Super Cook: A New Twist on Recipe Search

I've neglected posting to the food category of this blog, mostly because I'm a terrible cook and spoiled by Google food. That said, I just got a reader tip about a fantastic recipe search engine called Super Cook: Recipe Search, Served Well Done. The site allows you to search for recipes based on ingredients that you already have in your kitchen. There's a box on the left called "Your Kitchen" that keeps track of the ingredients you list (the site says "for best results enter all the ingredients you have at home"). Recipes will then populate on the right-hand side of the page based on the ingredients you've listed. You can view all results at once or filter by Starters, Entrees and Desserts. Funny side note: I used "garlic" as a test ingredient and a few desserts actually came up! Lemon-garlic sorbet anyone?

To learn more, you can take a tour or read the excerpt from their About page below: "Most recipe search engines are very simple: a user types a query (like 'shrimp with garlic') and the engine returns a list of recipes which contain those words. Typically, the recipes returned will require many additional ingredients the user might not have at home. When coming across an interesting recipe, the user then either leaves out the additional ingredients or heads out to the supermarket to buy them. It is precisely this problem that Supercook aims to solve. Supercook returns recipes you can actually make right now with the ingredients you have."

Happy searching, cooking and eating!

Fun for a Friday

I'm taking a break from being so serious all the time. Here are some fun (hilarious, actually) websites that have nothing to do with your career, your bank account, or your life dreams. Enjoy! Passive Aggressive Notes (Painfully polite and hilariously hostile messages)

Sorry I Missed Your Party (Pictures of other people's parties from Flickr)

Fail Blog (Mishaps, mistakes and other unfortunate incidents captured and shared for the world to see)

Vice Do's and Dont's (similar theme - laughing at others' expense...I'm starting to feel guilty about that, but here it is anyway)

The Office Life (The ridiculous business jargon dictionary)

Daily Puppy (Your Daily Fix for Puppy Pictures) and Cute Overload (all kinds of animals, all kinds of cuteness)

Now I KNOW some of you reading this have your own artillery of funny sites and would like to give me (and others) a much-needed laugh by leaving them as a comment. Plus, comments on my blog make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Personal Image and Branding

With so much personal information floating around about me (and others) on the web, from blogs to Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, I've become increasingly aware of the messages I'm sending to the world. Right now they seem scattered, impermanent and miscellaneous. Who am I? - it's a question I will be asking for a long time. But right now the more appropriate question seems to be "who am I" to the World Wide Web and it's millions of users? To my boss and my co-workers? Of the abundance of available information about me, what is the central message that captures the core of who I am and who I strive to be? Enter personal branding. I've tuned my antennae to this concept recently, and wanted to share a number of resources with you on how to create and convey a powerful message of who you are and what you can deliver to this world.

Blog: I mentioned a site called Idea Sandbox earlier this week that focuses on creative problem solving and branding. Here's a post called "Elevator Pitch: YOUR TV Show Opening Narration" about boiling down messages you deliver about what you do (or what you are working on). Paul also put together a FANTASTIC resource called "Pave Your Life Roadmap" that walks you through simple exercises for identifying your passions, finding themes to arrive at core values, articulating what is important to you and what you want in your life, and bringing it home with action steps. This is one of the most simple (and fun!) approaches to life planning I've seen in a long time, and I find that no matter how many times I think, "I've already done that" - I come up with something new.

Update: Check out Dan Schwabel's Personal Branding Blog for more great resources. Thanks for getting in touch, Dan!

Article: The Brand Called You (Fast Company). "Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand." The author, Tom Peters, breaks his advice down to address the following key questions: What makes you different? What is your pitch? What's the real power of you? What is the future of you? The article is detailed and thought-provoking - definitely worth a read.

Podcast: Authors Christine Hassler (20-Something, 20-Everything), Alexandra Levit (They Don't Teach Corporate in College), and Lindsey Pollak (Getting From College to Career) chat about "how to establish and communicate your personal brand, why a strong personal brand is essential in the 21st century work world, and how to effectively self-promote without bragging." Listen to the Podcast.

TV: Donny Deutsch's Big Idea: What's Your Brand? "Successful people know exactly who and what they are - and the most successful brands evolve. Four cornerstones to brilliant branding and help you create your business and personal mission statement for success."

Book: Career Distinction - Stand Out by Building Your Brand (William Arruda). From the inside flap, "As a professional, your reputation is your most valuable career asset. Whether you're climbing the ladder at your current company or seeking a new job, in today's fast-paced work environment, you must proactively and continuously position yourself for success. Your credibility, visibility, personality, and personal style all make up your brand. Build and nurture your personal brand and you'll make yourself a must-have, can't-fail professional—and you'll do it without having to be someone you're not."

