I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that 2017 was a pretty challenging year for me, both in my personal life and in my business life. During late fall/early winter in 2016, I was happily planning ahead for 2017 – with the help of Amber McCue’s Planathon event – and setting goals for the year (for my business – I’ve never been too big on New Year’s resolutions and things like that). Into the first…oh, I don’t know, at least quarter of the year, this kind of optimism about how the year would go – my first full year working from home full-time – persisted. But then, around May or June, things started to go a bit downhill.
For the remainder of the year, I continued to worry, pinch pennies, and struggle. Now, don’t get me wrong – there were some truly awesome and exciting things that happened in 2017, like creating and launching (twice!) my Teacher-Seller Virtual Assistant School and then reorganizing it into a self-paced online course, surpassing my income goal for the year (which happens to be the most I’ve ever earned in a year from any job or combination of jobs), having my best month ever in my Teachers Pay Teachers store in November – and besting that again in December, celebrating with my best friend at her bachelorette weekend and then standing as a bridesmaid and watching her get married, traveling to Europe for a 2-week vacation, and learning that one of my best friends from college is pregnant with her first sweet little baby. So, you know, there were some really bright spots last year that certainly cannot – and will not – be ignored.
Nevertheless, I learned some tough lessons last year. I wasn’t very smart with my money in the first half of the year, and it led to a lot of stress and strain in the second half of the year. I have an autoimmune thyroid disease called Hahimoto’s thyroiditis, and I battled with some kind of low-level depression and hormonal imbalance issues, I think due to making too many changes to my medication in 2017 (some of which was out of my control, when the pharmacy I used to use failed to tell me that they were completely out of stock on my medication in all dosages and were back-ordered on it and didn’t know when they’d be getting more in…thanks!). Although my business grossed more last year than I’ve ever earned in a calendar year at any job, what I actually paid myself, according to my profit and loss report, was significantly less. Therefore, as we step into the early days of 2018, I think it’s time for a few mindset shifts.
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#1) Mindset Shifts: Money
I have suuuuuuuuch a terrible money mindset. Denise Duffield-Thomas of Lucky Bitch would be appalled, if she knew me. But, as I’ve already mentioned, I made some unwise spending choices – both with business and personal finances – in the first half of the year, which led to some major penny-pinching for about 3-4 months after we returned from our Europe trip in late August. (Thankfully, we’d been planning and saving for that trip since November of 2016, so I was prepared for that.) Now, what am I going to do about it? How can I change my money mindset?
- Analyze all of the apps and tools I have monthly or annual subscriptions to and decide if it’s really working for my business. In some cases, it’s a tool like You Need a Budget* (YNAB), where it’s not actually making my business any money, but it IS helping me budget properly so I can stop being such a hot mess financially. In other cases, it’s tools like Tailwind*, where I’m expecting to see a return on my investment in it because of the content I’m sharing using its platform. I won’t name any names, but there are at least a couple of apps/tools I’ve been using that aren’t giving me an ROI or that aren’t actually helping my business, so when it comes time to renew those subscriptions in 2018…I won’t be doing that.
- Budget, budget, budget! I started using YNAB* for my personal bank accounts first, and then I realized I could use it for my business, too, so I created a second account for my business bank accounts. I’ve never been great at budgeting, but I’ve put in some time to figure it out, and I think I’m finally on a good path. I’ve got my budget dashboard customized for things like monthly software subscriptions, annual software subscriptions, savings (for estimated taxes and, right now, for attending the Teachers Pay Teachers Conference this July), occasional business expenses (like my accountant and office supplies), immediate obligations (like paying myself and health insurance), charitable donations, marketing and advertising, Teachers Pay Teachers (for when I need to buy clip art and things like that for product creation), and then a miscellaneous “other” category that rarely gets used. I think this will be invaluable moving forward, because I’ll finally know what I need to save money for…and will actually save it appropriately!
