guest post: alexis farah, random acts of lipstick

AlexisFarah

My friend Alexis is the epitome of awesome. She’s the kind of person you simply just want to be around. I knew Alexis in a former life as we worked together at an agency in New York, and we both found ourselves on the west coast, living by the beach and cultivating quiet and perspective. It’s wonderful to see your friends bloom, and Alexis is finally merging her two passions: beauty and philanthropy. 

Recently, she launched her incredible venture, Random Acts of Lipstick focused on forward beauty and giving back. I asked her to write about the impetus of her venture and how she balances RAOL with her freelance life. I hope you love Alexis’s post as much as I adore her. –FS

 

After 10 years of working as a beauty editor in New York City, I began to explore different avenues for starting my own business. That venture, I decided, would be different than anything else that currently existed in the market. It would fuse my life experiences and passions in a unique way. But the when and the how remained question marks.

What I learned very quickly is that sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see your best self, and to identify the traits and strengths that define your character, ultimately leading to the most fitting business opportunity. And as this site’s founder helped to so beautifully pinpoint, in addition to having beauty expertise, I’ve made it a life’s mission to give back. Because as the great Dalai Lama XIV once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” And yes, charity work delivers a unique dose of fulfillment and perspective, so why not make that a part of my work focus, too?

It became a natural next step to tap the experience I’d acquired as an online editor to craft a site that combined my two passions, beauty and giving back. There I’d spotlight hair care, skin care, makeup, fragrance and nail polish brands that are doing really incredible things to change the world. Stories that often go untold from brands that many of us have stashed in our makeup bag right now. After much back and forth about the name (which was surprisingly hard to choose), I landed on Random Acts of Lipstick during a road trip with my parents. It was perfect for a site that’s bottom line was to encourage random acts of kindness through tangible beauty experiences.

Once the site was up and running the editorial direction became clearer and in a way built itself. Each week, I cover a “Product with Purpose.” It’s a single product that is in some way positively impacting communities. A portion of the proceeds could be donated to a charity or it could help raise awareness about an important cause in other ways. On Fridays, I’ll offer a “Feel Good Friday” post that recognizes influencers, brands, or entire product lines for their superpower efforts, too. To appeal to a retail audience, the shop sells a signature tote with the site’s logo emblazoned on the front. In keeping with my own mission, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the bag will go to an organization I’ve worked closely with for years, New Alternatives for Children.

In many ways I hope the site creates it’s own path and grows in directions based on user feedback, trends in the market, and new solutions to promote compassion. But as far as concrete plans go, I aspire to be the go-to spokesperson for beauty and caused-based partnerships and campaigns. I also want to be the go-to source for the best beauty brands that give back. And as I grow my feel-good marketplace, I want to be the go-to shopping experience for all buying needs that also have a giveback component.

Balancing a startup and a freelance/consulting career can be a challenge, but I’ve found that it’s important to stick to a routine and remain consistent in my workflow to get it all done. Surprisingly, my best work takes place at night and on the weekends so I get all my administrative work, meetings, and events out of the way during the day.

And since I never know when a new idea for a pitch or opening sentence for a story will strike, I keep a notebook or something to write on with me at all times. That goes for in my shower as well, where you’ll find waterproof AquaNotes to write down any ideas that arise while sudsing up.

The goal is to make Random Acts of Lipstick my primary job, but the bottom line is that if what I’ve built can put a smile on just one person’s face, can help one child avoid hunger, can help one family have access to clean water, my business plan will have succeeded.

Connect with Random Acts of Lipstick on Twitter and Instagram.

Advertisements

forget mass-market. why not play small?

SAMSUNG CSC

 

What we are is a set of walking contradictions. Our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places…We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins. — From Lewis Smedes’ Shame and Grace

We always want more — even if we don’t want it, even if we never needed it. When we were children our eyes roved over the things we saw–the pink light that filtered in through the trees (dusk), machines that raced down streets (cars), furry things that licked their paws (cats, dogs–this could get complicated), and in those experiences we cultivated memory — the first of our many acquisitions. Everything used to be a puzzle; images and words played Lego, and we leaned on others for definition, interpretation, and perspective. We were taught to believe that everything in the diminutive represented an unfinished state, something not yet realized and far from its potential. That cute wobbly puppy will grow into a dog that can sprint. That infant who once smelled of clean cotton sheets will become someone who will build houses, fly planes, cure diseases. Our memory of the miniature plays out in sepia, it’s hazy and often romanticized — we only fixate on what we’ll become, leaving our previous states aside.

We always dismiss our smaller, unfinished states in favor of the large and seemingly complete.

I’ve been thinking about children lately. Not having them, but observing them. I’ve also been thinking about death and making connections between the two. Our destination varies depending upon what you believe, but I wonder if the place we’ll go vaguely resembles the one from which we’ve come, and the space we occupy between the two, our holding pen called life, will be spent trying to make sense of our journey from one place to the other.

Or maybe that’s my life.

We cry coming out and we weep slouching home, because isn’t that what death is? Our final stop, a story, a home that can’t be torched or torn down? Our tears come from fear of the unknown, of what’s to come. I assume babies scream-cry because they consider everything an assault. What are these shapes, colors, and lights? Who are you? What is this, what am I, and so on. Over time, the answers are revealed in degrees, and for a brief time, we are comforted by these certainties. Life becomes a slow conquering of sorts, a means to ferret out truth from the unknown, and our death is a surrender. We lay down our armaments because we’ve no idea which tools we’ll need for the next battle. Come our twilight years, I suppose we’ll weep because we’re left with a life where most riddles have been resolved, loves have been felt, truths have been revealed — to what? A fugue state that morphs into the eternal black? Or do feel sorrow because we’ve spent our lives trying to know what we’ll never know. Have we wasted time in this single, temporary waking life?

“I greatly fear my hidden parts”–From Augustine’s Confessions

It occurs to me that these moments, life and death, are monumental, yet we’re small when confronting them. We’re small in the beginning (literally), and, in the end, we become small in ways that are more complicated. In both states we don’t consider the notion of wanting more; we can’t even comprehend acquisition, and isn’t it funny that we face our two greatest moments being valiant and great in our smallness, in our need for nothing?

Lately, I’ve been feeling, for lack of a better term, colonized. Colonized in terms of defining a home, colonized in reference to how I live my life. We all have a reference point. I came from a home that had nothing and spent my 20s and early 30s in the business of hyperaccumulation in hopes that it would satiate a need that could never be truly filled by the things bought in legal tender. I hailed from a generation that believed in the beauty of size. We measured our self-worth in width, height, and weight, and our homes made us feel like dwarves, our Italian leather handbags threatened to swallow us whole. We became bound to this title, to those letters after our name, as if ascension equates to human greatness or a rich character.

The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.” — Julia Child

A friend and I talk about the avalanche of e-books and articles we read: how to build your newsletter, how to achieve a million readers, how to grow at scale — apparently you cease to matter if the world doesn’t read you (that tree in the forest metaphor). I’m a difficult woman who writes often about the darker aspects of life, so I know I’ll never be fit for the masses. I’m not someone who colors in the lines, rather I’d rather create new books in which to color. I know I’ll never be “big” or widely read, or deeply connected or nominated for the fancy awards, and I’m okay with this. I’m okay with playing small and accumulating a wonderful, compassionate tribe.

I think about my dad. For a time, I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t want more from life — why he didn’t demand the world and everything in it just I had. His home and closets are spare, he has only what he needs. He cleaves to his rituals: coffee in the morning, coffee as a means to connect, and long drives to clear his head. He holds few photographs. Luckily, I’m in some of them. He doesn’t speak about the past often, but what he remembers are the moments I sometimes struggle to recall: they’re small, but we explode into laughter when he recounts them. The day he drove down a one-way street. The day we made a point to eat one meal from every fast food joint in a five-mile radius (I don’t recommend this). He has the ability to say one string of words and we’re immediately transported back and I can feel everything. He has a way of making the world simple, clean and neat–even when he’s engulfed in sadness, loss, heartbreak.

I admire him this, his quiet nobility. I admire a man who’s lived a great, small life–who loves every minute of it. You feel everything so hard, he once joked. When I look at him or when I think about children, I’m reminded of the beauty of playing small. Of not needing to puff up my chest, resume, byline or biography. Life is still worth loving even if I don’t win prizes, or reach financial and professional heights. Last year I read David Brooks’ The Road to Character and in the final chapter, he underscored the dangers of a society focused solely on meritocracy, on the accumulation of desires and the constant cult of “big me”. He writes,

The meritocratic system wants you to be big about yourself–to puff yourself, to be completely sure of yourself, to believe that you deserve a lot and to get what you think you deserve (so long as it’s good). The meritocracy wants you to assert and advertise yourself. It wants you to display and exaggerate your achievements. The achievement machine rewards you if you can demonstrate superiority–if with a thousand gestures, conversational types, and styles of dress you can demonstrate that you are a bit smarter, hipper, more accomplished, sophisticated, famous, plugged-in, and fashion-forward that the people around you. It encourages narrowing. It encourages you to become a shrewd animal.

We covet the largess of life, yet we end up feeling silly and small. What if we revered the reverse? What if we came from a place of curiosity, humility, self-acceptance, and honesty? What if we formed our character based on how we loved, what we built as an extension of that love versus blasting out what we’ve acquired, the weight of objects we carry? I think about this tension a lot, especially when I read that I have to make a ruckus in order to break ranks. What if I ceased wanting all the things? What if I burned the measuring tape and scales, and stopped equating large and more with joy and greatness? Fewer, better. Quality reigns over quantity. I’ve done this in nearly all aspects of my life, but not completely. I wonder if that’s even possible. I’m not sure that it is, so perhaps that’s part of the journey, too.

Why are we defining success by a metric, a site visit, or a number of comments? Why is mass suddenly the marker of achievement? A blog with a book deal and a stylish lifestyle show and a line at a fancy department store — are these the new markers of success? Have we updated the old playbook where we were told as children that a good life meant having a career, getting married, having kids, buying a house, having a summer house, and retiring? Shouldn’t success and happiness be the achievement of what we love to its own end, knowing that end might be private and personal? That we should strive to create depth, complexity, difficulty, meaning and devotion in everything we do instead of optimizing our content for search or being “social” because that’s the sort of thing we ought to be doing?

The idea of working a room makes me want to gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch.

A boss once we told me that we have to think about content in the context of its distribution. For nearly four years I clung to this fiction, repeated it to a litany of clients, left an indelible mark on those whom I mentored, and it occurred to me that this statement was wrong. Of course, we don’t create something to simply leave it there to gather dust, but if I start to fixate on the end game, the thing I’m creating suddenly loses meaning. It becomes airless, soulless, a pretty picture worth pinning with nothing beneath the surface.

Fuck being big. Fuck scale. Fuck viral. Have integrity. Because when you achieve the largeness, it never is what we wanted it to be, and we end up just wanting more. Instead, create that which bolts you out of bed. Build and be everything that gives you heart and purpose, a big life lived small squeezed between our beginning and inevitable end.

Why not play small?

Image Credit: Pexels

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

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_5

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

get over being funny about money: a freelancer’s roundtable (we’re taking your questions!)

Death_to_stock_photography_Vibrant-10-of-10

People are funny about money. You can get fired for asking about someone else’s compensation (although companies like Buffer thrive on transparency when others talk about mutinies and chaos should we speak openly about salaries), and often it’s considered rude or gauche to talk about money. Money is what you make but be secretive about it. Certainly don’t talk about. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re anything but white.

Employers use the guise of secrecy because they want to “protect” their employees, however, it’s more like they don’t want people bearing witness to grave inequality and they definitely don’t want an avalanche of comp increases as a result. Because what employers are really protecting is their P&L.

When I went freelance, I was surprised to find that this secrecy around salary, or how one makes a living, is as prevalent and pernicious as ever. I’ve known at least a dozen women who severely underpriced their services because they thought less is what they deserved. Or, they simply didn’t know how to price themselves because context didn’t exist. Sure, there are scores of articles about rate calculations, etc, but most of us really rely on people we know, people who occupy our space. And many people are still not talking, still.

I took on a project with a woman who was, at the time, one of my closest friends. I was interested in what she did, brand marketing and the creation of brand narratives and architecture, and I asked her how much she was being paid for her portion of the project. Not because I wanted to be rude, but I wanted to understand how my peer priced her deliverables and deliverables, and how I, should I want to go that route, can calculate accurate project and day rates.

My “friend” acted as if she were a CIA operative. I was confused. What did she think I was going to? Did she really believe I was coming from a nefarious place rather than one of curiosity? I needed help and it was only when I made my request plain, you wouldn’t help your friend, a woman, a peer trying to make a living, with information?

I’ve met with women (boutique agency execs) recently who didn’t know how to price their services. I’ve known bloggers who had no idea how to quote for sponsored posts. I know women who don’t have their day/project/hourly rates, and the ranges in which they operate based on client, scope, level of client craziness, etc. They didn’t know how to build in payment clauses (or non-payment) into their contracts.

I’m learning that when I get frustrated it’s more productive to share and connect than just bitch about something (and I do that too, don’t worry). So I’ve gathered up a few friends who are successful freelancers to answer YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT MONEY. From writers to consultants to small business owners, all of them have a range of experience and acumen, and I hope they can give you advice you need to feel empowered to promote yourself and your work in a fair way.

Leave your questions in the comments section of this post and we’ll rock out the answers within the next two weeks.

####

Death_to_stock_photography_weekend_work-9-of-10-720x480

OUR ROUNDTABLE (and we’ve got more coming!):

Aly Walansky created A Little Aly-tude on SheKnows.com in 2006, as one of the first well-known beauty and style blogs on the Internet. Over time, it became a foremost source for advice, tips, reviews, and commentary across the lifestyle genre.

Her writing can be seen across the Internet as well as in several print publications. She contributes regularly to Beauty High, AskMen.com, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, The Daily Meal, xoJane, HowAboutWe, Life &Beauty, Latest Hairstyles, Celebuzz, DailyMakeover.com, The Fashion Spot, New Beauty Magazine, Bella NYC Magazine, and many more.

Aly’s roots exist — pun intended! — in the realm of beauty and style, and she is quoted in countless publications on a weekly basis, and has appeared as a beauty expert on the FOX network and various radio programming, but her focus is far wider. She’s a popular travel and food writer and has traveled across the globe in the name of culinary, historical, and spa journalism.

Aly currently resides in New York City. Contact Aly at alywalansky@gmail.com

####

With a background in textile design (Anthropologie, Nordstrom, & Blissliving Home) and an obsession for sharing (favorite products, favorite recipes, favorite dates-gone-wrong), in 2012 Joanna Hawley created Jojotastic as a lifestyle blog focused on runway-fresh fashion, inspiring modern-but-modest home interiors, and her addiction to donuts. (Her cat obsession mingles in there, too.)

A well-established style influencer on the interwebs, Joanna was one of the first Pinterest users (with 4 million followers to prove it). Known for her raw honesty — this isn’t just another blog with pretty photos and flawless stories — Joanna seeks to inspire readers to live their truest lives.

Joanna’s work has been featured in national outlets including Oh Joy!Design for Mankind,  Clementine Daily,Rugs Direct, and Anthology Magazine, where she was an online editor for three years. Recent Jojotastic brand collaborations include Gap, Ziploc, Pottery Barn, Urban Outfitters, and Airbnb.

Joanna’s passions include filling her passport, rock climbing, freestyle flower arranging, her cat Georgette, her dog Noodle, and questing for the perfect apple pie. Or cupcake. Or donut.

Joanna currently resides in Seattle. Other recent homes include San Francisco and Philadelphia, but her badass spirit is universal. And her spirit animal is chocolate.

Her desk plaque reads “You are doing a great f—ing job.” And that’s pretty much her motto.

####

Laurel Anderson is a freelance writer and social media and communications strategist. She provides digital marketing and communications consulting services to individuals, companies, brands and other organizations that need help telling their story. When not telling the stories of others, Laurel is usually hanging out on her front porch or the local coffee shop crafting her own. Her website is http://www.laureleanderson.com and includes her work, social links and Lola Speaks (her intermittent blog).

As a writer of more than twenty years, Laurel has covered everything from daily news stories, people profiles, entertainment, lifestyle, gossip, fashion, trends, movie reviews and more for both print and online publications. She has been known to tackle both serious issues and lighthearted topics during her column run with a local newspaper. Years of entertainment work allowed her to experience both sides of the industry while working on and writing about shows like Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

####

Leah Singer helps businesses tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients through writing and marketing strategy. She teaches marketing and branding to college students, and works extensively with institutions of higher education and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments. She is also a freelance writer and has written for The Huffington Post, Club Mid at Scary Mommy, Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor), Edible San Diego, Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and other national blogs and websites. She also blogs personally at Leah’s Thoughts.

Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

####

Meghan Cleary is Contributing Editor, The Hollywood Reporter, Pret-a-Reporter, and author of two books on what your shoes say about you. She writes primarily about footwear, trends and cultural implications of shoes. She is also co-founder of MeghanSAYS shoes, debuting December 1 on Nordstrom.com. Her website and blog are located at shoeareyou.com

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

freelancer tip: sometimes you shouldn’t fake it (until you make it)

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In my line of work I deal with a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. They have an iPhone, a blog, and Warby Parker eyewear, and suddenly they’re a “strategist.” Suddenly they’re parroting a thought-leader’s latest blog post–a geyser of words that, when assembled, means nothing. However, the words sound smart enough to alienate those who are not in the know, so for a time people get by riding the wave of jargon–a language that requires a compass, two dictionaries, and a mime to translate. They ration that they’re a consumer, they have a Facebook account, and they’ve seen brand campaigns online, and magically, poof!, they’re brand architects and social media marketers. Because, as you know, marketing is easy.

You can’t possibly begin to understand how much this frustrates me, and how incompetence not only hurts me but the industry as a whole. I’ve run into a lot of clients who’ve been burned and now they’re skeptical. I’ve come across freelancers who are quick to quote the latest social media stat or blurb from Gary Vaynerchuk, but when when their logic or pedagogical approach are challenged (what’s your methodology? rationale?), they go mute. I’ve seen consultants steal decks and someone else’s work only to manipulate it to a point where the ideas are garbled, the methodology flawed and confusing. I’ve spoken to a host of experienced peers who feel they have to compete on price because the cool kid down the block (shiny object syndrome) can undercut them. Easy.

There are times when it’s appropriate to “fake it”–when you have an existing foundation of real (and by real I don’t mean reading Mashable) experience, and you’re challenging yourself by taking it to the next level through self-education, mentorship (direct/indirect), and learning through experience based on the guardrails and guidance provided by your mentors + team. Sometimes you have to dive into the deep end to see if you can make it out to the other side.

When it’s not appropriate to fake it: you have zero experience in the industry, or you inflate/invent your experience. Let me break this down real slow: there’s a difference between confidence and competence.

Last week, my peers delivered sound advice on breaking into freelance. There are so many ways in which you can make your dream happen without deceiving your clients or using them as a means to pay for your sentimental education. Side hustle during your main hustle. Volunteer. Apprentice with someone who knows what they’re doing–or barter your services so you can learn the fundamentals of your industry while providing a service for someone who needs it. Take classes, online and off. Offer to help out on a project in another department in your place of employment. Take a job in a company and listen and learn and leave when you’re ready to move on. Be humble about what you don’t know, listen and learn.

Because having an active Facebook page does not a strategist make.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career–it’s this: have the confidence to admit that which you don’t know. It’s not about you not knowing, rather it’s about how you go about getting the answers. It’s about how you learn the fundamentals and discipline to make what you’ve learned your own.

feeling the freelance life but you have all the questions? we’ve got the answers: a roundtable

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you that I wish I had a SWAT team of consultants with whom I could confide when I left 18 years of office life behind? People who understood the abject terror that was email radio silence and project drought. Peers who expertly navigated clients who thought they’d come cheap because they were no longer backed by a company. People who were the architects of their own days since they’d abandoned all semblance of office structure.

Two years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to price projects and I didn’t even know what sort of projects I wanted to pursue. And while I’m a creature of habit and had no issues with cultivating routine and structure, I still cringe at the notion that I could go months without a project or that I have to deal with college graduates with cell phones trying to compete with me on price. I learned a lot about myself, my worth and my work over the two years, and I don’t hesitate when I send my rates because I calmly remind prospects that they’re buying experience, agility, speed and creativity instead of a hungry kid who can navigate the latest newfangled technology. Comparing the two is akin to comparing apples to oranges and I’ve often had to turn down projects because they weren’t in line with my worth or my vision.

This week a friend and fellow freelancer called me with contract questions. Another friend inquired about how she should price herself–what should be my rate? And as the questions accumulated, I thought it fitting to round up some of the smartest people I know–across industry, experience and perspective–to tackle the questions we’re sometimes frightened to ask publicly.

So here we are. A roundtable of pros who are so generous with their time because I suspect someone was once generous with them. You’ve got an incredible FREE resource at your fingertips so ask the questions. About money, family, balance, clients, competition, work–ask it all. Be shameless, be inquisitive, be bold. We’ll post our answers in a follow-up post next week And I realize that some people may be contemplating career changes and are frightened to comment publicly–no sweat, look to the right of your screen and you’ll see my email. Shoot me a note, preface that you want your question published confidentially and we’ll answer accordingly. Or, tweet me your questions using the hashtag, #feelingfreelance

All of us made a choice to go out on our own. I’m sure we’ve made the BIG mistakes and the BIG leaps, so we’re here to impart some of our wisdom (and failures) so you have the tools you need to make smart decisions.

And now…meet your team of EIGHT!!!:

Kim Brittingham Kim Brittingham is the principal of Kim Brittingham & Co. Content Developers. She’s been working as a full-time freelancer since 2014, and started part-time in the late ‘90s. She’s the author of the memoir Read My Hips (Random House, 2011) and Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGO, 2013). She also teaches How to Blog for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

FS note: Kim is a bucket of awesome. Not only is she such a witty writer, she’s adept in: ghostwriting books, ghostblogging/business blogging; writing web copy, white papers/special reports, newsletter articles, video scripts, podcast scripts; social media management.

Cariwyl HebertCariwyl Hebert is a freelance web marketing consultant specializing in SEM and SEO. She is also the founder of Salon97, a non-profit that makes classical music accessible to all via live events, a podcast, online articles, and more. Cariwyl resides in San Francisco with her author husband and an orange cat.

FS note: I had the pleasure of meeting Cariwyl through her husband and my dear friend, Kevin. I remember a day in particular when I attended a salon she hosted, and how I was so nervous amongst so many new people but fell to quiet when she played selections of classical music. I’ve so much respect for Cariwyl, for her passion for the arts as well as her adeptness in marketing.

Amber Katz Amber Katz is a freelance writer, consultant, copy writer/editor and founder of rouge18.com, a pop culture-infused beauty blog featuring everything from skin smoothers to hair spray to body scrubs. A former financial copy writer, Amber started her blog in 2006 as an outlet from which to rave about her favorite lotions and potions to fellow beautyphiles–instead of her non-target audience of middle-aged (straight) male auditors at the office. Amber writes frequently for Allure.com, LuckyShops.com, Refinery29.com, TeenVogue.com and Yahoo Beauty. Find her on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram

FS note: Amber is not only one of my dearest friends but she’s an incredible writer–an artisan with a pen. She’s a pro copywriter, copyeditor and I’ve never met anyone who knows the innards of the beauty industry quite like Amber.

Alexandra OstrowAlexandra Ostrow is a strategist and marketer for social impact and innovation. She is the founder of WhyWhisper Collective, a network of independent consultants serving nonprofits, social enterprises, and impact-focused brands.

Prior to venturing out on her own, Alexandra worked for two social media marketing agencies, where she managed the global and local accounts for a wide variety of brands, including Mattel, JP Morgan Chase, Medtronic Diabetes, The Michelin Guide, and Pepperidge Farm. She also spent two years working in the Communications Department at Cardozo Law School.

Alexandra’s passion for the impact sector first began while volunteering for a local animal rescue. After visiting an AIDS orphanage in India and establishing a nonprofit consultancy in Jamaica while still employed full-time, her path became clearer. Today, her clients address issues within the areas of health, human rights, education, and conscious consumption.

FS note: Alex is one of the good ones. I’ve worked with her, and she’s one of the most passionate and smartest women I know. Alex is a force of nature, and everytime I see her I’m reminded of the fact that she’s changing the world.

Matthew Sharpe Matthew Sharpe is a novelist, professor, and freelance editor. In his capacity as editor, he works one-on-one with authors of fiction and nonfiction who are writing books or shorter pieces. His own novels include You Were Wrong, Jamestown, and The Sleeping Father. He has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Fiction and The Sleeping Father was featured on The Today Show Book Club. He teaches part time in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

FS note: Matthew is one of the most extraordinary writers I know. In another life I had the pleasure of reviewing one of his books and I remember comparing him to Don Delillo. Not only is Matt an exceptional writer, I’ve heard rave reviews from some of his clients whose books have been transformed as a result of Matt’s editing.

Leah SingerLeah Singer helps businesses and entrepreneurs tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients. She specialize in writing and marketing strategy, and works extensively in higher education, and with attorneys and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments.

She writes regularly for The Huffington Post; Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor); Edible San Diego; Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and many other national blogs and websites.

Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.

When she’s not working, she can be found reading books and blogs; cooking and baking; taking photos; drinking coffee; browsing bookstores; and walking her dogs. She also blogs at Leah’s Thoughts where she writes about motherhood, books and writing, and the everyday nuances of life. She lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, very extroverted daughter, two dogs, and a cat.

FS note: Can I tell you how excited I am to finally meet Leah when I move out west later this year? Not only does she love food and animals as much as I do, we both have an affection for books and marketing.

Lindsey TramutaLindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based food and travel writer (New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar) and social media consultant. After over three and a half years working in-house for Proximity BBDO in Paris, she works with brands big and small to master their tone of voice, to develop their social media strategy and presence and create content to enrich their identities. Find her on TwitterInstagram.

FS note: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lindsey, albeit virtually, for the past two years. Oddly enough, I discovered her site whilst looking for places to eat in Paris. I’m delighted to not only know her as a writer, but also as a pal in the industry. She specializes in content creation, social media strategy and copy, digital copywriting, food & travel writing.

And me, naturally! You know my story, but here’s my LinkedIn profile if you want to learn a little more about my professional background.

how not to be a terrible manager (part 1)

DeathtoStock_Objects4
There was a moment, years ago, when I had begun to unravel. You’d find me storming around the office, disheveled, multiple gadgets in tow, prattling on about how a specific client was going to be my ruin. If I could take a pen and write along my body, it would be one word, repeated, and that word would be stress. My team watched as I roamed the office, listened to my voice as it climbed several octaves, and read my emails written at dawn. My stress was palpable. It was as if my emotional state was a piece of clothing I had not only wanted to shed, but was willing to drape across rows of computers and young women who bore the brunt of my frustration.

At one point, my mentor forced me to take a vacation and even changed my email password so I could take a step back and realize how I was my own ruin. That was the year I went to Bali. When I returned, I realized that the way you manage yourself directly impacts how others perceive you. That was the year when I finally understood that being a good manager, a good leader, is about being a parent: you never show fear and you always have a solution. I also learned that while I should be serious about my work I shouldn’t take myself, and the work, too seriously. I mean, I was advising makeup brands how to sell more makeup in the social space. It wasn’t as if I were changing and saving lives. No one would actually die if I responded to an email after I’d consumed a meal.

It’s okay to breathe it out. Seriously, let’s all breathe it out.

The last decade of my career I’ve been a manager who turned into a leader. I was someone who went from managing interns to growing and leading cross-functional teams. I’ve read dozens of articles on management and leadership (this HBR piece is a particular favorite, one of which I share often), have taken classes and worked with a personal coach, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on what I’ve learned over the years. Because I’ve made ALL the mistakes; I’ve fallen on my face, have endured some tough 360 feedback and emerged from it a better, compassionate, and capable leader.

1. Realize that delegation or micromanagement doesn’t mean management: Management is about motivation, about letting your team shine as you stand behind, basking in the glow. It’s about how you can leave a room, take a vacation, or space out and your team can thrive in your absence because you’ve empowered them, guided them at all the critical points, and provided them all the tools they need in order to be the best in their role. Management isn’t really about you, it’s about your team. I’ve often said that I can do any task you put in front of me, but managing, well, it’s HARD. Even after all this time it continues to challenge me because management is about people and everyone comes with a certain skillset, quirks, emotional and professional baggage, and one has to consider how to manage them individually AND in the context of a team. For me, managing teams reminds me of an orchestra. Collectively, we make beautiful music but it’s a result of everyone playing their heart out in their individual parts. A great manager manages individually and leads collectively.

Management is not about controlling every task, every part of the process, checking out or delegation. Doling out projects isn’t management, rather it’s you just ticking off a box. Controlling everyone says more about you than your team. Notice how micromanagers never really grow professionally because when do they have time to learn how to do their boss’s job when they’re too busy doing the work of their direct reports? I want my direct report to be hungry, to want my job. I hire people who are starved because the more we consume, the more we listen, the more we sit still in ourselves–the more we’ll grow. So consider yourself your team’s guide. Share what you know, be open to reciprocal mentorship, give your team the tools they individually need to grow in their roles (from both an acumen and professional growth perspective), and then shepherd them with feedback along the way. And more importantly, let them shine when it’s their time.

2. Let them fumble and fall forward: I used to work with someone who was a controlling, abrasive perfectionist. She was a micromanager who would bark at her team if they faltered, and god forbid they fumble–they had to endure her wrath and public rages. Her team walked on perpetual tiptoe, and quite frankly, didn’t grow. We all learn by fumbling our way through a first-time of doing something and realizing that it wasn’t as terrible as we thought it would be. We learn by falling forward, and seeing a challenge to its completion and feeling powerful that we made it out of the wreckage to the other side. Your staff will get stronger because of their fumble and your feedback.

This comes to the fore during presentations. If presenting is new to a team member, I’ll start with internal presentations so the team member gets practice. We’ll start with something simple–a new technology, an article that piqued their interest. They have time to prepare a presentation that will be shared in a “safe” environment (i.e. a staff meeting). Once they have a few internal hours under their proverbial belt, I’ll coach them through a client presentation (with slide creation, notes, mock presentations) and they know that I’m there if they miss a beat.

However, I’ll never immediately jump in to save. I’ll save when they’re in quicksand. I’ll save when I don’t see bubbles lining the surface. Trust me, the hardest thing for a manager is watching a team member fumbling when you know you can take over and correct, but DON’T DO IT. Let them find their way in their own way. Give them a few beats before you jump in. And then give them feedback when the meeting is hot. Start with all the amazing work they did, how brave they were, and then talk about how they can make the next presentation rock out that much harder next time. Position feedback not as what your team member did wrong, but how they can shine brighter.

But let them fall. Let them bruise. All cuts and scrapes will heal in time.

3. Your way may not be their way, and that’s okay: Fact: your way is not the only way, and it may not be the best way. Ego has a tricky way of clouding vision and just because you have more years under your belt doesn’t mean you’re always right and doesn’t entitle you to minions. This isn’t Gossip Girl, this is real life. Show your team your approach and the rationale for your approach but let them bastardize it. Let them question it, pick it apart and put it together again.

Allow them to interpret what you do. Encourage them to talk to managers in different departments to understand varying approaches, because how would you find innovation or play better music when everyone plays the same way all the time? Establish intellectual freedom amidst boundaries. Give your team guardrails, a roadmap and allow them to navigate their way from A to B, and then give them feedback on how they’ve adopted an approach, and then challenge them in their approach.

The idea here is that everyone learns differently. Some team members are visual learners, while others are more analytical and need facts, figures, charts and details. Some are inspired by The Bright Shiny Object while others are drawn to richer, potent storytelling. Being an effective manager is uncovering what makes your employee excited, what motivates them and how they prefer to produce. How are they motivated? How do they learn? Do they need time alone to create or do they thrive in a team? In my follow-up post, I’ll talk a bit about profiling, and while this term bears the weight of the pejorative, this is more about tailoring your style in order to get people motivated and working. Personally? I like lean presentations with few words and bold images because I’m drawn more to the power and eloquence of the presenter rather than a pile of slides. However, if someone on your team needs charts, needs words–there’s a way you can create an effective presentation by balancing styles. Because your path to B may not be the same as your employee’s, but who cares? They got to B. Your role is about getting every team member to B in their own style, on their own terms, in their own way. Your role is their guide and giver of tools, experience and knowledge.

5. Don’t scream at people. Never, ever. Don’t throw objects at people. Don’t get violent unless you’re acting in self-defense or someone kicks your cat (very valid reason to drop-kick a direct report, and I dare anyone in HR to disagree. KIDDING) because there’s never a need for rage. There’s never a need to haul your three-piece luggage set of issues into the workplace. There’s a place for that–it’s called therapy. While I’ll talk about this a bit in next week’s installment on professional modeling, it should go without saying that you treat people in the manner in which you want to be treated. You extend as much grace and kindness as you can muster even amidst the disgraceful. We’re not in the age of Sun Tzu–the office is not the place for mortal combat and warfare.

In the next installment, I’ll share some thoughts on:
6. Setting an example. Your team models behavior off of you, so act right.
7. Knowing that managing up is just as critical as managing down. Sometimes you’re not acting right and you need to let your team know that, publicly. Be open to feedback and change.
8. Toeing the line. Be compassionate. Mentor, but don’t be a best friend or get wasted with your direct report.
9. Managing conflict. How not to punch yourself in the face, or punch your team members.
10. Profile right. How to make sure you understand how people work so you can manage them effectively.

And…some of my favorite articles on management:
Managing two people who hate each other (been there, done that)
Managing your energy to manage your time
Managing boomerang talent strategically and with grace
How to motivate a team on a sinking ship with purpose (really loved the honesty in this)
Employee retention is not about pizza parties and lunches (eh-hem, all agencies take note)
Smart piece on managing millennials (I’m in GenX and have had the privilege of working with some smart young people. Be open to reciprocal mentorship as a means of staying fresh and being a better human)
Mentoring or Managing: Does it have to be one or the other?
Effectively managing conflict is one of the hardest tasks a manager faces

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

on consulting + going out on my own

IMG_6808IMG1231
You’re never leaving, right? my client jokes last week after I give him a recap of my activity. Even though I’ve been on this assignment for only a short period of time, I feel connected to the people with whom I’ve been working–the ease in which I’ve assimilated into the group shocks me still–and my client, in jest, talked about having me aboard, full-time. I laughed, shook my head quietly, and said no, committing to someone for five days a week just isn’t my bag.

Last week, a fellow freelancer talked about consulting in terms of relationships: I’m dating a ton of people right now, and I have no interest in a commitment. I nodded my head because after seventeen years bound to multiple offices, computers, logins, politics and process, I want something other. And while I’ve been privileged to have been offered a slew of executive roles in agencies and at companies over the past year, I’ve ceremoniously turned them all down because the idea of having ownership of my time was infinitely more attractive than the illusion of financial stability. I’m insanely focused during the hours I’m on an assignment, and then I have the FREEDOM to work on my novel, take Brooklyn Body Burn classes during the day, and meet friends for a meal without having to frantically check my phone. I used to be the person who always checked the time, now I’m someone who allows it to pass.

Although I dare say I miss having consistent health insurance and a 401K.

Another freelancer, my dear friend Alex, and I spoke of the freedom of creating a life of your own design, of experimenting with models, modes of work, and failing forward while devouring the menu at Trattoria il Mulino. Although the risk of failing when you’re constantly hustling for income is a real one, it also allows you the space and time to really analyze your failures and make transformative change in how you act and work. You’re rarely afforded the ability to fail forward in a traditional workplace since failure, by definition, bears a negative connotation–it’s the thing to which we’ve been trained to avoid by all means possible. So we’ve been groomed to believe that running through ribbons is success, while I believe success is falling on your face, tasting your own blood, and getting up to run again. Perhaps considering a new course or direction.

Here’s the thing: I’m often nervous about maintaining deal flow, I loathe networking for the sake of networking, and I generally make less money than I have in the past, BUT, BUT, I’m happier. My days are my own to design; I only take on projects that challenge me; I work with people who inspire me; I collaborate with other freelancers, regardless of peer level and age, as a means to test out ideas and new ways of thinking + working; I’ve always operated from a place of integrity, which has afforded me a strong, reliable network. So when people ask me if I’ll ever go back to full-time {and this question is a constant, as folks somehow operate under the impression that full-time employment is risk-averse}, I talk about marriage. I talk about the seriousness of commitment. I now come from a place where I view a full-time role as a mutually-beneficial partnership rather than a honor bestowed by the employer.

I only wish I’d embarked on this path sooner…

IMG_6804IMG1231
IMG_6802IMG1231
IMG_6801IMG1231

the view from up here: on being a leader + drawing that “line”

IMG_3506IMG123

There will be a time when you will be discreetly removed from the chain of funny emails. Your invitation for drinks will conveniently get lost in the void that is Google chat, and you will become the person they talk about rather than the person with whom they drown their proverbial sorrows. The shift will be slight, almost imperceptible, but you will wake one day and realize you are a boss. You are no longer one of them, rather, you are accountable for them. There will come a day when you will have to fire someone and have to remain calm in the process. Even as you watch the clock for the moment when you can escape to the bathroom and cry your eyes out. Only then will you allow a release. There will come a day when you realize the person sitting next to you wants to punch you in the face but they can’t, because you are their boss and you have power over their livelihood. Instead they’ll cave, retreat; their sounds will be monosyllabic and their blinking will be violent. You’ll notice these shifts too.

This “power,” if one could call it that, is a tricky thing to navigate and takes some getting used to, as well as several layers of skin. Especially now when we live in an age where someone will leave your desk and tweet a series of sad faces, and you’re left wondering where to even begin in managing the situation.

With the exception of my early 20s, for most of my career I’ve drawn and managed a very definitive line between my work and personal life. Never did I forge personal relationships with my direct reports in fear of being perceived as showing preference. Everyone was treated equally, and I kept my favorites to myself. I was a curtain that could be parted to one side, a window that people could peer in, but never leap, through. I was semi-permeable, amiable, congenial, and sometimes severe. I set a bar and expected everyone to meet it. I kept my tears neatly tucked away, and I knew, to a certain extent, what people thought of me — that I was tough, exacting, particular, not easy to penetrate and befriend — and I had to keep that hidden, too. I’m not here to be your best friend; I’m here to make you the best you can be, was my constant refrain, and I genuinely meant it. I was the boss who was surgical with my edits, but one who spent hours, hours, empowering people to find their way to a solution. While many appreciated and respected the investment, sometimes I’d grow frustrated with those who wanted more, or didn’t see the value in someone delivering constructive feedback of their work, which would have made it, and by extension, them, better. There were those who wanted softer words I wasn’t equipped to give.

I wasn’t cruel, mind you, but I wasn’t going to smooth your hair.

In retrospect, I think I could have been gentler to some, I could have been a little more permeable, but this is the work: defining what kind of leader you are, and this work is a journey in and of itself. I still believe in a line, but I won’t draw it so rigidly. A great leader is one who allows someone to shine publicly, but guides their way, privately. A great leader understands that this is business, but these are people.

This is a long-winded way of responding to this HBR piece, “Why Young People Are Miffed About Being Considered Junior.” The article, and referenced study, talk a lot about the perception of age (how the young feel old and the old climb their way back to the womb), and part of me wants to tell everyone that being an executive isn’t all about a title, salary and an office, it’s about being fiscally accountable, it’s about making tough decisions, it’s about sitting there and knowing that while your staff may not love you, they respect you — and this is hard work. These are the days when you look at a spreadsheet and fight to not reduce people to a line item. These are the tough calls that you have to take (and make) because otherwise you’ll lose the deal, relationship, revenue.

So why rush it? Why not enjoy the process of accumulating accountability? Why not simply enjoy the time you have sending those mass emails and having those happy hours? Looking back, I really enjoyed the time when I lead small teams and had a modest amount of responsibility. I was able to figure out how to manage varying personalities and styles without being in the glare, exposed.

Down the line, the glare becomes blinding. The stakes become higher. You are forced to make painful decisions that are labeled as “business decisions.” Your every movement or errant remark falls under scrutiny, simply for the fact that you are the example. People model off of a leader’s actions, whether they realize it or not, and your actions matter in a way they hadn’t previously.

So why grasp for all that when you’re young? It reminds me of the time when I was in college and I wanted to be 21. And then I turned 21, and then what. And then I wanted to be a published author, and that happened, and then what. When you put all of your weight in achieving something that is a perceived future “marker,” you stop being present. You stop working on the person you are now, only the person you’re trying to map yourself to be. What if those two don’t reconcile?

At some point, I will have to make the decision whether or not to return to something full-time. I’ve turned down a few lucrative opportunities because I’m simply not ready. I’m still in reflection. I’m still working on the “me” of right now. I’m still wondering what that line is, or if one truly needs to exist.

So perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying that being “senior” is not a shiny object. Enjoy your life right now, as it exists, only in this moment. The rest of it, I pray, will sort itself out.

chocolate cloud cookies + rolling with it

IMG_3644IMG123
Yesterday I decided to go for a walk because being swathed in blankets, wrapping up your face in tissue like some sarcophagus, and turning your home into a bakery because you’re exhausted and coming down with the sniffles, has an expiration date. After a fit of sneezing that had me bordering on apoplexy, my cat scurried away to the next room and peered out from behind the door. Had his mother turned into a typhoon?

The moment when you start constructing narratives your cat would employ is the moment you leave the house.

Dusk fell and the sky was milky and still, and I found myself surrounded by trees. My friend and business partner phoned, and we discussed our mutual sneezing, our frenetic schedules, and lamented that it’s been too long since we’ve seen one another. I start to tell her about this new project I’ve got going, and she laughs and says, It’s like you’re a management consultant. The line was small, insignificant, a throwaway piece of conversation, but I paused mid-step, and said, I don’t know about that. To myself I thought, I don’t know what I am.

I’ve deliberately put writing + editing of my novel on hold until I get to Fiji next month (note to self: don’t book expensive vacations while drunk and mourning the loss of your cat, because you’ll pay for it, literally, later). I’ve got projects to keep me busy. I’m baking all these sweets you see here. But what does it all mean? All signs point to…

BLANK.

Part of me wants to roll with it, play the hand out, see how the cards fall. While another part wants to make a decision. Should I formally train in pastry making? Should I commit to this partnership I’ve got with my friend to take this consultancy off the ground? Should I map out a series of books? Should I start this magazine I’ve been talking about?

Suddenly there is stasis. There is this great chasm (or perhaps one that I’ve architected) between me and the thing that I ought to be pursuing. I’m in ether, floating, indecisive, and I’ve never quite been like this. There’s always be a plan, an objective, something very clear to which I’ve to work toward. Now, there’s this. There’s the joy of baking chocolate chip cookies and finding something new in so simple a recipe. There’s the relief from being an office but not having to adopt it and a company’s culture. There’s the thrill of finally being able to write, to finally have found my voice.

As you can see, I’m meandering. My mentor once told me that people who give long responses to short questions do it because they don’t know the answer. It’s like filling your test blue books with words in hopes that the answer might emerge from the rubble. You’ll talk and write your way there.

Part of wonders if I want is right in front of me but I can’t see it yet…

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
1 1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 cups (8 ounces) toasted sliced almonds
2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 3 half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Rub the superfine sugar and brown sugar together through a coarse-mesh wire sieve into a medium bowl; set aside. Beat the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar mixture, then the vanilla. Beat, occasionally scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl, until the mixture is pale yellow and light-textured, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer speed on low, add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing just until each addition is incorporated. Add the almonds and chocolate chips and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Empty the dough onto the work counter, and use your hands to thoroughly distribute the almonds and chocolate chips in the dough.

Using a 2-inch diameter ice cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans. Using the heel of your palm, slightly flatten each ball of dough. Bake two of the pans with the cookies, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are evenly golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, rap each pan on the rack. The cookies will deflate and their signature cracks will appear on the tops. Repeat with the third pan. Cool on the pans.

IMG_3650IMG123

on the business of writing

Part of me feels slightly false posting this video, as I’ve learned that while my novel-in-progress, Mammoth, is ambitious and ferocious in scope, it still needs a considerable amount of work. Right now it suffers from a lack of structure, which will allow for the telling of a story — a novel that feels very much like a nesting doll — to be seamless. The structure needs to allow for you to connect to the characters in a way that doesn’t create dissonance, yet nearly everything I write has an element of dissonance — an imaginary wall separating me from you. Language allows me to do this, create walls and break them, but right now, as I type, my ability to erect walls is preventing me from writing a truly wonderful book. My agent gave me some tremendous feedback that called out all these things, and at first I was angry, but then realized he was right. I’m printing out the 130 pages I have and will try in the coming months to set landmines in areas where I use language as a shield rather than a door you can easily walk through. A heart that is penetrable.

Like life, I guess.

You can’t know how I much I struggle with structure, because it feels confining. It feels as if I have to adhere to rules and order and harmony, yet I need it. I need it to be the frame and foundation for how I tell the story of a woman unraveling.

So Lexee, Stephanie, Arlene and Judy — take this advice with a grain of salt, because I’m endlessly struggling with writing, too.

love. life. eat. of the week

IMG_3302IMG123

I’ve always had such profound respect for journal editors like Anh Minh Le of Anthology Magazine, because hers is a labor of love, from her extraordinary essays to her carefully-conceived layouts. I invite you to check out a sneak peek of their latest issue online. It’s a good one.

One of the primary reasons I write is the need to start a dialogue. I couldn’t be more humbled and thrilled that my Kinfolk piece started a meaninful conversation online. Jane wonders in her thought-provoking post, “…why authenticity has been confused with an aesthetic. And if the perpetrators even think about the language they’re using, the dissonance they’re creating, or if they’re just capitalizing on this economic moment, packaging a product with a deep and visceral need (a spiritual one, even).” I was also taken with Cara’s honest piece on guilt, privilege, and all the criticism that falls in between. Along the same lines, a very good friend and trusted business partner wondered if my anger is due, in part, because I exist outside of this rarified group of people, a impenetrable group I could never be a part of. To a certain extent this is true, but I’m rallying against an overall representation of a simplified life. A whitewashing of food culture that is dangerous and one-note.

As a consultant who has expertise in an industry where everyone with a Facebook account purports to have expertise, I have to continuously remind clients that I value price. If they want cheap and inexperienced, they can walk down the street. Krista’s piece so eloquently addresses how consultants need to price themselves based on their worth and value.

This post reminded me that successful people start ventures before they’re even ready. With that being said, I’ve decided to make the leap and launch a new side project, a magazine devoted to gathering and home, with food being the bond that unites the two and empowers us to tell great stories. I want stories like this and reviews like this. From the modest to the sublime, I want to cultivate real stories from real people who enjoy real food.

Speaking of delicious food, Kimchi Grill is fast becoming my go-to spot for AMAZING short-rib tacos. I mean, aren’t you DYING over these snaps?

IMG_3305IMG123
IMG_3310IMG123
IMG_3311IMG123
IMG_3300IMG123

%d bloggers like this: