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Happiness: The New American Dream

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“Find Your Beach”

I rarely write these days. I’ve never been the writer of the family — that was always my Dad — but I enjoy the art of expression from time to time. I’ve found that when I do write, it’s usually after a one-two combination from a life hurdle and finding an inspirational article online. Either way, who am I to knock inspiration?

It’s no secret that I, nor most people my age, don’t watch the news these days (much to my mother’s chagrin, by the way — particularly when she asks me about wildfires in Los Angeles that I didn’t even know were happening; even more, to my own chagrin when I’m stuck in traffic for three hours because some kid decided he wanted to try to jump off the 101 Freeway. I digress). Sadly, I installed the NBC7 app on my iPhone last week, only to be met with disdain shortly thereafter at the incessant number of highly negative news updates filling up my notification window. As if we need more notifications and more bad news in life. Anyway — the point is, my primary source of real, thought-provoking material always comes from Facebook (at least based on today’s algorithm. I’m sure after posting this, it’ll start sending me ads for help with existential crisis…).

There, I stumbled upon this amazingly written short piece from novelist, Zadie Smith, on NY Books.

Across the way from our apartment—on Houston, I guess—there’s a new wall ad. The site is forty feet high, twenty feet wide. It changes once or twice a year. Whatever’s on that wall is my view: I look at it more than the sky or the new World Trade Center, more than the water towers, the passing cabs. It has a subliminal effect. Last semester it was a spot for high-end vodka, and while I wrangled children into their snowsuits, chock-full of domestic resentment, I’d find myself dreaming of cold martinis.

But that was all some time ago. Now the ad says: Find your beach. The bottle of beer—it’s an ad for beer—is very yellow and the background luxury-holiday-blue. It seems to me uniquely well placed, like a piece of commissioned public art in perfect sympathy with its urban site. The tone is pure Manhattan. Echoes can be found in the personal growth section of the bookstore (“Find your happy”), and in exercise classes (“Find your soul”), and in the therapist’s office (“Find your self”). I find it significant that there exists a more expansive, national version of this ad that runs in magazines, and on television.

Find your beach. The construction is odd. A faintly threatening mixture of imperative and possessive forms, the transformation of a noun into a state of mind. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. On the one hand it means, simply, “Go out and discover what makes you happy.” Pursue happiness actively, as Americans believe it their right to do. And it’s an ad for beer, which makes you happy in the special way of all intoxicants, by reshaping reality around a sensation you alone are having. So, even more precisely, the ad means: “Go have a beer and let it make you happy.” Nothing strange there. Except beer used to be sold on the dream of communal fun: have a beer with a buddy, or lots of buddies. People crowded the frame, laughing and smiling. It was a lie about alcohol—as this ad is a lie about alcohol—but it was a different kind of lie, a wide-framed lie, including other people.

Here the focus is narrow, almost obsessive.Everything that is not absolutely necessary to your happiness has been removed from the visual horizon. The dream is not only of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it is conceived as a peculiar form of duty.

In an exercise class recently the instructor shouted at me, at all of us: “Don’t let your mind set limits that aren’t really there.” You’ll find this attitude all over the island. It is encouraged and reflected in the popular culture, especially the movies, so many of which, after all, begin their creative lives here, in Manhattan.According to the movies it’s only our own limited brains that are keeping us from happiness. In the future we will take a pill to make us limitless (and ideal citizens of Manhattan), or we will, like Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, use 100 percent of our brain’s capacity instead of the mythic 10. In these formulations the world as it is has no real claim on us. Our happiness, our miseries, our beaches, or our blasted heaths—they are all within our own power to create, or destroy. On Tina Fey’s television show 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy—the consummate citizen of this new Manhattan—deals with problems by crushing them with his “mind vise.”

The beach is always there: you just have to conceive of it.It follows that those who fail to find their beach are, in the final analysis, mentally fragile; in Manhattan terms, simply weak. Jack Donaghy’s verbal swordplay with Liz Lemon was a comic rendering of the various things many citizens of Manhattan have come to regard as fatal weakness: childlessness, obesity, poverty. To find your beach you have to be ruthless. Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas.A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with. As long as you’re one of these people who simply do not allow anything—not even reality—to impinge upon that clear field of blue.

 

Whew. No pressure?

Have we really gotten to a place where if you are not drenched in solitude, isolated from the world, and living life on your own beach of “happiness” that you are mentally fragile? What does that say about us as a society?

Regardless, she’s making an incredible point that I fear few people are thinking about. The entire world today is predicated on self-empowerment, happiness, self-motivation, The Secret, Oprah, and every other kind of self-help mantra you can come up with. Living in Los Angeles, you see it everywhere you go. From the Cold Pressed Juice stores to the crazy Cross Fitters doing their WOD’s on the sidewalk to Trader Joes to the chalk art outside your local pub with “empowering” advice on how you should life to its fullest and have another beer!

Each man and woman in this town is in pursuit of his or her beach and God help you if you get in their way. I suppose it should follow that I am happier in pragmatic England than idealist Manhattan, but I can’t honestly say that this is so. You don’t come to live here unless the delusion of a reality shaped around your own desires isn’t a strong aspect of your personality. “A reality shaped around your own desires”—there is something sociopathic in that ambition.

 

A reality shaped around your own desires. Sociopathic.

The Future: A World Full of Sociopathic, Isolated, Narcissists. (Or SIN, if you’re the Religious Kind?)

Anyone who knows my Dad knows that he had a lot of “sayings”. One of them was, “has the world kicked you in the ass yet today?” This is somewhat ironic, given that my Dad also told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up, but his approach to parenting was something I sometimes long for in today’s society: real.

My parents never sugarcoated anything. I saw every fight. I saw every conversation. I saw every logic-based decision from inception to execution. Being an only child, I also got to hear logic from both sides of the coin, unfettered and uninterrupted. I got to be in the control room for every major thing that ever happened in my life. And if it pertained to me? I got to make the choices, because my parents always treated me like an adult. Perhaps that’s just the perks of growing up, but I would also like to think I have some pretty salt of the Earth folks.

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And despite all of the empowerment talk of being whatever you want to be, there was also never a void of the “reality”. The reality that if you wanted to be a certain something, you had to go where those certain someones who did that something were and step up to the batters box and swing. Sometimes you were gonna strike out, and sometimes you were gonna hit a line drive, and sometimes, you’d knock it out of the park. But without stepping into the batter’s box, you weren’t going anywhere. Period.

As I re-read the remnants of this article and think about life, I fear the outcome of a society continuing on this trajectory. If left to our own devices as is, I fear we are truly becoming these isolated, sociopathic narcissists. People so selfish and consumed with their own thoughts, their own happy, and their own well-being while being glued to their phones with no real attachments or experiences in life outside of themselves. What kind of world is that?

It’s scary, from a societal standpoint. And from an every day standpoint? It just makes me crave real. It makes me want to smash my phone, delete social media accounts, and only foster real relationships and real scenarios.

