UNLOCKED Links: January 2015

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 a big, epic list to begin this New Year!


Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Links: January 2015

Do you wonder if you have the credentials to do what you are doing? In this fascinating talk, James Altucher tells you not to let that stop you from moving forward. His advice: Choose Yourself!!

Some more good advice. Don’t ask important people to go have a cup of coffee with you. Ask them instead if you can do a podcast interview. It’s a win-win situation for you, your guest and your audience!

So you’re super serious about your site. You bought the domain name, you’ve got social media on lockdown, and you’re ready to buy ad space so you can piggyback off someone else’s traffic. Sarah Von Bargen’s advice on how to buy the best ad space and make the most of it.

Do you want to get the most out of your money? Buy experiences — not things. Research shows you will forget the thrill of that new car — but you will never forget the vacation where you hiked in Nepal.

Composing emails can be a draining time suck on your day. Here are 27 pre-written templates for your toughest work emails.

Sometimes the most unlikely things end up being the key to your future success. This CEO- spent his years at Stanford taking dance classes and they changed his life — and view of the world.

Two South African entrepreneurs started an amazing company called Rethaka that makes Repurpose Schoolbags for kids that live in remote areas. The beautiful bags include: an outside flap that is also a pocket for a solar panel, which charges on the long walk to and from school. That screws onto a Consol glass jar that the kids use as a lamp at home when doing homework in the evenings. The bag is also reflective because many of these kids wake up at the crack of dawn and walk in the dark to get to school on time.

In need of some good advice? Here are 7 pieces of wisdom that will change the way you work! My favorite from choreographer Twyla Tharp: Build your solid routine!

You send an important email to someone. The problem: her in-box is flooded with emails every day. Here are 6 secrets to help insure that yours will be seen AND that you will get an answer back.

Find great work. Do great work. And have a great weekend!


Image: Willie Franklin

Zoe Boekbinder: Musician and Social Activist


Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Zoe Boekbinder

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

A note from Ellen: I’m thrilled to spotlight Zoe Boekbinder — a musician, social activist, and founder of The Prison Music Project.

I almost don’t have the words to describe how deeply Zoe’s story has affected me. So, I’ll skip my usual preamble. Instead, I invite you to simply… read on.

What do you do?

[Zoe]: I make music.

I’ve been making music for a living for nearly 9 years — since I was 20 years old.

I’ve done a number of different projects in that time — including forming a band with my sister called Vermillion Lies, releasing some solo records, and at one point, writing and recording 100 songs in 100 days.

Getting to make music and touring the world is definitely a thrill.

But four years ago, I began a project that changed the course of my life.

I started working with poets and songwriters at a maximum-security men’s prison called New Folsom.

It all started with collaboration between myself and a rapper I met at the prison. He goes by the name of “Shell Dog,” and he was incarcerated when he 18 years old.

Shell Dog gave me permission to use his rap lyrics for a song.

Word got around, and soon, other writers at the prison were approaching me with their raps, lyrics and ideas. That single song evolved into a full-length album that includes about ten incarcerated songwriters.

Its working title is The Prison Music Project.

Why prison? Seems like the last place on earth that anyone would want to go, let alone write music!

[Zoe]: Some of the most important stories come from people currently behind bars. The fact that people that are suffering that much can still make art is beyond inspiring to me. I want to amplify their voices.

I don’t want their work — and their stories — to go unheard.

I have other motivations for doing this work, too.

For starters: there are studies that show that art and music programs in prisons lower the incidence of violence within the prison as well as significantly lower the recidivism rates for those involved in such programs. This benefits everyone: the prison, the incarcerated people, and the society that these people will eventually re-enter.

Music can provide an outlet, it is humanizing.

I believe that music can help to stop the cycle of incarceration.

In every career, there are a few “locked door moments” — moments where it seems like all hope is lost, or the project is blocked.

What has been your biggest “locked door moment,” so far?

