Caitlin Elizabeth Harper is an author, activist, community organizer, and creative problem solver. For the past ten years, she has managed operations in small businesses, non-profits, government, and startups. Her passion is creating spaces where artists, activists, young people, and the young-at-heart can tell their stories, reach their goals, and live their best life. Her first novel, It Will Set You Free, was released in January 2017. It’s available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or at your local bookstore.
Sometimes it can be difficult to achieve a goal alone, and if people don’t know anything about you, they can’t really help you. While talking about your personal brand might sound cringe-worthy, it’s just a newer term for something we’ve been doing all along: letting other human beings know what we want them to know about us.
Building my personal brand is the equivalent of wearing my Good Charlotte shirt to school on the day of their show when I was in high school: I was ALREADY a super-cool punk, I wasn’t just buying the shirt at the show that night and everyone could see that. People have been doing this since the beginning of time (shaping their identity through their looks and interests, not wearing Good Charlotte shirts).
I would never claim to be an expert about personal branding. There are countless workshops, videos, courses, articles, and books on the subject. But something as easy as completing a personal brand worksheet and updating your social media bios is a good start. Try googling “personal brand worksheet + ____” and take a glance through them for a few minutes to find one that suits you. The ____ should be based off of your goals.
What is the overarching theme of YOU? For example, I compiled my own worksheet based off of ones that I found searching for “writer” and “development coach”. You can stick with one or cut and paste questions together from a few to make your own. Don’t let it eat up your entire day; poke around for ten or fifteen minutes to find one, put it together, and fill it out. It shouldn’t take that long to complete if you’re answering with your gut reactions. Then make a few tweaks to share your brand with the world.
Just updating my LinkedIn bio with my author info led to a co-worker buying my book. Figuring out a few key Instagram hashtags to add to my development posts led to subscribers to my newsletter. Creating my own mission statement about how I want to spend my days helped me help my boss create a new position at work just for me. These small changes build up and help you achieve your goals. But your personal brand is personal: it’s mostly about you. Having a clear focus will make you more productive.
The building blocks of your brand should still be generosity and community. Wearing my Good Charlotte shirt to school was a way to let cute punk guys know I was cool (yes, I thought this, gimme a break), but a band shirt is also how I met one of my best friends in high school: I saw her wearing a New Found Glory shirt at lunch, I walked up and introduced myself, and it started a friendship that lasted for years. So put your signal out and see what comes back.
The year is a little more than halfway over! At the end of every month, I check in with my list of goals for the year and see where I’m at. Since I started using a Passion Planner in June, I use that end-of-month check-in as well, but I’m sticking to my goal-specific check-ins for the rest of this year at least.
Usually I set a timer – like spending 10 minutes per goal – otherwise I’ll get lost in the black hole of the internet if I have to look something up. The concept of time works for us and against us. Being late and wasting time are stressful. Sometimes we wish we had more time for good things or that time would move faster when things are boring or tough. But time can also guide us. Having a routine can be healthy and keep us grounded.
Setting time-based goals can keep us on track. Mid-year is an interesting time. Sometimes social media leads us to believe that it’s all BBQs, picnics in the park, and trips to the beach. But it’s also time for us to buckle down and assess everything we’ve done and everything we still have to do.
Here’s my little 10-minute checklist:
1. What is the goal?
2. Have you done anything to achieve this goal?
3. If you have, that’s great! If not, why?
4. If there is something keeping you from working on your goal, what can you do to change that?
5. What is a concrete step you can take in the next week to move closer to achieving your goal?
I go through the checklist for each of my goals and see which ones are suffering from neglect – then I do something about it.
I’m a big goal-setter. I like my plans and ambitions to shape my daily activities. But sometimes, things get in the way. If you’re perfectly on track, well-rested, chugging away at your goals with not a glimmer of stress or uncertainty, you can stop reading right now.
Chances are, this is not the case. It isn’t for me. When I looked over my planner notes from the past few weeks, I realized that something was missing: my novel. Technically, this is the most important activity in my life. Being an author is my lifelong dream and ultimate goal. So I asked myself: Why haven’t you been writing? The quick and easy answers came out first: no time, too tired, too busy, something else came up. But sometimes your first answers are not the only (or even right) answers. You have to ask yourself…And what else?
