Resume Revamp? Every Word and Every Second Counts

Okay, time to back up our resume strategy with some sobering statistics:

"Less than five minutes—that is how much time a resume is reviewed before it is decided whether a job candidate proceeds to the next step in the hiring process"

That's according to a survey done by the Society For Human Resource Management. Check out the rest of their resume statistics here.

Need some help making every second and every word count? With some of the most affordable rates of any experienced resume/career experts in the country, I will work with you by phone and email to make your resume perfect. Contact me to set up a free phone consultation.

I just helped a client land a 6-figure job and this is what she had to say:

I can’t say enough about how much Brad has helped me. His insights are spot on and it’s been a pleasure working with him... career coach extraordinaire

Customized Resume, Cover Letter, and Professional Branding Services Now Available

No more "lorem ipsum dolor"! Customize your resume & cover letter. [ Image courtesy: ]

No more "lorem ipsum dolor"! Customize your resume & cover letter. [ Image courtesy: ]

 A collaborative approach that not only crafts great documents but teaches clients the building blocks for making these important documents great.

Over the past year I've seen a particular increase in requests for help in the following areas:

  • Custom resume and cover letter review & strategy
  • LinkedIn development
  • Professional narrative/identity development & strategy (branding & messaging)

After years of looking at resumes and cover letters from all imaginable career levels and industries——seeing which land interviews and which don't——I STRONGLY believe that clients should be writing their own materials in their own voice. I've seen too many expensive "professionally" written resumes that lack personality and are full of generic keywords that make the resume seem more robotic than eye-catching. There are certainly many great resume writers out there who take the time to get to know their clients and create effective documents. However, I believe in teaching my clients the building blocks of what makes resumes and cover letters great so that they can continuously revise their documents throughout their professional career. All of my resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn reviews include this much needed teaching component.

To respond to this need I've restructured my service line to include new and affordable career strategy packages. Clients with whom I've already conducted these services are reporting very high satisfaction with having a strategy partner to customize their materials and create their 'story'. I'll continue offering my full-service career coaching-consulting package as I have for the past six years, but now clients have the additional option of choosing highly personalized services focusing on their application materials.

Below are my 3 career coaching-consulting packages. Please contact me if you're interested in scheduling a consultation call to discuss rates and how these services can help boost your career. All of my services are available throughout the U.S. by phone and email.

PACKAGE #1: FULL-SERVICE CAREER COACHING-CONSULTING provides highly personalized coaching and consulting services that may include:

  • Skills/strengths/interests inventory
  • Career discovery and clarification
  • Career path planning and strategy
  • Goal setting, motivation and accountability
  • Resume/cover letter/LinkedIn review & strategy
  • Job interview preparation
  • Creating a professional narrative/identity (professional branding & messaging)
  • Job search strategy
  • Career transitions and leveraging your prior experience
  • Possibilities brainstorming

Full-Service Career Coaching-Consulting gives clients access to all of the above coaching-consulting services, 4 phone calls, and access to private client portal with unlimited email/journal access. Additional/ongoing calls available at a per-session rate.

PACKAGE #2: Resume, Cover Letter, & LinkedIn Review/Strategy gives your materials a thorough review and your professional identity a major boost. This is not a resume writing service. Instead, clients send one current version of their resume, a cover letter sample, their LinkedIn profile, and (if available) examples of jobs they're interested in. We then schedule an initial consultation call to discuss your strengths, skills, and goals. I independently review the materials for improvement, email you a mark-up of the materials, and meet with you again by phone (up to 60 minutes) to discuss edits and strategy. A final review email is conducted as needed. The result is a strategic professional identity and narrative that is cohesive throughout your customized materials. Turnaround time is 5-7 days for these services. Additional follow up calls available at a per-session rate.

PACKAGE #3: A La Carte Resume Review/Strategy like above, this service includes an initial consultation call, one resume review, one strategy call (up to 50 minutes), emailed document mark-up, and a final review email as needed. Turnaround time is 5-7 days for these services. Additional follow up calls available at a per-session rate.



10 Ways To Uncover The Hidden Job Market - Psychology Today

My new article on Psychology Today is about tapping into creative strategies for finding a new job... especially if you hate traditional networking and are sick of wasting hours in the online job boards.

