On Goals, Vulnerability, and Self-Talk

My therapist recently told me (which is quite possibly the most ‘Millennal’ way to begin a sentence) that to stop the negative thoughts and feelings being fed to me by my subconscious, I needed to change the way I talk to myself. More than one friend has told me that I’m hard on myself, and I know I tend to be critical, especially of my own work.

In one of our sessions, I was given an exercise: stand in front of a mirror, look myself in the eye, and read a list of statements that begin with “I love myself because…” twice a day. So I’m trying it out and doing as prescribed with a list I’d come up with:

I love myself because I can find the humor in any situation.
I love myself because I’m thoughtful.
I love myself because I love people.
I love myself because I have a way with words.

Though It’s only been a few weeks of doing this, it’s forced me to see my thoughts more objectively and catch negative automatic thoughts when they crop up. Better self-talk means rewriting the narrative we create within ourselves, about ourselves: when we’re aware of the words we use to speak to ourselves, we rewire old habits of criticism and other self-defeating patterns to positive thoughts and affirmations.

Mental health and self-care are especially important for entrepreneurs and small business owners: the stresses are real, and only recently has the conversation opened up about the benefits of vulnerability at work and self-talk as a performance optimization technique. It’s easy to feel pressure to appear a certain way and portray a certain image online, especially when you’re the face of a business. Positive self-talk is hard when you’re playing the comparison game, but the antidote to negative self-talk is simple: remembering to feel grateful.

Gratitude champion Brené Brown can always be counted on for vulnerability and self-love realness, but I especially love when high-profile businesspeople like Gary Vaynerchuk share their insecurities: when we integrate the importance of vulnerability and self-efficacy into the business world, big shifts happen in how we approach our work—and our self-worth.

When I left the corporate world, I vowed that I would never again sacrifice my health and well-being for a job, full stop. As an empath, it’s hard to not become emotionally invested in work, which is what burned me out in corporate environments. Now that I work for myself, positive self-talk is crucial not just for me personally, but for my business as well.

Change starts with thoughts and words, which become our actions: thus, our thoughts become our reality. Reciting the reasons I love myself into a mirror feels super awkward, but it’s a way to replace negative with positive, substituting criticism with encouragement. I need to be the best I can be to reach my goals, and that involves treating myself like I would a client or a close friend.

And that starts with me.

(The image for this post is from a session with Jessica Arroyo at Hippie Hollow back in February. This was by far the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt—and the results of the session are photos I’ll treasure forever.)

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

Last weekend, a friend and I made a pilgrimage up north to see the Dior exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art, and it was, without hyperbole, jaw-droppingly spectacular. As a lifelong fashion fiend, I’ve always loved clothes and style, and this exhibit was an absolute dream: the colors and textures, the architecture behind each piece… fashion at its best is nothing short of fine art, and seeing this exhibit was the creative infusion I needed.

Working from home and seeing the same things day in and day out sometimes leaves me feeling dulled out, and the dreaded Writer’s Block sets in. Last Monday, I went to a movie as a reward to myself for finishing some work, and it inspired me for days afterwards: it’s these small, yet incredibly meaningful investments in ourselves that improve the quality of our work—and our lives.

Creative dates have become an integral part of my approach to work. When I meet with someone and hear about their work history, or a small business owner gives me the story behind their business, that experience benefits the next project or next client I work with. Creativity is both cumulative and cyclical: one thing leads to the next, knowledge is accumulated, lessons are learned, and the work continues.

Inspiration can come from anywhere; it’s perception that makes the difference. I could be people-watching at a gas station and derive more joy from that experience than from a day at the Louvre: it’s my frame of mind that influences the outcome and what I take away from it.

The trope of the tortured artist reinforces the dangerous notion that one must be in pain to produce creative work. For the sake of my own mental health (and speaking of tropes), I’m working on a paradigm shift here, seeing creative inspiration through a lens of gratitude. Instead of punishing myself and playing a reel of negative self-talk to “encourage” my creativity (my normal M.O.), I actively remind myself that attitude is everything—and that positivity leads to better work.

Where does inspiration come from? For me, it comes from within. Treat yourself well, speak to yourself with kindness, practice gratitude, and inspiration will follow.

(The image for this post is of the Dior exhibit: it ends on September 1, so make the trip before it’s too late!)

When to Say No

I recently joked with a friend that I need to create an email auto-responder that says:

To my family, friends, clients, and colleagues:

Thank you for your message. I love you dearly, but am currently underwater with self-imposed deadlines, client work, and other obligations. Please note that I am not currently accepting unpaid work or any projects that otherwise demand my time and energy without monetary compensation. I will respond to your message as soon as I can summon the mental and emotional fortitude to reply.

Love,
Liz


There’s truth behind every joke: learning to say ‘no’ to things that don’t serve me has been a lifelong challenge, and self-employment has amplified the issue. My fellow freelancers and self-employed compatriots would probably agree that the dynamics of our work are fundamentally different from being an employee, and I’m still adjusting to this new mindset over a year into this adventure.

I’ve written about vulnerability and about my Enneagram Type 2 tendencies (I’m also an Obliger, according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework), so it makes sense that I struggle with boundaries, asserting myself, and saying ‘no’ to things that don’t serve me. Defining and enforcing boundaries is crucial to becoming an effective business owner (and something that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough!)

How does a serial helper learn to stop helping everyone else and start helping themselves?

What’s the best way to start saying ‘no’ when your default is ‘yes’?

I’ve learned a lot in the 18 months since my last corporate job: about business, about creativity, and about myself. Being a good problem-solver is, in my view, the best quality to have as an entrepreneur, so in the interest of finding solutions to problems, here are a few ways you can help support freelancers and small business owners in our shared mission to do great work:

  • Understand that a ‘no’ is usually synonymous with “I care and want the best for you, but this can’t be a priority for me at this time”

  • Don’t ask for free or discounted work or services 

  • Know that small business owners and freelancers are always working, even when they’re not “working”

  • Help with non-monetary boosts: sharing and engaging on social media, opening and forwarding emails, and word of mouth

Being an effective writer involves being a good editor: saying ‘no’ to words and ideas is just as important a skill as choosing the specific words and phrases to represent a person or a business. It’s good practice for filtering out things that don’t matter or are of low value so it becomes easier to recognize the things that are an emphatic yes.

As a helper and creative, I view my work as part-writer, part-hypewoman: I love being able to frame others’ experiences through a story arc and write my clients into a narrative worthy of their talents. There is nothing more gratifying to me than writing something for a client that gets them where they want to be and gets them saying “YES!” to their mission — and to themselves.

(The image for this post is a page from Belong: Find Your People, Create Community & Live a More Connected Life by Radha Agrawal, a beautifully written and illustrated book about how to forge meaningful relationships and build a community of like-hearted people. This particular section dissects ‘words’ versus ‘language’ and got me thinking differently about the relationship between the two: I highly recommend this one as a quick, immersive, uplifting read!)

Why Messaging Matters

Messaging is top of mind for me these days, and not just because I write for a living. When I hear the word ‘messaging’, I automatically think ‘marketing’ or ‘storytelling’: two related (and sometimes synonymous) concepts. “What’s the message?” is the question that every ad, bio, email, and bit of microcopy on a website is working to answer: every word is carefully chosen to get that message across and inspire action in the reader.

My clients’ messaging is vital to their success. The specific words they share with the world become the words they themselves are associated with: their values (and their value), their mission, and their “why” are communicated via deliberate, purposeful copy. As professionals, we thoughtfully choose the words that we share with the world, but what about the messaging we share with ourselves?

The words we use for and about ourselves are critical to our success and happiness, yet it’s so easy (at least for me) to fall into a self-defeating pattern of negativity with our own internal messaging. Constant connectivity via the internet is a great thing for maintaining friendships and exchanging information, but it’s often a slippery slope into comparison and isolation when we live out our lives online.

Affirmations and being mindful of the media and entertainment we consume can help us rewire self-oppressive thoughts of “I’m not good enough/don’t deserve happiness/never get it right” that crop up when we scroll through the online highlight reel of others’ lives. How can we override the automatic thoughts of comparison that arise when we’re constantly exposed to messaging that’s designed to make us feel inadequate?

Years ago, in one of my first corporate jobs, I learned about a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect, which posits that higher expectations leads to higher outcomes. This concept was introduced in the context of managing people (believe your employees are capable, communicate this belief, and they will perform better) but as a now self-employed person, it got me thinking: as my own manager, what if I applied this idea to myself?

“Believe you can, and you will.”
”You can be anything you want to be when you grown up!”
”Don’t give up on your dreams.”

The things we tell children to encourage them to learn, grow, and achieve are things that we stop telling ourselves at some point, and thus we stop believing them. Why are these messages that we reflexively tell to children, but not to each other (and to ourselves) as adults? We need to actively encourage each other to chase our dreams and become the best version of who we are, and it starts with the things we tell ourselves and share with others.

Messaging matters, and the most important messaging is the dialog we have with ourselves. So don’t forget: you are enough, you are capable, and you are worthy, in case you needed to hear that message today.

(The image for this post is me circa 1987, roller skating through my family’s southwest Houston neighborhood. I remember loving that Team Spirit message sweatshirt with all my ‘child-of-the-’80s’ heart — an early indicator of my fashion-loving future!)


What Good Writing Does for Your Brand

Last month, I reposted a photo on LinkedIn that delineates ‘content’ versus ‘copy’. Before becoming a full-time writer, I was unsure about the difference between the two, and it seems others in my network weren’t, either. The post and subsequent discussion got me thinking about the various forms of digital text: copy and content writing, UX writing (used to help guide user experience within a digital product), and conversion copywriting (used to persuade and/or sell) and how they work together to grow a business — and build a personal brand.

For a business, the more effectively it communicates both its value and its values, the better it performs. Educating an audience with content, providing an engaging user experience, and influencing behavior through compelling, well-crafted copy leads to more sales and happy customers: the end goal of every profit-seeking organization. A strong web presence creates a vibe that tells a story, forms a connection with the reader, and inspires action.

As individuals, social media has transformed the meaning of “personal brand”, extending to both our personal and professional lives. Thinking of ourselves as a business is necessary to developing a well-rounded (and appropriate!) online presence that tells a good story. For professionals, a LinkedIn profile combines visuals with copy to tell the story of a career and academic life, and optimizing your LinkedIn profile with a well-developed headline and summary that showcases your skills, experience, goals, and values makes you more visible to recruiters, leads, and connections to attract the work you want.

The more effectively and consistently we tell our stories, the stronger our personal brand becomes. Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, communication is at the root of your success: writing and telling our stories attracts our tribe and begets opportunity. For organizations, good storytelling is essential for strong leadership and brand perception, leading to satisfied employees and customers.

Good writing is good storytelling, and sharing your story isn’t just good for the soul, it’s good for business — and for your brand.

(The image for this post is a detail shot of a project that Corey Carbo and I co-created: I wrote the copy, she handled the visuals, and the collaboration was a highlight for 2018. Prints of this are available for purchase in her online shop!)


resources related to this post:
Punchline Conversion Copywriting
Copyhackers
Conversion Sciences
Content Bistro

How Objectivity Helps You Tell Your Story

“My story isn’t very interesting.”

“I don’t know how to make my skills and experience sound good.”

“How do you write about yourself in a way that’s not, you know, cringe-y?”


When I talk to people about bios, these are invariably some of the comments and questions that come my way. A good bio is essentially a good story: it gives the reader information woven into a Hero’s Journey-style narrative while being SEO-friendly and optimized for LinkedIn. Writing a decent bio can feel like an epic journey in itself!

Storytelling doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and sharing it is when we have the chance to improve how we tell our own stories (enter: social media). But learning to be more objective about what we share — online, with friends, or in a professional bio — helps to get clear on your story, highlighting what’s important and choosing key details to play a supporting role.

Here are a few ways that help me see storytelling problems from other angles — and that encourage creative breakthroughs:

Make a list. When I see the all the information out on paper: what I want to communicate, things I want to emphasize or downplay, and the tone I want to convey, it helps me get clearer on my thoughts around how (and what) I want to share. Seeing a bulleted list helps me prioritize the pieces and parts of the story I’m telling, create an outline, and write the final product.

Ask a friend. The best way to infuse objectivity into a situation is to introduce it to someone else. Find a friend, partner, colleague, or random passerby and ask for their feedback on what you’re working on. People are almost always flattered you asked for your input and will offer thoughtful feedback. (And if they don’t, remember all advice is autobiographical, and it’s not about you. They’re not worthy of your story!)

“But what if…?” Empathy goes a long way in writing and other creative pursuits. The better you’re able to put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think from their perspective, the more connected your writing will be. Inviting people into our stories makes them more memorable: taking with people is much different from talking at them. Make your story a conversation by empathizing with who’s hearing or reading it.

Sometimes, the best antidote for a writing or storytelling problem is just space. Having some time and distance from a project helps to clear your head and conjure up some of that sweet, sweet objectivity that makes the story better.

Because there are an infinite number of ways to have a job, or live a life, or be a human, there are just as many ways to write and talk about yourself. Getting an objective eye on your story (or your business’s story) is invaluable because feedback matters, but how you feel about the story you’re putting out there matters more.

(And if you need someone to help convince you of this and write a killer bio for you, hit me up.)

(The image for this post is a snapshot from Austin Kleon’s latest, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad. It’s a great, quick read and full of ideas to keep your creative work fresh and stay motivated — highly recommend!)

Who Gets to Call Themselves "A Creative"?

The last few weeks have been one of the best experiences of my life (you know this if you follow me on Instagram, get my emails or read my last blog post: I’m pausing to acknowledge how grateful and happy I am. Two weeks in Eurpoe was an absolute dream, and I’ve never felt more fortunate to have this opportunity to see the world (and get to practice my language skills!)

International travel has taught me valuable lessons about life: to truly enjoy and appreciate it, you have to relinquish control and just be open to whatever unfolds. Things happen: flights get cancelled; bad weather ruins outdoor plans; people get sick. I’ve found that it’s best to just plan for your plans to crash at some point — and that’s when it’s time to get creative.

I treated the Eurotrip as one long creative date: an opportunity to immerse myself in my environment and stretch my brain for a good amount of time. I’d heard about the concept from a friend who’s also self-employed in a creative industry: a creative could be going out to a movie by yourself, taking a walk, enjoying a meal, carving out time to read a book, or any soli activity to draw inspiration and refuel your creative tank.

Despite the fact that I now work in a creative field full-time, I still hesitate to call myself “a creative”. It may just take time for my mind to fully rewire itself after being a corporate employee for 15 years, but owning my life as a creative still feels new.. “I’m just not creative!” is a refrain I’ve heard from coworkers in every industry, usually when a task involved self-expression or some degree of subjective interpretation. Everyone is creative in their own way, though it’s a label some are reticent to embrace.

My husband and I joke that, within the context of our marriage, I’m the PowerPoint and he’s the Excel, meaning that I’m the extroverted, expressive type, whereas he’s more inclined to keep his head buried in lines of code for hours. Both skillsets are useful and valuable, and we complement each other well. He’s creative in ways I’m not, and vice versa. But “creative” isn’t always used as a positive descriptor, especially from well-meaning parents who want financial success for college-age kids.

I chose Spanish as my undergrad major because I saw it as a blend of business and pleasure. “Pick something practical!” was the prevailing advice I’d gotten, and I genuinely loved language learning. I figured I could apply language skills to any industry and differentiate myself in the employment market, which is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in life (thanks, uncharacteristically-clear-headed-early-20s-Liz!)

Doors open when you cultivate a skill: I probably wouldn’t be in Austin if I didn’t speak Spanish. Focusing on languages helped me get creative in my career: because there’s no clear path forward, it forced me to try different things, find what I enjoyed, and get entrepreneurial with my work life.

So who gets to call themselves a creative? Anyone and everyone: from spreadsheets to speech writing, we all have a creative streak. The real question is, how do you tap into your own brand of creativity to build a life you love?


(The image for this post is me in Amsterdam, walking along the streets and finding random treasures. Of all the places we visited on our European vacation, Amsterdam was my favorite!)

Where Freelance Work Happens

One of the best things that’s happened since I decided to leave the corporate world and strike out on my own has been experiencing the uncanny interconnectedness of the networks I’ve grown over the years. I’ve met so many incredible people in this weird, wild space of entrepreneurship in the past year or so, and my world has both expanded and shrunk at the same time.

Just as finding a new job is all about who you know, such is finding work as a freelancer. My Austin network has been incredibly supportive and encouraging as I made the transition into self-employment: friends and colleagues have become clients, and connections from my years in corporate have since joined the ranks as freelancers and small-business owners as well. As the gig economy continues to grow, I’m buoyed by the fact that I’m doing what I love, and, evidently, part of a trend as work shifts from full-time to free-agent employment.

As the years have passed since transitioning from college to full-time work, I frequently reminisce about how much I miss being a student. My undergraduate years were some of my favorites in my personal history (see my last post for more on that). Grad school was more of a grind as I was working full-time simultaneously, but I loved being a student nonetheless. Continual learning is a personal value of mine, and, fortunately, I have learning moments all the time now that I work for myself.

Employing an entrepreneurial mindset is one of the biggest adjustments I’ve made to my thinking since setting out as a freelancer. I am continually iterating and making micro-changes to this website, adding to my portfolio, adjusting my approach and service offerings… as any small business owner will tell you, the work is never really done as much as you just have to put it down for the time being. As a freelancer, I am my own marketer, hype woman, and project manager, so it’s on me to do the work and rep my work, because this is how I get more work down the road.

So, where does freelance work happen? Well, everywhere: as I type this, my husband and I are in a hotel in Amsterdam enjoying our honeymoon a mere 14 months after getting married (follow along on Instagram if you’re so inclined!) While he is a full-time corporate employee and is more or less disconnected from work during this trip, I am periodically checking e-mails and writing in the mornings just as I would at home. Honestly, I kind of love it: I can take my work on the road and accompany him on business trips, and when I’m home in Austin, I get to structure my days however I like. But with the freedom that freelancing brings of course comes another set of issues: no benefits package, unsteady paychecks, and the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring.

If life is all about opportunity cost, the tradeoff has been well worth it. As always, thank you all for being a part of this entrepreneurial journey and helping make freelance work happen.


(The image for this post is from a workshop I co-hosted with my dear friend Talan Tyminski of PitchATX and was taken by the estimable Jessica Santiesteban of Ideology Photography. Check her out for Austin-area portraiture and event photography needs: she’s an amazing person and such a talented artist!)

Everything I Need to Know About Business I Learned in Marching Band

In between my studies at the University of Oregon (see previous post for more on that), I was a member of the marching band. As much fun as it was a time commitment, being in the marching band was an unpaid part-time job that I absolutely loved. The camaraderie, the unforgettable trips, and the opportunity to become a better musician alongside great friends… it was a priceless experience that defined my college years.

When I reflect back on those times, the parallels between when I learned then and what I’m putting into practice now as a small business owner are striking. It got me thinking: what are some of the key lessons I learned back then that I still draw upon?

Punctuality matters. Our band director said to us at least once every rehearsal: “To be early is to be on time; to be on time is to be late; to be late is to be dead.” It was constantly drilled into us that to show up late for a rehearsal or a performance wasn’t just unacceptable: it wasn’t an option. Lateness would bump you down a grade level, and you definitely did not want to be That Guy who didn’t make call time. To this day, I recite “To be early is to be on time…” to myself when I’m en route to an appointment. Time is money, and punctuality is a form of respect.

It’s not about you. When you’re one of 250 musicians, it may not seem like you matter much as an individual. But when there’s an empty spot in the drill, or when one of five bass drummers isn’t there, it’s obvious that something is missing. For as many times as I may have felt like blowing off rehearsal, I knew that doing so would earn me scorn from my peers and negatively affect the group. As a business owner, I have to be able to empathize with my client and put my personal feelings aside to meet objectives.

Use your resources. Many a problem can be solved with duct tape and a roll of paper towels (makeshift soundproofing, anyone?) and knowing how to get creative with the resources at one’s disposal is a hallmark of success. When the marching band went on trips, each member was given a per diem for meals. One can only marvel at the resourcefulness of college kids when a modest amount of cash is involved: making the hotel continental breakfast last all day and buying food at the grocery store instead of meals out to stretch the few precious dollars we had. It’s a valuable lesson, especially for a one-woman start-up like me.

Effort > talent. Latent ability means nothing if it’s not used and put into practice. Simply having talent won’t take you far if you’re not going to develop it, refine it, and share it with the world. And to that end, humility > privilege and personal growth > achievement.

Rests are just as important as the notes you play. This was a common refrain from my drumline instructor: in a passage of music, you must take the full value of rests for the notes to make sense. You can’t rush through the rest to get to the next note: it’s a lesson about musicality, and also about giving ourselves the time and space to just be before moving on to the next thing. Rest is necessary to achieve quality work, and the rests in a piece of music (and in life) are tantamount to a complete performance.

There’s no glory in being in the marching band, at least not in high school when football players and cheerleaders were at the top of the social pecking order, but it’s funny how much time changes people and priorities in life. My time in the marching band was as educational as it was fun, and it prepared me well for life after college and the larger lessons of the business world. I’m forever grateful for the experience — and for the incredible teachers, mentors, and friends I’m still close with today.

(The image for this post is of the University of Oregon drumline in 2001. I’m the shortest snare drummer, right in between the two tallest ones. Great times; Go Ducks!)

When Languages Collide

For my undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon, I majored in Spanish and minored in German: an admittedly odd combination that tends to garner looks of “???” when I tell people what I studied in college. I’ve had a knack for languages since I started taking Spanish classes back in middle school, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have studied several languages throughout my academic career.

If you’ve ever studied a language like German or Latin that involves noun cases, you’ve felt the frustration of not being able to intuit which case is used in certain situations; which article goes with each word; what gender each noun is… foreign languages are hard and require a huge number of hours to truly master. Studying other languages has taught me that I am immeasurably lucky to be a native English speaker.

For as much difficulty as I’ve encountered learning the intricacies of other languages, my eyes have been opened to the reality that English is just, well, weird. There are “rules” that aren’t rules, spelling and pronunciation that make zero sense, and bizarre quirks that confound even native speakers, nevermind someone for whom English is not their native tongue. When you learn another language, you learn how to talk about language: structure and mechanics, pieces and parts of speech, and features that help unpack the issues that many native speakers have with the English language.

I can definitively say that being a student of languages has helped me become a better writer in English. Learning another language is useful in itself because it opens doors to new people, places, and experiences that couldn’t happen with a language barrier. Since my study abroad experience in Spain back in college, I’ve recognized immersion as the only way to fully learn (and appreciate!) another language. Culture and context are tantamount to language learning, particularly with colloquial language and informal conversation (“slang”) that comprises so much of how we communicate with one another.

For as much as I’ve been questioned about my choice to study languages in college and not something “more marketable” (whatever that means), I am forever grateful for the experiences that language learning has given me, particularly with how the new work economy is shifting. As increasing numbers of professionals leave the corporate life to pursue self-employment and freelance work, the corporate ladder is disappearing. Work is becoming more about communication, transferrable skills, and how well you can learn and adapt more than a static skillset.

Language learning is an exercise in humility: practicing another language is a very vulnerable thing, particularly among native speakers. I’ve had to relinquish my perfectionist tendencies and just make the attempt to communicate: when you let go of wanting everything to be perfect and just go for it, magic happens: connections form; breakthroughs occur. ‘Progress, not perfection’ has become my approach to learning languages, and it’s also become my business mantra.

Making a connection, however imperfect, is only possible when you’re humble, vulnerable, and open. It’s true of language learning, of business, and of life in general.

(The image for this post is a snapshot of a few of the language books in my collection. I’ve culled many other books over time in Kondo-esque purges, but these will stay forever!)

Why 1999 Was a Great Year for Women

1999 was 20 years ago.

It’s a fact that boggles my mind, yet here we are: nearly two decades out from the turn of the century. So much has changed, yet others stay the same, like my shortlist of favorite films.

20 years ago, on March 31, 1999, two of the best movies of all time were released on the same day and my world changed forever. I was 17 when The Matrix and 10 Things I Hate About You came out: a high school junior, smack-dab in the middle of the Xennial generation and the target audience for both films.

Although The Matrix and 10 Things represent two different genres (the former a brooding, cerebral action flick; the latter a teenage romantic comedy), what they have in common is what makes them the genre-defining movies they are: a highly stylized look and feel, and feminist characters that changed the way women are portrayed in film.

For the uninitiated, 10 Things I Hate About You is a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, centering around a group of high schoolers in Seattle. The protagonist, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), is sharp and unforgiving; an indomitable force of fierce, feminist energy that I had never seen before this movie. Her character sits in sharp contrast to her sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), a teenage princess whose primary interests involve looking cute, attracting boys, and being popular.

When 10 Things was released, I was the same age as these characters, but their reality felt elevated to me. Because 10 Things is adapted Shakespeare, extra care was paid to the words the characters use with one another and how they interact. My 17-year-old self desperately wanted to live in their world, combining Kat’s chutzpah with Bianca’s late ‘90s wardrobe. Kat Stratford, a high school senior, has her sights set on attending Sarah Lawrence and immerses herself in feminist literature and listens to the woman-fronted riot-grrrl bands of the day. As a teen in Boise, Idaho, I had never seen a character quite like her, in real life or on film.

The Matrix’s Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) was a physical force: bursting through the film’s opening scene, blowing audiences’ minds and cementing her reputation as a female action hero. I very clearly remember being influenced by her futuristic look: the slicked-back short haircut (early inspo for my current ‘do!) and head-to-toe black pleather (the ‘90s were a strange time for fashion).

I love both of these films to this day, but they’re not without their issues. In the end, 10 Things is a guy-gets-girl story that centers around these dynamics and not Kat’s abject feminism, and there’s also a scene when Bianca uses the R word that would absolutely not fly today. The Matrix has Neo saving the world as The One, and no one thought to ask at the time, why not Trinity? The film also drags out the tired stereotype of the all-knowing black woman, The Oracle (Gloria Foster), a racist trope that we thought nothing of at the time.

1999 was a great year for movies (cult favorites Office Space, American Beauty and Fight Club were released the same year) but also marked a cultural awakening: the Columbine shootings happened less than a month following the release of the Matrix, sparking conversations about gun violence and its portrayal in the media. Problematic themes and behavior aside, I will always have a soft spot for these films as they represent a certain period in my life — and a turning point in our culture.

Reflective nostalgia is a favorite topic of mine (and apparently a cornerstone of my writing career). So much of what we are exposed to in pop culture becomes a part of who we are on some level, and 1999 was a great year for women because it marked a shift in female roles in film. Seeing Kat Stratford devour feminist pop culture and pay no mind to boys or watching Trinity, a female computer hacker with as much cred as her male counterparts — seeing women in these groundbreaking roles was a big deal for me, especially at an age when I still wasn’t entirely sure who I was or who I wanted to be.

Representation in film matters, sometimes more than we might realize.

(The image for this post is me in 1999, the summer before my senior year of high school. Memories!)

What's Vulnerability Got to Do With It?

Back in January, I wrote about vulnerability and work, and the post sparked some great conversations with my friends and colleagues. Vulnerability was a key theme in my Social Media Week presentation as well, with some key quotes and research from the preeminent vulnerability researcher and all-around badass Texas woman, Brené Brown.

The more I learn about writing and entrepreneurship, it’s clear to me that storytelling and communication are the keys to success in any pursuit. Employability is less about a fixed set of skills and more about a capacity for learning and growth: how well can you connect the dots in your mind — and then communicate those connections? How good a problem solver are you? As I’ve shared in every talk I’ve given as a self-employed person, you can’t be a halfway decent writer unless you’re willing to get vulnerable, think deeply, read frequently, and listen constantly.

As a writer who works to help others find and articulate their truth, I do my best to practice what I preach: getting vulnerable about my struggles and shortcomings in my own writing to encourage others to do the same. In my writing for Pass/Fail, I’ve unpacked some deeply rooted personal stuff, and in so doing, I learned a crucial lesson: that vulnerability is learning; it’s the gray area we all live in when we’re just trying to get from point A to point B. Vulnerability is just like curiosity: it’s more of a practice than a state of mind.

Curiosity also helps us become more vulnerable: asking “yeah, but why?” about our own beliefs and choices will ultimately lead us closer to our own truth. For me as it relates to work, the further I veered from my truth, the more miserable I became. When I was in the corporate sector, I was earning more money than I needed, but it was never enough to distract me from the fact that I was fundamentally unhappy and unfulfilled in the work I was doing, a truth that took me years to fully acknowledge. (Related: if you’re someone who’s able to compartmentalize your life and become a completely different person at work than you are at home, good on you, but I can’t do it. Chalk it up to personality type, but I need to be doing work I legitimately believe in for people I care about or I just can’t be happy.)

We can’t be afraid to find and say the words we want to say; to be vulnerable and speak our truths without shame or fear of retribution. Finding human-centered work that we can believe in is the best we can hope for in our professional lives: work that is based around the thing that makes us unique, helpful, and fully human (enter: workplace actualization). In any company I’ve worked for and in any role I’ve ever had, the people have always been the best part, and in acknowledging this truth through getting curious and vulnerable about my search for meaning in the work that I do, it led me to the work I do now. Communication forms the connective tissue that underpins my “why”: I believe in the power of language and in its ability to change the world, and in my work, I help to unlock this power for others.

So what’s vulnerability got to do with it? Well, everything. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the more open we are, the more the world opens itself to us. (We get what we give: it’s just like the New Radicals said!) This is why I write this blog for my business: to share openly and vulnerably so that others might benefit and share more of themselves. So thank you, kind readers, for your support and encouragement in my ongoing vulnerability practice. I hope this inspires you to share more of yourself and become more vulnerable in all facets of life.



(The image for this post is from Jeff Tweedy’s memoir and was an unexpected delight to read: he tells his story so openly and beautifully, and I learned so much about a musician whom I knew nothing about going in. Many thanks to my pal Bobby for lending it to me!)

How To Use Social Media to Tell Your Story

“Stories are just data with a soul.” -Brené Brown

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past week was a flurry of activity for me. On Wednesday night, I helped professionals with their bios alongside fellow writer Jess Hagemann for a Creatives Meet Business event dedicated to polishing our profiles: headshots, personal style ideas from Greer Image Consulting, personal brand advice from PitchATX, social media tips from The Content Plug, plus food and drinks in an incredible venue. It all added up to a value-packed evening of connecting with awesome people and getting them to the next level in their careers!

The following morning, I presented at Social Media Week Austin, the local iteration of an international annual event. My talk was titled ‘Who Are You? Using Business Principles to Tell Your Story’ and in my session, I led attendees in a step-by-step approach to constructing a personal narrative on social media. We discussed tone, why-based messaging, and vulnerability (Brené Brown’s research factored heavily in my presentation, naturally, as did Elaine Benes) as keys to successful storytelling on social media.

I guided the audience through the four steps of storytelling on social media:

  • Assess: know your audience; know your inputs (data points, facts, and key takeaways)

  • Educate: respect your reader; add value; integrate data into a narrative

  • Collaborate: our stories don’t happen in a vacuum, so we share our stories and get feedback

  • Iterate: get peer and audience feedback, then make adjustments to your message

This isn’t a ‘one and done’ process, but a continuous cycle to apply to the messages and stories we share both on and offline. When we regularly evaluate and measure the impact our message has on its intended audience (the LinkedIn SSI score is my current favorite social media analytical tool), we can make incremental improvements to the story we’re telling and ensure we’re sharing a unified message across all channels and formats, from longform blog posts to status updates to microcopy on our website.

personal versus professional tone on social media channels

Modulating tone across social media channels is crucial (and also the easiest thing to adjust): what we share (and how we share it) on Facebook may differ greatly from how we use Instagram or LinkedIn. The graphic above is an illustration of how I personally use social media: Facebook has always been a personal venue and LinkedIn is strictly professional, whereas my Instagram is a blend of both. Establishing how you use various social media platforms will help you write and tell your story with a unified message in a venue-appropriate tone (enter: LinkedIn is not Facebook).

Of all the information I presented in my Social Media Week talk, the most important has to do with the Brené Brown quote preceding this post: stories are just data with a soul, and remembering this is the key to getting our message to land with our audience. Stories are memorable when they employ emotion: when we as the reader or listener are able to empathize and find ourselves in the narrative being shared, we are much more inclined to recall the data points embedded within the story. Knowing how to mix feelings with data in a compelling way is the magic formula for effective storytelling — and the secret to social media.

(Want to see my whole Social Media Week presentation? Reach out and I’ll send you my slide deck! And the photo on this post is by Ashlee Newman Photography at the Polish Your Profile event: check her out if you need event photography in the Austin area.)

Is Art Work?

As a writer, I get asked about my work a lot more than I ever did when I was in corporate roles. I suppose my life now is a lot more unpredictable and varied than it was when I worked in an office, but you might be surprised at how unglamorous self-employment usually looks (any other freelancers out there have ‘pajamas all day’ days, or is that just me?)

Mundanity aside, I really love what I do: helping others find the right words to tell their stories, while working on my own stories that I want to put out into the world. Because I write for various needs and outlets, I’m frequently switching gears: researching for a client, editing a different project, then setting aside time to work on a personal essay. Writing is my work, but it’s also my art; my means of creative expression and connection.

It begs the question: is art work?

Art’s place in the world is finally starting to get its due: with STEM becoming STEAM, art is being recognized as crucial to a well-rounded education. When it comes to work, many of us are at the end of our ropes: recent writeups on burnout (particularly among my generation) have sparked honest conversations about work, boundaries, and happiness — and that we can (and should!) expect all three of these in our jobs.

Finding what makes us truly happy is a big step to finding fulfillment in the work we do. For me, I’m happiest when I feel indispensible; when I’m a part of something greater than myself. It’s probably why I’ve never really had a problem working on teams, or working for someone else. I’m an Enneagram type 2: The Helper (if I’ve ever been unnecessarily helpful to you, my bad. It’s The Helper coming out.) I also recently had a breakthrough that I need to be doing work that I’m emotionally invested in, and compartmentalizing my life such that I become a different person at work than I am at home just isn’t an option for me.

How I feel about my work matters to me, but is irrelevant to the world at large: the thing is, work is work. The fact that I enjoy what I do and find personal fulfillment in it helps me create better work overall. Some of my favorite things I’ve ever written are things I didn’t get paid to write (examples here and here) but that I wanted to put out there for the sake of art, self-expression and releasing ideas and concepts that I want to discuss.

I would submit that art is some of the most difficult work there is: it involves skill, investment of time and resources, and accessing emotions to create from an honest space. Art is vulnerable in that it invites others to see (and judge) our values and our point of view. Framing my art as work (and vice versa) helps me connect with my clients to get at the heart of their message, finding the art in their work and using words as my medium. Because I also write for myself, my work is my art, and I approach it as such.

What are you doing to inject art and creativity into your everyday work?

(The photo in the caption for this post is a snippet of the cheeky ‘Map of Barton Springs’ that Corey Carbo and I collaborated on last summer: posters are available for purchase in her shop here!)

Where Vulnerability and Work Intersect

Vulnerability as a concept is getting some good PR these days, and I for one am thrilled about it. Brené Brown’s research on authenticity, shame, and vulnerability has opened our eyes to the power of understanding one’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and fears, and it’s fundamentally changing the way we do business.

Coming from an HR background, hearing the phrase “vulnerability at work” would have set off alarm bells when I was working in a corporate setting. It’s easy to conflate ‘vulnerability’ with ‘TMI’: what Brown advocates has nothing to do with revealing dark secrets or discussing confidential information that would make an HR manager run in the opposite direction. Vulnerability as Brown defines it is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”: the opposite of what we’re taught to bring to our work.

In American work culture, vulnerability has been associated with weakness: the archetype of the stoic, take-no-prisoners, there’s-no-crying-in-baseball type of boss is glorified, and leadership and humanity have been viewed as competing ideals. But as the implications of a toxic work environment continue to affect the bottom line, companies can no longer afford to ignore the facts: a culture of intimidation and ‘results-at-any-cost’ isn’t just wrong, it’s bad for business.

My previous post highlighted a core concept of Conscious Capitalism, which seeks to redefine the role that business has in society, reflected through its tagline “elevating humanity through business”. The book’s authors posit that, when we hire someone, we don’t just get a set of skills, experience, and education: we’re hiring a whole human, complete with fears, worries, hopes, and values just like everyone else. When we engage the whole human, people are encouraged and empowered to express themselves and be vulnerable, accessing their creativity and doing meaningful work that contributes to the organization — and creates a sense of self-worth that makes employees stick around.

All business is ultimately about relationships, and employing vulnerability in our messaging and in our day-to-day work is a big step towards elevating business (and work culture) to a manifestation of our own humanity. When we are vulnerable in the workplace and in our work itself, we invite worthiness to the table: Brown calls vulnerability a crucial strength, an invaluable tool to combat the “never enough” culture that pervades workplaces.

For conscious businesses, not only is vulnerability a competitive business advantage, it’s an imperative. As an imperfect human, I am constantly making mistakes and learning from them, both in work and in life. I am proud to say that vulnerability is at the core of my business: allowing myself to be vulnerable and encouraging my clients to do the same is when real magic can happen. Human connection is the “why” behind everything we do, and vulnerability is the key to that connection.

What are you doing to invite vulnerability into your work?

When "Enough" Isn't Enough (and Dealing With Burnout)

In my previous post, I shared that TRUTH is my word for the year. In the interest of committing to radical truth in 2019, here’s an honesty bomb for you: this self-employment/freelancing/small business thing? It’s a totally unglamorous, unpredictable sideshow that involves a lot of hustle and heart. But here’s another radical truth: I wouldn’t want it any other way, at least for now.

Working for one’s self is supposed to be a grind, so they say. As an “old Millenial”, burnout is more than just a mindset: it’s a lifestyle. My generation is defined by multitasking and technology and career changes and more than one financial crisis, so it only makes sense that we suffer from work-related whiplash. Do we pursue work that we love, or try to find fulfillment outside of work? Do we become a specialist or a generalist Further complicating things is the concept of the “deep generalist” : how does one both specialize and generalize, developing a deep understanding of multiple industries and concepts? It never seems like enough, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling.

My generation is leaving corporate America in droves, and it’s because we feel creatively undervalued and overworked, tethered to jobs that are effectively meaningless and, in many cases, misaligned with our personal values. In the 2013 book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, the authors posit that “conscious businesses”, defined as organizations that are driven by a higher purpose beyond pure profits, are “changing the world by elevating humanity through business”. Conscious businesses engage all stakeholders including leadership, employees, customers, shareholders, and the community at large, as they are all affected by the decisions, activities, and the presence of the business itself.

As a business of one, I’m making a concerted effort to treat myself as a conscious business. This classification of businesses respects all individuals in the business ecosystem, aware that their team members represent more than just a set of skills, experience, and education: when a conscious business hires an employee, they are aware that they’re hiring a complete person, with fears, worries, and feelings that come with being human. I’m able to bring my whole self to work, leveraging my own experiences, ideas, and emotions to do great work for my clients.

Though self-employment comes with its own set of challenges and frustrations, I’m buoyed by the knowledge that what I’m doing truly helps people. The work that I do has inherent worth and adds value to the clients I serve, irrespective of the feelings I might have about the work that I’m doing. Yes, I work for money, but the fact that I enjoy it and derive meaning from the work that I do helps me as an employee and as a business owner — and makes my work the best that it can be.

(The photo caption for this post is a snapshot of the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism. I got a lot out of this book and have been recommending it to everyone I know: it made me think differently about capitalism and its role in our society, and it’s had a profound impact on how I approach my business. Check it out!)

Why I Don't Believe in New Year's Resolutions

You know the tropes: New Year, New You! Begin again in January! With all the catchphrases prodding us to lose weight, get active, and magically become an entirely different person in the new year, one would think that the diet and fitness industry had coopted reinvention itself.

Personally, I think New Year’s resolutions are bunk. In my mind, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right now and not waiting for some arbitrary date to proclaim its significance. It’s not that I think that resolving to improve oneself is lame: quite the opposite, actually. But why does our society place so much emphasis on self-improvement only during this time of year?

Years ago, I noticed a trend of choosing a word for the upcoming year. A few blogger friends in my network would write an annual post of their goals and pick a word for the year, and I kind of liked the idea: not necessarily a goal, but a theme to live by for the coming months; a word to guide one’s choices and narrow the focus in the year to come.

For the first time ever, I’m choosing a word for the year. At first, I thought my word should be FOCUS, given my propensity for fleeting excitement over the next bright, shiny object in my purview (I call it “popcorn brain”, wherein kernels just fire at random and you can’t control when another thought will come). But as a friend pointed out, it felt a bit forced. Though I do need help with focusing on the task at hand and not allowing myself to get distracted, I needed a word that felt better; something that I could lean on to bring some clarity and guide me through the tough decisions.

And so it is, my word for 2019: TRUTH. I’ve found that when I’m honest with myself, really, truly honest about my thoughts, feelings, and intentions about whatever it is that I’m wrestling with, the rest comes naturally. Last year, I was forced to reckon with the truth about my work, my physical and mental health, and the idea that these things are interconnected. It led me to the work I’m doing now, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

TRUTH is it: it’s my competitive advantage; my guiding force. In 2019 and beyond, I’m bringing radical honesty to the table. Because I no longer fear getting entirely truthful with myself, I can help others articulate their own truth: clear, honest, and powerful.

Who’s ready for TRUTH in 2019?

How I'm Treating the Holidays This Year

If I’m being honest, the holiday season stresses me out. All the extraneous events, gobs of food and alcohol, the rampant consumerism… there’s a lot to unpack, but it all adds up to tons of pressure around the holidays to have a good time (or at least appear as though you are).

Growing up, my brother and I lived for Christmas: with a break from school, special treats around the house, and the promise of toys and gifts we’d been coveting, it was the best time of the year. But as we grew up and became adults ourselves, it became clear that Christmas, at least the tangible parts, is largely for children, and that grown-ups absorb all the extra stress (and cost) of it all.

But what about the intangibles; the thoughts and feelings we exchange during the holidays? For me, the gifts of the season are love, gratitude, and connection: the important things that mean everything to me now.

2018 has been a wild ride, to say the least: I quit my corporate career, got married, launched a business, and learned more this year than I have probably in the last several years combined. In no particular order, I’d like to thank the following people (via their companies and organizations) for their encouragement and support this year. I’m forever inspired by their work, their words, and their dedication, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Chelsea Francis
Voices of Impact
Stick With It Co.
Foster Thinking
Small Coffee
Bravely
MaggieGentry
Teddy V. Patisserie
Whiskey + Pearls
Feel Good, Dress Better
Greer Image Consulting
Laurel Kinney Personal Styling
PitchATX
Ideology Photography
Tim Walker


I’m treating the holidays as an opportunity to express my gratitude; a time to reflect on the gifts I’ve been given this year and enjoy the abundance of the season. As I told a friend not long ago, things certainly aren’t perfect, but damned if they’re not great these days.


Happy holidays, friends: how are you treating the holidays this year?

What Storytelling Does to Your Brain

The word ‘storytelling’ automatically conjures childhood memories: listening intently as grown-ups read us stories and sharing tall tales and jokes with other kids on the playground. ‘Story’, however, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fiction’; it means ‘narrative’: weaving connected events together in a way that makes an impact with the listener or reader.

Author Ann Handley describes it best in her book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content: “it’s not so much ‘storytelling’ as it is ‘telling true stories well’”. Choosing your words wisely to tell a relatable, impactful story is undeniably an art, but is there science involved in storytelling as well?

When we sit through a boring slideshow presentation filled with data points, only certain parts of our brains are activated. But when we listen to a story full of descriptive language, powerful metaphors, and personal details, it actually activates our entire brain. Because our minds think in narratives and cause-and-effect relationships constantly, when we hear a story, we associate the information being delivered with our own experiences, thus making it more memorable—and easier to recall later.

The field of marketing should be taking notes on the science of storytelling. Austin-based media and technology guru Paul O’Brien recently shared his thoughts on the topic at a Marketing for Startups event in October, opining that “the ultimate goal of marketing is to make the sales department obsolete”. He pointed to the strength of brands like Apple and Yeti where customers are the brand, lining up for the release of new products and proudly emblazon their cars and clothing with their logos. Because the stories behind these two brands are so strong, the products sell themselves: marketing has replaced sales.

When we tell our own stories, whether it’s the story behind our company, our upbringing, or our everyday lives, it is imperative to remember that our story (and thus our truth) is wholly unique. Telling our story in an authentic way is what makes us memorable.

Remember: it’s your story and people need to hear it!

(And the story behind the photo on this post is simple but sweet: when we got married earlier this year, my husband and I took photos at my favorite place in Austin, Big Top Candy Shop. The colors of the candy, the placement of the bouquet… it tells the story of our wedding in one snapshot. Chelsea Francis took our photos, and I cannot recommend her enough!)

Where I Learned to Be a Public Speaker

We’ve all heard it said: humans’ top three biggest fears are death, loneliness, and public speaking.

Public speaking? On the same list as death?

The thing is, public speaking can be very scary. The prospect of standing on a stage for the world to see and hear us (and judge us) is unnerving at the very least. But as is the case with most everything, practice and repetition makes us better, and public speaking is certainly no exception.

I was never taught the basics of public speaking before I was thrown into the fire to just do it. I shed my fear of speaking in front of a crowd during my years of employee benefits consulting: before my tenure at AmeriBen/IEC Group, I didn’t have any exposure to public speaking aside from school projects. During my time there, I joined Toastmasters and had the opportunity to present at company all-hands meetings. Part of my job was to lead benefits open enrollment meetings for groups of employees from a wide range of industries. I was hired for my Spanish-speaking skills, and I would present in both English and in Spanish: after using all my available brain space to do a presentation in a non-native language, I remember being so relieved to present in English that the nerves were no longer there!

Since my days of leading benefits presentations, I’ve sought out opportunities for public speaking. My last corporate role with Oracle was giving software demos and presentations full-time. I’ve done improv and performed at storytelling venues in Austin. My friend Talan of PitchATX (who was a nationally-ranked college speech competitor!) and I co-led a workshop back in September on brand storytelling that was a ton of fun.

I learned public speaking through trial and error; through practice, and through creating opportunities to present to a group. Public speaking is a skill just like anything else, and knowing how to practice—along with a few key tricks for memorization and non-verbal communication tactics—is the secret to success.



Have a speech or presentation coming up that you need to nail? I can help with that! Reach out and let’s work together to craft a story that gives you the confidence to land the sale, get the promotion, and leave the audience wanting more.