My uncomfortable afternoon with the Enneagram

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I’ve always been a sucker for personality evaluations. I’ve taken Myers-Briggs tests at least two dozen times (ENFP. Always, always ENFP) and as a girl, would always turn first to the “Who’s your style icon?” and “What’s your friendship quotient?” type quizzes in any new issue of Seventeen magazine.

As a person who’s fascinated by personality, psychology and the way the human brain and heart work, there’s something tantalizing about the idea of being a little more in touch with my psyche, or – let’s be honest here – sometimes, just having a flattering assumption validated.

So when I stumbled across the concept of the Enneagram via Jennifer Loudon, I figured it would be just more of the same: an analysis telling me how essentially creative, enthusiastic, and optimistic I am. Sounds good, huh?

Before taking one of the many tests available online, I briefly read descriptions of the 9 basic personality types as defined by the Enneagram, and immediately identified with type 7, The Enthusiast:

Sevens are extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous. Playful, high-spirited, and practical, they can also misapply their many talents, becoming over- extended, scattered, and undisciplined.

Yep,” I thought, “That’s me!” Playful, high-spirited, extroverted, optimistic, spontaneous…these are all words I’ve used to describe myself for years. I took the quiz, fully expecting it would validate my 7-leaning assumptions.

But instead, the results told me I was most likely to be a type 2, The Helper. (In fact, The Enthusiast wasn’t even the second possibility…it came in as a distant third.)

The Helper? From the initial description, Twos sounded, frankly, boring.  [Read more…]

Should your passion be a hobby or career? There’s always an option C.

Recently a coaching client of mine was having a hard time deciding whether to keep her job – a low-paying, low-opportunity position in her dream industry – or leave it all behind and try to launch a career as a screenwriter. Well into her 30s, with financial obligations that were making her minuscule paychecks unsustainable – but the idea of chucking it all and starting from scratch even scarier – she worried that she was running out of choices and time to turn her dream into a career.

As we talked, I pointed out that her natural work ethic and eagerness to please makes her an ideal employee – and that can be both a blessing and a curse. She’d made herself so indispensable at her job that she kept finding herself with more and more responsibilities, leaving less and less time for writing (let alone exercise, sleep, or eating well.) And even if she could have swung it financially, she’s so motivated by praise and positive feedback from her supervisors and peers that she worried launching a solo writing career would leave her feeling uncertain and adrift.

Together, we came up with a plan C: to apply her tendencies as an excellent employee to a much more reasonable, higher-paying job in a different field that would still allow her room and time for creativity (in her case, higher education.) Then, to use the time and energy that would be freed up by a more reasonable schedule, a shorter commute, and fewer financial pressures to work on her script. She wouldn’t be giving up on her dream, I argued – simply creating a more livable path to get her there. She agreed…with great relief and newfound enthusiasm.

So often when we try to decide if and how to try to make a living from our passions, we view it as an either/or proposition. We also tend to look way too narrowly at what it means to be a writer, an artist, etc, and miss all the ways we could potentially incorporate what we love to do into multitudes of careers. [Read more…]

“Pings,” routine, and diminishing rewards: how to stay inspired as a novelty-seeking freelancer

After dropping the kids off at school the other morning, driving down the busiest street in our (admittedly not-very-traffic-congested) town, I saw something unusual: three large wild turkeys, who’d apparently just stumbled up out of the ravine that segments our little city.

The trio stood in confusion on the sidewalk, one cautiously approaching the street, then retreating, while the other two ruffled their feathers and craned their long necks from side to side.

I slowed my car to a crawl as I passed. There was no place to pull over, and I worried that if I approached the birds they’d run out in traffic; but it didn’t seem to matter since all the cars around me were also slowing way down.

So for a brief, wonderful period of time, my fellow drivers and I gawked at this unexpected, out-of-place little nature scene, and then we went back to our everyday lives. But for me, at least, the “high” of seeing something so delightfully unusual lasted several hours and the resulting rush of energy carried me through a few tasks that I’d been putting off.

Why did a small, short-lived experience have such an effect on me, even so far as to make me more productive in my work? Because it was a novelty…which, it turns out, is something my brain craves any way it can get it. [Read more…]

Why I won’t be making a “40 before 40″ bucket list (and what I’m doing instead.)

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When I first saw When Harry Met Sally, I was a teenager, and the space between 32 – Sally’s age during that pivotal scene – and 40 didn’t seem like much to quibble over. “Yeah, you’re gonna be 40, Sally, but let’s be honest here…you’re already old,” quipped my insufferably youthful mind.

Needless to say, when I myself turned 32, that eight-year distance seemed a lot more meaningful. I had plenty of time to be ‘in my 30s,’ I figured…and yes, in some ways, that was true. Still, in the chaos of raising young children and growing my career, my early 30s went by in a blur. And even though my life has calmed down immeasurably since getting that last “baby” firmly out of the diapers-and-tantrums stages, the passage of time doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. I just celebrated my 37th birthday and now I’m over halfway to my 38th.

The message is clear: I’m gonna be 40.

When, you ask, Harry?

Well, sooner than I can likely imagine.

I’m not in mourning over the milestone, by the way. I’ve been getting steadily older long enough to have gotten used to those “big” dates and to realize how meaningless they really are in the end. Plus, in a lot of ways I feel younger than I did in my 20s, when I was in the early stages of having babies and chasing toddlers. Crow’s feet notwithstanding, I think I even even look younger than I did back then, mired in an unfortunate blend of up-and-down pregnancy weight gain, bad “mom” haircuts, baggy postpartum wardrobes and unflattering glasses. [Read more…]

Writers: Get Published & Build Your Career With My New E-Courses!

Four years ago, I offered my first class for writers wanting to get pitching, get published, and get serious about their careers.

And I have to tell you, I was amazed by the results.

My students went on to publish in major magazines, like Parents and American Baby. They were featured on big-name websites like the Huffington Post and BabyZone. They went on to land regular blogging gigs at places like Disney Baby and Babble.com, wrote and published books, and even taught classes of their own. Several of my students told me that my class changed their life by helping them build a career they could love and be proud of, working from home on their own schedule.

It showed me that when you take a motivated group of writers, give them plenty of in-depth, nuts-and-bolts information, and walk them through it every step of the way – while offering plenty of encouragement and cheerleading, of course – they have everything they need to build a successful, satisfying freelance career. [Read more…]

Back To Basics: Why I’m Cutting Out Business Blogs & Focusing On What Matters

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The other day I looked at the podcast app on my phone and noticed that it had been months since the last time I listened to my favorite business show, Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn.

This is the same show that for two years I listened to faithfully, week after week, usually on its release day. I was thrilled when Pat added a shorter, 5X/week podcast so I could get a daily fix. My kids know Pat by name. I was even a guest on his show back in 2013.

Over the years, I eagerly gobbled up helpful tips on marketing an ebook (which I put into effect during my launch of Beyond Baby last spring,) starting an e-commerce business, setting up an email autoresponder series, monetizing a podcast, choosing keywords, effectively using affiliate marketing, writing a great sales page, and hundreds of other themes centered around building a tighter, better, more effective business.

As time went on, even Pat’s frequent podcasts weren’t enough, and I found myself falling down the iTunes rabbit hole searching for more hosts dishing out more advice. Every time I’d listen to a new episode I’d feel a burst of energy and enthusiasm, and would delve into hours of research surrounding the topic du jour. Sometimes I’d work on implementing new strategies right away; other times I’d just let them percolate for a while.

I’m not sure what the tipping point was, but some point, I hit a serious wall. [Read more…]

You can always go to the mat.

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Recently I started working with a wellness coach. It wasn’t something I’d planned – I haven’t been putting much emphasis on fitness or diet over the last few years, but still felt like I was living a reasonably healthy lifestyle. But when my yoga instructor, Kathleen, announced in class that she needed a few free clients to finish up her certification process, I remembered that I would like my pants to fit better and impulsively threw my hat in the ring.

During our first face-to-face session, Kathleen asked me to set a 10-12 week goal. I told her that I would like to make it through one of the more difficult yoga classes at our gym “without dying” and shared that I had been sticking to the gentle yoga classes out of fear that the harder ones would prove to be too challenging for me to make it all the way through without stopping.

“Well, that’s okay,” she said. “You can always go to the mat.”

You can always go to the mat! Of course. This is part of the reason yoga speaks to me so much more than other kinds of fitness classes: the knowledge that the mat is always available to me – that in fact, I am encouraged to use it if I think I need it. [Read more…]

Learning to embrace the ordinary

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This was the scene from Big Sur, California, last spring as Jon and I perched on a rock at a highway turnoff near the Bixby Bridge.

It is maybe one of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. Like, the kind that makes your heart beat faster and your eyes tear up and just leaves you speechless.

I was speechless a lot on that drive, up “the 1,” from the LA area up to Monterey County. We’d round a corner and see a stunning stretch of blue-green water, then round another and see a jaw-dropping mountain range, and just when I wondered how it could possibly get any better, we came across the scene above.

We saw some other impressive sights on our trip to California: the view of LA and my first sighting of the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory; the adorable city of San Luis Obispo, nestled in a green valley; spotting pelicans and seals in the wharf in Santa Barbara; the rocky coast outside of Monterey. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect the entire time we were there, either, sunny and 75-80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. [Read more…]

Solitude and sadness

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One recent weekday afternoon, I found myself in a completely quiet house. Clara was spending the day with my mother-in-law, Jon was with clients, and all the boys were finishing up their last week of school. The weather was perfect: 75 degrees, sunny, and clear. I’d planned to go to the gym, but the outdoors was calling, so instead I tossed on my sneakers, piped Cyndi Lauper into my earbuds, and hit the pavement for a brisk walk with an occasional burst of half-hearted running.

The town was surprisingly empty for such a beautiful day, but it was an expectant emptiness, somehow: midday, mid-week, right before tourist season would kick into high gear, it was as though my town was taking a big, deep breath before the onslaught of kids and vacationers hit the streets and beaches, and I felt myself taking a big, expectant breath, too, waiting for the quiet to fill up.

As an extrovert with five kids I spend a lot of time around other people. My day to day life, my social activities, my travel, my work, all typically center around large groups of people. And that’s mostly a wonderful thing: I like people; I like the energy I get from being around them. There’s a reason I feel at home on a crowded dance floor or speaking to a full room.

But as lovely as it can be to be surrounded by people, I also need time to myself…I just don’t take it very often. My “alone time” tends to be spent in purposeful, productive ways: working out, for example, or taking a shower, or grocery shopping, or writing. When you’re so used to filling your time and your thoughts with other people and activity, the hush of slow solitude can be unnerving.

So at first I avoided the quiet, keeping up a quick, calorie-burning clip with peppy 80s music bouncing in my ears. But when I got down to the beach and saw how empty it was, how blue the water and sky, I did something that, for some crazy reason, I rarely do: I stripped off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants legs, put Cyndi on pause, walked along the water’s edge until I came to a secluded spot, sat down on a ledge of sand, and then just…stayed there.

And standing there on the beach, with no music or conversation or activity to distract me – just the pounding of the waves, the beauty of the water, the feeling of the sand under my feet – I felt a sudden burst of melancholy. [Read more…]

In Praise of a Thin Skin (And How To Keep It From Derailing You)

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When I first launched my career as a writer, I heard the phrase “thick skin” a lot.

“You have to develop a thick skin to handle rejection.”

“Criticism comes with the territory; if you’re thin-skinned, you won’t make it in this business.”

This worried me, because I’ve always been “thin-skinned.” I’d just learned how to hide it.

My mother was a crier: anything from a sad song to an offhand comment could set her off. She was also emotionally erratic and depressed, so for years, I equated displays of emotion with weakness and instability.

My dad, on the other hand, was a model of reserve, and I found myself emulating his cool exterior and stoicism…even when I was crumbling on the inside.

So while I spent my elementary-school years crying over everything from scraped knees to mean teachers, by junior high I’d developed a talent for making my face go blank when embarrassed or sad.

As I got older, high school and beyond, I often coped with difficulty by making a joke out of upsetting situations.

The truth was that I was afraid of strong emotion, and actually practiced detaching from it.

And eventually, it worked. As a young adult, I’d experience a sort of delayed reaction to sadness or anger: when something bad happened, at first I’d just feel numb.

Later – sometimes much later – in the privacy of the shower or during a vulnerable late-night moment, I’d start to grow angry or sad or afraid, but by that point it was sometimes difficult to identify exactly where those feelings were coming from, or link them to a particular event.

Not surprisingly, this led to a lot of fights with my husband that weren’t really about the thing I thought we were fighting about at all.

That’s all changed over the last decade, though. In fact, I seem to be losing my ability to suppress my feelings…or maybe just the desire to try.

At some point, I think I realized that the same part of me that allows me to really embrace happiness and enthusiasm is the same part of me that cries at commercials, and that I can’t truly experience one without allowing the other.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m naturally pretty laid-back. I still tend to react slowly to news, I still don’t like to argue or confront people, and I still use humor to get me through hard times.

But the more difficult feelings I avoided in my teens and early twenties seem to have risen closer to the surface, and have become harder to tamp down or cover up.

I cry easily now: watching commercials, listening to songs, talking about the people I love, when I feel misunderstood or regretful or embarrassed. When I get angry, I can’t help but speak out. I’ve become impulsive with physical affection around the people I like and admire, and in some situations, have even become the same kind of “hugger” that used to make the younger me uncomfortable. [Read more…]