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In Memory of Ana Stenzel

 Ana Isa Power of Two

The best part of my business is getting to work with all types of amazing people, some of whom continue to influence me long after our project together. Ana Stenzel, who left this earth just one month ago, is one of those people.

One of my first freelance gigs was working on "The Power Of Two," a documentary film about twin half-Japanese sisters with cystic fibrosis (CF). The subjects were Ana and Isa Stenzel, two amazing women living in the Bay Area and entering their 40th year on this earth - despite doctors’ predictions that they would never make it past high school.

The twins each considered it a miracle to have lived long enough to graduate from Stanford, establish meaningful careers, travel the world, and share their story in both a memoir and documentary film. As close friends in their CF and organ transplant community seemed to pass away every week, Ana and Isa chose to continue living unafraid. They watched each other fall in love and get married; celebrating every day they had breath in their lungs.

Cystic fibrosis is a terrible disease that deteriorates lung tissue, and in advanced phases, can only be survived with a double lung transplant. Ana & Isa were fortunate enough to each receive new lungs and a new chance to breathe.

In one of my favorite scenes from "The Power Of Two," Ana & Isa sit around a table with a group of fellow lung transplantees. Each person describes what it felt like to take their first breaths after receiving new healthy lungs. My body felt like a temple. It felt sacred, full. It was ecstasy. It was life.

Ana & Isa’s story helped me recognize how lucky I am that no matter what worries I have, taking my next breath is never one of them.

My growing yoga practice has underscored this awareness of breath in the past year. In learning about all the benefits of full deep breathing, I have more appreciation than ever for what the twins went through. The majority of human beings go through the entire day without once noticing their breath, taking it for granted until it’s gone. And I was no different.

I'm now learning that breath is a powerful thing to pay attention to. It regulates our effort, our relaxation and our focus. It connects us to our physical space and to our physical bodies. It is the most basic building block to our waking reality. And without it, we’re nothing.

The Stenzel twins have been acutely aware of their breath from day one. And through voicing their most raw and intimate personal stories, these women empower an entire community of people that share the same struggles.

But they also have something to teach those of us without major health issues. When I spent time with Ana and Isa, their love of life was intoxicating. Their gratefulness for every breath, for every day. Despite all their suffering, I always felt like they were very fortunate. Because every day on this earth was appreciated, noted, and lived to the max. They had far greater perspective than any of us. They saw this life for what it is - an experience that could be over without warning, and one to be taken full advantage of while it lasts.

Ana Stenzel did take full advantage of her 40+ years on this earth. She probably lived more than most people do in twice that amount of time. It’s hard to believe she’s gone because part of me saw her as being invincible in the face of disease. But she leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire and encourage. A legacy carried on by her sister, Isa, and by a lifetime of writing and advocacy. A legacy that will continue to give people hope, to fight for change and to find comfort in common experience. She was an incredibly talented writer and compassionate leader, but most of all she was a selfless friend.

I was incredibly lucky to be part of Ana’s story even in the tiniest way. She is one of those people that in a short amount of time left a huge impact, and she will be missed.

Lost Your Creative Vision? Try Closing the Door

creating behind closed doors vert

In my old age, I’m realizing that something precious has been lost from my childhood. And I’m not talking about the loss of innocence or ability to spring into headstands (even years of yoga hasn’t helped that one). I’m talking about the ability to create behind closed doors.

I learned the metaphor of open and closed doors from Stephen King’s brilliant memoir, On Writing, where he advises:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

When I was a kid, I’m told that I would sing and dance and draw and voice my ever-popular opinions without filter. Loquacious is the word my grandmother used. I got on stage and sang my heart out into the microphone. I sat around the preschool table and blew kids out of the water with my signature equestrian illustrations. I published a series of novellas featuring a fictional African elephant named Kilimanjaro and his band of exotic hoofed and horned friends.

Ever drawn to creative outlets, the same way I am now, one thing was different: I had no awareness of anything outside myself during the visioning process. I was blissfully carried away in a vortex of imagination that offered escape and yielded a product raw and entirely true to myself.

I’m sure you were the same way.

This is what Stephen King calls working behind a closed door - a mental force field around your raw creative power, free from self-judgment and practical application. A space for your creative genius to breathe and expand and reveal itself.

So what happened as I got older?

I became more aware of others, their perceptions, and how my performance had an impact on both. Sitting down to draw, write or sing felt like putting myself naked on a pedestal for everyone to see. I had forgotten how to create behind closed doors.

Through my schooling I began to approach the canvas and the blank page with thoughts like, how can I make this more conceptual? How can I create stronger metaphors? How can I increase the value of this marketing plan?

Those thoughts are all fine and good - after you’ve detailed the vision A to Z. These thoughts come from the “open door” mentality that is open to criticism, refinement and improvement. But as a writer and creative entrepreneur, the closed door is my greatest asset. It’s my time to tune in to something that no one else has, a perspective and an approach that is entirely my own.

And you have one too.

Stephen King says it best:

“When you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you not? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.”

I’m learning again how to create with the door closed. And it feels beautifully liberating. The joy is rushing back into my creative process. My voice is more and more true. People around me are responding to the shift in energy. My creative time is turning back to that impenetrable bubble of my childhood, that magic land of imagination that frees the mind and feeds the soul.

What have you been creating lately? Have you been doing it with the door open or closed?

 

Bringin Home the Aloha

It’s 11:30am on a Monday morning. I’ve been at my desk three hours trying to acclimate my body to the chair, the keyboard, the brightness of my screen.

“When did you get back from Hawaii?” my officemate asks.

“Our flight landed last night at 8:45pm,” my face scrunches as the words come out.

“Oh wow, you should have taken a day off to decompress!”

“More like recompress,” I think out loud.

And that’s exactly how vacation can feel sometimes - a cycle of compression and expansion and compression again. It took three days of thick Hawaii air just to start loosening up. By the end of our eight-day trip, I finally felt the Aloha steep into my bones.

I knew the transformation was complete when my husband and I went from cursing in traffic, “drive faster! Pick it up guys,” to joining my local brother-in-law hollering “slow down guys, what’s the big rush? This isn’t the H1.”

And as the cars slowed down, so did our heart rates.

Yes it’s the warm air and healing water that strips away all sense of stress, hurry, pushing. The diet of spicy ahi and brown rice does wonders for the system (and some Coronas don’t hurt). The bright wardrobe of dresses, tank tops and slippers (or flip-flops as we call them on the mainland) puts you in a state of endless summer that can’t be beat.

But it’s more than that. The true Aloha is a mindset. And that’s what I’m bringing home.

Fall has picked up quick - phones are ringing, emails are buzzing and social media is churning. There’s a fierce urgency in the city as if everyone suddenly realized they slept through the alarm. The vibe is energizing and inspiring, but it can also feel overwhelming.

It’s easy to get lost in the grind and forget the big picture. Sometimes we make promises to ourselves: if only I have 3 more networking lunches, 4 more blog posts, 10 more tweets this month. Goals start piling up faster than the “action required” messages of your inbox.  

Goals are good. Busy is good. Ambition is beautiful. But losing connection to your heart? That’s no bueno. And that’s where I try to remember the Aloha just a day behind me.

It’s a deep trust that things will work out, that the business will come, the money will flow, the relationships will be there. It’s patience and generosity and openness to feeling good. It’s allowing things to unfold. It’s letting your heart take the lead.

After a week of decompressing, returning to the city can feel like descending 100 miles an hour in a tiny deep-sea submarine. It’s an adventure all right - an adventure under pressure. The movement, the noise, the energy, the stress over making ends meet. It’s all around us.

But even with the chilled wind and foggy skies, I try to close my eyes and put myself right back in that warm ocean hugging my skin like a million down feathers. Floating without effort as the sun dances on my face and saltwater supports my weight.

Part of running a business is pushing through challenges and making it happen. And part of running a business is leaning back, opening up your heart and trusting that you’re on the right track. That you’re showing up. That your talents are valuable. That good things are on the way.

And trusting that there’s a whole lot of Aloha to go around.

 

Tipping Points for Small Biz Marketing

Tipping Points Small Biz Marketing

 A few weeks ago I picked up The Tipping Point before jumping on a flight out of SFO. With every page, my heart lifted just a little to see my entire approach to small business marketing reinforced by academic studies, social experiments and individual human stories as told by Malcolm Gladwell. These references come together for a compelling point: big change starts with the small things.

How can Tipping Points help your business? Whether your M.O. is to start a movement, launch a service or sell a product, Tipping Points are a roadmap for where to focus resources. Gladwell outlines three laws of tipping a social epidemic: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. In other words, focusing resources on the right people, the right message and the right environment will spread your idea fastest.

Here’s my take on how you can translate Tipping Points for practical use in your business.

I. Focus Resources on the Right People

Gladwell’s first rule of tipping epidemics is The Law of the Few, which says that not everyone - every customer, every referral partner, every facebook follower - has equal importance in the spread of your message. As Gladwell puts it,

“Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas. The Law of the Few says that Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen are responsible for starting word-of-mouth epidemics, which means that if you are interested in starting a word-of-mouth epidemic, your resources ought to be solely concentrated on these three groups.”

BIZ TRANSLATION:

Focus resources on building alliance with the key influencers that have already built trust in your community.

  • Are you investing in the social butterflies?
  • Are you partnering with the knowledge guardians?
  • Are you collaborating with the persuasive leaders?

These are your connectors, mavens and salesmen.

II. Focus Resources on the Right Message

As a writer I am endlessly fascinated with The Stickiness Factor. Gladwell explains it as such: “Stickiness means that a message makes an impact . . . Unless you remember what I tell you, why would you ever change your behavior or buy my product or go see my movie?”

The Stickiness Factor says that there are small, subtle tweaks for making a message stick. If the presentation of a message is abstract, complicated or muddled it will bounce right off your readers and followers. If your message is clear, consistent and relatable it will stick.

“There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.” - Malcolm Gladwell

BIZ TRANSLATION:

Focus resources on the human connection that will make your message stick.

Anchor your message in personal storytelling, common experiences and shared desires. Test your blog post, website copy or facebook post before it goes out.

  • Does it offer value?
  • Does it spark curiosity?
  • Does it give my audience real incentive to act?

These are your stickiness factors.

III. Focus Resources on the Right Environment

Gladwell’s last rule of epidemics is The Power of Context. It says that tiny nuances in environment have a big impact on human behavior.

In Tipping Point’s examples, presenting women with breast cancer education was not effective in San Diego churches but was hugely successful in hair salons. The new novel Ya-Ya Sisterhood gained little traction when promoted to individuals but became an instant bestseller when introduced to book clubs. My favorite take away from The Power of Context:

“In order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”

BIZ TRANSLATION:

Focus resources on the small movements that are within arm’s reach first. Your past clients, current collaborators and first-hand connections are a fantastic place to start. The way you reach out to them is equally important.

  • Are you presenting your message when the audience is relaxed and receptive?
  • Are you leveraging the power of small groups to spread your idea?
  • Are you paying attention to the look and feel of your brand?

Your message is more than words on a page. It’s an experience. These are the small movements you can spark by focusing on environment.

A Celebration of Small Things

“There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping Points, in the end, are all about.” - Malcolm Gladwell

In essence The Tipping Point is a celebration of the opportunity for small changes to make a big difference. It’s a celebration of grassroots campaigns, word-of-mouth movements and modest initiatives that have a big impact. In short, it’s all the reasons I believe in power of small business.

BIZ TRANSLATION:

When resources are limited, focus your efforts first on the right people, the right message and the right environment.

Your brand message might just tip.

 

Beware the Danger Zone: Doubting Loved Ones & Creative Fire

Do you have big dreams for a new business, creative venture or work-life balance? Does it take a big risk to get there?

This is for you.

Tiny Embers of a Grand Vision

  • You are about to launch a new service. A new business model. A new platform.
  • You are about to move to a new neighborhood. A new city. A new country.
  • You are about to act on an inkling of a vision. A whisper of dream. A pull of the heart.


This is the sacred time when visions are born. This is the tender moment when embers are stoked. A big risk is on the horizon and you are awakened by its opportunity. You believe deep down that you can do it and know that the process will be deeply gratifying.

A few months ago, one of my dear friends shared the embers of her new dream. She decided she will  quit her local newspaper job of five years, travel to Thailand for a month, and return as a freelance journalist for hire.

As she detailed the plan, I became more and more excited about the opportunities - I saw bigger money, bigger stories and bigger publications in her immediate future. She expressed some doubts over making ends meet, but her resolution was firm to break out of the local circuit and the constraints of full time employment.

Entering the Danger Zone

As much as my encouragement stoked the embers of her dream that day, others gave warnings that softly stomped them out.

Sometimes we test the waters by dropping the vulnerable embers of a vision into everyday conversation, watching for the subtle reactions of our parents and siblings and sons and daughters.

In the danger zone, be wary opening your idea to the winds of judgment.

My journalist friend is currently in the danger zone. Last week, she told me about her dad’s reaction to the upcoming career leap.

“I don’t understand why you would leave a salaried position with great benefits. Are you sure you’ll be able to support yourself as a freelance writer?”

I heard plenty of the same warnings before committing to art school, moving to Barcelona or saying adios to my full time job.

“It’s a really competitive industry.”

“It’s really difficult to make a living as a [insert dream job here].”

“You need at least five years experience first.”

“That sounds pretty idealistic.”

In the tender first moments of pre-launch, one comment from doubting loved ones can smother the embers of your vision. Or they may slight it just enough to feed your own doubts, causing you to stomp out the dream yourself. Beware of the danger zone.

Invite Loved Ones to Sit by Your Creative Fire

What you need in a time of visioning is support, encouragement and compassion. Support that someone’s got your back. Encouragement that you can make it. Compassion that you may not have all the answers yet.

Ask for what you need.

Instead of getting defensive when tiny criticisms threaten to put out your creative fire, invite loved ones to come soak up its warmth. Identify comments that are potentially damaging and respond to them immediately.

“I know you want to protect and help me, [insert loved one here]. The best way you can do that is to give me support for the roller coaster ahead.”

“I have my own doubts about how things will unfold, and your encouragement makes a big difference to me.”

“Thank you for caring about my best interest. As I take this huge scary risk, I need your support more than ever.”

I gave my journalist friend the unsolicited advice of asking her dad for support. As her job security and finances become less stable for a period of time, she will need to lean more heavily on those pillars of support from friends, family and even good old dad.

But in those challenges she will also feel more invigorated and inspired and alive than she has in years. And as her creative fire is stoked, supportive loved ones will have the chance to join in the excitement of her personal revolution.

Feeding the Wildfire

I am about to launch a new writing project. One of my favorite creatives is about to launch her own magazine. The President is about to launch Obamacare. Creative ideas are on the horizon and flames are rapidly rising.

When your creative wildfire finally ignites, everyone in your life will congratulate the beauty and height of the flames.

Don’t wait until there’s evidence of your vision to ask loved ones for support.

Ask for what you need now. The fire burns hotter for everyone that helped build it - even good ol' dad.

 

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