Getting To Know: Erica Midkiff

MaggieGentry interviews Erica Midkiff about her background as a copy editor and content coach, and now how she's dedicating her life to spreading the word about the benefits of an intentional writing practice.

Like many of my biz friendships, Erica and I first connected over Instagram. I remember being enthralled with her way of connecting and relating many of the same ideas and feelings I was having. Soon, I joined in on her #StrongerMonthByMonth challenge (we get into more of that below), and heavily relied on her Stay Unstuck guide when I was hitting a wall. 

She's a writer, so that's why her words were able to strike such a chord with me. But more than that, she's a mom and wife who deeply protects her time and energy, and her dedication to living life on her terms is something I am striving to incorporate more into my own life.

I finally got to hug her IRL this fall at the Being Boss NOLA Vacation, and having lunch with her one day in a tucked away courtyard, was a highlight of my time there. 

If you've been thinking about how to live more intentionally, Erica is the role model you've been searching for. As I was reading through this interview, I found myself nodding my head emphatically while grinning from ear to ear. There is so much juicy goodness in here. I know when you get done, you'll fall in love with her, just like I have.

 

Let’s dive right in! Tell us about your background and how it landed you here with what you are currently pursuing.

It all started with a talent I took for granted. I’m good at editing, and was often asked by friends and family to review papers, resumes, and more. And I’d always been interested in the publishing world. So I decided I’d become a copy editor.

(Quick note: A copy editor is very different from a copywriter. A copy editor reviews something that has already been written for things like clarity, flow, grammar, and more. A copywriter creates new writing in the style of the person who’s hired them. Those are very simplified definitions, but the distinction is important.)

My first two editing jobs were with Pure Green Magazine (an incredible publication out of Canada that still exists in an online format) and Kinfolk (yes, that Kinfolk). I also did some work for small business owners and writers, helping them edit things like business proposals, newsletters and blog posts, novels, and works of non-fiction.

But while I loved both magazine teams immensely, and I loved the creatives I was working with, I realized I didn’t love editing—at least not full-time. It was my first taste of a tough (but good) lesson: just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you want to make a career out of it.

What followed was a winding, multi-year journey of self-exploration, trial and (much) error, and general uncertainty. I was following something inside of me that was telling me to get closer to the person behind the writing, so I did, creating something I called content coaching. This still often involved editing, but it also involved diving deep into the person behind the business, approaching content from the perspective of understanding the person creating it.

And then I had a child (or, more accurately, my wife gave birth to our child). As I write this, he’s almost two years old, and he changed the game entirely. Partly because time was suddenly scarce (I stay home with him and fit work in where I can), and partly because I realized—just as I had with editing—that content coaching wasn’t my final career move.

But I wasn’t sure where to go next. I’d always been following this pull inside of me, but I wasn’t sure how to define it any more clearly than I’d already been able to. And I knew that to make the most of the limited time I have, I’d need a strong mission and a plan for meaningful work I could pursue at my own pace over the next few years.

So I hired a business coach, and it’s been the best thing I could have done. I’m working with Ashley Gartland to peel back the layers of what I want to contribute, what my time and energy and attention can support, and what I can work on over the years that will fulfill me as well as make a positive impact.

Some of that will still involve content coaching; I have clients I’ve loved working with who I’d be happy to support again, and would take on new projects if they were an excellent fit for both of us. But I’ve made the tough (but ultimately right) call to give up actively thinking and talking about myself as someone who primarily works in content.

Ok, I’m going to leave it there for now—a bit of a cliff-hanger! I talk more about what I’m pursuing now in the answer to another question.

What aspect of your work is the most life-giving for you?

Helping others feel truly seen, heard, and understood.

For a while, that was on an individual level within the coaching I did. But I truly dive deep into any project I tackle, and I think hard about how different kinds of people could approach whatever I’m creating. I then do my best to express that within the things I create, and I’ve seen it make a difference.

Instead of suggesting there’s only one right way to use a product or tool, making someone for whom that doesn’t work feel as though they’re wrong, I try to show different ways you could approach an idea or an exercise, allowing the individual to truly be who they are and use what I’ve created in a way that works for them.

I put a name to this drive within me when I took the StrengthsFinder test a few years ago. It’s called individualization, and it which means I see people as individuals, rather than members of a larger group. Reading that was like a huge permission slip to follow my instincts!

Was there ever a time when you happily ignored external validation or outside advice about your business so that you could follow the True North that you created for yourself? If so, how did making that choice to follow Your Why impact not only you, but your business?

I’m doing it right now! I’ve been working in content since I started working for myself about six years ago; it was quite hard to give it up and move into something new. I know that unconsciously (and sometimes consciously, I’m sorry to say) I was worried that others would judge me in some way, or find me lacking (though if you pressed me, I’m realizing I couldn’t have defined exactly what that would look like).

But I truly believe that we need to be invested in our contributions to the world, and I no longer felt myself fully invested in the world of content coaching and editing, so I’m reminding myself of that as I move forward with my new ideas.

Our friendship is another Instagram success story. I’m trying to remember exactly how we first met, but I know it wasn’t too long before I was participating in your #StrongerMonthByMonth campaign. Would you please share more about the inspiration behind starting this initiative, and also, what you’ve learned after doing it for a while now?

This is one of my favorite projects I’ve taken on recently! I’m already dreaming up how I can deepen this project to fit in with my newly understood mission.

Stronger Month by Month started as a frustration with myself. I wanted to make all the changes I could think of all at one time, and while I knew that wasn’t possible, I was having a hard time making a commitment and sticking with it.

So I decided to create a project that would require me to focus on only one change a month. And I realized that if this was appealing to me, it would likely be to others as well. So I decided to share it on Instagram and invite others to join in!

The idea was simple: Once a month I’d choose a single change to focus on (some examples: Pausing before I respond or react; meditating once a day). I’d post that change on Instagram and then check in on Instagram each Monday.  (Accountability turned out to be a much-needed component of this project for me; fans of Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies theory won’t be surprised to find I’m an Obliger.)

As others continued to join in, I made a free guide (ericamidkiff.com/strongermbm) to solidify the process and provide a resource for those who were interested. I took an unintentional break from doing (and posting about) the project for a couple of months, but I’m planning to start it back up again!

I’ve learned that, as I suspected, I was causing myself unnecessary stress by trying to make too many changes at once; as a consequence, I was accomplishing even less than I know is possible for me. This is an ongoing lesson that I’m learning, but it’s an area in which I’m happy to report that I’m making improvement!

As I mentioned, I’ve been inspired to dive deeper into the ideas and motivation behind Stronger Month by Month, and I’m excited to think about how it can fit in with my new mission!

I know that you are really thoughtful about how you structure your time. What does a typical day look like for you? And do you have any routines/rituals that allow you to be your most successful self?

The answer to this question changes a lot, partly due to the nature of children (which has been a huge and much-needed lesson in non-attachment).

Here’s a general idea of what my days look like right now. I get up at 5am and complete my morning ritual. This includes filling in my Five-Minute Journal and Five-Year journal, a little writing (often responding to a tarot / oracle / affirmation card), and a little movement (yoga or Pilates). It also includes something genius my coach Amanda Dennelly suggested: I go outside on my front porch and do nothing for ten minutes as the world wakes up. This is one of the most magical times of my day; I highly recommend setting aside time to do absolutely nothing at least once during your day.

Then I have breakfast, get dressed, and get to work. I usually get to my desk around 7, and I stay there until 8:30, when I head downstairs to trade off with Meredith (my wife). She gets Nathan, our child, up and fed in the morning, and then they play until it’s time for her to go to work. From 8:30 until about 11:30, Nathan and I do all sorts of things—play, go on outings, run errands, go to the YMCA where I work out (or do some work) and he gets some.

I put him down for a nap around 11:30, and then I eat some lunch, tidy the house a little, and take a rest. (I’ve been wanting to try yoga nidra during this time.) After that, I either do projects around the house or a bit more work (or both) until Nathan wakes up. He typically naps anywhere from two to three hours, and when he gets up, we do more playing and adventuring until Meredith gets home.

When she arrives, usually around 4:30 or 5, I like to take a walk to help my brain shift into evening mode. We have dinner as a family at 6, and after we’re done, I get ready for the next day. That usually means taking a shower, getting snacks and clothes and our such ready for outings the next morning, and tidying up around the house. Nathan goes up to bed around 7:15, and after that, our evenings vary. Often, Meredith and I catch up for a few minutes and then do separate things for an hour or so; sometimes I do more work, but I prefer to read or work on a project (I’ve recently taken up cross-stitching!). Once a week, we have an intentional date night, playing cards or watching a movie or something like that together. And sometimes one or the other of us will go do something, like a ceramics class (me). But whatever we do with our evenings, we are usually asleep by 9:15 or so…getting up early takes it out of us both!

I’ll note here that I just finished working with Amanda Dennelly, who I mentioned above. She has created an incredible coaching program (Future You) that helps creatives craft an everyday life that supports their bigger vision. Much of the above daily flow came out of my work with her.

Your work is rooted in the philosophy that an intentional writing practice can liberate us all from the muddled muck of overwhelm and help us process our thoughts more thoroughly. Can you share more about this practice, and why you feel so strongly that this is an important pursuit?

This ties nicely into a discussion of what I’m pursuing now!

As I’ve worked with my business coach (we’re halfway through our time together), a mission has emerged. It’s something I can now see has been there all along, waiting for me to realize it.

I want to help us—me included!—make positive change happen in our lives so that we can make positive change happen in the world.

We have the most to give when we’re happy and healthy, and it’s pretty clear right now that the world needs whatever we can give. But doing that kind of giving—whether that’s volunteering or donating or speaking up or creating products and services that can positively impact others or something else entirely—takes space.

And I hear people talk all the time about wanting more space in their lives. I say it myself. Too often, we’re using up all we have simply making it through our everyday lives.

As I move forward, I’ll be creating things that help all of us make changes in the way we live our everyday lives so that we have the space to make those bigger contributions. (Exciting hint: I’m doing some research right now, but I’m pretty sure that at least one of these things will be a physical product!)

I’ve identified some practices that can help create a greater feeling of space in our minds and in our lives, and writing is absolutely on that list.

In the past, I’ve likened our minds to overstuffed attics. There’s unquestionably something of value in that attic, but you won’t know what’s valuable and what’s not until you take it all out and examine it. And once you’ve taken everything out, you’re pretty unlikely to put things that are broken and useless back in. And oh hey, while you’re up there, might as well stack everything neatly instead of just throwing it in.

Like that attic, our minds are stuffed full—we take in an incredible amount of information each day. Unquestionably, much of that is valuable—but some is not. Writing is a beautiful way to take everything out, examine it, and then put back only what you need, often having made valuable connections you wouldn’t have come by otherwise (or at least not as easily).

An intentional writing practice can look different for everyone. Some people do well responding to prompts—a tarot card, a line from a book, a word or phrase. Some people do well making a list of everything that’s on their mind. Some people do well just scribbling whatever comes to mind. There’s no wrong way to do an intentional writing practice; just put your pen to paper and find what works for you.

If you’d like help starting an intentional writing practice of your own, I talk a bit about Explore: 31 Days of Intentional Writing at the end of this interview; it’s a great way to try out a writing practice that could help you create more space in your life.

I’ve used your Stay Unstuck guide, and it was a really powerful resource to help me better understand what resources I needed to help me get  out of a creative rut and back into action. It reminds me a lot of what Twyla Tharp wrote about in The Creative Habit that she called “scratching,” switching up the status quo to help facilitate the flow of ideas. When you’re feeling stuck, what are some of your favorite ways to get out of it, and get back to doing what you do best?

I’m so glad Stay Unstuck was helpful for you! Putting it together was extremely valuable for me, and I love hearing that it has helped others as well.

Writing is one of the biggest ways I get unstuck. Getting things out of my head and onto paper, whether in a stream of consciousness or as a list, is so helpful in gaining new perspective and examining my feelings more deeply (rather than simply fixating on whatever small piece has risen to the surface of my mind).

Other things I turn to often (there are lots more ideas in Stay Unstuck, but these are some of my favorites): identifying where exactly I’m stuck (the answer often surprises me), making a list of pros and cons, moving my body (I find walks particularly helpful), challenging my own beliefs, and seeking outside perspective.

Recently, I decided to work with two different coaches (I mentioned one of them earlier), which was a direct result of examining where I was stuck and deciding I needed to ask for help.

The bottom line, for me, is that being stuck holds me back. And I don’t mind being stuck—I just don’t want to stay there. I want to quickly identify that I’m stuck, try as many solutions as I need to get back on track, and then keep moving forward.

This is an ongoing process for me, and it will be forever. There’s no doubt about that. But I have processes in place that help me immensely, and they were born out of my creation of Stay Unstuck (they developed as I wrote the guide!). I talk more about Stay Unstuck at the end of this interview if you’re interested!

Over the summer you decided to pull away from social media, as well as sending your newsletters. I sincerely commend your dedication to pull away from producing more content when you truly needed the break. I’d love to know, how was that process for you? What have been your greatest takeaways?

I’ve done this before, notably when Nathan was born, but this time has probably been the most powerful.

It’s been hard for me to come to terms with how much time and energy I truly have, and then to compare that against all the (many, many, many) things I’d like to be doing with that time and energy. Stepping away gave me the space I needed to really examine what was working and what wasn’t.

Some big takeaways:

I love writing. I love the act of writing, I love sharing what I’ve written and hearing others’ replies, and I love having the opportunity to compare my thoughts to those of others and, therefore, grow my own perspective and scope of understanding around things that interest me. I miss doing all those things, and I look forward to diving back in.

I don’t have the time or energy to share as much as I was trying to. Or as much as I want to, really. That was a tough one to accept, and I’m still working on it in some ways. I’ve worked with my business coach to develop a weekly work schedule that includes time spent on each category (Instagram, writing emails, admin, etc.) rather than how many posts I share; I’m hopeful this will help me stay within my capabilities rather than getting overwhelmed and burned out again.

I like sharing more than just business talk on Instagram. I truly just like sharing snippets of my life. I’ll have to balance that desire with the whole time and energy thing, but I find that writing about what’s going on and then sharing it helps me process things that are going on in my life (big and small), find gratitude for where I am, and remember the smaller moments and truths of this time in my life!

I want to write something bigger. Like a book. I have an idea for what this would look like, and I’m gathering thoughts as they come to me. It won’t likely be written soon, but just knowing it’s there and that I’m working on it a little at a time is quite exciting!

And it’s time for the inevitable… what books are currently on your nightstand that you just can’t put down? (And if you’re feeling saucy, maybe even share a couple of old favorites!)

I could be here all day. I’ll try to control myself.

A book I recommend all the time is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Yes, she wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, she wrote Big Magic. This is a novel, and it is different from both of those—not to mention incredibly, incredibly beautiful. Do not miss this one. Maggie just read it and it seems she loved it as much as I did!)

I’m about to start reading A Little Life on the recommendation of both Maggie and my cousin. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m ready for the beauty I also know is there.

I recently read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and couldn’t put it down. The same goes for The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. And the use of language in Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave took my breath away at times (one reviewer said that the book makes you laugh while utterly breaking your heart, or something along those lines, and I couldn’t agree more).

Often, reading is about escapism for me, and one of my favorite places to mentally escape is the village of Three Pines, created by Louise Penny. She’s written (and is still writing) a series of mystery books set in this tiny Canadian village. The first book is a little bizarre, but the overarching narrative she builds throughout the series is really wonderful. I think of Armand Gamache as a wise uncle, and I often daydream about sitting in the Three Pines bistro drinking café au lait and eating a warm croissant.

I’m also a huge fan of young adult novels, and there are two series I recommend often: the Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy (of the Decemberists), illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis; and the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, which begins with The Golden Compass. Both are beautifully built worlds that offer just the right amount of magic.

As for non-fiction, some all-time favorites include: I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, and The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover, among others I know I’m forgetting right now.

 
Photo credit: Emma of W&E Photographie

Photo credit: Emma of W&E Photographie

 

Want to know more? Eager to connect with Erica? Here's how:

Feeling like you need to soak up more of Erica's goodness? Here are some of the resources she mentioned above:

Right now, there are two ways to engage with my work.

The first is Stay Unstuck: A Guide to Awareness and Action, which we talked a little about earlier. This guide walks you through setting up lists of ways to get unstuck (so that when you inevitably get stuck, you can pull yourself out more quickly by trying different ideas from the list) and then ways to raise your awareness around when you’re stuck in the first place (this sounds hard, but I share a very concrete set of steps to take). You can find the guide right here, as well as a free download containing an example of how someone might use the tools in the guide.

The second is Explore: 31 Days of Intentional Writing, which I also touched on earlier. Deciding to start an intentional writing practice is easy. Actually doing it? Often much harder. Explore can help. When you sign up, you’ll get a welcome guide that will help you set a powerful intention for your practice; 31 days of prompts (delivered once a day to your email) that dive into your past, present, and future; and a wrap-up guide that will help you use what you created, whether that’s your writing, your momentum, or both. You can learn more about Explore right here, and get a free guide to help you get started!

Fun little extra:

I’d love to offer you $10 off either Explore or Stay Unstuck (or both if you buy one at at time)! You can use the coupon MAGGIEISAWESOME until the end of the day on December 31 (Central time).

(Note: You choose when the prompts begin for Explore, and Stay Unstuck is a self-paced guide, so they’ll keep if now isn’t the right time to get started!)