Humans + Robots: SXSW Interactive 2012

August 30th, 2011 by Holly Hoffman

In it for more than the cotton candy this year.

I’m up for my first SXSWi panel this year (after 3 SXSWs, it’s about time!). If you don’t know anything about SXSW Interactive, it’s kind of the end-all, be-all for social media and interactive conferences. At least, it’s grown to be that way. Last year, something like 20,000 people attended officially, and god only knows how many went “badgeless.”

Help Us Get There

The conference is five days, centered around panel sessions led by industry peers. In 2012, I hope to be one of those peers. We’ve made it past the first round, but now we need your help to get past the second round. This week is the last week of voting for our panel using the SXSW Panel Picker. If you have 60 seconds, please click this link and vote for our panel.

What’s This Panel All About?

It’s called Humans + Robots: SEO & Social-Friendly Content. (SXSW is all about the cool panel names, by the way.) What we want to do is bring two SEO Humans and two Social Strategy Humans together to talk about what social search is, why search engine algorithm changes matter for content marketing, and how to create a strategy that will help you develop content that will make humans and robots happy.

Who’s On It?

I’m one of the Social Strategy Humans, as you might’ve guessed. Tiffany Monhollon of ReachLocal is the human who came up with this bright idea, and she’s the moderator. The other Social Strategy Human is Jenn Pedde of 2tor. The SEO Humans are my pal Matthew Egan of Image Freedom and Mike King of Publicis Modem.

What Will Attendees Get Out of This?

Key takeaways include: 1) An understanding of social search and why both SEO and social engagement matter for your content and blogging strategy. 2) How to write a social-friendly, keyword-rich headline that gets shared and indexed. 3) Tips on how to write engaging, share-worthy SEO copy that humans and robots both love.

More Info

What to know more about what we’re doing? Check out the following:

http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/13303?return=/ideas/index/10/name:Humans
http://humansvrobots.tumblr.com/
http://humansvrobots.posterous.com/
Twitter hashtag #humansvrobots

Listen to Cool Music: Letters to a Teenage Girl

January 4th, 2011 by Holly Hoffman

Seriously, listen to anything except the Top 40 stuff your friends are listening to. I’m not telling you to never listen to it, but you should cultivate a taste for other kinds of music for lots of good reasons you probably wouldn’t think.

My musical taste varied wildly as a teenager. I grew up in the ‘90s, and about halfway through that decade, some of the best music of all time was made. But only for a period of a couple of years, and then music on the radio sucked again. I didn’t know then that there was a such thing as independent music (i.e., music not played on mainstream radio), so I went backwards in time looking for music I liked.

My search led me initially to classic rock, mostly of the Southern rock persuasion, thanks to my childhood and my parents’ tastes. In my early teen years, I discovered jazz thanks to the iconic teenage movie Clueless, in which one of the characters references Billie Holiday. I started listening to her, which led me to Ella Fitzgerald, who in turn led to Louie Armstrong, and on to Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and through most of the iconic jazz musicians and singers.

At some point in high school, the cool people I had become friends with (thanks to my taste in jazz) introduced me to independent music, like Belle & Sebastian and Braid.

Music might seem like a trivial thing for me to be giving you advice on, but music has been a huge part of my life. It’s soothed me when I was sad, calmed me when I was near the edge, propelled me through long nights of studying as well as countless miles of road, and lifted my spirits when I felt the most alone. Your taste in music is critical to your growth as a person.

Older People Will Respect You

My taste in jazz had an interesting side effect: When adults found out I listened to jazz music voluntarily and that I actually enjoyed it, they looked at me in a different light. Simply by branching out into a different kind of music, it was implied that I wasn’t like other teenagers, that I was somehow more mature. It was as if it hadn’t dawned on them that a teenager could like the same kind of music that they did. They started swapping CDs with me and recommending new artists for me to check out. It was pretty cool to have conversations with people older than me and to feel like I was telling them new things.

You Become More Interesting

Having a varied taste in music gives you a layer of complexity that your friends who only listen to the popular stuff on the radio won’t have. And that complexity makes you more interested to other people. “Oh, you listen to _______? I’ve never heard of them. What are they like?” Knowing about things that other people don’t know about makes you more interesting also.

