When Business and Heart Combine

When Business and Heart Combine

December 31.

If there’s ever a day to be introspective, this is it. The Super Bowl for the spiritually inclined and the ultra-organized.

It’s resolution day.

And I fully intend to get busy, not setting resolutions but establishing goals.

But before I do that, I wanted to post an email I received from Chris Brogan yesterday. Chris is pretty much a rockstar in the marketing and blogging world, and like thousands of others, if Chris talks I listen. I loved this email, because Chris really doesn’t gain much by writing it to me. It’s his New Year wishes for the people who care enough to follow his work, and it shows his heart for people.

I’m not sharing this to drive you all to Chris Brogan’s site, although if you are interested in content marketing and small business ownership, his blog is certainly a must-read. I’m sharing it because I love seeing someone who isn’t afraid of combining their business with their heart. He isn’t afraid to let his business followers see who he is. He is transparent.

It’s really hard to be transparent out in the business world. We have clients to reassure, prospects to impress, competitors to stay ahead of. It’s hard to risk transparency. When we write our business blog, it’s hard to maintain a commitment to authenticity. But I think Chris’s New Year’s letter inspires me to greater transparency in 2015.

So I guess I have started my contemplation after all!


Hi Marla!

This email to you is full of wishes. I mean every single one of them, and I hope to be able to help in some small way. I hope this email finds you in that moment of contemplation and mild guilt we all slip into this time of year. Because I want to help with what’s to come. 

I’ve got a mug of mulled cider because, you know, holidays and winter and stuff. You? 

My Wish for You

My wish in this coming year is that people know more about you, that they understand what you’re about. My wish for the coming year is that people get as excited about what you’re doing as you yourself do. 

My wish for 2015 is that you find within yourself the commitment and discipline to keep your passions alive and share them with all those people who need what you’re doing and providing. And if, for reasons of fate and circumstance, you’re not working on something you feel strongly about, I wish that this coming year is your breakaway year, and that you find a way to be where you belong, instead of trying to fit in. 

I hope that you find the misfits and world dominators, the instigators and crazies, the people who freak out over what you bring to the picnic. I hope that you dare to dye your hair blue or get that tattoo, or tell that person you’ve loved forever but never told that you love them. I hope you shave your head, grow your hair long, buy that purple hat, use that purple crayon. 

My wish is that you crave more but be so grateful for what you have. Make the “more” be about your capabilities and your ability to serve. Make the “what you have” serve you well, but never look for anchors when success comes from sails. 

Wealth comes from serving others. Find those you can help and help them. Don’t worry about the details at first. Be helpful. All my money came from two places: failure, and helping others. And remember that money isn’t the definition of wealth. It’s a byproduct. 

My wish for you is that you face the fears that need facing, and that you banish those fears that were silly to begin with but have somehow held residence in your soul for far too long. The fears that need facing can be trained for, prepared for, practiced for, and then you go to war. The silly fears? Well, those just have to go. 

My wish for you is that you know those around you. I’m just a fire you’ve gathered around. But if you sought out the monchu (Heck, tweet something with the word #monchu and see who tweets back), you’d have so much more than what I alone can offer. That’s been my dream since I started. So far, no one ever goes far enough to make it true. You’re the star. I’m just the fire. 

Finally, remember that my annual “My 3 Words” experience starts on January 1st. Just go to my blog (on the 1st, not sooner!) to see how to do it, and then dive in. I can’t WAIT to hear yours. 

And thank you for all you’ve done this year. It’s been a great ride so far. I’m here to help you own your 2015. 

With love, 


John W. Gardner: Leaders are Lifelong Learners

John W. Gardner: Leaders are Lifelong Learners

I came across this speech by John W. Gardner today. I don’t often get stopped in my tracks by speeches from nearly 25 years ago, but when Harvard Business Review posted an article on lifelong learning, my curiosity was piqued. I was rewarded by this beautiful speech that inspired me to live with purpose, meaning and interest. The quote below is just a snippet of the full speech, which is worth the time you will spend reading it and digesting its meaning.

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”

Why I am saying “No” to business Essentialism by Greg Mckeown

Why I am saying “No” to business

On a recent airplane flight from LA to Hawaii I found myself without a book to read. My iPad mini was loaded with at least ten books in the “to be read” queue, but I was thinking about beaches and sunshine. I knew I needed a real, physical, old-fashioned book. Without much hope, I popped into the airport sundries shop and managed to strike gold.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, is one of those books that is likely to change my life over the course of the next year in ways I did not anticipate.

Bottom Line Premise: Once you stop trying to do it all, you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

We are in a society with an over-abundance of choices. We have too many choices of how to spend our time, our money, our calories and our passion. Not only do we have too many choices, but we have too many really great choices and very few ways to escape the frenetic pace. The message in essentialism is not the minimalist, ascetic message of yesterday. It’s rather, a call back to conscious choice in how we invest ourselves in the world around us.

McKeown, after a discussion on the basic philosophy of essentialism, breaks the book down into exploring useful habits (escape, play, sleep etc. — all welcome topics when vacationing in Hawaii), eliminating non-essentials and executing a plan.

I took away several action points that we put into place almost immediately in our personal life and in our business:

  • Get over the social awkwardness of saying “no” to social commitments or unwelcome business opportunities. You know the kind of thing I mean: the dinner you don’t really want to attend, or the job that is outside the sweet spot of your company’s profile.
  • Add in healthy habits and schedule them. It sounds ridiculous, but my husband and I used to feel proud of our ability to be night owls, and almost ashamed of going to bed before midnight. Our daughters would poke fun at going to bed during “dork time,” as they called it. No more. Sleep really helps. Small habit change….huge payback.
  • Add a buffer. Whether pricing jobs or booking a calendar, not scheduling everything so close to the edge provides huge peace of mind.
  • Editing is one of the most important tasks of day-to-day life. As a writer I was already well-aware of the value of a great editor. Video productions pop with the right editing. The scenes left on the cutting-room floor are what create a truly great storyline. In life, as well, we need to edit. We need to edit our possessions, our activities, even our thoughts. One of the first suggestions McKeown makes is to go to the closet and eliminate some nonessential items, just to feel the lightness of letting go.

The author intersperses the benefits of essentialism throughout the book, but the last section highlights the increase in concentration, focus and flow you will reap from paring dow to the essentials. Well worth the read, and worth spending some time processing the true essentials in my own life. Not bad for an airport book!

Some quotes from Essentialism:

In order to have focus, we need to escape to focus.


Saying no is its own leadership capability. it is not just a peripheral skill. As with any ability, we start with limited experience. We are novices at “no.” Then we learn a couple of basic techniques. We make mistakes. We learn from them. We develop more skills. We keep practicing. After a while we have a whole repertoire available at our disposal, and in time we have gained mastery of a type of social art form. We can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity. Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, once said to me, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’


An essentialist produces more — brings forth more — by removing more instead of doing more.


In life, disciplined editing can add to your level of contribution. It increases your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter. It lends the most meaningful relationships and activities more space to blossom.


  • A new generation of farmers is combining technology with traditional farming methods

Farming is making a comeback!

One of the perks of my job is getting to dive into our client’s businesses during the course of our work with them. I love our Discovery Process where we lead the clients through really fun exercises that lead to deep insights about their industry and their brand. In the process, our team gets to learn details about another industry from the inside out.

A favorite client of ours has been Farm Credit of Florida. It turns out that the Farm Credit system was established by the government back in 1916 to provide stability and financing to the agricultural industry. Nearing 100 now, Farm Credit has seen a lot of ups and down is in the business. And in Florida, apparently, times are good for farmers! From timberland to cattle grazing, farming is a good business investment in this state.

In recent years there has been a rise in multi-generational farming down here. Just when I thought family farming was dead! Nope! The next generation — the adults in their 20’s and 30’s — are coming back to the family farm and integrating new technology with their parent’s farming methods. Somehow this makes me happy, thinking about something so traditional adapting to the next generation and going strong.

Filming the local farms, however, made me realize that farming isn’t exactly what I had pictured. At least it isn’t in Florida! There were no red barns in sight, and the crops were grown under amazingly strict regulations. Did you know there are no animals allowed on a farm growing food products? Even birds are technically prohibited, though apparently there is no way to enforce the bird regulation. I also saw an errant alligator who technically wasn’t allowed to live in his canal…but who am I to complain?

So thankful to Whitworth Farms for opening up their fields to our team. Of all the video projects Visual Creatives has produced, this is my favorite.

Farm Credit of Florida — We Are Ag

And while you are in the farming mood, watch this trailer from the new Farmland movie!

FARMLAND Teaser Trailer 2014 from Farmland on Vimeo.

  • Sitting in the backyard watching my house



I sat outside on the hammock tonight, ignoring the incessant clatter of my to-do list. Since launching our new company (have you seen our Visual Creatives website yet? We’re really pleased with it!) these moments have been few and far between. Travel, connecting, doing, creating: these are the new words of my days.

But not tonight.

Tonight I sat and watched the one lone doggy left living in the house. I watched the branches of my favorite tree and realized they were a stage play of birds and squirrels locked in never-ending battle. I listened to the peacocks, haunting, but so familiar. I listened to the people sounds that intruded once in awhile. I sat and I remembered.

I remembered all the nights just like this one. Nights filled with swimming and fence gates swinging, back doors slamming.

It’s just all been so very good.



Taking time to serve her community…

David and I are hitting the road for the first time in over two months! The business up north is calling our name, and so we are headed up into the arctic tundra to take care of a few things this next week. Normally I’d be excited by this trip — and I am looking forward to seeing the results of a few projects we put into motion — but I’m also worried about leaving my mom home here in Florida with us gone for a week.

Mom’s not worried, though!

We went to visit her last night and she was busy talking about her day (volunteering to stuff the bulletins at the church), her dinner out with one of our neighbors the night before, all the mail that has piled up and must be handled. Then she told us a story that both convicted me and mildly terrified me.

Apparently, Mom has an elderly neighbor up in Boston in her 90’s and currently living with her two twin grandsons. Before she left the cold north for sunny Florida, she visited with this woman, Joan, and one of her grandsons. The converstaion moved to faith, as it usually does for my mother. Joan is something of a lapsed Catholic, and the boy had never stepped foot in a church at all. Not for a wedding, not for a funeral. Never in a church. Mom began telling him that he needed to know who Jesus was (“I’ve watched some on TV,” he said.). Before the day was over she returned with a copy of the Bible in the Message translation as well as the names and addresses of two local churches. To sweeten the deal, Mom mentioned that there were usually good girls to be found at good churches!

All this was old news, but last night Mom mentioned that she had been praying every night for the boy (conviction #1), and had promised to call and check on them, so she did. On the phone she hit a double bonanza when she found out that the second twin had moved in the house and HE was reading the Bible Mom had left, though neither had gotten to church yet. She started her whole message over again with this fresh twin.


You have to remember that my mother has Alzheimer’s, and has a difficult time talking on the phone even to her family. She usually shies away from phone calls with anyone, let alone a relative stranger two generations removed from her! And yet her heart was telling her she needed to care about these boys. I was convicted down to my bones, because I know that I would never have done what she did. I wouldn’t have the courage. I wouldn’t find the time. I wouldn’t remember my promise, a promise I may never have made in the first place.

Yes, I was mildly terrified wondering if my mother has totally turned into “The nutty woman from across the street who preaches at us,” but I was also terrified that I am not nutty enough.

Why this is a Coffee Shop Journal

I recently explained on my other blog, Dancing Thru Her Daddy’s World, how the death of my father three years ago rocked the foundations of my world. The process of re-grounding myself resulted in a comforting awareness of who my true Father is, and that this is the world he has given me to dance through to my heart’s content. Well in a way, Coffee Shop Journal is named for my father as well, even though I have owned the name since long before he passed away.

My dad was an amazing man. He was a Yankee proper, and full of insight gleaned from years of being a successful businessman, family man and church man. Dad’s charisma lent every gathering a little bit more depth. When he spoke, people stopped and listened carefully, because through his broad New England accent he was bound to be saying something important.

Nearly every afternoon, as 3:00 pm approached, Dad would find his way to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts for his afternoon coffee. You could set your clock by him. You could also gauge his mood by his afternoon coffee runs. On the days when the world was pressing in on him, he quietly left the house without announcement or fanfare. He wanted — needed — to be alone. He loved to sit and think. On days when he was concerned for one of us in particular, he issued a personal invitation. “Marla, David, let’s meet at 3 for coffee.” On carefree days there was a general, “Well, getting towards that time. Anyone coming with me?” But inbetween those specific invitations there was the standing realization that at 3 Dad could be found holding court in Dunkin’ Donuts. And most of the time, we were in attendance. You had to be vigilant, though: Dad often switched up his Dunkin’ locations. You see, after a while in each shop, he’d get to know the regulars and they would learn to love him. He’d walk in hoping to stop and think, and find himself surrounded by a hodge podge of folk who just wanted to be near. Switching locations helped him remain unpredictable, mysterious, and sort of independent. When Dad died so suddenly, David and I had to make a long, slow progression around coffee shops in three states to let his friends and fans know about his passing. It was a fitting tribute.

For nearly 20 years, David made a habit of wandering through the doors of Dunkin’ Donuts anytime my Dad was in town. This was difficult for a natural Starbucks lover, but the rewards were worth it. The two of them (more, if Mom and I went along) would sit and discuss the day’s business. It was a Harvard Business School education for the price of a cup of coffee. After a time, our favorite refrain was, “Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but…”

I’d love to hear that one more time.

For me, and for David, the coffee shop became our metaphor for the places in life where you discuss the important matters. We were fans of the “Third Place” long before we knew what First and Second places were. The community in a coffee shop meets a time-honored tradition encoded in our genes. We really miss the coffee shops of the past, but we’re focusing on establishing our own routines, our own interactions.

So I guess that brings us to Coffee Shop Journal, my own little spot on the blogosphere to discuss the things that matter and to learn from people who have walked a few steps ahead of me in life. My caffeine is more likely to be a double espresso, but it gives a good kick!