The Necessity of Vacation

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

For the next two weeks, I’m creating my own sort of writer’s retreat, up in the boons of Northern California with my grandmother. I’ve got WiFi (which is on a limited GB plan!), but we were on dial-up up here just a few years ago. No joke. On Wednesday, my most exciting event was finding a dead raccoon and a (live) frolicking deer while taking the dog for a walk to the mailbox, which is down the street.

I’ve been here for a week already, however, feeling more relaxed than I have since I got back from Spain a few months ago. The most convenient part about my little retreat is that I have been able to focus on very important projects, including NaNoWriMo2014. I have never written so much in such a short time. Woot! 

Me in Oahu, Hawaii 2006

Me in Oahu, Hawaii 2006

Having time to ourselves to work on projects and reflect about things in our lives is very important. Therefore, I’d like to touch briefly on the importance of vacation–whether it’s a day of reflection or a week (or more) away from everything.

Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007 with my grandparents.

Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007 with my grandparents.

When I was 21, I had worked for 3 years straight with NO vacation. I thought I could conquer the world while working full-time, and going to school full-time. I worked 7 days a week (for the most part) and nearly collapsed from doing waaaayyyyy too much. Then I had a wake-up call when I finally took a vacation. 

Me in Campello, Spain in 2008--a life-changing vacation.

Me in Campello, Spain in 2008–a life-changing vacation.

One of my best friends was getting married in Hawaii and I didn’t want to miss the wedding. I booked a flight and hotel for both my sister and I, and decided we’d make the trip a full 8-day vacation. It was glorious. I had nearly forgotten how wonderful it was to relax and do next to nothing. I came alive again. And I realized that I hated working so much and needed to make a big change in my life.

Girls trip to Disneyland (CA) for Halloween 2009.

Girls’ trip to Disneyland (CA) for Halloween 2009.

A few months after that vacation, I quit my job and pursued other career paths. I was so happy and wondered what had taken me so long to make the change. Then I remembered that my vacation had triggered my desire for change, and that’s when I understood how important vacation is. Had I not taken that trip, who knows how long it would have taken for me to realize that I needed to make a drastic turnaround?

St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Famous arch in the background.

St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Famous arch in the background.

Vacation–or even reflection days–can bring clarity that the day-to-day grind can’t. It brings us to a different place physically (sometimes) and mentally (almost always) because we are removed from the norm. When we fail to take time for ourselves to reflect, get away from “it all,” and evaluate our current work/life situation, we do ourselves a disservice. We are more likely to fall into unhealthy habits all around, and wonder why we feel dissatisfied or stuck.

My nephew and I in Disneyland (CA) for my baby sister's Sweet 16 in 2011.

My nephew and me in Disneyland (CA) for my baby sister’s Sweet 16 in 2011.

Vacation doesn’t have to be something expensive or burdensome. It can be a day set aside once a month, or every other month, in order to disconnect from all our devices and e-mail, and become centered. It can be a day where our sole purpose is to journal and project the future of our business or career–or even plan our next novel. It’s a day where we ask ourselves: Am I where I want to be?

Times Square, New York with my mom in 2012.

With my mom in Times Square, New York in 2012.

And, if the answer is “no,” then we can use the remainder of our away time to come up with a way to answer “yes” in the near future.

Me, basking in the Cabo San Lucas, Mexico moonlight in 2013.

Me, basking in the Cabo San Lucas, Mexico moonlight in 2013.

I would like to note that an annual getaway does amazing things for our perspective on life. For myself, I come back from vacation with a new vision for my business and writing endeavors, and I just feel rested and ready for the next chapter of my life. I’m a nicer person when I come back from vacation, and that’s always a good thing. Being happier and more relaxed means that I’m a healthier person who can run a healthy business. I’ve made it a rule to travel somewhere at least once a year since that trip to Hawaii nearly a decade ago, and I’ve been blessed enough to keep that rule.

