I’ll Stop to Collaborate. But Are You Listening?

People like me are everywhere. Young, ambitious, digitally-savvy professionals who churn out strong, creative work that yields impressive results. But are people really listening to us?

I often describe myself as driven; my career is always top-of-mind, wedged somewhere between my health, my dog, and my husband. A self-starter and leader by nature, I’m also no stranger to collaboration. In fact, I thrive off of it. I’m also among those who call out companies that create collaborative, creative facades by way of a measly open workspace.

Collaboration is among a long list of jargon to describe how people work, but what does it really mean? When I collaborate with a team, it means that I respect each person, their ideas and the physical time they’re investing in our work. From an agency perspective, time is truly money — hours are classified as either billable or non-billable, and without respect for time, and by extension, respect for process/protocol, the system can easily fall out of sorts.

In the same way that I won’t ever apologize for my success, I also won’t apologize for my thirst for order. I’m not a textbook “creative” — a term I have to put in quotes because I oh so seriously resent it. If you never establish a process, the collaborative energy is broken from the start; expectations aren’t set, people aren’t held accountable, and there’s no room for anyone to develop and earn a sense of ownership of their work.

Establishing a bit of structure isn’t a bad thing, but it does require sincere effort and commitment. It’s critical to stop before you even start to ensure that you’re listening to each team member so that they feel empowered to take on their brunt of the work with clear direction and a strong support system.

Vanilla Ice may be a failed rapper, but his “stop, collaborate and listen” lyric is a call to action that is often overlooked. Oh, and I should clarify, Ice is not back with a brand new invention.

White Coats

My family is dominated by doctors. My brother, sister-in-law (and her sisters, parents, and most of her brothers-in-law), great uncle, etc. — they’re all doctors. Add a pharmacist father into the mix and a brother-in-law and best friend who are PAs, and you have a recipe for hypochondria and then some.

As a kid growing up in Michigan, I associated my pediatrician with an annual check-up and some vaccinations. No stress, no real fears; probably also worth noting that I grew up pre-Google and as such, pre-WebMD.

By my late teens and borderline adulthood, I developed what can only be described as “white coat” syndrome. I still remember being 17 years old and having a very real panic attack in the pediatrician’s waiting room among happy-go-lucky toddlers and other super young patients who would qualify for a post-exam lollipop.

A switch most certainly flipped, and so, too, did a phobia of all-things remotely medical. On one end of the spectrum, I was terrified of going to the doctor. On the other end, I was hyper-aware of aches, pains, scrapes and spots; my mind would race for hours until I could research my way to a potential diagnosis.

I had a crummy-ish experience with a city doctor a few years prior which really put me off female doctors — with the exception of my lovely sister-in-law — followed by a stint in the NYU emergency room after a bout of bronchitis that went rogue. Coupled together, these experiences only added to my fears.

It wasn’t until I was 25 that I decided to confront my fear head-on. I was dating my now-husband, who recommended his internist at a local practice in Astoria. Despite the less-than-stellar city physician experience, I had a weird elitist reservation about seeing an MD outside of Manhattan, but I trusted my new love, and so I gave his doctor a try.

I had a moment — it doesn’t quite qualify as an epiphany — where I started thinking, knowledge is power and modern medicine is pretty — excuse the soft expletive — effing amazing.

Adam’s internist changed my entire perspective on preventive health. A family friend once told me that part of being an adult, especially in a new city, is having an established medical history where you live. While I’m holding out on finding a dentist in New York (Bruce Duchan, DDS is the best dentist and I refuse to search elsewhere until he retires), I’m finally at a point where I have local doctors that I respect, and honestly enjoy seeing. I’m not absolved of my anxiety — not even close — but I’m proud of breaking down the barriers that would have had me avoiding an office visit, even if just to calm my nerves. I’ve come to a point where I’ve reasoned with the fact that it’s not them, it’s me and a fear that I’ve manifested.

My parents constantly remind me of my shitty set of genetics, and with my dad’s health issues that range from diabetes and a past heart attack to Parkinson’s, owning my health at a young age was the responsible – and only – option in sustaining my status as a mature adult.

I feel stronger than ever thanks to my trainer/coach, and more in control than ever knowing that I’m on a path of continued health for a long, happy life.

Talking About My Generation

While I’m sometimes guilty of using industry jargon (a practice which has inspired physical jargon bells in my office), I really cannot stand buzzwords.

Public relations may have deep roots, but as far as industries go, social media is a relatively new speciality area, and when it emerged, so too, did a smattering of descriptors for its target demographic.

Calling me a “millennial” — and worse yet, an “older millennial” — will summon the most cold-stone serious of stink-eye stares from my otherwise shayna punim.

