Learning Curve

  • Watercolor Orchids for Grandma

    I watercolored these orchids for my Grandmother's memorial. After I painted them by hand, I scanned them into Photoshop and made a few minor adjustments before dropping them into the program and thank you card. 

  • WCW: Sheryl Sandberg

    I recently finished listening to the audiobook, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I might be a little late to the party considering the book came out in 2013. Thanks to my Art Director friend, Lauren Nadrowski, I got hooked on Sandberg’s hard truths, that quite frankly broke the lies in my own head, and her honest determination and attitude. Since then, Sheryl Sandberg has easily become one of my top women crushes. 

    Lean In is based off of Sandberg original TedTalk “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”. 

    In her book, Sandberg elaborates about the ways women are held back in society, in culture, in the corporate workplace, and even in everyday life. She discusses her theories and gives statistics to back up why there are not many women leaders, the cultural stereotypes that hold us (and herself) captive, and her own struggles as one of the few women at the top of their fields. She encourages women to “lean in” when culture calls us to hold back, to be bold even or, especially, when we are afraid—to “sit at the table” instead of hanging back and letting men become CEOs, CTOs, CFOs while we sit back on the outside of the table. 

    Many of the things Sandberg talked about were things I realized I was doing because either I was a.) taught to behave that way in business or b.) been conditioned to act that way in business. 

    “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” 

    I learned from an early age to keep my mouth shut, to stand back, hold back, and do the disciplined, obedient, quiet route. I’m not quite sure why or how this happened, but I believe it happened throughout my childhood, through learned experiences, parenting, and friendship failures. One particular instance that comes to mind is when I was around 10 or 11. I was asked to play in a tournament for one of our opponents. Growing up I matured faster than most girls my age so I was awkward physically and I was homeschooled so I was awkward socially as well. I never quite fit in and never quite felt like I had skills or abilities that matched my teammates. So I had a pretty bad perception of myself as a kid to begin with. I’m a little foggy on the details now but I guess I was walking around, as an awkward 10 or 11-year-old you, bragging to my teammates that this had happened. It felt like quite the accomplishment for a kid that didn’t think they were very good. 

    Yet that night my coach called me and told me not to brag because my teammates probably didn’t/wouldn’t/won’t appreciate it. I think I asked her what I could do to get more playing time or how could I get more playing time and she something to the degree that some players on the team just won’t get as much playing time as others because “that’s the way things are.” Or maybe it was something like its not about playing time, it’s about how hard you work/how good you are. 

    This wrecked me as a kid as these lies became unknowingly engrained in me. My coach was conditioned to believe these lies (probably taught to her in a similar way by her own haunted ghosts) and without realizing she passed the lies to me. We do this to almost everyone we have impact relationships with. This is how cultural stereotypes have conditioned young women and girls all over the world—we pass these lies on and on and on until the lies become truths and the truths become stereotypes. And then everyone believes the stereotypes (the perpetrator, the victim, and the witnesses). 

    On the flip side, if I had been a boy who was bragging about his accomplishment, his teammates and his coach might have ignored him for his pure ridiculousness or told him to stop being arrogant or cocky. Maybe if he has asked about how to get more playing time, the coach would have been more helpful in raising him to be better. 

    In her book, Sandberg continue to talk about the difference between men and women and the gender biases that exists, both in societal/cultural stereotypes, perceptions, and behaviors: 

    • Girls are called “bossy”, but boys are called “leaders”. Women are called “aggressive” while men are called “assertive”. 
    • No one asks a man “how he does it all?” 
    • She explains the Howard/Heidi study: When a women is successful, she is considered selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for” but when a man is successful, he is well liked. 
    • Women are held back by internal obstacles: fear, self-doubt, or lack of confidence.
    • Women are prone to not negotiate a salary, while it’s assumed men will negotiate 
    • Women who negotiate a salary are viewed negatively. Yet women will still be offered a smaller salary than a man. 
    • Women will stop reaching for their careers because they are “planning to have a family”. 
    • Men still run the world: “Of 197 heads of state, only 22 are women.” 

    “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a depth breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.” 

    I’m not good at reviewing books. I take what I can from them and apply it to my life. I found myself more than once in this cultural stereotype: I’ve never negotiated salary even though my husband tells me too. I don’t speak up in large group. I submit to authority. I try to please everyone instead. I’m not bold in my thoughts and opinions. I let stronger personalities throw my ideas around. I hang back a lot of the times from taking charge. 

    I’m not saying go be a bulldog and bulldoze people over. I’m not saying to be opinionated and demanding with your thoughts and ideas. I’m just saying what we learned was “right” might be not “best” and what we learned to be “true” might not be the “truth”. I’m not going to be bold in every instance I have—but now I know that being quiet is not always the proven approach. I can speak my mind and that people will not always like me; but at least I've spoken my mind. I’ve learned to sit at the table when I need to and to lean in when I have to. 

    And it's important that we equip those around us—those we're friends with, those we mentor, those who are our own kids—so we can stop these stereotypes and bridge the gender gap. 

    If you are looking for book reviews, here are two good ones from Forbes, New York Times and Washington Post. Here are motivational quotes from Sheryl Sandberg on the Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Muse. You can also follow Sheryl on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

  • Learning Curve: Boundaries and Saying No

    I found out today that I was charged an extra $33 for accidentally driving down a toll road at 5 am during my last trip to Boulder, Colorado. I had been commuting to Colorado from LA for almost three months for a project at a digital start up. 

    It was my last and worse trip because I didn't want to be there, but my boss had just been promoted and my new boss wanted me to fly out on the last week of my contract. I ended up getting into a miscommunication with a co-worker. I was exhausted from traveling and not having my own space—sleeping in a friends spare room—and missing my life. I was also hitting the crux of my half marathon training in 43 degree fall weather at a job that required more than 5-days a week dedication. I was exhausted and should have said no. And to top all of that off, I got lost on my final trip to the airport and now it's cost me an extra $33. Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. Right? 

    So yes, I should have said no because I didn't want to do it. In my final review, my former boss emphasize my inability to voice my opinions, especially when I didn't want to do something, more regulary as an area of weakness. Maybe it's because I want everyone to be happy or maybe it's because I lack the confidence in my experience. Or maybe I was just trained that you don't say "No" to your boss. 

    Here are two good articles, from Forbes and Fast Company, respectively on how and when to say "No" to authority. 

    In this particular situation, what I should have done instead of just saying, "Yes" and begrudgingly booking another plane ticket, is think of another alternative, according to Forbes

    New Boss: Nicole, since you've on contract for another week, why don't you fly out again so we can brainstorm brand concepts for all our clients? 
    Smarter Nicole: Boss, can I throw out another idea? 
    New Boss: Sure! What do you have in mind? 
    Smarter Nicole: I think it will be easier for me to wrap things up in LA, but I can be sure to set aside a huge chunk of time to video chat with My Designer to brainstorm brand concepts for clients. My Designer is has really grown in conceptualizing and I think he and I can still nail it all out over Skype. 

    Forbes then recommends, if your boss still says "No", at least you know you tried and you also know how important this project is if they want to stick to their original strategy. 

    Fast Company also mentions a few things I could have done better from the get-go: 

    1. Acknowledge that you ultimately have the same goals
    We both have the same goal: to brainstorm brand concepts for our clients. We just have different wants to accomplish this and that's OK. Joseph Grenny says: "Your mutual higher purpose is to serve, and your job is to accomplish goals. It's not who is right, it's what is right." 

    2. Explain the Consequences of the Request
    I could have talked about how I could have accomplished more to wrap things up if I was home and what else I would have accomplished had I been home, not exhausted. 

    3. Share Your Facts
    Facts: I think My Designer has progressed enough to be able to lead me in this conversation via Skype. It's a good way to begin to pass things on to him. I would love to be able to leave him in a place where he can lead a brainstorming brand concept session. 

    4. Set Boundaries From the Start
    The big one I should have done from the start. I was too easy to say, "Yes, yes, yes." Yes, I want to travel. Yes, I would love to travel. Yes, I don't mind sleeping on the floor. Yes, I don't mind flying in on Sundays. Yes, yes, yes. 

    Everytime I said no or countered with something, I felt a liked a little less because I was an employee with boundaries. I didn't give them the opportunity to appreciate my boundaries because I was too busy worrying about whether or not they liked my boundaries. Granted there's probably alot more to that psychosis, but I did nothing to help fellow (and future) designers by not vocalizing my boundaries. 

    Diane Amundson says: "If you don't want to be on call during weekends or holidays, make this clear in the beginning where there is more leeway and where it's black and white."

    The other big thing is to remember to not actually say, "No". No one just likes to hear the word, "No". I learned this early on from Brad Abare. You must say, "Yes, but." You just need to figure out how to do so. These articles from Forbes and Fast Company will help.