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Rock Star Squad: Heather Rae Murphy

20 Jun


The newest Rock Star in my squad is Heather Rae Murphy. I “met” Heather through twitter and instantly fell in love with her blog, In Search of Squid. When faced with her quarter life crisis, Heather went through a thorough process to figure out where her true passion lies and took bold steps to live that life. She’s truly an inspiration for others who are feeling a bit stuck.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m 32 years old and live in Pasadena, California by way of Las Vegas. I moved to the area seven years ago to pursue a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Southern California. I had an amazing experience in the program, and I graduated in summer 2005. Since then, I’ve worked in both medical research and the non-profit sector. I’m passionate about healthy living and have a particular interest in diabetes prevention. Recently, I decided to take time out from the traditional workforce to pursue a different passion – writing. These days, I call myself a writer. I’m working full time toward finishing my first novel. It’s been one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on. I have an amazing fiancé that cheers me on every step of the way. Some other things that make me swoon: making a difference in the lives of others, travel, education, women’s issues, reading, dance, art and checking items off my life list. At present, I’m packing up my apartment, preparing to move to Seattle with the fiancé.

Did you go through a quarter life crisis? How was your transition into the “real world?”

When I finished grad school I started work at a non-profit that I thought would be my dream job. I was making great money and was doing work I hoped would make a difference in the community. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just a job. I found myself feeling frustrated more than feeling I was changing lives. It was disheartening, and I questioned my own goals and motivations.

In some ways, I felt defeated. I was tired all the time from the energy I expended trying to make that job work for me. I started looking at other jobs in my field, thinking I should make a transition. I tried to get excited about the opportunities that were out there, but I realized the work just didn’t inspire me anymore. I had been working in that field for ten years (I started early). I loved parts of it and hated parts of it. One day I realized that I had stopped following my dreams and was simply following what seemed like the logical path. That’s when I knew I needed to make some changes in my life.

How did you overcome your 20-something crisis?

Once I decided to make change, I realized this: at some point, I had lost myself. I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing anymore. I spent so many years focusing on school and work, I wasn’t even sure what I liked doing for fun. I didn’t know how to fix this, so I picked up every career guide and self help book I could get my hands on. I read through them all. I actually made an excel spreadsheet, outlining every career path I found potentially interesting. I typed up every piece of information I could find about each. I interviewed people working in the various fields, and I set up job shadows. At the same time, I also started pursuing hobbies. I took classes at my local city college just for fun (dancing, drawing, anatomy — you name it, I did it).

While doing all of this, I started my blog, In Search of Squid, to chronicle my adventures and keep track of my growing Life List. It was then that it hit me. I love to write. And thus began my foray into the writing life.

I took writing classes and outlined a few writing projects that interested me (both fiction and non-fiction). After much pondering and many late night talks with the fiancé, I started work on my first real manuscript, a novel. I worked on my novel before and after work and during breaks. Finally, I decided it was time to step away from the traditional workforce and pursue writing full time. In February, I left my secure job in exchange for an unknown outcome and a little adventure.

Mind you, all of this soul searching took a while. Because of this, my twenty-something crisis carried itself right into my thirties. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s been amazing.

You recently quit your job to pursue your dream of writing a book – can you tell us more about that transition? How long did it take? What did you do to prepare, etc.

Once I realized I wanted to make changes in my career path, I left the job at the non-profit that had me constantly stressed and working crazy hours. I accepted a new position with virtually no commute and no need to work overtime. This gave me the time I needed to pursue other interests.

At the same time, I worked out a savings plan. For two years, I stuck to a very strict budget and saved every penny I could. At the end of that time, I had enough saved to stop working for at least a year. Of course, not working has also meant that I’ve had to cut out a lot of extras. I don’t have cable, I cancelled my home telephone in favor of my cell phone, and I rarely buy anything I don’t absolutely need. But these have been small sacrifices compared to the opportunity to pursue a dream. Every day, I’m happy about the choice I made. I make my own schedule, and I’m doing work that I love. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

How are you now living life on your own terms?

I’ve stopped doing things just because other people expect them of me. I used to think I had to follow a certain path in life just because that’s the way everyone else did it. Now, I realize that’s not true. I take the time to really consider what it is that I want, and I make decisions based on what’s best for me. Like with grad school. At the moment, I may not be practicing what I studied in school, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. It was exactly what I needed to do at that time. Now, what I need to do is write – so that’s what I’m doing.

What’s the hardest part about following your dream? What was the easiest?

The hardest part has been watching many of my friends from grad school as they make advances in their public health careers. I hear about their exciting jobs and new promotions, and I sometimes feel a little jealous. There are times when I wonder if should go back to following a more traditional path in life. But then I wake up in the morning without the alarm clock, spend my time writing and getting excited about structure and plot and characters, and I realize that I made exactly the right choice for me.

The easiest part is doing what I love. I love to write. And I love to learn about writing. It’s been an amazing growth experience, and I’m excited every time I meet a writing goal.

Do you have any advice for anyone trying to conquer a quarter life crisis?

My biggest piece of advice is to take your time. It may seem like you have to have all of the answers right now, but the truth is, you don’t. Do lots of research, look into all kinds of things that interest you, and don’t stop looking until you feel truly inspired. It doesn’t matter if it takes three months or three years (or even more). The time is going to pass anyway. You might as well spend your time enjoying the journey and searching for what you absolutely adore.

Anything else?

Through this whole process I’ve discovered that I really do have many varied interests. I love to write. But I also love to dance. I love to make art. I love to teach. I love health and medicine. Right now, I choose to pursue my writing full time. That may not always be the case.

I’ve found one thing to be certain – everything changes. There’s ebb and a flow to all things. What I love doing today may not be what I love doing tomorrow. And I think that’s 100% okay. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to accept this in myself. I now allow myself space for change and growth, and that has truly made all the difference in how I view my life.

Awesome! I love Heather’s methodical approach to figuring out what makes her happy and then creating a plan to get there. Figuring out your passion can be tough and it can take time. Thank you Heather for sharing your story with us and really going through each step of your process! Want more Heather? Her blog is a great source of inspiration and you can also follow her on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.

Are you taking your life by the reins and living on your own terms? Then I want to feature YOU! Email me – nblades[at]gmail[dot]com – if you’d like to be the next Rock Star in our Squad



Rock Star Squad: Divinity Matovu

12 Jun


The latest member of my Rock Star Squad is Divinity Matovu, who is living her purpose through AGYA, the non-profit organization she founded that provides support and resources to youth in Uganda. I am still amazed at all that Divinity has accomplished – and she’s only 24! I guarantee you’ll be super inspired by her story. Plus she offers great detail for anyone who is thinking of starting their own non-profit organization.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Divinity Matovu and I am a 24-year old social entrepreneur and social activist. I graduated from the University of Southern California in 2008. I am pursuing a Master’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies with a focus on International Development and Microfinance at Makerere University in Uganda. On May 1, 2010, I married my soul-mate, business partner, and best friend, Abraham Matovu in beautiful Hawaii. We have an adopted son, three-year old Shafik Arafat. I am the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Amagezi Gemaanyi Youth Association (AGYA), a non-profit organization based in Uganda. Using a grassroots, youth-centric approach to international development, AGYA operates a community learning center that serves as a safe learning environment where Ugandan youth can develop leadership skills and express themselves creatively. I love to read, travel and write poetry, and I’m passionate about women’s issues, education, youth empowerment, and African culture.

Did you go through a quarter life crisis? How was your transition into the “real world?”

My transition into the “real world” happened when I went to study abroad in Kenya and Tanzania during my Senior year of college. I was 21 years old, I had just received my first Passport in the mail, and I was about to set off on an incredible, life-changing journey that radically altered my definition of self, my philosophy on life, and my global outlook. Among the many images of poverty I saw were: piles of garbage and human feces, malnourished children walking barefoot through the streets of Nairobi begging for a five shilling coin, filthy trenches filled with black sewage water, and idle, unemployed youth who had resorted to petty theft, preying on tourists rather than developing their natural talents or continuing their education.

My quarter-life crisis took place when I returned to Los Angeles after being in East Africa for almost five months. I was disillusioned with the excess level of consumption that I saw on a daily basis. I would see a girl on campus with a Louis Vuitton bag, and think, I wonder if she knows, or even cares, how many children in Kenya could be sent to school for the price of her purse. I would see my friends cutting class, and think about all the youth in Tanzania who would give their lives for the opportunity to attend a prestigious university like USC. I was consumed by these thoughts constantly from December 2007 until May 2008.

How did you overcome your 20-something crisis?

After months of inner-turmoil, prayer, fasting, and meditation, I decided that the only way I could live a balanced life was to return to East Africa. Upon my arrival in Uganda, I met Abraham who is now my husband. Abraham and I shared an intense passion and love for youth empowerment and development work. We connected with many urban youth who expressed their desire to have a “home away from home,” a place where they could go freely to express themselves without being judged for where they come from, what they believe in, how they look, etc. After hearing the same thoughts from hundreds of youth, Abraham and I decided to co-found AGYA, an organization that would serve as a safe haven and beacon of hope for youth from the urban slums. In June 2009 during Month 6 of AGYA’s work, one of our most promising young leaders, a 17 year old boy, came to our Community Center seeking guidance from me just moments after learning that his brother had been murdered during a knife fight in a neighboring slum. He cried on my shoulder and told me that, if it was not for the love and support of his AGYA family and the lessons he’d learned at our Center, he would have led a group of other young men from the slums to exact revenge against the person responsible for his brother’s death. The fact that he sought refuge at our Center during such a traumatic time confirmed for me that AGYA had achieved our goal of being a safe space for Ugandan youth. Even more so, I was amazed by his level of maturity. In the weeks after the loss of his brother, the AGYA leadership team helped this young man channel all of his energy into art classes at our Center including painting, poetry and song-writing.  This experience not only let me know that my 20-something crisis was officially over, but it also confirmed for me that AGYA was truly making a difference.

You are obviously very passionate about education and youth – how did you discover this passion? What steps did you take to launch your non-profit?

I discovered my passion for education and youth during my Freshman year of college at USC when I joined an organization called Rites of Sisterhood (ROS). With the core tenets of self-empowerment, self-responsibility, and self-determination, ROS focused on mentoring teenage girls from South Los Angeles. It was a wonderful organization that brought college women and high-school girls together in the spirit of sisterhood. I served as the President of ROS for two years, and I was mentor for three years, only leaving when I went to study abroad in East Africa during my Senior year of college, which is when my passion for education and youth connected with my love for Africa.

In Africa, I met so many young people who, because of poverty, did not have the opportunities and resources to make meaningful contributions to their communities which catalyzed my transformation into a more well-rounded and independent thinker, and galvanized me to take action.

When I started AGYA with Abraham, the first step was to conduct outreach and ask the youth, our target group, what they wanted. We listened, which was an act of empowerment for those youth because they are not used to people listening, actually listening, to their viewpoints and opinions. So, as far as crafting the Mission Statement, Core Programs, and overall Vision, we just did exactly what the youth told us to do. Logistically, I knew I wanted AGYA to be based in Uganda. However, since most of our donors were in the United States, I immediately sought a fiscal agent who would be able to partner with us and accept tax-deductible donations on our behalf.

Since 2008, the African Millennium Foundation has served as an awesome fiscal agent for AGYA. We were able to launch a grassroots fundraising effort that brought in enough money to secure our 1st Community Center, which was a 6 room house in the middle of a slum called Nabulagala.

