Do You Have a Calling?

11-16-15 Do you have a calling?

When I was seven years old, my parents moved us from New Jersey to Florida. Their Cuban blood was just too thin for the cold weather. My father drove us down to Miami — not without a stop in Disney World, of course — and as soon as we arrived, I began the third grade. Not only was the palest kid in class, but I was also very new to the whole Catholic thing. I had done the Sunday school bit in the past, but never had I experience religion class as regularly scheduled programming. The whole experience at first was pretty traumatizing.

One day in class, our religion teacher was explaining to us how priest and nuns are called to service. She decided to tell us a story about a potential priest being called by an angel in the middle of the night. Just like that, after seeing an angelic vision, the guy woke up and enrolled in the seminary the next day.

“Holy crap,” I thought. “That’s how it goes down?”

From that day on, for about a week, I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking some giant guy with wings was going to pull me out of my parents’ house and rush me into nun school. While I could see the nobility of living a life of service to your faith, not being able to experience marriage or kids was a sacrifice I wasn’t willing to make.

So I prayed. I prayed not to be call. Because that call to duty seemed so solitary, and I wanted a full life. I wanted it all.

I often experience flashbacks to this dream. And for a while, I just found it cute, but didn’t really try to look for a deeper meaning. Today, I totally get it.

Writing and making a living the way I choose to is not easy. Seriously, there are days I wish I could just be content as an in-house magazine editor or even just running my husband’s business with him. Wouldn’t life be easier that way?

But that work would never make me completely happy. Why? Because I have another calling, and I believe you do, too. Which is why — sigh — I do this work. The frustration comes when we ignore the calling and try to fit into someone else’s life. Been there. Done that. Totally not worth it.

As a kid, hearing that story about the nuns and priests, on some level, I knew my teacher was right: we all have a calling. God, the universe, whatever… gave us life for a reason. He placed us here with gifts, talents, and opportunities that will help us fulfill the purpose he scripted in our soul the day he breathed life into our hearts.

I believe that. I really do.

Oh and that dream? I was so young, but I was already scared of the responsibility and the perceived loneliness that comes with following your calling. Our callings are so intoxicating that we fear the thought of allowing it to consume us, leaving us to neglect all the other parts of our lives that we also love: our families, our friends, and guilty pleasures like wine and late nights dancing.

But what I’ve realized after answering my calling — even when it was just an encrypted whisper — is that it’s less about living a life that was scripted for you and more about being a vehicle for the message that wants to come through your unique self. That’s all. You can still be you, desire the traditional, and remain the perfect vessel for a message of peace.

Do yourself a favor and listen to your heart if this little love note speaks to you. Because really, do you want a giant angel pulling you out of bed? Save yourself the trauma. Go get ‘em, Tiger.

What Does “Find Your Voice” Really Mean?

I’ve been a professional writer and editor for about 10 years now. When I first started writing for a living, many of the editors and writers I surrounded myself with seemed to often talk about this thing called “voice.” 

No one really explained its definition to me, and I was too embarrassed to ask. Yet, it was pretty clear to me that “voice” was referring to the personality of the publication. And with that knowledge, I was able to take on and off different “voices” depending on who I was writing for in order to stay consistent with the particular publication. That’s what pro writers do.

Now that I find myself navigating through this world of independent writer or blogger, I can’t seem to escape the ambiguous advice to “find your voice.”

Ok, find your voice. There are tons of articles out there that tell us to do this. Yet none of them tell you exactly what “find your voice” means. Honestly, I think the author of the article doesn’t tell us because she, herself, doesn’t really know.  Which leaves you, my friend, left trying to figure out the meaning of that elusive guidance.

That guessing and worrying crap ends today. Allow me to break down “voice” for you.

1.     Voice is the Tone of the Publication or Writer

Think of your friend with the really strong personality. If someone was to ask you, “what is her tone,” you might describe her by saying: She’s energetic, sarcastic, and honest. If she were writing exactly how she spoke, those three words you used to describe her would be her “voice.”

Every established publication has a voice. The voice of Cosmo is young, while the voice of Town & Country is sophisticated.

Do any of you remember the site DailyCandy?. (Rest in peace, DC!) Their voice was the voice of your sassy, intelligent BFF. Their editors (I was one of them!) did such a great job of adapting that voice across the platform, that tons of people tried to copy its tone. That’s the sign of a strong voice.

Next time you read your favorite pub or blog, describe the tone in three words. That’s the voice!

2.     You Don’t Have to Find Your Voice Because You Didn’t Lose it

Everyone has a voice. If you communicate, you have a voice. Even my dog who speaks mainly in whines and yelps, has a voice.

When people tell us to find our voice, it makes it seem like we didn’t have one to begin with. You have one. You just have to decide what you want your voice to be when you write.

My writing voice is an elevated version of who I am in person. If you sit down with me at a coffee shop, you’ll find that I ramble more than I do in my writing and I’m a little more laid back. I’m also not inspiring and put-together all the time.

Why? Because when we write, it’s like we’re on stage. We’re at our best. We know we’re here to entertain, educate and inspire.  So while you always want to remain true to who you are, you also want to respect that people want an elevated version of yourself. Take a part of your personality and step it up a notch.

3.    A Consistent Voice Makes an Impact

The reason people tell us to find a voice is because people want friends with personality. No one wants a friend who on Monday is perky and on Tuesday us sarcastic. We don’t want those types of friends because we want to know what to expect from that person. We also fall in love with the idiosyncrasies of our friends, and we can only find those if our friend is consistently who she is.

The same is true for your writing. You want to pick a voice and be consistent with it, so your readers know what to expect from you.

My favorite example of a strong and consistent voice is that of my dear friend, Maria Tettamanti of The Wordy Girl. Maria often refers to herself as zany.  In real life she is, but not every single second of the day. She’s also serious, kind, and intelligent. But she’s decided to take this one part of her real-life personality and elevate it to make an impactful brand.

4.     This is How You Establish Your Voice

The best way to establish your voice is to read other strong voices. I also recommend copying those voices as an exercise. Try to write like them. When I was doing a lot of fashion and beauty writing I would try to emulate the voice of The Cut. It was snarky, and I wasn’t, so it was fun to put that on.

Once you try on other voices, you’ll understand the difference between a strong voice and a weak voice.

Next, you want to write like you speak, but as if you were speaking clearly and with confidence. What would you sound like if you were always clear? If you always knew what your intention was? What would you sound like if you were confident in your writing? That’s your writing voice.

Practice that voice every day — even if you never publish the work. Eventually, it will become second nature to you.

5.     What if You’re a Media Company and Not a Person?

If you’re a media company, you get to choose who you want to be. So fun! Most importantly, you want to create a personality that would vibe with the people you’re speaking to. If you’re writing for college students, you don’t want your voice to sound like a mom, right? You want to create a voice that these students would want to hang around with.

Make a choice. Make the personality real. And stick to it.

Tell me what your voice is in three words. Or tell me the voice of your favorite writer or publication. I’d love to know!

The Game I Hate Playing

the game i hate playing

If you’ve followed my work for quite some time, you know I’m basically always trying to kick sugar and carbs to the curb. Every once in a while, I do it well. It always feels like a miracle, seriously. But as time passes, it just felt sad being without the occasional cookie.

So I started to eat them again. Many times even for breakfast. No joke, I’ll down a large glass of green juice and chase with a Publix chocolate chip cookie. Why? For many emotional reasons + the kick my brain craves. Ya know, basic stuff.

I’m constantly working on compassion and being kinder to myself. And I’ve been doing really well. Although I can’t help but have flashbacks to what it used to feel like to be me. Here’s how it would go:

I’d eat the cookie and then I’d go to damn Instagram to look at all these people on their feeds working out, eating kale, and YOLOing. Naturally, I feel quite shitty about myself.

“You see, Nikki, this is why you don’t get what you want. This is why you’re not YOLOing with that girl jumping in the Sahara Desert. You can’t stick to anything. You’re not working hard enough. Oh well, better luck next time, you wimp.”

Guys, I’m serious, this is what would happen in my head. It was awful.

I like cookies. I like Snow Caps and cake batter ice cream. I am not perfect.

But you know what? Lucky for me, I do not write about being perfect. I’m not in the business of appearing happy all the time. I don’t care for put-together hair and salad every day. And retaking photos for the right angle makes me sad.

I write about creating your own rules, loving yourself unconditionally, and expressing who you are all the time.

Honestly, this comparison mode we go into after being fed all this this-is-how-you-need-to-be-living content from endless blogs, social media feeds, and traditional media is killing us. God knows I’ve become victim to it, and my intention is to be conscious of that going forward.

With this new intention in mind, a few weeks ago, I came out of the closet and told a friend what I just told you: that I eat cookies for breakfast sometimes. She looked at me in relief and said, “Oh it’s so good to know because I ate last night’s cupcake this morning.”

Moving into the weekend, I brought up my cookie talk with my squad, the ladies who have been my besties since grammar school. Their response?

“I had cake for breakfast”

“I want cake and cookies all the time”

“I eat cookies every day. True story.”

Listen, I’m not telling you to go for the sugar if you’ve been working to wean off. No, what I’m saying is we need to have more of these conversations. You can’t believe everything you see on social media. People’s posts are just as well edited as a romantic comedy. We never see the hot guy in the movie shitting on the toilet. No, we do not. And we never see the creative bohemian blogger crying about the future. No, we do not.

Many of my photos are shot professionally, styled, and edited. My creative director is an artist, and the work she does for me is her art. But those photos are just an artistic expression of my ideal self. We need to know the difference between art and real life. We need to accept what each looks like and love them for their differences.

I know I have left you with no answers in this one. That was my intention. I just want to have the conversation with you, because we’re real friends.

