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?

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.

“Draining The Shallows” Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 3

What does “Deep Work” Mean to Me?

My whole life I’ve been naturally drawn to produce what Cal Newport describes as “Deep Work.” I picture myself as a ten year old writing stories in one of the many outdoor “forts” my sister and I would build. Sometimes I’d spend what felt like hours alone, riding my bike down our long dirt road to sit on the “big rock” and write down my thoughts and observations – a backpack full of books in tow, and a heavy imagination to compliment the scenery. Nature and quiet time were easy to find, but so were the other kids on my street, who, when I was ready to socialize seemed to always be available.

We grew up in a town where solitude was plentiful – I refer to solitude in the way that Newport does, as being alone with your thoughts, but not necessarily alone physically. Think: In the grocery store check out line without your phone. Not alone, but alone in your head – solitude. My home town is excessively rural, secluded, and a few years behind whatever technology or trends are happening on the outside. Thinking of the hundreds of days I spent riding my mountain bike up over the hills to spend hours with friends makes my heart fill with gratitude. Idle time was seen by many of our parents as time for trouble, but we rarely found any. What we did find was a childhood and adolescence spent “hanging out” with each other before the internet meant much, and long before cell phones were common, let alone in any of our own hands. 

Sitting alongside the Kern River watching tourists go by on river rafts, walking circles around the high school football field talking, getting to know my future best friend, cleaning the hotel pool area in the early morning at my high school job. Thinking about being outside in the warm summer air, just me, the smell of chlorine, and the sound of the birds at 7am sometimes leads me to think that maybe we have gotten so far away from analog behaviors, solitude, and personal connection that we are suffering – mentally and physically. But how do we go back to that feeling – the one that we seem to find whenever our minds are left to fend for themselves?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive abilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. 

My intention is not to emphasize an unrealistically ideal society pre-modern technology and to suffocate you with nostalgic tales from my childhood. What I do mean to do is evoke that sense of calm in you that I believe comes from the fulfillment and mental rewards we reap from the combination of experiencing a balance and abundance of solitude and personal one-on-one connections with other people.

I find myself researching Digital Minimalism, efficiency and effectiveness in my business and personal life, and my own cognitive potential, realizing that not only are those topics interconnected on many levels, but in my opinion, crucially dependent on one another for their success. As a society we’ve strayed away from meaningful connections and failed to give ourselves and others the permission to spend significant time on work that captures our undivided attention. The result: Our lives are spent toiling away on work that does not fulfill us, and on media platforms that do not produce the amount of value they’ve promised for the time we’re haphazardly giving away. If Instagram was charging you per minute to use their service, how much would it be worth to you? As it turns out, “liking” your friend’s post does cost us something huge: time. The only resource we cannot replenish. When it comes to our time, we should be counting our pennies, but instead we all spend like we have millions in the bank.

Personally, I enjoy and find fulfillment in one-on-one time spend with other people, and time spent alone, producing what I consider to be my “deep work” which usually has something to do with writing. The problem that I’ve encountered, and that has become glaringly obvious to me recently, is that I’ve positioned myself in a career where my personal connections are bountiful and meaningful, I’ve etched out time in my schedule to produce high-quality work, and I’m maintaining a blog and four social media accounts. And it’s too much. I did not replace personal connection with online or shallow connections, I merely added them all in, on top of the heavy client load and the real brick-and-mortar business location I currently run. Shocking fact: I have only had a personal Instagram account for three years. What value is it really producing? Not much.

For those of you unfamiliar with the day-to-day operations of a full time esthetician, my schedule looks like this: From around 8am to 7pm three days a week I book back to back clients during all of these hours for a minimum of thirty minutes and a maximum of three hour long appointments. During this time I will render any combination of skincare and makeup services, typically in a private room behind closed doors, in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. This means that on any given client work day I will have an average of around ten one-on-one conversations. Many of my clients are friends, almost every single one has been coming to see me for several years. So we know each other and our talks are meaningful and rarely surface level. For roughly 33 hours per week I am in an intense state of concentration and attentiveness. I am producing quality work which requires practice and skill, providing a quality environment that requires thought, intention, and execution, and I am cultivating meaningful personal connections and conversation, which requires my full and undivided attention.

In addition to these client hours, I have event hours which typically include several weddings a month where my ability to concentrate and produce quality work in intensely distracting and high-stress environments is vital. And lastly, office hours which I’ve widdled down to two efficient hours per week doing paperwork and making phone calls – another task that requires my undivided attention to complete, lest I digress to completing these tasks haphazardly throughout my week, distracting me from client work.

I believe that I have cultivated the ability to work deeply and to socialize deeply because my career depends on it. And at this point in our history those skills are becoming increasingly more rare, and therefore, more valuable. The problem: I concentrate deeply for roughly 40-45 hours per week in a very social environment and then go home and try to socialize online, or text/email/call back any clients who are trying to contact myself or my business. My energy is so depleted by that point that I have basically none remaining for myself, my husband, or my personal relationships outside of work and social media. Perhaps I am not becoming more anti social, but rather, more intolerant of allowing my time to be monopolized by anything that produces shallow or ambiguous value.

I built the majority of my client base before I used social media much at all, and many of the most successful business people I know rarely use it. If they do, it is with intention to produce a specific value. The haphazard use of social media networking tools to produce a very abstract value is not serving me, or my business in real life. What does serve me and my clients is a thoughtful, professional environment, quality services and deep connections. In order for me to produce these things, I need solitude, and in order for me to feel content and happy I need to be “immersed in something challenging.” 

As Newport would say, it is time to “drain the shallows” to fill what room is left in my bucket with deep work.

_____

Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

Self Care Won’t Save Your Mental Health

This blog post was supposed to be about float pods and their mental and physical health benefits. Which are real, and I have personally found to be quite amazing. Consequently, I found myself reflecting on all the “self-care” we do in an attempt to be happy, or to curb anxiety and stress. To distract ourselves from our daily lives, to escape. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of what has now been popularized across social media platforms as “self care.” I think treating yourself to spa days, bubble baths, and Netflix binges on occasion can be a good thing. I think the problem is that we’re treating symptoms and not causes. We’re oversimplifying mental health and putting a pretty band-aid on a much bigger problem: Why do we need to escape in the first place? Incorporating relaxation and taking time for yourself is one small piece of maintaining a mentally healthy lifestyle, but lying in a float pod is not going to treat my depression.

When it comes to becoming the most physically healthy version of myself, I feel like I have the puzzle pieces identified. I may not always put them together correctly, or at all, but I’m at least aware of their existence. The method in which I need to put them together to create something that’s organized, beautiful, and that makes sense is a formula that I understand. Consistency. I try to eat mostly whole plant foods, I no longer eat refined sugar, I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs, and I work out six days a week, mixing pilates, yoga, lifting, running, and leisure activities. I sleep at least seven hours a night. I’ve been on a three-year-long mission to become healthy. And although I do recognize my body as a lifelong work in progress, at least I’m not confused about how to maintain my lifestyle. Eat whole plant foods, sleep, exercise, and stretch. If I don’t take the time to do these things, I do not feel my best. For me, staying active with intention is the key – filling my life with fulfilling activities gives me purpose, creates goals, and gives me confidence that my future with my husband will be long and meaningful.

Mental health is not the same. Lately I’ve been feeling like all the puzzle pieces in my head are jumbled – thrown together on a garage sale table or tossed into a thrift store bin. The kind where kids have taken key pieces out, swapped them, crinkled them into balls, or mixed them up to the point where they’re unrecognizable. The Thomas Kinkade missing key elements. The castle without the flag. Do we just piece together what we can and ignore the holes and scratches? Do we try to jam things into spaces where they don’t belong? What if I don’t even know what goes there? The startling realization that the answer to all of these hypothetical questions is literally: “I don’t know” is confusing and overwhelming. Typing the word overwhelming seems silly because sometimes it feels more like the end of the world, and less like a task that can be overcome with enough hard work.

If you were to ask me if I’m doing okay, my answer may likely be no, even though I’m very happy with my life. I have no idea where to go from there.

In a nutshell: Being overweight and developing type two diabetes is common on both sides of my family. So I eat healthy and exercise. Simple enough. But alcoholism, addiction, and mental health disorders also appear frequently and on both sides of my family. I stopped drinking and put systems in place to support organization, a meaningful schedule, work I enjoy, and healthy habits, but simply put, I struggle constantly with depression anyway. As I lay on the massage table and drift away (every other week), or as I’m getting my nails done (every other Tuesday), my hair done (every six weeks), or a facial or pedicure (about every month) I am painfully aware of the fact that we are fragile, and one day I could wake up changed for the worse. Unable to recognize it or go back. I could already be there. And from there the anxiety begins and grows into a depression that takes over my mind.

What pulls me out of that cycle is my real life, that is wonderful and meaningful. My husband, friends and family, my hobbies, my writing, my work – the life I have constructed intentionally and make the effort to maintain daily drowns out the fear until I forget it for a brief moment. And in that moment I feel like I can rise above the cloud, and get just enough air to fill my lungs. And then I struggle to hold my breath until the next time I can come up.

I tend to focus on physical health because even though it can sometimes be hard, it’s mostly easy and I can control much of the outcome. And it does help my mental state to a degree. The stress and anxiety has become slightly more manageable because every minute of my life is planned, scheduled, calculated, weighed for importance, and placed in categories. Lifting weights doesn’t hurt. It’s more difficult to lose your marbles amongst an extraordinarily predictable and intentional life, or so I tell myself. 

But after three years in the fog, and another three years hovering slightly above it, I am confused and exhausted trying to fix myself. Because I love my life and yet I still struggle, almost daily, to keep myself above the cloud. So I thought I’d write to contextualize my current choices, and to explain my reality. Digital minimalism is just one concept helping me unpack my mental baggage. I’m actively beginning my mental health journey, and I am thankful that I have a strong foundation of healthy habits to build from. 

Currently I’m experimenting with everything from CBD to meditation, and have been actively learning about how to heal myself without pharmaceuticals. I start therapy on Wednesday morning at 9am. (About six years too late.) The receptionist explained that since I am a new patient, my therapist would like us to note some reasons for my appointment, and I said: “How long do you have? I bet everyone makes that joke.”

_____

Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

Women In Business Series: Angela Boults Co-Owner Escape Salon & Skin Studio

Today’s blog edition is a special interview dedicated to one of my closest friends, Angela Boults. Angie has played a major role in mentoring and supporting me personally and professionally throughout the last decade, during half of which we worked together. Her kindness, honesty, non-judgmental guidance, and intellectual incite has proven invaluable to me during times of abundance and growth, but more importantly, during the lonely and challenging moments in my life. I call her a mentor because I believe she leads with a vulnerable and open heart and in doing so has helped create a community of strong female cooperation and empowerment. So much can be learned from her success doing so.

_____

1) Explain what your business is, and your role in the company.

Escape Salon & Skin Studio is a full-service salon established in February of 2012. I am a co-owner with my business partner Amy Kolshinski. We are both licensed estheticians (skin care therapists). 

2) Tell us a little about yourself, your professional background, and why you chose to get into the beauty service industry. 

I am a Humboldt County native. I was a dental assistant for seven years before discovering the world of esthetics. I have always been someone enchanted by all things beauty, but knew that I didn’t have a passion for hair or nails. It wasn’t until one day on my lunch hour when I went to have my lip waxed that it clicked for me. After my ten-minute service my friend said: “That will be $12.” At the time I was making $12 hourly and was struggling to love my job. The salon environment was fun and energetic and stirred something in me. I had made a comment to my cosmetologist friend about how I could totally see myself doing waxing but had no interest in the “other stuff.” She told me about Frederick and Charles Beauty College in Eureka and their esthetics program. That was it for me! As a single mom of three, it wasn’t an overnight change – I had to develop a plan. But six months later I had quit my dental assisting job and was enrolled full-time in the December 2006 esthetics program at Frederick and Charles Beauty College. The program took 600 hours to complete and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. 

3) What is it like working with an all-woman team and co-owning with another woman who happens to be a best friend? 

Amy and I joke all the time that we are totally “cheating” at the job thing. We have been in business together over seven years and have never had an argument. I couldn’t have imagined a world where my work environment is so fun, supportive, and full of love. My business partner and I are different in a lot of ways but also complement each other well. Amy is very organized and methodical. She takes care of all the logistical aspects of the business. I tend to be the more social of the two of us. If we need to network or engage in a challenging conversation, I am usually the woman for that job. All other situations are figured out together. There are six of us who work out of our salon: Amy and myself are estheticians, Katrina is our massage therapist and airbrush spray tan specialist, Yvette is killing it on fingers and toes (natural nail care), and JoAnn and Sarah are our talented and experienced hair stylists. We are all self-employed booth renters. These women empower me to be the best version of myself every day. We encourage and lift each other up without judgment and actually enjoy our interactions with each other. It is a unique working environment in that way. 

4) Do you feel that working with (predominantly) female clients and colleagues helps to create community? If so, why. 

I 100% agree that our work environment and the people (mostly women) we encounter foster a sense of community. We all actually care about each other. It would be impossible to share many hours with someone over the course of a year and not become part of their life. Our interactions with our clients and our co-workers impact who we are as a whole. Our world is opened up. New ideas and views are formed. Connections are made and relationships grow. People initially come to us for beauty and relaxation services. They return, over and over again, because of what transpires during those appointments. And I am so overjoyed and thankful that they do. 

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

I think the most powerful thing I’ve discovered in my years as an esthetician is that despite our amazing and beautiful differences, we are all basically the same. We all want to be loved, supported, validated, and respected. And sometimes we just want someone to listen. 

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

Beauty is confidence. And confidence is beautiful. Does a single facial or leg waxing erase every self-perceived imperfection? Ummm… that would be a no. BUT, spending time taking care of one’s self can make them feel important. And the valuable choice to invest in ourselves makes us more confident. Putting ourselves on our own list is beautiful and necessary. 

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

More than anything, I hope my kids have observed that what we do for a living should be part of our life, not our entire existence. That everyone deserves to feel respected, happy, and valued in their profession. Life is short, but it can feel very long if you don’t love what you’re doing with it. 

General Questions:

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

“You can’t please everyone.” Struggling to do so is fruitless and results in frustration. 

9) What is the biggest challenge and biggest reward of owning your own small business? 

The biggest challenge at times is knowing that I’m it. There is no one else to blame if things don’t work out. The biggest reward is that I am able to cultivate my environment. I create a space of acceptance for everyone and it feels pretty damn good. 

10) Tell us about one book that changed your life. 

The Four Agreements and The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz changed my life. I chose two books because they really go together. The idea of these books is how to achieve heaven on earth by changing our agreements with the universe. The first agreement is to “be impeccable with your word.” Say things that need to be said, speak the truth, and do not gossip. The second agreement is to “not take anything personally.” What people do and say has nothing to do with you and everything to do with who they are and what they are going through. The third agreement is to “not make assumptions.” Take things for what they are and ask questions if you have them. The fourth agreement is to always do your best. Your best will vary from day to day but as long as you give what you can to everything you think and do, you’ll be on the right path. And the fifth agreement is to “listen but be skeptical.” Which I understand as actively listening to what people are telling you but knowing that every piece of information comes with a healthy dose of opinion. Doing my best to implement these five agreements has helped me to become a more effective communicator and has therefore helped improve the quality of my day to day interactions with others.

_____

http://www.escapesalon.org

215 7th Street, Eureka CA

707-269-0199

@eureka.escape

Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 2

My First Week Being Somewhat Digitally Minimal

I struggled with what to bring to you this week. I have a list of blog topics and a calendar of scheduled ideas on hand, but the only thing that I feel motivated to discuss with you at this moment is what I’ve discovered during the last seven days. This week I began truly examining and unpacking my technology use and implementing strategies for improvement. My journey toward a life with less distraction, improved mental health, and time spent doing meaningful things of value (to me) has become my new obsession. For better or for worse.

I decided that the best way to communicate this journey is to break it down into individual strategies, my motivation for making these changes, and how they’re working in my real life so far. 

Strategy #1: Come up with a plan to minimize social media use.

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. As a business owner, Facebook and Instagram help me network and book new clients. Posting on The Real Life Vegan Wife can be fun and informative, working as a vehicle to discuss veganism and entrepreneurship. But somewhere along the line managing all four of my social media accounts became an arduous chore – the pressure to post has become a nagging stress in the back of my mind at all times. Being constantly present seems almost necessary in the current social media climate we live in, lest you risk disappearing and becoming irrelevant altogether.

The reality is that what I truly want to be doing with my time is build in-person client / community-member relationships and write meaningful content for my blog and other publications. Not feel constant anxiety or distraction from toggling between social media and the real, tangible, valuable things I am producing. And when I do post on social media, I want the content I share to also be real and valuable, not forced or phony.

So what did I do? I decided that the best way to implement strategy for change is to know the conditions I’m currently functioning under. Step 1: Find out how often I am using social media. Step 2: Come up with a strategy to maximize my return on my time invested, therefore enabling me to minimize my time spent with these platforms.

This seems simple enough. Honestly, now that I’m really examining it, it is fairly simple. I determined that between my four accounts I spend about one hour per day on social media. This is actually not as much time as I assumed I spent, so there’s a positive. Using the month of June as our example, that means that in June I will spend thirty hours total on social media. This is over one FULL 24 HOUR DAY of the month spent with social media. In a year that is 360 hours, or FIFTEEN DAYS. For some reason, what our minds consider a harmless hour per day becomes shocking when you realize you just bought yourself a two-week vacation per year if you just quit using Instagram. Or, on a smaller scale, an entire extra day per month. Chances are, that’s where all our time has gone. Or it’s at least a major contributor.

For me personally, it does not make sense to quit social media cold-turkey like my husband did, and truthfully I don’t want to. I want to figure out a way to coexist with these methods of communication without allowing it to waste my time, while communicating meaningful content that produces value for my business, my clients, and my blog. I would argue that if you’re concerned about not having enough time in your life, you have stress and anxiety related to social media, and you’re not producing original content, you should probably just quit it altogether. At that point, it’s value to you may be perceived but not actually real. That’s what my husband determined and did. Instead of going that route, I mapped out the ideal content I would like to post in a month for my business and my blog social media accounts, how much time it should take me to make those meaningful posts, and tallied up the hours – to 8.5 per month. That means that the content is planned, the timing is planned, and the hours I was spending scrolling or wasting time would be reduced by almost 75%. I just bought myself 258 hours a year – almost eleven entire days.

My plan is to take January completely off from all social media and return in February with this strategy as an outline moving forward. Although, after a month off, I may have entirely different ideas and new incite to put into practice. 

Strategy #2: Stop using social media for business communications, and funnel all inquiries to my business phone and email.

This strategy may seem counter-intuitive after explaining that social media is actually valuable to my business. But it seems simple to me. When someone has a service or business inquiry, I set up an auto-response on Facebook and a quick-response on Instagram to instruct them to contact the business directly. This is straight-forward, clear and reasonable. It will “weed-out” inquiries that were not serious, or people who want free advice or consultation without going through the appropriate channels of making an appointment for our undivided attention. It ultimately saves me a tremendous amount of time. And ensures that the clients who do choose to make scheduled appointments get the highest quality of service and attention possible, because we are not distracted. This does not mean that I will not get back to you, it means that you need to call my business or send the business an email with a serious inquiry first, and I will get back to you during my posted hours of operation.

Essentially, I’ve determined that social media serves my business when used for networking, event promotion, and portfolio picture positing, but anything more is a waste of time.

Strategy #3: Set client boundaries with tech use.

Strategy #2 falls into this category because I set clear boundaries. I no longer will respond to personal and direct messages at all hours of the day and night because it is convenient for the potential client. I will respond to calls to my business phone and emails to my business email during operating hours. Basically, I am no longer available all the time because I’m unwilling to continue distracting myself from doing other things that produce more value for myself and my business in the long-term. I’d rather give that new client or project my undivided attention.

So, this leaves texting. How do I handle the steady stream of communications coming in? Yesterday my first text from a client came in at 6:42am, but I didn’t know this until 8am because I set up an auto-text response as part of the “do not disturb” feature on my phone. I turn this on manually outside of my business hours so that anyone who texts me before or after hours, or on my weekend will know that I got their message and will respond, but will no longer be available to answer non-urgent inquiries at 6:42am via text message. This is straight-forward, clear, and reasonable.

