About me … or how I found success dancing in a polar bear suit

Having a blast in MauiYeah, I know, total click-bait title, but trust me, I’m going somewhere with this. You might even like it. At the very least you can watch me dance in a polar bear suit at the end. See, you’re intrigued now, aren’t you? But before I tell you about my polar bearing ways, I’m going to share a little bit about my past and how moments in my life have shaped me into becoming a successful storyteller and a pretty good content strategist and social media marketing person.

Ready? “No, I just want to see the polar bear thing.” Then here you go.
Yes? Well, let’s start at the beginning, where every kid should…

Be passionate about at least two things

My two things: art and puzzles. We go way back. Pretty much to the cradle. As a young’un, creating things and figuring out things were everything to me. Yeah, I liked some of the girlie stuff like playing with Barbies and listening to my Cinderella record on repeat (before there even was a “repeat”), but the stuff that really got me going was building something from absolutely nothing and figuring out how things fit together.

That means Legos, Etch-a-Sketch, Spirograph, Lincoln Logs, Fashion Plates and Jigsaw Puzzles were where it was at! Puzzles became such an obsession at one point that if I didn’t get a 500 piece one finished in less than three hours, I considered myself a deep disappointment. Nerd alert!

Impossibles puzzle: Fourteen CarrotSide note: This is the hardest puzzle I ever tackled. No border, the same images repeated continuously and 5 extra pieces to deal with. Oh, and the pic on the box is a “representation.” I still have this monster and have put it together three times. Yeah, so, nerd alert x 1,000!

At the same time I was figuring out how things fit together, I was discovering drawing and painting stuff was fun too. I began by simply tracing Garfield and Peanuts characters, which led to taking art in school where I eventually fell in love with watercolour. Didn’t hurt that Bob Ross, and his happy little trees, were my Saturday morning confidants. He kept me in it, to win it.

Drawing, painting and figuring out puzzles are all fine and dandy talents, but talents alone don’t complete one’s story. To become truly well-rounded, I needed to…

Create personal connections

Once I hit my teens, I figured out that cliques were not for me. People were just too interesting to hang with only a few. So when I ventured off to UBC, I found making connections with a diverse variety of folks more educational than the classroom.

While weaving my path through school, I was also maneuvering my way through retail jobs. What I ultimately learned working in those roles, was the best sales people are those who give a crap about the customer, the ones who care most about the customer’s overall experience and serving their needs more-so than hocking a product. Retail gave me skills I continue to use to this day. Don’t you just love all those skills you learned from your early roles that you continue to draw on throughout your life? It’s like thinking all these small jobs you did as a kid were minor things, but they end up profoundly shaping who you will eventually become. Neat-o!

Once school and the part-time jobs were fini, it was time to show others I could…

Put in the effort

I once folded lumber bags as a job. Yeah, sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? It was one of my first jobs — a summer job — between university semesters. It was maybe the most mundane job ever. I had a “folding” partner, and all day we would grab a super long lumber bag from the sewing team and we would fold together. I didn’t love this job. Not even close. But, I did work hard at it. I would challenge myself to top my totals from the previous day.

One day, nearing the end of summer, I was taking a break when a tall, skinny guy named Russ came and sat with me. (I know his name is Russ because he had a belt buckle as big as my fist with “RUSS” on it.) I had never chatted with him before, but he somehow knew me and asked me something along the lines of “This job pays well and it’s easy, why do you want to leave?” I remember giving him a sweet reply about going off to school, but in my head, I knew that repetitive work that didn’t have a lick of creativity or challenge in it just wasn’t for me because I…

Love, and live, to learn

Ok, I was ultimately not a success at UBC, academically speaking. I had a childhood dream to be a marine biologist and heading off to a foreign land (hey, Vancouver is a foreign land when you’re alone and 18!) to study the beasts of the sea made me see that this childhood dream was, well, a little childish. Long story short: Marine Biology wasn’t my jam. It didn’t seem right as soon as I got there.

What did feel right was connecting with people and learning about where they came from, what their stories were. Who knew having this curiosity of those around me would eventually lead me to a life spent trying to connect with people through storytelling? Honestly, my high school teachers would faint to know I actually write stuff for a living! I was definitely not an A student in English.

Even though the university career was short, the most important learning I took away with me was it’s the people around you who will teach you the most. Which leads me to…

Mind your mentors

As Sesame Street once told me, cooperation makes it happen, and I’ve been lucky enough to have met a variety of wonderful people throughout my career that have propelled me to achieve. My best mentors are a bunch of strong women writers who have not only left me in awe at how eloquently they write, but always had time to share their vast expertise with me. They’re the sole reason I can actually put more than two sentences together.

Then there’s my former colleague CJ — one of my biggest champions — who changed my career as a web designer to content strategist in the blink of an eye, and taught me to…

Embrace change

My first big job was in web design. I was a coder, I kid you not. I wasn’t a great coder, but it was early on in the age of the Internet, so no one was. Problem was, HTML is just one of many, many languages to learn to create a great online experience. It became a day-to-day struggle for me as the Internet evolved and my coding didn’t. I started to regress and couldn’t quite see a future for me on the ‘Net.

Luckily CJ stepped in and pushed me to pivot in a completely different direction: Content. He said it seemed like a good fit for me to move to editing and organizing content intuitively (puzzles, again). That ended up being the best career advice ever. At the time of this pivot, content was still an afterthought for the web; companies took their 50 page manuals and threw them up online and hoped for the best. It wasn’t pretty and we all knew it, because we couldn’t find a damn thing.

At the same time my Adventures in Content began, content strategy became a hot topic in the industry. It felt like I finally found my fit. Once I embraced this career change, any change that has come my way since, whether it’s a new concept or channel, has been met with excitement. Content editing, usability and strategy at one company led me to content marketing, writing and social media marketing at another. This career is chock-full of creativity and puzzles, which is key, because you should always…

Find the fun in everything you do

So here we are, I’ve given you a glimpse at who I am and what makes me tick. But my biggest secret is to enjoy life and find the fun in what you do. I know not all jobs are fun, but I’ve found that if I approach tasks with an optimistic spirit and a sense of joy, it’s not so bad. And if it is so bad, that optimism and joy will eventually lead you to something brighter. Remember, I once folded lumber bags. Not the brightest future there, but those lumber bags begat retail sales begat multimedia courses begat web developer begat content specialist begat strategist. That’s six degrees of lumber bag folding!

Now for the good part. When all of my life experiences aligned together, I found myself in a bathroom, stepping into a gigantic hula hoop that just so happened to have a mass of white faux fur attached to it. Once fully dressed, I looked into the mirror and thought, “What in the heck am I doing right now? I can’t even,” as my eyes stared back at a gigantic polar bear face. Then I thought, “You go out there and give them the best damn Hotline Bling dance that you can. Something that would make Drake proud.” And that’s what I did. (In all honesty, my dancing was lamé.)

As I slowly cha-cha’d around our visitor centre, I could hear the guffaws of my colleagues loud and clearly, as buckets of sweat trickled down my face — that suit is a furnace, yo! Before passing out in heat exhaustion, all I could think was, “someone better enjoy this crap.” They did. So did BuzzFeed.

That’s not the last silly thing I’ll do, believe me, but figuring out how to create something that will bring enjoyment to others is like the best thing ever. And I want to do more of this all the time. Ok, maybe not putting on a bear suit, but I do want to help you create exceptional content. I want to weave your story with you and strategize how to tell it in the most unique way possible.

If you want to chat about how to stand out in the crowd, or want help telling your story, maybe need a tutorial to get you started, or just want to create awesome content together, give me a shout at kneil@thinkoutline.com.