Category Archives: balance

Luminaries: Maisie

This is the third in a new series called Luminaries, about people I’ve met who are guided by their own inner light. I’ve been inspired by them and here relate some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from each one. See Interview 1 and 2.

feet in converse sneakers

Maisie’s A-Mais-ing Newsletter, The Barefaced Brief

What comes across when you meet Maisie is a zest for the life she’s living. She relishes her work, and continually commits to savoring the fact that she got herself to the place where she is: sole owner of a boutique writing studio with clients who are ready to push the envelope.

(Okay, enough with the foodie verbs)

Maisie is the brain and heart behind Audacious Muse Writing Studio (which has the awesome #amwriting hashtag in the url! bodacious). I sat down with her last month to talk about what makes her tick and how she pursues her own path.

First, what does she do?

In her own words, she “uses marketing juju to marry business and storytelling” so that the business client can get to “the big Why.” I didn’t know this when I met Maisie, but she chooses to work only with clients who are ready to go deep into work on themselves, which I thought was awesome and courageous! Imagine if we all challenged the people we worked with to get in touch with their feelings and motivations and passions?


Second, what has she learned? Several things, it turns out, that might help YOU.

Balance is a Myth

(We might differ on this one, but I like her argument)

Oh, my kingdom for some balance! How often have we heard people saying that they want more balance? Maisie says it’s a false idol. She works in spurts, either focusing on work or business growth, while maintaining daily goals of family time and reading time.

Her daily routine looks something like this:

  • Wake at 8 or 9
  • Work on personal writing material for first hour (no social media)
  • Work on client projects for next 8 hours
  • Break for dinner with family
  • Family time
  • Back to writing time

And she recently introduced a no-client-work-on-Wednesday rule, so she can work on fiction projects, the blog, or reading during that time.

I like the Wednesday idea for sure, but couldn’t keep up with her idea of a “spurt.” My idea of a spurt is 3 hours, max. After that, I need to switch gears and either change my location or change my task.

Which end of the spectrum do you fall on?


A Moment of Knowing

Maisie had a moment of clarity in which she knew what she was meant to do in this world (not to be grand about it, but YES). It happened during one of the workshops of WDS 2013, held by Pam Slim. While she was waiting for the speaker to start, she thought up the name of her company, Audacious Muse Writing Studio, and heard the words, “You are going to be a writer.”

She searched for the Godaddy domain registration right there on her phone, and bought it. Details like a safety net and the structure of her business would come later, but, by gosh, she had an address on the Net!

Just like she demands of her clients, Maisie had to ask herself some troubling questions in order to get to a safe place with the business. Battling demons of people-pleasing and perfectionism from childhood, she had to weigh the goal (writing badass content) against the cost (instability and insane hours).

She had to trust that she had what it takes to achieve her dream.

pema chodron quote we already have everything we need

Well, you may ask, how did she maintain this tiger-like focus on her dream through the weeks, months, years of school trips, parking permits, and grocery shopping? (She has a teenage son) She has three tools.

Set deadlines and stick to them. Maisie has the curse/superpower of always being aware of time. This motivated her to get good and fast at writing copy and brainstorming, which is essential when you are a starting-out freelancer.

Use the Pomodoro technique. A common technique for many writers, the Pomodoro technique uses a timer (preferably silent, not ticking) to remind you to stop working after 25 minutes, and take a switch-gears 5-minute break. Then you’re back on!

Know yourself and your habits/ limitations. Here we are in complete agreement! If you know you need to eat every 3-4 hours, take a break to make a nutritious snack. If you know you do tend to lose track of time, set that timer. If you can’t work with distractions, don’t try to be all hipster and work out of coffee shops!

hipster dudes working in a coffee shop

***Final caveat to this list: Always come back to being gentle with yourself, not just a taskmaster.

Avoid This

What does Maisie recommend avoiding? Three things:

Don’t work with people who you don’t respect. I.e. People who havent’ done the hard personal delving you have to know their values, but expect to connect with their own clients/customers on a deep level. Good luck with that.

