A Chat With Steph Young

No Plus One cover.jpg

In the sort of “perfect” world the mothers of an earlier generation envisioned for their daughters, every “meet cute” that transpired in a laundromat would magically end up in a fairy tale wedding, every blind date set up by well intentioned friends would be Hugh Grant and not Eddie Munster, and every man who ever whispered all the right words would actually fulfill them. In the wackily imperfect world of the 21st century, however, finding “Mr. Right” has more likely become a quest for “Mr. Right For Now” or a reluctant acceptance that maybe matrimony just isn’t in the cards one has been dealt.

In her new book, No One Plus One: What To Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy, author Steph Young embraces a mirthful message of female empowerment – that instead of lamenting you’re seated at a table for one, you should be happy that you neither have to share your dessert nor be chided about whether you’re cheating on your diet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why do you feel the message of your book is important, especially in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not meant to live our lives as singletons?

A: My friend Jill Dickman and I dated a lot and we were single all the time. Though we were still working through our own disappointments, our friends would always come to us for advice when they were newly single. The common themes were boredom and loneliness. The loneliness seemed to stem from a lack of self-confidence. They wanted reassurance that they were desirable – don’t we all?

Predominately media makes a fairytale ending seem like the norm, which becomes the ultimate success for women. Try to think of a movie – even those with strong female lead characters – that doesn’t end with a love connection. So when your life isn’t turning out like the movies, women tend to assume something is wrong with us. Jill and I recognized this and set out to tell women that it’s okay to be single. And while we are single, whether for 2 weeks or 10 years, we should still enjoy life, not pine away for a perfect relationship, which seems to be up to chance or luck anyway. We promote the idea of feeling complete as is.

Q: If you could time-travel, what would you most like to go back and tell your younger self about romance, sex and happily ever after?

A: I probably did tell myself this, or somebody did…But really, just stop worrying, analyzing, fretting. Time will take care of everything. We are all on the right path to where we need to go. Single or taken, life is to be lived so don’t waste time analyzing if somebody likes you back or not. Just keep it moving and do what makes you happiest. Another huge piece of advice that finally clicked for me recently is to stop beating myself up. So much energy is spent feeling bad for what’s not going right. This is the biggest time waste/energy suck there is. It has absolutely no positive value. It doesn’t make you feel better; it doesn’t motivate or inspire. It just makes you feel like shit. It was a hard shift to stop doing this, but once I got some mastery of it, my life changed.

Q: What’s the stupidest thing you ever did in the name of love?

A: I haven’t done many stupid things in the name of love, but when you fall sometimes insecurity seeps in and gets the best of us. One time I was fearful that a guy I was dating was sleeping with other girls, so one night I waited outside his house in my car to see if I could catch a girl coming in or out of his place. Now as an older, wiser me, I would handle this insecurity with good communication and getting up the guts to talk to him about it. Or if I felt he wasn’t showing me the kind of love that made me feel secure, I’d probably just stop seeing him. I really admire a friend of mine who moved to Europe in the name of love. She left her whole life and started over for a really, really nice guy. It’s been working out so far. They are now married and have lived together for four years. We all have different paths; we can’t judge our own life on somebody else’s. I don’t know if I would be able to take a leap like that but I love that she did. It’s all part of the adventure.

Q: What inspired you to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and turn your perspectives about living an unapologetic single life into a book?

A: The book started on a whim. It happened one day when Jill and I were sitting in our living room (we were roommates at the time) and going through old journals and cracking up at our ridiculous dating stories. Then we said out loud, “We should write a book” and so it was. We put together an outline and some ideas that afternoon and picked it up every so often. The slow process lasted for years until we got serious about it last year and set the goal to complete and publish No Plus One.

I had no idea what writing a book would entail, and I really didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I don’t think all messages make for good books, but we agreed the story + “how-to” nature along with the homework would warrant a short and snackable book.

Q: What governed the decision to write a book from two people as one?

A: We initially started writing the book as a fictional story from one character’s point of view, however it wasn’t really coming together, so we decided to switch to a non-fiction, how-to / self-help style. Our stories were so similar, we felt it would be less confusing to the reader for us to seam our stories together rather than following two separate narratives. We also wanted to get to the heart of the issues rather than drag the reader through backstory and set up.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the day-to-day development process worked for both of you.

A: We worked really well over Google docs. When one of us would get stuck, we would hit the other up and say, “Can you pick this up?”  Since we knew each other so well, we could essentially fill in the missing pieces. We were friends for a long time and we had both lived through a lot of the stories together.

Another tactic that worked was when we’d jump on the phone while both of us were in the live Google doc and talk and write. That was really efficient because by working together we didn’t let writers block settle in for too long. Either the other person would pick up and write, or we could talk through what we were really trying to say. Talking out loud often helped us find the right words to write down.

Q: How do you manage to stay away from envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your friendship/partnership?

A; It can be an easy to fall into the trap of wanting individual success or feeling resentful if you feel like you’re contributing more than another person. When we decided to finish the book, Jill and I clearly outlined our individual goals, desires, and expectations on how we wanted to contribute to the project and what we wanted to get out of it. We agreed that our number one goal was to get our message out. We weren’t using this platform to turn a huge profit or grow our personal platforms, though either of those would be an added bonus. We really believed in our message and wanted to help women. We also outlined a partnership contract that identified how we would split everything should we turn a huge profit. The important part of that process wasn’t necessarily having a signed contract, but rather working through the contract together. It gave us a forum to communicate. It can be awkward approaching a friend about a contract. It can seem insulting, like you don’t trust the other person, but I’ve been on the loosing end of a friendship agreement before, so I was happy to go through any awkwardness if it meant saving our friendship in the end.

Q: What was the greatest challenge during the creative process?

A: The biggest challenge was writer’s block. It’s really hard to make a streamlined and cohesive story, especially sustained over nine chapters. Getting the words on the page was difficult, editing and re-writing parts that didn’t make sense was even more painful. Being persistent was also really hard. It took over a year of intense and consistent writing and editing. I have a full time job so the time I would write was at five o’clock in the morning. Getting up and doing this everyday was a challenge but it soon became habit.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when this journey toward publication began?

A: I didn’t know how long the marketing process would be. Books are different than other products because the word of mouth is much slower. People need to read the book before they pass it along. So after a year of marketing we are still gaining interest and audience, we haven’t reached a tipping point yet, but I know with consistency of messaging we will find the right fans. With a traditional publisher, they will typically do a big marketing/PR push for you at the beginning. I talked to people who had gone the traditional route and still were not satisfied even though they had a big publisher behind them. They also had less control of the outcome. The decision to self-publish meant we had to do all the work, but we also control all the profit as well. We also can continue hitting new audiences and trying new marketing tactics long after the launch.

Q: Did you ever encounter writer’s block along the way? If so, how did you get past it?

A: All the time. Writer’s block, frankly, sucks. One tactic we used was to talk through it. I would call Jill or she me, and we’d say what we were trying to say. By the time we had talked for five minutes, we had formulated the words and could continue writing. Another tactic is free-form writing. When you can’t find the right words, sometimes just writing any words, even if they don’t make any sense, can get you past writer’s block. The last part is to read. When I run out of inspiration I remember to look outward. Sometimes I’d find the nugget I was missing while exploring other articles, books, artwork, etc. Also, the same goes for getting out of your house to experience the real world. Our life experiences give us insights that we use, so it’s important to take time out to go get some new material and perspective.

Q: Tell us about the decisions you made regarding a publisher once the book was done.

A: We made the decision to self-publish before we completed the book. Often when pitching to a traditional publisher, you don’t need the final manuscript, you need a pitch. Early on we pitched our project to literary agents and got a few bites, but after a year of this we grew impatient of the process. We decided that getting the message out was far more important than signing with a publisher so we set on self-publishing. It’s a much more involved process, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in anything business minded. If you only enjoy the writing process, I would suggest trying to find a publisher (even a small one) who can help with the publishing details. I personally love business and new projects, so it was something I wanted to dive into. There is a huge learning curve, so it was important to give myself time and do a ton of research throughout the process.

Q: What has been the response by your readers?

A: The response has been more fulfilling than either of us imagined. While I feared scrutiny, mostly I just wanted to make sure people “got it.”  It was really important to have the message land. We wanted women, and especially single women, to feel good. We designed the book from the format to the length to do just that. When I see comments or reviews and women say that single or not, they’ve gained a sense of empowerment or self-confidence, it fills my heart. It means a lot that our message and experiences can directly connect with somebody and impact their life. I believe in paying it forward and in the power of positivity, so I feel good knowing that I’m spreading positive messaging around in the world.

Q: What are you doing to promote this title and which methods have yielded the most success for you?

A: We’ve run the gamut to promote No Plus One. The biggest goal is awareness, so all marketing is done with that in mind. I’ve got a great PR person who continuously reaches out to get placements and features. I worked on an influencer seeding strategy using my personal relationships. I also write articles to promote my book along with other articles that are a cut down of the book to help find and hook potential new readers. The most effective network I have are my Facebook friends and family. They are the most supportive and engaged audience. I’ve also tried paid tactics like FB and Twitter ads as well as iAds, but these aren’t my favorite methods. All the tactics should be done in tandem to be really effective. Writing for platforms, like Thought Catalog or Mogul, plus PR and influencer seeding have been the most effective.

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from similar self-help titles about relationships?

A: Most other self-help focused was on how to change your behavior to remedy being single (i.e. find a relationship). Our book focuses on discovering the beauty in being single and feeling confident in yourself so that you are comfortable being single. It neither promotes finding a relationship or being single, it just recognizes that being single is a special phase that we can all benefit from.

Q: Are you currently writing full-time or does another career absorb a lot of your waking hours?

A: I have a full-time, well, more than full-time job in marketing. All my writing happens early in the morning. It was a huge commitment to get this book done while working the hours my day job requires. I bordered on the verge of obsession. I needed to set a really aggressive goal in order to finish. For about a year I woke up at 5 a.m. to write for as long as I could before I needed to get ready for work. Other times, I’d spend all weekend writing. I don’t write the best at night, but even sometimes, I pined over chapters just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.

Q: When and where do you do your best and most energizing creative thinking?

A: I love writing first thing in the morning. I pour some coffee and sit in front of my windows and just write. The Internet is a really distracting place, though, so I do my best not to get sucked into mindless surfing while on my computer. I also found that putting on vibey, calming music was really effective. I loved the idea of working before the rest of the world was up.

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

A: That I am actually quite good at my day job in marketing, which has little to do with writing self-help. I’ve become somewhat of an industry expert in digital marketing based on the portfolio I’ve built with the brand I work for.

Also, I didn’t really start writing before I wrote my book. The extent of my writing was journaling or the occasional blog post. Writing the book made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m starting a new job in brand marketing in a few weeks. I’ll be heading up a team so that will be an entirely new challenge in leadership. I’ve been taking a breather from writing so I hope to start up again in a really authentic, no-filter style for a new project. I am also working on a screenplay – which I have no idea how to do.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Following me on Twitter or Snapchat (@StephYoungMC) is a really quick and unfiltered look at who I am as a person. I also write a lot of articles on onMogul.com; I can be reached on any of those platforms if anybody has questions. I’m always happy to help other writers / entrepreneurs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t ever be afraid to go after your dreams.

 

 

The Secret Blueprint to More_______* (fill in the blank)

Chris_M._Sprague_headshotWhat if you were empowered to have more free time and energy, get important things done quickly and more efficiently, and eliminate the barriers to success?  In his new book, The Secret Blueprint to More_____* (fill in the blank), author and motivational speaker Chris M. Sprague reveals that you already possess the tools to move mountains, pursue your dreams, and positively impact the lives of others. It all gets down to understanding how, exactly, you’re uniquely wired.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with an overview of the academic and professional journey that got you to where you are today.

A: My journey (like many others) has been full of twists and turns.  Going beyond the academic, I started out with dreams of being a professional bowler with a back-up plan of working in radio, television and film.  I began both acting and bowing at the age of 5 and by the time I was 16, I had already been accepted to the #1 bowling college in the nation which also happened to have a great mass communications program.   I ultimately decided not to attend college right out of high school to continue my disc jockey/entertaining career.  Over the next few years, I moved around from job to job trying to make ends meet and eventually made my way into a corporate job with an Information Technology company.  In total, I took a 15-year detour from my passion and purpose of inspiring and empowering people’s lives.  At the end of my corporate career, I went through two layoffs in two years.  I then spent 12 months of trying unsuccessfully to get back into the workforce.

That’s when I made the commitment to start my own business.  A few months before I started my business, I had joined John C. Maxwell as a Founding Partner in his coaching, teaching and public speaking certification program.  At first, I attempted to use the training as a way to show prospective employers that I was pursuing personal growth and not just sitting around all day waiting for things to happen.  However, it didn’t help.  What I have figured out now is that going back to Corporate America was never what I was meant to do and that God had bigger plans for me.  Over the course of the past 2 ½ years, I have begun to bring together all of my life experiences (the best teacher) and realize that many people out there are in situations similar to what I’ve been through and they can benefit from my mistakes.  The biggest part of my journey that I feel can help people is the discovery of how people are wired.  I say this because, discovering how I am wired – and discovering that everyone can and should understand their own wiring – was the seminal moment in my life and business that changed everything.

Q: Who were some of the people that inspired you when you were growing up and what lessons did they impart which became incorporated in your personal blueprint for success?

A: This is a tough one.  Before the age of 18, I don’t remember too many people (other than Jesus) inspiring me.  The things I incorporated from Him into my life were, being a man of my word, always trying to help others and standing up for what I believed in even if the world doesn’t think I’m right.  When I think of someone inspiring, I think of someone that I say, “I want to be like” or, “This person is a great example”.  I believe part of my challenge growing up was that I never let anyone inspire me.  As I moved into adulthood, the first real inspiration I can remember was Anthony Robbins.  Granted, this inspiration was also coupled with some skepticism (let’s face it, I only knew him through his late night infomercials).  However, I felt that if his story was true and he did what he said he did, then there was hope for me!  The biggest lesson I learned from Tony is that we all have a great power within us and we just need to understand how to harness and unleash it.  If I (and the people around me) would have understood how I was wired earlier on in my life, I believe I would have had more inspiring people around me and I would have been more open to inspiration.

Q: Who do you most admire today for the way they in which live their lives, run their businesses, and/or take risks to push the envelope?

A: It would be a three-way tie among Jesus, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.  Each of these people were/are calculated risk takers and quick decision makers.  The best thing to do if you’re going to fail is fail quickly and then move on to the next challenge.  I can also identify with the way each of them is wired.  Jesus was wired to be a servant leader (and so am I).  Steve Jobs was wired to push the envelope (and so am I).  He was also wired to know when people needed a push to get things done (and so am I).  Richard Branson is wired to be the ultimate risk-taker (and so am I.  However, my risk-taking side is still being un-pasted.)   This concept of removing the paste covering your wiring is something for another article.

Q: When did you first know that becoming a published author was a goal you wanted to pursue?

A: Until 2012, I didn’t think I was wired to be an author.  However, once I uncovered a way to unleash my creativity in written form, I realized that I was always wired to write.  However, my wiring had been pasted over (covered-up) by negativity though out my childhood/school years.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind your book.

A: There were two inspirations behind The Secret Blueprint to More (_____*).  The first was that I have always wanted to help people.  Since people learn in different ways, a book was a great way to reach people who love to read vs. people who love to learn by watching.  The second what that I knew I needed my own platform as a public speaker and that I needed to begin to set myself apart as an expert.

Q: How did you go about defining your target audience, developing chapter content, and organizing the requisite research?

A: Given that this book was meant to be applicable to everyone, I never really did nail down a specific target audience.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I (like many other people) don’t want to limit the people who this book will help.  I also feel that if I completely ‘niche’ a book, it will limit the audience the book will appeal to.  The good news is that, I am also wired to understand that now that the general book is written, niching it down is that next logical step.  As for developing chapter content, I just sat down and started writing.  I say this not to diminish the efforts of other authors who spend months and years writing their books.  I only say this to illustrate that, once you understand how you’re wired and match what you’re doing to your wiring, your roadblocks melt away.  As for the requisite research, all of the material from the book came from personal experiences.  So, it was just a matter of organizing my previous experiences into something readable.  I’ve also always been a people watcher and an investigator.  This led me to accumulate thousands upon thousands of hours of anecdotal research and findings.

Q: There’s certainly no shortage of books on today’s market about personal growth and empowerment. What do you feel distinguishes your own approach?

A: My current book is a collection of things I’ve used personally to get ‘more’.  These are not theories or ‘Gee I hope this will work’ types of things.  These are concrete steps that will produce results.  I have also kept these general and broad enough so that at least one thing in the book should match the way most people are wired.

Q: I love your fill-in-the-blank title! How did you come up with it?

A: Thanks!  It was based on a number of focus groups.  I had a few different titles.  All of my original titles were based around changing one’s mindset.  The people in the focus groups liked the original titles.  However, their feedback was that the general public wouldn’t be looking for things on shifting mindset.  They felt the general public would be looking for something more concrete.  Then, after Charlie McDermott wrote the forward for my book, the idea of The Secret Blueprint hit me.  Finally, I added in the More (____) when I realized that the topic in the book would lead people to more free time, more success, more happiness and a whole bunch of other ‘mores’.  Had I started off by niching down to one particular segment, it would have gone against my wiring and there would have been mental roadblocks stopping me from succeeding.  In fact, this is exactly what happened when I first started my business and everyone kept telling me I needed to niche to a particular group before I created my content.

Q: So what’s your own word to fill in that blank?

A: Peace.  Using the tips I laid out in the book, I have been able to reduce stress, frustration and have more time for doing the things I love.  To me, that brings me peace.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I am wired to look at things in detail, be able to explain them in detail and then bring them up to a very high-level and go from the 1-foot view to the 100,000-foot view.  The challenge for me (and people like me) is to not make things so board that they go from appealing to everyone to appealing to no one.

Q: Just as teachers often learn new things from their students, authors are often provided new insights about themselves in the course of penning a book. Was this the case with you as well?

A: Yes!  For me, it was the fact I could be an author.  I spent many years believing I didn’t have that ability.  Every time I tried to write a book, I would write a few paragraphs and then say, “Ok, I’ve told them everything.  No need to write anymore.”  What I didn’t realize until last year was that, if I just pretended to be speaking rather than writing and let the words come out of my fingers rather than my mouth, I had a lot to say!  Before this book, every time I started to write, I merely thought about writing.  Now, when I start to write, I imagine myself doing an interview or a stage performance and the words just flow.

Q: So many people in today’s society – but especially women – feel as if they have to “have it all” in order to say they have successful lives. When they fall short of that objective, they immediately label themselves as failures. What’s your response to this?

A: While we all fail sometimes, no person is a failure.  Every time you have a challenge and things don’t go as planned, you should use it as a learning experience.  If your challenges come early in your career or life, be thankful and remember – it’s much better to make your mistakes when nobody’s watching.  Each time you have a challenge or fail at something, it’s preparing you for future successes.  Much of how people react to failure either has to do with how they are wired or the paste they have let the world use to cover their wiring.  This is especially true for people whose wiring has been pasted over with the belief that they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  This is where it gets interesting.  There are those who are wired to believe they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  Those are those who make it look easy when they try to ‘have it all’.  For those people who struggle to ‘have it all’, most likely they’re doing things against how they are wired.  They have also bought into what the world says they need to do to be successful.  If they just went back and found out how they were wired, they would be able to have what they truly want and deserve.

Q: What are three things that people can do to adjust their mindsets and start improving themselves from the inside out?

A: The overarching thing is to uncover how you are wired.  This involves going back, way back to a time before the world began to paste over your wiring, cover it up and change you from who you were meant to be to who you are today.  To do that, here are three things people can do today to start moving down the path to uncovering your wiring.

1) Realize that it all starts with attitude.  Attitude is the only thing you have complete control over every day.  Establishing an attitude of success and making it a habit will help you get through the trying times.

2) Reflect and plan on a daily basis.  Each night, about 15 minutes before you go to bed, you should be reflecting on the day and planning for the next day.  That way, your subconscious gets all night to work on the best solution possible for the challenges you know you will face the following day.

3) Live in forgiveness.  People get too caught up in anger and in judging themselves and other people.  Living in forgiveness (forgiving yourself and others) is a happier and more peaceful way to live.  Waking up every morning and repeating the following affirmations will help put you in the right state of mind:

I am able to forgive myself.

I am able to forgive others.

I am able to forgive life.

I am able to forgive God.

I am one who lives in forgiveness.

Q: What part does timing play in the equation for personal growth?

A:  I believe that personal growth must be intentional and not accidental.  Therefore, in the strictest sense, timing has very little to do with personal growth.  However, the timing of events in your life can play a role in stunting your personal growth – if you let them.  That’s why intentionally growing and sticking to a personal growth plan is so important.

Q: How do you define your own purpose and passion in life?

A: I believe that we’re all endowed with a purpose and passion from God.  It manifests itself in our gifts and what we are naturally drawn to do.  My purpose and passion is to positively affect the lives of 10,000,000 people each year.  While I can see this clearly now, it took me many years to understand my wiring and to get back to living to my purpose and passion.  That is one of the reasons I’m on a mission to help people better understand themselves.

Q: If you had only one thing in the world to do, what would it be?

A: Be on stage speaking.  I love being on stage and speaking.  I love the interaction with people, how the energy flows and how, when things all line up, you and the audience become one.  Being on stage (or holding court as some of my friends call it) is where I’m at home, at peace, and doing what I was born to do.  From the time I was a small child, I was wired to share.  While many people chalked it up to me being talkative, what they didn’t realize is that it was more than merely being talkative.  It was a deep rooted desire to share.  It also brings about the biggest joy in my life, inspiring and empowering people to transform their lives.

Q: Are there any new book projects up your sleeve?

A: I am currently working on my next three books.  One is a follow-up to The Secret Blueprint to More, the second one is tied more closely to my research on how people are wired and the third is a deeply personal one about a journey I’ve taken in 2013.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The best place is my website, http://chrismsprague.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: When you look at people who are succeeding and people who are struggling, one thing separates them.  The ones who succeed understand and utilize how they are wired.  The ones who struggle, don’t.   It’s that simple.  Understanding and utilizing your wiring is what took people like Oprah Winfrey and Loretta Lynn from poverty to the heights of their profession.  It’s what takes someone who cannot survive doing a technical job and makes them a great manager.  It’s what top-notch CEOs understand when they build their inner-circle.  It’s what allows incredible authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John C. Maxwell and others to churn out new books year after year.  It’s what takes people from relative obscurity to fame.  To make this happen for you, I invite you to check out The Wired to Thrive Project.  The core of this project comes from material that has helped thousands and thousands of people from over 40 different countries around the world.  The Wired to Thrive Project will kick into high-gear in January 2014 with the goal of inspiring and empowering people to understand how they are wired and thrive.  The goal is to have 47 people preregistered for The Wired to Thrive Project by December 31st, 2013.  More information can be found at http://WiredToThriveProject.com

How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You

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“We look into mirrors,” wrote Pearl Bailey, “but we only see the effects of our times on us – not our effects on others.”

When you study your own reflection, how well do you really know that person who’s looking back at you? Is she someone whose value is forever being held up for scrutiny and comparison to others? Are there dreams she plays close to her chest, as reluctant to divulge as she is to pursue? Is she someone you’d like to get to know better but haven’t a clue as to where you should start?

Authors Courtney Frey and Jen Kelchner just may have the answer to starting your own journey of discovery in their new release, How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your respective backgrounds and what drives your passion.

Jen: I worked with a Fortune 100 organization for a number of years in Administrative Management which is where I began my coaching career. Over the last three years, I have focused on my life coaching, writing and speaking in order to develop solid tools to help others on their personal journeys. I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area and have two almost grown sons.

Courtney: I hold a B.S in Psychology and Human Services and have spoken across the country for women’s conferences in all avenues of women’s issues.  I have a background in social work, sales, writing, and management and am the published author of several non-fiction women’s books. I live in Iowa with my amazing three teenagers, my significant other, and my three energized dogs.

Q: I’m always curious how independent thinkers connect with kindred spirits and decide to collaborate. What’s the story behind how the two of you met?

Jen:  Ours is a crazy story to be sure! Courtney commented on a blog post of a friend of mine and they began to communicate. Then he introduced me to Courtney and it was love at first sight. I read her book and immediately knew we had been divinely placed in each other’s paths. Our stories, although different, had led to the same emotions and wounds to be overcome. I think it took us all of two days to realize we were truly kindred and that our purpose and passions were in alignment.  It would be a fatal error to ignore something so powerful. So, we decided to launch this movement.  All of this took place in the span of about six weeks from meeting to our decision to create change together.

Q: The two of you have also recently founded your own company, www.igniteyourtruth.com. What inspired this decision and how did you go about structuring its development and subsequent launch?

Jen:  We met in April, formed the idea around the first of June, and we went live on July 1st of this year. Three years ago I made the decision to leave my corporate career for the sake of my relationship with my sons (which led me on my personal journey as it turns out). I realized about a year into that journey that my focus was no longer business but people. My sole purpose in life became to affect change in others and places around me.  With each passing month, my focus became more and more laser-like to be bold with my passion and form an outreach. My problem was I really needed a counterpart to walk this out with me.  I mean it is a tough journey to do solo! As Courtney and I developed our friendship in those few weeks, we saw how our energy, passions and visions matched so perfectly. In truth, we created a general outline for the short term and long term visions and just winged it from there.  I designed our website and put our technical arena in place for podcast and off we went. Thankfully, we are both very resourceful gals and we operate from ingenuity and hard work to get whatever we need done.

Q: What strengths do you each bring to the table?

Jen: I have days I regret that I have technical skills as I see my task list grow and grow. My personal gifts really lie in being able to see a big picture when someone else is talking. It is like I see images or phrases forming in the air and can quickly snag those and connect dots. It really helps cut to the chase fast if I’m coaching an individual or helping a company identify their issues.

Courtney:  Thank God for Jen who can organize and deal with the technical side of things, because it’s like Chinese to me!  Because she can magnificently handle the details, I am able to utilize my strengths and networks to really get out there and engage our marketing plan and focus on writing.

Q: What is Ignite Your Truth and who is the target audience for your particular message?

Jen:  It is a movement to bring people into knowing who they are, know their value, having authentic relationships, helping them to change their thinking and embrace their visions. We are loved, valued and accepted.

Q: “Not So Lady Talk” – the name of your new series – seems inconsistent at first glance with the genre of Christian/Spiritual. Was the choice of this phrase just a catchy marketing hook or is there a deeper connection in play to a faith-based platform?

Jen:  That is a great question! At our core, we talk about authenticity. Authenticity and transparency has been missing from the church for generations. Our generation craves authenticity. We are tired, bored and hungry for something real. There is a serious gap that needs to be addressed for women in the church culture, especially for women in their 30’s and 40’s. We are highly intelligent, multi-task and get things done. So, when we show up to a women’s function, we don’t want to swap recipes and chit-chat. We have apps for that. We want high-energy, deep, real conversation. We want to know that we can remove our masks and be unfiltered without judgment so we can address our needs. It might be inappropriate and not-so lady-like at times; but it is real and healing. We are out to redefine what women’s outreach looks like – especially for this generation.

Q: Tell us about How To Look Good Naked, your first book in this series.

Courtney:  This book is really an exposing of our true selves and the journeys we have taken to getting to the truth of who we are.  It’s not always pretty, and it’s very humbling.  However, we wanted to be transparent in that journey so that other women would see and believe that they are not alone, they have grand purpose, and are unique and empowered. We address issues from identity to shame to self-acceptance all while being very vulnerable.

Q: Did the two of you start with a formal outline of what you wanted to cover in the book or were you brainstorming as you went along?

Jen:  We started with a general outline for each chapter. Individually we went about our writing then pieced it together for proper flow. Any time we write, we wait until we feel a specific nudge for a topic. Our guideline helped us to stay on point but we really work as we feel directed individually and weirdly it always ties together.

Q: Were you working in the same room this whole time or communicating via phone/email? What were the advantages/disadvantages of this collaborative approach?

Jen: We live over 700 miles apart and have seen each other one time. We wear out Facebook instant messaging all day long! However, when we write we both unplug and then come back together to review. Somehow it all works together perfectly.

Q: How did the two of you resolve creative differences such as what to put on the cover, how to organize the content, what to add/delete, etc.?

Jen: Thankfully we balance each other very well. Courtney defers to my graphic design talents and she will tell me if she doesn’t like it. Since I’m the “organizer” of the two of us she lets me manage the content, edit and such.

Q: What’s the best part of working with a partner?

Courtney: We definitely balance one another out.  Not every day is an easy day and having a partner who is able to be strong when you are weak, who can pull you up and inspire you, is definitely a key to our success.

Jen: I agree that our being in this together is what is making this work so well. Our personal stories include a lot of being the odd ball in our lives, never really being accepted as we grew up. And, let’s face it that entrepreneurs and game changers are generally odd balls. We push the boundaries of what is acceptable in societal norms – especially as women and mothers.

Q: You share several personal experiences in your book and state that everyone has a story and that story matters. Please elaborate on this.

Jen:  A lot of times we want to run from our stories because we carry guilt or shame with them. We need to encourage each other to embrace our stories and that we are the authors of the chapters yet to be written. Our past gives us a rich history to draw from that can encourage others and provide us with new tools and skills. Our stories serve others and build communities of change. There is freedom in owning your story…it cripples fear and returns the power to you.

Q: What inspired each of you to break through your own layers of roles, labels and inhibitions over the course of dispensing advice to your prospective readers?

Courtney:  I desired first and foremost to be authentic.  If I was going to talk to women about exposing their true selves, I had to be willing to really go there as well.  I didn’t want to just talk the talk; I wanted to walk with them hand in hand through the journey.  I believe that the best support comes from those who have gone through the valleys and come victoriously out the other end. And, if I wasn’t willing to do that with my readers then the message was false.

Jen:  Definitely. In my own journey, the only thing I have found to keep fear at bay is to be authentic and put it out there.  I am empowered when I put my life out there. Fear dissipates. The need for others acceptance becomes invalid. It’s freeing.

Q:  Would you categorize this book more as self-help or inspirational?

Jen:  Honestly, I can’t stand labels and so have a difficult time knowing how someone else wants to categorize it.  It’s a real, honest look at life and humanity. It is inspirational as it offers hope that you can really overcome anything.  It is also self-help because it provides tools and direction. Then again, you could stick it in the spiritual bucket as parts of our stories bring our foundation of faith into the mix.  At the end of the day, it is a book about real people who had messy lives and crawled their way out of life’s pit to embrace wellness.

Q: There’s no shortage of books on today’s market about journeys of self-discovery, introspection and empowerment. What do you feel makes your content unique in this regard?

Jen:  I think for one, we don’t play around. If you ever have a conversation with Courtney or me, you will quickly learn that we get to the heart of the matter fast. We don’t want to waste one more second of someone not knowing just how valuable and loved they are. We are very transparent and bring our very personal stories into the mix so people can engage and relate quickly. We have walked out all of the things we talk about. It is not text book or theory; it is a survival guide built around actual events.

Q: Given that the material is faith-based, will the book resonate with women whose religious beliefs are different from your own?

Jen:  Absolutely as we share universal truths not religion. While Courtney and I have a few moments where we put it all out there from our perspective; we do take care to use words that remain open to universal truths.  At the end of the day, truth is truth.  And the light of love, forgiveness and acceptance will break through any darkness in life.  The tools we provide others to walk through their journeys with are practical, proven exercises or affirmations.

Q: What governed your decision to self-publish?

Jen:  The content was timely and needed to be out there to the masses not just our known group of people. It was so heavy on our hearts and we didn’t feel like we had time to spare.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you started?

Jen: Honestly, we still don’t know nearly as much as know we need to.  Our goal remains to connect to women, not necessarily focus on the business aspect of selling mass books.  I suppose the one thing we do, and it’s where our hearts are, is network and connect to others whose visions are in alignment with ours.

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

Jen:  I am a serious Doctor Who fan.

Courtney: I am a sushi loving classic literature addict!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Courtney:  Our next book in the series is a 15 Day Relationship detox book. We have also had men ask us about a guy’s version of our series so we are exploring that option. And, we are very excited about our speaking and first retreat in 2014.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jen and Courtney: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our business and our latest series; we truly appreciate your time and your passion!

 

In The Shadow of Sacrifice: Thoughts on Life and Success

Calhoun

Born amid poverty, illiteracy, and abuse, Howard Calhoun lived his youth as a sharecropper’s son and spent a large portion of his formative years moving from one shack to the next. Saddled with a serious stuttering problem and demoralized by a succession of demeaning employment experiences, this soft-spoken observer of human nature went on to become an owner of several successful businesses with a workforce that numbers in the hundreds. For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed, helpless or threatened by events beyond their control, In the Shadow of Sacrifice encourages them to look within, tap their faith and use that positive energy to recognize their own excellence.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with the $64,000 question: who is Howard Calhoun and why is he here?

A: I consider myself as a simple person who acquired modest and humble values from an upbringing populated by a large, tight-knit family and a very involved community.  I believe I have been entrusted with some very important gifts that I have been compelled to share.

Q: You’ve had a number of diverse careers over your lifetime. Who – or what – charted your course to pursue each of them?

A: A relatively unknown school counselor was the first one to actually sit me down and tell me that he thought I ought to be thinking about something (college). That opened a world of opportunities to me! My successes from that point expanded my interests and desires and helped me identify and crystallize areas of strength without losing the value of multiple exposures.  I have tried to align my career choices with my passions and strengths.

Q: Which of your careers did you enjoy the most?

A: My last public job was as a school counselor. It was my most rewarding one. In a sense, it was as if I had come full circle from that afternoon as a senior when I had that conversation with a school counselor.  This has been my opportunity to give back as so much has been given to me. After I completed my public career, I have added several more professional counseling credentials to my resume and it has been a joy to make counseling and changing lives for the better my life work.

Q: Is there a single life-changing event that leads you to be the person you are today? If that event had not occurred, where do you think you would now be instead?

A: Actually, it was an event in which I did nothing. It occurred on the heels of a supervisor telling me that I would work where he damn well told me and that if I didn’t like it, then I could let the door knob hit me where the good Lord split me. And he finished with, “Now get the hell out of my office.” This occurred because I was inquiring about the fairness of being passed over for transfer to a shift of my choice by other employees with less seniority than me. The decision not to be rash taught me a value in restraint that I still use today.  It allowed me to continue my career without what most likely would have gotten me terminated, locked up and a criminal record. My young career did not have the sustainability at the time to take such a hit. Also, personally, mishandling that situation certainly would have placed me on a trajectory counter to my life’s choice.  A full recovery may still lay in wait.

Q: What was the inspiration that led you to tell your compelling story in the genre and format you chose?

A: My mother’s sacrifice and the encouragement of so many others.

Q: Tell us the meaning behind the book’s title and how it reflects the book’s core themes.

A:  The book is a loving tribute to my parents, siblings, and community; all who had a hand in my development, but especially my mother. With her life, she demonstrated unwavering love, strength, courage and faith. She encountered constant stress and uncertainty that was complicated by a disability (hearing impairment). I learned early that my speech impediment (stuttering) was not to be used for sympathy, pity, or an excuse. My personal and professional successes were made possible because of her examples. Amidst poverty, abuse, and illiteracy, the strength of my mother’s life in quietness proved too much not to be heard.  I am that voice. As a product of that sacrifice, her constant message of love, above all else, is the resounding inspirational theme throughout this book.

Q: Would you define your book in terms of being motivational or would it better fit the label of self-help?

A: It is both, but I could see how it may be considered more motivational because the format of loosely connected short stories easily translates into motivational pieces where self-help generally offers step-by-step guidance over many stories on how to achieve a specific goals. My book implores readers to draw comparisons and contrasts from my life’s experiences with theirs and to use those experiences as encouragement to enrichment their own lives.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book will resonate with anyone 15 years or older. What do you think a teen reader might have in common with a reader who is over the age of 60?

A: Life experiences and stories are common for all ages. A youth with few experiences can use help in connecting the dots.  As a more seasoned individual, I hope that telling my story is helpful in ensuring that youth get a better understanding of how their experiences at an early age can serve as a foundation for tomorrow.  Many of my stories in the book had their genesis before age fifteen.  For adults, many are still vibrantly chasing their dreams but sadly, many others have given up on what they deserve. I want my stories to keep the adult engaged, sober, and in pursuit of his or her dreams.

Q: Do young people today have it harder or easier than you did when you were growing up?

A: I think levels of difficulty are hard to compare and measure from one generation to the next because each era offers different variables measured against factors germane to that era.  So without a reliable tool to account for an accurate rate of adjustment for eras, I think to say one is harder than the other is…just too hard to say.  History has shown that advantages and disadvantages have neutralized each other so often by people failing to capitalize on advantages or others using disadvantages as motivation. One generation has limited opportunities and another generation, limits their opportunities. What gives!

Q: What are some of the takeaway values and lessons you’d like your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A:  We are all products of sacrifice. If we are here in 2013, much has been sacrifice for us. We are a survival of billions of years of evolutions and to be tripped up by so many trivial matters shames our miracle birth, divine purpose, and our Creator.  My mother’s life was difficult, but it was as if her purpose was always greater than herself, perhaps connected to evolution in a way that always made the moment look small, yet appeared too important to waste in complaining or gossip.

Q: “Soft negative” is a recurring phrase in your book. What, exactly, does it mean?

A: A negative that camouflages not as a true negative. It may be even appear positive, but over times always produces negative outcomes. Human beings will stay in situations that they believe aren’t that bad a lot longer than they would in situations that are obviously bad.  Many times the negative effects of situations aren’t present at the outset or it may not be the intent of the person in charge of the situation, but it turns out to be negative, nonetheless. Often we just pass it off by saying that’s life or that is the way it is. Perhaps it is the lack of careful examinations of routine matters because they are routine matters that set us up for negative outcomes.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: Actually, we operated as our own publisher, but did research to find the best support we could in helping us produce a quality product.  We were satisfied with much of what Book Master was able to do for us.

Q: What do you know about today’s publishing business that you didn’t know when you began this journey? Are there things you might have done differently?

A: It was a little harder than I anticipated and much more time consuming than I expected.  One pays dearly for what one don’t know. I did enjoy the experience. I wish I knew how to use a crystal ball. One of the things, I would do differently would involve learning more about the intricacies of book releases, so I would not mislead so many about release dates.

Q: How involved are you in the marketing and promotion of your new title?

A: I am involved in a lot of the promotion.  I try to do something at least every other day. I wish I could say daily, but because of the demands of my other ventures, I have to integrate marketing and promotion into my other commitments.  I could probably use someone dedicated to marketing.

Q: If your book were adapted to a movie, who do you think could best capture you?

A: Terrence Howard.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Promoting this book to a larger audience, even foreign markets.  I do have enough material for an In the Shadow II, but I would like to maximize this project first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: www.facebook.com/calhoun705 and www.librikamedia.com.

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.

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.

Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style

Lori_Bumgarner_of_paNASH_Style - new hair

Whether you’re on a cusp of your career or are in transition to something completely different, an invitation to improve your overall image is one that should not be ignored. And who better to dispense that advice about developing every aspect of your public presence than Lori Bumgarner, owner of paNASHstyle and author of the popular self-help guide, Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, published by O’More College of Design. Coincidentally, Lori was one of the two dozen experts who recently contributed to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve, and I’m pleased to put the spotlight this month on her incredible arsenal of image-building talents.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to the business of fashion and image consulting, and when/where did the door first open to launch your career in this field?

A: I have always had an interest in fashion ever since I was little. I always loved dressing my Barbie Dolls in different outfits and coming up with outfit designs with the Fashion Plates my grandmother got me for Christmas one year. That interest combined with my experience in career advising is what inspired me to start doing image consulting. This occurred when, for the first time in my career, my creativity was starting to be stifled. I couldn’t work like that. My friends encouraged me to do wardrobe styling which allowed me to use my creativity, but I wanted to do more than just that. As a result, I decided to offer image consulting services that incorporated both wardrobe styling and presentation skills (i.e. interview skills, etc.), which are also part of one’s image. I started my company part-time while still working full-time as a career adviser and did that for 9 months. Then, I took a leap of faith and quit the full-time job to take my business full-time.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I have learned so much about running a business that I never knew before. I also am using my undergraduate psychology degree in this career field more than ever before which was an unexpected surprise.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write this title and how you went about determining what topics would best benefit your target demographic.

A: Actually, it happened the other way around. I came up with the title after writing on each topic. That’s usually how my own personal writing process works, especially with my blog. I write my blogs first and then come up with the title for each after. The initial inspiration of the book came from a lot of the work I do with individual clients and also the work I did in the past as a career adviser. In my opinion, a person’s image is more than just how they dress. It’s also about how they present themselves on paper, online, and in person, whether that includes networking events, job interviews or media interviews. That’s why the book takes time to cover each of those topics separately.

Q: What do you feel is the best takeaway lesson for your readers in Advance Your Image?

A: That anyone can improve their image in simple ways and see results. They will have a greater confidence and will see how that confidence will open new doors of opportunity for them. The great thing about the book also is the Appendix because it gives readers hands-on activities and steps they can take immediately to improve their image. It serves as a resource that readers will refer to again and again over time.

Q: For someone who wants to update their image – whether they’re staying in their current job or transitioning to a new one – what do you recommend as the easiest and/or most economical starting point and why?

A: The easiest and most economical way to update one’s image is to “shop” in one’s own closet to come up with new outfits with what they already have on-hand, and then to incorporate new accessories (jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, hats, etc.) in with their current outfits. When “shopping” in one’s own closet, it’s always good to get an image consultant or a stylish friend to help you because you are so used to seeing garments and outfits put together only one way. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to show you how to create new combinations that you may have never thought of on your own.

Q: When most people go to have their professional headshots taken for a website, corporate brochure or lobby display at their place of business, they tend to dress according to the current season. Considering that their picture will be likely be seen year-round, however – and possibly even in different countries – what thoughts should govern their choice of wardrobe?

A: They should mix classics with current trends, but never with fads. Fads are things that last for only one season. A trend is something that may last for 3-5 years or even up to a decade. An example of a fad would be those ridiculous chicken feather hair extensions we saw a few seasons ago. An example of a trend would be a pointed-toe shoe or a dark wash dress jean in a modern cut. Also, it’s best to stick with classic colors and avoid trendy colors in photos that won’t be updated often. But, I would say that professional photos should be updated as often as a pair of glasses frames should be updated which is once every 3 years, and more often if your hair or glasses frames have changed dramatically since your last photo was taken. For instance, I went from a blond to a red-head, so I had no choice but to update my promo pictures, especially since I have my photo on my business card.

Q: While we’re on the subject of clothes, should a prospective job candidate (1) emulate what s/he knows to be the company’s workaday dress code and subliminally project “I fit in here!” or (2) wear his/her best business attire for the interview and potentially risk dressing better than the interviewer?

A: Definitely the 1st option! Always know your audience and make yourself relevant to that audience. Once a candidate has made it through the resume screening process to the job interview, this is the point where the company is determining fit. All the interview candidates meet the minimum qualifications. The interview is where the company decides which of those candidates will best adapt to the corporate culture.

Q: During the dot-com era of the late 1990’s, the concept of “Casual Friday” made its debut, inviting workers to take a break from having to wear coats, ties, pantyhose, and dress shoes. But has “Casual Friday” now gone too far by spilling into the rest of the week?

A: It’s hard for me to answer that question since I work mostly with recording artists and music industry professionals, a field where casual is the norm no matter what day of the week (and even here “casual” means “trendy/hip/funky,” not sloppy). I think perhaps it has, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing if people are “dressing up” their casual look instead of just using it as an excuse to be a slob. You can easily dress up a pair of jeans and look well put together, and yet be more productive than you would be in a suit and tie. Maybe “casual” isn’t the right term to be using (because it can sometimes be interpreted as “sloppy”). Maybe we need to call it “not-so-boring Friday” instead!

Also, I think it’s time for the classic job interview attire to make a shift to something a little more exciting than a boring cookie-cutter black suit. If I was a recruiter, I think I would get tired of seeing the same outfit on every single person I interviewed. I would instead prefer to see a little bit of the candidate’s personality and personal style shining through in their look. That way, I would have some idea of how the person would dress on a daily basis if they were to get the job. Anyone can dress up in a suit on interview day, but do they have the style and fashion sense to represent the company well on a daily basis? That’s why I started my Pinterest board entitled “Alternative Job Interview Attire.” It’s my hope that recruiters will open their minds to allow for some personal yet tasteful style in the job interview, and that candidates will be encouraged to take a risk by showing a piece of themselves to the interviewer. After all, if interviewers are trying to determine a good fit for their company, what better way to do so?

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that artists and entrepreneurs make in creating their “online presence” without the insights and expertise of professionals?

A: Not keeping the reader’s perspective in mind when creating the content of their web pages and online profiles; not utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest extent; begging for “Likes” of their Facebook fan pages without offering relevant content in return.

Q: “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two words popularly associated with today’s social networking. What’s your personal definition of these two concepts, and what are some ways that individuals and small businesses can apply them to their networking activities?

A: To me it means still being yourself, but a more polished version of yourself. The best thing people can do is to not fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others (i.e. their competition, the people with whom they are networking, etc.). Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and easiest way to feel defeated, to lose your self-confidence, and to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Q: Is successful networking an art or a science?

A: It’s a little bit of both with some divinity mixed in. I totally believe in divine connections and how we are brought together with other people. After that, it’s what you do with it, applying the science of networking rules and etiquette along with the art of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships.

Q: What are the most common elements of a boring profile and what can be done to rev up the appeal and excitement?

A: It is extremely difficult to write your own professional bio and make it sound interesting. This is because we as humans feel a little weird bragging about ourselves in writing. It’s much better to get someone like myself who can paint a picture with words describing what makes you unique. My artists who have hired me to write their artist bios have all said when they tried to write it themselves, it never came across the way they wanted it to. After hiring me, they always come back and say, “Wow! This is exactly what I was trying to say but just didn’t know how.” Anyone interested in having me write their bio are welcome to check out some of the bios I’ve written for other clients at http://panashstyle.com/documents/SampleBios.zip.

Q: The good news is that you have just been invited to do a media interview. The bad news is that you have never done one before and you are absolutely terrified because you have no idea what to expect. If a client just told you this, what would your top three tips be to prep them for the experience?

A: 1) Do your research. Know the stats about the magazine, radio station, or TV show and know the demographics of their audience such as its median age. 2) Read, listen to, and watch others’ media interviews with a critical eye. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses. 3) Read both Advance Your Image and Media Magnetism for even more tips to be best prepared!

 Q: In addition to being an author, you are also the owner of paNASH Style and editor of a pretty spiffy newsletter, too. What would you like readers to know about the services you provide that enable them to put their best foot forward whether it’s onstage, in a recording studio, or stepping into a boardroom?

A: Our goal is never to turn someone into something they’re not. Instead we focus on keeping the client’s image (their look and presentation of themselves) true to their own personal style, personality, and work/art. Also, we work with many clients virtually via online chat and email, especially for services such as media coaching and development of professional bios. We have clients all over the US, in Canada, and in Australia.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to more speaking gigs at various music industry events and working with more clients one-on-one, my plans for the near future are to bring on additional stylists, offer more workshops, and possibly start my second book.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It would be the tagline of the Advance Your Image book: “Putting your best foot forward never goes out of style!”

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

A: Yes. Readers can get exclusive tips and advice not featured in the book when they subscribe to my monthly newsletter on my web site at www.paNASHstyle.com.