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The UX Meetup

UX Meetup


Over the past few months I’ve been spending evenings and weekends trying to beef up my web design skills. I coded my own portfolio site from scratch, dug into Photoshop, and started learning some Javascript and JQuery. These days it’s not unusual for me to be kept up until 2AM by a missing div tag, or by taking firebug to a favorite site to figure out what makes it tick. I’m on CodePen more than Twitter. I browse design portfolios instead of Netflix shows. I’ve even downloaded the Invision App. To me it’s all like figuring out a big puzzle and oh-so-satisfying when all the pieces come together.

The Meet-up

I feel that one of the most interesting parts of the whole design process is mapping out the UX (User Experience) journey.

According to Smashing Magazine. UX projects typically consist of three main phases: a research phase, a design phase and a further research phase, designed to test and validate the designs.

  • The research phase is where you immerse yourself in the project to get the background you’ll need to make design decisions later in the project. During this phase you will try to learn as much about your client’s business, objectives, users, and competitors as possible. „
  • The design phase is where you work out how what you are designing will work and how it will fit together. This phase will define its scope, its features and functionality, and how it behaves.
  • The validation phase is where you identify whether what you came up with in the design phase actually works with its intended audience. This phase is typically followed by further rounds of design and testing to solve the problems you inevitably find when you test with users.

This process makes sense to me.

Just like we discover as much as we can about our characters before we start writing, we learn about our client’s business and their objectives before we start designing. We’re given a set of rules (or project constraints) which will end up giving us more creative freedom than had we started designing on the fly.  Over the years, I’ve learned that I work best with structure and rules. When I started studying screenwriting, I was happy to learn about Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” beats and how they worked to build the story. When I recorded my “Go Play Project” the self-imposed deadline to upload the sound files every week kept me on track through a difficult year.

So Sunday morning, when I Googled “Philadelphia UX Class” (before I even got out of bed) and saw this UX 201 class – I knew I had to sign up. It was an easy “YES”. The class was sponsored by the Philadelphia Chapter of Girl Develop It and was held at a co-working office which was within walking distance from my house. The four hour class flew by! The students at my table were all training for new careers. Everyone there was eager to learn. Their enthusiasm was infectious. The students at my table were all training for new careers and by the end of class we were friends.  Alicia, our teacher, was experienced and knowledgeable. She kept the pace moving but was quick to stop and answer questions and make sure everyone was on track. We learned about the research phase (user research and interview questions) of UX — a step I’m implementing right now for a music ed project I’m working on. (Psst! Please contact me if you’d like to help me out by taking a quick survey).

Are you getting ready for change? Starting an online business? Turning your hobby into an income stream? I’m offering a class for Boomers (or anyone) who is interested in starting a profitable side-hustle. Sign up for my newsletter for updates and news about the launch date! I’d love to have you join us!

Window of Opportunity (knowing when to say yes!)

Finding Your Windows Of Opportunity


Last Saturday I spoke at NEPABlogCon 2015, a gathering of bloggers and web professionals from Northeast Pennsylvania and the surrounding area held at East Stroudsburg University.

It was just one of those things. I saw the call for speakers, came up with a topic, and submitted a proposal all on the very same night night. It was a window of opportunity – a chance to meet fellow bloggers, hear a great line up of speakers, and pull together my ideas into a concise Powerpoint, which, as we know, is an excellent way to make sure you know what the heck you’re talking about.

A special added bonus to the day was finally meeting the keynote speaker, Ash Ambridge, the marketing maven behind The Middle Finger Project, who I’ve been following online for at least six years. If you don’t know her, you need to follow her for the kick in the pants to get you moving to make your business dreams a reality.

Yes or No?

I’m someone who says “yes” and immediately regrets it. One reason I say yes is because I think whatever it is would be “good for me” like the time I volunteered to be Treasurer for the local Library Board of Directors thinking it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn Excel. Anther reason I say yes, is because I’m a pushover, especially at meetings when someone looks around the room and says “Do I have any volunteers?”

Learning how to start saying “no” has been a challenge. At best, I’m able to say “let me think about it” and avoid the regret of adding one more commitment to a schedule that is already crazy full of obligations. However, it’s easier to say no when you realize it’s more difficult to change a “yes” to a “no” than it is to change a “no” to a “yes.”

But sometimes an opportunity comes along and you know you have to say “yes”, no matter how time-crunched you are. NEPABlogCon was one of those — for reasons that any of you starting down the encore career path would definitely understand.

Impostor Syndrome

For years (30+) I taught piano lessons. Yes, I’ve always done blogging and built websites “on the side” but underneath it all I was really a “pianist”, a pianist who dabbled in web design.

Recently I’ve been learning HTML, CSS, Javascript, spending hours every day with CoffeeCop Editor, CodePen, Codecademy, and my Blueprint class on SkillCrush.  I took on the challenge of building my own portfolio site from scratch and hanging out my shingle as a web designer and infopreneur. But still had this lingering feeling that I was a fraud — that there was so much to learn before I can really claim to be any sort of expert.

I found out that there’s a name for this. It’s called “impostor syndrome.” Margie Warrell writes about this “fear of being found out.”

She writes that Maya Angelou once said:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”

Yes, Maya Angelou!

Don’t let doubts dictate choices

Warrell continues:

“It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue aspirations that leave you wide open to falling short,  losing face and being ‘found out.’ But when you refuse to let your doubts dictate your choices, you open new doors of opportunity  and discover just how much you can really do.  Even if you never accomplish all you aspire toward, you will accomplish so much more than you otherwise would have. In the process you’ll come to realize that the only impostor you ever had to worry about is your fear of people thinking you are one.”

So, by saying yes to writing that first proposal for the opportunity to speak at NEPABlogCon, I was opening a new window of opportunity. I was taking that step into a world where I found myself speaking with confidence about a topic I happen to know very well. No, I haven’t been practicing code since I was 8 like I practiced piano, but I was able to talk about building information products, setting up online courses and writing e-books. And I loved every minute of it!

And, for the first time, I felt that shift. That moment when I can actually say, without qualification, I’m a web designer. How can I help you?

Thank you, NEPABlogCon!


Are you getting ready for change? Starting an online business? Turning your hobby into an income stream? I’m offering a class for Boomers (or anyone) who is interested in starting a profitable side-hustle. Sign up for my newsletter for updates and news about the launch date! I’d love to have you join us!


Branding for Boomers
photo via Chelsea Francis

Anyone starting a side-hustle or looking for a job these days has probably heard about the importance of building a personal brand. Some middle-aged job hunters might think that their experience should speak for itself, but they soon see that the young HR specialist who’s doing the hiring is looking for the “story” behind their resume. In other words, it’s more about who you are and how you got to this point — not necessarily about the gold stars you’ve earned along the way.

It’s this “story” that informs your branding.

Fortunately, those of us growing up in the sixties and seventies have the advantage of being part the generation that practically invented branding. Think Mad Men.

The post WWII economy, the beginning of dual income families, and the introduction of the credit card all contributed to a new spending generation. With this influx of money into the economy, businesses had more competition and consumers had more choice. Businesses tried to win customers with their branding and advertising. And our generation bought it.

According to Peter Hubbell, Founder and CEO of BoomAgers, we Baby Boomers are known as the original Brand Managers. He writes

“Today the term “branding” is nearly synonymous with the title of Brand Manager. The brand manager is responsible for designing and executing a marketing plan that grows the brand’s reputation and its business. Since brands, and the people who manage them, were created in response to Boomers’ unprecedented clout, we have coined them the Original Brand Managers. They were the original ones who fell in love with these brands and defined them. They felt as though they owned these brands (think Levi’s) and, as such, they were the ones managing the requirements of what those brands needed to be.”

Your Brand Statement & STORY

If you’re a Boomer starting a side-hustle you don’t have to look far to find your story. If your job history is anything like mine, you have a boatload of experiences that make you uniquely qualified to run the side-hustle you’re starting today.

For example, when you tell your story, whether it’s your bio on your website or your cover letter for your next job application:

-Tell us about your first career.
-Tell us your pain point, that thing that made you decide to change your career path.
-Tell us about the things you love to do.
-Tell us who you work for. Who is your ideal client? Are we a good fit?
-And finally tell us what you have to offer. What makes you different from your competition? (From what you’ve told me, I should be able to see that you’re the best person for the job based on your experience.)

The more transparent you are, the more your clients and customers will trust you. Keep it simple, but honest.

But I thought branding was about colors and logos.

Sure. That’s the fun part. And it might be the part that Boomers get hung up on, mainly because they never had to do this before. So if you are putting together a website for your business it’s good to know the meaning of colors.



Your branding, colors, logo, photos and layout, will also reflect your personality. If you’re the outdoorsy type, think earth tones. If you’re glam, glam it up on your site. If your business is law or finance, no butterflies or flowers! Spend time looking at sites that speak to you.

Still stuck? Here are a few ideas:

-Take a look in your closet at your favorite clothes.
-Empty your bag… is there anything you carry with you all the time?
-Do you have a favorite painting? Favorite artist?
-Start a private mood board on Pinterest. Then look for patterns through all the items you pinned. Is everything blue?
-What kind of music do you like? How does that translate into a website’s look and feel?

Can you guess my favorite item of clothing from my website?

Do you want to design your own authentic brand, one that tells your story and is reflected by the look and feel of your website? Look for my upcoming class for Savvy Boomers! To be sure not to miss out, sign up here for the newsletter to get dates and deets! (plus a free download of my short e-book “Your Organic Evolution.”


Starting A Side Hustle At Sixty

(In full disclosure, I should mention that I graduated high school the same year as Homer and Marge Simpson. Therefore, I’m not officially 60 years old… yet.)

What is a Side Hustle?

A side hustle is a business on the side, with the goal being to eventually replace the 9 to 5.  The side hustle is not just a part time job. It’s turning a hobby, or a passion, into an income stream.

It’s the stay-at-home mommy blogger, the foodie with the self-published cookbook, the musician selling tunes on Bandcamp, the web-designer, social media ninja, or graphics whiz. It’s working until after midnight on a blog post, or photographing items for Etsy, or painting or writing. It’s making money with any of these side hustle possibilities.

It’s the new economy.

According to Fast Company, the side hustle is the norm for millennials.

Kelsey Manning says “It seems like the fill-every-hour-of-the-day mindset underlying this change starts in high school and continues throughout college. You’re basically behind if you don’t play three sports and an instrument, have one paid job, a volunteer position, and an unpaid internship, sing in the choir, run for president of six different clubs, have a social life that makes people jealous on Facebook, and get perfect grades.”

Kelsey fills her week with four jobs. “Well, I’m working at Hachette Monday through Thursday 9-5, I do work for Kate White on the commute back and forth, during my lunch break, and on Fridays, and I write for Levo and The Gloss (plus my own blog, for which I don’t pay myself) at nights and on the weekends.”

As children of The Greatest Generation, we Baby Boomers seen our parents retire with pensions and company health plans to enjoy a lifestyle most of us will never know. Now at sixty, we’re healthy and under-employed. Retirement still seems a long way off.

Some of us are picking up side jobs, but many of us are taking a page from the millennials’ handbook. We’re catching the entrepreneurial bug and we’re launching our own side-hustle.

Where do I start?
List #1

A good idea is to get out that pencil and paper and do a brain dump.

Start with a list of your passions and hobbies. Are you a whiz when it comes to fixing things around the house? Do you grow the best tomatoes every summer? Are you a ninja with the blender coming up with one amazing smoothie concoction after another? Do you have a way of explaining math problems so even I could understand? Can you come up with at least five things that people have complimented you on? Your fashion sense? Your jokes?

After you get everything down on paper go through and highlight those things that bring you the most joy. For now, don’t think of what’s going to bring in the most money. Just list the activities that you could see yourself doing for the next twenty years. Let’s face it, at our age we don’t have time for a side-hustle that doesn’t bring us joy.

Pare your list down to your top three and then choose the one thing you want to start building your side-hustle income stream around.

List #2

Now start a list of your skills. This is where your years of experience in the workforce give you an advantage over the millennial side hustler.

Are you a born teacher? Do you love to write? Are you great with code? Numbers? Do you love to get up in front of an audience and speak? Do you have a knack for film and video? For sales? Apply these skills to your passion and you start to get an idea of what your side hustle will look like.

Your unfair advantage

Your unfair advantage is a skill you have that very few others have in your particular niche. It’s up to you to use this skill to your advantage. It could be one of your personality traits, your sense of hustle, your contacts. It can be your ability to quickly assess your competition. Or it can be your story and how you tell it.

Think of your unfair advantage as the icing on the cake. This is the final element that will help grow your side hustle to the point where you can replace your 9-5 forever.

Where Can I learn more?

If you are interested in starting your own side hustle, I’ll be offering classes for Savvy Boomers to help you get your side hustle off the ground. If you’d like more information about upcoming courses (and a free download of my eBook, Your Organic Evolution) please sign up for my newsletter here.


via Nick Turner
via Nick Turner

I’ve been designing websites for the past 17 years! Hard to believe, but it’s true. Back then I used Microsoft Front Page, a WYSIWYG editor that I found very easy. I never used the templates and instead, I dove into finding my own free clip art and images, backgrounds, and layouts. I downloaded fonts, played around with hex numbers, and learned all I could about SEO, affiliate marketing, and building a mailing list. I got my first taste of code when I started customizing the website in the HTML view.


My first website was devoted to Preschool Education and I called it PreKSmarties.com. Link exchanges were big back then and a great way to meet other SAHMs who were growing online businesses. We guest posted for each other, advertised in each other mailing lists, and became online friends.  Most of my articles were about teaching reading and music. Many were geared towards parents of gifted children.

After a couple of years my kids were out of PreSchool and I lost interest in the topic. I sold that site to a marketing company who saw its value as a money-maker based on the commissions I was getting from sales of Hooked On Phonics.


My next project was the community website for the Upper Perkiomen Valley – UpperPerk.com. Again, I made good use of the country clip art that everyone was using in the 90s, I put together an “I remember when” page where readers could contribute their memories, a local news page in partnership with the local newspaper and a “virtual valley” photo tour which later became Google Maps (just kidding!) I designed web pages for individual businesses and linked them to the site. Hard to believe I charged a flat fee for my services – $100 – whether it took a day or a week. I was not a very savvy business woman. Eventually it was decided that the domain name and site would be better served by an “official” entity, not just a SAHM who wasn’t even a native to the area. So I sold that site and went on to buy another domain name.


Amazon claims to be the first to enter the affiliate marketing arena, but I remember Commission Junction and LinkShare as my two go-to affiliate sites right around the same time. I built “A Gift Idea” as a directory of affiliate links to online stores selling gift baskets, flower arrangements, and food. It was a steady stream of passive income, but once again, building the site, (and adding that money-making code) was more fun than maintaining it. And yes, you guessed it, I sold that site too.


In 2000 my kids were all in school and I decided to go back to teaching piano — only this time I’d teach online. This was before Skype was invented. Before YouTube came on the scene. I know you’re thinking “How could she possibly teach piano online?” Well, via email, of course! I had students from places like Turkey, Kuwait, and Alaska. We took the time (lots of time) to send lengthy emails to each other describing technical problems and solutions, ideas for practicing and new repertoire. It became very cumbersome and took forever. I was always “on call” and rather than restructure my pricing to reflect the time I was putting into it, I dropped the idea and went back to teaching piano IRL.

It was around this time that Blogger came on the scene. Microsoft FrontPage was becoming extinct. And I was heading in a different direction.


In 2006 I went back online. This time I started with WordPress. First it was WordPress.com and then I moved to the self-hosted, WordPress.org blogs. I blogged about street fashion, piano lessons, and the importance of play and creativity in daily life. I interviewed women and wrote about midlife reinvention. I even had a blog about female artists of a certain age and called it Hot Flash Artists.

The best part of each one of these projects was building it. I realize now that I like figuring out the ins and outs of new templates. I like getting under the hood, seeing how everything works, and then customizing it. I like looking at “source code” for my favorite websites. I love finding colors, images, and fonts — everything that goes into branding. To me figuring out code is like working on a puzzle. It’s creative. It’s play.

So now, after all these years, I’m making it official.

Yes. Finally I’m going to learn how to code, more than just my rudimentary HTML. I’m taking my first online class in HTML, CSS, JQuery, Wireframes, and Photoshop. I’m diving in and hoping to come out more confident in my skills and ready to offer web design services to boomers like me, who are ready to design their own second act.

I’ll be posting work samples and new ideas about how I can help clients get set up online. If you’re interested in contacting me about how I can help you, please email me at catherine.shefski@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!



5 Things Boomers Can Learn From Millennials
via Splitshire

Our millennial kids can be frustratingly stubborn. They’d rather text than talk. They’re the Pokemon generation, raised with the iPod and video games and Neopets. And thanks to us, they’re well educated (and well-rounded) and quick to let everyone know it.

But there’s another side to these kids. They’re resourceful! (They’ve been called the D.I.Y. generation). They have a strong sense of social justice. And they’re optimists despite the fact that they carry so much student debt, and it seems that they place more importance on family and marriage rather than jobs and money.

And perhaps most surprisingly, according to Forbes

They get along with their parents. According to Pew, teenagers today get into fewer fights with their parents than Mom and Dad did with theirs as teens. According to authors Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer, six out of 10 teens eat with their family four or more nights per week. Incredibly, 85% of teens name one of their parents as their best friend, rather than naming a peer. And more than a third of millennials of all ages say they influence what products their parents buy, what shops and restaurants they visit and what trips they take…At the rate they’re spreading the word, it won’t be long until almost everyone passes for a millennial, as far as attitude and buying patterns go.


via NBC
via NBC

I have to admit it. I’m inspired by my kids. They’re 20, 22, and 24. Right smack dab in the middle of the millennial demographic. They’re smart, creative, fair, practical, and they’re quick to tell it like it is. I’ve taught them a thing or two, and I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot from them.


First of all, I finally get the whole D.I.Y. thing. By now most of us have figured out that if you want to learn how to work the latest app, program your remote, download a file, get rid of a computer virus — you just have to figure it out for yourself.

I should know. I used to be able to ask my kids for help and now they tell me to just “Google It.” I’ve become noticeably more technically savvy since they stopped answering all my questions.

But the D.I.Y. movement is more than just programming the VCR.

Jeff Fromm, of Millennial Marketing observes that “in the past, crafting and “doing it yourself” seemed to be reserved for grandmas and middle aged women book club activities.  Now, young adults under the age of 35 dominate the 29 billion dollar crafting industry.

Young musicians are forgoing managers and publicity agents and instead are finding performance spaces, building their following on social media, raising money for tours and producing their own albums. Artists are collaborating and forming collectives.

Millennials are running successful start-ups as young entrepreneurs bring together technology and creativity to take D.I.Y. to new levels.

So rather than talking about how much better it is to pick up the phone rather than send an email, or how sad it is that our kids don’t use cursive, let’s pick out one new skill and devote an hour a week to mastering it. No need to be smug about how much better things were back in the old days.

Whether it’s finally digging into Photoshop, setting up (and uploading) to a Soundcloud account, taking an online class, or starting that novel, we’re not too old to start stepping out of our comfort zone.


According to Goldman Sachs Millennials are far more health conscious than the previous generation. “Healthy living sets the new standard of cool,” the analysts write.

Millennials have much less brand loyalty than boomers and are more willing to take advantage of the convenience of shopping online for food. While focused on finding a bargain (food truck food), they are still willing to pay extra for fresh organic or specialty foods. They’re also  more likely to seek out locally grown food, farmers markets, and community gardens.

The Millennials I’ve spoken to don’t believe that weight is as important to overall health as we seem to think. Don’t expect to see a millennial spending an hour on the treadmill at the gym. Instead they prefer short bursts of exercise like spinning and Zumba. In general, even though they like things quick, they aren’t looking for quick fixes to weight or health issues. They have a much more holistic approach to health – reduce stress, get more bursts of physical activity, and eat fresh healthy food.

Let’s take a page from the millennial’s playbook and not think of a healthy lifestyle as all or nothing, but as a way of life.

photo via David di Veroli
photo via David di Veroli
3. Life online

Boomers use Facebook almost as much as Millennials – a whopping 70% of Boomers compared to 88% of Millennials. However when it comes to Twitter, G+, YouTube and Instagram the numbers dip. That may be because Boomers are a little short-sighted in that they see social media mainly as a way to keep in touch with friends and family. (For some reason they seem to like finding that kid that sat behind them in English Class almost half a century ago or “reconnecting” with an old flame from their high school days.)

While this bit of nostalgia is fun for a while, it doesn’t really help those Boomers who are actively pursuing a second act career.

Don’t dismiss Twitter (my personal favorite social media platform) and LinkedIn as networking tools. It turns out that Twitter is actually far more useful when it comes to connecting with people you don’t know – people who can turn into potential clients, mentors, or even employers. And now with LinkedIn teaming up with Lynda, it’s the perfect tool for career changers.

Boomers can also take a closer look at how Millennials are spending their money online. They find best deals and promotions using apps like Groupon and review sites like Yelp. They get groceries delivered to their door by Amazon, Peapod, Fresh Direct and others.  They’re more comfortable with online banking than writing checks. They find apartments online. They get their news online. They learn online.

Please, let’s not limit our online life to Candy Crush.

Read more


Two years ago, after a summer of extreme downsizing, I moved from a small town to the city. I cut my hair, sold my piano, stopped updating my blog.  Maybe it was my age. I had just turned 57, the beginning of a new 7-year cycle. Maybe it was the aftermath of losing both parents in one year. Maybe it was teacher burnout. Whatever the reason, I wanted needed a fresh start!

5 ideas for when you need a fresh start in life

The years between 56 and 63 are supposed to be our years of self-actualization. Carl Jung described this as individuation. This is when we finally unlock our full potential and become the person we were meant to be. Unlike the cycle that began at age 49 where we’re still trying to prove something to others and make a name for ourselves, when we reach 56 we’re ready to let go of everything that has been, and to take on a whole new life style.

I found that after the move, life settled back into a routine.

Different city, different job, and now a new blog. But had life really changed? Recently I’ve been wondering if I had squandered my opportunity for that fresh start.

Was there change that still needed to take place at a deeper level? Had I really let go of everything? Was I truly open to expansion? Meeting new challenges and finally unlocking my full potential?

It didn’t seem that way.

Of course this wonderful time of growth and expansion just happens to be scheduled for when our life is at its most chaotic. When we can’t find a minute to ourselves, let alone an hour to think, write and dream.

But nevertheless, I’ve been working at it. In the meantime, I’ve come up with 5 ideas I’d like to share.

5 tips for moving towards authentic change and experiencing real growth.

1.  Education

I truly believe that one of the best ways to stay young is to always be learning. In the last few years, online learning has grown by leaps and bounds. Just today I learned that LinkedIn has acquired Lynda, offering its members their choice of thousands of design, business and tech courses. This will make life very interesting for those boomers who are crafting their LinkedIn profile to land their Second Act dream job. It makes sense that LinkedIn will soon be making suggestions for online classes to round out your new employment profile.

I’m a big fan of Codecademy. The classes are free and very user friendly. I’ve taken the HTML and CSS class and I’m working my way through Ruby. Even if you don’t consider yourself a techie, try a class. Coding is like reading. It’s fun, it’s creative. And it’s never too late to learn. If you just want to get your feet wet, I suggest you try the free 10-Day Bootcamp at Skillcrush, a great overview of HTML, complete with cheat-sheets, and an intro to CSS and other programming topics.

Skillshare is another site that offers over a thousand classes (via video) for creatives and business people. Many of the classes are free, but in any case, they offer a free 30-day trial where you can take unlimited classes.


It’s almost impossible to get a fresh start in life if we’re stressed out. Did you know that there is actually something in the forest air that calms our nervous system? I have to admit, I never really thought about the benefits of being out with nature (I’ve never even been camping) until I interviewed my friend Janice. She says:

“When I got laid off from my job, I felt fearful and despondent. Along with the support from family and friends, I felt the time outdoors helped me find the strength to carry on. Sometimes my self talk can turn sour, so the noises of nature, be it a tree creaking, a bird singing, or my feet shuffling through the leaves, helps soothe my soul.”

 3.  Play

When was the last time you threw a frisbee, pulled out a sketch pad and some crayons, or picked up a hula hoop? Messy, no expectations, good old fashioned play is not just for kids.

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, has presented a terrific TED Talk on the topic of creativity and play. He talks about how businesses are beginning to realize the importance of play, trust, and friendship in the workplace. A sense of trust and relaxation in the workplace encourages the employees to think creatively without fear of judgement.

Todd Henry, author of Die Empty and The Accidental Creative, talks about Unnecessary Creating. This is when you’re engaging in creative activities just for you, not for money. No one is looking over your shoulder or judging you. You are free to take risks, try new activities, and explore hunches. He compares engaging in creative activities to building a portfolio of risks.

In 2012 I decided to record one piano piece a week. For years I wouldn’t play in front of people because I was comparing myself to others, and worse — I was comparing myself to my twenty-something self when I was in peak shape. It wasn’t until I was about 9 months into the project that I finally started letting go of that perfectionism and self-consciousness and began to look forward to my Sunday nights at the piano. By posting my music for anyone to listen to, I was back to where I started as a child when I was ready to sit down to perform at a moment’s notice. I called this my “Go Play” project, before I even realized how important the word Play was to the actual project.

Jenny, Laurie and Judy are just three women I’ve interviewed recently who have successfully incorporated play into their lives. They are an inspiration.

4. Reading

Every day we’re bombarded with useless and distracting information. Junk food for the mind. Over the past year I’ve been trying to become more selective in what I read and what I listen to.

When I’m going through a ‘do over’ phase my favorite genres are biographies and autobiographies (and screenplays). However, the last book I read that really hit home for me was James Altucher’s Choose Yourself. Since then I’ve been listening to his podcast interviews on my morning commute. I love his interviews with people who’ve made creative, and sometimes drastic, changes in their lives.

If you want a little taste of Altucher’s writing, Google “James Altucher Reinvention.”

5. Writing

The older I get, the more I realize how important writing is. When there’s something bothering you, a thought that keeps running around in your head, an old grievance, or regret — write it down and get it out of your system. Sometimes called therapeutic letter-writing, or just plain journaling, writing clears your head. It helps put order to looping and repetitive thoughts. Maybe more importantly writing provides us with insight. Because, after all who are we talking to when we write?

In addition to journal writing, creative writing also brings clarity. I’ve written a few screenplays and I’m always surprised when I take a step back and look at the main character and realize how similar they are to me. I’ve actually learned a thing or two from them.

Do you have any tips for getting a fresh start in life? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below! (If you don’t see the comment section click on the header of this blog post to go to the full screen post. Comments can be added on that page!) Thank you!


Have you been thinking about publishing a Kindle book but just haven’t gotten around to sifting through the forums, the FAQs and all the rules about formatting!?

Easy Guide to Publishing Your First Kindle Book
photo by Anna Demianenko

When I first looked into Kindle publishing about four years ago I found it all confusing — the pricing structure, the ISBN numbers. Hey, I didn’t even own a Kindle!

Well, when I went back to it this year, I realized how wrong I was. Amazon has made the whole process quite user friendly and now I realize I should have been publishing on Kindle years ago.

Why should you publish?


Whether it’s a book, a Kindle short, a downloadable PDF, a magazine article, or any other information product,  publishing will give you “authority.”

You might not think you’re an authority on anything right now, but if you start thinking about your interests, the things you like to talk about, the things people ask you about…these are the topics you should write about. Of course you can publish fiction, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll be talking about non-fiction.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve been growing roses for years. As soon as the weather is warm you’re outside with your pruning shears. At night you’re outside with your watering can. You know every type of rose. You’re the go-to person for beautiful flower arrangements. Your Instagram feed is full of photos of your rose garden. Most likely you blog about roses and gardening.

Guess what? You know more about roses than I do. And more than most of the people you meet. You certainly know enough to teach us a thing or two. Do a little bit more research and add that to what you already know and you wind up with “authority.”

Build Your Platform

Your Kindle book and Amazon Author page will bring people to your blog, your social media accounts and your mailing list.

The more books you write on your topic — i.e. History of the Rose; Rose Gardening without a Green Thumb; Feeding Your Roses; Roses for Beginner Gardeners — the more you exposure you get and then the more followers on your blog, your social media and your mailing list.


With Kindle Publishing you can earn up to 70% royalty on sales to customers in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, India, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and more. If you enroll in the KDP Select program you can earn more money through Kindle Unlimited (paid subscription) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL, a benefit to Amazon Prime members).  Royalties are deposited monthly directly to your bank account.

No fees to publish

You don’t need to own a Kindle to publish a Kindle e-book, just as you don’t need an actual Kindle to read one. Readers can download the free Kindle App to read their books on their phone, tablet or computer. Writers (publishers) can download the Free Kindle Previewer to see what their book will look like on any device before they press the publish button.  There is no fee to publish on Kindle unless you decide to hire an editor or a book cover designer.

Write Your Kindle Book

How do you get started?


The first thing you need to do is choose a topic. The more specific you are with your topic, the more chance you’ll have of being found under the Amazon Category system.

Let’s use your Rose book as an example.  Go to Amazon.com and click on Kindle e-books.  Look at the category hierarchy on the left side of the page. You can find books about Roses via several different routes. As a Kindle Publisher, you will have the opportunity to categorize your book under two main headings. For example you might choose to go with these:

Kindle Store>Kindle e-books>Crafts Hobbies Home>Flowers>Roses

Kindle Store>Kindle e-books>Gardening & Landscape Design> Flowers>Roses

You would not want to leave your final category at Flowers. By drilling down through all of the subcategories to Roses you’re giving your book a greater chance of being found. Your Rose book will be found under Books, Crafts Hobbies Home, Flowers and Roses. This way you’re multiplying your potential visibility rather than restricting it since it will be found in all four categories.

Another advantage of choosing a very specific category is that you will have fewer competitors than if you had left your book in the broad category. The person who simply writes a general book about flowers will get lost while your Rose book has a much better chance of becoming a best seller since it only has about 500 competitors.

Length & format

Your Kindle book should be as long as it takes to do justice to your topic. Some Kindle books are very short — 24-40 pages. Others are longer. Personally, I’d rather read a short book that gives me the information I’m looking for rather than a long book that is repetitive and full of fluff.

I suggest that you write your book using Microsoft Word or Open Office. You’ll want to use the default settings in your document. Do not use tabs or the space bar for indenting paragraphs. Do not double space between paragraphs. Set these formatting rules up before you start by using Page Layout.  Remember to insert page breaks after each chapter (or section).

In the end you will be uploading an HTML file to Amazon. If you keep your document clean, you will have clean code when you save your document to HTML. You can check and see how it looks with the free Free Kindle Previewer.


Set up your account here.

Be sure to read the long but very informative FAQ.

You’ll see that you’ll have a choice of whether or not to join KDP Select. If you choose to publish through the KDP Select program you are giving Amazon exclusive use of a piece of digital content for 90 days and in return you receive five days (any five you choose) to make your e-book available for free, and you also get paid for any of your e-books that are lent through the Amazon Prime library. You can read more about KDP Select here. Elsewhere on line many indie authors have written about the pros and cons of the program.

The rest of the form is self-explanatory. You’ll be asked for the title and subtitle of your book. It’s important to add a subtitle to help with keywords for searching.

You’ll be allowed to enter up to seven keywords or keyword phrases of 25 characters or less.  Test these words at Amazon by typing them into the search bar one letter at a time and watch as prompts appear with words Amazon thinks you might be looking for in the search field.  This will show you what most people are using to search for your topic.

A great way to look for keywords is to use https://adwords.google.com/o/KeywordTool. Find phrases that are searched 500 – 10,000 a month. But make sure your keywords are applicable to those searching for books. You can always change your keywords and experiment with what works best.

Pricing & Promoting

There are two basic royalty structures in Kindle Publishing.  Books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 receive a 70% royalty while any other price will give you only 35% of the list price.

It’s easy to see why the $2.99 price is the best place to be. The buyer will be attracted by the low price, but you’ll still receive 70% of the purchase.

Ideally you’ve started promoting before your publication date. You’ve already announced your release date to your blog followers. You’ve tweeted, FB, IG’d and G+’d.

Once you publish you can build your Author Page on Amazon. There you’ll have a chance to link to your books as well as a brief bio, photo, and links to your website or blog.

Need more help?

Sign up for the newsletter to get the scoop the upcoming Kindle Publishing e-course. Or leave comments and questions for me below! I’d love to hear from you!



5 Steps Into Your Second Act with Worsheetsphoto by Dominik QN

 It seems like we Boomers just don’t want to retire.

Even if we wanted to, most of us can’t.

With pensions a thing of the past, meager 401Ks, college expenses for our kids and job loss (need I say more?)  the retirement our parents enjoyed is something we’ll never know.

 As someone who is a “glass half full” kind of gal, I can appreciate what this blogger had to say in this article from Business News Daily.

“I continue to work because I don’t have a pension, but honestly, I’m almost glad I don’t,” Susan Harris told Business News Daily. Harris, soon to turn 62, was a court reporter in Washington, D.C. She chucked the courtroom for full-time blogging in 2006 and today writes GardenRant and Boomer Turn Ons.

“Having to earn an income is the great motivator that led me to my second career as a writer — the first career for me that’s been remotely creative or fulfilling,” Harris said. “So for me, the combination of needing money but no longer being able to stomach mind-numbing work has been magic.”


Luckily for most of us, the Second Act is inevitable. So how can we plan to make it great? I don’t have all the answers but I can tell you what works for me.

Five Steps To Take Now To Get Ready For Your Second Act.

1. Self Examination.

“Know Thyself” has been one of life’s themes from ancient Greek times at the oracle at Delphi to the present with its appearance in The Matrix where its Latin version (temet nosce) showed up as an inscription over the Oracle’s door.

As we begin to sift through our life experiences we start to uncover key events that will help us understand how we got to where we are today. We recognize what worked and what didn’t work. We remember what brought us joy and ease. As we start to see patterns we will often be led to discover our second act calling.

You might gain insight through meditation or just talking to friends. Personally, I find that getting things down on paper works best. Incidentally, according to social psychologist James Pennebaker, author of Writing To Heal, writing has been proven to help relieve stress, process trauma, and gain insight.

The easiest way to get started writing is a prompt. For example “I feel most energized when…” or “I really wish others knew this about me…”  (check the worksheets for more ideas.)

When planning for your Second Act it’s good to key in on figuring out what we do best. Ask yourself – what is my core competency? what is my superpower?

For me it’s teaching. Once I learn something, my first thought is “How can I teach it to someone else?” Others may be leaders, delegating in the workforce. There are those who shy away from that spotlight, but work best as the “behind the scenes” person. Still others work best alone, creating, writing, or as artists. Others are number ninjas.

