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Elizabeth Barbour, M. Ed.
The Revitalized Business Woman
Missouri City (Houston), Texas

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It's Time to Throw Out the Rule Book!

I have a really wise cousin.

Her name is Diana, and our mothers were sisters.

We don't talk often and sometimes will go for months without connecting, but during times when it matters, I know she is there to listen and to support me. Our fathers both died when we were younger and her mom died just four years ago so she has walked this journey before me.

We were texting the other day about the grief journey. She had been reading my Facebook posts and knew I was having a hard time. She reminded me that there are no rules. There's no one right way to grieve. It's a very personal experience for everybody.  

I appreciated what she said because I have been surprised at the people who have told me (just two weeks after my mom died) that I have to “move on” or “be strong”.  Ummmm thanks, but no I don’t folks.  I can be sad and cry and eat chocolate all day long if I want to.  For as long as I want to.

It got me thinking. So many of us were raised to follow the rules – I sure was! Were you?

The truth is, there are no rules to how you “should” live your life.

My mother was a strict rule follower because as a child, growing up in an orphanage, following the rules meant that she got her basic needs met. Not following the rules (which she did sometimes) resulted in pain and punishment.

So she learned to be a rule follower early on. And she raised me to be a rule follower.

And I was for much of my life. I was a good student. I did volunteer work. I wrote thank you notes. I kept my house clean. I married my high school sweetheart. I did everything I was “supposed” to.

So at the age of 30, when I started my own business, she freaked out on me a little bit.

I had just barely started my coaching business and my first husband asked me for a divorce (oops, first rule broken!). I moved to a new city with no job… just my part-time business and a few thousand dollars in the bank and my mom was screaming at me “Get a Job! Get a Job!” (Code word for “Follow the Rules!” – Single women don’t start their own businesses, don’t you know that?!)

But I had a fire in my belly. I knew that coaching was “the thing” I had been looking for as my career path… or more accurately… my calling. I had finally found it and I sure as heck wasn’t going to give it up just to feel “safe”. So I stayed committed to it and built my business on a shoestring budget, a wing and a prayer. (And some credit card debt… I won’t lie!... things were lean in the early years.)

I think that's probably the first time in my life that I realized that I didn't have to follow all the rules. Entrepreneurship is an invitation to creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and stretching beyond your comfort zone. It’s about being a little rebellious and taking risks, even when you’re terrified.

And my mom? She eventually came around. I know she was just scared for me and she allowed her fear to seep into her interactions with me. But I refused to take on her fear. I trusted my intuition telling me this was the right path for me. And boy, was she proud of me the first time I got an article published, then the first time I was on TV, and the first time I was on a magazine cover! She finally understood that what I do matters and helps people live better lives.

But whether or not you’re an entrepreneur, or whether or not you’re grieving (like me), you’re given invitations to throw out the rule book all the time.

Think about your own life. Where have you been following the rules, but it's not getting you what you want or where you wanted to go?

Maybe it's time to throw out the rulebook. Stop listening to the voices of “others” and start listening to your own inner voice. Here are some areas you may consider changing things up…

  •  Grieving – How long will it last? One week, one month, one year, a lifetime…should you keep working or take some time off?
  •  Parenting – Should you breastfeed or formula feed? How about stay at home, work from home or work in an office?
  • Running a business – Should you go solo? Have a partner? Buy a franchise? Sell a product or a service? Have a store front or go virtual?
  • Making art – Are you good enough? Should you go back to school? People only like X style so maybe you should create that.
  • Scheduling your family holiday travels – Do you really have to travel to Aunt Sally’s when what you want to do is stay home?
  • Trying to get healthier – “They say” that you should lift weights, cut carbs, drink this protein drink, go to X doctor…

I’d love to know in what area of life you are ready to throw out the rule book! Send me a note and let me know so we can throw out the rule book together!

Here’s to breaking the rules!



The Best Gifts to Give Someone Who is Grieving

I don’t have any fancy or eloquent words to begin today’s post so I’ll just come out and say it.

My mom died last week.

If you’ve been following my blog or my stories on Facebook for a while, you know that she was a fighter. A survivor. She successfully beat Stage 4 throat cancer in 2013, which offered her three years of living in remission. Three more years of “borrowed time” allowed for shopping trips to Talbots, exploring Houston’s museums and quality time with her granddaughter Riley.

