Tacos, TED Talks, and Taking Leaps. If I had to come up with an alliterative title for the past 10 years I think that’s what it would be. For weeks I’ve been planning to write a Year in Review post. But last week it hit me that since we are at the end of a decade, reviewing the past 10 years might be much more fun and more valuable to you. So let’s do this!
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned in the past 10 years…
Do you, boo!
I began this decade in the middle of my first year as an English teacher at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, the school I graduated from in 1999. Honestly, my first year as a teacher at ASFA was terrible. Eventually, I realized it was so bad because I had lost sight of the lesson ASFA taught me when I was a student: Be yourself!
I first went to ASFA in 1995 as an awkward 14-year-old girl who felt she never fit in and I left a confident young woman who no longer cared about fitting into any crowds because I knew I had the power to create a crowd of my own. But I spent my first year as a teacher vacillating between trying to be like the teacher who had the 10th grade English position before I did and the English teacher who made me want to be an English teacher in the first place. And while they are both two of the best role models an educator could have, I didn’t get good at my job until I stopped trying to be them and developed a teaching style of my own.
After starting See Jane Write, I’d see the importance of being myself again. Through the years, there have been other groups like See Jane Write that have come and gone in Birmingham. Each time one pops up I’m tempted to compare that group to my own and I wonder if I should be doing what they’re doing. Then I hear the words of YouTube star Maya Washington (better known as Shameless Maya) in my head: “Do you, boo!”
If you can’t find what you need, create it.
In 2009, I quit my job as a newspaper reporter in Louisville, Kentucky and moved back to my hometown of Birmingham to teach. But I knew I wanted to continue writing and blogging. I also knew it would be a lot easier to do this if I had a group of other women writers and bloggers cheering me on. So I started searching for a women’s writing group that would welcome poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, journalists, and bloggers because these were all hats I’d worn at different points in my writing life. I searched for a group like this for nearly two years but to no avail.
So, on March 24, 2011, I stared my own. See Jane Write began with a meetup of just a dozen women. We met at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants and over tacos and queso we discussed our writing dreams. I had no idea that this group would one day make some of my wildest dreams come true.
When you help others, you help yourself.
Zig Ziglar once said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” My journey with See Jane Write has proven this to be true time and time again.
Though I started See Jane Write for selfish reasons, I’ve continued it because I’ve seen how it’s helped so many other women go after their writing, blogging, and business goals. And these women have gone on to build buzz about me and the work I do. Because of these women and all the good things they say about me I’ve won awards and landed opportunities to write for some of my favorite local publications.
Make your partner a real partner.
I once read that who a female entrepreneur chooses as her spouse, should she choose to get married, will affect her business more than any marketing strategy or investment ever will.
So many of the women I’ve met at blogging conferences and even through See Jane Write have told me that one of the things keeping them from going after their dreams is the fact that their husbands don’t want them to.
Fortunately, this has not been my experience. My husband has been my biggest cheerleader every step of the way, helping me move tables and set up food for See Jane Write events, sharing my blog and social media posts, and nominating me for awards. If I’m too busy to cook dinner he says, “I’ll pick something up.” If one weekend I’m too busy to clean the house he shrugs and says, “We’ll live.” We take turns washing dishes and he does the laundry every Saturday.
He’s not just my husband, he’s my partner and my best friend.
Related Reading: How to Get Your Partner to Support Your Writing and Blogging Dreams
Take your work seriously and others will, too.
On July 19, 2014, I hosted my first day-long blogging conference, the Bloganista Mini-Con. Nearly 100 people were in attendance. We had networking, food, vendors, informative panel discussions and compelling keynote speakers and a professional photographer capturing it all. During the conference, I kept whispering to my husband, “This actually feels like a real conference.” Eventually, he said to me, “Javacia, this is a real conference.”
That’s when I realized the reason my blog wasn’t growing as a business in the way that I wanted it to was in part because I wasn’t taking myself seriously as a businesswoman. After that day I shifted my mindset and six months later I received an email from the Birmingham Business Journal informing me I had been chosen as one of their Top 40 Under 40 for 2015. I am convinced that learning to take myself seriously as a businesswoman made other people take me seriously, too.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.
In 2015, See Jane Write helped me buy a house.
No, I didn’t make a crapload of money from my business that year. No, the women See Jane Write didn’t put together a GoFundMe fundraiser to help my husband and me become homeowners. No, I didn’t make the down payment on our house with an advance from a book deal or even with money saved from freelance writing gigs.
But on December 31, 2014, in an effort to lead by example, I declared that 2015 would be the year I would go after all the things I once believed were beyond my reach. Growing up, I never thought I’d own a house. I saw homeownership as something reserved for rich people and even though my parents worked very hard, they always struggled to make ends meet. They weren’t able to purchase a house, and we were no stranger to eviction notices taped to the front door of our apartment.
But when my husband came to me in February of 2015 and asked, “Do you want to try to buy a house?” I said, “Yes!” And in May of that year, we became homeowners.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Looking back I see that with every goal I’ve accomplished the first step was believing I could actually do it.
Related Reading: Having room to write is a state of mind
You are not a bad feminist.
The dictionary definition of the word feminist is simply someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. When asked if she agreed with Webster’s take, feminist icon Gloria Steinem said she’d add “and doing something about it.”
Those words stuck with me. I call myself a feminist. I have since my early 20s. But was I doing anything about it? Am I a bad feminist?
Eventually, I would come to realize that writing can be a feminist act. Last year I even did a TEDx Talk about it. I realized that by sharing my story through my columns and my blog, by sharing other women’s stories through my freelance articles, and by helping women find their voice through See Jane Write, I am making this world a better place for women.
But I also decided that I wanted to do more. I wanted to find a way to do something about the systemic issues that can make it so hard to be a woman in this world. So, I started volunteering with The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, an organization that’s using philanthropy, research, and advocacy to move women and their families toward economic security. And each year I use my writing to raise money for this worthy cause.
Give yourself a break.
I used to pride myself on being a workaholic. Javacia “No Days Off” Bowser I called myself. Then one day I got a headache that wouldn’t go away. It lasted for days, then weeks, then months. My vision was blurry and I felt dizzy all the time.
I spend way too much time on WebMD, so I convinced myself I had a brain tumor. I even told my husband how long he’d have to wait to remarry after my death if he didn’t want my ghost to haunt him and his new wife.
Of course, I did not have a brain tumor. I just needed to go to sleep!
After my bout with my imaginary aneurysm, I decided to implement what I call “Self-Care Saturday.” Each Saturday I would sleep in and I wouldn’t do any work for my teacher life, my freelance writer life, or for my blog or business.
Kat Gaskin, creator of The Content Planner, always says “Don’t quit. Take a nap.” What a great lesson to learn!
Related Reading: 15 Things to Do on Your Days Off
I spent much of this decade wrestling with the question of if I should stay in the classroom or attempt to strike out on my own to be a full-time “writerpreneur,” freelancing and building See Jane Write. I loved teaching, I loved my students, and I loved my co-workers. But I also love writing, I love my Janes, and I love building a business.
Eventually, I realized that choosing between ASFA and See Jane Write would be impossible. So I had to choose myself.
On May 24, 2019, I quit my job.
Juggling teaching with See Jane Write and freelance writing took a toll on my relationships and on my health. One of my doctors once told me he was convinced I was trying to literally work myself to death.
Don’t get me wrong, the life of a full-time entrepreneur ain’t no crystal stair, but I’ve been able to take control of my schedule and thus take control of my life.
Shortly after submitting my letter of resignation I came across a quote on Instagram: “You owe it to yourself to become everything you’ve ever dreamed of being.”
Through See Jane Write I get to be all I’ve ever dreamed of being all at once. Through my blogging and freelancing, I am a writer. Through my online and in-person workshops for See Jane Write, I am a teacher. And through building my membership and coaching programs, I am an entrepreneur.
Like Walt Whitman, I contain multitudes.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
Though choosing myself is what helped me finally decide to leave the classroom, this year has continued to teach me that this life is not all about me. I must use my success to help others be successful.
This year I had the honor of being the Culture columnist for Birmingham magazine. I started writing for Good Grit magazine, too. And for Spring Break my husband and I took a romantic trip to New Orleans and every penny we paid for that trip was money I’d earned from freelancing. First freelancing helped me take vacations and now that I’m a full-time writerpreneur, freelancing is allowing me to create a life I don’t want to take a vacation from. And it’s my duty to pass that on.
Of all the things I’ve done this year I am most proud of the partnership I formed with Alabama Media Group through which I solicit, select, and edit essays by Alabama women that are then published on AL.com and highlighted in the Reckon Women newsletter. This partnership has allowed me to help some women see their work in print and get paid for their writing for the first time.
This year I’ve also had more speaking engagements than ever before — many of them paid and some of them outside of Birmingham.
My hope is that when I’m standing before a crowd sharing my story and being my authentic self that the women in the audience are thinking, “I want to share my story, too. And so I will.”
What lessons have you learned this year and this decade?