On managing stress and minimizing burnout

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I’ve written about what I’ve learned about burnout from living in France on Prêt à Voyager, but I find that stress and burnout are two topics that come up repeatedly. And as much as I can warn friends and encourage them to slow down, it takes self awareness to know when to say STOP. The reality is that you can’t do your best work if you’re not at your best.

Here’s an incomplete list of things to consider when you start to feel stress and the pressure of life:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Social media is a façade, and rarely the full story. Talk to people in real life and then some more of the story starts to come out.

  • Stop trying to copy and paste the “formula” that works for someone else’s endeavors. Of course let yourself be inspired by what others are doing, but do the work to figure out your priorities and what you need to be doing and how you should be spending your time.

  • Do the (hard) work early on to save you time and stress later. Keep referring back to what you know.

  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. I empower you to be curious and learn something new.

  • Build time into your schedule for things to go wrong. Just because there’s a break in your calendar doesn’t mean you have to fill it.

  • Surround yourself with amazing friends who support you and cheer you on.

  • Make friends in the industry (or even outside) who you can be transparent with, honest about your struggles, and talk openly about business. It may take time to build these relationships, so put in the time before you need them. It’s not a competition—the more we support each other, the more we all win.

  • Know when you need to hit pause and step back.

  • Step away from your computer. Go for a walk. Read a book. Your brain needs time to percolate and process. If you’re feeling stuck, trying to “work harder” isn’t necessarily going to solve the problem.

  • Go for a long walk. Look for details. Let the world around you inspire you.

  • Get up from your desk. It’s not good for your body if you sit all day in front of your computer, which is not good for your health, which is not good for yours

  • Take a hot shower — I have great ideas come here. It’s also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Learn where your best ideas come. Mine come from walking, making connections in the metro, or swimming.

  • Listen to a podcast. There’s one on every subject. I listen better while I’m walking than sitting at my desk easily distracted.

  • Try something new: doodle, sketch, take a picture, pick up a coloring book, etc. Figure out what inspires you, not what the industry tells you to do.

  • Don’t do anything. We have a tendency to always to be doing something. Always listening to a podcast or music while we walk. Always watching something in the background. Make sure you schedule some time to just be.

  • Try meditating. I know so many people who this has helped. It keeps you grounded. And for the record, it’s supposed to be hard—hence we need it in our lives. Start with short meditations and make it a happen. (I’ve tried Headspace, and I also love the design of the app).

  • Start your day without your phone. (I wrote this post before even checking my email or social media). Once we start, it’s harder to pull away.

  • Attend (and prioritize) going to events or workshops that you know will inspire you. Make them a priority. If you’re making the excuse “I’m too busy” then that may be the perfect indicator you really should go. The right subject may even carve tons of time off that very thing you’re stuck on.

  • Go to the gym. Make it part of your routine. (I go 3x a week — typically a mix of low impact BodyBalance or aqua gym, a strength training, and a cardio dance class). Pick classes that work for you and make you excited to get up and go.

  • Hire a coach or creative consultant — sometimes we need an outsider to help push us through to the next level. It doesn’t show you’re weak, it shows that you’re willing to invest in yourself and grow in ways you may not even know yet.

Revisit this list whenever you feel the stress creeping in. Stop the burnout before it happens. Keep in mind stressful days are also a natural part of business and growth. Some stress is good—it means you’re taking risks and helping push yourself to the next level.


You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are some more resources that have inspired me recently:

Every week my newsletter explores some aspect of the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, where I share stories.

Are you a morning person? On habit and routine.

What does your day look like? When do you get things done? (Talking your own projects here.) Have you ever thought critically about how you organize and prioritize your time? Take a minute jot down your response before proceeding. I’m not saying what I do is the “right” way, but there may be some takeaways you can apply to your own life to improve your own workflow. I’ve definitely lived and learned the hard way.

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One thing is for sure: there's no typical day in my life. I like to keep things interesting and keep myself on my toes, I suppose. I tend to get bored and uninspired if I do too much of the same thing. As with my adventures in French bureaucracy, I like a good challenge. A good friend and I joke about how I’m such a freelancer, and she’s such an office person. Everyone has their own style Over time, it’s been about discovering how I thrive.

I’ve always rebelled a bit about having too much of a schedule or plan. Likely out of fear that it’d take away my creativity. Something I learned in grad school was that I enjoyed the freedom of being able to schedule my own time. I also was busy enough that I had to make sure things got done. The combination of grad school and living in Paris made me a night owl, something I’d never been before. But the work got done. So it’s been surprising to me more than anyone to see myself seeking out schedule and structure in my professional life like never before.

To kick things off, let me remind you when I started out, I really had no idea what I was doing. It’s actually only been in the past 6 months that I’ve really started to think more consciously about how I structure and use my time. 7 years into my business, everything remains a constant work in progress.

I used to love working late nights and would really hit my groove sometime between 10pm and midnight, and would often go to 2am. Funny for a girl who was in bed by 10:30pm and up at 5:50am all through university! I didn't mind my night owl tendencies and got stuff done, but I also became the queen of snoozing. Again, not a problem as life in Paris tends to start a bit later, but it never made me feel great about kicking off my day. It was a bit of an internal battle, and I've always been one to hold self-inflicted guilt. In short: it was not the best start to my day and most of my day felt like an uphill battle trying to overcome the slow start.

A NEW ROUTINE

These days I've been working on creating more structure for business/life. Despite more lessons learned and experience under my belt, I find I need to build in even more “recovery” time. Work takes brain power. But one little tweak to my day, has completely changed how I work, and how I feel about my days.

Inspired by something I learned at a Deep Writing workshop this past spring, I've started a morning routine. My alarm goes off at 7:10am—early for me, but not by most standards. I get out of bed, make a tea, take my vitamins, and head straight to my desk (or sometimes couch) with my computer. I’m in my PJs as I write this post, but in doing so, I’ve minimized my distractions in getting here and making this post happen.

Don’t get me wrong, this shift wasn’t easy. It took a lot of internal re-wiring to break through my years of less than ideal habits. Ahem, snoozing. (Which is something I can look forward to on weekends still).

FIND TIME OR MAKE TIME?

There are a few things that are making my morning sessions a bit easier:

1) I'm super jazzed that I'm working on my own projects. After ~5 years of putting my work on the sidelines while clients got priority and most of my energy, I have renewed focus. Knowing I’m using this time to feed my own practice for once feels good.

2) As much as I rebelled against having structure for so long (the perk of doing my own thing), I realized that structure is a way for me to be better at what I'm doing, and want to be doing.

3) This simple habit of getting up and going straight to work means I'm making a lot more progress. It's not that everything I write is earth shatteringly brilliant. But it does mean that every little bit adds up.

4) It means that by 8am I'm already feeling jazzed about my day. The rest of the day can be complete crap, and I can feel like I accomplished something already.

People often ask me if I do “morning pages” inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s a morning practice where you journal a few pages every morning, sometimes with prompts, other times more stream of conscious. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my bookshelf to read). In a workshop I participated in, it was pointed out that my time would be spent working on actual work. When you write every day, you’ll get to your end goal much faster. Instead, I work on a different post each day.

Reminder; Do what works for YOU! You never know until you try.

I was most definitely skeptical about this idea of a morning practice, but it was a comment from a fellow workshop participant that really made it sink in. She was older than me and had participated in the workshop in previous years. She addressed the group and said, “Look, I'm not a morning person. I rebelled against this for so long. But it totally changed my life." I happened to be sitting next to her, and figured I’d at least give it a shot.

In perfectly published end results we see online we don’t always see the RESISTANCE along the way. But we ALL experience it. The simple acknowledgement that it's not easy, and she too was skeptical, was what I needed to hear. Trying it was also a refreshing change of pace from the guilt and annoyance at myself for putting things off and not getting anything done.

Even with this new goal, the new habit didn’t stick for long. My summer got crazy, and I lost the good habit I had created. As I was transitioning out of a long term client project back towards nurturing my own practice, I knew I would need those good habits to carry me through. Fast forward, and five days a week I consistently wake up early to write.

In the process I came up with a pretty obvious—yet not so obvious when it’s right in front of us—realization that my morning practice was only truly effective on days where I got enough sleep. For years I could get away with 6 hours of sleep, the more I read, I’ve come to realise 8 hours is right for me. It’s still hard for me to get into bed before midnight, but I’m happiest when I get in bed closer to 10pm and can curl up with my book.

It’s always helped that I have horrible phone reception in my bedroom, so looking at my phone in bed hasn’t been a bad habit that I’m trying to break. But I have learned in the mornings, not to look at my phone. On my way to my living room I leave my phone on the kitchen table as I go to sit down and write. The more we eliminate distractions, the more we can get done.

It’s a lot of the little tweaks that make my writing more effective as I experiment. Most of the time when I sit down in the morning I never know exactly what I'm going to write. I do have a big list of ideas I can refer to if I need to. I think as a next step my goal is to be more intentional about making a plan for what I’m going to work on, even if I only decide the night before. Plans can always change, but it helps to have the intention.

For the month of November (NaNoWriMo) I’ve been extra ambitious and am working towards publishing one thing a day on one of my multiple channels. I definitely can’t keep this up for long term, but now, the bursts of having a challenge are keeping me on target and helping me further engrave good habits. As much as possible, I’m trying to ride the wave of feeling good about the state of where my business is going. I know if I break these habits, it’s going to be harder to get them back, and I’ll play mind games in the process.

I fully realize mornings aren’t for everyone, but for me, it’s been more helpful than I ever imagined. Being open to trying something new was more important than thinking I have all the answers. I still have my late night writing bursts, and love getting into the zone. But the thing is I no longer wait for the “perfect time” or for inspiration to strike, it’s about taking action and getting things done. The little tweaks to my day have had the biggest impact. And when you start your day off on the right foot, it feels pretty damn awesome!

Really, the secret to success is figuring out what works for YOU. I'm curious, what's a routine you've discovered that works for you? How do you work best? Have you ever thought about this before? Share your secrets in the comments below!

