Finding My Voice: A Lesson Learned

* Disclaimer: This blog post has absolutely nothing to do with my usual rambles on PPC, but does — in an unusual way– describe my current feelings toward our industry. You’ve been warned ;)

Lately I’ve realized I’m a lot quieter than I used to be. I know some of you are thinking—”but you never shut up!” Okay well maybe just my office mates are thinking that, but I don’t mean that I say less; I mean that I’m quieter. Sure I tweet, I blog, I email, I update, I give interviews, presentations, feedback. I do all of this communication, but I don’t hear as much of me in it anymore.

I’m not sure what it is really. I’ve spent the last two weeks or so freaking out about it. I’ve been having one of those annoying late-twenties dialogues with myself where I ask myself things like,

“Am I doing what I should be doing?”
“Am I spending my time on the right things?”
“Am I being true to myself and the dreams I once dreamt?”

Yeah, yeah I know. It all seems like silly huge stuff you could easily get lost in. But it’s been rough. All of this existential stuff can really wear you out to be honest. Over the past couple weeks I’ve started running more just to be away from the computer at night, just to revisit something that I consider to be a great escape from it all. And during the many miles of rainy Seattle weather I have ran, I had a few different thoughts as to, “Why do I seem quieter? Why do I seem less me than before?”

Some of the answers:
(1) leaving my entrepreneurial life behind (not constantly defining yourself by one project, that I owned and lived for, can be quite a growth experience, especially after having let it define you for two years)
(2) changing my physical location (as most of you know I’ve had a hard time leaving LA for Seattle, even though Seattle is amazing, part of me does seem a bit lost up here)
(3) moving in-house for such a well known brand (I think coming in to something that is so well-defined can sometimes make it easy to lose yourself in)
(4) this industry is expanding in every possible direction, all at the same time (I find myself constantly communicating, but not necessarily any of my original thoughts)

I honestly think this last one is the one that resonates. I actually think our industry specifically exudes this nature of consumption. If you aren’t careful, it can easily consume you– your time, your thoughts, your voice. Don’t go getting all defensive friends, I don’t mean the people, and I don’t mean the projects, or the evolution of it, or the amazing energy that surrounds it. I mean the fact that this industry truly is so large, and continually growing.

This industry we all love so much is a never-ending opportunity. Daily I read your tweets. We are all getting offered jobs, getting told about new gadgets, repeatedly reminded we are in the middle of a revolution, and we are told time and time again–the sky is the limit.  I find this to be the strangest paradox of all. Our industry is founded on passionate workaholics, and we have now built something that demands the utmost passion, and let’s be honest– no one lazy makes it. Thankfully, in my opinion. We are reading stories that remind us anyone who works hard can accomplish anything. I love this. I love that that in our industry if you are willing to give it everything you have, the dream will return the favor.

On the flip side– uhm whoa. Seriously. Read it again: Anyone who works hard enough can accomplish anything. That’s a consuming reality.

That wasn’t always the case (as my dad likes to remind me), we are in a new era of unlimited opportunity, and the excitement, and the options, and the resources, and the advice, and the tools are all dancing around us—begging to be utilized for our own benefit—whatever benefit means to you.

I think this is a huge reason I’ve become somewhat muted, and frankly it kind of pisses me off. This is not some post where I am going to swear off Twitter or the web, but I did feel propelled tonight to bring up this idea of saturation.  I find myself so excited about everything that everyone is saying that I can’t stay focused, and I constantly feel inadequate. It’s a new age of exhausting potential—something we have all dreamt of and helped build. Now that it’s here, I find myself a bit scared and too blinded by it all to really enjoy it sometimes.

So what now? Well I’m not so sure this post was started with a real conclusion in mind.  However, I did have a discussion tonight with a close friend that reminded me how important it is to let things go. Normally I only use that phrase when I talk to girlfriends about their horrible ex-boyfriends, ha. But I’m beginning to see another use of it… I need to learn to let things go. This isn’t because they were bad, or malicious, but simply because there is so much more staring at me, and those things are better worth my time.

Call it growing pains but I’ve never been that good at letting go. I’ve always been proudly defined as someone who never lets go, who always works that much harder at making it work, who is willing to go the extra 100 miles, screw one mile. Instead, I think it’s time to rethink that. Learning to rethink the way you’ve always approached work and life is certainly going to be a challenge.

I’m kind of up for it though. If it means at the end of this, I will rediscover the me that loved to give opinions, and felt comfortable in where they originated, I think I’d do pretty much anything to get back there.

Anyway, my breakdown for the year is all yours to contemplate. I wonder if we will see more and more of this as the plugged-in culture grows? I wonder if more and more of them will find it challenging to make any noise when surrounded by so much of it?

I suspect this will be the case. My advice, and my personal goal? To stop allowing so much noise to surround me. I’ll be letting some of it go in an attempt to distinguish my own voice in it all. This should be interesting, wish me luck…

  • Matt Crouch

    I feel ya JL. Of course, I’m a couple years older than you but even in my early 30s I continue to deal with the same issues.

    This is a fascinating industry to be apart of but it can me extremely exhausting much of the time. Especially with constantly evolving standards and playing field within the search engines. ..and also the CONSTANT noise/rhetoric from everyone with a blog, twitter or facebook.

    And all for what? Are you truly getting the satisfaction you crave? Maybe for you it was the personal achievement, voice and rewards you craved….and at the same time we all know how hard (impossible at times) it is to go at it alone.

  • Selena Narayanasamy

    Thank you Joanna, for writing this. I feel like you’ve taken the words right out of my mouth.

    I’m a self proclaimed workaholic and I completely know what you mean- there is almost something NEW- new conversations, new strategies, new tools, new everything- everyday.

    And in a world of literally limitless opportunity right now, sometimes it’s like we can never really reach the top of what we want, because the ceiling is always raising. It’s an amazingly good thing- but so easy to get lost in as well- because we want to be fulfilled but sometimes stretch ourselves completely to feel it without holding on to ourselves and staying true to our thoughts and “isms” at the same time.

    I used to write sometimes two or three posts a day, but lately my brain has just felt tapped out. It’s not a bad thing, but sometimesI just wish I had a passion to write about certain topics like I used to.

    I’ve been unplugging a lot lately too. I used to work late into the night but now I find that I literally have to unplug at night to quiet my brain- or else I would be up for hours following conversations, trying things, procuring ideas about what I can start understanding more of, or applying.

    It’s a good kind of consumption but we also need to check ourselves before we mentally exhaust or lose ourselves in it.

    I really loved this. Thanks again.

  • Ari

    I completely connected with your post.. I’m going through a similar funk right now despite amazing opportunities and all of the choices, and ‘endless opportunity’.

    “I actually think our industry specifically exudes this nature of consumption. If you aren’t careful, it can easily consume you– your time, your thoughts, your voice.”

    Completely agree – you’ve summed it up perfect here. I often feel this way about the US in general – offline or online – the multitude of choices and opportunity can sometimes prevent you from doing things really well and slowly – because there’s always something else you could be choosing or doing at that same moment – now exponentially.

    Thanks for this post – vocal marketing folks sometimes project that they’ve got it all figured out. It’s really nice to hear some of the human sides behind them :)

  • Alex Pyatetsky – CMO @ The HOTH

    On Saturday, I found myself in a hotel room, far from the frigid midwest in the cradle of warm so-cal, laying paralyzed in bed.

    My world was grey. Nothing was fun anymore. I was totally numb.

    While writing out my thoughts in attempt to get a grip on them, I found myself contemplating whether I was suffering from clinical depression that I hadn’t yet acknowledged. This was a particularly troubling logical proposition considering that I was in the middle of a self-therapy exercise.

    There are a lot of things in this post that struck a chord with me, and as a philosophy major, entrepreneur, and internet marketer, I will spare you the potential book that would be produced if I responded to them all. The one thing I’ll say is that at a certain point, I found that I have say “fuck it” to the sense of perfection that keeps holding me back and just stay focussed on my goals and moving forward.

    In the internet marketing industry (SEO moreso than anything else) this is particularly tricky. If you say what everyone else is saying, 80% of the time its either cliche or total B.S. If you contradict the ruling 80%, you estrange yourself from the value of their endorsements, connections and influence.

    Its disappointingly political.

    So at a certain point, I think “fuck it” really becomes a virtue.

    “But what if XYZ gets offended?” Fuck it.
    “But what if I lose XYZ customers?” Fuck it.
    “But what if I’m found out to be a fraud?” Fuck it.

    The irony of the last statement, is that its usually only the most analytical people who ever contemplate it. Stupid people, ironically, assume nobody will discover their stupidity – and amazingly, a lot of these stupid people do quite well.

    So the moral of the story, for me at least, is to do whatever you think is smart to move forward and make a few mistakes. Fuck it.

  • joanna

    Wow folks, I can say that I felt pretty good hitting publish on this one, but I felt even better seeing that other people are right there struggling with the same issues.

    @Matt you are so right about the rhetoric & opinions in this industry. They fly by so fast, some more solid than others, and I find myself questioning which to even listen to, let alone try to explore. Its the double edged sword of being part of an industry that is still in its infancy — its so exciting and fast…but so fast and draining. Totally hear you there.

    @Selena I can absolutely relate with the struggle to find something that drives you to passionately open the browser to start writing. This post flew out of me, like its wanted to be written for a while meanwhile I owe like 6 guest blog posts, three presentations, and so on and so forth. I guess that is hardest part of this medium– that shutting off is detrimental to our productivity but at the same time, its really needed for us to stay productive. How about you? Do you feel better if you take some time off? or are you just anxious about getting back on top of things?

    @Ari I can assure you I am a hot mess, as is EVERY other marketer out there.It doesn’t matter how big a brand someone has built, or what they have produced, we are all hot messes I am thinking… atleast I’m going with that theory from here on out :)

    @Alex you sir have given me a new mantra to try out at my weekly yoga classes… fuck it. fuck it. fuck it. Wow it feels pretty amazing just to write it out, thank you for sharing your story. I will absolutely refer back to it often :)

  • Matt Crouch

    @ARI – “the multitude of choices and opportunity can sometimes prevent you from doing things really well and slowly” <— this annoys me the most. Its always rush, rush, rush…

    @Joanna – Thank you for writing this. I hardly read blog posts like this anymore but I am glad I did. Interesting to read and I think it connects with so many of us.

  • Jesse Luna

    Sometimes these things work in cycles. As an entrepreneur one feels isolated as you fight the world, then in a work environment one feels reconnected then again disengaged when the work goal becomes less apparent.

    I remember working late every day during the Dot Com boom of the late 90′s, then going of to grad school, then to work at a startup venture, all in the same day. It was exhausting but exhilarating – for a while.

    The hard part, as you mention is letting things go, but also not letting outside things/people define who you are. The sound of your own voice and heart are what matter most. Best of luck!

  • paisley

    admire your courage in actually typing.. and fyi.. the fact that you did so says your inner voice said..
    “@#$%^ i’m gonna say something”.

    observation: when you worked for yourself.. your online friends were your world..

    now those online friends are in the same office.. so comforting social interaction is just a “twist” in the chair.. to turn around and actually look at someone in the eye and TALK instead of typing.. but yeah.. you are doing that too, with the person you are now looking at and talking too, because you both burst out laughing about something you said over yahoo messenger, or on twitter DMs, texts, company email, company IM client, internal wiki, blog, message board, etc..

    hypothetical of course… you could just be working on client presentation decks and not be tweeting, or facebooking, but running reports, creating business pitches.. or just looking at data across campaigns… ?

  • Vincent Ammirato

    Take a big, deep breath JL. New job and new town are 2 of life’s biggest stressors. 5 years ago I hit all of the top 5 (new job, bought a home, got married, had a child, and my wife’s father unexpectedly died).

    We are just getting back to some semblance of normal.

    And while I see the kernel in Alex’s “fuck it”, I would tune it more towards perspective…not apathy.

    There is a concept someone once explained to me as a “hungry ghost”. Basically you fixate on a goal that you think will make you feel actualized/complete…let’s get basic and say that the goal is money. So we chase and chase money and get piles of it…but obtaining those piles doesn’t actually fill the hole. So we try to get more money thinking that fulfillment is just around the corner. We become a hungry ghost pursuing a false goal that never fills us up.

    Personally, my real fuel is family and friends. I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass about making gobs of money as long as my wife and kiddo are happy, healthy, and growing.

    Life is as simple as you let it be. Just keep doing good work. You’re a light in this industry. Many, many of us admire what you do and how you do it. Just don’t let it define who *you are*.

    Good luck!

  • Doc Sheldon

    Good for you, Joanna, for having the guts to not only face the questions, but to share them! No, you’re not alone. I’m over twice your age, and I’ve faced similar feelings half a dozen times over the years. You have the right mindset to shake it off, I’m sure! ;)

  • wesleywinston

    You voice is genuine and you are an inspiration. Sounds like you might be hitting that “Saturn Return” – Its cool, everyone goes through it as Saturn finishes it orbit around the Sun for the first time in our lives. I too feel like I am in the process of re-aligning some of my professional paradigms. Glad to hear I am not the only one. Great article – thanks.

  • Jane

    Hi Joanna,

    Whilst I know our situations aren’t exactly the same, I do know that I felt like this for a long time. In many ways, I still do if I allow it. My experience was different to yours, but I *left* that same strong brand, I moved my physical location (and entire life) from a town and life I didn’t like to one I did, and moved away from a role that had stagnated into highly competitive SEO in a new country. Even the moving thing came with its stresses – because I loved London so much, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it work immediately. Leaving the strong brand was more of a relief, as I did not have to publicly toe a line or answer to a community anymore. From reading your piece, I think that answering to a community creates stresses that are hard to pinpoint. The noise gets in very easily.

    As you undoubtedly know, I also paid too much attention to the noise and took it to heart. It has taken a while to realise that I am happy and making progress, and if someone is happy, they should not be brought down by the suggestion that other lifestyles, jobs, work environments, etc., are preferable or better. People have a tendency to try and convince others that what *they* are doing is right, and thus the only right thing to do. It’s a self-assurance tactic. I’ve done it: it’s hard not to if a decision you made was in order to avoid damage or hurt. Hell, I’ve even heard that my leaving SEOmoz was a bad move. That stopping blogging was a bad move. Noise noise noise, potentially drowning out the sound of life being better than it has ever been.

    You write, “I constantly feel inadequate.” So did I. Don’t. If you are doing what is right–and tough or not, you know whether you are–keep it up. The noise people produce about what they’re up to is just that – their productions. It bears no relevance to Joanna or Jane and our adequacies.

    How many times have people with children tried to tell those without that they should have some? How many times have you heard in our industry that it’s better to work for yourself than to work for a company? After hearing the latter over and over again, they almost had me convinced that I was less of a professional than them. Then, it dawned on me that *holy shit*, was coming to London and joining Ayima the best decision I ever could have made, and that the noise is poisonous. You know I’ll always take a far stronger line on that than most people will, as I truly believe that we are influenced beyond our understanding by that which surrounds us. I think of it like accents: people from one community (not even one entire country) speak the way they do because they’re surrounded by others who do the same. I did not find the noise productive, and my accent was about to reflect it. I tuned into the people and events whose accents I liked, and found my voice again as a result.

    I hope that’s not too long or too cheesy. I know we’ve disagreed over a thing or two in the past, and probably know where each other was coming from on them too. Good luck, and come back to London soon.


  • goodnewscowboy

    Wow Joanna.I think you’ve still got plenty to say.

    Not sure if this advice is in the same category of the excellent advice offered above, but the journey is the prize. What you’re living through right now is more than just a path to your goals. It’s part of making you both who you are and who you will becoome.

    And for the record, I think you rock.

  • Selena Narayanasamy

    @Joanna – To be honest, I always think that taking time off will help me feel better, but it never does. Because I’m so mentally exhausted that I don’t do anything otherwise productive but watch a movie or sit around.

    Then I actually feel bad about the time I took off which stresses me even more. It’s a lose-lose! haha.

  • Selena Narayanasamy

    @Vincent – I am totally stealing your ‘hungry ghosts’ analogy. stellar comparison.

  • Kristi

    Loved this. I read it last night on my phone but wanted to come here and comment.

    I think you get an amazing amount of respect from your peers and clients that you talk to but I personally know it’s a lot different from being an entrepreneur and then being an employee. Even though you are respected and valued, it’s still a different mentality.

    I was going through that for a bit from owning a business –> selling the biz –> mommyhood (which really screws you up!) –> and then into an employment situation.

    Change and transition is good though. It can just take awhile to find your feet, and like you said… figure out what you REALLY want to do. I know I’m making a few subtle changes in my business and personal life and it makes me more satisfied. :) I’ve been in my new employment situation for about a year and while I LOVE where I’m at, I continue to make small changes.

    Good luck!

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  • tanyamctavish

    joanna, this is a great reflection on the industry – there is only so much information one can take at a time before becoming an information zombie. so at times I find solace in days and weeks of internet-less existence to look at the sky, read a book and think life over.