How To Slay Your Financial Fear Dragon

Business, business, business... Money, money, money.

Business, business, business... Money, money, money.

Erica Gellerman is a born entrepreneur. Though she's dipped her toe in the corporate pool (Amazon... I'll bet you've heard about how fun they are to work for!), she decided working for herself is more her speed. A CPA with an MBA, she's one of those entrepreneurs who you'll never hear saying she's "not good with numbers." And not only that, she's good at explaining numbers in a way that make non-numbers people (like, for example, me) get it. Here's her straightforward, no-nonsense advice to slaying your financial fear dragon. Take it away, Erica!

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You’re a CPA with an MBA and probably have a lot of other abbreviated titles that mean you’re “really good with numbers.” Has this always come naturally to you?

Yes and no. I was always good in math classes and have a pretty easy time digging into the numbers and thinking about how to strategically grow a business.

But the struggle is real when it comes to actual day-to-day organization and money management. Like most people, I don’t love to budget or do admin money management tasks, like invoicing and logging expenses. I’ve worked really (really, really) hard at managing that side of business because I know with that out of the way, I can focus on big picture, strategic goals and numbers, which is where my real passion lies.  

So you used to work at this little place called Amazon (read about her experience here). Lately, I’ve heard all sorts of nasty things about working there. Was the work environment what pushed you to start your own biz?

This is actually not my first company! I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I started my first business (aside from my childhood ventures) with a fantastic friend renting bridesmaid dresses. It was a crash course in small business ownership because we were in it every single day.

When my husband was relocated to London, I took a much less active role in our business - being 5,000 miles away made it tough to work on the product-based business. I went through a moment of panic where my income and identity changed and I wasn’t sure what to do. No longer having a paycheck or an income source sent me sprinting back to a corporate job. I started working in marketing for Amazon, even though deep down I knew I’d rather start another business.

Right before I started with Amazon, I remember telling my husband that I hoped I either loved it or hated it. I didn’t want there to be any in between where I felt trapped in a semi-cushy job because I liked the stable paycheck and felt like I could tolerate the work.

There was no in between with Amazon and almost immediately I knew I hated it. The work environment, the travel schedule, and the job itself was completely opposite of anything I wanted in my life. I knew that I needed to get out and I started reflecting on what I liked, what I was good at, and what I wanted to do with my career.

After a few months of brainstorming, a friend from business school reached out to me for advice about starting her business. At first I didn’t know why she wanted to talk to me (here I was miserable in my corporate job), but when we got on Skype I spent 90 minutes dumping out all of this information I didn’t realize I had. We looked at her business model, her revenue model, talked about the basics of setting up her books, how to position her company, and how she should price her product.

I hung up energized and happier than I had been in months. I realized that at Amazon I was so desperately unhappy. Talking about money and business with awesome, ambitious entrepreneurs made me come alive. I began brainstorming what I could do with this when I left Amazon. Had I not hated Amazon so much, I might not have realized exactly what I wanted to do.

What exactly do you do?

I’m a coach and consultant for creative entrepreneurs. I focus on building, managing and growing awesome businesses that treat money and profit as a strong foundation and base, rather than an afterthought.

Aside from 1:1 consulting, I write about business strategy and management on my website.

Erica Gellerman. Manages her books AND finds time to hang out by the harbor. 

Erica Gellerman. Manages her books AND finds time to hang out by the harbor. 

I think many people (ahem, me) have a lot of anxieties around money. I understand that having a grasp on my financial situation is important… so why do I keep burying my head in the sand?! Convince me that managing my money is not only important, but that it doesn’t have to be (and can even be fun)!

To be totally honest, there are some parts of managing the financial side of your business and life that will be boring. For me, sending invoices, logging expenses, and tracking myself against a budget will never be fun. I have to bribe myself to do it weekly.

But while that part of things isn’t fun, the freedom and confidence that comes with having a solid understanding of your financial situation is really exciting. When you have the basics of your money under control, you’re empowered to make the right decisions. To work smarter, not harder. And to invest in things that will actually make your business grow.

For example, by having the basics under control, I’m able to feel confident in decisions:  knowing when I can hire an employee, traveling to an expensive conference I’ve been dying to attend, and hosting a fun meet-up with my fellow entrepreneurs. I’ve also been able to get really comfortable with knowing what my time is worth, pricing, and negotiating.

