Listen To Understand, Not to Respond

I’ve always been a fan of podcasts and magazine articles that offer tidbits of insight of doing things better. Most have been great, but it’s not much mind blowing material. However, if I piece together bits and nuggets of advice given, there’s a common theme. It is to be present and mindful.

I recently subscribed to Jim Kwik’s “Kwik Brain” podcast.  His lesson on building your memory skills is great and is easy to incorporate into your daily life.  My big takeaway is: if you are trying to remember someone’s name that you have just met, you have to be engaged and present when you speak to them.

I’ve also been listening to Brendon Bouchard on “High Performance Habits”, and his points is to clearly defining where you are right now, and to be crystal clear about where you want to be.

Louise Hay & Wayne Dwyer speak about gratitude, and how they wake up in the morning and they are thankful for their body, their mind, their lives, even their bed and pillows.  You have to be uber mindful to engage in this activity.

So it’s no surprise that this includes being present to listen.  Many times we are engaged in a conversation where people are talking above each other or even interrupting each other.  It’s almost like we need to have “the” answer or banter immediately.  As this was brought to my attention, I decided to stop talking so much, stop daydreaming during the conversation, and really focus and listen to what someone is saying.  I will tell you that the retention rate of my conversations as well as the ability to accurately repeat what someone has told me has been significantly higher/better.

AND I will tell you that the folks I am talking with seem to emulate this behavior once they catch on, and it yields a much more robust conversation.  Sometimes, I even stop speaking when someone picks up their phone to check it.  What could be more important than someone sitting right in front of you that you scheduled time to talk with and be with?

In this time of immediate responses, likes, instant notifications, etc., etc., wouldn’t it be awesome to listen to understand?  And even better, wouldn’t it be truly special if someone was really listening to you & understood?

A Few Things I Learned From My Dad

As we just finished celebrating Father’s Day, I was thinking of some of the life lessons that my father has given to me.  I do feel that I am a product of my upbringing, my friendships, and my experiences, and my dad did a lot to mold my life.  Here are a few things that I know I learned from him.

Buy for quality.  We didn’t have a lot of extra money growing up, and my mom shopped very frugally.  My father, however, would research and purchase large ticket items with great justification.  He felt strongly about spending more upfront instead of having flimsy cheap items just to have them.  He also said that he wants things to last for a long time so he doesn’t have to replace them as often and it would probably cost less.  He stated that when you have nice things, you tend to take better care of the items.  I believe this is true considering I am still driving a 12 year old vehicle that is in great shape, am carrying the same purse, and am wearing the same earrings for the past 15 years.

Your appearance does make a difference.  When I was an awkward teen, my father was adamant about making sure that I had the opportunity to look good.  He took me to the dermatologist to get rid of a mole on my face.  He fully supported all orthodontics.  I was in contact lenses at an early age.  And finally, he told my mom to stop home perming my hair.  He said that he wanted to eliminate any physical obstacles that would make me self conscious or uncomfortable about my appearance.  When you feel good about yourself (inside and outside), you tend to exude the confidence needed to carry you through a client meeting, a job interview, or any situation that you have to show your skills and experience.  Once your outside appearance is taken care of, you can focus on maximizing those skills and talents.

Don’t exclude yourself.  When I spoke to my father about taking over his business, he taught me a few things that might help me in business.  He said that it might be more difficult for me to establish relationships in a predominantly male industry.  So he gave me lessons in a few things so i wouldn’t be excluded in social situations.  The first skill/hobby he wanted me to learn is how to play golf.  He bought me my first set of golf clubs and a 10 pack of lessons.  This skill has given me the opportunity to meet and work with several clients and generate millions of dollars of revenue for our company.  He also showed me how to smoke a cigar (which i don’t do as much anymore), and he taught me how to drink hard liquor like ports and whiskeys.  To this day, I am not afraid of being left out nor being excluded from a group of “those in the know”.

There are many other life lessons my father bestowed upon me whether through verbally telling me or sharing through example.  I am appreciative of the time and focus that my father has given and continues to give me.  And I still think there’s more to learn so I’m going to keep on listening and watching.  Thank you, Dad.

Keeping Your Word

I was taught at an early age that if you commit to doing something with others, this remains your commitment. Even if a better offer came along after, we were not allowed to cancel our first offer. I took this “rule” as law, and maintained this throughout my life. My husband’s upbringing was similar in this regard, and we see that it is infused into my daughter’s mindset.

