Bucket Lists, Careers, and The Meaning of Life: Why Do You Do What You Do?

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Recently, a friend asked me what’s on my bucket list. He began to name some things on his—mostly travel to various places. I couldn’t think of a place I need to see in my lifetime, though there are a few places I’d like to go. Go or not, I’ll be happy.

Or not.

I no longer have a specific career goal on my bucket list either. Over the last few decades, I wanted to be a noted psychologist, a bestselling novelist, and a nutritionist. I imagined changing people’s lives with my insights and ability to motivate my clients to live a healthy lifestyle.

A more recent career goal (before I became a freelancer writer), was to be an awesome teacher to a special population of kids I really understood. Let’s just say politics got in the way of that goal.

But like I said, I no longer dream of accomplishing a specific career-related goal. I now see how all of these pursuits fit together.

There are a lot of things I’d like to learn—or relearn—before I leave this planet. I’d like to sing again, play tennis again, and I’ve always wanted to learn to draw. I have to learn about technology and digital publishing (but none of that is on my bucket list).

In fact, I’ll be fine if I accomplish any of these things or none of them, as long as I stay engaged in something.

A simple goal: Finding the meaning of life

So what is on my bucket list? What do I need in order to feel that my life has been worthwhile?

Well, it’s simple. I need to know—or believe, because we never really know anything, do we?—that my life has had meaning and that I’ve somehow made a positive difference. Isn’t that what most of us want.

Can I ever know for sure that my life means something? Maybe not. It may have to be enough to just believe. In many ways, I have yoga thank for knowing what’s enough. Yoga has taught me to be myself and to use my gifts without attachment to the outcome of my efforts.

It’s hard though. I won’t lie.

Making a difference

I suppose it’s obvious for some people that they’ve made a difference in the world, and it must feel good to know this. Respected doctors, best-selling authors, Noble Peace Prize winners and the like get some kind of tangible feedback and proof that their lives have meant something.

Do I need to be famous or remembered in history books? Of course not. Does it matter much that I may not be personally remembered by many once I’m gone? Not really, though it would be nice. But I do want to believe I made a small difference somehow. Because a small difference can have a huge impact. It can be part of a whole movement toward the development of good. I know in my heart that this is true, though I can’t point to any scientific evidence to support my hunch.

Your Career is Not What You Do, But Why and How You Do It

The other day in yoga class, my teacher, who always seems to know exactly what I need to hear, read a passage from Marianne Williamson’s bestseller, A Return to Love.  The book is a classic for good reason. It’s simple and brilliantly poetic. It’s about love.

The passage my yoga teacher read was about, of all things, careers. How did she know I’d been wondering about the direction of mine?

My friend who asked me the bucket list question is struggling with a similar problem. He’s at a career crossroad himself. The career thing is very different for him than it is for me in some ways. But in others it’s not. We both want to make a difference.

How to Make a Difference

How can we make a difference in such a complicated society? We have so many choices. On the other hand, as we explore each possibility, we often find our choices are, in reality, remarkably limited. They may lead us down dead end roads until we hit a wall.

And then what?

There is fierce competition for jobs, whether one is a corporate executive or a freelancer looking for her next gig. There is so much that seems irrelevant and pointless when it comes to using our gifts. Are we “qualified,” are we “certified,” do we have experience in a very specific field we know we can succeed in?

Simply using our gifts is not always enough—because of the competition, the bills, the tax laws, the stock market, and information overload. Every day my inbox is bombarded with the latest “secret” for finding clients and well-paying writing gigs. Most of them are regurgitations of the ones I received the week before. At this point in my career, few of them are useful.

But I shift through them all to find that needle in the haystack. Because there still needles to find.

My point (I do have one)

When I forget why I do what I do, I am tempted to give up. I need to remember to serve, and my way of serving is helping people communicate what they do (or know).

We all have gifts. If we use them well, we can craft a meaningful career, though it may not resemble what the textbooks say a career is supposed to look like. In other words, we don’t all choose a profession, get an entry level position in that field, and then slowly but steadily climb to the top until we are making a comfortable living, then retire and look back with satisfaction on how seamlessly our working years progressed. For many of us, this career thing is a mish-mash mess.

