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Strategies For Pursuing A Dream On The Side, Outside Of Work

This career advice post originally appears in my Work In Progress column for

I recently heard from several authors who managed to write their novel and get it published outside of a very busy other career:

  • Trevor Shane, author of the Children of Paranoia trilogy, still works as a lawyer in a financial firm while the third and final book of the series is set to drop this fall 2013;
  • Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, author of the novel Pastor’s Wives and the CBS pilot The Ordained, worked as a print reporter/editor alongside the novel;
  • Alison Singh Gee, author of the memoir Where the Peacocks Sing, worked in journalism and teaching while writing her memoir.

A lot of people have life goals and aspirations outside of a demanding day job. In just the past week, I’ve encountered three cases of people with large side projects outside of work: launching a job search before leaving the current one; training for a triathalon while running a business; juggling performances at night with a real estate job by day. Here are some strategies and tips inspired by Shane, Cullen and Gee for getting it all done:

Embrace your day job

In my interview with Trevor Shane, he talked very positively about his work as a lawyer – how it was a nice counterpart to writing; how it gave him the financial freedom to write more creatively and not just commercially. Many people blame their day jobs for keeping them from their life dreams. Shane’s attitude and accomplishments prove just the opposite: a very different day job can support and enable your dreams. How can you reframe how you feel about your other career?

Break it down
Alison Singh Gee confessed to writing one scene at a time, alongside her weekly teaching load. Gee did as much as she could do given her existing schedule. She didn’t wait for a sabbatical or another perfect time to get started. What small step can you take right now? What small actions can you build into your schedule on a regular basis?

Use support groups
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen recommends workshops and conferences for meeting helpful people and setting deadlines. She didn’t just rely on colleagues, friends or other people who may not have the shared interest or drive to provide the right encouragement. Instead, Cullen found a support group built around her goal. Similarly, the triathlete/ entrepreneur I mentioned earlier is working with Team-In-Training. What like-minded communities exist for your side project?

Be ruthless about your free time
Shane admitted that when he writes (it takes about a year per book) he loses track of anything in mainstream media or pop culture. He just doesn’t have time for other leisure activities between day career, family, and the writing. If you feel like you’re too busy to pursue a dream on the side, what exactly are you spending your time on? Are you spending it unconsciously, say turning on the TV after work out of habit? Can you be more deliberate with your time?

Commit mentally, not just physically
Gee told everyone that she was going to write a book. The peer pressure from sharing her dream with everyone gave her momentum and built-in accountability. This was a mental commitment that propelled her forward. It’s not just the physical time and activity; you have to decide to pursue your dream. How can you affirm your mental commitment?

Whether it’s writing a book, picking up a sport, or getting a new job, there will be times you want to work on something expansive and important that isn’t your day-to-day job. It’s not easy to juggle a different passion from your day career. But there are valuable advantages to maintaining both pursuits, and as these published authors demonstrate, it can be done.



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How To Research Company Culture – Fox Business

I return to Fox Business Career Accelerator  to talk with Lauren Simonetti about how to research company culture BEFORE you accept a job there:

Watch the latest video at

Key points to remember:

  • Decide what culture means to you so you know what you’re looking for
  • Use published sources AND go behind-the-scenes by talking to current and former employees
  • Look at sub-cultures — the group you work for might be different than the overall company culture (for better or worse)
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Moms Who Have Stepped Out Of Their Comfort Zone – AllParenting

I’m excited to be featured in a work/life piece in about moms who have stepped out of their comfort zone:

Caroline Ceniza Levine

Did stand-up comedy

Caroline Ceniza Levine“I took a comedy class to work on my writing but before I knew it, I had formed a comedy troupe with my classmates,” says Carline Ceniza Levine, mother of two, age 17 and 11, who now vet her jokes. “Comedy was completely unexpected for me because I started late (age 39) and I didn’t expect to continue it after the class. It was stepping out of my comfort zone because I have to share so openly and talk about family, work and personal things, and as an Asian-American, open sharing with strangers is not typically done. I’ve always been close with my kids, but I think comedy has made me even cooler in their eyes.”

Read about what other moms did to stretch out of their comfort zone in Lisa Steinke’s latest piece for


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Inhabiting Heaven NOW

There’s a lot of information “out there” right now about how to lower your stress, raise your joy level, increase your abundance and live from what some call the Higher Self—which of course means that we must do something with the lower self. There’s also other talk that tells us all about what it will be like in heaven after we die. The problem with all of this talk is that we don’t seem to realize that we are already in heaven—we just don’t know it. Heaven is within us—but our trance state of duality keeps us from seeing this—and all the morals and codes for our thoughts, feelings and behaviors only serve to keep us stuck in the trance state. And all of the advice that basically tells us to strive to be a better person only serves the same purpose. So, today, not only will we be playing a clip from Oprah’s next Super Soul Sunday with Brian Weiss, but we’ll be figuring out how to inhabit heaven NOW—all based on Andrea’s upcoming book, entitled “Inhabiting Heaven NOW.”

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How To Answer ‘What’s Your Biggest Mistake?’

In my latest job search advice post for Life Reimagined at Work, I tackle one of the most dreaded interview questions: What’s Your Biggest Mistake?

Most job interviews include at least one negative question: What is your biggest weakness? What was your least favorite job? What is the biggest mistake you made? The interviewer is probing for vulnerabilities that might hinder your ability to do the job. At the same time, the interviewer is looking for improvement – everyone comes with deficiencies; are you self-aware enough to acknowledge yours and coachable enough to improve them? As with all interview questions, the objective is to assess whether to hire you. Prepare your mistake or failure story in advance of your next job interview using this two-step process:

Pick the right story. As an experienced professional, you have multiple stories to choose from – hopefully not too many mistakes, but certainly more than one. If you don’t pick a mistake in advance, you will default to the one that you remember – an emotional story, perhaps something that is still raw and unfinished. This isn’t a good choice because you don’t want to get rattled during the interview. More important, you don’t want an unfinished story because you need a clear mistake with a clear resolution. What did you learn? How did you turn the situation around? Also, you must have the right role in the story. When I was a recruiter, a candidate who was a project manager told me about a client that cancelled a project but eventually began working with his firm again. Yes, this is an example of a project gone bad and then turned around, but there was no direct involvement by this candidate or specific lesson learned, so it wasn’t a good example to use.

Read the second step in my latest post for Life Reimagined at Work: How To Answer “What’s Your Biggest Mistake?”


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Video Blog – How Do I Land A Job In A Down Market and If I Have Been Unemployed

In this job search Q&A, I answer Michael’s question: What are tips for job search in a down economy if I’ve been out for a while?

This is really a two-part question: 1) job search in a down market; an 2) job search when you’ve been out for a while.

Regarding job search in a down economy, this means that employers are going to be pickier about who they hire. So job seekers in a down market need to be even more competitive to attract employers. Employers are looking for reasons to keep you out, so you have to make an even stronger case about why you should be hired.

Regarding job search when you have been out of work, what employers fear is that your skills, expertise and/or network will be out of date. You need to focus on what you’ve been doing during your unemployment to show this won’t be the case — volunteer work, consulting projects, activity with a professional associate, attending a class.

Put these two things together and you’ll see that an out-of-work job seeker in a down market has to even more assertively emphasize that being unemployed doesn’t mean being unqualified or out of date. You have to make an even more passionate, compelling case that your activity while you were out is relevant to the job you are looking for.

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Naming the Divine?

Don’t miss today’s clip of the upcoming Supersoul Sunday, in which we get the bigger picture on today’s top global headlines from Oprah, Rev. Ed Bacon, Elizabeth Lesser & Mark Nepo. And for our discussion today:
There are many names for the divine including, the Jewish tetragrammaton YHVY; ‘elohiym, ‘el and Jehovah; the Hindu Brahman, the Islamic Allah; the Bahá’í Baha; the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda and others. We seem to have a need to name the divine. Well our guest today, Rabbi Wayne Dosick tells us that none of the names we know from the Bible for God are enough. Rather, he says, the real name of God leads to the revolutionary revelation of both the God of the universe and the inner God of breath and soul. Combining scholarship with the sacred and challenging long-held comfortable beliefs, the Rabbi’s latest book entitled, “The Real Name of God: Embracing the Full Essence of the Divine” reveals what he calls the real name for God—a name that unites us in a new way. Don’t miss it.

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How Serial Entrepreneur Kim Loan Duong Launched Three Businesses By Age 32

Kim Loan: Photo credit to Manu GuptaThis small business advice post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for

Kim Loan Duong is 32, and onto her third business. She is co-owner of Empire Society, which she co-founded in 1999 and organizes events worldwide.  She then branched out into Prestigious Models in 2002, North America’s premiere Asian and Pan-Asian modeling agency.  In 2012, she launched a third time with Image Powerhouse, an entertainment production studio specializing in fashion, beauty and lifestyle, as well as new divisions for Prestigious Models in Fashion, Print, Commercial, TV and Film. I met Duong at an event hosted at Image Powerhouse and loved her story for how she broke through some of the myths that hold back other aspiring entrepreneurs:

Myth #1: You need to have it all figured out before you start
A year after launching Empire Society, Duong started noticing a pattern of client requests for Spokesmodels (or Brand Ambassadors). Prestigious Models was born to capture the unmet demand for Asian models. Yes, it helps to have a plan in advance, but it also pays to be opportunistic and respond to a need you might not have thought of before.

Myth #2: You need to expand quickly
Duong was running Empire Society for three years before adding Prestigious Models. It took another ten years before Duong tacked on her third business. Although, Duong always had an interest in fashion and consumer-facing brands, the main industries for Empire Society and Prestigious Models were Poker, Gaming and Automotive industries.  She didn’t launch Image Powerhouse until these two businesses were self-sustaining and Duong could make her move to New York. You don’t have to keep adding new offerings, sometimes not even for years. (In these days of quick-start online businesses, with $MM valuations seemingly overnight, I found this measured growth particularly refreshing!)

Myth #3:  Entrepreneurship is more suitable for certain types of people
Maybe you think an entrepreneur has to be particularly creative, or a risk-taker, or from a certain background. Duong battled with the third limiting belief: she is Vietnamese/ Chinese and had strong cultural pressures to get a traditional job. “In the Asian culture, we’re raised to get a good education and become doctors, lawyers and bankers,” Duong explained. Duong even got her real estate license while building Prestigious Models to fulfill her parents’ wishes for a more conventional career. Yet, she couldn’t balance two jobs and finally had an emotional meeting with her parents and siblings to ask for support. It wasn’t an overnight resolution, but the family is now so supportive they even help out with her current projects. You don’t have to be a certain type of person to be an entrepreneur. (As an Asian-American myself, I can relate firsthand to the strong cultural expectations that favor traditional employment over entrepreneurship, so this part of Duong’s story is so rewarding to share especially during Asian-Pacific American Awareness Month.)

Kim Loan Duong exemplifies in some ways the quick-start, young entrepreneur – running three businesses by her early 30’s. But her journey also bucks some of the conventionally-held wisdom about entrepreneurship, and in this way, makes business success more accessible to the everyday woman. You don’t have to have the lightning-bolt idea. You don’t have to grow quickly. Entrepreneurship is an available option to everyone.

Create opportunities, make things happen and see your vision turn into a reality.  Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.  Get a mentor or coach, someone to hold you accountable. Surround yourself with people that believe in you and want to see you become successful. – Kim Loan Duong



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How To Land a Job: Channel Your Inner Entrepreneur

In my latest career advice post for Work Reimagined, I talk about how traditional job search advice no longer applies. and how finding a job today entails the same strategies as launching a business:

The line between entrepreneurship and traditional employment is virtually nonexistent in today’s job market. Sure, if you look at capital-intensive businesses where you need office space, heavy equipment, or a large staff, these entrepreneurs take on a financial investment and risk that employees do not. Look at service, knowledge-based professions, though, where many jobs are, and business-building entrepreneurs and job-seeking employees have much in common. In fact, job seekers would be wise to adopt the best entrepreneurial strategies:

Develop a unique brand. Entrepreneurs know they need to market how their offering is unique and valuable. They join trade associations, maintain an active online presence, and have marketing collateral (e.g., brochures, business cards) to showcase their offer. The best entrepreneurs don’t just hang out an advertisement and hope that people buy. They realize that people are inundated with advertising messages. Job seekers need to adopt the same proactive stance to their marketing. Employers are the buyers too, and they’re inundated with unsolicited resumes. You cannot just hang out your resume; you need to network, use social media, and have ready examples of your work. You need to focus on the specific, unique value employers would derive from your offer.

Read two more ways traditional employment and entrepreneurship overlap and how embracing the overlap can help you navigate today’s market at Work Reimagined: How To Land a Job: Channel Your Inner Entrepreneur.


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7 Steps to Research Company Culture

In a job search post for Work Reimagined, I share tips around the all-important but hard-to-find company culture issue. How exactly do you find out whether you and a prospective employer are the right fit?

Success at a job requires more than matching your skills to the job requirements. You have to be in an environment where you can do your best work. Many people need to like their colleagues and management. In other words, the culture of the company contributes to whether you will thrive. Here are seven steps to research company culture.

Define what you mean by culture. Is it how the company treats its employees or also its community, consultants, vendors and customers? Is it how career path is determined (e.g., whether the company promotes from within or allows its employees to move laterally)? Is it whether employees tend to work in teams or alone? Be specific: What matters to others may not matter as much or at all to you.

Decide how to measure what matters. How will you evaluate what you find? If you want a company that treats its employees well, does this mean pay transparency, unexpected shows of appreciation, or consistent adoption of employee suggestions? If you don’t know how you’ll measure the culture you’re looking for, you won’t know it when you see it or even where to look.

Check published sources. Review the company’s website: how does it describe the company and its leadership? Is the tone straight professional, conversational or irreverent? Look at press releases and media mentions for the company: what is highlighted? If you want a company that values giving back to its community, is there more than a promise to do this, i.e. real programs with real results? You want to see how the company positions itself but also how it is perceived by others, such as the media.

Read the other 4 steps at Work Reimagined: 7 Steps To Research Company Culture.