Book Review | Branding is For Cows. Belonging is For People. by CJ Casciotta

brandingisforcowsI’m one of those strange people who buys things on Instagram just because they look interesting. Books are no exception. I was doing my usual tag-surfing when I came across CJ Casciotta’s Instagram account. His account looked eclectic enough for my tastes, so I hit “follow” and started scrolling through his pictures. I purchased his eBook Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People. Break Free From the Heard and Make Stuff that Matters on impulse, basically because I liked the title.

Much later, I read up on CJ Casciotta and found out that he is not only an author, but also a brand leader and developer. The book’s price point was reasonable, but it was a very short eBook. To say that I read it in one setting would be an understatement. Before I jump into the book, I want to talk about the buying experience.

I clicked on the link in CJ’s Instagram to purchase the book. Because I’m a nerd, I realized that it was linked to a website hosted on that appeared to be hosted on Squarepages and the link went directly to the secure sales page. There were two options to purchase the book. I could either buy the eBook (which I did), or the rather attractive-looking Moleskin version. I kind of wanted the Moleskin, but waiting for shipping for books is not my thing.

It was pretty easy to click to buy the book, but it wouldn’t download on my phone. (I kept getting an error message.) This was probably an Android thing. The file could have been too big, or the way that the pdf was coded may have been hard for my phone to read, but it’s important to mention if you  buy a lot of eBooks on your phone (I do).

Anyhow, I was also emailed a copy of the book, so I went to my computer and downloaded it. I started to email it to my phone, but then I realized that the book was super short and I was putting way too much effort into a book that would only take me a few minutes to read. The eBook was a total of 34 pages with some rather large print and pictures. Unlike a lot of books, the title page and table of contents were numbered, so they were included in the page count. As an example of the large print and pictures, this title page is page 2:

branding-2

Out of respect for the intellectual property and copyright of the author, I won’t post any more pages from the book, but there were other pages like this with very little text and a large picture.

Now, let’s talk about the content of the book itself. As someone who tires of the non-stop discussion about “branding,” I found the book’s message to be rather refreshing. Casciotta tells the story of “McDonalization” and how standardization became the standard for the way products and services are delivered all over the world, and the fact that such standardization has both positive and negative consequences.

He talks about competition and the origin of the “branding” concept in terms of its real-life meaning and its marketing implications. More importantly, he discusses the modern movement to break away from traditional branding and standardization in favor of individualization and human belonging.

What stuck out to me the most was the Casciotta’s message to create a manifesto rather than a branding statement. He explains the process and what that means for both you and your business. For me, this was a profound concept. As someone who despises traditional “branding,” I love the idea of moving towards replacing mission statements with manifestos.

Despite the brevity of the book, I think the author effectively got his message across. If you are looking for motivation, then CJ Casciotta comes across as a master motivator who can help you kickstart the direction of your business. The book is a quick read and he also has a podcast and events that you can help you follow-up on the overall direction of his message.

However, if you are looking for a more robust plan for how you can manage your business in an unconventional way, you should also consider checking out The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte. I’m currently reading this book and I will be updating this blog with a review. In the meantime, you can check out her reviews on Amazon.

Here’s my affiliate link to check out Danielle’s book on Amazon: The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms

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How I Passed the Texas Bar Exam

Induction Ceremony Program Booklet (Austin, TX)

Disclaimer: This is what worked for me. I am not suggesting or promoting my methods or practices, or any of the programs mentioned. Although I am posting this on April 3, 2012, I took the July 2011 Texas Bar Exam and this blog post was written the day after I received my results online. I was busy looking for a job and never posted it. By the way, I got my results in November and found a job in December.

I usually don’t write too much about personal matters. I like to keep my blog about reading; however, I decided to write this post in case some other soul is out there googling “how to pass the Texas bar exam” like I was. I wanted to write this down while it was still fresh on my mind.

Yesterday, I found out that I passed the Texas Bar Exam on the first try. I was ecstatic! I tried to recall the feelings that I had over the last 3 years and 3 months. I’ve had a mix of anxiety, joy, and nervousness. I’ve had great triumphs and smalls setbacks. But, the feeling that I felt yesterday when I saw my name on that list was worth every single moment of studying, crying, being broke, worrying, living with family, traveling for conferences and law school prep, dragging heavy books around, buying $900+ laptops, and countless hours reading in the library. I’ve broken my tips down into what helped me to prepare for the bar during law school, what helped me during bar prep, and what helped me on the day of the exam.

Before Law School

I’ll keep this section brief. Before law school, I focused a lot on writing. My degree was in English and I also taught writing. Now, a lot of people think that they are good writers, but they are not. I actually enjoy writing and I focus on keeping my writing as well-organized as possible. My knowledge in the areas of grammar and punctuation are well above average (although, I do make mistakes like everyone else, especially when blogging). I am sure that this helped me immensely on the writing portions of the bar. Where my knowledge might have been lacking, my answers were succinct and easy to understand. This likely helped the graders understand my responses, at least.

During Law School

During law school, I took bar classes. This tip may seem basic, but I know that many of my friends took “fluff” classes after second year in order to pad their GPA’s. They graduated “with honors” but had not learned much law after the first year. I took harder classes, some of which dragged my GPA down, but when bar prep came around, none of the subjects were new to me.

When I started my commercial bar prep course, there was only one bar class that I had not taken, which was Oil and Gas law. The only reason that I had not taken it was because the time that it was offered conflicted with the time that I had to pick my son up from school; the following semester, it conflicted with my internship. However, had I known that it was not only “on the bar,” it was also interwoven into the Property essay questions, I would have found a way to take it.

Since I did not take Oil and Gas, I started reading a book called The Oil and Gas Primer. I started reading it during the second semester of my last year of  law school. I read the first half of the book twice. It helped me get a basic foundation; I took notes on the vocabulary at the same time.

By taking bar classes, I was able to review certain areas of the law during bar prep, instead of trying to learn them during bar prep. There is no time for that during bar prep….but, I’ll get to that.

I made detailed outlines or took detailed notes in class, or both. I saved every single handout and informative email sent by professors. I categorized them and referred to them when need be. During bar study, I referred to them because the information was often much more compact and useful than the massive amounts of information from BarBri.

During my first year of law school, I took LEEWS (http://www.leews.com/)  and started practicing that system of essay writing. It worked well for me and I used a lot of the tips that I picked up for bar essay writing. (Disclaimer: I distributed information for the company while I was in law school, but I was not paid or asked to promote it in this post.)

My school offered an MBE course, which I took. In the course, we reviewed MBE subjects and took practice exams. The practice tests were extremely useful; we were required to achieve 60% or better on each subject area. If we did not meet this barrier, we had to retest. Some of the restest questions were the same, but not all. What really helped, though, was the explanations after the test that were conducted by the professors. I should mention that this course was provided through a partnership with Kaplan PMBR. All of the professors who participated were also PMBR lecturers.

During Bar Study

I am not trying to tout my study habits during bar study. I will say up front that I was not the person who followed BarBri’s schedule, or the suggested schedule from my school 100%, or even close to it. Here is what I did and did not do:

  • I DID NOT submit practice essays to be graded by BarBri. I did not know enough law to write out essay questions during the entire bar study period. Also, I was a hand-writer and BarBri wanted typed essays submitted. This would require me to either type up my essays, or mail them to BarBri to be graded. I decided early on that that would be a waste of time (for me!). If you need essay feedback, by all means either take the time to send them to your bar prep company or bar prep tutor.
  • I DID look through several years of practice essays and during the last 3 weeks of bar study, I focused almost exclusively on writing out practice answers or outlining answers, then comparing them to model answers.
  • I DID NOT complete 2000 practice MBE questions, nor did I spend an excessive amount of time working out of the MBE books provided by BarBri.
  • I DID do hundreds (probably not thousands – I didn’t count them, but maybe 1000 or so) of practice questions using the BarBri app on my phone. I kept pace with BarBri’s suggested number of practice questions, at  least 25-30 or so a day. I read the explanations after each question and marked questions that I needed to review again. This was all done on my iPhone app. I also uploaded my scores so that I could compare my performance to others who were studying for the bar. (Remember, I started my practice MBE questions during law school).
  • I DID NOT supplement my bar study with any other program besides BarBri.
  • I DID go directly to the bar examiner’s website to pull off questions and answers because it was just easier than lugging around books.
  • I DID NOT skip any lectures! I also DID NOT always attend the live lectures. The lectures were offered on video at my school & occasionally watched them at home. When I watched at home, I sat for the entire 3 hours with no distractions – no TV or phone. I only took breaks that were scheduled within the video itself, just as I would have at a live lecture. (Let me add that I was absolutely broke during bar prep and had car problems, which was why I did not attend every single live lecture.)
  • I DID take notes in the lecture handbook for every lecture. This was vitally important to me because it meant that at least once during the summer, I was exposed to every piece of information that the lecturers thought was relevant.
  • I DID attend the BarBri essay-writing workshop. It was helpful. I also DID do the BarBri  MBE “midterm.” I scored horribly and after that, I started re-reading outlines (long outlines) in my weakest areas, like property. I did exponentially better on the real deal.
  • I DID not review each question. I didn’t have the time. I only reviewed questions that I got wrong and I only focused on areas where I did very poorly.
  • I DID NOT have a set schedule. This was good and bad. I listened to my body, took a night off when I needed to, and rested when I was exhausted. However, I would get up at 4 am sometimes to do practice questions, etc., or do them while eating dinner. I listened to my body and used my common sense, along with paying careful attention to the BarBri schedule and my suggested school schedule to make sure that I did not fall behind.
  • I NEVER did the pre-reading the night before a lecture. I never had time.
  • I DID do a practice MPT and I submitted it to BarBri; however, I had done practice MPTs for a class I took on Texas Practice (the first day of the bar exam), so MPTs were not new to me.
  • I DID NOT study with anyone else. I mean, every now and then I sat at a table with, or by, a friend but we did not study together.
  • I DID NOT fully utilize the available bar mentors at my school.
  • I DID do lots of practice MPTs during law school. I DID NOT spend time on them during bar study; during bar study, I only did one or two.
  • I DID NOT pay for the extra BarBri session specifically for Day 1 of the Texas Bar Exam. Instead, I studied bar-focused class materials on Civil and Criminal Procedure in Texas. (I had taken a whole class on preparation for Day 1 & I did go to the summer prep course offered by my teacher, who was also a Kaplan instructor.)
  • I disabled my Facebook account, but I did waste some time on Twitter. 🙂

I hope this is helpful to someone. If so, please post in the comments!

The Night Before the Bar Exam
Interestingly enough, I almost missed the first day of the exam. I had it written down incorrectly and had also told my family the wrong dates. I didn’t realize the bar exam was the next day until I started getting “good luck!” text messages and emails with last-minute suggestions. Basically, I didn’t have time to be too anxious, so I relaxed and read over a long Criminal Procedure outline in preparation for Day 1. I went to bed early (9pm), and prayed. I believe I was too nervous to eat. My son spent the night at my mother’s house.
 
During the Bar Exam
 
I was a hand-writer. I was too nervous to drive, so I had planned for my sister to drive me and pick me up for all three days. On Day 1, I ate a light breakfast, but I couldn’t finish it. I was too nerved-up. I had a clear pencil pouch with my necessary supplies, entry ticket, and ID. I had my sister wait outside for a few  minutes in case I had forgotten anything.
 
Day 1
I used all of my time on Day 1. I did not talk to anyone after the exam. I went straight to the car and left. No calls, no text messages to other examinees. I did a few practice questions in Real Property, but I was mostly too tired and nervous to do anything else.
 
Day 2
My school provided lunch. I did not talk to anyone during the lunch breaks. I grabbed my lunch and laid on a park bench to rest. The weather was beautiful, not too hot. I didn’t dare go to sleep, but I relaxed deeply and even kicked my shoes off. I didn’t have a car with me, so I didn’t have one to go to. After Day 2, I was no longer a bundle of nerves. I was almost done. I spend the evening reading long outlines. I stayed up rather late, until about midnight doing rote memorization exercises so that I could recall information quickly the next day. I had to flush out all of the MBE stuff and focus on Texas-specific laws. There wasn’t much time left, though.
 
Day 3
I was really nervous about Day 3. Essay Day meant straight-memory and writing. Again, I was a hand-writer. My hand hurt a bit on Day 1 after a half-day of writing, so I figured it would be killing me on Day 3. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I timed myself and remained as relaxed as possible. I felt okay after the morning essays I purposely left a bit early so that I could grab my lunch and study.
 
Day 3 was the only day that brought my outlines (they were left outside of the testing room, as required). I grabbed them, grabbed my lunch, and found a secluded spot. Based on the morning essays, one can predict what topics will be on the afternoon essays. So, I separated the outlines for the topics still to be tested and furiously reviewed them. The lunch break was long and it only took me about 5 minutes to eat, so I ended up getting a pretty decent extra study session in.
 
Yes, I saw others laughing and talking. Some of them, in fact, failed. I, personally, had too much riding on the exam to relax to the point of laughing and talking. I barely spoke to the people that I recognized from school, but I did speak just to be cordial. I gulped down an energy drink and, just like that, I walked back into the exam room and finished the test. I finished early and left well before time was called. I was focused on keeping my answers succinct; that is probably the main reason why I finished early, not because I was just that “good.”
 
Right After the Bar Exam
 
While waiting for my sister, a few people tried to engage me in conversation about the exam. I seriously thought that was pointless. Why stress about something that we no longer had any control over? There was also a group outside of the testing building conducting a survey about whether or not we were happy with our bar prep. My sister and I walked downtown to eat an early dinner. She says that I seemed relaxed, calm, and confident. I say that I was just glad that that it was over!
 
The worst parts of taking the actual exam were 1) timing; and, 2) waiting. You have to watch your time carefully. There were clocks provided in front of each hand-writing section that made this easier. I had worn a watch just in case. As far as waiting, I despised those who chose to type the test. They greatly outnumbered the rest of us. A good amount of all of our time was spent listening to their extra instructions and waiting for them to get “technical assistance” after each portion of the exam. I really wish that they could have been put into a separate room or something, but we were all in one huge auditorium-like setting. At least the temperature was comfortable. It was neither too hot or too cold…this is coming from someone who is chronically cold and had worn layers and socks just in case.
 
Waiting for Results 
 
I seriously forgot about the exam for the next three months…oh, that is, when people were not harassing me over whether or not I had yet received my results. I didn’t get nervous/obsessed with my status until about a week before the exam. In the meantime, I started working to get back on my feet financially and daydreaming about my future career. (I started working in temporary/part time positions, but I didn’t get a full time job until December.) I am very happy that I passed. Wait, I am beyond happy. It was seriously one of the best feelings that I have ever had in my life. Had I known what joy I would feel, I would have studied like a crazy person. I’m glad that I did what worked best for me, though.
 
I hope that those of you out there reading this will figure out what works best for you. In case you are wondering, I am not going to share my exact score. Good luck!

Book Review | Unplanned by Abby Johnson

It’s been quite a while since I posted a book review! I started a new job in December of last year and I’ve been too busy to post, but I’m back! I hope to read a book a week until the end of the year. This is very doable if I cut back on TV time! I have 3 hardback books and 4 e-books on my Kindle waiting for me to read them. But, Unplanned by Abby Johnson is a book that I read back in December.

Little did I know in December of 2011 that the topics of healthcare and abortion would come together and cause turmoil throughout the ranks of the Komen Foundation and other high-ranking organizations. Unplanned is a book that tells a riveting behind-the-scenes story of a conservative working at Planned Parenthood. Abby Johnson started out as a young volunteer and rose to rank of executive, leading a Planned Parenthood location in Texas. Her unusual participation in an abortion procedure forces her to face her internal conflicts. As a devout Christian, her job (working in a clinic that provided abortions among and other healthcare services) conflicted with her moral beliefs.

Many young women can relate to Abby’s conflict whether they have performed similar work or not.Like Abby’s real-life character in this book, I have been conflicted about my moral beliefs versus my support and patronage of Planned Parenthood. This book presents both sides.

What I enjoyed most was Abby’s candid discussion about not only her experience working at Planned Parenthood, but also her own past. She reveals some ugly truths about abortion clinics and also discusses the value of the other healthcare services provided by Planned Parenthood. In addition, she shares her own story of not one, but two, unplanned pregnancies and why she  made the choices that she did.

Lastly, Abby talks about why and how she changed her mind about working for Planned Parenthood. If I have a criticism of this book, it would be the slightly dramatized chapters in the book following Abby’s choice to walk away. Although it was a heart-wrenching decision, people quit their jobs every day. It is also fascinating that she ran away from one extreme to the other, seemingly without considering a middle ground. She went from being a staunch supporter and worker at Planned Parenthood to being strongly anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood. I would have liked to see some talk about a middle-ground, an area of compromise where we can support the rights of women and the unborn at the same time…is that possible? I’m not sure, but when I put this book down, I felt inspired…of course, my beliefs align pretty strongly with Abby’s. Abby introduces readers to pro-life organizations that are less divisive. She could have simply walked away from Planned Parenthood and found another job, but instead, she chose to share her story and to use her experience as a platform to help change the lives of others.

For those looking to better understand the perspective of individuals, particularly, Christians, who work at Planned Parenthood, this would be an interesting book to read. Be fair-warned that this book is not pro-Choice. The author advocates an end to abortion because of her religious beliefs and because of the detrimental effect that abortion has on women and families. But, the way she wrote this book provides a fair perspective of both sides because, unlike many people, she has “fought the war,” from both sides. If you’ve read this book, let me know what you think! If you wouldn’t read it, let me know why not!

Book Review | No Weapon by Audrey McKay

No Weapon is the riveting follow-up novel to Audrey McKay’s first book Enough Good News. It continues a few years after Enough Good News ended. (My review for Enough Good News can be found here. This review may contain spoilers for those who have not read that novel first). Instead of focusing on Sidra’s story, it focuses on the tale of Sidney Lyons and how her life has changed since accepting the Lord. When Enough Good News ended, the reader was left feeling hopeful, but uncertain, about which way Sidney’s story would go. Soon after accepting Christ into her life, she made a big mistake that almost severed her ties with family and her faith in the Lord.

In No Weapons, Sidney seems to have recovered well from the mistakes of her past. Unfortunately, old spirits are waiting to come back and haunt her once again as an unspeakably evil force begins working to bring her down. It only took me about one day to read this book because I was quickly caught up in Sidney’s tale and how a single lie worked to turn so many people against her. The book also had real life connections as it dealt with scandals and corruption within the church which are both, unfortunately, all too common today.

Christians who are interested in learning more about spiritual gifts will find this book intriguing. In McKay’s first book, spiritual gifts are mentioned when Sidney accepts the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into her life, but in No Weapon, those gifts play a central role in the development of the plot. Until reading this book, I never gave much thought to “spiritual gifts” and what they mean, but this book definitely encouraged me to look into them more.

Along with the consistent action in this story, McKay skillfully weaves in the thoughts and insights of non-Christians who are witnesses to the turmoil taking place among so-called believers. This is an important part of the story because it helps the reader understand why so many people are hesitant to become a part of the Christian faith. Many non-believers have witnessed wrongdoing and hypocrisy among Christians that makes them question the teachings of the Bible and spiritual leaders. The way that McKay uses the true believers to respond to such doubts can serve as a lesson for the rest of us.

The plot of this book was a real page-turner. The way people came together to work against Sidney was fascinating. Not only that, but the use of technology to aid in their endeavor made the work more interesting and believable. I would highly suggest this book, even if you haven’t read the first book in the series. The author provides enough background information to make it easy to follow all of the characters. For more information about No Weapon, or to learn more about the author, visit her website here.