Personal Branding And Zig-Zag Careers, With Susan Meier
Your personal brand is the masterpiece that emerges from coloring outside the lines. Embrace the beauty of zigzagging through life’s diverse experiences and passions. In this episode, we have Susan Meier, a remarkable brand consultant, coach, and multimedia artist, to dive into the art of crafting a career that zigzags beautifully. Susan defies the traditional career ladder, embracing the idea of “zigzagging” through different industries and passions. She discusses the power of personal branding, zig-zagging to success, embracing uncertainty, and how they all can lead to unexpected opportunities and profound personal growth. Tune in to color outside the lines, challenge the norm, and explore the diverse facets of creativity.
Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit pathwise.io/podcast/. A full written transcript of this episode is also available at https://pathwise.io/podcasts/susan-meier
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Personal Branding And Zig-Zag Careers, With Susan Meier
Brand Consultant, Coach, And Multi-Media Artist
My guest is Susan Meier. Susan is a brand consultant and coach who helps business leaders position their brands with clarity so that they can communicate their value more effectively and maximize their impact. She also works with people individually on their brands, helping them untangle the zig-zags of their careers to find the clear, shiny thread of their story, and design the next steps of their professional journey.
She applies a unique combination of logical analysis and creative vision in her work. She has also developed the Envision toolkit along with what she’s learned in her zig-zag career path across business, art, and parenting to empower others to craft their brand and discover a roadmap toward a life of purpose. Susan is an alumna of Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School, and the School of Visual Arts. She lives in New York City. Susan, welcome. Thanks for joining me.
Thank you so much for having me.
Curious to get into some of your work, particularly your work on branding. Tell us a little bit about the Susan Meier Studio.
Susan Meier Studio started with corporate branding, and I still do some of that. I have been running my shop for years. What started to happen in 2018 is just on an organic one-off basis. I would have friends or friends of friends come to me and say, “I know that you do work for corporations, but I’m launching a new business, or I’m starting a new career,” or, “I’m going to a networking event and I don’t know how to package myself. I know that what you do is tell the story of something that’s complicated to explain in 30 seconds, can you help me?” That just snowballed into something that people need, particularly when they are in transition. My age group cohort tends to be in a moment of transition, whether they are starting a second career or they are on-ramping or off-ramping.
That has developed into a line of business for me where I coach individuals. I created a set of tools, and I have a workbook that I walk people through, but we do it together in a customized way so that they can think through starting with, “What is it that I want? What do I value? What am I good at? Where do I want to be aiming?” before they start telling their story. That’s important. Thinking about who’s your audience? Who are you telling that story to and what’s relevant for them to hear? We sit and craft. What is your story? How do you introduce yourself and where do you want to be telling that story as the final piece of it? What are your communication touch points? Are you trying to make a splash on social media, writing articles, or writing a book that just writing your resume?
At this point, how much of your business mix is working with people individually versus working with large and small businesses?
The mix of my time is probably 40% doing this work and 60% corporate work. My vision is to evolve that over time because I find this work gratifying and purposeful and it’s so personal. I still enjoy writing the story of a brand, but it’s an object or a service, whereas this is a human being’s life and it’s very meaningful.
I know you work with companies that are big and smaller too. Does working with smaller companies give you a little bit of both, the ability to shape a corporate brand, but also to work with people individually? Especially when you are a small business entrepreneur is part of the brand in a way.
A lot of the companies I have worked with are on that cusp, and this is now in what I call my corporate consulting business. A lot of the work I was already doing before I started the coaching was with companies where they had grown and raised funding, but started a couple of guys in a garage, classic story. Now, they had funding and customers, and they were growing and they realized, “This is no longer a 5 to 20-person situation. We are suddenly 100 people. How do we hang on to that special magic that was the core of our brand where everybody just knew it and felt it and we didn’t have to write it down?” We had a shorthand and now we have hired all these new people. We have a bunch of investors and everybody doesn’t just know the shorthand.
How do we capture what we have and make sure that it’s aligned with where we are going because now we are going somewhere new? Make sure that we are both communicating externally and internally in a consistent way that captures what it was in the first place that was so compelling that made this thing get off the ground. A lot of those companies I have stayed with and grown with and seen them go public, and that’s been an exciting journey as well.
Another thing that’s happened on the coaching side is that I have had companies that are too small to do that coaching work, but our companies, their teams, not individuals say, “Can we use this coaching model where you give us the tools, our team comes and does it with you. We do 5 or 10 sessions with you.” It’s a manageable scope for them. That has also worked well for smaller companies and teams to do things efficiently and get everybody aligned around the task of branding.
You were doing branding work for a few different agencies after leaving your management consulting career that you had at Boston Consulting Group, what prompted you to want to go out on your own?
I worked for a couple of different types of branding agencies. There are different areas of branding. One of them was very much about consumer insight, which I find fascinating. Almost all of our work was, “Let’s do some focus groups or go out and do some ethnographies in people’s homes, interview people one-on-one, and understand how they interact with this product or this brand.” I learned a lot from doing that, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Another agency I worked for was much more on the strategy lens, which is fascinating, but a little bit less creative, but super important as a grounding to think about how the brand strategy goes into the overall corporate strategy. The last place I worked for starting my own business was a packaging design firm. That was the creative piece, which is my background, and I was an art major in college, so I love the visual piece of it. I got to work with some talented, so graphic designers, and packaging designers. I’m an artist, but I’m not trained in that at all. That was fun for me visually and got me very excited about that piece of it.
When you are thinking about branding, it all has to play together. Some agencies, not the agencies I worked for, but a lot of big agencies keep those two things separate, the strategy and the design, and it’s all of a piece. How you express yourself in words, in pictures, and strategically needs to all go together. The impetus for me starting the business was professional and part personal. It was at a time in my life when I had small children and worked in an agency environment where you are beholden to your team and your clients, I was traveling a lot. That conflicted with the way that I wanted to be at home as a parent.
One of the struggles that I had, going back to that, often there are these two sides of the business, and I wanted to be part of both because my brain likes to work on both sides, creative and strategic. Running my shop, I could be much more flexible in terms of the role. I had always been a strategy director because I went to business school and worked in management consulting, as you said. It allowed me to structure my own company to do the creative piece in an integrated holistic way with the strategic piece and also to choose the companies that I work with.
Some of this was just fortuitous and not planned at all. I have done a lot of work in digital health, which is fascinating and such an interesting frontier. I have worked in financial services and I continue to work in consumer products, but I have been able to cherry-pick the people that I want to work with, the kinds and sizes of organizations that I want to work with by being my boss, which has been great.
What have you found hard about being an entrepreneur?
The hard thing anyone who’s ever been an entrepreneur would tell you is the lack of certainty. There’s a boom and bust cycle in running a small business. You do learn over time to plan for that. In the beginning, it can be quite scary. In the beginning, when you start a business, first of all, you are like, “Will anyone ever pay me to do something on my own without somebody else’s branded shingle?” It’s amazing, they do. You are super busy for a while and then all of a sudden all your work ends and you go, “Will anyone ever pay me again to do that?”
You realize that the answer is you need to be doing business development all the way along, even when you are busy, you need to carve out time for that like its client project and then you can level out the cycle. That can be scary and it’s not for everyone. I surprised myself by finding that I love that. It’s like the thrill of the hunt. I find so much gratification in saying like, “I made that work. I landed that job. I finished that project. I won that account. I enjoy that.” At BCG, they used to call it a tolerance for ambiguity. I have one. This is probably why they hired me in consulting in the first place because that’s something management consulting firms value. I’m okay thinking, “I trust the next thing is coming along,” but that is not for everyone.
What does your support team look like at this point in the business?
I very early on decided that I didn’t want to grow an organization, meaning with full-time employees, partly because one of my reasons back then for starting the company was to have the flexibility to flex up and flex down in terms of my time and also to be working when and where I wanted to work. Nowadays that’s become normal and you can run a team that way, but back then it was not the case. I decided I didn’t want to start an agency with four walls, I had an office space, but I wanted to be able to manage things flexibly and work offsite or at home.
I have run my business always and continue to with a cadre of freelancers. Also, each job is different. In some jobs, you need a certain type of designer versus another and some need some strategy support and no design team at all. I just cultivate and you have to keep cultivating because those people who are good move on and do other things. That’s another challenging part of running your business pairing and finding good people. That’s how I run it with the support of people who also want flexibility and creativity in their work life.
Going a bit deeper on branding, you do corporate and personal branding work. What’s similar in what’s different about a corporate brand versus a personal brand?
I should say corporate brand in the branding world means something very specific, and that’s not what I mean by it. Corporate brand means PepsiCo is the corporate brand, and Pepsi, the drink is the brand. I’m not talking about it in that way. What I’m saying is, as you said, like a company versus an individual. There are way more similarities than differences is the first part of my answer to that question. A common misconception is that a brand is a name, a tagline, or a logo. What a brand is a relationship. You are building a relationship with your constituents. That’s true whether you are a product, a service, a nonprofit, or a human being looking for a job.
In thinking about it that way, that connection I was starting to mention before the pieces of the puzzle that I help people put together, people being brand managers or individuals are the, “What are you about?” If you are a company, what does your organization stand for? What are our values? What are our advantages or skillsets? Same thing if you are a person thinking about yourself. The audience side, that message that you are putting out there, who is it going to and what do they care about? What’s their world all about?
Not just, I’m looking for a new pen and that’s what I want, but what’s the emotion behind that? Why am I looking for that new pen? What’s wrong with the old pen? Not just it doesn’t write well, but it makes me feel or it doesn’t make me feel a certain way and that’s why I’m looking for something new. The answer to your question that I’m starting to get at is there’s not much difference at all between those two things. Those are the pieces of the puzzle. That building of a relationship is based on who you are as a person or an organization and who they are as whatever audience you are speaking to. That becomes how you choose to tell your story.
I know you are a big believer in storytelling. It’s so intertwined with branding. How do you help people think about the storytelling aspect of it? For some people that’s a real challenge
For sure, at the base of any branding, you are telling a story. This is especially relevant for an individual or a small business owner. Your story is yours to tell your story is huge and complicated. Your story is your whole life. You can’t put your whole life into the messaging that you are putting out there about yourself, but you get to choose what parts of the story you put in there. You should choose what’s meaningful to you and what’s true, and also what’s going to be relevant for who you are talking to.
It’s a process of narrowing down. What is meaningful, what is significant, and then how to position yourself. That’s where the strategy comes in. How do you put your best foot forward for whatever goal you are trying to achieve? The hardest work that I help people with, the thing that they struggle the most with is choosing what to say because there’s always more. I work with intelligent, curious, creative people who have done lots of interesting things and who are articulate, so they have lots of interesting things to say. Helping narrow down to a very digestible, impactful, and clear message is the hardest part.
You mentioned earlier that you have a workbook that you walk people through. What does the process look like end-to-end with somebody? How much time does it take in terms of weeks, or months to get them through that process end-to-end?
I experimented with a bunch of different approaches to this because I do think that there’s an optimal way that humans behave and you just don’t know until you try it. I initially thought I was going to launch it as your workbook. That would be cost-efficient for people. Nobody wanted to buy that. They said, “This is great, I will buy this, but I need to buy your time too because I need a partner to walk me through this.” I partner with people and we do either live in person. Since the pandemic, it seems like Zoom is just the easiest for everyone. I’m always happy to meet people in person, but most of the work I do is just like you and me now.
In a container of an hour, I experimented with how long should be. Should it be individuals or groups? Should it be 10, 12, 8, or 5 sessions? What turns out to be the most efficient and manageable, you don’t want to be overwhelmed with homework to do. They want to get to the point. I do five one-hour sessions, live talking. There’s some pre-work. There’s an intake conversation where we talk about how the process works and I give them some materials. Before each session, let’s say I’m working with you, you would have a little homework to do. I try to make it fun. The visual piece is also like picture work, 1,000 words I have you do some collages and then you tell me about them when we come into the room so that you don’t have to sit there and write paragraphs and fill in the blank forms.
We go through it together. I spent probably 40 of the 60 minutes asking questions, picking out insights, and making connections between some of the things you said now versus the other week. It does work best when we do five straight weeks, although I’m flexible about that. People have complicated schedules. I parse it out starting with what’s important to you, what are you all about, what are your values? We move into the audience and their world and articulate in their words, imagining in their words.
There’s a feedback exercise where I ask people to go out and gather adjectives and phrases that other people that they work with so that there’s a mirroring comparison piece to it. There are a couple of exercises that I use to get at like, what’s that elevator pitch or what’s that bio that you are going to write? The final session is about taking it out into the world. What do you think about eMessages and your communication platforms?
