You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

Joan Michelson - 702-806-3690 - blue - cropped - 31RBJoan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Media™, a media and consulting firm focused on innovation and leadership, especially in the energy-green space. She shares 10 lessons she has gleaned from interviews with innovators and her own career journey’s ups and downs.

Before I could even get through the second set of doors into the hotel lobby, this cute guy approached me and said, “You must be Joan.” This was a pleasant surprise. After a delightful evening, that included discovering that he lives in North Dakota (a place that had never been on my radar), he invited me out for the balance of his evenings in D.C., including dinners with his N.D. business colleagues.  

Figuring I needed to brush up on North Dakota, I researched it online and must have left cyber-tracks, because I started receiving emails from North Dakota companies asking if I’d be interested in moving there. Ha! This New York City girl? Not bloody likely….

Fast-forward a few months and I was recruited by the electric vehicle division of a top automaker in – you guessed it – Fargo, North Dakota, to lead their communications efforts and co-lead their marketing and sales team, even though I’d never worked in the auto industry (and didn’t even own a car at the time). I had great fun working with smart, interesting people who were making a difference – and it changed my life forever.

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Jack Canfield at Biz Book Festival

When the company president introduced me to the staff in their cavernous plant and said, “North Dakota nice wasn’t working so we brought out a New Yorker,” I knew he had my back and I could do creative stuff.  We generated hockey-stick growth, including bringing to life some of my quintessentially “out-of-the-box” ideas.

The sub-plot running in the back of my mind, though, was the lack of women in the industry, and even fewer women at these conferences or in related media. So, I seized the moment and spotlighted women dealers, women managers, and women buyers, especially because women make the majority of car buying decisions in the US.

Falling in Love, But….

A few years later, a victim of the auto industry collapse, I returned to my natural environment: big city life in Washington, D.C.  But I was not the same person.

I’d fallen in love – with an industry and a cause, with a dynamism and economic potential, with the creative spirit of a burgeoning industry being birthed by brilliant, creative, inspired and determined social innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders across sectors. I also had a deeper level of confidence in my skills, talents, ideas, judgment, intuition and network, and strong convictions about the need for more women in this industry. The next question was….

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Asst. Sec of the Army Katherine Hammack

How do I give my new passion, confidence, and convictions a voice and get paid for it?  The answer came from an unexpected but (in retrospect) natural place.

At a conference one day, a female media entrepreneur asked me to do a radio show on her network. The process that followed gave birth to my podcast series/radio show Green Connections™ and a new level of my media persona (I’d been in TV news and written articles for national media before).

The Green Connections Media™ mission is to grow a clean, green economy in which women have economic parity. We cover energy, sustainability, and clean tech, and how it intersects with every industry – from policy to The Pope, business to Broadway, and activism to the arts.  And, we feature mostly women experts (the opposite of the traditional media).

From my interviews with top leaders and innovators at Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Facebook, MGM Resorts, Campbell Soup, and government agencies like the Department of Energy, as well as non-profit leaders, and my own journey’s ups and downs, I’ve learned great lessons that translate to any career, any time.

10 career tips:

  1. Follow your intuition: Collect the information you need to make a decision, then step back. Take a walk, sleep on it, whatever suits you. Then check in: what does your inner voice say?
  2. Be open to crazy ideas and choices: These could lead you to a path of cool people and opportunities and fuller expressions of yourself – and all this could make you smile.
  3. Reframe a perceived “set-back”: Rejection is just life moving in a new direction, so make lemonade. Find the opportunity, then move in that direction.
  4. Be kind to everyone: Everyone. Period. From waiters to coworkers, to hecklers to people you meet on the subway. You may run into them again someday. Plus, it’s good karma.
  5. Listen for people’s values and agendas: You can learn a lot just by listening. Understanding what makes people around you tick can lead you to some very interesting places.
  6. Stretch out of your comfort zone: Read and listen to people who disagree with you – and hear them, even if you don’t like them. Push yourself to have a more creative idea – flip it sideways, ask someone with a different experience what they would do or how they would think about it.
  7. Increase your self-awareness: The more self-aware you are, the more successful and happy you’ll be, with better relationships.
  8. Make time for self-care: Numerous studies show that taking time for sleep, exercise and healthy eating improves performance and relationships, dramatically slows the aging process, and improves mental clarity.
  9. Trust yourself: The universe does not give you things you can’t handle.


