banana cocoa muffins

Banana cocoa muffins.

We came from zero, and on a long enough timeline we’ll return to that from which we’ve come. Zero. I think about this a lot–life, death–perhaps maybe more than I should, more than what’s deemed healthy, but I can’t help it. I think about planes sometimes, how my greatest fear is being on a plane that dives into an ocean. Sometimes I imagine closing my eyes and humbly crawling back to the cool dark, because although this is the one thing I don’t remember (that one head pushing out, those eyes that opened wide to the first light, and the mouth that screamed so valiantly, even through the terror of being born), it brings me an unexplainable comfort. It’s as if by living through the cycle of life and death I’ve conquered it, and for a time I’m okay until the moment I think about it all over again.

I also think about time. How I’ll never have enough of it, how it’s always running out. I used to wear a watch and have a clock in every room–the old fashioned kind, the sort that ticked. And then time passed as it’s wont to do, and I move through rooms with my phone, checking it every now and again, just to see how much time has passed. How much I’ve spent (or squandered, depending upon the day) from the last moment I checked to the next.

Aren’t you afraid of it? I asked my pop last week. Of what, he said? Death. Dying. Not really, he said and paused. Maybe a little but not a lot. I don’t think about it as much as you do. How is it possible that he’s not frightened? Like me, he’s not swathed in faith–he doesn’t believe in a white kingdom and a god who will carry you all the way home. Like me, he’s spiritual, sees the world as this magical, miraculous place, but we’re not tethered to a faith. Nor do I suspect we ever will be. We don’t have that warm comfort, and while I sometimes agonize over the certainty that these two feet on this floor will no longer be, my father goes about his days undisturbed. He tells me that death is inevitable so why get worked up over something that you can’t control?

The thing is, I like control. A lot. But I’m learning to let go of it, piece by piece.

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Time is slippery, and since I’ve made the decision to forgo having children, of not establishing a legacy, I look at my work as the tangible things I leave behind. I ache to produce and find that this space brings me so much joy because I can write the smaller things here while I consider the bigger things on a blank canvas. I use books (and life) as a bridge between the minute and known (blog) and the great unknown (novel). Lately, I’ve been ordering children’s books at a ferocious clip. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child I never appreciated the complex simplicity in books where a few words and illustrations are forced to convey SO MUCH, or perhaps I see the extraordinary juxtaposition between size of book and words versus the magnitude of its meaning. Children’s books are magnanimous in the sense that they don’t patronize or take a pedagogical approach, rather they allow you to dive in and find your own beauty, at your own time, on your own terms.

After poring over these illustrations (don’t the colors just DO YOU IN?!), I decided to order Umbrella because it’s such an magnificent expression of the tension of time. Of feeling anxious to move from one space to the next. But it’s also a meditation on time and being present, of savoring these moment of being alive. I need a little more of that in my life.

Today, I turned off the television, silenced my phone and kneeled down to play with Felix. For fifteen minutes, I heard the sounds of his purr and breath and all the noise in my head fell to quiet. All that existed was a woman and her cat. I don’t know what that means in terms of legacy, of pragmatism, of leaving something you can hold in your two hands, behind. But what I do know is that holding his small neck in my hands felt wonderful.

Drawing lines, drawing outlines. Unfurling maps.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
2 large eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1/2 cup ground gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and olive oil until completely combined. Add the bananas and beat until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the ground nuts, oats, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make sure you have all lumps pressed out (almond flour tends to clump up) before you add to the wet ingredients. The last thing you want is a bit chunk of nut flour in your mouth. I’m saving you, people.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold until combined. Using an ice-cream scoop, add the batter to the tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes on rack before turning out to cool completely.

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the importance of the side hustle

the importance of a side hustle

Let me talk to you about a time most of you can’t remember, let alone fathom. (But first, I’ll break into my gravely voice while I yell about kids getting off my lawn.) I started out my career in the age of resumes on bond paper and file cabinets. Back in the day you mailed your resume to the company you wanted to court, and you prayed that yours would be the one that would rise above the stack. This was an age when cold calls were verboten, and recommendations were reduced to someone making phone calls made on your behalf because who knew of LinkedIn? Who actually used email?

Throughout college I interned at some of the most prestigious investment banks simply for the fact that those jobs paid handsomely. Smith Barney money afforded me top shelf instead of well drinks. Merrill Lynch money afforded me rollneck sweaters, barn coats and anoraks from J. Crew, and I would watch as everyone hawked my every delivery with the sort of envy I’d begun to covet. When I graduated, I took a job in an investment bank because this is what one did — one went along with the pre-defined plan. One didn’t question or argue the trajectory.

Until I did. Until I realized I didn’t want to be Gordon Gekko; I wasn’t built for an industry that created nothing except for the illusion of progress. I realized I hated banking during a relentless heat wave when I decided to walk into work wearing a long floral skirt, sans hose. First, let me explain the business of hose. Although we entertained dress-down Fridays with a mixture of confusion and mild amusement, a woman simply dressed from one of the several somber suits arranged in her closet. Pants were passable. Skirts were lined and grazed our knees. Heels were a smart variation on cocoa, black or blue. But floral skirts were sacrilege. Unlined rayon was the financial antichrist. You might as well have adjusted Powerpoint slides in the nude while preaching idealism like sermon.

Are you surprised that I wanted to run?

Recruiters shook their heads and sighed when I suggested a change of industry. Who would employ me? One had to have experience in a profession, and I competed with a line of college interns who could afford the luxury of the unpaid internship. They worked for glossies, designers and the arts. I worked in banking so I would only be interviewed for jobs in banking.

I should tell you in advance that I don’t accept refusals. I shirk the words you can’t; I don’t take kindly to the word no. At the time I’d been routinely hitting up sample sales and traveling to outlets and selling some items on eBay, until it occurred to me that there was no market for designer resale. Online commerce barely existed and there were parts of the country, the world, where people didn’t have access to finery at a discount. So while employed in an investment bank I decided to create experience where none existed. I filed papers for a LLC, managed my own accounting, built a website, purchased a camera and tools for photoshoots, and scouted sample sales for inventory. Essentially, I was the Outnet of 1999 at a small scale. While it’s true I made a good bit of money and had a lot of fun buying Dolce & Gabbana shoes with my father during trips out to Woodbury Commons, I’d started to learn the language of digital–I understood what it meant to run a business. This caught the attention of my next employer, who hired me as a project manager for a burgeoning luxury goods dot.com.

That’s when I first learned about the importance of a side hustle. That’s when I learned how to say, fuck you and your no, out loud.

If I hadn’t built a business from scratch I wouldn’t have realized that we are far greater than our bulleted parts. Because there are thousands of people pushing paper with similar credentials. All those resumes read like minor variations on the same theme. While it’s true that people may attempt to dress up a piece of paper in designed finery, the words (and experience) remain unchanged. When you realize that one’s work as a strategist mirrors someone else’s carefully composed resume, you begin to understand that people hire people, not paper.

Every employer has hired me as a result of my side projects. They’ve gotten me through doors and industries that would have remained closed. They’ve given me supplemental income. Side projects have saved me from the doldrums of the office and have empowered me to pursue creative endeavors and learn skills that I wouldn’t have gained in a traditional office environment. Side projects have expanded my network and put me in front of people who have become lifelong friends. I’ve launched literary magazines and websites, hosted events and started organizations. I’ve practiced photography to the point of not being half-bad. I’ve a diversified skillset in a way that I understand technical details just as much as I get creative. Recently, I’ve been guiding a sizeable website relaunch and I understood the principles of UX just as deftly as I did the process for establishing a creative vision. A lot of my current consulting work is a hybrid of creative brand work with organizational design–all because I have a voracious appetite for knowledge. All because I raised my hand at work and volunteered to learn something new, to assist someone in another department in my free time. All because I was brought up in the age of extra curriculars. All because I never be defined as one thing. All because I never want to stop learning and building.

More importantly, side hustles have given me hope when none existed. They’ve shone lights amidst the dark, and have made me realize that there is so much possibility–something nearly impossible for someone of my tenure and experience who may not necessarily believe that the whole of the world lay at their feet. Side projects have made it such that I walk into a room and I have so much to talk about!

How I’ve Created Side Hustles:
*Start small: Early side hustles were inspired by my friend Jeff’s book, 52 Projects. Sometimes we get subsumed by BIG and we need to start small. Explore your creative and practical self through small, fun assignments–whether it be baking a batch of cookies or learning how to code websites and write software programs. Start from a place of curiosity. You’ll have more fun with it and flex varying brain muscles if you know your income isn’t dependent upon your expertise. Start from a place of pursuing something that excites you. You’ll start to notice how this passion and new skill will inform or augment what you’re doing in your professional life
*Take classes: From local continuing ed classes to online ventures, I’m always learning new skills or strengthening my existing ones. I love General Assembly, SkillShare, Nicole’s Classes, and Lynda. This year I plan to take classes to get fluent in Spanish and I want to take a Classics course.
*Raise your hand: At various jobs, I’ve gone out of my way to connect with people in different departments and have volunteered to help on projects where I have less experience. Consider it an informal apprenticeship, but I found it so practical to learn about SEM by sitting with an expert and help him churn out reports. I learned so much about photography by helping a friend out on a project. I also routinely hang out with people who have varying skill sets and make a point to know about what they do.

Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo

side hustle

chocolate chip almond cookies (grain/gluten free)

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Yesterday, my father took me to the water. Passing a bag of cookies between us, we drank coffee in his car and watched the tide come in. It’s high, he says, look at the waves. I nod. We’re still like this for a time and I love him for this–the ability to share a comfortable silence. My pop and I love the quiet, worship at the altar of it. We are in Long Island watching swans on the pavement and seagulls overhead and I talk about India, how encountering Delhi for the first time felt like an assault of color, of beauty. My pop inquiries about the countries to which I’ve traveled and I speak for a time and then I pause and ask if I’ve gone too far, said too much. Are you bored? I ask. He says no. He tells me that he likes to close his eyes and imagine the countries I’ve been. He likes the words I choose and the spaces I create between them. Through me it almost feels as if he’s been. So I talk about Jaipur, a city painted vermilion and blush pink, and the fumes that plumed up from a volcano in Masaya. I tell him about the parakeets that make a home in the crevices of the volcano, that they can somehow withstand the fumes I could barely stomach.

We spend some time in the car talking about what we can endure.

Yesterday I watch my father run. I’m standing inside a restaurant and a pane of glass comes between us. He legs move swiftly, effortlessly–this is a man who once had to crawl up a flight of stairs because the pain from his hips was more than what he could endure. From inside, I bring my hands together in prayer; I’m thunder, and when he swings open the door I hold him so tight. I practically fall into him because this is the first time in years he’s been able to walk properly, much less run. We take this for granted, I tell him. The fact that we have two legs. The fact that we can use them.

Tell me about your new home, he says. We pass plates of food between us because we’ve always shared food. We’ve always picked at the contents of one another’s plates. We’ve held food in our hands and presented it, as gifts, to one another.

I tell him about the place I want to live and we talk for a while. He understands why I want to leave New York, the place I’ve called home for nearly 40 years, but he’s heartbroken–I can tell. I’ll miss the days we’ve spent doing nothing but feeling the enormity of something. I tell him that I’ll miss sleeping while he drives. I’ll miss our two chairs facing a television and the fact that we talk through every show. I’ll miss the timbre of his voice when he says, Coffee? I’ll hold a mug in my hands out of love, habit, and I’ll miss the slow sips, the deep quiet.

I’ll miss you tremendously, I say. We’re at the train station when he laughs, pulls me close and tells me that he’ll miss me too.

INGREDIENTS
1½ cup almond meal
2½ tbsp melted and slightly cooled coconut oil
¼ cup cacao nibs
3 tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp baking powder

DIRECTION
Preheat oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix all ingredients until completely combined. Using a tbsp measure, portion onto a lined baking tray, press down slightly in the center with your thumb.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch the bottoms so they don’t burn. Set on a rack and let cool for 20 minutes before diving in. You can keep these in an airtight container for 3-4 days but they will get crunchy over time.

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chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

Yesterday I had lunch with my marvelous agent, Matthew Carnicelli, and I left inspired, invigorated and ready to start another novel. We spoke at lengths about my first book (he’s still making the rounds) and the tremendous feedback it’s received balanced with the fear of publishing my book because it wouldn’t break through, it wouldn’t be big because it’s largely so dark. My book is this beautiful, risky thing, was the constant refrain from book editors, and Matthew and I brainstormed possibilities while he tries to sell this dark little thing I’ve created.

We spent two hours talking about what I write on this space and we decided that what I write here (personal stories connected to food, career advice, issues of race and identity, how I’m redefining success for myself on my own terms) should be kept here. The writing on this space is honest, good, and brings me joy in writing it and sharing it with you. So it’ll stay here and I’m privileged that you’ll bear witness to its inevitable bloom.

I talk about a new project that’s been stirring. The problem with how I write is that I never, ever think of plot, a story fully realized. I start with characters and a few scenes. I figure that if I know the people they’ll do some interesting things and the plot will follow. So I’ve a rather ambitious idea, one that will yank me out of my comfort zone, and it centers around a neighborhood in Brooklyn and a prominent (and potent) Puerto Rican crime family. Naturally, me being me, I have a few fully-realized scenes toward the end of the book, when I laugh and tell my agent this, he rolls his eyes because he’s been down this road with the last book. I always start in the middle of things and give him a 100 pages and inquire whether what I’ve written is any good. It’s always good, he assures me, and I can tell he’s relieved that this story is manageably dark, rather than relentlessly so.

I pause in the middle of our lunch, stir food around on my plate, and ask, timidly, the novel isn’t that dark, is it? He laughs because what I’ve asked states the obvious, because the title of my book is Follow Me Into the Dark, and he says, Felicia, it’s dark. But it’s also beautiful and good and we’ll find it a home.

I left reminded of the singular rule I was always taught in graduate school. Don’t just lean your hopes on this one great thing. Write new books, tell new stories, scatter them like confetti all over the place. So this is me, investing more time here, more time away from here. Writing. Creating something new. Every day.

INGREDIENTS
2 medium ripe bananas
½ ripe avocado (3/4 cup)
¼ cup cacao powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
½ tbsp water

DIRECTIONS
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend for 30 seconds or until smooth and well combined. I added cacao nibs and pistachios to my mousse, however, I can imagine this would be AMAZING with some whipped coconut cream. I let this chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

because the cult of busy is probably killing you

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You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always and ever be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize…is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do. You will never clear your plate so you can get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now? And realize that what’s important now may not be two years from now. It’s always changing. –From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time

You can’t make a suggestion of sadness. You can no longer whisper or mutter your grief, rather you have to bludgeon your loved ones with it, and then you’ll realize you have their strictest attention. I have a hard time asking for help. Having had to assume the role of adult as soon as I left the womb, I never knew what it was like to be a child; I never had the luxury of screaming tears and being swathed in blankets because I was forever hushing, always wrapping people with the things that comforted them most. In my home vulnerability was considered a weakness, and I spent much of my life telling people I’m fine, even when it was abundantly clear that I was the very opposite of fine. But don’t worry, I’m taking care of it; I’ve got it under control, it’s handled, as the popular protagonist from a nighttime show would say–even when I stared down at my bare hands knowing that I didn’t have the tools for fine. Fine wasn’t a place cartographers had mapped, and I spent much of my adult life with the burden of my grief and sadness, bearing the weight of it. Alone.

