Keyword for 2017: People

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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

What I do is pick one keyword that will help me achieve my goals.

Last year, for 2016, my keyword was “Realization” – as in realization of hard work coming to fruition, visions coming true, goals achieved.

We had just made the decision to shut down our creative services business, Satdaya Studios in order to free us up to focus on our own websites, particularly Eventida.

You see, for years and years it was like working for an average of 5-10 different jobs and bosses per week. Can you imagine the constant stress?

I wanted the realization of reducing stress.

14 years ago, I was working many freelance event gigs and took an intensive 6 month course at UCSD, earning an A and a certificate in event planning.

My goal was to start an event business. But life led me down a detour, where I learned so much that I’m grateful – like in those Xbox and Playstation games my guys love to play – in my quest I’ve collected everything I need along the way in preparation for the final level, to win in the world of business.

I wanted the realization of working in the events industry full time, finally!

Around the same time, I recruited a friend to partner with me on The vision was to build a national calendar and event / entertainment news for the Deaf community. He was the editor and primary writer, while I was responsible for the website, advertising and business management.

It was a pretty cool site for 2004 – (alert: geek talk, you can skip to the end of the paragraph, I promise I will stop then) my very first CMS, Geeklog – before WordPress existed. Open source was all the rage at the time. Lee installed it and helped me a little bit but that’s where I first got to implement on a real, live site what I had been dabbling with – HTML, CSS, PHP. I learned FTP, how to find PHP scripts and then hack them to modify output.

Screenshot of a very busy website, lots of news titles and links related to the deaf community. Logo is an eye with a slogan: With eyes like these, who needs ears?

Eye on Events – in 2004 Click to view a larger image

After a few months, my partner was burnt out and wanted to stop. Then I got pregnant with Lucas and had morning sickness all day everyday. I was heartbroken, but shut down the site.

I never stopped thinking about it and the vision evolved over the years. I knew that the site I envisioned would be difficult to sustain economically if I focused only on the Deaf community. What about a “Deaf and Hard of Hearing” category? Meh.

After thinking about it for a while, it hit me – language! Design it so that events are categorized by what language is spoken or signed at the event. After all, we have a lot of events where the primary language is not English in the United States, particularly Spanish speaking events.

So 8 years ago, we started working on on the side, and launched it as a free event listing site.

I wanted the realization of the vision of an events website & app that had been living in my mind for 15 years!!

When I was a student at Gallaudet University, a friend recruited me to join the student paper, “Buff and Blue,” and my love affair with journalism began.

It turned out that I didn’t just love it, I was actually really good at it – I won several awards for my work. After college, I freelanced and wrote a few articles, for Silent News, DeafNation (newspaper, not the expo), and Gallaudet Today.

For a long time, I didn’t write. I had babies, and after a couple people saw my work on, they asked me to build their website. Then they referred me, then these people referred me, and so on. It wasn’t long before I was doing websites full time and had to start hiring subcontractors. Eventually Lee joined me full time.

The thing is, I always missed writing. I did try a few times to start blogging or vlogging regularly, on business and personal blogs.

Remember earlier, I explained that our business model was like working for 5-10 different bosses?

Plus managing web teams for those bosses (ours, theirs, or a mix).
Plus raising two kids.
Plus the work we were doing on Eventida and VAME on the side?
And now I was trying to keep up with blogging?

Am I crazy?! (We’ll get back to that later.)

I wanted the realization of finally being able to blog regularly.

2016: The Year of Realization

Realization, indeed! I got more than I wanted – not only on the professional level but on a personal level – in particular, the ever widening gap between conservatives and liberals. Not just in politics but in my family too.

Picture of Rod Sterling and caption In the year 2016, we stepped into the twilight zoneAll the ugliness, people hurling insults at one another on social media, the constant parodies, labeling. I hated seeing the horrible, discriminatory, racist and misogynistic attitudes and platform of the right. I wasn’t crazy about how women proudly wore the label “nasty woman” and how democrats gleefully used the term ”basket of deplorables” on the left.

It’s all so… negative.

I realized that we have an ever widening “Great Divide” in our country that just might…. destroy it?!

In my own family, there’s always been a bit of a divide, half liberals and half conservatives. We’ve mostly maintained a sort of unspoken rule “let’s not go there” in our family.

This year it’s blown up. My mother unfriended my husband on Facebook. A few family members have had squabbles where it’s gotten ugly – a few have even disowned each other.

I realized a lot of things about the society I live in and about my family.

And all of it breaks my heart.

Speaking of my heart, after over 8 years of recurring chest pain and weird random health issues that the doctors couldn’t find a cause for, a new symptom became known: anxiety.

The good thing with that symptom was that it finally made everything else click. The bad thing is, living with anxiety really sucks. That’s a whole blog-worthy topic by itself, let’s save that for later.

I realized I probably have fibromyalgia.

