Being Boss Miami

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I checked into The Palms Hotel at 5 A.M. Last minute deadlines, redeye flights and the anxiety of a new adventure left me bleary-eyed and barely functioning. I just wanted a bed. But as cleaning crews worked quietly around dimly lit lamps, I decided to skip fresh sheets and a dark room for an ocean sunrise. Outside, the light was pale. I walked past calm pools, empty beach chairs and lifeless tiki hut bars looking for a gate to a boardwalk, picking up the pace with every step. I swung the gate open, almost at a run as my bare feet thumped hard against the wood until I hit sand.

Ahead was the ocean, an empty beach, and the most perfectly soft sunrise.

I felt like I was exhaling for the first time in a long time.

I made it.

This was Being Boss Miami.

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Being Boss is a podcast for creative entrepreneurs, hosted by Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon. Being Boss Vacations are for listeners who are ready to turn online connections into a real life, offline wolf pack.

I couldn't wait to travel again with these amazing and fierce boss women just six months after Being Boss NOLA.

Being Boss Miami was exactly what I needed after a long, hard winter. I said goodbye to the corporate world in November to run my own online business as a content creator and manager for small businesses. The work, thankfully, has been non-stop. But life as an online soloprenuer can get lonely. It certainly gets tough. And some days, in the thick of it, I can forget why doing this was so important to me in the first place.

Worst of all, I forget that I don't have to do this alone.

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That's what Being Boss vacations are about. They're an opportunity for creatives of all kinds — coaches, yogis, writers, designers, branding experts, developers, photographers — to come together. We share personal stories, professional lessons, and encouragement. We talk business over organized roundtables and disorganized dance floors. We party on yachts, stay up talking until 3 A.M., and laugh until our stomachs ache. We come bearing all the weight of our businesses and dreams and spend the weekend talking it out, dancing it out, or (sometimes) crying it out.

Because while we can play it cool at cocktail parties and dinner dates with friends and family who don't quite "get" how we make money, we cannot coast through conversations here. Instead, we have to show up — fully, for real, and for each other.

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Brene Brown once said that "courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." Showing up is messy, vulnerable, and deeply uncomfortable. It's also necessary for business, life, and growth. It's about asking tough questions, learning new things, and being incredibly honest. Showing up is having  the courage to be kind. It's giving everything you know away for free.

At the end of the day, showing up isn't just about you and what you need. It's very much about the people who need your words, hugs, laughs, and encouragement as well.

Showing up grants us the opportunity to say and hear "me, too" — the most soul-soothing and life-giving words we can ever exchange.

 

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So what else did we do on this Being Boss vacation? 

We listened to a live Being Boss podcast recording and attended a master class on creating digital products.

Some of us spent hours on the beach while others explored local culture in Little Havana.

I swam in the ocean with Kathleen Shannon and told ghost stories under a full moon with Emily Thompson.

We watched LEMONADE  in awe.

We listened to Prince on the beach while oohing and ahhing over Merry Beth Myrick's jewelry.

We explored the Wynwood Arts District and drooled under gorgeous murals.

We read tarot cards and shared secrets.

We Periscoped and partied our faces off.

Image via Jenny Karlsson

Image via Jenny Karlsson

Image via Jenny Karlsson

Being Boss changed my business. Hell, it changed my life. I have the privilege of working as a writer, making friendships and hanging out on yachts. This is my career. I'm living the dream.

Maybe you're reading this and wondering what we know that you don't. Let me promise you: information isn't the catalyst that will change your life— connection is. 

Pack your bags, book your tickets, and show up. Send emails, ask questions, get vulnerable and give it all away. Make friends with your idols. Reach back and help those just a step, or many steps, behind you.

Show up, show up, show up and don't ever give up.

That is what Being Boss Miami was all about.

Image via Jessica Bramlett

 

Related:

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats // Emily Thompson

Being Boss Miami - Finding Your Tribe // Jessica Bramlett

Being Boss Miami // Jenny Karlsson

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Magic in New Orleans

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New Orleans "How do you know each other?"

We don't. 

"What brought you to New Orleans?"

Magic. 

At least, that's how most of my initial conversations went in New Orleans. Seventy five strangers, all women, gathered in New Orleans for a mini weekend vacation. Most of us had never met in real life but we shared a few things in common: creativity, entrepreneurship, and a willingness to show up and be seen and heard by people just like us.

We are writers, designers, health and wellness gurus, photographers and makers that just so happen to listen to Kathleen Shannon + Emily Thompson on Being Boss, a podcast for creative entrepreneurs. We connected online but wanted to experience the magic of meeting people just like ourselves, in real life. So by train, planes and cars we flocked to NOLA.

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I admit, it seems a little weird to go on a vacation with people you don't know. But there's a lot of power in seeking out and sitting down with people just like you. We all used the same words, laughed at the same things, and asked the same questions. We had similar struggles and aspirations in our businesses. I didn't need a buddy or sidekick...I was 100 percent comfortable no matter whose table I sat at or what group I took a walk with. Going with the flow never seemed easier.  Every woman felt like a sister, an aunt, or a friend I was meant to meet in this lifetime.

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While some of us were full-time entrepreneurs, others were hustling a 9-5 and a side business (like me). For the first time in a very long time, I didn't feel abnormal in owning a side business. I came to NOLA half-expecting to be exposed as "not enough" by all these other amazing women and business owners. Instead, New Orleans was the wash of worthiness I needed. I wasn't alone, weird, or behind in my business. I'm doing it right, and right alongside so many others. I didn't feel ashamed in the least to say "I don't really have it all figured out right now...But I'm getting there. And I'm making money doing what I love."

I wasn't the only hippie girl with woo-woo ways in New Orleans. As we wandered the notoriously mysterious and mystical French Quarter, we stopped for tarot card readings and crystal shopping. New Orleans is a Scorpio city: seductive and haunting. When you're there, you feel like someone is with you — following you — whispering a spell with hot breath,  making you fall in frenzied infatuation with every decrepit building, drooping balcony, and dive bar. You get a sense  that something else is there, and by the time you whip around to get a better look, it's gone. Now, days after leaving, I still feel the ache for New Orleans. She becomes a ghost in your memory — a lingering energy, like a dream you can't explain or shake.

New Orleans Tarot Cards

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I ate seafood for days. During one lunch, a girl who had never stepped foot in the south cried over her very first bowl of gumbo. That's how wide open our hearts were in New Orleans.

And the drinking. Oh, the drinking.  Thanks to New Orleans, my heart may never be the same. Neither will my liver.

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All in all, it was a trip I will never forget (well, for the most part...I forgot a few hours on Bourbon Street). I came back to all my client work with a bigger heart and a greater sense of possibility. As creatives, we are the makers and doers and rebels of this world. We are messy and wild and imperfect. But the work we do matters, no matter how small and "on the side" it may seem. It's vulnerable and scary to own your life as a creative. But, every vulnerable and scary moment propels us to create and serve in bigger, fuller ways.

We are the magic makers.

XO,

J.

Why I Wrote It: Sweeney's Secret

jwillingham-how-i-wrote-it2 Why I Wrote It is a behind-the-scenes series about feature writing. Feature writing is hard - from the initial interviews to the blinking bar in a blank Word document. These are stories about stories - how they started, where they took me, the people I met and why they matter.

"Eh, just wait a few. We should have one coming in any minute now," said the pre-med student. He was pacifying me, completely uninterested in whatever it was I wanted. After all, he saw this kind of thing every day. So I waited and watched through the medical station window.

The little girl came scrambling out of the lake and onto the boat dock, water flicking off her life vest and onto a nearby group of sunbathing teens. She ran/waddled - in the way baby girls do -  from the lake to the medical station door.

The medical station we stood in was a small hut, enough room for a few adults and a couple wee-sized campers. She was dripping water everywhere and it started to pool on the floor around her, soaking through my office-appropriate flats.

The pre-med student opened a mini fridge and began crafting a buffet of medical supplies - syringes, vials, antiseptic wipes, bandages. He assembled a tray, and set it on the counter. Baby girl stepped up, taking her place in a very silent ritual that I had never witnessed before. She proceed to prick, prod, and inject herself. Then she slapped a waterproof princess bandaid on a bleeding finger, made a final notation onto her designated medical chart and she was out the door again.

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I grew up dreaming of going to summer camp. My fantasy was a  little less Parent Trap and a little more Heavy Weights - ditching arts and crafts in lieu of starting a cafeteria food fight or stringing a camp counselor's underwear on the flag pole. But these kids weren’t at Camp Sweeney to find a long lost identical twin or even to lose a few pounds - they came to claim their lives back from juvenile diabetes.

My day at the camp was saturated with information about carb counts, insulin, midnight medical checks and the many other nuances of managing diabetes. I could barely remember to put my clothes on right side out at six years old, let alone what my carb allowance was.

The babies told me about their craft projects, the teens dished on summer romances. They all got real with me about the financial toll their condition took on their families - big brothers not being able to join the traveling soccer league, little girls who couldn't afford to take ballet and their insulin. These campers felt like burdens to everyone, and in every situation, aside from the magic of Camp Sweeney. In every other environment, they were the constant object of adult worry and attention. Here, they were empowered to make their own positive decisions about their health.

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Many campers attended Sweeney with supplemented money from grants and scholarships. I got into a an interesting, very impassioned discussion about Medicaid and the national healthcare system with a 12-year-old blonde boy with a Justin Bieber haircut. I was standing on the edge of the basketball court, listening to him rant while he simultaneously passed a ball between his legs.

“Do you think I could be here if all I had was my parents health insurance?” He snorted in disgust before answering his own question. No.

“I wouldn't have a clue about how to manage my diabetes if it wasn't for this camp, and if it weren’t for scholarship money and Medicaid, I wouldn’t be here.”

I left the camp that day and wrote one of my best features to date. Every time I turn on the the news to watch grown ups argue about healthcare, I think about those kids. Are they taking their doses? Can they afford to come back to camp next year?

Political undertones are always present in my feature subjects. Writing these features is not about writing around the politics, but through the politics. Juveniles with diabetes aren't a platform, a barb for Fox News debates or a warm-and-fuzzy for donating foundations - they are real kids who needed our attention, our support, and our cold hard cash. I needed to make them as real to readers as they were to me on that hot summer day, pushing each other off the docks and into the water.

I think about them all the time.

 

XO,

J.

Read the feature article on Camp Sweeney.

Feel like donating? You can help a kid go to camp.

Like the Why I Wrote It series? Check out the last one.

Meeting Lauren Clark

lauren-clark-4 I first met Lauren Clark in 2010. I liked her work, I knew she lived close to me, so I asked her if I could profile her for a college class assignment. I revived some of that text and brought it in to this post. 

When I entered Lauren Clark's home on Doty Street in Stillwater, Okla., the scent of dog was overwhelming. Deep growls and aggressive snorts advanced quickly, and soon I was found by two blue and speckled dogs the size of Clydesdales. Drool dripped from their impressively large mouths and smacked to the hardwood floor. At 5'2, I was sure these two had taken shits larger than me. Lauren laughed and assured me her Great Danes, London and Meridian, meant well.

Lauren gave me a tour of her newly remodeled home, characterized by chic back splashed tile, canvassed images of clients, and quirky flea market finds. A chandelier made of trinkets hung from a tree in the backyard, spoons clinking together in the wind. Lauren Clark, it seemed, had an eye for unique beauty.

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We wandered around the house, discussing some of the work on display and her style of photography. She was obviously doing something right - by this time her work had been featured in The Knot, The Texas Knot and Southern Weddings Magazine. Gap used her work to inspire an ad campaign. When asked to describe the elusive "I-made-it" moment all creatives crave,  her tan freckles quickly disappeared behind a cherry blush. Even then, she was uncomfortable with the fame.

In the years following this meeting, she left the rat race - big clients, and big money - behind to focus on her faith and raising three adorably adventurous boys. Today, I look at her work and see her centeredness reflected, and I remember what she told me back then: realness and authenticity is more than an aesthetic design choice - it's a life choice as well.

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We finally settled her office. Looking back, her nostalgia for a simpler life was evident: pictures clipped to chicken wire with clothes hangers, print patterns reminiscent of depression-era flour sacks creeping in to an otherwise minimal, modern office. I was there to hear her opinions on style, art direction, developing an authentic aesthetic, and client management. She was ready to dive in, but quickly insisted she had to show me a new website she discovered - a crazy little thing called Pinterest. We pulled it up on her gargantuan desktop Mac. Pinterest was in its first month of creation at the time, and the site could barely keep up with the traffic, often crashing mid-search. I went home and made an account. The next week in the university library I was on Pinterest and a girl leaned over to me to ask, "What is that? Where do I go to sign up?"

