Fired At Fifty

Christine Till

A Conversation with Christine Till

As if the stress of worrying whether you’ve saved enough for a comfortable retirement weren’t enough to keep you awake at night, consider an even more daunting scenario: that you’re suddenly let go from your job 5-15 years earlier than you anticipated. The employment pool is quite a different one from that which you originally splashed into as a new grad ready to take on the world. Is it too late to reinvent yourself, to take a leap of faith, to finally discover what you were meant to do?

Not only has author Christine Till (aka The Marketing Mentress) been there/done that but she has also written a timely self-help book to help the over-50 crowd rise from the ranks of society’s new wave of unemployables.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind writing Fired at Fifty.

A: January 4th of 2011 I walked into my office, where I had been working as director of sales and marketing for the previous two and a half years, all excited and ready with my marketing plan for the new year. An hour later I walked out of that office, fired, with no prospects.

After “the dust settled” I started applying for another job, but to no avail. It seemed that nobody wanted me, except one company that offered me $10.00 an hour. That wasn’t enough to even pay the mortgage! I would have to be working three jobs at that rate! It was at this point that I decided to dig for my strengths and discover what I had in my tool chest that society would need, want, and be willing to pay for. This now meant that I needed to “sell myself”.

As I attended networking meetings, I looked around those tables and discovered that most of the people sitting there had grey hair, or they were bald! Most of those people were in the same position as me! I watched many people with huge degrees of education fall all over themselves trying to express to their audience what they had to offer. I wanted to help them somehow, but you cannot just go up to someone and tell them, “You need to lose the wrinkly polo shirt.” That would shatter their self-esteem. I knew I could help these people, so I decided to write my story in a self-help fashion; they could learn from what I went through.  

Q: Who is the target market for your book and what’s the takeaway message you’d like them to glean from its content?

A: By the time I decided to write my book, I had discovered that sixty-four percent of my followers online were male. The age range was 45-65+. They were five to fifteen years short of their financial goals for retirement. They still had mortgages to pay and children in college. They did not have loads of cash on hand to invest in a business. They were desperate to find a way to bring in a good income. I knew I had the answer for them. I could show them how to discover “what they were meant to do”.

Q: What are the “tsunamis” you refer to?

A: There are two tsunamis rising ever so silently. We all know they are there, but we choose to ignore them for the most part…especially the grey hair’d generation. The first one is social media. If we do not get on this wave and ride it for all it’s worth, we will be left in its wake! The second one is the boomer generation. This generation is a formidable force like no other before it. It is creating a whole new economy of trade. Thirty percent of the new businesses started in Canada alone last year were by people over fifty. Almost forty percent of those startups were service types of business.

Q: I understand that you’re donating to a local seniors’ organization. Can you explain more about this?

A: When I was working with the senior care industry, I put on a seniors fair at a local seniors center. They bent over backwards to help the fair be a success. I could see that they were struggling to find ways they could generate funds for facilitating their activities in the center. So, when I published my book, I decided that I would donate one dollar from the sale of every book to them. I have also donated ten books to them, to get them started.

Q: Tell us about your toolchest and what’s in it.

A: When I was “fired”, I had a podcast show called “Eldercare 911” and I called myself the eldercare specialist. So it was a natural transition to start “The Marketing Mentress” show. LinkedIn and helping people get their social media organized is my specialty. This uses my skills of public speaking and sales and marketing. In the past, I have taught workshops on the topics of “Enhancing Your Personal Marketability” & “The Ten Commandments of Business Management”. I have also put together a workshop for new immigrants who are starting a business in this country to help them learn how business gets done here.

Q: What are some ways to turn your age into an asset, monetize your skill sets, and stay afloat in an unsettled economy?

A: Be proud of who you are and how old you are. Age is only a number. Realize that you don’t have all the answers and be willing to work with others to help you monetize yourself. You are a commodity that is available with many strengths to offer society. You need to understand exactly what you have that will be needed and wanted in our society today. You need to understand exactly what your niche market is and market to that niche on a regular basis. You also need to be different, or you are dead in the water.

Q: Podcasting is on the rise these days as more and more people embrace the idea of becoming an armchair producer. How did you happen to foray into this dynamic new media tool and how is it working for you?

A: Everyone in business needs to have a blog. Your blog needs to be the center of your marketing plan. My podcast blog is the center of my marketing plan.