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Think about it. We all fill the void of connection with our phones, choosing to connect with all the whomevers on our Facebook chat at that moment instead of valuing the people we’re already with in the flesh. We choose to Facebook and Instagram and worry about likes and followers as validation for who we are as people, instead of valuing ourselves internally without a like or a comment attached. We don’t know how to unplug. We sit there with our phones, thinking we are being isolated and living on our own specially crafted beaches, when really — we’re just clouding our minds with algorithm-induced bullshit that already leans in a biased direction for a click and a coin in the bank to an advertiser under the guise of actually living our lives. Hallelujah, user behavior!!! All of this is predicated on the concept that we’re building our perfect little lives, our own imaginary world in our own head built just for us while searching for true happiness. My world is mine! All mine! Eff the rest of you and your anti-synchronistic concepts that don’t fit my world! ME ME ME ME ME! HAPPY! ME! MINE! LISTEN TO ME! LIKE ME! MY OPINION IS RIGHT AND YOURS IS WRONG IF YOU DISAGREE!!!

It’s bullshit.

And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it’s not real.

A Dose of Reality

A month or two ago when Spotify rolled out their “weekly” discover playlist that served up curated content based on music you listened to, I realized just how wrong we were getting it. My favorite musician of all time is Jason Mraz. Love him. Have for decades. I still play a lot of his music. As a result, most of my playlist was acoustic-y coffee house type music. Almost every. Single. Song. After the third song, I wanted to turn the stereo off altogether.

The most beautiful aspect of life is the magical surprise — the surprise of something you hadn’t expected. There’s nothing new in the singer-songwriter coffee house genre, and none of it is appealing to me in a 20 hour playlist full of just that. I want to find something new. I want to find something to awaken my soul and snap me out of my traffic-induced trance.

Which is why magic is the key to life. It’s the surprise of trying your new favorite food for the first time, of arguing differing viewpoints with someone from the complete opposite end of the spectrum from you and learning more about life because of it, of meeting someone you fall in love with at the soul level, of laughing until your face hurts because you’ve finally met someone funnier than you, of having crazy wormhole discussions about art, life, physics, and blackholes. You see it when you meet that person who turns you on to something you’ve never known before that you probably would have never known before you met them. When you discover that cute little place on the corner by accident just because you happened to walk by. When you find a new book to check out because of a friend of yours insisted that you borrow it.

Happiness isn’t a destination. It’s a state of mind. And all of the self help books in the world can’t teach you that. It’s not something you can strive for, it’s something you work on every single day. And it doesn’t come from you, because life is not about you. Life is about us, collectively. You are me, I am you, we are life. So is the cat. And the dog. And Cecile the Lion. And the trees. This world is one that was given to us, how and why isn’t important. We have it, it’s a blessing, and it is up to us to take care of it, of us, and of ourselves.

And in that — it’s also about realizing that sometimes you have to be okay with reality. It’s okay to be sad sometimes. It’s okay to experience every emotion under the sun because it’s what reminds us that we are alive. We’re breathing. We’re here! Don’t let some effervescent pursuit of some fake new-age bullshit take that away from you.

At the end of the day, I hope, if nothing else, you take away that life is not about what you or I want. It’s about learning the delicate balance between exploring our own passions and desires while also giving love, insight, knowledge, and inspiration back to those you love; perhaps, even strangers. And I think that’s why most people consider some of the richest people in the world as the most miserable at their core — they gave up everything to get something they thought would make them happy — without really knowing what happiness is.

Life. Is. Not. A. Beach.

Neither is happiness.

It’s about time to change a few things;
we’re enslaved to the bank and we only wanna buy new shoes,
but the way that we think — we can do anything that we really wanna put our minds to.
The american dream is a pyramid scheme
And it feels outta reach when it’s hard and times are tough
But change starts with us yep, yep
We all want freedom yea to be who we be
I don’t wanna be afraid when I speak to say what I’m feeling
Yea together we’re strong but divided never been so weak
It’s time we get even, yea yea, and really what I mean is, is, is
This change I can feel it, yea yea, Mr. President I think it’s all gonna be O.K.

Transition: How to Enjoy the Journey of Entrepreneurship

I read an article on Inc.com a few months ago called The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. If you haven’t read it, even if you’re not an entrepreneur, you should. It’s a life changer. Here are some key excerpts for discussion:

Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair — times when it seemed everything might crumble.

Until recently, admitting such sentiments was taboo. Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management–also known as “fake it till you make it.” Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions (No. 188 on the Inc. 500), explains the phenomenon with his favorite analogy: a man riding a lion. “People look at him and think, This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!” says Thomas. “And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”

Not everyone who walks through darkness makes it out. In January, well-known founder Jody Sherman, 47, of the e-commerce site Ecomom took his own life. His death shook the start-up community. It also reignited a discussion about entrepreneurship and mental health that began two years earlier after the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the 22-year-old co-founder of Diaspora, a social networking site.

Lately, more entrepreneurs have begun speaking out about their internal struggles in an attempt to combat the stigma on depression and anxiety that makes it hard for sufferers to seek help. In a deeply personal post called “When Death Feels Like a Good Option,” Ben Huh, the CEO of the Cheezburger Network humor websites, wrote about his suicidal thoughts following a failed startup in 2001. Sean Percival, a former MySpace vice president and co-founder of the children’s clothing startup Wittlebee, penned a piece called “When It’s Not All Good, Ask for Help” on his website. “I was to the edge and back a few times this past year with my business and own depression,” he wrote. “If you’re about to lose it, please contact me.” (Percival now urges distressed entrepreneurs to seek professional help: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

Entrepreneurs often juggle many roles and face countless setbacks–lost customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems–all while struggling to make payroll. “There are traumatic events all the way along the line,” says psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman, who is researching mental health and entrepreneurship.

Complicating matters, new entrepreneurs often make themselves less resilient by neglecting their health. They eat too much or too little. They don’t get enough sleep. They fail to exercise. “You can get into a startup mode, where you push yourself and abuse your body,” Freeman says. “That can trigger mood vulnerability.”

But it may be more than a stressful job that pushes some founders over the edge. According to researchers, many entrepreneurs share innate character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” says Freeman. Those states may include depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking.

Call it the downside of being up. The same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them. Business owners are “vulnerable to the dark side of obsession,” suggest researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. They conducted interviews with founders for a study about entrepreneurial passion. The researchers found that many subjects displayed signs of clinical obsession, including strong feelings of distress and anxiety, which have “the potential to lead to impaired functioning,” they wrote in a paper published in the Entrepreneurship Research Journal in April.

The article still sits with me to this day. Why? Well, for starters — it’s true. And what this article doesn’t mention is that it’s especially true for younger people, who are still trying to navigate the murky waters of life — of love, hobbies, friends, spirituality, balance, health, and happiness — with limited groups of friends who actually understand the intricacies of this lifestyle. And if you’re not married or in a serious long term relationship? You’re doing it alone. And good luck finding someone who can or is willing to relate to you or put up with your bullshit when you’re having a manic fit and can’t stop feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.

To illustrate my point, here’s a great anecdote from “The Fearsome Nightmare Entrepreneurs Never Talk About”:

The day began to go wrong long before Dave reached his office. He had finished working out on the treadmill and was grabbing his car keys when Joe called on his cell. His three year old was running a fever so he would not be coming in to work. Joe was his tech-guy, the only person who understood the new CRM package on which they had just spent a king’s ransom. More, their new product launch–a ‘make or break’ for the company–was scheduled for later in the week and 2 million emails needed to go out smoothly.

Joe was apologetic. He promised to work from home and fix the bugs they had identified but Dave felt queasy.

His night receptionist handed him a message when he reached his office. Bob wanted to speak with him immediately. Bob was his lead investor, the guy who had found the other investors for him and promised him that he would back him till the end of the quarter when the results of the product launch were in. If all went well, the company would be able to self-finance for the rest of the year.

Bob, like Joe, was apologetic. He had tried his best but his partners were not very happy with the results so far. He could no longer guarantee that he would be there for Dave as promised. But what about the new product launch, Dave sputtered.

Bob was sympathetic but he was not reassuring. He would do his best but Dave had better start working on a plan B.

Dave got another call from Joe that evening. His child was still sick. He was sorry but the strain was too great. He was quitting, effective immediately.

It took a long time for Dave to fall asleep and he woke up in a cold sweat at 3AM. Steel bands were clamped around his chest and he could barely breathe. Fear, stark uncontrollable fear, permeated every cell and flowed out through every pore. He felt his body stirring, moving involuntarily.

“What’s up dear?” his wife mumbled sleepily.

“Nothing,” he lied.

He found that he had curled up in the fetal position.

I like this anecdote because I’ve witnessed it — with myself, and with some of my entrepreneurial friends.

Life is tough as an entrepreneur, so you hide it. You don’t talk about it. Because it’s not sexy. It’s not powerful. And when you do feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you have to pretend it’s not because there are very few people who can or are willing to try to understand how you feel.

And if you’re a woman? Try harder to find a man who will or can relate to you in a role that isn’t in your “societal nature.” Because women aren’t supposed to be entrepreneurs, after all — are they? I haven’t seen many lately.

I can honestly say that with the exception of a few other friends of mine who happen to also have experience as young entrepreneurs, no one really understands the pressures or the stressors that go into owning a company, let alone trying to grow it, maintain it, or most important of all — sell it — while trying to live the somewhat normal life of a 20 or 30-something.

Yes, I’m saying the latter for a reason.

As a millennial entrepreneur, I can tell you that the only reason I started a company when I was 22 was because it was the only opportunity available to me that even remotely resembled what I thought would make me happy.  The writer’s strike had just hit Hollywood and eliminated opportunities as a Producer, which is what got me to LA in the first place. I was lucky to land a job at a music discovery startup that I thought would take me through the strike and beyond, but while the startup I worked for initially made me love the buzz of “startup culture”, it only taught me to hate corporate culture (and producing) so badly that I never wanted to work for anyone ever again. Ever.

So I started my own company. Because I thought it was easier. I thought it was freedom.

But it’s neither of those things. Over the last seven years, I’ve lived on a roller coaster. I’ve dealt with being over $200,000 in outstanding unpaid client debt, I’ve made it through an economic depression, I’ve kept roofs over countless employees heads while they never worried about a thing, and I’ve seen the highs of closing big deals and the lows of pain in the ass clients who think you owe them the world for $1, deals falling through left and right, and dealing with intense partnership struggles.  Tack on the personal stuff, adding countless important friendships lost and abandoned (especially over the past few weeks), friends who have passed away or been diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and added relationship sutff? It’s a lot for a young person to handle. There’s not a single moment that I can remember in the last seven years that was effortless.

Which is why I don’t want to be an “entrepreneur”.

It took me a long time to realize that I don’t like running a company. I’m not good at it. And I could argue that there are a lot of eccentric CEO’s and Founders that have brilliant ideas and business acumen, but who are also terrible at running a company. Because telling people what to do and dealing with the intricacies of the day-to-day is actually suffocating for people like me, and it never really leads to the best end result.

Owning a company just to be an entrepreneur is one of the most selfish, egotistical things someone can do. I know, because I did it for seven years. While it’s great to say you want to own a company and be successful at doing what you love, one day you’re going to have to pay all your taxes, cash in your non-existent IRA, and find someone to either buy your business, or shrink away into shakey retirement unless you happened to be smarter than 98% of the rest of the moderately successful entrepreneurs who didn’t make it big like Mark Zuckerberg.

So what’s my point?

The key to life is in transition. Change, like death and taxes, is inevitable. How you respond to that change is what makes you who you are. You never know how you’re going to get from Point A to Point B, especially as an entrepreneur, because it always feels like you’re a work in progress. And you are. We all are.

But you do get to Point B, eventually. And when you do, you start to set your sights to Point C.

So enjoy the transition. While I hate running a company, I will never stop being an entrepreneur. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing career opportunities cross my desk that are even more stressful than my entrepreneurial journey thus far; but because I processed the transition, I at least know what I’m willing to accept and what I’m not willing to accept in my life, while keeping an open mind as I embark on the next journey so I continue to learn those things.

I encourage you to do the same. Find the things you do like about entrepreneurship, and try to center your world around those things. It’s the perks that make the negatives bearable — and ultimately, allowing your life to transition, that can get you where you want and need to go.

 

Success, Passion, & the Key to Doing What You Love

Growing up an only child, I find that I spend the majority of my life in “listening mode” as a natural observer to life. It’s not that I lack participatory desire, it’s just that it’s sometimes easier to watch life and situations unfold as if it were a movie, learn your lessons from those around you, and act accordingly in your own life — almost like a Chess game, if you will (although, I’m terrible at Chess, I’m not going to lie here). As a result, it’s no secret that I usually fit into the therapist role in most of my interpersonal relationships, mostly because I’m a good listener and I have a great memory.

But life is meaningless if we don’t share what we learn, so when I start to see common patterns among those around me, I usually find it’s time to write about it so that others may find some relief in their silent struggles. This is an attempt at that, perhaps my first publicly in a blog, as I also like fixing things. I guess we’ll call that the Entrepreneur in me.

Over the past month, I’ve noticed a lot of my friends struggling with purpose, with finding a way to make money doing what they love, and ultimately about achieving “success”. I haven’t quite pinpointed if the source of the issue is the age bracket, given that the mid-to-late-20s is a time of “trying to figure it out” (it being adulthood), feeling like you are “not measuring up” with the expectations you set for your life when you were but a tween, or if it’s merely a broader concern that plagues most adults at some point in their life.

Either way, I’ve had a lot (and I mean a LOT) of friends come to me lately about this. They’re stuck in their careers, they don’t know the next step forward, they don’t know what they want, they don’t know how to make their passion a success, they don’t know how to evolve their businesses, they don’t know how to get that job, they don’t know how to break into the industry, etc. etc. They just don’t know how to get to where they want to go. I get it. Life is tough. We’re all afraid of making the wrong choice.

So how do you figure it out?

I certainly don’t know the answer, but given the things I do know about life, I can point to a few things that you can do at this very moment to help you find your passion, define and achieve success, as well as do what you love all at the same time.

  1. Define Success
  2. “I think the first half of my 20s I felt I had to achieve, achieve, achieve. A lot of men do this. I’m looking around now and I’m like, Where am I running?” – Justin Timberlake

    Have you ever gone on a road trip? If you don’t have a destination in mind, it’s really fun for the first few hours. Until you start to realize that sometimes not knowing the destination isn’t really that fun. In order for you to achieve success, you have to know what success is to you. Is success earning $1M a year? Is it a new car? Is it a vacation? Is it a marriage? Is it kids? Is it inner peace? Is it living in your favorite city? Only you know those answers. Figure out what it is, and then you can begin starting to achieve it.

  3. Don’t take no for an answer
  4. I was lucky to grow up in an entrepreneurial family with two very strong individuals as parents. Neither one ever took no for an answer. Life was never about the negative — it was never about not being able to achieve something; instead, it was about finding the solution. Have a problem? There are probably 18 million solutions that will solve your problem. You just have to find the one that works for you, that fits within your variables (budget, time, energy, location, etc.). Too often people rely on other people for those solutions (which IS a solution, but not always the right one). Don’t. Really try to think outside the box on how you can achieve your goals.

  5. Reverse engineer your problems
  6. “There’s no such thing as overnight success. That’s my concern with a show like American Idol. It encourages the false belief that there’s a kind of magic, that you can be ‘discovered.’ That may be the way television works, but it’s not the way the world works. Rising to the top of any field requires an enormous amount of dedication, focus, drive, talent, and 99 factors that they don’t show on television. It’s not simply about being picked. Which, by the way, is why very few of the anointed winners on American Idol have gone on to true success. Most have flamed out and gone away. That should tell us something.” – Malcolm Gladwell

    Life is much simpler than we make it out to be. Look at your end result and reverse engineer from there how you need to get there. Knowledge is almost always the key to this.

    As an example from my own life, I always knew that I wanted to be in the music business in high school. Despite being a talented athlete and getting a multitude of full ride scholarships to play both volleyball and softball, I wasn’t going to do anything other than actively work towards getting into the musicbiz. I spent a LOT of time researching the best schools in the country for music and ultimately opted for Middle Tennessee State, one of the top 3 schools in the country for Music Business, knowing that it was close to Nashville and I’d have some of the best professors possible. During my last year of college, I knew that I needed to continue to experience the industry with people at the top of their game, so I got an internship at one of the biggest artist management firms in Nashville. I dedicated myself to being the best Intern possible, which turned my measly internship into a paid position. I knew that to get where I wanted, which was to be an artist manager, that I had to work with the best people possible and learn from them. In order to do that, I needed a degree, I needed proximity, I needed connections, and I needed an opportunity. Once I learned the ropes, I could re-assess what I learned, and I could put a new plan of action together.

    While my goals and definition of success change on a daily basis, I am consistent in setting new goals for myself and ultimately reverse engineering what will be the best and fastest way to get to those new goals that work within the variables that I have. For example, I could have gone to Berkelee in Boston, but I didn’t want to play an instrument for school (a requirement). I could have gone to NYU, but I didn’t want to live in NYC because it was way too much for this small town farm girl. I could have taken a full ride and gotten a degree for nothing, but I would have done absolutely nothing for my career. MTSU, while still a venture out of my comfort zone because of its size and distance from home, was perfect for my goals. I still got a top notch education that worked within what I was willing and/or not willing to sacrifice.

    Now let’s say I didn’t get the internship at Vector, what then? Find another company. Find a record label. Find a publishing company. Not every solution is going to meet all of your answers, but as long as it fulfills a small part of getting to you the next step, it’s a solution. Keep finding solutions to your problem until you find the one that works. If you consistently look for ways to make yourself better at whatever your passion is, there is no other outcome other than to be successful. It may happen right away, and it may not.

  7. Don’t have expectations
  8. “There’s an idea I came across a few years ago that I love: My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations. That’s the key for me. If I can accept the truth of ‘This is what I’m facing — not what can I expect but what I am experiencing now’ — then I have all this freedom to do other things.” – Michael J. Fox

    Which leads me to expectations. Expectations and goals are not the same thing. A goal is a marker, something you can measure as a success or a failure. An expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” It is not quantifiable, and it often leads you astray in many ways. I may have had the goal of being the best artist manager in the world, but that didn’t mean that I had the expectation of how I would get there, where it would be, or what that would be like when I got there. It’s a good thing, too, because if I had stuck with my expectation, I certainly wouldn’t be living in Los Angeles, and I certainly wouldn’t have my own company. Minimize your expectations, maximize your goals. Rinse, wash, repeat.

  9. Don’t be tied to an outcome
  10. “A lot of young actors have the idea that, “I’ve got to do this right. There’s a right way to do this.” But there’s no right or wrong. There’s only good and bad. And “bad” usually happens when you’re trying too hard to do it right. There’s a very broad spectrum of things that can inhibit you. The most important thing for actors – and not just actors, but everybody – is to feel loose enough to create what you want to create, and be free to try anything. To have choices.” – Robert DeNiro

    I had this amazing Copyright Law professor at MTSU. She was a woman, which was rare at the time, so I often stopped by her office hours to pick her brain about the business. I asked her once what the best career advice she could give someone was, and this was it in a nutshell. Her plan for her life had always been to work as a lawyer in a corporate banking / investment structure. Because she was open to the opportunities that presented themselves with some of her investment clients, she ended up being a manager for a huge act and breaking it huge in the music business. Turns out, that really made her happy. And so did teaching at college. Be open and malleable to opportunities and know that it’s okay for you to change your mind on what you want. We live longer these days, and you don’t have to be tied to a single career for 50 of your 70 years. Take chances.

  11. Work your a$$ off
  12. “I think people sometimes don’t pay enough attention to what they do. I’ve done well, but the reason is pretty simple: I’ve worked my ass off. The toughest thing a performer can do is make it look as if it comes easy.” – Justin Timberlake

    Anyone who is successful is a testament to the fact that in order to get where you want in life, you will have to work your a$$ off. It will most certainly not come easy, and there will be times when you feel like bludgeoning your forehead into a cement wall outside while you silently wonder why you wanted this in the first place. But nothing replaces passion, and if you love something, you do it even if it breaks your heart sometimes.

    Every time I set a new goal, I work my butt off. When I went to college, I graduated in 3 years. My last year? I worked full time at Vector, commuting an hour to Nashville and back every day, taking classes at night, and working on my undergraduate thesis in my “spare time”. When I moved to Los Angeles, I can’t tell you how many times I spent 70+ hours a week working for someone else, not just to be a good worker, but to learn everything I could as fast as possible. Even now, as an entrepreneur, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten up at 5am and worked until 11pm. Luckily for everyone, my new goal is to not work as hard, but you have to put work in to get where you want in life. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

  13. Re-define success
  14. “Why am I doing the work I’m doing? Why am I friends with this person? Am I living the best life I possibly can? Questions are often looked upon as questions of doubt but I don’t see it that way at all. I question things to stay present, to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    Don’t feel like you have to stick to a definition of success that your friends have, or that you defined for yourself a long time ago. If I was still living towards my definition of success from my 18-year-old self, I’d be depressed. Make it a point to re-evaluate your definition of success every time you achieve a goal or every year or two. You’d be surprised by how much it changes the more you experience.

    Success to me at 18 was getting a good job so I could one day be a baller in the entertainment industry, mostly so that I could be friends with celebrities and go to cool parties and be popular (isn’t that what everyone thinks about the entertainment industry when you’re a kid?). And then I realized that most of the people I wanted to befriend weren’t that cool, that parties are way overrated, that being popular isn’t popular, and that you can never be a baller working for someone else; so I started my own company. Now I realize that success is not being caught up in the rat race, but doing what you love, fulfilling your passion, and getting paid to do it with the least amount of stress possible.

  15. Live a full life
  16. “This is the key to life: the ability to reflect, the ability to know yourself, the ability to pause for a second before reacting automatically. If you can truly know yourself, you will begin the journey of transformation.” – Deepak Chopra

    Probably the one thing that I have learned over the past five years is that success means nothing without having a life you’re in love with. And the only way you can love your life is to truly know who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, and that you’re actively pursuing those endeavors. You have to be fulfilled and balanced in your mind, body, and spirit, to really be able to enjoy life. If you’re working too hard, your health and your relationships suffer. If you party too hard, your work, health, and relationships suffer. A balance between all things is the most ideal way to live a full life — because isn’t success meaningless if you have no one to share it with, or if you’re not healthy enough to enjoy it?

  17. Stop being afraid of making mistakes
  18. “When I was younger I’d berate myself: You’re fat, you’re not a good dancer, you’ll never have a boyfriend. I don’t sweat that kind of stuff anymore. Now every day is a miracle. I’ve also learned that if something is painful or upsetting, you shouldn’t hide from it. You should make it part of your life instead.” – Valerie Harper

    Everyone is in a hurry. No one wants to make mistakes. But at the end of the day, I think the mistakes are possibly some of the best things I’ve done in my life — not because I did them, but because they happened and I learned from them. I’m a better person because of all of the things I’ve done wrong. I’m proud to make mistakes, and I’m the first one to tell you when I’ve made one. How can we learn and get better if we don’t actively try to get better? No one’s perfect, and no one should want to be. So why does it matter if the job or the guy or the city or the lifestyle isn’t the right one? You can always change your path.

    Always.

    So, in conclusion — life is what you make it. So go make your life, not a living. If you do, you’ll never have to worry about how to make your passion into a success because you’ll already have everything you need. That is truly the key to doing what you love, in my opinion.

A Case of the Bad Entrepreneur: How a Bad Ego & Not Staying on Top of Industry Trends Can Equal Missed Opportunity

An Overview

It’s been a while since my last post, but 2012 has been the busiest to-date for all of us over at Plastick Media (me included!), and 2013 is shaping up to be even bigger. With our expansion, we’ve had a lot of reasons to broaden our horizons into sponsored brand integration, especially with this year’s upcoming Sundance Film Festival, which is now one of the most star-studded event for the entertainment industry.

As a result of our amazing Sundance opportunities, we put together some unique integration concepts for high profile events that would benefit a variety of brands that wouldn’t normally be a fit with Sundance, but would allow for them to gain exposure and media activations in an authentic way. This, at the heart of our brand, is the Plastick Model. This meant reaching out to Publicists and PR Reps in industry sectors that we wouldn’t normally do business with, which unfortunately, also meant sometimes talking to people we didn’t know.

And what happens when you talk to people you don’t know? Sometimes you get some bad eggs. Fortunately, these bad eggs teach us a lot about what to do and not do in business. I hesitated, at first, to post this — but, of course, I couldn’t help but pass that information along in hopes that it helps someone in similar situations. This world is, in fact, all about learning, isn’t it?

The Case of the Bad Entrepreneur

For one of our packages, we were looking for a unique audio visual company to create a tailored listening room, so we reached out to a seemingly well-known publicist who represents some big brands in the a/v world. Our pitch was via Facebook, as we’ve gotten a lot more traction via Facebook than via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn. It was, very simply, an introduction to who we are, the Sundance opportunity, and more about us on a B2B level.

boohiss
 

Publicist’s Response #1: A Case of the Bitters

We’ve only ever had one negative response to our email or social outreach, and this scenario was the first. The publicist in question responded to my head of Business Development with:

There’s no lazier, more unprofessional, impersonal and dehumanizing method of sales solicitation, that does more damage to a brand, than the half-assed, blind, attempted ’emailed in,’ ‘I’m a big fan of your clients’ email inquiry, especially through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts. You’ve just proven you’re a hack. Piss off or I’ll flag your account for Spam.

whatevs
 

My Response #1: Sticking Up for your Colleagues

Normally, I would just let such an email go; it’s not worth responding, in most cases. This email, however, was so rude and derogatory that I couldn’t help but stick up for my colleague. So I emailed back:

***,

Recently, my head of Business Development, Sean Reilly, reached out to you to connect on Facebook. We approached you at *** (names retracted for security purposes) because we know mutual clients in the industry (***, *** et. al, as I have long history in the music business), and I was also scheduled to be a speaker on the **** panel last year before it was cancelled.

While I understand that you may feel his outreach was “canned” and/or lazy, it most certainly was not. Regardless of how you took its origination, your response was beyond rude and unnecessary, and something that I do not tolerate in any communication. If you have no interest in furthering conversation with us, you can simply choose to ignore it. I would never send an email like that to anyone, nor would any of my colleagues; to be honest, I’m pretty appalled. Perhaps you’re conducive with conducting yourself online in that manner, but I will not tolerate my colleagues to be treated as such.

The world, in today’s craziness, is a difficult place. Communication via Twitter, Facebook, and email have significantly limited face-to-face interactions to a point where people feel they can treat people however they want because there’s no real face — just a computer screen and a keyboard. As a reminder, there is a face here, just like there’s a face (yours) reading this email. We are all human, and we are all people. It’s fine if you don’t like our method of interaction or communication, but I do implore you to remember that there’s no need to further hatred in a world already filled with it.

Good luck with your future endeavors.

Whew! Armed with a small sense of peace for dealing with a matter of importance to me, I went about my day. That is, until I received this extremely disheartening email and a barrage of notifications on our social monitoring platform.

boohiss
 
 
 

Publicist Response #2: The First Threat

This email was a direct response to me. It was short, but to the point.

You simply have no clue, do you? Now I see where your poorly trained people get their attitude of ineptitude and entitlement. A) NO ONE with an ounce of credibility solicits business through social media accounts and B) You’re going to wish the following is something you never wrote and forwarded to me because C) the internet never forgets.

boohiss
 

Publicist Response #3: Public Execution

As if that weren’t enough, said Publicist continued to post Tumblr Blogs, Tweets, and Facebook messages, tagging my business development colleague and me in a shockingly public manner. Here’s what he wrote:

So I deservedly spank a very lazy, half-assed sales rep, Sean Reilly, from a company called Plastick Media for possibly one of the most dumbed-down, invasive business solicitations EVER through our Facebook page and I get this from the founder of the company, Tori Kyes, a person who clearly has no business savvy whatsoever. I don’t suffer fools lightly and when I get solicited in such unprofessional, meaningless, half-hearted and time-wasting ways, I let those individuals know it. This is your cliche’ Los Angeles publicist personality. You know the type. The parody of the publicist everyone simply hates. Opinionated, condescending, arrogant, etc… I can go on. In a nutshell, she really thinks her sh-t doesn’t stink and all others should bow down to them for reasons that simply escape me. The self-entitlement from this, so called, ‘publicity professional,’ is staggering. If you invade our business uninvited, waste my time, and cost us money, like an insect, don’t be surprised if you get stomped on like an insect:

(followed by my original email, as well as a re-post of my personal cell phone, direct line, email address, and contact information)

whatevs

My Response #2: Knowing When to Leave Well Enough Alone While Still Standing Your Ground

At some point, you have to recognize when belligerent folks who love confrontation are trying to bait you. With the previous actions, I recognized there wasn’t much to say to this individual. At the same time, however, I felt it was important to let the publicist know that his claims and posts were unreasonable, and that if they continued, I would pursue alternative action. The following is my response:

Dear ***,

1. We do business all the time via social media, hence why we are a social media agency.
2. I’ve taken screenshots of your threatening posts on our Facebook Page.
3. I’ve forwarded the screenshots and your threatening email to our legal counsel, and we will be on the look out for future libel material thanks to our proprietary social media monitoring platform.
4. This is the last correspondence you will receive from anyone at Plastick. The next correspondence will be from our legal counsel, if further provoked.

Have a wonderful evening.

boohiss
 
 
 

Publicist Response #5: The Nail in the Coffin

But that wasn’t all, of course. He followed up with a final email.

Please have your legal counsel explain to you who’s doing the provoking and threatening! You’re going to be surprised by their professional advice, especially in the areas of libel, slander, and threatening behaviors. Why? I know. Because I actually have a legal background. Oh, and I am sure your (snicker) ‘proprietary social media monitoring platform’ (aka: Google alerts) will have you clued into the ‘threatening posts’, which are simply your own arrogant, belligerent and self destructive behavior and words thrown back at you, pretty soon.

You’re a comedic cornucopia of arrogance and self-entitlement that’s stunning, and a parody of the rank amateur behavior Sean displays so well. The guano doesn’t fall far from the bat…

Hugs,
***

Well, then.

Lessons to be Learned: A Look at Both Sides & How to Handle Situations Like This When They Arise

So what can we learn from this? Well, there are quite a few things. Let’s take this situation from both sides:

The Publicist

  1. Saying things in a public forum about people that are untrue and/or harassing is not only unprofessional, but it’s also illegal. If you’re going to post something of the magnitude that this person did, you’re opening yourself up to lawsuits. It’s most advisable to just let it go in the first place before you open yourself, your clients, and your business up to potential harm.
  2. Listing people’s personal, private contact information is considered bullying and is against most social platforms terms of use. If you’re going to post conversations, which is your right, be sure you do not include any personally identifiable information, and only quote the person instead.
  3. While posting hastily nasty things about people may make you feel good at first, it usually only makes you look like the jerk in the end. If a client, employer, or colleague gets word about the hateful things you say online about other people, it leaves you open to negative recourse for your actions.
  4. Always verify information before posting on public forums. Much of the publicists said claims against myself and/or my business are blatantly untrue. While this doesn’t matter much in the end, if people try to verify your claims and they turn out to not have merit, it dings your reputation, not theirs.
  5. Always be careful of the things you say, as you never know who you’re saying them to. Always maintain a respectful, courteous attitude, and you will minimize ill reactions to your responses.
  6. There is never a need to make personal attacks towards individuals.
  7. At the end of the day, this person’s ego got in the way of seeing a fantastic opportunity for their clients, and then blasted said interaction all over the web. Not only was he not doing what was best for his client, but he also burned a bridge and blasted it on the Internet. If a client were to see this, what would they think of their hired representative? Would you want your client to see this interaction?
  8. Ignoring social media as a medium of interacting with people and perpetuating business is a gross misnomer and proof of lack of understanding of the latest PR tactics and industry trends. (If you could see this individual’s website(s), it would perpetuate proof of this case, but I’ll refrain from sharing)

The Business Owner

  1. When receiving negative feedback, weigh your options before responding and be sure you’re willing to deal with the consequences.
  2. When responding to negative feedback, it’s always advisable to ensure you are wary about your tone. Minimizing aggression, accusations, and any language that may make the reader filter to the “offensive” is the best course of action.
  3. If there is no way to minimize the aggressive tone, you must choose your battle wisely. In most cases, it’s best to leave well enough alone. In many cases, a tailored response may work in your favor — but is it worth the ones that don’t?
  4. Don’t jump to legal conclusions too quickly. No one likes lawsuits. If you’re going to threaten with one, be prepared to do so. And f you’re going to sue, be sure it’s something worth fighting for.
  5. Minimize interactions with belligerent individuals as soon as you recognize they are one.
  6. Don’t allow yourself to be upset by personal jabs from belligerent individuals; they’re just trying to upset you. When you’re upset, you make foolish mistakes that will come back to haunt you. Don’t let emotion get the best of you.
  7. True PR representatives would never risk their reputation, or their clients reputation, to bully someone online in such an unprofessional manner. You shouldn’t either. As a result, use the opportunity to express the realities of the situation to the public at large in a positive way (like this blog).
  8. Mentioning names and companies only gives more traffic and mentions to said individuals. Don’t give them what they want.

How to Handle this Crisis and What You can do if you become the brunt of Cyber-Bullying / Harassment / Slander as a Business Owner

Cyber-bullying, harassment, and slander are serious offenses online. While the online world is still figuring out how to deal with these situations at large, there are things that you can do in this situation to minimize the effects:

  1. If on a social network, contact the powers that be of the offensive or offending tweets in an effort to create a paper trail and remove any sensitive data that shouldn’t be on the web. You can report offensive behavior via the following links for relevant sites:
     
    Twitter: https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser
    Tumblr: Email abuse@tumblr.com
    Facebook: Click Report on the Offensive Post
  2.  

  3. If the abuse continues and is an immediate threat or harm to you, report it to the authorities. If it’s not urgent, do not use 911. Simply call the local Police Station.
  4. Not everyone has access to advanced social media metrics and monitoring tools like we do, so ensure you do a Google Search for your name or company to ensure it hasn’t risen to the top of search results. If there are no reports, set up a Google Alert to ensure you stay on top of it. If there are, look into hiring an SEO / Reputation Management Company (or learning to do it yourself) to push negative press down.
  5. Utilize your own social media channels to combat any negative criticism and to offer your own side of the story. Be sure, however, not to make it an equally negative post. This is your opportunity to show your differences.
  6. If abuse continues, hire a lawyer or forward to your existing legal counsel and ask their opinion on options to pursue.
  7. If possible, make nice by sending a care package in good will efforts to make amends
  8. Whatever you do, do not do anything drastic or emotionally driven. Do not email their clients, blast them equally on social media, or have your friends start harassing them online. This makes you no better than them, and just isn’t necessary.
  9. Don’t waste your time dealing with people who only want to destroy you. Spend your time working with people who want to build you up.

At the end of the day, I feel badly that an email I meant honestly got spun into a Tori-bashing session. However, it gave me a lot of insight into how to deal with crisis management, a better plan of action in the event that it happens, and a quality control filter on how to better pick and choose my battles as a business owner. While I’m still largely appalled by this person’s behavior, there’s nothing I can do but to find the silver lining, execute what I can to protect myself and my business, and employ methods that will allow me to not repeat any behavior that would duplicate this situation in the future. I hope this lesson came in equally as handy for you.

In gratitude,

tk

A Lesson in Bad Customer Service from DIRECTV

I’ve been a long time customer of DirecTV.  My family purchased our first package nearly 20 years ago, and we were most certainly the first people in our area to have satellite TV.  I, personally, have been a customer of DirecTV for 4 years now.  I’ve even bragged about DirecTV to my friends as a genuine recommendation.  So naturally, you can imagine my surprise when I had the WORST customer service I’ve ever received from them today.

Background

When we left the house on Friday, we clicked the “power off” button on the remote.  When we came back from our weekend away, we turned the TV on to find the ominous “searching for satellite” signal (error code 771A). The apparent cause of this issue is a disconnected SWM box, which dictates programming access.  We’ve done our troubleshooting due diligence, but cannot locate this mysterious “swm” box. It’s time to call technical support.

The Experience, Part 1

I attempt to call DirecTV as soon as we get home last night.  The info on the box doesn’t provide the customer service number, so I need to hunt for it on DirecTV’s website.  There is, of course, no direct tech support line, so I need to go through the annoying voice-activated auto-prompts.  I’m still not sure why companies use these, as they’re so inaccurate that it’s more frustrating than anything for the consumer. I guess it saves them man hours in the front-end, but I would think it would heighten the aggressiveness of the consumers once they got to a live person.  Regardless, by the time I spend the 20 minutes going through the auto prompts, it turns out their “system is down for routine maintenance” and that I should “try again in a few hours.”  This means that not only can they not access my account, but they also can’t transfer me to tech support because of if.

So what do I do?  I tweet them, thinking at least maybe this could be of service.  Nothing…as of this morning, I still haven’t gotten a response to my initial tweet.  Oh well, time for bed.

The Ultimate Experience, Part 2

So I wake up in the morning, and give the support number a call.  After another 15 minutes of auto prompts, I get to a real life technician. She was helpful and walked me through all the troubleshooting tips she can, and we still can’t find this elusive “SWM” box. The answer is to send a tech out, which is where we get to the good stuff…my options:

1.  To get a technician to come out, it’s a $49.99 charge.
2.  I could enroll in the automatic $5.00/month protection plan, but would need to wait 30 days for it to be effective, meaning I’d be without TV for 30 days, all while still paying for it.

I didn’t like either of those options, considering I pay over $200 a month for my HD DirecTV, highest-package-available-service, and these are the only options I have?   So naturally, I asked to speak to a supervisor.

I get the supervisor on the phone, and explain to her that I think it’s a little ridiculous to charge one of your most loyal, highest-paying customers $50, or make them wait 30 days for a long-term monthly protection agreement.  She explained that with service calls, this was the only option due to the service agreement, and that I should have opted in for the protection agreement when I signed up for service.  I explained to her that no one went through the agreement or the necessity of such program, otherwise I would have purchased it.

Her response

It’s not my fault that the person that sold you the service in 2009 didn’t explain or offer the service.  If it were me, then you would have had a different experience.  But I didn’t, so I can’t help you.

Okay, so if I had “talked to her,” I wouldn’t be in this situation.  Apparently corporate doesn’t have an overarching policy–it’s only up to the individual seller.  If they don’t, then whoopsy!  YOUR BAD, CUSTOMER!  From that point forward, her rudeness escalated to a level that thus far in my young adult life, has been unparalleled.

I proceeded to explain to her my position. I have been a loyal DirecTV customer with no issues for a long time, and I pay a lot on a monthly basis for programming. As a business owner, I am the perfect consumer — so wouldn’t they go through the effort to at least “see what they could do?” Not a chance.  I then got to the big question:  “Doesn’t DirecTV value customer loyalty?”  

Her response:

It doesn’t matter whether you pay $29.99 for programming and just started with us, or if pay for the highest package and have been with us since our inception.  After 90 day warranties on installations, it’s $49 for a service call, unless you enroll in the $5/month service protection program.

Wow.  This was so baffling and ridiculous to me that I told her it made me want to cancel my service immediately.  She then responded, without hesitation:

Would you like me to connect you to our disconnect department?

Now mind you, I was not angry. I did not curse at her. I wasn’t being a difficult person.  All I wanted was to explain my position and feel valued as a consumer. I have never in my life been spoken to like that.  She treated me as though I was an inconvenience to her day and that my business didn’t matter to them.  She could care less about the fact that my programming wasn’t working, or anything. I was just another person to interrupt her day.  She would have just as soon disconnected my service without stopping me as she would have trying to up-sell me to something else.  Apparently DirecTV isn’t hurting from the economy and has so many customers knocking on their door that they don’t need to worry about keeping the valuable ones.  Oh wait, DirecTV doesn’t make a determination based on which customers are more of value to them.

As of this moment, I’m researching my options, and will probably be making the switch to U-Verse as of tomorrow.

DirecTV, I highly suggest you start valuing your customers.  Friends and/or other folks that read this — kindly repost, and leave a comment with your experience.  It’s time we take a stand and start making large corporations value us. We deserve to be treated with respect and value.

 

Tips on overcoming the online identity crisis.

Do you know who you are?

I don’t.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I do know who I am.  I’m a lot of things.  I’m not a lot of things, too.  But in the crazy world of the Interwebs, not knowing who you are is a lot like…well, it’s a lot like being that 14-year-old kid in middle school that doesn’t really know what to do with your life.  Your friends seem to know what they’re doing–they’ve got their colleges and their careers picked out already.  But you don’t.  Why?

If you ask “the world,” it’s because you’re a slacker–a step behind.  You’re one of the kids that ends up flipping burgers for the rest of your life and never leaves your podunk town in rural America because you never had the gall to pony up and get your ass in gear.  To be honest, that’s kind of how I’ve been feeling lately, only in a professional sense.  I follow these incredible people that I consider influencers–the Robert Scoble‘s, Michael Arrington‘s, Guy Kawasaki‘s, and Seth Godin‘s of the world.  How can I possibly compare to them? What unique pieces of information do I have to offer the world that isn’t already out there?

Well, I have no effing clue.  That’s probably why I started writing this blog to begin with.

Ironically, since branding is a big part of what I do for a living at Plastick Media, the company I founded by accident nearly four years ago, you would think I’d know a lot more about my brand: who I am, what I want to share, and what I plan to offer the world.  But it took a conversation with a dear friend and colleague a few weeks ago (Thanks Jesse Josefsson) to force some introspection.  This introspection not only led me to the realization that I DO know what my brand is, but also sent me through a process that I’d like to share for those of you that have been facing similar issues.

The reality is, it’s so easy to overthink things like this.  When our branding clients come to us, we go through this in depth questioning process about their desires for their brand.  It’s not uncommon for this process to take months, and for it to be a completely daunting task that makes clients feel flipped inside out and unsure of themselves.  That’s part of why they hire us in the first place (to help them sort it out)–but what happens when it’s for yourself, when you don’t have a neutral party to help you?  No matter how much you know about social media and branding, having to do it for yourself as an individual, to be self-aware and objective, is almost like asking a horse to be a unicorn.

I guess that’s the trap that I fell into.

For the last three years, I’ve spent the majority of my time and efforts building Plastick into the awesome company that it is today.  With that, I haven’t really had time to focus on anything else, let alone my own personal brand.  Unfortunately, the reality is that for you to be a successful entrepreneur, especially in the social space, you have to let a little personality shine.  You have to be the face of your company.   I’ve been avoiding that, mostly because I never saw myself as the face of a company, and I really didn’t know what unique things I had to offer.

Why didn’t I see myself as the face of a company?  Well, when I was started Plastick, I was only 23.  I was also a female in the entertainment industry.  It’s hard starting a company when you’re younger than most people you’re doing business with, and even more difficult if you’re in the music industry where it’s still very much a “good old boy” club.  Not that it’s a hindrance, because I personally don’t believe that gender issues exist unless you let them, but it’s still something that makes you a little more shy than most when you’re first starting out.  And if that wasn’t enough hanging over my head, I started it while I was working at the most horrendous tech startup I’ve ever worked for, which left me feeling jaded and disenfranchised about pretty much everything in life.  But I thankfully pushed on, because if someone was stupid enough to give those people $10 million and control of a company they had no business running, then certainly I could do something for myself and never have to work in that environment again.  So I did.

The thing they don’t tell you, though, is that the world often moves faster than you, particularly as an entrepreneur.  By the time I had built my company up to a level where I could hire employees and feel confident in its successes, everybody and their brother was on the social media bandwagon.  CEOs, tech evangelists, and bloggers were everywhere, and they all seemed smarter, more composed, and more innovative in their messaging than I could ever be online.  This made me feel left beyond and like I shouldn’t even bother.  Up to this point, all of my clients and business were a result of no marketing whatsoever — just pure connections, talent, and a genuine desire to help my clients solve their problems in areas that I was already passionate about, so I felt like I could just conveniently forget about building a brand centered around me. I hadn’t needed it so far.

Wait a second. Rewind. I help clients solve problems in areas that I’m already passionate about.  In my introspection about how I got here, I realized that a simple online presence is something anyone can do, but that it’s the latter that makes you the face of a company and gives you direction.

Well, now what?  I solve problems for people in areas that I’m passionate about.  So what the hell does that mean?

I took a long, hard look at what my primary business was, what I was passionate about, and where my education and experience was focused.  My background is in the music business, but I grew up in the tech world.  I have a Bachelor’s in Music Business from one of the top three schools in the country, and an Associates in Show Production & Touring from the ever-elusive and ever-popular Full Sail University.  I’m working on my Ph.D in Media Psychology.  I’ve always wanted to be in the music business, because music is my passion.  Ironically, what they don’t tell you when you know what you want to do when you’re 14 and never veer from it is that the world changes.  A lot good that music degree did for me. Thanks, Sean Parker.

Luckily for me, I happened to adopt to the changing world around me. I found a niche early in my career that centered around producing video content centered around the entertainment industry, which evolved into coordinating films, producing commercials, tv shows, and eventually my role as producer at the aforementioned horrendous music tech startup. So naturally, Plastick started as a production company and was focused on the entertainment industry.  As time passed us by, our services expanded to more and more things that I was interested in that I could help our clients with–websites, social media, logos, motion graphics, branding.

The more that I thought about my past, present, and future, the more that I realized that my experience and passion was focused on five key areas:  entrepreneurialism, entertainment, social engagement, technology, and branding.  When you narrow that even further, it’s utilizing technology and entertainment to help fellow entrepreneurs build brands on the web.  That’s what I do.  It’s who I am, it’s what I talk about, it’s what I read about, and it’s the goals that I’ve fused within my company.  It’s also the driving factor behind the creation of Branded Social Profiles, our recent product that focuses on money-saving ways to help entrepreneurs and businesses brand their social networking space.

Look, I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but it’s the people these days that are actually the brands.  In fact, I would say that the biggest “brands” wouldn’t exist without their loyal constituents that tell their friends about THE product that solved their problem.  Those constituents are the real money-movers and lifestyle-livers that can even create a brand in the first place.  And businesses only exist to solve problems.  These problems may be as frivalous as “I need something to kill boredom, so I’m going to play Adventure World on Facebook,” or they could be legitimate “I need to know how to market my business” problems.  Either way, capitalism only works when you offer a solution to a problem that someone has.  If you start a company, that should be your main goal.  And if you’re in business, or even trying to break out of corporate America like I was, you should be focusing on things you’re passionate and educated about.

So what the hell does this all mean?  Who cares about me?  No one.  But I care about YOU.  So if you’ve made it this far, here’s the nut. If you’ve ever struggled at this, here’s some advice that helped me figure my own personal brand out.  Hopefully it helps you, as well. Ask yourself:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • Where is your experience?
  • What solutions can you provide people?  What do you have that they need?
  • When you merge your passion and experience, is it in line with the solutions you provide?
  • If it doesn’t, how can you make a=b?  More education?  More time? Find what’s lacking and then find a way to get it.
  • Be introspective and slightly romantic about what you want to do with your life, and find ways to infuse your passion and experience within that.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks in finding your identity, even if it doesn’t work out the first time.  You’re a brand, live your life.
And on a last note:
Don’t be afraid to just be you–even if it doesn’t make sense right now.  Sometimes we really just don’t see how things shape up.  If you asked me five or ten years ago if I’d be blogging about technology, branding, or that I’d own my own business, I would have said you were crazy.  As I slowly started Plastick, I never even thought I would touch technology, but I had always been passionate about web development in college.  And the only reason the music industry is even remotely surviving today is because of artists that focus on building a brand.  It only makes sense that I would finally find a way to merge all of them together, but it took time and introspection to create a final picture of what my brand is today.  And who knows how that will evolve ten years from now.  Just enjoy the ride, and be yourself.

Humble Beginnings

Well, it’s about that time.  I’ve been meaning to get around to blogging for a while now, considering my company is at the three year mark.  Unfortunately, as I’m sure my fellow entrepreneurs know, finding time to do things you ought to do amongst the constant barrage of client, business, employee, and life needs is much more difficult than it looks.

The biggest hurdle when starting any blog is answering the age old question of “who really gives a (insert favorite expletive here)?”  There are a million and one bloggers in the world, of which a small percentage are actually any good, and an even smaller percentage that actually have a consistent reader base.  So what am I going to tell you that others can’t?

Well, I guess you’ll have to read to find out. :)

Just kidding.  In all seriousness, this blog is about the things I’m passionate about:  social good, technology, psychology/sociology, entertainment & media, social media, and marketing.  On a daily basis, I get requests from friends and colleagues to help them with a multitude of items:  from websites to social media, branding to video, or just advice on helping increase their ROI.  As most of my friends and colleagues know, I’ve always been the person that knows a little about a lot of things, and if I don’t happen to know, then I have a pool of great experts and resources that do.

The reality is, I used to be able to do this effortlessly and still fit work and life into my day.  Now, with an influx of requests and a growing business beneath me, I just don’t have the time to be able to answer every question or request.  So, I’m going to offer up my advice, tips, and musings in a blog, and share my answers and insight with the masses.  Hopefully it will provide my ego with a little boost from professional philanthropy while also giving you an interesting take on this social entertainment industry that’s evolving beneath our noses.

That said, if you’ve got some questions, comments, or anything else you’d like to say, go ahead and email me or leave me some comment love.

Catch you on the other side, friends!

<3_tk