Category Archives: Career

Overwhelmed at Work: For Better or Worse

My job isn’t nearly as high stress as a career as an emergency room surgeon, but it has its ongoing stress nonetheless. The stress comes from carving a path that is not clear, and the responsibility that comes with both carving it on your own, while also the pressure of not trying anything too far out in left field, as there isn’t enough time to waste on something that doesn’t work. And you can still mess up quite a bit, even while keeping your work fairly ordinary.

I love the challenge that comes with my current job. I truly have the opportunity to make a huge difference in my company. I also have the opportunity to really hurt my company (not on purpose, of course, but if I just can’t meet my commitments for whatever reason.)

My confusion is when I am fairly overwhelmed and when I’m not organized/focused enough to get things done as they should be. It’s hard to say because I know I do have a tendency to procrastinate, but I’m still working 60+ hours a week, barely sleeping, staying up all night to get projects done. So I might not be the most productive at the office straight through the day, but I’m still putting in quite a lot of hours into this job. I can’t imagine – even if I could manage to retain focus from 8am to 7pm – that I’d be much more productive. I might sleep more, but my output would likely be around the same. Continue reading

The Currency of Time: Life’s Most Precious Commodity

Lately I’ve been trying to compute the currency of time.

Not every second holds the same value as the next. And value is relative — sleep seconds, for instance, are highly valuable cohesively, yet alone they are nights of insomnia dosed with fissures of awareness. The same goes for time to spend with family, friends, or even yourself, outside of your daily work hours. What is the value of that time? High, surely, but how high? What if you spend four years of your life dedicated to work, almost every minute of your life, to build a successful company, so the rest of your life requires less stress over earning and the ability to appreciate time more — making time more valuable.

At this very moment, I’m sitting on a plane (in first class again – yeay, elite status upgrades) and — after two bloody marys — am quite introspective. God, I only had one and a half bloody marys — they make these very strong in first class! Regardless, I’m once again pondering time as currency, because time itself is the most limited commodity, therefore it’s the most valuable. I also owe you all a post, since I’ve been incredibly busy with — work (and rewarding work at that) — and haven’t had time to write. Or haven’t known what to write about. But now, sweet readers, I impart my thoughts on the most valuable currency of all, the limited moments we have here on this earth between birth and death that are quickly flying by as we sit at our desks, stressing over something that in the grand scheme of things, as far as the meaning, or lack of meaning, of life itself, is not that important, beyond purchasing for more “time” with an investment in today’s time value.

My job doesn’t need to require all nighters, but I do my best work at night, and need to be at the office during the day to handle the thousands of little things that come up — an interview to schedule, a event to coordinate, a new graphic to manage the design process for, and so on. I’m completely overwhelmed by my role and terrified I’ll be replaced. There’s the alcohol truth serum speaking up. I like drinking, occasionally, on flights, because it gives me time to think, straight or crooked I’m not sure, but at the very least, I feel calm, and can process simpler important matters without worrying about the bigger picture.

But back to the point of this point — what is the value of time, and does it make sense to trade in time now for time later? As the company that acquired my former company announces its IPO, I realize that, although I’ll never see a dollar of that success, wealth is within reach. Wealth, not as in becoming a billionaire, but as in earning $1M before I turn 32. Granted, this isn’t a requirement by any means, but it’s more of a possibility now than ever. There are days I believe — despite my ardent atheism — that there must be some great screenwriter above writing my life story. It’s too funny how things work out, or don’t work out, but if you keep pushing, keep going, eventually something works out.

Two bloody marys and a red wine into this 1 hr flight before I have a stopover and get on my next flight, I’m, admittedly, extremely intoxicated. Not to the point of feeling sick, but to the point I love, occasionally, on extremely rare occasions, by myself, when the rest of the world just disappears, where I’m in my mind, in a place where I can examine what matters and what doesn’t.

Red wine, done.

I don’t want to be a billionaire. I’d like to have a million dollars at 30 or 32. To invest most of it and live a simple life. To pay rent off my boyfriend’s salary. To have a family — three kids — we’ve already named them, go figure — and to love them more than anything. I want to paint, to write, to do all the things I have absolutely no time for right now. I want to kick ass in my current role and be a leader in helping this company be extraordinarily succcessful. On one hand, that sounds ridiculous. On the other hand, it’s possible.

