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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Am I Doing This Right and Other Important Questions

Am I a bad mom? Before you answer, hear me out.

Points against: 1) We don’t breastfeed anymore.* 2) Joe and Mars visited family for the weekend without me and I reveled in it (I did have the stomach flu the whole time, so my revelry looked more like… er… death.). 3) I don’t love this tiny baby phase. I just don’t. I don’t know what he wants half the time and there are only so many bouncing-laps I can make around the kitchen table with him before going insane.

Points for: 1) Formula is nutritionally sound and he eats wonderfully. 2) When Joe and Mars walked in the door yesterday, both grunting to each other, it sounded like home to me. 3) He’s not lacking for stimulation, as I’m constantly waving new things at him to see if anything other than bounce-laps will entertain his growing brain.

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I mean, look at that brain!

So am I a bad mom or just a mom? Instagram tells me there are new moms out there who love being new moms. They embrace their new, softer bodies. Their enthusiasm for the role of MOM makes their eyes bright and their skin glow through their (presumed) tiredness. They put on cute stretch pants and make-up and go out for brunch with their babies, somehow overriding the internal voices that scream warnings about public spaces and influenza.

And, yes, my own Instagram feed isn’t exactly a peek into reality. Because when Mars is screeching and I feel like I’m going to pass out, it doesn’t occur to me to snap a pic.

The moms (with mom-nesia?) have told me to enjoy this phase before it’s gone and I’m trying faithfully to abide. I’m locking into my memory that sweet, waxy scent of his hair, the heaving sounds of his sighs, and way his warm body melts into my tummy when he relaxes in my lap. But I’m also hyper-aware of the pee (and, yeah, poop) running down the wall behind his dresser, the piercingly high octave of his “panic” cry, and the surprising sharpness of his nails when they claw at my chest.

Being home alone with him all day is a practice in presence, patience, and prioritization. Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I fail, as Mars and I have ups and downs together and half the laundry mysteriously ends up in the tub. The 1:1 adult-newborn ratio is some tricky math. (Special and enormous shout-out to my own mom, who – during one of my “fail” weeks – dropped her own life to fly out here and help me with mine.)

So when Mars and I are alone, I’ve taken to un-gritting my teeth and whispering “delight, delight, delight” to myself – because I truly want to take delight in all his milestones, even when they’re loud and squirmy. And I’m trying to remember that one day soon, he’ll express delight in something instead of angst, and I have a feeling it’s going to rock my world.

Until then, we’ll clock some more laps around the kitchen table and I’ll try not to muse too hard on what kind of mom I am. Because, honestly, we have more pressing questions to consider. Like, what is that new smell and where is it even coming from?

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Me, looking fly, thumbs-upping Joe during my weekend of revelry.

*Breastfeeding deserves its own post, I think.

The Longest Shortest Weeks

It’s been fifteen days since Mars came into the world. He arrived in a dimly lit room to the soft murmurings of a practiced nurse and the wide-eyed amazement of my husband, Joe. Mars’ actual birth was, for the most part, smooth and efficient. I pushed like I dance – specifically and brainily. Hyper-focused on the instructions and compliant with critique. Unaware of the tearing. Unaware of the bleeding. Only aware of the release and relief I felt as they slid my son onto my chest and Joe cried for the first time since I’ve known him.

In that moment, we blasted ourselves out of the quiet, restless limbo of a late-term pregnancy into the strangest time warp – where we’re rocketing through the days, barely blinking, but the minutes themselves are both beautifully and excruciatingly long.

It’s been a shock to every system.

Some of our parent friends tried to explain the newborn experience to us before Mars was born. They told us it would be amazing and tiring. They said things like, “Prepare to never sleep again lol” in that glib-but-I’m-serious way that made me uneasy. They gave us advice. And promptly told us to ignore their advice because babies are individuals and it’s impossible to predict what they’ll be like.

These last couple weeks have been HARD. Not hard like physical exertion or hard like grief, but there have been, honestly, elements of both. This hardness draws on aspects of every other hardness out there and then reaches straight into your center and pulls out a deep, aching love. It’s a love that feels like hope and terror and exhaustion all at once. This love physically intertwines two rapidly changing bodies – both of them in recovery and both struggling to keep up with life’s new demands.

I’m in awe of every mom who’s ever lived.

In the midst of the hardness, things that might seem small and insignificant are amazing and enormous. His first poopy diaper! His obsession with windows! My first post-partum bowel movement! (Real talk: pooping after birth is its own, special kind of labor.) I’m not kidding when I say that the first time we breastfed and I didn’t grimace and whisper curses into the night felt like the day I completed my graduate thesis. (FYI, we are back to cursing. This is an ongoing saga.) And some things are ridiculous and delightful, like when I catch Joe, covered in pee and laughing, congratulating Mars on a surprisingly strong spray.

