don’t be funny about asking for money: I’m answering your questions

freelance money questions resolved

Years ago, ages it seems, I had a job where I had a great deal of control over how much people were paid. I conducted performance reviews, sat in on budget meetings, and fought for comp increases for valuable employees. Even though money in and of itself isn’t the only way to retain employees, it doesn’t hurt to recognize and reward hard work. However, what I started to notice was that the talented women on my team weren’t raising their hand and asking for what I thought they deserved. Their anxiety in broaching the question of title changes and quarterly increases was palpable and I remember at the end of one review me saying, that’s it? That’s all you’re going to ask for? From then on, I made a point of mentoring women to fight for what they deserved. It seems counterintuitive, right? Companies want to keep costs down (especially salary + benefits), and here I was teaching my team how to ask for more. However, it was important to me because only one person in my career taught me how to fight for myself. He taught me to ASK for what was my due. My mentor coached me on salary and benefit negotiations (and contract negotiations, in general). From him I learned about BATNA, and more importantly, I learned how to be assertive and bet on myself. Because, quite honestly, in enrages me that men–when acumen and experience are leveled–make more money than I do.

After my recent Great Depression, I made it my mission to give the people I care about more of the kindness I’d received during those dark months. I passed around resumes, reviewed Statements of Work, and even though I’m not a lawyer I explained the importance of IP and indemnification. I told several of my friends they were underpricing themselves, that they should ask for 50% of the project fee, up front, that they should bill project with an hourly cap because hourly doesn’t always cut it especially for those who have tenure and years of experience.

I scanned Facebook group posts where women were trepidatious when it came to asking for more. After sharing one of my contracts with a few of my friends for reference, it put me to thinking that it behooves all of us to share information and be helpful where we can. It behooves us to price right for the work we do so that we don’t get taken advantage of.

So…I’m here to help. Here’s what I know:

  • How to create air-tight Statements of Work/MSAs (Master Service Agreements)
  • How to price for marketing and writing projects
  • When to use hourly vs. project fee
  • How to negotiate (I’m pretty ruthless)
  • How/when to renegotiate and ask for more

If you have any questions related to the above, drop them in the comments (you can leave a comment anonymously), and I’ll do my best to answer all of them in an upcoming post (or point you to the right resources), and if you see questions and you think you can help, chime in!

Meanwhile, here are some great resources:

 

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you want to pay me $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy? that’s cute.

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Let’s not talk about the time I was offered $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy — weeks worth of work — and say we did.

There’s something many of my peers have been discussing in private groups and behind closed doors but no dares to speak out loud for fear of losing work. We trade emails where editors think $25 for 500-word articles, replete with secondary sources and rounds of revision, to be a living wage. We lament over the fact that seasoned marketers are being outbid by people with little to no actual work experience beyond preening themselves in front of a camera. I’m told, why would I pay X if Competitor A offers a third of your rate, to which I respond: I don’t compete on price; I compete on value, efficacy, and experience. Last week someone told me that she made more money doing the same thing ten years ago than she does now. Her professional life is one of diminishing returns: she has to work twice as hard now to make the same money she made a decade ago. In a private Facebook group, scores of influential bloggers talk about how brands and publicists trot out the word “exposure” in exchange for free work. Recently, writer Victoria Philpott shared a perfect scenario of this charade in her incisive essay about the trap of blogging for exposure:

A new startup wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.

So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

Another friend seethes when she’s told by her editor that college kids would be willing to work for free (or for a fraction of the standard rate) because everyone wants exposure and experience. In a hustle economy, everyone’s juggling side gigs and projects, and the refrain is constant: we’re working harder for less.

I worked through college — balancing a 20+ hour work week with a full course load, volunteer activities, and a social life. Most of my internships were paid because I couldn’t afford not to make money, and while I understood that my compensation directly correlated with my experience, it was unthinkable to compete with full-time employees’ comp, people who had years of experience.

Let me be clear and say that this isn’t a get-off-my-lawn rant, a Gen X vs. Gen Y kerfuffle that rivals Biggie and Tupac. We need each other, and I believe in the power of symbiotic mentorship. After I left a digital marketing agency where I was an equity partner, I kept in close contact with many people who reported to me, brilliant women who went on to break ranks and with whom I forged close relationships. Although we were 10–15 years apart in age, we knew our respective value, and it was equal and powerful. I mentored women on being a manager and leader, how to negotiate comp and deal with toxic employees, and they kept me fresh on burgeoning trends and social media, and what I’ve learned most from my millennial friends is the power of reinvention. Of taking something old and seeing in it the new.

So if you’re ready to get riled up at the kids today, there are plenty of articles on Medium that will satiate you — this is not one of them.

For the past few years, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend in some agencies where they’ve skimmed the top (less P&L impact) and hired junior talent in hopes of growing them rapidly into senior roles. A whole middle layer of management was nearly non-existent, so you had very senior people too deep in the weeds and junior talent feeling overwhelmed and non-equipped to manage work and situations in which they had little experience. In The Devil’s Advocate (bear with me), Al Pacino’s character tells a young and arrogant Keanu Reeves:

I know you got talent, I knew that before you got here. It’s just the other thing I wonder about: pressure, it changes everything. Some people you squeeze them, they focus. Others fold. Can you summon your talent at will? Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?

Some people surprise you — they’re natural leaders and they exude confidence and acumen beyond their years, a talent that’s rare and priceless. A soon-to-be college grad outlines, in detail, how hard she worked to get published in bold-face publications before graduation, and I respect her tenacity, talent, and hustle. Yet, there’s something to be said for tenure, for having the years, for enduring experience and learning from it and then having the perspective that only time and distance brings to bear on new situations. I will always believe in the adage “you get what you pay for”.Replacing tenured talent with cheap labor to save bottom-line impact isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Placing band-aids on dams might work in the short-term but inevitably the dam will burst.

There’s real and tangible value in having a college or intern perspective. There’s value in having someone who knows the nuances of a particular social media channel give input on content and strategy. However, the value is complementary, not interchangeable. Just because someone will do something for free doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of it for the short-term savings, completely sacrificing the value of experience and perspective. Complement, don’t replace all.

Let’s revisit that offer of $250 and what comprises an integrated marketing strategy. Building a strategy requires (I’m summarizing big time here):

  1. Discovery/Research: A complete brand and business immersion and discussions with staff across business units — all of this in the context of industry factors and consumer trends/behavior
  2. Key Learnings: From all of the research and discussions, I tend to identify challenges and opportunities, along with some kick fixes or wins. Since I’m removed from the day-to-day, I have the fortune of distance and perspective and can usually identify issues (internal and external) and opportunities that staff too close to the business might miss
  3. Objectives/Goals Discussion: This is lengthy, and often we review past day and performance as well as a deeper conversation about their existing customer base. We discuss quantifiable and qualitative goals and objectives, knowing that our strategy has to satisfy or meet those goals/objectives. We discuss what success is and how to measure/optimize it, by channel, by tactic
  4. Strategy Outline: This is the “What” — What we’ll do to service the goals/objectives. This isn’t a tactic, a “we’ll launch an Instagram channel” or “we’ll hire a YouTube celeb to bolster our brand” — this is the big idea and plan that will impact the entire business, and will be implemented across paid, owned, earned and partner media.
  5. Tactical Roadmap: From the strategy falls the tactics, which brings the ideas to life in a practical way, i.e. the “How”. This will invariably require the collaboration between partners (internal and external) for development of distinct and detailed plans with budgets, timelines, and allocated resources

So you think all that work — weeks of labor — is worth $250? I’ve worked hard for 17+ years to be paid $250 for a marketing strategy? Surely you jest.

You think the hours it takes for writers to find sources, compose interview questions, transcribe interviews, draft articles and make revisions are worth $25? $100? $250?

As Shannon Barber so sagely writes: “No one can eat exposure.” I tell people I’m not operating a non-profit. Would I ask my doctor to reduce her rate because someone down the street charges less? Would I nickel and dime a plumber? Would I ask someone to paint my apartment for free in exchange for an Instagram post? Why is it that people find it easy to diminish the value of writers and marketers (non-tactile skills)? Why is it so easy to sacrifice quality for short-term profit?

When will brands and businesses focus on complementary talent rather than bottom-line savings that hurt over time?


I originally published this post on Medium

built by women: arlene gibbs, interior decorator, screenwriter/producer

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When I first visited Rome in 2008, Arlene took me to the most incredible Italian restaurant–one I would never have found on a map. We were introduced by a woman who was interested in adapting my memoir for film. Although the project fell through, I’m thankful for having met Arlene and for our long-distance friendship since, punctuated by my occasional visits to Italy.

I admire Arlene deeply, embarrassingly so. She left a job, country, and life in pursuit of something other. She wasn’t tethered to age as a means of trapping one in one’s vocation, rather she set out to find her place in the world. Up until a few months ago she was a successful writer/producer and now tell stories in another form: interiors. I love women with verve, women who take risks, break ranks, and live without apology. Arlene is all of these things, but in the end she’s a truth-teller. I only hope to be as successful as I move through my acts. Let her story inspire you. –FS

When I first met you, you’d recently emigrated to Rome from the U.S. Truth be told, I admired you, how brave you were to leave a successful career behind for something other. This was a time before we’d read articles about expats and second acts. Your career has spanned politics, film and entertainment—but tell us how you returned to your first love: decorating. Why did you leave producing behind?

Arlene Gibbs: What timing. Until two months ago, I had two careers going on, screenwriter/producer, and decorator.

When we first met, I was writing full-time and developing a few projects as a producer. Everyone told me it would be impossible to be a screenwriter/producer based in Rome (especially without a trust fund). Even after our movie Jumping The Broom was released, and importantly was a hit, I heard the same thing. Nothing changed. Nobody cared. It was a “niche” film. When I pointed out to a producer friend that there were plenty of successful British screenwriters who worked in Hollywood but lived in London, I was told, “Yes, but they are British, white, and male.”

To your last question, it took me forever to see the light. Earlier this summer, one of my dear friends, who lives in Rome, said that the universe was screaming at me and I was ignoring the signs. This friend is usually not that crunchy. I needed to heed her advice.

Then I read this quote from JJ Martin, an American fashion and design journalist who lives in Milan, and everything clicked.

The best advice I’ve ever received was to look at everything that comes your way as an opportunity. Do not underestimate the power of chance and fate. Do what you love, what opens you up, not what closes you down, and makes you act like an asshole. Be responsible, be loving, be caring. That’s what I advise to anyone starting out. If you truly love fashion, it will come to you.

She’s talking about fashion but it could be applied to any creative endeavor. I wasn’t an asshole when I worked in Hollywood, my former assistants still speak to me, but I was not myself. I became a very bitter person.

I was recently hired for a decorating project in Los Angeles. It was my first trip back since making my big decision. It was a great experience. I returned to Rome feeling positive instead of depressed.

I’ve met a lot of people our age who feel regret. Regret that they didn’t pursue this or that life sooner, hadn’t met their partner earlier in life, but I tend to believe that we find ourselves at a certain place because of all the choices we’ve made, not in spite of them. Would you agree? Do you have any regrets about the paths you’ve taken?

AG: I agree with you but I had so many regrets when I lived in Los Angeles. I wish I had started working in Hollywood at a younger age. That a woman in her EARLY 30s was told to lie about her age was ridiculous.

I wish I had worked on Wall Street, saved a lot of money, and then moved to L.A. to work in the Biz. I wish I had trusted my gut more, instead of trying to be something I wasn’t. My parents are from the Caribbean and couldn’t understand why I would choose to work in a field where migraines and panic attacks were normal.

Now, I don’t have regrets. It took me a while to get to the thing I’m supposed to do. I do believe all the experiences I’ve had, good and bad, were invaluable opportunities to learn. I think it’s just as important to know what you don’t do well, not just the areas/jobs where you excel.

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Image Credit: Gina Gomez.

You’ve endured and prospered (IMO) amidst the one-two punch of being an expat and building a business for yourself in Italy. The challenges you faced (and perhaps struggle with still?) –would you say they’re mutually exclusive, or are they more like a ven diagram, one challenge eclipsing or being born out of another?

AG: Hmmm. I worked in Hollywood, which is not a meritocracy, so many of the things that infuriate American and British expats/immigrants about Italy, don’t faze me.

Is it easy to be an entrepreneur in Italy? No, it’s not. True, I do work internationally but my business is based here and Italy ranks as one of the most difficult countries for businesses. The newish Renzi government is trying to make things easier. We’ll see.

The red tape here is bonkers but it’s still easier than being a black woman working in Hollywood. Did you see the first episode of Project Greenlight this week? No words (FS: I did, and I agree, no words. I thought Damon was one of the good ones).

Regarding your previous work in film and politics– I imagine both careers required navigating verbal landmines and dealing with strong personalities. Do you feel your time spent in both careers helped you in your freelance one?

AG: Absolutely. Also, all three are about story telling, a narrative. Interior design does it in a visual way, like film, but instead of moving images it’s more tactile, fabric, form/function, etc.

A practical question—how did you build a client base and portfolio? Are there any challenges distinct to Italy?

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Credits: Arlene Gibbs, Interior Designer. Architect: Domenico Minchilli. Photography: Mario Flores

AG: It doesn’t matter if you’re self taught or graduated from Parsons with straight A’s, when you’re first starting out, your clients will be friends and family (or people who are friends with your friends or family), especially for residential projects. It’s very intimate to work with someone in/on your home.

In time, if your work is published, clients who are not your friends/family will find you. However, even then, there is a courtship of sorts. Word of mouth is very important, of course. Clients will refer you to their family/friends.

Regarding my challenges that are unique to Italy, there are a few.

Before my internship, I never worked in an Italian office. I wrote all day, in English, at home by myself. My Italian did not improve when I first moved to Rome, as I wasn’t in school studying anymore. There are a lot of expats in Rome and my Italian friends speak English well. Now that I’m working with artisans, contractors, and some vendors who don’t speak English, I cannot just switch to English when I get frustrated trying to communicate. During most of my workday I’m using technical vocabulary that is not used in everyday conversation. It’s not surprising that sometimes my brain hurts. Learning a new language as an adult is tough but I’m determined to become truly fluent.

In Italy architects do the majority of interior design work. There are more architects in Rome than in the entire country of France. It’s very competitive.

In the States, technically, there’s a huge difference between an interior designer and a decorator. The former is able to do structural work and could be seen as an interior architect. Many American architects disagree. Here, there isn’t a difference as both decorators and interiors designers are not architects. End of story. If there is structural work to be done, you call an architect and/or an engineer and collaborate. I don’t know if it’s a plus or a minus that there aren’t many interior designers/decorators in Italy. Perhaps it’s not relevant.

I do know that networking in Italy is not like the States. It’s less aggressive, even in Milan. It’s a big learning curve.

Have you endured any challenges building an interior decorating business specific to being a woman or woman of color? How did you manage them?

AG: No, I haven’t. After working in a male-dominated industry for years, it was odd at first to attend design industry conferences/events and see so many women! And there are women over the age of forty. What is happening?

What has surprised you most about launching your business? What didn’t you expect? More importantly, what were you (or not) prepared for?

AG: I’m surprised by how welcoming and helpful my colleagues were/are. It unnerves me. Seriously.

As my friends know, I’m very organized. My Italian friends find all my lists and my discomfort with last minutes plans hilarious but my anal retentive ways have served me well.

Working for myself, I still struggle with setting clear work/life boundaries. They bleed into each other. It’s not healthy and counter-productive especially when you work in a creative field. It’s important to step on the brakes and disconnect once in a while. If you’re going, going, going all the time how can you really take things in? What’s inspiring you?

Do I need to return text messages and emails on Sundays and/or at 9:00 p.m. at night? My business is young and I do feel a lot of pressure to be available to my clients 24/7.

As a friend said, I’m not an ER doctor. Of course it’s okay for clients to email me when things are on their minds but unless it’s an emergency (which in decorating what could that be on a day when there are no deliveries) I can return the emails on Monday.

Who has inspired you along the way and why?

AG: Man, this would be such a long list. There have been many people who have inspired me directly or indirectly. What they all have in common is passion. They have worked in different fields and many have had non-traditional career paths. I have been that person who was sleepwalking through life and now I appreciate how lucky I am to do what I love.

What are the three things that people who are interested in launching their own business or going freelance? Are there specific lessons you can share regarding interior-related ventures?

AG:
If you’re going to freelance in a creative field learn and respect the craft.
I know people complain about the Millennials but I don’t think this is a generation issue but an instant gratification issue.

There’s nothing wrong with exploring different fields. If you want to do something creative, do it but realize it’s going to take some time and hard work. Take it seriously, or don’t bother.

I was the oldest interior design intern ever but that experience was priceless. I’ve been fortunate to have people trust me and believe in my skills. I don’t know everything and I’m grateful to have more established peers in my life who mentor me. I’ve made mistakes and will continue to do so as I’m not a robot. But I learn from them and try not to make the same mistake twice. I’m floored by the number of people I meet here who think they can just, poof, wake up one day and be a success at something they know nothing about and takes people years to learn.

Do your homework.
Some people freelance because they have been downsized. Others choose to freelance. Either way, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the nuts and bolts of your new endeavor, not just the fun and sexy part.

Write a business plan. One could be the most talented creative person on the planet but if they cannot run a business, they will not succeed. Attend design conferences in your city or the big national ones in New York or Los Angeles. In Europe there are large international conferences in Milan, Paris, and London.

Many designers have workshops or bootcamps. A note of caution, choose wisely. There are bloggers who decorate/design and decorator/designers who blog (occasionally). Huge difference. Be clear about what you want to gain from the experience. I attended Kathryn M. Ireland’s workshop in Los Angeles (she also has one in France) early in my career and still use the tools I learned everyday. It was informative and also a blast.

For design creatives I highly recommend the book, The Business of Design by Keith Granet.

Have a POV.
This doesn’t a mean a minimalist designer cannot work with a maximalist client. If you look at the work of the most respected and successful designers, they all have a distinct POV. There are elements of their DNA in each project but the home fits the client’s tastes and needs.

Anyone can take a pretty photo during Fashion Week and post it on Instagram. The street style photographers who have broken through did so because they had a POV. Once this social media bubble burst or shifts (again) the creatives who have something to say and an interesting way to say it will continue to work.

What are the three essential tools (or resources) you rely upon to get through your day?

Working out.
I’m a morning person and one of my favorite things to do is jog or walk through the streets of Rome to Villa Borghese or Doria Pamphili Park. That early in the morning, the streets are quiet and the light is incredible. Living in Rome is a pain sometimes with all the bureaucracy, the tour buses, drunk American exchange students, the noise, people who refuse to clean up after their dogs, etc. Then you jog past the building where Bernini lived and buildings like the Pantheon and remember why you put up with Rome’s craziness. She’s inspiring, beautiful, and humbling.

Moleskine daily calendar.
I do have a calendar on my Mac and each project has a punch sheet or action items list but there’s something about literally crossing things off on a to-do-list that makes me happy and feel very accomplished.

iPhone.
I resisted getting one, as I was tired of everyone going on about their iPhones as if they just had a baby or something.

Now I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. I have a ton of information in one tiny device. It holds my contacts, my calendar, a camera, apps I use all the time like Instagram, Pinterest, WhatApp, Shazam, Goggle, a translation app, a compass, my music, pictures of my projects and moodboards, etc. etc.

All images courtesy of Arlene Gibbs, except where noted.

some thoughts on professional etiquette because some of you really need it (part 2).

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I’m just, tryin to stay above water y’know/Just stay busy, stay workin/Puff told me like, the key to this joint/The key to staying, on top of things/is treat everything like it’s your first project, knahmsayin?/Like it’s your first day like back/when you was an intern/Like, that’s how you try to treat things like, just stay hungry — Jay Z’s “The First Song”

Truth be told, I’m still shocked over how many people read, loved, and shared my initial rant on social etiquette. For years, I wrote about clocks. Clocks under floorboards, ticking. Our heart, thumping its way to our last breath. Time has always hovered, been this great specter in my life, and sometimes I feel anxious because I know one more moment lived is a moment moving towards a life no longer lived, and I try, as much as I can, to be present in each moment. To view time as something that should be revered. I’ve lost so many years to the things and people that were not essential to my happiness, so I guess my original post was born out of a need to talk about time and how we can truly connect with other people in a way that has meaning. In a way that makes us feel whole about how we spend our moments here because we’re all on a clock. We’re all walking with expiration dates invisibly imprinted. Morbid, maybe, but I read this extraordinary Oliver Sacks piece, which put me thinking of our collective fragility. And when have you ever known me to follow a straight line? Fuck coloring in the lines; I’ve got my own coloring book over here.

Onward!

6. You’re a Month Late or You Reschedule Our Meeting 35 Times: If I can find a post that lists 300 free resources for entrepreneurs and startups, you can learn how to master Google Calendar. Hypothetical scenario: you send a succinct, specific email to someone you admire, inviting them out for a coffee or a light bite. You arrange the time, you send a calendar invite, and you even pick the meeting point and time (1pm!). The person whom you admire shows up on time, finds a spot and scans the room. Then the text or email arrives, and it reads: So sorry! I’m running 15 minutes late (which means 30 because we always underestimate our arrival time)! My subway stalled! Traffic was horrible (insert additional excuses blaming a third-party).

So let me get this straight. You email me at the time we’re supposed to meet, telling me you’re going to be late. At any point before said time, did you maybe suspect you were going to be late? And yes, subways do stall and sometimes traffic is truly an abomination, but those instances are rare if you plan right.

If you are someone who is chronically late for everything, understand that you’re not simply meeting up with a forgiving friend, who accepts that your lateness is your only flaw because you are, as a whole, this amazing human being. You’re meeting up with someone who knows you, only slightly, and your first meeting will likely form a pivotal first impression. So get right with your life and leave earlier than you normally would. If you start to see traffic en route, text immediately. I’d rather know that there is a chance you might be late than wait around hoping you might arrive before the coffee shop closes.

This may sound crazy, but in real life I’ve few professional pet peeves (although these two posts might likely suggest otherwise) and lateness is one of them. In the twenty years that I’ve been working, I’ve been late a handful of times because I realize that time is valuable commodity and if I’m asking of someone else’s time, time that would take them away from their life, family, friends and paying work, I better make sure I respect that time as much as I possibly can. If anything, I always arrive early for a meeting and will busy myself with emails or window shop nearby. Because someone who is late and chronically late, tells me that you don’t know how to organize your day and you really don’t value my time.

Same with the person who schedules a meeting and reschedules it 35 times. I’ve been guilty of this so I know this is HARD. We are busy, double and triple-booked, bombs explode in our lap at the very last minute, and every meeting carries an opportunity cost. Every moment, we’re making a cost-benefit analysis (value of meeting A vs. meeting B) and we might not even realize we’re doing it. But realize someone rearranged their schedule or took time away from the aforementioned priorities to meet with you. I’ve now employed a 3-strikes rescheduling rule: if you reschedule three times, you no longer get a meeting. I’ll do an email or Skype session or call. If I’m the culprit, I’ll offer to travel to someone’s office or a place that is conveniently located for them with dinner, or I’ll gift them something lovely as an apology.

We’re all human and busy, but try to remember that it’s not just the hour that is allocated to help you, but it’s the commute time, it’s the time that will take them to get back to what they were doing. Sometimes, that’s 2-3 hours of someone’s day just to help you, so respect that as much as you can.

Great resources for organizing your life: Meg Biram’s GSD column (although I wish the profiles were a bit more diverse); Frankie’s Post on Freelancing; Lifehacker; Anything with a Janet Choi byline (thanks, Staci!), Popforms; Laura Vanderkam (thanks, Janet!)

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7. You’ve Developed Amnesia About Your Failures and/or Some Other Random Illness That Prevents You from Remembering Who Helped You Get to Where You Are: Years ago, I published a literary magazine, Small Spiral Notebook. It was a time before online journals were ubiquitous, and after six years of publication and some minor fame, I folded the journal in pursuit of other projects. I was humbled to have published great writers, many of whom went on to publish stories and books and win prizes. I edited and published their first stories–stories before they had found their voice–and I was reminded about grace when Leigh Stein tweeted, with jubilation, that I’d published her when she was 19. Leigh is an acclaimed writer and feminist whom I admire, and I smiled reading that tweet because it told me that she appreciated the whole trajectory of her career, not simply from the time when she had “made it” and onward. Every publication, rejection, feedback, interaction brought her to where she was now, and she understood the power of the big picture and how it shaped her writing and career. Maybe I’m projecting, maybe she wasn’t thinking any of these things, but I see so many people hide or discredit their failures or people they used to know who may not be in the fancy set they run with now.

I read an article a while back about how failure is a must for people to succeed. Failure implies that we stood on the precipice of something other and made the decision to leap. Yet people all too often equate falling with failure, and failure is something to rub out, hide. Often, I talk about my failures (and trust me, there are many of them) and how they’ve lead me to where I am today. For example, I was under so much stress at my last job that I ended up becoming, for a brief time, the leader I would never want to be. I was abrasive, noxious, and I remember how my words brought a team member to tears. I remembered that two years later when I wrote her a note of apology for my failure as a manager and a leader. But I used that failure to step back and evaluate the quality of the life I’d been leading and the example I’d been setting for others. I’m vocal about my failures and proud of all the people I’ve known who have gotten me to this great place where I can write posts like these. Don’t set aside or ignore your old mentors and peers in favor of The Shiny Object Syndrome. Level the playing field, continue to practice kindness, because again, you never know when people you used to know may come back in your life in a different capacity.

Be cognizant, honest, and humble about how you got where you are–it’s that easy.

8. You Got Fancy and Forgot What it Was Like to Be Small: From business to publishing to blogging, I’ve seen all of the places in which I’ve played plagued with the sickness that is arrogance. At one point, you begin to notice an invisible line between the echelon and the plebeians. These stars (whether self-appointed or cultivated by their community) were, at one point in time, small. They didn’t have much traffic, readers or experience, and they worked (or didn’t) to get to a point where they can stand behind an invisible rope and wave to all those clamouring for entry. I’ve seen many cling desperately to their minor fame, becoming suspicious or resentful of anyone that has the potential to threaten that fame. What they fail to see is that we win by allowing others to shine. We’re successful if we’ve played a selfless role in someone else’s success. There’s no nobility in hoarding your success.

Perhaps this is the flipside of the “pick your brain” point-of-view, but I think it’s important that once you’ve achieved some semblance of success, you pay it forward. This can take on a myriad of forms: mentorship (1:1 or broad-based with Twitter chats, site Q&As and videos that answer questions on a broader scale while saving you time), donation of your time or services for pro-bono passion projects, participation in conferences, gratis, where you’re able to give advice to those whom are starting out in their career, or create content that is selfless in nature. I mentor a great deal of people in varying stages of their career, have read manuscripts in nascent stages and have donated hours to give free advice on passion projects.

You may not have all the time at your disposal, but make a point to allocate some of it to those coming up in the ranks, much as like how someone helped you get to where you are today.

9. You Make Excuses Instead of Apologies: There is a certain breed of people who just can’t apologize–even when they know, deep down, they’re wrong. They’ll displace blame, they’ll talk about how they’re sorry you were offended or hurt. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness or frailty–rather, I see as a remarkable sign of strength. Years ago, I snapped at a direct report in a meeting and she approached me after and told me that they way I’d treated her was wrong, that I shouldn’t have been cross with her so publicly. Without hesitation I said she was right, and not only did I apologize, in our next team meeting I apologized to the team for how I’d mistreated that direct report. I relayed that my behavior was not an example that should be followed.

Today I read an incredibly succinct and smart post on why talented employees may be jumping ship. Staci makes many salient points, but at the core of her piece is the concept of responsibility and accountability. How management owns up to how they treat their employees and, quite frankly, themselves. If we were more honest, humble, apologetic when the time calls for it, we’d go further, farther.

First Image Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

apple sage walnut bread + some thoughts on the business of work

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Believe me when I say this isn’t a story about age–the start of one career and another in media res. Rather, this is a story about work and how beauty can’t be found while living in the extremes.

I bear quiet witness to two extremes. A young woman submits to an interview for a stylish blog, and over the course of a few questions we learn that the only job she’s known is one in front of her computer. A college hobby has morphed into a career, replete with sponsors, giveaways and outfits of the day. I read a post where a young woman doles out career advice as if they were miniature sweets wrapped in arsenic (or perhaps that’s my interpretation)–preparing the impressionable for the “real world,” where posts are artfully styled, emotions are choreographed and authenticity…well, you know my thoughts on that one–although I will say Emily gives a measured, refreshing take on the matter. On the either end of the spectrum, a friend tells me about a billion-dollar company that seeks to transform itself, and would I be willing to play a senior role in that transformation and sit tethered to a desk five days a week? Ah, so this is the life revisited, where I cram the whole of my errands in Saturday morning, spend a few precious hours on Saturday night resting, and prepare for the inevitable Monday come Sunday. A company seeks the sheen of the new and the brilliant and the creative, but would I be willing to chain myself to an office badge? Would I be content to make perfunctory conversation with someone while refilling my water bottle (knowing how I feel about small talk)? Could I bring brilliance to the table while ensconced under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights?

I attended a conference once where everyone was thick in the business of self-promotion. Many spoke of their online spaces and how popular they had become. Yet one wonders how does one harness such fame? How does one create more efficiency, tackle that ever elusive labyrinth that is their inbox? I felt a curtain come down over my face and I asked, in the biting way I sometimes do, what is it that you actually create? What do you do? More importantly, who are you? And they talk to me about content; they use terms like utility. Their hope is one of inspiration mixed with a healthy dose of practicality, and this whole performed puppetry reminds me of Lloyd Dobler’s garbled, yet endearing speech in Say Anything:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

And while there was nobility in the idealistic Dobler’s speech, what I get from others is a mouthful of stale air. It feels rehearsed, vaguely Stepford. I get: I want to be famous for being me. Honestly, I don’t understand the notion of the full-time blogger who doesn’t seek to create something which goes beyond the four walls of their home. I tell people it’s the difference between a lithe girl who posts a dozen photos of her in the same outfit in a slightly different pose versus, say, a design.sponge. Create something beyond your singular experience. It may not be large in the grand scheme of things but the lens can’t consistently gaze at one’s navel. Because there will always be other navels, other girls sporting expensive finery, but there are only few who break ranks, create something meaningful beyond the extent of their reach. Or, as Meghan Daum posits,

Obviously, everyone defines confessional in their own way. For me, being confessional would be just kind of revealing your secrets and not processing them in any way, just kind of presenting your diary, for instance. I really am not interested in sitting down to write something personal unless it’s going to transcend my own experience and talk about something larger. That, to me, is the difference between putting yourself out there and letting it all hang out. “Putting yourself out there,” to me, has to do with using my experiences as a lens through which to look at larger phenomena.

Although Daum is speaking specifically about memoir writing, I can’t help but apply this idea of one’s life as lens to nearly all aspects of one’s life. There is a shelf life for the thousands of hopefuls who post the tired, stylized photos and pen an awkward personal story to make a sponsorship post that much more relatable. And while I see blogging as an interim play between one venture to the next (a strategic side hustle, a means for creative testing and exploration), I struggle with people who start off their career this way and think they have the ability to counsel others (I shudder to imagine the performance review: Haters! All of them! Why do I keep getting all of these mean constructive comments?!), and I really struggle with those who act as if their blog is this echelon of greatness, when it’s really not. For many, it reads like a simple experiment in myopia. Every navel gaze invariably meets a dead end–the question then is: Who are you without your online presence? What are you creating? What are you cultivating?

Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love and produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear. –D.H. Lawrence

I think of this quote often. Lawrence is critiquing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and the American psyche. Without the balance of destruction and creation, there is no chrysalis, instead we slowly devour ourselves in our own demise (ah, The Ouroborus returns!). If we don’t reconcile and balance our internal division (or duality), we will never truly have knowledge, understanding and wisdom. We will never grown beyond ourselves.

You’re thinking: what the fuck does this have to do with bloggers who preen all day and get paid for it? GOOD QUESTION.

I think some bloggers are one example of the type of people who are content to dwell within their own dominion. They produce and produce and produce at the expense of themselves. Rarely do they seek to reconcile the real and the artifice within, and we only see one side of the face, a clever mask on display. The danger lies when one doesn’t create beyond oneself, or present both sides of that one face. This is true of bloggers, artists, and people who sit behind a desk, content to clockwatch. I see talented writers write themselves around their own self-imposed prisons. I’ve done this, I did it for years. I wrote what I knew because that’s what the books told me to do. That’s what my MFA program told me to. But it was only when I went beyond myself, beyond the story of me, did I find something powerful. My writing truly got better, ferocious. I was still me. I was still pulling the strings and breathing life into characters on a page, but these were people I’d never known and encountered and this new territory was thrilling. It doesn’t matter if my book will ever be published–I take solace in the fact that I sought out a larger truth beyond the one I’d always been pedaling. And this is the reward, the work.

Know that I’m just as critical, if not more so, of the other side.

Even though I’ve worked hard every single day of my life, even though everything I own has been bought and paid for with this hard work, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t appreciate my privilege. For nearly 18 years I spent the bulk of my life in offices. Some were ramshackle, others sleek. Some were in office parks, others in fancy buildings and grand towers, but the feeling was always the same–I am a prisoner for 8+ hours a day. There go the shackles around my ankles. Let me carry them from conference room to conference room. I forged a working permit at 13 so I could work. I spent the bulk of my college years interning in investment banks. And I went from someone who filed folders (yes, paper) to building multi-million dollar companies and leading teams. I’ve been working in offices for 18 years and it’s only in the past two that I’ve grown beyond measure.

Because I haven’t been chained to a desk and computer for five days, 80 hours a week.

I take on projects that don’t require me to be in an office for an extended period of time (I’ve written in contracts that my days on-site won’t exceed X and my hours won’t exceed Y) and the deliverable remains the same. I prioritize my weeks where I do a lot of the execution, interviews and face time in an office and I do the “thinking” and creative work at home. And not only have my skills in brand marketing increased exponentially, I’ve managed to conceive of creative solutions for basic problems. I see the world differently. I come back from traveling and the work I do is imbued with a global perspective. I work from home and I do my best thinking when I’m baking or walking around the park. I break complex problems down to its simplest parts and then tackle those parts. I’m Socratic in the way I think and I’m constantly asking questions and tearing down walls when I hear, this is how it’s always been done. People who meet me now tell me how I’m cool and collected–calm and measured through crisis. Ask people who worked for me two years ago and I guarantee they’ll tell you a different story.

I’ve been a successful consultant for almost two years and it’s because of an imposed flexibility.

The response? Can you come join this company to do the thing that you’ve been doing without doing the thing you’ve been doing? Can you be creative and innovative without all that fluffy flexibility? Can you create something new using these tired old modes of living, of thinking? Can you work five days a week, take only four weeks vacation, and be accessible via every electronic device? Can you brainstorm in conference rooms named after pop stars (because we’re clever like that!)? Can you think outside of a box even though we’re trapping you in it? Because come on, everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be CMO. Everyone wants to lead global teams at a billion-dollar company. Because, Felicia, you have to settle down sometime.

To which I respond: are you fucking kidding me with this? Rewind the tape and play this shit back to yourself and you tell me if it’s not the very definition of insanity.

I made over $200,000 a year. I had a fancy title and nice handbags and the means to stay in fancy pants hotels. You know where that got me? Stressed out, exhausted, depleted, burned out, angry, bitter, and spending six months of a year chained to a doctor and nutritionist. I had big. I was bombastic. And I wasn’t the better for it.

I read articles where people can’t be bothered to care for the most primal of needs, but they’ll track their follower counts like a shuttle launch and want the fame without actually doing the work. I read about kids making $15K a month for posting photos of themselves on Instagram and their greed and vanity are what they wake to. And I read idyllic pieces about co-working spaces in exotic locales for that jetsetting freelancer.

I read a lot of articles about work, and I’m exhausted.

I keep coming back to this simple question: Who are you? Tell me about your character. Tell me what wakes you up in the morning and makes your race to sleep eager to wake the next day? Tell me what you live to do and how you live. Tell me how you’re building and destroying. Tell me how you’re sharing your face, all of it. Tell me about you love and how that imbues what you do and vice versa.

Because both of these examples: the preening blogger and the executive hungry for the shiny object create nothing of value to me. They recycle, regurgitate big words to make them feel safe; they throw glitter on shit and talk about its earthy beauty.

I want neither. Rather, I want to dive, head-first, into the betweens. I want to create for myself (privately) and for others (publicly). I want to read, live, laugh and love vicariously. I want to walk into an office when it’s necessary and leave when it’s not. I want to work from the inside of a shitbag motel or from a deserted island. I want to write and revise. I want to get better, always.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food, with slight modifications
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup lightly packed coconut cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vanilla soy yoghurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 small red apples, cored and diced
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp gluten-free flour
1/4 cup lightly packed coconut palm sugar
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance), cubed

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown rice and gluten-free flours, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk with a fork until blended.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt, and applesauce. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the diced apples. The batter will be quite thick, especially if you are using all-purpose flour.

To prepare the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, walnuts, flour, coconut sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the batter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

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