One Kick to Win it: Goal Line

This time last year, I wrote down a short list of goals for 2016 and beyond. I had never done so publicly before, but this is a personal habit I’ve long maintained in place of making resolutions. At the halfway point, I paused to do an assessment, and was surprised to note how much progress I’d made in so short a time.

To say that I exceeded my own expectations might sound like hubris, but in fact I’ve somehow managed to humble myself even further because of it. I’m proud to have accomplished so many of the things I set out to do, but even in doing so, I’ve been able to realize how important the long view can be — my goals are never truly reached, they’re extended and transformed and pushed and dragged, forcing me to adapt and change and grow.

But I’ve been struggling to come up with a well-articulated list this time around. Perhaps it’s due to the past year, where part of my personal growth has been in acknowledging and embracing just how much more growing I need to do. I know I’d like to get down to the business of my career development and really kicking some major tail in 2017 and beyond. It’s also pretty clear that I need to prioritize sustaining and nurturing the relationships and friendships I’ve been establishing, so as not to let all that excellent drinking time socializing go to waste.

So, let’s see what I end up with:

1. Build and strengthen my network
I’m nobody and nowhere without the people I meet along the way, and there’s always room for more on this train. I’m surrounded by fascinating people, and there are few things I enjoy more than turning strangers into friends.

2. Lift up and lean in
I’d like to think I’ve had a positive impact on the people around me, and that at least a few people have found value in knowing me. But I know I can continue to do more for the people — particularly women! — in my life and my industry to help them with their own ambitions. A rising tide lifts all boats.

3. Get thee to a new country
More travel, please! For business, for pleasure, or my personal favorite, combining the two. There is surely no better way to learn about yourself than when trying to explain the US election process to an Australian linguistics professor on his way to a conference in Germany (true story) or the in-field fly rule in French to a Swiss businessman en route to Spain (also true story).

4. Play a complete round of golf
I/we can totally do this. Right, mom?

5. Finish. My. GG.
I know, I said that last year. It’s one of the few things I didn’t manage to accomplish in 2016, but I did make excellent progress. This is the year.

6. Find my balance
Like many of you, the tussle between work and life can start to make me feel as frayed as the cat’s favorite mouse toy. So in the process of finding myself, my voice, and my calling, I think it’s only fair I also seek out that ineffable happy place, the center of gravity on the high wire we walk when confronted with dueling demands for our time and energy. Someone toss me a balance pole?

I have a lot to anticipate in the coming months, and I can only hope to meet it all with grace, good humor, and the fervent believe that the energy you put in is the energy you get out.

Wishing one and all good times and great karma in 2017. Please feel free to share your own goals in the comments — we can all use a little inspiration!




A Tale of Two Evenings

I might be leading a double life.

Right in the middle of an otherwise normal (read: boring) week, I spent two back-to-back nights out, quite a bit past my bedtime. I’ll say up front that I thoroughly enjoyed them both, and that I wish every night out could be as successful as they both were, in their own ways. But the experiences couldn’t have been more different.

On Wednesday afternoon, I ducked out of work a little early to make it home in time to grab a snack and my favorite notebook. It was time for my first meeting as a board member of the WJA Boston chapter, and I was trying very hard not to feel a little anxious.

After a few hours spent planning and brainstorming with a handful of some remarkable women, I can say without any hesitation that this is going to be fun. There is a shared vision amongst these leaders to bring the local industry together, promote women in business, and focus on collaboration and creating a true community. I can get on board with this board, if you know what I mean.

With great courtesy, these women welcomed me as a young but eager member who is ready to contribute to their (our!) goals. I can’t thank them enough for the incredible amount of work they put into this organization on top of owning and running their own businesses and lives, but I hope they understand how much I appreciate them as mentors and role models as well.

So, that was Wednesday. Inspired and full of brain activity, I arrived at work on Thursday morning feeling pretty damn good. And then, shortly after a round of morning meetings, I remembered: the sales outing. Cue the uh-oh music.

As a reward for blasting past our collective sales goal last quarter, the team was given a 3-hour evening on the water to drink and be merry. Well, to drink and dance and sing and laugh and bond and essentially feel like college kids again… which, for some of the team, was like turning the clock back about three days. But a few cocktails and airbrush tattoos later, we sure did have a great time.