Pinterest had us, and the entire creative industry, at hello. 

Eventually, Lauren got around to sharing her ideas with me. Since that interview I've had the privilege of working with a multitude of fantastic photographers who believe in storytelling. And, of course, we've seen Pinterest change the pace of the photography industry. Whether I'm working for a client, working as a second photographer, art directing an ad, or laying out a feature article, photography is always on my mind. Photogs are a writer's kindred spirits, after all.

Later this week, I'm sharing professional photographer's tips for clients. Have a Q you want an A to? Comment below!

XO,

J.

P.S. You can hear more testimonials about Lauren's work here, and read more about her journey on her blog.

On Writing

Everyone, it seems, wants to be a writer. At least, that seems to be the case in many creative circles. Graphic designers, web developers, artists, makers, bakers, creators..the people who do things with their hands often fantasize about doing and making things with their words. I’m not sure where the romance of writing morphed into legend, but most people think of writing as packing up and going away to the woods with nothing but paper, pen, and bourbon in order to properly wallow in angst and self-examination. Then, a couple months later, they emerge from the forest with the next American classic in hand.

Writing is sometimes like that. It can be excessively isolating - writing is like dying in that no one can do it for you. You can dick around about it, drink around it, talk around it or work around it but you cannot pay or plead with someone else to do your work for you. It’s your task, and yours alone. You are born alone, you die alone, and you write alone. That is just the way it is.

Writing is a little moody. Moody may not be the right word, however. “Emotional” is more like it. Writing is emotional. It is heavily dependent on your own intuition and ability to absorb the energy around you, sort through it and define it and describe it and transcribe it. That is moody work, indeed. The best writers, I think, inherently absorb the energy of what is going on around them - of the people they meet and the places they visit. That is an inherent characteristic that is hard to turn off and hard to contain. It can bring a lot of grief. Writing requires a certain brand of sensitivity that isn't necessarily helpful in other areas of life or work.

Writing is harsh. Maybe not shot-of-bourbon harsh, but almost so. The hardest part of writing is understanding that you can write great words or paragraphs or entire works and that does not mean they should ever reach publication. Good writers edit themselves and others with unmerciful skill. Good writers are enemies of the ego. Good writers can write a great line and, with equal determination and confidence, scratch it completely. Good writers do this because they work for the highest good of the piece, the publication, and its readers.

That is what writing is like.

J.

Related Posts:

On being published

Latest written stuff around the 'net:

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Favorite resources on writing: 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

Re:Make 2014: The Maker Revolution

brit_morin If you’re an avid creeper of mine, you know I spent the last weekend in San Fransisco for a little thing called Re:Make 2014 held by Brit + Co.

I am a freelance writer and editor for Brit+Co., an online DIY community dedicated to innovative ideas, apps, and products that help you live more creatively. Brit Morin, the “Martha Stewart of Silicon Valley,” started Brit+Co. after a stint at Apple and Google. Brit + Co. is a bit like if Etsy, Pinterest, and Buzzfeed had a baby. We are composed of about three-ish full-time editors and 65 freelance contributors, churning out about 25 posts a day.

Re:Make is a creativity conference that brings together makers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and techies to talk about the Maker Revolution that is sweeping the country, and how we can impact that revolution for the better.

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What is the maker revolution? I love how Thomas D. O’Connor, Jr. explains this new era:

 “During the 1900s, there was the Industrial Age, when people worked side by side (sometimes in less than ideal conditions, to be sure) to produce well-designed goods for everyday use. Then came the Information Age, when people worked alone in their cubicles, using computers to communicate virtually with colleagues and to remotely serve customers.

We’re inspired by what we call the new Maker Age, where modern creators are harnessing the best of those two previous eras: a communal approach to work, enhanced by technology and tools.”

 - Mohawk Maker Quarterly, Issue 04 

The Maker Revolution is important because it is estimated that, by 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be freelancers: designers, writers, builders, crafters, makers. But 77 percent of adults feel they have lost their creativity. How can we bridge the gap between the desire to make the fear of not being very good, seeming silly, or the false association that “I am not creative”?

Brit + Co. studied up on the Maker Revolution and came out with the Maker Movement Report. Brit opened up Re:Make 2014 with a video proving that we were all once petite Picassos or mini Monets. We were once creative children, but lost that confidence in making as we grew up. And we need it back.

Brit + Co. chose a handful of contributors to fly out to San Francisco to experience and cover Re:Make 2014. I was one of the few chosen.

Day One brought nearly 500 people to Fort Mason to listen to panelists discuss the maker movement, creativity, storytelling, and startup companies. I met people from one coast to the next, people who quit their day jobs to start projects out of their garage, people who know what it’s like to pitch to venture capitalists and kick ass while doing it.

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Here are just a few of the amazing people I met and listened to at Re:Make:

  1. Ben Kaufman, Founder + CEO, Quirky
  2. Eileen Gittens, Founder, President + CEO, Blurb
  3. Ido Leffler, Author, Investor + Co-founder, Say Yes To Carrots, Yoobi + Soma Water
  4. Kandee Johnson, YouTube Personality
  5. Mark Hatch, CEO, TechShop
  6. Verena Von Pfetten, Executive Digital Editor, Lucky Magazine
  7. Zach Kaplan, CEO, Inventables
  8. Jaime Derringer, Founder + Executive Editor, Design Milk
  9. Shauna Mei, Founder, AHAlife.com
  10. Joy Cho, Founder, Oh Joy!
  11. Bradford Shellhammer, Founder, Fab.com
  12. Craig Dalton, CEO + Co-Founder, DODOcase
  13. Chris Taylor, Deputy Editor, Mashable

I could go all day on how many cool, creative, and successful people made an appearance. One girl cried when she met Kandee Johnson. It was equal parts adorable and awesome.

Attendees took frequent breaks - called “make breaks” - to try out our own creativity and maker-style. By the end of the day my manicure was ruined with fabric glue and cupcake icing. Yeah, I said cupcakes. Wilton Cakes baked for us and provided us with all the swag to decorate our own cute little cakes, including easy icing bags and tips to create all kinds of looks. The "Bake Break" was awesome because Wilton gave us all the tools to make really adorable cupcakes - even if we had never decorated one before. It gave attendees confidence in making, and inspiration to go home and make our homes and offices and lives into something really custom and beautiful. If you're interested in cakes and cookies (and who isn't) and learning how to be better baker, check out all of Wilton's tools, ingredients, and online classes hereIMG_7744

The Brit+Co. contributors were invited to a blogger lunch with Brit Morin, Randi Zuckerberg, the Lowes Innovation Lab team and various panelists from throughout the day. About 25 or 30 of us gathered around a table to break bread, discuss the future of storytelling, the importance of beautiful imagery, and what it’s like to be a woman and battling the social expectation of being syrupy-sweet and humble when we really want to be CEOs and Boss Bitches. It was interesting that, no matter the level of success, we still deal with the occasional tendency to play small when we really need (and want) to be larger than life.

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Exchanging ideas with these successful, influential people was the best part of my weekend. As we sat and talked, I thought to myself: these people get it. They get risk, change, rebellion, confidence, bucking status quo, and why the stories we tell are just as - if not more - important than the products and services we sell. Man, I’ve been in places where people most definitely did not get it and to be in that type of culture feels stifling and suffocating. At Re:Make 2014, and at that lunch table, I felt like I was inhaling for the first time in a long time. I walked away excited, inspired, and energized to go make, do, and kick ass.

Day Two of Re:Make was a festival of makers. Vendors of all kinds – paper goods, leather goods, chocolate, jewelry, etc. sold beautiful, handmade products from across the country. Dotted in-between vendors were more make stations, where attendees could make things of their own – anything from mini planters to cupcakes or headbands.

The place was packed and full of just as much, if not more, energy than the day before. When you bring that many creative people together to create in the same space, a certain kind of magic happens. We are all better for having joined as a community than any of us could have been on our own.

So that was my wild, exciting, star-studded, creative, maker-made weekend at Re:Make 2014. It was beyond anything I expected, and made me so proud to be apart of Brit + Co.

Later this week, I'll post all about my extracurricular adventures around San Fran.

XO,

J.

Photo cred herehere and here. All edits and text overlays by me.