See What Sticks: Reframe and Recommit


Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin:(1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me. As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life.

I've got a fresh lesson for you all, one that I'm still living parts of...and what better time to share?

Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin is a captivating account (and I do mean that, as I started it on a free Sunday and didn't get up until I finished) of a mother's struggle to come to terms with her son's part in a school shooting and time in prison. This seems like an odd place from which to draw inspiration, but there was one lesson that stuck with me early in the book, and nagged away at me as I continued to read. I'm of the belief that those are the tidbits that are most worthy of our attention, so I came back to it and seriously considered why.

We Need to Talk About Kevin covers the span of mother Eva Khatchadourian's life that precedes children- through her marriage to her husband Franklin, their decision to have children, her pregnancy, and all through Kevin's life. It includes a key point when Kevin is about four years old, and is proving to be a difficult child. Up until this point, Eva feels that she has been distant from her son, that he simply doesn't like her. But she also recognizes that to this point, she was only partially committed to the role of parent. After escaping from a conflicted existence under the guise of a work trip, Eva vows to change her mindset, and hopefully her relationship with her son:

That sweaty, protracted delay allowed me to contemplate that so far my commitment to motherhood had been toe-in-the-water. In a funny way, I resolved. I had to remake that arduous decision of 1982 and jump into parenthood with both feet. I had to get pregnant with Kevin all over again. Like his birth, raising our son could be a transporting experience, but only if I stopped fighting it. As I was at pains to teach Kevin for years thereafter (to little effect), rarely is the object of your attention innately dull or compelling. Nothing is interesting if you are not interested. In vain, I had been waiting for Kevin to prove out, to demonstrate as I stood arms folded that he was worthy of my ardor [...] Flying into Kennedy, I was bursting with determination, ardor, and goodwill.

In the interest of greater disclosure, I have been at this point in a few different capacities over the past several months. Paths that I was hoping to travel down (like graduate school or new professional opportunities) haven't panned out as I had hoped, and I have had to recommit myself to current pursuits. Eva's call to reframe the current state of affairs as interesting has been important, and her call to stop fighting it has been even more important. I had the opportunity to hear Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother, The Muppets) speak a few months ago, and he made a similar statement: "Most of our stress and anxiety comes from resisting the current state of things. You're fine." 

We all have moments where we want something different. The belief that we deserve better. The expectation that we should be somewhere else, doing something else. But what do you do if that's just where you are? Lots of literature on creativity and inspiration would have you quit. And yes, that's an option. However, for any number of reasons, that's not realistic for everyone. What to do then?

Take stock of the current situation. This inventory should go both ways, by the way. The brain is conditioned to hold on to the negative, disappointing, scary parts of situations tenfold over the good things. As such, you'll need to take your time with this. I like to do this on paper, I feel more ownership over what I write that way. What frustrates you? What saddens you? What do you wish would change? Capture those things. What gets you through it? What parts do you like? Who surrounds you that helps you get through it all? Capture those things too. Both sides need to be represented. Don't be afraid to be real here- it's your life, you should consider it all.

Focus on the challenges- then break them down. I am giving you permission, for the duration of this process, focus on the bad. But I'm doing so for a reason. Of the things you wrote down that frustrate you, sadden you, need a change: break those down into two further categories- control and can't control. Of the things that are cluttering your mind, how many of them can you realistically change? Not easily, mind you- some of these may require difficult conversations with parents, bosses, significant others, coworkers, or other stakeholders in your happiness- but could change based upon action of some sort? Separate those concerns from those that are truly external, and outside of your control.

Create a plan to take action on those you can control. I don't recommend doing this all at once- grand sweeping change on multiple fronts at one time is difficult to sustain. But take action on one piece every week, two weeks, or month, with the goal of making things more palatable. As you continue to take action on these steps, you'll start to feel better- not just because things are improving, but because you're involved in making them improve. Agency does wonders for sanity!

Find a reframe for the ones you can't control. This one is a lot harder.

If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou

(A quick note about the quote above: there is a version of this excerpt that goes on to say "Don't complain." To a point, I agree with that. Complaining, used as a solution, isn't helpful. It is the appearance of taking action, when it's actually verbalizing inaction. I appreciate a complaint in two instances: (1) when it comes from a person as a way of saying "Please help me through this," and (2) when it is coupled with a potential solution. Complaining is not inherently bad. Complaining without intent to solve the problem, I have a harder time endorsing.)

Some parts of our lives aren't going to be great, and we aren't going to be able to change them. If there are elements of your current situation that fall into that quadrant, it's best to find a reframe for them. I'll use a personal example- I applied to several graduate programs this year, and didn't get into any of them. It's a setback, because I had the mindset to go back to school, and was ready to commit myself full-tilt to that lifestyle. But there is silver lining: I had been saving money each month to hopefully go toward school, that I am now able to commit to other things- different types of classes, charities that I don't always feel able to donate to, new shoes or jewelry I don't need...

The reframe itself isn't important, so much as the developed skill of finding the good in a seemingly irredeemable situation. Being able to do this on a regular basis builds resilience, something that quitting and walking away wouldn't necessarily give you.

Should you choose to read We Need to Talk About Kevin, you'll see what comes of Eva's decision to recommit to parenting her son- both the good and the bad. But regardless of the outcome, there is something admirable about taking control of circumstances and talking ourselves back into the things that challenge us, but we must accept. What parts of this strategy will you take with you to cope with difficulty?


See What Sticks: Break New Ground, with The Book With No Pictures


Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin: (1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me. As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I haven't gotten a lot of reading done so far in 2015. I could blame work, and my comedy writing class, and some work for upcoming conferences. But in truth, the Bartlet administration had a great deal to do with it as well. The West Wing- if you haven't watched it already, you won't be sorry.

However, I was able to sneak in a quick read that had been on my list since its release: B.J. Novak's The Book With No Pictures. It's a fun read, with a twist that I didn't know to expect upon first glance. And that, more than anything in its pages, taught me a few lessons on how to break new ground.

Lesson #1: Target a new audience.

Known for his work as a writer, actor, and producer on NBC's The Office and Fox's The Mindy Project, Novak also appeared in Inglorious Basterds- none of which would be considered kid-friendly fare. The closest role he has had to a kid-friendly one would be Robert Sherman, one half of the legendary Sherman Disney singing duo in Saving Mr. Banks, a dark take on Mary Poppins' origin story. But when it came time to write his second book, Novak targeted an audience he hadn't before: kids. In a sense, Novak (and a few other actors-turned-children's authors like Jason Segel and Tony Hale) is looking ahead in the same way that we encourage other innovators to- don't look to where the market is now (adults), look to where the market is going (kids, in a sense). But Novak didn't stop there. While Segal and Hale's offerings are a little more standard of the genre, his take was a little more interesting.

At work, we can get bogged down and even discouraged when we look at things from one viewpoint. How do we see it? Occasionally, we'll adopt a different perspective for a moment, when called to do so: what would a customer think? What will my boss think? But it is not until we truly take on the perspective of someone new and different that our work starts to look fresh. Liz Wiseman, the author of Rookie Smarts, encourages people to look at their work and roles through the eyes of a beginner to find new perspective. Rookies are energetic, excited, and more attentive to things that haven't yet become routine. By taking on the viewpoint of someone new, your work could look different- and so could your path to solving a problem or creating something innovative and different.

Lesson #2: Bust what's already been done.

The Book With No Pictures is as advertised, it doesn't hold a single picture within its pages. It's all words. Which, as children's books go, is pretty rare. But Novak turns this convention on its head, and designed a book with all words that's designed to be read out loud. It is a collaborative read, requiring participation from a parent or other trusted adult to read, and a child or group of children to listen. Such collaborative experiences happen organically when reading books, but very few books are designed for that. Maybe it was a desire to read something different to kids in his life, or maybe it was his entry to children's writing from a completely genre- whatever the reason, Novak was able to find something new to bring to the genre.

How can you bust what's already been done in your office, industry, or sphere of influence? Novak came to children's writing from a different industry altogether, and that allowed him some license to get creative. Who could you talk to that could give you a new perspective on your work? Even though I work in education, I like to learn from artists and writers- sites like Brainpickings, 99U, and MISC Magazine routinely provide perspective that talking to colleagues with similar experiences and backgrounds as me wouldn't provide. Now, there are definitely times to ask those with tried-and-true approaches. But, to paraphrase Einstein, new ideas can't come from the same thinking that created old ones.

Lesson #3: Don't shy away from silly.

The disclaimer on the back of the book reads as follows:


This book looks serious, but it is actually COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!

If a kid is trying to make you read this book, the kid is playing a trick on you. You will end up saying SILLY THINGS and making everybody LAUGH AND LAUGH!

Don't say I didn't warn you...

And Novak isn't joking here. The book's way of engaging the adult is requiring the reader to be silly, something that kids always enjoy seeing. Below is an example of the pages within:

[insert photo here]

By encouraging parents or other adult readers to indulge in something kids really enjoy, a playing field is leveled and all can giggle together. And who doesn't enjoy a good giggle in the office? Breaking new ground doesn't happen with inhibitions in place, so it's important to create an environment where coworkers and collaborators can interact freely without judgment. While laughter isn't the only way to achieve this, it is a physiologically proven one. Taking time to laugh can relieve tension and pressure that expectations of success or profitability could cause. And finding the funny in even the toughest situations can help provide perspective- perspective that could help you break new ground.

If you have a moment and a child in your life, I strongly recommend sharing The Book With No Pictures with them- it'll give them a laugh, give you a moment to laugh, and hopefully spark some creativity within you that will carry into your day-to-day pursuits.

The Advice You Really Need to Hear Going Into 2015


Let's face it, your newsfeed is filled with the "year in reviews", "best-of's" and resolutions you should be making in 2015.

Well, I'm about to add one more to your twitter stream.

However, this post is filled with some honest, look-yourself-in-the-mirror type of advice from two of our contributing editors Camille Sennett and Kali Hawlk and myself.

Let's take a step backward briefly. The last year has been one that has had a lot of ups and downs for me, both personally and professionally that required a lot of hard work, fearlessness, gut-checks, and a constant "go out and take it" mentality. From deciding to write and self-publish my first book to spread the Niche Movement's message to leaving my full time job at Rutgers in October so I could launch my digital storytelling business to relocating to DC were all opportunities in disguise that brought a lot of self-doubt and "what-if's." Looking back though, I wouldn't have changed anything.

This time of year allows us to celebrate last year and look to a fresh start, put the past behind us, and focus on something new we should be adding (or removing) from our lives. Don't get me wrong, taking time to re-energize, reflect, and find some inspiration for the new year is needed - but don't wait until December 31st each year. You need to be doing this more than once a year. And most importantly, we should be focusing on one single question, "Am I happy with what I am doing with my life?"

Yes, I will be the first to admit, this is a cliched, loaded question. From our relationships to our careers this question can be analyzed and broken down by you, the reader, in so many ways. So let's make it easy for the purpose of this post and for the root that The Niche Movement was started on.

Ask yourself this "Do I love what I do for a living?" Since this is a time for reflection, don't just look at the last week, month, or year but really spend some time to answer this. If the answer is yes, then why do you love it?

If you say no (or thinking that you like parts of your job or love 50% of what you do) then please continue reading.

Over the last 6 months after deciding to write this book, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many people that have their passion and love what they do and they are from all walks of life. Below Camille, Kali, and I share eight real-world pieces of advice that can help get you to a place (time TBD by you) where you can say you are completely fulfilled with what you do for a living, that you have found your calling, and know your "why."

The advice is presented in three parts to help you 1) in your outward journey and think big 2) in your current setting to build a network and reputation that starts to build where you want to go 3) internally recognize where you stand.

Advice from Kevin O'Connell

kevin oconnell

1. Go out and take it!

First things first, there is no longer an excuse to complain and hate your job. By the time you read or share this it's going to be 2015. More than ever, faster than ever, we are living in a world of limitless connection and discovery. There are free and affordable resources at our fingertips to build something you love. And more importantly people around you that want to help you. So our first advice is Go out and take it!  This piece was given to me from three people: my father, someone I constantly turn to for advice; Gary Vayernchuck, entrepreneur and author, and then again, reiterated by Chloe Alpert, a 23 year old entrepreneur who will be featured in our upcoming book.

2. Be patient

We live in an instantaneous culture where we can have pretty much anything on-demand. Find a job you love, building a business, establishing your reputation takes so much time. Think of finding your happiness as a sculpture: chip away every day at something that will get you closer to your goals. This could be learning a new skill each month, reaching out to someone new once a day to grow your network, or working on a side project you are passionate about it.

3. Trust the process

When you decide to take the leap of faith to either leave your full time job to start something new or to take a new job trust that everything will work out and remain positive. You need to grow a network, that is certain, but I can't tell you how crucial the network I built over the last 6-8 years of my life has helped me as a new entrepreneur. As long as you have identified a skill set that others need (or a problem you can solve), are willing to put your full self out into the world and are willing to work hard at it, good things will come.

Advice from Camille Sennett

camille sennett

4. Become a Linchpin in your organization

Take notice of and respect deadlines and time-sensitive material. The ability to get things done on time will have a positive effect on your career and lifestyle. In the workplace, you'll become a reliable, trustworthy and dependable team member. This is something your boss and coworkers will notice and appreciate. In your personal life, you'll become more responsible about bills, family deadlines such as birthdays which will lead to less stress and confrontation. Becoming a linchpin and building a solid reputation will help when you decide to start something new, go after a new job, or start your own business.

Advice from Kali Hawlk



kali hawlk

5. Listen to yourself

Don't let someone else's idea -- or even your own idea -- of what you "should" do get in your way. You need to do what is right and best for you and your work.

6. Check yourself at the door

When you think about what you want to accomplish, make sure your actions fulfill you and your goals -- not your ego.

7. Take time to find out what you want

There's more than one way to career success and happiness. Self-employment isn't for everyone. A high-powered position in a big company isn't for everyone, either. It's about what makes you feel satisfied.

8. Put in the work

Understand that achieving your goals isn't easy. The right path is hard work. The wrong path is so much easier. So don't be fooled into thinking your dream job and ideal career will be "easy" to create or achieve. Prepare to work!

If you take anything away from the advice we shared, remember that we all were put on this earth to do great work and lead great lives. Don't let a 9-5 job you aren't fulfilled by get in the way of that.

If this post resonated or if someone you know can benefit from this, then please share, it would mean the world to us. 







Giving Yourself Credit Where Credit is Due


I have become an expert at down-playing compliments whenever they are given to me.  I act like with all of my achievements as if they were just "things that came really easily to me" (even when I worked my butt off).  I'm a frequent user of phrases such as: "Oh, it was no big deal" or "Anyone can do it". I guess I always thought and was taught that, people like people who are modest and humble.  And I like being liked.  Boasting about your accomplishments is obnoxious and selfish.  Self-promotion is embarrassing and pushes people away.  Accepting a compliment when a compliment is given to you is just plain self righteous.  Ew.

But then...

I had an enlightening conversation with a friend the other day over lunch about how often we down play our accomplishments.

(It was eye-opening to realize that I was not the only one who did this, and even more eye-opening when I realized what a habit it had become.  And it was detrimental.)  

Many of us do this.  Is it because I'm a young professional?  A woman?  A human?  Because being boastful is an unattractive quality?  I do not have an answer as to why, but what I do know is that I must stop falling into the habit of responding to every compliment with, "It wasn't really that big of a deal" or "Anyone can do it" and start responding with a simple, "Thank you".

Why is it so hard?  Thanking someone for their compliment, for noticing your hard work, is something that you owe yourself. What is your self-talk like if you cannot accept someones kind words?  Negative.  

Saying thank you for a job-well-done is the least you can do to treat yourself with the love and respect that you deserve.

7021c2567534348de140454d4ce586f9 Giving yourself credit where credit is due is part of chasing your dreams. If we cannot sell ourselves well, how will we ever get where we want to be?  This means even past the interview.  (Even I can put on my "I'm awesome-face" and rock an interview.  But after the interview?  I'm back to disregarding compliments and stop believing in the awesomeness that I sold them on.)  I'm working on this personally and I challenge you to do the same.  Notice your reaction the next time someone pats you on the back for a job well done.  Allow yourself to feel proud.  You are awesome.  Stand tall, and say "thank you".

Now, by no means am I saying that you should scare away all of your friends by shouting from the rooftops about how wonderful you are.

But learning to accept a compliment when someone tells you that they appreciated your hard work, is good for not only your relationship with that person, but even more so, your relationship with yourself.

Your very, awesome, self.


See What Sticks: On Unnecessary Creativity


My previous post highlighted an essay from 99U's anthology on productivity, Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative MindWhile I find a certain level of value in books like this, there's a small part of me that rails loudly against this mentality. Yes, we live in a world full of information and obligations. But doesn't such attention to squeezing the most out of our days rob us of the joy that comes from daydreaming, wondering, and occasional aimless living? It was with this contradiction in mind, that i stumbled upon Todd Henry's essay, "Creating for You, And You Alone." In it, he talks about cultivating the regular practice of unnecessary creation. Henry believes that these sorts of activities are "key to unlocking brilliant insight for the many people who have adopted it as a ritual."

Early on in our careers, it's easy to jump into the role at hand, particularly if our jobs are ones that we're passionate about. We live, eat, and breathe the trappings of our day-to-day jobs. And if we're not working? The search for that ideal job is what consumes us. This is a perfectly natural impulse to submit to. People far older than us define themselves in social settings by saying their name and their job; this tempts us into the belief that we must be just our work. But Henry pushes back on that assumption when speaking about unnecessary creation:

Consider, however, the opportunity cost of spending your life only on pragmatics. You dedicate your time to pleasing everyone else and delivering on their expectations, but you never get around to discovering your deeper aptitudes and creative capacities. Nothing is worth that. (emphasis added)

Henry goes on to list several other benefits of creating something just for yourself- something that won't make you money, won't get you a promotion, and might not even be seen by others. Among those points:

"Unnecessary Creation gives you the freedom to explore new possibilities and follow impractical curiosities." I'll give you an example: I surf. Not well, at all. But I do. I used to often tell myself I didn't have time to learn, that it wasn't something that would have any utility for me, and that it wasn't worth pursuing. But once I tried, I was hooked. It challenged me physically, allowed me to free myself mentally, and gave me a sense of accomplishment in a difficult task that emboldened me to take chances in other areas. I could work hard at something in the office that challenged me, because I fought waves to stand up on a board when I didn't think I could. We all have latent wishes or talents that we don't exercise anymore. Rather than asking yourself, "What use does that hobby have in my life," think instead, "What could pursuing this hobby give me where it 'counts'?"

"Unnecessary Creation allows you to take risks and develop new skills that can later be applied to your on-demand creativity." In an effort to try a type of writing that scares me a little, I recently started taking a sketchwriting class. While I'm never fully convinced that I'm funny, the discipline of being asked to create something from scratch on a regular basis (not unlike writing this feature, to be honest!) helps me get over the fear that used to paralyze me when I first started writing. Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, once wrote,"Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." His craft was writing, but this quote applies to a great many creative pursuits. Trying different things inoculates you against the terror that comes from sharing the fruits of your labor. The more you do, the better you get, and the less vulnerable that presentation element makes you feel. And like I mentioned in the last section- once you're confident in one arena, you can take that confidence "on tour" to other domains of your life.

"Unnecessary Creation provides a forum for the pursuit of voice, and a reminder that you are not the sum of what you make." Say it with me: you are bigger than the thing that earns you your paycheck. Unnecessary creation gives you a record by which to see that. Looking over my blog archive, photographs of me surfing or the food that I cook, and my book, remind me that there's more to me than what I do between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30 (plus some evenings and weekends, according to my official job description). Unnecessary creation doesn't just give you a playground to make you a better worker, it provides a playground to make you a better, fuller, and more fulfilled person.

I say often, I have no use for boring people. Unnecessary creation guards against becoming boredom. Whether you deem yourself creative or not (and we all can be!), taking time to indulge in creative pursuits can hold value for most anyone. Don't seek to find time for it, make time for it. Your work, your peers, and your inner self will thank you for it.