Ever noticed how we have phones to talk, but sometimes they are the very thing that keep us from sparking conversations in real life?
Early this year, I kicked off with publicly sharing my simple 2016 resolution: Less social media. More socializing. I’m writing now to hold myself accountable and share a fun project to help you turn small talk into bigger conversations!
But first, a smartphone story …
A couple weeks ago I glanced down at my phone to see purple ooze beneath the screen. The LED went out, and I was phoneless for nearly a week. (Oh the horror!) While I was fairly calm about it, the inconvenience was eye-opening and a bit embarrassing, showing me how terribly dependent I am on that piece of plastic and glass. In some ways I felt liberated, but also felt I’d lost a piece of my hand … indeed, I did lose my “digits!”
You mean, I actually to use my brain or print paper to figure out directions on the road? I missed a meeting because I didn’t have my calendar pop-up, couldn’t take pictures of my kids with Santa at the family Christmas party, and had no way of telling the time since I don’t wear a watch. (Talk about #firstworldproblems!) For better or worse, I sidestepped 57 text messages that were waiting when my phone was fixed.
The point? As this Fortune article says, “heavy reliance on our gadgets seems to make us vulnerable” and I realized how addicted I was, withdrawal pangs included. In this fabulous interview with Simon Sinek, he says smartphone updates can become a dopamine-producing addiction. Other addictive habits (smoking, gambling, etc.) have age-restrictions, but an addiction to social media is still socially acceptable, possibly even encouraged. The unsavory results? A generation that struggles to focus longer than a goldfish, hold meaningful conversations, and navigate the ups and downs of real relationships.
Does any of that strike you? It does me!
Ok, so back to my resolution: Did I spend less time on social media and more time socializing in 2016 than I did the year before? Yes! I have room to improve, but I met new clients and expanded my professional connections. I hiked with new friends, biked with a triathlon group, ran mountains with go-getter mamas, cruised in Alaska with my mom, sister, and husband, and went on not one … but TWO trips with my best girl friend. Most important, I enjoyed many in-the-present moments with my little family.
I also “played” with friends, working together on a communication project that lives at the intersection of smartphones and socializing. Two talented friends (Hey, Adam … hi, Julie!) from my communication graduate program and I have created several videos with tips, tricks, and funny insights about talking in real life, which we’re calling “Conversation Sparks.” They’re now live on our shiny new Youtube channel. We’re exploring ways you (and we) can turn small talk into bigger conversations:
See anything that helps you spark conversations in that first video?
Please let me know … and a very happy new year to you! Let’s make 2017 our best yet.
The past few months my life has exploded with goodness. I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Why? It’s not the fact I just returned from a trip to Alaska (although that doesn’t hurt!) Many simple things have been bringing me joy lately, and I feel it’s time to share. I’ve changed the way I think, and made small changes to how I use my time. It’s transformed the way I look at the world.
Remember how I made a year theme to do “more socializing, less social media“? I’ve made effort to reach out to people, take time in-person. For me, that satisfies my need for connection. As human beings, we all yearn to be connected. Social media can never ever take the place of a hug, feeling someone’s peppy energy, or looking into their eyes.
I also had another simple year mantra: Less stress, more fun. Here at the mid-way point in the year, this is also going well. Every day I take time to do things I really love. I start my morning with “truth time.” I exercise and care for my body with healthy food. I play with my babies. I find inspiration in reading good books, talking with interesting people, and most importantly, taking time with myself — to think, feel, and listen to what’s happening in the quiet recesses of my mind. This leads to kindness. As Gautama Buddha said:
You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
Why do I share a peek into my personal journey? I am enjoying the thoughts of many authors, speakers, philosophers, entrepreneurs — and I want to pass on how these habits help me. I find truth, in it’s variety of sources, frequently intersects. The more truth I invite into my life, the happier I feel.
I also share because this has impacted my writing journey in a few exciting ways. Here are three happy updates:
- I have started a business, Professional Communication Consulting, LLC. I am working with several fascinating clients, doing a variety of corporate communication projects. I’m doing things like writing case studies, blog posts, marketing emails, and making plans for a corporate anniversary. The funny thing is, I used to think of myself doing this. I had fear for years of not knowing all about starting a business (who does?) or failing (so what if I do?) or finding a balance between being a mom and a professional (that’s worked out too). Once I got up the nerve to get a business license, I found my previous concerns melted away. I make mistakes. I let them go. I’m willing to learn. Isn’t that the whole point, anyways? My new professional website is in the works; I’ll share more about that when it’s up.
- Academic Publication. My thesis on managerial gratitude is now published in Corporate Communication: An International Journal. This is a thrill for me. It took an intimidating two-year process of revisions. I’d never worked so hard on a project before. Thank you again, to those who participated in my survey; as promised long ago, I will be sending out an email with the finding highlights.
- Working on a book. I’ve mentioned many times here how I dream of seeing my name on a book. Being an author has intrigued me since the time I wrote little books as a child and made my family library cards to check them out. This will be a long process, but I am not in a rush.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh, she’s just happy because things are going well.” Then again, are things going well because I’m happy? I think it’s probably both. Our thoughts tend to become reality, which makes our reality a reflection of what we think. I believe we all deserve to be excited about our lives, to go from one success to another. I keep asking myself, “Why not me?” and I say the same to you: “Why not YOU?” Go after your happy.
Yesterday I sat down for a chat with one of my role models. I don’t use that term lightly. Jeanette Bennett, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Utah Valley, BusinessQ, Prosper, and Utah Valley Bride magazines graciously gave me time Friday at her booth at CVX Live, the only YouTube conference in Utah. I came away enlightened, amazed at her energy, and wanting to share her wisdom in a Saturday Spotlight.
“There are not very many people like me,” said Bennett, referring to all the roles she plays. “The Lord has different plans for us; I’ve had to learn to accept that.”
Jeanette’s a wife, mother of five, business owner, editor of magazines, mentor to young women, and half marathoner – from my standpoint, she does it all. Well, almost.
“I’m not a good cook,” she laughed. She mentioned a church activity where women were each asked to bring a loaf of homemade bread.
“I tried. I really did. It looked so bad, I went out and bought bread at the store and sliced it up. That’s when I knew: I can’t pretend anymore.”
Helping in Her Own Way
While she might not be known for homemade meals, Jeanette’s unique media talents bless others. For example, rather than adding to the counter-full piles of meals for her friends, the Wells family, during the week their son Mason was injured in the recent Belgium bombing attacks, she’s helped them manage national media.
“I’ve been trying to keep ‘Good Morning America’ off their door,” said Bennett.
During our time together, I watched as she checked text messages from the Wells family, attentive to those who need her. Insatiable media means an around-the-clock job.
Taking the Leap into the Magazine Business
Jeanette and her husband invested in their first “Utah Valley Magazine” issue in September 2000. Coming from Idaho, they moved their two young children into a Utah Valley apartment, gearing up for “lean years” ahead.
“We thought we had this brilliant idea. What we didn’t know was that two other magazines had started and failed in the area,” said Bennett. “It’s probably good we didn’t know that.”
Nearly 16 years later, Bennett Communications is an award-winning media agency, producing several publications.
It’s a family business, with both parents leading the company, and all five kids have been involved; everything from delivering magazines to proofreading to posing for photo shoots.
“Part of me is a workaholic – kids force me not to be,” said Bennett. “It’s tricky to know how to spend my time,” said Bennett. “Sometimes it’s really hard. I realize I can’t do everything.”
Granted a ‘Wrinkle in Time’
I’ve felt like God’s given me a ‘wrinkle in time’ before – when I’ve looked at the clock and said, ‘that’s the time it was two hours ago.’ He’s really helped me when I’ve needed it.
For example, recently she’d been trying to decide whether to attend a UN parallel event hosted by the Feminist Task Force. She had so much to do, it didn’t make sense to accept the invitation to go, but felt prompted to buy plane tickets the night before. Attending opened doors for Bennett to meet with leaders and influencers who have expanded a vision of good she can do.
“I’ve found as you take steps, the dots start to connect a bit.”
On Being a Gardner and Saying ‘No’
“I’ve planted all these seeds over the years, and it’s like now I have this out-of-control garden,” she laughed. “That includes my kids.”
Beyond heavenly help, I wondered about how she could manage all she does. Is this deadline-driven mom good at saying ‘no’?
“No,” she smiled. “It’d be hard to be married to me and the whirlwind I create. I see life as a game of Tetris; I want to fit it all in.”
For example, she’s constantly asked to sit on boards, speak at events – all while still keeping up with her own publication deadlines. Recently she told her husband she would take six months off if she wasn’t self-employed. She decided to say ‘no’ to any invitations in the coming weeks.
“Then KSL called a couple days later and wanted to interview me on the news. How could I say ‘no’ to that?”
She has learned a principle she tries to remember: “Saying ‘yes’ to something is saying ‘no’ to something else.”
Why less social media?
Instagram is my social media addiction of choice. (Sorry, not sorry, Facebook.) I noticed last fall how easily Instagram sucked me in for not mere minutes, but half-hours and even hours at a time. (I’m not alone. More than 75 million of us are on Instagram every day. I’ll venture they are checking it many, many times a day.) While there’s much good in social media and keeping in touch with friends and family, I want to take back time for me. Also, I’ll admit that although I knew better, I found myself comparing my life to the “shiny version” of others, and I didn’t like how I felt. So, I went on an Instagram fast for a whole week. I took the app off my phone, and fought off the phantom urges to pick up my phone in any spare minute. (Sound familiar?) I made it through a week, feeling like I was holding my breath. Finally, the final day ended and I downloaded the app again. I logged in, taking a big gulp of missed activity, only to find how much I hadn’t missed. Sure, a friend had a baby and there were several new posts from some of my favorites, but they were there waiting for me. I didn’t need to see every. new. post. as it came out. Then I did another full week off, and I was again surprised at how much I didn’t miss it. In fact, I felt quite liberated.
Why more socializing?
Social interaction feeds my soul. I’ve been known to strike up conversations most everywhere I go. I’d much rather do that than have my eyes diverted to a phone in my hand. I need interactions face-to-face, merely for the joy of being with other people who can hold conversations beyond my nearly-two-year-old’s “no!” and “uh-oh.”
So far so good
So far this year I’ve made an effort to invite people over to our house, throw myself a 30th birthday party, and plan weekly dates with my husband. Not only do those interactions bring me joy, but looking forward to them makes the rest of the week brighter. To me, it’s a much better use of my spare minutes. I’m not off social media (and don’t intend to be), but I’m more aware of the time I spend observing others’ experiences, and time I’m living in real life.
How’s the year going so far for you?
It’s been many months since I’ve posted here. The bulk of my energy during that time went into growing another human. Born last summer, my son came a blink-of-an-eye 18 months after his sister. They were quick friends, and their cuteness makes up for my daily tackle of their combined piles of dirty diapers.
To me, one of the most wondrous parts of motherhood is taking part in creating living, heart-beating little beings. Looking at my new boy, with his kissable lips and chunky cheeks, it’s an ethereal thrill to know he’s mine. Yep, I made that.
Perhaps it’s the fact my little mister sleeps more than three hours at a time now (the struggle has been real!), or it could be resolution-primed January. Maybe it’s knowing I’ll start teaching a university “Media Writing” class next week, or that today I turn 30. Whatever the reason, I find my creativity calling.
It’s time to write again, and I have big hopes for 2016.
Where to begin? In my lists of articles, blog posts, and book ideas, I often paralyze myself into thinking I need to do it all and DO IT NOW. When I feel my dream of being an author seems too big, here’s my go-to reminder quote from Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (as quoted in Mama Writer):
Everyone who is published was once unpublished. You really have to believe in yourself and build yourself up instead of worrying you’re not good enough.
As I watch my babies learn the most basic of human abilities (one is currently mastering rolling over, the other busts out new words and phrases), I recognize the importance of taking little steps. We don’t run before we walk. We don’t see our name on novels before we write the first page. Every writer starts somewhere.
I’ve recently finished an inspiring life reflection by an Auschwitz survivor and remarkable human being. Elie Wiesel’s “Open Heart” shares his thoughts after 82 years, penned after facing his own mortality a la emergency open heart surgery. An author of more than 50 books, Wiesel has lived an impressive life in all regards. He’s been awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honorary knighthood of the British Empire, and Nobel Peace Prize. While digesting the intimate thoughts of what matters most to him, I was struck by these words in Chapter 25:
I still believe in man, in spite of man. I still believe in language, even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. I continue to cling to words, because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension, rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal; to wound or console.
Like Wiesel, I too believe in language. Granted, I’m bias, but I see words as the shining communication medium to articulate human experiences beyond our own selves. Some may say music, dance, or art are their preferred method, but for me, words are the true “instruments of comprehension.” Why? When I consider it, words live at the heart of many of my most meaningful life moments: My prayers, uttered to a listening God; the quiet realizations I’ve written in journals during the past 20 years; notes and letters from people I love; the special words spoken at my wedding ceremony; and my whispered, teary welcome to my first baby.
Clinging to words suits my soul. You too?
You know writing is good when you feel you have a one-on-one relationship with the author after reading their words. (Does this feeling grant me first name basis? Hug to you, Ann!) Today I’m finishing “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” a collection of essays by New York Times bestselling author, Ann Patchett. Each of these curated essays are autobiographical in nature, painting the scene of her dashingly successful writer’s life.
While disparate and not chronological, each chapter spells out the broader story of Ann’s life. She uses simply poignant words, sharing her successes without shying away from her faults. She loves her dying grandmother, swipes a puppy from a child, leaves her first marriage thinking she’d never succumb to matrimony again (although, spoiler alert, she does on p. 265.)
While I find Ann’s personal life interesting, what really intrigues me is her advice on writing. I think of her with something akin to awe, impressed at her gumption and raw talent. She also inspires me to go after my own writing dreams:
If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion … Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. (p. 28)
With that wisdom in mind, I’m recommitting myself to make time to write, for the sheer pleasure of learning how to write better. You can see the Chinese fortune I’ve kept for years. “You have a charming way with words and should write a book.” Sometimes this fortune taunts me, reminding me I haven’t yet quieted the compulsory urge to be an author. I don’t aim to be the next J. K. Rowling; I’m not after fame and glory. It’s more the sheer delight of capturing a story in words I’ve never gotten over, not since kindergarten.
I sometimes get distracted by other interests, but I’ve always felt writing beckoning me. I’ve had idea after idea, and even started a few books, but put them off with internal justifications. “I’ll get to it after I’m done with grad school assignments,” was the reasoning for a long time, and now, “Oh, maybe when my baby is older, or when I’m in my thirties.” The most logical (and true) excuse is my lack of desire to even look at a computer after a full day of office work. (As Ann states, “The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.“) While there is validity all of those reasons, something inside me knows I’m procrastinating my own good. (Besides, I make time to keep up with multiple social news feeds. Time’s there for the taking.)
And so, this week I’m following my own fortune, even if I’m starting small. I publicly commit to write for one hour every day this week. I’ll report how it goes.
Here’s a question to consider: If you could write your own fortune – what you really want to achieve – what would it say? And are you going in that direction?
