It’s All Real Life

I spend a fair bit of time online, and a good portion of that time involves social media of one form or another. More and more, it’s how I connect with the wider world outside my home. It’s become my source of news and entertainment, and a way to make friends and grow a business. Professionally, I actually help other businesses with their social media channels. It’s fair to say that I’ve spent a good chunk of time hanging out on Twitter.

I recently built myself a new website. Its purpose is to collect all of the stuff I do online and provide a single place where you can see it all and find out exactly what I’m up to. It’s my attempt to organize my online life, which sometimes feels a little chaotic. I chose my tagline for the site rather hastily, and I came up with this:

I do lots of stuff online…and in real life, too.

As I was looking back over my site, something about that tagline stuck with me. It’s the delineation between the online world and real life. It very much suggests that what happens on the internet is somehow not real life. I’m not sure I like that implication.

Now, to be fair, unplugging and spending time face-to-face with the people who mean the most to you is very important. I’m not suggesting for a moment that it isn’t. It’s also true that sometimes hanging out online can get to be a little bit much. It’s good to unplug regularly. Get outside and breathe fresh air. Turn off the beeping and the pinging and the stream of constant updates. I totally understand that, and it’s why I set aside dedicated offline time myself.

Green Moms at lunch
Meeting some online friends “in real life” at BlogHer in San Diego

All the same, I believe that the internet is real life. We are real, and anything that we experience gets integrated into our life story. This could be a conversation you had with a stranger in a cafe that left you looking at the world in a whole new way. It could also be a blog post written by a stranger that left you breathless at its beauty. Chatting with someone half a world away online is every bit as real, in my mind, as making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store. When we remember that, and bring our whole and authentic selves to each experience, it changes the way we interact online and offline.

One of the reasons that’s often cited for people behaving badly on the internet is that it’s easy to be anonymous online. When you’re anonymous – and geographically removed from the person you’re trashing on – there aren’t the same consequences as there would be if you decided to sling insults to someone’s face. But the sting of hurtful words online is very real. There is always a real person in there somewhere, hiding behind a screen. That’s what makes it real life, and it’s the reason we really shouldn’t spend our time trolling online and leaving nasty comments. People have feelings, even if you can’t see their reaction with your own eyes.

If you approach everything you do as real, it changes the character of your experiences. In real life we need to cultivate positive relationships. In real life, we need to consider the impact of our actions on others. In real life, we have to consider how best to prioritize our time. In real life, we build community and make our art and work and parent. When you’re approaching a situation authentically and purposefully, you’re bringing your best self to the table. That best self can make great things happen, online and offline.

You can’t walk barefoot in the grass online. You can’t hold a baby online. You can’t taste food online. But the things you do, the connections you make, and the way it affects you are all very real. They’re no less real than anything else you do. So don’t feel the need to apologize for time you spend online, when it’s providing you with some kind of value or personal satisfaction. And remember that it’s always your choice how you use your time online, and what you bring with you when you’re there.

Ready for a change? Check out the Crafting my Life Playbook, and find your own bliss in your own time, at your own pace, without every leaving your house. Or follow Crafting my Life on Facebook and subscribe to the mail list and be the first to hear about some exciting new things coming down the pipe.

Finding Inspiration on Pinterest

I’m on Pinterest, and I love it. It’s such a beautiful way to waste time. I could spend hours just surfing through the pretty pictures, fabulous craft ideas, yummy food, funny posters and gorgeous clothes. There’s a serendipity to the whole thing that I really love. You just never know what you’re going to find, what is going to strike a chord for you or move you or make you run to get out your knitting needles because you need to start right this minute.

Normally, I find the idea of inspirational quotes to be a tad on the trite side. It’s lovely to hear advice from great people, or just some really nice words, but it can very quickly move from inspiration to platitudes. It’s important to get inspiration in small doses, I think, and not to be too falsely cheery about it. I like Pollyanna well enough, but I don’t want to become her, if you catch my drift.

And yet, on Pinterest, I am constantly pinning and re-pinning inspiring quotes. There’s something about the context that I find appealing. I’m not quite sure what it is, exactly, but I like it all the same. And since I’ve been drawing inspiration from it, I thought I’d pass some of that inspiration on to you.

