Episode 43: Gold Stars Forever
Published February 19, 2016.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman, and hey.
Aminatou: Hey lady. How's it going?
Ann: I'm fine. I had like an old lady neck pull situation that I'm recovering from with muscle relaxers so if I sound semi-lethargic that's what it is.
Aminatou: Oh my god, I'm doing the prayer hands emoji motion for you right now.
Ann: Neck muscles are for real. Don't mess with them.
Aminatou: Whew. I don't do well when really crucial parts of my body are not together. Nothing stresses me out more.
Ann: I mean it's felt for a few days like it's going to roll off my head in a death becomes her style twist.
Ann: Which I admit I'm sort of attracted to but also repulsed by.
Aminatou: Oh my god, booboo, take care of your body.
Ann: Anyway, that's it. That's a highlight/lowlight with me.
Aminatou: Okay. Well, so here's the deal, this week on the agenda we have a really cool conversation with -- I can't believe I just said cool. No, nobody says the word cool. I take it back. [Laughs]
Ann: Scintillating conversation.
Aminatou: Yes, this week on the agenda we have a scintillating conversation with the ladies of Of a Kind, Claire and Erica, who are really good models for ladies who want to get out there and work with their besties but also just kill it at the game every day.
Ann: Yeah, it's a deep-dive into bestiepreneurship.
Aminatou: Yeah, so we talked to them a couple of weeks ago. They dropped some knowledge on us including that they were opening a new shop on Of a Kind and so you get to hear about it and now you can even shop it.
Ann: We also have a couple of listener questions. It's been a while since we've done those so we're going to tackle a few of those in this episode too.
Aminatou: You know, and just to be real with you we're obviously cheating a little because this week is very, very crazy for us. By the time you listen to this we would fully be into doing our first live show in San Francisco which we're nervous and excited about.
Ann: Oh my god, it's our live show maiden voyage.
Aminatou: I know, I'm so nervous. You know, I'm not nervous about the crowds. Crowds don't scare me. I'm just like ugh, I don't want people to be bored.
Ann: I mean that's what's scary about it, right? Because I think if I bore people on this podcast they can fast-forward or they can stop listening and I don't have to know about it.
Aminatou: They're going to walk out.
Ann: If someone starts . . . exactly.
Aminatou: They're going to walk out.
Ann: Or starts snoring in the middle of our live event, devastating. Absolutely devastating.
Aminatou: I know, I'm going to be devastating. But also I'm nervous because whenever we do this we're each in the comforts of our own individual closets so onstage it's just like a lot to take in.
Ann: We haven't even coordinated our outfits yet. That's how . . .
Aminatou: I know. To be perfectly honest that's the most stressful part of the whole thing.
Ann: So listen to this great interview and these listener questions and we will be back with meatier episodes soon.
Claire: We're in separate rooms because you made us . . . you exiled us from our couples desk by telling us we needed to be at separate computers.
Aminatou: Oh my god, wait. So you guys really work at the same desk?
Claire: For real.
Ann: So this is your version of long-distance besties?
Ann: Like two different rooms.
Claire: I was literally thinking that. I was like this actually is Call Your Girlfriend because Erica and I are talking to each other on the phone basically right now.
Aminatou: How does it feel? You guys are the . . . you are like kind of our generation's premier, like Ann coined it, bestiepreneuers. How does that feel?
Erica: That's not true at all but thank you.
Claire: It's really nice but we just aspire to be like the Kathie Lee and Hoda of our generation.
Aminatou: I mean, but who else, you know? Name two other ladies who have a business, are making money, are funny, and killing it. I don't know.
Claire: Well thank you. I don't know. It does feel really good and it's really nice and it's nice to also just have gotten to a point in the business where it's obvious to everybody that our relationship is so central to what we do that nobody questions it. You know, when you first start out and when we first started there were so many people being like "But who's really in charge and what's the divide?" People really needed to break it down.
Erica: There was so much of that. There's so much of that. You're the which one and you're the which other one?
Claire: Right, oh god. And in really offensive ways too. [Laughs]
Erica: Someone was like "So you're the smart one and you're the pretty one?"
Aminatou: Oh my god.
Claire: Oh god, it was so fucked. Like neither of us knew which one of us should be more offended in that scenario.
Aminatou: [Laughs] It's okay, when you kill that person there's two of you to get rid of the body so you're fine.
Erica: That's right.
Claire: Exactly. But I feel like five years in and with a bunch of milestones behind us people sort of get it and we don't need to explain it that much. People are like I get it, you guys work together. You're creative partners, and your friendship . . .
Erica: Which doesn't really exist in that many worlds. I feel like in the advertising world there's kind of that, you know?
Claire: That's true.
Erica: The copy person and the art director, and those people can be a team, or photography duos or something. But in general that idea of being a duo doesn't exist in a work environment and we're trying to change it.
Claire: It's so much so that the advertising thing was the only analogy that we could find and so at various points throughout the business where we were terrified that everything was about to fall out from under us and we'd have to find real jobs I asked my husband who works in advertising, I was like "Do you think Erica and I could just get a job as a creative duo at your agency?"
Claire: And he was like absolutely you're not working with me. He's like you don't do advertising. I was like I know but we just want to continue to work together. How can we do that?
Aminatou: It's so crazy to me to hear you say there are times that you thought the business was going to fall under, because as somebody who's just watched it from the outside I'm like oh, this is great all of the time.
Claire: Oh my god, it's . . . I find it's really important to talk about it too because I think we feel the same way about everybody else's business and I'm sure . . . you know, that's what makes you feel insecure is you think everybody else is killing it. But everybody has that.
Erica: Nobody is killing it all the time and I think there's this self-perception that it . . . or this perception from the outside that if you're getting good press or if your face is on Facebook where people are following you then everything's always on an upper trajectory which is not true for anyone.
Claire: And there's so much pressure too as founders or entrepreneurs to just always say you're killing it and you're crushing it and can never . . .
Erica: [Laughs] To not show weakness for some reason which is so odd.
Claire: It's so weird, yeah. I mean, I know, I get it. You have to put your game face on for potential investors or customers or whoever. Nobody wants to hear you're having a bad quarter or whatever. But at the same time there's value in honesty.
Ann: I was just about to ask if you guys had ever thought about trying to be more transparent about the tough times.
Claire: I mean it's funny, I think now that we are in a somewhat more comfortable position because we have a parent company, I think it's certainly something that's easier for us to talk about or to reference in an oblique way and it feels all the more important to do that. But yeah, I think it's a good question. I think . . .
Erica: We talk about it I think on the personal level a lot and we talk about it some on our podcast where we'll get into the sort of emotional highs and lows of having a business and the things that we have coped with and the toils of having a business relationship and being business partners and what that looks like over time when there is so much uncertainty and the shittiness of trying to unsuccessfully raise investment which we suck at. There's nothing that we're worse at in the world than fundraising.
Claire: My god, it's crazy. And yeah, that stuff is actually easier to talk about in hindsight too. We tried to fundraise. We suck at it. It turns out when we sold our business that that was kind of a good thing because there were fewer investors to pay back. So yeah, stuff like that is now easier to be honest about.
Ann: What has been the hardest thing about being a true equal partnership and dividing responsibilities or working together?
Erica: I think we all -- we both will sometimes experience these moments, especially when the business is changing or growing or we hire new people where we'll feel like but what is my role here? Or am I still needed? Or am I important? And do these new people think that I'm important or have value? And at that point I think we both struggle to find ownership over certain projects or get really touchy or sensitive more so than we ever do normally. And so then we have to have talk outs and just sort of reassure each other that we're loved and important and really valued and that this business wouldn't be the same without the other one and all of that.
Aminatou: The talk out!
Erica: Definitely lots of walking talk outs, being like "I sometimes feel like if I didn't do this nobody would care," then the other one being like "That is not true. Everybody understands that you do that and I sometimes feel like they don't care what I do."
Claire: [Laughs] I was listening to Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner on Lena's podcast and they were talking about when they have those moments, then they were like "And then you know we just go in the office and cry with each other." And I was like maybe we're not doing that enough. Should we be crying with each other more? [Laughs]
Erica: We don't cry that much. Yeah, we really don't cry very much.
Claire: Yeah, no, we're just . . . change is hard. I mean we started this thing in our apartments and it was just the two of us for so long that when these new elements are introduced to the equation, because we are such good friends and have known each other for so long, it can initially feel like it throws off the balance at first.
Aminatou: Yeah. How many employees do you have now?
Erica: We have four employees which is still super, super small.
Aminatou: I know, but it's still a lot in terms of the thing that's been . . . that I'm realizing more and more about myself is that it's really hard to let go of certain things.
Erica: Oh my god.
Aminatou: So I'm like how do you delegate to four whole humans something that you used to do by yourself?
Erica: And how do you not look at every tweet?
Aminatou: Yes, and just like micro manage everything and just be so on top of it.
Claire: That's huge. That's our weakness as business owners and managers because we did it ourselves for so long because we have so convinced ourselves that our insane attention to detail is what makes the business what it is. Then when you're in a position where you have to let that go you're just like I have no idea how to and you drive yourself crazy. But I will say -- and not just because they're sitting in the room -- that the team we have in place right now is really strong and really awesome and it feels good to be able to put things in their hands and know you can trust them.
Aminatou: Whoever writes the super cute note when you buy stuff, tell that person I love her.
Claire: We'll pass it on.
Erica: We have the greatest warehouse in the world.
Claire: We do.
Erica: They're this little family-owned fulfilment company and we interact with a single person there and we're back-and-forth with them all day long. When we get shipments of product, she'll email and be like "I love today's bowls," or "I don't like these earrings as much as the last ones."
Claire: Shout out to Laurie Industries. They're a game changer for our business because when you are a retail business unless you are venture-backed from the get-go or just have a lot of investment money otherwise you are fulfilling every package from your apartment or your office as we were and I would lose a piece of inventory and go rooting through my underwear drawer for it because I'm like it's got to be in here somewhere.
Erica: It was totally in there.
Claire: And there aren't that many small warehouses that make sense for small businesses and we were so lucky to find these guys who handle us and Best Made Co. and [0:11:53] and all these other small companies and it's such a game changer to be able to not have to stare at your inventory while you eat dinner.
Erica: Or pay New York rent for it which was another crazy thing.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm not going to lie, whenever we talk about even remotely doing merch the moment we get to the fulfillment question that's the part where my body just wants to shut down.
Aminatou: I'm like this seems like a great idea, but no. All of my ideas are like what can I do with my life that is not retail?
Erica: You know what I saw somebody try recently for fulfilment which I thought was interesting was using Shyp, S-H-Y-P.
Aminatou: Oh, I love that company. But still -- you still have to get the stuff somewhere and you still have to send it out.
Aminatou: I'm like why can't it live in the cloud? I never want to see it.
Erica: That's true. Why can't it live in the cloud?
Claire: Let's all sell digital products.
Aminatou: Yeah, that's my awful tech person brain. I'm just like ugh, I don't have the emotional capacity for dealing with things. Store it somewhere where I can't see it.
Erica: That's the idea though. At the end of the day, that's who's going to get rich.
Ann: 3D-printed merch totes or whatever.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Nobody steal this idea. We're still thinking about it.
Erica: 3D-printed by your regular Hewlett-Packard printer that's in your office already, ideally.
Aminatou: Oh, I can't wait for the future.
Ann: Use the paper to make a pulp and then construct it yourself. It's really simple.
Claire: It appeals to the DIY audience.
Ann: Yeah. I have kind of a baseline question about how you guys knew you were ready for each of the next levels you've sort of embarked on.
Aminatou: Oh, good question.
Ann: Whether it was formalizing it as a business, deciding to sell, I'm curious about those decision points.
Erica: Formalizing it as a business, we didn't know until we sort of started going down the road and it got to a certain point where we were basically already there and had sort of played it out. So we came up with the idea for Of a Kind in January of 2010 and it looks remarkably similar to what the site is now. Basically Claire had emailed me. She wanted to apply for a job at 20 by 200 which is an amazing site which sells limited-edition art prints and she emailed me her cover letter to look over. And during that process we were just going back-and-forth about what was interesting about 20 by 200. And when I got home from work that day I had an email in my inbox from her that was "Read this instead of my cover letter." And she basically outlined why doesn't this kind of thing exist for fashion? People who love caring about what they wear and owning beautiful special things but also want to know the coolest new designers around and don't have a way of accessing this at a non-crazy price point. And so she and I went back-and-forth over email that night and I sort of spoke to the idea that editorial is what would make that really interesting to me because the artists that are on 20 by 200 are amazing but I don't know anything about art so their names don't really mean that much to me in the way that they do to her. And so I think storytelling was really key. And so we basically approached it like an extracurricular, like an after-school project basically.
Claire: Well, the most . . . so that email chain obviously now has gone down in the history of Of a Kind in the archive. For the holidays this year my husband had one of the emails from that chain stitched in needlepoint, like memorialized it. And the best part is in one of those emails it says "So, can we just maybe meet for coffee after work tomorrow? Maybe just to talk about and fantasize what this could be if it was just a small side project?" Because I was clearly so scared to commit or to ask Erica to commit at that point. It was like just a fantasy side project that we could maybe do in our spare time. And obviously now, six years later, you're like oh, hilarious side project.
Erica: So then we met and started working on it and we started reaching out to designers more because we had no idea how this whole worked because none of us had worked in retail in a serious way or in fashion in a serious way. We didn't understand how to even buy from designers or wholesaling or what kind of minimums they would have or what their production was like. And so we started taking these meetings with them and at the end of a meeting they would be like "Cool, when would you want to see a sample by? And when would you place an order and what would this look like?" And we're like oh, these are onboarding meetings. I see what's happening.
Erica: We had no idea. We also in the beginning asked them to sign NDAs because that's how greedy we were. It was so upsetting.
Claire: Oh my god, so embarrassing. So embarrassing. Like an NDA we printed out from the Internet to talk about this idea that anybody could've sold. It was just terrible.
Erica: As though these designers had any interest in building this website.
Aminatou: Please, you don't walk into any tech office in San Francisco without signing an NDA. It's the most ridiculous thing in the world.
Claire: It's so ridiculous.
Aminatou: We'll just chock it up to that's what website people do.
Claire: Right, exactly.
Erica: That's fair.
Claire: So really we were just acting like the people we wanted to become.
Erica: Yeah. [Laughs] Just aspirational NDA signing.
Aminatou: Yeah, no, I have a really awful NDA template that I call the FrieNDA if I'm going to have to make someone who I like sign one and it's the most shameful email I send all the time.
Erica: So then we got to this point where we had met all these designers and had gone down a road and had started to talk to web developers and had this moment. I remember I was flying back from a work trip in L.A. and I was standing in LAX and Claire and I were on the phone and she was like "I think we need to decide if we're going to do this or not. Now is kind of the time to quit our jobs and move forward with this or not." And so we decided to quit our jobs.
Claire: That's the first time I've ever heard you tell that part of the story and I don't remember it but I still got chills. Why was I making you get on the phone from LAX?
Erica: Because I think we had had some conversation with a lawyer about . . .
Claire: Okay, right, right, right. Yeah.
Erica: Things, and you suddenly felt there was a deadline that we needed . . .
Aminatou: It was very important, clearly. In the movie it's going to be . . .
Erica: All of a sudden, yeah.
Aminatou: In the movie it's going to be the pivotal moment. It's very important.
Erica: Me at LAX coming back. Yeah.
Claire: God, I'm such a jerk too because I do this. That's classic me, like this must be solved immediately, this life-changing thing. God, sorry. Six years later. [Laughs]
Erica: It's very memorable, see?
Claire: Yeah. Oh man. Yeah, I mean . . . and I think a lot of times that's how all of these decisions have been made is in some ways out of necessity, like you get pushed to a point. And I hate to say that as if we weren't agentive in these decisions but I think part of it is a result of always having been a small company with stretched bandwidth where you're just working, working, working until an opportunity sort of presents itself or forces itself and that's been . . .
Erica: A lot of come to Jesus moments and that's changed things.
Erica: Like getting a warehouse, it was like a come to Jesus moment of being like oh my god, we had had a terrible two-month stint where we realized we couldn't do it anymore and we had to sort of pull the trigger. When we hired our first employee it was a summer intern who when she was getting ready to go back, like start looking for a full-time job, we had a financial part-time consultant working for us and we were like "Jeremy, could we hire her? Do we have money to hire her? Because she can't leave. What happens if she leaves?"
Claire: That was it. We were like oh, she's going to leave now and we won't be able to function so I guess we have to hire her. We've never done anything preemptively. You know, you look at a lot of these companies who are like well, we'll need that person six months from now so let's hire them in three months so they'll have time to get up and running. That's never been the position that we've been in. It's always completely out of necessity.
Aminatou: A lot of that sounds super fearless to me. You know, just getting to the point where, sure, sometimes you get hurled into making decisions and sometimes you . . . you know, I guess that's the point of hiring all these people that you are, is that hypothetically it's going to free you up to do that higher-level thinking or whatever that you're supposed to do.
Erica: Yeah, that's the hope and the dream.
Claire: We talk about that a lot, higher-level thinking.
Erica: About how we're going to do that.
Aminatou: I'm convinced Oprah runs the Harpo Twitter account. You'll be fine. She does all of it.
Claire: I really hope so. I really hope so.
Aminatou: She's like I haven't slept in 27 years.
Claire: That is another thing, when you talk to people who you think have it going on or have it completely together and they're still running their Twitter account. It's super important in situations like this to have other friends who are running their own business so you're like oh, you are still checking the Twitter account. You're writing all the tweets and you feel better about yourself.
Erica: But the hard part for us is we then take is we then take that as validation that it's the right thing to do and we should be micro managers and we're making all the right decisions by looking at all of this stuff. So that's the road we go down for sure.
Claire: Yeah, it's a dangerous one.
Ann: But do you have like a brain trust of other entrepreneurs in sort of a similar position that you go to for questions like hey, are you still tweeting from your own account?
Claire: Our go-to is our Lizzie and Catherine Fortunato who have a jewelry business and it's very different from ours in terms of sort of the economics but at the end of the day they think like we do and the size of the business is pretty similar. I don't know if . . .
Erica: They're crazy in the same ways we are.
Claire: Oh, completely.
Erica: Which is what's important.
Claire: And so we get together with them really regularly and it's just . . . it's a nightmare for anybody else involved, like if one of our boyfriends or husbands are there they're like can't handle it, too much, got to get out of here, because we're all screaming at each other and talking at the same time about what's going wrong in the business or whatever. So that has been so key.
Aminatou: What are still your super favorite parts of running the business?
Claire: Okay, this is Claire also because I know that Erica and I sound alike but for me I really love the process of seeing a product come to life because some of the products that we sell are more or less created in the minds or in real-life of the designer before they get to us. But a lot of them are really collaborative processes with the designer and that's really fun to see something that truly feels like a collaboration and is a creative part of my job. And truly the biggest, most exciting piece is if it works out really well and that designer sees an impact on their career as a result of it, and those are the really satisfying moments when you get this email from a designer who's like "I just need to tell you how huge it was for me and my business to work with you guys." Before we started Of a Kind when we were just sitting around our kitchen tables dreaming about it we said what do we want Of a Kind to be? What do we want it to stand for? And we said wouldn't it be so awesome if Of a Kind was something that was looked at as a milestone in a designer's career? And that was the fantasy thing, right? Before we even had a business to speak of that was our fantasy of what it would be.
And then at some point that started to see the message that we would hear from designers. They would reach out to us and say like "I have three business goals this year and one of them is to work with you," or looking back and saying "My business grew so much this year and it had so much to do with working with you guys." You know, it's like we're a small business working with other small businesses and that is so satisfying.
Erica: For me I think developing a voice and a point-of-view and an aesthetic that feels identifiable and distinct has been a huge win. I mean this is my hope and dream that people actually feel that way, I don't know. But in a way . . .
Claire: I think they do.
Aminatou: You know, I think we can all agree on that. I think that they do. [Laughs]
Erica: And I think the ways that I feel validated in this, or sort of the most key moments, are when you get customer service emails from people who talk back to us like we're friends and they'll be like "Yo, Claire and Erica, I loved this edition so much. I'm obsessed with it. I was so into this story, or you talked about this thing on the podcast and I wanted to tell you about this pair of tights I found that I'm crazy about," and cultivating those relationships with people who are contacting us via customer service at ofakind.com has been a really awesome thing.
Claire: Yes, I second that. Preach. We have like anybody our fair share of customers who are not that awesome but we have so many amazing people who fully treat us like we've known them for ten years even though we've just met them over email.
Erica: Like Facebook friends or something, yes.
Claire: And just write us the funniest emails and when we make announcements about our business about changes or whatever they'll write back and be so honest and by and large just so supportive in ways that are just unimaginable. It's awesome. I love that.
Erica: When we make big announcements and get emails back we get so many people writing back just like "Congrats. Congrats, you guys," or whatever, which I don't think most newsletters get.
Claire: Well I would never hit Reply All to a newsletter until now because I see so many people do it in our audience so now I'll do it too.
Aminatou: It's because it really feels like you guys are talking to us. Remember the day that I emailed you when you had repped our newsletter? Sorry, you repped our podcast in the newsletter which I was really excited about. But more excitedly you confessed to the fact that you also listen to Ebro in the Morning on HOT 97 and I lost my shit, like fully lost my shit that morning, because I was like I wait up at obscene California morning times and listen to Ebro in the morning and I have such strong feelings about it.
Claire: I'm still losing my shit daily that you also listen to Ebro in the Morning because we love it so much, and not that I thought we were the only people but it really is . . .
Aminatou: No, it's like a thing that I do that I never talk to anybody about because I'm so conflicted about how awful Ebro can be, you know? And it's just like . . .
Erica: You can't not be conflicted about Ebro.
Aminatou: Yeah, he's such a hypocrite. And then Claire replied to me, she was like "Yeah, my husband also hates him because he's a demoralizer." And I was like yes, secret society of Ebro conflicted listeners.
Claire: Have we told you that our dream is to be on Ride or Die?
Aminatou: Yes, obviously, and that you call it Drake 97.
Erica: Because they play four songs. Four songs total ever. It's very reassuring that way. Comforting, yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah. You will be on Ride or Die. I think that's a very attainable 2016 goal.
Claire: I think you're right.
Aminatou: Ebro, if you're listening . . .
Claire: Ebro, call us.
Erica: He's definitely listening.
Claire: I just have to tell you that you're right. I have to share this story about people -- this idea that people think the newsletter is speaking to them personally. We got an email today from a customer who responded to our Ten Things newsletter which is a list of ten things that Erica and I discovered the week previous that we just love and wanted to share with everybody and it's everything from beauty products to Call Your Girlfriend to a book we read. And somebody wrote back to it today and said -- and so it says here's our things. Here's Erica's things; she lists five. Then Claire's things; I list five. And this person wrote back and she said "Hi, I just wanted to know. My name is Erica and are you picking these recommendations for me personally? Because if so some of them are really big misses and you're really off and I would like to update my profile on your site."
Claire: We lost it. And it's sad that the thing that killed me the most about it was the idea that we would have profiles.
Erica: And that we were generating these lists for everyone individually.
Aminatou: I haven't gotten my Amina's things yet.
Erica: Coming up. Coming right up.
Claire: Your profile is being constructed by our algorithm right now.
Aminatou: Oh my god.
Erica: Yeah, the bats are on it.
Aminatou: That is amazing.
Claire: So yeah, people do feel like we're speaking to them personally. It's 99% of the time very rewarding and 1% very confusing.
Aminatou: Well besides HOT 97 and Ebro in the Morning what are other things that you guys are like . . . what do you look for to get inspiration?
Claire: Whew, I don't know if this is an inspiration so much but I run every single day and that is so key to my life. And Amina, you and I have talked about that because it's my . . . it's like my mood booster. It's my antidepressant. It's probably . . .
Aminatou: I know, you probably changed my life with that.
Claire: Really? That's good. I mean it's like the one . . . if nothing else, even if it sucks and I don't do any good thinking on it, it's a half-hour day that I can't look at my phone which is another problem in my life. So that's a big . . . I would call that my thing.
Erica: This feels like a terrible follow-up to that but I've been into Snapchat lately and I don't think it's inspiring at all.
Aminatou: [Laughs] There's no shame. There's no shame.
Claire: There's not. And you're really good at it, Erica. You . . .
Erica: Thanks so much, because I take shitty pictures so I'm bad at Instagram. It's a better outlet for my creative skills.
Aminatou: I'm going to last my one -- my last super cheesy, earnest, but real question: what is next for Of a Kind in 2016?
Claire: Oh, everything. I'm not sure what we're allowed to talk about yet.
Aminatou: I know. What can you tell us that's not under the FrieNDA?
Erica: We have been doing more additions in different categories. We're launching a collection of beauty/personal care products on the site.
Erica: That are all things that Claire and I use, shit that we can very much get behind because we buy it all the time. So it's my favorite shampoo, my favorite eyebrow pencil, Claire's favorite deep conditioner for her curly hair, Claire's favorite red lipstick, and all of that stuff. And we've never gotten into beauty on the site in a big way but it's something that we talk about a lot in our Ten Things newsletter and on our podcast and we're hoping in 2016 to do a better job of merging those two worlds.
Claire: At another point when we thought the business was going to fall through and we were like okay, well what do we want to do next? What do we want to do when we grow up? The term we came up with was just we wanted to be professional enthusiasts. We just fucking love talking about stuff that we love.
Aminatou: That's awesome.
Claire: So the beauty shop really feels -- or we're calling it personal care shop because beauty felt like a loaded term. But this feels like yes, this is the stuff that we use until the last drop then cut off the top of the tube so you can get the last scrape and now we get to sell it and that feels awesome. I have no idea what's going to happen with it but I hope people like it.
Aminatou: So far, it's like five years in, not a single lemon so . . .
Erica: That's not true.
Claire: We just put all the lemons in the garbage disposal so you wouldn't notice.
Claire: They make the place smell nice, right?
Ann: It's why the kitchen smells so good. Yeah.
Aminatou: Well you guys thank you so much for joining us. This was so fun.
Claire: Thank you guys.
[Music and Ads]
Aminatou: Oh man, okay, let's do some listener questions.
Ann: Ooh, multiple.
Aminatou: I mean maybe we'll do one question. [Laughs]
Ann: Okay, do you have a fav here?
Aminatou: This one is kind of short and sweet.
Aminatou: "Hey Aminatou and Ann. Firstly thank you so much to you both and Gina for an awesome podcast." It's all Gina.
Ann: It's 100% Gina D.
Aminatou: It's all Gina. I love it. "Secondly, I have a question about dealing with feedback in a career setting." Dun, dun, dun. "I'm a people pleaser and find constructive feedback really difficult to deal with. I hear you're terrible at your job and we're disappointing with you if I get anything less than glowing reviews. I'm at a stage in my career now where it's not all going to be gold stars forever. How do you both deal with feedback and turn it around so you get inspired and motivated rather than discouraged and lost?
Ann: Well gold stars forever is actually the name of our career coaching side business.
Ann: So I'm glad you came to us.
Aminatou: Gold star . . . this question is amazing to me because this person has already pinpointed everything that's the matter, right? She's like I'm a people pleaser.
Aminatou: And I'm just like dun, dun, that's the crux of it.
Ann: Yeah. I mean and also clearly she seems on some higher level she understands. She's like I know this doesn't mean I'm terrible at my job or that I'm going to get fired tomorrow or anything like that. I think that part of it is if you were truly doing a bad job people wouldn't know how to articulate what you're doing wrong. Like I think about this a lot, like the people I've worked with who there have been -- and there have been pretty few of them luckily -- who are just so awful, the kind of nightmare scenario that maybe this woman imagines she is in her darkest moments, those people, it's really hard to articulate why they're awful. People who are actually pretty good coworkers you can be like "Okay, here's this one thing that you can do better, full stop." And sometimes when you get specific feedback it's like that's a compliment. This is a concrete thing. It's not like this is all a hot mess and I can't even figure out how to ask you to return. I don't know, that's one thing.
Aminatou: Yeah. That's one thing. You know, I think it's two things, right? Being self-motivated is very important at work. As somebody who has been a manager multiple times I don't think that people understand how hard managing is and just how unprepared most people are for it. And so part of why you're not getting stellar feedback all the time, a lot of times your manager is literally underwater. Like they have to do their job then they have to manage you and multiple other people at the same time.
Aminatou: And so being self-motivated is really important, but I think also just learning to read other people better is also really important. Personally I don't believe in effusive praise unless you literally have saved a life, you know?
Aminatou: It's true. It's like my first boss out of college always said "You don't get a pat on the back for doing your job." And that's a thing that I really internalize. And I'm not saying that it's for everyone, but sometimes people are giving you feedback and you don't even realize they are. But I think there's this other thing too, especially when you're dealing with difficult people, where you just need to also learn which feedback to internalize and which not to internalize.
Ann: Yeah. I mean one thing that I, when I was an editor, I would always say upon editing people who were in their first or second job is being edited is a skill and getting feedback is a skill so figuring out how to be receptive to it and how to sort of figure out okay, my manager is just having a bad day versus this is something I really need to take seriously is a skill you can improve on which if I'm reading this correctly this listener is probably down to improve and sees it as a challenge as opposed to something she has no control over.
Aminatou: Exactly, right? And I think there's also something about disassociating yourself from the work. We both always think that our work can be better. I've never turned in something or done something where I thought that's it. That's the best I can do.
Ann: Killed it.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm like maybe one day I'll write a Hamilton-like musical and I'll feel that way but in the meantime I always see how things could've been better but I also . . . I don't take it personally. To this person, you've kind of identified that the people pleaser thing is a problem and I think toning it down just means that you have to focus on the work and not on yourself.
Ann: Right. You are not your job. You probably would be really sad if someone were like oh, the totality of who you are and what you're about is what you do at work and so you have to sort of take the good part of that as well which is that it's just work.
Aminatou: Exactly. And, you know, I think that sometimes honestly the best way to deal with feedback is to ask for specific feedback.
Ann: Yeah, ask follow-up questions to sort of say "Do you mean in this situation or this situation?" and engage.
Aminatou: Exactly. And again don't ask about yourself but ask about the work.
Ann: Ugh, yes.
Aminatou: I'm just like over it. Over work forever. It's crazy.
Ann: Not an option. I love that you can be over work forever. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, you know, I don't know. I used to be one of those people that all of my identity was wrapped into work. A couple years ago I got really sick and work didn't crumble when I wasn't there and I was like oh, life can be like this?
Aminatou: And it was just such a perspective giving for me where I was like oh, I can be hit by a bus tomorrow and all of life will keep going.
Aminatou: So work is really important but that's not what I want to be remembered for.
Ann: Mmm. 2016 life lessons. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Okay, another career question. "Dear Aminatou and Ann, I found you all during my freshman year of college." Aww, baby! "When I felt very lost and alone." Aww. "Hearing your voices was so refreshing and it filled me with so much comfort at a time when I felt like no one understood me. Listening to you all on my way to school always pumps me up and makes me feel like I'm listening to my own best friends being the coolest thing ever."
Ann: Oh, full-arm goosebumps.
Aminatou: "Keep up the amazing work." Thank you. That is really encouraging. Thank you. "Here is my issue: I'm 19 and I feel like the chance to do something amazing for the world is slowly ticking away. I want to go to law school once I'm done with my undergraduate degree which is pre-law. I have always wanted to be an inspiring voice for women to relate to and look up to, however I feel like I'm stuck and uninspired. I feel like by the time I get my shit together all of the things I can do have been already done. All the inspirational things and important things will already be done and I'll just be left with all of this passion without knowing what to do with it. This mindset also makes me want to rethink my major. I feel uninspired and I feel like I know nothing about myself. I'm terrified if going to law school doesn't work out, what will I do then? My question to you is how do I get to know who I am? Does it just happen and am I just being anxious? I feel like I can't inspire and be a voice for people if I don't know who I am first. Sorry if this is hard to understand. Please help." This is not hard to understand at all.
Ann: Ugh, also just the existential questions of life, like tomes and tomes of canonical dude philosophers have tackled this question.
Aminatou: I know! Also, man, I say 19 is young not in a condescending way but in a very facts of life kind of way. Like if you live to how you're supposed to live you're barely at a quarter of your life.
Ann: I was having those thoughts then I was like maybe she has a terminal illness.
Aminatou: Maybe it's a Mandy Moore movie.
Ann: Oh my god, maybe this is a Nicholas Sparks novel. [Laughs]
Aminatou: You know, yeah, so I don't say this to be condescending at all but 19 is very young. You're a freshman in college. My sincere hope for you is senior year of college on graduation day you look back on this letter and you laugh. You laugh so hard because you realize how much of life is full of surprises.
Ann: Yeah, or when you're 35 or when you're 45 when Leslie Jones got big.
Aminatou: I know. You know, Ann, also we both have read the Gloria Steinem memoir which I think this person should read. Gloria is like 80-something. She's literally been around for everything, right? Events and then the backlash to them and . . .
Ann: She's like the feminist Zelig. Yeah, she's popped up everywhere.
Aminatou: Like yeah, she's just hung on and she's there. And the thing about it that was so great about reading her book is just realizing what a full life she's lived but also how much fuller her life has gotten these last couple of years.
Ann: Oh my god, yeah.
Aminatou: You know, it wasn't like she did everything she wanted to do at 25. No, at 83 she's kicking and alive and amazing. Notorious RBG, same thing. Notorious RBG didn't go to law school for a long time. She was married and had a kid.
Ann: Totally. We didn't start this podcast until we were like 29 and I was like 31, right? Or 32. [Laughs]
Ann: I mean, yeah, that's like ten years older than you are now. Which is not to say this is the greatest achievement known to man or even the greatest achievement either of us have ever done. However I think the sort of incubation period before maybe you become known for something or find your passion or find that . . .
Ann: Yeah, find that fulfilment, it's 100% anxiety but you have to sort of use the anxiety if it's possible.
Aminatou: Yeah. When I was in college I read this book called The Artist Way which I should probably reread soon.
Ann: Oh my god, yeah.
Aminatou: Somebody else brought it up to me. But The Artist Way is very cheesy in its own kind of way, but I think one thing that it does really well is lay out artistic processes for you. Yes, there's a ton of anxiety that happens, there's a ton of planning that happens, but I also think that there is something to be said about being really rigid in your thinking and what you think success looks like. And the reason that that's tough is because you're not successful yet so you don't actually have a solid grasp of what that will look like for you. And so it's almost like you're chasing the wrong thing.
Ann: And I think if you're doing it right it will change constantly. I mean I had achieved some things that I wanted when I was 19 but I've also done a lot of things that I didn't even know I wanted yet and there are things that I'm still chasing. It's like if you realize that it's sort of a continuum, and that Gloria Steinem example is -- I mean I'm not 80 years old, but I hope that when I'm 80 I'm still doing what she's doing which is at the very least asking questions.
Aminatou: Yeah, exactly. It's like I know that this person, you know, she's like "I want to be inspirational to all these other people and blah, blah, blah." I'm like that's really great, but you know, there's just so much of life is also focusing on yourself and finding out who you are and honestly that's what people are attracted to. People aren't attracted to the manufactured, for lack of a better word, stuff that you want to give them. People see your authentic self and that's what they want and that's what keeps them coming. And so I would say look inwardly and see what is it that's making you anxious, like what you don't love.
The law school thing is also so interesting because obviously, you know, we are friends with a lot of people who went to law school. Some of them have positive things to say; some of them have negative things to say. But there's not just one path to do the thing that you want to do.
Ann: Yeah. And I think too that if looking inwardly is making you stressed out right now . . . I mean there's this line in the email that says "How do I get to know who I am?" And it's like the sooner that you accept that that's basically life, that's the whole thing, it's not something you do in college like finding yourself or whatever blah, blah, blah in college . . .
Aminatou: Right. We're still asking ourselves that.
Ann: Totally. Totally. Sometimes you learn about that in relation to the work that you're doing or the projects you've taken on or the people you're around. It's like it can be painful to be like oh, I'm not like that person, or I'm not actually interested in the law. Sometimes it means defining yourself against. But sometimes you do need to have experiences in order to then do that inward-thinking work and sort of say oh, okay, well that's what I'm taking away from that. That's what I am and that's what I'm not for now.
Aminatou: Yeah, no. You know, also this other thing about college anxiety, I know -- except maybe the journalists in my life, I know very few people who are doing the thing they studied at school.
Ann: Oh my god, like almost no one.
Aminatou: I'm just like yeah, I studied political science and I thought I was going to be like Christiane Amanpour or work in refugee camps which I did for a little bit then I was like that's not what I'm doing in my life. And I'm so far removed from that. So just this idea that your undergraduate degree determines your path is complete garbage and schools love to sell you that. And just on a very practical level, like one thing that I did in college every semester is I would pick one class that was so not in my wheelhouse of things. It was not like a fulfilment for my thing. You know, complete elective, oftentimes in a different college than I was in, and just do that for fun and for pleasure. And I think that just exploring that way and seeing if there's something else at school that makes you less anxious, that makes you more happy, and just broadening your social circle too. Like sometimes it's a matter of just meeting people who are not on the same path as you to make you realize that your life can be different.
Ann: Yeah, there are certain milestones where sort of culture says you should be declaring who you are and one of them is early in college when you declare a major. And I think this listener has similar problems to a lot of people who have just recently graduated college who are like "Oh, god, who am I in the real world?" or whatever. Like thinking they should have this concrete definition. And in some ways it's like yeah, you probably have to get a job or you probably do have to declare a major. That's real. But understanding that is not 100% who am I as a person or fundamental, it's just a thing I'm trying now.
Aminatou: Right. It's like in the next three years that you're in school the economy could tank all over again and it won't matter what you learn in school.
Ann: The Oregon militia could succeed and we could all live in a weird . . . [Laughs]
Aminatou: Right? There's so many things that could happen that are out of your control that will have an effect on your life and I think the most important skill you can learn if anything is just how to cope with those weird things.
Ann: Right. Evolve.
Aminatou: Because here's the thing about law school: law school is still here. I think about going to law school every once in a while. I'm just like oh, I'm 30. Can I still go? Yeah.
Ann: At every crisis point in your life you will be able to consider going to law school. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Exactly, you know? And that's the thing, you can do that. There are many people who were not pre-law who end up in law school later. It's not the end all, be all of careers, you know? And just not having that kind of rigid thinking but mostly how do I get through four years of college with a skill that I actually like? Because here's the thing, pre-law is not a skill.
Aminatou: No, it's true.
Ann: No, I know. I'm laughing because it's like. Yeah.
Aminatou: It's like how do you get through four years of college with a skill that you can use? And that can be anything. It doesn't have to be a thing that you major in. Something that you can fall back on. But also how do you get through four years of school with just having a good time? Like feeling like you're a well-rounded person. You took advantage of the best things your college has to give. Like me personally, after graduation, I was really traumatized. I didn't know that college was such a utopia until I wasn't in it. I was like oh, man, now I have to pay bills all the time and . . .
Ann: Bills, bills, bills.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's like bills, bills, bills, and you're not learning for pleasure and it's really hard to be a curious person your first couple of years, because guess what? You're going to have to do a lot of dues paying afterwards. Whether you end up going to some form of higher education or you end up in the workplace, it's really hard being a 20-something year old in the real world. The fact that you have so much passion and you want to help people, that's going to happen but it will only happen when you turn that passion towards yourself and really start walking in your own authentic light.
Ann: If you did not catch our San Francisco event, fear not, we have two more coming up in the near future, March 7th in Los Angeles with the incredible Rebecca Traister talking about Single Women in America.
Aminatou: It's selling out so fast. Get your ticket now.
Ann: It's true. It's very true. And then again on April 10th in Washington, D.C. where we'll be doing more of kind of a live show that's a little bit more general. And seeing as how that is the city where we first met and have lots of people I think that's going to be a really fun one.
Aminatou: Also it's my birthday weekend so, you know, in lieu of presents please just come to our live show.
Ann: Oh my god, or better yet, as a birthday gift to Amina, buy a ticket for your friend who lives in D.C. as like a bestie present.
Aminatou: Oh my god. Also we're doing our live show at the Sixth & I Synagogue which is my favorite place in all of D.C. to do shows.
Ann: Beautiful venue. We roll so deep with the Jewish venues.
Aminatou: Yo, Jewish venues love us. Shout out to Jewish venues everywhere. You guys take good care of us.
Aminatou: I'm so glad there are multiple Jewish emoji that we can use now.
Ann: I know, we've put them to so much use lately, synagogue emoji.
Aminatou: I know. I know. You know, as somebody who is emotionally Jewish I really appreciate the good, deep care and love that they have for me so thank you.
Ann: Same. Then if you can't see us live, which understandable, or at least not just yet, you can find us on the Internet, callyourgirlfriend.com, on Twitter at @callyrgf, on Facebook -- just Google it.
Ann: [Laughs] You can send us an email at email@example.com or you can leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF.
Aminatou: And to all of the CYG listeners who are frantically tweeting at me about Kanye West and what is going on in his life, I'm sorry we don't have time to talk about it right now but I promise you when we check back in there will be more news to digest.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: So just hang in there and I will be back.
Ann: There will be many more meltdowns before we check in again I'm sure.
Aminatou: Oh my god. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Ann: Gina Delvac!
Aminatou: Okay, boo, see you in person very soon.
Ann: Oh my god, see you in person and on the Internet. Also see Kanye on the Internet. Everything.
Aminatou: Oh my god, so, so many things.