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

Sometimes it’s the thought that counts, and sometimes I simply can’t get past the window dressing to entertain your thought, much less repeat it to others. I admit it—I don’t retweet, like, follow or comment on some really interesting ideas online because of how they are presented. I know it’s fussy or old fashioned, but hey, if you’re a professional writer (or serious amateur) you should be able to create compelling content without dragging us all through your personal gutter. As people who know me well will readily attest, I am no prude. I simply don’t feel like spreading your online remarks if they push my personal buttons.

  • Vulgar and crude language: I know not every written or spoken comment will be a literary gem, but I find it hard to concentrate on serious issues when I feel a writer doesn’t know anything but four-letter-words to express strong emotions. And really, by the time you’ve told your readers %*#@!!^ three or more times in the opening paragraph it really loses its punch.
  • Political or religious diatribe: Thoughtful people often debate religious, social, moral and political ideas. Self-involved people turn every single interaction online into a soapbox for their pet issue of the moment. Writers, or those who comment online, who turn every issue into an opportunity to post the same worn out phrases clearly are not paying attention to the dialogue going on around them. This attitude makes it hard to pay attention to them in turn.
  • Name calling or petty anger: There are plenty of wicked people in the world and plenty of immoral practices that should be called out by journalists and the public. Justifiable anger is the fuel that drives the engine of social change. However, when writers begin to seem like petulant teenagers, throwing insults without any underlying substance, I quickly lose interest.
  • Commercials disguised as content: Marketing is a must—the lifeblood of business. I have no objection to advertising, squeeze pages, or other forms of sales communication online. But…don’t make the mistake of thinking I can’t tell an article from an ad. Just because you give it a snappy, news like headline doesn’t mean other readers can’t tell the difference as well. I do check links before I share.


Back to School Links

It’s been a good kind of neglect…all the extra writing I’ve been doing for other sites, magazines and projects has meant time away from my own blog, and it’s been time well spent.  Well, it’s back to the blog for back to school season and that means new shoes, supply lists from teachers and furnishings for college dorms. Then there are the non-traditional students, my favorites in many ways, who must get classroom ready while still managing the rest of their lives. Over the past few months I’ve been talking and writing about non-traditional students and the back-to-school experience. I’ve decided to put everything here in case you’ve missed it. I’m always happy when the information is picked up and used by colleges, students and instructors. Enjoy and please comment either here or at the sites below.

Start Up, Survive and Succeed: a 14 minute slideshow with sound that reviews all the basics of going back to school for adults http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/792259/Start-Up,-Survive-and-Succeed

Back to School: Success Tips for Non-Traditional Students: articles (pt. 1&2) for educators and students http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/school-success-tips-non-traditional-students-part-1/


The kids are going back to school; should I?  careerbuilder.com writer Susan Ricker posted my  thoughts on the pros and cons of returning to school. The piece was picked up by The Chicago Tribune http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-3345-Career-Growth-Change-The-kids-are-going-back-to-school-should-I/

Online courses help workers juggle education, life: Miami Herald columnist, Cindy Krischer Goodman, discusses the realities of taking online classes http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/03/3603824/online-courses-help-workers-juggle.html

Distance Learning and Student Support: Newbury College picked up this previously published piece about students getting started as online learners http://www.newbury.edu/RelId/616656/ISvars/default/Distance_Learning_and_Student_Support.htm


Wardrobe malfunction—it’s a cumbersome serious sounding term that crept into our language to explain those accidental, embarrassing moments when body parts that were meant to be covered peep out of clothing. The thing that separates wardrobe malfunctions from exhibitionism and stunts is their unintended and accidental nature. The wearer of the clothing in question didn’t mean to share their secrets. It seems that the social media world has an equally embarrassing problem. Perhaps we can call them “posting malfunctions”?

Yesterday the world was shocked and outraged by another tragedy, the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Modern communications methods proved to be a blessing with family and friends using Twitter, Facebook and text messages to find each other in the midst of the fear and sadness. Yet while social media helped to pass vital messages from officials and kept people in touch with loved ones, it also shined a not so favorable light on some business people. Auto tweets filled with branding taglines, links to squeeze pages and sales pitches continued to pour through Twitter.

Yes the scheduling function in social media tools can be a great help. It enables you to hit multiple time zones, allows you to plan your social media time and keeps you on message. However, during a tragedy or swirling breaking news story your mountain of auto tweets makes you seem callous and disengaged from the rest of us. No, you can’t stay glued to the news 24 hours a day, but when a big story breaks go double check your planned tweets for the day.

From the tweetsmarter blog

As those of you who follow me know, I’ve been looking forward to presenting my talk on “Big E Thinking: all ages, all stages” for a long time. The message I’ve been passionate about, that learning to think like an entrepreneur is a competitive advantage for everyone, had me really fired up. Who knew I’d be called upon to use entrepreneurial adaptability and flexibility to get my show on the road?
I went to Atlanta on a US Airways flight. Sadly, my luggage did not go to Atlanta, at least not immediately. Over booked flight, giant carry-ons that are the legacy of generations of lost suitcases, and a gate agent “encouraging” people to “volunteer” to check bags turned out to be a recipe for disaster. Late Saturday night I dragged myself off the plane and down to the baggage claim area in the Atlanta airport. One long wait, one heated discussion and one pile of paperwork later I was on the way to the conference hotel with nothing but my oversized purse (containing my presentation—whew!). Oh, and I had the half-hearted promise that my luggage would be delivered “around 11 in the morning.”
The hotel concierge provided an emergency toothbrush, but there’s nothing like lost luggage to make you appreciate clean socks and underwear. Early the next morning I was out for an emergency shopping trip. Since it was Sunday and Veteran’s Day and I did not have a rental car, the choices were limited.
Finally dressed in my new outfit but without my door prize books I returned to the conference. Though I missed any opportunity for serious networking I did have time to prepare and present my talk. My attendees were enthusiastic and kind listeners. Toward the end of my speech, as I was describing how the author of The Pumpkin Plan had been living in a Hurricane Sandy shelter (and working on his third book), I reexamined my situation. It’s true I had not planned to spend my one day in Atlanta shopping, however I was healthy, safe and able to give the talk I had planned for so long.
The door prize books (and the rest of my stuff) arrived at the end of the business day.

Happy me after the books arrived. The $100 Startup winner had just walked by and collected his.

Everything worked out and I learned that I had better be able to walk my talk. I improvised, pivoted and managed to move forward and even enjoy the moment a bit.
Below are the books titles I gave away. I am very grateful to the authors for donating copies to the cause. I highly recommend these as reading for entrepreneurs or those considering the lifestyle.
The Pumpkin Plan http://pumpkinplan.com/
The Real Truth About Success http://www.therealtruthaboutsuccess.com/
The $100 Startup http://100startup.com/
The Money Book for Freelancers http://www.feed-the-monkey.com/Home.html

A few Big E Thinking attendees who stayed for a quick photo after Q&A