Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Going the Whole Hog - Making Decisions About Your Life

Making the right decision can sometimes be very hard. If you make a decision about your life, then your chances are good that it will become as you imagine. However, if you mostly postpone important decisions, and if you hesitate to take what you want when it is available, then either nothing will happen, or even worse, you will not be able to live the life that you dream of.

Standing up for yourself

Going the whole hog means standing up to be the person that you are meant to be. You say "This is what I want and what I deserve, and I won't give up until I get it." Making decisions is necessary in order to get things done and to reach your goals. When you finally decide to do something, and you are 100% behind your decision, then powers will arise to help you do it.

What if I don't...?

Not doing what would help you get what you want is quite easy. However, making a decision and sticking with it until you do get what you deserve requires inner power. Being indecisive doesn't mean that you don't know what you want. Instead, it means that you refuse to live your best life, that you don't do what is necessary to manifest your dreams in reality.
Nobody else can live your life in your place. Nobody else can tell you what to do - it's up to you.


Paying the price

It's important to pay the price, whatever it is. Half of your power will lead to only half of the quality of your desired result. When you pay the price, you move forward with all of your power, and you are "there" with your whole being. Always give other people your best - not because they deserve it, they might or might not, but because you deserve it. Half of your power means living half of your life.

But isn't giving your all very exhausting?

I will be honest with you: Yes, it is exhausting. In my opinion, the question is rather why it is considered to be a bad thing to exhaust yourself for what you believe in and for what you love doing. What else could be worth you spending the precious time of your life on it? Getting exhausted is not a bad thing in itself if you are getting exhausted for the right reason.
Of course, I don't recommend exhausting yourself all the time without having a break for recovery. Now and then, you need relaxation and activities that help you recharge your batteries.

Why me?

First of all, everybody has her or his own load to carry. Your load is unique to your life and to yourself. The main question is "Why not you?" Thinking about your unfair destiny won't yield any results or improvements. Instead, I recommend taking the challenge, accepting that it is you and not someone else who is on earth to fulfill certain tasks, and just do them without much further questioning.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Helen Gallagher Interview - Empowering People To Do What They Want

Helen Gallagher is a business owner who lives in the Chicago area of the U.S., in a town called Glenview, IL. After having climbed up the corporate ladder, Helen left the corporate world and founded her computer consulting business “Computer Clarity”. Helen is the author of two books called “Computer Ease” and “Release Your Writing”. Working for herself, she could challenge herself beyond the boundaries of the definition of a person’s job. Check out Helen’s websites at www.cclarity.com and www.releaseyourwriting.com.

Andrea: Please tell me about a situation when you didn’t dare to live your dream.

Helen: For 30 years I worked in the corporate world. I began as a secretary to a secretary at a very low level, and I never thought of asking for more than what I was given. For 30 years I worked my way up the ranks, but I was never aggressive or thought I deserved more. I felt that if I did a good job, people would notice that and they would move me along.

Although I did indeed move along and achieve management positions, it never occurred to me then, over 30 years ago, that people could just speak out and say, “I deserve the same compensation as these other people…” or, “I could do that job. You should put me in a higher position.” I never had the self-esteem to do that. I did enjoy my work and respect the people who were my bosses, so I was actually pretty happy as long as I was intellectually challenged, but after a long time it became apparent that in American corporations, one’s loyalty was not returned.

After working very hard, putting in extra hours, and trying to be innovative, if you lose your job under those circumstances, as I did, you begin to feel that you are not appreciated and that you need to take more control of your life. I had always thought of being self-employed as a way to escape what I call, “the downsize, right size, outsize” world.

After working very hard, putting in extra hours, and trying to be innovative, if you lose your job under those circumstances, as I did, you begin to feel that you are not appreciated and that you need to take more control of your life.

Andrea: That is a cool expression. I really like it.

Helen: That was pretty much what I was experiencing in the 1980s and early 1990s. I had been entrenched for 30 years in the corporate world, yet I really wanted to take control of my own career. But like most people, I was reluctant to do that. People often wait for something to happen, or say, “I would like to do this…” or “I wish I could do that…” There are so many people that just wish for something and don’t do anything about it. U.S. writer Rita Mae Brown expressed it as "Never hope more than you work.”

So in 1996 I decided that I was done with the corporate world. There was no reward beyond the paycheck, and I wanted something more. We were at an early stage of technology, with computers being used both in business and in homes in the late 1990s. I decided to use everything I knew about computers from my job, and I left the corporate world to run my own business, and to help people be better at using the computer.
When I became a computer consultant in 1996, my goal was to help clients with software and technology so they could be more productive, manage their time better, and understand what people talk about all the time.

I knew too many people that didn’t have a clue how technology could benefit them or what it all meant. I also worked part-time as a freelance writer, maybe a couple of hours on Saturday. When I was in the corporate world I would spend little time on my own writing and I knew that being self-employed as a consultant would give me the opportunity to put more time into my writing.

When I became a computer consultant in 1996, my goal was to help clients with software and technology so they could be more productive, manage their time better, and understand what people talk about all the time.

For my computer consulting business I chose the name, Computer Clarity, and my goal was bridging the gap between people and technology.

Andrea: I would like to go back to your time in the corporate world. You worked there as a secretary and later you had a management position. Did you have any other jobs there?

Helen: I started as a junior secretary, and then I had a very substantial career as a secretary and executive secretary in several different companies over many years, averaging maybe 3-4 years per job. Then I’d move onto another company because of not moving up or not being appreciated, or just not feeling that I was learning anything new. I always found that my work was more interesting if I was being challenged, so once I was good at it and there was nothing else to do, I would start looking around again.

I always found that my work was more interesting if I was being challenged, so once I was good at it and there was nothing else to do, I would start looking around again.


I was fortunate enough to be recognized by the owners of one of the companies as someone who could take on more responsibility. That was in 1977, and I was promoted to Office Manager. It was a huge thing at the time to move from the front desk girl to a person who had their own office. It was wonderful and I will never forget it. My last 2 jobs in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were very high level management positions and although I enjoyed them, I still didn’t feel that there was an opportunity to continue learning and growing, and that there was not loyalty in the corporate world.

In one of those jobs the owners kept hiring a new division president around every year. We would have to start doing everything differently. Such things as the paperwork being a different color; it was just foolish. Then a year later there would be another president and we would have to do it all over again a different way. It became very tiresome to have blue binders instead of red ones, as if that would make any difference, and staff meetings on a different day. I was so tired of not having personal satisfaction.

Andrea: When you worked there, did you experience some unfair situations between coworkers or between the boss and the employees?

Helen: Not really, but I saw that you have to be the right kind of person for them to take you under their wing or move you ahead, and I did not have a college degree at the time.

Andrea: What was your education before you started in the first company?

Helen: I had a high school diploma, and that is all. In all of those corporate jobs, except for the last 2, I had not had a degree. Once I became office manager and saw that I would need a degree to move further, I started going to school at night to get a degree.

Andrea: What degree did you get then?

Helen: I got a degree from Elmhurst University in the Chicago area in finance and economics.

Andrea: Finance is a great degree.

Helen: Yes, and also because most of the work that I did in those companies involved some kind of accounting management as well as managing people. It was a good fit for me, and as a result of getting that degree, my last two jobs were at a much higher level, so I know that this degree made a difference. I was glad that I had taken the time to do it.

Andrea: When you worked in the corporate world, was it possible for you to speak out what you think or was it difficult?

Helen: I never felt that I was censored in any way, but I think we learned a lot about women in corporate jobs. Even in the 1980s, you could say what you wanted, but it didn’t mean anyone was listening; and if they didn’t like what you said, they might consider you a troublemaker or someone they didn’t trust. So I think it worked against people, especially women, to say, “I have a better idea…” or “I know how we might do this.” I tended not to speak out a lot because I saw that happen to other people. It wasn’t that I was continually speaking out on my behalf and not getting recognized, it was that I pretty much was resigned to thinking that it wouldn’t do any good so I was not very aggressive in that area.

Even in the 1980s, you could say what you wanted, but it didn’t mean anyone was listening; and if they didn’t like what you said, they might consider you a troublemaker or someone they didn’t trust.


Andrea: Did this situation change later?

Helen: I think it changed a great deal in the 1990s when women were pretty much on par with men in the corporate world. But that was also when I began to realize “why are people fighting this hard to get ahead and be so ambitious and struggle for jobs when the loyalty in companies was not there?” We still see that today; even more in the current economic climate. Nobody is given the opportunity to rise to the top in a company unless they are really willing to put their whole life into it, and there is no reward for that. We see people being eliminated from their positions all of the time for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance.

Nobody is given the opportunity to rise to the top in a company unless they are really willing to put their whole life into it, and there is no reward for that. We see people being eliminated from their positions all of the time for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance.

Andrea: Could you please give me an example of that lack of loyalty?

Helen: I guess what I mean in a broad sense is that you could be the hardest worker on a team or in a company and never be recognized for it. If you had worked twice as hard as other people and you didn’t get any benefit, the company was not showing their loyalty to you.

Andrea: Was it an incident that made you leave the corporate world or was it a decision that grew and grew in yourself over a long period?

Helen: I would say that it was the realization that no matter what job I was in, I was not satisfied with the reward I got. The work was not challenging enough. After I moved into a new job, learned it and mastered it, then I was not challenged anymore. Working for myself, I could challenge myself beyond the boundaries of the definition of a person’s job.

Working for myself, I could challenge myself beyond the boundaries of the definition of a person’s job.

Andrea: What did you like about your jobs in the corporate world?

Helen: In most of those jobs I really liked being a problem solver and having specific goals every quarter, every year. I am very goal oriented. I found it very rewarding in the corporate structure to be able to say, “This is the job I need to get done and these are the steps I will take to do it.” I did like the organization of companies and the direct line of communication within groups and departments, but overall it was not enough to keep me challenged. Your loyalty is not rewarded when the company says, “We are not going to do it that way anymore. We don’t care how well you have been making this work. Now we want to do it a different way…” It became tiresome.

Andrea: Do you think that you should have made the transition earlier?

Helen: No, I don’t think so, because I had to be well established financially to be willing to go out on my own, and in my younger days as a secretary, I would never have made comparable money. But after I had been in management for a few years, I had both the confidence and stronger income that allowed me to make that change to self-employment.

Andrea: When you left the corporate world, how long did it take until your company was able to feed you?

Helen: I am not bragging when I say this, but when I got the idea to become self-employed, I thought awhile about the structure of the company, and what I would do to get clients. I find this so true for everyone who wants to make a change: if you put yourself out there and envision what you are trying to do, and you target yourself to the right people, the work will come to you. I really do believe that, even today. In any area, if a person envisions it, and makes the effort, instead of saying, “I wish I could do this…” or, “I wish someone would make this easy for me….” it does work.

