Back at the start of 2017 I went through a long process to uncover what this next year would look like. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I kept working toward and what I value most were in conflict. After identifying the sources of my self-contention I made the decision to step out of the online business highway so I can live better aligned with my own values + my family. This post is to tell the story of that decision and what’s next over here at alisanelson.co.
If we’re being entirely honest here, my story isn’t really the point. I want to disclose what I’m up to as I still intend to use this website but there are a handful of key principles that I think I’ll just lay right out:
A willingness to let go of what you thought was true in the face of new [evidence-based] information is an invaluable skill.
Your rate of success on reaching whatever goals you set for yourself largely hinges on 2 things: 1) how well you can make yourself do the stuff you don’t want to do and 2) how well you understand the system you’re working in…not on a specific [procedural] formula.
A guru or expert will never be able to replace the role of you doing your own thinking…even if they claim they can. They can provide a framework for how to think about their domain. They can give you the working principles and the language. But you will still have work to do. If they claim otherwise, run away…They’ve spent their time on the wrong stuff and you’re not going to see sustainable change.
The brain’s survival mechanism works against us in the above 3 points. Letting go of what we felt certain of, doing the stuff that’s hard + painful, relying on our own thinking…they all leave our brain screaming for happy chemicals. So we go running back to the “experts” or pick a new one since “that just didn’t work for us.” New = dopamine rush. Community = oxytocin rush. Both have the potential to keep us stuck.
Community and empathy are great. But they don’t necessarily help you solve problems. So you may walk away from a webinar or girls night feeling all lit up and understood, but that doesn’t mean you now have what it takes to face your life tomorrow. The good feelings, however, can mask that reality and you’re back to square 1 trying to figure out why you still have low motivation, low follow-through, and no plan for how to change things.
Now is where I’ll go into a bit on life right now and what I’m working toward but that up there is the meat + potatoes. It’s what I’ve always wanted people to understand through my coaching. My frustration over how many women don’t seem to understand that you can’t talk about how you want to be fit/mindful/happy/successful and then keep thinking the same way you always have is part of what kept me in coaching…I wanted to do my part to bring change. But as you’ll read, I’ve chosen to let go of that as a “career” goal. It’s deeply rooted in who I am, no change there. But right now running a business around that is not what I’m going for. I think there is a better way to apply my passion and skills.
A final word as I dive in, where I’m at today is because I stopped resisting the reality of that list up there. I’m no more immune to survival brain as anyone else. So it’s my hope that in sharing some of the story you will have an example to think of as you seek to embrace them for yourself.
The original intent: January – May 2016
Originally I created alisanelson.co to be my first step into coaching creative entrepreneurs on how to maintain their mental + emotional health while scaling their businesses. It was my transition from in-person personal training to online business. However, as I began I started to see there was a cost to that path that I wasn’t interested in paying. I don’t think details are all that important right now – I simply believe it’s my responsibility to continuously analyze how my current actions will affect the future. The future before me didn’t interest me enough to apply my energy in that direction and worse, my trying to force a fit was sucking energy away from my family. Self-contention will do that.
So on to the next idea: September – December 2016
I began interviewing women last Fall who were in positions that demanded a near-constant outpouring to other people. Teaching, Nursing, Ministry, Motherhood, etc. I wanted a better picture of where these types of women were getting stuck and how to come alongside them using my experience in wellness and my interest in high performance living. I assumed developing a coaching program would be the next step. And I was certainly moving in that direction, taking a course on marketing and reading up on programming methods.
But yet again, as the New Year approached and I started thinking about goals, I looked at what I could have accomplished by 2018 with my current path and I was just not interested. Somewhere along the way my trajectory was getting pushed off target. It was frustrating, to say the least. I could identify my hang ups but the glaring question of what to do with this passion of mine made me uncomfortable. [I’m sure I’ll look back at those journal pages and laugh one day.] So I did what I’ve learned to do when things don’t feel (or look) right – I pressed pause. Midway through an email sequence with my subscribers introducing them to new services. After already taking on my first beta coaching client. Talk about a rush of cortisol. But cortisol always subsides eventually and my priority was to understand the self-contention I was experiencing so whatever direction I went in would get my best effort. I didn’t want to go searching for a new idea that would send my dopamine surging…the “crash” after was too familiar: Hustle, hustle, hustle. Experience exorbitant amounts of self-doubt, anger toward my family, and soon-to-follow emotional flatness / depression. I couldn’t do it again. There was something off and I had to get to the root cause.
Warning: I’m about to get on my soap box.
Pressing pause helped me learn something important about myself. Or more accurately, helped me stop denying something about myself: I don’t want to help people obsess over their health. And I definitely don’t want to enable people to stay stuck.
The marketing course I was taking stopped me in my tracks as it described the kinds of businesses that are especially successful: Businesses that teach people about money, relationships, health, and spirituality. [All major shame triggers.]
Get clients addicted to your content then profit off their cortisol/dopamine fluxes.
Now is that what everyone is consciously doing? No, of course not. I have no doubt there are many who are actively trying to help people overcome obstacles and encourage them to think for themselves. I would argue they tend to be found on a different level (and that what looks like helping is actually not). Overall, you are being promised something, and perhaps you get a taste, but for the majority, all it really ends up being is enough dopamine to tide you over until you get stuck again…you haven’t gained any real new insight into how to solve your own problem. Instead you’ve created a habit loop that tells you to go running to these “experts” every time you feel uncomfortable.
People are addicted to encouragement, quick fixes, shiny objects, over-spiritualized nonsense, and survival-based language that puts up the brain’s panic antennae and induces stress (the stupid-waste-of-time kind). The system actively inhibits a person’s ability to truly move forward in their lives. Instead it encourages obsession over the stuff that should be the background of our lives…the food we eat, our clothing brand, if we sweated enough, if we ate too much, if our self-doubt and anxiety is a sign of not enough prayer/grace/dependence/surrender, etc!
I get that people want examples and they want empathy. But empathy is also addicting. You don’t need 100 strangers empathizing with your self-doubt or #adulting struggles. You need to turn your brain on, learn how to learn (which is more than reading obsessively, btw), get curious, and expect yourself to do more with your life than live on survival-mode repeat. Which is what the majority of people are doing. Yes, even if you consider yourself “woke.”
You don’t need another person telling you how to meal plan or giving you 10 more jumping jack variations (#stopit). All the choices are eroding your confidence + hijacking your brain’s ability to think critically.
I see people blindly following “experts” (don’t get me started), demanding to know the brand of their leggings, exact meal ingredients, and how they got their hair to do that….as if morphing their exterior into this other person will restore confidence and purpose to their lives. They are caught on loop – try one thing, works a little, see people doing something else, get anxious over “doing it wrong”, try new thing, repeat.
My years steeped in the science community have integrated into my way of thinking well enough that I can’t willingly participate. I just can’t hand you a quick “superfood” recipe, sprinkle some happy dust, and send you on your way. But “it’s more complex than that!” and “it may take years!” and “the things you believe are probably wrong!” and “you’re going to have to get really uncomfortable!” don’t market very well on their own. They intrigue a small percentage of people who are sincerely pursuing high performance and accomplishment in their domain. So to continue in the direction I was going would require that I either choose to alter my values (and my priority scheme) or dissolve the goal.
So what am I doing now?
Surprise! I dissolved the goal.
My current path began with a question I’ve asked multiple times (in slight variations) at this point. “What if I took coaching off the table.”*
[*The past few years of business iteration (and motherhood) have afforded me ample opportunities to practice abandoning ideas or flipping the way I see something. As I grow in my ability to analyze and predict how a situation will play out I also see a growing openness to paradigm-shifting information. A much-welcomed skill.]
Taking coaching off the table allowed me to then consider what best aligns with my family and with my desired growth trajectory. I don’t want to participate in the deep rut of the current system. It’s not good for my own life (I feel the tug toward “quick fix” just as strongly as anyone) and it’s physically painful to see women miss the point over and over again. Seriously – anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle tension, etc have all decreased substantially as I’ve released my grip on trying to force my methods into the current wellness climate.
Instead I’m returning to what I’ve always wanted to do but had stopped letting myself consider it (while in the SAHM-entrepreneur box). I’m in process for starting work on my PhD in Fall 2018.
Now we have reached present day.
I’m in the process of preparing my application for PhD programs in molecular biology** – studying for the GRE, refreshing my mind on the basics as well as exploring where research is at right now in my desired domain, making my list of schools to apply to, etc. And I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to step back in to this field after so many years away but, despite an increased amount of discomfort + uncertainty, staying focused on the goal has felt effortless in comparison to what I experienced trying to wedge my way into the wellness industry. It’s been 6 months of consistent growth + attention to what matters most to me.
[**If you know my motherhood story then you probably know that I had already finished applying to PhD programs when I found out I was pregnant. I received an invitation to interview at the U of M a mere two days after I took a positive pregnancy test.]
When I tell people about grad school their typical next question is what will I do with the kids…will we put them in school? And the answer is that we still intend to homeschool. Knowing that I am going to be dramatically increasing my load, I’m using these next 15 months or so to systematize our home life. Coming to grips with the brevity of my remaining time as a full-time SAHM has given me a new perspective on our current arrangement. I’m diving in deep to fully enjoy this waning season with my kids and working hard to prepare all of us for what is coming.
So then what is happening with alisanelson.co?
I mentioned above that trying to influence the current system from where I’m at right now doesn’t work. I also mentioned that I’m not immune to the siren call of quick fixes and ample empathy. So as I tune my ears to the sweeter song I intend to keep writing. About what? I will maintain this site on a more personal level. Documenting what we’re doing to prepare for the next season and providing insightful information to you as you seek to improve your own environment. My hope is that I can provide an example (not a step-by-step blueprint) to living intentionally in the direction of real accomplishment.
Namely, I expect there will be articles related to my various personal aims in the following sub-identities:
- wife + mom seeking to provide a good environment for my family as we learn, grow, work, and rest together.
- athlete seeking ways to push my body + mind for the goal of being as fit as I can within my current constraints (I subscribe to the Crossfit approach to defining “fitness”).
- aspiring homesteader cooking 90-95% of our meals at home (active on Pinterest but also making my own recipes as I experiment), developing my gardening skills, and always looking for ways to increase the quality of what we produce + consume.
- woman who has struggled with mental health issues since the 6th grade – I’m seeking to better understand my body + mind across scientific domains so I can cultivate habits that bring mental clarity, energy, self-awareness, emotional balance, etc.
These articles will be written for the purpose of consolidating my own understanding and passing along a more synthesized look at various topics. There will also be the more nitty-gritty posts about systematizing our home life – self care, nutrition, movement, homeschooling routines, etc. As per the above rant you can expect that my writing invites you to think critically about your own life and environment. I write so you can walk away actually being equipped to think about your problem effectively + take action…not so you can blindly copy what I did and not know what to do the next time you get stuck.
My previous few blog posts provide a taste of what I expect to produce. If you’d like to keep in touch, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be resurrecting it in the next few weeks (after my GRE test date) to provide reading lists and a more personal approach to helping you grow (I can’t help it…). That is also where I’ll be best available to answer questions or chat about your own aims.
If you don’t yet follow me on Instagram, I play around a lot with Stories to document our day to day life and sometimes talk about things that are on my mind.