Good, Clean Fun

My regular readers know there’s nothing I love more than an entrepreneurial success story. Not only is Karen Camden a wonderful friend, mother and entrepreneur…her story came to me all written up and ready to go. What busy blogger doesn’t love that?

Mother and Daughter Build Soap Business Together 

For some people, living and working with family can be a little too much, but for mother and daughter duo, Karen and Kristen Camden, it’s the wonderful arrangement. Karen and Kristen live in a home together while Karen works full time as a caretaker for Kristen who is disabled with epilepsy. Kristen has 3-4 Grand Mal clusters per week. This means that she has up to 45 seizures per week in total. Having this many seizures affects Kristen’s long term and short term memory and at one point Kristen didn’t know who Karen was she just knew that Karen was someone nice. This has made life challenging for Karen and Kristen both. “As a mother I would love to be able to take this away from Kristen and give it to myself. It is so hard to see her go through this!” Even with all Kristen’s challenges she still wants to work and contribute to society. So one day Karen and Kristen sat down and tried to think of what Kristen could do.

“We finally just started watching YouTube because we just could not think of anything that she liked to do and that she could do with her limitations. We had seen a show on homemade soap and got very excited. It is something that we can do at home and it is natural for our customers to use. This is a very big deal for Kristen because she takes 16 pills a day for her medications to try to stop her seizures and is very aware of how medications and chemicals affect her body.”


Then they came up with the company name Soap Works and their motto (Have a soapy day) so everything from there just seemed to be perfect! Karen has been doing arts and crafts for over 25+ years now so helping out Kristen to get this business started was very easy and fun. They make their products with all natural ingredients because they feel that this is important part of what they believe in. “Everyone puts enough chemicals in their bodies and we wanted a different way. Plus we are able to be very creative with the soaps and bath bombs so we are having a lot of fun as well.” They have a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/soapworks14) so please come and visit them there to see what they are doing. They are selling our items on EBay until they get their website going.

If you have any questions or comments please email Karen at Karen.camden@gmail.com Thank you for reading their story and have a soapy day, Karen and Kristen!


Don’t be so determined. Am I making a case against hard work and perseverance? Absolutely not. What I mean is don’t be so determined to be offended. Some people seem determined to be put out, insulted and offended at every opportunity. They wear their pet issues on their sleeves and never, ever think that anyone means them well. Every conversation or interaction is a chance to jump on their soapbox and launch into a tirade. I call them the chronically offended.

It’s true that we still need to deal with racism, sexism, ageism and a whole host of inappropriate and mean spirited attitudes in today’s world. We certainly want to call people out when they knowingly stomp all over others, and provide guidance when they do it unknowingly. Improving communication, soft skills and deep understanding of others is a life-long journey for all of us. However, the chronically offended are less interested in helping others really understand an issue, and they are more focused on handing out verbal/written discipline. Dealing with them does very little to really grow insight; engaging with them is often a time suck.

I’ve dealt with these determined to be offended folks in live training and sometimes run across them in online discussions. The energy they put into starting and fueling an argument, usually when I am simultaneously trying to deescalate and understand them, is mind blowing. As the cliché says…they are spoiling for a fight. So, what can we do to minimize our negative interactions with these people AND avoid becoming one of the chronically offended?


  1. Start every new communication with the supposition that the other person means you no harm and is doing the best they possibly can at the moment. There’s always plenty of time to adjust your opinion of them later.
  2. Make continued efforts to improve your own communication skills and efforts to understand the diversity of the world around you priorities in life.
  3. Resist the urge to engage in an online fight, especially with people you’ve never met face-to-face. You’ll find yourself wasting endless hours typing “if you only knew me” and trying to explain your point of view to someone who is determined to publicly punish you for some perceived offense.
  4. Gently, firmly and politely disengage from chronically offended people. Social media offers all kinds of nifty tools to block or ignore people who will waste your time being angry. In your off line networks it can be just as simple as not extending or responding to invitations to engage with these malcontents.

There is such a thing as righteous anger. The world would never have changed for the better had we collectively ignored the fiery words of activists. But there’s a difference between a bold call to action and whining to make you feel better. You cannot be an agent of change if all your time is spent taking offense.


The job search—it’s the great equalizer. Almost all of us have had at least one time in our professional lives when we were looking for work and wondered, “Am I doing this right?” No matter your experience level, one of the best ways to improve your job search results is to talk with someone new about your methods. A colleague, friend or professional employment counselor will see your resume with a fresh view and will notice verbal and non-verbal cues you may be accidentally sending in an interview. So, if working with others is so useful for job seekers…why don’t we do it all the time?
We don’t know where to start: If your job search hasn’t been successful, you know you need to do something, but the question is WHAT? Having the same close friends read your resume over and over again is probably not the best option. Your more distant network connections will probably give you a more honest assessment. If you’ve been stuck in a fruitless job search for a long time then meeting with a professional job counselor is probably worth your time and effort.
The process is uncomfortable: It can be unnerving to feel like someone is examining you and making judgments about your qualifications, your communication skills or your interview style. It’s like having a spotlight on you while you’re wearing pajamas and bed-hair. Try to remember that people who offer to help you improve your job search skills want you to succeed. At some point in their careers they probably had job search problems too. All their comments about improvements to your resume or mistakes in a practice interview are designed to make you a better job candidate and NOT to hurt your feelings.
We haven’t learned to control the volcano: Our emotions are always bubbling under the surface like the lava in a dormant volcano. When the job search isn’t going well, these emotions (disappointment, anger, frustration, fear) can burst to the surface. The worst possible time is during an interview. Because we want to avoid having these negative emotions explode sometimes we evade conversations about the job search. It’s essential to have a strategy for not just pushing these feelings away, but actually understanding them and dealing with them as part of your overall job search strategy. It’s best to work through these lava-like emotions in a practice interview or appointment with a job coach than to risk them erupting during a real interview.
These are some of the issues I discussed in an introductory workshop this weekend. When a group of people give up a piece of a precious sunny afternoon in Vancouver, especially with a parade going on down the block, to attend a workshop “thank you” doesn’t seem like enough. I was thrilled to share a few pointers from my archives on resumes and interviews. It was also wonderful to have two area professionals attend. Alexis Greenwood, Coordinator for the Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre of the Vancouver Public Library, and Eric Lau, Senior Links Coordinator and Labour Market Support Worker at South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, both not only attended but actively participated. They provided a wonderful real life example of the importance of networking and engaging with colleagues across company and agency lines.
Looking for a job can be a frustrating experience, but the process can also open the door to learning and professional development opportunities. We cannot learn to swim without getting wet; we cannot learn to cook unless we step into the kitchen. Finding a new job is the same kind of deal—you can’t really compete in the market without opening up your mind to changing realities.

Finding the Skilled Immigrant Infocentre http://skilledimmigrants.vpl.ca/index.php/contact

Alexis Greenwood of the  Skilled Immigrant Infocentre

Alexis Greenwood of the Skilled Immigrant Infocentre

“Come in for a quiet cup” – it’s a marketing slogan that makes me smile as both an introvert and a tea lover, and it’s the tagline for The Bookmark Café in Langley, BC, now run by my friend Stela Vilceanu.
Let me tell you a few interesting things about Stela. We connected via LinkedIn years ago. Stela befriended me in cyberspace and then met me in person to educate me on the process of immigration paperwork. She shared the details of her journey to Canada and we discussed our overlapping and also very different areas of expertise. Stela has an amazing background in engineering.
So, when I saw that she’d taken over a coffee shop style business in the Langley public library I was a bit surprised. Then I realized that Stela is doing exactly what smart and successful immigrants (and entrepreneurs and professionals of all kinds) do. She is using adaptability and flexibility as well as a commitment to lifelong learning to create an opportunity for herself in Canada. Like many professionals, Stela has not been able to seamlessly meld into her chosen profession in her new country—yet. Instead of confining her efforts to a traditional job search Stela decided to remain open to all kinds of opportunities. This led her to a warm, quiet corner in the Langley library serving coffee, tea, snacks and her charming smile to the public.
You can keep up with Stela’s new enterprise here: https://www.facebook.com/BookmarkCafeLangley . Since taking over the business just a few weeks ago, she’s already started with some changes. Her new menu will be more in keeping with the likes of local customers and she’s instituted a discount policy for senior citizens and disabled customers.
Stela’s adventure into entrepreneurship shows us that the pathway to success is often full of surprises. Those who learn to put aside initial frustrations and adapt will wrest more rewards out of business and life.

Stela serving smiles and coffee at The Bookmark Cafe.

Stela serving smiles and coffee at The Bookmark Cafe.

I am a recovering perfectionist. There, I said it. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean I make fewer mistakes than others. No, it just means that when I do make a mistake I have the potential to drive myself, and everyone around me, nuts because I’ve messed up. Perfectionism can be especially bad for entrepreneurs because as we are all aware—entrepreneurship requires some risk taking and risk taking leads to occasional mistakes. So what’s a perfectionism plagued entrepreneur to do?

  • Think Hollywood—no matter who happens to be your favorite actor or actress chances are that he or she has at least one box office or critical bomb on their resume. Does that one unfortunate nude scene or that song and dance number with a puppet really mean you don’t love them anymore? Of course not.
  • Think Science—countless critical scientific discoveries have come out of accidents or mistakes. In fact it would be impossible for scientists to actually do experiments if they were afraid of less than perfect results.
  • Think Childhood—remember when you tied a towel around your neck and planned to save the world? When you learned you couldn’t fly, you simply threw the towel in the laundry and found a new dream (perhaps one that required oversized cowboy boots). There’s a lot to be said for simply ditching plan A and happily bouncing on to plan B.

So, if you just flubbed an important speech, sent out an email with a typo, or forgot to fill your pocket with business cards before a networking event…rejoice. Sure, you’re totally embarrassed right now, but mistakes mean risk taking and risk taking leads to progress, and I don’t think you can die from a blush.

The day I learned how NOT to cut a copper pipe

The day I learned how NOT to cut a copper pipe

Embrace the Accidental

Serendipity—the inadvertent discovery of something good, often while we are searching for something else—the happy accident
If you’re like me by the time January is rolling along you’re tired of discussions about resolutions, goal setting and visualizing your future. It’s not that these things aren’t important. Anyone who has been in one of my workshops, read my writings or worked with me one-on-one knows how important I feel planning, research and preparation can be for success. Planning, balanced with flexibility, is what separates the best from the rest. However, it’s that balance that can be difficult to achieve. Once we’ve accepted the need to plan, set goals and visualize what we want to accomplish it can be tempting to apply our newly created personal infrastructure to every and all situations. When we do this, we miss out on serendipity.
Falling in love with your plans or your schedule can sometimes mean that when a chance meeting or choice opportunity crosses your path you miss it, or worse you ignore it in favor of sticking to the plan. I see this most often when dealing with the academic world. Schedules are created months in advance leaving no “wiggle room” for something new, exciting or useful that comes along out of the blue. Decisions take weeks or months and often involve committees and multiple levels of administration. Entrepreneurs too can suffer from a lack of balance in this area. Business owners who have slaved away to create the perfect business plan document can be thrown off course when the market takes an unexpected turn. Entrepreneurs who waste time bemoaning the deviation from the plan cannot pivot and respond quickly—thus losing out to faster and more flexible competitors.
It’s all about balance so remember:
Serendipity always rewards the prepared. ~ Katori Hall, American Playwright

The Three Princes of Serendip

The Three Princes of Serendip

Settle down

My visit to the Canadian Immigrant Fair inspired me to “settle down.”

Some words or phrases change meaning depending upon where we utter them or our intended audience. When we talk about settling down it could mean to establish residence like the current over-arching task of my life right now. However, to settle down could also mean to put into order or subdue—to arrange or fix as desired. Getting settled down is the goal of not only new immigrants but of any of us as we break into new jobs, new businesses or new networks, and it’s not always easy.

  • Establish residency—be present: In order to succeed in any country, organization or group you must really “be there” and that means paying attention when people communicate and spending time getting to know your way around. You cannot expect to enter any new situation or location and immediately be showered with praise, opportunities and money. You must establish residency and become a part of the community where you want to work and play, even if this community is an online discussion group.
  • Subdue—control your actions: When your job research turns into several hours of Facebook time, or you miss a networking coffee because you forgot to put it in your schedule you probably have some issues controlling your time and tasks. The good news is we ALL have these issues at some time so you aren’t alone. The better news is that you can regain control by becoming more mindful of when you say “yes” or “no” to a particular activity. If you’ve got a serious problem with time wasting, get an accountability partner.
  • Arrange as desired—move beyond goals to execution: Goals are great. They inspire us, they focus our attention, and they lead us to success…that is if and when we actually take steps to achieve them. So many gurus and adviser types tell us to set goals and “write them down.” However, far fewer experts talk about the need to break out the actionable steps that we’ll need to take to achieve each goal. Lofty goals like 50% more sales are built through daily steps like web copy review, lunches with vendors, and professional development for sales staff. To arrange your life or career as desired you need to look at the series of do-able steps you will take each day as much as you do those goals and affirmations on your screensaver.

About the fair: The Canadian Immigrant fair, hosted at the Vancouver Public Library and organized by Canadian Immigrant Magazine was really interesting. Commitments prevented me from staying all day, but I did meet some interesting people and get an overview of the agencies and services that are available to new residents of Canada. A lot of programs are focused on teaching English and providing the same type of training I do for clients, schools and other organizations—they didn’t know what to do with me as a new immigrant. 🙂 I am planning to offer some training myself in Business English & Communications with a more condensed timetable and focus, for those who cannot commit to several months of classes. I also met a fascinating author and multiculturalism expert, but that’s a topic for another day. Until then, settle down.

Canadian Immigrant Fair at Vancouver Public Library

Canadian Immigrant Fair at Vancouver Public Library

Dark Night; Bright Ideas

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere winter can be a dark, dreary and draining season (holiday fun aside). The days are short and often cold, and the nights are long and often colder. With some notable exceptions like retail and mail services, the rhythm of business slows down as people focus on family, take a break from work or just decide to hole up and wait for warmer days. It can be a struggle to be peppy and productive. So what’s an entrepreneur, or Big E thinking* employee, to do with all this cold down time?
Reflect and Reinvent
Use the long still periods afforded to you by winter time scheduling to review what you’ve accomplished and where you fell short over the past year. Take some time to enjoy and savor your victories. Look at the items on your end-of-year list where you missed the mark—didn’t achieve your stated goals. Is there a way to rework your approach to make it happen this coming year? Do you need to reach out for expert help or guidance or perhaps just some moral support? Or…are you looking at a goal that was unreasonable or inappropriate to start with, something you should let go of to make room for new goals for the New Year? Below are some suggested starting points:

  • Formulate a personal branding statement—it’s the tagline that will go on your online profiles or the opening statement for your resume.
  • Do some deep cleaning—purge your inbox and your physical home office space; unsubscribe from newsletters, mailing lists and online groups that no longer hold your interest or serve you.
  • Formalize your reading list—we all do it; we have a mental list of books, articles or even webinars we plan to get to “someday.” Take the time to write the list out. Share it with a friend or colleague who shares your interests and will agree to ask you about it periodically.
  • Skip the resolutions—avoid the temptation to jump on the New Year’s resolutions bandwagon and instead begin crafting your success plan for next year. Include not only your goals but some (you can’t predict everything) of the steps you’ll take to achieve them and some of the key contacts you need to make or nurture to succeed.

Be ready to burst forth from the darkness of winter with bright new ideas and a new energy to implement them in your work and life.

*Big E Thinking: http://www.slideshare.net/KarenSouthW/change-to-big-e-thinking

From my own photo collection--Mountains near Denver in 2010

From my own photo collection–Mountains near Denver in 2010

Walking distance

It seemed like an incredibly romantic notion; a new chapter of my life in a new city and a new country. In reality moving to Canada has been an eye-opening challenge. Okay, with a dash of fun and excitement mixed in as well. Anyone who has listened to me the last few years is by now familiar with my story of endless months of paperwork and fees (and paperwork and fees) as I applied to live and work in Canada as a “skilled worker.” When the process finally ended with a handful of official government ID and service cards I was both relieved and disappointed. The major hurdles had been cleared but the day-to-day challenges continued.

As I was adjusting to my new neighborhood late this summer I was feeling a bit deflated. My new life didn’t magically fall into place. No, just like I had in the US I needed to work and actively manage my career and life. The difference in Canada is that now I am doing it all while dealing with that fish out of water feeling. Having spent most of my life in the rural and semi-rural Southern United States, I was (and still am) horrified by Vancouver’s vicious traffic, congested streets and crowds. My saving grace came in the form of my own peaceful corner of town—a walkable neighborhood with a branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

I needed something I could do to get out of the apartment that didn’t involve patronizing the 24 hour bakery (my thighs thank me I am sure) or driving around risking life and limb and wasting gasoline (about $5 a gallon this week in Vancouver). My answer was to check out the library, and I am so very glad I did.

The library system maintains a website that includes a listing of activities and events. Here I stumbled across an ESL conversation group at my neighborhood branch. http://www.vpl.ca/branches/details/south_hill_branch/ Granted, English is my first language but the blurb also read “…meet new people…” and I reasoned that was exactly what I needed to do. At the first meeting I attended I think I took the librarian, Jinder Johal, by surprise. However, once she realized how much I needed to get out and meet some folks, she quickly included me in the group. It was fun and I continue to attend as the discussions are helping me to refine and improve my listening skills when dealing with ESL speakers—a task that comes up frequently in my work. Jinder also invited me to join the branch’s book club.

Those of you who know how much I read (and write) might be surprised to discover I’ve never belonged to a book club. I really didn’t know what to expect and during the first meeting I wondered if everyone in the room could see my unease. What can I say? This is a new Canadian experience I am truly enjoying. It’s wonderful to be in a room full of people who like to read, like to talk about ideas and who are so supportive. The book club has made me feel welcome in a way I never imagined. At the last meeting, author Annabel Lyon came to discuss her novel The Golden Mean as well as her writing process in general. As a writer I was thrilled. http://annabellyon.blogspot.ca/

So, settling into my new life has not be all “kittens and rainbows”, but I can honestly say there has not been a dull moment for months. I’m also content to know that there’s a quiet, friendly sanctuary for my mind and nerves just walking distance away. South Hill Branch VPL

Over the last few years I’ve gotten so accustomed to over crowded flights, surly employees and passengers, waits and delays and lost luggage  that when my trip to the east coast went off without a hitch I spent a few hours in shock. My friends and family shocked me as well. No, they hadn’t radically changed, unless you count a couple of adventurous haircuts. What was shocking was the face-to-face reminder of just how fascinating the people in my life really are—a fact that doesn’t always come through clearly on the phone or through electronic messages. However, my trip wasn’t all about big dinners and catching up on everyone’s projects. I went to teach, and that I did.

I started my career teaching and training entrepreneurs in North Carolina years ago, so it felt like “old home week.”  The Thursday night workshop for budding consultants and coaches was especially exciting for me. First, a friend of mine, who has been familiar with my work but who has never watched me give a training class, was able to attend. I had a small but very engaged group and the number of participants allowed me to do a lot of “off the cuff” coaching and advising around individual issues. I hope everyone left with at least one piece of information they could use right away.

Just like my family, the business climate of North Carolina has been growing and changing over the last few months. I saw a small town street that’s been transformed from a sleepy Mayberry type location to a hot mix of music venues, art shops and funky bistros. A few of the small business centers have new leadership, and so I am saying good bye to my previous contacts and hello to new collaboration partners. It was wonderful to “go home” and witness first hand the progress of friends, family and new acquaintances alike while at the same time sharing my expertise and encouraging entrepreneurs to push forward.

Preparing for the Roxboro, NC workshop for budding consultants

Preparing for the Roxboro, NC workshop for budding consultants