But getting past the boring basics and to the confident, exciting part of managing your business can be hard. You bury your head in the sand for the same reason that I keep eating brownies instead of going to the gym. Just because you know you should be doing something doesn’t make you actually do it.

To get past this, focus on starting small to make yourself work on the not so fun part of managing finances. Give yourself small tasks to start with, like opening an account for your taxes, rather than the expectation that you’re going to sit down for four hours and get everything under control.

Consistency is also key, so you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed. Friday afternoons I know I’m not at my most productive, so I set aside 20 minutes to catch up on finances. I send invoices, pay bills, log expenses, check account balances, and make any necessary transfers. And when that’s done the weekend can start and I can have that glass of wine that I know I deserve.

My transition from a regular 9-to-5 office gig was gradual. My business and personal expenses are a wee bit intertwined—for example, I signed up for my web hosting two years ago with my personal credit card when my blog was a hobby, not jobby. What are three tips you’d give a newbie entrepreneur who’s setting up business finances for the first time?

Start putting away money in a separate account for taxes on day 1. You’ll need to file quarterly estimated taxes and having to take that money out of your checking account when the bill is due is too painful.

Open a business checking account and start separating your personal from your business finances as soon as you can. The sooner you start separating things, the easier it will be to manage money in your business and personal life.

Start working on your finances slowly. There are 85 things on your to-do list and there will never be enough time to dedicate a full day to getting organized with your finances. Don’t let that stop you. Find 20 minutes a week to doing small things to get yourself on track.

Working for yourself is awesome, but most of us don’t have easy systems in place for retirement savings, paying taxes and health insurance. What some rules of thumb for putting these long-term financial plans into place?

The easiest way to start your system is by setting up separate bank accounts. To start, set up the following accounts:

  • Business checking (operating account)
  • Tax account
  • Retirement account
  • Personal checking
  • Personal savings
  • Business savings

Your business checking should be used for all business income and bills and to transfer money to the other four accounts. Once you’ve paid your basic business expenses, some rules of thumb for transfers are:

Tax account: transfer 25% of your net income into this account first. Uncle Sam needs to get paid.

Retirement account: 10-15% of your net income should be moved into this account next. Your future self will thank you.

Personal checking: pay yourself a paycheck of a set dollar amount (not a % of your income).

Personal savings or business savings: depending on how much you have remaining, you can put some away into your personal savings, your business savings, or leave it in your business checking account as a buffer.

For example, let’s say that one month you have income of $5,000 and expenses of $500. Once you’ve paid your expenses you have $4,500 left for your transfers. You’d transfer:

  • Tax account: 25% of net income, or $1,125
  • Retirement account: 10% of net income, or $450
  • Personal checking: $2,500 (your pre-determined, steady paycheck each month)
  • Remaining: $425 to put to a savings account or to leave in checking as a buffer

I wrote a more in-depth article on The Everygirl about setting up a budgeting system when you’re self-employed

Biggest mistake you see most entrepreneurs make, financially.

Paying themselves last. I get it. I did it. And sometimes you can’t help it. But you are your best employee (often your only employee) and if you can’t focus on growing your business if you’re not paying yourself enough to make rent.

And can I get a bonus second mistake? It’s pricing. A lot of people really struggle with setting prices confidently. I see a lot of people under-charging or never raising prices. If you don’t make pricing a priority, you’re likely leaving a lot of money on the table.

What are your favorite tools for tracking money?

In my work life, I use the Wave app for bookkeeping. It’s free (amazingly) and it allows me to invoice and keep track of my income and expenses easily.

In my personal life, I actually don’t use a program to actively budget. I’ve used YNAB in the past and I plan to start using it again for my business budget. But over the last year or so I’ve ditched the personal budget monitoring and it has made things a lot simpler. I transfer what I want to save into savings accounts immediately after I pay myself and leave the rest in my checking. I spend the rest of the month living off that remaining amount.

Since I’ve already put aside what I want to save, I don’t feel guilty when I spend money for the rest of the month and I don’t need to keep checking in on my personal budget. I can only spend what I have in my checking and once it’s gone, it’s ramen only for dinner until my next payday.

What are three things you wish everyone knew about managing their money?

1.) You don’t need to have your money management game set up perfectly all at once. That’s overwhelming.  Small steps and good habits create enormous change.