A few resources which helped me or I spotted:

  • BJ Fogg’s “tiny habits” free email training teaches you how to anchor things to existing behaviors to get things done (picked this up in my UX studies). (I now make sure I always do my dishes before I go to bed so I don’t have any distractions in the morning when I make my tea before I sit down and write.)

  • The book Designing Your Life (which I wrote about here) includes an exercise for mapping how energy changes throughout a day or week. From there you can consider how you can remove or rearrange elements to create a space where you thrive.

  • Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is all about the resistance we face every day as creators from procrastination to self-doubt, or self-sabotage.

  • The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna is a pep talk for anyone who’s chosen “should” for far too long.

  • Deep Writing Workshop with Eric Maisel is the workshop I participated in that planted the seed about creating a distraction free morning practice. I did the in person one, but Eric offers an online version too. He also is a prolific author with books to help drive creativity forward.

Have you signed up for my newsletter yet? Every week it explores some aspect of the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, where I share stories.

The 5 unlikely things that helped my business the most

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Everyone wants to know the secret to success, but success doesn’t look the same to everyone, and every business is different in terms of what it needs. Having been in the “game” of this since 2011, I thought I’d share the 5 unlikely things that had the biggest impact on my business.

  1. Work less, not more.
    As a society we’re indoctrinated that we have to work all the time to be the best at what we do. Early on I learned the lesson that too much work led to self-inflicted health problems that definitely didn’t do anything to help my business. Over time I’ve learned to make sure to build in plenty of down time into my schedule (although it’s still never quite enough) in order to process information and let my ideas percolate. As I do this I’ve become more laser focused on the kind of work I want to be producing and taking on.
    Tip: Just because you have a free slot on your calendar doesn’t mean you have to fill every minute. Don’t overbook yourself because inevitably new opportunities or unexpected curveballs will come up.

  2. Step away from the computer.
    I know it seems counter intuitive to unplug when you need to get things done, but I find it makes the time I am in front of my computer far more productive. I’ve learned that my best ideas rarely happen in front of the computer, but rather while I’m out walking, making connections in the metro, or swimming. I’m all about having a paper notebook nearby, and my favorite marker pens. I joined the gym less to get in shape, and more for my mental health and to make sure I move my body and don’t sit at a desk all day. In offering tours I’ve also managed to find a way to get paid to step away from my computer, and to connect with people.
    Tip: Consider what you know you need to do in order to produce your best work. Moving forward this may also involve thinking about alternative ways to monetize your work. Passive income is ideal, or just something where you don’t need to be connected 24/7..

  3. Talk to strangers.
    Every year I pick a word or theme of my year. This year is “talk to strangers”. It’s a good reminder that we all need to get out of our bubbles and there’s a world out there to learn from. Networking was always exhausting for the introvert in me, and the whole idea of it kind of made my skin crawl. But then I started to think of networking as making friends. I set a goal to talk to one new person at every event I go to. It doesn’t have to be an earth shattering conversation, but I’m there to help push myself out of my comfort zone and to listen to them and be open to learning something new. Inevitably in every interaction I have these days I learn something I can apply to some aspect of my business. I don’t directly ask them for help or to work together, I just listen—really, listen.
    Tip: Sometimes putting yourself out there means going to an event alone so you don’t get stuck only chatting with your friends. Don’t not do something because you can’t find anyone else to do it with you. I’ve found doing something that scares you is one of the best ways to grow.

  4. Listen to podcasts.
    Podcasts have become an integral part of my business education. I like to think of them as eavesdropping on awesome conversations. Anytime I hear something discussed that piques my interest, I’ll just down a note and look it up later. I often buy the books of the guests (or hosts) which further sends me down the rabbit hole of discovery. Because sometimes you just need to know something, or someone exists, in order to be inspired. When it comes to pods, I’ve learned that the best way for me to take podcasts in is to listen while I walk. If I listen at my desk or at home, I’m more likely to tune out and get distracted doing something else.
    Tip: Start with what interests you. Here are some of my favorites which I regularly update.

  5. Invest in learning.
    Whenever I find an awesome conference or workshop I often share it with friends or my network. 99% of the time people respond saying it’s too expensive or they don’t have the time. For me, these kinds of events are a no brainer. As soon as I started prioritizing my time—and money into learning and investing in myself, everything in my business started going so much better. It helps that I can business expense things to justify the expense, but even if I couldn’t I’d be asking for these experiences as gifts for Christmas or my birthday. The ones I’m most attracted are not the most expensive offerings in the world. They’re the best investments for me. Some may be online workshops, others are the perfect excuse for me to travel and get out of town—a double dose of inspiration. I still love learning from free webinars and talks that have been recorded and posted online, but there’s something about going somewhere to be in the same place that really makes it sink in.
    Tip: Don’t be afraid to branch out beyond your immediate industry to learn something new. I always consider learning something new and figuring out how to apply it in new ways as a great super power. For me, I’ve learned everything from graphic design for film to screenwriting. In 2017 I went a bit crazy learning new things.

Ok, it’s your turn! What’s your secret sauce to success? What have you learned about business or the way you work that has surprised you or you wish you had thought of sooner? I love learning from fellow creatives, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

photo credit: Ashley Ludaescher

You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, or sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship.

So you want to get into UX...

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My favorite definition of UX design is that it’s the science of the obvious (something I spotted Jared Spool quoted saying on Twitter). The irony of this definition is that UX, or user experience, is often so obvious that people completely ignore it, or feel that it’s not important at all.

Have you ever gone to open a door, there’s a handle where it looks like you should pull it, but really you have to push it? These doors that don’t open how the design of them suggests are referred to as “Norman doors” after Don Norman, the “father of UX design.” Don Norman’s foundational book, The Design of Everyday Things is considered the bible of all things UX. It also breaks down the principles that inform good experiences.

The first step to designing effective experiences is actually taking the time to talk to users, observe them, and deeply understand who you’re designing for. Otherwise, you’re designing for people based entirely off of assumptions. Research should not only happen at the beginning of a project, but throughout the process. Many companies claim to not have the time or budget for user research. But if you’re designing something that no one will use, the real question is how can you afford not to do research!? In the words of Jakob Nielsen, “you are not the user”.

When we talk about research in UX we’re not talking about rigorous academic research, we’re talking about gaining insights about the people you’re designing for in order to make informed design decisions. Erika Hall has a fantastic book called Just Enough Research. (You can also start with her devil or princess video on YouTube.) Steve Portigal also writes about conducting user interviews and distilling insights. (He shares user research war stories in this InVision design talk).

Usability testing is another fantastic, easy way to understand the way a user interacts with a product by giving them a task, and asking them to speak aloud as they go through the actions. (Spoiler alert: what you expect them to do isn’t always the reality.). Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think is a great resource for usability testing, and he even shares his scripts and resources online. “Guerrilla testing” is another approach to learn a lot about how a user is making their way through a flow or experience when you don’t have a lot of time or budget. Usability testing is a good way to confirm or deny that what you’ve designed is working as intended.

There’s so much more to informed UX design, from understanding the psychology, habits, and behaviors of users, to interpreting metrics and analytics, or having a content strategy that puts the user first. (Here are a few more definitions of what is UX.)

The most exciting thing about the field of UX is that it’s always evolving, and companies tend to be open about sharing their learnings. It means that a whole, the industry gets stronger and we can all learn from each other. Here are some of my favorite resources to help you get started (or provide some refreshers).


Don’t miss resources:

Favorite UX voices on Twitter:

UX podcasts:

If you’re seriously looking into getting into UX, check out the UX Designer path and courses I created on OpenClassrooms. When you sign up for the diploma path, not only are there 10 real-world inspired projects to work through, but you get weekly mentor sessions to accompany you along the way.

For the record, the books in the top photo are (most of) the books I read as I created my UX courses. 🤓

Sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. You can also find me online at pret-a-voyager.com and on social media at @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram.

Blog as a business card

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Yes!

Ok, that’s the short answer to “Should I blog?”. The next question is: What do you have to lose?

Answer: Nothing. Instead you’ll be able to:

  1. Explore ideas that interest you.

  2. Get known for certain topics or expertise.

  3. Have a testing ground for different ideas.

  4. Create a community for like minded people.

  5. Give people a portal to discover you. And maybe even hire you!

  6. Build a support group of people you can turn to when you have questions.

Ok, the list goes on and on and on…

By this point you’re probably thinking, “but I don’t have time.”

My question(s) for you: Why not make time? What are your priorities? What are you doing now vs. what do you want to be doing?

I know you’re thinking, “But who will actually read what I write?”

My answer? Who cares! You won’t know until you try. But first you have to start.

Ask yourself these questions along the way:

  • Is this something I’m actually enjoying? (If not, try a different approach. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Work doesn’t always have to feel like work. It can be fun and satisfying too.)

  • Am I creating content in a particular way just because everyone else is? (Reminder: there’s no rule book to social media and blogging. Besides, rules are meant to be broken!)

  • What content can I create that can help others / answer questions I get asked all the time / that will save me time in the long run / that will help me get to where I want to be?

“But traffic and numbers” you say!

Bah, I say. Don’t listen to the gurus and marketing “experts”. Times are changing and their end goals are not the same end goals as yours. What are you goals by the way?

”Ok, ok. But I want to write about X, but then that means I also have to write about X, Z, and P too".”

Says WHO!?!

In fact, I’d argue that niche blogs are some of the most interesting. Because they’re not trying to do everything, they do what they do better. You know what you’re going to get, but still there’s room for surprises. In fact, we can learn a lot from niche blogs to help create our own focus. For instance, for Prêt à Voyager, here are my unofficial guidelines I created that help determine what kind of posts I should share:

  • Encourages travel from different perspectives

  • Shares a unique experience, or a different view of Paris (not cliché)

  • Celebrates an interesting travel or design related projects with a compelling story worth sharing

  • Highlights creatives and people doing “interesting” things (not mainstream)

  • Connect the dots between ideas

Some posts may fulfil a few of these guidelines, but others may just be one. If it’s outside of these guidelines, it’s most likely not the right fit, or I need to rethink the spin. Or maybe I post it on my Medium channel, or business blog, or make it a long caption on Instagram. Anyway, it’s my list, and my blog, so I can do what I want. I can also update, refine, and revise as needed. We’re not carving anything in stone these days. It’s the internet. It’s editable. It’s also natural that, like any project, it will evolve over time. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather evolve over time than feeling stuck doing one thing.

