God Bless Texas

“I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.”

– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

It’s been six months since I’ve moved to Austin, and I’m more in love with Texas than ever before. When I moved to Lubbock 5 1/2 years ago, I questioned why all my classmates were obsessed with the state. I didn’t have anything against Texas, but their obsessive love made me defend my belief that it was “just a state,” as was every other state. Nothing special.

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At work a few weeks ago, my boss interrupted me to point out, “the girl from Ohio is wearing a Texas necklace.” The tables have turned.

A week before receiving the gold chained state with a heart precisely where Austin resides, I gushed to my cousins about how great Texas is, in an attempt to get everyone to move to my oasis. The truth is, I’ve become that boastful Texan, proud to flaunt my license and ready at any moment to talk about my Lone Star home.

But I don’t think the expansive landscape is what caused me to fall head over heels; it’s that, this place I call home, is what shaped me into the woman I am today. Stepping out from everything I knew at 18, to come to Texas for school, alone, forced me to define who I wanted to be.

Now, more than five years later, I can look back and see the transformation and growth my life has lived. I am proud of whom I’ve become, what I stand for, how I present myself, and where I foresee myself going next. Discovering myself has brought happiness to my life, and recognizing that happiness makes me want to help others find their happiness, which, spoken like any good Texan, means moving South.

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New Year: New Outlook

Each new year, as the clock strikes 12, billions of people resolve to change something in their lives (after sharing in a toast… or two of champagne). It’s the fresh start that fills us with the idea of hope. Of course, there are always those Negative Nancys, telling us we shouldn’t wait for a new year to start that diet, or give up smoking – but if indulging in a whole pizza one last time helps you get your health on track, I say, start whenever you want.

Attending church on a regular basis, spending time each morning with God, or somehow growing in faith, is a common resolution. Church on the first Sunday of the year looked like the first day of a new college semester: filled 20 minutes before class by people you won’t see again until finals (or in the case of church, Easter). I didn’t even get to sit in my usual pew. Fellow Catholics out there, you know the struggle.

Vatican on Christmas & New Year

St. Peter’s Square at New Years, 2011. Source: AP

I don’t mean to join the crowd of Debbie Downers when I say, January 1st isn’t the only time we renew our faith. In taking a Bible study class the last few months, one of the real lessons I’ve uncovered is the truth of Purgatory. A scary word to most Catholics, Purgatory is believed to be the place one gets “stuck,” if unworthy of Heaven, though aren’t immediately sentenced to Hell. Many have grown up, fearful of getting “stuck” in this “in between” for an infinite amount of time.

Studying Corinthians in this particular class, I read, “Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

Like a light bulb above a 1960’s cartoon character’s head, I was suddenly faced with a different, and less scary, picture of Purgatory.
Rather than a punishment for your sins, I wondered out loud to my Bible study group, if Purgatory could instead be a place of cleansing. Like fire cleans gold and silver, Purgatory seems to me more of a “second chance” for us sinners.

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Source: ChinUpLittlePup

I believe in a forgiving God, but not a forgetful God. As humans, we all sin. God can, and will, forgive us of our sins, if we ask for forgiveness and truly accept Jesus Christ as the way to and through that forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean we get a free pass into Heaven. I think Purgatory could be a place for us to completely cleanse ourselves of all our sins. Just as we feel exiting a confessional booth, or walking out of a salon after a facial, we can walk out of Purgatory and through Heaven’s Gates feeling stripped of our Earthly wrongdoings. Instead of fearing Purgatory, I started to feel thankful for the chance to present myself to The Lord “whole” and “clean.”

The idea of a complete, fulfilling and healthy life is just what many look toward reaching and achieving when it comes to New Year resolutions, but whether you decide to focus on health and fitness, faith, career aspirations, or something else in 2016, don’t think of small progress each day the way older Catholics think of Purgatory. Progress isn’t punishment; it’s preparation for the perfect presentation of yourself.

Facing your Fears: Making the Big Move

If you are wondering if it will be worth it, it will.
If you question if you can do it, you can.

At my lowest point, I told myself making it to my goal and living out my dream would be great, but it wouldn’t be worth the pain in that moment.
I was wrong.

All the pain, all the doubts, all the worry that haunted me, day in and day out, vanished with the call that I had gotten a job. The next time I drove down the road and turned to see the Austin skyline paint itself across the sky, I thought: “I live here. This is my life.”
And just like that, a year worth of desire was satisfied.

