Considering our stuff: what to buy, what to give and throw away, and the concept of death cleaning.

It is quite amazing how much STUFF we can accumulate, at least those of us fortunate to be reasonably well off and live in the United States or another first-world economy.

I recently served as a middle-man to take baby-items from one recent mother to a soon-to-be mother; two friends who don’t know eachother. I was amazed by the number of items that have been invented as an attempt to make parenting in those first few months a little easier. Quite the niche market for the business world! Among other items, I picked up a baby bed that looks like a pillow but has a slightly ridged side to nestle baby in, and an electric chair that is designed to move to soothe baby with settings such as a car ride or a kangaroo (hopefully a little more gentle than a live kangaroo!) While I know I would get all I could find to make things easier if I were to be a mother, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how in the heck mother’s managed without the kangaroo chair 100 years ago. These items may be helpful – but the are not necessary.

The thing with baby items is that, unless you are going to have another child, you know when you are done with your STUFF. Not only that, it’s easy to pass along to another expecting mom who will be grateful for stuff that might make her coming life easier. You accumulate, and then you gift or sell to move things out of your home.

But how do we decide when to part with our other stuff? When do we realize that we don’t wear those shirts enough to keep, or that we will never fit into that pair of jeans again? How do we decide when all the stuff for an activity that we no longer engage in should be removed from the house because we are unlikely to engage in that activity again? For example, I have some really nice hockey equipment sitting in my attic. I haven’t played hockey in nearly a decade. But what if I play again? It would be a real hassle and expense to get the equipment again! Furthermore, if I wanted to get rid of it, there is a cost (time and hassle and stress) attached to finding someone, or many people, who would enjoy these items and might even be willing to pay a little for them.

Which brings up another point. Trash.

Some of that hockey equipment is not something that anyone is going to want from me. It belongs in the trash. But to throw away something is to face my own wasteful practices. We want to believe that we can help someone by donating our old, arcane, dirty, outdated, used, items, rather than acknowledge that we created more trash that will sit in our landfills.

So what to do?

Each of us must find our own comfort level with obtaining new stuff. We must first decide carefully what we want to bring into our homes.

And we must find our comfort level with having things around us. We all have differing capacities for clutter, often different even between spouses, and we must find that balance. At some point space and order is more important than holding onto our stuff. This of course requires a lot of steps, the time spent, deciding what to let go of, and the logistics of getting it out of your house.

The Marie Kondo’s Kon Mari Method has received a lot of press recently, and become a tv show. This is a great resource.

Another resource I am really enjoying is the book: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnussun. This is a lovely read, and I am considering gifting it to some of my estate planning clients. The idea behind death cleaning is to go through your lifetime accumulation of stuff and to get rid of it in your retired years – so that your family doesn’t have to do it for you. However, the same concepts apply to any of us, regardless of age, who find an overabundance of stuff surrounding us. The book is written in a simple light and playful, slightly humorous way,  making it accessible and a joy to read.

Of course, if you bring a new book into your home, perhaps a current book should be gifted (or thrown away) at the same time!

Happy clutter clearing and good luck!

Finding the grateful moments: Reflecting on over 1.5 years keeping a gratitude journal.

In 2018 I completed my own Happiness Project, inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book by the same name. Before the year began, I decided on one focus for the month. Goals ranged from learning to garden, working on total immersion swimming, to doing something out of my routine every day of the month. (I wrote about the project here, and wrote about each month’s goal on my blog as well).

In September, my goal was to develop a gratitude practice by starting a journal in which I wrote down three things each day that I was grateful for, and wrote about it here. I have maintained that practice, and as I just finished that journal (literally, filled up every page), it presents as a good time to reflect on the practice. Why have I kept this up for so long when so many habits so easily go by the wayside?

Here are some of my thoughts about why this has stuck:

  • It is really easy. It takes me just a minute or two and I do it the very first thing when I crawl into bed at night.
  • I like reflecting on my day each and every day. It’s amazing how often I might be grumpy in the evening, forgetting something joyful earlier in that very same day.
  • When I have trouble finding something to write, it gives me good feedback. Some days aren’t bad, but they also are just not memorable. Or maybe my mood is bad. I can take a moment to reflect on why, and continually do that which brings me joy more often.
  • Sometimes I am surprised at the items I write down. I am quite a hermit, but spending time with people whether on a call or meeting for an outside adventure, always makes it to the list – so maybe I should make sure to do more of it!
  • I like looking back. If you keep a journal, you can look back and reflect. I’m sure I would love that, but it would take a lot more time and while it has been a practice, it isn’t currently. But with the simple, quick, gratitude journal I can get enough snippets to remember what was going on in my life this time last year, etc.

