work ethic

The power of ( )

An example of a British-style crossword puzzle.The one thing that never ceases to amaze me about a crossword puzzles is that I can sit for a long time ruminating on a particular clue and not have foggiest idea what the answer is and then the next day I’ll pick up that crossword puzzle and instantly know the answer.

I find this to be true for writing. I can sit and labor on a particular sentence and not like any words that come to mind, but then come back to it the next day and the right words just pop up. Sometimes a break is all you need. Just because you’re not consciously thinking about something doesn’t mean the clever synapses in the back of your head aren’t hard at work figuring it out for you.

That’s why I started using (   )

This is my secret for powering through when I get stumped. Instead of dwelling on the right word choice, or going online to research a point I want to make, I simple put down this mark: (  ), and decide to come back to it later. Sometimes ( ) stands for the perfect adjective that I can’t think of in the moment, and sometimes it’s a place holder for an entire scene I want to add in my novel. Sometimes I write a note to myself inside the parentheses, such as (make this less boring), or (add a quote here), but often they are just blank.

Our brains are amazing, complex (figure out a good noun), and they are capable of so much more than we realize. The next time you’re stumped, type ( ) and move on to something else. Your brain will fill in the gap when it’s good and ready.

Blogger’s Block

Ahhh I took too much time off and now and I can’t think of what to blog about. I broke my cardinal rule:  Thou must keep producing. As long as I consistently write 2-3 posts a week, I have an unlimited wealth of ideas. My inner critic is silenced and I am free to write about whatever pops into my head.

RomaFictionFest - Conferenza 2010 - LL Cool J ...

But as soon as I take a break — let’s say for an amazing wedding in Maryland –when I return to my computer my brain is dead. No topic is good enough for my comeback post (ok it’s only been a nine days. LL Cool J definitely wouldn’t call it a comeback). It would be so much easier to go get ice cream rather than figure out what to write about. 

And so, here’s my back up cardinal rule: If thou can’t think of something to write, write about that. It’s pretty helpful; even as I write this I’m thinking about what I can post next. And if you don’t believe me, listen to modernist poet Charles Bukowski: “writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

What tips do you have for writer’s block?

***And if you need a laugh, say the title of this post three times fast.***

The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done

Over the last year, I have been blown away by my experiences with Defy Ventures, an organization that gives business training and mentoring to people with criminal backgrounds. I must admit I was pretty nervous the first time I walked into a room filled with people who had rap sheets, but after everyone introduced themselves with a bear hug, and I got to hear why these people were choosing to change their lives, I could no longer hold on to my fear or negative assumptions.

 A Clean Slate  Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies.

A Clean Slate Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies. Photo credit: Miller Mobley

I believe in potential; I believe that people grow and become better versions of themselves, and I know that I’m not the only one. But in The United States, we do not extend that faith to people who have been behind bars.

What would it be like if you were permanently known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?

This is a line from Catherine Rohr’s article in Inc. CEO and Founder of Defy Ventures, she has helped transform the lives of thousands of motivated individuals, and by extension, strengthen the communities and families that they came from.

I urge you to read this article. I urge you to question the beliefs that you have. I urge you to support an organization that bolsters our society with the very people who are shunned by society. Oh yeah, and I urge you to like them on facebook!

The Power of Writing Groups

Here’s a great article about declaring your dreams, creating a supportive community, and going out on a limb, and it happens to be written by my friend, Tricia Remark! Read about how our writing group got started:

tricia writing group

Here we are pretending that all of our books reached #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.

Bye Bye BeddyBye

The 3rd prototype. BeddyBye does not come with the adorable bear suit.

If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning you’ll know that about a year ago I invented and developed a product for babies. My friend was complaining that her baby only falls asleep in bed with her, but she’s so afraid of smothering him she can’t relax – and then when her baby falls asleep he would wake up if she tried to move him to the crib. I designed a baby bed that was safe to keep in the bed with the parents. It has sturdy walls to prevent smothering, a stable base to prevent it from toppling over, and a catch to prevent blankets and sheets from riding up over the baby’s face. I did all the research and found the perfect slope to hold the baby in a position that prevents acid-reflux and SIDS. All this, and it has handles so you can move it into the crib without waking up the baby. Eventually the parents could ween the baby off falling asleep in the bed by keeping the product in the crib. I called it BeddyBye. After reading that some parents use car seats in bed with them, I realized that my product would be filling a void in the market place.

Reilly asleep in the 2nd prototype

There were a lot of highs and lows. I took an idea and developed into an actual product. I created four prototypes; the last one my cat still sleeps in every day. I held focus groups, I worked with consultants, I formed an LLC and bought the domain name for Whenever something was too intimidating and stressful I just thought of how much I wanted to see my future kids sleeping in it. I knew that I would need to get investors because the start up costs were extremely high, however, eventually there was a hurdle I couldn’t get past.

The baby product industry is tightly regulated (fortunately), and after speaking with a woman from one of the 8 safety boards I would need to get approval from, I realized that my idea was not going to get approval. The woman at the safety agency told me that they need to predict and prevent the most dangerous situations such as what if the parents put it on an unstable water mattress, or if they’re sleeping on a twin size mattress with the BeddyBye hanging over the edge. Or what will happen if the parent is a sleepwalker and kicks it off the bed in his/her sleep? These were all considerations that could only be addressed by completely changing the design and concept. Without safety approval I would never be able to sell the BeddyBye in stores, and the cost of insurance would be crippling.

My friend’s baby in the first prototype

I decided to take a break from the project (over 6 months ago). As I got some distance from it, I realized that I really hated working by myself. It’s extremely lonely. Several times I’ve thought of taking up the project again (I still think it’s a great idea, and when my cat sleeps in the prototype it breaks my heart), but honestly I don’t have the energy for it. I was at a TED talk the other day and a woman who started an art dealing business talked about how it takes delusional self-confidence to start your own business. After talking to the safety agency I lost that delusional self-confidence and it’s nearly impossible to work without it.

I know people have the best intentions when they offer suggestions for working around the safety regulations, but to be perfectly honest it’s a really sore subject for me and I don’t like talking about it. It was very hard for me to give this project up. It was hard for me to focus on the things that I learned rather than look at it as a failure. But I want to move on. So for the record I’m done with BeddyBye.

Visionary Job Search


This summer I worked 12-13 hours most days as well as the weekends. In my effort to do a good job in my new position, I completely lost track of what’s important to me. I hardly saw any of my friends or family and poor Mike had to deal with Traysaurous more than he should have. It can be really rewarding to take on a failing project and put all your energy into it to making it successful, but at the end of the day if that’s not what you’re passionate about it’s not worth all your energy. On that note, I’ve decided to look for a new job.

This time I’m taking a different approach. I’ve never made a vision board before but I thought now would be a good time to try. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept it’s real simple. Flip through a bunch of magazines and rip out any images that you have an immediate positive response to. Glue them on a board and hang it up somewhere. Take it a step further and study it for a while to see if there are any themes you didn’t recognize when you were first ripping out the images. Having a visual map of something to work towards helps you figure out what you need to do to get there.

I didn’t have a good collection of magazines so I did mine on It’s free and it has lots of images, but you do need to create an account. After doing mine I realized how much I value the great outdoors and the balance of companionship and peaceful solitude. I’m not sure yet how this will help me find the perfect job, but it was more fun than spending another afternoon on!

My first vision board












The Pie of Life

I got another promotion! I’m now an Academic Director! But as Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility. And that responsibility has been taking over my life. For the last two weeks I’ve been working till 10 most nights, and that’s really not cool with my HeSo. I’m hoping that all the work I’ve been doing will allow me some breathing room for the upcoming weeks. You may have noticed I’ve dropped off the face of the blogosphere. The last thing I want to do at night is look at a computer screen, but hopefully that will change.

I love my new job. There are so many creative problems to solve, people to console and motivate, and a thousand and one things to balance and manage. If I’m not careful I’ll get sucked into it, and never lead a happy, balanced life.

One excellent tool I’ve learned from Julia Cameron is drawing a life pie every now and then. Draw a big circle and divide it into 6 even pie slices. Give each slice a label: spirituality, exercise, play, work, romance, friends and adventure. Place a dot in the middle of each slice according to how fulfilled you feel in each category (close to the middle of the pie means not at all, the outer rim means you feel very satisfied). The goal is to fill up the entire pie.

It looks like someone’s been eating huge chunks of my pie. It’s a good visual reminder of what I need to work towards.

How full is your pie?


I got a promotion

Yay I got a promotion! As you might remember, I was feeling underwhelmed at my job – it wasn’t challenging enough. I didn’t want to quit teaching, but I have good ideas and I didn’t want to confine them to the classroom.

And then I was offered a position as head teacher/ assistant academic director for the summer center! It was like I created the exact job I wanted. I still get to teach, but I also get to mentor new teachers, and help make the school run more efficiently. Talk about visualizing what you want and then actually getting it.

This is going to be a busy summer!


How Your Life Can Change in a Week: An Interview with Marina Carulo

One of the murals we painted in Kenya

I met Marina in Kenya while volunteering with Cross Cultural Thresholds. We added some much needed colorful imagery to a school in Kibera. I was taken with her positive attitude and joie de vivre. She was about to start a completely new job as a jewelry designer, and I was impressed because she didn’t have any experiece with jewelry (except a keen eye for fashion!) But I was even more impressed when I caught up with her last week and found out about her new career adventure!

Here’s how a life can change in a week:

Monday:  She had an interview for a position as a full time foot model. The salary was $85k + benefits (who knew foot models make that much) and travel was required. Unfortunately Marina was not a true size 6 – one foot was a 1/3 inch too big. However she hit it off with the interviewer and she shared some sketches.

Tuesday: The interviewer called to ask if Marina would apply for a position as a shoe designer. She didn’t know anything about shoe design so she spent the entire night on the internet reading everything she could about the industry.

Wednesday: She nterviewed with Marc Fisher (designer for Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, and son of the founder of Nine West). He grew up in the shoe business and was pleasantly surprised with Marina’s knowledge and creativity. She was offered a position as a mens shoe designer (with a much higher salary than a foot model!)

Thursday: She started the job and has loved it ever since!

Next week: She was off to China for 21 days to learn about the manufacturing end of shoe design. She said, “as the plane took off for China, I realized how lucky I am, and life seemed so full of possibilities!”

How did she get to this point?

Marina grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her mother scrimped and saved to put her through private school, where Marina remembers being in awe of her classmates beautiful clothes. That’s when her love of textile and design began.

With just $500 to her name she moved to New York when she was 23. She didn’t know a word of English, so she enrolled in an intensive ESL program at Westchester Community College. After 2 years, her favorite teacher introduced her to the Chairman of the Textiles department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). He helped her get a scholarship, and two years later she graduated with a degree in textile development and marketing with a 4.0 GPA.

Over the years she has had several jobs in the fashion industry, but none have been as challenging and rewarding as her job with Marc Fisher.

What does it take to be a shoe designer?

At the beginning of the year, Marina and her team receive a trend directory from Tommy Hilfiger and Guess. They begin sketching their designs and picking out the initial materials. They narrow it down to 100 and send those designs to their factory in China. After a few weeks, they fly to China to review the proto-samples and narrow them down to 80.

Then they begin the technical specifications for each sample (what kind of stitching, what colors to use, where the logo will go, what materials will the uppers, cushion, and soul be made from, types of gromets and laces and so on). It’s crucial that every detail be mapped out down to the glue. Production will stop if the manufacturers don’t know if the eye holes for the laces should be nickle or silver.

Three weeks later they get the “salesman lot,” also known as the “pre-production sample.” They send these to buyers (like Macys, Nordstroms, etc) and then they have an idea of how many to order. A few months later the shoes start appearing in fashion shows like FFANY.

The entire time, from design to selling in the store takes 1.5 years!

Next week Marina is headed for Milan, Paris and London. Three times a year, the design team goes to Europe to get inspiration and buy samples of materials, shoes, and patterns that they want to incorporate into future shoe lines.

Marina warns, “This may seem glamorous, but it’s hard work. You really need to love fashion and design. It’s hours and hours of comparing colors, patterns and texture, and I know that’s not for everyone.”

What I love about this story:

Marina's great smile!

So many people pigeonhole themselves. Marina could have easily said, “I know nothing about designing men’s shoes!” But she knew she had the most important skills: creativity, a desire to learn, and an open-mind, and you can accomplish most jobs with those skills. In my book, passion and enthusiasm always trumps experience.

When I asked her how she avoids making excuses she said, “I think of the path I want to go down and I imagine it lined with open doors. I have no idea how long it will take to get through each door, but all I need to focus on is the one right in front of me. I never think of the obstacles, because what is the point? Obstacles won’t help me get through the door.”

She feels truly blessed by God, and wants to start giving back. She asks herself, “What purpose do I want to serve the World?” In my opinion, she’s already served the world with her motivating story!