Thursday, August 11, 2011

Make Your Life an Awesome Movie

One of my favorite films is “Stranger Than Fiction.” In it Will Ferrell plays IRS agent Harold Crick who is thrown for a loop when a mysterious voice begins to narrate his life. All of a sudden he is hearing about every little thing – from him filing folders to how nervous he gets whenever he is near his crush.

This narration leads Harold to evaluate aspects of his life he never had the courage to face. And what is left, at the end, is the story of Harold’s transformation. Self-evaluation is a helpful tool during your lifetime. Not the skimming over “should I have done or said that” moments, but true time to reflect on yourself – character, motives, hopes, dreams, bad and good habits and changes that need to be made. Now if you are saying to yourself that you are in a good place (mentally, physically and emotionally) that is wonderful. But you’re kidding yourself if you think you should stay there. Life is about changes. We age, we grow, we learn – we continuously evolve.

What is the soundtrack to your life? If your life were a movie, what would be the message or the sub-text?

The soundtrack to my life is a little all over the place. It’s not that cool (in fact, it’s probably pretty lame), but because it accounted for significant growth for me at that time, it is tunes I will never forget. Janet Jackson’s Control album blew my mind! I had never seen a woman take center stage like that – demanding to be heard, and commanding all of the attention. In the video for “The Pleasure Principle” there were no background dancers, singers or costumes. Just Janet, a dusty factory and her Adidas. Sometimes it’s not about the fluff. It’s about the simplicity.

Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged changed my entire life. I was taking a summer writing course at American International College, surprisingly, in a class of mostly females, when this record was released. I was going through that funky transition of entering the real world. And I struggled. I have always been a very spiritual, fairly conservative, always in my head kind of girl. I was 21, struggling to make sense of myself as a young mother, my beliefs and who I was and then … and then, Lauryn Hill put everything I was feeling, thinking and going through on wax. I must have listened to that album three times back-to-back when I first bought it. When that summer was over, I felt a little more at ease in my own skin.

I’ve also created my own mottos and sayings along the way. Ones that speak to me in good and bad times and also add joy to those around me: “Aspire to inspire,” “I love God. God loves me and I love myself,” “Today is a bad day, but tomorrow will be fabulous,” “Dream about me” (saved for goodbyes when someone close to me is leaving), “Love you, miss you, want you,” (created just for my son when he was little) and “It’s better when you sing it.”

It’s not about the artist, the genre or its popularity. It’s about the message. How does your soundtrack make you feel? How does it speak to your life and/or your situation? What does it say about you? We determine our own destinies. Many people feel like artists such as Biggie Smalls, Tupac and Amy Winehouse created music that, ultimately, mirrored the endings of their shortly lived lives. Coincidence or Law of Attraction – meaning you attract into your life what you put out? Either way, it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded individuals in both your business and personal relationships. Reading and listening materials shouldn’t be any different.

Consider your home an extension of your movie set. Are your dwellings a reflection of you? Don’t let your budget dictate your surroundings. Living within your means, whatever they may be, can still ensure that your castle is a place of peace and an ambiance that gives you serenity. Your home should be a place of inner comfort. The one area you sigh with relief to come into. If it doesn’t give you that feeling, evaluate what needs changing. My friends and family give me a hard time, in good fun, about not replacing my Panasonic TV with a flat screen. But it still works!

I come home and relax in front of it and enjoy it just the same. I prefer to think my house is full of love rather than stuff. My bookcase – filled with books that have shaped and inspired me – is a truer reflection of Natasha than any flat screen could ever be. That goes for my friends (the supporting cast in my movie) and the God I serve (this film’s director).

But like any script, there can be edits. And so I charge you with evaluating and editing your film. At the end of your life, when the credits roll, there will always be critics, but at least the most important viewer will be satisfied – YOU.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Can we really be all things to all people?

If you could have a clone, what would he or she be doing right now? Mine would be home cleaning and ironing my clothes. I spend anywhere between 17 to 20 hours a day working. I wish I could say I was one of those “concentrate on finishing one project at a time” people. But, I am all over the place every minute of the day.

As women we often feel guilty about spending too much time at work and too little time at home. If men are feeling the same, they sure aren’t talking about it as much. In March, covered the topic in an article titled, “Women feel guilty about work-home intrusion.” The study found that, although women have become economic providers in dual-income households they have different expectations from men over the boundaries separating work and family life. ‘These forces may lead some women to question or negatively evaluate their family role performance when they're trying to navigate work issues at home,’” Scott Schieman, a co-author of the report and a professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, said.

When I was a little girl I despised chores. I would roll my eyes in my skull when my mother would say that these were things I HAD to know how to do as a woman. I would say that my husband can do his share of the chores and then scurry along to do as I was told before I didn’t live to meet him. I became a little feminist in my elementary days.

I still have my fourth grade yearbook from Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, Mass. In the little, “When I Grow Up” blurbs, all my female peers were gushing about being future wives and mothers and I said I wanted to be a rapper (I idolized MC Lyte.), married to a man named Ted (Still don’t know where that came from) – AND HERE IS THE KICKER – I actually wrote “I WILL HAVE NO KIDS.” Looking back, I think I was setting the tone for no one telling me what I COULD or SHOULD do.
I don’t like the idea of being pigeon-holed or labeled. We let others do this to us all the time – housewife, party girl, businesswoman. No one person is all or nothing. We have layers.

Men juggle as well. I can almost here them now, “We just don’t complain about it.” I know many who say they are leaving meetings early or canceling events because it’s their son’s soccer game or girlfriend’s birthday.

David Kurtz told Fortune Magazine he left his job as a director of production at the Walt Disney Co. in order to spend more time with his family. "I completely changed my work environment to suit being able to be home at 6 p.m.," says Kurtz. "It's an improvement for our generation. Men and women feel the same way in the workplace; they are struggling with the same issues."

In the article titled, “The changing face of the American working dad,” Kathryn Reynolds Lewis examines this increasing trend. “While in previous generations, it would have been silently assumed that men stake a larger portion of their identity to their careers than women, a recent study from WFD Consulting and WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress found that there are little, if any, differences between men and women on this front, similar to results from Brazil, China, Germany and the United Kingdom,” Lewis found.


Is your career tied to your identity? And if so, does prioritizing it ahead of anything else make you selfish? If you remember: last year I blogged about being at the Next Level Development Conference for Women. At the start of one of the workshops, I was instructed to introduce myself to someone, but I could not talk about my job or family. It was one of the most awkward and difficult introductions ever. Who was I, if not a mother and writer?

A LinkedIn discussion posed a similar question: “How much of your identity is wrapped in your profession/career selection? Have you selected a profession that speaks strongly to your core values and desires, is your profession merely a paycheck, or are you somewhere in between?”

One professional answered: “My identity, however, is father, husband, son, brother, cousin and friend.” Another, “I am what I do. Ain't never gonna retire. Plan on being the irascible old guy that is too good to be gotten rid of, since he has the only key to the coffee storage.”

My career is tied to my identity. I am a writer. I am always amazed when I meet people and they say if they weren’t doing what they were doing, they’d be doing this or that. I have NEVER thought of doing anything else. Anything else I ever did prior to writing full-time was precisely so I could eventually write full-time. Everything – God, love, laughter, beauty, ugliness, pain, joy, heartache, good and bad – stems from the same place inside of me, my soul. This is who I am completely stripped. It is from this same place I find motherhood, friendship and more. It is not about choosing one over the other. I need to be me first in order to be remotely decent at any of the others.

My Mommy

Maybe that is what life is about, fitting in a little of everything. My mother always had remarkable hustle. She was a nurse, my hairdresser, our housekeeper, pastor, travel agent and everything in between. Maybe we need to stop worrying about being all things to all people and invest more time in managing what we have to do.

If there is one thing I know, my future hubby will definitely know how to work a vacuum. And I can do what I do best and WRITE him a nice, “Things To Do Today, Ted” note.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Self-doubt is real for entrepreneurs

This week I am reminded of one of Aesop’s fables, “The Lion, Jupiter, and the Elephant.” Even against our greatest efforts, it is easy to fall into the temporary stoop of our doubting our abilities. Entrepreneurs often wear many hats. Today we can act as the accountant, tomorrow the sales team and the day after we are PR gurus and marketing specialists. We are continuously juggling a variety of roles so often that at times it can be exhausting. You’re working your damnedest to do everything right even though it feels as if you’re doing everything wrong. And then you look over, and for a second, you get a glimpse of another entrepreneur riding the wave of success so elegantly and seamlessly, it makes you tuck your surf board between your legs and scurry back home to see if the last slice of humble pie is still in the fridge.

This week I am on overload and coasting on little sleep. So much is going on full force at work and on the home front that on Tuesday I literally hurried to the bathroom to lose my lunch just as quickly as I had ate it. I share this not so pleasant detail with you to tell the truth about navigating your way through entrepreneurism. Telling the tales of fun and achievement would be meaningless if I didn’t share the insecurities that grip you as you work to make your vision a reality. That is why the tale of “The Lion, Jupiter, and the Elephant” resonated with me so much.

For those of you who don’t know the meaningful tale, here it is: “The Lion, for all his size and strength, and his sharp teeth and claws, is a coward in one thing: he can’t bear the sound of a cock crowing, and runs away whenever he hears it. He complained bitterly to Jupiter for making him like that; but Jupiter said it wasn’t his fault: he had done the best he could for him, and, considering this was his only failing, he ought to be well content. The Lion, however, wouldn’t be comforted, and was so ashamed of his timidity that he wished he might die. In this state of mind, he met the Elephant and had a talk with him. He noticed that the great beast cocked up his ears all the time, as if he were listening for something, and he asked him why he did so. Just then a gnat came humming by, and the Elephant said, “Do you see that wretched little buzzing insect? I’m terribly afraid of its getting into my ear: if it once gets in, I’m dead and done for.” The Lion’s spirits rose at once when he heard this: “For,” he said to himself, “if the Elephant, huge as he is, is afraid of a gnat, I needn’t be so much ashamed of being afraid of a cock, who is ten thousand times bigger than a gnat.”

The line of pessimism and optimism is an edge you walk as you build a business from the ground up. We all experience self-doubt at one point. The difference is understanding that it is just a fleeting moment. Believe in yourself.

Michael Jordan, commonly lauded as the greatest basketball player of all time, had this to say about fear, “Some people get frozen by the fear of failure. They get it from peers or from just thinking about the possibility of negative results. They might be afraid of looking bad or being embarrassed. I realized that if I was going to achieve anything in life I had to be aggressive. I had to get out there and go for it. I don't believe you can achieve anything by being passive.

Michael breaks down with emotion after winning his first trophy.

"I'm not thinking about anything except what I'm trying to accomplish. Any fear is an illusion," Jordan continued. "You think something is standing in your way but nothing is really there. What is there is an opportunity to do your best and gain some success. If it turns out my best isn't good enough, then at least I'll never be able to look back and say I was too afraid to try. Failure always made me try harder the next time.”

It’s far too easy to look at others and see their excellence and wonder just how they are getting along so nicely. The truth of the matter is no one will ever be as invested in your future as you. When you have so much on the line, it is natural for doubt to sneak its way into your system. What if I don’t sell as much as I estimated? What if this doesn’t pan out as I planned? He has a well-known business and I am just starting out. How can I possibly compete with that?

These questions are common to those deeply entrenched in fulfilling their dreams. What I have learned is that in life we all must face the impossible if we are determined to set the precedent on what can be.

So don’t let the doubt that creeps into your soul at times deter you from what is head. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Look at your temporary moments of unease as a pit stop on the way to the finish line.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ugly people make ugly wages?

Do good looking people enjoy more success in PR and Communications? This was a recent question posed in one of my online LinkedIn groups. While people have their own preferences when it comes to what they consider attractive, studies have shown that, in general, women and men are attracted to certain “things.” Women, on average, tend to be more attracted to men who have a relatively narrow waist, a V-shaped torso, and broad shoulders, are taller than they are, and display a high-degree of facial symmetry, and relatively masculine facial dimorphism (basically a face that visually differentiates from a woman).

Men, on average, tend to place a higher value on physical appearance in a partner than women do. Men, on average, tend to be more attracted to women who are shorter than they are, have a youthful appearance and exhibit features such as a symmetrical face, full breasts, full lips, and a low waist-hip ratio. So how does this affect your salary?

A July 2005 USA Today article by Stephanie Armour found that how you look is influential. “In a recent analysis, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reviewed various economic studies to find possible links between looks and wages. The study's conclusion: A worker with below-average looks tended to earn significantly less -- on average 9% less -- per hour than an above-average-looking employee. And those with above-average looks tended to earn 5% more than their average-looking colleagues.

courtesy of

 ‘If someone looks like Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts, and society values that, that attribute is built into wages,’ says Michael Owyang, an economist who worked on the analysis.”

Two people who will have no problem finding employment.

We all know that how we dress has an impact on how we are perceived – especially in a field such as media and public relations. PR gurus Jessica Kleiman and Meryl Weinsaft Cooper said it best in an article this month, “Public relations is an image business and how you look is as much your calling card as the one in your wallet.”

But we’re talking about a person’s features, not their clothes. Can your physical features hinder or propel your success? Dr. Gordon Patzer has been studying this for more than 30 years. It is what he calls the Physical Attractiveness Phenomenon, a concept devised of many years of scholarly scientific research.

“Physical Attractiveness Phenomenon can be reasonably summarized as a four step process whereby (1) appearance via physical attractiveness serves as an informational cue, (2) from which extensive information is inferred, (3) that triggers assumptions, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors, (4) causing pervasive, powerful effects/consequences that are generally beneficial for people whose appearance is higher in physical attractiveness and detrimental for people whose appearance is lower in physical attractiveness,” according to

To summarize some of the findings:

• Appearance is a compelling informational cue, from which extensive information is inferred, attitudes formed, and behaviors caused.

• Determinants of appearance are many and complicated: physical and non-physical, permanent and temporary, congenital from birth and developed throughout life.

• Dynamics of appearance are pervasive, powerful, and often unrecognized, unacknowledged, or denied.

• Consequences of appearance, especially as appearance is inseparable from or inextricably interrelated with physical attractiveness, are overwhelmingly in one direction.

Body Fat = Thin Pockets?

So what now? How do you proceed? First, to stay ahead of the game, I guess we would need to figure out if we’re attractive or not. So I went to the most credible online source on the issue there is …. I delved headfirst into the quiz, anxious to know the results. And then, the numbers were in …I scored a 68.75 %. In attractiveness terms, according to the experts, I am a 7 on a scale of 1-10, ten being the hottest. Some would say that isn’t bad for a chunky girl. But according to the UK’s Daily Mail, my career may be in jeopardy.

I have been a plus-sized woman most of my adult life.
“Overweight women, according to medical research, are far more likely to lose their jobs. They are also more likely to be a victim of crime - or a criminal. And as if all that wasn't enough, they are also more likely to be broke.” In Africa, however, (particularly in Mauritania) large women are held in high regard. It means they come from a wealthy family (can afford food) and are fit for marriage. In fact, some men actively go out seeking the curvaceous beauties.

So in a parallel universe, if I were living in Africa with a subscription to Schwan’s, I’d be beating men and employment opportunities back with a stick. If I resided in the UK, I’d be a broke criminal. (I am booking my airline ticket to Africa as as I write.)

When it comes to physical attractiveness and salaries, I believe confidence comes more in to play. On the social effects of physical attractiveness, Wikipedia suggests, “When a person is seen as attractive or unattractive, assumptions are brought into play. Across cultures, what is beautiful is assumed to be good. Attractive people are assumed to be more extroverted, popular, and happy. This could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy; from a young age, attractive people receive more attention that helps them develop these characteristics.”

A healthy dose of confidence can do wonders. When you feel good about yourself, you walk taller, laugh louder and are more comfortable in your skin. We all have aspects of ourselves that can cause some minor feeling of insecurity, but learning to generally appreciate who you are will yield positive results. Certified Personal and Professional Strategy Coach Jonathan Wells, agrees that confidence is important. “In reality, self-confidence is often a more important asset than skill, knowledge, or even experience … People have a natural tendency to trust you more when you seem confident. To the subconscious mind confidence equals competence. Does that seem unfair? Well ask yourself if you would hire someone who seemed unsure of their own abilities? If you needed surgery, would you use a doctor whose first impression left you wondering how he got his license to practice? It wouldn’t matter how impressive his credentials were, you would find someone else.

“Confidence creates trust, and everyone wants to be able to trust the people they do business with, become friends with and fall in love with. If you want to be trusted by others, you must first trust yourself.”

Think about it? Have you ever been around a person that just had that “it”? They weren’t necessarily drop-dead gorgeous or fit the “typical” ideals of beauty, but they had zeal, oomph, that wow factor? It’s because some people just ooze confidence and command our attention. So while I believe how you carry yourself will absolutely assist you in climbing up or falling down the success ladder, blaming it on your parent’s DNA is a little far-fetched.

We all need daily confidence boosters. We perform better when we feel better. Click here for 25 great tips. And ask yourself, what makes you feel confident?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Are your clients more than a number?

I am a creature of habit, of loyalty. There are things I like to be spontaneous about: travel, activities and hairstyles. Yet, there are other circumstances where I prefer to lock my feet in the cement: primary care physician, mechanic, Cottonelle toilet paper. It was hard for me to leave my pediatrician. I was around the age of 25 when I knew it was time. There I was sitting in Dr. Regina Kruczynska’s office surrounded by children playing with blocks and watching videos.

The nurse opened the door and said, “Natasha Clark,” and I was embarrassed as I rose to meet her at the door. I told this to Dr. Kruczynska when I entered and she told me not to worry. She had patients that were approaching 30. I had been her patient since I was 7. She knew my history, my parents and my son. (That was the kicker! Shaun was her patient, too. And if he had an appointment and I wasn’t feeling well, I could get a twofer and ask her to check me out, as well.) It hurt, but I eventually found a new physician.

As entrepreneurs, we should constantly be thinking about keeping our clients coming back for more. Walt Disney said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in, you need and want them to come back. If you’re an author, you want them to buy the sequel. If you’re the president of UCONN, you want that student to return for the master’s degree.

“Recent estimates put each person's circle of influence at between 50 and 300 people. Imagine the time it would take a sales rep to generate 300 potential prospects," says Jay Lipe, author of The Marketing Toolkit for Growing Businesses. "Yet by connecting with a repeat customer, and finding ways for them to communicate with their circle of influence about your company, you've just expanded your sales force, without incurring additional overhead."

I can’t write on this topic and not mention Randy Pausch. He learned that he had pancreatic cancer in September 2006, and in August 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis: "3 to 6 months of good health left". He gave an upbeat lecture titled "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon, which became a popular YouTube video and led to other media appearances. He then co-authored a book called The Last Lecture on the same theme, which became a New York Times best-seller.

A fence dedicated to Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon.
Pausch died of complications from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008. In his fantastic book, he tells readers about the $100,000 salt and pepper shaker Disney World sold. As a kid, Randy was at Disney World with his family and he and his sister decided they wanted to show their parents their appreciation for the trip. They pooled their allowance and purchased a ceramic Disney salt and pepper shaker.

However, Randy accidentally drops the shaker and it breaks. A nearby adult suggests they take it back to the store. To their surprise, the Disney employee who had sold them the items apologized for not wrapping them appropriately and gave them a new set, no questions asked.

As an adult, by Randy's calculations, over the years his family has spent over $100,000 with the Disney brand over the years because they never forgot the symbolic importance of that one specific interaction. In later years as a consultant, Randy asked Disney executives this question: "If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?" Randy said, "the executives squirm at the question. They know the answer: Probably not."

Good service can yield remarkable results. Disney profited 100 times over because of good service, not a fantastic salt and pepper shaker. Delivering quality service is just as important as the quality product.

What are some of the things that spark your loyalty?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Not Having Fun Can Kill You

P. Diddy was right; it is “All About the Benjamins.” We all need to earn a living to survive. With the economy in its current state, some of us are truly hurting to get by. Some of us have been forced to take whatever form of employment we can acquire due to these conditions. But are you smiling or grimacing when you’re counting your cash?

When it comes to working at The Lioness Group and building this firm from the ground up, I only work on what I enjoy. Even if it’s work to be sub-contracted to someone else, I don’t take on the client or contract if it isn’t in line with my firm’s vision. You should only represent what you believe in.

There are some who would say, you need to do what makes money. I get that. Income needs to flow in, but I prefer to carefully select the channels in which it arrives. My sister-in-law has tried to remind me that as I age, I need to start taking the salary benefits a little more seriously, and I will, I’m sure. I have a great appreciation for life and it is very important to me to squeeze joy and fulfillment out of every second. So if I tell a prospective client or peer that I want to work with them, it is because I WANT to, not because I have to.

If you’re not enjoying it, why are you doing it? Have you been in the position to have to report to work or a meeting and dread going? I’m sure you have. I don’t like that situation. I work hard at trying to avoid feeling that way. It’s the stress I try to stay away from. Stress, my friends, can kill. “According to a study by the British Medical Journal, chronic stress has been linked to the development of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other conditions. This is because they found a link between chronic job stress and metabolic syndrome, which is a group of factors that, together, increase the risk of these diseases, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, central obesity (excessive abdominal fat, which has been linked to increased cortisol in the bloodstream, as well as several other health problems). They found that greater levels of job stress increased people’s chances of developing metabolic syndrome: the higher the stress level, the greater the chance of developing metabolic syndrome.”

If you are not currently stressed at work, I am sure you know someone who is. Here are some emotional and cognitive signs: irritable, anxious, worrying, feeling overwhelmed, inability to concentrate and unhappiness. Here are some physical and behavioral signs:  aches, pains, dizziness, diarrhea, eating more or less, procrastination, nervous habits (nail biting, pacing), sleeping too much or too little and abusing alcohol or drugs.
Graph courtesy of

We only get one go. So if you’re not getting pleasure out of what you’re doing, maybe it’s time to reevaluate why you’re doing it. Stress is a serious issue. To learn more about what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has to say on the subject, visit