Thoughts on Purpose

Purpose is such a funny word… it means so many things at many different times in your life. When you’re young, your purpose is to have fun, to “live life to the fullest”, to experience as much as the world is able to offer you. Through transitional periods in your life, your purpose is to survive, to take lessons the universe is offering you and to come out better than when you went in. Purpose to some people is work, to some others it’s family, religion, and to those wild souls out there it’s to push everything to it’s absolute limit and ensure that you feel every single moment.

As I sit here seven months pregnant with a little girl, I wonder what my purpose is at this exact moment. The last year has been such a whirlwind. I married the perfect person for me in a perfect wedding on a perfect beach one year ago. He is part of my purpose on this earth. I have a job that I love, so much so that I am only taking 3-4 weeks off after the baby comes, at which time I will work from home. That’s surely part of my purpose. And then there’s this little life inside of me, growing at every moment – this must be my third piece of purpose. Then I have family and friends, the fourth piece of my purpose pie.

I’ve never found it particularly hard to be grateful for the things that I have in my life. Sometimes I find myself sitting back, breathing it in, and realizing how lucky I am. Now that I have this little life in my possession, half of me and half of my husband, I wonder how fathers can leave children behind. It makes me question what kind of person my father was to leave us behind, what kind of person my step-father is for realizing we were part of his purpose and embracing 3 shit head teenagers when he did.

I realize the responsibility we now have in raising a strong woman. The rest of my life will be dedicated to making sure she is grounded and equipped with the tools that she needs to succeed. Ensuring that she understands compassion, love, responsibility, and one day – her own purpose.

I’ve always wondered what kind of parent I would be, wondered how I would be able to cope with the amount of personal strength it takes to be a parent in the first place. I often look in wonder at my friends that have kids. At some points I’ve even questioned if I would be able to handle what they handle on a daily basis. I’m strong, sure, but am I that strong? I know so many women who can walk on fire carrying their children in their arms and they don’t even ask for shoes. It’s just their nature. I hope I can be like them.

I hope I can balance my four pieces of purpose-pie. I hope that I can arrive at the other end of my life accomplished and fulfilled, knowing that I have served my purpose, and been grateful for what has been given to me.

 

 

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About that whole ‘boys club’ thing

It seems that I have always chosen jobs that put me in a ‘boys club’ of sorts. Selling cars, and tech having been the most notable of them. There have always been numerous, swept under the rug comments about my place in an industries like these, which have only prompted me to work harder, feeling as though I have to prove myself because I’m a woman.

Having worked, also, in female dominated workplaces like retail and administration, there are still things that come up as obligatory just because you’re a woman. Those seem to have been more habit-forming than challenging in my own opinion. When I worked in retail it was all about keeping up – hair, nails, clothes. When I worked in administration it was all about getting people coffee and dressing professionally – god forbid I express my personality a little bit.

This to say, I have worked on both sides of the spectrum: boys AND girls clubs. My propensity for male-dominated industries came hard and fast when I decided I wanted to sell cars. Shortly before those stints as a salesperson, I remember having a conversation with my father. I was broke. Living in my own apartment at the age of 18, and simply not able to make ends meet (mostly because of my choice to move into an apartment alone at the age of 18, granted). My father has always been well-to-do, so I figured explaining my situation and asking for help would be met with open arms.

It wasn’t. I was told that I would always have to work harder to prove myself because I was a woman, and that this situation I was in was no exception – he would not help me. It was probably the reason I turned to credit cards, in retrospect. I decided, that I would stop asking for help at that moment, and though it may not have been the right way to deliver a message like this to an 18 year-old – I have not asked for help since.

When I was selling cars, I found myself on the other end of another comment like that. I was working at a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership, and it was my “up” (meaning the next customer was mine). A young(ish) woman walked in, and I kindly asked if I could help her with something. I was clearly a salesperson, as I walked up to her and wasn’t sitting at reception. She proceeded to look me up and down and say “Is there a man working? I’m looking for a truck and only a man can help me”.