Enter the simply brilliant perspective of Marianne Williamson. As a writer, I’m in awe of her brilliant ability to cut through to the point and say it with beautiful simplicity. “Success,” says Williamson, “means going to sleep at night knowing our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.”

Williamson goes on to say that what we do is not as important as how (or why) we do it. We should do whatever we do kindly. The key to success is to realize how we are connected—that the purpose of our work lives is not different from the purpose of the rest of our lives. It’s all to spread love.

Does Your Work Spread Love?

For some, it’s a stretch to see one’s job as work that spreads love. And some work does not (in which case the doer may want to consider a change). But every job worth doing has the potential to be done with love. Even if your job is to sell used cars—or carpets—you can do it with love. I mention carpets because I once knew a salesman who was joyfully helping people pick out carpets well into his eighties. That kind of thing can be inspiring.

Whatever you do, you can be kind, honest, and friendly while you do it, and your goal can be both making a profit and helping someone else, whether that person is a customer, client, or coworker. If you are doing your work solely for the profit, you may miss a lot of opportunities spread love. That is, you may miss your purpose.

My goal as an editor and writer is to help people communicate. I enjoy writing about others and helping them polish their work as much as I enjoy crafting my own stories. For the most part, I work in a niche that is easily about love—well-being—but it’s not the only way I use my talents. I’m also a technical editor, and I spend a good amount of time pouring over copy about digital imaging products. How is that about love? Well, the team I work with is a great group of people; for most of us, the work is about supporting each other’s efforts. Our collective goal is to communicate an accurate message.

Before I launched myself as a freelance writer and editor, I was a teacher, an administrative assistant, a nutritionist at an upscale gym, a financial aid counselor, and a research editor. Yes, I’ve had many jobs. In Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says the same of her life.

Marianne also says she’s had many jobs but only one career. I say the same.

The reason I’ve had many jobs (and clients) is I’m continually tweaking my work life to align with purpose. I’m looking for the best way to use my gifts to do what I came here to do—what we all came her to do—spread love and make a difference, no matter how small that difference seems.

If I can do that, I don’t need a bucket list.

 

Improving Communication Starts with Listening Longer

balancing the fifth chakra

I was flipping through channels on TV and came across a psychologist doing an audience Q & A. Someone asked him for tips on how to communicate better with loved ones.

The psychologist’s answer was simple (but not easy). “Listen longer than you want to,” he said.

Improving Communication Starts with Listening

I’m often told I’m a good listener, but I’ll be honest. There are many times I just don’t want to listen anymore. Usually, this happens when I’ve heard the same thing before—sometimes many times before—from the same person. You’ve probably been here too. Your friend or spouse or sibling is going on about the same problem they’ve shared seemingly a thousand times.

And you’re just like, “OMG, get over it already!”

I don’t feel great about this. But I think we must be honest with ourselves. Even the most compassionate, skilled listeners have a point at which they don’t want to have the same conversation again.

But why not? It doesn’t take more time to hear the same thing than it does to hear something new.

I think the reason is listening to someone struggle with something you (and apparently, they) are unable to change, makes you feel inadequate. Why, after all, do they keep coming to you with this problem? If you haven’t helped them get past it the last fifteen thousand times you’ve listened to it, what will be different this time?

Okay, I’m exaggerating. It’s usually only a thousand times. But there’s a point at which no amount of listening will make a dent in improving communication.

Communication is Connection

One definition of communication is the exchange of information. It implies a connection between two or more parties to impart and receive information. When we speak of communicating with people close to us, we’re usually interested in more than information. In fact, information is easy to communicate.

When we talk about improving communication, we’re usually talking about connecting on an emotional level. We want to understand intentions, values, and things that are difficult to describe using words alone.

Yet, we use words because words are the best tools we have for communicating. When we’ve heard the words and nothing has changed, though—we neither understand more nor feel understood more than we did before—it may be time to think beyond the words.

Listening longer than we want to does not just mean hearing sounds. It doesn’t only mean being silent while words are spoken. It means being present and tuning in to those words and the message the speaker is trying to impart. This isn’t easy. To do it, we need to suspend our own egos and check impulses to be defensive or have answers. And often, we need to sit with impatience when we realize we can’t fix someone else. If we look closely, we may find it’s ourselves we’ve lost patience with.

And the truth is, if the other person isn’t a good communicator, there may be nothing more we can do to improve the connection.

Meditation for Improving Communication

Want to practice communicating better? Learn to meditate!

Meditation teaches us to be present, suspend, the ego, and tune in—the very things we need to do well if we want to be good communicators. It also teaches us to listen and to pay attention when we listen, not just to words, but to emotions and things beyond words.

And it helps us stay present, even when the connection isn’t happening the way we’d like it to.

So yes, if you want to be better at communicating, listen more than you want to. But empty your mind and be present while you do it.

 

Dream On, But Don’t Count on Your Dreams Coming True

Grand Canyon2I once heard it said that a dream is something that would make all the pain go away if it came true. And I got to thinking, what is it called if that doesn’t work? As one who has many dreams—most of which did not come true—I wonder if it really matters if dreams come true.

Maybe what matters more is that the pain goes away, no matter how that happens. Sometimes something unexpected comes along, and the pain goes away for a while. It may not even be something you ever dreamed of. Even the greatest dreams, if realized, doesn’t always take pain away. At least not forever. Pain, being part of life, inevitably comes back.

People who live privileged lives in the sense that they experience less pain than others have dreams. And those dreams probably keep these folks a step ahead of the kind of gut-wrenching pain that can make you wonder what the point of life even is.

What do you dream of?

There are things we’re all supposed to want: love, friendship, work we feel good about, and a sense of purpose are some examples. If we don’t find those things, we find ways to distract ourselves—sometimes very destructive ways like drinking or drugs or getting into other kinds of trouble. Sometimes better ways, like spirituality, yoga, meditation, the pursuit clean living.

It may be a stroke of luck that causes us to find our way to the “better” list. Maybe in some of those cases, it turns out that we’re lucky we didn’t find the love we sought or that our dream to become something didn’t come true.

So dream on, but don’t count on your dreams coming true. But don’t give up on dreams, either. They exist for a reason. But they also change.

The Greatest Dream of All

Maybe the best idea is to always have a dream but not hold on to any one dream so tightly that you don’t notice another more important one you can replace it with. For example, maybe letting go of the dream of finding true allows you to discover opportunities to become true love by serving others. Being love is, after all, the highest and most fulfilling pursuit.

Once you are united to your source—that is, once you know you are love —accomplishing or getting this thing or that thing may not become less important.

What is important is to keep trying to accomplish something, whatever it is. And keep trying to become something greater than what you are now.

That Locker Combination Dream: Listen and It Will Open

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I had that locker combination dream again recently. It was the one where you’re in school and you can’t get your locker open. You’ve probably had this dream in some form. This wasn’t the first time for me I’ve had the locker combination dream dozens of times, always awakening before I figure out how to open that door.

In the recent dream, I was once again in school. It was the first day of class, but oddly, my fellow students and I were well into adulthood. In fact, some were former teachers and administrators in the schools of my youth who are well past retirement in real life.

My Locker Combination Dream

In the dream, I was at first in my room in the home I grew up in trying to decide what to wear. Would I be comfortable in short sleeves or would it be chilly in school? While I was making what seemed like an important decision, I also realized I was late. If I didn’t get going, I wouldn’t have to time to get a cup of coffee to bring to class (I guess a reference to my college and graduate school days when I wouldn’t think of trying to get through class without coffee)!

Looking for the Locker

I got to school and discovered that not only did I not know my locker combination, but I wasn’t even sure where my locker was. “Not this again,” I thought (in the dream). I had carefully noted the location and the combination. How could I not know where to go or how to open the locker this time?

I was about to give up. I sat cross-legged on the floor with my head in my hands and cried. I’d been in this here so many times, and I just didn’t have the energy or desire to try to figure it out anymore.

After a few minutes, though, I realized that couldn’t continue to sit there on the floor. I forced myself up and look around, though doubted I’d find what I was looking for. I was on the third floor of the building, searching frantically for the locker. Still no luck.

Then a calm voice in my head reminded me, “It’s upstairs.” It wasn’t dramatic. It was just a quiet voice within. I followed some of the older people up one flight of stairs. Sure enough, my locker was there there on the top floor of the building. “I think it’s near the science rooms,” the voice in my head suggested.

I found my locker (my name was on it). It was the first in its row, a few doors down from the science wing. I noted that this locker was bigger and nicer than the gray, steel lockers of earlier versions of the locker combination dream (and real life).

But there was still the problem of opening it; I still didn’t know the combination.

Listen for the Clicks

“Just listen for it,” the voice said. “These lockers are designed to be used by thousands of intelligent people. Just listen and you’ll be able to hear the combination.”

Trusting that voice, I slowly turned the knob clockwise until I heard a very subtle click; then I turned it counterclockwise, then clockwise again. It opened with the combination “19-3-12.” I began repeating the numbers to myself as I searched for a pen the combination down.

My inner voice spoke up again. “You won’t forget this. It’s 1932, except not 2 but 12.” I could remember that, I decided.

A man next to me had just opened his locker, and he was delirious with relief. We exchanged recollections of all the times we’d had to go to the office to ask for our combinations in the past in other schools. Who knew it was as easy as just listening for things to “click”?

The Locker Combination Dream is Resolved. Or is It?

Quickly, something else occurred to me. If all I had to do was listen for the clicks, then anyone else could come along and do the same. Anyone, if they listened closely, could open my locker and steal its contents. As I thought this, I noticed a woman over my left shoulder. She was clearly watching for me to write down my combination so she could copy it.

“It won’t work for her,” I heard. “The combination is for you alone.”

Confident, I smiled at the woman, and went about gathering the books and materials I would need for class. But now a few people were gathering around me asking me to help them open their lockers. I wasn’t sure how I could help them. They’d just have to do the same thing I did, I figured. I didn’t want to disappoint them, but I didn’t know how to explain this.

And that, this time, is when I woke up.

I do like to analyze dreams, but in this case, I’m not going to try to figure out that last part just yet.  The rest just makes me smile. At least now I can open my own locker.

Hiring a Professional Editor? Here’s What to Expect

writer

If you’re thinking about hiring a professional editor, the first step is to consider your goal. Are you self-publishing a book? Do you want to put your best foot (or word) forward when marketing your well-being service? Do want clickable content that search engines will find and people will read?

Of course, you can do a lot of this on your own. Before you think about paying for help, learn as much as you can about creating sound copy. (If you need some help, you can download my free resource here.)

But we all need help from time to time. Even editors hire editors. (I do!)

How Can an Editor Help You?

Think about what you want help with and set some realistic expectations about the time and cost involved. The most important piece of advice I can give you is find a professional editor who knows about your topic. Better still, find someone with a passion for it! Also be sure to find someone you connect with.

A carefully selected second pair of eyes can cut your workload by more than half, because neither you nor your editor will burn out if you both own the project. You’ll want to be able to work together efficiently. You should enjoy the process and feel supported as well as assisted.

How Quickly Can a Professional Editor Work?

Granted the term professional is not regulated, but there is a wide range of skill when it comes to editors. Keep in mind that fast is not better. (On the other hand, slow doesn’t necessarily mean detailed or thorough.)

Knowing a bit about how editors work can help you decide if you’ve found one worth hiring.

In her book, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, editor and teacher Amy Einsohn, a leader in the field of copyediting, gives the following estimates of a “typical pace for copyediting hard copy.” The estimates are based on two passes (the minimum necessary to do the job well).

Light copyedit: 4-9 pages per hour

Medium copyedit 2-7 pages per hour

Heavy copyedit 1-3 pages per hour

The “pages” Einsohn refers to are manuscript pages, which are typically only 250-325 words in length. (Manuscript pages are double-spaced for ease of editing.)

How Much Should Hiring a Professional Editor Cost?

I recently took a continuing education course in which the topic of fees was raised. According to instructor Jacqueline Landis, an editor with more than 15 years of experience, “The rock-bottom rate for an established editor is $20 per hour for light to medium copyediting. An average rate is $35 per hour, and the top rate ranges from $50 to $75 per hour.” The higher fees are usually for very heavy developmental editing.

If you have a 25,000-word manuscript (approximately 50 single-spaced pages in Times New Roman 12-point font), editing fees can range from $150 to more than $5000! For a typical light to medium edit, expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for a professional edit.

What do copyeditors do?

So what do you get for your investment in professional editing? The short answer to this question is, “probably more than you realize!” If you are hiring a professional editor, ask about his or her process. Look for clues that the person is a qualified, experienced editor. Here are some questions (and answers) that may help.

1. Does the editor use a style sheet? You shouldn’t have to ask this question, because all professional editors do. In case you’re not aware of this tool of the trade, a style sheet is a form of keeping notes, usually on a chart. The goal is to keep track of anything that may be inconsistent or need attention as the editor reads. Style sheets are crucial to accuracy, as you probably can imagine. For example, while editing a book that is hundreds of pages long, it would be easy to miss that a name is spelled one way on page 3 and another way on page 233 without a style sheet.

Editors also use style sheets to note stylistic preferences. For example, should there be a comma before the conjunction in the last item in a series? (If you were in school more than a few years ago, you may not realize this is now optional.)

2. How many “passes” will the editor do?  “Pass” is editor-speak for reading the manuscript once. As I mentioned before, two passes are the minimum for quality work. In some cases, due to budget or time constraints, an author may request only one, but be aware that it is not reasonable to expect perfection if you do this.

3. How does the editor ensure accuracy? Some tricks of the trade include reading the manuscript out loud, taking a break at least once every two hours, or spending no more than 6 hours editing on a given day (except in emergencies). Yes, we all want things done quickly, but as I said, quick does not mean good. Editing is tedious work. If an editor promises to complete a 300-page manuscript in 3 days, find another editor!

3. Does the editor work on hard copy with traditional proofreaders’ marks or on electronic copy using a feature like Microsoft Word’s Track Changes? If the editor doesn’t know much about either  of these methods, don’t expect professional results.

4. Which style guide does the editor use? There are different guides for different purposes. Some companies have their own house style as well. I use CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style) or AP (Associated Press) unless a client requests something else. Ask this question to ensure the editor you hire will not simply be working from memory of high school English class.

One quick tidbit before you get out there and find a great editor. There is no consensus on how “copyeditor” should be spelled. CMOS (and I) spell it as one word; AP (the style guide for journalists) spells it as two (copy editor). Go figure!

Not ready to hire an editor? Join my email list and receive access to my free guide that will help you start editing your own work today!

Bad Foods: Why Some Foods Probably Should Not Be Part of Your Diet

Many people follow diets that do not allow this or that kind of food. Some avoid gluten, while others forego meat. For others, refined carbohydrates are bad foods.

Conversely, many people who eat whatever they want. Many of these people use catchphrases like, “There are no bad foods.” You might also hear things like “all things in moderation” from those who do not believe there are bad foods. So, what’s the truth?

Are There Bad Foods?

chips and berries

After more than twenty years of studying nutrition, I understand the limitations of restrictive diets. I understand why some people say there are no bad foods. But my belief is there are most definitely bad foods. Or perhaps I can put it more accurately and say there are foods that are not good for you!

What I can’t do, though, is give you a list of such foods. Foods that are not good for you depend on your own uniqueness. We are not all the same physically, emotionally, or biochemically. So a food that does no harm to one person might have a terrible effect on another.

Worse, in the case of some allergies, eating a certain food could be deadly. For an obvious example, consider nuts. They are healthy for many people. For those with severe nut allergies, though, eating nuts can have catastrophic consequences.

A Better Definition of Good and Bad Food

In a sense, I agree there are no bad foods, but I agree with a caveat. My definition of food may be narrower than most. To me, food is a substance that is nourishing. To understand what I’m getting at, think beyond what you eat and consider a phrase like “food for the soul.”

The idea of nourishment is simple. A food is not nourishing because it tastes good or because it’s filling or because everyone else at the party is eating it. It’s nourishing because it is good for you. Something positive happens to your health when you eat it. Or at least, something negative does not happen.

If I have a nut allergy, a nut is not food to me. If I’m diabetic, perhaps I shouldn’t think of sugar as food. If my gut goes haywire when I eat wheat…you get the picture!

Food for Overall Well-being

I have not eaten red meat or poultry in decades. I wrote about why in another post. At this point, if I were to eat a single hamburger, I doubt that anything “bad” would happen to my body. But for me (just me), something negative would happen to my spirit.

Based on what I’ve learned about factory farming and its abuse of animals and the environment, eating meat from a grain-fed cow slaughtered in a factory would not be a nourishing experience to me. If I thought my body needed meat for physical health (I don’t), humanely raised grass-fed beef might be an option. This is one personal dietary choice. There are many others. I’m sure you have your own.

Everyone is Different

The truth about food as I see it is no one diet is appropriate for everyone. But to make choices about food, we must know how our bodies use it. We must also know how it is produced. I remember an excellent article in which a naturopathic physician took the idea of bad foods to task. In the article, she stated that she eats “anything she wants.” What she didn’t really get into, though, is that her passion for health and her education about food give her the incentive to make choices that are good for her. Not all people have this luxury.

There are certainly people who believe that feeding a child a hot dog on a white-bread bun and a soda for lunch every day is healthy. I’m fairly confident in my belief that it’s not.

The One Question to Ask About Food

If you’ve found a way of eating that works for you, chances are you had different beliefs before you found that diet. And you may change your ideas about food as time goes on. I’d need to spend a good amount of time with you before I could suggest what might be good or bad for you.

I think there’s only one question to ask about food. The answer to that question may not be so simple, though. The question is, “Does this make me healthier?” And when I talk about health I mean not only physical health, but other aspects of your well-being too.

Over time, if you have a good relationship with all aspects of yourself and with food in general, knowing what is good for you becomes intuitive. Only you know when a piece of chocolate cake will do your body no harm and when it will it will hurt you. You may need to expand your definition of food to make this decision well.

This idea works with almost every food you can think of. Sure there are some foods (organic berries come to mind) that are good for almost everyone. There are others (like blue cotton candy) that can be called food only by a great stretch of the imagination.

The point is the path to good health depends on a lot of things. Diet (in the good sense of the word) is only one of those things.

If you don’t have a good relationship with food, you will not be able to make better choices overnight. You might get on track more quickly by getting to know more about you instead of trying to decide if a food is good or bad.

Think about it.

WHY (A Poem From My College Days)

Because stars twinkle on a clear summer night

And birds sing at the gentle break of dawn.

Because Jackson Browne sings at the Meadowlands

And Woody Allen makes me laugh.

Because I make people laugh.

Because a drive to the country is so different

from a drive to Manhattan.

Because great writers have written

And great singers have sung

And great painters have painted.

Because I haven’t done those things yet.

Because there are places and cultures and ideas.

Because the world is my birthday present

And so much hasn’t been discovered yet.

Because all the world’s a stage

And because people want to talk to me.

Because of the alpha and  the omega

And Nirvana

And  truth, knowledge and bliss.

Because bits of frustration are the seeds of growth.

Because a hug is not really a scary thing.

And drums have a powerful sound.

Because cool grass feels neat between my toes

And pastels are beautiful colors.

Because popcorn tastes good without butter

And  there’s orange juice in oranges.

Do You Need an Editor? Here’s How to Find Support For Your Writing Project

meditation for writersRecently, a member of a Facebook group for bloggers posted this question: Who do you use to edit your blog posts? The answers ranged from some type of software to “my mother” to a seasoned pro. Why the disparity? I think because when people use the term “editor,” they tend to use it loosely. So, do you need an editor, or does your project require another kind of service?

What is an editor?

An editor is not a proofreader. Sure, all editors will proofread, but that’s not the focus of their art. And make no mistake, editing is both an art and a science. An editor is also not a ghostwriter, though many editors do ghostwrite as well. (It’s a distinct service.)

Most editing projects float somewhere among the three services I’ve just described. But even if your needs fall squarely within the realm of editing, there is more than one type of service to consider. Most seasoned, professional editors break services into three categories: light editing (which lives at the border of proofreading), moderate editing (also called line editing or copyediting), and substantive editing (which lives at the border of ghostwriting).

Do you need an editor?

Many people ask for proofreading or light editing when they really need something more. Being specific about what you need is not the same thing as being specific about what you want to pay for. If you ask for proofreading but your copy is still in the “rough draft” stage, you’ll need to rethink your strategy.  After all, you wouldn’t hire a painter before you’ve had drywall installed, would you?

Think of an editor as more than someone who will check your grammar and spelling. Yes, you can probably use software for that, though even the best software will miss nuances that make your writing unique. Unless you’re writing academic or technical material, there’s little need to be so “correct” that your writing is boring. Trying to get all the red and green lines in your Word doc to disappear is usually a waste of time (though I’ll admit it is tempting)!

For most writers, especially bloggers and authors who craft pieces to communicate something they’re passionate about, an editor should have at least the following three things to offer.

1. She should know more about grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. than your friend who was good in English. Ask which style guide she uses, and check out the resource she mentions. Ask what kind of training she has. (I have an eye for detail is not an adequate answer.) This is especially important if you’re writing a book that you would like to market professionally at some point.

2. She should have an editorial process. Unless you simply want a proofreader, your editing project should involve several steps. You should understand how you will participate in the process, and you should be clear on what your editor will and will not do. (Hint: She will not change your voice or rewrite your content unless you ask her to, and she will not act like your high school English teacher!)

3. She should be familiar with your niche or subject. Search for an editor, and you’ll probably find hundreds in no time at all! The icing on the cake if you want the best fit for your project is knowledge of your subject matter. Why? It won’t necessarily cost you more to hire someone familiar with your topic (unless it’s very technical). But you will get more for your money. An editor who knows your audience will serve not only as a grammar geek who can ensure that your copy flows well, but she will also stand in for your readers. She’ll understand what you’re trying to communicate, and she’ll be able to suggest when your message isn’t clear.

A good editor with experience in your niche is an ally for both you and your readers. She’ll help you when you’re stuck on a way to find the words for something you’re passionate about because she is passionate about the same thing! For example, my clients who are nutritionists, health coaches, life coaches, personal trainers, therapists, and yoga teachers are comfortable working with me because they know I’ve read hundreds of pages of content on these topics. I know what’s out there, how to make their project unique, and how to make sure it’s on par with content that works for other well-being professionals.

What does a good editor cost?

Again, there’s no simple answer to this question. A good place to start is the Editorial Freelancers Association’s rate sheet. You can find it here.

High quality editing doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but don’t expect it to be cheap either. You truly will get what you pay for. Look for someone who is reasonably priced, but understand that editing is not as simple as many people think. If you’re in doubt about what you’ll get for your money, ask for a free sample edit. Most editors will provide one.

If you’re lucky enough to find someone who values her own abilities as well as yours—in other words, if your editor is passionate enough about what you do to see beyond dollar signs, but also a consummate professional—you’ve got a keeper. Respect for each other is the key to a professional relationship that goes beyond spell-checking and “correcting” your work.

So, do you need an editor, or is your project safe in your roommate’s hands? Only you can decide!

Not ready to hire an editor? Join my email list and receive access to my free guide that will help you start editing your own work today!

You Are What You Don’t Eat

calfYou are what you don’t eat. And what you do eat. Or maybe you’re not food at all. So what, then, “are you” when it comes to nutrition and dietary choices?