Combine your superpower with something that interests you and you’re on your way to your Second Act career. I avoid using the word “passion” because sometimes passions die out when we work at them day in and day out. But if something interests us, we’re more apt to stick to it and dig in deeper.

Don’t know your superpower? Write some more. Try writing your autobiography. Write about what you used to play with as a kid. What stories did you tell?  What did you love to do before you were put on the college/career/marriage track?

2.  Inspiration.

Go to the bookstore or the library and notice where you spend the most time. I usually make the rounds between “writing,” “marketing”  “metaphysical” and “crafts.” I rarely look at fiction. At the library I head for the “new non-fiction” and the “first person memoirs.”

What section do you gravitate to?

Reading about a topic I enjoy always makes me crave more. For example I have a collection of over 20 books on screenwriting and nearly as many on metaphysical topics. My kindle is full of marketing, branding and business books.

Read inspirational stories about others who have made major shifts in their lives. Start with 50 Ordinary Women, a collection of interviews with women who have designed their Second Acts. Some have overcome personal obstacles. Others have taken a more circuitous route to make  positive shifts in their lives.

As much as I love reading, for me there’s no better confidence booster than learning a new skill. Recently I’ve taking a marketing class at Coursera, a business class at CreativeLive and a short WordPress class from WP-BFF. Each of these classes were free and I was able to complete them on my own schedule.

Start exploring. Find a class that works for you. The energy and confidence we get from learning a new skill and then putting it into practice is what we need to create new opportunities for ourselves.

3.  Clarity.

Once we zero in on our interests and our superpowers, we can brainstorm our options for finding the best way to combine the two. For example, you’re fascinated by rock climbers but at age 62, the closest you’ll get to actually scaling a rock face is scrambling over a few boulders in a creek bed. But, your superpower is writing. So then combine your interest with your superpower and write a book about rock climbing, or interview a rock climber for a magazine article, or team up with a photographer for a photo essay.

Clarity comes when we decide on a goal and we start moving toward it. Clarity is decision. Clarity is a clear written goal, not a vague and fuzzy idea.

Jack Canfield suggests that to keep your subconscious mind focused on what you want, you should write down three goals in the area of life you are committed to working on. Read your list of goals every day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. And for an even more powerful approach, close your eyes and focus on each goal and ask yourself, “What is one thing I could do today to move toward the achievement of this goal?” Write down your answers and take those actions.

4.  Priorities.

The more we reinforce our goals though writing and visualization the clearer our path will become. As you start down that new path, whether it’s a career change, writing a book, starting a new business, traveling or blogging — you’ve got to set a goal and map out a plan. When we put our goals that at the bottom of our to-do list, we’re putting ourselves last.

For one week, let’s try putting ourselves first. Let’s start by saying ‘no’ to those obligations that aren’t aligned with our goals. Sometimes this means saying no to social invitations, or committee meetings, or volunteer organizations. Anything that takes time and energy away from a goal, particularly in its beginning stages, dilutes clarity.

If you’re working to get your Second Act career off the ground while you’re still at a full-time job (as I am), every minute of the day is precious. Although it’s not set in stone, for most of us the best time for creative work is early in the morning. If it means you start getting up at 5AM then so be it. Use that morning time to read, study, write, draw or plan. Set your intention the night before. Write it down. And then get to work first thing in the morning.

5. Value and Service.

For many, a Second Act means giving back to the community by volunteering for a cause or finding a job in the non-profit sector.

But those of us taking the path of the freelance creative look to deliver value in other ways. Once we realize that it’s only by delivering value to others that value flows back to us, we start to think of ways we can over-deliver.

And when we’ve done the self-examination work, the reading and learning for inspiration — when we’ve gained clarity — the idea of over-delivering is second nature. We begin to produce our best work in a field that fascinates us by using our own personal superpower — and it’s all backed up by a lifetime of experience.

Click below to download the free worksheets to go along with this post. I love feedback so feel free to comment below.

Step Into Your Second Act Worksheets


Resume Makeoverphoto by

So you’ve got 30 years experience, top-notch degrees, and a boatload of life experience and you still can’t compete with that Gen-X whiz kid coming in to scoop up the job that was made for you?  Age discrimination could be a factor, but in today’s economy where employers sift through hundreds of resumes for one position it may not be the only reason you didn’t get the interview.

According to CNN employers may have rational qualifications that are inadvertently weeding out older candidates. Recent education and technological skills are two areas where older workers are more likely to come up short compared to the younger competition.

“When there’s a large supply of unemployed workers, employers can afford to be choosier, and they’re opting for workers they think are less expensive or more recently trained,” said Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor for AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at our resumes and figure out how we can make them stand out out.

1.  Dates. If you want to keep your age a secret don’t disclose the year of your college graduation! In fact, your college degrees just don’t carry as much weight as they would for a recent grad. They belong at the bottom of the page.  Depending on the job opening, I often leave off some of my education. Having a Master’s in Piano Performance isn’t very helpful when it comes to applying for an administrative position. When you list your work experience, there’s no need to go back further than 15 years. Keep it recent and relevant. If there is a particular accomplishment from the 80s that will put your resume over the top, put it under a separate heading of “previous accomplishments” and leave it undated.

2.  Contact Information. Your email address can date you. If you’re using an AOL address or have a cute email address like chocolatelvr56@yahoo.com or puppiesandkittens@aol.com you probably won’t be taken seriously. Simply signing up for a gmail account (firstname.lastname@gmail.com) will bring you into the 21st century.  A cell phone number is a must. And you can leave off the FAX number. Does anyone use fax machines any more?

3.  Look and feel. Holly Klose from TheLadders.com says to ditch the fancy paper. Aside from the fact that you will submit most resumes electronically, fancy paper is a thing of the past. “It either shows that you’re over a certain age, or that you’re new to the workforce and received advice from someone of a certain age.” For Gen-Xers fonts such as Times New Roman and Courier are considered old-fashioned and date you. Stick to Ariel.

4.  Transferable skills. Here’s where you can use creativity to take those skills you’ve developed at a previous job and apply them to the position you are applying for. Three top skills employers are looking for are communication, problem-solving and teamwork. Show how you used these skills in each of your job descriptions. Secondary transferable skills include leadership experience, flexibility, willingness to learn and attention to detail. Again, tailor your job description to include how you demonstrated each skill but be sure to — (see #4).

5.  Ditch the Cliches. So now that you have your transferable skills organized put them in your own language. According to Brazen Careerist, the top job-hunting cliches to avoid include the words “creative,” “results-oriented,” “passionate,” and “guru.” The phrase “excellent oral and written communication skills” should also be scratched. The hiring manager will be able to assess that from reading your resume and cover letter. Replace the words “responsible for” with “managed” or “completed” a particular task.

6.  Technical Skills. Word, Excel and PowerPoint skills are taken for granted. No need to add them to your resume. Also leave off any technology that will date you – i.e. Word Perfect and DB2. Get some new skills! At the very least get familiar with Adobe Photoshop and InDesign.  Retraining is almost a must if you want to stay competitive. Business News Daily lists the top tech skills to list on your resume in 2015. These include mobile development, user experience design, data analytics, social media expertise (specifically those platforms you have a working knowledge of and any systems you’ve used to manage these channels, such as TweetDeck or Hootsuite), Agile, and technical writing. Take a look at Codeacademy, Skillshare and Lynda for online classes. Keep an eye out for the next big thing! Hiring managers are looking for someone who is ahead of the curve.

7. Digital Portfolio. Start with LinkedIn. Here are some great tips from Marie-Claire on how to use your LinkedIn profile to land your dream job. Take a look at your Twitter, Pinterest, and FB profile and see that they enhance, or are at least consistent with, your career goals. If you are an artist or designer you might consider posting your portfolio on Carbonmade, Bleidu or PortfolioBox. The general consensus is not to include links on your resume since they would be useless if the resume is printed out, but if you are submitting your application for a job that requires a portfolio it would be acceptable to include a link. A terrific example of a portfolio site is CharlotteTang.com.

8. Customize. Tweak your resume to address the job requirements. Don’t send the same resume for every job you apply for even if they are all jobs in the same field.  Go down the list of job requirements and address each one individually showing how you either have direct experience or the necessary transferable skills. And take the time to visit the company’s website, FB page and Twitter feed so you can show an understanding of their company philosophy in your resume and cover letter.

9. Keywords. Many companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which scans resumes and captures keywords to assess whether or not you have the necessary qualifications. 72% of scanned resumes are never seen by human eyes because they do not contain key phrases directly relating to the job position. When you are customizing your resume for a particular job take your keywords directly from the job description and applicant requirements. Consider spelling out technical skills as well as using the acronym — for example,  user experience design (UXD or UED).  Refer to this list of resume keywords organized by job to punch up your writing. Stick with standard fonts and avoid decorative borders and shading to make sure your keywords are picked up by the ATS.  Add a professional summary listing your qualifications directly pertaining to the job description at the top of your resume — more chance to insert keywords.

10.  File Name. When you’re sending your resume as an email attachment make sure to include your name when you’re labeling the file, i.e. “SusanSmithResume.pdf” — certainly not “untitled.pdf.” This way if all of the resumes go into a folder on the hiring manager’s computer, yours will be easy to find.

11. Data. Include as much quantifiable data as you can. If you worked in Development mention how much money you raised for your organization last quarter. If you were a Social Media Strategist mention how many followers you were able to attract. If you were in sales give your sales figures or mention how many clients you were responsible for adding.

Now let’s take a look at some non-traditional resume ideas. Employers either love them or hate them. You have to know your industry and consider whether or not a non-traditional resume is even appropriate.  Some employers have said that if you are sending a non-traditional infographic or video they’d prefer to have it as a supplement to the traditional resume.

12. Video. A video resume requires planning and attention to production detail. If you decide to go this route pay attention to sound and video quality. Dress appropriately and don’t just read your resume. Show your skills and your personality. Keep it short, 60 to 90 seconds.  Attach the link to your video along with your resume and cover letter when you send in your job application.

13. Infographic. Hagan Blount has a great example of an infographic resume done right and he’s even built a business designing them for job-seekers.  See more creative examples here.

14. Tailored Infographics. There’s a trend now to design your resume so that it looks like the webpage of the company to which you are applying.  The first time I saw this was when I read about Jeanne Hwang, a Harvard grad who used Pinterest to create her resume to try to land a job at Pinterest. She writes “Hey Pinterest! Where else to showcase my background and love for Pinterest than right here? Click through the pins for more details, and check out my Pinterest for Jeanne board too. This ain’t your mama’s resume!” Read her story here.

15. QR code. This is that little square box with the squiggly lines that you can scan to bring up a URL on your smart phone. If you’re going to use one make sure you’re linking to something useful, an example of an app you built, your portfolio, a video. Here’s how you can make one.

16. References. You can leave off the old “References Available Upon Request” at the end of your resume. If you have a quote from an influential person in your field why not highlight it and put it right at the top of your resume?

17. Skills Chart. If you decide to go the infographic route, chances are you’ll include a skills chart. Make sure the chart is easy to understand at first glance. Visualize.me has a collection of styles to choose from and you can use their app to design your own for free.

18. Proofread! No matter how many qualifications you have or how creative your design is, typos and misspellings raise a red flag. Proofread your resume and better yet, ask a friend to double check it.

For the middle-aged job hunter, some words of encouragement from Peter Shrive, a partner with Cambridge Management Planners.

“There are three key phrases you should consider for your resume if you’re over 50: results, results and results. These kinds of words — seasoned, experienced, well-versed, successful, results-oriented — instantly say older….” (however) “….It’s a lot more exciting to read the resume of an over-50 job seeker because of the emphasis on results. You make your resume accurate and interesting, highlighting your breadth of experience.”



You can teach an old dog new tricks!-1

There’s no way around it. No matter how much we resist it, part of our Second Act is going to involve learning a new skill, or three. There once was a time when I stubbornly refused to use a mouse. (Yes, I’m that old.) I was working in a software store the week the first Microsoft mouse came on the market in 1983. I liked using the arrow keys and no one could convince me that this new gadget would make life easier.

Well, of course that didn’t last long. I quickly adjusted to the “new technology.”

But nevertheless, resistance to change is not uncommon, especially with those of us from a certain generation who tend to look back on the good old days. Shag rugs? Avocado kitchen appliances? Really?

If we’re planning on starting our own business, freelancing, or looking for a new job, we need to have a few tricks up our sleeve. At the very least we should expand on the skills we already have. With so many online training options there’s no excuse. Whether we choose Skillshare, Codecademy, Coursera, Udemy, or Createlive, our goal should be to get up to speed with a new skill as quickly as possible.

Here are four things to keep in mind as you start your training:

Mess Around

We learn best by just diving in and messing around. If you’re learning a new computer skill, force yourself to learn without watching tutorials or reading instructions.  Well maybe give yourself a little leeway and read a bit, but as soon as you can, jump in and figure it out for yourself. In order to learn we need to fail. And there’s research to prove it.  And in case you need more evidence, just watch a kid play a video game!

Try “Chunking”

This works particularly well when we’re learning a skill with numbers or a new language. Notice how we group numbers in our everyday lives, from Social Security numbers to phone numbers. But we can also try applying it to learning a new skill. According to Fernand Gobet, a chunk can be defined as “a collection of elements having strong associations with one another, but weak associations with elements within other chunks.” For example if you’re learning Photoshop, spend time with the drawing elements only. Then another day on effects. You get the idea.

Study before you go to sleep

We process information while we sleep and now research has shown that memory retention is increased if we go to sleep right after we learn something new.  So if you’re finally learning Italian (one of my bucket list items) study your vocab right before bed and wake up with “Buon giorno!

Study in short bursts with frequent breaks

Tim Ferris talks about the importance of taking breaks as he discusses his new TV show, The Time Ferriss Experiment. His challenge on the show is to master a new skill every week, basically dismissing the “10,000 hour rule.” He says “You need stimulus and recovery in mental work in the same way that you need stimulus and recovery for sports. Just as you have physical over-training in the weight room, there is mental over-training with too much time in front of a screen or thousands of small minute to minute decisions over time with no rest. This contributes to biological duress. When this happens you’re not adapting, you’re actually degrading performance.” So, remember study breaks!

Don’t think you can’t teach that old dog new tricks. You most definitely can —  and you should!


Ideas Are the New Currency

I don’t go anywhere without a notebook and pen these days. Some days I just jot out a to-do list or a grocery list, other days notes for blog posts and e-courses. Once in a while a logline for a screenplay or a new business idea.

But recently I’ve been numbering my page from 1 to 10 and spending time intentionally generating “ideas.” I’m becoming an idea machine!

That is the title of Claudia Altucher’s new book. In “Become an Idea Machine” she writes:

IDEAS ARE THE CURRENCY OF LIFE. Not money. Money get depleted until you go broke. But good ideas buy you good experiences, but you better ideas, buy you better experiences, buy you more time, save your life.

You’d be surprised at how hard it is to come up with ten ideas a day. I’m usually ready to give up after the fifth one. But in her book, Claudia comes up with prompts like list “Ten Ways You Could Make Your Traveling Easier Next Time You Fly” or “List Your Ten Favorite Books of All Time and One Thing You Learned From Each.” The trick is to get your ideas down on paper, no matter how lame you think they are. Just like any other part of the body, the more you exercise this part of the brain, the creative side, the better it will get.

For me, usually just the act of writing the list is enough to stop the “monkey chatter” in my brain. But if you need to clear your head before you can start creating fresh ideas here are ten tips to get you started:

  1. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for five minutes. Inhale deeply, hold your breath, and exhale slowly.
  2. Take a shower. Don’t we always come up with our best ideas in the shower?
  3. Take a power walk.
  4. Take a power nap.
  5. Take ten minutes (set the timer) and scroll through Art & Design on Tumblr.
  6. Go to the library and visit a section you’ve never been to before.
  7. Talk to a kid.
  8. Talk to a senior.
  9. Vacuum.
  10. Pull some weeds.

Why don’t you try coming up with ten ideas every day? Start with one week and let me know how it goes in the comments below.




1.  You crave a simple lifestyle. You look around and you just want to get rid of everything. It’s not that you want to replace anything, you just want the freedom that comes getting rid of stuff. This urge to purge can extend to Facebook followers, your email inbox and the piles of paperwork on your desk.  For inspiration check out Leo Babuto’s list of 72 things you can do to simplify your life.

2.  You start to value your time. Fundraisers, board meetings, online communities, kids school events, carpooling, play dates, Tastefully Simple parties, Netflix binging. You’ve done it all and for the first time you find yourself saying “no” to time-sucking activities and obligations (except for maybe House of Cards or OITNB). Anne LaMott has great advice about finding that time for yourself now.

3.  You start evaluating your skills and strengths.  A reinvention is usually just another step in your organic evolution. Rarely do we start over from scratch. Rather we sew together bits and pieces of our past and come up with a new version of ourselves. But when you find yourself saying things like “I used to love making granola (scrapbooking, cross stitching, beading, etc)” —  don’t get too sentimental. Sometimes hobbies should remain hobbies. Instead, look at the big picture.  Marie Forleo has this to say. “Skills and strengths trump passion when it comes to doing deeply rewarding work that matters.” Watch her talk about why you’ll never find your passion.

4.  You find yourself browsing online course offerings at Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, Codecademy, CreativeLive . Suddenly you’re looking at classes you’d never even considered before. UI, UX, Ruby! You think “Hey, I can do this!” We’re living in a time when anyone with online access can learn just about anything for free (at any time). Take advantage of it!

5.  You’ve started visualizing your new life.  And the more you think about it, the more “right” it feels.  Whether you’re dreaming of starting your own business, looking for a job in a new field or just looking forward to a new position in your current line of work —  once it starts feeling comfortable on all levels — intellectually, physically and in your heart — you know change is on it’s way. Happy Reinvention!

When Play Becomes Work



Today I came across the thoughtful writing of Hali Karla. Here she writes about The Conundrum of Play and her “work” to get to the place where she could just play. Here’s what she says:

When I left my fulltime nursing job two years ago, to live a life by the guidance that was screaming at me from my very cells to pay attention, I remember saying to Steve that I didn’t even know what I enjoyed doing anymore. It felt really sad to admit that aloud, and even worse to be experiencing it without knowing where or how to begin again.

I’ve come a long way to get back into living my truth. It hasn’t been easy – and it’s a work in progress.

In fact, ironically, some of the toughest Work of it has been in allowing myself to Play. Even in my art.

and this…

I still resist Play like a knee jerk reaction much of the time. In many areas of my life. Even at the easel I will try to shove the practice into a task-oriented and systematic approach that ends up feeling more like Work. Ugh. This resistance is even more of an indicator that Play is exactly the medicine that will steer me deeper into my connection with the Sacred… even if it tries to make me feel all good in the process – in fact, especially then.

Luckily, I’m on to it more, that sneaky resistance… I see the worker-me coming in and killing the joy for an instant, trying to take over… and I smile and say thanks for that, now buzz off. Then I shake things up a bit – dance a little, move the painting around, grab a new color and slap it on the page, get my fingers in it – all to invite my creative play juices to keep the flow alive. I try to not be so serious about it all in the process of doing it.

So as  we return to our art, or begin a meditation practice, or pick up our knitting needles – it’s good to be reminded to take note when  Play begins to feel like Work, when it starts to feel like just one more thing we “have” to do, when there’s no joy in it.  That’s the time to “shake things up a bit” as Hali says, or maybe even to dig a little deeper, slow down,  forget about schedules and obligations, and lose ourselves in our Work. That’s when it will become Play.

Starting Out

via Unsplash by Danielle Marroquin
Smell the flowers! via Unsplash by Danielle Marroquin

In case you thought play was just for kids, read this. Research has shown that all ages benefit from unstructured play.

“Exhausted by the crushing yoke of their daily obligations, adults around the world are flocking to the playgrounds of their childhoods in search of relaxation and release. Not surprisingly, an entire cottage industry has subsequently sprouted up to help world-weary workers satiate their inner child. In Brooklyn, an adult preschool lets office drones finger paint, participate in arts and crafts, and re-enact schoolyard favorites like show and tell for as little as $333 a class. In the United Kingdom, a design studio opened a ball pit just for grown-ups, while laughter clubs in India offer a form of both spiritual and physical exercise for disgruntled citizens. And this week, the two best-selling books on Amazon were “adult coloring books” published by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford.”

If you’re like me you just don’t have the time to get to a ball pit, let alone find the time to meditate or get to a yoga class. In fact, the very thought of going to a ball pit sounds like work, not play. But the idea of stepping back into childhood is appealing and I can understand the health benefits.

So I propose we start where we left off by asking ourselves what it was that we loved to do when we were children. For women this takes on a new importance when we consider Maureen Murdock’s “The Heroine’s Journey.” She describes this period of reflection as the Initiation and Descent,  or a time to draw inward and look for the lost pieces of one’s self. She describes this as a period of just “being” – no goals, no deadlines, no expectations. Whether you pick up your knitting, start zentangle, or pick up an adult coloring book…know that you’re not just finding time for “play” you’re taking the next step in the Heroine’s Journey.