4 Tips for Writing Effectively, Concisely and Truthfully

November 24th, 2014
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On November 20, I was featured in the article English Essay Tips from the Experts, a compilation of writing tips from several experts. These tips are valid for anyone writing any type of letter or essay. Remember them as you compile holiday letters and college application essays in the upcoming weeks!

#1: Think First. Write Last.

Sometimes when people don’t like writing, the actual problem is that they are having trouble thinking. Frequently I’ll work with a client on an essay the person has been struggling with for weeks. One client this past week, for instance, had been through seven revisions of his law school application essay and still wasn’t satisfied with the result. What he needed was not writing help so much as a conversation with a coach who could focus him on a strategy and theme that worked. He needed help thinking. As soon as he had his new outline, he rewrote the essay, completed two revisions, and finalized the essay in just one week.

Erin Brenner, a publishing professional, copyediting professor and editor of copyediting.com, makes the important point that writing is the last step in the writing process. First, the writer must gather and organize information; once those steps are taken, writing can be a breeze.

#2: Stick to the Point!

Another challenge for writers can be going on tangents or including unnecessary details. Test prep expert Alexis Avila cuts to the chase on this issue with his tip that any “sentence that doesn’t fit under Thesis / Evidence / Transition” can be cut from an essay. Of course, to know whether a sentence fits under Thesis / Evidence / Transition, you need to be clear about what the purpose is of each of your paragraphs! So Tip #1 from Erin Brenner is part and parcel of this one.

#3: Active Language Wins

Do you ever get the vague feeling that your writing is too wordy but you’re not sure exactly why? I believe the first place to look is at passive vs. active construction (e.g., The car was moving fast down the street vs. The car sped down the street.) Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, points out that the use of “of”—especially when it follows a “tion” word—can give you a clue about what to change. If you wrote something like, “The creation of paper snowflakes took the children hours” you would do well to change it to “The children spent hours creating paper snowflakes.”

See the difference? Feel free to use this trick in your holiday writing!

#4: Tell the Truth!

This tip from me—Brenda Bernstein, The Essay Expert—makes writing a lot easier for anyone who thinks they need to “sound good.” If that’s you, stop it! Instead, tell the truth about your struggles and pain if that’s what you’ve been dealing with. And then tell the truth about your victories. No one is interested in how you’ve always known what you know now; we want to know how you grew.

When I get to my clients’ real stories, they inevitably express a sense of relief and gain energy to start writing. People who were stuck suddenly can’t wait to start putting words on paper.

Did these four tips give you a boost in getting started, or continuing, a writing project that has been stymieing you? Do you think you need a different type of tip to get you on track? Please share below!

Text and Driving? Stop Doing That. For Real.

November 17th, 2014
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This weekend I participated in a workshop in Soft Addictions. I expected to focus most of my energy on my sugar addiction, which has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. While I did spend some time and energy examining that habit, a different addiction came to the foreground as the weekend progressed:

Texting While Driving

Woman sending text messages while driving.

In the workshop, we were divided into groups of six. When I admitted to them that I texted while driving, one of my group members looked at me with a heartfelt gaze and said, “Stop doing that. For real.”

Later in the weekend, I found out that he texts while driving too—as did every one of the six people in my group.

According to www.textinganddrivingsafety.com, if you’re traveling at 55mph and take your attention away from the road for 5 seconds (the minimum amount of time it takes to check your phone), you will travel the length of a football field without looking at the road! Texting while driving makes a crash up to 23 times more likely. In comparison, dialing makes a crash 2.8 times more likely and talking or listening makes a crash 1.3 times more likely. And while 34% of American drivers say they have texted while driving, I’m sure the number is much higher.

In my workshop this weekend, at least two out of 35 participants had been in car crashes which were their fault and had resulted from their texting while driving. And at least one of them did not stop the habit.

I started to get real about my own addiction to texting while driving and the true level of risk I’m taking every time I do it. And when it was time to choose one of our addictions and write a “Dear John” letter to the addiction bidding it farewell, I chose texting while driving as my target.

Here’s the poem:

Texting while driving, you kept me connected.
I’m addicted to you. It’s like I’m infected.

Despite all the stories of death and of gore,
My phone seems to call to me… LOOK AT ME MORE!!

Well, starting right now, I choose to connect
To my learning brain rather than gadgets electric.

