What Life Do You Really Want? [9 Questions to ask.]

You can get there from here.

One of my dearest acquaintances was born in China. She was still a little girl when she moved to the United States and at the time, she looked different, sounded different and she was small. Because she was always getting picked on, she was unhappy. To top it off, she’d left behind extended family, aunts and uncles, cousins and ancestors. Helen felt sad in the new country.

In her family, boys were favored over girls because they were to take care of aging parents, they were in a new country where they could become anything they wanted to become. Her brothers did not fully appreciate those opportunities. Helen was not constrained by Chinese customs.

“It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.”
― Ella Fitzgerald

Helen lived in America and she too could be anything she wanted to be. Helen was creative, somewhat untraditional and found her own opportunities. She became interested in martial arts. It gave her confidence and a sense of self-empowerment. Through effort and diligence, she trained for the Olympics and went on to win a Gold medal.
And that wasn’t the only dream she had.

Since then, Helen has become a stage and film actress, a musician with the group Wednesday Wine and founder and co-owner of the American Institute of Alternative Medicine. The Institute has recently celebrated its 20th year. In addition to her other talents, she has proven to be a gifted painter. She has displayed and sold her work in various spaces around Columbus, Ohio and elsewhere. She has barely reached the middle of her life. (See more about Helen here.)

So, what does that mean for you?
Is it okay to change your life trajectory? It happens all the time. People may have plans for you. They may have spoken things over you or your destiny that you didn’t want. What about your plans? You may have “outside the box” ideas. You may have a vision for a big life. You don’t have to let people talk you down. You don’t have to give away your power by agreeing with other folks’ definition of you.

This is your life. You have the right to pursue your happiness. Follow the tracks to your dreamsYou must find the strength to live the way you feel called to live and no one can do that but you. You may be facing down heavy opposition; you may be butting your head against tall expectations. What’s in your heart? What makes your soul sing? Are you doing it? Are you even close?

You may realize like I did, that people don’t always get it right, even if they mean well. It wasn’t a terrible thing being an artist, but it wasn’t my passion. When I finally realized it, I had just moved to a new city, with a new relationship, a new circle of influence. When I said out loud, I am a writer, they had no reason to doubt it. A clean slate made transitioning easier for me. How can you start fresh?

I eventually ran into people who knew me as an artist. And even now, after writing seriously for 13 years they resist the idea of my being a writer. They think I will go back. I won’t. I’m certain of who I am even if they aren’t. Life is so short. It’s meant to be fulfilling and enjoyed. I found people who understood my vision for my life and they encouraged me.

What is the song in your heart? Whatever it is, let us hear from you so we can cheer you on!

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Teaching old dogs, learning new skills, learn blogging

The Revelation

I’m sitting on the couch with my then-boyfriend on New Year’s Eve. We are with his mother a petite and loving woman who I respect and trust. Someone mentions my eighteenth birthday which is about a week away and right then, I get smacked with a realization: I have no life plan.

People considered me artistic because all creative stuff was easy for me. Classmates said my name in the same sentence with “famous artist” a lot. But no one hands you the playbook. No one had the slimmest notion of how an artist becomes famous.

When the strobing Times Square ball drops, I feel rising panic during the countdown. The spectacular landing has everyone whooping “Happy New Year!”

I explode in tears.

“What’s wrong?” his mother asks.

“I’m graduating this year and I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life!”

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.” ~Mark Twain

Today, sitting in the bright afternoon of a beautiful day, I think back to that younger me. No one ever asked me if I wanted to be an artist. It was tacked onto me early in life until it became the rote answer. What’s really funny? That wasn’t what I spent my free time doing. I spent it writing. At that time, not much about life made sense to me and I lacked any sense of purpose. I had no clear vision for my life. The person who led me to my true calling was not yet born and would not arrive until my late 20’s. It would be 13 more years until my purpose crystallized. I would, however, continue closet writing.

Like many kids her age, my daughter became involved in cyberhoods like Facebook, Myspace and online journaling. It was all new and confusing. Curiously, I wanted to learn more. What do people write on a web log? She helped me set up a blog and it sat forgotten for two years. My daughter found a writing group. I went once and was hooked. When I (re) discovered my true passion–writing–life started making sense.

I developed plans. (Learn how to be a great writer.) I had a goal. (Get published.) I developed layers and evolutions of plans. Who knew the computer age would make so much sense to me? But, that very thing, casting words into The Net through blogging, fueled the next phase.

What’s next for you?

It’s never too late to start learning. Consider your own life. What abilities do you possess? What abilities do you want to acquire? Each new skill lays the groundwork for learning another. By seeking out people who can teach us what we need to learn, it’s possible to learn more very quickly. It might not seem like much forward progress. Then one day it opens the door for an unexpected opportunity. Those opportunities can change our lives.

When I learned to type, (not pecking but real typing) it opened the ability to jot down ideas while observing, being a transcriptionist (it pays!) and not hunting letters on my keyboard. The ability to type means faster transition from idea to intellectual property. (Writing books, stories, blog posts, white papers, case studies.) All the abilities I’ve learned over the last 10 years (how to blog, tweet, chat and Uber conference) I now use in my work life. These were not available the day I graduated from high school, but I determined to keep reading and educating myself.

What if I had believed that old adage, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? 

The key to a fuller life, discovering your potential is being curious and the desire to keep learning. What is it that you’ve always wanted to know? Always wanted to try? Today, make a quick list of items. Have you always wanted to paint? Write? Wanted to take up kayaking? Photography? Who knows what magic awaits by just taking the first step.

Share your list with us. We’ll encourage you and cheer you on!

Are you failing toward success?

Like most people, I like to find a groove and pretty much stay there. When I feel moved to do so, when all the stars align just so, maybe learn something new. And, like most people, I’m comfortable sticking to a pretty sedate routine. Then suddenly, you find yourself catapulted into a situation that you don’t feel ready for.

Such was my life a week ago while helping out a new client. We’d planned to co-lead a meeting, by remote, with her clients. Although I’d been forewarned that my co-leader might be unable to make the meeting, I chose to believe otherwise. My co-leader was also my new client and I didn’t want to fail her, or her clients. Unavoidably, my co-leader could not make the meeting. While facing a group of people I had never met, who expected me to take the meeting and run, the 20 minutes of prep time with my co-leader didn’t seem enough.

Awkward silences are still agonizing even if you’re in the safety of your own office. The last thing I wanted was to lose credibility, so I plowed ahead with the meeting, keenly aware of the screaming crickets in the long pauses after my questions, or total lack of answers. What do you do when no one chimes in?

Most of us want to leap right into that empty space and fill it up. But if you just sit tight, count to fifty, someone else will. Thankfully someone eventually began speaking. Once the meeting mercifully ended, I thought it had been a disaster. Mentally reliving point by point, I listed all the ways I had failed. The questions I’d forgotten to ask made me blush. For two hours after the meeting, I beat myself up, feeling like a total fraud, convinced that they thought I was an amateur. I worried they would think they’d been disrespected by my co-leader, dropping them into the hands of someone they didn’t know.

But that’s what we do, isn’t it?

 We stretch into unknown territory either by need or design (sometimes unwillingly) and in our heads we want (expect?) the meeting to go perfectly. Perfect intro, perfect delivery, perfect responses and in the end: perfection. Even if the whole meeting was perfect but one thing, we replay the one thing. Instead of applauding what went right, we make ourselves sick over what went wrong.

With a project deadline looming, I needed to get back to work. The meeting had been recorded and finally, I listened to it again, evaluating the information. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought. It wasn’t perfect, the gaps weren’t that long. The group had yielded answers to all but one question. I discovered places to improve my meeting skills.

My expectations for a meeting have shifted and I know now exactly what to do differently. This does not mean that they would have behaved differently, but I would feel better about the way the meeting went.

Sometimes there are going to be meetings where it feels stiff and formal, and there will be others that are comfortable and laid back and any number of shadings in between. Being ourselves, professional, calm and polite in uncomfortable situations goes a long way toward a positive outcome. I have had lots of mini-meetings on the phone while working in collections and telemarketing. I have great communication skills. I am not a fraud, I have been writing for decades.

Certainly, I fumbled in a few places and I noticed in the replay, that they did too. But we all remained polite and pushed forward. The meeting was not the disaster I perceived it to be initially. When the replay finished, I actually felt like I had accomplished more than I had given myself credit for.

