Hello dear bold souls, Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to the magnificent human known as Michelle Nickolaisen, who I’m proud and happy to know “from the internets!” Settle down comfortably and enjoy this Q&A with Michelle :)
You’re a Multipod/Multipotentialite/Scanner – a podcast writer&producer, blogger, writer, Freelancer Planner creator [have I missed anything there?] … How do your interests support and oppose each other?
I don’t think you missed anything! (Actually, upon reflection, I did realize I’m dipping my toe into game designing/writing, mostly TTRPGs but I have an idea/outline for a text-based choose your own adventure game that would be a phone app…) For the most part, my interests support me in different ways — I do enjoy nonfiction writing, but I mostly do it for my day job, which supports me financially, so that I can work on my creative projects, which don’t make much money, but are extremely fulfilling. It can be hard to juggle them all, but for the most part I really enjoy having so many projects going and tend to get ideas for one project when working on another, so they feed each other.
Your Freelancer Planner is a place where zen good looks meet organised systems… I know it well due to our collaboration and it’s such a good system. How did you learn to be so organised that you can teach others? And why is it important to have visual pleasingness as well as order?
I’m not sure how I learned to be so organized, honestly – a lot of it is that if I’m not super organized, then everything is a mess. Sometimes my systems get a little complicated (or involve some duplication of work, like my giant dry-erase calendar and my Google Calendar), but without the systems, nothing gets done and I just sort of wander aimlessly throughout my day, so I started to get and stay organized at a fairly early age out of necessity. (It probably helps that I started freelancing around age 20.) For me, something being aesthetically pleasing is part of the function of it — if it’s nice to use, it makes me more likely to use it. If it’s ugly, I’ll put off using it or forget it exists, honestly!
With your activism – How and for what causes do you do activism? (if you’re comfortable to say)
How do you look after yourself so your activism can be sustainable. Tell us about an activist you admire.
I try to be active on a lot of fronts, including voting and helping other people vote, donating money to smaller nonprofits and to crowdfunding campaigns for marginalized people, etc. I also created a directory of LGBTQ+ friendly gyms called Safe to Train, which I’d like to expand more on when I have time. When it comes to specific causes, there are a lot, but racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights and equality, and reproductive/healthcare rights are pretty far up there for me…but even just listing that, I think of mental health advocacy, climate change, income inequality…they’re all linked so it’s really hard to pull out just one or two and say “this is it, this is where I’m putting my focus!” Maybe if I did, the day-to-day might feel a little less overwhelming, but I try to be as aware as I can about all fronts without just sinking into existential dread.
I try to remember that it’s about the long-term, not just the short term. It doesn’t do anyone (least of all the cause, or me) any good to burn myself out. It’s hard to remember that when every day seems to bring something new and nightmarish in the news cycle, but we’ve got to be in this for the long haul if we want to effect any long term change.
For activists I admire, I’m not sure if they count (I’m not sure what “defines” an activist, you know?), but I love Ijeoma Olou, Anthony Oliveira, Tunde Olaniran, and probably several more people I’ll think of later, who are all creators who are politically active.
You do cool things for your physical fitness – tell us about those and what you love so much about those activities :)
Yes! So I still do weights sometimes, and I cycle both for fun and to get around, but my two main loves are martial arts and bouldering. I started climbing regularly last September, so I’ve been climbing regularly for almost a year now. I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in August of 2015 and I currently train a mix of that and Krav Maga, so it’s been just over three years since I started training martial arts. Both of them are great in that they feel very practical — although I hope I never have to use my climbing skills in real life, it’s good to know that I can do that, and it “feels” more real than lifting weights does. They also both combine thinking and physicality, in that you have to think about your fighting or climbing strategy as you’re doing it. And they’re also great for forcing me into focus and into almost a meditative state; you can’t be thinking about a million things when you’re sparring or on the wall, because that’s how you get beat up or fall!
For a long time I struggled to maintain any kind of physical activity because I was often bored by it, but doing these two things has been great for me because they keep me engaged in my fitness routine and give me an outlet. Since I started training regularly, my anxiety and depression have been much easier to manage.
Have things evolved as you imagined when you first started freelancing? How so and how not? How does your business and other activities align with your values and priorities?
The evolution has been really interesting, honestly! So when I first started freelancing, I did freelance writing, but got quickly burned out on it, as I was working largely through content mills and wasn’t sure how to progress past that point. There wasn’t a lot of information at that time on how to progress past “doing as much content mill writing as I can to pay the bills” and into “having an actual freelance career,” at least not that I could find. So once I got burned out, I started doing freelance project management, because my good friend Shenee Howard pointed out to me that not everyone has that as a skill. My plan was to use the project management and productivity coaching type services to basically subsidize the writing. After a while, after the memory of the burnout I’d had before faded some, I realized that I could just…do freelance writing, and get paid better for it, now that I had a pretty solid portfolio of clips from years of writing about productivity and project management.
From there it’s been a pretty direct path to present day, where, as of late August, I’m the full-time content marketing manager at Rebilly. There have always been side projects, and in between the side projects and the twists and turns my “day job” career has taken, there is really no way that I could have predicted how everything would turn out. I think I’d have the broad strokes (writing-related, of course), but that’s about it.
Aside from giving me the freedom and means to support the political causes I talked about, my career also gives me a lot of autonomy and flexibility, which has always been really important to me. Being able to tackle things in the order that I think makes sense, or go work out in the middle of the day, is really important for my personal productivity, so that flexibility is important to me. For the creative projects, I think it’s important to make art from your POV [point of view] — I can’t think of a more elegant way to put it than that, but it’s just important to me that I do that and help others do the same.
And a bonus Buffy question: Who’s your favourite character (and why) and what do we do when good creators do bad things?
I think my favorite is either Willow or Giles. I think there’s a line to be walked there when it comes to creators doing bad things — this is something I’ve thought a lot about both with Joss Whedon and JK Rowling as of late. I think it’s distasteful to say that you can ever separate the creator 110% from the art — especially when the creator has done really, really heinous things (looking at you, Polanski and Allen) — but at the same time, I think it’s possible to say “This piece of media wasn’t perfect, and neither is the person who made it, but at the time it meant a lot to me and it will always hold a special place in my heart, even though now I’m open to critiquing it.”
Michelle Nickolaisen is a writer, podcaster, & creator based in Austin, TX. When not creating something, Michelle can be found listening to podcasts, watching Netflix, or doodling.
Thanks for joining us today, Michelle… it’s really fun and inspiring hearing what you’ve been up to. Bold souls: I hope you’ll go check out Michelle’s online stuff and keep her in mind if you need anything she offers…
Meg x o