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Archive for the ‘Uncommon Living’ Category

What Writing a Book Is Like (For me anyway)

April 9th, 2012

It’s like a maddening, intense, all-consuming love affair. Complete with drama, tears, reconciliations, secret rendezvous, and sweet revelry. Not necessarily in that order.

Oh and did I mention obsessive? As in the “I can’t think about anything else. At all.” kind of obsessive?

The only reason I can write this blog post is because my current draft is being edited by someone else whom I trust very much. Otherwise I would be hunched over my laptop desperately trying to pour my passion onto the page.

I don’t recommend this approach by the way. I think that a cool, distant, more platonic relationship with writing a book would be much much saner. I just don’t see how my book and I can be “just friends” at this point, though. It’s all or nothing. And I have my heart set on “all”.

So if you see me at the local coffee shop and I only have eyes for my laptop, don’t take it personally. It just means that my book and I are wrapped up in a fascinating conversation and I don’t want to break the spell.

You can bring me coffee though. 🙂


There’s Only So Much to Go Around

March 26th, 2012

I’ve just returned from a much-needed family sojourn to the Gulf of Mexico to celebrate Spring Break. Lots of long walks and talks mixed in with some intense writing time.

All this moodling, talking and walking gave rise to a single common theme for everyone in our family: we are each trying to do too much. The Young Turk was the first to pipe up with this observation about himself. “Can I stop doing so much every day, Mom? I just want time to hang out at home without feeling rushed.”

Wise words for a nine-year old, don’t you think?

The more we talked about his desires, the more I realized I wanted the very same thing. Time to just hang out and be. It seemed like an impossible desire to fulfill considering the sudden take-off of my new thing, Fierce Loyalty. I’m writing a book, crafting guest posts, speaking at events, conducting interviews and a million other things that take up precious time.

And guess what? None of them are getting the proper time and attention. I’m moving so fast that I’m not doing anything well. And since I am the source of all this creation, I’m squandering the resource by spreading it to thin.

So, starting this week, I’m cutting back. I have to if I want to produce my very best work. What does that look like?

1. I’m paring down my coaching clients so I can give my best to a small group.

2. I’m cutting back on my blog posting. Not forever but until I get some other major writing projects out of the way.

3. My social media time is getting loped to a minimum. I still show up most days, but I don’t camp out on Twitter like I used to.

4. My newsletter will go out every other week now. Since I put it together myself, I want what I send to be rich and meaningful rather than something I dash off because it is “Newsletter Day”.

5. I’m building in “do nothing” time for every single day. The more I tap my creativity, the more I’ve got to have this time to re-fill the well.

Oh – and I’m making calls and cutting back on The Young Turk’s commitments, too. He is a creative and an empath just like me. I want him to learn to value Do Nothing time as a way to re-fuel and re-charge now before the world teaches him that it’s a waste of time. 🙂

What about you? Are you feeling spread to thin? In need of some carved out Do Nothing Time so you can bring your best self back to the task at hand?

I’d love to hear about it. 🙂



How I Get So Much Stuff Done

March 12th, 2012

I’ve written about this topic before but I’ve gotten a ton of questions lately about how I get so much stuff done while still being a good mom to the two small turks and a decent wife to Turk Senior. So I’m writing about it again. 🙂

Please note: I am not a big organizational freak and this is the only “system”, if you will, that gives me enough structure and enough flexibility to tame the wildness that is my life.

If you find it useful – yay! If not, that’s okay too. 🙂

Monday: Admin Day. This is the day I meet with my team, pay bills, all things paperwork related. This is also the day I look over the coming week, month, 90 Days to think about and plan for upcoming business opportunities.

I pre-write my Monday blog post so all I need to do is edit a just a bit. 

I make a master Task list for the week. I just split a piece of paper into two columns, one labeled Work and one labeled Home. then I brain dump everything that needs to get done in the week. Then I build my daily to-do lists from this master list.

Tuesday: Focus Day. These are the days that I concentrate on my high-payoff business activities.  For me, focus days are for coaching clients, leading classes, speaking, writing, going to appointments, etc.

