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!


The Missing Mentor

Conventional wisdom states that in order to be successful in business, a person with little experience should seek out a person with lots of it, in order to obtain some sort of magical guidance/tutelage/oracle cocktail that will propel the budding young star into a galaxy far, far away.

Or something like that.

The truth is, long-term mentoring relationships are both rare and difficult to come by, particularly for anyone working as a minority of any kind in his or her field. Those partnerships take time, patience, and dedication to build and manage; the mentor and mentee need to feel equally invested in each other in order to sustain a mutual professional bond.

As a writer, I’m fortunate that many of my role models are relatively accessible people, at least in the sense that some of them are public figures and active industry leaders — I can always find their work, and with a bit of effort I can occasionally meet them in person at trade events. This doesn’t make them mentors in the traditional sense, but it provides some building blocks for my career direction that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

In addition, I find the good folks of the jewelry industry to be pretty forthcoming with advice, all things considered. There is the sense that a rising tide will lift all boats, and as I make forays into the realm of connection-building with an earnest desire to learn, I’ve received mostly warm welcomes from both men and women. (Mostly.)

Unfortunately, my immediate work sphere has no such people available. First of all, are exactly zero female “higher ups” at my current company of about 150. Nada. Goose egg. I work in an environment that is totally dominated by Category: Straight White Male, Subcategory: Privileged Millennial, and it shows.

You’d have to be fortunate enough to live off the grid in order to escape the genderized buzzwords of the modern tech world. I can #PowerPose, #LeanIn, #AskHerMore, and go #AllInForHer to my little heart’s content (I could even be married to a man who’s #HeforShe), but would Tweeting any of those get me closer to a tech exec? Unlikely.

In an odd twist, I’ve had about a half-dozen women at my own company go out of their ways to discuss this very issue with me. Keep in mind, I don’t work in HR or People Operations. Either those power poses are really working, or I’m simply much more outspoken against the downright absurd lack of women in general and in leadership in particular.

(True story: when I paraphrased The Notorious RBG’s famous quote about the number of women on the Supreme Court it will take to satisfy her — all of them — I got laughed at. Actually laughed at for daring to argue that all-female anything is not a crazy idea.)

So what’s the deal? There are many theories, but right now I’m eyeing the thoughts laid out in this post. Essentially, we might need to rethink our approach to the mentoring function entirely. While building a solid connection with a few select people should still be on the radar, it may be more beneficial to “create mentoring moments right around you.” This means paying attention to the people who are most easily accessible — yes, including your peers — and seeking out a more impromptu mentoring dynamic, easing some of the pressures that come with long-term relationships. This advice is founded in a pragmatic approach to the ways and means of business today.

My personal preference is still to pursue a more lasting bond, one that must be built on developing trust and a deeper understanding between the people involved. But perhaps it’s in my best interest (and the interests of women everywhere) to take the growth opportunities when we can get them.

P.S. The header photo is proof I’ve been Power Posin’ since 2008, folks.

Happy Trails

Everyone is familiar with the old chestnut, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Usually it’s used in the context of loss — a person, a thing, a relationship — but I’d like to turn that around and apply it to losing a feeling.


Of course, I knew I was stressed. I talked about being stressed, feeling stressed, and Oh, the ache in my shoulders! Everyone around me expressed concern, sometimes with sympathy but often with increasing frustration at my inability to truly grasp how unhealthy my life had become.

I was allowing the things in my life I hated most to completely control me, and I let it happen for far too long. I got so accustomed to the weight of the world on my shoulders that I couldn’t imagine daily life without it, so I stopped trying.

But no more! To paraphrase a truly terrible pop hit, I can breathe for the first time (yeah, yeah). Now that I’m moving past the horrors of leaving a job, moving, and starting a new job in the space of two weeks (not a path I recommend, by the way), the realization that I am in control of my life again is dawning. That weight has been lifted and it feels damn good.

In related news, prepare for a focus shift on this here blog. I still consider myself a member of the jewelry industry, but my attention will be directed toward the advancement and adoption of new technologies and how we as a group can move forward into a new era of creating, buying, and selling.

You’ll see the hashtag #womenintech popping up, alongside #jewelrypeople and of course #3dprinting. I’m still working on some sort of jewelry-tech hybrid hashtag (#3Diamonds?), and genius suggestions are welcome. Find me on other social channels and please do say hello! I’m busting out of the retail box and I’m ready to forge ahead, blazing new trails.

There’s a lot of hard work and excitement headed my way. Carpe opportunitatem!


Follow Up: Good. vs. Goods, The Other Guy’s Perspective

Well, this is convenient. Hard on the heels of my recent editorial on the current state of marketing in the jewelry industry, a features writer over at Racked (a fashion/lifestyle headline-style site) took on the issue from Signet Jewelers’ perspective — you know, the largest monopoly conglomerate covering such household names as Kay, Zales, and Jared.

The article is worth a read, especially if such figures as “$5.7 billion in annual sales” and “3600 stores” pique your interest. But free advertising and product placement aside, what does Signet try to say about their products and their massive share of the industry? They’re all about the (straight, middle class) man.

Women react to their marketing — all 10+ channels of it — with opinions ranging from “cheesy” and “gimmicky” all the way to feeling downright offended by the way the ads portray women and their relationships with men. The fairytale gifting scenarios and mass-appeal life event celebrations ring hollow for most, as is clearly removes any sense of responsibility on the part of the gifter to make an effort and understand a woman’s unique style. The emphasis is all on a come-hither ease of use, rather than any real meaning, romance, or sentiment.

The idea is to make the experience so comfortable, so ridiculously easy for the (straight, middle class) male shopper that he loses all ability to reason and simply buys what he sees the girl on the TV screen loving and crying about, with no consideration for his (ahem, or her) giftee’s desires and needs.

And this is how those poorly-chosen gifts end up here with us. They need broken delicate chains replaced with something sturdier to stand up to a tugging toddler. A watch strap that actually fits him. Three diamonds replaced in the micropave shank because she’s a hairdresser and they keep falling out. A setting lowered or swapped because the latex gloves she wears to the hospital every day are getting shredded by the prongs.

I appreciate the need for mass-market appeal, as I mentioned in my earlier post, because I believe it helps romance the whole idea of jewelry and not just that particular piece from that particular store. But this… is not what I mean. Offending an entire gender with patronization and general lack of nuance is not helpful. Convincing men to enter a store at holiday time and stand in line, zombie-like, to receive this year’s version of last year’s hit, is not the kind of experience this industry stands for.

My soapbox is starting to bend under the weight of my heavy disdain for these tactics, so I’ll leave you with this thought (from the article) for now: “Every time I see [one of their ads] on TV, I want to throw something at the screen… [t]hey are infuriating because they are an insult to my intelligence and emotions! I am not that easy to buy and gift-giving just isn’t that magical.”

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.