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Confessions of a 36 year-old woman

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mazcoz4BR5w&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0] I decided to sit down and record my trepidation/enthusiasm for being a 36 year-old woman in this changing, odd world of gender. Tell me if you relate, disagree or have something to add. _____ ADDED NOTE: The point here isn't to flatter me (have received the 'you have nothing to worry about' comments from many men) - I say right in the video I feel like I look young and attractive - the point here is that 'middle-age' is a truly liminal, odd place to be...ESPECIALLY as a single, accomplished woman. It feels like it's between REAL ages and not an age in itself (a time to be celebrated). It IS a time to be celebrated, but it's also a transition. Something between being young and irresponsible (self-focused, feeling invincible, etc.) and older and reflective (looking back, realizing mistakes, settling down, etc.). I also didn't get deep into this, but there is a serious double-standard when it comes to what is expected of a single woman my age. We need to look like we're in our 20's and not be too successful as not to compete with men our age. I just don't think men have the same pressure looks wise (I've seen overweight bald men who have power get all the babes - but an overweight unattractive woman with power is not equally lusted after).

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Internalizing

tibetan thangka (detail) I was reading an article in the New York Times about painful shoes today and it felt as if I was looking at a former version of myself. Throughout the comments and reviews, people defended the practice of beating up one's feet for fashion, such as:

Contrary to popular belief, today’s extreme shoes are not designed to torture women’s feet. Pain is not the goal, it is just an unfortunate side effect — collateral damage? — to the visual impact of the shoe’s extreme design. - Valerie Steele

Wearable art? Creating illusion and desire is a way that a woman seeks power? Increase in height equals increase in self-esteem? Whatever it is, I've been part of it for my entire life.

I recall my Mother telling me when I was younger that she sought out comfort, not glamour. I also recall thinking that she was an alien for doing so. But I find myself buying for comfort more and more these days and not feeling alien in the least.

And I don't know why this article sent me down this path, but it made me start thinking of all of the ways we externalize our power. And somehow I thought about religion and dating and politics and identity and painful shoes all being part of the same system of externalized validation.

Religion, from my perspective, is a way that people can have hope and faith and believe in something beyond what they see to validate a way of being in the world. Dogma, mantra, karma - whichever - it helps guide people externally to do 'the right thing'.

Dating is a complicated arena full of people looking for love. Only, I have observed that there are very few amazing matches that result in the dance. And, from my own experience (being part of those mismatches), I feel like we settle too quickly into situations that aren't good fits for us because being with that other person externally validates our worth. I know...this seems like a terribly negative view of love, but I've finally gotten to a point in my life that I'm happy enough with myself that I don't have to settle for someone who doesn't complement me.

Politics? Left or right? Socialist? Capitalist (arguably, not even a political stance, but used nonetheless)? Libertarian? Humanist? Whatever all of those mean, are we really so in love with categories that need to file ourselves into one or the other? How did we become such experts in what the 'right' way to run a country is? Not from personal experience. It's learned. It's transfered. It's external.

Identity is a wider reaching ball of muddle. I'm a woman. What does that mean? Why are so many pre-conceived notions packed around that definition and why do I need to put them on as uncomfortable as they are? I'm just as guilty as anyone for generalizing identities to make a point (i.e. Canadians are more community focused, etc.). I know where it's useful. But I also know where it ceases to be useful. These external generalizations of identity are good for figuring out what we have in common, but they cease to be useful when we start expecting individuals to act a certain way because of the generalization.

Which brings me to these shoes. A good step back (so to speak) would reveal to us that wearing 12" heels or pointy toes or strappy sandals that we can't walk in more than 1 block and cut our feet to shreds is the unsexiest thing we can possibly ever do. I was at drinks with some friends of mine the other night and they showed me a photo of a male friend who is single and who makes his dates fill out a test before he'll go out with them. I looked at the photo and thought, "This man is bald, overweight and not particularly handsome, how does he have the power to administer a test to women who desire to date him? Would an overweight, unattractive woman be able to do the same?" And when I read the article on the shoes, I thought, "Oh geez, I balked at the test, but that's what these shoes are." Another test. A way to seek external validation that we are worthy...to be looked at...to be desired...to have someone with comfortable shoes and way more power ask us out on a date.

I'm learning slowly to find my power from within. It's easier said than done. There is so much to unpack in terms of identity and messages and everything else that leads to self-doubt and feeling unworthy in the world. I'm a million miles away from achieving full-on internalized validation, but what I can say is that I don't require religion to tell me what is right and make me a better person in this world, I don't require a political label to define how I believe we should be treating people in our countries, I'm done with dating people who don't fit and am more than happy to be single for as long as it takes (even if it never happens), I work hard to unpack notions of identity for myself and the people I meet everyday and I won't wear shoes that hurt me anymore. I'm more desirable without them.

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ZOMG...I'm an Employee!

Intuit Values Install (Intuit Values Etchings)

I've been hinting for the last couple of weeks that I have a couple of big announcements to make. This is the first of them.

Starting next week, I begin my job with Intuit as the marketing lead on their Partner Platform. I'm pretty freakin excited about this move for multiple reasons. Here they are:

  1. I'm a data geek and when I first sat down with Alex Chriss, the Business Leader of the Intuit Partner Platform, about this opportunity, he gave me a scrumptious look into just how much amazing data Intuit has that can really help small and mid-size businesses rawk it.
  2. Intuit, itself, needs people from 'my world' (i.e. grassroots, startups, etc.) to help lead it into the next phase. I like feeling needed, but I also saw that I can make a difference in this big, successful, solid company. As soon as the opportunity was presented to me, I started thinking about all of the awesome things I could do by connecting Intuit, the web community, small businesses and even other big, successful, solid companies together to really empower those small to mid-size businesses. My first order of business is to resist using acronyms as much as possible. ;)
  3. I, personally, could use a little schoolin' on corporate America. Though I've worked for larger organizations before, I haven't worked for a company quite the size of Intuit. I'm used to the fly by the seat of my pants, embrace the chaos kind of process that makes things happen quickly and is subject to much risk. This, of course, needs to be balanced with more structure when you scale up to a larger organization and one is accountable to a large workforce and client base. I'm about to find out how to balance that. I'm pretty excited to see where I can push boundaries and where boundaries can push me.
  4. I need to sink my teeth into a really kickass project. And THIS is a kickass project. Intuit has long been the trusted name in business accounting software and has made some tentative moves to the online space. However, the Partner Platform is a huge leap in the direction that the business world is going. When you add up the trusted name of Intuit with the excitement and innovative possibilities of the Partner Platform, you get a big, fat WOWSA of an opportunity to make a real difference.
  5. 2009 is going to be the year when small businesses will bloom. These layoffs really stink, but the more people I talk to who are getting laid off, the more people I'm hearing are making a go of starting their own ventures. They'll need some good support. Enter the Intuit Partner Platform. I want to provide the tools everyone needs to succeed with their new ventures.
  6. The team on this project is killer! I get to work with one of my favorite people in the world, Alex Barnett, who is - I think - one of the sharpest nails in the toolbox when it comes to developer network stuff. I'm really excited about working with him. We riff really well off one another and he's a very down-to-earth person himself...which I heart. I've also grown quite fond of Alex Chriss despite the fact he talks in acronyms. Alex C and I have much in common: Canadian, startup background, brilliant, amazing ideas and willing to fight for what we believe in. A good guy to have in my corner. I also got to briefly meet the delightful Bill Lucchini, who is the Vice President & General Manager, Platform-as-a-Service Group, who knows his sushi, is also super smart and is the right kind of person to lead this effort. I have yet to meet the rest of the team, but if they are anything akin to those I've already met, I'm pumped!

So, there you go. The stubborn indie who revels in her odd work hours (12pm-12am), movement making abilities (it's a full time job in itself!) and addiction to Twitter (another full time job) is going corporate. And, dammit, I'm excited about it. :)

Here is the announcement from Intuit.

(stay tuned for announcement #2!)

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Validation

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao&hl=en&fs=1] This is an awesome little movie. If you have 15 minutes, it's really worth watching end to end. It covers a topic that has been near and dear to my heart this year as I've spent the past 11 months now working on releasing the shackles of external validation.

How am I doing with that? Well, 11 months doesn't undo nearly 35 years of living for it...I still have a long way to go. And my participation online - blogging, tweeting, flickr-ing, etc. - makes for feeding the external validation junky in me. And really, it does feel good to get a nice comment or an email from someone saying that you've said something poignant to her or that you give him hope. It feels great...even when we brush it off with an 'aw shucks'. And, of course, the feedback helps let us know we are doing something right in the world and to keep it up or step it up. But there is a downside to it, too. When I started to rely too much on the external validation to shape the way I felt about myself and what I was doing, I became way to susceptible to the ebbs and flows as well as the negative feedback that came my way. My moods were controlled by external forces. Not a great thing.

It was also the downfall of many of my relationships. I got to the point that, if I wasn't getting the feedback I needed, I would demand it. Then, of course when I got the validation, it felt empty. I had asked for it. Was it real? I was a mess.

Not to be too poetic about it, but I really do think we'd all be happier if we relied less on external validation. The movie is feel good and cute, but there is an underlying message. Hugh, the main character, gives others the validation they need, and, in return, he gets validated with making them smile. When he encounters Victoria, who won't smile, it drastically affects him and his ability to function. Meanwhile, Victoria's ability to feel good is affected by another outside source. It's kind of a metaphor for the way we live in America and I see this all the time. People around me are constantly waiting for something or somebody outside themselves to change their moods. Much of it is consumed. It makes me happy for a couple of hours or even days when something remarkable happens or I get a compliment or I buy a lovely new Coach bag (my 'junk'), but then I go back to my set-point again.

All of this rambling, of course, reminds me of the idea of Happiness as Your Business Model, where three out of the four pillars to happiness rely at least somewhat on extrinsic signals: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Autonomy relies on the fact that outside forces aren't controlling you (if they are, you are miserable). Competence relies on whatever you are challenged with to be just the right level of challenging and do-able. And relatedness relies strongly on the presence of others. (the fourth being your set-point or natural level of self-esteem)

I think my ultimate goal in life is to achieve a level of autonomy from the external validation, itself. I'd love to get to that place where compliments are good signals that I'm going in a positive direction and critiques are just points to ponder for improving my performance, but neither have much of an affect on my disposition.

Either way, I wanted to share the movie and see if it provided food for thought on the cult of external validation that we are part of. People in this movie are, in a sense, buying it. Where do you buy it? Is it something you think about? Do you think people would be naturally happier without relying on it? Does this affect consumerism? Marketing? Food for thought...

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You can't eat Whuffie (but it's getting harder to eat without it)

How to Monetize Whuffie The last couple of times I've come across the border to apply for my TN1 Visa (NAFTA Visa between Canada and US), the border officers have Googled me. And, to my surprise, have actually told me that the results were good enough to back up the resume I handed them. One official actually said, "You should state on your resume that you are very Google-able!"

This isn't new, really, and it has certainly been the practice for many savvy recruiters over the years. I worked for a spell at an HR organization in Canada and met many who ended up hiring the candidates with the most impressive online presence...especially when it came to more senior positions at organizations. The more results one has that points to professional accomplishments, the easier it was for them to determine if what was in the resume was accurate. It helped even more if those accomplishments were from websites and blogs other than the candidate.

I believe Google is probably the closest thing we have today to a Whuffie meter. Whuffie, for those who are new here is (and this is my definition):

The sum of the reputation, influence, bridging capital and bonding capital, access to ideas and talent, access to resources, potential access to further resources, saved up favors, accomplishments (resumes, awards, articles, etc.) and the Whuffie of those who you have relationships with.

The term, itself, was coined by Cory Doctorow in his amazing Sci-Fi book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, as the currency of the future. The generalized definition gleaned from this book is:

Whuffie has replaced money, providing a motivation for people to do useful and creative things. A person's Whuffie is a general measurement of his or her overall reputation, and Whuffie is lost and gained according to a person's favorable or unfavorable actions. The question is, who determines which actions are favorable or unfavorable? In Down and Out, the answer is public opinion. Rudely pushing past someone on the sidewalk will definitely lose you points from them (and possibly bystanders who saw you), while composing a much-loved symphony will earn you Whuffie from everyone who enjoyed it.

So, you can gain Whuffie through being nice, networked or notable. This is not science fiction. It's becoming more and more relevant today.

Competition is fierce in the world. There are billions of people working to get ahead. Hundreds compete for jobs. And that is just the individual. When it comes to starting a company that provides a service or a product, you will also be in a position of competition: customer attention. Without differentiating yourself somehow, the battle to make ends meet gets tougher.

This is where you figure out that you CAN eat Whuffie...just indirectly.

Google is powerful because companies and individuals alike know that if people find them online, they will have a better chance of getting the business or the job. And, if they find them in a positive light reflected through the eyes of other customers and contacts, they will have even a better chance than that. Online tools that help customers voice their satisfaction with your product will help boost your Google ratings and instill a sense of confidence in a potential customer making a decision. This is no different than pinging someone's Whuffie, as Cory describes it in his book. When you get that new customer or you get that better job because of your positive online presence, the money to buy that food follows.

I've been thinking of this ever since Michelle Greer posted "No More Whuffie Please" on her blog. I totally see where she is coming from. She has added up a great deal of Whuffie in her social capital bank account, but hasn't found a place to spend it yet. I certainly hope that Michelle doesn't give up the amazing work she is doing to make a name for herself in the community, but raising Whuffie without spending it is also a mistake. I generally don't work for people for free unless I see an opportunity to cash in my Whuffie at a later date. This isn't mercenary, it is smart and it is definitely part of the reciprocity that ties community together. 'Cause if valuable community members like Michelle aren't able to pay the bills, we lose them and nobody wins.

So, Michelle, you are totally right. You can't eat Whuffie, but it is getting harder to eat without it, so keep up the good work and look for opportunities to raise Whuffie where you can cash it in at a future date. Pick events to work on where potential clients or employers can see the good work you are doing. Let your expertise shine through the content you are producing. People will notice and then you can cash in that Whuffie and pay the bills.

:: Very cool...Dean (@thedudedean) Bairaktaris showed me his post where he pretty much directly cashed in his Whuffie for a new MacBook Air!

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Living Life Online: pitfalls and perks

So open it hurts I spent most of a rare beautiful Saturday afraid to leave my house because I knew that the August edition of San Francisco Magazine was on the stands. I knew that if I left my house, I needed to stop and pick up some copies of it and face the article written by Bernice Yeung about the rise and fall of my relationship with Chris Messina. Bernice spent a great deal of time with both of us over at least an 8 month period, both when we were together and after the breakup. What started out as a piece on Coworking and our involvement in the movement slowly turned into a highly personal piece on living our life online. Knowing this, and having gone through the exercise of fact-checking that revealed the depth of how personal this piece was going to be, I was really afraid to read the article.

So, yes, I live my life very openly...mostly thanks to the advent of Twitter in 2006. Sure, I had been personally open on this blog, but only to the extent that I could weave my personal revelations into my professional practice. But when Twitter and its 140-character limit came along, it gave me license to broadcast the nuances of my everyday life. And it catapulted my openness into an extreme place. I had a really simple-to-access tool at my fingertips (literally) to tell the world how I felt, even when these feelings were ugly. And the most powerful part of this is that the more open I became, the more I connected with people: personally, professionally and otherwise. The benefits were clear to me. I was growing an extended family on Twitter. It was an amazing resource for personal healing.

But there is a downside to this that I only discovered after reading Bernice's article.

With openness comes vulnerability. Not vulnerability in the sense of: 'omg, ppl know I'm not home, so they are gonna break into my house'. Vulnerability in the sense of: 'I've ripped my ribcage open for you to see my heart and if you reject it, I think I'll die.' And with that level of vulnerability I didn't notice it happen, but a great deal of defensiveness set in. And it's really affected many of my relationships.

It plays itself out in really destructive ways such as:

  • Setting unattainably high expectations and then being highly critical when not met.
  • Instead of listening and having a normal discussion, shutting down completely in angry defensiveness.
  • Walking away from several professional opportunities because I didn't think they 'appreciated' me.
  • General paranoia in the form of, "Everyone thinks I'm a space case" kind of garbage.

Now, this isn't me. Sure, my Mom will tell you that as a teenager I was very angry and defensive, but that was 20 years ago. Now I'm a grown woman who has been acting like a teenager again. If you've been on the receiving end of any of this, I apologize. And I don't blame Twitter at all. It's merely a tool and what I've gleaned through all of this is: openness is good, but defensiveness is not. I need to know my limits and, as I go through life, own the things I put out there, no matter what.

So, recognizing this in the context of reading the article and taking a really hard look at my personal interactions over the past couple of years I have set the goal of truly embracing the chaos and dropping the defensiveness. It won't mean that I'm no longer afraid to be rejected, but it does mean that I will recognize when I'm having a defensive reaction.

And this, to me, is the only pitfall of living my life online. Amongst the many perks, such as: amazing people I've met and experiences that have opened up for me because of this, the pitfall has been that I've forgotten how vulnerable it feels to be open and how I need to be trusting as well as open. Good thing is that I can choose how I react to it.

:: update: Chris' awesome response to the article.

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Yes. Internet Friends can also be Friends IRL

This past month and a half has been a little rocky for me. In the future, I'm sure that I will refer to it as a blip on the positive momentum of my life, but today, it still feels a little overwhelming. But the positive part of all of this is what I have learnt from my involvement in online communities: 'friends' on social networks sometimes REALLY ARE friends.

Don't listen to the naysayers who will scoff at the idea that anyone can find intimacy through their online connections. I've known more than one social network addict that has received ample support, including late night phonecalls, offers of dinners, shoulders to cry on and generally helpful feedback when feeling blue, angry or otherwise down in the dumps. One of these social network addicts is me. The outpouring of support from my friends on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and this blog has been overwhelming. Of course, many of my friends are people I already knew offline or have met in person since meeting online. But I also have a good number of friends I have never met in person, but where incredibly supportive and helpful when I really felt alone.

And, even more heartening is the fact that my messy emotional tweeting, blogging, facebooking and Flickring has brought me closer to people in general. Sure, there may be some that were turned off or felt uncomfortable with the raw emotion I was putting out there, but those I heard from were incredibly touched, inspired and even impressed that I was so open and honest about my pain. I had comments like:

"Keep it up. It's helping me come to terms with my own divorce."

"My daughter just went through a sad breakup. I've been showing her your tweets to help her through. It's working."

"Your bravery makes me love your work even more."

I may have been previously apprehensive to tweet something as personal as: "We were supposed to be forever. How could he stop loving me and fall in love with her so quickly?" txt out to the world, lest I lose my professional luster, as I had previously posted that I would be maturely going forward with this breakup. And it wasn't a lie or a PR spin, but I truly didn't know how hard it would be, especially with twists in the events such as Chris starting a new relationship within weeks of the split. At that moment, I let down professional boundaries and let my fully human side splash all over the internet.

And who knows? Perhaps I have lost some professional luster to some. But for those who responded, I was someone they trusted just a little bit more. My vulnerability seemed to make me more qualified to be a community consultant. Citizen Agency had more inquiries, not fewer. I've had endless lunches, dinners, coffees, etc. with people who are all interested in working with me...and us.

And what of that Transition statement Chris and I made?

I am still committed to it. I believe in and love our work too much to throw it away. That being said, we no longer hold the naive view that it is going to be an easy transition. It's going to take work and patience...and we are going to go to a couples counselor to work through this stuff (this time as a business 'couple', not romantic couple). Both of us are raw on many levels, but we will try our best not to let it hurt our work. We will also forgive one another if it does.

In the meantime, I keep reaching out to my old and new friends online who have provided me with a great outlet as well as a great deal of support. They may be icons and avatars on the screen, but there are real, breathing, feeling people behind them.

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Body content and soul

my broken heart broadcasted, blogged, blastedon the internet my wreckage for all to view, favorite and bookmark and the pain still lives in my stomache in the body no text characters or media files could fill that void my emotions are not emoticons a :) may be ironic but it will never replace my memory of smiling while I was in his presence and :-* won't replace the taste of his mouth stupid feeling messy complicated flesh world my 2000 friends aren't really here to open their arms and pull me close and tell me everything is going to be okay he won't post a sign when did he link to her instead? yet I continue to publish my shattered ego over and over again read in several continents i'm sure they'll love me more for it but he won't his flesh and blood self is tangled in her real arms while I send my messages off to be read from afar I just want to be touched again really touched not poked or messaged or emailed touched I want those arms to be mine and the tangles to wrap me up

he said he wanted his freedom, but gave me mine instead his freedom was only from me the man who related more to his machine than my body is using his body to heal and i'm left with my machine

[tara hunt feb 17 08]

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Transitions

So, on New Years Eve, a bunch of us picked a 'Themeword' (credit for the idea goes to Erica Douglas) and mine was pretty clearly: TRANSITION. I saw 2008 as a year of wrapping up things in progress (or things I needed to finally take care of) and moving onto my next phase in life (whatever that may be). It just popped into my head and there it was. The morning brought the first transition. This was one I didn't foresee on New Years, but was one that arose nonetheless. Chris Messina and I ended our romantic relationship.

So, what does this particular transition mean? How am I doing with it?

Well, let me tell you, that it did break my heart to see it come to an end, but it is something that we needed to do. Although our intellectual and professional relationship is awesome and we continue to collaborate, we hadn't been paying much attention to the emotional side for quite sometime. We tried from time to time, but, well, we had SUCH an easy time connecting through our projects and our work and it was a bit of a struggle with the emotional, so we spent way more time over the past 2.5 years connecting the easy way. This sort of neglect takes a toll on a love life and we just didn't want to continue to hurt one another, so we came to terms with it, hugged and decided to end the romantic part before it could destroy the professional part.

I still love Chris very much...and respect him highly. He means the world to me and I'm proud to call him my partner...in business. I just won't be calling him my PiC any longer.

I am still a little sad, but there are hopeful times ahead. Citizen Agency remains. I continue writing my book. Citizen Space is still open for all to drop in. Thanks for your continued support. You all rock.

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