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Lizzie, thank you so much for joining us this Wednesday afternoon? Early evening? We are really excited to have you here to chat with us about storytelling and what it means to define your story on your terms. And also dive in a bit more into how, you know, you ended up where you are today. So you majored in, in journalism. Is that that correct? Anjana and I are also both. We didn’t major in journalism, but —
I wanted to
High school journalism junkies for sure.
I love it; as was I, as was I.
Yeah. That’s great. I guess like at, you know, the start of your career and when you graduated, what was your vision like for yourself back then? And, and for your career?
Oh gosh, it it’s, it’s hard to even imagine back to what my vision could have been. I’ll say when I started college as a journalism major, my vision was to work in fashion journalism in New York City. Like that was my, that was my ideal vision of myself. I was, I think I was best dressed in high school and, you know, as far as senior superlatives go. And so I wanted to take that.
I was gonna tell you, I love your sweater today.
oh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I still love fashion but it’s, it’s not a career for me anymore anyway, so that was my vision sort of going into college. And then when I was in college, so Facebook launched when I was in college, imagine that. I was like late to the game, but eventually got on Facebook and the media landscape was changing pretty dramatically from this like traditional sort of magazine world to a more digital and social media world. And social media was considered innovation at the time like that, that was innovation and these young people in college, right? They were, they were expected to know about social media. And so I actually stayed an extra year in college after getting my journalism degree to get a minor in new media, which was essentially social media. And so when I graduated college, my vision for my career was really to be an expert on conversational media and helping brands and businesses actually have dialogues and be authentic with their audience. Of course that has changed. But that was my, my original sort of go-to and it came to life. Initially, my first job was helping to launch social media at Spanx, the women’s shape wear company.
No way! That’s great. I mean, I was just gonna ask, can you imagine like being, you know, the whole brands being conversational thing, like the person commenting on Tik Toks these days for companies?
No, I, I mean, I’m not like I don’t, I have never looked at TikTok, so I was so far removed from, from that, but that, that was one of actually the things that I loved about my early career was I had to learn so much, the social media landscape, it was just constantly changing. And so my early career is really what oriented me towards this growth mindset and this lifelong learning mindset. And that has been such a through thread of my career.
What were those, I guess, like those pivots, or like, in what ways did this path or this journey turn out differently than you, you know, had originally expected? Or like this plan and obviously the plans that we set for ourselves, especially as like new grads, things, things change, but I guess like if you could walk us through a bit some of the different pivots in your own journey.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You know, at the, at the time I will say this was not my intention, but looking back the way that my career pivoted was very much by following what I was passionate about. At the time, and I’ll talk you through some of those pivots, but at the time I was very much driven by getting promoted and having more responsibility. And I’ll just be totally transparent that, that that’s how I led the first 10 years of my career. And so, as I mentioned, I started out in social media and after Spanx, which was a, like a year long sort of contract position, lots of fun. It was in many ways like working at a sorority and it was yeah, made boxes for Sex And The City movies and all those kinds of things. just really exciting. I was approached by someone who worked at an advertising agency who recognized the importance of social media in the advertising world that, that they were doing.
And he pitched me on this idea of being someone who would use different tools, to essentially analyze social media conversations that were happening online to report back to brands on what their customers were saying about them. And so I became a researcher at an advertising agency and I developed these things called conversation analyses, and I learned the technology side of things. And I started to learn how to like research and synthesize and develop themes. And that sort of turned me onto this idea that, Ooh, am I being a strategist? Like am I, am I transforming from a researcher to a strategist? And so I realized that strategists had a bigger seat at the table than researchers. And so I pitched myself to be essentially a digital strategist at this advertising agency. It worked. So that was another pivot for me. I, I made a shift from this research world to a digital strategy world, and I specifically worked on Verizon Wireless’s social media business. Helped them launch on YouTube,
like they hadn’t been on YouTube before, helped them do some of the first advertising on Facebook and, and do that, that type of work. And in the context of an advertising agency, I started learning more about, well, what are different paths to take in the world of advertising? And I became just fascinated by the world of brand and brand strategy. And I basically at night went through just online videos and content and things like that, and taught myself to become a brand strategist. And then I started looking for brand strategy jobs, and I found one at another advertising agency in in Atlanta, but that’s sort of the early chapter of my, my career.
Yeah. And what an exciting time it must have been to, to really be at that like leading digital strategy at a time when, like you were saying social media was just taking off and starting to be like the next big thing. So kinda to be like at the front of that movement, especially in advertisement sounds really exciting, or advertising.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And Sydney it’s, it’s interesting, you say to be at the forefront of the next big thing. That has, I think a little bit, been what’s motivated all of the really big shifts in my career. So from journalism to social media, to advertising in the digital space, and then I made a move to San Francisco and in San Francisco talk about being on the forefront of the next big thing, I decided to take this robust toolbox of strategy skills that I had built throughout my career and apply it to what people do in San Francisco, which is innovate. And so I became an innovation and then design strategist. And worked across a range of business types, whether it was helping L’Oreal global, the, the kind of global beauty brand map, the future of beauty and beauty products, or whether it was working with a small startup to actually launch their business from, from the ground up and really getting my feet wet in the startup landscape of, of San Francisco. So that’s, that’s largely been something that’s promoted the, the changes in my, my career.
Right. And it’s just, it’s always so like interesting too, to see though, like when you reflect back on, you know, your career and obviously like for Anjana and myself having, you know, being a year into it for us, it’s a bit different. But knowing that, you know, when you look back on your career, it’s so interesting to see again, like the common threads that you were talking about and also how, you know, you may have pivoted, but all of these experiences and these different companies kind of built this toolbox and, and built your skillset to like where you are today.
I truly believe this early in your career, there are no wrong decisions. If you feel like you are going to be learning something new and you are going to be working with people that you wanna be working with. There’s I think oftentimes and, and this is, is the truth for people at any stage of your, of your career. We hold ourselves back from making changes because we don’t know if it’s quote unquote the right choice. And retrospectively, it all makes sense. And everything truly does happen for a reason. And when it comes to growing in your career, it’s it, my mind really just comes down to being able to articulate the “why” behind all of the pivots that you make and the, what you learned and how it’s made you, the person that you are today. Yeah. So yeah, that, that’s a, it’s just something that has, has occurred to me after working for about 15 years.
I, I just think it’s so funny how many commonalities the three of us have, because like, we’re both, both of us are also currently in research. We did journalism. I personally love brand strategy and like, I want in the future go into consumer insights, but like, there’s always that, you know, the, the red line that connects everything is, you know, storytelling and like you said, kind of being at the forefront of everything, but, I feel like now you kind of have this perspective looking back of like, everything fits together, but you did have this year of experimentation. So would love for you to tell us what that was like. What was your biggest moment of self discovery?
Yeah, so my year of experimentation is tied to my most recent and I think most significant career pivot. So I was working, as I mentioned in San Francisco, which is where I am today at a design and innovation studio. And I had a, had a, a moment in my personal life that really, for the first time in my life, I think forced me to pause and reflect on who I am and how it is I’m spending my time. And my mom became very sick. So I, I mentioned I was living in Atlanta before, and I I, I was in Atlanta with her for a period of time. And just the, the, you know, life is so precious. And I think being sort of just bombarded with that idea for the first time in my life, just had me in this very reflective space.
And one of the things that I realized then as I was reflecting was I love being a strategist. I love working in these creative environments, but what really drove me in these creative environments was building teams, hiring teams, thinking about how we were working together, even more so than the work that we were doing. I was always the oddball that like liked to be a manager in these creative environments where everyone just wanted to make stuff or work on things. And I was just so fascinated by the human dynamics at work. And it took me 12 years into my career to realize I can make a career out of doing just that, which is focusing more on the, who we are and how we work together at work even more so than the work itself. And so I came back to San Francisco and one of the first things that I did was I enrolled in a year long coaching certification program.
And I thought I could be good at coaching. I thought coaching was all about like advice giving and guiding people. I thought it was the same thing as being a manager. It is not, it’s actually the opposite. I’ll tell you. But I also thought that a year long coaching certification experience would teach me more about myself and what it was I wanted to do and how I could show up in the world. And that was so true. I remember showing up the first day to this coaching program with like a notebook and a laptop. And I was like, ready to learn how to be a coach. And very quickly I had my tissues out and I was crying and I was just like revealing my heart in a way that I didn’t expect I would. And when I graduated, I had this amazing sense of freedom about what was possible, the world, it was like the world was my oyster and I decided to quit my full-time job, which was a big decision and give myself a year to as you, as you called it a year to experiment.
So my year of experimentation was basically learn as much as possible about this, this new career that I could potentially be interested in, meet as many people as possible, have as many conversations as possible, take on as many new types of projects as possible. And so I did this hodge podge of things from coaching to consulting around culture, to leadership development projects, to designing onboarding processes for employees to recruiting. And I intended at the end of that year to come away with a real, like fine tooth or fine point on what it was I wanted to do and go get a full-time job. And the truth is I’m still doing all of those things. On my own. And I love it. And I’m learning so much and what I’m doing just evolves every single day.
I wonder if you went to the same coaching program as one of her earlier guests, cuz she, like, it sounds like the exact same conversation where she was like, she went to this program the first day and she was crying. Like it was a whole weekend long thing. And she came away just like knowing so much deeper of who she was and… anyway, I wonder if it’s the same one. But I wanted to kinda go back to what you were saying about like really, taking the time to figure out who you were right? When your mom got sick. And I feel like that moment of realization that you had about, you know, I really wanna figure out who I am and what I wanna do. A lot of that came for us from COVID. I saw this tweet the other day, which it was saying like, “I used to be someone who had a one-year, five-year, ten-year plan and I no longer am. I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow.” And I was like, wow, that really resonates with me cuz like I used to be the same way, super, you know, high achieving, like I want to do X, Y, Z by whatever age and I’m not anymore. And like I don’t even know who I am anymore in a sense. And so like, I guess like my question for you is like, what questions were you asking yourself when you were trying to figure that out?
Mm-Hmm so I think at the time I thought I was figuring out who I was and the truth was, I don’t think I quite had the tools to do that at that point. Finding out who I was actually came a little bit later and I can talk about that. What I was really exploring was what is it that I like to do and how can I do that? And so I asked myself in my day to day job what are the pieces that I like? What are the pieces that I feel like people are constantly giving me great feedback about? I asked even, I, I remember having conversations with some of my coworkers or past coworkers about like, what do you think my superpowers are? If you reflect on working with me, how did I provide the most value? And sort of married what I was hearing from people what lit me up inside. And and that was very much how I decided to reorient my career around the like insides of organizations versus the, the products and services.
Yeah, no, that’s, that’s perfect. I should start asking around about what my superpowers are .
It’s a great, you know, it, it’s interesting. I actually had a, an interview with, with I interviewed someone yesterday and she’s a, a brilliant leader with about 30 years of experience. And she said a practice that she very often does is send an email to three people she trusts asking what are three ways that I’ve made an impact on your work or your life? And she says the answers that she gets back are so clarifying for her around any decision that she’s making at the time.
I love that. Especially because it can be so hard to identify your strengths and weaknesses on your own. And just through introspection, you know, we tend to be really hard, really critical of ourselves. And so knowing that you can, you know, reach out to others, your friends, family, or people that you work with just to get that outside perspective is really helpful. Mm-Hmm
and, and you know, something that I’ll add there, Sydney is I think that the, our perception of who we are, and to be honest, who we are in different environments changes dramatically. And so the who you are at work, you probably have a very specific story you tell yourself about who you are at work and people see you a certain way at work because of how you act at work, right? Something to consider as you’re uncovering who you are and what it is that you want to do next is to think about who are you with your family? Who are you when you’re doing like your favorite activity in the world? And those things are often like, even more revealing than who you are at work.
Yeah, definitely. And I, I feel like we’ve kind of just like naturally led ourselves to chatting a bit more about, you know, storytelling and the power of storytelling. Especially like we were talking about like the stories that we tell about ourselves. So I was wondering if you could just chat a little bit about why personal storytelling or like the narratives that we have about ourselves are so important.
Mm-Hmm mm-hmm yeah. So, so one of the things that I realized during this year of experimentation, right? I had been a senior lead design strategist. That was my identity, right? Cuz I had this job title. Yeah. When I took a year to experiment with what was next for me in my career, I didn’t know how to label myself. I felt in many ways lost. People would ask me, well, like what do you do? And I, I would just have this like long rambling answer of things. And I would honestly would get frustrated with myself. I was like, OK, am I a consultant? Am I a coach? I needed a label to put on myself. And then I had, and honestly, I don’t even know what, what drove this for me, but I had this moment, I remember this walk I was taking by myself, which is something I highly encourage.
I come up with good ideas on walks. I said, what if I don’t attempt to put career labels on myself? What if I find ways of just talking about what my superpowers are and what my vision is and what my, why is, essentially, as a way of talking about who I am and, and what I do at work. And it was largely through, it was largely that that started this process of me realizing that we put ourselves in boxes and these boxes are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what’s possible for us. We all think these are my strengths, these are my weaknesses, this is what I do. But the truth is we are like such bigger and more whole people than that. We just have to give ourselves permission to experience all of these different facets of ourselves. And so all of this to say, there’s, there was so much, I uncovered around stories. We tell ourselves and stories, others sort of have about us because of how we show up that I developed a method of coaching called story coaching, which is really about examining those stories and identifying the ways that we’re holding ourselves back through our stories and working to expand the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a way of literally making new things happen.
Yeah. I, I love what you said about you, you mentioned like stripping away, like the traditional career labels. I think something that myself and like a lot of, you know, other like my peers who are recent college graduates, you know, you’ve been working like these four years to get that job right. Or to get that title. And then the next thing is, you know, earlier we were talking about working towards promotion, it can be really hard to separate like who you are from, what you do. So I just love that piece that you said about trying to look at yourself and, and I developed that story about yourself, like outside of the context of this work environment too.
Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the, one of the things that actually causes the most suffering in life, and I know that sounds dramatic, but it really is true is attempting to be different people or thinking we need to be different people in different contexts that we need to hide parts of ourselves or that we need to show up in a certain way for certain types of people. And there’s so much power in just recognizing who you are and giving yourself the freedom to be that person in all aspects of your life.
What do you, I guess, to like ground this concept of separating who you are from your work, do you have a good example of that?
Sure. I was used to at work, being the strategist, meaning being the person who had answers for things. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to show up, like I had all the answers and that I would figure it all out and wasn’t comfortable not being a, a different way. And I think that’s something that can happen often for a lot of people, especially early in your, your career, you feel like you’re hired to like come up with answers and create solutions and those types of things. And then in my life, I was just such a wildly curious person who asked more questions — you know, journalism major — asked more questions versus had answers. I had far more imagination and actually something I noticed, and this is something to pay attention to: I noticed that my body felt differently outside of work than inside of work. So you can imagine as a strategist, like you’re pretty rigid. You’re like very focused in your head and you, you perhaps hold more tension in your body. And outside of work, I was just more free and I was more flexible and I had a lot of more room to sort of move and, and, and breathe. And that’s just a, a slight example of how I, it showed up for me previously.
Yeah, definitely. And I’m wondering, especially in the context of college graduates, do you have any, you know, practical tips or like daily practices or habits that can really help us as we start to develop and refine our stories on our terms and, you know, especially what that looks like when you do strip away the traditional career labels?
Yeah, of course, of course. I think one of the most, and I I’m happy to offer a couple examples. One of the most powerful things to do is to imagine how it is you want to feel and how it is you want to ideally show up at work. Just imagine, like in an ideal world, here are the types of things that I’d be doing. Here’s how I would describe myself. Here’s how other people would describe me and write that as a story of like who you are. So, you know, I’m Lizzie, I spend my time being as creative as possible. Yeah. I mean, yada, yada, yada, explain like whatever it is you are interested in doing and start to say it out loud, like first to yourself in the mirror, like actually put language to it, and then to other people. And I, it might sound crazy until you do it and you see that it works and you will see that once you start actually speaking into reality, essentially, how it is, you want to show up, you will show up that way and you will start to do those things that you want to do.
And other people will start to see you that way, which means they know how to respond to you differently. So a lot of it is also about retraining other people’s responses to, to you, which reinforces essentially how you end up showing up.
Hmm. I love that because I think we don’t put enough emphasis on the things we say to ourselves and how, how, like, that translates to how we act, how we think, what we do. I feel like, so like recently I’ve been, I’ve been noticing this, like, I, I hear like my subconscious thoughts. I keep saying, “I’m unhappy, I’m unhappy.” And I like, don’t know why I’m doing it, but I notice that I’m doing it. And it’s like, a lot of it is, you know, I feel like what people are calling a quarter life crisis where it’s like, I’m almost 24 now. I’m still at home. And maybe not doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life. And it’s like, okay, what am I, you know, who am I, what am I all these questions. And like, a lot of that is societal, okay this is what you’re supposed, like Sydney said earlier, like your traditional, this is what you need to do by the time you’re 22. And you know, you have to have a house by X time and like, you know, be in a relationship or whatever. It’s like, I, I feel like I need to start reframing what I’m saying. So I saw a tip earlier of like, instead of saying, “I HAVE to do X, Y, Z” say, “I GET to do X, Y, Z.” So like, for example, I’m at home right now. I’m like, oh, I’m like still with my parents. [Instead], like I get to be spending this time with my parents, you know, like changing the way we phrase that. And I think if I start doing that, I can really change that like unhappy narrative that I’m creating for myself.
Absolutely. No, absolutely. There’s a difference between not, not accepting your current reality, right. It’s totally fine to accept that. And it’s fine to recognize that you wish things were differently. But one way of just reframing your current scenario is: I have the opportunity to reinvent myself. Like you’re right now, you’re recognizing that that things are not as awesome as they could. And you know, over the course of the next five years, I plan to reinvent myself, you know. While I’m at home with my parents, maybe I have a little bit more discretionary income to like take an online course or to go do X, Y, and Z thing that I may not have otherwise had access to. And something, I mean, just something to try on is really calling this period of life, like a “period of reinvention” or a “period of experimentation”, and give yourself permission to try different things from this sort of like safe space that you’re in.