When people start to take it out into the world, get themselves comfortable with it, get it fully baked, are you a believer that they need to be on brand all the time or there are occasions where it’s okay to go off-brand?
I do branding for a living and I believe it’s true that consistency is super important in branding. Yet we are complicated dynamic human beings. It’s okay to do something and talk about something slightly different from your one main message. It’s virtually impossible for somebody interesting and curious just to have one main message. Not doing anything inconsistent with your brand is important. To the extent that you can have guardrails around what you are talking about or buckets. If you have three key messages, you can keep thinking, “What am I going to post about today? I’m pitching an article, what should it be about?” You have those key messages fleshed out with, “Why do I want to talk about these things? What’s my point of view on these things that you can refer back to?” You are much more likely to stay on brand and not have it feel so constraining, but it gives you a reference point.Consistency is super important in branding, and yet we are complicated, dynamic human beings. Click To Tweet
What are some of the ways that you advise people how to measure the success of the work that they have done on the brand? For some people, it will get a job. Some of it I’m sure is relatively straightforward, but I’m sure other ways are maybe less straightforward.
We start up front by talking about what are your goals and intentions. I check in with people at regular intervals after we are done, just saying, “Go back to that first exercise that you did and where are you now? Where are the places where you have made a lot and less progress?” Most of all, I encourage people to check in with how you are feeling because you might not have achieved the exact goal that you thought you wanted to achieve, but you feel great. Something else came in its place that you could not have even envisioned back then.
It tapped into something important to you and that’s what you were hoping to get out of it. I do think that we choose, or what we should be choosing is a role that makes us feel a certain way, not the specifics of what it is because it’s impossible to know. We can guess like I want that job, but until we get into it, you don’t know if that’s going to make you happy or feel fulfilled or align with your values.What we should be choosing is a role that makes us feel a certain way, not the specifics of what it actually is. Click To Tweet
Speaking of careers, one reason you do this is to help develop your career. Most people talk about career ladders or career paths. You talk about career zig-zags. What do you mean by that and why do you think that’s a better way of thinking about it?
The old-fashioned way of thinking about a career is that you join a company you climb the ladder and you get promoted. That is societally an antiquated notion. Very few people stick with one company. It’s also become much more, not just that people are moving from company to company or even industry to industry, but it’s become very well embraced that people have a side hustle. We have become much more open and organic as a professional or societally to people’s professional world. I also think that I call it the zig-zag as the antithesis to the latter that you maybe started in nonprofit arts and then you took a job in finance and that was good for a while.
That launched you into a career of coaching. That is not only fine in most circles in terms of how other people perceive you, but it’s also good for your career and yourself. You meet more people. You have more connections and more relationships. You are not in one bubble, but you are hearing things from other bubbles and that makes you much more creative and innovative. You are having more fun, more friends, and more skills. There are a lot of benefits to trying more than one thing. There’s a great book called Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. The idea is that a lot of people that we think of as extreme specialists who are super at the top of their careers did something else first. Also, they have three other things that they do professionally. I do think there are a lot of benefits, and it’s been well-researched.
You have zig-zagged a bit in your career.
Not only have I zig-zagged across time in my career, but I’m a multiple careers-at-one type of person. I was an art and art history major. I worked for Boston Consulting Group doing management consulting. I also did a lot of other interesting work. That’s the great thing about consulting and why I have made my career as a consultant. It’s a little bit inherent in the discipline of consulting that you are going to work for different clients, tackle different challenges, and work across industries. That is certainly why I was drawn to that.
I also ran a theater. I worked in interior design. I have always been a painter. I continued to be a painter, but I had a moment where I was showing my art in galleries and doing that professionally. I now have a jewelry line. This goes back to your question of should your brand be consistent. I don’t think that you should censor yourself from doing things that you want to do because it doesn’t seem like it might make sense to other people. The onus may be on you to articulate why it makes sense. Okay. If it makes sense to you, it makes sense because it’s all coming from the same place. What is important is not to spread yourself too thin. That’s the danger I know with myself and with people who have lots of different things going on. In terms of brand consistency, the brand is consistent because the brand is you.
Is that how you would define the difference between good zig-zagging and aimless zig-zagging? If it makes sense to you, it’s okay. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s not good.
If you are making choices or zig-zags out of fear, that’s never a good place to be going. If you lost your job and then you quickly jump into another job that they hired you, but it’s not interesting and you are only there because you need a paycheck. Not to say that might happen and that’s okay as a stepping stone, but that’s not a mindful choice that’s part of your wonderful career zig-zag. That might be just a temporary measure. All of the good choices that you are making in your career have long threads back to your childhood and who you are at your core. If they don’t, it’s probably not where you are going to land. It’s not where you are going to be happy. Doing some of that introspection work is very important too.
You talk about finding that shiny thread. Should somebody do, that introspective work and figure out what the common factors are that tie together those different things that they are doing or that they want to do or have done that ultimately will fuel their success, fuel their passion?
I encourage people, it’s not a huge part of the work, but there is one exercise where I do encourage people to think back to what are your baby’s pictures about. I look back at my baby pictures. I’m in a bathing suit, I’m always at the beach. I’m beading stuff, I’m stringing beads, and I’m painting. The stuff that I like to do now is the stuff that I like to do then.
We have a little exercise where people do completely off the professional track, just everything up in the air. What if I could do these things? A lot of times people come with like, “I would love to have a ski house.” I can’t tell you how many people have manifested their second homes through going through this process which of course is not at all the point of the process, but a wonderful sidebar.
Breaking down the barriers of what’s holding you back from doing those things also helps you when you come back to thinking about your professional life. One example is somebody who’s been an agent for a long time in their career but wants to be a writer. Why can’t you be a writer? I’m stuck in this track where I’m not with the creatives and they are the creatives, but I am creative but I haven’t told anybody and people don’t see me that way. Breaking that stuff down is very powerful.
Speaking of creativity, you are a creative person. You do branding work, you are an artist. As you have mentioned, most people don’t see themselves as creative. Are we all selling ourselves short by thinking that way?
The short answer is yes. Everyone is creative. People have this notion that creativity is visual art or performing art. Creativity is just putting two thoughts together that are slightly different from the way anybody else puts those two thoughts together. We all do that all the time. There’s a big C creative and a small C creative. Big C creative is like, “Are you a director of an ad agency?” That’s just a job title. Small C creative being like, “Are you creating new thoughts and ideas?” We are all doing that. The question is, “How often do you allow yourself to do that? Do you give yourself the space or are you censoring yourself before those thoughts even get out into the world? ‘I’m not creative so this crazy idea I had probably isn’t good.’”People have this notion that creativity is visual art or performing art. Creativity is just putting two thoughts together that are slightly different from the way anybody else puts those two thoughts together. And we all do that all the time. Click To Tweet
As people do that all the time, the professions that we think of as not being creative like accounting. Accounting can be pretty creative. Anything can be creative. It’s more about substituting the word creative with innovative. How are you putting together ideas? This goes back to why the zig-zag path is important and beneficial. Bringing ideas from different realms. Maybe you know something about baseball and welding, and you are working on a spreadsheet. Somehow the skills that you have from those other random places, you go, “What if I structured this differently?” We all have that. We all have bits and pieces in our lives that come into play and it’s just allowing yourself to let them interplay.
What are some of the ways that you can bring creativity into work to help you be more productive?
That’s another common misperception. Wouldn’t it be nice to be creative? Lie around in bed all day, drink coffee, and think big thoughts. I don’t have time to do that because I have a job and I have a deadline. One, making space doesn’t have to be all day. Artists who are doing something with themselves are not lying around in bed all day. They also have spreadsheets and meetings. Giving yourself a little space, it can be 10 minutes, journaling 5 pages in the morning, or meditating, whatever it is that works for you. Start with a fifteen-minute window. Maybe you can create an hour, maybe it’s three times a week versus every day. Creating space.
Just to sit down and be with your thoughts or let your thoughts out with no productive agenda, has also been researched, and turns out to make you much more productive. Productive defined by, did you come up with a new thought? Did you get closer to your goal? Those things are productive but they don’t feel productive because we have decided in our society to define productivity by how many meetings we can get done in a day and how many minutes we spend on a screen or measuring how much money we make this billings we took in. Those things are important, but they are not the bigger picture of how you create a productive life in the smaller things. Those things that don’t feel in the moment to be productive but can lead to much bigger ideas that make your breakthrough productive.
Just thinking about myself, I grew up around artists. I did not inherit that gene. I can barely draw. I got to McKinsey where some incredibly creative people just had amazing ideas that you’d think, “Why didn’t of that?” It took me a long time to realize I’m creative enough, I’m creative in my way, and I know how to take advantage of it. It’s a different form of creativity than what somebody who does art for a living would have or somebody who writes plays. I figured out how to apply it in my life.
What you just spoke about is confidence. People come to me and I ask them, “What did you get out of the process?” They often use the words confidence and clarity.
How about in the context of thinking about your career, how can you apply creativity to help you make better sense of what you have done and therefore make better decisions about the future?
That is by nature a creative enterprise. Looking back on your achievements in your life and your path. Thinking about it as a story, which is a creative lens. Moving from a resume to a story is one big leap, which is a much more creative way of thinking about it and spending the time. Creativity is in those quiet pockets of time to reflect, which sounds obvious, but how often do we do it?
Creating that time and space to reflect on what you have done to connect the dots, helps you think about where you want to go moving forward. To see, “I thought I was supposed to be doing that, but I never enjoyed that part of my career, so maybe that’s not where I’m headed. I turned out to be good at this thing. Maybe that’s where I should go.”
I was having a conversation with somebody who came to me at work for some career guidance and I was saying to her, “You have got to figure out what you like to do, what you are good at, and go through that introspective effort because in the absence of that, you are just much more likely to make bad decisions.”
Some people think careers go like this, they could go like this. I was doing the zig-zag. The more that you can open your mind up to the possibilities, the better off you are going to be. It is inherently a creative exercise, as you said earlier. As you think back on your career journey so far, what are the consistent strengths that have underpinned your success and your passions?
One of them is, it’s going to say bravery, but there’s a double-edged sword to bravery. I was always the kid who would try something new, eat new food, and jump off the high dive. I am fearless in a certain way, but not in all ways I have fears. That has been a real benefit in the line of work that I find myself in that it turns out to be what I’m meant to do, which is to be an entrepreneur. Knowing your true nature and seeing how it’s aligned with your line of work is very powerful in that way. That’s something that has served me well. I guess also still not afraid of buckets.Knowing your true nature and seeing how it's aligned with your line of work is very powerful. Click To Tweet
I just look at things differently. It can also be a drawback because I don’t like to color inside the lines. There are certain jobs that I would not be good at, but I like to go, “Maybe I can do that.” I create my tools. I don’t want to take an off-the-shelf tool that somebody else created and use that with a client. I want to create my modality and materials. That’s why I’m a maker. I make objects, but I’m also a maker in the context of my service business. That’s something that I find enjoyable and it turns out to be helpful for my clients.
What have you had to work on developing?
There are times when you need to color inside the lines and follow the rules. If you are building something, think about your IKEA furniture or your Legos or whatever. There are times when you need to follow the instructions or the thing doesn’t work and I’m not as good at that. I have had to take a deep breath and be patient, and there are certain things that you need to do in the order they were intended to do or they don’t come out right. That’s a big one. There’s a flip side, you should look before you leap because you might get hurt. There are things where I will just go like, “I’m up for that thing,” but I want to say yes to everything.
That’s part of the narrowing down. Just as narrowing down the story is a challenge. Not spreading yourself too thin is a challenge for me because I want to do and say yes to everything. Part of my journey certainly in the last decades is I have said yes to a lot of things and one million flowers have grown, but I need to decide what are the things that I want to spend my time on. Time is limited, time is precious, and I would like to make an impact in the things that I’m doing and see things develop in a meaningful way versus doing a whole bunch of different things or being a hobbyist. That’s a challenge, but one that feels good to tackle.
How would you describe your brand?
Every so often I put myself through my branding exercises and it’s extraordinarily hard, partly because I’m doing it by myself, even when I get feedback from other people. It’s my exercise. Each time as you evolve a little bit. The themes remain an insight. I just did it. I am very passionate about self-expression. Finding your identity, finding that clear, shiny thread, and then putting it out into the world. That alone is a life’s work. Now that looks different for each individual, but it is core to the human experience.
Figuring out who you are, what’s important to you, what your unique voice is, and then figuring out how to express that to other people. This is a theme that I was surprised to find, runs through my artwork, it runs through my management consulting work, it runs through my coaching work. That’s why I’m helping people express themselves. That’s what I was also helping brand managers do. Tell the story of a brand and how you express that brand. What I’m doing with my jewelry line, like how you use objects of adornment to express something about yourself. That is a theme that runs very deep for me and comes out in all of the professional work that I do.
Somebody who likes to color outside the lines, are there routines that you use to be productive or habits that you use or are you much more freeform?
That’s one of the things that I have gotten much better at as older. When I worked at BCG, back in the days when people gave away postcards, which now I’m dating myself, but used to find postcards in restaurants and bars and they would have like clever things on them. People would decorate their offices with these cool colorful postcards. I had one over my desk that said, “Routine is the enemy.” I used to feel strongly about this. I don’t do things by routine. Every day is different and I do things differently every day. To a certain extent, I’m still like that. There are indeed certain things that are grounding and grounding is very nourishing.
I have a real morning routine. I do not start my day before meditating. It’s not like necessarily a big production. It can be 5 minutes, ideally 15 minutes. I have my cup of coffee and sit down in a quiet place. It’s not always a quiet place. People might be milling about and asking me for things. I go into my quiet place and I conserve that space. That helps me for the rest of the day.
I also have a yoga practice. I practice yoga every day. I am not standing on my head for three hours, but half an hour at a minimum every single day. Something getting out of my mind and into my body because my mind is very active and it helps both of those things. Slow it down and clarify. All the things I was telling you are my challenges and struggles. That helps me also go for a walk every day. Quieting my mind before I start the day and activating my mind is incredibly important for me.
At this point, how are you thinking about the next few years of your career?
I’m so excited about seeing where it’s going to go. I have been thinking about this a lot. Years ago, I officially said I was going to be doing this coaching work now I’m putting this brand of my own out into the world with my jewelry brand. I love to see how the arc of my career is. It now feels a little bit more like a branching network than a zig-zag.
In the beginning, my 20s and 30s, it didn’t make sense to me at the time necessarily. I just felt like it felt right and eventually, it would all make sense. Now, it all makes sense. It’s all part of one tree. It feels like a flowering of things that are all expressing me doing things that I feel are meaningful, purposeful, and beautiful in the world. I also don’t know, I like the uncertainty. I don’t know exactly where those things are going to go. They almost will not be exactly the way I picture them now, but that’s what keeps it exciting for me.
If you could wind back the clock and go back and tell your 22-year-old self freshly graduated from college, something to help your younger self in her career, what would you go back and tell yourself?
It’s so simple. It’s all going to be okay. It will all make sense at some point. Just do the stuff. You are going to do the stuff anyway because you are who you are. I spent a lot of time trying to sensor myself or fit myself into a path or a mold in a box. You are going to be who you are, so just go do it. It’s all going to come together at some point in the future. It’s all going to be fruitful and abundant and not worry so much.
I hear that a lot. It takes all of us some time in our careers to realize that it’s all going to be okay.
That’s on my laptop. It’s a neon sign in the forest that says everything is going to be all right. It’s been there for years. I haven’t changed it for years because I just feel like it’s words to live.
Good words to live by. Thanks for doing this with me.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s nice to meet you.
You as well. Good to dive a little deeper into the world of branding, creativity, and zig-zag career. I appreciate that we managed to cover all that. Have a good rest of your day. Take care.
Thank you, you too.
I want to thank Susan for joining me to discuss her branding work, zig-zag careers, creativity, her career journey, and what she’s learned along the way. If you are ready to take control of your career, visit PathWise.io, and if you’d like more regular career insights, you can become a member. It’s free. You can sign up on the website for the PathWise Newsletter or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Thanks. Have a great day.
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About Susan Meier
Susan is a brand consultant and coach who helps business leaders position their brands with clarity so that they can communicate their value more effectively and maximize their impact. She also works with people individually on their personal brands, helping them untangle the zig-zags of their careers to find the clear shiny thread of their story and design the next steps of their professional journey.
She applies a unique combination of logical analysis and creative vision in her work. She has also developed the Envision toolkit and coaching practice, along with what she’s learned on her own zig-zag career path across business, art, and parenting, to empower others to craft their personal brand and discover a roadmap toward a life of purpose.
Susan is an alumna of Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School, and the School of Visual Arts. She lives in New York City.