Until a few years ago when after my beloved Sophie passed away and I’d left a job that was slowly killing me, and life was dark and uncertain. After seven years of clarity, I drank. A lot. And over the course of two months I’d begun to realize how this relapse was markedly different than all the ones that had become before because I had time. I had the weight of seven years of living a nearly-present life and I finally understand what was at stake, what I could lose. This time was different because I had the gift (or burden) of awareness, and in the midst of all the drinking I knew in my heart this wasn’t right, I had to stop but I couldn’t stop, and I called a friend shaking and said, Angie, can you help me?

Before that morning, that moment, I can’t tell you the last time I said those words out loud.

My friend didn’t flinch or hesitate. She dropped her kids off at school, drove to my home and got me out of the house. We drove around Brooklyn and talked all day, and over the next few weeks she made me adopt Felix. She saved my life. And I knew how busy she was–she had a full-time job as an executive and took care of a husband and two children–but she made time, and that time is something for which I’m forever thankful. Even after a year and seven months of not drinking, when I see her I sometimes remind her that she saved my life.

A few weeks ago I went through another period of darkness. I can’t describe these dark times other than to say that they’re like a storm that’s ferocious and brutal, yet passes swiftly. For a brief time the whole of my world was shrouded in grey and I had a hard time finding my way out, back into the light. Out of habit, I withdrew from friends, receded. Some of them asked what was wrong and in pained replies I said nothing. I said I was fine. But everyone was so goddamn busy, so consumed by the goings-on in their life, to notice the signs. I had become angry over the fact that the people closest to me knew something was wrong and apart from a perfunctory how are you and the answer they knew I’d give, they resumed their state of busy. In some cases, I actually told a few friends what was going on, asked if I could see them, and getting a date on their calendar rivaled admittance into the Pentagon.

Are you fucking kidding me with this, I thought.

It took a status update on Facebook (I’d pared down my friend list to those whom I know and love “in real life”) to remind my closest friends that I am someone who always goes above and beyond, who drops everything and inconveniences herself. Someone who ignores busy, who makes time for her friends when they need her. And wouldn’t it be nice for you to reciprocate? Do I always have to usher in the dramatics and a cry for help for you to make time? Must my needs always be so extreme for you to make time?

Suddenly, everyone magically had time. It no longer takes a gentle prodding to ask for someone’s time or help–it takes an enraged status update on a semi-public social media channel. I don’t begrudge my friends this because they are wonderful, devoted and kind, however, I do worry about the busyness that consumes them. Where mourning the loss of time has become common, a constant bewildered state.

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For a period of nearly four years, I was busy. I missed weddings, baby showers, important moments in friends’ lives–I missed everything. And for what? A title? A six-figure salary? The promise of ownership in a company that I’d become wedded to? Stress and busy wore me down, made me sick, exhausted, and tired, and it took a breakdown and a long conversation with my beloved mentor to convince me to resign. To take my life back because my mentor once told me that when I’m on my deathbed will I have regretted that email I didn’t send, the meeting I didn’t attend or the presentation that could have been tweaked? No, I’ll regret all the weddings and moments in my friends’ lives that I’d missed. I’d regret all the time that I’d squandered, all the people I’d abandoned. It’s been two years since I left that life behind and it’s taken me nearly that long to truly understand the cult of busy and how it can invariably ruin.

I read a lot of articles about the disease that is stress and being busy. As someone who once sent rapidfire emails at six in the morning, I’ve since learned that no one likes to wake to a flood of obligations in their inbox before they have time to wipe the sleep from their eyes. The amount of hours in a day will never change, the to-do list will never be completed to our satisfaction, we can never have all of it because all is nebulous, grey, and holds a different meaning depending upon who holds the weight of its obligation, so why not take control of our time and how we spend it? Contrary to popular belief, busy is a decision we make.

We choose busy. We choose to assume this word as a badge of honor rather than a sickness. We use this word as a measure of endurance–how much of the world could one bear and are we stronger than someone else simply for the fact that we can hold our breath for one more second underwater? Are we better than someone else because we’ve become adept at near-drowning?

For the past two weeks I’ve been immersed in Brigid Schulte’s book on the business of busy, after having read this smart interview. Although it’s primarily targeted to parents, specifically mothers, on how they can find time and balance, much of the book is applicable to everyone that feels the weight of their calendar and to-do list on their shoulders. Schulte’s shares the affects of stress on our brain, that living in a constant state of anxiety actually shrinks our pre-frontal cortex (our intellectual center, arguably the most important part of our brain) and enlarges our anxiety/depression center, all the while shooting cortisol through our bodies. Stress and busy are inextricably bound, and the physical and mental damage it can do will put you on pause. I felt the bulk of what Schulte’s research ascribes–I felt sick, gained weight, no longer felt creative. For a time, exhaustion and anxious were bedfellows.

Much of the book goes to places Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (a book I onced admired, now I question) failed to go. Schulte not only detangles the societal and social mores around women, feminism, work and what it means to be a capable parent in today’s society, she also examines (in stark comparison to other countries) how our society fails to support the family unit. And while I’m not a parent or have any plans to have children, this doesn’t mean I should be blind to how our system fails mothers and fathers–people I know and love–nor does it mean that the impact on the family wouldn’t have any adverse affect on women, particularly single women. We don’t live our lives in silo, and much of the success in other countries as it relates to the ability for people to have leisure time, to not be so tethered to their devices, has to do with a communal mindset. Taking care of yourself while keeping an eye out for your community.

Without time to reflect, to live fully present in the moment and face what is transcendent about our lives. [Leisure researcher] Ben Hunnicut says, we are doomed to live in a purposeless and banal busyness. “Then we starve the capacity we have to love,” he said. “It creates this ‘unquiet heart,’ as Saint Augustine said, that is ever desperate for fulfillment.” –Overwhelmed

Schulte also deconstructs our insatiable appetite for competition that essentially goes nowhere. We are, at best, productive for nearly six hours a day. And that’s it. At one point our overwork becomes a state of diminished returns and we start to make mistakes we wouldn’t normally make and spend (or waste) time in cleanup mode. While we’re one of the top productive nations, we’re productive when it comes to output, however, we fail at the time it takes to get to the output in comparison to other nations. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of spending time relaxing. We see leisure time as wasteful if it’s not productive (working out, organizing our closets, etc). We don’t understand the art of play and how stretches of time spent doing nothing can actually bring forth our best ideas, our greatest work.

Over the past two years I’ve been privileged in the sense that lots of companies want to hire me. They tell me about an impressive salary and benefits package, about the days of vacation I’ll be promised. The travel! The exposure! In response, I type the same two questions and wait for a response:

1. How many hours do people normally spend working and is flexible time (real flexible scheduling) empowered from the top?
2. Tell me about the hobbies or passions of two of your junior employees

Radio silence.

I made a pile of money (don’t know where that went), I had the exposure and travel and look where it got me: sick, exhausted, burnt-out. I make half as much money as I once did yet I’m richer in every sense of the word. I’ve shown a current client that in three days I can do the work of five because I’m focused. I’ve done some of the best branding and organizational design work for clients than I’ve ever done. I’ve written some of my best work since I’ve resigned from my job. I’ve traveled, discovered new foods, tastes and interests, and I’m present. Fully present for those who need me.

Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo. Second image, text is my own.

finding joy

on being assertive: tips + advice from two top agency executives

Working Desk

For most of my career my mentors and sponsors have been men. In 1997, I entered the workplace in an age where women were just starting to experience the taste of leadership, when they were told by various books and handsomely-paid speakers that they could “have it all” if they were ambitious enough. We had finally recovered from the cruel sartorial joke that were shoulder pads, yet most women still wore tights and sneakers on the subway. Having studied business with both men and women, have interned at some of the most prestigious investment banks alongside men, I didn’t yet understand that there was an invisible line between men and women. In the age of Bill Clinton and this burgeoning phenomenon called the Internet (we had one Internet terminal at Chase when I started and nearly all of us used Lotus Notes for email), I walked into the workplace blind. It was only when I noticed that I was one of few women in banking, it was only when I noticed the ascension of men to higher ranks with ease while women had to constantly prove their worth did I recognize that the divide, although in start contrast to years past, still existed.