It Gives You Something in Common With Other Cool, Interesting People

If someone else does listen to the same music you do, it’s like instant friendship. The more esoteric the music, the more instant the friendship. Even being interested in learning more about different kinds of music will draw you into a new circle of friends. The people from my teenage years who were most influential in molding me as a person, were people who either shared a common love of music or introduced me to a new band or type of music.

As an example, one of my fondest is memories is of the first time I heard Chet Baker. I was in a small bookstore when “My Funny Valentine” came on. His voice sliced through the air like a hot knife through butter. I asked the bookstore owner who it was, and we became friends. He guided me to the books who would shape my adventures through my early twenties, and who I am today. By hanging out in the bookstore, I met the people who would become some of my best friends.

It Opens the Doors to Opportunities

When I started listening to jazz, I began to pick out the sounds of the bass and fell in love with it. I quit my guitar lessons, and started bass guitar lessons. The next year I ended up in my high school’s jazz band, playing bass, which might sound dorky but it wasn’t. Playing the bass on stage and jamming out with the other kids on the weekends gave me some serious street cred, and continues to impress even today. I mean, it sounds cool, right? I used to play jazz bass. Cool.

When I got to college, even my limited knowledge of independent music landed me an opportunity that would turn out to shape my entire life’s career. I became a DJ and staff director at my college’s radio station. Thanks to good music, I got to run a radio station, DJ at clubs, and hang out with touring bands all through college. When I graduated, my degree didn’t mean much to employers. My experience at the radio station, however, landed me a job at a magazine, which led me to a job at a newspaper, which led me to marketing and owning my social media business today. Who knew?

So much of life is about who you know, and that ‘whole good music leading to hanging with cool people’ thing will lead you to some pretty cool opportunities.

You Will Be More Creative & Motivated

Good music should inspire you to be better, go faster, dream bigger, keep going, trust yourself, love deeper, be happier. You should be able to put on a pair of headphones, find the right song, and feel whatever you need to feel at that moment. Good music does that. Having that tool can help you get through hard times, train harder physically, concentrate better on studying, and sort through confusing thoughts. Being able to do those things will put light-years ahead of your peers, and heck, most adults too.

Music Gives Your Life a Soundtrack

Here’s another cool thing about getting into cool music as a teenager: you can turn on a song when you’re older, and instantly be transported back to the time period in your life when you were listening to it. Chet Baker takes me back to that bookstore and the days when I was discovering who I was, and Braid takes me back to the cafe I loved where the barista gave me a mixed tape with them on it. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be able to listen to a song, and remember what I was feeling when I first listened to it. I feel so strongly about creating a soundtrack to your life, I wrote about it here.

Good music gives your life scope and context. I can guarantee your life will be better in ways you never thought. Keep an open mind and listen to some new things. You’ll thank me.

This post is part of a series called Letters to a Teenage Girl. Read the intro and other posts from the series here.

Don’t Throw Your Mom Under the Bus: Letters to a Teenage Girl

January 2nd, 2011 by Holly Hoffman

I can’t remember the first time I threw my mom under the bus, but try as I might, I can’t forget the worst time. I was 17 and thought I was the hardest working, most put-upon high school girl on the planet. I went off-campus to college for all but one class, worked a weekend job in catering, and volunteered in an at-risk classroom every week. I was pretty self-sufficient.

So when my mom got onto me about something one day, in a fit of self-righteousness, I threw her personal life history in her face. I yelled something along the lines of, “Yeah, well when you were my age you had a baby.”

Real mature. If you want to be treated like an adult and think of yourself as an adult, this is not the way to go, FYI.

The ironic thing is that I’ll bet my mom forgot about that after a few weeks. Having raised two daughters through their teenage years, I’m guessing my mom grew some tough skin. But me? I’ve never forgotten those words and what saying them took away from me. I’ll remember those bitter words for the rest of my life.

The Longer You Live, the More Mistakes You’ll Make

What changed between the me I was when I said those words to my mom and the me that regrets them today (although, to be honest, I regretted them instantly) is a whole heckuva lot of life experience.

You’re mom isn’t perfect; no mother is. So if you’re already at the stage of your life where you’re measuring her up against a stick of what you think a mother “ought to be” – stop it. All you’re going to achieve with that is a lot of resentment from unmet expectations. I’ll write about the pitfalls of expectations in another letter. Those are generally no good anyway.

You’re not going to be perfect when you’re your mom’s age either. And that’s a good thing. Life provides us with plenty of opportunities for “mistakes” and the older you get, the more “mistakes” you’re going to accumulate.

Mistakes Make Us Smarter

Mistakes are what make us grow into better people. If your mom never made a mistake, then she would never learn how to be a better person. And none of us are born “better” than others. Some people just choose to turn their mistakes into growth opportunities, while others will wonder why the same mistake keeps happening to them over and over again.

Socrates said that the truly intelligent man knows that he knows nothing. There’s so much that life is going to teach you through mistakes, that maybe it’s impossible for you to understand that kind of intelligence right now.

There’s No Satisfaction in Being Better Than Anyone

Just know this: the satisfaction you think you’ll feel by belittling your mom doesn’t exist. The impulse to yell at her or throw her faults in her face is momentary and unfulfilling. Putting people down because you feel superior (or because you think it will make you superior) never works. It’s like quicksand; quicksand pulls you in further every time you try to climb out. That’s how putting people down works, too. You’ll actually only feel smaller, less superior.

That’s what I lost the moment I uttered (or rather, yelled) those words that day. I felt a sinking in my stomach that I recognize today as disappointment in myself, because I had attempted to make my mother feel small because I thought I was so much bigger than the person she was at my age. What really sucks is now that I’m an adult, I realize what my mom sacrificed at my age to give me the kind of life that allowed me to be in a better situation than she was in.

You’re not better than your mom right now. You simply haven’t had the opportunity to make your mistakes. And you will make them. It’s not a bad thing as long as you choose to grow.

Maybe one of your mistakes will be taking out your frustrations on your mom. That’s OK too. You’ll get to learn how to apologize, find out how good an honest apology can feel, and discover a new way to communicate when you’re hurt or upset. That’s how it’s worked for me, anyway.

This post is part of a series called Letters to a Teenage Girl. Read the intro and other posts from the series here.

Be the Trendsetter: Letters to a Teenage Girl

December 20th, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

Let me first say this: I was not a fashionable teenager. To be honest, I’m not sure any  teenagers are… The ones I see who are trendy look totally ridiculous. I think your school becomes your own little world, and whatever is cool there, you think is cool everywhere.

Which isn’t actually true.

Any kid who’s been moved from city to city while in middle and high school can tell you that. One brand is hot in one city, and kids in another city have never even heard of it.

But what happens is the one kid who has the balls to wear something new and be confident in it is the one who sets the trends. I’m not talking about the kids who dress purposely ugly (goths spring to mind), ridiculous (Uggs in the summer? Really?), or skimpy (enough said).

I’m talking about that girl who seems to wear whatever she likes, and then everyone wants to wear it too. That girl. Be that girl.

Here’s what I’ve figured out about following trends.

They aren’t you, and you’ll feel uncomfortable and look uncomfortable in them.

When I was in high school, around 10th grade, I finally came around to “normal” clothes after an ill-advised stint in novelty t-shirts and big jeans. I started dressing like all the popular kids. In those days, it was khakis from The Gap and Doc Martens sandals. It wasn’t me, and I still didn’t really fit in. I didn’t figure it out until much, much later in life. I never looked good in them because I never felt good in them.

Not all trends are all that flattering.

(Bubble skirts pop into my mind.) Pick clothes that actually look good on you. I kept trying to pick clothes that looked like what I saw in magazines or catalogs, but they looked horrible on me. My mom would do this thing when she took me shopping, where she would pick up something I didn’t like and say, “Humor me.” Which loosely translated means, “Go try this on or you’re not getting anything.” Then, if it looked good, she would say, “That looks so becoming on you.”

Becoming on you. Not really the words every teenage girl is dying to hear in the dressing room. But she was onto something. There are lots of beautiful clothes out there. Just because you put them on, doesn’t mean you’ll look beautiful in them. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It just means that some clothes look good on certain shapes, lengths, and sizes of woman. There are some clothes that just don’t look good on anyone. Period.

Pick stuff you like, whether anyone else likes it or not.

Now, this piece of advice, I sometimes followed and sometimes didn’t as a teenager. Sometimes I followed it to my own detriment (like the Star Wars athletic tee I wouldn’t take off for most of age 15), and sometimes I didn’t follow it, also to my detriment (see above, where I wore clothes because they were trendy).

The times in my life I remember enjoying my style, and consequently felt the most confident, is when I wore what made me feel good. A lot of times it included really, really short hair, which didn’t always thrill my mom and certain types of boys, but I pulled it off because I felt good in it. I actually kind of rocked the short hair.

Cultivate a personal sense of style.

I spent a lot of time trying to look exactly like things I saw in magazines and catalogs, but that stuff passes. What’s hot today isn’t hot tomorrow. And then you wasted money on clothes that aren’t cool anymore. And you just got them like, last month. (I still make this mistake sometimes. That’s why I have 5 embellished t-shirts in my closet that I just got 6 months ago and probably won’t wear ever again.)

You’ll find items that you’ll literally cry over when something irreparable happens to them. I’m not talking about materialism; I mean pieces of clothing that you feel like are a perfect representation of you and your own style, that make you look and feel great. Look for things like that, and hang onto them.

The girls I remember wishing I could look like weren’t following trends or letting what everyone else was wearing dictate their style. Well, they weren’t trendy anyway. There was just something about them… they were comfortable, they owned their look, and most of them probably still do today, over a decade later.

Find your own clothing personality, and live outside of the trends. Ironically, this will make you the trendsetter.

Just a little advice from the me I am now to the me I was then.

This is the first post in a series called Letters to a Teenage Girl. Read the intro here.

Letters to a Teenage Girl: A New Blog Series

December 19th, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

I haven’t found much to blog about recently (oh, you noticed?), especially since my mind seems to be occupied with my start-up and our clients, etc. I’ve felt like I don’t have much to say in the way of advice. I’m feeling my way through new phases of my life, including marriage, and everything is going by so fast, there’s not much time to process it.

But, lately, I’ve been writing letters in my head to a teenage girl. One of my close friends has a 13-year-old daughter, and she relates her most recent adventures in the world of having a teenage daughter to me from time to time. So much of it sounds so familiar to me that I end up smiling to myself, and wishing someone would’ve told me all the things I didn’t figure out until I was in my mid-twenties.

Maybe someone did. Maybe it was my mom or my sister, and I just couldn’t hear it.

And so, these letters are for M. I hope she hears them.

Here are the current posts in order:
Be The Trendsetter: Letters to a Teenage Girl

Don’t Throw Your Mom Under the Bus: Letters to a Teenage Girl

Small Business Superstitions and Why They Work

May 20th, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

Small business superstitions are alive and well at Corpus Christi social media marketing firm Neovia Solutions.

My little social media marketing company in Corpus Christi, Neovia Solutions, is growing up. We’re moving into a bona fide office space on June 1. I went full-time with the business mid-February, and it’s hard for me to believe we’re already here. Aside from the fact we’re growing, I was equally excited about what this meant: I got to outfit the office.

Like all good start-ups, I trekked to Ikea to find the least expensive (yet majorly fashionable) office furniture I could. My little Pontiac Vibe was packed to the brim with cardboard boxes and silver metal legs and accessories – and yet, stuck in the midst of the brown and grey jungle, a little green sprig. Bamboo.

My business partner may beg to differ about the necessity of this little piece of office décor, but I am adamant about it’s luck-creating properties. My mom was raised in Japan, and she always said that bamboo brings luck to the room in which it resides. So what’s the first thing my first business’s first office needs? Bamboo.

And I’m not alone. Matt Egan, who owns the San Antonio SEO company Image Freedom, has a pair of lucky shoes he calls the “signing shoes.” He wears them to all his contract signings. Greenville branding firm Brains On Fire believes it’s a bad omen if a new employee eats alone their first day of work. Ryan Paugh, cofounder of Gen Y networking site Brazen Careerist, carries a bad-energy blocking stone in his pocket.

For some, business superstitions revolve more around about not creating bad luck. Employees at San Antonio Web Design firm Internet Direct think it’s bad juju just to talk about their servers. “We don’t ever speak badly about our servers,” tweeted David Stinemetze. “They somehow always find out and crash on us.”

I don’t actually have any reinforcing proof that bamboo has brought me luck. As a matter of fact, I ended up killing all of my bamboo when I moved in with my boyfriend by accidentally leaving it outside for a few months, unattended. And we’re still pretty lucky in love.

But, I persist in my belief enough to think it’s better to have bamboo in our office than not to have it. And that seems to be the key to understanding why superstitions actually work.

SUPERSTITIONS CREATE PERSISTENCE.

This is due to something psychologists call the partial reinforcement effect. Here’s my Alton Brown-style breakdown of partial reinforcement: Whenever someone does something expecting reinforcement (the thing we think is going to happen as a result of our superstitious activity), and it doesn’t happen, it actually creates a sense of persistence in that person. In other words, we keep doing the superstitious activity believing that reinforcement will occur at some point. Or that the thing we want to happen has come at certain times in the past as a result of this superstitious action, maybe not all the time, but this might be one of those times.

So, why do I think our superstitions are actually good things for business owners and start-ups?

BECAUSE START-UPS REQUIRE PERSISTENCE.

We grind and toil away in our businesses, sometimes 16 hours a day, giving it all our best. Every day we are faced with the possibility of rejection, failure, negative bankrolls, and bad decisions. We’re not superstitious because we need the extra luck more than others – it’s because of that partial reinforcement effect.

The fact that we put on the lucky shoes over and over again means that even though we didn’t sell the last two clients we wore them to, we’re still wearing them. And that’s important because it means that we’re still pitching and we’re still selling. We are persistent in the belief that we will sell again in those lucky shoes. And because we believe it, we’ll keep putting them on and trying. And the trying is what makes them work.

And so, our lucky bamboo awaits it’s permanent home in our new office, to do it’s job: make me go out there every day, believing that today will be the day the bamboo will deliver me luck.

Mentorship Round Table: The Round-Up

March 3rd, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

Wow! This is apparently a hot topic, and there were a ton of great submissions from everyone. Thanks to everyone who participated! I’m going to post the links to everyone’s posts (in no particular order) and give you a brief snapshot of what they’re about. Perspectives range from those who don’t want or need mentors, to those who pine for them, and to others who grateful for the ones they’ve had. Happy traffic and pagerank to you all.

I Want What You Have – The New Mentorship My post on mentorship explores a new definition and criteria for mentorship – wanting what that person has. I also introduce you to the village of mentors I have. As someone said, “Wow. Sounds like you have a lot of support.” Yeaaaaaaah…

Moving On From A Mentor or Friend Steve Errey goes back to our original Twitter conversation about what happens when you outgrow a friend or mentor. He says that besides the natural wearing away of time, there are only two good reasons to move on. Read his post to find them out. And I love that he uses our original tweets to make his points.

Are Mentors Just A Myth? Chris Catania is the third player in the original Twitter conversation. Chris hasn’t had a mentor since he outgrew his at the age of 22, and our tweeting stirred up “wish I had a mentor” feelings in him.

Mentoring Will Change Your Life From the folks who inspired the round table concept, Lance encourages readers to actively seek out people to mentor. He provides examples of times in his life when he wishes he had a mentor, and makes the case for anyone with a strong suit to find someone to mentor in that area.

I Don’t Need A Mentor Jun Loayaza has never had a mentor, in his idea of the word, and isn’t sure he wants one. He sees people as teammates or partners rather than mentors. Jun even throws in a little Buddhism.

6 Ways to Find Your Next Mentor Steph Auteri thinks you need a mentor. And this lady’s gonna tell you where to find them. From the classroom to your peers to your book shelf, Steph breaks it down.

If The Mentor Shoe Fits, Wear It Michelle Poteet shares about a pushy boss who wants to be a mentor. And coins this little gem: “… a great mentor is like a fabulous pair of pumps. Nice on the outside, but can definitely push you to the limits on the inside.”

The Golden Rules of Mentorship Carlos Miceli warns against deifying your mentors, relying on them for too much, and gives advice as to mentor selection. He dedicates the post to his own set of mentors.

Who Are Your Mentors? Matthew Egan remembers his mentors, including his grandfather, and talks about the journey from friendship to mentorship. He sees his mentors in hindsight, figures who emerged to lead him forward.

Of Mentor and Countrypeople Jess Commins has a mentor to thank for the miserable failing of her dream business. But she really means it. And she goes from blog-reader to being coached by the blogger. Like me, she pays some of her mentors too.

You Need A Mentor Edward Antrobus is desperately seeking mentors. He may have found one – and shocker – she’s younger than him.

Mentors | How Important Are They To Your Success? Hani is the only video blog entry! And she’s so cute and fun to watch! Oh, and there’s substance there too. Hani talks about the stereotypical mentor and whether or not we need them to succeed.

My Mentor Jacki Welsh’s mentors have always been teachers. One in particular, an Elvis-loving English teacher, made her a writer at grade 7.

I’ve Never Had a Mentor, and That’s OK Ryan Paugh adds to the anti-mentor movement. His post opens with a would-be mentor turning him down, and swiftly moves from hate to friendship to self-sufficiency.

Mentors . . . Carol Kiphart has a hard time concentrating on the subject dealing with a personal crisis, but she manages to remember a few of her mentors in her time of distress. She leaves off with the thought that mentorship is like love: it doesn’t come knocking until the moment we think we don’t need it.

Mentorship is a Gift We Give and Receive Melissa Marks Garner is embarking on a year-long journey to make her dreams come true with a life coach and 7 other individuals, people she hopes might be “mentors-in-the-making.”

Mentor Me This, Mentor Me That Gerard McLean sees his lack of mentors as “support system of bumper rails without risk of co-dependency.” Fearing he’s failed past mentees, he sees his blog as a replacement for his desire to mentor.

What I Learned From My Mentor Chris Silk typically writes about drama in the confines of his local Starbucks, but he breaks from that to share a beautiful story about growing up in a poor, rural town and how he went from not knowing how to read to being in a highly selective Gifted & Talented program.

My First Blogging Round Table: Mentors Sara Martisek proves it’s never too young to have outgrown a mentor. At 22 and preparing to graduate, she has two others already.

Give Me Failure, or Give Me Death In true RestlessLikeMe fashion, Andrew Norcross doesn’t want anything you’ve got unless you failed getting there. Best line: “Pain is learning.”

On Generosity and Gold Dust: Lessons From A Mentor Jenny Blake’s entry includes a giveaway of her mentor’s book! Her mentor teaches her about generosity and living the dream.

How To Get and Keep a Mentor (And Why I’ve Been So Guarded Lately) Monica O’Brien submits an older post for your approval. Her advice is on not only how to select a mentor, but how to be a good mentee. Six great tips here.

Thanks again to everyone who participated! If you didn’t make the deadline, no worries. Feel free to post it in the comments section. If I get enough, maybe I’ll do a round-up #2.

I Want What You Have – The New Mentorship

March 2nd, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

Ever late to the game, this is my entry to the Mentorship Blog Round Table I announced last week. The round-up will be posted on Wednesday, March 3.

I contemplated calling this post something in typical Gen Y fashion, like “Personal Board of Advisors” but I’m not sure that’s going to get your head out of the overly formal idea of mentorship that we have. I think we need to open our minds to a new kind of mentorship.

Ever heard the expression “it take a village to raise a child”? Well, I’m fond of my own little saying: “It takes a village to raise a Holly.” I do have a personal board of advisors – not in the sense that I run everything past everyone of them, but most important decisions are run past a handful of them, while others are called on for technical guidance in their field of expertise. And there are quite a few of them. A village you might say.

The Criteria is Simple, but Not Easy

My criteria for mentors is rather loose, but at the same time, very difficult to achieve. You don’t have to have credentials or references… you don’t even have to be older than me or more senior than I am. But you do have to have something very special and rare.

The people I call my mentors have something I want.

The formal definition of mentor is “a trusted counselor or guide.” All of my mentors fit this definition, but that extra criteria of having something I want is critical. That’s why I find it hard to believe when I hear my peers say they don’t want or need mentors. I learned a long time ago that it was much easier to ask someone who already knew how to do something than to try to learn to do it all by myself. I also learned long ago that it’s easier to know where my weaknesses are so that I can find a way to strengthen them.

Spotting People Who Have What I Want

I’m not usually on the hunt for them. I like to think one of my strengths is my ability to observe. I watch people. I watch what they do, not necessarily what they say. Trying to find mentors based on accolades, awards, job titles, and their swagger has always let me down. It’s usually the people I would least expect that have what I want.

“Have what I want” can range from career experience to industry expertise, from health to general attitude about life, even fashion sense. I’m not sure that most of my mentors even know they are my mentors. I never ask them to sign up. I just ask them to get coffee or if I could call or email them sometime. If I can pick their brain or if they’d like to have lunch. Then I go into sponge mode and just try to soak it all up.

The interesting thing about picking mentors this way is that you don’t always learn what you think you’ll learn. My corporate career mentor, for example, taught me how to make the leap to owning my own business. When you target people based on how happy they are with their career, you learn how to be happy – not necessarily how to follow their career path. And when you pick someone to be your mentor because they ooze serenity and peace, somehow or other you learn how to be angry at the right times.

When A Mentor Doesn’t Work Out

It’s not like I’ve got a divining rod and I sort of blithely go through life with successful mentor after successful mentor. I’ve had my share of individuals who never called me back, clearly used me to get something, and others still who didn’t work out for one reason or another. Some of my mentors I’ve outgrown, realizing that they don’t have anything I would ever want. Sadder still, I’ve had mentors who had everything I wanted in life, and I watched them give it up to walk a dark and lonely path I pray I never follow them down.

I move on. I keep searching. And I learn, ultimately, from those people more about what I do and do not want from life.

Meet Holly’s Village, er… Board of Advisors

And now, allow me to introduce you to my mentors and personal board of advisors.

I have two, yes two, therapists. One is a talking therapist for general counseling needs, and the other is specially trained and she helps me get over my totally irrational fear of flying. I pay them to be on the board. Having been in or around some form of therapy since I was 14, I find that having a really good counselor around is good for me. Both my therapists are people I respect and believe I would have a friendly relationship with, outside the laws of professional relationships yada yada legal stuff.

I have a 12-step program sponsor. She essentially acts as my sounding board for any “great” idea I might have or any major life decisions.
I have lots of these so-called great ideas, and she helps bring me back from the brink of some majorly stupid decisions. And, other times, she’s there to guide back to sanity after I go ahead with said stupid decisions. She is responsible for walking me through the 12 steps of the program, and teaching me how she has gotten and stayed sober. She also sort of acts as a spiritual advisor of sorts. Not in a sense that she tells me what to believe, but more like how to go about finding it.

I had a corporate mentor, but now that I’m not in the corporate world, I guess she’s more of a business mentor. I also have a marketing mentor. Both of these mentors were my bosses at the job I recently left. I’m grateful to have developed the kind of relationship with them that is bigger than employment. Both of these mentors have the kind of field experience in marketing I hope to have one day, and I recognize in them how much I have to learn about traditional marketing in order to run a successful digital marketing agency.

I have a social media mentor, who has encouraged and supported me to do things like start a local chapter of Social Media Club, take on freelance work, and found my own business. He has constantly thrown me into the spotlight (and the trenches, for that matter!) time and time again, and shares openly and freely of his knowledge. I’m proud to say he “raised me right” in social media, passing on to me an intense love for the industry and a desire to help others “get it.”

I have a life coach. While I don’t use her as intensely or regularly as I have in the past, she’s someone who I know is only a phone call away when I’m faced with critical life decisions that don’t necessarily fall to my therapists, sponsor, or other mentors. She’s more like a third party who is more interested in finding out what jives with my life path than any one decision over another.

Those are my primary mentors, the ones who have really stood the test of time. I also have trusted advisors in fashion, spirituality and relationships. Members of my family, friends, business partner, and boyfriend often times resemble mentors to me. It’s difficult to say where that line starts and stops between love, friendship and a desire to teach and be taught.

I’ll leave you with this: In the end, the best mentors are the ones who support and teach you right out of from underneath of them.

Calling All Bloggers! A Roundtable on Mentors

February 22nd, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

A couple years ago, I participated in a blogging round table at HoneyAndLance.com and I thought it was one of the coolest ideas I’d seen. So, I hope my friends there won’t mind if I borrow (heavily) from their call-for-posts post. WorkLoveLife is hosting a round table. The subject is mentors. Any blogger can participate, but a few of you I’m contacting directly to make sure you do. Ahem.

How It Works

Write a post on the topic on your blog. I’m not curating the posts, there are no prizes or winners, and all posts are included in no particular order. If you do participate, please drop the link to your post in the comments section of this post. When all is said and done, I’ll post a round-up of everyone who participated with links to your blog posts on the subject. I think the rest of the participating bloggers would appreciate you spreading the link love on your blog, too, after I post the round-up.

I’ll be looking for your post to be up by next Monday, March 1.

Benefits

As my friends at HoneyAndLance pointed out, there are many benefits to participating:

1. Test out your writing chops.

2. By interlinking the posts everyone will pump up their pageranking and take advantage of search engine traffic. Having a keyword like “mentors” or “personal board of directors” could be popular, too, and give your post a long tail.

3. Drive our individual audiences to other blogs.

4. Read interesting and diverse perspectives.

To Get the Ideas Cranking

The mentorship round table topic was spawned from a single tweet I sent out last week.

It got a ton of response – more than I thought one sentence would get, but apparently it rings true for a lot of people. I got a bunch of replies from people who could relate, and it spurred a lot of online (and offline) conversations with friends about the nature of mentorship. I joke that it takes a board of directors to run my life. But you’ll have to read my post to find out more about that.

So, who are your mentors? What do you do when you outgrow a mentor? How do you find your mentors? What value is there in having a mentor? Do any of you think having a mentor is pointless? Are you a mentor to someone else? Tell us your story. Again, don’t forget to post your link in the comments!

I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.

[2010 Theme] Break Your Theme Down

February 2nd, 2010 by Holly Hoffman

It’s officially February. If you remember the study I cited at the beginning of the year, most of you with New Year’s resolutions have already let them go by the wayside.

How about those of you who picked a theme instead? How is your theme coming along?

I ran out and bought three books on organization. And all of them sit, partially skimmed. If I looked around myself, at home or at work, and said, “OK, organize it” then I wouldn’t know where to start. It would overwhelm me.

You don’t have to do it all at once.

That’s the great thing about a theme – you have all year to work on it. I don’t have to get it all done right now. Every time something is disorganized, my boyfriend likes to say with a smile, “It’s the year of organization!” And I like to say right back, “It’s the YEAR of organizationnot the JANUARY of organization.”

The problem with resolutions is that once you’ve missed a few days of working out or had a few too many trips to McDonald’s you feel like you’ve failed and you quit. The theme doesn’t let me quit. It’s all year, baby! If I don’t fold the laundry for two weeks, it’s OK. I’ll get there. It’s only January.

Your theme is probably a huge honkin’ goal. Break it down. Pick a small portion of it and make it the theme for that month.

Here’s how the Year of Organization looks for me:

January: Home Office
February: Kitchen
March: Car
April: Bedroom
May: Outdoors
June: Laundry room
July: Living room
August: Bathrooms
September: Hallways & closets
October: Bedroom closet
November: TBD
December: TBD

Plan to fall behind… a little.

I’m allowing myself leniency and flexibility in the last two months. I know that I’ll find behind, and I also know that I’ll find something I didn’t expect that needs work. This takes a little pressure off of me – I won’t be doubling up on things because I forgot about this or that, and my year isn’t so full that if life gets in the way (as it so often does) I can take a break.

Don’t forget the little things.

Overarching all of this are the intangibles of organization – organizing my time, schedule, finances and expectations. I work on those things every month. I don’t work hard at them. I keep up the work I did last year (the Year of Finances), making a budget and sticking to it every two weeks. I keep a calendar with important dates, etc. That’s not the sort of stuff that can be done in a month, nor can it wait for a particular month to be scheduled for it.

It works!

The interesting thing I’ve found just by organizing my home office in January, is that when my physical space is organized those intangible organization problems are lessened. Rationally I know that if my documents are where I can find them, then things will go faster. But I think it’s interesting that my work schedule feels less cluttered and claustrophobic because my office is not cluttered and claustrophobic.

There just might be something to this organization thing!

Stay tuned for an update on January’s mini-theme, the Home Office. I’ll be posting photos.

Photo credit: Sarah and Mike… Probably via Flickr