Give Yourself Permission to be Vegan – My 4 Year Veganniversary Post

When my vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, more often than not, by husband and his dietary habits become the immediate object of curiosity. The center of the interaction. Everyone wants to know if he’s vegan. Since he isn’t, everyone wants to know how we cohabitate. How we grocery shop, cook our meals, agree to disagree. Everyone wants to know how two people can be happily married and hold two completely different ideological viewpoints when it comes to food. And for us specifically, when it comes to animals and morality.

Let’s back up. When I was dating I had three (yes, only three) requirements for my future boyfriend. At that time I did not think that I wanted to be married, ever, so they looked something like this: He needs to have a job, a car, and his own place to live. Like I said, they were simple requirements, but shockingly hard to find. I had decided that I didn’t want to muddle things up with extraneous requirements like what kind of job, or car or dwelling. Or make it even more impossible with specifications pertaining to diet and lifestyle… like vegetarianism. At that time, I still had a few years to go before making the switch from veg to full on vegan. I don’t want to say that my standards were low – in my opinion, they were just realistic. I was only in my mid-twenties, wasn’t looking for a husband, and had so many amazing people in my life from diverse backgrounds, so I didn’t want to limit my possibilities based on assumptions like: If I date a vegetarian we will be more compatible. Because honestly, that might make eating easier, but that’s about it.

Then I met Kanan. For those of you that don’t know the story, he moved into the apartment next door to me and we noticed each other from afar before I finally took the plunge and slipped a note under his door asking him to go grab a beer with me. He called me back TWO WEEKS later… so much later in fact that I had assumed he had a girlfriend, or wasn’t into me, so I went about my life and honestly kinda forgot about it. Over the months (and then years) we lived next door to each other, I had made several observations about Kanan’s habits: He wasn’t home a lot; when he was home he never had any visitors and almost never left, and sometimes his car would remain parked in the spot next to mine for long stretches without moving. So basically, I had concluded exactly what any logical person would: If he had a job and wasn’t just sitting in his apartment playing video games all day, it must be some nefarious illegal activity that kept him away for weeks at a time, or he was a firefighter. One day I took a little gander into the back seat of his car and noticed a pile of ropes. After that, I added potential serial killer to the list, but was happy to learn that serial killers almost never murder their neighbors.

Being from Kern County (near Bakersfield), where everything is dry, and hot, and dusty it never occurred to me that some people actually could make a living fishing. Fishing was something my dad made us hike upriver at 3am on the weekends to do. Something I was more than happy to leave behind after I declared vegetarianism as my new world view somewhere around junior year of high school. So when we finally went on a date and Kanan explained that the ropes were for crabbing and not for some sort of mass strangulation scheme, I was relieved. But I was also a little sad and confused. I liked him instantly, and after only a few dates I was ready to marry the guy. Seriously. I was used to most people eating animals, but had never even considered dating someone who made their entire living by killing them. I was from Kern County but clearly I had never dated a meat or dairy farmer…

So this brings us back to the topic at hand. How did I reconcile dating and then MARRYING a man who had basically the complete opposite viewpoints and values when it came to the treatment of animals? Although he has since then changed careers and no longer kills animals for a living, we still hold different views. He enjoys recreational fishing, and on occasion eats animal products. I decided to go full-blown vegan. But now we enjoy a mostly compatible lifestyle based on generally healthy whole food eating habits and a shared philosophy of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. While I completely omit all animal products and refined sugar, Kanan allows himself the occasional splurge but has grown to have very strong viewpoints on health and whole foods. He balances me out when I’m going crazy for vegan fast food because hey, I went vegan for animal rights, not for health! And I feel like I can sometimes act as his moral mirror, and the conduit for new enlightening vegan nutritional information.

A lot has evolved and changed in our relationship because of two factors, which I believe are the key to making any relationship between a vegan and a non-vegan work. I can give you all the “tips and tricks” you want for day to day living, but until you get these two concepts dialed in, none of them will actually work for you.

#1: Give yourself the emotional permission to embrace what you know to be right for you. If you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve already done the hard work of unlearning societal programming regarding food consumption. Your husband (or partner) has already done that for themselves as well by accepting that the way they choose to eat is normal, and everything outside of that worldview is “other” or delinquent from the way people are essentially “supposed to eat.”

This is a simple concept once you wrap your head around it. There is always something that dominant society has deemed “normal.” Someone (or in this case, several powerful “someones,” like large, corporate agribusiness, big pharma, and our for-profit medical system) has a stake in maintaining the status quo, therefore a lot of effort and energy is put into poking holes in other ways of thinking, trying to prove them “wrong,” “unhealthy,” or “worse for our planet.” But here’s the thing – our planet is dying, we’re dying, and animals are dying using the old framework, so maybe let’s just test out this new way and see what happens? Everything is normal, until it’s not.

I’m here to tell you that if you know that for you, veganism or vegetarianism… or just eating one plant-based meal a week is better, then give yourself the permission to shift your consciousness, moving your new held ideas or ideals from the margin (or what is unusual, weird, or not normal) to the center, which is usual, normal, and good. Making yourself the center in this way will ironically produce a series of completely unselfish and empathetic consequences, like caring more for the health of humans, animals, and the earth.

Instead of feeling guilt and assuming that you and your new moral and/or dietary choices are the burden, flip that on it’s head and ask yourself why your partner’s choices aren’t the burden?

To challenge these deeply ingrained ideas of normativity even further, ask yourself why anti-speciesest beliefs are thought to be inferior to those socially constructed speciesist beliefs that we are the inherently superior beings atop the animal and nature hierarchy.

#2: After you’ve got #1 down, then just lead by example. But be tactful.

Once you start viewing the world through this more critical lens, a lot changes internally, and it can be difficult to not judge and criticize other people, or proclaim your new lifestyle as better. Trust me, I still do it often because I choose to be vocal, and believe in making social change. Everything is seen as a deviation from the norm, until it’s not.

People who aren’t vegan or vegetarian navigate their lives as “normal” simply by living in a country that accommodates them, facilitates their behaviors, and rewards their dietary choices with limitless options, advertising that aligns with dominant culture and a convenient separation between our individual choices and policy. Because of these reasons, vegans are criticized for speaking up. We’re casting a bright light on something that needs to be seen, something that doesn’t look good under that light.

If being in a relationship with a non-vegan for almost seven years has taught me anything, it’s that that voice that I choose to use in a political sense only drives Kanan away if directed at him in a more personal sense. For a lot of people, unlearning what they think they know about nutrition and veganism is painful because food is so closely woven into every fabric of our society and life. It also calls on people to look inwardly at their choices, forcing moral introspection. This can be extremely difficult for most people to do- it challenges us to level up and be accountable for our choices, which also requires an acceptance that our choices matter. Veganism calls people to look at how we treat the planet, other beings, and ourselves. That is simply overwhelming. Every vegetarian or vegan, including myself, went through that period of difficult growth. Every vegan or vegetarian you’ve ever met had to go through intense changes in realizing their accountability, unless they happen to be one of the very few vegans who’s parents raised them that way since birth. We understand what you may be going through.

I will tell you with 100% certainty that the longer I am vegan, the simpler the concept becomes for me. I try to do as little harm as possible, and all that can possibly do is ripple kindness out into the world. That’s all it’s about. All food, human rights, animal rights, and global arguments aside.

So just lead by example. Share positive things about being vegan, cook good plant-based food and share it, shop from vegan vendors who also value the planet and other humans, incorporate more whole foods, watch veg documentaries, read books about animals. And learn, because I’m finding that the more I learn, the more I realize that we’re all so interconnected that each choice you make really has a positive impact elsewhere. Only good can come from a lifestyle based on love and kindness. And others (including your husband/partner) will see this over time.

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Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Vegan Tattoo: Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA

Signing Off

I’m signing off until February first.

My biggest non-work-related goal in 2019 was to blog once a week and I almost made it! This is my 49th post this year, and while I’m proud of what I created, I’m mostly proud that I allowed myself to follow my curiosities enough to reconnect with writing. It’s led me down so many interesting paths and opened so many new doors in just one year.

But mostly, it’s opened my eyes to one big truth about myself that Elizabeth Gilbert explains so eloquently in her book Big Magic:

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

For those of you who have followed my blog continuously throughout 2019, you’re likely aware of my “digital declutter” and the inspiration for my sabbatical from technology. For those of you who may be new to The Real Life Vegan Wife, I’ve been researching, preparing, and writing about this plan for the last six months, and my “Digital Minimalism” entries are great references for additional context.

This post is going to outline my plan to live more presently, more free of anxiety and social pressures, and to ultimately implement a long-term plan to coexist with technologies in a much healthier, (for me) minimal way. This is not meant to be a short term “break from social media” or “vacation from technology” for work. My goal is to teach myself how to use technology to my advantage when applicable, and let the rest fall away to make room for what I truly value in my life – in-person engagement with my community, time with friends and family, writing, reading, meditating, fitness and food, and growing my business without all the unwelcome mental clutter that 24/7 engagement encourages.

I plan to spend the month of January reflecting on what technologies are truly useful to me and what I do not need in my life moving forward. This will also be a time for me to sit quietly with my thoughts in order to remember (although I do have a fairly clear idea) what activities truly bring me happiness, contentment, joy and prosperity and what activities promise these things, but ultimately do not deliver. Lastly, during my month away, I plan to reconnect with my creativity in order to bring you thoughtful writing moving forward in 2020. And in order to write about interesting things, I have to actually go do or learn some interesting things. Obviously I’ll start back with an assessment of how my month off went.

Over the last six months, in an attempt to make the sting of digital minimalism hurt just a bit less, I have significantly minimized my engagement with social media and have set clear boundaries in my work life regarding communications. But in order for this plan to succeed, and for me to learn anything useful from it, I realized early on that I would have to have an outline of specific and clear “rules” and regulations that I can follow. This way I won’t become so worn down with decision fatigue that I ultimately give up mid-way through, or as soon as something becomes too inconvenient.

Here is the outline I’ve come up with so far:

Social Media Use:

Currently I use Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube and have systematically reduced my usage by about 90% since I first began this experiment. I now rarely make personal posts and use my accounts strictly for business, blog, and book club purposes. I will be uninstalling these apps from my phone and will not use them at all during my digital declutter. I have determined that not posting anything for my blog (which I will not be publishing anyway for the month of January) and my business will not have any lasting negative effects on revenue or traffic. If anything, I think this will free up mental space for me to work on my business and writing in different and more efficient “big-picture” ways. After this experiment is over I hope to have a clear idea of how often I want to use social media in ways that only benefit me without wasting my time or mental energy.

Entertainment:

This includes television, radio, podcasts, news, music, video games, using the internet in any capacity and/or any apps on my phone. Since beginning this journey I have categorized all of the apps on my phone into different folders and have tracked my usage and their overall usefulness. The only apps that I will be using during the month of January are ones that I have determined to be “productive” to my overall well-being or my enjoyment of learning and that do not make me feel like they are presenting unwelcome demands on my time. This means that I will allow myself to listen to audiobooks, podcasts and music, will continue to use apps that track my workouts, my to-do lists, and my notes, but will not use my phone for internet use beyond those applications unless it is absolutely necessary for my business to function. Ie: Paying work bills online. I will not watch TV, play video games or games on my phone, and will not watch movies unless I’m going to an actual movie theater with friends or family as part of a social activity. I have curated a small media collection which includes physical subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Sunday New York Times, Veg News Magazine, and The New Yorker. These publications will be where I get my current stories and news from. My goal is to use this time to connect more closely with analog activities like reading, writing, crafting, exercise, etc. And possibly even try out some new activites.

Client & Personal Communication:

This category has been more difficult to navigate because of the work element. I use my phone to communicate with most of my clients and although I set up auto responses to all my social media accounts that instruct clients to call or email my business directly, I still struggle with constant texts, calls, and emails. I decided that the best way to handle this would be to set up specific hours during which I would respond to client communications – I have done this with an auto text response and this has been working well for the last several months. Essentially, I only respond to clients, check email and business voice mails during actual business hours, which has been a huge improvement over 24/7 checking and responding. The part that will change during my digital declutter will be how often I check these things. Currently I check my phone for messages between each client appointment during business hours, but moving forward I plan to have three designated times to check and respond to messages, therefore minimizing my overall time spent checking for communications, capacity for distraction, and therefore minimized productivity. I will set aside fifteen minutes in the morning, mid way through my work day, and then in the evening before I leave work.

As far as personal communications go, I will only read texts, emails, and listen to voicemails people send during the predetermined times I set aside for business, and will not respond unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. If someone would like to have a phone conversation we can do so during a predetermined time, but aside from that I will not be texting or emailing unless the consequences of not doing so will be negative and seriously high. I will answer phone calls from my favorites list which essentially includes close family, friends, and necessary vendors for my business before 6:30pm and then will put my phone on do not disturb so that anything received after that time will have to be from my favorites list and will be assumed to be an emergency so I will answer it.

I’m sure that I will encounter scenarios that I did not plan for, and will journal everything so that I can report back with the solutions and potential blind spots where my plans failed. Maybe this can help any of you looking to do your own digital declutter in the future.

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I’ve already experienced significant improvement with my anxiety and stress levels over the last several months working toward this goal. And I’ve successfully reallocated hundreds of hours of time to other interests or tasks. I’m excited to put enough perspective between myself and the technologies that I use to be able to make clear decisions regarding what I will keep in my life moving forward and what I plan to leave behind. And to be honest, I look forward to the solitude. I’ve learned that my productivity levels increase and my mood drastically improves when I allow myself time away – quiet time alone with my own thoughts, work, projects and hobbies. And while some people are content with little bits of solitude here and there, or an hour alone after work, I am learning that I require much more. Time to settle into myself and really think. Space where I can just be and exist without the constant pressures and demands of others on my time.

Recently I’ve been meditating on my young self – remembering to be more like her. Somehow when I was younger (we’re taking elementary school age) I intuitively knew solitude was the key to my creativity, incite, and peace. And I wasn’t afraid to go sit alone while everyone else was sitting together. Certainly, this means I miss out on some information, events, and even some tasks that others consider important. But I’ve made some peace with that part already because I’ve honed in on what is truly important to me, and I’m willing to let the rest go to be a happier person. After a month of reflection I’m excited to learn what my intentions and goals for 2020 will be.

I’ll see y’all in a month.

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Photo: The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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http://www.escapesalon.org

215 7th Street, Eureka CA

707-269-0199

@eureka.escape