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. 

The Case For Writing (And Investing In) Your Brand Story

What’s your story?

No, really. What is it?

Humour me for a minute – let’s try an exercise together.

I want you to think about how you might answer the above question. Try to formulate a storyboard in your mind about your story. While thinking through it, allow your mind to wander. Allow your biases, for just this exercise, to fall by the wayside for a brief moment in time.

This is your story. You get to write it.

First things first. Where would you start? Would it be at the beginning (birth), or would you choose a different beginning that’s not your literal ‘start?’ If you default to a starting point where work becomes a focus – you wouldn’t be the first. We so often live our lives in the context of meeting each other and asking ‘What do you do?’ Swapping corporate titles like social currency. Park the titles & the jobs. This is about your STORY. Start at your beginning…but make it about you. Not society.

From there, head into the gritty, gusty, beautiful middle of your narrative. How do you, in your own mind, segue from the beginning to the middle of your narrative? Was there a big shift in geography, in relationships, in maturity?

Think through the moments that you see as definitive to you & your journey.

You know the moments already. They’re at the front of your mind often. They are those moments that you look back on often, laugh about with people who knew you when, & even the ones that might cause your eyes to leak just a little bit – emotion still just beyond the surface.

Those are your personal narrrative building blocks. They offer depth, authenticity, growth, & change to occur. They are little pieces of stardust.

From your defining stories, it’s time to lead into a wrap-up of sorts. Your story, as yet unfinished, still needs to end somewhere. As humans, our minds need a finite lesson, or stopping point. But, your story continues.

Do you it end now, in front of your computer screen wit a pithy qupte? Or, do you pick a recent moment that allows you an open end?A hope, a dream, a goal.

However you chose to close your story – you’ve just created yourself another starting point. And therein lies the power of storytelling.

The power of storytelling in life & in business is the power of new beginnings.

For me, for you, for all of us – starting over & over again allows us so much beautiful space to fill empty pages of time to come. By going through the above exercise, you as an individual have a story now. A unique voice. A singular journey.

It can be shared, re-told by others, & written into cultural folklore even!

To ensure continual growth in business – whether as marketers, brand strategists, social media OGs, or CEO’s – you need to understand your brand’s story in-depth. Because when a brand stands for something authentic, human, & unique it’ll always rise faster than those businesses without stories.

Stories are currency, you can bank them & trade them.

I’m going to go WAY out on a ledge right now & say that stories are the most valuable asset to a company after people. People first, always. But, as a close second, stories are the secret sauce that spices up a brand’s offerings & products. As such, they should be just as heavily invested in.

The more people understand why they’re buying what they’re buying – the more likely they are to remain loyal to a brand. Why? Because magic happens when our personal narratives & brand narratives become intertwined. It’s very, very hard to untangle stories once they’ve been melded together. Thus, you create camps of people who then tell your story for you.

Me? I’m an Apple girl. A lifelong Nike gym junkie. Someone who buys Coke over Pepsi. Someday I’ll own a Ford truck. When I shop, I take time to notice my biases. I physically stop myself from defaulting to my favourites… and often wonder what it is in the back of my mind that causes me to reach for one brand over another.

In every instance, I can follow my choices back to stories.

Unpacking memories, it’s the happy tickles at the back of my lizard brain that cause me to truly become invested in a brand. That part of my brain simply acts & reacts based on past experience. I can remember Nike ads from the early 80’s (I was a toddler!), & still am able to sing almost every jingle for breakfast cereals written in the USA from 1985-1999. I remember the Say ‘No’ To Drugs campaign with frying pans & smashed eggs as clear as day…

Stories. All of these marketing campaigns, in all of their channels and iterations, are based on stories. On human truths. On simple, succinct messages.

The moral of this blog’s story? Invest in your story. Invest the time, the emotion, & the cash.

Write it, live it, share it.

We can’t believe in things we don’t understand or know. Once you’ve invested in your story, your customers will invest in your story… and then tell it for you. Whether at the dinner table, whether by wearing your logo on their feet/shirt/jeans, whether through social media channels… advocates will share stories for you. This is how brands grow.

Fill that funnel, team! Tell stories. As for me, I’m a lucky one. Happily a dreamer, an author, & a believer in good when it comes to telling stories. In the world where I spend a lot of time, the world of brand marketing, I’ve been absolutely blessed to meet some amazing people. Yarn-spinners so prolific that they have me eating from their palms & yearning to be as magical as they are with words, pauses, imagery & beyond.

Crafting stories for brands is my favourite form of beautiful, creative geekery

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with such a wizard of woven narrative, the amazing Park Howell. Radiating kindness, creativity, purpose, & vision – Park & I hit it off from the word go. We talked about storytelling journeys, heroes that helped shape our own passions for becoming storytellers ourselves…and prolific lyrics from the Brown Dirt Cowboy himself, Bernie Taupin.

If you’re keen to learn more about how to find your own narrative, & if you’re up for a rollicking ride on the rollercoaster of passionate storytelling for brands to really super-charge growth & return, click here. I’m positive you’ll enjoy this podcast that Park & I did together.

The #KindnessRevolution starts here, with all of us.

 

My Top 10 For 2018: Resolutions, Predictions & Trends

It had to happen team. You know me, a sucker for a good ‘ol listicle or resolution post. I mean, would I really be worth my weight in blogger/vlogger salty-sweetness if a New Year occurred & I didn’t post something about fresh starts & looking ahead?

Grab yourself a cuppa, settle in for about five minutes (if you’re a skim-reader, it’ll only take you 2 minutes) & enjoy my take on the year ahead.

Also, if you’re just not having a bar of this ‘reading-stuff’ this year (I mean, reading? It’s so 1500AD), GOOD NEWS! I also made a video about this exact topic which I’ll also add to the bottom of this.

Have a look & if you like the video, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. There will be more vlogs in the coming months. Some, not all, will include gin & hijinks. All will include heart & soul.

And, there will surely be lots of hand movement. #handtalker

As always, your respectful comments are always welcome!
Good discourse lives here…

  1. Concentrate on Health
    This is an all-encompassing statement for me. Health being defined as liberally as you an imagine as that of mind, body & soul. I’ve let my gym routine slip a bit in 2017, which is a sure way to lead me to unbalance in all parts of my life. I’ve always been a gym-goer, moving my body relaxes my mind & allows me to think more creatively. So, there’ll be more moving of the creaky body (we’ve exercised 15 of the last 18 days, which is fab!) Mentally, I’ll be giving myself space & time to think deeply. To ask questions. To search out answers. By doing this, I grow. Sometimes fast, sometimes more slowly. But the growth is visible & my heart is happy. Health, welcome back to Casa Roma in 2018.
  2. Celebrate Small Successes
    This is something that we all should do. I think we get so caught up in big goals & big projects, that we forget to celebrate the smaller milestones along the way that lead to greater things. Being able to identify & celebrate moments that make our days brighter & better mean we’ll all be a bit happier & a go a lot easier on ourselves when we mess up. As our own worst critics, taking time to practice being our own biggest fans is a super-important habit to get into.
  3. Celebrate the Successes of Others
    As with the above, it’s imperative that we start celebrating the good in others more often. Be it a win at work, a new skill learned at home, or a simple compliment to a stranger on the street – celebrating others & their successes helps everyone feel better about themselves & their journeys. I’ve actually scheduled into my weekly calendar a time that’s set aside simply for sending JWD (job well done) emails to others. I can tell you, it feels great to make others feel good!
  4. There Is No Impossible
    Seriously? Yep, seriously. After watching ‘The Crown’ on Netflix over the past week, I’m all about Winnie. Churchill, that is. Always a sucker for a good, pithy quote, I’ve been reminded quite a lot recently that the only limitations we have are those that we set on ourselves. We are allowed to interpret everything that happens in our lives in our own way. Therefore, failure isn’t failure. Failure is an opportunity to learn. And, as Winnie said “SUCCESS consists in staggering from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Me? I’m as enthusiastic as they come! #TallyHo
  5. Giving Back
    This one is as simple as it sounds. We all get caught up in our daily routines, & because of it, don’t spend as much time as we might like giving back. Small moments of joy in spending time with people in the community or in mentoring others fills my soul to the brim. This year I’ve put into motion dedicating more time to giving back. As Co-chair of the Auckland Pride board, I’ll be able to work more in the LGBTQ+ community. And, as a now elder-stateswoman of the social & digital media community in Australasia (I like to call myself OG to pretend I’m a little bit hip & with-it still!), I’m spending more time mentoring young marketers, storytellers, & social media influencers. Carving out time to give back is just as important as carving out time to ourselves. Both do fantastic jobs at making life more fulfilling in the longterm.
  6. Coffees + Cocktails
    I’ll be saying “Yes!” to both of these more often this year. In fact, in the first month back to work, I’ve already got quite a few catch-ups with old friends, new colleagues, & interesting people I’ve been meaning to see for yonks all lined up. The coffees & cocktails bit is simply to keep ye olde whistle whet while pontificating & lol-ing. I’m telling you, Team, thirty minute chats are sometimes the best chats you’ll ever have.
  7. Read More Novels
    I started reading more novels about entrepreneurs & conscious workplaces last year, & I’ve continued into 2018 doing the same. That whole ‘meaning to get around to reading…’ thing? Yeah, I’m getting around to it now. I find a lot of inspiration in knowing that other people out there have struggled to find their place, found it, & are making a life doing things they’re passionate about. Right now I’m reading Entrepreneurial You by a great author & speaker, Dorie Clark. I’ve also (FINALLY!) gotten around to reading the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I’ve got a lovely line-up of books to jump into by Richard Branson, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. & more. Go on & get yourself some inspo in the form of novels. If you’re like me, you’ll be simultaneously thrilled & fired-up.   
  8. Pride, Yasssssssss
    Ah, Pride! Butterflies, rainbows & love winning the day. After years of raising up a small child, this Momma is ready to do more work with the LGBTQ+ community in New Zealand & beyond. Alongside friends, family, & my amazingly supportive wife, 2018 is shaping up to be quite the year for continuing our commitment to safety, voice, & equality in our rainbow communities. The Auckland Pride Festival kicks off on the 2nd of February & runs though to the 18th, & I’m so excited to be working with amazing people, brands & festival/parade directors to deliver such a diverse range of events & shows over this time. Love always wins. Always.
  9. Spending Time With Family
    This is a no-brainer. But, again, in a world hell-bent on glorifying ‘busyness for the sake of being busy’ we often don’t see a lot of each other as we run from home to work to school during the week. My little nuclear family here in NZ is my world. My wife & daughter are everything to me – so this year, finally, I’ve made a few decisions that will actually put them first when it comes to my time & attention. Firstly, I’ll be doing more drop-offs & pick-ups with my daughter. She’s off to intermediate/middle school this year, & I aim to help her ease into a new routine by being more consistent in my presence in her life before & after school. As for my marriage, we’re already really good with having time to ourselves for date nights, Netflix marathons, filming vlogs, adventuring… this year we’ll maintain the level of fun at home & then some. As for family abroad, I’m committing to heading home more this year. I need to spend time with my parents & cannot wait to welcome another niece into the world early next year. Spending time with the little ones is magical. I guess this means we’ll be seeing you soon, California & Detroit!
  10. Live a Life of Kindness
    This is my ethos, my driving reason for being, & the only way I can understand the world. Through a lens of kindness, everything becomes clearer. I’m not going to lie, there are times when other people act in ways which they shouldn’t, when they become heartless & angry. But, when you live a life of kindness, you see their pain. You recognise their ego, their fears. And, you empathise. It is kindness, not just shared genetics or culture, that binds us together. Together we’re stronger. Together we’re better. So kindness, as saccharine-sweet & cliche as it may be, is the only way to live.

If you’ve made it this far, YEE HAW! Thank you.

Click ‘play’ below & enjoy my first vlog of 2018.
Cheers & Happy New Year, team!

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.

Who Stole My Zen?


The world is fast. Beautiful. Broken. Uplifting. Harsh. Everything at once. It can build us up & tear us down quickly. All it takes is one interaction – one word, one Tweet, one text, one fleeting moment to change the course of a day or a life.

If I think about the world & my place in it too much, things (sometimes) can feel overwhelming – in a beautiful way, mostly.

Mother. Partner. Daughter. Aunt. Friend. Colleague. Boss. Ex. Bestie. Stranger.

Most days I ask myself: Which part of me will I strengthen today?  And, inversely, which part will I allow to crumble – if even just a little bit?  Because, let’s face it, when you focus on one area of life, others can slip. And, I’m completely cool with that.

When it comes to making decisions though, I find that, sometimes, the best way to decide is not to decide on anything at all.

Huh?

Practicing silence, stillness, and focusing on the present is a great way to just “be”. Whether it be relationships at work, at home, or in the abstract – when moments arise where everything seems too much, I find a quiet space, a silent moment & look for my personal zen.

Personal zen? It’s that special, untouchable thing that helps me return to a calm, content, happy & driven being with an end goal of staring in wild wonder at the beauty of the world around me.

Over the years, I’ve learned (mostly through falling, failing & getting back up again) that balance is always achievable if you take the time to do you. To work on & build your inner resolve. Time, effort, & introspection are all integral to getting there with the balance thing.

But where does one start? I reckon a little bit of practice daily, & one big decision to take ownership of your own zen could look something like this:

  • PRIORITIZE
    Put yourself first. Seriously, do it. Because, weirdly enough, being your own Number-One is really hard for a lot of people – specifically working women. We’re taught from day-dot to make others happy. And that we can only ever be successful if we look the part while playing by rules written not in our own hand. Throw that bull$hit out the door & put yourself first. Find what makes you happy – be it exercise, time to reflect, or even meditation. Do you. First.
  • WORK, FAMILY, FUN
    Work & family are all intermingled these days, aren’t they? Shutting off is damn hard. So, finding a profession that you love & working with people you love mean that you’re able to find zen in the very place that pays the bills. Personally, my team at work are my family. While we might not share blood, we share laughs, love, kindness, drive, & shared objectives. Having fun is a must – & this means coming home is just as amazing as heading to the office on a Monday. #winning
  • AMBITION
    Don’t be afraid to kick butt & be good at what you do! As an American living in New Zealand, I do sometimes still struggle with the “tall poppy syndrome.” I was always taught that you’re not a great leader until you create other great leaders. Personally, I find so much joy in seeing my team at work, my child, & my loved ones succeed. Celebrating the success of others, & actively helping others to grow themselves is the best work any of us can do. My advice? Never, ever be afraid to be proud of your achievements. And, in the same vein, always let others know when you’re proud of their successes too!
  • MOVE YOUR BODY
    Exercise. It’s basically magic. The best kind of magic human beings could ever hope to master. When you’re feeling low, when your confidence is lacking… hit the road, the gym, or the pool. We humans were made to move. So, make time to do just that. Lose yourself in the sound of your beating heart. Make being comfortable with the state of feeling uncomfortable your new norm. And, if you can remember one thing about fitness let it be this: it’s easier to stay fit, than to get fit! So, make a habit of fitness. Mind, body, soul. Start moving. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you find your zen.
  • GET INTO THE GROOVE
    Music. It’s a common language across all of humanity. Minor chords, variations of the majors. They work to lift us up & bring us spiraling back down to earth. Find your groove, own it, & lose yourself in the words & chords that make you feel like yourself. Whether you’re blasting out Ryan Adams, swooning to Joe Jonas, or find yourself rolling through Cam Country… music heals, uplifts, & help us all find our center. Turn it on, turn it up, & do you.

Balance, confidence, & zen. However you find them…make your life your own. And, enjoy every breath you’re blessed with.

And, feel free to leave your tips on finding your zen in the comments. I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

 

Cass