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!




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!


Show Me Your Creds


Did you cringe when you read that word? If not, yours are probably more than sufficient to command respect in your field (or you simply don’t have any need for them). If you did, then welcome to the club.

We all know that in most businesses, it’s not just who you know and what you’ve done that matters. From your hiring manager and CEO to your own client base, people will grant you an automatic jump in trust and confidence if they see some form of alphabet soup on your business card. Often these suffixes designate levels of education completed or certifications received, which do have a certain amount of credibility attached — a doctor without the MD just isn’t a doctor — but they are rarely proof of talent or ability.

Growing up in a heavily academic-oriented household, I have always been aware of a singular fact: your credentials may get you a seat at the table, but they won’t help you keep it warm. Everyone has a story about Dr. So-and-so’s total inability to fill out an intake form and write the proper dosage of a prescription despite thirty years’ experience, two doctorate degrees, and a wing in the new hospital named after him. Yes, we nod sagely, he obviously looks great on paper, but he doesn’t really have what it takes.

In contrast, I feel that the Dr. So-and-sos of the world are the exception that proves the rule. Going through the standard educational pathways shouldn’t be considered merely as minimum qualifications, but as a starting point to a greater discussion about knowledge, practical application, and person’s developing interest in a field or fields.

Obviously this topic is on my mind as I work to pursue my own degree pathway, but it also factors into my current position as gemologist-in-training. Customers will occasionally ask what the “AJP” after my name means, usually followed immediately with “oh, does that mean you’re a gemologist?” Alas, I tell them, I’m in the midst of my studies and training, but haven’t yet achieved the coveted Double-Gs. When friends or family are doing the asking, I go into greater detail about my passion for evolving an industry that is at times stuck in its own past, my interest in learning alongside the great tastemakers of the current age, and my desire to make positive contributions to the industry as a whole.

Phew. That’s a whole lot of lofty goal-setting to combine with a GG and a current full-time job. But as I inch my way there, I keep the thought of earning my chair — and keeping it warm! — forefront in my mind.

Vegas Virgin No More!

What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?

Pay back old sleep debts!“**

…Well, that’s the response you’d get from me, anyway. I’m back home and back to work after a fabulous, grueling, exhausting, productive, fascinating, and altogether too short trip to Jewelry Week in Las Vegas. Many who know me are aware that attending this show has been a dream — a serious goal — for some time, and it’s easy to say that the entire trip did not disappoint.

I briefly considered writing some kind of day-by-day recap post, detailing the hours spent in supplier meetings, lunch offerings by category, and what time we went to bed each night. While I’m sure that would make for some riveting entertainment, I’ve decided to withhold that kind of information to maintain the mystery. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises for any future show-goers out there.

Instead, I can offer my impressions of an industry that is so vast, it spans multiple convention spaces in multiple hotels across a week of 10+ -hour days (this would be where the “exhausting” part comes in). It’s far more than glittering jewels, dazzling trays of diamonds, and ropes of precious pearls. It’s an international community, a unifying purpose, a parade of fashion from ultra-conservative to runway couture, a lifestyle and modus operandi that creates its own rhythm for everyone to move and dance to.

Many things surprised me: the variation in personality types from one rep to the next; differences in approach and business model that are totally opposite but equally effective; the integration of modern technology into an ancient craft. I received an almost daily shock each time I checked my watch, thinking it some sometime before noon, then realizing it was rather closer to 6pm. Also, it turns out that walking all day in heels is something I can do, but probably not something I should do (my feet haven’t looked so mangled since my time as a ballet dancer).

In essence, this show reinforced the idea that business and beauty are not mutually exclusive. We accomplished so much for the store in looking at both the short and longer-term goals, but did so in a way that felt refreshingly true to the highest standards of ethics, quality, and service. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to stand amidst the madness and quietly learn at the elbows of industry professionals, and in that regard it’s a privilege to be counted as a member of such a dynamic group.

In the process of making my way from one end of the show to the other and back again more times than I can count, I discovered that it takes a very particular brand of dedication to really achieve success here. In fact, I’ll throw in the good old p-word: passion. Yawningly overused it may be, but the word is apropos for the type of energy I felt. Frankly, I’m not sure how anyone could sustain the kind of hyper-fast pace and intensive focus that is required to just make it through the day, let alone a lifetime of business, without feeling a true emotional connection to the work.

**Bonus points for Name That Film. No cheating!

Following Up: Girls in the World

A few weeks ago, I wrote my own response to the current hot-button issues surrounding the ridiculously poor representation of women in my industry. And then I let it go.

Oh, not that I decided to suddenly ignore the problem, or cease to care that my own gender can’t seem to shatter the glass ceiling of business leadership despite decades of policy and social reform. I simply decided to let my feelings simmer, and step away from the rapidly-overheating kitchen argument that the internet can often turn into a firestorm.

