Speaking at Women Who Kick Ass

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Thrilled to be sharing at a different type of event next week! If you’re local in the Bay Area, I’d love to see you there.

I don’t have a silver bullet for getting a ton of interviews, securing multiple offers, or generally being awesome at life and career. I can, however, offer insight into the frameworks and models that helped me go from barista to businesswoman and stories of successes that should have been failures. Join me for an evening of cringeworthy calls and triumphant tales about the quest for the dream job. Register to attend in Mountain View!

The Emperor’s New Clothes

I had the opportunity to attend Pop-Up Magazine’s, “The Song Reader Issue” earlier this week. The premise of the event is a bunch of stories told in unique ways, and that the night happens live, and only once. The show organizers don’t record or photograph the event, and the audience is encouraged to respect the code as well. Most audience members choose to experience the night live, without documentation. This issue was the first to feature music, singing, and a focus on sound. In general, the performances are spoken word, so Pop-Up was a little bit out of their wheelhouse this time around. The tickets sold for $35-$55/ticket, and the event was hosted in the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The tickets sold out in 3 minutes. Literally!  I came away from the night with a few interesting take-aways.

Authenticity vs. perfection: These two characteristics felt like a dichotomy at this event. I often shoot for perfection in my performances and professional endeavors, and most of my peers do the same. When you are that polished, you generally lose some of the authenticity. However, Pop-Up strives for raw, authentic, sincere performances, and unfortunately, they sacrificed perfection. The thing is, though, it wasn’t just a lack of polish, but in my opinion, a lack of talent and showmanship. It’s one thing to have an awkward transition between acts, or a technical malfunction with the microphone, but to sing out of key/rhythm, or to try so hard to be “real” that you end up trying too hard does not mean you have tapped into an authentic performance. It’s a fine line, authenticity vs. perfection, but lacking skill or talent does not equal sincerity. (Note that there were a few STELLAR performances, hitting the mark for both authenticity AND perfection.)

We pay for THAT? And yet, many people criticize the quality of community theater performances, or balk at a $20 ticket to a local show. So, why is it that we’re willing to pay for sub-par quality in some situations and not others? I’d argue that the Pop-Up brand equity carried the sales for this event. They’ve produced quality content in the past, and so, even though many of this year’s performers were less than perfect, everyone felt that it was worth it to pay to be part of the evening. But, you can only produce lower quality experiences for so long before you tarnish the brand equity and lose your strong following. Are we willing to take a step back and say that yes, it was an interesting event, and yes, it sparked conversation. But, no, in fact, it was not the most amazing set of musical performances I have ever seen. Are we willing to shell out for a local performer because we know their talent and dedication is worth the money? Where do we draw the line on paying for authenticity vs. perfection?

At a certain age… you should just stop trying, right? WRONG. I’m having this interesting debate with myself about my judgy attitude toward the performers. On one hand, if you’re charging that much for tickets and holding it in a prestigious venue for a well-attended event, you should have some talented people, the best of the best, up there singing and playing their hearts out. On the other hand, why are we (fine, FINE, I’ll admit it, I am critical) so critical of musicians once they reach some magic age? When you’re a little kid, it’s totally acceptable to sing incoherently or forget the lyrics, it’s super cute, because you’re a kid. Even in high school, we’re all very encouraging to soloists who miss notes or go a touch flat, because, hey, they’re young. But why do we require all performers over the age of 20 to be amazing? Why can’t we let people sing their hearts out just because they truly love to sing? For me, I think the deciding factor is whether you’re paying for a certain level of quality. You know that the guitarist at a local club is probably not worth $100 a ticket, but a world-class rock star can demand $400 a ticket. Then again, “world-class rock star” doesn’t actually indicate a higher level of musical or vocal skill or talent. So what makes it ok to pay celebrities millions for auto-tuned tracks and pyro-technic shows that drown out the music, but phenomenal artists with beautiful voices or technically adept fingers barely make a living? There’s something wrong with our (my) thinking.

So, I don’t really have an answer for my musings. I will say that Pop-Up accomplished the goal of being inspiring and thought-provoking. It’s also resulted in many conversations with my co-workers and my husband, all of which are quite authentic. Kudos to you, Pop-Up… maybe I missed the point entirely by assuming I was in for a superb amount of perfection. Then again, the conversations and internal struggle might prove that I actually understand Pop-Up perfectly.

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

I attended a talk called, “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” during SXSW, with author Douglas Rushkoff. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book. Further disclaimer: the concepts in his talk will smack you in the face and send you down the rabbit hole.

