What Google Says About Me

I am active online. I have been blogging since 2003, using my real name. I write guest posts and contribute to a number of other blogs and websites. I use Twitter and Flickr and Facebook and YouTube, and if you Google me you’ll get a whole lot of links that will tell you something about me. You could say that you can find out a whole lot about my personal brand with a quick search.

On occasion, I have met someone for the first time, and they already knew a fair bit about me. When it’s someone I’ve connected with online it’s cool, because I probably know something about them, too. But when it’s someone I don’t know anything about myself, I feel at a bit of a disadvantage. It’s uncomfortable when someone says, “Oh, yes, I know you don’t drink bottled water, I’ve read your blog,” right after they offer you a bottle of water and you politely decline. If they hadn’t read my blog, the exchange would be innocuous, but now I feel as if I’m making some sort of political statement.

I realize that by being a fairly open book online, I’m inviting strangers into my life. I’m OK with that, in general, which is why I do it. Every time that I post something online, I do it knowing that my mother, my grandmother, my kids’ friends’ parents and my boss could be reading. And so there are certain things I don’t talk about (cough S-E-X cough), and other things that I don’t talk about until I’ve had some conversations with the people closest to me. Because your mom shouldn’t find out that you were laid off by reading a Facebook status update.

In spite of my precautions, there are times when I wonder if it’s a good thing that I’m so easy to track down on Google. It’s not so much strangers who feel that my words resonate with them that give me pause. I’m looking for connection when I publish a blog post or send a tweet, and if other people read what I have to say and count me in their online community as a result, I’m nothing but flattered. What I’m more concerned about is when prospective clients, or prospective employers, or prospective employees check me out and form an opinion about who I am and what I’m capable of before they ever actually meet me.

I think I’m fairly honest and authentic when I write. I certainly strive to be, anyway. While I have created some sort of internet persona, I would say it’s very true to who I actually am. If that’s the case, why would I be concerned about someone reading something I’ve written online and pre-judging me?

I think it’s precisely because I am so honest with my opinions on the internet that I worry about the personal implications. When I am meeting someone for the first time I don’t tend to share a lot of toddler poop stories – especially not if we’re meeting in a semi-professional setting. But when I’m writing about my motherhood experience, well, poop figures largely. And so I’m basically opening the conversation with a whole lot of personal info.

I imagine that one day, having a sizable internet footprint won’t seem so strange. The number of people on Facebook alone is growing by leaps and bounds. In my husband’s family, there are at least three generations of people who have Facebook profiles. And in the fall when I visited a local high school I learned that instead of handing in a paper, many teachers now have students publish posts on student blogs. It will increasingly be the norm that someone can track you down via Google.

So what does this mean, in terms of living a life of intention and purpose? In my mind, living with intention is about living deliberately, and making choices that work for you. It’s also about owning your actions. So if you’re active online, you need to make choices that you can live with, and then do your Thing without apology. Some people will love it, and some people won’t. That’s OK – they clearly weren’t your people, and you don’t need to waste energy worrying about them.

And so that’s what I’m doing. My name is Amber Strocel, and I am a blogger, life-crafter, mother and shoddy housekeeper. If you Google me, you will find out all of these things and more. I am being as authentic as I can be, and I hope that you can relate. But no matter what, I will continue to be me, and I will continue to share from my life and my experiences. I will live and write with intention and purpose, and I will make no apologies. Because sharing my words has become part of my purpose, and I’m not stopping.

What about you? Are you easy to track down online? How do you feel about that? And have you ever had a negative experience as a result of meeting someone who’d read your blog or status updates? Please share!

Sharing Your Story

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Impostor Syndrome, which is something I identify with pretty strongly. I often feel like other people are more competent than I am, or that I am just pretending to be a capable adult. Based on the reading I did, I am far from alone. Many people feel this way from time to time. I guess we’re all just waiting for a real grown-up to come along and rescue us.

When you feel like you’re faking it, it’s hard to see what you have to offer to others. A natural extension of feeling like an impostor is that you don’t think your ideas have value. This simply isn’t true. If you look back on your life, you can often see how far you’ve come. But it’s easy to forget that when you feel a little bit stuck and uncertain of where to head next. You fail to recognize the progress you have made, because you’re too caught up in the progress you haven’t made.

This leads me to “The Curse of Knowledge“. Basically, what it says is that once we know something, we can’t unknow it. And, what’s more, we can’t imagine that other people don’t know it, either. Young children are particularly susceptible to this problem, but even as adults we can fall victim to the assumption that if we know something, other people must know it, too.

One of the results of The Curse of Knowledge is that we don’t communicate clearly, because we assume that other people are on the same page when they really aren’t. But another result is that we discount our own knowledge, because we fail to recognize that other people don’t necessarily share it. Drawing from my own experience working as a computer programmer for 10 years, for instance, I tend to think that computer programming is not a particularly unique skill. I spent a lot of time in a world where everyone could do it. But I bet that if I took a random population survey, I would see a different story.

And so, we have two forces that are working against us and our own opinion of what we have to share with others. The first is that we are too caught up in our current struggles to see the progress we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. The second is that The Curse of Knowledge leads us to discount the stuff that we know. And so we’re left feeling as if we don’t have much to offer, or share, with the world.

If you reach out to people who are walking the same path as you, you may be surprised by how they respond to what you have to share. For me, this is what Crafting my Life is all about. As we share our stories and experiences, and offer our support and insights to others, we often discover that we have much more to give to the world than we first believed. Concepts that no longer seem profound to us may be game-changers for someone else. And the converse can be true, as well. As we join together and share, we become both teachers and students, gaining as much (or more) than we’re given.

My dragons spend a lot of time telling me that I’m an impostor, and that anyone could have done the things I did, or gained the knowledge I have. They’re trying to protect me from putting myself and my ideas out there and then facing possible rejection. They don’t want me to be hurt. But they fail to recognize that they suffer from The Curse of Knowledge, and that not everyone thinks the same way they do. And it’s a good thing, too, because my dragons are kind of a downer.

Wherever your life has taken you, I can tell you one thing for certain – you’re the only person who’s walked that exact path. And as such, you have unique insights to offer to the world. You have unique knowledge that only you can hold. It would be a terrible shame if you kept it to yourself, because then the rest of us would miss out on a chance to learn and grow and share from our own experiences in return.

It’s only by reaching out and connecting and sharing that we can take a small idea and grow it into something truly great. The world needs more truly great. So, please, don’t keep your story to yourself.

Hard Work Pays Off

If you’re reading this post right now, it seems the world didn’t end after all. High fives all around!

I talk a lot about dreams in this space. Mostly because, in my life, I’ve come to believe in the power of dreaming. When we are following our hearts and pursuing our passions, we’re usually willing to work harder. As a consequence, we realize greater rewards, and lead more fulfilling lives.

This isn’t rocket science. If you have a job that you don’t really like, but you stay in that job because you’re afraid of change, you’re probably not living a very fulfilling life. You could also say the same thing for staying in a bad relationship, or giving up something you love because you’re not sure how to fit it into your schedule, or sticking with a volunteer position that is sucking the life right out of you. When we ignore our bliss, we’re not really giving our best selves to the world. When we give ourselves the freedom to be ourselves, some really great stuff can happen.

But the key part of dreaming, in my view, is the way that it spurs us to action. When we’re willing to go out and try things and make mistakes, that’s when we learn and grow and contribute. I suppose you could say that I’m a puritan at heart, who believes that hard work is a necessary ingredient to success. The key thing, then, is working hard at something that fills you with purpose, rather than spinning your wheels in something that isn’t right for you.

But what of those dreams that you have no control over? Dreams like, say, winning the lottery or inheriting a huge chunk of money from a long-lost relative? There are some people who would claim that you can manifest those dreams by having the right attitude. If you’re positive, positive things come to you. This, as I understand it, is what the Law of Attraction is about. And, honestly, I can see the appeal. Who wouldn’t want to find a secret tool for realizing great wealth?

I definitely believe that there are upsides to optimism and positivity. Research suggests that optimists live longer, healthier lives. But I happen to believe this is because when you’re feeling good, you’re more likely to take care of yourself and take action to improve your life. I know that when I’m down in the dumps I’m not as likely to eat well or exercise or start a new project. So in my mind it stands to reason that people who are upbeat and positive are more likely to put in the legwork to make things happen.

But the truth is, I don’t believe in the Law of Attraction, at least not in the sense that I believe holding the right thoughts are sufficient for making good things happen. Tools like affirmations and positive thinking are useful when they help us to overcome our fears and make our art. But they must be backed up by actual actions. I don’t believe that they make you more likely to win the lottery, for example. The lottery is a random draw, and in my experience the winnings don’t particularly go to the most deserving party.

So take some time to dream. Ponder where your passion lies, and uncover a sense of purpose. Then make your art, pour your heart into it, and embrace the process. Whether you attract millions of dollars or not, I bet you’ll feel like your life is better for asking yourself what you really want and following it through.

I wonder what you think about manifesting good things in your life. Do you think that I’m misunderstanding the ideas behind the Law of Attraction? Or do you agree that it’s hard work (and maybe a little bit of luck) that pay off in the end? I’d love to hear!

