Journal 01 | Creating Something Out of Nothing: Lessons Learned & Realizations Since May 2015

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Hello, and welcome to my first journal entry here on Real Jersey Shore! In addition to the articles I write, I thought it would be helpful to document my journey for my readers so they can see what I'm learning in a chronological format.

It will also be a place where I can share more personal insights that I may not share in my articles.

And for those who are new here and are interested, I thought a journal would provide some context for what I'm trying to accomplish.

When creating something out of nothing, the process of getting clear and dialing into what you're doing isn't always distilled from the start. 

It might just be the case that you have many passions that you want to share in a public forum, but what's important (and also challenging) is to package them in a way that's easily understood, digestible, and relevant so people will follow along.

The journey of getting clarity isn't necessarily linear either. And because of these two factors, the process doesn't always seem forward-moving. For me, there have been lots of pauses, doubts, and soul-searching moments along the way, but with each action I take, I find things getting clearer.

What's important is to just start, continue to remind yourself "why" you're doing what you're doing, and keep moving forward as best as you can.

Here is the journey I've taken so far to help me get clear on my ideas by learning from trial and error.

2015 | How Real Jersey Shore First Came About

Real Jersey Shore's journey began in the Spring of 2015 when I created the blog as a creative outlet to post stories about local entrepreneurs and people whom I felt were doing interesting things and reaching for their dreams in different ways. I also wanted to do my part in reframing how the world views the Jersey Shore after the reality show's inaccurate depiction.

I would set up about an hour-long interview with each person, and after taking pages of chicken-scratch notes, I went home to write each person's story.

I was always amazed how I could turn my pages of almost illegible notes into a coherent story. Often times the person I wrote about told me I revealed many positive observations about them that they never realized, which made me happy since they agreed to give me their time and trusted me with their story.

I felt an incredible amount of responsibility for getting the story right, so I always ran a couple of drafts by the interviewee before publishing it. Changes were typically minor, and as I put the finishing touches on it, anticipating "putting it out there" was exciting.

All of my stories were shared hundreds of times on Facebook, and the fact that they were shareworthy by others felt good.

Within a few months, however, my life started to take over, and I wasn't regularly publishing the stories.

At the time my blog also needed some updates and aesthetic changes made, and because I didn't have the web design skills needed to make the changes, I felt stuck. I really didn't feel like hiring someone. I had done that before and didn't want to take that route again. I just wanted to be able to make changes to my website myself.

Soon after, in January of 2016, I heard about a user-friendly solution to web design and hosting called Squarespace. After doing some research, I decided to move my blog over to the Squarespace platform. Another blogger recommended it by saying, "if tech is slowing you down, you have to find a more user-friendly solution." Those words of advice spoke directly to me so I didn't hesitate to make the switch before I did any more work.

Needless to say that stalled me for a few months, because there was somewhat of a learning curve and I needed new content. I've never regretted the decision because it's much easier to work with and the templates are beautiful. I also ran into a problem when I transferred the data over from the old site to the new and lost the majority of my stories. One step up, two steps back. 

2016 | The Redesign And Refocus Of Real Jersey Shore

For years prior, I had been passionate about the topic of pursuing meaningful work, the kind of work that makes an impact in the lives of others. I had been following many online entrepreneurs who have created successful online businesses around work they're passionate about, so I figured I could start blogging about my journey of creating an online business around one's passion.

Soon after I got my newly redesigned site up and running, I got sidetracked again by lots of things going on in my life at the time, including my kids being home from school for the summer. I found it hard to be able to sit down and write.

My writing desk was in a cold corner in our basement storage area. With stacked up bins of Christmas decorations within view and a cinder block wall as a backdrop, it wasn't necessarily an inspiring and distraction-free zone. And the heart-stopping, occasional visit by a cave cricket didn't help either.

I managed to get a few articles written about what was going on in my life at the time, in terms of pursuing my goals. What's funny is when I read them now, I realize I've come so far since.

So, this took me to the Fall of 2016, and suddenly a situation arose in our family that needed my full attention and emotional bandwidth. For good reasons, my blog was once again put on the shelf. The situation took a lot out of me and writing just wasn't on my radar during that time.

When the situation finally resolved around April of 2017, I felt it was time to get back to my project. In early May I had a trip to Florida planned to visit my elderly Mom who needed my help to get a medical procedure done. I knew that once I got back, I would be able to once again refocus.

Over the months I wasn't writing, I thought long and hard to myself about why I kept getting derailed. All of these broken commitments to myself had hurt my confidence. 

I also wanted to get back to my gym so I decided that that would be my starting point. I figured that if I could lock in going back to the gym as a keystone habit, I would feel better and be able to layer on other habits that would move me in the direction of my goals.

Now, ten months later, these are the key things I learned since May 2017.

May 2017 - Present | Realizations, Lessons Learned, & Wins

1 | Make a habit out of building confidence. Outside of working for a few years after my first child was born, I've been a stay-at-home mom, and I wouldn't change that for anything. I've always had the mindset that women can have it all but it doesn't have to be all at once. There is a season for everything, and I wanted to be available as much as I could be during the short time my kids were young. My staying at home was a choice my husband and I initially made because we didn't want the stress of daycare. We're all about keeping life simple, and even though we sacrificed along the way by only having one income, it was comforting to have one of us home. But given the nature of being at home, my role was all about the non-stop needs of my family, which got me into the habit of overlooking my own needs. I noticed what a toll it had taken on my confidence, which made me realize that the first thing I needed to do was work on building my confidence by getting back to the gym. One of the main reasons why I train in a CrossFit environment is because it forces me to get out of my comfort zone, which expands my comfort zone, building confidence.

2 | Focus on mastering one keystone confidence-building habit and then transfer confidence gained to a second habit. Once my habit of going to the gym solidified after about 90 days, I found myself ready to get back to writing. But now that I was in a different space, I decided that rather than just write about creating an online business, I wanted to share more about the journey and process I was taking myself through in hopes of helping others speed up their journeys. Going back to the gym to build my confidence was more about mental confidence than confidence gained by being more fit. Step 1 was to show myself that I could follow through on honoring and keeping commitments to myself. I can apply the confidence I'm gaining to other activities that will move my goals forward, like making videos. Once I felt the habit truly take hold, I could then apply that to layering in other daily habits and more writing. I've managed to work out an average of 4 times a week consistently since May. This is the first time I've worked out consistently through the winter since having my first child 18 years ago. I've lost 15 pounds. I feel great, and working out is now a part of who I am.

3 | Through action comes clarity. Clarity is a process, not an event. I still didn't feel like I knew exactly how to put into words the focus of my blog. There were many subjects that interested me and I was knowledgeable about, but I wasn't sure how to tie them together with a common thread. I used Instagram as a way to write mini posts about different subjects that interested me. I've always been passionate about eating healthy so I wrote a blog post and a few Instagram posts about what I was learning about eating more intentionally. I noticed that the more I stayed on track with my new habits, the more momentum I had with my writing. I knew that getting strong and having a vision would result in some kind of impact, but still, it seemed like I was covering a lot of ground with my topics.

Then it dawned on me-- I was living with more intention every day, and by having daily mini goals, I was chipping away at bigger ones. This was the angle I was looking for. I know that as humans, we crave bringing meaning to our lives, but just like what I had been experiencing for the past couple of years, our best intentions get derailed by life. What I was discovering through my journey is that being intentional about the micro decisions and commitments to ourselves in the day to day is the key to achieving bigger things. I realized that the only way I was going to make the impact that I want to, I would have to get very intentional with my day-to-day actions.

Finally, a simple, clear description of my blog was finally brought to light: Real Jersey Shore is a modern life and business blog, focused on intentional living and making an impact through the pursuit of a goal, dream, idea, or business. Under this one-liner, I can blog about all of the life and business topics that interest me and hopefully will help others too. I strongly believe that all of these topics are related, and I now feel ready to take Real Jersey Shore to other platforms like Facebook and new ideas began to flow (very excited about my new ideas that are coming soon!)

4 | To create a community, it's essential to bring others into what I am doing. The bigger vision for Real Jersey Shore has always been to create a community or movement around it. Because I loved sharing the stories of others, I wanted to get back to them again but do it in a way that is still powerful but less time-consuming. I am now doing mini-features of small local businesses on my Instagram account. What I'm interested in communicating about these businesses is not only what they do but why they do it. What inspired them to start their business? What do they strive to provide the local community? I am also hoping to do my part in creating awareness about these small businesses to encourage locals to support them. The features are short but contain all of the essential information about each business. I'm also taking nice portrait-style images of the business owners in their element. It's been a great experience so far, and I know this will a strong theme of Real Jersey Shore going forward.

5 | A dedicated, inspiring workspace is critical. Toward the end of 2017, I decided I needed to upgrade my workspace and get my desk out of the basement. Moving up in the world, literally! I also wanted to be able to shoot videos in the future and having a cinder block wall in the background was a valid concern. So I converted a den that we barely used into an inspiring, cozy workplace. We now call it the zen den and everyone in our family uses it every day. I wake up early, get my coffee, and go there to start working (just like I'm doing now!) Having this space has been huge in keeping me on track with creating content more consistently. I've set up my space so I'm surrounded by original artwork that I love and all kinds of things that create good vibes. I also want to start creating video content so I set it up, keeping in mind that as well.

6 | When experiencing days of extreme doubt that make you want to quit, hold on, a breakthrough is coming. Recently I came close to taking down my blog. Frustrated by how to turn my "hobby" blog into a business, I decided it was time to add my Services page, offering consulting services to teach small businesses the digital business storytelling and social media skills I've acquired. This is the first step in monetization for many online businesses. Eventually, other streams of income will come into play, depending on how things unfold, but offering face-to-face consulting services is a great first step. Given the nature of blogging, I've been building up my knowledge in this area for years, and I feel confident I can help small businesses who don't have the time to keep up with social media trends. To show my knowledge, I will post on social media and blog about these topics more frequently. Helping others with their social media efforts excites me because it helps them make a greater impact in what they are doing. So to sum this up, the days when you feel like giving up are the days you just really need to hang in there and dig deep to kickstart a breakthrough to take you to the next level.

7 | Writing on a public forum helps me find my voice. Since I started Real Jersey Shore in 2015, I guess you could say I've been mini-blogging on Instagram. In my post's captions, I've written about and shared social media tips, inspirational tips, personal insights, favorite quotes, books, and what's working for me on my journey for reaching for my goals. I'm confident in my writing skills, which helped me get over the initial hurdle of putting my thoughts out there. The greatest benefit of my mini-blogging on Instagram is it helped me get clear on the angle of my blog. It helped me clarify my thoughts and test different topics to see how people respond. Have I written things and gotten a poor response? Absolutely. Going through that is good data and has helped me get thicker skin. I'm now at a point where I believe strongly in what I'm doing and feel confident the right people will find me to hear my message. I don't expect my message to resonate with everyone. If you have a message you want to take to the world, I highly suggest mini-blogging on Instagram. You can set up an account separate from your personal account and experiment. By using hashtags you can find, attract, and connect with other like-minded people. Personally, I've grown tired of reading shallow posts on social media. I crave communicating and connecting on a more meaningful level. As Seth Godin says, (and I paraphrase) "The tribe we yearn to connect with is out there waiting to be organized and led."

8 | Knowing when I am most productive and what keeps my creativity flowing is key to maintaining forward momentum. By going through this journey, I've learned that early morning is the best time for me to write. The house is quiet. I'm rested and I can think. As the day goes on, noise creeps in and it's much harder to focus. At night, my mind is fatigued from the day, and it's an uphill battle so I do things that don't require so much concentration. I've also learned to guard my frame of mind by staying away from negative situations or useless negative information on the news. Being self-aware about your energy and what feeds it and depletes it is essential in maintaining forward momentum.

Conclusion

To sum up what I've learned and experienced at this point, I'd have to say that starting with working on myself was the best first step toward achieving my bigger goals. This is why it is now a major content pillar of my blog because I want to share what I'm applying in my life to hopefully help and inspire others. I've learned to experiment with writing about different topics, but always strive to provide value to my readers. I've learned that downward spiraling negative thoughts and doubt only feed fear, and they're usually a sign that I need to hang on tighter and push harder to get to the next level. I've gotten comfortable with the journey not being linear and not always progressing forward. But by being self-aware of my energy and intentional with my thoughts, actions and time, I trust the process will move forward!

Onward and until next time!

Ellie xo