Want to Finish That Project? Let’s Try This.

I’m going to guess you’ve got at least one project that taunts you. It wants to be finished, and Lord knows you’re ready for it to be done. Yet there it is, in all its incomplete glory, still hanging around. In my case, the unfinished projects tend to be DIY, home-decor related. Don’t look too closely, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got one for every room of the house. And so, when I chose to take on a far bigger project–starting a side business–I knew I needed to do things differently.


A workshop I attended this summer called Start Finishing resonated with me. When starting a project, I discovered, we’d all benefit from establishing a success pack. (Read Part 1 of this article to become equally convinced.) I sensed setting up a support network would be critical for me, since starting a side gig would be a long-term task.

Let’s Do This, Together

If I intended to pull this off, I wouldn’t be able to rely solely on the bursts of enthusiasm that typically bring me through projects. And so, I set off on a hunt for pack members. I scoured online communities, reached out to people I know, and looked for gatherings in my hometown.


Over the course of the next two months, I became obsessed with my success-pack search. Though I work full time, I sent out feelers during free time: in the mornings before work, while watching TV at home, and on weekends. Once I got going, I went from having almost no resources, to gathering more than I knew what to do with.

Would-Be Entrepreneurs And Bloggers: There Are Tons of Resources Out There

By getting a little brave and reaching out, I learned an important lesson: There are tons of success-pack resources out there. Here’s a list I’ve found helpful.


Blogging Courses from WordPress. My blogging journey began with a free online class from WordPress, Blogging 101: From Zero to Hero. As promised, I went from no blog to fully functional one in 30 days. Granted, I devoted significant time to it each day, and I dove headfirst into the community provided. But the structure paid off, and I’ve loved blogging ever since. If you’re curious, give it a try!

Live Your Legend (LYL). If you want to surround yourself with can-do types, see if there’s an LYL local group in your city. This global movement is dedicated to helping people find work they love. See the TED talk from founder Scott Dinsmore. Tragically, Dinsmore passed away in the summer of 2015, but the community he built lives on with enthusiasm.

Here I am at my very first LYL Local meeting (Minneapolis, January, 2016). Within minutes of walking in the door, I was welcomed with a mug of tea. Then I got to hear stories of ventures being carried out by this crew of creative, committed folks. Interested in simple living? Our group’s host has a site for that: Joel Zaslofsky.

Facebook Communities. I found a few good ones early on, and they helped me feel supported right away. I’m amazed by the active encouragement strangers give each other in online groups like Blog Share Learn, Design Your Own Blog, and The Women of Midlife. Search an activity, and you’re sure to find a FB group talking about it. It may take some trial and error to find the right ones, so don’t be shy. Take part in the conversation, and start picking up new skills.

Mastermind Groups. If you’d benefit from regular check-ins with a small group, I highly recommend tracking down one of these. Masterminds, which typically happen as video chats, bring together 3-5 people working toward sharpening business and personal skills. They share ideas, provide accountability, and track progress.

I love living in a world where I can meet soul sisters across the globe. There are three of us in my mastermind: an English teacher in Germany and an artist in New York. Lucky for me, their group had an opening after someone dropped out. I was super impressed when I discovered these crafty ladies had created an ebook together last year. Check out their workbook Stoke Your Creative Fire.

My mastermind buddies and I chat weekly. Yes, my tea mug is a permanent fixture. The wall art behind me was created by grandparents. I like to think their artistic legacy flows through my veins, an idea that boosts my new venture.

Tracking Wonder. Someone in this online community blows my mind every time I visit. The group serves mission-driven professionals and has the tagline, “Be radical. Lead with your ideal.” Its community has an active forum that shows people living this out every day. Their projects help me see beyond limitations I put on my own ideas.

Rising Tide Society.  This group, for small business owners in creative industries, encourages members to “grab a cup of coffee and start learning.” In addition to their online support on topics like blogging, branding, and life-work balance, the group hosts TuesdaysTogether meetings in cites across the United States. (Yes, they happen at cool coffee shops.)

Fizzle. In a world where we expect online stuff to be free, it can sometimes feel jarring to be charged for something. But Fizzle, Honest Online Business Training, is a shining example of a principle we should all embrace: Good content is worth paying for. The site features a host of video classes on topics like video production, social media, and connecting with anyone.

RESOURCES IN MY HOMETOWN (These Are Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.) Check your Region for Something Similar.

Twin Cities Blogger Collective. I’m super pumped to have discovered this crew of capable women, who write about a bevvy of things like this:

Springboard for the Arts. This organization provides professional development, health care support, and incubator programs for individuals making a living through the arts.

Pollen. I always enjoy popping onto Pollen Midwest’s site. As if its job boards, events, and stories of local entrepreneurs weren’t enough, the site’s design is gor-geous. Seriously. These people know the meaning of good design.

