discover 7 life lessons that build characterResponding to an email today brought me way back and had me thinking of jobs and work I’ve done that build character, teach foundational life lessons, and have helped me be who I am today.

Multiple jobs  come to mind, but especially the ones during college where I worked on a construction crew, as a carnie for the County Fair and State Fair, door to door solicitations for the environment, and a puppet handler / sales person. You see I didn’t work because I wanted to work these jobs because they were my top choice.  Rather if I was going to continue to go to college I needed to pay for college, which I did.

I wanted a better life. Although I was the third child of six, I was the first one in my immediate family to go to college.

Today I want to share the story and 7 life lessons learned when I worked as the only women on a Construction Team building in Western NY.  These lessons are ones that still shape the work I do every day.

7 On The Job Life Lessons That Build Character

  1. Don’t let your ego get in the way
  2. You can’t force yourself onto the team – you’ve got to earn the trust, respect and connection
  3. Know why you’re doing you work (what’s the result you want, and what emotional connection do you have to it)
  4. Be kind
  5. Don’t overreact, take a few breaths before you speak
  6. Be patient, and diligent
  7. Be willing to do more than you are asked, without complaining

I took this job because it paid well, better than being a waitress which I also did for many years, but that was only because there were more hours and I could make overtime.  My brother-in-law at the time got me the work.  I was hired because I was a woman and they needed a woman on the crew to help build UNI-Marts in small rural towns of Western NY and PA.

Since I didn’t have any real construction skills I was hired as a painter – both interior and exterior.   I guess they figured anyone could do that type of work.  I don’t remember an interview and think I just showed up on site ready to go.  I mean would they ask, “Can you hold a paint brush?” when they should be asking, “Are you ready to be with 10 – 14 men who don’t want you here?”

The problem during construction is that there isn’t always something to paint.   My choices were to go home and not be paid or find something useful to do; this is where I’m quite resourceful.  That summer I also learned how to hang false ceilings, put in linoleum tile (I became quite good with a blow torch), wash brick with acid, and adequate with taping drywall as well as I was happy to be a gopher.

I was quite idealistic during this time of my life and as you saw from some of my summer jobs listed above I tried just about anything and didn’t let my bristles get bristled. Live is an adventure and each with a great story.

Day one on the job set the tone.  The onsite lead said, “low man ha ha woooo-man ha ha on the totem pole gets coffee for the crew – that’s you” – so I did it again and again.  In fact I was happy to do it and made friends with the local store or coffee shop because it also meant I didn’t have to use the port a potty which with a crew of men didn’t smell the greatest especially towards the end of the week.

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Where are the leaks in your life?

How many leaks are in your life and what are you doing about them? Here’s a story that may help you make a phone call in the next hour that could save you $1,000 or more, that is if you’re willing to take focused action.

An Expensive Life Lesson

What are the $1000 phone calls in your life or business that are waiting for your attention?About 10 years ago I was a DIY co-owner of a triplex aka landlord. My partner and I had decided to take care of most maintenance so that we could to keep costs down since we figured we were at break even during our first year or two. The unit’s location was in what we had hoped would be an up and coming area that would reap some financial reward for our ingenuity and physical DIY efforts. The unit was sound and the surrounding neighborhood well, it was as I previously said, up and coming.

Turnover in the units were high. Since I lived closest I was the one that often placed the ads, fielded the calls and then waited for people to show up which I might add they often didn’t show up and then wouldn’t return phone calls. So when two female college students inquired about the top floor we were thrilled. All of us remember taking chances, cheaper rent and living on the edge. We also met the parents because we required a co-signer due to their ages and lack of credit history. We thought we were all set for at least a year.

One afternoon we were working in the yard planting some shrubs around the perimeter so that it could eventually fill in the ugly chain link fence which had been installed by the previous owner. We figured this would both improve the look and provide privacy. One of the girls, I’ll call her Susan came down and asked me to help her with a window screen that had popped out.

When I went upstairs to help with the screen I noticed that the toilet was running. I asked Susan how long that had been happening and she wasn’t sure. I opened the back of the toilet to inspect and saw that I needed to replace the inside piece because the flapper was broken (yeah not really sure it’s called this but if you look in your toilet you’d call it a flapper too). I then showed her how to stop the water flow so that they could properly flush as well as not have the water run.

Since the building had originally been a single family home not all of the utilities had been separated during the renovation into a triplex and that’s just how it was. The water and garbage came in one bill for the unit. We added up costs for a year, divided it by three units and then by 12 months for an average monthly cost. I also kept an eye out for any unreasonable charges such as excessive garbage at $5 a pop to bill which became a surcharge. The tenants were OK with this, and it was written into their lease, so we figured we were good to go. Potential problems had not crossed our minds.

During the conversation I told Susan, she responsible for the water bill so it was very important to not let the water run because it would increase the bill. I also remember an intuitive hit in the back of my mind which said, I hope this isn’t an issue, because I wasn’t quite sure how we could “prove” if push came to shove in small claims court that any significant increases were one unit’s fault due to the combined billing.

Susan immediately called her dad, he was a maintenance man at a local community college, and he said he’d come by and take care of it so we wouldn’t need to. We agreed that he’d submit the cost of the pieces with her rent check and there’d be no charge for fixing it. I was relieved because although I knew what needed to be done and thought I could do it, I had actually never done taken a toilet apart.

Fast forward, I receive a water and garbage bill for some crazy amount like $1,400 instead of a couple hundred dollars and immediately call my partner in a panic. At that point we didn’t think about the leaking toilet because how this excessive amount could be related to a running toilet didn’t cross our minds.

My partner assumed we had a leak to the building since no one had reported flooding in the building. The water company came out and couldn’t find a leak. They determined we had significantly increased our usage and we owed $1,400 which was more than $1000 above the normal every eight weeks bill.

Our profits were already pretty much non-existent and we panicked which doesn’t help much with the creative thinking process. This meant it came out of our own pockets. Some of you are saying, welcome to being a landlord!

We called all our tenants and asked for entry to the units due to the water problem thinking perhaps something was leaking but unreported which wouldn’t have surprised us with our current tenants.

Although we had permission to enter, our tenant Susan wasn’t home. As we entered the top unit and heard the running toilet both of us had an eureka moment that’s not the good kind of eureka moment.

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Rollo May Quote on Courage, Cowardice and ConformityThis is one of my favorite inspirational  and uplifting quotes about courage that totally kicked me in the butt.

The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity. -Rollo May

Thirteen years ago I began a journey as a self employed service professional when I quit my job and all I knew to be true in my life.  I stumbled quite a bit because I was moving into an area that was so unknown to me that I found it difficult to create any type of clarity. It was as if everything was a moving target and I spent a lot of time spinning out of control.

Although I didn’t find this courage quote until a year later when I hired a business coach to help me figure out how to create income and potentially a business around this thing called coaching which I am still doing today, when I saw it, I knew without a doubt it nailed my experience.

My work in the consumer products industry was very exciting and fun for many years.  One day I woke up and became conscious to the fact that I had fallen out of love with it and my life as a whole, but I was too afraid to make any changes.  I mean, who would pay the mortgage?  What would happen to my identity?

It took about three years before I actually left my job.  At that time I knew that each day I stayed took something away from me as a person, yet I was still too afraid to leave.

In retrospect I wish I would have had a coach that could have helped me see a bigger picture and strategy because I believe I could have found much more joy in that work without giving away a part of my soul.  That is one of the things I always do with clients that are thinking about leaving their work whether it is with a large company or they are self employed  – I help them reconnect to what’s most important – their core values, their big picture vision, etc. and provide a place where they can be vulnerable and say what they want to say without feeling like they are being judged.

Often they see that what they want is there, it’s just packaged differently.  Other times the clarity they gain helps them muster the courage to make a bigger change.

What I hope for you is that you take the time to re-read the quote and with courage ask yourself:

What is one step or action you could take that stops your from doing things that drain you and would allow you to start doing something you want even more?


