Choosing a Path
When 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.”
The 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.
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.
What’s Your Recovery Plan?
I think we can all agree that the most important role we have as parents is raising our children, as they are tomorrow’s resources for the world. But if you are like me, and are saying that’s great and I love that part of my life, but I do have other talents beyond helping with homework, and devising strategies for dealing with peer behaviors on the playground, then hopefully, at some point, you will find the breathing room, to go back to spending some time on your other talents as well. This is all about our journey of trying to recover our sense of self beyond parenthood. The first steps on the journey are to discover what you’re passionate about and then mold that passion into something more concrete. Those steps can be taken in my series of posts under the HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT – THE ROAD TO SELF-REDISCOVERY. But once you discover your passion, uncover how to be creative in defining that passion within the scope of a job, hobby, or philanthropic effort, it’s time to build the action plan that will lead you toward your recovery. So, whether it’s a goal on your bucket list, a hobby you want to enhance, or a small business idea you’ve been kicking around, building a “Business Plan” can help you move closer to turning your idea into a reality. This positive momentum can help you recover your sense-of-self by allowing you to put some focus on something you are passionate about.
As a former marketing executive, I believe the most important thing you need to establish, to move any idea forward, is your “business” plan. I like to have a plan for everything. We’re taking the kids to the zoo? What’s our plan? It’s a gorgeous weekend day out so we want to have a family outing? What’s our plan? I have to get the house clean before company arrives? What’s my plan? I am a true believer in the adage “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”. Having a plan, will also help make you more confident in your ability to achieve a successful outcome. Your idea doesn’t have to be something that’s going to make you money in order for you to build a “business plan” around it. It can be a hobby. It can be a volunteer effort. It can be a bucket list. The steps I’ve taken in the past to create a successful corporate business plan, are the same ones that I am using to build on writing this blog, and the same ones you can use to help build your plan to help recover your sense-of-self. You basically want a plan to help you take your idea, dissect it, and then build up each aspect of it, so you can turn it into a reality. Here are four basic steps to help you build yourself a good “Business Plan” for your Recovery:
YOUR EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – You want to take all the work you did in my HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT, and write out a Mission Statement. You want to state what your main goal/purpose/idea is. You want to include your talents, experience, background, and decisions that led you to want to start this endeavour. You want to discuss how you plan to make this idea go from a passive idea to an active one. For example: It’s not just that I like to write. I would include the experience I have had in writing, as well as summarize my idea of writing within a blog format, and discuss the theme of the blog. You also want to include a brief Market Analysis here. Why is there a need for your idea and where would it fit in. That could be within your family, or your friends, or your community, or even on a larger scale. And then you want to finish this section with what your Future Plans are. This is where you would briefly detail where you see your idea going. You want to describe how you see your idea growing within the context of the ultimate vision of your goal.
YOUR STRATEGIC FOCUS – If your idea lends itself to a Target Market, this is where you want to really flesh out what that market looks like. You want to delve into their distinguishing characteristics, their demographics, and their needs. Most of my career has been based on Target Marketing, so I am a huge believer in coming up with a niche and building that into a real strength. For me, I’m thinking about who I want to target as readers for my blog. If your idea is to become a dog-sitter, then your target market would be the type of families who travel a lot and don’t like the idea of kennels. If your idea is to go mountain climbing, your target market could be looking for adventure groups with members within a similar demographic as you. So, how does your idea fit into a group, what does that group look like, and where are the places you would you find that group. Under your Strategic Focus, you will want to include your Market Research. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel for two reasons. If there are ways that other people have found to take a similar idea and put it into action, then you should familiarize yourself with those ways. Also, you want to make the “wheel” you’re inventing have characteristics that you like in similar “wheels” but you also want to make sure you know the competition and ensure, if need be, that your “wheel” is distinct and different than others that are out there. If your idea is to join a volunteer organization, here is where you want to discuss the organizations you have looked at, the pros and cons of each, perhaps the feedback you have received, all leading up to why you have decided on your ultimate choice.
YOUR IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY– Here’s where you take your mission statement, and apply your Target Market and Market Research to it, in order to come up with Actionable Steps. You want to outline the steps you are taking to turn your passive idea of a goal into a reality. Through step one and step two, you have really dissected your idea and taken a look at all the angles, and now with a full-picture of it in your head, you can outline your plan. You also might want to include a general time-line, making it flexible enough to take into account all your other day-to-day responsibilities that will continue to be on-going.
YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY – So, you’ve put your idea into action, but it doesn’t fully take on the purpose of helping you recover your sense-of-self, if you don’t communicate out this new side of yourself. For many people that’s when you really feel the change. For example, it’s great that I’ve finally started my blog and made it public, but a marketing strategy will bring more readers and turn my idea into something even more substantial that I can feel good about. So, depending on what your idea is, will determine how substantial your Marketing Strategy should be. It could include a strategy on further penetrating your target market. It could include your strategy on how you plan on growing your audience. It could also include a strategy on how you plan on distributing or diseminating your idea, getting it out there. You then want to outline your Communication Strategy. This could be as simple as posting on Facebook, your plan to achieve one of your goals on your bucket list. It could be a plan to post flyers at your local library letting people know the new service you can provide. It could be your plan to have a family meeting and talk to the kids about doing more around the house so that you can spend more time on your painting that you plan on submitting to a local art show at the end of the year. Or it could be as involved as a strategy that involves promotions, advertising, public relations, personal selling, and getting your idea to come up on google searches.
Now that you have your “Business Plan“, you need to keep it somewhere handy so that you can refer back to it and make sure you’re keeping yourself on track. It’s your set of instructions on how to go about your own recovery plan. By putting it in black and white, it makes it doable. When you find yourself becoming doubtful or overwhelmed, go back to it and remember you designed your plan with the ultimate vision that it would be successful, so have faith in it and, in turn, faith in yourself.
It’s time to get out of your head and all the wishful thinking and all the frustrations and make your move forward. Scientifically momentum is mass times velocity. The more substantial or thought-out your idea is, combined with how fast and in what direction you are making that idea a reality, the more momentum towards success your idea will have. What is your Recovery Plan going to look like?
Building Courage From Encouragement
I don’t know about you, I can talk a good game but when it comes down to it, it’s easy to get in my own way. I come up with an idea. I expand it and then I stuff it with more. Then, I proudly declare my intentions and seek out feedback. But all the while, I’m expecting the feedback I receive will really just prove that my subconscious doubts are actually justified. Whatever my aspirations, I’m inherently waiting to be talked out of it. Why? Because it’s that age-old, if you don’t try, you don’t fail. You sort of lose sight of the fact, if you don’t try, you never succeed either. It’s the constant struggle of wanting to be strong, wanting to believe in yourself and your ideas, but then constantly worrying if you have the courage to go through with it, and risk not being good enough. Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of OZ:
Cowardly Lion: “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow: “What’s that?”
Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”
Over the last few years, I’ve started a few novels, written a few songs, come up with a few product ideas. Through all my start-up initiatives, instead of building on the momentum of the encouragement I received, I would drop the idea for the first person who wanted to talk me out of it. I sat on the idea for this blog for a year, only sharing my thoughts with a select few. One day I would be full of confidence, but then the next I would start to doubt myself and want to quit. But then, one afternoon, I was talking about my blog to a random acquaintance and she was very encouraging. Maybe it was because I felt she wasn’t obligated to be nice, or maybe I was finally ready to accept it, but things changed for me that day. I started building courage from encouragement, instead of dismissing it.
Not all of us our courageous innately. For instance, one morning I spent a good hour on top of the center island counter in our kitchen having a stare down with a mouse who kept peeking his head out of the pantry – neither one of us willing to make the first move. So, where do we get our courage from when we aren’t feeling brave enough to believe in our own talents? The Wizard of Oz didn’t give the Cowardly Lion a magic potion to drink, he gave him a medal. He gave him a symbol of encouragement. He was saying that he believed the lion had it in him. And instead of the Lion questioning why getting a medal on the end of a ribbon would all of a sudden make him have courage, he chose to accept that the Wizard really saw him as being brave.
So, on your journey of rediscovering your self and your inner passions, you have to open yourself up to building your courage from the encouragement you receive from your friends, family and peers. Hear the words when someone is complimenting you or what you’re doing, and instead of seeking out the naysayer, tune them out. Allow your friends to help build you up, but then you need to believe that “medal of courage” means you really are “brave”. The Cowardly Lion didn’t need the Wizard to remind him every day in his belief in him. He took the Wizard’s encouragement and built it into a belief in himself. So now, I bestow on you, you’re own medal of courage. And I repeat the words the Wizard of Oz proclaimed to the Cowardly Lion, “You are now a member of the legion of courage”. Now build on that and go out and become your own “king of the forest – not queen, not duke, not prince.”
(Image and quotes from Warner Bros. Pictures)
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Part 1: LOST IN THE SAUCE: The Stay-at-Home-Mom’s Guide to Self-Rediscovery
Seven years ago I was a Vice-President at a prestigious investment firm, commuting into the city. I had two young children and was expecting a third. I knew who I was. My days were over-booked filled with meetings and projects during the day and night-time feedings in the evening. I would wake up early, go to sleep late. I was exhausted and stressed but fulfilled.
Being pregnant with my third child made me question the idea of being able to do-it-all. I felt like I was being pulled in too many directions. So, I made that hard heart-felt decision of giving up my career and becoming a stay-at-home mom. I had attended a top women’s college, which made it even more difficult to give up my identity as a high-powered, career woman. Especially since I had gone to a prestigious women’s college whose students actually sent around a petition saying that Barbara Bush had not accomplished enough in life to warrant being our graduation speaker – after all, they claimed, she was only a wife and mother.
I was comforted in the fact that many of my friends were going through the same thing. Our conversations about our decision didn’t center around how easy it had been to come to the conclusion to stay at home. The conversations were more self-defensive and full of justifications – we were clearly not comfortable with our realization that we couldn’t do it all.
But then once we got into the routine of not having to get up and somehow make ourselves look presentable enough to get on a train at seven in the morning after only a few hours of sleep the night before, things weren’t so bad. And as the babies turned to toddlers and pre-school came into play, we actually had some free-time. It meant we had time to accomplish some personal goals that we had been putting off – getting some exercise, perhaps even losing some weight, organizing the house, having lunch with friends. Life was good – at least for the moment.
Along with the toddler years, came the age of being able to get a full night’s sleep again, which meant more energy. Energy we needed to find an outlet for. I had been in marketing, which meant I was used to creative projects. This background led to homemade, laminated flashcard sets and personalized photo storybooks for the kids. I also organized the kitchen cabinets and redecorated the kids’ rooms.
As the kids each came to the stage of wanting to have play dates with their new-found friends rather than playing pattycake with me, I needed to find broader outlets. I joined a volunteer group and started helping out at their schools. I found myself comparing these groups to the groups of people I used to work at the office with. The hardest thing about running a volunteer project is that when someone doesn’t do what they are assigned or show up to meetings, you can’t fire them. You are just supposed to smile and say you understand that everyone has their own priorities and that they are all “volunteers”. And working on school committees had its on issues. I was chair of an event for mother’s to enjoy an evening out. Our theme was supposed to be A Mystical Evening, complete with a fortune-teller for entertainment. That was until one of the mother’s went to the local newspaper and all but pronounced us as witches. So after about a year of that, I took another good look at my life.
My days used to be full of important budget and personnel decisions, project completions and sales forecasts. Then it consisted of teaching my little life forms how to walk for the first time, how to talk, huge milestone moments that any parent could claim as big accomplishments. And now, I found it consisted of driving kids to play dates, doing dishes, cleaning the house, making doctor’s appointments, planning the family vacation.
The April I turned 40, I found a new significance that month to writing the word “homemaker” under the occupation category of our family tax return. I found myself wondering who I had become. I remember a conversation I had with a close friend of mine that was in a very similar situation. We talked about how the kids are barely home, they are starting to have “their own mini-lives”. Our husbands come home tired after a long day of work, or what we like to call having the luxury of being out of the house all day, and leave their dishes in the sink. When we recount our day, it consistently entails picking up toys, doing laundry and trying to get the marker off our child’s legs. I was feeling particularly anxious that day when we were having our talk. And I will always remember what she said, “I know exactly how you feel. It’s like you are lost in the sauce.”
She was right. I did feel like I was drowning in a big vat of family dinner tomato sauce. I felt like I had lost myself and no longer knew who I was. A personal daily goal of tackling a large pile of laundry was not a fulfilling one to me. So, this is where I decided to get on the road of self-rediscovery. Not to rediscover who I used to be, but to discover who I wanted to be in this next stage of life and to take action towards that end.
Once I started to do that, I found that I was becoming happier and more content. But I also found that so many of my friends still found themselves “lost in the sauce”, unable to figure out how to even take those first steps towards self-rediscovery. In my past career one of my focuses was coming up with manuals to help people take the first steps to investing towards their financial goals. Their financial goals were more like personal goals that they wanted to achieve – where they wanted to see themselves 5, 10, 20 years from now. Not too dissimilar to trying to help stay-at-home moms try to uncover what they want to achieve and how they want to see themselves in the future, and then helping them take the steps to get there. So, that’s the basis of this part of my blog.
So, whether it’s getting back into a career, finding ways to achieve a life-long goal, or to even become a more fulfilled homemaker, the next few blog posts in this section will help start you on that path. We are all self-empowered strong women. We are naturally inherent caretakers. But now it’s time to take steps towards taking care of ourselves, too, because we are in charge of our own happiness and a happier, more fulfilled mom leads to happier children. So, we shouldn’t feel bad about taking care of ourselves, because as they say during air flight emergency procedure instructions, place the oxygen mask over yourself first so that you are able to then place one on your child. As moms, if we can’t breath, we’re not going to be much help to anyone else.
For this journey, you will need a notebook. Label the notebook “My Road to Self-Rediscovery”. This portion of my blog works like a workbook. It doesn’t go from oldest to newest like a blog. You should follow it in order, just as it is sequentially numbered. Good luck!
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