Making a plan

I’ve told the story before, but it never ceases to amaze me when I think about it.

I started Checkmate Consulting on the floor of 900-square-foot apartment watching Grey’s Anatomy (and drinking wine) with my best friend on Oct. 1, 2013. I didn’t have a plan; I had an uncle who was interested in me managing his logistics’ firm three social media accounts.I never took a business class in college; I never wrote out a business plan. I just went with it.

And then I got another client. And another client. And another client. And projects. And then, the contract work for major organizations in my community. And this week? I’m doing for the first time graphic design work for a paid project. I’ve never taken a graphic design class!

Almost three years later, I’m still just making it up as I go along.

This September, I’ll button up and finalize the last little details of a massive, 20,000-word, 200-hour project for Ozarks Technical Community College’s Technical Education Division. It’s been an incredible undertaking, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done. But it’s also made me really zoom in on what I want to do with the accidental success of my business.

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So this fall, wearing a sweater like the basic white girl I am, I’m trying to find my why and what for Checkmate Consulting: Why am I doing this, and what goals do I have for my business?

I’ve been walking around without direction, and I’ve thankfully stumbled on a positive, fruitful path. But I’m thinking about what I want my business map to look like, what I actually want out of all my side hustles and gigs.

Do I want more clients? Is it a goal to become my own boss? Do I want to grow certain parts of my business? Is freelance writing something that’s still important to me? Do I eventually want to get a physical space? Is my business a way to gain experience to get a mid-management job in communications or marketing? Do I want to leave a job I love to pursue this path? Is there an amount of money per month that I want to work toward?

There are a lot of questions, but I’m giving myself space to explore their answers. I’m praying, thinking and searching, hand in hand with my husband, for what my professional life looks like. There’s no rush; that’s one of the blessings of a lovely life.

But I need direction, and I’m making a plan.

The girl is non-stop

I’m a musical theater nerd, much to my husband Kevin’s dismay sometimes. I sing along loud and proud, and I spend probably more money than I should on tickets. Tomorrow, I’ll attempt to buy tickets to “Hamilton: An American Musical” for its first run of performances in Chicago this fall for my birthday. There are more than 40 songs in the juggernaut musical, but there’s one song that sums up my spring: “Non-Stop.”

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?

April 24-May 8, Kevin and I traveled to Italy, Greece and Turkey on a 12-day cruise, ending our trip with two days in Rome. It was a fantastic, much-needed getaway. We fell more in love, we connected and we spent time together seeing places we both had only dreamed about. It was an incredible trip together and for both of us, it was such a needed break to unplug, disconnect and recharge.

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But as soon as we returned, I arrived back to help communicate the beginning of a much expanded summer learning program at Springfield Public Schools. As a team, we celebrated when we barely reached our overall enrollment goal, but that was just the beginning. I’ve been monitoring the #ExploreSPS hashtag non-stop, curating content from the endless stream of learning going on around SPS.

I also began working on a major project with my business Checkmate Consulting on June 1. This summer, I’ll be working to do a complete content refresh for Ozarks Technical Community College’s 21 technical education division program websites. It’s a monumental task — with staff profiles, new landing pages, marketing language to match and mobile-friendly calibration. It’s a massive undertaking, broken apart in three phases, with the final phase due Aug. 30.

Also, I’m working to expand the digital footprint and ROI of social media for another client, and I’m continuously trying to utilize more video in ads for Circle B Ranch. It’s a delicate dance, balancing it all, learning everything I can for the benefit of everyone who I serve. But I love it — but will I ever be satisfied with my work? All the work I’m currently doing, isn’t this enough?

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?

I’m working on being satisfied with the things I create and then walking away. Long weekends in St. Louis with my niece, nephew and in-laws at Six Flags; barbecues with couples and friends who we cherish at our house. Monday nights with a gaggle of girls who keep me sane. Long walks, hand in hand, with my husband on Sunday afternoons. If there’s anything I learned while I was abroad, it was that I need to create boundaries in my life between me and my work.

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Look around, isn’t this enough?

Yes, it is.

Unplugging to recharge

Like most people, I have a lot going on.

I work full-time managing digital communications for Missouri’s largest school district. I own a small business, Checkmate Consulting, managing four brands’ social media presences online after 5 p.m. on my couch. I write for two city/regional publications, Feast Magazine and 417 Magazines, submitting pieces each month on topics ranging from business owner profiles to proposal stories.

I work more than 60 hours a week on all of those things. They’re things I love, so it doesn’t feel like work — most of the time.

But there are times when it feels like a lot. When it all feels like too much on my plate, and I start losing my mind a little bit. I lose my husband’s car keys (or he loses them, one or the other); I don’t go grocery shopping for over a week. I forget to send a birthday card until the day before the big day. I dry a sweater that should be air dried. I forget to return a book to the library the day it’s due. I leave the house before giving my husband a kiss goodbye.

They’re not major mistakes or grave ills to my life, these little errors. They’re just annoyances, reminders to take care of myself, to be better organized, to update my calendar, to double check that to-do list written every Friday afternoon for the week ahead. But it’s the forgotten kiss with my husband or the novel I haven’t gotten to on my desk that bother me the most. I’m missing out a life drenched in joy because I’m only allowing myself a shallow rest, interrupted by tasks and to-dos.

That’s why, for the first time in nearly two years, I’m going on a vacation.

I’m heading to Italy, Greece and Turkey for 15 days, 12 of which will be spent on a cruise ship with 2,800 of my closest friends. My husband Kevin and I have spent the better part of 18 months planning this trip with our amazing travel agent Kimberly, and I’ve worked a lot of long hours on my couch and at coffeehouses on the weekends to pay for the trip in cash. I bought my first DSLR camera, and we’re booking our excursions to Santorini, Ephesus, Athens, Naples and more next week. It’s a once-in-a lifetime kind of trip, one I’m deeply blessed to take.

But the most rewarding part of this vacation for me I suspect won’t have a thing to do with the winery we’re touring in Mykonos or the hike we’ll complete up to Pompeii. It won’t even be a slice of pizza where the food was invented in Naples. It won’t be what’s there, but instead what it is not.

I’m not taking my cellphone with me.

Now, I’m not completing unplugging my life. My world doesn’t work like that. We’ll bring a Chromebook with us so I can check email just in case and I’ll check in occasionally on the accounts I’m entrusted to while away. But I won’t have my phone in my pocket when I’m standing in Ephesus. I won’t feel a vibration when I’m walking down an alleyway in Rome. I won’t take a call when Kevin and I are walking up the steps to the Parthenon in Athens.

I’m becoming unplugged so I can recharge. So I can focus on my husband and the views we’ll see together. So I can sip a glass of wine uninterrupted. So I can live my life in the space I inhabit instead of living my life online, if just for a few days.

A few days of peace is what I’ll get, and if not, Kev will help keep me accountable and out of internet cafes. He’ll be taking his phone; we set it up to receive and send texts and calls, just in case of an emergency, and we purchased a bit of data just in case we get lost wandering the streets in Rome. But my phone will be staying home on my nightstand, back where the stress sits on my like a weight and the days fly by too quickly. I’m going to slow down and unplug to recharge my spirit, to regain some sanity.

I’m giving up the key to my professional life in order to live my best personal life for 15 too-long, too-short days in the sun on the Mediterranean Sea. That’s all I can give. But it’s more than enough.