When I asked myself: Why haven’t you worked on your novel so much? My answers were: I have no time. And what else? Well, I’ve been playing sports a lot (as I do every summer) and I don’t want to give them up, so “no time” really means “practice time is not flexible”. I’m too tired. And what else? I’ve been trying to wake up earlier a few times a week and get work done, but l’ve had major cramps all week and haven’t been sleeping well at all. Too busy and something else came up. And what else? I need to get back to saying “no” to some things that aren’t a priority. I can highlight them easily in my planner. Just a few minutes of reflection will help me cut out extraneous activities.
And then I asked myself: and what ELSE else? Reluctantly, I answered: In reality, I wish I didn’t have to go to work on the mornings I wake up early to write. It seems like the second I get into a groove is the second I realize that it’s time to get ready for work. I wish I could go to work late once a week and get a solid chunk of time to write until September when sports are over and I’m back to my more flexible gym schedule and can write at night and more on the weekends.
So I decided to ask my boss if it would be possible for me to come in late once a week so I can write in the morning. I’d still be available online during this time and I’d make up the hours on other days. The worst he can say is “no”. But I wouldn’t have come up with this plan if I didn’t ask myself: And what else? Asking yourself this question helps to get to the root of the problem.
But you have to really ask yourself. This is between you and you. For weeks I have gotten more and more annoyed that my new-found productive mornings have been cut short when the solution is (or might be…we’ll see what the outcome is) a simple ask. But heading to work just a few hours late never seemed like an option until I said it out loud to myself. Instead of answering the same tired questions over and over with the same tired answers, try asking: and what else?
I talk about networking a lot and I’m going to talk about it again, because it’s so important. Networking isn’t just about getting what you want or being sales-y; it’s about building community. It needs to stem from a place of generosity, otherwise your efforts will seem completely inauthentic. You can’t just wait until you need something to begin networking. Your community-building efforts should start today (if they haven’t started already). If you’re nervous about networking, in terms of going up to someone and talking to their face, why not start on social?
Do what works for you
I have a networking plan that I complete before every literary event I go to (it works before any event, but I go to more literary events than anything else). I find that if I don’t complete this plan beforehand, I get so nervous or distracted while I’m trying to network that nothing gets done. I’m launching a free webinar, How To Plan Your Networking Strategy for a Literary Event in Just 30 Minutes, on June 30th because I know that others feel the same way. It’s my tried and true strategy, which relies on doing research before the event, utilizing social media, and managing your time so you’re not spending more time prepping than actually connecting.
But maybe you don’t go to literary events. Or you don’t go to events because what you do or what you’re interested in doesn’t really have them. That’s the beauty of social media; most things you want to do can be done from the comfort of your couch. You might have to get out there and get face-to-face eventually, but you have to start somewhere (and you always need a plan).
So figure out your comfort zone and start there (but don’t be afraid to push your boundaries a bit)
If you’re a writer, try Twitter. Photographer, blogger, or artist, try Instagram. Looking for a job, try Linkedin. A quick Google search of “____ + tricks and tips” (people love the phrase “tricks and tips”) will bring up hundreds of articles about how best to use these different platforms. Do not read hundreds of articles. Pick 2-5. Grab a pen and paper or open a notes doc on your computer or print the lists out and highlight them, whatever works best for you. Set a timer for 30 minutes (I’m a big fan of timing tasks otherwise you’ll disappear into the black hole of Google and never return) and write down the tips and tricks you find. More often than not, you’ll realize that a lot of the tips are repeated from blog to blog and article to article. Pick a couple that seem the most relevant and helpful and try them out.
For example, I’m trying to grow my Instagram following. There are thousands of resources out there for how to do this, but I set a 30-minute timer, read only two articles, saw that I needed to be using hashtags more effectively, took a photo, set up a keyboard shortcut on my phone, posted a photo (which became the second-most-liked photo on my account), and got four new followers in a couple of hours. It’s not groundbreaking, but in 30 minutes, I learned something new, implemented a strategy, took action, and reached my goal.
