March 2, 2017

Are Your Listening?

I recently attended a talk hosted by the Guilford Merchants Association (GMA), a business organization that hosts nationally known speakers to share their insights on success. The speaker at this event was Kristen Brown, a motivational speaker who has worked with national brands like Target, General Electric and Nielsen. Her talk centered around her approach to stress management, called “The Happy Hour Effect,” where she debunks the idea of work-life balance. Maybe debunks is too strong a word. She introduced us to the idea that it is not about balance but harmony. It’s pretty simple, but the more she spoke, the more anxious I got.


During the course of the morning, we were given an exercise to complete. The idea was to identify motivators and obstacles in our lives. What do I want out of life? A little bit of everything? I was at a loss. It felt like being kidnapped, blindfolded and dumped alone in a dark forest. You don’t know where you are, you have no directions. It’s hard to get from A to B if neither A nor B are clearly defined.


In the past six years I have balanced being a wife and a mother at the same time as working two jobs while in school, to then holding two jobs and a board position with a non-profit organization to now working in a leadership position in my dream profession. During the exercises I realized that for the first time in my adult life I have no specific goals.


How did this happen? Why don’t I know what I want? Sitting there, I thought, seriously, is there an easier question, just think about what you want. It’s actually a very tough “look at yourself in the mirror naked” kind of question and it can be painful. I ask this of clients every day: Who are you? Who do you want your customers to see you as? What do you want? I listen to their answers, knowing that this is the secret to helping them. Listening to them is what makes our relationship work. But I haven’t thought to listen to myself in a while.


I listen to my husband, my kids, my friends, my boss, our clients. I can tell you what they want or need and how I can help them. I know Valecia the mother, Valecia the wife, Valecia the friend and designer. I do not know Valecia the individual anymore.


So, back to balance versus harmony. Balance is getting the mother, the wife, the designer and the friend, etc. living inside their little cups to all fit into a day without spilling or breaking anything. Harmony is pouring all of it into the same “Valecia” bucket and acknowledging that depending on the day the bucket holds more of the mom (teenage daughter, tears!) or sometimes the designer (deadlines!) but it has to all fit into the bucket together.


This means several things. First, you can’t be everything at once because it wouldn’t fit into the bucket. You have to spend time deciding and defining what matters enough to make the cut. Second, where you invest your resources changes on a daily basis. Third, the bucket you define now won’t be the same bucket you use a year from now so you have to listen to yourself every day.


So, it turns out I do have a goal. I’ve gotta go design my bucket.



If you are interested in learning more about defining your goals and/or managing them, I recommend the following:

  • Start with Why, 
  • written by Simon Sinek available here
  • Manage Your Day-to-Day, 
  • Edited By: Jocelyn K. Glei, Foreword: Scott Belsky available here
Photo of Valecia

Valecia Hopper, Thinker and Maker at Fifth Letter, is a neurotic bookworm with dirty sense of humor. She likes helping others and finding creative solutions to problems. Contact Valecia at