Sign Seeing

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Over the past couple of weeks three themes have kept popping up everywhere I look!  I’ve had lots of time to sit and reflect on where I am in my life, how I got here and what I need to do to move forward .  The universe seems to be in agreement with me as the same ideas have popped out at me in scripture, social media posts and even Sunday service.  On social media I have commented that the collective unconscious is working overtime right now.  I’m not the only one to notice.  Having a break from “busy”ness has allowed my mind to rest and me to get more centered and focused.    Below are the three ideas that have resonating around me.  The first two I touched on in last week’s blog post.

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  1. Missed Opportunities.  There’s nothing worse than a missed opportunity.  Hindsight is 20/20 As I look back (which I do very carefully!) I can see many of the opportunities I missed either by not grabbing them when I had the chance or not putting myself in the position to create them.  I acknowledge the self-doubt this was rooted in.  Looking back is only useful if you gain lesson to apply to future decisions.  It is an opportunity to fine-tune one’s intuition, ability to reason, and make better life choices.  journeytolaunch_1561592622500438037
  2. Preparation.  Last week I wrote that in business an elevator pitch is valuable tool that will allow the business person to be prepared for a chance encounter with someone who could in some way be instrumental in achieving their business goals.  The meme above was posted on Instagram by a financial coach; it was a post about being prepared financially for life’s emergencies.  This of course ties in to missing opportunities.  Some opportunities come with a cost.  I saw in my past opportunities I missed out on because I was not ready financially – and I could have been.
  3. FOMO.  When I read about the concept of FOMO, a light bulb went off.  When I read it a few days later in the intro to the verses assigned for one day’s bible study, it was like my mind was blown after being struck by lightening!  It perfectly pinpoints something I have sensed about myself while taking an honest look at the past three years.  FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out.  Patrick McGinnis, who coined the term, describes FOMO in the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, Episode 21.

“an inward struggle and it impedes you from disrupting yourself because I think you lack focus. There is a positive side to FOMO in that it can tell you what your hidden dreams and desires are. If you feel FOMO when you see somebody start playing the piano maybe you should go out and take piano lessons….But I find that it is a great way to distract yourself from doing the hard things in your life you need to do. Rather than sitting down…and dealing with that big challenge that you need to deal with, you spend a bunch of time running around doing other things to stay busy.”  

I’ve been reading the book The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Mansen and Les Hewitt.  In one of the first chapters they write about not being distracted by the next shiny new thing.  But the question is ‘why’ do we do that?  The answer is FOMO.  FOMO will eat up lots of opportunity, ironically, because when you’re chasing all you will catch none.  It is futile.

So once the signs are acknowledged the next step is to apply what they teach.  These signs have reiterated a nagging feeling that I need to be doing less, not more.  Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.  I’ve been noticing that the more busy I have become the less satisfied I have been feeling with the results of my efforts.  So now, mid-2017, is a good time to assess my priorities, strategies and activities, make sure they are in line with my goals.

Have you noticed any signs instructive this summer?

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How To Graduate with Less or No Debt

Keys_29082It’s quite the conundrum. We are told that a college education is the key to achieving our full potential and the American dream.  The story tells us it is the way out of poverty.  Access to higher education was a major priority for the last White House administration and affordability was central to that message.  President Obama even introduced the America’s College Promise Act 2015 to make the two years of community college free.

Over the past decade or so the number of Americans earning college degrees has skyrocketed.  And so has the tuition, and the debt that follows.  For many, what was supposed to be a roadmap to the American Dream turned out to be a money pit into a uniquely American nightmare.  Graduates now face enormously burdensome debt that many will never be able to pay off in their lifetime.  We’ve all heard reports about the student loan default crisis, where the struggle to keep up with unaffordable loan payments becomes so discouraging that people stop paying altogether.

Women are particularly vulnerable.  I recently read that women own two-thirds of student loan debt.  Yet a female graduate will earn only 79 cents for every dollar that a male graduate will, on average, in a similar position.  Hmm…wouldn’t it be nice if that was reflected in the tuition we pay?!  Blacks and Latinas tend to take on more debt, and the fact that they tend to make even less than their White counterparts makes it especially harder for them to repay.

But alas, there’s hope!  There are several ways to graduate with less or no debt.  At the root of decreasing the need to take on debt to advance one’s education are planning, time and diligence.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Take your required courses at a community college.  It is not necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars on coursework that isn’t directly relevant to your major; better yet, if you don’t even know what you want to study or career path you want to take right now, community college is a great place to sort that out.  Aside from the money, it can help you to grow in maturity and be more focused at a four-year college. Advantages:
    1. Cheaper
    2. Potentially pay tuition as you go
    3. The 4-year college transcript is what will be seen on your resume and what you will talk about at parties!  If you started at Community but ended up at Harvard no one really has to know.stundet-loan4
  2. Prepare!  There are literally thousands of grants and scholarships.  Take the time to do the research necessary to meet all of the deadlines and gather all of the information required to complete each application.
    1. Attend events at schools and community organizations of all sorts; read books and articles on free money for college. Get to know people who do this every day and keep in touch.
    2. It would be wise to start researching 18 months out from when you will begin school.  This way you can target your time and energy towards the most lucrative scholarships and grants that you qualify for and are interested in.
    3. Give yourself and your recommenders enough time to craft thoughtful, well-written essays and recommendations.
  3. Consider the potential salary expectations for your desired career.  Will your potential future income allow you to afford your student loan debt along with your realistic cost of living?  Your grades, location, network and caliber of your school are all factors in the salary level that may be available to you.
    1. This is the business of your life.  Do a cost/benefit analysis on your educational goals.  Does the pay scale for the career you intend to go into justify the cost of the degree required for the field?  For example, if you want to be a social worker, would it be worth it to go $60,000 into debt, considering what your salary is likely to be over the long run?
    2. Following the example in number 1, there are student loan forgiveness programs for certain careers.
      1. Usually when you go into one of these careers and apply for loan forgiveness there are requirements such as length of time to work in the field.
      2. Careers in public service (ex., The Peace Corps), medicine, the law and military service are all examples.
      3. For more information go here, here, here and here.splash
    3. An often overlooked yet critical advantage of going to college is the alumni network.
      1. I wrote in a previous blog, No Man Is An Island.  No one gets to where they want to be in life solely on their own effort.  Everyone needs a team to achieve their goals and dreams.
      2. As I asserted in my post about opportunity, connections are key.  That is the value of going to a top-tier school.  College isn’t just about academics; it’s the people with whom you will build lifetime personal relationships and professional connections. Further, the higher up on that U.S. News & World Report list, the higher your earning potential will be as soon as your graduate.
      3. Going to a top school matters most in the beginning of your career.  Afterward your professional record is what will really matter.  Of course top school alums will always have bragging rights, whatever it’s worth. 🙂
    4. Get a job at a company that offers tuition reimbursement.  Consider that there is more than one way to obtain an “education.”  Working in your field of interest while saving and investing as much as you can, kills two birds with one stone.  Being reimbursed for the tuition you pay is icing on the cake!
      1.  I benefited enormously by this incentive when I worked at Ernst & Young.  I was able to grow my professional competence through continuing education classes.  But they would also have paid for graduate school.
      2. Usually companies will require that you study courses either related to your specific position or the company’s industry. Length of time employed is another typical requirement. Either way if it’s your field of choice, it’s a win.
      3. The bigger the company the more likely that this opportunity will be available and the more generous.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started.  There are other personal finance possibilities that I will cover in another blog.  Have you been working on getting the money together to pay for college?  What has or has not worked for you so far?  Do you have any ideas you could add to this list?  Comment below!

 

Read more on the advantages of community college here.

Tennessee Makes Community College Free For All Adults

Detroit Is Making First Two Years of College Free

Two Tuition-Free Years in Rhode Island

Should Students Get Grades ’13 and 14′ Free of Charge?

Paying off debt with 401K

8 Reasons To Never Borrow From Your 401K

First 2 Years of College Free

Pitch & Leap

There’s no bigger regret than a missed opportunity.  We miss opportunity mainly through lack of preparedness at the time an opportunity presents itself; this includes the inability to recognize an opportunity for what it is.  Always be prepared.  Easy solution, right?  Well I always say that in anything, it’s not the ‘what’ it’s the ‘how.’  Show me, don’t tell me.  Every big idea has to be broken down into smaller, bite-sized, easily-digestible pieces.

So, how do we prepare?

