By Valerie Young
View From the Other Side
This week I want to talk to you about how curiosity is central to the process of changing course. But, for any of you who are curious about what’s happening here…
In August, I learned I’m a 4-out-of-5 match to be a bone marrow donor to a 61-year-old. I feel blessed for the chance to help someone in this way. Ironically, he’s the same age as my mom when she passed. There are a lot of hoops still to jump through before the actual procedure. I should know more in a few weeks but assuming all goes well, I’ll head to Mass General Hospital sometime in the next 4-6 weeks.
On a far more minor health note, the poison ivy on my hands finally cleared up. Note to self: No more weeding.
Earlier this month I led a workshop for over 100 students from Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University in Nashville on overcoming the Impostor Syndrome. I loved helping these bright, soon-to-be medical professionals to feel as competent as everyone else knows they are. This Friday I’ll do the same for grad students and faculty at Michigan State.
Speaking of workshops — I wasn’t sure my speaking and writing schedule would permit me to offer another Work at What You Love workshop & retreat this year. But, after going back to watch the videos from the June workshop, I knew I had to. So I did a bit of shuffling so I can again welcome eight career seekers into my home in November. (If you’d like to come, see Featured Resource below for details).
The other big news is — drum roll please — I submitted to Crown Publishing/Random House what I *hope* is the final version of my book — working title The Confidence Project. Woo Hoo! As happy as I was to have met this monumental goal, I won’t breathe easy until I hear what my new editor thinks.
I say “new” editor because as some of you may recall, I handed in what I thought was the final version of this same book exactly one year ago… only to arrive in New York and learn my then editor — the same editor who helped make Tim Ferris’s The Four Hour Work Week and other books mega-best-sellers — was leaving the publishing world for television.
As disappointed as I was, you just have to roll with these things. My new editor had a different vision for the book. So three revised outlines later, and a lot of editing, and we’re now looking at a September 2011 pub date! Lesson re-relearned: Things always take longer than you think!
Speaking of lessons…
Learning is All Just a Day at the Fair!
William Arthur Ward once said, “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.” Little wonder then that the most successful people are also the most curious.
This week I’ll make my annual pilgrimage to The Big E. For those who haven’t been, The Big E is an enormous multi-state fair encompassing all six New England states that happens every September in nearby West Springfield, Massachusetts.
Andrew Rice, professional sheep shearer and farm consultant, Brattleboro, VT
Young people and old alike
travel from several states away to
show their livestock
Crafts demonstration at Storrowtown Village
Thanks to the Avenue of States I can “visit” all six New England states in about 90 minutes. Each state has its own building with tourism exhibits, local vendors, and my favorite — food!
Annual staples are the clam fritters in the Rhode Island building, lobster rolls and baked potatoes in the Maine building, and apple pie with cheese in the Vermont building. Of these, which do you think consistently has a line of eager customers wrapped around the building? I’ll reveal the answer at the end of this article.
Mostly I’ll be doing what I love most — being deeply curious. In my case, that means learning as much as I can from the interesting entrepreneurs and other characters working the fair.
Before I come back with even more stories, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of the people I met last year as well as the valuable lessons you can learn simply by being curious!
Don’t Be Sheepish
Tom Colyer of
Greenwood Hill Farms
Last year I spent a lot of time chatting with retired Navy Captain turned merino sheep rancher Tom Colyer of Greenwood Hill Farm in Hubbardston, Massachusetts. Being curious led me to discover that…
- A whopping 80 percent of the lamb that is sold (and therefore eaten) in the United States happens to come from Washington, DC north to New England. To me that signaled an opportunity for someone to creatively work with the various state sheep councils to encourage chefs in other parts of the country to put lamb on the menu.
- You can dye wool with Kool-Aid (you can get a free guide “how-to” guide at the Greenwood Hill Farm site).
- It’s a lot more profitable for people who raise sheep to spin and sell their own yarn than to sell the wool in bulk.
- There’s a big demand for sheep shearers to service smaller farm operations. Time magazine even did an article on the effort to train more shearers. And, according to Tom, some of the best shearers are women.
Lesson: It is amazing what you can find out if you just talk to people. Based on what you read, what are you curious to know more about?
The “Crazy Tomato Lady”
Marybeth Draghi the “Crazy Tomato Lady”
In the Connecticut building, I met an exhibitor named Marybeth Draghi from Little Acres farm in Glastonbury, CT. Marybeth’s delicious heirloom tomatoes have earned her the title of “Crazy Tomato Lady.”
She’s grown her business from a small stand to selling her tomatoes at three Whole Foods stores (two in West Hartford and one in Glastonbury), at the famous Stew Leonard’s chain in Connecticut and New York, and has more chains and outlets in the works.
Are you curious how Marybeth landed these major accounts? I was. Are you ready? She asked, and the store manager said yes.
Lesson: Speak up. Ask questions. Talk to people about what you do… or hope to do. The door to opportunity opens when you open your mouth. What would you be curious to ask Marybeth?
Cleaning Up in the Soap Business
From the Blue Heron Soap booth, I learned that, like a lot of businesses, this one was born out of necessity. Owner Peggy Manthei’s daughter had sensitive skin. Her search for a solution led to tinkering with her own soaps and years late,r Peggy and husband Carl continue to make all the soaps personally.
Money questions can be a little more delicate but my curiosity got the best of me. “Is it really profitable to truck all this soap from Minnesota for a 3-week fair in Massachusetts?” I asked. The young man grinned from ear to ear and said simply, “We get $6 a bar.” Enough said.
Obviously the fair circuit is an effective marketing strategy. According to the show schedule on their web site, this year alone they’ll be in North Carolina, Chicago, Tennessee, South Dakota, and elsewhere.
Lesson: When you think about marketing your product or service, do a cost-benefit analysis. If your marketing investment is $1,000 but you have the chance to make $2,000, then you’re ahead of the game. What about working the fair circuit are you curious to know?
Doggedly Pursuing a Passion
From the young man at the Annie’s Pooch Pops All Natural Dog Treats booth, I learned that a business you might assume to be local and/or online exclusively actually has quite a mobile marketing strategy. Between Annie, her son, or her son’s friend, they sell at over 200 of these kinds of fairs and shows a year!
But it was from Annie’s website that I got the bigger story. Like most businesses, this one started small and grew. In the beginning, all the baking happened in Annie’s kitchen. For a while they rented a restaurant kitchen during off hours. “Cooking from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. wasn’t easy,” says Annie, “but the crew, with additional help from friends, began to see treat sales take off. After six months and no sleep, we moved into a converted 4000 square foot barn in Northern New Jersey horse country where we remain today.”
Lesson: Starting any business requires sacrifice and hard work. Period. Ask yourself. “What do I love enough to work that hard to grow?” What would you want to ask Annie and her team that I didn’t?
Finding the Unexpected
There were also a few surprises at The Big E. For example, also in the Connecticut building was a guy selling something you would not normally expect among the alpaca socks and maple syrup vendors. But there was Kirk Sinclair alongside a stack of his books, Systems Out of Balance: How Misinformation Hurts the Middle Class.
According to his business card, Kirk is a “Middle Class Advocate, Social Systems Analyst, and Rabble Rousing Bard.” He’s also the “token middle-aged guy” in a rock band that plays at local colleges and a very active blogger.
Seeing his book reminded me that the previous year I bought a book written by a woman who’d traced the history of her Native American grandmother. She was selling it from a card table in the alley way between two state buildings.
Lesson: It pays to show up in surprising places. For example, you could offer piano lessons at the farmer’s market or negotiate with a local clothing or paint store to conduct a puppy training demonstration at a well-blocked-off section of their parking lot. Just like the internet — marketing and sales is all about traffic!
Okay did you guess what is, hands-down the most popular food item at all six state buildings? It’s the lowly — but loaded — baked potato. When you consider how little potatoes cost, it would be interesting to see how a baked potato vendor truck would do! Something that seems quite popular in the UK and New Zealand!