I had always skipped it as it appeared on search results during my searches for causes of the symptoms I had: neck pain, feeling of warm water running down my legs, clothes feeling too tight, skin so sensitive that it hurt.

With the anxiety symptom, I finally took a closer look, and everything matched to a T. The reason I kept skipping it on my search results is because the #1 symptom is widespread pain, which I didn’t really experience.

But now I realize that the frequent occurrences of my whole body feeling sore was considered “widespread pain.” Oh, ok – I wouldn’t describe it as widespread pain, but as achy and sore.

I guess to me, that is not “pain” after having giving birth to two boys with no epidural and living with 8 pins and a plate in my ankle that had broken in 3 places, as well as an arthritic wrist that also broke in 3. Oh and 6 months of brutal chemo for two different cancers eating me up inside?

And I don’t say that to minimize how it affects others. It simply means that pain is relative. And my relationship with pain is an intimate one.

After a while, I went to the doctor and he confirmed the diagnosis.

What causes the disorder is unknown. The theory is, somehow nerves are being impacted, causing them to misfire, making one feel sensation and pain where there shouldn’t be any, and that is where the anxiety comes in.

So that means, yes I’m a little bit crazy! (And that’s ok!)

I think it’s pretty funny to say my nerves are literally frayed. Good for a wince-laugh, yes?

Did I find the “realization” I was looking for? Yes!

The majority of my work these days are event related, and I work almost full time on Eventida.

The site has grown, last month we saw an increase from over 5,000 visitors monthly to over 7,500 and have over 30,000 events (technically in the hundred thousands if you count recurring events). We’ve gotten our first paying customers. The list goes on!

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out a recent blog I wrote “Milestones, Losses & Wins.”

I am still doing a little bit of client work for income, but it doesn’t stress me out as much.

And here I am writing this blog, bit by bit since the beginning of the year!

My Keyword for 2017

The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital.

What’s my keyword this year? I’ve set it to “People.”

For years and years I’ve been sooooo head deep in building a business and just barely keeping up with my most immediate family and local friends.

A lot of guilt has added up over the years from not being a very good friend and family member, not keeping in touch and telling them I’ve been thinking about them, not taking the time to make or find little gifts, send cards, to show I care.

I want the people I care about and admire the most to know it.

One of the problems I’ve always had with the business is that I was usually DOING too much work instead of focusing on LEADING. Last summer, I bumped into someone who I brought onto a big project team many years ago. It didn’t work out, but we are on great terms.

He said that I set the bar so high and expected so much, which was inspiring for him, he had never had anyone believe he was capable of that much. But he didn’t get the support he needed, answers to questions, guidance he wanted, because I was usually too busy.

I had already recognized that and have been focusing on creating a supportive environment at work. But I wasn’t confident that was truly the reason, and had self-doubts about my ability to lead… was it just ME being a hard person to work with? Was I just a bad leader, period?

Talking to this guy boosted my confidence and told me that I can be a good leader if I just focus on the follow through.

I can recruit, I can inspire with vision, I can make a person feel believed in… I just need to work on the rest.

I want to shift my daily thoughts from “what needs doing” to “how are my people? What do they need?”

AND, there’s myself who I haven’t been taking great care of.

I get so consumed in my work that I forget to eat, exercise, make appointments. No matter how much effort I put into keeping my workload manageable one or more of our projects, bosses, or my body doesn’t go according to schedule and conflicts with everything else, making me juggle.

I’m not a quitter, when I commit to something I see it through. So with projects that weren’t going well, when most people would have quit for their health or sanity, I stuck it through to the end. Often to the detriment of my health and/or financials.

For the last few years I’ve been learning more and more when to say no and to be more careful about the commitments I make. It’s a skill I have yet to master and will continue to work on.

Everything fascinates me! I love working with people to make their ideas and visions come true. But first, I need to make sure I am in a position to do that.

I want to include me when I say my keyword is people.

We’ve been living in Utah for five years, a very quiet place for us where we’ve been very focused on business and our family, not having much of a social life except through work, travels, and social media. The Deaf community there is very small and we didn’t have much in common with them, the majority were retired seniors from very different backgrounds.

Before, in Austin, we almost always had our “regulars” – people dropping by the house and vice versa. Who they were ebbed and flowed through the years, as people moved near, moved far, changed jobs and partners.

Meme: Surround yourself with people who make you smile moreHaving an impromptu meal together, BBQ’s, our kids playing together. We really missed having those close friendships with laughter, sharing news good and bad. Swinging by just to hang out and chat.

I want more people to BBQ with in our lives again.

Also, you know how they say “location, location, location” when it comes to business? We thought that the rule doesn’t apply to businesses offering a virtual service. But it does, we realized.

With a virtual business, there needs to be a strong core team operating and communicating efficiently together in person, supporting and managing all the remote workers, serving as a “hub.” And location can affect your ability to find the right people for this core team.

We found it very difficult to find the right tech-savvy talent we needed out of the approximately 100,000 working adults who lived in our area. It was even more difficult to recruit anyone to move there because it was not a well known big city.

Even though we shut down our creative services, we will still need the same kind of talent for Eventida. If we stayed, we’d likely run into the same problem again.

With fibromyalgia in the picture, it means I have to rely on people I can trust to keep things going when my body occasionally quits, and to be able to access support services in my native language, so I can improve my health – yoga classes, nutritionist, etc.

I want to move to where the right people are – for our social, business and health needs.

Last year, we started to seriously explore where the next home for our family and business would be. We went through many options…

Seattle was tempting – one of our best clients ever became a dear friend and had been pulling. A very techy city. The problem is, I like hot summers, I can’t live in a place that is cold all year – and my standard of “cold” is 80 degrees!

Southern California, as always, my birthplace and childhood home, with many great friends of both Lee and I living there, tugged at us. Warm sunny skies, palm trees, and beaches.

The Bay Area was briefly considered when we thought we were going to be attending an accelerator there, with access to a free office for a year. But that didn’t work out due to inaccessibility.

In the last 16 years, Washington DC has always been on my short list every time we talked about moving, but not Lee’s – it makes sense, I was there for over four years, he was there for only 10 months. But this time, he reconsidered!

All places had a long list of friends. But what about business opportunity?

We have to thank the NAD 2016 conference in Phoenix for helping with this decision. While there, we kept meeting great contacts for Eventida. We noticed a trend; the majority of them were in DC – and, we already have a ton of people we’d love to BBQ with there.

It took a while – we resisted and flip flopped, changing our minds every week – our roots are thick in the Southwest and West.

But we knew in our hearts, DC was it. Now, the question was, how to get there, how to transition? Where exactly to live? It wasn’t like we had a job offer where we knew we had to move nearby, that would make things a little easier.

One more thing – with the current political climate, we are concerned about the future of human rights in the United States. We want to meet with people who share the same passion about causes and political issues, and join them at marches and rallies!

I want to help protect the rights of all people!


Two Months In: Is it Working?

Yes! First, let me describe a little bit about what we do so that the rest makes sense.

Normally, we do our work remotely. We almost never had any local clients. This can make it difficult, especially these days with the improvement in apps and web software.

More and more people can do the work themselves – but need someone to set things up for them or show them how to use it. It is so much easier to be looking at the same screen and point to what they need to click on. Walking them through it remotely is really hard.

Lee was doing some sub-contract work with Eyeth Studios for Gallaudet University. There were people who had to do their part in the project and while discussing how to best provide support, I encouraged him to offer to fly in, meet the people, provide support in person.

Success! Many people thanked him several times over for patiently sitting with them and walking them through how to update content on the new site.

Two images side by side, one of a road in Utah, red cliffs and snow capped mountains, next to an image of Lee and Lisi, a city row house and blue sky in the background.I joined him for a few days in Washington DC, where I met with a few people(!) who I am now working with on some very exciting projects that will help us with Eventida. They would never have happened if I wasn’t there in person to toss an idea in during a conversation that sparked the whole thing.

After that, I flew to Miami and met with the people I’m working with on the DWU conference this summer. It was a very productive two days!

Connecting in person with the committee (people!) is making a huge difference already, compared to other remote committees I’ve worked with in the past, never meeting them until the event itself.

The biggest take-away I had was the fact that everyone on the committee had limited tech skills. I can’t do it all myself – email newsletters, social media marketing, website updates and so much more needs to be done – so I have been working on pulling together a team to better support the event.

We’re about to kick off, I’m so excited to be to working with Lissette to implement her vision of the event – which is likely to be one of, if not the best Deaf Women United conferences ever!

While Lee was in DC, he connected with the owners (people!) of another fast growing Deaf business and that connection opened the door for us to be able to come stay in DC, set up office and find our new home.

At first, we were thinking one of us would go, we’d swap until we were set for the family to move, but it was difficult to decide who should go first. Both of us needed to be there for different reasons.

Then we thought, “well let’s see if (Lee’s) mom can come and watch the boys, and then Lee’s dad and stepmom? It doesn’t hurt to ask,” and were thoroughly surprised to find both were available and willing, with the timing working out perfectly where we were able to go for five weeks! People – our family – who had our backs and supported us 100%!

So, we went to DC, found our new home in between all the work we were doing and business meetings with people(!), and signed the lease on our new life.

People. We need them. To have a social life. To be able to communicate, share feelings, support one another, and to make things happen. To truly feel part of a community, and above all… to be healthy.

I look forward to reporting the results next year. Meanwhile, here’s to a great 2017!


Elise is a former  journalist turned web developer turned event planner. She is deaf, advocates for accessible technology and ASL literacy, and very opinionated. Her passion is her family - husband Lee, sons Logan and Lucas - and her business.

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