Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes, and General Mental Mayhem

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The Plywood Business Retreat


After attending their conference the past few years, I finally had the privilege of attending the Plywood Retreat last week. This intimate event is limited to about a dozen attendees, and helps entrepreneurs pursue business dreams in very practical ways. Due to the size, we are able to stay at a lake house and enjoy the natural surroundings most of us don’t get to see very often, rather than be in a typical conference room or in-town auditorium.

There were many things I appreciated about the event, but in particular, I love how they try to create a tailor-made experience. Before arriving, we had to fill out an application and go through an interview to make sure we were a right fit for the retreat, which is aimed at mostly social enterprises who want to do positive things in the world, on both the for- and non-profit sides. We were all also in the early stages of business—less than two years, I think. Then we had a phone interview with the founder, Jeff Shinabarger, and he took a bit of time to get to know us as individuals and our thoughts/needs/wants for our business. But, this way, we weren’t walking into the retreat having to introduce ourselves and our goals. The staff already had a good understanding of us, and we could hit the ground running.

These things add up to a couple of other very important customizations. First, they choose the speakers based on us. I think some of them overlap from retreat to retreat, but they also like to bring in folks who can lend unique perspective to our particular areas. So, we had speakers not only on finance, goals, marketing and branding, which most everyone could learn from, but also had one, for example, on donor expectations and insight for those in the non-profit sector or who need to raise capital.

One of the highlights, and the most individual-centered aspect, was the mentor dinner. We went off-site to a restaurant and sat at a table with someone they chose specifically for us. I had a fantastic meal with Jennifer Schuchmann, a local author who also has a background in other forms of writing. She was awesome. She was able to answer very high-level and very practical questions I had, as well as work through a few things I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but knew I needed to clarify in my work. This was really special, and I think everyone felt the same.

So, overall, a very cool experience. And did I mention we had a personal chef? Jason from Homespun was amazing! It was very sad to wake up to my own cooking the next day. 😉

If you feel like you’re part of the target audience for this retreat, I’d definitely tell you to consider it. Or maybe come to the conference as a start. They have even launched an online curriculum now as well. Yes, any and all of them are quite the investment, especially for someone like me who is only in month three of my business. But I am really glad I kicked things off this way. I know it will help me going forward. In fact, I’ll get a follow-up in a few weeks because we all had 30-day action steps to take. Gotta get moving…

But before I go, I wanted to introduce you to my fellow retreaters. They are doing some really wonderful things you should know about.


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Plywood’s Social Entrepreneur Curriculum

Plywood FilmingA couple of weeks ago I sat in on another great Plywood People event. I always love seeing what they’re up to. And currently, they’re working on a curriculum for social entrepreneurs to be released at their annual event in August. It’s going to be great!

So, a few friends and I showed up to be audience members, and were able to hear from a number of experts on character and building a business.

Here are my take-aways:

Doug Shipman

  • Don’t just tell people your story, create a way for them to be a part of it.
  • Meet people’s needs.
  • Map out your conversations if you’re making an ask.
  • Make the ask about them, not you.
  • Make a small ask, then a bigger one. Start small with people and get them in the door.
  • Ask friends and family for connections.
  • Events build momentum and show people you can get stuff done. It allows them to have an emotional connection.
  • To invite people in, and make it relatable to them.
  • You cannot innovate by committee. Bring in few decision makers.
  • Your principles are your boundaries.

Ryan Gravel

  • Solve both current and future problems.
  • Think holistically.
  • Find people with the skills who both compliment and supplement yours. Multiple voices make a better project.
  • Define what’s special about your project, and protect that.
  • Think less about what your doing, and think about what you want to be.

Leroy Barber

  • Love your neighbor. Love the person in need along your roads.
  • Don’t take over a space in which you are trying to help. Provide dignity for those you are helping, or an exchange.
  • To evaluate your program, ask those who have gone through it first-hand.
  • If you’re getting bored on a project, bring in other voices to breathe into it. Don’t let it go stale.
  • There’s a big difference between ending something and quitting something.
  • Listen and learn first.
  • Celebrate the small wins.

Brad Montague

  • Your failures don’t define you, they prepare you.
  • Ask people, “What do you love about what you do?” instead of what they do.
  • Your life is a work of art.
  • Community keeps you grounded and on mission.
  • Define your mission before someone defines it for you.
  • Every person deserves to be celebrated.
  • “I hope what you do comes out of a deep sense of who you are.” – Fred Rogers

Andy Levine

  • Use the lows as learning opportunities.
  • Take care of your fans, so that it creates a gravitational pull for them to come back and bring others.
  • Craft a moment (above and beyond, make it right, hold the line—customer service)
  • Be a friend, not a fan.
  • Think about the “wake” you leave behind you.
  • Choose people who embrace your culture first. You can teach skills late.
  • Promise makers need promise keepers.

