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After 25 Years, Parting Advice from the Dreamer in Residence at Changing Course

I’m writing to let you know that after a quarter of a century as the Dreamer in Residence at Changing Course, I’m stepping down.

If you read my recent post “Regret Nothing”, you’re probably not surprised.

I told you about some recent losses in my life and a family member battling cancer.

I talked about how times of loss or crisis remind us to take nothing for granted, most especially time.

About how now — more than ever — we need to ask ourselves, what would I most regret not doing?

It’s a question I asked myself in 1995. For me, the answer was crystal clear.

The thing I would most regret is never being my own boss.

What a Ride!

That journey began with the crazy idea to publish a newsletter for other burned out cubicle dwellers.

Over these 25 years, I’ve had experiences I could have never imagined possible.

I’ve gotten business advice from Sir Richard Branson and Gary Vaynerchuk.

I was invited to speak at a travel writer and photography class in Paris and at an International Living magazine conference in Panama.

Changing Course has been cited in dozens of newspapers and magazines in the US and Canada including The Wall Street JournalThe Boston Globe, The OregonianRedbook, Kiplinger’s, Self, Woman’s Day, and many more.

Entrepreneur’s Start Up magazine not only dedicated an entire page to my 10 Steps to Escape the Job World and Create the Life You Really Want they even sent a photographer to my house!

I helped hundreds of coaching clients connect the dots between what they love to do and how they can make money doing it.

Over 350 people from 19 countries took my course on how to get paid to brainstorm.

I led half a dozen Work at What You Love workshops around the country with Barbara Winter.

At the end of each, Barbara and I would turn to each other and say, “I think we helped change some lives today.”

Among them, Dyan DiNapoli who transformed herself into the Penguin Lady only to far surpass her wildest dreams.

And, as I noted in my recent tribute to the late Barbara Sher, I had the incredible experience of co-leading a four-day retreat in the Rocky Mountains with the very women who inspired my own dream, Barbara Winter and Barbara Sher.

I’m not telling you this to impress you.

I’m telling you this because far too many people only see the successful end result.

They don’t understand that every business big and small, started from nothing more than an idea.

Starting Out in 1995

One sure way to kill a dream is to wait until you’ve got everything 100 percent figured out before you begin.

For example, I began as the Making a Living Doing What You Love newsletter.

After two issues though, I realized that loving your work is nice – but it’s just the frosting on the cake.

The “cake” was being able to live life on your own terms.

So I came up with a new name, one that better spoke to people like me who were desperate to take the leap from having a boss to being their own boss.

I’d never published a newsletter, but I found a training program on cassette that gave me the basics. (I think I found them in a classified ad in Entrepreneur magazine.)

I bought some basic publishing software for my Mac and a designer friend at my old job did the initial layout.

A few years later I realized people might actually pay me for the informal advice-giving and resource sharing I’d already been doing with shuttle drivers, wait staff, and other disgruntled employees.

Mind you I had no formal training in either coaching or career counseling.

Which was fine because I had no interest in administering skills assessments or personality profiles or doing any of the other things traditional career advisers do to help people find their dream “job.”

I wanted to help people create their own job.

So one day I just hung out my shingle as an “outside the job box” career coach.

Over time other entrepreneurially-minded “idea people” told me they’d love to do what I do.

So I used lessons learned from my own experience to create the first and only training program to teach them how.

In the mid-90s getting on the “world wide web” meant knowing HTML.

I didn’t have a lot of money, but I did have a phone.

So I called a local community college to see if students in their HTML class needed a case study.

I got a free website and the two 40-something career changers who created it got to build their portfolio.

This was my first site.

Why Now?

For starters, when I launched the newsletter I was 40.

Last November I turned 65.

This is where you immediately go to the comments section to say, OMG, you don’t LOOK 65! 🙂

My mom died unexpectedly of a heart attack five months before her much awaited retirement. I’ve already outlived her by four years.

She left behind boxes full of material for quilts she’d never get to make and a lifetime of photos she’d planned to organize but never got the chance.

I know too many people who lived for their retirement day only to die just before or shortly after.

My Dad couldn’t wait to retire.

He liked to say he was going to spend the first few months sitting in a rocking chair.

Then after a few months, he was going to start rocking… very slowly.

I have no intention of sitting in a rocking chair.

In fact, I’m incredibly busy leading webinars and sketching out a new book.

And I’m looking forward to having more time to pursue other interests like actively addressing climate change and learning to do mosaics.

The other reason I’m stepping down is simple: It’s time.

Jon Stewart announced his retirement from The Daily Show by saying, “This show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host.”

The fact is, I’ve been struggling with this decision for a while now.

Up until recently, I was juggling three investment properties. Happily, I’m down to one.

On top of that, I also have a thriving speaking business on something called impostor syndrome.

Learning that there was a name for the secret fear that others will discover we’re not really as intelligent, talented, or qualified as others “think” we are, was the impetus for my graduate research.

I’ve been leading workshops on the subject on and off since the 1980s.

Then in 2008, I got a six-figure book deal with Random House.

It took me two and a half years to write the book. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

When it finally came out in 2011 speaking invitations picked up.

In the last three years, they’ve exploded.

I’ve been to Portugal, Switzerland, England, and Denmark and spoken at organizations like Google, Microsoft, Dell, Blizzard Entertainment, Rakuten, Oxford University, NASA, the National Cancer Institute, and my personal favorite, Romance Writers of America.

The point is, all this obviously left a lot less time to focus on Changing Course.

And it wasn’t fair to anyone – most especially you.

What’s Next for Changing Course?

The other thing Jon Stewart said was, “In my heart I know it’s time for someone else to have this opportunity.”

It felt wrong to just hang out a “closed” sign. Especially now when more people than ever need help.

That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that the perfect duo stepped forward to take the strong foundation I’ve built and run with it.

Drum roll, please…

Meet the new Dreamers in Residence Arthurine Walker and Kate Fessler!

Kate and Arthurine will introduce themselves in more detail next time.

What I can tell you is that you’re in really good hands.

I met them when they took my Profiting from Your Passions coach training.

Even though they were both in the Class of 2007, since it was a teleclass, Kate and Arthurine didn’t meet until they teamed up to take over the reins at Changing Course.

It seems fitting that 13 years later the students would go on to take the teacher’s place.

For now, I’m not going anywhere.

The three of us are working together on an upcoming Work at What You Love Virtual Workshop. Stay tuned for details soon!

And I’ll definitely be involved in promoting and teaching the Profiting from Your Passions Career Coach Training Summer School.

Before I wrap up my final newsletter, I’d like to share some parting wisdom on what it really takes to change course.

Parting Advice #1 You Don’t Need Confidence — Really

If I’d waited until I felt ready… until I thought that I knew enough… until I felt confident – I’d still be in my cubicle.

In 1998 USA Weekend magazine article was dedicating an entire edition to the impact of the 1990 recession on families.

The editor asked if I could contribute some tips for two-income households looking to downsize to one income.

I knew nothing about it.

But I said yes anyway.

I mean, how hard could it be?

I called a financial planner for his advice and talked to a few couples who’d done it.

Add to that a dash of common sense and voila! I had my own sidebar of tips and free advertising for Changing Course to their millions of readers.

Fast forward to 2020 and every one of us has a PhD in Google.

You don’t need confidence to start a business because you don’t need to know everything.

You just need to be smart enough to figure it out.

Just say yes and learn as you go.

Parting Advice #2 It Really Is All Small Steps

Most dreams die because we give up too soon.

I know how easy it is to feel like you’re not making progress.

That’s why starting in 1996 I started documenting the things I’d accomplished each year.

It was my way of assuring myself, See Valerie, you are making progress.

Everyone wants to be in their dream life right now. But that’s not how it works.

Michelangelo didn’t sculpt David in a day. He literally chipped away at it bit by bit.

Take for instance this very announcement.

It took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to write.

I didn’t edit it once; I edited it at least 20 times!

The thing is, you’re not “writing a book or a blog post or your website.”

You’re writing a sentence, then another one and another one.

You’re not “becoming a speaker.”

You’re outlining your talk (which trust me, you’ll then change hundreds of times).

You’re not “starting a landscaping business.”

You’re looking up local competition to see how you’ll do things differently, better, faster, higher-end, or more affordable.

Then you take another small step and another and another.

It may not sound glamorous, but it really is all small steps.

The important thing is to begin.

Parting Advice #3: Besides, It’s Not About You

One of my clients had spent years lovingly caring for an ailing parent.

After “Kim’s” mother passed she began to write a play about her experience.

Then she stopped.

Kim wasn’t afraid of failure she was afraid of success.

“What if my play is a hit,” she said, “then I’d have to play big.”

I invited her to imagine a sold-out theater full of people…

… to feel the excitement in the crowd…

…to know that among them were people who’d been through a similar experience and were eager for their own joy and pain to be honored by the words she’d scripted…

…to watch as the lights dimmed and the curtain rose to reveal an empty stage…

…and finally to picture herself, the almost playwright coming out to announce…

“I’m sorry, there will be no play tonight. I was too afraid of being great to write it.”

Can playing big be scary?

You bet.

It’s even harder if you’ve spent your life putting others’ needs before your own.

Even when you do manage to convince yourself that you are worthy, to suddenly move your own dream to the front burner can feel selfish.

All the more reason you need to see that everyone loses when you play small.

There are people out there right this very minute who want and deserve to benefit from your full range of knowledge, abilities, and skills.

So instead of the proverbial question, “What would you do if money were no object?” ask yourself, What sort of difference could I make if fear was not a factor?

Speaking of dreams…

You’re Invited to My Retirement Party!

Stay tuned for some sort of Valerie’s Retirement Party + Changing Course’s 25th Anniversary + Grand Re-Opening celebration.

With COVID-19 it’s not yet clear whether all or parts will be virtual. Or if it will be one party or separate celebrations.

No matter what, it won’t be until at least the fall.

For now, I’d love to hear from people who, via Changing Course, have been inspired to live the mission I established 25 years ago…

Live life on purpose
Work at what you love
Follow your own road

When did you start reading the Changing Course Newsletter – and why?

Was there a resource or an idea in the newsletter that sparked your own entrepreneurial journey?

Was there a particular book or audio that helped you?

Were you on one of the many teleclasses I ran with inspiring self-bossers like the maker of I Love Chicken Poop lip balm or the guy who started a successful online Bible study business or the woman whose craft instruction business was so successful her husband quit his job to join her?

Did we do a career coaching session together?

Did you attend one of the workshops…

Making Dreams Happen in Boulder, Colorado?

Work at What You Love in Northampton, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; or Ventura, California?

Dreams Can’t Wait in Kennebunkport, Maine?

Did you come all the way from Alaska or Sweden or Israel or Mexico or Montreal to participate in one of the small retreats I ran at my home in Montague?

Did you venture off to Ecuador for the Relax, Renew, Reinvent workshop?

I’d love to hear from you here! 

(just scroll down to the comment section below)

And, please don’t worry if you don’t think you’ve done “enough.”

Or if you started and stopped or otherwise got stalled.

As Mary Ann Evans, writing under her pen name George Eliot, wrote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

Heck, Gramma Moses didn’t start painting until into her 80s!

Finally, I’m deeply grateful to Lisa Tarrant for leaving her job-job 19 years ago to go on this crazy ride with me (and for being shorter than me :)) I couldn’t have grown Changing Course without her.

Thanks too, to Melinda Ashley for jumping into a whole new world of virtual assisting to lend us a hand!

Most of all, I want to thank all of you for honoring me with your attention all these years.

Knowing you trusted me with your dreams has meant the world to me.


A Death in the Family

My heart is heavy.

Two members of the extended Changing Course family have passed away.

Cheryl Young died in May. Jane Kirsch in June.

Both left us too soon.

To my knowledge, Cheryl and Jane never met, but they had a lot in common.

They were both fiercely committed to finding a way to be their own boss.

They both had a passion for helping other aspiring self-bossers to connect the dots between what they too could make money doing it.

Little wonder Cheryl and Jane were among the early wave of students in the “Outside the Job Box” career coach training (later known as Profiting From Your Passions career coach training).

Jane was in the inaugural class of 2006; Cheryl came into the program the next year.

This week has been bittersweet because I found a video of one and the writings of another.

I share them here partly as a tribute to two kindred spirits who were members of what I’ve come to think of as the Changing Course Tribe.

But I also hope their words and stories move you to do as Cheryl and Jane did and act on the Changing Course mission I set forth in 1995, to…

Live life on purpose ~ Work at what you love ~ Follow your own road

Jane Kirsch, North Carolina

If I had to pick one word to describe Jane, it would have to be lovely. She was truly a lovely human being.

When you watch this short video you’ll know why.

The touching wisdom of her final words here brought me to tears.

The video was shot in 2007 at the Work at What You Love workshop in Northampton, Massachusetts.

It was one of many such workshops I produced and co-led with guest presenter Barbara Winter, author of Making a Living Without a Job.

The voice behind the camera is my trusty assistant and friend Lisa Tarrant who I’d helped break out of job jail just two years earlier.

There was no social media back then.

Instead, Jane and I stayed more or less in touch through the Changing Course newsletter.

About six years ago we ran into each other at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York where I was vacationing with friends from Pittsburgh who had a second home there.

Turns out Jane grew up in Pittsburgh and her family also owned a home at Chautauqua.

Two years later we ran into each other there again.

I remember sitting across from Jane at lunch and thinking how lucky I was to know her.

