On Being You. (What Hit Home at ALT)

As I was sharing my notes from the Altitude Design Summit with Kirk, I realized that there was one big idea being discussed again and again in different ways and by a variety of speakers: BE YOU.
I want to talk about 3 different ways the speakers approached that idea:

1) Find your niche 2) Do what you love. Delegate the rest. 3) Design your life.

In order to stand out in today's blogging world (or paper goods or graphic design or whatever it is that you do) you need to specialize. You need to find out what you are good at, what you are passionate about, what is truly "you" and go for it. This doesn't mean that you have to narrow your focus so tightly that you are decide you can only blog about "vintage owl salt and pepper shakers", for example. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But everything you do must be a part of your distinct vision.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project and a keynote speaker at Alt, told a great anecdote about this. Her whole life, she kept trying to listen to music. She tried classical, she tried jazz, she tried pop... but none of it seemed to be doing anything for her. Finally, she came to the realization that she just doesn't like music! Once she figured that out, she was able to let it go and focus on things she really does enjoy. (She's a big children's literature fan, for one.)
Realizations like this are sometimes a little sad, but they're empowering at the same time, don't you think? Rubin told us it doesn't matter what we wish is true about ourselves. It matters what is true and who we really are. For example, if you're a jewelry designer, but the current trend of incorporating triangles into your work isn't you, don't do it!
Jasmine Star, who was on the Building a Personal Brand panel, had a great little exercise to help you figure out and focus on who you really are. She said you just need to list 3 words. But there are a couple of rules to listing those words:
1) The words must focus on you, not your business.
2) The words must be who you are, not who you aspire to be.
What would your 3 words be?
I think that if we all spent enough time honing the skills and qualities that make each of us uniquely us, we would be surprised at how our creative projects, businesses, etc... would grow. There would be less copy-catting and more exciting ideas. Because each of us has a unique perspective.
So don't forget to find your niche, if you haven't already. And if you have, keep working on it.

Sarah of Sarah Jane Studios clearly stated this idea in the Work Life Balance panel. She said that in the beginning stages of a new venture, you won't have this luxury. But as soon as you are able, you should start hiring help. Sarah made this decision a year ago, and since then she told us she is making more money and spending more time doing what she loves. How wonderful is that?!

Tasks to delegate:
1) Your weaknesses (aka someone else's strengths)
2) Things you don't like doing
3) Stuff you simply don't have time for
For one person this might mean shipping and assembling, for another it may mean graphic design, marketing, and photography. You get the idea.
Not only that, but you should even get help a little before you think you can afford it. Sometimes by waiting too long, you are actually hindering your business. By freeing yourselves up to be creative and do what you do best, you can help your business evolve and grow more quickly and efficiently.
This brings me to the question I asked Ben Silberman (founder of Pinterest) after his keynote speech on Friday. A couple of years ago he personally emailed me back after I contacted Pinterest's customer service. At the time (and even now) I was struck by how deeply involved he was in every level of his company. But in reality, as a company grows, the founder won't be able to continue doing this type of thing. So I asked Ben how he is able to stay personally involved and maintain a high level of quality as his company evolves. He replied simply that he hires people who are better than him. "In fact," he said, "if I applied for a job today at Pinterest, I probably wouldn't hire myself." Ha! Such a humble guy. But he has a point. Building a wonderful team is just as important as building a product. Because in the long run, you won't have a great product without a great team. Which brings us back to the point:
Do what you love (and are best at) and delegate the rest.

Susan Petersen (from the Blog to Shop panel) articulated this sentiment so well in a beautiful little video about her over on Big Cartel. She says: "Get clear about the life you want... re-focus your priorities until you can see that life, and then run like hell at it." Amen, sister.
I've been rolling this idea around in my head, getting used to it. That's what we are all trying to do in our lives, but she stated it so simply and matter-of-factly. And why not?! So I've been envisioning what my perfect life is like. I'm not talking about some pie-in-the-sky kind of fantasy, but a wonderfully realistic version of my dream life. It's fun to think about, right? For me, it means spending quality time with my family and friends in beautiful surroundings, finding ways to show kindness and give back, and focusing my work life on the creative side of Sycamore Street Press.

What does it mean for you? 


And just to make sure that these words won't be quickly forgotten as soon as I click "publish", I promise to check back from time to time and give you a little progress report. I'd love it if you want to do the same!

Also check out my Stationery Business classes on atly.com.