Focus days are also for communicating with prospective clients about coaching, speaking opportunities, guest blog post opportunities, etc.  The point is that I’m doing what needs to be done to generate revenue, either now or sometime in the future.

Wednesday: Focus Day

Thursday: Focus Day

Friday: I alternate this between Admin and Focus depending on what needs the most attention at the time. If Monday was a school holiday, this is my catch up day.  And if I’ve been super super productive – I get to take Friday off and have a Play Day. 🙂

Again – these definitions aren’t rigid. But I have found that if I start blurring the lines between how I define my days, they all start to become one big blur. By focusing my energy, I actually give myself the gift of momentum and can get a good bit accomplished in a short amount of time.

Am I able to stick to all of this 100% of time? Absolutely not! But I figure if I can stick to it about 70% of the time, I’m doing pretty well.

I’d love to hear how you organize your time so that it serves you. 🙂

What To Do With Criticism

November 30th, 2011

I don’t care what anybody says, criticism sucks. And it especially sucks when you’ve poured your heart and soul into something, pushed it tenderly out into the world and BAM! some mean nasty says something unkind about it. (Unkind meaning anything other than raving praise of course.)

But, unless you want to live safely under a rock, the business of being unmediocre will absolutely include criticism. So the question is what to do with it when it shows up.

I’m not a big fan of the FancyPants Gurus standard, one-size-fits-all response of “People criticize me because they are jealous.” Some people may be jealous and some people may criticize because of it. But to say ALL criticism is driven by jealousy is sophomoric.  It implies that the FancyPants Gurus should never be called into question. Yeah. Not real comfortable with that.

Another option is to take all criticism personally and to the heart. This is another blanket, one-size-fits-all response that assumes all criticism is created equal and that all critics are somehow superior. It implies that EVERYONE who has anything to say about your work is smarter than you are. Responses that include words like ALL and EVERYONE are usually a tad extreme. Not comfortable with that either.

I think one of the reason we opt for these kind of extreme responses is that it’s easier. If either everyone is right or no one is right, then we don’t have to go to the trouble of actually assessing the criticism to see whether it is valid or complete horse shit. That takes work. and discernment. and willingness. And who’s got time for that?

I’ve learned that if I want to get better at what I do, I’ve got to have time for that.

In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d give you a brief outline of how I (mostly) handle criticism when it gets lobbed my way. (Oh – and it does. Recently, someone on a blog said that I have unresolved child/parent issues which drive me to question authority all the time. Good times.)

Sarah’s Highly Mature  Method For Handling Criticism

1. Criticism arrives. Again, remember that my definition of criticism is anything other than effusive praise.

2. I work myself into a perfect storm and will tell anyone who will listen how horrible, terrible and generally unpopular the critic is. Mercifully, this length of this phase has shortened considerably in recent years.

3. I go for a walk. The first half of the walk is a continued rant in my head about the injustice of the criticism and perhaps the tiniest bit of revenge plotting. Somewhere around the halfway point, I weary of this. I know it comes as a shock but I do get tired of listening to myself after a while.

4. The second half of my walk usually involves looking sort of sideways at the criticism. Not full on – can’t handle that – more like looking at it out of the corner of my eye. Hmmm…..

5. Then I, ever so gingerly, consider the source of the criticism. Is this someone who, up until ten minutes ago, I adored, respected or at least holds the respect of people I like? Or is this someone whose opinion never mattered a hill of beans to me up until ten minutes ago? Or is it some unknown person (these are the worst because I give them all kinds of super-powers in my head). The source has a great deal to do with accuracy. Though I’ve learned that the source doesn’t have everything to do with accuracy.

6. As soon as I feel strong enough and way less defensive – sometimes minutes, sometimes weeks – I pull out the criticism. Upon review, I might learn that it isn’t really criticism at all. Just a really helpful suggestion. Or I might find that the criticism is accurate. I did misstep. I did make a mistake. I did do something (gasp) badly. Or I find that the criticism is small and petty. Here’s a secret  I’ve learned though – if my knee jerk reaction is to write it off as small and petty, chances are there’s some truthful gem in there that I’d just as soon not examine. Icky. But true.