10 Ways To Uncover The Hidden Job Market via Psychology Today

Action is Art, Art is Action

I hope this note finds all of my clients, friends, and visitors doing well during this busy post-election/holiday season. For many of us, the recent (and upcoming) weeks are ones that have and will test our patience, our bonds, and our hopes for the future.

I recently wrote a post on Psychology Today about post-election grieving. It stirred a mix of emotions, but eventually I had to turn off the commenting feature because the inflammatory responses were distracting readers from the positive intent of the article. You can read it here: Post-Election Grief and Resilience

Then last week I came across the stirring quote below by author Toni Morrison and it felt like the perfect companion to my article. And today, as I take a break from hanging a few antique paintings I picked up recently at estate sales, I wanted to share it with you.

With her message of art, inspiration, and action I wish you all a peaceful and productive week. I wish the same as you come together with loved ones this holiday season. I wish the same as you navigate this uncharted political landscape. And I wish the same as you step into a new year that is full of possibilities.

To you and yours, a peaceful, productive, and inspired year ahead!

Toni Morrison - by Angela Radulescu (originally posted to Flickr as Toni Morrison (1)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Toni Morrison - by Angela Radulescu (originally posted to Flickr as Toni Morrison (1)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art."

Read the rest of the article at Brain Pickings

Don't you just love a good estate sale find?

Don't you just love a good estate sale find?

Not Another Damn 'How To Write A Resume' Article?!

Source: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr

Source: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr

Oh you betcha! It's another damn resume article but this time it's written by me and this time it's fun. In it I incorporate timeless phrases like "junk in the trunk" and "your resume is full of duty".

Resume writing sucks, am I right? An Internet full of conflicting advice and terrible templates makes me pretty snarly. In my job I see a lot of resumes, good and bad, so I see which ones are landing people interviews. That’s its job. So let’s talk about how we can get our resume to do its job…without landing us an anxiety attack.
Resume Golden Rule: Understand the true function of a resume. It’s not an autobiography. It’s not a chronology of duties you perform every day. And, brace yourself, it’s kinda’ not about you! Zing! Pow! Mike drop! Check please!

Ready to find out what a resume is really about? In my article written for Psychology Today, I give tons of tips and resources that will totally transform your resume.

How To Get A Job At Google: 8 Preparation Videos

Occasionally I speak with clients who want to work at Google. In fact, a looong time ago, when Google was an emerging cool company to work for, I even applied with them (without success). We know these are highly competitive jobs and it can be difficult to get a foot in the door. I've chosen eight YouTube videos, full of tips from actual Google employees, to give your application and interview process a strategic edge.

In addition to watching these videos, the best thing you can do to prepare for a Google job or ANY job, is to learn everything you can about the company. Acquaint yourself with their website, their LinkedIn page, their social media accounts, their press releases, and how they are showing up in the news or industry publications. Don't not do this! Here's why:

  • Companies will often publish tips for applying and interviewing with their company. It could get embarrassing if you don't know the basics before going in.
  • Companies want candidates who really get them. Learn the company mission, their corporate culture, their strategic vision, their professional voice, their client, their product, etc. Your research will make you better versed in an interview and it will help you exude excitement. If you do this research and find yourself NOT excited, should you really be applying?
  • Know the bottom line: The company has a problem and you're being invited to demonstrate how you can be part of the solution. So what is the company's problem? Are they growing rapidly and need to keep up with demand? Are they in a highly competitive sector and needing a visionary to help them stay on top of the game? Are they struggling financially? Did your predecessor quit the position and leave the company overwhelmed? If you can pinpoint their problem, you'll be able to demonstrate how you're their new problem solver. This is your chance to be the hero.

In the case of Google, there is fortunately a lot of information out there on how to get hired. There's also a lot of garbage. In these videos you'll hear directly from current and former employees about which hiring hearsay is fact vs. urban legend. You will learn which competencies they are looking for and how to demonstrate them. You'll hear sample interview questions and how to approach them. And you'll learn how to structure your resume so it stands out from the crowd.

If you still have questions after watching all these videos, just Google it!

Two engineers from Google Chicago discuss how to get your resume noticed by Google engineers. Go to to learn how we hire, or go straight to to search for a job!

Watch Fitz and Ben from Google Chicago answer discuss Google's interview process and if the horror stories about lots of interviews and long wait times are true. Go to to learn how we hire, or go straight to to search for a job!

