I have a confession to make: I miss Five Seed. I miss my Etsy shop. I miss mixing up magical herbal remedies on the stove. I miss my old blog, where I talked about my life and activism and herbalism and where it seemed I interacted with so many people.
A string of events (both frustrating and wonderful) led me to where I am now. First, Etsy (via the FDA) laid down some super strict rules about descriptions in herbal shops back in late summer 2012. No more mentioning any health issues or conditions and since my shop was all about natural healing, I had to delete almost everything describing the products – and even then, Etsy threatened to shut down my shop three times. Once I had deleted everything to their satisfaction, my sales plummeted. I went from a super busy spring, thinking I was about to soar into sales heaven to less than 10 sales a month. It was a devastating blow in so many ways.
In September of that year, I developed a severe health crisis that caused me extreme pain 24/7 and prevented me from being able to function normally for months. All the energy I had was put into my day job, in fear that I’d lose it (since it was, by then, my only source of income), and the business fell by the wayside, lost in the fog of my confusion about what I should do next.
By October, I’d acquired a second job, to help me make up for what I’d lost in income from Five Seed and by January 2013, I had to pick up a third job. At that point, I was burnt out, frustrated, angry, depressed and hopeless – I was ready to let go of Five Seed completely, though I didn’t make the official announcement until later that year.
During the summer of 2013, I worked on my book, Glowing: Soulful Skincare. Writing books has been my lifelong dream – there is literally nothing I’d rather do – and upon completing this book, I started getting the idea of taking my business not just to another level, but in an entirely different direction. Suddenly, it was all about information. Designing courses, writing more books, creating events… My dreams were huge.
I started by rebranding Five Seed – I had a new name, a new design, a new logo – the whole nine yards. I designed a new website on Squarespace based around this new brand but something in the back of my mind said it was too silly. Maybe I was influenced by all the ladies I followed at the time: Tara Gentile, Marie Forleo, Gabby Bernstein – all of whom had a website called theirname.com. And so I made the last minute decision to pull all the new design elements and go with yancylael.com and a minimalist, modern look.
But something happened after that that I wasn’t aware of until a few months ago: I lost my way.
In the past, the research I did was focused on bookkeeping, design and herbalism – three pretty important things to focus on when you have an herbal shop, right? Once I moved on to yancylael.com, I started obsessively researching business, branding and marketing. None of that is bad – it’s all important if you want to be successful – but it’s almost as if the more I learned, the more I forgot myself.
As the months have gone by, my business has shrunk, much the way Five Seed did. And shrunk. And shrunk. On occasion, I have a good month, where I’m able to get enough exposure to make a hundred bucks or two. I kept thinking things would improve, but there I was, churning out more and more stuff, working harder to get it out there and making less than ever. I started the infamous email list (cuz you have GOT to have one if you want to be a success!) and I cry almost every time I send one out because each time, I get more and more unsubscribes.
And I think: Why? What am I not giving to the readers? What do they need? What do they want? (I’ve actually asked people, directly, but surprisingly, I get no response from such requests, which is vastly different than when I asked for customer opinions at Five Seed. Hmmm…) I’m always customer-oriented, looking to provide value-value-value.
Oddly, it seems that the more I tried to provide value, the less people perceived value.
Truth be told, I never was a huge fan of email marketing, anyways. Well, most of the time. I loved using it to announce sales and new products at Five Seed, but now, I almost wonder: is it even worth it to send out my blog post this week? Not that it’s not valuable…but this world is SO noisy. I don’t ever want to contribute to the noise, to the overstuffed inboxes, to the blah blah blah chatter. So each week, I struggle with whether or not I want to send out a newsletter. Ideally, I want it to be a chance to communicate with people and regularly touch base – somehow, I was able to do that even without a mailing list back at Five Seed. That’s what I want.
As for my new website? Crickets. What’s up with that? Is it because I got so busy I stopped reading and commenting on other people’s blogs? (Quite possibly.) Is it because it’s a new URL and therefore, low in Google rankings? (Maybe…?) Where did everybody go? What happened to my readers? What happened to the conversations?
Then I look at my blog and see the massive change it has undergone in the past year. I try to blog once a week (which is actually more consistent than I usually was at Five Seed) and use that for my email list – sometimes videos, sometimes not. Most of it is focused on skincare. I didn’t intend for that to happen – in fact, I can remember the first vlog I made and being uncomfortable that I was talking about skincare. I had started out as a green blog – should I be focusing so much on skincare? But of course! I’d just written a book about it and people wanted to hear more – they still had questions and I wanted to answer them.
