"Skills are Cheap, Passion is Priceless" (Job Transition Part Two)

I owe you a "Part 2" post on how I got my new position as a Career Development Program Manager at Google. Trust me - I've been working on it. But I started writing about all the various networking and interviewing tactics I used in a mile-long list of tasks, and I bored myself to tears. I've been wracking my brain, struggling mightily to figure out how to boil down all those steps into something useful for you. The lightning bolt of inspiration, and an answer to my boring blog post woes Then Grace Boyle emailed me about participating in her joint "Crush it" contest with Gary Vaynerchuk, of WineTV fame. Sparks flew when I read the prompt: "Skills are cheap, passion is priceless."

YES. Yes, yes, yes! Deep down, I *know* that passion is what got me my new job. It's not the handy 9-square one-sheeter that I used for interviews (don't worry, I still created a template for you).

I've got big plans...and they don't start with self-censorship The contest prompt is to "write a blog post about how you’re crushing it, your dreams to crush it, and what this phrase means to you." My natural inclination is to be humble and thank everyone else who made the transition and new job possible (including you, universe). But that's not helpful right now. This post is about CRUSHING IT. So I'm going to step out of character for a minute and tell you how I'm crushing it and how I plan to crush it even more tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on.

In Part 1 I wrote about the anxiety and unhappiness I developed after getting clear on what I really wanted. I felt sick as I watched from the sidelines as my true path passed by. From the day I started coach training in Dec. 2007, I knew my calling was to help people make their lives easier, one simple, practical step at a time. And in doing that, to give people the confidence and encouragement they were hungry for, to help them live their lives in a big, full way.

From a spark to a brush fire After attending my first coach training class, I turned that spark of inspiration, that clarity of my purpose (and related activities), into a fire. I took coaching classes on my free weekends. I coached clients at night and in the early morning. I worked on 20% projects related to coaching and development that I tacked onto my existing 100% plate of responsibilities. I developed workshops for people because I had a vision and I wanted to share it. I did not ask for permission to help people. I just did. And by exercising my passion, my skills grew naturally. They had room to breathe.

When I didn't see an immediate direct link between my passions and my job description at work, I started a blog. I figured if I built it, they would come. If I could add value, in ways big and small, you would come. And honestly, the emails and comments I receive saying I helped or inspired you move me to tears. My "keepers" bucket is so full that I get overwhelmed. And that's how I know that I'm crushing it.

Because I feel myself crushing it. Next week I start my job - and guess what? They want to pay for my coaching certification and let me spend time on that as part of my role. I'm going to get Myers Briggs certified and facilitate classes, and work on developing other very cool career development programs. Somehow I landed my dream job, and I'm just waiting for someone at the top to find out that they are PAYING ME to do what I love. But the funny thing is, there is a need for me to do what I love at Google. So everybody wins. And that is called crushing it.

Who me? Yeah. YOU. Just so you know - I don't walk around floating on clouds all day - yet. That is going to change. Especially if I want to continue crushing it at bigger and bigger levels. My inner critic says things like "Don't celebrate, the other shoe is going to drop any minute!" or "Who are you to say things like 'you're crushing it'?!"

And then I remind myself - playing small does not serve anyone (thank you, Marianne Williamson). It does not serve me, it does not serve you, and it does not serve the world. At first, saying I'm "crushing it" felt like playing dress-up - trying on a pair of shoes that were too big. Who, me?! Pfft! Part of crushing it is owning it and enjoying it. Whatever that means to you. So let me say it again: don't just crush it. Own it.

Skills are cheap, passion is priceless You want to change jobs? Start a blog? Write, dance, exercise, sing or play more? Make wine videos to educate the masses? Skills are cheap...and overrated. You probably have all the skills you need already. So face those obstacles and fears head-on and MAKE room for what you really care about in your life. Know that it won't always be easy, nor is it supposed to be. Get out there anyway. Step fully into what you want and crush it. We're waiting for you.


Here's a preview of the Job Interview One-Sheeter template I mentioned above (for those reading via feed-reader, click here). If you like it, do me a favor and give it a rating! As mentioned in a previous post, I am building a Google Templates empire. I've also added a tab to my top navigation where you can access all of my templates.

Triathlon: 5 Things I Learned From Panicking... then Finishing

Me with my Dad on our way to breakfast after the race. I would be remiss if I didn't write the obligatory "big personal athletic moment as metaphor for life" blog post after finishing my triathlon. So here I go. Contrary to the story I made up for many years that "I could never do a triathlon because the swimming would kill me," yesterday I completed the See Jane Tri event - a 400-meter swim, 11-mile bike and 3-mile run. And lo and behold I am alive to tell about it, as evidenced by this post.

But there was a moment, within 30 seconds of starting, that I honestly didn't know if I was going to make it to the other side of the lake shore, let alone the finish line. I seriously considered quitting the race, even after everything I'd put into preparing for it.

Eels in the lake were the least of my concerns Part of what I love about big athletic events are the months of training leading up to them. In fact, when I did the marathon last year (another impossible feat knocked down!) I found many of the long runs to be more enjoyable than the event itself - even the 23-miler I did alone, without any of the water stops or fanfare of race day. I appreciate the structure of a training schedule, the incremental "wins" week after week, and the commitment to completing a goal that I know will expand my beliefs about what I am mentally and physically capable of.

Where am I going with this? Given how much I love training, I was shocked yesterday when I got in the water for the first event and panicked. Months of swim training flew right out the window, as if I hadn't even put on (or looked at) a swimsuit in the last ten years.

Seconds after the starting whistle blew, limbs started flying and I started inhaling lake water. I was immediately out-of-breath (mostly due to anxiety), struggling even to dog paddle. Panicked, I tried swimming the way I'd practiced, but between trying to keep my eyes on the buoy and the other swimmers (both not advisable), my head created resistance, my legs sunk too low, and my arms started doing all the work.

I could not relax, and I was really scared. I thought about quitting and that made me sad. Some way, some how, I would do this. No one said it had to be fast or pretty. So I backstroked my way around the course, calmed by focusing on the expansive empty blue sky amidst the commotion of other swimmers around me. I emerged from the water close to last. I didn't care. I smiled and ran to my bike just like the rest of them.

I reflected on the harrowing swim experience during the bike ride (glorious) and wrote the "takeaways" for this blog post in my head during the run (exhausted). With that ladies and gentlemen, I bring you:

5 Things I Learned from Panicking Finishing my Triathlon

  1. Remember to breathe (even if every other breath leaves you chugging lake water). Sometimes the accomplishment is not speed or grace - it is literally just surviving. Finishing. Remembering to breathe.
  2. When Plan A fails, and you're too panicked to find Plan B, trust your instincts. Had I done a backstroke since taking swim-lessons as an eight year old? No. But nothing else was working. Did I care that I felt ridiculous swimming (in what appeared to be a casual leisurely swim from afar) on my back while everyone else powered forward on their stomachs? No. Not enough to quit.
  3. It is all about the story you tell yourself. During a race (just as in life), there is a continual story playing in my head. It's almost like an ESPN commenter but in first person. "I am strong. I trained for this. I know what I am doing. I am panicked. I want to quit. But I am not a quitter." The narrative goes on. In my opinion, the ONLY way to successfully finish a physically grueling event is to narrate a mental story of positivity and success. I learned a great deal about this in the book The Non-Runners Marathon Trainer. When running, there is a huge difference between saying "my legs feel like bricks" versus "I am doing fine, and this is easy." It matters. The negative thoughts will show up, but it is important to replace them with something positive. For a great book on the psychology of success, read Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy (a new favorite of mine).
  4. Don't half ass something just because it looks hard. This is a subset of the mental narrative point: don't give up on something based solely on the anticipation of hard work. So many women would approach hills during the run and start walking before they even got there. They expected it to be hard, so they gave up before even trying. This is exactly why when I see a hill, I turn ON my burners. I run faster. Hills are mental. They are not that much harder - they just look like they will be. Same goes for life - when you see a challenge, put more heart into it. That's where it counts. You'll get to the top both ways, but feel a hell of a lot better about yourself by taking the second approach.
  5. Pay for the Day. Remember how good it feels. Rinse and repeat. My dad has a phrase, "pay for the day," that refers to building good exercise habits. Think of it like a small entrance fee (exercise) you pay for each day (to ultimately live a long, healthy life). It doesn't matter what time of day you exercise, so long as you "pay" at some point (of course you get some days off - but you catch my drift). Let me tell you something - "paying for the day" by doing a triathlon first thing Saturday morning feels fantastic. Nothing boosts my happiness and self-confidence like exercise, particularly training and completing a big event like that one. Figure out what your currency is - that vital activity that makes every day better (even if you experience resistance to start at times) - and remember how good it feels to pay for the day.

With that, I give another item on my life checklist a big, fat, hard-earned CHECK.

The #1 Theory to Enhance Your Dating Life - Guest Post by Ryan Stephens

Editor's Note: I was blown away by the response and diversity of opinions on my post last month: Dating - Do You Go For Quantity or Quality? With 43 responses, it was by far my most commented-on post to-date. Beyond the comments, the post sparked MANY conversations over email, phone, and in my head. I know, I'm weird like that. I've run several guest posts from guys on dating (Low Stakes First Dates by Benjy Feen and The Golden Rule of Dating by Jeremy Orr). Given that dating is a team sport (okay well it at least involves two people), I really appreciate the additional perspective - particularly from the opposite sex - that guest posts provide. I'm sure there will be more to come! The following is a guest post from Ryan Stephens, master of the universe - okay, well for now, the Top 10 Gen Y Blogs list and his marketing blog. Speaking of which, if you haven't yet voted for your favorite Top 10 Gen Y blogs for October's round-up, click here to read the ballot and submit your vote by choosing five blogs via email (ryanstephensmarketing[at]gmail.com). The deadline is Monday, September 28.

The #1 Theory to Enhance Your Dating Life - By Ryan Stephens

I don’t even know if I’m qualified to write this piece. I don’t read pick-up artist material (with the exception of The Game because I think Neil Strauss is an awesome storyteller and writer), though I’m familiar with some of the theories on dating and game that people subscribe to.

I’m not a serial dater, and I don’t sleep with countless women, but I have my own dating strategy - one that has worked for me on numerous occasions - and I’ve probably had more luck "dating up" (girls more attractive than me) than I should have. Also, everyone (both male and female) that I’ve shared this strategy with has increased their "luck" as well. What follows won’t necessarily work 100% of the time for everyone - but if your current approach isn't getting you the results you want, hear me out.

So what's my secret?

I like to call it the “Pretend You’re In a Great Relationship Strategy.” (Please think of a better name for me).

If every night that you go out to the bar, coffee shop, grocery store, art gallery, etc. you pretend you’re in a relationship it immediately takes away all the apprehension. Instead of being nervous and trying too hard to impress the opposite sex you relax, be yourself, and let everything develop naturally.

Besides, if you’re anything like me, you know that you get hit on way more often when you’re actually in a relationship. Why do you think that is? It’s because you’re happy, you’re smiling, and you’re not stumbling over your words or acting fidgety. You’re in a relationship, you’re happy, you don’t care!

Scenario #1: I haven't kissed a guy I've liked in 6 months (This works for BOTH male and females, but I didn't want to do two additional scenarios and make this post so long you don't read it.)

You’re at the bar with a couple of your friends and a guy is staring at you from across the room. You keep exchanging glances with him, and you see him get up to approach. You begin to feel your palms sweat, and you get nervous. He comes up to the group and introduces himself to everyone. He’s chatting with your friends and not paying you too much mind.

You wonder why he’s not paying attention to you since he’s been staring at you seductively all night long and start to get antsy. You interrupt him and he’s talking to your male friend, and you go on an incessant nervous rant asking him if he’s from around here, and what he’s up to tonight.  He smiles, asks your friends if you’re always like this, thanks everyone politely for the conversation and wanders back to his table.

It’s driving you nuts, so just as the lights are coming on you act like you have to go to the bathroom, scurry over to his table and take one more shot. You up your "flirting" game even more. He acts aloof and indifferent, but takes your number. You think you’ve succeeded, and wait the entire next week for him not to call.

Scenario #2: My ridiculously hot, smart, wealthy, witty boyfriend is waiting for me at home

Same scene, but this time when he approaches you lock eyes, smile, and turn your shoulder away from him. After all, your boyfriend back home probably wouldn’t appreciate you talking to this guy who’s been staring you down all night. Discouraged you’ve been paying attention to him all night, but not now when he’s trying to make his move, he taps you on the shoulder.

“Hey there. I was just asking your friends’ opinion on something, and you’re the tiebreaker. Do you mind?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. You’ve got 30 seconds before my bladder busts.”

While your pseudo boyfriend back home would be glad you’re taking yourself out of the situation, this guy is baffled that you’re not interested after the two of you have been exchanging looks half the night. You’re in control. Flustered, he spits something out semi-clever.

“Interesting. I’ll have to give it some thought.” You turn to go to the restroom, and say calmly over your shoulder, “It was nice meeting you.”

This time, he’ll be the one wandering back looking for you near the end of the night, and you can play it how you want. Tell him it’s late and you need to get home but that he’s welcome to call if he wants to hear your answer later. This time you won’t have to wait. He’ll call.

Using Your Newfound "I'm Taken Approach"

This is the first time I’ve ever penned relationship scenarios so try not to criticize them for their validity, and trust in the underlying message I’m trying to get across. Pretend you’re in a solid relationship when engaging with the opposite sex and you’ll have significantly more luck.

  • Oh my gosh he didn’t call. Who cares?
  • She blew me off after I bought her a drink. Duh. And why would you buy another girl a drink if you’re in a relationship anyway? (Buying girls' drinks is a lame strategy.)
  • He was a great dancer, why didn’t he try to kiss me? He was probably scared. Your imaginary boyfriend will kiss you when you get home.
  • I can’t talk to her, she’s a 10. You can talk to anyone you want without getting nervous because you’re already in a great relationship.

The most important thing to remember:

Unlike most "gaming techniques" this isn't about manipulation or playing games with someone else's emotions. It is about playing a game with yourself. You ARE that person, you're just employing a mindset that allows you to relax instead of getting nervous, uptight, and stumbling over your words. You're not being a phony, you're empowering yourself to let things happen.

You can't fake it either, you genuinely have to convince yourself you're in a solid relationship and none of 'this' matters because you're going home to that person at the end of the night. Think about it from this perspective: Anything worth having is worth working for. I'd venture most of us want someone who is self assured, confident and proud of who they are. Ideally this strategy ensures both!

What do you think? Could this strategy work? Am I full of it? Give it a genuine try (field test anyone?) and see what you think. If it works, I want to hear your success stories. If you crash and burn, tell me I’m full of it. That’s okay too. This is the first time I’ve ever shared dating advice, but if there’s any demand for it (tell us in the comments), maybe Jenny will let me share stuff like this with you more often.


More about Ryan: Ryan is the Director of Community for a Sports Media firm by day, and business consultant by night. He writes about relationship marketing, the cultivation of conversations, and the spread of ideas at Ryan Stephens Marketing. He likes to play any sport, drink cold beer, listen to live Texas Country music, get dominated by p90x, and is way too critical of movies. Sometimes he mistakes himself for a ladies’ man.

Are You Clogging Your Financial Arteries?

The following is a guest post that I was excited to contribute to ING Direct's blog, We the Savers last week. Re-posting here for those of you that didn't get a chance to read it!

"The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now." -Zig Zigler

Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Pike-Russell (Flickr)

Crisp, sugary-sweet bacon. Hot, deliciously salty french fries. Food so mischievously tasty that you close your eyes as you savor those few seconds of blissful indulgence. So bad...but OH. SO. GOOD.

Most of us know what foods are particularly bad for us, but at times we still fall into the trap of short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term health (we are, after all, only human). We know that fatty, greasy foods corrode and clog our arteries. But the catch is that they do it slowly. If there were instant "artery clogged!" flags or side pains for every french fry consumed, it might be easier to say no. But instead, we say yes - hoping that in 30 years our arteries won't be that bad.

So how conscious are you when it comes to spending money? How are your short-term habits contributing to your long-term goals? Are you clogging your financial arteries for the sake of fleeting indulgences?

As I've written in previous posts (See 3 Little White Lies We Tell Ourselves When Spending Money), we all have our financial weak spots. Here are some seemingly-innocuous habits that may be slowly clogging your financial arteries:

  • Regularly purchasing items you don't need or that you don't use
  • Spending money before you've earned it ("I'll be rich one day" or "I have a big paycheck coming, so I'll spend as though I have it already")
  • Spending large proportions of your income or spending excessively on things that don't ultimately enhance your quality of life (for example: spending $100 on drinks at the bar. Was it really necessary?)
  • Letting cable or cell phone companies over-charge you because you don't pay attention to your bills before paying them.
  • Justifying purchases you know you shouldn't make by saying "I'll figure out how to pay for it later"

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It is meant to get you thinking. What spending (or non-saving) habits of yours are not contributing to a healthy financial future? If you magnified the impact of each financial habit by 100, would the result be positive or negative? And in what areas should you give yourself credit for building a strong financial foundation?

For many of us, principles of healthy eating are easier to conceptualize than healthy spending. So the next time you find yourself about to make a stupid financial decision - yes, you heard me, stupid - stop and ask yourself what the nutritional equivalent would be. Ten donuts? A bucket of KFC? A quarter-pounder with bacon? And then ask: is it still worth it? Or to reference Zigler, are you trading what you want most (ie: financial health and security) for what you want right now?

Looking for a simple way to kick-start your journey toward healthier financial habits? Check-out this Simple 4-Step Budget template (created with Google Spreadsheets):

Martha Graham on Self-Expression

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open." Martha Graham, quoted by Agnes DeMille in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham

Photo Courtesy of Jean-Francois Chenier (Flickr)

Introducing Cath Duncan's Bottom-Line Book Club

Photo Courtesy of Chotda (Flickr) "For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.

Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don't get in real life -- wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves really stop and pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.

My gratitude for good writing in unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean. Aren't you? I ask."

—Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I've often joked that I'd be in heaven if only I could find a job where someone would pay me to read books all day. Less editor or reviewer; more distiller and summarizer. Hey - uber-wealthy people have personal shoppers, why can't I be their personal reader? I'd get paid to curl up by the beach with a book, a blanket and a cup of coffee; I'd zip through each one, type up some book notes, then report on key findings.

All joking, dreaming and scheming aside, Cath Duncan, a wise coach and blogger at Mine Your Resources, has figured out a way to do almost exactly that. She started a program called the Bottom-line Book Club that I think is just brilliant. Even though I'll admit that I'm a little jealous I didn't think of it myself, I'm happy to see Cath benefitting the non-fiction aficionados among us with her fantastic program.

How it Works: The bottom-line (heh, I just had to say it) is that each month Cath reviews a personal-development book. But you're getting a lot more than a simple summary - Cath publishes a 15-20 page PDF summary, interviews the author and creates audio files with additional highlights and thoughts. The program is great if you are too busy to read the selected book (or not inclined to purchase it), and because it brings a depth to each featured book that you might not experience by reading it on your own. For example, even though I've read Pam Slim's Escape from Cubicle Nation, I really enjoyed listening to the interview with Pam and appreciated Cath's audio summary of the key takeaways.

Cath's September selection is "The Flipside: Finding the Hidden Opportunities in Life" by Adam Jackson. In addition to the book summary package, Bottom-line Bookclub members also get daily self-coaching tips by email, access to the social network and bonus vouchers from Mine Your Resources (currently 20% off coaching sessions). Head over to the Bottom-Line Bookclub website to learn more.

Life Checklist Template

Earlier this week, David Cain of Raptitude.com posted a great comprehensive guide to creating a life checklist. As soon as I saw it, my template brain started firing synapses. With David's permission, I've created a Life Checklist Template to compliment his post. This is for those of you that prefer simplicity - if you want full-on-snazzy-life-list-social-sharing-web-2.0-glory, you'll probably like 43things.com better. Or use both! Here is a short summary of David's life checklist tips:

  • Make all the items clear, check-off-able things: There should be a specific moment when you can say “YES! I did it!” without question. Beware of "one chance only" goals, like "run the 2010 Boston marathon."
  • Make sure each item has real, personal significance, and isn’t just “This would be kinda neat.” Ask “What specifically do I want to do?” Remember, this list *is* your life.
  • Be audacious, but not unrealistic. Dream big, but consider the amount of time and money each goal will require. Add small items too.
  • Avoid goals that depend on luck or other people’s co-operation. Don’t necessarily omit items just because you’ve already done them.

Two other great sites to visit for inspiration:

In an effort to join in the fun, I started a life list too. I don't feel I've reached my creative "dream big" peak yet, but it's a start!

Click here (or below) to preview and use the template:

As always, if you like the template, please share and give it a rating!

Job Transition Part One: Awareness, Discomfort & Red Flags

This the first of a two-part post about my process for getting my new role as a Career Development Program Manager at Google (I start on October 1). Part One will cover the intention - getting clear on what I really wanted and the discomfort of knowing I needed to make a change. Part Two will cover the action - networking, sprucing up my resume and preparing for interviews. Before I get into any of the details, I want to start by saying this process was not easy (nothing worthwhile ever is, right?). It has been a roller-coaster, and I am going to share my emotional ups and downs along with the more practical steps I took to make the change.

Awareness: Planting Seeds for the "Ah-Ha" Moment

"You can't hit a target you can't see. You can't accomplish wonderful things with your life if you have no idea of what they are. You must first become absolutely clear about what you want if you are serious about unlocking the extraordinary power that lies within you."

—Brian Tracy, Maximum Achievement

Earlier this year, when I was still a people-manager, I developed a workshop to help my team write one-year professional development plans. I created the workshop because when I sat down with our existing development template, I felt uninspired. Even I, a personal-growth nut, had the goal-setter's version of writer's block.

So I developed a new template (see below for the version I created for Life After College) that would help my team focus on the big picture of their lives first - in every area. Only later, after dreaming about what we wanted to be, do and have in our whole lives, would we whittle those ideas down into tangible goals for the next year at Google.

Beyond the deep satisfaction of facilitating a process that helped others focus on their dreams and inspirations, the workshop impacted me in two major ways. First, it clarified what I wanted in my life beyond the company, which was primarily to be working with people; inspiring and motivating others through coaching, tools and workshops.

Second, it planted seeds (or perhaps more accurately exposed existing seeds) of tension and discontent. Tension between what I longed to do and what my day-to-day work actually involved, which had become much more project- than people-focused. I realized my current trajectory was not lined up with my long-term goals. From that point forward, the tension and discontent only grew stronger.

Ignoring the Red Flags...Until I Had No Choice But to Listen

"When you are living in harmony with your highest values and your innermost convictions then you enjoy peace of mind. If, for any reason, you compromise your values, or go against your inner guidance, your peace of mind is the first thing to suffer."

—Brian Tracy, Maximum Achievement

Mostly out of fear and comfort with the status quo (I had been on the same team for all of the 3.5 years I had been at Google), I did not spring into action after outlining my dream job. "It will happen someday," I figured.

But day by day, things got worse, not better. Mostly because of my own mindset. The work was still challenging and objectively interesting, but after my responsibilities changed as a result of two team re-organizations, it became harder for me to stay engaged, particularly when I could not connect my daily work to my big picture goals or core values.

At first I felt spoiled and absurd for feeling this way, particularly "in this economy," when so many others were without jobs altogether. But pretty soon, red flags started popping up. I became an emotional wreck. I was tired and stressed. Much to my humiliation, I cried more times than I would like to admit. At work. In meetings. Each time became the new lowest moment in my career.