Two software engineers from Google Pittsburgh discuss how to prepare for technical interviews. If you're interested in applying for one of our roles, please visit our job site:, and to learn more about how we hire, visit

Google employees dispel hiring myths and tell it like it is.

A former Google employee shares the hiring scoop.

Three members of Google's Staffing team talk about how candidates can prepare their resumes for technical roles in this Hangout on Air video from March 13, 2013. The group discusses how to structure your resume, what skills recruiters do and don't look for, and how best to tailor your CV for our engineering jobs and our other technical roles.

Google resume tips & tricks.

Googlers Fitz and Ben answer questions about the qualities Google looks for in its prospective Engineering employees.

News From The Kitchen Table and Spring/Summer Clients Enrolling Now

After a very busy winter season that saw some clients wait-listed before coming on-board, I'm happy to announce I'm accepting new clients.

It seemed like a lot of people out there had big plans for 2016 and wanted coaching to help them along the way. Top off a full client roster with our being in the midst of house renovations, things got pretty crazy over here. With all the hammering and sawing going on there were days when the only quiet space for a coaching call was inside my car inside my garage. (If you're new here, we moved from Chicago to Los Angeles last year and have been renovating our house since February.) We have a few more projects pending—including lighting in my office—so for now my office is the kitchen table.

On top of feeling misplaced at home, I've made numerous trips to numerous doctors since November to figure out what was going on with my hearing. I had that Charlie-Brown's-teacher's–voice thing going on. So for all the times I said, "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" please know that I really was listening and feeling very sorry. Six months and many uncomfortable tests later, I'm relieved to report that my hearing is fine. All tests show perfect hearing and I'm feeling much better. All that aside, I've been grateful for a beautiful and peaceful start to the new year.

And what an exciting first quarter it has been for so many of you! I've been incredibly proud of all my clients' hard work and successes. Together we've experienced exciting career transitions, hurdled motivational slumps, and perfected a bunch of tricky resumes. Can't wait to meet new folks and chart uncharted territories through the rest of 2016.

Who Moved My... ?

If you happened to stop by the site looking to download StoryLaunch!—my coaching companion ebook—it has been retired. Not like Rolling Stones retired, but truly done for. StoryLaunch! was my first foray into ebook writing and it was a little project I was very proud of. However, as my professional choose-your-own-adventure has taken me to new places and my voice/expertise/philosophy has grown, it was time to send the ostrich flying. Well, flapping anyway. Who remembers the ostrich from my How About Cake days?!?

Something Something-ish This Way Comes!

Last night I couldn't sleep. Too many ideas. As many of my coaching clients have heard me say time and again: "Write it down! Get the swirling thoughts out of your head so they don't keep you awake." So I'll be taking a spoonful of my own medicine. Nyquil! No, wait. Writing! 

I don't have details to release yet, but there will be something. As I did with StoryLaunch!, I'll likely be releasing teasers on Facebook and here on the blog, so follow along if you're curious.

(Everything I Do) I Do It For You

No, not a Bryan Adams exposé. My next something will, of course, be career related. And I want it to be for you. So I'd like to know what you'd like to know. In the comments section or in an email [], please feel welcome to share what you wish you know now that you might know then but won't know now until it's then. Ya know?

What career-life advice do you wish you'd heard when you were younger? What are your biggest career-life questions and concerns? Chances are, if you're wondering or struggling, so is somebody else. If you let me know then I can let them know.

That's the news from my kitchen table. After my office is spruced up and I'm feeling illuminated I will probably write to you next from... the kitchen table.

Creating A Success Toolkit For The New Year

From my latest article at

After my high school graduation I attended a couple semesters at a culinary arts school. It was a strange little satellite campus of a larger university, and it ultimately wasn’t a good fit. However, it planted the seed of an idea that I've now revisited over 15 years later. During orientation at culinary school each student was given a rigid blue plastic box—about the size of a 3-ring binder—filled with blank pages like a scrapbook. It was designed to be a professional development portfolio where we could store our resume, certificates of achievement, and anything else that would highlight our career accomplishments. In theory, it was a great concept to encourage us to develop a career mindset. But ultimately its high dork factor—the expectation that we would carry the blue box into job interviews—relegated mine to the thrift store donation bin.