Arruda describes the following key elements to building a brand:

  • Brand yourself for career success
  • Determine how others perceive you
  • Develop your unique value proposition
  • Define your target audience
  • Tell your brand story
  • Express yourself clearly and consistently
  • Build and manage your online identity
  • Stay on-message and on-brand every day
  • Increase your "career karma

As for my brand? Still working on it. :)

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself: August

It's been a while since my last "Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself" list, so I present you with the next round (this is by no means comprehensive, as I can barely keep up with my feeds):

Read any great blog posts lately? Do tell!

Beyond Books: New Ways to Teach Yourself New Skills

I love to read. At any given time, I've got three books in progress (most related to business and personal growth), and I religiously read two newspapers a day (the NYT & WSJ). When I was growing up, I always ate my breakfast while reading the back of a cereal box. Now I read (and highlight) at the gym on the elliptical, while walking my dog, and while eating breakfast. For me, reading is how I teach myself new skills (with a healthy dose of practice, of course). For some, reading is enjoyable and educational - for others, a complete chore. For those of you kinesthetic, tactile and visual learners who prefer to learn by watching and doing - there are a number of websites to help you do this. The New York Times Magazine ran an article on Sunday about this very topic, called "Tiny Talents: Instruction, especially in trivial skills, is one of the Web's great giveaways."

The following are popular instructional sites mentioned in the article to get you started:

Howcast: "Cool how-to videos and guides from cutting-edge filmmakers, savvy experts - and you!"

eHow: "How to do just about everything"

WonderHowTo: "Video instructions, tutorials and hacks"

Instructables: "The World's Biggest Show and Tell"

SuTree: "Learn How to Do Anything on the Web"

VideoJug: "Life Explained. On film."

ExpertVillage: "How to videos, free clips, and more"

And of course, there is always YouTube (motto: "Broadcast Yourself"). Happy Learning!

Myers Briggs and Personal Updates

The other day I was in a career development meeting at work discussing how to help young employees find job roles that fit their innate talents and strengths (for many of them Google is their first job). We got to talking about assessments and someone excitedly asked me, "So what are you??" I replied, and we suddenly had a shared understanding of each other. I offer you two links for a free Myers Briggs assessment (big thanks to Megan for sharing them with me) to help you figure out your type and what it says about your personality, work style, and relationships:

The Test (takes about 10-15 minutes):
Guide to help you interpret the results:
Wikipedia's 'Myers-Briggs' Type Indicator page:


On an unrelated note, but for the sake of accountability, here are two updates on my Big Scary Hairy Goals:

My marathon training is going very well! I am currently in Week 7 (of 16) - almost halfway there. My biggest accomplishment to-date was finishing the 25K Angel Island race (16 miles) - a gorgeous, VERY hilly trail race around the San Francisco bay with views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. So far I've realized the physical mileage isn't all that different from week-to-week - it's really all about my mental endurance and trying to focus on enjoying the long runs. I've also learned that anything is possible! A year ago I would be shocked to hear myself casually saying I ran 16 miles last weekend - it feels great to have so many mini-accomplishments leading up to the big race in October.I also bought myself some rockin' personalized Nike shoes with my motto, "Live Big," sewn into the back. To go with them, I bought an Apple/Nike+ sport kit (iPod plug-in and pedometer) that helps me keep track of my pace and time - my own mini-coach!

The 30-Day No Car Challenge is also going very well! I'm keeping a journal of my adventures (no guarantees that it's any more exciting than watching paint dry or Olympic fly fishing). The biggest surprise so far is how much I'm actually enjoying it - I feel so active and empowered! The weather has been fantastic and starting and ending the day with a little extra exercise and movement outdoors feels really refreshing. I'm still a little scared of creepy trail lurkers, but slowly getting over it (and not riding or roller-blading in the dark). I'm also considering buying a folding bike.

Friday's Food for Thought

Life is a classroom. We're always being offered lessons that help us evolve into a better version of ourselves." -Cheryl Richardson, Body + Soul Magazine

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave." -Rainer Maria Rilke

I love both of these quotes because they highlight the idea that "problems" are actually gifts we are given to help us learn, evolve, adapt, and grow. Without challenges there would be no triumphs; without valleys there would be no peaks. Take this moment to celebrate and embrace the challenges you are facing - per the tagline of this website, no one ever said life was supposed to be easy. :)

Credit Card Confessions: Part 2

In my earlier post, Credit Card Confessions Part 1, I told you about my recent debt development. I mentioned the feeling of being at the bottom of the pickle jar - now it's time for me to share my plan for climbing out, in the hopes that some of this information may be useful to you. How I Plan to Get Out of Credit Card Debt:

  1. Face the Facts First, I'm going to look at my finances line-by-line and figure out exactly how much I owe. I'm looking at a period of two months - my current credit card statement and the one after so that I don't wind up in the same predicament next month. I'll add the current outstanding balance with my essential bills and expenses to get the total figure of what I owe.Next, I'll figure out exactly how much money I have coming in (income, reimbursements from work, IOUs, side jobs).Finally, I'll calculate the difference. That's the debt amount - the part I will need to get creative with.
  2. Cut Back to Only Essential Expenses For the next month I've promised myself to spend only on essential items - namely bills and food - and cut back on major purchases and expensive meals wherever I can. I'm trying to be conscious of my "latte factor" spending, and as you may have read on my last post, I've also committed to a 30-Day No Car Challenge, which is saving me lots of money on gas and car expenses.After one month, and when I feel like I'm getting back on track, I can slowly (and consciously) start adding things back in. This takes a lot of self-restraint for me and it's not easy to cut back so significantly, but it's more important to me right now to remedy the situation than give-in to impulse buys.
  3. Generate Additional Sources of Income We've all got hidden talents. Earlier this year I wrote about the "Craigslist Extra Income Dartboard" as a way to generate some extra cash. Last year when I was in a pinch, I came up with web development tutoring and website design as ways to generate extra income. In the last few weeks I've had several people interested in my services and I haven't even re-posted yet! If those jobs don't pan out, or I still need more money, I'll post again. Tutoring in something you are good at is a great way to get some extra income. Less flexible but more reliable would be actually getting a second job. I've toyed with the idea but just don't have the time, and I can make more money on my own. Plus, it gives me a chance to teach others and express my creative and technical sides - two things I love!A last resort for me is to liquidate some of my Google stock, even though now is not a good time to sell - the stock market is incredibly volatile and continues to drop. I'm going to do everything I can not to exercise this option (no pun intended!)
  4. Figure Out How to Pay Myself Back Getting out of credit card debt will feel great - and that's my first priority at the moment. But knowing that I've drained my Emergency fund and my car fund (both through ING direct) in the process doesn't make me very happy. My eventual goal is to save six months' worth of living and car expenses so that I don't feel so stressed about the prospect of possibly being out of work some day. This will take a lot of commitment and planning on my part - it won't happen over night.
  5. Reset My Financial Goals What got me into debt was short-sighted, impulsive, blind spending and decision-making. What I know will get me out (and then some) is planning for my future and figuring out what I really want to save up for and spend money on. Saving up for things I will remember buying and doing - like traveling. When you are setting financial goals, set them for 1, 5, 10 and 20 years out. Make sure they are time-bound, specific (including numbers wherever possible) and measurable. For example, "Spend two weeks in Greece by Dec. 2009, at an approximate cost of $5,000 (wild guess)."
  6. Reflect on What I've Learned Life is a classroom. We make mistakes so we can learn and grow from them, and hopefully avoid the same ones in the future. Take some time to learn from your current financial situation - what are you doing well? What could you be doing better?

Self-Reflection Inquiries

From time to time, I like to reflect on questions that help me examine how I can get through my day (and life, for that matter) with more ease and less stress. Today's questions (I recommend you set aside 15-20 minutes of quiet time): How do I get in my own way?

If I stopped (behavior/s above), what would that allow for?

What's one action could I take moving forward?

In awareness we have a choice - instead of mindlessly moving through life, it means becoming aware of our behavior in the moment - noticing and make a conscious choice about whether to continue. When it comes to limitations we create for ourselves, being aware is the first step to actually getting out of our own way.

My 30-Day No Car Challenge

The world is trying to tell me something. Gas prices in my area are over $4.50/gallon, I recently reduced my commute from three hours a day to ten minutes, I'm financially in the hole, and as I mentioned earlier this week my car broke down and costs twice as much to fix as it's worth. Suddenly, like hitting myself over the head with a frying pan, I'm getting the following messages: reduce your consumption! save the planet! get moving! enjoy the outdoors! don't incur more debt! get creative! And so, folks, I am entering my 30-day No Car Challenge. What's the point of a 30-Day No Car Challenge? Before making any rash decisions like donating my car, buying a new one, buying a used one or sending it up into gold station-wagon heaven (aka the junkyard), I need some time to think about my decision and figure out if I really can live without a car - something I never before thought possible. I'm going to experience a whole new feeling of freedom and dependency at the same time (more on that below).

How the heck am I going to make it work? I live three miles from work - my plan is to roller blade in the morning after I go running (build up legs of steel) if I know I'll be coming home after dark and will be getting a ride. On days where I know I can leave before dark, I'll ride my mom's bike.

What are the drawbacks?

  1. My rollerblades are 12 years old, they don't have brakes, and the wheels are so worn down that they are pointy where they hit the ground.
  2. I'm afraid of riding home (bike or blades) in the dark; especially since the way home from work is through a trail and under a dark bridge.
  3. On that note, I'm afraid of taking the same path every day (paranoid about stalkers)
  4. It becomes a lot more difficult to carry things without a car. Still trying to figure out the best way to go pick up my dry cleaning.
  5. I'll have to rely on others and ask for rides more often
  6. It will be harder for me to spontaneously see friends (unless they come to me or live close).

What are the benefits?

  1. I feel freer already!
  2. I've consolidated my three big heavy bags into one and it feels great!
  3. I'm getting a built-in workout and enjoying the outdoors
  4. I've already saved $200 by not renewing my registration or car insurance (they are both on some kind of latent plan)
  5. I don't have to worry about gas prices for the next 30-days - Muhahahaha!

I'm going to keep a little journal and check back in with you from time to time. Until then, wish me luck!

Credit Card Confessions: Part 1

This is painful for me. I am writing to admit (rather confess) that I’m in a bit of a financial pickle, sitting at the bottom of the jar looking up at the longest climb out I’ve personally ever faced. For the first time in my credit-card wielding life (eight years if you count high school), I can’t pay it off. I am carrying a balance and paying for it at 12% APR. As in, for the last two months I’ve lit two twenties on fire because I couldn’t pay off my credit card bill. I have debt in the way of a mortgage and student loans, but somehow credit card debt seems so much worse because of the outrageous interest rates and the fact that I could have prevented it. On one hand, the actual numbers are not that drastic, and yet it is the first time in my life that I really feel like I have let myself down financially.

I alternate between feeling confused and ashamed, and for weeks I’ve been in a bit of denial. It took me a while to even consider writing about this on my blog because I felt like a total hypocrite – giving you tips for managing money and making it grow while at the same time eschewing my own advice. But alas, I’m writing to you as a public confession in the hopes that you and I both can learn from how I got here and can avoid the perils of credit card debt in the future!

How I Got into Credit Card Debt:

  1. Failed to adjust to higher monthly expenses: When I bought my condo, my rent more than doubled. I should have cut my spending in half, and I didn’t. It caught up to me. I finally get the phrase “house poor” – I’m proud of myself for buying the condo, but not proud of my lack of attention to my spending habits since.
  2. Went into denial instead of reacting and adjusting: I didn’t have to look at my bank statements to know I was spending more than I was earning. But in a state of denial I just kept going, assuming I am resourceful and will figure something out. But there’s no such thing as being resourceful and in denial at the same time – I essentially procrastinated figuring out how to pay my bills until I had gone way overboard.
  3. Spent the same $400 about five times: I had a chunk of “shopping money” budgeted this month – and I spent it about five times. I just kept saying, “Oh – this will come out of my shopping money” over and over and over again, without actually keeping track of how much I had left.
  4. I didn’t properly stock my Emergency/Car funds: My 14-year-old car needed about $1,000 of work this month. I have a savings account for car-related expenses, but it only had $300 in it. I should have accounted and planned for the fact that every year I spend at least $1K-$2K on car-related bills (registration, repairs, insurance) and budgeted for it. And to make matters worse? My car needs a new transmission that costs twice what the car is actually worth. Given my current financial state, the LAST thing I want to do is buy a new car and get saddled with more debt and monthly expenses.
  5. Counted my chickens before they hatched: I planned on selling some of my Google stock this month (no, I’m not one of those early employees who is a gazillionairre). I figured that what I planned on selling would be worth about $2K. The day our trading window opened (in layman’s terms the first day in three months that I’ve been allowed to sell) it dropped about 40 points, making a sale worth almost nothing given my strike price.
  6. Some miscellaneous reasons: Ate WAY too many expensive meals with friends; spent money on gas and travel that while I couldn’t really avoid, I also didn’t compensate for; and spent small amounts of money that seemed harmless at the time on a really frequent basis (David Bach calls this "the latte factor," I call it "the safeway factor").

Curious about how I’m going to get out of debt? So am I. Check back for ‘Credit Card Confessions: Part 2,’ where I’ll tell you my plan for climbing back out of the pickle jar.

Ten Books that Changed my Life

Just about every blogger has one of these - a list of books that changed their life. And I can understand why! You can really learn a lot about someone from a list like this, AND you get to benefit from knowing what books that truly inspired a transformation in another person. This was really hard for me to narrow down and I'm sure after I hit "publish" I'll think of five I missed, but without further ado, here are ten (of the many) books that I can honestly say changed my life: The Big Picture (Life, Happiness and Goal-Setting) 1) How to Be, Do or Have Anything - Lawrence Boldt - This is by far the most influential book I have ever read (and re-read), partly because of the incredibly effective exercises at the end of every chapter that encourage you to think about everything from personal values to visioning and specific goal setting. Along with emphasizing the importance of writing goals and figuring out what you want, Boldt really takes you through a mental transformation toward believing that anything is possible, eliminating negative self-talk and using the power of self-fulfilling prophecy to achieve your dreams. As my life changes, different concepts and exercises resonate in new ways - it's definitely a book that I will continue re-reading for many, many years to come.

2) Zen and the Art of Happiness - Chris Prentiss - This book is small but it packs a punch! Really helped me focus on seeing the positive in all areas of my life, realize that EVERY single "problem" is a learning opportunity, and that happiness is found not in winning or achieving goals but in gratitude, enjoying the process of life and appreciating the nuances of every day joy. This book taught me that happiness is everywhere, in every moment, and I it's up to me to seize it!

Organization and Productivity 3) Getting Things Done - David Allen - I love this book!! In my opinion, it is the pinnacle of organization, time-management and productivity concepts. I feel so much more in control of my life and all of my various to-do's after having read it and making the systems Allen suggests my own. The biggest takeaway for me was that my mind should be used for high-level thinking and processing, not storing items in a to-do list. It helped me remove the clutter in my brain by developing systems for capturing next actions and reminders so I could free it up for more exciting and creative things (like writing this post!).

4) Organized for Success - Stephanie Winston - Not quite as impactful as Allen's book, but it comes close. Great tips and anecdotes from top executives on efficiency, time management and getting organized. Executives have to be ruthless with their time, and this book shared some of the best kept secrets about how they do it (aside from having ten personal assistants).

Money, Finance, Retirement Savings 5) Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki - Inspiration for how to live your life financially and approach money from an entrepreneurial mindset. This book helped me realize how easy it is to get stuck in the rat race if we spend our life accumulating liabilities (like fancy cars and big houses) and not building assets (particularly ones that generate automatic and secondary income). For another great read in this vein, check out The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris.

6) Smart Women Finish Rich - David Bach - Practical tips about saving and being smart with your money; includes values exercises and financial goal-setting, which I find critical to long-term financial success! If you are not a woman don't fret - he wrote very similar books for couples and those getting a late start.

7) Naked Economics - Charles Wheelan - Funny and simple breakdown of concepts that I used to find really confusing like the stock market, inflation, the economy, and the Fed. Especially salient during economic times like these! See my longer review here.

Relationships 8) Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus - John Gray - I resisted buying this book for so long because it sounded super cheesy. And I have to admit I was somewhat embarrassed when I took it to the cashier to purchase. But the points the author makes came in handy almost every day when I was in a long-term relationship (and continue to resonant in other areas of my life too). I really felt like I had a new understanding for how the sexes communicate and react to each other - and can't believe I waited so long to read it in the first place!

9) Difficult Conversations - Douglas Stone, et al. - Taught me the value in approaching conversations from an objective, third-party perspective rather than a biased, emotional one. Rather than starting a difficult conversation with an accusation ("you always...!") I learned to state the facts first, explore with the other person, and come to a solution together.

Diet/Nutrition 10) Get with the Program - Bob Greene - This book transformed the way I think about diet an exercise in a way that didn't seem restrictive or "trendy." It's a very well-balanced, logical program about how to eat a balanced diet and steadily incorporate exercise in a way that is sustainable over the long-term. While weight loss isn't a focus of the book, it certainly led to a significant drop for me!

Curious about the other books I've read (literally almost one a week) that didn't make the list? Check-out my library at Good Reads (still a work in progress) or my personalized Amazon store.

So what about you? What books make your Top 10?

The Power of Informal Interviews

When people hear the word interview, there is generally cringing and slight nausea that follows. So bear with me while I share a new concept with you - the informal interview, where the pressure of your future is not on the line. These interviews are more like conversations (albeit one-sided conversations where you ask most of the questions), and can come in really handy for learning, relationship-building, decision-making and goal-setting. Behold the power of the informal interview! Five Types of Informal Interviews to Get You Started Experiment with informal interviews by setting up lunches, 30-minute phone calls, coffee, etc. with at least three people in each category you choose.

  1. New Job or Job Role - One of the best ways to "ramp up" quickly (as we like to say in corp-speak) is to talk to other people who are already doing your job and ask them what advice they have for you, what they've learned, what they wished they knew when they started, and so on.

    For example, I recently got promoted to a management position - yikes! - and it's completely different from my previous role as an "individual contributor." I've scheduled lunches with three managers I respect and admire to get their advice, ask questions and help strengthen those relationships. And one day maybe someone will be scheduling me for one of those lunches!

  2. Big Goals - As you know from my last post, I am going to run the Nike Women's Marathon in October. I'm training by myself rather than with a group like Team in Training, and for that reason I see informal interviews as critical to my success (in addition to reading, online research and getting support from friends). As I encounter other women who have run marathons (including a number of my friends - you know who you are and I will be in touch soon!), I've been making an effort to sit down with them and get advice on things like biggest physical and mental challenges, running trails, diet/nutrition, and most importantly what the experience meant to them (to help motivate me and keep me going).

    This type of informal interview also has two side benefits: a growing support network, and even more iron-clad accountability as you share your goal with more and more people.

  3. Future Career Options - This is different than #1 because it's a different career-path and/or company than the one you are currently in. As you meet people through friends, at conferences, at Starbucks - ask about their job. If any jump out at you as particularly interesting, follow-up and schedule some time to sit down with them and learn more about what they do.

    For example, I've always secretly wanted to be a financial planner - much different than corporate trainer. Interviewing people in that type of role helps me figure out what I like about it, and how I might be able to incorporate it into my future "dream career" as a speaker/author/coach. Before I jumped into the coaches training, I interviewed professional coaches. My next set of informal interviews will be with female entrepreneurs and some of my new coaching contacts who are running workshops for women - an idea I am absolutely enamored with!

  4. People You Admire - This one is pretty self explanatory. In a previous post, I had you make a list of people you admire and qualities they have that speak to you (things they have, what they are "doing" or how they are "being"). Spend more time with these people! Tell them you admire them! Ask them to be your mentors! These are some of your most important relationships because they can help remind you of what you aspire to do and how you aspire to be (while keeping in mind that you are unique and wonderful in your own right, of course).
  5. Help with Decision-Making - Sometimes as great as they are, your friends and family don't have enough information or background to help you through a big decision. For this reason, it's helpful to interview people on BOTH sides of the coin as a way to gather information. More facts = more informed decisions. You're not necessarily asking for advice here - you're asking about what decisions and trade-offs the other people made and how satisfied they were with their choice. If specific advice for you comes out of the conversation, that's a bonus - but it's not a requirement.

    About a year ago I was having a big inner struggle trying to decide whether to take the dreaded GMAT and apply to business school. The "I really should" half of my brain was saying "go to business school! increase your earning potential! learn more about strategy and economics and yada yada yada!" The "I'm not ready" side was saying "stay at your job! you're learning just as much here! give it a few more years! dont you dare make me re-learn math, damnit!" I was torn. So I scheduled about six lunches with managers and MBA Interns at my company who had gone to Business School and ones who hadn't. I asked each about what helped them make their decision to go (or not to go), and what resulted from it (both good and bad). I interviewed people who went in their early twenties, and people in their early thirties. I interviewed current students, both full- and part-time. All of the interviews were incredibly helpful - without them interviews I might still be playing ping-pong with the decision and staring at my unopened GMAT books.

So there you have it - five types of informal interviews to get you started. In addition to the practical benefits, these provide a great way to strengthen your relationships (old and new) and learn interesting things about other people. Your interviewees will enjoy sharing their wisdom, and you will learn new things in the process. And don't forget to send them thank-you notes when you're done!

Big, Hairy, Scary Goals

Big. Hairy. Scary. Goals. There - I said it again. You all know what I'm talking about - those goals that seem so big and scary that you can barely bring yourself to admit that they exist somewhere in that brain of yours. As I continue along through my training to become a life coach, I've made some personal observations about BHSGs:

  1. Saying them out loud is often the scariest part
  2. Scratch #1. Saying them out loud to another person (who is awake and listening) is even scarier, but it makes the goal start to feel REAL (and even possible)
  3. When someone first tells you a goal of theirs, especially a BHSG, congratulate them! Say nothing about practical considerations or what might stop them - so often those are about your baggage or perceived limitations, not theirs.
  4. The bigger and more important (in a life-fulfilling kind of way) the goal, the louder and more insistent my "Sabateur" becomes. Sabateurs are those voices that try to bring me down or protect the status quo with phrases like "you're not thin/rich/experienced/smart/etc enough" or "you can't do that - who do you think you are?" Our Sabateurs do not define us - we can choose whether to listen to those voices or not.
  5. If you stop referring to your goals as scary, it starts to take the scariness away. "Scary" just means the opportunity is big enough. Our language creates our reality.
  6. Setting BHSGs and working toward them feels REALLY good. That does NOT mean it feels easy or effortless. It feels really good to stretch and expand beyond what I originally thought was possible for myself. It feels even better to learn, grow, and inspire others in the process. And it feels good to fail and know that I can pick myself back up!
  7. So many of our limitations in life are limitations we place on ourselves. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

And with that, I will tell you (with trepidation, trembling hands, and a healthy dose of excitement) that I am going to run the Nike Women's Marathon in October.

Going Beyond the To-Do List

Apologies for the delay between posts - I've been on vacation in the coastal town of Seaside, Oregon with my family for the last week, trying mightily to avoid my computer and all things associated with it (though tell me to put down my iPhone and that's another story). In this post I want to share some ongoing lists I keep in addition to my daily and weekly to-do lists that help keep me organized.

  • Networking - I often meet people at conferences, work functions and social events that I want to follow-up with later or schedule lunch or coffee with. If I'm having a busy week it's really easy to forget about reaching out, so I keep a "networking" list that reminds me who I want to email or call at some point in the future (along with a reminder of where I met them and their contact info). This also includes bloggers I admire and co-workers I don't work closely with. If you're really committed to connecting with someone, schedule a calendar (or Jott) reminder for yourself to follow-up.
  • Ideas - It sounds obvious, but I like my ideas to have a home. Most of my best ideas come to me at night right before bed, so I keep a notepad in my nightstand. An ideas list is great because even if you don't want to act on it now, you can always return to the list later. This is comparable to the Someday/Maybe list that David Allen (GTD) talks about - things to be done at some point but not now, so they don't belong on your to-do lists and don't have a specific deadline (yet).
  • Big Purchases - A more specific use of the someday/maybe list, big purchases are items that you know you want but can't afford right now, or that you want to think about for a little longer to make sure they are worthy of your well-earned cash. I think the most effective way to use a "big purchases" list is to constantly re-order in terms of importance - this will help you focus on saving for those few things that are really important to you instead of splurging on random big ticket items as you run into them.
  • I.O.U.'s - I have an Excel sheet with a list of my monthly expenses, big purchases I'm considering and I.O.U.s (both what people owe me and what I owe them). You don't have to keep them all in the same place as long as you know where to look. Keeping an I.O.U. list is an important part of ensuring that your finances are up-to-date and accounted for. And if you "borrow" money from one of your savings accounts to pay for something like a credit card bill, write an I.O.U!
  • Unanswered Questions - My dad and I have a little game we play called "drop the bucket." The analogy is that there is an empty bucket in your brain with an unanswered question. If you drop the bucket into the well of your brain (like a wishing well), when it's ready it will come back up with the answer. So when you're looking for answers or ideas, write them down and "drop the bucket" and they will come up eventually. The point here is less about the game, and more about the notion that asking the right question is the hard part - once it's out there in the universe and you review it periodically over the course of days or weeks, your mind will begin to wrap around it and give you some answers. Keep your unanswered questions list somewhere where you can see it - and review it frequently. Another great use for this is to turn stresses in your life into questions: "I can't pay my credit card bill" becomes "How can I pay $X of my credit card bill by July 1?". Another one might be "I'm stressed out at work and have so many meetings and emails I can't get my important projects done" becomes "How can I prioritize my tasks at reduce my stress at work?" So you get the picture - ask the questions even if you don't have the answers (especially if you don't have the answers) and over the course of a week see what comes up!
  • Your Life Checklist - Check-out my post on this if you haven't seen it already. Arguably the most important list, your Life Checklist reminds you of all your dreams, big and small, of what you want to do in this lifetime!

Help me grow this list of lists! As always, if you have ideas or keep lists that aren't mentioned above, please share in the comments :D

Webware's Top 100 Web 2.0 Apps

Deep down (or not) I am a big tech geek. I love, and I mean LOVE, fun web applications that make my life easier or just plain better. Some that I've already mentioned on this site include Mint, Jott, DailyPlate, Google Bookmarks, ChaCha and Doodle - to name a few of my favorites. So it pleases me greatly to share with you Webware's Top 100 Web 2.0 Apps for 2008. I haven't tried all of them, but here are some highlights from the list that you might find exciting:

Got a favorite Web 2.0 App? Do tell.

And P.S. - don't expect another blog post on Web 2.0 apps anytime soon - I used just about every single one I had up my sleeve in this post!

Workout Battles We Fight

I'm guessing that I'm not the only one out there who fights a little battle in my mind when it comes to getting off my butt and working out (I guess a lot because I don't like making assumptions about other people based on myself). It usually goes a little something like this: Me: I should really workout. Evil fitness self: Nah, you're tired. Good fitness self (who knows swimsuit season is upon us): C'mon - you really should. It will feel good. EFS: Nah, I'm too busy/tired/lazy. GFS:  Please! Just do it! You won't regret it! EFS: I'm parked. I dare you to move me.

It's not always clear who wins, but the battles are always the same. I've also found that I have to fight significantly more battles if I try to workout at the end of the day rather than at the start. Here's a quick comparison:

End-of-Day Battles: Tired, Busy, Work to Do, Dinner with Friends, Tempted by TV, Hungry, Other social events Start-of-Day Battles:  Waking up.

As you can see, there is only ONE battle I fight when I schedule my workouts in the morning. My alarm buzzes at 5:30 a.m. It's painful, but isn't waking up on work days always painful? I also found that I'm twice as likely to get up if I set-out my gym and work clothes the night before. This is referred to as a vital behavior from the book Influencer. "The key insight is that big problems can be solved by changing just a few behaviors. If you put all your effort on those two or three vital behaviors, you’ll be rewarded with dramatic improvements."

With that, I'll leave you with three questions: 1) What are the workout battles that you fight? 2) What are the vital behaviors that can help you fight those battles? 3) How will you reward yourself when you win? As I always like to say, celebrate early and often!

Pledges to Myself

Maria Shriver made an appearance on Oprah earlier this month, and she talked about the pledges she has made to herself on her journey of self-rediscovery. The pledges are incredibly inspiring. I've pasted hers below, and took a stab at writing some for myself. I would encourage you to do the same! And of course, add them to the comments if you feel comfortable - I love hearing what other people come up with.

Maria Shriver's Pledges:

  1. I pledge to “show up” in my life as myself, not as an imitation of anyone else.
  2. I pledge to avoid using the word “just” to describe myself. For example, I won’t say, “I’m just a mother,” “I’m just a student” or “I’m just an ordinary person."
  3. I pledge to give myself ten minutes of silence and stillness every day to get in touch with my heart and hear my own voice.
  4. I pledge to use my voice to connect my dreams to my actions.
  5. I pledge to use my voice to empower myself and others.
  6. I pledge to serve my community at least once a year in a way that will benefit other people.
  7. I pledge to ask myself, “Who am I? What do I believe in? What am I grateful for? What do I want my life to stand for?”
  8. I pledge to sit down and write my own mission statement.
  9. I pledge to live my own legacy.
  10. And I pledge to pass it on.

My Pledges:

  1. I pledge to give myself credit for how far I've come and permission to continue learning and growing from my experiences AND my mistakes.
  2. I pledge to honor my friends and family. To be patient, compassionate and non-judgmental.
  3. I pledge to find and appreciate the joy in life. The small things. The outdoors. The fleeting moments.
  4. I pledge to love myself more every day.
  5. I pledge to put myself first and make my own happiness and vitality a top priority.
  6. I pledge to give back to others - to make an impact on people's lives.
  7. I pledge to live by example. To live with integrity so that my thoughts, speech and action are aligned with my true self.
  8. I pledge to express myself fully by doing what I love.
  9. I pledge to serve my community at least three times a year.
  10. I pledge to acknowledge that pain and discomfort are necessary for growth and new experiences.
  11. I pledge to see the beauty in all things and all people.

And from one of my closest friends (who inspired this post):

  1. I pledge that I am not my past, nor my future, but my present - make the most of it
  2. I pledge to slow down and be present
  3. I pledge to love and care for myself as much as I love and care for those I hold most dear
  4. I pledge to demonstrate interconnectivity with the universe by caring for, in my own special way, my fellow beings
  5. I pledge to never stop learning, growing and challenging myself - especially when things are comfortable
  6. I pledge to find joy in the everyday
  7. I pledge to forgive and let go...
  8. I pledge to never stop having fun!
  9. I pledge to never stop believing in hope, goodness and fairy tales
  10. I pledge to always be passionate and to strive for wisdom

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself!

I've got lots of budding blog posts floating around in this head of mine. I also work a full-time job, practice coaching, play coed softball, go to yoga, work-out in the mornings, read the newspaper, hang out with friends, and watch cheesy reality TV shows. Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes (lots of times) those ideas land in the blogosphere before I've had a chance to write them. Hence, today's "Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself" list (also a sneak peek into some of the other the blogs I follow in my Google Reader). Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself List (May 2008):