It existed when I was #3 in an agency and I noticed that my aggressive, ambitious behavior was admonished while the same behavior from my male counterparts was praised and fostered. I felt that it was not only important that I be admired, but as a woman I must be liked; I must play nice. I must be the caretaker and nurturer while my male counterparts weren’t expected to assume the role of mother in the workplace. I must be assertive, but not too assertive, and after a while I started to get really frustrated.

Really frustrated.

That’s when I encountered my first extraordinary mentor, Anne Bologna. Anne is a bucket of awesome. She’s smart, passionate, assertive–all the things I want to be as a leader, but she doesn’t compromise. She refuses to play into a gendered role, and has given me confidence in my voice, my role, and more importantly, how to speak up for what I want and deserve. She was responsible for getting me involved with StraightUp, an informal organization that focuses on fostering women execs in the agency world. While I’m no longer interested in being part of the agency structure, the network and the advice are invaluable.

I’m really thrilled to share some tips and advice from a recent StraightUp discussion with Sarah Thompson (Global CEO of Droga5) + Emma Cookson (until recently Chairman of BBH New York). I was unable to make the event because I was stuck in a Miami airport, cursing out American Airlines (never again, people. NEVER AGAIN WITH THIS AIRLINE), but they were kind enough to share the notes from the meeting and they gave me permission to reprint them for you guys. Enjoy!

1. Being Assertive One-on-One (e.g. Negotiating a Raise/Promotion)

  • THINK OUTCOMES. Always decide beforehand what you want the outcome(s) to be. You’ll seem less in control if you go into a negotiation without that clarity, or if you go in thinking “I’ll see what (s)he suggests/offers after we’ve discussed everything”
  • SPELL IT OUT. Don’t assume they remember your track record or your merits. No one has time to care as much about you as you do. Remind them. Doing so is just confident and efficient. And it doesn’t have to come across as arrogant (make sure it doesn’t–you don’t need to be a d*!k) e.g. “When I look back over the last 6 months, what I feel most proud of is X, Y, Z”. “When we last talked you encouraged me to do X, Y, Z – which was really useful perspective and helped me achieve X, Y, Z”
  • GET THEM TO TALK FIRST. Typically, by asking questions upfront–even if just something like, “Before we start, can I be clear about what would you like to get out of this meeting?”/”How do you prefer to handle this sort of meeting”? etc. It is much easier to navigate a negotiation if you know the other person’s ingoing views and assumptions, and the tone they are going to adopt. So try to resist responding to questions that ask you to commit to your views before hearing a bit from the person you’re negotiating with PREP SOUNDBITES BUT NOT A SCRIPT. Have the (few – 5 or 6 ish) key points you want to make planned out in advance. In soundbites–so they are memorable and super-clear. Ready to use. It helps you feel relaxed and ready, and prevents you forgetting to cover a key point. But *don’t* plan a ‘speech’: if what you say is scripted, it will sound scripted–and sounding scripted sounds vulnerable.
  • PLANT SEEDS. Talk way ahead (months, years!) about your future ambitions–“one day I want to be head of dept”–so a path is carved out. A request is much easier to say yes to if it doesn’t come out of the blue. And a promotion/raise is much easier to give if you’ve known for months and years that the person seeking it is clearly ambitious.
  • 2. Being Assertive In Meetings

  • START SENTENCES RIGHT. Don’t start sentences with “I think”, just make the point. Same thing with ‘Do you think that….?”. And definitely avoid, “This might be stupid but…”: we all do it, but it means you’re immediately selling short what you’re about to say and making people question your self-confidence and competence. Really: it feels comfortable but it isn’t effective.
  • SPEAK EARLY. Try to find something to say early in a meeting–even if casual/trivial. Just hearing your voice aloud will make you feel more comfortable and will transmit that you are at ease/assured. And the longer you wait to say something, the more pressure that’s put on what you actually say eventually to feel impressive. REMEMBER YOUR CONTRIBUTION DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO BE BRILLIANT OR NEW IN ORDER TO IMPRESS. You can also confirm and/or question. e.g. Say out loud that you think what X just said was exactly right, for X reason. Or ask for something to be clarified. (Come to the meeting with questions prepared.)
  • PREPARE TO BE DIRECT IF OTHERS ARE AGGRESSIVE/DOMINEERING. Prepare specific phrases to deal with times when others are talking over you or taking over. And practise saying them out loud in advance so you know they’ll feel comfortable coming out of your mouth, e.g. “I don’t think this is a productive conversation.” Or “I haven’t finished ….”. Or, “Yes, I already said that.” IF NECESSARY, LET IT GO TO SHIT. If a meeting (or indeed a bigger situation) is just totally messy, rambling and/or out of control, don’t automatically jump in to try to help. Sometimes it’s better to let it go to shit. Don’t get involved if doing so risks you getting positioned as part of the mess/confusion. Stay quiet and aloof. Then intervene right at the end–or afterwards–with a concise observation and clear proposal to get to the right outcome. IF YOU ARE PRESENTING, TRY HAVING YOUR FIRST 2-3 SENTENCES MEMORIZED VERBATIM. That way, even if you are so nervous you lose all confidence and clarity when it gets to your section, you will still start off ok. And as soon as you hear yourself sounding OK–even just for a sentence or two–it will calm you and help you get into your stride
  • 3. Being Assertive Generally, Day-to-day:

  • BE YOURSELF. Although easy to say, hard to do–this one is vital. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. It just doesn’t work: you can always tell if someone is ‘adopting’ a style consciously–‘trying to be assertive’–and it just comes across as uncomfortable and unconfident, so it undermines your credibility. You can assert yourself in so many different successful ways, find your own: feisty and pushy? cool and unrufflable (often done successfully via strategic use of staying silent)? nonchalant and genial? You have to find your own personal style for being assertive/assured and it may not be at all aggressive.
  • DON’T CRY WOLF. In general, try to stay on even keel in your daily work so that when you really need to make a point/make something to happen, you can get loud and/or stroppy and it will be meaningful.
  • PRAISE YOUR TEAM. Publicly celebrating your team’s achievements (e.g. via an email to senior management) reflects well on you as well as them. It demonstrates personal confidence/leadership. And it is just the right thing to do….(In similar vein, a great way to be assertive in a meeting is to spot some other person who’s clearly trying to make a point but not getting heard – and make space for them: “I think Karen has something she’s been trying to say – Karen, what was it you wanted to add?”)
  • BE DISARMINGLY HONEST. This doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes if you’re nervous or stressed it can help to just own it and be honest. There is a confidence in being able to admit your vulnerabilities without fear, no-one’s perfect, e.g. “I must admit I’ve been very apprehensive about this meeting…”, “As you can probably tell, I’m finding this situation very stressful…”
  • Photo Credits: First image via; Second image: Death to the Stock Photo.

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    flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

    flourless peanut butter cookies
    I know, you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same. So why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it. There is so much to admire, to weep over. And to write music or poems about…Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? Let me be as urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats, so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime. –From Mary Oliver’s “Blue Horses” (via)

    I’ve fallen in love with children’s books. Milk smeared above the lip, crumbly cookies by the bedside, a hand gliding across a page, and a small voice inquiring, and then what? We all want the promise of a beautiful life, a kingdom unfurling at our feet, and as children we architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

    I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember but I recall few children’s books in my hands. There were no Seuss or cats staggering out of hats, rather I moved quickly to books without pictures. I remember wondering what if blue wasn’t the color of the sky? What if the kingdom we were promised ended up underwater? Possibly I got started too quickly, moved from wonder to skepticism; I was impatient and hungry and didn’t believe in magic. I only knew of a world where magic was at the bottom of a vial and money was the church in which we all worshipped.

    Lately I feel as if I’m living in reverse. I ache for permanence and firsts, but at the same time I want to crawl my way back to the wonder. Today I was supposed to see my pop and I made it all the way to the train station to then realize I left my wallet at home. By then I missed my train and spent the better part of an hour on the phone with my pop talking about moving to California because New York no longer feels like home. He’s solemn because we’re so close and the thought of thousands of miles between us is unfathomable. Then he tells me he wants nothing more than my happiness. Go, run! he says. And I laugh at the irony of the joke because after a grueling double-hip replacement surgery he’s able to run for the first time in nearly four years. I tell him that I can’t wait to come home next weekend just to see you run.

    And then in a few months time he’ll see me make my own passage. We talk about home a lot because I call my apartment home, his apartment home, and I tell him that the word home lacks permanence for me, that for years it was simply four walls and a door and a place where my mail had been forwarded. I realize that home is more than a place, it’s a feeling. Some of my closest friends are home to me. Liz, you’re home to me, even if you live so far away. Angie, you’re home to me, even if it takes you forever to text me back. Pop, you’re home to me, even though we bicker like old people.

    I tell him about this book I ordered. It’s a children’s book, “an imaginative taxonomy of houses and a celebration of the wildly different kinds of people who call them home.” A this is where we live, this is where we make our house.

    This is where we love. This is where we lay down our head to rest.

    I tell my pop that I’ve had a tough few months but I think this is part of the journey out of the dark into light. I think of Dante, of a post I wrote last year asking a pile of questions about my life:

    In the midway of this our mortal life,/I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,/It were no easy task, how savage wild/That forest, how robust and rough its growth,/Which to remember only, my dismay/Renews, in bitterness not far from death. ― Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

    My pop listens, his voice cuts in and out because I have AT&T, and he acknowledges that this is a rough time but, (he chuckles) isn’t life sometimes tough or always tough? Don’t we always make it out all right? Don’t we always, he says.

    I come home and watch this exquisite illustrated interview with the great illustrator and children’s book author, Maurice Sendak. I’m in love with this world, he cries out. His only lament is seeing his friends pass before him. He pantomimes live your life, live your life, live your life. I play the video over and over and I incant those words as if they were prayer, and I think about Jane Goodall, 81, dancing, living her finest life in the blue years, and I see their wonder. I see it completely. I see it beautifully. I see it quietly. And I can’t wait to break ranks, to join them in this journey in being so in love with this one life.

    INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Nicholas Strand’s (The Peanut Butter Boy) recipe in Go Gluten Free (Spring 2015)
    1 jar (16oz) of creamy peanut butter
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp sea salt
    2 large eggs
    3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, baking powder and salt until combined and the peanut butter has a “whipped” quality to it. Add the egg and mix until completely combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

    Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (this recipe makes 48, but I got half that since I like my cookies quite big–but go with what works for you) and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. With the tines of your fork, press down gently to make an indentation and then press in the opposite direction. Don’t worry, the cookies won’t spread as you bake so you can crowd to your heart’s content. We’re not playing the flour game.

    Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t underbake because the cookies won’t hold their shape, and don’t overbake or they’ll burn on the bottoms.

    Cool on a rack for an hour before devouring. Namaste.

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    creamy avocado pasta + a healthy living update

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    I’m going to say something that’s rather shocking: I’m no longer in love with pasta. In fact, I’m glad we’ve been on a mini-break. I realize saying that is antithetical to sharing this recipe with you, but bear with me.

    I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life in a rapturous relationship with the noodle. If you count the number of recipes on this space over the years (and I have), pasta will far exceed any dish. I’ve made every kind of pesto imaginable; I was the McGyver of spaghetti–you give me a noodle and I’ll find a new way to cook it. I consumed pasta every day, sometimes twice a day (shudders), and when I first met my nutritionist and she asked me about my non-negotiables, what would be the one food I could not live without out, without hesitation I wrote: pasta. My doctor, after reviewing the startling results of a routine blood work, expressed concern about my insulin levels. What are you eating, he asked? Describe a typical day. To which I responded, oatmeal, kale smoothie, or bagel for breakfast, pasta for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner, a light went off and I imagine he could picture all those refined carbohydrates turning into sugar.

    It’s been eight months since I started on this journey to living a mindful life, where I’ve abstained from gluten and dairy (and, for a time, a laundry list of other, unrelated foods), and really thought not only about the food I was consuming over the course of day, but also the composition of food on my plate. Setting the weight loss aside (which wasn’t the primary reason for seeking help, the impetus was related to the severe abdominal pain I’d been enduring for over a year, in addition to a host of other ailments), the journey has been both a difficult and auspicious one, and with a diet primarily comprised of vegetables, legumes, gluten-free grains, lean proteins, and good fats, keeping up my pasta addiction was impossible.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’ve found other cruel substitutes (the potato is quite extraordinary as is dark chocolate)–but I’ve gone weeks at a time without even having a gluten-free variation. Because although the new forms of gf pasta are pretty tasty, the best kinds are made with rice and corn, which are not necessarily rock stars in the nutrition department. Often, I’m left unsatiated, and I find myself eating nuts to quell my hunger. I never really noticed this before–the hit that eating a pesto pasta can give you, that momentary feeling of euphoria, before the crash and the desire to eat again all too soon.

    In the past month I’ve had small portions of cheese (in Nicaragua), and without realizing, a small bit of gluten (whole wheat flour in a mujadara I’ve been buying, the ingredients of which I only discovered yesterday), and while the flare-ups from this summer have abated I still feel off. I can’t explain it. Even with minor portions I feel bloated, tired and sluggish, and I’m remembering a conversation I had with my nutritionist when she explained that gluten and dairy, moving forward, should be considered treats, indulgences of which I can take part twice a month.

    That’s gluten OR dairy two times a month. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in.

    At first I was horrified because I always initially balk at change, but since I’ve had to go around the gluten and dairy business (and gluten-free substitutions for every dish kind of miss the point of being healthy and vegan cheese does not entice me in the least) I’ve discovered so many other foods and flavors that have rocked the casbah.

    I’m not even going to talk about the plantain and bean game in Nicaragua without weeping into tissues.

    Over the past eight months I’ve had the joy of reintroducing the AVOCADO back into my life. You guys don’t even understand. For nearly 15 years I couldn’t eat avocados because I spent a summer overdosing on them and, as a result, developed a severe allergic reaction whenever I consumed them (similar to how I used to feel eating copious amounts of gluten). This year I slowly incorporated them back into my life, and aside from the glory that is the GUACAMOLE, I’ve been surprised how often I use avocado as a creaming agent. I’ll throw 1/3 of an avocado in my morning smoothie to thicken it. I’ve made a chocolate mousse; that is so strong you won’t even miss the milk. I’ve added it to soups (squash and tomato are favorites) just as I’m about to blitz the mixture in the blender (a nice alternative to cashew cream and you’ll barely taste the avocado, yet reap all of its nutritional benefits), and yesterday I blitzed up a creamy basil pesto.

    My god this was GOOD.

    I added in twice as much basil from the original recipe and the juice of a whole lemon, which really made this sauce sing. The noodles have a light coating of cream and they’re absolute silk when you stir in some of the reserve pasta water.

    And while I LOVED this dish, I was a little hungry (not as ravenous because I had some good fat from the sauce, but still) a couple hours later and hoovered some nuts before I went to bed. But still, this dish is a lovely indulgence without the weight of cream in your system.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook with slight modifications.
    9 ounces (255 g) uncooked pasta (use gluten-free, if desired)
    1 to 2 small cloves garlic, to taste
    1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
    Juice from a medium lemon
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
    1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) fine-grain sea salt
    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    Lemon zest, for serving

    DIRECTIONS
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

    While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse to mince.

    Add the lemon juice, oil, avocado flesh, and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add another 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Drain the pasta, setting aside 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and place it back in the pot. Add the avocado sauce (and reserve pasta water) and stir until combined. You can gently rewarm the pasta if it has cooled slightly, or simply serve it at room temperature.

    Top with lemon zest, pepper, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.

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    climbing out of the dark + living the questions

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    Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms, or books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. –Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” (via)

    I’ve been having a dark time. Even as I type that I laugh because it’s silly to think that time is something you can hold in your hands; that it’s something you’re able to possess, own. I’ve been thinking about time a lot–I suppose this is the sort of thing one does when they’ve reached the midway point in their life. We think about the moment and all the ones that eclipsed it, and we wonder not about what we’ve gained, but rather what it is we’ve lost. Time takes it all, it’s true, but I wonder if it’s possible that it seized more because I feel like the decision I made to join, and subsequently become part owner of an agency, veered me radically off course. While I know that the woman who sits here typing this is changed, is resolute and centered, I mourn the before. The woman who had so much velocity, wonder and ambition. The woman who launched a dot.com luxury resale business when none existed simply because she was told that there would be no other kind of work than the kind she’d been doing. Banking and the like–creating nothing, owning nothing–merely a chess player of paper. The woman who published a literary journal because she never quite fit in with the smart set who hailed from learned homes and prestigious east coast schools (even though she attended two of them)–the set who mainly published their own. She created this online home, this book of paper, because she wanted to surround herself with misfits, the people who didn’t get internships at The New Yorker, the people who didn’t have ICM agents by the time they were 25. The woman who nearly launched a nonprofit to help disadvantaged women in Brooklyn because she wanted to give back. The woman who wrote and published a book. The woman who…

    You have to understand that sometimes I need third person. So bear with me.

    The difference between youth and maturity, Andrew Solomon writes in an award speech, is patience. We’re hungry when we’re young, ravenous even–we wanted things to have happened yesterday, whereas the mature has slowed down a bit, is content with the right now; they plan for what’s to come. Solomon writes:

    Youth is notoriously impatient, even though there is no need for impatience early on, when people have the time to be patient. In middle age, the wisdom of patience seems more straightforward, but there aren’t so many days left. But Rilke is correct that we must all write as though eternity lay before us. Enjoy the flexibility that span of eternity offers. The discourse between the young and the nostalgic retains some of its inherent poetry in the form of a longing intimacy. The freshness of younger people awakens memories in older ones—because though you, young writers, are yourselves at the brink of your own future, you evoke the past for those who came before you.

    I think about the woman who kept moving and the woman who has been put on pause, and I wonder about reconciling the two. Because right now I feel stuck in the in-betweens. I don’t have the speed I once possessed, but part of me doesn’t want all of it, just a little of it. I think about children, how, for a time, everything is a first. There is no sense of risk or loss–they are reckless, they weave down streets like spools of thread let loose upon the pavement, while adults walk a fixed line. We sometimes get frustrated when we have to walk around children because they’ve deviated off course. Or perhaps we’re just a little too fixed in our purpose; maybe we’ve drawn a line that’s too rigid.

    Solomon writes: As you ripen, you’ll notice that time is the weirdest thing in the world, that these surprises are relentless, and that getting older is not a stroll but an ambush.

    I feel ambushed, confused. I was on a clear course, a road that lie ahead of me, and now I’m all over the place. Nearly 40, I’m rootless, directionless. I read a post about an itinerant writer who’s fond of books. Frankie doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of the New York literary success story (and trust me, I’m paying Frankie the greatest of compliments writing this) but she writes and writes and doesn’t care if it’s published in the way we’ve traditionally conceived of publishing. She must know that others exist, others who publish with Knopf, those who are celebrated by a small circle of like-minded people who believe that there are so many small dark books getting published because they’re the representative sample! Their small, dark books are getting published! Yet, they fail to see the world at scale because it’s blissful to be amongst the familiar.

    I’m sure Frankie knows all of this, yet she doesn’t seem to care. And I admire her that–her lack of ego, her volition to write simply to create. Because, frankly, I do feel bruised. I wrote an extraordinary book, one whose prose and themes far surpass those of my first book, and while so many editors penned long paragraphs remarking on my skill, poise and prowess, my novel’s just too risky, too small, too difficult. Too many unrelatable characters (because, you know, great literature is filled with relatable people. /sarcasm). And this hurt for a time, especially when I’m surrounded by so many wonderful writers succeeding. While I want nothing more than their success, it doesn’t take the sting out of my rejection. I was almost willing to give up until my agent wrote me this extraordinary note telling me that no way in hell are we giving up on this book. That I should never judge my talent and worth by whether or not some editor chooses to publish what I write. The two, he’s often told me, are mutually exclusive.

    That we can create something new beyond traditional publishing. That there’s a way to share my work in the world. Because fuck Knopf. Fuck the smart set. Part of me needs to reach back to that woman who didn’t care about any of it and created anyway.

    I also thought about my career and part of me feels stalled because I haven’t yet undone 20 years of believing that one had to work a certain way. I admire millennials, I do, because they have this arcane way of seeing the world, rejecting it, and building anew. They shirked traditional office environment and launched start-ups and collaboratives. They redefined work while my generation scrambled to throw glitter on shit office environments and label what they’ve done as innovative. Millennials said fuck you and your definition of success. We’ll define it for ourselves, thank you very much. We have a watch; we know what time it is.

    I read an article today about the importance of playing small. Tad writes,

    Who’s to say that those reaching hundreds of thousands will have a bigger impact than those who only ever reach 100 but very deeply? No one. That’s who. Niching, the finding of our role in the community, will always and forever be the dance between width and depth. And they’re both equal and needed. We need people working broad and shallow. And we need people working narrow and deep. And everywhere in between. The only question worthy of being asked is, ‘What is it that you see missing that you want to give? And how do you want to give it?’ That’s it. There’s no right answer. And then how do you make it financially sustainable?

    For so long I’ve espoused this minimal life, owning only what you need and love, and never did I consider that ideology could flow into my creative and professional life. We’re taught to produce, to produce, to produce more, faster, better, smarter, and it just occurred to me that I actually don’t want a big life. I nearly had an anxiety attack when 30,000 people came to my site in a span of a few days. I can count on my two hands the number of close people in my life. I only survived hosting readings and attending fancy book parties because I was drunk 75% of the time. While I was a partner in an agency responsible for client acquisition, I often brought a hungry and savvy coworker who was all too happy to work the room on my behalf.

    It occurs to me that I’m not built for a big life so why do I think I need it? Why do I think I need the book deal, the big job, the everything?

    I don’t. I just realized that today and, after a few months of subsisting on my own sadness, did I finally see a small flicker of light. A flame, really, but light nonetheless.

    My friends have been telling me that I’m going to be all right. Out of everyone they know, I’m the one they never have to worry about. I guess that’s flattering, but I’m not sure I believe that I have this strange ability to always know when to flee a house just as it sparks, glows aflame. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m moving and I’m exhilarated and terrified, and I really wish people would stop asking me questions and insist I perform only the excited dance. What I do know is that I live to write and I have to keep doing it regardless if it finds a traditional home. What I do know is that parts of my life were big and I fled it with abandon, in favor of the small, and now I want something that lingers in between.

    We’ll see.

    Note: I’ve removed comments from this post because this is one of the hardest I’ve written and I need to get it out without advice, or people remarking that this goddess bowl looks delicious or the photography is pretty or that I’m going to make it. While I do love and respect all of that, right now I need quiet. I need to sort out my thoughts and find my way back to the light, and I need to do that without the sound of anyone’s voice or words written below this post. I hope you understand.

    INGREDIENTS: Protein Power Goddess Bowl recipe from the Oh She Glows Cookbook, with minor modifications
    For the dressing
    1/4 cup tahini
    2 garlic cloves minced.
    1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
    1/4 cup nutritional yeast or a bit more, to taste (I nixed this)
    2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, to taste
    1 tsp kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

    For the protein bowl
    1/2 cup black beluga lentils
    1/2 cup green lentils
    1 15oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, for sautéing
    1 small shallot, minced
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 red bell pepper, chopped
    1 large yellow tomato, chopped
    3 cups lacinato kale, roughly chopped
    1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
    kosher salt + black pepper, to taste

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    DIRECTIONS
    For the tahini dressing: Add all of the ingredients to a food processor (or blender). Blitz and set aside.

    For the protein bowl: Cook lentils according to package directions. Typically, lentils are 3:1, so I add 3 cups of water for every cup of lentils. After 25 minutes of simmering, I drained the lentils and set aside.

    In a large skillet over low-medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. Turn the heat up to medium and add in the chopped red pepper and tomato and sauté for another 7-8 minutes, or until all of the water evaporates from the tomatoes. The last thing anyone wants is a watery protein bowl. No bueno.

    Stir in the chopped kale and sauté for another few minutes, just until tender. Stir in the full batch of tahini-Lemon dressing, the cooked & drained grains and lentils, the chickpeas, and simmer on low for another few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the minced parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with lemon wedges and zest. Makes 6 cups.

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    how not to be a terrible manager (pt 2)

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    Let me tell you a story. There was a time, years ago, when I allowed stress to consume the whole of my life. I’d collapse, face first, into bed and wake the following morning to the same tedium, the same anxieties that had managed to bloom overnight. Although I do my best thinking early in the morning, I found myself staying up into the gloaming, drafting presentations and sending hundreds of emails. Come morning, I subsisted on multiple cups of coffee as I proceeded to send more emails, fine tune drafts, funnel requests and the whole time I hadn’t realized that I was driving my team bonkers. Over a period of a few months I watched perfectly normal, exceptionally bright women worn down by work. I watched as they stared at screens (multiple phones, desktops, laptops), and the rare moments they did glance away, I noticed a hollowness in their eyes. It took me a long time to realize that this all wrong–there’s a difference between working hard and paying one’s dues versus wearing people into the ground. People in their 20s, scratch that, no one should be forced to work this way. It took me an even longer time to understand that I was partly to blame. I earned the respect of 20+ direct reports and they assumed that the pace I’d kept was normal, that it was necessary to accelerate, succeed. And for a while, they might have been right–I gained clients, grew revenue, made partner–but at a cost of diminishing returns. There’s a fixed amount of time during the day and a fixed amount of energy we all carry, and at one point we’re just going to run on empty. We’re not machines–at one point, even the boldest of lights will flicker and flare out.

    Towards the end of my tenure, leading an agency of 150+ people, I couldn’t think straight. I no longer had creative ideas, instead I found ingenious ways to recycle and regurgitate mediocrity. Soon I started to see that the once bright shining lights followed suit or simply left for other departments, other jobs. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a manager, and subsequently as a leader, is that people, regardless of whether they’re conscious of it, will model their behavior off of you.

    6. Set an example. Your team models behavior off of you, so act right. I used to laugh during celebrity interviews. Picture the scenario if you will: celebrity gains massive fame during his/her childhood. They sing all the catchy songs, they deconstruct fashion trends, and their missteps are cute gaffs. Inevitably, these children grew into teenagers into adults and they’re desperate to shed their innocence as if it were an outdated piece of clothing they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. They wear less, and their gaffs become trending topics. They give interviews where they snap, saying they’re people just living their lives, that they never asked for the job of role model. While this may be true, while some may shirk the burden of having to shape the lives of strangers, the fact remains that when people admire you they see you as a role model. They’ll emulate you–they way you move and speak. You are who they follow.

    And the workplace is no exception. Whether you manage one intern or a team of 40, realize that most people will take cues from you. You’re constantly under surveillance whether you like it or not. They’ll observe how you interact not only with other team members, but with your boss. They’ll watch you speak to clients and manage conflict, and they’ll try to figure out ways to put their spin on what they see. It’s inevitable, and it’s a behavior that stems from childhood, our parents being our first models. As I’ve stated previously, managing others is probably the hardest part of your job. And it starts with managing yourself. From HBR’s “Are You a Good Boss–or a Great One?”:

    Management begins with you, because who you are as a person, what you think and feel, the beliefs and values that drive your actions, and especially how you connect with others all matter to the people you must influence. Every day those people examine every interaction with you, your every word and deed, to uncover your intentions. They ask themselves, “Can I trust this person?” How hard they work, their level of personal commitment, their willingness to accept your influence, will depend in large part on the qualities they see in you.

    Be the manager that you want your team members to admire, emulate and make their own. Listen and observe and take feedback on your style and effectiveness. Every quarter, I did an informal, honest assessment of my efficacy as a manager. I asked myself:

    a. Is my team helping me meet revenue and margin targets? How they are they doing this? At what cost? How could I make the path to our goals easier, more effective? Am I inviting their feedback? Am I acting on it?

    b. Do they seem fulfilled in their work? Am I checking in with them frequently, asking about their workload and bandwidth? If they’re struggling, am I giving them the tools they need to be successful? Are they referring employees (the best sign that people like where they work)? Do they have a life outside of work and do they talk about it? One of the most powerful job interview questions my friend Ellen mentioned to me over lunch was this: Tell me about your employees hobbies? Because if a manager doesn’t know if/how their team is enjoying their life, that’s a problem.

    c. Am I starting to see trends in aggregate? Are they working longer hours? Are they snapping at people in meetings? Then observe how I’ve managed myself in the same time frame? Luckily, I had a mentor who would give me feedback EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. about my management style. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized that his guidance was a gift–he was taking time out of his schedule to make me a better manager, build me into a capable leader, and now, in retrospect, I’m grateful for all the times he pulled me into his office to tell me how I could have handled a situation differently (translation: better).

    Perform this assessment and invite 360 feedback (formally or anonymously), and show that you respect their feedback and a plan for how you’ll be more effective in your role based on the feedback that is appropriate for you.

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    Which leads me to my next point. We’re human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we’re tired; we have to deal with people who drain the life right out of our bodies, and we allow that stress to impact how we treat others. Sometimes we don’t act right. And that’s okay. As long as you ACKNOWLEDGE, LEARN, MODIFY.

    7. Knowing that managing up is just as critical as managing down. Sometimes you’re not acting right and you need to let your team know that, publicly. Be open to feedback and change.: I was once in a meeting with a direct report who had a habit of shutting down other team member’s contributions when she felt they were wrong. Let’s call her Sarah. I remember a rather timid team member (let’s call her Cathy) who offered an opinion on a topic (I was so glad Cathy finally spoke up! my mentorship was working!), and then her contribution was cut short by Sarah, who didn’t have a problem letting her know that she was wrong. I was livid. In response, I used my authority to shoot down Sarah and the whole team fell silent. In the moment, I realized what I was doing was wrong and I suspect the team did as well.

    Within an hour, I approached Sarah in a conference room and apologized. She burst into tears and said that my lashing out was not okay, and I acknowledged and agreed that it wasn’t. I proceeded to explain that Cathy probably felt the same way, having experienced, on a smaller scale, what Sarah just experienced. We all deserve to be heard and respected, even if we’re “wrong”. We learned that we need to act from a place of grace in how we treat others, as a reflection of how we wish to be treated.

    Later, I apologized to the team in a follow-up meeting. I pointed out that my lashing out at Sarah wasn’t okay–that wasn’t an appropriate way to deal with frustration. After the meeting, Sarah approached me and shared that she had apologized privately to Cathy. Going forward, both of us modified our behavior by allowing team members to contribute without interruption, and we framed our feedback as a way to build upon, rather than erode, the contribution. That’s a terrific idea! Have you thought about how we can add X to Y?

    a. Acknowledge your misstep either through your own self-awareness, through performance reviews or on-the-spot feedback from your team (if you’ve built that trust). Don’t rush to get defensive, to erase the validity of someone else’s feelings. Acknowledge that what you’ve said or done has hurt, embarrassed, or bothered someone else.

    b. Learn how you could make the situation better. Sometimes it’s as simple as an apology or an invitation for how you could have handled the situation behavior.

    c. Modify your behavior as a result of the incident. Sometimes the biggest cliches ring the truest: actions speak louder than words. Show people that you are making an effort to change your behavior as a result of the incident. I should also say that apologizing or admitting fault IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. Rather, it means you’re human, fallible, and you care deeply enough about those around you to adapt to constructive feedback. Don’t whitewash and downplay incidents or get defensive, because I guarantee that one incident will build into bad behavior. And you know who loses? YOU and YOUR TEAM. So set down your ego and listen and learn from your mistakes.

