Kat Williams: Founder of RockN’Roll Bride and Co-founder of The Blogcademy

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Kat Williams

Enjoy this week’s installment featuring a British blogger who spends every day of her life writing about…weddings, romance and true, everlasting love! Introducing…Kat Williams!

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Kat Williams

Question:

You took a topic that you’re obsessed with — weddings! — and you turned your obsession into a blog & profitable online business. What’s your biggest piece of advice for someone who is saying, “I know what I love to do… but I have no idea how to make money, doing it?”

[Kat]: My biggest piece of advice would be… to just start!

Stop procrastinating and waiting until everything is “perfect.”

The big secret is that nothing is ever perfect, and that nobody knows what they are doing, at first. All of those bloggers and business owners who seem to “have it all together” are probably fumbling and experimenting just as much as you!

So, if you’re trying to make a living doing something that you love, just have fun with it in the beginning and see where things take you.

Don’t quit your day job (yet!). Just start playing around. Put things out there. Release products. Throw parties. Hold events. Write. Blog. Share photos.

See what resonates with people and keep experimenting. In time, you will slowly attract an audience of people who are curious about what you’re doing. Things will naturally evolve.

With one of my projects, The Blogcademy — a training program for bloggers who want to “go pro” — my business partners and I never could have imagined that it would take the direction it’s currently taking.

Today, The Blogcademy is a live workshop series with events in cities all over the world. We’ve trained over 700 students and we’ve created an online “home school” version, too.

But this didn’t just explode out of nowhere.

First? We had to just START.

We had to put that first workshop out there and see if people bought tickets…once the first one went well, we added another, and then another.

We started small… and simple.

So, if you’ve got a big passion, and want to make money doing it…just get going.

Don’t be irresponsible and invest your life savings — or go into debt — to get it off the ground.

Start, but start small.

Put things out there that are easy and inexpensive for you to make, and that make you happy, and see what happens!

If you start, you’ll have a shot at turning your passion into a business or career.

If you don’t start, you won’t have any shot at all.

That may sound blunt, but it’s the truth!

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Kat Williams


Images: Shell de Mar.

How Do I Weigh Pros and Cons To Make The Right Choice?

Ellen Fondiler | Advice

Dear Ellen,

I’m a junior in college, and I’m starting to think about “life after graduation.”

Graduate school is definitely an option, on the table.

I have a professor who is really encouraging me to apply for a Masters program, and then go on to a PhD. (She’d be my mentor, and I would become her research assistant.)

I’ve talked it over with my parents, and as long as I can cover 50% of my tuition with scholarships and get a part-time job (like tutoring undergrads), then they are willing to help cover the rest.

I have to admit, staying in school for another two to five years feels pretty appealing. I could even see myself becoming a professor someday.

But a part of me is wondering, “Am I just scared to get out into the ‘real world’?”

I don’t want to enroll in graduate school for the wrong reasons. But I can see plenty of pros and cons, no matter which path I choose.

How can I decide which choice is the right one? I’ve been over-thinking and re-thinking this situation so much, I’m not seeing clearly anymore. Blech.

Sincerely,

Questioning My Motives

Ellen Fondiler | Ask Ellen: How Do I Weigh Pros and Cons To Make The Right Choice?

Dear Questioning:

You’re asking all the right kinds of questions, and you’re clearly very self-aware. That’s commendable.

Bottom line:

When you choose a path because it feels safe and comfortable, there’s nothing wrong with that. Safety can be lovely!

But safety generally doesn’t lead to growth, evolution or self-discovery.

To get those kinds of experiences? You’ve got to move out of your comfort zone and choose a path that fascinates you — but also scares you.

This advice might sound cliché. But it’s true.

So, how can you decide which choice is the right choice?

And why are certain choices so darn hard to make?

In her TED talk, philosopher Ruth Chang acknowledges that big decisions like the one you are facing can be agonizingly difficult… because there’s no clear “winning option.”

In any easy choice, one alternative is obviously better than the other. (“Delicious slice of your favorite pie… or a punch in the face?”)

In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is clearly the “best.” (“Delicious slice of your favorite pie… or a delicious scoop of your favorite ice cream?”)

The best way to make a hard choice is to define who you want to be in the world – that is, the kind of contribution that you want to make — and then choose the option that seems most likely to get you there.

If it feels helpful, do some journaling to clarify your feelings about this crossroads.

Try writing down phrases like…

When I think about doing 5 more years of school, I feel…

When I think about becoming a professor, I feel…

When I think about leaving academia behind and going out into the real world, I feel…

Right now, my ultimate dream career would be…

When I think about going after that dream, I feel…

Ultimately, I want to be someone who is brave enough to…

Ultimately, I want to be someone who inspires other people to…

Write freely, without thinking too hard, and just see what comes up.

Your responses may surprise you, and the answer to the question in your heart might be right there on the page.

As Ruth Chang states: “In the space of hard choices, we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.”

And that’s why a “hard choice,” like the one you are facing, is not a curse but a godsend. This is an opportunity to define who you want to be, and take a big, decisive step in that direction.

Once you silence all the noise, fold up that piece of paper with all the pros and cons, and really listen to your heart and your gut…

You will know what to choose.

You will know what to do.

Yours,

Ellen


Image: Willie Franklin

Heidi Rose Robbins: Poet & Astrologer

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Heidi Rose Robbins

Ever wish you could sit down with a super-accomplished person and ask, “What does it take to break into your industry? What’s it like to be you?”

With Pick My Brain, that’s exactly what we do.

Enjoy this week’s installment featuring my dear friend Heidi Rose Robbins… a woman who makes her living through the mystical & creative arts, as an astrologer & poet.

Heidi is a true inspiration to me, and she is living proof that you can make a living doing what you love… no matter how “wild” or “out there” your passion may be.

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Heidi Rose Robbins

Question:

So many people write poetry in secret, never sharing their words with others.
But you’ve found the courage to share your poems in front of huge audiences, as a public speaker. You’ve also self-published a collection of poetry. You even have videos of you reciting poems on your website. What’s your biggest piece of advice for a “shy poet” who wants to start sharing poems in public?

[Heidi]: Start with you and the page.

Scribble in your favorite notebook. Don’t stop.

Tell yourself you can scratch it all out.

Be playful.

Give yourself time and space to play with the words.

And then….

When you begin to feel happy with what is forming on the page,
read it out loud to YOURSELF.

Lock yourself in a room and read it in your closet, but read it out loud.

That which is in you must be expressed outside of you.

Listen to how the words land. You’ll hear what wants to stay, what needs to change.

Change it up.

Be willing to cross out everything but one stanza and dive in again.

Read it out loud again.

Then, invite your best friend over.

Or get her on the phone.

Read it.

Out loud.

Don’t start talking when it’s done.

Let her talk.

Let him talk.

Tell your friend you want to hear what they liked.

Leave it at that.

Then, have a poetry night.

Invite 4 or 5 people.

Make a cheese plate.

Pour some wine.

Let everyone bring a poem they love or have written themselves.

Then, read YOUR poem.

Let this night be about celebration — not criticism.

Do this again and again.

Practice it.

Practice sharing.

Then, one day,

Share your poetry with the world.

Put it on Facebook, Pinterest or Google+.

Send it to your whole mailing list. (Even if that mailing list is your parents and your two friends from college).

Make a video of yourself reading it.

Post that.

Just share your gift.

Let your heart lead the way.

Be crazy bold.

Offer it up.

Press the send, submit, publish now button.

One by one, send your babies into the world.

Breathe deeply as you do so.

Then, collect them all and put them under one roof.

Self-publish a book.

That’s the easy part.

The hard part is just taking all the first baby steps to share your light


Images: Heidi Rose Robbins.

Anne Sage: Lifestyle Writer and Social Media Consultant

UNLOCKEDSTORIES

Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Anne Sage

To do the work you love, you’ve got to unlock a few doors. UNLOCKED Stories are honest conversations with 20 and 30-somethings who chose a path + made it happen.

A note from Ellen: I’m thrilled to spotlight Anne Sage, a lifestyle writer, creative director and social media consultant based in Los Angeles.

Anne’s blog, The City Sage, was named a must-read blog by Martha Stewart Living, and she was featured in The New York Times for co-founding Rue Magazine, an online publication on fashion, design and decor. She recently completed her first book, which will be released by a major publisher in 2015.

Her road has not been a smooth one, and she has faced some excruciatingly tough decisions along the way.

Through it all, Anne has learned that being a success — in any field — means putting your health, your wellbeing, and your relationships first… not last.

I am moved by Anne’s story, and I know that for Anne… the best is yet to come.

Read on, and don’t miss the reflection questions at the very end of this interview.

Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Anne Sage

What do you do?

[Anne]: I am a lifestyle writer, creative director and social media consultant based in Los Angeles.

For the past six years, I have written a blog called The City Sage. It focuses on interior design and fashion, and it’s also a space for my personal writing on topics like travel and what it means to be kind to yourself.

For the past year, I have also been working on a book that will be published by Chronicle in the fall of 2015. I’m not able to share too many details about that project yet, but I can say that the book explores the intersection of interior design and personal growth.

Your blog, The City Sage, was named a must-read blog by Martha Stewart Living, and you were featured in The New York Times for co-founding Rue Magazine. Those are truly impressive accolades! How did you get started in the writing and publishing world?

[Anne]: After graduating from Stanford University, I moved to New York City to pursue a Masters in Interior Design.

I’d always been obsessed with Martha Stewart magazine, so I assumed I would love doing interior design.

I lasted six weeks in the program before I realized that — even though I love thinking, talking and writing about design — I was NOT destined to be a professional interior designer!

I dropped out, but I decided to stay in NYC… which meant I had to get a job.

I got a position as an intern at an ad agency with clients in the fashion industry.
It was an amazing experience. I got to work closely with fashion designers and I learned a ton about what it takes to promote yourself and build a name for your brand.

While the ad agency taught me a lot, I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t meant to work in advertising forever. In fact, I had a burning desire to work for a magazine. But despite months of job-hunting for a position in the magazine industry, I couldn’t lock down a position.

A mentor suggested that I start a blog as a way to develop a portfolio of writing and get my voice out there.

I took her advice, launched my blog — The City Sage — and started writing as often as I could. Blogging felt like a natural fit. I loved it.

Eventually, I started doing photo shoots to create original photos for my blog. This was an intentional decision, because I didn’t want to just re-publish other people’s images, like many bloggers were doing. I wanted to feature original content and make my blog truly stand out.

A few years down the road, a fellow blogger approached me and asked if I wanted to co-found an online magazine. I said “yes.” And so… Rue was born.

Being a professional writer is not a cakewalk. I’m guessing you faced plenty of challenges along the way. What was your biggest “locked door” moment — when you felt like all hope was lost? How did you get through it?

After two years of working on the magazine, almost 24/7, I realized that running it was no longer sustainable for me.

My health, my finances, and my marriage had all been affected by my single-minded focus on the project. It was the biggest creative project of my life. I loved it. I was my “baby.” I desperately wanted it to be a success.

But running the magazine was taking a terrible toll on my marriage.

I realized that I either needed to leave my marriage to make my business work, or leave my business to make my marriage work. At that time, it felt like I couldn’t do both.

I was paralyzed and didn’t know which way to turn.

After wrestling with the decision for quite a while, I came across a powerful quote:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” —Albert Einstein

I realized that I was being insane — struggling to balance the magazine with the rest of my life, pushing, depleting myself, and expecting the situation to somehow “get better.”

So I made the decision to walk away from the project.

Walking away from the magazine, after the years of hard work I had poured into it, was the most difficult decision I have ever made. But it wasn’t making me happy anymore… and I wanted to see if I could save my marriage.

Ultimately, my marriage did not survive despite our best efforts to make it work.

By the end of that year, I packed all of my belongings in the back of my car and drove to Los Angeles to start my life over.

It was bittersweet, but also freeing.

Finally, I could begin a new chapter.

Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Anne Sage

You’ve had to make some tough choices — and brave moves. What happened after walking away from the magazine?

[Anne]: After leaving the magazine, I turned inward and took a lot of time to look at why things went so wrong. I did a lot of growing up that year.

The biggest lesson I learned is that it’s impossible to be a successful writer — or a successful anything, really — if you neglect your health, your well-being, and your most important relationships. Those things have got to come first, not last.

After a great deal of soul-searching and reinvention, an amazing opportunity came into my life: a book deal!

Working on my first book has rekindled my creative spark.

I am so excited to watch it take form.

I can’t wait to see it out in the world.

What is the next door you would like to unlock? (And what’s the plan?)

[Anne]: Once I finish the book, I am not sure what’s next.

I have some thoughts about what I would like my life and career to look like, but I don’t know how all of the details will shake out.

What I do know… is that I do NOT want to be on the computer all day. I would love to find a way to be more physically active.

I also know that the realm of personal growth is really exciting to me, right now. For the past 10 years, I have blogged and written almost exclusively about fashion, style, decor, shopping… things like that.

Beauty is important, but there is so much more to life than pretty things to buy.

I want to find a way to weave personal growth and style / design together, because I believe that you can use design to enhance and amplify your personal development goals. That’s the message that I’m trying to express with my book. I’d like to continue exploring that theme… in whatever shape it takes, next.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to stay motivated, do amazing work and unlock major doors?

[Anne]: Here’s my biggest piece of advice:

Opportunities come and go, but at the end of the day… treating yourself and others with respect and integrity is what matters most.

Don’t be tempted by the “shiny objects” of the world.

Know your values.

Know what matters to you.

Put those things first.

Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Anne Sage

UNLOCK yourself

Three questions to think about, write about — or talk about with a friend.

1. After getting her undergraduate degree, Anne moved to NYC and enrolled in an interior design program. But after six weeks, she realized that becoming an interior designer wasn’t her dream, after all.

: Have you ever started a program, a big project, or a job, only to realize — quickly — that it’s not your cup of tea, after all? When did that happen? What did you do?

2. Anne started her blog after a mentor encouraged her to start getting her voice out there, online. It was the first big step in her writing career… one that eventually led to a book deal!

: What’s one thing you could do to put yourself “out there” a bit more, this week? (Here’s a list of 49 ideas to inspire you.)

3. At this point in her career, Anne is much clearer about what she wants (opportunities to write about the intersection of personal growth and design) and what she doesn’t want (spending all day on a computer).

: Right now, when it comes to your career… what is one thing you definitely want, and one thing you definitely don’t want?


For more UNLOCKED interviews, click over here.

Know somebody that ought to be spotlighted? Write to me here.

See you next time for another inspiring conversation!

UNLOCKED Links: November 14, 2014

Ellen Fondiler | UNLOCKED Links

Once a month, I curate the best links on how to find work that you love, be excellent at what you do, and unlock any door that stands in your way. Here’s your list for today!

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

Ellen Fondiler | UNLOCKED Links

FIND WORK YOU LOVE

Now, here’s a college commencement speech with a different kind of message: “Don’t follow your dreams!”

Calling all introverts! Networking to find the perfect job doesn’t have to be agonizing. Here’s how to overcome the fear of “putting yourself out there.”

Feel like your cover letter is guaranteed to induce…a nice, long nap? Snoring included? Here’s a fresh + unique approach.

BE YOUR OWN BOSS

So, you’re leaving your job at a start-up? Read this before you go.

Trying to raise money online through Kickstarter or Indie GoGo? Check out the do’s + don’t’s of a successful crowd-funding campaign.

Feel like your blogging is soggy and sad? Here’s a 4-step system for writing a great blog post.

NEAT TOOLS + INVENTIONS

Tech trends come + go, but there’s a lot to be learned from this collection of great software that has stood the test of time.

100 time, energy and attention hacks to make your life easier and more productive. (One of my favorites: “Remember that perfect is the enemy of good.”)

“Did I send my resume to her already, or not?” If you’re struggling to keep all of your ducks in a row, here’s an awesome tool to keep your job-hunt on track.

LIFE LESSONS

From the always-brilliant Seth Godin: “Saying no is the foundation that we can build our yes on.”

You like writing light, sexy chick lit. So you go to graduate school to learn how to be a “real” writer. You can guess the moral of this story …

GET OUT OF THE HOUSE

What’s it like to talk to strangers — like, really talk — when you’re riding the subway or taking the bus? The answer will surprise you.

Planning a trip around the world — or just a road trip back home? Here are 40 genius travel tips that will change your life for the better.

36 hours. A brand new city. What to do, first?! Find out how to squeeze the most out of a lightning-fast trip with the 36 Hours columns from The NY Times.
Find great work. Do great work. And have a great weekend!

—Ellen


Images: Willie Franklin

How Can I Avoid The Comparison Trap?

Ellen Fondiler | Advice

Dear Ellen,

I landed an internship in the acquisitions department of a museum — which is awesome, because I’m a painter and photographer, so it feels like a great fit.

I was feeling really proud of myself… until I went out for coffee to catch up with a friend from art school.

My friend has done SO much in the year since we graduated. She’s had her own gallery exhibition… got featured in a magazine… and somehow, she’s making enough money selling her artwork to get by (she doesn’t have a “regular job” on the side.)

I’m happy for her, but honestly… now I’m feeling pretty bad about myself.

It feels like she’s so much farther along than me, even though we received the exact same training, and arguably, had the same opportunities.

Now I’m questioning everything — my talent as an artist, my career choices, even this internship that I thought was a good move.

I don’t know if I need “advice” or just a pep talk.

But I could definitely use some help.

Signed,

Not So Proud Anymore

Ellen Fondiler | Ask Ellen: How Can I Avoid The Comparison Trap?

Dear Not So Proud:

Mark Twain once said that “comparison is the death of joy.”

It’s true.

There will always be someone who is farther along than you, and there will always be someone who is lagging behind you.

Obsessing about how you ”measure up” to others is never healthy… and ultimately, totally pointless!

Instead of feeling depressed and doubtful, try to get inspired by people you admire. Study what your friends, peers and heroes have done successfully, so that you can choose your next move more effectively.

The following practices can help you turn those negative feelings around, and help you to stay focused on your path — not somebody else’s.

: Look at “jealousy” as a positive emotion, not a negative one.

If you look at the history of the word “jealousy,” it actually stems from a word that means “enthusiastic longing.” How beautiful!

Try to reframe “jealousy” as a positive emotion — like desire, excitement or enthusiasm. (My friend Alex has some terrific insights on how to do this.)

For starters, you can say to yourself:

“It’s incredible that so-and-so has achieved such-and-such. If I’m being honest with myself, I want what they have, too. And now? I’ve seen first hand that it’s possible. I’m going to figure out how to create it for myself.”

When you say these kinds of words to yourself, then “jealousy” can become a source of fuel that moves you forward… instead of a heavy, unpleasant weight that holds you back.

: Operate from a place of sufficiency, not scarcity.

If you are constantly telling yourself, “I don’t have enough time, money, prestige, love, etc…” then it’s pretty difficult to stay motivated or do anything productive!

You’ve got to change the conversation inside your mind from one of “scarcity” into one of “sufficiency.”

Lynne Twist, a philanthropist and money expert, talks about the notion of “enough-ness” in her book The Soul of Money. Lynne believes that when you replace feelings of “lack” with feelings of “sufficiency,” it frees up huge amounts of time and energy to generate everything you want and need.

: Count your blessings. Be grateful.

One of the biggest reasons why we envy other people’s lives is because we tend to take our own blessings for granted. Count them again.

You are talented. You are gifted. You are cared for. You are unique. You are blessed with an internship in a museum, which allows you to contribute to your community in a meaningful way. You want to be an artist — you are very much on your path!

As Friar Lawrence says in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, “There art thou happy: A pack of blessings light upon thy back!”

You have countless reasons to be grateful for the life you have been given — and for the life you are creating. Remind yourself again.

: Concentrate on your strengths. Celebrate your progress.

If you are going to compare yourself to anyone, it should be yourself.

What are you doing today that you couldn’t have done five, three or even one year ago?

What are your “wins” this year, compared to last year at this time?

How has your life improved? How have you improved?

What have you done recently that you never thought you could do?

In other words: how have you continued to become a new and improved version of yourself?

If you focus on your own progress, rather than comparing yourself to other people, it’s much easier to stay positive and keep taking strides forward.

: Be generous. Every day.

If you want to be successful in any field, you must create a reputation as someone with a generous spirit. Make generosity an essential habit in your life.

Give your time. Share your ideas. Contribute your abilities, talents and skills. Volunteer in your community. Support a cause that you believe in. Reach out to someone just to say “hello” and offer a resource or a piece of advice, with no “hidden agenda” or “strings attached.”

You do not have to give “everything” away. You still need to earn a living, of course. But every day, look for opportunities to be just a little bit more generous than is strictly necessary.

People will take notice. They will start to perceive you as someone exceptional — someone with tremendous value to offer. This will transform your career, leading to invitations and opportunities that you never expected…

Being generous isn’t just a good way to build a positive reputation amongst your peers and colleagues, though. It’s also good for the soul.

As John Holmes writes: “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”

We all slip into a state of envy now and then…

… but instead of letting negative feelings suck up your energy, reframe the story. Change the conversation inside your mind. Practice gratitude. Practice generosity. Use “jealousy” as a positive tool to fuel you towards your dreams.

Now, get out there and be the best intern that museum has ever seen.

Celebrate your friend’s success, celebrate yourself and trust that both of you are moving down your unique paths… living your unique stories.

I can’t wait to hear about the next chapter of your story.

The only person who gets to write it… is you.

Yours,

Ellen


Image: Willie Franklin