sarahgrand

Month: May, 2016

I Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures

fdoyb3l

Like Dave Grohl, I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.

You ever hear someone say something like “Pop music is my guilty pleasure,” or “Reality TV is my guilty pleasure”?

I don’t understand what there is to be guilty about.

If my brain enjoys listening to a certain song, then I like it. Doesn’t matter if it’s mainstream or disposable. I won’t be ashamed to admit I dig it.

If I find a television show entertaining, then I like it. I’m very open about the fact that I keep Real Housewives running constantly on the TV in my apartment.

If someone is going to judge your intelligence based on what sort of entertainment you like, what sort of hobbies you take up, or really anything else you enjoy, then they’re probably insecure themselves. “Guilty pleasures” are BS– I removed that term from my vocabulary years ago, and you should too!

I Miss the Old HoNY

Is it just me, or is Humans of New York getting kind of annoying?

I used to love Humans of New York. I was even ON Humans of New York once, and the photographer (Brandon Stanton) was extremely nice. I actually ran into him over a year after he took my photo, and he even remembered my name and our conversation. Clearly, he’s a standup guy. And I give him serious kudos for having the bravery to start this whole thing. My article today is NOT a personal attack on Brandon or his character. Rather, it’s a critique of the blog and a discussion of its evolution.

484756_421513211256118_1892070522_n{That time I was on HoNY – February 2013}

According to the About Section on the HoNY website, Humans of New York began as a photography project with the goal to “photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.” And that’s just what it was in the beginning—a catalogue of New Yorkers. It seemed like anyone in the city had a chance of being featured. I mean, I did have to coerce Brandon into taking my photo when I first ran into him (I’ll discuss this in a future post), but nevertheless I made it onto the site in early 2013. I may not be the most interesting person in the world, but I am a New Yorker, and probably pretty relatable to a lot of other New Yorkers out there.

If I ran into Brandon today, instead of three-and-a-half years ago, I’m not sure I’d be able to convince him to feature me. These days, it seems like HoNY has an agenda. It’s no longer just a catalogue. Every photo and associated “story” seems like it’s trying to make a statement. When I first ran into Brandon, totally caught off guard and on my way to school, I had no statement ready. What came out of my mouth was probably nonsense, but at least it wasn’t scripted.

I understand that to stay afloat, businesses need to evolve. I understand that, had HoNY stayed the same and not crossed over to the story realm, it might have dissolved. I understand that HoNY has raised tons of money for charities and good causes and spread a lot of awareness on important issues. I think these are all great things. But, is it so bad to say that I miss the old HoNY? I miss the catalogue. I miss the short snippets. I miss not feeling guilty or pressured to help all the time.

These feelings aren’t exclusive to HoNY. In general, I miss entertainment for entertainment’s sake. I feel like almost everything these days has some sort of message attached. And, in the rare case that something doesn’t have a direct message attached, my god, it’s overanalyzed to the point that there becomes one. It’s exhausting.

As a result of the current climate of social justice, I feel like everyone is in some sort of competition to show how accepting they are, how righteous they are, and how progressive they are. Obviously I think it’s good to be accepting, righteous, and progressive. But I can’t help but wonder how genuine certain sentiments are. For example, many top HoNY comments seemed contrived and “holier than thou” to me. I don’t buy it. Maybe I’m a downer or a teensny bit evil inside. But I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

Let me know your thoughts. I’ve been itching to have this conversation about HoNY for a while now. Stayed tuned or follow my blog for tomorrow’s article, “I’m Not Creepy, I Just Have a Really Good Memory.”

{Final note: I doubt this will ever reach Brandon, but in the rare event that it does, I want to apologize. I have had haters in my day, and they suck. But I’m not hating, just reflecting on the current climate of social justice, and some of the phoniness I feel is associated with it. I am truly grateful that you let me chew your ear off for a half hour and eventually gave in to my persistence and took my photo. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. -Sarah}

The Benefits of Being Single

Of course, I would like to have a boyfriend; like most human beings, I like being in a relationship. But yesterday, while putting new ink in my printer, it dawned on me that there are some benefits to being single.

gvvdvzq{Solid chunk of ink…pretty cool, right?}

If you know anything about me, you know that I love my printer. It’s not just a regular printer—it’s a very nice laser color printer that I use to make my printed design work (sarahgrand.com #shamelessplug). I first got my printer in September 2014, when I was still in a relationship with my now ex-boyfriend. Luckily for me, the printer arrived in the mail the very same day he happened to be visiting from Boston. It was a Friday, and that night, instead of going out and doing something more exciting, we stayed in to set up the printer.

I was super adamant about getting the printer set up that Friday because I knew we’d be going out on Saturday and Sunday, and it had to be up and running before he left, because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it myself.

Let me repeat that: I didn’t think I’d be able to do it myself.

We’re talking about a PRINTER here. I have an engineering degree. Granted, my printer may be a bit larger and more complex that your average at-home unit, but seriously, it’s a printer. Not only are printers generally pretty intuitive to set up, they come with something called a manual (not to mention all of the online forums and tutorials available for this particular model).

I had a boyfriend pretty much all throughout college, and before that, I lived at home with my parents. In high school, whenever some sort of new or unpleasant task came up, I had my mom or dad on call to handle it:

  • Bug in the room – Call Dad
  • Car/Miscellaneous Tech Issues – Call Dad
  • Emotional Support/Venting – Call Mom
  • Money Stuff (like setting up a debit card or credit card) – Call Mom

You get the idea.

In college, whoever I was dating sort of took on this role. It wasn’t that I bossed these guys around; it was more that it just seemed natural to me to get help in areas that weren’t exactly my forte, you know? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s normal to want help or moral support, especially when dealing with tasks you’re not totally comfortable or familiar with.

What I think was wrong about this situation was that I thought I couldn’t do certain things alone that, realistically, weren’t even that challenging (like setting up a printer).

It wasn’t until I became single and moved away from home that I realized I can pretty much do anything on my own, without help from anyone. It wasn’t until I became single and moved away from home that I realized, “I’ve got this.”

During the past year and a half of single-dom in Queens, I’ve:

  • Put new ink in my printer
  • Gone to the mechanic multiple times on my own and sorted out car issues
  • Driven on 4+ hour long car rides to Boston and the Adirondacks (and parallel parked)
  • Set up new furniture in the apartment
  • Planned multiple weekend trips
  • Stayed at a hostel by myself (and made friends with strangers in the common room)
  • Gone to MULTIPLE design events alone, designed a bunch of stuff with no help and no feedback, and got a new website up and running
  • Gone to sleep countless nights without recounting the details of my day to someone

…and a bunch of other stuff.

I understand that, alone, none of these things are anything to be exceptionally proud of. I get that something like parallel parking isn’t a big deal to most people – especially to city natives. But altogether, they show me I’m self-sufficient now, and that’s something I am proud of. I never felt this way when I had someone by my side, always there to help or, if nothing else, to offer moral support. I feel more confident now – more willing to take on challenges – at work, in my hobbies, and in my personal life. I don’t think I would have felt this way, at least not so soon, had I stayed in a relationship.

Quickly, some other benefits of being single include:

  • Getting to do whatever you want during your free time
  • Being able to get dolled up and flirt with a bunch of guys for fun (without feeling guilty you’re doing some really mild form of cheating)
  • Feeling like there’s so much of the unknown ahead of you. I have no idea who I’ll end up with, what they’ll be like, and how they’ll change my life. It’s pretty cool to know that’s all ahead of me, yet to be discovered.

So, if you’re single like me, realize all of the positive things about your situation, and how much you’re growing!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article, which will be called “I Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures.” Thanks!

Your Kind of Smart

I have been an overachiever all my life. One of my earliest memories is of my pre-school teacher holding up a drawing I made of a Christmas tree for the whole class to see. “Everyone, try to make a tree like Sarah’s” she said, as I looked down and smiled. I continued to get similar praises during my elementary and middle school years.

Up until high school, I actually really liked being an overachiever. Kids have this sort of naïve confidence about themselves. If I worked hard on something, I was excited to show it off. If I scored well at school, I felt proud and smart. I was never ashamed or embarrassed of my work ethic and genuine enthusiasm for projects.

All of this changed on an unsuspecting fall day during my sophomore year of high school. I was walking around the track during gym period, when suddenly, a peer of mine ran up to tell me that class rankings were just announced, and I was tied with a few people for number one. Boy, she didn’t look too thrilled. I remember it like it was yesterday. I would soon learn that a lot of other people weren’t too thrilled, either.

1526505_10151919787298977_260859689_n{Me in 2008, aged 16}

Before I move on, let me back up a bit here. Yes, I overachieved at school, and probably cared way more than the average teenager about projects, grades, studying, and the like. But it was never like I had an agenda. I wasn’t trying to get to the top of my class, or even accepted into a dream college. And even if I was, so what? I was just doing my thing, and working hard and trying my best are part of my nature. I don’t half-ass anything, even stuff I’m not passionate about or particularly interested in. That’s just the way I am.

Being that I didn’t even know rankings were a thing at the time, the news that I was tied for number one came as much a surprise to me as it did to everyone else. Up until this point, I had been able to mind my own business at school, but suddenly, I was thrown into the spotlight. And for the first time ever, I had haters.

Haters are a funny thing. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything remotely mean or wrong to get them. My haters thought I didn’t deserve to be number one because there were “naturally smarter” people in my year, and they made that crystal clear to me for the remainder of my high school experience.

To be fair, as mean as these bullies were, they had some valid points. There were a few of those “laid-back genius” types in my grade (you know…those kids who don’t even have to crack open a book or take down notes to ace physics exams), and god knows I’m not one of them. I am able to excel at almost everything I do, but sometimes I have to work at it. So, if school rankings are supposed to be some sort of measure of “natural intellect,” then yes, maybe there should have been a few people ahead of me. Though I consider myself a sharp girl, I’m not a genius, and I’ve never claimed to be one; what bothered me about this whole situation was not that I thought I deserved to be number one. It was how black and white my bullies made the notion of “smartness” out to be.

To them, a person was either “naturally smart” or a “hard worker,” and there was no in-between. Naturally smart people didn’t need to study or do homework to succeed, and they scoffed at grades and the “limiting school system.” Hard workers, on the other hand, were sheep guised as intelligent individuals, totally incapable of doing anything beyond their structured duties. They lacked substance and passion.

Though I think this “reasoning” is absolute bogus now, as a teenager, I really let it affect me. I started believing that just because I worked hard and put effort into my schooling, I was unintelligent. I began to attribute all of my achievements to external factors, rather than my own personal abilities. I began hiding my enthusiasm for school projects, downplaying how much I studied, and pressuring myself to not take notes in class, even when I really wanted to. These behaviors might seem silly to some, and I even cringe looking back at some of my more pathetic moments, but I know I wasn’t the only one feeling this way and doing these things.

I remember observing people during class, peering around the room to see if other people were taking notes before they’d put their pen down to paper. I remember listening to countless exaggerations of how little people studied for exams, the SAT, or AP tests. I felt like everyone was in some sort of competition to see who cared the least about school, while simultaneously caring a lot about school? Weird times. And though I saw all this going on around me, I felt like no one was willing to have an honest conversation about it. Perhaps my high school was the only hell hole where this culture existed, but I doubt it.

It took quite a bit of time, but I eventually stopped feeling unintelligent and worthless, and I have grown to not only accept, but also love being an overachiever and, dare I say, a perfectionist? (another touchy word from my high school times).

I think part of getting over it came with age. As you get older, you simply stop giving a crap about what other people think, and get a clearer vision of your strengths and weaknesses. Another large part of getting over it came with realizing that “smartness” is not as black and white as my bullies made it out to be.

As I said before, I’m not a genius. Of course, sometimes I still envy those people who can gracefully absorb really complicated stuff through listening alone. Of course I think it would be awesome to, I don’t know, be the next Albert Einstein or something. But the truth is, I will never be that kind of smart. Still, my kind of smart is just as important.

My kind of smart is that I’m highly efficient, organized, clear-headed, and ambitious. I might not be able to understand every really complicated concept as fast as a laid-back genius, but give me some sample problems and a few hours, and I’ll pick that stuff up quickly and be raring to go the next time I see a similar problem. I’m the girl you go to if you want something done right, on time, and without a headache. Though I think I’m a more of a detail-oriented person by nature, I’ve been taking on more “big picture” tasks at work, and through practice and experience, succeeding at those too, and really enjoying them.

What’s your kind of smart?

Regardless of what it is, there’s really no point in feeling inferior. A good team has people of all different types of smart. Sometimes you need a straight-out physics-type genius. Sometimes you need a people-person that’s socially smart. Sometimes, you need a total sleazeball to get a specific task done. I swear! There will always be a way to spin your “smartness” to bring a lot to the table.

Since this essay is geared towards hard workers, I just need to say: If you’re an overachiever like me, and at times feel embarrassed or ashamed of your work ethic, stop that thinking right now! People that take initiative and seek out work are so desirable in the workplace, and honestly pretty hard to come by.

And one more thing I have to say: just because you’re hard working, doesn’t mean you’re just a workhorse either. I know so many overachievers who also happen to be very passionate and creative. Not only do they have bright ideas, they also take action and follow through on their goals diligently. As Picasso once said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Just because you’re willing to work hard on pretty much anything does NOT mean you lack substance. Maybe you haven’t found your passions yet. I didn’t home in on my passions until I was 21. Or maybe your passion is working hard, and there’s nothing wrong with that either! I personally find almost any type of work to be fulfilling as long as I’m super involved and I feel needed. You could throw me into a startup about cars, and even though I don’t care much about cars right now, if the environment was super fast-paced and I had a lot of responsibility, I’d probably get really into it. I think this is why I enjoyed working on pretty much any school project as a kid, regardless of the subject.

To close this up, since you’re probably wondering, I didn’t end up being number one in high school. During my senior year, I got a B in gym class on purpose because I couldn’t take the bullying anymore. I understand why I did this, because I was young, impressionable, and going through a tough time. If dropping to number 3 was going to ease the hate, then I wanted to do that.

If I could go back to high school knowing what I know now though, I would handle some things a bit differently. Most notably, I would own it. I wouldn’t dampen my projects, restrain my note-taking, or act chill about tests I was secretly freaking out about. I would just be myself, do my best, share my work, and shamelessly overachieve.

The Art of the Hustle

In the About section of sarahgrand.com, I claim that “anything is possible with enough passion and ambition.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s true. If you learn the Art of the Hustle, the world will be at your fingertips.

I first discovered the Art of the Hustle the summer after my junior year of college.

Junior year of college was a rough time. I am perhaps a bit too gritty, and for the first 20.5 years of my life, I put my head down and worked ferociously without question. In elementary school, I worked hard so I could get into the Gifted & Talented program in middle school. In middle school, I worked hard so I could get into honors classes in high school. In high school, I worked hard so I could score well on my AP tests and get into a good college. In college, I worked hard to…wait, what was I working hard for again? During my junior year of college, I came to the painful realization that there was no next step lined up for me. I was killing myself, losing sleep to study for exams like a freaking lunatic, without even the slightest idea of what all this effort was for.

It was not until my classmates started to gain focus and develop specific interests in the field of civil engineering that I finally stopped what I was doing and took a moment to think about what actually excited me. Then, ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE: the things that excited me (i.e. design, writing, and entrepreneurship) had almost nothing to do with what I was studying. Whoops!

Isn’t it crazy that someone so “smart” on paper could lack so much common sense? I continually scored at the top of my class on exams, was a major asset on group projects, and could write papers like no one’s business. But, I didn’t know how to think.

Still, I don’t blame myself. In a future post, I will discuss exactly why I don’t blame myself, and what I think we can do as a society to help teenagers think for themselves and discover their passions at an earlier age, to avoid cases like mine.

Going back to the story, during the height of “all hell breaking loose,” I began applying for civil engineering internships because, clearly, interning in the very field I just discovered I wasn’t actually interested in was going to solve all my problems. I got an interview at a transportation firm and cried. I didn’t want to go. That’s when my parents intervened. My dad said, “You’re not going on the interview. You’re taking the summer off.”

Taking the summer off? That sounded like a terrible idea! Didn’t my dad realize that if I took the summer after junior year off I would never get a job after college, and hence never amount to anything?! I am actually cringing while writing this. But this is truthfully how warped my judgment was at the time. I seriously thought that taking one summer off (as a 20-year-old nonetheless) would negatively impact the rest of my life.

As scared as I was of “falling behind,” I followed my dad’s advice and went home to New Jersey that summer. Without schoolwork or employment to drown myself in, I was forced to spend some time thinking about what I actually wanted to do once college was over. Because Cooper Union is a very small and focused school, I hadn’t taken any classes outside of engineering, and thus hadn’t really been exposed to other industries. So, I wasn’t exactly sure where to start. I decided to start broad with location. If I was going to work anywhere after college, it was going to be in my favorite city of the world, New York! I searched “Companies in NYC.” At least it was a start.

Believe me, there are a lot of companies in New York City. I went through all of the big ones, and wrote down any that sparked my interest, completely disregarding if they had anything to do with my field of study. As I wrote down one company name, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, it struck me that I actually knew someone who worked there! Months earlier, I had been taking a walk in New Jersey when I ran into one of my friend’s moms, who mentioned she had recently taken a job there. Suddenly, things started looking up. I had a contact. Maybe I could get my foot in the door! To make a long story short, I did end up getting an internship at Martha Stewart for the fall of my senior year (and yes, I did get a respectable job straight out of college, though I didn’t intern anywhere the summer before graduating).

Getting an internship at Martha Stewart didn’t require too much hustling, because I had a contact there, and a pretty decent portfolio of cakes and crafts at the time. That being said, even if I didn’t have a willing and helpful contact, I know that I would have gotten a creative internship at least somewhere the upcoming semester, because that summer, I hustled.

The word “hustle” has some interesting connotations. I started using it after watching a documentary about Jay-Z’s drug-dealing period. In one scene, Jay-Z says something like, “I was the best drug dealer in town because I knew how to hustle.” So maybe it has some illicit connotations. To “hustle” also means to be a prostitute. Again, not the best undertones. But I like the word. So let’s just agree that by “hustle” I simply mean, “to work rapidly and aggressively.”

As I mentioned earlier, up until this point, I had put my head down and worked, without exactly taking initiative in matters or thinking for myself. But suddenly, my personal happiness, and the “successful” reputation I had worked so hard to cultivate all these years, were on the line. I didn’t want to be unemployed, or worse yet, at a job I absolutely hated after college. I needed to figure out a way to make it work. And putting my head down and doing what I was told wasn’t going to cut it anymore, because there was no plan ahead. (And I wasn’t going to grad school for the sake of having something lined up).

I started doing things I wasn’t exactly comfortable with – networking with people I had never met before, applying to positions online like a maniac, persistently following up with my contacts, even when I felt annoying. The same week I applied to the Martha Stewart internship (which happened to be in product design), I heard, totally by chance, of a product design summer course being offered at Cooper. Unfortunately, by the time I heard of the course, it had already started. But with my newfound gusto, I sent the professor a long email and a link to my website, and I weaseled my way right into that class. At the same time as all of this, I got a position as a summer cashier at the A.C. Moore craft store near my hometown. I had applied to a number of retail stores while applying to fall internships at creative companies, hoping to make some money on the side for the summer.

Suddenly, my summer “off” became very busy. I had a job in retail, a class in product design, and an internship at a company of my dreams lined up for the fall. Was I lucky? Maybe a little. But I don’t believe in luck so much.

In most cases, I think we create our own luck. I see luck as a choice, much as I see success as a choice and happiness as a choice. We are in control of our destinies. I could have come home that summer and moped around, wallowing in my own confusion. And to be honest, I did do that for a few days. But then I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and took action. I didn’t know where to start, so I started broad: location. Then I refined. I talked to people. A lot of people. I talked to someone who told me about the product design class at Cooper. I talked to my mom, who encouraged me to apply to A.C. Moore, along with a bunch of other retail stores (My mom has always believed kids should make some money on the side at all times…she’s the one who made me get off my butt and work at Dunkin Donuts once I turned 16. Love her.)

Yes, I’ve had certain privileges in my life. I have a supportive family and network, good health, and good looks (if I do say so myself). I’m sure these things didn’t hurt along the way. But they didn’t do the work for me either. I didn’t have an internship that summer, but I treated sorting things out like a full time job. Maybe all those years of putting my head down and getting gritty at school weren’t all for nothing. They taught me some skills associated with hustling, but not all the skills I needed to master the art.

You see, hustling isn’t just about working hard and doing your due diligence. You could put your head down and apply to thousands of jobs online and never hear back from any of them (though I’m sure eventually, if applying in the correct realm, something would come up). A lot of hustling is about taking initiative and going out of your comfort zone– cold calling people, meeting up with strangers who may be able to help, putting yourself out there, and not being afraid. Up until that summer, I had never really taken initiative in life simply because I never had to. The “next step” was always lined up for me. Once my path was disrupted, I was forced to get more aggressive, and through it all, I realized I actually kind of like taking control.

I get that in today’s market, it’s tough to get a job. But I truly believe that if you really want a job, you can get a job. It might not be your dream job, but it will be something—perhaps a stepping stone. If you want to switch industries, you can switch industries. If there’s a will, there’s a way. And if you want to work for yourself, with enough planning and hustle, you can work for yourself. With enough passion and ambition, I truly believe you can get anything you want out of life. One day, I hope to start my own business. I’m not ready for it yet. But I know that when the time does come, I will be able to do it. Again, anything is possible with enough passion and ambition.

Now that I am out of school and in the workforce, I take the lessons of that summer with me. Hustling doesn’t have to end once you get a job—it should continue once you are working too! No matter what industry you’re in, or even if you work for yourself, hustling combined with genuine passion should undoubtedly lead to success. That being said, success isn’t instant. You’ll still have to pay your dues, and in my opinion, any job that’s paying you, even a miserable one, is not above you (But I could go on about that in a whole other post. I hate entitlement, especially from young people).

I have only been out of college for two years, so I’m by no means a career expert, but my tips for hustling at work are listed below. Some of these are just general work advice points, and don’t have to do with hustling per se, but I included them anyways:

  1. See slow periods as opportunities: I don’t know about you, but slow periods at work drive me nuts! When I first started working, if I had nothing to do, I did, well…nothing. But I quickly realized that this would not only drive me crazy, but also make me look content. And I’m certainly not a content person. I began seeing slow periods as opportunities—opportunities to help out the department in areas they didn’t even know they needed help in. I made a tutorial for a notoriously inconvenient program and gave a presentation on it. I attempted to start a database of our contacts. Though that effort eventually fell through, it showed that I was capable of, and interested in, taking on work outside of my assigned duties. When new opportunities came up, my superiors often let me know first.
  1. Speak Up! Speaking up is really hard to do. I love to talk (I mean, look how much I’m writing in this post), but I get really shy at times, and I never want to come across as too aggressive or entitled. But, unless you work and live in Utopia, there are going to be times when you need to suck it up and say something. If something is frustrating you at work, and you keep your anger bottled up, you’ll probably either become totally miserable or rage quit one day. As long as you are calm and respectful when you speak up, realistically, the worst thing that can happen is things stay the same. And if that’s the case and nothing changes, then you can hustle for a new job, and leave that one. Simple as that. The best thing that can happen if you speak up is the problem gets fixed, and you get respect for taking action. Maybe I’m naïve, but I truly believe that most companies, and people, are good at the core. If your company or superiors don’t know the problem at hand, how can you expect them to help? I haven’t had to speak up too much at work, but anytime I did, I went to my direct manager. If you have issues with your direct manager, I would suggest going to HR, or really any superiors in the company you trust to take appropriate action.
  1. Figure out a way to become indispensable: This is kind of similar to my first point (see slow periods as opportunities). Whether you have slow periods or not, figure out needs in the company that the company doesn’t even know exist. And address those needs. Create your own role in the company. Don’t wait around for a promotion or new position to find you, because it generally won’t.
  1. Don’t take things too personally: If you become a hustler, you’ll have to develop a thick skin. Any time I’ve looked for new jobs or opportunities and I’ve cold-emailed strangers or acquaintances for advice, a good percentage of those efforts resulted in no response. That’s just the way it is. It’s not personal. People get busy. People might think you’re weird for reaching out to them, but that’s probably not the case. Even if it is, who cares? If you’re formally reaching out to a person, then you most likely don’t know them too well in the first place, and will probably never even see them in person. And, even if you do run into them in person after the fact, again, who cares? Also, don’t be afraid to follow up with a person if they don’t respond to your first email. Persistence is attractive. The same thing goes about not taking things personally if you’re already working at a job. People get in bad moods. People get busy. People have lives outside of work that might be more complicated than you think. For your own sanity, don’t take things to heart, and don’t let anyone you don’t respect get you down.
  1. Being genuine goes a long way: This is a major one. I am definitely NOT a perfect person. Like any other person, I have my flaws. But the one thing I’m most proud of about myself, and the single thing I’m most complimented on, both inside and outside of work, is my genuineness. I’m an open book. I don’t get embarrassed by too much stuff, and I don’t take myself too seriously. I’ve found these to be positive things at all my jobs, even in relatively traditional and corporate offices. Again, maybe I’m naïve, but I truly believe most people like to be around people that are human. If I worked alongside someone that never got nervous, stressed, angry, happy, excited, or sad, I’d get a little freaked out…wait, is that a robot? Keep it real, but don’t go overboard. Of course I don’t suggest having major emotional outbursts at work! Know your boundaries. And know when to be professional.
  1. Sit at the Table: I’m stealing this one from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Take ownership of your accomplishments. At meetings, if you’re part of the team, sit at the table, not on the sidelines! I know from firsthand experience this can be hard to do, especially if you’re the youngest on the team, or the only female. If you’re a woman, understand that men are more aggressive by nature. They are naturally more comfortable asking for raises, inquiring about new opportunities, taking credit for work, and negotiating contracts. It’s not their fault. The brains of men and women are wired differently. To keep up with your male coworkers, you’ll have to get more comfortable making these moves as well. You’ll also have to get comfortable with taking pride and ownership in your work. I have a habit of downplaying my contributions and brushing off my achievements, and it’s something that I’m working on. While I encourage initiative, I don’t believe that anyone (male or female) should have to exert excessive amounts of power or authority to prove their worth; work should generally speak for itself. Most competent people can see through bullshit sooner or later.
  1. Dress for Success: I can’t even believe I’m writing this one. Dressing nice and looking presentable are  NO-BRAINERS. It’s literally psychologically proven that well-dressed people are taken more seriously and deemed smarter, not only in the workplace, but also in LIFE. Get a routine. Wake up 15 minutes earlier and get presentable!
  1. Be Grateful: I briefly hinted at this point earlier in the post, and I won’t get too into it here, but any job that’s paying you, whether it’s at a local coffee shop or a Fortune 500 company, is worth being grateful for, at least in my opinion. I think that as humans, we often get greedy and lose sight of what is truly meaningful and important. Showing appreciation to a company, and the opportunities that company affords you, goes a long way. Also, be polite and respectable. I know that in today’s society there is a trend to question authority and existing ways, and I think that is a generally a good thing. But there is a way to question and challenge people and systems while still showing respect.

I think that is all I have for now! Hope you are all enjoying these articles! My next article will be about “the benefits of being single.” Have a nice Memorial Day Weekend!

Am I An Artist? (Getting Over Impostor Syndrome)

“So, is anyone here not a designer?” The moderator of the event peered around the room as the audience broke out in laughter. I nervously looked over at my roommate, who I had brought along with me as a wing-woman, not sure if I should raise my hand in response to this question…

I was at an event hosted by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in New York City. Four design directors of prominent magazines were speaking about their backgrounds and the responsibilities of their current positions. How did I end up here? I joined AIGA a couple months earlier because I love graphic design, and want to learn anything and everything I can about it. Yet, clearly, I am reluctant to consider myself a designer, well, a real designer at least.

If you ask me, I’m a civil engineer. That’s what I went to school for, and that’s what I do for my day job. I have no qualms about identifying as an engineer because I have tangible proof of my validity. I have a degree from an engineering school, a full-time job at a construction company, and I have even passed my “Fundamentals of Engineering” examination. Identifying as a designer, or dare I say an artist, is a bit more troublesome.

Aside from a semester-long internship at Martha Stewart (where my responsibilities primarily included pinning up inspiration images around the office), I have no formal work experience in the art or design industries. I have barely any educational training in these areas either. I have never experienced a critique of my work, and to be honest, I’m not really sure if I’m any “good” in my creative endeavors, at least from an expert’s standpoint.

Yet, making visual ideas come to life is something I’m extremely, madly passionate about. It’s something that I absolutely need to do, kind of like how a musician needs to make music. This insatiable desire to create is something that never goes away for me; I am always susceptible to becoming inspired, and my list of goals is always increasing.

I make all different kinds of things. When I was younger, I expressed my creativity through food design. A couple years ago, I discovered Adobe Illustrator, and got into graphic design. I bought myself a laser color printer and started making invitations and stationery out of my New York apartment. Today, I continue to do this, while searching for art and design opportunities with a farther reach.

Technically, you could say I’m a freelance artist and graphic designer. But, I feel super uncomfortable calling myself this. Maybe it’s because, unlike engineering, there are no standard qualifications or professional degrees to prove that one is a designer or artist. Maybe it’s because I did not go to art school, and my “side business” is not my main source of income. Maybe it’s simply due to a lack of personal confidence. Or, perhaps it’s because I don’t fit in with the art and design “scenes,” if you will; I’m not troubled or edgy or trying to make some sort of ironic statement. To quote Kevin Smith, “I just like making shit.”

Whatever the cause, it’s a conflicting feeling. I love my work, and deep down I know that I have talent. But, particularly when I share my work with other creative people, I wonder if it “counts” or is “valid.” I feel inferior compared to real artists, yet I’m not exactly sure what a real artist is.

For a long time, I lived in silence with this inferiority. Last summer, I attended a panel called “The Creative Journey” with three artists-turned-authors at BookCon in New York City. During the Q&A portion of the event, I decided to speak up about the invalidity I associated with my work for the very first time, asking the panelists if they had ever experienced something similar.

The moment I finished speaking, one of the panelists exclaimed, “Sounds like you have Impostor Syndrome!” Right then and there, just like that, I had a diagnosis. A simple diagnosis for something I thought was so emotionally complicated.

Though not officially listed in the DSM, Impostor Syndrome is a very real and common phenomenon, in which those affected have trouble internalizing or accepting their accomplishments. To put it simply, it’s a form of intellectual self-doubt. People experiencing it often brush off their own abilities and attribute achievements to luck, timing, or other external factors, fearing they will eventually be exposed as a “phony.”

The syndrome can affect anyone. I am an engineer/designer who feels illegitimate compared to those who went to art school, or work in creative jobs full time. Maybe you are a passionate musician with an unrelated day job, and feel fraudulent compared to those who fully devote their lives to music. Maybe you love to cook, and have many impressive accomplishments as a cook, but never went to culinary school, and feel inferior compared to “chefs.” The list goes on and on. The panelist that first told me about the syndrome, a well-respected author, cartoonist, artist, and blogger, even admitted that she feels uncomfortable referring to herself as an “author” in front of other writers.

The panelists at BookCon left me with some parting advice, which has really helped me get over feeling like an impostor, though I still have my moments of weakness (hence almost raising my hand at the recent magazine event). I’ll share their advice with you, and hopefully this will help if you have ever felt the same way before:

  1. Understand that being good at multiple things is BADASS: I used to think that going to engineering school and working in construction showed I wasn’t “truly” interested in art or design. But it’s actually quite the opposite. The fact that I come home from work, and voluntarily work on more work, solely out of passion, says a lot. Not many people have something they will devote time and energy to without some sort of reward other than personal satisfaction. If you are one of these people, understand that you are rare and special! And if you balance a totally different day job at the same time, that’s pretty badass.
  1. Own It: “Own it” is probably the best piece of advice I have ever received. Giving roundabout explanations for why you are qualified, acting a certain way, or interested in something just makes you seem like you don’t know what you’re talking about – the exact opposite of what you are going for. Take yourself seriously, be direct, and unapologetically own your accomplishments. Even if someone doesn’t like you or your work, they’ll at least respect the fact that you’re owning it and being yourself.
  1. Keep Making Stuff: Keep making stuff and never stop. Again, even if someone is not a fan of your work, they’ll respect your passion and the fact that you are producing volumes of work in the first place. Also, making things leads to new opportunities and better technical skills. I’m a novice right now, but I’m sure if I keep making things as diligently as I have for the past two years, I’ll eventually surpass those who went to art school, but are lazy bums.
  1. Realize You Are Not Alone: There are so many people that feel this way, that they named a whole syndrome after it! What you are feeling is totally common and normal, and knowing this may help you get over it. Also, remember that there are many, many people with lots of confidence that feel totally comfortable calling themselves artists (or whatever) that might not even necessarily have anything to show for it. So,  as long as you have the work, that’s all the proof you need.