[Zoe]: With the work that I’m doing, there are… literal locked doors.

One of the biggest challenges has been finding a way to collaborate with the writers inside the prison, without violating prison protocol.

I am allowed into the prison, but I’m not allowed to carry anything out that I didn’t bring it with me. I can’t accept anything from any of the people incarcerated there. If I correspond with them through the mail or phone, I won’t be allowed in anymore.

Recordings of any kind must be approved, as New Folsom is a maximum-security facility, and that is a long process. We did get approval to record inside, but only in one isolated section of the prison, and now need to go through another lengthy process to get approval to use these recordings.

I am not hopeful about this last step but prepared to move forward either way. If we cannot use these recordings, the songs will be performed entirely by a broadcast of artists who are not incarcerated. If we do get permission to use them we are excited to add production and secondary instrumentation to these existing recordings.

Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Zoe Boekbinder

At this time, The Prison Music Project is still… a work in progress. You’re seeking funding to complete the project and bring this music to the world. What’s the next step?

[Zoe]: The record is a non-profit project. We are looking for grants and private donations to help cover the overhead costs so that the profits from sales can go immediately to supporting re-entry programs for people getting out of prison. There are currently a lot of challenges facing people re-entering society, like the denial of government assistance with food and housing.

The success of this project matters so much more to me than anything else I’ve ever done.

I feel responsible for the writers I’ve been working with, to make their stories heard, because they have been made incapable to do it for themselves.

Their stories must be heard, because they illustrate the injustices that so many people face. Poor people, people of color, addicts, transgendered people, and people with abnormal mental abilities/disabilities are not given a fair chance in this country.

One statistic to illustrate my point: people of color (non-white) make up 32% of the US population but 66% of the incarcerated population. This is a problem. Take for instance the facts that have been coming to the surface recently about police brutality that is disproportionately aimed at minorities.

But getting back to your question: you asked about “next steps.”

One thing I did recently — that I’ve never done before — was to approach a hero that I have always wanted to work with.

I asked Ani DiFranco if she would produce the record… and she said yes.

Our first recording dates are set to take place before the end of this year.

What’s the next door that you need to unlock? (And what’s the plan?)

[Zoe]: I know that while The Prison Music Project is captivating, it is also complicated.

I don’t know if everyone will feel comfortable with the idea of these stories being shared, because of whom they belong to.

I don’t know what any of these people did to end up incarcerated. I don’t have access to that information and I don’t want to. It isn’t the point, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not saying every action is forgivable. I’m just saying that we need to look at how to restructure a society that has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

On the other side of things, some people may take issue with my role in this project. I think it would be understandable to question whether my use of words and songs written by these incarcerated people is appropriate or appropriative.

I have confidence in my convictions and am trying to be respectful, delicate, radical, and responsible with this project. I don’t want it to be about me, or any of the artists who will end up performing these songs in place of the people who wrote them.

I simply want to be a microphone and I hope that message is clear throughout this process.

The next door that I need to unlock is approaching people to get involved in the project either as guest performers or as funders.

I’m prepared to reach out to my dream collaborators and wealthy philanthropists, even if I hear a lot of “no’s.” I know not everyone shares my views and I have to be ready for some rejection and criticism. I do hope, though, that they feel as inspired by this project as I am. We’ll see what happens.

Last but not least: What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to stay motivated, do amazing work and unlock major doors?

[Zoe]: Find the thing that inspires and drives you the most, and you won’t need my advice.

Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Stories: Zoe Boekbinder

UNLOCK yourself

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

1. Zoe started her music career as many musicians do — writing songs, playing in a band, and touring the country. She enjoyed it, but something was missing. She was searching for a mission that was “bigger” than just… her. She found that cause with The Prison Music Project.

: Is there a facet of society — the prison system, the education system, the healthcare system, or something else — that bothers you, deeply? What’s one way you could work to do something about it?

2. Zoe took a big risk by approaching one of her personal heroes, Ani DiFranco, and asking her to produce the album for The Prison Music Project. Happily, Ani said “yes.”

: Is there someone — a writer, a leader, a hero — that you would love to collaborate with, someday? Who? And why?

3. Zoe knows that not everybody will be happy about The Prison Music Project. She may even receive some harsh criticism. But she’s ready to face it, because she believes in the project so strongly.

: How do you handle criticism and rejection? What could you say to yourself the next time you’re facing an unpleasant rejection, to stay strong… and keep going?

A great article about the Art’s program in the prison and Zoe’s project can be found here.

To learn more about this project and to see how you can support it- visit Zoe’s website here

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!

How Can I Find A Great Job When I Have No Time?


Dear Ellen,

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got a job and it pays the bills. I’m grateful for that.

(Well, mostly.)

It’s an OK job, but not a great one. Honestly? If I could afford to quit tomorrow, I would.

I really want to start applying for a better job — one that’s really challenging, and feels meaningful and important. But my current job is so demanding that by the end of the day, all I want to do is whip up a quick dinner, zone out with a TV show and fall asleep.

It feels like “hunting for a job” is another “full-time job” — and I just don’t know how to create the time + energy to do it.

But, I know I’ve got to do something … because I’m feeling so trapped, and I don’t want to spend another year just “treading water” in my current position.

Do you have any advice on how to find a great job — when it feels like there isn’t any time in the day to do it?


Exhausted Just Thinking About It

Ellen Fondiler | Ask Ellen


You are caught in a situation that so many twenty- and thirty-somethings face…and it’s so easy to get into this predicament.

You get out of school and apply for a bunch of jobs that sound perfect for you.

You get hired, start working and quickly realize that your “dream job” is nothing like you hoped it would be. The days are long. You feel bored. You are not being asked to do things that even remotely resemble your passions or skills. Or maybe, you have simply evolved and your interests are different than they once were.

The bottom line is, you are ready for a change. But as you point out, it’s hard to find the time (or energy) to make a big change, when your current job is so draining.

The first thing to remember is that there is no shame in wanting to change course. I have changed careers so many times; my resume resembles the old expression “Butcher. Baker. Candlestick Maker.” OK, I haven’t really tried candlestick making…yet! But you get my point.

The second thing to remember is that changing your job or career is absolutely possible, but it is NOT easy. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be millions of people stuck in jobs they don’t want!

You mentioned that hunting for a new job (while working at your current job) feels like having two full-time jobs. And guess what? You’re right. You are going to have to wake up early, go to bed late and temporarily stop doing the things you love to do in your free time (you can save those Scandal episodes for a once-
in-a-while treat!). But this doubling-up period won’t last forever, and the payoff will be sweet. I guarantee: you will look back at this time and be happy that you made the sacrifices you needed to make.

The third thing to remember – and this is the most important piece of all – is that job hunting is an opportunity for deep self-reflection. This isn’t the time to snap up the next halfway-decent position that comes your way, just to get out of the job that you hate. Invest some time in defining your “best-case scenario” life.

The life that you really, truly want. The ideal arrangement that you’re striving for.

Got no clue what your “ideal life” looks like?

Pam Slim, author of the bestselling book Escape from Cubicle Nation, suggests starting by making a list of where you want to live, if you want to work from home or in an office, your ideal work / life balance, the amount of money you want to make, and so on. Just practical, grounded desires. The more specific you can be, the better.

Motivational speaker, entrepreneur and blogger Danielle LaPorte, takes a less linear approach. She suggests that you focus on your Core Desired Feelings — the feelings you want to have, every day — and let those CDFs inform how you plan your career. Do you want to feel free? Creative? Abundant? Passionate? Engaged? Helpful? Independent? Collaborative? Affluent? Generous? Make a list of your CDFs and then ask yourself, “What kind of job or career will allow me to feel…the way I want to feel?”

Once you know what you are aiming for — the practical pieces + the feelings you want — getting up an hour or two earlier in the mornings or working late into the night won’t feel as onerous, because you’ll know you are working towards something you truly desire.

After that? You just need to get organized and start putting in the legwork. Update your resume. Sharpen your LinkedIn profile. Make a list of people you want to connect with and fill your calendar with lunch dates. Start attending classes part-time, if you need to build up new skills. Do everything you can to keep moving forward.

Got an interview for a new job? Great! But be careful about how you navigate things with your current employer. Career blogger Penelope Trunk has a specific list of do’s and dont’s for people who are looking for new work, while still employed at another job. To paraphrase her list: DO make sure to schedule interviews before or after work and be honest with prospective employers. DON’T do phone interviews at work or mention your job search on social media. While these etiquette pointers may seem obvious, it’s important to think about all the little details to avoid insulting your current employer, losing their trust…or getting fired!

And one day…even if you haven’t lined up another job yet, you may find that you just can’t take one more minute at your old job and you have to leave, or you’ll lose your mind. Before that breaking point arrives, be sure to have some money saved and be ready to make some sacrifices. You may choose to moveback in with your parents, temporarily. You may pick up money doing part time gigs — like babysitting, dog walking, tutoring — whatever pays the bills. You may eat ramen for dinner for very a long time. Do whatever it takes. If you stay committed to finding meaningful work and keep a positive attitude, it will all be worth it.

Have faith, EJTAI, and remember that changing the course of your career is possible, no matter what your present circumstances may be. As author Rebecca Solnit writes, “The stars are given. The constellations we make.”

I can’t wait to see what YOU make, with the stars you’ve been given.

I just know it will be amazing.



Image: Willie Franklin.

UNLOCKED Links: December 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 a big, epic list to carry you right into the New Year!


Ellen Fondiler | UNLOCKED Links

Got a great idea — but strapped for cash? Check out these unique ways to fund your business venture.

Some say that Millennials are superficial, self-obsessed, and care more about Pinterest than reading the Classics. Not true. In fact, young people are out- reading their elders by a wide margin.

Want to get more done without working yourself to the bone? Here are 28 steal-worthy tips from the most productive people on the planet!

If your neighbor’s kid asks you for some guidance: say yes! Studies show that kids with mentors find happier, more fulfilling careers.

This writer thinks that successful careers have three distinct chapters — each about 15 years in length. Which chapter are you in, right now?

You’ve read it and proofed it and read it again. But then… oh no! As soon as you press send, you see a mistake! Why is it so hard to catch your own typos?

Want to be a great public speaker? Here are 9 steps to guide you. (Plus: a power-stance that boosts testosterone production… and confidence!)

Got a question? Here are 10 research tips for finding answers online (and yes: some of them are borderline stalking…)

Need an office? Try the public library. (Tons of entrepreneurs are working between the book stacks, these days. Who knows who you’ll meet?)

After reviewing more than 20,000 resumes, this Google recruiter reveals the 5 biggest mistakes that he sees. Word to the wise: don’t lie.

Are you a graphic designer? Don’t over-work and get under-paid. Here’s how to negotiate your salary.

This scrappy company used a Kickstarter campaign to get up and rolling. Today, they make toys designed to get girls interested in engineering. (I love this!)

Do you know the single biggest reason why most entrepreneurs fail? (You might be surprised.) Here it is… plus 5 things you should do to overcome it.

Ready to re-invent yourself and leap into a new business or career? Here is the ultimate cheat-sheet from the great James Altucher. (The good news: you can do this! The bad news: it will take at least 4 years to make a good living.)

I hope that 2014 was a productive and satisfying year for you.

Let’s make 2015 even better.

Find great work. Do great work. See you next year!


Image: Willie Franklin

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


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.


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.



Image: Willie Franklin