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Life with more intention and less mac ‘n cheese, please.

“Be more intentional.”

I think it’s safe to say this has become somewhat of a buzzy catch-all phrase in our culture. Or at least it is in my circles. Whether we’re talking about spending more time doing what we love, “making things happen,” cutting out sugar, choosing to do a capsule wardrobe, taking up the practice of meditation, or any number of other various daily life choices or behavioral changes, the root of our decision making and habit changing is often this simple missive: to be more intentional.

I think it makes complete sense—it’s somewhat of a counter-cultural reaction to excess and over-consumption. We grew up on sugary cereal and McDonald’s. We’re bombarded day in and day out with information and opinions from news outlets and social media. We’re trying to juggle crazy schedules and keep everyone happy. We’re anxious and overwhelmed and pretty unhealthy, as a whole.

Throughout my twenties, intention was not something I gave much thought to. Like a hamster on a wheel, I chose to keep my own underlying anxiety and depression at bay by simply never stopping. At any given time, I was probably in the middle of a renovation project while also shooting a ton of weddings while also networking with people and staying glued to social media and filling most every waking moment with IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO. While also eating like crap, drinking more coffee and wine than I should, and continuing to take an anti-depressant that I figured was keeping it all under control. It was easier not to give much thought to my health and well-being, so I just…. didn’t.

My own wakeup call came in the form of an infertility diagnosis three years ago. Severe endometriosis, hypothyroidism, my ongoing struggles with depression…. My body was officially a mess, and I could no longer ignore it.

Shortly thereafter, I turned 30. And while I don’t think there’s anything particularly magical or significant about turning 30, for me, it did mark a shift in my thinking. The “I’m invincible!” twenties were over. The “I’M GOING TO DIE” thirties were here. The wrinkles and gray hairs began to appear. I noticed changes in my energy levels. My skin and hair were changing. I was becoming more forgetful. Between that and the fertility issues, I knew it was time. Time to start caring about my wellbeing—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I wish I could say that there was one specific doctor’s visit or online article and or documentary or book that changed everything for me, but in truth, the last several years have been full of seeking information, trial and error, making changes, tweaking those changes, tweaking the changes again, having conversations, getting professional help, and asking for advice. There was not one magical a-ha moment… there have been many a-ha moments that have come from any number of experiences.

And the sum of all those experiences and changes and choices have, I’m happy to say, led me to a place of living with more intention. As a result, I am less anxious and depressed, I have more energy and motivation to create and have meaningful experiences, and generally speaking, I just feel better. Not necessarily happy-go-lucky all the time, but more at peace. More confident in my ability to handle stress when it comes along (because despite what we do to control it, the stress will inevitably keep coming). More balanced, emotionally.

When I think back on all of the ways my perspective and priorities have shifted in the last several years, I can safely say that at this moment in time, living with intention, to me, includes the following:

  • Making time for at least one long daily outdoor walk, to move and breathe fresh air and allow my mind to wander. Instant anxiety relief.
  • Eating the right foods for my body. No sugar, gluten, or dairy. Lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and healthy fats and some high-quality meats. Less (or no) alcohol. Limited caffeine (still working on that one). More home-cooked meals.
  • Minimizing possessions. Last year we sold our 2200 square foot house and downsized into a 900 square foot loft downtown. We sold or donated well over half of our stuff. Immediate feeling of relief. Fewer things to maintain, less time devoted to cleaning, more peace due to lack of clutter. We haven’t missed any of it.
  • Less shopping, more educated purchases. When possible, shopping at local bookstores or boutiques to avoid decision fatigue and support the local economy. Making the switch from huge grocery stores to our local co-op (fewer, more high-quality choices). Less mindless browsing online or in malls, making unnecessary purchases, filling my home with junk.
  • Mindful consumption. Less TV, more books. Avoiding social media. Seeing well-made, thought-provoking movies instead of binge-watching mindless television. Spending time in museums and walking the streets of new cities, being inspired by the unfamiliar. Making sure that I devote as much, if not more, time to creation as I do to consumption. Writing more, refining my photography, making things.
  • Gratitude. When tempted to indulge in a pity party or anxiety creeps in, redirecting my thoughts to the present moment and everything I have to be thankful for. Practicing empathy constantly, putting myself in the shoes of others, thinking of their difficulties, wishing them happiness, thinking of how I can help and support them. Sounds hokey—totally works.
  • Rest. Making my 8-9 hours of sleep a priority. Giving my body time to recover. More salt and lavender baths. Maintaining a good work-life balance. Allowing my brain to shut off work mode after hours without feeling guilty.
  • Meaningful connections with others. Face-to-face conversations without the distraction of a device. In-person quality time over digital “connection.” Meaningful, deep conversations. Giving myself grace (and asking for the grace of others) for not being great about texting or online messaging, in an effort to detach myself more and more from my phone and interact with the world around me.

It all sounds a little Oprah-esque, right? #selfcare

But at some point even the most cynical person has to step back and wonder if there’s actually something to all of this.

And am I perfect? Am I checking off all of these boxes every day? Far from it.

But that’s the thing about intention. You don’t have to achieve perfection, you just have to intend. You accept that you can’t be perfect, so you make a lot of small, purposeful decisions throughout the day to be better. Even just a little bit better. And sometimes you don’t make the best decisions and you get up the next morning and try again anyway.

If I continued to live passively, allowing things to just happen to me, making the easiest and most desirable choices, my days would look like this:

Wake up. Eat sugary cereal. Drink a bunch of coffee to combat exhaustion. Allow myself to be distracted every 5 minutes at work by incoming texts and the itch to check social media. Eat pizza and cookies for lunch because I don’t feel great and “I deserve it.” Fall into a mid-afternoon slump. Get home and pour a glass of wine, again because I don’t feel great and “I deserve it.” Make boxed macaroni and cheese and binge-watch Netflix. Stay up too late scrolling through Instagram. Feel sorry for myself. Rinse. Repeat.

Sure, all these things, in the moment, feel so satisfying. But you find yourself at the end of the week looking back thinking “what have I done with myself?” The days add up to weeks which add up to months which add up to years. And cliché as it may sound, I do not want to measure my days in boxes of mac ‘n cheese and TV episodes.

Being more intentional with how I spend my time and money and what I put in my body is more work on the front end. No doubt about it. But the result is that, for the most part, I have contentment, peace, energy, and a clear mind.

So to me? It’s worth it.

Put that on your letterboard and Instagram it. ;)

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Bringing blogging back.

Books are magic. Old school blogs are magic, too.*

I’m just going to come right out and say it, at the risk of sounding like the most cliché geezer ever: I miss the days of good old-fashioned blogging.

Not blogging as we now know it (listicles! clickbait! sponsored posts! fake news!) but long-form, honest, engaging, personal-essay kind of writing.

I like talking with people around my age about what a unique experience we’ve had with technology. We have essentially grown up alongside the Internet as we know it today. We were born into a world free of iPhones, where we were encouraged—as kids for most of modern history have been—to do our chores and then entertain ourselves, whether by playing basketball in our driveways for hours (my brother) or holing up in our rooms reading The Babysitter’s Club (me).

Then, as we got a little older, we were introduced to the earliest personal computers by playing educational games like Oregon Trail in school, and we can probably tell you exactly when our families bought their first home computer (mine came along when I was in fifth grade, and I can still remember the excitement and wonder I felt). Cell phones became a thing right around the time we were getting our driver’s licenses, giving our parents a tiny bit more peace of mind about sending us out on the roads for the first time.

All great things, right? Technology was helping us.

And then Facebook was introduced my freshman year of college, making it deceptively easy for an introvert like myself to meet and connect with people in the brand new city I was living in. I was thrilled by the advent of MySpace, a platform that introduced me to the concept of blogging for the first time. I could share all the feelings, and not just in a micro-status-update kind of way, but through a carefully-crafted essay that could then be accessed and read by all my friends. And I loved discovering new people whose voices I may never have been exposed to otherwise.

Social media seemed to explode after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, around the time I graduated college, got married, and decided to start my own photography business. Amazingly, this boom made it possible for me to grow an audience and find clients online, organically, at no cost. At the same time, I was able to get a free education in both the art and business of photography—entirely online. Thanks to forums and blogs and message boards, as well as a new cultural mindset that promoted sharing information rather than hoarding it, I was afforded the opportunity to learn from the best in the industry without ever stepping foot inside a classroom or paying tuition fees.

Technology was helping me. Helping us.

Fast forward another decade, and let’s just say…. it’s complicated.

The same medium that helped me showcase my work and attract new photography clients—blogging—morphed from something that genuinely fulfilled and excited me into something resembling more of a chore. Feeling burdened by the pressure to please everyone, not reveal too much about my personal life in the name of professionalism, and keep up with the growing volume of work to share, I slowly but surely let it go.