As I was growing up, I realized that this “rule” was not always taught to my friends. I would invite them to play, get an affirmation, and sometimes they would cancel if another friend invited them over after we had made plans. My disappointment was evident, and my mom would simply state “Life is not fair”.

The lesson that I learned pretty quickly was that since I didn’t like how it felt to be the recipient of a broken commitment, I would try my best to not break my commitments.

Fast forward to today. I am proud to say that I still remain true to my commitments. It’s been refreshing that I have earned the trust of my business relationships (suppliers, clients, and employees), my family, and my friends. It has also taught me to manage my time better as to not overcommit. I feel people would rather have a timely decline than to wait it out or not RSVP.

I bring it up as this is a critical time for my 14 year old. She has much more freedom and decision making empowerment than I did at her age. But the “rule” still stands with keeping your commitment. I watch her struggle with determining her fun time schedule especially during the weekends. She has done a great job of keeping her commitments, and balancing her invitations by offering alternative plans. I have concluded that at this young age, she understands the basis of the rule, continues to follow it, and this is one aspect that she is queued up for success in this crazy world.

A Life By Design

At an event held in Chicago attended by 300 people, the panel was asked to introduce their fellow panelists. It was such a fun experience & different from the typical reading of someone’s bio. Tommy, a very dynamic entrepreneur that I had only met a week prior, was asked to introduce me. My favorite statement was when he declared that I live my life by design. I found it so interesting that he would mention this. At the networking event after the panel, the only question that numerous attendees asked me was “How do you live your life by design?”.

Delving into this further, the questions that I pondered are:
  1. Am I deliberate in how my day unfolds?
  2. Am I reacting to outside influences and living a life by default?
  3. Am I happy with my day, my life, my future?

My answer is simple. At this point in my life, I continuously set my priorities. When reviewing my activities and calendar, I ensure that it in aligned with these priorities. I do not accept all of the invitations I am offered. Life has been a whirlwind, but my time is filled with creating memories with people I value, building my businesses, and learning so I can better myself.

My priorities have changed throughout the years, but I make certain that they are clear to me so I can proactively live a happy and fulfilling life. I’m having lunch with Tommy next week, and despite the fact I thanked him via text for his compliment, I am going to thank him in person. Not only did he make my day, he observed a key ingredient to what motivates me. To me, that’s a big deal.

I am hopeful that this resonates to the people around me. I feel that it’s an amazing way to live, and it’s great to surround yourself around those who also live their life by design.

Follow Your Intuition


I grew up taking on a scientific approach to problem solving.  The power of deductive reasoning seemed to work the majority of the time.  I always thought it was odd that people lived on the edge or winged it, and then things would go their way.  I got a whiff of the “gut feeling” occasionally, but never considered it to be part of the formula of decision making.  It wasn’t until recently that following my intuition became part of my daily routine.

When I first started hiring staff at CSMI, I would check the boxes of the technical qualifications of a candidate.  I would also check the boxes of basic manners.  This would work for the majority of hires, but there were a few people that we wanted to hire that gave an off vibe, and I could not identify exactly what it was.  There was the person who had a different odor (not the typical bad body odor) during the interview that had the worst odor problem in the office once he was hired.  There was the person who seemed absolutely perfect who used all the right terminology, but he ended up having all the excuses and zero work product.

Personally, we’ve had people that we have relied upon, but were the biggest flakes.  I will say that as we get older, the easier it is to read people and situations.  So is it truly a gut feeling or the sub conscience utilizing previous experiences to help make good decisions?

I think if it’s a life or death situation, your body will definitely take over.  However, this is a rare situation so I’m swaying towards it being a balance of your body physically telling you something, and your sub conscience weighing in as well.

And this brings me to my point-  I believe you have to be receptive to utilizing your intuition for this to work.  This includes living in the moment which ultimately leads to being passionate about your life.

Call to action: Are you being mindful and listening to what your intuition is telling you?

The World is Your Oyster. What’s holding you back?


Last week, I joined a friend of mine to visit his cousin who became a professional athlete at age 18.  Twenty five years later, the cousin has aspirations of owning his own business and bringing the “cool” factor back to the sport.  He says that the sport has gone corporate, and he has some great ideas of how he can generate a lot of revenue while bringing an old school vibe back.  This included customized equipment, cool apparel, and school & training programs.  Everything sounded solid, and I later found out that he has been discussing this same plan for the past five years.

When I had asked why he hadn’t started his own business, he replied in one word “FEAR”.  He’s now a father of 3 and a husband.  He works for a corporation, and generates a salary.  My friend believes in his cousin, and has offered to fund the start up, but yet he hasn’t pulled the trigger.

When I’ve spoken to others who want to start their own business, I hear similar verbiage.  They don’t know if they will fail, and they are comfortable with their steady income and benefits.

My feedback is simple: What is the worst thing that is going to happen if you start this business, and it doesn’t work out?  Typically, the new business venture is something that they are talented in or they are experts at in their current job.  I believe the worst thing that can happen is that they would have to go back to their job or get another job.  Sure, there may be loss of time and money, but if you don’t even give it a shot, how will you know?

I do believe writing down a business plan is important.  It should be deliberate, but doesn’t need to be a huge endeavor to create.  This will provide a guideline as you work your way through the process, and regular reviews can keep you on track.  This includes how much you’d like to invest into the business, what kind of clients/markets you will be involved, and why you are doing this.  Check out this guideline:

Call to action:  What’s holding you back from living the best life you envision?  First, let’s write it down, do a little due diligence and pull the pieces together.  Go slow or go fast, but do something to live a life that you are passionate about.

A Letter to My Husband on Father’s Day


Dear Scott,
Twelve years have passed since we brought Kiana into this world.  Twelve years wouldn’t be considered beginner’s luck anymore, but I still feel like we are novices and we are still learning how to be parents.  I wanted to thank you for being such a wonderful father.

I am so appreciative of our lessons learned through this journey.  Here’s only a few……

  1. It’s okay to sound like our parents.  We swore we wouldn’t be like our parents when we were kids, but we are reciting lines to ours like “I am the mom, and you have to do it because I say so.”  We both know that we want the best for her as did our parents for us.
  2. It takes two of us big people to take care of the little person.  As long as we both communicate with each other, we can collectively bring up a happy and confident child.  She has always observed our behaviors, and we can see some of our “skills” in her personality.  We have set the expectations of the best grades, to honor commitments to our friends and family, and follow through with our responsibilities.  The three of us are on the same winning side so we have to stick with our plan together.
  3. You have to be firm, but flexible.  We want only the best for our daughter, but we also want to ensure she is not an entitled child with little to no responsibilities.  If she does well in school, you remind me that she has fulfilled her responsibilities so she should be able to go out on a school night as a treat.  We have learned that if we are too flexible, she will take us to the cleaners.
  4. It’s about life experiences, and encouraging her to dream big.  While I would never agree to buy anything at the M&M store, you agreed to buy her whatever she wanted in London so it would be a memory for her.  I also never would buy that photo that they take at the tourist places, yet you bought the premium package (keychains and all) at the London Eye, Atlantis in the Bahamas, and the luau in Maui.  All of these items (except for the M&Ms) are still displayed in her room.  You also said to me when I complained about the cost of all the Stanford shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and accessories that if she believes she is going to attend college there, why should we shut that down?  You are absolutely right.
I am so proud to be your wife, and the mother of your daughter.  I believe that we are bringing up an amazing kid who is learning how to be an independent, sharp, and ambitious contributor to our society.  I look forward to watching our daughter evolve into a strong person.  It is with your love and dedication that our family remains solid.
Happy Father’s Day!

Spring Cleaning: Organizing with Intention #1


I think I was born to be organized, and I am constantly developing processes to maintain an efficient system for my entire life .  This includes both physically, and more recently electronically.   About six months ago, I went through a clothing purge and managed to eliminate about 50% of my wardrobe and 26 out of 30 purses.  I also eliminated 80% of the books I owned.  Not only was it personally liberating to have more space, I was able to contribute everything to worthwhile causes.

How have I been more efficient? I found myself wearing the same few items even though there were a lot of clothes in my closet and drawers.  With keeping the clothes that I really like, I am able to get dressed quicker, and I have been able to wear some items that were dormant in the closet.

I’ve also started using the app Stylebook.  It’s $3.99, but I think it’s worth it.  I have photographed the majority of my wardrobe, and have recorded what I wore on the calendar.  I have also entered in the brand, size, and colors my clothes.  This has helped me when I shop to buy additional colors of items I like or to not purchase another pair of black slacks.

These are the questions I asked with each item in my wardrobe:
  1. Have I worn the item within the last 3 months (minus formal wear & outerwear)?
  2. Does it fit well?
  3. Have I worn it so much that I am sick of it?

I would encourage you to go through this process, and hopefully, you can get that feeling of accomplishment and sense of newness with your wardrobe like I have.

Next steps:
I’m slowly working on organizing electronically including my photos and files.  That will be in a future post.

Leave Me Alone! (republished from 1/9/15)

Traveling has taught me to be more observant, more organized, and more flexible.  Most of the time I am responsible for my schedule, and I have realized that the majority of the time I am alone.

The luxury is that I don’t have a routine, I am not worrying about my daughter’s schedule, and that I can choose what I would like to eat.  As much as I love spending time at home and with my family, my alone time allows me to reflect and be quiet.  This may sound frightening or not fun, but I truly appreciate this time.

In September, I traveled to Asia and spent a lot of time alone.  I didn’t feel the need to occupy every moment in the day, and interact with as many people as I could.  I became very self-aware, especially when eating alone.  It also gave me time to realign with my personal and professional wish list.  My favorite realization was that I was able to distinguish between being alone versus being lonely.

I was chatting with a good friend who is single.  We were talking about how empowered you feel when you are alone.  There are times that he would love a companion to attend events together versus attending alone, but the freedom has made him a more independent, and in my opinion, a happier person.

Sure, it’s always wonderful to share experiences with others, but I do believe that everyone should allow time to be alone where you are the decision maker for all of your activities.  I also believe it’s important to enjoy being alone.

At this time of the year, I believe a lot of us go through an evaluation of the year and set up resolutions for the upcoming year.  I encourage you to allocate some time for yourself – to quiet your mind and be autonomous.

You Make Time For What’s Important

9D1F9873-7945-478D-A19A-9EC0123662F6The pressure of writing something impactful on my blog is so unwarranted. So to take the pressure off, I’ve decided to write quick and shorter posts about things that have helped me. I’m calling these posts “You Make Time For What’s Important”.

My inspiration has come from The RED podcast with David Hooper interjecting smaller sized solo podcasts versus the normal podcasts with his co-host & new wife, Laurel.  With that, my first YMTFWI post is a snapshot of the six podcasts that I am listening to on a regular basis.

Sporkful: I love Dan Pashman’s tagline “It’s not for foodies, It’s for eaters.” This is my kind of podcast.

TED Radio Hour: We all want to be impactful in the world, but the people highlighted are blowing my mind, and teach me to think even deeper.

Chewing the Fat: Two Chinese American (with a twist of Puerto Rican) women from Chicago talking about food trends, and interviewing experts on cool topics nails it for me.

Meditation Oasis: Balancing your chakras may sound weird, but after listening to a podcast, I do feel calmer and in balance. Who doesn’t want that?

Serial: I have no idea if it’s her voice or the story that is intoxicating. It’s a podcast about a murder that the accused may or may not be guilty, and a journalist trying to find the answer. It’s also the #1 podcast on iTunes.

The RED Podcast: After being in business for 18 years as well as having several other businesses established over the past few years, I am inspired by the dialogue between the hosts. They understand the entrepreneurial lifestyle enough that their podcasts are about 25 minutes since we all need to get back to what we’re doing which is working less, making more money. and having freedom.

What To Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home

10364042_10203262477736864_754696161956816490_n Kiana, 10, heading to camp & Rachel, 18, headed to Dartmouth in September
My 10 year old daughter will be headed off to camp this summer, and I was wondering what skills we have taught her to prepare her for being without her parents.  Also, this is the summer before the high school graduates head off to college, and I am curious as to how prepared they are when they leave home.  I know technology has put information immediately at our hands with our cell phones, but I do think there are basic skills that we should be actively trying to teach our kids. 
I’m thinking that it would be great if every young person could do the following:
Cook a traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner (not out of a can)
Wash and iron clothes without ruining them
Replace a button, fix a hem, and polish their own shoes
Drive a car including one with manual transmission, and maintain it properly
Change a flat tire
Know basic first aid and maintain a complete first-aid kit
Know what to do if you get sick, especially if you’re alone
Know when to defend yourself
Know CPR
Create a budget
Balance a checkbook even if you bank online
Set up a filing system so all of they paperwork in your life is in one place
Carry on a conversation for fifteen minutes with a person you don’t know
Speak before a small group of friends for a few minutes
Tell a joke
Learn basic ballroom dancing skills 
Care for a dog, cat or other animal including when they are sick
Baby-sit for children ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years old.
Aid the elderly or handicapped people
Get around the city on a bus or train even if you typically walk or drive
Know what direction is north, south, east, and west (without a compass) whenever you’re outside
Read a map 
Throw and catch balls of all sizes without breaking your fingers
Swim half a mile, tread water for half an hour and float for an hour
Ride a bike with confidence
Hang a picture straight without making extra holes in the wall
Paint neatly including cleaning up the mess
Know which tools perform what functions and how to use them around the house
Sharpen a knife without cutting yourself
Hike with friends all day without getting lost, bitten or covered with a rash
Bait a hook, catch a fish, reel it in, remove the hook, then clean and cook the fish
Play a team sport
Maintain a fitness regiment
Learn a game (like chess) you can play with friends for life
Draw an illustration at least well enough to get your point across.
Have confidence to sing aloud
Know how to play a musical instrument
Challenge: Do the young people in your life have command of the above skills?  Are you up for teaching them as life lessons?

Considerations Prior to Joining a Non-profit Board of Directors

I’ve had the honor of serving on several non-profit boards, and I am very happy that I am involved.  I feel that it adds to the balance of my life as its own entity, but filters into both my professional and personal life. My motivation was two fold. Primarily, I wanted to be an example of stewardship to my daughter. The other was to be impactful in my community.

Considering the experience I have had as a Board member, I believe there are four steps to consider before engaging in a relationship with an organization.
  1. Understand the mission and goals, and truly be passionate about it.  I have come to the realization that the boards that I have dedicated a lot of my time are causes that are close to my heart. I can identify these quickly: empowering females, fairness to everyone, and encouraging education especially in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
  2. Understand the “state” of the organization.   
    1. FinanciallyIf there are funding issues, budget constraints, and/ or a capital campaign when onboarding, this can be a bigger challenge versus a financially robust organization that has just completed a campaign.
    2. Leadership: Considering that I will be dedicating my time and resources typically on a volunteer basis, I want to surround myself with people that give positive energy and can inspire me.  It is imperative that I feel a connection with the President/ CEO or Exectutive Director and the other board members.
    3. Strategy: The organization should have a strategic plan that they are executing.  It should be clear to explain and have metrics that can be met.  I have found that it’s a red flag when longstanding organizations justify their actions with “We’ve always done it this way.”
  3. Understand the organizations expectations and the criteria for their prospects.  Typically, the nominating committee has reviewed the demographics of the current board members and have identified gaps and/or successes that they want to enhance. There is a reason they want you on their board.
    1. Give or get: One of the responsibilities I’ve always encountered is a fiduciary responsibility (anywhere from $2000-$10,000 per year). If I cannot directly donate the dollars, I’m expected to find others to financially support the organization (friends, family, business associates).
    2. Development expectations: There may be an expectation to bring ideas and innovation to the organization to help them grow.  This can also include involving your network, your industry, or your professional affiliations.
    3. Time commitment:  There are Board meetings and committee meetings, and there is usually an expectation of attending a majority of them.  In addition, there are also events to attend and possibly committee assignments.
  4. Understand your capabilities. With all of this being said, it is important to consider your motivation and your contribution.
    1. Financials: I believe it is important to realistically evaluate the financial commitment. It should be an amount that will not stress you out in order to keep the board seat.
    2. Time: Adding an extracurricular activity does include a time commitment, and it should align without interfering with current work or personal commitments.
    3. Network: As a Board member, you will be representing the organization to your network.  You also have the opportunity to inspire others to get more involved. Will that network support you and the organization?
    4. “Secret sauce”: As a prospect, to solidify your seat at the table, you should identify what makes you an excellent fit.  There should be something compelling that draws them to you, and sets you apart.

Invitation: Being active in your community is a very rewarding experience.  It is an opportunity to learn more about those in the community who are helping others. It is also good for your soul. Are you giving enough to your community and how can your talents and resources better your community?