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Herman Cain vs. Steve Jobs vs. Occupy Wall Street

Last week, while walking home in Brooklyn after meeting some friends, the heel of my boot got stuck in a hole in the sidewalk, breaking my shoe and sending me flying into the air. I eventually landed on both my knees on cobblestone and then fell on my right side in pain. I couldn’t get up for 20 minutes and somehow picked the one street in New York City to fall on that no one else uses. I could have at least used someone to take a picture in case I could have sued!

Until I got up, shook it off, and limped home shaken, I sat on the street wondering what would happen if I couldn’t get up on my own. I should have worried about physical pain, but I was more worried in that instance about what would happen if I had really injured myself with a crappy health insurance situation as a single woman who owns a solopreneur business. The Opportunities Project has made it through its first year, but just barely, and if I had broken something, what would I do to pay for that care… and how would it impact my ability to serve clients… and what would happen to everything I’d taken a risk to try to build for myself and others over 80+ hour weeks since I first had my idea for my business in late 2009. Just because of a damn dark hole in the sidewalk.

It turned out that I had banged myself up pretty bad, but self-treatable- I spent almost 4 days flat on my back with a heating pad on my bruised side and lots of Alieve. So yeah, I’ve been dealing with increased anxiety the last week or so exacerbated by staring at the ceiling (I also made some poor book choices. Sorry, Tina Fey). While I’m not 100% ready to formally announce things yet, I am on the verge of some business and personal changes. Decisions have been made, plans sketched out, but been difficult to physically put into action just now, even though I’m psychologically ready. But no matter how much clarity I have, I’m also worried about the uncertainty my choices will bring and the stability of the market… and how I went from being someone with an MPA in economics and finance to someone who is passionate about and really good at career coaching, social media, teaching and recruiting… things that just go with recessions like peanut butter and jelly? Breathe. But then there were also these things I heard or read the last week:

– “Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”- Herman Cain

– “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”- Steve Jobs

– “I don’t want anyone listening today to think that once you’re done with high school, you’re done learning, or that college isn’t for you… You have to start expecting big things for yourself, right now… Take some risks once in a while..” -President Obama

– Someone who seems to have taken both President Obama’s advice (get your college degree, become a teacher) and counsel from Steve Jobs (follow your heart and intuition) from We Are the 99%.

The number of BFAs under 30 on the We Are the 99% blog with $85K+ in student loan debt has made my heart feel like it’s going to jump out of my chest. All around, the housing and medical debt are making my shoulders hunch permanently.

The problem is everything Cain, Jobs, Obama and Occupy Wall Street say are true, at last in part. Over the last year, I’ve met some amazing job seekers… and a lot who like to play the victim and/or don’t understand that creating success requires a disciplined plan and patience, among other things. But the majority of unemployed young professionals I’ve met are good people who did everything they were told to do by their parents, civic leaders and institutions to launch a career… study hard, go to a good school, pick something you like to do and are good at, get internships… and are stuck in place with few opportunities. Even for those of us who are taking risks, it is almost impossible without family wealth or the institutions previous generations could count on, like your local bank, to be there in your corner.

The rules have changed and the institutions we’re forced to work with- education, banks, and health care- won’t admit it and don’t have to change, and our political leaders are playing naive. I read some posts in my Facebook feed that the Occupy Wall Street protestors should watch Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech and understand personal responsibility instead of blaming companies, but Jobs believed our institutions should be focused on serving customers and users more than anything else. Harvard Business Review agrees. So everyone is right and everyone is wrong. And we all continue to suffer and wonder when and if anything will change other than bring more and different anxiety.

I spent yesterday upright, told my fear to go f’off for the day, and then followed up with as many clients as possible who are dealing with their own transitions, sent the final version of The Opportunities Project’s Quarter 4 plan to my team, and prepared for a group coaching session I led last night. To cure my anxiety, I can take responsibility for my future as much as I can and use my passions and talents to to serve others, and hope that no more hidden sidewalk holes creep up until the health care system can better serve someone like me. To make change, I can talk about the issues and challenge people to get real about what problems we’re actually facing. But is that enough?

Pay Attention to the Girls

Last year, I was fortunate enough to participate in a blogging campaign for The Girl Effect through an opportunity presented by one of my online coaching heroes, Tara Sophia Mohr. The annual blogging campaign (500+ bloggers) brings attention to the sobering stats of what happens to young girls in the developing world without intervention. Forced marriages right after puberty. A lifetime of poverty and an inability to take care of their family. By writing about these issues, we can start a conversation that creates a ripple effect which will eventually reach those who can make change on a systemic basis.

The Girl Effect has proposed that if we laser focus on investing in young women- before the age of 12- through education and entrepreneurship, we can make a large scale impact on the economy of third-world countries. The Kauffman Foundation for entrepreneurship recently found that women are the key to economic prosperity here in the U.S., too. If you pay more attention to little girls and young women in the world, things can really start to change for all of us. This video will explain and inspire.

The Opportunities Project doesn’t have an international reach, but we were started because I became passionate about the issues around economic inequality and access, and in particular how these issues impact still impact Generation Y women. The Girl Effect does a fantastic job of showing the impact of what happens when we don’t pay attention. What can you do to start?

Thanks to my colleagues and friends Tanisha Christie, Dana Leavy, and Michelle Ward who took me up on my invitation to join this year’s campaign. Please read their posts when you get a chance.

Would I Recommend Teaching as a Career?

Almost two weeks ago, Monica Ross Williams interviewed me on Reach Out Job Search Radio as a career expert. Monica was an excellent host and I really thank her for giving me the opportunity to speak with her on her show. One of the questions she asked was “Would you recommend that young people become teachers in today’s economy?” I was surprisingly floored. Strangely, no one ever asks me that question. Since I spent almost ten years recruiting teachers and principals in New York City, people generally assume that my answer to this question would be yes.

But when Monica asked me the question, I realized I couldn’t unequivocally say yes.  I wanted to give a fair and actionable answer as someone people can count on to give trustworthy advice on career options, especially if they are giving me money to do so. So I thought about it and here’s my answer: Yes, but with caveats and two pieces of pragmatic advice.

Create a back-up plan in case teaching doesn’t work out.

Would I recommend teaching as a career?When deciding on a career, everyone should think about their potential return on investment (ROI) for it. Your ROI doesn’t just include what you’ll earn as a salary against your initial education costs, but the value you put on your time. If you’re going into teaching, it should be because you believe your personal satisfaction, or your return, will be worth your investment, including all the financial, time, and emotional costs you’ll experience in preparing for and doing it.

What many people don’t understand is that the cost to become a teacher in our country is extremely high for an entry-level profession that pays little. The barrier is high because certification is expensive. In many states, certification requires at least one semester of unpaid labor in the student teaching experience and a master’s degree after a few years of teaching. It also takes more time to become a good teacher compared to other entry-level professions where the learning curve is shorter. If you go through all that …and then can’t get a teaching job or decide it’s not for you, your options may be limited as an education degree doesn’t have the same market value of a liberal arts degree. If you read the I TEACH NYC Facebook page, you’ll see that many of the recent graduates who did not find teaching jobs were forced into retail positions because they couldn’t convince other employers of the transferable value of their experience and education. Did you really spend all that money on your BA to now only be qualified to work at Forever 21 as a clerk or as your neighborhood barista? (I’m asking Justin to do some research and find more information on what education majors do besides teaching for a future blog post.)

Though our country’s private sector has recovered, it takes a while for that recovery to trickle down to the public sector in the form of taxes to support education. Consumers also don’t trust that the recovery is real so they’re not spending, affecting incoming sales tax. The fact is that no matter how you wish it to be different, districts are not hiring teachers in great numbers and I am not sure the perpetual “teacher shortage” is ever coming back. The National Association of Colleges and Employers issued a survey that found that for the class of 2010, journalism graduates were more likely to find jobs than teachers. I never expected to see data like that in my lifetime, but it’s reality.

So if you’re thinking about teaching, double major in something else you like in addition to education. That doesn’t mean that you have to pick something like accounting if you hate numbers, but something that could get you a job that pays a market-rate college graduate salary. Spend at least one of your college summers interning in that field or take a virtual internship during the school year with flexible hours. When graduation approaches, doggedly pursue teaching, but if you’re not finding anything after a reasonable amount of time, start pursuing that back-up plan. You can always pursue teaching when the economy changes.

As an aside… I think this high cost to enter the teaching profession is an important point for people who are following all the Wisconsin rhetoric to understand, even if you’re against public sector unions. Since new teachers have to work a long time at a low teacher salary to break even on what they paid to get that certificate, stability and easy entry into the job market become more essential to the livelihood of a teacher than it does for other professions. 
While there may be reasons for private sector employees to be on Scott Walker’s side, the argument that removing tenure rights will make teachers “more like us” does not hold economically. It’s more complicated than the sound bites make you believe.

Understand what teaching is and what it’s not.

Teaching is about setting high goals for your students and doing everything you can to help them meet those goals. That means instruction, as well as helping them find ways to limit the obstacles they face outside the classroom, whether it’s building up their coping and other soft skills, working with their parents, or collaborating with professional partners outside your classroom. It requires significant leadership and analytical skills. Teaching is not working with kids, or imparting your wisdom, or solving problems of social justice and if those are your main motivations, the job is not for you. Those are parts of the jobs, but they serve to support your daily mission to do things in your classroom that will make your real-life students- like my Glendy, Anthony, Kayla and Stephanie- become people in their 20s doing things that satisfy them and help them support themselves.

Before applying to a teacher certification program, go shadow a teacher that you respect for a day. Can you do this every day? Will you be able to filter all the political noise around teaching to concentrate on your students short and long-term needs?

On Monday, President Obama gave an education speech and made references to teachers’ role as nation builders. I agree with him, but inspiration is cheap (with all due respect, Mr. President). So please, be a teacher because we need smart and dedicated people like you, especially in science and special education. Just do all the hard planning work you need to do BEFORE you send in that application to the teacher certification program of your choice. As a career coach, I help people change their career directions all the time so my point is not to make you think that you’re wedded to teaching for the rest of your life because you study it. Just don’t underestimate the costs before making an initial commitment.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Are We Missing the Point in Education Reform?

It’s been almost a month since New York Social Media Week, but been thinking lately about the Disrupting Education Panel I attended and how it really was the tipping point for me on this change I am going through in my thoughts about education reform. While I thought we were making big improvements in schools in the last decade, I’m starting to think that we’re completely missing the point. Here are some tweets I posted from when I was at the panel:


– We have to teach our kids how to mine brilliance on social media.
– Oh my. Panelist just mentioned holding teachers accountable for not using tech and social media


In case you don’t take much stock in tweets from the mouths of tech punks, here is an Ashoka Fellow and Brown alum saying the same thing just less direct and more eloquently and not using the term “social media.”



(Thanks to Timothy Johnson III for sharing the video with me via Twitter.)


At one time, I had wanted to do an insightful blog post on the State of the Union and how disappointed I was with Obama’s comments on education, but I got distracted and didn’t know how to express this change I was feeling. But it’s becoming clearer ever day. This Week with Christiane Amanpour intrigued me this weekend, especially a segment on trying to buy American products for your home. A group of ABC journalists went though the products in one typical family’s home and found that except for one vase, everything else was made overseas. When trying to replace the foreign-made products with American versions, the reporters found that there were entire products that aren’t even manufactured in our country anymore. Not a huge surprise, but the point that one of the journalists made that stuck with me was that our country obsesses over the fact that we don’t have workers making plasma televisions in factories here any longer, but we should be collectively focused on how new graduates are doing to design the next best thing after plasma.


And then I saw THIS video and was both depressed and slightly inspired.



(Thanks to my friends at TBEX NYC for posting on their blog.)

I am becoming increasingly despondent about our schools. Some say we know how to fix them, but we just choose not to do so. The current reforms, when they work, give more students access to middle class jobs, but now it looks like those jobs are disappearing faster than working class ones. How long will it take for ed reform to adjust to this new reality? “College for all” does not work. Middle-income jobs in health care and related fields don’t require bachelor degrees so why go into intense debt? Second, our colleges aren’t even teaching people to be creative or innovative (thanks Paul Krugman).

Ed policy is a mess. it’s become so focused on ideology and “who has the power to do what” instead of creating a vision for what habits and skills our K-12 students should be learning EVERY day, and how that ties into what we expect them to do at age 18 or 22 when they’re supposed to be out on their own and changing the world.

The social media thing sticks with me because it just reinforces how behind we are. Instead of trying to lockdown young people’s access to Facebook and Twitter, maybe we could teach students how to use it correctly to communicate and connect with the outside world and learn new things. As crazy it sounds, maybe creating learning standards and making social media an integral tool in K-12 education is where the debate should be.


Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Download Our White Paper: The Economic Achievement Gap

Clients, friends and fans (who ever thought I’d have fans when I grew up?) know that I am not your typical career coach for many reasons. One of those reasons is that I was driven to this business because of my disappointment with our K-16 education system and my sincere belief that I can do something about it through The Opportunities Project.

In December, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was interviewed on 60 Minutes. He used part of the interview to express his concern about the relationship between education and the current unemployment rate. In his words…

“It’s based very much, I think, on educational differences… If you’re a college graduate, unemployment is five percent. If you’re a high school graduate, it’s 10 percent or more. It’s a very big difference. It leads to an unequal society and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion that we’d like to see.”

(Articles: College, Jobs and Inequality- NY Times and Fed Chair Says 4 to 5 Years for “Normal” Unemployment-


First, I think that the unemployment problem is worse than what Bernanke states. The unemployment rate for college graduates only includes people who are eligible for unemployment insurance, which requires working full-time for at least a year in most states. Most college students who attended school full-time have not met that requirement, making them ineligible for unemployment when they graduate. This means that most of the class of 2010 are excluded from the government’s official statistics. Second, as a New York Times editorial pointed out, “college for all” is not going to solve our economic problems because these unemployment statistics don’t reveal that a high percentage of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

The “unequal society” is the real issue. We have people who confidently and happily produce great work and people who don’t. We have discounted the impact of education’s failure to prepare young people for the careers that are available in today’s economy. We don’t teach our students how to be strategic, resilient, or creative and we push aspirations that don’t fit their abilities and interests. Sometimes that includes college. I am now seeing first hand how this mindset stays with people, even when they hit their thirties and beyond.

In January, I started thinking more about education and the economy as I was getting ready for the Teach for America 20 Year Summit. As someone starting out in career coaching, I’ve focused on gaining individual clients versus the social entrepreneurship and advocacy part of my business model. The Summit’s challenge to ask yourself what role you play in eliminating educational inequity as an alum made me reflect if I should be stepping that advocacy role up now. I also started reading press coverage about a book called Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Arun and Roksa found that students are learning very little in college and even worse, the “achievement gap” between poor and upper class students becomes exacerbated while they are in college. I read the book and what really stood out to me was the alignment between what the Collegiate Learning Assessment (the assessment the researchers based their findings on) measured and what employers desire in new hires (per the National Association of Colleges and Employers). It’s clear as day that we know what we should be doing in education and we’re not doing it, for various reasons.


Four Skills Measured on the Collegiate Learning Assessment

Top Four Skills Most Desired by Employers

Communicate Clearly Verbal Communication Skills
Solve Problems Strong Work Ethic
Think Critically Teamwork Skills
Reason Analytically Analytical Skills


My colleague Keith Petri, Founder and CEO of eBranding Me, and I had contemplated writing white papers on what role higher education, and particularly the college career center, plays in the scope of employment problems recent graduates face. As more people started talking about Academically Adrift, and we became more aware that we could make a difference, we knew it was time. With our co-author Justin Mathews, we just issued our first white paper, The Economic Achievement Gap: No End in Sight, our first paper in our three paper series called Solutions for Change in Education. In this first paper, we outline the problems through a summary of economic data and then offer starter solutions that could be implemented immediately to improve the likelihood that today’s college students and graduates find jobs. Our second and third papers will go into more detail on college career services and student responsibility, respectively.

The Opportunities Project and eBranding Me

You can download The Economic Achievement Gap here. A press release can also be accessed from my Press page. Keith, Justin and I encourage your feedback and have left the comments open on the page where you can download the paper. Change will only happen through discussion and collaboration and we want to have that with you!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


My Pitch: Why Career Coaching Can Transform Education

Happy Friday! After a somewhat traumatic Thursday that involved a lot of time talking to Chase bank (don’t ask!), I am now writing from Savannah, GA. I am visiting an old friend and doing more planning for our special event on Tuesday, November 9th on Achieving Career Success through Blogging. Tickets go up again on Monday, November 1 so RSVP today!

I’ve planned a four (or is it five?) part series on Why I Do What I Do, but thought I’d start the weekend with a video aligned with the “why” question. In September, I applied for a slot in the first cohort of the Kauffman Education Ventures Program. This program is for 15 entrepreneurs who want to start for-profit, multi-million dollar education ventures, K-20. My hope for The Opportunities Project is that it eventually competes on the level of Kaplan and The Princeton Review- if you graduate and you need help getting to the next step, you would turn to The Opportunities Project for guidance, so I threw my hat in the ring.

I wasn’t ultimately chosen for the Kauffman program, and to be absolutely honest, I was relieved. I was not convinced it was going to be a fit during the pre-application process conference calls, and personally, I need the space in my life to try new things on my own. That is just too important to my personal journey now. Maybe next year. But as part of the application, I had to submit a YouTube video addressing two questions- (1) what inspired me about entrepreneurship, and (2) why I thought my venture could transform education. It was the first YouTube video I ever did and it was not exactly natural or easy filming. Even more difficult was posting it publicly and seeing users named “Maneater” favorite it. Eww. I thought about deleting the video after I found out that I was not selected, but I’ve decided to keep it up for a while. I like the reminder it gives me that it’s okay to be outside your comfort zone, especially when you care about something deeply. The second part also reminds me how passionate I am about fixing the world for our graduates.

Happy Halloween!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog