Whenever I tell the Universe that something is going to happen a certain way, my life spins 180 degrees to shove me off course in a brand new direction. This is not always a bad thing; in fact, it humbly reminds me to make plans with an open heart and mind. Because you never really know what doors will open and close on a given day, nor can you anticipate where a certain path may lead.
So in early April, when my friend Emily said, "I've got this idea for free yoga classes in parks around Des Moines. Will you help me make it happen?" I said yes. We quickly became close friends, texting multiple times a day or meeting for coffee to create POP UP YOGA DSM one step at a time. And now POP UP YOGA DSM is a real thing, a fast-growing community initiative that exists out in the world and will eventually (hopefully) become a nonprofit.
I've made many things from scratch -- cookies, essays, events, marketing materials, communications plans and blog posts -- but I'm often creative in a behind-the-scenes sort of way. I feel bits of envy toward true artists and entrepreneurs. People who can say, "Look. I made this," and point to a business or a painting or a ceramic jug or a program. That's probably partly why writing a book is on my bucket list; I am a writer at heart, yes, and want to make it my career eventually, yes, but really, I want to be able to pick up a book and say, "I made this."
Anyway. Emily and I made POP UP YOGA DSM happen, and I wanted to share five key lessons I've learned so far about turning a vision into a reality.
1. Don't go it alone.
Emily could have easily decided to pursue her idea without me, but because she's done this sort of thing before, she knew that the road to success and fruition often feels smoother with a partner. And even after the two of us got on board, we knew that we needed the help of other people. Like I said, I'm good at the behind-the-scenes planning, writing and managing other people. Emily is great at visualizing a dream and asking others to take part; she's also hella good at social media. We reached out to friends and acquaintances to help us with liability issues, web design, 501(c)3 applications, t-shirt design, seed funding, photography and more. It is so crucial to know your strengths and how or when to ask for help.
Note: I listened to an amazing podcast over the weekend with Jessica Zweig and Jessica Murnane that covered business divorces. So, even though I just said all that about having partners, sometimes going it alone is indeed the best route.
2. Embrace criticism.
You know how a hug generally lasts a few seconds, and then both people step back -- to carry on the conversation, walk forward, whatever? Criticism, to me, is the same deal. I used to let criticism become a cloying, suffocating bind that stuck me to one spot, and (obviously) that approach never served me well. It didn't allow me to learn and it made me feel like shit. So now, I embrace criticism for a few seconds, and then let it go to move on.
When you create, you are making something out of nothing. And when other people see you doing that, or see the results of your labor, they are often quick to make opinionated declarations based on knowledge and priorities. That last part is actually really important: everyone's criticism comes from what they already know, and what they care about.
With POP UP, we heard the following:
- I love it!
- I don't get it.
- Is free yoga even sustainable?
- Isn't so-and-so already doing that?
- I love it!
- What's the point of this?
- Is it only a summer thing?
- Can you raise more money for area charities?
- I love it!
Audience-wise, we have people who love yoga and love practicing anywhere and everywhere. We have teachers who care about community involvement and donating their abilities and time. We have individuals who are intimidated by walking into a studio or the cost of a yoga class who really appreciate as much free yoga as possible. We have people who wish we offered a class every day, and people who think the whole thing is a total waste of time. We have teachers who think these efforts directly conflict with supporting local studios. We have people who are now interested in making yoga a regular part of their lives, and people who still refuse to even give it a try. And we have people who have no clue what POP UP or yoga even is or could care less about what we're doing.
Sentiments range across the board, and that's okay. It's normal. Working on POP UP has taught me to believe in a vision, but be open to making changes as needed. Sometimes good ideas, and constructive criticism, arrive in the most unusual packages.
3. Protect your time.
If you are community-minded, you quickly learn that the need never stops, which can feel overwhelming and exhausting at times. You also learn that if people ask you to do something once, and you say yes, they'll ask again and for more the next time. It is incredibly easy to lose your entire day -- your entire life -- to the priorities of others. And then it becomes incredibly challenging to get it back.
That doesn't mean you should be selfish; it means do all you can, but "put your own oxygen mask on first." Be cognizant of YOUR priorities and limits. Know how to say no, even if you really really really want to do the thing you're being asked to do. Let's get real: I work on this every single day because I suck at it sometimes. But I know that when I don't protect my time, I get burnt out or sick or frustrated or angry. And then I suffer.
It's like multitasking. I assume if I am doing MORE, then I am doing BETTER. It's actually the opposite -- the more I do at once, the less I do well. But it's a bad habit that I have to break every single day, and I often don't even realize I am doing it until I have 15 tabs open while checking my phone on a conference call while responding to an email. Gross, right? And while working on something like POP UP, it's even worse, because I feel the need to be DOING THINGS ALL THE TIME.
Here are three tips that have helped me learn to protect my time:
- Resist the strong urge to fill up all your free time; make space instead. Leave at least one, ideally two, weeknights completely open. No meetings. No dinner plans. No happy hour. No crazy-long to-do lists.
- Do one thing at a time, maybe even one thing per day. (God, this is hard.)
- Listen to yourself. Do you really want to say yes to this? (Note that I didn't say "should"!) Can you devote a decent amount of time and full energy to it? If the answer is uncertain, say no. If it doesn't light you up inside, say no, even if it's a great/lucrative/interesting opportunity. I heard somewhere recently (I think via Jess Lively) that you never regret saying no, but you sometimes regret saying yes. Very true.
4. Assume the best.
I know that you're typically told to assume the worst, but instead, I challenge you to assume the best. In situations, in circumstances, in other people -- you don't always know what will happen, or what he meant by that, or what she thinks, etc. You just don't. So assume most people mean well over the long run and most things work themselves out. You may get burned once or twice, but honestly, it's just a much less stressful way to live.
Emily wrote a wonderful post on this already, but it's something I'm practicing more often.
5. Have fun.
Life is really fucking short. If you're doing something that does not bring you at least a spark of joy at least once a day or every other day, stop doing it. This remains true for relationships, jobs, food choices, workouts and creative endeavors. Really, the biggest reason why Emily and I started POP UP is because we thought it would be fun. And sometimes, that's a good enough reason to say yes.