I’ve Gone Full Circle: Here’s What I Learned

I was on an upswing, settling into the life of a commuter cyclist-freelance creative. I was happy with my life but sort of feeling the hustle of freelance entrepreneurship; starting to feel like I needed to do something to increase my income potential.

Then a friend offered me a job and off I went, only to to discover that I was best suited in the world of editorial structure and freelance entrepreneurship.

Now I know what it means to go full circle; to leave something for what appears to be greener pastures, only to find that the thing you left behind was the right thing after all. I could tell myself some story of failure but the truth is that I haven’t failed. In fact, this past year has reminded me of a few things I had lost sight of.

  1. I really love the beach. For me, the beach isn’t just where the water meets the sand, it’s an entire lifestyle. I completely underestimated how much I would miss it. One of my favorite things to do was hop on my bike and go for a ride along PCH. There was something about having the music pumping in my ears, the salty air and the wind in my face that just felt free. Commuter cycling doesn’t feel quite the same in the desert. And I only made it through half a Summer before I bought a car.

  2. Storytelling is my passion. I’m a writer. I write features and personal narratives. I also really love helping other people share their stories. I like to strip off the veneer that we use to protect ourselves and tell the stories in a fearless vulnerable way. It’s not that this is a new discovery but when I took the job, I found myself way out of this element and completely lost. The awesome thing about losing the job was the feeling that I was free to pursue my passion again.

  3. I am an athlete. Now that my schedule is flexible again, I’ve been spending a lot of time working out. I run, I spin, I do yoga. This weekend I ran my first 5k and in August I’m doing a triathlon. After years of being told my blood pressure was too high, my blood pressure has returned to what it was when I was swimming competitively. It feels good to be active again. I am both physically and mentally the strongest I’ve been in a long time.

  4. Yoga is my happy place. This ties into being an athlete and goes beyond to something that calls to me. I have gotten to the point where even on the days when I’m not “working out” I have to fit in at least a little bit of yoga. It has a centering effect and keeps my body healthy. In fact, I have renewed my commitment to becoming a yoga teacher and have been deepening my engagement with the yoga community.

  5. The Universe knows best. I am the type of person who likes to have a plan and follow through on that plan. I don’t like to deviate or be distracted. I make lists and checking things off gives me a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes though, it’s better to just say yes to the Universe even when it leads you somewhere familiar. I’m here in Arizona and not having a “real job” feels like a return to normalcy. I could tell myself that I wasted a year and I made the wrong choice. I don’t believe any of that though. I believe that everything is in divine order and I am at peace with the life I am living. I also know that there are some big adventures yet to come.

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A New Dawn, A New Day, A New Life

Just before the turn of the new year, I wrote about a dream assignment and a desire to stretch myself more as a writer. I wrote about possibilities and being at a fork in the road.

And then I went silent for a while. Why? Because I got to work. Sort of…

The truth is that the assignment at Infusionsoft turned into an amazing job offer as a staff writer, with one hitch: I had to move to Phoenix. And while the decision to accept the offer was sort of a no-brainer, I’ve been working these last two months planning my transition.

Here I am with seven days before the big move and the last week for me to wrap up my bigger freelance projects. I’ve got boxes all over my house, boxes that will get packed into a moving truck next week, when I uproot my life here in sunny SoCal, for a new start in the Arizona desert.

It’s all at once exhilarating and stressful. The boy doesn’t want to move, so there’s the guilt about uprooting his life. I have friends and community here that I’ll miss. I’ll miss the beach and freelance freedom. What I won’t miss is the bustle of SoCal living. And while I’ll miss the flexibility of being my own boss, I don’t think I’ll miss having to hustle so hard to support myself and my family.

Speaking of family, with the new income and the new house, the elder boy will be able to come live with me again. Sometime near the end of the year, my long distance for too long honey will return for good. And poof, I’ll have all my boys under one roof.

It’s all a little too much to process right now. I’m still processing the idea of leaving the beach. But in seven days, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee

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How a Dream Assignment Reminded Me Where My Passions Lie

Despite feeling swamped with work, I’ve also been feeling like all the world is a possibility. This is largely in part because my clients are doing well and would like more of my time. I feel like I’ve finally made it through the toughest part of the building phase and have been starting to feel a sense of financial stability again. The problem now is that there isn’t enough time to do it all.

But from this vantage point — that of a busy and in-demand freelancer — I feel it’s time to look beyond the goal of replacing my previous salary to increasing productivity, figuring out how to scale the business and make more money without feeling like I’m constantly working. I’ve also been weighing my desire to write against the desire to edit and asking myself, what’s next.