Inspiration from Pinterest

  • “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” –Steven Furtick
  • “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” –Ayn Rand
  • “The Universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.” –Carl Sagan
  • “I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it.” –Maya Angelou
  • “If you are not willing to look stupid, nothing great is ever going to happen to you.” –House
  • “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” –Andy Warhol
  • “Hope anchors the soul.” –Hebrews 6:19
  • “Re-examine all you have been told. Dismiss what insults your soul.” –Walt Whitman
  • “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” –Bob Ross

Sometimes I think we all need a little bit of inspiration. A few words – or a few sentences – that meet us where we are and make us stop and sigh. Yes. That’s it. That’s it exactly. Those words will see us through, or help us to re-examine our lives. I’ve found mine on social media. Where do you find yours?

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!

The Freedom to Say No

Advanced registration for the Crafting my Life online class on living with intention is happening now. You get all of the inspiration for $50 off full price, but you only have a few days left. To get the registration link, subscribe to my mail list!

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I will tell you that my blog at Strocel.com is now “big” enough (whatever that means) that I field a lot of PR emails. Although, sadly, I did not receive the slightly-unsuitable for work, yet gloriously embarrassing best PR pitch ever. Still, on most days a couple of people drop out of the blue and into my inbox to tell me about their Thing, in the hopes that I’ll talk about it.

I politely decline most of these offers. My goal in blogging isn’t to sell to my readers, it’s to connect and build community. I don’t talk about other people’s stuff unless it’s sufficiently interesting to me, and as a rule of thumb laundry soap is not what I consider interesting. Fair enough. But not that long ago I got an email that was interesting enough that I followed up. I asked a couple of questions, and the person who had emailed me suggested we arrange a time to chat on the phone so she could answer my questions.

At the appointed time I got a call, but not from the person I’d emailed with. It was another person, and I think it’s fair to say we didn’t exactly hit it off. I kind of got the impression that he thought I was being difficult and slow to catch on, and wasting his time with my questions. He kept saying that he didn’t know what more I wanted from him, and then at one point he even informed me that he was the Director of such-and-such, which I suppose means he’s terribly important and I should do what he says.

Going into the call, I had planned to take the company up on their offer. Leaving the call, I felt confused and just generally upset. I don’t even like talking on the phone. The call hadn’t been my idea. And yet somehow I felt guilty about it. And then I thought that maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe I was being slow to catch on and difficult to deal with. Maybe I was wasting Mr. Director’s time. Perhaps this opportunity really was the best thing since sliced bread, and I should jump on it like he suggested.

When my husband Jon got home that evening I talked to him about the experience, and the emails that had gone back and forth both before and after the phone call. Jon, in typical style, cut through all of my angst and self-doubt when he said, “Look, you don’t want to deal with this guy. He sounds like a jerk. You can just say no.”

I can just say no. Just because some guy called me while my children wailed in the background and then spoke to me like I was 2 years old does not mean that I have to do what he wants me to do. I should know this. Not every opportunity that comes my way is going to be a good fit for me. Living with intention means, at least in part, giving myself the freedom to say no. I can decline something, or end something, or request some time and space to make a decision. My dragons sometimes try to convince me otherwise, but they’re wrong.

And so, that’s what I did. I said no. And I felt a big weight come off my shoulders. I felt space open up around me. It was a good thing.

I think I will put a sign up on the wall beside my core values. It’s going to say: You have the freedom to say no to things that don’t work for you. Because I do. And you know what? You do, too. And if a direct ‘no’ isn’t comfortable, there are a lot of other ways to get your point across. You can be polite and friendly while still setting boundaries.

I wonder what your experiences are with saying ‘no’. Do you find it easy to decline when someone asks for something, or offers something, that doesn’t work for you? Or do you find yourself gritting your teeth and doing a lot of stuff that you don’t like because you feel obligated? Has your ability to set boundaries increased or decreased with time? I’d love to hear from you!

Email (Over) Load

I am active online. I blog in more than one place, I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and I run the Crafting my Life online class. When I meet people for the first time, they have often been to my blog first and they know something about me. Which is cool with me. I’m active online because I like being active online. I’ve met some really cool people, made some great connections and found a way to share my voice.

There are some downsides to being all over the internet, though. One of the biggest is that I get a lot of email. I would estimate it comes in at around 100 messages a day, give or take. A good portion of them are Twitter, Facebook and blog comment notifications. Some are from friends and family members who are actually emailing me. Some come from PR folks pitching me, hoping that I’ll write about them on Strocel.com. And still more come from mail lists that I subscribe to.

I don’t think that my email volume is that amazingly high, as far as things go. I bet that many people get two or three times as many messages a day, especially if they get a lot of email both at work and at home. But I will admit that I have a hard time keeping on top of it, all the same. Because each and every one of those messages requires me to devote some mental energy to it, even if it’s only pressing the ‘Delete’ button.

I’m on a quest to create more space in my life in 2011. One of the ways that I’m doing that is taking conscious steps to separate my work time from my play time. And to be perfectly honest, dealing with the constant onslaught in my inbox is not helping me to further that goal. There is always something coming at me. I can step away, but it will still be there waiting for me.

The fabulous Havi went on email sabbatical two years ago, which means that she doesn’t look at email at all anymore. Even though she’s all over social media and runs an online business. Of course, she has someone else who deals with email for her, which is something I don’t have. But still, she does it, and I’ll admit that a part of me thinks the idea of never having to deal with email again sounds lovely.

But then, I think about all the messages that I get that are awesome. I think about the way that I’m connecting with the Crafting my Life participants via email, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that. I get a lot of cool messages. I make some great connections. I simplify things like event planning and so on. I don’t want to give up email, really. I just want to contain it a little.

I’ve tried different tactics for coping with email before. I’ve tried the “deal with it all as it comes in so that it’s off my plate” strategy. That doesn’t work because there’s always something coming in and I may never do anything else. I’ve tried sorting methods involving folders and labels and action items. That’s hard to maintain, and sometimes things get filed away and totally forgotten if I do this because they’re not visible to me anymore. And I’ve also tried setting aside specific “email time”, but that failed, mostly because I didn’t stick to it.

If I’m going to create space in my life, I’ll need a better system for containing email. It’s overrunning my life at the moment, and I don’t like the feeling. So now I’m asking for input. How do you keep your email manageable? What systems do you use? And how many emails do you get a day? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

While you consider your response to my email quandary, why don’t you take a little bit of time to listen to my recent radio appearance? I was on Real Parenting in Victoria, speaking about Crafting my Life. And it was super-fun! I kind of love radio – who knew?

There are no Gurus

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. It’s the best tool that I know of for connecting to a wide variety of people online. I love it. And like anyone who’s ever spent three minutes on Twitter, I can tell you that it’s chock full of ‘social media experts’. Every second person on Twitter can help you build your platform! Gain followers! Optimize your SEO! All that jazz.

In fairness, I have to say that a social networking sites like Twitter are the place you’d expect to run into social media experts. If someone claimed to be a social media expert and they didn’t have a Twitter account, I’d doubt their credentials. Kind of like I doubt parenting advice that comes from people who don’t have kids. There are some things you can really only learn by doing, and I think that good social media is one of them.

But. The title of ‘social media expert’ is something we bestow on ourselves. And it’s something that everyone is still figuring out. There are no universally accepted rules when it comes to social networking. And even if there were, they would vary for each person who uses social networking, since we all have different goals. It’s just as valid to use Facebook to re-connect with a childhood friend as it is to use Facebook to promote your business. And many people use it for both. Some people combine all of their identities, and some people keep their ‘business’ and ‘personal’ social media completely separate. All totally fine.

There are no gurus, except for the gurus that we decide to recognize for ourselves. That’s definitely true in social networking, but it’s also true in many other areas of life. As I re-create a life for myself in a totally different field, I learn that the real secret to life is getting out there and doing that thing you want to do. There is no special magic to being a writer, or a photographer, or a farmer, or an artist. Yes, some people gain advantages through serendipity and twists of fate. But most of the time, people become experts because they put in the hours doing the work.

The trick to being a writer is sitting in a chair and writing. The trick to being a photographer is getting out there and taking photos. The secret to being a farmer is getting out into the fields and growing food. In the process of doing the thing, you develop your own style. You learn more than you ever could through any other means. And you become an expert in your own right.

If you want to do great things, you can go ahead and do them. Tell people what you’re doing. People you meet at the library, people you meet at your writer’s group and people you meet online. Take some PR lessons from your kids. Connect and engage and practice, practice, practice. I believe that is the secret to success.

Now I’m going to practice what I preach and tell you about what I’m doing. I am hard at work on my Crafting my Life course, which I plan to launch in mid-January. I’ve been working on this site, and it’s now all green and orange, which have become my colours. I have a logo, and if you want to see it first, join my super-cool email list using the form on the right. Not only will you be the first to see my logo, you’ll get tips and updates, and special advance offers and pricing when my course launches.

I’m also closing in on a tagline, but I’d still like to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment, or vote in the poll in the sidebar.

Now, how about you? What are you up to? I’d really love to hear!