7. I smoke the peace pipe with the criticism, in whatever form that might take. I say thank you for the suggestion. I clean up if I made a mess. I feel pity for the small, petty person.

8. I move on.

In case you are wondering, this is not a linear list. I go backwards and forwards through it until I finally arrive at #8. Sometimes this process is done in an hour. Sometimes this process is done in months. I try not to rush it and I try not to dwell on it. Mostly, I try to learn whatever it is this pighead is supposed to learn to make what I do better.

So there you go. That’s how I deal with criticism. Would love to hear what you do with it. 🙂

Hunting for Treasure

November 21st, 2011

I am on my annual Thanksgiving vacation to Cumberland Island, GA with my family. Tomorrow, we will hunt sharks teeth – one of my favorite expeditions on the island. The post below was written two years ago shortly after I taught my older son how to hunt. I hope you enjoy it. 

Hunting for Treasure

This afternoon I am teaching my son the fine art of hunting for shark’s teeth.  It’s a challenging pastime, to say the least, but as absorbing and all consuming as any good hobby should be.

Our hunting grounds are off the coast of Georgia where, ages ago, dredge from the bottom of a river was dumped during the construction of the Inter-Coastal Waterway. I’ve found teeth as small as a grain of rice and as big as my hand when hunting here. Most important, the teeth are plentiful which makes for an excellent classroom.

First, I show my son the unique “T” or “Y” shapes of most teeth. Then we review the particular shades and combinations of black and gray that are found only in these fossils.

The final part of our lesson is slightly more nuanced – especially for a seven year old. Holding a picture of the shape and color of a shark’s tooth firmly in our minds, we must start scanning the shoreline, filtering out anything that does not match our mental image.

This is especially tricky because the beach is littered with Grand Imposters – bits of black shell in the coveted “Y” shape or a smooth gray stone half buried in the sand. They appear to be the treasure we seek, but upon closer examination, they are nothing more than fool’s gold.

I think the reason I love hunting shark’s teeth is that it requires so much of me. All of my focus and attention must be laser sharp – there is no room for distraction. I must be fully present and in the moment – seeing only what is right in front of me. Anything less and my treasure will elude me.

My son’s attention span is short and the bright sunlight has given way to long gray shadows, making it difficult to spot our quarry.

Tomorrow, as long as the tides and weather cooperate, we will try again. My hope is that with practice, he will learn to overlook the Grand Imposters and train his eye on the particular prize he seeks. I tell him that if he can learn to do that, one day he will look down to see his treasure lying at his feet. He will simply reach down and take hold of it.

He smiles and takes my hand.

I Will Never Be Pollyanna Positive

October 20th, 2011

From time to time I get chastised by so-called social media superstars for the fact that I am, at times, grumpy, moody, direct, and simply “not positive”.

“Turn that frown upside down!” People only want to hear positive encouragement on social media.” “To be a leader, you need to stop with all the negativity.”

I call bullshit.

I will never, ever be Pollyanna Positive and I don’t believe that’s all people are craving. Here’s the story of why.

I spent the first thirty years of my life quelling thoughts and feelings that were considered “inappropriate”. I pursued appearing to be the “right, acceptable” person in hopes that it would make my life go the way I wanted it to go.  I pretended none of the other stuff existed.

And, to be fair, it worked for a little while. I was a successful student, considered a leader, made Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board. Went on to successful jobs in the business world where I was touted as an Up and Comer most of the time.

But while all this was going on in the public eye, some dark nasty was happening behind closed doors. I battled depression and anxiety, my personal life imploded, and I was truly deeply miserable. It was more awful than I can put into words, so I’m not going to try.

During my desperate attempt to crawl out the deep, dark hole I’d dug for myself , A discovery was laid before in something I can only describe as miraculous. A wise wise person looked me in the eye and said “Human beings were given a complex range of emotions unlike any other creature on earth. And if we don’t use them, exercise them, give them fresh air and sunshine, they start eating at us like cancer.  And creating diseases just as deadly.”

This wise person went on to say that if I did not find a way to express my full range of human-ness, I would very like die. And not metaphorically.

A wake up call if there ever was one.

So I’ve spent the last 16 odd years learning how to live full self-expressed. Does it come with a price? Sure it does. Sometimes I say or do the wrong thing. Sometimes I make a mess I have to clean up. Sometimes I could keep my thoughts a bit more private. Sometimes I over-indulge in my negative emotions and wind up with a hangover. Sometimes people I really really like get angry. Sometimes people I really really like walk away.

But when I weigh this price against squelching who I am to the point of being a shard of a person, I’ll gladly pay whatever is asked.

And here’s the thing: in this obnoxiously loud online world where everyone is basically trying to say “Hey! Look at me and all my awesomeness!!”, I think people crave permission to exhale. To just be. To express whatever it is they need to express – positive, negative, whatever.

This is the gateway to living fully self-expressed. Which is what I want for you with every fiber of my being.

So I wave my magic wand and say “Permission granted! Go be the fully self-expressed human that you are!”

And if you are in search of Pollyanna Positive, she doesn’t live here. 🙂

Self-Reliance: A Guidebook for Escaping Mediocrity

May 25th, 2011

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been one of my favorite books. (My Mother The English Teacher quoted it to me even when I was little.)

One of my old copies has more underlined sections than not-underlined sections. Ralph has such a way to capturing the voice and thoughts of those who are desperate to break from the rabble and make their own way in the world.

I’m going to share a few of my favorite lines in just a sec, but I have something awesome to share with you. You can get your hands on a free Kindle edition (that can be read on any mac or pc) today and tomorrow (Tuesday, May 25 and Wednesday, May 26) through The Domino Project and compliments of IBEX, a very cool outdoor wear company.

Don’t miss this chance to own this amazing guidebook to Escaping Mediocrity. You can get all the details and links here:

To give you a taste of what you will find among the 73 short pages, here are some of my favorite quotes:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction tha envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.


What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.  This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness.


…truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself as taskmaster.

When you get the book or if you already have it, I would love it if you shared you favorite quote in the comments. 🙂

Oh – and be sure to pass the link for the free download along to your friends!

How to build relationships & make a gajillion dollars

January 12th, 2011

Sorry – if your purpose for building relationships is based on making lots of money, this post isn’t going to help you do that. Sadly, though, I see lots of experts, gurus, ninjas or whatever who teach that sort of thing. I’m sure if you google it you will find lots of people willing to take you down that path.

I’m not one of them.

See, every time I do a month-long guest blog series like 28 Days to Getting Your Sh*t Together, or pull off an incredible live event when everyone says “live events are dead”, people ask me how I managed to be friends with the kind of people who help me make those things happen.

Here’s the news flash: there isn’t a magic formula to it. There isn’t a system you can memorize. And relationships like the ones I am lucky enough to have don’t happen overnight.

I’m going to give you the secret to them, though, right here and right now: Help others.

Yep. That’s it.

So that you can get this super secret sauce working right now, here are some steps to get you started:

1) Identify a handful of people you would like to know better on twitter and/or Facebook.

2) Take the time to read what they are up to. Tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts will help you get to know them and what is important to them.

3) Help them spread their message. Re-tweets, Facebook likes and shares, etc. make this pretty simple. This is also a great way to engage in an actual conversation with someone.

4) Comment on their blog. These days, getting a comment on a blog post is really a challenge. By commenting, you help the author and it can also open the door to a conversation.

5) Repeat steps 1-4. Often. But not in a creepy stalker kind of way. 🙂

Do these steps enough and the people on your list will begin to engage with you. Unless they have no social skills or think they are all that and a bag of chips. In either case, I recommend dropping them like a hot potato.

One last word of advice: until you’ve built a solid relationship with someone, do NOT ask them to help you, promote you, support you or anything else. It’s like proposing too early in a dating relationship – ICK.

So there you have it: my super-secret formula to relationships. And if you make a gajillion dollars from what I just taught you, I fully expect a percentage. 🙂

What do you think are important keys to building successful online professional relationships?

