Making and breaking habits – what I’ve learnt from a year of challenges

beergarden
During no make up month!

Last September I took a month off the booze and then went straight from that in to a month of blogging every day.  It took me far longer than 30 days to write 30 blog posts  but a fire had been lit under me and I was hooked to the idea of a challenge every month.  I was setting up a new business and I knew I had to challenge my thinking, change the way I viewed myself and my place in the world and challenge myself every day if I was going to make this new life work.  So setting random challenges every month felt like a great way to get me out of my comfort zone and exploring the possible.

I had enjoyed the contrast of denial one month and then trying something new the next.  It added variety and made the challenges feel less of a year of hardship and martyrdom.  It took me a while to think of 6 things I could deny myself and 6 things to aim to do every day.  This is the list I ended up with:

In:

Blogging – tick already done, Meditation, Painting and drawing, Exercise, Morning pages, Cleaning (I didn’t decide on this one until it was upon me! And yes, for some of you, the fact that this was a challenge will seem unfathomable and icky)

Out:

Booze (done}, Meat, Sugar, Caffeine, Make up, TV

Once I had my list I just had to get cracking on it.  I started easy and cut out meat in November.  We don’t eat a great deal of meat in our house and I didn’t expect it to be difficult.  It wasn’t.  In fact, I was a bit disappointed with myself.  I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough and it didn’t feel like a challenge.  Lesson: make it hard.  Easy challenges are no fun and don’t achieve anything.

I knew December was going to be a tricky month for adding in.  It’s the most extra month of the year as it is.  I decided that it would have to be something that could really benefit me during silly season.  That’s how I decided on mediation.  In the crazy month of consumerism and excess, daily meditation could only help.  I didn’t meditate on Christmas day and I did miss a few days over the month but I pretty much stuck to it and it was a life changing experience.  Meditation is bloody amazing.  I do just 7 minutes a day.  I say do because I still do do it.  Not every single day and there are times when I will go long stretches without meditating.  Mistake.  It calms me, gives me perspective, energises me, makes me feel ready for the day and gives me more resilience during tricky times.  I use an app called Stop, Breathe, Think. It is free and super simple to use.  My go to meditation is Relax, Ground and Clear.  There is no better way to start the day.  This was more like it. This was the kind of life changing habit I was hoping these challenges would give me. 

So I didn’t go easy on myself in January. I gave up sugar.  Oh. My. Life.  I never used to be a sugar addict.  I developed a sweet tooth after having kids.  Sleep deprivation will do that to a person.  I can honestly say (with no pride whatsoever) that not a day goes by when I don’t eat sugar. Not a single day.  So this was a biggie.  I was terrified.  A whole month without sugar.  I actually didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it.  I read loads of articles about it before I started to give me an idea of what I was letting myself in for and to work out what I could and couldn’t eat.  Sugar is in bloody everything. I didn’t go totally purist.  I still ate fruit – don’t tell me that’s not good for me.  I cut down on refined white flour products but didn’t completely cut them out.  And the obvious stuff was banned.  Oh boy. That first week was SO tough.  I was irritable.  I had a headache most of the time.  I grudgingly ate nuts as a mid-morning snack and my morning coffee was just too bloomin’ wet.  But then something rather unexpected happened.  I found I was LESS hungry.  And I had MORE energy. I stopped wanting sweet stuff.  It took a week but my body totally shifted.  And on top of that my complexion was clear and, well, healthy looking! I had my healthy snacks in to get me through the day but I didn’t need them.   I had no idea how addictive sugar is and how much it was impacting me. I resolved to change the way I ate, bringing my sugar intake right down.  And  I would love to tell you I turned a new leaf and no longer eat sugar.  Pah.  It’s totally got me in its clutches again.  It’s only writing this now that I realise how much I’ve slipped back into dependency through the year.  I am back to having sugary food every day.  It’s sidled back in and got me back in its grip.  Time to stop again?…

The next two adding ins were tough to stick to: painting and drawing and exercise.  I love painting and drawing but never make time for it.  And I still didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I did more than I have done in years. And maybe that’s enough. It was great to reconnect with that part of my brain and just paint for fun.  It showed me that I can make time for things I want to do but feel I can’t squeeze in.  But not every day! And exercise was just too much for me.  Three times a week is my limit. I tried yoga apps and 15 min dance classes on YouTube but I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise every single day.  Hats off to those who can.  It ain’t me.

But the next two cutting outs were much more successful.  Caffeine and make up.  I was dreading caffeine.  Dreading it.  I LOVE coffee.  I have one cup a day and it is my morning hug to myself. I have a whole ritual around it. And I think tea actually runs in my veins.  It’s not so much a drink as a friend.  A place of comfort.  So why cut it out? That’s a question lots of people asked me.  And I did struggle to answer it. But the reasons were the same as anything else.  To see if I can and to see what difference it makes.  I managed it.  I honestly didn’t think I would.  But I did it.  And I learnt that decaf is actually pretty good.  I regularly trade it in now and don’t drink caffeinated tea in the evening any more.  But it certainly didn’t change the fact that I love tea and coffee.  Always have.  Always will.

Make up. This was one of the toughest.  I love make up. I hate my skin.  I had terrible adolescent acne and it stripped me of my confidence.  I’m still working on that! So to go out of the house every day without make up on just felt impossible.  Undoable.  The thought of going to see a client without make up on felt akin to walking in there in my knickers.  I do appreciate how ridiculous that sounds but it is the truth.  I don’t wear anywhere near as much make up as I did pre-kids.  I mean the school run and the supermarket do not require me to put my face on.  But pretty much any other situation would.  I love make up.  I love buying it.  I love trying new brands, new colours.  It makes me feel confident, done, ready.  And I knew from the huge resistance I was having to going bare that I had to do it. 

And guess what.  No one bloody notices.  No one notices. 

When I was walking in to rooms feeling naked with my bare face I started looking around me for the first time and wondering who was wearing make-up.  And I realised that not only did it make not a jot of difference to me or anyone else in the room, but that it had never crossed my mind before.  No one notices.  I never noticed (unless someone was sporting a particularly fetching shade of lippy).  So why did it matter so much to me?  I was hiding.  And I realised I just didn’t need to.  There was nothing to hide.  And that was a truly startling revelation. 

I still wear make-up.  I still love getting ready to go out and that involves putting on some cracking lippy.  But not every day.  And now I regularly see clients without make up on.  They don’t give a shit!  Of course they don’t.  Why did I ever think they did? 

I’m going to save the last two add ins for another post because they have become part of my new life routine.  Morning pages and cleaning (I know, exciting stuff!).  And I utterly failed the no TV challenge. Literally not a single day!

But what I have learnt, along with all of the above, is that it is much easier to take things out than to add them in.  That it takes a bit longer than 30 days to create or break a habit but only a bit.  That challenging yourself to look at those things that you do unthinkingly can have a surprising and valuable impact.  

I will keep challenging myself.  Maybe not every month.  But when I recognise the signs that I need to disrupt a habit and get myself thinking differently about something I will tackle it with a challenge.  This month that something is money.  No unnecessary spending.  I’m doing OK so far.  It’s the 1st Nov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keeping well on World Mental Health Day

 

yougotthis
My daily reminder hanging in my office

Today is World Mental Health Day.  I’ve been reflecting on how much my general mental health has improved over the last year.  There are lots of reasons for this.  I have more time, I feel less judged, I have spent a lot of time working through the demons that had crept in and started to take hold.  There are a couple of things, though, that I think have made the biggest difference.

 

1) Challenging my habits.  I spent last year setting myself monthly challenges – giving up and adding in all sorts of different things: booze, sugar and meat went out; meditation, painting and writing came in.  Just for a month each time.  And I was more successful with some challenges than others.  

I set these challenges to test myself a bit and see what I might learn along the way.  What I found was that breaking habits is possible and illuminating.  I learnt about how I was using alcohol and sugary foods; I learnt that if I really want to make time for something I can.  It has made me more mindful and conscious of decisions I make and what triggers me to make unhealthy or unhelpful choices. 

It was only by really confronting these habits that I could see how my subconscious was driving some of my less helpful behaviours.  It has had a significant impact on my physical health which has had a direct impact on my mental health.

2) Understanding my basic needs.  This is something that I was introduced to through my training with One of Many.  I was encouraged to think about what it is I need in my life to be OK. Not to be singing from the rooftops but to be able to do what needs to get done.  Because if those things aren’t looked after how can I possibly deliver on everything else in my life?  How can I give where I need and want to give if I am running at a deficit myself?  Understanding what those needs are has taken me a while to figure out.  I’ve been looking out for when I snap, feel low or get ill.  What have I neglected?  What needs attention? 

And I’ve figured out that these six things are my foundation stones for staying well:

·       Sleep – 7 hours a night

There was a time when I thought I would never get back to this.  When I believed I would only ever sleep in three-hour chunks because of the kids; or when the swirl of demands on me would never stop breaking through every night.  But it has happened.  The children are older and now do actually sleep (miracle); I have worked hard to create calm and space before bed; and I have introduced strategies to get the crap out of my head – a kick-ass to do list system and writing writing writing! I know when I need to go to bed to cope with the early starts my firecracker daughter insists on greeting the day with.  I know when to stop the caffeine.   Project sleep is paying off!

·       Nutritious food, including enough water, every day

I love chocolate.  I love cake.  I love crisps.  I love chips.  I still eat all of these.  But I don’t rely on them.  When my girls were little I genuinely felt like cake was a need.  If I didn’t get my daily fix I would feel so hard done by.  Cutting out sugar was a huge revelation.  I felt better without it.  I had MORE energy. I literally could not believe this!  Eating well makes me feel better.  I love cooking and trying new things and I just operate better on a good diet. 

·       Exercise at least three times a week (and getting outside everyday)

This is often the first thing to go out of the window when I’m busy but I am working super hard to change that because I know it is the one thing that has the biggest impact on keeping me well.  Exercise clears my head, it fires me up, it helps me to keep perspective and it makes me feel strong.   

·       Alone time every day (minimum 30 minutes)

This one took me a long time to realise.  I’m pretty extroverted and I love company but if I don’t have time by myself, quiet time in a quiet setting, I get antsy and impatient and snappy.  It’s why working from home works so well for me.  I savour my alone time.  It allows me to be fully present when I’m back in the thick of it. 

·       Time to reflect through writing or meditating every day

I started doing morning pages (see The Artists Way) earlier this year.  Three pages of stream of consciousness writing as close to waking up as you can.  I don’t manage it every day but that is my goal.  It clears my head, allows me to focus on what is important and allows flashes of insight and inspiration to be captured.  I am a huge convert and would highly recommend giving it a go.  I resisted it for a while – no way do I have time for that – but I do.  Because I want to.

·       A clean and tidy house (30 mins attention each day)

This one will be particularly hilarious for anyone who has known me for a long time.  I am not a tidy person.  Except I am.  I am organised in every other element of my life and it is only very recently that I’ve realised I had a whole load of limiting beliefs around housework.  I have taken control of the chaos and taken a conscious decision to lead in this area of my life.  And it has been transformative.  I feel a renewed sense of calm in my home and more able to cope when life is hectic.  Little and often works for me.  And if you need a kick start, check out the_organised_mum on Instagram or Facebook.  Her method has helped me make a change that I sorely needed.

These things seem so simple don’t they.  How could this possibly be a breakthrough?  But it truly has been.  Firstly, paying attention and noticing that when it is these specific things that go out of the window I will start to suffer, and if they are neglected consistently I will become unwell (when I say well and unwell here I am always talking about my physical AND mental health).  By identifying them and writing them down and taking note of how I’m doing against them I give myself and those around me a clear message that these things are important.  They are fundamental.  They are not nice to haves.  They are not luxuries.  They are necessities.  It is all too easy to forget them or lose sight of them when life is busy and hectic but that is exactly when they need to be heeded the most. 

For me, this is self-care.  This is me looking after me.  And realising that this is important, knowing what I can do to keep myself well and committing to it every day has made a real difference to how I cope on a daily basis. 

What would your fundamental needs be?  Are you paying attention to them?  If life is feeling overwhelming it may be time to pay attention to what you need each and every day to keep yourself ok.  It is worth it.  It will help.  It’s not a luxury.  It is a basic need.

 

Reflections

reflection

Next month I will be celebrating the first anniversary of my business.  I will have been a business owner for twelve whole months.  I felt like a complete fraud a year ago.  I had a business name, a website that raved about what I could do and not a single client.  I set myself stretching goals and, despite some serious wobbles, I hung on in there with the belief that I could do this; that a life on my own terms was worth the nail-biting wait for work.  And one year in I now know I was dead right to listen to my gut.

I wasn’t prepared for how this year would change me.  At a party last weekend one of my friends commented that he could see physically the change in me over the last year.  The lightness of my step; the happiness radiating from me.  I was so taken aback by his words. I know for myself how much happier I am; how much more myself I feel; but I hadn’t stopped to consider how that might look to the world.  Now I come to think about it, of course it makes sense, we hold our tension in our bodies and that tension has gone.  And along with it the self-doubt, the worrying about circumstances I could not change, the resentment that had built up in my gut.

So what is it that has made this difference?  It’s not just about starting a business – I regularly read comments, articles and posts about how hard and stressful this can be.  Being responsible for every penny you earn can be bum-clenchingly terrifying. And it certainly isn’t for everyone.  I never thought it was for me.  Until I tried it. No, it’s not that alone that’s made the difference.  I’ve been reflecting on what has really affected my outlook and happiness.  The things that have allowed me to live so much more fully in my life.  These are the star players that emerged.

Balance.  Up until 2018 balance felt like an impossible dream.  There was never enough time.  Wherever I was I felt like I should have been somewhere else. At work, at home, at play.  Taking control of how I choose to spend my time and recognising that this is a choice I can make, has made a huge difference to my happiness.  I have recognised that time for me, whether that’s the gym or a girls’ weekend away or a coffee and a book, is essential to my wellbeing.  And when I’m happy, we are all happy.  It filters through my whole family.  It’s worth it. I’m worth it (yeah, Jennifer Aniston, I am bloody worth it).  I could have earnt more this year, by working more, and blimey that’s tempting when you don’t know where the next project is coming from.  But that’s not my driver right now.  Balance, for now, is my number one value. And by putting it at the centre and making decisions to ensure I have it, I have it.

Making a positive impact.  I love my work.  I had forgotten this for a while there.  I actually love working with people and making a positive contribution.  Having a positive impact.  This is why I love working with charities.  My experience is that individuals and teams in the charity sector are passionately driven.  Working with organisations that make a difference to the world we live in excites me.  And when I get great feedback from those people, when they tell me I have helped them make progress, it lights me up.  I relish it.  I want to bottle that feeling.  It absolutely drives me on.

Learning.  At the beginning of this year I made a commitment to learning.  I read some wonderful books in 2017 that really opened up my thinking.  Made me look at what drives me and what holds me back.  That taster set off a thirst which has developed in to a passion.  There is something life-affirming about opening yourself up to learning.  Recognising that it’s never too late.  As you get older, it can be harder to open up in that way.  To allow yourself to recognise there is so much more you can do and be.  But this is one of the things that has truly delighted me about this year.  I will update my reading list because it’s a hell of a lot longer now!  And I will save telling you about some of the amazing resources I’ve been using for another day.  But I believe this commitment to personal development is at the heart of my happiness.

Being free to choose.  Whenever anyone asked me about my career path I would say, on a good day, I’m good at spotting opportunities and I’m happy to adapt to new challenges.  On a middling day, I would say I’ve been in the right place at the right time.  And on a bad day, I’ve stumbled pretty blindly along and managed not to f*** it up so far.  What you will notice from any one of those answers is that they are passive, responsive.  They aren’t active choices.  And until this year that is how it has felt. I’ll play the hand I’m dealt as best I can.  But no more.  Now I choose.  I say when, I say who, I say how much (another 90s classic for you there – perhaps not the most appropriate analogy!).  In all seriousness, what I love about working for myself is that I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to.  I cherish and nurture my network of wonderful, inspiring colleagues and these are the people I choose and want to work with.  I have never felt so empowered.

So in a couple of weeks I will be raising a rather large glass of something yummy to celebrate this year of change and to herald in year two.  I am so very excited to see what it holds.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the clients

 Today I did a Facebook Livpexels-photo-408503.jpege with Julie Morgan from Another Mother on this topic.  Talk about facing your fears!  Luckily it felt like I was just having a chat with Julie so I pretended we were on a Skype call!  I’m so pleased I did it and it was great to reflect on what I’ve learnt over the last few months about getting and keeping clients.  Here is a less waffly version of what I shared.

1.       Get clear on what it is you do

This may sound obvious but it took me a long time to get this right.  I would talk about myself as a freelance project manager and it soon became clear that this really didn’t hold any meaning, either for myself or anyone I was talking to.  The work I did with Another Mother really helped me to pin this down.  It was tough going and I really resisted narrowing myself down too far.  I worried that if I was too niche I would miss out on opportunities.  But the fact is clients want to hire you for your expertise.  They want an expert, not a generalist.  Someone recently described this to me as ‘working within your zone of genius’.  I really love that term.  What is it that you do that really makes a difference?  Who do you do it for?  And what impact does it have?  When you can answer these questions you make it easy for clients to know whether they need your or not.  And you can be sure you are focussing your effort where you can do your best work.   The real breakthrough came for me when I invested time in developing my website.  It made me articulate my offering succinctly.  It was a huge learning experience which I’ve written about before.

2.       Network like crazy

The fact of the matter is that your early clients are very likely to be people who already know you or will be put in touch with you through people who already know you.  These people are our champions.  They know our work and trust that we will deliver.  But they need to know that you have entered this new world.  They need to know you are available and what you are offering (see 1 above!).  It can feel uncomfortable reaching out to people we know and trust to talk about new opportunities.  Start out easy with friends.  Talk to them openly about what you are doing.  Share your hopes and fears.  The more you do this the more comfortable you will become talking about your new business.  It can be a really enjoyable element of the work.  It is all about connecting with people, making sure you are visible and in their mind.  That way when the right opportunity comes along they will think of you.

3.       Use social networks – for me that was LinkedIn

Social media is a great way to get your message out there.  Link to your website. Let people know you are available.  Share your expertise.  It’s all about visibility.  I used LinkedIn to announce I was going it alone and I had four people contact me the same day I hit that publish button.  I regularly post on LinkedIn as I know this is where my network are most active.  I make sure people can see my progress; I share thought pieces and I comment on what others are sharing.  This all serves to keep me visible in my network and makes approaching people a little easier.  Work out which social media platform will be best for connecting with your potential clients and get visible! 

4.       Learn from every interaction

This may not seem like an obvious one but it was fundamental for me.  I was putting myself out there like never before.  It was daunting and I felt pretty vulnerable.  To make the whole thing feel less personal I treated it like a research project. I reflected on every interaction I had, positive and negative, to identify what it was telling me.  If I came away from a conversation feeling excited and buoyed up, what was it that had really excited me? Conversely, if I felt dragged down, anxious or frustrated, what was triggering that reaction? Making time for this and recording it helped me to identify both the type of work I wanted to be doing and the type of people I wanted to be doing it with.  It helped me to be confident enough to identify what I didn’t want to do.  After all, I had taken this step in to self-employment to bring back control and choice in to my working life.  I had the opportunity to focus my work on what I love.  My aim was, and is, to bring my best self to work every day.  To be lit up by it.  This process of reflection allowed me to identify what had that effect on me and I continue with it still.

5.       Love your clients

When you do get those first clients, which you will, let them know how delighted you are to be working with them.  Share your excitement and positivity around the project you are involved in.  Your enthusiasm will be infectious.   And when you are in there, deliver your best.  Show them what you are made of and why they made such a mightily good decision to work with you.  One piece of advice I had in my early conversions was – play the long game.  It’s never about a quick win.  About doing a deal.  This is about relationships.  Repeat business with the right clients is golden.  And it’s not just about the work you win.  Those ‘no’s’ may yet become ‘yeses’ if you remain approachable and keep in touch.

And most importantly, have faith.  The work will come.  Before you know it, you’ll be turning work away. 

Letting go of resentment

dreamland
Life goals!

This is a tricky topic to write about.  When you have kids it can be so hard to be honest about some of the feelings and thoughts that are less than positive.  But a recent realisation has forced me to face those negative feelings.  Here goes.

I’ve committed myself to live my best life.  I know how bloody cheesy that sounds but there it is.  For so long I’ve focussed on doing the right thing, being sensible, having a decent career, having the hallmarks of a good life.  So much so that I forgot to ask myself if it felt like a good life.

There are too many times where the overriding feeling I have been carrying is resentment.  Resentment of my employer for keeping me away from my kids, for not appreciating the work I put in, for not seeing the hours behind a screen in the evening and weekend.  Resentment of my husband, for doing a job he loves, for getting to go out spontaneously because he doesn’t do pick up, for not having to justify his decision to be a working parent, for his career not being affected by being a working parent.  Resentment of my kids for not giving me any space, ever, for not listening, for needing to be entertained, for robbing me of my freedom.

It’s hard to hear isn’t it.  It’s even harder to feel. No wonder that overwhelming sense of resentment was accompanied by a deep sense of guilt and shame.  No way for anyone to lead their best life.

So when I set up my own business, it was an opportunity to reset. Would I fall in to old habits or could I change?  What would it take to change?  Well, hard as it was to recognise this at the time, the only way I was going to shift anything was by stopping and thinking about what I needed.  What would make me happy?  It can be so incredibly hard to put ourselves at the top of the list. To say, “I am the priority right now”.  But I knew, deep down that if I didn’t figure this out I was going slide back to old ways, miss this golden opportunity and stay stuck in the quagmire of resentment and guilt.

So, I read a few books, and spent a lot of time reflecting.  I worked with a coach and I stopped.  I stopped working, stopped doing, stopped setting ridiculous expectations of myself.  And I started feeling, listening, being.  Taking the summer of 2017 off was the best thing I could have done at this stage in my life.  I let go of so much and I reconnected with what was important to me.  And it was all the things that I had been feeling resentment towards.  My work, my husband and my kids.  I knew that I loved the latter two with all my heart but I couldn’t say the same about the first.  It was then that I realised that joy in my work would unlock joy in all areas of my life.

Figuring out what I love most about my work, what I’m really good at, the stuff that gives me a real buzz was transformational.  And because I am operating in the place where I’m at my best, the work is flowing, my clients are happy and I am experiencing true joy in my work.  That joy is allowing me to be present at home in a way I haven’t been before.  It is allowing me to be light and fun and, well, joyful.  It has removed the stress and frustration and chaos that was too often present.

And a couple of weeks ago while I was reading a brilliant book in a noisy soft play centre while my kids were having the time of their lives I realised that I’d let it all go.  All that resentment had gone.  Tears sprung to my eyes and I had to take some very deep breaths not to sob all over the Formica table.  A huge grin spread across my face as I realised that this was the great gift my new life had given me and my family.

More than anything that has come before it in this incredible journey, that realisation made me feel truly free.

And so yes, right now, I feel like I am living my best life.   Hate me if you must 😉

 

Relish the challenge

Challenge

In September 2017 I decided to take a month of the booze.  It was tough but I relished the challenge.  So much so that when it came to the end of September I found myself thinking what my challenge for October could be. I liked pushing myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself to break out of bad habits.

Somewhat unexpectedly the idea for my next challenge came while I was grappling with building my new website.  I had resolutely ignored the tab that said ‘blog’ on the free website builder I was using.  I mean, what on earth would I blog about?!  But out of the blue, I saw a link to something called the 30-day blogging challenge on one of the Facebook groups I had joined.  And it peaked my interest.

Could I really blog?  More than that, could I write a blog post every day for a month?  My sensible head was telling me no.  No way. This isn’t what you do.  You’re not a writer.  What would you have to blog about?  And even if you could think of stuff to write about, who the hell do you think would read it?

I’d done enough reading by this point to spot a limiting belief when I heard one.  And in the interest of pushing myself well out of my comfort zone I thought, stuff you, I’m doing it!   

I had a look at the info on the challenge. It’s a penny to join, based on the premise that we value what we pay for.  And the challenge is, quite simply, to write a blog post every day for 30 days.  Along the way there’s bags of advice and guidance from Kevin and Sarah Arrow who created the challenge and are deeply passionate about the value of blogging for business. 

I leapt in.  And I didn’t look back.  Being part of the 30-day blogging challenge commits you to publishing your blog posts and sharing them on the Facebook community group.  That accountability was essential for me.  Without it I would have made every excuse under the sun not to get my writing out there.  The community is supportive and getting feedback on my posts reassured me that the content I was producing was ok. Blogging every day meant I had to get comfortable with done is better than perfect – a good life lesson!

It was during the second week of the challenge that I had the realisation that I had a whole lot to say about the changes I was making to my professional life but my business website just didn’t feel like the right place to express it all.  And thus, From Flee to Free was born. 

I had enjoyed the blogs I had been writing for my business website but the Flee to Free posts were altogether different.  For the first time ever I was writing about my personal journey and the words just flowed.  The response I have had to these posts has been overwhelming and it has sparked in me a love of writing that I didn’t know was lying dormant.  It has also sparked an idea which I’m still nurturing about how I might use my experiences to support others to make big changes in their life. 

Writing has now become part of my work routine.  I miss it if I’m not doing it and it has opened up a whole world of new possibilities that I would never have considered before starting the challenge.

Committing to a blog a day is tough.  I am completing the challenge today, months after I started it. But I got to day 20 in October from a standing start.  I had no idea that I could achieve such a thing.  The support of Kevin and Sarah and other bloggers on the challenge, particularly Emma from EJW Solutions, kept me going. 

