“When I get married, I’m totally having you do my invites.” – Why I’m Changing the Business Offerings of S2 Stationery & Design + When

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An advertisement I snapped a picture of just before leaving Japan in January, 2013. That was 3.5 years ago and this sign seems more relevant now than it did the day I took the photo.

I’ve been running S2 Stationery & Design for over seven years now.

Yep, you read that correct, SEVEN YEARS!!

And it’s time for a change.

You already know the story, the idea for S2 came to me while traveling around Italy a month after my father’s death in 2009. It was a series of signs that came to me and then a dream that resulted in this dance I’ve been doing since. A dance that has turned into a full-fledged and non-stop Merengue (the kind where you’re left gasping and wondering when the damn song is going to end) in 2012.

There are moments where I honestly believe that I’ve worked my ass off to get to this point. Then, there are moments where I don’t believe I’ve worked my ass off to get this point. Those moments are the most difficult. Those are the days and nights where I struggle to sleep because I don’t have enough money to pay this bill or do that thing with my friends, or to pay back someone I borrowed money from a few weeks prior. It is exhausting and I wonder if I should at that point pack it in and be an adult – find a 9-to-5 job that pays me well enough to stop the stress. Those are the nights that have and continue to leave me feeling stuck.

People like me love to talk about following their passions. As they should. We are following our passions that come across as outrageous and/or out-of-the-box, and that anyone who is looking for stability wouldn’t understand. What I’m doing is not for the faint of heart, but nothing about following your passion is glamorous or inspiring for that matter. That last point often gets glossed over when people choose to deal with the awe of tossing common sense for a passion.

Following my passion, has required me to become comfortable with asking for help (which I rarely did before), saying no (even to people I love the most), feeling lonely (I barely go out any more), gaining weight (stress beats the shit out of your body), and living in a space of doubt, so much doubt, that I’m continuously uncertain of my accomplishments.

Something that people who talk about following their passions never really discuss is the sticky space of what happens when, like me, you don’t have thousands of dollars saved up and have to work a job to help bring in money so that you can survive and afford the basic necessities. There are so many people, gurus of this “follow your passion” movement, who have taken office jobs to save money and then quit. They talk about this as though it’s a temporary solution that is magical. And it may have been for them, but as someone who has sat in this space for a while now, it’s killing me.

I found my current 9-to-6 job at a point where what I was doing was not working. Where I was bouncing from lots of part-time jobs that kept me from focusing on S2 Stationery and had me resent my decision to quit my job. Let me be a bit more clear -I was resenting the loss of the steady income I no longer had, not the job itself. Working for the last company I worked for was not all that pleasant and I know I made the right decision by leaving.

I know this sounds dramatic, but I feel the same way I felt a few years ago when I was working for a big corporation in NYC. While I haven’t reached the point of crying for the 30-minute duration of my commute, the unhappiness has resulted in overeating, not exercising, not wanting to get up in the morning early enough to do work I need to get done for S2, etc. And I’m fed up with it. Honestly, I’ve been daydreaming about quitting and all the ways it can happen.

Now, the part of me that wants to maintain my car and apartment, fight this and that’s why I do eventually get up and get dressed and go to work. And that part reminds me that I need to motivate myself and do the work that I need to do. And this same part reminds me that it’s time to create goal deadlines to get out of this situation.

All of this leads me to changes…and you may be thinking that you’ve gotten to this point and still don’t understand the quoted bit in the post’s title, “When I get married, I’m totally having you do my invites.”  Let me explain…

When I started S2, I was a diehard fan of creating wedding invites. I wanted to spend a ton of my time working with brides and catering to their needs and whims in a design capacity. I have been told so many times, I’ve lost count, the quote above, and finally after seven years, I’ve decided that I don’t want to hear it any more. Primarily because it’s not true. Every single person who has made that statement has in fact, not used my design for their wedding, nor have they even reached out.

Now, before you accuse me of sounding bitter, note that I’m not. I’m actually quite gleeful that I’m shutting down the wedding invitation design side of S2 Stationery & Design. In fact, I’m shutting down a lot of the custom design business. And I’m quite glad.

It’s been seven years since I started this journey and while I’ve enjoyed every single customer I’ve worked for and every single project I’ve commissioned, as I take stock of both myself personally and my business professionally, I’m letting go of the things that are not worth my time. I’m saying, “NO!” to the stuff that isn’t fulfilling me anymore. I’m saying no to even the thought of a promise that isn’t there.

The next stage of S2 is taking shape and has been vaguely discussed in other posts that I haven’t followed up on, and is being ironed out now, but there is still a ways to go. I’m sure I’ll do some commissioned work and maybe even the occasional wedding invite during this time (I’ve had a few people say, “crap, but I really did plan on using you when the day came!), especially if it is aligned with the work I’m transitioning to, but I’m no longer holding out on promises and work that does not nourish me or my creative pursuits.  This isn’t about the money, or lack there of, either. No, this is about the nourishment. Finally! Right now, the nourishment is found elsewhere and I’m excited for this change.

I’m finalizing some creative projects now, but in Quarter 4, starting October 1st, S2 is moving away from the custom work you’ve known. I’ll still be making stationery sets and individual greeting cards. I’ll still have these wares at markets, but the real work – the work my soul has been longing for the past two years begins. I’ll do my best to keep you up-to-date in a more consistent fashion as things change over.

More soon!

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How Will I Know When I’ve Succeeded?

“Think about the big questions that drive your business. What challenges are you trying to solve? What changes are you going to make to your industry? How will you know when you’ve succeeded? ” –  Adelaide Lancaster (Co-Founder, In Good Company)

I was reading through some articles this morning for the end of the Month posting with my favorite articles and came across those words from Adelaide Lancaster, who wrote the article titled “Build Your Business Empire by Thinking Big and Starting Small” for Women 2.0.  As I continued reading the article, I kept going back to those questions, especially the last one, “How will you know when you’ve succeeded?”

How will I know when I’ve succeeded? 

I haven’t the faintest idea. Which scares me!

Why?

Well because I’m a type-A goal focused control freak. Okay, maybe I’m not all of that, but I am quite a bit of all of that.  I’m flexible in everything that I do, but I am prone to have a new goal almost as soon as the old goal fails, dies, or finishes.  For example, after Marathon number 4 on November 6th, I have decided that I will focus on rock climbing. I haven’t even begun to look at places for me to tackle this challenge/goal, but I know that I’ve wanted to do it for a while and I did it once, freaked out and then climbed to the top, so I can do it.  More importantly, I want to experience that feeling again, get better at it, and build strength. Crucial not just for my health, but for my brain; changing activities and moving toward new challenges helps keep me motivated, challenged, and learning.

I know you’re thinking, “Great, you know when to stop running, but what does it have to do with knowing how to succeed in your business?”

My point in sharing the bit about knowing it’s time to leave running endurance events alone for a new challenge is that I’m aware I know when to cut my losses and move toward a new area. Which seems to me as part of knowing when I’ve reached a success business wise.  But I know it is just a piece, a very small piece.   And the differences are huge. Now, I know I need to move on from running  (and a few other things) because of three things:

  • I’m exhausted with the status quo;
  • I’m bored;
  • I need to spice up my life a bit with variety.

I’m a Sagittarius, I can’t help that I’m this way. And just for the record, I am not blaming my fire sign for my lack of care and boredom, I’m just saying it’s a trait of my sign and I’m okay with it.   This is something that is part of my DNA. As much, and often, as I talk about wanting to go into the woods and remove myself from distractions and find peace and quiet, I know that it’s unrealistic. I need people, noise, smog, dirt, and all the rest of the ugly as much as I need beauty, peace, nature, time alone, and quiet. All of those things help make up my creative person I am.  I also don’t ever want any of this to tie in with my business. I want S2 to thrive and grow and if I ever feel the way I feel about running about S2, we’re in trouble.

So back to knowing when I succeed, I’m still stumped.

The questions that have me thinking are the following:

  1. Will it be when I make a certain amount of money? Probably not. Although, that will be a great success in deed!
  2. Will it be when I’ve given back to the community in ways that I can see the value?  Probably part of my success equation, but not the total sum.
  3. Will it be when I have my own studio space and some employees? That’s definitely part of the equation, too, but again, only part. 
  4. Will it be when I have a work/life balance? Again, part of the equation, but still not the full total. 
  5. Will it be when sales are at a certain level?  Or rather when I’ve completed “X” amount of custom orders?   I haven’t even considered this! Currently, a sale is a sale and exposure, so I’m always pleased for a sale, but I don’t know that making a goal of having 100 custom orders or 200 sales is really going to make me feel like I’ve succeed. I mean sure, it’s a goal, and a good one to have, but it’s not the end all be all and I know it’s not what is propelling me into this business and industry, so no. 
  6. Will it be based on my customer(s) joy? You can bet on that! But again, not the complete sum, just a piece of the final equation.

Hmm… I’m going to have a complicated equation when I finally get this down! I also see now that I really need to give this thought. It doesn’t have to take that much space to the point where I’m not working on design, but it should definitely be something that I focus on as I create my business plan and strategy.  I think it should also align with my company values and mission.

But a mission and personal values don’t always add up to success. I don’t want any of you to think that I don’t have my values and mission aligned because I do. But those are more about education and helping people. Both amazing and extremely possible things, but I need to have a product and a successful one to boot to create the opportunities that I want to in education and that help people.  This is a conundrum that any business person and entrepreneur faces. It is what leads many to decide whether they want to outsource or not, or use plastic to wrap their products, or find a more eco-friendly alternative.  It boils down to having a profit to make other things happen. I’m realistic about this, but I’m also an idealistic optimist. I believe that we can all find solutions that aren’t hurtful and can inspire positive impacts.

And so, now my plan is to adopt this question as my basis for my business plan.  The profit that I make will have to be based on how I determine and measure my success as much as anything else I would consider. 

This will be an interesting experiment and I’m sure that many a well established business person is scratching their head and laughing at me.  But I’m going to remain adamant about this. I’m going to see how I can develop a profitable and sustaining business based on not just my values and mission, but on how I finally conclude as my equation for establishing success as a business.

