Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 145 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Shauna Niequist about inspiration, knowing when to disconnect, and living with intention.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Phil Rosenthal about building his career and his new Netflix-original show, “Somebody Feed Phil.” To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Shauna understands how important it is to live a life full of meaningful choices and intentional seasons, but she didn’t always live this way. It took her coming to a breaking point to really evaluate her choices and understand what’s really important.
As bloggers and entrepreneurs, we tend to feel the need to constantly be connected to social media, responding to comments, and answering emails. But while those things are important, it’s also important to recognize when you should disconnect, say no, and seek silence for a bit. You’ll learn how to live “Present Over Perfect” in this episode!
Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Jodie from Growing Book by Book! If you’d like to be featured, leave a review for us on iTunes and include your name and blog name in the review.
If you'd like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, I talk about the un-to-do list, and we talk with Shauna Niequist about being Present Over Perfect.
Bjork Ostrom: Hey there everybody! This is Bjork Ostrom, and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast brought to you by WP Tasty, which is the ultimate go-to resource for bloggers like yourself that are looking to build and grow their website. Right now, WP Tasty has two plugins that we offer. One is called the Tasty Recipes for people that are building food blogs. The other is called Tasty Pins. This is actually for anybody. You don’t need to be a food blogger. Tasty Recipes allows you to mark up your recipes in a way that Google and other search engines understands them. It also allows you to create really beautiful recipe card templates that people can print those recipes off from your blog.
Bjork Ostrom: Tasty Pins allows you to create an optimized SEO description as well as an optimized Pinterest description. You can check out wptasty.com to learn more about those two plugins. Every week, we do a tasty tip, which is brought to you by WP Tasty. Today’s tasty tip has to do with some of the things that Shauna is going to be talking about on the podcast today. This is a concept that I have applied a couple of times throughout my work career, and it has been really helpful for me. That is creating the un-to-do list or the things I don’t do list would be another way to describe it, and along with that, creating a list of things that you do like to do and want to do.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a really simple exercise. There doesn’t have to be any super specific rules that you follow, but the basic idea is when I’ve done this in the past, and Lindsay has done this as well, what you do is you take a big sticky note. My favorite is those sticky notes that you can put up on a wall. They wouldn’t have to be that, but there’s something really fun about not doing it on your computer or a piece of paper, but doing it while standing up, taking one big sticky note that you put on the wall, and then another big sticky note. On one, you write, “things I do.” On the other, you write, “Things I don’t do.” You go through and write down all of the things on one side that you really enjoy doing. This would be things that you put on the things I do list.
Bjork Ostrom: Examples for me would be we work on our businesses. I spend time with Lindsay. I spend time with friends. I go for walks with Sage. This would be all of the things that you want to prioritize and make sure that you have time for. Then this is the really interesting part of it. You go to the things I don’t do list. On this list, you would maybe include some things that people would think that you should do, or maybe you are currently doing but would like to do less of. This allows you to really clarify those things, and to put those down on a list. The goal is to not do those things, but the goal is to actually not to do those things, so figuring out ways to drop those things either by replacing who does those. Maybe you hire somebody to do housecleaning or lawn work, or dropping them completely maybe within your business and the website building that you do.
Bjork Ostrom: You decide to drop a certain social media channel, because it’s just too much. What I found every time that I do this is that there are things I’m currently doing that I don’t need to be doing. The undo list or the things I don’t do list allows me to clarify what that is, but I also want to have that positive, the things that I do want to do, and make sure that I have time for it, which is why you have that things I do list. That’s the tasty tip for today. Take a minute and find some time this week to schedule a half-an-hour or an hour to do the things I do and things I don’t do list, so you can have that un-to-do list, the things that you want to get rid of. That will allow you to free up that time for the things that are really important even if it means just doing nothing, taking time to unplug, and relax, and recharge.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s actually some of the things that Shauna is going to talk about today. Shauna wrote a book called Present Over Perfect about living behind the frantic life. We are really excited to talk to her, because I know a lot of people that listen to this have that to deal with. This is this frantic life that we have, and what does it look like to balance that a little bit? She’s going to offer some great perspective. For those of you that have not read Shauna’s books, she has multiple books, some that I mentioned throughout the podcast, I wanted to make sure that you are aware of those, but also, offer those to some of the Food Blogger Pro podcast listeners. If you are interested in getting entered into a drawing for one of those book, we’ll give away three copies of Present Over Perfect.
Bjork Ostrom: You can either leave a review for the podcast, or you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/blog, and that will bring you to the page where we are publishing this. You can leave a comment and say one thing that you took away from this episode with Shauna. Either one of those will work. You can leave a review, which you can do easily from within the app that you’re listening to this podcast from. If you’d like, you can leave a comment on the blog post for this episode, and say one thing that you were able to get from this episode that you’re going to apply to your life. It’s going to be a great interview. I’m really excited to share some of the concepts that Shauna is talking about here in this podcast and also in her book. Let’s go ahead and jump in.
Bjork Ostrom: Shauna, welcome to the podcast.
Shauna Niequist: Thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m going to say this. Thank you for coming on again. This is a repeat interview, so we’ll have some deep cut footage from our previous interview that will never be released, but maybe someday down the line, we can release it as a followup unreleased album from when the internet went out last time. What a bomber.
Shauna Niequist: Right. I think of myself or I like to think of myself as a professional, right? Apparently not, apparently, I cannot even get through a Skype interview without having to reschedule because of an internet problem, but thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, that’s the hard thing. We do this on Skype, and then we record it, but I feel like the success rate for a Skype call at this point is about 25%, so it is not uncommon for that to happen, but thanks for jumping on again and for being a part of this. Whenever I do these podcast interviews, I always do a decent amount of research just to get prepared for them, and it helps me feel prepared for this, but there is a little bit of a counter prepared moment, where I felt less prepared as I was preparing, and that’s when I watched your interview with Oprah. I was like, “Oh, she interviewed with Oprah. That’s a little bit of a different scale than our podcast.” What was that like? I’m so curious to know what the experience is like being with Oprah, and spending time with her and being interviewed by her?
Shauna Niequist: It was totally like a dream. She is as extraordinary as she seems, as intelligent and articulate and warm. Her team, I’ve never felt more well prepared going into an experience. They think of everything. They talk to you about everything. I actually keep in touch with a couple of them still, because we really connected during this experience. It was from the moment the opportunity came up all the way through a total dream experience.
Bjork Ostrom: What was that like for you going into it knowing that it’s a really big deal. The easy question is were you nervous? But maybe layers underneath that, what did it mean to you, and then in terms of just that experience from you as another person that is transparent and inspires, how did that inform you and the work that you do?
Shauna Niequist: Well, that’s a great question. I was absolutely nervous. I’m a Chicago girl, so I grew up on Oprah. When she had her daytime show in Chicago, all of our moms want to be on the Oprah Show. Everybody wanted to go on the Christmas favorite things’ day. Oprah was very much a part of our world and our city growing up. Then as she transitioned into more of the Super Soul Sunday stuff, I really appreciate the work she’s doing in that space. For better and for worse, I tend not to be a super goal-oriented person in some ways. There are a couple of things that I’ve said though, like, “You know what, that would mean something to me.”
Shauna Niequist: I don’t think I even was willing to say it out loud, but I always felt like the people that she has interviewed for Super Soul Sunday are people I really admire and respect. It would be tremendously meaningful for me to be included in that. T here are a lot of other things that I could take relief. That was one that really felt meaningful to me, and so I think, I was a little extra nervous. It was a great experience. One of the interesting things that she does, and I guess, she does this all the time, but they told me ahead of time, “You won’t meet her until the cameras are rolling.”
Shauna Niequist: When you see someone meet her on TV, on the show, they are meeting for the first time, because she wants that fresh energy. She doesn’t want to be like, “Okay, now, let’s pretend to meet.” There is something very energizing, and you get shocked into a new space. You’re like, “Oh my gosh, the cameras are rolling. The mic is on. There’s a camera on a crane in a tree, and Oprah’s coming up on a golf cart. Like, this is something.” It’s really, really cool.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I would imagine that with that, you have this elevated experience where you’re operating on all cylinders, right? For the interview itself, it probably goes as best as it can, because it’s like, “Okay, this is it. There’s no redos. There’s no practice. This is it. We’re jumping into it.”
Shauna Niequist: Totally, and in some situations, a lot of times, there’s a person off camera who’s basically running everything. The interviewer is following that producer’s lead. That’s definitely not the case here. She is leading every part of it. When there is a plane going overhead, and she wants them to stop for a minute, she tells you, when it’s quiet enough to start again. She is the center of that space in every way. She’s really interesting.
Bjork Ostrom: Really cool. Well, congratulations on that. That’s such a cool thing. We’ll link to that in our show note, so people can watch that. One of the things that you said is, “You know, I’m not really a goal-oriented person.” In reading through Present Over Perfect, it sounds like at least maybe at one point in your life, you were that person. Maybe a followup on that little point that you made, is that something that’s changed about you, or were you never really goal-oriented, but in a different phase of your life, we you an extreme hustler and worker, but maybe not tied to concrete goals?
Shauna Niequist: I would say a couple different things. I would say I hustled and performed and overworked in ways I really regret. I went way past what a normal pace, a normal set of responsibilities would be, but I think, I did that with a desire to prove in an external way, not out of a deeply held, “This is what I want my life to be.” There were a couple of goals that were like, I would say, meaningfully mine, but most of them when I look back on it were about pleasing someone else or someone else feeling something about me. The other thing I would say is I didn’t need to win or be the best, but I used hard work and busyness to keep running and keep frantic.
Shauna Niequist: I wasn’t tremendously strategic all the time. I said yes way too indiscriminately. A lot of it was I felt safe and good about myself if I was just running fast, if I just kept things moving.
Bjork Ostrom: For some context for those that aren’t familiar, I’ll share more in the intro, but your book Present Over Perfect is about that transition from that point in your life to a point where you are what? How would you describe it? What was that transition to that you’re coming from during that frantic point in your life?
Shauna Niequist: Well, I would say I realized with syncing clarity that if we had met at an event, and had coffee, or our families had dinner together, if you ask me about my mostly deeply held values, I would have said, “You know, I care about my family. I care about meaning and deep connection and good work. You know, I’m a faith-based person. I care about the connection between people more than I care about, you know, whatever.” I would have said all these lovely things. I love to play. I love rest, and I like life to be full of variety, but if you look at my life, what I did was work. My values did not match my calendar or my to-do list or the things that I had said yes to.