Give it a try and see what goals you can achieve. And if you want some more “tips and tricks” about planning your networking strategy, you can pre-register for my webinar here.
This past weekend I saw a friend who I hadn’t seen in eight years. We met while backpacking in London 2007. While we only spent a little time together during that trip, we had some great conversations about art, travel, and our ideas for the future, and it was clear that we were kindred spirits. I stayed with him in Germany a few months later on my trip around the continent. In 2009, he came to New York and stayed with me. We kept in touch sporadically over the years, following one another’s travels and projects. Years often went by when we wouldn’t talk. Then, he messaged me on Facebook saying he was coming to New York on his last stop on a trip around the world before returning to Berlin.
Acting on your thoughts
I have a list of people in my head that I rarely (or never) talk to, but should. Sure, there are toxic people who need to be gone from your life, mean people, uninteresting people, or people you just don’t have any real connection with. But if you want to rekindle a friendship – and you think or know other person does as well – what’s stopping you?
Like anything, contact sometimes needs a plan
Of course we all have friends we see often (sometimes too often…). But the Fab Five are not your only source of friendship, fun, and inspiration. I moved on from a Bullet Journal to a Passion Planner this week because I want to try out a new productivity/journaling method. My friend, Xandra, swears by her Passion Planner and she is one of the most productive creative entrepreneurs I know, so I figured I’d give it a go. I was super pleased to see a planning space for “People to See” in every monthly planning section. I think my to-do list sometimes trumps my to-see list, so I’m going to stretch myself and reach out to connections that need some TLC.
Take a (little, easy) chance
Make your own to-see list. But don’t reach out with the generic, “Hey, long time no see, how is everything?” message. Tap into the wonders of social media. Ask them about a recent move or a current job. Don’t just wait until you need something either. Sure, my friend wanted to catch up and a place to crash in Brooklyn, but he also asked about my book, and he has made a point to ask about my writing every time we’ve ever caught up. When the (re)connection is meaningful, it’s bound to be stronger, and so will your network.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the effect of volunteering, philanthropy, and general do-gooding-ness on my own productivity. Amongst all of the greediness and power struggles of politicians and corporations (and individuals!), little beacons of light still manage to shine.
According to Giving USA, individuals give the most money, followed by foundations, then charitable bequests (usually made through a will), and then finally corporations. In 2015, individuals gave $264.58 billion, foundations gave $58.46 billion, charitable bequests gave $31.76 billion, and corporate giving only gave $18.45 billion. So yay for individuals and boo on corporations.
Independent Sector has reported that the estimated value of volunteer time in 2015 was $23.56 per hour, which is more than three times the current $7.25 federal minimum wage (don’t get me started on the minimum wage). This means your volunteer hours could go even further than your dollars. And there are thousands of ways to volunteer. In New York City, New York Cares has added a middle-person but taken the grunt work out for both organizations seeking volunteers and individuals and groups looking for opportunities.
I feel better when I volunteer and donate money to great causes. Most people do. Whether you do nice things because you’re a saint or you do nice things because it makes you feel good, it doesn’t matter – nice things still get done. When you feel better, you’re more productive, and good karma (if that’s your thing) is like a boomerang – it’s going to come back to you.
Volunteering, donating, and interacting with other nice people can also build your network, which is essential for achieving your goals. Forming solid, two-way connections means that the people you help are going to want to help you. So everyone wins.
It’s spring! And everyone is sick. In your office. On public transportation. On the street. Germs are everywhere. You might be sick right now, reading this. When you don’t have your health, it’s incredibly hard to achieve your goals, be productive, or get out of bed in the morning.
Even when we’re sick, a lot of us continue to push ourselves. But if you think you don’t have time for your mental and physical health, you need to get rid of something else. It is the most important thing. You cannot reach your fullest potential if you’re not at 100%.
Like any practice, it takes consciousness to achieve. How many times are you thirsty or have to pee but instead you read one more email, or organize one more drawer, or make one more call before you simply take care of yourself? I’m literally looking at the post-it on my desk that says, “DRINK WATER & PEE” right now. I’ll neglect these little things in the interest of productivity. But if you’re only running on steam, your work and creativity will suffer for it.
No money? No problem. I mean, it’s not entirely true. More money – not to mention more affordable care – would make things a lot easier. But there are free or inexpensive resources out there to help you, if you look. Plenty of cities and states even have free mental health services. NYC has a call, chat, and even text option. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it’s a resource on my list should I ever need it. Looking for a way to meditate? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings on Youtube. Yoga? Yoga to the People has free sessions you can download on their site. Head to your local library and check out books for free or just walk outside.
If you’re going to do it, do it right. Take care of yourself, but don’t let self-care be a substitute for action and responsibility. For example, losing your job can be incredibly stressful. But “self-care” of binging The Gilmore Girls on Netflix eight hours a day for a week is not going to get you back on your feet. Make finding a job your full-time job, but eat healthy, take walks outside, read, get drinks with friends, pet cats, etc.
Make your valuable time count for self-care, just like you should for everything else. Don’t drop the ball on doing things that actually refresh and rejuvenate you. If you’re not at 100%, none of your work will be either.
After breakfast at Jessie’s house, we headed to the hotel and met with our tables for the morning meeting. There, we talked about our Hero Identity (Think about your own hero identity – draw, write, mindmap, or use whatever works for you) and our Commitment (What would be in your great hero speech? What promise are you making to the world? To yourself?). My commitment was:
I have a nice life. My family is close and supportive, my friends are funny and smart, I have a good job and great cats. My promise is to push myself as much as I can, use my power for good, and always do what is right instead of what is easy.
My hero identity was a bad picture of Dumbledore and a worse picture of Leslie Knope with my thoughts in the middle:
Embrace my qualities but identify and correct my negative qualities sooner.
Then I went on to explain to my group how I identify as the offspring of a cringe-worthy sexual union between Dumbledore and Leslie Knope. It was probably too early for that explanation. Actually, there is no good time for it, it’s wrong on like, so many levels. But it is how I feel. And, like most children, I want to keep the good qualities of my parents and recognize and improve the not-so-good qualities.
I was actually really excited to get home and compare what I wrote this year to what I wrote last year! My GLA16 Commitment is in my first blog post about GLA17. My Hero Identity was less gross and used words instead of terrible portraits. I wrote that I stand up for others, that I have intuition and can read the emotions of other people, that I’m mentally, physically, and emotionally strong, and that I’m always learning and always caring. Here the two years side-by-side:
After our morning meeting, we broke for our first workshop! I chose Hogwarts Houses & the Heroine’s Journey with Xandra Robinson-Burns, Oxford grad, TEDx speaker, Gryffindor, and creator of Heroine Training, an online school that offers personal development courses inspired by fiction.
She gave us an awesome intro to her Lumos Your Life course that is starting this summer, designed to “take a tour through the four Hogwarts houses” and create “a Potter-themed plan for forming habits and transfiguring your personal dreams into a magical mission”. Essentially, we tend to censor our dreams before they materialize. Xandra took us through the four houses – Gryffindor: Dare to Dream, Ravenclaw: Ready Your Mind, Hufflepuff: Find Your Quest, and Slytherin: Live Your Legacy – and helped us unblock our censorship and start the journey of making our dreams our reality.
As Gryffindors, we confessed our greatest dream to ourselves. Mine is to own my own business, and that business right now is Renegade Development, creating professional development workshops for young people, creatives, and the young-at-heart.
As Ravenclaws, we listed the resources we will have to tap to start achieving that dream. I brainstormed researching alternative professional development companies (like Xandra’s!), making a list of professional development books by women and POC, and connecting with these people on social media.
As Hufflepuffs, we examined why we do what we do: I also write books about community and creative problem solving and coming of age because I want everyone to have a voice and contribute to the world. Everybody should have the opportunity to grow as a person, gain confidence, pursue their creative and professional passions, and achieve their goals.
