Cultivating Equanimity

Equanimity3 Cultivating EquanimityWhat do teaching, business, and creative client-facing work have in common? They are absolutely governed by your mood. Walk in with the wrong attitude and it could ruin your entire day. But trying to be cheerful all the time or attempting to force yourself to be happy when you’re just not feeling it isn’t realistic. Enter equanimity.

Being equanimous means that you maintain composure no matter what is happening around you. This can stop you from taking on other people’s problems or letting them negatively affect your mood, but it’s also important to remain equanimous in the face of praise. By not letting your emotions rise and fall like a rollercoaster, you draw your power from within rather than allowing yourself to be manipulated, positively or negatively, by others.

What does this look like? You might be sad if someone says something negative, or you’re not getting the attention you feel that you deserve, but you won’t become unhinged by it. You may be happy if you do a bang-up job on something and appreciate praise, but you won’t become addicted to it.

Practicing equanimity allows you to have control over your emotions, rather than being swayed by the wind.

Yael’s Variety Hour: Three Great Resources

640px Shakespeare 234x300 Yaels Variety Hour: Three Great ResourcesI wanted to let you know about three great resources I’ve come across that I haven’t written about yet.

Shakespearances

If you go to see Shakespeare any chance you get, this site will save you an awful lot of Googling. You can see a list of where’s playing what if you want to look up your town, or anywhere that you’re visiting. Or, if you want to go on a special trip to see Troilus and Cressida or All’s Well That Ends Well, check out the list of what’s playing where.

Geek Feminism Wiki Resources For Therapists

The geek feminism wiki is a treasure trove of information, and this new resource for therapists has been put together to get therapists up to speed on the background, issues and incidents relating to gender issues in tech, gaming and other related fields that are unfortunately rife with bullying, harassment and misogyny. Even though the resource is intended for specifically for mental health professionals, I think it’s a really good primer to get anyone up to speed. If you are writing about these issues or are just curious, I’d really recommend taking a look.

Reachable

Reachable is a great resource for trying to track down a decision maker or someone else you want to meet, using social media profiles, provided that you’re okay getting intros to intros to intros until you meet someone who can introduce you to the person you’re trying to reach.

How To Attract and Retain Top Freelance Talent

Depositphotos 19834643 xs 300x200 How To Attract and Retain Top Freelance TalentIn the words of content marketing guru Brian Clark, “the writer runs this show.” Whether you’re running an agency, publishing a magazine, or just trying to keep your brand’s blog updated, the quality of your writers can make or break your business. If you’re looking to hire and retain the best talent, here are ten factors to consider.

1. Do you have a strong core mission?

No, I’m not talking abut the statement you wrote in some retreat that’s been doing nothing but collecting dust. A mission for your business should be palpable. It should be a guiding factor in all of your decisions and be based on something greater than just making money. Having a strong vision will attract writers with the same vision, and it’s the reason they’ll go the extra mile to find cutting edge research, or scrap a draft and start over when new details emerge rather than turn in work that’s passably good–but not great.

2. What does the energy feel like?

Even remote workers can pick up on your company’s vibe. High expectations, consistency, and a clear company culture go a long way.

3. Are your expectations reasonable?

You may work 60 hours a week and on evenings and weekends, but expecting freelancers to submit rewrites at 1AM is completely unreasonable. Asking for twice as much work as negotiated in the scope of your original agreement is completely unreasonable. The list goes on and on. Remember that just because someone is responsive to these requests at first doesn’t mean they’re thrilled about it. Trying to see just how much you can get away with is not a good recipe for retention.

4. What about everyone else’s expectations?

You’re probably not the only person interacting with your freelancer. If clients treat them like automatons or are disrespectful, that’s a part of their experience with your brand. So are those endless conference calls where they’re not really supposed to talk and are playing 2048 or muting their line so they can do their dishes.

5. How do you resolve conflict?

You may think you treat your freelancers just fine, thank you very much, but what do you do when there’s a conflict between a writer and a client? Bending over backwards when someone’s being unreasonable may keep them happy in the short-term, but freelancers like to work with people who have their back. Drawing a line with a client when necessary is a sure-fire way to win points with freelancers. So is working on eliminating extraneous steps and streamlining a process, with everyone’s feedback. If you do this on your own without them having to talk to you first, all the better. This isn’t to say that you should always placate freelancers, either. Just be fair.

6. How much of a cut are you getting, and what are you doing for that cut?

You’ll never hear this brought up to your face, but every freelancer will wonder about this at some point. If they’re practically running one of your projects, and you’re pocketing a hefty percent, you damn well better be providing value in some way or another. If you are micromanaging, adding extraneous tasks, or making mistakes your writer has to clean up for you–and adding additional steps for them in the process–you  may wind up with a retention problem.

7. Do you have a crazy Draconian contract? 

Nobody wants to sign those. Even if you pay enough that they will, they probably won’t feel good about it.

8. What does your CMS look like?

Do you have a sleek, sexy CMS that’s easy to use? Or are you forcing your freelancers to use some antiquated system that is ridden with bugs and occasionally breaks? Redesigns that everyone complains about and which don’t actually solve the problems people have don’t count as an improvement.

9. Do you give specific feedback?

The best writers want to improve their skills. You using their work as is could very well be a red flag. That said, it’s important that the feedback you give them is actionable and specific. And make sure to throw some praise in there as well, when warranted. If you can share metrics, all the better.

10. Do you accept feedback?

If you ask for it and ignore it, it doesn’t count. If your company isn’t agile enough to act upon suggestions, you’ll likely have problems beyond attracting and retaining talent. Also, it’s worth noting that feedback isn’t always honest when you’re just chatting by phone. Anonymous surveys are a good start. Hiring someone else to analyze them is even better.

Following these steps will not only help you attract and retain top talent and win their loyalty and affection, it’ll also help you build a damn good business that can weather any storm.

(More) top posts from 2013

220px The sun1 (More) top posts from 2013Earlier this week, I posted the top 13 blog posts from 2013, according to my analytics data. Today, I’d like to link to some posts I have available elsewhere that I think you might find interesting.

Putting together this list was ridiculously difficult. I’ve interviewed so many rock stars this year for articles that didn’t make the cut (including some of my personal heroes) , but really wanted to focus on the content that would be most helpful and relevant. (Since we’re in the throes of shopping season, I also didn’t include posts that were behind a paywall, such as Medical Decision Making, and Hacking Paleo With Patrick Vlaskovits). In addition, I didn’t include ghostwritten work (which was the majority of my writing this year), pieces that aren’t timely or fresh, or any of the pieces that’s in print only (in magazines, trade journals, etc.) and is not available online. In addition, I removed posts that are difficult to link to directly (such as a piece for Costco Connection) which require a lot of scrolling. It’s all about good UX, right? With only a few exceptions, I also removed posts that highlighted just one specific product or service, but instead focused on the bigger picture and on concepts you can implement (or ideas you can draw from). This somehow helped me narrow it down to 15. Enjoy!

 

Content strategy

Business building

Health, fitness and sports

 

Top 13 posts of 2013

imgres Top 13 posts of 2013Each year around this time, I write a series of posts recapping the year. To start, I’d like to repost my most popular pieces this year, based on Google Analytics data.

This year, I taught a workshop on PR for startups, and put a lot of time behind the content to promote the event as well as the video course. Some of the posts around this resonated.

I did a bit of self-reflection…

…and even wrote about some dental work I unfortunately needed.

On a brighter note, I also wrote about some products I like, including some interviews.

I use this blog as a forum to delve into political issues, and this year that included some writing about sexual assault…

..as well as a post in memory of a dear friend who died, and a fundraiser for a local non-profit organization I support. This wasn’t as big as last year’s fundraiser for Children of the Night, to support child victims of human trafficking in the US, but it was still significant. Thank you to those who donated in Chris’ name.

Last but not least, remember that you’re beautiful with this poem!

That concludes the top 13 of 2013. I’ll be posting some of my top posts and articles on other sites (and magazines) soon, so stay tuned.

2013 Year In Review

2013 Desktop Background Free 1024x640 300x187 2013 Year In ReviewI’ve been following in the footsteps of Chris Guillebeau, completing an annual review each year and making goals towards next year. I’ve always appreciated Chris’ transparency and so I thought I’d share my list publicly this year in that same spirit.

What went well this year?

2013 was pretty amazing for many reasons.