    In the final installment of my management tips, I’ll address the following:
    8. Toeing the line. Be compassionate. Mentor, but don’t be a best friend or get wasted with your direct report.
    9. Managing conflict. How not to punch yourself in the face, or punch your team members.
    10. Profile right. How to make sure you understand how people work so you can manage them effectively.

    Have you read part one of my management tips?

    Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo

    peanut butter brownies (grain-free)

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    If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results. –Anne Dillard (via)

    A few days ago I met an old friend for coffee. Lauren’s been someone whom I deeply admire, and have been longing to see for a while. Seeing her feels like an exhalation–I can explain it, but I always feel calm in her presence. She’s soft-spoken, introverted and insanely creative. We met years ago when we were online marketing managers at HarperCollins, and we’ve kept in contact over the years–perhaps out of sheer curiosity about where we’d inevitably land. I remember our first lunch after years of not having seen one another, and I shared how much I loved photographing food, and she smiled and shared that she had started freelancing as a professional photographer. At first I felt embarrassed around her because she was the real deal while I was someone with an expensive camera taking pictures of the food I’d made, but she was so generous with her time that I soon grew eager to ask her questions. She advised me about shooting light, Lightroom techniques for balancing out distortion as a result of using my 16-35mm, and general tips about lenses (she shoots with a Nikon while I’ve a Canon).

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    This week, in passing, she mentioned that some of my recent photos have been good, really good, and that I should consider submitting them to a few sites for stock photography. At first I balked, I waved her away–who was I to submit photos alongside people who could pontificate for hours about bokeh and light? It’s weird even writing this alongside a post where the food shots are passable at best (brown is hard to beautify, especially when you’re dealing with gluten-free desserts, which are sometimes challenging as keeping the integrity of the sweet becomes a nearly impossible proposition, and food styling gives me massive vertigo because I think the food should always be the star of the show), but when I look at some of my images from Nicaragua (I really enjoyed shooting with a wide-angle lens, and I feel really proud of this photo), Thailand, Fiji, and India, I get excited. They’re not half-bad. They’re decent, even. I also think the buns from this post are pretty foxy.

    So I submitted a portfolio of about 30 photos for consideration to one of the cool stock sites, where I can make a few hundred a month (for grocery + transportation $, not bad!). To be honest, I’m expecting to be rejected (I’m not fishing. Seriously, I’m not), but it’s nice to take an element of what I love about this space and finding a way to make a little extra money from it. I even thought about redesigning the space so I can have a section for my photos (the travel shots are the ones of which I’m most proud, since the food photos are simply okay) in hopes that I might sell some prints.

    What do you guys think? Am I crazy? It’d be nice to hear your thoughts.

    Like I said, ignore the brownies (although they were downright delicious) as an example of my work.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
    4 tbsp chunky peanut butter
    125g dark chocolate
    100g vegan butter (7 tbsp)
    2 medium eggs
    125g coconut palm sugar
    75g almond flour (about 3/4 cup)
    1 tsp baking powder

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a small square baking tray (8×8) with parchment paper.

    Beat the peanut butter and maple syrup in a small bowl with a fork. Litter the tray with baby blobs. Set aside. In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter, and set aside.

    In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy (2-3 minutes). Beat in the almonds and baking powder. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture. Pour over the peanut butter mixture and even out with a spatula. Bake for approximately 18 minutes.

    Cool on a rack for an hour. You can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for a week.

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    cinnamon + cacao granola (paleo/gluten-free)

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    When I was in Nicaragua I fell asleep at nine and woke at five. It’s been my habit to wear ear plugs when I sleep since the slightest sound could wake me, however, in Nicaragua I was distracted by the fact that there were no sounds from which I could escape. I took a place in the mountains and all one could hear come nightfall were birds flittering through trees and nocturnal animals calling. In the morning were different birds, different animals but the same trees, and it felt as if the trees never resumed their former shape because of all the velocity, the shaking. It took me two days to become accustomed to the quiet and then I welcomed it. It felt natural to sleep and rise in concert with the dark and light, and since I’ve been back I’ve exhausted.

    I still sleep, yet there’s so much noise around me. I wear my ear plugs again to quiet the footfalls of men rushing up and down the stairs at all hours, the blare of horns and music as cars race down my street. At dawn I wake to shovels scraping the sidewalk and a host of other tools meant to break ice. I listen to music on my morning commute because everything is just too much, and I even shy away from friends who write that they are so! busy! because it’s as if I can hear the sounds of their disquiet, of rapid movement.

    I’m wondering if, like the trees, I’ll ever be able to resume my shape.

    People (friends, colleagues, acquaintances) have been asking the perfunctory questions related to a move: have I found a place in California (no, because I only decided less than a week ago that this would be the place to which I would move this year)? What about my health insurance (I’ll have to complete forms)? What about driving (I’ll figure that out when I get there)? What about money (don’t you think that I don’t think about money when I’m not thinking about money)? What about your apartment (I’m leaving, I’m leaving)? What about your book (don’t ask)? What about movers (making inquiries)? What about friends (working on it)?

    I’ve been back less than a week, having barely adjusted from moving to one environ to another, and I’m getting killed with questions.

    Lately I’ve found the act of multitasking hard, impossible even. I can no longer read and listen to music. I can no longer deal with programming a new phone and reviewing a quarterly analytics report. I’m finding that I work best when I focus on one task at a time, perform it to its measure, and then move on to the next. Right now I’m focused on making enough money to pay my taxes, dental surgeries (will marry for dental insurance!), and enough to get me settled for three months in California. Then I’ll worry about logistics. Then I’ll worry about everything else.

    Right now I’m gathering as much information as I can while letting a lot of my possessions go. Right now I need people to help me with information and work and take my things.

    Right now I need to hole up in my home and rest while I devour all of this chocolately granola.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe via The Whole Pantry app* (best $2.99 I’ve spent in months see note, below)
    2 cups coconut flakes
    ½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
    ½ cup poppy or sesame seeds (I used slivered almonds)
    ½ cup chia seeds
    1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
    ⅓ cup rice malt syrup, honey or coconut nectar
    ¼ cup melted coconut oil
    ½ tsp sea salt flakes
    2 tbsp vanilla extract
    2 tbsp cacao powder
    2 tsp ground cinnamon

    DIRECTIONS
    Preheat oven to 125°c / 255°F. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and use hands (or a spatula) to coat evenly. Line a tray with baking paper and spray lightly. Spread mixture evenly onto tray. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. At this point, you can add in additional dried fruit (I love dried cherries and ginger), and store in airtight container or glass jar for up to a week.

    *Note: As you guys know I’m pretty obsessive about researching products before I try them, but admittedly I got seduced by this app while in the Apple store waiting a month to get my iPhone6. I hadn’t learned about the apparent shadiness behind the app and its founder until a reader brought it to my attention a few days ago on Twitter, and a kind reader (thanks, Emi!) posted a comment today. I did some digging and I’m so unnerved (to put it mildly) that someone would lie about surviving cancer and defraud people out of thousands of dollars for her own financial gain. I want to apologize to you guys for not doing my due diligence, and I’m glad you’ve brought this to my attention. I’ll be extra vigilant, moving forward. As always, thank you! For more information about the story, click here and here.

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