The Questions of Business and Life
It feels like I went on vacation and am returning home, opening up the door as the stale but welcoming air greets my inhale.
Nearly a month since I've written - at least here. (My guest series continues every Tuesday over at Bliss Habits!) There are reasons I've not written, but I suspect you aren't here to read about those.
Posts have been weaving their way through my mind and not making it to this screen because of the jumbled mess in which they remain in my thoughts. I made a promise to myself - to you - many months ago that I wouldn't let fear of perfection get in the way of me sharing here.
I broke that promise.
I apologize to us both.
The dam holding back the floodwater of thoughts has finally broken. This isn't going to be a pretty return, but like those flowing waters, feels rather powerful.
And like floodwater, BeingBreath is messy and all over the place. BeingBreath is LIFE. It is what is. It is creativity, mindfulness, and the dark stuff behind all of that. Sometimes there are pretty pictures that accompany what we see, sometimes it is a jumbled, noisy cacophony. Sometimes it is succinct and well-written, sometimes it is a rambling pile of letters and words that may or may not translate into coherent messages. BeingBreath is business and parenting and the thoughts that make us feel guilty that we think no one else is having (In truth, we are.).
So grab your life vest and hang on.
This post will mainly appeal to those who are running their own business or thinking about doing so, already sharing or contemplating how to share their world work*, and especially those who feel that they, like Walt Whitman, "contain multitudes".
It won't provide answers. What it will do is shed light on those questions that I believe many of us are contemplating. And within that, we can find camaraderie, support, and greater ease of breath. We can open conversation about the elephants in the room, without judgment. And for those who feel called, we can move our way into practicing new ways of sharing our world work*, of expressing the multitudes we feel within without denying or hiding anything.
*Note: I often use the term, "world work" instead of "business" or "career". I feel that our world work is whatever we do in and for the world. Vague, but purposefully so. World work does not include zone-out hours in front of the t.v., mindless scrolling on Facebook, or those activities that serve no benefit to our own wellbeing or that of others. (These activities are not BAD nor to be avoided; just not part of world work.) World work DOES include parenting, creative work, long solitary strolls in nature, and that which we do to make a living. All of these things contribute to our own well-being and - either directly or indirectly - that of others around us. The definition of world work could be its on conversation, but I wanted us to at least start on the same page.
Where this conversation begins:
No place to start like the obvious. For me, blogging is, and has been, part of my shared world work for years. To some, "blogging" is still some foreign (almost nerdy) concept. To others, it is a money-making path, a personal way to connect with a few friends and family, or a place to share photos.
Over the past many months, I have blogged less and less. There are time-based reasons for this (as my family life gets busier), but they aren't as important to this conversation. The reason that is important to this conversation is the odd, growing isolation of the blogging platform.
Years ago, my blog was a place for conversation. Visitors left comments; I responded. You wrote back, and conversations were birthed. Those conversations have all but died out, for a few reasons (and fellow bloggers, pay attention):
- I got overwhelmed. I wanted to respond to each comment personally, because, well, I WANTED to, AND I felt it important to let you know you were heard (and what I was thinking after I heard you). Those delightful responses turned into email conversations, and my inbox started filling up. This might be selfish, but I got overwhelmed by the noise - even if all of that noise was created by conversations in which I wanted to join.
- The conversations were one-sided. It was one person talking at a time - but many people doing so in the same space. I wanted a place where many opinions could be heard simultaneously, back and forth to one another. The commenting platforms I could include here were limited. I could reply individually to each of you on the blog itself, but we couldn't have a group conversation about motherhood or mindful living in the midst of today's busy world. (And my fear is that if I didn't email you individually, you wouldn't even see the response. I know I rarely go back to check a site after I've left my comment.)
- Everyone's doing it. This goes two ways: One, everyone's doing it - and I want to go see. There were literally hundreds of blogs I'd added to my reader, blogs that had valuable content relevant to my own life and growth. Obviously, I couldn't keep up with reading them all. Slowly, I started reading fewer and fewer - and when I did, I didn't take the time to comment. This leads to the second way: Because everyone's doing it, I know there are fewer and fewer headed to my space - and even fewer who are commenting. I get it, because I'm doing the same. But speaking (writing) into a void feels lonely...and admittedly, it is difficult to get the motivation to talk to myself.
The more I moved away from the blog format, the more I migrated to Facebook. Ah, but that leads to...
The Fumbles of Facebook
I asked the question on the BeingBreath Facebook page recently, "what would you do if Facebook stopped existing?" It was kind of a tongue-in-cheek question - both a playful one and a very serious one.
I have begun to rely on Facebook as my connection to the outer world, both in business and in personal ways. I, of course, still get out and connect with local friends. But Facebook has become the place that I engage in conversation about art, mindfulness, and the goings on of daily life. I love having the space....but am always aware that it isn't my space. I am aware that Facebook is like renting a room in someone else's building, and that they can increase that rent - or kick me out - at any time.