Am I a happier person because of it? 

The touted purpose of a gratitude practice is often to shift your mindset to being more positive and seeing events as positive. However, actually measuring that in myself is a difficult feat. I do not go about my day thinking – oh, that is something to put in my gratitude journal. Indeed, I do not think I give it a moment of thought before I start writing. But, I cannot imagine that examining my day to look for the positive moments is going to do anything but make me a little more positive. If each day I go to sleep remembering something I am grateful for, even though I cannot measure it, I think it adds up to help keep me positive.

What now? 

I write this in 2020 amidst a global pandemic, in a country with some of the highest infection rate numbers where wearing a mask has become a political issue. In the midst of global protests for race equality, in support of Black Lives Matter, and calls to overhaul our policing system and to use resources differently. With uncertainly of the future ahead, heightened for people who have lost jobs and those with children who may or may not have a school to attend in the fall.

It is possible that you struggle in this moment to find the positive, to find things to feel great about, and to find joy everyday.

Starting your own gratitude journal could help you thrive in this period of time. As I wrote about here, I have seen others benefit tremendously from the practice, and what do you have to lose?

Let me know if you do try it, and if you stick with it! What do you like or not like about it?

To serve vs. to lead.

Most of my work these days is related to my law practice as opposed to health coaching. However, these words apply to any service I provide to any human. As we all struggle to learn, cope, reflect, and ultimately all choose how to respond to and live in our ever-changing world, I think these thoughts are important. 

I have heard from business owners who have received push-back recently after speaking up for racial justice in support of protests around the country. The response is along the lines of “stay in your lane” or why is my estate planning attorney (or insert any profession) talking to me about race etc.

One possible response is : as a business owner you choose who you serve. If someone disagrees with your views, that is not the person you want to serve.

I worry that this response leads to more divisiveness. Remember the case that made it to the Supreme Court when a baker was unwilling to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple?

I don’t agree that we should choose who we serve in all instances.

For example, perhaps a baker refuses to make a specific type of wedding cake because that type of cake is not what they do. Maybe the bakery only focuses on pastries and not cakes at all. That baker would be choosing to focus on pastries. They can lead the pastry industry. They will not be serving people who don’t like pastries, but can and should, I think, serve anyone who wants what they are offering.

As we see businesses speaking up in support of equality, I think these businesses are being leaders for what’s right in a time where that voice is important (okay, maybe far too late, 100% myself included, but let’s be grateful for what’s happening).

Here is how I am thinking about this in my own business. I will serve everyone. If I agree to prepare an estate plan for you, I will carry out your wishes to the extent it is legal under the law. If you want to donate to organizations I don’t agree with, or not donate at all, I will graciously carry out your wishes fully in the same way I would for someone donating to my favorite charity.

As a leader, I can share the businesses core values. I can educate clients and potential clients about the benefits of legacy giving (leaving donations through an estate plan). I can educate myself and my community about charitable foundations and other mechanisms for giving. I can ask clients if they want to give to an organization, thereby normalizing charitable donations. I can stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement because now is not the time to stay silent.

In this way I lead, but I will not refuse to serve anyone who wants the service I provide, from me, and whom is otherwise unharmful to me.

It also of course means that those who do not like the values I do vocalize are unlikely to hire me, but that to me is in the same way that those who don’t like me will hire someone else because we are a bad fit. And that’s okay.

30 Weeks to Awesome: The story of writing my first book. Part 2.

In this recent post, I wrote about how 30 Weeks to Awesome came to be. The motivation and nudge to get it done (a course with a contest that would reimburse tuition for said course) and the re-purposing of a course I created previously. In this post I will share why I believe in 30 Weeks to Awesome, as well as some lessons learned attempting to share the book with others. 

Why 30 Weeks to Awesome?

I think life is a journey and that we should always be continually trying to improve our lives, search for happiness, and to be better people. Some people think that trying to be better means they have to be unhappy with who they are now. I disagree. I think we can have love and compassion for our current selves, while simultaneously striving to be a better version of ourselves. It is an evolution that I hope will take a lifetime, because otherwise I would feel stalled. We are not perfect and we never will be. To think that we are somehow who we are meant to be sounds to me like a horrible way to live one’s life.

From this standpoint, I believe that healthy habits are the building blocks to living our best lives. We have limited decision-making capacity each day. By removing the necessity to make a decision to do something, we take care of our base (the building blocks) without having to work at it and use some of our daily decision-making capacity. From there we can do what’s next in our day.

These healthy habit building blocks are going to change overtime. You can look at any number of amazingly successful people who root their day with healthy habits, and realize that those blocks change overtime. One month you may focus on meditation. That could become an integral practice for the rest of your life, or it might drift away for a few months before you bring it back, possibly in the same form, possibly in a different form. When you are trying to start the habit, it takes conscious effort before it becomes part of who you are. This could be in terms of routine (I meditate every morning for 15-20 minutes). Or it could be simply how you make decisions (I home cook most of my meals, which means I had leftovers to bring to work to lunch today and therefore I do not need to go out to buy lunch like I used to).

I believe that for many people, building healthy habits slowly over time is the best way to achieve lasting change.

Surely, there are times where someone will get so fed up with their way of life that they will take massive action and actually have it stick for the long term. What do I mean by this? A program such as Whole 30 is right for some people at some times. Depending on your previous way of eating, this can be a massive undertaking. You remove a whole lot of foods, then slowly add in, but ultimately completely overhaul your way of eating. Some people will do this, feel great, and stick with it. Others will do it, feel great, but then slowly return to their previous way of eating. This person could go even further and adopt worse ways of eating than before the massive changes because they rebel against the restrictions that they were only able to maintain for a few months. More people than not are going to rebel against really massive, strict changes. This can be referred to as yo-yo dieting, and we know that considerably more than 50% of people who lose weight on a diet gain all or even more back within 2-5 years.

Thus, with 30 Weeks to Awesome, my hope is that readers will be able to manage a small task each week that builds over time. If you slowly add more vegetables, other foods will subside at a sustainable pace. The book also focuses on a variety of healthy habits from choosing healthy fats to eating out to getting outside.

Another of my core beliefs that influences me as a coach and attorney, is that each of us is unique. I do not believe that there are enough resources in our environment that encourage us to discover and listen to what we need in any given moment. Thus, in 30 Weeks to Awesome, most weeks I encourage the reader to pick a goal that is right for them. This is in the same way that I might work with a client in a coaching session and ask them what their next step is. Usually we know better than anyone else what the next right step is, but sometimes we need a nudge to realize it and to listen to our own intuition.

While the book is simple and short, I believe that this is one of its values. There is no lack of health information in the world, but there is a lack of action and follow-through.

What I have learned from marketing?

Self-publishing is easy. Educating people that the book exists and why they might want to read it, that is a whole different process. Interestingly, should you be worried about this part, know that even authors who have publishers have to do most of their own marketing. The publisher will work on getting it into stores (which I have had to do on my own) but the author must get the readers. This is why publishers focus heavily on an author’s “following” or ability to let people know about the book when deciding what books to publish.

We have an amazing opportunity right now in which we do not have to wait to be picked by others to publish a book to share our ideas with others (Seth Godin’s words). I believe this has intrinsic value, and is an opportunity we should all consider taking advantage of. However, just because you put something out in the world does not mean that the work will magically get noticed by those who want what you have on offer.

I learned that most bookstores work with distributors to get books and they do not want to work with self-published authors.

I discovered one distributor that I could work with. However, while the prospect of getting my book out to more people was exciting, if I signed with them I would not be able to sell it anywhere else. I didn’t want to lose control to take my book to local stores and others.

Selling has pushed me outside my comfort zone in many great ways. I think it is really important to do things that are not comfortable, and marketing my book has been a clear way to make me do this. I have gone into a number of stores cold and asked if they would carry 30 Weeks to Awesome. Most of the time I was rejected, but sometimes I succeeded. Four locations in my hometown carry it, one in a town in California that I visit often, and my biggest win – the Fireworks Galleries in Seattle now carry it!! This is (probably) the most popular store in the Seattle airport.

With that said, I could and should continue to research and try for different places to carry it. Fortunately, the clock has not ended, I still have an opportunity to learn and move my book into different areas.

Is it resonating?

I have received some excellent feedback from some readers. I hear that the book is helping them to focus on healthy habits (as intended). However, I am leading a group of readers through the book and many have dropped off. They get busy and want to pick up where they left off instead of moving on. They tell me they will return. Thus, it is possible that 30 weeks is too long, but I am not sure of the solution. I could encourage readers to go through more quickly to gather momentum. Or, it may be the type of resource that someone returns to for weeks at a time over years. Because of its length I believe that I need to wait more time to gauge its true resonance, but I am encouraged by the positive comments received so far.

What happened with the contest as part of the course I was in through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition? 30 Weeks to Awesome was selected as one of the Top 10 books coming out of the course! I am very grateful for their support and recognition of this project!

You can purchase the book directly from me here, AND I will donate all proceeds to the 2020 Community Assistance Fund – COVID-19 for Southeast Alaska, or you can purchase it (Ebook or paperback) here

30 Weeks to Awesome: The story of writing my first book. Part 1.

Introduction

I usually downplay the fact that I wrote a book. It’s not exactly a best seller, and it is not a long masterpiece that took years of my life to write. Indeed, very few people have read it and probably few ever will. It’s also easy to be on the other side, and to reflect on how easy it really is (these days) to put something out into the world that anyone can purchase.

However, by some accounts, about 80% of people say they want to write a book someday. Far fewer ever do.

Thus, I thought I would share my simple story of developing 30 Weeks to Awesome in case it inspires you to turn your idea into action. I do not go into depth on the how-to side of things, but feel free to reach out if you have questions.

I don’t remember the moment that I decided I wanted to be a writer. I don’t even know what it means to say “I want to be a writer”. We are all writers. Some may be limited to texts and simple emails, but almost anyone in an office setting spends a significant portion of each day communicating in writing via emails.

Some people write books for a living. Some write books as a side gig or hobby. Others write a book or a few books about their profession and in support of their profession. You can write as an art, you can write to share a story, you can write to persuade, you can write to educate. There are numerous ways and reasons to create a book to offer to others.

My attorney mentor wrote Wear Clean Underwear, a book about estate planning. It is a book written to support her practice. It is valuable for many people, but it was written to support her business, not because she wants to make a living as a writer. Some writers in this category see a book almost like a business card. Many nonfiction books fall into this category, though there are certainly near full-time nonfiction writers. (Malcom Gladwell comes to mind). And there are fiction writers who write and publish as a side gig alongside another job. They may hope to become more full-time writers someday, or they may simply want to keep it as a hobby.

Attorneys, and I am one, often are writers. It is essential for most areas of legal practice, though there are differences in the type of writing based on the type of practice one has. Writing a brief about a constitutional law topic probably allows for more creativity than drafting a contract, which requires specificity but is also usually based on a template used before. Attorneys do not usually call themselves writers, nor do other professions who spend most of their days writing. It is different than setting out to publish articles or write a book.

The context within which 30 Weeks to Awesome came to be

I am a writer as an attorney, but I would like to do more. There is something about the research and creative process that very much appeals to me. I also have an idea currently that will take many years to execute, but it is exciting and I think I am a good voice for the topic. In the meantime I may work on smaller books, as 30 Weeks to Awesome was. This book is allowing me to experience the [self]publishing process.

Here is how this first book came to be. You will see how unremarkable the story is. If I can do it, you can too!

When the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the company that trained me as a health coach, offered a course to help students publish their own books, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew nothing about the practicalities of publishing.

The course is only six months, and most authors spend years producing a single book. [For an excellent view into one author’s creation process, check out this interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, during which she shares the 3-4 year process simply to do the research before writing City of Girls.] Thus, for this course, you must either work with something already largely written, or choose a very small project. I’m sure there are some that create something extensive and amazing AND get it published within a 6-month time frame, but those are going to be few and far between.