What a blast podcasting is! I love having people on my show to chat about their business and what makes them unique in the marketplace. I had been podcasting for two years before I was “fired”. So it was a natural transition to my new show. My gift of public speaking and song are able to shine through this medium. I have used it to position myself in the marketplace through bartering for “stuff”.

People want to be on The Marketing Mentress show. They will trade and pay for the opportunity to be featured. That is a huge way I was able to pay for coaching and help for my business.

Q: A recent article on The Exchange, a finance blog (http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/baby-boomers-jobs-younger-workers-214210886.html?.tsrc=sun?date=90390905), sets forth the idea that one of the reasons college grads are struggling to find employment is because the baby boomers are postponing retirement and staying in the workforce longer than previous generations. What’s your response to that?

A: One day these college grads will be in the same position as the boomers. They will be changing their tune in a big hurry. What everyone needs to realize is that “the day of the job is gone”! We all need to have something on the side that we do to earn income for ourselves, even if we do have a job. We all need to be thinking entrepreneurially.

What these young people need to understand is that it is their boomer parents who have put most of them through school and helped pay for their tuition. These same parents have had to pay for their parents’ retirement assistance because their parents were not financially prepared. Now these parents need to replace those funds and pay off their mortgages, so they will have money for their own retirement.

You see, according to Statistics Canada, 85% of boomers are not financially prepared for retirement. Where does that put our pension plan? The longer they can work, the better off the whole country will be.

My question to these young college grads is, “Are you ready to pay for your boomer parents’ retirement?” Your boomer parents are going to live much longer than their parents and are going to require much more financial preparation because of that.

Q: According to research published in 2012 by the Urban Institute, workers who are 50+ are 20 percent less likely to get re-hired following layoffs than candidates who are half their age. Has the phrase, “You’re overqualified for the needs of this position” become the new euphemism for “We think you’re way too old”?

A: Personally, I don’t think this is the case at all. Businesses are simply making a financial decision. It has nothing to do with age per se. What is being said here is that they cannot afford to pay the kind of salary the candidates have been accustomed to. This statement is not unique to the older generation. I have had prospective employers tell me this when I was in my twenties and thirties. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with budgets.

Having been in the position of managing the finances of a company, I have seen firsthand what happens to a company’s bottom line when the employees use the extended health plan a lot. The costs to the company increase. The older employees tend to use the extended medical more than their younger cohorts. That’s a fact.

Companies are opting to eliminate pension plans. They are letting people go from their jobs when they are in their fifties, so the company cannot be accused of letting them go just to avoid paying the pensions.

There are companies now who make it a policy not to hire anyone over fifty.

Q: People oftentimes stay in a job they hate – even if they know it’s only a matter of time before the ax falls – rather than take a leap of faith, reinvent themselves and launch their own dreams. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of waiting until they’re actually pink-slipped?

A: Great wisdom is learning from the experience of others. Just having a job is not enough in this day. We all need to have something on the side that we are using to generate income for ourselves. If we wait until we are pink-slipped, it will be too late to start something. We need to establish our niche now! I can help you with that.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: As a classically trained vocalist, I perform for seniors living communities. I usually have at least a couple of gigs a month. It fills my heart with joy to see smiles on the faces in my audience as we sing together the songs of Doris Day, Patti Page, Dean Martin, etc.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Now that Fired at Fifty has been published, I have noticed that it is stirring up great interest. So my next step is working the speaking circuit travelling locally and abroad to share my story and help this second tsunami with ideas and solutions to their dilemma of being “Fired at Fifty”.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: The big key I’ve learned from my experience is to be willing to “ask for help”. So many of us boomers are proud and feel like we should have all the answers and that we are smart, educated, full of wisdom. We are! But we don’t have all the answers and we do need to humble ourselves and ask for help. If we insist on being lone wolves, we will struggle much longer before we find out “what we were meant to do”.

Readers can learn more about Christine at marketingmentress.com.

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Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century

Clemens Rettich

A Conversation with Clemens Rettich

In his new book, Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century – author Clemens Rettich not only draws from real-life case studies of small company successes and failures but also walks readers through tips and strategies on how to borrow a page from the performing arts world and deliver stellar service that will rate a standing ovation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  Given your background in the performing arts, what correlations can be drawn to motivating a workplace “cast,” identifying flaws during “rehearsal,” finding an enthusiastic “audience,” and getting the “critics” to respect your efforts?

A: We don’t motivate a cast. We provide them with roles that light them on fire. We don’t need to motivate or empower people. The whole notion makes me uneasy. Who are we to give anyone else power? The best thing we can do is facilitate the environment around our performers to allow them to do their job. Give them the big picture, the back-story, the tools to do the job, then stay out of the way.

