Answering My Own Women in Business Questions: Part 3

The Things I Ask Everyone:

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

I already mentioned “you teach people how to treat you” in last week’s interview. So, I’ll share another incredibly influential piece of advice.

“Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time.”

Rory Vaden

For the first time in my life, someone had addressed the real issue with “time management.” As a new small business owner, soon-to-be wife, and someone who has varying personal interests, I had become tired of reading the same self-help, time management advice which essentially consists of: make lists, multi task, wake up earlier, and create a schedule. I was doing all those things and still felt like I could never find a free moment for myself, despite my efforts and discipline to make it work.

Am I the only woman who feels this way? Umm, no. These time management styles work for those of us without complex societal pressures to do everything, for everyone. And they absolutely do not address how to cope with the resulting guilt we feel when we can’t do everything, or simply don’t want to, and the pit of despair we tend to fall into once we beat ourselves up for “failing” at everything and letting everyone down, including ourselves.

Those books don’t even try to teach us how to deal with the constant exhaustion and (let’s face it) straight up fury we feel when we try to explain these concepts and are gaslit at every turn by those around us and society at large. “It’s 2021, sexism isn’t a thing anymore. Everyone is equal so you choose this for yourself. Other women have it way worse than you anyway. You’re overreacting. Stop being so emotional. Why is everything about being a woman? Why can’t you just be happy? Be grateful. If you don’t want to do all that stuff, just don’t do it. Or just stop complaining.” And the list goes on, and on, and on…our experiences invalidated, our frustration bottled back up at our own expense.

The problem is that lurking below the impossible weight of our never-ending to do lists is guilt and a sense of emotional obligation to do everything. Someone had finally named it. And once I wrapped my head around this concept and started detaching myself from that guilt, things slowly began improving. The solution to breaking this cycle is to recognize that the game is rigged, flip it two big middle fingers, and start working on your damn self.

However, I do want to mention that Vaden’s argument omits any type of gender theory (and all other identity politics for that matter) making his solutions overly simplistic at times. I plan to write an entire blog post on this topic, but until women can identify that we are conditioned by society to be what Emily and Amelia Nagoski in their book Burnout call “Human Givers” rather than human beings, we cannot even begin to unlearn this conditioning in order to change our behaviors.

The bottom line: Human Givers are taught (from the moment society genders us) to believe everyone else is entitled to our time and if we don’t give it, we’re bad people. Unpleasant, ungrateful, rude, selfish, lazy people. While human beings are taught (from the moment society genders them) to go out and conquer the world! No guilt necessary.

Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time. No one else will give it to you.

Vaden’s TED Talk: https://youtu.be/y2X7c9TUQJ8

2) What’s the biggest challenge and biggest reward of owning your own business?

The biggest challenge for me has been scaling my business to meet demand every time I outgrow my current model.

It’s easy to get comfortable and want things to stay the same once I find a rhythm, but that’s not how businesses grow. The universe has a way of forcing me to level up if I’m open to seeing opportunities and willing to put in the work to make them real. But every time I’ve had to do this I fall into what I call the “work hole” where I live and breathe my projects until they’re done, at the expense of everything else in my life. I’m working on that.

The biggest reward is participating in a community of women who believe that if we help each other, we will all succeed. That’s powerful.

3) What is one book that changed your life? Why?

Find A Way by Diana Nyad.

Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the assistance of a shark cage. She failed four other attempts, and succeeded on her fifth, when she was 64 years old. It took her 53 hours.

Basically she is one of the biggest badasses ever, and her ability to develop mental toughness and persistence in the face of so much adversity is amazing to read about. The logistics behind her story are fascinating, but her memoir changed my life because she’s an amazing writer (journalist by trade) and many of the principles she eloquently writes about apply to all aspects of life.

My favorite quote from Find A Way that has helped me through so many impossibly difficult times:

Take every minute, one at a time. Don’t be fooled by a perfect sea at any given moment. Accept and rise to whatever circumstance presents itself. Be in it full tilt, your best self. Summon your courage, your true grit. When the body fades, don’t let negative edges of despair creep in. Allowing negativity leads to a Pandora’s box syndrome. You can’t stop the doubts once you consent to let them seep into your tired, weakened brain. You must set your will. Set it now. Let nothing penetrate or cripple it.”

2020 Book List / Monthly Resource Collection January 2021

Every year one of my goals is to read more.

In 2020 my objective was to read one book a week. As part of my daily ritual I schedule in thirty minutes of reading per day, early in the morning. I simultaneously listen to audiobooks during workouts and the in-between moments where my mind isn’t otherwise occupied: cleaning, doing my makeup, driving. This allows me the time to read two books at once, and strangely enough, the two mediums of delivery allow my brain to compartmentalize the story lines so they don’t overlap. I highly recommend.

This routine is perfect for me, and yet, in 2020 I still missed my goal by a lot. It was a complicated year. My book club has been put on hold as I struggle to run my business through this pandemic, and I’m learning to let certain things go. Not forever, but for now.

As long as I’m learning, that’s all that matters.

I hope you enjoy this post and pick up a few of my recommendations. I would also encourage you to do three things if reading more is a goal you share.

-First: schedule it in. Even if it’s only a few minutes a day or one block a week, it’s progress.

-Second: take an honest inventory of the materials you read and challenge yourself to expand the diversity of voices in your collection. Are you reading female-identified authors as often as male-identified? What about Black authors as often as white? Are you reading books written by authors from countries other than the one you live in? Throw some non-fiction in there if you typically shy away from it. I think that to truly use reading (or podcast listening, or movie watching… or any media consumption) as a path to learning it is necessary to expand our perspectives and expose ourselves to lived realities that are different from our own. This takes effort, but is important.

-Lastly, make a list of small, locally owned, and/or Black, Indigenous, Latinx-owned, etc. bookstores and support them! Where you purchase books also matters. And, if you are shopping from a variety of stores, it will be easier to find a diversity of voices. I have a list in my phone and rotate between them. I actually use Amazon as a wish list and organizational tool and then order my books elsewhere. It’s easy to do!

Five of the books I’ve read have an asterisk next to their number, indicating they were my favorites. I hope you’ll let me know what you think if you read them!

And for anyone wondering – Yes, The Stand is about a global pandemic. Ironically I did not know that until I picked it up. I simply was interested because I had never read anything by Stephen King and wanted to escape into some fiction (haha; joke’s on me). I’m now hooked (even though I’m not a big fiction reader), and have The Shining cued up next on Audible.

1) The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence, Gavin de Becker

*2) Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson

3) The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People / Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People, Judith Orloff

*4) Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi

5) Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis

6) The Color Purple, Alice Walker

7) The Undocumented Americans, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

8) Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique W. Morris

9) When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors

10) Becoming, Michelle Obama

11) Life Will be the Death of Me… and You Too!, Chelsea Handler

12) The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Barack Obama

13) Burden: A Preacher, A Klansman, And a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South, Courtney Hargrave

14) How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

15) Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash, Laura Clery

16) Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World, Michael Pollan

17) What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

*18) Columbine, Dave Cullen

19) Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, Russell Brand

20) White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin Diangelo

21) The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein

22) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

23) Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall

*24) Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah

*25) Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

26) Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, Holly Whitaker

27) So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

28) Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

29) We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates

30) The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae

31) The Stand, Stephen King

This year I read ten more than last, so I’m taking it as a win. Only about twenty more than that and with any luck, I’ll meet my 2021 goal of 52.

2021

Last January first I felt hopeful.

I was searching for a way to be myself again. I felt like I had almost found it.

I keep a picture from one Christmas morning sitting on the bookshelf in my office. It’s of me wearing a pink robe that I had just unwrapped. My dad in the background, sturdy hands holding me in place, directed me to focus on the camera. I don’t remember the exact details of that day, who took the photo, or even which house we were in. I don’t exactly remember, as a kid, what was going on in my mind as I unwrapped a gift more suited for my 32-year old self’s taste. What I do remember is being happy. I was appreciating that exact moment for everything it was. Joy to be alive. For Christmas morning, for warmth and family and the idea that sooner or later that very day, I would be creating something – free inside my own mind. Uninhibited.

The photo is posed, but it’s not one bit fake. That’s what I love about it.

I read somewhere that as we get older and search for ourselves, we’re really just trying to remember who we were before the world changed us. When you ask yourself who you really are, the key is to ask who’s asking in the first place. Then go from there. The qualities that are “me” have always been there, I just buried them. The work is in peeling back the armor and eliminating the noise and distractions so I can hear and see what is revealed. Who was I before I created shells of protection? Layers of padding, coping mechanisms, work, survival, distractions and reactions. Which parts of me can I chop off and toss over the metaphorical cliffs because keeping them no longer serves me and the weight is too much? It’s making me tired.

The moments that begin to take up the majority of our lives start to feel like an out of body experience. A movie. It becomes harder to conjure up a genuine smile even though the happiness is real. Then the moment has passed. Our dopamine receptors in need of a reset, our brains taking constant hits, this keeps us at a comfortable level of numbness. Trapped in a box of everything. No room for ourselves.

I keep that particular photo as a reminder that she is in here somewhere. A daily nod to my ultimate goal: to dig her back out, no matter how painful, because it will be worth it. She feels like a different person entirely, and that’s why I think this next part is easy: I keep her around to remind me to act like someone she’d look up to, someone she’d be proud of. Who can I be today that will help her grow up as her most genuine self? If I met her now, what would she say to me? Why would she say it? Kids are brutally honest.

I wrote my first story before I could write. I had to dictate it to my mom who then wrote it down for me. I still have it. It’s mostly a nonsensical amalgamation of fairy tales – a retelling of stories I’d heard over and over. But the point is that I was creating something, specifically out of ideas and words. There is something inside my brain that begins to malfunction the minute I stop allowing myself to interpret my world this way. I say “malfunction” because I honestly have no other way to describe it. This Elizabeth Gilbert quote always comes to mind:

If I am not actively creating something, then chances are I am probably actively destroying something – myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.

I have never read anything that more accurately describes my personality. The challenge is in maintaining that kind of momentum, and realizing that not everything constitutes a type of creating that keeps me from destroying something. And even the things that do don’t keep me satisfied for long. That balance is what I’m searching for now that we’re in January again. If I could talk to Elizabeth Gilbert I’d ask her how she keeps that ball rolling. It’s a strange thing to realize about yourself – I must put something out into the world (even if it’s absolute crap and even if I feel like absolute crap) because if I don’t then my mind starts finding other ways to mix things up. And they’re not always pleasant. Actually most of the time they aren’t. These things that I put out do not need to be seen or read by others, but for some reason throwing them out into the universe separates them from me just enough to where my mind no longer owns them, so I can let many of them go. If I don’t feel like it, too bad. Not doing this is always worse.

On the surface level that seems simple enough to maintain. A “writer” with too many ideas is never good. Write the ideas down, expel them from my brain, and move on to the next idea. Keep myself from going insane. However (and this is a huge however that changes everything) what do I do when I know that at the core of myself and my ability to create is wild imagination, and that imagination is like a book at the very bottom of a hundred boxes of books that won’t work until it’s opened? And every day, digging it out, I have to start at the top of the pile again.

I wake up, I have my coffee and I go up to the attic. After going up and down the stairs a hundred times (this is exhausting work but unfortunately I think it’s something best done alone) my house is filled with boxes. Each one filled with so many books, in no particular order, but I’m looking for that one. I start going through them. I get distracted remembering that time I wanted to learn how to garden, or knit. I get lost looking at fairy tales or old copies of children’s books. I remember reading this one in college, that that one before I got married. I cry looking over inscriptions from Grandma Brown; her handwriting is perfection. Before I know it the sun is going down and I’m tired and this is a mess, so I pack them all back up to the attic and tell myself I’ll try to find it another time.

And so it goes. For years.

For most of my mid to late twenties I simply ignored the attic altogether. Pretending like it wasn’t there, I partook in various self deprecating behaviors to distract myself from realizing that the weight of all those boxes would eventually crack the boards of the weak attic floor and come pouring out onto my head one day, maybe crushing me to death. Who cares? Let them crush me.

Then sometime around thirty or so, I came to the conclusion that rather than wait to be crushed in my sleep I should probably just go up there and see what I could do about it. Maybe start sifting through some things, donating, burning, rereading, keeping. Organizing. Curiosity, more than anything, drove this excavation. And so it began, the daily up and down with peeks and glimpses into what I’m looking for, with the exhaustion always winning before I get to where I need to go. In the meantime, ideas stay inside and I keep destroying things outside.

So, January 2020 I decided to do what ten year old Liz would do and get rid of the distractions and go read on a rock. I mean, seriously, I spent much of my childhood packing books out to dried up creek beds so I could sit in silence and read them unbothered. Simpler times. And I did that, literally and figuratively, for one month, and for the first time in years I created the time and energy to clear out most of the shit in the attic, and I was so close to freeing my imagination I could literally see it behind closed eyes at night. The way those sparkles and swirls move under your eyelids.

And then just like that the world changed and instead of unpacking those last few boxes, I became exhausted again when I saw that the attic filled right back up. Right to the top. With the noise and the work and the expectations. Stress and survival and the beating thump in my throat and chest that never goes away. Like someone had played a trick on me and put the boxes all back while I was sleeping. My work undone. The second time always seems harder than the first time.

So that’s where I am going into this new year, 2021. Aware that the boards are bowing overhead. Feeling in my bones that the girl from the photo would matter of factly say something like “Just go up there and dig it out, because once you have it, all the rest will disappear without any effort at all.” And I’ll be left with what I needed all along: a quiet place to find my ideas sitting neatly on my desk. All the clutter and weight missing. Fragments of my own imagination anyway, hiding itself because the timing wasn’t right.

This year I unboxed a robe for Christmas. From my sister, not requested. It’ the first one I’ve been gifted since that photo.