Occupational Hazard

If you had asked me two years ago if I ever thought I would be a full-time freelance worker, I would have answered unequivocally “no.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t see the merit of leaving the office behind — setting one’s own schedule, prioritizing work I actually enjoy, working from home…the list goes on.

What always held me back, though, was the fear that I would never be able to make it work for real — or that the anxiety of whether or not it was working would crush the joy of freedom. I liked knowing that I had work to go to every morning and a paycheck coming every two weeks without fail.

So, I would have said no, and I wouldn’t have hesitated.

When Joey and I had discussed our work plan post-baby, we talked a few options, but rarely did we discuss the option of me staying home. I made good money, and, more importantly, I liked working. I like what I do for a living. (Most of the time.) I like working on a team, and I’ve even liked a few of the office buildings I’ve worked in. Me working full-time was something that made sense in my brain.

Then I got pregnant.

And from the moment I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I knew things were never going to be the same again. With every sonogram, every inch my belly grew, and every feisty little kick, it became clearer and clearer to me that there simply would be no going back to work for me.

Which isn’t to say that my decision is somehow better or more noble than anyone else’s. Parents choose to go back to work for a variety of reasons — and in some cases it isn’t a choice at all. For me, though, there just wasn’t an alternative.

So, quietly at first, I started to toy with the idea. And as Vivi’s due date drew closer, the possibility and the options I actually had in front of me became more real and ever more likely every day.

When I first put my hands around that tiny baby, I forever let go of the idea of leaving her to go back to work.

Every time she looked at me, Vivian steeled my resolve to find a way to make this work-at-home-mom thing a reality. A month into my maternity leave, finding and applying for remote and telecommute jobs, as well as reaching out to everyone I knew who might be hiring freelance writers, editors, or social strategists, became my full-time hobby.

By the time my “return to work” date rolled around, my mind was fully made up and I turned in my official notice. (For the record, my boss could not have been kinder and more understanding of my decision. We even discussed the possibility of my freelancing for the team in the future.)

And then, quite suddenly, my dream-turned-plan turned into a reality. And I felt…well, I’m still not quite sure. I’m completely happy with the decision and what it means for Vivian and me. But when you have defined yourself by your career for much of your life, it’s weird to suddenly change course.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to handle these changes better than I did five years ago (remember this?)(also, remember when I thought I was leaving journalism for good? lol), so I’m not panicking or even all that worried. I’ve learned that life is rarely finite decisions. Instead, it goes in seasons, and right now, I’m just in a new one.

I’ve had a tendency in the past to throw myself completely into things, only to later wonder if I had given up too much of myself for this new self. But this feels different. I think, with a baby, you really are made over new in almost every way. So even though I’m so different than I was even a few years ago, it doesn’t feel like something I’ve put on so much as something I’ve become. I don’t feel like I’m really giving up any part of myself.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve had some kind of metamorphosis into what I was always meant to become.

That sounds deep and heavy. It also sounds kind of silly or overly poetic. But, regardless of all that, it feels right now that I’ve finally put it into words.

So, for now, I work from home. I ignore the slight flutters of nervousness over this new, less certain career path. And I revel in every second I get to spend with my daughter, watching her become who she will become.

And that office life? Wouldn’t ya know, I don’t really miss it that much at all.

Vivi and Me

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It’s beyond cliche to say that time goes too quickly for most parents, so I’m not going to say it.

BUT YOU GUYS.

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I’m around Vivi every day, obviously, so sometimes she changes without my noticing. But then I sneak peeks at her newborn baby photos (usually during her naps…because I’m obsessed with her, apparently), and I realize that my squishy little baby has been replaced with this bright-eyed, wiggly little girl.

I mean, it’s a good thing. Her growing up is good. That spitting up after every feeding phase? I don’t miss that.

But…

Babies are so fleeting. So I’m still trying to soak up her little baby sweetness every second.

Ugh, is it DUSTY in here? I need a tissue. Moving on.

Here’s a quick update on what the little lady has been up to, plus a teaser about me/an upcoming post:

The biggest change as of late is that, well, Vivian has just gotten to be so much fun lately. She babbles to me constantly, but even that is in this interactive format where I say something, she lets out a “goo,” I say something else, she gurgles and grins — it actually feels like a conversation even though very little is actually being said.

And it’s so freaking cute.

And as if her HUGE grins weren’t enough to totally make up for all those nights of lost sleep I’ll never get back, she also started giving “kisses” on command. (I’ve literally watched that video over a hundred times. It never gets old.)

Last week, she started to get more mastery over her hands, meaning she’s now picking up and holding her toys.

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Her favorites are a set of plush blocks that rattle and her Sophie giraffe. The cutest part is that she always look fascinated by her fingers when they actually do what she wants them to do. I die.

On the more practical side of things, she’s also sleeping through the night and not having nearly as many spit-up attacks as she used to, both developments that make my life a million times easier.

All in all, she’s pretty awesome. It’s such a joy to watch her grow up.

Which leads me to my next announcement…I’m not going back to my office job.

EEP.

Maybe this isn’t that shocking of an announcement (or maybe it is), but for me, it’s a big deal. I’ve worked in an office for the last 8+ years, and I truly thought I always would. But last week, I took the plunge into the world of full-time freelance. It’s a little scary since I only have a couple steady gigs at the moment, but I’ve been in touch with a lot of friends and former co-workers who are looking for writers/editors/social strategists, and I feel like there will always be something to fill in the gaps. (Hopefully?)

No matter what, I know this is the right choice for us, and I’m excited to start this next season of my life. Here’s hoping Vivi’s next month is just as exciting.

{Losing my hat; losing my mind}

{Losing my hat; losing my mind}

One of the hardest parts of getting pregnant and becoming a mother for me has been feeling like my brain has literally been poked full of holes. I first noticed the effects of “pregnancy brain” late in my first trimester when I started losing words.

I would go to say something or write something, and I would know the definition of the word I meant — I would even be able to recall another time I had used the word in conversation — but I could not for the life of me tell you what the word was. I started googling the definitions or looking up synonyms (that I could remember) on Thesaurus.com, following my own linguistic treasure map back to my own vocabulary.

For a writer, losing words is a very big deal.

My mom loves to tell me a story from my own babyhood about our babysitter, Irene. Apparently, Irene had a habit of looking me in my little baby eyes and telling me, “Words are power.” I don’t know if this infant inception was the direct cause of my becoming a writer, but it’s hard to deny the plausibility.

The point is, I’ve always believed the sentiment of the phrase. Even now, I make excuses to tell Vivi the same thing. She doesn’t have to be a writer (unless she wants to be), but I want her to be able to communicate and express herself the best way possible. It’s part of why I spend a few minutes each day reading to her, even though it’s hard to believe she’s really paying attention as she carries on with her regular baby antics.

Anyway, all of that is a long way of getting around to the fact that pregnancy brain was a little scary for this logophile. It’s gotten marginally better since actually pushing out the baby, but now I just find myself suffering the effects of “mom brain.” (Which, spoiler alert, is the same thing. Babies make you dumb, folks.)

I also feel like it has been affecting the quality of my posts on here. Granted, I’m usually just trying to fling a few words together in a somewhat coherent sentence in between naps, freelancing, and keeping a semblance of order in our apartment, but I can’t shake the feeling that the quality is slipping more than I feel comfortable with.

Of course, this little blog is hardly a priority in the grand scheme of things (sorry, blog; the baby wins this round), but I would be sad if I felt like I let my most consistent creative outlet completely lose its shine. Besides, I feel like I have so many stories in my head from this one-of-a-kind experience I’m going through, and I’d hate to lose those just because I can’t make the time to write.

So while I might not be blogging as often, I’m going to try to brush up the quality of my posts. I’m not going to worry about consistency because, frankly, I can’t promise there will be any, but when I do post, I promise to really have something to say or share.

And hopefully I’ll be able to find the words to do that.

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Is there anything more awkward than trying to end a conference call?

The never-ending goodbyes always remind me of old-school AIM convos, where you spent roughly a calendar year telling your pals you loved them like a sister and would talk to them later and okbye4now. Or whatever we said back then.

The point is, conference call sign-offs can drag out through the rest of the millenium.

I think it has something to do with the lack of visual clues — no one can tell when Person A is looking to wrap things up because they can’t see them shutting their laptop and making eyes at the door. But I also blame corporate jargon.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows what I mean when I say that. God HELP you if you’ve worked in a tech or media office. Corporate jargon is like the social media of work-speak: It’s slowly depriving us of meaning and, let’s face it, humanity.

Here are a few examples of things you can say at almost ANY point of a meeting if you don’t know the answer to the question — without looking like an idiot. Don’t thank me; thank corporate jargon.

1. Let’s circle back on that offline.
2. I think that’s important to discuss, but I’d like to focus on the big picture.
3. We’ll regroup on that internally and get back to you.
4. Do the engagement metrics support that?
5. What can we do to replicate our past successes?
6. SYNERGY!!!

Just kidding about the last one. Mostly.

The really scary thing is that sometimes I hear these phrases in meetings, and I realize that I’m the one who said them. *shudder*

Do my fellow pencil-pushers hear me on this? Share YOUR favorite jargon-y phrase in a comment below.

Recently for work, I was selected (along with a bunch of other editors) to film 30-second videos for a client. We shot the videos in our office over two days, including an interview segment and a B-roll “real life action” portion.

The last time I experienced anything remotely like this was when I was in Glamour a zillion years ago, and before that when I would occasionally appear on camera for a wedding website I worked for.

So aside from that handful of times, I am not accustomed to anything even in the same realm as a life of fame. In all these cases, though, I can tell you immediately the best part: Having someone else do my hair and makeup.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. But there’s something about being able to completely put the stress of looking a certain way in someone else’s hands that puts a girl at ease.

Here are three beauty lessons I learned whilst being a star*:

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Let’s all take a minute to acknowledge how perfect my hair looks. That stylist was gooooood.

1. It is really nice having someone else fluff your hair for you.
I like big hair, and I cannot lie. Unfortunately, while I have enough hair to knit you a sweater with (what?), it is so painfully straight that volume is always a bit of a struggle.

BUT YOU WILL NEVER KNOW THAT IN THIS VIDEO. And do you know why? Because a professional hairstylist made a point of fluffing and smoothing between almost every take. So, basically, it looked perfect every second.

A girl could get used to that.

2. It is really nice having someone else do your ponytail.
I know what you’re thinking: “Justine, isn’t the ponytail like the easiest hairstyle to do ever?”

Uh, yeah, sure. If you want to look like an amateur. The angle of your pony combined with the proper combing and backcombing to get the required amount of height and bounce is anything but child’s play.

But when you have a pro armed with (what else?) a Mason Pearson Boar-Bristle Brush? Instant magic.

3. It is really nice having someone else monitor how shiny your face is and correct it regularly.
Real talk: I have an oily T-zone. This is something I am moderately insecure about, and by the end of the day, if I haven’t taken very careful precautions, you could borrow my forehead the next time your slip-and-slide tears on a hidden rock.

The point is, at least a couple times a day I’m either re-powdering may face or, at the very least, dabbing it with a napkin or piece of toilet paper to soak up any slickness. But when you have a professional makeup artist keeping watch? I get those seconds of my life BACK, you guys. And I don’t even need to think twice about shine.

So basically, yeah, I could get used to this.

And before you even ask (family), I MIGHT share the videos when they’re done. Unless I look/sound stupid. So, what I’m saying is, no promises.

*Bahahahahahaaaaaaa yeah right.

Obviously I couldn’t blog about this right when it happened, but I thought it would be fun to share an anecdote from my job hunting experience.

All in all, I probably went in about 9-10 interviews this time around. Many of those were at the same places — I actually made it to the third round of interviews at two different companies. (Though I didn’t get either of those jobs.)

One of those third-rounders was probably the worst interview I’ve ever been on.

The company was one that organizes sporting events (like dodgeball and softball games) for adults in the city to network and meet new people. I had already survived an initial meeting with their HR recruiter; it went well and we both seemed to get along. A good sign, in my book.

The second round, I was required to write an entire 3-month social media strategy, including a step-by-step list of the first three things I would do if I got the job.

Pause for a second (Zack Morris-style).

Can we just discuss how messed up that is? I mean, my ability to create a social strategy and help a brand define their digital voice is what I do for a living. That is my intellectual property. It’s what, you know, I get paid for.

And now I was forced to basically hand it over with zero promise of a return. (And since you already know I didn’t get this job, I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you this company ended up with my entire strategy, step-by-step tactics, and sample social posts. And I ended up with…well, you’ll see.)

The second interview went okay. The two guys I met with we’re a tiny bit bro-y, but nice enough. They kept up their poker faces the entire time, and, to be perfectly honest, I felt a little but judged for wearing heels and curling my hair. It could have been in my head, but it wasn’t in my head that this was not a girlie-girl setting.

Regardless, I thought I handled myself well. I was prepared for all of their questions, and my strategy even preemptively answered most of them. I felt I came across as capable, organized, and enthusiastic.

About a day later, I had an email setting up my final interview with the CEO and founder of the company. I assumed the second interview must have gone well.

When I arrived for my final interview, I was quickly ushered into a conference room with the CEO. He was an unassuming man from Long Island in his fifties, barely taller than me. He had a teasing sense of humor that I couldn’t quite get a handle on because it was a little, well, condescending.

I turned to face him, and he lifted a piece of paper that I assume had the questions he wanted to ask me on the side facing him. What he didn’t realize was that the side facing me had some writing on it too.

Notes. About me.

I know it was about me because it said Justine LoMonaco at the top.

And under that it said:

Not that into sports
Not funny or creative

There have only been a few moments in my life that I would describe as punches to the gut. This was one of them.

(Obviously, I’m talking about the second sentence. Anyone who knows me knows I make no pretenses about having a passion for sports.)(And this.)(And this.)(AND THIS.)

Let me be clear: I have no delusions that I’m the funniest or smartest person out there. But these are two specific adjectives that people use to describe me all the time. I mean, I’m a classic late-bloomer — sense of humor and personality carried me for years, folks. I work with people who literally will not schedule a brainstorming session unless I can attend. Funniness and creativity are just not things I am insecure about.

And then…suddenly everything changed.

I’m one of those people that if you really want to push my buttons, accuse of something that is just patently untrue. It’s like my brain can’t even process what you’re saying and I become simultaneously dumber and less eloquent. My cerebrum is all, “Wait…you mean…but the-what? SKY IS GREEN AND GRASS IS BLUE AND NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.”

Obviously, this is not a good mental state to be in for, oh, let’s say a job interview.

Suddenly I found myself incapable of coming up with a single intelligent thing to say. I was trying to be funnier, which everyone knows rarely works out. And, honestly, I was on the brink of tears for most of the half hour.

The interview wrapped up quickly (clearly I hadn’t impressed), and I hesitated for just a second, wondering if I should address these two accusations against me. In the end, I said nothing (though I did stand up for myself a bit in my “thank you” email). If I had known I wouldn’t get the job anyway, I would have been bolder. Hindsight, amiright?

Instead I shuffled dejectedly to the subway, still fighting back tears, and called my friend to unload what had happened. When I got home and started telling Joey about it, I broke down.

Remember when I wrote this? That was right around the time I found out I didn’t get that job. (Or the other job that I had made it to the third round of interviews for.) I was so frustrated, and my confidence was at a low. Now I was confronted with the possibility that maybe I was just stuck where I was — and not funny or creative on top of it.

That’s a lot for anyone to take.

But wait! This isn’t a sad story. Because, in the end, I realized that I probably didn’t want to work with people who don’t share my sense of humor anyway. I don’t want to work for people who judge me the moment I walk in. I don’t want to work for hypocritical people who claim their business model supports one thing while their actions prove they don’t.

And the job I ended up getting? I’m a million times more excited for it than I was for the other one anyway.

So things work out how they’re supposed to. And the experience also showed me what a great support system I have when I can’t pick myself back up right away. Ironically, when I got my new job, they told me the people I had interviewed loved how “funny and creative” I was. As if that coffin needed one more nail, right?

Anyone else have a job interview story to top mine? Leave it in a comment so we can commiserate together (and laugh about how, in the end, it was their loss).