I find this so true for everyone who wants to make a change: if you put yourself out there and envision what you are trying to do, and you target yourself to the right people, the work will come to you.

I started my business, “Computer Clarity” in 1996. At that time, I was a computer consultant as sole proprietor. I walked around the corner from my house and got business cards printed and I never looked back after that. I told people what I did and everyone seemed to need computer help at that time; it was the right time to do it.

Andrea: I believe that still today is the right time to offer computer consultancy as I know lots of people who need help with the computer.

Helen: My computer consulting is still thriving. In the beginning, people needed help with everything about computers. I had to explain what a modem is and how the tone in the telephone can talk to the computer, because nobody understood that. Now people have reached a level where they use the computer for the internet, email, and word processing, and maybe budgeting, writing books, and keeping track of their schedule. But people are not continuing to learn new things with the computer anymore because our basic skill-set is enough for what we’re doing. I am sure you are acquainted with social networking sites, and nobody needs to be trained to use Facebook.

Andrea: I know some people who need training on that!

Helen: I suppose that is true. 12 years ago people needed to understand why they would want a computer and what it could do for them. Now people have embraced technology to the point that they know what it can do for them, so they don’t need the same level of training. I still do a significant amount of consulting for specific programs, such as Excel or PowerPoint presentations. People not in the corporate world love having a consultant who can work one-on-one at their own computer on their own schedule, and teach them exactly what they need to accomplish their goal. That is very satisfying for me because I love helping people, but I am also empowering them to move on to the next level of understanding how the computer can help them in their work.

My clients are a mix of small business entrepreneurs and individuals. I think my first clients were lay people who really needed to understand the computer to get the kind of job they wanted, so I did one-on-one training in their home or office, and I still do that. I have done a few classes, but it is not the same thing. One person gets it and one person is frustrated, and to me, it is not effective when one person is frustrated, so I do prefer working with people one-on-one. Your question was, “How long did it take me to begin making money with it or to feel confident that it was a business…” but it isn’t that I never had to struggle, but I never really needed to look for work.

I think if you do something because it feels right to you and you receive acceptance because what you are doing is useful, it nurtures you in such a way that the financial part comes along. All of that helps get you referrals. People enjoy the service you offer and appreciate it and send you more business, so the money takes care of itself. I still live in the same neighborhood, and I never looked back after that first step of getting the business cards. I never entertained the idea of going back into the corporate world.

I think if you do something because it feels right to you and you receive acceptance because what you are doing is useful, it nurtures you in such a way that the financial part comes along.


Andrea: Usually they say that new companies take 3 years until they provide you with income. How long did it take for yours?

Helen: I would say within the first couple of months I was able to pay my bills. And then during these 12 years of being self-employed, some years were much more productive than others. Maybe I would be in a corporate environment where I came in to train executives or office people in particular software. My niche has always been software training, not troubleshooting hardware. It was more lucrative than working with individuals, and of course I found it more lucrative to work in a company where they might hire me for an 8-hour day of training. The corporate rate is such that I could make a lot of money in one day doing that compared to going from house-to-house working with individuals.

So in the busiest years when people in corporate did not know what they know now about using a computer, I did quite a bit of corporate training and it allowed me to keep my rates low for individuals. I also did speaking engagements about the importance of computers, and workshops on the internet. How the internet is helpful for people who are unemployed looking for work, and how it is very, very helpful for writers, and why people need websites; all of that was new to everyone at that time. So it is plenty of work to do for one person.

Andrea: You also wrote some books. What are the names of the books and what are they about?

Helen: The first book I wrote is called “Computer Ease.” I wrote it after 10 years of running my business, Computer Clarity. It was about all of the pleasure I had working with people and all of the fun they had learning what to do with the computer. People used to say, “You should write a book!”

I decided to write a book that was light-hearted and shares the philosophy and humor of coping with computers. It also explained things in common sense English, like “How to solve a print jam” or “All of the wonderful things that we can do with the internet. I wrote it to honor the clients that had been with me for those 10 years. After listening to people talk so much about their frustration with computers, I wrote a book that would turn their mindset around.

It was my big pitch that technology is not going to go away and we have to get comfortable with it and embrace it. I used humor because I know that relaxes people and makes it easier for them to cope. One of the pieces I did was, “Before you call tech support…” and it says silly things like, “Go to the bathroom… Feed the cat… Have some magazines in front of you because you will be on hold for awhile…” so people would relax.

It was my big pitch that technology is not going to go away and we have to get comfortable with it and embrace it. I used humor because I know that relaxes people and makes it easier for them to cope.

That book actually did really well, and I was surprised that it had a market beyond my current clients, but it did and it got me invited to speak as an author on the topic. Some people were also interested in how to get a book published and that has led to another aspect of my career. Writers would see me giving a talk about Computer Ease and they would ask how you write a book and get it published. I had self-published Computer Ease through print-on-demand technique. Do you know what that is?

Andrea: The book is only printed if somebody orders it?

Helen: Right. I knew that there was a limited market for Computer Ease because things change in computers so it would become out-of-date. Also I was targeting an audience of lay people that were not educated computer users. I just wanted to publish it myself and have it available on my 10th Anniversary to enjoy it.

I investigated different methods of self-publishing and I found print-on-demand to be ideal because the company puts the book together for you, charges a small amount of money, and it looks the same as every other book that is out. They make it available online so that it is available worldwide the day it is published. Then they fulfill orders and handle credit card processing and all of that, so my book was ready in a matter of months instead of years, as happens if you go the traditional route with an agent and a publisher.

Talking about getting published and helping writers led to a second book that I wrote in late 2007, “Release Your Writing - Book Publishing, Your Way!” Again I was asked to give talks and prepare hand-outs that explained the differences in book publishing. Because I was also a freelance writer, I had a huge community of people who knew me through my writing in the Chicago area and nationwide. So I was asked to speak at conferences on the techniques of getting published, and the importance of marketing your book to keep it alive and available everywhere.

Andrea: This book, “Release Your Writing”, does it help people who would like to write but who just can’t find the beginning?

Helen: No, it is not so much about the writing itself. It is about releasing your writing to get it published. It covers three parts. One part is about understanding the publishing industry and how to make the choice between traditional publishing, self-publishing, and print-on-demand. Another part explains handling word processing and manuscript formatting if you do self-publish so that people know how to create a table of contents and index and how to manage graphics. The third part is all about marketing.

Andrea: Your first book is about computers; what topics did you cover in this book?

Helen: The first book is the “Philosophy and Humor of Coping with Computers.” It talks about the shift in our intellectual ability to comprehend things by getting used to technology for people of all ages. A lot of it is written towards seniors who are lost in the computer world. Then there are parts of it that are very practical, hands-on problem-solving, such as understanding the difference between a software problem and a hardware problem. Much of the book is helping people appreciate the huge intellectual benefit we receive from having the internet. So it covers search techniques and I have explained what a search engine is and there are many tips and tricks on how to do all sorts of things with the computer.

I was amazed at the reception to the book. It was very widely and well-received and “Release Your Writing” was even better received. I am very pleased that I made the effort to say, “This is something that I want to do and I am just going to do it.” I didn’t listen to all of those books that tell you to write a book proposal and wait two years for an agent; I didn’t go that route. My timeframe was shorter and I am very pleased that it was, because both books were very well received and now I am asked to consult and speak on both topics.

My timeframe was shorter and I am very pleased that it was, because both books were very well received and now I am asked to consult and speak on both topics.

Andrea: How many copies did you sell of those books?

Helen: I would say “Computer Ease” was about 1500 copies and “Release Your Writing” is still selling; I think that I sold at least 2000 copies of it.

Andrea: Your first book, is it not sold anymore?

Helen: It is, and I probably sell 1-2 a month without my awareness of it through the publisher, online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. It has always been available online in the UK and Amazon’s other venues in different countries as well. When I give a presentation, of course I bring both books and sell them.

One of the reasons that they both continue to sell is because I have always been a big proponent of using the internet. “Release Your Writing” covers a great deal of how to keep your book alive through marketing techniques, most of which are internet marketing. “Computer Ease” is very visible on a lot of technology sites. I get reviews and blurbs and that keeps the sales going.

Andrea: Which book is your favorite one?

Helen: I would say, “Release Your Writing.” The reason is that it empowers people to understand the industry without needing a Master’s degree to do it. It gives them an opportunity to take charge and not wait their whole life. If you have a dream to do a book, this is the blueprint to get your book published, have it out and enjoy it. The rewards are wonderful. Most people that self-publish one book will self-publish another book afterwards. That is not to say that an agent or a publisher would not come along after seeing your book does well, and sometimes they do take over a book and reprint it. Self-publishing does not mean that you can’t get a chance of doing that in the future. It doesn’t limit anything; it just lets you realize your dream without other people telling you that you can’t.

Andrea: What do you like about having your own computer consulting business?

Helen: I was able to continually reinvent myself according to what my clients needed. Very often they do say in any kind of business, if you listen to your customers you will find out what they need. They almost tell you exactly what they want you to do. I found that was true when I was talking to a group of people and they would say, “That is interesting, but do you do ‘this’?” They will tell you exactly what they want you to offer. Because I was a one-person company, it was very easy for me to quickly adapt to meet people’s needs. I found it continually challenging and I still do, because people are always asking me for something more that they want to do with the computer. Because I am self-employed I can quickly get up to speed on what they wish to do, and help them achieve their goal.

I was able to continually reinvent myself according to what my clients needed. Very often they do say in any kind of business, if you listen to your customers you will find out what they need.

It is very, very satisfying to be self-employed, to be able to react to what the market needs on my own, without having to go through corporate policies, hierarchies, and procedures. I enjoy it tremendously and I am very, very glad that I was bold and brave enough to make the change. As my mother used to say, “It was the right time to do it.” And it was because computers were so new to people in 1996-1998 that there was a need for my type of consulting, and there still is today. There was a need I filled, and I never looked back.

Andrea: Why should you look back?
What does your best possible life look like?

Helen: I would say to have enough work to keep me challenged and always learning, but the flexibility and free time to travel and pursue new interests for myself, such as learning a foreign language or taking an interesting class. So I would like to have enough work but still be able to balance it with the rewards of life.

Andrea: In an email you wrote as your last sentence “Who would have expected this business to lead into so many pathways?” Can you imagine that there will be more of them?

Helen: That is a nice thing for you to say, and yes, I do, because what has occurred in this last year after “Release Your Writing” was the opportunity for many more speaking engagements and workshops. In the last year I was asked to speak around the country, including Washington, New York, and Wisconsin, which is not too far from where I live. To be asked to speak out of town and not just where people know you and reach a much broader audience is something that I didn’t expect to happen. A number of people have hired me to help them get their book produced.

So I work as a publishing advisor, which is something I never, ever dreamed would come of writing my book. I help people make the decision about what type of publishing they should do: traditional, self-publishing, or print-on-demand. And then help them achieve that goal, whether it is getting the manuscript in correct form or doing the marketing. I do websites for people and teach them how to use a blog as a marketing tool. Those are things that come from my work that I never expected when I started out. I believe that will continue to happen, that people will look to me as an advisor in different roles because I have a lifetime of expertise to share with them.

Andrea: Do you still have some dreams that are unfulfilled?

Helen: I would like to get the chance to travel more frequently without a purpose. The idea of just traveling for fun, to be somewhere else and absorb another culture without squeezing it in as a vacation is an unfulfilled dream.

The idea of just traveling for fun, to be somewhere else and absorb another culture without squeezing it in as a vacation is an unfulfilled dream.

Andrea: So right now you are traveling when you speak somewhere?

Helen: Yes. I do get one or two vacations a year, but the idea of just being able to travel without a timeframe is very appealing to me. You just decide to go somewhere and choose to stay a month, instead of calling it a vacation when you have a date you must return to work.

Andrea: What do you do when the fear of being rejected shows up?

Helen: I do it anyway because I always think, “What is the worst that could happen?” So often I do something and think people will appreciate it, but I don’t feel a lot of fear. I have never experienced writer’s block or fear of public speaking, but if I think something is not going to work, I wouldn’t do it. If I try something, I generally don’t worry about it not working. If that happens, then I will change course. I am personally optimistic that if you put yourself out there the right things will happen.

If I try something, I generally don’t worry about it not working. If that happens, then I will change course. I am personally optimistic that if you put yourself out there the right things will happen.


Andrea: What do you do when huge obstacles show up?

Helen: I find a way around them. I have never had a huge obstacle with my consulting business. But if I did, I don’t think it would hold me back; I would find another way to get things done.

Andrea: You told me that you also do some workshops? What are they about?

Helen: Most of the workshops I do now are not about technology but about writing. I do many to help people choose the path to publication. And I tell people that writing a book does not need to be a lifelong project. Writers can give themselves a deadline and motivation to get their book finished. Knowing the options of publishing really does free people to do that; to finish the book because you know that you have different avenues for getting it published.

Print-on-demand and self-publishing are becoming much more common, and even large publishing companies are now using print-on-demand to do short-print runs or to keep a book in circulation without having the financial commitment of 10,000-20,000 copies. I always tell people that no one is ever going to drive down your street and say, “I wonder if there is an author on this block?” You have to put it out there and then you will be rewarded.

Andrea: The books don’t provide you with much income, do they?

Helen: No, but they pay for themselves. When you self-publish a book, you might spend $400 in advance to get the book formatted and ready for printing. You share a percentage of each sale with the printing company. But in traditional publishing, if someone goes through an agent and a publisher and they get an advance for the book, they don’t receive any royalties until that advance is paid back to the publisher. Also, the agent takes a percentage. So there is less money for the author even when the book does sell well. In self-publishing and print-on-demand, the percentage that the author gets is significantly larger, like 30-50% of each sale. So you make more money per book, and if you have the opportunity to reach a wide audience, it is more lucrative than traditional publishing, unless you have a best-seller.

The way the publishing industry has changed today, they generally don’t even want to keep a title in print or keep it in the bookstores if it has not sold well by their standards. After 3-6 months, it is just gone. When you publish a book yourself, it never goes out of print and you can reprint copies whenever you wish. You don’t have a huge cash outlay because people are paying for it along the way as they purchase the book. To me it is a wonderful option. I like giving people the freedom of choice.

Andrea: Do you get hired as a speaker pretty often, where do you speak and for what reason?

Helen: Everything I have booked from the second half of last year through this year is on the topic of writing and publishing. Technology is so natural to us now there is less need to speak about that. I have events where I speak to small writing groups at a library or large groups in an auditorium on publishing and marketing. My workshops include a lot of demonstration on the internet of the resources available to people for publishing and keeping their book out there.

Andrea: Are you living life to the fullest?

Helen: No. The fullest would be taking the time to get more personal satisfaction from other areas of life such as travel, as I mentioned earlier.

Andrea: Do you mean other areas or just travel?

Helen: I would say travel and learning; continuing to take classes and learn languages; those appeal to me. Those are both within my reach but I just need to take the time to do them.

Andrea: Have you already studied some foreign languages?

Helen: No, not seriously. Before I went to Italy I taught myself Italian using the CDs on the computer and the same with Spanish. I learned enough to enjoy the trip, but I would like to be fluent in a couple of those languages.

Andrea: Do people around you support you?

Helen: Yes. I have a lot of friends and most of them are also self-employed. As a result, we are always trying to help each other get the next gig or opportunity. We like to promote each other.

Andrea: How should you treat a person who tries to restrain you from creating your best life?

Helen: I would recommend ignoring that person. Don’t let her or him influence what you are doing. They are probably not living their best life, either, so who are they to try to curtail what you are doing?

Andrea: What if it is a very close relative?

Helen: I have never had that experience. I can’t relate to that because I have never had that problem. I have always had tremendous support from people around me.

Andrea: That is really great. You are a lucky person.

Helen: I had not realized that but I appreciate you saying that.

Andrea: Do you encourage other people to create their best possible lives?

Helen: I do. It comes across in all of my workshops. My goal both in teaching people about computers and writing is to empower them to realize that it is up to them and they can do whatever they set out to do. I have seen the results among my clients who have taken those bold steps, and they are very, very happy now.

My goal both in teaching people about computers and writing is to empower them to realize that it is up to them and they can do whatever they set out to do.

Andrea: Based on what you have learned and experienced, what advice would you give to people who want to create their best possible lives?

Helen: I would say, “Don’t waste any time and don’t listen to the doubts or fears that come from you or other people. It is your life and you should just reach for it.”

Andrea: Could you tell me about a situation when you realized a dream even though it was difficult for you? Please explain how you found the courage to do it.

Helen: I don’t think I can because the only one that comes to my mind is leaving the corporate world to be self-employed. I didn’t really have to find the courage because it just felt like the right thing to do. I don’t think I have had the misfortune to be in that position so I can’t answer that.

Andrea: You are a really lucky person.

Helen: I do realize that. I don’t know how I ever became an optimist, but being an optimist goes a long, long way for people to have confidence in themselves.

Andrea: Do you have any regrets?

Helen: No, I do not.

Andrea: That is what I expected you to say. Thank you so much for this awesome and insightful interview, Helen!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Danny Kofke Interview - Fulfilling Your Purpose

Danny Kofke is a 33-year-old schoolteacher, and lives in Georgia. Danny believes that it is important to make money, but that there comes a point where happiness isn’t necessarily equated with a huge paycheck. It is Danny’s goal to leave a legacy on earth by making this world a better place and helping others to make their lives better. Danny’s message “You can be anything you want to be.” is simple, yet powerful. Visit Danny’s blog at www.DannyKofke.blogspot.com, and check out his book “How To Survive (And Perhaps Thrive) On A Teacher’s Salary”.

Andrea: Please tell me about a situation when you didn’t dare to live your dreams.

Danny: I am a big dreamer and I think good things happen to those that dream big. I have recently written a book, entitled, “How to Survive and Perhaps Thrive on a Teacher’s Salary.” I wrote it a few years ago and my original goal was to gear it towards teachers, but with the current economic situation and what is going on in the world, it definitely can benefit most people.

I am a big dreamer and I think good things happen to those that dream big.


I just want to change the world and change lives. Money is great to have and of course it would be nice to become a millionaire author, but that definitely is not my motivation. As a teacher, sometimes a parent says, “Gosh, Danny, thank you so much for doing what you have done for my kid. It has helped him so much.” That right there is worth a million dollars. That is what I hope for my book too; to change as many lives as I can and help people live a better life.

I just want to change the world and change lives.


Times are tough right now for a lot of people. I hope to inspire them and show them that you can have a job that you absolutely love, which I do as a schoolteacher. I think most people agree that schoolteachers are not paid what they are worth. It is not horrible pay, but it is not great, either. You can have a job that may not pay much money, but deep down inside you know that you are doing what you love and you are doing what you are meant to do on this earth and that is it for me. I feel I was put on this earth to teach. My life is a wonderful, wonderful life.

You can have a job that may not pay much money, but deep down inside you know that you are doing what you love and you are doing what you are meant to do on this earth and that is it for me.

Andrea: Was there a situation in your life when you didn’t dare to live your dreams?

Danny: I think right now that every day is a dream for me. I have always wanted to be a teacher – that was my dream. But a few years ago I was actually out of the teaching profession. I took a job with a chance to double or triple my salary and I did that for a few months, but I wasn’t contented, and even though I was making more money, it didn’t fulfill my dream. So I got back into teaching and now I am living my dream again.

Andrea: Was it difficult for you to go back to your life as a teacher?

Danny: Financially speaking, it was a little hard. Although I wasn’t making double the teaching salary yet, I was making more than I did as a teacher. But at the end of the day, I didn’t feel complete as a person. Having a nice paycheck, yes, it means something, and it is nice to have a roof over your head and clothes on your back and the necessities, but if you go to a job that you don’t love and you don’t feel passionate about, money can only go so far. I sat down with my wife to discuss it and she saw that the fire was not there. She knew how passionate I was about teaching and how much I loved it and she agreed wholeheartedly. She said, “You need to be a teacher. That was what you were put on this earth to do.” It was difficult for a while to get used to a teacher’s salary again, but like I said before, you can’t wait to go to a job that you love. That is priceless.

Having a nice paycheck, yes, it means something, and it is nice to have a roof over your head and clothes on your back and the necessities, but if you go to a job that you don’t love and you don’t feel passionate about, money can only go so far.

Andrea: I agree with you.

Danny: It is important to have money, I realize, but there are so many people nowadays that are trapped in a job that they don’t like. They feel stuck. I didn’t want to be one of those people. Life is short. We only have a certain amount of time on earth and to me you have to do the best you can to fulfill your purpose and that is what I hope I am doing.

We only have a certain amount of time on earth and to me you have to do the best you can to fulfill your purpose and that is what I hope I am doing.


Andrea: Does your wife stay at home with the kids?

