Friday, August 5, 2016

Up at 5:30. A Story about Work + Life Balance.

After signing up for yet another gym membership, I was determined to make it a ritual of going to the gym 4 times a week. I knew that in order to do that, I would have to work out in the mornings. After-work gym trips rarely happen. I tell myself I'm tired or I have to work late. Friend, family, and industry events pop up. So when I signed up for Orange Theory Fitness I booked the classes a month in advance and committed to attend the 6:15am class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I planned to sleep in on Saturdays and hit the 9:30am class. Along with the required class booking, the hefty price tag helped me stick to my goal.

In order to prep for the day and still make the 6:15 start time, I would have to wake up at 5:30. The first few weeks it was rough but now I wake up every morning around that time. On some Tuesdays and Thursdays I sleep a little later but usually I am up and moving no later than 6am. I have noticed so many benefits that I would have never thought of...

Stress Free Morning Routine
In the past I would wake up 30 minutes before I needed to catch the train to work. I wouldn't give myself enough time to enjoy my morning routine. I would forget something or need to run the few blocks to the train station. My commute was a 30 minute ride of stressing about being late while being squeezed in between other sweaty commuters who were constantly checking their phones for the time.

Now, I can take my time. I can do my makeup, blow dry my hair, drink some tea, or take the long scenic route to work. I started parking my scooter a few blocks from the office so I wouldn't have to deal with traffic. This allowed me to get a nice walk in before I had to sit for the rest of the day.

Healthy Breakfasts
Previously, I would find myself grabbing an unhealthy pastry or skipping breakfast all together. Now I'm able to think about breakfast. I am able to leisurely eat it while at home instead of scarfing it down during my sprint to the train.

ReadingIn the past, I haven't had nearly as much time to read as I would like. One of my favorite things is to sit on my couch or hit up a coffee shop first thing in the morning and read. I have taken this opportunity to learn about things I otherwise wouldn't have learned. I've been reading about travel, grant writing and personal budgeting. Since I'm not reading while on the train, I can take notes and actually study the content I'm reading.

Early Morning Productivity
Here is a little something I have learned: The grocery store has no lines and is fully stocked at 7am. Taking time in the morning to run those errands that I dread doing after work has allowed my evening schedules to become more free. I'm able to attend industry events, meet with friends, or clean my house without allowing other parts of my personal life to slide. I recently moved into a new apartment and one morning I decided that the best use of my time was to paint a wall before work. This allowed for the wall to dry during the day and I was able to unpack that room when I got home.

Work Doesn't Take Up My Whole Day
One of the most rewarding things I've discovered about waking up early is work is just another thing on my calendar. I got stuck in a funk where I felt like all I ever did was work. I would wake up, go straight to work, then come home and watch tv until I fell asleep. Waking up early gave me more hours in the day and allowed that 8 hours of work to take up a smaller percentage of my time. Even if I had to work later I was able to have time in the morning to run errands, make personal goals, or just relax.

I have a lot of friends and colleagues who seem to always be on the search for a job that can offer "Work + Life Balance." I think a lot of job seekers are looking for that in their next job. A lot of us see balance as the responsibility of an employer, and yes, sometimes it is. However, I encourage you to think of ways to change your morning routine to make your work and life balance possible in your current situation.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Laid Off.

February is almost over and this Saturday I am taking a much needed 4 day vacation to New Orleans. I started this month with a completely different life. It's strange to see what my life has changed into. Life right now is new and sort of scary but I know I am growing and learning many new lessons.

It all started with my new hair cut. At the beginning of the year I promised myself I could get a new hair cut once I lost 10 pounds. With 2 days left of January, I had reached my goal and booked an appointment. I chopped off 7 inches! I felt confident with the new do and a slightly slimmer waistline.

Fast forward to Ground Hog Day 2016. It started like any other. It was gray and slightly cold. I went into work and was planning on telling my boss that I needed to come in late the next Monday because I had a doctor's appointment. Our weekly meeting had been moved to the next day so I decided I would just bring it up then. I worked on a few infographics throughout the day, checked emails, and did the normal day to day things. Four o'clock came along and my boss came into my office. He closed the door and I knew something was wrong. He sat down and proceeded to tell me that the day I started they lost their biggest client. He was concerned that the business would suffer but he figured he could give it a few months to acquire new clients. Despite his optimism, he wasn't able to secure any new work and he would have to let me go. I was to pack my things and he would pay for a cab home. I wasn't to return to work the next day.

I had left a very secure job that I enjoyed at Groupon to take a chance and join the advertising world. I knew that things like this happened, especially at smaller shops, but I didn't think it would have happened only two and a half months after taking the job. I felt so naive for leaving. In hind sight, there were red flags but hind sight is 20/20. I cried all the way home. My friend Jordan came all the way over from the burbs and brought Twizzlers and Reeses. After not eating sweets for a whole month, I decided now was as good a time as ever to break my streak. My boyfriend Loren came over around 3am after he got off work. I cried all night. I had barely enough money to pay my bills for the next month. After that, I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

I obviously couldn't sleep that night. That night, I started grinding my teeth again— something that had stopped since I had left Groupon. As I tossed and turned I decided I wouldn't let this get me down. I would approach this situation like I would approach any design problem. I finally fell asleep and around 10am I woke up and got started.

I grabbed my work notebook and wrote at the top "Day One." I made a list of all the things I needed to do for that day. File my taxes, sell some stock, find a roommate, file for unemployment, reach out to families I babysit, reach out to freelance clients, apply to be a Postmate, reach out to my design network, apply to jobs. I went into full on warrior mode. Between taxes, odd jobs, and stocks, I was able to get enough cash to live off of for the next three months. If I could find a roommate it would get me to 5 months. I googled advice on what to do when you get laid off. One of the most helpful articles was something I found on Forbes. It talked about find confidence in yourself, settling down emotionally, and reach out to your network.

Obviously loosing your job is something one is embarrassed and insecure about but I decided that I needed to update my network of peers if I wanted to get any leads. After all, I found my last job through that network.

I am a member of SheSays Chicago. They are a creative group that focuses on strengthening women in the creative industry. One of the best resources this group offers is their Facebook page. People from all over the area post job listings, advice, and events to this page. It took some guts but I posted to the page to see if anyone had any leads.

This wonderful group of women offered so much support. Not only did they share their stories and sympathies, but they actually shared job leads. By the end of the week I had 4 interviews scheduled.

The day I got laid off, I got an email from Jessica at Wunderland Group. I have been contacted by recruiters before asking if I was interested in working with them. At 1:00pm on February 2, I wasn't at all interested and nearly responded to her saying so. However, I was busy and decided I would respond at a later time. Fast forward to 4:00, right after my boss had delivered the bad news, I emailed her and said I would be interested in talking with her.

The next day I talked with her over the phone. It was like any other phone call with a recruiter. I brushed it off and thought, yep, I'm never going to hear from them again. To my surprise, by the end of the day they had already sent me a job description for a junior art director position at United Airlines. After I said I was interested, I was scheduled for an interview the following Tuesday.

I'm interrupting the story here because at this point, I started to feel so incredibly grateful to all the people who had helped make a terrible situation not so terrible. Friends inviting me over for dinner, family listening to me vent, my brother paying me back for all the money I ever lent him, neighbors and peers who sent job leads, Loren for just holding me when I cried, and the man at Oshana & Sons Print Shop who printed my resumes for free! Thank you to all of those who were there when I needed it. Sometimes this city can be so incredibly lonely but it's instances like this that remind me that we are all here for each other. Friends or strangers, we're in this together.


I went to the interview and felt super good about it. I met Loren for lunch afterwards. During our lunch I got a call from my recruiter. They wanted to offer me the job. My recruiter was completely shocked because after all these years of working with this client, she has never seen them make such a fast decision. I still had 3 other interviews that week but out off all the companies, United was the interview I was the most excited about. I decided to be considerate of the other interviewees' time and cancel the other interviews.

After only 7 days of being unemployed I already had a job offer. It was the first time in a week that I could actually breathe. I would start the next Tuesday.

Now this is the interesting part. This job is a freelance job. United Airlines has a about a dozen designers and art directors, most of whom are freelancers (or permalancers, as they call them). This means that my contract is only good for a few months. The company can extend my contract or cancel it at anytime. So as someone who just lost a job, it's scary to dive into the freelance world where the risks of being unemployed becomes a whole lot more likely.

However, if I had never been laid off, I don't know if I would have even considered taking a freelance job. There's no health insurance. No paid time off. No stability. It's scary. But, when I signed on for my last job, I didn't qualify for health insurance until after 90 days. So I got my own insurance until I could qualify. Since I got laid off, I kept my insurance. So I didn't really need a job that offered insurance. I was able to find a really cool new insurance company that covers what I need and costs about $10 more than what I was paying for my insurance at Groupon. This company is called Harken Health and if you are searching for a good insurance company, I highly recommend them.

So while freelancing can be scary, it's also something I've always been interested in trying out. You tend to get paid more per hour. You have more flexibility. You can meet more people. You can work on more brands and projects within any kind of industry. I also feel like Wunderland and United are great companies to be working with as a new freelancer. Wunderland offers insurance, a 401k, bonuses, and freelancing resources to all their employed freelancers. United employs a lot of freelancers so I am growing my network by meeting these great people. Most freelance gigs only last as long as a certain project. At United, they have some employees that have been freelancing for them for over 5 years, hence permalancers. Doing a long term contract feels much safer than finding a short term gig.

I'm currently in my second week at the job and I'm really enjoying the people and the projects. I'm learning a ton and I'm starting to feel like I am back into a normal schedule. So now that I can finally breathe, I'm going to pack my bags and head down to NOLA!

Oh! And as if my life needed more change, my new roommate is moving in next week. I know I have a job but I thought that while I'm freelancing I should probably build up my savings so if I do loose a contract, I can have a nice safety net until I can find a new job. Also, it will be nice to have a new friend. She gets along with the cats so I'm taking that as a good sign.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Belittling Your Ideas Doesn't Make You Humble

After working at a large tech company for about 3 years, I left to take a design job at a small ad agency. In the 2 months that I have been at this job, I will say it is surprisingly more like Mad Men than my advertising education let on (minus the sexism and cool 60’s fashion). I have identified as Peggy and deemed who is Don, Roger, and the rest of gang.

One of the most interesting things that I have been able to identify is my lack of enthusiasm for my ideas. In the creative world, you are taught to edit ideas and take constructive criticism. As a young professional, I read a lot of articles that say your career depends on how much your first boss trusts you. But I have come to learn that it matters how much your first, second, third, and even fourth bosses trust you. I was extremely lucky to have an amazing boss at my first internship. Rachel Hammon, owner and founder of The Paraders, trusted me with more than I probably would have trusted myself. Another boss I had, Katherine Theoharpolous, gave me so much creative freedom and trusted me to work on projects that no intern would ever have to chance to work on. Both of these bosses were warm, honest, and true mentors. 

Through the next few internships and jobs, I would encounter bosses who would shut down every idea, simply because it wasn’t theirs. I started retracting my head into my shell, afraid that every idea I had would disappoint. Anytime I would participate in an “open brainstorm,” my ideas would be shut down with logistical or political excuses. If I had an idea I truly thought would work, I would have to beat around the bush, brush the idea off like it wasn’t that good, or even worst, make my bosses believe it was actually their idea. Phrases such as “like you mentioned” or “your idea reminds me of this one thing I saw” were part of my every day. It got my ideas out there, which is all that mattered, but it felt dirty.

In ad school, I was taught to share every idea with pride. Brainstorms are brainstorms for a reason. An expensive, time intensive idea can evolve into a more realistic idea. It’s a shame that at so many jobs, my ideas were being ripped apart and thrown in the trash before they could even have a chance to grow into something.

This past week I have been working with one of my creative directors on a new campaign. We spent a few hours on the phone brainstorming ideas. We came up with hundreds of concepts, some better than others. But every time I started to share an idea that wasn’t fully formed or frankly sucked, she pushed me to talk about it more. Think out loud. Some of the best ideas we have for this campaign came about this way. 

My creative director and I sat down with another creative director to go over our ideas. At one point, one of our concepts wasn’t strong enough and he wanted us to all think together to make it stronger. I had a suggestion. I didn’t know if it was great but it could work. So I started my suggestion by saying “So I don’t know if this makes sense but...” and finished the idea by saying “but I dunno, it might not be visually different enough.” Like who pitches an idea to two creative directors like that!? But to my surprise, they actually liked the idea. I tried to fight back a smile when I was praised. I didn’t even realize how messed up that was until my creative director turned to me an whispered, “That was a great idea. I love it. Great job!” 

Is it so bad to believe in your own ideas? Is it so bad to be happy when someone likes your ideas? I have been thinking about this a lot. I don’t know if it’s a creative person thing or a woman thing. But there is just too much darn humility in the way I have been working. Maybe it’s not even humility. Humble people can have confidence. Humility shouldn’t be shown by belittling yourself or your ideas. It should be shown by giving credit where credit is due and accepting praise gracefully. In all honesty, it’s not humility at all. Belittling my ideas is a defense tactic. If I show I don’t love the idea, then my ego doesn’t take a hit when no one else likes it either. But how can other people like my idea if I don’t like it? How can others believe in me if I don’t believe in me?

As always, the first step is recognizing you have a problem. I will strive to represent myself and my ideas in a stronger way. I deserve that and so do my ideas, creative directors, and clients.