As Slytherins, on the other hand, we examined how we can be more selfish. If we want to be the best we can be, we need to be able to work when we want to work and own our own time. I’ve gotten a lot better at not giving in to time-wasters and focusing my activities according to my goals, and I want to be able to help others do the same.
Xandra even wrote each workshop participant a personalized letter that she handed out over the course of the weekend! I loved her workshop and I can’t wait to check out Lumos Your Life. On her way back to Scotland after GLA, she came to NYC for a few days and organized the first Heroine Training Traveling Tea Party (working title). She’s planning monthly meetups where heroines-in-training will convene to talk books, learn from each other, and drink tea. We met at Alice’s Tea Cup on the Upper East Side for tea and scones, Xandra read curated passages from Alice in Wonderland, and the five attendees got to know one another. We even got our fortunes read from mini tarot cards! It was magical.
My next workshop was Wielding Your Power: Keeping Your Heart Open & Your Ego in Check with Michelle Akin, a life coach, leadership trainer, singer, writer, and new mom who is committed to creating amazing leaders in the world. She dove right in and got us to reflect on ourselves and to think about our essence – how we were born – compared to what we grow into. We talked about grief and survival mechanisms – where we go when we’re afraid. And we came to terms with the fact that peoples’ opinions of you are not actually about you. People bring so much of their own baggage to their judgement and opinions of you and, even though we’re taught that we should strive to be liked and respected by everyone, you don’t need everyone’s respect if you respect yourself. There was lots of spirited debate about this topic (should we strive for the respect of others or not?). Michelle also talked about her experiences as a coach, which struck a chord with me as I’m beginning a similar journey with Renegade Development.
After lunch with my new NYC friends, it was time for my workshop!
The concept of The Art of the Humblebrag: Developing an Elevator Pitch to Let Everyone Know Just How Awesome You Are came about like most of my best ideas: in the shower (showering is super boring, so I do a lot of thinking in there). Bragging has always been hard for me, like most people, because we’re taught to not talk about ourselves (especially as women). It’s even harder when you don’t have a “normal” life/job/career/family/hobbies/etc. You either say too much or too little or downplay your achievements or don’t articulate exactly what it is that you do very well.
I realized very quickly that most people I knew had this problem, so I started researching bragging. Bragging led me to all sorts of other professional development topics and I ended up coming up with a few workshops based on goal-setting, communication, networking, elevator pitches/bragging, and cover letters/resumes which I have geared toward young/creative people, and I’m now beginning to present them in NYC.
My workshop went better than I could have hoped. The workshop attendees were super engaged and had tons of questions and suggestions. Basically, we talked about self-confidence and how bragging about yourself should be re-framed as telling a story about yourself. Then we wrote down ten awesome items we could use in a pitch (jobs, volunteering, cool places we’ve traveled to, interesting hobbies, etc.). We then learned how to tailor elevator pitches to the listener and situation (no one likes to hear a cookie-cutter pitch!) and I encouraged everyone to practice minipitches in their everyday lives (Literally, when you’re in the elevator with someone and they ask you how your weekend went, don’t just say, “fine”. Tell them about the novel you’re working on or the volunteering you did or the surprise birthday party you planned for your friend. And then ask them what they did!). Practice makes perfect!
Finally, we used items from our list of ten things to create an elevator pitch with a specific person and goal in mind. I really wished the workshop could have been longer; there was so much more to cover and I wanted to be able to practice pitches and for people to give feedback to one another, but we only had an hour.
One attendee asked if she could pitch to me in the hallway afterward. She had previously been stuck with her list of ten things, wondering where the common thread was. The second I looked at her list, three items popped out to me. They were interesting and unique and seemed related. I pointed out how they could be connected and she gave me a look like, “why didn’t I think of that?” (tip: you and a friend should write pitches for each other – it’s so much easier to brag about our friends than ourselves!). I left her to work on her pitch during the workshop, so I was really excited to hear what she had come up with afterward. IT WAS AMAZING. She used the past-present-future technique of saying what her past experience was, how she was using it in the present day, and what she hoped to do with it in the future. She focused on one common thread and the result was a strong and focused pitch that was honest and effective (because she’s already amazing). Hearing that pitch was the cherry on top of a great workshop!
Still high on workshop success, I headed to ACRONYM: The Leslie Knope Approach to Volunteer Management (and Friendship!) with Camille Talag and Becca Simpson. Camille is the Chapters Manager at the HPA and a combo of Leslise Knope and Uncle Iroh passionate about youth leadership and activism. Becca is the HPA Chapters Curriculum Specialist and aspiring Leslie Knope who thrives on empowering young people to become activists.
Their workshop focused on engaging volunteers, staff, and team members to reach their full potential. I find workshops on volunteer & chapter member engagement very useful because engagement is pretty difficult for our chapter. NYC is huge and people are busy. Many chapter members are individuals as well, meaning that they’re not friends or groups of friends joining together, making it more difficult for them to commit to events with other chapter members who are strangers (or, as I like to call them, future friends). Becca and Camille laid out their ACRONYM and discussed each topic. Here are few takeaways I wrote down:
Accountability: Have “office hours” (on the internet) at a specific time so people can know when to check in.
Conscientious/Collaborative/Community: Create community guidelines and offer opportunity for feedback.
Reflexive: Reflect on what has happened and then apply it to your next attempt.
Observant: Figure out where there are gaps or struggles.
Nurturing: Be a “momager” (mom + manager) and a safe space for failure. Use recognition when someone has done something right.
Yourself: Be authentic & self-aware.
Managing expectations: Have transparency in what you’re doing.
Then they encouraged us to create our own acronyms. I picked DUMBLEDORE (since our chapter is the NYDA and I love Dumbledore). Daring, Understanding, Motivating, Branded, Leading, Engaging, Deliverable, Open, Reflexive, Evolving. I’m definitely using these concepts as a starting off point for engaging chapter members as well as others I work with in the future.
Next up was the keynote with Emily Graslie, the Chief Curiosity Correspondent of the Field Museum in Chicago, which I LOVED. I’d actually never heard of Emily, which is crazy since her story is so cool and we both love dead stuff.
She basically went over her professional life story including how she realized (and then later questioned!) her hero identity. There were lots of ups and downs in her journey; plenty of missteps that brought her to where she is now. When she decided to commit to her hero identity, she turned to the internet and used her art degree and science collection experience and combined these talents and interests to end up getting the coolest job ever.
She also talked about the concept of luck and how we are lucky but often what other people label as our “luck” is really a BUTTLOAD of hard work, learning, failure, trial-and-error, tears, and sometimes blood. And she threw one of my favorite quotes out there:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – maybe Seneca, but has been disputed
She told us to never stop hustling and promoting ourselves and our projects. Her advice to protect our brands and communicate our values really resonated with me as I get more involved with more public-facing projects (being a published author, Twitter, etc.). She asked us: before you post or tweet, does what you’re saying represent you and your values? As long as your social media is consistent and on-brand, you’re doing something right. I highly encourage everyone to check out her content and projects. She was SO INTERESTING! And nice as hell.
Then it was time for our field trip! I cannot say I loved the City Museum. It was very crowded. VERY CROWDED. Also, germs. Also, there were no maps, which my map-brain still cannot comprehend. How am I supposed to know where anything is with no maps!?!?!!? I am not an aimless wanderer. I am a 100% fake “aimless” wanderer. If I say I love to wander aimlessly through neighborhoods or new cities or even through the woods, know that I am absolutely lying to you. I have already studied maps of wherever we are or will be and I have either committed them to memory or I am sneaking glances at them on my phone every ten minutes. That’s just the way it is.
I arrived to the museum hungry and therefore hangry, then had to climb painfully through a metal tube to get to the cafe. I scarfed down a grilled cheese and the nice woman at the counter made me an entire new pot of coffee and then I was good to go. Jessie thankfully led us upstairs and out of the crowds and took me to the room of dead stuff. As previously mentioned, I love dead stuff, so that made me happy.