Shauna Niequist: I realized I’m not actually the person that I believe I am on the inside, and so my job the next couple of year was to start from the inside-out, and remake my whole life.
Bjork Ostrom: I have a friend that says calendars and checkbooks are moral documents. It sounds like this realization for you that the calendar that I am keeping doesn’t reflect the things that I hold to be most true and most important.
Shauna Niequist: That’s absolutely true. I love that quote. I think, that is really accurate.
Bjork Ostrom: That might come from somewhere else. It’s just my friend that said it, so I don’t want to credit him as the original.
Shauna Niequist: It’s Abraham Lincoln, right? That’s what we always say.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that who it is? Okay.
Shauna Niequist: I don’t know. It’s always a safe bet.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. We’ll just say that. What was the braking point for you? Was it a concrete moment where you have this realization, or was it a slow realization?
Shauna Niequist: Well, on one hand, I would say there were warning signs for quite a long time, but the nature of the way I was living was that I wasn’t listening to subtle suggestions, so when I look back, there’s so much you can see in hindsight. I could see the cracks starting to show in a lot of different areas of my life, but I had a key moment. I was speaking at an event in a hotel in Dallas. For whatever reason at that season in my life, I went to Dallas three times a month, and so it became to me the symbol of like, “This is when you leave your kids and your family, and your friends, and you go stay in a hotel for a weekend, and do this thing that isn’t really working for you anymore.” It always happened in Dallas.
Bjork Ostrom: Dallas, yeah, unfortunately for Dallas.
Shauna Niequist: Since then, I have repaired my relationship with Dallas and a lot of things I liked, but there was a month where I’ve been there three weekends, maybe three out of four. I went up to my hotel room in between sessions of speaking, and I laid down on my bed fully clothed, shoes on, and I looked up at the ceiling. I said to myself, “If anybody else would like to try to live this life I’ve created for myself, they are more than welcome to try, and a stronger person might be able to do it well, but I don’t want it anymore.” The benefits do not outweigh the costs for me. My relationships were suffering. My body was suffering. My spiritual life was suffering. What I was was productive. What I was not was healthy, spiritually, physically, or emotionally.
Bjork Ostrom: I think, a lot of people can relate to that, and they have this feeling of being stretched so thin across multiple areas, and in each one of those individual areas, maybe stretched than work, career, or family, relationships, but then cumulatively as well being stretched, but then there is this piece of whether it’s culture, our own internal dialogue that says either two things. Number one, just suck it up and do it. It would be categorized as hustle. It would be categorized as hard work, maybe as a sacrifice, so that would be one. The other internal dialogue that we might hear is, “Only for a little bit of time, and then I’ll be able to change.”
Bjork Ostrom: For people that are feeling this, and thinking either one of those things, either, “Hey, this is just what you do. Suck it up,” or, “I’m only going to do this for a little bit, and then it will get better,” what would you say to those people that are in that moment right now, and thinking those things?
Shauna Niequist: Well, I do think I understand the line of thinking of it will only be for a little while. I would say that is an acceptable answer as long as you can show me the calendar where it’s going to end, as long as the next little while isn’t the next decade. For a lot of us, we play that game that this season is just a busy one, but the next one won’t be. Well, the next one won’t be only if you make radical changes so that it won’t. I think, there is an aspect of agency about it. I didn’t really take responsibility for how busy and frantic my life had become. I thought like, “I don’t know how this happened to me.”
Shauna Niequist: There was this moment where I said, “Oh, well, I guess the bad news is that I did this to myself, but maybe the good news is if I did it to myself, I can undo it.” I think, certainly, there are seasons. In a medical residency, nobody talks about a balanced life when you’re … When you have a newborn right at the end of a huge project, there certainly are those seasons, but I think, we have to be very honest with ourselves that we really are able to create new seasons once that particular one is done. Then going back to your first point talking about that like, “We reward people for always being tired, for never stopping.” That’s the harder one for me.
Shauna Niequist: I grew up in an environment. I think, the Midwest is a place that values hard work. I grew up in a family … My grandpas were Michigan … One of them owned farms and produce companies. One was a sheet metal worker. I grew up around people who very much valued hard work. You didn’t have to be … There were a lot of things that weren’t particularly valued, being fragile or emotional, but if you could show up and get the work done, that was incredibly … You are well rewarded for that. It took a long time. It took me really hurting my own body and soul, and relationships until I said out loud, “A lot of the people around me are able to run at a faster pace for longer than I am, and me trying to keep up with them is killing me.”
Bjork Ostrom: At that point, when you have that realization, what does the undoing of what you had done look like in a concrete way?
Shauna Niequist: Well, for me, it started with conversations with my husband, with my dad, who I’m really close to, with a mentor, with my small group at that time, but then also, I’m a writer, so with my agent, with my publisher, with the people that I speak at events for. I finished out the events that were on my calendar, and so some of why this felt like maybe a really long change is because the nature of some of the speaking stuff is it takes about two years to get those things off your calendar, but I started articulating … My values are shifting in this season, and the things I’ve always done, I’m not going to do anymore. I promise my work still matters. I promise I’m not going to blow off deadlines, but I’m determined to find a new way to do it.
Shauna Niequist: Having those conversations on the frontend, I think, really helped different decisions get made at the actual decisions points. Then for example, when I got together with the marketing team about the book that was coming out, nobody said, “So, we’re just going to do like last year, like, 100 events, you know.” They said, “Well, we’ve heard you say that you’re determined to live this new way. According to your new values, what would be a way to publicize this book?” I think that only worked because we’ve been having months of conversation at that point, so I would say one of the things that really helps is talking about it early and often with the people who are going to experience the repercussions of it.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. That was actually one of the questions that I had, because I know from others, so in our world, there’s a lot of people that are doing cookbooks. I know that for you, you have a book that is not strictly a cookbook, but Bread and Wine talks about some concepts around food and people and relationships, and has recipes within that, and has been really influential for us and for my wife, Lindsay, who you were able to connect with last time formed a dinner club out of some of the conversations from that that’s been hugely influential. From her and from me, thank you for that.
Shauna Niequist: I love that. Thank you. That means a lot to me.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I had was knowing the book writing process for so many people in our niche, cookbooks, but books in general is intense. What was it like for you to be in what usually is an intense activity writing a book about life not being as intense? Was that something that impacted the writing process?
Shauna Niequist: Absolutely, and one of the things that we said all the way through is, “Listen, I’m going to write a book about living behind frantic. We can’t do this book in a frantic way. It’s not right.”
Bjork Ostrom: That’s right.
Shauna Niequist: That was actually a really helpful governor on the process. It gave us helpful parameters. I kept saying to my team all the way through, “I know launching a book is a lot of work. I know the editing process is a lot of work. I know all the PR stuff. I choose to believe that there is a more soulful and a more grounded way to do this, and we’re going to find it.” But then I also said, “And that never means I’m not going to work hard. It never means I don’t care about this.” I mean, I’m just going to do it differently." For us, it was a lot about longer timelines for everything. One of the advantages was this was my fifth book, and so I knew where some of the stress points in the process would be.
Shauna Niequist: I knew, “Okay, well, this is going to be a hard couple weeks, or we’re going to really have to keep our eye on this part,” but I could build in … I bet I built in almost double time for each of those stress points to make them as manageable as possible. Then even some stuff, I put workable boundaries on my time and my family’s time, and asked the team to work within those. For example, I think, with other events or with other releases, it was like, “Man, if you want me to do an interview, I’ll do it. It doesn’t matter time and day. It doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter if I have to drive the city. It doesn’t matter if they’re coming to my house.” I said, “Here is the deal. I can do X amount of interviews in between this time and this time these three weeks. I will do as many as you want in there, so you prioritize them.”
Shauna Niequist: That worked really well for us. I did tons and tons, but scheduled in a really strategic way with parameters that worked for my schedule and my family.
Bjork Ostrom: That maybe speaks a little bit to what we’re talking before with an intentional season. I’m not saying that there will never be a time in my life that I’m busy, but saying, I’m going to put parameters on this, and say that this will be the season. I’m going to draw hard lines, and really understand within this what that means and requires of me without leaving that completely open-ended.
Shauna Niequist: Absolutely. I think, one of the things that help me with my team is obviously, I had a colleague who said, “You’re committing career suicide. You can’t write a book about how you’re not going to be quite so productive, and you’re not going to show up at so many events. You can’t do that. I had people refer to it as, ”That time I pulled the rip cord on my career."
Bjork Ostrom: That’s always encouraging. This is a feedback.
Shauna Niequist: Should that be the subtitle? What I kept saying is, and I really believed this, and I believe it maybe even more so for people whose lives have a higher internet focus than mine. Making beautiful, durable meaningful things takes more time than making fast, flashy disposable things, and beautiful things bear out over time. It matters more. It will last longer, and so I kept coming back to that. I kept saying, “I can’t have a book done in six months.” It will be garbage. Do you want to sell a garbage book, or do you want … Again, please, if someone else can do it in six months, and it’d be great, then more power to them.
Shauna Niequist: I just can’t, and so I had to keep saying, “I promise, I’m going to show up with something that’s meaningful over the long haul. I promise if you give me time, we’ll build something sturdier for the long-term, but I’m done with the disposable frantic way of producing content. It doesn’t work for me.”
Bjork Ostrom: I would be interested to hear you dive into that a little bit more. A lot of the people that listen to this podcast would be creators with a digital focus for what they’re doing. One of the things I remember having a conversation with somebody is that … It was years and years ago, but they talked about having a little bit of identity crisis because they were a web designer. Everything that they created didn’t exist two years later. It just was updated, and there was a new version, kind of a little bit of a different version of what you’re saying.
Bjork Ostrom: For those that are creating on a quick timeline, so maybe blog post, social media, things like that, what would your advice be to them in order to compliment what is required as a quick turnaround industry to compliment that with maybe more pillar pieces of content, whether that be maybe it’s non-digital pieces of content, or maybe it is something digital?
Shauna Niequist: Well, I would say I don’t think there’s anything like less than or less valuable when your content is digital. I think, people are making really beautiful important things on the internet. I think, what I’m talking about is the internet is so hungry. It will eat up every single piece of yourself that you give it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, it’s never full.
Shauna Niequist: Right, it’s just ravenous. I think you have to start with completely different questions. I think, way before you get to what will I give this starving monster, you say, “How much energy do I have in this season? How much can I work in a given week? First, what are my commitments to the people in my life? What are their commitments to my own physical, spiritual, and emotional health? Where are the places that are meaningful for me to either volunteer or connect or learn? How do I build a beautiful whole life?” When I know that those things are happening, that’s what’s going to make good work whether it’s digitally or in other spaces.
Shauna Niequist: Then I think, I’m not at all saying that the quick turnaround is a problem, but I would say whenever possible, do five posts a week instead of seven, and make the five better. Do three instead of five, and make them better. When we skim through our work, our brains get shallower. Our creativity suffers. When we’re just pounding things out for deadlines, I don’t think the best work comes out of us. I think, if all of us who are making things start to say, “You can have it immediately, or you can have it great. Let’s all be people who make it great.” I’m not saying it all has to be books that you’re going to read in 100 years. I’m saying, again, 500 words instead of 750, or three projects a month instead of four. What are ways to add a little margin so that you can add depth?
Bjork Ostrom: The interesting thing with that is, I think, there is a sole piece to that. I think, it feels better to create that type of work. I also think, not that this was the intent with it, because that is a better content that’s coming from a deeper place, I think that the impact of it is greater, which means therefore that thing that you are creating is better. It’s a better piece of content whatever that might be, whether it’s a book or a blog post, or a really well-crafted intentional post on social media, which is a lead into the next area that I wanted to talk to you about.
Bjork Ostrom: Being that you are somebody that is a creator, and being that you understand this world of not only publishing content, but also promoting that content, I’m curious to know as you have this journey from perfect to present, or as the book title is Present Over perfect, being more present, how did you start to or attempt to disconnect yourself from the metrics that are presented to you from a career standpoint, whether that be followers or book sales or downloads, whatever they might be? How did you start to disconnect yourself, or did you from those things in order to be more present, and less of a servant to the continued growth and building of things?
Shauna Niequist: Well, that’s a great question. I think, we all struggle with it in all different ways. We all have a lot of different solutions for it. For me, one of the things that makes it I think a touch easier for me is that I’m really clear from a work and vocation standpoint that my overwhelming, the center of the target for me is books. The books that I write are the most valuable thing that I make, and the metrics that go along with those are the ones that matter the most to me. Some of what that means is I’m not as caught up in the blog numbers or the social media numbers. If I have to worry about something, I do spend more time worrying about the book sales’ numbers.
Shauna Niequist: Social media and blog metrics have … because they’ve never been my biggest thing, it doesn’t make me better or worse. It just means if I’m going to obsessive, frankly, it’s checking my Amazon rank during the release week. I’m better with social media, but man, I can get a little wound up with the Amazon ranking right then. Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: With that specifically, to dig deeper on that, what was that like for you having the mindset of some of the things you talked about in this book of being present knowing that you could do 100 events that would impact sales? How did you balance that relatively direct correlation to working harder, and therefore increasing that metric, and then saying like, “No, I’m just not going to do that knowing that this metric that’s important to me will be potentially negative impacted, or maybe not?”
Shauna Niequist: I think, some of what really helped me was I remembered with great clarity the pain of some of those other release seasons when I had gone way overboard in terms of events. It’s like when you’re scared to run on your ankle after the cast comes off. You’re like, “I’m not breaking into a run right now. I know how much it hurt to break that bone.” We had very open conversations with my team. I basically said to them, “Show me what would irresponsible look like, what would knock it out of the park look like, and what would good solid effort, ”We’re not mad at you, but you’re not a machine,“ look like.”
Shauna Niequist: We went for that last one. We said, “This would represent you did everything you could without being totally over the line.” That’s what we did. I didn’t know if it was going to work. What’s funny about that is everybody has a different take on if it worked or not, and what worked. After the fact, anytime you release anything, people are like, “You know what did it was this.” You’re like, “I don’t know.” What I knew was, again, I can’t stand on stages, and sell the message of Present Over Perfect, and compromise my health, and my marriage, and my parenting in doing it. It just doesn’t work.
Bjork Ostrom: In doing that, I would assume that you have to craft or strengthen the skill that is difficult for many people, which is the skill of saying no. That’s something that, I think, universally isn’t an easy thing to do, but I think, especially if you in your previous life were somebody that was a yes person. What was that like for you to transition to being able to say no a little bit more, and what would your device be to people that want to do that, but are maybe a little bit scared too?
Shauna Niequist: That’s such a good question. I would say it’s still something that I’m growing in. I’m getting better at it, but I’m not all the way there. Well, I think, one of the ways that I use social media in my blog very intentionally was to talk pretty openly every so often about how I love being at home. It’s so valuable for me to gather my friends around the table. I’m not traveling that much in this season. On one hand, that’s just an update on my life. On the other hand, it’s a little bit of a signal to people who are thinking of maybe inviting me to a conference. I’m saying like, “I’m letting you know ahead of time I’m probably going to say no to this.”