2.) Day to day money management can be a drag. But once you have it under control you can use that foundation to make really smart, informed decisions that are exciting and grow your business (and yourself) to a whole new level.

3.) Making a small amount of money does not make you a failure and making a large amount of money doesn’t make you a crook.

A lot of people struggle with the idea that if they’re not making a ton of money right now, they’re not truly successful. Your worth is not tied to your income.

On the flip side, I’ve seen people hesitant to charge what they’re worth because they feel guilty that they’re somehow conning their clients into paying them. If you create quality work that you’re proud of and your customers or clients find great value in, you’re not a scammy con-artist.

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Want more super-smart, easy to digest financial advice? Check out (and you can follow her on Twitter at @ericagellerman). Erica is also offering free tools for Small Steps That Matter (for your business finances). Once a week for 5 weeks she'll send one small step with easy to follow instructions that readers can take to work on their business. Sign up! I know I am!

PS Speaking of money, which number would you be more likely to share-- your weight or your sallary



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A Simple Trick to Make Every Day More Enjoyable

See her subtle smile? That's what I'm talking about. 

See her subtle smile? That's what I'm talking about. 

In life, there are adders & subtractors. 

Adders are the kinds of people who enhance situations. They're helpful, kind, and give off positive energy. They add. Subtractors do the opposite. While they might not be complete a-holes, they're often negative, pessimistic and like to complain a lot. I'll bet you can think of examples of both in your life. You've probably taken turns as an adder and a subtractor.  

I know I have.  

Adders and subtractors have lots of power. They can change the dynamic of a room simply by walking into it-- with good OR bad juju in tow. Say you're at a dinner party, having a great time and someone arrives late. If they walk in the door apologetically, but smiling and excited to be there? Great. That's an add. But if they start bitching about traffic and how crappy their day was and jeez I need a damn drink? Um, subtract.  

There's an easy way to be an adder, every day, in any situation.



Yep, it's simple and cheesy. But it's the truth. A smile is literally all it takes to be an adder.  

Here's how to apply this (in a mostly non-cheesy way): 

Think of how many new spaces you enter on any given day. The kitchen in the morning, your office, the gym, your house after work. What do you act like when you walk through that door? Do you smile and greet people? Do you just go through the motions? Do you suffer from resting bitch face (like me!) and inadvertently glower at people? Do you glower on purpose? 

Whatever the case, and whether you like it or not, this affects not only you but the people around you. It rubs off. And if you're crabby, it's only going to make things worse. 

I've been testing this out for months and am shocked at how differently people react to me. Smile on my face? I get smiles back. Scowl? You know what I'm gonna say. If you want to experience this in a particularly impressive way, try smiling at people the next time you're in a crowded place. Sporting event, packed bar, concert. 

Email me with your results. 

If you're not game for that, how'd but just for the rest of the week (really!), try to smile whenever you enter a new space. If you want extra-credit, smile when a new person enters a space you're in. It might feel awkward at first, but it will eventually become second nature.

You don't need to go crazy-- like how I'd imagine Taylor Swift might act if she found a litter of kittens in a donut shop that rained glitter and sprinkles.

Just a subtle smile will work.

However, if you want some extra good vibes, try greeting someone you really like with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever. I literally do this every day when my husband gets home from work (sometimes I even lick his face... no, I don't... okay, maybe I do!) and I swear it changes the entire dynamic of our evening. 

Lastly, if you have a chronic subtractor in your life, try to chop 'em off at the knee by sneaking in some adder behavior before they even have the chance to poop on your rug. I like to unleash the golden retriever on these people. It doesn't always work, but it's always worth a shot.

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Want some other simple tricks to making your life just a little better? Reach out to someone you haven't spoken to in awhile. Trust me, it feels good.




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This Week's Best Stuff on the Internet

Hey-o! It's October, and that means I'll be watching scary movies all month long. What are some of your favorites? My hubby used to think Pet Sematary was the scariest movie of all time... until he recently re-watched it. As it turns out, 80s horror did not age well. Except in the case of The Shining

I went to a pizza farm with The Midwestival. I helped with the food styling (not too shabby, I must say!), but mostly helped with the eating. 

My friend Samantha Brown (aka the girl with the best job in the world!) returns to Travel Channel tonight with an awesome, brand new series: 50/50. You can read all about the insane premise here, then tune in tonight at 7pm ET!

When a friend is going through some serious shiz, you don't want to say the wrong thing. Trouble is, most of us just don't know what to say, PERIOD. Here's a diagram that's super-de-duper helpful

Long live La Croix! I resonate with #18 especially.

Please tell me I'm not the only one eye-rolling over this Demi Lovato publicity stunt. I mean, I'm happy about her new found confidence in her body. Really, that's great! But this isn't really about you, it's about selling your new album, Confident. I dunno, the whole thing feels disingenuous. PS as far as I know, I've never been airbrushed and nobody's calling me brave for it. You know who's actually brave? This woman. And this guy

And because I dislike ending things on a downer note, anyone in the Twin Cities looking for a sweet doggie to add to their family? Raven is staying with us this weekend and she's simply lovely. Low-key, loves to snuggle, good with people, cats, other dogs and kids. Read more about her here.

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How I Quit Living Out My Parents' Dream

What happens when you realize your dreams differ from what your parents want?

What happens when you realize your dreams differ from what your parents want?

Erica Manami is a bad-ass graphic designer, living out her creative dreams in San Antonio, Texas. She's always been drawn to creative arts-- sewing, drawing, photography, underwater basket weaving. However, her parents (specifically, her dear mom) knew she'd make an amazing doctor. From an early age, she was encouraged to pursue math, science and anything that would land her in a prestigious university. She worked her butt off, got the grades, and over-achieved all the live-long day. On paper? Erica was on the express train to Doctortown. In real life, she was miserable.

Here's how Erica quit living out someone else's dream & unearthed her passion.

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You describe yourself the first-born child of a Japanese Tiger mom. What exactly do you mean by that?

By that, I mean a couple of things. 

1) Being the child of a Tiger Mom means I was pushed and held to a very high standard. The stereotype of asians is generally: smart (particularly math and science), plays an instrument, straight A’s, you get the idea. That is because we have parents that more or less forced us to be that way. Some out right, some in subliminal ways. All of these things are accurate for me.

2) Being the first-born of said Tiger Mom means I was held to the highest standard among my siblings. Imagine being the child singled out and expected to be brilliant, earn lots of money, and care for the family, then add in the details of item 1. That’s what I mean by “first-born child of a Japanese Tiger mom.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and I would not be the person I am today without all these things. It just made my journey interesting.

Did the pressure of achieving overwhelm you growing up, or did it just feel “normal”?

Growing up I would say it just felt normal because it had just always been there. In a way it, was a magic eight ball making decisions for me. When choosing between the sleepover and studying for the test, I knew the ‘correct’ answer was to study. So I rarely bothered to ask to go to the parties. As I got older, the overwhelm started because that’s when you start making more decisions for yourself. Then I started adding all these ‘rules’ for myself, building more walls around those early parental pressures until I was trapped in my little fortress path of achieving.

What's missing in this picture? How 'bout Erica's stethoscope and scrubs!

What's missing in this picture? How 'bout Erica's stethoscope and scrubs!

A few years ago, you were a honor student on the path to becoming a doctor. What did your life look and feel like?

Up until 2009 (my freshman/sophomore yrs of college) I was the poster child for the dutiful first born. I was a full-time student at a private university, with a FULL course schedule taking all the required pre-med courses as well as a weekend, 20-hour job. Then there were the various organizations I was a part of, some required for my scholarship that I’d earned through hard work in high school. Others were to boost my resume for med school applications.

I had lived in the pre-med ‘Living Learning Community’ my Freshman year, so I got really lucky in building some amazing friendships with other pre-med students. Needless to say, I had cultivated the perfect incubator environment for carving my path to becoming a doctor and I was busy being busy.

Despite this perfect dome, there were cracks forming in the glass. While my classmates took the basic easy art 101 course so it wouldn’t get in the way of their Chemistry classes, I signed up for the labor intensive Film Photography course. Instead of doing the minimum to get a passing grade, and even the minimum to get an A so I could be at the Genetics study group, I was spending 20+ hrs in the darkroom. My genetics final project… yeah, I turned that into a stop-motion video project instead of a much easier poster.

My life pre-September 2009 looked like a dedicated pre-med student. But if you stuck around my dorm into the midnight hours to see if I was cramming for biology, you would have noticed I was actually using the 10pm-2am hrs for every last photo developing time in the creepy art building. 

What pushed you to finally quit pre-med?

Until recently, I couldn’t remember the date that I made the decision to quit, only the dream that influenced me. Thanks to Facebook’s memories reminders, I apparently recorded it with a FB post in the days when you still had to write in third person (Ha!).

Sept. 28, 2009, I woke up from a night terror after spending the entire evening before cramming for an organic chemistry test. This dream was the kind where you wake up sweating and in tears, immediately psychoanalyzing yourself wondering if you’ve lost it for real this time. I haven’t forgotten the details of this dream. Since then I’ve learned to trust my dreams when they influence big life decisions. I’m a little ‘woo-woo’ like that.

But the details of the dream aren’t relevant for you all to know as to why I quit. That dream made me halt and recognize the building stress in my brain and body from my studies. I hadn’t been happy with the trajectory of my life in a very long time. I realized that I didn’t want a life/career that would cause me this much distress. I wasn’t having fun studying these topics like I had in high school, and that med school would be double this stress and a LOT more expensive.

Suddenly, my life was black and white. It became crystal clear that the path I was on was one I had crafted for myself around those early childhood influences of my mom. I made the decision to make my life mine, not what my parents expected. I walked in and did the best I could on the exam, knowing the results no longer controlled the destiny of my life. Talk about a relief! 

Erica's love of lettering! (PS I think those are her husband's hands, not her hands)

Erica's love of lettering! (PS I think those are her husband's hands, not her hands)

Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?

Honestly, the decision wasn’t scary because it didn’t feel like a choice as much as an epic ‘Ah-ha!’ moment. And really the scary part was realizing what could have happened. I could have had this moment years down the road in the middle of med-school with loads of debt or in my career realizing too late that I’d just followed what I was told instead of what was best for me.

How did your parents react when you told them you were switching to a Design Arts major?

I would say my dad was definitely more accepting of it, and if anything wasn’t really surprised. He had probably already recognized he’d raised four creative souls long ago, especially considering my parents are creatives, too. My mom, on the other hand, didn’t quite understand. Or at least that’s how it felt to me. To this day, I think there’s some part of her that thinks I might still become a doctor. I need to work on those Braid worksheets of “How to Explain What You Do” just so my family can figure it out finally.

Which was harder: quitting, or telling your parents that you quit?

Telling my parents was definitely the tougher thing to do. Telling my parents was me facing the Goliath of my own making. The beast that was my mistaken self identity, family pressures and personal fears rolled into one. If I’m being honest, while writing this and remembering this growth stage, this interview brought back all the feels. Quitting wasn’t really a choice as much as a moment of clarity. My friends saw it as an ‘Oh duh, Erica’ moment because they knew me better than I knew myself then.

In retrospect, do you think you’ve always known you were an artist at heart?

Yes. Hindsight is always 20/20. Every summer since elementary school, I’d looked forward to the local art camps where I learned to weave a basket and caste a mold of my own hand. I’d been sewing since 3rd grade making hand sewn clothes for my Barbies and doing some sort of knitting/crochet. It should have been obvious when my own sisters nagged on me for DIY-ing too many things. All of these creative outlets kept getting squeezed out of my life, and yet I’d still make time for it.

Happiest moment since deciding to pursue an arts career? most frustrating?

I don’t know if I could pick a happiest moment. Once I made the decision to quit, every decision has made me happier than the last. That had been missing from my life. Frustrating? The little moments when I almost gave up on myself and my pursuit of being a creative.

How has quitting changed your life?

Short answer: Epically. Let’s see the differences. If I hadn’t quit, about now I would still be in MO (most likely), starting my med school residency, be severely in-debt, rarely get to travel and learning to live on a consistent level of high stress. But I did quit! I am fantastically busy building my dream creative life as an in-house designer for a local studio to support my side hustle (, just got married in July, living in TX, and building our custom house (another side project (

Advice for someone afraid of letting down their parents?

Deep down, your parents want what is best for YOU. It just might take a while for them to accept it. The dreams they had for you might be the dreams they had had for themselves and hoped to live out through you. But in the end, they’ll realize you are making the choice they weren’t brave enough to make. And if they don’t understand, then they’re still in the midst of their own choices, and that’s not your problem to deal with.

What are the three most important things you’ve learned since quitting your parents dream?

You have to make decisions for yourself. In the end, it’s your life to live. You can take steps back, have down days, and change directions, just don’t quit on yourself.

The woo-woo lesson: Trust your dreams/nightmares. Most are simply helpful for processing day to day life, but the big epic dreams are worth investing some think time on. 

Advice to someone who’s thinking of liberating their life?

The decision doesn’t need to be swift. Take some time to think it through. Do the pro/con list if necessary, pray, talk it out with a friend, go through your process. After a week, you’ll know in your heart regardless of the results of the list, what the right decision is for you.

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Learn more about Erica on her website, Manami Design as well as Instagram.  

Have a great quitting story? I want to hear it! Send me your story at heyeleanorproject [at] gmail [dot] com.

Other creative quitters? There's Ruth, who quit being a lawyer to write romance novels and act. And how 'bout Matt & Megan, who quit their day-to-day gigs to start a secret supper club?



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What To Do When You Have No Idea What You're Doing.

Not that I ever have no idea what I'm doing...

Not that I ever have no idea what I'm doing...

Earlier this summer I posted this photo of dogs in our backyard:

Patsy & Freddie, getting along. 

Patsy & Freddie, getting along. 

I wanted to show that our dog (Patsy, right) was finally getting along with our foster dog, Freddie (left). My husband saw this photo and immediately commented on how crappy our yard looks.

I looked at the photo again.


Dead wreath in the corner, shabby woodpile to the left, a few crummy hostas and scrubby trees, a crumbling concrete wall... hmm, when viewed through this new lens, I guess he had a point. I'd become blind to our lackluster yard. This photo incited a chain reaction that lead to us scouring Angie's List for landscapers who could turn our trash into treasure.

As I mentioned, oh, I don't know... ONE MILLIONS TIMES ON THIS BLOG, my hubby Josh is super handy. While I have ideas for what I want a final project to look like, I don't how to get there. So if we're talking with contractors, electricians, or anyone quoting anything for our house, I let Josh take the lead.

Josh contacted a few landscaping companies, briefly outlining what we were looking for: 

  • a sidewalk that stretched from the front of the house to the back
  • a paver walkway from the patio to the garage
  • ripping out some scrubby trees/weeds & planting grass.

    All three responded and offered to come check out the yard. However, Josh was traveling all summer for work... which meant I would be the one meeting the landscapers. 


I was terrified that the landscaping guy would come over, see big, dumb idiot written all over my face. He'd realize I knew nothing, and use it to his advantage to manipulate me-- or worse, write me off completely, gently suggesting he'd "just speak to my husband later."

I did not want that! I wanted to confidently explain the project. I wanted to speak clearly and give precise direction. With authority. Like Eleanor!

I was determined to fake it 'til I made it.


Or whatever.

I started by compiling a bunch of examples of what Josh and I liked on Pinterest. What better way to explain exactly what you're looking for than with visuals? 

My Pinterest patio board. PS are we friends on Pinterest yet?

My Pinterest patio board. PS are we friends on Pinterest yet?

Next, Josh and I walked through our yard, discussing our vision. Sidewalk here. Walkway there. Grass here. I took mental notes. I felt prepared to meet with the first landscaping dude.

I can do this. 

The next day, the landscaping guy arrived. We started in the front yard. I briefly explained where we wanted the sidewalk to go. He traced the imaginary sidewalk with bright orange spray paint. As we walked along the side of the house, he sprayed a bright orange line from the front to the back.

When I looked at the line, it seemed really wide. Wider than Josh and I had talked about. When I said we'd wanted something more like 2.5 - 3 feet wide, he responded kindly, but with authority: "Well, a traditional sidewalk is 3-4 feet across." Well... he's the expert, and I have no idea what I'm doing.

I let him do his thing. 

By the time he'd walked through our yard, the lawn looked more orange than green. 

When we got the quote two days later, the price was roughly three times more than we'd expected. Without me standing up for our vision, we basically ended up for a full yard of concrete. Obviously, this was not going to work.

Before the next company arrived, Josh and I went over the plan. Again. We were firm on the width of the sidewalk (3 feet, max!). Firm on the walkway. Firm on where we'd plant grass, firm on where plants would go. Okay, I got this. 

I met with the next landscape company-- someone I know through my dad, but not well. I explained exactly what we wanted. The quote came back at half the price. We went for it. 

Two weeks later, his crew arrived with a Bobcat. 

Just a little light dirt relocation. 

Just a little light dirt relocation. 

We knew they needed to regrade a bit... but we weren't exactly expecting this:

Uh... remember when this was our yard?

Uh... remember when this was our yard?

Since I work from home, I'm the default on-site decision maker... which made me panic as this "small landscaping project" had all of a sudden turned into an archaeological dig.

As the first day went on, the well-intentioned company owner started peppering me with questions: Do you want a French drain? What about raised flower beds over here? Ever thought about a grass-and-paver patio? We could do that instead. We could add a stone veneer to that concrete wall. I know you want a classy, sophisticated yard, Molly, he said. 

On the inside, my head was spinning. I'm open to suggestions, but this was a bit much. How in the heck do you know what I want? And WTF is a French drain?! AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S EVEN GOING ON ANYMORE!!!

On the outside, I said, Yeah, maybe. Why don't you just ask my husband later. (!!!!!)

So much for all that confidence I was pretending to have.

I went back inside the house, took a few deep breaths, and maybe cried a little. Then, I called Josh.

He's confusing me with all sorts of new options! I don't understand and I don't know what to do! Josh and I talked over the plan, again. Concrete sidewalk. Paver walkway to the garage. Grass seed in the yard.

Easy. Straightforward. Simple. 

And yet for nearly a week straight, every time I tried to explain this to the guy overseeing the work, it just kept getting more complicated. He'd come up with six variations of what I wanted, and 10 new ideas for things I didn't. 

Our simple sidewalk... exactly as we wanted it!

Our simple sidewalk... exactly as we wanted it!

Slowly as the week went on, I shrank. My confidence disappeared. My stomach turned every time I went outside. I'd take deep breaths and strike power poses, and yet... nothing seemed to help. The project was looking fine, but I felt like I'd lost control. This was my money, and my house, and yet I wasn't steering the ship. 

I was so incredibly disappointed in myself.

And then one day, the head honcho wasn't there. It was just the crew. They started asking me clarifying questions:

It sounds like you only want a 3-foot wide sidewalk, right? You don't want us to plant flowers in the back, right? You just want a plain, simple paver walkway to the garage, right?

Yes! That's exactly it!

Forgot to sign my name. Next time, I guess. 

Forgot to sign my name. Next time, I guess. 


As it turned out, they'd followed my storyline perfectly. They knew what I was asking for. They got it! I was just having a communication issue with their boss. Once I knew the guys doing the actual landscaping and concrete work were tracking with me, I felt total relief. Both about the project, and myself.

Look at that paver walkway = || = || =

Look at that paver walkway = || = || =


Ultimately, the yard turned out great.

Though messy, the regrading ended up making our basement less damp. The sidewalk is simple and perfect. The walkway? Basic pavers that get the job done. The grass is finally growing in. We still have some planting to do this fall, but it's exactly like we wanted.

Our new sidewalk!

Our new sidewalk!

The new fence that my hubby built (I even helped a little). 

The new fence that my hubby built (I even helped a little). 

Personally, I think he did a great job.

Personally, I think he did a great job.

The grass is starting to, uh... look like grass.

The grass is starting to, uh... look like grass.

Look at the grassy runway for our doggie :)

Look at the grassy runway for our doggie :)

The paver walkway. Chicken wire = not permanent. Just keeping the dogs off the new grass.

The paver walkway. Chicken wire = not permanent. Just keeping the dogs off the new grass.

My biggest takeaway from this entire project: No amount of confidence can make up for a lack of communication. 

Next time I have no idea what I'm doing, I'll focus on communication, not confidence. If things stop making sense I won't see it as a reflection of my intelligence. I'd see it as a communication problem. Just because someone is good at, say, landscaping, doesn't mean they're good at communicating. And certainly, just because someone owns a house, it doesn't mean they know what goes in to fixing them up.

The challenge is both sides admitting their shortcomings, then working together to figure out the disconnect.

I'll try harder to make that happen next time. But for now, I'm just going to enjoy my lovely backyard.

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A few other things that have happened in our yard: I used a circular saw & built a fence. And then this other time, I learned how to break up a dog fight. It was so, so scary! 


Stuck in a rut?


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