I know what you’re thinking. Waitaminute, you went on a booze cruise?

Yes I did. And I wouldn’t trade those hours of hair down, bottoms-up, early-2000s singalongs for anything. When I promised to say yes more often, I really meant it — for my career and my personal life.

As many of you are aware, our move back to the city was in part motivated by my desire to take on a larger role in the jewelry industry and give my career some new energy. I needed to meet more people, learn more things, and hit the ground running in a vibrant and forward-thinking community.

I can’t believe how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to find not one but two of these groups which, despite functioning in every possible way as polar opposites, have contributed significantly to my overall ambitions and quality of life. And while they occasionally stress me out and keep me up at night (again, for very different reasons), I realize that they also provide balance for each other. And this, in turn, balances me.


Lean In, Learn On

When it comes to motivation, I’m usually one of the lucky ones. I can channel my internal drive onto external goals, transferring a kind of ownership to myself that translates pretty well to the get-it-done mentality. In other words, as long as I can make myself care, it’s as good as done.

This attribute is helpful, but what happens if I stop caring? How do I get motivated and moving again if, in the indelible words of Jo Dee Messina, my give-a-damn’s busted?

Sheryl Sandberg. Aliza Licht. Tina Fey. Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sometimes, I turn to the wise and witty words of some amazing women who have come before and seen it all, done it all. I comb through every #LeanIn, #LeaveYourMark, #Bossypants, #NotoriousRBG inspirational quote I can find, until something re-tunes my inner self and gets it humming again.

These are just a few of the many, many women who have chosen to take their secrets to success and, rather than holding them close, have released them to the world in an effort to help along the rest of us. That in itself is the kind of selflessness that turns mentors and role models into icons.

Closer to home, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by outrageously strong and successful women who are also willing to share their wisdom. Recent events have triggered a new appreciation for this endless source of anecdotes, in which the questions that circle in my busy brain like starving sharks can find some nourishment in advice, if not answers.

If you’re one of my Instagram followers, you might have already seen the sneak peak version of today’s featured image. Thanks to some serious motivation and a totally rained-out weekend, I’m all set up with my little home gem lab. Hooray!


Are You an Exhibitionist? Chapter II

Still woozy from the desert sun? Catch up here on Chapter I.

Even after spending nearly six months and three trade shows breathing in its atmosphere, the world of the vendor is still a foreign land for me.

They say old habits die hard, and as often as they’re wrong, this time they got it right. One of the greatest challenges in making this transition has been the shift in perspective from retailer to supplier. To a certain extent, my intimate knowledge of jewelry retail has provided some wonderful insight into how the product is really being used (or should be), and of course I understand how different pieces of the industry puzzle fit together. That’s proven useful, not to mention good common ground to establish with my clients.

But sliding away from a luxury selling mindset into a less glamorous more nuts-and-bolts category… that’s been pretty rough. Okay, it’s still rough, though I make a conscious effort to understand and embrace the product world I’m working in. It’s simply much easier to romance something that’s already beautiful.

To create romance around a product that is inherently utilitarian requires some serious creativity. The specs and dry facts take on a new level of importance to a buyer who actually plans to use the damn thing, and fostering a sense of desire takes second place to generating a need. Jewelry is beautiful and meaningful, but it has no necessity — and that’s what I’m used to selling.

In a way, this category is easier: here’s what this thing does, here’s why and how it will do good things for you. Basic math, right? But the jewelry industry has been dealing with many issues on an operational level these days (why else would there be so many seminars on how to manage everything from inventory to staff) that going over the time-money equation takes some thoughtful and patient explanation. This takes time and a certain careful handling of the “I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business” aspect of sales, for which I’m both uniquely suited and poorly situated.

I have never been “sweetied” and “honeyed” so much in my life. The bias facing young women in general and business women in particular is staggering, and the popular belief that my male colleagues would be more knowledgable about a technological product is patently absurd. But the male-to-male comfort zone remains, as even at this show I was often dismissed as the “cute blonde” who should find her (male) superior to make decisions or provide more information.

But so it goes. Complaining about gender inequality is shouting into the void, so I prefer the path of action. Proving my value, building a reputation, and learning to navigate the twisted paths of business relationships (not to mention serving my clients and my company) are all perched at the top of my priority list. Watching my mentors has led me to dabble a bit in mentoring others — an event worth its own blog post, in the future — and with that comes the sense of responsibility to other people.



How to Say Yes

The title sounds like a self-help book, I know. But hear me out.

My new commute affords me plenty of time to read each day, and I’ve enjoyed taking full advantage of that quiet(ish) time. Interspersed between fun fiction and travel tales, you’ll find me reading a number of books related to success, leadership, leaning in… you know, those.

It seems that a running theme in many of these popular reads is the power of saying no. Evidently a lot of powerful, successful women have learned that a healthy ability to say N-O at work is crucial to maintaining both their status and their sanity.

I don’t disagree.

But some of these fine ladies gloss over the fact that to even get where they are now —  and have the ability to say no with authority — they first had to learn something else: how to say yes.

I don’t mean the kind of yes-ing that leads to overwork and underpay. I definitely don’t mean the kind that can cost you more than your career.

But as a woman who is perhaps a shade too comfortable, too quick to say no to things outside of my comfort zone, I’m working on a process to teach myself to say yes.

Yes, I can handle that report. Can you show me how to format it?

Yes, I can take the lead in that conversation. Let’s go over an agenda.

Yes, learning to do that is important to me. Are you available on Thursday?

Yes, I will join the team after work for some social fun time. How do I sign up?

For my fellow actors, this is my version of “yes, and.”** It can ease my way into saying yes to things that might otherwise intimidate me by asking a follow-up question. This lets the other party know I’m involved, but doesn’t force them to assume I know everything and won’t need any guidance.

Yes, that big sale was mine.

Yes, I know how to do that.

I’m also learning not to apologize for my success, which is another way of saying yes to myself. It used to be my habit to downplay the sales I made when I was selling jewelry, because the experience I received from it always seemed to trump the actual fact. I’ve since learned to value the more cut-and-dry factors in addition to the less tangible gains. Dollars and… sense!

For me, saying yes has been as challenging to embrace as saying no can be for others. There’s a freedom to it I hadn’t anticipated, almost like that feeling I used to get while on stage — embracing a feeling, committing to the scene, making the magic happen. How nice to see that play out in real life.

**When you take a class or perform improvisation, it’s crucial to move the scene along by always saying some version of “yes, and…” You don’t want to be the one to kill the momentum of the scene by refusing to go with the flow.

A Conversation With Two Ladies

I had a conversation with two lovely ladies just the other day. It had been about a year since I last saw one, and the other it’s been around 12 years. We’ll call the first “N” and the second “G.” Here’s how our conversation went.

Me: Hi! I guess it’s been a while. I’m sorry about that, I’ve certainly missed you both.

G: That’s all right, I’ve been getting updates every now and then. You’ve grown up!

N: You’ve been busy.

Me: I’ve definitely been busy. I also have a new job!

G: That’s wonderful, I’m so proud of you! You’re such a hard worker.

N: Oh? A new job? And what are you doing?

Me: Well, I guess it’s a little hard to explain. I work for a company that’s bringing  a special kind of new technology called 3D printing to the market. It’s a way for people to create things using a particular type of machine. My job is to market it and sell it, especially to the jewelry industry.

G: Sounds exciting! I’m sure you’re great at it. You always loved talking to people.

N: Is it expensive? Do they make you travel a lot?

Me: It’s not expensive relative to other machines that do a similar thing. Yes, I do get to talk to a lot of people and travel quite a bit, but I love it!

N: What about your husband? You need to make sure you’re spending enough time with him. That’s really important.

Me: Yes, it is. We try to spend time with each other, and our families too.

G: I’m sure you do. Your mother and father miss you a lot, you know.

N: Well, she can’t be everywhere at once. But as long as you’re happy and doing a good job, it will be good for you.

Imagine having these ladies perched on your shoulders, whispering questions and comments! One is an eternal optimist, reminding me to be kind and thoughtful whenever possible (or even when it’s not); the other is a consummate realist, insisting that I keep a watchful eye on my own words and actions, not to mention the habits of everyone around me. Both continue to guide me with the occasional tug on my ears to correct my course.

Chanel perfume, hand-knitted blankets. Grace and poise, kindness and gentility.

We lost Nana and Grandma in April, just over a decade apart. Both were cornerstones of their respective families, and represented two very different but equally important styles of living: the homemaker and the working woman.

I imagine the conversations I’d have with each of them now, as a woman and wife and worker. They might ask about my marriage and job, the details of my latest vacation or recently read novel, or if I’m keeping up with my studies. In their own special ways, they would ultimately be asking one simple question: are you happy? Because despite their differences, that’s what always mattered most. And that’s the greatest lesson I could ever hope to learn.


Adrift at Sea

I’ve tried to write (and re-write, and re-re-write) this post over the last week, and I think it’s time to admit something to you and to myself: I’m a little lost.

Changing jobs is always a precarious balance, particularly when we live in a world that often uses occupation to define who we are. Intellectually, I knew this. But I guess I just never thought about what it would feel like to lose my sense of definition and identity for a while.

I wrote just a few weeks ago about having the courage to make changes and sail off in a new direction, but right now I’m more like a rowboat caught between islands, unsure of my direction but unwilling to just row in circles.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I don’t know what to call myself anymore. For a few years I had a title, an easily understood introduction at parties, an actual noun to use when filling in the blank. It was comfortable and comforting to hide behind that title, because it allowed other people to understand me. Now I’ve had to leave that role behind, but haven’t replaced it with anything concrete — no meat, just spirits.

The wise amongst you will counsel me to embrace this lack of definition, and use it to expand my horizons and force myself to look beyond the job titles for something greater. You might even suggest that this is exactly what I should be doing at this stage in my life — loosening up, removing the rigid boundaries I set for myself, exploring the things I didn’t even know existed.

And you’re right.

But that doesn’t make this feeling go away, and it really doesn’t make the more practical consideration of introducing myself any easier. I can’t stop my natural craving for a label, even a strange-sounding one that requires explanation. I just haven’t come up with one yet (suggestions are welcome, creative friends).

I continue to explain to friends, family, and coworkers that I’m still very much a part of the jewelry world. If anything, my resolve to make an impact and breathe new life into this beloved industry has strengthened, and my drive has actually increased thanks to the bold new direction I’ve taken.

Still, I look forward to a time when a few more puzzle pieces of life will fall into place, giving me a peek at the bigger picture of my life.

True (Blue) Tech

Now that I’ve covered the philosophical angle of my recent life changes, it’s time to begin introductions for my exciting new focus: technology & jewelry.

If you’ve asked me about my industry at any point in the last few years, you probably got an earful about my frustrations with jewelry people’s tendency to ignore, withhold, refute, squelch, circumvent, or otherwise deny the demand for the adoption of new technologies. Everything from mining and manufacturing to sales and advertising is in desperate need of an update, of the kind that will integrate all the good stuff of the “old” ways — personal service, strong relationships, gemological & bench expertise — with the many benefits of the new and forward-thinking.

This is not to say that the industry doesn’t already utilize some of the wonders of today. Advances in laser welding, gemstone treatment, pearl farming, metallurgy, CAD/CAM, and e-commerce have been adopted to great effect, though not as universally as I would like. We’ve come a long way, but there is far to go.

Today’s customers are rapidly losing interest in a world they see as a paragon of by-gone ideals, and nostalgia only opens the wallet to far. I want to see an engaged clientele who demand excellence in service, quality, source transparency, and storytelling… you know, all the things we do best.

Top to bottom: castable resin, rough casting, polished ring

So I have joined a company that is “new tech” to the core, with the goal of bringing their fresh-eyed approach to the world of jewelry. These people are smart, savvy, and looking to make an impact on how we make stuff (all kinds of stuff), which will have a massive impact on how we design, create, advertise, and sell stuff. Replace “stuff” with “jewelry” and you have my full attention and dedication.

What does this mean for my daily life? Well, more denim and flats (and fewer diamonds), for one thing! It means I can turn my focus to the building blocks of the industry, perhaps helping to affect change and influence the direction we take in the coming years. I want to see the jewelry industry emerge from years of tech denial and embrace the power of doing things in new ways in order to achieve long-term stability and growth. I want more people wearing beautiful things that are made well.

Buckle up, people. No more hiding behind half a century of how-it’s-always-been-done. Wake up and smell the lasers, folks — I’m coming for you.



A Toast to Courage and a New Life

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
–William Faulkner

There is a longstanding tradition in my family of being asked to present speeches and toasts at various occasions and events. It happens often enough that I garnered an early obsession with Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, that beloved compilation of all things wise and witty that can be opened at need or stood upon to reach the top shelf.

It took me more than a few tries of random page-opening to find the right words for this moment in my life, but I think Faulkner’s are a simple and elegant summary.

I have a new job and a new home!

Packing up husband, cat, and the million things it seems we’ve acquired over the last five years, we’re moving to a new town in our old home state.

Packing up skills, memories, and my trusty loupe, I’m changing jobs to forge a bright new path in my industry.

I never thought I would come to love the place we’ve been living as much as I did. The small town, slow pace, and ridiculously short commute made daily life pretty easy. I certainly never thought that a job I chose by accident would deliver an industry, career, and passion.

Now I gather my courage, finding myself in equal parts gripped by fear of change and uncertainty and uplifted by the prospect of wonderful new opportunities and a dramatic lifestyle shift. Our new living arrangement will allow for much greater freedom and access to so many things we love (food, art, culture) and my new job marries my love of the jewelry business with my desire to move it forward through technology and rapid growth.

I get a little philosophical I guess (a side effect of all that Faulkner, no doubt), but inside my brain is humming with constant activity and my gut is doing some strange alchemy with lead and butterflies. So much to do, so many changes all happening at the same time, and not nearly enough hours in the day or ink in my pen to keep it all straight. It’s time to be better than myself, to pull back the bowstring and launch. Off we go!

I’ll bookend this post with another Faulkner line, always apropos in times of change and personal growth: “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.


Between Two Posts: Goal!

Actually, this is a post with more than one goal.

I mean that literally: it contains an outline of my professional and semi-personal goals, for the purpose of giving me a reference point for the future, general peer pressure, and filling the posting void this week.

I tend to vacillate between highly specific and über-generic goal-setting, thanks in no small part to my belief that most measures of success are not quantifiable. Put another way, I don’t like strict numerical goals because they scare the hell out of me. Nonetheless, here we go:

1. Give a talk/speech/lecture to a crowd of more than 10
Back in my teaching and public speaking days, this was more of a daily habit than something to work towards. But with a new industry came a change in role and shift in opportunity, meaning I haven’t been called upon to speak in a forum in a while. Not only do I miss it, but I feel that I can’t continue to be a “silent contributor” if I want to make any kind of impact on my industry. This voice needs an outlet!

2. Publish something longer than 500 words, with a byline
And no, a long-winded blog post on here doesn’t count. I’m talking about a paying gig that more than 5 people might actually read.

3. Finish my G.G.
Kind of obvious, but I want that knowledge and those skills under my belt. On your mark, get set, study!

4. Meet new people
I originally wrote “make new friends,” but that felt a bit limiting — why do these new people need to be my friends? They could be mentors, clients, associates, maybe even a new barista. I enjoy networking and generating great conversation out of thin air, but I don’t do it enough.

5. Talk about what I do, what I love, who I am
And eliminate the word “just” from my vocabulary. I’m just going to leave this here… thanks, Uma.

6. Embrace my personality
I stopped apologizing for my quirks a long time ago, but I continue to downplay the aspects of myself that I fear might resurrect the middle school bullying days. I’d say that’s far more uncool as an adult than any of the things that made me uncool back then.

 7. Improve the quality of my downtime
Golf with husband. Music with Dad. Shopping with mom. Coffee with those new people I plan to meet. Hiking and reading and singing and shooting (photos) and all of those things I love that have lately fallen by the wayside.

It’s a lot to pursue, but I don’t intend to limit myself to the upcoming calendar year. I like to think of long-term goals as “life improvements.” (Not to be confused with history’s notorious Five Year Plan, despite the five-stone diamond pendant in the featured image.)

What do you think of my goal-setting skills? Do you have any insight or advice for me? I’m all ears!