Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

6 Truths about Getting into Real Estate

When you hear the dollar amount of commissions and see real estate agents post about working from tropical islands, it can seem like a no-brainer to get your license and join up. STOP – and consider some realities before you take that leap.

For the past five years, I’ve been the backbone of the business end of real estate – first for a small team owned by a long-time salesman and then as the business manager for large, multi-location brokerages and now supporting over 825+ franchised brokerages through the corporate team. And here’s what I’ve learned are the top myths folks still believe about becoming a real estate agent:

  1. Get your license and sell a home the next day.
  2. You can set your own hours.
  3. Net $1M in your first year.
  4. The commission split is the most important number.
  5. Training is free from the brokerage.
  6. Everything is a contract!

1. Get your license and sell a home the next day.

How long it takes to “get started” varies, and lot of it depends on YOU. The rest of the timing is up to the government on the front end.

One of two sequences are going to affect your ability to take a buyers agency or listing right away after passing your exam:

  • In some states, you have to received your license from the state real estate commission before you can affiliate with a brokerage, and you must be affiliated with a brokerage *before* taking an agency – legally.
  • In the other states, you have to affiliate with a brokerage *before* you can apply for your license.

Either way, you must have BOTH license in hand AND brokerage affiliation *before* you can sign a buyer or take a listing. The wait time for this can be 2 days to 2 months, largely depending on the real estate commission’s process.

Pro Tip: ask the brokerages you are interviewing with how long it takes for you to have both to be able to have business on the books.

The other side of this is that signing the buyer and taking the listing are just the beginning. For listings, expect a 45-60 day process from list to close – that’s 45-60 days before you get paid. For buyers, expect 30 days of showings and offers before you finally get one accepted, and then 45-60 days to close.

Assuming you’ve gone into real estate full time (quit your day job and work on real estate 8-10 hours a day), that’s 2-3 months of your personal savings you are spending. Did you save that much yet?

Pro Tip: save at least 6 months of your personal expense needs before quitting your day job. This will get you through those first 2-3 months before your first closing and commission income check.

2. You can set your own hours.

Yep, you sure can. And If you know anything about how many hours business owners put in a week, then you know this means 60-80-hour weeks to get your new business off the ground.

You see, when you become a real estate agent, you become a busiess owner, which means that in addition to writing offers, overseeing inspections, and collecting commission checks, you are also responsible for

  • creating marketing and advertising – you are a graphic designer, a copy writer, and digital and social media presence
  • keeping the books – you are a bookkeeper, budgeter, and – if you hire an assistant – a payroll payer
  • human resources – as your business grows, you may hire an assistant, a showing assistant, another agent to help you – you are an interviewer, employee/contractor paperwork, tax paperwork, trainer, manager, performance reviewer, and firer.
  • and more.

Are you ready to take on these roles and more as your busines grows? Where will you find the hours to perform the non-sales parts of running your business? Or whom will you pay to do these for you? Does the brokerage you are talking to offer support and training for YOU to become this business owner?

Pro Tip: you will spend either time or money – choose wisely – real estate is expensive either way.

With either choice, here are some expectations you need to keep in mind:

  • A real estate agent is a business owner, not just a sales person. You have to also order supplies, become a marketing expert, enter your business receipts into an accounting program, file business taxes at the end of the year. That’s a lot to learn in addition to the sales and legal ins and outs of real estate.
  • A full-time job is an 8-hour-a-day job, so if you are dual career, that means you are giving at least 16 hours a day to work.
  • When you do real estate only 2 hours an evening after your day job, you are quadrupling the time it will take you to simply replace your current income with real estate. So if a brokerage tells you that you can net $100K in one year, expect it to take your 4 years to achieve that working only 25% of the day.

The fact is that business owners get to choose their own hours only when the’ve put in the work and hours to be able to hire others to run their business for them.

3. Net $1Million in your first year

Yes, it’s possible. Nope, it’s not probable.

The key factors in achieving this particular expectation *in your first year* are almost completely out of your control because it’s a function of the local average sales price. Let’s do a little math here:

The average newly licensed full time realtor will close 8-10 deals in their first 12 months.

ProTip: The Millionaire Real Estate Agent (book) digs into this formula and the KW Business Planning Clinic drills down to how many people you need to talk to each day to achieve whatever your Net goal is.

“Net” means the amount you keep in your bank account after splits to the brokerage and all business expenses are paid.

The basic formula for Net is 30-30-40 where 40% is the net you are looking for:

  • Commission Income (100%) = $2,500,000
  • COS (30%) = $750,000
  • Business Expenses (30%) = $750,000
  • Net (40%) = $1,000,000 (before taxes)

So at 8-12 deals in an average first year in real estate, the average sales price you need to be handling to net $1M a year is around $7Million per contract.

So is this your local average sales price, your experience level, or your luxury designation? Who in your brokerage closed 8-12 deals at $7Million each – that’s wh you need to become your mentor.

4. The commission split is the most important number.

When you are interviewing brokerages – and, yes, YOU are interviewing THEM because they need your money to operate – you’re likely to hear variations on these five costs:

  • Commission Split
  • Cap
  • Royalty or franchise fee
  • Dues
  • Transaction Fee

The Commission Split is where folks tend to focus, and everyone wants to hear 100%. Well, here’s the fact: the brokerage has to make it’s money somewhere to provide you with whatever perks they are promising you to get you to sign up. The commission split is where that happens. Here’s what you might expect based on how much real estate business you’ve done in the last 12 months:

  • Newly licensed agents should expect a split from 50/50 to 70/30 to account for the extra attention from the broker or coach to ensure all actions are legally compliant.
  • Agents with a history of capping in the last 12 months should expect a split of 80/20.
  • Agents with a history of achieving $10M+ in sales annually in the local market for at least 2-3 years running may expect a split of 90/10 or 95/5 depending on their production levels. This is the group with the most split negotiating power.

Pro Tip: the commission split determines how quickly you will reach your cap, not how much you’ll be paying the brokerage, so you really want to check out the next paragraph.

The Cap is the real key to how much you are (or aren’t) paying to the brokerage. Here’s how a cap works: based on the month you started, that’s your cap “anniversary” and the beginning of your 12-month period for your cap. The brokerage sets a fixed amount of the cap, let’s say $15,000. Using the split percentage, you will pay only $15,000 of your commission in that 12-month period to the brokerage; once you’ve paid that $15K, you’ll switch to a 100% commission until you hit that anniversary month.

Another way to think of this is that you are worth $15,000 to the brokerage. And in a brokerage with a great culture, every agent, no matter how much business they do, is worth the same – no one is worth more/less than anyone else. Look for this kind of equity in your brokerage because if they are offering you a sweet deal off the spec sheet, then chances are down the road, they’ll automatically update you to the standard cap regular terms so that they can offer someone more valuable to them a sweet deal too.

The Royalty is a cost unique to franchised brokerages like Keller Williams, Berkshire Hathaway, and others. It’s generally 5-10% of your commission, depending on the brokerage. But here’s the kicker and what you want to be really specific in asking about: is the royalty capped or is it assessed on every transaction until the end of time. The answer that best benefits your way to achieving that $1M net is a capped royalty.

The Dues and the Transaction Fees are opposite sides of the same coin. You’ll pay one or both, regardless of the brokerage you choose, so, again, ask lots of questions so that you can accurately compare what you’ll owe monthly, per transaction, or both combined. Here are some common items that fall into these categories:

  • E&O insurance fees
  • Lead fees
  • Broker fees
  • MLS fees
  • In-house Transaction Coordinator fees
  • Training fees
  • Coaching fees
  • Desk/Office rental space
  • Copies and Faxes

5. Training is free from the brokerage.

Pro Tip: you know what they say about free stuff, right? You get what you pay for.

That’s largely true when training is left up to “more experienced” agents to share what works for them – with no compensation. That’s called mentoring, not training.

What you are looking for in training is

  • a consistent program with clear objectives,
  • instructions, examples, and practice towards achieving those objectives,
  • instructors who are trained to be instructors and held accountable for ensuring associates achieve the practice objectives in “class” so they can achieve them in real life, and
  • a clear habit of scheduling core training progrms on a regular basis (ask for the last three months of the training caledar).

In an ideal world, you’re looking for a brokerage that offers more training opportunities than you could possibly attend in one month and still run your business, training like this for all levels of development, not just for brand new agents and not necessarily just for free:

  • free training and paid coaching options for new associates – there’s a lot of financial benefit to joining a coaching program that takes a little higher split and offers services you’d otherwise be figuring out on your own like marketing and closing coordination
  • ongoing coaching – look at options where the coaching fee is at least in part based on what you close rather than a flat rate – that way you know that their compensation is based on how well they help you get more/enhanced business

And be sure to engage in specialized training that might involve travel, including the national convention(s) of the brokerage you join. These are important opportunities to meet and mastermind and learn from the highest achievers in real estate towards improving your business. And they are amazing events for enhancing your referral network, another great way to grow your business.

6. Everything is a contract.

As you are looking for your first brokerage, you are probably taking or just finishing your pre-licensing classes which throw a lot of legal stuff at you – the stuff that needs to make it into a contract or an addendum to a contract for sale to close.

Pro Tip: everything is a contract, and it’s your job to protect your business interests by insisting on having it in writing.

And it’s important that you also know that every part of your affiliation with a brokerage is a contract as well. Start with the brokerage policies & guidelines and your affiliation contract; these are where you should expect standard terms to be clearly defined.

Here are some things you’ll want to make sure you have in writing with signatures for your own protection:

  • ICA – independent contractor agreement – you are a 1099 contractor of the brokerage, not an employee – make sure you research what that means
  • All fees you are charged both/either as monthly dues or per transaction fees
  • Referrals – make sure you have all client referrals you receive and that you send to other agents – even in your own brokerage – in writing and acknowledged by the brokerage that will be handling the commission
  • Special terms – if you negotiated anything different from the standard affiliation terms, get that in writing – reduced cap, higher split, brokerage-paid services, etc., and especially how long each change is effective. If there’s going to be an end date, you want to know that up front.

Everything is a contract, and it’s your job to protect your business interests by insisting on having it in writing.

Full Disclosure

I currently work for Keller Williams Realty International – the corporate headquarters – and have been affiliated with KW for five years through five different brokerages (called market centers within KW) on the East Coast. I have only worked with the Keller Williams real estate franchise to date and have assisted a number of agents – both newly licensed and with decades of experience – work through the data presented by different brokerages in order to figure out the apples to apples comparison. KW usually but does not always come out on top when weighed against their needs and goals.

Posted in Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

The Secrets to Perfect Every Time Homemade Caramel Sauce

When corn and all of its derivatives became persona non grata (food allergy) in my family, we had to go searching for the old homemade recipes from before WW1, when corn syrup made its debut into home pantries as an inexpensive alternative to sugar.

And – gratefully – I found among our family recipes “Bon’s Burnt Sugar Sauce.” Aunt Bon was my grandfather Joe Jones’s oldest sister Yvonne, whom the family nicknamed Bon. And she was my mom’s favorite candy-making expert. We also use her divinity and whipped fudge recipes at the holidays.

The good news: homemade caramel, whether you are making sauce or candy chews, is a really quick recipe – about 3 minutes to measure out the three ingredients to be ready, about 10 minutes from dry sugar to completed sauce, and another minute to pour it into a jar. And done.

The bad news: there’s about a 3 second line between caramelized and burnt so badly you can’t eat it. Melting and caramelizing the sugar is “the hard part” and a candy thermometer won’t help you.

So let’s get ready. This is a recipe where you can’t be measuring ingredients as you go. It literally happens too fast for that.

Tools needed:

  • enamelled cast iron 6-8 quart pot
  • non-reactive stirring spoon – like firm silicone – or a metal/silicone whisk
  • glass or ceramic container with a lid – if I don’t have any fancy mason or ball jars, I like to re-use spaghetti sauce jars as they are just the right size

Ingredients needed for roughly 24 oz (4 cups) of caramel sauce

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 Tbsp salted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp slices
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Alright, you’re ready to get started.

Step 1: pour the 2 cups of sugar into the bone dry enamelled cooking pot. Enamel is a non-reactive surface known to distribute heat most evenly across the large bottom of the pot so that no section of the sugar burns before the others; it’s also a non-reactive surface, so it won’t introduce metal elements or flavoring into your caramel like stainless steel, copper, and direct cast iron will. And you need it to be a pot rather than simply a large skillet because the later steps will result in the mixture bubbling and foaming up, and this will overspill a skillet.

Step 2: place the pot with sugar on medium heat. WARNING: do not use higher than medium or your sugar will burn before it’s all melted, and you’ll have to dump the whole pot and start over. Now, every stove is different AND your local environment (heat and humidity) will affect the stove setting that achieves your desired level of burnt. On my electric, glass-topped stove in Winter Park, FL, exactly medium achieves my preferred dark caramel and one notch from medium towards low achieves my family’s preferred standard medium caramel.

Step 3: to stir or not to stir while the sugar metls. This is a bit controversial because you’ll see the majority of online recipes insist that you not stir. In my experience, not stirring leads to a darker brown, slightly bitter caramel sauce; so if you like that, don’t stir. Most of my friends prefer the lighter to medium, milky sweet caramel sauce, and I find that minimal stirring makes this easier to achieve. And when I say minimal, I mean that once every 90-120 seconds, I use my spoon to “turn over” the sugar so that the melted layer is on top and the dry sugar that hasn’t gotten heat is on the bottom. That’s what I mean by stirring.

And as you can see, I prefer a spoon to a whisk. Like the pot, the spoon is an heirloom and is part of the history of making this sauce and others like it. Also, my experiences with whisks and a pot full of sugar have been meh, so I stick with the spoon that works.

When I see it color and bubble through the sugar layer, that’s when I scoop the sugar over to put the dry on the bottom to get melted.

Step 4: use your nose. Your nose is your best guage to the level of burnt you desire. If this is your first time trying homemade caramel, I encourage you to let it go to the too burnt to use state so that you can teach your nose “when it’s time” to stop burning the sugar.

Step 5: add the knobs of butter.Turn off the heat, but leave the pot on the burner. Drop in the knobs of butter and let them start bubbling and foaming up the sauce. Once it starts dropping back down, stir like crazy to really get the butter incorporated into the sugar sauce. This entire steps takes maybe 25-30 seconds.

Make sure you have these two ingredients cut and measured and ready to go at your fingertips.

Step 6: add the cream. Move the pot off of the burner and pour in the cold cream. Once again, the sauce will bubble and foam up. And once again, as it starts to drop back, stir until all of the cream is incorporated and the sauce turns a uniform color and is mostl shiny on top.

It’s one thing to say it will bubble and foam up, and another to see it before it happens to you for the first time.

