26 thanks as I mark 26 years

Today is my 26th birthday. I don’t have any big plans, nor do I anticipate getting any big presents and, seeing as how the final milestone birthday was last year (i.e., being able to get a rental car without an up-charge), there’s nothing that I get to do differently now that couldn’t have been done before.

Despite that this seems like such a lackluster day, though, it really isn’t. I may not have anything new coming my way, but my life is still full of gifts. After all, here’s 26 things I’m thankful for on my 26th birthday:

  1. A fiance who loves me (even when I drive him crazy)
  2. A beautiful house that’s far too good for a couple of youngin’s
  3. An adorable puppy that reminds us that every day you need to spend at least an hour burning off energy
  4. Parents who support me in everything I do
  5. A sister who is growing into a confident woman and has big things in store for her
  6. A job that allows me to learn new things and discover what I want to do in life
  7. A network of friends that’s always there when I need them
  8. The ability to travel and see new places on a regular basis
  9. The ability to be enjoy the things that make me happy – movies, television, musicals – and friends/family to enjoy them with
  10. Enough income to live comfortably but still value hard work
  11. Work travel that allows me to see family and friends
  12. Public transportation that gives me a couple hours each day to relax, read or get stuff done
  13. Colleagues that are willing to invest in my professional development
  14. A love of reading and being taken to new (or sometimes, old familiar) worlds
  15. Social media that gives me the chance to keep in touch with friends and family I don’t get to see often enough
  16. My involvement in things like FFA, 4-H and #agchat that has introduced me to so many new people across the country and around the world
  17. Being fortunate to live in a country safe from war and disease, like what is affecting so many people today
  18. The chance to live near one of the best cities in the country, giving me the chance to experience big city adventures with Midwest values
  19. Getting to see my mom start an adventure of her own doing something she’s really passionate about, through her business Bennu Creative Entertainment Services
  20. People in my life who make me laugh every day
  21. Aunts, uncles and cousins who have gotten to be such an integral part of my life and have been there for every milestone along the way
  22. Being able to smile at the little things in life
  23. An education and college experience at one of the best places on Earth – Michigan State University
  24. The fact that there’s rain in the forecast today, since we need the moisture
  25. Good health and the ability to make myself stronger physically and mentally
  26. A positive and optimistic outlook on what the future will bring

Every day is a gift and never more so than on your birthday.

Alanis soothes the soul

I’ve always been a huge Alanis Morissette fan. Despite the fact that I was only seven when the “Jagged Little Pill” album came out, I firmly believe it is one of the best records of the 90s (and maybe even beyond). One of the greatest things about the album is how wonderfully it embodies the emotion of what it’s like to be a 20-something woman. Whether you’re just flat pissed off about an ex (“You Oughta Know”) or trying everything once for the experience (“You Learn”), it’s so easy to relate to her songs – especially now that I’m in my 20s trying to make sense of the world.

One of my favorite songs lately is “Hand in My Pocket” because it so beautifully paints the picture of the dichotomy of barely being an adult but want to make your mark in the world.

I mean, how great are these lyrics?

I’m broke but I’m happy
I’m poor but I’m kind
I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah

I’m high but I’m grounded
I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful, baby

I feel drunk but I’m sober
I’m young and I’m underpaid
I’m tired but I’m working, yeah

And who’s never felt this?

I’m free but I’m focused
I’m green but I’m wise
I’m hard but I’m friendly, baby

I’m sad but I’m laughing
I’m brave but I’m chicken shit
I’m sick but I’m pretty, baby

Being at this point in life is hard. You feel like you’re supposed to have your crap together, but between student loan debt, trying to get a job, finding a significant other, starting a family, thinking you should be an adult but not really feeling like one etc. it often feels like nothing is ever going to get easier.

But at the end of the day, life goes on. You change and grow, for the better. And as Alanis says:

And what it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine
Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one’s givin’ a high five

Stop aiming for perfection

I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life (just ask anyone who knows me). I’ve even worn those titles – perfectionist, over-achiever – like a badge of honor, proud of just how much I was achieving with little to no struggle. I was a straight A student, graduating from Michigan State with honors. I excelled in nearly everything I was involved in. I rarely faced a challenge I couldn’t easily overcome.

And now, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a good thing.

Here’s what I believe happens to perfectionists when they enter “the real world”:

  • You take criticism (even if it’s constructive) really hard because you’ve never really gotten it before
  • You live in fear of screwing up because you might disappoint someone (a huge driver of perfectionism)
  • You have a hard time taking risks because you might make a mistake or something could go wrong
  • You’re always questioning your own abilities because what used to make you feel confident – being highly capable in everything – doesn’t come so easily anymore
  • Any small mistake or failure seems epically larger than it is
  • You put more pressure on yourself to get things right the first time than anyone else does, for fear of letting someone see weakness or vulnerability

And if that’s not what happens to all perfectionists, at the very least it’s what happened to me.

In my job, like most, there is no perfect. There’s always something that could be done differently or better. There’s always someone asking if you had thought about things another way or asking your motives behind a decision (even if it was the right one, the fear of there being a chance you did something wrong is terrifying). All of these things are part of learning and growing but, while I know that to be true, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

So, I’ve decided that, moving forward, I’m working to fight my perfectionist leanings and I encourage others to as well. Do your best, yes, but also:

  • Stop being afraid to screw up!
  • Go out of your way to do things where you might make mistakes
  • Learn from those mistakes
  • Surround yourself with people who encourage and support risk-taking (aka they tell you to get on the trapeze because they will be your net if you fall)
  • Try new things
  • Actively remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect to be awesome (say it to your reflection in the mirror each morning!)

Perfection isn’t a compliment – it’s a straight jacket, holding us back from going out and doing all the amazing things that are out in the world. Stop being a perfectionist, but keep being awesome and imagine where it could lead.

A reminder of perspective

I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling a little down about work lately. I’m chalking it up to a minor “quarter life crisis” – which I know I’m not alone in experiencing – and putting an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Do I want to stay in advertising?

Do I want to move to the non-profit sector?

Should I freelance?

Are there other interests outside of agriculture that I should tap into?

Should I be looking at things closer to home, friends and family?

I know that none of these are questions that need to be answered right now, and that I should just stop and take a breath. But it’s just so hard sometimes, when you feel like there’s just so much to figure out! Thankfully, I got to have an experience at work last week that gave me a little bit of perspective.

Right now our agency is working on a little self reflection, trying to discover where we want to be in the future and what steps we need to take to get there. As a part of the process, I got to be part of a focus group. The group was made up of people mostly in my age group, from all different disciplines and departments. We were asked about our thoughts on agency culture, where new business might come from and the creative process. One of the best perspective gaining questions that got asked, though, was the first one we got started with:

Why do you like working here? What makes you get up in the morning every day?

What I loved is that, across 10 or so people around the table, there were common themes that resonated with all of us and prove that yes – despite my constant panic about whether I should shift course – this really is a great place to work.

We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Minneapolis is a big advertising/PR town, with shops that are doing globally recognized work. We do great work in our office, too, but you won’t see us jet-setting to Cannes or only doing work for high profile, “flashy” companies. We know our clients and their business and that’s why they hire us. We work hard to bring them new insights and ideas and, at the end of the day, we relax over a drink and some happy hour snacks. We love what we do, but we don’t have to stick our nose up at everyone else to do it. We’d rather challenge you to a game of Crud instead.

We value the fact that employees have lives outside of work.

While we expect that the work gets done well, on time and on budget, our senior management (and clients) also understand that people have interests and families outside of our walls. Unlike other “run ‘em ragged” shops, people on our team will raise an eyebrow if you’re still in the office after 6:00 or if you say you’re skipping a kid’s baseball game because you’re trying to get work done. Work is only one part of our lives – it doesn’t do well to make it the only focus.

We put a lot of faith in young talent.

This is one that’s especially good for me to be reminded of every so often, especially when I get caught up in all the things I don’t feel very confident in. At my agency, our leadership has faith in young talent. There are 20-somethings (like yours truly) who get tons of responsibility over strategy development and project execution for lead brands of our biggest clients. When we prove that we can handle the challenge and can be trusted to make smart choices, we’re given the opportunity to lead. That’s huge.

So next time I get stuck in a “What in the heck am I going to do with myself for the rest of my career?!!?” place, I’m going to look back on this list and remember – I’m in a pretty good place to figure it out.

Turning tragedy into inspiration

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I had the chance to volunteer with the Denver Comic Con this year and it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in a long time. Whether it was other volunteers, attendees, comic book artists or celebrity guests, I met so many wonderful people that I got to talk and laugh with over the weekend-long event.

Shane Bitney Crone Love is Louder

Shane Bitney Crone is taking a tragedy and turning it into inspiration for everyone fighting for equality. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the most inspirational people I met while I was there was Shane Bitney Crone. Shane first rose to notoriety when his YouTube video “It Could Happen to You” went viral. The video tells the story of Shane and his longtime partner Tom, who died in a tragic accident. Despite being together for years, Tom’s family blocked Shane from attending the funeral and threatened him with physical violence if he tried to show up. Shane and Tom’s story has been told in more detail in the documentary “Bridegroom” (available on Netflix).

What is most amazing to me is that, in the face of this tragedy and heartbreak, Shane decided not to pity himself, but rather to take action. Over drinks and dinner, it was so inspiring to hear him share with us the drive he has to spread his story far and wide in order that one day LGBT couples will have the same rights to see and mourn for the ones they love that their heterosexual counterparts do when emergencies arise. He has spoken at universities and events across the country and around the world, including doing a screening of “Bridegroom” at the Denver Comic Con. As he told me, every single person who hears his story is important because that’s one more person joining him in the fight for equality.

I know Tom would be extremely proud of Shane. I only spent a few hours with him and I know I am. May we all take a lesson from his strength.

3 Things I Learned From LeVar Burton

Over Father’s Day weekend, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Denver Comic Con and was lucky enough to be the assistant for celebrity guest LeVar Burton. As a PBS kid with a Trekkie mom, Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation were big parts of my childhood. Suffice it to say, I was pretty darn excited! It was also neat because LeVar is back in the limelight thanks to the Kickstarter he recently started to raise money for Reading Rainbow.

LeVar Burton DCC panel

In one of his panels at Denver Comic Con, LeVar talked about his Reading Rainbow Kickstarter and why he thinks it’s so important to use today’s technology to continue fostering a love of reading in our kids. Photo courtesy of HushComics.com (and make sure to see see their full coverage of LeVar’s Reading Rainbow panel).

Since this really was the first time I’d spent a lot of time with someone famous, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would he be stuck up and not want to talk to me? Or would he be nice and friendly? Well, my experience definitely fell in the latter category and I was lucky enough to learn a few things from Mr. Burton along the way.

3 Lessons I Learned From LeVar Burton

  1. Celebrities really aren’t that different from us.
    Sure, they make a lot more money than I do, I’ll give you that. But, as my dad would say, at the end of the day they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like we do. LeVar enjoyed talking about his daughter and where she’s going to college, how he and his wife love to read together and that his mom was one of his biggest inspirations. When I got a text of a picture of my dog hiding from the vacuum cleaner, he laughed and said his dog actually prefers to chase the vacuum instead of run from it! Whether it’s a celebrity, a company CEO or the barista at your local coffee shop, remember that people have lives outside of their jobs and often times that’s the more interesting part about them.
  2. Use your power to do good in the world.
    LeVar’s passion is teaching kids to love reading and that’s what led him to start Reading Rainbow. Despite the fact that the show’s no longer on the air, he’s looking at ways to reach kids where they are – on iPads and Kindle Fires, on the web and in their classrooms and libraries. Reading doesn’t have to be your passion, but like LeVar has, find out what is and figure out ways to share it with others.
  3. Care about people and do it genuinely.
    I can’t count the number of times LeVar heard from fans just how much Star Trek and Reading Rainbow made a difference to them. When I think about how much he’s heard those things over the last 25+ years, it blows my mind. Still, no matter how many people came up and repeatedly thanked him for the same thing hundreds of people before them had, he took every compliment gracefully, smiled and thanked them for taking the time to stop by. All of us can stand to take a lesson from that.

I’m sure there are celebrities out there that don’t care about their fans and treat people like dirt, but LeVar wasn’t one of them. He showed me that we all have the power to make a difference and be kind to one another – no matter how famous you are.

6 Ideas for New Hire Onboarding

With the arrival of summer interns and a slew of new hires thanks to expanding business, my company is re-evaluating our onboarding procedure (which is really to say, we’re creating one).

Now, I for one think that your first week at a new job is one of the hardest. Not only do you not know anyone, but you’re also learning a bunch of new processes and — despite being eager to jump in — don’t know enough about the business to just start taking things and running with them.

Knowing those challenges, we’ve brainstormed some ideas that I think would be great additions to any new employee program. I don’t know that we’ll put them all into action but maybe there’s one or a few that you think would work in your office!

Introduce the company mission or vision
For Millennials especially, we want to know what our employer is trying to achieve or the mark they want to leave on the world — and how we can contribute to that. Start introducing the company mission to new employees from the start and help them discover how they can live it every day.

Make a buddy system
Where in the building can you get a Diet Coke? Who do I go to when I need to order office supplies? What does Bob Smith do again? These are just a few of the questions that a new employee may be wondering but not know who to ask. Sure, there’s always your manager, but why not have a buddy? We thought it’d be great if new hires — especially those straight out of school — had a “buddy” that was at their same position, maybe also somewhat new to the company, to answer the questions that seem silly until you get to know more people.

Provide an organization chart
If your company is anything like mine, there are lots of people with titles that may mean little to nothing to you if you’re new to the industry. Having an easy to understand org chart helps new employees learn names and what people do (make sure to include pictures!).

Create “Our Company 101″
Despite the fact that you just interviewed with your employer, know the basics and it seems like a great place to work, there may still be holes in your knowledge of what they actually do. For us, that missing information might be who our largest clients are, how we make money and what our short and long term goals are. Consider creating some sort of introductory document or presentation that helps new employees get more comfortable with the inner workings of the business.

Training materials, practice assignments and/or tutorials
One of the hardest part of starting a new job IMO is staying busy until you know the business well enough to generate your own work. For new employees, consider having a set of training modules/tutorials that teach skills they’ll need or practice assignments that mimic what they’ll be doing. For us, examples might be an online tutorial on basic HTML or writing a creative brief based on a fictional scenario. For your business it might be something else, but make sure the tasks are relevant to their position and help get them up to speed on what you’ll expect from them in the future.

Lunch and happy hours
I’m a firm believer in the power of lunches and happy hours to get to know people. Make sure you’re inviting new employees to lunch and happy hours with people at all levels of the company to build those connections in a more casual setting.

I know there are lots of other ways to welcome new people to your organization, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Make sure to share what your company does or other ideas in the comments!