To do lists and perfection and decisions

Ahh, I know it’s been a little while since I posted another update on here. It is difficult to post, even on a truly personal blog, because I still know that you will be reading this. I worry about being judged for my insecurities and confusions. I carry around a ton of anxiety, and hide out watching Gossip Girl for hours. It makes me ineffective, and then I get frustrated and…well, less effective. Recently I’ve been experimenting with this idea of the “morning pages”, that’s three pages of writing to just empty your head out when you wake up. I noticed that my mind is often very full before I get to sleep as well and have been writing before my sleep too. It’s nothing that makes much sense, just a bit of externalised thinking to try and break the loop that goes around your head when you’re trying to solve a problem. But either way, it can’t be blogged and shouldn’t be. A bit of private writing for no one’s eyes but your own is good for you. On the other hand, I like how this blog makes it clearer to me what I’m ready to declare to the world and what I want to keep to myself.

I’ve been feeling more accomplished with smaller to-do lists recently, especially at this time where my emotions and the weight I put on my decisions has become a bit paralysing. Yesterday I thought back to when I first started working for myself. I had absolutely nothing to lose. Great place to be, that. Worth getting back to!

So here’s where I am at: I don’t want to let go of Fluent yet. I want to work with it for at least a day a week, and will be starting a fundraising campaign to get paid for it. I’ll keep working on a few books and products (Oh god, I can’t help going into “I’m writing a book!” mode again, can I?), reduce my teaching hours to one afternoon a week and run a little blog that doesn’t go looking for ads and sponsors. If more money starts coming in, I’ll assess doing more Fluent work. Easy.

The other time will be spent as a freelancer, finally taking advantage of all the business stuff I’ve been neglecting. Right now I’m making lists of things I like doing, and figured I should treat this like a great restaurant and make a service menu. Yes. With like starters and desserts and things, and then see what sells! I know for a fact that there’s a good bunch of stuff that I don’t want to do, particularly design and some aspects of teaching. I do really like brainstorming, phrasing and communications, running projects and seeing things through to a point where they’re finished.

I always like sharing and recommending other stuff I’ve been working on, so for the benefit of other confused people, try out the Trello website for project planning. It’s great because it lets you move everything around as many times as you need to work out what is happening. And I’ve also used the Post-Its app for moving things around in the same way. That’s about it for wisdom. I know none of these blog posts are perfect, and typing them for you to read automatically makes me self-censor a bit. But this is about accountability and knowing I’m moving forward. My impatient nature makes it feel like nothing’s ever progressing in the right way, but it’s nice to have a record and remember that we are going somewhere here. Just wish I was standing in my own way a bit less.

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Decison Making, Commitment, Masterminding

Ahh, here is part one of the post I wrote a week ago. I was really in the flow and about to write more about what is next when this HUGE ENORMOUS SPIDER ran across the office, meaning I had to instantly drop everything and call in the cavalry of man and cat. Now, time has flown so much that it’s finally time for me to go on holiday. Away. For a week. Without the laptop. A wholly new experience, and I can’t wait to bounce around in the Welsh forest and laze around in their spa.

My mind is flitting today, tired after a week of emotional moments. On the “smaller things” side (perhaps), my absolutely amazing Zumba teacher conducted her last session with our wonderful, happy group of zumberers yesterday. She announced her zumba retirement about 3 weeks ago and I definiely wasn’t the only one who is devastated. Although Zumba is a franchise and the music and steps can be recreated by many instructors, it’s definitely not the same with everyone of them. In this class, we had really tough aerobic work combined with smiles and fun to keep us going for ages. I honestly won’t know what to do without my happy hours spent dancing to Pitbull, hopping around and sweating like a maniac. The search for Lancaster’s next zumba Master starts here. I did consider just getting a Zumba license and doing what I love with it, but decided against it in the end. The time investment would be about a day a week and since I have no ambitions in fitness training…it might not be the right thing right now.

So here’s what I can add quickly on a sleep-deprived mind:

It is as if I have made more progress in the last week than I did in the whole year before, which is of course not true. Things have been building up: confidence, knowledge, connections, research. I’ve finally taken the step I was planning to take for so long and started talking to the new audience: online teachers, language professionals, people who need help with marketing and setting up and courage and selling themselves. I did some Maths to help me work out how much money I really need in order to make a living. More importantly, something is coming that I had not yet realised, and that’s a feeling of being able to provide exactly what a person needs so much better when I just present myself as me out there. This sounds weird and hippy, right?

What I mean is this: I can set up a company or a website or a brochure or an agency or an anything that is focused on what kind of service it provides to people. I can guess ahead at what they need and have a product. That’s all good. But I can also be just me and separate my services and my personality and have people come and work with me because I’m awesome. Once I know I’m cool at the heart of it all, the right people will just click with it, right?

I want to present something that is so close to who I am that I’m not trying anymore. I want to stop trying to attract people by doing better work. My work is good, it’s part of me, I’m committed to quality. So I focus instead on my commitment to quality, my integrity and my love of yellow and sunshine…and you’ll so want to work with me if you’re the right person.

This thought is half formed. Does anyone think this makes sense?

The Dark Side Of Thinking You’re Smart

I am writing this down because it is important to tell you how something made me feel this week, and to point out just how much help I personally needed to see it for what it was. I am a pretty confident person when it comes to my own knowledge and opinions. I make up my mind considering more than one angle for any issue, no matter if it’s Gaza or Ferguson. What I try to do is take a neutral position in the middle and accept the fact that all participants are probably right, in their own ways.

What recently happened to me online was the opposite of this. It started on Twitter, a platform that I have never perceived as anything but very positive so far. People sometimes kick off short discussions, but the 140 character limit keeps opinions to a minimum. The constraints of having to be so concise encourage people to make their point without a lot of waffle. This is how I see it. And because it’s a cool open forum, I like to participate in quick language discussions. One tweet I saw concerned the question of language learning: Is there a natural aptitude? Is it a talent? It’s obvious how many views and perspectives make for a rich debate here, and an interesting one too. I replied to the wrong person, apparently.

Haven’t You Read This Article I Wrote?

As part of the twitter dialogue that would not end, I was shown just how obviously I was wrong. I was accused of having business interests behind my opinion, and helpfully educated through links to more articles Mr Smart had written for the internet. The debate ended with what I thought was “let’s agree to disagree”, except the next day I received a 2000 word bombardment in my email telling me all the ways in which I should be acting. I was assured by my newly self-appointed teacher that he was “a trained linguist”, obviously disregarding the fact that, you know what, so am I.

Please don’t take this as critical of you personally; I don’t know anything about you as a teacher or tutor, so I don’t know what you already say to students.

I was told “this is no personal criticism to you” as if it was a given that I could only be wrong. I was even reassured that he does not really know anything about me, so he can’t be sure just how wrong I am. I was truly schooled, or so he thinks. Helpfully all this was underlined with a note that I am “not to reprint it” as it’s an editorial for “the publication I edit”.

Mate. I am not reprinting it because it is not science. It is egomania.

I have found this type of behaviour most rude, to be honest. The presumption of writing to me, proclaiming “published and trained” as if that made you a more valuable person by default, is truly beyond the pale. If the email and tweets had truly been addressed to me rather than being a semi-public demonstration of his own perceived status, they would have opened a dialogue. As it was, I got steamrollered with way too many words, with a lecture, putting me into the rule of a pupil when I had not opened up that door to that particular person.

Undermining Behaviour Patterns

This type of behaviour is often highlighted when men talk down to women (and no, I am not saying “all men are like that”). As you can see above, there’s a clear presumption from the person that I need to be educated, that my opinion is inferior to his, and that all it takes for me to agree with him is to show me how truly smart he is.I could have waved my experience and qualifications around in defence, but it’s really pretty pointless. Some observers have coined a term for it: Mansplaining.

Here’s the danger: I took it all! The self-references to “an article I wrote in the NY times, and here’s one in a respected qualification” did work at first. I doubted my own convictions, my own expertise, I thought maybe I’m wrong and this guy is clearly smarter than me. Someone writing a long article must know what they’re talking about, right? But the more this went on, the more I was bombarded with further references to the person’s greatness. He even assured me that he was the core research source in this field – no need to consult anyone else, this is the wisdom source. That’s when it dawned on me that my role was not even to use my intellect – it was to open my eyes as wide as I could, and stand in awe of the greatness I was witnessing.

I mentioned my experience to a supportive friend, and she instantly pointed out what’s going on here. Mansplaining is undermining, it is hurtful and it is extremely impolite. The experience I have just had is not one I wish on anybody because it’s extremely rude.

If you are someone experiencing this type of communication, no matter if you are a woman or not, remember that you don’t have to take all that rubbish. Remember that your opinions and knowledge should always open to the possibility that you are wrong, but not the certainty that you are wrong. Don’t let someone convince you they are right just because they like to self-aggrandize.

As I am leaving it, I can’t engage in this type of behaviour. I found his point quite interesting, at the start. Do you have any recommendations for what comes next?

Money and Mindset

The next post I want to post on this blog will be one that returns to my goal setting practice, as I’ve gone through most of the book launch now and I think I’ve achieved quite a decent growth in “notoriety” (lol) as well as growth in my brand. In other words, more people now know who I am on the internet and that’s good because I write stuff I want them to buy, read and use.

But let’s take a little step back for the benefit of you, poor reader who’s found yourself reading my blog all about my life out here in the North. Well, what can I say? The last two months or so have been tough work, but focused and ultimately effective. I’ve put hours and hours into writing the new book, then editing, rewriting, promoting, guest blogging, talking and all the while through BELIEVING IN IT. And I’ve really enjoyed myself with all this. Self-publishing a book is an amazing adventure to go through, something that really goes a bit down to the core of what you are doing and why. It demands discipline in writing the damn thing (remind me never to say “I’m writing a book!” again, please?), confidence in promoting it all and resourcefulness in doing all the jobs a publisher would do. The payoff is independence – I get to be the boss here. It’s my thing, and no one can say it’s not good enough.

I have put more money into this one than I could even imagine. It’s still not unrealistic amounts, but significant enough to make me raise an eyebrow and hesitate before committing. And what does that mean? I thought about money recently. About my own hesitation to invest, so many times. I have paid a professional designer to create me an illustration for the book cover, and I cannot tell you how much I love the result. I have hired a professional voice artist to read the audiobook version. Again, she is awesome. It makes an enormous difference to my product when I invest, but every time I do, my mind is like “WHAT IF I NEVER SEE ANY OF THIS MONEY AGAIN EVER?” And I have found myself wondering why I ask that. Why is it that it feels like I’m not investing but wasting? And the answer is this: I don’t believe in my product enough. I don’t believe in myself enough to think I can produce something awesome. And once I realised that, I began to calm down a little bit. Because ultimately, I know I produce the best quality I possibly can. And I’m writing about what I really know about…I’m not a hack pretending I’ve discovered the answer to gardening or rocket science, I’m a linguist writing about language learning. And to be honest, based on the questions people ask (thank you 50 Calls Project!), I know I’m doing something useful.

Based on a recognition like that, things have become a little easier. It feels no longer like I am bugging people to reimburse me for my silly investment in an air bubble. Instead, I’m beginning to feel a new sense of happiness about being able to share a thing I wrote that is going to help people out and be a little bit awesome. It’s not big yet, but it’s bigger and better than the first one.

For the month of August, I am taking a break from language teaching and instead focusing on a course with Boost Business Lancashire (free training in how to become a huge entrepreneur…I hope that means huge in weight?) and on finalising, promoting and publishing both my new books.

I have not given up on incorporating my interest in marketing in my future work, and have started talking to more and more language teachers about their kinds of needs. But I also recognise that I have too many irons in the fire and I’m struggling to commit to any one thing, which is not going to produce best results. Just as with the money, time is another investment, right? Keeping all my options open throughout 2014 hasn’t produced near as much as putting the focus onto a book for even a part of the year. So my main goal for all of August is this:

Cut work that I do not find fulfilling.

Today is my full time self employment anniversary!

In the last year I taught German to over 100 people, wrote 2 books, filmed a whole video course, learnt a lot about coffee, started a secondary business as a blogging teacher and had to go back to the doctor for more Prozac (beautiful stuff). The biggest part of all this was getting to know myself better, learning about my expectations and all the things that I thought I cannot do. I still think about this all the time – all the stuff that the voice in my head has decided I cannot do.

When I first started out in self-employment, I made this huge list of things that I could try to do. It was long. Based on the good advice that I found in books I wrote a list of what I was good at. Then write a list of what I really enjoy. In theory this will give you a crystal clear image. See what overlaps, and you have created a dream job. Except that’s actually a lot harder when neither of the lists has “making a decision” written on it. My options for the next career move included education agent, travel agent, PhD student, language tutor. In the end I went with what I knew. I started as a language tutor, which slowly evolved into blogger and author, too. I learnt that I am great at teaching and I love helping people accomplish something new and exciting. In this meandering journey that seems to never end, I am beginning to find my confidence. And as it turns out, when you want your customers to be a group of people that you will like, the confidence is super-important because it’s the only way to say no to easy money that makes you unhappy.

As a reader of this blog you’re probably aware that things are not always straightforward. I can only pretend that I am awesome, and hope that other people buy into it. And I can only stick my finger in the air and hope that the next project, the next investment and the next wave of energy will push me even further forward.

Sometimes you have the pleasure of hearing that people from the outside perceive you positively. They admire my work, they think I’m further down the road than them. Maybe I am, I don’t know. To me, it feels like every step I take is still the first step but slowly my attitude to all those first steps is changing and I’m less terrified. Let’s see how I feel tomorrow, eh.

Still a bit of an idiot

This week I realised an important thing – my friend and editor mentioned that I’d been “noodling around” the idea of focusing more on my blogging and branding work for over 3 months, and I was like “more like a whole year!”. She said that I need to jump into one pool or the other, and I’ve been gradually reducing the tutoring work that I do but struggling to let go of Fluent completely. Actually, what needs to happen is that I hand this blog over or stop working so much on it. It doesn’t work out economically if the work I want to do isn’t in language. It feels scary, untested, I don’t want to do it. Fluent has been my baby and I’ve got to let it go. So hard.

Running my first has probably taught me more about business than any course could have done. I know that it’s kind of pointless to offer anything to everyone, you have to ask people for cashmoney at some point, that cutting old offers that weren’t popular REALLY isn’t a big problem. If no one cared in the first place, it’s not like you’re taking anything away from them.

The things I’ve not really learnt 100% yet are about pride and mistaking my business for my whole identity. This is so much harder – when you’ve put everything into making something run, and then it doesn’t, it’s still hard to sack it off. I keep running half-arsed efforts to make this work, but then shying away from anything that could make me truly successful. Basically I’m my biggest problem.

So of course this means saying no to things before I can say yes. I will get these books out, damn, that’s what I will definitely do. I’ve already pretty much written them, and they’ll be useful to those blog readers that do want to hear what I’ve got to say. But if they flop, so what. They’ll flop.

I’ll think of a new title, name, identity for the new business. It’s still difficult for me to put all of myself into one venture because there’s just that much more than me there. But I look at other people who have done impressive stuff. Friends and big business fancypants folks. I’ll try and learn from them, collaborate with others, let it all grow slowly. My desire to rush things is my biggest enemy.

Hiring and Firing Myself Very Slowly

Okay, something happened, I’ve got to share it. I ran this online course last week, called Fresh Content. It was a blogging seminar for new bloggers, giving them lots of ideas to take away the “I’m scared of the blank page” feeling. And it went well. And I really, really liked doing it. There is something there that language learning doesn’t give me, which I think I’ve managed to put my finger on: I love helping other people realise their damn potential! People are so brilliant, or at least a lot of them are. YOU are clearly brilliant for reading this. Man, could this sound any more hippy?

I’ve had all these ideas for blogging workshops and courses already, and I cannot even explain to you how exciting they all are. Not sure if this will be my topic forever, but the heart of blogging is about self-expression, being a little brand and making money doing it. And I love that! That’s where people are most brilliant, and it allows me to develop products for this outstanding group of Pioneer Nation people* that I have fallen in love with. Again – hippy sounding, but tell you what, it makes me happy! It’s probably been evident from the majority of my posts that I have not enjoyed language teaching enough to consider it my life’s calling really. And the thing is, when you run your own business this means you become a bad business person. I would consciously avoid earning opportunities because I just didn’t look forward to doing the work. With this, I hope it’s different. I’m aware of the deceptive warm glow of new ideas, but here I’m fuelled by having already run the thing and wanting to do that lots and lots more. Isn’t that different? Here’s a perspective: I am great with people, I love them, they’re fantastic. I love how this is putting me in touch with what people are thinking, which I’m always curious about. And I loooooooove to talk!

*I don’t mean just those 400 people. I mean everyone who is like that, who has something to say and wants to become really great and confident at getting their message out.

Now, for practicals. What does this mean? I’ve got so many language products on the go, and of course current students too. I think this means I have to power something down before I completely overexpand myself. In a way, I need to quit job 1 where I am the boss and then employ myself for job 2 where I am still the boss? Believe me, if you’re now shaking your head and thinking “what the heck has she done?” you are not alone. Me too. WTF.

My feeling is that I can make progress like this:

  • Probe the bios of new idols Laura Roeder and Shenee Howard and Tara Gentile on how they did their thing
  • Run 3 or 4 workshops without too much faff or hesitation
  • Invest in a proper awesome website that hosts my videos
  • Write the course curricula for 3-4 blogging courses (trust me, I can get this done)
  • Announce away
  • Set a Start Date

Listing stuff out like this is very nice, but isn’t it scary to think I could actually abandon a few of the language projects that haven’t made me money yet (“but I told people I would”), change course (“but I told people…what will they say?”) and start the new awesome thing. I’m genuinely scared but at the same time I want to do this. I’ll let it sit and see how I feel in a week, just to be sure. In the meantime, do you fancy a place on Fresh Content?

Energised Post of Learning and Optimism

Ahh, there’s something about doing a lot of writing in the day job that really doesn’t lend itself to “leisure blogging” sometimes, but hey guys here I am! I’ve returned from my great US trip motivated and energised, and just strongly hoping that I’m gonna be able to keep this up. The therapeutic effects of a conference like Pioneer Nation just must be explained for a second: I honestly felt like this place was the first time I found myself in a room full of people who are (kind of) just like me. We don’t like having a boss, we have an urge to make or create things, we want to see stuff get better, and it’s just…I always thought those were the weird things about me. If you haven’t picked up on this from reading my blog yet, then let me tell you: I love finding a fault in myself. When things went “to plan” in my life, this wasn’t really too disabling. I was okay with just ploughing on and staying in the belief that I’m probably a bit rubbish, but no one’s really noticed yet. But then things started going more wrong – my workload increased and increased, and like a true little trooper I tried to keep up, until I broke. The bosses were happy to go along with me blaming me. Now I’m the boss and need to remember this is a pattern I’m liable to repeat.

I’m forever learning more about how it’s okay to be just okay, not amazing all the time. And that this is part of accepting something else: If I have a personality that is vocal, enthusiastic in happiness (and sadness), creative (but flighty) and really quick at drawing conclusions (but indecisive), then that is also okay. That’s me. Being in this conference made me feel validated, happy and supported, and I need to carry it into everyday life.

Now that I’m returning to the UK, I’m really trying to make notes and draw conclusions about what I want from life. One aspect of seeing so many self-employed people who have made a living doing things that they’re best at was that I am sort of beginning to feel like I am approaching the point of knowing what else I’m good for besides teaching German.

So anyway, this is a ramble and what I want to get to is also the GOALS update of course! Let’s plough through these – some amazing things are happening.

Main guidelines for 2014, as learnt on this trip

  • I need to make myself happy first
  • That means doing things that make me happy
  • And not judging those things
  • And that means not telling myself I “should be working” or “should not be spending money on this”

Goal updates

1) Online Business

Well, this one has been massively interesting. Obviously, Pioneer Nation was full of training and information about all sorts of online business aspects. There were course creation, info products, sales pages, you name it. And I did a thing I’ve not really done before: I asked someone else to look at my website and critique it! What could’ve been more useful than someone else asking me “What do you want people to do when they see your website?” MAN! So useful. I love it. And the strangest thing is, once I had thought about it from that point of view and put some changes in (I want people to sign up to my mailing list first and foremost, and secondly I want them to ask me to teach them German), the tinkering level went down. So in other words, that bit was good.

This also means that the affiliate adverts went away. I had not even realised how much I was distracting people from the heart of what I’m doing – and essentially how I was putting other people’s products ahead of anything I could come out with. Guess why? Yep. My thought default is that I’m crap. Say “impostor complex”, will you?

2) Blogging Training

Shine Online is probably more of a “Lights Out Offline”, in other words we’ll have to cut our losses and move on. I’ve already dealt with any thoughts about whether someone like me can lead courses like that and decided that yes, I can, so at this stage I honestly don’t feel too bad. The course set-up was complicated and today I saw some serious admin problems on the host’s side of things that just could not have been fixed unless I was holding the event myself. I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that both trainers have been left pretty disappointed, and not about the sign up rates. I have learnt something useful which is that it’s better to be in charge of your own crap sometimes. I will tell my inner Type A person. She’ll be pleased.

BUT BUT BUT, wait, let me tell you the good news. I am recruiting for a small online seminar, which I truly am in charge of all by myself. It’s called Fresh Content. I’ve got only 2 places left on it, which means great things, and is something I came up with after talking to people and getting a feel for what sounded good to them. I’m really nervous about it, because I think the audience for this one is full of extremely brilliant people, and also because I’ve not led an online seminar before. But what this means is that I have basically created something, promoted it and had a decent level of success in under 4 weeks.

3) The thing with Sam..

Well, the thing is the thing that had to go away to make space for all the other stuff.

4) Home Working

I’ll be damned if I had more than 3 days off in the last month, but at the same time my working rhythm while on the trip was better than ever. I’m good at evening work and will often get going from 7-10pm. I took afternoons off to go and discover new places, slept in quite late and worked from lots of different places on the laptop. In fact, this all worked so much better than sitting in the home office every day, that I’m making a commitment to taking the computer to all sorts of places in the future. Mobile working seems to suit me right now.

In May, one of my core goals will revolve around doing more justice to the thing that I enjoy so much which is basically brainstorming and getting things started. I have not had the confidence so far of proclaiming “I’m great at this” and thinking about what that can mean in terms of career prospects, so let’s see what…er…crystallises.

Still reading? WOW! It’s clear you are one of my true friends. I’ll buy you a drink if you comment on this. A £7 cocktail even.

A Flurry of Random Lessons from Pioneer Nation

I feel like my life changed from last Wednesday to today. This conference called Pioneer Nation has been everything I wasn’t even hoping for – incredibly lovely speakers, nice food, but most importantly I feel like I have found people that I have more in common with than I could ever hope for. Every single person at this conference was brilliant, and they were inventing their own job and amazing at it.

And because I have like 40 pages of note, here are very quick notes:

  1. Bro dogs are best left to Bros
  2. The way I am is not weird, in fact there are hundreds of tribe members out there who don’t want a boss, or a job, or strategy meetings or office politics. We want to make things HAPPEN
  3. People are making it happen all the time, and they are noo different from me
  4. My brand isn’t just “oh hello I do everything with language …stuff”. I will have to think about it and really cut all the things I don’t love or that don’t make me money
  5. I know about 5% of what I think I know
  6. I know nothing, really
  7. Being of service is the core part of what I want to do. And with that, I get a feeling of who my ideal customer will be and with that I will be able to make the right thing to help them
  8. People have been telling me their problems and pains all along but I wasn’t listening
  9. I can be picky about my customers, too, because I want to LOVE all of them.
  10. Having staff counts as investment in “mental headspace”
  11. I must commit. It is okay to be guided by Buffy: “I commit. I’m committed. I’m a committee.”
  12. My self confidence must never be questioned. It doesn’t really help.
  13. ASK FOR HELP OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING – even something as simple as asking someone else to look through your website and copy can make a huge amount of difference.
  14. Being more open and vulnerable online is a part of selling things online. (Kersylearns may be merged with Fluent…)