Theatre rehearsals and performances are a model for how more businesses should operate. Rehearsals are exactly that: practice. Every time I go into a retail establishment and suggest things like scripts, role play, or direction, I get push-back along the lines of “That is so artificial; it isn’t who I am to talk like that. It won’t sound natural.” Funny. I never noticed that in the 30 years I have been watching films and theatre. That the actors sound artificial. How could I have missed that?

And when the show is over, or the scene is shot, the whole cast and crew does ‘notes’. We get together and review everything that went well and that needs improvement. The only place I see that as a matter of course in the business world is in the hotel industry. Other businesses could learn a lot from that disciplined approach to team reviews of daily performance.

Your audience and your critics are your customers. American Idiot isn’t The Sound of Music. Find your audience. If you don’t have critics, you don’t have a show I care about; it means you are so vanilla and so forgettable, I don’t even want to know. Take a position and make some enemies. Your audience will come back night after night if you give them the experience you promised them. Experience, not products or services, or even customer service.  Experience.

Q: What was the inspiration to write Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century?

A: Seeing how few small business owners really understood the fundamentals they needed to master to grow a business. Heck, most business owners don’t even know that ‘growing the business’ is what they are supposed to be doing. I wanted a book that was both inspiring and practical. And I wanted a book that shared some of the approaches to successful execution that the performing arts world already understands: the relationship between practicing the fundamentals and improvising with whatever happens when the curtain goes up.

Q: Who’s your target audience and what will be the biggest takeaway value for them by the time they finish reading?

A: Any small business owner will benefit from reading this book. The feedback I have had has far exceeded my expectations. I just met with an associate yesterday who said she had my book on her desk and a client picked up to look at it, read a few pages, and promptly “stole” the book. When my associate called her client to ask about the book, she replied “This book is amazing, and I’m not returning it until I’m done.” I gave my associate another copy. Free. You can’t buy marketing like that.

The number one thing I want a small business owner to take away from the book is the understanding that the fundamentals matter, what those fundamentals are, and how to use them to do the one thing you should be doing as a business owner: grow your business towards a determined exit.

Q: Tell us about the structure of the book and why you felt this was a practical approach in presenting your material.

A: Practical schmactical. I had fun with it. The book is divided into 3 acts and a number of scenes. Like a script. My publisher Influence Publishing and I worked that out.

The only part that ended up being a nice ‘true’ fit for the structure was Act III which is all about designing your exit from your business. The rest is just playful.

Q: With so many business titles already on today’s market, what do you feel distinguishes yours from the competition?

A: I tell the truth in a way that is both inspiring and sobering. You try to hit that balance! Almost no other book I have read (and I read business books constantly) hits that note. Ninety percent are all inspiration and no substance. Or the substance is nonsense. Can you have substantive nonsense? No real understanding of marketing, finances, psychology, statistics, etc. All of the underpinnings of what makes a real business really successful. There are no secrets. No “believe it and it will happen” patchouli-scented magic. This book is a script for a great small business performance. There isn’t anything else like it that I have ever found.

Great Performances challenges you to learn the fundamentals, practice them every day, have the courage to improvise on those fundamentals, and have the courage to design a giant vision, and the discipline to take the daily baby steps required to get there.  Most small businesses fail, and there is a reason for that. It is incredibly hard. This book, if you take its contents seriously, will increase your likelihood of surviving, and even thriving.

Q: What are some of the section topics you cover?

A:  ACT I: Putting People First. I talk about customer and employee relationships, how to manage them, and why retention is the most important strategy of any business.

ACT II: Maximizing Limited Resources. We look at the only 3 resources any business has to grow: time, people, and money. I write about priority management, how to go about planning your business over time, and how to manage all of the financial building blocks a small business owner must contend with, including debt.

ACT III: Planning Your Exit. The final section looks at management, and managing your business to develop an asset with real value. We talk about the incredible importance of documents like Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) in that process. And we focus on how important it is to design an exit that generates maximum value for the business owner.

Q: What part of the book was the most challenging for you?

A: Writing it. That isn’t a facetious response because while all of the content for the book was at my fingertips, and while I have been writing and teaching writing for years, I also have a business advising/coaching/consulting practice and speaking schedule that leaves very little extra time for something as significant as a book. So having the discipline to carve out the hours required was very challenging. There was no way that would have happened without the support of my wife and family. Much of the time I took to write the book, I took from time with them. They were incredibly supportive.

Q: Tell us about your online coaching program and how the growing popularity of distance learning interfaces with the principles of your book.

A: I am currently in the process of restricting the online portion of my practice. I have not been happy with the platform I was using. Currently I provide business support for clients throughout Canada, using a combination of my new online platform, Podio, and Skype (as well as other fantastic tools like Evernote and Dropbox).

I don’t think there is a direct connection between what I teach in the book and the world of online learning, except perhaps to say that if much of what business owners need to know is a set of fundamentals, those are as easily communicated online as face to face.

I am in the process of building an online community for small business owners based on the content of the book. I am rolling that out through a series of not-online workshops starting this summer.  People taking the Great Performances workshops will have an opportunity to continue their learning and mentoring online.

Q: There’s no question that an unstable economy such as the one we have now is making people wary of taking personal and professional risks. Let’s say that someone comes to you and says, “I know I’ve steered my small business into a dead-end. I’d rather be doing something else but leaps of faith take time and money, neither of which I have. Should I just try to ride things out and hope the economy gets better?”

A: No. Stop now. Get a job.

One of the most frustrating and humbling things I have to do in my practice is let a small business owner know they have let things go too long and the resources they have left (time & money) are not sufficient to the task of growing the business any more. Time to close the doors.

Business owners who see things sliding wait FAR too long before seeking real help. And even when they bring me in, they are still reluctant to make substantive changes. They insist on continuing practices (or the lack of practices) that have already put them at serious risk.

There is huge value in faith and persistence and optimism. They are the most important traits of a small business owner. But the failure to get professional input and change course the very instant revenues and profits start to dry up, is almost always fatal.

Q: In your opinion, is it more challenging to start a new business from the ground up or reinvent an existing one?

A: Reinvent an existing one, unless the existing business is already VERY healthy. Change takes enormous resources and the saddest irony of all is that most business owners want to reinvent their business because they have completely run out of resources. Too late.

Momentum is everything. And as we learn from basic engineering and physics, any change in direction of a body or fluid in motion creates turbulence and draws resources.

Starting something well, even on limited resources is always easier than changing something that is off course, especially on limited resources!

Q: If you could have lunch with any famous business leader from the past 100 years, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Jerry Baldwin and the original founders of Starbucks. The transition from single shop to the vision beyond, is one of the most interesting moments in business. I would love to go over the conversations and thinking that took place in the mid-1980’s and that lead to the Starbucks we know today.

Also I would love to talk to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines who was the great voice for putting employees ahead of shareholders and even customers in the growth of a business. I would love to ask him how he came to that conviction.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: So many things… but the one that seems to draw the most visible surprise when I speak to people is that English was not my first language. It was German.

Q: How has your book been received since its release?

A: It has blown me away. The reviews on the site tell the story (http://www.greatperformances.ca/the-book/the-reviews/). And it is a story I really didn’t expect.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Designing the Great Performances workshops and kicking off that process in British Columbia before taking it to the rest of the country, and ultimately North America.

Continuing to grow my business while building capacity to help my clients grow theirs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The best way to connect with me and with the world of Great Performances in small business is through my Facebook Page (clemensrettich#) and my blog www.smbfundamentals.com.

Of course there is always buying the book… but that crosses into shameless self-promotion.

 

 

Kiss Chronicles

Kiss_Chronicles_Cover_Final

“The sound of a kiss” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”

Do you remember the very first kiss you ever gave or received? Virginia M. Sanders not only waited three decades for this auspicious event to occur but also made it the subject of her memoir, Kiss Chronicles. While her text is primarily targeted to females between the ages of 15 and 35, its message of love, loss and unabashed mirth will resonate with anyone who believes in the magic of romance and the priceless value of supporting worthy causes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us the inspiration behind your new book, Kiss Chronicles.

A: To answer that question, I actually need to take it back a little farther, to what started the whole Kiss Chronicles project. Before I turned 30, I’d been feeling anxious that I hadn’t gotten my first kiss yet. And then after my 30th birthday, I wanted to take action, to do something that felt right to get that kiss. When the thought occurred to me that, hey, people have auctioned stranger things than first kisses on eBay, so why not? At first, I threw the idea out because the money in an auction involved made it a bad idea. Then the idea came to me that the money didn’t have to come to me — it could go to charity instead. And I fell in love with the idea. Then everything that happened after that eventually lead to the book.

Q: The craft of writing not only enables us to make new discoveries about ourselves but also to provide closure for certain events and relationships in our past. What was your own experience with this in penning a soul-bearing memoir?

A: By the time I began writing the book, I needed it. I needed to put every word down, one after the other, to process my feelings and thoughts and work past them. I needed to pull my stories together to see how I’d come to that point in my life. Writing Kiss Chronicles was like being at the narrow point of an hourglass, filtering sand through that point grain by grain. The process brought me valuable lessons and healing.

Q: What governed your choice to make Kiss Chronicles a nonfiction title instead of a novel?

A: Wow, it never even occurred to me to novelize it. Huh. But truthfully, even if it had occurred to me, I wouldn’t have done that. By writing nonfiction, I discovered that this was the one story I could tell that could never belong to anyone else. Still, I do look forward to going back to fiction writing.

Q: Fiction enables a writer to take more liberties with the truth and, in doing so, maintain a safe distance of personal privacy. Are there other differences you encountered over the course of structuring your story?

A: The difference between fiction and nonfiction…to me, writing nonfiction felt kind of like cheating because I already knew the whole story. I didn’t have to invent characters or their backgrounds. I didn’t have to build a world. I was never surprised when something I wrote went in an unexpected direction. Writing nonfiction was like adding colors to a sketched outline rather than facing the daunting prospect of painting on a blank canvas.

Q: Were you/are you a voracious reader? If so, who are some of the authors you most admire and why?

A: I love to read. I admire C.S. Lewis for his wonder, Tolkein for his astonishing commitment to his world, and Lewis Carroll for his nonsense. In more modern times, Rob Thurman and S.U. Pacat are both writers that I stalk, er, um, I mean I appreciate their talents. And Robin McKinley wrote my favorite book, the darkest of dark fairy tales, Deerskin.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I’ve started Les Misérables, unabridged, and let me tell you, this one’s going to take me a while. I expect I’m going to have to take a break from it once or twice and read something that’s pure, unrepentant fluff.

Q: Fairy tales are everywhere, frequently permeating literature, movies and stage plays with characters, quests and object lessons that subsequently feel familiar to us. How do you use this storytelling device in your own work?

A: I mention fairy tales more than once in the body of the book, but I also had fun with the theme by threading a completed fairy tale throughout the book, beginning each of the chapters (and ending one or two of them). I took my nonfiction story and turned it into a fairy tale allegory, which supports the through lines of the whole tale. And, of course, the fairy tale concept had an obvious impact on the cover.

Q: In one word, how would you describe your first kiss?

A: Spoiler!

Q: If you could go back and invite any celebrity to the kiss auction in your book, who would it be and why?

A: Ahaha, wait, what? You mean to be the kisser? I can tell you this for sure: It would NOT be Gene Simmons!

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: Stare at blank page. Walk away. Come back and stare again. Chew fingernail. Walk away and use the laser pointer to tease a cat. Come back and write a sentence. Shout with joy and suddenly write bunches of paragraphs. Realize that an hour has gone by and, oh, where did all those words come from? Good job. Eat chocolate. Repeat.

Q: Are critique groups a help or a hindrance in a writer’s journey to find his/her unique voice?

A: A critique group, a good critique group, will be the greatest asset on a writer’s journey to tell a story. As for finding a unique voice, I’m not sure about that. Although I’ve belonged to a critique group for four years now, and I’ve met many people through it, I have yet to meet a writer who didn’t already have a unique voice. The group might have some influence on how that voice gets refined, to help polish it and make it shine, but it was already there to begin with. The group, my group at least, has much more to say about the mechanics of the writing.

For writers looking to find a critique group, the first place to check is MeetUp.com to see whether there are any local, established groups. If that doesn’t work, poke around at a library and see whether a friendly librarian knows of any crit groups. Or try searching online for “writing group [your location]” or “writing critique [your location]” and see what’s out there.

If you decide you need to start your own group, you can set it up on MeetUp.com and make it a regular event. (My group started off meeting every other week. Now we meet weekly.) Try to have at least a couple of other people you know, writers, who can help establish a reliable core membership. You’ll also want to set up rules, such as how long critique submissions should be and how far in advance of the meeting people need to submit the text to be read. You can use systems such as Dropbox, Yahoo! Groups, or Google Docs to share files.

Q: Was the decision to self-publish one that you made from the outset or did you pitch through traditional channels first?

A: I didn’t decide to self-publish at the outset, but nor did I pitch to any traditional channels. I pitched through entirely non-traditional channels at first. What I really wanted to do was work with a cancer-related charity and have the book benefit it directly. And who knows? Maybe that could be a possibility in the future. But for now, I’m content to be self-published and still benefitting charity, albeit through a workaround.

Q: What do you know now about the pros and cons of self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: In traditional publishing, the author gets hears a lot of “no” on the front end, before publishing the book. In self-publishing, the author hears a lot of “no” on the back end, after publishing the book. In self-publishing, the con is that I still have to fight to get my foot in the door and gain acknowledgement, but the pro is that even while I’m doing that work my book is already out, available, and able to start collecting reviews and momentum.

Q: How do you deal with the bias of publishing a “free” ebook?

A: For me, it’s still early days. I don’t think I’ve had to face this bias directly yet. I know it’s out there, though, the opinion that an author would only publish a book for free because it just isn’t that good and wouldn’t sell. That’s not the truth. Sometimes great writers have valid reasons for making books or short stories free.

However, I’ve realized a terrible indirect downside to my book being free: I can’t hold giveaways. People love to get something for free that wouldn’t otherwise be free, and so many authors are using that as a great promotional tool, giving away free or discounted books and gaining attention in the process. It’s a valuable way to spread the word, but I can’t join the giveaway fun.

Q: You indicate that you wrote this book for social good and wanted to leave it to readers to decide how and whether they take action. Tell us a little more about that.

A: Yes, this book is devoted to raising funds and awareness for cancer research and patients. It’s a cause that’s very personally significant to me because I’ve lost two immediate family members to cancer. I have a fundraising page set up for the book on Razoo at http://www.razoo.com/story/Kiss-Chronicles. It’s a third-party fundraising site, so the money is going to the charity and is tax deductible for the reader.

Donations are great and very much appreciated. However, each reader is unique and might want some say in where the donation goes. I picked a charity that fights multiple cancers, but what if the reader would prefer to donate to a cancer-specific charity, such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? I welcome the reader to do that. And what if the reader doesn’t have the cash to spare but has some free time? In that case, volunteering for a charity event might be perfect.

Of course I’d like my fundraising page to do well. In fact, it can and will do well. But I also think that someone reading my book might be able to come up with a brilliant idea that I never thought of, and I want to encourage that. I realize, of course, that plenty of readers will simply read the book without taking action. Still, I believe in planting seeds of potential even if they don’t sprout right away.

Q: What would fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I once had a dream that I got my first kiss from a web comic character named Skids. True story. He was a good dream kisser, too.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Fiction! I want to write some short stories and work with some new characters with super powers and maybe even go back to an old fairy tale that’s still in progress. More blogging as well, so the nonfiction doesn’t get to go away completely.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I blog at http://kisschronicles.com, and occasionally I post on the BlogHer network site. And you can find me tweeting on @KissChronicle.

The Invisible Storm

Juanima

I am honored to share my interview with Juanima Hiatt, a bighearted, beautiful, empowering woman who courageously shares her experiences with PTSD and her journey to rebuilding her life from the inside out in The Invisible Storm. She writes an uplifting blog and offers a complimentary coaching session to help others create their unique path to healing, balance, joy and freedom. (She welcomes all emails, anytime: Juanima@healingmindscoaching.com.)

Juanima’s coaching practice, Healing Minds Coaching, LLC, utilizes intelligent questions to empower people to discover their own solutions. As Juanima says, “I have a special place in my heart to help people who suffer from anxiety and PTSD get back on the road as the driver of their life, not the passenger… PTSD robs the sufferer of the life they lived before the trauma. There is no going back, but it is very possible to create a life that is even better than what they had before.”

She leads the first PTSD support group in Hillsboro, Oregon, which is growing fast. Juanima has also teamed up with Susan Ulbright (a gifted LCSW specializing in trauma and PTSD) to develop a 10-week workshop on PTSD and recovery, and another weekend workshop for trauma survivors to rediscover the meaning in their lives. The workshops will be announced sometime in the late summer/early autumn.

The second edition of The Invisible Storm will be released in June, with a list of trigger warnings and new information about recovering from PTSD.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Your book, The Invisible Storm, acts as both champion and confidante for those who have experienced PTSD or sexual abuse. When and how did you choose to share your story?

I knew, even while I was in the pit of despair with PTSD, that I would someday write my story. That day didn’t come until May 2010, however, when I was healed enough to look back at my journey objectively, and from a healthy perspective. My desire in sharing my story is twofold.  PTSD is a horrific experience that people don’t understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves. The only way I could help people really understand PTSD was to bring them deep into my world as I suffered through it. From the emails I get from readers, I know it worked.  There are also many myths and misunderstandings about this disorder, and I wanted to give some truths. I also wanted to bring hope and encouragement to other PTSD sufferers. I wanted to show that if one is willing to do the work, he/she CAN recover.

I like how you made it clear recovery can come in many forms. How did you manage to weave everything together to create such a quilt of your life?

I eventually realized that while my daughter’s birth triggered the onset of PTSD, the true source was the sexual abuse I endured as a child. As difficult as it was to write about the trauma, I knew I had to. However, I also wanted to tell the truth about how difficult it was for me to face the trauma, as I imagine it is for anyone with PTSD. As far as the “sources” I used to write it, I couldn’t have written about my therapy sessions without the notes my friend, Traci, took, because I dissociated so badly in every session. The journal entries helped me relive the depth of pain I experienced, though I admit, at times, I didn’t need any help. Parts of the writing were excruciating. I also asked every family member to read the manuscript before I published it. Some of my family members are not painted in the best light at times, and because I love and care deeply for them, I wanted their blessing to write the hard stuff. I know it could have backfired, but everyone was incredibly gracious in letting the story stand. My therapist explained that their part in the story is critical, because every family will relate in some way to certain “unhelpful” behaviors and misunderstandings. I also asked them to read it so they would finally understand what PTSD was like for me. I got great feedback and validation, and I feel very blessed to have such an amazing, supportive family.

That support structure makes a tremendous difference. How did you research the list of resources at the end of your book?

I found every resource listed to be beneficial to me throughout my healing and recovery. When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I researched endlessly online to find out everything I could about the disorder, and what I was up against. It helped me—and my family—as I progressively shared what I learned.

Thank you for sharing them with us. The passages you chose at the outset and the end of your book are lovely, and could apply to anyone regardless of their creed. While you depict your relationship with God beautifully, please share with us your connection.

Wow… that’s a great question. I’m thinking about writing another book solely about my journey with God, because it’s been a roller coaster. The interesting part is that God is like the track. He never changes. He stays the same, always. He is strong and secure and holds us up. I was like the car, however, always moving, wildly changing directions, with lots of screaming involved.

There were times in my life, especially during the worst years of abuse, and the worst parts of PTSD, when I felt completely abandoned by God. I cried out to Him but I couldn’t hear Him answer. I felt so incredibly alone. I can even say that when I was sixteen, I hated Him, I was so full of anger at His lack of caring. Or…that’s what it seemed. What I know now is that God is the same whether we believe it or not. He is always with us, whether we feel Him or not. What we think of God manifests from our beliefs about Him. Believing He is there even when we don’t feel Him or hear from Him is called faith. Now, I understand Him. I know He never left me—not once. I know He grieved when others were harming me. I also know that I have lost so much in my life, and have had so much stolen from me, but I am witnessing today the fulfillment of His promise to restore what was lost. It’s really incredible. I love Him with all my heart, and I know He really does have a good plan for each of our lives.

Wow, thank you. What advice would you give to fellow memoirists?

There is so much power in telling your story, whatever it is. Maybe your goal is publication, or maybe it’s just to get your story on paper for your children and/or family. But what’s important is to not put it off. Don’t delay. Your story becomes a timeless legacy for your loved ones, and if you publish it, it just might become a powerful memento or treasure to a stranger you may never meet. One of the most moving statements I’ve received from a reader was, “Thank you for writing this book. I feel understood for the first time in my life.” I mean…wow. That is a priceless gift I will carry with me forever—to know my story impacted someone like that.

Congratulations for making everything work so you could deliver your story into their hands. What was it like to self-publish The Invisible Storm?

I couldn’t have done it without the incredible people in my life. My sister-in-law, Rebecca Reinke-Merrion of Reinke Creative, designed my book cover. She happens to be an amazing graphic designer, and this was her first book project. I also got lucky and found a colleague looking to trade her editing talents for a book review of her recently published book, and she helped me improve the manuscript immensely. My family—especially my dad and stepmom—read the manuscript multiple times to help me perfect the details (and it’s not an easy read, so my gratitude runs ocean deep for the time they dedicated to it, while putting their emotions aside). I actually enjoyed the process of self-publishing. I decided to go that route because I didn’t want to wait two years to see my book on a shelf. I have too many other projects I want to get busy on!

Yes! What has been your marketing plan?

I use social networking a lot, including Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I have found the Goodreads giveaways bring great exposure to my book! I try to blog uplifting and encouraging posts on a regular basis at my author website and I guest blog whenever possible to discuss PTSD and my memoir. I’m very grateful for every opportunity! I also rely greatly on word-of-mouth. I  do book signings, speaking engagements, and interviews, which are also great marketing tools.

What do you hope to achieve with your book and your message, in empowering those who are affected by childhood sexual abuse (not just the children, but all those that these abuses impact)?

First, that healing is possible, but second, that healing is a choice. The terrible risk of living one’s adult life in denial of the past is a later onset of PTSD. We can’t foresee traumatic events occurring in our lives. My triggering event was the traumatic birth of my second daughter in 2003, and then I had no choice but to face my past abuse. I honestly thought I was over it, but I was so wrong. Abuse affects our lives in countless ways, damaging the core of who we are and how we see ourselves, as well as our perceptions of the world around us. Our behaviors stem from our beliefs, and when our beliefs about ourselves and others are tainted, relationships suffer. My goal is to encourage healing not only within the individual who suffered child abuse, but the relationships with their loved ones as well. Everyone in the survivor’s life is impacted by it.

Yes, the “darkness” spills out in sneaky ways; I’m grateful you capture all sides of the issue. From my experiences with PTSD, let me thank you on behalf of our spiritual kin—perhaps all PTSD is its own kind of “soul murder”, and you shine a light on how to recover ourselves to a semblance of a whole. What do you recommend as people seek that balance between who they were before, and who they became after, the PTSD?

“Soul murder” is pretty accurate. I remember saying during the worst years of PTSD, “I just want to be who I was before. I hate who I am now. I feel like a monster! I want my old life back!” What’s amazing to me is how I now read that over and over—verbatim—from other PTSD sufferers.

First, coming to terms with PTSD—for me—was a process much like grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I went through every stage. I eventually had to accept PTSD, but I also had to accept I would never “get back” the life I had before, or the person I was before. But we are never completely destroyed in this journey.

In the early days of PTSD, I felt like I’d fully lost who I was before, but my little brother made me see that wasn’t true.  PTSD shatters the heart, mind, and even the soul, and yet the core of our being remains—it just becomes overshadowed by the pain and torment of the disorder. But as you recover, and do the work of healing, the shattered pieces start coming back together; only this time, they’re stronger. YOU are stronger. But you have to do the work, and you have to choose every day to do something that moves you towards the person you want to be.

This is what I mean when I say I help people write their new life story. It can seem, while you’re suffering, that life will never get better. It took me a while to grab hold of those reigns and take control again. In these recent years, I started building my life back up again. I kept my vision alive of who I want to be, and stayed determined to never let fear or this disorder keep me from having a fulfilled life. I’m not saying I’m completely free, but my life is so much better, and I’m so much more powerful than I ever was before. My family can attest that all the hard work has paid off. I’m a changed woman, and I’m whole, and I want to remind people that whether we have PTSD or not, we are the author of our own life story. And if you do have PTSD, don’t write yourself that ticket to eternal submission. There is hope for us ALL to recover and have a fulfilled life.

Awesome! On a different note, how is your novel going?

It was put on hold, unfortunately, while I went to school to become a life coach. Now that I’m certified, and my practice is open, I’m working on bringing my passion of writing back. I just can’t stay away from this keyboard for too long! I have a political thriller in development, but I’m also developing a YA novel series. I’m excited about this project, because I have a huge heart for teenagers. Each novel deals with a tough issue such as eating disorders, divorce, domestic violence, abuse, running away, self-harm, etc. I’m close to this because every issue is based on my own life experience. I understand, and more than anything, I want teens to know they’re not alone in their struggles, and there is hope.

Those will be great books, I’m sure. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my heart, my experiences with PTSD, and my message of hope. Somebody once said, “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.” My life with PTSD didn’t start to improve until I embraced the journey ahead (no matter how long it took), dug my feet in, and gave healing 100%. We are all stronger than we think. PTSD instills a lie that it’s bigger than we are, and our only choice is to succumb to its power. But like I said, that’s a lie. There are answers out there that will take each of us forward. There are tools and resources that will help us in our healing. There are people who care and want to see you recover. I’m one of them. I’m always open and willing to share my experiences with others, whether it’s about healing from childhood sexual abuse, or my journey with PTSD.  You’re not alone in your fight. Don’t ever lose hope for a better, stronger you, and an abundant life. And never, ever give up.