Volunteering With The Last Mile

09.7.2017 | Thursday

A few months ago I applied to volunteer at The Last Mile which is a program that works with prisoners to help them build relevant skills in technology and other areas so that they can more easily transition to productive employment once they are out of prison. It all started after hearing Catherine Howe of Defy Ventures speak on the Reboot Podcast (one of my very favorites). Everything she was saying resonated so deeply with me, I knew immediately I had to figure out how to be involved with this type of reform. I actually applied for a job and applied to volunteer (I was incredibly eager), but never heard back. Now that I knew such programs existed, I wouldn’t take no (or no response) for an answer. I continued to google and that is when I came across The Last Mile. The program seemed like a great fit, and they were responsive!

Folsom State Prison is pictured in Folsom California

A week later, we were making plans for me to speak at the Folsom Women’s Facility about female entrepreneurship, my career and how I started and built my own company. I prepared 5 pages of bullet points, was hoping for the best but truly had no idea what to expect. I was nervous that it would be a larger culture shock than I expected, that no one would be friendly, but most of all, that I didn’t have anything of importance to say, and this would be a waste of their time. But I trusted myself and my experience, arriving ready and willing to be as thoughtful, transparent and real as I could.

There were about 10 people in the class, all of whom greeted me as I walked up. We chit chatted as the door was opening and I immediately felt at ease, everyone was so friendly. We went into a room with about 15 desks with computers and each person took their seat, grabbed notepads and I began.

I spoke for about 30 minutes about successes, failures, pitfalls, lessons learned and stories about the wild ride that has been owning my own company. Knowing I had some time left, I asked for questions. Any other time I have spoken to a crowd, I normally get one or two questions, but here, almost every person raised their hand. And this is where it really got good.

We went through one by one having deeper and more in depth conversations about the most pointed topics such as hosting a website, filing taxes, registering a business, how much of a social life you have when you are starting a business, how to balance time, etc. Clearly, they had been reading books, educating themselves and learning as much as they could.  These were smart women who were trying to understand the practical side of running a business. They had purpose and drive and really wanted to know what it takes to make it. It was so inspiring.

After speaking, I was able to visit some of the students one-on-one and check out their projects, hear more about their pitches and learn more about their stories. One was working on an e-commerce site and was trying to figure out how to collect payments. Another was pitching me her idea of a way to save and foster cats. They built out websites, thought through the logistics of their business idea, and were working toward an end goal.

They were learning how to program, without the internet. They were learning how to make their website responsive (something multiple students showed me, they were very excited about this), how to add payments, how to think through a business idea and make money. All without the internet. Learning an entirely new skillset, especially something as technical as programming is incredibly challenging, to do so without the internet is incredibly impressive.

I have no experience with prisons, the day-to-day stresses, or the pressure they are under. I’m sure that it can be incredibly hard, and I want to acknowledge that. The thing I found interesting was that in this classroom with these students, you’d never know the stresses, or that you were even inside of a prison. They are resilient, pushing through despite all the excuses, stresses and day-to-day issues and were actively working toward their futures. I heard from a few that in that space, they felt an escape, their minds could focus on something creative and bigger than themselves. That really rings true for me, so I can only imagine how accurate that could be in this setting.

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I had read a lot about the program, but I truly had no idea what The Last Mile was doing until I was in that room seeing their projects, hearing their stories, and experiencing the change it was creating in each of these women’s lives. Their creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, inquisitive nature, resilience,  it was all so inspiring. The work this program is doing to create change, to support a group of people that no doubt are going to have a harder finding work and giving them a skillset they can use is work that I am so honored to be a part of.

I am not entirely sure what my next career move is, but the positive energy and this feeling of helping others is letting me know I’m on the right track. It is something I’m looking for in my next phase of life. In the meantime, I am going to continue to volunteer and expose myself to new situations like this. Next up, I’m training as a crisis counselor for a crisis text line. More on that later!

Resources:

To learn more or help The Last Mile, check out their website. They also have an interesting program called The Last Mile Works which is a development company giving The Last Mile students real world work and experience while building out your project (which I’m planning on using next time I need development help). And finally, there is a new podcast out of San Quentin called Ear Hustle which is a new favorite of mine. Check it out! Photos by The Last Mile.

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Thank You Engaged & Inspired

08.24.2017 | Thursday

I have some news and it is coming in the form of a fairly long story filled with a lot of feelings. Enjoy.

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Photo by Sally Pinera

When I started Engaged & Inspired, it was driven by a deep purpose to make the wedding planning process easier, faster and less confusing for brides. I was overly honest on my blog, put my pricing on my website, took a lot of the fluff out of my process, didn’t charge as much as others because I simply didn’t have the same overhead costs, and at every turn did whatever I thought was best to make the process more efficient and in line with my purpose. It didn’t go over incredibly well in the industry but brides were loving it. I heard my fair share of advice about how I shouldn’t do something or how I should do something differently.  All that chatter didn’t really phase me.  I was and still constantly get feedback that my website is the best they have seen, I make things so easy, etc. etc. etc. That purpose shined bright and was the driving force leading the way in those early years.

After achieving some traction, I think I got a little comfortable, took the blinders off and started looking up at what everyone else was doing. I noticed that the culture was shifting. Design was becoming everything and I felt like that pressure to have “the most beautiful wedding” was dictating a lot of decisions and causing a lot of stress for couples. There was just a fundamental shift with the rise of publications and the clout those features bring, perfectionism and showing your worth as a planner by the size of the budgets you were working with. I’m not saying design isn’t important, there is just a difference between comparing and deciding between 2 shades of blush ribbons and comparing, stressing over, going back and forth on, having a small panic attack and then deciding. Spoiler alert: everyone is

Instead of fighting for what I believed in and educating clients, I said nothing. By default, I become a very design heavy planner and contributed to that culture and the pressure. I began looking for outward approval and acceptance. Was I good enough? Did other people find my work pretty enough? Was I getting featured enough? I let magazine features, my social media following and other external factors define my idea of what I thought success meant. I started feeling a disconnect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at wedding albums or features and felt completely empty inside.

I looked at my goals list for every year I had been in business and found that I had completed or surpassed every single one. Even those crazy goals you put on there and think “there is no way”. I had this misconception that if I hit those, I’d be happy. As it turns out, I was exhausted, numbing myself in a variety of ways, and definitely not happy.

I was working ALL the time doing 35+ events every year (entirely by myself for several years), missing weekends, missing milestones in my life and the lives of those around me, and was burning myself out faster than I realized.  After 3 years of intense self inquiry, reading over 100 books, a lot of therapy, a change in my lifestyle, business coaches, lots conversations with anyone who would “go there with me”, and about 85 blog posts that I wrote but never published because I felt self-induced pressure to keep up a certain appearance, I finally realized that I had swayed away from my original purpose long ago and there was simply no way to resurrect it.

I believe I have gained everything I was meant to through Engaged & Inspired and at this point, it is time to let it go and find a new calling. I always knew this day would come eventually, and though it has taken me a long time to gain the clarity I needed to make this decision, I feel so much peace just writing these words. I feel a tiny bit more myself again.

I’ve learned so much through the last 7 years and I’m incredibly grateful for the entire experience. I am a completely different person because of E&I, both as a businesswomen and as a human. I am incredibly proud of myself and the brand I have built. It has been my baby for so long, and though part of me is sad, I’m thankful that it brought me to a place where I could have the time and space I needed to realize and actualize my future goals with the confidence to do so.

So, what is next?

As far as Engaged & Inspired goes, I am looking at a few options to keep the brand going, and will continue to pursue those avenues. Nothing will change with current clients and things will continue to remain the same for a bit until we can comfortably transition over.

As far as my next move goes, honestly, I don’t know. Which scares the crap out of me. My current plan is to finish up the 2017 wedding season and execute the handful of events I have in 2018 while exploring various interests on the side. I have already started volunteering at a prison rehabilitation program, am training to work at a crisis hotline center, and continue to research and apply for opportunities as they come. I’ve pretty much ruled out getting a “real” job, unless it was at a smaller startup with a deeply social mission (something I am really craving right now), but who knows, that all might change too.

Right now I’m just trying to be ok with the unknown and see where it takes me. I’m going to start actually publishing a lot more of my writing, and do whatever I can to speak my truth, be honest about my actions, stand up for my beliefs and see who/what that type of energy attracts. I’ve bottled up so much for so long because I felt like I was not worthy of having or sharing my voice, but at this point, I am just ready to start living a life where my insides match my outsides and I feel like I’m in alignment with myself.

Talk soon, bye for now.

 

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Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe’s Pricing

04.5.2017 | Wednesday

After 3 rounds of Whole 30 and a year of Paleo, I started tracking my spending and noticed that I was spending quite a bit on food every month, especially in comparison to the days of “regular food”.  My average is about $600 per month, but March was a record high of $900 (I was experimenting with treats and had 2 dinner parties). The $600 includes 1-2 breakfasts, 1 post-workout shake, 1 lunch, and 2 dinners daily – 7 days a week with about 3-4 lunches and 2-3 dinners out per month. This is about $20 per day on average.

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I’m in the habit of reading all labels and only buying Whole 30 compliant items (which often times are more expensive). I shop exclusively at Whole Foods because it is the closest store to me. For this experiment I started comparing items between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s only. I have no interest in shopping at huge stores like Safeway, and places like Costco are unfair in comparison because you buy in higher bulk which essentially means more upfront and doesn’t take into account any potential waste.

I started this list organically looking at the prices of things I was buying in the past week. It isn’t complete yet, but this is an idea of some of the items I buy on a weekly basis and/or always have stocked in the pantry. All items are the Whole 30 approved versions, and are compared to an item with equal weight/measurement/ingredients list. There are likely cheaper versions of some items, but that isn’t what this is about. I’ve organized by items I should be purchasing at each store.

TRADER JOES:

As I mentioned, the closest Trader Joe’s is about 15 minutes away, but is right next to my yoga studio. So I have to think a little further in advance, create a list and stop in after class, but with the price differences, it is worth it.

TRADER JOES: Whole Foods Trade Joe’s Measurement
Bananas $0.79 $0.49 Per Pound
Green Beans $3.99 $2.99 1 lb
Fresh Basil $3.99 $2.99 1 clamshell
Russet Potato $1.19 0.49 Each
Russet Potato (bag) $3.99 $3.29 5lb Bag
Sweet Potato 0.99 0.79 Each
Sweet Potato (bag) $3.99 $1.79 2lb bag
Yellow Onions $1.69 0.59 Each
Chicken Breast $4.49 $2.69 per pound
Ground Turkey Breast $7.49 $4.49 Per Pound
Prosciutto $6.99 $3.99 4 ounces
Almond Butter $7.49 $6.99 1 jar
Almond Flour $12.99 $7.49 1lb bag
Coconut Cream $3.99 $2.29 1 can
Coconut Flour $5.39 $2.99 1 lb bag
Coconut Milk $2.29 $1.29 1 can
Coconut Oil $6.99 $5.49 1 jar
Coconut Sugar $5.99 $3.99 1lb bag
Olive Oil $6.99 $5.99 Liter
Olive Oil Spray $4.99 $2.99 5 ounce
Maple Syrup (Sm) $7.99 $4.99 12 ounce
Maple Syrup (Lg) $18.99 $15.99 32 ounce
Cauliflower Rice (frozen) $2.29 $1.99 1 bag
Eggs – Cheapest 12 Pack $3.69 $1.59 12 pack
Raw Almond Bag $6.99 $5.99 1lb bag
Cottage Cheese $4.49 $1.49 Medium

WHOLE FOODS:

For me, it will always be easier to shop at Whole Foods so while things are a little more expensive, it is worth it to be able to drop in and buy these items here. I find the produce at Whole Foods to be better quality than Trader Joes, so I’m happy to spend a little more to get better produce.

WHOLE FOODS: Whole Foods Trade Joe’s Measurement
Asparagus $3.99 $3.99 1 bunch
Avocado $1.99 $1.79 Each
Brussel Sprouts $2.99 $2.25 Per Pound
Cauliflower $2.69 $2.99 1 head
Honeycrisp Apple $1.99 $1.29 each
Zucchini $2.99 $2.49 Per Pound
Bone In Pork Chop $7.99 $6.99 Per Pound
Free Range Eggs (12 pack) $3.69 $3.99 1 dozen eggs
Kombucha (GT Daves) $2.99 $2.99 Synergy
Brie Triple Cream $6.99 $6.99 per pound
Frozen Cauliflower Florets $1.99 NONE 1 bag
Eggs – Free Range 18 $5.49 NONE 18 eggs

In conclusion I have found that staple items, pantry items and items with a longer shelf life (potatoes, onions, etc.) should be purchased at Trader Joe’s. Whole Foods will be for items I can’t find at Trader Joe’s (like the frozen cauliflower I use for my post-workout protein shake)  fresh produce, and things I prefer the taste of (like the type of almond butter I love) from Whole Foods.

I’m trying this out and will report back with exact numbers at the end of the month.

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