Day Twenty-Three: I’m Thankful For…The Start Experiment (and Jon Acuff)

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new. 🙂

Meet-up in the food court!

If you had told me a year ago that in the summer of 2013 I’d willingly join a community of people I have never met, and that I’d be sharing openly and honestly with them about my passions, dreams, and struggles, I likely would have laughed at you. But that is exactly what happened this past July (and continues in the present).

In late June, I received an email from Jon Acuff inviting me (and all of his readers) to join him on an adventure. He said it might require a passport and a machete. He sent the email to 250,000 people, and only 2,500 responded.

I was at Christian Retreat Center doing camp photography the day I received the email, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be in on this…that I needed this. It resonated with me. So, even though I had no idea what was about to happen, I said “yes” and dove in.

The first round started on July 15, and my world was changed in some fantastic ways.

Here’s how it worked:

  • Jon Acuff created a secret Facebook group and invited those who responded to his invitation to join.
  • Each day for 24 days, Jon sent out an email with a challenge for the day at 5am.
  • A community was formed that is so hard to describe because it’s so awesome.
  • We all worked hard toward our various goals and helped each other along the way.
  • There ended up being a “Round Two” so that we could invite people to do “Start 101” while the “alumni” did “Start 201” – and it was awesome. Same format with emails being sent daily (and the theme was “audacious”).

(To read my blog posts about “The Start Experiment”, click here.)

When Jon sent out that email, I was in the perfect position to accept the invitation. I had been unemployed for almost two months. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. I didn’t know what my dream was. I was just taking one day at a time, hoping that God would give me some direction.

Through the course of Round One, while I worked on being more self-disciplined, I was able to discover what I believe I was created to do: missions photography. I was able to take steps forward and bring this dream a little bit closer to reality. And I couldn’t have done this without Jon’s leadership/mentoring AND the amazing community that he built in The Start Experiment. 

My dream...

This community is real, open, honest, a little silly, loving, supportive, encouraging, non-judgmental. It’s a safe place to share your fears and your successes (“brag table”) without fear. It’s the closest thing to Heaven that I’ve experienced here on earth, by far. 

A literal brag table

I had the amazing privilege of being able to attend The Start Conference in Nashville in September, during which I strengthened these friendships “in real life” and made connections with people who are doing what I want to do (like Jeremy Cowart). I left that conference feeling so inspired, empowered, fulfilled, and energized. 

Punching Fear in the Face

If you are struggling with finding your dream, or if you know what your dream is but are struggling to make progress, please check out Jon’s website and his books – Quitter and Start. Both of this books have really impacted my life and have given me wise and practical advice about chasing my dream. If you’d like to join our Facebook community, let me know and I can talk to you about it!

If it weren’t for The Start Experiment, I can honestly say I’d be in a totally different place right now in terms of my career and plans for the future. I have gained so much confidence and have overcome so many fears through this community!

I am so thankful for Jon and for his leadership through example.

A place to type our fears...and then destroy them.

The Start Experiment, Round Two: Day Nine

Today, one of my wonderful fellow “Starters” posted something that almost made me cry because it spoke directly to my heart.

Know what isn’t the only reason you’re not working for your dreams? It isn’t always your fear that is preventing you from being successful. Sometimes it is your unwillingness to sacrifice. You’ve got to decide today that the pain of staying the same and not chasing your dream is costing you more than it would to chase it.  — Ashley Revely

Oh my. Between that and the email that Jon Acuff sent to those of us in Round Two today, I feel broken. In a good way. I forgot my journal at home, so I decided to just blog about it since I’m sure that others feel the same way and might need this encouragement.

Jon’s email today talked about not just settling for “jobs” when they’re not something that makes us feel alive and when they’re not part of our calling. I have done that my whole adult life. Every single job.

Funny “coincidence” that after I read that email I headed to an interview for a job that I could do and could do it well. But, it has nothing to do with the passions in my soul and my new-found mission in life. Same with the job I interviewed for last week. In fact, I honestly feel that accepting either of these jobs would be detrimental to my dream. Interesting what a new perspective can show you.

Ashley’s quote doesn’t only apply to my dream, though: it also applies to weight-loss and health. Before our wedding, perhaps because I had a goal, I lost 20 lbs and worked hard at it. I felt GREAT and loved what I saw in the mirror. I felt thin. After the wedding, I gained it all back PLUS some because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice things along the way. I’m realizing now that the cost of staying the same is far more painful than chasing my dream and working hard.

Today I’m going to break both my dream job and my dream of weighing 45 pounds less into simple steps and look at WHY I’m failing at weight loss. I know that most of it is due to lack of preparation and planning, but some is still due to laziness. What will it cost to pursue my dream and what sacrifices are necessary? I am thinking that any sort of permanent job is at the top of the list. I’m also thinking that getting up at 5am to ensure that I have plenty of focus-time will continue to be a must.

What is it costing me to stay the same? Joy, peace, self-image, contentment, passion.

What might it cost me to change? Time, effort, maybe financial sacrifice, trusting God a whole lot more.

The pain of staying the same is DEFINITELY costing me a lot. It’s time to sacrifice things that are standing in the way so that I can fully pursue what I am called to be.

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day Three, Part 2

“Don’t ask what the world needs.

Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.

Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

― Howard Thurman

Tonight I attended a meeting of the Harrisburg Social Media Club after being invited by a fellow Start Experimenter who lives nearby. I went on behalf of Essential Harrisburg in hopes that I could learn more about how to utilize social media for my “business” and do some networking.

I assumed that it was going to be like a class where we all sit quietly and learn. I had no idea that they would ask us to introduce ourselves and our organization! So, in front of 30 strangers, I introduced EssentialHarrisburg.com and gave a brief description. That was slightly nerve-wracking – but not because of the public speaking element. Up until that moment, my website had existed only on Facebook in “safe” circles: friends, family, and the Start Experiment community. Now, there are strangers–businesspeople in the surrounding area–who know about it and could possibly check it out. And in the moment, I briefly questioned whether or not I even belonged there…whether or not my idea had value in the world. Fear strikes at the most inconvenient times. 🙂

This is exciting, but it also reminds me of how much work needs to be done to generate quality content. Also, I need to get business cards. I wrote that down on my to-do list last week and spoke with a friend about creating a simple logo for me…now I am very aware that I need to get those done as soon as possible so that in moments like the one tonight, I have something tangible that I can hand out to keep the idea fresh in the recipient’s mind.

I also sent my portfolio and an application to a missions organization tonight to possibly help them out with photojournalism. I’m pretty excited about this organization because they offer very unique service opportunities that would be perfect for Brennan and I to do together.

This thing is real. It is actually happening.

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day Three

The further into this Start Experiment I go, the more I am filled with wonder and anticipation at what God is doing in my life and in my marriage. The second round is already proving to be more amazing than the first, and I think part of that is simply due to the fact that I have been able to figure out my dream. The other part is that this community of people continues to grow closer together and the momentum continues to build. We’re all in this together.

So far, I am 4.5 lbs down from when I started this project, which isn’t impressive considering that it has been a month. However, I wasn’t as strict as I wanted to be during the first round. I admittedly didn’t try as hard as I should have. But, that has changed. I have newfound determination.

To give myself a visual goal, I hung a dress on my closet door that I want to wear on our anniversary. I currently cannot fit into this dress, but I love it. I really want to wear it on November 6th. But, in order to wear it, I need to lose probably 20 more pounds in the next 83 days. That is a little over 11 weeks from now, and if I lose the recommended 2 pounds per week, I can lose more than 20 by then. That will be about half of my weight-loss goal.

So this is my audacious health-related goal: to lose 20 pounds by my anniversary so that I can wear the black dress.

I have nearly finished my photography portfolio and already submitted it to one organization. I am working with a new friend to finalize captions and things before she helps me submit it to people who might be able to help me reach my audacious dream of being a travel photographer.
Here’s the link to my portfolio: http://www.flickr.com/lesabrackbill

I am also going on a mission trip to Guatemala in February!

God is definitely moving in our lives, and I am SO excited to see what happens.

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day One

It begins again: 24 days of focused and audacious dreaming and risk-taking. Round One of The Start Experiment brought me such freedom and courage, and I am beyond excited to see what happens next.

My risks for the first round were focused on self-discipline (physical and spiritual), and I am going to continue those elements through this next round (and hopefully for the rest of my life). I will continue to eat clean, exercise, blog, and spend time with God each day.

As a result of the connections made in Round One, I was able to focus in more on what my dream is and what it is going to take to make it a reality.

I asked myself this question: if I could do anything at all for the rest of my life, regardless of whether I made money or not, what would that be? And the answer is this: I would travel around the world and take pictures in order to tell the stories that need to be told (i.e. missions, disaster/response, capturing God’s Creation, etc.).  

That led me to create Essential Harrisburg. I realized that, through this new blog/website, I have an opportunity to grow my skills, increase my audience, share my city with the world, and use this as a way to serve the city in a new way all without having to fly anywhere. I needed to Start somewhere, so I decided to Start in my own backyard.

This leads to what I am risking for round two. The theme is “Audacious” and we were encouraged to be radical, to be risky and do something that really scares us. So, here’s what I’m going to do:

  1. Continue to work on self-discipline risk from Round One.
  2. Focus on writing a minimum of 3 posts a week (which includes photography) for www.essentialharrisburg.com in order to generate content like crazy so that I can approach someone from the City to connect with them and share my goals.
  3. Make contacts with people who can potentially help me obtain my dream job of being able to get paid to travel and do photography/missions.
  4. (the audacious one) Actually send my portfolio to a potential “employer” and not be afraid of rejection.

The next 24 days are going to be amazing…I just know it. I can’t wait to see what God does through this!

 

The Start Experiment: Reflections

Today is the last day of round one of the Start Experiment, and it has been a great 24 days. Did I perfectly meet all of my goals? No. But that wasn’t my objective. I set specific goals that all revolved around one thing: self-discipline. And I do feel that I made progress toward that goal!

Over the past 24 days, my desire to read my Bible each day has increased. I’ve been working through 1 & 2 Chronicles and have been excited to see what’s going to happen next (since I love history and haven’t read these books in a while, it makes sense that I’m excited!) 🙂 I’m loving watching God’s plan unfold and these stories have taught me some valuable lessons for where I am in life, too.

I haven’t lost much weight, but I have made progress in being more aware of my food choices. We’re working on not having anything that isn’t “clean” in our house, which forces me to cook with only “real food” and nothing processed. We have made it to the gym at least twice a week since we joined, and we’re going to be increasing that each week. Our goal is to go 5 days a week eventually, once our schedule calms down.

I also made progress on my “future” dream of being a travel photographer by creating “Essential Harrisburg” and beginning to generate content.

The road to self-discipline is still long, but I am excited to continue this process. I know that it will enrich my life greatly and will help me to be a better Jesus-follower, a better wife, and a better future mother. This experiment gave me the momentum to “Start” and to stop procrastinating!

I’m looking forward to the second round of The Start Experiment because life will be much less hectic during this round. I went on vacation, started a temp assignment, had my parents here, broke my main camera lens, and had many other disruptions to my “normal” schedule, and that made it difficult to find my groove.

If you’d like to join the second round, you are invited! Registration is only open for 24 hours, so join now. It’s not overwhelming and the daily tasks are simple, yet challenging. The encouragement from the Start Community is unmatched and I am LOVING the interaction in our Facebook group.

To join in, take this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/StartExpRound2

The Start Experiment: Days Thirteen through Fifteen

All in all, I’m doing “okay” with my goals. Bible reading has been the easiest to keep! I gained a pound back this weekend, but that’s to be expected given the circumstances (see below).

I’m quickly finding out that it will be harder to be strictly “clean” eaters in real life, so I’m learning to figure out the best possible options when it comes to meals. Every other weekend,  when we’re at Milton Hershey, I will face this…I don’t always have complete control of the menu and what we are preparing for the kids, so, like this weekend, I can’t eat completely “clean” or even healthy food unless I bring it from home. That isn’t to say that the homes aren’t normally stocked with healthy options! MHS is big on being healthy. But, many times we’re forced to improvise with what we can find in the house during the summer, and that typically means processed foods. It’s all good, though, because that’s life and that’s how our culture operates, and I need to learn to work with what I am given.

One of the girls in our home this weekend wanted to bake something so I tried it afterward…truly, I immediately could feel the sugar running through my body and did NOT like the feeling. So, even though I caved and ate sugar, I learned a valuable lesson from it. I believe that these moments will help me in the long run as I strive to completely eliminate refined sugar from my diet because I am learning to recognize how sugar feels and to remember that I don’t like that feeling.

I wrote a separate blog post about what I read in my Bible reading today…what an encouragement that was to just “Start” a new life and not look back…not let fear tell me that I’m going to miss out on so much or that life will be worse without sugar/processed foods. I know that God wants what is best for me and I am going to choose His best over anything else.