The Leap Stories #13: Elizabeth Fein

There are some who view social media only as a place where extroverts shout to the world what they ate for lunch. While there is a fair share of food p&*n on social (totally guilty of posting tasty treats!), I believe that it’s actually a safe haven for thoughtful introverts to connect with like minded kin.

Because that’s exactly what happened when Elizabeth Fein connected with me on Instagram. Elizabeth is a social media consultant who lives in the Bay Area outside Silicon Valley with her young family. Let me just say that I think it takes a tonne of courage to reach out to someone in your industry for coaching – especially when you’ve never met them, and they live half way across the world. But that’s exactly what she did.

Elizabeth made the leap to launch her own consultancy, Iterate Social about a year ago. She reached out a time when she was starting to move out of that first messy stage of pulling everything together with a few clients while also juggling motherhood, to really finding her voice, style and uniqueness.

Working in social media everyday has it’s downsides which I’ve written about before. We have both battled with comparison-itis, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and collaborations gone bad. You’ll read in Elizabeth’s story that pressure to perform, participate and perfect looms large in social circles. Sharing these struggles together we found words to help each other through it and thrive in our own way.

I’ve learned to never interpret introversion for lack of having something valuable to say or ability to impact the world greatly. Quietly unstoppable. That’s the name of Elizabeth’s ecourse but I also think it’s her mantra for living. And that speaks volumes.

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What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

After I got over the whole wanting to be a ballerina phase (O.K I was like 6), I wanted to be a photographer. I come from a family of creative people and there was always art + photography going on in my house. I too am very creative and I like connecting with people. I love the connection that comes from photographing people, as well as the connection it gives you with your surroundings. With the click of a button you can bring abandoned and forgotten places back to life. That is pretty spectacular to me.

I have always, always been fascinated by advertising + marketing as well. I am very sensitive to advertising. I swear my husband has a built in pop up blocker in his head, but not me! I notice ALL of the ads, everywhere. I both admire and hate it. On one hand it is a very powerful force in our society and there is an amazing amount of artistic talent + creativity involved. On the other hand it can be very manipulative and detrimental to our health/confidence in general. I spent two years researching tobacco advertising and let me tell you it is some of the most effective advertising in the history of the US. It’s both genius and manipulative. It’s creative and often quite beautiful, but they also prey on our most inner vulnerable insecurities.

What did/do you study?

At Berkeley I studied City and Regional planning in China. This also involved a lot of cultural and language courses. Although this topic is not directly related to marketing I will say that a lot of the skills I bring to my work was learned through my studies. Being able to understand people, their problems, and coming up with solutions specifically for them that you can get them on board with is exactly what marketing is. It’s really fascinating how everything you do in your life comes together in ways you could have never expected.

Currently I spend all of my time studying social media, entrepreneur’s struggles with it, and how we can make it a fun, productive, and uplifting experience. I get paid to grow businesses, so understanding what content is going to make a sale is also a big part of it.

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What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?

I have had three leaps in my life that have changed me greatly. All of my leaps in my life have been about getting really uncomfortable. Because that’s how we learn and grow.

My first was when I was 18 I had a deep longing to learn more about the world. I sold most of my stuff, bought a one-way ticket, and flew to China. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I ended up getting a teaching job and the whole experience changed me. I didn’t understand a word of Mandarin when I arrived and I was blown away with the ability, we as humans have, to communicate without understanding each other’s words. Again, this is something I carry with me about marketing. If you stop, become present, and really want to know what someone else needs or wants to tell you, you can. It’s not just about saying it. It’s about connecting and feeling it. This experience was profound in many other ways, but this was probably the most profound thing I learned from that.

The second is when I came back from China I took up traditional boxing. This was another moment that I just wanted to push myself and get extremely uncomfortable. Oh boy did it suck at first. I am a pretty small person and quite shy and soft-spoken. I am not a violent person at all and punching people isn’t really my thing. It sucked, was exhausting, uncomfortable and pushed me in ways I never expected. I ended up fighting in two tournaments and won one of them!