Opportunity mostly lives in the land of the unknown unknowns. But there is a tool we all can and should develop that will build a bridge between us and that most desirable of all destinations – the land of opportunity.  That tool is called the elevator pitch.  A fine-tuned elevator pitch should articulate your purpose succinctly, passionately and clearly – in up to 90 seconds.  And it is not only relevant to business.  You can pitch yourself!  Use it as a self-inspiring tool that reminds you why you wake up every morning; it can silence negative self-talk.  Have a pitch for your job search, business prospects and fundraising.

Preparation for writing your elevator pitch begins with having a clear idea of who you will be pitching to.  The questions you have to ask yourself will depend on your needs and the outcome you want.  For example, are you looking for an investor or a client?  Consider these questions: Who will your audience be?  What problem(s) are they trying to solve and how can you provide resolution?  What is unique about what you have to offer?  What skills and experience qualify you?  What are your needs; what is in it for the listener to help you solve your problem?

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So, what is an elevator pitch?

The truth is we are all salespeople. Everybody is selling something, but ultimately the thing we’re really selling is ourselves.  The elevator pitch is a very brief statement that tells the (hopefully) listener who you are, what you want and how what you have to offer is relevant and valuable to them or in the marketplace.  As far as the latter, the person you’re talking to may not be the one you really need to talk to but he or she may be the link between you and that person.  It’s not important to have all the answers as to whether or not the person you’re speaking with is the right connection; what is important is to master the things you can control, which in this case is articulating a compelling narrative that allows someone else to see you as a potential connection.

Fake It

So, how do we create an elevator pitch?

There are of course the mechanics of writing a pitch.  But the thing to really keep in mind is the power of storytelling.  A good elevator pitch is both informative and engaging.  The end of the story is what will make it or break it; it must be memorable and compel the listener to want to tell it to someone else.  People like retelling great stories.

  • Start with who you are: Don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic and friendly. Start with either a question to raise their curiosity, a statement or catch phrase that will prompt the listener to ask a question.  “I am a first-generation American continuing my family’s legacy here in the United States.  I’m the big-picture person who focuses on developing markets for our textiles company, XYZ International..   
  • Make sure to be clear on your offer, or value proposition.  And let the listener know why you’re interested in them.  “We help small suppliers in Central America earn a living wage by supplying the finest hand-made organic cotton and wool apparel and home goods in the market, at affordable prices.  I understand (your company) is looking for textiles made with organic materials for the price-conscious consumer?”
  • Summarize the benefits/advantages of working with you; what sets you apart from the competition.  “We operate within Free Trade Zones in each country, which significantly lowers our costs to market and enables an efficient supply chain.” Give a brief example.
  • End with a Call To Action.  “We’re currently scheduling appointments to show off our new bedding line. May I bring some samples to show you and your team?”

So, how do I get started?

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As I stated in the beginning, your elevator pitch must be fine tuned.  And it’s not a one-shot deal.  You will have to adjust the original as you progress.  Now, get your pen and paper ready.  Here are some tips to get your ideas flowing:

  1.  Write down everything you can think of to tell your prospective client/boss/investor. What makes your business or idea unique? What have you done? What are you planning too accomplish? What do you have to offer that the listener wants or needs? What problem can you solve for them?
  2. Edit.  Eliminate extraneous words and details.  Make every word count! No small talk.
  3. Tweak it until it flows smoothly.  If any part sounds awkward to you it will to the person you’re talking to.
  4. Practice. Practice. Practice.  Anchor your pitch in the key points that you always want to come across clearly.  Memorize it and practice saying it out loud, so that it is second nature by the time you need to say it.
  5. Your pitch will fall flat if it doesn’t address the only question your listener wants answered: WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?”

Let Your Body Talk

When you feel good about the elevator pitch you have developed it is time to take the leap to the testing phase.  Put yourself in situations where you will meet other people in your industry where you will be asked what you do.  Do not underestimate the power of body language.  Your body language will speak even more loudly than your voice will.  Like preparedness, your body language can imbue you with the confidence you may not feel yet.  Stand with shoulders back and be very careful about what your hands communicate. Keep your body open, keep your hands in front of you.  Maintain eye contact with a pleasant disposition.  Research body language and practice it as you rehearse your pitch.

Industry organizations, networking events, alma mater socials, etc are great places to try out your pitch.  When you’re in a group make a connection with each person by looking each person in the eye while expressing a single thought.  Try to avoid cutting off the other people around you. Practice with people with whom there is nothing to lose if you fumble a little.  Don’t make your first stop the biggest fish in the pond.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!