Now that I’m in the position of helping people navigate their career exploration, I’ve tweaked the concept of the blue box into a comprehensive career journal. Valuable at every stage in one’s career, it’s a personalized notebook or binder where we store and explore all things career and personal-professional development. In this article I've included all of the general framework components of the career journal. While one might add folders for resumes and certificates of achievement, the primary goal is to conduct an in-depth exploration and inventory of a comprehensive range of career topics. Click here to read the career toolkit creation tips on my blog at Psychology Today.

10 Best Career Advice Websites (Psychology Today)

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

The endless stream of career advice can feel overwhelming, frustrating, and even misleading. So much online advice is outdated, boring, or too general to be helpful for any one person’s unique situation. Here is my updated 2015 list of favorite career websites, posted on my latest blog at Psychology Today. (link opens in a new window)

23 Mental Health Professionals Interviewed About Their Jobs

Jung // Source:

Jung // Source:

As a career coach I’ve worked with many clients who have expressed interest in mental health related careers. I hear common motivators: they like working with people, they’re helpers by nature, they find psychology and human behavior interesting, and they want to be of service to the community.

Whenever a particular career interest arises, we explore it from all angles. Those intrinsic motivators are a big part of it, but we also examine the extrinsic realities: Are they aware of the education and licensure requirements? Do they have realistic salary expectations? Do they understand the realities of interning in a community mental health center? Or struggling to make a private practice thrive? Can they imagine the personal toll of constantly listening to people’s problems? Handling crisis situations?

To obtain a clear picture of any career option, I encourage my clients to research the field and talk with people working within it. With the latter exercise in mind, I embarked on my own homework assignment. In an effort to provide insight into a variety of mental health career experiences, I recently put out a call to action to the general public working in any mental health related job:

Seeking experiences from a variety of mental health workers. Provide pros & cons and frank realities about pursuing education and careers in mental health related fields. Responses should be kept to a minimum and address the following: 1. Name, job title, and degree(s) 2. Describe of your job duties. 3. Describe one thing you find fulfilling about working in the industry. 4. What would you caution/urge prospective students to understand before embarking on a degree/career in your field?

I received many responses—far more than I can include here—and have selected the following 23 responses for their completeness and succinctness. May this admittedly lengthy collection of career profiles help you or a loved one explore the opportunities and realities of a career in mental health.

Check out the 23 interviews on my Psychology Today blog, 23 Mental Health Professionals Interviewed About Their Jobs (opens in a new window).

Need help with a career decision? Contact me for a free phone consultation.

Volunteering: "Good For the World, Good For You" (HuffPost)

I've been included in this great article and infographic about volunteering in today's Huffington Post article, Good for the World, Good for You - This Infographic Shows How Volunteering Can Help You Find and Get Your Dream Job



Landing Interviews But Not Job Offers? 20 Possible Problems

source: Flickr/martinak15

source: Flickr/martinak15

So you're a great candidate with a great resume. You're getting interviews—maybe even second or third round interviews—but then it stops. Somebody else gets the job. Your inner critic chimes in and starts beating you up over what you potentially did wrong. 

The good news is, your application materials are working. Your resume and cover letter are getting you in the door and that can be the biggest hurdle. Now it's time to fine tune your process.

Click here for my list of 20 questions to ask yourself when you're landing interviews but not job offers.

Success Secrets: How to Get Your Toughest Questions Answered

via Pixabay

via Pixabay

An important part of our professional growth is taking stock of barriers or excuses that are holding us back. It can feel daunting when we determine that we're not moving forward in our career or launching our business idea because we can't find answers to our tough questions.

For example, what if you want to start a daycare business in your home but you don't know how much money you'll need to set things up? Or, let's say a recruiter contacts you on LinkedIn to hire you at a competitor of your current company—how do you know if it's a legit offer or a good company to work for? Perhaps you're already a pro in your field but you don't know how to market yourself on social media or create a YouTube video.

You talk to your family, friends, and coworkers, yet none of them have the answers. You're paralyzed to make a decision because you simply don't have enough information. So, what next? 

A few intriguiging new companies have stepped in to solve your problems and you can access them right now.

The links below are online question & answer sites for professionals and entrepreneurs. Meaning, you suddenly have access to thousands of experts who've been in your shoes and can provide just the tidbit of advice you're looking for in a matter of days or even minutes. Sign up, pay for the service, and connect one-on-one with experts who can answer your specific questions- some on live video.*

The icing on the cake—if you like how these sites work, you can even apply to become a paid expert yourself.

24 Sessions (Get business advice via live video)

Clarity (Get advice from entrepreneurs)

Live Ninja (Teach and learn live online)

Huddlewoo (Another teach and learn video platform)

Quora (Community sourced Q&As)

*The author has no affiliation with these companies and receives no compensation of any kind for mentioning them.

For more career success resources, check out my article, 3 Excellent Career Advice Resources for Job Seekers

[This article was originally published by Brad Waters on Psychology Today at April 1, 2015.]

The Art and Heart of Writing a Letter

My latest post on Psychology Today is about the power of writing a letter—how taking that extra effort to show someone you care can do more than you know.

"One of the most endearing parts about receiving letters from my pen pals is that both of these long distance friends, unbeknownst to each other, use stickers. With glittery hearts, neon butterflies, and gold embossed sunflowers, each envelope is preciously adorned. They are jewels to me. When I receive them I’m reminded I’m rich..."

Read the rest of The Art and Heart of Writing a Letter at Psychology Today (opens in new window).

"Resilience" On Our Minds

A resilient petunia grows from a  crack in the concrete. Photo by Brad Waters

A resilient petunia grows from a  crack in the concrete. Photo by Brad Waters

A Psychology Today article that I wrote two years ago, 10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient Peoplehas reached nearly 100,000 visits. That numbers says to me that “resilience” is on our collective minds and we want to know how we can be better at bouncing back from adversity.

Can you relate to the 10 Traits in this article?

Ten years ago this month, Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in her article The Art of Resilience:

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It’s possible to fortify your psyche. It’s possible to develop a sense of mastery.”

So how do we fortify our psyche to ride the waves of adversity rather than being pulled under by the torrent? How is it that some people handle incredible amounts of stress while others quickly fall apart?

Those who master resilience tend to be skilled in preparing for emotional emergencies and adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity–times are tough but I know they will get better. The old metaphor applies: resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane–they bend rather than break. Or, even if they feel like they’re broken for a time, there’s still a part of them deep inside that knows they won’t be broken forever. Here’s how they do it… CLICK HERE to read the 10 Traits at Psychology Today.

(original article updated May 18th, 2015)

May Is The Perfect Time For A "New Year's" Resolution

Photo via

Photo via

This year for New Year's I collaborated with to write the article A Life Coach’s Roadmap for Your New Year’s Resolutions. It's a “best-of-the-best” advice tip sheet that draws from my coaching techniques plus research-backed suggestions from some of today’s most respected psychologists (see reading list below). And the consensus is... it's not too late to start or restart your resolution(s)! The tips in the article can significantly boost your chances of succeeding with your goals by being prepared and being strategic.

Additional reading:

Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions by John Norcross

Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister

Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by Prochaska et. al.

 Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

 Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

I Want To Do Everything! The Myth of Finding “One True Passion”

Photo by Brad Waters

Photo by Brad Waters

Are you someone who experiences cycles of high excitement and then flatlines with confusion and exhaustion? Perhaps you’re interested in many things – you’ve had a dozen college majors – but in the end you still don’t know what to do with your life and the struggle has left you feeling frustrated, numb, and ready to give up.

You’ve probably heard that all you need to do is find your one true passion and you’ll be happy forever.

If it were really that easy, wouldn’t we all be rich and happy by now? This is where many coaches, career counselors, and self-help books have failed us in a big way. Their marketing is creating false expectations, spreading misinformation about human nature, and confusing the hell out of us. We’re lead to believe that other people are finding success with some secret formula so why aren’t we?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pessimist on this topic. I believe we can always be exploring new things that bring us happiness and well being. I believe we each have to define what “rich” means to us and then put in the effort to achieve it. But I also believe our culture puts too much emphasis on finding this mythical ultimate happiness, creating mounds of financial wealth, and, to my first point, finding that one true passion.

Save for some of the creative geniuses and prodigies, many of us don’t have this so-called one true passion hiding in the depths of our unconscious. And if we don’t possess such a creature, we’re going to wind up frustrated and broke trying to find it. We are constantly reinventing ourselves. We are fluid. We get bored easily and we get fascinated easily. We are in a new era of entrepreneurialism and creativity. We live in an age where our vocations aren’t assigned by our parent’s association with the blacksmith. Most of us won’t inherit the family farm. We now put our individual selves first because we don’t have to spend the day hunting meat for our village. We have a lot of freedom and that can be as frightening as it is exhilarating. It’s a new phenomenon to humans and we aren’t quite sure how to navigate it.

When you come across the latest snake-oil salesman hawking his happiness roadmap and passion compass, don’t buy the ticket to ride until your initial impulses have settled down. You are a passionate person and he is a savvy salesperson. He knows how to trigger the emotional responses that mash your finger onto the “Buy It Now” button.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Sit with people who truly listen and ask really good questions. Look for a supporter who is more curious about you as a person than he is about trying to squeeze you through his particular program or solution. He doesn’t have the answers, you do. He just happens to have put together what he thinks is good- and maybe it is. But the good ones will help support you in finding those answers within yourself. Seriously, THEY DO NOT HAVE THE ANSWERS- YOU DO!
  • Know that there are a lot of genuinely awesome counselors, coaches, therapists, and friends out there who truly want to help you find what you’re looking for. They will help you explore your options, learn more about yourself, work through roadblocks, and support your plan. Shop around and don’t be afraid to return the ones that don’t fit. Tell them what you need in your life, not vice versa.
  • Be wary of your inner red flags that pop up when something is surrounded by a lot of hype. Cultivate your instinct. A best-seller might indicate little more than savvy marketing and someone who knows how to target our emotional impulses. Just because everyone’s buying it doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Sleep on it and see if it’s still makes sense in the morning.
  • Don’t walk on hot coals to prove your devotion to a guru. The heat on your feet only indicates that you’ve just been burned. Gimmicks and shortcuts are tempting, but once people start getting hurt physically or emotionally, these stunts appear foolish. Stupid human tricks have been peddled for centuries. But living the good life is a process that requires a lifetime of working at it and it shouldn’t land you in the hospital.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by your many passions and options, start by getting them out of your head. Create a file folder or bankers box for each of your interests and give them a real home in your home. Your thoughts deserve to be shown respect. Once each of your passions or interests is given a place, you are less likely to feel you’ll have to give any one of them up. You can come back to them anytime and add random thoughts to the files as they arise. This helps clear your mind and embrace your possibilities rather than sacrificing 10 things so you can have 1. Who said we only have to have 1?
  • Know that your job doesn’t necessarily have to be passion driven. And your passions don’t necessarily have to turn into a vocation. When you’re able to spend time with your interests and your people – when you connect with what’s meaningful – you are more likely to have happiness than if you struggle endlessly to achieve the American myth of “I have to be doing what I love at all times otherwise blah, blah blah.” Who said money and meaning have to be tied together? You get to decide. First discover what’s meaningful to you, then find ways to incorporate it. There are some very happy people doing some very crappy jobs but they go home to some very wonderful people and have very rich meaningful lives. What’s their secret?
  • It’s okay to feel passionate about many things, that doesn’t mean you’re non-committal or wishy-washy or flakey or whatever people have called you. It’s okay to not feel particularly passionate about anything, that doesn’t make you aloof or dull or lazy or whatever people have called you. We are in a time when every single action we take is scrutinized for approval or disapproval.

Start with a foundation of knowing that you’re enough just as you are and then build up from there.

A Good Old Fashioned Kick In The Shorts



As we become more practiced and experienced at our craft — whether we’re writers, artists, therapists, or bricklayers — we gradually develop our style and method. Some develop their identity quickly, but most of us have to work diligently and constantly refine our skills. Seldom do you hear of an accomplished professional who is 100% happy with their final product. Always room for improvement and never enough time to practice.

I leave my old blog posts on Psychology Today because, however unpolished some of them now seem, I want to recall how my writing has grown. Striving for better but not expecting perfection, because that’s an unrealistic and disappointing pursuit. That’s a message I have to tell myself over and over when the instinct is to only publish a perfect piece. Here’s what I was writing about two years ago:

 10 Stereotypes of Mental Health Professionals @ Psychology Today

If you’re an aspiring creative or any kind of professional who is just getting started, remember the top piece of advice from those who’ve come before you: you don’t necessarily need innate talent to be successful– it’s consistent time and effort paired with a willingness to learn from your mistakes that yields the best results. That’s probably not news to you.

Putting it into practice is a different matter altogether. Yet it’s practice that sets successful people apart. I doubt I could list all of the hobbies and interests that I dropped quickly because I didn’t want to put in the time to practice. Piano, drums, 35-mm photography, fly tying… I guess I did become skilled at something: buying supplies and selling them a few months later.

So how do we become better at practicing? How do we stay consistently interested and motivated? These topics are why I love studying the lives of successful creatives. From the writers who put in hours of word time every single morning to the painters who didn’t have a public exhibit until after retirement, from them I take lessons that I can incorporate into my coaching with other creatives. There is a science to motivation and success, but it’s not a perfect science. We learn what works and then we try it on for size. Everyone’s process of practice and growth is different.

So I encourage you aspiring creatives out there to look to those who’ve come before you. Learn their habits and keep practicing until you find a system that works for you. If you’re a writer, read and write. If you’re an artist, draw and visit galleries. Maybe you need to find an accountability partner who will hold you to reporting on your progress. Maybe you need to make a commitment to go public with your work so that you have a deadline to meet and an audience waiting.

Of course I might be biased, but I also suggest hiring a coach! And if you do work with a coach, make a commitment to allow that coach to lead you into action rather than getting stuck in the discussion. Coaching is a wonderful environment for brainstorming and exploration, but talking can become a comfortable place where we get stuck because we’re not willing to start acting.

Does Passion Equate To Career Choice? Two Artist Case Studies.

Artists practice their craft because they foremost have a deep need to create and express. Some people discover such a passion and stick with it regardless of recognition or pay. Some feel like they have not, and perhaps never will, stumble onto that one strong passion. There tends to be a lot of pressure to find our one true passion and morph it into a high paying job. But does it have to be so? Have we somehow failed if we reach retirement having never turned our craft into a career?

There is intrinsic value/reward in finding a hobby or passion and it’s healthy to pursue interests regardless of financial gain or end result. Often times people don’t want to ‘mix business with pleasure.’ They are perfectly content working a day job and then practicing their craft in their spare time. Two Chicago artists have posthumously gained critical acclaim in recent years for doing just that.

Henry Darger photo via Wikipedia

Henry Darger photo via Wikipedia

Henry Darger was a reclusive janitor living in a tiny studio apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Outside of work, Darger entered into his imaginary world of the Vivian Girls and the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm. Upon his death, caretakers discovered a realm of the unrealin Darger’s apartment- an enormous collection of artwork and a fictional tome of over 19,000 typed pages. His works are now on display at major museums throughout the country and he’s the subject of a full-length documentary.

Not far from Darger’s world, Vivian Maier was a nanny in Chicago who took upwards of 100,000 photos during her lifetime. Nobody realized she’d created such an immense body of work until her photos were discovered in an unpaid storage locker. Now she’s the subject of a major photography exhibition and the subject of an upcoming documentary (watch the trailer below).

Vivian Maier via Wikipedia

Vivian Maier via Wikipedia

There’s a great mystique and profound respect surrounding these Chicagoans– neither of whom ever lived to see their fame. Neither of whom sought it in the first place.

UPDATE: If you’ve been following the Vivian Maier story, check out this podcast by WBEZ Chicago about legal process determining who rightfully owns her work.

This is the official trailer for the documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. A film unraveling the life of the now famous Vivian Maier and John Maloof's journey to piece together Maier's past.

How To Complete (or Junk) An Unfinished Project

(I originally wrote this article for the website Pick The Brain.)


So that brilliant new idea that washed over you in a hot rush of genius? It didn’t feel so hot once you put in a few hours. That big assignment that you fueled with caffeine and shook your finger at pointedly? It paid no mind to your stern threats of completion. You’re left sitting at your desk (your couch) with a cold keyboard, a warm remote, and a stomach full of gummy bears.

We right-brainers, project-non-completers, and coffee-hoisters know all too well how the thrill of a spark gets dampened by time and our inner-critic. What yesterday felt like a breakthrough in human ingenuity, today feels like yet another unfinished project; or worse, just another dumb idea.

If we were all lucky enough to have a tiny bobblehead life coach stuck to the dashboard of our brains, she would likely remind us at this point that there are no dumb ideas. That if we’d just organize our desk and buy more file folders, our workflow and carry-through would breed and spawn into a litter of completed projects.