Looking After Helen, a Christmas Story

December 13th, 2010

My friend John A. wrote this. He often sends out stories like this.  He has a wonderful point of view on life in the very small, very southern town we both grew up in. I’ve known John A. all my life. (And I call him “John A.”) In fact, I’ve known everyone in this story all my life.

Miss Rowland taught me how to sew when I was a little girl. She also taught me Bible verses in Spanish. I’ve known John A’s older brother Tom since forever. The Chief of Police “Simp” was good friends with my daddy til the day my daddy died. Lori still helps me with my banking. And Aunt Connie and Uncle Knud have known me and loved me since before I arrived on this earth.

So I want to share this story with you because I think it is so wonderfully told. I also want to give you a glimpse at the place “from whence I came”. This is the world that birthed me. These are the people who shaped my young life.

And I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything.

And so……

Looking After Helen, A Christmas Story

Helen Rowland would have been 93 last week. I think about Helen, sometimes.  When I pass her house on Bruner Avenue I think about her. I think about Helen a lot in December.  I probably wouldn’t give her a second thought if we hadn’t found Helen dead in her house, two Decembers ago.

I got a phone call at my office, late afternoon on December 2, 2008. It was Police Chief Simpson.
“John, this is Simp”,He said. “Don’t some of your people look after Miss Helen Rowland?”
“That would be my Aunt Connie and Uncle Knud, Chief. They look after Miss Helen, and so does Lorie at the Bank, and few others.”
“Well, Lorie and me are down here at her house. She won’t answer the door. You think one of ya’ll could come down here and see if she’ll answer?”, Chief Simp asked.
“I guess so, I’ll try to get a hold of my Aunt, too. Helen might have gone off somewhere, Chief, or she might not want to answer her door. She does that, you know.” I replied.
I called my Aunt and left a message. My brother, Tom, and I drove to Helen’s house.

Helen lived in Evergreen most of her life. She was college educated, creative, and articulate. She could play the guitar and violin. Early photos show that she was a very attractive young woman. She lived with her parents until they died.  There was talk of a man, and a relationship that went wrong, and her attempted suicide.

Circumstances, or maybe something organic, had made Helen crazy. She was not dangerous crazy, but she was unpredictable. There were periods of paranoia, and Helen was an obsessive hoarder. She collected mountains of junk from which to make things.  Her white hair, even as an old woman,  was worn in a 1940s “Veronica Lake victory roll” style. She dressed in blouses and long dresses she sewed. In warm weather she wore sandals fashioned out of clorox bottles and pipe cleaners. Helen had a bed, but slept on an old door set between two chairs.

Helen would disappear from Evergreen for periods. Her trips, and odd appearance made some call her “Gypsy”. Children called her “The Turtle Lady”. Helen would catch box turtles.  She’d sewed costumes and created characters for the turtles. She entertained children, and adults, with little turtle tableaus.  Helen did errands on her bicycle, with her long dress, long white hair, and a straw hat. Some people called Miss Helen “The Bicycle Lady”.

Helen grew crazier as she got older. There were only a few people whom she would allow to look after her. Whatever her rationale, she was good at picking her close friends. She trusted Lorie, who works at the Bank of Evergreen, to help her with money matters.  Lorie, and her husband, Mike, lived close. They would check on Helen every few days.

Helen loved my Aunt Connie and Uncle Knud. Connie and Knud, in their late eighties, are substantive, genteel, and dignified people.  Their involvement with a difficult, mentally ill old woman might seem incongruous.  Yet, they spent time with her, bought things she needed, and even drove her to neighboring towns to buy used guitars and violins. My Uncle, to cheer Helen, once pretended to play a ukulele while  she played violin and sang.

Helen could be difficult. She got mad at Connie and Knud for buying her a small, much needed refrigerator. It was black. She wanted a white one. They had it painted white so she would use it. They tried to get Helen to eat better. The last few years of her life she consumed mostly Hershey bars and milk.   It would have been easier leave Helen to social workers. Connie, Knud, Lorie, and few others maintained their involvement with Helen for many years.

Tom and I pulled up to Helens house.  The  tiny stucco cottage was about  25 feet by 20 feet. Chief Simpson and Lorie were already there. Tom and I weren’t sure why we were there, except  as proxies for our Aunt and Uncle. Tom and I knocked and yelled through the door for Helen. She didn’t answer for us, either. We were afraid to kick the door in, in case Helen was simply refusing to come out.

Aunt Connie arrived about rabbit dark. She called out to Helen. There was no reply. Aunt Connie said she had a bad feeling. She told us we needed to try to go in through a window.

I had a crowbar. The Chief and I  pried open her side window.  We stuck our heads through the window to call out to Helen. We knew instantly, from the odor, that Helen was inside, somewhere, dead. The Chief went through the window, found Helen’s body, and yelled for somebody to call the coroner and the funeral home. Chief Simp unlocked Helens door and came out. He said she’d been dead a couple of days. “Her fists and arms are all drawed up tight on her, like maybe she had a heart attack”, He said. All we could see was the corridor between giant stacks of debris she’d collected over the years. Past the entrance was blackness.

We all got quiet. Nobody knew what to say. Lorie started crying.  Connie put her arms around Lorie and said,” you cry all you need to, Lorie. Its sad. You cry for me some,too.  At my age the tears don’t come as easily as they used to”.

The contents of Helens home and back house would fill 9 dumpsters. It yielded dozens of new bibles, still in their shipping boxes, old bibles with each reading carefully dated, newspapers dating back 40 years, and tons of junk. There were several thousand dollars stuffed into nooks and crannies, and decades  of Helen’s obsessive daily journals written in shorthand. Only a few things were salvaged, or given away. The rest, including her journals, got buried in a dump.  The old houses are still there, and the metal sign that says “Rowland”. Somebody will buy the lot and push down Helen’s house.

Helen was buried next to her parents.  The preacher who performed the service had never met Helen.

About a dozen people showed up. Included were a couple of neighbors, a nephew from far away, and Helen’s friends that looked after her.

Most of the physical evidence of Helen’s existence is gone, or will be, soon. What remains are some remnants of a true goodness a few people quietly gave to a lonely, difficult, crazy old woman. The remnants can be saved, and put together to make something….

Merry Christmas, J.A.N.
December 12, 2010

Keeping The Faith

November 10th, 2010

Where to we go from here?

In talking about vulnerability, strength and courage, I am also reminded that there is SO MUCH B.S. out there that it is really hard to remember who we are.

In this online world I move in, I’ve watched terrible things happen in recent months:

– A well-known “expert” pretty much pirated one of my BFFs material and claimed it as original thought. And people bought the lie.

– Another well-know expert bought about a gajillion followers (yes, they are for sale) and then staked a claim as a “Dominant Social Media Presence.” And people bought the lie.

– Had my own material picked off by someone claiming to be a wise friend and counselor. And people bought the lie.

It truly shakes the foundation of my courage some days to know that the ethics and the integrity of the world I operate in can be so temporal.

But then – OH BUT THEN:

– A dear friend sends me an email that tells me not to stop. That I am making a difference.

– Someone I admire from afar shows up on my blog and says that I inspire her.

– The people I dearly love, and would never have known without this crazy online world I live in, send me DMs, texts and FB messages that make me laugh so hard I cry.

– My colleagues-who-are-dear-friends keep going, keep producing inspired work, keep lifting my eyes to see what is possible.

– The Escaping Mediocrity Tribe out and out tells me that they want and need to hear what I have to say about what it is really like to do what I do.(Well – actually, some people unsubscribe because they don’t want and need to hear it, but that is okay. I’m not meant to reach everyone.)

In the end, the beauty far outweighs the bullshit.

There is a reason I am walking this path. There is a reason I say things out loud. I am holding up a lamp in the dark and lighting part of the path for others so they can find their way. I no longer have energy for anything else.

Shortly (as in a few days), I will be sending out a quick survey to those who are subscribed to my newsletter so that I will know how best to serve you in this way.

If you want to be a part of shaping what is to come, you can subscribe to Escape Notes here:

I would be honored if you shared how you are keeping the faith in the comments. 🙂