Sending Love, Light, and Donations to Texas

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It's been a heartbreaking week and a half in Texas. 

I've talked to many people in recent days who have said something along the lines of, "it's so awful to watch.... I feel like there is nothing I can do." In some ways that is true. And, there is always something we can do. 

I've rounded up some websites, links, and information related to things we can do to help both the people and the animals of Texas, along with a few of of the most inspiring moments I've seen and read about this week. NPR has also created a great list of resources and ways to help, as part of this article

I lived in Cedar Rapids for two years between 2013 and 2015. Cedar Rapids was hit by a massive flood in 2008, and the city is, still today, trying to recover. We can expect the impact of the devastation in Texas to span many years, as well. For this reason, while thinking about donations and ways to help, it can be useful to not only donate now, but also to make a note to donate again in 6 months, a year, or two years. 

To Donate Money:

  • Red Cross - donate online, or by texting HARVEY to 90999 (note: the text-based donation is currently backed up due to high volume. 
  • Salvation Army  - donate online or via phone by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY
  • Preemptive Love Coalition - all donations currently going to those impacted by Harvey
  • Together Rising - matched the first $100,000 and still raising funds 

To Donate Supplies or Housing:

  • Undies for Everyone - donate online via the website, shop via their Amazon wishlist (I sent undies and it took exactly 2 minutes to select, pay, and ship directly to the Undies for Everyone HQ in Houston), or send unopened, packaged underwear to: 

Undies for Everyone, 1700 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005

  • AirBnB is waiving all fees anyone impacted by the flood and checking in between August 25th and September 25th, 2017. There is also an option to offer your space for free. 

To Help Animals:

Reminders of the Good:

With Love, You are Not a Corporate Hostage

"Hi, I'm Ron. Ah, you know how it is, I'm a corporate hostage, doing the corporate thing... I hope to get out someday...."

"Hi, I'm Rich. I'm a recovering project manager......now I'm a consultant." 

"Hi, I'm Heidi. I'm a corporate refugee......I escaped though, I found myself, and now I'm a coach." 

"Hi, I'm Erin. I'm a recovering corporate executive and now I travel the world delivering keynotes about all that I endured in the corporate world." 

I hear these intro lines all of the time.

And each time I do, I cringe. 

Beyond the plain absurdity of these statements (is your employer really holding you hostage?! Did you really have to escape, as a refugee, from your previous place of employment?) and beyond the fact that they flippantly diminish the act of actually being in recovery from addiction, the refugee crisis happening in this very moment, and real hostage situations happening around the world, these statements perpetuate the type of thinking that keeps us stuck and divided:

Corporate America as the perpetrator, and the corporate escapees, as the victims. 

Corporate America as "other."

"Us" versus "Them."

This "us" versus "them" thinking is the same thinking that has created the current political division of our country. It's the same thinking that has our nation sliding backwards as we face riots and murders related to race. It's the same thinking that overlooks the fact that "Corporate America" is actually made up of 127.34 million human beings, many (I would argue most) of whom are incredibly talented individuals who are creating positive change, committed to doing the right thing, and making the world a better place. It's the type of thinking that prevents us from solving the actual problems that need to be solved.

Using this language also diminishes parts of ourselves. Our corporate experience is part of who we are and is part of our human experience. Shutting down this experience is shutting down a part of who we are. 

I believe that all of these things can exist together. We have an opportunity to shift from either/or, to both/and. We can be both an independent, free-thinking consultant and a former timeline-driven project manager. We can be both a conscious, heart-centered coach and a former corporate executive. We can be both a savvy, creative, and innovative entrepreneur and a former analyst in the corporate world. And we can embrace all of these parts of ourselves and our experiences to return "over there," to Corporate America, to partner with the many organizations that are doing business in a thoughtful, innovative, socially conscious and mission-driven way to create massive positive impact in the world. Perhaps we can also even bring these parts of ourselves to partner with organizations that aren't quite there yet, but that want to be better. 

It can all exist together. And when we start to recognize this, through our perspectives and our language, we start the healing that needs to happen - within ourselves, within Corporate America, and within our world. Healing begins when we can embrace the both/and. Let's start within ourselves.

Reflections From a Week (Mostly) Unplugged

Last week, I (mostly) unplugged. For the first time since starting my business, I left on vacation without my laptop, with the intention of Zing Collaborative being closed for a full week. I was inspired to do this by Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, and one of my clients - each of whom shuts down the businesses 1-2 times per year, where the office is fully "closed" and everyone has an opportunity to relax and unplug. 

I say "mostly," because I did use my phone for a few things. While we printed out paper maps prior to departure and used them about 90% of the time, there were a couple of questionable situations due to road construction that I checked on Google Maps. I also sent a couple texts to my house sitter to confirm logistics, to my mom, to a girlfriend who I'd be meeting up with later in the trip, and to reply to two girlfriends who had texted with life-changing news. 

Otherwise, my phone was typically off, on airplane mode, or left behind. Below are a few things that I noticed from this small experiment.

1. It was hard. 

I love my work and therefore love being plugged into it. Being plugged in doesn't really feel like work; it just feels like what I do as part of running a business and serving my clients. As a result, unplugging felt unnatural. I snuck a few peeks in my inbox while Jake was inside a gas station about halfway through the road trip toward our first destination, trying to get just "one more look" before arriving - where I felt that the unplugging rules really applied.

Not checking social media was hard, too. These days, Instagram is my social media platform of choice, and there are just so many pretty things to look at in those tiny boxes. The boxes are seductive and tempting. During my last few scrolls prior to leaving, I noticed my ego, which paid a lot of attention to other people who were going on trips and posting about every single detail of every awesome thing they were doing.

2. Until it wasn't. 

The first day was the most challenging - especially since it was a travel day and I therefore felt straddled between my "normal" world and my "unplugged" world. However, I noticed that after settling in and getting through those first 24 hours, unplugging became easy. We rode our fat bikes through incredible trails along crystal clear, roaring streams with absolutely stunning views. We ate delicious food by the campfire and at little restaurants in town. We did, we saw, and we engaged with our worlds with an occasional photo or two on the old-school "real camera" that we had packed, but that was it. And it was lovely. 

3. We talked to people. 

One of the things that strikes me most about this little experiment is how many people we met during our trip. We often meet people here and there while traveling - but on this trip we met so many people. We met Matt and Tonya within 30 seconds of walking up to Black Rocks Brewery, and talked to them for a good hour about biking and life. We met Brian, who has taken 17 extended road trips in his camper van, and is currently in the middle of a year-long stretch. During this year-long stretch, he's never once stayed at a campground and instead finds free places to sleep in his van: parking lots of libraries, police stations, Cracker Barrels, and churches, he shared. We met Craig, who loves Natty Light and once had to drive the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile through the hippest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which increased his already-strong feelings of hatred toward the large, long, and awkward vehicle. We met John and Susan, when John came knocking on the camper to share some info on a bike route while Jake was in his underwear, causing quite a bit of hilarity. We met Michelle, who started a tiny business on Etsy which has now blossomed to the point of being featured in Target and Martha Stuart Living. We met Justin and Jason, who we hope will come visit us in Madison someday. We met Sarah, who started the coolest restaurant I've been to in a long time, and Randy who moved from Brooklyn to start a super hip little coffee shop in Ephram. The list goes on.

Being unplugged created more space and openness to engage with others. Of all the things I noticed while being unplugged, this was the most powerful and unexpected. 

4. I became more aware.

A few days into the trip, we walked into a bakery where every single person in the bakery was on their phone. Specifically, they were looking at Facebook. An older couple sat in silence, each scrolling independently through their Facebook feeds. They didn't say a word to each other for the entire time we were in the bakery eating our cookies. There was a father, engrossed in his Facebook feed while his kids talked to each other, and tried to talk to him. And there was the young woman behind the counter, scrolling away in her idle moments. There isn't, of course, anything bad about using Facebook or about spending some quiet time checking social media. However, the air of disconnection in the bakery with every single person's face looking down at their feed was palpable. I noticed myself feeling a bit of sadness as I looked around to connect or smile or look another person in the eyes (it was a very small bakery), without any eyes to meet.

5. Coming back was easy. 

After being away for a week, jumping back in felt easy and exciting. I was happy to get back to my rhythms, my clients, my kitchen, and my projects. What surprised me, though, was how easy it was to catch up. Being away for a week allowed me to come back to my inbox with excruciating clarity about what was most important and how to address it. I spent a few hours catching up the evening of our return, and a couple more the next day, and that was that. I've had more energy this week back than I've had in a long time. I feel refreshed and clear. 

6. Carrying it forward. 

Unplugging for a week is great, but what about in everyday life? I believe there are many things we can do to bring a bit more presence into our worlds that don't require a week in the woods. 

  • Leave your phone in your [bag, backpack, purse, glovebox] when you're engaging with others/engaging in activities. A number of studies have found that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table during dinner can negatively impact perceptions and the quality of conversation, even if the phone isn't being used.  
  • Practice experiencing something [gorgeous, cool, incredible, breathtaking] without taking a photo of it. I've been amused lately to pull up to popular, gorgeous places in nature to be met with a row of cell phones, lined up to capture the perfect shot. Once again, taking a photo of something isn't bad, but there's also power in just experiencing it, noticing it, and allowing it to sink in. 
  • Ask, "why am I posting this?" According to a number of articles I've read, people report that seeing vacation photos, of all photos on social media, make them feel the worst as they're scrolling. Now, of course, this doesn't mean we can't share a photo or two from our vacation to capture our memories and our moments for ourselves, but posting every detail of everything we do, see, and eat is just plain obnoxious. This article has some good tips (and is also hilarious because it's true). 
  • Consider a sabbath. One of the happiest and healthiest places on earth is Loma Linda, California due to its large Seventh Day Adventist population. Adventists take a 24-hour sabbath each week, taking time to focus on family, faith, and nature. We can do the same by taking a day each week to disconnect from our technology and connect to the things that matter most. 

7. Just for fun - resources and favorite things.

We spent our week unplugged camping, fat biking, and spending time in nature. After much experimentation, we've found a few favorite camping staples:

  • Kodiak Cakes: The perfectly fluffy, protein-packed pancake (just add water)
  • Aero Press: The rumors are true. This makes the best cup of coffee I have ever had. Plus it's light, small, easy to pack and store, and is loving toward the environment with its tiny paper filters. 
  • Action Wipes: Vegan, cruelty-free, wipes for times when showering isn't an option. The wipes can be recycled/re-used for other purposes. 
  • Dr. Bronners Soap: socially and environmentally responsible soap that I love to take camping. I like the travel-sized lavendar scent, which makes me feel like I'm at a spa in the campground shower.
  • Eno Hammock: perfect for sunny, breezy days 

Do you have any favorite ways to unplug, or to bring more presence into everyday life? If so, I'd love to hear! 

Imitation is Not Flattery (and what to do instead)

A number of times over the past year, I have discovered entire portions of my website copied and pasted onto other people's websites. In several cases, the website belonged to a friend or to someone I'm relatively close to.

Each time this happens, I feel hurt and disappointed.

I always try to assume positive intent and remember that most likely, it wasn't deliberate or intentional. I acknowledge that very rarely is there such a thing as a "unique idea" and believe what Mark Twain said when he stated:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I believe in the possibility that it was a complete coincidence that we just so happened to create the same exact program and describe it in the same exact words and structure it in the same exact way.

When I inquired with a friend about one of these situations in the past, she apologized and said that she had been deeply inspired by my website - so she applied that inspiration to her own site. She didn't realize that the impact of her inspiration had been recreating one of my programs, word for word, and listing it on her own site. 

I believed her. 

She took it down.

We moved on.

I still consider her a wonderful person and a friend.

But here's the thing. 

Imitation is the most sure-fire way to keep ourselves from our own truth.

As Oscar Wilde said:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Imitation keeps us in a cycle of mediocrity. 

Imitation keeps us from our greatness. 

Imitation keeps us playing small. 

Imitation is one path forward - we see it happening all day, every day, all over the internet. It can get us reasonably far and can lead us to a level of relative success. 

However, originality is another path forward. Originality is the path that leads us to our greatness and leads us to our truth. 

And often, in order to find our truth, we need to take a little break from all the inspiration. 

Many of us fill our days with consumption from the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to bed. We take a quick scroll through our favorite social media sites first thing in the morning. We pop in to read our favorite blogs throughout the day. And we wind down in the evening by scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. 

When we do this, we fill our days with other people's thoughts, other people's truth, and other people's ideas. This leaves little time or space for our own. 

If you feel like you might be a little heavy on the "inspiration" side and could use a bit more space for your own thoughts and own ideas, here are a few things to try:

Creation Before Intake.

Specifically, this means no social media or intake first thing in the morning, until after you have had at least 5 minutes to chill out and think and perhaps even write down a reflection or two. In addition to getting in touch with your truth, this simple habit will lead to more productive and easeful and spacious feeling days. Read more on how to create better days through better mornings here.

Self-Check: Is this My truth?

When writing or speaking or posting or creating a fun little graphic with a fun little quote you found online somewhere, pause to ask yourself: "Is this my truth? Is this what I deeply believe?" If your answer is anything but a resounding yes, pause. Step away and reflect. And come back when you know the answer. 

Ask Yourself: Is Inspiration What I Most Need Right Now?

Sometimes it is. We are in the mood for some of those fun little graphics with fun little quotes, or to look at or read something beautiful online. And often, what we really need is some time with our own thoughts - 5 minutes to sit quietly, a quick walk around the block, or 2 minutes to just pause and breathe. 

As Herman Melville said:

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."

And I would argue that originality and truth can never fully fail.

The 3 Most Important Questions to Answer Before Doing Anything

I spent the weekend staying in this adorable little rustic cabin in the woods, sitting my butt on a cushion, practicing a bit of gentle yoga, breathing, and feeling my feet.

I went on retreat because I was craving spaciousness and slowness. While I attempt to create this feeling as part of my daily rhythm whenever possible, as we all know, it can be hard - and can even feel impossible at times. 

We have meetings, events, tasks, places to go, stuff to get done, and seemingly never enough time to do them all. 

Spaciousness is both seductive and elusive. It winks at us from the 30 minutes of white space on our calendar between meetings, before disappearing into a sea of back-to-back appointments for the rest of the day. It flashes us a big smile during the rare completely unscheduled summer weekend, only to vanish into a sea of Saturday morning classes, weddings, weekend visitors, trips, baby showers, and reunions. 

Spaciousness can be confusing. On one hand we yearn for it, yet on the other hand, the things that fill our calendars and our weekends are often full of fun, love, community, and connection. We want to do it all. 

Spaciousness can feel scary. Often, upon connecting with colleagues or acquaintances who I haven't seen in awhile, the first question they ask is, "How's business? Are you busy?" We live in a society that associates "busy" with "good" and "successful." While this is slowly starting to shift with the growing popularity of books like Essentialism, The One Thing, and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as a whole, our western society operates on the principle that "more is better." 

And sometimes, it is. For me, the "good" kind of "more" involves: more positive impact, more connection, more community, more generosity, and more creativity. And I've discovered that this type of "more" requires space.

Creating space doesn't always require going on a weekend retreat. What it does require, however, is constant intention and attention about the things we say yes to and the things that fill our minutes, hours, and days.

Derek Sivers famously said, "if it's not a Hell Yeah, it's a No." While I love this quote and concept, I find that our Hell Yeah isn't always abundantly clear. For example, "doing laundry" is never a Hell Yeah for me. Does that mean I abandon it altogether, leaving my clothes in a defiant heap on the floor? And while "saying no more" is often touted as the answer to cure our society's disease of busyness, I believe that the answer is often slightly (or largely) more complicated. 

As a result, I've created three key questions that help me to make the best possible decisions about what I say Yes to, and what I say No to. 

  • Does this come from a place of gratitude?

  • Is this aligned with my highest purpose in the world?

  • Is this 100% aligned with my values?

I use these questions whenever making a decision about what to do or how to spend my time. 

Making an Important Decision

Several months ago, I was trying to engineer a very complicated system for determining which out-of-town engagements I would say "yes" to, and which I'd say "no" to. I was traveling too much at the time and was feeling burned out. My system involved analysis, spreadsheets, and complicated self-created formulas which would help me determine the right answer for each of these requests that came in. Excited, I explained my new system to my coach. She replied, amused, "or, each time you receive a new request, you could just take a breath, and ask yourself, 'what would make this opportunity worth it?'" Damn it. Her advice was always so simple, and always so spot on. In that moment, I threw out my spreadsheet and embraced this new approach.

  • Step One: Take a Breath.
  • Step Two: Ask Myself the 3 Key Questions

This simple process of breathing and reflecting on my 3 key questions led me to let go of two of my largest pieces of business at the time. While both were projects that I enjoyed, and both involved working with some incredible people, the cost for each had become too high. Taking a breath and tuning into the key questions allowed me to set aside the voice of my ego (But...they want you to do it! But...money! But...what if you don't find anything to replace these two enormous projects?) and tune into the voice of my intuition and my deep inner truth. These were two of the best decisions I've made in my business in the past year. 

Responding to a Request

I get a lot of inquiries from new coaches and potential new coaches who want to learn more about becoming a coach, starting a coaching business, and becoming certified as a coach. I love helping new coaches; I believe that coaching skills make the world a better place and that we could truly create world peace if only we knew how to talk to each other and ask questions from a place of curiosity.  I am eternally grateful to Chariti and Darcy, the two spectacular Madison-based coaches I called up on the phone when I was a new coach starting my coaching business. 

However, there was a moment about 6 months ago, when I realized that I was spending so much time in meetings and on phone calls with other new coaches that I was doing my own client work exhausted, at 1 in the morning. This was not okay. My core 'why' for my business is Impact. Clearly, I was not having the greatest possible impact on my clients or in the world if I was doing my most important work in an exhausted state at 1 in the morning.

This realization forced me to reevaluate how I handle these requests. Now, instead of shifting around my calendar or eliminating my independent working time to "squeeze in" these meetings, I schedule them around my existing appointments or independent working time. Sometimes this means that these meetings need to take place a month or more in the future. Sometimes this means I need to send a link to a blog post in the meantime. While this is still incredibly hard for me (I want to say yes! I want to be helpful! I want to squeeze in just one more thing on my calendar and make it work!), my three key questions help me know that this is the right thing to do. 

Managing our Calendars

It's easy to feel as though our time, our inboxes, and our calendars belong to everyone else but us. Often, from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are fielding calendar requests for our time and presence, email requests for our input and review, and in-person requests for our attention, car keys, or knowledge of where the paper towels are stored. 

If we aren't deliberate and intentional, our minutes, hours, and days are quickly gobbled up by the requests of others. And as Annie Dillard says, "our days become our lives."

I like to frequently spend time looking at my calendar and appointments, and "cross checking" my calendar with my three key questions. If I don't have time for my most important, purpose-filled work, I add blocks of time to focus on key projects. And if there are "rogue" meetings or appointments that are filling my hours and my days and distracting me from the things that truly matter, I'm forced to think carefully about how to proceed. 

I recommend doing this "cross checking" yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. It sounds extreme - I know. And, for most of us, it's one of the most difficult, yet most critical things we can do to ensure we are living in a way that aligns with our values and our highest purpose in the world. 

I hope that these questions are of service to you as you look for ways to create more spaciousness in your life, in service of the things that matter most. 

With Gratitude,

Sarah