Thursday, January 30, 2014

The answer is always YES

When my daughter was a baby, and Ace of Cakes was on TV, I decided I needed to learn to decorate cakes. So I took a class at Michaels and learned how to pipe and make a buttercream rose. I made some birthday cakes, and then somebody asked me to do her wedding cake.

What she said was, "Do you do wedding cakes?" The answer was yes. Of course I do!

So I did.

A little later, when my cousin sent me this photo and asked if I could do it, the answer was yes.

Of course I can.

 In reality I had no idea how to do this:

Or this:

But that didn't stop me from doing this:

The year handmade scarves were all the rage, I'd never crocheted or knitted a stitch in my life.

That didn't stop me from gifting handmade scarves to everybody on my Christmas list.

The word "can't" was never allowed in my house growing up. My dad told me once, "There's no such thing as can't. There's will or won't. So either look me in the eye and say that you won't, or quit whining and do it."

Can I run a business, even though I've never taken a business class? Yes.

Can I write a novel in 30 days? Yes.

Can I do whatever it is your Marketing Manager or Content Wizard or Social Media Guru needs to do? Yes.

If it can be done, I can do it. And if it can't be done, well...we'll see about that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Confessions of a Chronic Overachiever

It's no secret, if you follow this blog, that I'm looking for work.

Why? I'm not unemployed. Far from it, I have an established career at a stable institution. But the thing is...I'm hungry.

The thing is, I'm bored.

I've been called an overachiever my entire life. Sometimes it's a compliment, often it's not. Sometimes I've wished I could be satisfied with underachieving, for once.

But I'm not, and I never will be. That's just not how I'm wired.

For over 10 years I've worked at a California State University. It's a gorgeous campus, all green grass and waterfalls and cobblestone paths. There are worse places to spend eight hours a day.

But for all its aesthetic beauty, it's also got its difficulties, if you're an overachiever. It's a state school. It's all the bureaucracy of government layered into all the politics of academia. Red tape is the name of the game. Things move slowly. Or sometimes not at all.

I like to move.

I've stuck with it, for a few reasons. One, because where else am I going to be paid to write in this town? Short of relocating to the Bay Area, this has been my best option.

But I've also stuck it out because I've built something here. I started at the age of 22 as a receptionist. But I was one overachieving receptionist. After answering phones and opening mail in the Office of the University President for a week or two, I saw a need: her writer was busy writing speeches, and her correspondence was falling behind. I offered to write a letter or two, flashing my hot-off-the-presses B.A. in English. Very quickly, I was ghostwriting all of the President's letters, as well as editing some of her high-level publications.

I spent the next several years working as a secretary in several different offices, but I maintained the connections I'd made with C-level executives, and I built a solid reputation as a flawless writer, editor, and communicator. I did side work for everybody from the President to individual faculty members to the University PR office.

When I was hired as Assistant to the Dean in the Graduate School in 2005, I performed all my Executive Assistant functions beautifully. But I also combed through the School's publications and web site, offering suggestions, until finally the Dean asked me to rewrite and redesign them all. Within a few months of hire as an Executive Assistant, I was promoted to a position created especially for me: The Graduate School Communications Coordinator.

I held this position for 5 years, and I built an entire marketing, recruitment, and communications plan from literally nothing. I hired an assistant. I attended conferences and made connections. And I wrote. I wrote everything.

At the same time, I took a side job as a Thesis Reader, responsible for proofreading master's level theses just prior to their publication. I made myself the best Thesis Reader on staff, and eventually another position was created just for me. I became the Thesis Reader Coordinator, and my job was to hire, train, and supervise the staff of readers. I instituted staff-wide workshops, training, style guides, and an email list, bringing 8 Readers who had previously been fully independent (and wholly disconnected) together to form a cohesive team. And I personally read every thesis written on campus that first year, to be sure my staff (and the training I'd provided them) were up to par. The crop of master's theses that year was widely recognized across campus as the best-written and cleanest copies in recent memory, and I learned so much about the writing and reading process that I was able to further improve the work of the Readers the following semester.

Eventually, a victim of budget cuts, the Graduate School was reorganized and disbanded, and I was reassigned to the Admissions and Outreach office. This was 2010, and I walked into an office whose social media efforts were stuck somewhere around 2006. The Admissions office had a dusty, silent Facebook page boasting 30 fans. So I took over. I opened Twitter and Instagram accounts. I created an editorial calendar, a social media marketing plan. I grew the Facebook page from 30 to nearly 500 fans. I took countless online courses and attended every webinar I could cram into my schedule, to teach myself the art of Social Media and Content Marketing. I hired another assistant. I incorporated social media into every aspect of our recruitment and publication efforts. Every event had a hashtag. Every web page had social media links. To this day most of my superiors are not on Facebook or Twitter. For the most part, I don't think they have a clue what it is I do. But it brings in traffic, and it attracts students, and it increases engagement, and so they let me do it.

In 2012 I took it upon myself to start a Student Blogging project. This was an ambitious undertaking for a little rural state school whose administrators barely accepted Facebook and pretended Twitter didn't exist. Nobody wanted to let me do it. Student bloggers? Uncensored? Unmoderated? Right on our website? Was I insane?

Probably. But I was determined to drag this school into the 21st century, so I did it anyway. I did it responsibly, but I did it, without the support or even the knowledge of many of my higher-ups. I hired 4 bloggers, students I knew and trusted. I trained them, and I set them free. Then I marketed the crap out of them, and I tracked their analytics, and I submitted a report to my manager. Here, look what I have done. It's already in motion. Try to stop it now.

Spoiler: they didn't. Because it was awesome. Because it was innovative and unlike anything any other campus in the 23-campus CSU system was doing. Because other, larger campuses took notice. And because it worked. It brought in the kind of students we've always had trouble attracting: high-achieving, highly engaged students who had choices, who were looking for something special. We showed them the only story that matters, the student story. We let our current students do the talking and the recruiting, and it worked. It still works.

Two years later the blogs are the cornerstone of our social media and content marketing efforts. Incoming students love reading them, and current students love writing them. I have dozens of applications each semester; they're only paid $18 a week to blog for us, and I'm only allowed the budget for 7 of them at a time, but those 7 spots are coveted.

From an outside perspective, from the real world, our blogs and our social media profiles are not much to look at. I know that. I'm proud of what I've accomplished here with very few resources and with roadblocks at every turn, but I'm not deluded. I may live in this small town, but I live on the Internet, in the pages of Venture Beat and KISSmetrics and Lifehacker, on Twitter and on Reddit. I live at and TED, at Moz and Seth's Blog and Entrepreneur. I live wherever I'm learning and growing and readying myself for something bigger.

The world has changed in 10 years. A lot. And the Silicon Valley is calling my name. I love tech, I love communication, I love social media and content marketing. Above all, I love writing. But I also love living where I live. I want to work where I live, so I've made the most of it for 10 years.

I'm bored.

I'm hungry.

And it's time to break out, because the remote work movement is real, and it's happening, whatever Marissa Mayer might tell you. And for the first time in history a talented person can live where she wants to live and still work on the cutting edge. Tech like Sqwiggle and Dropbox and Skype make it possible. Teams like Buffer, Automattic, and Zapier are leading the way. Remote work has the Richard Branson Stamp of Approval. It's the future. And I want in.

I read this article the other day, and it's been stirring around inside me ever since. Ten Years of Silence.

My ten years are up, and I'm ready to begin my masterpiece.

If you're a forward-thinking company looking for an overachiever, hit me up:

Image credits: FilmDoctorBuzznet

Friday, January 17, 2014

This is not a post about fingernails.

This blog has not historically been a serious blog. It's probably not going to become one. But you know, I'm making some big changes in my life in 2014, and those changes are bound to be reflected here.

It's about to get real up in here.

Big changes! For one thing, um, I think maybe I'll try to blog every now and then.

I have a spotty history with New Year's Resolutions. You may remember the ill-fated Xbox Kinect of 2012. Ahem. Truth be told, I generally just steer clear of the whole "resolution" thing. Goals are good, and I've always had goals. I've just never really placed emphasis on the beginning of the year as a time to make new ones. But this year, I'm at a natural transition point in my life that happens to coincide with the new year, so I'm going with it!

Here are my tools.

First, my mother gave me one of these little books.

Click to view on Amazon.

It's called "Pick Four," and it's published by Seth Godin, based on the teachings of Zig Ziglar. So much great stuff between these two guys! I love Seth's blog (who doesn't?), and have always respected Ziglar, though I have to admit I haven't listened to him as much as I'd like. I may be adding him to my commute soundtrack for awhile (the kids will love that!).

From Godin's own review of Ziglar's original Performance Planner:
At the core of the message was Zig's relentless positive attitude and his focus on written goals. I started writing down my goals, keeping track of daily effort, which led to daily progress which led to a dramatic shift in my working life.
It's an incredible privilege for me to modernize this work and bring it out in this new form. But the essence is still the same: if you do the work, if you write it down, things will change. And faster than you expect.
The booklet asks you to write down all your dreams and goals, anything and everything, no matter how big or small. I took this pretty seriously. "Write a best-selling novel" is there, and "work for my dream company" (the list includes Lullabot and Buffer, if you're curious--tech companies and startups known for their commitment to transparency and company culture, and for their distributed team structure). "Raise children who joyfully serve God and others" is on the list. So is "have beautiful nails." Hey, shut up. These are my dreams.

These are my actual fingernails. It's a long road ahead.
Next, you're supposed to whittle those down, and eventually arrive at 4 immediate goals. Not 5. Not 3. "Pick Four."

Surprisingly, "have beautiful nails" didn't make the cut. This time.

Here's what did:

(Because I know you can't read my handwriting):

Goal 1: Start a formal Bible Study routine
Goal 2: Close Sticky Chic, completely and for good
Goal 3: Sleep 8 hours a night
Goal 4: Take an online course related to my career

These are my immediate, short-term, actionable goals, and for the next 12 weeks, they will be my top priorities. Some of them, like Bible study and a full night of sleep, are habits I hope to set and maintain for a lifetime. Others, like closing Sticky Chic (which means closing out each and every open order with a satisfied customer, paying off all bills and debts, and liquidating the inventory I don't plan to keep) are do-it-and-be-done goals.

And the fourth goal, taking an online course, is really a subset of larger, long-term goals, including a general commitment to lifelong learning, and the goal to advance my career and move into a company I'm passionate about working for.

To help me focus and stay motivated, I'm using Lift, an app I just discovered. I haven't quite figured it all out yet, but so far I enjoy having a place to go check off a checkbox, and I like the way it focuses on incremental progress. It also tracks streaks, and will send you reminders throughout the day if you choose. I have it remind me to sit up straight. ;) I made my mom sign up, too, so we can cheer each other on.

Further, I've been doing lots of reading, because that's how I roll, and specifically I've been reading about goals and productivity. This article by James Clear really hit home for me: "Commit to a process, not a goal." You should go over there right now and read it. Seriously. (If you liked that, read this one too.) It makes so much sense, and is so inspiring.

It's also, at its heart, a fancy way to preach that old 12-step standard: One Day At A Time.

So in 2014, I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm focusing on the process. I'm setting priorities each morning and I'm making progress each day.

What are your goals for the new year? Any tips for making progress on mine? And seriously, how do I get my nails to stop breaking?!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Resolutions and New Beginnings

My Etsy shop, Sticky Chic Boutique, will very soon be closed, permanently. And I couldn't be happier about it.

I started it as a hobby, then grew it with the hope that perhaps, one day, it would replace my "day job" and allow me more time at home with my family. But it grew faster than I ever planned, and rather than allowing me the freedom to spend time with them, it stole me from my family, from my friends, from myself. I worked more than I slept. I didn't eat. I was defined by stress. By busy-ness. By exhaustion and sad smiles and "not right now, honey." And always, I would tell myself if I just work a little harder, just a little longer, just a little faster...maybe then, it will all be worth it.

The business was profitable. It was successful in that sense. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's marketing. I loved the sales aspect of running a shop. The social media, the product descriptions, the promotions and outreach. I was good at that. And sales rose. And rose. And rose some more. 

But I was still just one person, and one person with two little kids and a full-time job, at that. I kept thinking, maybe I can make this full-time! Maybe I can quit my day job and be a small business owner, working entirely from my home studio, wearing slippers to work, being my own boss, being home when my kids get out of school, attending Girl Scout meetings and preschool performances. That was the dream. 

But that's not what happened. I ended up spending what I made, on things to make my life easier so I could spend more time working. We went out to dinner, or ordered in. I quit cooking, and eventually I kind of quit eating. At least, I quit eating real food. I bought caffeinated beverages by the case and drank them constantly. I paid for whatever small conveniences came my way, anything to buy me a little more time. I dumped money back into the business, upgrading things and stocking up on things and buying things in bulk, and that was all good for profit margins, maybe, but it was bad for me. I wasn't saving. I wasn't working towards the goal of quitting my day job. I was just spinning my wheels, working harder and harder to enable myself to work harder and harder. And what was I gaining?

Things finally came to a head at Christmas 2013. My sales were through the roof. It was fabulous. At first. Then suddenly November was over. And December was dwindling. And I was working 18 hour days. And crying in my studio at 4 a.m. when I still wasn't as caught up as I'd wanted to be. And still, there were more emails. More demands. More orders. I closed down but I still couldn't handle everything I'd committed to. I gave up on sleep entirely. I was a mess.

I had to choose. Sticky Chic has been enormously successful, and could probably continue to grow, if I continue to give. But how much more can I give? And do I even want to? 

What I really want is a career that fulfills me. Sticky Chic gave me that, in some ways. The creativity and the design and the marketing aspects were fulfilling, and I was good at them. But you know, my day job requires some of that stuff, too. And I can't do them both anymore. I just can't.

So I made my choice. I have a career that really, I love. And there are opportunities out in the big world to pursue that career and make new goals. I'm a writer! I need to write!

It's a new year. It's 2014, and I'm wiser than I was yesterday. Because I'm not a stupid woman, and I learn my lessons. Failure is my friend, because it makes me stronger, and it makes me smarter. I've always taken on a lot, and until now, I've always handled it. So what did I learn? I suppose I finally found my limits. I learned where I can go and where I should not go. I've learned that yes, I'm a person who needs to be busy. But busy is relative. I will never again glorify busy for the sake of busy. 

It's not in my nature to slow down and smell the roses. I'm a doer, and a mover, and an achiever. But I'm going to work on that this year, on narrowing all that fire down to one career goal. I'm refocusing my energies on my real career, channeling all the joy I found in marketing Sticky Chic back into my day job. I'm looking for new opportunities, maybe something I can do from home, and make that original dream a reality. A new job that will fulfill me and allow me to push all of my energy and my passion and my need to achieve into just one direction, instead of two. And that will be something to witness, because know this: I am capable of greatness. 

And I'm focusing on my family. When Bianca heard I might close Sticky Chic, she cheered. She said "Now maybe you'll have time to play with us!" And if I needed any other validation for choosing to quit, that was it.

As a friend said when I announced that I was "admitting defeat": "It's not admitting's realizing that success lies elsewhere."