Occupation: I am a former high school teacher. I now own a business where I market Strategies of Success (the leadership/success program I created for my high school) and offer professional development for teachers. There is nothing I like better than being in front of teenagers, sharing with them the inspirational yet practical techniques they can use to help them create the lives they want for themselves.
I also have a small side business in Web design, play the Fairy Godmother on tour in Cinderella for Kaleidoscope Theatre, an educational children's theater company, and help my brother out one day a week in the wine store he manages.
Personal life: Divorced, own my own home and my own business.
Biggest financial concerns: My biggest concern is having enough money in my later years. I retired early from teaching to share Strategies of Success. With so many students urging me to take this program nationally and with my best friend dying from cancer, I knew it was the time to leave. I went to see a financial adviser to determine which of the two retirement options I should take. One was slightly higher at first but would drop when I turned 62. The other started lower but increased steadily. He felt that I should take the one that paid more up front and invest the extra money in turning my course into a book that I could sell to schools. It seemed like a good plan at the time, but it did not take into account the difficulty of not only reaching high schools, but convincing them that this program really works (it has received numerous awards and national recognition, including from the U.S. Senate. But more importantly, the program has changed the lives of the teens who took it).
It also didn't allow for setbacks. The death of my best friend set me back a good 18 months—months when debt rose and income from the business was nonexistent. Now, although I've paid back a good amount of debt with the Web design business I taught myself during those difficult months, I'm concerned about the future drop in retirement benefits, the possibility that my state could stop paying out retirement benefits all together and the fact that I have little social security to look forward to since my school never paid into it (I do have some from all the part time jobs I've had throughout my life and from the flight school I used to own).
Lessons learned from The Difference: This book resonated with me on many levels. It meshed with my Strategies program, which I'm in the process of updating so that I can donate it to 300 schools this spring by way of a contest. As I was reading Jean's book, I took copious notes of all the ideas that supported what I had been sharing with my students, the research behind the conclusions she reached, the exercises that I thought would be great for teens to take and the research that Jean provided.
One great lesson in The Difference was on optimism. As a teacher, I have always instinctively known that creating a fun, optimistic classroom was important to the well-being and learning potential of my students. The Difference tells why: "When you're thinking pessimistically, your creativity narrows and your problem-solving ability fades." What a great antidote to the negativity that is pervasive in our society especially in these economic times! We all need to be able to solve the problems that life throws at us and The Difference teaches us—backed up by research and in an easy to read format—that being optimistic truly helps!
I started my program to provide teens with the information that adults would love to have known at 15 years old—financial literacy, goal setting, optimism, how to survive and thrive (a term both Jean and I use). I love that with The Difference, I now have access to all this great new information and research for updating my program and for the new weekend success seminars I'm building for teens with two wonderful people I recently met at a seminar in New Jersey. The Difference teaches, whether adult or teen, that you can certainly rise from failure and from difficult times—that, in fact, is when we grow the most.
Reading this book at this particular time has given me the special tools, the research and extra inspiration I need to not give up on the difficult quest of getting my program noticed so it can, as my students often said, "Keep changing lives." A big thank you to Jean for writing a book that we all can learn so much from.
Favorite chapter from The Difference: I'm not sure I can choose a favorite. I love Chapter 4 where not only do you get valuable advice about finding your passion, but how to empower your outlook for what you currently do so that it inspires you to get out there and enjoy it while developing your passion into a new career. Chapter 9's focus on gratitude is spot-on. So many people talk about gratitude, but Jean explains why being grateful matters, how to begin the gratitude process and how shifting your focus toward gratitude, especially during tough times, changes everything—including the bottom line.
All in all, this book not only provides the data and characteristics that separate the different financial levels but how to move up as many levels as we choose—all while providing strong guidance, a sense of humor (I love the "Choose one. Can't pick? I'll pick for you. Pick number one!" section), inspiration and the knowledge that success is within our power—as soon as we decide.