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My 5 Rules for Life | Maria Killam

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Have you ever thought about this statement with regards to an area in your life?

“Every single day people stop when they don’t know what to do.”

I talk to clients every day who tell me they have stopped shopping for their house because they’ve bought so many mistakes in the past and they don’t want to buy any more.

Designers who don’t make as much money as they should because they don’t have the confidence to specify hard finishes, fabrics, paint colours, the list goes on. You might be a smart businesswoman, but if you can’t diagnose colours in a room and know what to do, you’re missing the biggest piece of the design puzzle.

I’ll never forget one of the first calls I received in the beginning of my career where a client wanted me to specify colours for all the finishes in her kitchen.  It was almost impossible for me to explain to her why I made the suggestions I did because I didn’t know how to articulate my own aesthetic.

It took me thousands of hours before I got clear about the what and why of my suggestions and before I discovered THE proven system for understanding colour.

Have you ever thrown your hands up in frustration because you buy something online and it seems like a totally different colour when it arrives at your doorstep?

Once you Understand Undertones™, shopping online becomes a lot easier because you can distinguish which category of undertone you’re actually looking at.

And this leads me to my first rule of life which took me many years to learn.

Here are my five rules for life:

My 5 Rules for Life | Maria Killam

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If you’re passionate about something but you are not an expert, get yourself trained and then go somewhere where you can practice it over and over again until you gain confidence.

This year, I was determined to learn how to use my DSLR Camera, and luckily the same instructor offered a Photoshop course that I also registered for.

After I learned all the basics in the classroom, I hired the instructor for one hour every two weeks to help me personally with a real time project so that I would retain what I had learned.

Back in 2000 when I did my first colour course and decided I was going to be an internationally known colour expert, I decided the best way to get there was to work in a paint store where I would end up doing thousands of consultations which quickly got me to 10,000 hours.

And it was how I discovered the proven system for understanding and specifying colour.

Know yourself, Get your Personality Tested.

My 5 Rules for Life | Maria Killam

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Before I figured out that I am most suited to be an Entrepreneur (ENTJ), I suffered badly in careers that were NOT me at all. And then got fired 8 times over a period of 20 years before I discovered that I should just be self-employed.

No matter how self aware we are, we all have blind spots and there are certainly many other personality assessments or psychometrics out there that give you a different angle.

When Terreeia works with her coaching clients, she gives them a DISC assessment. A different cut on 4 different communication styles. When we are having a meeting and I’m being impatient it helps for her to know that I’m a D (Driver) She can then use that knowledge to respond in a way that gets the best out of me.

Penelope Trunk and I did a Meyers Briggs personalty course together last January with 16 different personality types and it was so great. Everyone loved it so much that I still get emails from participants who mention it.

Ginny from Feels Like Home to Me said:

“Amazing webinar! Always thought “E” denoted someone who loved being around lots of people, the life of the party. Processing out loud makes one an “E” was so interesting. I always thought my husband was an introvert and I an extrovert—-we are both “E”. Now I know we both need to just let each other talk and process : ) Understanding your weaknesses and strengths is empowering. Thank you two for this!”

If you missed out, you can still download it on demand here.

My life would have looked very different and I probably would have arrived where I am a lot faster had I understood my personality in my early 20’s.

There’s so much freedom that comes from knowing and understanding who you are.

Be Generous and Forgive Quickly

My 5 Rules for Life | Maria Killam

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This I learned from my Mom who doesn’t tolerate any gossip for even 5 seconds.

And my youngest sister Elizabeth is the same which is why she is also one of my best friends. In fact, when Elizabeth got married 10 years ago, there were so many people who went to the microphone and spoke about the feeling of her entire wedding and how much love was in the room and I’m clear it was Elizabeth who created that. She is a totally loving, beautiful soul.

I’ll often walk up to Terreeia if I’ve upset her (which happens, we work together too) I’ll say “Honey, you have to forgive, the Bible says 77 x 7 times (which means ALL THE TIME) so please forgive me AGAIN!

And thankfully she does, which makes my life much happier. In my past life, I was married to someone who would ignore me for three whole days before I could be forgiven. And well, that’s why he’s an EX.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Irene Hill for being a shining example of love and forgiveness too. Terreeia and I are really lucky that she is our Director of All Things Wonderful.

Here’s a link to one of the best articles I’ve read on forgiveness.

Be Authentic and Just Give People Real information. No BS.

Those of you who read my blog regularly (Have I told you lately that I love you?)  will already know this about me.

So many people worry that giving away their hard earned knowledge on a blog will not generate business for them, but then they are surprised when the opposite happens.

Just because you give someone ‘the answer’ doesn’t mean they will be able to do it themselves.

When I called my Landscape Architect back in 2013 when I was shopping for shrubs and plants for my huge landscape project, I said:

My 5 Rules for Life | Maria Killam

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“MaryAnne, I’m standing here looking at Bobo Hydrangeas, should I buy them for my backyard?”

She responded “Of course, don’t you remember, I blogged about them last week?”

I have told that story many times since to illustrate my point.

I had no recollection of her post, even though I read her blog, because I am NOT a garden designer/professional, so even if I did remember, I still needed her, as my designer, to tell me which hydrangeas were right for my garden, and in the spot where I planned to install them.

Also in the spirit of being authentic, if you have a blog, never give generic advice that anyone could google in 30 seconds flat. Weave your personality into your blog posts so a reader can decide whether they like you and will continue to follow you and then, someday soon, do business with you.

Be Responsible

Stuff happens but the faster you accept responsibility and move on, the better.

I think being the oldest of four girls already gave me responsibility as a part of my personality but participating in Landmark courses for 10 years through my 30’s really gave me responsibility as the foundation from where I live my life.

Whenever something happens, I am quick to look to see where I caused it and be responsible (which is where all your power is anyway), and because I’m so fast to do it, I immediately notice when others don’t do the same thing. And truthfully, I could generate a little more compassion when I’m someone’s customer and I don’t feel like I’m getting the service I would give and expect.

So be responsible and just own up to your mistakes. Period.

These are my rules for life, and we all have our own because they come from years of experience, trial and error!

What’s one of your best rules for life?


If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert

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  • KA says:

    “And well, that’s why he’s an EX.”
    Love this line, and, as a fellow ENTJ, love YOU!

    I’m in the early stages of redoing a beach house for an artist and entrepreneur, and she told me today what cabinet pulls they used in their Northern California home, and I thought you aren’t going to use those $2 Home Depot pulls on this house if I’m involved. I will talk them out of spending $65,000 on cabinets and counters for 2 islands and kitchen cabinets plus 3 baths and a laundry room to only ruin them with the pulls that should be in the garage.

    LOL talk about an ugly oyster. Not on my watch. I doubt a general contractor would care what they pick as long as they are on the job site at installation time.

    • KA says:

      BTW, I did that DISC at 22 and was high I with slightly lower D and can’t remember the SC part. So I’m gonna influence that couple to do the right thing for themselves…and it won’t involve cheap looking contemporary wire pulls.

  • Emilia says:

    Homer agrees with and would have loved your mom. The first word in the Illiad is “Anger.” Anger began the 10 year debacle of the Trojan War. And, when we do not take a moment to reflect and contemplate our actions before our feelings take a hold of us, anger rules our mind and renders us unable to be in and live in a creative and thus fulfilling state of mind. Even the Dalai Lama once said “the issue is kindness. – that is all you need to know.” Thank you to you and your mom for this reminder.

  • bfish says:

    This is all great advice and better yet, entirely consistent with the “you” that we’ve been reading in this blog for a number of years. A big rule of mine is to give credit to others — even when you don’t have to. If the people who work for you shine, you get to reflect in the glory. That’s something I’ve learned from the best bosses and “people persons” I’ve worked for and with, but so few people in management really embrace this!

