The Most Painful And Poignant Empathy Teacher

There is much talk about social-emotional learning in schools all over the world today. And I am here for it. In addition to helping kids from a young age regulate their emotions, negotiate conflict, and constructively express their feelings, there are many efforts to teach children about empathy.

Not “teach them empathy” per se – that is a skill innate to us as human beings – but to help them recognize empathy and strengthen that muscle so it becomes so strong, it is part of their self-identity.

I spoke about Golestan in my book, The Empathy Edge. An innovative immersion school that centers empathy at the root of their curriculum. The results speak for themselves. When their kids matriculate into public high schools, they are often the ones with higher grades, better communication skills, and the ability to diffuse conflict. Teachers want these kids in their classes!

But there are many such efforts afoot to help kids tap into their innate empathy early on, before the muscle has atrophied. Among them, the great work of Ed Kirwan and the team at Empathy Week, which is a worldwide program to help kids practice empathy through the power of film. If you missed it, please check out my podcast interview with Ed to learn more!

 But what we talk about less is how much we learn about empathy from our children.

Being a parent is an exercise in self-development every damn day. In order to teach your child life skills, you kind of have to master your own. You are put face to face with yourself in the mirror of your own foibles and deficiencies. Especially when teaching your kids about emotional regulation, forgiveness, and vulnerability.

When you teach, you need to model. And that is where the deep humility and learning come in.

My husband and I pledged to make emotional learning a core part of our son’s upbringing. Our hope is that he is better at communication, emotional literacy, and collaboration than even we are! A tall order. And one that requires us to reassess where we are in our own development of those skills.

Every day, I am forced to practice empathy because of my son. To meet him where he is, even when I don’t agree. When I am too tired or overwhelmed to listen. When I am trying to get us out of the house to school on time and he has still not put his shoes on.

And in the bigger stuff: I need to practice empathy that he is not me and I am not him and we see the world differently. He may not love game shows and reading mystery novels like I do. He may not (gasp!) desire to get straight A’s. He may not want to forgive a friend who has hurt him, even if it is the right thing to do because he does not bounce back as quickly as I do.

This all requires me to draw every ounce of empathy I have, take a breath, and reach out to meet him where he is.

If I want to model empathy for my son, I have to practice it with him. Even if I don’t have a neon sign pointing at me that says, “Pay attention! This is your mom being empathetic right now!”

As I navigate social and emotional learning with my son, I have worked to fill in my own gaps. Through reading, podcasts, reflection and outside therapy. What are my triggers getting in the way of my own success? How can I be more self-aware of my emotions? How can I make space to listen rather than speak? How can I learn to refill my tank and take a breath so I can be present for someone else? How can I redefine success?

Kids really are the best teachers. 

Photo credit: Maria Ross

How to Bounce Back from Failure, Rejection and Soul-Crushing Criticism: A Chat with Alexandra Franzen

Ever experience soul-crushing, heart-breaking, confidence-shattering criticism, failure or rejection?

If you’re human, of course you have. If you say you never have, you’re a Cyborg and I’m terrified of you.

Life as an entrepreneur – no, as a human being – is full of ups and downs. So much of what we see out there in books and on the Internet is about extreme success: the overnight sensation, the instant millionaire or the glamorous thought leader.

But rarely do folks we look up to open up about their biggest failures or rejections – and more importantly, how they survived and came out the other side stronger, smarter and braver.

Many of you may already know my dear friend, writing teacher and author Alexandra Franzen. Her latest book is called You’re Going to Survive. The subtitle is killer: True stories about adversity, rejection, defeat, terrible bosses, online trolls, 1-star Yelp reviews, and other soul-crushing experiences—and how to get through it.

Feeling discouraged about your career? Maybe you’re dealing with… A frustrating client. A product launch that didn’t work out so great. A painful 1-star review. Maybe online trolls are mocking your latest project. Or maybe you applied for your dream job and you didn’t get chosen. Again.

For tough moments when you could really use a friend, this book is a MUST for your bookshelf.  Inside, you’ll find encouragement, humor, and inspiring true stories about turning defeat into big opportunities.

When Alex asked me if she could include one of my own stories, I was honored to share my lessons learned with others about how I bounced back from some hurtful (and kind of odd)  negative online reviews to my personal memoir, Rebooting My Brain.

It’s a delight to share with you this exclusive video conversation with Alex about all things creative living, rejection, pride, failure and strength. Settle in and enjoy this intimate and inspirational conversation.

YouTube video

There is so much juicy advice in this video, but you’ll especially enjoy these highlights:

On keeping creativity alive in your work:
“I need to not feel like I’m doing 100% client work; I need to have space for my own art projects” – 10:05

On why she wrote this book:
“My hope is that when someone’s having a hard day, they can pick it [the book] up and have some hope” – 13:22

On what makes you successful:
“The people who are able to succeed in their industry, they are the persistent people…they go back in, over and over” – 23:06

One her own setbacks and rejections:
“I had gotten about 20 rejections in total for this book alone” – 27:14

“I’ve had my work plagiarized, 1-star Amazon reviews and my website completely stolen and someone pretending to be me.” – 11:39

On what “persistence” really means:
“Persistence is not doing the same thing over and over, banging your head on a locked door and getting nowhere. It’s keeping the train moving forward, but finding creative ways to keep things moving along and keeping your vision.” – 29:18 

“Discipline and devotion is required, like a musician practicing in the janitors closet or garage in the middle of a winter snow storm” – 33:30

On how to recover from rejection, criticism or failure:
“We are often faced with a choice after rejection; Do we give up or go back in just one more time. Ellen’s story of rejection ended up being more uplifting” – 16:47

“Don’t isolate yourself. Set a timer for your meltdown, and then reach out.” – 39:14

On how to get more work – and how to keep it fresh:
“The more specific I am about what I’m doing, the more likely people will hire me” 4:39

“In order to describe your work, look outside of your industry for inspiration” -7:54

On how to turn rejection into success:

“I opened it [the book] up to my community after being rejected 20+ times, openly and vulnerably, and that was the door that opened for the book” – 28.08

Putting yourself and your work, voice or art out into the world is scary. You may fall, You may be criticized by a few. But you also may bring extreme joy, support, inspiration, hope and delight to many, many others. Never be afraid to share your work and your story. It’s worth it. And I promise: You’re going to survive. (TWEET THIS!)

P.S. Alex created a FREE “bonus extras” Audiobook of certain excerpts and advice told by those featured in the book (including my lovely message for you!) that is fabulous. Get your free “extra” audiobook here.

About the book:

Alexandra Franzen’s newest book is called You’re Going to Survive. It’s a book about how to deal with discouraging situations in your career, and how to build more resilience and keep marching towards your goals. The book has been called “uplifting and encouraging” and “your new best friend on a bad day.” Find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and IndieBound.

You’re Going to SurviveKindle
You’re Going to SurvivePaperback
You’re Going to SurviveSpotify Music Playlist

About Alexandra Franzen

Alexandra Franzen is a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has been featured on websites like Time, Forbes, and Newsweek, and she’s been mentioned in places like The New York Times Small Business Blog, The Atlantic, and Inc.
Alexandra conducts writing classes and retreats, and works 1-on-1 with clients to help them complete all kinds of exciting projects—from books to podcasts to TEDx talks, and beyond. You can find all of Alexandra’s current projects at:


The Good “If” and the Bad “If”

“If” can be a powerful word.

I recently watched a documentary about a football coach who lost his parents and sister in a car crash. Years later, he was still blaming himself. “If I wasn’t playing in that game, they wouldn’t have been in the car to come see me and maybe they’d still be here.”

This comment made me so sad for him.

The bad “If” is when you use the word to lament the past. When used to berate yourself over things you can’t control or change, “If” can lead to damage and torture.

“If I had taken that other job, I would have been happier.”

“If I had not spent all that money on that trip, I’d have the money to buy a new computer.”

“If only I’d been home, he would have survived the stroke.”

This is neither helpful nor productive. True, we need to learn from our mistakes so we don’t repeat them, but 9 times out of 10, this type of “If-ing” is just ridiculous. How can you predict the future? How can you think you can stop a speeding train or the death of a loved one or an unexpected layoff? You can’t.

I think we do this to fool ourselves into thinking we have control over certain events. But the truth is we don’t. All we can do is prepare for the future as best we can with the information we have at hand. That’s where the Good “If” comes in.

Good “If’s” are those that help you plan for future opportunity:

“If I buy emergency supplies, we’ll be safe during the power outage.”

“If I plan all my errands, I can make the most efficient use of my time today.”

“If I create a strong brand and marketing plan now, I can reach my business goals this year.”

See? Much more productive, proactive and useful.

“If” looks much better in front of you rather than behind you (Tweet this!)

Be mindful of how you use the word “If.” Those two little letters can cause a whole hot mess of despair– or they can open up infinite possibilities.

Photo credit: TheNext28Days on Flickr

Your Big “If”

If you create a strong brand and marketing plan now, you can reach your business goals and create a loyal following. Let me help! Please sign up now for Brand Bootcamp, a self-paced and stress-free way to build a strong brand strategy and bring it to life, with more ease, confidence and clarity. 7 videos, a fun Playbook and tons of advice from yours truly. Hurrah!


My big summer risk revealed…want to join me?

I have a scary admission to make to you today, dear reader. (Deep breath)

I share this because I think it’s important for us to shake things up every now and then. To wake up those parts that lie dormant by virtue of routine or comfort.

And…I’m sharing this before I even know if it’s going to actually happen. Also important. The more shots we take on goal, the more chances we have to score…isn’t that what they always say? It’s not authentic to simply shout out to our tribe each red-hot, blazing success: we have to also celebrate the nail-biting attempts we make so that none of us has the delusion that it’s all so easy. That’s just irresponsible. And it’s a lie. (Tweet this!)

First confession: I got rejected by a literary agent. One I adore. We hit it off like wildfire when our short consult turned into a 90 minute gabfest of laughter, sass and shared understanding.  We were both saddened by it. And she sent me the most heartfelt and useful rejection I’ve ever gotten in my life. Bright side: we bonded, and I’m convinced we will work together at some point. I’m sure of it in my bones.  The connection we made inspires me to want to make that happen.

But you have to pick your creative butt up off the floor and shake it off when these things happen. I have other irons in the fire this summer. “Passion scratches” to itch.

And so….

This June, I hope to take a five-week sabbatical from consulting and speaking. I’m applying to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre’s Summer Acting Congress. I was thisclose to applying in 2006 and 2007, confident my company would support me in taking the time away (A lovely young opera singer co-worker took a similar artistic summer leave to attend a music program not once, but twice – with full top brass support). But it just wasn’t the right time personally.

Now, I’m working for myself. I’m back in the San Francisco Bay Area. My husband fully supports the idea of recharging my creative mojo. So the time is right. After last year’s book launch, I don’t have a new book in me just yet and so I need another artistic outlet of self-expression and storytelling.

Am I scared? Hell yes. Not only about possible rejection, but about the unknown. Health-wise, I’m also a little concerned about the grueling schedule. Since my brain injury a few years ago, fatigue and stamina are still issues and making my own schedule has been a savior. But I’ll be on someone’s else’s clock from 9-6 pm, Monday through Thursday – plus any outside rehearsal time. Can I handle it? Will overwhelm and anxiety creep in, tipping over the plates I’ve balanced so precisely to adapt to this new health realty?  Maybe. Who knows.

I told my husband, “What the hell? I’ll try and if it’s killing me, of course I’ll stop.”

Why am I doing this? For no reason other than to recharge, change my scenery, reframe my thinking and explore possibilities. Maybe it will just make me a better conference speaker. Maybe I’ll find new indie theatre projects. Maybe I’ll want to pursue directing. Or maybe, Scorsese will find me, fall madly in love with my acting and cast me in his next Leonardo flick.

Point is….you can’t find new opportunities to explore if you don’t ever leave your room. (Tweet this!)

So I invite you to join me. What makes you squirm? What mountain do you think to yourself, “Oh, please! I’d never be able to climb that. I’m just not that kind of person?” Can you find a way to stare down the fear, stand up straight and march forward? Maybe take that class, book that trip, reach out to that long estranged friend, start writing that book, or open that business you’ve always wanted. Need help or inspiration getting started? Check out my good friends’ Warren and Betsy Talbot’s killer program, Dream, Save, Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers

Photo credit: Alaskan Dude on Flickr

What big gut-wrenching, face-slapping, mojo-moving risk will YOU take? And just imagine, for a moment, what might you find on the other side?


3 tips for business success on – and off – the golf course

Sure, golf and business go together like peas and carrots. And today, more and more women are taking the game by storm for business and for pleasure. No longer the domain of rich white men and plaid pants (cue joyful montage to Caddyshack), the game is changing to be more inclusive, stylish and accessible. My friend and past client Elizabeth Noblitt, is the fashion stylist and founder of Shi Shi Putter, the premiere online resource for women golfers who play like their style depends on it—on & off the golf course.

Today she shares a guest post on 3 ways to ace your business performance on the golf course. But methinks you could apply these lessons off the course as well: 

Closing deals on the golf course is a main objective for most business people who play the game.  Just like the beginning to any relationship, golf is about compatibility.  You are spending five hours with someone to see if you like them, trust them, and want to invest in them.  It could be the longest date of your life, depending on how it goes.  Here are three tips to make sure you ace it.

Be on Your Best Behavior.

In addition to the official rules of golf (of which there are hundreds), there is also an unwritten code of conduct, the basis of which is respect.  Be courteous to those in your foursome and those playing around you.  If you aren’t sure ask a friend who golfs or get a lesson on etiquette before you play.  Here is a great video with a few basics.

Be Stylish. 

You don’t have to be Tom Ford stylish, but don’t show up wrinkled like you just rolled out of bed.  Call the club ahead of time to learn what their dress code is; they are more than happy to help.  While following their rules is important, I think it’s more important to be yourself and not forget your own style.  (Tweet this!) If polos make you look boxy, don’t wear them; find a different collared shirt.  Being successful depends a lot on confidence and it’s hard to rock it when you feel like a dork.

(Extra tip:  When you are purchasing new golf clothes, be sure to try them on for fit.   Take a practice swing and bend down to see how the garments fit in those situations.  You don’t want to be water cooler talk the next day because you shared a little too much skin on the golf course.)

Have Fun. 

In a nutshell, be the person your associates and clients want to play with again.

About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Noblitt is an avid golfer, seasoned event marketing professional and fashion stylist. She founded Shi Shi Putter in 2009 to redefine the game of golf, with a confident blend of beauty, grace and fun. If you would like 1:1 help to look and feel your best on the golf course (and on the street), email Elizabeth at Follow her @shishiputter

Your turn: What tips do you have for mixing business with your favorite pastime, be it golf, cocktailing or tennis? Do you close deals or build relationships this way? Please share in the Comments!

The upside of making mistakes….no, really, there is one

Today, a wonderful post from the vivacious Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades, founder of Power Chicks, a networking community for heart-centered women entrepreneurs and rockstars. I loved the lessons in this post so much, I asked her if we could share it. Enjoy!

Mistakes hurt.

Make one, and you get that yucky pit in your stomach. Often, it comes with a smack upside the noggin and a super-sized side of self-doubt.

Weird thing, though. Let those ouchy errors teach you and, amazingly, glitches become guidance. (Tweet this!)


When I expanded Power Chicks from a grassroots group to a business, I hired a consulting company to help me create a profit plan. Theirs was a “we decide the business model, you implement it” approach rather than a collaborative venture pairing their experience with my style.

This match unfortunately (yet logically) mirrored one of my crabbiest, most persistent inner critic’s voice: Other people know what to do better than you do.

Suckered in by Crabby Pants, I began to implement a business plan heaped with hard work, void of what felt easy and good (i.e., my natural talents and skills) and exhausting albeit in an exhilarating way. Pain was gain in my quest for success and the millions of dollars I would soon be making.

After many months of this, I was tired. Really tired. Exhilaration was out. Exhaustion was in.

Without being guided by my own inner strength and intuition, I had lost my way. Not only was the direction for my business one that bored me to tears, I was miserable.


Before I became an entrepreneur, I commuted 3 hours a day to a Fortune 500 company housed in a building called The Tower where I was cloistered in a gray cubical with a beige computer surrounded by pallid yellow walls. (Whew.) I left to create a life I loved.

This was not it.

With angst over thousands of wasted dollars seemingly burned in a bonfire quenched only by buckets of tears (oh, the drama!), I ended the consulting relationship.  With it, I scraped a year’s worth of work.

It took two months of radical self-care and many conversations with colleagues to begin to heal. But with that time came a fresh perspective on what I needed my business to look like.

Sustainable. Wholeheartedly sustainable. That meant money-wise, yes, of course. But viable in a much holistic way: a business congruent with who I am as a powerful woman with my own unique gifts, talents and desires. A business congruent with my energy on all levels — emotionally, mentally, even soulfully. A business congruent with strengths arising from the core of my being.

BAM. What a relief!

I saw where I’d gone wrong — I’d neglected myself to build something based on external input rather than allowing own values and wisdom to support my direction.

Fast forward to today.

Since then, I’ve found mentors who value collaborative planning as I move toward financial sustainability. This is a process, for sure! Yet this pathway is vastly more effective than disconnecting from myself. And when I step out of what deeply matters? Thanks to a commitment to myself and trusted allies to whom I turn again and again, I find my way back to center.

When someone recently asked on Facebook, “How do you stay so completely wholehearted and authentic in business?” my answer came lickety-split.

By making a mistake. (Tweet this!)


Photo credit: Peter Lindberg, Flikr

Do you agree? What is one big (or small) mistake you’ve made with your business, book or project that taught you more than you could ever imagine? Please share in the Comments!

Ahoy! 4 lessons for success learned while sailing the ocean

When people do something audacious and almost unimaginable, I tend to soak up their wisdom. They are the brave, after all. The bold. The ones who dare step off the cliff and test how deep the water really is while the rest of us bask safely on shore.

Wendy Hinman is a writer friend of mine who has lived an extraordinary life. She sailed the Pacific with her husband for 7 years, returned changed and wiser, and has written a book about her adventure, Tightwads of the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey. Today’s she shares four lessons about life and success learned on that ocean voyage. Enjoy….

You can do amazing things one day at a time.

If someone had told me years ago that I would sail 34,000 miles over seven years on a small sailboat, I’d never have believed it.  But I didn’t do it all in a single day.  I covered those miles one day at a time(Tweet!) And that’s how you can reach your goals: in little steps, that quickly add up to significant milestones. The same was true when I wrote my book.I began by writing a scene each week for my writing group–a little story or anecdote about the challenges we faced while sailing. They made suggestions, and before long I had enough to fill and shape a full-length book.

Some of the most satisfying things in life come from overcoming challenges.

People often dream about kicking back and relaxing, but it’s often the biggest challenges we face that make us feel the most alive. I learned the rewards were richer the harder I had to fight for them.  Making landfall after 21 days of non-stop sailing was a big deal, and I appreciated the place I’d reached even more because it was hard to get there(Tweet!) I relished the lush vegetation, the rocky spires that jutted into the sky, and the cool waterfalls all the more.

If you don’t push yourself, you don’t know what you’re capable of.

We faced countless challenges and many moments we thought might be our last.  We faced storms, typhoons, reefs, broken equipment and some shady characters whose intentions were uncertain at best and tested our resolve and endurance in rough conditions. Some days I doubted I could take any more. (Tweet!) On our last passage, after more than 46 days of non-stop sailing–not seeing another human being besides my husband for over a month and a half–a storm drove us offshore for another three days.  I didn’t think I could take another moment.  But given no choice, not only did I survive, I accomplished something few others ever have.

It helps to keep a sense of humor.

After ten days sailing in horrible weather, waves crashing over me, the boat interior damp and mildewy beyond belief and a sewage problem the CDC would have quarantined, I was thoroughly miserable.  But I reached a point where I grew bored with my misery. Bundled up in the cockpit under an avalanche of saltwater, it occurred to me that I would face this for several more days, whether I liked it or not.  My attitude could make the difference between misery and happiness.  I began to notice the absurdity of my situation and from that moment, though I still faced horrible conditions, I found myself chuckling, imaging how I would describe it to friends afterward.  Stepping out of that moment mentally helped me see it objectively as temporary and survivable–mere discomfort in the grand scale of life. I’ve realized the toughest situations make for the best stories, (Tweet!) so I try to think about them from the perspective of a writer with new-found “material.’

About Wendy: Wendy Hinman is the author of Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey, about her 34,000-mile voyage aboard a 31-foot boat with her husband, Garth Wilcox, to whom she’s still married and still happens to like. Wendy Hinman’s stories have appeared in a variety of publications.  One of them was published in the anthology, We Came to Say, and another won a Solas Traveler’s Tales award for best travel writing.

What has a memorable travel experience taught you about success in life or at work? Please share in the Comments below, as we’d love to know!

Follow your dream: Four entrepreneurial lessons from a radio engineer turned winemaker

Back in August, my husband and I stumbled upon a small microwinery and tasting room in downtown Healdsburg, Calfornia, Garagiste, which is a joint venture for two wineries, Cartograph and Stark. Thinking we’d just grab a quick taste and leave, we ended up enchanted by Alan Baker, Cartograph’s wine maker and owner.

Alan’s entrepreneurial story is fabulous: He’s a public radio engineer, turned blogger/podcaster, turned winemaker. With Cartograph, he produces ultra-premium Pinot Noir sourced from grapes from the best Northern California coastal vineyards. (PS, great holiday gift idea!)  His mission is to produce wines that are true to the vineyard and vintage from which they come.

As we sat and sipped, we loved the gothic, high-end feel of the stone gray tasting room and the interaction we had with the man who’d lovingly made the wines we were enjoying. We got to talking about how he loved that wine is such an experiential brand, and for that reason, so much care was taken in architecting and decorating the tasting room. Most wine lovers know that the joy is found in the experience of wine – and that can manifest whether you are spending $20 or $200 a bottle. It’s not about price: it’s about taste and experience.

But Alan is not just savvy about branding, he has a powerful entrepreneurial story, ripe with juicy lessons about planning, moxie, and following your dream – no matter how far down the bottom of the ladder you may need to start.

THIS IS A TWO PART INTERVIEW. In Part One, Alan shares how he got started in an industry he knew little about and parlayed a loyal audience into backers for his dream. In Part Two, Alan shares important lessons on crafting an experiential brand.

Here is Part One of Alan’s story with four lessons you can take to heart in your own ventures:


1. Opportunity will knock – if you build your house in the right place (Tweet!)

My passion for great wine started with a simple $13 bottle of Riesling from Alsace. I was fascinated that such a simple thing as a pale colored glass of wine could be so incredibly complex and engaging. My obsession with learning everything I could about the wines of the world eventually led me to decide I needed to at least try to find a way to make wine the focus of my day rather than an off-hours pursuit. After years of interviewing maverick American composers like Meredith Monk and Philip Glass for my radio work, I knew that finding the right path is often a process that brings a lot of uncertainty and risk into life. They instilled in me the belief that if you focus on what you love and do best while putting yourself into a position where opportunities may present themselves, you’re sure to find creative energy and success.

2. Work with what you’ve got (Tweet!)

Once I’d decided to strike out for California from my Minnesota home, I needed a scheme to get experience. I knew I loved wine, but I wasn’t confident I would love the wine “business.” I feared that I’d end up like the cake lover who opens a bakery only to realize they hate getting up at 2 a.m. every day. So rather than spend my life savings on a degree at UC Davis, I decided to do what I already knew how to do: produce radio. I’d use my production skills to investigate where I might fit in the wine business. The plan was simple and, necessarily, vague. I would write a blog and produce an audio podcast to document my adventures as I explored the wine industry – a well-developed industry I knew very little about.

I told all my friends and family about the idea repeatedly to force myself out of my safe public radio job and into the unknown. My pitch to wineries was that if they gave me part-time work, they’d get publicity from the podcast. There was really no other reason for them to pay me to do work they could get done faster with experienced help, so the podcast was my foot in the door.

In the fall of 2005, National Public Radio picked up the podcast for their alt.npr series. This affiliation grew the audience for my content quickly and enabled me to pretty much call anybody up and schedule an interview. I used the podcast as a way to investigate all aspects of the industry from grape growers to marketing pros and wine makers I respected to see where I might fit in the wine business. I turns out that I write way too slowly to ever make a buck off the writing, so that was out. Growing grapes is a very labor-intensive activity and unless you own that chunk of dirt, it’s not a thing a 40-year-old dude is going to get by on when he has a wine budget to think about. It had also become clear that while NPR did like the content, there wasn’t a market for wine-focused media that was going to start paying the bills. So I was burning through my savings and starting to feel the pressure that comes with not knowing what’s next. However, once I got into the winery working as a cellar rat with Unti and Peterson wineries in Dry Creek Valley, I found what I’d been looking for. The winemaking process is fascinating and I fell in love with every backbreaking chore and nerdy technical detail.

3. Get creative: Leverage your community (Tweet!)

With the bank account shrinking I focused on how I might stick around to work another vintage. Plan B: move to San Francisco to do tech consulting to stash some money for the 2006 harvest. Grapes are not cheap, nor is paying for winery space to make wine. I scored some nice consulting contracts but quickly realized that I was only treading water. SF is a very expensive town and I would never save enough money to make wine. Also, I was just doing the same work as before, albeit in a very pretty city. I had a few months of living expenses left and figured I had one shot at leveraging all the work I had been doing writing the blog and producing the podcast. So after finding a very innovative winery in San Francisco called Crushpad where I could make wine, I sent out a pitch to my blog readers and podcast listeners; If they would pay in advance for a case of wine they could come help me make my first commercial wine and we’d document the whole process with a video podcast. To my great relief I sold 65 of 100 cases of wine as futures, giving me the cash to buy grapes and pay Crushpad. The archive of this project is still online.

My brand was named after the blog. Cellar Rat Cellars. Throughout this project, I was using Crushpad’s virtual winemaking website called Crushnet to manage my group of people helping with the wine. People as far away as Puerto Rico were participating, so having a tool to manage this virtual group was a necessity. After the winemaking was concluded, I was hired by Crushpad to develop Crushnet and grow the virtual community of winemakers. It was at Crushpad working on hundreds of fermentations a year where I got most of my hands-on winemaking experience and set me up to strike out on my own to launch Cartograph with my partner Serena Lourie in 2009.

4. Get friendly with uncertainty while keeping you eye on your vision (Tweet!)

I think it’s essential in any entrepreneurial operation to use the tools at hand to continually move towards a goal, even when the route is completely unknown at the start of the journey. There is always a way to use your existing skills to open new doors but you have to be willing to live with a lot of uncertainty and always be looking at alternate ways to solve a problem. Had you asked me 12 months into the events above if it was worth it, I might have said no but another six months, and a couple more forced left turns, and I was being paid well as a technologist in a ground-breaking winery. From where I sat in Minnesota I honestly couldn’t have dreamt up a better outcome.

The “persistence of vision” mantra I’d been hearing from those composers I so admired really does work.

Join us for Part Two of this interview, when Alan talks about his brand vision for Cartograph and how he brought it to life.

Connect with Cartograph Wines: ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

What A Ha! insight did you get from Alan’s story? How does it apply to your own entrepreneurial or project journey? Please share in the Comments below and get some link love back to you site!

Five life (and work) lessons I learned from my dog

Yes, I’ve become that person: a dog owner. I live for little Eddie, who we adopted from the shelter on a rainy January day in 2008. We had wanted a dog for so long and really wanted a Lab, but but wished those dogs could be a bit smaller. And, lo and behold, that day at the shelter we were shown a shy, skittish Black lab mix, about a year old and only 35 lbs., fully grown. I think we conjured him into being.

Havign a dog has really impacted the way I approach my work. Since I work from home, I walk him every morning after breakfast. I love having this little luxury in my life. And now I can actually relate to women who struggle with going back to work and leaving their baby at home. Yes, I know – he’s a dog. But he’s our baby. Of course, we don’t overspoil him, as we’re huge disciples of The Dog Whisperer so we practice “exercise, discipline, then affection” in that all-important order. Except for one guilty excess: letting him curl up on the couch with the rest of “the pack.” He’s just so damn cute, I can’t resist.

My walks with him have taken on new meaning after my health crisis in 2008. When I first got home after my brain aneurysm, I was weak, frail and had major vision issues. So for me, the goal was “to be able to walk Eddie again on my own.” And I reached that goal. No “I want to visit the Pyramids” or “I have to see the world” near-death comeback goals for me. The whole ordeal actually made me want to get back to the simple pleasures of life…and walking the dog by the lovely little canal near our house was one of them.

As I walk Eddie, I realize how much he has taught me on these little 30 minute soul-satisfying getaways. Lessons I apparently needed to learn after my high-stress, high blood pressure, non-stop, overcommitted, active lifestyle put me in the hospital in the first place:

  1. Live in the moment: Dogs are all about this. They can’t remember one minute from the next. When I’m walking and a thousand to-do items are swirling through my head as I charge onward, Eddie will stop short and pull me back to the present to stop and sniff a flower or a shrub. Doesn’t matter if we’ve passed it a million times; he finds something new in it. It’s a good reminder to just be in the moment and enjoy the precious 30 minutes outside with him, look around, get out of my head, breathe, and relax.
  2. There can be beauty in crap – just depends on your perspective: As we trot through the college campus right by my house, cherry blossoms blooming, the spring air thawing winter’s chill, I’m assaulted with the smells of newly laid manure in the plantbeds and lawns. It’s nasty. Eddie, however, acts like a tween girl at a Miley Cyrus concert. He leaps up and down, tries to romp through the grass as far as his leash will go and pretty much goes nuts. To him, it’s like catnip (dognip?). So I realize one man’s trash is another dog’s treasure, so to speak. And it reminds me that from this foul stench, bright green grass, gorgeous tulips, azaleas, and daffodils are blooming nicely for us to enjoy.
  3. Forgive and forget: When we come home and Eddie does not come bounding down the stairs to greet us, we know he’s been up to something. So we trudge upstairs to see what horror awaits. Usually it’s that he’s dug something from the recycling bag and torn it to shreds. He cowers before we’ve even said anything (which my husband recently said kind of made him respect the little guy). So we do the “Bad Dog!” routine and Time Out. And after 15 minutes, he’s back licking our hands or sitting in front of us expectantly, tail wagging. All is forgotten. So we must forget as well. I’ve never been good at quickly overcoming things when someone hurts or disappoints me, but he makes me realize that you have to move on if you love each other.
  4. Find joy in the simple things: Taking Eddie to the dog park and letting him run free, chasing the ball, as he greets other dogs gives me more pleasure than I ever would have thought possible. I love that he can run around, off leash, and get his exercise. He’s so joyful, it’s unreal. Doesn’t matter how many times we throw that ball: his ears perk up, his tail wags excessively, you hear the “pant, pant” of his tongue, and he eagerly awaits the ball throw. I can’t remember the last time I felt as much joy about something so simple. And then I think: in this moment, my joy comes from watching his joy. Even when he is just laying on the coach, you can look at him. He’ll stare back in complete stillness – but his tail will start wagging like crazy. All because he is basking in your attention. Or while on the coach, he flips over on his back, splaying his legs and nether regions to the world and just lays there, paws in mid-air. And he’ll just look at you, upside down, with an expression of, “What?” on his face. This makes me laugh each and every time. Never gets old. Talk about a recession-proof pleasure.
  5. Put someone else first: I’ve never really had to take care of anyone else in my life. I’m the youngest in my family. Yes, I babysat as a kid and have nieces and nephews, but it’s not the same. We don’t know if we will have kids someday, so for us, Eddie is new territory. Now, we’re forced to plan ahead. That word was never really in our vocab before. We have to make sure he gets walked and fed, and we have to make arrangements when we go out of town. Sometimes, we’ll be out in the evening, and we actually feel bad about leaving him alone . I may even sacrifice some little pleasures for myself to make sure Eddie’s still gets his high quality food, treats or a new toy. Where I used to spend that pointless money on myself, now I spend it on him – all because I see how much joy he gets from things (see #4). Maybe it’s all in my head, but I don’t care. It feels good to do something that makes your dog happy – even if he won’t remember it in 5 minutes.

Having a dog is wonderful. Not only did he help during my health recovery but having him teaches me so much about appreciating the present – and even about healthier ways to approach my work and my business. I don’t really much mind becoming “that” person, after all.

What has inspired you to approach your life or your business differently? Do you have a pet who adds to your life? Please share in the Comments.

Why I kicked my Bucket List

This is an excerpt from my new book, Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life (2012, Avail in Kindle and Paperback). I invite you to apply this to your life…and your business. Enjoy!

It seems “bucket lists” are all the rage these days, and the trend cropped up even more in the year following my aneurysm. Coincidence?

I’m not sure if this term had been around for a while or debuted with the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman film of the same title. Regardless, it kind of irks me that it is swirling around everywhere, like shallow buzz about the latest hot handbag or must-have designer. While I love self-help and motivational goal-setting as much as the next gal (yes, I read Eckhart Tolle, so back off), I’m always leery when it takes the form of a blind fad. Shouldn’t those themes be much more consistent and ongoing throughout our lives?

As the one-year anniversary of my brain hemorrhage passed, I was still trying to figure out what it all meant―and if it really meant anything anyway. Successfully distancing myself from the immediate recovery of the event―which was all about getting back to daily living―I entered this second phase of more thoughtful contemplation around the whole thing. Why did I survive? Why is my recovery going so much more miraculously than someone who has three children relying on her? If it was not “my time” yet, than what the heck is it I was meant to do here? What am I not finished with?

Small questions these are not.

Answers abound. Paul, who truly understands how lucky we are but is not a spiritual guy, will tell you, “This happened due to the genetics of a combination of weak vessels and high blood pressure that runs in the family. You are okay now because we got you to the hospital in time and the doctors were amazingly skilled. End of story.”

Or maybe it’s just as simple as what a sassy old friend of mine said when we met up for dinner after not seeing each other in person for over ten years. She had followed my story and progress through our online journal and social media updates and was dying to catch up with me. Her playful theory?  “Maybe you are still here so that on this night, in this city, we could catch up over dinner and you can entertain and inspire me.” I kind of like that answer.

Which brings me back to bucket lists. I feel in today’s renaissance of enlightenment, we are just putting too much darn pressure on ourselves to “live our best life.” I am all about going after what you want, not waiting, and experiencing all you can experience. But in my life, the adventures have happened pretty organically.

Sure, goals are great things. But when they start to consume you, to make you feel like you are less of a person if you don’t accomplish them, that’s where I have a problem. Tweet this!

My recovery was all about being gentle with myself, setting realistic goals, and not overwhelming myself with too much. I think this is a good way to live, brain injury or not. So rather than some of the more lofty bucket lists out there that seem to taunt and stress many of us―and make us feel like we are not doing, being, or seeing enough―mine became a simple bucket list:

  1. Ensure you have at least one person in your life who understands you, accepts you for who you are and who makes you laugh. Just one will do. It could be a lover, parent, sibling or friend. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, make it your mission to find him or her.
  2. Spend at least one night of your life falling asleep to, and waking up to, the ocean. Wherever that might be.
  3. Next time you are on a plane, bus or train with a rambunctious toddler or fussy baby, try to make the child smile. Just once. See how it makes you feel.
  4. Call one long-distance friend a week. Not email. Phone. If you can’t call, write a handwritten note.
  5. Adopt a pet once in your life and give it a happy, loving home.
  6. Say thank you to every bus driver or cabbie when you get off the bus or out of the cab. You never know how much that might turn around a bad day for them.
  7. Once a day, ask one clerk, be it barista or cashier, “How are you doing today?”
  8. Have one dinner outside on a warm summer night with friends, wine, candles and great conversation.
  9. Each time you talk to a family member or a close friend, say “I love you” at the end of the conversation. You never know if it might be the last time.
  10. Every year, make one trip to a place you’ve never been or somewhere out of your comfort zone. This could be another city in your own country, a foreign country, or it could be based on accommodations: if you are a hotel person, go camping. Try it for perspective.

My injury forced me to slow down and focus on the moment. It was not just a Hallmark card platitude, but a necessity. My goals became much less lofty but much sweeter.

What’s on your Bucket List, for your life or your work? Please share in the Comments!