When I was a kid, if someone asked me what I want to be when I grow up, I’d laugh and respond “an actress,” knowing full well I’d never have the looks or talent to succeed in this field when I was, at best, cast in the one-scene comedic role in the yearly school play. Of course, even as an actress or great artist I’d manage to find tons of free time to save the world and, eventually, be president. How that’s for unrealistic goal setting?
Some kids know they want to be doctors or lawyers or firemen. Sure, their goals in life change as they mature, and many replace these goals with new ones. But how many kids dream of growing up to be a marketer? I don’t think I even understood what marketers actually do until I entered the workforce, after college. And here I am, making a living in marketing. It is my career.
There are a lot of things I enjoy about marketing and communications. You have the potential to significantly influence the success of an organization with your everyday contributions. In the world of communications, you take ideas and blast them loudly on a megaphone so that everyone can know about the great work being done, and you feel good when that message is heard. Yet, at the same time, you feel terrible constantly because a message is only as good as the last article written about it. One great hit in the Wall Street Journal leaves you wanting more. If you set up a goal for yourself to have 10 articles written in the WSJ about your company, you will fail. If you set the goal to have 1 article written this is more realistic, but in a large part is still out of your control.
Meanwhile, I think there is still a stigma that people in communications are just the icing on the cake. They’re publicists who just connect the brains with the other brains by smiling and being good at relationships. I’m the first to admit social skills are on the lower end of my intellectual IQ. The truth is that to be good at PR these days takes a lot of brain power, especially in a more managerial, strategic role. You need to be on top of all the trends that are being written about by the aforementioned brains, and figure out how to get them excited about a topic they haven’t written about yet (or that they have, from a new angle) and make them think they came up with the idea in the first place. This is especially the case when you’re trying to get coverage for a B2B company where the technology itself may only be as sexy as the latest use case, at least in the mind of a reporter who doesn’t want to ever come off as a marketer.
I know this, because I was a reporter. In my previous life, too early to be good at it, I fell into the world of journalism. On the other side of the grass. And I didn’t know enough about business at the time to understand the challenges of the industry or new companies as a whole. I’m sure if I was the reporter I was then with the knowledge I have now, I’d be much better at my job. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m a marketer now, and my job is to get reporters to become obsessed with my company. I want the big boys to be calling us, begging for an interview with our CEO. And that hasn’t happened yet.
But that’s old school PR. Today, PR and communications is all about getting yourself out there. For better or worse, many publications accept contributed content where anyone can get articles accepted to be published, except they cannot be self-promotional. In order words, they’ll gladly accept content they can run advertising against as long as it doesn’t make the editor look bad and tarnish the reputation of the publication. Of course, it’s hard not to be promotional when your entire life is tied to promoting your brand. It requires a quick shifting of mindset, trying to think like a journalist, but still ensuring your business is reflected in a positive light.
It’s kind of fun. It’s fun when I know the people I work with and feel a very strong sense of loyalty to my organization to get our message out there. It’s harder on the days when I may disagree with a message or angle, and am tasked to write content on this regardless. In the end, I’m a cog in a machine, and the more well oiled I can be, the more I can let go of my own ego and focus on the sheer metrics of success, the more I can be at peace with the everyday.
For now, I’m content being good at what I do and getting better at it. But what I don’t like is the notion that this is it. This is the rest of my life, the whole of what will take up the majority of my days until I’m old and, with the right alignment of the stars and stock markets, able to retire. Yes, I recognize that in just 8 years of a career I’ve managed to live the life of a journalist, a community manager, and senior-level marketer (I’m clearly a cat with 9 lives and at least 6 more remaining), but everyday it feels like this is the last career I’ll ever have. Which is much better than thinking “I have no career at all,” but it doesn’t necessarily fill me with everlasting inspiration.
I went to college for theater. By then, I was more realistic than when I was a child. I knew I wouldn’t make it as an actress. But I thought – maybe as a designer, so I could be involved in the one field that made sense to me. Business as a whole was so foreign of a concept it might as well all have been performed in Greek. Looking back, I am not stunned by this – I had few role models from the business world to look up to. My mother was a stay-at-home wife who once worked as a fashion designer, but I never saw her as the professional type, and whenever she spoke of her 10 years in the business of fashion she would express great discontent about that life. She seemed much happier (albeit constantly stressed) with a non-professional lifestyle. Meanwhile, my father, the actuary, got on the train at promptly 7am every morning for a one hour ride to New York City, where he would work in a big skyscraper doing something I never understood that had to do with a lot of math (in my adult years, I understand he focused on risk management in planning pensions for large corporations, no wonder he never seemed overtly content with his own profession.)
Outside of this, the adults I met were either teachers or worked some job during the day and did theater at night. Sure, I had aunts and mostly uncles who worked, but we never talked about their jobs. I doubt they wanted to discuss their jobs with their young niece who was much more excited to talk about the latest show she was not starring in anyway.
But here I am, at 29 years old, watching the last year of my 20s pass me by, and I am, by god, a business woman. Well, working for a startup it never quite feels like this, but as my company grows and becomes more successful, it becomes more corporate, and my role itself goes from guerrilla, jeans-and-tshirt-wearing marketer/jill-of-all-and-any-trades to nice-skirt-and-jacket-wearing corporate marketer. I’m suddenly the person who I didn’t understand. I live in a cubicle. I spend the day in meetings and the night catching up for all I didn’t have time to do during the day because of those meetings. I try to stay above water. I constantly worry that I’m not doing a good enough job. Sometimes I’m being overly neurotic and sometimes I’m told of the fact. And that is my life.
If someone asked me what I want my life to be in 10 years, when I’m 39 approaching 40, I’d blink twice before giving them a blank stare. I don’t know. I imagine that at 39 I’ll either have two to three children or have dealt with my infertility. I try really hard by squinting the slowly dying area of my brain where the future is exciting and a reason for getting through the day, and looking forward to the next. There’s nothing there. Nothing beyond my cubicle walls, and my unemployed boyfriend and walking through overgrown trees to get to his free-standing structure of a home that gets so cold at night with no insulation yet keeps me warm with all the love in the world.
I want to find a goal that feels real, obtainable, logical, and me. I can easily say in 10 years I want to be VP of Marketing for a successful technology business, which is what I’m setting myself up for, but is that the future I want? Do I want to spend my day toiling over generating more leads than the last quarter for a product I have no control over? How then, will I change the world? How then, will I be able to be the mother I thought I’d want to be, attending my hypothetical kids theatre productions and cheering them on at their sporting events?
Time will tell all of this. So why worry? It’s what I do best. But it is not beneficial to worry when there’s no clear goal to worry about. Then there’s no sense of progress, only chaos. It’s funny, because there are days I admit to the fact that starting this blog has been my best decision ever, as it has provided me a way to track my growth and goal set in a more mature way than I had in the past. By doing this, I’ve become obsessive over tracking my networth, and I’m excited to see it grow from the measly $20k it was just six years ago to the $200k it is today. But then I start wondering if I’m making less than my colleagues of supposed equal level (I know I am, the question is by how much) and I panic as I’m a terrible re-negotiator and the last thing I want to do is walk into my bosses office and walk for more money until I’ve consistently been perfect for at least 6 months. But when it comes down to it, why be in the business world, if not for the money itself?
Yes, there is a thrill of contributing to the growth of something new, but I try not to kid myself that everyone works for the thrill of it. Maybe that was the case in the theater world (and even theatre professionals have agents who negotiate their pay and benefits) but it’s not the case for the rest of reality. And it’s terrible tough to process what one deserves when, as I’ve read, salary is less about what you deserve and more about how good of a personal salesman you really are.
If I have any goal at the moment that’s clear, it’s this goal of increasing my networth by $50,000 year over year. That worked last year, mostly due to the rise of my AAPL stock, but this year is going to be a challenge. My stocks could go down. I’m overweighted in AAPL. It’s unlikely that my stocks will surge as they did mid-year 2013, despite my growth dropping from 35% at AAPL’s peak to just 15% YoY, and still dropping. Again, I put myself in the place where I set goals where I cannot fully control the outcome. Well, I can definitely diversify my investments more and look into areas outside of stocks, mutual funds and ETFs to increase my bank account totals, but if my goal was really to pad my networth I’d get an MBA and find myself a job at a big consulting firm or hedge fund. Clearly, that’s not my goal. That’s a distraction. A security net. A practicality that I feel fortunate to be obsessed with, especially since I’ll be marrying someone who has $0 in savings and I still think perhaps I’d like to own a house one day and live an upper middle class life.
It’s the lack of realistic goals that constantly drive me to depression. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m doing quite well for a 29 year old. I’m earning $100k per year. Incredible? I’ve have a stable job for over two years in a theoretically senior role. I have true professional responsibilities and some level of respect. I’ve been in a relationship for nearly seven years with a man who has the most kind heart in the world, who brings me back to reality with his lack of materialistic ways, and ability to find sheer contentment in simplicity. There is so much going so right for me at the moment but it might as well be a mirage. I live as though one reality may disappear and another could invent itself overnight. In this constant state of panic. An internal circus of self-doubt, egotism, and tornadic virtue and vice.
It is growing out of the need to have some external sort of praise over my success for it to qualify as real. Because that will never happen and in order to find my own happiness I must let go of their idea of success. I try to shut out their constant criticism over my not-yet being married, my choice to date a man with no career himself, and then, “why do have you not bought a new car?” “why do you live in such a small room, you’re too old to have roommates?” “do you know (insert name of someone’s daughter here) is getting married next week to (insert name of someone with an impressive job title here) and is a lawyer herself. and she’s two years younger than you are.”
If I had a therapist, they’d tell me we need to work through these issues. But I’m hesitant to spend $200-$300 an hour talking to someone about this. I just want to find some way to believe in myself as an independent, free thinking, and potentially intelligent individual. Maybe then, and only then, I can find some sort of goal that makes sense. Only then can I find happiness and peace with what I have, in addition to what I want.