A Little Nerve

My great aunt Helen enjoyed quite the stint in show business back in the day. Well under 5’ at age 16, she was approached to temporarily join a traveling show. While I’m not advising you to be shot out of a cannon anytime soon, we can certainly heed this 94 year old woman’s advice. 

Transcript

She was asking me if I was ever in show business. I said, “No. I have no talent.” She says, “You don’t need any talent, just a little nerve. I have an opening to replace the person that used to do the cannon. She got pregnant and I need somebody to take her place. Would you like to try?”

I was young. Sixteen, stupid, fearless. 

[If you had to count, do you know how many times you were shot out of a cannon?]

Nine times. We did nine shows and I had no net. I had two big men – one on this side and one on this side. Both my arms were close to my body and when you come out you put your arms forward like you were diving into the water.

[Did it get any easier when you were shot out of the cannon multiple times?]

The first two-three times it was scary. But I just did what I was told. All you need is nerve when you’re that young. 

In your professional and personal life, bring the big ideas. After being propelled out of a cannon, Aunt Helen explains how two men caught her on each arm – meaning this brave teen took on the challenge without a net. What can you leave behind to ensure success is in your future? Whether it’s a negative attitude from someone or your own doubts, see these obstacles as your launching pad.

After all, all you need is a little nerve.   

6 months in… 6 lessons learned

I’ve been laying low on the blog front, but doing the exact opposite in my every day. I’ve taken the last few weeks to reflect on my writing to date, to imagine where it will go in the future and to truly experience the present. I realized I was going into situations thinking to myself, how can I write about this later? As a “student always” I will maintain that curiosity, but focus instead on being fully present in the moments.

I find it hard to believe, but I’ve been in this place they call the Big Apple for 6 months. Since moving I regularly say that ‘every day is a good day,’ but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the lows along with the highs. In reflecting on the past 6 months, 6 key lessons have emerged. 

I lost a lot. People say you can start a conversation with anyone in New York by asking how they got here. Inevitably it’s a story filled with struggles that test our abilities to keep pushing forward. 

In my first few months I lost my Auntie Stephanie and pup Tequila to heaven’s pearly gates. My iPhone and wallet were stolen and I literally lost my way (gets tricky in a new city without a superphone, aka smartphone). It was difficult dealing with the passings and setbacks in a new city, but I knew I could only allow myself a certain amount of time to be sad. Lesson 1: Dwelling on the negative only keeps you from enjoying the positive. 

I was trusted as a professional. On the side hustle front, entrepreneur friends have turned to me for counsel and some even want to pay me! In my day job I take an active role in my clients’ programs and I’m called on to support projects outside my regular accounts. I’m serving as the Operations Manager for an internal initiative that strives to equal the male-female ration in leadership positions and provides support for employees on their way up. (This program is also the catalyst for my high five with the company’s CEO/President! Side lesson: It pays to speak up in the elevator about your enthusiasm for a program.) Lesson 2: Go after the work that excites you, challenges you and most importantly, scares you. Push yourself to do the things you think you cannot do. 

I had to ask for money. It’s hard to admit this, but definitely a part of my New York makeup. I realized how quickly money goes here and when you factor in the unexpected – like replacing a laptop – the challenge becomes greater. From babysitting to bartending (can you see me serving up cocktails?) to reinventing my first biz of start to finish party services, I’m planning ahead so I don’t find myself in a similar situation. Lesson 3: Get smart with the dollars and remain grateful for your support system. 

I met a guy. For the first time in a while, I really liked someone. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend together before he headed off on an adventure so we packed everything in over the course of one month. Lesson 4: The length of time you know a person means nothing when it comes to making a true connection. I expected this notion from my social media connections (it’s easy to make fast friends with shared interests via Twitter, for example), but not from a person I wanted to date and one I initially met in real life. I grew up thinking I had to follow this drawn out path to find that connection, when really; two people just need to be open at the same time. Who knows what’s to come, but I look at the situation knowing I’ve come away a better person just by being a part of it. 

