my 10 favorite freelance pieces of 2017

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Last year, I wrote 119 freelance pieces (!!)

Some people assume my main job is writing. While that's definitely a pipe dream down the road, I actually work full-time for a healthcare company. Freelancing on the side is a ton of work, but I love it, and being able to produce this volume of work in a single year makes me feel pretty damn proud.

Here's a round-up my 10 favorite freelance pieces from 2017:

I Actually Work Out On My Lunch Break - Here's How I Make It Work, SELF.com. This was my first story for SELF, and so seemingly simple. I basically said to the editor: "Hey, lots of people seem surprised that I exercise over my lunch break most days. Any interest in that angle as a how-to?" Sold, and fun to write.

Here's What Parents Need to Know About Febrile Seizures, Lifehacker. One of my primary writing goals is to take something deeply personal and make it useful or relatable to others, whether they go through a similar experience or not. When my son had a febrile seizure, I knew nothing about it, and figured other parents had to be in the same boat. I probably pitched this to 3 or 4 other outlets before the parenting section of Lifehacker, called Offspring, picked it up.

Five Lessons I've Learned from Miscarriage, blog. Going through a miscarriage was tough, but writing about it felt okay. I've had others express surprise that I can share such things, and I understand that, but for me, writing is therapeutic. I'm glad I could write about this from the lens of "here's what I learned" versus "ow, ow, ow look at my bleeding heart and painful, sad story." Also, SO many individuals reached out to me to offer support or share their own stories of loss. As much as I did kinda know miscarriage happens to lots of people, all the time, this showed me how common it really is.

How Erin Oprea Went from Cleaning Houses to Training Carrie Underwood, The Everygirl. It's not every day you get to talk to a celebrity trainer! I had the privilege of working with Erin on a number of stories for different outlets, and this profile was incredibly fun to put together. She's a total badass with a crazy career arc, a genuine heart and a passion for helping people live their best lives without any of the bullshit.

10 Minutes of Yoga to Jumpstart Your Work Day, Work + Money. This story was entirely out of my wheelhouse. Even though I'm a yoga teacher, since I'm not regularly teaching right now, I typically work with other experts on yoga-related content. However, for this one, I had the chance to do a series of three stories on yoga, and with this one, collaborated with my dear friend Jami for photography and placed my little sister as the model, because her practice is amazing. We had the best time, and this particular one out of the series ended up hitting 200K views and being their top story of the month.

Why I Love Being a Working Mom, The Everygirl. I feel less sensitive about this now, but the first year into parenting, I seemed to experience this wave of assumption or insinuation that "good mothers stay home." It pissed me off, and that's why I wanted to write this piece. I firmly believe that ALL mothers need to do what works for them, based on what's in their hearts and what's feasible with their family (unfortunately, those two things don't always go together). For me, right now (and it could totally change down the road), I really enjoy working. I don't have to rag on stay-at-home-moms to feel good about my choice, either. This story garnered tons of comments and emails from other moms who said, "Thank you for reminding me I don't have to feel bad about my desire to work."

Making the Case for Female-Focused Investment Firms in the Midwest, Clay & Milk. Another one outside of my usual scope, which is a good reminder that as a writer, lots of "stretch" assignments are what help you grow. I didn't know anything about investment firms, let alone in the Midwest, let alone the ones owned by women. I learned so much from interviewing sources for this story and putting it together.

9 Ways to Get Involved with Local Politics, The Everygirl. This really served as my response to the 2016 election results, because I wanted to write something more political than usual, but also something instructive. Since I was trying to learn more about local politics personally, it seemed fitting to create one example of a guide for others. 

Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Rest Days, Aaptiv. I write a LOT of content for Aaptiv on a monthly basis as a regular contributor, but this one stands out. Maybe because I remember the days of my 20s when I never gave myself permission to take rest days from working out. I thought I had to work out every single day to be healthy (or at the time, be skinny). The fact is, your body NEEDS TO REST. Let me shout that from the rooftops! You're supposed to rest, so be kind to yourself about it. Loved the sentiment of how this one turned out, and how passionate the trainers are/were about promoting rest days in general.

Whoa Baby! for BRIDES (print, Feb '18). Saved the best for last! Shocker: this one was my absolute favorite from last year, though it just recently got published. It pushed me creatively; I worked with a fantastic editor who asked for draft after draft after draft. It opened my eyes to how first-person essays in print happen (i.e., they take a reallyyyyy long time to come to fruition). It was the biggest freelance check I've ever gotten so far, and it happened because I saw an opportunity, raised my hand, and basically said, "I have a story to tell." I really advocated for myself on this one, and it turned out wonderfully. Also, buying a magazine in the grocery store or the bookstore that has something I wrote in it was essentially my childhood dream, so feeling great about checking that box at age 31.

Whew! If this year is anything like last, I'm excited to see what comes into play.

best things i read this week

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me what I'm reading, so here's a little round-up of the best or most interesting things I came across this week:

Getting Called Out for a Slur Taught Me How to Take Criticism—In this age of knee-jerk defensiveness, it's SO important to remember two things: what it feels like to be wrong (shitty, but that's how we grow), and how to gently point out someone's error (difficult, but necessary).

#MeToo Isn't Enough. Now Women Need to Get Ugly.—I remember my dad teaching me how to maneuver self-defense moves at like, age 10. Nothing about it was graceful or ladylike. "Kick him in the balls, or jab your fingers in his eyes," he'd calmly explain. Flash-forward about 10 years: I also remember being in college, and my then-boyfriend's supposed best friend saying things that made me uncomfortable, or trying to grind on me at a party. I didn't know what to do, and everyone deemed him "harmless," so I did what most women do: I gritted my teeth, offered a weak smile and avoided him. What I did not do was say, "Don’t say that to me. Don’t do that to me. I hate it." This piece by Barbara Kingsolver is really great.

To Hell and Back Again: A Day with the Marie Kondo Method—After we moved into a house last spring, I'm becoming more aware of all the stuff we've accumulated in just under a year. It's true that if you have space, you will fill it up. I've been slowly but surely getting rid of books and clothing and items I don't need, but preparing to fully clean out closets soon and this article made me laugh in preparation.

Facing a Mental Health Care System Gutted by Mayor Emanuel, Chicago Residents Plagued by Gun Violence Are Opting to Fund Their Own Clinics—The overall mental health services budget in Illinois was cut by $113.7 million between 2009 and 2012, and in addiction to a reduction in services, this leaves many individuals with nowhere to go for care. Add a sharp increase in gun violence over the years, and resulting PTSD symptoms from survivors, and you've got a big problem.  In response, Chicago residents in certain neighborhoods took it upon themselves to pay more in property taxes to establish a free community mental health center, the second of its kind in that area. Why? Because they know how necessary such benefits are, and if the state isn't going to provide it, apparently that responsibility falls on taxpayers in a different way.

No One Is Too Busy to Be Creative—"Ask yourself: “Is there anything that I’m even 1/8 of a percent curious about?" Liz Gilbert is the best when it comes to getting yourself creatively unstuck. 

I Used to Be a Human Being—As if we need yet another reason to practice being present, put down our phones/screens and single-task. In an oldie-but-a-goodie, Andrew Sullivan calls this our distraction sickness: "Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. Multitasking was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time. . . . Just look around you — at the people crouched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or walk their dogs, or play with their children. Observe yourself in line for coffee, or in a quick work break, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes. We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down." Yeah, you get the drift. Be a human being.

On the book front: I finished Pachinko  (SO GOOD; can't stop thinking about the characters), read Courage Is Contagious in a single bath setting (which made me love Michelle Obama even more), thoroughly enjoyed The Royal We, a fictional take on Will and Kate's royal romance, and started The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (funny, relatable, easy to pick up and put down). Basically, by starting to read more at night before bed, I've finished more books in a month than I did last fall. 

{2018} values: now, not later

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Last year, I did a little values exercise courtesy of my friend Jami. You take a set of 200 words or so, and you give yourself a few minutes to categorize each one as important, somewhat important, not important. Then you take everything under the important pile (doesn't matter how many words you've put there), and give yourself a minute to pick five. That's right, five words. Don't overthink it. (Reminder to self: I also need to duplicate this exercise so I can give it back to her eventually, ha.)

New year's resolutions always feel like too much, and I like having five themes or buckets to consider as priorities or goals. My words in 2017 were honesty, passion, growth, humor and solitude. I did the same thing for 2018, and my words were family, mindfulness, solitude, generosity and humor. 

FAMILY

For me, it's specifically related to quality time together, because even though I don't want to freak myself out on a regular basis, the reality is that you never know what tomorrow brings. And I want to know, most days, that I am truly connecting with the people I love. That sounds nice, right? The reality is that even though this is, duh, always my intention, daily life gets in the way. Like going through the motions of chores and work and parenting and errands. Like changing diapers and being patient through tantrums and wondering how children outgrow clothes and shoes so far (but like really though). Like paperwork and returns at the post office and a muddy dog and going to the car wash but 25 cars were in the line so coming home. Like the television blaring 24/7, like rushed leftover dinners, like skipped hugs.

So I'm limiting phone use in the mornings when I wake up for at least an hour, and in the evenings between 5-7 because that's when we are all home together from daycare and work. And I downloaded the Moment app to keep habitual phone use in check. We aren't ridiculous about it - I mean, some days you just need to zone out with Instagram before bed or clear out email at 6 a.m. - but MOST of the time, I'm on my phone as a distraction. And that's dumb, and I want to do less of it.

Also! Monthly date nights where we trade off planning. I'm super stoked about this on the relationship front. (#parenthood)

MINDFULNESS

Lest you think I'm about to deep dive into how I started meditating, I'll go ahead and redirect: all I'm aiming for in 2018 is to be mindful about letting my brain chill out on a regular basis. Maybe that looks like a meditation app and a face mask in the morning. Maybe it's being on my phone less. Maybe it's being intentional with stress, anxiety and worry - to notice when it's real and when it's a silly self-told lie. Maybe it's slowing down and kissing my husband. Maybe it's not multi-tasking when my parents call. Maybe it's playing with Ezra and not letting my mind drift, but instead noticing his dedication to stacking dinos and playful little smirk. Maybe it's going to yoga or taking a bath, to give myself one hour to reset. Maybe that's sitting on my couch with a blanket eating grapes and staring out the window, doing absolutely nothing on a weekend with no plans.

I've been reading Shauna Niequist's Savor as a daily observance, and she advocates for savoring your life. Everything, all the little and big moments, good or bad, annoying or boring or delightful or sad or unusual. I also read somewhere recently that weekends aren't supposed to be extra weekdays, and I was like, whooooooa I have been doing this all wrong! I 100% use my weekends in that way, usually, to check off a bunch of to-do items and feel productive and pack in activities. And lately, I'm trying to flip it around: I work in all kinds of ways during the week, but on the weekends, I actually give myself pockets of time to REST. And to savor.

SOLITUDE

This one is a continuation of 2017, and I'm slowly but surely finding a rhythm. Waking up at 5 a.m. three mornings a week tends to be enough, alongside a few yoga classes. As an introvert, I use this time to recharge my batteries and do something just for me minus any scrap of guilt. I journal or blog or read or catch up on freelance work; it varies. It doesn't always pan out, but I know when I am intentional about checking the solitude box - even if it involves walking the dog around the block for 15 minutes in total silence - I feel like I can breathe. 

One tactic that I'm loving? Reading before bed. My friend Katy told me she tries to read as many books as her age every day, and I was equally impressed and motivated by that, so I'm making a huge push to swap phone or television time for a real, live book in my hands a couple nights a week. It's strange - I'm someone who ingests a fair amount of content, but I realized last year I wasn't reading many books, and there's a tangible difference between that medium and others, like social media or articles or podcasts. It makes me happier to read before bed, and I sleep better. And I'm reminded of how much I ENJOY reading a book - learning something new or being challenged or feeling riveted to a juicy fictional storyline. It takes me back to my elementary and middle school days where I lounged around reading anywhere and everywhere, and in that way, I feel reconnected to my sense of self. More importantly, I'm working to expand the authors I read, making sure there are women and men or color with very different experiences than mine.

Also: I've switched my mental mantra of "I don't have time" to "I make time for what's important to me." (Thank you, Jen Wille.)

GENEROSITY

Last year, I struggled with figuring out how best to show up for causes and communities in need. 2017 was a year of watching the news and repeatedly thinking, what the fuck is going on. And then I'd get fired up and donate some money and call my representatives and write a letter to the editor of my local paper. And then I'd return to my regular, normal life where I have a roof over my head and plenty of food to eat and a solid job and funds to vacation and really no risk whatsoever. Even the sense of astonishment at women's rights and reproductive rights being sliced away felt far away because nothing tangible touched me, if that makes sense. I was perpetually horrified and perpetually stunned into apathy, despite windows of action. 

And I knew it wasn't working, that approach. I still don't exactly know what does work, but here are a few things on my list:

Donating on a monthly basis to causes I care about. Everyone can do this. I often felt like donating $5 or $10 dollars here and there "didn't count," but then volunteering my time never seemed to pan out either, and both were just an excuse to do nothing because I felt a little paralyzed. The reality: if I have money to buy dinner or a coffee, I have money to give back. And if I have time for self-care (a true, important thing, but also a privilege and luxury) in any way, shape or form, I have time to give back. Going forward, I'm picking one of them, time or money, every month. I'm also thinking through which organizations matter most to me. It gets overwhelming, the amount of need in the world, and in 2017 I kind of threw money at whatever came up, especially at the end of the year for tax purposes. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I want to feel like I know what my root causes are, and stay dedicated to supporting them.

Keeping a little cash on me at all times. When I lived in Chicago, people who were homeless or in need were everywhere; I don't say that to be flippant, but you got accustomed to being asked for money and you figured out a way to respond. I knew people who always said no, and redirected to a service or organization that could help; I knew others who always handed over an energy bar or a couple bucks to whoever asked. I landed somewhere in between. Then I moved to Des Moines, where the homeless population is *somewhat* invisible. (Disclaimer: It is NOT invisible, but in comparison to a city like Chicago, it's much more under the radar, at least in my social and work environments - which I know are bubbles themselves). Meaning, I forgot about it. I know. That's terrible. But I really did. And then when I ventured downtown or drove past someone with a sign asking for money, I felt so uncomfortable. In response, I've challenged myself to act - because I am not interested in being the kind of parent or person who models detachment. I don't want my son to grow up and see me avert my eyes and ignore someone asking for help and pretend like I'm in a rush; it doesn't model my values and it's a copout to the type of community and service I was raised to believe in. I just forgot for a little bit, I guess. So now, I'd rather have a dollar to give to anyone who asks than walk or drive past, feeling stupid and selfish. (If you have a better strategy for this or perspective to share, particularly as a parent, please do tell.)

Listening to the women (and men) who are already doing the work. At one point last year, I saw my friend Nancy was collecting hoodies for youth at her church. I wanted to help. Then I thought, wait, why hoodies? Why not winter coats? It was December in Iowa; didn't these kids need something better and warmer? I offered to donate coats, and Nancy kindly said: "Thanks, but we've been doing this a long time and the kids prefer the sweatshirts; it's a cool, status thing for them to have and they actually wear them more than coats." Ha. Right. I felt slightly embarrassed because I should've just ASKED her. Or listened to what she already said, which was "we need hoodies!" Of course, Nancy was more than gracious in her response, but why did I automatically question her subconsciously or think I knew better? I don't. She is the one doing this work, like many of our brothers and sisters.  I swear I'm not being hard on myself - I mean, awkward moments are how we all learn - but it was a good reminder for me to listen to the people who are already in the trenches. I don't need to be a savior or reinvent the wheel or offer more suggestions; I just need to respond when possible when there's a need and space for me to help. i.e., one version of how I needed to take a hard look at my own white feminism and privilege.

HUMOR

I read this letter a female leader wrote to her teenage self, and she said "Take things seriously, but not personally." (It was HRC in one of the final print issues of Teen Vogue, if you're interested). I love that. It's incredibly easy to be serious in today's world, but you will burnout so fast and forget about how much doesn't matter in the long run. I want belly giggles with my toddler, cackling with my husband on the couch about our dog snoring, funny texts and memes between girlfriends, and smile wrinkles around my eyes (with a semi-effective eye cream, let's be real). 

I'm trying to be less precious about everything. My work: criticism is welcome, but not reflective of my value or ability; a no doesn't mean I suck, it just means no, which probably has little to do with me. My home: it can be messy, with play-doh bits on the carpet and dog hair all over the rug and blankets that don't match. If E draws on the floor, we'll wipe it off; if my bedroom isn't Instagram-worthy, it's not the end of the world. My reputation: I want to be known as generous and compassionate, so if that means I'm no longer cool because I don't go to social events or relevant enough because I don't hustle constantly or pretty enough because I have gray hairs, that's fine.

Because all I want is to enjoy my life and do my part to make someone else's life better. Not later, when I'm done paying off student loans and I've written a book and our basement is perfectly tidy and I've mastered the five cookbooks I own but forget to use (lol) and I finally have the resources to write a check for thousands of dollars and my capsule wardrobe is legit. Now. Now is now.