I’ve got options – like language CDs. Books on tape.
That message that dinged me? It simply can wait.

I yearn to connect… but for that I must LIVE.
And texting while driving? You’ve just gotta give.

 – Brenda Bernstein, November 14, 2014

On the way home from the workshop, I called a friend before starting to drive. When I hung up the phone, I saw that I had emails and messages I could read if I wanted to. I noted my impulse to pull down the menu that would allow me to read my emails, and, instead of checking the messages, checked the impulse. It felt scary and good.

If you are a fellow driver while texting, please take a good look at what you’re putting at risk: not just your own life, but the lives of the drivers and passengers around you. Especially as the holidays are approaching—a time when many of us will be driving to see family and friends—let’s make a commitment to kick one of our most dangerous addictions, and DRIVE SAFE.

Overwhelmed? There’s a Way Out

November 10th, 2014
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Last week I received for my review and editing an 84-page document from the company implementing my Infusionsoft program. The document consisted of poorly-written drafts of multiple email messages that will be going to both customers and writers at The Essay Expert. The messages cover situations such as clients who have not turned in their questionnaires; people who fill out a contact form and don’t respond to our calls; assignments of clients to writers; and much more.

The language in the emails was too informal for my company’s brand, and there were spelling and grammatical errors in pretty much every one. Not a single email was written in a way that I would want it to appear to my clients. Although my assistant had done some editing on the document already, there was a whole lot left to do.

How would you feel if you received an 84-page document like this to edit? Does “overwhelmed” describe it sufficiently?

For me, “overwhelmed” was a fairly accurate description, which I identify as a combination of anger and fear. As I went through the first 15 pages, however, I began to realize that I did not have to be overwhelmed by this project – at least not now. Patterns began to emerge in the errors that had been made, and I suddenly had a big insight: I could delegate editing this document back to my assistant! I wrote a list of four tasks for her that, once completed, would make my job a lot easier.

My feeling of overwhelm suddenly subsided, and although I might experience it again when I receive the next draft, I have reduced my stress level significantly.

The feeling of overwhelm has, no surprise, surfaced in my business before. I experienced it when I started getting dozens of LinkedIn invitations per week and “had to” respond to all of them myself. I experienced it when I was entering my own bookkeeping data. I experienced it when I was posting my blog article to WordPress every week and finding images to insert. I experienced it when I was creating screenshots for my e-book. And I experienced it while organizing my leads and conversions each month, pulling from multiple email folders to create a complete list.

In every one of these cases, I managed to let go of doing the task myself, figure out what I was doing so that someone else could do it, and hand it over. None of this was easy for me, as I am rather controlling and want things done right. I had to make a shift in thinking from “I’m the only one who can do this” to “I can teach someone else how to do this.”

The benefit of successful delegation has been my freedom. My business has grown, and yet I have more time to do things I want to do for myself: cook, do yoga, spend time with friends, and concentrate on my personal growth.

I am now regularly on the lookout for signs of overwhelm because I know that it means it’s time to expand, let go, trust, and create freedom in a way I might not have believed was possible.

Where in your life are you experiencing being overwhelmed by a project? How can you enroll others to make it look more doable? I’d love to hear about the challenges you’ve experienced, solutions you’ve implemented, and any new ideas you have for approaching big tasks so you can thrive.

Do you aspire to live a stress-free life? You might want to reconsider.

October 27th, 2014
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STRESS.

Just the word brings on a quickening of my heartbeat, a tightening in my chest and upper back, and a narrowing of my brow. These are the signs of stress for me. When my stress level gets really high, I might feel a pulse in my left temple that is alarmingly out of my control.

Stress is not a comforting or comfortable feeling, and when experienced on an ongoing basis can literally kill.

But is stress inherently a bad thing? It turns out it’s not.

Stress raises our levels of cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that prepare us for reacting under an imminent threat. This response is useful not just for escaping from a physical attack, but also for handling non-life-threatening challenges that come our way.

For instance, I am historically a high performer on standardized tests. I have pulled scores that surprise me as being significantly higher than my practice test scores. Believe me, I felt plenty of stress when I took the SAT, the LSAT, and the New York Bar Exam. It was stress that made me focus intensely, work fast, and think more clearly than I ever would under everyday conditions.

I feel stress every time I give a presentation or even write a blog article. Stress has helped me in multiple job interviews. Stress somehow got me, as a 13-year-old gymnast, to earn a medal in my “worst” event (vault) at the New Jersey State Championship – and to win the competition in my age group. Stress pushes me to perform.

I never thought I would say this, but… I would not want to give up my stress!

However, since there are inarguably negative health effects to persistent stress, it’s worth looking at how to take a break from stressful episodes. I think this is where things like exercise and meditation come in. If I did not have my daily yoga and swimming practice, I might never get a break from my anxiety-ridden daily life. Hugs help too (they release oxytocin, which helps our heart cells regenerate).

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in a TED Talk, noted that how we manage stress is key to how harmful or helpful it is. If someone views stress positively, that person is likely “to be less stressed-out, less anxious and more confident.” Stress can help us with solving problems, tackling challenges, and bouncing back from failure.

Not only that, but if someone views stress as helpful, their physical response actually changes! In particular, their blood vessels do not constrict, but instead stayed relaxed. That difference, compounded over time, could easily be the distinguishing factor between an early heart attack and living into old age.

McGonigal recommends that we become aware of our negative thinking, so that we avoid defaulting to drama and jumping to unsupported conclusions. The support of friends, family, and colleagues can be key in this process.

I historically have viewed some of my stress as positive and other as negative. My commitment now is to spin it to positive as frequently as possible so I can live a long and stress-managed (not stress-free) existence.

Do you experience stress as a positive or negative influence in your life? What techniques do you find useful for managing stress? Please share below!

[This article was inspired by John H. Ostdick’s article, “The Upside to Stress,” published in the May 2014 issue of Success Magazine.]

The Upside of Change: No More Automatic Group Member Connections on LinkedIn

October 20th, 2014
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On October 1, 2014, LinkedIn unceremoniously eliminated a widely relied-upon function: the ability to connect with anyone with whom you share a group, without needing to know their email address.

Before October, if you wanted to connect with someone on LinkedIn with whom you shared a group, you would see a dropdown that looked like this:

Now, the dropdown is one item shorter:

While some LinkedIn members are postulating that the loss of automatic group member connections is a technical glitch that will be resolved, I’m assuming for now that it’s a permanent game changer.

LinkedIn experts have recommended for years that you join the maximum number of LinkedIn group (50) so that you can easily expand your network. This reason for group membership seems to have disappeared.

Or has it?

The fact is, the people in your groups are still pre-filtered for shared interests and so you might still want to make the effort to connect with them. Just because you need their email address doesn’t mean you have to give up on building your network! Groups are still a great place to interact with valuable contacts, share information, and ask and answer questions. You can still do all that!

The elimination of the automatic group connection feature might actually have an upside. Let’s say there’s someone in a group you want to connect with. What should you do?

First, look in their Contact Information section or their Summary for their email address. If you find it there, you can easily enter it when prompted. Next, if you know what company they work for, Google them at their company. Or Google anyone at the company and you might be able to model your new contact’s email address on someone else’s. For instance, if you find an address like JaneSmith@Company.com, you can guess that your contact’s email address is JohnBrown@Company.com.

If those options fail, you now must send an actual *message* to the person! It’s free though. There are two ways to do this:

Option #1

From Discussions, click on the member’s photo or name link to see that member’s activity.

You will be taken to that member’s group Activity summary page. Click the “Follow” drop down menu on the right and select “Send message.”

Option #2

Go to the group page and click on the number of members at the top right of the page.

Search for the member you want to message.

Then click the “Send message” link under their title.

Your message might read something like this:

Dear John, I was impressed by your contribution to the discussion in the Job Hunt group about HR practices in pharmaceutical companies. I would love to speak with you further about this topic and would be honored if you would provide me with your email address so I can send you an invitation to join my network! I would be happy to arrange a phone call as a starting point.

Yes my dear social-media-savvy, you might have to interact with another human being before adding them as another number on your connection list.

What I’m suggesting is that LinkedIn may have done us all a favor by forcing us to work a bit to connect with people whom we don’t really know even though we share a group. What do you think about this idea?

Remember again that group membership is valuable for many reasons, not just for ease of connecting with group members. Smaller, more local group in particular provide a forum for you to become a thought leader in your niche.

