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Over the top

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

The first week of a new job at a company is not for the faint-hearted.

New lingo.  New buildings to navigate.  New process.  Absolutely new people and personalities.  And everyone is sizing you up, seeing if you were what or who they imagined.

My style is to be self-effacing in a hopefully-charming way and admit the shortcomings up-front:  I have absolutely no idea what that means, I say.  And then I hear myself say it over and over.  Perhaps I should be building up an attitude of strength, confidence, no-problem-ness.  Except I have no idea what that acronym is.  I’ve never seen a PowerPoint deck that detailed.  I’ve never heard of a process that starts with K instead of E.  No value judgement here, folks; I have way too little knowledge to even think of having an opinion.  All I see and hear is a blur of pretty women (this is pretty women central), names, numbers and terms that swim around in my brain looking for some familiar pond to settle in (is what you do content management?  where do they list style numbers?  is OTT a merch term or a business term I should be ashamed of not knowing?)

I thought I knew plenty.  It turns out my knowledge is shaped into molds created by my own experiences as distinctively as little apparel-business snowflakes.  I’m in e-commerce.  I’m in apparel.  I’ve been doing both for over a decade.  And it took until today to learn that OTT means “over the top” a signifier of an item that makes a major statement, that has enormous visual presence, that won’t drive volume but enhances the brand in a very specific way.  I didn’t sleep through that class.  I just didn’t work at places that needed that term or liked acronyms so much.

Which makes me so glad I made this move.  Even in your own industry, in your own narrow niche, there’s so much to learn.

New Girl

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

One week in a new job, a new culture, a new climate, a new way of doing things, a new place to stay. Living through change is exhausting, stressful and exciting.

These people know what they’re doing. I hope I can add some value at some point; being the new girl–not particularly knowledgeable, competent or useful– is a role you want to grow out of pretty quickly.

Almost done

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I leave in 48 hours: the state I’ve lived in for many years, friends, parents and sister and relatives, even my husband and kids. (The latter isn’t forever, but I’ll be at least a month without them. Every mother I tell this to who says, Oh my god, I would die if I left my kids for a month, I can’t help but hate. You wouldn’t die. You’d do what you had to do. I have to do this. Don’t make me feel like a monster. I loathe competitive mothering.) I already left my job, but it still feels bizarre that I won’t be going back.

The little town where I live that I excoriated 2 posts ago has seemed unbearably friendly and wonderful this week. I told our mortgage loan officer we were leaving and she said, Oh no! We’ll miss you! And she truly meant it, even though she only waves to my husband when he comes in to do some banking thing, kids in tow. The lady at the paint store was distressed at our news, even though we’ve only talked paint. The neighbors have been kind, offering help to my husband so he can get a break from the kids while I’m gone. In short, people have been really nice. The weather is awful, as spring here is, but the grass is green, I can see grazing cows and windmills from our living room, and the cashiers at the grocery store know my sons by name.

I will miss this place. I will miss this life. After it changes, I’ll think back to this town, in this state, when my children were so small, and I was going to create a whole new business that would change the way apparel was made and sold, and I will know it was special. I guess I thought it would take being gone to know it. I know it now. This was quite a life.

Over Twitter

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

1) I didn’t understand Twitter.

2) I understood Twitter, and further thought it could help my job search.

3) I participated. I followed. I continued to develop my personal brand.

4) I like to read. Twitter found me interesting things to read for a few weeks.

5) The follow whores annoy me. Robotic retweeters amass hundreds of followers.

6) I get bored. The people who tweet most often appear to be, well, boring. Very few people continue to headline interesting content. I scan, I read, I click away to Facebook and check up on random people from my elementary school. I find this vastly more enjoyable than another line about GenY, personal brand or tech conventions. (This is not to say that FB is vastly enjoyable–just better. At least I know the people on FB.)

7) Oprah’s in. I’m out.

What I’ll miss, what I learned, mixed up and thrown down

Monday, May 4th, 2009

What I will miss most about working at the start-up I started with my friends:

Working with friends.  When I was pregnant I lay on the floor during meetings because my back hurt so much.  No one minding when I drank the last diet Mt Dew.  Bouncing around.