Step 7: let the sauce sit for a few minutes just to cool off a bit. Since you’ll be using a glass jar or glass or ceramic bowl to store the sauce, you can pour it in hot, but it’s still a good idea to cool a bit, just in case there are any flaws in the container that might make it break. There’s nothing sadder than 4 cups of freshly made caramel sauce dripping down the front of your cabinets and pooling on the floor.

Step 8: run scalding hot water in your cooking pot immediately. This will melt any remaining sticky sugar and make cleaning your pot for the next batch of caramel sauce quick and easy. Do the same for your stirring spoon or whisk as well.

Ways to Use 4 Cups of Caramel Sauce:

  • Popcorn topping
  • Coffee add-in
  • Dessert topping
  • Oatmeal topping (in place of things like brown sugar, maple syrup)
  • Ham glaze
  • Pancake/Waffle topping
  • Fruit dip
  • Fondue – in place of chocolate
Posted in Children

Even Old Girls Can Do the M in STEAM!

Thirteen years ago (2017), I applied to an MBA program. Now at that time, I already had 3 bachelor degrees, 1 masters degree, and 1 PhD. I was accepted without reservation, but one of the reviewers who knew my dad from a social club told him “she’ll have trouble with the math.”


You see, that reviewer, who funnily enough specialized in the leadership classes of the program, assumed that 2 bachelors degrees in music (yep, not a single digit of math there) and a PhD that was 1/3 logic (nope, no math fundaments there) couldn’t possibly include basic, much less analytical mathematics.

I’d already taken and earned As in graduate level statistics not once but twice by that point. And I was going to have trouble with the math.

I get it. He – yes, it was a he – saw the department names “English,” “Music,” Linguistics,” and “Composition and Rhetoric” and heard only the “school of humanities.” Ahhhh, the old division of arts and sciences, right? Well, I’m the one with a foot in each, successful professionally – yep, paid in both arts and sciences!

Fast forward 13 years, and I’m 9 months into being the CFO for a 3-branch real estate brokerage in a luxury-heavy market. I move millions of dollars each month. And am held accountable for it weekly and monthly through an official review processes. Had a great conversation with our CPA Friday afternoon; she loves me.

I had this moment today – Sunday, August 16, 2020 – where I had a bit of a “take that, jackass” moment. You see, a colleague had asked for help in one of our online forums with explaining a financial outcome in a way the boss would understand.

I hopped on a call, checked the math formulas, matched them up with the company policies, and viola, explanation. And among all of that made a friend, mostly because I offered to figure it out with her, not because I knew the answer.

I spent an hour talking through financials without even having a statement in front of me – mine or hers – for reference.

All of this after being the very first CFO to pass the new CFO approval process for my region – the third most profitable region in the world for my company. All because I could explain the logic behind every single number and math output of the financial statements. Where I move millions of dollars each month.

She’ll have trouble with the math.

I already had 5 degrees. I’d submitted transcripts showing 2 As in statistics already. So what’s left is “she.”

It’s not often that I pay attention to sexism against me. I’ll fight you if I see/hear you apply it to someone else, but I just don’t care enough when it’s directed at me. And then I think of what it might have cost me.

It’s not often that I pay attention to sexism in my dad’s favor. But that’s what happened. I was given a “pass” because my dad is a graduate of the same school, an all-male school when he and the reviewer attended back in the day. I was a “good risk” because I had earned credentials, and I had existing connections with the school.

Women in STEM graphic from flickr:

Posted in Everyday Musings, leadership

Toxic Trait Revealed by Quarantine Life: How One Dream Unlocked My Self-Deception

I’ve been having increasing challenges keeping my cool and reacting in my traditional, normal rationale (if sometimes dispassionate) way to regular and surprise life – noticeably and almost measurably for the past two weeks.

It got so bad that I had to ask for a perspective check this week on how sensitive I was being, as I’d taken a colleague’s question as an attack – that I wasn’t doing my job, or at least that I wasn’t doing it well enough. And this was from a colleague whom I know to be my (second) biggest fan.

And then last night I had a dream that was dark and kept spinning out even after I woke up.

The Dream

I was at a night-time church service. I was sitting with the worship leaders I’d worked with, served with, led worship with for over 9 years. It’s a liturgical service, with the same basic pattern every week.

The pastor leans over to me and asks me to go up to the lectern ahead of my part and do one of the scripture readings. I agree. No worries. I can’t remember the last time an in-service change or “mistake” actually felt like a problem.

I get to the lectern and pick up a hand-held, corded microphone, lean down and extend my finger to mark the beginning of the scripture reading so I can track what I’m doing…

And I can’t read the words. The entire Bible is in wingdings.

I look back at what the bulletin says is the scripture, to make sure I’ve got it right and to hope that the bulletin has the scripture printed (sometimes it does), and the scripture there is also in wingdings. The rest of the bulletin is in regular English, but the verses are in wingdings.

I squint, thinking it’s my eyes. I search my brain for what I remember of the passage, even if I have to paraphrase, and nothing comes to mind. I pray that a hymn verse or some anthem excerpt comes to mind so that I might at least sing a portion of the message.


I have nothing original, nothing scripted to provide support or direction or even a starting point.

And no one helps. No one offers to help. The entire worship team sits silent and waiting behind me. And the congregations sits silent and waiting in front of me.

And in that moment it feels like even God has left me to flounder.

Some Context

I grew up in the high German Lutheran liturgical church of the ELCA and rose to worship leadership quickly after college; I even dabbled in theology classes with the thought of becoming an Associate in Ministry (AIM).

I have served various liturgical churches as a professional singer and worship leader for over 20 years: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Methodist. Only the Catholics have never hired me ;-).

I’ve coached ordained ministers and career church musicians through the nuances of different liturgical services when they’ve filled in for another liturgical denomination.

I’ve trained churches through liturgical worship revisions and re-launches.

Knowing, following, understanding, working within the pattern of worship is kind of my thing. It’s what I would have specialized in as an AIM – worship practice and leadership.

Even beyond that, I think of the times when my choir director calls me as I’m literally driving to a Sunday morning service to tell me that the guest soloist isn’t going to be there and now I’m going to be singing a solo – in a style that doesn’t suit me terribly well – that I’ve never sung or practiced even as a lark – and doing so in about 30 minutes with maybe one run-through. Even that doesn’t phase me.

I’ve completely rewritten children’s sermons on the way to church because something happened on that drive that was even more powerful than what I had planned.

You might say vamping for God is something I do quite well.

So upon my first wake-up at 5:30 am, I turned on my peppermint diffuser, heated up my flax seed pillow, tucked back in with my pillow weighting down my eyes, and went back to sleep – with the objective of turning off those awful thoughts so I could wake up with a clear(er) mind.

And it worked – three hours later I woke to snuggle with Shadow and try hard not to be mad at myself for oversleeping my planned early morning hike before the rain.

Dream Reflection

For me to be so completely stifled, silenced even, is so far out of character, out of reality that as I woke the first time, the film in my mind kept going.

It’s been a really long time – probably a decade or so – since a dream kept going. It’s happened before, yes.

And it was the second wake-up – beginning with such disappointment in myself for not meeting a self-imposed commitment – that started my epiphany.

So here’s where I wound up – in case you’re ready to jump to another blog or head back to Facebook for a baby goat video – the change in interaction, in daily communication with certain people, the loss of feedback in visual/physical methods, these are affecting my personal ability to know that what I’m doing is

  • enough
  • valued
  • productive
  • helping others

And that last one is the real kicker. Between my 99S (DISC) and responsible, relator, and connectedness strengths (3 of my top 5 CliftonStrengths), that helping others and that what I’m doing is valued by others (useful to) are what’s critical to my ability to keep calm, prioritize and re-prioritize efficiently, to know and have confidence in what I’m doing and that I’m doing it well.

These are the foundational elements of my measure of my own self-worth, self-value. I *need* to know that what I do matters. It never needs to be helpful to me. It’s always about how helpful it is to others. That 99S is a doozy!

You see, the messages I do get are at cross purposes

  • you have to do this by x date – and “you” is specifically named me by name or by job title
  • you have to give yourself grace if you can’t get it all done
  • you still have to meet all of the deadlines, without fail
  • and you have to take care of yourself
  • you have to delegate some of this stuff to others
  • your leverage options are full and you don’t get any more (at least right now)

So the short is that I’m expected – expressly so by others and by extension myself – to do everything and more. And I simply can’t. Yes, there is a point where all things are NOT possible. There are literally not enough minutes in a day even when I work a “normal” 10-hour day.

Add to that the fact that my co-leaders have equally over-full plates. That’s where the not asking comes into play. Why on earth would it be logical for me to add to their plate? To burden them with my job when it’s my responsibility to figure out how to get it all done. They are at least equally as burdened as I am.

And therein lies the opportunity (because by biggest fan hates the word “problem”):

For decades, I’ve been the person who does and usually can say yes and get it done, even when I don’t have to be that person. It’s a natural part of my responsible strength.

I need to become the person who says “not now” and sometimes “no.”

I need to become the person who says “let me figure out how to make that happen” rather than simply assuming the assignment/request myself.

It feels mean. It feels like I’m letting others – and by extension myself – down. It feels like I’m not doing my job – or worse, dumping my job on someone else’s plate. That last is a HUGE piece of the mindset, much bigger than most believe.

And yet it is normal, it is human, and it is necessary. It’s called leverage, and for the person who’s spent decades being the leverage, it’s impossibly hard on a basic level.

How I Connected the The Dream and the Epiphany

So you’re wondering how I got from a wingding Bible to quarantine self-doubt, yeah? It’s a six (or seven) degrees of separation thing, I think:

In a context where I know and feel complete confidence because of my long-term knowledge, experience, and expertise

Asked and agreed to jump in the way I have a million times before – no worries

Failing completely at that last minute request – and especially in a way another expertise (linguistics) would normally have supported me

Recognizing that I’m in a new job not quite 5 full months AND a new role – from leverage to leadership; the job has woefully inadequate training and a high degree of inconsistency across the corporation in how it’s perceived and used

Not having the knowledge and experience long enough to feel confident on a foundational level – as a leader in “normal” times

Feeling not recognized and valued as a leader by others in leadership – specifically being treated as not important in the big discussions and decisions, only in a data entry role

Being deprived of the feedback, conversations necessary for me to know where I and the work I’m doing stand – knowing that I’m succeeding, somehow, in a role where there are very few standards or benchmarks

Is it any wonder I’m suffering from self-doubt in my abilities, in my achievement of success and standards, in my leadership attempts. Heck, I don’t even really know where I’m actually failing because I’m not getting enough of that communication either.

Is it at least 50% my fault? Yes. I have a responsibility to ask for the communication, the feedback, the evaluation, and the help that I need, especially since I’m well conditioned to project a ridiculously high degree of capability.

It’s at least another 20% my fault for, by default, not answering the question “what can I do for you today” with an answer other than “I have what I need from you.” And I give kudos to both my leadership and my staff for asking this. It’s my fault for not thinking about the answer more carefully, or even anticipating it and having things to leverage appropriately.

Oh who am I kidding? It’s 100% my fault for not speaking up and telling the people I’ve trusted to lead me and coach me that I need them to see these things and coach me on them. Push me to acknowledge that I’m doing it again. Stand with me to make better choices. I have to teach them my weaknesses, my challenges, if I’m ever to expect them to help me.

And therein lies the conflict: teaching them this and laying an expectation on them to help me fix my problem is that “burden” that chains the toxic habit to me.

Probably the most important “general” lesson – mantra – that I can take from the quarantine experience is goes something like this:

Bad habits are learned in good times while good habits are learned in bad times.

It’s not quite the right expression of the saying; it is as close as I can get as I’m wrapping up this post. And I’ve written it on my bathroom mirror because there is no day that goes by without me seeing myself in that mirror.

NOTE: these are thoughts in progress, a journey.

Books this reflection has prompted me to reach for include



Posted in Love Life

Confession of Wedding Dress Terror

Pretty sure this is THE ONE for me…eeeeek!

So in early January 2011, I had my first invitation ever to go wedding dress shopping with a friend. Woohoo! Fabulous! Can’t wait! Isn’t this every woman’s dream? To go wedding dress shopping? To imagine and dream of that one perfect day when she is a true princess, looks gorgeous no matter what.

Yeah, right.

Just a few minutes in the first shop, and I wanted out. While my friend tried on dresses (and I wrangled one of her two children), I walked around and looked at the dresses. At least, I tried. So many styles, colors, embellishments. It’s truly overwhelming…even more so for a woman (uhum, me) who hates shopping for clothes.

Nope, this is not the dress she picked for her vow renewal, though it was one of my favorites on her!

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to dress up and look good and be really stunning on occasion as well. But when faced with the pressure…heck, just the thought of the pressure…of finding that one perfect dress that will do all the right things and not even think of the wrong things for that one perfect dream day, well shit. That is definitely enough to turn this old, hardened realist into a coward.

And then the truth was forced out of me. I’d never even tried on a wedding dress. You know, like that episode of Friends where Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe all go get a $99 sale dress from Kleinfeld’s (when it was still on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge Brooklyn) and just hang around the apartment all day, pretending.

And then I made the mistake of posting said admission on FaceBook, which netted me a slew of commented, texted, and even called-in astonishments and dares.

And I can’t resist a dare.

So at the last store…David’s Bridal…yes, I tried on a dress. And damned if it isn’t THE ONE. Simple, fitted, with just a bit of bead embellishment on the top and straps. And best of all, it fit in my exact dress size, not the few sizes up that wedding apparel seems to run. And the bonus: under $500 regular price. Huh, not bad for a girl who started the day terrified of doing more than offering my opinion on the dresses my friend was trying on.



NOTE: I originally wrote this post on January 6, 2011 though I didn’t post it until January 31, 2020.

Posted in Being Healthy, Everyday Musings, God Loves Me!

Re-Discovering Self-Care

I started a new job six weeks ago. An amazing job. A dream job. An exciting job.

And in classic CeCe fashion, I’ve given it everything and more: 10 hour days, nights in front of the tv, weekends. I truly do love it and am enjoying the many ways I get to help others through this job.

Yet no matter how much I love it, it still wears me out…every day.

So last week when my co-leader caught me rubbing my eyes just after lunch, he started a campaign to send me home early, take some time off. Even if I hadn’t been working long days, I’d certainly accomplished well more than expected in a short time and had earned some extra self-care time.

So I left at noon on Friday only to realize I had absolutely no plan for self care. And it didn’t take me long to remember that when that question came up in my interviews, my co-leader had noticed…and noted…that I didn’t have a good answer for what I do for fun (self care).

So I gave myself permission to treat myself to some things I used to do regularly, a long time ago, that had somehow fallen off of my schedule:

  • massage – for the gift of touch, of meditation, of being present and focusing on the real needs of my physical body, of my acceptance that I can’t will away the tired when my body really needs rest
  • my favorite coffee – for the uniqueness, the spice, the warmth, the moment of earthiness with the first sip
  • my favorite handmade soap/shampoo/lotion store – for the indulgence, the expense, the luxury, and the promise of a bath rarely prepared
  • my favorite clothing store – for the self-expression through clothes that I’ve discovered only with age and acceptance of my body and my inner weird
  • my favorite rock – for the gift of stability, a place to sit, the elevation above the ground so I can see farther and more clearly whatever I’m looking at
  • my favorite church – for the blessing of my God, the comfort of a familiar place to worship, the words of prayer and absolution, the message I need to hear whether I like it or not, the safe place to cry it out in frustration, pleading, or thanksgiving
  • cooking – for myself to make intentional choices about how I feed my body and mind, for others to care for them
  • blogging – for sharing how my brain works things out, not always problems – more things that intrigue me, challenge me, seem important even when I don’t yet know why

Things I didn’t do that might also become part of my self care:

  • read a book or listen to a podcast – a devotion, a memoir, I think of this as something soul-feeding rather than mind-feeding, though certainly I’m happy for it to do both
  • hike a trail or waterfall – the mountains call to me, so that’s where I instinctively head for quiet time; and I wasn’t in the mountains this weekend
  • paddle a dragon boat on the lake (coming in spring)
  • meditate – something I’m trying out with a group starting 1/14

I have so many questions about what and how, all because I got out of the habit:

  • What do you do for self care that I might add to my try it out list?
  • What are you looking to achieve with self care?
  • What hasn’t worked for you, and why do you think it didn’t work?

I’d love to read what your self-care experiences have been.



Posted in Everyday Musings, leadership

2020 Bucket List

IMG_0613I’m a #theonething #the1thing follower. I read the book annually. I listen to the weekly podcast. It heads my 411.

I use the #411to plan success.

So what do I want to achieve in 2020? Here’s my #2020BucketList – and these are in importance order:

  1. find a church and faith community where I can continue growing
  2. celebrate my 45th birthday at Harry Potter World 10/31/2020 – with my nieces and anyone else who wants to join!
  3. add 5 states/countries to my list of places visited (get a map to start tracking and planning this; get a National Parks Passport): Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Spain – this covers 2 vacations this year
  4. go on one big hike each month (join a hiking group/meetup?)
  5. get my real estate license (for referrals, y’all!)
  6. write to the people who live in my house in Homer, AK to start working on buying my house
  7. pay off planned debt reduction (part of larger financial plan)
  8. save/grow at least $15K (part of larger financial plan)
  9. enjoy a full year’s subscription to Sparkle Hustle Grow – and the books and growth training included in that!
  10. design and get my fireweed tattoo

PS: my bucket list for work is different. How? It goes on a Growth Plan as my focus for each month – ways to ensure that I am constantly in a system review and quality improvement mindset.

Oh, and the best part: I give you permission to hold me accountable. To text me and ask where I am in accomplishing one or more of these goals. I mean, you read this far, so deserve that permission. Make it count!

Posted in Everyday Musings

Heart: Word of the Year 2020

I’ve never chosen a word for the year. In fact, for the past 8 years, my word has been chosen for me as I picked a star out of a basket on Epiphany Sunday at church. And now that I’m in a new place and a new job and headed down a new-ish path, I’m taking charge.

As of New Year’s Eve 12/31/2019, I had the following “short list” of words for 2020:

  • brilliant
  • rescue
  • feed
  • heart
  • love
  • present
  • be
  • abundance
  • joy
  • open
  • yes
  • answer

All of these words came from prayer and meditation on the classic word-choosing questions:

  • What did I enjoy receiving or giving in the last year?
  • What did I *need* more of?
  • What did I *want* more of?
  • What did I *not* want any of?

And then I gave myself one last night to sleep on it and my #firstdayhike to make my final choice. I’m still not quite sure if I chose it or it chose me. Either way, it was immediate and confirming, and I have no doubt this is my word for 2020.

IMG_0619The moment I saw the heart-shaped rock in my path, right where my footstep would naturally land, I stopped and picked it up. It was freezing cold, as I expected and hoped it would be; I love the way rocks hold cold and are cold even when the world around them is warm.

IMG_5207I held that rock in my palm the rest of my hike. It fits perfectly. And it’s pretty close to the same size as my heart rock from Homer, AK, though a completely different stone.

Why “heart,” you ask? Especially since I’m not particularly fond of the shape!

I’ve heard people – lots of people – tell me in the past year about how they can see my heart, that it’s a big heart, and a good heart. I think it’s a result of being authentic, and I want to be intentional about it – not accidental – because I truly don’t know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, that shows my heart.

And I want to be intentional about helping others find ways to show their heart and to know their heart is seen and valued.

It sounds so simple when I put it like that. Simple, but not easy, right!?

So you’ll help me, yeah? Tell me when I’m doing it!

Posted in leadership, What I Read

Read What Ops Leaders Read

Ops Boss Pink Carpet Photos
Kacee DeVore and CeCe Mikell at Ops Boss Leader Retreat 2019.

It was #OpsBossLeaderRetreat 2019. #WeGotBossy.

  • 13 hours of scheduled retreat: speakers, workshops, masterminds
  • 18 hours of unscheduled retreat: dinners, lunches, train rides, the National Mall at night

Homework #1: schedule reading these books that ops leaders use in their thinking and doing every day

Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod: recommended by Kristen Brindley. Structure your morning to get your head right and maximize the day for success.

High Performance Habits, by Brendon Bouchard: recommended by Kristen Brindley. And get the planner to go with it. It’s about the questions you ask yourself every day!

Procrastinate on Purpose, by Rory Vaden: recommended by Kristen Brindley. Focuses on the significance of time

13 Fatal Errors Manager Make and How You Can Avoid Them, by W. Steven Brown: recommended by Adelina Rotar. There are a lot of ways to mess up managing people, and some key corrections YOU make to make managing others more successful.

Scaling Your Business: How to Drive Revenue, Save Time, and Create Your Dream Company, by Daniel Ramsey: recommended by Daniel Ramsey. Text SVP to 31996 to get this book free

The Art of Gathering, by Priya Parker:  recommended by Sheena Saydam. About creating meaningful client events that they’ll fight to come to.

Stand Up: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World…and How You Can Too!, by John Schlimm: recommended by John Franklin Stephens. Bust through limiting beliefs!

The Power of Moments, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath: recommended by Stephanie Bracket. Creating a culture that makes agents and staff seek out your company to join.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen: recommended by Stephanie Brackett. Check out the workbook too!

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan: recommended by literally EVERYONE

Visual Journaling
First page of my visual journal. Same concept as a vision board with more focus on discovering yourself and your goals.

And you can see the full list on Amazon here!

There’s more…soooo much more. I’ll share it over time.

PSST: when you go to order your books, make sure to order through and choose a charity to receive a donation from Amazon for every purchase you make. I choose Special Olympics South Carolina because it’s through sports and training that my brother, a brain injury survivor, has continued to set and achieve goals in his life, including as a public speaker and advocate for others with disabilities.

Posted in Everyday Musings

Why I Call Myself a Grinch – but I’m Not Really a Grinch

It’s like a switch that automatically turns me off as soon as the Advent 1 church service starts. All of the joy and excitement and celebration that suddenly becomes the center of everyone else’s life for four weeks to Christmas just falls right out of me. Dries up. Heck, runs away screaming.

Because of this, I’ve always called myself a Grinch, sometimes a Scrooge or a Humbug.

But dammit, I’m not. I’m none of those characters. I’m not mean or nasty or heartless. I don’t steal anyone else’s fun and cheer.

I don’t hate the holidays – the secular ones or the holy ones. I don’t hate the traditions, the gatherings, the food, the songs, the colors, the festivities.

But I’m an introvert. The holidays, and my reaction to them, is one of the few ways I know, truly know that my Myers-Briggs 1-point preference for introvertism is really true; seven other behavioral analysis, several repeated, confirm this. I know, it’s hard to believe of me, right?

“The holidays” are inherently a social phenomenon; they can’t happen without the tacit cooperation of groups – mostly large groups – of people, whether parade marchers or watchers, naughty and nice list comparisons, and the most basic present giving and receiving. Even more so, the religious foundation of holi-days is social, beginning with and culminating in a collection of the largest worship services of the year for most churches.

Think about it. There is not one single holiday tradition that carries a positive connotation and is experienced without engagement with others.

And for me – an introvert with a 6-person max – this is excruciating. Even if I’m mostly left to “wall-flower” (which is what I always secretly hope will happen), I watch the clock so that I can cut and run as soon as I’ve attended for a respectable amount of time.

And I do want to be respectful when I choose to attend; I never want to make a host/ess feel like s/he has done something to make me uncomfortable or unhappy. It’s why I choose quite carefully and deliberately when and how and with whom to engage during the holidays.

If I cow to expectations and attend, I’m often noticeably reserved, even if I have a drink. In fact, I willingly – actually cheerfully – volunteer to cook, serve, and especially clean up just so I have an easy excuse to just be rather than interact.

If I do what I want and RSVP regrets in favor of Die Hard and Home Alone marathons, I’m labeled a Grinch, a Scrooge, a Humbug by others.

It’s a Catch-22 of the purest variety.

Because I’m not a Grinch with a heart too small to love others. I’m not a Scrooge who’s been hurt by others and just wants to hurt people back. I’m not a Humbug out to squash others’ celebration. (While I do detest yard decorations with a passion, I’ve never once suggested that others stop decorating or take theirs down.)

But I don’t have any other cultural references to use when trying to simplify my discomfort with the norms of the holidays than to call myself a Grinch, a Scrooge, or a Humbug. They serve to convey that I don’t want to participate, certainly. But the edge of negativity they come with is something I’d like to figure out how to divest.