And as others who have business pages on Facebook know, they actually have been increasing the rent. Business pages are getting fewer and fewer views, making presence there for such purposes quite pointless. The algorithms that Facebook is using to make sure your posts appear in someone's newsfeed - even IF they have requested to see them through a "like" - are all but forcing us to pay. ($5 to thousands to promote posts - and I have heard that if those promotions work (which is frequently unlikely), they actually lead to less views for future unpromoted posts AND less engagement with promoted posts.)
So without playing Facebook's games, where does that leave us? Hundreds of thousands of individuals, looking to connect both with friends and friends-yet-to-be-known, each yelling from our own little islands to invite people over?
That leads right to...
The Viability of Email Marketing
Years ago (and it might still be this way), THE tip to growing your business was to increase your mailing list size. Get people to subscribe. Get their email addresses. Those few little letters separated by an @ were all you had in making sure you remained connected to people who were otherwise going about their own businesses.
And yet, all I'm seeing these days is people who are tired of email. Businesses complain because Gmail hides their emails in the Social Promotions tab. Individuals complain because of the sheer volume of emails. "Unsubscribing" has become a popular rite of passage for those looking to simplify their lives.
I feel you. I've tried dozens of "clean-up-your-inbox" methods, only to have my email overwhelm me, month after month. Personal emails get lost in the shuffle of business emails, which get lost in the shuffle of promotional emails. (I only subscribe still to those I really want to read...but there are still dozens of those.) And from a business standpoint, I rarely use my mail list. It very well could be my own fault, but I see little engagement (click-throughs, responses, etc) when I do send one out - and more and more unsubscribes. (I'm not interested in the 'why's right now - that is another conversation.)
Which leads us to the elephants dancing around in this room that are a bit less visible:
The Challenge of Consistency
You'll hear it again and again - consistency is key. When creating a business, learning a craft, or practicing a new method, consistency is the key to success. You have to stick with it, go deeper, move through those obstacles that keep you from your path.
To ensure business engagement, you are supposed to post 1 - 3 times a day on Facebook. Blog regularly (whether that means once a day or once a week - visitors are supposed to know what to expect). Maintain a similar "look" across branding - e.g. colors, fonts, etc. across banners, logos, and business cards. Make sure your message speaks from the same "voice" and has a consistent tone. (Perky, supportive, aggressive, snarky, sexy, etc. - whatever best fits you.) Create a unified body of art work, tell and show your children the same messages over and over, exercise and meditate regularly and ideally, at the same time every day.
And I get it. I do. I get confused when a blogger changes their look and life-paths often, or when a friend jumps between career after career. I don't know what to think, how to respond. And often, when I am deciding where to click online or which path to take when I'm out running, I'll go with the place I am most comfortable...the place that has been consistent, that fulfills my expectations.
And yet... so much of this goes against a much deeper pull of what I feel life to be.
Life isn't consistent. Nothing is. Everything changes, and at really odd and unexpected rates.
Any time I try to impose a structure on something - be it my blogging schedule, my kids' schedules, my exercise routine, or my art - I find it bulging or creaking or exploding from the weight of expectations. As I often hear as a response, "life happens". But what is life if not these consistent inconsistencies?
I know that I sabotage my own success (at least financial) when I blog irregularly or disappear from Facebook for a few days. And I know that I sabotage my own success (at least health-wise) when I stop running for a week or indulge in 20 Junior Mints instead of 2. And when I tell my kids that we are to go to bed every night by 7:30 p.m. -- and then we spend 4 nights in a row up until 10:00 pm because of school cancellations and delays, as we snuggle in amidst the snowy weather and delight in a warm fire or indulgent late-night-movie-and-popcorn? I know that I sabotage the success of an early-morning ease-of schedule.
I'm not consistent, and it makes things far more challenging. I have sacrificed a great deal because of lack of consistency, knowing I could make more money, find more external success, lose more weight, etc. if I just Stuck With It. But the more years of my life that I live, the more I realize that consistency just isn't my thing.
Or perhaps I should say: I am not consistent with others' expectations. I remain consistent with honoring the flow of my own life.
It ain't easy ... but it is worth it (I think).
And neither is / so is this:
The Problem With Pace
I have said it before: I am not well-matched with the pace of my culture's life.
Instead of being a go-go-go, vacation, go-go-go type pace, mine is more go!-slow-race-sleep-walk-sprint-pause-sprint-crawl-burrow-sleep-go! type pace.
Disappearing from Facebook for a few days, in terms of the algorithms, is self-mutilation. Not blogging for nearly a month certainly equates to losing countless readers. Staying off of email for only 24 hours means a backlog that could take an hour to deal with; not responding to someone's email in that 24 hours often leads to questions of, "are you ok?" or, at the worst, anger.
