Most of the challenges we face in life are uninvited. Some, like an employment layoff or death of a loved one, slap us hard in the face. But we can CHOOSE challenges that will stretch us in the direction of our better, happier selves, and help us to reach our goals. And we can create such challenges for ourselves, our friends and our larger communities.
I made this choice recently. I decided to take part in Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge. Robert is an editor with Writer’s Digest, and he challenged participants to build, not a deck or patio, but a social media platform, an online presence composed of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Red Room, Pinterest… Each day for 30 days, we had a new assignment from Robert, who is affectionately known by participants as “Not-Bob” after his blog title “My Name Is Not Bob.”
The benefits of this Challenge for me, as it turns out, went far beyond the building of a social media presence. Here’s how this experience has enhanced my life:
1. Provided a step-by-step structure.
Goals can feel monolithic. I’d read a half-ton of articles and e-books, attended many hours worth of teleseminars, on building a social media presence. There was so much to learn and do…so I did very little of it. But every day in April, Not-Bob presented me with the next step in building my platform. Every day, he said, “do this.” I did it, and brick by brick, that virtual patio took shape. I went from having essentially no “views” for my blog, to having over 500 in April – 144 on one day. These are very modest numbers by some standards, but still a huge improvement for me. And by the end of the Challenge I’d learned of other ways to increase my “SEO.”
2. Created a future plan to solidify the new, good habits.
One of our assignments was to try out tools that would help us switch quickly between various social media and thus shorten the time we needed to spend on this per day – I chose Hootsuite. Another assignment required that we plan long-term “editorial calendars” for our blogs – mine is now planned through the end of August! One of the last assignments was to give ourselves assignments for each workday in May. But we Challengers also went beyond the assignments to create our own, private Facebook group, where many of us decided to list our plans for each week in April, and our accomplishments at the end of each week.
3. Immersed me in a nurturing community.
Quite honestly, I’m a very introverted “do-it-myself” type of person. I love working in my own space, all alone, setting my own rules and making my own decisions. I don’t get lonely – my head is too full, my dogs are at my feet, my husband is home in the evenings, there are some evenings with friends or my kids, long-distance friends and clients I chat with by phone or on-line…who needs work-buddies? Mostly, I don’t.
But I discovered through this challenge that the encouragement and support we as Platform Challengers have supplied for one another, not to mention the tidbits of information and advice, are indispensable. We have the common bond of our passion for writing, since most people joined the Challenge in order to build a platform that could promote their literary works. And we all have a passion for books.
When I say that this community has been nurturing, I mean truly nurturing – not pushy. We were all free to complete the assignments, or not. There were people who were so averse to one medium or another that they would decide to not join Facebook, or not to Tweet. And that was okay. As my Mom might say, it was no skin off of anyone else’s butt. One Challenger whose encouragement has been very gratifying to me has not been part of the Facebook group where much of the community congregates, but we connected through Google+ and our blogs. Some people weren’t able to finish the Challenge by April 30, and that’s okay, too. We are all standing at the sidelines, cheering them on to the finish.
Besides sharing our goals for the week, we created a document listing everyone’s blogs, so that we could read each others’ on-line work. I’ve discovered some favorite new poets this way – a special shout-out to De at http://whimsygizmo.wordpress.com/. Another document lists our “author” pages on Facebook, and still another lists participants who’d like to have other Challengers “guest blog” for them. Under Not-Bob’s tutelage, we began having Tweet-chats as a group. We formed a private Goodreads book discussion group, just for our community of Platform Challengers, so that we can chat about books that are helpful for writers. (First on our list: Stephen King’s On Writing.)
Evenings now will often find me absorbed in Facebook chats with Lori in Hawaii, Linda in L.A., Monique in Pennsylvania… Monique once lived in my town; she plans a visit with old friends here next year, and I’m excited about the new-friends visit we have planned. My world has been expanded through these friendships.
A mutual challenge, formal or otherwise, I’ve realized, can create strong bonds.
4. Pushed me warp-speed into clarifying who I am and working on new goals.
I began this Challenge as a career coach, with the intention of creating a social media platform that could expand my practice. I love being around writers, so I knew that this would give me that opportunity, and maybe I could begin wandering s-l-o-w-l-y in the direction of my life-long dream of becoming a writer.
But as I watched my fellow Platform Challengers work through their to-do lists, I began adding to mine. Lori was doing several April Challenges, while recovering from an injury, and seemed to be on-line almost 24-7. Monique is battling MS. Other Challengers are parents of small children, working full-time jobs; they come home in the evenings to make dinner, help with homework, complete other chores, work on their novels or poetry – and complete Platform Challenge assignments on top of everything else. My awe at their perseverance spurred me to challenge myself further.
I began to add work on my abandoned novel, research for one non-fiction book and development of interview questions for another – all projects I’d planned to begin working on “someday” – to my weekly schedule. I downloaded Scrivenor, novel-writing software, and worked my way through the tutorial. And on April 30, I made the split-second decision to begin a Story-A-Day Challenge for the month of May.
