20 Life Lessons I Learned in 20 Years While Running a Business

This post was originally shared on my work website, but I wanted to share here as well.  I have been a media consultant for 20 years. Reflecting back, here are some life lessons I picked up along the way. 

Here’s a list of 20 life lessons I have gained from my years of owning a business that can be applied to so many part of life.

  1. Partner with smart, reputable, trustworthy colleagues, vendors, and clients.
  2. Targeting customers remains the same, even if the technology has changed. The hype may get an initial response, but it’s the quality that keeps people coming back.
  3. Be honest.
  4. When you end a project, always try to do it with a handshake. You just might meet that client again working for another company.
  5. Keep learning.
  6. Be curious. I ask a lot of questions, and it often inspires further conversation.
  7. Actively listen. Take a breath. Then respond.
  8. Read a few days worth of your emails before you send them out. Are you sending them out with a positive tone or starting off all your emails with the negative? (I literally changed my email tone after monitoring them about 10 years ago).
  9. You will make mistakes. Admit it when you do.
  10. If you are stuck, walk away. I resolve a lot of issues when I shut my computer and go for a walk.
  11. It’s okay to say no to a project, especially when your gut tells you to.
  12. Check your emails at specific times each day. Otherwise, shut it off. It’s amazing how much more productive you can be without the distractions.
  13. It’s easy to get comfortable working alone. Face-to-face meetings can inspire change and a new direction.
  14. Have a schedule. I find that time blocking my day (Using the Best Self journal) has improved my focus and productivity immensely.
  15. Try something new.
  16. Keep reaching. What’s your goal?
  17. Most people really don’t like networking events. Do it anyways; set a goal beforehand. Someone may become a future colleague or customer.
  18. Be flexible.
  19. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to clarify, if you don’t understand.
  20. If you are bored on a regular basis, it might be time to change what you do. Or how you do it.

And remember that if you have a stressful phase, sleep on it, as a fresh day and mood awaits you.

The journey continues.



A Tale of Two Train Rides

As I stumbled to my usual spot on the track to wait for the train, a small huddle of people was already there. Every. Single. One had an invisible barrier surrounding them that screamed “do not interact with me”. Every. Single. One was wearing headphones and staring into their cell phones. No communication with those surrounding them, no laughter, lost in their screens. It looked so lonely. I joined the growing mass, just watching, my phone and headphones still in my bag. Not one person made eye contact, smiled, nodded a greeting. Wow, what a depressing way to start each morning, I thought. At that moment, I was glad I only occasionally made this trip.

Some mornings are tough. We are tired, stressed, taking a few minutes to catch up on social media, read through emails, make weekend plans. But we did this before phones and communicated with others.

Creatures of habit, people seem to ride the same train car each ride. So I am fairly certain some of these people see each other daily. What connections lost, matches unmade as people avoid each other?

After my meetings ended midday, I caught a non-rush-hour train out of the city. The woman who sat across from me was about my age, and she pulled out the novel “ My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman.

“That is one of my favorite books,” I told her.

“ I am about halfway done,” she replied. “ I don’t usually like mystical books, but I like the relationships in here.”

After we talked a few more minutes about the author’s other books, I told her I didn’t want to disturb her reading time. She didn’t care. We spent the entire ride talking about books we liked , styles we didn’t, our book clubs, and gave each other reading recommendations.

I admit that if I rode the train daily that I probably wouldn’t want to talk to other passengers each ride, every day. I know my head can be buried in my computer or book on many rides. But, after disembarking that train with a new list of books to read typed into my phone, I thought about how much more satisfying the commute was home after having an enlightening conversation.

I felt a little lighter, and my companion still had 20 minutes longer to read her book.

The journey continues.



Tuesday, Bluesday

IMGP4519Over the last couple months, I realized that Tuesday is the hardest day of the week for me to focus.

I used to think it was Monday that I dreaded. I muddled through Sunday night: I double-checked the upcoming family and work schedule, sorted through weekend emails, planned the week. But by Monday morning, I found I am often invigorated to start the work week. It’s usually filled with calls, meetings, travel, a few social gatherings.

Then Tuesday hits. Blah. I finally realized there was a negative Tuesday power in my routine. The work week isn’t half over, my energy is sapped. And why, why are there are more Tuesday problems than ANY other day in the week? That is my drag day, filling spare moments in the kitchen, longing to flatline that stress.

I decided–let’s change it! To conquer my Bluesday, I am going to try to change up how I approach that day. I am going to schedule time to work with a friend or at the library, meet someone for lunch, specifically work on a fun, new project, set aside time to write or take pictures, vary my exercise routine. Today’s visit to the dentist does not count.

Hopefully this positive attitude will spike the Tuesday mood, flow into Wednesday and the rest of the week. I think the key to successfully working solo most of the time is figuring the triggers to anti-productive, negative attitudes and behavior. Then change it.

What tricks do you have to break up the week?

The journey continues.


Perfect New York Visit

Hello, lonely blog.  Summer used to be a slow, lazy time for families. No more.  Between working overtime, kids choosing to continue sports camps, family obligations, volunteering, and blistering hot  weather, it feels only like a slow-motion of the school year.  Since we did not have a long summer trip planned, I took my girls with me to New York for a business trip and play weekend.  It was wonderful to spend time with them when there was no sports tournament, no college visits, no homework.

Here are 8 highlights (non-work-related) from our recent trip:

8. The only perfect-summer-weather for 6 consecutive days this year. Fantastic for walking the Highline or taking photos on the final day of the year to take pics between the buildings.

Sunset view in NYC

7. Friendly, sometimes unusual people sparking up conversations in taxis, hotels, shops, the park, coffee shops.

6. Eating a different ethnic food daily–Greek, Thai, Italian, Mexican. Some our own finds, some recommendations from friends.

5. Friends sharing our hotel for a night, with a day walking from Central Park to Rockefeller Plaza and beyond, sharing appetizers and drink at the lively Eataly before dinner.

Yummy fresh cheese, meats, fruits and wine at Eataly.

4. A day of sight seeing at Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and WTC Memorial.  A ferry ride, lots of walking, a bit of learning, no teenage complaints.

3. Shopping, shopping, shopping at familiar stores, one-of-a-kind places, in So-Ho, Chelsea, Times Square, Fifth Ave and everywhere in between.

2. Seeing the fantastic Tony-award winning play “Once” on Broadway , then watching the girls’ faces as we exited the theatre, walking into Times Square the first time nearing midnight.  The masses, the lights, the chaos.  Then seeing Steve Kazee, the “Once” lead several days later by the theater, chatting and taking photos with him.

1. Spending unhurried, explorative days with my two daughters in such a phenomenal city as New York.  It’s a trip we will always remember taking together.  one day off work felt a week to me.  C

Building Core Strengths

Tipping over in tree pose this week, I was again reminded how important core strength is.  Standing, for this yoga move I can place one leg up onto my other inner thigh, but lifting my arms or holding them out to the sides challenges me each time I try it.  I wobble, I rock, I slip.

I need to re-build my abdominal strength (after several months of doctor-required rest) so that I can hold this pose successfully without shaking.  And with a stronger core I will be able to attempt moves that remain in my past.

The same is true for starting to ride horses after a 5-month forced sabbatical.  I warm up longer, re-learn the muscle memory, slowly leave my comfort zone as my body becomes stronger, leaner.

The core.  The center. We all need to keep our cores strong, as positive energy and actions build and emanate from our core.

I think this is also true in our personal and business lives.  Running my own business, I have a set of core strengths, learned from consulting in media firms for almost 15 years.  But as technology has transformed the publishing industry (like most others), my projects have morphed, roles changed, involvement growing in newly developed areas.

While I continue to use the talents developed over the years, I continue to expand my strengths. I have stayed abreast with the industry changes—many coming from social media and new mobile apps—so that I can broaden my work into other industries.

If I don’t keep learning, pushing myself, I become weak, bored, complacent.  And that will not help me or my clients test new arenas, find unexpected successes, as we keep up with changing business times.

Yes, it can be intimidating, sometimes frustrating, building my core strengths—both mental and physical– to reach a new client, to attempt a handstand, to jump a short course.  But by working slowly, patiently, and celebrating the small successes, hopefully all of these will be attainable.  The reach is what keeps life engaging.  C

The Social Media Vortex

Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Instagram. WordPress. Pinterest.  So many brands of social media—and all created for different uses–it’s getting complicated to manage them all.  Post a picture-a word-a story,  then check back later to see who comments, who reads, who “likes”.   Respond.  Check out what other influencers, friends, family, curiosity seekers have to say right now.

I joined some social media sites for “market research”, to learn the who-what-why-how people use them. Twitter was my latest endeavor, and within 24 hours I learned firsthand the power of social media, when an airline changed my seats based on what I tweeted.

The social media sites can draw you in, then steal your time as you visit other sites in addition to keeping yours current. I have already seen how Twitter and Instagram have taken time from my blog, as I haven’t written a blog post in over a week. I feel like the blog is less fleeting than the Instagram or Twitter posts, so it is time to get back to it.  And it helps me explore my thoughts in word.

As I wander around the “popular” pics on Instagram, it intrigues why people BEG, borrow, and comment to capture and hoard as many followers as they can.  People ask others to “like” their pics and promise to follow them, pictures unseen.

What does the person get with the most followers?  Businesses, can accomplish goals of more revenue, more exposure, new clients. But I see people on Facebook who comment on pictures  and “like” pictures  where someone says “want 2000 more friends?  Like my post.”  Or people on Instagram with 30,000 followers—who post unoriginal, blah pictures. (though a few inspired me enough to follow them). Does it make you “popular” in your mind?

But, this journey takes me to unexpected places and introduces me to new people and concepts, so I will keep each path and door open. I welcome you to join me as I explore these various social media at

Twitter: @CindyCardinal1

Instagram: haveanopinion

WordPress:  https://haveanopinion.wordpress.com/

LinkedIn: Cindy Cardinal

And next month, welcome to Pinterest.  I have an idea that Pinterest is like Alice falling into the proverbial rabbit hole.  Easy to get lost, lots of unexpected surprises.  So if you do not hear from me for while, check out the pinboards.

I just read an article in Folio: magazine about how Time Inc and Meredith Publishing are using Pinterest to build their subscriber bases for the women’s magazine market, but time will tell if this platform can help more specialized, business journals.  Time and experimentation will tell.  C

Purging House and Office

This year I dug deep to prepare for the neighborhood garage sale.  Not an annual participant, we had done some remodeling so there is much to purge this year—furniture, linens, lamps, grandma’s clutter from forgotten drawers, scads of stuffed animals (though the girls found some of their old treasured friends too), dusty books, unused sports’ gear, mismatched kitchenware.  It feels great to lighten the load, then hopefully end up with a couple dollars for each of us, donating the remnants.

I think it’s time to do the same swap out, clean up for my business.  After 20+ years of doing similar work, including consulting for 14 years, I have been itching, wanting to change up my job, my clients, my days.  My weekends are incredibly full, but by Sunday night the Monday-morning-blues are already invading my brain.  Not the way to run a business.

Most of my clients are innovative, smart people who run their own publishing/media firms, and I have grabbed wisdom and insights from each of them.  While I have my own firm, watching these leaders makes me covet owning something tangible of my own.  I am so fortunate to have worked with some incredible people,  as their businesses grow, products morphing as the times change.

I have consciously lightened the client load this year, and the freedom has allowed me to delve deeper into my current clients’ projects.  It has also given me a smidge of time to re-evaluate my work process, the projects I enjoy most, and what work I can outsource to others.  It’s been rewarding, it’s been exciting, it’s been frustrating, and it’s made me think—it’s time to make some more changes.  Purge the clutter, invite the new, embrace the changes, overcome the fear of branching out. It will take time to implement new changes and ideas, but with some time, planning and hard work it will hopefully happen.

It’s my business.  I think that anyone who has their own business should find it inspiring, play to their strengths, remove the dust, keep it fresh. Doing the same for too long causes complacency.  C