If the World Ends Tomorrow

A number of months ago, while driving through the bustling metropolis of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, I saw a billboard much like this one:

Judgment Day is Coming, May 21, 2011
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

It turns out they’ve been put up all over the world – I found a news story about the predicted end of the world from Zimbabwe. And here’s a news story from Australia:

When it comes to predictions of Armageddon, I’m not a believer. While it would be awfully convenient to know exactly when and where I’ll meet my demise, the planet has survived many predicted end dates with nary a scratch so far. At this point, it’s all taken on the air of the boy who cried wolf. But if you want to be safe, you can read all about how the world will end tomorrow online. And then you can stop by the CDC’s website and find out what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Regardless of whether you believe that tomorrow will be the last morning you ever wake up, or you’re playing “Doubting Thomas” with me, it’s interesting to consider what it would mean if the world did end tomorrow. If you really knew that this was your last 24 hours on the planet as you know it, how would that change your perspective? What would you spend the day doing? And what would you think, looking back on your life so far?

That last question is really the most interesting to me. I just did the math, and I have been alive for 12,798 days. I don’t think I can do much with my 12,799th day that will change everything I’ve done in the days before it. And so, I want to know if I am happy with the life I’ve lived so far. Do I think I’ve made good use of the time I’ve had? And if not, then what?

The answers to those questions are the essence of what Crafting my Life is all about. I want to live in a way that fills me with purpose, feeds my passions and contributes to the larger world in some way. This does not mean that I’ll bound out of bed every morning filled with enthusiasm, and enjoy every minute that follows until I go to sleep, satisfied, at night. But it does mean that I want to live the kind of life that fits me, and makes a difference somehow.

So, tonight, go out and do something fun. You never know what will happen tomorrow. But if the world doesn’t end, then on Sunday morning take the opportunity to ask yourself where you go next. What will you do so that, when you look back on your life, you can say it was well-lived? You can do it. You really, really can. And what’s more, we all need you to do it. Because it’s only when we’re all contributing our best work that we can actually save the world, instead of just predicting its end.

Feeling Like a Fraud

Do you ever feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing? I feel this way, often. It’s like I’m just sort of faking it, going through the motions and trying to look like I’m competent and in control. I try to do the things that I think grown-ups do, so that no one will realize that I really have no clue. But underneath my carefully crafted veneer I’m smiling and nodding and hoping that nobody asks me a question I can’t answer.

It turns out this feeling of being a fraud has a name – Impostor Syndrome. The term was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. There’s an online test you can take to see if you suffer from it, and I scored a 73, which apparently means I “frequently have impostor feelings”. I would say that’s true.

Apparently, many very accomplished people feel like frauds. People in business and people in academia can feel as if they’re just faking it. It seems I’m not alone in feeling that I am less accomplished than others, or that most everyone else knows what they’re doing and I don’t. It’s good, I guess, to know that many people struggle with Impostor Syndrome, including the sorts of people that I would consider Really Accomplished Adults With Impressive Job Titles.

Feeling like a fraud may not be all bad. One study found that impostorism was more of a self-presentation strategy than a personality trait. People who feel like they’re faking it are engaging in a social hedge, in which they try to lower their own – and everyone else’s – expectations. When you talk yourself down, you’re more likely to leave people feeling pleasantly surprised by your performance than disappointed that you didn’t live up to expectations.

Of course, it’s probably not true that everyone else is totally competent and you’re a big faker. Plus, spending all your time waiting for a Real Adult to show up is kind of a waste of time, and it stops us from doing the stuff that actually matters. If you find yourself unable to act because you’re too afraid that everyone will find out what a fraud you really are, that’s definitely not a good thing.

So, what’s the answer? I’m not entirely sure. If you find that your doubts and insecurities are interfering with your life, seeking professional help is probably a good idea. If things are less severe, than just acknowledging that you are not alone may be enough to snap you out of a funk. Speaking for myself, I take a certain amount of comfort in realizing that it’s normal to feel like a lost little kid sometimes. After all, I’m still the same person I was when I was seven, I’m just a little bigger and I have a little more experience.

I wonder what you think. Do you often feel like a fraud? Do you tend to discount your own successes and play up your failures? And have you found any tips or tricks that helped? I’d love to hear!

Seeking Outside Input

It’s not too late to register for Crafting my Life! The class is underway, but you have until Monday, May 16 to register. So if you’re ready for a change, sign up now.

