From Magician’s Assistant To Online Marketing Consultant

My very first job out of college (gasp! in 2007) was anything but a typical 9-5. But it’s part of who I am today.

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This is literally a scan of the article clipping from the Chapman Alumni magazine.

To this day, I’m not really sure how I came home and told my parents my first job was going to be a magician’s assistant. Quite literally but not literally. You see, I was the executive assistant to a magician turned business owner whose company, JMP Creative, operated in the toy and promotional product industry.

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Yes, you’re reading that Twitter profile correctly, this was all in a workplace that had created a billion toys. All of these rooms were part of the tour and culminated at the world’s most unique conference room…the mother ship.

The underlying meaning of “get the conference room ready” meant my timing had to be exact. I learned to give myself at least 15-20 minutes of run-around prep where I’d swiftly navigate the presentation route throughout the toy room, arcade, Think Tank, artist area, library (I always adored how many books we had) –before sneaking past the tour in progress and deftly sprinting across the parking lot to our adjacent building–where I’d switch off the house lights and turn on (you guessed it) the show lights and soundtrack to the conference room a (life-size?) spaceship suspended upon an iron framework.

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The ingredient for success is hard work.

My early days were spent among artists, animators and inventors in a 10,000 square foot million dollar workplace of productivity and ideation. I organized numerous display shelves of toys (created by JMP or collected by Jim for inspiration purposes), dusted glowing pinball machines weekly and practically had the corporate credit card on file at the Container Store for all the stackable jars of brightly-colored goop we’d store or ship off to the production factory.

It was really hard work to stay organized myself and to do the same for our CEO. Still, I loved how weird and chaotic the day-to-day operations could be. Seriously, I should have started blogging back then. Every day was unique and challenging in its own way and I just had to jump in and navigate.

Thinking back, I sat in on numerous meetings with Jim where inventors would bring their ideas or contraptions to him seeking product or marketing innovation. It’s where I myself began to tune into my own instincts as a marketer thinking, “what kind of person would likely search for something like this?” and “would they purchase it?”  There was a lot involved from research, iteration, pitching, revising, patenting, tinkering, refining etc, etc.

The lesson I walked away with was: if you want to make something a reality, you have to bring it to life. There is no substitute for hard work.

Sparking creativity: Brainstorming is play-storming 

Remember when you were a kid and a couch fort was anything but a crude pile of pillows and cushions? Your imagination was the key to wherever you wanted to go. We seem to lose this ability as we grow up.

But somehow, Jim had captured lightening in a bottle. His forte was engineering creative brainstorm sessions for adults. During my time there, we hosted a variety of groups from entertainment executives to wealthy foreign entrepreneurs. The sessions were designed around a simple concept: play.  Even our weekly internal meeting (“Monday Fun Day”) was engineered in the same way.

Jim habitually collected toys, props, or anything representing creative imagery.  To him, each was a different kind of tool he hoped might help inspire a client’s big idea. While it was an incredibly fruitful and ingenious technique, organizing this world in which I found myself proved to be a unique challenge.

Eventually, I grew to appreciate my own balance of organized chaos when it came to creativity. Jim was one of my earliest mentors. He was an incredible example to me of the importance of building a personal brand around showmanship (he was a magician, after all). His facility was on par with that feeling of following John Hammond around Jurassic Park, “we spared no expense!”

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Whenever I came up against a roadblock, Jim encouraged me to find a different way to solve the problem. Those moments of having to think on my feet in front of him seemed endless. I frequently found it stressful not finding the right answer immediately. Ultimately, nature won and my brain found a new neural pathway to producing results.

Because of this, I became a much more resourceful person. Now I think, “Ok that didn’t work. But there is always a way. What’s the next thing I can try?”

My extraordinary moment – Creating Christmas in July

One of the best projects I got to be a part of was when JMP was approached by a production company to participate in the reality television series American Inventor. Three inventors were selected to work with our company and we were all on different teams to help them build, prove and develop a go to market strategy for their respective inventions. I was part of Team Chavez, with the Guardian Angel product (woo!).

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That’s me inching backwards from a mock living room completely engulfed in flames (don’t worry, mom, it was a controlled burn). See, even the professionals are present. How I got to that point requires a bit more context.

Chavez, a firefighter by trade, had an invention where the angel on top of a Christmas tree was specially designed activate and release water by way of a coil system were the tree to catch on fire.

Typically, we would be in development on a toy or product for up to a year. But due to the nature of reality TV and the production schedule, we basically shot around the clock for one month.  The timeline was compressed, to say the least, and we still had to go through all the stages of product development from sketched concept to a finished, market viable product.

On the big shoot day, production teams, JMP crew, and fire fighters set up on the back lot of a local fire station training ground to capture the product in action. We built a three-walled mock living room completely furnished (by yours truly) with curtains, couch, coffee table and, of course, Christmas tree (apparently, I couldn’t be bothered with presents at the time?).

Let’s take this in for a moment, this was July in southern California and I found Christmas trees (it still amazes me that I found a way). It was already incredibly hot outside and there we were trying to light a tree on fire to capture the successful product activation of a fire-suppression system and not enough of anything to be setting on fire. All in a day’s work.

But we delivered.

“JMP set up five cameras to shoot the test from every angle while ABC’s crews videotaped all the action.

The first test, the horn sounded but water didn’t flow because the angel blocked the release mechanism.

The second test put out the fire so fast there was hardly any flame.

Chavez wanted a bigger fire.

“You’re killing me,” McCafferty cried, half joking. They had just one fire sensor and two Christmas trees left.

The third test, a two-foot flame shot up, the horn sounded, water sprayed, the fire was not just suppressed but extinguished.

“It was probably one of the best moments in the whole process,” McCafferty said.
The judges and viewers who voted to determine the winner apparently agreed. Chavez won the million dollars and is in negotiations with First Alert.”
http://www.ocregister.com/2007/08/27/american-inventor-contestants-get-help-from-local-firm/

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I really should have asked for some of the firefighter turnout gear…

From Big Ideas to Big Data

My experience as a magician’s assistant gave me a unique skill set. It taught me how to become more adaptable, resourceful and creative. These days, I work for a German software platform that uses big data insights around business intelligence and the most outlandish place my meetings take me is Berlin.  I no longer have meetings in space ships or have to source Christmas trees in LA in the middle of summer. But my foundation in toy and product development is where I developed a great deal of humility around what it takes to bring an idea to life.

Bring on the rare, the bizarre — I can manage. I do my best work in the unknown because it’s oddly comfortable. Care to join me? It can be fun!

 

I know it all sounds so hard to believe. I guess that’s why seeing is believing. Here’s an old promo video I found on YouTube that highlights the awesome work place that is JMP Creative. Enjoy!

 

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Two Main Ingredients For Personal Branding: Salt & Love

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I got to have dinner with a chef the other night. It was fun to see a completely different perspective on food, its taste and presentation — all the stuff you take for granted after awhile. It was kind of like sitting next to a director while watching a movie. You just know this person is going to see things in a different way because of their relationship to their trade.

At one point he said, “food really only needs two main ingredients.”

Besides bacon and…? “And those would be?”

“Salt and love.”

OK I’m intrigued. “Love, you say? So, I’m curious, how do you put love into a dish?”

I’m paraphrasing now but his answer was about infusing intent and purpose while  preparing the food; cutting the little eyes out of the potatoes and making sure it gets chopped into even cubes.  And it made me think about how simple and complex the ingredient of “love” is because it’s energy, it’s something that gets added in its own unique way to everything. If you think about it, as human beings, we all inherently have this ingredient. It’s part of our own unique, personal branding.

Now, about that dash of salt…

Fitness & Cultivating Fearlessness: How I’m Learning To Get Over My Fear Of Failure

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Let me give you steps of a completely different kind because there is no checklist to getting over your fears; there are no shortcuts here. For what it’s worth, I’m learning it has more to do with leveraging a balance of mental and physical strength. Getting into a routine that helps you build physical strength and mobility is undoubtedly going to do wonders for your confidence, body, health etc. But in addition to that, there’s the “health” and strength of your mind – specifically your thoughts.

The mental work will be largely based on personal preference, but here are some good places, I’ve found, to start:
1.  “Practice Focus” Episode 5 – Living with Courage podcast.
2. “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life” by Susan David, PhD.

It’s normal (evolutionary, even) for us to feel fear. But what holds us back is the fact that we can cling to fear and accept it as reality. For weightlifting, it can be a thought like, “the weight that’s on the bar is heavy. I can’t do it.”

Now, I’m not going to step up to attempt a lift on a loaded bar of weight I’ve never lifted before because that’s not a good idea; you need to be training and building up to the weight (listen to the podcast). But, there is a way to create a new mental pathway that can help in your practice. It comes from “distancing [yourself] from both the physical effects of [your] fear–the cortisol surge, the accelerated heart rate, and the hyperventilation–and from any self-doubting narratives that might have already hooked [you]…” Learning to acknowledge yet distance yourself from your emotions and connecting with why you actually want to do something is how you learn to go forward in spite of the fears that are holding you back.

It may not be okay right then and there. But it will be okay.

You can lift the weights. You can engage in the difficult conversations with your significant other. You can speak up in a company meeting. You can do these things with your fear and the internal self doubt and still go forward.

It’s not about being fearless but having the courage to go forward with both your fears and your values on board because it’s intrinsically important to you.

You Create Your Own Happiness – Where You Are Right Now

I’ve had this quote tapped up to my bathroom mirror for a bit. And it’s a good one because…

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it centers you with the responsibility of creating your own happiness each day. But it’s also good to temper this expectation because while you’re responsible for your happiness, it’s truly a balance.

Sometimes saying ‘yes’ to a random night out with friends is a break from your routine, or getting out and exploring a new part of your city gives you the confidence to be more adventurous in other areas of your life. Happiness is not found in these things, but rather in how you show up to every new experience or planned event.

Are you ready for it?

 

Life Advice: Cut Loose

Lately I’ve found that the secret to being able to do something is to mentally not overthink or pre-frame it first.

I’ll give you an example from weightlifting. There are times when I start to mentally psych myself out of executing a lift when I know how much weight is on the bar because I start to think, “oh, that’s heavy, I haven’t done that before.” But other times, when you start at 80% of a weight you know you can hit and gradually build up reps handling the weight from there, it’s surprising what you can do.

Fun fact, I recently did this while doing a 5x back squat and got up to 170 lbs. Five times, down and driving up on 170 pounds! And I currently weigh 125 lbs!

The mental coaching I had stepping up to a loaded iron bar was “Cut loose. And stand up.”

This got me thinking later; what kinds of limitations are we placing on ourselves? In our work, our relationships, especially in the relationship we have with ourselves. If all limits are self imposed, it’s only yourself that’s holding you back.

Remember, if all else fails, the song Footloose by Kenny Loggins will definitely help you cut loose 🙂

Personal Branding: The Best Practical Advice

I happened to be listening to the radio while getting ready this morning and I heard a trailer for the Martin Scorsese film ‘Silence’. At the very end, there was this sound bite from Liam Neeson where his character says, “Pray. But with your eyes open.”

That stopped me, mid mascara swipe. I thought, “that’s got to be the most practical advice ever.” It’s the balance between being hopeful but also realistic. Kind of like these quotes which I also love:

Be kind, but not weak.
Be strong, but not rude.
Be bold, but don’t bully.
Be humble, but not timid.
Be proud, but not arrogant.
Be confident, but not cocky.
Trust, but don’t be deceived.

Be content, but never settle.

Though, hands down, the most practical advice of all: acquire a very particular set of skills 😉

Fitness & Food: How Drinking A Protein Shake Before a Workout Helped My Hunger Later

I had gotten into the habit of consuming my protein shake on the drive home from an evening workout. Good, healthy habit, right? Well, lately I noticed that once I got home, I wasn’t hungry for a real meal. This was happening fairly regularly over the past few weeks and for as much as I spend on groceries (and how much I enjoy food!) it wasn’t a good trend.

There were also times when I had been experiencing some nausea post-workout which also caused me to not eat a sufficient dinner. I think the upset stomach had more to do with the level of exertion during the workout. Still, it’s not a good sign to consistently have your body be unwilling to replenish its nutrients. Not eating dinner also meant I was missing out on hitting my macro nutrient goals; these are the “big three” I learned to keep a close eye on if you really want to impact your weight loss or weight gain – protein, carbs, and fats. In a way it felt good to put in the hard work that’s often required for a CrossFit workout but I also felt like I was robbing my body of the fuel it needed to sustain me in my desired level of activity.

I really dislike feeling sick in any capacity. I’m one of those people who has those giant bottles of Tums from Costco that you gradually chip away at. And while this sometimes helped to subside the nausea, as an athlete, you look forward to eating 😛

I decided to change things up today and performed a little test on myself. An hour before heading to the workout, I had my protein shake. I’m happy to report it worked! I was hungry afterward. And! The workout was definitely a good test of my exertion too.

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All of this…took me roughly 27 minutes to complete.

50 push ups
30 pull ups (I did them with a band)
50 bench hop over’s
30 alternating dumbbell snatches (25 lbs)
50 wall balls (14 lbs)
30 slam balls (15 lbs)
50 lateral ball throws (14 lb)
30 burpee broad jumps

So, after finishing that little whopper, for dinner I enjoyed a modified version of home-made chicken noodle soup (I love improving upon the classics). Instead of noodles, I added different kinds of carbs in the form of vegetable pot stickers and diced red potatoes. I didn’t have carrots so I substituted with a larger helping of celery. For an extra bit of taste, I added a dash of balsamic vinegar.

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I ❤ dumplings 🙂

So there you have it. My hope is that if you’re experiencing something similar, don’t be afraid to switch things up on yourself. Eating right and being active are important ingredients to living a balanced life. Sometimes you need to keep yourself on our own toes.