I learned of Jane’s passing from Dawn Dominique, a student in her same Outside the Job Box coach class.

Back then the course was held entirely via teleclass.

So the two had never actually set eyes on one another until the Northampton workshop.

A dozen years later the two stayed in touch. Dawn told me that just last fall she and Jane met up in North Carolina for lunch and a stroll through the local art galleries.

Of her friend, Dawn wrote, “She touched a lot of people and made a positive difference in the world.”

It reminded me of something Katherine Graham once said…

“To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?”

Jane, you and your work mattered to many. You will be missed, my friend.

Cheryl Young, Vermont

As with Jane, I heard about Cheryl’s passing through another member of the Changing Course family, Wendy Heileg, who was in Cheryl’s same class.

It’s tremendously gratifying to know that Changing Course has facilitated so many wonderful and lasting friendships.

I lost touch with Cheryl…but I never forgot her.

She was larger than life. Perhaps that’s why despite never having met in person… I felt I had.

Cheryl was that kind of person.

When you’ve run a business like mine for 24 years you’ve got a lot of old computer files.

A search for “Cheryl Young” and voila – up popped a sixteen-year-old assignment she’d submitted for class.

It began with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and create a trail. 

And that’s exactly what Cheryl did. Here, in her own words, is some of her changing course journey.

Growing up in Nebraska, I was fascinated with the Oregon Trail and the pioneering spirit.

That pioneering spirit has guided my life as I have created and discovered many new trails. 

I come from a large Swedish family where I was surrounded by entrepreneurs. I had 7 uncles, 2 brothers, my father and 2 grandfathers who were either farmers or small business owners. 

My dad was my role model for changing careers.

He had been a business teacher/high school sports coach, who eventually changed careers to start a grocery business.

My mother was an elementary teacher, so I grew up hearing about both business and education as equal options for a living. 

My own foray into the world of entrepreneurship began after 20 years in education… Then there came a day when I asked myself an important question:

How could I prepare students for the world of work if I had never been employed outside the world of education? 

I had either been a student or a teacher for the last two decades. 

So I left the classroom and began my adventure exploring the world of work.

I sought “real life” career experience which took me into administration of programs, college teaching, insurance sales, land sales, writing, self-publishing, traveling, public speaking, producing and marketing educational and training programs—experience was my teacher.

By becoming an Educator in Private Practice I found a way to integrate my experience and skills with my passion for entrepreneurship.

So, it was only natural that I was drawn to Valerie Young’s “Out of the Job Box” Career Consultant certification program.

I loved the idea of creating your own living out of things you love to do…that you’re not limited to making a living by working for someone else for the next 10, 20, 30 years or so.

It’s so exciting to discover opportunities to work anywhere, with anyone, at any time while contributing to my client’s lives in a meaningful way.

And I have to admit, I also love the freedom, flexibility, creativity, setting my own schedule, working from the comfort of my Vermont home, and meeting fascinating people.

What I remember most about Cheryl was that she was FEARLESS!

Sometimes, new coaches hesitate to take a first client out of fear that they “still don’t know enough,” aren’t yet “expert” enough – Cheryl dove in.

Fortunately for her clients, she did.

At one point, Cheryl talked about helping a WWII female pilot set up and market a speaking tour.

Did she have any experience organizing or marketing speaking tours? Heck no.

Instead, she just understood that the best way to learn most things is to just do it and grow as you go.

She also described helping a new client who was in the process of parlaying her experience as special education teacher and entrepreneur to create a four-million-dollar high school to house a combination of culinary arts, store, artist gallery, herbal garden, sewing shop and a restaurant to teach special needs youth in community impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

This was the ideal client for Cheryl because she herself always went BIG!

She thought nothing of reaching out to people in her even state government to see how they might team up to support entrepreneurship in the state.

Shooting high paid off.

Cheryl would go on to become the Vermont Ambassador for Entrepreneurship Education.

In closing, she wrote:

I transitioned out of education knowing that there would be risks – and the risk paid off.

Today creativity and flexibility are alive in my life.

I believe everyone should have the opportunity to create a life they love doing work they create… outside the box!

Before he died, Michael Landon said, “Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows.”

We spend so much time being afraid to take risks, when what we should worry about is how much we have to lose by never ever trying.

Thank you, Cheryl and Jane, for being sources of inspiration to us all and for refusing to die with your music still in you. Rest in peace, my friends.

If you would like to leave a remembrance of Cheryl or Jane… or just share what inspired you about their lives, comment below.


Praise

A New Direction

I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...

Julia Raymond
Curvology Studio

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