  1. ASK – ASK –ASK! Don’t be shy, just polite and tell them what’s in it for them, how your request dovetails with their world. Be persistent – pleasant – but persistent.

So, go out there and expand your reach.

You can do it. Yes, you can.

I’m expanding Green Connections and its reach, talking to more talented innovators every week, so there will be more lessons to share. Stay tuned and go to to listen.


To listen to Joan’s insightful and engaging interviews with innovators and leaders, go to Follow Joan on Twitter at @joanmichelson or @greenconnectsdc and like Green Connections on Facebook. Read her blog in the Huffington Post. Joan also does communications consulting.

Susan Rocco: The CEO Whisperer

Sue RoccoDrawn to journalism and the stories behind the stories, Susan Rocco has always been curious about other people – where they came from, what led them to where they are now –  so it should come as no surprise that today she hosts a live weekly radio show and podcast that spotlights female CEOs, founders, leaders, and entrepreneurs from around the world. What is surprising, however, is Rocco’s own story; how she struggled with low self-esteem until the day she finally decided to believe in herself, pitch her idea for Women to Watch, and chase down the guests and advertisers needed to make her dream a reality.

“I was not an honor student. I had a tape playing in my head that I wasn’t smart enough. Although I had a wide network of family and friends, there wasn’t that one person who believed in me and my abilities. If you don’t have a mentor or someone who sees the gift in you, you get lost and struggle. I had no awareness of who I was and what I was good at so it took me some time to find my way. Later I learned to appreciate that our emotional quotient is equally as important as our IQ. That’s my strength. My ability to connect with people, to be a good listener and have empathy.”

Raised outside of Philly, Rocco was the middle child of three. An Irish Catholic, she attended 16 years of Catholic Sue Roccoschool, including Villanova University where she studied communications. When she graduated, she bounced around a bit from advertising to PR before ending up in sales. “I had grand illusions of making it in media but if you’re not in a C-Suite position there’s not a lot of money to be made, so I looked for other opportunities. I didn’t give sales a lot of thought. It wasn’t something I was really interested in, but I was good at it and it paid the bills.”

After taking some time off to raise a family, Rocco did a lot of part-time work before returning to sales full-time, but it wasn’t fulfilling. Her greatest joy had always been her family, so when she became an empty nester in her late 40s, her search for personal growth hit new heights. Her “a-ha” moment came while being interviewed on the radio one day about her small direct-sales business, W by Worth.

“I was so fired up. It was such a great experience, but I’d really have preferred to have been on the other side of the mic. I said as much in the “thank you” letter I sent to the host, Kim Douglas,” she recalls. “In a joking way, I added if Kim ever needed someone to fill in for her, I’d love to do it.”

The response was immediate. Douglas encouraged Rocco to pitch her idea to the general manager.

Sue Rocco“I said yes but then panic immediately set in. I knew I wanted a show for women. The radio was flooded with political programming, real estate, and finance. And, as much as I love fashion and lifestyle, I didn’t want fluff. I wanted a program that would help women like me who struggle with low self-esteem. So I hit on the idea of interviewing women who are already successful and accomplished and get them to share their stories while sharing their adversities as this is where the greatest lessons are learned.”

Making a decision that day in August 2012 to believe in herself, Rocco set up a meeting with Sharon Pinkenson, who she had just read about in Philadelphia Magazine and thought would make a great guest. Pinkenson was the first Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which brought the film industry to the City of Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties.

“I finally stopped focusing on what others were doing and decided to be myself. I told Sharon my idea for the show. I confessed I didn’t yet know the name of the show but if she said yes, I’d come up with something. She said yes,” Rocco laughs.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out.”

It turned out booking the interview was the easy part. Rocco got the station on board with her idea and was flying high that she was going to have her own show until she learned they weren’t going to pay her, but rather she would be paying them production fees.

“I guess I was a little naive,” she explains. “I realized I quickly had to secure advertisers. I reached out to my network and got some advertisers that would sustain me for the first few months! But there is a lot of ‘behind the scenes’, a ton of prep work involved.

“I knew I could secure guests. I had a mission to help women to build self-esteem and find their own purpose but my vision is to get women to pursue leadership. When I started to share that with other women, it resonated with them.”

It didn’t hurt that three months after Rocco launched her show, Sheryl Sandberg came out with Lean In.The Truth Group Women’s groups were popping up and gender diversity in senior management was a compelling topic. Women to Watch entered the fray with a twist … getting women to open up and share the challenges they face on the road to success.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges.. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out. I moderate panel events, I give speeches. I really believe in myself now. Some days we do it well, and some days we don’t. I’ll never turn the tape off completely. I’ll continue to second guess, but every time you accomplish something, it allows you more quickly to turn that old voice off.”

When asked who her favorite guest has been, Rocco politely responds that the ones she enjoys the most are the women who are incredibly bright with big jobs but at the same time, funny, self-deprecating, and gracious.

“I love the ones with no ego, doing what they do because they love it and want to help other people. We really are all the same; human beings are human beings.”

You can listen to Women to Watch™live every Monday at 3 pm EST on WWDB Talk 860 for the Philadelphia Tri-State area, or anytime at  Available shortly on iTunes.

Kelly Collis: From Political Animal to the Morning Muse

HeadshotKellyKelly Collis has a job many would envy. As co-host on D.C.’s The Tommy Show on 94.7 CBS radio, – she spends her mornings chatting away on the radio, laughing alongside her co-host and best friend, rubbing elbows with visiting rock stars, and scoring choice seats in the house at local concert venues. But don’t be fooled. Collis didn’t stumble into this job. Her path was one of non-stop hard work, astute media skills, a fierce entrepreneurial spirit, and a genuine appreciation for community service.

As a child of Washington, D.C., Collis was exposed to the power of communications and people skills from a young age. Later in his career, her father, an emergency-room physician, was a Bush appointee at the Pentagon during the first Gulf War, and she attended the Holton Arms School for girls, where many of the students were the children of diplomats and the current head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, attended.

For most of her life she had her eyes set on a career in politics. Heading to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, to study politics and interning at the state capitol for a Senator, Collis recalls, “I thought for sure I’d return to be a big-time communications director for a Senator or Congressman.”

After graduation, she landed a job back in D.C., working for the Senator-turned-Congressman. Starting as a low low-level legislative aide, and moving on to help with fundraising, after almost four years, Collis was networking with local CEOs and other decision-makers in the area, including the new leadership of AOL.

She caught the start-up bug as the lure of new media eventually got the better of her. Collis headed for Freedom Channel, a start-up founded by local media entrepreneur Doug Bailey. In the pre-YouTube era, the online video platform was a great vehicle for local luminaries interested in expanding their reach and influence.

“It was a perfect transition for me. I was using all my media and political skills. Because my marketing budget was exactly zero dollars, I really learned how to use the media to tell our story and that’s really where I cut my teeth.” Collis also drew on a skill ingrained in her from her time on Capitol Hill – call it what you like, constituent relations or customer service, but the Hill helped Collis become a pro at it.

But like so many others who dreamed of following in AOL’s path only to be disappointed, Freedom Channel faltered and Collis did not make her millions. Unemployed, single, and the owner of her first mortgage, Collis answered an ad posted by a communications exec looking for part-time help building media lists. With nothing to lose, she took the gig. Wise choice as the part-time position turned into a partnership at a small PR firm with $5 million in billings, which counted MSNBC, a leading cable and satellite news media channel, among its clients.

Six years and many life changes later, including a husband and two children, Collis tired of the constant travel to Redmond, WA, where MSNBC is headquartered. Eager to be her own boss, and spend more time in her hometown, she hung her own PR shingle and scored National Jean Company as her main client. “The position at NJC was perfect. I could bring my daughter to work in a pack-n-play, and control my hours.” It didn’t hurt that Collis was a fashionista who leveraged her killer communications skills promoting NJC across the city at like-minded events. But not one to let moss grow under her feet, as she got more involved in the fashion scene in D.C., Collis spotted a trend that led her to a new business and later forged the path to her work in radio.

“I would see these young women all over the city waiting in line to go to trunk shows, restaurant openings and the like, and that’s where I got the idea for City Shop Girl.” Similar to Daily Candy, but with a focus on deals, events and openings, Collis’ daily email newsletter took hold quickly. The newly single mom was flying around town, feeding the appetite of her tens of thousands of readers with news of hot events, unique products, and Collis’ recommendations for must-try restaurants. But like so many women who find themselves making major changes at times of personal upheaval, Collis found herself struggling to figure out if City Shop Girl would support her new life as a single mother. “Going through the divorce was very emotionally distracting. The kids were young and I was working for myself. It weighed on me that I didn’t have a safety net.”

But she knew a few things for sure–she loved working with the media and had even started doing guest spots on TV to promote City Shop Girl news. But, in her late thirties, she felt she was past the point of launching a new career in TV. “Someone told me I should brainstorm with Tommy McFly, a new local radio whiz kid, but I was hesitant. I wanted to hate him – this young guy coming to my city and thinking he’s a big deal on the radio.” But the unlikely pair struck up a fierce friendship from the start. Geography helped. McFly lived down the street from Collis, and the two started spending more and more time together. “He was a creative entrepreneurial spirit, and we had a lot in common.”

Soon, McFly was offered his own morning show on 94.7 FM, The Tommy Show. One of his first calls was to Collis. “You’re not going to get the job,” he started, “but as your friend I need to tell you about this opportunity. The station wants a female cohost that has kids. You should apply.”

With no radio experience, Collis applied for the job. It was a long shot she knew, but the more Collis pondered the idea, the more she wanted the job. “I started thinking about how it could change our family… a steady job, health insurance. That mattered to me.”

Detractors at the station were silenced when they heard the demo tapes cut by Collis and McFly. The chemistry and camaraderie was palpable. Being that it was a new station and new show, having a strong PR background worked to Collis’ advantage and she charmed her future-boss-to-be: “I can be your marketing and PR person. I can pitch stories, promote the station, and be on the air.”

It was a compelling package. And it sealed the deal.

Today Collis, now 40, starts her day at 4 a.m. when she drives out to the station in Maryland to review the day’s news and talk with McFly about that day’s show. Still leaning on her political skills, Collis knows that while laughing all morning on the radio is great fun, the job doesn’t end there. She spends time after the show and weekends visiting fire stations, schools, local malls and hospitals – understanding that radio can be beneficial medium to be part of the greater D.C. community. “It very much reminds me of when we used to do events with the Congressman.”

For those of you that have tuned in on your morning commute, it’s obvious why Collis, now approaching her third anniversary with the station, has been a hit. Sure, she yucks it up with her co-hosts, but she also connects with listeners, sharing very personal details of her life. In fact, Collis’ fiancé recruited McFly to take part in his proposal – documenting the process on the radio in the morning, and recruiting the band Train to take part in the engagement surprise.

Kelly Collis’ Tips For Success:

  • Efficient use of time is my motto, there is only 100 units a day I can spend on everything – that includes job, children, my personal relationships, exercise, and everything else. Prioritize every day!
  • Don’t take a conference call or meeting without an agenda and knowing in advance all parties in attendance.
  • Get rid of the fear of missing out (FOMO). We live in such an age where everything is real time. There is no way to be everywhere. And saying no is ok.

Have you ever wanted to be a radio DJ or TV presenter? What did you do/are you doing to turn this dream into a reality?