Before you set out on your journey to live with intention, it’s a good idea to take stock of where you are. That’s why the first week of the Crafting my Life class is called Taking Stock, in fact. If your life is a map, then this is where you go searching for the little red dot that says You Are Here.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with listing their own strengths and weaknesses – most especially their strengths. We’ve been taught not to brag, not to blow our own horn and not to get too caught up in ourselves. Women, in particular, may have heard this messaging all their lives. Sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and coming up with 10 things that are awesome about yourself can feel more daunting than public speaking while naked.

If you find yourself in this position, there’s a way out. Instead of struggling to come up with a list of your own personal strengths, call on someone you love and trust. Your partner, your mom, your sister or your best friend probably have a lot of good things to say about you, if you let them. So why not let them? And then you can be a pal and return the favour. Just imagine the schmaltzy love-fest that will ensue!

I’ll be honest, here. At first, the prospect of telling someone else that I was trying to re-invent myself and I needed their input was pretty scary. What if they laughed at me? What if they thought it was the stupidest thing they ever heard? What if they had nothing good to say about me? Oh yes, my dragons had about 347 reasons why I should zip my lip and keep my dreams to myself.

It turns out that my dragons had no idea what they were talking about. Other people have been far more supportive than I expected them to be. In fact, most of the time they’re far more supportive of me than I am of myself. I think it’s because they actually can’t even hear my dragons. They’re so caught up with their own dragons that they really don’t have the time or mental energy to invest in talking me down – just as I am too caught up with my own dragons to spend much time picking apart what other people look like in photos. And so my friends and my husband and my family feel far more free to say nice things about me than I do about myself.

Sometimes, as we talk to others, we can have epiphanies and discover things that we didn’t even know about ourselves. They’ll naturally have a different perspective than we do, filtered through different experiences and ways of thinking. That outside input that they have to offer can not only boost our confidence, it can grant us greater insight and teach us something that we couldn’t learn on our own. These are all great things.

So if you find yourself stuck, unsure of where to go next, and uncertain about whether or not you can get yourself there, why not seek outside input? Take the scary step of letting one trusted person at a time in on what you’re dreaming about. Ask them for help in figuring out where you are now. And offer them the same loving input in return. You just may be surprised by what they share.

I wonder what your experiences are with seeking outside input. Do you find that others are more supportive of you than you expect? Do you broadcast your message far and wide, or just have one trusted confidant? And have you been able to return the favour for someone else? I’d love to hear!

Optimism and Life-Crafting

I think of myself as a fairly optimistic person. This doesn’t mean that I’m always upbeat and happy. I still have my fair share of dragons who like to knock me down a peg or two. And I don’t always find it easy to keep negative situations in perspective. But, on the whole, I think that my outlook is typically more positive than negative.

When I’m house-hunting, for instance, I want to move into every house I see. No matter how much out of my price range it is, how much work it needs, or how busy a street it’s on, I’m able to look on the bright side and convince myself that living there would be awesome. I focus on the upsides of any potential home, rather than the downsides. And it’s not just houses – this tendency comes into play in a whole lot of ways in my life.

Sometimes I suspect that my optimism comes from my relatively easy life. Of course, I’ve had struggles. But compared to most of the world’s population, they’re fairly minor. I’m debating which eggs to buy while other people would give anything to have eggs to eat at all. But it’s not clear that good life circumstances alone lead to optimism. People in developing nations are often far more optimistic than those of us living in comparative luxury, who’ve never had to worry about where our next meal comes from.

However, there is some sort of connection between optimism and quality of life. We know, for instance, that optimists enjoy better health and longer life spans. They’re less likely to suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure, and they’re even less likely to smoke. And it’s not just that people who are healthier naturally feel happier – when scientists examined the data further, they found that pre-existing illnesses did not eliminate the benefits of optimism.

It’s not completely clear why optimists are healthier, and there are exceptions to the rule that optimists always do better. But I think that most any person can tell you instinctively that it’s much more pleasant to feel upbeat and happy than stagnant and sad. I know that I personally find it much easier to take care of my own health when I’m in a good mood than when things aren’t going well for me. And so it stands to reason, in my mind, that my general optimism probably works in my favour.

But what if you’re not a natural optimist? What then? There are some people who suggest that you can learn to be optimistic. The idea is that living joyfully is a skill that anyone can master. And in fact, there is some research that shows us that our experiences change our brains. What antidepressants and exercise and other treatments of depression seem to have in common is an increase in neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and learn. So if you want to be more optimistic, it is possible for you to do just that.

If you want to intentionally create a life for yourself, perhaps the best thing to do is to think positively. It may not always be easy, of course. What works for you may be different than what works for me. That’s OK. It’s also OK to need some help along the way, because we all do. But if you work at it, you can make it happen. And any progress you make towards becoming more optimistic will likely help you to live with greater purpose.

What do you think? Do you think it’s worth cultivating an optimistic outlook? Do you consider yourself an optimist? And what is the best way that you know hone your positive thinking skills?

The Lesson of the Kitty Litter Coupon

Registration for the May session of the Crafting my Life online class on living with intention is open. If you’d like to live a life of greater intention, and maybe even figure out what you really want to be when you grow up, sign up today!

The people who make my cat’s kitty litter hid a “loyalty coupon” inside the latest bag. They didn’t indicate anything on the outside of the bag – I think it was supposed to be a surprise. The coupon was a piece of non-glossy paper, about the size of a business card. The problem with this is that when I’m filling the litter box, I don’t tend to sift through the litter looking for coupons that I don’t know are there. Why would I? So I only found the coupon as I was scooping cat poop, some 24 hours after it first made its way into the litter box.

As you can imagine, I won’t be redeeming the coupon. It ended up being flushed, along with the cat poop.

It struck me that there’s some sort of a lesson in this experience. And that lesson doesn’t involve keeping an eagle eye trained on your kitty litter for potential coupons.

The prize hidden inside a product is a time-honoured tradition. I’ve found coupons inside boxes of garbage bags, boxes of laundry soap, and all kinds of packaged foods. And the prize inside the box of breakfast cereal – was there anything better when you were a kid? I don’t think so. However, all of these hidden rewards have a couple of things in common:

1. The prize is relatively large compared to the amount of the product you’ll be using, so you don’t miss it.
2. Nobody, person or animal, is going to poop on them.

I think that surprises only work when they’re obvious. If they’re not obvious, then they’re by definition not all that surprising. I’ve always questioned the idea of hiding an engagement ring in food, for instance, because someone could break a tooth or swallow the thing, which brings you back to the poop problem all over again. Let the person you’re surprising know that they’re being surprised, and you’re much more likely to get the reaction that you’re going for.

So what relationship does all this have to living with intention? I think that we can take away some wisdom about using our voice. If you want to share your Thing, you have to do it in a way that other people can actually hear. You want people to get the message before it’s too late. Even if there’s no chance of poop being involved, there are a whole lot of other reasons that inappropriate timing can interfere with you sharing your Thing. Like, say, your online class on living with intention is already underway when they first hear about it (cough, cough).

I know that using your voice can be pretty scary. It’s scary for me, too. I’m always afraid that my Thing is somehow not good enough, that other people don’t want to hear about it, and that I’m better off keeping quiet. It’s tempting to half-hide it – like, say, in a bag of kitty litter. But clearly, that doesn’t work. We all need to match our message to the people we’re trying to reach, and make it easy for them to hear what we’re saying.

The alternative, I fear, may involve a run-in with cat poop, and a whole lot of disappointment all around. Learn from the kitty litter people’s mistake.

They Say it’s my Birthday

My birthday is this Thursday, May 5. I’ll be turning 35. It’s still plenty young, right?

(Please say yes!)

Amber turns 4
Happy birthday to me!

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I’m offering something special. If you register for the upcoming session of Crafting my Life between 9am and 9pm Pacific on May 5 you’ll get 35% off your class fees. Because I’m turning 35. See how I did that? That means that instead of $147 USD, the class will be $95 USD. Drop by craftingmylife.com/sign-up/ any time that day to sign up.

Are you intrigued, but uncertain? Let me tell you a little bit more about Crafting my Life. The class is about finding a sense of purpose, slaying your dragons and following your dreams. It’s about figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. And it’s about doing something just for you, in a way that’s manageable to a parent of young children. Here’s what you get with the class:

  • The ability to work at your own pace, 10 or 15 minutes at a time, with kids hanging off of you (if that’s your reality).
  • 12 weeks of material on living with intention, delivered online and via email.
  • Exclusive videos and audio interviews.
  • Membership in our online community, to help you find support on your journey.
  • A rest week mid-class, because rest is good.
  • My artistic hand-drawn play sheets, which are totally different than work sheets.
  • A chance to send the message to yourself that you – and your dreams – matter.

If you would like to get in on the action, but you’re worried that you’ll forget, subscribe to my mail list. I’ll send you an email when the discounted price goes live, and you don’t have to worry about missing out. If you subscribe already, you’re already set. So stay tuned, and celebrate my birthday with me by doing something for yourself.

PS – If you already signed up for the class during advance registration, you rock. I’ll be refunding you the extra $2 over the birthday rate. Because you shouldn’t be penalized for being ahead of the game!