Alison Milward is a writer, marketer, management consultant and entrepreneur. After spending four years in Toronto producing events in the professional services industry, she spent the next eight working in television, marketing original Canadian content to households across the country. Most recently, Alison has moved on to a career in New York City consulting in the beauty industry for one of the world's highest profile makeup, skincare and fragrance companies. Her aspirations are ever growing, as is her love for jazz, abandoned warehouse spaces and animal print.
I have cried five times in two months – at the office alone. One of those was actually in front of my boss. With over a decade of professional experience under my garter belt, I have clawed my way from coordinator to director in the worlds of marketing, event production, television and financial services. I have one university degree and three college diplomas. I have travelled the world from East to West and despite the fact that I am somewhere between my Nirvana and my Lionel Ritchie years, I still don't have it figured out yet.
A Toronto girl geographically gone New York for the last three months, I am aware of the opportunity I have been given, dare I say earned, and I am trying to remember to breathe and define the difference between what I do and who I am. It's a struggle. After years of pursuing phantom gigs in the city that doesn't sleep, I leaped at this surprise offer to move to North America’s Mecca of ideas, inspiration and culture. In addition to being a golden opportunity, corporately speaking, the job was a conduit to the things that were intended to make me a better me. At thirty-something, already in a successful career, in a city I really liked, with a life I loved, I gave up everything for the 'what if' of it all, because I dreamt of this moment…and a lifelong dream was coming true. This was my tipping point. I wanted to maximize my potential and I always thought that I would need to be surrounded by more to do that – more literature, more music, more theatre, more art, more cuisine; and I thought that this more would miraculously make me feel fulfilled and accomplished. Well, as it turns out, I’m stuck in purgatory, and fear has set in.
The best part of my day for the last few months has been the extra large soy chai latte that I treat myself to on the walk to work (which has also substituted as the only meal I consume until bedtime) and a question has occurred to me: what happens when your dream isn't what you thought it would be? Is it reasonable to smile and nod while a VP yells at me in front of my peers? Or, deny a throbbing migraine so I don't miss a meeting, which nobody else ever shows up to? I spend most of my week chained to a desk; the sun rises and sets while I am in the confines of four polyester walls; and, I've suddenly developed Tourette’s syndrome. Stress hurts and I NEED HELP.
After so many consecutive bummed out days I started to wonder if I was the only person who feels lost, depressed, stupid and/or nervous at work. In a desperate Tim Tebow moment I began to look to a higher power for answers asking, "What would Goldie Hawn do?" Those of us that have seen Master Class on OWN know exactly why. Famous for her ability to see the proverbial unicorn tracks in the snow, she imparts wisdom such as "A lotus grows in mud" or "It is not the question, ‘what am I going to be when I grow up’ but you should ask the question ‘who am I going to be when I grow up’". These are sentiments to live by and that's exactly the kind of positive outlook and curiosity that will push me beyond the mindset "if you're going to be fast, be faster." Every young professional should have a mentor; someone to guide you past the obstacles and affirm you along the way. So, I am on a quest to learn about the high highs and the low lows of professionals on the long road to success and get answers.
My first stop on the soul train: Quincy Zander Raby, Director of Marketing at Cineflix Productions.
A: Dear gawd girl set me straight …Where did you start your career?
Q: I was working as a graphic designer for a dot-com in the late 90s when my husband sent me a job posting for an assistant position in the channel marketing and distribution division at CHUM Television. I knew nothing about TV, but I loved the medium. I got the job and spent the next couple of years doing all the joe jobs in the division, learning everything I could about how channels are marketed and sold.
A: Where did you want your career to go? Did you have a plan to get there?
Q: I never really had a plan, although I knew I didn’t want to be a designer or web monkey long term, and I wasn’t a great ‘book’ learner, so I just immersed myself wherever I could. Originally, I just thought I’d try TV out and see where it took me. I fully expected to be drawn to the production side of things if anything but after about six months into the job at CHUM, I realized that I never wanted to leave the business end of television. So, I just worked really hard and learned as much as I could from those around me both within my company and the industry. I volunteered at professional associations and got to know my colleagues at other stations and worked on joint promotions doing just about anything where an extra set of hands was needed.
A: What was your worst professional moment? How did you overcome it?
Q: My worst professional moment was probably getting laid off after CHUM was acquired by another network. After putting my heart and soul into a company for eight years, I was pretty devastated when they let us all go. In retrospect, it turned out to be the best thing for me. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I had gotten into a massive comfort zone where I wasn’t particularly challenged anymore and thus, I wasn’t developing. Plus, with all the job insecurity the year leading up to the layoffs, I started turning into a yelly, stressy person that people didn’t want to deal with – I didn’t even like myself for a while there. For the first time ever I started to dread going into work every day.
After I left, I got a job with a small startup network, GlassBOX Television, and that opened up a whole new world for me. It was the polar opposite of CHUM. We had no resources or money, I was one of six staff members, and we were trying to grow two burgeoning channels with spit, glue and string. It was the most punk-rock job I’ve ever had. We worked insanely hard. It was a great learning experience.
A: What was your best professional moment?
Q: There’s been a few but the main one, which is going to sound really ass-kissy to my current employers, was getting the phone call that I got my dream job here at Cineflix. It was really a culmination of everything I had worked toward and strived for. This was the first job I’d gotten where I didn’t know a soul. They contacted me and it was just a perfect fit. I’d always gone to jobs where I knew people and they had a feel for my work and professional style. But, Cineflix is primarily a production company, and this was my first job outside broadcast proper. I walked into the job interview process cold and they were looking to fill some pretty big shoes. My qualifications and experience on paper got me in the door and that was a great feeling. It sort of further validated everything I’d worked on.
I’m really proud of the shows we make and represent, and the people I work with. And when you have all that – it’s not even like working.
A: What rules are made to be broken?
Q: I’m definitely a team player, but I’m not what I would consider a good rule follower in the classic sense. I question things I don’t get and argue things I don’t agree with. My old boss at CHUM and mentor Allan Schwebel once summed it up best. After a protracted argument he exclaimed “Quincy, you can be a pain in the ass, but you’re certainly no yes-man – and sometimes that’s better.” I’m sure he wanted to throttle me on a few occasions, but he always understood that I questioned because I cared. It’s been my experience that as long as you don’t break all the rules, you’ll be trusted to bend a lot of them.
A: Top three lessons you've learned along the way?
Q: Say Thank You. It’s such a small thing and so appreciated, yet so few people do it. Don’t just do it when people go above and beyond – always say thanks. From the Jr. Receptionist to the CEO – someone does something, or makes time, just say thank you.
Talk to Strangers. Anyone who asks for a meeting gets a meeting – from industry veterans looking to make a contact to students just getting out of school. I have the career I have today because very busy and high-level people made a time investment in me, and continue to do so, and I feel everyone who has had that experience should pay it forward. Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet. I was once asked by an older client to meet his son’s friend, who was thinking of transitioning from advertising into television. I agreed, and today that friend is one of my dearest friends, as well as a valued and respected colleague.
Don’t yell at the iceberg, just drop the lifeboats. Don’t waste time playing the blame game; when you’re staring down a task that’s sliding, just concentrate on fixing it. And you know what? When it’s done and working well again, you usually don’t bother revisiting the blame, and neither do the powers that be.
A: Thanks QR, for sharing your work-world hari-kari stories with me.
Q: Thank you too.
So, Spring has sprung and I am pondering tomorrow over a pint. Thanks to Quincy for paving a clearer path. Here’s what I learned today: Stout is not for the impatient. You have to let it settle. I’m going to take it easy on myself this week and try to enjoy the ride more, because with a little patience and a lot of perseverance you always get a head.