An Amazing Loving Man

While at my desk earlier this week a thought of a friend entered my consciousness.  He is a friend who is dying from Stage 4 Lung Cancer and Brain Cancer.  I created a reminder and task to connect with him next Friday.  At this moment it seems so insensitive because it’s set up as a to do and because it’s next to a reminder to check on my husband’s business card order.  While writing this blog post it reminds me that these two totally unrelated tasks come with the paradox – one with emotion and one emotionless that I could do while half asleep.  Contradiction is part of the complex life you and I live every day without really thinking about it.

Driving home I saw my neighbor in her garden and ran back up the street to connect.  She also has Stage 4 cancer except hers is ovarian.  We had an amazing conversation and connection.  I now wonder if this seemingly unrelated conversation and connection happened so that I could be prepared for what happened next.

Last night at about 10:40 pm I did something unusual for me; I checked my email before bed.  My heart stopped a beat as I read the subject line:  Abdi.  I immediately felt an incredible wave of sadness; pretty much it was like a tsunami knocking me on the ground.  I knew without a doubt I was too late, I had missed the moment of opportunity to give and receive unconditional connection.

I cried as I read the words:

I just returned with Alix from visiting Abdi in University Hospital. Our friend is now in the last few hours of his life. Just a couple of weeks ago he was still doing pretty well and was even able to drive.

My husband looked at me and knew part of what I was feeling and told me to call Andy whom had sent the message.  I told him that I wouldn’t and couldn’t as a call would selfishly only be for myself at that moment so that I could receive the blessing of connection.

I went to our room and allowed the feelings of sadness, of loss, and of regret for not having taking advantage my conscious hit to connect earlier this week.

The feelings of the circumstances surrounding this new information of Abdi’s unexpected decline at this moment and those of my father’s own decline and  death burst the damn of emotion and left me unable to do anything in that moment of swirling feelings.  Damn it.

You see my father also had terminal cancer and was “suppose” to have a time of dying in which we would have the opportunity to be with him, but instead he unexpectedly died due to a stroke or aneurism (they don’t autopsy terminal patients).  His body was found next to his car with the back seat door open and his gardening gloves on which meant he was doing what he loved, just as Abdi’s been living so fully and deeply.

Throughout dear Abdi’s cancer journey my own life’s bandwidth was full of caring for my mother’s unexpected nine month medical journey.  I logically choose to put my energy there.  I sporadically checked on Abdi’s Caring Journey Blog.  I felt love from what I read and emotionally conflicted knowing it was important to stay focused on my mom and our immediate family which took all the energy I had.

Now that a couple weeks had passed since my mother had left and returned back east, I was able to breathe and de-clutter my mind allowing for newness to emerge. Abdi ‘s kind loving soul entered my mind and I created a date to connect which I spoke to earlier in this post.  My regret is that I will never have an opportunity to make and experience that call with him. For my best mental being I know I must forgive myself for those immediate thoughts of not “being enough” during the past months of his cancer journey and for not making that call earlier.

Instead, I will allow my thoughts to linger over the lovely conversations we had over coffee at a local shop pre-cancer.  I will choose to remember and fill myself with the memories of serving together on the board for Voices Education Project.  In fact I met him just after finishing my own breast cancer journey which was a fragile time for me.  He always had a big smile and kind words which is what attracted me to him in the first place.

I will remember his generous being, hardy laugh, and amazing world view.  Of course I will cherish the numerous big hugs that constantly rippled out in the world touching myself and many others.  I will remember how we both left delighted, full of new possibility, filled with friendship.

One of the hardest parts of being the person who lives is the sadness and loss due to the finite knowing that these experiences with Abdi can never be had again.  I will do my best to hold the amazing and loving thoughts of shared experience and bring them forward with newness rather than linger on what is now missing.

People and experiences are never replaced, only new ones are created.  It’s our choice to linger in the past and to wish we could feel it again just as it was at that moment, but this is never possible and will leave you with more longing. This I have learned through the experience of dying and death in my life.

It’s also our choice to be in the present and filled with satisfaction and love that happen in the moments we create through our conscious and thoughtful actions.  To me this is a life worth living. This is the advice I give to myself and will allow me to take actions that come from my core values and fill me with deep satisfaction instead of wishing for what cannot be.

I want to share a few words from Abdi’s last post on Caring Bridge – which I believe he would be happy to share.  My hope is  that you may have a brief experience of his expansive and loving self.  Even though you didn’t get to experience his hugs, smile and laugh in person, you may bring alive experience these feelings for yourself and perhaps shift your own thinking or actions so that your life may be one that is better lived.


I moved a few weeks ago to a sweet apartment on Lake Washington on the edge of the water. When I look out the window I see Lake Washington and Mt Rainier. For a sailor it is the perfect sight.  Each morning I greet the movement of the water at my window and its beauty nurtures me and makes me feel like I am a part of everything. Next I will be awaiting the rising of the full moon with candles lit in the windows.

This was my third move this year and so you may ask why?

Back in November when Jeff and Robin offered me the cottage in their garden I was feeling very vulnerable and both my lungs and brain seemed out of control and the oncologists were concerned that I may have only a few months of my time left on this beautiful planet.

Jeff and Robin were kind and took some risk in asking me to move in with them in my condition. A little over a month ago when my overall condition improved and the cancer seemed contained I felt that I needed to move forward. When I moved in with Jeff and Robin I did not think I would get my suitcase out of storage and travel again.

“But at this stage, I want to start creating a new life based not on fear, but on hope”. No one can predict what the future holds for someone in my condition. “I want to believe I can try to fly again.  I want to believe my wings are strong enough to allow me some travel and some risk.”


I continue to be grateful to all of you who have supported me in so many ways and have applauded me on this sometimes arduous marathon.

I continue to be touched everyday when I remember and realize more deeply on how close I came to dying in order to go so deeply and to learn about love every day.  Beauty and love have sustained me. A few months ago when I was very ill my Oncologist asked me about my quality of life and where I would draw the line in terms of how I would measure life and how far I am willing to go.

The night before that visit I had parted the curtain to see the full moon. Remembering the sky and the full moon, I told him that as long as I can watch the moon through the window and enjoy listening to the poetry of Rumi or the music of Mozart I think life would be worth living.

So I end this long posting with a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

This poem has crossed my mind many, many times in the past 11 months. It has been with me even in the most difficult periods of my illness. It just appears and sits there with me and keeps me company!

This is the poem that reminds me to have the courage to fly again, to give it all I have.

I have already crossed some challenging mountains. What have I got to lose?

Inspirational Poem: So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

May these words, touch, move and inspire you as they have me.

As Abdi say’s above in this inspiring quote:

“I want to start creating a new life based not on fear, but on hope”.

What one action are you willing to take today that creates more hope in your life?

I’d love to hear your comments.

Thank you for reading, Peace – Michele.


Is Your Life Complacent Or Are You Really Alive?

Challenge Your Beliefs

Think about your life, are you being complacent or being really alive? If you actually choose, what would it be – complacency or truly alive? Obviously it seems like a no brainer – most if not all of us would choose to be really alive.  The question is why does so much of the population […]

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Smart Goal Setting

This morning after scanning my client email folders I gave myself 30 minutes  to peruse and perhaps unconsciously procrastinate through unopened email including my “smart goal setting” Google Alerts. Fifty minutes later I was still perusing  email and surfing  the internet a.k.a really  procrastinating under the guise of finding juicy and relative content about goal […]

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Core Values What Would You Do In This Life Situation?

Core Values

A Different Look At Core Values My mom came for a two week visit that was extended into nine months due to medical issues. As you may or may know my mom left Sat am – and we are adjusting to life without mom and making steps to re-ignite as a family. My mom did […]

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The Number One Reason You Don’t Change

Core Values

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Uplifting Quotes

What’s Your Courage Muscle and How Do You Build It? These three uplifting quotes will help you understand the courage muscle and self confidence concept. Courage is like a muscle strengthened by its use.  Ruth Gordon Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.  Dr. Robert Anthony Courage is going from failure […]

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You Are Perfect Just The Way You Are

Uplifting Quotes

Uplifting quotes, especially ones that remind you that “you are perfect just the way you are” –  are my favorite.  These type of quotes provide just enough inspiration and motivation especially when your day isn’t as perfect as you would like it to be. “May today there be peace within. May you trust that you […]

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