I made new friends, but kept the old. (As the Girl Scouts’ song goes…) I joined a non-profit. I attended networking events. I took yoga classes. I picked up girls at parties. I put myself out there. The people I’ve met have been the main reason I’ve experienced a seamless transition. 

On the other hand, I Skyped for hours. I mailed postcards. I sent 1,300 texts in a month (yes, it is somehow possible on a stupidphone). I hosted 8 visitors (with more on the way!) I made time for phone calls and avoided multitasking during them so I could truly listen and be a part of each conversation. I’m still working at how to perfect the keeping in touch. Lesson 5: Moving to a new city tests your ability for meeting people while it challenges your creativity for staying in touch with those back home. Both remind me the most important parts of your life are defined by the people you choose to have in it. 

I left my comfort zone. For 25 years I lived in the same state and never more than two hours away from the house where I was raised. Some people make big moves for college while others take the leap following graduation. I needed a little more time to fully commit to a big transition. I struggled in the past with change, and I’m still learning how to handle it, but I’m comfortable with it being a work in progress. Lesson 6: When a change is the right one for you, you won’t have any doubts about making that leap.

Here’s to the lessons to come

Regardless of location, do you have any “coming to New York” stories or lessons to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  

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You Should Stay In New York City

** I find more meaning in this letter every time I read it. It deserved its own post.

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Dear You,
   
So you told me that you thought about leaving New York. Which, I suppose, plenty of transplants think of doing. It’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last.

But these waves of thoughts were different than before. It was triggered when your sister had her baby, her first child and your first nephew, and you weren’t there. Instead, you spent that Friday checking mousetraps. You met your nephew via Skype. It has also been officially a year since you’ve been here and you’ve reevaluated the facts.

Living in Bed-Stuy is precisely what one could have assumed living in Bed-Stuy to be like, just with more cat-calls from tough guys in groups wondering why you’re so rude for not welcoming their advances. Never has being around so many made you feel so alone. You thought you would have found your Miranda and Charlotte by now, not watching them on DVD wondering how a show could get so much right and wrong in the same season. 
   

Every day it becomes clearer that New York is the greatest place to be when you matter but it’s the worst place to be when you don’t. Around every corner is a better apartment, or a better happy hour, or all the makings of a wonderful life you wish you had.

But I don’t think you should leave New York.

At least, not yet.

In your heart, you know you were not meant for an ordinary life. You flourish in a life surrounded by innovators and passionate people. You found that here.

There’s a life for you back home. It was pre-wrapped for you from birth. It’s comfortable, featuring your friends, your family, your car. It all sits waiting for you like a lottery ticket with the winning numbers unscratched. It’s tempting, no doubt.

There’s nothing magical about New York City. It is an amazing place just as there are amazing places everywhere, each with its own strengths and opportunities and disadvantages. You could have discovered and followed your passions in dozens of cities or towns. But for you, you knew in your heart that place was New York. And so you came.

Your nephew won’t ever remember you weren’t there for his birth. But one day you might find he’ll remember the time he visited his favorite aunt up north. The one who left home to make her name is the greatest place to make a name.

I hope you find solidarity knowing you are like so many others. You’re a special kind of person, the kind who decided to choose what their destiny would be, not have it laid out for them. Their New York might be in Los Angeles. Or Nashville. Or a sustainable farm in South America. That isn’t the point. The point is you didn’t commit to change because this city would make you the woman you wanted to be. You knew the woman you were. You know the woman you demanded yourself to become, and she belonged in New York.

Remember that CD you bought from those subway musicians at Lorimer? You paid ten dollars for only 5 songs. I told you that was a rip-off. You disagreed. You liked their music and wanted to support them in a simple way. You decided if those guys make their name outside of the subway system, you said you’d be glad to have been there when they had only the backs of people waiting for the next G train. 
    