Callie Murray

  • First ideas. Then a plan. Finally, put it on your calendar. To make it real you need to get it on paper.
  • Have a plan for quitting so there is no impulse decision.
  • I am not my business, and my business is not me.

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Plywood Presents Conference: My Favorite Quotes

Plywood ProgramThis week I attended Plywood Presents again. I missed it last year, but it was good to be back. I’ve always loved their tagline, “We will be known for the problems we solve.”

It was a great couple of days, and I wanted to share my favorite quotes.


Clint Smith III, Poet, Educator, Researcher

  • I didn’t take any notes during his session because it was a series of spoken word performances and explanations. I’m not usually a big spoken word/poetry fan, mostly because I probably just don’t get it, but I REALLY loved this guy. He was incredible, and I was able to connect with what he was saying. Check out my favorite piece, “My Father is an Oyster.”

Jeremy Cowart, Artist, Photographer and Humanitarian

  • “If you’re alive, if you’re breathing. We need you. You can do anything.”
  • I didn’t really take notes here either. It was really just this guy telling his story, but it was a fantastic presentation, and he has a terrific story. Plywood is not a Christian conference, but there are many Christians there. Jeremy’s presentation was built on how he felt like he couldn’t do anything right as a kid, but his parents instilled Philippians 4:13 into his head, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And once that message took root, he has done some really remarkable things.

Kat Cole, Group President of Focus Brands

  • “The people closest to the action will know what to do before the leadership every time.”
  • “Leaders are resourceful, creative and get it done no matter what.”
  • “If you really believe something is right, say yes and figure it out. But you have to be willing to do the work.” #hustlemuscle
  • “You succeed faster in life when you see the patterns. And you have to know where you fit into it. You have to be not only smart, but aware.”
  • “Work with different teams more often to see patterns emerge faster.”
  • “If you’re thinking of bailing on something in life, make sure you have a compelling alternative.”
  • “When you get criticized, assume for one minute they’re right. Take a hard look and see if it changes you’re mind or solidifies your position.”
  • “You need a culture where employees are proud and grateful. That comes organically, but can be nurtured. You can’t force it.”
  • “My best lessons have come from my humanitarian work.”
  • “We all have limited resources. Focus on things that are small enough to change but big enough to matter. You have to really pay attention to find the right size.”
  • “If not me, who? If not now, when?” – Kat’s mom

Scott Holfort, Founder of ColsenKeane Leather Goods

  • “Monotony and boredom can fuel your passion. Rest in them for a while and see where they take you.”

Blake Howard, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Matchstic

  • “To have courage, reject indifference.”
  • “Relentlessly create. Quantity over quality to keep moving forward and refining.”
  • “Choose the right context. We become like those we surround ourselves with.”
  • “Have the hard conversations upfront so that the easy stuff will follow. If you have the easy conversations first, it will only get harder.”
  • You have to have courage to listen.”

Richard Swenson, Author, Educator and Researcher

  • I plan on getting his book called, “Margin.” Actually, all of his books sound great. Just wish they were on Audible!
  • “You can do extreme things, but then you need to rest.”
  • “There is a boxing match happening between your limits and progress.”
  • “There are 2 trillion URLs, 150K products in Walmart, 55K combinations at Starbucks, people check their smartphones 150x per day, and there are over 68K medical codes.” Information overload!
  • “Stress is the way we adapt to change.”
  • “You have all the clocks and we have all the time.” a man in Malawi he met

Alex Torrey, Co-Founder of Umano Clothing

  • “Social entrepreneurship means you don’t have to choose between doing well and doing good.”

Jeff Goins, Writer and Author

  • “You can’t plan your purpose.”
  • “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I have to listen to what my life is telling me.” – Parker Palmer via Jeff Goins
  • “Activity follows identity.”
  • “You aren’t guaranteed success.”
  • “What makes life extraordinary aren’t the chances we get, but what we do with it.”
  • “Successful people are smart enough build on their failures, not deny them.”
  • “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl via Jeff Goins
  • “Share your failures more.”
  • “You can’t wait to feel brave. It’s not something that happens to you. It happens when you make the decision to push through the challenge.”
  • “Success is always a story of community, not an individual.”

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Plywood Presents 2013

Plywood logoThis week I attended Plywood Presents for the third year. It’s a really fun and unique Atlanta conference, in a city where conferences seem to happen around the clock. Plywood centers around social innovation, with the motto, “We will be known by the problems we solve.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Plywood Swag

Plywood Swag

While the speakers are great, seeing friends from other local orgs is fun, and some days you just need a break from the norm, my favorite thing is always simply learning about people and companies doing really great things. To me, it’s most inspiring just to share air with people who are changing the world. It’s as if there’s a new horizon, and we’re all standing at the edge of it together.

I can always count on this community to challenge me to be better. And in an every day way, it helps me see new places to put my money where my mouth is—companies and people I can support with my voice and dollars that share my values.

Here are the amazing places and people I learned about this week:

Do yourself a favor, and check out these companies. They are doing some great work, and they need our support. And don’t forget to join us next year at Plywood Presents!

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Double Book Review: 7 by Jen Hatmaker and More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger

These two books just go so well together, I thought I’d pair them up. I apologize for the length, but hang with me. I think, and hope, it will be worth it.

Cover art found on Jen Hatmaker's blog

Cover art found on Jen Hatmaker’s blog

In pursuit of my SIMPLIFY theme for 2013, I found two books that did a doozy on me in recent months. The first, which I absolutely adored, was 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. In fact, I adored it so much that I think I recommended it to just about anyone who would listen to me during the time I was going through it. I was fascinated and obsessed. (If you’re reading this and haven’t picked it up yet, get to it!)

In the book, Jen confronts both the issues of having too much and what to do about it. She chooses seven areas to focus on: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste and stress. I can relate to all of those, so I knew I was in for a ride.

Jen focused on each of these seven excess areas for one month. So for 30 days, her world revolved around the subject of food excess, as one example. She gave her self clear parameters to follow, and blogged about the social experiments as a way to both write her book and stay accountable. Before you think it’s too overwhelming to consider in your life, let me tell you that she had several women going through this process with her, and they chose milder forms of the experiment. They served as her sounding board, encouragement, supporters and accountability partners. They kept her going. And because they were doing some form of the project, she had people to relate to along the way. That had to make it a lot easier, though it was still pretty extreme.

FOOD: She and her husband were in the process of adopting two children from Ethiopia, and she knew their lives were much more restrictive than her own. They were limited in what was available to them in many ways, including what they could eat. So she chose seven food items to eat for the entire month. As you can imagine, she got pretty sick of everything rather quickly, but still realized she got to choose her options rather than having them determined for her due to her geography and social status.

CLOTHES: Jen saw all the clothes in her closet that she didn’t wear regularly, and determined that would be another great area to tackle. She chose, you guessed it, seven items to wear for the month, including PJ’s, shoes and accessories. Wow. And this is a woman who speaks on a regular basis. This month she realized how much she worried about her appearance, and what others thought of her.

SPENDING: We all spend on silly things or wasteful things or inconsequential things. And we just spend too much. Debt is a huge problem in our society. So, Jen’s family went on a spending freeze. They bought essentials only, and realized how much extra they buy because it’s available or just because they can. They even started carpooling more to spend less gas money. This month allowed her to donate money to places she really felt good about giving it, and where it would make a real difference.

MEDIA: Over-saturated and over-stimulated. She looked around and saw all the gadgets her family used from phones to computers to iPads to gaming systems, and put a halt to it. She was worried about this month in particular because it was summer, and she was afraid she wouldn’t know what to do with three small children. But it ended up being a great month with a lot of new memories and time for their family to be together. They rediscovered their creativity, and found lots of ways to have fun together for less because of the previous month.

POSSESSIONS: The clothes month really helped shape this one. Jen discovered she had, after hand counting everything, over 200 items in her closet that she rarely if ever wore (including shoes, accessories, etc). So she decided to give away seven things each day for the entire day. It seems like a lot, but just looking around my apartment, I could probably do it when you get down to the drawers and under the bed. This action cut excess from everyone’s closet, things forgotten about in the basement, and extra stuff in the garage, and she realized that she still had more than enough afterward. And their church has a large homeless ministry, so many of the items, especially clothes, were immediately used by someone else with immense gratitude.

WASTE: Jen lives in Austin, and it’s a pretty green city. She’d never been one who recycled or lived green in any way, so she learned a lot from friends during this month. One of the best things she did for her family was getting them to eat better. She realized all the foods in her pantry and fridge were processed, and harming their health. So they began eating more healthy and learned to take better care of their home and neighborhood. She said she was sort of dreading this month, but really ended up learning a lot and loving it. (I would probably be classified as a “tree hugger” by my friends and family, and this chapter was definitely one I think most anyone would enjoy nonetheless.)

STRESS: Seriously, who can’t relate? Jen learned to say no a lot to things this month, and really focused on the necessary and her family. Her time was more free to enjoy what was happening in front of her, rather than worrying about a lot of other things.

OVERALL: It’s an awesome book. I will read it again. It’s fun and funny and easy to read. I think a lot of people would enjoy this, maybe more than they expect to. And again, I think there are so many lessons for all of us living in a blessed society.

My biggest takeaway? It was something that I’d heard before, but it hit me at just the right time—and now it plagues me. She referenced a quote or study, can’t remember because I’m more about the gist than the precise, about the fact that if you have more than your means and you’re only wasting it on yourself, you’re actually stealing from others and from society. People may have issue with the fact that they earned it, and should be able to spend it how they see. And I guess there’s room for that argument. But when there are so many people living without their basic needs being met, and so many others of us live in excess, there’s a real problem there. That weighs on my heart, heavily. We’ve already seen, and know at money doesn’t buy happiness, and having “things” don’t equal contentment. Yet we keep acquiring. US is largely a wealthy nation, and even still, things like prescription drugs and depression are on the rise. (See my previous Tweet from this week.) That has to tell us something. That needs to make us act differently.


Cover art found Plywood People

Cover art found on Plywood People

Jeff Shinabarger is someone I’ve been around for several years now. He’s spoken at several conferences I’ve attended, is friends with some of my friends, and I’ve also been to his Plywood People event three times. (I’m even carrying around one of their bags right now as my summer purse.) I love what he’s up to here in Atlanta, and have great admiration for his social ingenuity and ability to bring people together to do great things.

So when he teased this book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, I was ready to and waiting for it’s release. And it didn’t disappoint. Of course, how could it with a forward by Bob Goff? Plus, fun stories about people and places I personally know! (There are a lot of extras on the book website, which is really cool.)

Jeff, like me I think, sort of stumbled upon this notion of cutting the clutter. Not that it’s a new concept, but it’s the birth of something new within us. It’s a step that led to a path that led to a crossroad that led to a journey. It’s become a part of us. He was led there by a homeless man in his neighborhood. I think I was led there by a thousand things over many years. (It takes me a while.) But the outcome is the same, the tension between more and less. It’s not always a comfortable place to be, but it is a place ripe for growth, and as he points out, generosity.

I think the thing I appreciated most about this book were many of the creative ways he and his friends are learning these lessons, and what they are doing differently now. It’s about learning these lessons in the context of community. You may think, and you are largely right, than Jen Hatmaker’s experiment is extreme. But Jeff’s version is much more subtle. It’s about dinner parties and wedding registries and community gardening and conversation. It’s about the art of discovering along the way. It’s about the journey. And it’s about generosity.

Over the years, I’ve tried to work on my budget. I’ve tried to spend less and acquire less. I’ve tried. I’ve more often failed. But I think when I started to tip the scale, it became about focusing on a life of generosity. I wanted it less for me, and more for others. To borrow from above, I didn’t want to steal from others. I want to do better because I am accountable. And I have met many, face-to-face, who can have a different life if I live differently.

Therefore I choose less, so I can give more.


WRAP UP: While the two styles outlined above are very different, I identify well with both of them. I’ve done some excess purging, and I’ve done some at a slow pace. But the point is that I’m on my way, and I won’t look back.

If you’re still hanging with me, first of all, I appreciate it. Second of all, I honestly hope something I said will make you think, and therefore act, differently. It’s never too late.

I am a Christian, and therefore, I believe all that I have is not mine but that I am a steward of it. Unfortunately, I think I’ve too often acted like it is mine, and therefore, it was hard to start letting go. I always seem to want more! But now I feel much more comfortable with it. I love donating clothes and items, knowing personally the people it will benefit. And I do suggest that, know the people when you can. Dropping off items at Goodwill is a tax ride-off. Taking items to a shelter you volunteer for is a whole new world. When you’re invested, compassion abounds. And we all benefit from more compassion.

I know we’re a bit past spring cleaning, but summer is a great time to make changes, too. Consider living with less to gain, and give, more. I have no regrets. Nothing I’ve donated or given away has been missed. There’s always that fear, I think, but don’t let that rule your actions. Try it, and see how it goes. Start small. You probably won’t look back either.


BONUS MATERIAL: During my four hours of watching Ted Talks today (How does 17 minutes become four hours!?!?!), I stumbled across two really awesome videos that describe these principles well. Have a look.

Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness

Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

(Some of the second was a little over my head, but still really good and interesting so hang with it.)


(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)