But Project Runway just ended, there isn’t a life coach around for miles, and this puppy is due at 9 a.m. So here’s what you do:

Step 1.  Think of this pause in your motivation as the best gift ever. The gift of reevaluating what you’re doing in the first place, and why. What’s the point of this project? How did you feel when you envisioned it? And what will be the intrinsic reward when it’s completed?

I wish I could say that all projects, by virtue of their being birthed in your brain parts, are worth carrying through to completion. Sorry, my cheery optimism can’t come out and play right now. Take the time to evaluate if this project is still worth your time. If your job or grade depends on it, it’s probably worth your time. If you are obsessed with it, your passion deserves attention.

However, if this is just some wayward invasive seed that got rooted in your brain, yank it out and toss it in the composter. You have too many big ideas to get distracted by something small and weedy. No guilt, just let it go. If there’s something about the concept that’s intoxicating but not right for this moment, you won’t be able to junk it. Trust that instinct, jot down enough of the idea that it will jog your memory later, and file it away in your banker’s box of transient schemes. That way you’re respecting your new ideas by giving them a home, yet also respecting the backlog of ideas that are waiting for some love.

Step 2.  If you determine the project is worth your current effort, it’s time to silence your mind and sit with this baby for awhile. Nurture it, sing to it softly, and don’t drop it on its head.

First, try holding up a stop sign to all those self-critical voices that are popping up as you try to get your work done. I mean this (almost) literally. Picture a stop sign and flash it in front of your mind’s eye — that inner-critic Cyclops — every time he tries to stomp on your project. Stop worrying about how much work is left. Stop telling yourself it’s just too damn hard. Keep flashing the stop sign every time you see a jaywalking critic. “Hey jerky, can’t yeh see I’m walkin’ here!”

If this all becomes too much, STOP “working” altogether and just sit in silence for 15 minutes. This is meditation and this works. You need to give it a rest. Set a timer for 15 minutes and let the clouds float by in your brain. When time is up, clean up any clutter on your workspace, rearrange your materials in front of you, and try working again. Do not think about reaching the end. Do not think about the enormity of the project. You already know all about ends and enormities, so Stop. Then go.

Step 3.  Stay fully present in the moment and then type one word. Draw one line. Once you’ve written one word, or one sentence, concentrate on writing one more. Concentrate on putting in one minute of work. Then one more minute. You’re breaking down the enormity of a task into the smallest pieces you can handle at any given moment. You can only do what’s now, so focus on the tree rather than the forest. Momentum will build.

Step 4.  If Step 3 doesn’t work — you’re sitting there for 10 minutes and nothing is happening but frustration — get up and do something “light” for 5 minutes. Don’t get distracted with a new task. Do not turn on the T.V. or get sucked into the Internet! Just grab a snack or a breath of fresh air and come back. What we don’t want to do is train the brain to run away every time it’s frustrated. But we also don’t want you sitting at the desk stuck in snowballing desperation. Strike a balance between stepping away to recharge and pushing through the discomfort of worker’s block. Push-through and stick-to-itiveness will build up your project-completing willpower and confidence.

Side note: Trust your instinct. There are probably two voices (at least) in your head that will help guide you toward the right decision. One will probably say “If I take a smart break now, it will help me prepare for good work when I return.” The other voice will say “Enough! You’ve taken fifteen dumb breaks, no more excuses, just do the work!”

Step 5.  (Contingency Plan). Get the hell out of there! For some reason that I’m sure someone somewhere knows the answer to, there’s something magical about working from a coffee shop rather than an office. There’s also this horrible long-standing myth that all good work must be created at a cold hard desk. If you’re not getting your work done at point A, find a warm and cozy point B and repeat steps 1 through 4.

Once you’re absorbed in your project, maintain the momentum by not responding to distractions. Stop taking the short breaks that will interrupt your flow. You may not eat again for hours, weeks! But who cares as long as you get the project done. And you will.

Postscript: Some of these ideas may seem very simple and obvious to you. But have you actually practiced a new behavior to boost your productivity? If you need your behavior to change, you need to actually change your behavior. By keeping this process simple, you can focus more time on your project at hand and less time learning all the productivity strategies out there that allegedly take you to the finish line.