Getting Back to Work

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Late last week I spoke at the Circles Conference to a packed (and quite stylish) audience full of designers. And now I’m nursing what my friend Brené Brown calls a vulnerability hangover.

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My talk was about how painful it can be to be a working creative because of The Fear. But that if we can just do a few things – like get specific about what both the worst case scenario and the ideal day look like, get clear on what we really want to be doing all day, and maybe make a mantra to remember what that is – then maybe it won’t be quite so painful to put your heart into your profession. I didn’t really get serious about my talk until two weeks ago. I had written out what I wanted to say – and when I read it out loud it sucked. So I recruited my speech writer and voice coach (that would be my sister and business partner, Tara) and we spent an entire Saturday afternoon out at my parents lake house writing my script – word-for-word. Then I spent the next week memorizing my cues and designing my slides. The night before my talk in the hotel room I practiced forgetting the script so I could sound casual. As if I was going to walk up on that stage and give a story that had just come to mind – like lunch with a friend. Then I practiced walking (the stage strut – not quite a model stomp) and talking at the same time without forgetting that words were supposed to be coming out of my mouth.

Oh. And that was all only after getting my snotty and over-tired baby to sleep on the hotel bed – two hours after his normal bedtime. Which for a baby, and a new mom, is kind of a big deal.

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After my talk I felt high. I had a quiet, humbling moment of gratitude when I found myself backstage. And then when I was sure nobody could see me I pumped my fists in the air – like a dorky protagonist in an 80s romantic comedy who just scored a date with the homecoming queen. I know it’s probably not cool to admit that I was proud of myself … but I was proud of myself.

I made my way back to the conference lobby buzzing with inspiration and energy. And that’s when I saw my sister talking to my creative girlfriends – my tribe from all over the country (and even Canada!) – and my baby crawling around on the floor at their feet … and for a minute I felt like I had it all. And that I could actually do it all. But today. Today, I have fears, my self-doubts, and my vulnerability hangover. And now I’m getting back to work.

P.S. You can watch the talk here. 

Talk notes drawn by Terence Tang.

A History of Work

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Monday was Labor Day. I thought I’d celebrate by having a cookout with my family, wearing white (which I’ll keep wearing through the Fall, no doubt), taking a two hour long nap, and recounting all of my past jobs. Here it goes:

TACO MAYO
I got my first job when I was 15 and a half. I’m not sure why I was so desperate to work at a Taco Mayo that had opened a mile from my super suburban neighborhood but I showed up to the interview wearing clean JNCOs and the only shirt I had that didn’t expose my belly button. A tired and clean cut middle-aged man wearing a polo asked me a few questions and put a star at the top of my application – I was sure I had the job. And I did, of course I did. I worked something like 15 hours a week and learned all the gross secrets of working at a fast food taco joint. Like that the beans come in powder form and only become refried once you add water to the mix. One memory that stands out in particular was when I was pouring the chicken out of its plastic bag and into a metal bin at the assembly station all the chicken juice spattered back up in my face. I was a terrible employee – I just kind of stood around when we were slow and always forgot to close the cash register after taking orders. My favorite part of the job was when I got to make myself whatever I wanted to eat (nachos with queso and sour cream only) during my break.

JC PENNEY’S
I quit the taco place after missing a Ralph Nader conference all my friends were at so I could work. At a fast food taco place. I still regret it a little but hopefully it helped shape my somewhat driven work ethic. I think I enjoyed being a teenager (ha! right.) for a couple months before applying for a job at JC Penney’s. My sister worked at Penney’s at Sooner Fashion Mall all through college and hooked me up with an interview. I wore opaque blue tights, black platform Mary Janes, and a white belly shirt that didn’t expose my belly because I was also wearing a high-waisted black skirt. I think I was hired on the spot and told that once I passed my drug test I would be able to begin work. I said thank you and had a quiet freak-out as I drove my bright yellow 1973 VW Bug home. A drug test. Great. I passed but not without my dad first having his secretary call me pretending like she was the drug test facility saying I had traces of heroine, cocaine, and marijuana in my system and that they would need to tell my parents. I called my mom at work in incoherent tears promising up and down that I had NEVER done cocaine (!) or heroine (!) but maybe had a joint once or twice and IdidnoteveninhaleIpromise. That’s when I got the call-waiting beep and when I switched over my dad was cracking up saying “I got chya!” Good one, dad.

THE DINER
I worked at JC Penney’s for two years – which from 16 to 18 seems like forever. I think I quit the summer before starting college when I got a job working at my best friend’s family’s diner appropriately called The Diner. It’s a narrow shotgun style restaurant with 10 booths and 8 counter seats. I had to wake up at 5:45 AM on Saturdays and Sundays to show up for the breakfast shift which seemed like the middle of the night back then. I truly sucked at being a waitress but I loved that job. The best part about this job was the immediate gratification of working for tips – the worst was trying to scrub off the smell of diner food and being too tired to party with my friends past midnight. I think I only worked there for a summer or so and left when I decided I just wasn’t cut out for waiting tables.

THE JUICE STOP
I barely remember this short-lived college job making smoothies on campus corner while I was living in the dorms (which was also short-lived). What I do remember is making my own smoothies concoctions, making customers angry when I wouldn’t scrape every last bit of smoothie out of the blender, and being paranoid about getting stuck in the walk-in freezer.

HANCOCK FABRICS
I spent the majority of my college years working at Hancock Fabrics. While you would typically imagine little old ladies cutting your bolts of fabric, instead the store was staffed with a bunch of college girls sporting hair dyed to look like a skunk, septum nose piercings and a couple of visible tattoos. We spent our shifts gossiping and obsessing over new fabrics and the things we would make out of them.  The thing I love the most about this job are the real life skills I learned. I can identify the difference between silk and satin and all the fabric measuring and converting decimals to fractions and back again was good prep for design school. I loved going to the Classic 50s drive-in burger joint across the street to order grilled cheese with mustard and onions on my lunch break while listening to NPRs This American Life. 

THE OKLAHOMA GAZETTE
I worked at Hancocks right up until I graduated college and got my first full-time job as a layout designer at The Oklahoma Gazette – Oklahoma’s best alt weekly publication. This was pretty much the best first job ever. I worked with my brother-in-law who pretty much taught me all the technical design skills that my fundamental art school program didn’t really cover. I made some really great friends and had so much fun at this job. It was a dream come true. And I was making a 5-figure salary (just barely) for the first time ever – I treated myself by buying a house and designer jeans.

THIRD DEGREE ADVERTISING
About a year after working at the Gazette I was recruited by my sister to come work with her at Third Degree Advertising – a small 15-20 person agency here in Oklahoma City. This job was more than a dream come true. I worked here for 5 years and my favorite was the yearly ADDYS awards – it was like prom for designers. At this job I made friends who over time started to feel like family – and I was literally working with family. My sister and I loved working together and for the longest time kept our family ties a secret from clients and even some co-workers. I worked here for five years until I decided to quit and try the freelance thing.

BRAID CREATIVE & CONSULTING
I freelanced for a year before my sister decided to leave her position as Creative Director / VP at Third Degree to come start a company with me. Today marks three years that we’ve been doing our own thing and wow, to try and sum up what I’ve learned, created, and labored over for the last three years is a daunting task. When we started Braid Tara simply wanted to feel like a creative expert and I simply wanted to live the dream and help other creatives do the same. Done and done but we’ll keep on going.

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So there it is. A history of work – I’m not one to revisit the past very often but laying it all out here in one place has me wondering what my work choices say about me. Should I have spent less time working for $5.25 and hour and more time volunteering, interning, and making better connections? Nah, but what’s cool about taking a trip down memory lane is that I can’t imagine this list will get much longer with jobs – but it will grow in projects, launches, and offerings. I’ve just begun what feels like my life’s work.

Images by Choate House

New Yorkisms

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Our Braid designer Kristin Tate recently moved from our home base in Oklahoma City to Brooklyn, New York. She’s still working for us full time but is pushing and experimenting with her design (and eavesdropping) skills on the side with the passion project of hers: New Yorkisms. Get the full story behind these posts over at Kristin’s blog here.

P.S. and off topic: Today is your last day to register for our Braid ECourse Shape Up Your Content: Tame Your Ideas and Tell People How to Buy You before it starts on Friday. This ECourse is awesome for creative entrepreneurs, writers, photographers, bloggers, coaches, and consultants who are trying to get more concise about what they do and for who. As an And Kathleen reader you can take this course for $50 when you use the discount code ANDKATHLEEN50 when you register. Learn more and see if it’s a fit here. 

Circles Conference Giveaway!

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Have you been hearing the buzz about the Circles Conference for designers yet? Well, it’s THE conference for the creative community. Oh, and I’ll be speaking at it. So will Jessica Hische… no big deal. (For those of you who don’t know this is a really big deal. I’ve admired Jessica’s work for years and am so excited to finally meet her.)

I’m going to be sharing my behind-the-scenes journey from blogger to business owner, defining your niche, embracing your expertise, attracting your dream customer, blending your personal brand into your business, shaping the content you share and showing a process for what you do, so you can sell yourself better as a creative and act like a creative expert, not an order-taker. Which all boils down to not just designing great logos but designing your dream job.

The Circles Conference will be in Grapevine, Texas on September 18 and 19. And I’ve got two tickets to give away!

Enter to win a ticket to the Circles Conference:
• Follow Circles on Twitter or Facebook
• Leave a comment here telling me your biggest challenge as a creative.
• Be sure to leave a valid email address!
• Two winners will be picked by random from qualifying comments the morning of Wednesday, April 16th

Braid // Becoming A Creative Director

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Today I want to share another peek behind-the-scenes of how I work, and the work we do, at Braid. When my sister and I started Braid Creative I had already been freelancing for a year. That means for a whole year I was wearing all the hats – from administrative to creative. But launching and growing a business is very different from freelance. In order to grow I needed to learn how to delegate. Some roles were easy to hand off – like accounting. But others were a little more complicated to let go of – like doing 100% of the creative.

When I was freelancing graphic design was my expertise. But at Braid Creative our designs and brand identities are the icing on the cake, so to speak. Because what we’re really giving the solopreneurs we work with is a collaborative method that we go through together to help them clarify their business vision with a deeper understanding of how their dream customer, personal brand, and content-sharing strategy (ie. social media and blogging) play into their own skill sets and core genius. This means my job wasn’t only understanding my client’s design wants and needs but also acting as a consultant and coach. It also means that graphic design was no longer my expertise but just a tool in my toolbox.

For a long time I had the belief that I had to do it all. But as I grew in my own role as a consultant and creative coach it meant I needed to loosen my grip on the title of “designer”. The belief that I had to do it all was only limiting my own ability to expand. It’s taken me a couple of years to really learn how to shift from designer to creative director. It means I have to trust my team and help them grow in their own roles. It means I had to learn to collaborate and delegate – which takes a lot more time and finesse than you’d think.

In the future I’d love to share more on how to delegate and collaborate through a process, but today I’m sharing some of the icing on the cake of what we do for our clients. And I couldn’t have done it by myself. Thanks to my team Kristin, Liz, and Tara.