Felicia Sullivan is an acclaimed author and the founder of Phoebe & Kate, a business consultancy. I’ve been lucky to be friends with Felicia for a number of years now, and have always admired her sharp wit, her sharper mind, and her brilliance in all things digital. This is Felicia’s best advice.
I’ve often learned that some of the greatest gifts come from the things we lose. Over the past two years I’ve been at home with loss and the places that grief can take you. The last two times I spoke with my estranged mother I told her I didn’t love her. She was my first hurt and she broke me in places I never thought one could break. I told her that love isn’t unconditional, that there are limits to what I can take and gave. You make it impossible for me to love you, I said at 21 and repeated at 36, and then she died. When she passed, I felt nothing, which was strange. I spent the rest of the year planning a cross-country move because New York felt ruinous. It was tainted with history. I hadn’t realized that a gaping hole had begun to form in the spaces in which she had once occupied: my heart, my head, my writing. Everything I’ve ever written has been a way of me writing my way back to her, and I hadn’t anticipated the lengths of what death could do, how it could rub all sense of possibility away. Death is cruel like that, a cheap, dirty thief in the night.
Don’t worry; we’re not here to settle into the crawlspace of grief. Rather, we’re here for the clearing and the lessons learned after. Up until a few years ago, I used the word expert with ease. I had two degrees, polished and Ivy-leagued. I had two decades of a successful career. In a way, I was arrogant to think I knew it all. Then, I experienced a series of mammoth losses and I realized I didn’t know anything at all.
A yoga teacher told me once that the mark of an advanced practitioner is not someone who can step into a handstand in the middle of the room with ease—it’s the teacher who goes back to a basics class and relearns all the poses. The difference is grace, humility, and hunger. Arrogance makes you ignorant, but grace, humility, and hunger render you forever curious and strong. Markers exist in our lives that remind us of the fact that there is so much we don’t know and much we have not yet learned.
The absence of life reminds you to become a student of it—to actively pursue the study of love, life, and knowledge. If there’s anything I can offer you, it’s this:
Be a student, always.
A few moments ago, I had a Skype call with my business partner. In a former life, I was her boss but now we’re equals working on a massive project to bring online empowerment, education, and the art of branding to women. I’ve built companies and published books, but during our call my partner says, off the cuff, you should enable double-opt in on your email list so the emails don’t go to spam. I smiled and said I did not know that. I told her I was nervous about putting up one more barrier, to which she responded: if they really want to be in your tribe, they won’t mind clicking on another email.
Just when you think you know everything, there’s something new to be learned, a new posture to master. The journey is infinite and the joy is the moments of awe—child-like, really—that you feel along the way.
Every Sunday, I map out my agenda for the week. I commit to this on Sunday because it’s when I’m most ambitious and hopeful. I’m not yet ruined by the invariable start-of-the-week gloom and an inbox filled with passive-aggressive emails. I don’t use a fancy journal or organizational system—although I have a strange predilection for Appointed notebooks. In an increasingly digital world it feels good to do something tactile like write in longhand. I use the books for starting story drafts (I’m also a published novelist) as well as taking meeting notes and mapping out plans and strategies. I’ve read numerous studies that say you increase memory by writing in longhand and I believe this to be true.
So I created a list divided into three categories: work that pays the bills, self-education and self-improvement, and the rest of my life. Sunday is all about thinking about the big picture so I only draft the most important or pressing tasks for the week and I make sure that the tasks balance my business and creative pursuits for the short and long term. The day-to-day is when I get super tactical and I’ll develop sub-lists based on the master. This may sound complicated but it’s not. My life’s not all that fancy or complicated—just meticulously organized. For example, here are my goals for next week:
Pay the Bills
- Complete contract execution with new client
- Draft two proposals for prospects
- Follow-up on cold pitch emails
- Finalize CRM strategy for Client X
- Create an outline for my third book, A Million Little Failures, and pitch prospective agents (I resigned my agent this past year)
- Post a new piece of fiction on Medium because I’ve been publishing way too much career stuff as of late
- Immerse myself in ongoing newsletter/landing page conversion training
- Start 4-week process on SEO deep-dive self-training
- Read Daniel Pink’s When
- Read Zadie Smith’s latest essay collection
Rest of my Life
- Follow up with attorney on financial situation
- Master Dubsado’s (my CRM system for client management) workflow tool
- Schedule 2-3 Skype chats—I have an amazing group of friends in Los Angeles, however, the bulk of my professional network is still on the east coast, where I’m from. Since January, I’ve taken on 2 accountability partners and one mentor and we meet, each week, for a 1-2 hour Skype video call. These calls always lift me up because I get to talk marketing shop with my peers and we set biweekly goals for us to meet
Each morning, I look at the agenda for the week and I aim to tackle my big 3—what can I complete from each category by end of day. This could be anything from writing pitch emails to agencies or companies with whom I want to work or this could be posting new fiction on Medium. I call this my “hot list” and the process works because I focus on the priority items, which normally get done, and then I can start ticking off the rest of the lower-priority tasks of the day. I start my morning at five, break from 1-4 (I’m useless during these hours), and work again from 5-9. This flow seems to work and the only thing that breaks the order of things is if I’m writing a new book. Then, I really divide my day in two: income to pay for non-lucrative fiction-writing career and writing my dark novels and short stories.
Every month, I give myself a self-education task—a new thing to be learned or re-learned if I already have the acumen. One month it’s email marketing. This month it’s lead page conversions and SEO. My consumption rate is voracious—I read, listen, download, study, ask questions, engage in Facebook groups, and share what I’ve learned. Right now, I’m listening to 5 podcasts a week: Amy Porterfield, Jenna Kutcher, We’re No Doctors, Don’t Keep Your Day Job, and How I Built This. I’m an active member of 10 Facebook groups focused on women in marketing, women in freelance, or women who are taking their side hustles to the next level. I see all of these sources as teachers and mentors in some way.
Everyone can be your teacher if you allow them to be—even those who don’t realize the lessons they’re imparting.
If this sounds daunting, I recommend you take small, measured steps out of your intellectual comfort zone. Sit in discomfort as that will invariably lead to comfort. Like how loss leads to the desire for learning, for life.
Be a student, always.