What I’d like to do is encourage you to stop the comparison game — and encourage me, too. Love you. Be you. Even if you don’t know who she is yet. What you are is ever evolving. And that’s beautiful, sweet, and damn exciting in every bite. 

Do This to Get Lucky

how to get lucky

I recently had a feel-bad-for-me day. I completely missed this opportunity that would have potentially help my brand reach new heights. I was bummed, annoyed, and totally jealous.

My best friend was the only person I could honestly share my feelings with. After all, I’ve seen so much success in my career, complaining about missing an opportunity just makes me seem like a brat. I get it. And I was totally being a brat, but I still needed the space to feel bad for myself — at least just for a little bit.

I stared at my feet, because I couldn’t bare to look in my best friend’s eyes, when I said, “Why not me?” Her response surprised me. I thought I was going to get, “Nikki, you’re awesome. Don’t worry, girl. You’ll get ‘em next time.” But no, in her true fashion, she looked at me and said, “Nikki, a lot of this stuff is all about being lucky.”

I was like, “Whaaaat?” Her father passed away a while back and left behind a multi-million dollar company. She knows how hard he worked to make that all happen. I proceeded to tell her, “Bestie, if your dad were to hear you say this, he would roll over in his grave!” Without even flinching she said, “My dad worked hard, but he was also a really lucky man.”

As the child of immigrants, I was taught to push, work hard, and things will happen for you. And to date, that’s really how I’ve managed to create everything I have today. Hard work. But lately, even that doesn’t feel like enough.

My friend was right. I needed luck, and for a while, I haven’t seem to have as much as I used to. I’m not being ungrateful. I’m being honest. When I first started writing, I was so lucky. The best opportunities would just fall on my lap.

Thinking back to that time, I asked myself, why was I so lucky then and not so much now? And that’s when I realized: Luck is not a game of chance. It’s a game of receiving. A lucky winner can only win if she is clear and if she believes.

If we’re constantly pushing out to the world in a panic, and never taking time to inhale, we’re going to run out of breath. Life is designed as an infinite circle, where balance is only achieved when we are both giving and receiving. After we give, the act of receiving is what closes the loop.

The idea is to live our life putting our best out there and trusting that our actions are enough to receive, what Christians define as, God’s grace. Christians use the word grace to define luck. From my understanding, grace is when God throws you a bone. Perhaps you didn’t actually do a direct action to receive grace. You basically just got lucky.

Why do some people receive grace while others don’t? Well, first they believe in the concept of grace. The same way some people believe in being lucky. These people are totally okay with receiving the abundance the universe has to offer. They know there are lucky breaks out there, and they’re comfortable with feeling like they deserve it. And you know what, we should feel like we deserve it, too.

You’re a good person. I’m a good person. And we shouldn’t feel like we have to be constantly doing to prove that we deserve something in return. If we constantly feel like we need to give in order to be worthy, the time to receive will never come.

Remember this: you are enough. You’re worthy of all those lucky breaks floating around. Why? Because you do good work, you care, and seriously, simply because you are breathing and alive. Open your arms and receive, because it’s your time to get lucky.

How to Find Your Way when You’re Feeling Lost as told by Vixen Workout Founder Janet Jones

The Closet Creative Podcast The Vixen Workout

This week we’re switching it up. My dream for you, my beloved reader, is that you believe in your dream and actually follow through. That is my vision.

When we’re contemplating taking that leap, what makes it less scary is to feel supported. And while we’re not all lucky enough to have a bestie who is a badass creative entrepreneur, I know there are women out there who are trying to reach us to let us know they are cheering us on. One of those ladies is Janet Jones.

Besides being our guest today on the Closet Creative podcast, Janet is the founder of Vixen Workout, a booty-bouncing cardio workout with a cult-following you’ll want to join. From a young age, Janet was a talented dancer, choreographer, and performer. (I know this, because she was the captain of my high school dance team. Throwback!) After college, she became a Miami Heat dancer, a choreographer, a talent manager, and she even shared the stage with many of today’s hottest acts like Pitbull.

But somewhere around her mid-twenties, she felt it was time to grow up. And being grown up in many people’s eyes is letting go of our creativity. As if the dream of creating were childish. She packed up all those experiences, stuffed them into a bag and got herself a desk job.

It didn’t take her too long to realize she was living someone else’s life. But by the time she figured that all out, she felt so stuck, she wasn’t sure she could get herself out.

On today’s episode, Janet explains to us exactly how it felt to be completely lost and how she gathered herself together to create the empire she has today. I asked her to share this personal story to remind all of us that even in the darkness there is light. We just have to walk towards it. Also, when we see people enjoying public success, we must remind ourselves there is so much that happened before that moment we just happened to witness. It’s attainable and doable, but it takes time and commitment.

I do hope you enjoy today’s episode and inside look into the making of a dream come true. May Janet’s story inspire you, and may it remind you, that there are so many of us cheering you on.

PS - For more support along your creative path, join us here

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