It’s so possible it really seems like it’s scripted. I invested $20k into my stock options because, quite frankly, I’ve been blessed (in a non religious sense) with a CEO/boss who is brilliant, who I trust, who knows how to build an extremely valuable company. I don’t know what my place is in that company, as I think I’ll be replaced, or “superior-ized” as a VP is brought in to manage me once it really matters — but I really want to prove I can do that. I can kick ass. I can help our entire company be successful. I love that. For the first time in my life, I believe I have the opportunity to make a difference in the company. If we’re ever to be worth billions of dollars, I’m going to own up to the fact that there’s a good change I’ll have something to do with it. Incredible. That job of mine is not being done well now. I need time to focus. Time to read and learn as much as possible. That time is not available. That time is spent worrying, and then working through the night. I love the night. I wish I had the day to read books about marketing and analytics and the night to work. But I can’t have that — I just need to be amazing at what I do have. The opportunity is there. I don’t want to fuck this up.

Which brings me back to — time. I am more than willing to give all of my time to work now, so I can live the life I want later. I don’t know what that life is — maybe it’s painting, having a family, starting my own business, volunteering — whatever it is — I know money is the only answer to that end goal. It isn’t the answer for everyone. I don’t want to be a billionaire. I don’t want a big house. I want time. How much does time cost? Maybe more than a big house. But that’s what I want. How can I get it? How can I help my company succeed? That is all I want right now.

My $20,000 Bet: The Biggest Risk I’ll Ever Take

Given that my largest one-time purchase ever has been on my $7,000 car, it was difficult for me to write a check today for $15,000 to “early exercise” the majority of my mostly pre-vested stock options. Perhaps I should have sought out more advice before doing this, but I feel like my life has a way of working out and this was a smart risk to make.

Worst case scenerio — I find out that over the long run, this risk has cost me $15,000 plus whatever interest I would have made investing that money elsewhere. Best case, I could become a millionaire, or even a billionaire. Most likely outcome is somewhere closer to the first option, but why not take the risk now when I’m young and can handle the set back.

The whole equity situation at startups is so tricky. You really can only get the best value out of your options if you’re able to exercise early, at the strike price, before the stock value is raised in a later funding round. But early is also when it’s not very clear how the company will do over the long run. It’s exactly like buying a lottery ticket, except maybe you know that the winning lottery ticket was sold within one specific town. You have some insider information that within this “town” someone is going to win big. Everyone else, still, is going to lose. But if you were able to pinpoint the town, or even the exact street the store is on, would you buy a ticket?

That’s what I’ve done. I wrote out my check, stared at it for a few minutes before handing it off to my boss to exercise most of my stock options. I believe that of all the companies I may work for in my life and have in this past, this is the one to bet on. The team is great, the product, while early, is solid and something that companies are willing to buy and spend quite a bit of money on. I’ve been involved in many aspects of the business, enough to know the market and believe we have a shot at really building something special.

My last startup — where I never bought the stock — never had a business model. There, it seemed silly to buy the stock. And even they managed to get acquired for a small sum. No one besides the founders got rich off of it, but at least anyone who exercised their options got their money back plus a little pocket change.

Still, as I drive around in my busted car with no air conditioning, I can’t help but think… should I have taken that $15k and spent it on a nicer car vs. exercising my stock options that a few years from now could very well be worth nothing. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. My dream is to have a million dollars by the time I’m 30, and given I’m half way to 28, this is really the only possible way.

10 Reasons Why a Theatre BFA is a Smart Move

For all the reasons why “getting a liberal arts degree” is a “waste of money” (I’ve heard them all), here are 10 reasons why getting a bachelors in theatre arts is actually a smart thing to do, in terms of your career.

1. Improvisation Skills are Golden in your Professional Life
When it comes down to it, everything in life is sales — regardless of your job. First, you have to sell yourself to get the job. Then, you have to sell your ideas to move up in your career. Improv teaches you to never say “no” in a situation, and instead to say “yes, and…” and think on your feet. It’s a hugely important skill in all aspects of business.

2. Direct Actors and You Can Manage Anything
Actors tend to be among the most difficult people to work with — with egos, I’ve found, only comparable to top-level execs. By managing actors (as a director, or even assistant), you learn how to placate their egos while still getting what you want. If you can accomplish this, you’ve learned 80% of skills needed to be a good manager.

3. You’ll Learn How to Budget Wisely
Unless you’re producing Spiderman on Broadway (and even then) you’ll have a limited budget to work with, all while having to create or source costumes, set pieces, lighting and more. By working with a tight budget for a project, you’ll learn how to prioritize where to put the money, and explain why you are making these choices.

4. There’s Never Enough Time, and That’s OK
Theatre people know that from the first read through of a script to opening night is never enough time. There are always freak outs during “hell week” (the week before opening) yet somehow every time things fall together and the show opens. By going through this process a couple of times, you learn to trust how things fall together as long as you have a team that’s committed to getting something done, regardless of your time or resources.

5. You are Your Brand, Write Your Professional Character
More than ever, your professional trajectory is largely tied to your personal brand. What is that brand? It’s a combination of a few things — your schooling and resume, but also the story you present to the world through social networks and events. As a theatre major, you’ll learn plenty about character development, and how to build believable identities as a playwright and/or actor.

6. You’ll Feel at Home in Front of a Crowd
Business leaders are often skilled presenters. They have charisma (or know how to fake it) and can transfix an audience with their presence. As a theater major, you’ll have lots of time to hone your “on stage” skills, so you’ll be ready for any career that requires you to make presentations.

7. A Theater Degree is More Practical than Most Liberal Arts Degrees
The argument against liberal arts degrees is that they’re not practical. If you major in English, you may read a lot, research and write papers, but chances are you won’t be working in a collaborative environment on larger projects (unless you seek out those opportunities.) Theater is inherently a project-based degree, and a collaborative one at that. You will be forced to work with other people to build something. That gives you a lot to talk about at job interviews, even if you haven’t had a lot of other professional experiences.

8. Theatre Teaches You How to Become an Expert at Everything
When preparing for a role, directing a play, writing a play, or researching for design, you’re fast learning a lot about subjects you’ve often never heard of before. This forces you to become a quick study — perhaps a Jack of All Trades, Master of None — but you’re certainly able to pick up enough information on any topic quickly enough instead of worrying about being a super-expert before discussing a topic.

9.  Don’t Underestimate the Value of Creativity
Theatre majors are required to be creative on a daily basis. In the modern business world, thinking outside the box is often a necessity to solve the challenges that are present in many industries today. While strict academics may struggle to brainstorm and come up with a lot of options for how to attack a given situation, a theatre major is likely able to use their experience of thinking on their feet to offer new insights that others could not.

10. You Can Always “Fall Back on Broadway”
For many theatre majors, a career in theatre – or a related field such as the entertainment industry – is not just a fantasy. Many of the people I went to school with are successfully working on stage and off in the industry. Making a living as an actor IS really tough, but there are plenty of jobs in design, stage management, production, and the business side of theatre. In reality a theatre degree is a lot more of a business degree than most liberal arts majors.

 

Should I Exercise My Right to Stock Option Exercising

Working in startups, your pay is always split somehow between salary and “stock options.” If you don’t know what that means — basically an option gives you the option to purchase a share of stock at a low “strike price” of the company. If the company does well, the price of the stock goes up, and if it does really well the nitty gritty details that can make the purchasing of the said stock through the option become less painful to think about. Trouble is, most companies, even good companies, aren’t Facebook or even LinkedIn. So exercising options early could mean to big losses down the line.

There are some tax reasons to exercise options early. From my understanding, if you have ISOs (which I do), you can buy the stock options up front, before they’re vested, and wait a year to sell them at capital gains tax rates. That is, if in a year, or after a year, they’re worth more than they were when you bought them. And that only really makes sense if your company goes public — the odds of a startup going public are very, very small. More likely, even if your successful,  you get acquired. And as I experienced at my last startup — an acquisition, even when the founders do well, might not result in a great turnout for the rest of the employees.

So most of my instincts are telling me it would be silly to exercise the options now. Why not wait? Well, my company is likely raising additional funding soon, which means the value of the option will go up. While I’ll still be able to buy the option for the lower strike price, I’ll have to pay tax on the difference between the strike price and the value when I buy the option, which could be quite a lot, especially given that I’d be PAYING for the option and owe money on it. And there’s still a decent chance that eventually it will be worth $0.

Now, I could exercise a portion of my options – take a little risk, and wait on the rest – but it’s not clear this makes sense either. There is a whole issue with AMT that I don’t understand (anyone want to explain this to me?) that you can avoid if you exercise early, so says the Internets. I’m not sure at what point you hit the AMT issue in terms of your yearly gross income.

Besides all of that, the reality is that I don’t really have the $20k I’d need to purchase all of my stock options right now. Well, I do have it — I have $130k in random investment accounts — but I don’t know if it makes sense to pull my funds from any of them to exercise my options. It’s a huge risk. It might be better from a tax perspective if, in a year or a few years we get acquired, but who knows if that will happen. I do believe in this company (which is rare) so that says a lot. Still, I’m relatively risk-adverse when it comes to money. Hmm. What do you think I should do?

Interviewing Mr. and Ms. Ivy League

It’s a little ironic that just one year ago I was staring at an Algebra textbook, attempting to (re?)master polynomials in order to ace my planned upcoming GMAT, and then that dream was replaced with a respectable, exciting role at a startup. That’s not the ironic piece, though. At the time, my quantitative skills that had escaped my mind sometime back in high school were not coming back to me all that easily… and my dreams of a Stanford GSB MBA or Berkeley Haas MBA were admittedly laughable.

It hurt knowing that I’d never be a competitive enough candidate to get into those programs — though the reason I wanted to go to the programs (to offer myself more flexibility and open doors in my career) was still not clearly worth the $200k price tag of an MBA, even from a school that would give me the golden resume pedigree my undergrad couldn’t offer.

Fast forward a year, and I’m literally in charge of hiring MBA students from these top tier schools for their summer internships. Yes, the same woman who would be an unlikely candidate for a seat at the student mock boardroom is sitting behind the interview desk, reviewing resumes of people who are often just about my age and much more “impressive” than I ever will be. And by “impressive,” I mean their resumes all blur together with impressiveness.

Often these candidates are whip smart, so there is truth behind the value in hiring them, but that’s not always the case. Not everyone who is able to “shape themselves” into the person that can get into a top MBA program is the same person who can think outside the box and solve problems that are far from textbook.

Regardless, my biggest bit of perplexity in this whole process, came yesterday when reviewing the very impressive resume of one of these applicants from one of these top tier programs with an extremely solid employment history, albeit outside of tech. I immediately went to email this person to invite them for an interview, based on the email on their resume, and a few minutes later it bounced.

I thought perhaps I had spelled something wrong — surely an MBA student from an Ivy League school would know better than to spell his own email address wrong on his resume. But lo and behold, a typo. His school name was spelled incorrectly. Ultimately, this guy will surely go on to great things, but I can’t understand how someone can spend $200k on an MBA, get a 780 on the GMAT, and not spell check his email address on his resume. Thank goodness the “impressives” aren’t perfect. Otherwise I’d never stand a fighting chance.

Without a Raise, How my Salary Increased from $20k to $90k in 5 years.

Some people get annual raises of 3% to keep up with inflation, or more if they’re lucky, and less if it’s in the middle of a recession in a company that can’t afford to offer raises.

I’ve never gotten a raise. Since graduating from college in 2005, I started out making $18 an hour at a non-profit and am now making $90k a year. This was not through raises. In fact, my income trajectory is due to learning to pick myself back up when I lost my job, re-brand myself as something more valuable, and attack the job market with as much belief as disbelief in myself, which allowed me to take a lot of risks as I wandered my career path to where I am today.

Had I remained at my first job for longer than 6 months, I might have received annual raises and be making somewhere north of $25 per hour today. I’d have five years of Admin Assistant at a non-profit on my resume, which, if I were to leave to another position, would move me into yet another admin role, or a very low-level assistant position in another department.

Instead, I got laid off. Well, in that case I was fired. I was in the depths of one of my worst depressions that year (yea, got to love being bipolar) and my boss didn’t exactly understand why depression made it hard for me to drag myself out of bed and get to work on time. So that job ended, and within a week I managed to land my first full-time position as an editorial assistant at an international magazine making $35,000 a year. At the time, I was extremely excited to be making more than $20k.

I stayed in that position for a year and it went well enough, though the career path was not quite right and when the opportunity to jump ship came I jumped. This was the only time I was actively recruited, and thus my salary went up from $35k to $50k. This was a huge jump. Again, had I stayed at my employer where I was working as an editorial assistant, I’d be lucky if I were making $50k today. Instead, I left. And I stayed at my next position for three months, at which time I discovered I was (and still am) a terrible reporter (too socially anxious to be a good reporter and ADHD to pay attention to all the facts) so I left that role, again depressed, thinking I had thrown away all chances I had of a career, and moped around for a few months.

But then another opportunity came up. I found a part time job writing copy for a local startup at a rate of something like $35/hour. My contract there expired monthly, and I managed to re-negotiate a higher hourly rate each time. It got to the point when both my boss and I were tired of negotiating, and he offered me a full time job. I pushed the salary up a bit in our final negotiation to $65k, which I was offered. At the time I felt like I was rich.

Two years later, I’m laid off again. This time because the product I was working on was being shut down. I go for a month without a job and again fall into a deep depression — oh woe is me — oh woe — oh what am I going to do?

I land two jobs in those two months — one full time contract at a large, international tech company where I’m able to negotiate a $65/hour payrate (! — I inquired how much the role paid — $30-$60/hr, told them I wanted $70 an hour, totally thinking I was going to throw away the job by asking for so much, and they came back with $65) and another hourly role at a startup on the side at $40/hr. After a two month hiatus from the work world, I had the most profitable 6 months of my life. But that too had to come to an end.

The contract role at the big tech company was not extended because the product I was working on was being shut down (story of my life) — but I was ok with that. The startup I had been working for over the length of the contract was doing well enough to hire me on full time. And while I could have pursued a full time role in the large company where I had the contract (I had a few leads that might have turned into something) instead I decided to jump to the startup, assuming I’d have a stable salary and health insurance, vs the contract setup.

Mission accomplished. I secured a role with not only a $90k salary, but also a title that (assuming I am successful in this role) sets me up for higher-paid positions to follow. I doubt I’ll get a raise in this job either, but I also assume that within the next 3 years I’ll move on to a new position, and ideally break six figures, because now that I’ve found an industry and role I’m good at, I am sculpting myself into a valuable prospective hire.

Those first few years were really rough, and I’ll undoubtedly have a ton of rough times ahead, but at the very least I am confident that the harder you fall, the more room there is to leap higher than you’ve ever leaped before.

A Note to Job Applicants

This month I’ve been put in charge of hiring for a few positions at my company, and I’ve learned a lot about the hiring process in the meantime. That is, there are a lot of people who are “paper smart” that don’t know the first thing about how to apply for a job.

Firstly, when writing a cover letter, instead of listing out your accomplishments (unless they are actually applicable to the role you are applying to), explain how you can help my company. Few people even mention why they want to work for my company specifically in their cover letters — generic cover letters that discuss the industry very vaguely are not impressive, even if you have an impressive GPA from a top school.

Secondly, if you schedule an interview, do not pick up the phone informally, and sound like you are on drugs and/or half asleep. Be enthusiastic and please remember that you scheduled an interview at that time.

Finally, if you really want a job, it’s ok to follow up — these days postings on Craigslist for employees generate hundreds of applications, and most of them are garbage. It’s difficult to scan them all appropriately, and sometimes good applicants get missed. I was very impressed yesterday when I received a phone call from an applicant who I had not responded to yet, and it so happens he was one of the few applicants for the internship who had written a very good cover letter and who I had intended to reach out to — this has moved him even higher up the pile.

Not every company who is hiring will want you to do these things, but from my perspective the few people that have done all three stick out from the pack, and are much more likely to receive a job offer. It’s a little bit of education I’ll use for my own purposes next time I’m out seeking a job!

The Big Deal About Small Talk

Shortly after landing on the other side of a college diploma, I realized the vital ingredient in success had little to do with a piece of paper and much more to do with how you could hold your pop culture stats on your tongue and liquor in your belly at the same time. They don’t teach you that in school.

These days, I often find myself at conferences with high-powered execs in business suits, with their slicked back hair and hearty laughs, holding martinis and conversing with each other about the latest (insert popular sports team name here) game or even something nerdier yet still detail-oriented. I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest obstacle in the way of success is my inability to engage in what they call “small talk.” And yes, it’s a big deal. A really big deal.

If I’m spending time with someone who enjoys talking, I fall back on what I learned as a journalist — look interested and keep asking questions. But when it comes to talking to people — whether it be professionals or in a social setting, I can’t think of anything to say. I go through the same boring questionnaire about where they grew up, where I grew up, and yes, central New Jersey does exist, and no, everyone does not look like Snookie and The Situation there. Then I run into a wall.

In social situations, especially if alcohol is involved, I often find myself cracking a joke or twenty at the expense of myself. People seem to like my self deprecating humor, I like to think of it as charming, but it has no place in a professional networking environment. So — I have nothing to say, only questions to ask. I don’t think I’m all that interesting.

Being in marketing means making those connections by engaging in small talk, by gaining trust, respect. And if there were a college degree in networking I would never have passed. I am such an introvert, with social anxiety to boot. This is why I wonder if I can ever succeed in this industry — even if I were able to get on top of things the whole introversion piece of the puzzle will hold me back. I’m forever awkward. And even when the best connections are available to be made, I manage to misplace them in the unspoken chaos of insecurity.

jumping off the career plank

I often write about how I have a great job, yet I still feel like I haven’t found the position where my talent can best contribute to a company or cause. I can get by in marketing… I’m decent at telling a story about a product, understanding how people might want to use it. But I’m by no means a brilliant marketer. In this career, I can only go so far, and it really shows everyday at work.

Every year, every month, every day, I come back to wanting to be on the product side of tech divide. I highly value my experience in marketing and know it will help me in the long run, but I honestly do not want to spend the rest of my career as a marketer.

While I’m dedicated to my marketing role at my current company, at some point things will need to change. I’m 27 now, and I’m dedicated to this role until I’m 30 or 31. At which point, I need to figure out what’s next. And that time will be here before I can count 1. to. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Continue reading