Who am I, really? Impostor Syndrome and Me.

 After winning her Oscar for Best Actress last month, Viola Davis did an interview where she admitted to suffering from impostor syndrome. She said she often fears that she’ll be found out and people will realize she’s just a fraud. This was shocking to many because we all know that Viola Davis is literally The Shit. But many people had never heard of impostor syndrome. Including me.  However, once I listened to her, I thought, “yeah that sounds familiar”.

Impostor Syndrome is a concept that  was coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. This “syndrome” often affects high-achieving individuals, particularly women, who have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and have a constant fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite evidence to the contrary, sufferers feel unworthy of their successes and write them off as luck or having the ability to convince others they are smarter or more skilled than they really are. Studies have shown that up to 70% of people have felt like a fraud at one time or another. Even Maya Angelou reportedly suffered from this overwhelming sense of self-doubt. And maybe, so do I.

When I was little I was convinced that my life was all a dream. That in reality I was a princess who for some reason had fallen asleep and dreamed that I was normal kid in Los Angeles. I knew at some point I’d wake from this nightmare and go back to my life of privilege and excess. Although I now understand, much to my dismay, that I’m not going to wake up in a castle. I still have a sense that the life I’m living isn’t the life I was meant to live. I feel like I’m just getting through the day, performing tasks, interacting with people until I can figure out what my real life or my true calling is. I know deep in my heart that I wasn’t put on this earth to prepare tax returns and argue with clients over why they aren’t getting more from their tax credits. Or to explain why an unemployed woman with 4 kids gets a bigger refund than a couple who make over $100k/year. I know that I was put on this earth to help people. So for the time being, that help comes in the form of assisting the public in meeting their tax obligations. How exciting. But I also know there has to be something more.

One day I sat in my office watching the documentary on The Secret. The Secret is based on the law of attraction and how speaking things into existence makes them possible. Positive thinking leads to positive results. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m sitting in my office, working at a business that I created. I wanted to quit my job. I wanted to start my own business. I wanted a cool office with a view. I wanted it and I made it happen. So why am I complaining? Why am I still searching for something more? Why? Because I’m a fake, a fraud, a phony. A snake oil salesman convincing people that I know what I’m doing! Now of course none of this is true (I don’t want my clients to panic). Obviously I have 3 degrees, 25+ years of business experience and a hell of a lot of common sense to prove that I’m not a charlatan. So what is the problem?

The problem is I created something I didn’t really want. I created something because it was the prudent and “right” thing to do. I created a life based on safety and security instead of having the guts to do what I really wanted. I took the easy way out. I was too scared or too lazy to figure out a way to make a living doing what I actually wanted to do – travel. I convinced myself that I’d be okay doing something I really didn’t want to do because it would afford me the opportunity to do what I love, sometime. I convinced myself that it would be a waste to throw away my years of experience and knowledge to just roam from country to country, experiencing life, meeting new people, living. What a dummy. I’m not an impostor because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m an impostor because I go through each and every day pretending to be someone I’m not. Pretending that I’m content in this life. 

From the time I was in junior high I was obsessed with masks. I had masks of all kind. I would collect them from every trip. I even have a tattoo of the comedy and tragedy masks that I got in my 20’s. What’s that all about? Was I an impostor even at an early age? Have I always pretended to be someone I’m not? And why? To fool myself? To please my parents? What is the answer?

I realized while proofreading this post how many times I used the word “convinced”.  Therein lies the problem. As women in particular, we often “convince” ourselves that something is true or that it is okay. When you live in authenticity, there is no need for persuasion. Authenticity requires self-knowledge and self-awareness. Authenticity is about being genuine and real. Being transparent and honest – especially with ourselves. When you are authentic you just… are.

So who am I, really? I am a girl who should have been born a princess – that’s obvious. I am a woman who wants to travel most of the time and lay in the bed eating ice cream and watching Netflix the rest of the time. I am an educated, skilled, entrepreneur who despite all of my protests is actually good at my job. I’m a work in progress. I’m a hot mess.