Since then, my focus has been on developing a strategic fundraising plan that is sustainable, recruiting and retaining an excellent team, creating and implementing a knock-out curriculum, and establishing key partnerships. I’ve learned is that partnership and teamwork are essential elements to long-term success. Although individuals are often highlighted as the superstars of a cause or organization, there is always a dedicated team of committed people behind every great leader.  By building, nurturing, and maintaining partnerships, AGYA expands our pool of funding, resource, and networking options. Our partners are essential to our ability to successfully grow our initiative because they provide logistical support and invaluable human capital. AGYA has four key partners:

  1. African Millennium Foundation – U.S.-based 501(c)(3) organization committed to the social and economic empowerment of the people of Africa, especially women. AMF provides logistical and fundraising support to AGYA, so U.S. donors can support our educational and arts initiatives.
  2. Point Youth Media – Canadian youth-run grassroots organization that works to make a difference in the way youth are viewed in the global community through the use of fine art and media programming. In 2010, PYM is sending 7 student volunteers to teach workshops with AGYA.
  3. USC Rise of African Youth through Self Empowerment (RAYSE) – Student organization at the University of Southern California that is dedicated to empowering, educating, and enriching the lives of African youth by organizing volunteer trips in African countries. Currently, RAYSE sends 8 student volunteers to Uganda every summer to teach workshops with AGYA.
  4. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Century City Alumnae Chapter – African-American sorority that focuses on women’s health, education, political involvement, and international awareness. Members of Delta Sigma Theta serve as mentors and pen pals to girls in Uganda while also advocating for education for the girl-child and raising scholarship funds. This program features a dynamic curriculum and weekly e-communication that promote creative self-expression and critical thinking on topics ranging from healthy relationships to beauty standards to education to women’s rights. 

Without the support of our partners, AGYA would not have been able to develop as rapidly and as successfully as we have. Additionally, we have a team of amazing, dynamic, multi-talented youth leaders in Uganda who maintain our field programs, our facility, and our outreach and advocacy efforts. I am always searching for new partnership opportunities, so anybody out there thinks there is a way we can collaborate should feel free to e-mail me.

How are you now living life on your own terms?

My entire life is integrated. My family, my relationships, my work with AGYA, my spirituality, everything! I love AGYA. Everything else I do is somehow connected to the growth and development of AGYA. I am very clear about who I am, and I try to maintain positive energy at all times. I no longer try to accommodate people or do things that do not align with who I am because I realized that this is a futile effort. Anything that does not fit into my definition of self must not be allowed to enter my universe. Period.

What’s the hardest part about following your dream? What was the easiest?

The hardest part about following my dream has been a lack of funding. It is amazing that we have been able to have such a high level of impact when we have only raised about $20,000 over the last two years. We have impacted more than 1,000 people living in urban poverty with only $20,000. That is amazing!

Abraham and I have put a lot of our own personal funds into AGYA to keep certain programs running. We postponed our wedding twice because we decided to put the money that was supposed to cover wedding costs towards AGYA. Neither of us earn an income from AGYA, and that is very, very hard. I stay afloat financially by working a full-time job at The Dorton Firm, a law firm in Beverly Hills. I have a great boss/mentor at the law firm who supports the work of AGYA 100%. I have been so blessed to have a boss is very understanding and supportive whenever I need time off to go to Uganda or just take a day off to finish a grant or proposal. In all honesty, I wish I could live comfortably while only working full-time for AGYA. I know this day is coming, so in the meantime, I have to sacrifice for what I love.

The easiest part about following my dream is the pure joy and happiness that fills my soul when I see the kids and youth do something amazing. Whether it is seeing my 3-year old son, Shafik, count to 10 or seeing a teenage girl break the culture of silence among girls/women by standing up in front of 100 people to lead AGYA’s weekly community meeting. Whether it is witnessing the AGYA break-dancers performing in front of 5,000 people at an event in Kampala or looking on proudly as one of our youth leaders, Kenny Mulinde, is elected as President of his High-School Student Body! These things make me happy. These things make following my dream worth it.

Do you have any advice for anyone trying to conquer a quarter life crisis?

Spirituality is very important to me. I believe that the Creator of the Universe has given every human being the power to take control over the lives. I don’t care what you call the Creator; God, Jah, Allah, Yahweh, whatever! My advice is this: know that the Creator has already given you the power to conquer any adversity or challenge that may come your way, quarter life crisis included.

Despite having confidence that returning to Africa was the right thing to do, I still had a lot of doubts, but my faith quieted those doubts and gave me the courage to step outside of my box of American privilege and return to the Motherland, not as a study abroad student who had an itinerary for every day of my trip, but rather as a soul in search of the people who would join me to start a grassroots movement in Uganda, and then all of Africa. Thanks to the power and blessings bestowed upon me by the Creator, I was able to conquer my quarter life crisis…and I found my husband, a son, and my life purpose too! We all have this power; what we do with it is our choice.

Anything else?

This quote changed the way I think about the world:  

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing” -Albert Einstein.

My personal philosophy centers on ridding the world of one less person who is content with “looking on and doing nothing.”

Finally, I’d like to invite anyone who would like to get involved with AGYA to check us out. We offer several ways that people can connect with AGYA whether that is through a donation, advocating for us on Facebook, or travelling to Uganda to teach through AGYA’s International Volunteer Program.

Wow. Thank you Divinity for sharing your incredible story. And thank you for being such an inspiration for other women struggling with their own 20-something crisis. Be sure to check out Divinity and her team at AGYA, there are tons of ways – both big and small – for each of us to make a difference. You can also catch her on Twitter, shoot her an email or check her out on YouTube for more info.

Are you taking your life by the reins and living on your own terms? Then I want to feature YOU! Email me – nblades[at]gmail[dot]com – if you’d like to be the next Rock Star in our Squad


Molly at Stratejoy & Her Super Fantastic Awesome News!

18 May


When I decided to get into life coaching in the super narrow, specific niche of the quarter life crisis, a lot of people thought I had gone absolutely mad. So I took to the internet and found Molly at Stratejoy and after perusing her awesome, vibrant site I knew I had to reach out and chat with her about my decision to jump into this field. Well, needless to say she was super inspirational and really instrumental in my decision to dedicate my coaching practice to helping my fellow quarter lifers. Simply put, Molly rocks. She brings such passion and zeal to everything she does and has been helping scores of quarter-lifers in the last few years.

And now she has a ridiculously amazing announcement to share about her best-selling product, The Joy Equation. It’s a 30 day guide to living life on purpose and it’s amazing – it’s exactly what I needed when I was going through my own quarter-life crisis. And because Molly is the ultimate rock star, she’s offering The Joy Equation on a ‘Pay What You Can Afford’ basis – incredible, right? So incredible that I immediately said ‘Yes’ when she asked if I’d be an affiliate for the program.

Watch the short interview below to see what the Joy Equation is all about and why Molly is changing the price structure:


 Isn’t she adorable? So if you’re ready to begin living your life on purpose – and I know you are – head on over to The Joy Equation and pay what you can afford. It’s totally worth it! Click here to view more details


Rock Star Squad: Zoé Zeigler

5 May

The first member of my Rock Star Squad is Zoé Zeigler. I first met Zoé at USC where we both went to school. We reconnected recently over Twitter and I was thrilled to learn that she had started her very own wedding & event planning company. I knew that she would be the perfect person to kick off my new series: The Rock Star Squad.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Well, I’m a 20-something Southern California native. I graduated from USC in 2007, where I studied communications. By profession I’m a PR pro for an international automotive company, but by passion I’m owner and wedding & event planner at Fabulously Ever After Weddings & Events. If I had to choose three words to describe myself, they would have to be sassy, passionate and independent.

Did you go through a quarter life crisis? How was your transition into the “real world?”

I used to think the notion of quarter-life and mid-life crises was a myth; that was until I had a quarter-life crises of my own. The transition from college to the real world was a piece of cake for me. I had interned all throughout school, so I had my shiny offer letter months before graduation. I had my own place and wonderful friends…I thought I had this thing called “life” figured out.

But about two and a half years later I started feeling really unfulfilled, like something was missing. All the great things I had experienced and accomplished in life started to seem so insignificant and I felt like I needed some sort of drastic life change. I started thinking about chopping off all my hair, moving cross country, changing careers but none of those things seemed like they would get me out of my funk.

How did you overcome your 20-something crisis?

To a certain degree, I think I’m still working through it. I had to realize that this feeling I was having was not something that was going to go away overnight – it was a process I was going to have to work through. I started by trying to better understand myself by asking myself questions about what makes me happy, what am I passionate about, when do I feel most alive and what societal standards am I trying to live up to.

I came to the conclusion that while I had a good life, I wasn’t doing anything that excited me or that I was passionate about. I was sort of following society’s path for success – go to college, get a job, get a promotion, etc. – instead of incorporating something into my life that would truly make me feel fulfilled and happy.

How are you following your dream?

During my “soul searching” I realized two things that really made me happy were seeing people in love and helping people, so I decided to start assisting a wedding planner as she executed events that were centered around both of these things. I was working for free at first, but I didn’t care because I was doing something that was really fun and therapeutic for me. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to branch out and start my own wedding & event planning company, Fabulously Ever After, which I launched earlier this year.

What’s the hardest part about following your dream? What was the easiest?

When I first had the “aha moment” to start my own business doing something I love, I thought everything would just fall into place. I thought the clients and contracts would come immediately and my business would just take off…after all I was chasing my passion. But a few months in, I’m learning that’s not necessarily the case. Success is a journey, not a destination, so I’m learning to enjoy the ride, reward myself for the small achievements, and learn from any missteps along the way.

As for the easiest thing, it’s been finding people that support me and my dreams. My friends and family have been so encouraging, but I’ve also found encouragement through networks and organizations, like the Los Angeles Urban League Young Professionals, that are filled with young entrepreneurs and movers & shakers that inspire and push me to reach my full potential.

Do you have any advice for anyone trying to live life on their own terms?

It’s so easy to become complacent when the checks are coming in, the rent is getting paid and things are going well. But that alone is no way to live life. Whether it’s small or large, step out on a limb and try to incorporate something into your life that excites you and really makes you feel like you have a purpose.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks Zoé for sharing your inspiring story! Right now Zoé is running an awesome giveaway on her site, Enter now to win FREE wedding planning services for your big day.

Are you taking your life by the reins and living on your own terms? Then I want to feature YOU! Email me – nblades[at]gmail[dot]com – if you’d like to be the next Rock Star in our Squad

Calling All Rock Stars!

7 Apr


You’re awesome – I know it, you know it, and your best friend knows it. But I want the whole world to know it. If you’re a 20 or 30-something year old who is totally living out loud then I want to feature you on Polka Dot Coaching. This blog’s main purpose is to help young women conquer their quarter life crisis & unleash their inner rock stars so naturally I want to start showcasing women who are doing precisely that. Have you started a new business? Ventured down a new career path? Written a book? Started an awesome new blog? Figured out your passion? Started infusing adventure into your daily life? Or are you generally just kicking ass and taking names? Whatever it is, I want to hear about it!

I don’t care if you have it all figured out – no one does – what I care about is that you are taking big, bold steps to living the life you crave. Let me know how you are taking the proverbial bull by the horns and overcoming your quarter life crisis.

Simply email me at nblades[at]gmail[dot]com  if you’re interested. I can’t wait to begin inspiring others with your unique story.