I loved this talk.
I heard about this book a long time ago and considered reading it, but I resisted. I was hesistant about reading a book that seemed to be all about things women do wrong in business and how we should change ourselves. It seems like a sucky premise for a book. I thought, “Why do I have to be the one that changes?” I’m awesome. I certainly don’t like everything and every part of who I am every day, but I generally think I’m a great time.
Besides, I thought my time would be better spent learning how to be a better marketer and letting the results speak for themselves, rather than change who I am for someone else’s definition of “professional” or “success.”
Lolz. That’s mistake #1. In the business world, your results don’t just speak for themselves. You have to be an effective communicator – whether that’s through metrics, through organizing your thoughts when communicating plans, your terminology and most of all, your actions. Based on conversations I’ve had with more experienced marketers, I’ve noticed that while I think through marketing and business in similar ways as they do, I don’t communicate these things nearly as well. The time spent learning to be a better marketer hasn’t been wasted. However, sharpening other areas could help me progress to the next level. This isn’t about changing. It’s about growing. I opened myself to the idea that some of these traits and habits I’m so afraid of changing aren’t actually making me happy anyway.
So I read the book. I liked it. It outlines 101 common mistakes that women make and offers coaching tips on how to improve things if you think you’re guilty of making one of the common slip-ups. Here are my thoughts on the ones that struck a chord with me.
Mistake – Working Hard
You have to pluck yourself out of the weeds and make time for things like relationship building, strategic thinking and networking. Keeping your nose to the grindstone won’t necessarily get you promoted. You have to invest time in these other things.
- Remember Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time alloted. Define what your tasks are and what your work hours are going to be and act accordingly.
Mistake – Doing the work of others
Promotions are rewards for getting the job done, not necessarily being the one that does it. That saying “If you want something done, do it yourself” is BS. All that ensures is that you’ll be the one doing whatever that task is for a really long time. If you teach people that you’ll do things for them, you prevent them from being motivated to figure things out on their own.
- Don’t volunteer for low-impact, low-profile assignments. The author’s advice is to “sit on your hand rather than raise it.”
- Don’t let people “delegate up” inappropriately. Avoid the inclination to “mother” people, solve their problems for them and waste your time. If it’s their project, it’s their responsibility to own it and figure it out.
- My take – Know when your experience is better utilized for strategy/planning and know when to jump in and execute on the right tasks. As a manager don’t solve people’s problems for them, but nudge them in the right direction to figure it out so they take the que that this is the expectation and they learn what the resources are to figure things out.
Mistake – Working without a break
Working without a break sends the message that you’re flustered or inefficient. If you seem like you’re flustered you’ll be passed up for important projects and opportunities.
- Obviously, the author says take a lunch break. Personally, I like working through lunch and going for a 10 or 15 minute walk at 3 or 4 to power through the last few hours of work. I say, find what works for you.
Mistake – Holding your tongue
Because we’re afraid of being accused of being too pushy or aggressive, women hold back on giving their opinions.
- “Disagree without being disagreeable.” Acknowledge what the other person has said, but then offer your idea and two or three reasons why you think as such.
- “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” You may have been raised not to talk back or speak up, but you are not a child anymore. Speak up.
- My take – My friend has a saying: “Bad news can’t wait.” If an unanswered question, misunderstanding or anything is preventing you from doing the absolute best job you can do, you have a responsibility to your team members to speak up and fix that situation.
Mistake – Polling before making a decision
Participative decision making is a good thing, but being unable to make a decision or take action without knowing what every single person thinks or if they approve isn’t. There’s a fine line. Know when to own a decision and know when to get input or permission from others.
- Take more risks by acting without permission. Start with small, lower impact decisions.
Mistake – Feeding others
The author’s take is that feeding others will prevent others from seeing you as a figure of authority.
- The author advises to only feed others when there is a strategy behind it. She uses an example of an executive she was coaching who was unapproachable. To appear more approachable, she advised him to put a candy bowl on his desk so that people would drop by to chat.
- My take – I don’t know how I feel about this. What do you think?
First off – regarding the unapproachable boss – if the guy’s an unapproachable jerk, a bowl of jelly beans isn’t going to make people want to hang out. That sounds like a band-aid solution to me.
Great company culture is essential. It starts with great leadership, but everyone should contribute to it. Food and drink is a part of that since it’s a social thing. I don’t think the author gives men enough credit. I’ve worked with several awesome men that have taken it upon themselves to ensure that team lunch was ordered every Friday, that coffee was stocked or occasionally surprised us with bagels and donuts. It’s just about being helpful at a small business.
I get that there are social implications with the mother/care-giver/food thing. However, the necessity for everyone to contribute to making the company an awesome and comfortable place to work outweighs my fear of the mother/care-giver/food thing. Whether you contribute through ordering t-shirts or bringing in some candy, make your business an awesome place to work.
Mistake – Being financially insecure
Being financially insecure prevents you from taking career-building risks at work that lead to more responsibility and better projects – risks like speaking up. This is out of fear that you’ll lose your job and the financial ruin you’d be in because of that.
- She gives the obvious Suze Orman tips – set up an emergency fund, pay off credit card debt, start a 401k etc. Do that stuff. My friends at Perkstreet Financial have a great personal finance blog with information about this stuff. You should read it.
- My take – It’s more expensive to be a woman in our society and we still usually make less money than men, so it’s harder for women to be financially secure/independent, and that impacts how we approach our careers.
The “making less” can in part be attributed to the fact that we tend to go into careers that pay less (teaching etc) than high-paying careers like finance and engineering, where there are more men. For the “it’s more expensive to be a woman” part, I think women have higher fixed costs and “maintenance” costs.
- Women shop more. Popular fashion in our society demands this, as mens fashion is more versatile from day to night to relaxation and season to season. Of course you can invest in “classic” pieces in women’s fashion, but I feel like there are more trends, accessories and pieces to keep up with for women. We “need” more stuff so we shop more.
- A lady’s haircut in a bigger city like Boston starts at around $50. I think it’s like $20 for guys. (They do go more frequently though.)
- Depending on your insurance, birth control pills are about $30 a month and an IUD is around $600. (That’s a one-time “installation” fee and they last for 5-10 years.)
- I laughed out loud at the disbelieving comment from some guy on this TechCrunch article about time-of-the-month monthly subscription Juniper – “A dollar a day? Dang.” (Bahahaha.)
- I forget the brand, but there’s some commercial where the woman talks about how her and her husband both gave up soda, and she lost only 5 pounds and he lost 20 pounds. That is totally true! Even if we’re on a budget, we buy healthier groceries since thanks to estrogen, women are kind of forced to watch their wastelines more than men. Salads and yogurt are simply more expensive than peanut butter and jelly and pizza – staples of a budget-friendly young professional’s diet.
Obviously, I’m speaking in generalities and women can choose not to do these things. But most people aren’t like that. In general, people want to fit in and do what they want and they adjust their budgets accordingly. So it ends up in the situation as is – it’s harder for women to be financially secure/independent, and I think that in an indirect way that impacts how we act at work.
Why doesn’t anybody talk about this?
Mistake – Letting people waste your time
Being a nurturing and kind leader is not mutually exclusive from having ownership of your time.
- Learn the difference between when people want to talk and when they need to talk. Use this phrase: “I would love to talk but I’m on a tight schedule today. Can we catch up later?”
Mistake – Using qualifiers
Qualifiers are beginning your sentences with phrases like “Perhaps we could….” or “It’s kind of like…” Qualifiers dilute your message and make you sound less confident.
- To get comfortable expressing opinions, add taglines to the end of your strong statements to wrap up your thoughts. (Example: “For the reasons listed above I feel strongly we should do ____. I’m curious to hear what others think.”)
- If you actually are unsure about something, rather than using a qualifier to just kind of give your opinion, explain that you are unsure. (Example: “At this point given what we know so far, my recommendation is that we do _____, but we shouldn’t make a final decision until we get more data.”)
Mistake – Using non-words
Non-words are words and phrases such as “like”, “umm”, or “See what I mean?” People use them to fill silence when they are speaking. Like qualifiers, they dilute your message.
- I am so guilty of this! So if you have ever heard yourself on video and realized – in horror – how often you say “like” or another little phrase like that, you are not alone. Slow down, take a breath and think before you speak. Don’t rush through things.
Mistake – Crying
Don’t be fooled by sensitive workplaces where it seems like crying is accepted. Crying makes people uncomfortable.
- Women don’t have good practice or good examples of expressing anger in “normal” ways like raising our voice like men do, so a lot of times we express anger in the form of tears.
- If you feel yourself welling up, excuse yourself so you can collect your thoughts. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot excuse yourself and you get teary-eyed, try to put words to the emotions to keep the conversation logical and focused. (Example: “As you can see I feel strongly about this subject…”)
- In the spirit of keeping this post honest, I have a confession. I’m not a huge crier, but I thought about this and realized I’ve cried once at every job I’ve had.
Mistake – Believing that others know more than us
From doctors to car salesmen to co-workers, women assume that others know more than us. We let this assumption prevent us from taking on new projects or risks in the work place.
- My take – I love this quote – “Most people people never scratch the surface of what they are capable of.”
Here’s my story: I used do this all the time with math. I have a mental block about all things math, and it goes back to when I was in kindergarden and kind of fell off the math train when they introduced all this hoopla about odd and even numbers. But my natural inability to deal with numbers turned out to be a strength. I double, triple and quadruple check my math because I’m extra aware of the necessity for accuracy, so when I’m talking about numbers I’m very prepared to explain my methodology and reasoning. I used to preface anything metrics or numbers related with something like “Now I’m no mathlete, but…” and then I’d actually say something insightful about conversion rates. Now I just speak the numbers as they are because I trust my methodology. There is no reason to downplay what I’m saying.
The takeaway here is that you never know what you can do until you try. Question the assumptions you have about yourself. You are not inferior, you may just have less experience in certain subjects, and you are capable of learning. Don’t be a damsel in distress. It may be your first time taking on a project like that, but it’s unlikely that that is the first time a project like that has ever been done. Ask questions and learn from others.
In general, the themes that the author expresses are:
- Recognize that every action has a reason behind it. Consider what the reasons for your actions are. Take into account like your upbringing and heritage and how those play out in your adult life.
- You don’t have to feel guilty about having your needs met.
- Take risks.
- Be direct with people.
- Keep the big picture in mind and make time for things like networking, building relationships and strategic work. Set personal goals for yourself.
- Set your boundaries and prioritize your tasks. Have a life outside of work that you want to leave work for. As an employee you owe your company and team a job well done and sometimes that means early mornings and late nights, but not every morning and every night.
I’m glad I read the book. I didn’t agree with the author’s point of view on everything, but she opened my eyes to things I do and why I do them. The book made me realize that there is a reason behind every action and pushed me to consider how my culture and upbringing influenced me to become who I am. The book also validated frustrations I’ve had and made me realize that I had something to do with every single one of those situations. That means I can have something to do with changing the outcome next time I encounter those scenarios.
We can resist change all we want, but maybe all that does is prevent us from growing into someone a little savvier, more informed, successful and happier. Now who can resist that?
I’ve been meaning to write this post all month, but it’s September 27th (almost 28th.) September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, which is the closest thing that commemorates or recognizes uterine cancer, which is something that came into my family’s life about a year ago.
Yoplait recognized it on their Facebook page, which made me feel really happy and included, until I saw a whole bunch of people kind of hating on there – saying they should instead or also support this or that… etc etc. And I get it – we all want to feel validated and included, by the media and by our favorite brands. We hope they think of us when these months come around.
There are a lot of organizations that support many different kinds of cancers, but I also believe there are good reasons to have separate marketing and communities for individual diseases. That’s why I want other cancer months to get the attention they deserve, honestly because as a complete medical newb myself, I want to make sure the messaging is clear for people like me. Medical stuff is like science, which is kind of like math. And then I’m all…
So spell it out for us – what are the exams we need? Messaging needs to be specific so it is effective. People need to know about particular exams that can lead to early detection of certain cancers. Sometimes the cancer impacts a certain group of people, or new research will show the contrary – that the cancer also impacts a group outside the typical demographic. That type of thing is an opportunity for targeted campaigns that again, will be clear enough to reach consumers. Some cancers don’t have many symptoms, if any symptoms whatsoever. So again, people need to know about what exams to ask for. In some cases, we need more funding for research to develop exams that will help with early detection.
My mind knows that everyone else having their own cancer months is a good thing. But this is how my heart feels: I feel left out. I feel alienated and lonely because of how much attention other months get as opposed to the “month” that more directly includes my situation. It sounded crazy to me when I felt this way a year ago, but as I’ve mulled it over it doesn’t seem too far fetched after all.
Clearly, the funding, and therefore the attention and visibility is probably going to go to the diseases that are more well known and prevalent. I suppose I wonder if everything actually needs a “month” of its own, anyway. There’s only 12 of these, there’s gotta be an inflection point somewhere. Others may have a more general feeling of a cancer community and awareness from the individual months though, and don’t see the necessity for such specific messaging. I wish I had a solution.
(I think Madeleine Albright said that.)
Recently, two blog posts from recent graduates have caught the attention of the internet at large:
In The Huffington Post, Taylor Cotter wrote about The Struggle of Not Struggling. She reflected on the consequences of having her life all figured out – career, 401k, location etc, at the age of 22. She feels she is missing out on some formative years of freelance and ramen.
In Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, Cathryn Sloane gave her thoughts on why younger people are the preferred candidates for social media manager roles, reasoning essentially that Gen Y’ers have always known first and foremost how to use social media socially – not professionally – and that is how consumers want to engage with brands on these platforms.
I get the sense that Taylor came across a little less grateful than she probably actually is. And Cathryn probably came off a little more critical of older generations than she probably planned on. Even though I definitely disagree with them, and shared both articles expressing my disagreement, I’ve seen the internet pretty much cyberbully the crap out of them and I feel like I need to make a point.
For a whole slew of us who work for the internet, the particularly ambitious will establish an online presence of some kind to display their expertise and gain some extra practice in their given skillset. (And as we know, in this economy, it’s probably only the particularly ambitious mice who get the cheese anyway.) For designers or engineers, maybe that’s Dribbble or GitHub profiles. For marketing and PR and social media types, this may mean a blog about marketing and PR and social media. I just want people to ask themselves: What would you have written when you were 22? What if it had been judged not by your college professor, but by the internet at large?
Sometimes I look back at blog posts and guest posts I wrote senior year of college or when I just graduated and I just cringe. My writing was terrible, and I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was talking about. And it’s all out there now, in it’s awful glory. But it wasn’t arrogance, I was just genuinely trying to get out of the restaurant and show that I loved PR and knew a little bit about it. And I did, and I did.
Entry level isn’t entry level any more. We expect new graduates to “hit the ground running” as soon as we hire them. We, the companies, literally cannot afford to expect anything less than that. We grow up sooner now. Even interns don’t get to figure it all out and see where this all goes. Yet when we see young people having confidence in the opinions they express through their online presences, we don’t really like what they have to say and denounce it as short sighted. So – what the hell you guys?
It is tough to put your work and yourself out there so much when you still have so much to learn. We’re all just doing the best we can for who we are at the time, and what people like Taylor and Cathryn are doing isn’t easy. They’re trying, and there are a whole lot of people their age trying a whole lot less and complaining a whole lot more. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I say, cut them freaking some slack.
Tonight I was in Central Square at a startup event for my friend’s company. I was with some of my favorite people, ones I love to spend time with the most. I left and walked to the T stop. I strolled along the side of Massachusetts Avenue in front of my old office where my ex-boyfriend used to drop me off on Monday mornings after a weekend together. I was always grateful for the ride to work, really thankful for his time. This will sound awful, but genuine appreciation aside, this other part of me felt relieved to get back to my weekday life, which felt more natural to me: sarcasm, work, startups, my friends, internet, the gym. Space. I wanted to want that weekend life, but I didn’t. It’s not my perfect life, and that’s ok. It’s ok.
Before I crossed the street tonight to get the necessary ingredients for my comfort food protein shake at Clear Conscience Cafe, I looked up at my old office where I met my next ex-boyfriend at a company party. I squinted at the window, noticing its fresh paint and new walls dividing the once open space into tiny separate offices. It looked a lot different. But I imagined what it used to look like, what it looked like the day I got a ZipCar on a Saturday morning to move out after we got acquired. I walked loads of office supplies and startupy knicknacks (ie, the Seth Godin marketing action figure) up and down the stairs.
I soaked it all in. It was a lot to take in. I would never come there to work again. So much had just happened.
Before I left, I stood in the exact spot in the universe where I first met him and took this picture.
I’ve reflected on this one thought ever since I first heard the recording of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2011 Barnard College graduation speech back in May.
“The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.”
I think this might be true.
Relationships can be motivating, and they can also be distracting and negative. Point blank, it’s homelife, and that impacts your mindset and the level to which you can focus on work. (For a romantic take, I strongly recommend John Steinbeck’s impossibly beautiful and timeless letter about love here.)
As I’m clearly unmarried, I don’t have much of an opinion on the stay-at-home dad discussion that Sheryl’s point often sparks. But what I do know is that who you date impacts your career in many ways, but in the simplest way because it impacts how you spend your time. Not all significant others are cool with you going to a tech networking event and hanging out with a bunch of other dudes, and not everyone thinks a great Sunday afternoon involves getting ahead on work for the week. But these are aspects of a certain lifestyle and career track. 50 coffees, right? A lot of people are less likely to achieve 50 coffees if they’re always worried about that awkward jealously argument before or after Starbucks. Dark roast, dark times. And even if there is no tension about jealously, those are 50 coffees you’re not having with the significant other. There’s only so much time to go around.
On a practical level, the relationships I admire set expectations and plan when to see each other. If you have work to do on a Saturday or have an event to go to on a Thursday, say so. But this stuff is also about compromise, right? So say when you’ll be done if you’re still going to see that person that night. It’s amazing what setting expectations can do to build trust. From the outside looking in, that seems to allow people to still pursue the things they want to as individuals (like careers, or hobbies) but not neglect each other.
Looking back even to my internship days, I wish I’d put my intentions on the table more in relationships. I wish I didn’t ask if I could go to an event or spend some time working. I wish I just presented it as something I needed to take care of. If I could go back, I would have compromised my time less and made it clear that these things were simply a part of my life. It would have been more fair to both sides.
But had I not been a late bloomer and just done this stuff in the first place, I wouldn’t be so complicated, interesting and choke-full of excuses to play this song and whatever cliche songs I want this week. Right? Right?
Anyway, let’s face it: Splitting your time with someone else flat out sucks sometimes. Single is another relationship option too if you just want to focus on your career, or just because you want to be.
To finish these thoughts, I really wanted to make a joke about hiring fast and firing fast, recruiting A-players to your team, something witty about cofounders, probably something about dating/generating leads/sales funnels and maybe something dirty about conversion rates. Then finally I wanted to find a charming excuse to link to this post by Fred Wilson talking about the importance of family – because that guy blogs like six times a day and I heard he blogs like, on his Blackberry while on the treadmill while on the subway and if an overachieving badass yet also probably workaholic like him recognizes the importance of this stuff then. well. shit. We all should.
But I’ve got nothing. Just… fellow 20-something ladies, don’t be impressed so easily. Your attention and time is valuable – not to mention your heart. Texting you back isn’t a grand gesture. It’s just asking what time you’re coming over.
By the way, someone’s reading that freaking letter at my wedding one day. Whenever that day comes.
If you’re a professional, I’m sure that you’ve received at one point or another an inquiry from a college student asking about jobs, internships or advice. I respond and I think you should too. This is why:
1. People answered my emails when I was a college student.
I’ve written before how I got my first job in Boston. I sent a lot of emails asking people about their companies or for informational interviews. Granted, it was just one of those informational interviews that turned into a job. But all the coffees and email exchanges I had with other professionals provided me with motivation, direction, momentum and confidence. I am so thankful to the people who helped me, in every little and big way they did. 2 or so years later, how could I not pay it forward?
Granted, I can’t offer a ton of long-term career advice or hindsight. I’m too young still myself. But I can offer a pep-talk/confidence boost/talk about what has or hasn’t worked for me so far. Considering similar conversations I’ve had with people just a few years older than me, I know how even that can be quite helpful.
2. The college student you meet today is the employee you hire tomorrow.
In startupland, we talk a lot about how tough it is to hire talent. The right culture fit and the right skillset is tough to come by. Then we also talk about the importance of networking. There’s a missing link, though. We emphasize the importance of networking with people who can help us, like VCs or more experienced professionals for mentorship. I don’t think we talk enough about the opposite end of that spectrum, which is spending time with an up-and-comer who is that future talent you can add to your team.
3. I remember where I came from.
It seems like everyone wants a developer or a community manager/social media whatchamacallit/something-or-other these days. Where are these people? Well, they’re in college. They’re young. They’re doing annoying things that 20-year-olds do, like joining fraternities and drinking for any special occasion possible, like it being laundry day or Monday or maybe signing their emails to you with emoticons. In addition to internships, yes, that’s what some of Boston’s most promising young entrepreneurs did merely four or so years ago. They might not immediately come off to you as a child prodigy in that email or by a first glimpse at their LinkedIn.
That doesn’t mean they’re not an “A-player!” (And seriously, what the hell is an “A player?”) What it means is that they just don’t know what they don’t know, but they want to know and that’s why they reached out. It also means that ambition and drive can come with a lack of focus, because young ambitious people want to conquer the world. But if you have a conversation with someone and steer that motivation towards a clear direction of the right internships and experiences, they grow into the “A-player” people so dearly want to hire.
My favorite interns, and in my opinion the most successful ones, have been those that were hungry to improve – not necessarily the ones that did everything perfect. Perfect plateaus.
4. I’m busy. So what.
Social media/internet burnout is real. I haven’t blogged here in two months, and I’m inundated with a lot of “communication” in general per the nature of running social media accounts for work. Just like you, there are a ton of DM’s, @replies and emails coming at me. Maintaining ownership of my own time, timeline and inbox is important so I have time to communicate and spend time with the people I love offline.
We’re generally too busy and say yes too often, when it really should be a choice between “Hell yeah!” or “No.” I wish more people saw responding to college students as a “hell yeah!” kinda of an opportunity.
Respond to college students. Don’t just reply to the rockstars. Reply to the hot messes who need honest feedback and give honest feedback. Have coffee with someone. It won’t kill you, actually it’s kinda fun. Expect some of them to flake on you and not even respond back to your advice. Roll your eyes and move on, because there’s another student who will take your feedback and could make an absolute rockstar developer or community manager/social media whatchamacallit one day. If we want to find talent, we can’t forget the source of it.
“The world is often defined by reasonable behavior but it is shaped by being unreasonable.” – Amber Rae
I don’t think Diane Sawyer would’ve worried or complained about being an unpaid journalism intern. I can’t see her waiting around for her college’s career services center to place her in an internship. I envision her beating down doors to get the best opportunities she needed to perfect her writing, research and her on-camera presence, build her professional network – and, not to mention, craft her non-regional dialect of course. Her focus? Her opportunities – not her limitations.
This recent NY Times article about unpaid internships compelled me to share my thoughts my internships two years after graduation.
I have an admittedly odd take on unpaid internships. Students work for free but have to pay for college credit. The companies they work for can say they are paying they student with credit. (The student paid for the credit…so the student is basically paying to work for free…so…um…) All that said, if I was a college student all over again looking for PR, marketing or journalism internships I would not turn down learning opportunities at great companies just because they weren’t paid.
I took issue with several things in this article. I disagree with this:
“Colleges shouldn’t publicize unpaid internships at for-profit companies. They should discourage internship requirements for graduation — common practice in communications, psychology, social work and criminology. They should stop charging students to work without pay — and ensure that the currency of academic credit, already cheapened by internships, doesn’t lose all its value.”
Wow. Holy “face/palm” moment. Like I said, at face-value making students pay for academic credit for unpaid internships seems shady. But those were honestly the best college credits I paid for. And as far as the “cheapening of college credit”… Seriously? I’ve benefitted much more from internships than from a lot of the communications theory lecture crap they teach in classes. I was delighted to skip out on that theoretical garbage that wasn’t going teach me to deliver value for a business, get into an office environment and learn skills that’d make me marketable upon graduation. Finally, discouraging internship requirements for graduation isn’t going to solve the problem of huge companies not paying their interns. It’s just going to lessen the likelihood that college students are going to take these vital professional opportunities for their careers, making them less likely to get jobs upon graduation. Quick! Name all the under or unemployed ’09 or ’10 graduates you can think of… without taking a breath. We’ll be here all night…
Like the intensely career-driven 24-year-old I am today, I was a die-hard 19, 20 and 21-year-old as well and aggressively pursued internships. I did five in college in various areas of marketing, PR and journalism. Then I graduated in the economic shitshow known as May 2009 and moved to Boston two weeks later for a paid internship at a PR agency in Boston. A paycheck?! I was thrilled.
I did a ton of free work throughout college other than internships. I ran my college’s newspaper for free. I did PR campaigns for local businesses through this student-run integrated marketing agency, PRIMA Connections for free. This free work helped me build a portfolio that I could bring with me to those internship interviews – where I would work… for free.
If I were a college student today, I wouldn’t wait around for a minute for my career center to place me in an internship. Why? Because the job market doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way, either. Your college career center isn’t going to be there for you after college to pick your apartments, find you a dentist in a new city, find you a boyfriend who calls you back – none of that. Remember: good things come to those who wait, but only what is left behind by those who hustle. Some would argue that things like a career center is what you are paying a college for. I would argue that if you are a communications student like I was, you are paying a college to support opportunities like a school newspaper etc for you to hone your skills in addition to internships. I didn’t pay St. John Fisher for daycare, thanks.
Again, I would not turn down an opportunity I really wanted because it didn’t pay. You might have to work weekends or do the internship part-time to make time during the week for a part-time job. Most importantly, remember: You are not above Starbucks!
(Side note: If we’re going to take up real estate in the NY Times to talk about issues of unpaid internships, let’s really focus on the people for whom this isn’t an option. Perhaps single parents maybe who don’t have time for school + unpaid internship + jobs?)
When I was an unpaid intern, I complained a lot to my unpaid intern friends about the unfairness of the fact that I wasn’t being paid. It was really exhausting to wake up, work out, go to an internship all day, go straight to the restaurant, work all night, then come home…and do that all week and/or weekend.
So was this always fun? No, it was stressful a lot of times. But it was my time to pay my dues. A little hard work never hurt anyone, in fact – all that hard work helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. And that’s exactly what internships are supposed to do – prepare you for your career. I am glad I did what I did and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The NY Times article recalls the “plight” of unpaid WNBC intern Will Batson who “scrambled for shelter” during his summer internship in NYC. To Mr. Batson and other unpaid interns I say this:
One day, gentrified and successful, you will be married and live in a house on a cul-de-saq with things like “sofas” and “duvet covers.” You will have non coin-op washers and dryers from legitimate stores like Jordans and not Craigslist or the side of the road. Your fridge will be stocked with essentials other than Bud Light and hot sauce and when the hand soap runs out you’ll buy new handsoap instead of passive-aggressively re-filling it with water until your roommate buys new handsoap. You may have a salary, 401k and savings. Most of all you, will have security. You will have certainty. You will have a career. You may attend block parties or BBQ’s with other former unpaid interns. After a few too many you might talk about college or that crazy summer you spent in NYC couch-hopping and how much fun it was. You’ll laugh until your stomach hurts.
If we really focus on our opportunities and not our limitations things work out in the end. I hope so. I’ll let you know.
In your late teens and early twenties (your unpaid internship and entry-level years) I think there’s this balance of being really comfortable, but yet at the same time being really uncomfortable, with the uncertainty that defines those years. How so? What do I mean? My discomfort at ages 19 through 22ish with not knowing exactly what kind of PR/marketing/journalism (or maybe law school? I considered a lot of things…) job I wanted after graduation or not having a job lined up drove me to internships. Action comforted me because it gave me direction. Being “just” someone’s unpaid intern wasn’t the most glamorous role. But I was comforted by the certainty that I was definitely gaining great experience at that moment, yet simultaneously discomforted by the fact that I so badly wanted to do more than that and earn more than that one day.
So that’s where I am today: content yet restless. Happy but unsatisfied, I’m constantly driven to do better and learn more. Oh and I get paid now, not in tips, and I don’t wear a name-tag, apron or tuxedo to work. That still feels really cool.
I’m obviously already a huge @UnMarketing fan, being a social media ninja/rockstar/jedi/princess and all. But this talk absolutely blew me away.
The title of this post is a play on a quote from Eat Pray Love. During the “Pray” portion of the author’s year-long, post-divorce, tour de self reflection/indulgence, she takes a few months to meditate in India and tap into her spiritual side – ultimately deciding one truth: God exists in you, as you.
This isn’t the blog or time or place for me to contemplate the validity of that statement. But 2010 has taught me something somewhat similar: home isn’t a matter of location. It’s not found in other people. Home, your comfort, your point of reference, your strength, your truth… home exists in you, as you.
Home is: Choosing your choices
When I first moved to Boston in June 2009, I was extremely homesick all of the time. I went home every six or eight weeks. I constantly longed for my car, the suburbs, Wegmans, Tim Hortons, and most obviously – my family.
Something clicked for me when I was home this Thanksgiving. A year and a half later after moving to Boston, I woke up one morning and wanted coffee. Walking to Dunkin Donuts, like I do most mornings in Brookline – not driving to Tim Hortons like I was about to do in Buffalo – made more sense to me. I don’t know what it was. It was just what I wanted to do more than driving to Tim Hortons. I missed the city. (I drove to Dunkin Donuts.)
Later that day, I walked into Wegmans (a colossal, multi-department supermarket foodie-dreamland emporium) and was overwhelmed by the aisles and aisles of choices – I longed for the brevity and hustle of the Coolidge Corner Trader Joes. There’s one choice for Ketchup, orange juice or string cheese. And you will walk a mile and a half home in the rain with your bags. But somehow the thought of that shopping trip made more sense to me. I wanted to walk a mile and a half home in the rain from Trader Joes with my overpriced hippie groceries more than I wanted to drive home from Wegmans.
It wasn’t about Wegmans or Tim Hortons or even City Life in and of itself: I realized that day that I wanted what I have in Boston. I wanted my choice, without the regret, “what if’s?”, or look backs on the life I could’ve made in Upstate NY. Up until recently, I lived here with a constant voice in the background telling me it was selfish to move so far away from my parents, selfish to want to be here for career opportunities. There was a lot guilt – like I valued the wrong things or something.
I know this is what I always wanted though. I look at pictures of myself and I see myself as happy here. I can tell. I needed to get out of my own way and embrace my own decision.
Me, happy in Boston – February 2009. Night before a bunch of job interviews.
Me, happy in Boston – July 2010
I moved here in June 2009. But I chose my choice this year.
Home is: Your comfort zone
Sometimes they emphasize the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone to get things done and reach the next level. I’ll offer a counter argument: I think if you dig deeper within yourself and identify what really drives you, what you really like to do and what you’re really good at – you actually get further. You’re happier, more relaxed and more productive when you discover and embrace your comfort zone. When you do what you want, you are who you are meant to be, and you live your right life: no matter where you are.
This year I finally had/gave myself the chance to ask: What would I wake up and do today if I didn’t do what someone else expected or wanted? I’m so thankful for that.
I realized: My natural speed is 150 miles an hour. I feel fulfilled when I feel productive. I don’t like to worry if things will get done – I just like to do them. I’m just not a lazy morning kind of gal, or a lazy evening kind of gal, really. I need Janet Time. I feel smothered without it. It’s just me. No more apologizing for it.
What activities make you feel alive, make you feel most like yourself when you’re doing them? When I’m up at 5 or 6 am going for a run, writing a blog post, in a leadership role, or drinking wine and having a one-on-one conversation with a friend – I feel like Janet. What makes you feel like you? Do more of those things.
Home is: Understanding where you came from but going where you’re going
Remember where you came from. Figure out where you’re going. Now, separate the two.
My life isn’t in Buffalo anymore, but my family is. It’s the people, not the location, that makes it a part of my core. My bubbly personality is my dad. “Sassy Janet” – my assertive side which I’m so happy to say is coming out more and more – is pretty much just me channeling my mother.
Every day in Boston someone hears my accent and asks me if I’m from Michigan or Chicago. I’ll never be from New England.
But the 150 miles an hour? The startup chick? This girl:
Me on my first day at oneforty
All that stuff is completely me. Remember where you’re from: embrace it, love it, talk about it – it’s what makes you unique. But you don’t have to over-explain and over-justify where you’re going to people who want differently for themselves.
Home is: Being at peace with the pieces
My definition of home isn’t about having it all figured out. Trust me, Hello Kitty debit card in hand – I’m hardly a real adult yet.
What this all means to me is taking the pieces that you do have figured out and clawing on tight to them. Focus on your strengths. And think about how you figured those things out, and how you can apply that process to the parts of your life that you don’t have figured out yet. Because that’s the beauty of home: once you find it, it translates to whatever, wherever.