What I Learned After Spending Over $100,000 On Personal And Professional Development

Even coaches need coaches – in the 9 years since starting SixFigureStart, I have invested over $100,000 in personal and professional development.

 It is difficult to see the picture when you are inside the frame. – John Doerr

The above quote by venture capitalist, John Doerr, captures why. When you’re in the thick of the situation, it’s hard to take an objective and high-level view. In addition, everyone has blind spots, and they’re called “blind spots” because you can’t see them. So outside help is critical. Connie and I certainly coach each other. I also have trusted coaching colleagues and friends who I rely on for feedback and ideas.

But I’ve also hired individual coaches, enrolled in group workshops and programs, attended events and conferences and purchased self-study programs. The most expensive program was a $40,000 Mastermind. The cheapest is free (books from the library, intro classes). Here’s how I’ve decided to invest in personal and professional development and what I’ve learned along the way:$100k in personal and professional development

Topic/ Subject Matter

When I was first starting, I invested mostly in sales and marketing training. I had a general business and HR background, and being in business for yourself is all about sales, so that was definitely my first stop. More recently, I am investing in programs outside my direct business for diversification and also reflecting a new life stage (I’m an empty nester in just 3 more years). Right now, I’m taking two finance-oriented programs. In the last decade, I’ve also had training in niche topics from social media to teaching to meditation to Pilates.

Medium/ Mode of Learning

I’ve always found it tricky to know what the best medium is to deliver the learning or coaching I’m looking for because it varies based on the teacher/ program, how much time I have to invest, how much money I’m willing to invest, and what else is vying for my attention at that moment. I’ve enrolled in 3 long-term mastermind programs – these are combinations of 1:1, group work, conference-style retreats, even DIY self-study. This is the most intense and expensive (in time and money) of the mediums. I haven’t been too impressed with my development results here, but that could be my own style of learning. I have gotten results from 1:1 and group, live and virtual, audio and video, expensive and free. I try to mix it up.


Like medium, duration has been really varied over the years. I am always reading a business or self-help book so I get regular training that way. I also have blogs I read weekly. I don’t go to the same live events or conferences year-over-year but I go to at least one multi-day event every year. For one-off programs (e.g., a 4-week teleclass or 8-week live class), it really varies based on availability (mine and the program). I prefer the very short (one time only) or the very long (6-12 month terms). It could be my way of learning, but I find that a medium-term class is too short for me to get enough depth but too long for me to fit into my schedule easily. So in recent years, I have seen a huge decrease in my participation in those middle-term classes.

Having spent so much time and money over the last decade, what would I do differently? I stay away from Masterminds – I find the environment too cultish and the value for the money isn’t there. Before deciding on a paid program, I read a lot about a subject and experiment with as many low-cost tools as possible before increasing my commitment. If I do opt for a more expensive and time-consuming program, I make sure to block in additional time to apply the learning – and in fact, I budget much more additional time than seems necessary because I build in that I’ll be inefficient in trying new activities and strategies. That’s probably the biggest takeaway for me – I need to plan to go more slowly, to remember I’ll be inefficient and build in more time.

What about you? What have you learned about how you learn?

Secrets To A Successful STEM Career: Advice From Corlis D. Murray

Corlis D. Murray holds the top engineering position at Abbott, a $20 billion global healthcare company. Murray is responsible for the company’s engineering, regulatory, and quality assurance functions in more than 150 countries. She also launched Abbott’s high school STEM internship program targeting underrepresented students. Since its inception in 2012, more than 50 young people have participated in the program, and 95 percent are pursuing a STEM degree or have a STEM job. Murray was named Scientist of the Year in 2013 by Black Engineer Magazine. She shared these 7 career strategies:

Corlis D. Murray

Corlis D. Murray

Find a cheerleader

This may seem counterintuitive: Aren’t people with great “mentors” and “role models” just really lucky? To an extent, sure. But the reality is there are lot of really smart, wonderful teachers, bosses and other professionals who want to give back by cheering you on. My early cheerleaders were my grandfather, who was excellent at math (but had just an eighth grade education and asked, when I told him I was considering engineering, what on earth had compelled me to want to drive a train?) – and my high school math teacher, Ms. Morse. While I was lucky to have such a supportive and smart granddad, Ms. Morse, taught me how math translated into life and how it can be used. She’s the one who got me thinking about engineering, and she and a guidance counselor helped me land an internship with a prominent tech company the summer after my junior year. I’ve continued to find cheerleaders during my time with Abbott, and over the last five years, I’ve had a chance to cheer on high school students with an internship program that I was privileged to start on their behalf.

Start young

Time is one of our most precious assets as individuals, with career advancement being no exception.My internship with IBM when I was 17 years old gave me the confidence I needed to land another internship after my senior year as a civilian with the Norfolk Naval Shipyard – and those two things combined were enough to convince me that I was capable of pursuing a career as an engineer. Without those experiences? I would not be where I am – a senior vice president at an incredibly impactful Fortune 200 healthcare company – today.

Make your own ‘odds’

If I let the odds dictate my future, I certainly wouldn’t be doing the work I do today. As a black, female engineer, I’ve been told I’m 10 times more rare than a woman in Congress. Just 12 percent of engineers in the U.S. are women and 2 percent of female engineers are minorities. What you need to remember is if there aren’t very many people like you in your chosen field, you have the opportunity to add a new perspective. You can use that to your advantage. And if it seems like there are a million people just like you in your chosen field, remember that each individual, regardless of what we look like, offers a unique perspective. You just have to dig down deep enough – be self-aware enough – to figure out what your unique perspective is.

Sell, sell, sell

Part of making your own odds – and positioning yourself for the opportunities you aspire to achieve – means having a solid portfolio composed and ready to sell. Make sure your skills and experience stand out among the crowd. Consider putting your portfolio online, making it live and offering  a downloadable version for those who prefer hard copies. Regardless of format, bolster your portfolio with a great bio that includes your strengths, education and recognitions; resume; information about your past coursework and internships; technical and non-technical skills; and recommendations from others.

Invest and reinvest in yourself

The only constant thing in any industry is change. If for no other reason than that, you must continuously invest in yourself to stay relevant and sharp. Great ways to do this include joining professional networks, taking on challenging and diverse projects (even if they’re outside your usual scope of work), taking courses at a local college (or earning an advanced degree) and networking inside and outside of work.

Know the business

If you’ve sold yourself and invested in yourself properly, no one’s questioning your intellect or abilities. But do you understand how what you do impacts the overall business? Companies, after all, exist to turn a profit and to do right by shareholders and employees. How does what you do contribute to that? Once you can answer that question, you’re on your way to generating measurable impact – and seriously impressing some future boss.

Give back

This “success” cycle circles back to the cheerleaders. Once you’ve overcome various challenges and accomplished what you set out to by successfully marketing yourself, consider giving back to those who find themselves right where you were 5, 10, 15 years ago or more. I did this at Abbott by starting our first high school internship program, reflecting what an impact my high school internships had on my career and five years in, we’ve officially had our first full-time hire as a result of the program. Such an investment is not only good for you and the community – it’s good for your company.

Time Management Strategies To Get Back On Track For Your Career Goals

In my recent post on A Seven-Point Mid-Year Review Checklist, ineffective time management is one possibility for why you might not be reaching your career goals.

Time allocation is often a big culprit – are you spending time on your goal?

With many job seekers, aspiring career changers or budding entrepreneurs that I see, there is a disconnect between what the client wants to happen and where the time is being spent. If you think you might be spending time on the wrong efforts, here are three time management strategies to help you get back on track for your career goals:tips for time management

Keep a time diary
Like a food diary or a spending diary, a time diary is a no-judgment log of what actually happens with your time. If you find yourself wondering where all your time goes, the time diary is the best way to actually see where the time goes. Ideally, you keep an account by the half hour, and you keep the time diary for at least a couple of weeks so you can start to see patterns.

Once you have activities written down, take it a step further and assign each activity to a goal or objective – e.g., day job, family, fitness, career goal, etc. This forces you to reconcile what you’re doing with why you’re doing it. For clients who do manage to keep a time diary, the key takeaways are twofold: 1) time is often spent on goals or objectives that don’t really matter; and 2) things take longer than you assume which is why too much is planned for any given day. Armed with your time diary, you will be in a better position to schedule out your days and to prioritize activities that actually matter.

Do a little each day
Too often, big goals are attacked in spurts – a job search starts with a long day of Internet research, fiddling with the resume and all-out networking on social media. Then, the momentum wanes and soon its days and weeks before you follow up or target new leads. Instead of a few long spurts followed by inactivity, opt for shorter but more regular bursts of activity. For a job search, this means you spend an hour on your marketing, then the next day on research, then the next day on social networking, then the next day on live networking, etc. You mete out the activities so they cover the full week, and then you can repeat for the following week.

Hopefully the time diary can keep you accountable as to how much you’re doing on your career goal each and every day. Many career goals can’t be crammed. You can’t network in a hurry. You can’t rush the hiring process. You can’t predict when companies will have openings, so you need to be available to the market all the time. Other career goals – career change, advancement, entrepreneurship – have similar ongoing requirements that can’t be crammed. Focus on a little each day, rather than starts and stops. Commit to this for just 30 days – you can go back to your all-or-nothing approach after 30 days if you really want to – but try it genuinely and you won’t go back.

Match your energy to your tasks
In addition to spending the time and spreading your activity out each and every day, you also want to make sure you give quality time to activities that require the added push or extra concentration (as many career goals do). Motivation and concentration wanes as the day progresses, so for most everyone except the most die-hard night owls, earlier in the day is better for your thinking work. When you need to research companies, draft a cover letter, formulate a strategy to get introduced to a key decision-maker, save these activities for the earlier part of the day. Also try and alternate heavy-focus and lighter activities if you need to do several in the same day. So pair research with live networking, so you vary your energy and focus requirements.

What are your favorite time management strategies for working through a big goal?

Career Marketing Lessons From The World Of Coca-Cola

On a pleasure visit to the World Of Coca-Cola, I noticed three key lessons from Coke’s tremendously successful product marketing that convey relevant career marketing lessons to professionals seeking a new job or promotion:

Focus on the unique benefits

Coke’s first branding campaign centered on its uniqueness and its great taste. Are you one-of-a-kind? What are your benefits? A surprising number of even talented, experienced professionals cannot clearly and concisely articulate why an employer should hire or promote them – and not someone else. Coke also solved problems for its consumer – the 6-pack so you could buy enough for the family, the dispenser so you could have the drink at home. How exactly are you going to improve your target employer’s situation? What pain points will you alleviate?brand yourself with marketing lessons from Coke

Tap into emotions and aspirations

Coke expanded its marketing to focus on the Coke lifestyle – more energy, more fun, a better life all because of Coke. When you tell your story and give examples of what you can do, does your target employer feel transformed? You want the employer to feel, “Wow, we need to get [INSERT YOUR NAME] in here right away.” You want the employer to be able to visualize you in the role you want, working seamlessly with the people there and getting results.

Never stop refining

In several exhibits, you could see how Coke changed and flexed over time – expanding into different countries and tailoring its products specifically, acquiring new products altogether, tapping into different marketing memes or celebrities. Is your personal branding as dynamic and adaptable? Do you update your marketing for current norms? How freely do you adopt new skills, such as a new social media platform or taking on a side gig to ride the uptick in contingent work? Even a stalwart like Coke is continuously tweaking its brand. Are you?


What lessons and inspirations have you seen from products you admire?

Negotiating For Job Title

Today’s radio show episode is about offer negotiation, specifically negotiating for job title, not compensation, benefits, or the many other factors that go into an offer.

Hannah asks:  I’ve been a newspaper editor about six years. The job I’m pursuing is in magazine editing. The position has previously been termed copyeditor, but it hasn’t been formally posted and the hiring manager is still considering what all it will entail. I’m currently a managing editor and feel that having a copyeditor title would seem like a step down, though it would be in a different segment of the industry. Should I negotiate a more lateral title if I’m chosen for the job?

In this 15-minute audio, Caroline talks about the can, should and how of negotiating for job title specifically:

  • Can you negotiate a different job title than the role is advertised? Yes!
  • Should you negotiate job title (or focus elsewhere)? Depends on your priorities, so know these BEFORE you negotiate!
  • If you decide to go for it, how do you negotiate to get the job title you want? Build your argument, prepare for push back, and PRACTICE in performance conditions.


How To Increase Your Career Marketability

This topic of career marketability was inspired by a question I received at a workshop. Two weeks ago, I led a career Q&A for Indian executives in residence at Columbia Business School, and a question came up on how to measure your marketability. You can read my answer to that question in a recent Forbes post: How Valuable Are You In The Job Market? 3 Ways To Measure Marketability Without Looking For A Job.

But once you have a sense of your marketability, what if you’re not happy with your result? What if you want to increase your marketability – start getting those unsolicited opportunities, move your compensation back up to market?career marketability

I see 3 specific areas where professionals get bogged down in their career, and it’s these 3 areas where you can shore up your marketability:


If you stepped out of the workforce for months or years, the gap is a loss of continuity. If your job tenures have been short, this lack of momentum is another type continuity problem. Finally, if your roles have covered a wide range of functions – say, you’ve been in marketing but it’s a bit of research, some content production, some digital, some communications – this is lack of continuity from a function or skills perspective. If this describes your background, then you need to emphasize where continuity exists when you tell your story because the employers will have a hard time finding it. You’ll need to account for your gaps and how you stayed active – i.e., here’s how I continued by body of work albeit outside the workforce. You’ll need to show logical and compelling reasons why you moved around – i.e., there is a continuous thread in your actions. You’ll need to categorize your diverse skills so they hold together – i.e., here’s how my skills come together in a cohesive whole


What exactly do you do? What exactly have you done? I’ve met some talented and experienced professionals who can’t concisely and clearly answer one or both questions. What you do is what problems you can solve for the employer. Where would you fit in an organization? What role would you play? What skills, expertise and experience would you bring? What you have done is the proof – the stories, tangible results, and hard numbers that support the claims of what you do. If you’re having a hard time identifying exactly what your accomplishments are, get help on this. Helping our clients frame their diverse skills and experience into a cohesive and compelling body of work is a big part of what we do when we coach because it’s not always so straightforward when you have a large body of work, and sections of your career may be disjointed (hence the continuity point!).


While continuity shows staying power and consistency, progression shows build-up and advancement. You can’t be doing the same thing from 20 years ago. Your skills have to have advanced and have to be current with what’s required today. Your expertise should be deeper and more insightful. Your experience should span larger projects, budgets or teams or some other increasing scope of responsibility. As you make choices for your next role or next project, consider how it adds to your progression. Is your next step a step up or more of the same?

What are you doing to maintain or increase your marketability?

PS. As you can see, I use actual career questions from real-life professionals for my various columns – I post several pieces each week so I need a lot of topics! Please post a comment with your career questions. I’d love to address them in future posts.

Money Management Is Career Management – 5 Moves You Can Make In Minutes

In this episode, I cover money management because money and career are tightly linked. I share 5 of my favorite tips and strategies, including:

• Money education resources, including my personal favorites

• How employers vet your money skills in the hiring process and how you can stay on top of this

• Why networking is a money move

• The importance of interim feedback, whether or not your company has an official performance review process

• The importance of benefits to your bottom line and possibly your “getaway fund”

For 5 more money moves, see my Forbes post on 10 Money Management Moves To Make In Just Minutes Per Day: