Carnegie Mellon University
January 15, 2021

A Whole New You

Tartan alumni share advice, tips and strategies to make your resolutions stick in 2021

By Amanda S.F. Hartle

We all know the routine. You make New Year’s resolutions, and every year, they fall by the wayside by Valentine’s Day.

This year is going to be different because the Tartan alumni community is here to help you achieve your goals.

From rocking a healthy living routine to setting up your finances for success and landing the perfect job to getting those creative juices flowing, Carnegie Mellon University alumni experts are here with advice to help you to overcome your resolution challenges.

Giving It a Full Turn

christine-dercole-700x700.jpgBallerina, actor, New York City bike messenger, national and world champion track cyclist, plus-size QVC model, inspiring public speaker and globally in-demand senior instructor at Peloton with more than 1 million rides downloaded by members— College of Fine Arts alumna Christine D’Ercole seems to have done it all.

And what keeps her conquering every climb and pedaling for more, while also encouraging others to do the same? Her mantra – “I am, I can, I will, I do.”

Christine shares her top tips for how to reach your fitness peak.

What are the best strategies you’ve discovered to help someone stick to a new exercise routine?

The best strategies to promote adherence to regular exercise and lifelong fitness are to get involved with an organized program and lean on your community for support, inspiration and camaraderie. There is so much available content that is well-designed and offers a point of entry for everyone from the beginner to the advanced athlete in many specific interest groups. Knowing someone else will be there and that you will be doing your workout together from locations across the world is deeply motivating and inspires folks to show up for each other and for themselves. Additionally, having a larger goal is a great way to stay consistent. Whether that larger goal is to work your way up from a 15-minute class to a 45-minute class, complete a specific program or train for a competitive event, every goal can be broken down into digestible workouts, week-by-week.

What are some of your favorite healthy and filling snacks?

I am a huge fan of Ezekiel sesame bread, raw almond butter and honey. Nibbling on this between races at the Velodrome or between teaching multiple cycling classes at Peloton is one of my favorite ways to feel satisfied without feeling full. Greek yogurt sprinkled with Grape Nuts cereal and raw almonds or cottage cheese with balsamic glaze and walnuts are some of my favorite snacks, too.

Can you recommend some fun and easy at-home workouts?

Whether or not you think of yourself as a dancer, dance cardio is a blast. No equipment is needed to follow along and learn the routines, step by step. It's not about getting the routines down perfectly. It's about moving your body and freeing your mind. You'll also be so busy learning the routines that time will fly by!

Many times in your life, you’ve been told you couldn’t do something only to overcome those criticisms and succeed in yet another new arena, how has this formed who you are today?

The moments in my life when I have been shut down, whether being too big to be a ballerina, too young to be cast as my character type, too small (without padding) to be a plus-size model, have all made one thing very clear to me. All the things that others said I was “too much” of, were the things that became my greatest strengths. “Success” in those endeavors was tied to subjective opinions of others about my appearance. When I discovered cycling and bike racing and winning, my success was not subjective at all and had nothing to do with how I looked. My success was built on my strength, the decisions I made in a race and crossing a finish line first. And it turned out that the thighs that caused me so much shame as a child, became the thing of which I am most proud as a Masters National and World Champion Track Cyclist, as a senior Peloton Instructor and during my workshop, Wordshop™.

Planning More, Saving More, Earning More

josepharmah-700x700.jpgTepper School of Business alumnus Joseph Armah believes everyone should be able to live their dreams — and watch as smart money decisions and comprehensive planning make once-thought-impossible goals attainable.

As president and CEO of Armah Financial Services, Joseph leans on expertise learned over two decades in globally renowned financial organizations to help individuals and small businesses build their own successful financial futures.

Save — and earn — more money in 2021 with advice from Joseph.

What are your top tips for those just starting to invest (or looking to expand their investments) in 2021?

When it comes to either starting to invest or expanding your investments, there are few truisms that you must hold dear. Patience is a virtue! Having an investment philosophy is paramount. 

As a first step, I strongly believe that an investor needs to assess the amount of risk they are comfortable taking based on their circumstances. Second, the investor needs to do their research either by partnering with a trusted financial professional or developing a fundamental understanding of the industry in which they want to invest. Third, the investor needs to understand the risk-reward ratio. An investment that promises to be too good to be true is most likely the case. Finally, diversification! Not having all your eggs in one basket is a well-tested successful approach.

What is the #1 hurdle you see when helping others to create and maintain their financial wealth, and how can they start to overcome it?

The biggest hurdle to creating and maintaining financial wealth is the acknowledgement that the status quo must change. This discovery and acknowledgement can take a few days or, in some cases, years. Naturally, there is that tension between what needs to be done first and what can wait for a later date. This tension if not addressed properly can lead to inaction. A trusted financial counselor or professional can be very instrumental in holding us accountable in taking the steps towards changing the status quo.

Do you have any recommendations for platforms or apps to help your fellow Tartans track their spending, plan their savings and keep their budgets in the black?

There are multiple excellent platforms or apps that can help you track your spending, savings or investments. Check with your financial institutions to see the platforms or apps they offer and get set up to start using them. I’d also recommend looking into the app Mint.

What are some small and easy ways to start securing your financial future now?

First, understand your expenses. I think most of us spend a significant amount of time focusing on the revenue section of our income statement. As a result, it is not uncommon to find individuals who make six- and seven-figure salaries, and yet, they have negligible net worth. It is important to commit to lowering your expenses. Second, setting aside an amount each week or month that you can invest can greatly impact your wealth accumulation. Especially, if this practice is coupled with dollar cost averaging where you strategically invest the same amount of money in the same stocks or funds, ignore market fluctuations and skip the guessing game of constantly buying and selling.

Perfecting Your Pitch

l-lyman-700x700.jpgTailored resumes, customized cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, personal narratives, virtual and video interviews — climbing the career ladder to a dream position in 2021 requires a full toolbox, and executive career coach and personal and digital branding strategist Lorraine Lyman knows exactly how to make each one best work for you.

As the owner of Savvy Success Unlimited, the Mellon College of Science alumna helps those looking for their next professional step navigate career transitions with confidence.

Lorraine offers some strategies to help you build your brand and learn to lead.

What are the most important – but commonly overlooked items — someone should include on their LinkedIn profile?

We live in an age where it’s possible that the first written career overview one sees about you is your LinkedIn profile as recruiters are doubling down on artificial intelligence and machine learning to find candidates, and employers are checking out prospective employees online before setting up or conducting interviews.

Here are my top items to include:  

  • A headline that includes one or more job titles and captivating personal branding
  • Writing in the first person that is much more detailed and personable than a résumé, even if you are an executive or part of other senior leadership
  • A thorough About section. Note: It now has a 2,600-character limit. Videos, pictures and other graphics specific to you, your accomplishments and your personal brand  Information that quantifies your achievements

The job search process has shifted to virtual interviews and interactions due to the pandemic. What tips can you provide to help your fellow alumni secure that dream job in a digital interview process?

Many traditional interview tips still hold true: do your research about the company, be ready to tell stories about your career particularly based on your résumé and LinkedIn profile, and have a set of at least five to 10 questions to ask. But here are few tips to make a great (virtual) impression:  

  • Make sure you have all the appropriate software downloaded and know how to use it at least 48 hours in advance. If anything is not set up properly or there is something you don’t understand, you have time to reach out to the right people for help before the interview.
  • Check your lighting. Be sure you have a useful amount of sunlight or synthetic light (light bulbs, LED video lights) set up in advance. You want to look your best, and in a virtual world, lighting is vital. It will be most helpful to do your practice run at the same time of day and location, so that you are as prepared as possible to shine when the interview time arrives.
  • Perfect your camera angle. For most of us, our cameras should be placed well above eye level and angled down and be sure the focus point of your gaze makes it seem as though you are looking directly at your interviewer.
  • Dress professionally but consider adding a little more personality than usual. If you feel nervous, that means dress from head to toe, not just waist up. It’ll improve your performance and reduce the risk of you standing and exposing your gym shorts or pajama bottoms.
  • Bring a notepad with your questions. Take notes and be sure the interviewer can see you taking notes without being overly dramatic. The prepared, inquisitive and engaged will have an edge in 2021!  
  • Be graceful and calm, and don’t worry if life intrudes during your interview. The way you handle the intrusions is just as important as the rest of this important career hurdle. Use any disturbance, be it dogs barking or kids wandering around, as an opportunity to build a stronger human connection and demonstrate that you can handle anything, especially a virtual interview.

What are your Top 3 must-have items for professional success?

  1. A great attitude with well-earned confidence
  2. Knowledge suitable for one’s position
  3. A confidant preferably one who can give solid professional advice

Piquing Your Creativity

arnav-jhunjhunwala-700x700.jpgBy day, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences alumnus Arnav Jhunjhunwala helps build an infrastructure foundation for India’s sustained growth though his company Alom Poly Extrusions’ reliable, high-quality and recyclable piping.

At night, Arnav engages his creative energies through writing. So far, he’s penned a collection of poetry, a short story and a blog, “Arnav’s Angle.” Next up, he’s working on a novella, “Ernie Flipkin and Fried Friggins,” and a debut novel, “Dragi.”

Arnav offers insight into how to express yourself through art, writing or another creative outlet this year.

What suggestions do you have for others seeking inspiration for their own writing topics and perspective?

I have always believed that you need to follow your passions and do what you feel you excel at. If you are specifically interested in a subject, which no one else seems to be, that is the apt subject to write about. My favorite quote and life motto is “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. This belief will help inspire you in your daily life and allow unrestrained creativity.

What are your best tips for overcoming writer’s block — or even putting words down on paper for the first time?

The best way to overcome writer’s block is starting “bird by bird” as suggested in the eponymous book. Every creative individual reaches a roadblock occasionally. It is important to think of each such incident as temporary and not a major event. The trick is to start small, write a few words or even ideas. Then scribble, draw, sing or express yourself in the way you are most comfortable. It is not important to write something meaningful in the first try but just to start. Eventually, the thoughts will start connecting, and the meaning will start to form. When you run a marathon, every step counts.

What books, TV shows, art, games and online experiences would you recommend to feed the creative spirit?

Creative sources are varied, diverse and next to unlimited in today’s digital age. My favorite books are “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “Catcher in the Rye,” the Harry Potter series and “Solaris,” I recently have enjoyed TV shows such as “Altered Carbon,” “Fargo,” “The Man in the High Castle” and “Sherlock.” TV shows give you a faster way to absorb new material and take your mind to another realm. I also play “Modern Warfare,” “FIFA,” “Mortal Kombat” and board games such as chess, “Cluedo,” “Monopoly,” “Acquire” and “Settlers of Catan.”

How does having a creative outlet like writing and painting help you in your day job?

Creating something is a particularly important aspect of life. Everyone is focused on creating something whether it be software, products in factory or art through the mode of painting, drawing, writing, singing or sculpture. The way you think about each of these is what makes the difference. If you are interested in a creative outlet, while working in an entirely different field like engineering, it is even more important to keep pursuing these passions. It helps you focus, avoid other distractions and calms you down. It also helps you build a world of your own and escape when you need it. When you get back to your regular job, or task, you will find a greater commitment and focus, because you have pursued something meaningful and enjoyable in your own time.