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!

 

 

 

Working Through It

I was not what you’d call a sporty child.

Other than some halfhearted attempts at tennis and a little time in the marching band, dancing with Boston Ballet was my physical torture of choice. And torture it was — injuries were frequent, soreness a constant companion, and my feet have never recovered from those bloody, broken years of toe balancing.

But if there’s one good lesson to be learned in tolerating physical pain for a reason, it’s this: perseverance. When the going gets tough, the tough gets a pen and paper, makes a lot of lists, devises a plan, and relentlessly pursues every item until (a) the plan succeeds or (b) a better one comes along.

My years as a ballerina (and actor, and musician) also imparted the gift of competitiveness — as an only child, this wasn’t something I’d likely develop independently. While I certainly did compete for solos, orchestra chairs, leading roles, and the occasional bragging rights, I found that artistic competition is centered far more on being better than yourself than your closest competitor.

The way to “win” in the performance world is to distinguish yourself from the pack, offering a tiny spark of something other (rather than simply better) than what the people around you might have. The only way to accomplish this is to become immersed in your own inner process — the artistic soul, if you’ll forgive the expression — and nurture it until it rises up and overtakes the performer entirely.

Working as I have been, with one foot in a technical and business world and the other in pursuit of a degree, has given me somewhat of an inner dichotomy. Until quite recently, the two pursuits have been behaving like lines of counterpoint: always opposing, occasionally harmonizing, but never resolving.

But lately some new ideas have been making their voices heard, which has begun to round out the chorus, paint the backdrop, and perhaps set the scene for an interesting new act. Consider this a teaser trailer, a preview before the opening night. I’m working through things and working up to… something.

I’ll let you know how rehearsals go, and hopefully will set a date for the out-of-town trial very soon. Until then, tell me this: where does your own inner spark come from?  I’d love to hear about it.

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.

 

 

Are You an Exhibitionist?: Jewelry Week 2K16

They meant “exhibitor.” I’m almost positive. Then again, this is Las Vegas…

My second trip to the big show resembled my first in only one significant way — I learned a whole hell of a lot — but in all other aspects, this could have been a completely different show. Traveling with such considerations as booth setup/breakdown, package arrival coordination, general booth management X2 (more on that later), and a personal agenda all mixed together make for a busy, buzzing brain. And yet, it’s still one of the highlights of my year.

Like other bloggers, I think it’s best to break up a longer recap into more manageable, bite-sized bits. This year in particular I’ve had a million things to think about, so it will take some time to corral them into some kind of order, sort, press, fold, and eventually stack them neatly for future reference.

As a gentle introduction, I’ll share with you a special little secret I’ve been keeping: thanks to far too much childhood exposure to Dr. Suess, I’m a dedicated closet rhymester. There’s nothing I love more than rhyming couplets, so to keep myself amused I’ve acquired the habit of crafting little phraselets and writing them down, usually never to be shared or seen again. But this time I’m putting them all together — no alterations, no edits, and in chronological order — to form a poetic tribute to my 8 days in the desert.

High heels, aching feet
Snapping pics to Insta-Tweet
Shaking hands and toothy smiles
Feeling like I ran for miles
Greeting friends, toasting “cheers!”
More fun than I’ve had in years
Early morning walk with friends
Talking Broadway, techy trends
Colored gems are back in action
Millennials are gaining traction
Selling, buying, closing deals
Debating diamonds: fake or real?
Sultry evening in the sand
I finally got to hear that band
Fresh designers go all in
Mandalay, the Trop, the Wynn
Packing up could take all night
We stayed awake until our flight
Business over, time to run
I hope next year is half as fun!

Reading Reactions

Featured image is my father’s custom garnet ring, designed by Irene S. Sirois. Copyrighted design.

If I didn’t have to work, I would probably read. All day, most of the night, nonstop page-turning. Like most bibliophiles I have some preferred genres and authors, but if you put something with words on it in front of me, I’m going to read it before you’ve finished telling me not to (so please don’t). This means I have to practice extreme selectivity, because I simply don’t have time to read it all. In practice that translates to rationing my reading time, where my time currency is portioned out like my 8th grade allowance, with wild abandon sparingly and with great care.

So it might surprise you to know that I spend a daily allotment of what I lovingly call Industry Research Time poring over every blog, publication, article, Google Alert, LinkedIn Pulse, and Instagram post I can find. I take notes — actual, physical ones and purely mental ones — and attempt to connect the dots between what I’m reading and what I’m experiencing. I sift through opinions, corroborate facts, and weigh topics in an effort to determine what’s important, who’s talking about it, and how I think and feel about it all.