Shauna Niequist: I think, that really helped. I still do that. Maybe your friend’s quote about the … or Abraham Lincoln’s quote about the moral documents, the calendar and the checkbook, maybe our social media is another one. For years, all you would see is the wing shot and the green room, and the hotel, coffee. You could look at my life, and you could tell, “This person is not home very much.” I very intentionally now am representing the reality that I am in my kitchen. I’m reading long-form books. I’m going for walks with my kids, and I want to represent the reality of that so that what I’m not communicating to people is, “Hey, could you please invite me to 10 or 12 events this fall?” That really helped me.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost, I don’t know, there’s maybe a better word than this, but you are creating your personal brand as one that isn’t like, “Hustle, say yes to everything. I’m out there always doing conferences.” You’re saying, “These are the things that are valuable to me,” so if somebody knows who you are and understands you maybe through social media or even in the content that you’re writing about, they understand that better if you reply and say, “Hey, I’m spending this weeks with my family. Best of luck in your project, but I just can’t make it.”
Shauna Niequist: Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Shauna Niequist: They’re not like, “Well, I saw you. You were on the sixth plane this week. Why don’t you get on one for me?”
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.
Shauna Niequist: The other two things that really helped me, and this might sound so silly, but I’ve never worked … I’ve worked with a very, very part-time assistant occasionally, but I’ve never had a whole team. That’s okay to me. I like it being a little bit more nimble, but I currently employ someone, and most of her job I replying no to emails, because it’s still pretty hard for me, and it’s easier for me for her to do it. She does a couple a week. By no means, she has a total different full-time job, and we’ve written all these standardized responses that are changed from question to question, but I’ve needed the training wheels of that. That’s been hard for me.
Shauna Niequist: Then the last thing I would say is when you experience anxiety about saying no to something, it’s worth taking a minute to figure out exactly why in that particular case. One of the things I learned is that I got reasonably good at saying no to people I didn’t know, but if it was someone I went to college with, or someone I had spoken at one of their events before, I learned that I have an overdeveloped sense of loyalty. Like, “Well, I did meet that person one time, so obviously, yes. They need me. We’re going through life together in a deep and meaningful way, and I have to show up.”
Shauna Niequist: Even now, I know those are the hardest ones for me to say, but because we have relationship, I trust that I can explain to them what this is about in my life, and so I don’t say no. I say, “You know, what I’m learning about myself is that I do the best work, and I live the best life.” When I’m home most of the time, I go through the whole thing, so it’s not just a flat no. It’s, “I want you to understand where this comes from.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s context around the no explaining what it is. It reminds of we had an invite to speak at our high school. It was some … I forget specifically what it was, but national honor society or something like that. That’s such an example of a learning experience for me in saying no. The person who was asking said, “Yeah, it’s on April.” It’s the weekend of Lindsay’s birthday, so I think, it was April 26, not Lindsay’s birthday, but that weekend. I said, “You know what, I just want to wish I could. It’s Lindsay’s birthday that weekend, and we’d just love to be around for her.”
Bjork Ostrom: It was like a little bit of a stretch, because it’s 100% true, and that was the reason for it, but it wasn’t like on her birthday, but it’s like, “Okay, this makes sense, and I don’t want to be preparing for this thing on the weekend in Lindsay’s birthday is.” Then he replied back, and he’s like, “Actually, I got the dates wrong. It’s later on. It’s the next weekend.” I was like, “Oh shoot,” and I had an email typed up accepting it. Then I deleted it, and I just rewrote it.
Bjork Ostrom: I said, “You know what, what I’ve learned about myself is that when I’m preparing a speech that I’m giving with me talking for half-an-hour or 45 minutes, I get in my head, and get totally consumed with it for a week or two weeks.” I said, “I’ve realized this about myself, and it’s just not a good thing for me to do.” It was hard to type that out, and to put my thoughts into an email, and to say that, but it felt so good to just give context around the no, and then have it be a flat no as opposed to like, “This date doesn’t work.”
Shauna Niequist: Totally. I love that. I think, you’re actually touching on a really important thing. I think, one of the reasons that I value my friendships with other speakers and writers so much is they understand some of the maybe non-obvious challenges of your work. For example, public speaking is hard. I think, a lot of people if they don’t do it when they ask you, they’re like, “Why can you not just show up and do this for me?”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like half-an-hour.
Shauna Niequist: Totally. You’re like, “It’s two weeks. It’s crying twice.” Some are easier and some are harder, but you do have to factor in if you’re honest the emotional weight of the entire thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. I think, that’s a big takeaway for people, because as creators, you will get asked to whether it be partner on a project, advise on a project. Especially in this space that we are in, a lot of people will have a good understanding of certain areas of the web, and people are always wanting to learn more about that, so a really important takeaway. One of the questions that I had maybe ties into this idea of the broken ankle that you talked about, and getting to this point where you break your ankle, and you’re like, “I can’t do this anymore,” and remembering that feeling of what it was like to run on a broken ankle.
Bjork Ostrom: What about the people that their ankle’s a little bit sore, but they’re like, “I can still go out and run today,” but every once in a while, it comes up. They feel that, so they’re on the way to a broken ankle, but they haven’t reached that pain point yet. You talked about how a lot of times, we need to hit that pain point in order to fully realize the need to correct, but what about the people that aren’t fully there yet? How can they check in with themselves to get a good understanding of where they’re at, and course correct before they have a broken ankle?
Shauna Niequist: Well, one of the things that I’m learning is unfortunately in a lot of these things, I’m the last to know, but I do have some very helpful intel if I want it. My husband sure knows. My kids know. My best friends know. My parents know, and so I’m learning to ask them very directly to reflect back what they’re seeing in me, because the stress cracks become a parent to them when I still think we’re doing great.
Bjork Ostrom: What do those questions look like? How do you have that conversation?
Shauna Niequist: Well, like with my best friend, my circle of best girlfriends are this cooking club that I talked about a little bit in Bread and Wine. We’ve been meeting together at least once a month for nine years. A couple of them are my cousins, and my college roommate, my high school friend, so we have a lot of history together, but when we’ll sit around the table, and I’ll say, “When I look at this next season, these are the couple things on my plate. I’m trying to decide yes to two out of three, yes to three. How do you guys gauge kind of like my general connection level, my sense of like restedness, or soul health when you see me with the kids, like, when you hear what I complain about? How do you kind of gauge how close I am to that bad edge?”
Shauna Niequist: We really do have conversations like that, because I’ve learned I’m always the optimist. I’m like, “The ankle’s fine.”
Bjork Ostrom: Limping along.
Shauna Niequist: Totally. I have an 11-year-old, and we went out to dinner the other night, and one of the questions I always ask him whenever it’s just he and I, I say, “If you are to describe what it’s like to live in a house with me in like the last three months, what would you say? How do I seem? What would be some words that describe me? And if I wanted to make some changes to be a better parent to you, what would be the two or three things I could do?” Well, I mean, they’ll tell you. That’s really valuable.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I’m jotting that down. I love the idea of offering people that you are closest with the opportunity to speak to, I don’t know if you call them your blind spots, but essentially the things that you don’t fully see because you are fully you and aren’t able to look at you. Yes, that’s great.
Shauna Niequist: You have a belief of yourself that’s a little bit aspirational, right? You think you might be doing better than you are, and then your spouse or your best friend is like, “I have some hard news,” but it’s for your healing. It’s for your growth.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Shauna, we’re coming to the end here, but I want to have a chance for you to just speak openly to the people that are at that point in their life where they’re feeling frantic. They’re feeling overwhelmed. They feel this crashing weight, or maybe they are like, “You know what, I think, maybe something is wrong with my ankle.” What would you say to those people, and what would your advice be in order for them to start their process of making the transition and leaving frantic behind, and starting to live a little bit more of a simpler, soulful way of living as you talked about in your book?
Shauna Niequist: Well, I would say two things. One of them tying a little bit back into what we were just talking about in terms of feedback, but then also some of the metrics of social media. One of the things that I feel like I learned the hard way is, okay, if you think about adjusting the volume on a bunch of different inputs, it’s very easy to let the social media or blog numbers volume get really high. It’s the loudest thing you listen to. Their comments can send you back into bed, because they’re terrible or like to the moon, because you’re so amazing.
Shauna Niequist: It’s easy to let strangers with social media accounts tell you who you are and if your work is good. That is so dangerous, and so what I really work on is I work on twisting that knob, and the social media and blog metric and Amazon review, and rating numbers, I can barely hear them, because I turned up that circle of people and their feedback really, really loud. They’re the ones that I listen to.
Bjork Ostrom: When you say that circle, these are your closest friends, your family.
Shauna Niequist: Yeah, my agent, maybe two of my writer peers, my husband, my best girlfriends, my parents, a small circle of people. I listen to them. If they think I’m off 1%, I make a change 1%. I listen very closely. If they think I’m on the right track, I keep going, but I cannot get caught in if the internet likes me or not. It’s a losing battle, and it will make me insane, and so I work really hard to turn down that volume level, and then turn up the volume of the voices that I really trust, and that are connected to my life in real ways long term.
Bjork Ostrom: I think, that’s great. Hard to do, really hard to do, but I think, that’s good. A followup question with that, what does that look like to turn those down? Is that a mental thing of saying these don’t hold as much weight, or are there tactical tangible things that you’re doing in order to not have those be as present?
Shauna Niequist: Well, I would say this sounds crazy, but 12 years in, I can tell. I can get this little itch like, “I’m going to go read my Amazon reviews.” No one ever decides to do that when they’re having a good day, right?
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Shauna Niequist: You’re not laying out at a beautiful resort, drinking an umbrella drink like, “I’m going to check my Amazon reviews.” It’s when 10 other things have already gone wrong. It’s freezing cold, and it gets dark at 4:30, because it’s the Midwest.
Bjork Ostrom: Let’s just pour gasoline on this fire, and let it burn.
Shauna Niequist: Right. Let’s make this go … Yes, and so I’m proud to say, and I will say out loud sometimes, or I will text my friends as though I’m like an addict. I will say like, “Ask me if I checked my Amazon reviews today, because today would not be the day to do that.” There even have been times where I’ve written about … A year ago probably, I got the single worst email I’ve ever received. It was paragraphs and paragraphs of why this person was angry with what I had done, and it ended with capital letters STOP WRITING. I go, “Oh okay. What do you think I should do?”
Bjork Ostrom: The only reason I laughed is because as a fellow creator, a very niche, different industry, but … and I think everybody that’s listening to this can relate to that, but one of the hard things is you’re on your own when you receive that, and it’s so individually directed. It’s not like Shauna Inc. It’s like, “This is me individually.” It feels different if it’s at Coca-Cola or something like that, but what a burden to have to bear those things. It’s the reality for so many people.
Shauna Niequist: One of the ways that I take some of the pain out of them is by talking about it, either telling some friends or telling a writer friend. I would say that’s another reason that I love having writer friends that I’m very close to, because we can text each other and be like, “I just got the worst one star review ever.” Invariably, one of them will text back and be like, “Oh my gosh, no, let me show you one. It’s so bad.” It helps me to realize that happens to all of us. If you’re going to create things, you’re going to get criticized, and so it starts to get a little easier over time, but I would also say I’m pretty careful.
Shauna Niequist: At this point, I try not to spend too much time on the internet. I find that it does not bring out the best in my thought life or my overall demeanor. There are things I love about it, but I love it maybe the way I love let’s say pizza, and that I very much love it very deeply, but if I had it three meals a day, we’d probably have some problems. A very limited diet of it is the only healthy way for me.
Bjork Ostrom: I feel the same way with social media for me, and this isn’t true for everybody, but it’s like, I have to sip on it. I block the Facebook feed when I log in. I don’t have an Instagram account. We have one for our dog that I post to about twice a year, but it’s the same thing where I’ve realized for me, the way that I feel after engaging in a deep way is usually not better. That’s not true for everybody. Again, that’s just for me individually. Any other takeaways for people as they’re making this transition, or things that you’d want to speak into people’s lives here?
Shauna Niequist: One thing that really, really helped me, and it sounds sort of maybe crazy, it’s crazy for me, was to intentionally carve out silence and solitude to listen to your life and your emotions and your desires. My life was so outrageously over scheduled. I love to read. I love being online. I love listening to music. I have little kids. The volume level of my life was so high that I couldn’t hear the deep rumblings of something is wrong on the inside. When I started spending even five minutes a day in total silence not reading or writing, but just sitting and listening, I became aware of how off track I had been, and I started to recover some of the desires that I had held, what I would call my true essential self, my identity.
Shauna Niequist: I would say, “If you suspect that maybe you’re running too fast and maybe in the wrong direction, or if you suspect that maybe you are living according to someone else’s voice or narrative for what your life should look like or what should be meaningful to you, the practice of silence will become your anchor. It will hold you in the storm. It will keep you from floating away. It will ground you deeply. That practice is one that especially if you’re off course, it’s very difficult. When I first started doing it, I would find I would get angry or anxious, or I would cry. It’s like all the bad stuff came when I was silent. I was like, ”Guess what, this is a bad idea. Like, look how sad I am."
Bjork Ostrom: I’m not having fun doing this.
Shauna Niequist: This is not working for me, but I found, and this is true. After practicing that for several years, now, I recognize silence as the safe restorative practice that returns me to that essential self.
Bjork Ostrom: This might sound like the answer to be obvious, but I think it would be helpful for people to hear. How do you do that? I mean, you sit in silence for five minutes, but are there tricks or advice that you would give for people, because it’s a scary thing if you’re used to the volume being at 11 to have five minutes of silence? What would your advice be for people that want to give that a try?
Shauna Niequist: Well, I would say I totally understand that it’s scary. If I can do it, anyone can do it. People tease me I will literally be like listening to a podcast, and also an album, and watching a show, and writing. I mean, I have how many different files in my brain are open.
Bjork Ostrom: And juggling.
Shauna Niequist: Right, and I’ve got something on the stove. I understand, and literally, I started off with a five-minute timer on my phone. I always found that I did better if I sat outside even if it was a little cold. Five minutes, and not while you’re driving, not while you’re in the shower, not while you’re chopping, totally inactive. When my body was no longer active, my mind could start to unravel a little bit, and I literally did it five minutes at a time, and I started first thing in the morning, and last thing before bed. Over time, I worked up to longer periods of time, or more often in the day. Now, sometimes, I can do eight minutes. I don’t even have to look at my phone. It’s not like a paragon. But it regulates something inside of me that felt out of control for a long time.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. If nothing else, that just simple practice could be hugely impactful for people, and I think, it’s a great note to wrap up on, but before we do, Shauna, where can people find your books and learn a little bit more about you knowing that we’ll link to all of these places as well?
Shauna Niequist: Sure. My books are all on Amazon. My website is just shaunaniequist.com. On social media, on Instagram, it’s SNiequiest, same with Twitter, and then Facebook is just Shauna Niequist, but I definitely like Instagram the best.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, and we’ll link to that, and make sure the people follow along with you there. Shauna, it’s truly a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Shauna Niequist: Totally my pleasure, thank you.
Alexa Peduzzi: This giveaway will run for one week, and will close on April 17th, 2018. Good luck! Now, it’s time for our reviewer of the week. This one comes from Jodie from the blog Growing Book by Book. It says, “I look forward to each episode. There’s always a great takeaway from each interview. Bjork does a great job at interviewing the guests making sure the listeners are always getting the information they need. I’m not even a food blogger, and I still listen every week.” Thank you so much, Jodie. We’re so thrilled that you still find something valuable from the podcast even though your focus isn’t on food.
Alexa Peduzzi: We really appreciate all of you for listening this week. Thank you so much, and from all of us here at FBPHQ, make it a great week.
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