I had decided earlier this year that in 2012, I would really put effort into piecing together my polished business plan. I know I’ve mentioned before that I do not have a business plan. I mean, I do, it sits on my hard drive no longer than four pages.   I’ve been all action and not strategy since 2009.  2011 has been a great year for me to help pick things that will help make the more concrete strategy next year, but it’s partially why I risked a lot more money this year and dove into tabling shows and created ready-to-sell pieces (that I had originally been against) without any real consideration or depth and planning.

As someone who has experience in business and studied Marketing in college, I had set out to create a business plan first and then immediately got caught up in the creative element. I don’t regret that I have done things this way, but I do think in 2012, as I approach my three year mark, it’s time to step my game up and be able to present my business in a way that’s not just for paper lovers, invitation and stationery needers, and fellow crafters, but business people who can see my big picture and go to bat for my team, as I continue to make things with a focus on high quality, small scale, and  unlimited education.

I should definitely be scared, but I should also be excited. The future is and will be extremely bright, I just need to figure out how I will determine and measure my success.  To the drawing board, I go!

I’ll make sure that you know how I end up with my equation (believe me, I’m about to create an equation!). I want to know about your success measurements and equations. If you have one that you think I can learn from or should see to help me, please share! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to ponder what they consider their footprint.

Chasing After A Mentor

Ahhh, the elusive mentor. Actually, it’s more like the famous mentor. Also can be known as the “in demand mentor”.

When I started working, I was on the hunt for a mentor. I wanted someone who not only I could look up to, but from whom I could learn from; who would guide down the correct career path.

One of my greatest frustrations with my current job is the lack of having a mentor. See, ever since graduating from college, where I had this incredible academic career, full of amazing education and professors that I not only respected, but looked up to, I’ve been hunting for a mentor.

Every job I’ve ever worked has left me feeling a bit deflated about ever finding a mentor.  I’ve had such high expectations in all of my bosses that I’ve often been left disappointed when I’ve found out they were not mentor material nor realistic.

I thought I had found him/her when I started working at my current 9-t0-5, but I didn’t and I had to deal with the anger and the emotions that came with it and eventually led to having a low morale for the work I do and my career. However, in all of that, I have found other mentors, but they are mentors in another way. They are people who inspire me to be better and to keep going after my dreams and aspirations.

One of those mentors is someone I call my BFFI (Infinite BFF). He’s definitely inspired me with his work ethic, but what really inspires me with is his open-mindedness.  I think I’m a fairly open-minded person, but Mark, well, Mark IS open-minded. He’s the definition of it. He can speak (and sing in!) Japanese, English and Spanish fluently. He dances like no other. He travels with amazing abandon and zest and he constantly reminds me that “today, I have the ability to make great things happen if I choose to move past the small things that are bothering me”.  He’s incredibly inspiring.

My second mentor is my coworker, the same one who I wrote about yesterday, who although frustrates me sometimes, reminds me that being fair and not so hot-headed is worth developing and practicing. In the past four years, I’ve watched her grow and change in ways that have inspired my own growth. We know that I’m always going to be true to Sara, but having someone close to me grow has helped shift my perspective.

The two above are personal growth mentors. Which is a good thing to have (I don’t have to pay for a life coach with the two above plus all the other amazing friends I have), but they aren’t helping my career path.  Well, actually they are, but that’s because I’m going after my own career path. I’m now chasing my dream and that happens to be the path of my career. Which is super and amazing, but what about all the people out there still seeking a mentor to call their own?

Well, I have a bit more of a cynical, but hopeful take on this. I don’t believe that they can or will ever find a mentor until real leaders start to show their faces around not just in business, but the world in general.  I firmly believe that the world is missing genuinely good leaders. Whether they are good, or bad (take a President or Prime Minster, who may have to choose war over peace) the world is hungry for leadership that is exactly that, leadership. Not dictatorship. Not tyranny. Not the kind that is micro-managing. The kind that is challenging and engaging. The kind that is open, honest, and changing. The kind that is also intelligent. The kind that requires that everyone else around them be intelligent, too. The kind that is trusting. Finding leadership like this is so far and few in between, especially when you consider economic, social and cultural issues, and rampant distrust, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Actually, I think it’s in the next wave of entrepreneurs. Once they develop their businesses and hire employees, they will create nurturing and inspiring environments for people of all backgrounds.

These are the entrepreneurs not just focused on wealth and money, but focused on creating products that are built on awareness. On the idea that “Everything touches Everything” (Thanks, Borges!). On the same idea that doing transparent business that educates and is good for the environment and the people is not far fetched and definitely not an after thought. That also considers the environment and the employees/individuals in other countries (where they get pieces of their product from or who do the actual assembly) as stakeholders as well as entities that have the same basic right to respect and a good, happy, and healthy existence  as vital to their own business and personal development and growth.   

I know, I know. I sound like a crazy hippy. I kind of am. I’m a creative type, even in my Type-A-ness.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve not only been searching for a mentor, I’ve been looking for a job that inspires me to be a better and greater person through my work.  Not a bad thing. Some thing else I believe is that while we all want to be comfortable and successful lives, we also want lives with meaning. How we go about finding and making that meaning is different as we are each unique and different individuals, but it runs through us like the blood in our veins.

Which is why I’ve stopped looking and started creating!

Now, instead of looking and seeking a mentor, I’ve been able to construct the idea of the mentor I want to be for others and for myself as well as the work environment I would like to have one day when my shop is not just a space in my apartment and I have employees, maybe even just one.  I wouldn’t have gotten this far without my lack of a mentor and my jobs.  In fact, while I haven’t been able to find the boss that is my mentor, I’ve discovered that my jobs have actually been my mentor.  They have each, inspired actions that I have taken with my own business. I can not even begin to express how grateful I am to have that knowledge alone.  Furthermore, it shows me that every step of the way, all the unhappiness and unfulfilling jobs have not been in vain. They have all been huge in the development of my desires as I cobble together this stationery company.

So what about finding a mentor?  

Well, here’s the funny thing – it would seem as though I have found little pieces of  mentor in the people who surround me. What I mean is that while I’m focused on becoming a mentor that I would want in myself, I’ve also surrounded myself by people who help me piece that constantly. I realized this Tuesday evening as I sat in my printers office, counting and recounting seating and escort cards for an order they completed that day.  Patty, my printer, was super patient and even counted the cards herself to see that I wasn’t just off on my counting. She then printed the files for me to use to check against and we found the two missing cards.  It was a late night for her and her husband and the shop, but as we fixed the problem and chatted about life I realized that she is a piece of my mentor search. She’s someone who knows her stuff, is strong-willed and tough, but not too tough. She took me to dinner, even after I protested and told her I should be taking HER to dinner.  As we sat at dinner, we talked about printing and teaching and she said to me, “you know Sara, I help you because you want to learn. Because I show you what you did wrong and you watch me and you fix it the next time you bring something in for me to print.”   That’s hardly the best compliment I’ve ever been told, but when you compare it to being told, “there’s no room for you to sit at the table during the meeting, but you can sit in a chair in the corner, if you want”- it’s encouraging, supportive, and helpful.

It is why I’d rather sit in the print shop and watch Patty work her magic than sit at my own desk and work. I’m learning! I’m being nurtured and engaged about stuff in my industry!  I’ll take that same lesson and share it with someone else because I believe when we educate people, we give them freedom to take something and turn it into their own. As a result you, the teacher, are rewarded in appreciation and sometimes even loyalty and commitment. That’s what a leader and mentor does. 

While I would not categorize Patty as the “mentor” I’ve spent the past 9 years seeking, I have definitely found something in her that is what I’ve been looking for and I’m so glad I have, too. I’ve got a lot to learn from her and I’m excited for the experience and for what she can and will show me. I’m also excited to see how I use that information to mentor myself and others.

I guess what I’m saying is to not give up looking for your mentor, but be open to learning bits and pieces from lots of different people. Then use that to build yourself a mentor within that shines through and inspires others, even if it is in just some small way. That small way will undoubtedly start something much larger.  

Evaluating Self-Value and Self-Worth, Or Something Along Those Lines

This is another personal post. It won’t get too heavy on the personal, but it’s coming from a very personal place so bear with me.

I have a full-time job and I’m not always the happiest camper. That is all I’m going to say about my job. I would hate for anyone to ever find that I wrote the sordid details of my unhappiness on the interweb. But having shared that one simple statement, I can share with you the following-my unhappiness has found me in the situations below:

weight gain of almost 15lbs. Yes, I am to blame for not exercising and indulging in emotional eating, but when I’m not motivated, everything in my life suffers.

overspending. Have you heard that when people gain weight, they have a tendency to spend more? There is documentation that this is in fact true. I have overspent in my past. I don’t want anyone to confuse this with me shopping. In fact, my shopping for personal items stopped, but my spending in seeing doctors and eating out increased. As you can see-therapy, acupuncture and eating meals have pushed me over the edge.

lack of motivation. This one you may be scratching your head about, but it’s true. I’ve  felt unhappy with my current status of employment on many occasions that I’ve been left feeling unmotivated. Unmotivated to do basic things like laundry or cooking for myself.  There was even a month where I didn’t touch a single thing of stationery. I thought about stationery, but instead I found myself  sitting on the couch watching repeat episodes of Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel.  Talk about unhealthy. I’d have to switch off the show when I got really grossed out by what he was eating.

low self value. I’ve had low points before, but they have never been as bad as this period. This was hands down the worst period of low-confidence and self-doubt that I’ve experienced ever (high school not included) and it has left me in tears and frustrated in ways I can’t properly express in this article.

Those are the big ones. They’re the ones that have me motivated. All of a sudden my self-value that was no where to be found, is shining through and it has proven to be the swift kick-in-the-butt that I’ve needed.

You may be wondering why I’m divulging so much information to you, but I think every individual needs to understand and explore the concept of self-value.

I’ve learned that for me self-value affects every aspect of my life-romance and social, health, finances and mental areas. While I’ve engaged socially almost as if nothing were wrong, I’ve also gone to bed early, drank too much, and even not wanted to get out of bed.  My day-to-day existence (a 9-to-5 job, not to be confused with a career) has led me to unsettling planes of gray that has only led me to the four points above.  Needless to say this did not make for a happy Sara. And an unhappy Sara can only go so far. Meaning that I was left feeling stranded- almost treading water and hating every exhausting minute of it.

The days that led to the aforementioned kick-in-the-butt played out over the course of two days.  The first was two Fridays ago, June 17th, as I relabeled every piece of product I made for Celebrate Brooklyn!. I had made a mistake in my initial round of labeling and took the time on Friday to rewrite and relabel every piece. It was tiring, but as I sat there removing old labels and sticking new ones with a price increases, I knew I was in uncharted waters of gauging my self-value. The second key day was in the same week, Wednesday, June 15th, when I learned of my bosses opinion on my value.

Before I get further into this, what the labeling action forced me to realize is this-when I create a product, I infuse the product with every fiber of my being. Every minute that I’m a perfectionist goes into each piece I create.  From the very beginning stages of the creative process, I throw myself in completely to a project. Not only that, but I go out of my way to find inspiration, paper, products and anything else for that matter that will make the project be the best thing ever. I make a product and then remake it better. I don’t stop until it meets the standard of Sara. I realize this is a luxury in the handmade, small business owner world, but I think the most successful businesses are the ones that allow that much focus and pride to be shown in their work. Where they don’t allow greed and speed to cloud efficiency and quality.

Which is why when my boss denied me a salary increase reflective of my increased work load, I realized, “hey, you wouldn’t let someone talk you down price for an order, why should you let this person, your “boss”, tell you your time, energy and work isn’t worth more money?”  This is the most important reason why those labels got a little extra boost and that’s why this posting was written.  The rest of this post isn’t about money, it is about everything else that goes into self-value, but it is important that you readers know the catalyst of all of this revolves around money and the concept of money.

As I’ve considered those two days, I’ve acknowledged something about myself – at 30-years-old, I am still suffering from teacher’s pet syndrome. I don’t know if that’s an actual syndrome or not, but when I was a kid, I wanted validation from authority figures. I didn’t care an ounce about my peers and that is still the case now. It was the “leaders” that I wanted recognition from.  Mostly my teachers, after all I spent most of my day with them.  As I got active in extracurricular activities, I found myself in various top positions of Student Council. I clearly wanted to be a leader.  Now, I can see how those needs and roles led me to this point.

As an individual, I am a natural flirt and can be quite charming (unless I am unhappy and then I’m the complete opposite) which means that it is rather easy for me to be liked by people and to fall into the teacher’s pet persona. I don’t say this in a full-of-myself way either, I say it quite honestly. Sometimes people like me too much and I get bothered.

Either way, because I have suffered from this syndrome, I find that as I’ve left schooling and moved into the “working” world, I have hung on to that desire of having the “leaders”-my bosses and superiors-like me.  When they haven’t, I’ve suffered from a lack of motivation.  In the past, I’ve  dealt with this in two ways: 1.) by finding opportunities for me to be motivated and 2.) moved away from the job.  However, at my current job, I have made several attempts to move away but have not been successful and thus spiraled into the dreaded gray plane of “blah.”

Which is why on June 17th as I listened to my boss tell me that I was in fact not getting a pay increase that I felt I deserved, I reigned in my emotions, graciously thanked her and then realized that I am the idiot for not realizing sooner that what my boss thinks of me has absolutely NO matter what-so-ever. As a matter of fact, all of the “leaders” I’ve looked to for validation have absolutely meant nothing.  They know how to play “the game” of office politics and that does not include me unless I choose to play the game as well. I don’t play the game well. I never have. Instead choosing to not play the game has allowed them to injure my self-value and self-worth. Every time they’ve denied me an opportunity to be myself, earn a raise, or be promoted, I’ve injured myself by having allowed the action.

But not anymore.

I am worth so much more. I mean this in the sense of individual worth. Yes, I know how much I’m worth, but why have I allowed others to tell me how much I’m worth? Or rather how much they think I’m worth? Honestly it is because I’ve been looking for a mentor to nurture me and show me the ropes, but I haven’t found it and I’m beginning to think that in the broken world that is business, I’m never going to find it. It should be noted that I’m not a defeatist nor do I like giving up on things, which is why I am instead going to make it. I’m going to pursue being my own best mentor.  My first step is deciding to not look back, unless it’s in sharing the story of how I changed how I value myself from how I wanted others to provide that value for me.

It doesn’t need to be said, but for the first time, I feel truly liberated! Mostly, I feel liberated from the strapping that is my current job, but I also feel completely more involved and committed in moving toward my dream of S2 Stationery and Design. Yes, I have already been moving and this year has seen some great progress, but when you’re unmotivated (see the four points above), things have a way of passing you by if you’re not paying attention.

Which leads me to the creation of my next great plan for 2011/2012. It’s stellar and I’m oh, so, excited about it, but I want to cross all my t’s and dot my i’s before spreading the news.

I think over all what this made me realize is that I am quiet pleased with who I am and what I’ve learned but I am ready to and in need to shake things up a bit. The reality is I’ve had an amazing existence and 30 is proving to be an amazing age.  Which leaves me to bask in the pleasure of knowing what I think of myself and following it in the directions and paths that it will inevitably leave me. This includes increasing prices on every sticker for product, not being afraid to demand things, and throwing myself out to the world with arms wide open and childlike abandon. That’s what my gypsy self would want anyway.

Coincidence and Inspiration…

Or one of my favorite quotes, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” — Max Ehrmann (Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life)

And so…

I woke up Tuesday morning and felt coincidence in the air. Kind of the way, I can look at a pink sky in the winter and feel the snow that is about to fall. It’s a bit off. I know.

This kind of reminds me of how I used to tell my brother that I could see air. I can’t see air. I’ve never been able to see air, BUT I used to space out and would see these particles floating in the air. More than likely dust, but I still would tell my brother, “I can see air!” He’s quickly tell me that I couldn’t and that would be that.

Alas, Tuesday morning, I woke up and felt coincidence. Then I came to work and told my coworker that I felt coincidence in the air that we had to be ready to deal with all that was going to happen. I’m not really going to delve into why I felt so strongly about coincidence, but it does involve a name and the fact that the person who the name belonged to was on my brain and then I started reading a book where the name popped up and then Tuesday morning as I sat at my desk talking to my coworker who was reading an email to me written by a guy with the same name, another coworker with the same name called me. Oy, coincidence, you are both my friend and foe!

And folks, the coincidences did not stop there! The only thing is I can’t quite remember them. What I can tell you, though, is that as the day went on and then yesterday came, I felt like all the little moments that had made up the past two days were in fact destined.

Yes, I know some people think destiny is bull.

Yes, I know that I am the captain of my ship and therefore what I do is what I do and if I make things happen, then I make them happen. BUT I also believe in the great wide universe. I believe she helps and when you ask for things, she listens and helps you find what you, we, me, all of us are looking for.

I also believe that everything happens for a reason. Which means keeping aware that coincidences are things that are meant to happen and just take part in making the bigger picture more recognizable and inspiring.

Having started last weekend, while dog sitting for a friend (I’ve considered taking up dog walking/sitting as a potential job for when I make my Sasquatch step), photographing and attending the Long Island City CSA Farmer Meet and Greet event, shopping for last-minute necessary items for my products for Celebrate Brooklyn! and having amazing, in-depth conversations about life, goals and purpose over amazing meals with friends and family, I knew that good things were to come this week.

And it did! Yesterday morning, I attended this AMAZING breakfast through Gotham Media Ventures called: Women and the Entrepreneurial Spirit in New York. The panel consisted of four amazing women:

Ellie Cachette, CEO, ConsumerBell
Holly Hurd, Serial Entrepreneur; Founder, Venturemom.com
Sheelah Kolhatkar, Assistant Managing Editor, Bloomberg Business Week; Author, “If Women Ran Wall Street,” NY Magazine
Wendy Weinstein Karp, Co-Owner PLATES Restaurant; Owner W2K Marketing Consultant

All of these women were different in how they went about their business ideas and planning, yet all of them were the same in how passionate they are about their businesses and following their dreams. Amazing stuff, ladies and gents!

The key points that I took away from the session are:

1. Successful women are:
-Focused on work
-Don’t have time for very many outside activities
-Are very determined and almost have an immigrant mentality that makes them willing to do whatever it takes.
2. When you hire people on board, hire people you can enjoy and who will empower you.
3. Never be afraid to ask for help from family and friends and to talk, talk, talk about yourself to everyone and anyone. You never know who your friends and family know and how they can be of help.
4. YOU are the brand! So remember to control your content, your SEO, your social media.
5. Find your Niche.
6. Rather than who is your target, always ask the following: “What are the people whom you are trying to reach going to believe?”
7. If you go to a networking event (like this) and it doesn’t work for you and you know you’re going to leave, make sure you give your card out to at least 5 people. No matter what, tell your story, shake hands and kiss babies. That’s your role as the CEO.
8. Dreams don’t come true when you just think about them part-time. (LOVE THIS ONE!)
9. Don’t accept no as an answer. Be relentless!
10. Always move forward.

I left completely and totally star truck, but not by fame and fortune, instead by women and the potential of women. I was also struck by how honest and open these women were about their lives, goals, and dreams. All of these women had amazing things to say. They all talked about what they would have done differently and what inspired them to go off now. They talked about following instincts and also planning. They also talked about realizing when you, as a woman, an employee, and as an individual, need to reassess your life and wants and take the opportunity.

The last bit is something that I think everyone as individuals needs to do and experience regularly, not just when a large shift occurs. It’s so easy to continue going in circles trying to figure out safety nets for the leap, but sometimes you just have to leap and the net appears.

In the past two weeks, I’ve come from under that overwhelmed, unmotivated, and deeply unhappy place to realize that I’ve got to keep moving. I’ve been fortunate enough to see all the wonderful signs that the universe and my wonderful friends have thrown my way and I feel a bit lighter and brighter.

Rather than feeling stuck, I now feel excited (Celebrate Brooklyn! is two weeks away!) and ready, now, more than ever, to make bigger steps. No more baby steps (please tell me you’ve seen “What About Bob?”); I’m making teenage steps now. Next will come young adult steps, 20-something steps, adult steps and finally the big step, the Sasquatch step. When I do, you’ll know!

If you’re planning and plotting for your Sasquatch step, good luck! Always know that there are things, positive and amazing things waiting for you when you do. Also, you’ll know when to take it. You’ll feel it like a jolt, or a shock or much like when the air just speaks to you. Keep your eyes open for the coincidences, signs, and occurrences and be inspired and inspire.

Sara in Japanese Means Dish

Readers! I signed up for the second session of beginners Japanese.

I know, I left many of you wondering if I’d do it now, or do it later. Although, I don’t think it was too much of a mystery. Plus, you fine ladies and gents are of the smart/genius kind of human, so I know you figured it out after last week’s posting. However, in the case that you were mystified and unsure, I’m here to tell you that I decided to continue. Also, if this past week’s class was a sign of things to come, I am so glad I signed up immediately rather than waiting for 10 weeks to go by!

Monday was a bit of an odd day for me-it started off late, but again it’s more so that my brain is reeling from all the work I have to get done in the next two weeks. There just isn’t enough time.  And yet, I know it’ll happen and in between that time, I’ll sleep, eat, cook, clean, fend off the rain, and write random sentences in Japanese so that I don’t ever have a class like the class I had on Monday!

Monday night, I walked into class and said, “sumimasen”  which means, “I’m sorry” in Japanese.  Dai, was pleased to see me and said, “rocking that you’re in class today, Sara-san.” That made me giggle. Remember, slight crush on my instructor?! I sat down, got out my books and then fell into a black hole of what the hell is he talking about?

See, we returned to conjugation, but added things like nouns and adverbs. We also learned about how to define the REAL subject when there are two subjects in a sentence. Over all, the class made me think that I know absolutely nothing about English sentence structure. But then I realized that it is more like English sentence structure and Japanese sentence structure are two different, extremely different monsters.

I also learned something that I’ve always known about myself. When I am stressed out, I retain nothing and blabber like an idiot for a good portion of the time it takes until I calm down.  For example, as I sat at the table, trying to write down notes, trying to listen to my classmates ask each other questions and hyperventilating because I could not follow, I sat there not retaining anything. At one point, I even made up my own rule about using adverbs after a verb, which by the way is not acceptable in Japanese.  The reason why all of this was going on is really all because I made the decision to take the class last-minute and then BAM!, it was Monday night and I hadn’t looked over my words once. So not only was I trying to listen, write and speak, I was also trying to figure out what words everyone was using from what sheet and then also trying to figure out how the sentences were being strung together.

In the end, when I calmed down and stopped stressing out, I understood better. I was able to answer the questions in Japanese and ask questions as well. More importantly, I was able to listen and understand instead of listen and freak out from not understanding.

I think in large part this has to do with Dai who has an amazing amount of patience with me, but I also put my ego in check. Actually, I had to put my ego in check because if I had not, I would not have been able to open my mouth. I have known for some time that when I’m confronted with not knowing something, I freeze up. While this normally pushes me to try harder and learn more, it’s an after effect. In the moment, I freeze to the point of debilitation and I get overly critical of myself. Not good. Yet, if we look back to a blog posting a few weeks ago about me being impatient, this is another great example and something that when I really look at things has a habit of recurring.

I’ve also noticed this about myself when I’m around people I consider “more intelligent.” I freeze in fear that I can not communicate at their level. Ridiculous, I know! Also, completely untrue, but nonetheless, I have to stop myself from freezing and losing my exuberance.  Instead, I focus on speaking on what I do know, or stating that I don’t know and ask if they can elaborate.  This is exactly what I had to do with Dai. I had to confront that I was facing the fear of not knowing and combining that with my fear of looking like an idiot and just go for it. Which I did. I also started breathing (always a good step in the right direction).

The important thing here is the lesson I learned: I’m playing with two of my enemies:  procrastination and fear. The reality is that when it comes to things I care about, it is best not to leave them for the last-minute. Yes, procrastination has always been my friend, but procrastination does not make for good business practices, nor does it give clarity or peace of mind.  When you add in fear to the mix, it only makes it worse. (I love how it only took me six weeks of Japanese to learn this!)

I think the key difference in this case versus all the other cases where I’ve procrastinated or just stopped (thanks to fear), is that I’ve made the time, or had the time – I could procrastinate in college, after all, I was sitting around learning all day long. I have carved out time for marathon training and running because it becomes a habit that I’m not willing to sacrifice.  Therefore, I can, no matter what, dedicate an hour or two a week to practicing and memorizing Japanese so that I am not sitting in class like a deer in headlights.

I realize I’ve gone many which ways in this posting today, but sometimes it’s amazing what clarity you get when you actually take the time to look into areas of your thoughts.  Reflecting on this has made me realize that I need to approach every aspect of my business the same way I’m approaching some one I think is smarter than me, or learning Japanese-by not freaking out,  not letting fear dictate things (not that it does, but every once in a while it appears), and by slowly approaching things so that I can develop the confidence and skill needed to continue on.

On a final note, back to the subject of the blog, my favorite part of Monday’s lesson was when Dai asked a classmate to ask me in Japanese “if I washed the dish.” Dai was teaching us new vocabulary words and he said, “Sara-san, this is a new word you’ll like. Dish in Japanese is “sara”.” My classmate laughed and then asked the question with my name twice. I have to admit, I kind of like knowing that my name means dish in Japanese. I already think I’m quite a saucy dish already!

April Favorites + ME

I have to admit that I barely read in April. Actually, that’s not true. I did read. I read a ton, but I don’t think you want to read a recap of my romance novels that I plowed through several weekends in April. Instead when you get below, you’ll see links of all the blogs and articles I did read and did enjoy reading and think you can learn from. You know the drill.

But before I get into those articles, I want to include a blog posting written about yours truly, ME, and my work space. I credit the amazing Katie G., who was here, visiting that weekend, and took the picture of my messy, messy space with me in it and the wonderful Stephanie of Metalicious, who also happens to be a member of my Etsy Team, The {NewNew}.  The article, titled, “Workspace Wednesday: Featuring S2 Stationery and Design” is from May, so really should be included in the May Favorites issue of this blog, but since I’m late with April and the posting came out yesterday and it is about ME, I decided to just include it in April’s. It makes perfect sense to me even if not to you. {Insert image of me sticking out my tongue at you, reader who disagrees.}  I think it’s a wonderfully done article and getting Stephanie’s kind words are just the encouragement I need. Thank you, Stephanie!

Now on to my favorite’s of April:

BUSINESS:

Mogul Mom and her article about comedians sharing rather than competing got me REALLY thinking about how businesses can really band together and learn from the simple concept of sharing. I know as a female I’ve often times wondered how much more awesome women would be if we stopped hating each other based on looks and instead decided to share our secrets, history, and lessons with each other.  I don’t just mean sex story swaps either,  I mean, debt story swaps and heartbreak swaps. After all, this is the basis behind any good knitting group or book club, so why not in small business/entrepreneur endeavors? This article made me so happy to have my community of fellow {NewNew}ers because we already do something like this. But what if I got together with another group of stationery makers and created a group where we could share and complain and partner together? Not something that can’t be done, but definitely something that MORE of us should be considering. http://www.themogulmom.com/2011/04/bonding-over-business/

This is a FREE ebook from the wonderful Megan Auman of Crafting an MBA. It is her best articles from the site. I actually have many of them already in my “light reading” binder for S2 inspiration, but I highly recommend that you read this thoroughly and share amongst your friends and family and anyone else trying to make a go of entrepreneurship. Also check out her site. It’s well, great. http://craftmba.com/downloads/bestofcraftmba.pdf

This is incredibly important for all entrepreneurs. I know, especially as a designer that we can get hung up on things such as how perfect our logo is and the reality is that a logo should be noticeable and stand out a bit, but it shouldn’t consume the real nuts and bolts of your business. Megan shares her thoughts here. She rocks! http://www.craftmba.com/2011/04/25/promote-your-product-not-your-logo/

I’d like  a cupcake right now. To eat. Not to learn from. But I did learn a few things from this article. Enjoy!  http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/12269/Marketing-Lessons-From-the-Cupcake.aspx

YOU:

Successful businesses are caused by a variety of different things, but ultimately it comes down to YOU. This article really was a jolt for me to stop being unmotivated or unhappy about things not moving in the direction I want them to, when I want them. Maybe it’ll help you, too: http://rowdykittens.com/2011/04/fearless/

How do you keep the excitement? Chris can tell you how! http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/opening-night/?awt_l=8ByzZ&awt_m=1a6rhPMhosnt7W

Yoga! It is the way to go! And it can help in so many ways and places as you’ll find out. http://www.good.is/post/how-yoga-can-improve-your-looks-and-your-sex-life

THIS article of all the articles is important. What happens when YOU (or ME) don’t have the motivation, or believe that another road is the best road, or better yet that we’re not good enough?  What happens when we just stop? When I’m down, I realize I have to feel the feelings, but then I need to get back up and move because life can be tough, if we let it.http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/the-starving-artist-solves-the-problem/?awt_l=8ByzZ&awt_m=1ZED7h6kpsnt7W#comments

Ah, what is it about O Magazine? I know I’ve written about how inspiring I find Oprah Mag, and once again, it left me breathless. This article is a MUST read for anyone and everyone. Please, share it with everything you know and love. We all have people and situations and even ourselves that we have to forgive. This article will help you take steps to learn forgiveness.  http://www.oprah.com/health/How-to-Forgive-Others-Health-Benefits-of-Forgiveness-Fred-Luskin

CREATIVITY:

Remember how I took a calligraphy class? Well, this article talks about the art of learning handwriting and why it’s so important to not just give into the touch screens and key pads of your electronic gadgets. Another way to think of it that your brain will thank you later! http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/04/handwriting-is-a-21st-century-skill/237998/

I present, “A 12-Step Guide to Fostering Your Creativity” from Mashable because sometimes even us creative types need a refresher on exploring + channeling creativity.  http://mashable.com/2011/04/12/creativity-guide/

TRAVEL/INSPIRATION:

I read a blog by Sherry Ott pretty regularly. Her website is called Ott’s World and she is a nomadic traveler and photographer. She once sat in a cube, but for the past four years has been wandering, learning and sharing her experiences via blog and photos. She’s got amazing talent and I love reading her updates. With that said, she is part of this great and FREE ebook called: “Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers”. She shared it with her readers just the other day and so now I’m sharing it with you. (If you like what you see, I suggest you check out Ms. Sherry and learn about her amazing decision to do the Mongol Rally 2011 to help raise money for Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, a charity helps homeless and abandoned children of Mongolia.)  The book inspires me in more ways that I can tell you and I thought it might do the same for you.  http://media.lonelyplanet.com/pdfs/Around_the_world_40_Lonely_Planet_Bloggers.pdf

Travel far and wide, never forgetting to learn along the way!  That’s my motto.  Happy May! More posts soon.