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A Small Business

Today I approved final files to go on press for our very first book. Then, I sat here alone in my home office, and I let the tears come.

Tears of joy, relief, pride, nerves, gratitude, all of it. Because, as a small business owner, I feel all of it.

It’s fitting that our first book is The Struggle Bus, as we have taken a few rides on it through this process. But, as Julie Koon wrote in that lovely text: “Faster now, the way is clear. You can do it, persevere!”

Launching a publishing company has long been a dream. I still can’t believe it’s becoming a reality. Bootstrapping my way through this effort, in the midst of a pandemic, among the bluster and blur of parenting small children, has been a lot. There are days where it’s been hard and scary and lonely.

And yet. I have never been alone. Instead, I have been reminded over and over again how many wonderful people we have in our lives, people who have cheered on this effort, who have picked me up and dusted me off, who’ve sent me flowers and notes and warm cookies and support beyond what I could have even imagined.

I don’t always feel like I deserve the kindness that’s shown to me. But I do always, always feel overwhelmed by the gratitude I have for everyone who has been in my corner.

My family and I have so many people to thank for helping Kind World Publishing reach this milestone. And we have so many wonderful milestones ahead. For today, I want to pause to both “feel these feelings for a bit,” and to express sincere thanks: to each of you who have read this blog, rallied for our business, and championed our work, I am so excited—and grateful—to have each of you along for this ride.

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Toxic Positivity

The sign you see here hangs in our entryway. It serves as a reminder for me, a marginally recovering perfectionist, to lighten up about life. We’re about a lot of things here at Kind World Publishing, including, of course, kindness. But one thing I’m keenly aware of and actively attempting to avoid along with perfectionism is toxic positivity.

You might have heard the phrase toxic positivity recently, as we wade through the pandemic and the state of the world. Messages to “stay strong” and “do your best!” and “be grateful” and “you’ve got this!” are everywhere, and they can become exhausting (not to mention more extreme versions that can be used to gaslight or worse.)

Dictates and mandates to do and to be things are tough to receive. That is a truth, regardless of your age. None of us wants to be told what to do or to be, even if the intent in those directions is positive. And therein lies the rub.

When things are hard, difficult, extreme, exhausting, life-threatening, simply being told to pull ourselves up by the emotional bootstraps and just keep going does a disservice to acknowledging those painful realities. Before any of us can solve a problem, we first need to accept that a problem exists. And we need to sit with the problem, both in order to notice it and to then put it into perspective. After that, we might be able to better reach the “how” of solving it.

But if we continue to brush over those steps by cheerleading only positivity, that cheerleading becomes pretty hollow. Eventually, incessant positive messages make things worse because it sets an impossible bar of expectations for our emotions. For those who struggle with perfectionism, the expectations can be overwhelming. Hard stuff keeps piling up because it isn’t really addressed, and the space between “stay strong!” and daily realities keeps widening. How many times have you found yourself or the kids in your life on the precipice of falling through and feeling completely stuck?

Rather than telling each other how to feel and championing an impossible state of being, perhaps we should be creating space to listen to other people’s realities, and sit with our own. Rather than letting that urge to “solve it and sweep it” lead conversations, perhaps we should accept that acknowledging hard things has value unto itself.

Modeling this for the kids in our lives is critically important, to avoid setting them up for a sense of failure when they can’t make themselves feel “amazing” about something.

I am not suggesting that we stop championing each other, nor am I saying positive messages can’t be powerful. We can help avoid toxic positivity by remembering that the activities of listening and acknowledging can speak loudly too. They can say, “I see you.”

Part of reaching a positive state involves creating space to process everything that isn’t.

Post Script: If you’re looking for a broader read on this subject, Kate Bowler’s recent book No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) is worth your time. If you’d like a book that can help support kids with acknowledging obstacles, preorder The Struggle Bus by Julie Koon. We’re proud to be able to support work that addresses these topics in a practical, accessible way.

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Vanishing Time

As I reflect on what happens during transitions, and what the start of fall and school and life changes means to the relativity of time, September is the month that disappears.

I’ve written before about time. But one thing that’s always fascinated me is how quickly time goes the closer we get to the end of something: the end of a ballgame, the end of the year, the end of life. Vanishing time makes things exciting or exhausting, sad or hard. As humans, we often feel there is never enough time. The effect of its relativity can also make it more challenging to stay present in the moment as we think about everything that seemingly needs to be done.

Generally, children are immune to that feeling. Days are longer. Years are longer. Wild imaginations and active play create the beautiful magic of suspended time. Reality pauses while they are immersed in those states. Being present is an aspect of a growth mindset, which makes a lot of sense when you think about children and how much and how quickly they are learning and growing as they are fully absorbed in something.

As adults, we sometimes refer to capturing that feeling as “flow.” We aren’t watching the clock or dreading the clock. We become unaware of it altogether. Capturing flow doesn’t pause anything. That time still vanishes. But playing or daydreaming or diving into something we love to do is how we would hope to spend the time we have here.

As I look to October and the rest of the year, I’m reminding myself of this: my time is not guaranteed just because time exists on a calendar. If I want to suspend the moment, I need to be present in that moment.

As you possibly look for your own ways to slow down the time-space continuum, I hope this simple reminder helps. Being *here* rather than thinking about what needs to be done when you get to an unpromised *there* makes both moments (here and there) more fulfilling.

You cannot fill up a moment in which you’re not fully present.

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18 Months

Tomorrow marks 18 months since the last “normal” Friday. Since the last day I sent my kids to school and child care without a mask. Since I did a public speaking event in person.

Today, Axel got on the bus. He started Kindergarten. Reese, a newly minted second grader, was with him, both as shepherd and chaperone. They had masks. They had new backpacks. They were so excited.

And here I am, with a full workday to myself, on what looks like a glimpse of the new normal, (although we all know it isn’t; none of us truly knows what that will look like).

I am all of the expected parental emotions: happy and sad and stunned once again at the blink of time that is parenting. I am worried about the regular school things (Will they make friends? Will they be a good friend? Will they like their teachers? Will their teachers like them? Will they learn what they need to learn?) And I’m worried about the now-regular pandemic things (Will they get sick? Will they lose their masks? Will they remember to wash their hands throughout the day? Will their teachers stay healthy?).

What has fully caught me off guard this morning, however, is the quietest of things: a simple bit of headspace.

For a few brief hours, however fraught, the day is suddenly mine. It has been 18 months since I even dared to consider such a thing.

The immediate reflex to fill this space with work and chores and social media and news distractions sits with me. It has become my autopilot. Yet, I see that for what it is: an easy means to escape all these other feelings and thoughts, things that very likely deserve some reflection of their own.

If you are currently set on survival autopilot, I wish you the space today to hit the pause button.

Yes, we all have so much to do. But there is also so much worth pausing for. And, at least for today, I am grateful to have liberty to choose the latter.

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The Transition Months

I don’t know how things are in your home, but we’ve gotten bumpy in recent days. And I have a theory on why. We just entered the Transition Months.

Yes, here in Minnesota, we have an entire month left of summer. Yes, the days are still long, the farmer’s market still bustles, the pools are still open. And yet.

We are also talking about school supplies. And who might the new teachers be? And will last year’s jackets still fit?

These short conversations have sent ripples into the ponds of imagination. Along with some excitement, I see nerves creeping in for both kids. Axel is starting Kindergarten, and that is a Really Big Change, for all of us. He is usually our peacekeeper, our jokester, our happy-go-lucky family member. But not of late.

We all sense summer winding down. We all know these changes are coming. August begs for closure and preparation for fall and school. But it also asks us to make the most of the remaining sunshine, of the opportunity to slow down just a bit longer. And September awaits, knowing so many new routines need to be created, new people need to be met, new fears need to be addressed.

It’s a lot. These are the transition months, not just of weather and time, but of our life rhythms and responsibilities, of rules and patterns and people.

A lot of unknowns float over all of us right now—enormous things beyond our control. None of that changes the cyclical truth that these months are always big months. Whether you have kids in your home or not, the social cycle shift of summer-to-fall impacts us collectively.

I am cutting myself and my family some extra slack this time around. Yes, things are bumpy. Yes, I think I know why. Sometimes, the most helpful thing we can do for ourselves is simply acknowledge that we’re in transition.

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Doing Hard Things

Today, I had to make a hard decision and follow through on it.

And it’s really hit home for me: living my best life doesn’t mean things are easy. It means that I can make decisions, even hard ones, stand behind them, and know that I’m trying to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s easy.

Sometimes we don’t know what we need to do until we’re fully in the moment. Having foresight on everything is impossible and would be utterly exhausting anyway. But, when that moment arrives (as they inevitably always do), having the ability to trust your gut, embrace the temporarily hard—but long-term best—thing to do, is a sign that you are, in fact, living your life. Not someone else’s. Not some false set of expectations or through other people’s opinions.

By and large, I don’t shelter my kids from these moments. I believe it’s important to model the decision-making process, to show them adults don’t always magically, instantly have the answer. And sometimes the answer is doing a hard thing. My hope is that by seeing me process and struggle with something, their own expectations will adjust accordingly. Perhaps they will give themselves some time and space (and a little slack) to figure out what to do in their own moments and to trust their gut, especially when it would be easier to default to the easy thing.

Glennon Doyle is right, in observing we can do hard things. Before that, though, we need to know it’s okay to do the hard thing—that we each have permission to live our own life and make those decisions in the first place. Living by other people’s expectations can make it easier to avoid the hard stuff. But after the hard stuff is often where life’s magic happens.

If you find yourself struggling with hard things, it might be worth considering: Have you given yourself permission to do them?

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Big Feelings

Today is the last day of First Grade for Reese. We’re having lots of big feelings, as a tumultuous school year comes to a close. We are so fortunate to have had wonderful teachers and a district that has managed an unprecedented-in-our-lifetimes event in an effective way.

Reese is excited for summer but very sad to say goodbye to school and her friends and teachers. It speaks volumes about an environment and its adults when a kid feels that way. Yes, she loves learning. But underneath that, I have to appreciate and look at the “why.” And it isn’t just our home environment; that love has come from a spectrum of adults who have genuinely leaned into making this situation work for kids.

The big feelings today of sadness about change, bittersweet feelings of good-bye to this chapter but excitement about the next, gratitude for the work the teachers have done, aren’t just being felt among the kiddos. I’m feeling them too, and I was caught off-guard by it.

A surprising effect of the pandemic and leaving a big company executive position to start Kind World is that it’s given me space to process emotions that I previously didn’t have bandwidth for. I have capacity to notice my feelings and to sit with them. To reflect on where they’re coming from and to put them in perspective. To slow down and cherish—yes, cherish—some sadness for a closing chapter, especially a good one.

I wonder how many of us are in similar situations? Finding space to feel things we didn’t or couldn’t previously process? Conversely, how many of us are in spaces now where that bandwidth is gone? Where there’s no room to process and so those big feelings keep piling up?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been a buzzword among education for some time now, and with good reason. But it’s also a real thing for us adults. We can’t help the kids in our lives with SEL if we’re not also doing some of that work. If you have the gift of time right now, are you using it to recognize some of your own big feelings? And if you know someone who could use that gift of time for some emotional breathing room, how might you create that space for them?

Happy, optimistic, sad, nervous, excited, wondering, curious, scared, relieved—experiencing these emotions means we’re alive. When we don’t have or take time to feel them, we’re missing an essential element of our existence. As I told Reese last night: being sad is a gift. It means we had a chance to experience something that’s worth missing.

Finding gratitude for change, after all, is a pretty big feeling.

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What Future Do You See?

I spoke on a panel yesterday about the future of publishing. Some of the theories my co-panelists raised really gave me food for thought, including the prediction that in ten years, publishing as we know it will be gone and instead become a function of all industries (rather than an industry unto itself).

After sitting with that somewhat deflating concept for a bit, I had not quite an epiphany but more so a reminder that the real truth of our futures is this:

We create what we envision.

Nothing we use today, have among us, get frustrated with, are awed by, are reliant upon isn’t something that someone envisioned.

We are not waiting victims of a predetermined future. We are creatures that live in a world and within social constructs that are completely of our own making.

Consider that. Really pause and think about it: for better or worse, our world is one we’ve built. We did not create the planet or its resources. But we’ve used (and abused) those things to build the ways in which we now exist.

And YES. We’ve done so many awful things to ourselves and each other (and the planet) as humans that are unique atrocities to our species. But we’ve also done wonderful things, created solutions to problems, healed, loved, laughed. We are completely capable of envisioning and building a better society for a healthier, happier, more equitable humanity.

How does that relate to the future of publishing? As one of my co-panelists rightfully noted yesterday: we are both the history makers and the storytellers. We are tasked with and privileged with the ability to share pictures of the past and paint possibilities of the future.

In publishing, we are not only creating doors and windows and mirrors by which to better see each other and ourselves; we are holding the crystal ball through which we can see different futures. Be conscientious of what you cast inside it.

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Soundtracks and Gratitude

When I was in big roles with bigger companies and sometimes (in the before times) working from home, the sound of my family playing together in the background would frustrate me. The ruckus, the yelling, even the loud outbursts of laughter. I was so immersed in the job, I would yell across the house for everyone to be quiet because I was trying to focus on something that “was really important!”

Except, it wasn’t that important. Not nearly as important as that gorgeous soundtrack of happiness, which, because of my own askew priorities, I couldn’t always hear clearly.

As I sit here this morning, listening to that same sound, it fills my heart. I’m so grateful to have my family here, safe and healthy, together. I am keenly aware many people are missing this, who perhaps cannot hear or see the gifts surrounding them in their own lives, or who have tragically or unjustly lost loved ones, soundtracks broken in untimely and unfair ways.

I have a big role now in a little company, (albeit a little company with big goals). We have challenges here and challenges ahead, but there are also so many gifts: the gift of being the decision-maker in how we can help others, the gift of time together—the gift of this soundtrack.

What are you listening to today? And, more importantly, how are you going to respond to what you’re hearing in your heart?

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Facing Fear

Fear is a really big emotion. (In some ways, I’m afraid to attempt to write about it.) But the reality is that fear needs conversations. Fear needs to be acknowledged and discussed. The more we push it down or away, the more control that same fear has over our feelings and actions and words.

Kids and adults alike have stress responses to fear that often look like something else, whether that something is anger or frustration or procrastination. (If your child has an outburst about something, it might be a good sign to dig a little deeper. Additionally, procrastination can be tied to a fear of failure.)

We navigated some basic fears here recently as Reese prepared for a first dentist appointment that involved a cavity and filling. Naming the thing she was afraid of, talking calmly and honestly about the procedure, and openly answering questions set her up for a positive experience. Was she still scared? Yes. But at a manageable and reasonable level.

Helping the kids in your life deal with big feelings such as fear provides them with skills that carry into adulthood. When we simply dismiss fear by telling a child they shouldn’t be afraid, or that they need to “toughen up” or “grow up,” we begin to create a path of repressing a very real and very controlling emotion. Many, many things in this world are immeasurably more frightening than having a cavity filled, and rightfully so. But creating smaller moments like this one can serve as reminders of success when bigger fears need facing.

Find those moments to talk honestly about fear. You might just discover opportunities to embrace and face some of your own.