Dec 302011

I don’t know how this year has been for you. The general consensus among my friends, family and clients is that 2011 cannot end soon enough.

I live in the Hudson Valley and we here are no strangers to snowstorms and blizzards but we usually only get one or two big ones a season. Starting after Christmas last year we were hit with at least half a dozen. We skipped right over Spring into a very hot, wet Summer which ended with Hurricane Irene followed a week later by Tropical Storm Lee. That one-two punch destroyed roads, bridges, powerlines, large portions of a few towns up here and many of the local farms. Somewhere in there we had a 5.8 earthquake that by our standards was unheard of but California would consider a minor annoyance. An F2 tornado touched down in our town destroying one house and dozens of big old trees in a one mile swath. Tornadoes like that almost never happen. The hot weather continued into October tricking the trees into forgetting it was Autumn so they still had all their leaves when we had eighteen inches of snow fall on them. All that afternoon and into the night we could hear boughs and limbs breaking and crashing to the ground. By Halloween most of the folks in town were a bit frazzled. There were even a few jokes about keeping an eye out for plagues of frogs and locusts. Folks are bracing themselves for what this Winter might bring.

It’s not just the weather that is rattling everyone. The economy hasn’t bounced back as hoped. There are many vacant shops in town and quite a few people are still out of work. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the low-grade anxiety that seems to be everywhere. Each person who has wished me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday has added that they can’t wait for this year to be over. I completely understand.

I don’t do New Year’s Eve parties. It’s just not my thing. I spend New Year’s Eve cleaning my house, catching up on my laundry and generally making sure I don’t bring unfinished business from one year into the next. Another thing I do, that seems to be a common practice for many, is to take an inventory of the outgoing year. Some people do this in a very involved way but I’m partial to Chris Guillebeau‘s practice. He simply asks what worked and what didn’t.  Truthfully I don’t even write this down. It’s more of a mental exercise for me and I go through it for a few weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve.

While I was thinking about this and how best to get out from under the anxiety it occurred to me you may want to join in. January is usually a down month for people. Business is slow. The weather is harsh. The excitement of the holidays is gone and there is the inevitable crash that comes afterward. Instead of New Year’s resolutions I prefer to come up with ideas to explore in the coming year. There is much less pressure with this approach and much more joy. What better way to start this off than to make January be about joy.

This will be simple and we can do it together. Little things every day or so to shift our focus. Rethinking exercises to bring us back to joy and squash the anxiety. Are you in?

Great! On January 1st I will post the 25 things I am grateful for from 2011. I invite you to do the same either here in the comments, on my Facebook Page or on your own blog (please link back here so everyone knows what’s going on). In keeping with the theme of Joyful January  I will be using the Joie de Vivre Tarot as my deck of the month. Here’s to making it a very happy new year.

Dec 162011

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”  ~ A Christmas Carol

I was having a conversation with Debbie yesterday on Facebook chat which is most frequently how we have our conversations. We had each pulled a card of the day that had knocked us for a loop and we both really needed to talk about it. (Click on her name and you can read her experience on her blog) I’ve been using The Steampunk Tarot and yesterday pulled the Seven of Wands. She’s a pretty fierce depiction of this card. To understand why and how this hit me so hard I need to explain a few things.

I started this blog in the Spring of this year after taking a pretty eye-opening class about working online. I knew a blog was a good idea but I wasn’t clear exactly why. The class gave me the why but that turned out to be insufficient. As with anything new I deferred to a trustworthy expert and followed her advice. That didn’t seem like enough so I branched out and explored the advice of other experts. Over time a few things dawned on me. Social media is not that old and is constantly changing. Those calling themselves experts are much better at this than I am but strictly speaking they are not experts. Another interesting thing happened during the course of my explorations. I found that one ‘expert’ led to another and then another but eventually it formed a circle. It was hard to know if I had moved onto a different circle of experts or not. There is a lot of overlap and therfore a lot of redundancy. What I also began to realize is that these people all seem to have similar personalities and, most importantly, it’s a personality that is very different from mine.

I have spent most of my reading time over the last six months reading and learning about social media and online marketing. I have attended online webinars, received newsletters, video courses, read a few books on the topic and I even follow a few folks on Twitter and Facebook. In six months time what it has done is make me cringe a bit. I get the value in this. I really do. I’m sitting here as the sun comes up, wearing my bathrobe, drinking my coffee and typing up this post. You will read this at a different place and different time. You may even comment. We will have a slow motion conversation each of us participating at our own convenience. That is pretty cool. I can ‘meet’ people through the internet that I would never have the opportunity to actually meet in real life. My in person practice is very personal with  my clients and we work one on one. This feels like a one on one conversation. It seems like a letter to a friend. I like that. It is in keeping with my personality and my in-person business practice. It’s the other stuff I’m having a hard time with.

The focus of most of what I read was about growing your business online. I do want that but not for its own sake. Many times as I’m reading and listening to these things I keep thinking of that quote by Edward Abbey: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Most of the self-professed experts focused on the growth potential. There is a lot of good information on other aspects of running a business and I had no problem with most of that. It was the how and why of growth that bothered me the most. I felt myself getting defensive the last six weeks or more and pulling back from all of it. I’ve resisted the idea of a newsletter because I find them irritating and intrusive. Every expert swears they are necessary. I thought about it and of the few that I actually allow into my inbox I have never once made a purchase because of a prompt in a newsletter. The ones I like the most are the ones that are short and infrequent. A sure fire way to turn me off is to email me all the time. Twitter is another thing I can’t quite get the hang of. It seems like the world’s largest, loudest cocktail party and anything you post there is gone within the hour. Again the experts tout Twitter as a great connection tool. I don’t see how.

Yesterday, I pulled this card and while I was finding appropriate quotes to illustrate the meaning it hit me. I feel a bit under assault because the way online business is taught is not the way I want to run my online business. All those wands poking up at her are the experts telling me to be something I’m not. She is standing on a carefully crafted platform. That is the life and values she has and has built. It is that which she is defending. I liked her even more. This is a card about being under assault where you can see your attacker. It’s also about being defensive in an emotionally fragile way but also defensive in that you are standing your ground. As I was expressing all this to Debbie, she immediately understood. We are very similar in this regard, which is part of why we get along. I told her about a very wonderful interview I recently read. Michael Ellsberg interviewed Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby and it was a breath of fresh air. Here was guy who had an online business and my life philosophy. Then Debbie said one little sentence that summed it all up. “He’s a Fezziwig not a Scrooge!”  Yes! Exactly! That was the perfect analogy to me. His focus was on doing what he was doing the way he wanted for his own reasons. It’s his business and he’s providing a service for his customers because he values them and they value him. They are not a means to an end for him. Growth and ‘making it big’ are not the goal. One of my favorite quotes from him “None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them.” Exactly!

I feel much better about all of this now.

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