“People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. I spent a lot of time trying to build credibility as I have been building my business. I wanted people to take me seriously. But one of the things I’m most proud of is building a loving community. I have never had to block anyone who joined the group. We do challenges together and not only are members of the group supportive of me and the brand, more importantly, they are loving and supportive of one another.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Hill Armstrong.
Anne Hill Armstrong is a mother, middle school teacher and out-of-the-box thinker from Nashville, Tennessee. She has her master’s and Educational Specialist degrees in education. Anne takes an energetic, innovative approach to teaching, and has an insatiable curiosity about other people and places. That’s why her middle school students call her the Field Trip Queen. My Gnome on the Roam was inspired by Anne’s summer adventures with her son, Atticus. The summer Atticus was two and a half, Anne created a self-styled toddler summer camp .When it was time for her to go back to work in the fall, she found herself daydreaming about a way to keep the adventure alive, and to connect with a community of likeminded parents and children. Now a published children’s author, Anne tries to live by a phrase coined by some of her brilliant students, and borrowed with their permission: Make your life a book worth reading. She would love it if you and your child joined the My Gnome on the Roam community and vowed to do the same.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My name is Anne Armstrong. I’m the daughter of two college professors. In our home, there was always art and music. My parents were each only children, so they didn’t really know how to play. But they did teach us about art, music, literature. As an adult, I realize that we always give what we have to offer. For my parents, it was music (in our small town Presbyterian church where my mom was the choir director, on the record player or even the occasional opera). My mother plays the violin and piano which she still teaches at the college level at age 84. They also shared art with us. My grandfather, grandmother and great grandfather were professional artists who designed famous statues including Sakajawea in South Dakota and the statues of George Washington outside the Trump Hotel in Chicago and many of Abraham Lincoln across the country. My father took up a second career as a photographer and poet in the second half of his life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that has impacted my life most is one by Marie Forleo, “Everything is figureoutable”. I have never considered myself many things: I’m not an athlete, not prom queen beautiful or most popular. But I have always considered myself pretty clever and creative. This quote has guided me through figuring out every step of my journey to create a brand of toys without investors or personal wealth. It’s also guided me through health challenges, adoption, parenting and even divorce.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Forgiveness is a gift I have given, not only to others, but mostly to myself. It is the key to a successful divorce, to peace in friendships, family and within my relationship with me. While I see so many people stew in anger, I have found it too big a burden to bare. Even after infidelity, choosing a loving connection to my ex-husband has allowed us to continue to co-parent our son and maintain a feeling of family.
Braveness is a quality that has gotten a workout as I have built my brand. I would love to replace that term with “fearless” but for me, that isn’t authentic. Building a business or pursuing any meaningful goal involves facing some fears. I once rode on an Alpine slide on vacation. As i ascended the rails, I could feel the terror rising. I had to talk myself down as there was no getting off the ride. As my car reached the top, there was a long moment of breathlessness. But as I started down the hill, I realized that is why we’re here. To take the deep breaths and do it anyway. Despite the fear. Because of the fear. Because a life without any breathless moments, isn’t really worth living.
Balance is tough but necessary. In all areas of life it is so important. I have chosen to measure my moments. Time spent working on and in my business could take every waking hour. I have to balance that with time to spend with my son. He’s not getting any younger. People say the days are long but the years are short. I also have to balance patience with impatience. Sometimes the time to act on an idea is right that second. Other times, I have learned that writing the idea down and waiting for the opportunity to arise it called for. Work and play. Highs and lows. Quiet and noisy. They all have their place. It is my challenge to listen.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
As I entered college, I knew I wanted to help people. Even as I flipped burgers at Wendy’s and served tacos at Taco Bell, I had a deep desire to help people. I began working at the local spouse abuse center with the children there. I expanded to become a Head Start teacher. By the time I finished my college path, the easiest next step was a job as a social worker. I worked with homeless families, pregnant teens, and after several years, I was ready to take the leap into teaching at a local middle school. It was a perfect fit. I loved working with students in a measurable way. Seeing improvements and growth. (That was sometimes hard to see and measure as a social worker). My goal became to provide opportunities for my students to love learning and to provide experiences that might impact their choices and their lives.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
As my son grew, I wanted to spend time with him ,having adventures. But days were long and by the time dinner was cooked and bath was done, there was little time left for adventures. I decided to build a brand of toys and tools designed to help busy families , like mine, create adventures and make memories, My Gnome on the Roam. I wanted to provide those same,meaningful experiences I created in the classroom, for families. Our products are all about little adventures and tools to turn those adventures into memories.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
As my son began to grow into a person with his own ideas, I wanted to encourage him to read. So, we started reading together every day. I picked up a book called The Power of Moments by Dan Heath and I literally read it in two days. I’ve reread it many times since. In that book, he and his brother Chip outline the psychology behind how life is a series of moments we remember. The books highlights how moments become meaningful and how we have the power to create moments that matter by using a set of 4 principals. I realized as I was reading that those principals were the exact ideas I had built into our products. And suddenly, it all made sense….why success had taken so much longer than I hoped. So that I could put all the pieces of the puzzle together to actually create a mission and a brand, not just a toy with a cute name. Creating a toy is only one piece of the puzzle. Creating a heartbeat within a brand is where the real magic lies.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I began growing my brand even before we had any products. As a teacher, my students and colleagues nicknamed me the Field Trip Queen. My specialty was creating experiences that students would remember, activities that “broke the script”. Whether in the classroom or outside the school, my goal was to build units and experiences that allowed students to connect with each other, to explore information and the world around them and to create unique projects and products based on their ideas and discoveries. I have used this skill as a basis for all our products.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
The path to success has not been an overnight one. It has taken years to create the products I envisioned, to test them on the market, make changes, etc. We are finally at a place to be able to really arrive at the market. We have received recommendations from two leaders in the field. Dr Shefali Tsabery, Oprah’s parenting expert and author of Conscious Parenting shared her praise, “My Gnome on the Roam is a wonderful way for parents and kids to connect and share adventures of heart and soul.” Dan Heath, bestselling author of The Power Of Moments wrote “My Gnome on the Roam is a delightful idea. My daughter loves it, and her gnome adventures have sparked lots of creative fun in our family.” We have grabbed the attention of some major retailers and hope to be on their shelves by Christmas. We have also won several awards including Family App of the Year, Creative Toy of the Year and the Parents’ Choice Award and more.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Because I am an educator by trade, building the brand has literally been one foot in front of the other. I’ve been fortunate to create many great relationships along the way. One of the most amazing relationships is with a person who showed up across the table and a trade show years ago. His name is Jerrod Scott and he is known as the Maker Whisperer. I think he fell in love with our brand and I fell in love with his energy and his amazing way of connecting with great people and great ideas. Together, we are in the process of building a 501c3 organization that will benefit foster and adoption services for people and pets. (Because families come in all kinds).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
In early 2020 (prepandemic) I went to a trade show. I always enjoy them because I always meet fantastic people and leave inspired. This tradeshow was different. I traveled to New York alone and felt a little invisible. I met another exhibitor who came over to chat and commented on how impressed he was with my brand and products. I told him I didn’t understand why we weren’t selling more. In 2 minutes, he made an accurate assessment of the problem (which had a very simple solution). It reminded me why a team of people is so important. Some people can see what I can’t because sometimes we are just too close to our own products. He is now working with me on sales and we have some very exciting opportunities on the horizon.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
I don’t believe that many successful people get where they’re going without battling with Imposter Syndrome. It shows up in my life from time to time. I have a note in my phone where I cut and paste comments and compliments people have shared with me since I started working on this project many years ago. When I am feeling fragile or unsure, I open those notes and dive in. My takeaway is that you never know when a kind word can turn someone else’s day around.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
We are multifaceted. I have found myself challenged in different areas as I leaned into growth. I have built support through programs like Marie Forleo’s B School, Pedro Adao’s Crush It with Challenges and Bushra Azhar’s Sold Out Launch. I also lean heavily on Lindsey Pera’s Mystic Society for spiritual support. And my besties for the past 35 years, fondly known as my Core, have supported me through my own growth, adoption, my brain tumor and divorce.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
In 2019, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I spent almost two months in the hospital. I spent that time alone. Within a month of getting out of the hospital, I moved out of my home with my son and by the end of the year, I was divorced after many years of struggle to make my marriage work. When I read about the pandemic in early 2020, I knew I could get through it because if I could get through 2019, I could get through anything.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. “If you sell to everyone, you sell to no one.” I spent a lot of time trying to create a product that everyone would like. When I realized I could focus on a much smaller group of mindful parents, grandparents and caregivers, my product and my mindset became much more solid.
2. “Everything is figureoutable.” Once I learned this mindset tweak, I began to approach every challenge as a puzzle to be solved. I simply have to ask the right questions and find the right guides.
3. “Nobody is good at everything”. Once I stopped trying to do everything myself, I began to seek guidance and support from people in their areas of expertise. I now have support from a website designer, a graphics creator, a virtual assistant who is left brained and business minded. Building a team of people who can share their skills and share our mission is the best of both worlds.
4. “It never hurts to ask”. Since the very beginning, I have been fearless about asking…for support, for ideas, even for money through crowd sourcing and contests. My app was created from winning second place in a competition.
5. “People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. I spent a lot of time trying to build credibility as I have been building my business. I wanted people to take me seriously. But one of the things I’m most proud of is building a loving community. I have never had to block anyone who joined the group. We do challenges together and not only are members of the group supportive of me and the brand, more importantly, they are loving and supportive of one another.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
We are actually starting a movement. Our app offers daily ideas for adventures you can take in small pockets of time. There are things to create, opportunities to explore and to connect with family, other people and this big, beautiful world we live on. Most adventures are free or inexpensive. I believe there is a myth that the family with the most money or the most time wins. In reality, the families that are happiest are the ones that are most connected (to each other and to the world around them). If everyone took 15 minutes each week to have a little adventure, to interact with each other and with the world around them, I believe we could change the world, one family at a time.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-).
There are so many people who inspire me with their strength, their compassion, their creativity. If I had to choose one, I guess it would be Dolly Parton. She has managed to stay connected to people across all lines (rich/poor, GOP/Democrat, etc). She is a millionaire instead of a billionaire, only because she continues to give her money to causes that make her heart full. She is a real picture of what success can look like when it comes from your heart.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can visit our website at www.Mygnomeontheroam.com. They can find us on Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube at My Gnome on the Roam. They can also find us on Instagram @gnomesontheroam
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!