Though the business cards I had printed last fall read “Career Coach/Writer,” that was future planning. I didn’t see myself as a writer – after all, other than some articles that were written as part of the day’s work at my old day job, I wasn’t being paid to write. I’d hoped to crawl toward this title, and since I was having a lot of business cards printed, I figured I’d better include this just in case an opportunity came up in the next couple of years. But I began to see myself differently on the day that a fellow Challenger made the comment, regarding one of my blog posts, that this was the best post she’d read in a long time! I decided to salvage a blog I’d started years ago and abandoned almost immediately because I didn’t know what I was doing; I’ll used it to post blogs related to my passion for books and word-smithing. Other Challengers encouraged me to create a Facebook author page (on my to-do list) and to name myself “writer.” Which I have done – more confidently, this time. (And yes, I’m still coaching).
5. My blog was nominated for an award!
Three of my fellow Platform Challengers, Linda Hatton (http://whatnotshop.blogspot.com), Michelle Reynoso (http://www.michellereynoso.blogspot.com/), and Kristi Carver (http://kristicarver.blogspot.com/) have deeply honored me by nominating my blog for the Liebster Award! This award is for bloggers who have fewer than 200 subscribers, and one of the responsibilities for award recipients is to nominate five bloggers to receive it, for each nomination one has received – which I am very happy to do. Since I received three nominations, I get to choose fifteen blogs for the award. There will be a drum-roll near the end of this post, with my list of nominees to follow!
Now, How About You?
I can’t guarantee that by participating in a Challenge you will win an award or sculpt a new persona. As a matter of fact, I can’t guarantee that you’ll achieve any of the results I did. A lot depends on what you put into the Challenge, and who you are inside. If there’s a writer or artist or musician or fitness-and-nutrition expert waiting to be released, and the Challenge in some way calls to that part of you, and you work hard to fulfill the Challenge assignments…you might just find the new you, warp speed.
Some options for you:
You can join an existing Challenge.
There are plenty on-line for writers. A small sampling of these:
Besides the April Platform Challenge, Not-Bob creates and facilitates an annual PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge every April, and writes poems right alongside his participants. I’m planning to join in on that one next year.
April is National Poetry Month, so at least one other poetry Challenge that I’m aware of exists: NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month).
There’s the SAD (Story-A-Day) Challenge I’m participating in right now.
November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which requires beginning and finishing a novel in one month – my family will be chagrined to discover that I intend to get in on that one this fall…
Google and ye shall find, all of these and more!
Fitness challenges may be offered by local gyms and communities – local organizations partner to offer one in my town every summer. What kinds of Challenges would help you to achieve your goals? What issues in your life might benefit from a step-by-step plan? You can use Google to see if there’s an established Challenge that will meet your needs – or you can create your own.
Creating a Challenge
Gather a group of friends – either physically or on-line – who have the same goal, and decide on a timeline. You can design the Challenge so that there are assignments every day for a month, or for three months, or every week for a year. Decide on the parameters for the group. Will this be a “closed” group of friends, or will you open it up to the public via the internet? Put together the assignments (healthy ingredients to include in meals? new workout routines to try? writing a song a day?), and choose someone to broadcast them to the group via an email list, Facebook group page, or blog. Create a way to share your trials and successes, to encourage and support one another.
If creating and facilitating a Challenge – as well as participating in it, a la Not-Bob and PAD – seems too big a job, you can check out my JustVentures page and contact me for assistance with this.
Liebster Award Nominations
Ta da! Drum Roll please! And my nominees for the Liebster Award are… from the raw and open voice/wisdom of Shelley-Lynne Domingue and the perfect imagery of Khara House, to Patrick Walsh’s vivid prose-that-draws-me-in-regardless-of-the-subject matter…
Sarah Bartlett, Sarah’s Pages: http://sarah-w-bartlett.com/
Patrick J. Walsh, Media Intercept: http://mediaintercept.blogspot.com/
Claudine Jaboro-Giorio, Fiction, Family and Science: http://fictionfamilyandscience.blogspot.com/
Alvarado Frazier, Strong Women Grow Here, Writing Through the Hills and Valleys of Life: http://www.latinapen.blogspot.com/
Shelley-Lynne Domingue,The EY Page: Living an Inspired Life: http://eypage.blogspot.ca/
David Owen, David Owen Art Studio: http://davidowenartstudio.blogspot.com/
Khara House, Our Lost Jungle: http://www.ourlostjungle.blogspot.com/
Rachel Sahaidachny, P.S., I Write: http://www.rmswriter.blogspot.com/
Julia Tomiak, Diary of a Word Nerd: http://www.juliatomiak.blogspot.com/
Lynn Obermoeller, Present Letters: http://www.lynnobermoeller.blogspot.com/
Barbara Morrison, B. Morrison: http://www.bmorrison.com/
Janice Sheridan, Writing on the Sun: http://writingonthesun.wordpress.com/
Bruce and Mary Lou Dickson, Dickson Images: http://dicksonimages.com/blog
Mary Pfeiffer, Bite-Size Chunks: http://www.marypf.com/marypf/Blog/Blog.html
Linda, bluetruedream: http://www.thebluetruedream.blogspot.com/
So, here are the Liebster Blogger Award nominee responsibilities:
1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate five blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
3. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.
If you know of Challenges that might interest folks, or would like to see someone create a particular type of Challenge, please comment!