Initially I planned to write a book with twelve chapters, offering a focus each month for a whole year.

As a health coach, I initially wanted to focus on working with attorneys. No good reason really except that the profession is known for being pretty unhealthy and busy. I thought as an attorney I would somehow have a leg up in communicating with this population. (It hasn’t really worked out that way, but when I started writing this book I had attorneys in mind).

In law school we learn to write with a format, using the acronym IRAC: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. I love using this system because it is clear, and provides a good base template for legal issue analysis. It also creates a structure that can be useful for many topics. Thus, each chapter of my intended book was going to be structured in the IRAC format. It would be an inside joke for any attorneys and provided structure that would make it both easier to write and easier to follow as a reader. I had already written a chapter in this format on exercise that I offer for free to those who sign up for my newsletter (see it here).

Initially I thought that this would be a narrow enough topic to complete in my short time frame.

I was wrong. As I began researching my 11 remaining topics, it was clear that I would not be able to produce the well-researched quality that I wanted in my short publishing time frame through the course. Certainly, I could continue on the book and learn through the course without actually publishing (as most students do), but I wanted to get through the actual experience of putting a book out in the world. My goal through this project was to have the experience publishing something; so that I could learn from start to finish, more so than it was to get this particular book I was working on out into the world.

So, what to do?

I had to go simple. Even simpler. Way simpler. At this point I had only a couple of months before my publishing date.

I should mention at this point that I had extra motivation which provided a tremendous boost on this journey. There was a competition associated with the course. If we published by a certain date, we could submit our book to the course leaders. The top 10 authors would get their tuition costs refunded! Honestly, without this deadline, it would have been very easy to get lost in analysis paralysis, trying to make it perfect and never getting it finished.

But back to my decision making.

Previously, I had created a 30-day healthy foundations program. I had it automated so that when someone signed up, they would get an email each day with a small amount of factual information and an action item for the day. I was really proud of it, but the only people who had done it were friends that I asked to try it out. In other words, I hadn’t yet successfully marketed it. My program that I was so proud of sat out in the internet collecting dust. I decided to pull it as a 30-day program, and to use that content to create my book. But 30 days was really too ambitious, so I went with 30 weeks. [Now you know my secret].

Some nuts and bolts

Because I had already created most of the content, it didn’t take me too long when I decided to re-purpose it. I did re-write some sections, but the bulk of the work was done.

I figured out how to format it for Amazon’s self-publishing branch [Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP]. This was a brutally long process, but just a matter of time and frustration. Then, I had to decide how much money to invest. It wasn’t an easy decision. I wanted a real go at a book, but I was newly self-employed and not coming close to earning living expenses. I am not well-known, and there was no evidence that I would be able to recoup the money I spent on the book in sales. I could do everything myself, with resources provided in the course. This includes formatting, designing a cover, editing, and marketing. Or I could look for help for all of these things. When you look for help, the amount you can pay varies dramatically, and the results may as well.

I ended up discovering on Facebook that a friend from high school was now an editor! I reached out to her, and she was willing to do the work (for pay, but incredibly reasonable). That was an easy decision!

For cover design, I considered hiring someone in another country to create a design using Upwork or Fivrr (there are people doing decent work who are really cheap by U.S. dollar standards). I even put one request out to Upwork to see what would happen. In the meantime, I shared my struggle on Instagram. An IIN grad (another health coach from my same school) reached out and offered to help because she designs book covers.

After speaking with her, I ended up hiring her, though this investment was much greater than someone on Upwork. It was an incredible investment for me, and yet she charged me much less than her usual rates. (Again, it is fascinating to consider the variation in costs). I love the product and I am happy that I worked with her! I think she probably took more time than someone else would to understand what I liked in covers and what I wanted in this one. She started with three versions, and then we tweaked my favorite. She was also familiar with KDP and helped me get my book finalized for publication.

I should mention that there are other ways to self-publish. I decided this made the most sense for me, and it appeared it would be the easiest.

What happened when it was ready? Did I win the competition? What have I learned about marketing? Stay tuned for Part 2…

In the meantime, you can purchase the book directly from me here, AND I will donate all proceeds to the 2020 Community Assistance Fund – COVID-19 for Southeast Alaska, or you can purchase it (Ebook or paperback) here