Then we proceeded to ride a number of slides in the dark. I literally do not know how else to describe it. Finally (FINALLY) we called it quits and went to the bar, which was (inexplicably) a log cabin built into the side of the lobby where I consumed a large draft beer and chatted with my friends, which was much more enjoyable.
After we got back from the City Museum, we stopped by the hotel bar for whiskey gingers and then headed up to MJ’s room where I was forced invited to partake in a Buffy crash course. We watched an episode where no one talked and then another one where everyone sang. I was mostly confused, but I drank some chocolate wine, rejoiced in the obvious gayness of Buffy, and had lot of laughs until it was time to call it a night and head back to Jessie’s house to rest up for the next day.
I first attended the Granger Leadership Academy (GLA) in March 2016 after Jackson Bird, Director of Wizard-Muggle Relations of the Harry Potter Alliance, mentioned it to me at the Harry Potter Conference in Chestnut Hill in October 2015. I had approached the Harry Potter Alliance table at a Harry and the Potters show because I wanted to introduce myself and had just gotten involved in the NYC chapter of the HPA, the NYDA. In December 2015, I became the Chapter Organizer for the NYDA and an active and adoring member of the Harry Potter Alliance. So I figured I’d check out this GLA thing. It was inexpensive and in Providence RI, which I could reach on the train (I will take any excuse to get on a train). I asked for 1.5 days off work and off I went.
Well, it was magical. I was deathly ill the entire weekend and still had the time of my life. I learned SO MUCH and met so many awesome people and finally began to own my label of SJW (Social Justice Wizard).
I attended eight workshops:
Wit & Bravery, Ambition & Loyalty: Finding Your Values with Paula Neiweem and Heather Murray, which, among other things, gave me the idea for my “10 Things” list in my Humblebrag workshop
Being Your Own Hero with Sam Ducharme and Emma Hollier, where I got a much-needed introduction to self care (obviously necessary since, as previously stated, I was deathly ill for the conference from weeks of burnout)
Turning Sign-ups Into Squads with Janae Phillips, which helped me in my struggle to find (and retain!) NYDA members
Once More with Logic Models: Campaign Planning for Vampire Slaying Success with Anna Dardick, which is where the NYDA’s major 2016 campaign – #dontthrowawayyourvote – was born
Transgender Advocacy with Jackson Bird who gave us a crash course in trans terminology, pronouns, gender dysphoria, transition, and sex vs. gender
From Charity to Change with Becca Simpson who explained how we can take our philanthropic energies and enact actual change
Narrative Placemaking in Clubs and Classrooms with Nia DeCoux who helped us discover how, as leaders, we can put diversity and representation at the forefront of our approaches
Showing Up For Racial Justice with SURJ where we learned how to recruit and engage white people in racial justice efforts (my first step into active allyship)
We heard keynotes from Jackson Bird about his transition journey, Swapna Krishna about representation, and Meghan Tonjes about body positivity. We watched Girl Rising about breaking the circle of poverty by ensuring that girls are educated worldwide. I learned the term “three before me”, which I try my hardest to use in group conversations – three other people have to talk before you talk again. I sketched out my “hero identity”: that I stand up for others, that I am strong, and that I am always learning. I made a commitment to myself:
“I want to have an active chapter with members who feel like they are important and making a difference. I believe that the Harry Potter Alliance deserves the respect to be discussed without embarrassment. I am committed to making change that you can see that ripples so strongly that its impact extends beyond my vision.”
By the end of that weekend, I knew I wanted to not only attend GLA 2017, but I wanted to run a workshop. So I did.
On Wednesday 3/8 I took my tush up to LaGuardia for my flight to St. Louis. GLA didn’t begin until 4pm Thursday, but I added an extra day onto my trip to schedule a reading for my IT WILL SET YOU FREE book tour. I don’t love the airport nonsense part of flying but I love to travel, so this trip was ideal: an empty airport (how???), a tupperware full of avocado on toast, and a vacant seat next to me so I could spread out all of my work on the plane.
