How busy are you these days? If you’re in retail, you’re crazed, I’m sure. If you’re in a service business…not so much.

Everyone is distracted at this time of year–either shopping, feeling guilty about not shopping, worrying about getting it all done or thinking about how much to tip the maid, UPS guy, or doormen. Most likely, they’re not thinking about growing their business or anything other than surviving December once again.

So your phone’s not ringing, and you don’t have that hourly or daily reminder of how much you’re needed. What do you do with the lack of attention? Do you make up stories about your worth? I certainly did, back in the days when I took the quiet to heart.

Every December I would report to my Mastermind group that it might be time for me to take down my shingle. No one was calling. I must not be any good. Then, one of our members would remind me that I said the same thing the December before and the December before that. “Use the time to clean your office, Jane. Clear out your files. Get your finances ready for taxes.”

I would, and they’d be right. Since 2002, I’ve had a thriving coaching practice, so I can justifiably pass on this wisdom to my clients.

On the flip side, when I was in my creative business, I was frazzled and stressed out at this time of year–everyone wanted their orders completed and shipped in time for Christmas. In January, however, I went through the same withdrawal and negative self-assessment.

What I wish for you this holiday season is awareness, joy and balance. Notice if you’re feeding your brain negative messages based on False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR). Think about what you could do with the free time the calendar has delivered to you. Use the white space this month to take care of yourself. Come January, you might be saying, why didn’t I relax when I had the chance?

seth godin headshot

Seth Godin

I had the privilege of hearing Seth Godin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday night. Not a typical venue for this entrepreneurial guru.

But, in a stroke, or SPARK, of creative genius, Julie Burstein invited him onto a two-person panel to celebrate a Renaissance entrepreneur and artistic master Pieter Coecke van Aelst. Interestingly, the display of his tapestries is unusual in that he was not a weaver. He recognized a medium and designed for it, even though it wasn’t the guild he belonged to. He was, above all, an even more talented collaborator.

I didn’t need much convincing that this tapestry artist was also on the cutting edge of global change. Having never heard of him prior to the brilliant curator Elizabeth Cleland‘s synopsis, I was intrigued, as Seth so aptly put it, that the tapestries were fabricated in different materials, wool, silk and metallic threads. It was explained that the king’s summer palace needed a different texture. Early marketing technique 101, make it in different colors and fabrics.

Besides the inspiration of great art, Seth announced the debut of his new book, Your Turn, and described his process, which is far from the usual. He has no printer, he designed it himself, and you can’t just buy one copy. When you order, he’ll send you two. Why? So you can give one away.

I love one of his mantras which is: We seduce ourselves into thinking that it’s not our turn.

BTW, Lizzie Cleland told the audience, and I heard her loud and clear, that the best way to experience the tapestry show is to simply walk through the immense wall-hangings and breathe the air. Her show has created a different climate at the Met. I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

Diane von Furstenberg

When I read that line in her interview with Oprah in the December issue of O Magazine, I almost spit out my hot water and lemon drink. A rich, gorgeous, multimillionaire business phenom, married to Barry Diller questions her level of achievement?

Here’s the direct quote: You never really feel the success; you always feel the things that are going wrong. So many mornings I wake up and I feel like a loser, and I ask other people who are successful, “Do you ever feel like a loser?” and they say yeah.

Okay. I’ve had days like that, but ‘so many mornings’ – not so much.

It makes me curious to hear you weigh in on your level of success. What are you measuring? What makes you feel like a winner?

Personally, I feel at my professional best when I’m alone in my office, with a clear, clean desk, bills paid, calendar as full as I like it to be, which means with plenty of white space. I’ve just finished a coaching call or reached a satisfying outcome with a speaking prospect. My inbox is manageable and I’m excited to take on the next project. Currently, that project is writing memoir. I’m also organizing a retreat for women which is almost at capacity.

This makes me feel successful.

My relationships are in order. I have money in the bank. I feel well. I have plans to spend time with the people I care most about over the holidays. Simple as it sounds, this is what makes me feel successful. Maybe I’m confusing it with contentment.

How about you? How full is your cup today?


happy womanI had the sublime pleasure of being invited to participate on a field trip to Winterthur yesterday organized by a friend in the publishing industry. She generously added me to her guest list which included three additional women, all major players in that field (before they retired or moved on to newer ventures) hence their flexibility to go on a midweek excursion.

For me, the day was simply research.

On our Amtrak ride to Wilmington, I sat next to a former creative director who told me in no uncertain terms that our hostess is the happiest woman she knows. I nodded in agreement.

Carol Schneider, #1 Happy Woman, had gotten passes for us to see the Downton Abbey exhibit there because one of her current author’s wrote To Marry an English Lord. It’s on sale in the gift shop during this exhibition, and going to see the show made sense. Carol made it into a party, which is what happy people do–share the wealth.

Carol secured her second fabulous publishing post at Workman, but also prestigious group, after retiring from the earlier career. Since she works only a few days a week for Publisher #2, she spends much of her time working at her passion which is creating scarves from vintage kimonos. I own a couple, and they are gorgeous. Contact Carol for her upcoming show schedule in NYC:

carol schneider scarves

Carol Schneider’s Scarves and Accessories

She also has sons and grandsons whom she sees regularly.

This happiest woman enjoys a longterm love relationship and spends her weekends in Connecticut.  She travels regularly, sees all the latest shows and movies, enjoys dining out as well as cooking and entertaining.

Have you ever thought about who the happiest person you know is? Personally, I’d like to share that honor with her and nominate myself. Second, anyone?

jane at downton abbey exhibitDownton Carol S

violinist at Grand Central

Susan Keser performing at Grand Central Terminal

You see creative types trying all sorts of ways to get attention in NYC–laying out armloads of prints on tables along Times Square, quartets of young men calling for everyone’s attention on a subway car and then performing an outrageous gymnastics feat, or the standard ‘by permission’ performances in subway stations with appropriate signage advertising the group.

Occasionally, I fish in my wallet for loose change or a buck, but that’s the exception.

Last week, though, I saw an act in Grand Central Terminal that got a wholly different response from me. I actually took $15 out of my wallet and gave it to the performer for one of her thumb drives.

Here’s what she did differently and right:

  1. Played amazingly well.
  2. Dressed the part–Impeccably groomed, wearing a simple black outfit calling attention to her music, not her apparel.
  3. Great signage. It said what she was performing at the moment and which CD or thumbdrive included that piece.
  4. She had a tip ‘jar’ for those who may not have wanted a lengthier version, but did want to show appreciation.
  5. She let the public know how else they might hire her should they want to book her for a live performance.

Now think of what it takes to do something like this. Lots of preparation. Courage – to stand there for hours while hundreds, if not thousands, of people walk right by you. Planning and strategy to have everything anyone could request, stored in a portable device that could be easily wheeled around NYC and offers easy access. Nothing spoils a sale more than fumbling around apologetically while searching for the requested item. This woman was smooth as silk.

I’m thrilled to share her talent and professionalism with you. Susan Keser – Concert violinist with 35+ years experience.

I had written to Susan to ask her about her performance. Her response was extremely informational and helpful to any potential buskers out there. Here it is:

  1. In order to perform at Grand Central Terminal, one must be a member of Music Under New York (MUNY). To get into MUNY you have to audition.  The lower level dining concourse is a special “spot”, because the performer is required to keep the volume very low and the hours are very restricted (8:00am-10:00am only).
  1. As for how successful my time there was on that day, October 30th: It was about average. As most performers will say, there are good days and bad days.  In this case, it is all about who happens to be walking by and whether or not they like what I’m doing or not.  In general, New Yorkers are much more receptive to my music than tourists. The tourists pretend like they don’t understand what’s going on and just walk away from me without showing their appreciation.  The only time they get actively involved is when they see New Yorkers supporting me.
  1. I would definitely recommend performing for the public this way (it’s also known as busking, I believe). I began doing this during my younger years in Europe and got hooked on it. It’s quite a different experience from sitting on a stage as an orchestral musician, which I also did for 25 years.  In order to perform like I do in public, one has to develop a very high level of concentration, the ability to block out distractions and go into the music completely.

angry driverApproaching the West Side Highway exit for 42nd Street, I felt the energy of New York City, its pulsing beat merging with the honking horns and cacophony of people thronging the sidewalks. I was thrilled to be bringing my daughter into the city for her first Broadway show.

Traffic was particularly heavy as I drove up Eighth Avenue cruising for a parking garage. This was taking longer than I’d thought. It was almost quarter of two, showtime.

I spotted an outdoor lot midway between 47th and 48th Streets, a short walk to our destination. I joined the queue, fourth car from the front. Not too bad. Except that the particular proprietor here was taking his sweet time with his current customer. Didn’t he see the line of cars waiting for his attention?

And there’s this guy, dilly-dallying away, joking with the patron at his make-shift office as he handed her the ticket for her parked car. He cordially waved good-bye to her then moseyed up to car #2 where he leaned in, chatted up that driver, big smile on his face.

Does this man not care about making a profit? What about customer service? Can’t he see me there? Not even an acknowledgment, you know, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” He gave no notice of me sitting behind the wheel of my encumbrance—the obstacle between us and the orchestra’s overture.

Again, he took his bloody time helping the woman two cars ahead of me. I could feel my pulse quickening, my jaw tightening and my patience level shrinking.

“What’s taking so long, Mommy?” Laura asked from the back seat. “This guy doesn’t know how to run a business,” I retorted testily.

It was now 1:52pm and my stomach was in my throat. I detest being late. Especially when any decent place would have had two attendants at least. I needed to give this moron some business advice.

Finally, at 1:55pm, it was my turn. “Jeez, Mister,” I said, trying to suppress my rage. “Could you pick up the pace?”

“Ma’am,” he replied, “Don’t let your lack of planning become my emergency.” With that he took my keys, gave me my ticket, then moved to car #5. From his response it was clear that he’d attended a better self-help school than I.

I seethed over his remark through all of Act 1. “Mommy, what did he mean by that?” Laura questioned me at intermission, seeing how shaken I was. “What he meant was that if we had left the house earlier we would have had plenty of time to get parked and get to the show.” I knew I shouldn’t have answered when the caller ID had read Mother.

“Was that right, Mommy?” asked the innocent voice of youth.

I pondered her question during Act 2 planning out the message I wanted to give Laura and the one my gut was giving me. That still small voice within was whispering, “He was right, Jane.” I slunk back to the parking lot, Laura in tow. “I want to apologize for my rude behavior earlier. You were right, and I’m grateful to you for telling me so.”

“God bless you,” he replied gently. I could actually feel that blessing as he opened my car door for me that afternoon.

Cullen Thomas - My Memoir Instructor

Cullen Thomas – My Memoir Instructor

I want to learn and grow. Still, in my seventh decade.(That sounds really old, doesn’t it?!)

Which means putting myself into a learning environment, like the Gotham Writers Workshop, where I am thoroughly enjoying the memoir class I’m enrolled in.

This is my instructor, Cullen Thomas, author of Brother One Cell, an amazing memoir of his time spent in a Korean prison from ages 22 – 25. He’s a terrific guide for the dozen of us who meet every Wednesday from 7-10pm, inspiring me to read a list of recommended volumes, magazine and newspaper articles, and even watch the Noam Chomsky documentary called Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? which I can only pretend to comprehend.

Last Wednesday night I was ‘in the booth’, which meant that all the other writers dissected the 25 pages of manuscript I’d handed them the week before and gave me their feedback.

I own up to pushing my way into the Memoir II class without having the prerequisite Memoir I. Since I’d already written two books, blogged for six years and been married to an English teacher for decades, I felt qualified to skip that step. That said, I have found myself a bit short on the writers’ vocabulary being used in the critiquing discussions–like creating a major dramatic question (MDQ, even) for instance.

Mostly the feedback was extremely positive. In order to get over the couple of painful criticisms, I thought I’d share three of the highs and lows with you.

BTW, I don’t think my memoir is for everyone. If you haven’t done any self-examination in your life, it may be out of your comfort zone as I leave no rock unturned in looking at my own behavior and its ill-effects on me and everyone around me. Anyway, here are three gems that will help me get over myself AND keep me right-sized:

  • It reads like a friend complaining to another friend. [Ouch, that was the worst.]
  • Too favorably biased [helpful critique of my describing a marketing piece I’d had developed for my eggs as ‘well-written’]
  • Great paragraph, love how you capture those very telling moments and how you connect them to your own behaviors. I think people are reading memoirs for validations like these. [my favorite]

Tomorrow night is Session 5, halfway through the class. I’m already anticipating how I’ll continue on come January. I need structure, colleagues and deadlines. What’s keeping you on track these days?

(BTW, I took this photo particularly because I loved Cullen’s t-shirt. Under Shakespeare’s image is the quote: This s**t writes itself.)





masked faceLast night I dreamt that I was on my way to my memoir class and was crossing the campus (it’s actually housed in a skyscraper on 8th Avenue) on a snowy afternoon. I couldn’t get my footing and kept slipping backwards as I was trying to walk towards the building. I seemed unable to get there, not making any forward progress.

Hmmmm. Any symbolism there? My unconscious dreamt up a scenario that played out all of my fears and made memoir writing into a cold and unwelcoming place. Fortunately, I woke up from that reverie, acknowledged my creative unconscious and got back to work reading through all the comments I received on my submission last week.

While everyone is in a dress-up mood for Halloween, have you thought about what mask or outfit you might choose to put on or take off this year? The one that says SUCCESS or FRAUD? How about WRITER or MUSICIAN?

In your heart of hearts, you know what’s coming next for you. Really, how many people are 100% satisfied with the status quo? We’re always thinking one career or life move ahead, right? So, what’s on your agenda to claim in 2015?

Whenever you’re about to declare–internally or externally–your next goal, there’s fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success. How will I accomplish this? What if it doesn’t work out the way I thought it would? What might I have to give up if it actually does? Consciously or unconsciously, these play out in your mind.

I’ve got a bag of tricks and treats to offer those who know what calling is next and are stuck, struggling or simply need support in claiming what’s theirs. Join me on Monday night at my Remarkable Women’s Network to unmask your secret project in the safety and joy of a roomful of like-minded thinkers.

Bryan Mattimore’s Book of Creative Thinking

My Mastermind Intensive met last Friday and had the privilege of hearing Bryan Mattimore’s expertise on the subject of innovation and creative thinking. He’s the author of Idea Stormers and a long-time business associate of mine. He graciously accepted my invitation to inspire 8 remarkable women business owners and share lunch with us.

Inspire us he did! Using his own creative process as an example, he told of an experiment he self-imposed to come up with 21 big ideas (for business growth, but it could apply to personal as well)  in 21 days. To warm up for this exercise, he made a list of 70 ways to expand a business, bought magazines on a huge variety of subjects, and then read through them through the lens of his newly generated list.

He shared a term I’d never heard but had experienced: Principle Transfer. It means that you get an idea in one place and apply the skills, knowledge, etc. in a different arena. Using Eli Whitney’s cotton gin as his illustration, you could see the lightbulbs going off in everyone’s minds as ours expanded with the possibilities of this practice.

The benefit of this kind of rigorous challenge is that your inner critic gets quieter as you pursue the assignment. The assignment also gives you a way to hyper-observe and problem solve. As with Bryan’s technique called The Worst Idea, what you most want to do is take the pressure off of getting it “right.” This is enormously freeing.

Bryan also contributed a copy of his book to our group. Since we’re in the process of naming ourselves, he inscribed it to The Whatchamacallits.

The conversation on our private Facebook page has been flying back and forth as we allow ourselves to come up with the worst names ever for our extraordinary community. We’re laughing, creating and fully engaged.

We are all grateful for Bryan’s visit and generosity. Thank you, Bryan!

Debbie Roth Fay’s book on presentation skills

Don’t ask me why, but I keep my baby book (yes, from when I was a baby) on the lower shelf of my bedstand. Maybe it’s the memoir class I’m taking that has me reviewing my history, but this morning I came across my report card, hand-written my Miss Major about me as a 6-year old. “Jane is very sensitive,” it reminded me.

The reason I bring that up in regard to Debbie Fay is that she is the woman I’ve had coach me on my presentation skills for the past several years. There are few things in life as delicate as coaching a speaker. As you probably know, it’s the #1 fear of people in this country, ahead of death and spiders. It requires the gentlest, kindest, but also the most insightful and professional level of expertise to do well.

Which Debbie does.

Her brand new book, NAIL IT, on the subject is available starting TODAY! Not only do I congratulate Debbie, but also encourage you to plug into her wisdom, tools and strategies for nailing it–every time. Even though I’ve been a professional speaker for nearly two decades, Debbie helped me understand concepts–how to speak notes-free (!) and trust my own abilities in a way I’d never known before.

Seriously, if you’re at all interested in presenting like a pro, order her book today.


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