If you participate enthusiastically enough, it’s likely that other people will do the work of finding *your* contact information and send you requests to connect, rather than the other way around!

What do you see as the impact of the “loss” of this connection feature? I’d love to hear your opinion.

9 LinkedIn Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

October 13th, 2014
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how-to-poseOn July 10, 2014, Social Media Examiner quoted me in their compilation article 9 LinkedIn Marketing Tips From the Pros. Since I often receive questions about how companies can use LinkedIn for their marketing efforts, I thought it would be valuable to share this post with you. If you are a job seeker, all but the first of these tips apply to you!

Here’s what you’ll learn about strategies to boost your LinkedIn marketing:

  1. Use LinkedIn Sponsored Updates to build credibility and exposure. Use LinkedIn’s analytics to make sure you’re getting sufficient value from your investment. (I have not used this feature but it might be the right strategy for some businesses.)
  2. Add Rich Visual Content to Your LinkedIn Profile to spice up its look and feel!
  3. Implement Influence Networking (Build real, personalized, ongoing relationships) to stand out from your competitors.
  4. Offer Value in Discussion Groups (Provide quality content to prospective buyers) to establish thought leadership and trust.
  5. Optimize Your Personal Profile (How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile is a great start for this!)
  6. Tag Your Connections in Posts using the @ symbol followed by the person’s name.
  7. Focus on Small, Local Discussion Groups to make the biggest impact with your discussion participation (this was my contribution to the article!)
  8. Develop Relationships Instead of Adding Connections, through both your personal and company pages.
  9. Don’t Treat LinkedIn Like an Online Version of Your Resume – instead, be creative with your presentation of what you can do for your customers. Sell yourself based on the problems you can solve. (If you are a job seeker, you might be thinking you need to have an online version of your resume. But you can take a creative approach rather than create a carbon copy on LinkedIn. Consider what will sell you the best to a prospective employer and write your profile that way!)

For expanded information on each one of these points, check out the full article at 9 LinkedIn Marketing Tips From the Pros.

And if you’re a small business looking for ongoing LinkedIn marketing support, please contact us at teesupport@theessayexpert.com. We have experts we can refer you to!

Lessons I Learned from a Suicidal Arsonist

September 29th, 2014
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On Friday, September 26, I set out to travel from New York City back home to Madison. I dutifully arose at 4:00 a.m. to meet a car service, arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Boarding went smoothly and we left the gate. I looked forward to a 10:36 a.m. landing in my hometown after 3 days at a conference in Denver and a week with my family and friends. I had wonderful plans for Friday evening and Saturday.airport-delay

Then the announcement came: There has been a fire in the Chicago air traffic control tower. All flights in and out of Chicago have been delayed.

The guy across the aisle from me began cursing and waving his fists around. I resolved to take the news better than he was taking it. After calling United twice and spending an hour on hold, I managed to get rebooked through Atlanta. But when I landed in Atlanta there were three voice mail messages advising me that my flight to Madison had been cancelled, and one informing me that I had been rebooked on a flight the next day through Washington D.C. I would, if all went as re-planned, arrive in Madison at 9:12 p.m. Saturday night.

The punch line is, I made it home. But there’s more. Throughout this adventure, I learned or was reminded of some valuable life lessons. Here are some of them:

  1. One person can truly make a difference.
    That guy Brian Howard who set a fire in the Chicago air traffic control tower was one single man who managed to paralyze air travel across the country for two days. I’m guessing he also affected security measures at air traffic control towers throughout the world. Yet so many of us sit around thinking we can’t make a difference. What are the extreme positive acts you could take to change something you want to change?
  1. Surrender to what’s so.
    When faced with the prospect of spending the night in Atlanta, I was not thrilled. But since all flights to Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and pretty much all areas surrounding were cancelled, I decided the best plan was to surrender. I got on a line for customer service, hoping there might be a hotel voucher for me if Atlanta was my only overnight option. An hour later I was at the counter, having had some lovely conversations with other stranded travelers, and discovered that there were no more hotel vouchers remaining, and that my flight to D.C. was that very night. Suddenly I had a new reality before me, and I accepted that one too. It’s amazing how much my stress level went down when I dealt with what was so instead of wishing it were another way!
  1. It’s good to have friends everywhere.
    Through a combination of college connections and my dance community, as well as other life adventures, I have built a network of friends and family in almost every major U.S. city (and some overseas cities as well). Drop me in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Tucson or Tel Aviv, and I will have a friendly place to lay my head. When I discovered I would be in Washington, D.C. for a night, I started calling friends, one of whom, my college buddy Sara, was happy to put me up for the night. I had not seen her in about 10 years, so it was a great treat to spend unexpected time with her. Not only that, but she had kale in her fridge, a blender, and a free pass to her gym which we used to attend a class together Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon we swam together in an outdoor pool, well after any such pool in Madison would ever be open. I also saw a high school football game that was highlighted on Fox 5 Friday night! I was well taken care of. And I got on a deep level that I have led my life well to be able to call on so many people to help. Of course I would do the same for all of them.
  1. Talk to strangers.
    In the customer support line and on various airplanes Friday and Saturday, I met some other waylaid travelers. It was good to connect with humanity. They put my situation in perspective, and helped me out by watching my bag while I went to plug in my phone, whose battery was on its last legs. One woman guided me where I needed to go in D.C. to get to the suburban Metro stop where I met my college friend Sara. I noticed I felt fairly upbeat given the monkey wrench that had been thrown into my life, and on one of my plane rides I identified why: I was talking to strangers!

In an article I read on the plane in Success (which is quickly becoming my favorite magazine), I discovered that a social science study by researcher and professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Norton, Ph.D., showed that “talking with strangers can be at least as important to our daily happiness as talking to our close friends and family.” Norton confirmed this to be true regardless of personality type. I know it is true for me! I always feel more energized when I connect with the people around me than when I retreat into my shell.

On Saturday night my flight departed from D.C. on time and landed in Madison 30 minutes early. My housesitter Mariah picked me up and drove me home, where I arrived fairly exhausted yet grateful. I slept well that night, knowing that I am well-loved, resourceful, connected, and able to handle the challenges that one suicidal arsonist threw in my direction.

Happiness is… : 7 Ways to Increase Your Contentment and Well-Being

September 22nd, 2014
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charlie-brownI have experienced a definite rise in my happiness level over the past year. I attribute it to personal growth work I’ve done, starting with the Transform! Training with Wright in Chicago, which I recommend to everyone. I attribute my increased sense of well-being to a new willingness to express my emotions honestly and with much less drama than I have in the past. I experience having more to talk about and less to be afraid of in relationships. I have more fun.

I had judged my increased contentment as a purely personal phenomenon until I discovered that the entire world is getting happier! Flipping through the September issue of Success Magazine, I read that 71% of the world, according to the 2013 Gallup World Poll, reports experiencing positive emotions such as enjoyment, laughter, smiles, restfulness and respect; this number is up from 69% in 2012.

Many people have written about happiness, and there is even a movie or two about it. Perhaps one of my first lessons in happiness came from the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” in the song “Happiness Is…” (Click here to listen on YouTube). Here are the lyrics (which for some reason skip over “Happiness is a warm puppy” – but we know that one is true too!)

Happiness is finding a pencil. Pizza with sausage. Telling the time.
Happiness is learning to whistle. Tying your shoe for the very first time.
Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band.
And happiness is walking hand in hand.

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream. Knowing a secret. Climbing a tree.
Happiness is five different crayons. Catching a firefly. Setting him free.
Happiness is being alone every now and then.
And happiness is coming home again.

Happiness is morning and evening, Daytime and night time too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.

Happiness is having a sister. Sharing a sandwich. Getting along.
Happiness is singing together when the day is through,
And happiness is those who sing with you.

Happiness is morning and evening, daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.

[spoken] You’re a good man, Charlie Brown

Although others have sung that happiness is a warm gun, I prefer the child-like sentiment of the Charlie Brown characters. They understand that objects, situations and people can bring us happiness if we choose to have them bring us happiness.

I’m encouraged that more people are enjoying life, and, I imagine, appreciating things both big and small.

Happiness, according to Gallup, is a valuable indicator of social unrest. Syria, for instance, had a 46% happiness rating in 2012 and that number plummeted 10 percentage points in 2013 to reach the bottom of the list. I certainly don’t know what Syrians can do to increase their happiness levels; I imagine it’s a chicken or egg phenomenon, where unhappiness breeds unrest and unrest breeds unhappiness. But for those of us in the United States (78%), especially those of us who lead relatively peaceful lives, it’s worth taking a look at what we can do to make our lives more enjoyable.

