journaling, which led to research on handwriting, which eventually led me to Sean McCabe and the seanwes podcast.

I plan to write more posts about my experience with bullet journaling after I actually get into it (my notebook arrives tomorrow). In the meantime, I also purchased my first fountain pen and have been working on my everyday handwriting, which I’ve found oddly meditative and soothing, especially in the evening.

Watching

Downton Abbey – Obsessed and so sad that it’s ending

Girls – Fascinated, similarly to a train wreck or natural disaster

Togetherness – So, so poignant and awkward and utterly relatable as a 30 something

Red Oaks – An Amazon original about a college kid in the 80s

Health

We signed up for tennis lessons at our gym on a whim back in January, and even though I have played only sporadically since high school, I have really been enjoying the classes. I’m hoping that once the weather changes and my SAD goes away, I’ll start playing regularly.

I’ve followed a version of the Paleo diet on and off for the past five years. Lately, I’ve been more off and than on, but back in September I started following the Alt-Shift Diet by Jason Seib and experienced some dramatic (for me) results. Alt-Shift is a natural progression for people on a Paleo diet. It’s a health and fat-loss focused diet protocol, and aside from some small issues, I didn’t have many problems following it. After a trip next week to Atlanta for the Design Bloggers Conference, I plan to start up again to get ready for summer and to just feel healthier overall.

Design

I’m working part time for another designer here in Des Moines, teaching two days a week, and still taking my own clients. I have several projects in the works including two kitchens and a bathroom and hopefully a few more coming up. I plan to share the plans and progress for the two kitchens soon, since they were very different in terms of size and budget, and really transformed the space for the clients. We visited the International Market Square on our field trip to Minneapolis, and I was so inspired by the kitchen showrooms there. Kitchens will always be my first and favorite love when it comes to interior design.

Travel

We went to Mexico for a few days in February and stayed in Playa Del Carmen, which was a first for us. We stayed at a really small cute hotel and ate at a good variety of restaurants. It was so nice to experience warmth and sunshine if only for a short time.

I have so many ideas for future posts, and they may not be pretty or perfect but I hope that they are interesting and authentic. Stay tuned…

po-bronson-tn

The One Article That Changed My Life 13 Years Later

In 2003, I was living in the lower Pac-Heights neighborhood of San Francisco with my then-fiancee. Every day, we woke up at 5:30 AM, walked the dog (in the dark) up to Alta Plaza Park, got dressed and drove 45 miles south to Santa Clara in stop and go traffic. At 5:00, we’d repeat the whole process in reverse and go to bed by 9:00.

I was a Data Engineer at a major tech company. Please don’t ask me what that is because I didn’t know then, and the ensuing decade certainly hadn’t provided any clarity. I sat in a gray cubicle in the midst of a sea of identical gray cubicles, and over the course of that year, I increasingly improved my aptitude at both playing solitaire while hiding the fact that all I did was play solitaire.

I went to college to become an engineer because…well, I’m not sure why. At the time, it had something to do with proving to my boyfriend and his friends that I was just as smart as they were. But, proving the point didn’t necessarily bring fulfillment, happiness or even mild content. In short, I was miserable.

In the two years since I graduated, I had researched graduate schools, looked for countless other jobs, and begged my parents to move home (they said no). I felt trapped because the only other work I was qualified to do that would afford my San Francisco rent and car payment was the same work that was currently driving me slowly insane.

I knew that I wasn’t on the right path. I knew I couldn’t survive in this environment for the next 30 years until I finally got to enjoy my life. I just didn’t know what I should do or how to go about doing it.

And, I was so afraid.

I was afraid of being a failure. I was afraid of disappointing my parents. I was afraid of not living up to my potential. I was afraid of being poor. The list goes on and on.

One unremarkable day, I was sitting in my cubicle. Tired of playing solitaire and chatting on AIM with my friends, I was surfing the net and somehow stumbled on an article that would permanently alter the direction of my life.

The article was called What Should I Do with My Life? and it was written by a guy named Po Bronson.

I devoured the article. (Later, I consumed the book. I emailed Po and shamefully spilled my guts, which is, in retrospect, embarrassing to admit. I felt like he was talking right to me, so why shouldn’t I talk back at him?)

Po wrote…

“[People] thrive by focusing on the question of who they really are — and connecting that to work that they truly love (and, in so doing, unleashing a productive and creative power that they never imagined).”

With each paragraph of the article, I could feel my heart beating faster. I thought, albeit tentatively, maybe it’s okay that I don’t want to be an engineer even though I just devoted four years of my life and 6 figures of my parents’ money to become one. I began to think maybe I could walk away, even though I’m only 24 and haven’t earned the right to be dissatisfied. I began to feel something other than fear and despair…possibly it was hope.

“There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.”

Wow, I thought. I envisioned a life of being an engineer (my version anyway). Going to work every day, staring at the clock, doing the bare minimum, to make a salary in order to finance a life I didn’t want, to always be living for five PM, for the weekend, for vacation, each year transitioning from one to the next with no discernible difference or accomplishment.

And, then I pictured a different path…one where I did work that meant something to me, that allowed me to be creative, that provided tangible evidence of effort, with people I enjoyed being around.

What Should I Do With My Life - Po Bronson Quote

I lasted another year before I quit. And, everything I feared came true. My parents were crushed. My new husband (now ex) was disappointed…and disapproving. I spent one semester at Arizona State pursuing a new undergraduate degree in interior design, and then I lost my nerve. I hated feeling like a failure. I hated everyone looking at me like I was a fuck up. I hated feeling poor even though we weren’t. I was scared of being uncomfortable, and I was too weak to deal with it.

Within ten months of quitting, I was right back where I started. Literally. I took a job working at the same company but for a lot less pay. It makes me cringe just to write that.

I knew I wasn’t meant to be doing this. I knew I was creative and artistic and had a burning desire to make things. I also knew I was skilled technically and had an aptitude for building business systems and project management. After all, I had done well in engineering school and even in my internships before I realized…oh my God, I have to do this for the rest of my life.

“…avoiding crap shouldn’t be the objective in finding the right work. The right question is, How can I find something that moves my heart, so that the inevitable crap storm is bearable?”

That was the problem with tech. I couldn’t stand the crap involved…the pointless meetings, the canceled projects, the artificial deadlines, the meaningless acronyms people used like they were real words, and the buzz words and phrases. Like “that’s not in my wheelhouse” and “let me wrap my head around that” and (my favorite) “let’s poke on that a bit.” Gag.

I gave it another shot. I really tried that time, and I lasted one more year, until I took an escape hatch in the form of a job offered by an old acquaintance that would allow us to leave the Southwest for my native Northeast. It was a band-aid at best…tolerable but stultifying. I didn’t like what we were doing and I didn’t like who I was while I was working there. When the company ran out of money, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least, I wouldn’t have to keep pretending. At least, I could collect unemployment while I figured things out.

It had been four years now since I first read the article, and I wasn’t any closer.

“The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? but Who will I become? What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life?”

My former employer, feeling guilty, asked me if he could do anything for me. I thought about it for a minute, screwed up the tiniest bit of courage, and then asked him to get me a job with his friend who was an interior designer. I would do anything. I would work for minimum wage.

Thankfully, she was open to the idea. She interviewed me and offered me a job on the spot. I started auditing classes at a local university so that I could enroll in a masters program for professionals who wanted to transition into interior design.

That job saved my life in more ways than one. The woman I worked for was certainly a talented designer and taught me so much of what I know and use today. But, she was also unfailingly kind and generous. When she found out I was getting divorced, she immediately gave me a huge raise so that I could support myself. I tear up now just thinking about it. When I decided to move to Iowa, she gave me a wonderful send-off. From her, I learned how I wanted to treat people. I learned first hand about the law of attraction – that what you put out into the world returns to you.

In short, I had found the work I’d been looking for all along – a place where I could express myself creatively, contribute my technical skills, work with and for people I loved.

“Probably the most debilitating obstacle to taking on The Question is the fear that making a choice is a one-way ride, that starting down a path means closing a door forever.”

I ended up completing a Masters in Interior Design. Today, I work as an interior designer, and I also teach design at the university level. But, I’m still constantly questioning if I’m on the right path. I keep asking myself if the crap is worth it. Some days, I can’t always say that it is.

The difference between my 2003 self and my 2015 self is that I know that the answer isn’t a new company or a shiny new cubicle or more money – certainly not more money. I’m making little more than half of what I used to make as an engineer and am far and away happier than I ever was before.

The answers were always inside me. I’ve had to ask myself what truly mattered to me…what do I really value, who do I want to be, who do I want to become? I’ve worked in design jobs that were as miserable as my engineering days, and they were always a result of chasing money or recognition (or subjugating my value system in service of either or both).

Reading that article allowed me to believe that it was possible to be myself – artistic and introverted and dorky – and to do work that allowed me to feel like I was becoming my best self while contributing to others. It gave me permission to believe that it was possible to do so and still feel successful.

So I’m not making six figures like many of my college peers, and some days I am jealous of their houses and cars and wardrobes and vacations. And, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t ask what if. What if I could have kept on pleasing everyone else instead of myself?

But, now I know the answer to that question would have been a sad, stunted existence in which I gradually became less of myself rather than more.

Pin This Post

Thirteen years ago I stumbled upon an online article that shifted my mindset and completely transformed the trajectory of my life.

develop a gratitude habit

Cultivating a Habit of Gratitude Year Round

develop a gratitude habit

It’s Thanksgiving, and that means that many people are taking a moment to reflect on what they are grateful for this year and in their life in general. I’ve never really enjoyed the habit of going around the Thanksgiving table to publicly announce what we’re grateful for. I expect it had to do with being shy and introverted as a child. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was feeling, which is something that I continue to struggle with.

As an adult, I fell into a routine of thinking about everyone and everything I was grateful for before I fell asleep every night – a mental checklist. Even if I had a particularly bad day – especially if – I tried not to skip this practice. It kept me focused on the positive and eventually helped me to shift from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance. I think it was great that I focused on being grateful every night before falling asleep, but it wasn’t permeating into the rest of my life.

At the beginning of 2014, I embarked on a quest of personal improvement and development. After a particularly rough 2013, I wanted to break out of a rut and push myself to learn and grow in ways I hadn’t previously considered. I continued my nightly gratitude practice, but I knew I should be pushing myself to develop a gratitude habit that was deeper and stronger.

Then, in May, I learned about The Five Minute Journal through a podcast, and I decided to try it. The journal contains a page for each day. In the morning, you are instructed to write down three things you are grateful for and also three ways that you can make the day  “amazing.” Finally, there is a spot for journaling a personal affirmation. In the evening, you write down three “amazing” things that happened during the day and one way you could have made the day better.

I was resistant to this format at first, and I’ll admit that I never mastered the habit of journaling in the evening (I usually fill out the previous day’s spot the morning after). It is very difficult to find three brand new things to be grateful for every day, and I try really hard not to repeat the same things day after day. The idea is that you are constantly looking for new ways to be grateful every single day. I found that writing them down forced me to think carefully about what I was grateful for and not just recite a generic list by rote. As time went on, I found more and more ways to be grateful for even the smallest things and moments.

Thinking of three ways I could make each day amazing was also challenging. After a while, I realized that they didn’t have to be huge accomplishments. Taking a moment each morning to thoughtfully consider what I wanted to get out of the day ahead helped me to focus and avoid going on autopilot, especially on more routine days that seemed to hold no promise that anything amazing could happen.

But the toughest part of this practice was listing three ways the day was amazing after the day was over and all of the promise was gone. Some days are boring or routine. Some days just suck. You’re tired, you’re sick, your job is stressful or unfulfilling. You come home, eat some dinner, watch some mindless television and go to bed. It’s really hard to write down three amazing things on those kind of days.

I had a pretty rough day a couple weeks ago, and it would have been really easy to skip writing down three things I was grateful for that day and later on three ways the day was amazing. I made myself do it anyway, and I found that I was able to shift my entire mindset about what had happened. It was, as Oprah would say, an Aha Moment.

I realized that, subconsciously, my whole approach to life had subtly shifted. Whenever I would feel myself getting annoyed or stressed out, I would instinctively start listing in my head all of the good things about the situation. Boring faculty meeting during lunch time – I’m so grateful to be part of such an incredible team made up of such amazing talented people; the room we meet in is toasty warm on a freezing cold day; my lunch is tasty, healthy and filling. Stuck in traffic – I’m grateful for the time to listen to another informative podcast; time to call a friend of family member; time just to be quiet and think. Stressful situation with a client or student – I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn something new that I can use in the future.

I had to consistently work on being grateful and intentionally considering how I could make each day a positive experience for months before this mindset became a habit. Now, on Thanksgiving Day, feeling grateful isn’t a struggle…it’s natural. I could list 100 ways or more I’m grateful today and it doesn’t feel trite or shallow. It feels awesome.

If you struggle with feeling positive or seeing the good, not just in stressful or painful situations, but in your everyday life, I can’t recommend developing a daily gratitude practice enough. Start by writing down three to five things you are grateful for every morning when you first wake up. They can be as simple as being grateful for a hot cup of delicious coffee, a warm home, and a cozy bed. As you work on being grateful more and more, you’ll find that it gets easier to see ways you can be grateful that you never thought of before. Before you go to bed, challenge yourself to think of three things that happened that day that you can be grateful for. Some days it feels impossible, but I’ve found those are the days when it’s most important to complete the list.

I hope that you can use my experience to bring a little more gratitude into your life each and every day instead of waiting for the one time of year we’re supposed to feel grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!