We think everything Mars does is interesting. Every sigh. Every grimace. We’re proud of his new folds and rolls, tickled by his punches and kicks, and wrecked when we can’t calm his shuddering cries. He’s a mystery to us – but it’s our job to know him, so we keep waking up and trying our best. And the next time we see just a hint of a smile, love will come bubbling out of our throats and make the nighttime curses seem a little less potent.

 

Tips on Feeling Like a Human While Traveling, and That’s About It

There’s a lot to say lately. And way, way more to listen to.

And in the middle of all the listening and the saying and the thinking and the doing, other parts of life keep moving. Maybe one of your sisters has a baby and you spend at least 20 minutes every day scrolling through pictures of her because she is the cutest baby in the world. Undeniably. The strongest, too. And maybe your job feels extra important now, because it’s teaching you confidence and clarity every minute of every day – and these are things you’ll need if you want to fix problems and change worlds.

And maybe part of that job involves a heckuva lot of travel. And thus – this post. A list of tips and tricks for staying healthy and sane while traveling. Particularly on those one-to-three day adventures, when you never fully settle in. Because whether you’re poised for a holiday immersion or a few last-minute work trips before the year ends, it never hurts to feel more like yourself.

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THE TIPS

  1. Know your habits.

Sleeping poorly is common “on the road.” But it can be mitigated with a little attention-paying. So, before you go to bed (and – you know – before you’ve actually left home), notice how you wind down. Do you wear cozy socks? Do you floss? (Please say yes.) Do you turn on a fan or humidifier? Do you read a couple pages of a Mary Higgins Clark murder mystery? Do you talk “roses and thorns” with your spouse or kids?

Make an actual list of your routines, so you’re aware of what’s become second nature. And then:

  1. Pick a couple of key habits or rituals, and pack accordingly.

Every night after I brush my teeth, I put a dab of Vaseline on my lips. (Is that weird? I’m not up to speed on the benefits of petroleum jelly.) When traveling, I used to sub whatever lip balm or Chapstick I could dig out of my backpack, but it’s just not the same. So now I pack a teeny tiny travel-size Vaseline in with my toothbrush. It’s not much, but it makes a huge difference.

When I’m at home, I also sleep with a fan running on low every night. I live in the city, and it helps dull the chatter of the after-bar crowd and the early-morning dog walkers. Hotels (and other people’s houses) are filled with a strange lack of noise. So I downloaded a free app that consists of eight hours of nothing but fan. On the road, I click it on every night and sleep like a baby.

  1. Create a travel-only ritual.

Sometimes, stress-free traveling requires more than just pretending you’re at home.

What’s a realistic but luxurious self-care ritual you usually skip at home and could easily do on the road? Maybe it’s a foot massage with that eucalyptus lotion someone gave you for your birthday. Or it’s using the expensive lavender wrinkle cream you definitely don’t need, but have 15 samples of anyway.  Especially if it’s a sample size, extra lotions or essential oils are easy to travel with.

My personal travel ritual consists of dabbing a drop of pure peppermint oil in the center of my palms, rubbing my palms together, and then gently massaging the peppermint on the base of my neck and upper shoulders every morning. Before I rinse the oil off my palms, I also vigorously rub them together and take a nice, deep inhale of the peppermint aroma. It’s refreshing and rejuvenating, especially when my body clock thinks it’s 4:30am, regardless of the actual time zone.

  1. Lay off the booze and sugar. And while you’re at it, find the veggies.

I know! Blasphemy! I’m not saying you have to skip cocktails and dessert entirely. But if you get knocked off your game by a couple of plane rides, weird-smelling Ubers, and/or a hotel shower that just. won’t. drain., do yourself a favor and try not to tax your system even further.

And whether you’re in cheesy carb heaven via your hotel menu or your family’s holiday gathering, there are probably some yummy raw fruits and veggies hiding somewhere nearby. (Pro tip: If you suspect there won’t be any particularly healthy items on the holiday buffet table, offer to bring one. Everybody loves a roasted beet salad, amirte?)

  1. Get some exercise.

No travel tip blog is complete without this one. But if it’s an overwhelming thought, just start simple. A 15-minute walk around the block takes literally 15 minutes. And you’ll get some fresh air at the same time, so that’s a bonus.

For more ambitious exercising without over-packing, check to see if your hotel chain offers cheap rentals on workout gear. Westin, for example, has a gear partnership with New Balance. For $5, you can rent shoes and clothing for your workout – which means you can pack that extra eucalyptus lotion and skip the yoga pants and sneakers.

  1. Take a minute to yourself.

FOMO is a temptress. It can be hard to resist joining every after-meeting dinner with your coworkers or every game of Scrabble with your brothers. But sometimes the best thing you can do for other people is reconnect with yourself and come back fresh.

Excuse yourself for 10 minutes to take a solo trip down Instagram lane – or, better yet, do some deep breathing with an app like Headspace.

And if after all this you’re still wiped out at the end of a good trip, don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s no shame in going to bed at 8pm in your own timezone.

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XOX-Woah: The Best Headline for The Best Fest

It’s been hard to put together coherent thoughts on my time at XOXO 2016. As my coworker Braden acknowledged, “That thing was designed to not be recap-able.”

It’s because, much like the internet herself, the XOXO festival is organized chaos—a structured, shared space to build ambiguous relationships, create content, and consume everything you find interesting. It’s an experience, not a set of takeaways.

When I first heard about XOXO, it was billed an “experimental festival” that celebrated independent internet artists, from developers and designers to writers and animators. It sounded cool. Earlier this year, Heben Nigatu tweeted that she was going to be one of the speakers on the same day that William, our developer at Zeus Jones, posted about it on our team Slack—so I figured I’d apply for a ticket.

Yes, apply for a ticket. If I remember right, I had to share what I do, what I work on, and something that I’m really proud of making. I also had to share that I identify as someone who hasn’t always been well represented at XOXO—in this case, as a female. The cofounders, Andy McMillan and Andy Baio, were up-front about the fact that their past attendee rosters haven’t been as diverse as they hoped. I think they also wanted to weed out people trying to attend for nefarious reasons, like for trolling famous internet personalities or poaching UX designers.

So I made it through the initial screening and into the ticket lottery, and wound up getting a spot. The pre-conference set-up was unlike anything I’ve experienced. I was immediately invited into the XOXO Slack team, a universe of 200-some channels, filled with hyper-intelligent unicorn people, all hustling on the coolest projects I’d ever heard of. As a gal with a 9-5 (let’s be honest, 8-7. and maybe again at 9.), and some small—nothing major—performing and writing gigs on the side, I felt like I might not belong there. These people were so impressive. They solved problems, they made art, they wrote books, they CODED. My ability to bold text and possibly make it italic was, er, not something I wanted to share.

But I poked around. Gently prodded. Tried to preemptively figure out where I fit in, and if I could bring any useful nuggets back to the folks at Zeus Jones, who awesomely agreed to pay my conference fee in exchange for shared knowledge.

What I ended up learning, in no short feat (for real; this post is long), is:

1. Most people feel like imposters
2. Most people are just trying to give something to the world
3. Some people are particularly good at being exactly who they are and giving things to the world
4. We can all be one of those number 3 people

So, let’s break these down.

1. Most people feel like imposters

During their Friday morning introductions, Andy and Andy shared this tweet on the big screen behind them.

People in the audience tittered and tweeted, and there was a collective sense that, yes, this tweet represented all of us. We were all asking if we deserved to be there—heck, some of the speakers were asking if they deserved to be there. So in our collective discomfort, we could all just relax.

On its very best days, Imposter Syndrome can manifest as humility (and I do mean humility and not modesty… modesty is just pretentious, amiright?). But overall, it’s the worst. It can trick the most intelligent and innovative humans into believing that their voices aren’t valid or their ideas aren’t worth pursuing. That they’re frauds. Until that tweet, I hadn’t recognized that I fall into the same trap. Every day, I work in an environment where a good idea can come from anywhere. Truly. But because XOXO is framed around the internet, and the internet is an endless trove of cool shit, it can be hard to feel like a meaningful contributor.

2) Most people are just trying to give something to the world

From the people I met on the “XOXO street” to the official conference speakers, it was clear that this idea of meaningful contribution weighed heavy on people’s minds, matched by a desire to unite it with the work they found most personally inspiring.

Starlee Kine (of Mystery Show) may have said it best, when—after a hilarious and meandering sidebar about how she really hates giving people her bio so it’s not surprising that her XOXO bio included producing on Marketplace even though she really only did it once and it was a long time ago but what else was Andy supposed to use—she gave the audience permission do to what inspires them. More specifically, she said that it’s okay to do what doesn’t make you feel tired.

Said another way by shitty robot-maker Simone Geritz: “If you find the thing you do interesting, chances are someone else will too.”

Through that lens, doing inspiring work and making a meaningful contribution are the same thing.

Starlee also brought up that when you do this kind of work, it can be hard to clarify private versus public. She’s not always sure when a thought in her head is for her or when it’s for work. Should she explore it in Mystery Show? Should it go into a tweet? David Rees (of Going Deep with David Rees… also Artisanal Pencil Sharpening) asked a similar question. After running through the list of political and news publications he used to browse all day while writing political cartoons for Rolling Stone Magazine, his question was, “Is this work or am I avoiding working?”

Maybe it’s both.

3) Some people are particularly good at being exactly who they are and giving things to the world

Before calling out specific presenters, I’ll say that I attended almost every talk, presentation and screening, and think every presenter is doing this well—whether they’d describe it that way or not.

Esra’a Al-Shafei is the founder of CrowdVoice, MigrantRights.org, Alliance for Kurdish Rights, Ahwaa.org, and Mideast Tunes (audiophile friends, check this one out, especially—it’s a music platform for discovering underground artists in the Mideast and North Africa). These platforms are literally changing people’s lives. And if you’re wondering why any of us felt like imposters, Esra’a is only 30 years old.

(Much) more importantly than her age, she lives by clear principals. She’s committed to her home country. She works in Bahrain, with other female, queer, Middle Eastern developers. When her stuff gets shut down, she figures out how to get it back online—maybe in a different format. Mideast Tunes was born out of the realization that art can be a powerful way to speak one’s truth without being censored.

She’s also incredibly funny. Whenever she recounted an exchange with another person, she’d effortlessly switch into high-register cartoon voice. In her struggles to establish that she actually, legitimately knows what she’s doing when meeting with potential funders, she squeaked a typical response from an older, male foundation VP: “You know what you need? A mentor! I know just the guy.”

“Giving things to the world” takes many different forms, and it’s not always the most obvious ones. Case in point: Jenn Schiffer, your typical lady code troll. She is intelligently, satirically, and relentlessly changing the narrative about what software development is and who gets to do it well.

If you don’t think mansplaining is a real thing that really happens, especially to non-male developers who actually know what they’re doing, check out the comments on Jenn’s satirical article, A Call for Web Developers to Deprecate their CSS. Even with my (very) (seriously, very) limited understanding of development, I know this is satire. CSS does not refer to California Style Sheets (lol tho) and a quick Google proves Jenn is a legit developer with legit jobs, and legit coworkers and bosses who find her work to be excellent. So I’d assume that in one reading, actual developers would catch on, enjoy the piece for what it is, and move on. But nope.

One example of about a million:

Jenn is doing what she loves while she deconstructs—piece by piece—the toxicity of an exclusionary coding culture that takes itself very seriously. And it’s working.

4) We can all be one of those number 3 people

I left XOXO reinforced that I, too, give things to the world. I solve problems. I make art. I provide insight. Sometimes, I’m even funny. And after spending four days in a vortex of intelligent, good-intentioned people who straddle the line between humility and debilitating Imposter Syndrome with such grace, I’m inspired to do more.

(For more on the topic of doing more with purpose and less of all the other stuff, check out When Work Gets Personal: Building Your Own Strategic Framework).

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes, and a link to a collection of other XOXO 2016 blogs, compiled by Tantek Çelik.

Quotes

“You do cool stuff! Stop saying it’s not cool!” – Catherine Wood, my favorite new friend who I hope writes me back on Instagram and comes to visit me in not-Canada

“Ideas first and tools later…Your ideas might be smarter than you.” – Simone Giertz

“Don’t talk about diversity. Be about diversity.” – Heben Nigatu

“When you make something too realistic, you don’t give people room to see themselves.” – Brendon Chung

“We have to be able to talk about the problems of success if we want to be successful people.” – Frank Chimero

“Be gentle with yourselves.” – Lucy Bellwood

“For a long time, I believed in the myth of no effort.” – John Roderick

“You don’t know what’ll happen if you put your vulnerability in the wrong hands. Invest time finding the right hands.” – Sammus

And, finally, the key to all monetary successes, as evidenced by his frank and open reveal of the (lack of) money he’s made over the last 15 years: “All you need is a white guy in a black apron and the word artisan.” – David Rees

When Work Gets Personal: Building Your Own Strategic Framework

This is a re-blog of a piece I wrote for Zeus Jones on July 13. Here’s the original post.

Around this time last year, I was struggling to find my rhythm.

My version of work-life integration looked more like work-work integration, and it was taking a toll on my relationships. So I faced a conundrum: how could I maintain the stimulating fast pace of the job I love while making space for the people I love? And what about personal development outside of work?

Put simply, how could I work smarter?

There’s a ton of advice on this topic—everything from “turn off your phone for two hours each evening” to “drink more water.” But those are tactics. What I needed was a new perspective.

So I turned to a tool we employ with our clients at Zeus Jones, when the businesses we work with need their own guiding light. It’s called Belief, Purpose, and Pursuits (BPP). On the surface, it’s a simple framework. The Belief is what the brand believes about the world. The Purpose is the brand’s mission—what they’re going to do about their belief. And Pursuits are principles that help brands take action. The BPP serves to guide everything brands do, from hiring to product development to marketing and communications. For more on the BPP and how we’re working to evolve it, check out Christian’s post from earlier this year, “An Evolving Model for Modern Brands – Beyond “Belief, Purpose, Pursuits.”

In thinking about how to create my own personal BPP, I had some questions: 1) Can a BPP be useful to an individual? 2) Will it have a positive influence on my life and my decision-making? 3) Will this process uncover any flaws in the framework itself?

To find the answers, I basically followed the process we use here at Zeus Jones:

Immersion and Research

I wanted to be thorough, so I started by digging into my existing equities, perceived problems, and questions. I interviewed my parents to get their perspectives on my strengths, weaknesses, and potential paths forward. I looked back on some of my more reflective personal blog posts and half-done journal entries to better understand some of my previous thinking. And I reflected on what has made me feel balanced and fulfilled at each stage of my life and career.

This phase started to tease out some common themes around what’s important to me: learning, creating, being challenged, working hard, helping others, knowing the people around me are taken care of, and—overall—a sense that I’m making something, somewhere, a little bit better.

Drafting

While my key themes were personal and meaningful to me, they weren’t necessarily unique. As often happens when we go through the process with brands, the themes and values that began to emerge could apply to others. But, just as it is for our clients, the BPP is only as good as what you do with it. So I took the ideas and moved into the drafting phase, with the goal of crafting something that would be right for me.

I shared an early version with my parents. My mom (a natural creative) wanted to know what actions I would take with it. My dad (a natural strategist) was more curious about how I would evaluate whether or not it was working. Good questions. As I thought through the answers and refined my draft, I also shared it with Jason, a friend and coworker who, as a result, began his own personal BPP quest.

My resulting framework (forever a draft) looks like this:

Belief, Purpose, Pursuits

 

Activating

My Pursuits are purposefully a mixture of guardrails and open doors, at work and at home. Focus close is designed to keep me grounded in my home life and immediate relationships, instead of taking them for granted. Create beautiful moments gives me permission (and pushes me) to continue making art, at work and in my personal time. Seek and support provides a lens for all of my projects and decisions, wherever they come from.

To keep ourselves on track, Jason and I met and shared our BPPs and our “phase 1 plans” for taking action. Mine consisted of 1) dedicating sacred no-work dinner hours each evening and 2) booking and paying for consistent dance studio rehearsal time (I’ve learned that pre-paying is an excellent motivator).

Months later, I’ve been in the studio seven times and counting, my husband and I eat dinner together almost every night when I’m in town (and we recently took a truly adventurous adventure in the backcountry of Alaska), I’ve become much more vocal and action-oriented about issues that I care about, and Jason and I still do accountability check-ins on our BPPs from time to time. It’s also helped me to be happier and more efficient with my work—when cool opportunities come up that involve extra time or travel, I can take them and feel good about them, knowing that I balance them out with my Focus Close efforts.

My framework isn’t something I consult every day—or even every month—and it’s certainly not something I use formally to make all of my decisions. But I know my purpose, and can use it intuitively. It functions as the great balancer when things get out of whack, which, you know, still happens sometimes.

So, what about my questions?

1) Can a BPP be useful to an individual?

Yes. People are, in fact, just as complex as businesses, with competing priorities, literal and figurative arms and legs, and struggles to stay flexible and relevant while also being purposeful. What I thought would be a small, easy exercise turned out to be not so small or easy, with one major exception: I was the only approver.

2) Will it have a positive influence on my life and my decision-making?

So far, yes. But as things change, I’ll need to change as well. This framework may not be the answer to all my future questions.

3) Will this process uncover any flaws in the framework itself?

One thing I learned is that the answer to my dad’s initial question—how I’ll evaluate the success of this BPP—is still a little ambiguous. It tends to be a tricky task with our client BPPs as well, because the full effects of the framework manifest over months and years of shifting perspectives. That said, when the framework is successful, it results in real actions, which should be measurable in and of themselves.

Evaluation is another piece of our ongoing mission to define and refine the future of brand frameworks. And as we do that, I’m excited to bring a personal perspective to the table. After all, even the biggest businesses are made up of individual people. And—as I can attest—sometimes we all need a little help figuring out what to do next.