I never once didn’t want to go into work. Sure, sometimes I had stuff I’d rather be doing at home, but work was fun.

Decision-making. We were in charge.

Making the wrong decision. Feeling it keenly and aware of the very real stakes with a fledgling company that couldn’t afford very many mistakes. Never doing it again.

Making good decisions. Seeing the fruit of your labor, the result of your choices in so many different ways. I did that, I got to say to myself over and over again.

Being so known. I’d worked with these people for years. I couldn’t snow them. They knew everything about me, every flaw, all the history. Such a relief to be able to be so yourself in every way.

So many jobs, so many responsibilities. I learned more about direct marketing, customer fulfillment and the tremendous pitfalls of making denim jeans than I ever would have imagined. It was like observing a billion dollar company shrunk down into hot little microcosm of 4 rooms and 12 people and seeing every aspect of the effort up close.

Learning that no one has all the answers.

The realization that ethical business is possible, that our dollars made a difference to people just trying to make a living all around the world. And realizing also that it’s hard–it does cost more to do things right.

“If you build it they will come” isn’t true.  And nothing beats tried and true direct mail marketing when you need customers to come.

Wine night.

That there is never enough money.

My commute into the office with two of the most wonderful men and friends and co-workers in the world.  What was discussed in the car, stayed in the car.

The legendary fights between one of those wonderful men and me, just because we both cared so passionately, and our areas overlapped and we were both working so hard to make it work.  (Although he *was* often limited in his understanding.)

That the skills needed to run a start-up are vastly different than to run a multi-million dollar entity.

That I can film video with zero practice or preparation.

Every leadership team needs checks and balances.

Optimism can be as dangerous as pessimism.

Customers–their gorgeous enthusiasm and support and suggestions.

That as much as I loved that company, it still was a company, not a person.  It would do me well to care a little less, love a little less.  Companies don’t love you back.  But this one…I don’t think I’ll ever learn.

Robert, Terry, Ryan, Jody, Linda, Julie, Stef, Melissa, Morgan, Katie, Don, Bill, Ellen, Tracy, Dan, Mary, Bernie, both Carols, Carrie, Rita, Small Pond, the McArthurs, Trey, and everyone else I was lucky enough to work with, learn from and will miss when I go.  I already do.

Totally new

Friday, May 1st, 2009

So I’ve had some time to cool off from my diatribe about my poor little small town. I’m in my new city, looking at houses and figuring out how to register my son for school in this new system. Which is only to say, this new place feels completely exciting and positive, but it’s also totally unknown and its own frustrations and downsides simply haven’t revealed themselves to me. I’m sure they will…

Waayy down on small towns

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

We moved to the tiny town we live in for practical reasons: inexpensive housing and a 4-minute commute to BigCo which was based there in the middle of a cornfield. It was nice. No one locked their doors, people leave their cars running in parking lots in the winter, services are cheap, blah blah blah. I bitched about the lack of restaurants but overall it was okay; it was 45 minutes from one of my favorite mid-sized cities and we “went in” when we needed or wanted to.

Then first boy was born and I thought, well, this is the American childhood dream, right? A place where everybody knows your name, all innocent and friendly? I was worried about the lack of diversity, yes, and the alarming frequency of high-schoolers getting married at the local bowling alley, but houses were getting more and more expensive in my favorite mid-sized city and it was easier to “move up” house-wise in our little town.

Until it wasn’t. And what small towns lack, of course, is not just restaurants or summer camps or specialty stores. It’s not just options to do; it’s options to be. My boy isn’t even in elementary school yet but I’m asked all the time what sport he’s chosen. The kid took swimming lessons for 10 days last summer and it was a disaster. He’s a butterfly chaser, easily distracted, not sure why he’d line up and run to the far post if there’s something more interesting right behind him. In short, not ready for organized sports.

A dear friend of mine, whom I consult with over almost every decision I make said, Well, you don’t need to push sports on him, but playing something sure greases a lot of wheels here.

Yes. Sure. But he loves to draw. And he walks around talking to himself and examining bugs. He often pretends he’s a spy or a race-car driver. This little town doesn’t have options for that.

Summer approached. His options for any sort of activity was the aforementioned swim lessons (he failed his level, so he could repeat) and soccer. I want him to know how to swim.  Great.  But he has zero interest in soccer.  But he’s bright and imaginative and curious and he’d love to learn about nature or how things work or art.  Sorry, kid.  And I thought, enough.  We need to give this kid some options, some ways to explore and be who he is.

We had several house showings this weekend. We needed to get out of the house on Sunday. The only things open we could take two restless little boys and two exhausted parents were McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. And that’s what we did, eating greasy food none of us really wanted, the older one playing at the McD’s Playland while we tried to keep the little one from putting his mouth on disgusting child-touched surfaces,  and then walking the aisles at Wal-Mart, letting older boy window-shop the action figure toys.

And we realized: grown ups deserve options too. Small towns have their charms but I’m hard-pressed to come up with a single one right now. Yes, we’ll soon have to lock our doors. I’m willing to lock my door to have a life.

Time Off

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

I’m taking time off. Although the amount of cleaning and house-fixing in order to list it and (I hope) sell it, feels far busier, more tedious and ungratifying than working most jobs. However, I am off work, between jobs and I truly don’t have a single responsibility, professionally speaking.

It’s been a long time. I worked at our start-up before I left BigCo so I never had a moment off. As mentioned, my maternity leave while at the start-up was so short I don’t even mention it to other mothers, I’m so ashamed. And when I left the start-up, I suddenly had the most worrisome job of all: finding another.

So here I am, no work at all. Family time. Cleaning time. No where to be or work to do. I keep wanting to say things like, Well, I should go get some work done now. But that’s obviously a ploy to get away from the house and have my own time and wouldn’t go over well, since my husband has been home with our boys every day for their whole lives.

Maybe I’ll end up liking time off. I don’t know yet. It’s too foreign. And there’s too much cleaning.

The market speaks. I say, Okay.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Selling a house in April 2009: it’s not good.

The reality of selling a house in this recession has hit squarely. The parade of realtors have passed through and passed on the bad news: we will take a cold bath on this house. Only a handful of houses have sold in our town in our range in the last season and the comps are terrible. The realtors danced around, building up to the bad news.

It wasn’t necessary. We understand. Houses don’t have inherent worth. They sell for what the market will bear, what people are willing to pay. We paid more because it was worth more to us. Now it’s way more attractive inside but it’s worth less because fewer people are moving into town and wanting this type of house. I’m comfortable with that. It’s the way it works.

And I’m not doing high/low pricing. I don’t respect it in retail, I’m definitely not setting some price that I think is probably too high but list it there “just in case” the couple from the big city sees it and thinks, what a steal, we’ll pay full price! That’s a (very common) fantasy out here in the midwestern sticks. I’m pricing it to sell. Now. I want to start my new life.

Be better at what you’re wired for

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I read Dan Schwabel’s blog interview with Randall Jones.  Jones wrote a book called The Richest Man in Town and said that we do our kids a disservice when we tell them “you can be anything you want to be—anything you dream of being.” They believe you can’t be anything you want to be, but you can be so much more of what you are innately, genetically gifted at. Warren Buffet says, “I was wired to allocate capital.” He would have been a lousy fashion designer. Hartley Peavey of Peavey Electronics was wired to engineer amplifiers and musical equipment. He loved rock music, but he was a dreadful guitar player.

I love this.  We do everyone a disservice with this attitude and it’s rampant, especially with children.  There’s way too much encouragement for everyone to just work harder, try more, stick with it and success is yours, no matter what the topic at hand.  Not true!  That doesn’t mean you don’t strive to improve yourself, sure.  But even when you spend a ton of time and effort on xyz, chances are you’re still pretty crappy at xyz-ing, and now you feel worse because it’s clearly your fault–you must not have worked hard enough.

I will never be an analyst.  I will never be a painter.  I will never be a boxer.  When I finish cleaning my house and feel satisfied, no one will ever say how immaculate it is.  But I can be all sorts of things that are beyond me right now;  I may need to learn a little more or a lot more, to practice new skills or to rethink my whole approach.  They’re stretch goals but within reach.  I’m wired for product, for marketing to women, for thinking like a customer, for nurturing people I care about, for making decisions, for juggling multiple goals and activities at once, for motivating people to all row a certain way.

Sure, I can be anything… that requires those things.