The 3 Best Professional Moves Ive Made (So Far)

Everyone likes numbered lists. Here’s mine of my top three best career decisions so far:

1. Work as a bartender

I had Askaphobia when I was a kid. It’s trueI was afraid to ask anyone for anything, especially over the phone. The only way I could be in front of people was hiding behind my little Suzuki violin. And still, it scared me senseless. In college, while interning at Midwest Living magazine as a editorial assistant, I took another job as a bartender at The Grand, now Blues on Grand, almost on a dare. Silly college bar, you think! Well, this was no regular college-y barit was the place most kids in my college steered clear of. Yeah, it was full of normal Des Moines folks who liked blues music and OK, maybe there were a lot of motorcycles parked outside and yeah, we didn’t have a blender to make foofy drinks, and sometimes things got a little nuts. But it was the best job I ever had besides running this show here. And I got over my fears almost overnight. Lessons learned:

  1. Even if you’re a 22-year-old 5’3″ red-headed lady, you can still break up a fight. And it kind of rattles people when you do.
  2. You’re going to have to (wo)man up, ask for things, coordinate everything, keep people in line, figure out how to make people love you and give you their money.
  3. Tequila helps.
  4. And mostly: you’re on stage, holding the keys to what everyone wants, and it’s fun.

We won Best Blues Club when I worked there. I designed the shirts.

View from Brooklyn Bridge

2. Move to New York City and then back to Chicago

Given the choice of 1. only going to New York City for?? vacation or 2. being able to go anywhere but never NYC, I’d choose #1. Really. It’s my favorite place in the world to visit. You’ve got to be ON all the time, which I love. NYC will catapult your ego into the universe and smash you back down to the earth in one day. It’s a well-oiled contradiction of glorified excess and romanticized poverty. In 2004, just after I quit my job and started LimeRed, I picked up and moved to New York, specifically to Brooklyn. Why? Because I could. And you know what happened? I did really well. I made some of the best friends of my life and my most lucrative professional moves.?? Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, my Chicago clients didn’t seem to mind and business continued to grow. In September 2008 I moved back to Chicago, specifically to Oak Park, IL, for all sorts of personal reasons. And professionally, it seems to be working out. I moved at the beginning of the recession and have so far kept my head above water. I doubt I could have done that without learning these lessons in NYC:

  1. You can fake it, but you won’t last.
  2. Don’t overpromise. But if you do, make sure you know a lot of people who are really smart.
  3. When you spend all of your time staring at a computer screen, you should start gardening. I did at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village and it changed my life.

Fast Company just published an article: Why You Should Start a Business in Chicago. I have two here now. I love New York, but I live and breathe Chicago.

3. Work with Ita Olsen, professional speech and presentation coach

When I had a semi-real job in New York, my role changed from Art Director to VP Client Services. Sounds like the last thing an Art Director would want, right? Wrong! I love being in front of people and giving presentations (thanks, bartending). But when that job shift happened, I had no presentation skills because I’d been stuck in the art department, and for some reason the Boss never wants Clients to talk to the Designers. I’m still not sure why that is. Enter Ita Olsen over Skype from Malibu, CA for presentation and voice coaching. I needed to ooze confidence, magnetism and give terrific presentations. I needed to avoid at all costs the wildly annoying, mostly female conversation convention: Little Girl Uptalk, also called Growly Valley Girl Voice. You’ve heard itit’s absolutely everywhere. I’m not sure why this way of speaking ever caught on: it frames every sentence as a question and strips it of validity and confidence. Not that my voice was ever as annoying as that Loud Girl on the Train on Her Phone OMG, but it was a little hesitant and definitely needed refining. Lessons learned from Ita Olsen:

  1. Stop and breathe. Use tons of air when talking.
  2. Relax your face, throat and neck.
  3. Speak from the back of your head.

I was interviewed on NPR Marketplace about voice coaching. And Ita and I were on Good Morning America for like two seconds, too. Here, she’s doing free phone consults now. No, I’m not getting paid for referrals. It’s just a great thing to do and will make a huge impact on your professional life.

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