But the cancer returned in June of this year and she passed away on September 11, 2016. Here’s her obituary in case you’re curious. She was a remarkably strong woman and one of my greatest teachers.

If you’ve lost a loved one, you know the deep grief that can ensue before, during and after the loss itself. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have the most amazing friends who have carried me through this experience when I thought I couldn’t possibly take another step forward.

But so often, people don’t know what to do or say when confronted with grief. They feel awkward or can’t find the words. So they don’t say or do anything at all. Without meaning to, they alienate the ones they love the most.

It’s hard to go head on into grief. It means being vulnerable, real, scared and uncertain. It most certainly means some ugly crying, some yelling at God and some soul-searching. It’s hard to do it yourself and it can be challenging to witness someone going through it.

But witness we must.

That’s what we do for people we love. We bear witness. We love tenderly. We hug hard. We speak kind words. And when we can’t say anything, we simply say “I don’t have the words. I’m so sorry for your pain.”

Grief is a lonely experience. It’s a personal and unique – albeit universal – one that we will all experience at some time in our lives. The more we can open up about it and share from the heart, the better the healing process.

Should you send cards? Yes.

Should you send flowers? Yes.

Should you make phone calls? Yes.

All of those things are wonderful and appropriate and make your beloveds feel good. And, sometimes you want to do more.  To give you some ideas, I wanted to share some of the magical gifts that my friends have given me, Eric & Riley over the past few weeks.

1.  The Gift of Food. There is a reason that people show up to funerals with dishes of homemade casseroles, cookies and cakes. It is a loving act to nourish someone you care about. Don’t underestimate the power of this. The practicality of not having to shop, prepare and cook your family dinner during a time of grief is such an incredible relief. If you don’t live locally, you can call a restaurant and have a meal delivered. I had a few friends do that.

2.  The Gift of Your Presence. Show up. Physically be there. Go to them. Visitors at the Houston Hospice during the two days that my mom was there were like manna from heaven. The hugs, the sitting and holding my hand, the asking questions about my mom and her life, the bringing of food for sustenance, the prayers.  One special friend came to visit who I’ve known virtually for seven years but we had never met in person until the day before my mom died. She didn’t even stay that long because my minister arrived and she knew I really needed to see him. But she made a point to go out of her way to come and be present with me. And she brought me chocolate! Seeing her face in person and not just on Facebook and hugging her in person was an extraordinary gift.
3.  The Gift of Your Presence Part 2. Show up. When there’s a memorial or a funeral, go if you can. Your presence of honoring the person who has died will mean more than any card, cake or plant that you can send. Hugs, tears and laughter are the pathways to healing that are best done in person! And if you can’t make it to the memorial or funeral, consider scheduling a visit in a few weeks or months after the initial loss. That is when grieving people especially appreciate someone who will still ask “So how ARE you?” and take the time to deeply listen.
4.  The Gift of Babysitting. If the family has children, offer to take the kids for a few hours. And don’t just say “Call me when you need help.” That is kind, but the person grieving doesn’t know how to ask for it nor do they have the time to think about it. Instead say something like “We can take your son/daughter either Saturday morning from 9-12 or Sunday afternoon from 2-5. Which is better for you?” So grateful to several friends who helped us with Riley when we needed it most.
5.  The Gift of Books. One of my best friends from my days at William & Mary lost her father-in-law a few years ago and her daughters were the same age that mine is now. We were texting one evening a few days before Mom died and she told me about these great books to teach kids about death and dying. I made a mental note to buy them that promptly left my brain. About 15 minutes later, she sent me a note and said “Don’t worry about buying them. I already did it for you. They are on the way!” They showed up just in time.
6.  The Gift of Music. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law sent a set of classical CDs because they knew my mom loved music. I played Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Mozart for Mom in her final days. It was a lovely way to support her journey Home.
7.  The Gift of Your Virtual Presence. In the final days of my mom’s life, I was sustained by hundreds of friends and family members around the country (Well, world, actually!) who chimed in with their love, support and prayers on my Facebook posts. I spoke with a few of my relatives on the phone. And my best friends, a close knit circle of friends I’ve had for 10-20-30 years, were texting constantly sending their love and support.
8.  The Gift of Self Care. A few days ago, I facilitated my women’s networking group (Sienna Women in Business) and a former client who is also a friend handed me the most wonderful “Self Care Goody Bag!” It contained flowers, wine, chocolate, a candle, incense, protein bars and more. Such a thoughtful gift reminding me to practice self care as I grieve.
9.  The Gift that Connects You To Your Loved One. One of my dearest friends in Florida sent me a gift card to Talbots. If there’s one thing that Mom and I enjoyed doing the most together, it was shopping at Talbots. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift from my girlfriend although I’ve already told her that I doubt I’ll be able to use it for a few months because I’ll be a blubbering mess the next time I step foot in that store. I just may have to have a girlfriend’s Talbots shopping outing so I can get through.
10.  The Gift of Experience. If you’ve been through something similar to what your friend has experienced, share tips that helped you with your grieving process. Several friends offered suggestions like “take pictures of you holding your mom’s hands” which we did the day before she died. Or reminders to keep an article of clothing and spray it with her perfume. (I did that when my Dad died). Knowing that someone else has walked in your shoes is immensely comforting when you are in deep grief.

Hopefully you won’t need this list anytime soon, but in case you do, bookmark it and remember to come back to this when you are faced with supporting a loved one in their grief. You’ll feel good and they will appreciate your love and support.

With many blessings to you and yours and with gratitude for witnessing our journey,




5 Reasons to Clear the Clutter

At my house, we’ve been on a mission lately: Clear the Clutter! As my mom’s health declines, it is apparent that she will need to move in with us soon so that I can help with her caregiving. She’s put up a valiant fight and has maintained her independence for a long time but as the cancer spreads in her body, she is losing some of her abilities and it is time for her to let us support her.

My mom lived with us for six months in 2013 while she went through her cancer treatment. It was easy to move her in then because we had just moved into our new home four months prior. Everything was clean and clutter free because we had done a big purge when we moved from Tallahassee to Houston. We were surrounded by only what we loved and needed.

Fast forward four years and it’s a different story. We’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. To be fair, our daughter is now 5 ½ and our house is overflowing with everything Frozen, Dora, Princess Sophia, Doc McStuffins, Legos and more!

I’m fortunate to have an amazing professional organizer, Liana George, who has helped us implement many systems in our home over the past few years. Without her help, my house would be overflowing with junk!

But I’ll sheepishly admit that there’s one piece of advice that of hers that I haven’t followed very well and that is: Schedule time each week for organizing and decluttering! And boy, now I’m regretting that I haven’t followed her advice.

Of course, I give similar advice to my clients about their self-care… I tell them that every day and every week, they HAVE to carve out some time for self-care. That it’s foundational for success and essential for a happy life.

So is organizing and decluttering regularly really essential for success and happiness? I’m sure Liana would say YES!

What I do know is that when my space is clean and clear, my life flows more effortlessly.

Can you relate?

Remember, when you keep your home and office clutter free, you get lots of great benefits:

  1. You decrease stress – so you don’t lose things.
  2. You save time - it doesn’t take as long to find important items.
  3. You save money – by not buying something and then realizing you already had one!
  4. You feel comfortable inviting people over at any time – because your space feels good.
  5. You can relax – it’s hard to chill out in a chaotic environment but a clutter-free one is divine!

How about you? Are you a weekly organizer? Monthly? Quarterly? Or are you like me and you’re “pressure prompted”– when you’ve got an event you’re hosting or company coming to visit, do you save it all for the last minute?

For me, organizing is not likely to happen weekly (sorry, just being honest here!), but now that we are scrambling to purge and declutter before Mom’s arrival, I’m thinking I should at least put it in my calendar for a monthly or quarterly purge…Lesson Learned!

Revitalizing Action: As you think about your own home and office, do you need to schedule some time in your calendar to do some decluttering and organizing? Start by making a list of the problem areas that you want to tackle. Then prioritize them by choosing one small project first (cleaning out a junk drawer or a pile of papers on a counter). In my experience, once you’ve had success organizing a smaller space, you get motivated and inspired to tackle bigger projects! Then, after you’ve made your list, pull out your calendar and block out the time to actually do the work. Let me know how it goes! And if you really need help, call my friend Liana!


Here's to clearing the clutter!