Professionally, this was the best year of my life. I taught a workshop on PR for startups and a class on breaking into freelancing, spoke on a panel about social media marketing at Content Connections, had my highest annual revenue ever, and got to write for some places I’ve had my eye on for a while, including the Costco Connection and the Men’s Journal website. This is in addition to continued relationships with many amazing clients I already had.

I was lucky enough to interview so many of my heroes: Alexis Ohanian, Jason Fried, Adrian Holovaty, Nate Kontny, Brian Clark, Andrew Warner, Chris Kluwe, Derek Willis, Ethan Marcotte, Joshua Benton, Michael Brito, Charlie Gilkey, Marissa Bracke, Brant Cooper, Patrick Vlaskovits, Joe Kristoffer, Laura Roeder, Derek Halpern, Ryan Evans, Stella Fayman, Mana Ionescu, Michael Psilakis, the list goes on and on. I wish I could get them all in a room for a cocktail party.

I met amazing people, including Noah Kagan (whose HTMYFD program really contributed to my professional success), as well as Sheryl Sandberg, Michael Pollan, Maryn McKenna, Seth Mnookin… I even attended Chris Guillebeau’s CreativeLive session on travel hacking!

Speaking of travel, I did a LOT of it. I visited Boston, Kansas, Milwaukee, Seattle, Duluth, San Francisco, Madison, Chicago and Costa Rica, attending conferences and events and seeing friends and family. This even included an ironic segway tour. icon smile 2013 Year In Review

I did some fun volunteer projects (including the Overnight Website Challenge) and helped with a couple of other fundraisers and volunteer events.

I got to spend time with friends and family, which was great. And I got to work with some amazing people, helping mentor newer writers, learn from seasoned professionals and collaborate with people who had so many strengths to complement my weaknesses (and vice versa).

What went badly?

Tragedy struck this year, as one of my college friends lost her battle with depression. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Many loved ones had other health concerns and issues that put a bit of a damper on things, but also helped me keep things in perspective.

I had serious health issues, mostly dental work which finally caught up with me after much neglect, and a lot of physical therapy to rehab a sports injury. This amounted to several thousand dollars in medical expenses and probably about 30 days total inside a medical facility of some sort (not including the fun stuff like massage and tuina). This is a very good reminder to keep up with things!

I also calculated badly and ended up owing a LOT in taxes for last year, so all that extra income I was so psyched about went towards taxes and medical/dental bills. Fun.

Not all of my work life was perfect, either. (I’ve written extensively about all the things I’ve learned the hard way in my four years of freelancing, and many of these mistakes are ones I’ve made long after I should’ve known better.) I have some failed projects and project attempts, some painfully lost audio files (thanks, Retronyms!), and, worst of all, a site that rewrote a balanced article of mine into linkbait… This kind of blindsided me, especially since the source who was on the business end of this hack job is someone I think the world of, and it hurts to know that I (albeit inadvertently) contributed to the type of journalism I hate. I had to take some time to really think about how to prevent that from happening again, which led to, well, less work.

The biggest overall problem I had this year, though, was that I worked way too much. This led to some serious burnout at times and some really preventable mistakes on my part at others. And I made some bad decisions about people to work with on a couple of occasions, the common denominator was actually when I tried to be too accommodating or helpful and didn’t set good boundaries. Because I was working so much, not all of my goals came to fruition. I made progress towards almost all of them, but ultimately didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do this year.

2013 was supposed to be the year of consistency, and I was consistent in how often I did things I set out to do, but could’ve really ramped things up a bit. I felt very unbalanced, and have been unsuccessful the time I work from when I don’t work. I definitely had some events that I’d define as “rock bottom” including very little sleep and last-minute revisions requested in the wee morning hours. I’d really love to have the type of lifestyle where work doesn’t spill into every other portion of my life, and a serious course correction is part of what I plan to work on going forward.

Looking forward to 2014

I have two themes for 2014. I’ve declared it The Year Of Balance, and The Year Of Wrapping Things Up.

Wrapping things up has to do with things I’ve started but haven’t finished. I’m planning to finally wrap them up for real in 2014.

The most exciting thing on the list is getting married to the man of my dreams in July (!!!), so I obviously need to do a bit of planning and wrapping up for that. It almost feels trite to list this as a “thing I’m wrapping up in 2014″ on a goals list, but planning a wedding really does feel like finalizing what will be seven years of an amazing relationship… and a million logistical odds and ends as far as the actual event itself.

There are so  many other unfinished projects this year. These include an improv class I started but didn’t finish, an at-home nature correspondence course I began ages ago but never finished, meeting some health and fitness goals (this year I got my 4th stripe in BJJ, but I really want that blue belt, and I’m also hard at work on getting in the best shape of my life for my wedding, but haven’t gotten where I need to yet). Also, this year I started learning how to code, but am really hoping to make considerable strides next year to learn Python/Django so I can analyze large data sets and present information in innovative new ways. I made huge strides in cleaning my office, but still have some piles and boxes to work through, and I want to finish it once and for all.

My professional goals are based on the type of content I want to create, not just financial goals. I’m wanting to move away a bit from ghostwriting and short blog posts and into feature writing and real reporting/storytelling, and cover business and tech. I want to blog more often, on my own blog, and to do some more in-depth reporting (whether it’s for a book or an in-depth post). I am really hoping to start pitching some publications and websites I’m really trying to break into (my hit list of dream publications includes Wired, as always, but also Verge, Inc., Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Forbes, and a few others).

Balance has a lot to do with what I mentioned before. I’ll be separating work from non-work, not taking client calls in the evening or on weekends, and using the extra time to sleep more, work on activities other than writing, time with friends, and so forth.

I want to work actual vacations into my year, not just working vacations. I also have some epic trips planned, and am hard at work on some travel hacking goals.

Also included in balance is getting past what Danielle LaPorte refers to as “rage lite.” I’ve been trying to put my stress and frustration to bed every evening, and I think not working 24/7 will not only increase my productivity in the hours I do work, but help me with my overall mindset throughout the year.

I think this about covers it, and I hope it helps you with your own annual review–whether you choose to make it public or not. Here’s to a great 2014, for all of us!

Four years of freelancing: 20 things I learned the hard way

Chocolate cupcakes Four years of freelancing: 20 things I learned the hard wayI’m celebrating my fourth freelancing anniversary today (hence the cupcakes), and after much reflection, I’ve compiled a series of tips–things I wish I knew ahead of time. Grab a drink and celebrate with me by taking some of these to heart, and feel free to leave your own tips in the comments.

Quality of life

Use good tools.

I got a smartphone my first year of freelancing because I realized that I was afraid to leave my house (due to lost assignments; editors would email me at the last minute and I couldn’t respond quickly enough). I also got my trusty MacBook Pro because my Dell, which had never worked properly, now had the added bonus of having keys from the keyboard falling off. (Shades of Gadsby.) My second year of freelancing, I started using Freshbooks for easy invoicing, and a recorder app for phone interviews. At the end of my third year, I started coworking, which has helped me a lot with networking and camaraderie. This year I’ve been madly in love with Trello (project management), Do it [tommorow] (daily to-dos), Draft (for collaborating) and Scrivener (for organizing long articles with multiple interviews and resources). Many of these resources are free or cheap; others are far worth the cost.

Take time off.

When you first start a business, you are glued to your computer screen 24/7. That’s okay. As your business becomes more solid, you’ll have to slowly wean yourself off this schedule. It’s okay to go out for dinner, go to the gym, go on vacation or have non-working hours in your day… or even to turn your phone off. Really.

Worst-case scenarios happen. It gets better.

Whether you completely lost audio footage from a once-in-a-lifetime interview (thanks, Retronyms) or got screwed over by an unethical website or publisher, chances are good that your career isn’t over and your reputation is salvageable. Explaining your situation (publicly or privately, as warranted) and eventually moving on is almost always possible. It’s okay to take a day or even a week off to recover, though. So much of freelancing is about your energy and mindset.

Learn journalistic principles.

If you didn’t go to J-School, at least read and understand the SPJ Code of Ethics. Know the difference between custom content and editorial writing, and learn about conflicts of interest. You may not follow all the “rules” of journalism, but you should at least know what they are and make informed decisions. Join professional groups, attend trainings, and soak up as much as you can from the people around you. Always keep improving your writing. A lot of this will happen on the job, but some will take your own initiative, research and even courses. Keep at it–you can always improve.

Go to conferences and take courses (but not all of them).

