Yesterday I sat down for a chat with one of my role models. I don’t use that term lightly. Jeanette Bennett, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Utah Valley, BusinessQ, Prosper, and Utah Valley Bride magazines graciously gave me time Friday at her booth at CVX Live, the only YouTube conference in Utah. I came away enlightened, amazed at her energy, and wanting to share her wisdom in a Saturday Spotlight.
“There are not very many people like me,” said Bennett, referring to all the roles she plays. “The Lord has different plans for us; I’ve had to learn to accept that.”
Jeanette’s a wife, mother of five, business owner, editor of magazines, mentor to young women, and half marathoner – from my standpoint, she does it all. Well, almost.
“I’m not a good cook,” she laughed. She mentioned a church activity where women were each asked to bring a loaf of homemade bread.
“I tried. I really did. It looked so bad, I went out and bought bread at the store and sliced it up. That’s when I knew: I can’t pretend anymore.”
Helping in Her Own Way
While she might not be known for homemade meals, Jeanette’s unique media talents bless others. For example, rather than adding to the counter-full piles of meals for her friends, the Wells family, during the week their son Mason was injured in the recent Belgium bombing attacks, she’s helped them manage national media.
“I’ve been trying to keep ‘Good Morning America’ off their door,” said Bennett.
During our time together, I watched as she checked text messages from the Wells family, attentive to those who need her. Insatiable media means an around-the-clock job.
Taking the Leap into the Magazine Business
Jeanette and her husband invested in their first “Utah Valley Magazine” issue in September 2000. Coming from Idaho, they moved their two young children into a Utah Valley apartment, gearing up for “lean years” ahead.
“We thought we had this brilliant idea. What we didn’t know was that two other magazines had started and failed in the area,” said Bennett. “It’s probably good we didn’t know that.”
Nearly 16 years later, Bennett Communications is an award-winning media agency, producing several publications.
It’s a family business, with both parents leading the company, and all five kids have been involved; everything from delivering magazines to proofreading to posing for photo shoots.
“Part of me is a workaholic – kids force me not to be,” said Bennett. “It’s tricky to know how to spend my time,” said Bennett. “Sometimes it’s really hard. I realize I can’t do everything.”
Granted a ‘Wrinkle in Time’
I’ve felt like God’s given me a ‘wrinkle in time’ before – when I’ve looked at the clock and said, ‘that’s the time it was two hours ago.’ He’s really helped me when I’ve needed it.
For example, recently she’d been trying to decide whether to attend a UN parallel event hosted by the Feminist Task Force. She had so much to do, it didn’t make sense to accept the invitation to go, but felt prompted to buy plane tickets the night before. Attending opened doors for Bennett to meet with leaders and influencers who have expanded a vision of good she can do.
“I’ve found as you take steps, the dots start to connect a bit.”
On Being a Gardner and Saying ‘No’
“I’ve planted all these seeds over the years, and it’s like now I have this out-of-control garden,” she laughed. “That includes my kids.”
Beyond heavenly help, I wondered about how she could manage all she does. Is this deadline-driven mom good at saying ‘no’?
“No,” she smiled. “It’d be hard to be married to me and the whirlwind I create. I see life as a game of Tetris; I want to fit it all in.”
For example, she’s constantly asked to sit on boards, speak at events – all while still keeping up with her own publication deadlines. Recently she told her husband she would take six months off if she wasn’t self-employed. She decided to say ‘no’ to any invitations in the coming weeks.
“Then KSL called a couple days later and wanted to interview me on the news. How could I say ‘no’ to that?”
She has learned a principle she tries to remember: “Saying ‘yes’ to something is saying ‘no’ to something else.”
Why less social media?
Instagram is my social media addiction of choice. (Sorry, not sorry, Facebook.) I noticed last fall how easily Instagram sucked me in for not mere minutes, but half-hours and even hours at a time. (I’m not alone. More than 75 million of us are on Instagram every day. I’ll venture they are checking it many, many times a day.) While there’s much good in social media and keeping in touch with friends and family, I want to take back time for me. Also, I’ll admit that although I knew better, I found myself comparing my life to the “shiny version” of others, and I didn’t like how I felt. So, I went on an Instagram fast for a whole week. I took the app off my phone, and fought off the phantom urges to pick up my phone in any spare minute. (Sound familiar?) I made it through a week, feeling like I was holding my breath. Finally, the final day ended and I downloaded the app again. I logged in, taking a big gulp of missed activity, only to find how much I hadn’t missed. Sure, a friend had a baby and there were several new posts from some of my favorites, but they were there waiting for me. I didn’t need to see every. new. post. as it came out. Then I did another full week off, and I was again surprised at how much I didn’t miss it. In fact, I felt quite liberated.
Why more socializing?
Social interaction feeds my soul. I’ve been known to strike up conversations most everywhere I go. I’d much rather do that than have my eyes diverted to a phone in my hand. I need interactions face-to-face, merely for the joy of being with other people who can hold conversations beyond my nearly-two-year-old’s “no!” and “uh-oh.”
So far so good
So far this year I’ve made an effort to invite people over to our house, throw myself a 30th birthday party, and plan weekly dates with my husband. Not only do those interactions bring me joy, but looking forward to them makes the rest of the week brighter. To me, it’s a much better use of my spare minutes. I’m not off social media (and don’t intend to be), but I’m more aware of the time I spend observing others’ experiences, and time I’m living in real life.
How’s the year going so far for you?
It’s been many months since I’ve posted here. The bulk of my energy during that time went into growing another human. Born last summer, my son came a blink-of-an-eye 18 months after his sister. They were quick friends, and their cuteness makes up for my daily tackle of their combined piles of dirty diapers.
To me, one of the most wondrous parts of motherhood is taking part in creating living, heart-beating little beings. Looking at my new boy, with his kissable lips and chunky cheeks, it’s an ethereal thrill to know he’s mine. Yep, I made that.
Perhaps it’s the fact my little mister sleeps more than three hours at a time now (the struggle has been real!), or it could be resolution-primed January. Maybe it’s knowing I’ll start teaching a university “Media Writing” class next week, or that today I turn 30. Whatever the reason, I find my creativity calling.
It’s time to write again, and I have big hopes for 2016.
Where to begin? In my lists of articles, blog posts, and book ideas, I often paralyze myself into thinking I need to do it all and DO IT NOW. When I feel my dream of being an author seems too big, here’s my go-to reminder quote from Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (as quoted in Mama Writer):
Everyone who is published was once unpublished. You really have to believe in yourself and build yourself up instead of worrying you’re not good enough.
As I watch my babies learn the most basic of human abilities (one is currently mastering rolling over, the other busts out new words and phrases), I recognize the importance of taking little steps. We don’t run before we walk. We don’t see our name on novels before we write the first page. Every writer starts somewhere.
I’ve recently finished an inspiring life reflection by an Auschwitz survivor and remarkable human being. Elie Wiesel’s “Open Heart” shares his thoughts after 82 years, penned after facing his own mortality a la emergency open heart surgery. An author of more than 50 books, Wiesel has lived an impressive life in all regards. He’s been awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honorary knighthood of the British Empire, and Nobel Peace Prize. While digesting the intimate thoughts of what matters most to him, I was struck by these words in Chapter 25:
I still believe in man, in spite of man. I still believe in language, even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. I continue to cling to words, because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension, rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal; to wound or console.
Like Wiesel, I too believe in language. Granted, I’m bias, but I see words as the shining communication medium to articulate human experiences beyond our own selves. Some may say music, dance, or art are their preferred method, but for me, words are the true “instruments of comprehension.” Why? When I consider it, words live at the heart of many of my most meaningful life moments: My prayers, uttered to a listening God; the quiet realizations I’ve written in journals during the past 20 years; notes and letters from people I love; the special words spoken at my wedding ceremony; and my whispered, teary welcome to my first baby.
Clinging to words suits my soul. You too?
You know writing is good when you feel you have a one-on-one relationship with the author after reading their words. (Does this feeling grant me first name basis? Hug to you, Ann!) Today I’m finishing “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” a collection of essays by New York Times bestselling author, Ann Patchett. Each of these curated essays are autobiographical in nature, painting the scene of her dashingly successful writer’s life.
While disparate and not chronological, each chapter spells out the broader story of Ann’s life. She uses simply poignant words, sharing her successes without shying away from her faults. She loves her dying grandmother, swipes a puppy from a child, leaves her first marriage thinking she’d never succumb to matrimony again (although, spoiler alert, she does on p. 265.)
While I find Ann’s personal life interesting, what really intrigues me is her advice on writing. I think of her with something akin to awe, impressed at her gumption and raw talent. She also inspires me to go after my own writing dreams:
If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion … Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. (p. 28)
With that wisdom in mind, I’m recommitting myself to make time to write, for the sheer pleasure of learning how to write better. You can see the Chinese fortune I’ve kept for years. “You have a charming way with words and should write a book.” Sometimes this fortune taunts me, reminding me I haven’t yet quieted the compulsory urge to be an author. I don’t aim to be the next J. K. Rowling; I’m not after fame and glory. It’s more the sheer delight of capturing a story in words I’ve never gotten over, not since kindergarten.
I sometimes get distracted by other interests, but I’ve always felt writing beckoning me. I’ve had idea after idea, and even started a few books, but put them off with internal justifications. “I’ll get to it after I’m done with grad school assignments,” was the reasoning for a long time, and now, “Oh, maybe when my baby is older, or when I’m in my thirties.” The most logical (and true) excuse is my lack of desire to even look at a computer after a full day of office work. (As Ann states, “The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.“) While there is validity all of those reasons, something inside me knows I’m procrastinating my own good. (Besides, I make time to keep up with multiple social news feeds. Time’s there for the taking.)
And so, this week I’m following my own fortune, even if I’m starting small. I publicly commit to write for one hour every day this week. I’ll report how it goes.
Here’s a question to consider: If you could write your own fortune – what you really want to achieve – what would it say? And are you going in that direction?
While political polls revealed final American voting counts last night, here’s another worthy poll result for writers: Who wins in the writing lineup between men and women?
The world’s “best grammar checker,” Grammarly, conducted a study with 3,000+ participants to settle the matter. Nick at Grammarly reached out to me with their results in the infographic below and offered to donate to a charity promoting literacy when I shared it. (Um, sweet.) Besides, it’s favorable to my gender. How can I not share that?
What do you think about these results?
“Brands don’t have target markets, but target moments,” said Lisa Wang, of Twitter’s Sales Operations in Singapore. It seems to fly in the face of traditional marketing and PR, but it makes total sense. Communication, at lightning-fast social speed, has changed drastically in a handful of years. Make that the past few months.
Lisa spoke as a keynote speaker the final day of the CCI Conference on Corporate Communication last month. As I listened to her talk, “The Power of #Moments: Redefining Marketing in the Age of Real-Time,” I couldn’t take notes fast enough.
Sense of Universal Connectivity
We live in a big world, but all ultimately want the same three things in life. What are they? Find out in this captivating video Lisa shared – see if you can watch without getting the chills. It gets me every time:
See what I mean? On our universal wish list, we all want to 1) feel connected 2) feel relevant, and 3) be an active participant. Social media grants us the ability to do all three, and isn’t it amazing how the whole globe feels within reach as we scroll through to see what others are up to? Each social network has it’s own twist on how to engage users, but Twitter’s ability to hold live, public conversations makes it a unique place for clever companies. Those who think quick and make the most of those “target moments” when they know users are watching will be rewarded.
“Digital Campfires,” #Gather Round
Within the Twitter organization, they refer to hashtags as “digital campfires” because they gather folks with similar interests around a certain topic. As you know, there are hashtags for almost anything. (Surprised to see the non-word redline under “hashtag” as I type this. Guess it’s not in the dictionary yet?) Lisa shared a number of clever company examples, like Arby’s calling for Pharrell Williams to give back their hat during the Grammy’s, and Kit Kat posting a tic-tac-toe game for Oreo to compete for the heart of #chocolate fan. With a little creativity, companies can hone in on the right times (target moments) to tell their story.
I’ll be sharing more on social media in the coming posts. In the meantime, give Lisa Wang a follow on Twitter at @ldubs.
Image is a screen shot from the video “The Most Astonishing Fact.”
Every year on July 24, Utah celebrates a state-wide holiday: Pioneer Day. The celebration of parades, fireworks, and rodeos honors the state’s settlers, Mormon pioneers, who first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. After leaving the comforts of their sturdy homes and trekking for months through unknown lands, those pioneers must have felt such relief to finally see the “right place” to settle their homes.
Now what does this have to do with writing? Recently I read a journal entry of one of my own pioneer ancestor, Danish-born American folk artist, C.C.A. Christensen. He wrote the following in 1856 when coming through Iowa City:
At the campground we encountered our first trials, in that we had to give up books. . . . We were only allowed to take fifteen pounds in weight for each person who was to travel with the handcarts, and that included our tinware for eating, bedding, and any clothing we did not wish to carry ourselves. . . .”
“Our train consisted of between thirty and forty handcarts. Each of these had an average of five person. . . . It was usually necessary for small children to ride in the handcart which the father, mother, and older brothers and sisters of the family pulled. . . .”
These people didn’t have tablets, iPhones, and TV to entertain them. They had no days off, no air conditioning, or comfortable cars. Theirs was a reality of daily challenges, one of back-breaking work, with their faith alone to motivate them. Books were their connection to anything beyond the trails and trials before them. Giving up books must have felt like leaving behind good friends.
I’m glad to live with modern comforts. And grateful to Christensen, who painted the pioneers on the plains, leaving behind first-hand illustrations. He said, “History will preserve much, but art alone can make the narration of the suffering of the Saints comprehensible for the following generation.”
Image: A detail from the “Mormon Panorama” series, as described here.
Now this PR gal knows how it feels to be the subject, rather than the writer, of a press release. With a background in public relations, I’m all too familiar with press releases. I find it incredibly rewarding to find stories worth sharing and putting others in the spotlight. (Thus, Saturday Spotlights.) Well…
I’ve had a taste of prime time myself this week!
When WSU University Communication’s intern, Marcus, interviewed me about my international award and gratitude research, I recalled I had his exact job (except at BYU) six years ago. As a Features Writer Intern, it was my job to track down newsworthy research findings in two colleges. Fast forward to now, and I’m answering instead of asking. Quite surreal.
Since Weber State University’s release Tuesday, it’s been a flurry of sharing my research on gratitude. Wednesday brought a newspaper article with a shout out on the front page, Thursday a prime time TV interview, and countless congratulations in between. What a rush. I never could have guessed my little abstract, submitted last fall without expectation of acceptance, would garner such attention. I’ve thought a lot about the quote that serves as Jabari Parker’s Twitter bio:
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” (John Wooden)
I don’t expect to have every future endeavor fall into place as this one did. Hard work rarely results in such visible results. But I will continue to share stories worth telling, and pursuing my passions. As the Weber State press release quoted me, “I am coming away feeling empowered to continue to surprise myself. I want to be a contributor, whether that is in a professional or an academic sphere.” I don’t know where exactly my interests in research, communication, and gratitude will take me. But this writer sure hopes there’s a book (or three!) along the way.
I can’t end without saying thanks. I feel a swell of gratitude for this experience. Thank you to Weber State University, the MPC program, CCI, and MarketStar. Thank you to the Standard Examiner and KSL 5 for sharing that gratitude DOES matter in the workplace. Thank you to my Ryan, who literally goes around the world and back to support my dreams.
And thank you, reader friend, for joining the journey. Your support means a whole lot to me.
CHECK IT OUT
WSU Student Recieves International Award for Thesis on Gratitude in the Workplace (Weber State press release)
WSU Study: Gratitude Rates High in the Workplace (Standard Examiner article)
WSU graduate receives international award for master’s thesis (WSU Signpost article)
Crystalee Beck Receives Best Theoretical Paper Award (CCI press release)
Sometimes when you shoot for the moon, be ready surprise yourself.
Turns out writing can take you places – literally – and here’s my recap. It’s been a month since I returned from attending the CCI Conference on Corporate Communication 2014 at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where I presented findings of my master’s thesis. Thank goodness for pictures and press releases, or I might think it was merely a dream.
Putting the “International” into CCI
My first time to such a conference, where 25 nations were represented by scholars and professionals, I loved saying “the United States” when asked where I was from. I met friends from Italy, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, England, Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia, Netherlands, and many U.S. states. We all spoke English. Imagine the variety of accents! I didn’t realize it would be such an academic crowd; the majority of those who attended hold a Ph.D. and teach at universities. A fascinating group, they truly understand communication – our meals together were noisy with buzzing conversations of common interest.
My Turn to Present
During that four-day conference, I soaked up as much as a jet-lagged body could from others who are also passionate about communication. By the time it was my turn to present on the third day, a pit of nervousness welled up. I’d seen so many impressive presentations from these intellectuals, many of whom had decades of experience on me. Yet, when I stood up and looked out at the crowd, including my good husband who took a trip around the world to be my support crew, I felt at ease. I was among friends. I did my best to represent my university and company, sharing key findings of my research on managerial gratitude.
That night at the Awards Dinner, I had one of the biggest surprises of my life when MY paper was named “Best Theoretical Paper” of the conference. I’m still stunned, and have replayed those couple of minutes many times in my mind. The standing ovation. The applause of new friends. The heavy glass award. I held back the surprised tears, barely. Thank you to the CCI Conference Judging Committee for selecting my paper. It made all my hundreds of hours in the university library definitely worth it. And shout out to Christina Genest, CCI Associate Director and Michael B. Goodman, Ph.D., CCI Director, who made everyone in attendance feel like family.
Want to know more about Corporate Communication International? I know I’m a huge fan. Check out the CCI site, here.