The importance of building relationships

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Why is building and maintaining relationships important? Because you never know when you may need something, have a question, or want to be connected to someone else’s network. When you’ve done the work to build relationships, it makes it so easy to get the information you’re looking for when the time comes. It boils down to the joy of connection.

The way the internet works it makes it easier and easier to connect with anybody, and everybody. We have access like we never did before from your favorite author, to politicians, or your friend’s mom. Yet with this new power and access, we don’t always use these tools to the fullest potential. Nor do we consider the importance of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships. But when we slow down, and take a deep breath, it becomes more obvious how there is so much opportunity tied into even the smallest of actions.

Building relationships is not hard, it just takes a little effort. Quite frankly, a lot of people get lazy when it comes to this. They expect favors just because. Here’s an incomplete list of how we can start thinking differently about building relationships. Keep in mind, while the online world gives us new access, the same principles apply to relationships we have in the “real world.”

Build relationships before you need them. Who we need in our support system is not always obvious. You do NOT only want to make a friend or contact because they can give you something in return. And don’t underestimate the people outside your industry—you can learn a lot from them, and you may need future contacts to help round out your skills.

Be nice to everyone. This is advice a friend’s grandmother gave him when he was young and said he wanted to be President. I find it’s a good tip for getting through life in general. Don’t cast people aside, instead talk to them, and show interest in what they’re doing. Who knows if they’ll be able to help you, but you may be able to help them. We could all use some more karma points in life.

Engage and make contact. Social media and technology helps make the world a little smaller, and makes it easier to connect. There are a lot of silent “lurkers” out there, but in order to build relationships, you’ll need to engage. At the most superficial level you can like a post, but leaving a comment on a blog post, Instagram, or Twitter thread becomes more engaged and connection starts to happen. Actually saying something deeper than “I love that” will make you more memorable. And the rarest contact of them all—send an email to tell the person you appreciate their work without asking for or expecting anything in return. Saying a simple hello or thanking someone for the work they do, can be the start of something more. It’s often the littlest acts of kindness that reap the biggest rewards.

Don’t let your first point of contact be an ask. Making contact, even small enough that someone else is not seeing your name for the first time, makes asking for something a million times easier once the time comes. (When you do ask, be clear, direct and specific. Whether you know someone really well, or hardly at all, this shows you’re respecting the person on the receiving end by making it easy for them to respond. ) Doing your homework

Do your homework. Do some research into the person. Check their website, LinkedIn, social media. Try to find the answer to a question in their resources before asking for help. Showing you’re informed (and not lazy) will take you FAR. (Trust me, so few people do this step.)

Be an unofficial cheerleader. The best relationships start without ulterior motives. Celebrating and sharing the work of others can be a nice way to get on someone’s radar. Share something they created—post, article, podcast, work of art—and tag them with a quote or share a thoughtful comment. Not every share will get a response from the creator, but every social media account has a human on the other side who reads everything. Supporting others is a great way to build the foundations of a network, while also helping spread ideas to those who need them and may not have known they exist.

Be human. Be yourself. You want to sound like a person, not a robot. Be personal, real, honest, even vunerable. The more you do this, the likelihood that you’re building real, strong relationships increases. We often get caught in rules of how we “should” be doing something, but really it’s more important to be yourself. If you overthink everything, nothing will ever happen.

Have patience. Building relationships (especially the ones that are meaningful) doesn’t happen over night. Think about it as planting seeds now for later. Timing may be everything, and there’s some chance involved. You never know what the person on the other side is going through (and whatever you do see on social media is likely never the full story.) To be truly meaningful it will likely have layers and take a bit of time. Take steps forward, and do things genuinely.

Don’t burn bridges. Life is too short to make enemies. You can create your inner circle of trusted “advisors”, but there’s no need to burn bridges with others. You never know when you may need that relationship in the future.

Keep nurturing relationships. Life gets busy for sure, but little things can make a difference. One of the easiest ways to maintain contact is to send a resource link (article, book, etc.) to someone with a quick note that says “Thought of you. I wanted to pass this along in case you hadn’t seen it yet.” It’s thoughtful and doesn’t put any pressure on the recipient to respond. They very well may never respond, but you likely helped put a smile on their face. It’s the simplest of acts that help make someone’s day.

It’s so true that life can get busy and out of control at times, and we can’t always put the time, energy and effort into relationships. But that’s the beauty of building relationships—they’re there for you when you need them. When you put the time in before you need it, they’re waiting for you when the time comes. Sometimes this may be years later, but you built the foundation earlier.

Life is full of uncertainties and curve balls, so it always helps to have people on your side when you need it. You’ll get much further in life (and stay sane), when you have your “people” you can go to to talk things out. These relationships you’ve built will also be your best and most supportive cheerleaders. They’ll encourage you. They’ll connect you. They’ll be honest with you. In short: only good things can come from building relationships. They’re also a key ingredient in how the magic happens, but that’s for another post. ✨

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3 secrets to winning over clients

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You’ve just landed a new client and are jazzed to get started. So is the client. Except the fact that they still have to juggle their responsibilities on top of what they’ve hired you to work on. Turns out all that time they blocked off to work with you got eaten into by another “emergency” (or a day in the life of running a business).

You’ve learned to roll with the punches as a freelancer, so this is nothing out of the ordinary. You’re still excited to get started. You won’t fully know what questions you have until you’ve had a chance to sit down with the assets and information they provide.

You can tell the client is stressed about other things, so you want to make sure you can do whatever you can to make sure what you’re working on goes smoothly. Here are three tips that have helped my relationships with clients over the years.

  1. Take notes. When you’re starting a project it all seems clear and simple. Until it’s not. You want to have detailed notes you can go back to if the scope of work creeps. But more importantly, you want to be able to keep looking back at what the goals and mission of this project are so you can make sure you can keep the focus. What seems obvious when you write it down, quickly comes blurred weeks and months down the line. I’m a firm believer in paper or notebooks. Who cares if it gets messy. It also helps to date each conversation and organize it so you can find it again. (Sometimes I save photos/scans of my paper notes online too.)

  2. Ask (more) questions. Learn as much as you can about the project, background, and goals, but remember, the client is hiring you because you’re the expert. There are likely things they’ve never considered because they’re so in it that they haven’t been able to step back. As the outside consultant or freelancer you bring new eyes and a fresh perspective. They may not have an answer to all of your questions, but even a non-answer can help provide you with direction and help you figure out where to focus your attention. When you make the client think, you can help prove that they’ve made the right investment. Even a little push back can be a good thing. It is how you can get to the best work. Questions are also one of the best ways to help get your point across rather than dictating the way things should be done.

  3. Speak their language. When you start working with clients across different industries the lingo they use may be different. It can be good to have a conversation early on about their customers/users/audience and how they refer to them in different contexts. Write this down so you can keep going back. You want to start speaking their language. If their user is actual a shopper, start calling them shoppers. If they’re a student, call them a student. If their customer service representative is a student success specialist, call them by the later. These little cues that you adopt helps prove that you’re really paying attention to what they’re saying. When you speak the same language, it’s easier to move a project forward.

If you take a closer look, the thing that links these three simple—yet completely under utilized—tactics together is LISTENING. 👂 It’s something that is emphasized when we’re children, but sometimes in adulthood can get muddled, especially as we’re expected to always have an answers. Don’t pretend to know it all. Start by getting curious.

Listening can be easier said than done, so start practicing on friends and family so you’re ready when that next awesome client comes along. Watch for when you find yourself nodding in agreement, but you’re actually tuning out. Be aware of when you’re interrupting. Even consider allowing more awkward silences into your conversations to see if the person you’re talking to has anything else to add. Ask follow up questions that show you’ve actually listened. You never know what may be the little nugget of information that provides you with a new key insight will be.

The better listeners we become, the better work we can put into the world that will resonate with the people we’re designing/writing/creating/building for.

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite secrets for working with clients? Share them in the comments below!

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On managing (self) stress. And self care.

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There are a lot of struggles that aren’t talked about much when running your own business, from client expectations, to crazy timelines, to unpaid invoices, to cash flow. There are countless factors that can add to stress.

I unfortunately learned about stress early on. In my case I call it self-stress, but everyone experience stress in their own ways. It happened the day I graduated from grad school. While I’d defended my thesis a couple months earlier, I no longer had the “crutch” of being a student to keep me from fully having to be part of the real world.

While I didn’t necessarily feel scared or extra nervous about this change, my subconscious clearly did. By the end of the day, I had a horrible migraine, and stiff neck that lasted for days. I remember spending the end of my graduation day—after a wonderful lunch—laid out on the couch in the apartment my parents were staying in. From that moment on, I’ve been very aware of taking care of myself.

It was during the time of graduation that I was also transitioning to freelancing. I was in my 30s, and already had both full-time and freelance work under my belt, but this was going to be at a different level. I needed to make enough to pay for my life in Paris. While I was living in an apartment as small as they come, this was still intimidating. Not only was I starting a business, but a couple months later, I ended up having to put together a business plan, because not only was my livelihood dependent on my success, but so was my paperwork to stay in France.

Fast Forward

One of the hardest things about running your own business is knowing when to step back or hit pause. When things get stressful it can be tempting to feel like you need to put in more time. If you’re anything like me, you add another layer of self-inflicted guilt for not doing more. Yes, sometimes it is the client putting pressure on, but more often I’m the one putting the thoughts into my own head to add to the stress.

This is where age and experience comes in. You know yourself better can catch it before it gets out of control. You can trust the process and what you bring to a project. While you may feel behind on the project, chances are if someone else were at the helm the project would be even further behind.

One of the early lessons I learned in freelancing was deadlines were made to be broken. This was incredibly frustrating as I’d often drop everything to finish something, which then would launch a couple weeks, or a month later. These hard lessons were a good reminder to keep barriers between my work, and my life. I’d need both in order to succeed. What I’m working on is not a life or death situation. It will get done. Any work will be better in a less stressed context. This is also where I learned that asking questions can help save your sanity.

A theme I’ve found come up over and over in my writing is the reminder to build in extra time for things to go wrong. Even the best intentions can have curve balls. Filling every hour of your calendar is not going to help it get done. Sometimes space and time is the best remedy. Even if you can’t have a break right away, try to plan for it when planning ahead.

There’s a certain unpredictability when running your own business, particularly when it centers around clients. Client speed is often rush and tight deadlines, but it’s also clouded by administrative bureaucracy. Hence their idea of “as soon as possible” may not kick off for a week until everything is approved and signed. This then compresses your already tight deadline, which is not the best for your mental health. And the cycle continues.

Self-stress can also come in the form of delayed email responses, or comments that throw you off your game. Oh, the mind games. At some point you have to really learn to shake things off, and this is just work, and its not your be all and end all. (Warning: the bigger the project or more senior you do get, there pressure can mount with it.). As my mom would say, “I worry about things I have I have control over. I don’t worry about things I have no control over.”

While I don’t have all the answers, here are a few things I try to do to manage stress, and make sure I also focus on self-care:

  • Don’t let the client work take over your life. Yes, there are going to be crazy periods, but even during the busiest of times, I challenge you make time and prioritize your own projects as well. By making time for my writing in the mornings, I still continued posting even during the heat of a big deadline. It helped me stay more balanced. I realize it’s a huge luxury—and it doesn’t always work out—but for big involved client projects I try to limit them to 3-4 days/week so there’s room for my brain to think in between. Balance.

  • Find time to disconnect. For me this is in bed at night where I don’t look at my phone. Instead I curl up with a physical book. Most of the time I only make it through a few pages, but over time those few pages add up. When I find myself dozing off, I know it’s time to close the book and sleep. In the morning I don’t look at my phone now until after I’ve gone through my morning writing routine. (This post got written because I wasn’t distracted on my phone.)

  • Get enough sleep. Ideally this involves going to bed early, and getting 8 hours of sleep. This is much easier said than done, but it has to be a priority. A good night’s sleep can make all the difference to your stress levels.

  • Get up and move. One of the worst things you can do for your body is sit in the same place all day (or my bad habit of writing from the couch.). Try to get up and move around a bit every hour. When I’m not on a huge deadline, I try to build in an hour walk into my day, or get in some steps during my commute. It’s also my time to listen to a podcast. The gym is also key to my sanity. It’s really more for my mental health than my physical health. (I wrote about how going to the gym is like running a business.)

  • Treat yourself. My guilty pleasure has become paying for good coffee in a coffee shop. In Paris, it is more of a splurge than just a caffeine pick me up. But also, it’s important to do the things you enjoy. A coffee may just be that break you need to step away from your work. (Or for me, I’ll often take a notebook and work through ideas on paper to get away from my computer.). On the higher level of the splurge spectrum I love a good massage and facial. Yes, I get judgement from others that I pay too much for it, but the price of my sanity and health makes it worth every penny. I prefer to think of it as an investment that will save me in the long run.

  • Have something to look forward to. It can make getting through the slog of a deadline much easier when you have something to look forward to. This may be getting that massage, or going on a trip, or treating yourself to something in your community. It doesn’t have to be big, or expensive, but it can help break up the monotony of the grind.

  • Celebrate wins. A friend of mine always keeps a bottle of champagne in refrigerator for anytime there’s something to celebrate. While champagne isn’t the only answer, it’s one idea to get you thinking about how you can celebrate your wins. I’ll be the first to admit that projects don’t always have the clear and definitive end than we think they will, so consider celebrating small wins. When you’re running your own show, keeping things in perspective is key.

There are going to be natural stressful times in any work routine. Pressure will build around deadlines. Great opportunities may arrive without a lot of notice. Having an awareness of when stress starts building is a good start.

When you know you may be burning the candle at both ends, consider where you can take off some pressure in other aspects of your life. (For me, it’s often fitting in some cheesy Netflix movies in my downtime. 😜)

Don’t feel like you have to take on more to be better at your job. Instead, I challenge you to take on less. (It’s easier said than done.) Also, consider how you can push back to get better results. Not all stress is bad. Some stress is good for growth. Working on something that challenges you can be highly rewarding. There may be some mountains to climb, but on the other side, you’ll have that experience in your back pocket that will better prepare you for the next one.

Ok, your turn! How do you manage stress and self care? Share all your tips in the comments below! I shared more ideas in my post on managing stress and minimizing burnout.

P.S. The eye in the photo is by French street artist JR. He currently has a a show at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.

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You know more than you think.

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Have you ever met someone who has an answer for everything? At first you trust them and maybe even give them god-like powers, only to later realize that knowing everything isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, sometimes not having all the answers can give you the upper hand because it makes you pause to reflect, or consider if you’re even asking the right questions of working to solve the right problem.

On the other side of the spectrum from spectrum of the know-it-all, lies another kind of person who is incredibly talented, curious, inquisitive, yet may be too quick to not want to take on an opportunity because they don’t already have the skills and experience to fulfil one of the requirements.

In this case, the thing keeping you from this opportunity is not that it’s something you can’t figure out, it’s the fact that it makes you feel like an imposter. When you encounter things that scare you it’s often a good indicator that you’re pushing yourself professionally. It doesn’t always feel good, but it really is a good thing. And unfortunately, there are people out there far less qualified and talented than you who don’t feel like an imposter, and will take the job if you don’t. (And they won’t do work to the same quality as you.)

When we only see the work we do, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is doing something similar, particularly if from the outside it looks like they’ve hit a certain level of “success.” However, one of the most eye opening aspects of running my business is getting a peek inside the work of others across industries (and I’m not even talking about my clients here). Much of it is very impressive, but then sometimes you encounter something that makes you go, “really!?!?”. It’s often not until you see something underwhelming by someone else that you fully start to comprehend what it is you bring to your work. It’s all the stuff you completely take for granted.

Society tends to teach us that “bigger is better” or that things are supposed to be done a certain way. When you name drop big companies people are more likely to be impressed. But then I read this article on LinkedIn about the rise of the small [research] agency. While the article has market research as the focus, the benefits it discusses—commitment, flexibility, focus, customized, vendor agnostic, and cost—can apply to many industries working on a smaller scale.

The article talks about small agencies as 1-50 people. More and more I see the power of one as the biggest benefit. No, I may not know everything going into a project, but I’m far more likely to take the time to figure it out than someone lost in the sea of a giant company. I take ownership of the work I do. I take it on not because it’s easy work, but because it’s a challenge. Because that’s the best way to learn, grow, and push ourselves forward. It’s also how we end up knowing more than we give ourselves credit for.

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On priorities and what's next.

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In cinema the inciting incident happens early in the film, and serves as the moment or event which sets the rest of the film into action. For me, it was the day that my mom got diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

When something like that happens in your life, it shakes things up. It makes you reflect a whole lot (there’s a whole lot of waiting too). It makes things confusing at first as you learn to navigate unknown territory, but at the same time it helps give you focus. You realize life is short, and you spend more time pondering how you really want to be spending your time.

In the process I came to the realization that just because I was good at something, or knew how to do something, it didn’t necessarily mean I wanted to be doing it, or found it fulfilling. When you’re deep in something it’s hard to get out of it. It takes making an effort on the side—yes, more work—to be able to put some next steps into place. But the good news is, it should be something you’re so excited for, it doesn’t feel like work. In other words, you make it a priority.

One of the challenges we face in making decisions through life is that we don’t always realize all the options and opportunities available to us because we’re stuck in our ways, or our bubble of comfort. We can feel stuck at times. Curiosity is one of the biggest ways to get unstuck. Even if it’s not an immediate answer to something, it’s a distraction that sparks something in our brain. It gets us out of our status quo, even if just temporarily.

During my mom’s nearly 4 year battle with cancer, I was on my own journey. I knew life could change at any moment, and I wanted to be in a place that was both flexible and fulfilling. In the grand scheme of things I was in a “good place” but it was a path I had fallen into, not that I had sought out. I knew there was still more out there.

This less than ideal news was good in terms it made everything I did and choices I made more intentional, from how I spent my time to which direction I needed to redirect myself to. The biggest change happened the year I gave myself the theme PIVOT. I knew it was time to change course. A simple word could also work to be a guiding force as I faced decisions.

Along the way, it became much easier to say NO to things (a surprisingly hard skill to learn while freelancing, as you never quite note what is coming next). I learned just because there are 24 hours in a day, I didn’t have to fill them. On a day to day level I became more precious with my time, and how I was spending it. If I wanted to get to the next thing, I was going to have to put the time in to make it happen.

My pivot happened just in time for me to get settled before shaken up again. Just as in every movie, there are always going to be forces that create tension and conflict in our life, and we have to learn to battle back.

It turns out sometimes having the right challenge is exactly what we need for a distraction. It often can be easy to prioritize the easy path or what you know. But life is a long game, so getting to the root of what drives you and what you WANT to be doing, can be highly motivating in setting priorities. When you feel fulfilled in the work you do, it also gives you a sense a purpose, which makes everything mentioned above that much easier.

I hope that the inciting incident in your life doesn’t have to be as traumatic as mine in order to get you on the path you want to be there. I know there are amazing things out there you want to be doing. You may be scared. You may be making excuses. You may be procrastinating. It’s OK—we all do.

I also want to remind you, that you don’t have to wait for that moment to arrive where you MUST take action. You can start taking small steps today. The big picture can be overwhelming, but when you break in down into small steps, and break those steps into even smaller steps, that’s when you can start making progress. Sometimes it’s going to involve saying YES to things that scare you, and other times it may involve saying NO to something that doesn’t take you closer to that goal.

Consider having a heart to heart with yourself. Take yourself, a notebook, and pen to your favorite café/park/place. You don’t have to have everything figured out, but write down—or draw a mind map—a bunch of ideas linking where you’ve been, to where you want to go. Give yourself permission to get messy, because let’s face it, life gets messy sometimes.

Don’t underestimate how each past experience can help propel us forward. We’re always learning as we go. Weave those stories and connect the dots to help you get to where you want to be. Make your next steps a priority.

Showing up is the first step. (As my friend Olga says to me, “you always show up.”). Don’t take for granted the smallest actions. They snowball over time to really add up.

Just as movies don’t get made over night, neither should the path to your future. Break it down, and make it happen. 💪

p.s. I wrote about my mom here and here. ❤️

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Write your own rules.

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Twenty-nine days ago this biz blog didn’t exist. This post marks the 18th post. If I’d over thought everything I never would have even written the first post. I’d probably still be thinking about it today, but instead I decided to favor action over perfection. I’m quite glad I did.

Transition periods are a good time to pause and reflect on the work you are doing, and the work you want to be doing. For me, it was the end of a 1.5 year contract and a transition back to my own work. I’d had the itch to be working on more of my own thing for YEARS. We’re talking 4-5 years, but every time a new opportunity arose, I let it take over too.

But with time, comes age, and wisdom. The hard work I’d put into client projects trained me well to write more, and hone my skills, so now it was time to take the momentum and redirect it to feed my projects.

It doesn’t have to be perfect

When starting out, it’s important that any major project we follow today likely didn’t start out as the robust beast it is today. Every project has to start somewhere. And as I’ve learned many times in my life, it’s always a good idea to try something out before going to deep to make sure it’s something you actually enjoy and want to be doing.

This project is a blog. I can update it any time. It’s not carved in stone. I can change the font. I can change the template. I can change the direction at any time.

Make it an experiment

While I know it can seem daunting to start a project to say you’ve been wanting to do it, but when you launch it in the spirit of being an experiment, it helps takes the pressure off. It also puts you in a mentality where everything you do is something you’re willing to try, see what happens and learn from.

Now the thing to keep in mind here, is so many things we do don’t have instant gratification. It may take awhile for anything to happen. To get a response. To make a dent. Yes, it may even be YEARS. But down the line you’ll be so happy you planted the seed way back when. But you also need to think about what you can do to share and spread what it is you’ve put into the world.

Confession: I’ve been so busy writing this month, I’ve hardly bothered to share much at all. But when you’ve done the work, it makes it easier to keep building on it, sharing it, and revisiting it as time goes on.

Find a framework to make things happen

It can help to have a framework to work from, so that when we start making excuses, we have a reason to get us back into shape. I used NaNoWrimo, national novel writing month, as my excuse to have to write every day and build better habits. No, I’m not writing a novel, I just wanted to write more. For myself.

I’ve always hated spreadsheets in the past, but when it’s just an experiment, and you’re having fun, it helps take the pressure off. One month. That’s it.

Create good habits + stop making excuses

Spoiler alert: I won’t be stopping anytime soon. I may take weekends off—except for my newsletter. And I may be doing more writing behind the scenes than making myself publish something on one of my channels every day for a month. Did I really do that!?!?! I have one more day to go, but it appears I do.

What small changes can you make to your day to help ensure that you can make what you want to be doing a reality, and a priority. (This changed the way I work.)

Shake things up + have fun

Getting into the mental space of experimentation and having a bit more fun was all kicked off by a series of calls I did with 13 blog readers. I had NO IDEA what would happen with this experiment. It involved a bit of chance and risk on the side of the willing participants. But much to my surprise, after the first day, the slots were full, and people were asking for more.

Sometimes these experiments can lead to things you never expect. It turns out every single one of those conversations was something I needed to hear. The power of connecting with people is completely underestimated in a world where it feels like we’re always connecting. Taking it a step forward—face to digital face—made us all more vulnerable, where we were asking questions, and willing to learn.

There was no guise of being formal interviews with these conversations. I wasn’t there to share my mission or promote anything. I just wanted to have fun. And know what, it was AWESOME!

It turned out some themes emerged and those questions that were asked are what became the backbone of this blog. For me it wasn’t always about having all the answers, but learning to listen better. It turns out I could make a more informed experiment, even though I had no idea what would happen going into it. You don’t always have to have a plan. In fact, sometimes life can be more fun when you’re open to what happens next.

We have a tendency to get stuck in our ways, think work/a job is supposed to look/feel/act in a certain way. But those rules are old, outdated, and probably created by an old boys club. It’s time to start thinking differently and write our own rules. It’s how we can stand out in a sea of sameness, and bring a fresh burst of energy to what we do.

Work should be fun, rewarding, challenging. What are you doing to write your own rules? Share it in the comments.

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How to find cool conferences and events

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One of the biggest secrets to success is curiosity. It’s giving yourself permission to learn new things, and be open to different perspectives. It’s allowing yourself to “geek out” on a subject and see where it takes you.

In 2017 I came to the realization that one of my favorite excuses to travel was to learn something new. That’s the beauty of travel, you can’t help but learn by having new experiences and seeing how something may be done elsewhere. That year my learning was a bit more literal with attending talks, workshops, and conferences in other cities, and countries. A reader asked me in a comment on a different post how I find these cool things. I answered it there, but also felt it warranted a post of its own.

Word of mouth is always the best way to learn about anything. This can happen with people you see and know personally (that’s how I found the design thinking facilitation training I did in Amsterdam—a colleague/friend told me), or people whose work you follow and respect online (that’s how I discovered the awesome Nordic Design conference in Stockholm from the photo above—someone I followed online mentioned it).

It’s helpful to follow the “leaders” in the fields who are interesting to you. (I use Twitter lists to make it easier to find people.) These often are the people sharing ideas, writing books, or giving talks. When they announce online that they’re going to be speaking at a conference, it’s a great way to discover “new” conferences. Before long it becomes a rabbit hole of discovery.

The beauty about the times we live in is that often you don’t even have to spend money or leave the house to take advantage of what people are talking about at events. During certain conferences I’m addicted to my Twitter feed, following the official hashtag to pick up nuggets of inspiration being shared by the speakers. I click around to see what else the speaker has shared or written. I’ll often even re-share great ideas, even when I’m not at the event myself. I’ll also keep my eyes open for if and when a certain talk gets posted online. It’s no where near as fun as seeing it live in person, and takes more discipline to watch a talk after the fact, but it can be a fantastic way to stay on top of what’s happening in that industry.

Even if you’re not on Twitter there are loads of other ways to discover cool events. Neon Moiré is a website that curates the best design events. For UX, I’ve found a handful of great posts on Medium listing the “best UX/design conferences”. There are all sorts of roundups on the web. A random Google search can be your best friend.

Facebook has become a great tool for finding local events. When a friend marks that they’re “interested” or “going” to an event it often will show up in my feed too. It helps too to sign up for newsletters for places that often host events. Creative Mornings is an awesome free talk series that happens worldwide, and you can also watch the talks online. Look out for Pecha Kucha and Ignite events featuring short form talks too. (My networking, co-working, and crafting post on PAV has lots more ideas too! Even if you’re not in Paris, it may help spark some ideas.).

Podcasts have been another fantastic way I’ve discovered the people, books, and events in the industry that I would never have known about before. Often the guest, who I’m discovering for the first time on the podcast, will mention something they’re working on or have attended. I’ll jot down a little note while I’m walking. Later, when I’m back at my computer, I be sure to look up that thing. Taking the little extra step has exponentially expanded the possibilities of “eavesdropping” on a conversation that in fact has been shared with the world. I’ll often reverse engineer from podcast guests and books I love to see if there are any related talks on YouTube or Vimeo, and to look into what other podcasts they’ve been a guest on.

In my post how to network smarter, I brought up my “talk to strangers” tactic. Instead of asking a question about the work of the person, why not let the event you’re at be the conversation ice breaker. Ask how they found it, what they thought or it, and if they have any other recommendations for great events to check out. You never know who you may get the next great idea from.

In recent years I’ve also learned the value of looking outside my industry for inspiration. Due to my own curiosity, I signed up for a 3-day storytelling masterclass focused around screenwriting. It came recommended by a friend, and I was already reading the book (Story) by the author. While the event did come to Paris, I found it more fun to have an excuse to travel to London for this one. (For the record, that was one of the more exhausting events I ever attended, as it was more like a 3-day monologue, than the interactive dynamic events I was used to. I’m spoiled by events created by designers.).

What’s important to remember is what’s “cool” in the mainstream may not always speak to you. Figure out what’s “cool” for you. What are you curious to learn more about? You may find out how hate a certain topic, or love something outside of your comfort zone you never imagined, but you’ll never know until you try. And if you struggle to find an event that speaks to you, maybe it’s a sign you should start your own…

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How to network smarter

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Every morning these days I seem to wake up to a new LinkedIn request from someone I don’t know asking to join my network. That is not networking, and I don’t know who is encouraging this behavior. (It may be a French thing??). I for one am not a fan.

For me, LinkedIn works like an extension of real life. It’s the people I’ve actually met and connected with in person, or because we’re in a connected world, sometimes people I’ve communicated with more than once but our paths have never crossed paths with. It’s on the rare occasion that someone writes me cold and writes a message engaging enough to speak to me, that I’ll consider breaking my “rules”.

I constantly shake my head at the fact that most people network with the generic autofill message “Will you join my network?”. Yes, I use that all the time myself, but not to message people I don’t know. If you really want to make a new contact, but a little effort into it. Seriously. No matter how well known the person may be, everyone appreciates knowing that the work they put into the world has made an impacted or touched someone.

The perk of LinkedIn—compared to regular email—is that it limits the character count for that initial message. That’s a good thing. On the other end of the spectrum, long overwhelming outreach emails can also be anxiety inducing for the recipient. You want to write something worthy of a response. Busy people get enough generic emails. Make it personal and something they want to read.

Reframing networking

The first time I heard the statement “Make friends, don’t network” it was from illustrator Jessica Hische (someone famous for creating side projects like Daily Drop Cap, MomThisIsHowTwitterWorks.com, ShouldIWorkForFree.com, InkerLinker.com, and DontFeartheInternet.com). The idea making friends was far more appealing than the idea of networking, which just felt icky to me. I like to translate it to: be nice to people and good things will happen.

The power of networking doesn’t lie in how many people you know, but who you know. And when those people are interesting and cool, they know other interesting and cool people that may be able to help you too. Making connections is so much easier when it’s directly linked to a human. But never assume that just because someone knows someone else they’ll automatically connect you. You never know their relationship or the situation they may be aware of. But you can always inquire, just take the pressure off.

The thing about networking is that you can’t only network when you need a job. You need to always be feeding and nurturing your relationships. It makes it a million times easier when the time comes that you do need help. The ask is easy, not uncomfortable. And when you’ve built solid relationships it gives you so much more confidence to ask for help. (If you’re anything like me, you avoided this for too long because you didn’t want to look weak from not knowing the answer.)

The other thing you can do to help out the person who you’d like help or guidance from is to ask a specific question. It’s not that people don’t want to help you, they’re just busy. Having a specific ask that is direct and to the point rather than trying to for everything is much more likely to get a response.

Also, do your homework, and show the recipient that you know and appreciate what they do. If someone has a blog it helps to start by checking the archives. You can search on Twitter too. Or whatever other social media platforms they’re on. When you can make your message a bit more personal and show you’ve done some work on your end, it can make a big difference. It also helps respects the time of the person on the receiving end, so keep it succinct. It’s so easy these days, but so few people make the extra effort.

The awesome thing about social media is that it helps bring everyone a step closer and it removes many of the levels of hierarchy that were once in place. Every user uses each platform differently and has their own “rules of play” in terms of what they may respond to (often related to how “famous” they are). Many people are highly accessible, and you can reach out and connect with them openly and directly. They may not respond at first, but they likely will see any time you share their work or tag them in a post. So when you do make an ask, you’re no longer as anonymous as if you were reaching out to someone blind with a cold email.

Get noticed

Side projects are also one of the unique ways to get noticed these days. For Jessica Hische (mentioned above) her projects got spread far and wide on the internet. Having a little fun helped make her a household name in the design community. It also meant she got hired for more and more rad projects (including designing custom typography for a Wes Andersen film). These projects were just something she did for her own enjoyment (not with an ulterior motive), and they helped her build her illustration skills, and play around with some of her coding skills. Ultimately they helped her open and unlock certain doors.

For me, my [travel] blog has been my best business card from the start. It builds on the ethos “show, don’t tell”. It showcases my style, the projects that capture my attention, while also reflecting a certain work ethic—these posts don’t just write themselves! Early on I had a regular column called “Boarding Pass” where I featured different creatives in terms of how they traveled and documented their travels. In featuring people, I made connections with them. They’re all still contacts to this day, and doing so many amazing things. I wasn’t just featuring the big names either, but people I could see who were doing interesting work.

The other perk of my blog and online presence is I haven’t applied to a job since c. 2004. Work comes my way directly and indirectly through my blog, social media, and word of mouth. When you share snippets of what you work on, people are more likely to keep you in mind when a project they need help with arises and your unique mix of skills is exactly what they're looking for. Now that’s my kind of networking. People want to work with you for you!

More recently I did a little experiment. If you read down to the bottom of this post, I offered a handful of free 30 minute calls with me to talk about anything. It deserves a full post, but from that fun exercise, so much good happened. I had a blast connecting with readers again (something I’d failed at for years), I felt inspired (and I think they’d say the same), and much to my surprise in multiple conversations multiple “job” opportunities came up for me. And I wasn’t even looking. The crazy thing is, one of the awesome projects I’m working on right now came about from one of those calls. You never know what a simple conversation may lead to. Be open to possibilities.

Talk to strangers

This spirit is also why I gave myself the theme “talk to strangers” as my 2018 theme of the year. I noticed that France, unlike the US, is not quite as open to talking to everyone and anyone. The introvert in me always felt awkward at networking events in Paris—like I needed someone to give me permission to talk to other people. Rather than keep complaining, I decided to do something about that.

Last year I decided to embrace the awkwardness and put myself out there. The theme translated in many different ways, but one of the rules for myself was anytime I went to an event, I had to talk to one person I didn’t know. Nothing amazing had to come from this conversation, but I had to be open to putting myself out there. Bonus points (not really) if you make an effort to talk to someone who doesn’t look like you. Also remember, the people who may hire you one day—for a job or a project—aren’t necessarily the ones in the same industry as you. Open your net wider. (We could all afford to be a bit more inclusive.)

I decided to focus more on listening to the other person than trying to get my story out. (Listening is a completely undervalued skill, by the way.). The other perk was that every time I did have to explain what I do, it gave me the opportunity to test out how I talked about myself. When you’re a “slasher” like me who wears many hats (designer / writer / educator / etc.) the short elevator pitch is a constant work in progress. But you don’t get better until you do it more. Out loud.

My talks with strangers at events almost never led to a LinkedIn connection. But then on a couple occasions it led to something far more than that. Either way, I ALWAYS learned something new, even in the shortest of interactions. When you go into “networking” with an open mind you realize that the end game isn’t just about “building your network”. It’s also super rewarding to talk to someone new, or to be able to help someone else by sharing a resource that may help them in what they’re working on.

Conversation starters

Instead of asking someone what they do, consider reframing the question and asking “What’s your story?”. When you ask different questions, you may well get different responses. You’re also far more likely to make an impression and be memorable as the person with a fresh approach. NPR radio host Terry Gross shared her tips for better conversations with the NYTimes. She uses the prompt “Tell me about yourself” and insists curiosity is the way to be the best conversationalist.

What was the last memorable conversation that you had?

Working the connections

Having a strong network has its perks. I can reach out to friends anytime I have a quick question, or need an industry insight. I usually get a response in 5 minutes or less these days because I make it easy for them.

The coolest thing is now when people come to me about work, when it’s not a good fit, or I don’t have time, it’s something I almost always can recommend to someone else. More often than not they’re the better fit than me to begin with. Being able to send friends work, while supporting another contact is one of the most rewarding feelings ever.

It’s almost never an occasion where the person emails me looking for work and I think of them. It’s more that I have a familiarity of their interests and they have proven their work ethic indirectly through our interactions. They’re automatically the person who comes top of mind when the opportunity arises. But if you are looking for work, it doesn’t hurt to let people know, but try to give some specifics regarding your strengths.

This is where building, maintaining, and fostering those relationships is key. It may be years between contact in some cases, but when you have a solid foundation it doesn’t matter. It’s a stark contrast to those emails I receive that say “Are you the graphic designer?”. Yes, I really receive lame emails like this where the emailer doesn’t even bother to introduce themselves, who they are, or what they’re specifically looking for. And yes, while I have a background in graphic design, messages like this show a lack of awareness of my work in general. I also have zero desire to respond to messages like this or help this person. A little effort can go a long way. (Jocelyn Glei’s How to Ask People for Things Via Email: an 8-step program is a must read. As is Sean Blanda’s 10 Tips for an Awesome Coffee Meeting.)

Networking done right should feel effortless and fun. It’s not the formal, doubty way I learned in school. Business cards are still allowed. In fact, make a cool one that’s memorable and a good conversation piece.

Networking is about being brave enough to put yourself out there a bit more, being open to sharing your best work, and figuring out what works for you.

People want to see you succeed. Make sure you’re doing your part to make them want to help you too.

Image from a Jean-Charles de Castelbajac gallery show window in Paris.

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The power of push back

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Dictionary.com defines complaisant as: inclined or disposed to please; obliging; agreeable or gracious; compliant.

I’m witness to this behavior far more than I like to see. It may disguise itself in the form of statements such as: “Sure I’ll get right on it,” or “Of course I can do that,” with no further questions asked or questioning why something has to happen, or happen in a certain way. I attribute it to societal pressures (sometimes self-inflicted) and the speed at which we move and work happens now (there’s hardly time to think). Somehow going against the grain or having an opinion became a “bad” thing?

We’re fast to agree to take something on, or assume that because something was led or created by an “expert” with more “experience” it’s the right way or better quality. We assume the boss always knows what they’re doing. (Sorry to break it to you, but everyone is always figuring it out as they go.) We nod and smile and do what we’re told. That’s what we think we’re “supposed” to do and how we’re supposed to behave. Say, what!?!

Then we risk turning into machines doing a job in a factory void of critical thought. If we move forward without speaking up, there’s an itch, or annoyance for just doing the job. Here’s the thing that’s completely down played these days: when you do speak up or challenge something, that’s how you really move forward. You may have to risk having an uncomfortable moment, but you’ll a) get it out of your system instead of holding it in and b) setting yourself up for long term success (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time). Yes, even small interactions can yield big results.

One of the reasons I think I resist full-time roles is the fact that I fear teams can get complaisant too easily. What starts out with a strong mission and values to guide the way, gets clouded under the pressure of deadlines and demands from senior management. Some conversations are thwarted by “we just have to get things done” or “we’ll talk about that later” (and later is never). Asking hard questions and challenging ideas is not a one time thing. It should be happening throughout everything we do at all stages. It’s how real change happens.

I regularly remind myself that I’m not challenging or pushing back on ideas to cause a ruckus. There’s a reason I’m bringing them up. It’s taken time to have the confidence to use my voice.

The result will often have the guise of having to do more work, but it’s in asking the right questions and focusing energy in the right places up front, that the long game will have more success. Too often we get blinded by the need for instant gratification. It’s crucial to trust yourself and the experience you bring to a project. And sometimes it’s what you don’t know about a project that can allow you to ask the best questions. (It’s called the “beginner’s mindset” in means you come in with fewer assumptions).

Of course it helps when someone on the other side is receptive to “dissenting” opinions. Another way to think of it is: do you really want to work for someone who thinks they’re always right and isn’t open to doing things differently? When they are open, challenging an idea is a way to gain respect. Make them think. That’s a good thing. I’m not saying that every idea you challenge has to go the direction you suggest. It just helps to stir the pot a bit. Innovation comes from shaking things up. Small tweaks can have a big impact too. We live in a complex world these days, so we’re constantly weaving in new information.

The simple act of pushing back or questioning something is a technique that can be applied to job interviews, negotiations, projects/process/outcomes/assumptions, and management. It likely won’t be the popular opinion—at first—but you also never know who else may be wishing they said the same thing.

During a recent negotiation, it’s the way I presented information that challenged the current approach that got me the job. Pushing back and challenging an idea is critical thought in action. At first it may be the unpopular thought too. Or maybe no one had thought of it yet.

The power of push back goes both ways. Recently, a friend in a book negotiation told me the story of all the back and forth exchanges during the talks with several publishers. By the end of the exhausting process she didn’t go with the one who offered the most money, but the publisher who challenged the book proposal. While six other publishers accepted it as is, it was the 7th who was willing to take a risk, and that publishing house got the book signed.

It was the conversation that stood out, made the author think, and it just felt right in her gut—this is who she wants to work with on this journey. And let me tell you, this book was already going to be awesome, but the way the concept was challenged is going to take it to the next level.

I don’t know why we’re so afraid to challenge things, at all levels. I often tell people about the work I do, and they look at me with a confused face and even sometimes verbally suggest it’s not a “real job”. In challenging the status quo of “how things are done” and the way we’re “supposed” to work, I’ve created a world for myself that is more rewarding than I ever could have imagined (and more lucrative than a traditional day job). I was forced to challenge how I approach work due to the “creative constraints” of French bureaucracy, but the end result is something that pushed me further. I had to challenge my own expectations too, which involved some re-wiring.

I don’t know about you, but I like a good challenge. I also like when my way of thinking is challenged. To be challenged. It’s how I learn and grow. In my experience doing the same thing like a minion on repeat gets old, fast, and leads to burnout, because you get bored faster. When you don’t feel like you’re really contributing to the outcome, it can feel draining. But taking the time to step back, and ask the right question, the entire experience can change.

I give you full permission to have an opinion, think critically, and use your voice. That’s what makes you stand out. Pushing back can help propel you further. And if you work with a team, I encourage you to give them permission to challenge ideas too. It’s how the magic happens. ✨

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Dear Patriarchy,

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Last night I attended an event in Paris for female entrepreneurs. While I know it was created with good intentions, the whole thing just made my skin crawl. Here's the email I sent the organizers. Feel free to adapt as needed for any future events you attend that may need a wakeup call. 

Dear X,

Last night I attended your event in Paris for female founders. I wanted to reach out because the event itself left me quite uncomfortable. While I realize it was good intentioned, I wanted to share a few of my observations:

  1. I found it a strange juxtaposition to attend an event designed to celebrate female entrepreneurs hosted by men. While the initiative to increase gender diversity by a VC firm is a step in the right direction, were there really no women on the team to be a part of this event? Were there any female team members in the audience to support the mission?

  2. Early on a male host asked how many men are in the audience and to have them raise their hands. The way this event was marketed, I honestly didn't even think men were invited, so I thought it was strange to draw attention to the men in the audience, when that's not what this event was really about. (To be clear, I think it's wonderful having men part of these conversations, it's just not really what happened.)

  3. Followed by the introduction by a man the first talk also was by a man. It wasn't that the talk was bad or uninspiring, it just felt like it was a man telling a group of women how important gender diversity is for business. Sorry to break it to you, but this is something women have known FOREVER. It just felt like the wrong talk for the wrong audience. It's speaking to the choir, so it seemed to undermine my intelligence (even it it wasn't intended that way.)

  4. Once the two women—the guests of honor—were brought on stage they were given chairs and it was a Q&A panel. It felt as if the point of the event, women were down staged. Both of these female entrepreneurs were fantastic, but they had to share the stage, while the men at the event got to hold their own turf.

  5. The conversation was moderated by a man. Normally I'd have no problem with this, but once again it's essential to consider the context of the event. Given everything that had happened so far, it felt very mansplain-y, where it's the man who drives the conversation of (female) entrepreneurship.

  6. I would have loved to have tweeted some of the great takeaways from the guests of honor, but I never was able to find their names. The screens in the room only had their photos, and the confirmation and reminder emails didn't ever mention their names or roles. Yes, I could have looked them up, but I thought the point of this was to give women more access to others in the industry, not create more barriers of entry.

  7. Once Q&A opened, the first person the microphone was handed to a....man. I normally wouldn't notice this at any other event, but the context of this event made it apparent. His question was about how to better support his female co-founder. But why should how women are treated be any different than men? (My recommendation for him—learn how he can be a better advocate for ALL women.)

  8. When the event was over, everyone was invited for food and a drink and two talk to the speakers. There was no clear call to action of how to keep moving these conversations forward or involving more women in tech and leadership roles.

Women know the value we bring to tech, but why do we have to be the ones always carving our own way? How can men be better advocates for what women bring to the workplace? I don't have the answers, but I feel like asking more questions is a great way to start. It's also why I've crafted this email today. While no one actively seeks out criticism, I hope that what I've shared may help open some eyes to how intentions aren't always perceived as intended.

There's a big battle worth fighting out there. I'd argue it goes far beyond supporting more female entrepreneurs. Overall we ALL could afford to be more inclusive. Diversity can't just be a check list of statistics, or stock imagery that shows a spectrum of skin color.

There are SO many voices out there that deserve a seat at the table. We don't even know many of these voices are out there because we're too in our own world and assume everyone thinks like we do. There's cultural diversity, economic diversity, size diversity, gender diversity, sexual diversity, religious diversity, geographic diversity (access), [physical or mental] ability, the list goes on. In short, there's a beautiful diversity of experience out there, and we've barely tapped the surface.

It's not until I took a closer look at myself that I truly realized the privilege I've had in my life. Here are a few resources that have changed the way I think about diversity, inclusion, and representation in tech and beyond. One great way highlight change is to tell stories. These projects do just that:

I believe hard conversations are worth having. It's not just tech. It's every industry that needs to start thinking differently. I'm 100% only good things will happen once we do. We all have a lot to learn still.

Thank you for listening.

Sincerely,
Anne

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Surviving working from home

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When you're self employed there's a real mystery around where/how you work. All I'll say is that for me it's been a 7+ year work in progress and it's regularly changing. It depends on the project I'm working on. And when you love the work you do, it’s easy to make any situation work.

My current break down usually involves 2-3 days working from home, with a walk or trip to the gym to break up my day. (Yes, sometimes I’m in my PJs for more hours of the day than not, but I also plan more meetings now to help me get up, out and moving). About once a week I work from a co-working space or client office. And often I'll have a tour (or two) each week which gets me out. Meetings also change how I work, but the more I work from home, the more I enjoy getting out. That being said, it still involves being selective with your time.

If you'd asked me this same question a few months ago I would have had a different answer. I was working from a client’s office at least 3 days a week (and as an independent contractor, it meant I didn’t always stay the whole day). It may be the people I'm working for, but I find most workplaces in Paris are quickly running out of space, due to the initial lack of it, as well as teams growing. Every time a contract ends, I rethink how I'm working best. I also pick up new tips I can apply to my working style every time I work around others.

Creating a personal workspace

In every apartment (regardless how SMALL) I've had my "spot" where I work. In the first apartment there was only one possible place to work, and maybe two places in the next apartments. I've often been a kitchen table worker, dating back to high school. But in my current place it happens less (however, of course I revisited my table the day I published this post!).

Despite being in the “biggest” apartment I've lived in Paris, for a long time my spot was a place on my couch, which I can assure you, my body hated. It wasn't until the last few months that I really found myself working from home more, so I really focused on creating a desk nook that I really enjoy. I bought the same IKEA lamp that I used in a workshop I loved, I’m surrounded by pictures, and my things, and always have paper and pens nearby (that’s how the messy magic happens).

The simple act of getting a 2nd external monitor that I could connect my computer to not only gave me more screen space (great when you always have a million tabs open and you can't remember what you were doing), but also it gave me an excuse to actually work from my desk more. Working from a desk sounds simple enough, but it's a habit I really had to work towards. Even now, I never spend a full day in the same place. (My couch isn’t too lonely ;) ).

I like to spread out when I work. Whenever I work elsewhere in Paris I joke that I have my “turtle pack” – my backpack with computer, cords, notebook, blank sheets of paper, pens, and whatever I need with me. It’s a little ritual when I set up shop at the table I’m working from. It’s funny—working from a open space start up, you could always tell which desk was mine, even though I technically wasn’t an employee. Mine always had the most books that I’d carry back and forth!

Some people manage to keep everything tidy using the latest and greatest software and digital tools; I prefer giving myself permission to get messy and move things around because a lot of the time what I'm working on is around an idea that’s not fully formed. Sometimes I just need to write down thoughts as I think of them. Once ideas become clearer, I can take them another step to get more organized. One step at a time.

I think that's why I enjoy working from client offices or co-working spaces—it gives me a place to camp out, with people around, but also can stay focused in my bubble. Headphones and the Spotify “Maximum Concentration” playlist have helped me a lot. Coffitivity is another site I used in my early days to have coffee shop sounds at home.

I regularly experiment with working from cafés and hotel lobbies, but I don’t trust leaving my stuff around as much. Which is hard when you want to stay hydrated, but also go to the bathroom. (Confession: I’m super paranoid about my stuff getting stolen in Paris; I’m far more trusting in other cities.) I feel better staying somewhere for awhile when it’s more spacious, rather than taking away business from a local joint.

Often I prefer to go work from a café with just a notebook and pen (I also write “real” letters to friends!). A couple years ago when I really needed a shift in what I was working on, I’d have a date with myself once a week (usually Thursday mornings) at a local coffee shop where I’d take the time to jot down ideas and work on something for myself. I have to say, it has taken years to get so working on my own projects to be a priority. (Now I really do see the returns, even if the initial pay off isn’t so obvious.)

Creating boundaries

In the early days of my business I was working ALL THE TIME. I had the mindset that if I wasn't, then I was doing it all wrong. That was the worst mindset, but you live and learn. As much as possible, I try to keep "normal" working hours and avoid working on weekends, except for an occasional tour.

Now that I've started my morning practice my work day starts much earlier than it used to, but it also means I've accomplished a lot by 9am, which sets my day off to the right foot. It also means come afternoon I may give myself a bigger break depending on how I'm feeling.

When it comes to lunch, I try to keep it simple. Anytime I'm out (which is often) I'll pick up something to go, or eat in. (Warning: this habit can get expensive.) I try to limit lunch meetings, as I find in Paris it's hard to do anything that is less than 2 hours. I inevitably enjoy myself, but feel a bit of guilt for not getting back to something that needs to get done. Instead I find coffee meetings easier, and they involve stuffing less food in your mouth.

When it comes to meetings overall, I'm very selective about taking them on. I avoid double booking my day. And make sure I have space between to "digest" between the two. However, I will say when I was transitioning between projects, I made connecting with people a priority. It was less about networking, and more about reconnecting. When I do have a meeting in the city, I try to walk there as much as possible, especially as I work from home more and more.

People often tell me they're surprised how far I travel for my co-working space. Personally, I don't find 30 minutes horrible, which is the average time it takes me to get anywhere in Paris. I enjoy a little commute because it allows me to take in a podcast episode. I think it's important (and inspiring) to change my environment. Also, it's funny that on days where I work from La Defense (the business district), there are so many high rises, it makes me feel like I've traveled to London for the day. (Speaking of which, working on trains is one of my favorite ways to work—you're moving, while sitting still, and actually have leg room! And sometimes even an outlet.)

Usually the workday ends around 6 or 7pm for me, and I’m quite good at not working late night in general (except for this post, which I’m trying to do on top of a current heavy client load). Evenings may involve an event, happy hour, dinner, movie, gym, or chilling at home with Netflix. It’s highly entertaining to realize how chatty I am on certain days when I do get out and haven’t had much human interaction (beyond Twitter)!

My new love of going to bed early is often thwarted by real life. But getting to bed early means I get to read a book. I often only get through a few pages, but over time that really adds up. It's also meant that I've become a voracious reader in the past couple years. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s pushed my work (and curiosity) forward leaps and bounds. No phone in bed is another rule which makes this easier to do. (It helps that I have horrible phone service in my bedroom!).

Then I get up the next day (with my sunrise alarm clock), head straight to my desk to write, and repeat. However, even with structure, no day is every the same. But that's the way I like it. It keeps me on my toes, and life never gets boring. I will say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what adding a bit more structure and a routine has done for me, and for business. If anything it helps me work less, and work smarter.

Ok, your turn! Where do you work? How do you work? What are the changes that you've made to help your working style? Share it all in the comments, where questions are welcome too :)

You may also enjoy my PAV post on networking, co-working, and crafting in Paris. I also recommend the Letters from a Hopeful Creative episode on making working from home more enjoyable. I listened to it after I drafted this post, and felt very much on the same page. As always, it’s so helpful to hear different perspectives on what works for everyone’s business. Everyone is different so don’t try to be someone you’re not.

There’s more good stuff in my newsletter, which comes straight to your inbox! In the meantime, check out all the biz posts here.

Why running a business is like going to the gym

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There are a few things that mark the upward turn of running my own business. One of those events was joining the gym a couple years ago.

This simple act of investing in myself not only greatly boosted my mental healthy, got me away from my desk and moving, but it helped give me more of a regimen, and that discipline directly translated to working better, smarter and in a more balanced way.

From the outside a lot of aspects of running your own business can look glamorous, from the freedom and flexibility to certain perks. But like everything done right—that looks easy—there’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes.

Most of my university experience was surrounded by collegiate athletes. During those years I saw exactly how the early morning practices paid off to win races, and later set up my teammates for success off the water. The thing is “in the real world” you don’t have to work out daily, or fit in double practices. Even a shorter routine can have big pay off. For me that means 3x a week.

When I started bringing the gym back into my life I often felt like that I had to do crazy cardio classes for it to “count”. While it was great for getting out aggression, over time, I’ve realized my “secret sauce” is a mix of cardio, but also core strengthening and stretching. I tried a bunch of classes and found what I liked, and what challenged me in different ways.

Running my own business I have to make enough decisions to make myself, so I’m perfectly content to have someone else tell me what to do for an hour. They can motivate me while they’re at it ;) My weekly BodyBalance class is a mix of yoga, tai chi, and pilates set to music. But I also enjoy BodyCombat for getting to punch and kick out any frustrations of the week, or depending on timing there’s BodyPump. And then there’s Zumba that’s just a good time.

All to often we forget that work can be fun too! For my own entertainment, I’ve added some AquaGym courses too. I love the water, and it’s low impact, which my body needs sometimes. And I still get a solid workout out of it.

Just going through the movements is enough to start, but as you get into it, you’re not necessarily going to grow until you push yourself too. For years I used the same weights in BodyPump. Then one day I finally challenged myself for heavier weights for the squats. Ohh yeah, I felt that. That’s how you get stronger. But it’s a balance between pushing yourself, and knowing your limits as not to injure yourself or set yourself back. Self-care is a key to success, but so is not being afraid to ask for help or guidance.

When it comes to classes, sure I have my favorite teachers. In fact, I do my best to build my schedule around them. However, life doesn’t always work into our perfectly designed boxes. Fortunately, there are countless other options and times. I’ve actually found that I enjoy learning from other coaches because inevitably there are little tweaks to improve my form or feel the stretch that I hadn’t considered before. The same thing happens in business where you say to yourself, “OMG that was so easy, why didn’t I do that before!?!”. Yep, it’s about always learning.

There’s an great TED talk from surgeon Atul Gwande called “Want to get great at something? Get a coach!”. He points out that athletes never stop having a coach or looking to improve, so why should it be any different in a professional context? Coaches are your external eyes and ears who can see things that you may not. (Here’s a short clip if you don’t have time for the full talk.) It’s good food for thought.

For the first several years of business, I’ve been able to make it work from what I’ve read (books, and online), through podcasts, and countless conversations, but next year I’ve already signed up for my first business coach to see where things can go from there. There’s always something new to master.

I’ve also found—as in school—that the simple act of trying to get a spot in the front of the class greatly impacts my experience at the gym that day. Not only can you better see what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s as if the coach is right there cheering you on. The simple act of finding my way to the first or second row means I can better focus on my task for that hour.

The other motivating force of the gym is the simple reminder of you’re not in this alone. Self motivation can go far, but being in a room or space with people doing the same thing makes it so much easier to stop making excuses, and make things happen. No one says you have to go this alone, and asking for help doesn’t make you weak.

You may not need these unofficial cheerleaders forever, but they can be good for getting things off the ground. In my real life, I’m part of a Mastermind group that regularly meets to check in and support each other. Just because you don’t see it from the outside, doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors working on the inside.

On a highly practical level, the gym is a good reminder to stay properly hydrated. At an office job it’s easy to look for any excuse to have to get up—walk to the kitchen, refill your glass, go to the bathroom, repeat. But when you’re the boss or working from home, you can forget to do this. I tend to keep a large water bottle near me throughout the day to make sure I get through it, just as I would at the gym. When I’m not well hydrated, I’m definitely more tired and less efficient at what I set out to do.

Hydration also ensures you have to get up and move a few steps regularly. The unforeseen benefit when I bought my AppleWatch was that it reminds me to stand up every hour. Sounds silly, but the older you get you can totally feel it in your body when you don’t get up to move enough. Hello, tech neck! It’s totally a real thing. Chances are we’re not working from the most ergonomic chairs, so stepping away for a few minutes regularly is the next best thing.

And while it all sounds like I go to the gym to stay in shape, but really it’s about preserving my mental health. When you run your own business, no matter how on top of things you are, things will always go wrong and curveballs will come your way. Or that perfect storm happens despite all your pre-planning. Even if you’re good at rolling with the punches, it’s so helpful having a way to release these stresses. Often more simply, I’ll just go out for a walk in my neighborhood (sometimes with a podcast in my ears, other times unplugged).

While the gym seemingly doesn’t have anything to do with my business, it also has everything to do with my business. I once rebelled from discipline, but now I embrace it. After a lot of searching I’ve found it’s what works for me, for now. There are so many lessons we can take from other industries, gym included.

Now it’s your turn! What have you found out works for you? How do you strike your balance or harmony? Share it in the comments below so we can all keep learning and growing.

p.s. Here’s a funny story from my Underwater newsletter about my “affair” with the gym.

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Freelance versus full-time

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People often ask me if I’ll ever go back to a full-time job, and I respond with an enthusiastic NO as I smile. But just because that’s my response, doesn’t mean it’s the best path for everyone. There are pros and cons to both sides, and in the world we live in today we’re not always limited to one or the other. I wanted to put this post together to provide some food for thought for those thinking of making a switch.

Let me assure you, there is so much I wish I would have known when starting out, but had to learn the hard way. (It’s also part of the reason I started my biz blog). Hopefully you can skip one or two stages of agony with something you can pick up from this post. ;)

The biggest perk of freelancing for me is the freedom to set my own time, choosing which projects I work on, and being in the drivers seat. With this comes the uncertainty of what is coming next. One friend taught me to trust it will all work out, and so far it has (but that doesn’t not mean sitting in front of the inbox waiting for the next opportunity to come in; it involves some work behind the scenes). I enjoy not knowing what is next most of the time. But I also don’t have a family or a mortgage to support.

In the French system I do better financially as a freelancer than I would as a full time employee. (Paris may look dreamy from the outside, but the reality is salaries are low). I deal with enough bureaucracy in my day to day, I (personally) can’t always handle the inner politics of office hierarchy and dynamics. I’m too much a rebel and want to keep pushing things forward. For me, that means having one foot in both worlds. The opportunity to do great work, while also being my own boss at the end of the day.

For the past several years I’ve actually been a “faux freelancer” (I made that term up). While I run everything through my own business, I had a steady client for 3.5 years, and then another project that was 1.5 year. Besides not getting the benefits of being a full time employee, I tend to embed myself with the team I’m working with—I’m just not there every day. The main difference is that I send an invoice every month, while everyone else is on payroll. Neither gig was meant to last that long when I started, but it’s how it happened.

For some people this may stress them out, but I liked that it allowed me to pursue other things on the side. My tours have always been a way for me to unplug from my computer and connect with people (and get paid for it). I also have passive income coming in every month from my Skillshare courses (here, here, here) that I created 5+ years ago. (I’m not saying run and teach an online course—I got in at the right time—but it helps to consider alternative income streams as well). Thanks to my blog I often have interesting opportunities come my way, so keeping my independent contractor / freelance status makes it easier to say yes to what comes my way without having to ask permission from a boss.

Personally, I find I thrive and have better balance from working on a range of projects and clients. Every project benefits from what I have learned from another one. And it constantly keeps me on my toes—learning and growing. I’d definitely be bored if I was doing the same thing every day. I love a good challenge. I also love the insider/outsider perspective I can bring to a project. Sometimes when we’re too deep in a subject we go blind to the real problem we’re trying to solve.

While I created a lifestyle that allowed for this freedom and flexibility through my long term, regular gigs, at the end of the day I didn’t always have brain power to work on my own projects. For my latest gig I was contracted for 3-4 days a week, but the nature of the project took a lot out of me. It meant I learned A TON, but I also needed more down time to recover. Also, often life feels like a full-time job, so there wasn’t much time life to pursue other things at the end of the day. Self-care trumped intention, which was an important lesson to learn early on.

That’s the thing about freelance. You have to have discipline. There’s no one checking in on you. You can sleep in, or stay up late, but you still have to get the job done. I used to be a night owl, but I found most of my day was spent feeling guilt for not getting things done and having a crappy start because I kept making excuses and snoozing. It took me 7 years, but I’ve been more proactive at integrating good habits, starting with my morning practice where I feed my blogs (the activity that inevitably got pushed aside for years, yet has been the biggest driver of my success).

It’s really easy to talk about doing something; it’s another to actually do it. You’re in charge of your priorities, which can be easier said than done at times—especially as certain factors are out of your control, or you work on a different schedule than your client.

The thing about freelancing (or as I like to think of it now, as running my own business) is that the little things that you assume will happen don’t: getting paid by clients (cash flow is a real concern for many), managing accounting (hire an accountant if you do nothing else!), paying taxes + sales tax, handling business regulations and social charges (gah, what was that 10k€ bill that hit me!), receiving timely responses from clients, the list goes on. No one is there to hold your hand. You have to educate yourself as you go. The learning cycle never ends when you’re running your own show. (Finding others in the same situation is essential.)

From the outside freelancing can look glamorous, but on the flip side it’s not what many people expect. There’s a learning curve. There’s a lonely curve. Hello, lack of human interaction (“freelance therapy” Skype calls with friends in the same boat saved me in my early years). And most of the time clients don't just come knocking down your door, no matter how awesome you and the work you’re doing. They may want to, but budgets aren’t always there. Or they could have used you, but didn’t think of you at the time. Or the urgent thing turns out not to be so urgent. As a freelancer, you have to feed the future and you’re often juggling many hats in hopes that something works.

When it does stick, it snowballs (in a good way). You learn from each experience. You build your relationships (the real way you get clients). You build your client list. You pick up important lessons in professionalism. You learn to finally take holidays away from your computer.

If there’s any advice I can leave you with is to be open to learning. No one is born knowing it all. And if you don’t know how to do something, learn it, or find an expert/professional who can help you. When you take a business seriously, others will take you seriously too.

You also don’t have to make the jump all at once. Try freelancing on the side to see if it’s something you actually enjoy. It’s not for everyone, so don’t force it. Figure out what works for you. You may even go back and forth throughout your career.

This post isn’t to say I wouldn’t ever go back to full-time. If circumstances changed, or the perfect opportunity came along maybe I’d consider it. I’ve found that every time I’ve said I’d never do something, sometimes changing my plan of action was the more rewarding outcome. I said I’d never get a Masters degree, but I went on to get two. I liked one of the Masters programs because I didn’t have to write a thesis. But I did write a thesis, which was 100% the right challenge for me at the time.

As life goes, you never know what the future will hold. But I think it’s important to unpack the freelance vs. full-time thing a bit more. Talk to people. Ask questions. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Take it all in.

My current focus is developing my own business. For me, that involves taking on big (corporate) and small (individual) clients. It means the best of both worlds. They both come with different challenges and factors that I hadn’t considered at first. There’s not one way of doing anything, and for me, that’s what the freelance side allows. Success doesn’t happen over night, but patience and hard work pay off.

What are your goals? Why do you want to go freelance/full-time? What does success look like to you? What scares you most? When/how do you create your best work?

Share your responses in the comments and I’ll do my best to share any resources, thoughts, or ideas to help you on your journey.

Let’s recap:

  • Having a steady/primary client is one way to relieve the load of uncertainty.

  • Passive income eases the pressure of having regular clients.

  • For some, running your own business may be lonely or isolating compared to an office job.

  • There’s a learning curve to starting your own business: educate yourself!

  • You don’t have to make the leap all at once, if you can start freelancing on the side while you’re still working full-time you can make sure you actually enjoy it.

  • Good habits go a long way in getting things done.

  • Self-care is essential to be a successful freelancer or small business owner.

  • Find others who are in a similar transition or business status so you can navigate the waters together.

  • Work with a professionals (probably an accountant) to make sure your biz is legit. It may seem like an unnecessary expense at first, but will save you your sanity (and a lot of time)!

  • Building and fostering relationships are essential to good business.

  • Figure out what works for you and how you work best.

For more business posts, view the archive. I also send out a weekly newsletter with inspiration.

The power of putting things out into the world

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rêver = to dream

What’s been keeping you from doing the thing you’ve been putting off forever?

Is it time? —Make it a priority, I say!

Is it that you don’t feel ready? —Will you ever be ready, I say?

Is it that you don’t know what you’re doing? —What’s stopping you from learning or figuring it out, I say!

What’s the worst thing that can happen? —The real question is, what is possible that you never even considered?

But seriously, why do we spend so much energy avoiding things, when that same energy could go into making things happen? It’s one of the mysteries of life. And yes, so many of these excuses are legitimate. But you also have to start thinking deeper, and figure out what small changes (maybe a morning routine?) you can make to help get you where you want to be.

Here’s my short list of why you need to stop over thinking things, and start putting your ideas out into the world.

  1. Plant seeds now, for later. You never know who may help you in the future, or how. Don’t have the first time you need something from someone be an ask. The internet makes it easy to build connections as we go, and removes much of the hierarchy of how things were once done. The more you write / create / share on a certain topic, the more you’ll get known for that thing. And you never know what that may lead to.

  2. Fail early, fail fast. This mantra in the field of UX is a way to encourage you to try ideas early on to help you figure out what works out before it’s too late. You don’t have to have everything completely fleshed out, just a MVP – minimum viable product. Consider what’s a simpler version you can put together quickly, while you continue to work on your grand plans being the scenes? If you discover something isn’t working as expected you can tweak it, pivot, or change direction completely without having blown your entire budget, time, and energy.

  3. Write your own rules. Just because everyone else is doing something a certain way does not mean you have to. In fact, writing your own rules is a great way to stand out. I’m a huge proponent of experimenting (and having fun) to see what works. If I wasn’t you wouldn’t ever be reading this post right now.

  4. Uncover what you didn’t know was out there. The internet is not all rainbows and unicorns, but it can be magical when you make it work for you. Imagine being able to discover a whole new world you never knew existed until you happened upon a post someone wrote with exactly what you need to hear. There’s probably someone out there looking for something that only you can share.

  5. Remember, it starts small. Changing the world is awesome, but to make a difference, it can take just touching one person, or taking a small step forwards. You never know what that silly (or serious, or important, or random, or …) thing you put into the world may lead to. You’ll surely never know until you try.

We can think about doing something forever. But it’s not until you actually do something that you can see what is possible. Also, spoiler alert: life doesn’t always go as planned. That’s not always a bad thing. Magic can happen too. ✨

When I started my blog in 2007 I often wrote about Paris. Little did I know I’d end up here 2 years later, and still be here to this day. Now, just weeks into writing about business, new opportunities keep manifesting in ways I never imagined. Along the way, I’ve come to realize so many incredible opportunities I’ve had, people I’ve met, and friends I’ve made, have come from that very simple act of putting things out into the world. Collectively it all adds up. But first you have to start.

Don’t do something with an explicit idea what will happen next. Be open to what doors it opens. The more you put into the world, the more you’ll realize if you’re on track, and if it’s truly aligned with your own goals and mission. Along the way, ask yourself if you actually enjoy what you’re doing, or if you’re doing it just because you’re good at it, or because that’s how you feel it “should” be done.

Another bonus of taking action is that the more you prioritize putting whatever it is out into the world, the more it will become a habit and second nature for you. In short, it’s a win-win-win-win 🙌 You will become the go to person for gnomes & swimming pools, UX design, or whatever it is you do.

Yes, it takes time. We’re not looking for overnight success stories here. Be the tortoise 🐢, not the hare. We’re in it for the long game. And that’s the exact reason why your moment is NOW. Stop making excuses, and start putting what you do out into the world.

Sharing/posting your intentions publicly is one way to help get things done, so I invite you to share what you want to be putting into the world in the comments.

Remember, you don’t have to be overly ambitious. Start small. Then ask yourself: what’s the one small thing you can do today to help get you closer to that goal?


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Anne-ifesto Manifesto

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For years I’ve used the mantra travel is not about where you go, but how you see the world as the guiding force for my travel blog, Prêt à Voyager. (It’s part of the logo!) While it sounds specific to travel, I see how it applies to all the work I do. But as I dig deeper into the work I put into the world, it was time to write my own manifesto, or in my case the Anne-ifesto. 😉

The Anne-ifesto Manifesto*

  1. The journey is the destination.
    Learn from the process. It's often more rewarding than the end result.

  2. The city is your classroom.
    You don't have to go far to learn something new. Step away from the computer, unplug, talk to people, and maximize the inspiration around you.

  3. Celebrate diversity of experience.
    Go beyond what we think we know and be open to learning from others.

  4. Show, don't tell.
    Be a living example of what you want to put into the world. Use stories to communicate your message.

  5. It's about the people.
    Meet them. Listen. Absorb. Learn. Celebrate. Repeat.

  6. Build relationships.
    Make meaningful relationships. Build trust, not fluff. Make an effort during times when you don't need something.

  7. Never underestimate the "quiet ones".
    Often it's not the loudest person in the room who has the best ideas. Look where others aren't looking, and LISTEN, really listen.

  8. Connect the dots.
    Connect the unexpected. Make the links no one else saw coming.

  9. Question everything.
    Questions are more important than answers. Don't assume the status quo is the best approach. Test out ideas rather than making assumptions.

  10. Inspiration is everywhere.
    What unlikely place beyond our bubble can we look for inspiration?

  11. Never stop learning.
    Curiosity keeps things interesting. Learn from people, podcasts, books, articles, movies, documentaries, more.

  12. Share what you learn.
    Share your insights and perspective. Help others grow through sharing your experiences.

  13. Add your twist.
    The world has become cookie cutter, you are not. Embrace your voice, combine your own interests, give it your spin. Be you.

  14. Be real.
    Bring perspective through honesty. Break through the façade. Be real-world ready.

  15. Be passionate.
    Passion is contagious. Don’t hide who you are.

  16. Let magic happen.
    Collaborate and look for the special dynamic that you can't always explain, but that makes you go further than you ever dreamed.

  17. Working crazy hours is not a badge of honor.
    Work smarter, not harder. The work week does not have to look like what society tells us.

  18. Priorities = important > urgent
    Don't get distracted by societal pressures and frazzled requests. Turn back to this list when feeling lost or down't know what to do.

  19. Follow your inner gyroscope
    Trust your gut. Trust your vision.

  20. Breathe.
    Allow room to breathe, process, and percolate. Take time to care for your self in order to create the best work.

  21. Leave room for spontaniety.
    Because not everything in life goes as planned. Leave room for opportunity too. We all need space and time.

  22. Be inclusive.
    It's about inclusion, not integration. Make an effort to reach a world beyond the bubble we live in and include their voices as well. Everyone welcome.

  23. Do good for the world.
    Consider the impact of what you put into the world.

  24. Strength is in simplification.
    It takes a lot to chip away to the core. Complexity is not a sign of a job well done. Get to the heart of what you're really doing.

  25. Do the work.
    It takes time and work to get where you want to be. It's not always easy, but that shows you're learning and growing. Go behind the scenes. Don't complain, do something about it.

  26. Be open.
    Open to ideas. To opportunities. To different perspectives. Other industries. Other cultures. To change. To risks. To challenges. Allow it all to push you to grow.

