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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Motivational Playlist

March 3rd will be one year of Everything the Light Touches. I can’t believe I kept a blog going for an entire year... Yay me!

Motivational Playlist 2016 - make 2016 your year with the perfect soundtrack

The evolution of ETLT has been by leaps and bounds. Finally my blogging is legit. Writing, photography, and social media found ways into my everyday life: launching a media and marketing business, writing for hire, music, going back to teaching. I do it practically all day, every day - and I'm loving every minute of it.

Last March I was absolutely blind to what I was supposed to be doing. Looking back at old posts is not my favorite thing to do. I was just trying to be busy. Because of the experience I've gained, moving forward I have more to offer you in content as well as support. I’ve got my own business, I'm experimenting with my first email workshop, and Queens Over Kings is planning the release of our next single. I've also started a Facebook group for writers and I'm looking forward to the chance to give back to my community. Lots of good stuff, right?

So technically March is my “New Year.” (It’s is also my birthday month!) A celebration would be fitting. And no party is complete without a good soundtrack. Hear my 2016 Motivational Playlist right now:

Bookmark this playlist using this link to save for when you need it again. If you’re looking forward to something big, shout it out in the comments! Or hit me up on your favorite social media platforms. Let’s revel in our awesomeness together.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Story Elements of Finding Focus & Winning the Day

**This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase goods or services through links contained in this post I may be compensated by the website, brand, or product. All the opinions in this post are my own. 

Guys I need you to know something about me. In this world of trust and transparency it is very important for you to have an honest perspective on my life. So, at the risk of losing you in about 10 words, here goes...

I'm 27 years old and I live with my parents.

Are you still there? Nice. I know reading that made you cringe. It was a scary sentence for me to write because I feel exceptionally unaccomplished for it (on top of other things that make me feel lame). But if I am going to be open about my journey, well, this would be exactly that. The Self-Improvement bus is leaving the station. First stop: Being Honest With Yourself.

The Story Elements of Finding Focus & Winning the Day - how to be productive when working from home

The Setting

When I came back to my parents' home last January it was intended to be a halfway house for young married couples. (It's okay. You can chuckle.) My brother and his wife were also here, and we had plans of the four of us moving into a house. First it was "as soon as possible." Then our plans became April, which became July, which became November, and finally, we didn't want to move in together at all. There always seemed to be some reason why not to do it - mainly the cost. One year later and we still live here: parents and ALL their children, and my parents' parents. Generational living. Can I get a what-what?

Yes, the space around here is cramped. Between converting all the remaining available space into bedrooms and the basement being used for band rehearsal there isn't really anywhere to get away when one needs privacy or quiet. I've been trying to keep up with my many projects to stay busy and to become more independent. Sadly, only one of those objectives has been met to date. Sort of. At times it seems the walls are closing in, and the worst part is the wallpaper isn't even made of dollar bills!

I'm not saying there is anything terribly wrong with our situation. I enjoy living with my siblings and grandparents. I learn a lot about communication and individuality, which I need. I admit trying to dream big with 12 other people in the house can become tedious. If the choice was there, we'd be in our own place faster than you can say "housewarming." But for now this brand headquarters will have to stick with its humble beginnings for a while.

I resigned to working from home due to only one car between the hubs and I, remaining available for Queens Over Kings, and not really knowing what I wanted to do at first. Finding the perfect job - flexible, consistently high pay, a pajama-level dress code, "paid" lunch - is not an easy task. So here I am sitting in the family room in my makeshift office space writing to you while the pup claws at my leg and someone in the distance is repeatedly asking me questions.

The Rising Action & The Climax

Hopefully you are envisioning your own work-from-home situation and you are agreeing that working from home makes the urgency of peace, and productivity, more noticeable. One can become very agitated when constantly interrupted. There is always someone or something that turns your head away from what you're actually supposed to be doing. Your bed, other people at home, the landline ringing, pets, daily chores. Distractions make it too easy to give up on your plans for the day no matter how structured. So the concern of the amount of work that actually gets done begins to bubble. It's a sickening carousel, my friends.

Trust me, it's the story of my life. In the beginning I would let anything take me away from work. This was especially true for watching television shows that needed catching up or a "refresher." I think I watched Psych two and a half times through last year. I can't imagine how much better quality my work would have been or how much further ahead I'd be in music and business if I had simply taken responsibility for my time.

This is the plight of the at-home workforce. We think we'll get more time to "do the things we really want," when in reality working from home takes up more time and we get less done if we aren't paying attention. An extreme amount of discipline is required to keep the day moving along. Otherwise we are left vulnerable to become discouraged about our to do list, am I right? Everyday the checklist grows until it is impossible to complete. Then we consider giving up and trying again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day until we give up all together.

One day while experiencing this I noticed that there were starting to be more "bad" days than "good" days. Things didn't get done. I was finding excuses for the excuses I had been using to avoid work. Mostly it was lying in bed upset and low-spirited, hiding because it seemed nothing had changed and I was so embarrassed: the band wasn't getting ahead, work projects were few and far between, my blog was boring and stupid, and my substitute teaching application was lost in educational bureaucracy limbo. Don't even get me started on the pile of laundry that took 2 months to get through. The thing is I had no one to blame but myself. Let's face it - us home-employed folks have to figure out how to kill it and get stuff DONE.

The Resolution

Whether entrepreneurs or remote staff, we face the same hurdles to reaching a place of serene focus. To me the experience is like finding your way through a dense, wet jungle. Slashing through the brush with heavy arms and you have a wary desire to look back at where you started, where it was already open and cleared. But you were vulnerable there remember? The distractions got you and had you spinning on a spit. You've got to dig in, build your fortress of solitude and use it.

Maintaining focus is a contingency plan. Obviously the purpose of working from home is to be available. But you still have to do your job, and in a perfect world you would wake up, do work, and repeat. The reality is some days turn out better than others. The flashes of distraction disappear almost as quickly as they come. You make it through alright. Then there are days when all those distractions pile up. There never seems to be a productive stretch of 5 minutes in a day. Or you are feeling particularly blocked or bored meaning you are susceptible to those drag-you-down thoughts. That's when they get you. To find your way back you can't be caught unprepared. So you have a backup plan.

I've learned a few tricks in the last year to keep myself on track during the day. Here's how I keep the interruptions at bay:
  • Shorten Your To Do List. While making your list for the day include less than you expect to be able to accomplish. You'll be more likely to check it off over the course of the day. If you do you'll have more time to do extra tasks. What a beautiful feeling to have control of your time!
  • Switch to Airplane Mode. Admit it. You're phone is really the source of your problems. I know it can be for me. Take responsibility for your time by utilizing Airplane Mode while on the ground. During your breaks you can check and indulge in the string of notifications you receive. Until then you'll have the quiet and focus you need to get *ish* done.
  • Relocate. If the distractions get really tough grab your things and head to a quiet spot outside the house with internet access. I go for my local library. There are private rooms and as a bonus there is access to all kinds of resources.
  • Call It A Day. When my distractions put up a wall, sometimes I can't do enough to break it down. I get too overwhelmed to accomplish anything. I'd rather re-evaluate tomorrow and center my attention on a more meaningful task. No use wasting time since I've done that so much already.
  • Listen To Appropriate Background Music. I highly recommend Focus@Will, a music streaming service for better productivity. The music selection is based on scientific data that promotes good focus habits. So none of that bumpin' rave music you've been trying. There are all kinds of personalization options as well such as energy level, a focus timer, and different types of music stations to choose from to fit your mood. And since I just found out it's a mobile app, I almost can't live without it. Try the benefits of Focus@Will for yourself.
At the end of the day we should feel good about what we've accomplished because we used our time wisely. The goal for working from home should be doing the most. The threshold should be doing enough to see positive results while staying sane. I measure my days by whether or not I did something worth sharing with the people in my life. Basically that comes down to having something to show for a day of effort. That way winning is about being fulfilled and not overworked. Set your standard and strive to meet it. And on the days you are less effective, be prepared to whip out Plan B.

If your plan B involves taking a scheduled break make the most of it with the Make Leisure Sweeter checklist. Get the download here.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Secrets Hidden In My Cultural Heritage

Thanks to the most thoughtful gift anyone has EVER given me, I recently learned of my distinct cultural heritage. It’s a question that has lingered with me, unanswered, for a long time. Ever since I can remember I’ve had this need to know exactly who I am, be it my unique ethnic background, my perfect career or calling, or my innate interests, hobbies, and skills. In knowing who I am, or who I am meant to be, maybe *fingers crossed* I'd be better at being Me.

You see, the ultimate human desire is to belong. Don't let those hipsters fool you. By definition we can only survive within a community. The early development of man was fostered around the evening bonfire gatherings. Without them there would be no language or agriculture, and I'd argue no computers. Progress is born from Innovation, Innovation from Community, and Community from Identity.

The Secrets Hidden In My Cultural Heritage - the results of my AncenstryDNA test

Chasing the Dream

Knowing this it should be no surprise that I have been dying to know where my family history specifically originates. My mountain to climb in life has been finding out where I fit in. There are a few horror stories from my youth of classmates not fully accepting me because I wasn't "enough" of a certain race or culture which I claimed. That devastated me to such a point that as an adult I often ignore my accomplishments, supposing there must be a higher level of effort or value to get to. To be finally whole.

Every now and then I would share this with Spencer, along with a quick sales pitch for a genetic heritage test. And every time those DNA evaluations came up he asked me what I thought would change about me or my life. Honest answer? I hope my life would change in some hyperbolic way. Maybe I’d get swept up in one of those crazy stories discovering that I am an heiress to a massive European fortune or that I’m descended from some stoic and influential Native American tribe. At the very least it would put my restless, wandering heart at ease about the question of who I belonged to.

That Feeling You Get When You've Found It

Spencer gave in this past Christmas and the results were revealed the other night! Just seeing the email subject filled my anxious heart so much I thought it would explode. As expected the distribution was very colorful and diverse proving an association with many different peoples and places. And thankfully the hubs and I are not related…haha. Other than this the results weren’t too specific, so I don’t know if I’ll be coming into any large sums of money. But I just can’t get over this overwhelming and somewhat indescribable feeling having read over the results a hundred times already. Suddenly the deepest, darkest chasms of my soul were on fire. This may sound overly romantic, but it's true.

Have you ever had a secret that made you feel special to be in the know? You wanted to tell everyone because the notion was so incredible, but you know you can't which made the secret that much more satisfying. That’s how I feel! It’s as if I know something others do not, something wonderful and precious that I can so clearly see a connection to. I’m officially part of a club. I literally know who I am.

This information has given me an unusual power to influence the world around me. I can precisely say what I bring to the table with confidence and excitement, versus assumption. Everything I wish to achieve in life is about making something valuable, to leave an impression. Someday I'll gather all the pieces of my voice and use them in all the ways I can make fit. And I guess what I’m saying is that I am “one giant leap” closer to being able to do that because I have a bit more Identity in my arsenal. And you know what Identity eventually leads to.

What Knowing Who You Are Does For Others

The purpose of knowing who you are is not necessarily about you. Sorry. A majority of the job requires one to examine how his or her being reflects onto or interacts with others. My best friend Sara is a perfect example of this. She absolutely knows who she is and how she can give to those around her. I am in awe of her talent to just do. Confidence in one's abilities and skills plus excitement for the possibilities leads to the kind of conviction with which a person can selflessly do anything. 

I wish everyone in the world felt as safe and motivated to do good. Instead we must face the many distractions as if it were a cold, heavy rainfall: squinting, hesitant, and desperate. How easy it is to become lost these days! Each restless, wandering heart continuing the search. Do we know where to look? Writing for me has been a teacher in itself - in a good way. But this recent epiphany... Wow. I'm surely on my way to the land of the contented. We all could be if we only had a chance for the same experience. Here's some ideas I came up with for where to start:
  • Family & Friends - Reignite those prehistoric campfires, so to speak, and share more with the people around you. Don't forget to listen too.
  • Education - Pick up that book that caught your eye at the library the other day. Heck, just stop by the library for the library's sake. Knowledge is the only thing that lasts in this world. Well, Knowledge and Love.
  • Prayer/Meditation - Give yourself a moment of peace (or twenty). Goodness knows we need more of it in this world. Allow yourself to hear what the universe might be trying to tell you.
  • Activity - If you've spent the last 6-8 months at home in bed on the computer *cough cough* force yourself to do something else. Try a new sport or hobby, get some fresh air, meet new people.

"Whatever you are, be a good one." I love this lesson from William Makepeace Thackeray. I couldn't have said it better myself, Sir. Whether you know who you are or are still trying to get there doesn't matter. What matters is if you are doing a good job of it. Are you?

