*** A highjacking from me, Emily, real quick. Today is Jess’ six-year workaversary and I literally couldn’t be luckier to call her my #2. She brings and gives so much leadership, creativity, insight, innovation, compassion, loyalty, love, organization, ease, and FUN – I’m just constantly grateful and impressed. She has talked me up when I’m been so low, and effectively helped save the company when I was at my lowest. This blog would absolutely not be as great as it is without her steering this ship through the incredibly difficult waters of digital media. So let’s show Jess so much love in their comments. WE LOVE YOU JESS AND THANK YOU FOR SIX WONDERFUL YEARS. Love, Emily.
6 years. I can and also very much can’t wrap my brain around it. All I can think about when I see that number is how when I was living in New York I told my friends that my dream would be to work for Emily Henderson but she’s in LA and I’m definitely not moving to LA. Well, the joke’s on me because fate decided to play the long game by moving me to Australia with an ex, then to San Diego for a short 5-month stint, until an opportunity from my cousin got me an interview with Emily for a graphic design/admin position. To say I literally couldn’t believe it at the time is an understatement. But I eventually let myself believe it, put on a light blue wrap dress from H&M that I bought for the occasion, tried to calm the nausea, and went to my first interview. Then, like a little crazy person, emailed her once a week for a month to check in to see if she had made a decision. After that fourth email, I decided it was time to let it go. I got the hint. Ha. Honestly, I wasn’t too shocked but I was a little heartbroken. It just felt too serendipitous not to work out, right? Why was the universe doing this to me? What a tease! But then, after I had finally let it go, about a month later, I got the email asking for a second interview which turned into a week-long trial. I think that’s where we should actually start today’s lesson plan…
1. A Little “Fake It Till You Make It” Attitude Isn’t The Worst Idea (Sorry, Em!)
I didn’t technically lie (see above graphic for proof) but I maybe didn’t say that some of the required skills for the position were pretty new to me…as in I started learning photoshop when getting an interview was a real possibility. In a perfect world, I would have been a photoshop wiz, and a photography pro but I was neither. However, I had very basic skills and was a dedicated learner, willing to put in whatever work I needed to so I wouldn’t screw up my big shot. To my credit, I did have a decent amount of admin experience:) Now, this isn’t a new idea but it’s so true that women especially feel like they have to be experts at something before they even think about applying to a job, and normally that is 100% me. But I didn’t know if this chance would ever come back around and I wasn’t going to let my insecurities take over and not even try. So let this be a lesson in confidence. If you’ve literally never touched photoshop and that’s a huge part of the job you’re applying for, then maybe wait until you have some skills. But a lack of confidence with basic skills versus not being able to do the job at all are clearly two different things:) Also to any actual graphic designers, I apologize for these amateur GIFs you are about to see…
I’ll never forget the first photoshop assignment that I was given on my first day. It was a GIF of Emily’s LA kitchen to help the readers see the vision. Brady asked me, “So you know photoshop, right?” to which I responded cool and calm with a quick “Yes.” Then with an “Ok, we’ll see” from Brady (accompanied by a gentle smirk as if he saw right through me!) I was off to hopefully be asked back the next day. Here is my masterpiece:
2. Kindness And A Positive Attitude Are CRUCIAL For A Happy Work Environment (And Climbing The Ladder)
I can’t stress this enough and is HUGE to Emily (and me). When I say it’s essential to not only enjoying your work but also climbing the ladder is because I know that it was a factor in my getting promoted every couple of years. Yes, I work really hard and take pride in what I do so that’s paramount. But it’s much easier to hire someone who is clearly happy at work and brings good energy, right? If you were a boss isn’t that a person you’d want to keep around if their work was also on par? So even when some days are hard because you’re frustrated for whatever reason or you’ve got something hard going on in your personal life it just affects everything and everyone if you bring it to work. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t feel your feelings and bottle them all up, but your energy has power both positively and of course, negatively. Using it intentionally will make the work better, collaborating way more fun, and the overall morale of the company high. I think everyone here can attest to that. Please don’t take this as me promoting toxic positivity. We are really aware and sensitive so we can tell someone is off. Sometimes we check-in right away while other times we can tell they just need a little space. It’s just that at the end of the day, especially in a job that requires creativity, collaboration thrives with positivity and dies with the alternative.
The pandemic was, for obvious reasons, one of the most challenging times for this and I was promoted to editorial director less than a month before lockdown started. I am naturally a pretty positive person and felt I had learned so much about leading in this position from Brady and Arlyn who had been in this role before but this was uncharted territory. This was ALL of our first time being remote. We all, of course, had Emily but I wanted to prove I was up for the job and that she hadn’t made a mistake by promoting me. But I didn’t know how was I going to do my job and keep morale in a good place when all I could do outside of work hours was lay on the sofa in a near fetal position staring at the puzzle I had bought which was now taunting me. To be fair, everyone on the team has an incredible attitude but understandably we were in an uncertain time and I wanted to be there for everyone if they needed it.
We clearly made it through those extremely tougher times, navigating it daily together. As a whole, it’s everyone’s positivity and kindness, creativity, and humor that make me happy to come to work, even when life is really hard.
As a side note, a huge reason for all of this is Emily’s hiring skills. She hires great people that only add to the strength of our content and our team. While I don’t know all of her secrets, her gut is usually right and she tries her best to take her time. If I’m ever in a hiring position, I will absolutely take this with me. Skills are absolutely important but attitude and energy might be more…or at least equal.
I mean look at this hardworking, fun group! Not mandatory to all like each other, but definitely a HUGE perk:)
3. Embrace Change And Be Flexible
At this point, I think I’ve been through six or seven versions of EHD. All special in their own ways. Every once in a while I’ll drive past our first office and really miss those days. Days when I was so new and SO scared but also incredibly happy because I loved the work and finally felt like I was building a career in the industry I’d dreamed about. But then we moved offices, decided to no longer take on private clients which meant Ginny and Mel were going to start their own companies, and a year after that, Brady decided it was time for a change. I remember thinking, “Brady can’t leave. What is EHD without Brady???” And while that shift was really sad because we all learned so much from him, we were ok. We knew what to do and of course, we had our Arlyn. Arlyn was the one who was willing to let me become a writer, drilled into me the importance of a work/life balance, and became one of my dearest friends. Then after a couple of years, Arlyn was ready to try her hand in a new field, giving her a new challenge after a decade in editorial. This then led to me getting the chance to take a stab at leading despite the similar feelings of not knowing how we would move forward without her. But here we are! We made it through lockdown, were are still doing great, and our real leader, Emily, is in a different state. Some of those shifts were easier than others, missing old coworkers persists, but I’m never not incredibly grateful for our team now. So just remember that change can be hard but also just be another kind of wonderful. Resisting change whether it’s employee shifts, location changes, or even a stupid algorithm, will only hold you back. Being adaptable is really the key to success. Em is the champ of this because after 12 years her business is still going strong and boy has she had to be willing to roll with the internet punches.
4. Fight For What You Believe In
Sorry for that wildly cliché header but you are about to find out why it makes the most sense. This is also something I never thought I’d write about but got Em’s permission so here we go. Curtain lifted. Back in September 2020, it was a particularly tough time as a company. Our dearest Sara and Em’s #2 was ready to go freelance. We simply weren’t shooting any projects so most of the admin/HR stuff was given to her (and because she’s great at everything, she was nailing it but it wasn’t what she wanted to do. Very understandable.) As happy as we were for her and knew she would still be our photographer and friend, it was a really hard loss. That lady is a rock that we all leaned on. I know I did. So with Sara leaving, the world going through a raging pandemic as well as a necessary racial justice uprising, Emily understandably was having a hard time seeing the future of the company and if her voice could be of service or was even needed anymore. On top of that, Em had an offer to potentially sell the blog to a larger company. That’s hard to not consider when everything feels so uncertain.
So on a Monday call, she and Sara announced that Sara would be leaving in a few months (to become a full-time freelance photographer) and we could tell Emily wasn’t sure what the future of the company was going to be without her while being in another state. For that whole day, I was nervous and trying to stay calm. Could this job that I loved, that had been my home, that was a catalyst for my creativity just going to vanish? But then on day two, I said “no”. I got extremely fired up and decided, with the help of the team, we were going to prove to Em how we could make this work, even with her in Portland. We pulled together a PowerPoint presentation showing ideas for the blog and social, ways for her to be less involved if/when she needed a break, and financial projections. I’ve never been so nervous but with Caitlin by my side, we gave her our presentation. It was a beautiful and emotional meeting and when it was done Em was really grateful for the work we all had put in. Naturally, she took some time to think about it but the presentation gave her the confidence she needed to know that we’ve got this. Everyone, especially at that time, goes through hard moments and while this blog needs all of us to run it, ultimately it’s all on her. She’s the leader and the face so that comes with an unbelievable amount of pressure as well as scrutiny. I’d like to think (which she has confirmed) that us being so passionate (and researched) made her feel super supported during that time and you may have guessed the outcome because well, we’re still here baby, 2 years later:)
5. I Don’t Want To Own My Own Business
This feels like a strange and almost shameful thing to admit because it almost feels un-American as if you aren’t an ambitious person. Not that I care at all about “being American” but we are raised to strive for it. It’s seen as the ultimate goal because if you’re lucky there are big financial pay-offs. But working here has taught me that it’s not my goal and here’s why. First off, when you have a boss who trusts you, gives you autonomy and agency to say, go to a doctor’s appointment without needing permission or making you use PTO, encourages/supports creative ideas, and generously gives you financial and experiential perks, there is not a lot that leaves you wanting too much more. Imagine that! Look, more money is always great (especially with the cost of living increasing by what feels like every hour) but HOT TIP, treat your employees well and like real people with lives and they may want to stay working for you. Of course, if starting your own company is your dream then yes, go for it. But I’ve found that I really enjoy being a leader while still in a supporting role, I thrive in it. And it’s not that I don’t think I could start my own business but I also see the pressure that a job like Emily’s has. Not to mention once again, the intense scrutiny of the internet. So despite being grateful and excited to show my work to the world and get a little recognition for it, even I still feel some pressure. I give so much credit to Emily for how she handles it all and yes, there are SO MANY wonderful parts about Emily’s job that are extremely enviable. It’s such a great life! But these six years here have shown me more of who I am and how I’m built and I’ve realized that I am really happy in this type of role. I say this to hopefully release any weird shame around this if you feel this way too. The world needs awesome new businesses with strong, generous owners, but they also need talented people to help run them.
6. The Story Behind This Photo (That Ends In Good Lesson)
TW: Body Image
This is more of a personal lesson I continue to learn as opposed to a work lesson. So my eyes look pretty bright and green, right? Well, there were especially green for this photo because I was crying before it was taken. Up until this day I had been on a really great routine of eating well and exercising which resulted in losing a little weight. Body image has always been my biggest hill to climb and has taken up the majority of my therapy hours. As much as I know it’s SUCH a waste of time that I wish I could get back and not continue to think about – we weren’t there then and honestly are only a tiny bit better now. Anyway, we started taking photos in the office and every photo of me I looked at made me want to crawl into a hole. It was as if all of my hard work vanished. I could feel the tears coming so I quickly went into the bathroom to let them out. So not only was I upset with how my body looked but I was also pissed off that I was so upset to the point of tears. How was I still so affected at 30?! Anyway, we moved outside and sweet, patient Veronica took some more shoots and we got one that I was happy with. And it’s not that I think anyone who sees this photo even has two thoughts about the person in it. But I just want to remind you (and me) that no matter how beautiful the room on the internet is, there’s a room right next to it that’s A MESS. And no matter how confident a person may look in a photo, they are likely dealing with a few issues that might be the same as yours. It’s a story as old as time but working at this wonderful job, with incredible people in what is considered by most a dream industry, isn’t perfect and doesn’t lack lots of mess. So while I am absolutely still guilty of comparison, and I know Em is too (we are human, unfortunately), remember that a photo or an instastory or whatever it is almost never tells the full story. Also, do your best to love yourself for every part of you. We’re stuck with ourselves and I’m working on it too<3
Lesson plan/story time is over. Hope this was helpful or relatable, or minimally was fun to look at some old photos…and GIFs. It’s been a wonderful and wild six years and I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store<3
Love you, Most definitely mean it.
Opening Image Credits: Left Photo by Tessa Neustadt, From: Our New Design Library and a Sneak Peek Into Our Studio | Right Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, Styled by Emily Bowser, From: MOTO Reveal! How Jess Made Her WFH Office/Living Room Totally Multifunctional (With Big Help From The World’s Most Beautiful Smart Monitor)