  27. Take advantage of creative constraints.
    Whether it’s limited budget, time, or resources, figure out how to get creative with what you have. Constraints often can lead to greater creativity.

  28. Permission to learn.
    If you don't know something, learn it. You can figure anything out.

  29. Stay curious.
    When you stop being curious, you may need to re-route your course. Satiate your hunger to learn whatever sparks your curiosity.

  30. Find your super powers.
    It's the unique combination of what makes you you, and nobody else.


* Manifesto subject to change, updates, tweaks.


The Paris café chair that I sat on while writing this post seemed like an apt visual to communicate and the different ideas we weave together to form what we bring to the table. Thank you Ashley Ludaescher for the beautiful capture.

Special thanks to Jen Carrington who prompted the manifesto in her Writing for Dream Clients online course. I was inspired by the Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, which was given to me as a parting gift by one of my supervisors upon completing my first internship. Believe me when I say, this list didn’t just magically happen. It involved feeling blocked, pushing through, putting it aside, and coming back to it. And repeating that cycle. It may still change, but I got it to this point. By publishing it here, I always have it as a reference when I need it.

In writing my manifesto, I also drew from the idea of design principles, a topic I uncovered while teaching UX design. Design principles are guiding principles to help inform your decisions. In a UX environment they are created as a team to avoid top down hierarchical decision making. You can find tips for creating your own design principles in IDEO.org’s Design Kit, and more examples on principles.design and designprinciplesFTW.com.

If you decide to write your own manifesto, it may be completely different than mine. It may not be a numbered list at all. It may only have three key ideas (not 30!). Everyone is different and that’s what makes this awesome. Figure out what works for you. Easier said than done, but doing the work will pay off later.

Have you uncovered any awesome manifestos? Have you written your own? Share it below!




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What do garden gnomes and swimming pools have in common?

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On Instagram Stories I recently received a question that made me think about the work I do. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really came down to garden gnomes and swimming pools—two things I love, and I’m not afraid to share. Seriously, do you know how many people tell me that they think of me or share something with me when they spot one of these two things in the wild or online? It’s more than you think!

My love of gnomes dates back to the film “Amélie” which came out the year I studied abroad in Paris. It instantly became one of my favorite films for many reasons, including for the gnome who traveled the world in order to encourage her father to get out and see the world for himself. A couple years later when I was teaching English in a French high school in a Paris suburb is when I got my first one. My aunt and cousin had come to visit and reignited my fascination with gnomes. On my way to visit their hotel, I passed a shop with the cutest ones in the window. I bought us all gnomes to go home with us. (Mine is pictured above).

As for swimming pools, I have my mom to thank for that. She was adamant that my brother and I learn to swim when we were quite young. Partially this was due to her own enjoyment in the pool, but I’m sure it was sparked by my dad’s lack of ability in the water (which wasn’t aided by an incident during summer camp as a kid). From an early age I was in swimming classes at the YMCA and making my way up the ranks of tadpole stages which the courses were named for.

Before you knew it this Pisces by birth was really a fish in the water. I lived for summer swim team, had a reasonable amount of success, and was regularly complimented about how smooth I was in the water.

Ok, Anne, we get it, but what does this have to do with business?
During my Masters thesis was when I started to swim more in Paris. I remember a distinct day where I was swimming laps and something I’d been stuck on finally made sense. As soon as I got home, I didn’t go straight to my computer as I normally would do, instead, writing out the ideas on index cards so I could move them around. I don’t remember exactly what the break through was, but I remember it being a turning point that got me excited to work on my thesis.

Swimming stuck with me after I graduated and would go on to start my business. The pool would be my refuge from stress, and water had a strange power to help connect things. I later got the idea in my head that I'd visit all 37 public swimming pools in Paris. It became a challenge and got me to see different sides of the city, and the quirky nature of municipal pools. Despite the fact photos are interdit (not allowed) I managed to sneak covert pics under my towel and share what I saw on Instagram with the hashtags #ParisPiscine (others have now infiltrated the hashtag) and #PAVswim (with pools beyond Paris too).

But this post isn’t about Paris or swimming pools, it’s about business. It’s about not being afraid to embrace who you are and celebrate your quirks. There’s no need to hyper curate what makes you who you are to be something you think people want. Fans of my work don’t follow me (or unfollow me) because of gnomes and swimming pools. Instead it gives them a look into who I am—a human—and I’ve given them a unique way to follow along my adventures.

The more we try to fit into the “formula” or status quo of what we think we’re supposed to be doing in our business, that’s when things start going wrong, and get to be not so fun. It’s these unexpected elements that help bring us, and our brand, alive. It makes us memorable and stand out from the competition. They don’t have to be front and center all the time, but they’re things we’re not afraid to embrace.

True story: I once brought my gnome to a big presentation I did on storytelling to a room full of Louis Vuitton employees. For me that was true success. Bringing my gnome to speak in front of a luxury group was never something I imagined. In fact, when I was first contacted about the gig, I was quite skeptical. Are you sure you want ME? I’m not luxury. But it turned out it wasn’t about luxury at all. It was about travel—also at the heart of their brand.

Believe it or not, they really did want my perspective. Not only did I get the job, I beat someone else out for it. I didn't take the traditional (boring?) route. I embraced what I do. And I also received one of the best compliments from a client when it was done: “Anne, you really listened.” I didn’t realize contractors can go in and do their thing without paying attention to the client needs and requests, but that comment made me realize it happens more than you think. My gnome knows how to listen and take it all in. The client was very happy, and so was I!

That was a few years ago. I can’t say I bring my gnome to all jobs (except my Amélie tour from time to time—we pause at the photo booth, bien sûr!—and if you look closely at my OpenClassrooms courses there’s often a little one who makes a cameo). As for swimming pools, they connected me to artist/illustrator Lisa Congdon. It not only led to me being featured in her book The Joy of Swimming (I contributed a page too about Paris pools), but it also led to a lovely friendship.

That’s the beauty of these quirky things that make me me. You never know what they may lead to. They’re always there, and I don’t always have to use them to make my point. There can be too much of a good thing. 😉 But I do know they’re in my back pocket if I ever need them. I embrace them as part of my story.

So what are your charms and quirks that have added unexpected value to your business or work you do? How have these things helped shape the view of how you see the world? Are they as silly as mine?


For more on my musings about swimming pools + French bureaucracy, check out my Underwater newsletter. You can sign up for my main newsletter here, or follow me on social media @pretavoyager.

Photo by Ashley Ludaescher. Shot on film.

On managing stress and minimizing burnout

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I’ve written about what I’ve learned about burnout from living in France on Prêt à Voyager, but I find that stress and burnout are two topics that come up repeatedly. And as much as I can warn friends and encourage them to slow down, it takes self awareness to know when to say STOP. The reality is that you can’t do your best work if you’re not at your best.

Here’s an incomplete list of things to consider when you start to feel stress and the pressure of life:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Social media is a façade, and rarely the full story. Talk to people in real life and then some more of the story starts to come out.

  • Stop trying to copy and paste the “formula” that works for someone else’s endeavors. Of course let yourself be inspired by what others are doing, but do the work to figure out your priorities and what you need to be doing and how you should be spending your time.

  • Do the (hard) work early on to save you time and stress later. Keep referring back to what you know.

  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. I empower you to be curious and learn something new.

  • Build time into your schedule for things to go wrong. Just because there’s a break in your calendar doesn’t mean you have to fill it.

  • Surround yourself with amazing friends who support you and cheer you on.

  • Make friends in the industry (or even outside) who you can be transparent with, honest about your struggles, and talk openly about business. It may take time to build these relationships, so put in the time before you need them. It’s not a competition—the more we support each other, the more we all win.

  • Know when you need to hit pause and step back.

  • Step away from your computer. Go for a walk. Read a book. Your brain needs time to percolate and process. If you’re feeling stuck, trying to “work harder” isn’t necessarily going to solve the problem.

  • Go for a long walk. Look for details. Let the world around you inspire you.

  • Get up from your desk. It’s not good for your body if you sit all day in front of your computer, which is not good for your health, which is not good for yours

  • Take a hot shower — I have great ideas come here. It’s also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Learn where your best ideas come. Mine come from walking, making connections in the metro, or swimming.

  • Listen to a podcast. There’s one on every subject. I listen better while I’m walking than sitting at my desk easily distracted.

  • Try something new: doodle, sketch, take a picture, pick up a coloring book, etc. Figure out what inspires you, not what the industry tells you to do.

  • Don’t do anything. We have a tendency to always to be doing something. Always listening to a podcast or music while we walk. Always watching something in the background. Make sure you schedule some time to just be.

  • Try meditating. I know so many people who this has helped. It keeps you grounded. And for the record, it’s supposed to be hard—hence we need it in our lives. Start with short meditations and make it a happen. (I’ve tried Headspace, and I also love the design of the app).

  • Start your day without your phone. (I wrote this post before even checking my email or social media). Once we start, it’s harder to pull away.

  • Attend (and prioritize) going to events or workshops that you know will inspire you. Make them a priority. If you’re making the excuse “I’m too busy” then that may be the perfect indicator you really should go. The right subject may even carve tons of time off that very thing you’re stuck on.

  • Go to the gym. Make it part of your routine. (I go 3x a week — typically a mix of low impact BodyBalance or aqua gym, a strength training, and a cardio dance class). Pick classes that work for you and make you excited to get up and go.

  • Hire a coach or creative consultant — sometimes we need an outsider to help push us through to the next level. It doesn’t show you’re weak, it shows that you’re willing to invest in yourself and grow in ways you may not even know yet.

Revisit this list whenever you feel the stress creeping in. Stop the burnout before it happens. Keep in mind stressful days are also a natural part of business and growth. Some stress is good—it means you’re taking risks and helping push yourself to the next level.


You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are some more resources that have inspired me recently:

Every week my newsletter explores some aspect of the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, where I share stories.

Are you a morning person? On habit and routine.

What does your day look like? When do you get things done? (Talking your own projects here.) Have you ever thought critically about how you organize and prioritize your time? Take a minute jot down your response before proceeding. I’m not saying what I do is the “right” way, but there may be some takeaways you can apply to your own life to improve your own workflow. I’ve definitely lived and learned the hard way.

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One thing is for sure: there's no typical day in my life. I like to keep things interesting and keep myself on my toes, I suppose. I tend to get bored and uninspired if I do too much of the same thing. As with my adventures in French bureaucracy, I like a good challenge. A good friend and I joke about how I’m such a freelancer, and she’s such an office person. Everyone has their own style Over time, it’s been about discovering how I thrive.

I’ve always rebelled a bit about having too much of a schedule or plan. Likely out of fear that it’d take away my creativity. Something I learned in grad school was that I enjoyed the freedom of being able to schedule my own time. I also was busy enough that I had to make sure things got done. The combination of grad school and living in Paris made me a night owl, something I’d never been before. But the work got done. So it’s been surprising to me more than anyone to see myself seeking out schedule and structure in my professional life like never before.

To kick things off, let me remind you when I started out, I really had no idea what I was doing. It’s actually only been in the past 6 months that I’ve really started to think more consciously about how I structure and use my time. 7 years into my business, everything remains a constant work in progress.

I used to love working late nights and would really hit my groove sometime between 10pm and midnight, and would often go to 2am. Funny for a girl who was in bed by 10:30pm and up at 5:50am all through university! I didn't mind my night owl tendencies and got stuff done, but I also became the queen of snoozing. Again, not a problem as life in Paris tends to start a bit later, but it never made me feel great about kicking off my day. It was a bit of an internal battle, and I've always been one to hold self-inflicted guilt. In short: it was not the best start to my day and most of my day felt like an uphill battle trying to overcome the slow start.

A NEW ROUTINE

These days I've been working on creating more structure for business/life. Despite more lessons learned and experience under my belt, I find I need to build in even more “recovery” time. Work takes brain power. But one little tweak to my day, has completely changed how I work, and how I feel about my days.

Inspired by something I learned at a Deep Writing workshop this past spring, I've started a morning routine. My alarm goes off at 7:10am—early for me, but not by most standards. I get out of bed, make a tea, take my vitamins, and head straight to my desk (or sometimes couch) with my computer. I’m in my PJs as I write this post, but in doing so, I’ve minimized my distractions in getting here and making this post happen.

Don’t get me wrong, this shift wasn’t easy. It took a lot of internal re-wiring to break through my years of less than ideal habits. Ahem, snoozing. (Which is something I can look forward to on weekends still).

FIND TIME OR MAKE TIME?

There are a few things that are making my morning sessions a bit easier:

1) I'm super jazzed that I'm working on my own projects. After ~5 years of putting my work on the sidelines while clients got priority and most of my energy, I have renewed focus. Knowing I’m using this time to feed my own practice for once feels good.

2) As much as I rebelled against having structure for so long (the perk of doing my own thing), I realized that structure is a way for me to be better at what I'm doing, and want to be doing.

3) This simple habit of getting up and going straight to work means I'm making a lot more progress. It's not that everything I write is earth shatteringly brilliant. But it does mean that every little bit adds up.

4) It means that by 8am I'm already feeling jazzed about my day. The rest of the day can be complete crap, and I can feel like I accomplished something already.

People often ask me if I do “morning pages” inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s a morning practice where you journal a few pages every morning, sometimes with prompts, other times more stream of conscious. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my bookshelf to read). In a workshop I participated in, it was pointed out that my time would be spent working on actual work. When you write every day, you’ll get to your end goal much faster. Instead, I work on a different post each day.

Reminder; Do what works for YOU! You never know until you try.

I was most definitely skeptical about this idea of a morning practice, but it was a comment from a fellow workshop participant that really made it sink in. She was older than me and had participated in the workshop in previous years. She addressed the group and said, “Look, I'm not a morning person. I rebelled against this for so long. But it totally changed my life." I happened to be sitting next to her, and figured I’d at least give it a shot.

In perfectly published end results we see online we don’t always see the RESISTANCE along the way. But we ALL experience it. The simple acknowledgement that it's not easy, and she too was skeptical, was what I needed to hear. Trying it was also a refreshing change of pace from the guilt and annoyance at myself for putting things off and not getting anything done.

Even with this new goal, the new habit didn’t stick for long. My summer got crazy, and I lost the good habit I had created. As I was transitioning out of a long term client project back towards nurturing my own practice, I knew I would need those good habits to carry me through. Fast forward, and five days a week I consistently wake up early to write.

In the process I came up with a pretty obvious—yet not so obvious when it’s right in front of us—realization that my morning practice was only truly effective on days where I got enough sleep. For years I could get away with 6 hours of sleep, the more I read, I’ve come to realise 8 hours is right for me. It’s still hard for me to get into bed before midnight, but I’m happiest when I get in bed closer to 10pm and can curl up with my book.

It’s always helped that I have horrible phone reception in my bedroom, so looking at my phone in bed hasn’t been a bad habit that I’m trying to break. But I have learned in the mornings, not to look at my phone. On my way to my living room I leave my phone on the kitchen table as I go to sit down and write. The more we eliminate distractions, the more we can get done.

It’s a lot of the little tweaks that make my writing more effective as I experiment. Most of the time when I sit down in the morning I never know exactly what I'm going to write. I do have a big list of ideas I can refer to if I need to. I think as a next step my goal is to be more intentional about making a plan for what I’m going to work on, even if I only decide the night before. Plans can always change, but it helps to have the intention.

For the month of November (NaNoWriMo) I’ve been extra ambitious and am working towards publishing one thing a day on one of my multiple channels. I definitely can’t keep this up for long term, but now, the bursts of having a challenge are keeping me on target and helping me further engrave good habits. As much as possible, I’m trying to ride the wave of feeling good about the state of where my business is going. I know if I break these habits, it’s going to be harder to get them back, and I’ll play mind games in the process.

I fully realize mornings aren’t for everyone, but for me, it’s been more helpful than I ever imagined. Being open to trying something new was more important than thinking I have all the answers. I still have my late night writing bursts, and love getting into the zone. But the thing is I no longer wait for the “perfect time” or for inspiration to strike, it’s about taking action and getting things done. The little tweaks to my day have had the biggest impact. And when you start your day off on the right foot, it feels pretty damn awesome!

Really, the secret to success is figuring out what works for YOU. I'm curious, what's a routine you've discovered that works for you? How do you work best? Have you ever thought about this before? Share your secrets in the comments below!

A few resources which helped me or I spotted:

  • BJ Fogg’s “tiny habits” free email training teaches you how to anchor things to existing behaviors to get things done (picked this up in my UX studies). (I now make sure I always do my dishes before I go to bed so I don’t have any distractions in the morning when I make my tea before I sit down and write.)

  • The book Designing Your Life (which I wrote about here) includes an exercise for mapping how energy changes throughout a day or week. From there you can consider how you can remove or rearrange elements to create a space where you thrive.

  • Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is all about the resistance we face every day as creators from procrastination to self-doubt, or self-sabotage.

  • The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna is a pep talk for anyone who’s chosen “should” for far too long.

  • Deep Writing Workshop with Eric Maisel is the workshop I participated in that planted the seed about creating a distraction free morning practice. I did the in person one, but Eric offers an online version too. He also is a prolific author with books to help drive creativity forward.

Have you signed up for my newsletter yet? Every week it explores some aspect of the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, where I share stories.

The 5 unlikely things that helped my business the most

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Everyone wants to know the secret to success, but success doesn’t look the same to everyone, and every business is different in terms of what it needs. Having been in the “game” of this since 2011, I thought I’d share the 5 unlikely things that had the biggest impact on my business.

  1. Work less, not more.
    As a society we’re indoctrinated that we have to work all the time to be the best at what we do. Early on I learned the lesson that too much work led to self-inflicted health problems that definitely didn’t do anything to help my business. Over time I’ve learned to make sure to build in plenty of down time into my schedule (although it’s still never quite enough) in order to process information and let my ideas percolate. As I do this I’ve become more laser focused on the kind of work I want to be producing and taking on.
    Tip: Just because you have a free slot on your calendar doesn’t mean you have to fill every minute. Don’t overbook yourself because inevitably new opportunities or unexpected curveballs will come up.

  2. Step away from the computer.
    I know it seems counter intuitive to unplug when you need to get things done, but I find it makes the time I am in front of my computer far more productive. I’ve learned that my best ideas rarely happen in front of the computer, but rather while I’m out walking, making connections in the metro, or swimming. I’m all about having a paper notebook nearby, and my favorite marker pens. I joined the gym less to get in shape, and more for my mental health and to make sure I move my body and don’t sit at a desk all day. In offering tours I’ve also managed to find a way to get paid to step away from my computer, and to connect with people.
    Tip: Consider what you know you need to do in order to produce your best work. Moving forward this may also involve thinking about alternative ways to monetize your work. Passive income is ideal, or just something where you don’t need to be connected 24/7..

  3. Talk to strangers.
    Every year I pick a word or theme of my year. This year is “talk to strangers”. It’s a good reminder that we all need to get out of our bubbles and there’s a world out there to learn from. Networking was always exhausting for the introvert in me, and the whole idea of it kind of made my skin crawl. But then I started to think of networking as making friends. I set a goal to talk to one new person at every event I go to. It doesn’t have to be an earth shattering conversation, but I’m there to help push myself out of my comfort zone and to listen to them and be open to learning something new. Inevitably in every interaction I have these days I learn something I can apply to some aspect of my business. I don’t directly ask them for help or to work together, I just listen—really, listen.
    Tip: Sometimes putting yourself out there means going to an event alone so you don’t get stuck only chatting with your friends. Don’t not do something because you can’t find anyone else to do it with you. I’ve found doing something that scares you is one of the best ways to grow.

  4. Listen to podcasts.
    Podcasts have become an integral part of my business education. I like to think of them as eavesdropping on awesome conversations. Anytime I hear something discussed that piques my interest, I’ll just down a note and look it up later. I often buy the books of the guests (or hosts) which further sends me down the rabbit hole of discovery. Because sometimes you just need to know something, or someone exists, in order to be inspired. When it comes to pods, I’ve learned that the best way for me to take podcasts in is to listen while I walk. If I listen at my desk or at home, I’m more likely to tune out and get distracted doing something else.
    Tip: Start with what interests you. Here are some of my favorites which I regularly update.

  5. Invest in learning.
    Whenever I find an awesome conference or workshop I often share it with friends or my network. 99% of the time people respond saying it’s too expensive or they don’t have the time. For me, these kinds of events are a no brainer. As soon as I started prioritizing my time—and money into learning and investing in myself, everything in my business started going so much better. It helps that I can business expense things to justify the expense, but even if I couldn’t I’d be asking for these experiences as gifts for Christmas or my birthday. The ones I’m most attracted are not the most expensive offerings in the world. They’re the best investments for me. Some may be online workshops, others are the perfect excuse for me to travel and get out of town—a double dose of inspiration. I still love learning from free webinars and talks that have been recorded and posted online, but there’s something about going somewhere to be in the same place that really makes it sink in.
    Tip: Don’t be afraid to branch out beyond your immediate industry to learn something new. I always consider learning something new and figuring out how to apply it in new ways as a great super power. For me, I’ve learned everything from graphic design for film to screenwriting. In 2017 I went a bit crazy learning new things.

Ok, it’s your turn! What’s your secret sauce to success? What have you learned about business or the way you work that has surprised you or you wish you had thought of sooner? I love learning from fellow creatives, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

photo credit: Ashley Ludaescher

You can also find me online @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram, or sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship.

So you want to get into UX...

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My favorite definition of UX design is that it’s the science of the obvious (something I spotted Jared Spool quoted saying on Twitter). The irony of this definition is that UX, or user experience, is often so obvious that people completely ignore it, or feel that it’s not important at all.

Have you ever gone to open a door, there’s a handle where it looks like you should pull it, but really you have to push it? These doors that don’t open how the design of them suggests are referred to as “Norman doors” after Don Norman, the “father of UX design.” Don Norman’s foundational book, The Design of Everyday Things is considered the bible of all things UX. It also breaks down the principles that inform good experiences.

The first step to designing effective experiences is actually taking the time to talk to users, observe them, and deeply understand who you’re designing for. Otherwise, you’re designing for people based entirely off of assumptions. Research should not only happen at the beginning of a project, but throughout the process. Many companies claim to not have the time or budget for user research. But if you’re designing something that no one will use, the real question is how can you afford not to do research!? In the words of Jakob Nielsen, “you are not the user”.

When we talk about research in UX we’re not talking about rigorous academic research, we’re talking about gaining insights about the people you’re designing for in order to make informed design decisions. Erika Hall has a fantastic book called Just Enough Research. (You can also start with her devil or princess video on YouTube.) Steve Portigal also writes about conducting user interviews and distilling insights. (He shares user research war stories in this InVision design talk).

Usability testing is another fantastic, easy way to understand the way a user interacts with a product by giving them a task, and asking them to speak aloud as they go through the actions. (Spoiler alert: what you expect them to do isn’t always the reality.). Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think is a great resource for usability testing, and he even shares his scripts and resources online. “Guerrilla testing” is another approach to learn a lot about how a user is making their way through a flow or experience when you don’t have a lot of time or budget. Usability testing is a good way to confirm or deny that what you’ve designed is working as intended.

There’s so much more to informed UX design, from understanding the psychology, habits, and behaviors of users, to interpreting metrics and analytics, or having a content strategy that puts the user first. (Here are a few more definitions of what is UX.)

The most exciting thing about the field of UX is that it’s always evolving, and companies tend to be open about sharing their learnings. It means that a whole, the industry gets stronger and we can all learn from each other. Here are some of my favorite resources to help you get started (or provide some refreshers).


Don’t miss resources:

Favorite UX voices on Twitter:

UX podcasts:

If you’re seriously looking into getting into UX, check out the UX Designer path and courses I created on OpenClassrooms. When you sign up for the diploma path, not only are there 10 real-world inspired projects to work through, but you get weekly mentor sessions to accompany you along the way.

For the record, the books in the top photo are (most of) the books I read as I created my UX courses. 🤓

Sign up for my newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. You can also find me online at pret-a-voyager.com and on social media at @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram.