Monthly Archives: November 2018

return to omnicom

Fourteen and a half years ago, I had my first day at Tribal/DDB.  This coincided with my first day in Los Angeles, the day after I drove Zippy the Wonder Saturn down from Vancouver.   I was 25, and I was heading to the big city to work in an advertising agency.  It was the most exciting – and one of the best – decisions I ever made, to pursue my career in digital marketing with an agency in Los Angeles.   I only stayed a year at Tribal before moving on to Integrated Media Solutions, but it was a great agency to start my career at, and gave me a solid foundation for #agencylife.

Today, I returned to an Omnicom agency when I started work at OMD USA, a highly decorated media agency.  A few things were different as I’m now obviously much older (and hopefully wiser) and more experienced, but I still felt a lot of the same excitement I experienced when I started in the binoculars building in Venice Beach.  This morning that moment was when I came out of the subway, saw the new WTC 1 tower down the street, and remembered with gratitude that I am living my dream.

I also dress very differently now for my leadership level jobs in NYC than I did fourteen years ago for my entry level role in L.A.:  today I wore a velvet jacket over a blouse, with black jeans and flat tall boots.  I also wear a lot of makeup that I didn’t need when I was a 26 year old assistant interactive media planner.  I’m going in to manage the assistant media planners (and the media planners, and the media supervisors, and the media directors) as an Exec Account Director.  So since I am now the management level grownup I was in total awe of in 2004, even though it is Friday, I still dressed up a bit:


Best thing from my stint on L’Oreal: I learned how to use undereye concealer.

My first impressions of the job are positive, both in terms of the team as well as my role within it.  It will take me weeks to really understand the mechanics and politics and details, but my surface level impression is that this role is a good fit for me and for my own growth goals.  As I wrote a couple weeks ago, my career path was growing stagnant, as the clients I worked on became more limiting and less conducive to my own goals as a leader.  I needed bigger and better opportunities.  I’m lucky in that I was able to find a position that, based on my first day’s interactions, seems to be the step up in my career I was searching for.

Finally, one of the best technological innovations since 2004, aside from all the technology that actually makes my job possible, is the invention of better coffee machines.  I did not have to embarrass myself on day one by spilling coffee all over the break room as I did in 2004, but rather, was able to make myself look clueless by holding up the line while I got overwhelmed by the number of choices on the touch screen.  Progress!

four days of unemployment flow state

I’m actually unemployed for the next four days.  I haven’t been out of work since moving to NYC so I’m kind of in shock at this.  This isn’t like taking a vacation because I literally cannot work.  Merkle has cut off my IT access so I can no longer work on anything for them.  I have not yet started at OMD.  There is literally nothing for me to do in terms of actual paying work.

I cannot work, so I have the extreme luxury of spending my week engaged in my own personal projects and self-development.  Which, today, means a Cave Day.  This is enforced focus time, in which phones are confiscated and participants are encouraged to work on singular projects to encourage “deep work”.  I chose instead to work on my backlog of email and Scout related tasks, which doesn’t quiet my monkey mind, but does make me feel like I’m making headway on my always overflowing inbox.  Despite not having sunk completely into the “flow state” that often soothes my brain,  I  was able to action, reply, and file over a hundred emails in a couple hours and identify new projects and opportunities to be of service to the community in the process.  Feeling like I am supporting my people, my community, is valuable, even if I’m doing it one small task at a time.

For this afternoon, I’ve chosen to write blog posts for the sheer experience of being back in a “flow state”.  This means that this isn’t going to be a terribly entertaining post.  (Although, really,  have my posts been that entertaining since I stopped chronicling the Adventures of Being In My Mid-20s In Los Angeles?  PROBABLY NOT.)  It is, however, a chance for me to get my own thoughts under control and to assess my priorities in a slightly more public forum.  When I’m not working an actual paying job, what is it that I choose to do and why?  And what long term effects do I hope to get from only four days of such chosen activities?

Let’s start with the challenge of being in a flow state.  This does require one to focus on a singular project or task.  No checking emails, no checking Facebook, no responding to notifications. However, there is a school of thought that believes that the state of flow is one of the most critical factors to happiness:

The inverse of flow state is what I have most recently heard referred to as acedia, a state of despair resulting from apathy and a disregard for life.  This term was originally coined to refer to monks who did not pray sufficiently, a condition that later became a sub-category of sloth.  I tend to think of it as inertia, an inability to move forward or to regain the energy for life that keeps me in perpetual motion.  The cause, however, seems to be ultimately a lack of flow state activity.  A brain without flow state activity, be it a monk unable to focus on meditation or prayer, or a secular individual not engaging in deep work, seems to be a disconcerted and unbalanced brain.  Add to this our American Puritan notion of work & the value we place on ourselves as related to our accomplishments, and you have a tremendous recipe for mental illness from both shame and misery.

To combat some of this, I’m focusing more on activities that bring my brain into a flow state.  Blogging is one of those; I spend an average of an hour on a blog post, from concept to writing to editing.  I drop into a flow state sometimes when I’m sketching out concepts for work, drawing out slides for a presentation.  Give me headphones and Excel and I’ll drop into flow state while I tease out data for the story of a presentation. I can spend a half hour drifting along on the piano, noodling on scraps of pop songs.  And when I’m biking in traffic, with my whole brain occupied with movement and not dying, I’m really in a flow state.

Still, writing is the best and most reliable way to enter that brain state, so I am trying to change how I look at it.  Instead of writing for fun as being what I do when I have finished my other work, I am trying to look at it as what I do to train my brain back into being able to do deep work.  Ultimately, by doing so, I’ll also quell my monkey mind, capture a state of deep work and satisfaction, and make my brain a little calmer and happier.

I also want my brain to be practiced in how to do deep work as I transition to a new job.  The value of a knowledge worker like myself is in her ability to do work that no one else can do.  That is deep work, the work I pull out of myself, the observations I create and act on, the goals and vision I work towards.  I will be looked to for my ability to deliver unique work, and only by really focusing and delving deep into my brain will I be able to do so.  I have to practice putting my brain in that state so I can deliver on that promise to my new team, my new agency, my new clients.  Whether it is the distraction-free peer-pressure focus of a Cave Day, or an hour spent framing up a blog post, I must work my brain just like I work my quads and hamstrings in a spin class until I can beat my own time over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It is with the end in mind, or rather my mind in mind, that I therefore planned out my “week” of unemployment.  I could have spent a month doing this, easily, and I actually considered taking more time off to do so.  However, I also have to have healthcare benefits for my little family, so four days it is, and I’ll be grateful for the time I do have.  With that said, I’ve chosen to spend today trying more to monotask, at a morning Cave and then spending the afternoon in the same physical space, albeit without the facilitator (meaning I get to keep my phone).   After this, I’ll go to the gym, lift some weights, do a spin class to stay in my bike commute shape, and then go to a GTD meetup so I can revisit my productivity ninja skills before going to a new job.

The rest of the week, I’ve opted to alternate productivity practice with “staycation”.  I plan to spend Tuesday at the spa on 57th, getting a good old fashioned Korean skin scrub to fix my itchy, itchy winter skin and then I intend to loiter extensively in their hot tubs and saunas for the day before going to meet friends for drinks.  Wednesday, I have another morning Cave, followed by the (sigh) next stage of my right side dental implant and then I’ll be home to celebrate my husband’s birthday for the one hour between when he gets home and when he has a co-op shift.  Thursday, I have no agenda, and I may  choose to spend at least part of the day at one of the museums (the Morgan, the Met Bruer) that I really would have liked to have gone to by now .   I’ll also prioritize re-establishing some of the habits I fell out of while in my own state of acedia the last few months that benefit my mental health so much, such as my love of intense cardio (spin classes!), and my piano practice.

Four days isn’t anywhere near enough to engage in the kind of re-development, habit building and brain-training I’d like to be able to engage in but it is something.  It’s like four days of gifts in a row, the free time and ability to refocus my energy on something that isn’t agency work, a license to engage my brain on projects that are easier to launch myself into and stay engaged in.  Of course I will obsessively plan the time five times over and realized I still won’t have time for everything I wanted to do, but that’s also okay.  It’s four days of learning and focus.  It’s four days where my only job is to not have a job.

canadian culture as emotional pajamas

The metaphor I use the most for being in Canada or being with other Canadians is that it’s comfortable.  Canadian cultural references are embedded in the foundation of my brain.  They are patterns I recognize.  Some people’s brains light up at the idea of comfort food, or their own local state traditions, mine lights up at talk of parliamentary government and references to the Hip.  It is that bedrock of knowledge that corresponds to my childhood in Victoria, which means it brings a sense of security and comfort, an emotional halo, as it were.   Being in a space with Canadian culture is the mental equivalent of wearing pajamas.

This is not uncommon for immigrants.  If it were not, we would not have opportunities to experience other cultures in NYC.  Everyone coming to America needs a connection to their home cultures.  It’s just that mine isn’t that different from the dominant, mainstream, white American experience.  I’ve said to my husband before, I feel like I just came from a slightly alternative dimension of America, one where a bunch of stuff happened that didn’t in this reality that he and I live in.  Being Canadian, after all, I still have the historical knowledge of America as it happened in my lifetime.  I just have an extra layer of Canadian specific memories on top of that.

So that’s why I appreciate the opportunity to go to Canadian expat gatherings.  This includes going to Dirt Candy for the Great Canadian Beer Hall, to which I enthusiastically drag my American friends.  Often this is more of a Canada themed event full of Americans who are fans of Canada rather than actual Canadians, but it is still a direct connection to the homeland, and one with an excellent house wine to drink if one does not feel like drinking a Molson’s (I didn’t drink Molsons in Canada, and it therefore has no nostalgic appeal to me.)  Last night we went to see a screening of Iron Chef Canada because the Dirt Candy chef, Amanda Cohen, is from Toronto and is a proud Canadian as well as an extremely badass chef:

The main point of the event was to screen the episode of Iron Chef Canada where Chef Cohen took on a challenger from Ottawa, but afterwards, the Canadian culture resumed, with Anne of Green Gables on one screen, SCTV on the other, and both without sound so the restaurant could play a mix of Canadian music that was heavy on the Hip.  That is the draw for Canadians: the references to our own cultural touchstones, an environment where our brains are constantly releasing serotonin as a response to familiar media.  It’s also a reminder of some of the cultural influences that have impacted my own personality: the open-hearted nature of Montgomery’s original Anne series, and the smartass comedy we keep exporting to the USA.  Hey, I’m a smartass with a soft spot for my own Island too!

The flip side of all this is that one cannot sit around all day in pajamas (although when working from home, I certainly try to do so).  Similarly, I felt like I needed a different challenge than I was going to experience as a grownup in Canada.  Staying in my homeland would have been both too difficult and not difficult enough.  My life has been significantly easier in America: within two years of moving to L.A., I had met my husband and placed myself squarely on a solid career path.  Even now, my income-to-housing expense ratio is better than it would be in Toronto or Vancouver, and my career options are wide open because I work in a city with a high concentration of marketing jobs.  However, the cultural challenges are much more intense in this country.: America has much less equality than I thought it would have when I studied the Constitution and resulting Supreme Court decisions at university.  In the last two years especially, America’s worst legacies, of racism resulting from white supremacist foundations, along with the economic inequality resulting from capitalism, have been at the forefront of my consciousness in a way that those issues might never have been raised to me in Canada.  Those issues certainly exist in Canada, we are just better at making them less extreme and less visible, with our socialist leanings and our cultural mosaic narrative.

I’m not sure if this is a common dichotomy for all expatriate Canadians, to feel like our lives are easier here, but to also feel like being in America is less comfortable than being in Canada.  Maybe that’s also an experience that differs based on location.  I might feel less psychologically challenged in Seattle, a city that is culturally similar to Vancouver and Victoria due to proximity.  I might feel more discomfort outside of my neighborhood in Brooklyn, which is pretty much Vancouver in NYC.  Still, when given the opportunity to take comfort in a Canadian expat activity, I take it as a few hours of nostalgia.  But at some point today,  like every day, I will take on the challenges I’ve chosen by moving to the States, and I will also change out of my pajama pants.


When The Big Bang Theory came out in the seemingly halcyon year of 2007, it was immediately shunned in my household.  It was clearly mocking nerds who worked at CalTech spinoffs and lived in Pasadena.  This was NOT ACCEPTABLE.  And that was before the nerds actually went to Bar Sinister to pick up goth girls:


Paul would like everyone to know he finds this personally insulting to imply that nerds would go to a goth club only for the hot goth girls!  He would like everyone to know that as a nerd, he also went for the music!  Furthermore, he never degraded himself with fake tattoos, eyeliner, or studded belt accessories and finds this entire scenario ridiculous. A nerd should be capable of forming a relationship with a goth girl without having to look like a Hot Topic threw up on him.  (Side note: when I met Paul at the aforementioned Bar Sinister, he was wearing a black shirt and black pants and zero accessories and he still managed to successfully ask me to dance despite his minimal wardrobe pretension.  Then I made fun of him for being a nerd living in Pasadena.  Then he got his job at a CalTech spinoff in summer 2006)

And yet, despite the show’s initial ridiculous premise, here we are twelve years later with the show on it’s deathbed, but still the top sitcom by no small margin.  I read the recaps rather than watch the show, with no small amount of schadenfreude.  There is something about TBBT that irritates me when I binge-watch it on airplanes, the way the writers try to portray female nerds and yet rely heavily on female tropes.  I wrote about my issues with the funny/straight girl dichotomy in a past post on gender equality in sitcoms:

It’s the shows where a character can behave based on who they are, regardless of their gender role, and have it be accepted in that universe that I’m fascinated by.  Otherwise, having a “cute” girl who’s programmed to react in socially appropriate ways just makes the “funny girl” seem like she’s there for comic relief.

That is a part of what irritates me about TBBT: that when the female nerds act in non-“traditional” ways, they are still being compared and contrasted to a “normal” female role in the form of Penny, the original female character.  And Penny’s response to everything seems to be “I’m gonna drink some wine!  Because women love wine!”  Despite plays at depicting equal female characters, the show ultimately continues to remind those women that they are, well, women, and therefore are required to:

  • laugh off lazy male behavior
  • over-coddle their men

And yet, I feel I should credit the show for its depiction of female scientists who are just as committed to knowledge, curiosity, learning and their careers as their male counterparts, making being a nerd a gender-equal proposition.  The best balanced character is undoubtedly Mayim Bialik’s Dr Amy Farrah Fowler, whose enabling of her romantic partner is less about tolerating lazy male behavior and more about working with a neuro-atypical partner’s brain.  I think a lot of this is the real-life passion for knowledge that the actor herself brings to the role, but the character herself is remarkably balanced in her work and personal interactions.  This is a step forward in sitcom culture, but, like all acknowledgements of females as equal, it just isn’t enough.

Also to the show’s detriment, with the exception of the somewhat brownface Apu-esque depiction of a South Asian astrophysicist, there are no scientists of color on this show, even outside the core cast.  If the show wasn’t so lazy about this, they could use this glaring omission in the last season  to deliberately highlight the lack of diversity in tech and sciences.  However, that would require CBS to acknowledge the problem and then find a way to cleverly and compassionately write in characters of color who could serve to make some meta-level awareness about the show’s universe being strangely devoid of all non-white people (with the exception of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of course).  I find it strange that more writers and critics don’t call this out: for a successful show, it could have done a better job depicting people in science from less white privileged backgrounds.

There are plenty of reasons this show has been successful despite its flaws though: Vulture nicely sums up the more tangible, quantifiable reasons.  What I genuinely cannot figure out though, and the reason I have to actually give Chuck Lorre & Co more credit for this sitcom, is that this show has been successful given the culture of stupidity and anti-science that we’ve cultivated in America since before it debuted.  The show came out in an era where being an “anti-intellectual” was becoming a valued quality thanks to the then-president; it is still running and still popular in an era when half the country literally does not believe in science.  Who are these viewers watching this show?  Are they wannabe geeks?  Real nerds who are happy to be acknowledged?  Middle Americans who just really like hearing the same familiar jokes over and over again?  How is this show still popular in the post-truth era and why can’t we use it as a vehicle to convince the population of this country that science is real and climate change isn’t something you can choose to believe in or not?

How is it that in an era when 40% of the country believes in creationism over evolution, and a similar number do not believe that climate change is caused by humans, has a show about a bunch of actual working scientists, featuring actual working science, been the #1 sitcom hit for as long as it’s reigned?

I supposed despite my mixed feelings, the missed opportunities to do good, and general resentment of its use of gender cliches, I should accept TBBT as being an overall positive in society for its depiction of female nerds, and autism.  Still, at this point in the show’s arc, I agree with the deathbed metaphors: this show, much like The Simpsons, has been phoned in for years.  It’s like someone set up the plot arc, yelled SEE YA and peaced out, leaving a combinations of interns and AI to write the scripts.   It’s extremely formulaic, with what I suspect ratio of 3:2:1 jokes: three Sheldon Behavior jokes for every two Gender Trope jokes for every one single genuinely funny nerd reference joke.  And most egregious of all, it still has that goddamn laugh track, which is the second biggest reason my nerd husband won’t watch it.  One wonders if, without a laugh track, the show would become an existential commentary on the futility of being overeducated similar to Garfield Minus Garfield.

Still.  This show insults nerds who live in Pasadena and work at Cal-Tech spinoffs!   I’m contractually obligated to mildly resent it in the same way I obligate my husband to mildly resent shows about quirky girls who move in with multiple guy roommates.  In the land of general TV it’s the least of many evils.  It’s not a CW groundbreaking sitcom, but one can hope that it’s a very small step forward in depicting difference in characters in future television.


stranded in stamford

Thanks to tonight’s MEGA WINTER STORM (#avery #winterstormavery #whydowenamethestorms) I am stranded at a Sheraton in Stamford.  Because, obviously, when a storm hits, one wants to go for as much alliteration as possible when seeking shelter.

I had to go on my last ever trip to my Connecticut based bank client today.  This required driving, because I had to go to “Real America”, aka Not NYC.  And despite my best efforts to leave sooner, I found myself on I-95 right as the storm hit the area around 4pm.  I watched as my time to home on Google Maps went up…and then refused to go down again.  Despite two hours of driving, the time to home stubbornly stayed at over three hours, just with a continuously later arrival time.

Eventually traffic just…stopped.  I sat there watching the snow get heavier, and realized: I was equipped to drive in the worsening conditions in the SUV I was upgraded to this morning at the rental car location.   The other vehicles around me might not be as well equipped, and my SUV would not be immune to other cars or trucks sliding into it.   That was when I gave up, pulled off the highway, and sought a hotel.

It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  First of all, I can likely expense this back to the client since I was asked drive to them on the day of a major storm.  Second of all, if the client is not amenable to the expense, I can afford a $200 hotel room.  My time getting home also isn’t critical: I have my husband to take care of our son so I’m not needed at home until I can get back tomorrow, and even if Paul also got stuck in the storm, Ben could go to any of a half-dozen neighbors or friends locally as part of our Brooklyn child raising village.  I have the sheer luxury of being able to put my own safety and wellbeing first and procure a hotel room instead of slugging through the storm.  I’m grateful that my path in life put me in a position to be able to make a night like this a little easier on myself.

Also: I left the house yesterday!  I did a bunch of things that reminded me of what it was like to have kinetic energy, instead of being dragged down by inertia working at home.  I even managed to socialize a bit, seeing a dear friend for a quick catch-up and then going to a Canadian college alumni event to say hi to the two or three people I knew from other Canadian gatherings,  and pick up the latest UBC Alumni swag:


I’m not sure when my alma mater started handing out swag notebooks and pins for an alumni association, but I’m happy to have it as a conversation starter in work meetings.  Why yes, it’s a real school!  

Sadly when I go to a college alumni event, it’s difficult to share memories of university.  UBC is huge, and the experiences differ radically.  I have yet to meet anyone who has even a Venn diagram overlap with my memories: most of the alumni I meet at expat events are younger than I am, and many are Business school graduates, not Arts majors.  I  also graduated in 2003, and the defining event of my last two years was my participation in the Arts Undergrad Society and Arts County Fair.  With that major annual event having been defunct for (yikes) eleven years (shut down in 2007), I haven’t met a lot of fellow alumns who share memories of it.

However, there are still plenty of things I’m sure I could talk about with UBC alumni.  Memories of the old SUB, for example!  The many drinking establishments on campus!  The wide range of actual academics!  Vancouver in general!  I mean, how lucky were we to go to school in such a beautiful setting, attached to such an incredible city?  But last night I was just so tired after a day of being outside of the house, from having taken Ben on a school tour, gone to the office, gone to the dentist, met a friend for coffee, done a spin class and walked the ten blocks from the gym to the event…now that I think about it, no wonder I lacked enthusiasm for reminiscing about UBC.  I’ll have to try again at the next expat event on Monday.

Meanwhile, I’m rapidly running out of energy, here in my now cozy hotel room in Stamford.  Being warm.  Having unlimited access to heat.  Also something I’m thankful for.  May all people be so fortunate on a night like tonight.

a slightly shorter commute

Back in June, my commute was chopped in half.  My employer had been leasing a floor  in the Random House building at 56th and Broadway, but due to general agency growth (and our landlord evicting us) we ended up moving to the Parent Holding Company building downtown in TriBeCa, at 6th and Canal.  This reduced my commute by five of the ten miles that I had been biking on the rare occasions I still rode into work.

Screenshot 2018-11-13 at 9.17.21 PM

Apparently though, that wasn’t short enough.  On November 30th, I’ll start working at a different agency: one that is 0.8mi closer still to home, reducing my commute even further to 4.2mi by bike (albeit a slightly longer time on a less speedy subway).

Obviously, shortening my commute by a further 20% isn’t an incentive to change jobs though.  I’ve been at my current agency for over four years, a long time in my industry.  And at some point this year, I realized my career growth had flattened into stagnation.  I haven’t had the right circumstances to actually move forward into the next level of account management, to get better at what it is I do for a living, for almost two years.  I joke a lot that my job is “glorified project manager crossed with Liz Lemon” but the reality is, I have not had the opportunity to do my best work in the last year and a half, nor have I had the right path to grow and become a better leader.

There is also a certain element of fear at play as well.  The digital marketing industry feels like Logans Run sometimes, a youth focused culture where the only people over forty are senior management.  If I’m not moving forward in my career, I worry that my age will become a liability.    Perhaps this is fear of aging more than an actual perception, but it’s one I’ve offset by getting promoted on a regular basis every two to three years. (It should be noted I also wear makeup, but refuse to dye my hair or consider any sort of Botox or Juvederm because why should I have to pump poison into my body to create an image of youth?  This entire society is messed up but that’s a whole other story.)

Mostly though, I’ve just been lacking in job satisfaction.  I don’t have challenges I can solve; I have challenges that become quagmires.   I don’t bounce into work and settle into a flow state where I use my experience and expertise all day to produce any sort of meaningful work.  Instead, I drag myself in and spend the day competing for scraps of an overstretched team, feeling like there is no progress to be made, which in turn, makes me feel like I’m not even good at my job anymore.  And I know I’m good at my job.  So when a recruiter from an even bigger media agency came knocking, I answered, hoping it would be the proverbial window opening to returning to a more positive situation.  And as I went through round after round of interviews, I actually got excited about moving to a new agency, and, by contrast, realized how unhappy I was at my current one.

As Paul says, this is why we moved to New York City, so if I am not happy in my job, I can literally walk down the street for a new one.  I will now have the opportunity to apply my endless curiosity to a new client, build relationships with a new team, take on new challenges, learn from new people.  I’m psyched.  And I’m lucky.  I have the extreme luxury of having “job satisfaction” be a factor in my life, something I have control over.  Only in NYC do I have this, only at the center of the media buying universe can I have this many options, and only here can I work with the top talent of my craft.

My last day at my current employer is November 21st.  My first day at my new job is November 30th.  Change is always terrifying and exciting, but I look forward to it anyways.