An Amazing New Way to Store Energy With Old Technology

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We’re heading into a renewable future – and the way in which people keep coming up with remarkable ideas seems to make that inevitable.

Take how we deal with one of the biggest problems with renewables, for example.

The wind doesn’t blow all the time. The sun gets switched off at night. That doesn’t happen with coal, or gas or nuclear power – we can rely on power from them 24/7.

So, do we have to live in a world where we need to still burn things to make energy?

The answer, many people said, is having a way to store energy.

Why not use massive batteries – have enormous installations with racks and racks of batteries to store all the energy we don’t need when the wind does blow, and then use it later when we do need it?

The problem is that batteries aren’t exactly good for the environment either.

First, there’s all the mining needed to get the rare earths we need in the first place, and they happen to be in not entirely friendly countries.

Then there is all the plastic needed to make the batteries safe.

After they get used, they are essentially a toxic little package – you can’t just throw them into landfill – and need to be processed and recycled.

All this adds up to a problem building up for the future.

There are less problematic ways of storing energy – in dams for example. But those don’t work anywhere and quite often you need to entirely change landscapes and move entire towns to make one.

But now, a Santa Barbara startup called ARES has had a good idea.

ARES stands for Advanced Rail Energy Storage, and it’s a brilliantly simple concept.

They build a railtrack up a hill. When the sun is shining or the wind is blowing and there isn’t enough need for all of it, they use what is left over to push a train filled with rocks up a hill.

Then, when they need the energy, they let the train roll down the track and get all the energy out again as electricity.

It’s effectively using some iron, rocks and gravity to create an energy storage system – and those items are a lot less polluting than batteries.

Building a railtrack doesn’t take the amount of land needed by a dam, and when you’re finished you can recycle the iron, put the rocks back so they look nice and pretty soon it will look like a normal hillside again.

You can stick them anywhere you have a hill – and if there’s one that’s dry and not much use for anything else so much the better.

So… we’re left with something that is brilliantly simple with very few drawbacks – other than getting to market and creating a business in a pretty hard to crack market.

Hope they can do it.

Key Takeaways From Day 2 Of Blockchain Summit London 2018

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Thursday, 11:59pm

London

I have 10 pages of notes from today’s session, not counting conversations with the exhibitors. That’s a little too much to condense into one post, but here are some of the highlights.

It’s still all about people

If you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket – where are you going to put it?

Well, if you’re sensible, not in an investment of any kind if you need it anytime soon. But let’s say you’ve done the basics and are actually in a position to put some money into a market.

Many people will be only too happy to take your money in exchange for a promise.

Some will be charming and personable. Some shy and serious. Some will have a televangelist’s pitch, others a flamboyant show.

We need to look at them carefully – then look into them. Remember that a technology or an application will not in itself take over the world. Behind it is a person, a team that needs to drive it and take it to market – and it is that team you are investing in.

But it’s still too hard to invest with any real confidence

So, we have this new world of distributed ledgers and currencies. But, for most people, the only way we can access them is through an exchange – and these are the things that get hacked.

It also seems counterintuitive – we’re creating a distributed system and then accessing it through an exchange – a middleman – which centralises transactions and control once again. Where is the real peer to peer element in all this?

Distributed exchanges seem to be on their way, where we can actually transact with people we don’t know by creating a market where prices are posted and accepted – leading to transactions and commerce.

That’s quite exciting – it’s having a market that works – with lots of activity that becomes self sustaining and prosperous.

And when you do, understand what you’re getting – read the detail

The new phrase is Token Economics – which I assume is much like ordinary economics…

Basically, you’re giving someone money and they are giving you a piece of paper.

The piece of paper says what you get – is it a stake in the business, is it a share of profits, is it regular interest payments and return of the capital, can you convert your paper into a different kind of paper?

All these rules set out what you get from your investment, and they are likely to be similar to existing options in traditional markets – equity and debt being the main ones, for example.

Seriously… read the detail. In many cases you don’t get a stake in the company. You’re simply lending them money that they don’t have to give back if things go south.

Read Ben Graham, and then read him again

Ben Graham, the father of value investing, had a story about Mr Market – and this should be required reading for all investors.

Prices go up, and they go down. The market is there to guide you – in the short run it’s a voting machine and in the long run it’s a weighing machine.

You need to have a strategy. For example, I wrote previously on why I sold my crypto holdings. The updated chart on this is below.

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Now, I’ve been lazy and not traded this as I could have, but on the whole, the sell still was the right call at the time – but this market is volatile and so at times it looks bad.

The point is that you can make money in an up or down market, if you have a strategy. And, depending on your position, you’re either sad about losing value or excited about buying something cheaper.

And that is basically how markets operate, so get used to the ride.

And, in case I haven’t said it enough, have a strategy before you jump in.

We still need to remember the purpose of the whole thing

The point about decentralised technology was that it could make things more equal, let those who had less also participate in the system.

In network economics with a winner takes all model, it’s easy to lose sight of the equity principle.

I don’t know how this will turn out – whether commerce will win or whether the system will create fairness… let’s wait and see.

Finally… don’t forget common sense,

The best presentation for me was one by Michael Messele of Pillar who not only went through his ICO story but also reminded people again and again to use common sense.

Want to get money? Then think about how you come across to people and pitch in a way that works for them.

Think about design, legals, management. Think about how you will deal with trolls, with your ICO going viral and your brand. Get help from experts. Create ways for people to work with you, in exchange for promises if necessary.

In summary… there is life in this market – and the big businesses are coming

The final takeaway is that this is starting to go mainstream. The big players are involved – the enterprise level players, and blockchain is going from a mathematical curiosity to a commercial proposition that we will see emerging over the coming years.

Any questions or if you’d like to talk more about any of the points here – please get in touch or leave a comment.

Key takeaways from Day 1 of Blockchain Summit London 2018

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Wednesday 7.10am

London

An interesting day of presentations about Blockchain at Blockchain Summit London from a range of speakers – from large and small organisations.

It appears that Blockchain is moving from the early adopter stage and getting more mainstream interest.

We need to think beyond the technology

The basic idea of distributed ledger technology is what many people are interested in. Raymond Cross of SAP talked about what enterprises look for – and it is much more than technology.

The technology is only one component for enterprises. They also need to think about their existing operations – the scale of them in particular – and how they can move without disruption and risk.

That means that they want to know about standardisation and process and the way in which their business will operate in five or ten years and create a transformation plan that moves them from where they are now to an intelligent enterprise

Regulation is coming

The blockchain space, and most visibly cryptocurrencies and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) have been something of a wild west, with regulators and governments scrambling to keep up with the technology and its implications.

KPMG talked about how governments around the world take different views, from acceptance in Gibralter to bans in China. Where you set up matters. Tax is complicated – and where your company is located is one component, but the residency of directors could also affect things.

One thing is clear – governments will want their taxes, and the rules around money laundering, terrorist financing and knowing who your clients are will help enforce this.

There aren’t enough advisors for the need

Many people want to know about how to invest in cryptocurrencies, and traditional advisors are struggling to keep them informed.

Or Barmatz of Crypto Finance said that millenials in particular want to have this as part of their asset mix, but cannot find people who understand and can explain what their options are.

At the same time, funds are starting up that allow a range of investors to add these assets to their portfolio mix, so eventually crypto may become a standard part of portfolios.

Venture Capitalists are adapting

Traditionally startups went to VCs, cap in hand, asking for money.

Now entrepreneurs are starting to question why they need VCs and Silicon Valley at all, when they can go directly to the public and raise staggering amounts of money in minutes.

VCs are adapting, pointing out that it takes $200-300,000 to run a successful ICO – actually the new name is Token Sales, and they can help with that initial funding.

So, they’re setting up accelerators and trying to identify even earlier stage startups to invest in – which vaguely reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon where a VC asks a couple if their unborn child is going to be an engineer and if he can invest something now…

BOTs will be treated like illegal aliens

We’re moving towards a world where bots are everywhere – automated programs that do things for us.

In that world, however, if someone takes control of your bot – say one that you trust to do all your banking – they could steal all your money.

And bad people are working hard to figure out how to do just that.

So, the good guys are probably going to have to come up with a way to register bots – check that they can only do what they are allowed to do, and register them using identity technology.

That could be interesting for governments – now not only do they need to manage people but also the bots living in their jurisdictions.

Peer to peer is the future

My favourite quote of the day is from Associate Professor Alex Nortas who says inefficient coercive pyramids rule society.

He put up an example, with Black Insurance, of how people could collaboratively create and fund products through a platform, without having to go through the traditional structures that exist today.

These models are still developing – but it’s clear that they are coming and are going to change many industries – making them more accessible to more people, freeing up capital and driving down costs as a result.

Which sounds like a good thing – it’s more efficient after all to connect the people with money and the people with an idea directly – and that looks like how things will increasingly happen in the future.

How To Recognize The Moment When Everything Changes

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Sunday 10.02pm

Sheffield

There is no reason for us to do anything, really.

If you don’t believe in a god, for instance, then the fact of your existence is an improbable series of coincidental happenstances.

Or, in other words, you’re lucky to just be here.

But – that doesn’t mean you have to do anything.

Yes, the people around you might want you do stuff, you may feel like you should do stuff and you may need to do stuff to afford money for food and shelter…

What’s the point of all this?

Once you get past the first couple of levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the quality of your life depends on the choices you make over time.

Now, some people argue that everyone is responsible for their choices. Regardless of background, we can choose to change, if we just had the willpower to do so.

Others say that we have recordings of our parents in our heads and we do things that are consistent with those. For example, if we were told to always clean our plates, we keep eating – even though the sensible thing would be to stop.

And then there is the argument that willpower is a finite resource – like a battery. If we use up all our willpower on working very hard during the day, we have little left to resist the urge to flop on the sofa and order a takeaway.

How do we make important choices – or decisions – when it really matters?

For example, when do some people decide to lose weight, and actually take it off? Or change careers, and actually do it? Or start a business, and do that?

As the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Wanting isn’t enough. Needing isn’t enough.

The change doesn’t happen until it is a visceral longing, a critical point, like leaping off a cliff – when we commit and there is no turning back.

After that point, it’s going to happen. Before that point, it’s still a dream.

We will all have stories of when we had that moment. When we decided to start a particular class. When we met a particular someone. When we make a decision to leave or go or change.

This is why goals alone aren’t enough, tracking alone isn’t enough – it’s the mind shift that’s required.

If that mind shift is missing, then the energy needed to get us through the change process isn’t there, and it just won’t happen.

But, if you can recognise the moment when it turns up, see and feel the moment as it’s there, and use the energy of that moment to take action – you will change.

Only you can do it.

3 Critical Reasons Why Owners Let Their Businesses Fail

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Saturday 10:31pm

Sheffield

There is a problem – definitely in the UK and more widely in Europe and small businesses in the developed world – and it has to do with how much work we’re doing.

Many businesses are not productive enough – the amount of work done by each person in the business is flatlining.

And this is a problem for one very simple reason.

As more people look for work, including from the vast labour markets in India and China, the supply of qualified, skilled people increases.

Existing businesses will face more competition from more places – and if they’re not getting better at what they do all the time, then someone else will take them out.

So why do small businesses, in particular, struggle to keep up?

To start with, there are three things they can do to improve their businesses – they can invest in better systems, create better processes and hire better people. And this creates three problems.

1. They’re Too Busy Paying Rent To Worry About New Technology

Most businesses owners are neck deep in work.

There are customers to deal with, suppliers to shout at, employees to manage, rent and wage bills to pay and tax to collect and give the government.

Almost every small business owner is spending too much time working in the business to step back and make the time to work on the business.

So – wanting money out of them for something they don’t understand is not going to go down well.

However good a new technology – most business owners just haven’t got the time to get their heads around it and work out if they will benefit from it.

2. They’re Entrepreneurs – Not MBAs Or Accountants Or Lawyers

May people who start businesses have a passion for what they do, or they’ve taken over the family business, or they spotted a gap in the market for a product or service.

They’re creative opportunity spotters, risk takers and problem solvers.

That’s great when you need sheer force of will to convince suppliers to give you credit, customers to give you business and people to work for you in exchange for promises.

It’s not so good when you need to pass a security audit or comply with GDPR or file an environmental compliance application.

Often businesses don’t have the skills in-house or the contacts outside to get qualified advice on what they should do and how they can do things better – whether it has to do with improving sales and operations, cutting costs or having better contracts in place.

3. They Don’t See The Point Of Investing In Training

This is the hardest one for many business owners to get – and it’s the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot.

You only have two options – you can hire someone with the skills you need, or you can train them to the level you need.

Many business owners don’t want to pay for training. They see that as an immediate cost and, once the person has been trained, what happens if they simply leave?

All that investment disappears. Instead, why not just hire someone that another company has spent a lot of money to train?

That’s Why They Die A Slow, Lingering Death

People don’t want to mess up their business – they just do because sorting things out for the long term is just so much harder than dealing with things right now.

But we should… think about these three sayings:

  • If you don’t make time to exercise, you will have to make time for illness.
  • Forewarned is forearmed
  • If you train people, they may leave. But, what if you don’t train them and they stay?

If you’re too busy to fix your business now – then it will be a lot harder when the competition has moved in and taken most of your customers.

Understand the value of good advice.

And – train your people. Having a good training system in place that takes inexperienced people and turns them into superstars is the best insurance against having to hire superstars that will leave you the first chance they get for a better offer.

It takes one set of skills to create a business. It takes another set of skills to keep it alive.

There are three kinds of people in the world. Which one are you?

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Friday, 8.56pm

Sheffield.

At the end of the week, do you feel like you’ve had a good one?

It started, if you remember, with Monday.

Monday is meetings day – lots of meetings. Not much gets done on Mondays.

Tuesday is an inch into the week. Perhaps we’ll do something on Tuesday. Open a file, make some notes.

Wednesday is rock bottom – can’t go forward or back. It’s right in the middle and the worst day of the week. Probably time to get some takeaway or junk food to forget it.

Thursday – perhaps that’s a brighter day, looks like we’re over the hump and it’s downhill from here.

Friday is a long day and, when it’s done, we can forget about the working week and get on with the weekend.

That sounds like a productive week – or not.

Now, hopefully, that wasn’t your actual week. You probably crushed Tuesday and spent the days around it getting some real work done.

But, however your week turned out, that isn’t the point.

This is.

Did you do one of these three things:

  1. Get some big projects away – do some work that made a difference to your company, your business or for the people around you?
  2. Get on with your job, the role, what you are paid to do. Go in from 9 to 5 and do what’s in the job description.
  3. Do what you’re supposed to do, while studying, planning and thinking about what else you could do to develop your career or improve your life.

This isn’t a trick question – the chances are you did all three in some way. Perhaps you worked on the garden and sorted it out finally. Perhaps the filing system is now better at work. And you’re through the first module of the accounting course you’re doing part time.

Did you do things that helped you get better, accomplish goals and get yourself sorted. Or did the days just pass by, and it’s hard to remember what actually happened.

We lose time without noticing. Life seems so long, until it isn’t.

We’d be horrified if we lost our life in an instant – but we barely blink as it ebbs away second by second.

What’s the answer to the question in the title – the three kinds of people?

There are people who make things happen. There are people who watch things happen. And there are people to whom things happen.

Which one do you want to spend the most time being?

The Single Best Tactic to Use to Achieve Your Goals

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Life is just too busy.

There’s always too much going on.

If you’re young, there are parties to go to, friends to meet, movies to watch and places to visit.

If you have a family, the kids take up all your time, and what is left is spent tidying up and trying to get some sleep.

If you’re older, perhaps the grandkids keep you busy. Or there’s holidays with the friends, cruises and charity work.

Is this a good thing?

Possibly. Many people have worse lives and struggle with daily living.

But the fact that others have it worse doesn’t change the reality of the life we live.

So, what can you do about it?

There’s a great ad that Saatchi and Saatchi did for The Health Education Council.

It just says No. And below, it says still the most effective form of birth control.

And this is good advice with almost everything we do.

The point is that we spend a lot of our time doings things others want us to do.

At home, we need to deal with asks from family.

We exchange our time at work for money, and get told what to do as a result.

And, if we want to be nice and useful and not get fired, we do the things we are asked to do.

But, at some point, we could lose track of why we are doing anything in the first place.

What drives you, what do you really want?

And is what you are doing every day getting you closer to or further away from what you want.

Perhaps we can’t remember – all the years have buried our real wants under layers of reality, demands and expectations.

A good tactic to peel back the layers is the perfect day exercise.

Imagine your perfect day. The one that would make you totally happy. What does it look like?

Where do you wake up. What is the room like, the bed, the view?

Maybe it’s not a room, but a hammock on your beach hut in the Caribbean.

What’s the first thing you do? Who is there with you? What is breakfast like?

How do you spend your morning? Do you jet off to a high powered meeting in NYC or LA or are you having brunch with friends in Paris? Or walking the dog in the highlands of Scotland?

Describe your day in detail, from start to finish. Write it down quickly, without censoring yourself. No one is going to see this, so be completely honest with yourself.

Then, look back at what you have written and compare it with what your life looks like now.

If you’re dreaming of being a documentary film-maker but spend your days doing forensic accounting for waste management companies, then something has happened along the way to nudge you off course.

It’s not a problem.

You have the rest of your life to get back on track – starting right now.

And the way to get started is by saying No to the things that take you further away from your perfect day.

Not to all of them, not all at once – that will just get you fired and ruin all your relationships.

But, perhaps – that’s what’s actually needed in some cases.

For most of us, we need to correct course, not sink our boat and swim, spluttering and flailing, towards a new one.

Try saying No to more things from now on.

How afraid are you that you will leave no trace?

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Tuesday, 10.06pm

Sheffield

We’re trusting our memories to others in a way that has never been done before.

We used to live in a world where we had stuff – diaries, papers, photographs. These objects held memories for us.

Now, we live and record memories using our devices – and those devices are merely a way to see what actually lives somewhere else – in vast data centres run by huge corporations.

This seems like a good thing.

We’ve replaced cluttered desks and bulging filing cabinets with clean, neat online storage.

Or have we?

Have we really just shoved all that clutter into a bottomless filing cabinet.

Most of us now probably have 10 years or more of emails, thousands of documents and tens of thousands of photographs.

We don’t need to throw anything away – there is no need to sort, sift, shred or save anything – it’s all just there – always.

And that creates its own problem.

When there too much of something, it’s accompanied by a lack of something else.

Too much digital clutter is accompanies by a lack of time to do anything with it.

I have a small box of thing that belonged to my grandfather. An Army service record. A name badge. A telephone book with the numbers of people he knew. A school report.

Most families have a few things that date from three or four generations ago. A photograph of the family on holiday. A portrait of the children. A wedding album.

Now – we have every second of our lives captured digitally.

If we don’t keep that information in a form that our children’s children can access, it will simply be lost.

And that’s the advantage of paper – printed photos, written documents.

But, we don’t need to think generations ahead.

Recently, I needed to find a reference number for a form. That number had been created ten years ago. I had no digital trace.

I had a paper record though. It took some time to find, but it was there and I could do something with it.

On the other hand, stuff that I stored digitally is gone. I created it, put it on a drive and it may or may not exist somewhere.

I wonder if we’ll wake up in ten years and find big chunks of our memories missing. Perhaps a company that holds them goes bust. Perhaps hard drives fail. Perhaps we just forget where we put stuff.

There’s a brilliant ad showing how all the things that used to be on a desk disappear and are incorporated into a phone – the calendar, the phone, the notebook – everything.

It’s clear that this is fabulous – the desk is completely clear. All you need is a computer.

But… imagine that desk without the computer…

What is left?

And is that all you really want to leave?

The most important lesson I learned from a sales master

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I’ve spent a big chunk of my life in formal schooling. School followed by diplomas, followed by university, then work and back to university.

And, on the whole, this has not been too much of a disadvantage.

Being good at school has little to do with how much you achieve or how well you do in life. Robert Kiyosaki joked that A students worked for C students, and B students worked for the government.

There’s some painful truth in that.

But – my studies were always for a purpose. I saw a degree as the cost of entry to work – the basic thing that was needed before anyone would hire me for anything.

It was only after ten years in work, when I went back and did an MBA, that I studied because I really wanted to. I wanted to learn about business, and I devoured everything I could find.

The great thing was that all the theory I was learning made sense – it explained a lot of the experiences I had so far.

But, not everything.

I understood more about why I felt the way I did as I worked in an organisation that changed size and character.

I had words that could explain what I had seen and felt – and that was amazingly freeing. I wasn’t imprisoned by those experiences – I could learn from them.

And, more importantly, I could see and learn from others. But, in addition to seeing, I could also describe what they were doing. Theory AND action. Something sorely lacking in the world of business now.

And one of the things I experienced was working with a master of sales – a master of working the phones and getting to people.

The first thing he could do was get through to someone on the phone. He had been taught by the Wolf of Wall Street – Jordan Belfort – and knew all the ways to pick up the phone and get through to someone at the top.

That was incredible to watch.

But… it wasn’t enough.

He’d draw the picture in the animation above. In a phone conversation, for example, there are a number of things you need to say. Think of them as points between the start and finish.

You need to move from point to point to get from the start all the way to the finish.

If you start running up and then fail at one of the points, you crash and die.

There’s no coming back… if everything isn’t connected, you won’t get to the finish line.

For example, let’s say you start with an intro, then a brief presentation, followed by qualification and then a close.

If you miss any of the steps, it won’t work.

Going wider, let’s say you speak to someone and they ask for a proposal – if you haven’t got one to send, then you’re going to fail.

If you send a proposal, without a clear place they can sign and accept, you’re going to fail.

The whole point is that everything needs to work for your process to work. You can’t just focus on one end or one bit and expect everything else to fall into place.

It’s a simple lesson – but one that makes all the difference, especially when it comes to theory and practice.

In theory, you may know what you should do.

In practice, you need to follow a series of steps, things that you need to do that you can do again and again.

And, if you do them, you’ll get from the start to the end – and build a successful process in your business.

Since you’ve read this far….

I hope you’re finding the stuff in this blog useful – and it’s stuffed full of models for getting better at management and business. I write it as much to learn myself as share with you.

Please post a comment and let me know what you think, how you’re finding it, and whether there is anything you would like to read more about.

Or – drop me a line at karthik@karthik-suresh.com and let me know what you think.

Thanks in advance.

What is the secret to getting started

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Saturday 12.23am

Sheffield

We’re all somewhere right now – somewhere that we are because of all the decisions we made on the way.

Every choice, every act has led to one inevitable place. Looking back, we can see how we got here with total clarity.

If we’re honest with ourselves, that is.

We carry the impact of those choices with us. Possessions weight us down, if we have any. If we don’t, envy weights us down even more.

Or perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps we are content with what is.

Do you have children? Imagine that you’re trying to talk to your rebellious teenager about career choices.

The kid wants to be a musician. You’d rather she were a dermatologist. The chances of becoming a successful musician, in your eyes, might be low and is accompanied by a variety of exciting risks.

Dermatology, on the other hand, is a safe career and she’ll have patients for life – as treating skin problems is hardly a dangerous career, and skin issues rarely clear up entirely.

How would you approach making the decision? Would you stand your ground and insist that you know more about her career? Or give her the chance to make her own choices?

Let’s say you didn’t. She became a dermatologist. Now, 20 years later, she’s successful, with patients. And she’s miserable.

What should she do?

She’s invested years of her life in this career. It’s given her safety and security, just as you predicted. Perhaps she has a mortgage, a family, car payments. All the trappings of success.

Maybe she feels trapped. The things she owns have ended up owning her. What can she do? And when?

The when question is easier to answer – and it’s a trite response – a joke almost.

When’s the best time to start something? 10 years ago. When’s the second best time? Now.

Actually, the what question is not that hard to answer either.

What should she do?

Anything.

Anything that gets her moving in the direction of what she once wanted. Anything at all.

There’s a but.

But, it needs to be something she does every day from now on – perhaps for the rest of her life.

Perhaps she practices singing or her instrument five minutes a day. Or a hour a day. Every day.

When she commits, life will change. Not quickly. As the saying goes, people overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

She needs to stop looking for reasons why she can’t do what she wanted. And ask questions like how can she do what she wants.

What does she need to do to take the first step?

Then start. Take the step.