Crying for Strangers

a gray winter sky, trees with no leaves
The gray days of winter are part of life

Each night, my partner and I watch the World News. During the interviews with the bereaved, nurses, doctors, or others working in hospitals, I cry.

Well-meaning friends and family invariably suggest I stop watching the news if it makes me cry, but I’ve found that it’s helping me process the big emotions of our time. Everyone I know is suffering some level of anxiety, fear, or grief. It would be so easy to slide down that slippery slope that leads to a pit of depression.

Taking a few moments each day to cry for strangers feels right.

One of the most human conditions is that of grief. We all know it. We all understand and can relate to how it feels to lose a loved one. Sharing the grief of so many people who are suffering now is one way I can feel more connected to my fellow-humans.

The few moments of grief each evening is, for me, a self-care tool. You’re probably reading about how important it is to exercise, to practice good hygiene, and to take care of yourself during these turbulent times. The website of the National Association of Social Workers has a section on self-care during a pandemic. It recommends self-reflection, staying connected with colleagues and friends, and finding ways to take part in social justice work, among others.

In the face of advice on self-care, you might feel like you need to put on a happy face and maintain a positive attitude.

But is suppressing grief really a good idea? If you’ve ever tried to fake-it-until-you-make-it through trauma, you might have found that squishing the pain down isn’t so helpful. My mother passed away when I was in high school. One of the first things that struck me was that the world just continued spinning, which seemed like a grave injustice. Eventually, I fell back into all the routines of high school, and pretended everything was fine. About a year later, I found myself battling suicidal ideation, and taking unnecessary (and out-of-character) risks. Looking back, I can see clearly how my failure to deal with the grief and trauma of losing my mom led to the depression later.

My nightly grief is, I hope, helping me to process all the pain of this pandemic now, so that I don’t need to revisit it.

If you’re feeling the weight of grief on your chest, and you keep shaking it off by going for a run or baking another loaf of bread, consider exploring it. You may just find that working through the grief leaves more room for love.

Grief.com is a website founded by one of the world’s foremost experts on grief, David Kessler. You may have seen the recently published essay That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief published by Harvard Business Review, that contains an interview with Kessler where he talks about the types of grief we’re all feeling right now. In the FAQs section on grief.com, one question is, “Why not just avoid grief?”

“We think we want to avoid grief, but really it is the pain of the loss we want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain,” is the answer Kessler gives.

After I cry for a few minutes, I wipe my eyes, and turn my attention to dinner, or my garden, or my pets. It’s important not to linger in the grief. Acknowledge it, honor it. Feel it. Allow yourself to mourn for that which others have lost.

Then, tie up your running shoes, check on your dough, or spend some time in your garden, and remember this isn’t the first pandemic humanity has faced, and yet we’re here. This, too, shall pass.

a bright blue sky with white puffy clouds, trees with leaves and a green field
But the bright days of summer return

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4 Blogging Tips

There are millions, maybe even billions, of blogs. Why would you start a new one and add to the noise? Or, if you already have a blog, what makes it worth reading? A group of bloggers here in Chattanooga has a Facebook group, and we get together about once a month. We talk about all sorts of blogging-related things, and I really enjoy the conversations because my husband doesn’t want to listen to me talk about developing an editorial calendar, and my friends look at me funny when I talk about plugins and templates. Occasionally someone in my blogging group will issue a writing challenge or prompt of some sort, and figuring out if I can incorporate the topic into this blog is fun. Last week the challenge was to write a post about your best blogging tips, and that fits in pretty well with what goes on at Smiling Tree Writing.

Before we get to my juicy tips, let me clarify that I assume you write, at least in small part, for professional reasons. You may not manage a corporate blog, but if you were applying for a job you wouldn’t mind your prospective boss looking over a few of your posts. I understand that lots of people write for other reasons – maybe you are documenting the remodeling of your house, or you write about gardening, or knitting, or some other hobby. There are plenty of people who use a blog as a journal or diary, or as a platform to promote a social or political cause. This blog is updated with the expectation that potential clients might read it and find out I can string together some sentences coherently, present clients might read it and learn something about content marketing, colleagues might read it and nod in agreement, or strangers might read it and send me spam email. My tips are geared toward small business owners who may want or need the help in developing their blog alongside some local seo services to boost the readership. These small business owners could have chosen to start a blog for a fair few reasons, and are either writing posts about their businesses or wondering if taking the time to write posts would be worth the effort, and in the end if you think it could be – Optimal solution for your webhosting requirements – hostiserver.com to get your blog up and running.

1. Choose an umbrella topic. If you own a restaurant, it’s probably going to be food, and if you are a farmer it will probably be growing things. Here it is content marketing for the small business.

2. Be creative, and write about all sorts of stuff. That may seem to conflict with the advice given in Tip 1, but really it’s not. You can write about anything as long as you relate it back to your umbrella topic. You’ve probably seen posts with titles like “9 Things I Learned About Knitting from Snowboarding,” or “How Painting and Engineering Are Alike,” or whatever. The more disparate the topics, the more intriguing the title.

While this might seem like a challenging tip, it’s really not. I think about writing pretty much all of the time. When I’m running, I’m telling myself stories, or working through story ideas. When I’m gardening, I’m thinking of plot and storyline. When I’m driving, I’m brainstorming words that would work for titles, or thinking about how to lay out ideas in a brochure.

Whatever your vocation or avocation may be, you probably think about it as much as I think about writing. So finding connections between other things you do and your umbrella topic will not be hard. Just start looking for the connections and you will find them.

Furthermore, if you want to make sure that you are reaching your intended audience, then it might also be beneficial to contact a digital marketing expert such as Ram Digital who are an SEO Company Cheadle. SEO refers to a number of online marketing strategies that use keywords to help your content rise through search engine ranks.

3. Say something useful. A couple of weeks ago, I saw one of those little bumpersticker-type things on Facebook that said “If you are against child abuse, click ‘like.’” Who is PRO-child abuse? Are there really people out there advocating the abuse of children? That status update offered no value whatsoever. I felt robbed of the 1.5 seconds it took to even read it. If your blog posts state the obvious, offer zero insight, and don’t even make me smile, why would I read them?

You probably aren’t going to knock it out of the park with every post, but you should give your reader some reason to click your link. Way too many business owners find a “formula” that works one time, and then just repeat it until I want to track them down and tell them just how annoying they are. This tip is useful for every platform – if every newsletter says the same thing, why would I continue to open them? If you post the same message on Twitter 52 times a year, why would I bother to continue reading it?

4. Respond. Again, this tip applies to your blog and anywhere else you have a presence. Can you imagine sitting in a meeting, presenting what your company does to a prospective client then walking out when that person asks a question about what you do? That’s how it feels when you don’t respond to comments on your posts. Even if you get LOTS of comments, it doesn’t take much time to respond. And if you get hundreds of comments, why are you reading this rinky-dink post?

I get almost as many comments on Facebook when I post links there as I do here (not that there are that many). It would be nice if the entire conversation could happen in one place, but that’s not the way it works. Even if you are doing everything in your power to encourage people to comment on your blog, some folks are probably going to comment on your Facebook Page, or via Twitter, or in a forum, or wherever you post a link. So what? Respond there.

If you aren’t sure you are doing these things, you might as a professional to take a look at your last few posts and give you an honest assessment. Examine the posts that get the most views or comments and look for common threads. While these tips are mainly for people who blog for professional reasons, they apply to anyone who wants people to read what they have written. And, if you don’t want people to read what you’ve written, why are you taking the time to post it publicly? Wouldn’t a document in Word or Google Docs or whatever you use do just as well?

I would love to read any additional tips from other bloggers, or if you are just beginning to blog and you have questions, I’d be glad to answer them, if I can. The comment section is open. And I will respond!

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Why It’s OK If Your Goals & Priorities Don’t Line Up

Yesterday, I wrote out some lists of things that are important. It’s what I do when I’m feeling confused and conflicted and my husband isn’t around to listen. First, I listed the things and people that are most important in my life, then I listed the things I want to accomplish. After it was all typed out, I re-read it several times.

You know how your goals and priorities are supposed to “match up”? How, if you want to be successful in life, you are supposed to make sure you work toward your goals everyday (thereby making them priorities)? Well, mine don’t really match at all. And that’s okay.

It’s okay because my top three priorities are relationships. My husband, my children, and the rest of my family will always be more important than anything else. None of my goals involve other people – they are, after all, personal goals. I can’t set goals for anyone but me.

By making relationships your top priority, you end up feeling conflicted.  You can’t “work on” your relationships everyday, at least not in the make-a-list-check-everything-off-by-the-end-of-the-day kind of way. Of course you can make sure to say “I love you” or to kiss your kids each day, but those are things that most of us do the way that we brush our teeth. Maintaining our important relationships is usually a built-in part of everyday and doesn’t require the kind of carefully planned work reaching a goal might.

It would be pretty weird to map out a week-by-week, month-by-month plan for making sure your children have happy lives (a priority), but that is exactly what you do if you want to run a marathon (a goal). Priorities and goals are different, and they don’t have to match up.

The real revelation that hit me while re-reading my lists yesterday is that sometimes priorities actually hinder the progress towards reaching a goal.  For the last couple of months, my grandfather was gravely ill, and needed someone with him all the time. I live the closest, and have the most flexible work schedule, so spent quite a bit of time with him. Some of that time I normally would have spent running because eventually I WILL be able to run 13.1 miles. (It was also time I would have spent cleaning, but that is a different story altogether.)

I can resume running any time. Yes, I will have lost endurance, and it will take (even) longer to reach my goal, but so what? I can still do it. There will not be more time to spend with my grandfather. I’m glad that I put most of my goals on hold for a couple of months.

Have you ever experienced a conflict between your priorities and goals? Which one was most important for you?

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Common Courtesy Is Required

I am of the “just suck it up and do what you’ve got to do” camp. In other words, don’t just sit around crying about it, get up and do something. A very close friend once told me that she won’t call me when she’s down unless she’s ready to be told to suck it up and get on with life.

 

One of the things I dislike most about Facebook is the tendency of so many people to just whine and complain all the time. I mean, a healthy rant now and then is all good and fine, and of course everybody needs a little cheering once in a while. But if every other post is of the my-life-is-so-hard variety, maybe you should consider making some changes, both to your life so that it isn’t so hard and to your attitude so that you can recognize the good stuff.

 

It’s not just Facebook, either. One of the reasons my social life has become severely limited in the last few years is that I lack patience with adults who just cannot seem to keep themselves together. I understand that people lose jobs, kids throw fits, unexpected debts hit you right at the worst time…those things happen toeverybody. If you tell me a sad story every time I see you, I’m going to start avoiding your company.

 

Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my position on these issues. Maybe I’m too harsh. Maybe my expectations are too high. Perhaps I should work toward being more forgiving and more helpful and kinder to my fellow humans. After all, you never know what’s what until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

 

“But…but…” the little voice in my head stutters. “Is it really too much to expect people to be responsible and marginally courteous?” After much thought, the answer is no, it is not too much to expect, either in personal or professional situations.

 

You might imagine that courtesy in business is a given. You wouldn’t want to be rude to a prospective customer or worse, someone who is already a customer, right? But stop and think about it. I bet that without trying too hard, you can think of three or four instances when a company treated you poorly. Phone companies are renowned for poor service, and most everyone has a story involving terrible customer service at various retail establishments.

 

To me, it’s worse when the folks at a small business are rude. I seek out independently owned companies and will often choose to pay more in order to support small businesses and the sting of discourteous behavior is worse when it comes from the owner of the company. It’s sort of expected when you are dealing with a conglomerate — after all, it’s hard to get mad at the cashier at Wal-Mart who is earning $8.00 an hour, with no health insurance and bad hours, for not caring.

 

But when you know that the person being rude owns the business and needs customers to survive, you have to wonder. And this is where I usually end up questioning myself: Am I being a client from hell? Have I over-stepped some boundary? It sucks to find yourself questioning your own behavior because someone else has been rude, but that is my first reaction. Once I get through the self-analysis, I begin considering other possibilities: Maybe she’s having a bad day? Was the last person she talked to hateful?

 

Most of the time, I will even go back, at least once, if I have a relationship with the business. Like I said, everyone has bad days. More than once, though, and I take my business elsewhere, regardless of convenience, price or whatever. There just isn’t an excuse.

When businesses wonder how they can compete with big corporations, there is one answer regardless of the type of business and that is good service. Common courtesy should be just the beginning.

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Variation

It’s good to have a wide range of personal projects going on. It pushes you to try new things in your business, it helps you think more clearly. That can be easy to forget when you are excited about a project and willing to work as long as necessary to see it through.

Like many others I keep a running list of goals – the big, long-term kind of goals.  Most of my goals fall into one of three categories: professional, personal or home/family. For years, I thought choosing one goal from each category and focusing all of my energies on reaching just those three would be the best way to be successful.

Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with variety. Right now, I’m pursuing several goals in the “personal” category at the same time. I’m planning a big garden project. I’m implementing incremental changes to my nutritional habits. I’m running 3-4 times a week with the goal of being able to run for 15 miles. I might be writing some fiction.

At the same time, I’m also pushing the boundaries of my business. I’m marketing heavily to a single industry. I’m taking on more one-time type projects than ever. I’ve changed my invoicing/bookkeeping processes. I may be looking for an interesting part-time job for the summer so that I will be meeting people and learning new things.

As you can see, I’ve abandoned the idea of single-minded pursuit of one goal. But not really. All of the things I am doing in each category will contribute to an over-reaching goal. Personally, I want to be healthier. Professionally, I want to keep learning and stay enthusiastic as my business grows.

At the moment, doing several things all at once seems to be working better than focusing on a single goal. This fact goes against everything I’ve ever read about productivity. Each of the different activities is something that makes me feel excited and energized and it all seems to build together. A really good call with a client or a prospect puts me in a better mindset for running. It works the other way, too. A really good workout makes it easier to make calls I might otherwise not want to make.

I once had a boss who prided herself on the number of outside activities her staff was involved in. It seemed odd at the time, but now I understand. She knew that if her employees were out doing other things that it would help them be enthusiastic about work.

Down time, time to just sit, or read, or watch pointless TV is important, too. I’ve always guarded my “mushy brain” time closely and I still do. But, instead of stressing out because the laundry is in a heap waiting to be folded, I walk away and dig up some weeds or read a study on nutrition. Then, folding the laundry isn’t so bad.

There are so many things that I want to learn about and do that I life time won’t be long enough. But there’s no reason not to make as big a dent in that list as I can while I’m here.

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I Will Not Market To Runners

A few months ago, I decided to train for and run in a 5k. I’ve always wanted to be able to run for miles and figured now is as good a time as any, and there’s really no reason I couldn’t or shouldn’t run.

Plus, the race I entered was the Get Your Rear in Gear 5k to promote awareness of colon cancer. Watching one family member battle that disease and also honoring the memories of two others was additional motivation to enter. It seemed like a perfect combination – support a worthy cause, give myself a goal and do something healthy in the process.

The race was last Saturday. My husband went with me because he’s sweet. He felt that someone should be there to support me during my first race and neither of my kids would go (aren’t teenagers just the awesomest?). It was a very nice gesture because a foot race is just not his kind of thing at all.

As it turned out, it wasn’t really my kind of thing, either. It was just generally uncomfortable. I didn’t quite fit in.

It’s hard to describe that vague, slightly out of place feeling. Since then, I’ve been thinking about it and realized that it’s closely related to finding perfect customers.

The idea that there are other people out in the world who share your interests and ideals is not new, but it is appealing, and there are volumes of information about it available. A Google search for “finding your tribe” brings back over 1 million results.

If you are lucky enough that the majority of your co-workers and clients are part of your “tribe,” as I am, it is jarring to find yourself smack in the middle of a different tribe. You feel a bit alien. It also reminds you that there is a whole world of other groups – not just individuals – of people out there.

When business owners think about marketing, there are two common mistakes: targeting your marketing efforts at too narrow a group or targeting your marketing efforts at too large a group.

At one time, I did some marketing for a farmer who ran a CSA. He was very concerned about the competition. He often talked about how his farm had the best CSA program in his town, growing the best produce and making sure members got more of it.

The thing that he forgot is that CSAs only account for about 1% of grocery-buyers. Why worry about your competition when you could be marketing to the other 99%?

At the other end of the spectrum, one of my clients wanted help with his email marketing efforts. He had a big list of addresses. When I questioned him about where he got all of those email addresses, he said “from trade associations that I’m a member of.” No one on his list had ever actually asked to receive his email! He had just pulled addresses from all of his memberships.

Not surprisingly, his open rate hovered between 15 – 20%.  When we talked about offering his audience the chance to opt-in or about cutting out any addresses that had never opened anything he sent, he was extremely resistant. It seemed far more important to him that people see his company name, even as they were deleting the email, than to ask their permission to send stuff.

He took the approach of marketing to everybody in the hopes that one or two who might be interested would see his stuff – almost the opposite of the farmer who was ignoring a huge, untapped audience.

Taking some time to think about who you want to do business with will help you figure out who you should be talking to when you are marketing your business.  Re-visiting the topic regularly will help you stay on track and expand your efforts – or reign them in. I will definitely not be marketing to any runners’ clubs in the near future!

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