We are all maneuvering this new pace. Those of my generation knew of a pace when email didn't exist, when the pace of the postal service was the pace at which one replied, when some even complained about the interruptions of this new phone "call-waiting" feature and how one should at least be able to finish their phone call.
As with all of the other challenges, I have no answers to this. I lean towards operating at my own pace, but I have the luxury to do so - or at least, have paid my dues to create a life that affords me this opportunity.
I might race to pick up a hurt child from school, to make sure I meet the busses and get kids to lessons on time, to be on time for meetings, to show up for classes and maintain a somewhat-active online presence. And yet, I always have and always will leave the space for me to back away from these things - to be late, slower, or absent if something internal calls me to do so. (I continue to work on offering my excuses for being late, slower, or absent without over-apologizing.)
There is always so much to do, so much I want to do...
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes"
- Walt Whitman
This is an issue that has challenged me ever since I began asking myself, "what do I want to do with my life"? From what I've discussed with others, I'm not alone. And yet, 98.2% of us continue to try and fit into a way of life that calls us to pursue, to remain committed to, one path (or at least a select few). (yes, that is an exact statistic.)
We all contain multitudes. We all have different interests, different callings, different roles that we play in life. LifeUnity, my previous business name, was created in acknowledgement of these roles and in an attempt to convince us all to integrate - not segregate - them. BeingBreath similarly acknowledges this, but also attempts to encourage the practice of flow in between all of these interests, callings, and roles.
And yet, I struggle with this almost everyday. I recently shared on Facebook that I finally decided to teach myself to crochet - something I've been longing to do for years. It took all of these years because crocheting wasn't part of my role as a parent, it wasn't the type of work I did as an artist, it wasn't going to help me improve my physical strength, and I wasn't going to make any money at it. It kept getting pushed beneath other priorities, even though it was something I really felt called to do.
I attended a meeting the other night, for our local Arts Alliance, where a wonderful and successful artist* (both by his and by societal definitions) spoke of just this topic. He has done (and continues to do) quite the variety of work in his life - from fine art to ventriloquism to making the puppets to cinematography for major motion picture studios to game design to sculpture work to ... well, you get the idea. He discussed how one thing just lead to another, and how he continues to do some things because they support the other things....which lead to even more possibilities. (It's difficult to be specific with so many paths.) He is a family man, and a vibrant and expressive human being.
He discussed how HE is his business - how HE is the consistency between all of these paths. What that means is a discussion that could last days over many meals and fine wines, but the questions and possibilities that it raises are enthralling.
*For more about him, visit www.BobsImagination.com
We all have different roles - perhaps being a parent, an employee or employer, a musician, an artist, a game-lover, a bike-rider, a skydiver, and so on. We have roles and desires we make public, and those that are more private. But all of these are part of who we are. The trouble is that we so narrowly limit our expression that we end up suffocating ourselves.
Let's use the path of an artist as an example: An oil-based artist who paints gorgeous flowers in vases might be able to sell her paintings for hundreds or thousands. She has interests in fiber arts and even in dance and graphic design, but feels that her path - her success - relies upon staying within her oil-painted flowers. Maybe a dance class or two on a summer weekend if she has time, but there are all the things she must do to survive, to pay the bills....
Or the path of a working father. He works 50 hours a week to support his family, who he adores. Weekends are spent helping out his wonderful wife with household chores and errands. He longs to play guitar, but feels guilty if he does so because it takes time away from his family or from helping out.
Why have we created lives for ourselves that limit our expressions?Why have we lost the ability to creatively integrate the parts of ourselves into a path of living that will sustain ourselves and contribute to the world? Why is there "work" and "home" - not a natural integration of the two? I might believe in reincarnation, but I don't want to wait until my next life to find out how it feels to jump out of an airplane or to paint with my naked toes.
What if external AND a deeper internal success was possible by expressing all parts of who we are in equal and flowing measure?
There are questions, questions, and more questions.
Instead of pretending we have the answers, or even trying to package the questions in pretty little quotes overlaying photos, why don't we just blurt them out?
Let's all admit we don't have a damn clue what we are doing.
Let's all slow down, take a breath, and learn to be with the groundless discomforts of What Is.
Let's be gentle with ourselves, knowing that we learned from our parents who didn't know what they were doing, who learned from their parents who learned from people who were figuring it all out along the way. Just like we are.
All of these questions we ask in our heads are worth exploring. These mundane questions that are just as valuable as those being asked by scientists, educators, and religious / spiritual leaders.
What we consider, "life" is nothing more than a series of these questions, asked over and over as we wake each day. We provide ourselves with answers so that we can function. But let us not forget that the business of life is not one with a set structure.
There is no right answer.
There is silence, and whatever noise we choose to add into it.
Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.
Converse with me, express your thoughts in a comment below about blogging or world work or the pace of life, or perhaps...
let's just sit and watch together as the clouds roll by.
There are questions and the silent answers within it all.