Happiness in the world of Charlie Brown is easy to come by. And I think it can be easy to come by for most of us. Here are some things I believe can lead us in the “more happiness” direction:

  1. Responsibly express a full range of emotions.
    When we can recognize our fear, anger, sadness, pain and joy, and share those with others, we become more connected as human beings. Emotions are something we can all understand. We need to take responsibility for our experiences as opposed to being dramatic about our anger, hurt and pain. And if we can find the right balance, our communications can become much more intimate and satisfying.
  1. Take risks.
    Taking risks makes me feel alive. I don’t mean jumping off cliffs or out of airplanes; I mean saying or doing something I would not normally say or do, even though I’m terrified. It can be as simple for me as asking for a discounted admission to a gym when I’m traveling, even though I “know” I won’t get it (I got $5 off a $15 entrance fee). Or asking men to dance with me at a local street festival (I had more fun than I ever did waiting for men to ask me!). These acts of challenge get my heart pumping almost as much as if I were about to jump off an actual cliff.
  1. Break rules.
    As a historical rule-follower, I find that breaking unspoken or sometimes explicit rules can make my life a lot more fun. I have rules like I should not speak until someone else does – but speaking first or interrupting someone often makes a greater contribution to a conversation than waiting silently. I have a “rule” that I should not tell someone something I don’t like about them – but when I tell them, they often explain their behavior to me or even change it on the spot, creating more intimacy and connection. I used to have a “rule” that I should go to every event at a conference, especially the meals. But at my last conference, I went to a yoga class during lunch one day, and I’m glad I did! I’m discovering that there are many opportunities on a daily basis to break rules that are not serving me, and I definitely feel happier doing things differently.
  1. Celebrate your victories.
    Martin Seligman, Ph.D., founder of the positive psychology movement, determined that people who wrote down their positive experiences before bedtime every day for a week, and analyzed why they went well, increased their happiness for six months! Simply taking time to reflect on three good things that happened during your day will help you sleep better and increase your overall sense of well-being.
  1. Trust people.
    Cynicism, defined as the “belief that self-interest is the main motivation for other people’s actions” leads to dementia and higher mortality rates, according to a study in Finland by Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Ph.D. Previous reports have linked cynicism to heart disease. So if you are a cynic, and if you want to be happier and healthier, it’s time to literally change your mind!
  1. Focus on positive meaning.
    Going through life, there are a lot of things to “do.” Shawn Achor, a Harvard-trained researcher and author of Before Happiness, says we experience up to three times higher levels of productivity in our business lives when we focus on feelings of accomplishment, helping people, social connection, or the thrill of a sale. I imagine the same goes for our social lives. Focus on the bigger picture and the positive goal, and that “to do” list becomes a happiness generator instead of a drag!
  1. Set yourself up to win.
    If you’re like me, you like to accomplish goals, as opposed to fail at meeting them. One big key to accomplishing more goals is making them achievable in the first place! There’s no reason to go for a big goal and not celebrate until you meet it. There are a LOT of steps along the way to getting there. So rather than setting a goal of clearing out an entire basement, start with a goal like emptying one bin or box a day. That way you get to celebrate every day when you empty that one container, and before you know it you will have a much cleaner basement! You can have multiple wins every day just because you say you’ve won.

This list of ways to increase our happiness is by no means comprehensive, but it sure is a good start. Charlie Brown’s experience of happiness is completely attainable in the non-cartoon world, and I for one want to live in a world where the simple things create more happiness. If more people take steps toward happiness, will Gallup find another uptick in 2014? What makes me happy is to think that the numbers will keep climbing.

Do you remember your 2014 New Year’s resolutions?

September 15th, 2014
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2014 GoalsI honestly had forgotten all but two of mine, and only looked at them today because I knew it was time to write my New Year’s “Ressaylutions” update.

In January I promised to report both my wins and my fails for the year in August. Oops. It’s September. That’s my first fail. I completely forgot about my promise to do an August update! I’m a couple of weeks late, but I’m keeping honest – even though I feel a bit scared to do so since I am not on track to meet some of my goals.

My invitation to you is to do an honest assessment of where you are in achieving your New Year’s goals. The first step is to remember what they were! Then evaluate your progress.