We are all in various stages of learning new things. It is so important to give ourselves grace when things don’t go as perfectly as we had hoped. We even need to give ourselves permission to fail. As hard as it might be to admit, we learn a lot in those moments. So I encourage you to look at whatever you might have failed at recently and look at it from another angle: What did you learn? How would you do it over? How would you improve?

I’m going to keep all of this in mind at another meeting next week!

Will you share with us about your  “biggest failure” and what you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

Dreams Like Strings of Lights


Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, take the next step.

It has long been my goal to work for myself, but in my early years, I had been trained that a person got up before the sun, went to work for eight or nine hours and came home beat. For this, you got a paycheck at the end of the week. All the fathers on our street did the same. When our growing family needed more income, my mother traded her night hours tor work in a thankless factory.

All my life, one model: Trade your hours for money.

Then my dad lost his job. After two years he found another job that would pay the bills, but he began dreaming about owning his own business. After a few years, he partnered with my brother and launched. The business did alright for many years, but he didn’t foresee desktop publishing. The business dwindled and found himself again trading hours for dollars, working with my brother in another industry.

Along the way, the mega companies and corporations began to buckle and fold. The idea of being totally loyal to one entity began to sound like putting all your eggs in one basket. You could give a lifetime to a company and instead of retiring fully funded, you might lose your pension, retirement benefits and health coverage.

My dad often spoke about another business model, one I had not really seen up-close. Multiple streams of income. Creatives are largely familiar with this model as they pursue their artistic endeavors. Office jobs, food service, collections, or those other jobs that pay a tiny hourly because they receive tips or commissions. Pursue your painting, crafting, dancing or talent until it financially overshadows the main source of income. Teach your craft to someone not as far along as you are.

There are pros and cons of each, to be sure. As a hustler, you are responsible for everything including taxes paperwork and the next paying gig. As a creative, not wanting to be defined by hourly work, I always had a side hustle and occasionally, the side hustle carried us through between hourly jobs.

How to develop three streams of income? Or four? Or more? There are far more forward thinkers than me. Lots of great people to read, learn from to help you gather steam while stoking your own fire. Ideally, income streams that could be checked on every now and then and earn money without constant attention. In essence, making money while doing other things,  these things allowed you to multiply your efforts.

My goals were simple. I wanted to help others in some way, double my income and stop trading hours for dollars, working by the project for a pre-named chunk of money. Right now, my writing pays for my (part) of the bills. My next stream of income will not only pay for itself but pay me.

It comes down to this: Just start. Start something somewhere. Begin. Take the next step and then figure out the next step. My dad went on to other dreams and started other businesses. He and my brother launched a second business and my brother runs it to this day, nearly 10 years after my dad passed away. His products have traveled the globe. After a few false starts with various enterprises, my intellectual property has graced four countries. I’m pleased with the progress. It seems one leads to another, dreams like strings of lights.

Write down all that you dream of doing. What can become an income stream. Choose one. It doesn’t have to be the easiest, but maybe the one you’re most excited about. What’s your next step?

I’m listening if you want to share. I will cheer you on.

Dream House

I share a lot about having a dream. They’re mighty powerful motivators. They can help you get through a tough job that pays the bills. Having a dream about how you would use your degree helps you get through 4 years of college.

My dad was a dreamer. He wanted to build a house, he wanted to live in the country, he wanted to pay cash for a car once in his life. He always had a dream. My dad arrived at a decision, (build a house) and then, he started looking for ways to make it a reality.

When I was a kid, my dad brought in the only paycheck. My mother took care of six children. I imagine when dad mentioned he wanted to build a house, some people laughed.

When my parents bought a bit of property, his dream became serious. He and my mom did a lot of the work, they scrimped and saved and we all sacrificed (no allowances). Not every bank was willing to work with him, but he only needed one that would. And found it. By the fall, we had moved in just as the school year began.

Then my dad had a vision for a full kitchen with solid oak cabinets. He built all of it himself. We kids helped in every possible way. We sanded wood many nights after homework and dinner. My dad cut wood, stained and varnished and glued and assembled and clamped cabinets together while working a full-time job. It took four years. By then he could stand in his dream house in the country. Recently, the house sold for over $250,000.

If you want something bad enough, you can find a way. You can do the work. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You’re worth it. You’re building values. Your dream is worth it. Someone recently told me that the reason people don’t achieve their dreams is because they don’t have another one. That’s never been true for me. When I finally finished writing my first book, I already had another book in mind.

You’re loaded with dreams! Think of the goals that you’ve had throughout your life. At one time you wanted to graduate, or learn to drive a car, or buy a home. When you accomplished that dream, you had another dream. Write them down, no matter how farfetched it may seem today. You can’t foresee how doors will open for you as you progress step by step toward realizing your dreams. Look at your goals or your bucket list. Those are all dreams.

What seems the most impossible dream right now? What would be one step you could take toward it? If you feel inclined to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Learning to fly

Kites rise highest against the wind.

Right now, in this moment, what is one thing you hope to accomplish? I don’t mean winning the lottery, or some other effortless, chance-laden fortune. Consider something that would make proud to have accomplished it.

  • Write a book? Create a movie? Start a business?
  • What do you think your chances are of succeeding?
  • Why?

Most people do not bring into reality their biggest dreams. Things like fear of what people would say or think can hold us back. Sometimes we don’t have time, don’t know where to start or who to ask. Often if we give voice to that dreams or idea, some people around are all too quick to fire upon our ideas. So we don’t make the effort.

It’s plenty difficult for us to believe that we have what it takes to accomplish a goal. The first time we hit a bump or it doesn’t go as we hoped, we may want to quit. In the back of our minds, we might think successful people have it easier than us.

But, can you imagine for a moment, what it would be like if you succeeded? What would it feel like to hold your first book in your hands? To smell the pages, see your name on the cover?

Imagine seeing people sitting before a screen watching a movie you developed.  Or, having started a new business, imagine how excited you will be with that first sale.

You can do it. Imagine it. Imagine the next step. Whatever that spark is that you’ve let languish in the shadows of your mind, maybe it’s time to pull out all the stops and see what happens. I picture new ideas like the kites of my youth. I put them together, tie the tail on and make sure to secure the string.  I go outside and I start running to see how high the kite will go. My dad took me to a park with a very high hill and the wind there took my kite. The kite went higher and higher until I was at the end of my string.

What I remembered was how much I wanted to fly a kite again after that. I took it to my aunt’s house one day. I ran all over her yard trying to work up enough wind to take my kite up. But the yard was peppered with trees and utility lines, a less than ideal environment. I wanted to go back to that high hill, with even more string, and see how high that kite would fly.

Dream big. Dream about what it would be like to accomplish that goal. There’s a reason why it’s in your heart. It might not yet be the perfect environment, but at least put the kite together, then maybe you’ll find that high hill, too.


What a dull knife taught me

An acquaintance of mine once found herself in a jam and needed to chop a bushel of tomatoes for a sandwich wagon she would run the next day at an art show. I wanted to help out and offered to chop the tomatoes.

“Show me your knife.”

I pulled it from a drawer. She seemed satisfied enough that it was separated from other implements of destruction. She produced a tomato and asked me to cut it. I pressed the blade to the tomato skin.

I drew it across the skin where it bunched, squashing through the locular cavity. Juice squirted out and seeds dislodged from their placenta. In short, I ripped it with a very dull knife. I’d had the knife a few years and it never occurred to me to sharpen it. With this knife, I’d have better luck making tomato sauce.

“I’ll be right back.” She left through the front door and in her absence I experienced intense tomato shame. What could I do with this poor tomato? Did she want it back? Should I throw it away? Should I keep it? Is a ruined tomato edible? (Yes it is, with salt & pepper, please.) She returned only moments later with a different kind of knife.“Try this.”

I had just started to lay the blade on the skin and it basically fell through the tomato, cutting it so cleanly that I gasped. She laughed and told me when she would be back for them. I couldn’t get over how little effort it took to chop those tomatoes. It didn’t occur to me that I’d been struggling until I wasn’t.

That became a life lesson not only about keeping blades sharp but taking care of “my tools” whatever they might be.  This same lesson informed my decision to get a better word program when my writing became more serious.

Are you trying to accomplish something right now using a dull tool? If you can’t find a way to sharpen it you might need to replace it. The time wasted trying to make it work will be better spent elsewhere.

Do you have a “Dull Knife” story? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for coming by today. I hope to see you next time.