When you break it down, my blog is ultimately about a lot of different things. It’s also very me. Not all blogs have to have the person injected into them, but personally, it’s what I’m most drawn to. I always want to know the story of the person behind what I’m reading or seeing. I find it enhances it. We may live in a bubble that makes it feel like everyone knows everything we know, but that’s not the case. And there’s a much wider world beyond our bubble.

Which brings us to your next concern, “But there are so many bloggers already writing about [ ______]”.

Let’s fill in the blank with Paris. OMG, there are SO MANY Paris bloggers. But also they all have their own twist and their own story. My blog isn’t designed to appeal to every kind of person coming to Paris. I’m creating content that I hope will appeal to “my kind of traveler.” For me, that’s no one particular archetype, but rather, a particular way of seeing. After all my mantra is “travel is not about where you go, but how you see the world.” That phrase alone also serves as a guiding force for what I write about.

Before you can butt in getting too into your head, let’s examine some other benefits of blogging in the form of awesome opportunities. Thanks to my blog, I’ve gotten to:

  • Make an awesome Paris Small Shops map with Herb Lester, a really cool independent business in London making awesome products.

  • Fly down to Nice x2 to work on a project at La Pichoune (aka Julia Child’s house)!

  • Give a storytelling workshop to a big room of Louis Vuitton employees. (I’m definitely not luxury but they specifically hired me for my “travel” side! I know. I was just as shocked as you, but we loved working together.)

  • Travel to Copenhagen where I got to meet some of the most fun bloggers who are dear friends to this day.

  • Visit Puglia and Williamsburg on exciting press trips (that valued bloggers).

  • Speak at conferences (The Hive and Blogtacular).

  • Consult with rad independent creative types and some of my favorite companies who do work I love and respect.

  • Feature tons of people on my blog who have not only gone on to do awesome things, but many of them I consider friends! We’re all also each other’s cheerleaders and unofficial business coaches.

And this is just the short list! I didn’t set out to do any of this. It just happened. I was open to opportunity. I was patient along the way. But now I’m in a position where if I want to pitch ideas, I’m legit. I’ve always said my blog is my best business card.

Compared to your blog that doesn’t exist yet or you haven’t posted on for two years, yes I have a bigger following than you, but in the grand scheme of the internet, my blog is peanuts. But still, all this awesome stuff happened.

Want to know why it happened? It wasn’t because I said, “I want to get invited on cool trips, so I’m going to create posts about travel.” It was because I created content I wanted to write, that I believed in, and that I thought may interest or inspire others. There was no other ulterior motive. I stuck to my guns, and it paid off. But let’s remember it didn’t happen over night. It takes time. You have to plant seeds now, that will pay off later. You also need to tend to these seeds and nurture them over time.

So that example I gave in the beginning of the last paragraph was actually a fake out. Getting invited on press trips was fun for awhile, but the reality is often I was not paid, missed a couple days of work (where I could get paid), and lose even more time (often days) having to create the content to post online. Just because something looks amazing on the outside, remember there’s often a flip side. Here’s a little secret: what you see on the internet doesn’t tell you the full story or the reality behind what you see.

I went quiet on my blog for a few years — I focused my energy and time into work that paid my bills and kept a roof over my head. That’s fine. Priorities change. I’m only now realizing that my blog also can be a driver to my business – attracting those dream clients, whether it’s for tours, consulting, or something I don’t know that’s out there just yet. Don’t get lost in someone else’s dream. Take the time to figure out what success looks like for you. It’s not always an easy answer.

Who cares about tons of traffic if that traffic is not “my people.” I’d rather connect with a smaller group than the masses anyway. I’m an introvert at the core after all.

I’ve always loved the mantra, “show, don’t tell.” That’s what your blog does — it shows people what you do best. Rather than saying “I know how to [x]” you literally are showing you know what’s up, while also going way further, sharing your ideas and perspective along the way. But it also shows something else beyond your skills. It highlights your work ethic. These posts didn’t just happen magically. It took time to think about them, write them, share them, and promote them. It may seem like common sense to many of us, but for so many people it’s not so obvious. And they may have budgets and want to hire you to do what you do. Yes, people may actually want to pay you one day. Just be sure they pay you in money, and not only exposure. Save exposure to help support fellow creative friends or organizations you believe in; not companies that don’t value your expertise or time.

But getting paid to do the kind of work you blog about may not be your end goal. You may just want to blog for fun or as a distraction from your day job (that’s how I started). You don’t have to have it all figured out when you start. Blogs can be great for exploration, trying new things, and putting it out into the world. You can discover what you enjoy, but also what resonates with others. And if you do want to get paid for your blog keep in mind that there are other ways to monetize other than ads and sponsored posts. For me, my blog is my “freemium” model, and I have my tours as my paid model. Either way. You’re going to have to build your base and audience before you can make you blog your full time gig. But that’s great, overnight success stories are over-rated, because this way it also you more time to test ideas and figure out what exactly you want to be doing and working towards. Maybe you’ll realize what you thought you wanted to do isn’t at all what you expected. Blogs seriously are the best testing ground. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather “fail early” than when I’m stuck and in to deep. (That’s the UX-er in me talking again! But that’s for another post…)

~ T I M E W A R P ~

Oh, so you started blogging [again]?!? That’s awesome! Just don’t forget to share it. You never know who may see the work you do. And there are so many people who would love to discover it, if only they knew you existed. . . Self-promotion can feel like a slog, but not if you enjoy what your doing. You can have fun with it. Have a reason to reach out to the people you admire. You’ve got your new “business card” to back you up. You won’t know what their response will be (or if they’ll respond at all), but at least you know you asked. Play it right and awesome things can happen. Break the “rules” that you’ve told yourself about “the way things are done”. Observe what your favorite creatives are doing and see what you can do to adapt them to your own style. Think about it as putting what you do out into the world and seeing what sticks. Have fun with it, because, why not!?!?!

Still feeling stuck? Check out Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work: 10 ways to share your work and get discovered. He also has a new one called Keep Going: a guide to staying creative in chaotic times.

So I know you thought I was writing this post for you, but the reality is that it’s also a pep talk for myself. We all lose our way at times, but now I’m coming back to what I know, but with a refreshed twist. I realized to truly be able to do some of the projects I want to do, I need my community and my people as support. But first, I need to keep sharing ideas and putting my work out into the world. I’m figuring it out and exploring new ideas as I go.

Success takes time. This is 11 years of work behind the scenes. Start now. It will help you later. You won’t know what’s possible until you start…


Ok, now it’s your turn. Where are you feeling stuck? What’s holding you back? Don’t be shy. Share them in the comments below.

You can also find me online at Pret-a-voyager.com and on social media at @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram (aka my “microblog”). Sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship where I’ll be exploring more ideas that may just become blog posts one day!





The 3 books that helped me and my business

One of my favorite litmus tests for whether you want to run a business is to ask yourself if you enjoy reading business books. I know it may sound silly, and running a business is definitely not like reading a book. It is, however, the common thread I see between all my friends who are small business owners. It’s not about the books so much as the desire to keep learning, growing, and getting better that are at the core of every successful business.

Back in 2011 when I started my business, all the tools, resources, and workshops that are available today weren’t as omnipresent, or as obvious. (They also tended to be dominated by white male guru style businesses which had no interest to me.).

While I didn’t read these three books until I’d been into my business for a few years, they were immensely helpful for me as I started working smarter and really thriving in my business. I thought I’d share them here as they’re books I find I’m recommending all the time.

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Designing Your Life: how to build a well-lived, joyful life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans was inspired by one of the most popular courses at Stanford University which uses design thinking principles and applies them to your own life. It was the perfect book for me when I was headed into a career pivot, but there are great exercises to help with making your day to day work more fulfilling as well.

For a taste, check out the NYTimes article ‘Want to Find Fulfilment at Last? Think Like a Designer’ or the NPR interview with the authors on the Diane Rehm Show, “Using Design Theory to Build a Better Life.” They also have a course on CreativeLive. (Note: UK book cover posted above.)

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Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit for less by Greg McKweon was a game changer for me and I commonly referred to it as my “bible” the year I read it. We live lives that are jammed packed and we feel the pressure to do everything these days, so much so that we don’t do anything to its full potential. One of my favorite diagrams in the book has two separate circles. The first resembles a sun with several lines of equal length coming out of the side. The second is the same circle with one long line with an arrow coming out of it to represent how you can put the same energy into one thing and ultimately go deeper and make a bigger impact. (I realize that my multitude of different kinds of projects is not necessarily the best representation of this principle in action, but you have to trust me, my mindset shifted.)

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Start With Why by Simon Sinek started as a TED talk. It gets at the core of what you’re doing, going deep into the “why” – the purpose, cause, or belief. “Because it’s a trend” or “to make money” is not a good “why” for establishing a business. As Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” Knowing why you’re doing something will also make being in business more rewarding for you, as well as helping with decision making. Start with the video (there’s even a 5 minute short cut), then read the book if you have time. He also has a course on Skillshare for how to share ideas that inspire.

Ok, given my comment above, I totally realize that I’m guilty of sharing three books by white men. I’m clearly a fan of these authors, but I also want to make this blog as inclusive as possible, bringing voices to those traditionally less vocal in this sphere. Never fear, that will be unfolding throughout my posts to come. And, as always, I invite you to share what you know or have discovered by leaving a comment on this post.

When it comes to business books, your local library is a good place to start. Curiosity for the win! Here are a few projects online which I wish I had starting out:

What are the books that shifted your mindset when working on your business or were just starting out? What kind of books do you wish existed? Don't be shy! Leave them in the comments below so others can learn from them too. I’ll add any resources that I think may help.

You can also find me online @pretavoyager on
Twitter and Instagram, or sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and the entrepreneurial spirit.



How it all started: the origin story of starting my business

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Some people always dream of running their own business. I was not one of them. I was one part naive and another part tenacious, and practical at the heart. I often get asked about how I got into doing what it is I do, so I thought I’d take the time to share the story as I start this new business blog.

It breaks down into three chapters: France, my blog, and necessity. In each chapter you can find what I like to call “creative constraints” that continue to inform so much of the work I do.


CHAPTER ONE: FRENCH TWIST

I had lived in Paris twice before. In 2001 I studied abroad, arriving two days before 9/11. It was a semester that continues to inform the work I do, as my classes would meet in my professors home before going to see the real deal (impressionism, gardens, photography) out in the world. It showed me that the city was my classroom. I also had a class that met in the Louvre every Wednesday evening, but I still didn’t manage to see it all.

In 2003-04 I returned to work as an English teaching assistant through the French cultural ministry. I worked in the suburbs of Paris, and what that year taught me was that I didn’t want to be a teacher (cue: irony for future)—at least not in that capacity. Working twelve hours a week with two weeks of vacation every six weeks meant that I didn’t make a lot of money that year, but I did appreciate the importance of vacation, holidays, and breaks. It was a start contrast to the 10 vacation days a year I received in the U.S. (the French still think this is crazy when I tell them!).

Drawn to Paris, I was looking for jobs, unaware of how hard it is for someone who is not an EU citizen, or high level employee. Luckily for me, the home page of The American University of Paris (where I was looking for jobs) had a feature for their Masters in Global Communications. I read the description, and say myself in it, and it read like a perfect fit. (As an aside AUP would never considered me—or anyone—without working papers for a job, so it was good that the program had my name on it.)

My Masters in Paris allowed a few things to happen:

  • Got me back to France. (I never came with the intention of staying forever.)

  • Re-wired my priorities. For my program I had the option between a thesis or internship. I came with the later in mind. Later I realized that internships in France pay ~500€ month (even when you're in your 30s) and now that I was completing my 2nd Masters I felt like I owed it to myself to be open to the option (and the challenge) of writing a thesis. For me, it was ultimately the more rewarding track. I never saw that coming.

  • Going back to school gave me a reason to pull my main interests back into focus (anthropology, travel, and the work I was exploring through my blog). I angled my projects towards my interests, and I would do so even more if I were to go back today. One of my projects in my branding course was to rebrand my blog.

  • Made me realize I really enjoyed the freedom of being a student and setting my own hours, and take advantage of different opportunities.

Context: I already had 5 years of professional experience under my belt, and this was my 2nd Masters degree (ironic, given I never even planned to get one!). I also only took loans to pay for tuition. My cost of living was covered by various freelance work (namely my work as a contributing editor for Design*Sponge). I also lived in the smallest apartment ever to ensure I still had money to travel, and do other things in life.

Challenges: When you move to Paris EVERYONE comes to visit. Visitors are awesome, but also exhausting. They tend to be in "we're on vacation, let's splurge mode". Which is stressful when you're a poor student and live on a 100€/week cash diet. But those 40 friends + family that came that first year would help inspire future offerings...

Lesson: Be open to what scares you, even if it's not the intention you came into the project with.

CHAPTER TWO: THE BLOG AS BIZ CARD

I remember the first time I learned about blogs. It was after a softball game for the architecture firm I worked for played. One of my colleague’s wives mentioned the word “blog” when we were walking to the car. She told me to check out one called Design*Sponge, and another called Print & Pattern. Not loving the day to day of my job and always being behind a desk, I constantly found myself refreshing these sites looking for the latest update. While it seems so normal these days, it was the most amazing thing back in the day.

I started my blog on Bastille Day 2007 as a way to explore the intersection of travel and design (and a side of Paris). Coming up with the name was the hardest, but I settled on Prêt à Voyager. Translation: ready to travel. The more I explored ideas, projects, and things that interested me, I can see in hindsight how I was planting seeds for myself to get back to Paris.

My blog allowed me to:

  • Connect with people out side my immediate bubble. Not only was I able to celebrate different creatives around the world, I've connected with many readers over the years as well.

  • Develop good habits for writing. (In the beginning I was blogging daily. Granted blogs were very different and less time intensive than they are today.)

  • Grow a following of people who were familiar with the work I do, and way I see the world.

  • Build an archive and reference library to remind me what inspires me.

Context: Blogs were new and imperfect when I started my blog. I was drawn to the community that surrounded them. Everything wasn’t perfect, and “influencers” didn’t exist. Blogs were penned by authors and you felt like you knew them, and their voice. At the time you really felt like you were getting a taste of them and their style. Over time advertising joined the ranks and banner ads, but still blogs felt genuine and inspiring. The design and layout of them was much simpler too.

Challenge: It ironically was easier for me to blog daily when I had the structure of a full time job. As a student, with more freedom, I found it more challenging to get to it. Perhaps too there were more topics that I could write about, which added an underlying sense of overwhelm.

My own struggle was finding my voice and not wanting to feel like I was copying what other people were doing. Over time, more people were writing about travel, and making mini guides. I felt like I was copying if I was doing one too, not fully realizing that we all put our own spin on things. Eventually Instagram took over. It became my microblog. But I still wish I had [blog] posts I could refer back to. I stopped doing what I was doing due to lack of time, but also feeling like I couldn’t compete, and was such a small voice in a big sea. (The irony is now, years later, people will tell me how helpful my blog was for them on their journey, but I had no idea at the time!)

Lesson: You never know who is reading (same is true for social media). What you do now can pay off 5 years from now. It's about planting seeds for the kind of work you want to get known for. On multiple occasions my blog has been the reason I've been hired for jobs (like really awesome opportunities!). Despite what the headlines and click bait around us may say, it's not about huge traffic, or growing your audience to 100k followers. To this day, my blog is my best business card.

CHAPTER THREE: DIVE INTO BUSINESS

When it came to actually starting my business, it helped that I already had a handful of professional experience under my belt. I also had been writing for Design*Sponge for several years at this point. I had the [graphic] design skills before I moved to France, and built my communication skills while in school. By the end of my studies several small businesses in Paris had reached out to me about doing some small projects for them. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about what was after school (I wish I had a mentor at that time). Fortunately, I had a good head on my shoulders, and enough naivety to think I was going to be a freelancer in France.

Working in France has it’s own constraints. In the simplest form, everyone doing contract work must have a freelancer’s number (SIRET) in order to work. All French workers have a “status” as well. My initial freelance status allowed me to work (except for full time positions), but the real hell came from the fact thatI had to renew my paperwork every three months to keep my residency. That’s a whole other story (which is touched on here and here).

In addition to navigating French bureaucracy, I also had to learn how to run a business, create proposals, invoice clients, manage accounting, and pay taxes. These are what I like to call #thingsiwishilearnedinschool.

Despite the uphill battle, diving into business allowed me to:

  • Try out a bunch of different projects and see what energized me, and what drained me.

  • Realize that my initial business idea (helping expats moving to France) was in fact the worst fit ever for me. (I'm a huge proponent of "prototyping" and testing ideas. I tried it out and came to the conclusion I’m of much better use by writing funny stories about bureaucracy.)

  • Come to the conclusion that my best work was not coming from hiding behind a computer all day. In my adventures visiting all the swimming pools of Paris, I also realized that many of my best ideas came underwater.

  • Look for untraditional ways of monetizing my work. I started offering tours after the CEO of Vayable reached out to me. The timing was perfect because as a blogger people came to expect things for free. My blog became my free model, and tours a paid model. (I now only offer them through my own NavigateParis.com platform.). To this day about 1/3 come from my online presence, 1/3 from word of mouth, and 1/3 random searches. Similarly, someone from Skillshare reached out to me after I started following many of their team members on Twitter to do a "travel" course. My first course was on "map making". It was what paid all my bills my first years in business, and to this day 5+ years later, I'm still making money from that work.

Context: 5 years of professional experience, my blog, and having lived in France multiple times (three) made it "easier" to make the leap. I was already known as a graphic designer amongst expat circles, and word of mouth spread.

Challenge: Over time I came to realize that just because I was "good" at something it didn't mean it's what I wanted to do. Early in my career I was very reactive, rather than pro-active accepting anything that came my way. I also burned myself taking on lots of little projects to make ends meet. As exhausting as this was, it was a good way to test the waters and make see what really fit with me. Sometimes you just have to do the work, and pay the bills.

Lesson: Creative constraints make you stronger. Getting creative makes you think differently about your approach. Ultimately, this lead to more rewarding work for me. It's also important to consider what "work" is and alternative ways to earn income.

During this time I also had several friends who were also running their own business. It helped that I had French friends who were also freelancers, so it was a good model for me to see. With my expat friends (many who I had met at a blogging conference), we’d hop on Skype calls for hours in sessions that we’d dub “freelance therapy”. It helps to have someone to vent to about clients, or debate about which direction to take. When it’s someone at a similar phase in business as you, it’s less intimidating to ask questions of each other. You have a mutual trust.


So what’s next? I'm no longer considering myself a freelancer, but a small business owner. I'm being more intentional about the work and projects I take on. I've been working hard on my mission, manifesto, and values that drive my business. I'm not sure that I could have done this seven years ago. Looking back on all my experiences, I’m glad I had them, and they were good for learning. Every step of the journey I feel like I’ve grown, which is half the battle.

I recently met a designer who I connected with on LinkedIn. When I asked her what kind of work she takes on, she said “I don’t care what I do, as long as I’m learning.” I loved that response. It’s the work that scares and challenges you where you grow the most.

So that's my backstory of how I started my business that I never expected to have. There are many more stories to come, which I hope to share on this blog to help people out at various stages of their business. I always am inspired hearing and learning from the stories of others, so I hope my story can help some of you too!

This website needs a major overhaul and update, but rather than waiting until it’s perfect, I wanted to start sharing more of my writing now. When you wait until things are perfect it a) always takes longer than you think or b) may never happen. You can read this post for more on the different kinds of projects I’m working on today.

photo credit: Ashley Ludaescher

What other questions/comments do you have? Don't be shy! I want my experience to be able to help others. Leave them in the comments below so others can learn from them too.

You can also find me online @pretavoyager on
Twitter and Instagram, or sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and the entrepreneurial spirit.