#Reverb10 Day 21: Future Self

Note: This is the twenty-first in a month-long exercise called Reverb10, where bloggers reflect on the year before and think towards the year ahead. The idea is to post daily, based on the day’s prompts; let’s see how well I do.

Prompt: Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

The advice I’d give my future self is the exact same advice I’d give myself 10 years ago: It’s never as bad as you think it is.

For all my plucky go-get-em-ness, I’ve always been an obsessive worrier. I worry what will happen if I don’t get what I want. I worry what will happen if I *do* get what I want. I spend entirely too much time worrying, and most of what I worry and rile myself up about ends up being just fine when everything shakes out.

So the advice I’m going to be giving myself, daily, is that it’s never as bad as you think it is. Go forth. Keep moving. Charge ahead. You’ll end up where you’re meant to be.

#Reverb10 Day 17: Lesson Learned

Note: This is the seventeenth in a month-long exercise called Reverb10, where bloggers reflect on the year before and think towards the year ahead. The idea is to post daily, based on the day’s prompts; let’s see how well I do.

Prompt: Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

I will note that these are getting much harder to do as the month goes on; that said, I appreciate the discipline, and am trying to think of it as meditation. *ahem*

The summer before my senior year of high school, I got my first job – at Clean Water Action (CWA) in Providence. For three summers and one brutally cold winter, I travelled to various neighborhoods in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, and I walked door to door, convincing people in their homes to give generously to the organization’s goals, which focused on tougher environmental protection laws.

The job was physically demanding – I spent five hours a day walking, five days a week – but the exercise was invigorating. Most importantly, I found I was really good at the job. Having been studying theatre, I was well equipped to put myself in the situation that these folks were in, and I was able to craft my “pitch” according to what I knew would resonate with the folks I was speaking to. It was incredible practice, that has fed into every single area of my career to this day – hence, my interest in human-focused design.

Why am I discussing an experience I had in high school in the context of lessons learned this year? Because of bricks.

As a canvasser, one of the things that you learn quickly is that people say “no” a lot. Not only do they say no, some people are incredibly rude about it – or worse, they keep you there talking, pretending to be interested, just so they can waste your time. At CWA, we called this “carrying bricks.” Each “no” is another brick, and you have to make the choice whether you’re going to keep carrying those bricks – making it harder to get to the next house – or drop them and move on, looking for the people who are going to get it.

Because I didn’t carry bricks, I was one of the most consistent canvassers CWA had for three summers – and I loved the job. For six years running a design studio, I didn’t carry bricks in my business development process – and I was successful in keeping the studio running, and profitable, for all six of those years.

This year, in my shift from business owner to employment candidate, I realized that I’ve been carrying bricks, hardcore. Mind you, this is a brutal environment. Plenty of places are hiring, but the candidates they’re looking for seem to exist in this magical alternate universe that leaves us brilliant-but-normal types in the dust.

After a particularly disappointing bit of feedback from a place that I was really excited about joining, I found myself doubting everything I knew to be true about myself. Then I realized that it was a brick. A brick that I’d been carrying for months, along with all the other bricks that I carried from all the other rejections I’d gotten from places that just didn’t get me. When faced with a brick, what do you do? Do you throw it at the offender’s window, or build a wall with it to protect yourself?

Neither of those things actually help matters. Petty larseny only leads to trouble, and building a wall only hides you further – which is no help during a job search. The only thing you can do is leave it where it is. Drop it out of your bag and keep moving. Eventually, you’ll find the place that gets it, and you’ll know it’s right.

I haven’t found it yet, but I know it’s close. The more clarity I get on what I really want to do, the closer I get to the goal – and the more people I meet who actually get it. It’s a really, really good feeling.

#Reverb10 Day 10: Wisdom

Note: This is the tenth in a month-long exercise called Reverb10, where bloggers reflect on the year before and think towards the year ahead. The idea is to post daily, based on the day’s prompts; let’s see how well I do.

Prompt: Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

Part of me wants to say that getting married was the best decision I made this year, but technically, I made that decision in 2009. I will say, though, that it was a profoundly good decision.

That said, if I had to pick one wisest decision this year, it was the steps I started taking this year around my career. Part of it was deciding that it was time to shift into different areas of design; although I love print and web (and do both well!), lately I’ve been more interested in the possibilities that design has to solve business and social problems beyond stakeholder communication. In particular, I’ve been interested in using design thinking to create social innovation – which blends two long-standing passions of mine.

The second part of this shift, and probably the most important, was the decision to return to school. While I’ve thought quite a bit about returning over the last several years, running a business made it hard to find the time to go back, and it was hard for me to find a program that actually matched what I wanted to learn. That’s one of the main reasons I was so excited when I discovered Lesley’s adult learning programs. Not only do they have classes really close to my home, but they offer the flexibility to design my own degree, and take classes both at Lesley and at Art Institute of Boston.

While making the shift has been challenging, I’m feeling more confident and clear on the direction my life is headed every single day, and I’m grateful for that.

#Reverb10 Day 5: Let Go.

Note: This is the fifth in a month-long exercise called Reverb10, where bloggers reflect on the year before and think towards the year ahead. The idea is to post daily, based on the day’s prompts; let’s see how well I do.

December 5: Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

Many, many ideas that kept me from going back to school. The feeling that I had to keep running a business or else I’d be a “failure.” My gall bladder (gotta love that, right?). RELATED: my yoga practice – which I want to get back.

There were people, things, and concepts that I dropped this year; some for carefully calculated reasons – and others just because I had reached my breaking point. As 2011 inches closer, I have a feeling that more things will end up shaking off my plate. I’m not sure what they’ll be yet, but it’s nice to be in a place where growth is happening.

For my own perspective, I created this today: an infographic timeline of my education and career for the past 20 years. I’d been thinking about this since the Boston Chamber of Commerce meeting last Wednesday, when the Marketing VP at Bank of America shared the story of the circuitous route she took to where she is today, in charge of one of the largest banking brands in the world. Her message, which I took to heart, was that it’s not always clear at the outset where you’ll end up, but the point is to look at the opportunities, and jump on them.

A brief history of the last 20 years. Click to embiggen.

As a college theatre student in the mid-90s, I never thought I’d get into design. As a print designer in the early 2000s, I never dreamed I’d be into web design. And although I always knew I’d run my own business someday, I didn’t think it would actually happen until I was already doing it. None of it was planned in any real way; it happened because that was the opportunity I was presented with.

Yep, that’s about all I can say about that.

An Entrepreneur’s Approach to the Job Search

Over the last couple of months, I made a tough decision. After six years of successfully running my own design studio, the zen kitchen, I decided that the time had come to pursue full-time opportunities elsewhere.

My primary reason for this was simple: I had realized, in the course of running my studio and working with clients, that the work I really wanted to do wasn’t going to happen through the studio. I wanted to focus my energy on more high-level, strategic work, and work with a team that was doing great things in the area of social and business innovation – without spending as much of my time mired in the day-to-day realities of running a business.

So, I’m looking for jobs. And realizing along the way, that the old approach to job hunting – scouring for open positions that seem like a good fit, sending off gajillions of resumés and carefully crafted cover letters – isn’t the most effective way to get the kind of job that I’m really looking for. The kind of job I’d actually leave my business for. What’s an entrepreneur to do?

Ultimately, I’ve decided to craft my approach based on my business development experience running the studio. In a nutshell:

1. Identify the key things that I want to be doing with my time. I know that I want to focus on strategy and brainstorming, and that I really want to be working towards social innovation. That said, I don’t believe that it has to exist exclusively in the non-profit realm, and I don’t want to focus myself there. I also have a lot of strength in the digital realm, particularly with social media and Drupal; ideally, I’d love to work on finding ways to use technology to create social innovation.
2. Identify the key players in the area that are working on that thing, along with a few other folks who might also be a good fit. Through my research over the years, IDEO and Continuum are an obvious fit. I’ve also identified a number of ad agencies and PR firms in the area that have a practice devoted to cause marketing and design for social change.
3. Tap my network to see if any of my connections have contacts in my target agencies. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that you’re forced to network, as part of normal business development. As such, I’ve kept in touch with a bunch of great people over the years. Using LinkedIn, I can see if any of them are connected to people within the companies I’m looking at (search for a company, and LinkedIn will show you all the people that you’re connected to via one of your connections), and I can request an introduction. I also set up coffee dates with a few folks that I really respected, who I knew to have connections in this space.
4. Find out where these folks are hanging out, and get myself there. This one’s proven to be a bit more difficult, as most of the firms that I’m looking at don’t seem to network anywhere but conferences. But, AIGA has an after-hours event that runs once or twice a month in the Boston area, and Continuum hangs out there. So, I headed out to the last one – and met three folks from Continuum, who I got to connect with!
5. Follow my target companies on Twitter, and converse with them occasionally. I’ve already started connecting with a few key agencies on twitter, just by responding to questions that they post. In addition, I’ve been participating in openIDEO, which is IDEO’s new social innovation site. As I suspected, I’m finding it really fun to come up with ideas to solve social issues – many of which I’ve been thinking about for over a decade – and I’ve even been able to help them discover a few technical bugs they were having.

So far, it’s too soon to tell how effective this will be. And for the record, I have also submitted resumés and introduction letters to many of my target agencies, for specific positions I discovered that would be a good fit for me. But I will say that this approach has helped me get in front of the organizations that I’ve sent my resumé to more effectively, which gets me closer to figuring out who the right person to connect with is. And, over coffee with one of my favorite colleagues (who I know mostly through social media), I discovered that his place is looking to create an entirely new position in the next few months that I’d be a terrific fit for. So we’ll see how things go!