And then a friend sent me an email about a writing assignment. His company was having an event and he wanted me to write a feature. We had been talking about his need a feature writer, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. If I was available despite the short notice, they would cover the travel expenses and pay me a nice fee for the article.

Now, the all-expenses-paid travel assignment is a rare find for today’s freelance writers. I’ve heard tale from more seasoned freelance writers of this type of assignment, but even most of those who did travel for assignments before, say that type of work has practically dried up. Unless, of course, what you write about is travel.

It just so happened that I was having a slow week, so I said yes. And with just a few days notice, I flew off to Phoenix to cover a an event at an up-and-coming software company called Infusionsoft.

I was excited and anxious but when I arrived at the Infusionsoft offices, the atmosphere was simply magic. The air was buzzing and in the center of it all was this event they called the 48-Hour Implementation Accelerator, which is what I was there to write about. Without giving away too much (because the story is pending — more on that later), I’ll just say that this assignment was like a dream and I hope to do more like it. And it wasn’t just because the client was very organized and friendly. It’s not entirely because of the travel, which I’m sure will continue to be rare. (But I’m totally vying for one of the two blogger positions at Infusioncon.)

This was a dream assignment because I was writing about something new and interesting. I have always enjoyed event coverage, interviewing people and writing the story. I was there to write a story and it felt good. It also reminded me that while I love editing and it pays most of the bills, writing is where my heart is.

When I got home I picked up a gift from long time mentor Erin Gruwell, a bookmark that read “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” And now I’m asking myself how I can incorporate more of my heart into my work and move closer to realizing my dream of making a living as a writer. Being the O.C. guide is a start, but I want more.

And all it took the trip to Phoenix and Infusionsoft for me to realize what the more was that I wanted. Now I’m at a fork in the road, and no matter which way I turn, the possibilities are endless.

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How My Notebook Saved My Sanity

Lately I’ve been feeling swamped with work. While the Summer found me struggling to make ends meet, the new season brought with it a different type of windfall. This is exciting for sure, considering that just under a year ago, I left my full-time gig as a staff editor at Entrepreneur magazine in favor of launching into the deep pool of freelance entrepreneurship and already I’ve secured contracts for enough revenue to replace my editor’s salary.

But I want more. To go beyond replacing my previous salary and the feeling that I am constantly working.

It was easy to exercise regularly and maintain a strict eight-to-four, no working-on-weekends schedule when business I was mostly prospecting and negotiating. Now that the fruits of that labor have come in, I’m struggling to find balance between work and life — the main reason I chose the freelance path to begin with.

So I begin looking into project management systems and productivity tools. But these usually add another step, something else that I have to factor into my workload, and ultimately the return is just another time suck.

And then I started just writing things in a notebook. After so many years of writing for the internet, including this here blog that doubles as my personal journal, I had gotten away from physically writing things down. The trouble with this was that my dependence on a computer or some other form of technology left gaps in my ability to simply jot down notes, reminders and ideas. When I started writing things down, I was able to unpack all of those thoughts and have something to reference in the future.

I started using my notebook to sketch out editorial plans and calendars, to outline proposals and jot down project ideas. The result of this mind-mapping strategy is that the ideas and plans are nearly completely formulated by the time I sit down to translate them into working documents, whatever form those documents may take. Where before I kept a running list in my head, now I write to-do lists for the day in my notebook and feel accomplished by the end of the day when I have crossed most of the items off.

After just a week of doing this, I can tell I’m going to need another notebook. But most importantly, my brain feels less cluttered and I am feeling less overwhelmed.

How’s that for a back-to-basics solution to my productivity problem? I wonder how many others out there find that the are able to organize their thoughts, and manage time and energy better by simply writing things down?

Image © Daehyun Park

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Enlightened Racism in the Supposed “Post Racial” Era

Growing up as I did, going to predominantly upper middle-class white schools, I’m no stranger to being treated like the representative for the “Black perspective.” This happened quite often during cultural discussions in high school and even collegiate classes, when I was asked to weigh in on something that had to do with something or someone in African American culture, simply because I am an African American.

I thought I had escaped this sort of enlightened racism, until recently when I was approached by a fellow regular at the local coffee shop.

“I hate to put you on the spot…” the gentleman said. “But I gotta ask: What do you think about Herman Cain.”

Personally, I don’t spend much time thinking about Herman Cain. But just a few days earlier, I had listened to an episode of Rachael Maddow where she made a compelling argument for Cain as political satire.

I chuckled though, and responded, “I think he’s a joke, pretending to run for presendent as a PR campaign for his new book.”

“Oh?” I could see the wheels grinding, the man was trying to process what I had said. “Why do you think that?”

I explained that Cain had made references to “the great poet” Pokemon and his 9-9-9 tax plan was something out of a video game. His campaign didn’t make sense to me and, as far as I was concerned, Cain was no more likely to run for president than Donald Trump.

In one ear and out the other.

“Y’know, I like him,” the gentleman said. And then he launched into a rambling tyrade of Republican talking points, why he liked or disliked various Blacks in politics and his experience with “minorities” from his military days.

While some might have engaged the man further, I decided it best to just let him get this out of his system. He hadn’t even really listened to what I said and if he had, it was clear, he really didn’t care. He wanted to have a discussion about Black things with a Black person, and I was the only one he knew.

But he didn’t want to talk. He wanted me to listen. And he couldn’t understand why I didn’t agree that these black politicians were so great…even though the only ones I knew of were President Obama and Herman Cain.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the man is a racist. We had had small conversations about various things in our visits to the coffee shop. But I was reminded that while most of us are unaware of our prejudices, we are far from being a “post racial” society.

Yes, I’m Black. I’m also American. I live about as far from the epicenter of Black culture in California as one can get, being behind the “Orange Curtain.” And yet, somehow, this man thought I was the authority on all things African American.

The problem as I see it, is that as a society, the US is still very much a segregated nation — and no one wants to talk about it. The result is racist behavior born of ignorance. And people of color being treated like a novelty as opposed to regular citizens of a multicultural nation.

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The Battle is On

Not so long ago, I shared my feelings of despair about watching the American Dream being dismantled and the new battle for civil rights. Recently though, this despair has turned into hope as the nation has been swept by Occupy Wall Street and other aligned acts of civil disobedience.

It would seem that the working class people of the United States are starting to wake up out of their complacent consumer daze. Where at first the media treated the story as if it was non-existent, they later began dismissing the protests with “what do they want” spin.

But as police violence has erupted in the New York epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the media worked to spin the protests as the act of the “entitlement generation” and without direction, the movement continued to grow. It grew from one small group in New York (who has been there for nearly a month), to groups in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and talks of more in cities across the country.

Indeed it is time for all of us to recall the sacrifices made by previous generations who fought for civil rights and freedom before, the sacrifices being made now, and what our own contributions will be to this grass-roots movement for change.

Yes, watching the videos of the police pepper spraying protesters and beating them with batons is scary. The threat of being arrested for standing up against injustice is scary. But being afraid is part of what has gotten us where we are to day and not standing is simply providing consent.

Standing in the face of such violent opposition may well be the only way to get the attention of those in power — the people who are elected to serve and represent the people — and remind them that we will not stand by and watch the republic be ruined by greed. We the people, must stand, and remind our government who it is truly accountable to.

Are you ready to stand?

Image via _PaulS_

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Sometimes We Get Stuck

I have a confession to make: I’m having what I’ll call a blogging crisis. As I’ve written more and more about motherhood, I’ve felt more lost about my content focus. I’ve never considered myself a “mommy blogger” in the sense that I wrote about my children; I’m more of a writer who mothers.

So when I had all these ideas start to pile up about the lessons I’m learning on the journey to figure out exactly how I want to live my life as a free agent, I felt stuck.

And so I didn’t write. And then I felt bad because I hadn’t written anything and didn’t know how to get back to where I wanted my focus to be. How do I go from the boy playing football to reflecting on life and the things I’ve learned since jumping into the freelance waters? How to I bring my reflections back to introspection, rather than musing about my child?

Some would say, I could start a separate blog to focus on all my interests. It sounds simple in theory, but seriously, who has time for multiple blogs to maintain when they’ve got a business to run?

So again, I feel like I’m starting over, and I seem to do this once in a while. Sometimes I just need to step back to get some perspective on where I’m going and what I’m doing. Sometimes, I just need a break.

But because I am so compelled to share, I’ll always come back. Hopefully, you’ll stay on the ride with me, even when it gets stuck.

Image © Anna Tesar

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Stay Low, Keep Your Head Up and Keep Your Feet Moving

Yesterday they started hitting. I knew it was coming, that’s part of what football is about after all. It’s that fearless willingness to go running full force, into another human being, in the name of the game.

But I’ve never seen the first day. And when the coaches put the boys into three lines with, three experienced players defending the “in zone,” and I heard the sound of helmets crashing together, I winced. Over and over. I thought, “this can’t be normal,” and listened to murmurs from the other moms that they had never seen anything like this before.

I looked around the field and saw the other teams doing various versions of first day contact and I was afraid for my skinny little skater boy. One of the three defenders was going to hit him. My heart raced as he got closer to the front of line and other boys walked away either pumped or looking shocked. Was the boy really ready for this?

The answer quickly became no, when he cried after being hit and was sent to me to get some water. “They crush my rib!” He snatched off his helmet as I assured him his ribs were fine. “No, seriously. I heard it crunch.”

I touched his ribs, poking and watching for signs of pain. Nothing. “You’re fine,” I said. But I wanted to take my baby and go home. Still, I resisted the urge to coo sweet mommy-ness all over him when he said he wanted to go home.

“Just get through practice,” I told him.

“I almost bit my tongue,” he whined. “This mouth guard isn’t working.”

“Tell your coach and ask him what you should do,” I said.

He looked toward the field and pulled his helmet on. “How much longer?”

“7:30.”

“So just another 30 minutes?”

I was snapping his chin strap. “Yep.”

“Ok,” he said. “I can do this.”

I pulled his face mask close. “No fear boy.”

He nodded and ran back to the line.

I continued to be concerned through the rest of practice and everyone asked how the boy was doing. He was a little intimidated, I told one dad, who later gave the boy some pointers. Stay low, keep your head up and keep your feet moving.

I went over these three things with the boy later as we did some stretches before bed. I also told him about overhearing the coaches and parents talking about the kids who would give up before the week was over.

“Do you want to be one of those kids?”

“No,” the boy said softly.

“Look at me,” I said. “Are you going to be one of the kids who gives up the first week of contact?”

The boy lifted his chin and looked me in the eye. “No.”

“Alright,” I said. “Now get your stankin’ ass in the shower.”

Image via jdanvers/Flicker

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How I Became a Football Mom

Last week the boy started football. That’s right, my skinny little skater boy is playing football.

He’s wanted to play for some time now, but I’m not big on kids playing football, nor did I have the money to sink into such a huge commitment. The coach was hearing none of my excuses. He had found my kid in a tree and thought, “hey if he can climb trees and skate, he can probably play ball.”

So he called me and asked if I’d be willing to get the boy to practice the following Monday. I told him I’d do my best and sort of put it out of my mind. That is until the coach called me Monday afternoon to remind me and I had one more excuse: I don’t have a car. But that night the coach got the boy a ride and promised that if I got him to practice, he’d make sure we had a ride home afterward.

And I got him there. I was a little irritated when I discovered that I too would have to attend practice every day (as opposed to just dropping the boy off and going home), but I reminded myself that the boy was playing on sponsorship and that I was doing this for him.

As I watched him train with the other boys, I knew that this would be good for the boy. I knew that this organized play, in a disciplined environment was something that would help me develop the mentality that mediocrity is never good enough. When he looks like he’s hitting a wall, the coach tells him that he’s fine, to push through, that he can do it.

And yesterday when he came crying to me about a cramp in his side, I told him the same thing my coach did: Hands on your head, take deep breaths. I told him that being the best was hard work, to which he responded, “Who said I want to be the best?”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing out here?” I snapped. “Organized sports isn’t really about having fun, Imani, it’s about learning to be the best.”

He took another swig of water and fixed his chin strap.

“If you’re going to do this, you’d better get out there are work your ass off. Do you hear me?”

He nodded.

“Now get back to the line, and give all you’ve got until practice is over.”

And off he went as I looked around wondering if any of the other parents were scoffing at my tough love pep talk. I was relieved to see than none of them seemed to be paying me or my boy any attention. When he ran back to me after practice with a smile on his face, I could tell the pep talk had done the boy well. He had pushed all the way to the end and felt good about his hard work.

Here we are at the end of the second week and all I can say is that I am proud of how hard he works on the field. My baby is growing up, and I am becoming a football mom.

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Is Summer Over Yet?

When I was a kid Summer vacation meant long leisure days of fun in the sun. Swimming all day, running around the park in my swim suit, a trip to the water park and Magic Mountain. It was a beautiful time.

As an freelance entrepreneur and mother, its a different story. I rather dread the Summers because now I have to figure out how to keep the kids occupied without having to spend hundreds of dollars to send them to day camp. They have all the Summer fun, but I’m frustrated because my work space has been invaded and in order to get anything done, I have to go to the coffee shop or spend the entire day in my room.

And I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things to enjoy about the Summer, the most important of which is that the boys are together. But that means brotherly fights, refereeing those fights, and really being challenged as a parent. On top of it all, my teenage brother usually comes to visit and the fact that food seems to go SO fast.

Put it all together and you have a recipe for one stressed out work-from-home-mama. Especially when I come out of my room and the kitchen is piled up with dishes and there’s flour everywhere from some stupid “flour fight.” (I know ridiculous, but they did at least try to clean it up).

I’m over the whole Summer thing (except for the weather) and ready for the kids to go back to school.

Can I get a witness?

Image © AshleyCampbell Photography

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