2014 “Ressaylutions” and Current Status:

  • Increase college essay / personal statement portion of my business to 25% of business. I took action on this goal but have not reached the goal (so far this year I’m at 5%; projected 10% by end of year). Actions taken: Gave interviews for an article in the Catholic Herald and another one in The Educated Mom blog. Advertised a summer program for rising high school seniors to work on college essays, but received no inquiries. Will be speaking at the NRWA Conference this week about how to write a standout college essay. I’m letting more resume writers know about my services so they know they can refer clients to me if they do not do personal statement coaching themselves.
  • Roll out a new “responsive” (mobile-friendly) website. This project has been delayed numerous times despite starting work on a new website in December 2013. I just transitioned to a new company and I’m hoping to have a new website by the end of the year!
  • Choose a CRM and project management system. I decided to implement Infusionsoft and I am working with an Infusionsoft expert to do it. We are plugging away and the plan is to launch the new website and the Infusionsoft functionality all at the same time. I look forward to having things run seamlessly by Q1 2015!
  • Serve 250 clients. Last year The Essay Expert worked with 200 clients to find new jobs, get into school, and achieve business results. Total clients this year is 119. I am not on track to reach my goal. I will be looking at my lead generations strategies and expect that my new website and Infusionsoft implementation will support The Essay Expert’s expansion to a wider client base.
  • Generate 214 success stories. I have not met this goal (we’re at 45) and will need to step up my follow-up efforts with clients to increase this number!

As you can see, I am likely not going to fulfill all my Ressaylutions for 2014. However I can still use them to motivate myself to action – and I will! When I make my 2015 resolutions, I will be taking a hard look at both my successes and failures from 2014, as well as my priorities for the coming year. I hope you will too.

What were your New Year’s Resolutions and have you held yourself accountable? Please share!

September is Update Your Resume Month!

September 8th, 2014
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Update Your Resume MonthSeptember is Update Your Resume Month and I am taking this opportunity to encourage YOU to update your resume! You never know when you will need to provide your resume to someone on short notice, so it’s a good idea to keep it as current as possible. Even if your job is secure, you could receive a sudden opportunity to step into a position with more responsibility. Or perhaps your boss will ask you for your resume to include in a contract proposal. I have many clients who end up paying rush fees unnecessarily because they did not prepare for unanticipated resume requests!

Here are my top 10 recommendations to avoid the panic of a last-minute scramble to update your resume:

  1. Check your contact information. Are your address and phone number accurate? Is your LinkedIn Profile URL included on your resume?
  2. Read your Summary statement. Does it reflect your most current capabilities and achievements? If not, update it! Use specifics about yourself rather than overinflated “resume speak.”
  3. Add any skills / core competencies that you have added to your tool kit.
  4. Review the dates of all your employment positions and confirm that they are correct.
  5. List your most current position on your resume! (Perhaps you got a promotion that you haven’t gotten around to listing yet?)
  6. Include a result or impact in every bullet if at all possible. Companies care about what you achieved much more than they do about your job duties! Don’t ignore your duties and skills, but relate them to an achievement.
  7. If you have achieved something notable since you last updated your resume (and if it’s been more than a few months, I hope you have), add it to your current position’s bullets! Keep a running list of your metrics and achievements so that you can easily insert this information into your resume!
  8. Search and strip out any redundant or irrelevant information on your resume. If a past achievement or skill is not relevant to where you’re headed now, there’s no need to include it.
  9. Check your formatting with an eagle eye. Is every bullet consistently formatted? Are the fonts cohesive throughout? Have you printed the document to make sure it looks good on paper? Don’t risk being judged as detail-UNoriented!
  10. Create a version of your resume that meets the requirements of ATS systems (computer systems that read your resume). If you’re not familiar with how to do this, read Tip #43 in How to Write a WINNING Resume.

For more detail on how to accomplish these 10 resume update recommendations, you might want to look at my e-books How to Write a WINNING Resume or How to Write a STELLAR Executive Resume.

You can receive a free excerpt of both How to Write a WINNING Resume and How to Write a STELLAR Executive Resume by signing up for The Essay Expert’s job search e-list right here.

Do you have other ideas on how to use Update Your Resume Month to its fullest advantage? Please share in the comments!