Danny: Yes. She was a schoolteacher when we got married. A lot of people don’t plan ahead, but we did. We talked about one day, hopefully, we would have kids and we prepared for that day. So for the first 4 years of our marriage she kept teaching, but we tried to live on my salary and put hers away, and pay off any debt that we had. Now I make a moderate income but yet she is able to stay at home and raise our two daughters. Our oldest Ava is 4 and Ella is 1, and my wife Tracey has been home full time for the last 3 years. I hope she will be able to continue to stay home, as she loves that.
At first, she was pretty much a career driven woman. She loved being a teacher and probably hoped to become an administrator one day, but after staying home that first year, she realized how much she enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom. We worked hard and now we are enjoying it. I get to go to a job that I love and I get to have my wife stay at home and raise our two little girls. That to me is just wonderful; it is a great thing.

Andrea: It is also great that your wife really enjoys staying at home.

Danny: Yes, she absolutely loves it. She would not trade it for the world. She was a Teacher of the Year a few times and was nationally certified here in the states as a wonderful, wonderful teacher. But she has found her joy at home, spending time with our girls. We will never get this time back and that was important to us, to help them grow. Who else would I want to teach my children? She gets such joy out of it. I don’t know if you would call it her dream, but I don’t think she would trade it for anything else in the world right now.

Andrea: I have seen your book on your blog. Is it about financial education?

Danny: It is about financial education, absolutely. It shows how my family has done well despite earning a moderate income. Tracey and I lived in Europe for two years and we taught at an American International School in Poland. We traveled to 10 countries and we honeymooned in Venice. When we came home, we still traveled around in the States, and to me, we live a very, very wealthy life on a $40,000/year income. That is what I want to show others and inspire them to do. Yes, it is important to make money, but there does come a point where happiness isn’t necessarily equated with a huge paycheck. That is what I hope to show.
According to a study done by the National Education Association, 50% of teachers quit within 5 years and that was partially due to the low salaries. However, according to another study, teaching ranks among the top 10 most gratifying jobs. I know how much my job means to me, and I wanted to show others that there is a way that you can have the job that you love. My book was geared towards teachers, but now in this bad economic situation, a lot of people are getting laid off of jobs. I want to show them that you don’t have to chase a huge paycheck, because in a year or less, you might get laid off or fired. So if there is any silver lining to the financial mess that we are in, it’s that people are starting to realize that in the long run a large paycheck does not bring true happiness to you.

So if there is any silver lining to the financial mess that we are in, it’s that people are starting to realize that in the long run a large paycheck does not bring true happiness to you.

If I went to the store right now and bought a brand new shirt, of course, when I put it on it feels good. You can say, “Oh, I got a new shirt and this is nice.” But after you wear the shirt a few times, it is not new anymore. If you are trapped in a cycle of needing materialistic things to make you happy, you are trapped in a vicious cycle. I think too many of us get caught up in it and we are paying the price now, but it is a great learning opportunity, too. I hope people take the time right now to analyze life and realize what is important.

Andrea: Your calling is to be a teacher?

Danny: I think so. I am an elementary school teacher, teaching special needs children right now. I love it, but after writing the book, I have had the opportunity to go out and teach adults about financial literacy. It is another way of teaching, and teaching is definitely my calling. I love teaching both children and adults. I have gotten a few e-mails and letters from people that have thanked me, saying I made their lives easier and helped them understand finances better, and this means everything to me. It is just so wonderful to know that you can have an impact on someone. We are all on this earth for a short period of time. While it is nice to have things, when you are lying on your deathbed, it doesn’t matter if you have the biggest house or the biggest car. But if you can say, “I made this world a better place and helped someone to make their lives better,” that is leaving a legacy and that is what I am going for.

While it is nice to have things, when you are lying on your deathbed, it doesn’t matter if you have the biggest house or the biggest car. But if you can say, “I made this world a better place and helped someone to make their lives better,” that is leaving a legacy and that is what I am going for.

Andrea: Except being a teacher, do you encourage other people to create their best possible lives?

Danny: Absolutely. No matter what you want to do, financial literacy helps people have their best life. I want to show others that on a moderate income, if you are smart, you plan ahead and you live below your means, you can still do well financially and live the life of your dreams. Having a job that you enjoy getting up for every day is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
I feel so bad for people who cannot follow their dreams. I think if you love your job and you feel passionate about it then you are living out your dreams. Part of it is that you have to be financially literate or you are not going to do well on a moderate income. In almost any job, you have to have control of your finances or you are going to find yourself in trouble.

In almost any job, you have to have control of your finances or you are going to find yourself in trouble.

Andrea: Has your family always supported you to live your dream?

Danny: Yes. I was lucky enough to grow up in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house with a younger brother. In America, the home crisis has gotten so ridiculously huge that a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house is not a common thing among families. Over in Europe I know it is more common. We lived I would say a very wealthy life, even though we didn’t have many material things. My mother stayed home until I was 13 and my brother was 11. We had one car for awhile, but despite not having a lot of material things, we were a very, very happy family and they encouraged both my brother and me to go into professions and follow dreams that we love. My mom was a nurse and I am a teacher and my brother Kyle is a firefighter. All three of those jobs are not highly paid. The money is OK, but you have to have your heart in the right place too. Those kinds of jobs you have to have a calling for. It is interesting that both my brother and I, we have service-oriented jobs and I definitely think it is because of my parents’ influence and examples that they set.

Andrea: What do you love the most about being a teacher?

Danny: I teach what is called a severe profound class, so my children all have IQs that are below 30. I have children in wheelchairs and some are tube-fed and need a change of diapers. They don’t really communicate and are pretty low functioning, but I just love them. The look in their eyes and the smile on their face when they see me and I do simple things with them, and can tell they “get it” is wonderful. They look at me with those big eyes and they smile. Some of the goals for my children are very low. For one child it might be, if I say your name, you are going to smile at me. When I get that smile or a hug, it is just a wonderful thing. These are the great things about being a teacher.
I used to teach first grade and kindergarten before, and I loved that too. It is just a wonderful feeling to know that you are helping children and helping them to become valuable members of society. But with my special needs children, there are times I look in their eyes and their souls are so sweet and you just know that there is something in there that is ready to burst out. God made them the way they are. Maybe one day they will start talking, and maybe not. Sometimes I envision when we all pass on maybe I will see them in the next life and they will be perfectly fine and they will say, “Hey, Mr. Kofke, thanks so much for helping me.” It is just a neat feeling.
I have the patience to teach special needs children, and I love it. They are such joyful children. You can learn so much from them. I once had a student whose happiest moment of the day was eating marshmallows. I thought, “Wow! How great that he is just so content eating marshmallows and we are constantly in search of the next big thing, such as a bigger house or a bigger car. This child is just content eating marshmallows.” I learn from them that sometimes it is the little things in life that count the most and not these big things.

I learn from the children that sometimes it is the little things in life that count the most and not these big things.

Andrea: It sounds very rewarding.

Danny: It is very rewarding. Some days are harder than others like in any job, and sometimes it can be frustrating, but overall I wouldn’t trade my position in life with anyone in the world. I do love it.

Andrea: If you wouldn’t trade it, then it is the right job for you.
You wrote me that you get tired of people who say that they cannot do things?

Danny: I know that everyone’s situation is different. I know that sometimes the chips may be stacked against you and there are times that it is tough to do things, but as a teacher, I never liked the words, “I can’t.” I think people give up too easily. If you want to change your life and do something, you are the only one who can start the process. There are so many people who say, “I can’t do this; I couldn’t do that…” and then 20 years down the road they look back and say, “I wish I would have done this…I wish I would have done that…” and it just bugs me. As I said before, life is short and you have to grab it by the horns and go for it. Just give it your all and leave no stone unturned. That is the way I try live my life. I never want to look back and say, “I missed this opportunity. I didn’t do that…”

I think people give up too easily. If you want to change your life and do something, you are the only one who can start the process.

I look at our recent election where an African American was elected as President. Think of how he grew up in poverty and didn’t even know his dad, and yet he is the President of the United States. Also for women out there, I think it was great that we had Hillary Clinton almost as our President. And then there is Sarah Palin who could have been the Vice President. I just think it is great that it doesn’t matter what skin color you have, and it doesn’t matter what type of family you were born into, you can be anything you want to be. Yes, you have to have some breaks, and President Obama had some breaks in his life. But I think a lot of us do get those breaks, and you have to take advantage of them.

I just think it is great that it doesn’t matter what skin color you have, and it doesn’t matter what type of family you were born into, you can be anything you want to be.


Sometimes people say it is luck. I think that luck happens when opportunity meets preparation. If you want to do something, don’t make any excuses. Go out and try it. If it doesn’t happen, then it is all right and you should move on. But at least you know that you tried and gave it your all. That is what I recommend to people when they say that they want to do this or that. I just say, “Go for it. Don’t let anyone hold you back and don’t let anyone tell you differently.” I didn’t know I would ever write a book. I thought about it when I was a little boy, and now I have written a book. I am going to promote it and try to help change lives. I have been on a few talk shows and radio shows, and there have been people that have rejected me and said, “We are not interested in talking to you.” I just move on and I keep trying. That is what I hope to show others – you can be anything you want to be.

That is what I recommend to people when they say that they want to do this or that. I just say, “Go for it. Don’t let anyone hold you back and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

Andrea: Do you recommend people to never give up no matter how huge the obstacles are?

Danny: Obviously there are some big obstacles that people have to overcome. I would take baby steps towards a goal. Don’t try to tackle it all at once. Let’s think about losing weight as an example. Let’s say that you have 50 pounds overweight. You won’t lose 50 pounds in 2 weeks. That would be crazy. You would fail, and you would quit your diet and then you would gain even more weight. But you break it down into smaller steps. “This week I am going to lose 3 pounds, and the next week I am going to lose 2 pounds…” and you just keep going on and on. You build up momentum, and then eventually you lose 50 pounds.
Maybe when Barack Obama was a little boy he wanted to be President, but there were a lot of steps he had to take along the way. He had to get involved with politics, he had to become a Senator, and he had to move up. He took small steps to get to that big goal. Break any goal down into smaller and more attainable steps.

Break any goal down into smaller and more attainable steps.


When Tracey and I first married we wanted for her to be able to stay home when we had children. We didn’t have much money at first and couldn’t say, “Right now we want to have $20,000 so you can stay home.” It doesn’t happen like that. We set a goal: OK, this month we are going to save this amount of money and the next month we are going to save that amount of money. We just kept going and going, and by the end of 4 years we had an adequate amount of money for her to be able to stay home. Even though you break it down into small steps, you keep the big picture in mind.

Andrea: I understand that very well.
Is being a teacher your only dream or do you have any other dreams?

Danny: I am living some of my dreams being a teacher, but there have been some bigger goals out there. I would really love one day to become a financial advisor and speaker and go around the country or the world to inspire other people. Show them how they can do well in their finances and be able to live a life that they want to live. Right now I am still content with my teaching job. With two young daughters it would be hard to travel. But eventually over time and especially if my book evolves and I get more opportunities, maybe 10-15 years down the road I would like to be a motivational speaker.
If even 50% of the people on earth followed their dreams and got the most from it, just think of how awesome this world would be. If people could control their finances in order to follow their dreams, I think there would endlessly great things happen in this world.

If even 50% of the people on earth followed their dreams and got the most from it, just think of how awesome this world would be.


Andrea: So you believe that controlling your finances is the first step towards realizing your dreams?

Danny: Partially, yes. Let’s say you wanted to be an artist. During those first few years, you might not generate a lot of money, and you might have to live a very, very strict lifestyle. If you can control your finances at first and live within your means, then you will be able to build up your dream life.
Let’s say you wanted to be a teacher but you know that teachers start off at $35,000/year, while another job you don’t want offers you $60,000/year. If you don’t know how to live on less, you are going to take that higher paying job even if you don’t like it.
When you are making $60,000/year, and if you are like most people, you are going to spend every single cent. You could never become a teacher, even though that is your dream, because you don’t know how to live on a lesser salary. I think getting control of your finances is definitely the first step to live out your dreams.

I think getting control of your finances is definitely the first step to live out your dreams.


Andrea: I believe that sometimes people don’t dare to live their dreams because they are scared of getting rejected. What do you do when the fear of being rejected shows up?

Danny: You are always going to be rejected by someone in life. It is just a fact of life. Don’t take it personally, since they just might not have a need for what you are offering. It never hurts to ask. If you don’t ask, you are going to be in the same situation as if you get rejected.

If you don’t ask, you are going to be in the same situation as if you get rejected.


Let’s say I was going to be on a radio show and I emailed the producers what I am going to talk about. They might say, “No. Your topic doesn’t fit.” That is fine. But if I am afraid even to ask these people, what am I going to get? I am going to get nothing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. This is the way I handle fear and rejection.

Andrea: What about people who try to restrain you from creating your best life? What advice would you give someone who has such people around?

Danny: I wouldn’t hang around them. I try not to hang around negative people, because negative people only bring you down. There are some people who in their lives have not followed their hopes and dreams and then they become jealous of someone who has a chance to do this. They try to drag them down. Misery loves company. I always try to surround myself with people that I aspire to be like and learn from. Those are the types of people that I would hang out with. I wouldn’t hang out with people that are negative and try to bring me down.

There are some people who in their lives have not followed their hopes and dreams and then they become jealous of someone who has a chance to do this. They try to drag them down.

Andrea: I believe that this is difficult if a close relative is negative. What should you do in this case?

Danny: You would have to look at their lives. Let’s say your mother is constantly being negative towards you. Sit down and analyze your mom’s life and ask yourself, “Why is she so negative?” You need to see that there are probably some hopes and dreams that she had when she was young, but she was not able to pursue them for whatever reason. I know I want my children to become as successful as possible, but there are some mothers who become jealous of their children because they are living a better life. But if you really look at it, then you can recognize it for what it is and not get into this trap. You’ll always love your mom and dad, but you don’t have to agree with everything that they say. If you know that your mother or father is going to be negative towards you, I would just prepare yourself when you go to their house. It is kind of sad that they are that way, but don’t let them drag you down.

Andrea: If you won a million dollars in the lottery, would that change your life?

Danny: We just had this conversation at work. One of my co-workers said, “Oh, if I won it would make me so much happier.” I questioned that and said, “I don’t think it would make me happier.” She said, “I would be able to do this and that…” and I said, “But it is not going to make you happier.”
Would it change my life? Of course a million dollars would absolutely change my life, but I don’t think it would change me as a person. I think it would ensure that Tracey would get to stay home indefinitely for as long as she wants. It would probably ensure that I could take some more days off of my teaching job and go teach others about financial education and I wouldn’t have to get a paycheck.
I think a lot of money makes you more of the person you already are. If you are a giver and get joy in that, then I think if you had a lot of money, you would be able to give more. If you are miserable, stingy and greedy with your money, the more money you have the stingier and greedier you are going to be. You are probably going to complain more about how the government is taking money from you. A million dollars would probably change most people’s lives, but I don’t think it would make me any happier. I am so happy with what I already have. For many people, the lottery becomes a curse, since relatives and other people start asking them for money.

I think a lot of money makes you more of the person you already are.

Andrea: Winning a huge amount of money in the lottery would give you more opportunities to teach to a specific kind of audience.

Danny: Yes. I wouldn’t need my paycheck for teaching. I like the thought of giving people that are really hurting some help. In the St. Louis area there is a wealthy businessman who dresses up as Santa Claus, and he just hands out hundred dollar bills to people. I think, “How cool would it be to be able to say to a mother in the store who is probably struggling with her three kids, “Here is $100 and I want you to have a nice Christmas with your kids.” In that aspect I guess it would make me happier to be able to do this. You know when you give, not necessarily money, but you just give of yourself as a teacher, a nurse or a firefighter, it has such intrinsic value that it just makes you feel so good inside. That is worth a million dollars.

You know when you give, not necessarily money, but you just give of yourself as a teacher, a nurse or a firefighter, it has such intrinsic value that it just makes you feel so good inside.

Andrea: Do you like traveling?

Danny: We love traveling. When we were over in Europe we traveled as much as we could and in the states, we traveled around as much as possible. Now we have a 1- and a 4-year old, so we would not get the joy out of Paris or Venice or Florence as before. Now with the young ones, our vacations are centered around beaches and swimming pools and things that kids like, such as Disney World. But as my daughters get older, I definitely envision us as a family taking trips to more historical places when they will have a better appreciation of them. It is neat to see how other people live and you can learn so much from other cultures. It also improves the way we live our lives at home.

Andrea: Have you figured out a cheap way of traveling?

Danny: We don’t travel as much as we did before we had kids. We drive most of the time. It is not like in Europe where you have to get passports and go through different countries; it is a little easier. In Europe we looked at airline and hotel deals and Travelocity.com. We did it the cheapest way possible. We liked to go off the beaten path and not go to all of the tourist traps. We found some of the best restaurants we ate at that were little hole-in-the-wall places that no one had ever heard of, but they had great food. This can cut down the cost of traveling, too. So many people go to the most famous restaurants and sites. If you are willing to be a little adventurous, you can find some wonderful things, wonderful food and cool sites, and stay at some neat hotels that cost less than the elaborate and more recognizable ones.

Andrea: So based on what you have learned and experienced, what advice would you give to people who want to create their best possible lives?

Danny: Dream big and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. That to me is the #1 thing. Don’t let others hold you down. If you feel passionate about something and it is inside you and that is what you want to do, go for it! If you don’t achieve that goal, to me, that is not a failure. A failure is someone who doesn’t even try to attain goals. If you give all you’ve got and use every single ounce of your body to achieve it; that to me is a success. You will learn something about yourself through that process that is going to make you even more successful.

If you give all you’ve got and use every single ounce of your body to achieve it; that to me is a success. You will learn something about yourself through that process that is going to make you even more successful.

Andrea: And perhaps some other opportunities might come along the way?

Danny: Yes, you learn more from the journey than from the destination. There are many things that you learn on the way to achieving your goal. Maybe you venture off into something else and you say, “Wow! This is something I really, really love,” and it might be something that you never even thought about and that could turn into your dream instead.

Andrea: I agree with you. Do you have any regrets?

Danny: I honestly can’t say that I have any regrets in my life. I wouldn’t change anything and I wouldn’t do any decisions over. There are some stupid little things that I did growing up as a high school kid. Everyone makes mistakes and we all have done foolish things in our past, but if we didn’t do those, who knows what type of person we would be today? I look at everything I have done, even those things that turn out to be not so good, and they are learning opportunities. The past is the past and there is nothing you can do about it, but you can learn from it. It goes along with these people whose homes have been foreclosed, and they have found themselves in trouble. It is done and there is nothing you can do about it now, but if you learn from it and move forward then you will never let it happen again and you become stronger.

The past is the past and there is nothing you can do about it, but you can learn from it.


I am a schoolteacher and I wrote a book and that was one of my dreams. Through that I have been able to get some pretty good media coverage and been on a few shows and featured in some newspapers. It is just because I had this dream that I want to change lives and make the world a better place. Even a little old school teacher from a small town in Georgia can do it. This may help others to go out and give it their all and leave no stone unturned.

Even a little old school teacher from a small town in Georgia can do it. This may help others to go out and give it their all and leave no stone unturned.


Andrea: I believe that nowadays it is even easier to get media attention because we have those great opportunities in the internet. 10 years ago people did not have these opportunities.

Danny: Yes, the internet has made it even easier. There is no excuse not to try and do what you love. There are ample opportunities and all you have to do is look it up online and you are on your way. There is one less roadblock out there now because of the internet.

There is one less roadblock out there now because of the internet.


Andrea: How do we know what is possible in our lives?

Danny: Look at people who have come from modest backgrounds, and might have had some tragedy in their lives, but they have still become pretty important people and they have helped others. To me they are just very positive examples of following your dreams and living your life to the fullest. Even if you have had some setbacks, learn from your mistakes and move on. One day you, too, can become the President.

Andrea: Danny, I thank you so much for this great and interesting interview!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

formspring.me

how has karate impacted your life?

When I was young, I was afraid to walk alone outside on the streets at night. When I was a child, I was even very shy and so I didn't speak much to people who I didn't know well.

Karate offered me the opportunity to shout out aloud without having a conflict with someone. It taught me how to defend myself when someone tries to harm me physically. I quite often walk outside alone at night without being afraid.

Karate has shown me that becoming powerful is a good way to claim your life. It has given me self confidence and a sense of awareness and well-being. Focusing on the present moment has helped me dealing with little and bigger problems in life.

After a karate lesson, I usually feel that everything that bothered me before the lesson started has become less important and easier to manage. Moreover, of course, practising karate has improved my physical, emotional and mental health and power.

Ask me anything

Friday, January 22, 2010

Louisa Chu Interview - Living Your Dreams In This One Life

Louisa Chu is chef, writer, television producer and adventurer, and lives in Chicago, IL. After having worked as an entertainment reporter, she attended Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris finishing in both cuisine and pastry. In summer 2008, she went to Alaska to be her own chef on a fishing boat and lodge. Louisa’s dream is to open ephemeral restaurants around the world featuring experimental, frontier food. Together with her sister, Louisa would like to write a Chinese-American lifestyle guide, and help foster kids to help themselves, help others, and help dogs. Check out her culinary website at http://www.movable-feast.com.

Andrea: Louisa, where are you from originally?

Louisa: I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Chicago, then lived in Los Angeles for 7 years, then moved to Paris, and I have been living between Paris and Chicago for about the last 5 years.

Andrea: You have completed the courses in both cuisine and pastry in Paris.

Louisa: Yes; I went to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris. When I lived in Los Angeles I worked as an entertainment reporter, primarily covering celebrity trials. It was very fun and exciting but also very depressing, as you can probably imagine, and so I thought, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” I always wanted to be a food writer. I grew up in the restaurant business in Chicago but thought I needed a little more formal training. I had considered going to the Culinary Institute of America in the US, which is the Harvard of culinary schools, or to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, primarily because I have always loved French cuisine and every major culture’s fine dining history has had a reference to French cuisine. That is where Julia Child went who is a famous chef, cookbook writer, and television personality. I think it was clinched when right before I decided to leave Los Angeles and I was considering where to go, I went to one of the National Parks in Utah and talked to one of the park rangers. We were talking about this, and he had no idea, of course, about the CIA School. He knew about the CIA Spy Agency, but when I mentioned Cordon Bleu this guy, right in the middle of nowhere said, “Oh yes; of course!” He knew all about it. So I decided to go and live in France, in Paris, and study French cuisine at its very basic core. I studied cuisine and pastry. And one of the main reasons I went there is also because I received a scholarship from the James Beard Foundation, a culinary organization, to attend there, so that certainly helped.

I thought “What do I want to do when I grow up?” I always wanted to be a food writer.

Andrea: How did you get the scholarship?

Louisa: I had to write an essay. Every year they offer scholarships to attend culinary schools around the world and that was the one that I wanted. So I wrote an essay about my experience with food and submitted it. I didn’t hear anything for months and I thought, “Oh; I didn’t get it.” I had already decided to go, anyway. Then I found out maybe 2 days after I arrived in France that I won the scholarship.

Andrea: What were other jobs that you had besides being an entertainment reporter?

Louisa: My first job ever? I have been working almost as long as I can remember. Because I grew up in the restaurant business, I literally remember skipping one of my first days of kindergarten when I was 4 years old, I think it was to help open one of my family’s restaurants, and I remember folding menus. I can’t remember my first real job.

Andrea: During your college time you worked probably at your family’s business at the restaurant?

Louisa: Yes. During college I worked part-time at two of my family’s restaurants in the Chicago area. One was a Chinese/American restaurant; just a basic Chinese/American chop suey restaurant. The other restaurant was a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant. I worked part-time on the weekend at both of those restaurants during college. But ironically, all through high school and college, I vowed never to work in the restaurant business ever. You know when you grow up in those situations you work every weekend and all holidays, and so in college I studied journalism. I actually bounced around a little bit. I studied economics and design, and then journalism is what I graduated with. My first job when I graduated was producing television and radio shows, which of course is a whole other chapter. Those were my first jobs out of college.

Andrea: So this first one was in the radio business?

Louisa: My first professional job after college was producing a pay-per-view television show. Two local radio hosts in Chicago were doing a New Year’s Eve special and I started out as an intern on that show. In the course of a few months, I became an executive producer.
After that, they were looking for a producer for their radio show, and asked me if I would stay on and produce their weekday show. So that was my first real long-term job out of college.

Andrea: And this second job was being an entertainment reporter?

Louisa: No, that was about third or fourth. I think I produced another couple of radio shows in the Chicago area and then I moved out to LA. I was working in production companies and as a producer for some small film projects, and between that I was also freelancing and had my own network where I wrote and reported entertainment stories from LA. I developed my own network of independent radio stations; mostly alternative music stations that didn’t have a very serious news department. I was covering entertainment stories and a lot of those happened to be about celebrity trials. Those are the types of stories that everyone is interested in. At the time I arrived it was at the end of the OJ trial, and I left right at the beginning of Wynona Ryder. It was quite an interesting time.

Andrea: How did you recognize that you needed a change from being an entertainment reporter to attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris?

Louisa: It was three things that happened at the same time. One was the Wynona Ryder story; I don’t know if you remember when she was caught shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills? I lived right next door to that Saks Fifth Avenue and used to walk my dog there. I knew people who worked there and so I had heard what happened from them. I had already seen how stories are spun by celebrity PR people, but to have that happen almost right outside my front door, and then to hear the other side of it, and see how those worlds of reality and fiction had nothing to do with each other was so disturbing. I thought, “Wow! What a disturbed place it was that I was living and working in.”

I had already seen how stories are spun by celebrity PR people, but to have that happen almost right outside my front door, and then to hear the other side of it, and see how those worlds of reality and fiction had nothing to do with each other was so disturbing.

Andrea: So the truth was so much different than what reporters wrote about it?

Louisa: Yes. The reporters were writing primarily what the publicists were saying.

Andrea: You said that the reporters take what they write from the publicists; but the publicists, where do they get their information?

Louisa: From their heads. I shouldn’t say that this happens with all publicists, but their goal is to make their client look good and many of them do that very well. That was the first thing.
The second thing was that one of my neighbors who I thought was the nicest guy in my building was arrested by the FBI for some sort of fraud. I was already planning on moving out by that point, but had not quite decided when to move to Paris, and then they literally raided our building. It was like, “This is so disturbing!”
Then the third thing was about one of my sister’s neighbors in her building. I should say that my neighbor had celebrity connections to his family as well, and had gotten involved in some sort of scam so that the FBI raided our building. My sister’s neighbor was a 17-18 year old girl from Indiana who died after a drug overdose, and her body was discovered in her building a day or two later. She was another one of those tragic Hollywood stories – a young girl who came out from the Midwestern United States to be a star and this is what happened.

It was all those things happening at the same time. It really seemed to say, “You are done.” My boyfriend at the time had decided the year before that he always wanted to be a yacht captain, so he went to England to a school where he studied how to be a yacht master. He got his certification as a Royal Yachting Association Yacht Master, and then the next year it was my turn. I was going to be a food writer, so I moved to France and that is what we did then. It was a series of good and bad events which led up to this.

Andrea: Did this culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, meet your expectations?

Louisa: It exceeded some of my expectations, actually, but also did not meet others. It exceeded my expectations in that it allowed me to experience the actual cooking part of it, far greater than I ever expected. I should emphasize that originally I had decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu only to be a better food writer, not to be a chef. Le Cordon Bleu is a 9-month program in the school, and then another optional 6 months training at restaurants in Paris. It was about a year and a half total. Then I was going to be a full-time food writer, not a chef.

Once I started cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, I saw the comparison between the cooking that I had grown up with, which was good, but certainly not at a fine level at all. Le Cordon Bleu allowed me to experience cooking at an extremely high level. It was like going to a space camp or an Olympic camp. Your whole life you had been just finger painting and then suddenly you are working with fine artists. It was amazing, and that was what has led me into cooking at an extremely high level for the past few years. That was one of the things that exceeded my expectations.

Le Cordon Bleu allowed me to experience cooking at an extremely high level. It was like going to a space camp or an Olympic camp. Your whole life you had been just finger painting and then suddenly you are working with fine artists.

One of the things where it failed my expectations was that I was expecting that everyone else was there for some very serious reasons, too, and I thought that we were all going to sit around in a cafeteria and talk about food and have some great experiences. But sadly, most of the other classmates really just wanted to get in and out of there as quickly as possible.

Andrea: So they were not really interested in talking?

Louisa: Some were, but for the most part it was kind of like a junior year abroad. You had to be 18, so it was a chance to get away from family and friends and drink.

Andrea: Some of them really didn’t appreciate the opportunity that they got there?

Louisa: Exactly.

Andrea: That is a shame.

Louisa: It was completely. For example, you sit through a three-hour demonstration or an hour and a half demonstration. You had three hours then to go and make the dish that you had seen demonstrated. Well, I had fully intended to take every minute of those three hours because that is part of what you paid for, the time that you are there, and so I loved it. They did the grunt work in the shopping and a lot of the basic prep work, and then you get to go in and just cook the dish, which was amazing and wonderful. Then we also had the opportunity to take home all of the food that we cooked in the class. I was like, “Yes! Of course!” A lot of the students who were there were by themselves. A lot of them, sadly, would just try to get through and cook everything that they had to cook as quickly as possible, and didn’t necessarily care about the quality because they were just going to throw it all away. That was kind of disappointing. But otherwise I really loved and appreciated the experience.

Andrea: How long did you stay there?

Louisa: In the school itself it was about a year, and then after that I did the internship, which was about another 6 months in total.

Andrea: What did you do after that? Did you stay in Paris or did you return to Chicago or Los Angeles?

Louisa: I stayed for a few months after I finished and then I came back to Chicago. I was waiting for my work visa because I had spoken with the chef that I had apprenticed with and told him that I wanted to work for him, not as just an apprentice or an intern, but to be hired and paid. What I should specify too is that the apprenticeships are unpaid. Then I came back to Chicago to wait for my work visa and then I did another stage at a restaurant called El Bouli in Spain. I should also specify that the restaurant where I staged in Paris; actually it was two separate stages; the first was a pastry stage at the Hotel Plaza Athenée and then the second was a cuisine stage in the fine dining restaurant in the same hotel. That was the restaurant Alain Ducasse. Then after I left the internships and left school completely, I did another stage at El Bouli.
Andrea: Did you learn French?

Louisa: I already spoke French. Let me say that I had studied French in high school and in college and so I could read and write French and understand it fine, but had never really had the chance to speak French. But when I was working there, I learned a whole different kind of French; a lot of profanity and a lot of sexist, racist terminology that I had never learned before. It can be a very aggressive language and I would have to say that even now, when I need to speak French again, I have to adjust myself to the audience and make sure that I am speaking polite French. Sometimes it is almost like a post traumatic stress disorder and I might respond too harshly to someone. So I had to learn a whole new kind of French.

Andrea: Did you learn some food expressions?

Louisa: The food expressions are the ones that I knew already just about better than anything else. It was really just the conversational chit-chat and insults that I had to learn. Those are the sort of things that you learn in real-life situations that you don’t ever learn anywhere else.

Andrea: After this time, where did you go?

Louisa: After that, I was in Spain, and then after Spain I came back to Chicago for a short while; I think a few months. And then I moved back to Paris because I got my work visa and was hired to work as a chef at a restaurant called Les Ambassadeurs in the Hotel De Crillon in Paris.

Andrea: Now you are not in Paris anymore, so you went back to the US again?

Louisa: Yes. I was really splitting my time between Paris and Chicago for some years and working as a consultant on some different projects, doing food travel tours and working on television production, and also working as a food writer. I have really been trying to do as much as possible in all three areas that I always enjoyed, which is cooking, writing and producing television.

I have really been trying to do as much as possible in all three areas that I always enjoyed, which is cooking, writing and producing television.

Andrea: You have a variety of professions that you can lean back on.

Louisa: Thank goodness, because each of them alone is a little bit scary to depend on. The good thing is that I really do love doing all of those things..

Andrea: I heard that you went to Alaska for awhile?

Louisa: Yes. Last summer I was the chef for a fishing boat and lodge in Alaska. That came up out of the blue. In early May I got an urgent call from a childhood friend. This is actually a funny situation. It was a girl that I was best friends with in grade school as a child, but not since then. We had not been in touch for a long time. Her boyfriend was a fishing boat captain and had a small lodge, and his chef had just been arrested. It happens more often than you think in Alaska. So they were trying to find a new chef as soon as possible. I got the call on a Friday, and the following Sunday their first clients were going to arrive for the fishing season in Alaska for three to four months. As I was trying to help them find a replacement, I kept thinking, “I have always wanted to do this. I have always wanted to go to Alaska and cook there…” When you get into the chef circuit, you hear about these stories, “Oh so-and-so went to Alaska for the season…” and you think, “That is very exciting!” And at the time on the Discovery Channel here in the US, they were running a series of TV shows called “The Alaska Experiment” and “It’s Tougher in Alaska.” Seeing all of these things combined I thought, “Oh, this is very exciting!”

As I was trying to help them find a replacement, I kept thinking, “I have always wanted to do this. I have always wanted to go to Alaska and cook there…” When you get into the chef circuit, you hear about these stories, “Oh so-and-so went to Alaska for the season…” and you think, “That is very exciting!”

I thought, “Why don’t I do it?” I made a list of the pros and cons, and finally I thought, “OK; I am just going to do it!” I made the decision over the weekend, I bought my ticket to go, and by the following Friday I was in Alaska. I arrived late at night and that Saturday I spent the whole day cleaning this crazy lodge and kitchen, freezers and everything. By Sunday night we had our first clients arrive and I was up there cooking for the entire fishing season. It was amazing and wonderful, beautiful – haunted, I think – but it was stunning and a beautiful experience. My plan is to go back again. I loved it.

It was amazing and wonderful, beautiful – haunted, I think – but it was stunning and a beautiful experience. My plan is to go back again. I loved it.

Andrea: How did they know your address and telephone number and ask for help?

Louisa: This was through my childhood friend who was dating the fishing captain. They knew I was a chef and thought that maybe I knew someone and then it turned out that I came up and did it myself. It was amazing.

Andrea: Did you also get an opportunity to visit something in Alaska and have a look around?

Louisa: Not so much. I had a look around only in the town itself because the town is actually an island. It is a fairly big island, but it has about 14 miles of road and about 8000 residents so you only get on or off by boat or plane. I explored the island as much as I could, but every day I woke up at 4am to cook breakfast for the fishermen by 5am. I would pack their lunches for the boat and then do all of the shopping, and then dinner would be served by 6pm. It was nearly 24 hours/7 days a week of work for the entire fishing season. It didn’t really give you much time to explore the town, much less Alaska itself. It was so beautiful; eagles everywhere and whales outside my bedroom window. It was absolutely amazing.

Andrea: So you were there in the summer when it is warmer?

Louisa: Yes, it was in the summer. This town is called Sitka, and is situated in the southeast of Alaska, so it is in the world’s largest temperate rainforest. The temperature usually hovered around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and it rained nearly every day. It would clear up for a little bit, but it would be chilly and rainy. The sun didn’t set until midnight and it would start to get light again by 4am. It was so stunningly beautiful.

Our primary catches were salmon and halibut so I had salmon and halibut nearly every single day. I said by the end of the season, “It is going to take me a little while before I can eat salmon and halibut again.” The funny thing is that I ended up having to come back to Chicago to work on a television show during that time, unexpectedly. I was working in Alaska nearly 24 hours and 7 days a week, and then had to leave for about 2 weeks. Then I went back.

Andrea: What did you do when you returned to Chicago?

Louisa: I worked on a TV show called Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. It is a food and travel show in the US, and I know the show is on internationally, but I don’t remember what it is called. Anthony Bourdain is a chef and a food writer. He has a reputation of being the original bad-boy rock-and-roll type of chef. He was coming to Chicago to do a Chicago episode. He goes to a different country or city every week and explores what is going on there. I had worked on that show’s very first episode in Paris, so when they were coming to Chicago, they asked me if I would work on it, and I said, “Absolutely!”

Andrea: So now that you are in Chicago; what are you doing currently?

Louisa: I am working as a freelance food writer and a freelance chef. I have a restaurant project that I am working on, that was supposed to launch in the dead of winter, but that has been put on hold a little bit right now until the economy improves, hopefully.

Andrea: Which restaurant are you working at?

Louisa: Right now I am not working at any particular restaurant. I am consulting on some different projects or else working as a private chef or caterer, and also teaching some culinary courses; some specific skills to clients who want private instruction. I have had a couple of offers to work in restaurants, and I have to say that after having had the freedom of being the chef in my own situation in Alaska last summer, it is a little bit difficult to try and confine myself to someone else’s kitchen. Chicago does luckily have some of the best restaurants in the world. There are some restaurants where they are doing things no one else is doing anywhere. That is wonderful, but still it is a little bit difficult to do someone else’s food right now.

Andrea: Did you ever find yourself in a situation where you didn’t dare to live your dream?

Louisa: Yes, I would say that right now I feel like I am not daring to live my dream in starting my new restaurant concept. There have been situations where what I chose to do did not seem like the most magical thing; for example, going to Alaska last year. There is no real reason why it made sense for me to go, because I was working in Chicago. It is a major food city. So why in the world would I go to that small town in Alaska? Everyone else was saying, “Why don’t you stay in Chicago or go to New York or go and cook in Paris again?” Instead I went to that very small town in Alaska.

So why in the world would I go to that small town in Alaska? Everyone else was saying, “Why don’t you stay in Chicago or go to New York or go and cook in Paris again?”

Andrea: It is more adventurous of course.

Louisa: It is more adventurous, and overall, it completely made more sense. It didn’t make more sense on paper, quite frankly – my next move should have been going to New York. But going to that small town in Alaska felt more right. I wanted to do it. And ultimately it was so much better because I had the chance as a chef and a food writer and as someone who wants to show these stories on television, to get a real experience, rather than be sent on an assignment to do a story. To have had a chance to work with these products that I created and then meet the people that I met, was so incredibly valuable.

And ultimately it was so much better because I had the chance as a chef and a food writer and as someone who wants to show these stories on television, to get a real experience, rather than be sent on an assignment to do a story.

The first time I went out fishing was crazy. I had clients who were men in their 70’s who had been fishing their entire lives. They had been out on boats since they were children. Then there were visitors from California who had been fishing their entire lives in the Pacific Ocean. They came up to Alaska and were acting tough that first morning at breakfast, then came back at night so sick and worn out. I had been fishing before, but had never really been out in those sorts of conditions. My ex-boyfriend who was a yacht captain had gone sailing with me, and I thought we had been in pretty rough waters, but my God, the waters in Alaska were like those in the movie The Perfect Storm. It was unreal; the waves and the boat would literally be pitching back and forth. The first time I caught my own king salmon, for example, it was amazing to survive the trip out and then to catch that kind of fish. I thought, “OK; I have just pulled out this magnificent creature from the middle of the ocean and now I am killing it and I am going to eat it.” To be in that experience makes you feel so much more connected and respectful of the end product.

I thought, “OK; I have just pulled out this magnificent creature from the middle of the ocean and now I am killing it and I am going to eat it.” To be in that experience makes you feel so much more connected and respectful of the end product.

Getting back to your question, right now I feel like I am not living the next part of the dream, quite yet, that it is being deferred because there are unfortunately a lot of other greater issues at play with the economy.

Andrea: A lot of big companies were founded in a bad economy situation; did you know that? I think if you can survive this bad time then you will survive all times.

Louisa. I will be so excited to see how this plays out on your website and your book because that is exactly the kind of thing that is very promising. Like they say, hopefully the best ideas will survive. Yes, it is a temporary setback.

Andrea: So it is a challenge to make your idea even better so that it will survive a bad economy?

Louisa: I have certainly been adjusting and we will see. I have some plans and I will let you know as soon as or if it happens this year.

Andrea: What kind of concept for a restaurant did you create?

Louisa: I shouldn’t say that I created the concept, because it is based on the temporary restaurant concept that has popped up in France the past few years. In the US, they are called pop-up stores. For example, Nutella opened a temporary restaurant in Paris for 40 days to celebrate their 40th anniversary. During some of the food festivals, a big chef will go into a butcher shop and open a restaurant for only one night or one week. Or another big chef opened a temporary restaurant inside a department store for 30 days. It is promotional for the chef and the product. What I really like about the idea of an ephemeral restaurant is first of all, I do love the restaurant experience; everything from welcoming someone as a host to creating an experience for them as clients. I love the idea of experiencing something new and different, and that is not something that has really been explored much in the US. There are some things that are similar like the secret restaurants or the secret supper clubs but that is a little different. Alaska influenced me greatly. I want to feature a very modern type of food that is a little bit more extreme, such as frontier style food and wild game. I imagine a modern presentation of a modern experience. I call it basically an ephemeral restaurant featuring experimental, frontier food.

What I really like about the idea of an ephemeral restaurant is first of all, I do love the restaurant experience; everything from welcoming someone as a host to creating an experience for them as clients. 

Andrea: That is cool. I really like your idea. How long would you like to offer this restaurant?

Louisa: The plan would be to have it open from one full moon to the next full moon.

Andrea: Then afterwards, what would you like to do?

Louisa: I would love to do it in different places. As much as I love the whole restaurant experience, being locked into a single restaurant is very limiting. I loved being the chef in Alaska, although it was hard working almost 24 hours, 7 days a week, but I loved it. However, you get burned out. I would love to do the same thing in different places like Chicago and Shanghai and Paris and just wherever. To work with the local ingredients and have a connection with the diners and the local culture and to constantly have the freedom to move to different places would be great.

To work with the local ingredients and have a connection with the diners and the local culture and to constantly have the freedom to move to different places would be great.

Andrea: I can see that you would like to stay flexible.

Louisa: I also hope to apply the other things that I do with all of that, which is to write about it and film it.

Andrea: Except for this restaurant that you have not founded yet, do you think you live life to the fullest?

Louisa: For me? No. For the average population? Yes. I want to do more and sometimes I really can’t. But for the average person, the life that I live is incredibly fortunate and I really do appreciate that. I have had the best jobs in the world, but the bad thing about it is being a bit of an adrenaline junkie where you need more and more to keep you going. I don’t live my life to the fullest but I probably live it too full for my parents.

I don’t live my life to the fullest but I probably live it too full for my parents.

Andrea: What would you like to add to your life?

Louisa: It is funny because my sister and I were just talking about this over the weekend. I know that one of my life’s goals eventually is that we would like to help foster children and teenagers or young adults as well as have a dog sanctuary. It makes sense to me to put these things together. My sister and I don’t plan on having our own kids, but we really enjoy mentoring. We hope to get to a point where we can help foster kids to help themselves, help others, and then help dogs. I am obsessed by dogs. I adopted a dog in Alaska last summer and I feel that there is a very strong bond between people and dogs. Dogs can give people, especially some of these kids, a strong sense of self worth and accomplishment. What I would like to do is to add more service to my life.

What I would like to do is to add more service to my life.

Andrea: Do you still have this dog that you adopted in Alaska?

Louisa: Yes.

Andrea: What does your best possible life look like?

Louisa: What would be my dream life? My best possible life would be my sister and I working together with our compound, where we have a sanctuary for abused kids and abused dogs and a place where we can teach them and ourselves, too, skills for living, such as food, and the beauty of life.

My sister is a designer. She is a paper products designer, primarily designing luxury paper goods for a company called Paper Source. She designs mostly kits and projects. Do you know Martha Stewart here in the US? She does projects, like for holidays she will do design cards or favors for weddings and parties, or flowers. Her primary medium is paper.

Andrea: So what would you like to attain together?

Louisa: What we would love to do is something that would be our center. We would do a lifestyle guide – books, magazines, television – that would deal with cooking and crafts, and focus on connections through personal milestones; everything from birthdays to weddings and funerals; really learning how to connect those milestones of life.

We would do a lifestyle guide – books, magazines, television – that would deal with cooking and crafts, and focus on connections through personal milestones; everything from birthdays to weddings and funerals; really learning how to connect those milestones of life.

Andrea: Anything else that you would like to have in your dream life?

Louisa: Horses. I have always felt like one of my personal goals or signs of success would be to have a horse. I love horses. To me it speaks to that idea again of being in the wide open spaces and to have an animal connection. This is a bit naïve because I never had a horse before.

Andrea: Do you know how to ride a horse?

Louisa: A little bit; not much. It’s funny because I hear on both sides from friends who do have horses or have had horses and say, “Oh yes that makes sense!” and then other people who say, “Oh that is crazy!” I think it would feel right to have a horse. That speaks more of the symbolism of having the space to do that sort of thing.

Andrea: Professionally, what does your best possible life look like?

Louisa: I think that would be part of it; it would be to establish a foundation for everything that we do professionally. But for me personally, I would love to be able to have the ephemeral restaurant concept worldwide; to celebrate local and seasonal food and cooking techniques, as well as to continue working as both a writer and TV producer. Those would be the core of what I would like to do.

For me personally, I would love to be able to have the ephemeral restaurant concept worldwide; to celebrate local and seasonal food and cooking techniques, as well as to continue working as both a writer and TV producer.

In working with my sister I hope we would be able to emphasize a Chinese-American lifestyle guide, because that is something that we know is missing. We are not Chinese; we are Chinese-American. It is a huge difference. My maternal grandmother died fairly suddenly, then 7 weeks later to the day, my grandfather died. 7 weeks is the traditional mourning period in Chinese culture and so he died 7 weeks to the day after she did, almost as if to say that he has mourned her for 7 weeks and now he is going to go, too. There were so many things that we realized we didn’t know about how to honor this particular life’s milestone. We felt that there was a missing link there. We want there to be a connection to our own family history, but then also to help honor my parents, who are still alive.

Andrea: Do they all live in Hong Kong or are they in the US right now?

Louisa: No, they were all in Chicago. Both of my maternal great-grandfathers first moved to Chicago and then my maternal grandparents. My family has all been in Chicago, and I still have a lot of family on my father’s side that are in Shanghai and Beijing and there are some relatives in Canada. There are some rituals that we share, of course, that are Chinese, but some of them are almost specifically Chinese-American, so I would like to have that guide for Chinese-Americans that explains for example how do you have a proper Chinese-American funeral or wedding, and how do you do it in a way that honors your history. One basic question is how to do it so that it is beautiful and memorable too. With my culinary background and her design background we feel that there is a lot that we can do with it.

Andrea: Have you already started working on it or is it just an idea?

Louisa: It is an idea that I have had for some time, but it is only recently that I have spoken with some editors who are very interested. We are working on a book proposal for the first guide and I am not quite sure yet if it is going to be per specific milestone; for example a weddings guide or an overview of all of the different milestones.

Andrea: So you have more or less started. Have you always been supported by your family and your friends?

Louisa: Yes and no. Overall, they were very supportive. But on specific things, they have raised questions of doubt. “Why are you going to Alaska?” or “Why do you want to…?” When I told my mom that I was going to France to work as a chef, she couldn’t understand it. My family had all worked very hard to get out of the restaurant business because that was something to simply make money when they first moved to the US so that their kids could go to college and not have to work a labor job. It was like, “Why are you working or cooking in a kitchen?” Then I had to explain to them that it was very different, and I have to say that I don’t think that they really understood. Now there is this whole celebrity chef culture and so they understand a little bit more now the possibilities that are out there. So, my family was generally supportive but certainly there have been questions about my sanity.

Andrea: How should one treat a person who tries to restrain one from creating one’s best possible life?

Louisa: I think it depends on the person. I think some people can be outright ignored. Other people if you have either a history with them or if you respect them, then you respect their attempt at restraint or questions and you have to answer them for yourself more than anybody. So it really depends on the other person. Ignore or answer.

Andrea: But don’t just follow their advice? Do you think you should follow their advice?

Louisa: Not unless they are paying. I think that Cher said it best once when she said that life is not a dress rehearsal and over and over this has proven to be true. We do only have this one life. I didn’t mention that in the past few years, in 2006 and then again in 2007, three members of my immediate family of 5 people were very seriously sick; my mother, my father and my brother all nearly died. It was incredibly difficult and simultaneous that they were not well. It is moments like that which remind you that this life can be over. As long as we try to live a good life that does not harm other people, either physically, emotionally, or financially or all of that, then why not try to live the life that you really want?

We do only have this one life.

One of the amazing things about living in LA was that it really was a town where you saw people constantly who were living and fulfilling their dreams. Of course what I also saw a lot of times, especially in my work, was the sad underbelly side. People who lost everything tried to live their dreams. So it is a choice that you try to do the best you can in your life without hurting someone else. The only time that I would consider following along with someone’s advice would be if they provided everything and you provided nothing or if you harmed someone else.

So it is a choice that you try to do the best you can in your life without hurting someone else.

Andrea: So based on what you have learned and experienced, what advice would you give to people who want to create their best possible lives?

Louisa: I think the first thing, and something my mother would be very happy about, is educating yourself. My mother has always thought that I would be a doctor and now she still thinks that I can do whatever I want to do on the side and still be a doctor. There are so many resources that are available now, for example, your website and your book. You have a goal perhaps of doing “X”. Try to learn about “X” as much as you possibly can and then try to figure out the path between your life now and what you want it to be, and then just take the steps to do it. It is a universal truth that it’s steps; it starts out with small steps, like working out or learning a language.

You have a goal perhaps of doing “X”. Try to learn about “X” as much as you possibly can and then try to figure out the path between your life now and what you want it to be, and then just take the steps to do it.

In the beginning it seems like baby steps and then sometimes you get pushed over an edge and you have to take the big leaps. That certainly happened in my case where I have had to jump into situations when I didn’t know if I was ready. But for the most part I was ready, because of all the preparations that I had done. So to live your best life, prepare for it as much as you can.

So to live your best life, prepare for it as much as you can.

Andrea: …and then jump!

Louisa: And then also having a sense of humor about it is a big thing, too. Sometimes we can look at things and think, “This is really depressing…” and then at a point you just shrug your shoulders. Even with the world economy right now, I keep thinking, you know what? Oh well! There is not much that you and I are going to be able to do about it, so I stopped listening to that kind of news because I am still pretty much doing what I have been doing. I am trying to adapt as much as I can, but the worrying does not help. I try to have a sense of humor about it and to see how absurd things are.

I try to have a sense of humor about it and to see how absurd things are.

In 2006, I was planning on taking my parents back to China for the first time and I was worried about how their health was going to be. I took them to the doctor because the last thing I wanted to do was have to find an emergency room in China. As I was doing that for them, out of the blue my brother got very sick from an infection. He had had both hips replaced before and he had to get both hips replaced again, and he nearly died from this infection. I thought, “Are you kidding me?” I am worried about my parents and trying to take steps in order to prepare for the trip with them, and out of the blue my brother gets sick. But the good thing about that was that it was one of those challenging situations that you learn a lot about and that makes a lot of other things in your life seem trivial and absurd. So prepare as much as you can and have a sense of humor because otherwise you are not going to have fun.

Andrea: Perhaps having fun is also part of living your best possible life.

Louisa: Oh yes! A big part! For those of us who are fortunate enough to do that. My sister and I, we have that life plan of helping kids, and we know that a lot of what we receive in return is that help back. Some of the kids that we have met and have worked with, they are so amazing, so positive and so resilient and we think, “If they can be that positive, what do the rest of us have to be complaining about?” Fun is a big part of it.

Some of the kids that we have met and have worked with, they are so amazing, so positive and so resilient and we think, “If they can be that positive, what do the rest of us have to be complaining about?”

Andrea: Where did you get to know these kids?

Louisa: We got to know them through mentoring programs, and most recently we have worked with a couple of different groups and we have done fundraising. We met some kids just on a very superficial level, which is why we are hoping to do something through official mentoring programs in our area. We were talking about maybe doing Girl Scout leaderships because we did that when we were kids.

Andrea: Do you have any regrets?

Louisa: Of course. I think that only insane people don’t have any regrets. I think that all of those goals that I try to work towards are born out of some of the regrets. I still take some things too seriously and I don’t have as much fun as I could have or should have. So from the regrets we learn and then we improve.

So from the regrets we learn and then we improve.
 


Andrea: It is always like that for everyone.

Louisa, thank you very, very much for this insightful and thorough interview!