Hmm. Yes. We don’t need everything figured out right now.
No, and you never will have it figured out. So that has actually been one of my biggest lessons has been not to believe everything you think, and to actually feel the freedom that comes with recognizing that you don’t have to have the answers and there’s no way you can control anything. There’s just a lot of well, if I can’t control everything and if I don’t have to have all the answers, well, then let me just like, see what happens. Like, let me, let me experiment my way through this. And I’ll go into everything with an open mind and then I can reorient as I need to.
Yeah. And I feel like it’s freeing too to, cause I feel like our, you know, natural tendency, at least like for myself, is to want to like control every, you know, single aspect of our lives and, and have things planned out. But it’s, it’s freeing to, you know, kind of give up that idea of control because like you said, things happen and we have to adapt and it can be like freeing in a sense to just kind of accept, you know, a situation or a place that we’re in. And, and like you were saying, make, make the most of it and just kind of reframe it. So yeah. I love that.
In reality, we control so little.
Yeah. That’s so true. Yeah. I’d love to give you and your listeners one more practice to do that can be helpful in crafting your story and getting a sense of, I think really what your superpowers are. So there’s something that I do with my clients called creating a life map. And it’s very simple. Like you draw a line on a page, right? Go a horizontal line across, across the sky and you start at your early life and you end at where you are today. And on the top of the line, sort of in order, you’ll map what I call the peaks. And on the bottom, you map the valleys and you think about what are the most notable moments throughout my life that stand out? Both the high points when I felt most creative, most energized, most myself;
And what are the low points where I was like, this was a really difficult moment? So first do that exercise and then go through and write, what is it that you learned about who you are in that moment? And as you reflect back on this exercise, all these things that you’ve learned about yourself, you’ll start to notice themes. And these themes are really your superpowers. And this is who you are, and that these are the gifts that you have to bring forward. And these themes can then be used to talk about, like, when someone asks, “Who are you? Like, give me an elevator pitch.” You have these themes and you have these examples. So you can imagine doing a, a similar map, like just for your career and its key projects and you’re developing themes around key projects. So it’s, it’s a really powerful tool and I definitely wanna underline the importance of the valleys too. The hardest, the hard moments in life are often the moments where we learn the most about who we are.
Wait, I love that because I feel like most of the times when we, when we get advice like this I feel like Syd and I have both taken a lot of classes at school too, that like, talk about visualizing where you wanna be, et cetera. We always look at the future, like, okay, draw out, like write down where you wanna be in five years or whatever, and nobody has ever told us to look at the past and like, look at, you know, starting from where you started to where you are right now, and outline the happy points and the low points. And that’s really great advice. I’m gonna go do that tonight.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. One thing to consider is when we are, when we’re young, when we’re, when we’re kids, right. We are the whole versions of ourself that we’re ever gonna be. We’re like uninhibited and all of these parts of ourselves come out and through, as we grow up, we actually come to hide different aspects of ourselves because we get hurt or because we think this is inappropriate or because other people aren’t doing this. And so there can be a lot of power in looking at who you were as a kid. Yeah. And seeing how you can start to bring some of those aspects of who you are to the present.
Yeah. That’s great. I, I have like a, a little cousin who she’s just turned three now, and that just reminds me of like the times that I’m interacting with her and, you know, she’s like the wild imagination and stuff like that. And you’re so right. Like as we get older and as we go through school and you know, also again, like those things that we are taught as well and like those societal norms, I think we definitely do suppress those like very wholesome creative pieces of ourselves that we were when, when we were kids. So I think that’s a really powerful reminder for sure.
Well, thank you so much for all your advice, Lizzie!
Yeah Lizzie this was wonderful.
I feel like I’m gonna go forward and just figure out how to make my inner child happy.
Yes! Love it. Yeah. Bring out the innocence. That was my, that was actually the, the quality that I tried to lean the most into during my year of experimentation was to be innocent, was to be childlike.
Yeah. And that like innate curiosity too, as a kid and just leaning into that too. Yeah, definitely. Well, I know this again, this was a really wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for like, not only talking to us about your journey, but also, you know, some really actionable tips and things that I know like Anjana was saying, we’re gonna also tell our, our other co-host who wasn’t in this episode, but just taking away all these really great lessons. So it was really a pleasure to have you.