While political polls revealed final American voting counts last night, here’s another worthy poll result for writers: Who wins in the writing lineup between men and women?
The world’s “best grammar checker,” Grammarly, conducted a study with 3,000+ participants to settle the matter. Nick at Grammarly reached out to me with their results in the infographic below and offered to donate to a charity promoting literacy when I shared it. (Um, sweet.) Besides, it’s favorable to my gender. How can I not share that?
What do you think about these results?
“Brands don’t have target markets, but target moments,” said Lisa Wang, of Twitter’s Sales Operations in Singapore. It seems to fly in the face of traditional marketing and PR, but it makes total sense. Communication, at lightning-fast social speed, has changed drastically in a handful of years. Make that the past few months.
Lisa spoke as a keynote speaker the final day of the CCI Conference on Corporate Communication last month. As I listened to her talk, “The Power of #Moments: Redefining Marketing in the Age of Real-Time,” I couldn’t take notes fast enough.
Sense of Universal Connectivity
We live in a big world, but all ultimately want the same three things in life. What are they? Find out in this captivating video Lisa shared – see if you can watch without getting the chills. It gets me every time:
See what I mean? On our universal wish list, we all want to 1) feel connected 2) feel relevant, and 3) be an active participant. Social media grants us the ability to do all three, and isn’t it amazing how the whole globe feels within reach as we scroll through to see what others are up to? Each social network has it’s own twist on how to engage users, but Twitter’s ability to hold live, public conversations makes it a unique place for clever companies. Those who think quick and make the most of those “target moments” when they know users are watching will be rewarded.
“Digital Campfires,” #Gather Round
Within the Twitter organization, they refer to hashtags as “digital campfires” because they gather folks with similar interests around a certain topic. As you know, there are hashtags for almost anything. (Surprised to see the non-word redline under “hashtag” as I type this. Guess it’s not in the dictionary yet?) Lisa shared a number of clever company examples, like Arby’s calling for Pharrell Williams to give back their hat during the Grammy’s, and Kit Kat posting a tic-tac-toe game for Oreo to compete for the heart of #chocolate fan. With a little creativity, companies can hone in on the right times (target moments) to tell their story.
I’ll be sharing more on social media in the coming posts. In the meantime, give Lisa Wang a follow on Twitter at @ldubs.
Image is a screen shot from the video “The Most Astonishing Fact.”
Every year on July 24, Utah celebrates a state-wide holiday: Pioneer Day. The celebration of parades, fireworks, and rodeos honors the state’s settlers, Mormon pioneers, who first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. After leaving the comforts of their sturdy homes and trekking for months through unknown lands, those pioneers must have felt such relief to finally see the “right place” to settle their homes.
Now what does this have to do with writing? Recently I read a journal entry of one of my own pioneer ancestor, Danish-born American folk artist, C.C.A. Christensen. He wrote the following in 1856 when coming through Iowa City:
At the campground we encountered our first trials, in that we had to give up books. . . . We were only allowed to take fifteen pounds in weight for each person who was to travel with the handcarts, and that included our tinware for eating, bedding, and any clothing we did not wish to carry ourselves. . . .”
“Our train consisted of between thirty and forty handcarts. Each of these had an average of five person. . . . It was usually necessary for small children to ride in the handcart which the father, mother, and older brothers and sisters of the family pulled. . . .”
These people didn’t have tablets, iPhones, and TV to entertain them. They had no days off, no air conditioning, or comfortable cars. Theirs was a reality of daily challenges, one of back-breaking work, with their faith alone to motivate them. Books were their connection to anything beyond the trails and trials before them. Giving up books must have felt like leaving behind good friends.
I’m glad to live with modern comforts. And grateful to Christensen, who painted the pioneers on the plains, leaving behind first-hand illustrations. He said, “History will preserve much, but art alone can make the narration of the suffering of the Saints comprehensible for the following generation.”
Image: A detail from the “Mormon Panorama” series, as described here.