Fear Rejection? Read This!

I received my first rejection letter the other day. It was a pretty heartbreaking. And I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to “take it in stride,” and “keep my chin up,” and “move forward,” and “dream bigger,” and all of those other things we’re supposed to do when things don’t go as we had hoped. But I couldn’t do any of those things. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Like I’d been lead on, then let down. I was hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed.

So I spent the day just being generally morose and mopey.

And then when people started getting sick of that attitude, I had to explain why I felt that way. Which meant I had to figure out why I felt that way. Sure, I was bummed that something I had tried hadn’t worked out. I was frustrated that I had invested time and energy into something I was confident would pay off and then it didn’t. I was defensive about being misunderstood. But it was more than all that.

It was that this was the first time I’ve ever received a rejection letter, so I didn’t have any practice dealing with the emotions that come with that. And that alerted me to a much bigger problem.

Why on earth am I getting my first rejection letter at the age of 32? I can promise you it’s not because I’m SO amazing that everyone in the world wants to hire me, fund my education, and publish my stuff. I’m pretty awesome, but no one is THAT awesome.

It’s because I’m not putting myself out there enough. I’m not giving anyone anything to reject.

When I was little I really wanted to be an actress. I dressed in gowns and practiced my oscar acceptance speeches and worked on my diva demands. But when it came time to audition, I was shy and terrified. I couldn’t even speak. While I yukked it up in middle school drama class, I never auditioned for the school plays because there was a chance I wouldn’t be cast.

In high school I fell in love with stories and majored in writing in college. I was positive I’d be an author or write regularly for magazines. My professors were always impressed with my work and I even won the University’s award of excellence in nonfiction writing. But I have never submitted a single piece for publication. Unfinished book proposals sit on floppy discs (Yes! Floppy discs!) that I don’t even know how to access. While I admire Stephen King and his story of pinning his first rejection letter to his wall as if it was a certificate of achievement, I was just not that brave. (By the way, if you’re at all interested in writing, Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the best books I’ve read about life as a writer.) I just couldn’t believe that anything I wrote was really good enough to be published, so I never even tried.

And so I’ve managed to make a life out of playing it safe. Now I can hear you saying, “But Emily! You put yourself out there every day with your business! You put your designs out in the world for everyone to judge. You write this blog that at least a dozen people including your parents and closest friends read!” But it’s different. I can design an invitation and put it on my site and maybe no one will buy it. But maybe that’s because no one is seeing it! And sometimes 2 years later someone DOES buy it! So putting something out there and not seeing an immediate reward isn’t really a “no.” It’s more of a “not yet.” Just like doing your hair and wearing your tight jeans to a bar and not getting hit on isn’t the same as asking someone out and having a drink thrown in your face.

So where is this long walk down memory lane headed? Oh yeah. To my wake up call. Getting a rejection letter was in no way a signal to stop trying. It was a call to try more. To try harder. To try often and with reckless abandon. To reach way beyond my grasp. To put myself out there in new and scary ways. I actually kind of thought this was something I was already doing. Building a business takes guts. I tell people all the time to stop analyzing, stop asking “what if?” and just go for it. And I thought that was how I was living my life. But if I’ve been able to skate through gently for over 30 years without making many waves, pissing anyone off, or getting any gut-punching rejections, then I haven’t been living big enough.

It’s almost as if I’ve been rejecting myself before I even had a chance to get rejected by someone else. And that is a really sad thought.

But what made this time different? Why did I put myself out there and submit my work when there was a chance it might not be accepted? Because I thought it was pretty good! I thought it would get accepted! And then it hit me–it actually is good. And I really didn’t need it to be accepted because I had already accepted it. So someone else rejected it. Bummer. They’re losing out on the chance to work with me. Their opinion doesn’t all of a sudden make my work not good enough. It just wasn’t a good fit. And in the long run, it’s probably for the best. Because if I’m wasting my time on pursuits that aren’t quite the right fit, I’m missing out on all of the right opportunities. And if I hold back and don’t show anything at all? Well then the whole world is missing out on what I have to offer.

So I’m issuing a call to action. Put yourself out there. Your raw, unfinished, imperfect self. Give yourself a chance. Write something, paint something, apply for something, submit something, enter a contest, try out for a team, audition for a show. Give the world a chance to love you. And if they don’t? Screw ’em. And write a blog about what you learned and get back out there.

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Hitting the Refresh Button (on Life)

We’ve all experienced a slow-loading internet page and the magic that is the refresh button. Or when the computer’s lagging and a little restart fixes everything. Or my personal favorite–how taking the battery out of a cell phone and putting it back in cures 97% of problems (including acne.)

Don’t you wish there was a refresh button for life?

You may have noticed that I haven’t been as chatty as usual. I slipped into a little period I like to call “Bare Minimum Mode,” which was a combination of many many preschool obligations, an increased effort to organize my home, a sudden change in routine with preschool ending, and an unexpected work slump. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed.

Bare Minimum Mode can be useful–temporarily. I gave myself permission to do only what absolutely needed to be done and took a break from the things that are nice to do, but not essential. I reminded myself that my bare minimum of keeping a business running and raising a toddler is probably more than someone else’s 110%! The danger of Bare Minimum Mode comes when it goes on to long. Once the preschool yearbook was printed and distributed, the closet was organized, and we were settled into our new summer routine, it was time to step up my game again.

The problem was, I couldn’t. I was feeling really stuck. I had let myself slide too deep into the sticky mud of Bare Minimum Mode and I was starting to feel depressed.

Fortunately, a couple very well-timed emails landed in my inbox. Who knew a little email newsletter could have a real impact in someone’s life? But these both seemed to speak directly to me.

The first was from April Bowles-Olin. She and Mayi Carles are launching a 21-day program called Busy-to-Happy that starts on July 1st! It sounds like exactly what I need to screw my head back on in terms of my business! A refresh button for work. They challenged their readers to set a goal and make a public declaration on social media and blogs. So here you go! My slightly grainy selfie holding my declaration to launch a fun and beautiful new line of invitations by August 1st! (And I won’t let those evil gremlins Fear, Procrastination, Exhaustion, or the super evil Facebook stand in my way!)

Image

Somehow the Universe knew that I needed even more of a forklift to get me out of my slump, though. A few days later I got an email from Sage Grayson inviting me to be a beta tester for her new Life Editing for Beginners program. It starts June 30th, so I was a bit hesitant to sign up for both programs (does an overwhelmed person really need two programs at the same time?!) But I wrote to Sage and she reassured me that the two programs actually complement each other very well. So I signed up right away. Life Editing is going to be my refresh button for my life!

As I get older it feels that time is slipping by at a faster and faster pace. I keep finding myself saying “How is 2014 almost halfway over already?!” I’m certainly not halfway through my goals for the year! I think these two programs will be just the refresh button I need to make the second half of the year AWESOME!

 

 

Weekend Reading

Happy Saturday! First of all, I apologize for no post on Monday! I DID manage to start a blog over on my website and post over there though! If you’re looking for wedding invitation ideas (or just like to see what I’m up to) check it out!

Tomorrow I’m heading to the beach for some much-needed downtime with my family. (Which means today I’m going to be a frenzied and frantic busy bee, trying to get orders out the door early and running endless loads of laundry.) I’m anticipating no wi-fi, and I’m hoping to have time to READ! Like actual books!

Here’s what I’m bringing with me:
Recipe for Press
I’ve been so so so so lucky to have had my save the dates featured in a handful of magazines! Makes me feel like a pretty big effing deal. All of those magazines found my work and contacted me, which is super exciting! But what happens after the next issue comes out? I’d love to learn how to pitch my work to magazines and blogs to keep that press buzz going! This book has been recommended by basically everyone I admire.

The Secret to Peak Productivity: A Simple Guide to Reaching Your Personal Best
Does anyone NOT struggle with productivity? I’m drawn to the idea of focusing on physical clutter first, then electronic clutter, followed by time management, and finally new goals. Seems so straightforward! I know I have a hard time focusing and I want to go after new goals but then my giant pile of paper falls off the desk and I get derailed. So this book looks promising!

I’m actually only going for one night, so bringing two books is a little lofty! But I like to have choices! (What if one book sucks?)

And I know I’ve mentioned it a thousand times already, but if you haven’t checked out E-Myth Revisited, I strongly urge you to buy it RIGHT NOW! The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It

What are you reading this weekend? And if you’re a mompreneur, how do you find time to read? Comment below!

Don’t Waste Another Minute Working Toward the Wrong Goal

What’s the “wrong goal?” Anything that doesn’t push you closer to living your dream life. If you are spending 60, 70, 80 hours a week working because “successful business owners work 80 hours a week,” you’re probably working toward the wrong goal. If you’re making money but you can’t spend it doing what you enjoy because your business won’t allow you to take a vacation, you’re probably working toward the wrong goal. If you quit your day job because you wanted freedom and working for yourself feels like prison, you’re probably working toward the wrong goal.

Whether you’re just thinking about starting a business or you’ve been running a company for years, it’s time to sit down and really articulate why you do what you do. And I don’t mean why your business does what it does. I mean why do you even have or want a business?

Heavy stuff.

But necessary stuff. If you don’t know what you’re working toward, how will you know when you get there? I know, that sounds super cliche, but it’s true! Many of us start businesses because we have a great idea or we want to work from home to be with our kids or we make something cute and friends say we should sell it. And at first business is probably slow. So we work and work and work to get our names out there, to market, to sell, to grow. And then we start actually making money and it feels so thrilling! But somewhere along the way we find we’re still working and working and working. And now we’re making some money… but we’re not loving our lives. “But this is just part of the process,” we tell ourselves. “I need to get through this part so I can be successful,” we say.

And then what? How will we know when we got there? When our bank account hits a certain number? When we’re featured in a certain number of magazines? When Oprah gives us her official stamp of approval?

Well let me tell you a secret. Unless you change something about the way you work–and define WHY you work–right now, you’ll be even busier and more miserable if and when you hit that (arbitrary/monetary/outside-imposed) benchmark of success.

So today we’re going to take the first step toward getting on the right path. We’re going to define what the “right goal” really is for each of us.

The first step toward living your dream is defining it

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited (my fave!) calls this your “Primary Aim,” Sarah Jenks and Nisha Moodley (who host a retreat that sounds like heaven) call it your “Why.” Call it “Define Success For You” or your “Life Goal,” I don’t really care what you call it, I just care that you write it.

This is different from your purpose and it’s different from your mission statement. Your Primary Aim is the big picture of what you want your life to look like. And this is how I wrote mine:

1. Go somewhere quiet, pour yourself something tasty to drink (coffee, lemonade, wine, whatever sounds good), and sit down with a journal and a pen. Close your eyes and picture your life in 10 or 20 years. Your dream life, not your “I’m going to be chained to this cubical for 50 years” life. Where are you? Reading on a secluded beach? Skiing the Swiss Alps? Diving off the deck of your lake house? What are you doing? Who are you with? What do you smell and taste? What do you feel on your skin? Sit with this for a minute or two or five. Wait for the smile to come across your face. What emotions are you experiencing just dreaming about this?

2. Open your eyes and write it all down. Keep writing. What’s your typical day like? How are you spending your time? What kind of home do you live in? Who do you see regularly? Write for as long as you can. Make that picture clear. This picture of your dream life is the foundation of your Primary Aim. If you are not actively working toward having that dream life–then what the hell are you working toward?

Don’t get hung up on whether this feels selfish. It’s not selfish to dream or want a magnificent life. And don’t bother trying to make your dream life look how it’s “supposed” to. I don’t dream of living on a tropical beach. I like to be warm, I like visiting tropical beaches, but I don’t need to be washing sand out of places day in and day out. My dream life involves a comfortable home with a large deck. A deck with a view. I dream of drinking coffee on this deck in the mornings while I write and sketch and read and just breathe. I envision entertaining friends on this deck in the evenings. I imagine watching shooting stars with my family from this deck late at night when reasonable people should be in bed.

My vision of my business 20 years from now doesn’t include me clocking in at 6am and crawling home at midnight. I pop in and check in to make sure things are running smoothly and our customers are loving their invitations, I give hugs and pep talks to my employees, I connect with people, I remind everyone to take a break and have some fun. Then I go home and eat dinner on my deck!

3. Take this dream life description–and you may even choose to wait a few days or weeks to really let it sink in– then try summarizing this dream. In some ways this summary will be more concise because it’s fewer words, but in others it will also be more broad. The way I approached this was writing a bulleted list that completes the sentence, “In my dream life I get to…” For me, my answer is

  • Be creative every day
  • Have time to enjoy my family
  • Have the money I need to do what I enjoy
  • Live with my family in a beautiful and comfortable home (with a big deck!)
  • Set an example (for my kids, other women, and young people around the world) of living my dream

4. Now summarize it even more. Write a paragraph or a series of short sentences that really clearly defines your Primary Aim. WHY are you doing all of “this?” (And “this” is whatever it is you’re working on right now.) It might not actually be much different than the list you made in Step 3, and that’s fine! Just think of it as the “pocket size” version of your dream life’s big picture. Something you can memorize and articulate. Here’s mine:

Remember: The point of ALL of this is… To live in and enjoy a beautiful home and life with my family… To have the time and resources to create, laugh, and play… To be an example of dreaming, risking, and achieving.

That’s it! So simple, seemingly attainable, but really what I dream of! I mean how many people can honestly say they spend as much time as they want to with their family? Or that they’re making the money they need to take vacations and just play? So your primary aim might be bigger or it might be smaller–for me, this is it!

5. Write it down and hang it up. Hooray! You just defined your Primary Aim in life! That’s huge! But it means nothing if you’re not looking at it every single day. It’s amazing how quickly we lose sight of our true goals in life when we’re stuck in the routine of just doing doing doing. You have to have a physical reminder of your Primary Aim to keep you on target.  It can be as simple as a post it on your mirror or a card you carry in your wallet, or you can go all out and design a pretty print that you frame or hang on your bulletin board. Whatever’s going to work to get you to actually look at it and think about it.

6. Use this as your filter. You get to make about a zillion decisions every day. Some are easier than others. Some will keep you up at night. When at all possible, use your Primary Aim as a guide to help you make those tough decisions. Ask yourself, “Which path will lead me toward that dream life?” (And if the answer is “both!” then you probably can’t make a bad choice here. If the answer is “neither!” maybe it’s time to bring in an alternative choice!) I find the times I’m most frequently paralyzed by indecision is just in the basic question of what task to do next. My Primary Aim acts as a guide to help me prioritize. When I’m staring at a list of ten tasks–which of them actually allow me to experience my dream life right now? (Playing whole-heartedly with Olivia, going out to dinner, drinking coffee on the deck.) Which will move my game piece forward on the path toward living my dream life daily? (Working on my business, taking risks, putting $20 in a savings account.) Which tasks really don’t align with my Primary Aim at all? (Scrolling through facebook, comparing my work to others’, perfecting my list of excuses for avoiding exercise.)

7. Use this as your pep talk. Sometimes we still have to do things we don’t love doing. Sometimes our daily tasks are monotonous and boring–but still necessary. For example, I really really hate doing dishes. It’s just one of those daily chores that is so unsatisfying because while the dishwasher is running, someone will inevitably use another dish and the sink stack begins again. But the alternative is not doing dishes at all and that’s even worse than doing them. So how does this relate to my Primary Aim? Well part of my dream life is to live in a beautiful home. And to me, part of living in a beautiful home is having a clean kitchen. So while I may not live in my ultimate dream house right now, I can do everything within my power to make the home I do live in beautiful and comfortable. I can clean the damn kitchen. And it may seem silly, but somehow changing my thinking from “I’m doing the dishes because I have to,” to “I’m doing the dishes because I will enjoy my beautiful home when they’re done,” really helps it suck a little less.

Will defining your Primary Aim make you rich or famous or super smokin’ hot? Probably not by itself. But dreaming, writing, and reminding yourself of what your real goals are–your honest, selfish, if-I-could-have-it-all goals–you’re setting yourself on the right path!

Now it’s your turn! I showed you mine, so you show me yours. Go pour yourself a glass of whatever, write your primary aim, and come back and share it in the comments below!

And sometime in the future I may even start sending out weekly or monthly tips and updates! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Sign up now so you don’t forget to sign up later!

What’s Going On Around Here – Random Updates!

So on Tuesday I wrote a whole post, outlining the process I’m going through to take my business to the next level. And while I was writing it, it started taking on a life of its own–it was forming into a little e-course of sorts! What? I never planned for that! But as I wrote and wrote it became clearer and clearer how great of an idea this was!

It would be different than any e-course I’ve seen because I am not a self-proclaimed expert or guru. I’m a student, just like you. I’d be learning along with you and sharing my notes. We’d be study buddies!

So I got super excited and my brain started spinning. I wrote and rewrote and started and started over and started over again.

Then I took a step back. Because this idea was getting away from me. And I tend to jump into things without a clear plan or a real direction. And while there’s something to be said for lovely spontaneity, if this e-course of sorts is going to be any use to any one at all, I think it should be real. It should be planned and thoughtful.

So here’s what I’m doing instead. I am letting you in on the behind-the-scenes reality of crafting an e-course. I’m going to spend some time working on my business. Making it better and bigger and more authentic. I’m going to let you know what I’m doing and how it’s going. Where I’m struggling and where I’m soaring. And as I go, I’ll be crafting lessons and organizing them so that I can launch something real and useful for you.

Doesn’t that sound fun?

Also, over the last few weeks it’s become clear to me that I really have two different blogs here. I have my “mompreneur monday” thing and I have my wedding stuff. (Which I’ve been neglecting! Sorry!) And while they’re both part of ME, I feel like blogging about both of them in the same place feels disconnected and weird. I want my blog to be cohesive and feel natural. So it’s time for a change! Are you ready?

I am moving all wedding- and product-related posts to my website blog. The blog is not beautiful, but it is functional. And it makes more sense to me to bring brides to that site. (Head’s up, there are two posts on there and they’re old!)

Then this blog, will be more of a passion project. Just a behind-the-scenes look at my business and life. What I’m making, what I’m working on in business and at home. My thoughts on mompreneurship. (So pretty much what it already is, plus a little more “lifestyle” stuff.)

I already know I’m crazy to think about taking on two blogs. But really I feel like this is a way to let go a little. I’ve been dropping the ball on “Wedding Wednesdays” and now I have permission to drop that ball completely and just pick it up again from time to time on my website. I also feel like this move gives me permission to blog and talk more freely and transparently on this blog because I’m no longer thinking about it as part of Fresh Paper. It’s just a part of Emily. Connected to Fresh Paper? Of course! But not a part of it.

Essentially, the Fresh Paper Blog will be geared toward customers (and potential customers) and this blog will be geared toward creative people who run or want to run their own businesses. And people who just want to read about what I’m up to because they think I’m so awesome.

Which brings me to a big big question! I don’t know what to call this blog! Now that I have a new focus, I really need a new name. (Well and let’s face it, I need a real domain name.) I want something short and sweet and easy to remember. Cute and clever and fresh. It’s more about me, so do I give it my name, or is that too self-involved? I’m stuck! So I’d love your help! If you have an idea (even if you don’t think it’s a good one!) I’d love to hear it. Comment below!

I can’t wait to take the next step of this journey with  you!
Emily

Feeling Overwhelmed? 5 Things to Do NOW

messy-desk-big-pile Ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed? (HA! Is that even a question? I don’t know a single mompreneur who doesn’t feel overwhelmed at least most of the time.) I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The difference between successful entrepreneurs and the rest of the world isn’t that they don’t get overwhelmed. It’s that they experience the overwhelm and push past it. Here are a few quick tricks to get un-overwhelmed and move on with your day:

  1. Empty your inbox – I used to think inbox clutter was just a sign that I was “making it.” No. Inbox clutter is a sign that I don’t know what the f to do with my emails. Taking “Get Stuff Done Like a Boss” on Skillshare totally changed my mind about using my inbox as a giant to do list and file cabinet. “But how will you remember all that important stuff in your inbox if you don’t leave it there, Emily?” Simple. Write it on  your actual to do list or file it in an actual file cabinet. These can be physical or web-based (evernote is a great virtual file cabinet for all those articles that you’re going to read “someday”) but they must be something other than your inbox.So if you have 20-30 minutes, go through your inbox and clear the clutter. I start at the bottom (oldest email) and work my way up. In general my emails tend to be: *Questions/Inquiries – If it’s a question I can reply to in under 2 minutes, I write back. If it’s an inquiry that will take a little longer because I need to explain something, find links, gather photos, etc., I need to write the action in my planner. *Order Notifications – Time to write the order on my order clipboard and put the next action item (usually personalizing a proof) in my planner. *Articles and Newsletters – I’m a newsletter junkie. I sign up for tons of newsletters and I really enjoy reading them! But I also don’t have time to read them all the moment they come in. So when I’m clearing my inbox I open each one and glance at it. If it looks boring, delete. If it looks really really interesting, I save it to evernote to read later. *Real Action Items – for me, these are usually responses to a proof I’ve emailed to a client. So I need to make a revision or send an invoice or write back with a ship date or do something. It’s been a big revelation for me that an email sitting in my inbox is not a task. Seeing the email may remind me I need to do a task, but when I get too many emails, I start to not really see them anymore. I lose track of the important ones and it’s all a sea of tos and froms. So! Out of the inbox! Into another system! I’ve found that all I really need is to be able to access the email again for the information. I use gmail, so I can search for any email really easily. I write the actual action item along with the client’s name and then when it’s time to take action I search for the email to get the info I need.
  2. Clear your workspace – To really clear my workspace is like a 90 hour project. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stuck, it’s often when the piles are out of control and taking over. Even 10 minutes spent recycling stuff and clearing off a little space to work makes a huge difference. The key for me is to be okay with not doing it all. Just cleaning one desk or just dealing with trash or just putting the pens and scissors away can be enough!
  3. Drink a glass of water – Water is like a magic potion. Chances are if you’re busy, you’re probably also dehydrated. Most people just don’t get enough water in their day. Feeling tired? You’re probably thirsty. Got the munchies? You’re probably thirsty. Want to hide in a cave and ignore life instead of open one more email? You’re probably thirsty. Take 2 minutes to fix yourself a glass of cold water and enjoy a little reset to your day!
  4. Do the task you’re dreading – If there’s something hanging over your head like a guillotine, avoiding it won’t make it go away. Chances are if you just DO it, you’ll feel so much better for having it done. This isn’t rocket science. I know you know this. But if you’re sitting here reading my blog instead of doing what you need to do–you need me to tell you to eat the damn frog.
  5. Get out and play – Turn off your phone, turn off your computer, and just go outside and play for 20 minutes. Whatever that looks like to you–if you have kids, play with them! Build a tower, shoot some hoops, color. Think you’re too old for tag? You aren’t! Don’t have kids? Play anyway! Don’t spend forever trying to think of something that would be fun and not make you look like an idiot, just go out and do something! (Build a tower, shoot some hoops, color!) Playing is rejuvenating and will remind you that you’re alive! Best cure to overwhelm ever.

All of these are relatively quick in-the-moment momentum boosts. None are cures for prolonged overwhelm. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your life day in and day out, you probably need to make a bigger change than just drinking a glass of water. I know. I’ve been there. And we will talk about that in weeks to come! What about you? What do you do to get going again when your mountainous to do list/inbox/desk pile seems too daunting to cope? Comment below!

Mompreneur Monday – My Core Values

If you do any reading about business at all, you’ll run across tons of folks talking about how everything revolves around your core values and you have to define your values and everything about your life and business has to reflect your values.

No pressure or anything.

So this whole values thing has been on my mind since Stationery Academy. And it keeps coming up in webinars I attend and books I read. (P.S. Click on those links to attend an awesome webinar and read an incredible book!) So while I believe my core values have always been in my heart, I think it’s time I really connect with them. Out loud. In writing. And of course–on the internet.

First, the process. How do you figure out what your core values really are? The first step is to take a look at how you spend your time and money. Not how you think you should spend your time and money, but how you actually live in your real life right now. This is a scary process because in my dream world I spend my time and money on important things like family and world peace. In my real life, I spend more time on facebook and more money on coffee than I care to admit. But push past the embarrassment and shame and know that whatever values you are spending your time and money on are okay. They’re values. They can’t be bad or wrong. At first glance, I’m embarrassed that sometimes I lose an entire morning to just emailing friends. But then when I dig deep into why–it’s because I value my friends. I value connecting with them and spending time talking to them. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Another game you can play is “Which matters more?” There are a ton of lists of values out there–just lists of words you can look at and cross off the ones that don’t matter until you magically end up with the 5 that matter most. Except that when you’re doing it, you’ll eventually get to a spot where you still have 20 words and you feel weird crossing any off and saying you don’t value honesty or teamwork! So when you get to that spot, the trick is to pick two words on the list and ask yourself, “which matters more?” You’re not creating a list of all of your values here, you’re trying to narrow down your core values. Your top 5 hills to die on. Your “They can take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” values. (If you’re Braveheart. And if one of your core values is freedom.) So while yes, I value teamwork.,I love teamwork, and I believe in teamwork, if I have to imagine my life without a team versus my life without the ability to create, I value creativity more.

This is not a ten-minute game. This may not be something you whip out in an afternoon. Let this question sink in. But write about it, too. Your gut will probably lead you to a top 5ish. And as you ponder it and come back to it over the course of 6 months, my guess is your answers will be generally the same as what your gut told you in the beginning.

And now, my top 5!

Creativity – When I look back at the moments I’ve felt most alive, it’s when I’m creating something new. Drawing when I was little, writing, doing crafts, painting, designing invitations, even creating a business. When I was teaching, the lessons I designed myself were the most fun and the most effective. (And losing my freedom to be creative in my lesson planning ultimately lead to my career change!) Creating a little person has been my greatest accomplishment.

Connection – When I first made my list, Family was first and then Friends. But my list was too long. So I had to consolidate! (Tricky, aren’t I?) But the truth is, when I really ask myself what it is I value about my family and friends, it’s the ability to connect with them. And I value that in so many areas of my life. One of the best parts of my job is connecting with each customer in a really personal way during an exciting time in their life. I’m that weird girl who talks to strangers in line at the grocery store. I just like to feel connected to other humans throughout my day.

Entertainment – For a long time I felt guilty about this one. I had a friend who cancelled cable so her family could afford to buy only organic food. And that’s great. That’s what she values. My family spends time and money on tv. Not because we value tv necessarily, but because we love to be entertained. We love laughing at sitcoms and being thrilled by dramas. We also love going to concerts and plays and movies. It’s just something we enjoy together and because I value my family, I value the things we enjoy doing together!

Surprise – So this is a bit of an odd one. But I love surprises! I love being surprised and surprising people. I love it SO much, it’s one of my core values. It’s truly thrilling to me to surprise someone I love and I feel like the element of surprise is something I crave in my daily life. When I look at my invitation designs that have been the most successful, they’re the clever, unique, surprising designs. I think because I love surprises so much, I put more of my heart into those designs and they’re just better!

Growth – I’m a bit of a self-help junky. Well not just self-help, but any type personal and professional development! Webinars, how-to books, classes, workshops, if I could just learn for a living, I would! I enjoy learning about a lot of things (which is why it was super hard for me to pick a major and why I insisted in a dual-specialty for my master’s and why I make drastic career changes) but what I enjoy learning about most is how I can improve in whatever I’m doing at the time.

And if I were to sneak a 6th value into my Top 5 it’s… Beauty – Not in a superficial way. Just in the sense of appreciating when I’m surrounded by beautiful things. I love pretty things and I love that I can create pretty things for people. Life should be nice to look at.

Keep in mind this is my list. Yours will be completely different! We may overlap a value or two, but your list is yours and there’s no “right” list that’s better than yours.

So, you’ve made your list–now what? And now the toughest part of all. Living according to your values. Yes, I said that one way to discover your core values is to look how you currently spend your time and money. So you’re probably living your values already to some degree. (If you find you’re never ever ever making time for something, the truth is you probably don’t value it that much. There’s nothing wrong with that! Just means you need to do more work to figure out what you do value.) But even though your values are a reflection of how you currently live, you probably also want to live better by connecting with those values more often and more deeply.

It doesn’t have to be a big, overwhelming thing, though. In fact, it can be fun! Like when I’m choosing a gift for someone, I can ask “What will surprise them?” or “What can I create for them?” I get more out of the experience by connecting to my values, and I think it results in a better gift for them too. When I’m emailing customers, I sit down with the intention of “I’m going to connect with each person in my inbox today,” and all of the sudden a business task becomes fulfilling. As I build my business, I continually ask myself, “How can I connect? How can I create? How can I grow? How can I entertain? And how can I surprise?” The result is I’m building a business I enjoy working in and a brand that reflects who I truly am.

Your turn! What are your core values? Comment below!