    I’m an ENTP so struggle with being decisive a lot more than most folks, including you, Maria. That’s an area I have to really work on, as well as communicating with the many Ss in my world.

    Thanks for the BS-free blog!

  • Karen says:

    Maria, I appreciate your informative and interesting posts. The article on forgiveness is very good. I have read other worthwhile articles by Richard Rohr. Since I have received so much mercy from God, that is exactly how He enables me to forgive my enemies.
    Your open and transparent sharing of your strengths and weaknesses and what you have learned from mistakes is beneficial. By the way, I am a ENFJ.
    Thank you for your honesty and integrity.
    Abundant Shalom Always!

  • Joanne G says:

    Another wonderful meaningful post Maria. After meeting you last Fall at your True Colour Expert Course, I now know that you are exactly the person you present in your blog as you are in real life. You are a truly inspirational person! I love how you are able to talk freely about your challenges in life, as well as your successes. One of my many rules in life is: “If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.”

  • Gina says:

    Great post, Maria. Thank you for sharing!

  • LaJuana says:

    Love this post!!!

  • Teresa says:

    Thank you for this post. It speaks to my heart.
    It’s been three years since my kitchen remodel, almost ready for a little facelift. After reading your blog, I now know what I don’t know. Hope that you’ll have the time to advise me with my choices.

  • I’m kind of at a crossroads with some things and you just gave me a good push to figure out what I want to do. I’m on it, thanks Maria!

  • Nancy says:

    Thank you for my inspiration for the day!
    Love this post .

  • franki says:

    You’ve (we’ve) Come a Long Way, Baby!! franki

  • Amy says:

    I feel like every time I read your articles, I am uplifted! Thank you so much for sharing with us on such a personal level. And Emilia, I love that you pointed out that tidbit about anger from Homer!

  • Kathy says:

    Interesting post. I waiver between ENTP and ENTJ, and in subjects I feel confident in can come off as judgmental and dogmatic, but once you get to know me, you can see I am really a marshmallow. I have spent most of my life as wife and mother and uber-volunteer and long to start my own business, but I’m scared stiff of failing. My passion is old buildings and I have a deep knowledge of historic style and detail, but I am puzzling on how to build on that in rural America, where preservation is seen as costly, impractical and not worth the effort.

  • Linda tobias says:

    Maria, you are so right! That is what is happening to us! We hated the fireplace wall in our new build the moment we saw it.
    But We were so beaten down by our contractor by then, because he always sided with the trades, we just let it go. Now we are stuck with it – because as you say “they don’t know what to do.”

  • Scarlett says:

    Great post Maria and I agree with all 5 points!!!

  • Susan McCargar says:

    My favourite post yet. Thank you Maria! As a person who is anxious to embark on a career in design blogging, I agree personality testing can gain wonderful insight. Will you offer blogging courses in the future?

  • Lee says:

    Aha! Another ENTJ! No wonder I love your posts! As you mention, most “experts” provide only generic advice on their blogs with no inspirational anecdotes, so why come back? No matter what line of work we readers are in, you have a knack for hitting the nail on situations that can make us all feel insecure, and I appreciate your stories. They reassure me that I am competent in my field and it pays to trust yourself. I’m not a designer but am determined to attend one of your seminars just to keep the personal learning process going, so you are on to something re: giving away specific tips convinces people you will be able to address THEIR specifics, too. Now for one of the lessons I’ve learned: I work in a field that requires me to analyze information and provide findings and recommendations to clients. Many times over the years I’ve had clients who wanted me to change my conclusions because it wasn’t the “right answer” they were looking for. Often the defense is, “you just don’t understand (pick one): my requirement/the delicacy of the situation/the information provided”/any variation of the above. While I’m not infallible, I’ve been working in my area of expertise for over 30 years and received many performance awards, promotions, etc, so I kinda think I know what I’m doing. My credibility and reputation for providing an objective analysis is important, so my lesson learned is: The client is not required to agree with me or adopt my recommendations. Don’t compromise your integrity to flatter the client, because once you do, you become a parrot and everything else is easy.

  • What a wonderful post. If you have a permalink to your top 5 this should be one of them! Happy New Year!

  • Sheri says:

    I took the course as well to find out what I was. It was very interesting to know that I’m an INTJ. When I read the descriptors of an INTJ it was totally me! For myself, the biggest rule of life for me is to not hold a grudge. There’s no point in summer-following and continually asking, “What if…”.

    Maria, I loved your rules of life you stated in this blog. Reading this as a midday break was just what I needed today!

  • Brillant and all so true. You have a gift with words as well as a keen eye with color = win win for blogging.

  • Joan says:

    Although I’m not a deisgner, I learn so much from your posts, Maria. Now I see undertones everywhere … and laugh at myself hearing your ‘voice.’ One of the many things I appreciate is your absolute honesty and fearlessness in communcating how it is for you. You remind me of what’s important. Rock on, Maria 🙂

  • Love this post, Maria. Great stuff. I have learned so much from you on so many levels over the years, one of which is to be direct and honest with my clients (in a nice way of course!) The straightforward approach builds trust so quickly, and they end up valuing the design wisdom/knowledge even if it contradicts their own initial opinions. I think I used to be more cautious, not wanting to hurt their feelings or offend them, but now I realize that they’re paying me for what I know, so I might as well deliver it directly, with no BS! You’ve been a great example. Thanks! -Jill

  • KJ says:

    Great post! Just curious, have you ever had anyone “fail” one of your courses? Are there people who just don’t understand color even with the proper instruction?

    • Maria Killam says:

      The only way someone would technically ‘fail’ is if they were colour blind. If someone is colour blind, they usually don’t attend colour courses. This is a system that should be in design schools and once you get it, you’ll never see colour the same way again. It’s a transformation. Kind of like riding a bike, once you get it, you always remember and explaining how to ride a bike and actually getting ‘balance’ are two different things.

      • KJ says:

        OK, well I’m asking because I am legally (but not totally) blind in one eye, and I feel it affects how I see color because I always “pick” the wrong answer whenever you post questions! I have often wondered if it was due to lack of vision or lack of training!

  • Victoria says:

    First off thanks Maria for this post. I love that you recognized pursuing clarity was vital to being happy and productive. Now you have selflessly shared this I truly love that you have articulated each one and what they have done for you and how they have helped you. You’re the best!

  • Deborah J. Morgan says:


    I do like much of what you said, however, I do find it disturbing that you quote from the Bible. Yes, forgiveness is in the bible, but also reconciliation and repentance..

  • Lucy HAINES says:

    Maria, What a wonderful blog! I gain so much knowledge and insight from you. I guess I need to take a personality course also. I know that I am straight forward and always willing to help people. Like Jill however, I do not like to hurt feelings. Maybe that is a weakness.

    Your rules of life could possibly heal the world if everyone would use your insight. Also I learn a lot from the feedback of your followers.

    God has given you a lot of wisdom!

  • Margaret Parmenter says:

    I just soooo enjoy your blog. You are so authentic and real. It is a delight to read what you write. I think that the world would be a much better place if more people were authentic, compassionate, and shared freely.
    Please keep on blogging.

  • Livia says:

    Brilliant post Maria. I am grateful that I came across your blog, not only because it convinced me to attendyour course and now I “see” colour, but also for the depth and breadth of inspiration you provide on so many levels.

  • Sam12587 says:

    Very good post.
    I’m an INFJ and while I’m better then I used to be, I still need to listen to my intuition regardless of others.
    It seems life gets much easier if you just walk in truth and don’t worry about ego. More doors open that way.

  • Dear Maria,
    I know that this is an old post, but I loved this. As I’m going through a career change, I find this really grounding and wonderful. Keep up the good work. You really inspire me. I love your honesty, and that you share the best and the worst.

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