As an added bonus, the HPA put out a bunch of posts on social media recognizing some of the women who volunteer for the HPA and/or who were taking the day off of work to travel to GLA on International Women’s Day. Katie, the Campaigns Director, asked if they could post about me. I was super flattered and pleased to see my post go up as I was waiting for the train to leave for downtown St. Louis from the airport. Definitely gave me the warm fuzzies!
Upon arriving downtown, I met my college roommate Chris for lunch at Porano Pasta, which was super yum (Negroni slushies were a great way to kick off the long weekend). Afterward, he gave me a quick walking tour of downtown St. Louis, including the Arch, which is the only thing I remember about St. Louis from the last time I was there (we went up in it and it swayed in the wind and that felt weird so we went back down). It was nice to have an extra pair of hands to get a snap of IT WILL SET YOU FREE!
After a while I decided it was probably time to head down to The Loop, drop my stuff off at my friend Jessie‘s house (one of my many great friends from GLA 2016), and get ready for my reading at Subterranean Books. The bookstore was adorable – they had a STORE DOG – and a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the loft to hear local author Debbie Manber Kupfer and me read from our novels.
Afterward, we were starving so Jessie, Debbie, and I headed to Three Kings Pub for food and (v. necessary) beer and then Jessie and I headed home to get a good night’s sleep.
On Thursday 3/9 I had a conference call for work in the morning and then Jessie and I went to the zoo for a bit. The St. Louis Zoo is free, which is amazing, and located just down the road from the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. I wish we could have spent more time there, but on our quick visit we saw African painted dogs (which I love), hyenas, dwarf mongoose, and hippos (which I had never seen swim before – they were very graceful!).
Then it was off to GLA! I headed there just before registration for a presenters orientation where Janae, the Chapters Director of the HPA and the conductor and creator of GLA, gave us a rundown of the rooms and an overview of how the weekend would go down. Then it was time for check-in and to meet our table! GLA attendees are split into groups that work together over the weekend, sit together for morning meetings, and share experiences about programming during breaks so no one misses anything. GLA has tons of great programming and it’s almost impossible to choose between workshops. They each fall into different categories: Personal Leadership, Communication, Teamwork, Quests, and World Changing, although there is obviously tons of overlap with the topics covered. I wanted to go to every single one, but could only choose six (+ mine). If only timeturners were real!
One of my goals of GLA was to track down anyone from NYC who wasn’t already active an member of the NYDA and invite (harrass) them to join us! I had MJ Bradley on my list and, as luck would have it, we were in the same group and sat next to each other for the welcome feast! After dinner, she invited me up to her room to meet her friend Rachel and hang out. As is the case with most HPA folks, we were fast friends. You can’t escape me, MJ!
To close out the night, we headed back down to the ballroom for a wizard wrock concert where Tonks and the Aurors serenaded us with her Springsteen-esque anthems, clever raps, and general wrocking goodness. And she played Charlie Weasley, which is my fave and gets stuck in my head like once a week.
Pumped for the weekend, Jessie and I met up with our friends Grace and Amanda (who were also staying with Jessie), hit up the grocery store to stock up for the weekend, and headed home to prepare for the FIRST FULL DAY OF GLA! (up next…)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I can’t think of a better way to explain how I’m feeling right now. Obvious cons: our current administration’s disregard for humanity, our future, and our Constitution. Pros: I have achieved a life-long dream of publishing a novel.
My publication date was going to be Monday, January 23rd. But I woke up on January 20th really, really mad. And my husband said, why not today? So I pushed the date forward, and concentrated on publication day instead of inauguration day. And maybe it wasn’t the best idea. Even my dad said that he was staying off social media, so he didn’t see any of my posts (but he was my first customer, which he really wanted to be). On the other hand, my mom said that it worked – she spent her day thinking about my publication and not the other things that were going on.
And sometimes that’s the point of art, right? It’s not as simple as escapism, which can be useful, but we can’t just escape forever. Art gives us power and hope, something to focus on that lets us know that there are positive forces out there. And when I read, sometimes I read hopeless things. But when I write, I can’t help but include that glimmer, that nugget that readers can hold inside and know that there is good out there. And maybe it’ll take a while to get where we’re supposed to be, but they can know they’re not alone.