How to Move Forward When Your “Metrics of Success Have Been Blasted to Shreds.”

A story inspired by Rob Bell.

I grew up in a born-again Christian household, in a largely born-again Christian town. Church on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, youth group on Wednesday. Church camp, Vacation Bible School and field trips during the summer. No Harry Potter, no Sabrina the Teenage Witch – no dressing up “like anything scary” on Halloween. I remember church and all of it’s functions being a time to socialize with friends, but little to nothing else. Even as a small child attending Sunday school I was always aware that every teaching should be taken with a grain of salt. Not to be interpreted literally, akin to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales on my shelf, or my favorite Aesop’s Fables. Useful stories and cautionary tales. Written by men and usually not very feminist.

Recently I’ve shifted my thinking from a strictly atheist perspective to more of an agnostic outlook. I used to take comfort in the simplicity of believing in what you can see. In science, in practicality, in the fact that when I die all that happens is my own decomposition. Back to the earth. I haven’t quite decided what I believe in now, but what I do know is that the universe is far too complex to believe any of our senses are producing the “truth” because our scope of understanding is simply too small. I do believe that each of us is a tiny part of one larger piece – the earth, plants and animals, and that is why our joy and our suffering is so intrinsically connected. So while I do not believe in god or a creator, I do believe in purpose, in connectedness, in energy, and ultimately in the simple fact that at the fringes of what we like to believe are “scientific facts” are actually whimsical and largely unexplained phenomena that all lead back to the same theme: We can’t believe what we think we know, because at this time our lens is not advanced enough to see what lies beyond our comprehension. There is so much more that we are blind to. When my body goes back to the earth, what really is it feeding? Isn’t that exchange somehow a form of magic?

My entire life I’ve been drawn toward a sense of connectedness. To plants, to animals, and to a feeling of belonging that I can’t quite explain. It’s not a nostalgia for my past or a wish for an ideal future, but a peace I feel on certain days when the smell of wet leaves and dirt sends me off to a place where I truly belong, but haven’t been yet. Crisp air, the sound of wind chimes, and white garden roses losing their petals, my husband and our animals – it’s magic. I feel like every choice I’ve made is leading me down this path, but I’m not sure where it goes, I just know it’s right, and when I get closer, I feel it. I’ve always been good at following my heart. Until this point I’ve always chased tangible dreams. College, business, career. And then one day I realized that all of these successes are amazing, but haven’t led me toward that feeling – to that place I’ve haphazardly been traveling to since the beginning. Toward that connection to something my soul feels but my senses can’t describe or articulate. To the unknown future that I know is there for me to discover. So for the first time I’m sitting with an open heart – trusting the universe to show me why I’m being pulled toward a feeling and a life that by all accounts can’t be measured by traditional metrics of success.

I recently discovered Rob Bell, a pastor and speaker who’s sermon-like podcasts on the Robcast often shed light on feelings or dilemmas that many of us can relate to. I’ve found that when strict religious underpinnings are removed from teachings like his, I love listening to smart and relatable sermons, and often use the time to learn, reflect, and meditate on the ideas. One of his latest episodes “A Hymn For the Curve” is about those of us that are drawn to do things differently, who know things can be better so we change our behavior accordingly. For those of us that simply aren’t sure why we’re drawn to be different, but we are. We take the path less traveled and are often misunderstood. Maybe we’re ahead of the curve, maybe we see something that others can’t yet see. Maybe if everyone saw it then the change wouldn’t be needed. But it is.

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He shared a version of this story:

There are a group of people living in a village near a river. One day they notice a body coming down the river so they jump in to pull it out. Then they notice another, and another, and another. The bodies start coming down the river so fast that the people can’t pull them out fast enough.

Another group of people living nearby observe the problem and decide to help, so they build a dam to help catch the bodies. The bodies begin piling up, but their method makes it easier for them to catch more to pull out at a time. The bodies keep coming down the river at a rapid rate, and eventually the dam will break under the weight because it will become impossible for the people to keep up, even with the dam.

A third group observes both methods, and after watching for a while, they turn their backs on the other villagers and begin walking upstream.

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What we know is that the third group is going exploring. To the other villagers they appear to be dismissive. They seem uncaring and unwilling to help. But in reality, they’re traveling into the unknown to discover where the bodies are coming from and why they’re coming down the river to begin with. They are seeing what the others couldn’t see so that hopefully they can change behaviors and therefore, change the outcome.

Maybe when we’re drawn to something we can’t explain, it’s the universe leading us to the magic. Our minds just haven’t caught up yet.

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Photo: Amanda Lankila Photography

Notes From the Humboldt County Blackout

When was the last time you sat in your living room laughing at shadow puppets cast onto your ceiling in the dark? Cozy pajamas, flashlights, blankets, candles, and good company. No television or computers, phone use is limited, and leaving the house is discouraged. Especially at night when most of the traffic lights aren’t working and the dead street lights emit an eerie tone on the dark sidewalks. But the stars and moon seem to shine brighter than you’ve noticed in the past, even out here in the pacific northwest.

When I got the text message at nearly 7pm on Tuesday night alerting me to the fact that power at my house and my business was being shut off at midnight, for an unknown amount of time, I did not instantly see the silver lining. For those of you that may not have heard, in an attempt to prevent more devastating wildfires from taking place, the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric has decided to implement outages in high-risk locations during extreme weather conditions. The national weather service had declared a high-wind and low-humidity situation throughout huge areas of the bay area and into the northern areas of California. Although our temperatures have been hovering around a cool sixty degrees this week, we did have fairly high winds on Wednesday, and our power here is dependent on lines that run through Shasta county where the weather patterns are much warmer. So out we went.

For an area as secluded and rural as Humboldt county, you’d think we’d handle our shit better. There’s just no way to say that better. Unfortunately the communications from PG&E to the public and local media were lacking. Around 6pm my clients began asking if we were still scheduled for appointments on Wednesday. At that point the only notification I had received was a text message at 11:40am saying “To protect public safety, PG&E may turn power off overnight” with a link to click on for more information. I clicked it, and their website wouldn’t work. I chalked it up to the work they’ve been doing on the gas lines near downtown (since I get notifications from them often). Turning power off “overnight” shouldn’t be a problem.

After several more client texts began to come through, I started to panic. I tried PG&E’s website again, and it finally loaded. I typed in my business address into their outage information page and when the words “area not affected” came up, I assumed our power would stay on. But to double and then triple check I went to the San Francisco Chronicle and ABC News’ websites to cross reference their maps of affected areas in California. Humboldt County showed nothing – hovering hundreds of miles north of the bay area, no colors identifying it in any special way. But if you checked any local news outlet’s social media or current breaking news feeds, all everyone was talking about was the power being shut off at midnight for as long as five days, or even a week. And then at 7pm I got the official text that we were being shut off too – but no one knew for how long.

Yes, the notice was short, and the potential financial impact on local business closures could be massive. I get that. And truthfully that was the only thing I was concerned about. Missing a week of work can be devastating, and since I already have a greatly impacted schedule, working all of my days off to fit clients in can make my busiest season seem all but intolerable. And I had two clients getting married on Saturday. As I texted clients to let them know that I simply would not know until the morning whether my business would be open or not, I thought about the local media stations’ speculation and the fact that PG&E’s website kept crashing with traffic. And so the chaos ensued.

What will the zombie apocalypse look like? Humboldt County hours before a supposed five-day blackout with minimal notice. Sans the actual zombies. Local media channels show lines at gas stations extending out far into the street, empty grocery store shelves, shopping carts full of water, every single store sold out of ice and generators. It feels like when midnight comes, the world will end. Maybe it will.

My sister had to go to several stores to get a portable battery because they were sold out everywhere. The roads were mayhem. At that point I had contacted all my clients, charged my portable battery, and my husband had cranked up the freezer to make more ice and freeze ice packs for the cooler. It’s my raw vegan week. We’ll not only eat well, but extra healthy during the blackout. We feel prepared with our disaster preparedness kit, fruit trees in the back yard, and almost full tanks of gas. And because of that, I was privileged enough to know we’d be perfectly fine for a week with no power, so I decided to hunker down. If this means preventing devastating wildfires, we’re in. I left the house twice in the early morning hours to check on my business – the first day when the power was completely out I took both of my dogs with me, should I encounter anyone in downtown causing trouble in the pitch black.

Needless to say, the atmosphere that a blackout creates is eerily quiet. It’s that feeling you get when you sense someone is watching you, only there probably isn’t. There just isn’t any noise to drown out the thoughts.

Just as soon as the power had gone out and we had all accepted our fate, the power came back on. I missed one day of work, but on Thursday, Humboldt County was back to business as usual. Not before PG&E workers were threatened with violence, a small amount of looting happened, and several people had gotten into minor scuffles, not unlike the usual Black Friday shenanigans we’re used to seeing on the evening news. No pun intended?