So there are my weekly skincare tips, posted for the past year (almost)…and where did *I* go? I don’t post about my life much anymore, if at all. I don’t post about activism, green living, bicycle commuting, the evolution of my business. None of it. In fact, the most troubling thing to me is that I find I started writing a lot like some of the business and spiritual coaches I so admire – and that’s not really a good thing. I didn’t mean for it to happen and it’s not that it’s not me, entirely. But it’s more like me doing a bit. You know? Performing on stage the way I think I’m supposed to perform.
What really happened is that this venue whitewashed me (quite literally).
I’m still not entirely sure how it all came to be, but I got totally “genericized.” I think I was trying so hard to think about the future – ten years from now, when I hope to be a famous novelist and/or self-help author with big contracts with Random House (or Hay House) – that I started just trying to put the best face forward and keep the personal stuff to a minimal. (Ironic, considering how personal Glowing is.) I wanted to create a public persona that I would be proud of (or at least not embarrassed by) in the future.
All of that is a real challenge in this day and age. The internet is where we live and so much of our lives are there – even those of us who try to remain anonymous. I feel like I’ve tried it all. I’ve hidden behind a cute company name (Five Seed). (I didn’t even reveal my name outside of Etsy until about two years ago, believe it or not. I called myself Y on my blog for a long time.) I put out the messy and the good – and then only the good. Eventually, I used my real name. Many times, I tried to create a perfect magazine spread life that lived in the virtual world and nowhere else. Phew!
I wish I knew how to deal with it all. In my perfect world, I’d already have my big Random House contract and would be able to write without ever having to do book tours or big interviews. There’s a reason why writers write! Most of us are shy homebodies who get overwhelmed in public! Right? But that’s not the way things work anymore. Technology has revolutionized so many industries that nothing is the same as it was even just five years ago. Today, you have to have at least 1,000 followers on social media to get a publishing company to even look at your manuscript. It’s not about the writing anymore – it’s about how many people “like” you.
So good or bad – or something in between – it’s all here to stay. And I’m going to have to adapt and figure it out as I go.
Who am I now?
Not long ago, all this came to a head when I was sitting on the floor of my office, cleaning up thread off the carpet from a recent sewing project. I looked up at the window and the trees blowing in the wind outside and I got the chills. I realized in one thunderous moment that I missed Etsy. I missed Five Seed. I missed the life I had created with that shop, even though it was so hard, such a struggle to learn everything on my own, step-by-step, day-by-day.
That’s when I truly realized how much I had whitewashed myself. Made myself generic. I wanted to yell: I love herbs!! I’m totally into healing with crystals and energy work and all kinds of other hokey stuff! I love the forest and mystery and God and Goddess and the layers of beauty this world contains.
Oh, but I don’t say that here. Right? That’s just too much. Isn’t it? People come to me for help healing their skin. Heaven knows, if I talked too deeply about the spiritual practices I employ for healing…well, doggonit, people would flee from my mailing list faster than they are right now! Wouldn’t they?
Now I’m not so sure.
I have worked so hard to manage my image and what I portray to the world, trying to balance being real and authentic with the feeling that I *should* be providing generic advice that is accessible to everyone. (Come to think of it, this has even affected my writing, as I only allow myself to write the generic, whitewashed stuff these days – perfectly tailored, key-worded, no-more-than-800-words blog posts.)
But the truth is: The experiment failed. Or better yet, it wildly succeeded.
The last few years were such a series of profound disappoints in my personal life, leaving my little business the one thing I held on to. When it went under, it triggered another series of monumental disappointments and sorrows.
Going back and revisiting the blog from autumn 2012, I can feel how deep my despair was as I watched Five Seed sink to the bottom of the ocean. It wasn’t just a business – it was so much more than that. Something I can’t even put into words. It was a huge part of who I was and represented so much of what I value. It integrated so many parts of my personality and my priorities. The initial threat of losing it caused a snowball of problems, from my health to my activism/biking burnout. My whole life changed after that – quite literally.
And I’m sick of it. This isn’t what I wanted. Hallelujah! Don’t you love it when you find yourself in a space where you can say that with absolute certainty? It actually feels really good. Like you’re on the brink of a major turnaround.
As things stand today, I am overwhelmed with the idea of trying to integrate who I am and what I value into my website. I don’t know if I’ll pursue returning to my roots of skincare products (right now the lack of a few hundred dollars stands in my way), but whether I do or not, how do I integrate that with being a novelist and a non-fiction writer? And perhaps a few other things I’ve been thinking of that have nothing to do with either. Hmmm….
But there it is. Some major clearing is in store. The trees that died left their seeds behind and they are pushing up through the ground. It’s not over yet…