When you consume this much material, it’s inevitable to come across some things you simply don’t agree with. Most of the time this happens with op-eds and other opinion-based articles, and stems from having a very different perspective on the topic. Exactly such a case can be found in this article, published in the May 2016 MJSA Journal entitled “Is ‘Custom’ a Dirty Word?” which I encourage everyone to read.

The piece describes the challenges of defining what “custom jewelry” means — I subject I’ve discussed before — and goes on to describe how Lisa Krikawa of Krikawa Jewelry works around what she perceives as the extreme limitations of selling custom or customized jewelry. This workaround is to essentially remove the word custom from the conversation entirely, because she experiences the usual backlash of fear and distrust from clients who prefer to touch and try on their designs before purchasing.

To say that I sympathize with this position is an understatement, having sold both full custom and customized jewelry myself. And Krikawa’s actual conversations with clients reflect the realities of selling this type of product, in such a way that they feel heard and understood. This is exactly the right approach, and I couldn’t agree more with her process of offering examples from the showcase, hand sketches, and CAD models. It’s what I used to do, too, and it works.

In part, the solution to the touch me/feel me issue can be answered by the amazing technology I work with in my current profession. Using 3D printers to prototype quickly and cheaply gives the client a physical piece to touch and try on, even with temporarily seated gems so the full effect is present. Now the relevant questions — too tall? too thick? right size? in proportion? etc. — can be answered in real time, without the expense of fixing these issues after the fact.

My main argument with Krikawa’s approach is that by working so hard to eliminate a particular word from a client’s vocabulary, the opportunity to educate them about custom is lost. The process of qualifying a client for potential custom work does not need to turn them off or scare them away from a purchase; when handled with careful explanation, my nervous clients turned into my best evangelists for the custom process (hello, referrals!).

I have worked very hard to promote the idea of custom jewelry as the future on the industry, and feel that removing it from the conversation is counterproductive. I prefer to help the client understand and appreciate the opportunity, educate them as to the options, and explain how the risks are mitigated or eliminated.

There are few things I appreciate more than the people who expend serious time and energy making their clients happy, regardless of how they accomplish that feat. I hope the various opinions and theories about custom jewelry continue to expand and develop, especially as technology grows and offers more solutions to an often cumbersome process.

Please comment with your thoughts, I’d love to keep the conversation going!

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.

 

No Dinosaurs Here

My dear jewelry friends and colleagues, I think it’s time we had a talk. A serious talk.

But first, please read this article, and take a few moments to give it some thought. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.

… All set? Welcome back. Now, let’s have that chat.

Did you notice the emphasized pull quote? If not, please go back and read it again (carefully this time).

In a single sentence, the primary issue facing the industry has been neatly summarized. The cause of those staggeringly bad statistics is staring us in the face. Few seem willing to admit it, and as Ms. Graff points out, nothing is going to happen unless businesses”change their business model to adapt to the demands of retail today.”

Are you paying attention, yet? Have you taken a long look at the sustainability of your current plan, your client base, the increasing demands for innovation? Most importantly, have you decided what you’re going to do about it?

I have long been known as a realist, with very little patience for a glass-half-full outlook (cockeyed optimist I am not). But I’m going to break from my own tradition here, and tell you all that this is not the end of the world. Well, it’s the end of the world as we’ve been operating it for the past several decades, but that not a bad thing. It’s a very, very good thing.

The jewelry industry is not going to die off in the manner of the dinosaur, comically staring down destruction as it hurtles towards us in a fireball of death. If we were to go, it would be by way of slow, painful starvation, the way endangered species dwindle and die off in depressing groups of hundreds.

I’m not going to let that happen. So, forget about it. I joined a company that can will help bring about great innovative changes to both the retail and wholesale/manufacturing side of things, but I don’t intend to simply sit back and watch it trundle along. This is not a time for ponderously slow growth, it’s absolutely time to seize the future with both hands and maybe a foot, dragging it along if we must.

Observe your business. Talk to your sales staff, bench workers, designers. Hell, sit down with the interns and the secretaries if you have them. Ask these interested parties what they love about what they do, then ask how they can personally help make things better. Consult your colleagues, and you’ll find willing listeners with wonderful, creative ideas. Talk about change and growth and new technology with some excitement in your voice, rather than the timid fear that so many feel when bringing up anything new.

I’m here to talk about this, too. I have so much more to learn, and I can only do that by being open about what I still don’t know (and need to know).

This post had a lot of talk, and maybe a call to action (can you here me now?). As jewelers, we are all keenly aware that under-promising and over-delivering is the only way to live — so now it’s time for me to do that. Let’s have breakfast at the shows, or Skype over coffee, and let’s begin to adapt and solve problems.

We’re too awesome to die out, people.

Note: not a real picture of a dinosaur. Photo credit to J.