- I plan to increase my retirement contributions in 2018. After I left teaching, I rolled over my two state teacher retirement accounts into a Traditional IRA with an investment company. Then, my boyfriend came across Betterment*, which was doing really well for him, and I decided to roll over my Traditional IRA from that other company to Betterment. I’ve never been that great about contributing to retirement, but I did finally start making a small monthly contribution. At the end of December 2017, I set it to double starting on January 1st. I hope to continue to increase my contributions over time as my business grows (or as my income grows, I should say).
- Lastly, but most importantly, I need to change my mindset around money. I think that will be a really big help – and I think that’s why I was doing so well in the first half of 2017, because my money mindset was better. Then, all of the sudden, I started to see some bumps in the road and some obstacles to try to overcome, and that good money mindset vanished. I’d like to get back into reading DDT’s blog posts, and she’s published a book, as well, so I’m going to see if I can get that from my public library. I also want to reread some of the business books I already own, like Carrie Green’s She Means Business** and Cara Alwill Leyba’s Girl Code**. Those books always have a way of getting me fired up and improving my money mindset, so I need to return to that headspace. Instead of seeing myself as living from “paycheck to paycheck” (I don’t really get paychecks, since I’m self-employed, but you know what I mean), I need to stay focused on the bigger picture. I’ve had some success with manifestation/the law of attraction in the past, so I might try to get back into that again, too!
#2) Mindset Shifts: Workspace
My boyfriend and I bought our home in February of 2016, and I’m lucky enough that it has a big home office, right at the front of the house, with a big window. We debated a bit about who would actually get to use the home office – me or him – because at the time, I was still sort of working on my old real food blog, and I wanted to make sure I had a good window for photography and thought maybe the bigger of the two spare bedrooms would be better. In the end, I claimed the office, and my boyfriend got the larger of the two spare bedrooms to use as his game room. Soon, I bought some furniture: a tall bookshelf and an armoire, because the room doesn’t have a closet. Eventually, I also bought a standing desk that operates on a motor and an ergonomic stool for those times when I feel like lowering the desk and sitting.
But, this office, like most of the rest of the house, has tan-colored walls and a slightly lighter tan-colored ceiling. The blinds and light fixture are also brown. Our home was basically an investment property owned by a trust fund before we bought it, and it was, to our knowledge, always rented out and never lived in by the people who actually owned it. This explains why everything is brown. It’s a pretty home, and it was built in 2006, so it’s not that old, but…every room looks the same. After doing a lot of talk and no work, I did finally paint our guest bedroom back in the early summer of 2017, before we had guests staying in it three separate times in a span of two months. However, it was a lot of work because the walls are very textured, and the ceiling is textured, too. I would love to paint my office entirely white – walls and ceiling – and make it bright and airy, but this room is bigger and has a taller ceiling than our guest bedroom, and I’m…not feeling up to it.
While I debate with myself about whether I want to paint my office (or really, whether I want to paint it myself or whether I want to look into hiring an interior painting company), I do think there are other things I can do to make the workspace more Leslie-friendly, more inspiring, and simply more fun to be in for 8-9 hours every day. I have some paintings that need to be framed and hung up. I also have a nice “corkboard” type of frame that I use as 50% happiness board and 50% vision board, and I would love to hang that up right above my desk so that it’s smack in front of my face all day. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the two mismatched filing cabinets I have in here and replacing them with one larger, nicer filing cabinet. It needs cleaned up, too – I’ve got lots of stuff just sitting out on top of my old desk chair and on top of the filing cabinets, when really I need to find a home for those things and put them away properly. I’m also considering buying a fun coffee mug to use as my pen/highlighter holder, since my standing desk doesn’t have drawers – I’m just using a boring white mug we already had right now (maybe something fun like this or this…you know, for future reference for myself, or if you’re looking for one, too). While I was reading a BuzzFeed article, I came across this sassy “crown catchall,” which I might just have to make an excuse to buy and add to my top-of-desk storage options, too…you know, for sticky note pads and things like that. 😉
Generally speaking, I think sprucing up my office a bit and hanging up some décor will really help with the vibe in this space, and I think it will make it more enjoyable for me to actually work in here, since I usually spend all day by myself working away, while my boyfriend is at work (although I do have our dog and cat for company!). These little things will probably help quite a bit with changing my mood and mindset while I’m working.
#3) Mindset Shifts: Health
Bet you didn’t expect to see this on the list, since it’s not immediately related to my business. However…it is. I mentioned having Hashimoto’s thyroiditis above, and I experienced a lot of struggles with it in 2017, as I said. I’ve been going to see my doctor about every 2.5-3 months while we work on finding the right medication and then the right dosage of that medication to get my Hashimoto’s back under control. I also learned, during this last appointment that I had with her in mid-December, that I have an issue with Reverse T3, another thyroid hormone. My boyfriend has this same problem, and my Free T3 to Reverse T3 ratio is abnormally low. This is certainly another contributing factor to the struggles I’ve been dealing with since summertime. Therefore, it is, of course, on my mind to get these things back in optimal zones so that I feel better overall. However, it requires a mindset shift about my health: Rather than being frustrated that it’s all so out of whack and sad that I don’t feel good about myself, I need to shift to giving myself grace, allowing myself time for self-care, and nourishing and exercising my body in ways that feel good.
So, that leads me to the next mindset shift for my health: I’ve gotten back into doing my friend Allison’s 5 x 10 in 20 workouts. Back in the fall, I jumped on board to be part of the group that beta tested these workouts for her, which lasted six weeks. Then, during that time, I won a giveaway from her, where I won another free month of the workouts. After that, though, I was in serious penny-pinching, money-conserving mode, so I didn’t actually pay to get these beyond that (sorry, Allison!). She ran a deal on Cyber Monday, though, and I decided to sign up again, because my health is worth it, and I need to exercise (I’d cancelled my gym membership in the fall of 2017 because lifting doesn’t seem to agree with my body the way I desperately wish it would, and I could work out at home for free). If you’re curious what “5 x 10 in 20” stands for: five exercises in the workout, 10 reps of each exercise, and complete as many cycles of those five exercises at 10 reps in 20 minutes as you’re able. When your timer goes off at 20 minutes, you stop, no matter what. Plus, Allison’s designed all of these exercises so that they can be done anywhere – most of them are bodyweight moves, but some of them require “equipment” you definitely have at home, like a chair and a broom. In addition, she provides modifications if you have knee/hip/whatever issues and pregnancy modifications, and she always links to very short videos she’s made demonstrating each exercise so you know how to do it. They always kick my butt and make me break a good sweat! She emails three of these workouts every week – but I’ve been saving the emails in a folder in my inbox, so now I can cycle back through and do old workouts, too. I’m aiming to do six 5 x 10 in 20 workouts each week. 🙂
Lastly, my boyfriend got me a Fitbit Charge 2** for Christmas. This has been REALLY helpful in reminding me to get steps in every day. I’ve got notifications set to remind me to get at least 250 steps every hour. If I haven’t, then at 10 minutes to the hour, it vibrates and reminds me to go walk around the house. I can also track my sleep, which has been interesting (and I don’t often reach my goal of sleeping 8+ hours a night – womp womp). I have my daily step goal set at 6,500 steps, but I started out at 5,000. However, I often far surpassed that 5,000 steps in the first week I had the Fitbit, so I increased it. Basically, it just generally helps me track my activity every day to make sure I’m getting enough movement, enough activity, enough exercise…and I find it to be motivating to actually do those things. Oh, it also monitors my heart rate, helps me track how much water I’ve drank, and offers a few other features, including a 2-minute “relaxing” exercise, which I think is a breathing activity to help you de-stress and calm down (but I haven’t used that yet).