Some conferences will yield a high ROI (particularly ones with editor meetings);  others will be all but a waste of time. Similarly, some online courses will help you hone a skill you really need to develop–and others are marketing hype. Some trial and error is expected, but getting out of your home office is usually  more than worth it. Try travel hacking and AirBnB or HotelTonight (or stay with friends) to save some cash. Make sure to network and enjoy meeting other writers as well as attending informative sessions.

Let’s talk about money.

It’s not always worth it to write about things you know nothing about.

In my first year of freelancing, I wrote an article about bees for a trade journal. Yes, I made some money, but it took forever since I had to learn some material from scratch. Once I created templates to analyze data from complex financial documents that I didn’t understand. I pulled it off, but it took a very long time. I seem to relearn this lesson every year, whether I’m trying to learn a new style guide overnight or just accepting work against my better judgement. It’s always obvious to me when even the best editors of mine don’t understand the subject matter (and they usually don’t last long in that position); although expanding one’s horizons is a good thing, if you’re doing specialized work, it pays to be specialized.

Set a minimum-both for pay and for expectations.

It always seems that clients asking for work on the cheap are also the first to demand add-ons not normally included in low prices. It’s up to freelancers to explain to them what is and is not included. Remember: pay per hour is a thing. Someone who pays well but insists on long phone conversations, etc. may pay less per hour than that low-paying blog post where you don’t have to find images or do a lot of research, but when the person at the low-paying gig suddenly asks for you to find and crop photos, spend 15 minutes on their new SEO software, do extensive research or rewrites/revisions or learn a CMS, you can decide whether or not you think it’s worth it.  Setting a minimum is an option (and it can be a different minimum for leaving your house, or for a variety of tasks that you decide on.) We all want to do amazing work each and every time, but spending hours perfecting an underpaying post time and time again isn’t the best option since your hours are finite.

Small work can add up.

On the other hand, low-paying work with a good pay-per-hour can be totally worth your while, if it’s not one-off assignments. Especially if there are other perks involved, or you’re really enjoying the work. I would probably cover tech for less than I typically charge if it was for a high-traffic site and I had a lot of say over the angle, for example, and I do some non-profit work for practically free. Just make sure you’re not accepting underpaying, tedious work out of desperation. If you’re not having fun and you’re not getting good exposure, then you damn well better be getting paid a decent amount. And if you’re writing for something other than money (self-promotion, etc.) be very clear and upfront about it. It’s disappointing when you don’t get what you expected.

Have an anchor client.

If you can find just one client (or even a part-time job) that will help you assure your rent and bills are paid, you’ll be far less likely to pitch out of desperation or take work you really shouldn’t accept.

Diversify.

I started freelancing by doing writing, editing and SEO work. I’ve since gotten paid for writing test items, helping with research, editing manuscripts and academic papers, consulting, teaching classes, and even social media marketing. I’ve sold reprints, proofread transcripts, written ad copy, etc. Now I’m learning how to code. The more you can offer (within reason), the better.

It’s okay to ask for more money.

Very few professionals get upset if you do, and they often say yes (or at least work with you on scope). Oh, and don’t write on spec. Don’t write for pay based on page views. Don’t write for free or for “exposure” (beyond, say, one single article to get a single clip). Editors are not scouring the web looking at articles written for free to try to find writers to pay.

Presell.

Thinking of selling a product, an ebook, an online course or a new service? See how many people you can get to sign up and pay before you create it. Otherwise, there’s no point.

Look at your contracts very closely.

That “all rights” contract means a magazine can reprint your article as an ad, which could make you look like a corporate shill. A lack of contract may not hurt in small claims, but it might. And some bozo might think that writing articles “as staff” means that he can take your name off your own work, or replace it with his own, even if your worst work is a million times better than anything he could ever write. The percentage of bad people in this industry is relatively small (almost all of my clients, past and present, are amazing people with integrity), but getting signed copies of contracts, asking for clarification and negotiating out bad terms helps you protect yourself.

Get health insurance. Dental insurance, too.

Before you need it. Trust me.

Soft skills

Rejection is a good thing.

It took me over twenty tries before I ever wrote for Men’s Journal, and Wired turns me down every month. You have to aim high. Pitching more often, and being persistent with follow-ups, is crucial for freelance survival. One of my biggest wins this year was writing an unpaid piece on spec for Lifehacker, which they rejected (despite green lighting the original idea), and immediately turning around and selling it elsewhere for $300. Another win in my career is getting rejected from a tiny no-name site and writing for one of the biggest sites in said industry. If your pitches are on-target, your writing is solid and you keep trying, you’ll get there eventually. Just don’t avoid pitching the places you really want to write. The worst they can do is say no.

People are really nervous about being interviewed.

I used to think they were acting all weird because they thought I wasn’t good at my job. Now I know that “are you sure this angle is actually interesting?” or “do you think anyone will care or understand?” isn’t an insult towards me, but just someone being self-conscious about how they’ll look in print. Had I known that earlier, I would’ve responded a lot differently.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

A magazine may sit on an article for a year or longer (as Black Belt did to me) or even decide not to publish an assignment, whether they paid for it or not. They might use an embarrassingly off-topic image for the piece, edit in errors, rewrite something poorly, or even completely re-spin an article to make a source look bad (in which not writing for the site any longer is completely warranted), even if they have no history of doing this (that you know of). Just be aware that you can never know for certain, so don’t promise a source fair coverage unless you get to review revisions before a piece goes live (for example).

Just because someone else had a bad experience with someone, doesn’t mean you will.

Right now, two of my best clients have reputations for being difficult, but we work very well together because I’m good at setting boundaries and they’re good at responding. People have different work styles, so make sure to use your own judgement combined with what you’ve heard or read.

Sometimes you need to be loud. No, louder.

Even if you’re brash and abrasive like me, sometimes you need to set your boundaries even more clearly. If you’re collecting on unpaid, past due invoices (or something like that), you can even hire someone to do it for you.

Help other writers.

It’s good karma. And be nice to people, even if you can’t get anything in return. Especially if you can’t get anything in return.

 

How to have a blast meeting up with near-strangers

Depositphotos 8500510 s 300x300 How to have a blast meeting up with near strangersAs much as you love traveling, there’s probably times when you’ve felt pretty lonely on the road or wished you could surround yourself with some of the amazing people instead of sitting at a diner by yourself or hanging out in your hotel. When I knew I’d be trekking out to San Francisco for CreativeLIVE, I decided to avoid this scenario by some pretty extreme measures. A friend of mine recently asked me how I ended up hanging out with so many near-strangers in a city where everyone’s really really busy all the time, so I thought I’d write up my strategy. Despite outward appearances, it really is more about putting in time to reach out to people than being naturally charming and charismatic.

Social media contacts

It’s really easy to go on Twitter and Facebook and say, “Hey San Francisco! I will be in you on October 16 through 18!” It’s much harder to ask people you don’t even know to try to hang out, but that’s exactly what I did.

Obviously I first contacted people I know well in town, but I decided to take it a step further. I happen to have a fairly robust LinkedIn and Facebook network of contacts, and I searched by location and emailed every single one of them to let them know I’d be in town and invite them to one of two meetups. These were personalized messages (though they did have an element of cut-and-paste) and I sent to literally everyone I knew, even peripherally.

This is obviously time-consuming (it took me about two or three hours), but I think I myself would love a warm, personalized invitation to hang out and be more inclined to show up than if I got a random Facebook event notification or Eventbrite notice in my inbox.

I didn’t discriminate. I emailed developers and writers, marketers and athletes, people I’ve worked for and who have worked for me, all ages, people who are well-connected and those who are not. Everyone.

Meetups

Instead of asking 200 people to meet with me one-on-one, which would be a logistical nightmare for a three-day trip in which one day was completely booked, I also set up two events where people could come hang out at two different times (one was evening and one mid-day) and in two different locations. I put this on Eventbrite so people could actually register, which gave me a good idea of who was coming (and was easy to keep track of).

I did a meetup on a smaller scale, too, when I was in Seattle. I got together some online friends from various communities as well as old college classmates, and of course my brother and his friends. But since I had drawn from a wider net this time, one concern I had is that people from very different communities would show up, which could leave some people feeling left out. I worked hard in the wording of the invites and the Eventbrite page to emphasize that we’d be accessible and friendly, and it’s easy to help influence the tone of events when it’s a very small group.

Visit people

Another way to meet people is to just show up. I decided I was dropping by the office of one of my favorite new startups, even though we didn’t exactly figure out the specific timing via email. I just stopped by anyway bearing gifts. The timing was bad, but it was still fun to visit… and I bet the next time I’m in town I’ll get that tour I wanted. icon smile How to have a blast meeting up with near strangers Obviously dropping by somewhere big probably wouldn’t work out as well (some places even have warnings on their site asking people not to show up without an appointment), but I think if it feels right, it’s always worth a shot. It’s not like I was selling anything or trying to get a job.

Housing

I was lucky enough to find a place to crash the first night with a friend of a friend, which is always a good way to meet people as you’ll likely go out for dinner and spend time together. The next night I had to try out AirBNB, and really wanted to meet the other person staying at the same house but didn’t want to knock on his door and be creepy. However, I think housing is still a nice way I felt to meet people, and maybe get some insider tips on what’s cool to do in town without having to go to Yelp or FourSquare. I’d rather rent a room or crash on the floor of the house people are clustered around for an event, unless I’m feeling overwhelmed in which case I’ll hide out elsewhere. But where you stay is definitely a place to talk to strangers.

Bring people with you everywhere

I typically try deliberately to get people to meet others, and it works well when you’re traveling because things are sort of randomly thrown together anyway. And who knows when you’re connecting someone to a new friend in their city or wind up at a cafe or event in their area that they’d be interested in returning to.

Local friends are awesome

Also, that friend who lives in town who will show you which bus you need to go on or which street you want to take or walk you to the hipster donut shop and the BART station is the coolest person ever. I try to be that person for my friends who visit. As much as hanging out with strangers and organizing meetups is fun and interesting, nothing beats your really badass local friend.

The responses

But what happened when you sent out dozens of emails, you’re wondering. Emailing everybody you know in an area is not for the faint of heart. I got a lot of rejections. SO many rejections. The worst one was an editor for my dream magazine, who wrote, “Maybe. At the risk of sounding like a jerk, what would we be discussing?” My clever follow-up email about post-apocalyptic fiction was met with silence. I got rejections in various forms on every social media platform, as well as a lot of people who didn’t respond at all…because everyone has a different comfort level with random messages from near-strangers, right? In addition to the rejections and no-responses, I got a lot of cancellations. All at the last minute. Things come up; I don’t take these personally.

The trick for me with the rejections was to differentiate between people who really couldn’t make it, often for logistical reasons, but wanted to hang out… When they start talking about trying to take a taxi to skip out of work, that’s a sign, but in general it’s usually fairly obvious when someone really really wants to meet up and just can’t and when they just aren’t all that into the idea. When possible, I tried to make arrangements with people who really wanted to hang but couldn’t.

The outcome

I also got a lot of positive responses, and the most interesting thing for me about this experiment is that they weren’t from the people I’d expected.

I had a really wonderful lunch with a writer who’d given me some much-needed tough love back in July 2008. If I had just picked out two or three people I’d want to hang out with, she wouldn’t have been on my list, but it really was lovely, lively conversation. She brought her coworker and I brought my badass local friend and we had some of the best conversation I’ve had in a while.

I had a small meetup with just 2 other people (my aforementioned friend and someone I know from How to Make Your First Dollar), and a larger meetup with a total of 7 people, including someone who’d done some web design work for me in the past (and who I knew through my friend), two fellow MMA writers, as well as this great personal trainer and his awesome wife (the strangers who put me up for a night). Again, these are mostly people I probably wouldn’t have expected to actually spend time with me but I am so glad they did…and I think we had enough ‘waves’ of conversation to keep everyone engaged at least part of the time.

Make your own luck

My event was amazing and I learned more than I ever thought possible about travel hacking, as well as meeting some great new people, but we’ve probably all traveled with excitement to something that ended up sucking. Then we wonder whether it was worth the time away from home, money on airfare, etc. I think arranging our own events while traveling helps with this. Even if the reason I was in town for didn’t work out well, I would’ve still hung out with so many great people who were only words on a screen, so it would’ve all been worth it. There is always the possibility nobody will show up, so pick a place you’d totally hang out at all by yourself if necessary. (I love cafes, for example, but could just as easily picked somewhere outdoors.)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

I get that not all of you are crazy like me, and emailing every single contact in an area might be a bit out of your comfort zone…but the next time you’re visiting a new town, try contacting say 15 or 20 people to meet up and see what happens. The results may surprise you!

Free Travel Hacking Class This Tuesday!

World traveler Chris Guillebeau will be teaching a day-long class on travel hacking this Tuesday, and you can watch it online at CreativeLIVE for free!

I’m lucky enough to be in the studio audience in San Francisco, which I’m so excited about. Although I’ve been lucky enough to traverse the continent, I feel like most of my trips have been very regimented. I was born in Israel, but have never explored on my own. I’ve visited family in Costa Rica, studied abroad in Oxford, and gone on media trips to places like Huatulco, Mexico. I went on a social justice tour of El Salvador right after high school. I’ve visited Scotland, Ireland and Wales. These were all great experiences and I had amazing people showing me around, but part of me yearns to go somewhere and explore on my own. The press trips and scheduled tours in particular involved a lot of shuttling around, and I’d love to go off the beaten path a bit. I’m hoping to spend time in India or Thailand, and away from my Lonely Planet guide. And then there’s that dream trip to Brazil I’ve always wanted.

Chris is not only an incredible person and a great writer, but a travel ninja of sorts as well. He earns over a million Frequent Flyer miles and points each year, and has visited every single country in the world. He’s an incredible person to learn from, both because of his experience and because his actions are always incredibly deliberate and well thought out. I’ve learned a lot from Chris’ writing on running a business, among other things.

I’m particularly grateful to him because he went so far as to donate a free ticket to the World Domination Summit as a gift for a donor to a fundraiser I hosted a year ago in memory of a dear friend. With the help of some incredible people including Chris, we raised a total of $1600 for Children of the Night, a non-profit organization that helps child victims of human trafficking right here in the U.S.

But this isn’t about my desire to travel or even about why Chris is an amazing human being. It’s about you and how you can learn some tools to go far away from home (or to spend less money doing it). Check out the video below, and make sure to enroll on CreativeLIVE’s site if you’re interested.

Stop Breaking Things

Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895 232x300 Stop Breaking ThingsI’m all for pushing forward. Racing around the clock. Doing as many as six impossible things before breakfast. It takes constant ongoing effort to reach our true potential, and those who complain about finite opportunities may very well just need to try harder.

But you can’t just have hustle; you also have to be able to take a step back. Because if you’re going to put the pedal to the metal, you should be damn sure you’re not going so fast that you can’t recover if you veer off course. Why break the speed limit only to get somewhere you never wanted to be?

A few days after a recent project with a disappointing outcome (to put it mildly), I decided to stop blaming others and to instead take a closer look at all of the decisions I’d made in the process. In hindsight, I saw that there were many warning sings I missed while boldly charging forward. With all of my focus on racing around the clock, I forgot that the pressure on me was largely self-imposed. The cycle was one I could have broken any time I wanted to.

It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s not inevitable. Just remember: you don’t have to stay in the abusive relationship, at the boring party or with the exploitative employer. You can walk away from any aspect of your life that isn’t working for you.

You don’t have to do what a client asks when something about it seems wrong.

You don’t have to harass people to get them on board with a project when there are other options.

You don’t have to find a way to meet a deadline when extenuating circumstances make it unreasonable.

You don’t have to drop everything to make something work when it clearly isn’t going to.

You don’t have to cut corners on a race to the bottom, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

You can just get off the train.

You can take a step back and ask yourself if you’re finishing something just for the sake of finishing it. You can look for the red flags suggesting that it might be better to simply cut your losses.

You can take a moment to ask ourself if you’re doing soulful work that will change your little corner of the world. You can ask ourself if other people’s expectations are worth taking shortcuts or risks for.

You can say no. Turn down the partnership or the client or the opportunity, even if you’re not sure about your alternatives. Maybe you have to pick up a part-time gig washing dishes to make ends meet, but at least it’ll let you stop your great self-destruction.

There are times to keep going. There are times to miraculously pull things off, to keep your promises, to drive full speed ahead. But there are also times when “finishing” is just something you do because we’re afraid of consequences.

You might need to use your hustle to deal with those consequences, but that means that having hustle gives you the power to say no. So say it. Deal with the consequences. And then keep pushing forward, but in the right direction this time.