A personal update from Katie O. Selvidge
I’ll never forget sitting on the back porch that hot July afternoon wondering if this was the last time I was going to see my friend. She was potentially facing a life-threatening procedure, and we weren’t sure if she would be coming back home.
It (2018) had been a year of challenge after challenge—things you can’t share on social media, only with very close friends. But that was a defining moment that changed me. Everything seemed to come to a head. It may not look like it from the outside, but a lot has changed in my heart.
To fully understand what exactly has changed, let’s back up nearly three years ago to October 2016 when I said good-bye to Cottage Hill™’s final magazine.
And in case you can’t tell, this is going to be a long post. You may want to make some tea and settle in. This is what I’m drinking.
In 2013 I started a magazine called Cottage Hill™. Named after a road in my hometown, the stories were directly inspired by my family. Because I knew a lot of wedding creatives, much of its early content was wedding inspiration, but my hope was to create a lifestyle publication that was really an escape. I wanted to provide crazy beautiful inspiration for home, entertaining, living, travel—anything that helped people get off of their phones and actually dream about their real life…and then do something about their real life.
What I thought would be a local or fun, small project turned into an internationally-distributed and consistently sold-out publication. Amazingly talented creatives I never thought would even email me back, emailed me back and agreed to collaborate for shoots. We landed a celebrity cover. The business grew, doubled and grew every season.
It was exciting. I was so grateful. It would always surprise me, and still does, when we get an email or Instagram DM from someone who read an article and was changed or inspired by it. That was the best.
But, there were some hardships I wasn’t ready for such as the fact that no one prepares you for how intense things can be when you pursue something ‘big’ like that. The scrutiny is more intense, the jealousy is more intense, the thought that because you’re ‘big’ you don’t have feelings or it’s OK to rip you off was more intense than I expected.
Money was stolen from the company. A hire stole and used, proprietary information. We were hit with a huge unexpected cost before our first issue went to print. An editor accused us of copying before we even had a website or content published. A disgruntled potential hire started rumors about me out of anger for not being taken on the team. Another publication copied our website, even our About Page, which was odd. A newer magazine copied our layout and fonts. Images were stolen without credit to not just us, but the creative teams. Stories were plagiarised. Several friendships turned out to be situationships, they only wanted something from me. So on and so forth…
Honestly, I think every business owner has gone through things like this. Haven’t you? And I share to not create a pity party but to paint a complete picture that not everything was roses and that there was adversity.
But for every hurtful moment, there was a triumphant moment. For every stolen story there was a reader letter sharing how we or one of our writers had changed their life. As they say, for anything worth pursuing there is going to be give and take.
And my goal here felt pure. I sincerely wanted to create this escape for people to start dreaming about what mattered in their life. More magical moments with their family, or even alone, taking time to make things beautiful or beautiful celebrations.
I often joke I’m like that girl in the movie Mean Girls that just wants everyone to eat a cake of rainbows and smiles. That’s me. Cottage Hill was my cake of rainbows.
As stoic as I tried to be, you cannot be unwavering alone for very long. I had never felt like I had a real community in the creative world. I never felt like I could truly trust anyone, and at the same time, I never wanted to ‘burden’ my real friends with my business woes. I really thought I had to deal with it all by myself. That took a toll on me.
My husband and I decided that our dream was to live on land—raising children and chickens—and maybe pursue a farm or ranch. For years every weekend, we would walk acreage all over and outside of town trying to find our perfect plot.
At the same time, we were trying to get pregnant and not finding much success. Something I also didn’t share with friends was that I felt like it was my fault. I thought bad habits from my life as a professional ballerina were catching up to me and maybe it wasn’t going to happen.
I was trying so hard to make Cottage Hill™ what it deserved to be. I was trying so hard for this business to fuel our dreams of country living. And I was trying so hard to deal with my disappointment of not getting pregnant.
In 2016, everything happened. Cottage Hill™ had its most successful year to date. We welcomed our first daughter Hadley. And, we build our dream ranch home on some acreage outside of town.
All kinds of emotions flooded me.
Having my daughter made me want Cottage Hill™ to be even better. If she was going to read these magazines one day, I wanted her to be proud. My ideas of what it could be expanded beyond anything I could have imagined.
At the same time, I wanted to be a present mom. I always tell first-time expecting moms to not decide what kind of mom you want to be until you meet your baby. You can’t predict what kind of mom you want to be until you are one. I didn’t want to miss these early years at home, traveling to shoots all the time.
And to be honest, I was excited about this new life at the ranch home. My entrepreneurial brain started going crazy with ideas on how to make it a true, functioning ranch.
One of my favorite analogies on ‘doing it all’ is by Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism. Basically, he describes your life like burners on a stove. You can’t have them all on high and run well. One or a few need to be lower in order for another to be on high.
While packaging the final issues of Cottage Hill™, named The Grace Issue because I was literally giving myself the grace to let it go, I knew it was time for the burners on my life stove to rotate, at least for a time.
“So, what’s next for Cottage Hill™?” she asked me. Long awkward silence. “I don’t know.”
My friend Jenna interviewed me for her new podcast it was the first time someone asked me what my plans were with Cottage Hill™ after letting the magazine go and I hadn’t made any real plans in place other than continuing the blog and speaking at a few workshops.
I did some small events here and there, but I could never commit to anything because it just didn’t feel worthy of the brand. And, I didn’t want to go all in until I could go all in again on some new dreams. There are some big things I want to do with the company, but probably won’t be able to (and live the life I want) until the girls are in school in a few years. It was this limbo I was in, am still in a bit, and couldn’t figure out how to communicate very elegantly.
It was awkward. But, again, I was so amazed to find our readers were still loyal. Contributors still eager to contribute stories, even to the blog, and continue to support the mission.
Letting go is not the hardest part. Moving on gracefully is the tricky part. Thankfully, who was left—who really cared about me and Cottage Hill™, both readers and contributors—were some amazing people who I’m excited to take with me into the next chapter one day.
I had been coaching small businesses quietly even before starting Cottage Hill™ and had led my signature program Editor’s Course™ since I wrote it in 2015. However, I hadn’t really positioned myself as an educator. I really resisted it.
Let me explain why I enjoyed, still enjoy, helping other creative business owners, and it might shed some light on why I really resisted marketing myself as ‘coach’ or entering the educators’ shouting match.
Someone had stolen from the company, we had a huge surprise cost come up, some of my stories were ripped and published elsewhere and someone who I considered a friend ended our relationship because of comparison. Basically everything I mentioned before happened over a two-week period.
I felt alone, overwhelmed and turned to copious amounts of coffee and sleepless nights to make this dream happen. And, that stress caused me to fall on the floor of my office that night, unable to breathe. I thought it was a panic attack, but I had developed a heart condition.
That moment on the floor, I literally promised myself:
That’s when I started writing the curriculum that would become Editor’s Course™—my 5-month business program for creatives that teaches you how to pursue and achieve success well and truly create a life more beautiful than your brand.
There’s more to the story, but to me, teaching wasn’t just an additional revenue stream. For years, I had educator friends tell me to ‘go big’ with courses, but it was therapy for me, and my way to pay it forward when there was no one paying it forward to me. Any sort of marketing myself as a coach or Editor’s Course™ just as a course felt kind of irrelevant to the why behind things.
I also never wanted to join the shouting match, you know what I’m talking about? Even a few years ago it was noisy. I remember wondering if what I had to share was really unique because the last thing I wanted to do was add more noise. However, I was affirmed when I met a prominent educator at a workshop.
We had just met and were talking about money. I had said that we had had a good year at Cottage Hill™, and I was genuinely happy with where things were. She didn’t know my story, but I had gotten my heart condition under control and had found a sort of balance with my work—a healthy place. I was content. And I wasn’t actively pursuing more, more money, or more anything at the moment.
I’ll never forget her answer (I’m paraphrasing) to my comment: “Well, I’ve found that people who say they don’t want more money are really either lying to themselves or are lazy. Everyone wants more.”
I knew that I may never be a ‘popular’ educator, but what I had to share was different, unique, and if that meant there was a narrow market for me to help, then so be it. I would never tell someone who was content and happy that they needed to be more.
And actually, that moment and a few other similar moments made me want to teach more—to show people that there was another way if you wanted it.
Once I let the magazine go, teaching seemed like a seamless transition during this temporary season while embracing motherhood and building the ranch. I loved helping creative business owners, especially those who were ambitious and discerning. However, I didn’t want to be just another business coach, another voice in the even back then, growing shouting match.
So, taking a cue from my role with Cottage Hill™ and how I had typically worked with clients in the past, I embraced this idea of being a Business Editor™. Meaning, instead of developing a codependent relationship with clients where you lead them into course after course and another round of sessions, and on and on to ensure a secure income which is actually quite popular, I likened my approach more like Marie Kondo, or even Mary Poppins.
I would much rather teach you once, through something like Editor’s Course™, edit your business, tidy things up, help you get clarity, traction and the knowledge you need to then go on your own to be a self-sufficient and discerning business owner.
That feels good to me. And in 2017, I focused just on that. How can I help creative business owners simplify their business, make real money and then move on with their life?
It was a very good, but very refining year. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so much challenge and so much joy in one year. It almost felt like 2018 was an accumulation of so many lessons.
In 2018 I dealt with some major copycats of my Editor’s Course™ curriculum. And to be honest, it wasn’t the act of copying that was painful—that happens to everyone and let’s be honest, I’m an adult, I can handle that. It was the personal attack of it…again, things you can’t share publicly.
On a personal level, it seemed like every month there was a new situation, something to fear—something real happening to someone who really mattered to me.
It made all of the silly business challenges seem so insignificant. The copycat who stole a personal story I only tell at workshops to sell her own product didn’t matter when someone close to me was facing a cancer scare.
The blog who created a mirror copy of Cottage Hill™’s mission and even stole some of our photographs didn’t bother me as much when my husband was in the ER.
And the colleague who called me ‘dear friend’ who plagiarised my teachings and tried to get them published in another magazine…I completely forgot about when I was sitting on the back porch that hot July afternoon savoring every moment I could with my friend who was facing a life-threatening procedure.
Friends, I’m being honest here, perhaps too honest. But this is where I was. If you want #authentic or real vulnerability, I was the most vulnerable last year.
I was very tired, tired of fighting. And with every blow, it was as if God kept reminding me of what really mattered. I held on to my husband and daughter more. I called my mom more often. I texted friends whenever I felt a tug to check in on them.
A series of unfortunate challenges encouraged me to plan on not teaching and canceling Editor’s Course™ in 2019. I was tired of fighting for my original work—have you noticed all the trademarks symbols everywhere?—and I had come to a place where I was very happy, content to not be ‘Katie O. Selvidge’ who had 10,000+ Instagram followers back in 2015 and fancy magazine business.
However…there’s a but…
The community I did not have back at the beginning of this journey presented itself. Every single Editor’s Course™ student sent me some sort of text, email, phone call explaining why I needed to keep teaching. Contributors to the magazine who were still by my side, to this day even, sent me encouragement to not give up on the big dream I have for Cottage Hill™.
And I’ll be even more honest. I don’t think I would be where I am now had it not been for that hard year. As I said, with every challenge, it made me hold on tighter to the ones I loved which brought me more day-to-day joy. And without them even knowing what was going on in my life, it was like my community just kept ‘randomly’ showing up for me.
I need to say something that will sound arrogant, but I want to be clear, I do not mean it as such at all. I say this because it’s my hope for all of my clients, students, and colleagues:
There’s something about refinement that gives you what you didn’t have before: power. When you realize what really matters, when you take control of your joy and truly drop everything else, you realize you can be unstoppable.
Friend, life is too short. Not in the cliché way, but in the your husband is in the ER several times in a month and asks you if you could do anything in life what would it be and starts talking about his big dreams we just can no longer wait around for way.
Or the kind of life is too short when your friend who you don’t know is coming back from Cleveland Clinic talks about all the time wasted on people and things that don’t matter and what she really wants to accomplish with her business.
Or the kind of life is too short when you start planning to shut your businesses down because you may need to move out of state part-time for a while and take care of someone you love.
Those moments helped me regain my power, they gave me more zest for life, fewer excuses to not do the things. This was the year I was smacked in the face at every opportunity with the reminder that I could not live my life waiting on the one-days or worrying about things that don’t matter.
And just as I started to find my power again, a miracle happened: We found out we were pregnant with baby #2.
Late 2018, I decided that I would not live my life waiting on the one-days. When you have a year like we did, you can’t live the same way anymore. So I decided it was time for some changes and course redirection. Every facet of our lives has changed.
I always knew my priorities, but I really do deep in my gut believe them, and only them, now.
My faith, my family and the friends that are like family are all that I care about.
This ranch, my family’s legacy, the literal day-to-day quality time with my husband, my daughters, the time alone to myself.
The big dreams I have for Cottage Hill™.
Helping business owners never feel as alone, helpless and sick as I did when I was first starting out.
Part of this new direction was this rebranding and new website—creating a more official home for all of my creative business philosophies. I’ll share an entire blog post about that process and the amazing people behind it all soon as well as what all of this actually means for my business.
But what I hope you get the most out of this post, my recap of the last three years is that life is too short. Regardless if you had a rough year or a hard challenge too, you can deep-hearted know what matters to you by just choosing it over and over every day and being ruthless about allowing nothing else to distract you from those things that matter.