I knew that something needed to change after the fifth, sixth and seventh red flag smacked me in the face. As I wrote in my journal at the time, I felt depleted of all energy, and a "a dreadful hum of anxiety permeated the background of my day-to-day activities."

Martha Beck on Physiological Reactions to Being "Off Course"

Our bodies are smart. They tell us when something is wrong. Mine was starting to throw a temper tantrum. The more I ignored it, the louder the sirens blared.

In her book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about how our essential self (your true personality, desires and identity) communicates through the body, given the dominance of our social self (the part of you that developed in response to society, family, media, etc) in our thoughts. Excerpt below:

"Because it takes enormous energy to shove the social self out of its command center in the rational, verbal part of your brain, the essential self usually 'speaks' through parts of your being that aren't under conscious control...

...When you leave your true path and start heading away from your North Star, your essential self will use any or all of its skills and tools to stop you. If your social self won't pay attention to mild warnings, the essential self has to get more and more dramatic...

...Your true path will take you through frightening challenges, saddening departures, angry resistance, and a number of other profoundly unpleasant experiences. But the part you experience en route to your North Star feels clean, necessary and right to the essential self. That feeling of choked hostility, or numb depression, or nauseated helplessness is a sure sign you're steering away from your North Star toward a life you were not meant to live. When you feel it, you must change course."

—Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star

They say that what we resist persists - in this case, my body and mind continued sounding alarms until I finally listened and took steps to change the situation.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about how I finally took action, found an open role, spruced up my resume and prepared for interviews.


To check out the Professional Development Strategy template I referenced earlier in the post, click here (or below) to copy the template into your Google Docs. If you like it, do me a favor and give it a rating! I am building a Google Templates empire... :)

Christopher Morley on Life & Individuality

The following two quotes are from a man named Christopher Morley (1890 - 1957), a U.S. author and journalist. Both struck me as powerful and worth reflection. "There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way." -C. Morley

Lady in Red (Courtesy of jstrategy on Flickr)

"Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity." -C. Morley

And just to balance things out with a chuckle on the topic of individuality:

Are you spending your life in your own way, or living according to someone else's?

Exciting Job Update! (Video)

The time has come! After over 3.5 years on the Training & Development team for Online Sales & Operations at Google, I'm going to be switching teams in late September. I've been really looking forward to the day that I could finally share this news with you (I wanted to wait until everything was finalized and communicated internally first). Watch the one-minute video to find out where I'm headed!

Unrelated Art Plug: The beautiful painting in the background was done by my dad - check out his website to see more of his work. He's selling baseball card sized paintings for $10 each if you're looking for something to spruce up your apartment (if you want to buy any, shoot me an email). Click here to see what the cards can look like framed.

Stay tuned for a follow-up story next week about the steps I took to get my new position. It wasn't easy, but it taught me a lot about myself and the job searching process (even though it's an internal transfer).

Dating: Do you go for Quality or Quantity?

I've been loathe to cover details of my dating life on my blog for fear that my FH (future husband) will read them and get scared away. Well, the time has come for me to share, so the future hubby is just going to have to be charmed by my transparency. The confession I am living in a dating desert. The last time I went on a third date? When my ex-boyfriend and I started dating in the fall of 2006. Did you hear me?? 2006! We broke up a year and a half ago, in March of 2008. I think I could count the total number of dates I've had since then on one hand (okay one hand and two fingers). It's not like I'm purposefully not dating - I actually want to be in a relationship.

This is not a pity party Before I continue, let me make it clear that I am not looking to psycho-analyze every possible reason I am single. And this post is NOT a pity party. I'm sure many people have been single for much longer than me.

Most of the time I really enjoy my singlehood - but a good cuddle on the couch would be nice too. I am not sorry that I've been on exactly two second dates in a year and a half (during one of which the guy told me, "Women are like cars - better to lease then trade up when you're done.").

I think the "dating desert" comes from my preference for quality over quantity. Some might call that being picky. I call it "I enjoy my life and someone has to be pretty cool (with chemistry) to fit in it." My time is precious. I have more activities I enjoy and people to see than free hours in the week. While I would love to meet someone, I'm just not that into the idea of artificially stuffing MORE activities or random people into my schedule with that as my sole goal.

Have you tried online dating?! Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, likes to ask me if I've tried online dating. Yes. Twice. And I lost my patience after three weeks both times. I hated the feeling of having a "dating inbox" that caused me to obsess over what was in it every day, often filling up with sleazy messages like "You look like fun - let's have some." I also didn't have any chemistry with the people I met in person. Someone will inevitably then add, "But I went on 30 bad dates until I met THE ONE!"

Call me crazy, but I don't particularly want to go on 30 bad dates in the hopes of having one good one. Is that so wrong? Is it also so wrong to think that instead of mechanically arranging a first date based on my online dating resume that someone will see me from across the room in a coffee shop, think I look interesting, take a risk and come say hello?

Is my approach unreasonable? I ask these questions not with frustration, but with curiosity. Am I expecting too much? Is online dating and scheduling less-than-exciting-but-hey-I-left-the-house dates just how it works these days?

I still subscribe to two newspapers (the kind that get thrown onto your doorstep, not delivered to your feed reader); I still like to hold books in my hand (no offense Kindle), and I still believe in chance meetings, locked eyes across the room, and the thrill of talking to someone in public by our own nervous volition. Call me old-fashioned, but that's just how I roll. Hopefully if I haven't scared the FH away by now,  he'll appreciate that.

Big Day for Brazen Careerist!

I'm happy to help spread the word about Brazen Careerist's re-launch today. Like many Gen Y bloggers, I credit Brazen with propelling me and my blog further out into the world by introducing me to dozens of talented, smart, passionate, interesting people. Most of my "real life" friends and family think of me as a crazy (yet lovable, right?) technology and internet freak, buried in a world of blogging, tweeting, feed-reading and deliciousing that is completely foreign to them. Thanks to Brazen and resulting conversations on Twitter, I've been able to connect with awesome people who get it. The Brazen community on Twitter is also how I met one of my now closest friends earlier this year. Priceless!

Brazen forms community around ideas and people - a powerful combination. It gives new bloggers a voice in an otherwise crowded blogsphere, allowing ideas to win out over massive marketing and promotion. As the Brazen team puts it, "Traditional career sites focus on experience, something young professionals just don’t have. In a world where experience wins, the best way to level the playing field is to empower your ideas."

So if you haven't already, head on over to Brazen Careerist to check out the new features (which include a fan feed much like Facebook, an improved profile page, and a spot to post your resume).

To quote the endearing and hard-working Ryan Paugh, Brazen's Community Manager, "We have a better chance of success if we help each other get there." Amen.

Survey Feedback Summary: New Ideas for LAC

To those who took the time to take my recent reader survey: let me start by saying you are all so smart and inspiring! I'm sure those of you who haven't responded are just as brilliant. After reading your feedback and kind words, I am more motivated than ever to take Life After College to the next level. During the last two years of blogging, I've been pretty laid-back and "fly by the seat of my pants" with my blog. Now it's time for me to look forward and be more proactive about where I want the site to go. In the next few months I am going to set some concrete goals for my blog and my business - which I will share (per your feedback!) as soon as I can.

Below is a summary of your feedback so that you know what to expect in the coming months. Many of your ideas sparked new thoughts of my own (added bonus!), which I also shared below.

Survey Feedback Summary

What you like:

  • Practical advice and tips that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine
  • Demystifying big issues like finance, career and organization.
  • Clear, conversational tone with a sense of humor (blushing over here)

Content and ideas you'd like to see:

  • Be open, share my experiences and struggles; make a point to write a couple posts a month that are more self-reflective (to balance out the informative posts)
  • Post on a regular schedule to help readers know when to expect a new post
  • "Jenny Blake Approved" list of products
  • Include more images & video
  • Share my vision on where the website (and my life!) is going
  • Real life case studies and/or "Ask Jenny" Q&A
  • Specific post ideas: more on dating & relationships, overall happiness after college, staying positive, simple living tips, strategies for making friends.

Some ideas that I had as a result of your feedback:

  • Create a "templates" page with a link to all the templates I've shared
  • Restructure my coaching services in a major way - package my coaching around specific topics and offer as one-off sessions (so you don't have to commit to a 3-6 month engagement). I will still give people the option of ongoing coaching if that's what works best for them.
  • "Ask the Readers" feature - I'll post a question or predicament from a reader, people can weigh-in in the comments.
  • Short, 5-minute video interviews with people living "life after college" - focused on struggles and triumphs in different areas of life
  • Weekly Life After College virtual tip collection buckets - with a chance to be featured in my book!
  • Site map of best articles by category

I don't yet know when I will implement all of the ideas above, but it makes me excited to think about all the ways to build out this website even further. If this summary sparks any new ideas or requests (or if you haven't yet had a chance to participate), I'm leaving the survey open for a while longer.

Thanks again everyone! Jenny

P.S. Speaking of feedback - check out the video testimonials I did for Rypple, a great Web 2.0 service that provides a clean interface for quickly gathering and reviewing feedback.

Budgets ARE Sexy...When Simple

As my friend J-Money (okay, we've never met in person but he cracks me up and I love his blog) would tell you, Budgets Are Sexy. But not all of them. Some are just straight-up Debbie Downers. Before I get into my budgeting secret and awesome template (pretty sexy if I don't say so myself), let me welcome all of J's readers from his post featuring my paycheck distribution graphic today - thanks for stopping by! J-Money: Earmuffs. Everyone else: I hate budgets. Especially ones that break spending down into micro-micro-micro categories like "Beauty --> Hair --> Highlights." Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of retroactively seeing exactly how I've spent my money, especially by sub-category.  That is useful. Trying to project spending in $20 increments on a monthly basis across 25 categories is not.

Enter my Four-Step Budget (I really should think of a sexier name)

As far as I'm concerned, your budget should include four numbers:

  1. Total Monthly Income
    1. This includes: paychecks, side jobs, anything that brings money into your bank account
  2. Total Monthly Must-Have Expenses
    1. This includes: Rent, utilities, cell phone bills, anything that will incur late fees; groceries
    2. This should also include automatic savings deductions. Saving is a must!
  3. Total Monthly Nice-to-Have Expenses
    1. This is more variable, but try to estimate. Are there things that you KNOW you spend money on every month like going out to eat? My "nice to haves" are things like getting my nails done, going out to eat, and my addictions: Starbucks and Amazon books.
    2. This does not include: one-off purchases (like a TV), major shopping trips or major travel (unless you take frequent weekend trips).
  4. Allowance (The Leftovers)

    1. This is where your math skills (or my handy template) come in. Subtract your total expenses from your income to get your allowance. This is the money left-over each month for you to spend as you'd like - shopping, weekend travel, etc. For bigger purchases, you may want to start a separate savings account and add that deduction to your "must have" column. Check-out my earlier post on Creating a Weekend Budget.

The 4-Step Budget Template

To make this four-step budget even better, I've created a detailed template (in Google Spreadsheets) for you to copy and fill-in each of the four sections. This is not a one-shot deal (although even going through the exercise once will give you a great head-start) - this is something you should continue revising over time as you monitor your spending. I'd love to hear how the template works for you if you give it a try. If you really like it, do me a favor and give me a rating on Google's Template Gallery:

Need Some Help Getting Started?

Let me also take this opportunity to make a shameless plug for my coaching services! I'm not a financial planner and won't be giving you specific advice, but I will help you address major problem areas, make sure your spending is in line with your values, set goals around money management and implement practical systems that will help you feel like you're in charge of your money (not the other way around). Click here to sign-up for a free 30-minute session.

Not sold on my template? J-Money has a great list of Best Free Budget Templates & Sites.

On Confidence & Unconditional Love

Confidence. It's a funny thing. It is not black or white, something I have or I don't. I want to proclaim I am confident as a rock! Sturdy to the core! Regardless of my circumstances! But in reality, my confidence is more fluid; a state of mind that fluctuates based on the circumstances of my life, situations I am in, and the people I am surrounded by. And for reasons unclear to me, my confidence tank sprung a leak this year. A big one. I distinctly remember, in ninth grade, making the conscious decision to be more confident. "Love yourself - you're all you've got" was my mantra. It felt great. As cliche and Seventeen-magazine as it sounds, I realized I had a choice: I could either love and accept myself...or not. And given such a choice, why on earth would I choose the latter? I was born with a certain set of physical and mental traits - and I knew at the time that if I didn't put my foot down and decide to love those qualities, particularly the ones that would never change, I was setting myself up for a life of misery. Plus, who was I to shrug off all the blessings I'd been given by moping about what I was missing? Despite the melodrama of high school, confidence seemed to come easier back then.

Fast-forward to today. I've got a lot going for me, and objectively - on paper - I know that. But as I hit my quarter-life crisis this year (man, I thought somehow I'd be an exception to that rule), my confidence seemed to sneak out of the house while I wasn't looking. Love yourself - you're all you've got? Pffft! Love yourself IF you are successful, productive, in-shape, and in a relationship. Somehow those became the new conditions. Confidence became something I rationed to myself - little baits and switches if I did something WORTHY of it. Lose ten pounds - feel great! Gain ten pounds? Banished from love; punishable by self-loathing. This wasn't just about looks - it was about my overall state of self-worth, which had somehow become contingent on external measures. So here I am now, re-committing to loving myself unconditionally again. Confidence hangs out on a sliding scale with its cohorts self-esteem, self-worth and self-efficacy (hover over the links for definitions), and this year while my self-efficacy remained high, my overall confidence hit a major low. Am I confident in my ability to be resourceful and achieve my goals? No question. But am I confident that I deserve love - unconditional, unqualified love, from myself and others? I've been typing and erasing different answers for the last ten minutes. The ONLY answer should be YES. Because I know that I am worth it. See? Progress already.

Thank You + A Small Request for Feedback

First: Thanks are in Order! Thank you to everyone who submitted a ballot for Ryan Stephens' latest list of Top 10 Gen Y Blogs. Life After College moved up a spot this month to #5! You know me - I spent the day sending exclamation marks and emoticons out to the masses on Twitter to say thank you - but I wanted to make sure I also shared the news here on my blog. Thanks for your continued support and vote of confidence. It means the world to me.

I also wanted to point you to Ophelia's Web, one of my favorite new blogs. This week, Elisa featured me as her #blogcrush (another fantastic series recognizing the great work people are up to), in a post that literally took my breath away. I am honored and humbled by the depth and complimentary review of my blog. Plus, I cracked up at being referred to as a "cupcake-loving brunette Elle Woods." Thank you Elisa!

Second: A Small Request for 5 Minutes of Your Time

After almost two years of blogging, I'm collecting some long-overdue input from you about what's working so far at Life After College and what type of content you want to see more of.

The feedback survey (created with Google Docs, what else?!) should take about five minutes to complete.

Please be candid - I am really open to feedback and want to make sure I am serving you as best as I possibly can. I've asked for name and email address so that I have the opportunity to follow-up, and for some basic demographic information so I know more about who my readers are.

Click here to get started. Thanks!

Do More

Do More, by John H. RhoadesExcerpt from the book Be, Compiled by Kobi Yamada

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Do more than exist, Live.

Do more than touch, Feel.

Do more than look, Observe.

Do more than read, Absorb.

Do more than hear, Listen.

Do more than listen, Understand.

Do more than think, Ponder.

Do more than talk, Say something.

A Day in the Life of My Paycheck

Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich offers great advice (with an accompanying video) on automating your money. I'm also a big fan of automation - my paychecks are direct deposited into three accounts, my two savings accounts are funded automatically, and major bills are paid without me having to think about them (or worry about whether I have enough money in my accounts to pay them). Below is a diagram of the life of one of my paychecks, with a big disclaimer: I am not a financial planner, I do not claim this is the right or only way to manage your money, and no two people have the same bills, loans or savings goals - so take this with a grain of salt.

My paycheck is direct-deposited into three accounts:

  • Savings (41%)
    • This is not actually where I keep my  true savings. Because it is linked to my checking and credit card accounts, I found I was often sneaking money out to pay other bills. Now I use my savings account to pay my mortgage and student loans. I like keeping that money separate from my discretionary spending because it is the most important. My rent is a high proportion of my salary because I own a home - hopefully it will be less for you! If you're wondering why my mortgage (36%) and student loan (3%) don't add up to 41%, I keep a little extra money in that account for padding (~2%).
  • Checking (33%)
    • My short-term savings accounts are through ING Direct, and they automatically withdraw 3% of my paycheck each month (I would really like to get this number higher). Right now I have two short-term savings accounts: my emergency fund and my car fund (for unexpected repairs). I would like to add two more for clothes and travel. Ramit has a great post on why you should also have a wedding fund (shocking how fast even "modest" weddings add up). Check it out: The 28,000 question: Why are we all hypocrites about weddings?
    • Much to my chagrin, 10% of each paycheck goes to Homeowner Association Fees.
    • The remaining 22% goes to discretionary spending and bills. This is the number I have to watch more closely, to make sure that I have enough to pay my bills and my credit card. (Check out my very simple process for coming up with your monthly allowance (the non-budget budget). I do not pay my bills automatically (especially cell phone bills) because they are often variable and I want to make sure I'm paying attention. Would I like more than 22% to spend on bills and fun? YES. Do I have a compelling enough reason to justify lowering my retirement savings? Not really.
  • Roth 401(k) (24%)
    • Because this diagram shows my paycheck after taxes, my retirement savings comes out to 24%. The actual deduction is 16% (of my gross paycheck). I am really proud of this number. Each year I try to raise it 1%, especially while I am young and don't have a family to support.
    • Update: Part of the reason this number is so high is that my company has a great matching program - this is the amount needed for me to max out my contribution (therefore maxing out my free money!). If the company match was lower, I would contribute to get the maximum match, then funnel the rest of my savings into a more liquid investment account.

So there it is - a day in the life of my paycheck. This system is definitely a work-in-progress, but so far I'm happy with the way things are going. As always, I'd love to hear your strategies for making money management (and automation) easier. :)

*Side note: I may be slow to reply to comments this week because I am having eye surgery today. Eeeek! Wish me luck!

Making the Shift from Resistance to Gratitude

Samantha Karol, the creative and thoughtful blogger behind Life is Like a Box of Chocolates, is running a guest post series around the topic of Appreciation. The topic, and her post encouraging all of us to participate, immediately spoke to me. I can't think of a better theme to rally around. My post kicked off the series on Monday, and am re-posting here on Life After College for anyone who hasn't had a chance to read it. For those of you who have already read or commented - thank you! And if you're not already subscribed to Sam's blog - I highly encourage you to check it out. There will be some great posts from great bloggers coming up as part of the Appreciation Revolution.

Making the Shift from Resistance to Gratitude

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my health, my family, my friends, my readers, my possessions and many other things in this world — often to the brink of tears. Today I am dedicating this post to appreciating the less obvious gifts in my life. My hope for all of us is that in addition to appreciating our blessings, we can take a step back and appreciate the blessings-in-disguise too. I appreciate the days I work so hard I can barely remember to eat lunch, because I feel important, and I enjoy my vacation days that much more.

I am thankful for the chance to lead big, scary projects at work, because it means someone believes in me and because those projects push me to grow in ways I couldn’t plan for or predict.

I appreciate my overflowing inbox, because it means my life and work are abundant, and that people care.

I was secretly happy when my car broke down, because it gave me the kick I needed to bike to work and enjoy fresh, cold air every morning.

I am thankful for my 4-month writers block, because it helped me reconnect with myself, my message and my work.

I am grateful for the low moments in my life; the moments of despair, sadness, and disappointment, because they enable me to be more compassionate as a listener, coach and friend.

I am thankful that I haven’t seriously dated anyone in a year and a half, because I’ve filled my time with incredibly enriching people and projects.

Heck, I even appreciate being whistled, hooted and hollered at, because one day that will stop.

I appreciate my imperfections, because perfection is boring.

I am thankful that I don’t have everything figured out, because where is the fun in that?

How I Stay Organized

I would love to start this post by telling you that I have mastered personal organization and productivity. Yes, I've read books. I've read blogs. I've attended workshops. But do I have it all figured out? No. Not even close. I do think there is value in sharing some of the systems that work for me - that way you can try them out if you want. I'm actually more interested in what you do to stay organized when it comes to tasks, emails, tweets, and everything else on your plate. Please share in the comments!

How I Stay Organized


  • Google Calendar
    • I have one for work, one for personal events, and one for birthdays. On the birthday calendar, I set each event to last all day (so it shows up at the top) and to recur annually. For really important birthdays, you can also set an email or text reminder one week in advance.
  • Appointments spreadsheet
    • I use this to track medical and car appointments. I record "last appointment" and "next due" along with key contact information for each provider.


  • Inbox
    • I am one of those people that uses my email as a to-do list. I do not ascribe to the "inbox to zero" philosophy if it means filing things I haven't finished or responded to just so they are out of my inbox. When I complete an action, I archive the email.
  • Enable "superstars" feature in gmail
    • Allows you to star emails with various symbols. I star an email when I need to respond to a person (rather than handle a task or read a newsletter); I "superstar" with an exclamation mark when I feel like I'm overdue on my reply.
  • Labels
    • I make sure the labels match the folder names on my computer and the categories in my Google Bookmarks (which I use so that I can access my bookmarks from any computer). I name frequent or important labels with numbers first (ex: 1 - Life After College).

Capturing ideas, notes, tasks:

  • Small Moleskin notebook
    • For personal use - capturing to-do lists on weekends, shopping lists, blog ideas, contact info, other notes when I'm on the go.
  • Work notebook - science lab style.
    • I primarily use this for taking meeting notes at work inside the notebook (duh), mostly so that I'm not distracted by trying to take notes on my laptop.
    • At the start of every week, I place a big post-it on the cover. I draw a line down the middle. On the left I list key work priorities, on the right I list personal tasks. When the week is over or I finish everything, I stick the post-it inside the notebook and label it with the date.
  • Todoist.com
    • A great online tool that allows you to group tasks by projects. I use this when I get overwhelmingly busy or am working on a complex project. Otherwise I find that a simple pen, paper and post-it works better for me.
  • iPhone
    • When I'm on the go, I email myself reminders and websites to check out. I used to use Jott for recording voice memos that were transcribed as emails, but I haven't since they started charging (even though it is a small fee and probably worth it).

Other Online "Collection" Buckets:

  • Keepers File
    • From my recent post: I have a Google Doc that houses "keeper" emails that make me smile. Instead of archiving them in email, I copy and paste into a Google Doc (with the name of sender and date) so they are all in one place.
  • Things to read later:
  • Networking Spreadsheet
    • This might sound mechanical, but I keep a list of people that I've scheduled calls with or that I know I want to reach out to. If someone reaches out to me, I also add them to the list. It helps me remember how I connected with someone, when we last spoke, and their contact information. I divide the spreadsheet into two parts: "not yet spoken with" and "archive."

Other Offline Collection Buckets:

  • A folder called "To File"
    • Where I stick bills and papers when I'm too lazy to file them in my filebox. When the "to file" folder gets big (about an inch thick), I file everything at the same time (usually while watching The Hills or something equally mind-numbing).
  • Post-it notes by my bed and front door
    • In case I really need to remember something the next day, I keep post-it notes handy at all times! Major reminders go on my bedroom door or my front door, depending on what I have to remember.
  • Key Plate
    • The most obvious: a plate by my front door to hold my keys. Which is whey are never lost (until I forget to take them with me and lock myself out).

Have I scared you yet?? I know this seems like a lot to keep track of. But when I try to consolidate I lose things, so I'm generally okay with this for now. That said, I would love to learn more tips and tricks from you (nothing like a good lifehack to spruce up the day) - please share yours in the comments!

P.S. I think the phrase "fill-in-the-blank-hack" will go down as one of the most over-used, over-rated words of the year. And yes, I used it anyway.