The third and probably the one everyone wants to know about is continuing my business. Notice the word continuing. For me it’s easy to start. It always has been. Starting is not an issue for me, but continuing to work through problems when it feels like everything is falling apart is most certainly a problem. Resilience has been a life long struggle, as I am a perfectionist and I like to be good at things immediately. Unfortunately for the most part that is not how it works. It takes time and practice (which is what I learned in boxing). I am competitive, but I hate competition. Competition often feels heavy and joyless, but at the same time I want to be great at what I do. I want to be the best. Maybe not the best ever, but the best I can be. I am in month 11 of my business and I think it was about month 6 that I really felt like I needed to throw in the towel and move on. Not because I didn’t have clients or was doing a bad job, but because I was so tired of the hustle, the competition, and the joylessness I was feeling about it all. Finding the confidence to continue and continue in a way that is staying true to myself can be hard. It’s something I am still struggling with and may for many years to come.

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What were you doing before you made your leap?

Before I made the leap to start my business I was a stay at home mom. I was ready to go back to work, but I wanted it to be something that worked with my family. Driving 1.5 hours to Stanford for a full workday while juggling my children was just not an option. I work more than I would probably work at a full-time job, but it’s flexible. I can work at 2 in the morning when the kids are asleep if that’s what I need to do. Plus I am very passionate and do things a little outside of the box; so running my own business is a great fit for me.

Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?

In terms of my current career I would say Tiffany Han + Kylie Lewis. Being heard and felt is a great gift. The marketing is easy for me, but finding like-minded people who really get where you are coming from and how to direct you on a path that fits your beliefs is what really got me through those times where I wanted to throw in the towel. I like to do things myself and it was a leap to hire a coach (or two ☺). It has made all of the difference in my business though.

Another is my boxing coach. In boxing you need to trust someone so fully and let him or her guide you in a way that I have never experienced anywhere else in my life. He could always tell when I was losing my drive and knew just what to say to get me to keep going. If I have learned anything in my life it is that you need someone in your corner.

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What did you have in place before you made the leap?

I didn’t have much in place. When I do something I go all in and so I suppose my tenacity has always been the foundation for which I accomplish things. I have learned that I need a support system and having like-minded people around you to bounce ideas off of or to have a real conversation with is one of the most important things to have in place when running a solo business (for me anyway).

What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?

I am very career driven. I live near Silicon Valley, which is the hub of technology and startups at the moment. There is a lot of pressure to have “your thing” and be rocking it around here. My husband is in the tech industry and is now on his second startup. I was a stay at home mom and I also just could not sit at a table one more time and have someone ask me, Sooo what do you all day? So, honestly it was pressure. Not that anyone in particular was putting on me, but that I put on myself. Although I have not come up with a startup that is going to change the way an industry works or anything, I am running my own business and crafting something that I can call my own, in my own style. That’s what people want to see around here and that’s what I want for myself. Plus I am a terrible stay at home mom. I hate cleaning and cooking.

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How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

I don’t know that I have overcome that fear or ever will. I mean does anybody really? Once you accomplish one thing you move on to another and that shift is always scary. I work with the fear on a daily basis. Everyday that I make a mistake or something isn’t working I get really down on myself. Forgiveness is a huge part of managing this for myself. I had to make a habit out of making that forgiving voice stronger than my fear voice. I have a saying, “My inner critic is an asshole and I don’t listen to assholes.” It’s about allowing yourself to fail without it making you stop. Just as you would forgive someone else for making a mistake, you need to forgive yourself. Mastering that takes time and a lot of practice. I am still practicing. I also think being open about it is another way that I work with it. We are all trying our best and when we talk about struggles it makes them feel less scary. It’s not shameful to be imperfect, scared, or struggling. It’s a part of life and it’s a part of running a business. We are all in the same boat and we struggle with something. Courage is a word that we give a lot of weight to. I tend to attach it to one defining moment that one decided to be courageous and they made a big leap in their life. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. That’s just not the case for me. Perhaps I have the Impostor Complex but the truth is I have never felt courageous. For better or worse I fear failure greatly and that ignites my fire to leap.

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What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?

For me it’s not really about not working out. I have made a lot of leaps, but I wouldn’t say any of them didn’t work out. It’s about changing the way you think about the result. For instance, your business can fail, but that doesn’t make you a failure. In fact that gives you an expertise and experience that is building you up to have your next leap look more how you want it to look. I have little failures every single day. Whether I didn’t get a blog post up, made a mistake with a client, or fed my kids a happy meal because I just didn’t have the energy to cook, I accept it and move on. Allowing myself to forgive, get some sleep, and wake up tomorrow to do it all over again (but hopefully a little better) is how I deal with it.

How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.

I always feel rad when I make a leap. I came up with another saying that is, “Confidence is the result, not a prerequisite.” I am not a very confident person in general and I have accepted that I will not feel like I can do most things and that’s O.K. It’s not about feeling so confident that you can do something, so you do it. It’s about knowing that when you do it (or try and fail) there will be a newfound confidence that you just can’t get any other way. That’s the prize for making leaps.

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What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

I think it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding what you are capable of. If you never take the leap you will never know what you are truly capable of. Honestly whatever it is that you want you ARE capable of it. It’s just about practicing that muscle and continuing to make leaps that are going to give you the experience to make bigger leaps.

What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?

The biggest downside is it’s hard and uncomfortable. That moment or gazillion moments where you feel like this was a bad idea and I can’t possibly continue is a hard emotion to go through. There is always a chance that your inner critic will win. For me that’s just the worst. Remember what I said about not listening to assholes?

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What might be your next leap?

Oh man. I am speaking at a conference in a couple of weeks and that’s going to be a huge leap. I can write and talk to people online all day in an honest and open manner, but sitting there in front of a bunch of people in real life is very scary and vulnerable for me. Obviously it will happen and whether it bombs or is received really well I know I have made that leap. The other leap I want to take is really taking my business in a direction I have been feeling for a while now. I have a couple of courses I want to create that are about social media, but it’s not about followers and sell, sell, sell. It’s going to be for people who struggle greatly with social media and how they can sludge through that and come out on the other side ready to get to that point where they are comfortable and have the tools to really market themselves. It’s a different approach and that’s scary.

What are your favourite words to live by?

I have a lot of mantras I have written for myself. In fact you can download a PDF I made of them by signing up for my newsletter. One of my favorites is “Winging it today, makes you an expert tomorrow.” I like this because it allows me room to grow. It reminds me that I may not know what I want to know today, but if I take that leap and “wing it” I will figure it out and in the future I will have that expertise I so deeply crave. It’s about giving myself permission to suck a little today.

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Who do you admire who also made the leap?

Oh goodness this is a hard one to answer because I admire anyone who is willing to take a leap. I come across so many women entrepreneurs in my work that I admire. Whether it’s someone who is rocking it with creative products or someone who is changing other women’s lives with their expertise. I admire them all. Leaping is hard and when you get to that point where you are confident in your decisions and are able to go after what you really want that is admirable.

A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?

What I would do is sit down, get quiet, and really listen to yourself. Ask yourself why you aren’t doing it and if that’s a true story or not. We tell ourselves a lot of stories in our head. We tell ourselves we will fail, we won’t be good enough, I don’t deserve what she has, I don’t deserve success, I will be judged, I (fill in the blank)… These stories are BS though. Taking the leap is the beginning of the story, but choose to leave the end blank.

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Right now I’m:

Hearing: My dog barking at a squirrel
Eating: Honey Nut Chex
Drinking: Black Coffee
Reading: I wish I had more time to read, but I don’t. I read social media articles and articles I find on Pinterest, but that’s about it. I have full intentions of reading the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Loving: The show Botched. O.K I know that is not profound, but sometimes you just have to have a guilty pleasure and that is mine.

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From a one way ticket to China, to boxing champion to social media maven – thank you Elizabeth for your total honesty about feeling fear and doing it anyway! I’m so looking forward to the ongoing story of your leap and will be cheering you on from the other side of the world.

Kylie x

P.S. Check out Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of introverts here.

  1. A kindred spirit, through and through! Thanks for sharing with such raw honesty and openness. I especially agree with the idea that everyone out there is trying their best – it is also my style to believe in the best of people. It’s the only way to keep your head up and move forward each day! <3

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