Taking the leap: my journey from cubicle monkey to creative grasshopper entrepreneur

8-25-14 taking the leapThis story is designed to inspire & give courage to anyone who is on the verge, and feeling called, to quit their job in order to pursue something more meaningful. This is part of the Taking the Leap resource, a database full of real-life stories from people who have successfully gone from job dissatisfaction to career emancipation.

This story includes the truth about what it’s like & what it takes to make the leap — so you can figure out for yourself whether taking the leap is right for you!

So when my dear friend Rebecca Beaton asked me to contribute to her Taking the Leap resource, I jumped at the opportunity. You may have seen Rebecca in our video interview (if you haven’t, go check it out!)

So here’s my story… which some of you may be somewhat familiar with. And some lessons interspersed along the way, for you: so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

I’ve always had authority issues.

When I was a kid, I always insisted on playing my way… even if it meant breaking the toys I was trying to play with. That grew into defiance and rebellion in school (needless to say, I had a lot of bad grades my test scores couldn’t explain…) and continued as procrastination in college and beyond.

When I finished college, I was dismayed that I hadn’t liked a single one of the jobs I had tried (except for tutoring, although even then I had run-ins with the tutoring center administration!) They all just seemed to restrict my freedom and creativity a little too much.

It’s not that I was lazy, or I didn’t want to do work… when given the opportunity I threw myself into anything and committed 110% of my energy into making it amazing, but I needed to not have someone else bossing me around and telling me what I could and couldn’t do.

Unfortunately, as college ended and I was left facing the possibility of returning to my home country of Romania, I had to swallow my pride and return to the company where I did my summer internship the summer before my senior year.

I hated it.

I had a good salary, but no money could make up for being so miserable every day. Soon I fell into the predictable cycle of loving life on Friday and hating it on Sunday. I started developing insomnia because going to sleep meant the next thing that was to happen was getting up super early and going to that place. [Read more…]

The one thing you can’t afford to skip if you want to make your dreams come true

My dream, hanging in my childhood bedroom

My dream, hanging in my childhood bedroom

6 years ago I made my dream come true.

I had been living in Romania for 18 years. I had a couple of friends, a boyfriend, and a loving family. Many of my friends were getting ready to go to college in Germany or Romania.

I was getting ready to hop on a plane and travel across the ocean with two giant suitcases containing everything I wanted in my new life. The destination: Ivy League.

Looking behind wasn’t even on my radar. [Read more…]

Authentic entrepreneur spotlight: Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income

I was super busy last week showing some family friends around beautiful Philadelphia and its surroundings so I kind of fell under the radar. While I missed writing, I got plenty of time to think (I love just having time to let my mind go into grasshopper mode – it’s so refreshing) and take a little break from being in front of a computer screen all day long. If I have been a little slow getting back to you – sorry! Now you know why. 😉

Authentic entrepreneur spotlights – a new feature

I was delighted to see that a lot of you found my last post on writing great content that gets noticed very helpful, so I decided to take this whole “authentic biz” theme a little further and take an in-depth look at the strategies some of the popular authentic bloggers are taking.

A lot of you were, like me, (let’s put it nicely) disenchanted with the slimy internet marketing strategies.

I have been studying several people who do internet marketing in a way that doesn’t make me want to run for the hills, so I figured the best place to start is to learn from what they are doing!

To start off, I will focus on the three main topics of an online business: the content strategy (blogging, video, podcasting), the e-mail list strategy (super important!), and the sales strategy (because we want to make money without having to feel like a used car salesperson to get it.)

Pat Flynn

Pat has a pretty cool story, and he is one of the first people I found in the online business world who was completely open and authentic.  His e-mails feel like they come from a friend (which has an added benefit – they seem to land in the “primary” Gmail tab more often than other newsletter e-mails), he is completely non-salesy, and he shares a crap ton of useful content and strategies for free (starting with his free ebook, Ebooks the $mart way – one of the best written opt-in freebies I’ve read.)

One of the awesome things Pat does is share his income report every single month. Aside from Kate and John’s monthly income reports on Entrepreneur on Fire and Denise Duffield-Thomas’s reports about her first years in business (year 1, year 2year 3), I don’t know of another person who does this (if you do, please link to it in the comments!). This is super valuable for people who are just starting out in online business, but from what Pat has shared in some of his podcasts it can also get you some serious haters. I guess you win some and you lose some!

An example of one of Pat's newsletter e-mails - short, sweet, honest, to the point.

An example of one of Pat’s newsletter e-mails – short, sweet, honest, to the point.

Pat’s communication strategy

Pat’s strategy is pretty unique. He calls it “Be everywhere“. Basically, he posts useful blog posts, podcasts, has a YouTube channel, and is all over social media as well.

But here’s the best part about it (and the hardest, too): he doesn’t post the same content everywhere! I’ve seen other entrepreneurs post a video on YouTube, include the transcript on the blog, and put the audio into their podcast. But by doing that, they are not differentiating between the different kinds of fans they have.

The reality is that some people will prefer to listen to interviews, others will prefer to just listen to your voice as you tell them about stuff, others will prefer to read blog posts because it’s quicker, and others yet will want to see you talk on the screen or watch a screenshare presentation like my 3 habit success framework.

What’s more, your biggest fans will want to consume your content on more than one of these mediums.

By putting the same content on all mediums you are catering to your basic, one-medium fans. But by being on all of them you are adding more value to your biggest fans, who in the end are also the ones who will help spread the word about you (sneezers as Seth Godin calls them) and buy from you.

Pat takes this philosophy even further with his podcasts. He has two of them- the Smart Passive Income podcast (which is long, usually an hour) and Ask Pat, a quick (2-5 min) Q&A podcast. They are both extremely valuable, and cater to different preferences people might have for a podcast.

He interviews some amazing people on his SPI podcast, and also shares a ton of valuable, authentic information when he has no guests. His Q&A podcast is just a treasure trove of useful information – I love listening to both of them!

At the core of Pat’s engagement philosophy seems to be creating trust by offering insanely useful content over and over again, without asking for anything in return.

In addition, he includes lots of links to useful articles or other entrepreneurs in his blog posts, driving traffic to them and building relationships with them. This is a great strategy that emphasizes collaboration between entrepreneurs rather than competition (which comes from the scarcity mindset – “why should I promote their work? I don’t want to send clients away.”)

When entrepreneurs share each other’s work and support each other beautiful things can happen, and I love how some of the best authentic entrepreneurs do that.

Useful links:

Take action:

Create your own blogging pyramid, and write down a list of topics that you could use as case studies for yourself. If you can’t think of anything from the past, start a “case study” project! Choose something you want to work on (related to your niche – something your readers will be interested in), choose a goal and a time frame, and go to town working on it, discovering what obstacles come up, and finding creative ways to overcome them. Then share your experience on your blog!

Pat’s email list strategy

Pat talks extensively about his e-mail strategy in his posts and podcast (I’m going to list some links below). He breaks down his e-mails between blog and podcast updates (which contain links) and autoresponder e-mails, which are like mini blog posts – he shares little stories, useful and actionable tips (a key feature of his listbuilding strategy).

A great strategy he uses in his autoresponder series is to prompt the reader to respond. In the first e-mail you can ask something like, “What are you struggling with?” or “What kind of content would you like to see?”. I personally use this one too, and have found that it increases engagement and trust when people respond (hint: respond back! I always do, even if it takes me a while.)

I have noticed that Pat keeps doing this periodically, asking people for links to articles they have loved around the web, for instance. All great ways to increase trust and start communication with your list subscribers (helping them feel like real people, not just wallet owners).

One thing Pat does very well is have opt-ins everywhere on his site, but not in a way that is pushy. He has no pop-up (Yay! I hate those. That’s why I don’t have one on this site either. And never will. You can hold me to that.) but he does strategically link to his opt-in when the content relates to it and includes an opt-in box at the end of every single post.

Useful links:

Take action:

Start an e-mail list autoresponder! And include a question in your first email and periodically throughout. I love how Pat just adds a new e-mail to the autoresponder every once in a while – keeps him from being overwhelmed (no need to write it all in one day), and keeps the readers constantly engaged with helpful and personal e-mails that don’t contain links – that’s rare in the online marketing world, right?

I have been bad about doing this as well so I’m also jumping on this task right away. You might want to consider creating an implementation schedule for all (or most) of Pat’s strategies – they work very well for him. He has a 60-70% e-mail open rate! Compare that to 20% industry standards. Wowzers!

Pat’s sales strategy

Pat makes most of his money through affiliate sales and ebook sales on his other niche websites. The affiliate links he just includes in his useful blog posts and podcasts as helpful resources, which never comes across as sales-y.

One thing I appreciate about him is that he never sends an e-mail just promoting something. This is made possible by his business model, but I’m not sure it can be 100% sustainable for those of us with a more direct revenue model.

When you sell coaching or ebooks and programs on your own site, it can be important to communicate this with your e-mail list – it’s pretty tough to just squeeze it into blog posts the way he does with affiliate links. So, as awesome as his 100% non-salesy approach is, I don’t it’s not fully sustainable for coaches, for instance. (You’ll see how his strategy slightly backfired when he finally did have something to sell in one of the links I listed below.)

However, I do believe it’s possible to sell to your list in a completely authentic and honest way.

In my opinion, this starts with letting some e-mails be just informational, to connect with your reader – I have to admit I’m tired of how many e-mails tug at my heartstrings just for me to discover the entire sob story was just to sell me something. Barf.

Pat has a brilliant affiliate marketing strategy too. Compared to many other marketers who promote their affiliate links shamelessly to their e-mail list (because it’s the-next-biggest-thing-you-absolutely-need-or-you-will-never-be-successful-period), Pat creates useful how-to articles that are helpful in and of themselves and reviews or promotes the product he’s an affiliate of throughout the post.

It’s a little bit of a sandwich strategy, but he does it in a way that is completely not sales-y, just helpful. Here is example 1 – a how to, example 2 – an in-depth case study, and example 3 – a huge tutorial. And let’s not forget his resources and start here pages – great website real estate for affiliate links, not to mention just how useful they are to a random person that first lands on his site.

Useful links:

  • The right way to add bonuses to your products – a great guide, and I love how he breaks down the mistakes he made and he has seen others make. Very useful for coaches and those selling online products.
  • Pat’s first course on SPI – a good way to see how he sells and promotes a course on the site. Totally non-scammy. However, since he doesn’t normally sell directly to that list, notice the heated discussion that took place in the comments. A reminder of why it’s good to keep a middle ground going between selling and sharing. However, also take notice to the authentic way Pat responds to those criticisms – great to learn from!
  • Are you taking advantage of your unfair advantage? – this is a great post especially for brand-spanking new entrepreneurs who feel like they have “nothing to offer”. Our connections, experience, personality, and unique perspectives give us the leverage we need in business – but first we need to open our eyes and see them, and then we need to get over our fear and use them. I got crickets on my site for a long time because I either didn’t know what made me stand out or was too scared to use it and share it (see my last post about being vulnerable – gulp!)
  • Analysis of his getting started page – Pat includes a lot of these case studies which are insanely useful and popular.
  • How to profit by giving it all away – a super helpful guest post on SPI detailing Pat’s strategy (that I explained a bit above)
  • Pat’s top 30 tips for successful affiliate marketing – all the way down to the most important thing: the mindset!

Take action:

Figure out what your unfair advantage is (hint: you have more than one!) Many creative grasshoppers feel like they’re “Jacks of all trades” with nothing they really excel in. But the reality is that being a creative grasshopper with a lot of passions puts us in a very unique perspective that gives us A LOT to offer! So I challenge you to figure out your “unfair advantages” and commit to an action plan!

Help me out!

This was a lot of fun for me to write, but to tell you the truth I’m nervous! For one, as much fun as it was compiling all of this information, I felt a bit like a stalker doing it 😉 and two, I want to make sure this is helpful to you!

I would love to hear what you think. Did you like it? Do you want more authentic entrepreneur spotlights? Are there any other categories you’d like me to cover? Are there any other authentic entrepreneurs you’d like me to “stalk” and feature? Tell me in the comments!

And I would love to hear the biggest takeaway for you from this spotlight. What strategy are you going to implement right away?

Finally, if you found this helpful please share this post to help other creative grasshoppers learn how to be successful without having to sacrifice their authenticity, honesty, and passions.

If I die tomorrow, I want you to know this

It happened six years ago. The day I thought I would die. I still remember it to this day.

I walked into school like any other high school senior. I had gotten accepted into my dream college and was looking forward to passing the last few months of school being bored, pretending to work, and chatting my days away with my friends while we were still all in one place.

Instead, I was pulled into a separate room, to be interrogated.

“We have received an e-mail from your e-mail address that contains pictures of a document you didn’t have access to. We want to know what happened.”

1-20-14 if i dieI told them I didn’t know what they were talking about. That I hadn’t sent any e-mails. They refused to show me their copy of the e-mail. They only asked me if that was my e-mail address (it was).

They asked me if my final grades mattered for college. What college I was going to. If a phone call accusing me of fraud would make them revoke my admissions offer.

They pulled in every single other student in my class. Made several girls cry.

Parents came in, argued, threatened, all to no avail. The corrupt system was well defended.

Someone had hacked my e-mail address and sent an e-mail as if having been delivered from my address to the school principal and my homeroom teacher, as well as a few other students, containing pictures of a future test they had “found”.

For this, I was being punished.

I tried to prove my innocence – but the e-mail provider needed to have the original e-mail, and they refused to even let me see it, let alone have it.

I tried to bring a lawyer – they informed me that this was internal school business so the lawyer couldn’t interfere.

During those few months until I graduated, I experienced the most intense emotions. Fear, anger, fury, desperation, hope…

One day, I just broke down. [Read more…]

My theme for 2014 (+ my theme-discovery process)

I’ve been pondering my theme for 2014 for a while.

My first thought was “courage”. But that didn’t sound just right. Too cliche.

1-2-14 truthThen I thought of “surrender”. Hmm, closer. But still not right.

I didn’t want it to be a word I just so happened to choose. I wanted it to be intuitive. Holistic. Resonate deep within my being.

This is a word I will carry with me through the year. My mantra to help me dive deeper into the changes I’ve chosen to make in my life.

So I took a piece of paper, and started writing down… [Read more…]

What question are you afraid to ask yourself?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time. In the spirit of naked, bold un-confidence and authenticity, here it is.

I sat there, head in my hands, for what felt like a very long time.

I let out a sigh – I needed to move on. I couldn’t let this keep getting to me. [Read more…]

Why you’re stuck and nothing is working

So you’ve made up your mind to eliminate a bad habit. Or build a good one. To change something about your life. Make it better.

You want to lose weight and feel good in your skin again.

You want to get organized and stop procrastinating.

You want to make your business more successful.

You want to wake up early and be productive.

You want to cultivate the habit of mindfulness and become more zen.

You’ve gone out, done your research, and immersed yourself in books, websites, and “friendly advice”. You’ve tried a dozen different diets, snoozed a million times, taken more business courses than your wallet can afford, and only become more frustrated in the process.

No matter what you try, nothing seems to change. You’re stuck, and you’re ready to throw yourself on the floor and stomp and cry like a toddler because nothing. is. working, dammit!

I’ve been there. [Read more…]

Stop emotional eating

Switching it up today! No video, partly because I couldn’t find any time with nice weather to record, and partly because there was just too much to say and I needed to organize my thoughts a little better. Writing does that for me. Let me know how you like this format vs. video!

I used to eat not only when my body needed it, but when my soul did, too.

As if there was some sort of a stomach-heart tunnel, I downed bowlfuls of mac ‘n cheese and ice cream to fill my emotional holes. But when I would collapse, feeling like I was going to explode, I regretted it.

Every single time I regretted it. And yet, I kept doing it, day after day.

Post 24 emotional eatingSometimes I would be good and eat clean for a week. Then, in a binge worthy of the biggest sumo-wrestlers, I would consume half my weight in food, and regret it enough for the entire week.

The thing is, it did feel good. For the brief period of time eating was actually involved, I was too preoccupied with shoving food down my throat to think about my problems. It was a brief escape from the stress, anger, or fear that had been plaguing me.

But no matter how much food I stuffed down, my stomach could only hold so much. Eventually, I’d be feeling like a balloon that’s about to pop, guilty and frustrated, and whenever I closed my eyes my problems were still there. Eating had not magically made them go away.

The time came when I had put some weight on and started trying to lose it. After low-carbing, high-carbing, veganing, paleo-ing, I finally found my way down the scale with intuitive eating.

The trick? This one limited eating in both frequency and quantity to a measurable external factor: hunger. Emotions, no matter how strong, never quite translated into hunger.

Although it took some self-control and much journaling, I eventually learned to abide by the natural rhythm of my body, curbed emotional eating, and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

1. You’re doing this for a reason. Find it.

Overeating is hurting you. But, despite the fact that you know it, you just can’t stop. You always seem to take two steps forward and three steps back.

The reason why it feels so impossible to stop a bad habit is because you subconsciously have a reason for doing it. So, the first question you must ask yourself is, “how is emotional eating benefitting me?”

In my case, emotional eating maintained my victim status. I gave so much power to my emotions that I considered them at fault for causing me to gorge myself and the resulting guilt and weight gain.

Once I realized this, the solution was not so difficult. All I needed was to not allow myself to be a victim anymore. While still not easy, this was easier than fighting against a subconscious part of myself.

What’s your reason?

2. You don’t taste your food

Just how fast do you shove spoonful after spoonful in your mouth when you binge? Do you ever have any time to taste it, or is all you notice the feeling of a full mouth and distending belly?

Isn’t it ironic that when you overeat you stuff yourself with foods that taste good, but never actually take the time to experience the pleasure in their taste? Why are you punishing yourself like this?

This one takes a lot of work, but remind yourself to actually taste your food every time you eat. Only put one bite at a time in your mouth, and don’t take another one before you finish chewing. Putting the fork down in between bites helps me from slipping back into the old familiar pattern.

Also, be sure not to distract your senses while you eat. I sometimes read while I eat, but I mostly try to enjoy and honor my food for the nutrition and taste it brings. It feels like I’m honoring myself at the same time.

Which brings me to my next point…

3. You don’t see your worth

How do you treat yourself? Do you love and honor yourself, like the precious butterfly you are? Or do you treat yourself like a useless rag you keep in a corner, musty with tears and heavy with shame?

When you overeat, you are punishing yourself because you see yourself as worthless.

The more blame and shame you fling at yourself, the more you’re going to punish yourself in other ways (like emotional eating).

This revolves around a bigger issue. You believe you are less than others. Less than who you really are.

But you really are equal to everyone else in this world. We’re all the same. We all come from the same earth, and we all return to the same earth.

If you want to defeat emotional eating, you have to refuse to punish yourself.

That’s why your motivation must come from love… love for yourself because you’re tired of hurting yourself; love for your children because you want to inspire them to lead a healthy life. It can’t be for any external reason. Only love can give you the push you need to stop hurting yourself.

Eventually, you will learn that you have much more power than you think. You will learn that conquering emotional eating is conquering  yourself. And you are the only one who can do that.

4. You can run, but you can’t hide

No matter how much you eat, your feelings are always there when you are done. Emotional eating numbs you to them for a short time, but then they come back.

They come back stronger. And they come back bringing the guilt you feel from punishing your body.

Then confusion starts to set in. Why am I doing this to myself? Why are my feelings coming back? Why didn’t eating take them away?

Then you go to the fridge to eat more, because this confusion, along with the blame and guilt and fear and frustration are just too much to handle.

And so starts a vicious cycle. One that you cannot end unless you realize that the only way out is through.

Over time, as you work through your emotions and drop their weight, you will feel stronger, and you will start honoring your body. You will conquer yourself with love, and you will shed the weight off of your shoulders.

One day, your motivation will become your reality. On this day, you will look back and say, I won.

Share your story!

Have you crossed paths with emotional eating? How have you defeated it, or how are you defeating it? Your story can help inspire someone who reads it just when they need it the most.

Is hooking up safe?

This past weekend the New York Times released an article about women in college and their preferences for hooking up rather than dating. You can read it here.

Penn is my alma mater, which means it’s very close to my heart. This article didn’t really sit well with me. In general, I feel that it unfairly (1) selectively singles out Penn and (2) generalizes from the girls it quotes to the entire female student body. But, of course, I understand the temptation of piggybacking on the reputation of an Ivy League school for publicity. Next time maybe try Princeton, and ask “Penn mom” to give advice?

(I should mention here, in case that joke didn’t hit home, that Penn and Princeton are rivals.)

Snark aside, this raised a very important question in my mind. Just how safe are hook-ups and one-night stands anyway? Initially it seems like an easy and harmless (with proper precautions) way to de-stress and have your needs met all at once. The next day, you’re back to the hustle and bustle of daily life. No consequences. Right?

Of course, it’s never that simple. Modern technology might have provided ways around the physical consequences of (willingly) hooking up, but we still possess a monkey brain behind all of that civilized intelligence. And this monkey brain may just retaliate in the most unexpected ways later on.

In this video, I explain how this combination of hooking up and monkey brain can spell bad news for your future emotional well-being. (please excuse my bad hair day… we all get ’em!)

Unfortunately, you can’t measure the consequences of hooking up. They blend in along with everything else you experience and show up in tiny ways in day-to-day mostly unconscious behavior. Shame is a tricky little devil. It sneaks up on you and strikes just when you least expect it (and you most often don’t even realize it). Unless you have a policy of complete authenticity in your life, there’s always going to be some shame hanging around waiting for you to address.

What’s your take on this?

How to stop being jealous

Growing up, I was very competitive. While I loved my friends and wanted what was best for them (and helped them achieve their goals as much as I could), I also wanted to be the best.

You know how it goes… “I’m happy for every achievement you have, as long as your achievements are not greater than mine.” The ugly truth.

Over time, of course, I learned to work with these little demons of mine and stop comparing myself to others (which is, let’s face it, the main cause of jealousy). That is a big task, and it can take years of practice to master. I am reminded of that reality every time I feel that knot in my stomach when someone else just happens to stumble into success… and I still seem to be here slaving away with seemingly zero results.

But, like you, I don’t like being jealous. I never wanted to be jealous in the first place. It’s just this ugly feeling that creeps into my soul and shows up in the worst circumstances – the times when I want to be there for my friends and be truly happy for them.

Fortunately, I’ve found a system that works for me when I find myself in the throes of jealousy – it might work for you too.

Before you roll up your sleeves, here are two things you should understand about jealousy first:

1. Your friend has probably worked a lot harder than you think. Chances are, they didn’t just stumble into success half-assing their work. They worked their butt off. Maybe even more so than you.

2. You are jealous because you compare yourself with others. You compare yourself with others because you’re insecure and have the self-defeating belief that by being “better” than those around you (by what standards, anyway?) you will command more respect, appreciation, and acceptance. Chances are, once you finally do get ahead, you will realize what an empty illusion this is. But, for now, it seems very hard to shake.

Now that you understand what jealousy is made of, click play on the video below to learn what you can do to let go of your jealousy and be truly happy for your friends.

Jealousy is a nasty little demon… but when you understand why it happens and take the right steps, you can successfully let go of these feelings and get back to your cheery old self.

Do you struggle with jealousy? What do you do to help yourself let go of it?