And during October, another idea started to form in my mind.  A year of 30-day challenges.  Stretching myself to try new things, challenge some of my most deeply engrained habits and see where it leads me.  Since making the shift to working for myself I have committed to always being open to learn.  I have realised that for me this is the basis of a full life.  It is what will allow me to live my best life. 

And so as October drew to a close, I started thinking about all the ways I could challenge myself.  And I started on a year-long journey of discovery.  I’ll be sharing the highs and lows, the learnings and the frustrations on this blog.  And I’d love to hear what you think.

What have you given up for a month or longer?  Or started?  What do you think would be the hardest thing to give up?  Or commit to doing every day? I have a list of challenges I’ve thought of but I’m always looking for inspiration.  I’d love to hear what you think.

If you’re thinking about starting a blog, I would highly recommend the 30-day blogging challenge.  It is a sure-fire way to face your fears about getting your stuff out there and you’ll have a whole heap of support along the way.

Getting out there

Lightbulb

Once I’d decided that I wanted to work for myself I realised that I would have to convince people that they should pay me to do what I’m good at.  This felt about as comfortable as running down the street naked.

As I’ve mentioned before, talking about myself in any kind of positive way sets off the ultimate squirm-fest in my stomach.  I have been known to physically curl up when talking about my achievements (not the greatest interview technique).  So the thought of getting out there and ‘networking’ with potential clients was enough to set off a minor panic attack. 

This felt like a pretty hefty barrier to achieving success in my new venture.  Everyone I had spoken to about freelance life had said that the way to get work is through your current contacts.  You have to stay in touch with people who know you and know your work.  Now, I love chatting to people and catching up over a coffee.  This felt doable.  But selling to those people who I have worked with, respect and admire.  That felt positively grubby.

It was a chat on the phone to a very wise ex-colleague that helped me to make the shift.  “I never sell” she said, “I listen”.  OK.  Listening I can do.  It was such great advice.  Listen to what’s bothering people.  What’s difficult for them.  What’s getting in their way.  Show that you understand their challenges and offer up ideas for what might help.  Not in a salesy, hire me, kind of way.  In a, I’m a problem-solver, this is what might help you kind of way.  All the while you are planting the seeds that you are someone who knows what they are talking about.  Who understands their world.  And who cares about making that world better.

All of this really resonated with me.  I could actually imagine having those kinds of conversations.  But what about the ‘working my contacts’ bit of this.  These people aren’t faceless ‘contacts’.  They are my friends, colleagues, peers. As I said, I admire these people.  I respect them.  The last thing I wanted anyone in my phone book to feel was ‘used’ in some way.  So I avoided setting up these meetings.  Great strategy!  I procrastinated.  I dallied.  And I moved not an inch towards my goal. 

Finally, after a little panic about never working again (ok a huge panic that I’m a little embarrassed about looking back) I ‘cheated’ and announced my change of direction on LinkedIn.  It was a hell of a lot easier to sound confident from a keyboard.  I took too long to draft that post and my finger hovered over the submit button for longer still.  But when I finally took a deep breath and put it out there, the response was incredible.  Almost immediately I had three people contact me to set up a meeting.  I was on cloud nine!  I’d taken action and it was leading somewhere.  I learnt so much from those early conversations.  Some of which were excruciating because I just didn’t have a clue what I was about but I learnt something new every time.  And it gave me the confidence to contact more people.  Arrange more meetings.  And I soon realised that I was loving these conversations.

That’s when the light bulb moment came.   I wasn’t ‘networking’ in the sense that I feared.  I wasn’t ‘working my contacts’ in a calculated way.  I was connecting with people I want to work with.  People who inspire me.  Who I respect deeply.  Who I know I can learn from.  And who, I hope, I can help achieve their ambitious goals.  I now relish the ‘networking’ element of my business.  I know it means that I get to sit down with the incredible people I’m lucky enough to be connected with.  It means I get to hear what’s exciting them, worrying them, driving them.  It means I get to share the same about my new world with them.  And every now and then, when the stars align, we realise that there is an opportunity for us to do something together.  That I can help.  And then the work comes.  And it doesn’t feel ‘grubby’ or calculated at all. It feels right. 

If, like me, the sales element of self-employment has been something that has held you back, remember, the joy of working for yourself is, you get to choose.  You get to decide.  Which means you can work with people who get the best from you, always.  It really is the most wonderfully liberating realisation.