A good kick in the butt

Quote on emptiness

Okay, okay. I was wrong. I need a portfolio, and here it is.

Admissions of error are easier swallowed with a donut.

Admissions of error are easier swallowed with a donut.

After writing an entire post about not needing a portfolio, I made one. It’s a bit sparse right now, but it will grow as things get pushed out over the next few months.

There you go, haters. Now I’m off to smell the rain that has gloriously touched down in California today, curl up with a cup of tea, and forget all of you.

(Except those of you who need a writer. I’ll listen to anything you say.)

On another note, I’m currently enamored with this artist. Suits the rain quite well, or a drive at night on a lonely road.

Why I blog about my failures

In my last post, I wrote about a time when I was viewed as a pathetic failure at work. I got an email (or two) telling me I shouldn’t do that. It makes you look inexperienced, they said. You look fallible.

A few days ago I traded emails with an executive coach. He wasn’t always an executive coach–first, he went through a divorce and the loss of both parents and a bankruptcy. All at once. When he got his head out of the water, he found that the experience had changed him. He felt less arrogant and more empathetic toward the struggles of others. Now, he says, his struggles help him to identify with the CEOs that he coaches on a daily basis. He helps them to learn to listen, be vulnerable and open.

Failures change us. If we allow ourselves to learn from them, we become wiser and stronger. The very scary truth for some people to hear is that I am fallible. Admitting that gives me strength: I don’t always have to be perfect. I don’t need to pretend that I am always successful simply because I am good, or paid by people to create cool things. I am still fundamentally human.

More and more in this world, great brands want an authentic voice–a human voice–writing their copy. Voices of failure and growth are real voices, and audiences identify with them. They are part of a universal story in which we learn from our failures and change how we do things. After my failure at my previous job, I made the decision to think long and hard about where I failed. I found at least one of the biggest reasons, and I’m taking steps to grow myself out of it.

The executive coach was interviewed for a magazine. He told them, “Humble leaders invariably are genuine, kind, open and vulnerable. They listen until they understand. Their honesty and optimism help build a team.”

I’m not the selfie-posting viral type whose big stories last for 15 minutes and disappear into the ether; I’m a quiet leader making real connections for brands to their audiences. Failures are part of my story, and that keeps me authentic. I can handle the fallout email.

I was asked to give a speech

I’ve struggled with something my entire life, and last week I told a room full of people about it in my first Toastmasters speech. 

My name is Jena Binderup and I am a copywriter, and I’m here because I have to be. A few months ago, I quit my job.

Let me explain.

I’m a writer. Sometimes people ask me how I became a writer, and it’s a very hard question to answer. I was born this way, Lady-Gaga style. I always kept a diary, I frequently got in trouble for writing too much, in fourth grade I wrote 5 chapters of a novel. Writing isn’t what I do; it’s who I am. I’m lucky because I’m good enough to get paid for my writing. I’ve won awards and been asked to speak places because of it.

But that’s not why I’m here.

This time last year, I was working as a copywriter in a corporate office. A woman—another writer, actually–began working in my department. She wasn’t a great writer, but she had fantastical skills in pitching herself and getting company leaders to love her. She was so good that I noticed something after a few months: she got credit for all of my ideas. How did she do that?

I thought about this for a long time. It worked like this:

I’d have an idea or a solution for a strategy, new project, or marketing piece. I’d bring it to her or my manager and it would get shot down immediately–then re-introduced by her a week or so later, to great applause. Meanwhile, every time something went wrong in the department, the woman found a way to blame it on me. She got promoted in six months because she sold herself constantly as an expert. But for me, it got to the point where my manager thought I was incompetent. After all, I never had any great ideas and I always made mistakes. I began to believe that I was on the verge of getting fired.

All the while, I was working as a freelancer on the side. One day, I got a big job from one of my freelance clients. It was big enough that it would take me a whole month to finish and it was going to pay me twice what I was making at my full time job. I called in sick the next day to work. I went to the park and stewed on what to do. The next day I walked into work and quit my job, effective immediately. My manager was angry, and it was the only time I’ve left a job on bad terms where they wouldn’t rehire me. But I don’t regret it.

Since then, my freelance career has taken off. My current clients love my work. However… while that was a toxic office environment, I still have the same problem. I see bad writing on billboards, marketing materials, pretty much everywhere. I know that I can do better. But when I pitch myself or my ideas to a client–especially one I really want–I talk too fast and too much, talk too little, minimize my successes, or say straight-up strange things. When I think back, I remember a few times when I actually apologized to people for my ideas. In doing all that, I have talked myself out of jobs. It’s a miracle that I am so busy.

A few months ago I told a friend of mine about my problem. “Why don’t you try Toastmasters?” she said.

“What’s that?” I said. “Some kind of California cult?”

She laughed. “No, look it up.”

I did. I came to a meeting and realized within the first ten minutes that I needed to stick around. I love public speaking, actually, and I’m good at it–a prepared speech with prepared materials, entertaining or instructing or involving the audience in an activity, is a strength. I love it, and I’ve been told that audiences connect with me. Selling myself is where I fall flat. So most of my speeches will be, in some way, me pitching myself, my work, or my ideas. I may ask people to interrupt me so that I am forced to think on my feet. I may bring my resume in here and ask people to quiz me on my qualifications. After all, like I said—I’m here because I have to improve to be as successful as I want to be.

Let the writing continue, because it will. But let the pitching begin.

Why I don’t have a portfolio website

You’re skeptical because you’re visiting the website on my business card and you don’t see a portfolio. I’ll make it even worse: A few months ago, I made the decision to quit my stable full-time job. I didn’t have another job lined up, and I wasn’t even looking. And I didn’t care.

What a nutcase, you’re thinking.

Yeah, it was a crazy move–the best crazy move I ever made. Because I don’t have a job to go to–I make my job. Every day that I wake up, I have to create a reason why someone would want to give me a paycheck. And people do. This life has given my heart a new pitter patter, because it means I’m always creating. Creating keeps me alive.

I’m getting to the point, so stay with me.

The past 4 months have been some of the busiest and the most stressful that I’ve had. I started a business, quit my job, got married, moved, spent 3 weeks in India, and found myself without 2 strong (or at least I had thought strong) friendships that I had expected to last for a small lifetime. Along with a few other things too. I didn’t have time to create a website, and I was starting to kick myself. But when I finally got some time I realized that I don’t need a full-blown website, at least not yet. I’m busy enough.

How can I be so busy? I don’t have an online portfolio. There’s no way people are hiring me.

Way.

The thing is, a lot of the work I’ve done is confidential. Increasingly now, I work with clients who prefer to remain confidential, or who only have confidential projects for me. I can’t display any of that work, so a portfolio would look empty and odd. But I’m busy enough, with room for more.

There’s an upside to keeping a low profile, it seems. And because it’s fun, I’m continuing to “blog,” which seems to have become a verb from the last time I tweeted. When I have enough public work, I may start a website.

Till then, you can always email me and find out more about how my writing can help you, your company, or your amazing cause that I would totally fall in love with, and work for free on. (Yep, I said work for free. But you have to be really amazing.)

Hope to see you on the inside of creative.

Yesterday

I’m in the UC Berkeley Extension writing program, and I was invited to read a piece of my writing at an event yesterday. I’ve done a few readings before. They always give me a ton of anxiety, but I love doing them. This one was different, because my piece was different. It was a highly personal essay, about the journey I’ve been on the past few months. I’ve never shared anything so personal before, and parts of it were scary to read.

But I knew it would be that way – I planned it that way. I don’t see much point in sharing something that feels comfortable. The whole time I read, I wondered if people were bored and sitting politely waiting for me to finish, wondering why I was reading some version of my personal diary out loud. Since I’ve never shared anything personal that didn’t have a plot of any kind, it’s hard to know what others will find interesting.

After the event was over, a dark haired woman approached me and told me that she’d like a copy of my piece. “When it’s finished,” she said.

I was struck dumb that anyone would want to read it again, or share it with anyone. It was about me. All about me – no other characters, no plot, nothing. Just me, and something tough that I’ve gone through in the past six months. “You can have this copy,” I said, holding up the printout that I’d brought for myself.

She smiled big. “Really? You’ll give me your copy?” I felt like I’d done something for her personally, changed the course of her day, helped her, without even doing anything. I handed her the stapled pages, so surprised at the conversation I’d just had that I didn’t even ask her name. She asked for my blog address, which I gave her.

As soon as she walked away, I felt like an idiot. I suddenly hoped that she would never visit this blog. The only things I’ve posted about here are utter crap, and I couldn’t imagine them inspiring anyone. I started this blog with such a sense of obligation and frustration. I wouldn’t want her – or anyone – to be inspired by something I’ve written, only to feel disappointed upon further investigation into my work.

As I sat there by myself, I realized that I should be writing in this blog. If I inspired her, then it must be true that pieces of writing, about people, can help other people. So I’m going to start posting, and I mean REALLY posting. Before I went to sleep last night I realized that I had thirteen ideas swirling around. So, Ms. Brunette, if you do end up coming to my blog and reading this, I want you to know that you inspired me. Thank you.

I’m doing a little research, though. I may migrate to Blogger in the next few posts. I’ll update if that’s the case.

Onward and upward for me now. I’m not resisting this process anymore. Maybe this project will get some good work out of me.