Being Best Self Keeley

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It occurred to me recently that during these long weekends spent sampling that my success (and survival) depend much more on being an excellent actress than they do on my sampling technique.

No matter how authentic basic sentiments sound at the beginning of the day (“Thank You”, “Have a Great Day”, “What do you think of the Vanilla Espresso?”) they often feel so hollow by the hundredth time they are said. I truly do mean “Thank You!” when a customer buys a jar – but I can’t feel it in my soul every time.

 When the authenticity starts to fade, I switch over to imitating Best Self Keeley – because acting like that self is ultimately so much more sustainable in the long term than being that self.

Best Self Keeley happily responds to every passing Shark Tank fan, each who asks urgently and excitedly how the show went for us, I can’t believe we missed that episode, we love that show, it’s our very favorite, what was it like to be on the show, which Shark did you make a deal with? They are interested in the company and super supportive. Best Self Keeley notices and appreciates this.

 As always when free food is being given out, there are crowds of well meaning shoppers (whose pantries are already over-stocked with nut butter). They try our samples, chit-chat with us and depart without a jar — though usually after offering their very best wishes for our success.

Each of these customers receives a departing smile from Best Self Keeley, as my inner self collects energy to talk to the next approaching customer — hoping for a sale this time so I can make a little tally on the “Jars Sold” board. (Best Self Keeley knows that a sale is not the only end-goal of a conversation).

Occasionally I’ll mix it up by doing my favorite impression (even better than Best Self Keeley): Best Self Erika.

Best Self Erika is ten times nicer and more gracious than Best Self Keeley. She greets people with a jaunty, “How’s it going?!”, and waits eagerly for the response before diving into making a sale. While I am playing Best Self Erika, I entertain myself with the challenge of how friendly I can be. Sometimes my “Erika” can out-friendly the real thing!

When described, this actress game can sound cold and inauthentic – but I promise you it’s not. My hours behind a sampling table being Best Self Keeley have taught me to tap into a stronger side of myself – “acting” authentic is the best way for me to give the best service to our customers.

Sampling has also made me a much more empathetic person day-to-day. I can relate so much more with the customer service personnel I interact with outside of Costco – from the gas station, to a grocery store, to a representative on a help desk phone call.

Instead of asking my grocery store clerk how they’re doing (“Great!” is probably pre-programmed answer) — I instead just tell them their hair looks great, or they’re doing a good job today. All these people, out in the world being their Best Selves. It’s so amazing, and it’s so hard. Costco is a reminder to be my best self, even (especially) when I am on the other side of the sampling table.

Allowing Myself to Focus

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned while trying to juggle multiple different jobs/pursuits at once, it’s that multi-tasking is way overrated.

My computer is both my friend and my enemy: It’s amazing that this little box sitting in front of me allows me to play music, browse blogs, make spreadsheets, answer emails, look at photos on Facebook and plan dinner for the night… all at once. But that ability to do all these functions can also very easily keep me from getting meaningful work done.

In fact, I am realizing that it’s not a sign of weakness to admit to myself that I do my best work when I have zero distractions.

When I have an approaching deadline breathing down my neck — month end financials for our bank, for example — I am frequently astonished at how quickly I am able to accomplish a large chunk of work. I sit with my mug of tea at my computer, maybe some music playing lightly in the background, with QuickBooks and Excel open, phone on silent.

This is a good indicator that I am capable of focus: When something needs to be done, I am able to shut out all distraction and internet temptation and really let my focus work for me.

The next step is to take this focus I apply to deadlined, clearly outlined tasks and put it into more self-directed creative endeavors. Right now I blog, photograph, and brainstorm in spare time or gaps in the afternoon after the initial, more pressing morning work has died down.

Unfortunately, usually by late afternoon/early evening I have “used up” my daily ration of strong focus. This often results in just dabbling around in a blog draft or editing a few photos before daydreaming about dinner commences.

I wonder what quality of work I would able to produce if I consciously set aside time and energy to hone in on my creative pursuits, too.

You Are Already There

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I have a terrible case of the “I-Can’t-Wait-Until”s.

I Can’t Wait Until… Erika and I aren’t doing all our own sampling.
I Can’t Wait Until… I never have to use Quickbooks again.
I Can’t Wait Until… I can ignore my phone for an entire weekend without company crisis.

I am a forward thinker, always have been. My early childhood journals consist of bullet-pointed lists (mostly of reasons why my parents should let me keep a horse in our backyard) and elaborate plans for college, career, and beyond.

Sure, thinking about the future so much can be totally motivational. It pushes me to improve my work and streamline the time I spend on unsavory or boring tasks and makes the work I do enjoy seem even better in comparison.

But, more often than not, this kind of thinking is toxic to my day to day happiness. It keeps me from feeling satisfied, even after I cross the milestones I set for myself with those endless “Can’t-Wait-Until”s.

