Friday, March 13, 2015

Happy 18th Anniversary to Learning Solutions!

This week a lot of people on LinkedIn are congratulating me on the 18th anniversary of owning my own consulting firm, Learning Solutions. In entrepreneur years, that’s about 100. All those congrats got me thinking about when and how I got started on this journey, which is still
ongoing even though I’m past 65.
I am not your typical entrepreneur, and if someone had told me in college that I would be self-employed for this long, I would have said, “nonsense.” After all, I had taken the tests to see if I would succeed in my own business, and the answer was always a resounding NO. Danger, danger, do not come near:  you like stability, you’re not a risk taker and you suck at selling. When I finally decided that maybe I could do this (only because none of the other options felt right), I spent 2 years researching the business, reading how-to books, building my network and socking away money to live on. I thought I knew everything and was well prepared to be my own boss. I was not.
I vividly remember a conference I attended a few months after I started my business. I was listening to a speaker tell me in a sales workshop that if I didn’t make at least several cold calls per day, I would fail. He might as well have told me, an extreme introvert, I would have to stand naked on the corner every morning to succeed. As I stood up to sneak out of this humiliating experience, another participant at my table said “Oh for heaven’s sake, sit down, he’s full of crap. I’ve been running a successful business for 10 years and I’ve never made a cold call.” I don’t recall her name, but she is partly responsible for my long tenure with Learning Solutions. And I never did make a cold call.
There have been wildly successful years and those I would like to forget. Less than 2 years after getting started, and in the middle of a major project that required me to be out of town 50% of the time, my husband had a cardiac arrest followed by 2 open heart surgeries and 2 additional heart
procedures. Both of us were self-employed and neither of us was able to work for several months. Thankfully, we had health insurance, and I had been able to set aside extra money from the big project. And of course when I was finally able to get back to work, there was nothing in the pipeline. The need to keep work in the pipeline was one of the hardest lessons I learned.
Things went fairly smoothly for a while, thanks in part to my affiliation with a government contractor who needed good coaches and trainers for the projects she was bidding on and winning. The next big glitch came in 2008 when the recession hit and companies just weren’t spending money on “frivolous” things like coaching and training. I redoubled my networking efforts and, at one function, met a marketing consultant who asked me if I was on Twitter. “What’s that?” I said. He told me to look it up and get on it. The next day I began to reinvent myself and my business. I even started making presentations to various groups about how to use social media for business. I was having great fun with this part of my work, especially when I encountered folks who said they were “too old” for social media and I was at least 10 years older than they were. About a year later I ran into the man who suggested Twitter.  “How’s that going,” he asked. “Great. I have 5000 followers, although I think some of them are ‘ladies of the evening’.” “Wow,” he replied, “how did you do that? I only have 1500 followers." Sometimes the student becomes the teacher.
Over the years I have made many friends and won a lot of business through social media channels. My own reinvention also led to my decision to refocus the business on career coaching rather than training and organization development. I’ve reached the point where I take on only the work I want to do, in the time frame in which I want to do it. If it sounds like fun, helps people make changes in their lives, and I have time, I do it. It’s interesting that the less desperate I have become and the more work I turn down, the more work comes my way.
Have I won an “entrepreneur of the year” award? No. Did I become wealthy? No. Have I ever considered quitting or getting a “real job”? Yes, there were many times when I questioned my sanity, and others were telling me to give up and take the easy path. I would think about it for a while and then realize that returning to corporate life just wasn’t for me. I did that for 25 years, and enjoyed its rewards, but there’s nothing like being responsible for my own success or failure. I had a lot of help from many people, and for that I’m grateful. But at the end of the day, it’s just me. Yes, stuff happens that is beyond our control, but our measure lies in how we respond to the stuff and keep moving. I’m happy to say that I’ve responded to lots of stuff during the past 18 years but have kept moving forward (at least most of the time) and hope to keep going for at least a few more years.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Myrtle Manners

The last time I posted on this blog (quite a while ago),  I was a Northerner and Eastern Pennsylvania resident. This week marks one year since my husband and I became residents of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In that year, nothing has changed and everything has changed. Paring down to essentials after 60+ years of collecting stuff was painful, to say the least. And then there was the renovating/selling of the former home and the building of the new one. The first time we saw our new home was 2 days before closing. I do not recommend this approach to home construction. Thankfully, we had excellent realtors who visited the site frequently, corrected errors and sent us pictures of the progress.

For many years we had vacationed in Myrtle Beach, loved it, and finally decided we had had enough of the cold Northern winters and it was time to move south. So we did. The enormity of this move at the age of 65 did not really hit me until recently when I had some time to reflect on what we had done. We were initially too busy with all the details of the move and getting settled, and too excited about living in a place we had come to love, to think about the huge changes we had experienced and were still going through. I realize now there were days when I felt embraced by the warmth of the weather and the sweet Southern hospitality, and then there were days when it seemed as if I had been abducted by aliens and plunked down on a foreign planet. There are lots of former Northerners here, but most have quickly discovered that you either “go native” or get smacked with a cultural 2 by 4.