I had spent the blackout doing work from my car with my cell phone plugged in, getting a good and uninterrupted workout done, and then playing board games, talking, and eating by candlelight with my family.

Kanan mentioned how bright the stars looked without the glow of light pollution. And seemed to enjoy walking around delivering the mail in a world where for just one beautiful day, people got to take a big break. From work, from school, from their televisions, phones, and computers. From obligations. He walks around every single day and found the sheer amount of people working in their yards, walking their dogs, and just being outside refreshing.

The blackout got me thinking about a world that is rapidly changing. About how our daily food, water, and energy consumption is having real, material consequences that everyone can see. Will we recognize our wasteful habits and evolve accordingly? How will we adapt to climate change and it’s implications? What will happen to the people in areas that do have more extreme temperatures when the power goes out? And for those of us with a roof over our heads and food in the cooler- will we learn to appreciate the quiet and prepare our businesses for the darkness?

Vegan Holiday Shoe Guide

We’ve all noticed it- summer is turning into fall. It’s my favorite season, and in Humboldt county the nights seem to get colder and the days crisp, in what seems like the almost undetectable blink of an eye. Which means we’re in the midst of pumpkin patch trips, family photos, football games, parties, and holidays. It’s cozy season, but it’s also the season of glitter, glam, and New Year’s Eve. I celebrate the anniversary of opening my business on November 1st and my wedding anniversary on December 26th. To me, it’s truly the most wonderful time of the entire year.

I find that fall and winter are my favorite fashion months. Flannels and boots, rain gear and fuzzy socks, cozy pjs and furry slippers, dresses and heels (pretty much the only time I wear them). I’m inspired to troll Pinterest for the perfect outfit, and to shop for the perfect holiday gift.

This year, I encourage you to explore the wonderful and rapidly expanding selection of vegan shoes. I think that we can almost all agree at this point that vegan materials are a lot less Hannibal Lecter than animal skin. And when given the option for cute, good-quality footwear that is better for the planet, for animals, and for our own inner peace, why not choose the kinder option? Below I’ve included all of my favorite vegan shoes and brands. Happy shopping!

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Pawj California

LIZ10 For 10% off your entire purchase. ❤️

Short Boot $129.97
Tall Boot $149.97
Slipper $79.97

Pawj California makes my absolute favorite vegan boots and slippers. As a die-hard Ugg Boot fan it was difficult giving up my new pair every Christmas during the cold and rainy Humboldt winter. But now I don’t have to! Pawj is a woman-owned and family-run company based out of Southern California with goals to make environmentally friendly and humane Ugg- alternative style boots. I’ve had several pairs that have lived through two winters and are still in excellent condition. Since they come water-resistant right out of the box, you never have to worry about stains or water spots. My personal favorites are the slippers and short boots, and I love that all of the styles come in a wide color range.

https://www.pawjcalifornia.com

Jambu

Duck Boot $75
Snow Boot $79
Evelyn Booties $69

Jambu makes my absolute favorite duck-style boots. My search for a vegan option of the classic LL Bean-style boot ended here, and started my obsession with this brand. They are not an entirely vegan brand, but offer many vegan options! The classic duck boot comes in ten color options, is comfortable, water-resistant, and the perfect height for layering with cute, warm socks. I also love their snow boots (a great Sorel alternative) and their various selection of booties for more work-appropriate styles.

https://jambu.com/women/category/boots-booties

Lulus

Taylor Rose Gold Ankle Strap Heel $31
Hunter Black Suede Ankle Strap Heel $29

I’ll say it again for the people in the back- Lulu’s has an ENTIRELY VEGAN shoe selection on their website! Yes, you read that right. Now go check it out. Personally, I always find my favorite dressy shoes and heels here, but their range of choices is amazing, and everything is labeled and easy to decipher as vegan.

https://www.lulus.com/categories/179_257/vegan-shoes.html

Nike

Nike Air Presto $140

Since I do a lot of working out, I wanted to include my favorite vegan option for athletic shoes. Although Nike is no where near being an entirely vegan company, they did verify recently that their glues are now all plant sourced and therefore, all of their shoe styles that are synthetic with only man-made materials are now considered vegan-friendly. I personally have been wearing this style for years and haven’t found a more comfortable style for HIIT style workouts, cardio, and high rep lower-weight workouts.

https://m.nike.com/us/en_us/product/air-presto-id-shoe/?piid=45004&pbid=1008196145

And last but not least…

Birkenstock

Arizona Vegan $99.95

I’m including these for all those fall-obsessed gals in Humboldt who love rockin’ Birkenstock sandals with cozy socks, leggings, and a Patagonia fleece. You know who you are (and you are not wrong). When I saw that Birkenstock was finally offering a vegan range, I bought this style immediately and am completely obsessed!

https://www.birkenstock.com/us/vegan/

Sensi Magazine Freelance Work

For much of this year I’ve had the privilege of being an on-going contributor to our local Sensi Magazine Emerald Triangle edition. And I have some new and interesting articles coming this holiday, and next spring!

While bridal season comes to an end at my “day job” and I prepare to take some much-deserved vacation and enjoy the holidays to follow, I find myself in the final mad-dash to the imaginary finish line. A chaotic state I seem to create for myself each fall.

As I edit more Women In Business Series interviews, put together food journal entries from my entirely raw vegan experience, and catalog fitness and digital minimalism updates, I encourage you to pick up a copy of our monthly Sensi Magazine at a local business or browse through the online version. Below you will find two of my most recent articles.

Enjoy reading about North Coast happenings, unique businesses, alternative lifestyles, and health and wellness. (I’m usually in that section.) Support the good old written word and get back to those analog activities we’ve all gotten away from – like reading something you turn the pages of.

What’s better than cozying up with a hot beverage and flipping through a magazine as we watch this beautiful summer turn into fall? Not much.

Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 09, 2019
Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 09, 2019

For the full issue: http://s3.amazonaws.com/document.issuu.com/190828200219-dd58178e9ef8588098d3915f5b063558/original.file?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIATDDRE5J7YOA3PRJS&Expires=1568380147&Signature=BhrxdXPv3SB3Z6mXSGwEBzeF9hc%3D

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Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 07, 2019
Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 07, 2019

For the full issue: http://s3.amazonaws.com/document.issuu.com/190625163031-0c089d3448a0e414acc5b74fed7efbe9/original.file?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIATDDRE5J7X2YVMP3B&Expires=1568380304&Signature=6S8%2F%2Bu30r0Y5BWEMt71NRNIkzmo%3D

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Local Business Links:

Rebel Fitness & Nutrition https://rebelfitnessandnutrition.com

Body Tuners https://bodytuners-gym.com

Fit NorCal https://www.fitnorcal.com

Chumayo Spa http://www.chumayo.com

Platinum Float Spa http://platinumstudiosalonandspa.com

Women In Business Series: Kimberly Sweet Owner The Studio by Kimberly Ann

1) Explain what your business is, and your professional background in your field.

My name is Kimberly Sweet and I am the owner/photographer of The Studio By Kimberly Ann, a women’s portrait studio in Eureka, California that specializes in boudoir photography. I have a “no Photoshop” approach to boudoir and beauty and pride myself on giving my clients an experience that allows them to see how beautiful they truly are without using editing to modify their bodies. I started doing photography as a hobby in the summer of 2013 when I was working twenty hours a week in the president’s office at College of the Redwoods. I had just gotten married and didn’t know many people in the area because most of my college friends had moved back home after graduation so I wanted something to fill my time. I spent every spare minute researching how to work a camera. I watched tutorials, read every article I could get my hands on, and practiced on salt and pepper shakers, my dog, and my house plants.

Eventually I began to photograph my friends and hoped that one day I might make some money, but at the time didn’t have any expectation that I could do photography as a full-time career.

2) Tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to pursue a full time boudoir photography career.

As time went on and my business slowly started to grow, I was scheduling a couple sessions a week after work or on weekends. By this time I was working forty hours a week at the college but I loved photography and working with people so much I would still schedule any type of session I could get my hands on. If someone wanted to pay me to photograph something I didn’t say no. After a while I started to notice that whenever I had a boudoir session on my calendar I would look forward to it more than any other session. I started to feel burn out and dread approaching if I had to photograph anything other than boudoir. I enjoyed watching women come alive in front of my camera. I loved that when they received their galleries they got to see how truly beautiful they are.

Absolutely everything about boudoir sessions lit a fire in my heart and I knew that if I was going to be spending what little spare time I had doing something it needed to be this because I was passionate about it. Toward the end of 2015 I decided that in January of 2016 I would re-brand my business exclusively as boudoir photography. At the time I thought that this would mean I would be cutting back on photography and doing just a handful of sessions a year. I was okay with this idea because my photography income at the time was supplementary and I just wanted to be doing something that I believed in. Luckily for me that was not the case and within 4 months of launching my boudoir brand I had filled my calendar for the year and had leased my own studio in old town Eureka. Half way through the year my husband and I decided that I would quit my job the following year and pursue photography full time. Shortly after that we found out that we were pregnant with our first child which solidified my decision to leave my day job. Being able to stay home with my (now) two babies a majority of the time but still be able to contribute to our family financially feels like an absolute dream. I love spending my days at the park and the zoo with my little monsters but equally enjoy my Fridays in the studio when I get to have grown-up time.

3) Boudoir photography challenges you and your clients to be vulnerable. How do you approach this challenge?

I truly believe that every single woman should have a boudoir session done at least once in her life. It is vulnerable and empowering and humbling and adventurous and intimidating and validating all at the same time. Deciding to not only invest the time and money on yourself but to say that you and your body are worthy of being photographed and permanently preserved in an heirloom album or on canvas is huge.

The experience can be completely foreign-feeling for many women, and I understand that. I completely respect and appreciate every single woman who walks through my door. I understand that what they are doing is likely out of their comfort zone and the fact that they chose to come to me for such a vulnerable experience is one of the most humbling feelings. I try my best to treat my clients like my dearest friends and make them feel comfortable during their session – each woman receives a special gift from me on their session day thanking them for coming to The Studio for their boudoir experience.

I believe in boudoir, and I believe in women. I strive to have every woman who leaves my studio realize that they are stronger, more beautiful, more courageous, and more worthy than they thought they were before they came in.

4) What is beauty to you? And how does your work environment foster that idea?

Beauty varies so much from person to person. One woman may feel like her curvy figure is her most beautiful asset while another would feel like it is her least. To me beauty is about celebrating and highlighting whatever it is that makes you feel the best about yourself. It’s about putting your insecurities aside and allowing yourself to be seen for who you are. It’s not about fitting into a specific mold. When women come into the studio I want them to feel encouraged to celebrate themselves because they are so worth celebrating. I want my clients to let go of what they think they’re supposed to look like – this is why I don’t have many mirrors in the studio. I don’t want clients looking outward; I want them looking inward. If you feel beautiful it will show. And I’ll tell you what to do with your hands.

5) What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned from spending so much time with women of all different backgrounds and life situations?

One of my biggest lessons is that everyone has insecurities. All of my clients say that they are not like the women that I post online. Most women describe themselves as awkward, not photogenic, not sexy, overweight, wrinkly, saggy, or any combination of those things. Every. Single. One. And yet they all describe the other women they see in photographs as flawless, sexy, and confident. Those same women who were in the studio for their own sessions saying equally negative things about themselves. That’s where my “Allow yourself to Feel as Beautiful as You Really Are” saying comes from. When you relax and give yourself permission to let go of all your insecurities and all the “flaws” that society projects onto you as a woman and really allow yourself to feel beautiful, it shows.

6) What is your best piece of advice for someone interested, but apprehensive to book a boudoir session?

That you are worth it and that 99% of the women who have come before you felt the exact same way. Your job is to show up and relax – let me take care of the rest.

7) What is one thing you hope your kids learn from you as a female small business owner?

Only one? If I had to pick just one thing it would be that both my son and daughter have a positive body image and help encourage those around them to have a positive body image as well. You are not your body – you have a body. Your identity does not need to be wrapped up in your physical appearance.

General Questions:

8) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

God First. Family Second. Career Third.

In my experience when you keep these priorities in order things always seem to fall into place the way they are meant to.

9) What has been the biggest challenge / biggest reward of owning your own business?

Both questions have the same answer. That you are your own boss. I absolutely love that I get to make my own schedule and my own rules when it comes to my business. I feel so fortunate that I get to build my business around my family and not the other way around. Owning my own business allows me to be present and involved with my young children and I would absolutely not trade that for anything.

The biggest challenge is that you are your own boss and absolutely everything is riding on you. You are the marketing department, accounting department, human resources department, customer service, janitor, and sometimes office psychologist if we’re being honest. (Or am I the only one who gives myself pep talks at work?) I often say that I wish I had taken more business classes when I was first starting out – learning everything on your own as you go can be overwhelming.

10) What is one book that changed your life? Briefly describe why.

My First Book of Prayers changed my life. It was the first book that I read to my son so many times that I memorized it. It made me so grateful that I have the opportunity to spend so much time reading and playing with my kids that I get to memorize their books.

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320 2nd Street, Eureka CA

707-592-1930

http://www.photosbykimberlyann.com/contact.html

One Year No Beer

One year ago I sat around a breakfast table with my sister, my sister in law, and seven of my closest girlfriends to toast to my bachelorette party weekend and it’s success. In the loud cafeteria at Camp No Counselors Seattle we said goodbye over mimosas and departed to locations all over the country – back to our normal lives. I had made up my mind to quit drinking at the dance party the night before. I had been quietly considering it for months, wondering if I had the will power to go through with it. Somewhere between dancing the night away to Whitney Houston and standing in line for midnight nachos while drinking soda water and lime, the decision became crystal clear and easy. Camp left much to be desired, but my memories are all perfect – bunk beds and ping pong, waterslides and the talent show. Three nights in a cabin together with accomplished dynamic women taking breaks from their busy lives and careers to eat burgers in the mess hall and do bad yoga. Most of them I’ve known a decade or more – we’d come a long way from scream-singing Tenacious D songs at college house parties over shots of watermelon rum – most of us have been through a lot since then. I don’t want to say that being together again was like “the old days,” because it wasn’t. To me, it was better.

I’ll just start by saying that fifteen years is a long time to be in a one-sided relationship with something that only takes from you. Something that encourages your self loathing, and cheers for depression to root deeply inside your heart. Something that intentionally wastes your time and energy, strains your relationships and willfully stands strong and stubborn between you and your dreams and goals. I had decided I’d simply had enough of this self-inflicted bullshit.

I’ve never been someone who accepts what is “normal” just because everyone else does it. Sometimes I walk my own stubborn path to my detriment, questioning everything along the way. Critically. But this time I had recognized that for some reason the lemming in me had a thing for booze. I had fallen into the socially-acceptable catchall for life: alcohol fixes everything. Not that I believed this to be true, but on some level almost all of us buy into that narrative, otherwise we wouldn’t regularly drink alcohol. I wouldn’t drink a glass of milk because to me it represents violence, but I’d drink a beer because someone somewhere is selling me an illusion of happiness.

During this last year as I’ve put time between myself and alcohol, I’ve realized something big. We’ve been sold the idea that more money and more things will make us happier. We’re realizing that isn’t true. Each time we reach a new standard or pillar of accomplishment, we move the marker for success onto the next. If we live this way, we never reach happiness. On the sidelines of this over simplistic, capitalist equation for happiness is alcohol, working as an easy band aid when the rest of what we’ve been promised falls short. And it will always inevitably fall short. I believe that being truly happy requires so much more effort than buying something new and washing your guilt and lack of satisfaction down with a beer at the end of a long day. But I haven’t always felt this way.

Over my bachelorette party weekend I had several epiphanies. The most influential in my decision to quit drinking had to do with the company I keep. I could count on one hand how many alcoholic drinks I had over the course of my five-day party. As I quietly contemplated my decision to quit altogether I realized that I was having just as much fun without alcohol as I have with it (if not more). And then it “clicked.” Instead of drinking to “suffer” through events I attend out of a false sense of obligation, or drinking to “tolerate” people I do not wish to be around, I should stop wasting my time and life and just stop. Stop going and stop doing out of obligation and/or guilt. Give myself the emotional permission to create more time in my life by just saying no. If I don’t want to go, or I don’t enjoy the people, I shouldn’t be there. If I feel like I “need” alcohol to “have fun” then I am clearly using it as a band aid for a bigger problem: I am wasting my life doing things that do not serve me or my real happiness and that makes me unhappy. The other epiphany I had was that when you’re around your real people, the ones that give your life joy and meaning, alcohol is not just unnecessary, it can be a detriment to really experiencing your time together. And our time here is short.

Time. That is a topic I’ve written often about, and after discovering Andy Ramage and the company he co-founded: One Year No Beer, all the benefits of not drinking that I had struggled to articulate became clear. I was rarely a binge-drinker. I considered myself to be a moderate drinker, usually enjoying a beer or two a night after work “to relax.” My husband was the first one to point out to me that I shouldn’t need alcohol to relax, and that perhaps I should spend more time contemplating why I’m so unrelaxed in the first place. I met his ideas with stubborn resistance. I’m not an alcoholic. I work hard. Why shouldn’t I be able to have a beer at the end of a long day? I still, even now do not think that I have or had an alcohol dependency. What I did have was what Ramage talks a lot about: A bad habit that drains my energy while simultaneously sabotaging my physical and mental health. A habit that I engage in without question because society encourages it and deems it “normal.” And a habit that will always keep me from reaching my true and full potential because it is a huge waste of my time. Alcoholism aside, that just sounds terrible.

The focus of One Year No Beer is on the moderate drinkers. Those of us that do not consider ourselves extreme enough cases to need serious intervention or assistance, but who would benefit greatly from being part of a community of other people who just don’t want to drink anymore. Who recognize the untapped potential in a life and mind that isn’t constantly clouded or depleted by alcohol. Those of us that recognize that being an American should consist of more than working and drinking in an attempt to find happiness. Because most of us grew up living this model and are now realizing it’s pitfalls and failures. And we want more from our lives than a cycle that supports a general feeling of malaise.

Once I made the decision to quit drinking, I began to truly recognize how deeply alcohol is ingrained in our daily lives. When was the last time you stopped drinking for long enough to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a body free of alcohol? From the research I did, the general consensus is that it takes at least two weeks to begin to feel the physical and mental benefits. Much longer if you want to experience things like long-term career or fitness boosts. Most of us will never experience this since we begin drinking as teens and continue on some level, forever. This shocked me to think about. Would I really never let myself experience my full potential because I like beer? That felt absurd.

One thing that the OYNB movement emphasizes is that the benefits of not drinking snowball tremendously. And after a year, I can attest to that. Time seems to multiply because every late night, every hungover or tired day, and every event I did not want to attend simply vanishes and can be replaced by other more fulfilling activities. Sleep improves, energy levels improve, depression and anxiety decrease, workouts are more effective, and work is more productive. Instead of struggling through a full day at moderate productivity, I find that I can complete more meaningful work on my business and personal endeavors in less time. Making time for even more meaningful relationships, goals, and activities. My husband and I have a stronger relationship (he quit too), and I believe that our decision to omit alcohol from our marriage will help us to focus our energy on positive endeavors and leave aside all of the complications and traps alcohol brings into relationships.

But it’s difficult to get that snowball rolling. Between the social event excuses, the work event excuses, and the “wine-o-clock,” “mama needs a beer,” and “life is better day drinking” t-shirts, alcoholism has become so pervasive in our culture that to not drink makes you somewhat of a social leper. My interest specifically on the strong emphasis on moms and females self proclaiming their drinking habits as a “funny” way to cope with our lives fascinates me, but that topic is for another day. As a meme I once read so accurately put it: “Galentines Day is not a thing. You’re an alcoholic.” And as someone who would have scoffed at that comment in a past life, I see it clearly now. Alcoholism has taken on a much more female tone recently- “I’m on a juice cleanse, and by juice I mean wine.” Normalizing drinking, emphasizing it’s importance in our social lives, and excusing our “need” for alcohol is not only shocking, but indicative of a culture that is starved for meaning. So I am happy to leave it behind forever.

Popping that special bottle of champagne my best friend brought and toasting to us, the round table of strong women felt like a break up. An empowering and permanent celebration of acceptance, surrounded by my biggest supporters. I’m leaving alcohol behind and beginning my new life with a different perspective – life is short and I refuse to waste it.

Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 4: Trade My Life for What?

I’ve been “decluttering” my digital life for five weeks. My intention when I began this process was to slowly establish boundaries, efficient practices, and practical strategies to minimize my technology use and make more room for “deep work,” in-person connection, and solitude in my life. I started now so that by the time January arrives I will be more than prepared to effectively participate in an official thirty-day digital declutter as Cal Newport defines in his book Digital Minimalism. The goal: Put enough perspective between myself and the technologies that I use and think are necessary or valuable for a long enough amount of time to determine if I want to keep them in my life, or omit them altogether in the future. Cut everything extraneous out of my life, and only add back in the good, or the stuff that doesn’t make me feel terrible. It’s a Whole 30 practice for your mind.

So what is Cal Newport’s philosophy, and what are the strategies he offers up to assist us on our own technological journey? Very simply put, in his book Digital Minimalism Newport defines his theory as a belief that “less can be more” when it comes to our relationship with digital tools. It’s a “philosophy that prioritizes long-term meaning over short-term satisfaction.” Digital Minimalism shifts our focus when examining value in technological tools from one simple marker: usefulness, to a much more satisfying, albeit complex principle: autonomy. This requires a complete restructuring of how we view technology, and therefore, our relationship to it. Newport explains that “by working backward from [our] deep values to [our] technology choices, digital minimalism transforms these innovation[s] from a source of distraction into tools to support a life well lived.”

“Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Newport breaks this concept down into “Three Principles.” Principle number one: “Clutter is Costly” examines the role that technology has in cluttering our time and attention ultimately creating an overall negative cost that overshadows the small individual benefits that each bit of technology may offer in isolation. Principle number two: “Optimization is Important” is the idea that once a digital minimalist decides that a certain technology does indeed give them real value, the way that they use that technology in order to optimize it is equally as important to determine. Principle number three: “Intentionality is Satisfying” is the concept that because minimalists are establishing autonomy over their digital choices, this practice becomes meaningful within itself.

I don’t want to get too caught up in the details outlined in the book, because I suggest you read it yourself. The entire thing is full of epiphanies and useful strategies. So I will share with you my favorite philosophies and practices, then give you a short update on how this process is working for me.

The most important idea that I pulled out of Digital Minimalism is the (not new) concept of Henry David Thoreau’s New Economics. In his book Walden, which was published in the year 1854, Thoreau essentially shifts the units that measure value from money to time. “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” I certainly feel that once you begin examining your habits in these terms, you become painfully aware that you are literally paying for each minute of whatever technology you’re using with your life. 

I also found Newport’s strategy for determining whether or not to re-introduce a technology back into my life after the declutter useful. He offers up a set of simple criteria: “Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? Is this technology the best way to support this value? How am I going to use the technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?” A simple set of questions that requires a massive amount of introspection.

I also appreciate Newport’s emphasis on the importance of having a plan for your time in order to facilitate a lifestyle change. This process should not be considered a “detox” that you suffer through, then afterward simply go back to the same lifestyle and habits as before. It’s not a crash diet. During this time of “decluttering” we should be taking the time to remember what we enjoyed before we were tethered to our phones and computers, or for those born after 1995, to figure out what those activities are in the first place. Newport makes many useful suggestions, including: Spend time alone to facilitate solitude, deep work and introspection, reclaim conversation by spending real time with others instead of “clicking like” as a shallow substitution, and reclaim leisure time by finding activities that give you joy, or meaning and value. I found that last idea to be particularly useful because Newport calls for a shift from leisure activities that are merely considered “passive consumption” to activities that “prioritize demanding activity, use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world” and “require real-world structured social interactions.” In summation: activities that give us meaning, and produce real value for ourselves and those close to us.

He then goes on to give real-world examples and suggestions of how to do this. Join a club, a gym, or a group of some sort. Schedule phone calls with loved ones. Remove apps from your phone so that you use it only as a phone. Schedule specific leisure activities. Fill your life with planned and meaningful things so that at the end of your declutter your perspective on what is important enough to trade your life for has likely changed.

I have been slowly implementing more and more of these strategies to assist me in the process of minimizing my technology use for good. I have been journaling all of my screen time, removed all unnecessary apps from my phone, and placed the existing apps into a few specified categories so that I have a clear idea of where my time is going. I have “productivity” which includes my to-do list app, my schedule, my blog, notes, fitness apps, music and podcasts. A folder for work, finance, photography, utilities, and then social media and entertainment. I chose to put music and podcasts into productivity instead of one of the other categories because I’ve determined that they give me significant positive value, whereas social media, netflix, and the Lululemon app do not, but on a scheduled occasion are okay in moderation.

The result of tracking my use for five weeks: I’ve gone from around seven hours a week of social media use to around two without actively limiting myself, or implementing an actual schedule yet. These are just the changes I’ve made naturally after exposing myself to my habits, and realizing that there are better ways to spend my time. Honestly, I expected stepping away from social media to be a struggle, but the opposite literally just happened on it’s own. Instead of focusing on what I’m not doing, I’m putting all my energy into what I am doing: spending scheduled time with friends and family, hosting a book club, exercising, reading more, going on walks, journaling my ideas. With all these fulfilling leisure activities in my life, I honestly don’t miss spending time on “shallow” activities at all. And the anxiety and pressure social media created in my life is diminishing as I begin to recognize that most of social media’s perceived value is literally not real. 

The boundaries I’ve established with my clients (auto text response, less accessibility, quick responses on social media) have all helped to put me at ease because my clients have a very clear understanding of my availability, and know they will be taken care of in a prompt manner. This takes much of the pressure off of me to constantly email or text for work, and I think the majority of my clientele understands and respects these boundaries. 

And I feel free to be. I put my Apple Watch on, and head out the door. No phone, watch set permanently to silent and do not disturb, mirror my phone feature is permanently off. Available for music, podcasts, tracking workouts, and getting ahold of me in emergencies only. The amount of mental space this frees up for me is enormous. The things you notice being out in the world without your phone for entire days is amazing. Knowing that if something happens to me I can still call my husband or hear from him helps curb the little bit of anxiety I used to have about leaving my phone at home. If it’s that important, call me. If you’re not on my favorites list, it can wait.