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.

 

 

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.

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! 

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.

Something to be Proud of

Soshal Office

Newly unpacked, the new Soshal office, mind the mess.

May, 2012.

I was sitting in a Super 8 motel room in Austin, Texas. I had just arrived and went to the mexican restaurant next door. I was sitting on my bed, just about to eat my dinner when my phone rang. I had been in such a strange place in the months leading up to that day. The company I worked for had drastically changed, as did my team, and I was still recovering from the loss of my then mentor, Janet.

I wasn’t entirely happy with my work situation, and that call was the call that would change almost everything. On the other end of the line was a guy who I went to college with, a guy who was rarely in class due to professional commitments, but always kicked ass when he was there. Most people were envious, they were at school everyday and still couldn’t get the marks that Dave got.

Dave was offering me a job from the other end of the continent. There was no promise of security, no clear job description, he just knew he wanted me to work there. He was building something, he had been building something since we graduated in 2010. Something he believed would be great. At that very moment, I realized I wanted to be a part of this thing.

June, 2012.

Unsure of what I was getting myself into, I started in my role as a Digital Strategist at Soshal. Then, the group was a team of 6 people in this little office that had barely any furniture. The boardroom only contained two $10 IKEA chairs, a whiteboard lying on the floor, and nothing else. What I felt, though, was enthusiasm. On this tiny team of 6 people, everyone felt completely committed to doing great things. So I started working, outside of my comfort zone. After all, this job was nothing like my old one. This job grew with me.

July, 2012 – August, 2013.

In the year that followed, this tiny team grew from six people to twenty. Furniture started to populate the tiny office, and with that came the inevitable culture shifts with it. We went from friends, to coworkers, back to friends again. With the arrival of new faces came new dynamics, new ways to work, and the initiative to build good shit.

During this time, I learned SO many things. You see, working so close with such a tight-knit group almost forces you to understand what everyone does, and how they contribute to what you do. Now, we have a full team, with many different types of personalities that form a culture of its own. A culture where everyone likes each other, built upon young and fun-loving attitudes, and much bigger projects.

Today (September, 2013)

One of the things I often take for granted is how involved I am in this once-little agency. It’s not my job, it’s a major part of my life now, baked into almost everything I do.

We moved into a new office yesterday. This seems like such a small, insignificant thing – but it’s not. This seemingly small activity invokes pride, it creates a tangible thing out of the success of this company. Success mostly due to three guys who worked day and night, and sacrificed for a little fish in a big ocean full of sharks.

They found a group of passionate people who were willing to be invested in the vision that they created. Now this group, over three times larger than they were a year ago, have a space that matches the vision, that personifies it. Something to be proud of.

Tomorrow

There is no doubt that that tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year will bring up more challenges for Soshal, but the employees here have confidence in the direction, vision, and most of all heart that this agency was built upon. There is definitely something to be said for feeling like you really are a part of something great, and this is something I look forward to being a part of for a long time.

My Take on Digital Strategy

Every time I get into a conversation with my friends or acquaintances about what I do, it seems to take an unnecessarily long time to explain. Because of this, I tend to just say “I create strategies for websites and stuff”. That, my friends, is a cop out. I seem to always land on jobs that other people don’t understand. When I was a “Social Media Specialist”, people would say “So, you just Facebook and Twitter all day?”. After awhile, I started to give up and just say “YUP!”.

Another thing that seemingly always gets to me, is the number of ‘job descriptions’ for a Digital Strategist, and how very few of these job descriptions share any commonality at all. And then the hoards of people who list of digital strategy as a skill, not understanding that it’s more of a blanket statement for a number of skills.

A Simple Misunderstanding About Strategy

Strategy means so many things to so many different people, and that’s perfectly fine. Strategy is a direction, an un-specific journey to a better destination. It’s not the how, it’s the what. This simple fact is what many people tend to misunderstand – they over complicate how simple the end product of a ‘strategy’ really is. In fact, a strategy is often just a simple statement. It is the solution to move from where you are to where you want to be.

Strategy is a class of solution that deals with uncertainty – the idea that outside sources may inhibit you from reaching your goals. A well thought out strategy will be the statement of solution, not a prescription on how to get there.

That’s it folks. Adding any element of how to the strategic statement starts to turn it into a plan – and that is putting the cart before the horse.

Seemingly Simple, But Not So

While my above statements seem to be simple to construct, it is actually quite the opposite. There are a lot of different elements you have to know to be able to construct a strategy that will provide the great results that you intended in the first place.

In order to craft a strategy, you must first uncover the problem that it needs to be a solution to.

This can sometimes take weeks of legwork, and while the outcome is a simple statement, that legwork requires a lot of time and multiple resources.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning comes after crafting a strategy. It is the process of defining the strategy or direction, and making decisions on allocating resources to pursue this strategy.

Being a Digital Strategist

As a digital strategist, I apply the above to digital business problems clients have. That could be the need for a new website, creating more comprehensive and goal-focused navigations, or creating leads and generating business online, for example. It is important to have a strategy before you have a plan, but some people do not possess the skills to create strategies (which is totally fine). It comes down to a level of thinking that I have spent time honing and perfecting. While I am certainly not the best strategic thinker ever, I pride myself on my ability to create direction and be the voice of logic.

So that’s what I do. Voila.

Time to Grow Up

I feel that over the past year, my mental capacity has really evolved into more than it was before. There has been a lot that has happened, both personally and professionally, that has changed or altered my viewpoint on things in some way. In the process of “finding myself” (you could say), some things just became less important. This blog was one of them, my Twitter account was another, and I’d say networking in general kind of fell by the wayside.

That may have been a mistake, in hindsight. There is incredible value in exercising the mind enough to write a meaningful (and I do mean meaningful) blog post. Somewhere along the line, my posts stopped being meaningful – they became kind of exhausting to be honest. I would force myself to write about something that I wasn’t really interested in. Then, there was my internal frustration that I was changing direction in my career but my peers weren’t. In my own head I probably viewed myself as a bit superior, because I had come to learn different not necessarily better things. So my “hate on” kind of continued…

I couldn’t look at Twitter without feeling physically ill at some of the posts I was seeing, posts that I myself probably would have posted less than 2 years ago. “What is wrong with these people?” I would say to myself. “Don’t they see it’s about technology enabling business and revenue and not about who is retweeting you?”.

 Not long ago, I analyzed the person I had really become. This blog, my network, these were all assets, so why was I treating them so poorly? I can still absorb information from these people (most of whom are probably smarter than me anyways), and share information with them – so how is that such a bad thing?

The truth is, it’s not a bad thing. We’re all part of an ecosystem (The Digital Jobosphere, you could call it), and we all have something to contribute to one another. Now that I’m out of this teenage angst phase of my professional life, I can finally grow up and stop being such a recluse.

All this being said, it’s time to apologize (I’m sorry), and get back to the great things the digital culture has to offer. I would like to present myself, Marissa Gagnier, to you all. I am a digital strategist at Soshal Group, a really amazing Digital Agency in Ottawa (also… Calgary and Toronto). I handle web related strategy that includes lots of things, such as: Ecommerce strategy, Information Architecture, Primary & Secondary Research, Technology and Application (both Social and otherwise) Strategy, etc. These are the areas of focus that I am interested in now, so these are the kinds of things you can expect to see on my blog. I probably won’t write about social media anymore, but I promise I will write some awesome stuff.  I feel like I can be dedicated to this again, and I will do my best to deliver.

 

My Issue with Windows 8

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I’ve been a PC user all my life. Never owned a Mac, never wanted to really. Windows was such a familiar environment that I had been groomed to love. Groomed by my family (we had a Windows-based computer since the early 90’s), groomed by my secondary schools (which had a PC-only computer lab), groomed by my post secondary school (we had a ‘laptop mandatory’ program, that required a PC), and groomed by my last job.

All of my life, I was exposed to – and for the most part, enjoyed, the Windows operating system. Something has changed.

Due to the fact that I now work in a ‘Mac shop’ at Soshal Group, I was given a Mac. It took me some getting used to, but I love it now – I don’t think I could ever go back… and it’s good timing – from what I’ve seen of Windows 8.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe, and probably always will believe that Microsoft is a great company. I have no personal vendetta towards them, for the most part they make great products. I still love their office suite, and really do enjoy using it on the Mac… but Windows 8 I do not love.

Windows 8 has so much potential, Microsoft had the opportunity to truly do something revolutionary this time around… something uniquely Microsoft. The problem with what I’ve seen (consumer preview, and numerous screenshots from metro) is that this is not at all uniquely Microsoft. From a truly consumer perspective (I’m no tech analyst), this is not an operating system I want to upgrade to from Windows 7 (which I like), even at a low upgrade price.

They’ve gotten rid of the ‘Start’ button, and replaced it with the options to pin something to your task bar or use keyboard shortcuts. That is not Microsoft, that is Apple. They’ve created what you’ll see as the tiled interface for all your favorite apps. That is not Microsoft, that is Apple. They’ved made their device synchronous across all your Metro Devices – ehrm because Win7 Phone is rampant in the mobile space. They’ve created ‘hot corners’ that will annoy the S&^t out of you because PC computer hardware has not evolved to apple trackpad sensitivity and accuracy. The only good thing they’ve done, really is created an app store… which has become industry standard for any OS. So hey… there’s that.

Other than that, the OS is still very similar to Windows 7. Your desktop pretty much looks the same… all the same features are there, they just have this clutter and un-Windows things scattered throughout. This is not meant to be a review, and I get there are many benefits to Windows 8 & Metro & Surface and all those other things – but for me, someone who would normally buy a personal PC over a Mac… this is not what I want, nor what I have come to expect from Microsoft. Sure, they’ll make a boatload of money off of Windows 8/Metro/Surface… but none of my hard earned cash will be on that boat.

Are you a Windows user or a Mac user? What do you think of Windows 8?

-m.