It’s a hot Chicago afternoon, and Joanna Hui sips a strawberry-lemon infused water, hoping the chill of the glass will cool her off.
“I love a good BBQ with friends,” the blogger says, “mostly for the social aspect, but also because of the food.”
And Joanna knows her food, among many other things. She’s the voice behind the blog Grace in Style, a fashion, food and travel blog.
The thing about Joanna’s blog is that it’s not your typical fashion blog. Or your usual foodie site. And you couldn’t accuse it of being an ordinary travel blog either.
That’s because many of her trips aren’t just about laying by the beach, finding amazing shopping or seeing the local sites. Joanna traveled to Kenya on one of her most recent adventures as part of a missions trip. Not only is Joanna a blogger, a cook, a world traveler and a stylish lady, she’s finishing her residency to become a doctor as well.
“I cannot speak enough about how that two-week trip changed me and molded my heart to love people more. There were five to six doctors, including myself, and we saw, on average, 300 people each day. It was humbling and eye opening.”
And while Joanna is passionate about the art of style and fashion, she spends a lot of her time on the blog promoting brands that give back or support causes she holds dear. And a lot of that is directly related to her experiences traveling.
“These trips have opened my eyes to the injustices around the world. And they have caused me to think about what I can do to help rid of these injustices. But even more, as William Wilberforce so profoundly stated, ‘You can choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’ This has affected more the way I live my life.”
In her Fourth of July post, where she’s rocking red, white and blue, she reminds us (in a humble, guilt-free sort of way) to cherish our freedom. Then she directs us to a clothing site, Sevenly, that has adorable clothes and accessories and each purchase gives $7 to help victims of sex trafficking.
“Most times I’ll come across various organizations while educating myself about the injustices of this world. For me, it’s important to do enough research about each organization so that I know that their mission and values align well with mine.”
While that might seem heavy to some people, Joanna manages to pull it off with her airy writing and gorgeous photos. And then of course, there’s the culinary aspect. When it comes to food, she isn’t just sharing recipes from her own kitchen. One of her most recent food posts was a restaurant review in her hometown, although a big part of why she travels is also to experience the food.
“During mission trips I don’t have much time to shop or cook. But when I travel for vacation, I definitely find time to shop. I love shopping at street markets in Asia since not only can you learn more about the culture, you can find really unique clothing and souvenirs. And I love to eat authentic food from each destination, so I prefer to eat out more than cook so I can get a full experience of the local life.”
Joanna credits the evolution and success of Grace in Style this past year, in part, to the fact that she has really been herself. It is one of the biggest lessons she has learned.
“When I started my blog, I tried so hard to be like other bloggers, but I soon realized that trying to be like others took away the joy of blogging. The whole purpose of a blog is to show the world who you are, what you love and your creativity. No one wants to read a blog that’s just like the next, so it’s important to just be who you are and your unique personality and skills will stand out.”
Of course, we all want to know the secret of how she can do what she does with such enthusiasm and, well, grace. She says that while she has always had great time-management skills, she knows it isn’t just luck or her own moxie. All of her passions melt together around this mission she has both for her life and her blog.
“Since starting my blog, I have felt a tug on my heart to be more open about my faith. I hope to lead a Christ-like life and allow that to permeate throughout my writing. My missions with Grace in Style is to show that living a life full of grace, love and kindness is stylish and can positively impact this world, whether in big or small ways.”
And she truly has done just that, with her missions trips, her suggestions for conscious style choices, her beautiful photography and the good vibes she puts out with post after post of smiles and optimistic reminders to be our best selves.
“Learn to love who you are and who you were made to be. Be the best you that you can be and never settle for less. Be an encourager and support other women who are doing what you’re doing.”
A while ago I felt overwhelmed as I looked at everything on my to-do list. I needed to plan for a writing group, the refrigerator was empty, my house was a disaster and I had a party to host that weekend.
And that was just what I felt I had to do. There were plenty of other commitments I’d made that I somehow hoped to fit in the mix as well.
I’m pretty sure my story isn’t an unfamiliar one to you. It would seem that between our good intentions in January and the weather turning, we’ve piled on more than we can handle.
It’s time to do something about it. Just like it’s helpful to clear out your closets a few times a year, it’s good to tidy up your obligations every so often.
1. Take Inventory with Honesty
Before you can clean things up, you need to know what you’re working with, both in terms of what obligations you currently have and how much time you have during your week. I’ve written before about documenting your time. Like any resource, you need to know how much time you have before you start using it.
Time it generally takes
Who the obligation is to and what they get out of it
What you get out of it
The other piece is inventorying your obligations. You can do this with a spreadsheet or with a blank piece of paper. Create four columns:
This may take some time — I suggest doing it while you’re documenting your time. Carry the paper in your wallet or use something like Google Drive so you have access to your spreadsheet from all your devices.
The other key part of this is honesty. No white lies about how much time you’re watching TV or playing games every night. No one sees this but you. If your volunteering is supposed to take up two hours of your evening but you always run more toward three, mark it that way.
Now that you have an idea of how much time you have and what you’re currently committing to, I’m going to guess that you’re impressed with yourself for fitting so much into so little time.
While this is a great skill that is for handling short-term, busy situations, it isn’t sustainable. It’s time to figure out how you can make some changes and spend some time on yourself.
How much time are you spending doing things you don’t want to do? How much energy goes to obligations you only do because you think you should?
Where are your time vacuums? By this I mean things like mindless internet browsing or watching TV just because it’s on. While there’s nothing wrong with this occasionally, it can take over an evening if you’re not careful.
This is also a good time to ask if your standards are a little too high. If you’re anything like me, they’re bordering on perfectionism. Maybe it’s OK to let the house get a little messy.
3. Reduce & Reuse
While no one really wants to run errands, they’re kind of a given in life. Can you group them together so they take less time? I often bring my grocery list, reusable bags and a little snack along with me to the gym so I can shop afterward. Can you delegate, whether it’s work-, volunteer- or home-related to reduce what you’ve committed to?
In terms of reusing, what can do double-duty in your life? I’ll often combine my workout with my dog’s walk, hiking up the side of the mountain.
Have you created something for one part of your life that might work for another? I sent writing prompts to my blog followers, and now I’m reusing them with my writing group. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Comedians and musicians reuse material in almost every set. Why can’t you?
4. Have the Hard Conversations
This is both for talking to yourself and with others. Do you still enjoy a commitment you’ve had for years, or is it time to move on? Are things that once nourished you now draining you? These are questions you need to answer, and they can require introspection and some tough realizations.
Tidying up your obligations means some people could feel let down as you move on and take care of yourself. It’s part of the process and one that you have to be prepared for. Part of having integrity is acting in a way that matches your feelings, and the right thing and the hard thing are often times synonymous.
But don’t be surprised if people welcome your change. We all need a little push and people can be grateful for the catalyst you’ve provided. Who knows? Maybe all the people in your book club are as stressed about each meeting as you are. When was the last time you all finished a book anyway?
Last week I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to get more done than was probably possible. A friend of mine asked if I would like to go for a hike, and my initial reaction was to say yes.
I didn’t want to make her feel bad, after all. Plus I was always talking about how I loved to wander in the forest. Wouldn’t she think I was a big jerk if I said no? Or worse, would she think I didn’t like her?
Luckily logic kicked in and asked, How can you possibly fit in a hike in the middle of this week? So I told her no. She told me later she was happy because she realized after she asked that she had an errand that needed to be dealt with. Saying no can be tough, but if you think of it as a skill, you can learn to hone it. Here are a few tips.
1. Practice with small things.
Say you decide you’re going to start running. You don’t plan to run a marathon the first time you go out, do you? Nope, you start with a few miles at most so you don’t hurt yourself. You work up to a bigger run over weeks and months.
The same concept can be applied to mental habits like saying no. You can’t be expected to be good at it right away – you need practice. You can do this with small things like a water refill at a restaurant. It might sound silly, but I used to allow waiters to refill my soda just to be polite, even though I had no intention of drinking it.
This is where I started, by saying no to people and things that had little consequence on my conscience. It helped me exercise my no-muscles with the least amount of pain possible. Just the act of saying no can feel foreign to some of us, so getting used to the word in your mouth and saying it out loud helps. Pretend you’re a two year old. Work out that no-muscle like they do when they first learn they have it.
2. Use your calendar to say no.
I know that an unevolved way of thinking is looking for someone to blame. I try hard to stay out of the blame game normally, but if I must, I look for something inanimate to shoulder the burden. And in this case, my calendar can handle it.
If I’m asked to attend an event that I would rather not, I’ll often pull out my phone (which has my calendar on it) and look through it. Then I’ll say something like, “It looks like my calendar is full that day,” or “Wow, my day is really booked up then.” It’s an easy segue to saying no in a way that can take some of the pressure off you. And speaking of your calendar…
3. Delay answering until you can in a more comfortable way.
Sometimes the easiest way to say no isn’t face-to-face. While not everyone likes this idea, it can be fantastic when you want to say no but are struggling for a way to do it. Postpone your response.
I’ll say something like, “I need to talk with my husband,” or “I need to check my calendar, and I’ll get back to you.” That gives you time to feel good about your no and formulate a response on your own terms.
4. Practice the soft no.
Life is all about the language we use. You’re not ordering a small coffee at Starbucks – it’s a tall. You can extend that same notion to the way you say no. Some people, including myself, feel rude saying the word “no.” I’ve been told that I should be able to say no to something and stop right there, with no explanation needed.
While that may be what I’m supposed to do, it’s not easy for me, so I’ve found a work-around and that is the soft no. Instead of the abrupt short sentence, I say something like, “No,” pause, “I don’t think so.”
I make sure to say it firmly, but that pause in the middle followed by a little more no makes me feel like I’m offering something else. It’s my compromise to no explanation. It’s a soft no.
If you’re like me and find the quick no to be too curt, this trick can really help. Of course, other people find that the shortness of no is like ripping off a bandage, so find what works for you.
5. Saying no means saying yes to something else.
This is a great mantra and something to remind yourself of whenever you feel like you want to say no, but you shouldn’t. Should is the enemy of saying no. There are very few things that you should do and even fewer that you need to do.
When you say no, it means saying yes to yourself. To time for yourself. To a more enjoyable lifestyle. To a more sustainable way of living.
When you start making your no’s more intentional, your choices become more powerful. You live a life on purpose, not just to fill up space. Remind yourself of that often, and you can change the belief that saying no is rude or unfair. Instead it’s a choice that honors you and those around you.
What will you say no to this week? Share with me in the comments.