This takes an enormous amount of stress away from my day-to-day operations, allowing me to check out from communications and enjoy my days off, or evenings and mornings outside the shop. While being reassured that everyone is being taken care of and is clearly informed about my boundaries.

Ultimately, I believe this will make me happier, and better at my job because I will not be distracted by a constant stream of text messages and emails which cause stress and anxiety when I cannot immediately return them. And I can take more time to focus on business improvements.

Strategy #4: Fix the problems created by strategy #3.

This one makes me laugh because it became very apparent early on that this process is going to be full of trial and failure. And although I want 99% of my texts and calls to be filtered until business hours, there are still personal communications that I would like to be able to receive. Additionally, when my phone is on do not disturb with auto-text response, I essentially cannot use it for anything without turning the feature temporarily off, resulting in the flood of texts coming though that I didn’t necessarily want to see until I was back in the shop. 

My solution, after doing a heap of research, was to go purchase an Apple Watch, turn it on do not disturb, adjust the setting to not mirror my phone so that I do not get any notifications, and only use it for music, podcasts, audiobooks, and tracking workouts. And oh my goodness it’s fabulous for that.

Essentially I can put my phone on DND with auto-text response, plug it in, and leave it alone until I need it while still using my watch for everything I enjoy and find value in. I added my close family and friends to my favorites list in contacts, so if they need to call me they will get through to my watch. If I absolutely need to look at my calls and texts I can also choose to do so by turning DND off, and seeking out my messages which are not easily accessible. I did it once to make sure it was working, and haven’t looked at it since.

I did not install any apps on my watch except Pandora, security lock and alarm, and my to-do list. My watch face is simple, with music, podcasts, and my workout results being the only easily accessible features. It’s life-changing and it’s been five days.

I feel free from my phone and the expectation to text and email everyone back immediately, but reassured by the fact that Kanan or my sister can still call me and I can still contact the world if need be. Currently I use my watch with my phone on DND with auto-response before work and after work but have not worn it and left my phone at home for entire days out of the shop yet. Today will be the first time and I’m so excited to try it and write about it.

The irony of using technology to correct technology use is not lost of me, but that is why digital minimalism is so much fun. It’s all about picking out the good and letting all the rest go. The next things on my list to quantify and correct are television, random internet use, and news consumption, and I cannot wait. I feel like my mental clarity and stress levels have already decreased dramatically in an extremely short period of time.

Women In Business Series: Amber Reiners Owner Stonesthrow Boutique

1) Briefly describe yourself and your business.

My name is Amber Reiners and I own Stonesthrow Boutique, a woman’s clothing and accessories store here in Eureka, CA. Owning a boutique has been my dream since I was old enough to have career aspirations! I didn’t feel confident enough to pursue fashion after high school, nor did I have the knowledge or capital to start a business, so I ended up getting a degree in education and working as a teacher for five years. Throughout high school and college I enjoyed working in retail but didn’t see myself having a career working for a large chain store or corporation. While I was working as a teacher my mom opened a franchise boutique back in my home state of Minnesota. I worked for her on weekends during my last year teaching and that’s when I realized how much happier I would be if I pursued my dream of owning a store. I moved from Minnesota to California in the spring of 2015 and by that September Stonesthrow Boutique was open for business!

2) What do you sell at your store? Do you try to incorporate any cruelty-free / environmentally responsible / ethically sourced fashion?

We sell clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry, and other small gift items like cards and candles. Some of our brands are proud to advertise that they are environmentally responsible and cruelty-free, while others make it harder to know. While I don’t know that any of the brands we carry right now have unethical practices, sometimes there isn’t a lot of information regarding this topic available. Often times the representatives we work with from the companies themselves do not know much about the factory where the clothing is made so we have to do our best to find information ourselves, or look for brands that readily share their practices. I’m really excited about some of the new graphic tee brands we are bringing in this summer! One is called Educated Earthling – their shirts have great messages, but they’re also ethically-made in the USA using water-based inks, with 100% recycled and plastic-free packaging. A portion of their proceeds are donated to environmental organizations as well.

3) Do you have inquiries from customers regarding accessibility to these types of fashion choices? Do you think people make the connection between fashion and animal byproduct use at all?

Unfortunately it is very seldom that customers ask about cruelty-free / environmentally responsible / ethically sourced fashion. On the rare occasion that it does come up, we show them the options we have in-store that meet this criteria and let them know that we are always looking to bring in more brands with similar missions and values. I do not think the majority of consumers realize how impactful these issues are within the fashion industry, or how much waste is produced by it each year. We do have customers ask if our handbags or shoes are made with real leather from time to time. Some people ask because they don’t want real leather while others ask because they only buy genuine leather. Polyurethane (aka “PU” or “vegan leather”) has improved dramatically in look and quality and we make an effort to show customers that high-quality accessories can have the same look and feel of real leather without the negative impact on animals and the environment. But some people are harder to convince than others.

4) Do you believe that you can provide the same quality and style not using animal products? Particularly with shoes, purses, accessories, etc.

Yes I think so! We only have two real leather items in the store and they are great quality, but the similar items we have that are vegan leather are also high-quality, but with a much lower price point. I think brands are starting to realize they don’t need real leather to make nice products and consumers are starting to catch on as well. As stylists we continue to educate customers on the materials and benefits of choosing responsibly sourced, cruelty-free items, and that also makes a difference.

5) Is it difficult to find high-quality fashionable alternatives to lines that typically utilize animal products?

Not for us since the majority of what we carry isn’t designer or high-end labels, which is often where animal products are incorporated into fashion. I’ve been looking to replace the remaining non-vegan items at Stonesthrow with cruelty-free alternatives, and the process has been easier than expected. I’m attending a big trade show in August, and I’m looking forward to talking with the representatives from a specific brand we work with to let them know we would be greatly interested in seeing them offer vegan alternatives (or even better, shifting toward only vegan products throughout the company). I also enjoy taking the opportunity to seek out new, ethical, environmentally-friendly and cruelty-free lines at trade shows.

6) Do you notice a shift in the industry to offering more socially and environmentally responsible alternatives? Ie: banning fur

Yes I definitely notice a shift! I think the general population has become increasingly aware of being more socially and environmentally responsible in recent years and that is reflected by the fashion industry. Major labels such as: Tommy Hilfiger, Stella McCartney and Giorgio Armani have been fur-free for a while and more recently other notables including: Versace, Michael Kors, Gucci and Prada have followed suit. These luxury labels set the trends so I believe it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the industry catches on.

7) Do the cruelty-free fashion options cost you more to purchase, therefore causing the price to go up for customers?

Cruelty-free doesn’t usually cost more because the materials are less expensive than animal materials to produce. Some smaller brands do charge more for being made in the USA, being environmentally-friendly, or using less wasteful packaging materials, but fortunately it’s not typically enough of a cost increase to make a difference in whether or not we order from that brand, or resell to customers at a standard price point.

General Questions:

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

Not to worry about what others are doing, especially your competitors. Just focus on making yourself and your business the best you can, and everything else will fall into place.

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

The biggest challenge I face as a small business owner is learning how to manage my time. I serve so many roles in my company and it can be challenging to get to every task in a given day, or to allocate my time to what needs the most attention. Ironically, I also struggled with this as a teacher! It gets easier as time goes on and I gain experience. I’ve also become better at delegating tasks to my employees and asking for help when I need it. Another challenge specific to the fashion industry is predicting trends ahead of time. Much of our buying takes place at a trade show two or three seasons before the products are in-store for purchase. In August I will be picking out styles that will be shipped to the store before the holidays and in early spring.

The most rewarding aspect of owning a business is seeing people wearing things they purchased from my store. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a girl out in public looking great in something she got from Stonesthrow, or when customers come back to the store later to tell us how much they love what they purchased. When you like what you’re wearing and look good in it, you feel good too. We don’t just dress people, we help them feel comfortable in their skin and proud to present themselves to the world. That’s why I do what I do.

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

My favorite book (and one that changed my life) actually falls into the young adult genre. It was first read to me by my fifth grade teacher, and I’ve read it at least a dozen times since then. It’s called Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. The title comes from the phrase in the book: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” This reminds me to put myself in someone else’s position before judging them or making assumptions about how they feel, which helps me as a business owner and also in my personal relationships.

_____

https://www.stonesthrowboutique.com

326 2nd Street, Eureka CA

707-269-7070

@stonesthrowboutique