The Art of Being You: Building A Better Personal Brand (without the BS)

Fu*k the rules, do what’s right for you?
Seriously. Fu*k em. 

Do you remember life without screens? 

I mean the glowing, talking, ever-present & omniscient ones we wistfully while away our lives behind (be they big, medium, small, or pocket-sized?

Do you remember going out with your friends at the dew-drop-dawn of each new day & riding bikes from sun-up to sun-down. Making up rules to games that didn’t exist yet & relishing in the art of unfettered play?

Did you dance on tables for the joy of & not because we needed fodder to feed an algorithm or three? 

Let me tell you… I did. Thank GAWD we didn’t have smartphones & cameras documenting every waking moment of our lives when I was young. Instead we embraced boredom as a challenge. We invented adventures & undertook them fastidiously.

We found joy in recounting our harrowing tales of escaping scorpions, rattlesnakes, & Bob cats (ahem, we never had to escape really – we never saw all the critters we imagined we’d escaped from, it was their trails in the shallow dust that reminded us they were there though). Oh I loved the days before digital applause became inherently tied to our own self-worth.

When was the last time you spent an entire summer afternoon lying in the grass looking up at the sky & watching the clouds pass overhead?
I can’t remember the last time I did it. 
Has my 13year-old daughter ever done this?
Ever? 
I’m not actually sure. 

My own memories moments where I was truly present haunt me like gentle ghosts. Nudging me. Nurturing me. All of them are specters of a past that whisper in my ears “Do you remember…” hey haunt me in rare moments of silence & stillness, prodding at a dusty corner of my consciousness reminding me of the innate joy in doing nothing. Now though, nothingness is frowned upon. 

In a world where we pay to go places without wifi & are easily seduced by the idea of going offline, we struggle when we encounter boredom. We’re now hard-wired for connection 24/7/365. But the connection our brains desire (damn you, dopamine) isn’t real connection. 

We are living in a time where our personal value is oftentimes measured by how busy we are, how many titles we’ve put next to our names on LinkedIn profiles, & how many followers see the photos/videos/words we upload. The measure is simple: if lots of people see the reckons we post & the breakfasts we tweet about (accompanied by inane/clever/snooze-worthy hashtags), then we must be very important & interesting. Right? 

Yeah, nah. 

In the past 20 years the fabric of our connected culture has become shinier, sure. And don’t we just covet the shiny things? We attempt to grab more & more of the twinkly stuff. We show only our highlight reels to the world. The ups. The celebrations. The rising from a fall. The highest of peaks. Sometimes we show glimpses of the hard stuff. But, that’s only sometimes. 

Mostly though, we keep our fears & our anxieties locked away. 
We wallow in our own defeats when defeat looks like us. 
When the person we see in the mirror isn’t perfect we hide them & from them. 

We disconnect to connect.

For most of us, social interactions are a smoke-screen. A proof-point of interacting with a modernity that has over-run us. It’s social media that defines us. All of us. We post dreamy smiles in golden sunlight in the hopes of living up to the expectations of people we’ve never met. Expectations that have yet to be defined. 

We follow. 
We follow.
We follow. 
We follow…

And, in turn, we hope others will follow us.
Why? Because being followable is the new wealth. 

Whether it’s 100 people or 100million, being followed is a new currency by which we buy & sell our self-confidence off of the back of likes, shares, comments & the ever-elusive idea of virality. Our sweet-fix digital culture is killing us though. Quite literally. We’re drunk on algorithms. 

Here at home in New Zealand our depression & suicide rates are higher than almost anywhere else in the world. We measure our value, our lovability, & our cleverness by double-taps on a screen somewhere else in the world. People we will never know hold our lives in the palms of their hands. 

Which brings me to the topic of Personal Brand. 

Google the term or take a wee squizz on any LinkedIn timeline & you’ll find a treasure trove of people talking about cutting through the din of digital content & becoming a thought leader by building a better personal brand than the next person. Millions of articles purport the best tips-&-tricks for hacking human algorithms (not to mention the social media driven ones) & becoming instantly likable. Instantly famous. Instantly worthy. 

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s an old one. It’s only the platforms on which we’re meant to sparkle that are different. Le sigh. Hands up if you’re already bored of all of the beaty-chesty congratulatory swill that people post in an attempt to feel any bit of anything at all. We chase this kind of interaction because we’ve forgotten how to say “Thank you,” and “Well done,” and any other nice thing to each other in real life – so we look for kindness online. 

Let me be the first to tell you though, the beaty-chesty stuff isn’t authentic or likable. We’re smart. All of us. We can sense bullshit at a thousand paces. When it comes to professional platforms like LinkedIn I can spot a boot-licker from just as far a distance as a bullshit artist. 1,000 paces. 

The most frequent question I get asked is: How can you tell if someone is authentic or not? 

Firstly, let’s not beat around the bush. If you are wondering if someone might not be who they purport to be – then investigate further. Our guts are great at spotting/feeling when things don’t feel quite right. If you’re looking for something that’s based on a person’s online activity, a good rule of thumb to figure out if someone’s yanking your proverbial chain is simple. 

On LinkedIn, head to their “activity” tab & see how they interact & with whom. A person who never interacts with their own colleagues but who hammers ye olde LIKE button when it comes to the chiefs is an easy pick as a butt-kisser. When I see folks of this ilk, I unfollow/dis-engage immediately. There’s only so much brown-nosing a girl can handle up in a timeline, ya know? But that’s just one way to spot someone who is out for themselves instead of sharing themselves with others.

I believe that personal brand isn’t what you may think it is.

I’m here to bring you a different view on it. Instead of playing by other people’s rules, we get to write our own. We do! No one has to be one thing or another to have amazing thoughts & share them. You don’t have to be extroverted, shouty, or move at pace. You need only be who you are to be seen & heard. 

In fact, every single build a better personal brand article that I’ve read that doesn’t start with: “Fuck the rules, do what’s right for you!” is an article I automatically am cynical about. Cynical because if you’re going to tell other people how to live their lives, you’re not doing anyone a favour. 

So, in attempt to not write something that actually helps, & to answer questions that I get asked a whole heckuva lot, here’s my take on the best rules for building your personal brand online & offline:

  • FOLLOW THE WELL TRODDEN PATH
    Hahaha! LOL. Not. Don’t follow a path. 
    Follow a beat. Be it the beat of your heart, a beat of your own drum, or the beat of your favourite power song – follow by leading with that which feeds you. When you know your values & lean hard into them, then you’ll know the path you need to forge. I’ve always found inspiration in others. People who move through the world completely comfortable in their own skin are people I look to when my own comfort in who I am wavers. 

    The happier I am in who I am, the more I’m able to exist in a state of insatiable curiosity. I ask questions. And, I’m open to a magical melding together of electricity and stardust. To stand out, stand up. It’s not always easy to share. But it gets easier the more you do it. Don’t get stuck in the mud of the well-trodden path. Go on, Tiger. Tip-toe through the tulips instead. 
  • DRESS FOR SUCCESS
    Gross, no. 
    Dress for how you feel. 
    Dress how you want.
    Dress up, down, all around. 

    Just make sure that you are, in fact, dressed. 

    All of us should be able to show up in the world the way we want to show up. We must learn to take up space. To be visible in ways that work for us as individuals. Also, we must allow others to do the same. Celebrating diversity means being inclusive of any kind of vibe we bring sartorially. Obviously some professional engagements call for different attire and formalities. If you need to wear a suit, wear one. By all means. 

    But if you’re keen to wear that blue-flower print that makes you feel powerful, do it. Or, that bright orange number that makes you feel like a million bucks – it’s calling your name & does you no good hanging in your closet. If you’re more comfortable with a traditional corporate attire, that’s a-okay as well. You do you, Boo. You write the rules by which you play. If my penchant for double-denim is anything to go by, you’ll soon find out that when you’re at your most comfortable on the outside, you’re also your most productive & effective. Go on, give dressing for your idea of success a whirl. 
  • FOLLOW/NETWORK WITH EXECUTIVES & C-SUITE
    LOL, soz. No thanks. When I see people only managing “up” on LinkedIn & in other professional settings I instantaneously dry-retch. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out to or follow people in positions you aspire to – just don’t let the idea of a corporate ladder be that which defines your personal branding strategy online (or off). Instead of seeking out the top-dogs only, follow people who inspire you instead. Search out people who have a genuine opinion & who aren’t afraid to share it. I always look for the helpers, the givers. 

    The people who spend most of their time with one aim in mind: to connect. These people are worth their weight in gold & then some. I’ve learned more from following people who are different to me & who are in different roles to me than I have by following a whole heap of CEO’s names John or Dave. With a good mix of colleagues, contemporaries, & kick-ass people who you just seem to gel with, you’ll make a much better impression on just on the world – but you’ll learn a whole lot more & be able to feed your curiosity more authentically.

    Also, things we should do more fastidiously are: 
    Thank people. 
    Compliment people. 
    Ask questions. 
    Banter. 

    Remember, building a personal brand isn’t about kissing asses. 
    It’s about trust, integrity, & being true to who you are as a person. If you’re keen on learning more from people higher up the ladder, follow away. But don’t forget to stop for a moment & look at everyone else around you. It might just be your network of contemporaries who lift you the highest as you move through your career. 
  • SHARE COMPANY STORIES 80% OF THE TIME, PERSONAL ONES 20%
    I see this a lot. Folks who are either a) drinking the Kool Aid hard-out & don’t realise the damage they’re dong to their personal brand by not branching out in their interests or who are b) looking for congratulations & adulation from others within their business alone. In the olden days of LinkedIn (yes, there were olden days & I lived through them) the rule of thumb was to only share stories about the business or industry you worked in, but that was because the platform was originally a hunting ground for job-seekers & HR folks looking to poach top talent. 

    If you were caught on LinkedIn during the Wild West days of the platform, you were always branded a person looking for greener pastures. Lucky for all of us, the platform has matured (hopefully as have we) & the facts don’t lie: to have people engage with you you must be engaging. Seems fairly obvious, right?

    Yet, I quite often see folks who will only talk about XYZ business & XYZ profits & XYZ strategy… blah blah blah. In all reality, if you’re looking to grow your personal brand online, you need to flip the above percentages. Or, be much cleverer in how you share information so that the people you’re hoping to engage with understand your personal drivers. If you share 100% business information, but can do so with a personal interest or a passionate & human spin, then that’s a-okay. Because… you guessed it… that makes the information you’re sharing relatable & valuable.

    I mean, I’m sure your big/small/medium sized business is awesome & that you are truly in love with the CMS, DMP, & campaign PIRs you work with… but tell me something interesting. Tell me something surprising. In fact, share a new idea. Say something bold. Something different. I’d love 100% of you & your ideas… but if you’re on LinkedIn, sure go on & pepper in some business speak. But please don’t make it an 80% love-fest about corporate policy.

    Humans connect. Be human. 
  • POST TWICE A WEEK ACROSS ALL CHANNELS.
    Again, this is another case of the “nopes”! What I mean by this is that winning the algorithm & going viral is kinda like winning the lotto. The odds are stacked against us all simply because of the vast amount of content being made & shared every second of every day. If you’re looking to do anything, look to make an impact on one person. Then two. Then three… etc. 

    Instead of trying to hack an algorithm, simply interact with intention. Quite often even I get caught up in thinking that I need to post to Instagram, or to Facebook, or to LinkedIn on a daily basis. But some days (ahem, MOST DAYS) I really don’t have that much to say. So instead, I fight the urge to post a bunch of waffle & instead I only post if I can interact in a way that gives. 

    When we give people our thoughts & our experience, then they receive the gift of knowledge. I love giving people my attention, my time, my expertise. Be boundless in how you give… give give give. 
    In fact, if you take anything away from this article at all, let it be this: GIVE. 
  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
    A few months ago I called a guy on LinkedIn an asshat. It was the nicest thing I could think to call him after he attacked me via DM & in public on the wall of my own LinkedIn feed. I’ve never met this man & really don’t ever want to, either.

    New Zealand being small & Auckland being even smaller, I probably will end up next to this dolt at a conference or riding home on public transport – but so far, I haven’t had to breathe the same air as him. Without going into too much detail, this poor, triggered fellah didn’t like my language. He didn’t like my ideas. He didn’t like me at all. 

    So, instead of blocking me or just moving on with his own damn life he tried to put his sticky beak into mine. He wrote to my employer. He attempted to continue DMing me well after me having blocked him. He just really needed to stop being an asshat. In reality, what this stranger was trying to do was to quiet me. To take my voice & my freedom of expression. He tried to bully me online, then through my employer (they didn’t bite, either). He tried to make me feel small. At all of these things, he tried & failed. 

    I’m old enough & worn around the edges enough to speak my truth. I do it kindly, I do it often. And, I hope you do, too. To build your brand, use your language. Speak your truth. People can see right through anything that’s not authentic. And, when that happens you lose trust. No trust = no ability to network.

    Never be afraid to use your language. Your own form of poetry is that which the world is ready to drink in. No one is allowed to steal that from you. One of Dr Maya Angelou’s most impactful quotes in my life has been this “A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing, she goes where she will without pretense & arrives at her destination prepared to be herself – & only herself.

    Don’t watch your language, friends – use it. 

So there you have it. 
A lot of words on personal brand that can easily be distilled down into one common theme: build trust by sharing your passion, your knowledge, & by being truly curious about who other people are & why they do what they do.

Also, wear double/triple/quadruple denim whenever you please. 
Your body. Your mind. Your rules.

Dr. Suess said is simplest. 
He said it best.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. 
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Go & do you, Boo. 

Come At Me, 2019! 

It’s January 1st, 2019. I’m writing this from the future. Kind of. 

I’m sitting in my living room in Auckland, New Zealand looking at the ocean. The ball hasn’t yet dropped in NYC & most of the the Northern Hemisphere is still winding-up for a night of frivolity.

From my vantage point, the first sunlight of 2019 just peeking out from behind the clouds & is warming my feet as I sip a coffee. My computer is perched on my lap. It’s peaceful. Quiet. Blissful.

Deep breath in, deep breath out. The tippity-typing sounds of my keyboard are all that I hear (other than a sweet song of our local Tui couple who live in the Kauri tree outside our window), & they’re currently serving to remind me that I’m determined to start this year right – right here & right now. 

After the coffee is finished, that is.

My wife is happy, still lounging in bed. Our daughter is on the couch next to me. Giggling intermittently at something on YouTube, eating Nutrigrain, & regaling me with minute-by-minute updates of how/when/where she met her idol (a Shortland Street actor) on a small town beach somewhere 14 minutes out of Whangamata yesterday morning. 

This life.
This IS The Life.
Idyllic, right?
Yeah, completely. 

As with most new starts, heralding in 2019 with my two beloveds is the best gift I could imagine. We were well abed before the fireworks started exploding over our city last night (lucky for us, we can see & hear them from home) which means we’re well rested & ready to see friends & family today. 

Yes, there will be mimosas ahead.
And no, the diet doesn’t start until tomorrow.
Or, actually, it’s not starting. Screw diets. 

Hugh Jackman (uh huh, the buffed & uber-cut Wolverine himself) recently said that all of the steamed chicken & broccoli in the world is not worth being a TEN. “Be a six, a seven… be anything! Just eat the yummy stuff while you can!” Hugh, I’m with you. I’m eating for curves from here on out, not for speed. 

I digress. Seeing that it is New Year’s Day, I can’t help but look back on the most recent trip around the sun we all made it through. I can say, hand on heart, that last year was a constant lesson in growing up. And thankfully, in growing older.  

I grew up a hundred times last year.
Maybe a thousand if you split big moments into smaller ones.

I grew up in flying to California for work & in driving across the desert to see Elton John in concert for the 21st time in 21 years. This time we had great seats. Seats so great that not only could we see Elton right up close – but that we were invited on stage AND I DANCED ON STAGE while Elton played Saturday Night’s Alright! Holy cow, Batman! If you know me, you can imagine the weight of this moment. A moment that came & went faster than any other moment before or since. This blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment was something my 12yr old self could only ever dream of. Something she dreamt of for decades. And now? Grown up Cassie has cried a lot of happy tears since remembering it. Bucket List dream, tick! 

I grew up in saying “F*ck it!” to the cost of a ticket home for a 4 day turnaround. I hopped on a plane to surprise my hero (my Mom) on her 70th birthday & spent time with my brother & his family in doing so. We got Mom good, too. She was BEYOND surprised & I think it’s fair to say that she had a magical birthday. Talk about money & time well spent. Memories are all we carry with us for life. I grew up going home. I also grew up throwing caution & my bank account to the wind. Invest in people & moments. Always & often. When you can, take a side road or push yourself beyond a well-worn routine. I promise you’ll find magic in the unknown.