Telling people I’m a vegetarian is the easiest way to explain why I don’t eat beef, pork, poultry or lamb. But it doesn’t explain why I do eat wild-caught fish and shellfish. It also doesn’t explain why I don’t eat sugar, refined carbohydrates or processed foods that contain ingredients I can barely pronounce. It doesn’t explain why I try to avoid the “dirty dozen” (the produce that absorbs the highest amounts of pesticides) or why, for me, a day without vegetables is like a day without water.

So what exactly am I, and does it really matter? Personal dietary choices are something like religious beliefs in a way. Just because someone claims to be a member of a particular religion doesn’t mean that person has the exact same beliefs and behaviors as all the other members of the group.

Why labels don’t really matter

Religious labels do not tell the whole story, and neither do dietary labels. Still, people seem to want them. It helps to have some “rules” if you need to explain to someone why you choose not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. You really can’t just say “turkey is not part of my diet” and get away with it, but you can say, “No thanks. I’m a vegetarian.” It seems people expect a label with a definition attached to it, and then you are allowed to say no to the turkey. A case like that is a perfect example of “you are what you don’t eat.”

Dietary labels get complicated in some circles. It’s difficult to explain to your Italian mother that pasta is not something you eat now that your body is showing signs of carbohydrate intolerance. It took my mom years to adjust when I began to move toward a vegetarian diet. Now this?

If I had to find a label for my diet, I guess it would be unprocessed/clean, real-food vegetarian that also eats some kinds of fish and drinks red wine and too much coffee. (By the way, did you know that some vegans eat shellfish?)

But do you eat eggs?

Yes—cage free organic omega 3 eggs (unless I’m in a restaurant; then any egg goes). And, believe it or not, I really don’t like talking about any of this most of the time.

I know people imagine my dietary choices are restrictive or boring, but they’re really not. It’s true what they say; you stop craving things that are bad for you when you start eating healthier (and yummier) things instead. You don’t have to believe me, but there really are much tastier dishes you can make with veggies and lentils. Bacon grease or white bread are extremely dull by comparsion!

Why all this fuss about food?

My interest in vegetarian nutrition started when I was in college looking to shed the “freshman 15” (more like 20). Soon after I graduated, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I took an actual test though I know it was a fad diagnosis at the time. I learned more about hormones and other unwanted things that accumulate in the fat of animal flesh. And I gradually made the shift to a vegetarian diet. As a DES daughter (one of millions whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy between 1938 and 1971), I’d already overdosed on synthetic hormones before I was even born. (The consequences of that is another story.)

As I learned more about the things going on in the food industry, particularly with respect to factory farming, I became more and more convinced that the lower on the food chain one eats the better. It’s better not only for that person’s health, but for animals and the entire planet as well. Ethical reasons for my food choices soon became as important, if not more important, than health issues.

Then I realized how complicated that can get!

It took years to get where I am now, and I’m sure my dietary choices will continue to evolve. I even earned a traditional college degree in nutrition. I believe the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well.

And life is just better when you care!

I think the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to be learned when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well. And life is just better when you care!

How to Make Safe and Healthy Reed Diffusers with Essential Oils

reed diffuserI’m one for nice smells, and I like my house to be filled with pleasing aromas, but I’m wary of the ingredients in air fresheners, scented candles and other common items people use to mask odors in their homes. So, I was very excited to come across a very easy way to make homemade reed diffusers from pure essential oils. All you need is mineral oil, vodka, the essential oil (or oils) of your choice, a small vase and some diffuser reeds, which you can buy in any craft store (I got mine at Pier 1 Imports).

Here’s what you do:

Pour ¼ cup mineral oil and 2-3 tablespoons of vodka into the vase. Then add a small bottle of essential oil. Stir everything with the reeds and then let it go to work. Flip the reeds every once in a while to diffuse the oil better.

It really works, and the fragrance you’re enjoying is not compromising your health! In fact, it is probably enhancing it with the wonderful properties of the particular oil you’ve chosen for your diffuser. I have geranium and lemongrass in mine.

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