Don’t be mainstream. As she says in her weekly email, you need to “be fearless in your weirdness.” She knew she’d managed to reach people on that deep level with her content when she got her first haters,  because it had elicited emotion. That means she took a risk and was vulnerable online. (Sound familiar?)

Don’t be held to others’ expectations. (That gets a Sing It, Sister!) Like when she got her first haters, Maisie had to cross a line in her thinking. When she would write something and a voice in her head would say, “What would Mom think if she read this?” she decided to tell that voice to shut up. She wan’t writing for her mother!

Recently, Maisie has even taken her own discoveries about how parenting styles and community values color what we think we should do with our talents, and started using that as a way to explore where her clients are coming from… fascinating, right?!

It all comes back to this: examine your own expectations. Do that deep work. Where are they coming from? If they come from fear, banish them like the Ghostbusters.

And if you find weirdness, let it out!


Images via Maisie, NextHipsterTrend, and Minta on Pinterest

Luminaries: Danielle

This is the second in a new series called Luminaries, about people I’ve met who are guided by their own inner light. I’ve been inspired by them and here relate some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from each one. See Interview 1.

danielle lefebvre whole bodhi consulting

Danielle Lefebvre

You know those fireballs of energy that you see in life? On a stage, on the track, at the podium? You can sense they have an inner fire burning, giving them energy to dazzle the rest of us with their words, or dance, or speed.

Danielle is a fireball. One that is balanced out with thoughtful discipline and cheery goodwill. I met her through her amazing vinyasa classes at Yoga Space NW in the summer of 2013, and count myself lucky to be still in her circle of influence. You may too, after reading!

I asked Danielle some pointed (i.e. nosey) questions about how she came to be such a sustained, balanced person, and some themes emerged from the experiences she related to me.

Constant Change

Whether it was a rut of routine exercise gigs or the destruction of a relationship, one thing that Danielle has been able to show again and again is that when you are presented with a wall, strength is finding a way around or through it.

It starts with accepting that your life is going to be a series of changes, and not fighting to get everything perfect and then relax. It continues with being aware of those changes as they come at you, and taking the time to adjust to them and make decisions based on love rather than fear.

For example, Danielle told me about a moment when she was feeling very unfulfilled, despite having a steady job, a new house, a caring boyfriend… it sounds perfect, right? But the feeling was there, and she had to pause and figure out why. She’d recently left Nike as a trainer and Pilates instructor to go into event planning, but realized her work in event planning was not filling her cup of happiness, as it were.

That missing feeling prompted a ‘cathartic meltdown,’ and after a lot of hard introspection, she knew she had something new to teach, and could return to the yoga/fitness world she’d left, with much more to offer. This happened a few years back, and I can see why it felt like one of the hardest lessons to learn. However, on the positive side, later iterations of the same lesson then become easier to recognize!

For me, my catharsis happened in DC after similar elements combined to make me feel like I was at a dead end: stagnant job, remnants of torn-down relationship, but hey! financially stable!

when your life begins bob moawad quote

And it was a light bulb moment: I’m responsible for this? I can make any choice I want? Well then let’s get this effing show on the road! And all the blips since then have been easier to weather, knowing that I’m doing this solopreneur thing because I love myself, and don’t want to be living someone else’s life.

Slow and Steady

captain picard make it so

While we might want to make changes, we often wish it was as easy as saying, “Make it so.” But it’s not. When we try to improve our lives by adding a daily habit or getting rid of one, there are slip-ups, excuses, and self-talk to battle against.

Danielle has found her own brand of ‘slow & steady’ that keeps her grounded and focused in her work and her life. It involves using carefully selected teachers in different parts of her life that help concentrate her effort to learn, for example in yoga, in yoga therapy, or in the personal therapy arena.

It also involves a specific time management strategy. I imagine there is a fancy term for this in the workout world, but essentially the technique is to “do a little bit of hard work at a time, then take a break.” That way, you’re challenging yourself to confront the new and scary, but also giving yourself breaks to the familiar so that you don’t burn out. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s getting you closer to your goal.

cycle of routine and excitement pinterest

I like this technique a lot.