I grew up staying close to home & in travelling across oceans & countries to speak on topics close to my heart, & even closer to my profession. Social Media Marketing World, two VidCons, Digital Day Out, Growth Marketing & too many more to count. I grew up as I grew into my own voice. A voice I’ve made quieter throughout my lifetime as not to be seen as too opinionated or obtrusive. F*ck that. I grew into me, into the words I spoke & speak. Instead of running away from having an opinion, I backed myself. I swallowed my anxiety. I found myself in my fear & transformed it into excitement instead.

I grew up when depression hit me. Literally, right in the face. When my wife picked me up off of the concrete floor, the black eye it left was a doozy – but not as much of one as the slog back to finding myself. You see, I’d been lost for a lot longer than I thought. Growing up is hardest when you have to admit you’re not as strong as you think you are. When you showing your weaknesses to others is all you can do to survive. With great support, great insight, unending love, steadfast friends, the best therapy, & the right medication, I worked my way back to me. I am still working my way back to me. And, I’m cool with that. 

I grew up when I learned that kindness is often mistaken for weakness, yet I stood strong in my own skin. Frightened, but safe. I refused to be an asshole just because being an asshole was easy, or everyone else was being one, or because it felt good to be a jerk. I held my tongue when I needed to. And I let it loose when necessary as well.

I grew up by opening up. And I mean really opening up. Talking to people I trust about hard stuff meant I was able to build foundations of stone in relationships instead of falling for the sweet words spoken by people with feet of clay. By sharing my whole self with others I’ve realised that I need to practice what I preach & be kind to myself first. The good news is that I have promised to be nicer to myself. To give myself the space to fail, learn, grow, & repeat. 

I grew up a lot last year. A lot. In ways that perhaps even I’m unaware of right now. I lost friends & made others. I let negativity crawl into my heart & it almost broke me. I also ate far too much Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream (can someone ever eat too much of it?) I apologised when I messed up – believe me, I messed up my fair share. And, I’ve started to find comfort in relaxing. We don’t always have to pray at the altar of busy-equals-important to be successful. Slowing down is the best way to dive deep & create.  

This year, I’m sure there’ll be just as much (if not more) growing & knowing more about myself, my beloveds, & the world we all share. I truly believe that the journey is what we’re here for. Not a pre-determined destination. 

My hope for 2019 is that I’ll be able to grow older as well as to continue to grow up. Our time here on earth is finite. Each day we get above ground is a blessing. To everyone reading this, I wish you the best of the best. I wish you happiness, kindness, optimism, & adventures. And, as Whitney Houston once crooned to Kevin Costner as he walked across a chilly tarmac & away from their slightly weird love affair “above all this I wish you looooooooooove!”

Bring on this year. It’s bound to be a goodie.  

15 things for 2019 

  1. Just buy the damn ticket home, you’ve got the money (if you don’t, you’ll pay it off.) As often as you can, be with the people that made you. Be in the places that heal you.
  2. Try new things often. Start. Simply, start. Nothing’s scarier that not doing something… so jump in. The water’s fine, I promise.
  3. Enjoy the heck out of routine. Never feel guilty about routines that help you feel grounded. Whether it’s your first sip of a morning coffee, a not-so-secret-dorky-handshake with a colleague, or the way you reach for your toothbrush before bed. Relish in routine when you can.
  4. Talk to your friends. Ask them questions. Listen to what they tell you about yourself. Truly listen. And if you need to pivot or make a few changes in your life, that’s cool. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. You’ve got this.
  5. Talk to strangers. Sometimes the most insight you’ll ever find happens in conversations with people who have zero context of who you are or where you’re from. When you’re a blank page to a new person, you get reflected back to you the openness you give. Be open. Laugh often.
  6. Enjoy the hell out of your greatest hits playlist. Why is it that we feel guilty listening to the songs of our youth on repeat when we know there’s a GIANT AMOUNT OF NEW MUSIC happening out in the wide world? I have tried for so long to stay up with the kids. Nah. Not anymore. I reckon we should all relish in tunes that get our motors running. Sing all the songs you love over & over without shame. Repeat is a feature on iTunes for a reason, Team. 
  7. Enjoy your work. This one is very important. It takes remembering that what society says is valid work isn’t actually what validates any of us. If what you do day-in-&-day-out does not feed your soul, find something that does. There’s no such thing as “balance” when it comes to work & life. You only get one life. Treat it as a gift. 
  8. Get outside more. Run. Walk. Jump. Climb. Sit. Sleep on the beach. Breathe in the air. Swim in the ocean. Surf. SUP. Skateboard. Skip to your lou, my darling. Do whatever it is that moves you. Just get outside more.
  9. Prioritise time for yourself. Hand on heart, I am really shitty at this. I give all of my time to others. Well, 99% of it. And, though I love my people, as an introvert I need time to myself to decompress. I love being in my own company & sitting in an emotion or moment & feeling it. Make time for yourself if that’s what you need. Tell those you love what you need & protect your headspace. 
  10. Walk away from drama – or, run from it. This one’s simple. If people don’t make your life better, then they’re making it worse. As with your job, you have the ability to chose who you spend your time & energy on. Spend it wisely. 
  11. Fall in love with the words that other people write – then write your own. I love a good hour or two getting lost in #inspirationalquote hashtags on Instagram. The elegance & eloquence of other people’s pain & passion drives me wild. The musical movement of words on a page fill my soul. And, in turn, I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). Falling in love with words is my favourite way to while away an afternoon. 
  12. Food is fuel – and FUN. As Hugh Jackman said above – eat. Don’t worry so much about being a TEN. Ten is kinda perfect. Perfect is boring. But, you know what’s never boring? Cake. Eat the damn cake. I’m not saying you should ignore the kale or the broccoli or the sashimi – but along with the inherently healthy, a treat is okay if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  13. Hug your little humans more often than necessary. Cliche alert: they actually do grow up so fast. So, so, so fast. I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter as if it was yesterday. The detail, the fear, the excitement. That’s saying something, too, because I can’t even remember what I had for dinner yesterday. I also remember the moment she was born, her first words, holding her & rocking her to sleep 1,000 nights in a row. She’s almost 13yrs old now. She’s her own perfectly imperfect micro-adult. I miss the baby years, HOWEVER I love her now more than ever. And, I still cuddle her, yell out from other rooms how much I love her, & try my best to annoy her, kindly. 
  14. Dance. Anytime, anywhere, with anyone. My wife & I dance basically from sun up to sun down 24/7/366 & we aren’t in the least bit sorry. No music? No worries. Just dance regardless.
  15. Remember, no matter how bad it gets, there’s help. The most important of my list – this is a reminder that hidden behind even the blackest of storm clouds is a summer sun. Asking for help is hard. When I asked for it, I felt like a failure. I felt weak. I felt broken. But you know what, my friends & family helped me get through those feelings. Now I feel strong. I feel worthy. I feel potent. I feel helpful & hopeful. We all fight our own battles. We wage our own wars. If ever you need me, I am here. I see you. 
2018, Wrapped Up.

Speak Out & Shout, Every Voice Matters this International Women’s Day

Wake Up To Change 

I woke up this morning as I do every morning. Full of hope for the day ahead. Full of excitement at the promise of new adventures. And, let’s be honest here, slightly sleepy & bleary-eyed after what’s been a manic start to a jet-lagged week after two weeks back home in San Diego filling my soul & recharging my inspiration batteries.

Today’s a special day though.

One a bit different to other days. Today my Twitter stream & Facebook feeds are dominated by headlines of female world-leaders, strong women we meet every day, marches, protests, & (typically) cats.

Seriously, Internet? Cats? Still?

I guess if cat worship was a ‘thing’ for ancient Egyptians, then it makes sense in the internet age – kinda.

In amongst the usual algorithmic clutter of content, & off of the back of over a year of #MeToo, #TimesUp & #NeverAgain cultural movements, I’m heartened to see a huge surge of powerful posts pointing towards the tidal swell towards equality.

Words are forming.
Language is building.
Sentiment is taking shape – we’re moving from impassioned pleas towards demanding action. Now.

Vivid images.
Eloquent text.
And, vivaciously poignant videos.

Sheesh, it’s 7am & I’ve gone through this Kleenex box next to me crying happy tears, angry tears, impassioned tears. I should note here, Team, I’m not usually a crier. But, as I said earlier, today’s different.

A Happy And Heavy Heart

Friends, family, colleagues, brands, politicians and businesses across the world are bringing International Women’s Day to life this year across digital and social media in a way I’ve not experienced before.

My heart? Today, is happy & heavy. Happy that so many people are not merely recognizing today as a tick-box exercise in political correctness, but rather a necessary element of driving informed, honest dialogue around gender inequality at work, at home, and beyond.

Heavy because we still face a large opposition of naysayers. People who love the patriarchal BAU of inequity & inequality that keeps most down, & lifts only a few. There’s also a heaviness in knowing that one day a year of shaking the internet isn’t enough to bring gender parity closer to reality.

Having a day set aside to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women feels great, but stings just a little bit too. Ya know?

What happens tomorrow? Who among us will continue to talk, argue, scrap, and otherwise fight for women’s rights?

Will we just go back to ho-hum, everyday acceptance of the world as it is. Will we still be supported by our bosses, our lovers, our family if we speak up consistently? I’m not so sure we will be. At some point we are labeled as that feminist or that girl with opinions. 

Will the wheel keep spinning or will our voices quiet again until March 8th rolls around again next year? How will we continue the dialogue daily between all people – women & men alike?

Take Action

This time last year I made a promise to myself, to my colleagues, & to my family to do better. To speak up & speak out. And to call out moments of harassment, mansplaining, inequity, & otherwise detrimental interactions towards women.

365 sleeps later? I’m bloody proud of myself. Slowly but surely I see my younger colleagues – male & female alike – standing up for each other. Allowing each other to speak. And, treating each other with more kindness.

There’s still a lot left to be done though. Old Boys Clubs still run rampant through corporations large & small.  Women are still paid less then men in the same (or even lower) positions. Vernacular & language around leadership are still very male.

Make A Promise

As I did last year, I again am making a promise to do more for women in hopes that we actually start shifting the balance towards fairness. There’s a large piece of work to be done in disentangling visibility from power. They are not one & the same, though they are often treated as such.

My call to action for women & men today? Don’t be complacent. You have a voice, use it. Fight the fear of standing up for yourself or someone else. Do it. Make change happen through your own consistent actions. Small, large… whatever.  Just stand up for something or someone.

Every little bit counts.

Here’s to strong women everywhere.
May we support you. May we lift you up. May we celebrate you. May we be you.
And, may we raise the next generation in your light.

#IWD2018 #PressforProgress 

Introvert Tales: Survival Tips in a World of Extroverts

Let’s talk about comfort zones for a minute.

There are so many kinds of them. The most important ones being those that ensure basic survival and safety. If we’re in imminent danger, we can usually feel the potential for trouble before it eventuates. And, thanks to our gut-feel, usually back away from situations where we’re uncomfortable. Other comfort zones exist to inform, impact, and drive certain social and professional interactions. In moments both big and small we understand inherently if we’re nervous, unsure, or completely at ease. And, we lean towards interactions that validate and keep safe our needs to feel accepted and liked by others.

Personally, I’m hyper-aware of my comfort zones. Maybe too aware. I get fidgety and uncomfortable in them. Which is weird, right? The whole ‘get used to being comfortable with being uncomfortable’ argument for growth sounds more like self-flagellation than fun. But, it’s where I live my life most days.

Let me explain.

We all have our safe places. Our inner havens, in-built boundaries, & self-check systems. And, we all know without a doubt when our personal boundaries are being pushed, pulled, crossed, mussed or even splintered apart. So, why is it then, that when it comes to finding comfort, I don’t necessarily find it in routine? Or by rights, in spontaneity?

What I’ve come to notice about my own comfort zones is that there’s a constant fuzzy-line-of-discomfort drawn between moments where my worst nightmares & sweetest dreams converge. And, I dance quite the cha-cha on that fuzzy line of peaceful internal existence daily – stepping thoughtfully through the rhythm of  work, life, family, and wider societal pressures.

You see, on the outside, I fit every stereotype of extrovert you could imagine. Bubbly, inquisitive, completely individual, confident… yep, typical So-Cal girl in New Zealand, right? Yep, on the outside. But, just below the surface the truth is bubbling away. I’m an introvert. I’ve done hundreds of personality quizzes, and each time have come out an INFJ. Which confounds most people I confide in. Most, but not all.

You see, while I like to be who I am and to push boundaries – I’m much happier and comfortable recharging my batteries in solitude. Earphones on, music playing, out for a run. Or, TV on in the background, reading and ingesting information in my own way, on my own time. If I could magic-up a perfect day it would include all of the above – peppered with a few people throughout to sweeten the narrative. It’d be a lovely, drawn out day of quiet introspection and small treats of socialising. See? Introvert.

That said, I also love short, sharp moments of discomfort when I get to be in a group teaching, creating, and working collaboratively with some of the most amazing people/peers in the game. A lot of the time if I know I’ll be speaking or presenting something to a crowd, I’ll psych myself up for it. Just like I used to do when I was playing sports – I treat most days like The Big Game. I give my all to what I can, and then head home in the evenings to rest and recharge. Because, as much as I absolutely love a little bit of extrovert time, it zaps my energy stores and sets me right outside of my comfort zones.

The conclusion I’ve come to about myself is this: I am a study in opposites. An introvert forever doing extrovert things. And, I’ve also come to realize that the coping mechanisms that I’ve built up over the years are super important, super necessary, and super easy when they’re simplified down to the good stuff. 

So, in no particular order, here are some of my own Survival Tips for introverts living in a world of extroverts:

  1. Do your homework
    This obviously only works for moments of discomfort that you can actively plan on. Things like big presentations (or small ones!), public speaking, pitching to clients, and the like. I find I’m much better at finding comfort in discomfort when I’m well prepared or learned on a topic. If I’m speaking at an event, I practice, practice, practice before presenting. Most of the time this means working through a presentation far in advance and then getting up each day at 3am a week or so before speaking to run through the narrative in my mind. For pitches and other moments where I know my palms might start sweating a bit, I study up on both the people and the ideas being spoken to. That way I feel like I’m talking more to friends than to potential investors or clients. Planning ahead and doing the leg-work has been a consistent winner in the coping stakes for me.
  2. Schedule in quiet time
    Whether it’s in short bursts throughout the day, small walks outside, or through meditation – scheduling in time to recharge is key to going full steam ahead (in bursts) daily. I try to take at least 10 minutes a day – though 30 would be better! – to get outside, grab a bite to eat, listen to music, browse the interwebs, and do non-work stuff. I find even small moments of shutting my mind off from work helps me come back with better creativity, focus, and the ability to really pack all of my best hours into a day at the office. Without a break, I tend to break. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. So, if you see me taking a walk around the block with my earbuds in, I’m recharging and will be back to chat soon.
  3. Get to know what stresses you out intimately
    Self-awareness is an art. Believe me, there’s a reason EQ is such a sought after attribute in the workplace these days. People who understand their own emotions and drivers are able to lead better, more efficiently, and drive engagement with their teams. Knowing what stresses you out can void or limit the power each moment of fear has over you. By accepting your discomfort, you can really get zen with it and feel the moment. Acknowledge your fears, then move on. One of the best talks I’ve ever seen, from the amazing Simon Sinek of course, was about how the human body processes fear and excitement. Both are translated in very similar, almost identical ways. We get to choose how we interpret our stressors sometimes. So for me, even when I’m literally running to the bathroom with nerves before a presentation or speech, I tell myself I’m stoked/happy/excited/fizzing to get going. More often than not, a positive outlook works in finding a calm place to work from – in front of a crowd or not.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be honest (or, imperfect)
    Quite often in the corporate world we’re encouraged to live our lives as flawless, perfect, unflappable versions of our true selves. Never messing up. Never failing at a project. Never standing up for what’s right, or obvious, or truly common sensical – instead we live standing in the shadows of not-ruffling-feathers. I call bunk on this. All of it. Personally, I tend to like the leaders and innovators who show their human sides. They wear the dents in their armor proudly – as scars that encouraged growth and change. They believe in honesty. And, they live by it regardless of popular trends or belief. Let’s face it, there are times when all of us struggle. If you’re able to embrace the struggle, ask for help, and teach others from your own journey – you’re not less of a person. You’re more. From an introvert’s perspective, I crave connection with a small inner-circle who allow me to ask questions, admit gaps in strengths, and grow from it all. With a core team you can trust, the sky really is the limit.
  5. Accept who you are and play to your strengths
    Who decided that the best way to ‘grow’ people in business was through concentrating maximum efforts on hiding or erasing weaknesses? To me, this way of thinking is off piste with reality. You want people to come into work engaged, passionate, and willing to learn? Ask them what their passions are. Grow what they’re good at. And, as a matter of course, address weaknesses when they hinder performance. I mean, you wouldn’t take a point guard and put them under the hoop to box out the big guns if your game plan was to win. You’d set the team up in a way that would at least level an already star-studded playing field. Beyond the office, I’m a person who completely accepts that I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be. And, I really don’t get on well with people who pretend they’re perfect and belittle others in the process for a journey that has peaks, valleys, roundabouts, and stops. I reckon it’s simple: accept who you are and who your colleagues are, and play well together. You’ll find you’re more comfortable in your own skin. And you’ll be surrounded by people who are more comfortable in their own, too.

So there you have it – my 5 tips for being you, when you have to put yourself out on the line more often than you might be wired to be comfortable with. Sure it can be scary. But, it can be very appealing – exciting even! Success really is at the end of your comfort zones – especially if you’re able to push your own boundaries in a way that makes you feel secure in the long run.

As an introvert, knowing yourself is your best, most powerful weapon out in the wide world. Wield that knowledge wildly. Thrive like it’s going out of style.

Photographs & Memories – January 2017

January 2017 started with a warm summer breeze on Waiheke Island in New Zealand – and ended in a freezing cold cemetery in rural Missouri surrounded by family as we farewelled our matriarch.

From the highest of the highs, to the saddest farewells, I can honestly say that January made me stronger.

Thank you, for that, Jan.

The images I’d like to share from this month reflect my love of summer, of my homeland, of my family – and of simply being present.

Beached.

A final view from above.

Last long drive home.

Take care of her, Grandpa.

3am wake-up call.

Broody blues in black and white.

 

 

Photographs & Memories – December 2016

December. The last month of the year… four weeks leading into a new trip around the sun. Always a festive time, this month’s photos are an ode to a magical time of year. Bursting with fun, colours, family, and love.

I always start to take stock of the year that’s been, and set new goals for the year ahead in the 12th month of each year. There’s something new and shiny, but also comfortable and worn in about this month.

As for us, we spent a lot of time with friends and family – both on the mainland here in Auckland, and on our fave island in the sun (Waiheke, you’re a babe!)

Here’s to you, December. 

You’re always a pretty month.

Pohutukawa tickles
Treat yo self… it’s been a big year
Classic USA meets NZ
Another classic: the humble Negroni #favetipple
A Xmas line-up worthy of Waiheke summertime 
Through the looking glass
Morning vineyard wanderings
Whanau, picture in picture – Man O War
 Cheers to you, December. Negronis ahoy

 

Photographs & Memories – September 2016

Over the past few years I’ve really neglected my creative passions. Motherhood, adulting (ahem, work & paying bills) & getting sucked into believing in the concept of “time-poor” meant pushing aside the pursuits that truly made my soul sing.

Well, this post featuring some of my fave photos from the past wee while, is my first step back to following passions, capturing dreams, & living simply.

I hope you enjoy my photos! This month’s theme will be a bit broody – black & white. I love how shades of grey can bring joy & sadness.  And, how the magical grit in the details between light & darkness can highlight a sense of pain – & of beauty.
*Please ask for permission before publishing these pics online or in print*

Thanks, Cass

 “Hoop dreams”

“Moody blues & stormy views”

 

“Rangitoto surprise”

 

 “Outrun the setting sun”

 

 “These boots were made for rocking”
 “Celebrate”

 

 “Mechanical angel”

 

“Wine and good times”

 

“Coffee dreams”

 

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“Rollicking”

 

 

Changing How I View Change

The only constant in life, is change.

But, let’s face it, knowing that change is inevitable doesn’t make facing it particularly comfortable or easy. In fact, as a card carrying creature of habit myself, I’ll be straight up with you: change makes me shake in my proverbial (and literal) boots more often than not.

As a confident, capable human… why is that? Shouldn’t I be able to just roll with the punches and deal with the hand that I’m dealt without any speed wobbles?

Erm, nope. I can think of quite a few reasons why being nervous about change is good – and why my stomach still churns a bit at the thought of sudden, drastic, unexpected changes in life.

The first thing that makes me fear change is simply that I have grown-up responsibilities (like mortgages and bills and all of that adulting carry-on). To feel safe & supported, I need to have a firm foundation of stability across the main areas of my life. These areas include financial, emotional, spiritual & creative aspects of who I am and what I do. Should these foundations be rocked, moved, jiggled, or even hinted at being drastically altered – panic sets in.

Or at least tries to set in.

Without stability, and without a sense of being able to provide for my child, my fiancee, and myself – my world (and my sense of self worth) start to crumble. Having knowledge that our next meal, mortgage payment, hug, laugh, and moment together might not be safe all add to my feelings of worry in times of change. At the core of who we are intrinsically,  (where our basic, instinctual drives reside) we need more than anything to live in a state of comfort – which usually means habitual daily routines. When our routines are disrupted. So too are the supporting pillars of happiness and confidence.

Another reason change has always been a bit nerve-wracking for me is that I like being able to define who I am – on my own terms. We all do, right? And, to do that, I need to understand my place in the world and how my actions effect others – their well being, their health, their core values. To do this well, means I need to have (or at least feel that I have) some control over my own circumstances.

Let me elaborate more on change – and why it can break a person. Change takes away our sense of being in control of our lives & our destiny.  When I start to feel like I’ve lost all control, I take a step back, breathe deep & start to make decisions – even micro-decisions are a starting point to turn negatives into positives. I usually decide that I have in me the power to change, and that everything starts to balance itself out again. It may take some time, but my mind becomes clear, the weight on my shoulders lighter – and my confidence is restored in going through the mental steps of building positives out of perceived negatives.

I’d be telling a big ‘ol porky-pie if I said I haven’t given in to the depth of despair on more than one occasion. I’m not an automaton. I know the darkness of failure. I’ve tasted it, wallowed in it, & given in to self-doubt. But, not for long. In fact, as I get older, I am able to fall & fail fast. And then pop back to my feet, taller & stronger than before. As my ten-year-old told me yesterday, “Mom, you climbed a mountain, a really big one, and now you’re just going down the other side. The next mountain’s gonna be bigger Momma. I can tell!” (what a kid!) Having the love & support of people who continually remind you of your worth is hugely important to rolling with changes.

Is there anything good about change? I’m talking about a mushy, warm, happy-tickle good thing. YES! YES THERE IS AMAZING GOOD IN CHANGE!

If I’m honest, the good is in the slowing down and taking the time to think, reflect, and also getting super focused on planning, potential outcomes, and building resilience. By slowing down and counting my blessings, as well as looking at my achievements and skills to date (I’m talking personally & professionally), I’m able to really shine a light on the positive nature of uncertain times. The old cliches about the worst of times teaching us the best of lessons exists for a reason. That reason being that, for the most part, what doesn’t defeat us really does make us stronger. And stronger equals resilient equals a state of mind focused on success.

Because, if change is inevitable, and control is the key to feeling firm in your foundations – then giving into your own power of taking control of all situations and how you react to them means that you’re in charge of your story. Not happenstance. No other person holds the keys to how you view the world. It’s you. It’s me. It’s all of us.

Today I see change the same way I see life. Nothing is permanent. Even if the word “permanent” is a falsity when included as a binding part of a promise. Everything is in flux. Always. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is permanent. Each new day, each new experience, each new moment is a blessing and a moment to learn, to refocus, and to remember just how lucky we are to be above ground. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a process. A life-long one. So too, is change.

Embrace the process.
Ride the waves.
Be the change.
And, when you can, help others through moments where they’re feeling vulnerable. Kindness first. Smile much. And believe that, together, we can truly overcome anything.

I like you, you’re different

Always enchanted

I should probably start this off by stating that I am a person who finds other people enchanting. Whether you’re warm and open, cold and brooding, or somewhere else on the spectrum, I can always make a case for studying (and liking) my fellow humans.

I thrive on the high I get from deep conversation, the buzz I get from silly banter, and the feeling of connectedness I get from shared cultural memories. The people who are “different” to what I grew up with are just as welcome in my life as my beloved life-long friends and close family.

Getting to know an individual over time fills my heart, and the immediacy of people watching in a busy airport sets every cell in my body alight.

There’s just something so inherently human in connection. In wanting to connect. In thriving on those magical moments where eyes meet, lips part in genuine smiles, & stories are shared with a sense of purpose & passion.

We all have so much to give & it’s in the tiny cracks of light that sneak through our modern day facades that I find true joy. Learning about cultures, languages, zeitgeist moments that define us differently… what a trip!

Take a moment to breathe it all in, the beauty in difference

More often than not, when I’m in a crowd, I’ll stop to look around me – and find myself lost in thought. Lost in the wonderment of how so many strangers have been brought together in this place at this time. I also wonder, how many other people are thinking the same thing as me. And, what it all means to us as individuals – and as human beings.

It’s all such a perfectly imperfect magic that draws us together and pushes us apart. And that’s why I love differences in people.

At heart I’m shy. An introvert of epic proportions, I’ve learned to be boisterous when I need to be. I’ve also learned how to quiet a more loud-learned-nature to dig deep into the quiet spaces of others.

My need to know others & what it is that makes them tick keeps me smiling at strangers, starting up conversations with the person sitting next to me on the bus, and reaching out when I’d rather run away.

Differences. They’re fascinating. They’re what bring us together & what helps to change the world. They’re what we all fight for – inalienable rights are rights that celebrate individuality & the greater good. The foundation of which is empathy, understanding, & the belief in building stronger societies through a mixture of cultures.

Flying far from home is magical & terrifying

Having moved away from my Californian home over 15 years ago, I’ve felt the wrath of people who boxed me in. They define me by who they think I am without ever taking the time to actually know me. To know my story. To know what drives me.

Being a stranger in a strange land has opened me (and countless others) up to both hurt & gorgeous beauty that natives who never leave home will never know.

How many times have I been misunderstood, how many cultural references missed, and how often has my homesick phone bill from calls home to my parents far too high? Too often. But, again, it’s the beauty in the difference of others that keeps me sane.

Petty judgement doesn’t bother me. Like I said, we’re all different. Not everyone likes difference, or deals well with it though. It’s scary. It’s unsettling. And, it forces us to face our own biases.

Growing older and (for the most part) wiser

So what does this all mean, anyway? Well, the older I get, the more I realise that it’s people who embrace difference in others that make me happy. People who get excited by hearing stories different to their own are my people. The status quo is only the status quo today… it’ll change. It always does.

In the end, we are all flesh and blood. And we are all storytellers, writing the narrative of our own journey in a patchwork style that includes the stories of others we pick up & make our own along the way.

As for me, today, I say let’s all raise a glass and celebrate weirdness, geekery, being different. Different is beautiful. We all are.

Hallelujah!

TIMEless

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My rational brain is still telling my heart not to be sad.

But for a man who was a part of the version of me that always allows the child within to play & embrace kindness (thanks for the laughter), and a man who supported my good friends while they were at war… I can’t help but feel sad.

I’m sure St Peter is rolling on the floor of heaven laughing. Embracing a soul lost unto itself, but loved universally.

Got fast, go fun, and find peace. Robin Williams, truly timeless.