What I Learned Dropping 50 Pounds This Year


In January, I found myself in urgent care and shortly after, the emergency room with a cardio work up and a bunch of serious folks concerned about my sky high blood pressure (180/150s, folks). Nothing makes shit more real than EKG leads on your chest at 33 years old. I made myself hospital bargains (I’ll really get on the healthy train and never eat sugar again) followed by hospital promises (if the universe lets me go home, I will change my life dramatically, go to church, whatever). We were terrified. 33 year olds aren’t supposed to have heart problems. True, I was a few weeks post op for an unrelated surgery, and true also that earlier that day I’d spoken to nearly 300 people, my biggest crowd yet. But all morning and even after my presentation, I couldn’t shake this nagging, sinking, heavy chest pain and terrible nausea. The real problem was both simple and hard to admit: I weighed too damn much.

Eight hours later, I was finally cleared to go home, which was welcome, given that just a few hours before that, they told us if I went home AMA, I might have a stroke. That gets your attention. Real shit. 

That was my health wake up call. I looked more seriously at the treadmill in my bedroom. Amazon Prime delivered not one but two blood pressure monitors. It was time to start losing. 100 pounds of weight would get me a little below my ideal target. And hopefully earn me no more ER visits. Ever.

It took two more months of thinking about it for me to start, because as you know if you’ve ever tried weight loss, you can’t start til you’re really ready. Really ready. So on March 17, I began. Today, I’m 50 pounds lighter. Healthy changes kept me off blood pressure medicine. My heart is in it to win it. The struggle has been legit, pound by pound. I’m not by any means an expert, but here’s what the first 50 pounds down taught me:

1. Everything you like to eat has 800 calories. Cheesecake, burgers, pizza. When you’re losing weight, meals should typically be in the 250-400 calorie range. Do the math.

2. Buy the equipment, the gear, the workout clothes, the gym membership–stare at it. Roll your eyes at it. You’ll use it when you’re ready. 

3. Use the time you work out to get outside. If you’re heavier than you want to be, chances are good you may also be wrestling with some depression. Sunshine helps all of the above. 

4. Weigh more often than you want to–every few days at minimum. This keeps you in check. Reality is a great motivator.

5. When you hit a plateau, double up on your exercise and aim for 9-11 fruit and vegetable servings a day. For me, doubling up on exercise is a run or elliptical or circuit training in the morning and then something simple and quick later, such as a walk around the block, weights while I watch tv, or 5-10 minutes of crunches and squats. And filling up on all those fruits and vegetables leaves little room in your diet for the crap that’s keeping you at plateau weight. 

6. Go clothes and accessories shopping when you’re losing your resolve. Get nice shoes. And look back at the clothes you have and want to wear again and haven’t worn in a while. It helps you put the donuts and chips down. 

7. Don’t think about working out–just do it. However you can. Some days your work outs will be shitty. Other days, they’ll be great. But don’t think about what they’ll be. Put your shoes on before you’re ready. 

8. Drink water. Sparkling, seltzer, club. Put fruit in it to flavor it. No more full sugar soda, juice, or other calorie laden beverages, unless you’re treating yourself. 

9. Find a sport and own it. Running, swimming, walking, volleyball, tennis. Read about it. Follow news about it. Think of that community as your new friends. Work up to doing something competitive in that community. For me, it was a personal half marathon course because my race was cancelled 36 hours before. 

10. Find samesies foods. Want berry pie? Try a cup of berries with whipped cream and a sprinkle of granola. Similar but healthy enough. Carrot sticks in salsa at Mexican food. Pickle chips in ketchup instead of fries. Pizza toppings on half a bagel. Healthier options give you the craving satisfaction without harming your overall efforts.

11. Invest in an active hobby. For me, it’s been a theme park pass so I can go walk the park whenever I want. Entertaining and extra calorie burn. For others, it’s knitting or crocheting to keep hands busy  or refinishing furniture or taking photographs that get you outside. Even walking a mall you enjoy to window shop beats sitting at home.

12. Make really small changes. Like swapping your work chair for a bouncing ball or parking far out to walk a few extra hundred feet. 

I can say honestly that while not every day has been easy, every day has been worth it. 50 pounds is a big deal. Life changed for me. It’s not a stretch to say that this is the most impactful change I’ve made in my life this year–and the most rewarding. What keeps you motivated to lose weight? I’d love to hear! 

Letter From an Unapologetic Creative



Many years ago, a seventh grade social studies project found me using a fancy new (huge!) printer to make a faux-old note on tan paper. A lighter and some delicate edge-burning later, I’d built a middle school masterpiece–what I considered a true homage to important documents of years past. It was supposed to be a letter someone famous wrote to someone else famous-explorer types, if memory serves–but it was my letter on my topic in my words.

Proud of my masterpiece, I showed my friend and her mom the project the day before turn in. The mom, as well-meaning as she was blunt, took a look and said, that’s not creative. That’s just burning the edges on a piece of paper. You can imagine the slight arch of the back and the bristle hearing this from a teacher (whose own daughter in my class hadn’t done anything for this project yet, mind you) summing up my efforts, from the words to the edges, as nothing special.

Years later, it’s a poignant memory. It set me on a quest to discover and define creativity and to know it in a way that I’d be positive not to again be caught short in public. Friend’s Mom, who I love dearly, actually did me a favor engendering a lifelong quest to understand over and over again where we would draw lines around and through creative work.

In the years since, I’ve been privileged to work in creative companies with infinitely creative people and teams that multiply the collective power to create new things out of old, something out of nothing, imagination out of rules. It’s got me thinking about what I know consider as creative or decidedly not so. (Tell me if I’m being Friend’s Mom here….)

  1. Creativity accelerates with constraint. Especially the constraints you hate in the beginning–a low budget, hardly any time, no materials, the team you don’t think you’ll get along with.
  2. Creativity is what happens when you’re planning for other things. Such as the idea in the shower or how the hairstyle magazine in the salon teaches you something you can apply to your marketing processes.
  3. Creativity happens so often that we only recognize it once in a while. We take for granted all the little moments of it that add up like millions of grains of sand to make one big sandcastle that impresses the hell out of us.
  4. Creativity favors preparation, much as luck does. If your mind is open to expansion and ready to be a vessel for new thought, in any which way, you’ll be receptive at the right time.
  5. Creativity is in the eye of the beholder. Mine doesn’t look the same as yours. Your painted picture of perfect black and white photo of a cityscape is my secret poetry, is my paper heart project on burlap canvas.
  6. Creativity is measured in individual growth, not grand, universal scales ranging from yes to no. It’s an up here thing (taps head), not an out there thing (points to world).
  7. Creativity likes an audience, but it loves just you with your pajamas at the computer at 3am or in the middle of a hike with a notepad in your backpack. Like a dog, it expects no outward trappings of success–only an open heart.

So I’m going to take my burnt edges, because I liked them well enough for where I was at. And the writing was good. The writing has always been good. The paper was the sleight of hand, the one I found myself almost apologizing for.

7 Post-College Dilemmas Resolved


As my cousin is winding down his last few months at UCLA, I’ve found myself thinking again to those post-college dilemmas that seemed so confusing then and seem so simple now. Hindsight has an amazing way of reminding you that everything that’s a big deal now will likely not be later and that we’re always growing and learning.

So this is my public note to give CB something to chew on as he enters the world of work for a year before grad school. 7 quick solutions to jumpstart the next leg of the journey, from my career to yours:

1. What if I can’t find a job in my field?

A college degree is your boarding pass; it buys you a seat to get where you need to go. More than anything, it proves you were capable of supporting yourself somehow, learning something, reading and collaborating a lot, and seeing it through til the degree is conferred. Few of us English majors (that’s me) or History majors (that’s him) find our first paychecks coming from the exact place we expected it would. When I left college, my options were nonprofit work where I could write grants and run development programs (as much as I love nonprofit work, I’m quite sure the economic downturn would have left me without a job a year or two in), marketing (never my deal), or education (thank goodness I landed here–this was always supposed to be my home).

It’s all about transferrable skills and finding an outlet for your passion that also pays the bills.

2. What if I’m unsure about grad school?

I’ve had friends go straight here, take time in between, or go straight to work and never look back. In my opinion, grad school is great if you can get it paid for by the program or have a particular interest that keeps you up at night. If it’s just “what’s next” in your educational journey, all your friends are doing it, or you don’t love the idea of throwing your resume in the giant pool out there right now, don’t use grad school as an excuse to extend your comfort zone another year or two. There’s a lot to be said for getting out there to work, validate what you’ve learned against real business challenges, and learn how to collaborate and build things outside of the walls of academia. Grad school isn’t going to go away, so unless you’re particularly invested in it, consider coming back to it when you’ll have more life and work experience to contribute to the dynamic.

3. What am I going to do?

This all depends on you–what worked well for me was to triangulate: the skill set I’d just honed in college, the growth job markets, and my desired contribution. For example, I knew I liked writing, my major, and at the time, there were lots of marketing and education jobs where writing was a core skill. These quickly became focal points for me because I could write copy, write educational materials, write press releases, etc. That’s where my desired contribution became a tie-breaker: I wanted to make the world a better place, because that’s what happens when you graduate from an idealistic major such as English. It made education my easy choice over marketing.

4. What do I need to do to set myself apart?

Today’s student is miles ahead with a LinkedIn profile, a clean social media feed, and a dedication to content creation that showcases your personality, your drive, and your ambition. Employers want to know you before they know you–why you over everyone else? What makes you special? What unique worldview do you bring to their operations that will accelerate what you can do together? Consider setting up a LinkedIn profile with your work and academic experience, a Twitter feed where you curate news of interest to those in your chosen major or industry, and a blog or YouTube channel where you’re creating content others can consume.

CB’s a history major, so he might create short visual study guides for different periods or 2-minute tip summaries of his favorite thinkers and why they’re significant to his journey through history. Sound like a lot of work? It is–it’s a lot of work that shows that a) you’re a person who can do a lot of work b) you want to give back c) you’re seeking your community or tribe d) you’re a thinking, proactive student who’s ready to transition to the working world. It’s much, much easier to hire people who show initiative!

5. What do I do to prepare for job hunting?

This could be a post all by itself, but in brief:

a. Make a simple LinkedIn profile you can use to apply to jobs. Download a version of it as a resume you can share.

b. Network with professors or internship coordinators for tips on open positions and job hunting in general.

c. Have a reliable cell phone number set up and answer when an odd number calls. If your phone drops service in that one corner of your dorm, needless to say, don’t leave it in that corner. The goal is to answer when people call, unless you’re in a crowded or noisy spot where the first impression you’ll leave will be, “Hey, I can’t hear you.”

d. In case you miss a call, make sure you have a professional message set up, such as: “This is CB. I’m sorry I missed your call but look forward to returning it. Please leave your name and number. Have a great day!”

e. Get a professional set of clothes you can use for interviewing, even if it’s just one good outfit. Show up with your phone on silent and in your bag or briefcase so you’re not distracted. Practice a firm, confident hand shake and looking folks in the eye.

f. You’re just out of school–don’t inflate your experience. You’re interviewing because the interviewer is interested in you as you are. Don’t try to sound like Donald Trump with the wisdom of many years of job experience–acknowledge that you’re new and turn it to your advantage. What are you good at that the company doesn’t yet have enough of?

6. How do I negotiate an offer?

Everything’s negotiable. That’s lesson number one. This is a tight job market, sure, but that doesn’t mean the first offer is it. Decide up front what matters most to you–salary, educational benefits, vacation time, flexible working schedules or locations, etc. This is your important chip. Negotiate elements around this–for example, if you absolutely need 50k to start, you might be willing to give on vacation to find extra salary. Or if it’s most important to you that you could go to grad school on the company’s dime, perhaps you’re willing to come in a little lower in salary or take a job in the office rather than telecommuting.

Protect your ultimate goal, and help your negotiation partner get you to a yes. At the same time, greed isn’t your friend here–this is your first real job, so expect a starter salary with starter benefits commensurate with your experience and qualifications. I got the same starter offers at first too. You start somewhere, and then you work to move up.

7. How do I adjust to being out of school?

Stay busy! This isn’t the time to move home and rekindle a romance with the XBox for a few months while you send out a resume here and there. Set a goal to send out 2-3 resumes a day. Focus on your triangulation of skills, growth markets, and passion to find the companies that are doing what you want to do. Look within your network for connections to that company. Create your content.

Keep reading, learning, and growing–you may think your journey has just ended, but in reality, it’s just begun!

4 Things to Stop Doing in Job Interviews


The other day, while cleaning through random boxes of papers, I came upon some relics of job interviews past. It reminded me of one of my favorite strategies to make the right impression when meeting new people who don’t know a whole lot about me. The papers were a leave behind folder I created for my lynda.com job interview–I assembled a folder for each interviewer that included my resume, a list of courses I’d start building after my start date, and a sample outline I’d put together for one of those courses. Basically, I put myself on paper, doing the job I was being hired for before I was hired.

One of the big risks hiring managers take is that they’re going on your word and that of your references to determine whether you can deliver the goods. Give them something to hold onto–something that stays on their desk and says INITIATIVE in big bold letters.

In addition to showing that initiative, here are four things you should stop doing in interviews.

1. Assuming Your Interviewer Has Spent Time With Your Resume

Show up with a copy for everyone you’re talking to and be prepared to walk them through it in 60-120 seconds. If the job you’re interviewing for is in tech, have your iPad handy with your resume open for them to scan while you talk. Needless to say, turn off any notifications that might flash on your screen first.

2. Selling Your Features

Selling qualities you have (hey, I’m punctual, I’m agile, I’m organized, I’m proactive) is old school. Instead, sell your benefits–things your features or qualities create for companies. (Hey, I came into my last job and created a new workflow that condensed a six-month process into a three week process–let me tell you about that.) It’s like my favorite old analogy–no one buys the hammer because they want a hammer. They need to nail stuff in the wall. Stop selling your hammer, and start talking about the picture you’re going to hang once that nail’s in.

3. Learning About the Company as You Go

If you’re showing up for your interview on a fact-finding mission, you’re already behind the curve. Do your research before you go. View the LinkedIns of everyone you’re talking to. Look for places you’re connected–maybe you grew up in the same city or both know Bill from another company. Similarly, go through the company’s web site, About Us, and published information. It’s your job to be able to talk about the company as if you already work there. If they sell a product that you can reasonably afford, buy one to familiarize yourself with how it works. It’s an investment in the position. Spend your interview time showing you’ve done your work, not learning things for the first time.

4. Asking the Same Questions of Each Person

Sure, there are a few questions you might want everyone to answer, such as “What makes this company awesome to work for?” or “What’s the best and worst part of your job?” But don’t spend your time being repetitive. One size fits all questions give you a one-dimensional view of the company, which is not what you want.

When you get your interview schedule, be it with 1 person or 7, look up or ask about each person’s job function and prepare 2-3 unique questions for each. Ask the salesperson you interview with what’s driving revenue and the marketer which social campaigns have been most successful and why. Your goal in the interview is to know the living organism that is the company, which means you need everyone’s input to get a real sense of what it’s like to work there.

Happy job hunting, and let me know what makes your interviews particularly challenging or successful!

Why I Get More Done on Fridays and Sundays


Fridays and Sundays are my most productive days to work. Yes, the day most of us are winding down to get ready for the weekend and, wait for it, the weekend itself. The secret genius of planning structured Fridays and Sundays is what gives me an extra 20%+ capacity from the work hours I put in.

Here’s the Friday-Sunday routine.


Friday is my planning day. It’s when I book calls, appointments, and meetings for the following week because it’s a day people are in the office to get things on the calendar. It’s also when I set priorities for what will happen in the next week and where my focal point will be. If you wanted to get particularly motivated about it, you might try setting a major to-do for each day of the coming week so you’ll know, if all else goes south, that one thing will go just as expected. In fact, I generally don’t take meetings during 7-9 any work morning so I can start the day focusing on core priorities.

On Friday, I also look through the coming week at everything going on and plan 1-3 hour blocks I need to set aside to finish big projects or have think time. Sometimes these are mid-morning blocks or late afternoon windows.

Friday’s a good day to plan because planning work can be batched out in 20-30 minute sprints, so if you get chats, text, or calls coming in during these work hours, it’s easier to stop what you’re doing. But let’s face it–you’re finishing the week strong on a day people are in wind-down mode, so you’re unlikely to get a high volume of distraction.


Sunday is catch up day. At first glance, this might seem counter-intuitive–shouldn’t Friday be catch up day and Sunday be planning the week ahead? I’ve found the opposite to work better. Doing catch up on a day everyone else is out of office means uninterrupted work time to dive through my starred inbox items and get out those emails or contracts or promised items that are coming due. I’m usually at my computer from 3-6 Pacific on Sundays, and I kid you not, it’s the equivalent brain power and work output of a full 8 hour busy Monday because it’s just you and your machine, all alone with a long list of things to get through.

Sunday might be when you hear from me in response to the email that came in late Friday or through the weekend, and it’s the time I update my projects to make sure the week will start off right. If there’s a random initiative I need to look into or get back to someone about, Sunday’s when the research or the decisions happen.

Sunday afternoon is, in the words of Dr. Todd Dewett in his Managing Your Time course on lynda.com, my Einstein Window.

Catching up days let me update my strategy, refine existing projects or workflows, and catch my breath enough to start Monday with an empty inbox and a glad heart.

With these two simple schedule changes, I’ve multiplied my output to get the equivalent of at least 10 extra hours in my week. Simple tweaks = big results.

3 Better Holiday Gifts


Ideas for the best holiday gifts always sail by through the year and get forgotten here in crunch time. I can’t tell you how many times what I end up with under the tree feels uninspired, unimaginative, and just plain unlike me. It’s a set full of convenient alternative pressies, the hastily planned and wrapped equivalent of a drugstore gifting run done Christmas morning.

With that, here are three of the ideas my brilliant friends have inspired, memorialized here in case you find them equally helpful.

1. Eclectic Stationery Mix

This is courtesy of my friend Ginny, who always thinks of the most creative gifts. A few years ago, she gathered multiple sets of nice stationery–a mix of cards and postcards, and she created custom eclectic sets for multiple people. So rather than getting one box of blank cards, I got a few of these, a few of those. Lovely French postcards, whimsical black and white blank cards with rich linen envelopes, fun light blue thank you cards with a pattern. She wrapped them up tight with soft ribbon and tucked a book of stamps inside. Would be great to also tuck in a nice pen!

2. Holiday Beer Bread

With the onslaught of holiday sweets, it’s nice to have a savory recipe in your back pocket for that unexpected extra gift you need to give on no notice. Doug perfected this recipe two Christmases ago when we were tree-triming, and it’s been a hit since. It makes a mild beer bread that’s a nice appetizer for a crowd watching a game or a holiday gathering. Super simple: Mix 3 c. self-rising flour, 3 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, and a bottle of Hoegaarden beer. Grind in a few twists of your sea salt shaker or throw in a pinch of salt. Pour into greased 9×5 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 mins. Cool. Wrap in plastic wrap, cover with a tea towel and a ribbon, and gift with a jar of homemade or fancy store bought jam or jelly. Apricot or peach jams are our favorites with this bread.

3. Money Jar

Local craft or home stores often have good sales on elegant or funky vases, vessels, and jars this time of year. A long time ago, my friend Kim told me about the dime jar tradition her dad started with her and her sisters when they were kids. He bought everyone a fancy, large jar to save dimes in as they grew up. You can imagine–dimes are quite small and thin, and this was a big, big jar, so by the time it filled up, I’m imagining a huge pile of savings perfect for putting toward vacation, college tuition, or a special splurge.

I’ve adopted a similar tradition–saving $5 bills I get and putting them in a fancy spot. Share the saving fun with friends by finding that perfect jar that goes with their home decor and getting them started with that first sleeve of coins or the first $5 bill and a small slip with saving instructions. Works equally well for any denomination, and is particularly nice for teens, friends saving for a vacation, or kids just getting started with saving money.

All these gifts are low on the fuss and shopping–which is part of the reason I love them so much.

3 Skills You’ll Need for Every Job


Access to high-quality education has never been easier than it is today. You can buy and download best sellers the day they come out (as I just did with Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook), enroll in an online or in person class at your local college with no fuss through their continuing education department, or subscribe to any number of video training sites such as lynda.com.

2013 is a terrible time to use the old excuse that you don’t have time to learn more to increase your value in a tight job market. So with all the options available, you’ve got to figure out how to turn an ocean of available content into a manageable drink that comes at just the right time to quench your thirst.

There are three drinks worth taking as you look to advance in the business world–whether you’re running your own show or working at a company. My journey in each of these is at a different stage, with project management experience topping the skill list, but achieving mastery in all three is a long-term goal.

Knowing How to Work With Numbers

Call it big data, call it Excel wizardry, call it business intelligence. You need to know how to put all the basic math you learned in school to work in spreadsheets and data visualization programs so you can use numbers to drive decision making.

My nascent knowledge of the world of Excel is my entry-point, because it’s a tool I use every day. Go on. I dare you: make a Pivot Table. Learn how to scale formulas and analysis across multiple rows, sheets, and workbooks. My brain hurts when I look at numbers in grid format, but taking 20 minutes a week to get better at data analysis is a long-term investment that equips me to back up decisions I make with the facts that make those decisions compelling and forward-thinking.

To get started, take an Excel spreadsheet with some dated data and save it as a new file. Make this your practice file. You’ll play with this one. Then invest 10 minutes twice a week to increase your knowledge of the program and try adding formulas and data analysis to your routine.

The key to making this meaningful is to really start asking yourself this question: What do I need the data to tell me? Meaningful analysis begins with great questions. Try sketching out or writing out on paper what you’re hoping to get from your data–do you need to know average products bought per customer, average cost of items you sell, or how to project total earnings for the year? Clear goals make it easy to jump into the data and figure out what to do next.

Knowing How to Manage Projects

Back when I earned my PMP credential from PMI in 2011, I saw it as a less expensive, more practical alternative to the expensive, lengthy investment MBA. Today, I still believe that’s true. In fact, the PMP has increased in value in the past three years, in my opinion. Sure, it’s a beast to prepare for, and there are a lot of requirements and paperwork to fill out.

But investing in the ability to manage projects large and small makes you good at whatever you try in any industry. Project management is a skill much like communication–it’s broad and multi-faceted and interesting in that just as you think you’ve got it by the tail, you find yourself on a new project with a new learning curve that begs you to learn again what you thought you’d mastered.

Good project management means that you know how to understand what a business needs, how to deliver it, what it will look like once it’s delivered, how to communicate with people along the way, how to manage teams, and smart ways to buy and distribute the assets you need to get it done. It’s that simple. Being able to do it well on big projects that have millions of dollars behind them or how to scale it back to plan a company picnic means you’re versatile and know how to build results with purpose in mind. This is a core skill that separates competitive professionals apart.

Whether you intend to go after a certification or not, take some time to learn the fundamentals of project management–take a course, read a book, and start applying the principles of knowing why a project is happening, knowing the stakeholders, determining what you need to deliver, managing budgets and schedules, communicating with the team and end users of the project, and delivering the results to specifications. To get your feet wet, volunteer to take on planning a low impact event at a nonprofit you help or for your social committee at work. Start small. Make a project plan on one page that spells out what the end result is, who’s involved, the milestones and tasks that will get you there and when they have to happen, and the budget you have.

Knowing the Basics of Marketing

Customer service is marketing. Sales is marketing. How you do your job every day is marketing–it’s a message you put into the world about your company and how it does business. Knowing the tools of marketing (how email works, what click through rate is, how to use analytics programs, what your SRPs and KPIs are) is part of the conversation, and knowing the skills of engagement and content creation is the conceptual component.

At every level of every company, the people are the marketing–the walking, talking marketing. Knowing how to increase the funnel of people checking out your company, how to get more folks to convert to customers, and how to keep existing customers happy is worth your time. At the close end of the spectrum, you want to get familiar with the tools your company uses, be they Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Siebel, or the like. You’ll also want to know the buzzwords: content marketing, SEO, SEM, social. Learn the cost to acquire a customer, a customer’s LTV (lifetime value), and your conversion rate for key products or services. This buys you entry into basic conversations that will accelerate your marketing.

At the far end of the spectrum, you want to know how to start and maintain conversations with your customers, share something of value with them, and grow your personal and business brands. So invest some time to start thinking of yourself, whether you’re a new grad or a business manager, as a marketer. An easy entry point to understanding marketing is to start creating some content of your own (as I’m doing here) and using social media or word of mouth to drive traffic to it. Monitor who’s coming to watch or read. Engage with them. Repeat.

Number crunching, project management, and marketing–three skills that you’ll be glad you have at any job you take.




Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days to stop and consider whether I’m doing enough to give back. It’s easy to get busy in the day-to-day and forget to live gratitude rather than just remembering it a few days a year. With that in mind, these are some of the great give-back suggestions friends and family have inspired over the years. The fun is really picking where to start, doing something small every day, and living with the spirit of sharing.

Easy to Do Every Few Days

1. Grab the coffee, tea, movie tickets, or food order of the person behind you in line.
2. Hand out a kit to someone who’s homeless when you see them at the intersection or on the road side. (See below for how-to.)
3. Send a handwritten postcard to someone who makes you smile, just because. Say hi.
4. Leave a friend or coworker a voicemail telling them something you appreciate about them.
5. Do a simple chore for someone, such as taking your neighbor’s trashcans in off the street for them, pitching in with the dishes, or giving your friend a lift in to work.

Easy to Do Every Few Months

1. Make 30-45 kits for homeless: Doug and I started making kits last year by stocking up on extra essentials at places like Big Lots or the 99c store or Walmart. You take a gallon zipper bag and fill with any combination of the following: water bottle, wrapped soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, hand sanitizer, razor, lotion, chapstick, bandaids, granola bar, socks, deodorant, $5 gift card to Subway or fast food. Make sure any snack items you include are individually wrapped and sealed in foil packaging so they’re not absorbing the smells of the bath products. It’s easy to keep a big sack of these in the backseat or passenger seat of your car for easy access when you see someone in need. As we’ve given them out, we’ve heard that water bottles and socks and washcloths are particularly helpful.
2. Send a “just because” treat to someone who’s having a rough time or could use an extra lift. This needn’t be expensive–it might be a small flower arrangement from your yard that you leave on someone’s desk. Or you could try sending a favorite magazine to your dad or mailing an article and a cookie or a small gift card to someone who’s going through a life transition.
3. Spend a day picking up trash in your neighborhood. My dad taught me how nice this is when I was young–we lived on a long, windy road about 1.5 miles off the main artery going into town, and inevitably, people would litter while driving out in the boonies. With a simple investment of some sturdy trash bags and two grabbers to get trash off the ground, this is a small investment to give back year round. You’d be amazed, too, how many neighbors want to help out when they go by.
4. Cull through your collection of books and magazines and donate a bag to a women’s shelter or retirement home. Sometimes something good to read is just the ticket to making someone’s day a little brighter.
5. Send a bag of pantry staples to your local food bank. Items that are usually in high demand: peanut butter, tuna, pasta, pasta sauce, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned beans, cereal, diapers, disinfectant wipes.
6. Donate bags and cans of unopened cat and dog food to the local shelter or animal rescue–pets are often forgotten when we’re giving. Litter and unopened toys help too!

Happy Thanksgiving, and here’s to a season of giving that doesn’t have to end in November!

5 Ways the Best Managers Multiply Your Success


Who’s the first boss who impressed you? I was lucky early on in my publishing career to synch up with a boss who was also a mentor and a friend–someone who cared about me first as a person and second as a member of our team. Our favorite managers, though they all look and act differently, multiply the quantity of them and the quantity of us to get a result that’s far greater than what we imagined we could do.

Let me explain: I have a personal metric–an unproven but nonetheless strongly held belief–that I should be adding at least five times my pay in contributed value for any job I do. Minimum. In my mind, a paycheck is an investment in our capacity and our return back to the company. So if I make $100, my company’s investment in my services, I should generate the equivalent of at least $500 in revenue contribution. The best bosses put a multiplier on that–helping us get to $1000, $5000, and beyond–because they accelerate what’s possible with that $100. That’s a win for the company, and it’s a win for us, because as we grow and improve, that earned interest rolls with us, job to job, new boss to new boss.

So how do the best managers help us multiply our value? Five simple things.

1. They Set Goals

Look for bosses who set goals that spell out the expected wins, tie those wins to expected timelines, and remove the barriers that might hinder success. Think: “In the next 18 months, close 50 new accounts valued at $3000 of business or more each.” Then they help you secure the business terms you need to close the deals you bring in.

If you don’t have goals written down with metrics and a clear picture of success, get that conversation on the calendar right away. You can open it with, “I’d like to verify that what I consider my most important work is aligned with your expectations. Could you go over my list of goals with me?” Bring a list of the goals that make sense to you and start there, aiming for a collaborative conversation.

The best managers know, on the flip side, that not setting goals, setting nebulous or changing targets, or adding steps that make goals harder is counterproductive. Beware the boss who says “I think x would probably be good enough” when x is what you’re tasked with or the boss who holds you accountable to goals that were never formally communicated.

2. They Get Specific

Which do you prefer: “Hey, good job in that meeting?” or “Hey, we were really impressed with how proactive you were in requesting that client change. It saved us a good week of back and forth.” The best managers are specific–when they’re coaching and when they’re congratulating. They don’t leave to broad interpretation what they can communicate succinctly right now. Specificity includes a message, timely examples that illustrate the point, and clarity on the value of your actions (good or bad).

If your manager isn’t there yet, when something’s right or wrong, ask clarifying questions. “I’m glad the report was helpful. What about it hit the mark so I can build on that next time?”

3. They Help Pave Smooth Roads

Who doesn’t love a boss who makes it easier to get your work done? The best managers help you remove the speed bumps that slow success–you just need to bring them your process, tell them what needs to change and what your plan is, and ask for their support in going faster.

Equally important: they don’t put up random speed bumps to test you or trap you in your process. They like you best when you’re zooming. Help your boss get there by trying, “Can you help me? There’s an obstacle I need to get around, and after considering several solutions, I’d like to do x. Here’s why…”

4. They’re Organization-Minded

Aligning with your company’s larger initiatives is critical to job relevance and stability. Managers who read org priorities and translate them into team and individual priorities buy you a piece of the action. This has nice side benefits: you’re always a relevant commodity because the work you’re doing is high priority and visible to the right people at the right times.

If you’re not clear already, ask what targets the organization is aiming for in the next 12 months. Offer a few probing questions about how your boss sees those initiatives impacting your team. Suggest that you chart your group’s path to align with company priorities.

5. They’re Real

The one quality I’d argue is most important in the best managers is that they tell it as it is. You get the real person, the real message, the real connection. No censored orchestration at the expense of the team knowing how to be successful.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re loosey goosey with confidential information or careless with sensitive strategy, but it means you can look each other in the eye. Take the first step by being real yourself–voice an opinion, even if it’s unpopular. Say what’s hard to say, tactfully. Share something about your life when it makes sense in conversations. Care about the whole person. When people are real with each other, amazing things happen, such as ego getting out of the way, decision making happening around facts, and dissent leading to better outcomes.

You’ll know you’re working with the right boss when you a) leave your meetings happier than when you entered b) welcome challenges as opportunities to accelerate rather than reasons to disengage c) know where you stand and why d) work toward a tomorrow that matters to you and to the company.

It’s both that easy and that difficult.