Women Venture.  This nonprofit helps women create and grow small businesses. At their information session, I learned the two most common types clients start are food trucks and fitness ventures. Also: The organization serves men, too.

Whew. This may be the longest post I’ve written, so kudos for making it this far! I hope you’ve found some tools or inspiration for that venture of your own. So, what resources do you use to stay connected and complete projects? Do tell.


Finishing Projects: Build Your Success Pack

A few weeks ago, I announced my intention to start a side gig. Admitting this terrified me, and talking about it hasn’t gotten any easier. That said, I’m also drawn to bringing you along with me, in case you have similar dreams of your own. Whatever life project you’re undertaking (starting a business not required), I’d love to provide inspiration for your journey. And heck, I’d even consider it a good thing if any of my failures help you figure out what to avoid.


Let’s talk about finishing projects. Are you a finisher, or more of a chronic starter? For me, ideas come fast, but willpower tends to lag. I routinely start WAY more projects than I complete. But this venture, my dream to to build a side business, is different. It’s tugging at me in a deeper way. So much so, that I’m actively putting structures in place to propel me from dreams to action.

This past August, at the summer camp for entrepreneurs called Camp GLP (a.k.a., Good Life Project), I attended a workshop that’s been gradually changing my life ever since. Led by Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing, Start Finishing was a session that provided us with 10 keys to finishing any project. Together, they’ve transformed my habits and equipped me with a structure to follow. (I hear he’s turning this workshop into a book. When he’s done, I’ll be first in line to buy it, unless you beat me to it.)

The notes I took during Start Finishing continue to inspire me. “Impact doesn’t come from things you might do.” Indeed, Gilkey, indeed.

Right now I’m working on Key #4: Pick Your Success Pack. As you’ve probably guessed, a success pack is a collection of people that helps you make things happen. Gathering this crew is super important, but it’s a step people tend to blow past. An individual may think teams will come down the road, or worse, that he or she is obligated to go it alone.

Last month I attended an info session for budding entreprenuers at WomenVenture, a MInneapolis nonprofit. It’s devoted to helping women “achieve economic success through small business ownership.” There I learned that women are particularly susceptible to overstretching their emotional and financial resources. They’re more likely to believe they have to do it all, especially in the early days of their businesses. If not corrected, this miscalculation can lead to massive frustration, often causing the venture to fail.

During Start Finishing, Gilkey put it this way: “Every successful project has a team behind it.” I already believed this, but the part I hadn’t considered was the importance of building a team from the start. In fact, you’re considerably better off if you establish your success pack before you begin.

successful project.jpg

The project-starters among you may be surprised, as was I, that doing the work doesn’t even come till Gilkey’s Key #9 (yes, of 10). Preparing for your project, as it turns out, is critical to success. Big sigh! Yeah, sure, I get this intellectually and have known it for a long time. Even so, planning ahead doesn’t come naturally to me.

My shiny-object personality is precisely why I’ve relied so heavily on Gilkey’s recommendations. I’ve found them helpful because they’ve taught me what to do and when. They’ve given me confidence to know I’m on the right track and keep going. In this case, Gilkey says a solid success pack includes four roles: guides, peers, supporters, and beneficiaries.


Guides know more than you and have the ability to teach it. Peers understand what you’re going through, as they’re doing similar projects. Supporters cheer you on along the way. They may not understand every detail of your project–and they don’t need to–but they DO care about you. Presumably, they’re fun to hang around, which will come in handy when you’re ready to celebrate a milestone. These can be large or small, but make sure to plan on regular intervals to recognize them.

Gilkey emphasized the importance of sharing and celebrating socially. He made a point of telling us that “any progress counts.” Boy, is this last piece of advice tailor made for you and me or what? It’s easy to minimize things you’ve already done, focusing instead on the mountain of tasks ahead. Finally, beneficiaries are the ones who’ll make use of your project’s end result. Understanding their needs is vital, so you’ll want to check in with them regularly, too.

Can you identify people in your network who might carry out these roles on your project? Think about it, then think about it some more. Then, if you feel inspired, feel free to chime in and let me know. I’d be curious to hear what your project is (or not), and how you’re using success packs to help you get there.

By the way, I’ll be sharing more about my process of picking a success pack in Part 2 of this article. Until then, happy pack building!







Becoming My Own Boss

For about a year now, I’ve been mulling the idea of starting a business. Earlier this week I decided to announce my intention publically, ready or not. So, here we go: Over the course of the coming year, I plan to track my progress (here’s hoping) through a new series I’ll call Becoming My Own Boss.


If nothing else, I hope my explorations can give you some dose of courage. Have you, too, decided to put your foot on a new path? Who knows, maybe something I encounter on mine will help you navigate yours. First up: I need to get clear on exactly why I’m doing this.