It felt like such a relief when Instagram first came along to help me pick up the slack. It became a way, maybe without me fully realizing it at the time, to transition to micro-blogging. Less time involved in selecting photos and crafting sentences, less stress over perfecting each post, more freedom to share snippets of my personal life, a wider audience reach—it all seemed like the perfect remedy for my blogging fatigue.

I could sense the same shift happening with many of the bloggers I had grown to adore, and I began feeling disappointed that I didn’t have their longer, meatier, more engaging posts to look forward to anymore. I was getting more frequent posts, and I was still able to enjoy their photos and even a bit of their writing in the captions, but it simply didn’t feel as satisfying.

Instagram may have been able to tempt me with MORE! content and EASIER! posting for a long time, but I suppose that’s why, in the end, it felt like eating a big ole donut full of empty calories—incredibly satisfying for a brief moment, but almost immediately overstimulating and leaving me feeling hungry for substance.

Now feels like a good time for a few disclaimers: I’m not addressing other social media platforms like Twitter—used it for a brief time years ago but it never really stuck for me—or Facebook—which was essential for growing my business in the very beginning, but I stopped using and checking it almost completely 3 or 4 years ago because it simply made me feel depressed. Between the angry shouting about politics to the rampant bullying to the sheer VOLUME of opinions and information (occasionally worthwhile but mostly useless), I simply could no longer justify the value of getting on even to check in on the people I loved because it was just too much. And I haven’t missed it a single day since I stopped logging in. I would much prefer to spend time face-to-face with people in my life, and if that’s not possible, then texts and occasional phone calls have been much more rich and satisfying to me than keeping up via Facebook. But that’s another topic for another day.

Another disclaimer, going back to Instagram: I think there are people out there doing it really well. Even now, after we’ve shifted from the freedom and looseness of grainy, low quality, “authentic” photos to the expectation that any Instagrammer worth her salt will take the time to carefully edit and curate her posts to within an inch of their life (*raises hand guiltily*), there are still people who are using the platform in a way that feels like meaningful interaction, even if it should never act as a replacement for real life relationships.

One such person who I feel is using Instagram and blogging to do great things is Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess. I’ve followed her for many years now, and have watched as she and her sister have grown into influencers of the highest order for 18-34 year old women everywhere. They were some of the OG bloggers-turned-businesswomen, and I feel like they’ve handled all of the growth (and growing pains) smartly and gracefully. And sure, over time their accounts became more polished, more curated, perhaps sometimes a bit less real and relatable…. But recently, they shifted. Elsie came out publicly and talked about her own issues with the current state of blogging and social media and her desire to return to a looser, more satisfying way of sharing. And she set the example herself. When she and her husband adopted a little girl from China last Christmas, her Instagram account became the only one I would repeatedly check for updates, even as I remained logged off and disconnected from the platform as a whole. I would look forward to the lengthy posts on her personal blog even more.

Why? Because these posts reignited my love for the whole concept of sharing bits of your life online, even after years of becoming jaded and so many horrifying episodes of Black Mirror. She kept things positive and uplifting without glossing over the hard parts. She was willing to share less-than-“perfect” photos, but they were filled with emotion and genuine gratitude and love for life. She shared her family’s story without resorting to either constant complaining OR an excessive EVERYTHING IS PERFECT!!! tone. It was just a refreshing, wonderful balance somewhere in between. And the best part? Reading through the feedback and comments from others on these posts, describing how her sharing her story had opened their hearts to the possibility of adoption, or had encouraged them to take the next step, or had even simply shown them that adoption could be a beautiful, uplifting part of life—worth all of the heartbreak and tears along the way. I mean, that’s incredible. She used her influence and her gift for communication not only to sell products and get app downloads and make money—she used it to actually change people’s perceptions, if not their lives, for the better. And that’s what kept me coming back for more.

I say all this because I still feel so conflicted about all of it. Having stepped away first from regular blogging, then from Facebook, and most recently from Instagram, I’ve been able to achieve a clarity and peace of mind that I couldn’t have otherwise. I fully embraced all of these platforms as they were introduced, like most of the world, excited by the possibilities and the newness. But over time, I got burnt out. Badly. And I just felt like I needed a break from all of it, more than anything.

But now, having been separated for awhile, I’m feeling this itch to write again. To share again. Even—dare I say it—to post photos again. The past few years I’ve seen tremendous lows but also tremendous personal growth. I feel like I’m in a constant state of learning new things and making changes and while it hasn’t always been this way, I’ve been feeling the teensiest of tugs to share.

I had an almost comical realization recently at work. I started implementing regular email updates to different people and departments throughout the company in an attempt to share more of the photo work my team was doing. In the emails, I ignored my initial inclination to “be professional.” Instead, I treated these updates as I had once treated my blog posts. My tone was conversational and included lots of sidebars and commentary and yes, even emojis. ;)

The result? I started getting responses from people who said they actually enjoyed reading the emails in addition to checking the photo updates for content they could use. I received direct encouragement from leaders of the company to keep doing what I was doing. They loved these emails.

And it made me realize that, as rewarding as it was to be encouraged to BE MYSELF in a corporate environment, to share not only through the visual medium of photography but also the written word, it felt like I needed to be doing something more with my desire to communicate. I’m glad that my love for photography and writing is a useful part of my job (for which I receive a regular paycheck!) but I don’t want everything I’m creating to be destined for the trash folder in people’s email accounts or the archives of a long-forgotten text message conversation.

I have often had the notion that one day, I might write a book. My family has been begging me to write a book pretty much since I first learned to write, I think. But right now, I don’t know what that book would look like or be about or whether or not anyone would want to read it.

What I do know is that my old faithful friend, my blog, is still here. Still (kind of) kicking, a decade after I first brought her to life. I’ve come, I’ve gone, I’ve returned only to leave again… so many times. But what I’m realizing is that I no longer have to justify or explain this to anyone. I don’t have to put pressure on myself. I don’t need a posting schedule or advertisers or any of that.

I am here, first and foremost, to WRITE and write well. With purpose. Without wringing my hands waiting for likes and hearts and comments or wondering if things will even show up in people’s feeds with all the algorithm drama. I want technology to serve me again, not rule me.

I just woke up early on a Saturday morning and put well over 2,000 words to paper screen. They practically spilled out of my fingertips, as if waiting for too long to be set free. And it felt good. Really, really good.

If having a public blog encourages me to do more of that, then I say— LONG LIVE THE BLOG.

 

*Photo taken at one of my favorite bookstores, Books are Magic, in Brooklyn, on a snowy Saturday morning last December. So basically, my happiest place. Full disclosure, this photo was taken on an iPhone. Quality isn’t the best. But of course I spruced it up because old habits die hard, my friends, and I do still like looking at pretty photos. Baby steps.

 

For bonus thoughts on what could become a renaissance of personal blogging:

  • Design MomAre You Reading More Blogs This Year? 
  • We Grow MediaThe Return of Blogging — “But let’s not forget another primary reason that blogging is being talked about more and more: social media overwhelm. Many writers and artists feel a sense of frustration that other companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google control who sees their status updates. The creator is reliant on algorithms and business practices that they can’t control. By nature, these networks tend to reward popular posts, not deep content. But to create something of value, it requires you to go deep.”
  • DesignlovefestA New Direction for Designlovefest — “i remember i used to get so amped about finding a bunch of vintage matchbooks online. i want to feel that way again! plus some. i don’t want to just scroll through pinterest and find photos of cool fruit put on a pink background. (and hey, we can all like that too.) but let’s start to explain our inspirations more. […] i can’t promise to go fully back to my emo postings of kate moss. but i can promise to find more of a balance. more of a real factor. more candid. more explanations. i hope you’re into it. i miss you 2009.”
  • Jane FriedmanWhy Blog- From the Writer Who Said Goodbye to Blogging
  • KottkeStop Using Facebook and Start Using Your Browser — “What Kamer is arguing is that readers who value good journalism, good writing, and diverse viewpoints need to push back against the likes of the increasingly powerful and monolithic Facebook…and visiting individual websites is one way to do that.”

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Addie - I am so, so happy to see you back!

“I’m With Her” Feature + Infertility Update

My online friend Mattie Tiegreen of Greentie Studio has been such an inspiration to me both professionally and personally. I was so honored when she asked me to be a part of “I’m With Her: A Series on Bravery.” For those of you who may be interested in where we are a few years down the road from the beginning of our infertility journey, you may want to head to her blog and check out her interview with me. It was such a good opportunity to sit down and put feelings to paper in hopes that my words will encourage someone else. Thank you for including me, Mattie!

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