Gorgeous sunset at the Mona Lisa restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Gorgeous sunset at the Mona Lisa restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

If vacation is not an option for you in the near future, set aside some reflection days–national holidays are a good start. And, if the thought of vacation stresses you out…um…you should probably take a vacation. 🙂 Grab a piña colada and take some time for yourself. Cheers!

Homemade guacamole (with chips) and a

Homemade guacamole (with chips) and a “handcrafted” piña colada! Made it myself. 😉

Make It Work: Approaching a Problem with Multiple Solutions

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

"Make it work!" Photo via Jessie Pridemore from Flickr Creative Commons.

Tim Gunn: “Make it work!” Photo via Jessie Pridemore from Flickr Creative Commons.

If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, then you’ve heard the famous “Make it work” motto of fashion genius Tim Gunn. My family and I often use this phrase in a patronizing or humorous way, but Mr. Gunn has a great point. In other words, he’s admonishing the show’s contestants to figure it out–make something happen. And that’s what we need when it’s problem-solving time.

Solving problems can be a daunting task, especially if you only look at the big picture rather than piecing it out in parts. Believing that there’s only one solution to a problem can also stop you dead in your problem-solving-tracks.

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Before I started my business last year, I was a school administrator. The school’s Director of Operations, to be exact. Solving problems was at the top of my job description. I had the support of our leadership team, but at the end of the day, I was the one responsible for all the small- and large-scale events, community gatherings, communication processes, and marketing. Talk about putting out fires.

I knew I had to keep my cool, no matter what the circumstance. The most important part about problem-solving, for me, was to draft out solutions and keep an open mind to the ideas my team members and the school’s parents had. If I had chosen to shut out every opinion, there’s no way I could have accomplished everything I did while in that position.

Solving problems involves efficiency, the ability to move quickly (mentally and sometimes physically), and the desire to involve the appropriate people to get the task done. Being a good leader means that you abandon the temptation to be a “lone wolf” and you get your team involved.

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Needless to say, I learned a lot from that job and was able to apply multiple solutions to the hurdles that came my way. So, just how can you solve a problem by using multiple solutions?

Here’s my process:

1. Brainstorm

Approaching a problem organically is a huge factor. It alleviates the pressure of finding the perfect answer right away (kinda like the stress of huge math problems). Here are some ways to brainstorm:

  • Draw it out: Use a web, diagram, or pictures to generate ideas. Don’t throw out any crazy ideas during this process. Sometimes the crazy ones are the best.

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  • Write it out: Grab a journal and have a dialogue with yourself; walk yourself through the process of solving the problem.

 

  • Talk it out: Call a meeting with those you trust most; those who have the ability to give you varying perspectives. Be open to their ideas and hear what they have to say in regards to finding a solution. This would be a GREAT time to use someone who has strategy as one of their Top Strengths. Since my Top Strength is strategy, I have often been called into various planning meetings to give input during the brainstorming process. Strategists usually have great solutions, but make sure they don’t dominate the entire conversation. 🙂

2. Narrow It Down

Once you have generated multiple solutions, prioritize the ideas that could actually work. Throw out the ones that are bogus. You can use a criteria list to help with this part of the process. Look at things like: 

  • Efficiency
  • Time it will take to implement a solution
  • Cost of the solution (especially if you have a tight budget)

3. Choose the Best Solution–or a Combination of Some

Again, there is not always ONE right answer. Sometimes, it may take a combination of solutions and ideas to approach a problem and solve it. Keep an open mind while trying to figure out what will work best, and be wary of falling into the trap of over-analyzing.

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4. Set A Timeline

This is one of the most important areas of problem-solving. A solution is only as good as its plan. I know that sounds strange, but planning is so underrated. Once you have an answer, set up the blueprint for execution. Here are some questions you may need to ask yourself:

  • Does this problem/solution have a due date?
  • When will I/we begin working on the problem, using the chosen solution?
  • How long will the problem take to solve?
  • Do I need others to help me solve the problem?

5. Delegate As Appropriate

The key to success begins with delegation. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re like me, wavering between perfectionism and creativism (totally made up that word), then you can empathize with the real temptation of doing everything yourself. I had to learn the hard way that it’s a good thing to ask for help, and that I can actually get more done with extra hands. Who knew, right?

Build a team (if applicable) of people who are trustworthy that can get the job done. They may not do things your way, but that’s okay. As long as the outcome is successful, you’ll be grateful for the extra help. And let me be the first to say that my former assistant was a godsend! I wouldn’t have been alive at the end of the school year without her.

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6. Execute

Once you have the pieces in place, it’s time to solve the puzzle. You have your solution, timeline, and team, so get to work! Just picture Tim Gunn looming over your workstation, and ask yourself if he’d be impressed or horrified by your creation.

 

I hope you find yourself using some (or maybe all) of these tips the next time you face a big problem. Nothing (except hangovers and procreation) happens overnight, so take a breath and give yourself a break. Look at the problem as a whole, then break it up into manageable pieces. You’ll be surprised at how much simpler it looks that way. “Make it work!”

Should You Listen to Naysayers?

Part of being an entrepreneur involves receiving negative or discouraging comments from others. When I decided to freelance and quit my job, giving up a steady paycheck, I heard things like, “Is there any money in copywriting or editing?” and “But how are you going to pay your bills?” and “Wow…that’s a tough industry. Good luck.”

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Rather than tell them off, I held my tongue, smiled, and said, “It’s actually a great industry and there’s lots to keep me busy.” Then I went my merry way and launched my business. I’ve never been a follower, anyway, and I was so ready to do my own thing. But sometimes, I think it’s important to listen to the so-called naysayers.

The only problem is: When should you listen to them and when should you ignore them?

Let’s break it up and analyze:

When you should NOT listen

  • If your endeavor involves risk, but there’s lots of opportunity for you
  • If it’s something you’ve been dreaming about and know how to make happen
  • If you are ready to put in the hard work, have the resources you need, and are willing to make sacrifices (especially financially)
  • If you just feel ready for the change and have been making steps to reach your goal
  • If that person’s “caution” or “words of wisdom” to you are just their own fears and doubts

Don’t let your fears–or the fears of someone else, for that matter–hold you back from going after your passions. When you do what you love, and you can figure out how to make it work for you, then go after it without looking back.

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When you should listen

  • If what you’re about to do is incredibly dangerous and you could lose your life (even then, I know some daredevils will go for it)
  • If what you’re planning to do is incredibly stupid (like buying a magical bean that will grown a giant beanstalk)
  • If you haven’t taken the time to plan things out (preparation is the key to success)
  • If you have some life issues (emotional or physical disabilities) that cause an incredible hindrance to your daily well-being
  • If you know you’re not ready, but you’re letting pride cloud your sound judgement

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Just because someone advises you to reconsider choices you are about to make doesn’t mean that you have to completely forget the idea. Rather, it means that you should at least think about their “advice” and ask yourself if there is any credibility to what they’ve told you. Sometimes, it’s hard to remove our ego and we develop this personal vendetta to prove everyone wrong at any cost. Don’t do something just to show others you’re right.

Take every piece of advice with a grain of salt. The best thing to do? Find people who are passionate, like you, and are successful entrepreneurs/business leaders/etc. and ask them if you can buy them some coffee in exchange for an hour of their time. Pick their brains, ask them questions, find out how they became successful. Surrounding yourself with people who are like-minded can help you as you make business and life decisions.

So, heed the naysayers, but weigh your choices with sound judgement and advice from those whom you admire and trust. Don’t let the Negative Nellies get you down; create the life of your dreams by taking some risk. It just may be the best thing you’ve ever done.

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Don’t Make a Resolution; Set Some Goals

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

I’m not a big fan of making resolutions, but I am a big fan of setting goals. And a new year is the perfect time to do so. Resolutions are typically outcome based, whereas goals can help us change behavior and habits in order to reach them. Thus, goals can help to create better behavior. (Plus, barely anyone keeps a resolution anyway.)

First World Probs Resolutions 

There are, of course, many ways to set goals, but keeping it simple is a good idea. In my attempt to keep things simple while also trying to be clever, I’ve come up with an easy way to set healthy and achievable goals—both for individuals and businesses: The HELA Way. (I hope that at least elicited a chuckle.)

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Here’s how I break down The HELA Way:

 

  • Health
  • Education
  • Love
  • Actualization (Spirit & Self)

 

It’s been a habit of mine, every new year, to set 4-5 achievable goals, by using wisdom literature as my guide. The categories in which I develop goals are universal: physical, knowledge, relationships, and spiritual/self-growth. Keeping to this particular pattern has helped me to reach my goals just about every year. Plus, I am constantly reassessing and measuring my progress.

 

Here’s an explanation of what The HELA Way means, and how you can apply it in your own life:

 

H is for HEALTH. If you don’t have your health, you can have everything else in the world and still be miserable. Health truly is everything. What goal can you set for your health in 2014? What do you currently do for your physical well-being that can simply be improved upon?

 

For example, if you work out twice a week, see if you can add one more day to your regimen. One more day a week adds up to 52 more days of working out during the year. Or perhaps you don’t work out but know you need to move your body more. What would it look like for you to start walking for 10 minutes a day, 2 times a week?

 

Physical well-being is crucial to being creative and productive, but you don’t need to be a body builder to achieve good health. Again, keep it simple and build upon new habits.

 

E is for EDUCATION. Improving our minds should always be a priority, and there are many ways to do so. Do you read every day? I’m not talking about emails, either. I’m talking about reading a short article that is relevant to your field. Whether you’re a writer, marketing director, or construction contractor, you should be reading something each day—or at least each week—that will teach you something new about your field. It doesn’t have to be someone’s dissertation; it can be something short and sweet like a blog post. 🙂

 

L is for LOVE. “All you need is love”—and a host of other things. Ha. But seriously, having love in our lives is a grand and necessary thing. Having love in our lives is mostly provided through building good relationships with others. In 2014, choose at least ONE relationship that is important to you, and assess some areas, which you can work on to improve it. Remember: it’s not about you, but about how you can give to others—even if you sometimes may not receive anything in return.

 

Click HERE and HERE to read articles on the importance of love in our lives.

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A is for ACTUALIZATION—spirit and self. I personally believe that we should all have something outside of ourselves in order to find harmony in our lives. For me, it’s my spiritual beliefs that keep me grounded. For you, it may be something else. But we cannot look to ourselves for all the answers. It just doesn’t work. What kind of spiritual goal can you set for this year?

 

Self-actualization is the other part of the acronym, and by this term, I simply mean self-improvement. I do not personally believe that we will ever “arrive” in this life, which is why it is incredibly important to do self-checks—and often. What is one goal you can set for yourself this year; one goal that will help shape you into a better person?

 

The goal can be something as simple as getting into the habit of rejecting negative thoughts—a goal that is actually harder than it sounds, but is worth doing. Think of something simple but effective. Something that you’ll be proud of at the end of the year.

 

Other Goals to Consider

 

Many of my clients are writers, and I encourage them to set writing goals. Perhaps it’s a daily word goal, or finishing a novel they’ve been working on for the past two years.

 

For business owners, The HELA Way goal-setting guide can also be useful. LOVE can have to do with customer/client engagement goals. EDUCATION can be for owners and their employees—improving everyone’s knowledge about a service or product, etc. You get the idea.

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Goals are not just “things” to be set up in January and then revisited December 31st. Setting daily, monthly, and quarterly goals is ALWAYS a good thing! Happy goal setting and Happy New Year!

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