Win or lose, I’m always proud to be a Spartan

Like most of my fellow Michigan State Spartans, I was feeling a little depressed yesterday afternoon. Despite great effort, our basketball team fell to UConn in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Along with many sports analysts and bracket builders across the country, I had hoped this year would be the year they made it to the national championship. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Five years at Michigan State gave me some of my favorite people and great friends.

It’s often easy to get swept up in the ups and downs of college sports. For alumni like me, you’re invested in your school and want their success more than anything (especially when you’re going up against your rivals). But when losses like these happen, I have to step back and remind myself that a basketball team is not even close to the most important thing I got from my time at Michigan State. In my five years on campus, it was far more important that I gained:

  • An amazing fiance. While we actually met before college, Michigan State was where we started our relationship, learned about one another, grew as a couple and made the decision to face the real world hand-in-hand, for the long haul.
  • Absolutely great friends. Some of my best friends are those I met through FFA or NAMA or other classes in the College of Ag and Natural Resources. I wouldn’t have gotten through college – and it sure wouldn’t have been as much fun – without them.
  • A professional network. Whether it was through internships, on-campus jobs or participation in various clubs, the professional network I continue to reach out to today is the one I started building during my time in East Lansing.
  • My favorite memories. By the time graduation rolls around, every senior is just ready to be done. You’re done with classes and studying and exams. You’re ready to be in the real world, making money. And everyone tells you to savor those moments as a college student but I – just like all the students who came before me and those who have and will come after – didn’t really believe it. Now that I’m three years out of school, though, I savor those memories of club meetings and hanging out in the dorms and walking through old campus. It was a great time in life and an experience I will be ever grateful for.

As someone posted on Twitter, “We’ve won a lot of yesterdays. We’ll win a lot of tomorrows. We just didn’t win today.” It’s always hard to not reach your goal, but I’d harken to say that being proud of your school and thankful for the time you spent there means that you’re already a winner – no matter what the scoreboard says.

Lessons from Pixar: Technology won’t fix a bad story

If it’s possible for companies to have “fans”, I would definitely be a “fangirl” of Pixar.

Now, I’m a self-diagnosed Disney child, so of course I love their movies. But despite loving Toy Story and Finding Nemo just as much as the next person, the true reason that I’m a fangirl is not about their products. It’s about their philosophy.

I was reading a great article this morning on Fast Company called “Building the Next Pixar”. The author interviewed several people who have since moved on from their time at the animation studio (turns out, that group is actually pretty small) and gathered their insights on what it is about Pixar’s business philosophy that makes them such an enigma in entertainment and such a gem for their employees.

You can read the entire article for the full list, but one of my favorites is “Story Drives Everything.” Now, I’ve heard this mantra from John Lasseter before – in the (great) documentary, A Pixar Story – but I love it every time I hear it. The fact is, there have been times when Disney movies weren’t very good (the 1970s-1980s, late 1990s-2000s). A lot of people tried saying that animated movies were a dying genre and that computer animation killed traditional animation. Neither is true. The real problem was that the stories they were trying to tell really weren’t all that good. If you look at the great Disney and Pixar movies – whether it’s Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story – it’s obvious that it’s not about the technology, it’s about the story.

In my line of business (advertising/marketing), we often face the same challenge. From social media to Google Glass to SEO to apps, technology to reach people with the latest product/service/cause is always changing. Print is dead (or maybe it’s not). Social media is dead (or maybe it’s not). The vehicle for the message keeps changing.

Which is when we have to remember that the technology is irrelevant, unless it helps us tell our story better.

An example of using technology to enhance a story is what we’re doing for our clients with video. Now, I work on animal health business, which tends to be quite technical and not always that interesting. But we have a great group of veterinarians and cattle producers who are using our products to help raise healthier cattle – and that’s a story worth talking about. So, we’re using video to better tell that story than maybe we could through print or social media.

Below are two of my favorite videos we’ve done for my client in the past year:

What It Takes – Prevention Works Verified

Trust Triangle – Carlton & Carlton Ranch

Whether it’s for work or if you’re a farmer/rancher trying to tell the non-farm community about what you do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology available out there to communicate. Take a tip from Pixar, though, and remember to first and foremost focus on your story and making sure it’s something the people you’re trying to talk to care about. Who knows? You could have a blockbuster on your hands.

“I met a cowboy in the hallway…”

I was recently at a conference with a group of cattle ranchers. It was held at a hotel, so there were other meetings and events going on in the space. One day, while I was grabbing lunch from a buffet in the foyer, a woman (not with our group) came up to a rancher, very excited, and said “Can I take your picture? I’ve never seen a real cowboy before!”

As I smiled to myself and continued to get my food, he let her take is picture. Like most of the ranchers I know, he was very friendly and asked her where she was from.

“California,” she said.

“California!?” he replied. “Don’t they have funny people there?”

The woman laughed kindly and said, “Well, I suppose you could find Californians funny.”

But the rancher meant something else. He clarified, “No, I mean they’re funny. Don’t they all smoke a lot of weed and let the gays get married?”

Now, I want to say that this rancher wasn’t trying to be mean. But, I could tell the woman was uncomfortable, despite trying to answer his questions. As he was pressing incredulously about if she thought it was alright for “the gays” to get married, I wandered away, not really wanting to see where this was going to end (I probably should have stayed, but admittedly I tend to avoid most things confrontational).

Now, obviously I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, so I’ll give the rancher the benefit of the doubt and say it could have gotten better, but what I heard made me rather uncomfortable. This is not a post about changing what you do or don’t believe. The topics discussed could have been about Obamacare and global warming instead. No, this is about being a positive representation of the farming and ranching community.

This woman had never met a rancher before and, unfortunately, her first experience seemed to me to be an awkward one. Instead of talking about what a real cowboy does on his ranch, she was being pressed for her belief on controversial topics that she may or may not have agreed with. And I would bet she went back to her friends in their meeting and told them all about the cowboy she met in the hallway who could not get over why anyone would smoke a bunch of weed and let the gays go off and marry each other. Would she use terms like “backwoods” or “redneck”? I don’t know. Maybe (hopefully) not. But it’s a possibility, and is that really how we want to be remembered?

In agriculture, we have enough of an uphill battle with our non-farming friends in terms of their ideas around how we raise our crops and our livestock. And it’s no secret that we may have different belief sets than a lot of our urban counterparts. But let’s remember to focus on the things we have in common during initial conversations — compassion, love of family, wanting to do the right thing — and leave the people we meet with thoughts of “We’re in this together.” rather than “That guy is nothing like me.” Because when “That guy is nothing like me…” is combined with “…and I don’t like how he takes care of his animals/crops.” we’re in a losing battle.

Let’s Hear It for the Girls: Meet Kelly Rivard

One of my favorite article series is “Behind the Pencil (Skirt)” that Levo League does about once a week. The website – which focuses on providing useful information and resources for young professional women – uses this series to highlight 20-something women who are making waves in their respective career fields. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in learning about the wide variety of careers that are out there and learning from your peers.

Whenever I read “Behind the Pencil (Skirt)”, though, I always wonder how my friends and network of 20-something women would answer these questions. After all, I know a great group of young professionals who are working in all sorts of fields, in the city and in the country. Wouldn’t it be neat to learn more about them and their careers? So, that’s what I’m doing.

Kelly Rivard headshot

Meet Kelly – she’s originally from rural Illinois, but is now an SEO and social media specialist for Kansas City full-service marketing agency, PlattForm.

My friend, Kelly Rivard – or, rather, “sister from another mister” as we like to refer to ourselves – kindly agreed to be my guinea pig for this project. I hope you enjoy learning more about her!

Background

Current location:
Kansas City

Originally from:
Rural northeastern Illinois

Education (college/major):
North Central College (IL), Interactive Media Studies Major

Job title and company:
SEO & Social Media Specialist, PlattForm

Brief description of PlattForm:
PlattForm is a full-service marketing agency with a specific focus on vocational and continuing education.

Where were you before PlattForm?
I was previously with AdFarm, a full-service agency that specializes in agricultural clients.

How did you become interested in SEO and social media?
As an Interactive Media major, I was always fascinated by developing digital communications trends. Even though my focus was graphics, I accidentally became involved in the “social media revolution” of agriculture, often referred to as “agvocacy.” I landed some really life-changing internships in agriculture that focused on social media, which led to my first full-time job out of college at AdFarm. As the social media coordinator there, I learned a lot of valuable skills. Eventually, my career took an unexpected turn and I got the opportunity to learn some new skills as an SEO and social media specialist for PlattForm.

Around the Office

Office culture in a few words:
Nurturing, empowering, and fun.

A day at work looks like:
Every day is different. Usually, my day is a combination of organized chaos and unexpected situations. The job is stressful, but rewarding beyond belief.

Favorite part of your job:
Working in education, I get to know that the work I do changes lives.

Biggest challenge you face at your job:
Time management. So much of my job is free-flowing, independent work with lots of surprises that sometimes it feels like fitting 10 gallons of stuff in a 5 gallon bucket — but it’s fantastic.

Apps (or other tech) you can’t live without:
My Outlook Calendar, my iPhone calendar, and my iPhone clock for timers, alarms, and reminders.

Style

Your personal style in a few words:
A hot mess? The only shoes I like to wear on a daily basis are cowgirl boots and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

Office dress code:
“Smart casual.” Jeans and a t-shirt is acceptable most days; dress for the occasion for different types of meetings.

Go-to work outfit:
Jeans, boots or Chucks, and a t-shirt or cute top depending on my mood!

On-the-go kit:
Clear or pink lip gloss, sunglasses, and a Swiss Army knife with a nail file.

Lifestyle

Morning routine:
Hit snooze as many times as I can get away with. Get up, get dressed, walk my dog, then pack a lunch and head to work. I talk to my boyfriend on the phone for a few minutes, and then listen to 96.5 The Buzz for the rest of my 30-40 minute commute to work.

Favorite spot for brunch:
My boyfriend’s apartment. We love breakfast food. His kitchen is bigger than mine so I love to go over there and cook omelets, French toast, and breakfast burritos for us!

On Saturday, you can be found:
On adventures with my dog and/or friends and/or boyfriend. Or, volunteering. I’m a chronic philanthropist.

Favorite spot for a 10-minute break:
Somewhere inside of a book. I’m currently reading Clash of Kings, the second book from the series that Game of Thrones is based on.

One thing everyone should do when visiting your city:
Kansas City is an AMAZING food city. Find a local favorite restaurant (or several) and eat yourself stupid.

Hobbies:
Reading, painting, video games (I have a pink xBox 360 controller), and volunteering with the American Cancer Society.

Cause you’re passionate about:
Mental health awareness. Statistics say that as a bipolar woman, I should not be as successful, happy, and stable as I am. Yet, here I am, kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Anyone can succeed if they have the willpower and support structure!

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A veterinarian/professional artist/a flute player in a world-famous symphony.

Dream job:
Someday I’d love to work in a non-profit setting. I have a very charitable soul, and making a difference gives me a deep sense of satisfaction in my job.

Encouraging Other Women

Inspiration:
My parents (my mom, my dad until he passed when I was 12, and my step-dad) have worked hard to give me and my siblings a good foundation in our lives. My mom is especially inspiring to me. No matter how tough life gets, she smiles and does what we needs to for those she loves most.

Best advice you’ve ever received:
Have confidence. I struggle with confidence every day of my life; I KNOW I’m good at what I do, I KNOW I’m a good person, but knowing and feeling are two different things.

My mentor(s):
I have had so many! I’ve stood on the backs of giants to get where I am today, and I only hope I can pass on wisdom like I’ve received from them over the years. A few to mention: Katie Pinke, who was a supervisor for my internship with AdFarm; Libby Hall, who was my supervisor when I was Social Media Coordinator for AdFarm; Mark Gale, who gave me my first ever agency experience as a 20-year-old intern; Janice Person, who has more wisdom than any single person should be allowed to keep in their own head.

In 10 years…
I will be one of those crazy women juggling a family and a professional life.

Career wisdom for young professional women:
Don’t ever pigeon-hole yourself – don’t assume you can’t do a job because you’re a woman, you’re “too girly,” “too nice,” or “too young.” If you have the experience, drive, and passion to do it, go for it!

Making fitness and health a habit

I’ll be the first person to admit that I do not like working out. Despite all those endorphins they say make you happy and the fact that I was pretty active when I was younger, going to the gym takes major effort and a lot of talking myself into how important it is.

Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live in. (fitness quote)

I’m trying to remember this and make fitness more of a habit.

One of the parts of my happiness project is to make fitness and health a habit. It’s no secret that getting in regular exercise and eating better pays off in the long term, both for your health and for your attitude. My goal is to make it a habit now, so as I get older, it becomes a regular part of life.

So for this year, I have resolved to:

  • Take a fitness class once a month
  • Go to the gym an average of 3 times per week (12 per month)
  • Don’t buy lunch out more than once per week
  • Don’t buy dinner out more than once per week
  • Eat a salad once per week
  • Drink 32 ounces of water per day

I took my first class this week – a “butts and guts” type workout – and it was fun to workout with other people, instead of just by myself. I think I’m definitely going to keep doing that in the future. I got to 10 trips to the gym in January and I’m currently at 6 in February, with just over a week to go. It will take a lot for me to meet the goal this month, but I’m going to try. One thing I’m finding makes it easier is to have something in my workout that makes me feel strong. For example, this month I did a benchpress for the first time and got to pressing 65 pounds and then I did deadlifts for the first time and lifted 100 pounds. It’s nice to feel like a beast every now and again :)

I think going out to eat a lot (which we’re really guilty of) is a gateway to unhealthy eating, which is why one of my goals is to eat out no more than twice a week – once for lunch and once for dinner (which will also help my bank account!). This is actually going really well so far. One of the things that’s helped is putting more focus on meal planning and grocery shopping at home. If you actually like what you’re eating and have everything to make it, it’s that much simpler to stay in and cook.

I’m still working on eating more salads and drinking more water. Not that salad is the only healthy food, but it’s usually better than what I make, so I’m trying to work at least one salad into a meal a week. Water’s not usually my drink of choice, but I think drinking more is a good thing to do (especially during these dry Minnesota winters), so I’ve got a 32 ounce water bottle that sits with me that I’m trying to get through once a day.

I’m still trying to do all of these consistently, but I have been getting better, which I can tell is already helping my happiness!

What type of healthy habits do you try to include in your daily routine? Any suggestions to make my goals easier?

A life in the blue jacket

As you may or may not have heard, this week is National FFA Week. It’s a week that current and former FFA members change their Facebook pictures to nostalgic photos of corduroy clad teenagers and we reminisce about car rides to national convention, judging livestock and giving speeches we spent weeks and months preparing. FFA – formerly known as the Future Farmers of America – is one of those experiences that takes hold of you and never quite lets go.

FFAmotto

Every year during National FFA Week, I find myself thinking about my life with the organization. See, I like to say I was born in the blue jacket. My dad is an agriscience teacher and FFA advisor and is a former state FFA president. My sister was in FFA a couple of years after me. In our house, FFA is synonymous with family.

I love this picture of my dad when he was the Michigan FFA state president!

It’s a little blurry, but my dad – my ag teacher and my FFA advisor – set me on a path of learning to do and doing to learn.

My sister and I in matching corduroy. In our household, FFA = family.

Trailing my dad to school for as long as I can remember, I grew up watching high school and college kids take care of animals, practice for contests and earn degrees. When it was time for me to become an FFA member, I couldn’t wait to jump in with both feet. I did every contest I could get my hands on. I met countless friends and traveled all over the state and country. It was an eye-opening experiencing, all based around agriculture and leadership.

My national dairy judging team.

By college, it was time for something a little bigger. I was given the chance to serve as a state FFA officer with people who became some of my best friends. State office gave me the opportunity to meet kids from so many differing backgrounds. I visited students in inner city Detroit and from rural counties. Some focused on horticulture and small animals, while others focused on traditional ag programs like livestock and crop production. My eyes were opened to everything that FFA could do, not just for me but for other students, as well.

The 2007-08 Michigan FFA state officer team – and some of my best friends.

After state office, I served as a collegiate host for National FFA Convention, where I got to meet past state officers from other states and give tours to current and potential supporters of the National FFA Foundation. It was wonderful chance to share all the great things FFA does for its members with people that had the ability to provide the same opportunities and more to future generations of agricultural leaders.

Today, more than 10 years after donning the blue corduroy jacket for the first time, I’m continually amazed by everything I was able to do, the places I was able to go and the people I was able to meet. While it’s true that FFA also presented me with plenty of challenges, every experience I had in FFA was a learning opportunity that prepared me to be the person I am today.

As I start the next phase of my FFA involvement – as an alumni volunteer – it excites me to see the potential in students. Some will become leaders of companies. Others will never leave their hometown. But no matter what, they will have learned the value of “learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live and living to serve.” And for that, I’m so glad that this wonderful organization exists.

Happiness is up to me

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year thinking about happiness. What makes people — and, in particular, me — happy? What doesn’t? How can we do more of the former and less of the latter? And how does personal happiness affect career and relationship success?

A couple months ago, I read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, in which she tries to tackle these exact questions, in way everyone can relate to. As she documents in the book, Gretchen took a year and identified those behaviors which can impact happiness — which she picks based on a mix of research and personal experience — and tries to increase the frequency of those actions in her life. For her, they were things like organizing the house, singing in the morning, taking more pictures of her kids and doing things she finds fun. It’s a great read and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to pick up a new book.

So, for 2014, I’ve decided to embark on my own “happiness project”. I’ve come up with a list of things I think will positively impact my personal happiness, as well as a list of three guiding principles. It’s my goal to work away at this list throughout the year to hopefully keep making a better version of me, which should also improve my job and my relationships with family and friends.

So what are my guiding principles? No matter which project I’m working on, these are the things I’m trying to stick to:

    1. Do it when you think about it.
    2. Smile more.
    3. Act the way you want to feel.

And the projects? I’ll talk about the full list in future posts, but in general they fall into these broad categories:

    • Make fitness and health a habit.
    • Increase work productivity.
    • Have more fun.
    • Get the little things out of the way.
    • Build/strengthen personal connections.
    • Make time for me.
    • Think about others.

I’ve already started learning that not everything on my list is going to be easy to accomplish, but I do think it’s all going to be worth it.

So, here’s to a year of putting happiness in my own hands!

What things do you focus on to improve happiness? What impact does improved happiness have on your life? I would love to hear about it in the comments.