28, whiskey & cheese, running & writing

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I turned 28 last week and was back home in Atlanta the weekend before. On the way to the airport, my mom asked, “So, what do you think about being 28?” I knew what she was getting at. “What, like I’m supposed to know what I’m doing with my life by now?” I retorted, laughing. “Yeah, exactly. So what are you doing?” *pause* “No, I’m just teasing. Looking back on my life, I don’t think I was truly mature and knew what I was doing until I was in my 30s” (In some ways it makes sense, but I kind of think she was just saying so to be nice…)

On my actual birthday, I went to a class on whiskey and cheese pairings with a friend. It was incredible how much both the whiskey and cheese experts knew, and how much there was to know about whiskey and cheese — what kind of grass to feed a cow that will be used for a particular type of cheese, different methods of smoking cheese and why, which whiskeys come from which distilleries, how climate affects the aging process of whiskey, the history of Japanese whiskey, and on and on and on.

In an earlier post, I commented on what I would describe as my case of “career A.D.D.” — a mix of 13 different full-time or odd-jobs in the past five years. I was taken back and impressed by the ability of the cheese and whiskey buffs to become so knowledgeable on one single topic.

And then I came across an article about passion and motivation on Buffer, about how embracing boredom is actually a key to staying motivated:

“Most of the time people talk about getting motivated and “amped up” to work on their goals. Whether it’s business or sports or art, you will commonly hear people say things like, “it all comes down to having enough passion.”

As a result, I think many people get depressed when they lose focus or motivation because they think that successful people have some unstoppable passion and willpower that they seem to be missing. But that’s exactly the opposite of what this coach was saying.

Instead, he was saying that really successful people feel the same boredom and the same lack of motivation that everyone else feels. They don’t have some magic pill that makes them feel ready and inspired every day. But the difference is that the people who stick with their goals don’t let their emotions determine their actions. Top performers still find a way to show up, to work through the boredom, and to embrace the daily practice that is required to achieve their goals.”

At first, it made me feel slightly dejected when reflecting back on my somewhat haphazard career past and quite uncertain future, and the fact that I haven’t exactly embraced boredom and monotony.

And then I realized that there are in fact things that I have consistently done for the past 10+ years — running and writing. And funnily enough, what made me realize it was my Twitter bio. I change it every 6 months or so, but it’s usually been three or four descriptors:

“Runner, writer, novice capoeirista.”
“Runner, writer, sports-lover, aerospace & defense nerd.”
“Runner, writer, sports-lover, digital media junkie.”
“Runner, writer, sports-lover.”

“Runner” and “Writer” in all of them. I wouldn’t call myself an “expert” in either one, and I’m not quite making a living from them (yet). But they are things that are incorporated into my jobs and hobbies. And I really do enjoy the process, the monotony and the struggles that come with running, whether it’s training for a half marathon, giving a 4-mile running tour or just doing a few quick sprints around a track. And I really do enjoy the writing process, whether it’s going towards an 80-page thesis , 300-word blog posts, or just journaling freely.

So now I’m 28 and haven’t quite figured out what I want to be when I “grow up” yet. But as a good friend of mine once said, “Life has its own way to reach equilibrium and we should make its path easier!”

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The world is your oyster?

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What’s that stat? “The average American changes careers seven times in his or her lifetime,” or something? (Apparently there are some nuances, however.)

For the past five years, I’ve bounced around from idea to idea, pursuing the “right” career that combines personal interests, is financially sustainable, and aligns well with my own skills. Out of curiosity, I listed out all of the jobs/internships I’ve had since graduating from college and jotted down what I found appealing about them. The tally came out to 13 different positions. (Caveat: I wanted to include anything that could fall under “professional experience,” which also meant part-time or freelance/contracted positions.)

photo (3)My LinkedIn profile is a mess, I have about 10 different versions of my resume, and my poor Asian tiger mom has given up on trying to figure me out.

“The world is your oyster” is an idiom I casually throw out to others because I like the idea of having a lot of freedom and options and the sense of agency implied. But my current lack of “career goals” and dedicated direction feels pretty unsettling. Can I have an oyster in a nice, safe, controlled environment, like a fish tank or something…?

For now, I work at ASICS a few days a week, help develop original content about the e-commerce industry for a friend’s start-up (Informerly), and am revisiting a few long-form story ideas from journalism school to hopefully pitch/self-publish at some point.

*Insert pithy and useful takeaway*

On customer service & running shoes

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running shoes

I recently discovered the track at Thomas Jefferson Park (which I had somehow failed to visit for the past two years, despite living within a 10-minute walk from it). I did a type of “ladder” speed workout, a series of seven sprints with a short break between each  — 1 lap, rest, 2 laps, rest, 3 laps, rest, 4 laps, rest, 3 laps rest, 2 laps rest, 1 lap, rest. (The idea is to try to be as consistent as possible, despite the variations in distance.)

After I finished, a man stopped me to ask about my shoes — a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (the funny looking toe shoes meant to mimic barefoot running). I’m pretty used to getting questions when I wear them, but the conversation turned out to be a lot more engaging than usual on that particular day.

A few weeks ago, I started working at the ASICS store that just opened in Meatpacking. There are three of us who are considered “running specialists,” and we try to help answer more of the running-specific technical questions. There’s a high concentration of tourists in the area, and the type of customers that come in span a broad range in terms of running experience:

  • The Spanish woman who had never done a road race and struggled to reach 5 mph on the treadmill but was insistent on going through a very detailed gait analysis and seeing her results on the computer to help decide between two very similar pairs of technical running shoes;
  • The Australian woman who runs 40-50 miles a week and has gotten the new version of ASICS’ DS Trainer shoe for the past the several seasons but struggled to decide on a size 8.5 or 9 and tried on various 8.5s before settling on a particular pair;
  • The mother and daughter who went back and forth on sock colors (the magenta and blue set, or the blue and yellow set?) several times before deciding on blue and yellow after I noticed they already had a magenta pair in a different style.

On paper, my job is to simply sell running shoes and fitness apparel. But there are always little bits and pieces of value you can add on a particular task.

Customer service is about helping people in the decision-making process — whether it’s providing new information or just providing a slightly different perspective. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, “I think that’s a nice color too,” to help someone solidify a decision. And sometimes you just need someone to bring you 10 different pairs of shoes to try on to realize that you actually wanted the first pair you picked up.

Happy to oblige.

#WhySports

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It’s been an interesting past week, as I’ve started a freelance project management position with Al Jazeera America’s digital marketing team. And with any new job or significant life change, there’s going to be stress, uncertainty, and a lot of ups and downs. Despite some of the day-to-day craziness and tumult, it’s been a good experience overall and a really fascinating time to be there. (Actually, they’re a lot like a start-up in many ways — perhaps more on this later. Here’s a New Yorker article for context.)

I wondered how The Rundown would fair once I started a full-time job. Somehow, I find myself that much more determined to stick to it. I’ve gone back and forth between grandiose visions and conversations with NBA/MLS marketing personnel, to enjoying it as a simple creative outlet. I do think there would be a market for such a thing and that I’m providing a service to my 39 subscribers. And ultimately, it’s an important and enjoyable project for me too.

Sometimes it’s fun (and useful!) to revisit the reasons for why you do certain things and make certain choices. A little trip down memory lane:

From one of my personal statements when applying to jschool, Fall 2010:

Sports generate a unique kind of energy that pushes athletes to their limits beyond what one would ever think was humanly possible—injured runners crawl to finish lines to avoid disqualification; Olympic gymnasts vault on injured ankles for gold medals; major league pitchers come back from what should be career-ending elbow surgery.  Sports bring out diehard loyalty from fans and cause spectators to lose themselves, completely engrossed in a game.  Sometimes, it seems completely irrational to me, but ultimately, I find it to be one of the most beautiful things to witness.

From my Sports Illustrated internship application, Fall 2011:

The power of sports to inspire and motivate people–athletes or fans– never ceases to amaze me. […] Sports drive people to new heights and push them to their limits. They can be a manifestation of otherwise unseen or untapped drive and emotion that people can relate to and aren’t afraid of sharing.

From a post on a blog I used to write for, Spring 2011 (full post here):

The Grizzlies won their first home playoff game and became only the second No. 8 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series. The Hawks and Magic got into feisty battles on and off the court resulting in two ejections and technical and flagrant fouls galore. Amar’e hurt his back, Rose hurt his ankle, CP3 got a triple-double playing with a bandaged hand and patch over his right eye. And it’s only Round 1.

This is what I love about sports. In a sense, every game is the game; every moment is the moment.

Whether it’s a high school field hockey game or the Super Bowl, day after day, athletes put all of their energy, efforts, and heart into a game. They throw themselves out there and allow themselves to be pushed to new limits and reach greater heights.

So I guess that’s #WhySports!

The economic value of written content

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A few weeks ago, I came across this article on The Awl about freelance rates and the poor ROI of web-based written content — for writers and publishers:

It’s not news that making a living by writing on the Internet is a tough business. Freelancing for websites is nearly unsustainable, especially in the one-off pitch, write and edit sense. But here’s the thing: It rarely makes financial sense for the website, either. This piece alone will almost certainly lose money for The Awl; nearly all the site’s pieces do.

If it’s not worth it financially for the writer or the publisher, why do we do it? Or rather, how do we continue to do it?

Admittedly, there are times when I’m kind of a Debbie Downer about the topic. When I was a kid, I thought it’d be super cool to be a sportswriter and ended up leaving a safe, comfortable job to try my hand at it. But from an economic standpoint, it’s hard to make a living as a writer. And I mean that not just from an hours/workload standpoint, but also from an emotional one: “Really? This thing that took me 10 hours to do is worth 5x this thing that took me 40 hours, 10 cups of coffee, 5 stress-relief trips to the gym, a lot of chocolate and endless phone calls with colleagues/editors?” (The Awl article also had a good point along these lines: “There is a general correlation between good, hard work and success, but it’s not one-to-one.”)

But there are a lot of content-based start-ups alive and kicking — there’s a reason I (and many others) consistently turn to the Greatist, a relatively new health and fitness content-based start-up, over the myriad of fitness sites out there, for example. And for the bad rap that branded content and content marketing get among traditional journalists, Buffer’s blog has become one of my go-to’s. (Actually, check out this somewhat “meta” post on their content marketing strategy.) Granted, I’m not sure what the ROI of content marketing is compared to “traditional” journalism. But my hunch is that marketing $s > advertising $s.

I don’t have it all figured out. But for now, blogging on my own schedule and keeping up with my email newsletter is a nice creative release, without the pressure of trying to make a living from it!

What’s in a tweet?

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The consulting company I occasionally do work for joined Twitter a few months ago (in part through the gentle nudging of yours truly). It’s a government-focused company, and a significant portion of the work is in the defense and aerospace industry. Which conjures up images of retired Air Force officers and government contractors rather than social-media savvy tweeters.

Out of curiosity, I went back to the original email to one of the firm’s partners that I believe spurred on the decision to jump on the Twitter bandwagon:

Also, as a separate and kind of random note, do you know if there is any thought on Avascent getting on Twitter? … Hard to say how effective it would be for actually creating business (in a measurable way), but maybe doesn’t hurt for branding purposes? (McKinsey and Booz are on it… Teal Group, apparently, is not.)

I wouldn’t consider myself a Twitter “power user,” and I don’t have a massive following; but it is a significant part of my professional life and something that is pretty habitual.

The fact that no one in my family and very few of my close friends use it doesn’t really faze me — to a lot of them, Twitter is seen as a place to find out what Kim Kardashian had for breakfast.

But somehow, the thought of running a business and not being on Twitter didn’t sit right — even for retired Air Force officers and defense research analysts.

In any case, it got me thinking about Twitter’s diverse range of uses, which, when you’re in it, seem prima facie. But it’s interesting to consider the value proposition of Twitter across different industries and user groups — which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive!

Twitter Value Prop slide

Confession: I canceled my print subscription to Sports Illustrated.

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I’d been a subscriber to SI’s weekly print magazine for the past several years and a casual reader since I was about 9. (I think I still have my first issue, which was from 1995 when the Braves won the World Series.) I loved Tom Verducci’s tug-at-the-heartstrings baseball stories, Joe Posnanski’s wit and sarcasm, S.L. Price’s tales of sports in faraway places.

But at some point, the pile of unread issues that would inevitably end up in the recycling bin started becoming a guilty burden. A print magazine is not the place to keep up with breaking news, and you can access all of the articles for free from SI Vault about a week after the magazine comes out. So having the physical print version became redundant and more of a symbol than anything else. (I also enjoy discovering content, and I think “SI overload” became an issue once I started writing for the website’s breaking news blog.)

There’s a lot of stuff out there and a lot of competition for people’s attention. I recently sent out a few friends-and-family emails about The Rundown’s newsletter, this time with a much clearer and more direct message, no caveats or waffling. And grew my list considerably as a result. New subscribers included close friends who had been very supportive of the idea but not subscribed.

Takeaway? Taking a “good content will be found” and “if you build it, they will come” approach is not effective. With so many distractions and so much content out there, a couple of casual mentions won’t do it. You have to put just as much effort and thought into the marketing/promo process as you do creating the product/content itself.