Entrepreneurs tend to be shiny-object types who have lots of new ideas, and I am no exception. But at 42, I’ve come to know that time and energy aren’t infinite. I’ve learned the hard way that self-care isn’t a luxury, and I’m committed to protecting it with a fierceness I never knew in my 20s or 30s. So before I rush ahead, I’m making sure I understand my motivations so I can stick to them as I go.


Evidently midlifers often change careers to find purpose. Flush with cash but empty with meaning, they seek a deeper call. For me, though, a primary motivation is precisely the opposite. For 15 years I’ve worked at a nonprofit whose mission is dear to my heart. My roles there allow me to contribute to an undertaking I still say is the single-most important in society: education.

But a funny thing’s happened over the past year or so, as my inner entrepreneur has emerged. Its voice started quietly but has grown steadily louder. These days, it’s nothing short of a scream. For the first time in my life I’ve started to realize, “Hey, wait a minute, I want to make more money.” Not enough to earn a spot on Richard Branson’s Spaceline or anything, but enough to build a freaking savings account.

What’s more: I’ve gained skills that are worthy of being paid accordingly. I wonder if you have any idea, though, how hard it is for me to say these things. For the better part of a year, my inner dialogue has gone something like this: “Huh, I wonder if there’s a way to add to my savings rather than drawing it down?” Then: “Whoa, hold on a minute there, Missy! Who do you think you are? Educators don’t make money. Niether do artists or creative types like you.”

Even as I type this, I feel a strong sense of guilt. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal’s coming from, and hunger is a crushing problem in my city, for starters. (Just ask Second Harvest Heartland.) I know I’m privileged in a myriad of ways. Still, as I’ve contemplated starting a side gig, I’ve had to face some deeply ingrained assumptions around finances, earnings, and worth.


One resource I’ve found helpful is Kimberly Palmer’s Economy of You. Through stories and an approachable tone, she underscores the importance of “recession-proofing your life.” I found the book so useful I took notes and found the experience empowering. I didn’t formally use her exercises and worksheets, but I’m thinking now they’re worth a second look.


Palmer’s book also resonates with another of my entrepeneurial whys: I’m inspired by women business owners and I want to join their ranks. There are many reasons for this, but here’s a main one: I’m tired of asking permission. In recent years I’ve observed the amount of energy I’ve wasted, waiting for it to be bestowed: Permission to speak, permission to lead, permission to be noticed.

Yes, we still live a society where women are rewarded for compliance and constantly feel the need to apologize. (Oh, how I adore Amy Schumer’s skit skewering this phenomenon.) I recently came to the understanding that I’ve been waiting, for years, for somebody to give me a shot. I’ve yearned to be given the chance to put my skills together and make an impact. At some point in the last year, though, I had a new realization: Daaaaang, what if the person I’ve been waiting for all this time is me?


Why not me, indeed? After all, nobody is better equipped to know my skill set. Barriers to the marketplace are growing ever thinner. And thanks to podcasts, youtube, online communities, networks of fellow doers, and good old-fashioned books, I have access to a multitude of tools. (My warm appreciaton goes to commenter Peggy for sending me “Artist’s Statment Part Two” from The Pale Rook, which absolutely struck a chord.)

And so, after months of pondering and research, I’ve narrowed my ideas to two possible business ventures. Though I love both, I must force myself to choose. I still work a full-time job, after all, and I need to be realistic about the fact that anything I start will be a side gig.

This is where Quest2016 comes in. Yesterday’s prompt came from the ever-inspiring Jonathan Fields, who runs the camp for makers and world shakers I attended this summer. By the way, it’s responsible for much of my recent entrepreneurial audacity. Here’s his prompt:

You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

For me, defining the question was relatively easy, as I’m already on the path to exploring it. Seeking the answer, though . . . now that’ll be the trick! Here’s the question I’m contemplating:

How can I start and maintain a side business that hits the sweet spot among these criteria: 1) heart and meaning, 2) gifts and flow, 3) skills and tools, and 4) value and profitability? I came across these pieces in Lisa Sonora’s The Creative Entrepreneur, which gives its own prompt for journaling about this, in the form of a creative mandala.

creative_entrepreneur_mandalaI posted about this book the other day and was surprised to receive not one, but two messages from women who know the author. The fact that an ACTUAL PERSON wrote the book came as an odd suprise to me. Sure, it’s filled with personality and heart, but–hey–my only encounter with the book had come through a random search on Amazon.

Independently, both women informed me Lisa Sonora would be pleased to know her work is impacting me. Now I feel doubly encouraged that I’m on the right path of owning my dreams and putting them out into the world. That said . . . I’m curious see what comes next.