So, what is present shock? It’s what we experience in our information overload, tweet it, Facebook it, stream it, Instagram it, post it, always on, always live, always available world. It’s the fact that we aren’t really sure when the past, present, and future begin and end. We demand to know the future right now, but we believe “now” is what’s happening on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. The thing is, the posts on social media platforms are actually in the past. By the time you shoot it, edit it, tag it, and post it as a status update, the moment is already gone. In fact, the moment that you’re living NOW is the moment that you’re spending posting whatever moment just happened in the past! I know, kinda complicated to follow, but think about it. When was the last time you left your smart phone at home while attending a concert? When was the last time you didn’t check in when you landed at a destination? When was the last time you ate your freakin’ food without taking a picture of it? We think that our pictures and tweets and status updates are real life, and that we’re living in the now by capturing every detail of every moment.

There’s a new trend to rebel against the hyper-digital world. I came across a blog of a mom that was lamenting the fact that she spent so much time trying to photograph and post pictures of her kids that she was actually missing spending time with them. She wasn’t holding them in her lap because she was too busy focusing the camera. She wasn’t playing catch or make-believe because she had to act as the history officer to capture every moment. She finally figured out that she was, in fact, living every moment tethered to her smart phone. I realized my own hypocrisy in this area while at SXSW: I was so busy tweeting my sound bites that I was missing content in the moment. I started skimming all my sessions for the tweet, and then I end up in this session that’s telling me that my tweets aren’t really life. And you know what I did? I tweeted that. It’s the definition of an oxymoron!

My husband went backpacking recently, and left our fancy camera at home. I was shocked, and quite frankly, so was he. But, he made an amazing point, “Yeah, I’ll probably be bored, but that’s a good thing.” Yes, cameras capture so much beauty, but they are far inferior to the human eye. Twitter makes information digestible in bite-sized tidbits, but nothing satisfies quite like reading Ayn Rand or Agatha Christie in paperback form by a river. A photo of a steak is enticing, but man, enjoying that first hot bite is truly delicious. My mom planned amazing birthday parties long before Pinterest made us all feel inferior and lacking in creativity (Aladdin castle made from recycled fabric bolts? AMAZING!)

So, life: will you choose to live it or capture it?

Blacked Out Love Poems

My new workplace has a gallery area where we feature art of all shapes and sizes. We had a gallery opening today with a new exhibit, a Valentine’s Day-themed poetry wall… with a small twist. The premise is to create poems about love by blacking out words that you don’t want to use in a magazine, newspaper, or print-out from a novel. The remaining words create a poem. I wrote two:
Irrestistibly Invisible

Time is foolish
Time to continue that letter which is never finished
Love warms the interior
Love, erratic exuberant games without any apparent practical funtion

A distinctive song,
invisible but invariably present
Irresistibly separated souls to restore a lost communion

It’s foolish and also lurking in the vicinity, origins obscure
I don’t know how, but welcome
These are puzzling matters I am not prepared to resolve.

The very thing I had in mind,
No mistaking, a living target
It would be, among other things, a sanctuary
to protect, preserve and defend ideals.

Perplexity of Marriage

Marriage, romantic in nature,
inspired by complex building

Love, bright and healthy
There would be no end

On your wedding day, your spouse
that you will look at him
exchanging a word with him
a ring and bodily fluids.

Your life, happiness.
Celebrate getting married
or finding a partner whom we will want to spend our lives with
and have children by
a winning lottery ticket
Enter these partnerships and be happy

Perhaps I am getting things out of proportion.
Maybe all this contemplation is an inappropriate response to our wedding day.
One’s thoughts, ideas, and suggestions are worthy of respect.

Form a party
After the event, a couple

This was an interesting exercise. I’m not a poet by any means, and I definitely don’t go around word-smithing from random articles. I read several other poems, and during our creation session, we joked that we all need marriage counseling. So many of the poems turned out to be very sad, and I think that says a lot about what our society does to love. We created these poems using someone else’s words, and I think it speaks volumes about the kinds of words we have to choose from. I know that’s pretty meta and emotional, but seriously, why did so many poems take a turn toward regret? Of course, there were plenty of really touching, uplifting poems, but the amount of sadness really struck me. I made it my mission to find the happiness in my selections to work with. The second poem on marriage was created by blacking out two pages of a novel about a couple going through a divorce, and I decided that there was a way to salvage the goodness, in spite of words like “regret”, “sick feeling”, and “bleach-drinking”.

It was also interesting that many of the poems included the word “love”. Clearly, we were looking for it, but again, I think it says something about what our society claims to value. We “love” nail polish, we “love” the stock market numbers, we “love” a new gadget. Do we really know what “love” actually means? There were also plenty of tangential words, like “fantasy”, “passion”, and “exuberance” in every day articles. Society throws around this depth of emotion to get people to buy the product, service, or idea, yet many times, we are scared to actually dive into these emotions when it comes to personal decisions.

So, I find it interesting that we can be so laid back about using the word “love”, and yet, at the same time, choose to see the dark side of love. I also find it interesting that you can have so much beauty and complexity if you just look beyond what’s right in front of you. Sometimes, you have to strip things down to find the true meaning for you.

Whoa. Wait. You’re Back in the Bay Area?

So, it’s been a while since I’ve been on my blog, and clearly, a lot has happened since I was churning out 3-5 posts each week. Let’s take a quick post to play catch up, shall we?

First, to confirm, my husband and I have moved back to the Bay Area. We chose to keep this move off the social platforms for a variety of reasons, but I’m about to be doing some business stuff that will reveal the secrets (get excited, my job has me doing some cool stuff in the next couple of weeks, and I’m gonna share it with YOU!).

Second, I started a new position in October, and I LOVE it. I’m incredibly busy all day every day, tackling strategic and tactical issues related to a variety of projects. I’m in my wheelhouse with branding, social media and a website overhaul, and branching out with projects related to TED, South by Southwest, and video. I’ve got some direct reports, and phenomenal leaders as my immediate boss and skip-level boss. I’m learning so much, and I feel that I’m contributing so much more now that I’m in my element at work. I’ve talked about being the best version of myself several times on this blog, and now that I’ve found my niche, I have this sensation more often than not these days. Satisfaction in my professional life bleeds over into my personal life, and I feel compelled to push myself harder in all aspects of my life.

Third, I’m chipping away at the last 15 hours of my MBA degree. I ended up dropping all 9 hours last semester because of the family crisis, professional promotion, and cross-country move. I’m taking 9 hours this spring, and 6 hours this summer, which allows me to graduate in August 2013! So. Freakin’. Ready. The MBA is the one place where my motivation is lagging. My current position is basically the “MBA job”, and I’m having to finish up my classes online, so it’s more painful than it’s been previously.

Finally, my writing is still being directed elsewhere, mostly toward work projects. I’m still contributing to The Daily Muse on occasion (I’ll have a great article coming out in the next week or two), and of course, I get back to my blog occassionally. Last year, I made some pretty hefty goals related to my blog and writing in general, but this year, I’m just not feeling compelled to put that kind of focus on my personal writing. I’ve had a ton of inspiration that’s made me say, “Man, I should write a blog post about that”, but I’ve yet to sit down and bang out the content. However, my cool work projects are about to take off, and I am going to commit to blogging about the non-confidential aspects.

All that to say, it’s been a crazy 4 months, and life is AMAZING. I’m clear, I’m energized, and I’m productive. I may not be writing as frequently, but it’s only because the passion is being directed elsewhere for a while 🙂 I’m excited to share my new projects when I’m able, and of course, I’ll have some handy MBA, markeitng, and corporate content along the way.

Stalk Yourself

I’ve written about the need to type your name into a search engine every once in a while, since, you know, they’re talking about you and all. I’ve also talked about ways that some people use the web for evil. Recently, I had an interesting thought collision: am I stalkable? I don’t mean to be creepy in this post, but it’s a question that has previously only occurred to me as a completely ludicrous thought in passing, usually incited by an article about how people were checking in at locations every hour and ended up getting robbed. I don’t check in, so I must not be findable, unless, of course, you know my full name, occupation, and other personal details that I personally give to you.

My husband occasionally travels for business, and though I lived alone for several years before we got married, I’ve gotten used to having someone at home at night. Thus, when he’s traveling, I’m a bit unnerved to be home alone when it’s time for bed. This basically translates into locking both deadbolts before I go to sleep, so nothing terribly drastic. While he was gone on a business trip, I went to the gym. A young fellow stepped onto the elliptical next to me and apologized for stinking after a sweaty workout. My reply, “No worries, it’s a gym, you’re supposed to sweat!” opened the door to a nice chat about work and education. During the conversation, I mentioned that I’m in marketing, in the aviation industry, I’m working on an MBA at UT Dallas, and I previously lived in California. He shared his occupation, industry, undergraduate alma mater, and the rent he pays at his current apartment (we were talking about the difference in housing prices between CA and TX, a topic that comes up pretty frequently when people find out I lived in CA). He finished his cardio before me, and as he walked off, he threw his first name out there, so I replied with my first name, and that was that.

On the way home, it occurred to me that I’d given out quite a bit of information about myself to a complete stranger. Then I realized, I do that all the time. I’m a social person, so if you decide to talk to me on the elevator, in the grocery line, or at the gym, I’ll probably engage you if I have a few minutes. With the details I’d given (and regularly give), could you find me?

That’s when I decided to stalk myself. I used good ‘ole boolean logic to string together some searches on the information that I frequently spill about myself to random strangers. The good news is, it takes quite a bit of detail to actually find me. The bad news is, I usually give you enough detail to do it. The good news is, a lot of other people come up in the search results well before I do. The bad news is, I eventually came up as the #3 search result. I had to search on 5 details for my LinkedIn profile to show up.

I suppose I should freak out a little bit, since my impetus for stalking myself was brought on by the thought of someone else stalking me, but I really don’t feel any more worry about it than I do about being home alone. I guess I just feel that if someone is really out to get me, they’ll find a way to do it, whether I put myself out there or not. I mean, that guy at the gym could’ve followed me to my car and followed me home… much simpler than trying to find me online, deduce where I live, catch me home alone, and do me harm. Then again, maybe I’M the ax murderer that’s going to stalk him and do harm to him, even though I seem like a friendly person at the local gym.

This is all just food for thought. How much do we really know or trust anyone we meet? How has the internet changed how we interact with strangers? What’s REALLY so unique to you that you can’t put it out into the world, for fear of it being used against you? Is it worth closing yourself off to all social media, just in case?

Brain Proxies

Whew, I’ve been doing all my writing over at CaringBridge, so it’s nice to be back in my own space! I like to draw some business lessons from my personal experiences occasionally, so today’s post highlights some of the lessons I’ve learned during this family crisis. Let’s chat about brain proxies, shall we?

Essentially, the brain uses short cuts to make decisions all the time. We live in such a complex world with information overload on a daily basis, and powerful as it is, the human brain simply cannot parse all that information effectively by sifting through each item one at a time. Since the brain is incredibly smart, it came up with some short cuts to process all that information efficiently. Now, most of the time, these short cuts are great, particularly for marketers. These short cuts make things like branding effective. For example, it’s cumbersome and low-stakes for the brain to try to decide if one hamburger is better than another. Sure, you could go to 5 different burger places every time you’re hungry, or you could just rely on the brand recognition and past experience to guide you to the right choice. Or, when you’re staring at 20 SKUs of laundry detergent, you might remember that commercial that promoted a brand known for color protection, so you use a short cut to choose your detergent. The problem is, sometimes we implement those short cuts incorrectly, or too frequently when making high-stakes decisions. Here’s a few that I’ve witnessed recently:

Authority. One major proxy is that of authority. Studies have shown that we assume truth or validity if it comes from someone or something that we perceive to be an authority. The problem is, we often use proxies like symbols and uniforms to determine who or what is authority. Doctors wear white coats to portray authority, police officers carry badges to represent authority, and the media writes en masse to convey authority. So, our brain assumes that if these people are authorities, then surely, whatever they say, must be truth. However, as shown in the Milgram study linked above, people will often forgo their own best judgements in favor of authority, and the authority may be wrong. So, I’ve been watching the uniforms and symbols wield their power to play mind games on even the most educated people. Heck, my sister is a psych major, and even SHE found herself resorting to the authority proxy!

Conformity and Groupthink. Humans are social creatures, and as such, we like to go with the group and remain harmonious. However, studies have shown that humans will agree with an obviously incorrect choice to avoid going against the group. Nobody likes to stand alone, unsupported, so the brain will tell us that if the group thinks it’s correct, we should agree. This proxy is particularly powerful when combined with the authority proxy. Since the police and media are a large group, and they are both perceived as authorities, surely anything they say must be truth. Thus, it’s extremely difficult to objectively analyze information presented from both of these groups, particularly if you’re the only one questioning the information.

Uncertainty and Cognitive Dissonance. Finally, the brain hates uncertainty and dislikes reconciling opposing sides. Human nature tells us that we should seek certainty, stability, and understanding. So, when faced with situations that cause uncertainty or dissonance, we immediately seek to remedy that issue. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether the remedy is accurate, valid, or truthful, as long as it mitigates the discomfort caused by uncertainty. This proxy dovetails nicely with authority and groupthink to produce a sense of certainty. If the group, who also happens to be perceived as an authority, thinks a piece of information is true, and the authoritative group presents this information with certainty, the brain wants to latch on to the certainty to remedy the cognitive dissonance. It’s much more difficult to evaluate each piece of information individually on its merits, so whatever gets us to a feeling of “certainty” quickest will likely be accepted.

So what do these mind games and proxies have to do with business? EVERYTHING! Proxies are the reason offensive marketing campaigns make it to print or TV. Surely, if the Marketing Director (authority) says it’s a good idea, it must be. And, if the creatives agree (groupthink), then I can’t be smarter than the group. If the board (authority and groupthink) approves this position and says the candidate is acceptable, but I think they are incompetent (cognitive dissonance), then I should probably stick with the group’s opinion. This is why there’s such a movement for diversity in the corporate world, focus groups prior to product launches, and general encouragement to offer up outrageous solutions. These actions challenge our proxies and force us to consider the ultimate truths, both in business, and in life.

I’ve been evaluating my proxies at every level, and I plan to bring this questioning nature into the workplace. What proxies are you using? Are they right? Have they lead you astray?