Austin, Texas. Looking down South Congress.

Photo credit: Instagram @AustinPassbook

A friend recently told me how unhappy she’s become in her job and city. I’ve learned from experience, when you are in that position, everyone tells you to “wait it out.” But that doesn’t always work. Everyone tells you “it will be worth the pain,” but that doesn’t numb it.

Time doesn’t fix everything. Change can fix things too. You have to put yourself out there. Take the chance. Make the change. Flipping your life upside down may be exactly what you need to find happiness.

At church this morning, I was reminded that happiness is the greatest pleasure we experience, in Heaven. But just as often as we experience suffering on Earth, we can also experience happiness. God didn’t make us in His image to be unhappy during every moment of our Earthly lives.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Matthew 5:1-12

If you know what you want, but are scared if taking the chance will work out in your favor: Do it. If it truly is your dream to live somewhere else, or work in a different field, or date someone new – it will work out. We have a way of putting in a little extra effort toward the life we want to live.

So go out. Live your life.

Austin, Texas. Capitol

Photo credit: Instagram @EmilyPellegrini

Negotiating: It’s About More Than Just Money

Benefits at your new gig are about much more than just your paycheck every two weeks. Many people think of asking for a few thousand dollars more a year when they go into the office to negotiate a deal, but salary isn’t the only thing to take into consideration.

† Insurance

The majority of working people can’t say no to insurance. It wouldn’t be a smart decision come flu season, not to mention wellness visits and dentist checkups. But, if you are under 26 and your parents allow you to stay on their insurance policy – DO IT.

Insurance is a major deduction from your paycheck. If this is your first major job out of college and you have no children, you’ll be able to save up a great deal of cash if you forfeit insurance. And not only does it benefit you, keeping your hard earned money for yourself, it’s great for your company too because you are one less person they have to pay for, should you need surgery or medications.

A good place to start is how many years you don’t need an insurance plan. If you are 23, ask for an extra $3,000 because the company won’t have to pay anything toward your medical expenses for three years.

† Paid time off/sick leave

As someone who was given only two holidays off a year and had no vacation days for the first six months, paid time off is a big deal, especially your first missed Christmas home. Again, if you are forfeiting a health insurance plan, ask for a few extra paid days off in place of a higher salary.

You may think the money is more important than a couple extra days to yourself, but averaged out, $3,000 is only a little over $100 extra a paycheck – easy to spend without realizing it. Try taking an extra day with your family next Easter, and you’ll see a drop in your paycheck if the day wasn’t taken as paid vacation.

† Growth opportunities

You can’t exactly negotiate growth opportunities before you start working. No company is going to promise a promotion to someone they haven’t yet seen hit the books, but setting a time for a raise, say six months or a year, is security for both you and your employer. You are promised a more comfortable paycheck, and your employer is promised time not spent hiring someone to fill your vacant spot.

Conclusion
The next time you go into your boss’s office to talk about a raise, don’t take no to a higher salary as defeat. Negotiate things other than straight cash, and you both can walk out happy. For more on negotiating an entry-level job offer, check out websites like H&R Block or Forbes.

Gif of Success.Taking care of business

Image courtesy of Tumblr, wswcmom

Photo of A Young girl, looking out over water

Five tips to Bump your Resume to the top of the Applicant Stack

Standing on the floor of an auditorium, throwing your cap into the air, you feel like you have the whole world in front of you. Graduating college: something everyone has told you will open doors and opportunities.

But you can’t find a job. Because even though your parents said a college degree was the key to a successful career, so did millions of other parents.

“In fall 2015, some 20.2 million students are expected to attend American colleges and universities.

Not all will graduate, of course, but many will. Which means you aren’t as unique as you felt looking up at a sea of caps and tassels. You have to prove to employers why you are the graduate they should hire.

So how do you get a job? Where do you start? Maybe you’re a recent graduate, looking for your first full-time job, or maybe you’re a seasoned 9-5er, looking to grow your career. Either way, the job-hunting process isn’t easy or especially fun, but it can be done successfully.

1. Attitude

You’ve heard the saying: Mind over matter. That’s what you have to remind yourself as you continually pump out cover letter after cover letter, often with no response from companies. But don’t feel bad for yourself; focus on why you decided to job hunt in the first place.