I’ve tried my best not to say things like “back up north we did thus and so or we did it this way.”  Southerners, no matter how sweet, do not like to be reminded that Yankees do things differently and often think the Yankee way is better. In some ways, being a transplanted Northerner is like being a high school student who has moved to a new school and is trying to figure out how to fit in without being “slushied” like the hapless kids on the TV show, Glee.  

I am trying to get used to a different concept of time. The combination of a laid-back Southern lifestyle and the perpetual vacation atmosphere of a resort area produce the prevailing idea that there’s no need to hurry anywhere or do things asap. The coin of the realm is the “round toit,” as in “ma’am, don’t you worry, we’ll take care of that when we get around to it.” Apparently it takes quite a while to acquire that coin. To an extent, this is a healthy approach, except when it results in Northern blood pressure rising when things don’t happen on schedule. Actually Northern  and Southern blood pressure has probably already risen because they fry everything here, including pickles.

After a year, we are still working on some of the punch list items we identified during the walk-through of our home last August. And we are still waiting on new doors to our refrigerator so that it will close properly; that’s another story. The builder’s construction manager has spent so much time here that our dog thinks he’s a member of the family. I don’t even want to mention the snakes, lizards, palmetto bugs, mosquitoes, fire ants, and feral cats, who sleep on our doormat at night. I’m slowly  getting used to the fact that at least some people sitting near me in a movie theater or restaurant are packing heat.

Although I still won’t eat grits, all in all, I am quite happy to be living in Myrtle Beach. There is very little, if any, snow, and it melts almost as it falls. You can go Christmas shopping in December in shorts and flipflops. There is an endless variety of things to do and restaurants to try. There’s world class entertainment such as the Carolina Opry and other venues. Yes, July is a big wall of humidity and tourists, but you can’t have perfect weather all the time, and the tourists keep our taxes low. People are usually friendly and helpful (even in Walmart), and a big smile and friendliness on your part can work wonders when you need a strong person to load heavy items into your car. Up north they just ignore you.

I have landed in a foreign culture, but I’m learning the language and the habits of the people. And I know useful things like always look for a parking space in the shade during the summer, put mothballs around the house to discourage snakes, South Carolina barbecue is tomato-based, and the plural of y’all is all y’all. So, all y’all, I love your city and your state, and I intend to stay here for the rest of my life. This is now home. Sorry, Pennsylvania. Oh, and the best part is that now when my career coaching clients tell me they’re too old to change, or change is too scary, I can say to them:  “You can do this. I know, I’ve been there. It’s OK to be scared. I was scared too, but when you make that needed change, it is so worth it.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nourish Your Career Interview

Recently I contributed to an excellent book on careers: Nourish Your Career, by Shahrzad Arasteh. Here's an audio clip of her interview with me, as it appears on her site. Writing for the book and having a wonderful conversation with Shahrzad were great experiences for me--and so much fun.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Guest Post for "Elegant Leadership"

Please see my guest post for Sylvia Lafair's blog, Elegant Leadership. Dr. Lafair is the president of Creative Energy Options and the author of Don't Bring It to Work:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Family Teamwork = Better Caregiving

Part 2

Author's Note: This series of posts was written in alliance with Carebuzz, a site that offers resources for caregivers. Please visit their site at

In the first post in this series we discussed building a high performing family team by keeping the information and conversation going to better serve the loved one. Here’s another recommendation for family caregivers on how to build a supportive team.

Whether in the workplace or in the family, use all the resources at hand. It’s important that family members discuss how to share responsibilities to achieve a common goal of providing the best care. Too often one person tries to do it all, quickly becomes overwhelmed, and then resents that no one else pitches in to help.

Because of geography, skills or financial resources, caregiving usually falls to one or two family members, and the rest are left to wonder what’s going on and why they’re out of the loop. They may want to help but don’t know how and hesitate to offer their services. The primary caregiver may be too stressed out to think about how to divide up the work or simply doesn’t want to ask others for help.

Neither the care recipient nor the family members benefits from one person taking on all the work. Think about a football team; each player or group of players has a different role, and all the roles need to work together effectively for the team to win consistently. The quarterback may call the plays, but if he tries to do everything himself, disaster follows.

In my own family experience, others have helped with everything from researching the medical condition or facility to supplying “insider” medical knowledge, doing laundry, running errands and pet sitting. Everyone has a talent that can help in sharing the load and making caregiving a more pleasant experience for all. Those at a distance from the care recipient can still accomplish a lot via the internet, phone or library. Those who can’t contribute financially can help with household chores or other work.

And remember that, in many cases, the care recipient also has gifts to offer to the family team. If they are still able to do things such as writing notes or making phone calls, those small tasks help keep them connected to others. When my mother was in a nursing facility, she insisted on filling out her own menus; it saved us time and helped her feel useful. The most effective teams use everyone’s strengths to the best advantage.

What has been your experience with using all the talents in your family to provide better care?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Family Teamwork = Better Caregiving

Part 1

Author's Note: This series of posts was written in alliance with Carebuzz, a site that offers resources for caregivers. Please visit their site at:

When helping mom and dad, siblings often face issues such as coordinating their medical appointment schedule, home care and health crises. Applying “team building” concepts to family caregiving can ease stress and greatly improve a loved one’s care.

In this series of posts, we’ll explore the major keys to building a high performing family caregiving team.

The first key is communication. Lack of it often trips up the family team and prevents the best care. Usually one person in the family is the primary caregiver and is often overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done. He or she simply does not have the time to keep all family members updated.

Absence of communication then sets up a situation where others make incorrect assumptions about the family member’s condition or the caregiver’s intentions. We have all seen what happens when people make assumptions, don’t bother to check if they’re correct, and then act on them.

Pretty soon you have a lot of needless worrying, finger pointing and anger that tends to get worse as time goes on. Some family members may completely withdraw from any caregiving responsibilities; others will form “cliques” within the family and criticize the main caregiver or other family members. None of these behaviors contributes to improved care.

In many situations siblings do not have a plan for keeping each other up to date. Because everyone doesn’t have the same information, they disagree on what constitutes “best care” for parents and experience dysfunctional behavior. So what can families do to prevent that from happening and improve communication?

It’s a good idea for family members to agree, ideally when the caregiving begins, on a means of communicating, the items to be communicated, and frequency. If family members are comfortable using the internet, there are great sites such as CaringBridge and GenerationsUnite where they can set up a page to update everyone. Family members can reply, ask questions, send greetings, suggestions and offers of help. Even Facebook and Twitter can be used to keep the information flowing, although privacy concerns must be addressed on public sites.

A less high tech method is for the primary caregiver to phone a designated family member at regular intervals or during a medical crisis, and have that designated person then call everyone else or set up a phone tree to complete the calls. The phone call method is simple and has worked well for my husband’s large family. Whatever the method, the goal is to continue the conversation with each other. In a later post, we’ll look at how to handle conflict when it occurs—and it will.

What communication tools do you use to enhance family teamwork?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Never Car Pool With Your Boss—
And Other Lessons Learned From
40 Years in the Workplace

Part 3

Part 2 of this series pointed out how, in relationships, “right” can sometimes be “wrong” and why we shouldn’t store up grievances. This installment continues the series of lessons learned from 40 years of participating in and observing workplace behavior—my own and others’.
Persistence pays off

When I was a child, my father often referred to me as “stub bor n”. Since being stubborn is not an especially attractive trait, I like to think I turned that quality into persistence. Most of what I’ve achieved in life has come through being persistent: not giving up even though all around me were saying “that’s enough”.

A few years ago while on the treadmill at the gym, I began talking to a woman on the machine next to me. After we discovered we had been in the same high school class, a light bulb when on for her, and she exclaimed “YOU’RE the one.” When I asked what she meant, she replied, “You’re the one who stayed in French class long after everyone else quit. We all talked about you and wondered how you did it.” In fact, by my senior year in high school, I was the only student in fourth year French. The teacher was beyond tough, with many unannounced tests and no mercy shown to those who struggled with the language or didn’t do their homework. Although my stomach was in a knot most days, I stuck with it.
 The payoff for my persistence was a scholarship to study in France for a summer, a perfect score on my French SAT exam, and permission to skip two years of college French. To my way of thinking, this was not a bad tradeoff for the sinking feeling when seeing those maps pulled down over her surprise blackboard tests. And after she became my private tutor (because I was the only class member), we actually developed a cordial relationship that was far removed from the tyranny she exhibited elsewhere.

That situation was just the first of many times during my career that I wanted to give up but kept going to achieve a goal. I’m certain that some parents and students at the high school thought I was being more stubborn (and stupid) than persistent. And maybe I was. However, I believe that persistence wins the day in most cases. The meek may not inherit the earth, but sometimes the quietly tenacious do.

Capture the lessons in every failure

All of us have no doubt experienced a lot of failures and bad times along the way to success. I know I have. What’s important is not how familiar you are with failure but the lessons you’ve learned from it. Capturing lessons and making appropriate adjustments to our actions are a key accompaniment to persistence. After all, if we persist in doing the same things in the same way, we will not move forward. This concept applies to organizations as well as individuals. Too often, organizations lose the knowledge gained through failure because they are so intent on punishing the guilty parties.

When things go wrong in our careers or in life—when employees quit, when we get fired or laid off, when the client or boss yells at us, when the project doesn’t meet expectations—it’s critical that we stay focused on:

What can I (or have I) learned from this experience?
How will I use this information to improve myself or a future situation?

The bad days will be forgotten but the lessons will become a part of who we are. When I was just starting out in my career and would become upset at a small downturn, I sometimes vented to a much older colleague in the next office. He would listen calmly to my ranting, then respond, “This too shall pass.” His response often saved me from giving up too easily or making myself ill from stress. I still say the phrase to remind myself when I’m in the midst of bad times that don’t seem to end. After I acknowledge the temporary run of not-so-great results, I ask myself the two questions shown above. This blog series is one outcome of my answers over the years.

Look for more lessons in part 4 of this ongoing series.