The phrase millennial casts a wide net — it technically accounts for some 75 million people born between 1980 and 2000. Farhad Manjoo put it best when he said:

Although millennials are now the largest demographic group in the country (sorry, boomers), and though they are more racially diverse than any other generation in American history, they are often depicted on TV, in movies and music, and in the news (including The New York Times) as a collectively homogeneous cliché.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in corporate America, especially in the technology industry, which has long been obsessed with the dubious idea that young people are in the cultural vanguard.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m pretty fabulous, but I would never dub myself a cultural vanguard. Not even close.

I wince at the thought of being part of a generalized cultural clump that discounts the diversity of my generation. And, as Manjoo goes on to explain, “there’s a glaring problem with these and other efforts to go after the younger among us: Millennials aren’t real.”

I couldn’t agree more. My passionate disdain isn’t just in reaction to a perceived misnomer, but more so because of my larger beef (or tofu) with the closed-mindedness of generational marketing.

I lead a team of social strategists, and while the clue may be in their title, everything they (really “we”) do is rooted in strategy — a practice that’s very foundation is dependent on understanding the target audience.

Caging an entire segment within the confines of broad generational rhetoric is lazy, and it’s high-time to un-teach it. We live in an age where mapping out a sophisticated set of personas — or personality types that your content should speak to — is conveniently at our fingertips, just a few taps away. Alongside the rise of the social strategist has been the role of digital analyst, a function that every digital team should have. These are the people that offer credibility to what would otherwise be healthy hunches with strong strategic intent.

With the data available, it’s downright irresponsible to rely on generational marketing to guide any sort of smart thinking and most importantly: authentic, relatable stories.

I guess my problem is that I expect more — from myself, my industry and even consumers. I expect us to think of ourselves as deeper than “boomers” or “millennials.” I’ve been called a lot of things — and yet somehow, millennial irks me most. I’m a communicator, a wife, a dog-owner, a pescetarian, a Michigander and more; my age doesn’t define me, and yet because I’m young and grew up in tandem with the booming tech industry, I get stripped of what makes me standout.

Fit Happens

I’m not sure that I’ve ever enjoyed a single element of physical fitness. My parents didn’t make a hard push for us to be involved in sports, and our pantry was a haven for fat-free, chemical-laden snacks. Snackwell’s Cookies and Diet Coke were household staples.

Through my oh-so-cruel teenage years I struggled with a trifecta of issues: acne, yo-yoing weight and glasses. Exit: self esteem.

In college, I learned how to cook and started caring about nutrition. I was on the cusp of making a change until friends were gossiping about how I was considering a formal weight-loss program like Weight Watchers.

So I boomeranged. I gained back weight that I worked so hard to lose. Mixed drinks that I passed on, weekend evenings spent at the campus gym; meaningless when matched with college cattiness.

When I moved to New York, I focused more on work and food became an autonomous after-thought. Bagels for breakfast, Thai for lunch, and leftovers for dinner. I tucked away concerns about my nutrition in favor of reminders of my professional success.

Any good publicist or communicator knows that deep down even the most convincing spin can’t stop a crisis from bubbling up.

I’m faced with an unsavory family medical history. My father had a heart attack, is a type-2 diabetic, and has Parkinson’s. My mother has been a fad dieter for as long as I can remember. Together, these characteristics and diagnoses are a recipe for disaster.

Confronting a need for change meant — and still means — that I need to accept and profess imperfection.

A harsh reality of “adulting” — a phrase which is standalone proof of my millennial status — is that as we age, healthy choices and changes are harder to make. More roadblocks pop up, and we have a Seinfeld-style rolodex of excuses to slap on nearly any situation.

As someone with self-professed control issues, it took an appointment with my beloved internist, complete with a well-meaning guilt-trip, for me to come to terms with the path I was haphazardly tiptoeing down and to stop myself from reasoning away my wavering health.

Accustomed to manicures and Ubers, I like the idea of little luxuries. Personal training always felt out of reach to me. I revolve around my personal and professional relationships — I do work in social media, after all — and I couldn’t imagine bonding with someone who was privy to my vulnerabilities.

And then I met a trainer I clicked with. He’s not a buff-bodied bozo. Well, he’s not a bozo, anyways. Time in between sessions is filled with text messages and snapchats. I have a newfound sense of accountability to myself, and to him. Better yet, we’re approaching 40 sessions together and I feel stronger, happier and more determined than I ever would have thought possible.

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There are things that I kvetch about — kettle bell swings are my kryptonite — but ultimately I enjoy each and every workout, because I’m challenging myself. My trainer is my sense of control — which for me equates to comfort. He motivates me through my curmudgeonly approach to exercise, and coaches me to embrace my physical and nutritional potential.

Making time to train twice a week has become second nature bordering on necessity. Every day is a challenge — to be active, to eat smart, to drink water and to stay positive. But the challenge is refreshing, and quite frankly, I like toning muscles that I never knew existed. Lots of road is left to cover, but I’m committed to the journey because I’m committed to myself.


Title Fatigue

I’m not a social media guru. I’m also not a ninja or Jedi. These not-so-creative liberties attached to my area of expertise are not cute. In fact, I find them patronizing and offensive.

My industry has been going through an identity crisis since its inception. There’s little consistency across agencies and clients on how to best describe the depth of each social channel, let alone how we title the people who manage them.

Social media will always be evolving — much like how the universe is expanding. My experience is rooted in the agency world, and in under a decade, my title has morphed from PR hierarchical nomenclature to newer, looser titles with overt ties to digital.

My current title reads something like, “Vice President, Social Strategy and Content Marketing,” and the clarification after the formal title was my attempt at claiming stake to the area of social media about which I’m most passionate. I see social strategy as level agnostic. Even as a Vice President, I wouldn’t scoff at being referred to more generally as a social media strategist to someone who doesn’t know or care about agency hierarchy (read: most people).

At my core, I identify as a writer, and over time, that identity has expanded. Aligning myself with the strategist moniker embraces and encompasses my passion for writing, while also compensating for my consumer curiosity, analytical drive, and overall thirst to communicate creatively.

I could easily whittle off a top-10 list of qualities that negate a person’s claims to social media czardom (a phrase that truly makes me wince whenever I see it), but I’d rather make the case that we shift how we think about job titles. Roles should be shaped by an agile vision of how a person or particular area can grow — no limits to inflate impact or truncate potential. Digital teams should be built to flourish in tandem with an always-changing industry.

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Love, Marriage and Politics

Working in public relations, especially on the digital end of the spectrum, I’m no stranger to keeping my politics private. Most people who know my husband and me, know that we have wildly opposing political views, and wonder how in the world we make our marriage work.

Early on in our relationship, I dedicated lots of time to polishing Adam’s rough edges. Don’t get me wrong; he’s brilliant. Really and truly. But he’s strong-willed. Deciding to get married on the heels of an election year, I never thought I’d have so many, “Shit Republicans Say” reactions to his political commentary.

Love is funny, though. I’ve kept him up until the wee hours of the morning following debates to extend my soapbox, and he’s engaged me, exhausting his talking points in hopes of tuckering me out. He’s not often successful.

We make it work for two reasons. The first, and perhaps most important is that at the foundation of our marriage is a mutual respect. We respect each other’s opinions, because they’re not sound bites. Second, and still important, is that our political positioning, though inherently opposite, overlaps and aligns on issues that have the potential to directly impact us as a unit.

I sometimes wonder if our marriage is actually stronger because our views differ. Either way, it certainly keeps conversations interesting.

Let Me Be Clear: I’m Not Sorry

I take my work seriously, and to some extent, personally. I think anyone who crushes her parents’ dreams of her being a power lawyer in favor of working as a penniless publicist in the publishing industry has to hold on tightly to what pays her bills. Years – but not many – later, I’ve left publishing and have situated myself more securely in the world of social media strategy.

From where I sit now, I’m quite comfortable. But getting here? The phrase “whoa nelly” sums it up squarely. I’ve been called “aggressive,” “domineering,” and “challenging” – and only one of which was ever said to my face.

And, at the end of the day, I want to be clear: I’m not sorry.

As a woman – and a young one at that – in business, the world we live in labels me as an opportunistic millennial (a marketing buzzword that I wish would just putter out already), and as such am pitted against allegedly seasoned — read: old and male — professionals who can roughly talk at the same relative shtick as me. And for that, I should apologize?

I think not.

My motivation for writing this post was hardly a reaction to an experience. In fact, my agency (and boss, team, etc.) are fantastic, and have almost always recognized and rewarded my demonstrated experience above all else.

Writing this post was instead a means to vent against a pathetically patronizing wave of articles about women that have popped up as of late.

It started with a wedding announcement shared on Facebook. Using something as coveted as a New York Times wedding announcement as a platform for exploiting rhetoric about a woman in academia accepting her job as a one-way ticket to becoming a “Mrs.” was so disappointing.

Follow that with unsurprising Jezebel coverage on the percentage of women in tech who have been told they’re too aggressive, and well, there you have it — a real recipe for rage.

After two days in Nashville for a work retreat, I noticed that too many people were starting sentences with conditional statements about the quality of their contribution to a discussion, and most troubling to me was that many of them — especially the women — were starting their phrases with “I’m sorry.”

In my mind I was screaming, “FOR WHAT!?”

I will never be sorry for adding my two cents and for doing my job to the best of my ability, and hope that in 2016 and beyond, we can work together, gender aside, to create a stronger culture of confidence in the workplace. I’d like to think that doing so will help foster those small wins that make big things possible.