4) Mindset Shifts: Mindset
It’s so meta, right? Talking about mindset when you’re talking about…mindset shifts. 😉 In all seriousness, though, this is a big mindset shift I need to make in 2018. This is why I want to reread my business books (and find new ones to read), why I’m writing this post at all! Between my health issues and my personal financial crisis in the second half of 2017, I realized at the end of the year that I’d really just been going through the motions for a few months, at least as far as my virtual assistant business was concerned. I wasn’t doing anything to try to improve my business, to improve my practices, to grow my business. On the other hand, I spent the entire last quarter of 2017 improving my Teachers Pay Teachers store, and that paid off big time with achieving a new highest month ever and then besting that again the very next month. So, that was great and all, but otherwise, I was kind of stalled.
I think what I need is just to refresh myself. I downloaded this analysis planner to help me better track the growth of the TpT side of my business. I need to reread those business books (I’ve got two fiction novels checked out from the library right now, but once I’m done with those, I’m on it). I need to revisit my “ideas” journal and start getting some juices flowing again. It was this kind of optimism and positivity I had about my business in the first half of 2017 that totally fizzled in the second half of the year when my health got out of whack, when I was busy with traveling and then guests visiting us here, and when my personal financial crisis hit. I let all of those things distract me, but I can’t afford – literally – to let those distractions take over again. And then, I need to ask people to help keep me accountable to this mindset change. Thankfully, I started a mastermind group with three other wonderful TpT sellers in the fall, so they’ll be great at helping me with that. I’ve also got a couple other people I can rely on for accountability. This leads me to my last point…
5) Mindset Shifts: Obliger-ness
I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s new book, The Four Tendencies**. It’s a book about personality profiles, but darn it if it isn’t the most accurate one I’ve ever read. Gretchen really nailed it, and after taking her quiz, I’ve learned that I’m an Obliger (but I do seem to have some Questioner tendencies wiggling around below that). Obligers not only make up the biggest personality sector, according to Gretchen, but they also have the most written about them in her book. You see, Obligers tend to put everyone else above themselves – or, as she puts it, they tend to meet outer expectations spectacularly, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. This is why accountability is so important for me and for other Obligers: When other people give us expectations (e.g. a client gives me a project to complete), we can usually put our heads down, do the work, and get it done. But when we try to set expectations for ourselves, we often fail if we don’t have a system of accountability set up – someone to check in with and keep us on track. I now understand why sometimes, I can be really self-disciplined and other times, I can’t.
However, there’s one thing to keep in mind with Obligers: what Gretchen calls “Obliger-rebellion.” When there are outer expectations placed on Obligers that become too much, or that are viewed as unfair, or whatever the case may be, Obligers can and will eventually rebel against those outer expectations, often without addressing the issue with the other person or people involved. Gretchen explained that this can happen in small, quiet ways (like doing something you know annoys someone else) or in big, dramatic ways (like suddenly quitting your job or ending your marriage).
And this is why I want to embrace my Obliger-ness and really come to understand it. I want to be held accountable to changing my mindset and working through all of these things I’ve listed above, but I also want to avoid Obliger-rebellion. Now that I know what it is, I realize I’ve hit it many times – when I’ve been working myself too hard and end up totally vegging out in the evenings for days in a row, refusing to do any household chores or errands, for one example. Another example: when I quit teaching. Now that I know that such a concept as “Obliger-rebellion” exists, I realize that that’s what happened to my teaching career. Having this new knowledge and understanding now, I want to take care of myself, hold myself accountable in gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) ways to help me be successful and to avoid this burnout.
Phew! I know that was a lot, and if you’ve read all of this, thank you. I hope that it’s inspired you to look inward and consider what mindset shifts you can make – not just this year, but any time you feel it’s necessary (that’s the Questioner coming out in me – I don’t set much stock by set start dates for things like this – I just do them whenever I feel the need!). To help you do this, I’ve created a free resource that you can work through – either complete it right on your computer and save it or print it out and write on it (and maybe hang it up in front of your workspace?). Just click on the image below!
So, with that being said, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about what you’re changing about your mindset and your perspective!
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This post was most recently updated in March 2019.