What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

 What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

I set my alarm for an hour earlier.

This habit is both familiar and distant: waking before my house, in the darkness, to create or to write. More ingrained in me is the pattern of staying up past the goodnights and late shows to finish photo editing, fine tune the wording on a tutorial, or schedule social media for the following hours.

"I haven't blogged in 2016," I told inquisitive and supportive relatives this Easter. I've had compatriots, bloggers I've known in the four years since I started Pars Caeli, asking me how it feels to not blog for so long. The worn-in groove of content ideation, creation, photo styling and production, writing, editing, and strategizing communication became a habit for my creative process and my second (or third or fourth) job.

  What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

What I don't want to tell you is this: for me, not blogging has meant more sleep, less short- tempered moments with the people I love, laser focus on other aspects of my creative adventure (read here my new book and expanded shop), the highest readership levels and stats I've ever had, and most impactful for me, taking on the scratchy and uncomfortable chair of the consumer. And I don't want to write that for this singular reason: starting this blog four years ago (almost to the date - happy birthday Pars Caeli!!) has gifted me a fierce and deep self knowledge. It's aslo brought into my life powerfully kind and unmistakably talented people, like the ones reading this right now and the ones that come to the forefront of your mind when you think about the type of human you want to be. Blogging has allowed me to share a body of work that never would have been created without the platform and community that we have all spent our *extra time building.

For the last three months, in the absence of sharing and promoting my own creations, I've relocated to a less familiar position as a consumer of content–from blog posts to photography to podcasts and audiobooks, movies, performances and more. Allowing myself to take a more passive role has brought me to these two realizations:

  1. Makers have to make AND take.
  2. Community is where it's at.

If you're still with me (what a patient human you are!), let me also move to explain why I think the new changes to spaces like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are going to bring a whole lot more joy for those who dive in. But first, point one and two.

1. Makers have to make AND take:

Makers gotta make. As a maker and a friend/supporter to many artists and people who don't-yet-know-they're artists, this resonates with me to my core. Do it for the process is how my friend, Emily Jeffords, describes it. Expressing ideas and emotions in our creations is a singular and wholly communal gift that artists bring to the world.  

Making does not mean you separate yourself entirely from taking.

Heard the advice to stay away from Pinterest if you want to be inspired? Or stop following or reading the work of someone you emulate? The position of maker can often leave you feeling that you must separate yourself from the source(s) that inspire you, that you must create from the sheer emptiness of originality something solitary and unmatched.

And yet, we hope desperately that other makers, our peers, take time to appreciate our work, to feel the value of what we've spent hours to bring to life, whether that be a well styled photograph, a narration of a childhood memory, or a video of a beautiful space. We want others to feel the spark that we might just be avoiding by separating ourselves for the sake of process.

Having three months away has re-reminded me that consuming is a necessary and lovely part of my process. And it's perhaps a part of yours. Taking, in the sense of spending dedicated time and attention, means that I bounce new ideas around in my head, I'm excited to tell other people about what I've seen, and I appreciate others work and the natural world in a new way. When I do it well, consuming allows my gears to downshift and to accept information in a way that my make-make-make posture does not. It's meditative and appreciative and keeps me tender.

And it gives me a seat in this community that leads me to realization number two.

  What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

What three months away has taught me, and how we're all better for smart business decisions

2. Community is where it's at.

The businesses of social media, places like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, have and will continue to make decisions they deem smart for growing their sales and brand. These mega-million dollar platforms have given each of us tools to communicate and to form communities as introverts and extroverts, from all over the world, in every kind of socio-economic level, and in every life situation imaginable.

Unlike national parks or public libraries, Facebook and the like are businesses in a capitalist society that are adjusting to meet their goals. As a small business owner, I admire and support this. As a communicator and creator, I am slow to change.

Watching these shifts in social media and not needing a tight grip on what they mean for my own stats, I've discovered that these multi million dollar algorithm changes just might lead us to exactly where we need to be.

Five years ago, I posted something on Facebook every day. I would easily converse with family and friends who made comments. Twitter was a place for easy conversation with colleagues and new connections. I wrote tweets, looking for people to respond back. When I joined Pinterest, I'd comment on really great ideas and get comments back from the creators. And Instagram was once a place where I chatted with others on their view of the world and new discoveries.

I was engaged. Liking, commenting, sharing.

And the changes on the horizon for Facebook, Instagram, and others are encouraging us all to return to engagement. 

Social media is asking us to be social again.

I get that it's coming from a lens of ROI and profit margin, however . . .

The double tap, scroll through is not where it's at. Self promotion with no conversation is empty. On one side we complain about the masks and fronts that we see others creating (is that really what her kids look like after a long day? no way their house always looks like that) and comparing ourselves artificially. On another side we gloss over posts and comments, looking for more information, more images, more distractions. More.

And we're rarely engaged.

Let's win at social media AND community with engagement. Let's show creators that we're seeing their efforts. Let's tell the writers that had never thought of the world the way they have. Let's share and reshare great ideas. Let's point out to the world dark spots that need our attention. 

Stretching and reaching out brings life, connection, and hope to our lives. Social media has the capability to enrich our human capacity for community.

I've tried engagement, or rather returned to engagement, in these three months. Community is what made me press publish four years ago, what motivated me to withstand late nights of creating for years, and what brings me back to blogging STILL four years later.

Like, comment, and share. It's going to take you further online and potentially give you a fuller life in the process.

XOXO, MJ

P.S. I missed you.