Business Decision-Making is Never a Breeze

We talked a fair bit about the relationship between money and stress and decision-making. As solopreneurs whose service and/or product bears directly on our ability to pay the rent, there are a lot of emotions tied up in that analytical process. We may feel like we need to say yes to an offer of a side gig, when if we worked out the costs of gas and the stress of traffic, it’s a lose-lose situation. (Commuters on the West side of Portland may know what I’m talking about!)

It’s important to consider money, time effects, and one final factor: learning for value. This encompasses doing things that yield nothing tangible in the moment, but trusting that they may have results in the future. For me, this is another way of saying MARKETING (yes, I said it).

One of the things Danielle and I totally agreed on was that marketing for solopreneurs can get us all confused emotionally; we have to promote ourselves as our brand, but then not feel criticized when our efforts don’t gain as much traction as we want. I think the perfect answer here is measuring your impact by effort put in, not results coming out.

Know the difference between enjoyable and beneficial

When I asked about balance in her life, Danielle made an interesting distinction: enjoyable vs. beneficial. Amid all the earnest goal-setting, healthy eating, and exercise, we do need an opposite sort of activity, one that doesn’t require our brains to be ‘on’ in the same way, one that gives the Ego or the Driving voice inside a break.

We could do this by zoning out in a Netflix binge, but that would be enjoyable in the moment, not beneficial to our overall well-being. This is a line of demarcation that may take some getting used to, since we are so centered on our screens these days, but one that deserves attention. What can you think of that is a go-to activity for you, but might not be beneficial?

I am still pondering this one. I know that watching old movies from the library or Youtube videos of unavailable British comedy is one way I turn my brain off, but it feels like such a release!

Social media, I admit, is a slippery slope. I realize this every time I get on Facebook, only to look up 20 minutes later and think, “What did I get on here for?” So that one, I do monitor more closely these days. But the videos, when used judiciously… I’m not sure I would say they’re not beneficial. What do you think?

whole bodhi consulting danielle lefebvre yoga balance pose

Cultivate Your Own Community

In addition to the screen addiction, there are many other ‘modern society’ behaviors that may not be beneficial to you, and it’s your job to sniff those out. Know thyself, in order to figure out how you work best (#howiworkbest).

I asked about what parts of modern society Danielle chose to opt out of, and here was the list:

  • Facebook
  • iPad
  • Smartphone worship
  • News (in the form of an NPR alarm clock!)

Agreed! The sort of false connection you get when connecting via social media or on our smartphones is beneficial neither to us nor the world, so why do it? Rather, hunt for and find like-minded individuals who share your priority values, and build your tribe. Maybe even start an intentional community. That could be really beneficial, helping you live your life according to your examined values.

Do you have any questions for Danielle?

…Do you want to come take her class? Told you this would happen…


Images via Andion, Pinterest, and Whole Bodhi Consulting

Luminaries: Ward

This is the first in a new series called Luminaries, about people I’ve met who are guided by their own inner light. I’ve been inspired by them and here relate some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from each one.

long-haired ward

Ward Stroud

If ever there was a Multipotentialite, it’s Ward. I met him on his regular trips into the bakery where I work to have a Large Vanilla-Soy-Decaf-Latte. We soon enough started chatting on these visits, and I was more and more intrigued by all the activities Ward mentioned:



Not to mention that the background of all this activity was his owning a successful hair salon across the way. Really, I couldn’t believe the variety of things that Ward talked about, which is why I wanted to interview him, and there the germ for this series sprouted: who are these cool people, and how do I get some of their juju?

I sat down with Ward in the midst of the whirlwind that is his life, and asked him a few questions, but the conversation really wandered, imitating his life path and his thinking process.

When I mentioned Multipods above, that really doesn’t cover the whole picture, though, because besides being a try-everything-new-under-the-sun kind of guy, Ward is also a drill-deep kind of individual. This points to one of the core descriptors that characterize Ward: single-minded, whole-body, tenacity.

He told me the tale of how he came to be a Native flute player.

flute player at sunset

Ward had had recurring dreams of hearing whales singing growing up. It got to him, such that he started searching every music shop he knew, trying out every strange instrument he could find, to see if it would make the sound that haunted him.

Finally, after years of searching, he was at a craft festival in Oregon City when he heard the same sound: the whales singing. He dashed through the stalls of vendors closing up their stands at the end of the day, trying to locate the source of the sound. At the end of his search, he found the stall of a Native Flute artisan, who looked up at him and said, “So you’ve come for your flute.”

He was 30 years old at that time, and dove right in.

Ward has countless tales of this sort, tales that involve an intuition or ‘internal listening,’ a journey or search, and a serendipitous resolution that brings joy and fulfillment. Listening to some of these stories, I felt like he knew the secret to pursuing the impossible dream of Don Quixote, and put it to practice over and over.

don quixote art image

Another story he tells describes one of the transition times, in between these full-on pursuits of a dream. He had negotiated a sweet arrangement with a pioneer lady near Sisters, OR which meant he owned a hand-crafted log cabin that was a piece of art and an everyday inspiration. He’d filled it with treasures, and felt at peace whenever he worked and played in that cabin, with its  jaw-dropping views of the gorge in his backyard.

But it was far from the nearest city (Portland) where he could perform his music, and he thought that might be the next thing for him. So he was at a crossroads, and not sure which would be the right choice: Stay in the place he cherished in the country, or move to the city to play the music he loved?

He decided to throw the decision to the spirit of the universe (my phrasing) and go on a medicine walk. A medicine walk is a time when you meditate, pray, and go on a solitary walk, being willing to interpret signs on the walk as answers to your prayer from sources we can’t see or know.

Ward says he got only a couple hundred yards out the back door into the desert before he almost stepped on a piece of flotsam: a realtor’s For Sale sign. He started laughing–I bet it was cackling–right there, amazed at how obvious his unseen forces had been, and relieved to know he was leaning towards the right decision. He sold the house at the right time, and moved to Portland to perform all kinds of music.

if you were waiting for a sign this is it

How can we learn from such a Renaissance man? I think outside of the question of abilities, what Ward has cultivated to his benefit are 1) intense curiosity and 2) thinking of the world as all intertwined. I’ll pick these apart a bit.

Intense curiosity Everyone is born with this innate quality, I believe. But most of us are trained to let it fall by the wayside, i.e. ‘One can’t do everything, so one has to choose.’ (For others who disagree with that, see Barbara Sher (link to Powells) and Emilie Wapnick)

Being intensely curious means you want to know someone else’s perspective, you want to know how things work, you aren’t afraid to show your ignorance, or praise someone’s skill. I think we sometimes lose our ability to explore when we feel we’re too full of emotion ourselves, and can’t go out to acquire more knowledge when we’re still dealing with unresolved issues. Or perhaps we don’t feel secure enough to be able to show that we don’t know what were’ doing. Ringing any bells?

Seeing the world as all-connected Ward mentioned an important phrase in his lexicon: mitakuye oyasin. It is a Lakota word (Ward is of the Yaqui tribe himself) that means “all my relations” as well as “all things are one.” He described this as the ability to see how things interrelate, how things affect and are affected by seemingly very unrelated actions. It’s “like quantum physics for Natives.”

For an example in action, only take a look at the skills Ward has mastered, and that he says are not all that different:

  • photography–> graphic design
  • hair color–> painting with acrylics
  • learning native American musical language–> playing blues
  • crafting Native flutes–> sculpting wood (he even says it’s like jazz music!)

I think these two strongly-held beliefs constitute a mindfulness practice, one which is a good bulwark against the ills of modern society, with its information-overload, blasé attitudes, compartmentalized lives, and fierce loathing of vulnerability.

With so many passions to pursue, I asked Ward a final important question. “What grounds you, what balances you out?”

He had two answers:

“Painting in the quiet of morning with music”

“Being at the salon, in the social circle of my community, my chosen family”

ward happy in his studio

Are YOU intensely curious in YOUR life?

Do you feel too full or too busy to be able to feed that curiosity?

What balances YOU?


Images via CMC Art Share, Bolshoi Moscow, Productive Life Concepts