Beth Engelman on Prioritizing, Hard Work, and
Checking the Ego

WHO SHE IS: Columnist for Sun-Times Media, “Mom” contributor
for “You & Me This Morning” on WCIU-TV (Chicago), Founder of Mommy On a Shoestring, iVillage iVoices correspondent, author of children’s
book Finding Fairyland and more.

SUCCESS STORY:  Leveraged her background in education and child development to create a successful trio — blog, brand and column, all focused on making meaningful connections with our kids without spending a fortune.

WORK SCHEDULE: M-F from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. (school pick-up time)

KIDS: Jackson, age 7

SANITY VICE: Yoga, The Dailey Method, spinning and General Foods International Coffee!

How she went from kindergarten teacher to columnist, author, Oprah Blogger and iVillage iVoices correspondent (in her own words) 

I was an English Major who dreamed of teaching middle or high school English. The problem? I discovered (when student teaching) that I was the world’s WORST middle school teacher ever. The solution? I dropped down to Kindergarten and found my calling! After teaching for about 8 years, I decided to try something else. Intrigued with toy, game and book development, I went to work at LeapFrog Toys and then published several books of my own with Piggy Toes Press and Chronicle Books. Around the time my son was born, my marriage fell apart so I moved away from San Francisco back to my family in Chicago.

Then, 2008 hit and it was harder and harder to get books published, so I started writing articles about crafts and activities moms could do on a shoestring budget. The idea took a life of its own as I noticed readers were hungry to revert back to the days before high-tech gadgets and 24/7 television. Soon my Mommy on a Shoestring blog was born, as was my column for the Sun-Times Media, and I was fortunate to become a regular on “Let’s Chat,” a public affairs show on Radio Disney, and a local TV program.  Soon I was invited to fun events such as blogging for Oprah’s LifeClass and becoming an iVoice correspondent for iVillage. I was even invited to build a playground with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. But there are disappointments, too, when you are up for a gig and don’t get it, or a project is canceled before it even began. But in the end it is worth it as I love having the open schedule so I can spend time with Jackson.

Maybrooks Q&A: How She Does It, and other Tips

MB: Your job as a columnist and iVillage iVoices correspondent requires that you attend a lot of events. How do you manage those demands on your time and raising a 7 year old? 
BE: Such a good question, I try to be picky and consider the event and ask these questions: Will the event help my business? Will I learn something new? Is there someone else who can go in my place? I have quite a few friends who are happy to blog for me in return for access to a free event!  I try prioritize my time and keep meetings and evening events to a minimum ~ and I have been known to work late into the evening after my son goes to bed. Thanks goodness for coffee!

MB: You write about things parents can do with their kids, which means you also get to incorporate Jackson into a lot of your material. Did you do that by design? I ask because some people may be thinking of ways to turn hobbies into careers.
BE: YES! Basically I write and blog about things that matter to me, so you’ll see as Jackson gets older the sweet spot of my blog gets older. As an Early Childhood teacher, I will always be invested in emerging literacy and early math skills but topics such as what to make for school lunches and how to manage homework are reflections of what I am experiencing in my own life (talk about authentic).

MB: You have built yourself into a brand. What’s the best advice you have for someone who may wants to do something similar?
BE: Believe in yourself and what you want to accomplish and check your ego at the door, I think the people who succeed are the people who don’t give up regardless of critics. My other piece of advice is to focus on something your are passionate about — it will shine through!

MB: How did you market yourself into the Sun-Times Media Group?
I took a class online via where I learned a lot about writing for magazines and newspapers. I also learned how to write pitches. I think I was very lucky the editor who read my Mommy on a Shoestring pitch instantly got it and thought, “the economy is bad and people are looking for ways to have fun without spending money.” My column is quite popular in even the most affluent areas.

MB: What advice do you live by as a working mom? 
BE: I think for me the most important thing is to put your head down and do your best work. I firmly believe in this world, cream rises to the top.  Also, focus on just a few goals at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. It is about baby steps.

– SD

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