† Career Improvement/Change
Are you trying to move up in your career, or switch fields completely? That’s nothing to be ashamed about. Improving yourself and being open to learning a new skill or trade is a mindset many employers seek. Just make sure you have a legitimate reason for switching paths. Telling someone you want to be your next boss you are only interested in the field because of money won’t put your name at the top of the list.

† Lifestyle Change
Are you looking for more balance in your life? Everyone wants to be happy. This goal isn’t one employers are going to scuff at, or penalize you for choosing.

The key is to stay positive. Walking into an interview with low self-esteem or a shy demeanor isn’t going to stand out to a hiring manager.
Something caught your eye in the job posting, and you felt you had something to offer the company or you wouldn’t have applied for the position. Prove it to the interviewer sitting across from you.

2. Set a Schedule

In the last seven years, the economy has bounced back from the 2008 recession, mostly thanks to new companies.

“Companies less than one year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the past three decades.”

So there’s something out there for you. Set a goal for how many job applications or office visits you want accomplish each day or week, and schedule them into your daily routine.

Photo of Computer desk

Credit: Dave Meier, “Milk No Sugar”

If you want to apply to three jobs a day, schedule them so you complete one after each meal. If you find your mind wondering off when you sit down to write a cover letter, set a timer to give yourself a deadline.

3. Use your Networking Resources

Everyone knows you get a job by knowing people. But what if you move to a city where you don’t know anyone, or at least anyone in your field?

† Social Media
Ask friends if they know anyone who is looking to hire someone at their company with your skill set; it’s likely at least one Facebook friend knows someone who can help you out. Or maybe someone is looking to leave their current job soon, and having a name to give to their boss when they turn in their resignation letter makes them feel better about leaving.
This isn’t the time to be shy – reach out to the random contacts.

† Forgotten Contacts
Maybe you do know a couple people yourself, but aren’t that close to them. No shame. Reach out to them too. If you are applying where they work, ask if you can put them down on the application as a referral. Given you’re a responsible and hard-working employee, vouching for you can sometimes help them out as much as it can help you.

4. Take what you can get

So you’ve gotten a few interviews… but they’re with companies or for positions you aren’t as interested in as others? Don’t blow them off; you can learn something from every interview.
Approach the interview as an opportunity to craft composed responses to questions you haven’t been asked before, and pay attention to what companies are interested in on your resume.

Photo of Prospective Interviewees, lined up.

Credit: Business Insider

What happens when you get offered a position, but you’re holding out for a different job? If you’re unemployed, you likely don’t have many options. Take the job and continually apply for jobs you want. But don’t blow off your new gig too quickly. Remember what stood out to you in the first place, making you want to apply, and give it a chance. Again, you can learn something from every situation. Maybe you’ll pick up a skill in your new position that makes you more marketable in your next position.

5. Stay Connected to the Industry

While you wait to hear back from your dream job, don’t get distracted and forget to keep up on your homework. Show your future employer you know what you are talking about in your field, by blogging or tweeting about industry-related news, or embracing new technology and showing off how to use it appropriately.

† Workshops
Go to workshops to learn new techniques on how to improve a business or website, and confidently talk about what you’ve learned in interviews. Not only could it be just what the company is looking for, it shows initiative and eagerness on your part.

† Classes
Check out what your local universities have to offer, or coursera, an online “school” which offers classes from professors around the world, and includes certificate options.

Conclusion
Job hunting is a long process. But by keeping your head up, continually applying for open positions, and looking for opportunities to improve your craft, you’ll find something you love.

SEO Tools to Improve your Google Search Result Rank

Ever find yourself way over your head? Maybe you took on too many projects at work, or invited too many people to your house-warming party and didn’t make enough food.

I saw an online posting about a WordPress group meeting up at a local brewery to learn at SEO (search engine optimization, or how well you rank on Google search results). I thought, “Hey, I blog on WordPress and I’m interested in marketing so this could help my future career. What can it hurt?”

One beer in, I’m surrounded by business owners looking to boost the traffic on their websites. Not the personal blogging workshop I was expecting.

Photo of Hops and Grain brewery where the workshop met

Credit: Rich Plakas

Fake it till you make it.
I did actually learn a few things while (likely) looking like a deer in the headlights, sipping beer in the corner of a brewery.

Google is constantly changing its algorithms used for ranking websites; you’re not going to outsmart it.
No one knows exactly what Google uses to rank pages higher or lower than others (but we have a guess).

Keywords – words your audience searches for on Google, and you should have on your website and blog posts.

The technology giant has consistently used keywords to try and deliver to search users what they are looking for, but once this was discovered, marketers and bloggers took advantage of it, and started keyword stuffing their pages, or using specific words unnaturally and too often on their website, in an attempt to rank higher on Google’s search result pages.
Google caught on.

Photo of Google Search Engine

Keywords are important, but only if they are relevant. Longer, more specific keywords are better than short keywords. For example, instead of naming your blog post “marketing tips,” name it “content marketing for healthcare professionals.” Sure you may not get as many website viewers – anyone not interested in healthcare related content marketing will likely pass you by – but those who are interested are going to stay on your website longer. Quality visitors are better than a higher quantity of visitors.

Content – Continually updated websites, with new content greater than 300 words in length, will rank higher on Google’s search result pages. Marketers know this; the reason they have publishing schedules is to remind them to add and maintain their websites on a consistent basis.

Aside from just pumping out new content on a regular basis, it’s always best to write unique content. If it’s something useful and relevant that your website visitors haven’t seen elsewhere, they’re more likely to view you as an authority, and visit you first when they are looking for quality information.

Backlinks – links to your website from outside sources.

You’ve done it on your own blog posts – linked to a page that goes more in-depth about a topic, back-ups a statistic with a study, or otherwise uses an authoritative site to support what you wrote. When someone does that to your website, Google like it.

Some backlinks are easy to get, and you may be doing already.

† Social media channels – Place a link to your website on all your profiles.
▪ Google+
▪ Twitter
▪ Facebook
▪ Instagram
▪ Pinterest
▪ YouTube
▪ Reddit
▪ Stumbleupon
▪ LinkedIn
▪ Yelp
▪ Foursquare

 Guest posting – link back to your own website when writing about industry topics on relevant sites.

The higher the quality of content on the websites that backlinks to your site and the more traffic they receive, the better it is for you.

Conclusion
Ultimately, the effectiveness of keywords, content and backlinks depends on your competition. If they are performing at a high level, you must as well. You can do everything right, but if you ignore your competition, you likely won’t come out on top.

So it turns out, being over my head worked out well for me. And the beer was good too.

Happiness to Last

“Is happiness merely a passing emotion, or a permanent state?”
In my daily devotion book yesterday, it explained, both states exist.

“There is happiness that reacts to events (this is temporary and volatile), and there is happiness that overrules circumstances (which is strong and lasting).”

I’ve been asking for happiness for some time now, without realizing there are two solutions to my desire – one less satisfying than the other.

Be happy... not because everything is good, but because you see the good in everything.

Events create temporary happiness: moving to Austin and getting a job. But in the days or weeks after the event, happiness can fade; it’s the lasting happiness that satisfies, and that comes from The Lord.

I think the same principle can be applied to marketing. I’ve been searching for a content marketing position for months, after learning of its lasting effects. I’ve been on job interviews that focus solely on sales and numbers, but that ideology is like temporary happiness. After a few days or weeks, you are looking for your next sale or event to make you and your client happy again.

While ultimately business growth is viewed from a numbers standpoint, content marketing works to grow businesses by creating relationships with clients. This is accomplished by writing blog posts or ebooks, creating videos or infographics, and attracting clients with a clean website.

All these content marketing strategies show transparency and build trust. Because of that trust, clients are more loyal and the numbers follow. This is a stronger foundation to build businesses on, and will create a lasting happiness for both you and your client.

Moving to Austin was great, but living here is what keeps me happy each morning. Getting a job will be great, but growing and learning in the position, creating friendships, and meeting goals is what will keep me engaged and happy walking into the office each day.

Lasting happiness comes from knowing you are following God’s path, and you are in the right spot for the time being, even if you aren’t happy at the moment. While I wish I had a job right now, I feel satisfied knowing that moving to Austin was the right decision. This weekend presented overwhelming tasks at times, but when I asked myself if I regretted the decision, it was a resounding “no.”

The happiness I experience from moving to Austin will last, and I believe more lasting happiness will come my way.