People of the Internet, You’ve Been Had

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People of Internet,

You’ve been had.

In the past couple years we’ve borne witness to an interesting set of trends. Various hashtags started gaining popularity that claimed to be celebrating the #authenticlife, but they were unusually ripe with photos of farm to table feasts on custom built farmhouse tables, cleverly staged journals with pristine latte art, and gorgeous minimalist home decor without a trace of evidence that real live people actually inhabited these homes. We saw an Instagram “celebrity” go viral for posting an extremely public breakup video to the very app that gave her a platform, only to start rapidly growing a following on her very well marketed (and highly monetized) site promoting her newfound position as a leading voice for being “real” online. Conferences and retreats have popped up left and right with speakers who market themselves brilliantly as experts and success stories of their supposed fields and vocations, but if you peek behind the curtain you discover the only job they actually hold is that very self marketing, speaking, and teaching. It’s a bit like when we find Dorothy pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz is in fact a tiny little man pulling levers and dials, and its all been a cleverly designed trick all along.

There is no Wizard folks.

photo-1449535423830-de3f6546aabdThe internet doesn’t actually care about authenticity. Social media isn’t actually growing more appreciative of the vulnerable and exposed. Many of the biggest names who claim to have a way to sell you a path to success don’t actually have success in anything other than selling success.

Yeah… kind of Debbie Downer today, right?

But hear me out fellow citizens of this crazy online world. I am NOT advocating for cynicism or apathy. I’m in no way hoping to simply burst the bubble only to sit back and watch the damage. This isn’t just a case of “misery loves company.” Rather, I’m hoping we can all find a little Dorothy in ourselves right now and be brave enough to pull back that curtain, call out a clever con for exactly what it is, and put the illusion to bed in order to make way for something better to rise in its place.

The good news is this: the underlying reason for this trend’s success is that so many people ARE in fact craving a more authentic experience online. The bad news however is that its going to be much scarier to achieve than we hoped or expected. We like when we are seen as brave and vulnerable, but we’re not nearly as in love with the reality of living that out. It’s messy. It’s embarrassing. It’s anything but glamorous. It’s counter cultural in every way. And yet the only way we can hope to see a more authentic form of community online is to be willing to come to the table first, knowing full well we might be out there alone and exposed. It’s risky, but all the best things certainly are.

photo-1447914178647-198e7e4a70b5Can you imagine if we all stood up and saw the false hashtag #authenticity for what it really is and demanded something better? What if we stopped celebrating pseudo-vulnerability and held ourselves to a higher standard of bravery? What if we didn’t just share the carefully curated highlight reel that fit the persona we worked so diligently to cultivate, but opened our personal closets and admitted we aren’t any more on top of things than anyone else? What if instead of self promotion and viral marketing, we just put our work out there and let it speak for itself? What if we actually created the #authenticlife we claim we so desperately crave?

And therein lies the bigger challenge. It’s easy to criticize what we’re against, it’s a lot more difficult to actually do something about it. I could get up on stage after stage speaking against false authenticity and write blog after blog calling out the online culture of deception, but what can we actually DO about it? It’s not good enough to know where we don’t want to go if we still don’t have a plan for where we should – it only leaves us stalled and stagnant.

Claim your personal stake as part of the solution:

Calling out pseudo-authenticity doesn’t solve nearly as much as stepping up to the plate with the real thing. The only social media accounts you have any certainty of affecting for change are your own. Make a commitment to take personal responsibility for your online citizenry and focus on your own domain. Lead by example.

Don’t misinterpret inappropriate sharing as authenticity:

No, you don’t need to post all your dirty laundry on facebook in the name of being more authentic. There are most definitely situations that call for privacy, especially in the name of respect. No one enjoys seeing martial spats played out over social media, and disputes with friends are always better handled face to face rather than publicly on facebook. Most importantly: authentic sharing is NEVER sharing information that isn’t about you or isn’t yours to share. Gossip isn’t a tool to better community, it only encourages people to hide their vulnerabilities even more, lest they become ammunition in the wrong hands later

Take regular stock of your social media “big picture,” and compare to the real story:

There’s a difference between not airing your dirty laundry and presenting the false idea that you don’t have any laundry to begin with. It can be a tightrope walk for sure, but it CAN be done. Look over your social media account regularly and ask yourself if the story you present overall is an accurate representation of the real life person behind the screen. If you aren’t sure, find a close friend you trust and ask them to weigh in. Ask yourself: if someone who had only known you online were to come spend a week in your home, do you think they would be at all surprised at the person they would see? If your answer is yes, ask yourself which parts of yourself would be most surprising, and how your might more accurately represent them moving forward.

Real authenticity is almost always scary to some degree:

If you have never experienced that nagging instinct to self preservation, or had to will yourself to press post on some less than flattering aspect of yourself, its a good idea to examine just how authentic you’re willing to be. Yes, there are those rare folks among us who maintain such an incredibly healthy self esteem that no amount of unflattering photos or admitting of their flaws holds any sort of fear. These are the exception though, and not the norm. For most of us, the idea of sharing our mistakes with the world gives us more than a little bit of pause. For many its outright terrifying. If you’ve never had to urge to hit delete or felt the weight of just how vulnerable it is to feel exposed? Challenge yourself to share something uncomfortable and see how folks respond.

Resist the urge to adhere to a label or niche:

One of the most insidious ways we start to take on false personas is by allowing ourselves to step into a comfortable label online. Nobody is just a DIYer, just a Christian, just an attachment parent, just a #girlboss… the list could go on and on. When we take on a label its often too easy to take it on as a role to be played, with proper costumes and guidelines for who the character should and shouldn’t be. Theres a reason that you’ll see so many similarities between bloggers who blog in similar niches – it can be all to tempting to let those labels define us and start to filter our other choices through those roles. Authentic people are much harder to fit into a box. You might be a blogger who doesn’t like coffee, a hippy mom who also enjoys rap music, or a fantastic designer who’s living room usually looks more like an abandoned daycare than a plug for HGTV. Real people are more than one thing, and we wont all look the same.

The Best Question to ask before EVERY post:

“Are you sharing this to build better community or to build up yourself?” Real authenticity is always about building connections, not building a platform. Authenticity is never about gaining the high ground, but about leveling the playing field. Authenticity is never about being liked, but about being known. Authenticity cant be planned, staged, coached, or branded. It has no cares of what will be retweeted, repined, reposted, or double tapped. It is because it IS. It’s truthful, it’s real, and it’s without agenda. Anything less simply misses the mark.

We can do this, people of the internet, I know we can. It’s not too late! With bravery and intention we can still right this ship.

The only question that remains is whether we really want to.

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What’s In My Bag?

 

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Got a request email from a reader for a “What’s In My Bag” post. Confession? I see the gorgeous and fashionable versions of these all the time, and this isn’t exactly one of those. My bag was less than $50 from Target, I don’t carry adorable lotions and skin care and Kate Spade office accessories, but you know what? That’s exactly why I agreed to do the post. I think many of us are tired of seeing the same lifestyle products shown over and over (often sponsored and paid for by brands) and we are left thinking we are the only gals left out of the loop. So today after the email I emptied my actual purse out onto the floor, and *confession* threw away some of the random trash I accumulate in my bag as a mama, and I have pulled together whats left to share what is really and truly in my bag.


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1) Journaling ESV Bible from Crossway: Yes, I really do carry my Bible around in my bag. With the circus I live in there’s just no way of knowing when a few minutes of peace will come, so I make sure I’m prepared anytime, anywhere. I can’t recommend this particular Bible enough. The ESV is a fantastic translation for accuracy (I’m a total Bible nerd, so this is a big deal for me,) and this version has a lined column on the side of each page so you can put your notes directly INTO your Bible. I often think of how neat its going to be to pass this on to my kids someday, so the investment was worth every penny. It’s a priceless heirloom.

2) Bible Study Kit: I made my own personal Bible study kit from an adorable expandable bag I scored at Target once, these great double ended colored pencils I use for highlighting, and items from the dollar spot at Target. A date stamp is a great way to show when you added your thoughts, so you can track your journey through the years, and page flags can mark spots of special importance to come back to.

3) Lego Mini Figure: This may seem odd, but this little lego guy is one of the most important items I keep on me. Every time I see this lego guy I remember to stop for a moment and pray intentionally for my boys. Its a great reminder in the midst of all the daily chaos of life.

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4) Notebook: Writers gonna write, and I never know when inspiration is going to hit.  (This notebook is from a collection sold exclusively in store at Target. Lots of matching pieces are available too, in case you love mint and gold as much as I do!)

5) Pens and Pencil: Im a writer, so I have a favorite pen I love and simply cant be without. For me its this gorgeous fine nib gold fountain pen from Pilot. Its incredibly affordable for a fountain pen, so its easily replaced if lost or stolen. Amazon sells refill cartridges, or the pen comes with the option to use traditional bottled ink as well. I also make sure to carry a mechanical pencil for the times that a pen just wont do, and a ball point pen that doubles as a tablet stylus – perfect for electronic signatures.

6) Business Cards and Case: You never know when you’ll need to leave your card! I have mine in this adorable case from See Jane Work.

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7. iPad Air and Bluetooth Keyboard: Rather than use a laptop, I’ve opted for the light portability and versatility of this more creative set up. I have the gold iPad set in this gorgeous bluetooth keyboard case, which has a matching gold exterior. It looks like a mini laptop and gets tons of compliments, and the case is a great way to protect my screen while its in my bag.

8) iPhone 6 and Headphones: I’m an apple girl 10000%, and my phone is no exception.

9) Charging Options: I always carry charging options when Im on the go. I keep an extra USB/Wall Plug Adapter in my bag, and I use cords from this collection – i love that they match my gold devices, and since they are woven rather than the usual cords they hold up much better to all the twisting and friction of regular use. (I was using my usual cord elsewhere, so its not shown in the photo here, sorry!) I also keep a portable charging bank similar to this one, in case I find myself low on batter when Im on the go.

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10. Health on the Go: I always keep a little of my most essential medication on hand, and I store it in one of these absolutely adorable macaroon cases. And I always keep a bottle or two of essential oils in my bag – this blend is great for when kiddos are getting a bit nutso.

11. Kate Spade Walk on Air Roller Ball & Gloss: This came as a part this set I received for Christmas. I don’t really use the gloss, but the roller ball is fantastic for a scent touch up on the go. ( I found the roller ball sold alone without the gloss here at Sephora)

12. Make Up from Bobbi Brown: My sweet mama got me the adorable Bobbi Brown mini lip and eye palette I had my eye on for Christmas. Its only $29.99 and well worth the price!I also carry a Bobbi Brown lipstick (the color varies) and a Bobbi Brown gloss, always in Buff (such a fantastic shade.)

Just throw in my keys, my wallet, and inevitably some stuff for the boys, and Im ready for a day on the go!

Apologizers Anonymous

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Hello my name is Stephanie.  And I’m sorry.

Bob Goff loves to tell his readers that they should quit something every Thursday. It’s a powerful concept really: intentionally looking at yourself each week and trying to identify something that’s holding you back, bringing you undue stress or guilt, or otherwise just doesn’t need to be part of your life anymore. So when a post from Bob showed up in my Facebook feed last night asking what I was going to quit? I took a pause and gave it a thought.

And then I had the essential come to Jesus moment of any addict. The scene where I said, “Whoah. I have a problem. An apology problem.”

It’s often the butt of jokes  – my husband jokes about it, my mom jokes about it, a number of my close friends joke about it. I say “sorry” so many times in a day it’s enough to make your head spin. Preemptive apologies. Apologies for things totally out of my control. Apologies for things no one noticed or cared about. There have even been multiple occasions where someone has called me out for apologizing so much – and I have responded by apologizing for apologizing. Thats right ladies and gentlemen, I even say sorry for saying sorry too much.

They say the first to recovery is to admit you have a problem.  Im pretty sure your step two involves a meeting somewhere with free coffee and maybe even a donut. Im kind of hoping I get a donut. Once you get past the donut step though? I’m admittedly pretty clueless as to what comes next. I feel like this is the part where someone should be assigning me a sponsor. Someone I can awkwardly call in the middle of the night and say “I’m so sorry for waking you but…” Of course then they’d have to call me out on my whole opening the call with the apology thing, and the whole call would likely just devolve from there. I’m pretty sure any sponsor of mine would go nuts pretty quickly. Folks there is NO amount of free donuts that is fair compensation for my unique level of crazy.

And yet I’m still feeling like it’s time to take up Bob’s challenge. It’s time to quit with all the sorries. The apologies I do make would likely be far more meaningful if they were rarer, if they were reserved for things that were truly deserving of my remorse. Yes, I’m fully aware how hard this habit will be to break.  I expect at some point to have friends and readers call me out for not successfully keeping to this goal, and my response will most likely be to apologize for it. I’m in deep y’all. So deep. But it’s still worth a try. It’s a habit I recognize impedes my ability to be my best me, and to confidently embrace my worth. So I’m standing up behind the podium of my blog, in this wonderful support group meeting we all call the internet, and I’m saying to you all:

Hello, my name is Stephanie. And I am so sorry for always saying sorry. Wait, sorry for that, cause that was me saying sorry again. But so was THAT. Sorry. I mean… ugh. Ok. Not saying sorry anymore. Sorry this is coming out all jumbled. I mean I’m not sorry. Sorry. Crap. ………. Did anyone bring donuts?

A Postcard from the Muck

  
I dont think I’ve ever sat down to write a more difficult post. Or a more necessary one.
There will be no fancy formatting, no pretty pictures, and no perfecty designed pinnable graphic with a carefully selected quote from the writing. Just words, in their truest and most naked form, slowly trickling from my keyboard and taking their places is neat rows across the screen. I feel a bit like a singer who tells the band to put down their instruments and steps up to the mic with a single guitar.

I’ve missed you dear readers. Its been a long summer that somehow bled over into the fall and made it harder and harder to get back to business the longer I was away. In the beginning it started as Aidan finishin out Kindergarten and coming home for the summer. And for all the ways he has so dramatically grown and thrived this first year here (and I promise, I have an entire post coming down the pipeline dedicated solely to an Aidan update,) it had also grown really clear he desperately needed some hands on love and attention this summer. And so I stepped quietly back from the keys, temporarily let go of the thing I worked so hard to build, and trusted that God would reward the choice to put my most important job first for awhile.

It was a beautiful summer and Aidan is absolutely better off for that choice. But somehow in the crevices of my mind the lie started to creep in: you’ve lost your blog. You worked so hard and now you’ve burned out and fizzled into nothing. Your readers have all lost interest and left. You wrecked it.

Little by little the lie took root and the anxieties grew. It became a more and more difficult task to sit down and face that stark white page with nothing but a blinking cursor waiting for me to say something, anything at all. Even if I could manage to type some words, the reality of the editing, and the formatting, and designing graphics, and social media cross promotion – all the “shoulds” of a strong professional blog – it was overwhelming. The longer it went on, the more difficult a return became.

And then came the BIG curveballs.

Major flares of my health conditions. A schedule packed with meetings for Aidans IEP and other educational needs. Kidney stones. A double kidney infection. All sort of reasons to excuse myself from my calling and retreat to the couch defeated.

So there I lay, on that couch, right in the thick of the muck. And nobody wants to hear from somebody in the muck. No, we want a recovery story! We want our bright and shiny heroine to return from her struggle and tell us all about how it was and about the glory of it defeat. So I kept waiting for the victory to come, so I could be worthy to sit in front of these keys and speak to you once again, all bright and shiny and new and full of wisdom and DIY tutorials.

But the hits kept coming. And the muck kept stinking.

And somehow the calling kept aching. That part of my soul that says “Child of God I created you a storyteller. I formed you in your mothers womb with a purpose, and that purpose calls you to write, and speak, and share. You are a truthteller, no matter what other design you may try on or attempt to squeeze into or hide behind or even convince yourself you’re trapped under. You are still, at your core, what I created you to be. And you can’t run from that.”

So, dear readers, this is my postcard to you. Greetings from the muck. I’m here, not shiny, not new, and not entirely sure of how this season of life will play out. But Immeasurably More is still true: He still gives good and perfect gifts, Immeasurably More than whatever I could ask for or even imagine in the first place, even if its hard to see laying on this couch surround by perscription bottles and discarded piles of plans and “should haves.”

But there’s one thing I no longer keep on this couch with me: the lie that it would be better to share nothing than to share anything less than I’ve come to expect of these posts. That lie has been thrown right out into the trash. That lie has been carried all the way to the dump and incinerated. 

This is the first post Im writing from my new couch office – a refurbished ipad, a special keyboard case to essentially convert it to a laptop, and soon there will even be a lapdesk. Im going to get back to the business of who I was created to be, because even covered in muck Im still that same creation. Its time to get back to the heart and soul of who I was created to be as an author. Its time to recognize that sometimes when that singer steps forward away from the band, and the lights go down, and we hear those first bare and naked sounds of a voice quietly singing out, clear and uninumbered? We hear with our hearts, we’re moved in our souls, and something magical happens.

Im ready to step up to the mic again, even if some of these songs have to be unplugged.

Greetings from the muck. I’ve missed you.