P.S. Self-discovery requires a little rest and relaxation. Get the Make Leisure Sweeter checklist in your inbox to learn get ideas for making the most of your free time. Sign up right here.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My First Steps To Being A Better Writer

Since I discovered exactly what I wanted to do with Everything the Light Touches my goal has been to share with you the backstory on where we're headed. The bottom line around here is self-improvement. The hope is that you will find a place of encouragement and ideas to get you moving toward your personal goals. Specifically for me self-improvement is evolving into becoming a better person, exploring all the things that make up Me, both good and bad, and making them more interesting, bearable, positive, and helpful. The end result is to contribute to, not take away from, my surroundings. A large part of this now includes writing. But I only recently discovered how much I enjoy writing. Until I realized it, I thought writing was an afterthought riding on the coat tails of all the other things I fill my time with - music, blogging, marketing, personal development, research, study. Certainly writing wasn't something that I believed was part of my entire persona.

By choosing to accept that part of me, I've had a chance to review what lessons I have learned about writing over the years. It begins with a story of discouragement (which I turned into stubbornness), and eventually became a thirst for refinement. Read on to see what I mean.

My First Steps To Becoming A Writer - how to use experience to find yourself

The Lessons

At the end of my freshman year of high school I went to my History teacher for permission to take a higher level class. She flat out told me that my writing wasn't good enough to take this class, which was meant to be like a college level course. Her words lit a vengeful fire within me - I'd show her! I would write, and I would write so well. From then on being noticed as the best writer was top priority. I enrolled in only the level she would approve but I would get high marks on every one of my writing assignments throughout high school and beyond. My writing was noticed by teachers and professors as something to be proud of. At least until English 201.

I had recently transferred to a new university and the graduation requirements forced me to take yet another level of English. I thrashed and brayed walking into that first day of class. Of all people, this girl did NOT need to take more English classes, especially one focused on writing. Boy was I wrong…

On our first assignment I received a C, meaning average. That's a long drop from the top of the high pedestal I had built myself. Oh this would go on for weeks because I frankly wasn't willing to give a new way of writing a chance. My methods had brought me this far, what's to say it wasn't my professor being the rigid believer in his own way of doing things that was keeping me from being noticed? 

One day towards the middle of the semester I was staring at my most recent homework grade, frustrated with figuring out what I was missing, when a thought crept up on me. What if I don’t know everything there is to know about good writing? My freshman History teacher had been "wrong," so maybe I could be too. For the next writing assignment I committed to using what the professor was actually teaching. And, you know, it was amazing.

It was logical and engaging. My whole writing process became increasingly better as I applied what I was learning, but not just in English class. Years later I saw improvement in other classes as well. In my final semester of college, an Economics professor (yes Economics!!) left a bright red ink note on my last analysis paper begging me to teach my future students how to write. I was going on to be a History teacher (ironic huh?), not an English teacher. To me that was a noticeably desperate testimonial.

What I Learned

I thought a lot about what I would teach my future students if and when I had the chance. Research is a big one. I'll always be a historian at heart. Then of course there is the basics of grammar, structure, etc. But what really stuck out to me as a worthy lesson was how much writing should be seen as a community process. We use it every day for so many things. In a given day I’ll write multiple emails to clients, social media posts, blog articles, lyrics for my music, checklists and notes, even texts – Communication is literally everywhere!  And that communication involves others to share with, learn from, validate, or critique. It all comes down to words and how we give them away. Heck, it’s how we give ourselves away.

All the time we write back and forth we are learning from each other. Everything is recognized as a part of some context which is defined by our environment. Our presence is molded by our influences just as much as our individuality. The lessons from those two teachers had influenced my writing, and by extension my personality, alongside my personal desire to be better at writing. Without any of it I wouldn't know what writing actually consists of. I found that writing is ongoing, a constant learning experience. 

There is no Mrs. Marrott’s classroom right now, but there is a Facebook group I've created to share this feeling of nonstop learning among writers. And you’re invited! 

Writers Without Limits writing improvement groupWriters Without Limits is a group for anyone who wants to write better by building relationships, gaining perspective, and sharing. And I do mean ANYONE. Bloggers, journal enthusiasts, marketers, aspiring novelists, musicians, poets, they are all welcome seeing as I learned not so long ago that we need each other if we truly want to improve. (That goes for writing and for just about anything else...)

Well Writers Without Limits is waiting for YOU. Sign up for the ETLT email list to get in there and we'll show each other what we've got! Click HERE to join us.

Every developing writer needs ink-couragement. Haha, clever right? But if that doesn't do it for you, I hope my story did. I mean it when I say we need each other. And if that pun truly didn't do it for you, join us at Writers Without Limits anyway and tell me why. I can take it.
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Kristyn here. I'm really good at Googling, dreaming, and thinking outside the box. Someday I'm going to save all the puppies and perform on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

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