You see, I’ve created this magical life in my mind. This is a life I will live, one day in the future, if I work a little harder and wait a little longer. In this future life, I have everything I want or need (ahem, horse in my backyard). I am challenged but not stressed. I am socially engaged but have time to myself. I am free to travel but have a strong sense of home. I am completely at ease and totally happy.

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But I’ve realized something lately. And what I have come to realize is not what you might think –  that this “perfect” life is mythical or impossible. No, in fact, the exact opposite –  this life I’ve created for myself in my mind is real, and it is actually totally, one hundred percent possible.

And what’s even more amazing than the mere existence of this place?

I am already there. 

I am already challenged, with a flexible schedule I create for myself. I already have wonderful friends and family. My company is growing constantly, and my life is always changing in unexpected ways. I travel frequently, and I live in a wonderful city. Day to day I do not experience excessive external stress. I wake up looking forward to what the day holds.

When I think about all of this, it actually boggles my mind. It is incredible! And yet, I lose sight of it all the time.

Don’t we all? It’s actually fairly ironic: When we are working towards these big, magical goals, when we are living our dreams, we get even more caught up in the day to day “What-Ifs” and “Can’t-Wait-Until”s. We miss the fact that we are living in this great place!

In the past I’ve used the “that’s-just-how-I-am” excuse: “Hey, I can’t help it! I’m future oriented! I am just meant to be unsatisfied a certain percentage of the time! It’s my instinct to hope for the next big thing.”

But my goal in writing this blog post is to force myself into some kind of authentic present appreciation. I don’t mean that I am going to write in a gratefulness journal every day, or meditate every night before I go to sleep.

I am, however, going to adopt a new mantra:

I am already there. I am already exactly where I want to be.

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I’m hoping that as I take my focus away from making tomorrow happen faster, I feel more free to be creative, to deviate from the pre-determined path I’ve laid out.

Maybe I’ll use this newfound freedom to nurture my creative spirit. Maybe taking the stress off results and focusing on the process means I’ll be kinder to myself and the people around me. Maybe I will use this newfound time and mental space to make my present more enjoyable instead of making my future more desirable.

And to all of those of you who are just like me, who think about the future constantly, striving to reach something better, ask yourself this: What does your ideal future life, the life you are supposedly working towards, really look like? How does it make you feel? What are you doing or not doing?

And, once you have that concrete in your mind, ask another question: What about that perfect future is already manifested in your present?

In imagining this perfect place for yourself in the future, really getting to know the kind of life you want to live, you might just find, like I did, that you are already there.

Blueberry Pancakes + My “Twenty Something” Angst

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So, I’m 20 years old… and I’m not sure what that means.

If pop culture has taught me anything about being 20, it’s that I should probably be partying at college right now, making irresponsible decisions. Or else, working insanely hard at a prestigious internship. Maybe I should be backpacking across Europe, learning French and playing my guitar on street corners.

Some days, I can’t help but wonder if blogging about blueberry pancakes is a part of any normal 20 year old’s lifestyle… and if I shouldn’t just buy a one way plane ticket to Paris and leave this peanut butter company CEO craziness behind.

So, it was truly excellent timing that I recently stumbled across an article in The New Yorker about “twenty-somethings”, and the unique dilemma this generation faces.

The article describes how we enter our twenties torn between the daunting (and vague) task of “finding ourselves”, or forgoing more youthful adventures in order to get a jumpstart on our careers.

For our generation in particular, this sense of confusion is compounded by the wide variety of options visible to us in our world of social media. The article describes this feeling as smartphone-induced “choice overload and comparison anxiety”.

I experience this myself all the time. Even a few idle minutes on my iPhone provides me with constant reminders of how others are living their lives. My peers are all going so many directions right now — from graduations and promotions, to marriages and international voyages. Sometimes it’s easy to feel as though I am just standing still… blogging about blueberry pancakes.

Sure, this seems irrational. I have a job, one that I absolutely love. We’ve had incredible growth in our company in the past year, and we’re constantly marveling at how amazing it has been to be a part of Wild Friends.

And yet, I still crave that next opportunity, the next exciting step — however hypothetical. Even though I won’t be renting a room in Greece any time soon, or accepting an internship in New York, I still love to browse Craiglist postings and daydream about job interviews. You know — in between responding to emails, tracking inventory numbers, and taking photos of peanut butter cookies.

Though the obtuse conclusion of the New Yorker article didn’t do anything to curb my angsty Craiglist browsing, it did provide me with some lasting sense of comfort: I’m not alone in my fears. We all wonder if we’re doing the right thing, if we’re in the right place, if somehow everyone else knows what they’re doing. This article was another piece of proof for me that there is no road map for all us twenty-somethings.

So, I’ll keep living this peanut-butter-company-running, blueberry-pancake-blogging life the best way I know how: with as much enthusiasm and honesty as possible… and of course a little bit of angst thrown in there for good measure.