It is very possible that the financial, emotional, and physical toll this move to New York took on you will not be worth it. It is very possible that you will go home and resume being yourself as you would have otherwise been, understanding the life you had imagined isn’t a fairy tale. But when it comes to your success, I’d put ten dollars on you.

And I’d put ten dollars on your success happening here.

– Robert (via Thought Catalog)

Friends can be good for you too

Since friendship is a frequent topic for my blog these facts from Glamour resonated with me.

They make you live longer. Strong friendships boost your chances of a longer life by 50 percent, research has found. But low social interaction packed the same bad-health punch as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

They keep you well. Studies show women with supportive friends sleep and manage stress better and bounce back faster from diseases.

They make life’s hurdles bearable. Researchers from the University of Virginia took students wearing heavy backpacks to the base of a hill and asked them to estimate how steep it was. Guess what? Students who stood next to a friend said the hill looked less intimidating than those who were alone. Says study coauthor Dennis R. Proffitt, Ph.D.: “Being with—or even thinking about—our friends lightens the load.”

Have you picked up the phone today? Send a note to let your friends know how grateful you are to have them in your life.

Bring the Happy

March

A year ago I wrote about the difficulties of Alzheimer’s and how my family was dealing with my great aunt Stephanie’s failing memory. I find myself writing again about my stand-in grandma following the news of her passing this week.

Being away from home brought the realization I could not be with my family and say goodbye to Auntie Steph. As such, I was in need of a pick-me-up.

I attended a screening for the documentary Happy. This film details the definition across the globe seeking input from all kinds of people – from psychologists and neurologists in the U.S. to 100+ year olds in Okinawa, Japan. The documentary discusses how happy people tend to be more resilient and face challenges more effectively. A quote highlighted in the film sticks with me. Benjamin Franklin said, “The U.S. constitution does not guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”

How can you bring the happy to yourself and others every day?
•    Write letters. Auntie Stephie and I were pen pals throughout college. I looked forward to holding the cards she took the time to send me and to this day, I constantly find them in journals and boxes – lovely reminders of an amazing woman.
•    Perform random acts of kindness. Why not surprise a fellow coffee drinker by picking up their order? Strive to pay it forward in your every day.
•    Tell stories. Auntie Steph was quite the storyteller. She always had a lot to say, especially about her Italian pictured above (but she may have used another, less PC, term to describe the love of her life).
•    Write down 5 good things you have going each week. My pal Andi started a blog series where contributors share little doses of joy. Reflecting on the latest and greatest in your life will keep your spirits high and help you overcome the tough situations.

To celebrate how Auntie Steph lived each day to its fullest, the obituary requests that bright colors are worn to the wake and funeral. Just as she filled our lives with color, we’ll do her proud with a goodbye that is nothing less.

A Rite of Passage

Nyc_subway_map

Well friends, it was bound to happen. Roughly four minutes in and I knew something was up. Four minutes later and the news was confirmed. I was quasi-lost on the subway. I give myself the benefit of the doubt at this point because I had no idea how deep I would get myself.

An estimated 16 minute ride turned into a two hour (not-so-scenic view) of the New York subway system. I did get some fresh air in Greenwich Village as I searched for my first slice of New York pizza. I stumbled upon Joe’s Pizza. Turns out this place is an institution in Greenwich Village with celebrity photos adorning the wall. If this slice was good enough for John Stamos, it was certainly good enough for me. Important Question: Forget convenience, do you think NY-ers fold their pizza because they simply want it to be Chicago deep dish? Mull that one over.

But back to the subway… even once I realized I was lost I didn’t panic. I accepted the situation as a right of passage.

I kept checking the map thinking I was getting back in the right direction. I did what any smart Chicago girl would do – I pretended I knew what I was doing. Because when you look confused / out of place in Chicago that’s when someone’s going to start chatting with you.

Last night was a great example of technology being helpful, but being a waste until common sense kicks in. Sure the super savvy iPhone will tell you the correct train is arriving, but it takes the genius holding the phone to realize she needs to start all over and reverse directions. Downtown (woo!) vs. uptown (waa waa) = a BIG difference.

Note taken and onto the next adventure!

Sending a big thank you

Dear Jenny,

I started this letter while you were well under way with the first installment of Make Sh*t Happen. Because a lot of my life was “in progress,” I’ve had to hold back on my excitement. Finally, I can share all. Here goes…

I couldn’t be more proud of you, Jenny. Most importantly, I have been busting at the seams wanting to thank you publicly for all the guidance, high fives and inner motivation you have given me.

Guess what? Because of you I made sh*it happen. And you weren’t even trying. We connected more than a year ago via Twitter and you were gracious enough to give up time for regular calls with me. During our first call you asked me about my big, hairy, scary goal. I can remember telling you, “I can’t say it out loud” and you pushing me that much harder. With complete nerves, I explained that I wanted to do public relations in New York City.

And here I am. Making my dream a reality. This month, I move to a new city and will start a dream job – at Edelman in New York!! I look back at the girl who told you her dream and I can see the doubt she exuded even when voicing her dream. She knew she wanted this, but was 97% sure it was impossible. Over time, you changed that doubter into a believer.

You went through the motions of Make Sh*t Happen with me. And you said the scarier the goal, the bigger the opportunity. When it comes to PR (and my current life leap), I don’t know how much bigger I can get.

Because of your willingness to help, I strive to do the same with students interested in the PR industry. Students who are passionate, but need that little push to know they can do it – that they can take on any goal. 

And somehow you found an even tradeoff with my doing a little PR on your behalf. Again, you helped me without even trying. Turns out when you tell people you’re in talks with the TODAY Show thanks to your side hustle, they listen. When I discussed helping you on top of my regular workload and that whole job search, people asked where I found time for sleep. I explained how PR for you didn’t feel like added work. I believe in your book and I believe in the story you have to share. Oh, and I believe we’ll all be watching you on the TODAY Show in the near future.

As I continue the series of highlighting how I got my new gig… from networking to resume QR codes to the interview prep, my thoughts will always start with what got me to this point. Turns out all you need is a little confidence and someone rooting for you along the way.

Always grateful,
Stephanie

To enjoy Jenny Blake in all her awesome-ness, check her out on Twitter as @jenny_blake, dive into her site LifeAfterCollege.org, pick up a copy of the “Life After College” book or consider Making Sh*t Happen for yourself and participate in the next round of the course!

New year, new city, new job… new me?

Christmas came early friends – I’m packing my bags and heading to NEW YORK CITY!!! I am very excited to join the Edelman team where I will have the opportunity to contribute to great consumer accounts. 

To reach this point there are countless people I need to thank – for their advice, introductions and support throughout this entire process. Because I’ve been so fortunate in my pursuits I strive to pay it forward whenever I can. A series is in the works where I will share insights into the job hunt, from interview tips to taking on the challenge out-of-state. If you have specific questions please share those in the comments. 

First admission: The farthest I’ve been away from home is two hours south of Chicago for college. Learning a new city and coping with being away from my family and friends will be a challenge, but one I feel prepared to handle. 

Second admission: I’m the type of person who has become overwhelmed in the past due to change. However, a mentor once told me when a change is the right one for you there will be no doubts in your decision. I can say with full confidence, I left my doubts behind when I started proclaiming my dream to those close to me. That mentor’s explanation has been a guiding force throughout this process and it has confirmed that I’m finding the right path. 

Although there will be a lot of new in my life, I will still be the same girl – that “student always” who is forever in it to learn. You will still find me dancing, mentoring students and telling exceedingly long stories (some might call this my third admission). 

Overall, I’m on to a new adventure. I hope you’ll come along for the ride. 

[Theater Thursdays]: Second City’s South Side of Heaven

[Editor’s note: As a performer growing up I am striving to expand my coverage of performances I enjoy. If you’re in Chicago and want to make a date for theater, dance, improv, the circus, dog shows, etc. I’m your girl. My goal is to educate on what I experience so if you’d like to see something added to my review format, speak up!]

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Have you ever sat so close to the stage you felt like a part of the performance? That was the experience I had during my first outing to The Second City. These sketch and improv shows are a staple to Chicago and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to visit. After a cleverly-written and very well-executed show I am looking forward to round two.

Show: The Second City’s South Side of Heaven

Location: Chicago, IL

Companions: Best friends Lindsay and Laura for my birthday

Atmosphere: Seats are not assigned so line up a little early. Come ready to make new friends as tables and chairs definitely exude “the more the merrier” feel. Food and drinks are available and note you may be called out for purchasing the commemorative pint glass. My friends and I welcome the opportunity to be a tourist in our own city, which means I added the glass to my collection. 

Background: The Second City has ties dating back to 1959 with locations in Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto. Over the years many stars have come up through the ranks moving onto shows like Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and The Colbert Report, to name a few.

Overview: “South Side of Heaven is a thought-provoking, irreverent and hilarious new show from The Second City exploring the many fates that propel our world and universe. From the cultural divide between Cubs and White Sox fans to the delicate distinction between dancing and stripping, South Side of Heaven rejoices in the earthly and ethereal. A President, an outgoing Mayor and a creepy TSA agent are all just part of the natural flow of South Side of Heaven.“ 

The facts:
•    Open run
•    Cost: $22-32
•    Tip: The cast entertains with a bonus round of improv following the Saturday evening and Sunday performances. Enjoy the opportunity to see these professionals in their element!

Recommended? Definitely!

Reading PR

Meet Payal Shukla, a student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring PR professional. During our first call I kept thinking to myself, ‘She is only asking the right questions.’ I’m excited to see what lies ahead in her PR career and honored she is sharing her thoughts here. Catch Payal tweeting as @payalshukla and learn more at her personal site.

“What do you read?” My advisor asked me.

“What do I… read?” I asked. Is this a trick question? I read… of course I read! I’m a collegiate, I thought.

“I am curious to know,” he explained. “What sorts of things do public relations professionals read?”

One week later I wound find the same question popping up in a blog post re-tweeted by Travis Kessel, a recruiter for Edelman-Chicago.

“Real-life interview questions used at Edelman,” he wrote of a video featuring Senior Vice President Phil Gomes.

Needless to say, the one question Gomes always is sure to ask: “What do you read?”

Why is it important to read up on your field? Obviously, you now know it is something interviewers are likely to ask of you (if you didn’t know already).

More importantly, reading books, news sites and blogs demonstrates a thorough understanding of PR. In other words, where did your field start, where is it now and where is it going? Not to mention that it is probably one of the easiest ways to begin developing a level of expertise that goes beyond just gaining experience! The lessons you can learn from autobiographies and memoirs can serve as guide to making the right career choices and breaking into public relations.

I personally believe “reading PR” encourages critical thinking and personal reflection – both of which will only make you grow more as a professional. Materials and information you gather can be applied to your current professional endeavors.

For example, by reading blog posts on building a social media platform, and engaging with authors for their tips, I was able to turn the lessons I learned into ideas I pitched to my supervisor. I got the best of both worlds – knowledge on an essential PR tool and a more fulfilling internship experience.

Obviously, I can’t write about reading PR sources without mentioning a few of my favorites. My go-to blogs include PR Breakfast Club and the Bad Pitch Blog. Both are hilarious, insightful and interactive with their readerships. For to-the-minute news, I turn to Publicity News and PR Week US.

As for books, I am currently working my way through Ronn Torossian’s list of “10 Must-Read Public Relations and Marketing Books.” My favorites so far include “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin and “Crystallizing Public Opinion” by Edward L. Bernays.

So to answer my advisor, “What do I read? Anything I can get my hands on.”