Monthly Archives: April 2014


The Lego Intern: The Internet overwhelmed me

It’s an understatement to say the past month has been a little out of the ordinary for me. In the midst of a long, repetitive and often frustrating search for my final summer internship before graduation, I struck (Reddit) gold when a LEGO kit I made for an advertising agency application went viral, receiving more than 1,200,000 views within the first 24 hours and 2,369 comments on the Reddit post alone. The kit received a lot of positive feedback for its creativity, and simultaneously sparked a debate about the kind of work given to college students and the intense level of competition we face before we even reach our first full-time job.

Even though I am a Communication Studies major at Northwestern University with a certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications, I was still stunned at the experience of “going viral”. In a few short days, I learned more about social media and online news than it seems I learned during my three years in a classroom.


With my LEGO kit, I was trying to capture my personality, ingenuity and creativity in a way that a resume could not. It can be frustrating at any level of a career to feel like you can’t break through to recruiters or like you have so much to offer than what can be summarized in a few bullet points. The competition has become fierce; it’s as if the new normal is to graduate with your degree and walk into your first job interview with several years of relevant experience already in your pocket. Some of the internships I applied for had hundreds or even thousands of applicants – it comes down to the chance that someone decides you’re worth at least a phone call.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that following through is crucial. If I wanted to “wow” employers with a fun idea like a LEGO kit of myself, I knew that I had to walk into the interview and “wow” them again with my experience and skill set. It’s a challenge, and (like anything else) takes a lot of practice, including sometimes failing, to be successful.

I think a lot of creativity comes from not being afraid to have a bad idea. I attribute most, if not all, of my confidence to my parents, who supported me in whatever endeavor I wanted to try – and taught me to keep going through failure. When I wanted to ride horses, my suburban parents never missed a county fair. When I wanted to do First LEGO League (a robotics competition for middle- and high-schoolers), my parents co-led the team. I was allowed to try (and fail) at so many different things that I’m not afraid to tackle any project or put my nerdy self out there to employers or student groups that value that kind of initiative.

Overall, the Internet overwhelmed me with its support and encouragement. People from around the world offered job search connections, and I appreciated getting feedback from advertising veterans on roles for which I might be best suited within an agency.

It’s a little strange being “that LEGO intern,” but I hope I live up to every expectation this summer and beyond.




Leah Bowman is the LEGO Intern.




Unleash Your Child's Creativity


If you don’t give back no one will like you.

I’m stealing a tagline from a start-up that I really admire – Crowdrise.  Crowdrise puts it out there and gets to the heart of what motivates people and organizations to give – approval.  Whether it’s self-approval, public approval, or in the case of Mark Moehlman, parental approval, you can’t argue with its influence.

Mark’s father died at age 57, when Mark had just turned 20, confronting his young wife with both grief and unanticipated financial struggles.  Today Mark Moelhman is the Managing Director for Beacon Pointe Wealth Advisors in Newport Beach – a fact that suggests Mark’s mother more than rose to the challenge of teaching her son the importance of financial literacy.

Did Mark learn financial resourcefulness from his mother?  Hard to say – but evidently Mark inherited his mother’s empathetic streak.  She asked Mark to “help young women understand the importance of money.”  In his role at Beacon Pointe, Mark could have simply offered a few free seminars at community centers.  Mom certainly would have been pleased.  Or would she have?  Impressing a former young widow who raised thriving children called for a grander gesture.  That gesture led Mark to create the Financial Literacy Summer Residential Program at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business Center for Investment and Wealth Management (CIWM).

That’s a long description for a simple idea:  Reach out to underserved communities and offer young teens a camp about managing money.  If it sounds dry, especially to a generation hooked on tantalizing YouTube videos and spicy social media, then take a close look at this video:

It shows young teen campers conquering zip-lines and rocking a catwalk in business attire.  On the surface these activities have nothing in common with financial management.  But flying fifty feet in the air, strutting and posing in front of strangers in your best interview garb, and taking on a student loan all involve risk.  You need confidence to face risk.  Colleen Mensel, President and CEO of El Viento, an organization that supports the program, described the transformation she witnessed:


Coming from very sheltered and disadvantaged circumstances, our students were filled with mixed emotions – excited but also a bit apprehensive about attending the camp last summer. They understood that they were going away to a financial literacy camp, but they didn’t really know what to expect.  However, their fears dissipated more each day as they experienced each session and learned life skills in money and management that will forever change their lives.  They came home describing their experience as “awesome.”  


These life lessons had an immediate impact on the students’ lives, even though they were years away from managing much more than their allowances.  According to Lee Anne Maki, the Associate Director for CIWM, one alumnus helped her mother navigate a car purchase with an auto dealer.  Seasoned investors are patient though, and know the real returns will pay off over decades, every time a CIWM alum pays off a student loan, finds a competitive rate on a mortgage, files a tax return or launches and runs a new business.

So now that Mrs. Moelhman’s legacy is realized, what’s next for CIWM?  Growth, hopefully.  CIWM has the resources to support 30 students for one week each summer at a cost of $2,500 per student.  The camp is underwritten by private and corporate donations.  CIWM alternates boy and girl students each year, but would like to expand to host girl students one week and boy students the following week.  CIWM accepts applications from local chapters of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Operation Jump Start, El Viento, El Sol Academy, KidWorks, Project Hope Alliance, The Wooden Floor, Santa Ana Unified School District and would love to include the Boys and Girls Club.

Mrs. Moelhman would be happy to know her suggestion of ‘paying it forward’ is trending.  There are about 100 CIWM legacy members, many of whom are being tapped to volunteer at future camps and build the CIWM community.  For what it’s worth, Mrs. Moelhman, we at Thrively unanimously approve and hope that we can do our small part to support your vision.

For more information about the CIWM Financial Literacy Summer Residential Program click here.


UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business Center for Investment and Wealth Management (CIWM) Financial Literacy Summer Residential Program is such a profound and transformative opportunity for the young girls & boys who attend it and each year I see passion and intense determination come to life in the eyes of each child who participates.

For the kids.

Jennifer Friend


Project Hope Alliance


AmyvKAmy von Kaenel is a highly enthusiastic Thrively Amabassador. She’s been a veteran of the tech industry for two decades, wearing dual hats in market intelligence and marketing strategy. Amy’s co-authored industry reports on Smartphone Enterprise and mHealth technology. Her organization, Tech Coast Consulting, has served Global 2000 and start-up organizations in both the tech and healthcare industries. Amy holds a BA in Economics and an MBA from the University of California Irvine. 

Develop Your Child's Strengths


online school

Why I chose online public school for my daughter

Editor’s note: This should be obvious, but the views of our guests are not necessarily the views of Thrively, and guest posts on this blog certainly do not imply endorsement. 

People ask me all the time why I pulled my kid out of a newly built, beautiful upper-middle class Middle School (walking distance from my house) to go to Connections Academy, an On-line public school. If I was dissatisfied with my local public school, why not enroll my daughter in private school?

First of all, I did it because I’m cheap and online public school costs me nothing.  I had always wanted my children to go to a private school because I heard from my rich friends how “tailored” their kids’ education was. I wanted the same for my kids but didn’t have any extra money to pay for something I should be getting for free, as our family is on a tight budget.  On-line school is free, and not to be confused with Homeschool (where I would be the teacher).  On-line school is staffed with professional Principals, Administrators and Teachers who are paid by the state and teach the same course curriculum as the public school down the street.  The lessons are “live” (picture a GoToMeeting or FaceTime on your computer) and my daughter works with her teachers and classmates in real time.  Her academic schedule is very flexible.

Secondly, I did it because my kid now does HER work on HER schedule, at HER pace.  I know this is hard for some people to imagine, but not every kid does their best neurologically between the hours of 8:15 a.m. and 2:55 p.m. then 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.  My kid hates relearning things she already got during the school day (a.k.a. homework) much less doing hours and hours of busy work (often 2-3 hours a day in middle school) after the hours of 3:30 p.m., when in her mind, she could be doing something fun, like playing sports.


Afternoon Sanity Regained

On-line school doesn’t have “homework”.  When you are done with the work…you are all done.  They call it “Quality Control.”  I call it “Afternoon Sanity” since, to be perfectly honest, I could barely help her with the 2-3 hours of homework last year without looking it up on YouTube or Google.  Half the time, I wasn’t even sure if we found the right explanations (or the answers the teacher was looking for), and often I think I just confused her even more.  Math is her most challenging subject, so she likes to schedule it first thing so she can “get it over with”.  Last school year her math class was scheduled for 4th period, right before lunch, when her stomach was growling and the audible hunger pains of everyone else did not help her focus on her toughest subject or test well.  Apparently, her former math teachers’ blood sugar was also uncomfortably low, because he used to yell at the class a lot.

With Connections Academy, our day is totally flexible and we are early birds. We start early and end early but the timing is completely up to the individual family.  Our typical day starts at 4:45 a.m. I wake her up to go to 24 hour fitness and by 6:30 a.m. we have walked, lunged, jogged and sprinted ourselves into a full sweat.  We lift weights (I spot her and she spots me).  We box, jump rope and do complex full body plyometric training that she uses to get better at her sport of choice, soccer.  I do it to stay out of the “plus size” stores at the mall.  It’s a win/win.

Here’s what our day looks like:

At 7:30 a.m. our family sits down for a protein-based, large portioned, banquet of “brain food”.  We laugh a lot (endorphins released from the workout) and talk through the day’s schedule and priorities.

 At 8:00 a.m. she goes upstairs to a room that is devoted just to her interests and studies.  She sits in a cushy black swivel office chair at a pink desk with matching bookshelves for her computer, iPad, printer and hard books.  Her “office” is a middle schooler’s dream torn from the catalog pages of Justice or Pottery Barn Teen.  In the corner proudly stands a 9-foot hot pink surf board, the walls are covered in her framed artwork, certificate awards and mini shelves, with oodles of golden trophies — hard-earned reminders that if you are willing to go the extra mile, glory can be yours.  When her computer is in “sleep mode” a series of photos that she chose rotate as a gentle reminder of the people who love her and believe in her most.

From 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. she learns incredible things about the same core subjects as her friends who go to school down the street.  The difference is that she is enrolled in California’s STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) so there is an emphasis on learning and technology that will lead to a high-paying job when she ultimately finishes her education, whatever degree level that may be.   The public school down the street did not offer the STEM program.

I know some people think that I’m short-changing her because she doesn’t have the same number of “hours in” as other kids.  But my daughter is taking the same California curriculum as those enrolled in traditional schools, and she is taking special GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) programming in Science and English, which goes above and beyond normal curriculum, for 2 more courses per day.  She is challenged and regularly reports, “It’s hard, Mom.”  Nevertheless, she currently has a 4.0 GPA and it turns out that more challenging work is rewarding to her.  She is no longer irritated with homework like in years past because her 4 core classes, 2 electives and 2 GATE classes are focused and she is able to get them done from 8:00 – 2:00.  Her club soccer and 24 Hour Fitness hours count towards her State PE 200-minute weekly minimum requirement.


Multiple sighs of relief

I’m no longer annoyed with the bad attitude that I saw from her after school all of last school year.  She is no longer taking a ten minute morning break and 40 minute lunch every day, listening to the typical female middle school chatter of who “likes” who, who they decided is going to get torn up on Instagram after school and who’s taste in fashion will put them on Joan Rivers “Fashion Hole” list on E! News (if they had a say).

My daughter’s 5th period class (after lunch) last year was much harder because she was distracted, feeling bad for the girl who was going to get blasted on Instagram later that day.  She would tune out of her studies in Science class thinking about her moral dilemma of whether she should warn the poor girl or just pretend she knew nothing.  She wondered if she was going to be the next target of the “mean girls” agenda in the future and I saw that it was wasting a lot of minutes in her day.

She no longer dresses for P.E. only to find herself listening to a 20-minute lecture about good sportsmanship or watching a sports movie… yes… they were sitting on the floor criss-cross applesauce watching sports movies in PE last year.   When they weren’t watching sports movies, the 15-minute actual workouts seem pointless to her.  She barely got her heart rate up only to turn around and get dressed again.  She no longer listens to boys with foul mouths, or sees them get caught and have to run laps only to curse the PE teacher even more when she’s out of ear shot.  I understand it was difficult for the PE teacher to manage 63 students on the field at one time, but it was also difficult for my daughter to hear the boys talk about her behind her back. When I brought this to the PE teacher’s attention, she told me there was nothing she could do if she doesn’t hear it herself.

Going from coach to first class

Connections Academy knows that not every student and teacher is going to get along.  If a student doesn’t “click” with a teacher, they simply move them to another class/teacher.   They have a “no questions asked” policy about this request, and the change is facilitated within 2 school days.  This leaves me stunned with regret, especially when I think of the times my kid was stuck with a mediocre teacher for an entire year.  With On-line school, it feels like I’m at Nordstrom’s.

I hear people say they are concerned that she won’t develop good social skills.  I hear that a lot, but it simply hasn’t proven true.  She plays Club Soccer with a lovely, yet highly competitive group of girls 3 times a week.  She is deeply involved in her Church group which meets twice a week and is often called to do extra work in the community like picking up trash from the beach and feeding those in our neighborhood who cannot afford to feed themselves.  She gets more texts a week then my husband and me combined.  I hear the critics but I am not worried about her social life or her sense of community whatsoever.

It’s not for everyone

On-line school is not for everyone.  If you have to stand over your kid to get things done, it probably won’t work for your family as a viable education option. If yours is the kind of kid who doesn’t appreciate having only 3 elective options (in our case, Spanish, choir or band/orchestra) and would instead like a list of 40 different electives (which include Performing Arts, Computer Gaming Design, Entrepreneurship and a wide range of foreign languages, including Chinese), on-line school just might be the right place for them.

I am so happy for my daughter, but at the same time I am afraid for the teachers (some of them my dear friends) who are still teaching at the school down the street.  I don’t have all of the answers.  Maybe schools need to run more a businesses (as the On-line schools do), or maybe there are other ways to build more flexibility into their experience.  But whatever happens, one thing is for sure.  On-line school has been a terrific option for our family, and for many thousands of others.   Ultimately traditional teachers’ jobs will be in jeopardy.  Not only is it free, but it is free enterprise at its best… something to think about.


shannonShannon Stier is a wife, mother of twin girls and entrepreneur. She grew up in small town Parker Colorado. She ambitiously climbed the Fortune 50 ladder for over 15 years, and in 2001 became a stay-at-home mom. Appearing on Bravo’s “Work Out – Season 3” as a weight loss client for celebrity trainer Jackie Warner, Shannon lost over 100 pounds in a 12-episode reality show. On the show, she shared how her daughter with special needs was learning how to walk (at age 6) through equestrian therapy, and she continues to be a passionate voice both for kids who are gifted and for those with special needs. 

Discover Your Child's Strengths

Family sitting in hammock

Follow this one simple rule to be happier

I recently had a baby.  And amidst the groggy haze of my first year of motherhood, I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to devouring many a “How to Raise Your Baby” book.  Equal parts fascinating and amusing, they sometimes teach me less about raising my baby and more about self-help tactics, but I digress.  One of the popular topics addressed in a number of these books is happiness—what is it, who has it, how do we facilitate it?  Given my line of work in educational consulting, I can’t help but relate what I encounter page after page to what I see day after day.

You see, too often I witness students shuffling in and out of my office, weary from endless homework assignments coupled with what seems like limitless hours spent on sports and extracurricular activities.  The heaviness with which they take each belabored step in this shuffle is further slowed by the almost visible weight on their backs—the pressures of social life and peer relations that every high schooler inevitably faces.  Smiles vanished, energy diminished—I worry about their sanity and indeed, their happiness.

Don’t get me wrong.  Many of my students are quite happy, but there are those ones that repeat mantras like, “I’ll be happy once I get into a good college” and “I’ll be happy if I ace this test” and even “I’ll be happy when I get a good job.”  But what all of these statements inherently indicate is that, for them, happiness lies in the future—and sadly not now.  Happiness is tied to accomplishments and linked with goal attainment.  It’s surely not found in these students’ everyday experiences.

These are the students who tell me that they don’t have time for relationships.  Their commitments to school and sports have engulfed the time that they otherwise would have spent with their family and friends.  But at what price?

Which brings me back to my “raising baby” books and finding the key to happiness—that is, finding happiness now…present tense.  Thanks to the Grant Study, a famous 75-year endeavor, we have an idea.  Interestingly, it isn’t getting into a “good college,” acing a test, or getting a good job that makes us happy.  It’s not buying a new car, making loads of money, or going on vacation either.  No, instead our relationships are the greatest predictor of our happiness.  That’s right—ironically, happiness is linked to the very thing we’re neglecting only to pursue the things that we mistakenly think will make us happy.

It seems odd to me, then, that not only these students but I would say all of us at times, spend so much energy in pursuit of getting that promotion or buying that shiny new piece of jewelry when the key to happiness is so much simpler than that.  It involves taking time away from the things we think will make us happy and instead spending that time with those whom we love—our family and our friends.  The more time and energy we invest in others, the more fulfilled we become.  So the next time you have the chance to gab on the phone with a friend or grab a frozen yogurt with your sister, I urge you to take the time to cultivate your relationships and truly unlock the key to happiness.






Jenn Curtis, MSW is the owner and co-founder of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling, test prep, and academic tutoring business in Orange County, California. As an educational consultant, she works alongside high school students and their families to prepare them for the college admissions process. Jenn also developed and teaches a college and career readiness program for first generation students. She is the editorial assistant for an academic journal, has edited several books, and works with graduate and doctoral students in developing effective writing skills. With a background in mental health, Jenn’s passion lies in empowering students to become self-advocates, to uncover their strengths, and to find the motivation to reach their potential.

2 girls and 1 boys jumping into the water with surf boards

Kids need to find their flow

Something special happens in kids when they spend time immersed in a core interest.  There is a reason why whole industries, from career advising to personality tests to dating services, exist to help us discover our passions.  Sometimes we need a little help digging deeper to understand what not only captures our attention, but also what will hold it over weeks, months and years.

One telltale sign that we’ve discovered our interest nirvana is the sensation of “flow”, that state of intense involvement where we lose track of time because we are so engaged in an activity.  As adults, we learn to appreciate these moments of super energy and fulfillment.  As kids, we called this having fun.  Now, as parents, we are beginning to appreciate the importance of understanding and developing our own children’s unique interests to give them more opportunities for flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, is known as the “father of flow” for his pioneering research into happiness and creativity.  He defines flow as, “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Kids that can enjoy an activity “for its own sake” rather than for some external reward, like praise or a grade or a trophy, will experience flow more often.  This type of autotelic personality matches well with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s philosophy of a growth mindset. Rather than believing their success is limited by their inherent skills, kids that simply enjoy the challenge in front of them will continue to grow and learn.

Being engaged and interested in a subject also makes for better learners.  In a recent article, education writer Annie Murphy Paul summarized the research of University of North Carolina psychologist Paul Silvia; “Interest is at once a cognitive state and an affective state, what Silvia calls a ‘knowledge emotion.’ The feelings that characterize interest are overwhelmingly positive: a sense of being energized and invigorated, captivated and enthralled. As for its effects on cognition: interest effectively turbocharges our thinking.”

The key is to balance the challenge of the activity with a child’s skill level.  Too easy or difficult and boredom or anxiety sets in.  Silvia describes this ideal mixture as being “novel, complex and comprehensible” or, in other words, new, challenging but still understandable.

While many authors have written about flow, few have delved deeper into the science of it than Steven Kotler.  In his new book, “The Rise of Superman”, he examines flow’s state of bliss through the eyes of extreme sports athletes, like back-country skiers, rock climbers, surfers or sky-jumpers.  Living on the constant edge of skill versus danger, they rely on the hyper-focus of flow to keep them alive while living at the highest peak of joy.


In his research, he noted that we need to prime kids’ activities with these opportunities to stretch their horizons. “We now know that there are 17 ‘flow triggers’ – these are preconditions that lead to more flow,” Kotler told me in a recent interview. “Essentially, since flow follows focus, all of these triggers are ways of driving attention into the now. The easiest way to create more flow in the lives of our children is to pack their activities with these triggers. This isn’t a new idea, by the way. Montessori education has been show to be an incredibly high flow environment built around a number of key flow triggers. Since we know that flow accelerates learning, this helps explain why Montessori kids usually outperform regularly educated kids on everything from academics to social skills.”

He also sees the tie-in with the growth mindset and what psychologist Angela Duckworth calls “grit” or perseverance and passion for long-term goals. “We know that grit requires a growth mindset which correlates with flow,” said Kotler. “To put this in slightly different terms, we know that flow requires people to constantly stretch their abilities and raise the challenge level. This means that anyone who is experiencing flow on a regular basis is constantly pushing themselves—and this would be totally impossible without grit.”

When you mix these ingredients with the core strengths of a child, what you get is a super-achiever, fully engrossed in what he or she is doing, accomplishing things that are extraordinary, and all the while following their passion and growing as an individual.  It’s a combination that we as parents strive to help our kids discover, and there is a powerful payoff when it comes together.

We all have different triggers that spark our interests and our kids are no different. If you haven’t already, ask them to take the Thrively Strength Profile.  Taking the time to objectively find out what they find fascinating and where their core strengths lie may be the best gift we can give them.


Discover Your Child's Strengths



Dan Peterson is exploring the intersection of sports skill development and cognitive science at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.  Studying how the brain learns and adapts to the physical and emotional demands of sports, he has authored over 250 science-based articles for parents and coaches trying to understand their young athletes.  Be sure to follow him on TwitterFacebook and Google+.