 

 


Kids Eye View of Los Angeles

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Only those of us who were born and raised in Los Angeles have a right to criticize Los Angeles. There are millions of people in LA but I would venture to say most of them aren’t from LA. People who are actually from LA are a bizarre mixture of pretentious and laid back to the point of being comatose. A person who is from LA will wear a pair of Chuck Taylors with Dussault Apparel jeans and a Gap T-Shirt – all name brand by the way but not to the point of being ridiculous. We wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Gucci from head to toe like people from Atlanta – yes Lenox mall  shoppers I’m talking to you. That is just embarrassing. People from South LA go to the Lobster in Santa Monica or the Ivy in Beverly Hills just like people from Brentwood go to Roscoe’s on Pico not Gower (because that’s where the tourists go). We are all very civilized and cordial. When you grow up here you know how things work. When you move here it takes a little longer to figure it out and yeah yall transports are the ones that mess up the status quo.

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Last month my BFF, who for some reason I still don’t understand moved from LA and now lives in KCMO, came to LA with her pre-teen daughter Veronica. Veronica was born and raised in Missouri and hasn’t been to LA since she was a baby. Deenie wanted her to see all the LA “spots” so we played tourists for a few days. I was really curious to see what a kid from KCMO would think was “cool” in LA so I gave Veronica my camera and an empty SD card and let her hit the town. The pictures that she took were a mixture of all that is quintessential Los Angeles.

The funniest part was she was obsessed with the people. We had to keep reminding her that she couldn’t just walk up to perfect strangers and stick a camera in their faces. So then she would walk up to them and ask to take their pictures. So then we said “you can’t just walk up and talk to strangers!” I was so excited by her excitement that I gave her an old digital camera I had in the closet. I know how important it is to foster creativity in children. You just never know when that spark will ignite the flame.

After she left I sat and went through the pictures. They were enlightening and refreshing. Seeing LA through the eyes of  kid – the wonder, the excitement, the beauty of people. It made me fall in love with the city all over again. The only time we Angelinos get to be “tourists” is when we have visitors from out of town. The rest of the time we complain about them and bark about how much they are adding to our already insane traffic. Yes, tourism is a large part of our city’s economy blah blah blah. Go home. We aren’t as blatantly rude as people from New York but people from LA aren’t exactly friendly. Well at least I didn’t used to think so. But there were plenty of people who happily posed for pictures when asked by a kid from KCMO and who let her come into their store and take as many pictures as she wanted. Maybe my little tourist experiment proves that we can actually be nice to each other when we want to.


Becoming an Entrepreneur: 3 Things I Would Change If I Could

nicole entrepreneurIt has been 20 months since I made the leap into entrepreneurship. I’ve decided to take some time to reflect on my decision and think about things I would change if I could go back. Making the decision to quit my job and become an entrepreneur, while scary, wasn’t a difficult decision. I’ve always known that I wasn’t the type of person to stay in a job until retirement age. I wasn’t really sure how that was all going to happen but I knew at some point it would.

I didn’t really know how early it all started until I tried to set up a sole proprietor EIN and the IRS told me I already had one. Just an FYI – you can only have one sole prop EIN in your life time. It doesn’t matter how many different businesses you start, you will always use the same one. So I had to call the IRS to get the number because I had no idea what it was. The lady on the phone told me I’d had the number since 1998 and the name of my company was ByLadybug. “Oh Yeah!”, I said. That was my graphic design/invitation company that I started while working at the Getty.  I used to design invitations and cards all the time for friends parties, baby showers and what not. So I decided to start a company. It was all good until I was asked to do a wedding invitation and I met Bridezilla. At that point I realized I only wanted to do the designs that I wanted to do without input from the client and that probably wasn’t going to work. The next big leap I took was when I was living in Phoenix and my brother called. “Hey. Would you consider quitting your job and moving to Atlanta with me to start a karaoke club?” Sure, why not! Although for reasons that are way to DEEP to get into right now, the club never got off the ground that experience left me with the desire to eventually, one day, become an entrepreneur.

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect I’m pretty happy and content with the decisions that I made. Of course, there are some things that I would do differently. Let me start by saying I planned for about a year before I quit my job. I knew that I was going to become an Enrolled Agent. After nearly 10 years at the IRS, what else was I going to do? I felt I’d forced myself into a “specialty” that I couldn’t really do anything else with. But I also knew that I could be an asset to taxpayers who were in desperate need of qualified assistance.

  1. Trying to Pay Off Bills – I’ve never had much savings. But I did have some money in retirement. I also had a lot of credit card debt. I knew that it would be a few months before I’d have clients or bring in any income so I decided it was best to try to get my credit card debt down to reduce my monthly bills to buy myself some time until my income started coming in. In the November before I quit (I quit in January) I took out a $20k loan from my retirement and paid off a few credit cards. I also put $5000 in savings. I knew that I’d be cashing out my vacation and that would get me about another $3000 after I  left. Here’s the problem. It took us about 10 months before we really started making any money and that wasn’t really enough to live on – when you split it 3 ways. By that point I’d run the credit cards back up and taken more out of my retirement. What I should have done was taken the money out of the retirement and used that to live on. Paid the bills that I had every month and not used the credit cards. At the end of the year not only did I have the same credit card debt I also had a tax bill for the early withdrawal of the retirement funds. This might have been a good plan if I started it a few years earlier. My mistake was trying to do all of this 2 months before I quit.
  2. Having Partners – Okay. So I hope Norma and Melina aren’t reading this. Let me preface this by saying I LOVE my partners. It is great not being in this alone. And as partners go, they are GREAT. We pick up the slack for each other. Both Melina and Norma have bookkeeping clients. I do not. I only have tax clients. The bookkeeping clients bring in steady monthly income which means we have guaranteed income every month. So if the tax business is slow we at least know we are being paid on the bookkeeping side. All that being said it can be frustrating doing things by committee. For the  most part they are easy going. This whole “let’s quit our jobs and start a business” idea was pretty much mine and Norma’s but as far as the vision and the brand of SJC they let me run with it. But there are those times that I don’t want to consult and I don’t want to discuss. I just want to do what the hell I want to do. There are those times when, yes, I have to admit that I’m a bit of a control freak. Melina is the accountant. She is the one who controls the money. The one who questions the financial decisions. Who, see item #1, I probably need. Norma is my sounding board. She is the one I talk to all day every day. The one who I talk things through with. We figure things out. We make things happen. If I didn’t have her I’d basically be talking to myself. So why don’t I want partners?
  3. Doing it Sooner – As far as the tax business goes I couldn’t have done it any sooner because I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know enough to be an effective advocate for my clients. But in terms of my other entrepreneurial aspirations, like this blog for example, I’ve been doing this for a long time. Like I said earlier, I started my first business in 1998. I started the first rendition of this blog in 2007. I’ve had multiple opportunities but I never followed through. I laugh all the time and say I’m all ideas and no execution. My humor is self deprecating but true. By biggest flaw is follow through – getting shit done. My cousin tells me all the time I’m the smartest person he knows. I tell him he needs to meet some new people. But you can be too smart. So smart that you talk yourself out of things. Out of opportunities. Out of success.

I look at these Instagram accounts and various blogs with there 10k followers and ridiculous amounts of daily hits and think “why isn’t that me?” The truth is it could have been me. But I didn’t put for the effort to get there. And in many ways I still don’t. I may be spreading myself too thin trying to do too many things. Not focusing on what it is really important to me. But the bills need to get paid. Being an entrepreneur is about a lot more than posting pictures on IG and quoting Bill Gates. It is about hard work. It is about dedication. It is about making mistakes, owning those mistakes and learning from them. It is about figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It is about doing shit you really don’t want to do corporate tax returns. So you can do what you really want to do travel. Yes, there are things that I wish I could go back and do differently but for the most part I’m really happy with this life I’ve designed and I’m excited to see where I go from here.


September and the Countdown to 45

My 35th Birthday
My 35th Birthday

September means different things to different people. For some it means Labor Day Weekend and the end of summer. For others it means heading back to school. For me, September means it is almost my birthday. I feel a lot of trepidation when it comes to my birthday. Not because I’m getting older. I don’t really have a problem with that. There are only 3 people that I know who don’t like the fact that I’m getting older. Two of them are my cousins who shall remain nameless, Lynn and Melina, who are 13 and 9 years older than me respectfully. The problem they have is with the amount of grey hair that I have in my head while they both sport full heads of black hair. And the other person is my aunt Carol. Because me being grey means that she is getting older. I’ve told all 3 of them to leave me alone. I actually like my grey hair. I’ve been obsessed with salt and pepper hair forever. And I’m excited to join salt and pepper club. Although I know the time will come when my face says 35 and my head says 55. I’m not exactly looking forward to that. It is kind of nice for people to look at you in utter shock when you tell them how old you really are. Hmm now that I think about it, maybe hair color isn’t the devil.

So back to my birthday. The problem that I have isn’t getting older. The problem that I have is facing another year and not having achieved my weight loss goals. For me September means that in approximately 50 days I’ll be another year older and I’ll still be…. FAT. September means that I have approximately 50 days to lose that last stubborn 100lbs, 50lbs. Whatever the number may be. September means that I’ve spent another whole year as a failure. This year I decided to go back to what I know works. A time when I actually felt healthy and good about myself.

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In 2013 I completed my first Whole30. When I finished I felt great. I was going to hot yoga 3-4 times a week. I was sleeping better, waking up easier and my skin felt incredible. If you had told me then that none of it would last I would have slapped you. Since that time I’ve tried to complete Whole30 a few more times with no success. First of all, it isn’t something you just do one day. It takes a lot of preparation – both mental and physical. You have to be ready for it. Ready for the sacrifice. Ready for the shopping and the label reading. Ready for the irritation. Ready for all that damn cooking. Ready to change your life. Before I wasn’t ready. I thought I was but I was wrong.

So what makes this time different? I’m not sure. Maybe it is that I’m in a different space. Maybe I’m better prepared mentally. Maybe I just want it more. Maybe not. I don’t know that I will be successful. I don’t know that I will fail. All I know is at some point the roller coaster ride has to end. At some point I have to figure this out. I want to wake up on October 19th feeling content. Feeling like I did something right. Feeling like a success and not a failure. I want to wake up thankful for all that I have and all I that I’ve accomplished. I don’t want to have to that asterisk  that says “Yeah I’ve done all these great things this year *except lose weight”.

This year I’m making a pledge to myself. Part of “lifestyle by design” and living in authenticity means being comfortable in your own skin. Being happy with who you are not just with what you do. So the time has come for me to do what needs to be done. To truly be where and what I want to be means I have to be healthy. I have to stop talking myself out of things or saying that failure is okay. It isn’t okay. It sucks!

 


Follow Your Passion. Please!

Happiness is when what you think, what you do & what you say are all in harmony. – Ghandi

E31A2290This last year has been a journey for me. A journey to find me. A journey to find my passion. A journey to follow my passion to where ever it may lead me. A journey to find happiness. To live the most authentic life possible. To just BE. It sounds so simple. But in reality it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hard not because I didn’t know what I wanted or how to get it. But because I had to get other people out of my way. The hardest thing about following your passion is not letting other people talk you out of it or make you doubt yourself. The hardest part is saying “yes, dammit this is what I want!”

I love this picture of myself. It was taken on safari in South Africa in December by my cousin James. It is one of those rare pictures that was candid, where I was just goofing around. But I realize at that moment, even though it was 6am and freaking freezing and I was standing in a pile of giraffe shit, I was so apologetically happy. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. I was traveling the world with people that I loved. Seeing things that most people would never see. When I hear people say they are afraid to fly or the flight is too long it makes me sad. It took me 36 hours to get to Cape Town. 36 hours to get that smile on my face and I would do it 100 times more to be as happy as I was in that moment.

When I decided to quit my job at IRS I only told a few people. I told the people that mattered and the people I knew would support me. The other people I told AFTER I’d quit. I didn’t need their approval or their support. I simply informed them of the choice I made. There were a few people who I told beforehand who weren’t all that supportive. I knew they wouldn’t be. See, their lack of support had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with them. And their fear. Their fear that they couldn’t walk away. That they couldn’t do it on their own. But I knew I needed to tell them. I knew I needed that push back.  I needed to have that debate with them so that I could strengthen my position. Not for confirmation. I used them to solidify my business plan. The part of my plan that explains what differentiates me from my completion. The part that explains my purpose and my passion. I used their fear to make me stronger.

So why should you follow your passion? First of all, why not? It is an amazing feeling to do something that you actually want to do. It makes life so much easier. It makes the days go by faster. It makes conversations with people more pleasant. Next, once you follow your passion everything else falls in line. You’ll start to notice everything you come in contact with supports your goals. Articles you read, people you meet, businesses you come across will all become both financially and spiritually rewarding. And most importantly, you will live in truth and authenticity. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone who you aren’t. You will no longer have to spend 8 hours a day at a job that you don’t like. You won’t have to do things that you don’t want to do. You will feel as though a weight has been lifted. And you will find it so much easier to say “No. That doesn’t work for me.” Or “No. That doesn’t fit into my plan for the day.” Or “No. I won’t be in the country during that week.” That one is my favorite!

Finding your passion doesn’t mean you have to quit your job. Maybe you like your job. But maybe you spend too much time there. Maybe you devote all of your time to your husband and kids and have forgotten about yourself. Finding your passion means getting to the essence of what makes you YOU. Start simply by making a list of your interests. Which ones stand out to you more than others? Start researching groups, websites, blogs. Decide what you want to learn more about and go on from there. Not everyone needs to quit their job and start a business or travel the world. Some people love to paint or to cook or to dance or bowling. Who knows. I don’t know. But you do.

When I found my passion I found my voice. I stopped trying to please everyone else and made my happiness a priority. I do for those because I want to not because I feel a sense of obligation. I spend time with people that I LIKE doing things that I LOVE. And that makes me happy!


Entrepreneur Lifestyle

The entrepreneur lifestyle means so many things. It means working on Sundays or holidays. It means sitting in boring tax seminars in Las Vegas when you’d rather be at the pool. It means constant travel, meetings, funding, saying yes when you want to say no. It means deciding between your healthcare payment or your car note one month and paying off 3 credit cards the next. It means spending Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in South Africa and taking your niece to an art museum on a Tuesday afternoon just because. The entrepreneur lifestyle is any and everything you want it to be because it gives you the one thing that you don’t get from a 9 to 5… Freedom.

One Sunday afternoon I was sitting in a board meeting for a real estate holding company that I started with my brother and my 4 first cousins on my dad’s side. The next day I was on a video conference call with my SJC Financial Solutions business partners, one of which is my first cousin on my mother’s side. After the call I asked myself, “how did I end up in business with both sides of my family?” I guess the answer is if you can’t trust family, who can you trust? Now here I am some  15 months later fully invested in 2 businesses with  2 people that are the definition of Ride or Die – Melina Johnson and the Urban Farmer, Terry Booty.

Terry and I have a special relationship. We have HUGE, what some would consider incredibly unrealistic dreams that NO ONE believes we will be able to fulfill but us. We see the vision, we have the plan. We are the entrepreneurs. One day I was talking with his mom and I told her I wanted to retire by the age of 45. She literally laughed in my face. My aunt, like my mother, spent over 35 years working for LAUSD. She was an elementary school teacher. Probably the hardest job ever. She put in her time and retired at the age of 62… like you’re supposed to. But Terry and I had other plans. In 2010 he left his job with Marriott. In 2015 I left my job at IRS. We were ready to put our plans into action. Although no plan is without pitfalls, for the most part we are both doing the things we set out to do. I probably won’t be able to retire at 45, considering that is in 3 months. But 50 seems quite doable. So this is a really long way around getting to my story.

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Terry lives in Florida but often travels to LA. When he does he stays at my house. Not only is Terry a morning person, he is also operating on East Coast time. I am neither. So the other day he gets up and goes to work out around 7am. He comes in my room all happy and chipper and says “hey get dressed, let’s go work out!” So I tell him to get the hell out and leave me alone. He quickly retreats. I instead decide I’m going to go to a hot yoga class at noon. So later, as I’m getting ready to leave he says “it must be nice to be an entrepreneur and just get to go to a yoga class in the middle of the day.” And I said “you’re damn right!”

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A few months ago I was visiting Melina in Kansas City and she tells me that I need to start answering my phone (which I never do) because I’m going to be getting a call from a game show. Huh? What? “Yeah, I signed us up for Celebrity Name Game.” Okay, I’ve never heard of Celebrity Name Game. “Then you better start watching it.” So low and behold about 6 months later I get a call. “Hi! This is Lauren from Celebrity Name Game!” A telephone Interview. An Audition. And BAM we are on a game show. We lost. But that’s not the point. The point is Melina wanted to be on a game show and we went on a game show. She flew from KC to LA for an audition with less than a week’s notice and then came back 2 weeks later to tape the show. She didn’t have to ask her boss for a day off or arrange her schedule with anyone. She wanted to do it and she did it. She’s got it like that! Why? Because she’s an entrepreneur.

I went to yoga at 12p in the afternoon because I wanted to and because I can. I’m not getting up at 5am to do a damn thing. Because I don’t want to. The crazy part was when I get there. It wasn’t like the class was empty. There were at least 20 people there. I went to a 12pm class. There was a 1:30 class after mine. They have class all throughout the day. We are no longer living in a 9-5 world people. Have you driven on the 405 at 2pm? It’s packed! People are out roaming the streets at all hours of the day. The entrepreneur lifestyle is a real thing. And take it from me, it’s fabulous!


You Look Pretty.... Smart

“You look pretty smart.” Said no one. Ever. Anyone who has read this blog over the years knows that I’ve had a life long battle with my weight. Thankfully over the last year I’ve had some success. Although the battle continues. One of the motivating factors for me was the fact that I started my own business. It became evident to me very quickly that when you are an entrepreneur you are on duty 24/7. You are constantly selling yourself and your business ALL the time. I’ve passed out business cards at the grocery store, at the dry cleaners and I’ve had full on tax consultations on the airplane on the way to London. You never know when or where you’ll find your next client or business opportunity so you always need to be prepared.  As a female entrepreneur there is an added level of pressure to also look your best. And whether fortunately or unfortunately in our society looks…. good looks, get you further in life and in business. I’m a Libra so being vain isn’t all that difficult for me. But I did have to take a hard look at myself and think about what my appearance says about my business and my brand.

I recently read an article about Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and how she wears corporate attire and high heeled shoes every day while Mark Zuckerberg wears the same grey t-shirt and jeans day after day. The article goes on to say that “Women can’t just roll out of bed, toss on yesterday’s jeans, brush their teeth and do well at work. If they do, they’ll struggle in the professional world.”  The author implies that this is a bad thing.

Is it fair? Maybe not. But I don’t want to just roll out of bed and wash my face. Do I want to wear a full face of make up just to run to the grocery store? Not really. But I don’t consider looking presentable to be a burden. For me, the same would go for a man in business. I would definitely pay closer attention to a well groomed man who is pitching his business to me than someone who didn’t take the time to shave or shower.

20160527_105931When I was at the PowerNetworking Conference last month, again this was a networking conference for entrepreneurs, I saw all kinds of different…. styles. There was a dress code for the conference, business attire. Now, I guess that is relative depending on your business. But let’s just assume we all know what that means. Or maybe we shouldn’t. Does business attire mean an Adidas sweatsuit? Not to me. But it also doesn’t mean a sequin floor length skirt and satin shoes at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. So who am I to say?

So what are we as female entrepreneurs to do? How do we walk this fine line between wanting to be accepted into the business world based on our expertise while living in a society where visual marketing is the primary source of engagement with customers and you are the most important marketing tool. Personal Brand that’s the buzz word these days. Getting yourself out there. Where ever out there is. Having an online presence. Social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Yada, Yada. Yada. It is all about how many friends and followers you have. It is about how many people are LOOKING at you.

It is easy to write this off and say pretty girls get all the attention. But I don’t think it is about being pretty. There are plenty of successful women who aren’t necessarily pretty. I think it is more about being attractive. Yes, physically. But more so about having an essence. A presence. That thing that draws people in. And once you have them, you have to have the brains, the experience and the expertise to keep them. You wouldn’t want a pretty brain surgeon who finished at the bottom of her class in med school would you?

 


Things Traveling Teaches You

20160704_173607I read an article the other day called 10 Things Traveling Teaches You That School Doesn’t and it made me think about my first trip to Europe in 2000. It was for a fine art class through Mount St. Mary’s College. I went “by myself” or rather with a group of perfect strangers. We went to Prague, Salzberg, Vienna and Munich for 12 days. We had the option of having a roommate (that I didn’t know) or paying an extra $400 for a single room. Needless to say I paid the extra money. I think it was a 1 or 2 unit class and our only homework assignment was to put together a scrapbook and share it in class when we returned from the trip. That was back when we took pictures with film and actually printed them out and glued them into photo albums.

One of my favorite memories from the trip happened in Prague. The city is divided up into these districts. 4 of us were on the street car going back to our hotel from being out and about. Which I think was in like district 2 or 3. Somehow we ended up in district 8. Waaaay outside of the tourist area. We got off the train near this stadium at a McDonald’s. I mean. It’s McDonald’s someone should be able to help. We walked in and I swear they had never seen real live Black people before. It was like the whole restaurant came to a complete and screeching halt. No one in the place spoke a bit of English or had any idea what we were trying to say. So we went back outside and looked at the map and just tried to figure it out for ourselves. People on the street walked by and stared at us. Awed by the sight. Black people in Prague! The funniest part of the whole ordeal was there was a huge Michael Jordan Nike billboard above the stadium. Those same people probably passed that billboard every day and never gave it a second thought but 2 Black people standing under it, now that was a sight to see!

I don’t even remember the names of all of the women in this picture. They may not even remember me. But they are tied to one my most memorable life lessons. One that I only had because I was in a foreign country interacting with people a little over 10 years after the end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The borders had opened up and my Black ass was walking the streets of Prague. Maybe a little kid went home that day and said “hey dad, I saw a Black lady today!” And that Black lady was me! When you travel you open yourself up to other cultures and in turn you open them up to you. You take a little piece of them home with you. You leave a little piece of you where ever you go.

As I was preparing to write this post I looked back through my scrapbook. I wanted to include some of the pictures. But ummm. They are in a SCRAPBOOK! So I did what we modern people do and I took pictures of the pages with my phone.

تتطلب عرض الشرائح هذه للجافا سكريبت.

And that made me realize how much the digital age sucks! I never keep things like this any more – room keys and receipts and ticket stubs. How do you keep those things in your Google Photos? And even though I printed up a photo book when I got back from Cape Town it still isn’t the same. It is just so… perfect and digital.

 


The Girl in the Coffee Bean

Have you read the book The Girl on the Train? It is about this alcoholic that doesn’t want her roommate to know she’s been fired from her job so she continues to take the train into London every morning like she’s going to work. While she’s on the train she looks at her old neighborhood where she used to live with her now ex-husband who is married to his mistress and fantasizes about the life of her neighbor. A lot of other stuff happens and it is a really good book. Anyhow. I realized the other day that I’m the Girl in the Coffee Bean. Without the alcoholic and murder part. About a month ago SJC Financial Solutions moved into its new office space. My partners and I were so excited. This was a huge step. After a little more than a year in business we were actually at a point where we needed office space! Yes! The first week after we got the keys I was talking to my partner Norma online and she asked where I was. I told her I was at Coffee Bean. “What!? Why aren’t you at the office?” “Ummmm. I love it here!” I realized at that point having an office meant I was going to have to give up MY OFFICE. My sanctuary. The place where I wrote all my papers. Did my homework. Got my MBA. Created 2 businesses. Drank my favorite Iced Americano with 2 scoops of Vanilla. Watched countless first dates and job interviews. No! I’m not ready! 20151013_135229

I love my Coffee Bean. I sit in the same seat. And get a major attitude if someone is in it. I sit there for hours. Sometimes 5 or 6 at a time. I’m more focused. More creative. More… everything there. I can’t give it up. Are you crazy! I know. I’ll just go to the office a few times a week and still come here a few times a week. Who will that hurt? Who’s gonna know. My partners are in Kansas City and Utah. They’ll never know!

So a few days later I decided I was completely insane and started moving furniture into our new office. To be honest. At first, I hated it. The white boring walls. It was so dull and boring. And so dang quiet! So I started decorating. That helped.

But it is still really quiet. I hate being closed up in that office by myself. So I decided to start leaving the door open. Well, with being the new girl on the block and having a bunch of nosey neighbors I’ve got more visitors than I know what to do with! I think I’m one of the few female-owned businesses in the building and one of only 2 on the floor. There are lots of men in the building (take note single ladies). So I get lots of guys stopping by saying “hey I heard you were up here” Oh yeah? Heard from who?

I still miss my Coffee Bean. I’m not ready to give it up 100% but I think I can get used to this office life.

 


PowerNetworking Conference

20160528_202051Last week my cousin/business partner Melina and I went to the PowerNetworking Conference in Prince George’s County, Maryland. For those of you who don’t know, Prince George’s County is one of the wealthiest Black communities in the country. The location of the conference was important because one of the major objectives of the conference was “To help Black people build wealth that can be transferred intergenerationally.” This wasn’t some get rich quick scheme. There was no Pre-Paid Legal booth. These were real business owners committed to the empowerment and economic development of the African American community.

Now I’m a skeptic by nature. When Melina and I first heard about this conference last year from a friend we both looked at each other and said, “what got into Rainy?” She was so excited and energized and ready to start a business and get to work. She couldn’t stop talking about the conference and the people she met. Her eyes sparkled as we listened. So this year when the opportunity came up Melina and I decided we needed to be there.  Still not fully convinced we would drink the Kool-Aid, but we were willing to attend with an open mind.

Let me start by saying I’m easily overwhelmed. I can be a bit of a drama queen. So I tend to stay away from crowds of say 1,500 people for that very reason. Also, the amount of information you are given and the number of speakers, presentations, workshops and exhibits was A LOT. Again, being easily annoyed, I was uncomfortable with the daily schedule and the way the sessions were set up. I like things nice and neat and I like my schedules to have lots of white space on the page. Let me tell you, there was no white space. This conference is jam packed with information. JAM PACKED. So as we were looking over the material the night before day 1 and I was complaining, Melina told me I was thinking way too hard. So I decided to wake up in the morning and go with the flow. Where ever that may lead.

20160526_094354The days are structured like this. The morning sessions start with PowerTalks. These are 17 minute “mini” presentations from various speakers.  Those last for about 2 hours. In the afternoon they have what are called Workshop Intensives”. These are 1.5 hours sessions, some of which were longer versions of the 17 minute presentation. These talks go until 10pm on the first 2 days. There are approximately 7 of these workshops going on at the same time. So as Dr. George Fraser said “you have to make a choice”.  It is impossible to go to all of them. Some of them were held again over the 3 days. But some were a 1 shot deal. So Dr. Fraser suggested that we decide the first morning what our goal was. Why are you here? What do you want to get out of this? Once that was determined you chose the workshops that were in line with that goal. I had 2 goals. The first was branding and marketing, how to a position SJC and myself as a brand to set both businesses a part from the competition. The second was to find additional streams of income, what other business ventures could I get into. So we looked through the program with those goals in mind and chose the PowerTalks and Workshops that suited our needs. We had a plan!

Here’s the thing about a plan….. Sometimes jet lag sets in. Sometimes you can be a little overwhelmed by 3 hours of PowerTalks. So when we decided to take an afternoon break for an hour or so before the Intensive Workshops we really didn’t know it would turn into a 2 hour nap – causing us to sleep through the afternoon workshops. Oops! So we decided to make the best of our time in DC and we wanted to see the Dr. King Memorial so we took an Uber over to the Nation’s Capital, met my friend Jeunesse for dinner and did some sightseeing.

20160527_085856We were much more focused on Day 2. Still not quite ready to drink the Kool-Aid but again, starting the day with an open mind. The PowerTalks were informative. Trevor Otts‘ presentation “The Solopreneur vs the Entrpreneur” was the standout for me. After lunch we split up and I went to a workshop called “Make Them Buy: Build a Multi-Million Dollar Business, Brand and Attitude.” This was the moment where I started looking around for that glass and wondering what flavor Kool-Aid they were offering. The workshop was led by Sherrod Shackelford and LaVon Lewis of PDG Branding & Marketing. Let me just say that 1.5 hours was not enough. There was not an empty seat in the room and there were people standing up along the back and side walls. Sherrod and LaVon are two young, energetic, handsome (and yes, articulate) young men who have found their place and built a business based on experience and hard work. I was willing to buy whatever they were selling! The skeptic in me was starting to fade away. They never stopped talking! After the workshop they had a table set up where there was a constant revolving door or activity, accolades and admirers (yes ladies I saw you).  Melina went to a workshop led by Simon T. Bailey called “Shift Your Brillance – 5 Steps to Thrive in Business and Life.” She came out of this standing room only workshop with a homework assignment, a list of books to read and what is that? A glass of Kool-Aid??

Day 3 we attended a workshop “Learn How to Generate One Million Dollars Cash Investing in Real Estate” given by Dr. David Anderson. This is where shit got deep. I don’t even know how to properly summarize this talk. But let me just say that by the end you would have thought we were at a midnight church revival. There was lots of head nodding, and hand waving and “Mmm Hmmm” going on in the room. And the phrase “they don’t want you to know” was said more than once. Deep Y’all.

In the end it was a very positive experience. I love being Black. I love being around positive people. I love being around people who want to do something. Anything! But don’t come at me with some bullshit. I don’t want to hear it from you unless you’ve done it, lived it, traveled to it, read it. Something! I have a Master’s Degree in Religion so I know a cult when I see one. Don’t try to convince me of something that doesn’t pass the sniff test. Don’t tell me that you make $100k/week when I’m not really convinced you even have $100. I know an Instagram millionaire when I see one. Anyone can call themselves and expert, an author, a world-renowned speaker. But what do you really do?

There is often talk in the community that we don’t support each other. That we tear each other down. This conference was proof to the contrary. You had over 1,000 business-minded and entrepreneurial African Americans who came together with a singular purpose – to build wealth. Notice I said build wealth, not get rich. Getting rich is easy. But who benefits from you being rich? You, your spouse and kids? But true wealth, that lasts for generations after you’ve passed. True wealth ensures that not only is your family taken care of but the fruits your business ventures take care of families you don’t even know exist. We have to stop thinking so small. Stop being so self-absorbed. And realize that none of us can do this alone. We need each other. That is what networking is all about. You support my business I support your business. If I don’t need your service I will recommend you to those that do. Is it that difficult?

So did I drink the Kool-Aid? Maybe a shot glass full. We’ll see how it goes next year.