I've discovered a new podcast--Jen Gotch is OK…Sometimes—and, while a little rambly, I enjoy its candor and 'wing it' approach in the podcast space given the highly curated and tightly manicured podcasts I usually listen to (although I do find that level of dedication to 'correctness' appealing, too).
[Do you want a full blog about my favorite podcasts? Let me know. Don't care? Keep reading.]
Jen is the founder and CEO of ban.dō, a design house based in L.A. that specializes in clothing and accessories. To be honest, I got very 'Sophia Amoruso/Nasty Gal' backwash vibes when I first heard the origin story, given the way Nasty Gal experienced an ironic rise and fall last year with the booming success of the Netflix series about the company, GIRLBOSS, followed by its subsequent bankruptcy.
Jen's personality offered a distinctly different feel. As a newly minted mental health advocate who suffers with bipolar disorder, Jen explores ways in which you can 'feel better right now' and topics like emotional eating ("Lost in the Pasta") that, regardless of whether or not you've been diagnosed with a mental illness, urge people to be checked in with themselves and understand their own emotions, mood swings, and wellbeing.
In short, you know I was all over this.
And while I'm always enamored with the abstract, I get frustrated with bloggers and podcasters who keep things super conceptual. I love learning new perspectives, but I want actual solutions, people!
One of the actual tactics she offered that piqued my interest was an app called the Grid Diary. In essence, it's an app that asks you the same questions every day in a way that forces you to check in with yourself.
You can edit the questions so they're totally personal to you; i.e., two of mine are, "How was your workout today? What was your intention in the class?" and "How did you feel when you woke up this morning?" I'm interested to see over time how my 'wake-up' mood actually affects my attitude over the rest of the day.
One of the interesting points she made was that, sometimes, you'll get in a funk and not even notice that you've been in an irritable, shitty mood for 4-6 days at a time before you even realize, Wait, I'm in a bad mood, and I have been for days.
Another thing I found alluring about the Grid Diary concept is that I've found sometimes (and I've talked about this before) I over-journal and end up hyper-focused when I just free-write, wheels off, in my physical journal.
[Interesting aside: I've noticed that I feel less compelled to journal when I'm happy. In the last several months, I've only journaled 1-2 times per month, versus my old average of 1-2 times per week.]
And while it's nice to not feel the need to compulsively journal about every passing thought in order to make sense of it, I still maintain Jen's point of view: It's important to check in with yourself and take an emotional inventory regularly.
It blows my mind how quickly time has passed since graduation, and I'm beginning to realize how easy it is to just float through life and let days—sometimes weeks—pass, in a bit of a daze without being present and intentional in the ways you're allocating your time and energy. I mean, hell, it's August tomorrow. Where did 2018 go?
When I read back on some of my journal entries from January, I'm pleased at how prophetic some of my goals for the year were, although I had forgotten about them.
Likewise, there are things I had written that I wanted to focus on that seemed to bubble up to the surface every couple months—as if I had realized something was important, committed to it, forgotten over time and abandoned it, then went through something that re-confirmed it was important.
While a little funny to listen to myself have the same revelation every three months, it was also frustrating—and clear it would've been helpful to have a tool that kept these things top of mind so I didn't have to keep learning my lessons the hard way.
Although daily check-ins may feel extraneous (and who knows, maybe they are), quick daily inventories seem like a better alternative than exhaustive (and sometimes daunting) journaling sessions. There have been many nights where I've crawled into bed, spotted my journal resting conspicuously on my nightstand and realized I should probably reflect, but the idea of covering the highs and lows of the last few weeks just felt too overwhelming to do in one sitting.
And so the cycle continued.
To be sure, the Grid Diary can track whatever you want it to. You can personalize it to focus on solely professional goals, personal goals, health goals, or any combination of the like. My intention (see? Intention-setting! Yeah!) is to use the Grid Diary to track the slippery, nuanced elements of daily life (like my mood) to see if I notice any patterns or correlations over time.
Moreover, I think it'll make me realize—on a daily basis--Hey, you're not very checked in today, or You're trying too hard to multitask and it's stressing you out.
[Aside #3: I've gotten very into "unitasking" lately and want to write a whole post on how to best leverage and implement the idea of giving ALL of your attention to one thing at a time to be even more productive.]
My actual Passion Planner is what I use to drive my productivity, set focus points throughout the week, and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It's a small, leather-bound agenda that satisfies the tactile side of me that derives a very traditional sense of satisfaction from writing things down and checking them off. Flipping through physical pages to glance back at a color-coded illustration of the past is gratifying in a way that digital substitutes never will be.
To employ a metaphor, my Passion Planner is like the software that powers my hardware and sets the course—and the Grid Diary is like a daily virus check that scans for abnormalities in my system and brings them to my attention.
Here's how I use my Passion Planner most effectively:
Set a "This Week's Focus" every Sunday.
This is an area that I'd bet is underutilized by even the most avid Passion Planner users. I like to pick one thing that I'm working on that week. This week, it's staying calm and collected and paying attention to detail—i.e., going slowly and taking my time to do things right so I don't get frazzled (i.e., unitasking).
Color-code the different areas of your life.
I highlight all CorePower-related things (training, exercise, and classes I instruct) orange, all 'life errand' productivity is yellow, and side hustle-related stuff is pink (blog, freelance, etc.). "Fun that requires planning" (e.g., travel, charity events, etc.) is blue, and, ironically, I don't record work commitments or meetings in my Passion Planner since it's all in my Outlook calendar and tends to change frequently (and I HATE scratching things out). Not only does this allow you to see where you're spending your time graphically, it looks damn good.
Use the WORK PRIORITIES and PERSONAL PRIORITIES sections effectively.
They're broken down into "Top Priority," "Priority," and "Errands," and every week I write down all the (sometimes obnoxious) stuff I want to prioritize completing that week—sometimes it's as bland as getting my car registration renewed, other times it's personal stuff like writing and mailing someone a card. Point is, it gives you a space to record and keep yourself accountable.
Here's the key to these sections: anything you don't accomplish that week rolls onto the next. I always try to finish out the week with nothing left, but that rarely happens. In this space, I record work priorities for the week, just to keep myself on-task when working on larger products without hard due dates. Because of how chaotic things can get, big, important things often take a backseat to small, urgent things. That's a dangerous trap to fall in.
Get grateful and use the "GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPENED" section.
I think everyone knows how much gratitude can affect your overall mood and outlook. Whenever good things happen to me (large or small), I write them down in that section of the planner. Here's a sampling of a few of mine from the past few weeks to give you an idea:
"Sunday brunch. Mentorship from Laura. Taught my first 6 a.m. Sculpt. An opportunity to implement feedback. Hauls from Trader Joe's (see? Minor!). Good talks with Claire. Mom visited. A stormy afternoon. I got to pet my cat (LOL)."
See? It doesn't have to be "I got a promotion!" or "I won the lottery!" It can be as simple as a damn haul from Trader Joe's that brought a smile to your face (hello, Cookie Butter, my newfound cubicle companion).
I figured it was a coincidence, but my most productive and successful year of college was the same year I used the Passion Planner (senior year). But because I was trying to be #CostEffective after graduation, I bought a lackluster agenda from Target for $10. Three (kinda shitty) planners later in my quest for one that would live up to my expectations, I finally caved and just purchased another Passion Planner.
Truly, I've seen another uptick in my ability to get things done promptly, manage my time effectively, and feel good about myself and my accomplishments at the close of every week.
Besides, there's just something about the format of the tiny, 30-minute incremental lines that really lends itself to creativity. You can color-block, doodle, and write down your work as neatly or as creatively as you want—and it still somehow looks put-together.
Rather than going through a zillion different cheap grocery store planners trying to find one that works, just spend $30 one time on a planner that's going to best serve you and your purpose.
This past month, I've spent a lot of time thinking about intentionality and the power of a good routine. When my alarm went off this morning, the familiar Monday grogginess set in, and I debated skipping Sculpt to sleep in for another hour. After lying there half-awake for 10 minutes and performing the classic cost-benefit analysis (if I get up and go now, I'll feel better after; if I lie here and sleep, I get to…continue sleeping), I decided to suck it up and go.
Post-workout with my iced caffeine hit in-hand, I turned on The Daily podcast for the drive home.
I realized, as I drove back toward the sunrise-lit Dallas skyline, how much I really enjoyed my little morning routine. Sure, it means I get to work 45 minutes later than I used to, but that two-hour window in the morning where I exercise, drink coffee, make my bed, and clean my ghost kitty's litterbox is the time of my day where I feel most like myself.
Today was a great example of this, since I really didn't even want to get out of bed—let alone at 6 a.m. for a workout. I think it speaks to the power of a routine, and I wondered on my way to work why I felt so much like ME when I was going through that nearly meditative sequence of events.
I read once that routines are great for people with anxiety, but I think it goes far beyond that. Not to completely disregard a key piece of my interview with Ali Anwar in which he stated there's no concrete recipe for success, but most successful people I know are extremely routine-oriented. There's power in consistency for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
Solid routines quell anxiety. They reinforce self-esteem and identity. They provide a framework for your day so you can perform as optimally as possible in the other areas of your life that really matter by simplifying and enhancing the seemingly meaningless parts of your day: those little windows that often get treated as negligible throw-away periods, like the time when you first wake up, the time you spend in your car commuting, and the time right before bed.
You learn things about yourself based on your behavior. In other words, your actions essentially dictate how you feel about you.
There was this sign in my 7th grade classroom that read, "Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your character." While this was undoubtedly an attempt at inducing Catholic guilt and encouraging a bunch of 12-year-olds to not be little pieces of shit, the sentiment stuck with me. Your actions decide who you are.
Of course, your identity is comprised of more than just your behavior, but think about it—it HAS to be a big part of it, right? If you're not your actions, then how else do you qualify yourself as a nice person? A smart person? A funny person? If you can't pull in your hobbies, the way you treat others, or the words that come out of your mouth, then how do you define and defend those characteristics?
Routines give you a consistent indication (to yourself, every day) of your priorities. There's an element of comfort, too—this little string of habits is there for you every day to set the tone. And while some people are more habitual than others, I think everyone can benefit from establishing and maintaining a great one.
Here are a few of the key staples I've found to deliver the most impact, through trial and error, in my own life. I feel compelled to disclaim here that I am cognizant everyone is different and is served by different things; I intend to share the things have become game-changers in my life that you might be interested in trying if you're (a) stuck in a rut or (b) feel at all tempted to institute changes that may affect you positively.
Wake up early and exercise before work.
I know, I know, we've been over this one. But it bears repeating because I really think it makes such a difference. I listened to a podcast the other day about this very topic, and there's a health nut/guru named Aubrey Marcus out in California (the health nut holy land) who swears by the following: wake up, sweat, expose your body to light and fresh air, then finish off your shower with a cold water burst.
Here's the pseudo-science: when you hit a workout or some other form of movement first thing in the morning, your metabolic rate jacks up early. You start burning fat immediately, especially if you don't eat beforehand (intermittent fasting), and get blood flowing to your brain and throughout your body. By exposing yourself to sunlight and fresh air afterward, you're balancing your Circadian rhythms. The light sends signals to your brain that it's time to get going, and sets the stage for great sleep that night.
The cold water thing is a little hellish, but there's supposedly some great benefits. I do this from time to time and—bonus benefits—good for your skin and hair!
Speaking of skin—there are few things as important to how your skin looks as a consistent skincare routine. I'm telling you, it works wonders over time. Here's my favorite that combines the best of the boujee with drugstore staples.
Need some help waking up early for a workout? Here are some #tipz. If nothing else, I think waking up early by itself is huge. I know people's creative energies work differently; some people hit their creative peak late at night. But I've listened to and read a lot about the benefits of waking up early, and I think anyone can train themselves to become a morning person. There's something special about that time of day when very few people are awake and all is quiet before you have to go out and face the world.
It's impossible to not feel great about yourself when you get a big jump on your day. Nothing makes you feel more like you have your shit together, I promise you.
And since I'm plugging exercise, I want to talk about my absolute favorite leggings. No matter how many different kinds I try, these remain my favorite pair. The fabric is softer and thinner than the Wunder Under fabric (if you're familiar with Lulu, you know the Wunder Unders are rather thick).
While that's great for holding in your waistline and 'lifting,' if you 'nawm sayin', these pants are so soft and comfortable. They're called the Align pant, and they're the 7/8 length which is perfect for petite women because they hit right above the ankle bone on short gals.
I ran the Dallas Half Marathon in these in December and really didn't have much chafing to speak of between my legs. There was a little, but I was impressed that I could run 13.1 miles in these pants comfortably.
While obviously expensive, if you want to invest in one solid pair of leggings, I really think these are a good investment. If you want a thicker material, the Wunder Under is a cult classic. These are great if you're self-conscious about your midsection because they're high-rise (like the Align pant) and thick enough to smooth over areas that may make you feel self-conscious in skin-tight workout clothing.
(And for those of you who have never tried Lulu before, buy two sizes larger than normal. I typically wear a size 0, but I wear a 4 in Lululemon.)
Make your damn bed.
This takes 2 minutes and has been scientifically proven to increase your productivity throughout the entire rest of your day.
It's one of the smallest, easiest, yet most impactful decisions you can make every morning to send a signal to yourself that (a) you have your shit together and (b) it's time to #werk. Plus, you'll sleep better at night climbing into a clean, well-made bed.
Like I said, it reinforces those characteristics about yourself that, whether or not they come naturally, I think we all want to feel. There's a reason they make you do this in the military—it's about self-discipline and taking pride in your belongings and environment.
And besides, setting yourself up for good sleep is probably the single-most influential thing you'll do on a day-to-day basis. The whole "I only slept 4 hours last night!" bragging is so bizarre to me. Sleep improves pretty much every aspect of your life—it supports weight loss, decreases cortisol levels and stress, is the time when your skin renews itself (among other things), improves cognitive functioning and creativity, and balances your emotional well-being.
Have you ever gotten really emotional over literally nothing because you were tired? I know I have (the classic 'crying over Queer Eye' Sunday exhaustion is the perfect example), and waking up well-rested is sometimes the single determinant of how you're going to approach your day. While a cozy, comfortable, neat and clean bed doesn't guarantee good sleep, it sure as hell helps.
These "1800 series" sheets that are softer and more breathable than Egyptian Cotton and made of microfiber fabric that's twice as fine as silk. I love the whole silk sheets trend; I do believe that silk pillowcases are probably better for your skin than microfiber from a wrinkling standpoint, but silk has to be dry-cleaned. I change my pillowcases weekly (as you should, to keep bacteria at bay). There ain't no way I'm budgeting for weekly pillowcase dry-cleaning. That's a level of extra to which I aspire, but cannot yet attain.
Sleep aside, making your bed is the quickest way to make even a messy room feel a little more pulled together. Conversely, even a clean room looks disheveled when the bed isn't made. If you're not a neat freak like me, you may be wondering, why the hell do I care how my room looks? And to that, I offer this quote: "Our home should inspire us to go out into the world to do great things and then welcome us back for refreshment."
Again, it goes back to taking pride in your space. This is where you LIVE! Shouldn't it be a place that's clean, inviting, and inspiring? A few months ago I covered how I made my bedroom (what I think is) a beautiful space that I love spending time in, on one hell of a budget. To this day, my favorite items are the pink bench at the end of my bed and the mirrored front vanity.
Hydrate early and quickly.
This is why routines are effective: the parts tend to fit together and support one another. If you start with a workout, you're likely to get 12-16 oz. of water in before 8 a.m. as a result of exercising. If you try to drink another 12-16 oz. while you get ready and on your commute, you're already fully hydrated before you even step foot into work, which gives you a true mental and physical edge (you're more likely to eat smaller portions of better food throughout the day if you're hydrated).
I'm a big fan of giant water bottles like this one that hold up to 32 oz. of water. Strive for at least 64 oz. of water daily, but really, it's best to go for between half an ounce to an ounce per pound of body weight.
So, if I weigh approximately 105 pounds, I should try to drink between 52 and 105 oz. of water per day. This is a lot, to be sure, and my coworkers joke that "Katie's second desk" is in the women's restroom since I have to pee so frequently, but HYDRATION IS WORTH IT, folks.
Another reason I like water bottles like this one: no straws. Since the straws harbor bacteria on the inside (#pleasant), you have to clean them more frequently. You don't really have to worry about washing water bottles with big open mouth pieces like this one. Plus, it's 32 oz., so you don't have to get up to refill it every 10 minutes like 12 or 16 oz. bottles.
Aside—I met someone on Friday night who told me he reads my blog (holy shit) and that he 'drinks a lot of water now.' My heart soared.
I will admit, though, I have since stopped tracking my water intake. I noticed it was stressing me out and turning into a little bit of a negative if I hadn't hit certain hydration benchmarks by certain points in the day (just typing that sentence sent me reeling into a first-world oblivion), so now I try to focus on listening to my body and drinking water almost absent-mindedly throughout the day instead of being really regimented about it.
Pay attention to the vibe you're setting for yourself.