I was absolutely appalled at this statement. Afterall, this was another woman saying this to me. Sometimes, as women, we expect to hear this shit from men – it just comes with the territory. With that, I walked away. I didn’t say anything, despite my screaming inclination to rip this woman apart. I sat at my desk and bewilderingly stared at my computer screen, wondering what just happened. Eventually, she wandered over to my desk and apologized, but all I could do was give her an insincere smile and aimlessly crush the keys on my keyboard.

Now, working in ‘Digital’, I am constantly surrounded by men. Mind you, I work for an organization that pays female employees equal (if not slightly more) to their male counterparts, and has more women in management roles than most agencies I’ve seen in this city. Sometimes, though, I wonder why there are so many fewer women than men when I look around my office. The truth is that women are scared to get into technology, or they simply do not think that they have a place here. It was the same feeling that I had looking around a car dealership with over 20 salespeople, and only two of those salespeople were women.

In both of these instances, you can’t blame the organizations, you have to realize that there are just so few women applying for these positions. And in my current job, I don’t receive any ‘sympathy’ for being a woman, I am treated the exact same – which is exactly what I want.

I am constantly in amazement at how many articles I see about ‘leaning in’ or teaching women how to negotiate better salaries. I used to agree with this movement of educating and spreading awareness – and part of me still agrees with some of it. But at a point, I find it to be extremely frustrating. Granted, there are women that are helped by this kind of literature, and that’s great. But it needs to be about more than that.

It needs to be about teaching girls and women to fight for equality, so that we don’t have to read and write these articles anymore. Feminism, after all, is all about the equality of the sexes, not man hating. Instead of building yourself up to negotiate a better salary, women should have a place at the table – not just because they are women, but because they have earned it, just like the man sitting across from them.

When men and women are completely equal, we will not have to be taught how to negotiate, it will be a skill we acquire throughout the course of our lives – and we won’t have to big ourselves up emotionally to be able to do it. Men, oftentimes, walk into a room when they have received a job offer and evaluate if that’s what they deserve – often times leading into salary negotiations before the job even starts. Women, it seems, all too often, just take what they are offered because they see the job offer as a determination of their value.

Why do you as a woman have to work harder for something? Why do we feel that we’re always trying to prove something – to be given the exact same benefits or compensation as a man. If I work harder than a man does and achieve better results, I expect to be given more – NOT the same. The Lean In movement has been progressive for career women, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that we are still in a place where women don’t feel comfortable or confident in what they bring to the table is straight up wrong.

I can’t wait to be in a time where my daughter (should I have one) will not have to worry about comments like the ones that have been made to me. For them to be able to choose to work in tech instead of administration or childcare because that’s what they want. Every day, I work hard. I do this because I strive to be a good employee, not because I have to prove myself because I’m a woman. For the longest time, I felt like that was what I was after – proving my value as a woman, not just an employee. I have earned my place, and I deserve it, which is the feeling I hope that most people feel, let alone my female friends and coworkers.

What I’ve Been Up To

The last couple months have been a total whirlwind. I figured I should follow my own advice, and not leave this blog so baron. It’s easy to get so caught up in your own life, sometimes. I peddle my own disclaimer that I am an ‘occasional blogger’, which is weird, because this blog used to be my second home.

The truth is, I forget that I have this channel sometimes. Worse, that I don’t quite know what I want it to be about. Having a blog is a responsibility, and one that I let slide whenever possible.

Alright, enough with the excuses, back to the post. I figure I should share what I’ve been up to, in case people are curious.

Since my last post, a lot has happened. On the personal front, I had my first of two weddings (strange, I know). The reason for two is that our “big” wedding is in Cuba, and we wanted to be considerate to our families who cannot make it. So, we had an intimate little ceremony at City Hall with our reception at the Empire Grill in the Byward Market.

The ceremony, if you must know, went off without a hitch. It was emotional, intimate, and full of love. I was really taken aback by how personal it was – kudos to City Hall on that one. The reception was great, for it’s substance. The people we loved most were there, which was what was the most important. We did, however, have some challenges with the venue, and an inconsiderate event planner – but the rest of the Empire Grill staff were wonderful to us which made up for the faults. Plus, we got a free dinner for our 1-year anniversary, which I can’t complain about.

The second wedding is coming up, and we’ll be travelling to the sunny, beautiful beaches of Holguin, Cuba with around 45 of our closest friends and family. I bought the most amazing Stella York dress at the equally amazing With Love Bridal Boutique. I cannot wait to spend two weeks on a sunny beach while the rest of Ottawa freezes their collective butts off 🙂

From a work perspective, my news is equally good. I started my journey with Soshal almost 2 1/2 years ago. I’ve always said that I’m at this place cause I believe in it’s vision… I am invested in it’s success. Well, on September 18th, a small group of us within Soshal launched a sister agency, Soshal Demand. Demand is all about digital ads, taking a very quantitative approach to a vain industry. We provide straightforward solutions, at a straightforward cost, that (straightforwardly?) delivers real return on ad investment (documented!).

Essentially, I’ll be leading the product side as Director of Strategy, and my very talented colleague, Alex Reid, will be handling company and client growth as the Director of Growth. Overall, a great direction for my career, and another thing to be excited about.

Really, that’s it on my end. Other than having a Pinterest obsession as of late, that’s all I got goin’ on.

Thanks for reading through my rumbles.

-m.

Rules to Live By

There have been so many times that I’ve looked to other people for advice in my own life. I have truly learned and grown as a result of much of this advice, even if I didn’t end up taking it.

Sometimes it’s business, sometimes it’s personal, but I find the same general rules apply to both. Some of the hardest times in my life granted me the knowledge and maturity to deal with those situations should they arise again… and I am grateful.

I thought I’d share some of my rules that have been created by necessity. The necessity of dealing with people, the necessity of dealing with friends, the necessity of trying to get somewhere in my life that I will be happy with. So here it goes.

People don’t live by your rules. This is a really hard thing for people to grasp. This was a really hard thing for me to grasp. All to often, I expect people to understand the way that I think and do things and the way that I would expect them to do things. You have to understand people, their tendencies, and their point of view in your life, there is just no getting around that. You are not the center of the universe, and people honestly don’t want to live by your rules, nor do they care that you have any. Empathy is a big thing here, hypothetically putting yourself in peoples situation allows you to work with them and there will be far less battles to be fought if you take the time to exercise your empathy muscles.

Take criticism, but don’t offer criticism just to criticize. I used to be so bad at this. In a world where you’re intellectual capital is always being questioned, everything is personal. I would always feel like criticism, no matter how constructive, was a personal attack on me. When I finally realized that people were trying to help me, I learned to take criticism as an opportunity to better myself. The other side of this coin is to provide that constructive criticism to others. I would often find myself criticizing people because I felt like they were competition; so I used it as an opportunity to bring people down instead of lift them up. I realized that I was only reflecting poorly on myself, and you immensely improve yourself when you try to provide people with insights and try to help them.

Don’t ask for promotions (or expect them). This is hard. As soon as you get into the working world you want to move up the ladder. You want the respect, you want the title, and you want the money. People (myself included) want to be managers without even understanding what it takes to be able to manage people or things. Who really wants to be a manager anyways? If you work hard enough, you should want to develop your skills and be the absolute best version of yourself. I quickly realized after the words “I want to be a manager” left my mouth, that I was in no way qualified for that position, nor did I earn it. If Chutes and Ladders were only ladders, the game would not be nearly as fun.

Listen to understand, not to reply. This is especially true when you’re arguing with people. I am SO guilty of being über defensive when someone tries to argue with me. I have started to adapt Daniel Dennet’s Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently and thus far, it has changed everything. The thing is, you should understand (not just think you understand) the other person’s point of view and argument before you can ever refute with anything intelligent. This rule will also help you to be more empathetic in general when listening to people.

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Stop making a big deal out of the little things. Everything is not the end of the world. I can’t even fathom how many times I’ve let the little things consume me. For example, I get extremely anxious about being late, to the point where it can ruin my whole day. Or sometimes I get paranoid that a mistake I make today will set the tone for the rest of my career. In the grand scheme of things, these are not life changing things. In most cases, these things don’t even matter. Learn to let go of the little things, and reduce your stress levels. It simply isn’t worth it.

Life is not about image. In life, we tend to make decisions and even have meaningless conversations that add no substance to our life. Who cares if someone thinks you’re important. If you know your worth and value as well as your importance, it almost doesn’t matter what people think. Unless someone can directly affect your life, you don’t need to prove yourself to them. In most cases, if you feel like you have to prove yourself to someone else (and especially people that don’t matter), it’s time to walk away. Value is separate from perceived value. The only person you have to prove yourself to, is yourself. Focus on the substance, not the image.

I’m not saying I’m perfect with all of this, or that I always live by these rules, the truth is, it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and just act impulsive. That’s life. However, I do believe that introspection is one of the greatest paths to success, and recognizing one’s own faults and shortcomings and constantly trying to improve, makes you a better employee, friend, partner, and person.

The Carbohydrate Chronicles: A Weight Loss Story

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been able to eat whatever I want. Like I assume happens to most people, one day I saw a picture of myself and thought… “Holy Hell, is that me?”. Eating what I wanted led to a slow progression of weight gain (in all the wrong places, but isn’t it always the wrong place?). A pound here, a size bigger there… no big deal, at first. Then, 5 years after I was a size 6, and 7 dress sizes later, I was completely stunned.

But… I was always “skinny”, what the hell happened?

I’ll tell you what happened. Deep fried pickle sandwiches, endless pieces of pizza and McDonald’s runs happened. Bread happened. Chocolate happened. Mashed potatoes, rice, and Haitian food happened.

I had become so numb to what I was eating that it actually blinded my image. I didn’t think it was that bad until I saw the photos.

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This is what 35 extra pounds looks like on me. This was Canada Day (July 1st, 2013), and sometime at the end of July, and after looking at these pictures, I was resolved to change. I was resolved to be a better me.

Now, let me get this straight. I’m not one to always be searching for a “better me”, at least physically, anyways. I was always content with myself. I would tell myself that I loved food too much to diet. How could anyone give up the finer things? The cheese, the meat, the bread? To me, this was the worst possible scenario until the worst possible scenario became the body I was living in. At first, I searched for an easy fix. Something that would work fast, and god knows that wasn’t going to be exercise (at that time in my life, I didn’t feel like exercise was the answer to any question… ever).

July – November: The Keto Phase

Keto (aka a ketogenic diet) was a great comprise for me at first. As a result of giving up carbs (I was limited to 25g of Net Carbohydrates/day… look at the nutritional info on bread if you want some context), I got to gorge on bacon, sour cream, cheese, and the fattiest of meats. It was marvellous. It is actually harder when you limit your carbs and sugar to get as high in the calories/day then just regular restrictions.

Keto kickstarted everything for me. It’s a slow process, dieting, but I didn’t really feel like I was missing much. The pastas of the past were traded for the taco salad (sans actual taco) of keto paradise. I lost about 10 pounds on keto and it really helped me see food differently. See how these changes affect my body.

October: Bring on the Exercise Phase

In October, the hubby and I decided it was time to exercise (le sigh). I hate exercise… I still hate exercise, but the difference now is I see it’s necessity in the grand scheme of things. I don’t like to pretend that it gives me a high, or that I get these majestic feelings of inspiration from it. Theres a lot of sweating, a lot of heavy breathing, a lot of soreness, and a lot of general misery. I’m not saying that people who enjoy exercise are lying, but they must be freakin’ lying cause it never gets any better.

That said, there are positive benefits to exercise. It allows you to de-stress by lifting your daily frustrations through those weights, and it also makes you strong. I can walk longer distances, lift heavier things (that aren’t my fork), and it does provide other positive benefits. It also is what makes your body look nice, not just smaller.

My Resolve

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I’ve lost about 20 pounds so far, which on some days looks like a lot, and on other days, doesn’t. The difference now is, I’m okay with it. My love and passion for fashion has returned, now that I feel better in clothes, and they are no longer my shield. I might not be a size five, but that doesn’t mean I need to be. I can’t pretend that I’m completely secure in my appearance either, because when you aim for better you put yourself under a microscope, it seems. Every flaw becomes another obstacle. I’m not saying that’s the right way to view it, but it’s reality.

All that said. I still want to be a normal person. I don’t want to miss out on the joys of life because I’m too busy counting calories. If there’s birthday cake, for example, you can be sure I’m going to eat the god damned birthday cake. If I want to eat a pizza to myself one day of the year, than that pizza will become my bitch. I’m a real person… I’m not being photographed for swimsuit magazines, I don’t have to fit into sample sizes, I can and will be myself.

I no longer solely live by the strict restrictions of keto, or any “diet” for that matter. I don’t schedule the gym in 6 days a week. I don’t eat many carbs, I stay away from the bad stuff most of the time, and I make it out to the gym about 3 days per week. I know this formula probably won’t get me a rock-hard body, and I think I’m okay with that (for now). My view on it is that if I eat well, and mostly “clean” 5.5 days of the week, the other 1.5 warrant negotiation to get a good snack or meal in there. There is also still a lot of work in front of me, as I’m not quite finished yet, I’ve got more to lose.

Most of the time, you should be conscious about food and it’s sad, unfortunate consequences on a persons self-esteem. It’s always going to be hard, it’s always going to take time, there is never an easy fix. That said, you should still live your life the way that you will enjoy it the most, and if that includes a piece of cake every once in awhile, then do yourself a favour and eat the cake. You’ll be happier for it.

I Don’t Care if You Don’t Wear Makeup

There is a certain pressure a woman faces with how she looks, I get that, completely. I don’t want to seem as if I’m feeding into the epidemic that is making women feel terrible about themselves. I can empathize with ladies who wear makeup because they feel like they need to, or because it makes them feel better. And if you feel better about yourself because you don’t wear makeup, than good for you — it’s nice to see women feel good about themselves.

However, because you don’t feel the need to wear makeup does not give you the right to trash talk the women that enjoy makeup. Just because you see someone with their “face” on does not mean that they need to wear makeup because they are fixing a flaw that they have. Makeup, like nails, hair, and fashion can be a hobby.

For a long time, I didn’t wear a lot of makeup because I didn’t know how to apply it. I would put on some “cover up” AKA foundation, some mascara, and Chapstick and that was about the extent of my makeup routine. I tried to do fancier stuff, I just never really got the hang of it.

Over the last year or so, I took the time to learn some techniques and buy some better products (mostly thanks to the MakeupAddiction subreddit). It became a hobby to me, the same way video games or knitting is a hobby for others. I don’t expect anybody to understand or share in my hobby, I just do it because I enjoy it. So when you see me with a full face of makeup on, it’s not because I’m insecure and need “cake face” to make me pretty, it’s because I had a fucking great time making my face look like this.

What absolutely drives me crazy is women who feel like they need to bash other women because of their choices or hobbies, regardless of whether it makes them seemingly look better. It’s infuriating that they need to rag on other people to make themselves feel better.

It’s really too bad that they don’t make makeup for the inside, too.

 

Holiday Activity: Learning to Code!

While I’ve done web-related work for quite some time now, I’ve always stayed away from coding. I don’t know why I’ve stayed away from it, maybe because it’s intimidating, maybe because it’s not as interesting to me.

That said, I think it’s time to learn new things. This old dog can be taught new tricks!

In all seriousness, this is a skill that is sought after, a skill that is important, a skill that is crucial to everything else on the web. I think it’s time to expand my knowledge, if for nothing else than to understand the basic fundamentals that are the skeleton of the internet.

Over the next month or so, I have taken it upon myself to learn basic code though a nifty site called Codecademy. It’s an awesome free service that allows you to learn code in a fun, easy way. I know I sound like I’m selling this, but I have no relationship with them, I’ve just heard some really great things.

I’ll keep you all posted on how I do with this. Wish me luck! 

Digital Strategy is the War of Web 2.0

While assessing my own job description recently, I did a search on LinkedIN for other ‘Digital Strategists’ in Canada. 7,491 results were returned. I guess, my future isn’t as competitive as it once was… ‘Social Media Strategist’ returned 10,181 results. Getting back on track, I wanted to see what qualifications these other digital strategists shared with me and each other. Here are some of the things I found:

  • Build strategies for online awareness and social media outreach
  • Establish online presence through branding, social media, and online marketing
  • SEO, social media, SEM/PPC, email marketing, and affiliate marketing
  • Planning online marketing campaigns

My concern and curiosity quickly vested itself into wonder. I wonder why all of these marketing functions have become strategy functions. Don’t get me wrong, there are strategic implications to each of these — but for the most part, they’re just tactics that feed into something bigger.

Strategy is such a broad term, after all, but has it at its core, lost its meaning? If we bring strategy at its initial definition (back in the militia days) to light, it would look like this:

“The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle”

VS. today’s definition:

“A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”

The output is the same, essentially — a plan. But the how is different, the second implies no vision. At first it was an art, and the job of the strategist to create and direct. Now, it’s just a plan as a means to an end. The job of the strategist is to essentially come up with a to-do list.

My all-time favourite definition of strategy was defined by Henry Mintzberg from McGill University:

“A pattern in a stream of decisions.”

In my work, I see three different divides:

1. Strategy creation

2. Strategic planning

3. Implementation

Now, not every project I work on includes all three of those elements, but everything I do falls into at least one of them.

I like to think of my work as a military, and I as its fearless leader. I must first decide what my aim is, then come up with a vision (or, a strategy) for how I will become the victor — a vision or pattern for my men to follow, should they ever have to make a decision without me. And then I plan out all the specifics (each of which can sometimes have their own strategies). The last part, I put on my helmet and fight with my men to become victorious (implementing).

All this to say, this is not what I’m seeing in role descriptions. This isn’t a “best practice” for strategists anymore. It’s all about the planning, and not about creating that bigger vision.

I get that this is a new space, but I like to think of a strategy as something pure, something that can have many moving parts, but displays itself as a whole. Marketing is marketing… but even that needs to be a gear in the watch, a small moving piece that helps (with other small moving pieces) to convey something as simple as time.

Thoughts on Making Informed Decisions

It’s important to understand your users.

Some people are so concerned with the way something looks (does it fit into the current design/development trends?), that they forget the purpose of what they are building. This can be said (in my opinion) about both websites and applications… and the larger the organization, the worse this problem tends to be.

If my career was the entirety of my life, then it’s fair to say that I grew up around research-based approaches. Design and development were always so far removed from me that I didn’t really get to understand them until recently. I get how important they are, I even get that the trends are trends for a reason other than aesthetic value. But what pains me, deep down inside, is the lack of importance placed on making informed decisions, rather than just what someone thinks is right (when most of the time, they’re not). What was that saying? “Advertising agencies think everyone is as stupid as they are”. It’s time to change this.

User experience, after all, is user experience. How somebody experiences your brand, your product, and yes, your website.

Something I give the Social Media industry credit for is their reliance on metrics. Because social was the new kid in town, it had to prove itself. A website or application’s success is not built upon traffic numbers, rather the ability to guide the end user to a desired action. Driving people there by spending thousands of dollars does not accomplish anything if you can’t get someone to accomplish something. Wasted effort, wasted money.

In a perfect world, user testing (real user testingwould guide and lead designers and developers to understand that the decisions they’re making (emergent strategies, if you will) contribute to more than just how something functions and what it looks like. How better to understand the purpose of these things than to get a handful of users in a room and figure it out? There are even base-level things that can be done to understand how people currently use a site:

  • Card sorting
  • Morae tests
  • Deep analysis of current web analytics
  • Heatmapping
  • User personas
  • Task analysis, etc.

All of these things prove easy enough that they shouldn’t be a barrier to good user experience, they should be a gateway. Those hours you pay to have someone perform the basic foundational tasks are an investment to secure happy users. The users probably won’t even feel elation from the outcome, it will be so organic that they won’t even have to think about it.

Alls I’m saying is that having something that looks nice and works means nothing if you don’t understand how these elements contribute to your organizations success — and the only way to do that is to understand the purpose of your site or application.

Informed decisions: a hell of a drug.