But thanks to a deeply-felt and insightful weekly meeting by our (Millennial AND female) owner and a commentary article by JCK Editor-In-Chief Victoria Gomelsky, I decided to briefly revisit the topic that had caused a “mild sensation,” as Gomelsky understated.

It seems that she shares many of my own sentiments, particularly regarding the assignment of blame. As she rightly points out, top-whatever lists are not scientific rankings, but rather a general gathering of people across as industry who wield certain types of power: influence, money, authority, etc. It is blindingly obvious to me that more women would make the list if there were more women out wielding that kind of power, which brings about the inevitable sad conclusion that we simply don’t have it yet. Emphasis on yet.

It’s easy for me to sit here and discuss the members of my gender in the second person — we don’t have it, we need to work hard to get to the top, we need to lead, etc. — but sometimes I fill in that nominative with a silent they instead. In other words, I fall into the exact same trap that many women do, which is to count myself out of an elite group of powerful individuals because I’m not already one of them. Sure, I pay lip service to having “career goals” and “leadership aspiration” but what have I done lately to put my money where my big, hopeful mouth is?

In truth, I haven’t done enough. I wake up and force myself to repeat overused empowerment phrases and pithy mantras, but we all know that if wishes were diamonds, we wouldn’t bother to sell them because the market would be saturated. (Isn’t that how the saying goes?)

Well, forget it. I’m not going to sit back and watch other women become powerful while I sit and watch. I’m going to cheer them on while I run beside them, straight up the seemingly-endless staircase, winding our way to the very top. Together. And I’m not going to just continue to say things like that in an online blog that almost nobody reads. Sooner or later, I’m going to prove it to myself and everyone else. How’s that for empowerment?

I invite your thoughts about this whole subject, because I agree with something else important from Gomelsky’s article: only through honest discussion can these issues come to light, and perhaps, find a path to solution.

P.S. Picture is of an actual fortune cookie I received just after I found out I’d be going to my first show. True story.

Just a Girl in This World

I’ve been tapped on the shoulder by an invisible but powerful presence this week. She won’t leave me alone, and she won’t stop pointing out all the things she thinks need some attention. She never did take no for an answer, and she’s not going to start now. The torch has been passed, which means it’s more than time to address the next iteration of a too-familiar topic.

Women. Specifically, women in power (the few) and those who want to be (the more-than-a-few) in an industry that expends vast amounts of time and money marketing and selling to… women.

I found a few spare moments to gobble up the April addition of JCK Magazine, the self-proclaimed (and accurately so) “Industry Authority.” It contained the usual run of interesting articles, personnel updates, and beautiful, glossy images of beautiful, glossy jewels. It also featured their “Annual list of  50 (or so) CEOs, retailers, designers, and tastemakers who shape and innovate the jewelry and watch biz.” Their words. Direct quote, headline, page 78.

Now, the numbers game:13 of the 53 total names are women.

Long before I opened the book, I knew the number would be low. As a proud member of the Women’s Jewelry Association I’m well aware of the industry stats on female leadership, but I’m lucky enough to live in a woman-centric bubble: with our original store owner now slowly working his way into retirement, we are an all-female workplace — owner, Master Bench Jeweler, staff.

So perhaps my current situation, combined with a personal history of female empowerment from strong family role models and a terrific single-gender high school experience, has tucked me into a comfortable little world in which girls really do run the world. I assumed that slightly less than half of those named would be women, because I know so many who embody all those fine traits listed in the tagline. I can’t even begin to describe my shock at the actual results, but perhaps not in the way you might think.

I’m not at all convinced that the poor showing of women on this list has much, if anything, to do with a gender bias on the part of the listmaker(s). While I would personally nominate a handful of women not mentioned in this round, I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that there simply aren’t enough women in leadership positions to choose from. Certainly all of those named deserve to be there, so the sad fact now stands underscored by such a ridiculously poor showing: if there were more lady leaders, they’d be on that list. That’s a painful conclusion to reach.

In an eerily relevant conversation with a friend just this week, I lamented the large gap I perceive in my own ability to influence versus be influenced. I noted that my long-term ambitions involved becoming a “mover and shaker” or “tastemaker” or “respected authority” in this industry, and that I felt the impatience frequently associated with my generation to make progress towards such a goal.

In reality, of course, progress is made in tiny steps every day. But who wants to crawl when skipping and jumping looks like such fun?

Well, this list certainly brought reality calling — wind from sails, and all that. Not that I feel somehow defeated; just the opposite. I’m more determined than ever to increase the number of women on that list, through a combination of strong and vocal advocacy of female leadership and by a more personal degree of… one.

I can stomp and shout, stand on my proverbial soapbox and preach equality and courage (all for one! Vive la femme!), or pen verbose blog posts about my life (#careergoals?) in hopes of inspiring myself and others to work harder, climb the ladder, and shake the tree.

I can also remain steadfast in my vision, work harder, self-motivate, learn more, reach out, and support the women and men around me who work tirelessly to better the world, the industry, themselves.

P.S. You can, too.