It sounds obvious, but I've noticed when I listen to super emo music on the way to work or while I get ready in the morning, I end up being in a funky, downer mood. Sometimes I just want to listen to one throwback song, then find myself sucked into a late-90s vortex of grunge pessimism. If I'm ever feeling anxious or hyperemotional, I've found podcasts and audiobooks are excellent replacements for music in the morning when your brain is still super impressionable.
I listen to The Daily podcast religiously on my way to work, and it gets my wheels turning about the most significant current events in that day's news cycle (it also keeps you #woke as hell). Maybe The Daily isn't for you—maybe it's a different news podcast, or a "Stuff You Should Know" episode, or an inspirational binge on "How I Built This."
Maybe it's a true crime series that grips your attention and focuses your mind on something compelling (although I've also learned the hard way that going too hard at the crime docu-series can also put your mind in a dark place). Whatever it is, listening to something that's informational and entertaining (infotaining?) is an incredible way to simultaneously ground and inspire you, or just entertain you and put you in a good mood.
It's weirdly calming to listen to someone talk for 45 minutes to an hour about a topic you find interesting. You'll find your mind wandering, but in a good way.
Truly, I believe the benefits are subconscious. You may not realize your mood and performance are enhanced by exercising at dawn, getting outside for some fresh air, making your bed, and hydrating yourself, but it's a little like doing preventative maintenance on your car. If you ignore warning lights and bad signs, you'll be fine for a little while, but eventually you'll be saddled with an expensive and obnoxious service that could've been avoided (or in human terms, a severe meltdown in which you completely lose it).
Please let me know if you end up implementing any of these habits! Like I mentioned before, they're small things, but they create such a dramatic difference—a whole lotta juice for a really small squeeze. Nobody's perfect; nobody has the perfect routine every single day.
But creating a strong foundation for your day ensures you have a much better chance of building something great on top of it.
And a podcast. And a few other good reads.
This Monday morning had me thinking about all the useless emails I’m subscribed to after I woke up to several Gmail inbox pings.
Immediately regretting signing up for Poshmark now that they’ve utterly spammed me with useless shit, I opened my inbox and noticed a couple newsletter-style emails. You know the kind. You signed up with the best of intentions, but now you open and close them immediately to mark them as ‘read’ and don’t think twice.
These are the email equivalent of extremely predictable mosquitos. You just swat them away, because you’ve conditioned yourself to ignore them.
Maybe they never offer any interesting content of relevance to you. Maybe the cadence is so frequent, it’s obnoxious. Maybe you just don’t care about ~continuous education and improvement~. Regardless, I know we all have a bunch of them clogging our inboxes and making us feel guilty for not giving a shit (or is that just the email marketer in me?).
As I was driving to work and parked waiting for the DART train to pass, I pulled up my Gmail again and opened one of the newsletters I was actually excited to read. Hopefully you know this kind too.
I’m on a personal mission to make my inbox great again, because it’s the most widely used (and abused) tool we have to receive pertinent information, delivered right to our fingertips. If you can curate a meaningful subscription list, you can stay entertained and informed with very minimal work.
(If you don’t use your email at all, why? Is it because it’s too full of useless stuff?)
Sometimes I think I have media FOMO. When I hop from one awesome article online to another (before my '10 free articles' are up for the month), I get nervous that there's other incredible stuff that I'm missing. But more on that later.
I’ve compiled my three favorite email newsletters right now that I actually open and actually read—and, bonus points, I usually enjoy them.
I will warn you—this post essentially devolves into me rattling off my favorite long-form pieces from the New Yorker toward the end, so bear with me. I got excited.
And if you’re wondering why there’s only a couple newsletters listed and you’re like, KG, I need more recommendations than that! My answer is, no you don’t. You probably don’t read anything you’re currently getting. If I can get you turned onto ONE new newsletter from this post, I’ll be thrilled. LET’S DO THIS.
The “everyday life” newsletter:
The New York Times Smarter Living Newsletter
My favorite thing about the NYT Smarter Living newsletter is that (a) it’s short and written in digestible chunks. Rather than linking 47 clickbait articles in a row, the author (Tim Herrera) breaks down a couple simple things you can do in your daily life to improve it. Life, optimized.
While he does link off to longer form content on the NYT site, it’s possible to get a full picture of the point without having to click through 14 different browser tabs of separate, obliquely related articles (personal pet peeve).
And while we’re plugging the NYT, if you’re a podcast junkie like me, my morning is also punctuated by my 23-ish minutes with the New York Times “The Daily” podcast. Hosted by Michael Barbaro and his somewhat infuriating but mostly endearing habit of dicing up his words into syllabic punches, The Daily hones in on one prominent issue in the news and employs a more traditional journalistic approach—featuring one person’s story or experience and exploring deeper than the soundbite push notification.
I love starting my morning with this because it gets my wheels turning early. It’s released every weekday morning around 7 a.m. so it’s a great ‘getting ready’ or commute listen.
Does anyone have any other go-to daily podcasts?
The “niche content because I’m a girl” newsletter:
Glossy Daily Newsletter
While the Glossy Daily Newsletter is definitely more female-oriented than gender-neutral like the NYT Smarter Living newsletter, the Glossy features stories about the intersection between fashion, the beauty industry, and tech.
This is where I started seeing those ‘day in the life’ articles where a prominent executive in one of the aforementioned industries takes you through a typical day in 15-minute increments. My personal favorite is about the Estée Lauder Head of Communications, Alexandra Tower. The woman gets a daily blowout on the way to work. When I say #goals…
This morning’s newsletter featured a cool piece about how French beauty companies are killing it globally but facing declining sales in FRANCE, of all places, and the digital marketing strategies they’re pursuing to localize their efforts. Pretty neat if you like marketing and beauty (me).
A recent hilarious financial edition to the lineup:
Better Have My Money by Amber Jamieson
Predictably, I love this GIF-filled run-down on finance. Amber is an amateur stock trader that compensates with passion like myself, so there’s this comforting, relatable quality to her content that makes me feel like I’m learning alongside her.
I wrote about this newsletter in my blog about investing a few weeks ago, so some of you may have already subscribed—but if you’re not a #LOYAL katiegatti.com reader and this is your first exposure to Amber’s newsletter, I highly recommend checking it out. ESPECIALLY if you’re a stock newb like me.
And a new one I added this morning:
The New Yorker Daily Newsletter
After being inspired to write this blog, I decided I should probably add one more bad boy to the lineup. Yesterday I found this incredible (albeit terrifying) article called The Really Big One from The New Yorker about the Cascadia subduction zone, a convergent plate boundary that runs from Vancouver to Northern California. The North American plate is basically stuck on another tectonic plate, and when they finally release, the jolt will cause a tsunami that FEMA experts predict will kill everyone west of Interstate 5 in California.
This article reads like an Armageddon movie—except it’s all geologically sound. The subtitle is literally: “An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.” I mean, OK. Cue panic-research.
Sadly, the west coast is completely unequipped to deal with this, as there will only be several minutes of time between the plates shifting and the tsunami making landfall, realistically. No warning systems are in place.
(I’m on a major tangent, but if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading—the article is from 2015. I got sucked into a New Yorker rabbit hole after navigating to the site to read the same author’s piece called Dead Certainty about where “Making a Murderer” got it wrong, and two hours later, I was knee-deep in SciFi-adjacent geological peril.)
I’ve written before that I think The New York Times has the most talented writers in journalism, but recently I’ve started to think The New Yorker actually takes the cake. From the descriptions to the story structure, they completely suck you in. And that’s why they’re my fourth featured email newsletter. Sign up with me and let’s experience the amazement together.
If you’ve got an hour or two to spend in said The New Yorker journalism maze, here’s another one of my favorites from 2003 entitled Jumpers. It’s dark, but beautifully written: a piece about all the people who have committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge (more than anywhere else in the world, it turns out), and the grandeur of death that the bridge represents to the chronically depressed—not to mention the strides the city is taking to curb this sick phenomenon (I think it was just last year that I saw they finally approved the long-awaited installment of a net to catch jumpers).
And finally, my favorite tool for managing a messy inbox
My mentor Mary Barber told me about this tool when I was in college and I became obsessed. It’s called Unroll.me, and it syncs with your inbox to allow you a one-stop shop for managing subscriptions. Here’s a screenshot from mine:
I've unsubscribed to 359 different mailing lists using Unroll.me. Holy shit, I know.
It makes it so easy to unsubscribe from unwanted mail, decide what you want to keep in your inbox, and—the rest, it seems—gets “rolled up” into ONE Unroll.me email that comes in the morning and shows you a scrolling preview of all the other stuff. Give it a try and let me know if you like it.
Me, soliciting advice
Let me know if there are any incredible email newsletters that I need in my life. Maybe they'll show up in a follow-up post.
Thanks for reading.
An interview with Ali Anwar: 26-year-old marketing director at a Fortune 200 company who, by the way, also has his own wealth management firm & 5 degrees
I’ve never done an interview on katiegatti.com before, but my dear friend Ali seemed overwhelmingly deserving of my first foray into profile story-style interviewing—can you say BLOG-TURNED-CONTENT DESTINATION, anyone?
Shameless self-literary plug. Moving on.
While it’s nearly impossible to make Ali’s background brief, I’ll do my best so you can learn about (and from) him in his own words. But here’s why you should care.
Ali is 26 years old. He has two Bachelor’s degrees and three Master’s degrees (that’s five degrees in total, one for every five years of his life). He manages an entire portfolio of products at his company, Texas Instruments (a Fortune 200 company that hit nearly $15B in revenue in 2017). And, if these accomplishments weren’t enough, he also happens to own and operate his own wealth management firm and has launched and sold three startups for buy-out offers.
What he doesn’t do, however, is sleep.
Just kidding. He does, but barely. Ali is an all-around stellar human being who makes time for Tide Pod pop culture references, regular trips to the Dallas Museum of Art, Stars/Mavs/Cowboys/Rangers games, and his lovely girlfriend, Kathleen.
Put simply, none of us deserve to breathe air of the same chemical makeup as Ali Anwar. He is other-worldly talented.
I wanted to pick his brain on what he attributes his insane success to (outside of genetics and work ethic), and this felt like the perfect way to share this value with the young men and women who have probably broken out into a well-deserved inferiority complex cold sweat after reading what Ali has accomplished in his first quarter of life.
While my favorite place to hang out with Ali is in his beautiful two-bedroom, glass-paneled apartment in the heart of Turtle Creek, we met after work on a Monday night at Ascension (a favorite Dallas coffee shop) and talked for several hours about his past, what he's got planned for the future, and how he's accomplished so much so young.
Before I launch into the highlights, I want to paint a picture for you of how Ali has turned his space into the perfect mix between a space for relaxation, fun, and productivity.
He outfitted one bedroom as—you guessed it—his bedroom, and the other as an entertainment room with theater-style sectionals and a projector on the wall for watching TV. The walk-in closet in that room is, for lack of a better term, his home office. There are six monitors mounted on the wall, looming impressively next to his several graduation caps and degrees. Pictures of family are interspersed throughout.
He hosts friends regularly, but it's also clear that he spends a LOT of time in his walk-in-closet-turned-home-office.
Note that while I've tried to capture all of Ali's quotes verbatim, I've trimmed some of them for brevity and clarity since our conversation was several hours long.
In true altruistic Ali form, he offered to pick me up—in order to do ME a favor, letting me interview him—and concluded our evening with a Shake Shack dinner (Kathleen joined us). While walking from his car to the coffee shop, I started to ask about his day, and as he started filling me in on the 5 a.m. call with Germany and his 9:30 p.m. call scheduled for later with China, I abruptly stopped him.
"Hold that thought—I need my computer for this."
After settling in, I asked him if he loved school. "You must've, to pursue five degrees." I said. (I mean, right?! What the heck?)
It was abundantly clear, immediately, that he did.
"I love school. I love academia in general—I say academia, because academia encompasses an entire community dedicated to learning. You don't need a degree to be a lifelong learner. You don't need a piece of paper to validate you've learned something, and the converse is true, too. A piece of paper doesn't make you qualified. I still love SMU—I still teach there."
(At this point, I paused him. You teach? I asked, a little ashamed that I was completely unaware of this fact.) Turns out, in all his spare time, he teaches entrepreneurship lectures at SMU.
Ali has a BS in Math, a BS in Electrical Engineering, an MS in Electrical Engineering, an MS in Systems Engineering, and an MS in Operations Research. I really wanted to know if they got easier—you'd think by the time you were on degree #4 or #5 you'd more or less have the hang of it.
He hesitantly answered that, yes, they did, but wanted to make something very clear: "I don't want people to think that these degrees are what brought me to where I am. That's not the recipe for success. This idea that there's a fixed recipe for success at all is dangerous."
I asked him if he saw the irony in claiming degrees didn't really matter when he himself had five. He laughed. "The material I studied in school maybe isn't what's most relevant in my job. What IS relevant is learning a particular way of thinking. THAT is the true reward of education. 'Learn by doing' is my mantra."
I myself experience this same vacillation on the true value of my particular degree when I compare my coursework to what my actual career has been so far—the difference between writing news releases, pitching media, and doing research, and literally writing four- to five-word lines of ad copy.
Ali was very conscious to note that he didn't want anyone to feel like they needed a formal education to succeed.
"Education goes so much further than school. I'm truly a fan of education in general, and I'm very fortunate I had the means and scholarship to get a formal one."
The practical application for everyone, no matter their station in life, is this: "The amazing thing I’ve learned from my experiences and all the roles I’ve held is that we really underestimate our ability to adapt."
While Ali's degrees are impressive on their own, I was most interested in how he found the courage and capital to start not one, not two, not even THREE, but four companies. I wanted to know what pushed him in this direction, and what challenges he faced.
"Anwar Enterprises [his wealth management firm] was the first of four companies that I started, and the only one I haven't sold. I sold the other three because they hit the point where the buyout offer was more attractive than profitability. I'm working on a fifth now." Here, he broke out into a huge grin: "This is a fun one."
At this point, I'm sure you're wondering: finance? Why finance? Wealth management? Doesn't this guy have, like, 14 engineering degrees?
If so, you'd be right—and I was wondering the same.
To make a long, hilarious story much shorter, Ali essentially had a small falling out with a business major his junior year who essentially shamed him for sticking with engineering. Ali went home that day and fired off an application for an internship with Goldman Sachs.
"I was pretty hangry," he added, a humorous afterthought. "But there was definitely an element of curiosity. I think I mostly wanted to convince myself that I wasn’t shutting any doors by studying one subject over another. Of course, that thought seems really silly to me in hindsight."
Several weeks later, he was in their New York City office for an onsite interview. The interviewer asked him the same thing: "Why do you want to work here? You're an electrical engineering major."
Ali figured at this point he had nothing to lose. He explained how he did it more or less out of spite (my words, not his) and, I suspect, as a little bit of a personal challenge. But then, he realized along the way, he actually did really like finance. In his interview prep and research, he noticed he enjoyed it a lot and had a bit of a knack for it.
(Brief aside: I was wondering what type of research he did for this interview given my own 'research' for my initial Southwest interviews which literally entailed reading the entire Wikipedia entry for Southwest Airlines in the car on the way to spring break. As if reading my mind, Ali casually mentioned he 'read a few finance and economics textbooks.') Yeah, same.
If you know the typical Goldman personality, you know this guy ate it up.
Ali was offered the job, but eventually decided it wasn't for him—it was enough to ignite an interest, though, and before long, he was setting out on his own venture. He decided if Goldman thought he was good enough for them, it may mean something about his competency in investing.
His mentor, a prominent person in the tech industry whom he was too humble to name, felt the same, and encouraged him. In early February of that year, he offered to let Ali invest his money.
He proffered: "If by December you can make me a 20% return, then I'll go into business with you and help you launch your own LLC as your first client." By May, Ali had made this guy a 50% return with a very diverse portfolio. Ali was 22.
Today, Anwar Enterprises is sitting at about 40 clients with six full-time employees who report to Ali.
I asked Ali if he had ever experienced the 'trough of sorrow,' a term I learned during my time completely immersing myself in podcasts about startups.
"The most challenging part was this stretch where we had about a dozen clients. The clients were urging me to get into real estate, so I was going through all the schooling necessary TO get into real estate, while being a full-time grad student. Balancing those things—while trying to add new things to the company's offering—was really hard. But I found my partner at the perfect time."
His business partner owns 11% of the company and brought a unique real estate-specific expertise to the picture.
"It was basically the most miserable time of my life," he said, with an inexplicably huge smile on his face. "I was exhausted," he paused, "but it was also the most exciting time of my entire life. Miserable, but so invigorating."
But let's not forget—Ali wasn't just a full-time student and starting his own company. He also works at Texas Instruments. I wanted to know how his work at each place influenced the other.
"It goes back to learning by doing and being a disciple of experience. A lot of young people get out of college and have this perfect idea of what they're going to do. While it's VERY important to set goals, it's dangerous to be rigid in your plans."
He touched on something we've discussed before—getting a wide breadth of experience early on in your career before honing in on one specific area in which to become a specialist.
"Once you have a ton of different experiences, you'll realize there are so many different ways to solve a problem than just an input and an output. A variety of experiences forces you to look at things from different angles."
Practical application to your everyday life? Don't worry if your first job—or second, or third—out of college isn't a cookie-cutter application of what you studied in school, or if it's not what you thought you'd be doing. Ali emphasized how important it is to be open to a wide variety of experiences, many of which could (and should) be outside your comfort zone. In other words, don't box yourself in based on your piece of paper (or your job title, once you have it).
"There are things I learned at TI, like a formal review process from an operations perspective, that I’ve been able to apply at my night job. Corporate structure has the benefit of organization, and startup culture has agility." This is something I feel every day at Southwest—a Marketing department of 200 people OBVIOUSLY moves much slower than an agency startup would.
"If you work in engineering, I challenge you to go do something with the fine arts. If you work in the fine arts, I challenge you to go try something that involves sales in your free time. Don’t be too rigid about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to get there."
OK, so at this point, I waited for a lull in the conversation, took a sip of my beer, and asked him, point-blank: "How much do you sleep?"
He was playfully defensive in his answer: "Really, I average between 6.5 to 7 hours! So many people glorify the workaholic thing, so much so that they don't take care of themselves. Their productivity and how well they perform suffers—the whole point of being a workaholic gets defeated."
He was very serious that sleep is not the thing to sacrifice. But beyond sleep, he noted the importance of the concept of rest. "Psychologically, I think rest is an entirely different concept. A lot of people don't necessarily recognize that. It's really about finding your respite."
After a four-day trip to Cabo in which I turned my phone on airplane mode and didn't check my email once, I can completely relate.
"I travel because that's my respite. I feel recharged, rejuvenated, and refreshed. It makes me feel like I can go on for another couple of weeks. If I wasn't traveling at least once a month, I'd be so burnt out. Again, sleep is extremely important as a biological mechanism, but people can sometimes go a full week averaging 8 hours per night and still be mentally exhausted. That’s when you know that it’s time for rest—whatever your respite is."
Bearing this in mind, I wanted to know what a typical day in the life of Ali was like. I'm obsessed with learning about how über-successful people spend their time, especially in those seemingly mundane transition periods of the day in which most people fill the time with minutiae.
"I'll have a call with a team in Germany around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., and typically I'll take that from home. Then I'll do my morning routine; eat breakfast. Usually during this time I'll be catching up on emails and prioritizing things, deciding how I'm going to respond once I get into the office. I also take a look at the calendar and determine where I can knock these things out, and what I need to be extra prepared for that day,"
Here, he paused. "I feel like that sounds like I'm procrastinating. I really just like to respond to things on my desktop to get the full-screen and give thought to things ahead of time before I answer."
I LOVED this—I'm the same way. I hate responding on mobile because I feel like I'm missing something. I think it speaks volumes about Ali's intentionality that he reads his emails, sits on them for a little, then responds once he's given them some thought.
"On my way into work, it depends—if it's a rest day, I'll listen to music. If I'm trying to get into things, I'll listen to a podcast or audiobook. I'm physically in the office around 8:30, most of the time, and I go to meetings throughout the day and handle the tasks I need to."
So far, so normal, right? Here's where things start to take an exceptional turn, in my opinion, and offer some practical application for others.
"There are two ways that I use lunch: one is to load up on lunch meetings with people both on and off my team so I can informally pick their brains on the latest developments at work. The other is to spend my lunch hour reading. I grab my food, go in the corner, and I read.
I'm a fast reader, but I also like to annotate and summarize the books that I'm reading in the OneNote app."
At this point, he pulled up one of his TWO iPhones and started scrolling through literal pages of notes on the single chapter he had read that day. It looked like the outline of a book report. I just want to reemphasize that this is how he spends his lunch hour. For FUN.
I cut him off. "What are you reading right now?" Quickly, I added: "What do we all need to be reading?"
He said he loves reading biographies. "I'm reading Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin biography right now. I finished his Leonardo Da Vinci biography a few months ago. What struck me most about his depiction of Leonardo is how often he signed his name as a 'disciple of experience.' He never received a formal education but was still the greatest tinkerer of his time. I was hooked on that type of personality, and I loved Isaacson’s writing. Benjamin Franklin was a lot like Da Vinci, and picking up another Isaacson book was almost a no-brainer."
This made me smile, especially when comparing the types of biographies Ali was reading with mine—he's reading about founding fathers and the history’s most famous artists, and I'm reading about Anna Kendrick, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk (#ElonBae).
"I like to read all at once and then take a walk and write down all the key takeaways: all the things that I can actually recall, so they must be important. It goes back to being intentional about the information you actually absorb. Not little facts you could easily Google, but lessons and parables that could actually be useful to you later."
After a busy afternoon, I was wondering what time he'd tell me he usually leaves—mostly because I get Snaps at least once a week of him strolling out around 7:30.
"I typically leave work around 5 or 5:30, and then I'll normally be on the phone on the way home getting a debrief from the team at Anwar Enterprises. The team is wonderful. Every day someone else gives me the rundown. I'll ask the questions that need to be asked, check out the latest developments in the market—I'll usually spend about an hour or so doing that."
I was hoping, for his sake, that his entire night wouldn't be consumed with more work.
"Then I'll eat dinner. That's my relaxation time. I'll usually watch TV while I do that. When I don't have a call with China, I'll usually take a look at my schedule for the following day at TI and prioritize the things I need to do. I also do weekly look-aheads on Saturdays to see what's coming in the following week."
After dinner, he spends the rest of the night either reading or developing a lecture for his next session at SMU.
He explained quickly after wrapping up, presumably because my mouth was hanging open, that that was a busier day.
"On the more chill days, I spend my free time with Kathleen. And with my dear friends. Thankfully, the team at Anwar Enterprises is so good at what they do that it frees up more of my time." When it comes to relationships, he said, it comes down to being intentional about who you want to spend your time with.
I really related to this. The busier I've gotten in my life, the more I realized I'm less willing to spend downtime with people who don't truly fulfill me.
And finally, the question I'm sure everyone would love to ask him:
Do you have any general advice for people who want to be successful?
"You define your own success. Success is such a subjective term. To my parents, success was seeing their kids grow up to have the best education possible. To me, when I was in middle school, success was making it to the NBA or NFL. To me in high school, success was being extremely rich. In college, it was getting an engineering job. To me, NOW, it’s happiness. Am I happy, yes or no? And if not, how am I going to change that?"
#Deep. I couldn't agree more, though. First step, presumably, is defining what success even means to you. It seems obvious, but as I sit here and ponder that in my own life, I'm not sure I could give you a thorough answer.
To me, this was the most valuable part of our entire conversation:
"Figure out what works for you. Figure out who you are first." There was a pregnant pause here, and then he continued with the most fervor I had seen all evening:
"Get a full appreciation for who you are. I don’t want to sound corny, but you really need to know yourself. And part of knowing yourself is knowing that whoever you are is constantly evolving. Make the conscious decision to accept that.
The reason I say that is because you could spend the next 3-4 years of your life chasing something and never pausing to reevaluate if it’s still something you want. We often become so obsessed with the goals we set for ourselves that we forget to reflect on whether those goals are still relevant."
I want you to pause here and reread this sentence. Regardless of where you are in your life, have you ever stopped to ask yourself this question?
"Realize there’s no one formula to getting where you want to be. You can wake up every morning and read those clickbait articles about how to become a CEO—don’t fall for anything that's extremely prescriptive of what you need to do to attain professional success.
People are all wired differently. Different things work for different people. If you can recognize that and still want to read those things out of curiosity, go for it. But remember there’s no perfect recipe for success. You know yourself better than anyone and are therefore better suited than anyone to make those decisions for yourself."
We also talked a little bit about money management here, too, as money and success are often so closely linked together.
"To me, the most important thing is this, and I’m saying this as someone who has started companies, sold companies, and runs a wealth management firm: be risk averse. Evaluate your risk realistically. Too often do publications tell you to take risks while you’re young, and too often do young people take this as an excuse to be reckless. I advise extreme caution when it comes to “high risk/high reward” opportunities because that's often just a euphemism for recklessness. I’ll take patience and persistence over a risky get-rich-quick scheme any day."
*KG pulls up Robinhood app; invests in more ETFs*
After covering our drinks, Ali apologetically pulled out one of his phones (I just love that he has two) and called Kathleen, who then met us for cheeseburgers.
Watching Ali interact with his sweet girlfriend after three hours of talking business was a refreshingly jarring change of pace.
Their dynamic is precious. She warned him about eating too many fries and mentioned something about his blood pressure. When Ali dropped me off afterward, he mentioned in the car how sometimes he has to remind himself to "turn Business Ali off." I chuckled at this, thinking about how sometimes after working all day I'd respond to my mom's text and ask if she was 'aligned' on how we were planning to 'move forward' on which skincare product she was going to buy.
As I climbed into bed that night at 9:30 p.m. after a day that had started at 5:30 a.m. with Sculpt, I thanked my lucky stars that Southwest doesn't do business calls with China.
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to Ali for letting me pick his brain and sharing his wealth of knowledge with me.
If you know someone who would make for another great profile story, please send me their information—I'd love to continue highlighting young people who have set stellar examples.
Four Critical Takeaways from Female Senior Leadership at Southwest Airlines for International Women's Day
Wearing a J. Crew dress and my Elle Woods-style Calvin Klein blazer that you can find on Amazon for $70ish.
Southwest celebrated International Women’s Day with a day-long event kicked off by our own fabulous CFO, Tammy Romo. Y’all know I was all over this.
Tammy Romo is this tiny blonde woman who’s constantly toting around a workbag that’s bigger than she is and a venti coffee that comically juxtaposes her small frame. This woman is a puma in a pencil skirt, and I want her to adopt me.
Our VP of Technology, Erika Linford, was also there—she has a Masters in Organic Chemistry from MIT and owns a brewery in Colorado. So OK. What do you do in your free time? Because I know what I do in mine, and it’s not that.
But let’s level set really quick, because I just rattled off two bad ass female VPs with whom I don’t deserve to breathe the same air.
I found out here’s where we are, as a company:
On an aviation front, just over 6% of the world’s commercial pilots are women, the first being hired in 1973.
And only 6% of CEOS in the S&P 500 are women.
Is that OK with you? Because that’s not OK with me.
Southwest was the first airline—in the entire world—to have a female President, Colleen Barrett. And you know what she said about her female directors?
Be aggressive and stand your ground, strategically.
Colleen said in an interview that she believes women are better leaders because they called her bluff. They didn’t paraphrase their opinions or back down from their beliefs. They cut to the chase and challenged her when they believed she was wrong.
This kinda surprised me, given the popular narrative that surrounds women in the workforce as more timid than their male counterparts.
And Colleen herself had a pretty dope motto: “I like to solve problems. Tell me I can’t do something, and by God, I will kill myself trying.”
Erika also had some amazing insight on being an aggressive woman in the workplace and how, typically, when a woman is identified as ‘aggressive,’ it just means she’s behaving in a way that’s more akin to the way men behave at work—but it’s perceived differently coming from a woman.
Her tip for navigating that stickiness was this: if being aggressive in a situation is going to make you less effective, then tone it down. If that’s who you are and that’s what that situation necessitates, be aggressive unapologetically.
Tennina, a woman on the panel who’s a senior station manager at our top international gateway station, had a really hilarious answer to a related crowd question: “How do you be a female leader without acquiring a certain reputation or being called a bitch?”
“Honestly,” she answered slowly, “I don’t really care.”
The crowd erupted.
On work-life harmony and finding a life partner.
Erika also made some really fantastic points about making a marriage work with another career-driven individual. She said being tethered to another person has really changed her perspective on her career growth, because she has this sounding board who’s super invested in her growth, too (and damn, talk about #MarriageGoals).
A few weeks ago Sarah sent me an article about some troubling findings regarding marriages between two career-driven people and how, most times, the woman's career has to take a backseat in order to make the family dynamic work. That freaks me out, and I truly don't think it has to be that way. I refuse to allow that in my own life, and I think Erika's comments spoke to that well.
Her opinion stuck with me because it highlighted how crucial it is to find a partner who believes in you just as much as you do, because your success will be directly affected by their support (or lack thereof). I’ll never forget what my friend Ali told me when we discussed this a few years ago: “The only men who don’t want a strong woman are the weak ones.” Hell yes. (For more on this, check out the recommended reading below).
Erika was probably my favorite panelist because she was so damn blatant and specific with her comments. I loved her intelligence and candor.
Family came up a lot. Anthony Gregory, our VP of Ground Operations, said he loves how everyone at this company is just absolutely nuts about Southwest, but that the balance of life is ultimately more important. He said focusing on your family makes you a stronger and happier person in general, which transcends into your work.
This guy caught my eye because he was extraordinarily young to be a VP (#goals) and he spoke super wisely about incremental progress—about how each day is about taking small steps forward.
Tangent: it reminds me a little of this amazing Wait but Why post called “Life is a Picture, but You Live in a Pixel.” It says that, when taken as a whole, life is a big, magnificent picture—but we don’t live in “broad, sweeping summations,” we live in the folds of every day. Major successes are just extremely long series of tiny, underwhelming accomplishments strung together as unimpressively as waking up every day, making your bed, and kicking a little ass.
(He even goes on to say that life is really just one “Mundane Wednesday” after another, so the secret to being happy is learning how to enjoy Mundane Wednesday. And that marriage is just Mundane Wednesday, every day, together.)
Work is much the same way. You're not going to go in every single day and conquer some massive accomplishment, but if you make incremental progress every day, it will amount to something astounding.
Male/female mentorship goes both ways.
But anyway—Anthony told a cool story about his mentorship of a younger female colleague. He said that he noticed when she presented (in their Ground Operations department, which is 60% men), she always conveyed a very humble tone and noted that they “still had a lot to do” and “had a long way to go,” effectively downplaying the significance of the subject matter she was delivering.
He instructed her to be more confident when presenting and believe that what she had to say was important.
It wasn’t until another woman in Ground Ops got wind of this that he realized he may need to change his approach.
She told him that the department was mostly men—so one of the few young women in the department was ‘living in a completely different world’ than he was, as a man, in the same department. Just telling her to be confident probably wasn’t resonating much, he realized, and that’s a sign of how much progress we still need to achieve in the work place.
Erika had some solid, tactical advice for women who report to men: We have to tell our male mentors what we need from them and coach them about what women do and don’t need in the workplace. It reminded me a little of a conversation I had with my new senior manager a few weeks ago during my performance appraisal where he asked me, point blank, what I wanted.
“Honestly, I want to be a better copy writer. I want to get better at concepting and I want you to mentor me through how to be more creative,” I told him.
And you know what he said?
“Ok, let’s do that.”
Easy enough, right? Obviously, conversations about promotions, raises, and otherwise are more nerve wracking than just admitting you want help to grow, but it was great to see how perceptive he was to my request for more attention and mentorship.
If you want to see progress, you have to be the progress.
Get your ass out of your cubicle and go learn the business.
Debbie Storey, retired EVP from AT&T, came as our guest speaker and brought some incredibly valuable advice with her that was super applicable for complex industries like ours (telecommunications companies and airlines, respectively).
She told a story about her years at AT&T as she was quickly climbing the ranks and a conversation she had with a director the day they sold their software company.
But there was just one small problem, she said: "I didn't know we sold our software company. Honestly, I didn't even know we had a software company."
Whether it's a combination of perfectionism or lack of confidence, she explained women take less initiative to get out of their own focus area and learn the other pieces of the business. She talked about how she was so niched down in her little world—her job, in her cubicle—that she never took the time to learn about other pieces of the business.
She suggested asking people in other departments to meet with you briefly and just chat about the state of the business. You bet I'll be reaching out to someone in Finance, someone in Revenue Management, someone in Network Planning and beyond to learn more about how Southwest's business stands as a whole now—not just how the creative on the homepage is performing.
It's awesome to be the subject matter expert in your arena—the go-to, indispensable person—but when you have a broad strategic knowledge of your business, you can participate confidently in conversation and become part of the discussion in a meaningful way. And you know what that means? Respect and opportunity.
Debbie was a boss. She was hilarious. She joked about the "man spread" and how men tend to take up space in meetings and subconsciously convey power and confidence that way. "When he hits you with a man spread, stretch out and hit him with one right back." Damn. I love this chick.
Happy International Women's Day, everyone. Go tell a strong woman you admire and appreciate her!
Some dope recommended reading for aspiring lady bosses:
GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
“Money looks better in the bank than on your feet.”
“If you’re frustrated because you’re not getting what you want, stop for a second: Have you actually flat-out asked for it? If you haven’t, stop complaining. You can’t expect the world to read your mind. You have to put it out there, and sometimes putting it out there is as simple as just saying, “Hey, can I have that?”
And an awesome quote on why it’s important as a female to be self-supporting: “But what I have realized over time is that in many ways, money spells freedom. If you learn to control your finances, you won’t find yourself stuck in jobs, places, or relationships that you hate just because you can’t afford to go elsewhere. Learning how to manage your money is one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Being in a good spot financially can open up so many doors. Being in a bad spot can slam them in your face.”
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (I know, I know, this one is so standard and typical and you’ve probably already read it if you give a shit about female empowerment, but it includes so many great statistics and a nuanced look at the reality of the way men and women approach their careers that I highly recommend.)
“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” [Can I get a f*** yes?]
Settle for More by Megyn Kelly
"In all the years I've worked at Fox, I have never had to ask for a promotion. I have been asked what I think is the next step for me, and I have never been shy to answer. So many broadcasters line up outside the boss's office, asking for this show or that one. I've spent my time in my own office, working night and day, and opportunity came to me. Most of my power has come from excellence, not advocacy...the solution of 'doing better' is far more empowering than lamenting one's circumstances."
REWORK by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried
“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn't matter if the person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever, their writing skills will pay off. That's because being a good writer is about more than writing clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society... Writing is today's currency for good ideas.”
“Workaholics don't actually accomplish more than non-workaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they're wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.”
I have two radically opposite professional fantasies.
One features me donning quirky horn-rimmed glasses (note: I don’t need glasses) hunched over a 15-inch MacBook drinking some trendy earl grey tea in an Instagram coffee shop, writing for a living and wearing oversized flannel Oxfords in my free time.
The other fantasy stars an inexplicably taller (Katie, you’re not going to grow; accept your 5’1” fate) version of me storming down a marble hallway in an A-line dress holding an important-looking stack of papers in leather-bound folios, stilettos clicking angrily, muttering something into a Blackberry that hasn’t existed since 2013.
Basically, fantasy #1 features a hipster iteration of me who's somehow employed yet works in coffee shops and owns too many cable-knit sweaters. Fantasy #2 is reminiscent of the character Delia on Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce, who's a partner at a law firm.
I guess the first fantasy is more realistic, as it's unlikely I'll become a partner at a law firm on account of the fact that I don't have a law degree and have no current plans to obtain one.
Sometimes I think these polar opposite hypotheticals are indicative of nothing more than my frenetic fashion taste. But if I'm being honest, I think it's more largely representative of the fact that—for someone who generally prides herself on having her shit together—my ambition feels a little directionless sometimes.
Does anyone else ever feel like they have all this motivated energy but are unsure how to focus it on one exploit?
Having a lot of drive is great if you know where to invest it. But if your ambition is bipolar—the aspirational equivalent of deciding between a pair of cuffed skinny jeans and a blazer—it can become anxiety-inducing.
I listen to so many podcasts about branding, blogging, influencer marketing, and startups, that I get super inspired to nurture my creative side (thank God my actual day job IS, in fact, advertising writing and not something numbers-based like accounting).
But, as my unfounded partner-at-a-law-firm-but-probably-just-wants-to-own-more-pencil-skirts fantasy reveals, there's also something super appealing about being a corporate #BossLady.
And honestly, like most of us, I'm still trying to figure out how to make both a reality.
I absolutely don't have it all figured out, but here are a few things I've learned recently that will apply to all areas of your professional life—whether you work for a big company and love it (or hate it), are starting your own business (or thinking about it), or just want to feel a little more inspired in your day-to-day work.
1. Be a simplifier, and when you get the ball, deliver.
This is fantastic advice I learned from our Senior Director of Loyalty Products & Partnerships at our Annual Marketing Meeting. It's so tempting to get mired in the nitty gritty details of a problem in business, especially at large corporations where role clarity can be fuzzy or change can happen slowly.
You will always be valued if you're a simplifier: if you're someone who can zone out of the problem, look at it from above, and then surgically hone back in. My favorite phrase in meetings that start getting heated is, "Are we overcomplicating this?" Most times, everybody sighs sharply and agrees that, yes, we are.
Moreover, offer solutions (simple ones, if possible). Don't overcomplicate things. I always catch myself at work identifying an issue we're having and being tempted to share it immediately, but it's always better if you can present any given issue with a few potential solves. After all, being able to identify a problem is only helpful if you can offer some means of fixing it.
Simplification is also a valuable skill set to hone when you're trying to do your OWN thing, too.
Corporate America calls it 'agility,' but really, it just means making each decision with the most current circumstances in mind and not adhering blindly to a plan because that's what you set out to do months ago. Things change. Flexibility and simplicity go hand in hand.
As the coauthors of REWORK say, "Planning is guessing."
2. Create things you'd actually use or find compelling.
This can be applied in several areas of work—from developing your own product, starting a blog, or—I don't know—copywriting for Southwest Airlines.
Personally, something that works for me when I'm concepting is imagining what would compel me to make the purchase plunge. What psychological or cultural factors can we tap? What's relevant? After all, if the biggest Southwest fan girl south of the Mason-Dixon isn't moved to purchase based on the creative, nobody will be.
I also think this is huge in presentations. Curate your decks, emails, and other pieces of correspondence (blogs if you're a blogger, social posts if you work in social media marketing, etc.) in a way that would actually capture YOUR attention. There are a lot of boring presentations in corporate America—yours shouldn't be one. The importance of a narrative logic flow cannot be overstated; anticipate what questions someone might have as you move through the information and answer them as you go.
I always try to inject a little personality and sass into all my work because (a) my employer doesn't frown on it, (b) it makes things more interesting and typically garners more attention than bland content, and (c) selfishly, it makes it more fun for me. Win, win, win.
From a product development side (no matter what your product may be), making something you'd actually use helps for two reasons: if you'd use it, you can develop it intimately and with firsthand feedback, AND you won't waste your time on something that will be rendered useless if it flops. At least you'll have an awesome tool at your disposal.
3. Be patient with yourself, but remember to always add value.
The patience part refers to the not-knowing-what-the-hell-you-actually-want fantasy above—because frankly, at this age, the whole 'world is your oyster' thing is only partly true. If you've already graduated college and entered the workforce, it's probably too late to, I don't know, become a neurosurgeon.
In other words, you've already narrowed your potential for some professions. But the good news is, most things don't require 12 years of school, so don't sell yourself short, kids!
Transferrable skills are huge, so be patient with figuring out what it is you're striving for. The key, however, is to be patient without coasting. Allowing yourself patience and grace to figure shit out isn't an excuse to do nothing in the meantime. Most times, the 'figuring out' comes in the doing.
In other words: keep hustling, even if sometimes it feels fruitless or misguided. Add value regardless of your situation, and you'll derive value in return.
If you have a regular job, don't leave a meeting without adding some value to the conversation or taking away an action item. Add value to your team. My goal is to be so valuable to our team's functioning that—if I were to disappear one day—things would feel tangibly different. (Sidebar—that's a good tip for interns, too. If you want to turn your 'ship into a full-time role, make yourself indispensable.)
If you're a blogger, create content that leaves the reader with something other than a photo of what you wore to church that day. Add some value to their life. The Skinny Confidential Podcast is a great example of influencing that adds value.
If you're a student, stay laser-focused on the objective of learning for learning's sake—keeping in mind that the learning itself adds value to your life. When I was in college, this was the sole perspective that kept me motivated in a sustainable way. Looking at my classes as opportunities to enhance my own knowledge of a subject or the world made it much easier to pay attention, take solid notes, and enjoy the experience.
And there you have it! Now you can figure out your whole life in three simple steps.
Just kidding. I truly wish it were that easy.
But hopefully you feel even marginally more enlightened or inspired to tackle your Tuesday with a little more vigor than before.
I very shamelessly made Claire take these pictures of me at work for the sake of this work- and love-related post, so I hope you enjoy them.
Whenever I write a post for the Get in My Head section of katiegatti.com, it’s almost always inspired by some inescapably relevant current event, a podcast I listen to, or a book I’m reading. Typically, my wheels get turning when I’m exposed to a really fascinating idea, and it usually ends up somewhere on this site.
(Also, hi! Welcome to my new 40 HOURS section, dedicated to all things career growth and business.)
So when two different sources of my chosen media espouse similar compelling ideology, the reward centers of my brain turn into a verifiable shit storm of introspection and stimulation. This becomes especially exciting when the theme applies to the two topics I’m most interested in: business and relationships.
There are so many parallels.
I’ve been reading this book called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. While the subtitle reads like every third article posted on Fortune and Forbes by random contributing editors, this book’s premise is fundamentally simple and profound.
It essentially postulates (using Apple and—you guessed it—my bae, Southwest Airlines, as examples) that companies founded with a clear sense of mission and purpose, beyond capitalizing on new market share, are more successful in the long run.
Apple’s ‘why’ is challenging the status quo. That’s their shtick. The music industry was all, “You need to buy CDs with albums of 18-ish songs and play them on this device, in order.” And Apple was all, “Bet.”
Because their hallmark approach to literally everything they do stems from this mission (challenge the status quo) they don’t limit themselves. Hell, they even took the word ‘computer’ out of their name (Apple Computer, Inc. is now Apple, Inc.) because they aren’t JUST a computer company. Do people wait in lines for hours to get the new Dell laptop? No.
Southwest, if you’ll allow me, made its mission to connect people to what’s important in their lives. If we truly live that mission, then we’ll adapt in ways that other airlines won’t. If Elon gets his way and high-speed rail becomes the future, then we should—theoretically—become Southwest Railways.
Why? Because our mission is to connect people in a friendly, reliable, and low-cost way. The ‘how’ right now is with planes—but if the world changes, so will the industry, and the airlines that can adapt early and quickly will survive, even if it means swapping their old 'how' with a new one.
It's a little like that Henry Ford quote: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would've said faster horses." That's business 101: focus groups are great and all, but most of the time, customers don't actually know what they want. You have to tell them.
Simon Sinek, the author, makes the point that companies founded on a ‘why’ rather than a ‘what’ or a ‘how’ achieve longevity and profitability because humans innately make decisions with this thing called their limbic brain. The limbic brain, he explains, has no capacity for language. This is why sometimes you have a ‘gut feeling’ you should do something and you really can’t articulate why.
When you sell based on a 'why,' you appeal to that limbic brain.
He argues that people don’t make decisions with their rational prefrontal cortex, they mostly make them in that limbic brain and then justify them after the fact with the rational language in the prefrontal cortex that they have conscious access to.
This means you're explaining your decisions to others with reasoning that you probably didn't even use yourself when making that choice.
So let’s table that idea for a moment.
Fast-forward to yesterday. I’m listening to this podcast about the power of ‘slowing down.’ It’s one of those super soothing and enlightening NPR Ted Radio Hour podcasts hosted by the man whom I wish would read me bedtime stories, Guy Raz. His voice is the audible equivalent of Xanax.
Anyway, they’re talking about slowing down, and this dude he’s interviewing is explaining how he puts 60-80 hours (!!) of work into his blog posts because he really likes to let the ideas percolate on the backburner for weeks. He’s a professional procrastinator, basically. His blog is called “Wait Buy Why."
So of course I listen to this and think—shit, I really want to read a blog post that required 60-80 hours of work.
I look up this dude’s blog and, lo and behold, one of the most popular posts is hilariously entitled: “The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again.” Amazing. He even illustrates it with these ironically shitty stick figure drawings and the bane of my existence, Comic Sans. But I digress—we'll put a pin in my privileged typeface opinions for another day.
I read this post (which has over 23k shares, so it’s technically gone viral) and was flat-out amazed by the level of logic and his ability to build an argument. He has such a gift for delving into all facets of a topic, and then flipping it on its head and exploring the implications.
But the part that really stuck out to me was this:
He essentially claims in one tiny subset of this massive discussion that there are two types of people: “brain people” and “gut people.” He explains that “gut people” have an easier time deciding if they want to marry their partner because they trust their gut—their limbic brain.
Gut people don't necessarily dig for that rationale or reasoning (and, he argues, this is a favorable approach for dating, since signing up to live out your next 60+ years with another human when you’re in your mid-twenties is not logical, rational, or reasonable). But hey, societal norms.
The poor “brain people,” on the other hand, get SUPER analytical about the relationship and start digging for concrete evidence that things will work out. They try to use their prefontal cortex—the ‘brain’s brain’—to make an emotional decision. He so candidly writes that, when it’s time to make this decision, a “brain person” should “try to not be themselves.”
Because, as Sinek teaches us, the true decision-making happens in the limbic brain that has no access to or ability for language and reasoning. It just feeds you instinctual knowledge that urges you in one direction or the other.
So let’s hop back to the business side real quick.
Continuing this super fun Apple example (I swear this dude has a crush on Steve Jobs), he uses the classic MacBook parable. If you ask a MacBook owner why they chose their laptop over, say, a PC, they’ll offer you myriad reasons: the design, the user interface, its applications, ease of use, they love fruit, etc.—but, he argues, these are all product features that the customer hones in on after the fact and have very little to do with the purchase decision itself.
People pay twice as much for MacBooks and iPhones not because they’re inherently better, but because of what they symbolize. You’re a rabble rouser. You challenge the status quo. You’re creative. You’re innovative. You have the means to purchase one.
This is what owning a Mac says about you, and there’s a visceral appeal that drives you to throw logic, price comparison, and general features out the window. You don’t even know why you want it, but you do, and you're willing to go to extreme lengths to get it. That's the type of brand loyalty we all strive for.
What does owning a Dell say about you, beyond that you work a corporate job and probably own a lot of suits? (See, my own innate bias against PC is coming out inadvertently! That’s how brainwashed I am! BRANDING!)
And so now you’re probably wondering: Katie, what’s your point?
Whether you’re trying to run a successful company, start your own business, or get into a relationship, you should be aware that much of human behavior and human decision-making are driven by factors that the decision-maker himself cannot understand or explain.
Yes, having good products or being a good partner will help, but it is not, in itself, enough.
Human behavior is not rational, so it follows that humans fundamentally don’t respond as strongly to rational appeals. They may THINK they do, but that just goes to show how self-unaware we all really are.
You pay more for a (sometimes lesser) product because you’ve bought into WHY the company does what it does. I see this all the time when customers tell us via social that they bought a Southwest ticket even though it cost more, or they flew into a less convenient airport so they could fly Southwest. That flies in the face of rationality (pun intended).
You fall in love with someone because of the way they make you feel, not because they check all your boxes on your ego clipboard. (And believe me, I’ve been told more than once: “You check all my boxes, so I don’t know why I don’t feel it with you.” Brutal, but true. It’s not an analytical decision.)
And believe me, I’ve always been fascinated by people’s decisions to get married, especially young. I can’t imagine feeling that enthralled with someone that I’d want to spend forever with them. (I guess ‘brutal but true’ is the theme today, huh?)
But still—it always makes me laugh when I ask, “Why him?” or “Why her?” and the answer is some anticlimactic variation of, “He’s so smart and funny and cool!” or “She’s beautiful and kind and wonderful!” Like, yeah, them and several million other people on the planet. Why THAT one? Why did you pick THAT person?
You don’t fall in love with every pretty, smart girl or every funny, smart guy. There’s something that goes beyond reason when it comes to falling in love (and buying a laptop).
So how can we learn from this and apply it in our own businesses and love lives?
As with most things, it’s simple, but not always easy.
And frankly, I feel this is more readily applicable for most within the dating realm. Rather than focusing on the tangible THINGS you can offer someone and treating your dating qualifications like a résumé in a job search, remember—at the end of the day, you can still ‘check someone’s boxes’ and not be the one for them.
But hey, that’s a good thing, right? It totally takes the pressure off. You don’t have to be the prettiest or the smartest or the funniest or the whatever-est, because it’s not about being the best. It’s being the one that triggers that limbic brain response. And, unsurprisingly, that’s more or less out of your control.
Sinek makes the point that—likewise in business—companies that have a clear sense of their own ‘why’ don’t stress about it. They don’t feel like they have anything to prove. They know where they stand, they know their shit, and they know their customer base is loyal. They don't feel the need to test things with their customer base or run focus groups to learn what their customers want—they tell them who they are and what they want, and the customers listen.
Do you think Apple would ever send out a survey asking what you'd like to see in your next iPhone? It's laughable. No. Tim Cook says, "You want facial recognition," and we all nod in numb uniformity and go, "OK, yes, I guess I want facial recognition. And now I'm going to wait in line for 8 hours and pay $1,000 for it."
But if that ‘why’ sense of purpose and mission gets fuzzy, then you’re in trouble—then you settle for manipulative tactics, like touting features or price, to do the heavy-lifting, appealing solely to that prefrontal cortex that doesn’t really have that visceral decision-making power.
Same goes for love. Know who you are, remember it’s more about how you make the other person feel, and don't beat yourself up if you aren’t “it” for someone else. After all, it’s really not about you—it’s about their own limbic system response. Ah, romance.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is…
Sell from the same platform you’re buying from, and you’ll have success.
Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day! Go start a business and make someone fall in love with you!
If you liked this post, you may also like "28 Days of Solitude."
Although tempted to name this something cliché like #GIRLBOSS, this section features all my obsessive-compulsive productivity hacks & candid conversations about career development.