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Choosing a Path

forkintheroadWhen I started this blog, I was at that metaphorical “fork in the road”. My kids were in school full time, I knew I wanted to do something that would flex my creative and intellectual mind, but what was that elusive perfect pathway. I didn’t want to go back to work full-time, my kids are still relatively young, but I needed to give myself something that I could say I was accomplishing. So, what do you do when you come upon that fork? You know you want to go in some direction but you’re not sure which one.

My theory is to hang out in the intersection for a little while. You don’t want to idle there, though. You need to be active, keep revving your engines, get a feel for the road, an understanding of your options.  If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to do, make a list of all the things you are interested in, then throw them out there and see what sticks. That’s what I did with this blog.

I liked the idea of designing a blog. I liked writing. I liked the psychological journey of self-discovery. I liked creating self-help workbooks. I liked using humor. I liked writing about the creative things I do with my kids. So, I put all of those things together within this blog.  I then spent the last few months getting feedback on what resonated with my readers and tuning into what parts of this blog I liked doing the most and which area I thought I could turn into a viable pathway for myself. And that has turned out to be sharing my thoughts on how to raise a more creative child.

So, it’s always good to hang out in the intersection for awhile, but at some point, if you want to move forward, you need to narrow your road ahead and choose a path. You may find that once you’re down the road, the path you have selected isn’t quite right for you. That’s o.k., just turn around, go back to the intersection and choose something different, but you need to keep making active decisions and taking actions that keep moving you forward.

I will keep working on this blog because it is here where I will be able to share my business ideas as I move down my selected path, and I always have to have somewhere to share my daily-life rambles. However, I have also started on a new journey, my chosen path to help raise awareness on how important it is to help your child build their creative mind. In 2010, Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary shared the results of her study of 300,000 Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) scores of children and adults. She found that over the last two decades, as we’ve entered this new electronic age, the measure of creativity in our children has been spiraling downward. Kim says, “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant.  It is the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade – for whom the decline is most serious.”

blogpicThe good news is that all children are born with some degree of creativity. When parents become educated about creativity, they can help their children preserve their natural inclination to it. Research has shown that creativity can be nourished and taught and that creativity training can have a strong effect. Real improvement doesn’t happen overnight, but when creativity is fostered through a child’s everyday process of home or school, brain function improves.  It is to this end, that I created a new blog called “www.RAISECREATIVEKIDZ.com”.  In that space, I will share more research on creativity in general, and supply ideas and activities to help you nourish your own children’s creativity.

This is the path I have chosen to explore. I hope you will visit me there, as well as, keep on coming here to this blog for my perspective on being a mom in general – the good, the bad, the funny, the sad – and maybe pick up a tip here or there to help you choose your own path.

http://www.raisecreativekidz.com  Research shows children’s creativity is declining at an alarming rate. Luckily, as parents, there is much we can do.

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Good Packaging Isn’t Just For Products

Last night I received an email from a past co-worker’s wife, Cherry. She is a fascinating woman, as a former US Army Aviation Officer and now a mother of three, she has capitalized on her unique background to become an aspiring political thriller author, having written her first manuscript and started on her second. To that end, she has put together a blog in an effort to draw some attention to her novel. As I was giving her marketing advice on the contents of her blog, it got me thinking about everyone’s favorite topic, or maybe just mine – thematic marketing.

Most of my corporate background has been in packaging and presentation, so, now it’s kind of the way I view everything. Companies spend millions of dollars coming up with the right way to display their products in an effort to be attractive to the consumer. And it’s not just about how good something looks, it has to make the consumer think about the product, relate to the product, and ultimately want the product. I used to tell this story when I worked for JPMorgan: When Folgers Coffee was coming up with a new marketing campaign back in the eighties, they hired a firm to do research on consumers to uncover what it was that got people thinking and wanting coffee. They discovered it was the smell of coffee that made people think of family, comfort, home, holidays. So, they changed their advertising theme from “Folgers Crystals…coffee rich enough to be served in America’s finest restaurants”, to  a student returning home from college, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee awakening his parents and alerting them to their son’s arrival – “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”

Advertising has evolved over the years to take advantage of what we know about how the human brain really works, and companies use that to capitalize on the consumers innate desires. Everything associated with a product, the commercial, the jingle, the packaging, the spokesperson, where’s it’s placed in the store, every decision is made around the central goal of what emotional, physical, psychological reaction the company is trying to extract from the consumer upon any interaction with that product.   It’s all tied together.

Consumers are bombarded all day with all sorts of stimuli from all sorts of products throughout their day – the Hallmark commercial that makes you cry, the magazine ad that makes you actually feel “the sensation you get when you bite into a York Peppermint Patty”, or the smell of freshly-brewed coffee.  So, if you are looking to be portrayed as more than just a mom, what marketing techniques are you using to package yourself? Pop stars do it, actors do it, CEOs do it. They decide on an image that they want others to have about them and they package themselves in a way that will evoke that image when others think of them. They do it by the way they dress, where they are seen socially, what causes they volunteer for, what extra-curricular activities they participate in, what products they endorse.  Just like companies do with consumer products, it’s all tied together.

So, how can you do a better job at packaging yourself to influence how you want others to perceive you, or your new hobby or your new business endeavor? First, it starts with how do you want to see yourself. For everyone it’s different, for me, I want to always show that there’s more to me than the part that is a mother. So, at 7:15 in the morning, when I am down at the bus stop with my son and the only people I run into are the four other middle-schoolers at the bus-stop and the female bus driver, I still make sure I’ve taken the five minutes to throw on a pair of jeans, brush my hair, and apply some lipstick. I do it for myself. As rushed and almost out-of-control the mornings seem to be, just by demanding those few minutes for myself, I feel more in control and that I haven’t let the chaos of the situation change who I am.

When it comes to my new endeavor with this blog, I have put a lot of thought into how I wanted to package it as a reflection of the image I want portrayed of myself. I want to be seen as a business-minded woman, who is creative, intelligent, funny, empathetic, intuitive and fun. When I talk about the struggles of being a stay-at-home mom, I make sure to keep those thoughts light and humorous and not whiny. That’s not to say that I haven’t gone “whiny” with friends after  a few cocktails in the game of whose life sucks more, but that’s not who I am, nor who I want to portray myself to be. In the year I took to put the idea of this blog together, I redesigned its structure a dozen times. I kept asking myself, will the reader get what I’m trying to do here, did I lay it out in a way that defines my passion and draws people in, and I would tweak it as I tried to ultimately come up with the design that would give the reader the experience that I wanted to invoke.

Going back to my friend Cherry, the former Army Officer, my advice to her was that she has a great marketing story in her self with her background, which leads right into the product she has created based on that, so, she needs to capitalize on that to its fullest extent within her “packaging”.  Everything in her blog should be written with the intent that she is hoping to get people to want to read her story. Her story is a political thriller about a tough, skilled, yet sexy, former black-ops, now stay-at-home mom who finds herself having to prevent a terrorist attack.  The main character embodies many of Cherry’s own traits. As a novelist, not only are you selling your book, but you’re also selling yourself as the author. So, as I keep saying, everything needs to tie together. In marketing, we call it “touch points”. Every interaction a reader or potential publicist has with Cherry as an author, should be making them think of the product she has written, because with her background, she is her best marketing tool. Every time I write a post, I think to myself, did I tie my “story” back to the theme of my blog in some way, and I advised her to do the same.

I am throwing a “launch party” for my blog in a few weeks. Mostly because I’m always looking for a reason to have a party, but because I’m trying to build back my image of being a creative, business-minded, inspirational woman, I am using this party as another “touch point” in enhancing “my packaging”. Instead of it just being another girls’ cocktail party, I decided to invite a life coach to do a mini-interactive session. I also invited a few “expert guests” to stimulate interesting cocktail conversation, including a fashion stylist, a lifestyle nutritionist, and even a gynecologist who is an author. To me, it’s all about the packaging, and having my guests come away feeling that it was more than just a fun party, it was “an experience”.

So, good packaging isn’t just for products, it’s for people, too. As you continue on your journey of self-rediscovery, think about who you want to be, and how you want to portray yourself.  Then think of all the touch-points that you have at your disposal where you can actively influence not only other people’s perception but also your self-perception of that image you are trying to build or rebuild. It could be as simple as what you wear to the bus stop, or conversation topics for the next cocktail party you attend, or putting a business card together for your new project, or even what PTA committee you want to be a part of, or do you want to lead it.  If a company can reduce you to tears by showing you a make-believe story about a family member reading a mother’s day card, you certainly have the ability, using the same techniques, to sway public opinion about your own image or product. Many of my blog readers don’t know me personally, but just from stories I’ve told, the pictures I’ve posted, the feelings I have stirred in you, as well as the stories I haven’t shared, all tied together, have painted you a picture of the image I want you to see. Everyone has an idea of who they would like to be, who they believe they are and wish others could see, you just need to bring that out in yourself, package it up, and present it.  What’s your marketing plan for your new re-discovered sense-of-self?

For those of you who are interested, you can check out the first few chapters of Cherry’s novel, Smoke – Operation Black Diamond, at her blog www.cherrylaska.com.

People Pleaser Pitfalls

© Jacekplacek1977 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos, http://www.stockfreeimages.com/

I have to say I’ve always been a people pleaser. Perhaps it was growing up as one of seven kids and my parents drilling into us “if you can’t play together, you’ll work together”.  So, in an effort to avoid weeding the garden, I always made that extra effort to get along with my siblings. But whether you were brought up that way or not, becoming a people pleaser just comes with the territory when you become a mother.  You get so used to feeding someone else, bathing them, changing them, walking them up and down the hallway in the middle of the night, just to get them to stop crying. Do that for a couple of years, combined with what’s probably in a woman’s DNA, and you get used to wanting to help others, wanting to make others happy. However,  there are pitfalls to being too much of a people pleaser. I know at times, I’m guilty of pushing it to the extreme and that’s when it can become a bit of a problem.

I’ve always been the type of person who wants to come across as a very engaged listener. People like to be heard. People like to be agreed with. It pleases them. If the discussion is about a topic that requires an opinion, and I have a strong one, then I will usually voice my side whether it makes the other person happy or not. But, if the discussion is just about day to day things, then I become a head nodder. I just like to agree. Cold out? Sure. Getting late? You bet.  As a people pleaser, I like to head nod even when I don’t really hear what the person has said which can lead to a classic pitfall.

I ran into an acquaintance at the gym about a year ago. It was a little noisy, she was talking about something, I was nodding. Then she asked me, “You’re ___ like me, right?” I couldn’t make out one of the words she said, but I went along with it and said, “Yup. Yeah, I am.” But then, you know when you walk away from a conversation and that’s when it comes to you, you’re able to fill in the blank. Well, as I walked out of the gym, I thought to myself, “I think I just agreed that I was Jewish.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m not an overly religious person either way, but if you’ve seen my post on how I decorate for the holidays, you would see that I am Catholic. I didn’t think much of it, I don’t run into this woman all that much anyway. But shortly thereafter, I saw her in a department store, and it happened to be the day before a Jewish holiday. I can barely keep my own holy days straight, so I wasn’t sure what this particular day represented in the Jewish faith. I panicked. I tried to skip the aisles she was in, avoid eye contact at all costs, make her think I didn’t see her. Because it just would have been an awkward conversation, ” No, I’m actually not going to temple tomorrow because even though when you asked me if I was Jewish and I said I was, I’m really not.” If I had only asked her to repeat herself when we first had the conversation, she wouldn’t have cared one way or the other what my response was, but now to fix the situation it would just be messy all the way around.

I successfully avoided her that time, but then a few months later, I ran into her again, in December of all months. Turned a corner, face to face, no chance of avoidance. The store, dripping with holiday decor, pretty much insured that there would be no way something wasn’t going to be mentioned. And sure enough… She talked about how she had just moved a town away and how over-the-top the Christmas decorations on everyone’s lawns were and how it was just annoying – she said, “You know how annoying it can be.” So, here’s my chance to set the record straight. Clear up the miscommunication once and for all. Secretly knowing, I myself had a giant blow-up Santa on my front porch, complete with eight, tiny reindeer. But, once again, I found myself nodding in agreement. We wished each other a Happy Chanukah and went on our way.

So, though it’s a nice attribute to want to make others happy or comfortable, there has to be limits. There has to be limits with our kids and there has to be limits with our peers. I have essentially converted religions for a mere acquaintance, albeit, it’s just for a fleeting few moments when I run into her a couple times a year, but still. Now, I try to be less quick with my head nods and ask people to repeat themselves before I respond if I’ve missed something that they said. It’s much better if you try to be true to yourself and not worry so much about pleasing others because you just end up digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. We’ve all had those moments where we are over-scheduled but someone asks you for a favor so you automatically say yes, without thinking about whether you’ll be able to get your own stuff done. I’m not saying don’t be helpful, we all want to treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves, but you just have to make sure you don’t do it to a fault. Your friend will understand if you have to pass every once in awhile. As mothers, in order to avoid those people pleaser pitfalls, we just need to take a step back from automatically saying yes all the time, and actually think before answering. If we can do that, we can still please people, while hopefully staying true to ourselves.

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