Shouting from the rooftops and paying it forward - my IWD 2018 pledge

Today’s International Women’s Day. I’ve been lucky to get to work with so many phenomenal women, many of whom have coached and mentored me, and continued to be there for me long after our professional relationships have ended.

Working in communications, and particularly in tech PR, comes with a peculiar gender imbalance. Apart from at the very top, most PRs are women, whereas most of the clients, and - indeed - most of the journos, are men. I’d love to see this change, which is why I’ve decided to give away free consultancy hours to female entrepreneurs who want to make waves in the press, but can’t really afford a PR.

As part of this, I’ll dedicate one afternoon a month for the rest of the year to coach female entrepreneurs in how they can get the story of their business out there. It can be anything from a general brainstorm on PR opportunities to feedback on a specific pitch or press release - or both, or something else entirely. As always, the session will depend on the needs of the client.

So - 10 afternoons left in 2018. Do you know any female entrepreneurs - tech or otherwise - who want help in taking over the world? Have them ping me at sandyerrestad at gmail dot com.

  My first PR boss and I at Web Summit, way back in a different life. She went on to hire me not once but twice (!) more - I’m very lucky to now call her a friend.

My first PR boss and I at Web Summit, way back in a different life. She went on to hire me not once but twice (!) more - I’m very lucky to now call her a friend.

Things to carry me over: lessons learnt from some of the smartest people I know

I’m writing this from Bali. Sounds great, I know. The truth is though that holidaying in paradise isn’t always all that if you’re not at peace with yourself, and over the past couple of weeks I’ve been everything but. I like to believe that I have the tools to deal with adversity. That wasn’t at all the case when I was younger, and it’s one of my favourite things about getting older - having found ways to call on resilience to get back on your feet during shit times. To me it’s all been fairly spiritual stuff - yoga, meditation, Kallis sessions, soul searching and soul mapping. All inward facing stuff, simply because I struggle opening up mid-crisis. I know it’s because of shame - somewhere, somehow I probably think my problems are special little snowflakes that no one else could possibly understand and therefore I feel ashamed. Of course I know that my problems aren’t special little snowflakes, but somehow I can’t see that when I’m in a bad place. As a result I hide, or as Gabby Bernstein aka my household god would’ve put it, I choose fear and isolation and I start to question a lot of fundamentals. It’s harrowing. On a more basic level, it fucking sucks.

I’m still figuring out ways to tackle it head on.

Until that sunny day comes along, I’ve been lucky enough to get to work with some brilliant minds. Somehow they all seem to come out with pretty profound stuff that stay with me, way after they’ve casually said it in passing over a coffee, in a meeting, or even in a DM. I write them down as though they’re little prayers or affirmations, and return to them when I struggle seeing a way forward.

Here are two things I’ve revisited over the last week.

There’s no such thing as cheating
This one is for the women out there who live with the impostor syndrome and credit their surroundings for their success, even if just quietly and to themselves. You are where you are because of you. Acknowledging this isn’t the same thing as turning into Margaret “there’s no such thing as society” Thatcher - quite the opposite. It’s fully possible to be humble and aware of the opportunities one has been given, while at the same time recognising that you’re the one who’s done the actual work. And when you fall over - which you will - don't think that that discredits everything that's been achieved to date. It doesn't. Also, getting a way in through your earned network isn’t nepotism. This is important. Men have gone through history climbing the ladder via cigar rooms, and not necessarily because they’re the best people for the job. Use your network, recognise your worth, remember there’s no such thing as cheating.

Perfection will kill you
I’m not sure the person who said this meant it literally, but I sort of do. In my case, perfection and anxiety go hand in hand in that if you’re obsessed with the former, the latter will ultimately come knock you down. I didn’t grow up in a world where failures or even imperfections were celebrated as an inherent part of learning and improving. Remember that imperfection and failures are only explicitly celebrated in highly privileged environments. Failing to fill out a form properly when you’re signing on, possibly resulting in having to choose between eat or heat, would hardly be celebrated at your local Fuck Up Night. Over the past few years I’ve been going through a process of relearning the meaning of failures and perfection, where failures are to be embraced and perfection is to be avoided, as opposed to the other way around. This constitutes a rewire of some of my fundamentals, so obviously it’s hard.

On a slightly more spiritual level, I think there’s something to be said for eat, pray, love. Not just because I currently happen to be in Bali, but because of what that actually means. A friend and I recently spoke about high vibration foods and how it contributes to your wellbeing. I tend to eat very little when I’m feeling low - or mainly just carbs - and that hardly helps. Eating your greens does. I’ve also recently realised that I turn to prayer a lot more than I’ve previously thought, though I’m not sure what or who I’m praying to. Perhaps myself. Perhaps the universe. Who knows. Because I don’t kneel at an altar I haven’t thought of it as prayer, but prayer it is. I pray for love, gratitude and forgiveness. The strength to be kind, to myself and others. And all of that is really summed up in love. It’s hard to see sometimes, but it’s there. I’m sure of it.

And finally...

Breathe.

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Growing where I am and pissing off my racist relatives - some of my 2018 goals.

New Year's resolutions feel like a thing of the past. Just like people are giving up tobacco and meat at a rapid pace, it seems like people have started to think that New Year's resolutions are a force of evil more than anything else. I'm inclined to agree - I don't believe in resolutions or adding unnecessary stress and pressure. That said, I strongly believe in self-awareness and self-improvement, and most of my 2018 goals relate to this in particular. Here are three of my main goals for 2018.

Grow where you are
I live with a permanent state of wanderlust. I moved often as a child, and as soon as I finished sixth form I went on an eight year craze of moving countries and continents once a year. It was great, and exhausting. I've now lived in the same city and done the same job for 18 months and the itch has rarely been more real. I glance at Berlin, NYC, Copenhagen, even Stockholm. I look at my cat and wonder if I can fly him across the Atlantic. Yet, something's holding me back. The beauty of moving countries often is that you get bursts of intensity that become small chapters of your life. I lived the klub kid life in Berlin, the student life in Wales, the diplomat life in Uganda and the startup life in London. But not moving countries once a year enables you to grow in a different way. It gives you the chance to get to know yourself when you're not caught up in a recent or approaching move. It gives you the wonderful opportunity to grow where you are.

What does growing where you are look like? Exploring your city and its surroundings, joining (or setting up) a book club, developing an events calendar, pursuing side projects, developing D&M relationships, establishing ambitious goals and finding an accountability partner to help you reach them. Finding the quirky and exciting things about wherever you might be, and enjoying them to the fullest. And so on.

  Growing where I am. Here with friend, colleague and collaborator  Emilio .

Growing where I am. Here with friend, colleague and collaborator Emilio.

  Reminder to self.

Reminder to self.

We should all be Mirandas
We have a lot to thank SATC for, but we can probably all agree that Miranda is the only character to pass any form of sanity test, from a feminist perspective or otherwise. Not once did she miss the opportunity to stand up for herself or her mates, nor did she avoid challenging stuff like socio-economic class in contemporary America, or societal norms around women and babies /  men / mortgages. And something I personally admire, she fucked people off by telling them that "he's just not that into you" when he clearly wasn't. For some reason people still don't seem to understand when this is true in their own lives.

We can all be more Miranda-y. In my case it's not keeping my mouth shut when my racist relatives go off on a tirade. It's making the committed effort to encourage women to get out there, particularly those younger than me. It's calling out people who ask me if I'm concerned about my biological clock (yes, apparently people do ask this - I'm just as baffled as you). It's seemingly small things like making sure we have a roughly equal number of men and women in the content we publish at work, whether through earned or owned media. It's calling out BS as and when you see it, and making a concerted effort to not be part of it.

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‘”Why the fuck not me?” should be your motto’
The older I get, the more I realise how far I've come with this. I think it's easy to look back at your achievements and say "ah, that was nothing", which is why I try to remember what my thoughts were prior to said achievement. Graduating from university is one such thing - loads of people do it, but as the first person in my family to finish high school, it was never a given I was even going to enrol. Lacking a sense of entitlement turned out to be a huge source of discipline and dedication at uni - but the flip side is that the same lack of entitlement runs the risk of throwing you into destructive cycles of self doubt. Self doubt isn't a bad thing per se - doubt yourself all you want, as long as it doesn't stop you from doing the stuff you want. Asking yourself "why the fuck not you?" might help you (and me) to avoid not doing stuff just because of self doubt.

Fighting your instincts and finding ways that work - a 101 in building your network when living with social anxiety

You know what really sucks? Social anxiety. You know what's even worse? Working in PR and living with social anxiety. A great part of my job is to attend different work events and "network". Complete nightmare. I don't know exactly how many events I've been to in my life where I've ended up hiding out in the loos, trying to summon up the courage to go out and face people. The great news is, I'm not alone. Studies show that up to 7% of the populace suffers from some form of social phobia, and that doesn't even include people who think the idea of "networking" is a bit wanky (which I think is most people).

My own experience of social anxiety worsened significantly when I moved to Sweden. I have a couple of different theories on why this is - the dominating one being that Swedes are a lot more anxious and stiff in social gatherings than Brits are (also there tends to be a lot less booze involved), which, in turn, makes me anxious. Interestingly, I never get socially anxious when I go on solo work trips abroad - I went to London, New York and Austin for work last year and had a phenomenal time, no anxiety in sight. But there's no way around it - I live in Sweden, and in the field of work I'm in I need to be out there to meet and talk to new people. In other words, I've had to find ways to deal with my increasing social anxiety. What I found was that developing coping mechanisms that put you in charge of your anxiety allows you not only to circumvent the situation but actually rise above it, and it might even give you a comparative advantage vis-a-vis the suckers who don't suffer from social anxiety.

Here's how.

Know thyself
You know what I'm really great at? One-on-ones. Well-structured meetings. Taking lead, or being led. I love clear mandates and instructions, even if that instruction is "there are no instructions, just do whatever you see fit" (hint: that is an instruction). I'm rubbish at loose social settings such as mingles, unless I have a specific mission to focus on. Once I figured this out, things became a lot easier. That's when I started saying yes to being on panels, as it would give me a task at hand as opposed to having to figure out how to strike up conversations with strangers. Once you know what frightens you, the easier it gets to figure out how to master it. For me, it's finding a task.

  On a panel, at a mingle. Gesturing and all.

On a panel, at a mingle. Gesturing and all.

Find what works...
So I know that I don't work very well in formally informal gatherings, such as mingles. But I can't really force myself onto every single panel of every single event I probably should go to, and I still have to get out there and meet people. As a result, I started developing and iterating different formats and concepts to see what might work. Instead of going to events, I started hosting or co-hosting them. Curating guest lists gave me a great excuse to get in touch with some amazing people. I also made a concerted effort to never invite two people that were close friends or colleagues, as I wanted everyone to be equally vulnerable (I know, I'm cruel) and have to let each other in. Hosting or co-hosting also gave me the task of doing exactly that - hosting - which comes with clear instructions. I've invited people over food, to discuss literature, or just to hang out at mine over some cava, discussing all things biz. Other ways could be to host podcasts or do a blog series of and with interesting people. This obviously requires more effort than just going to an event, but it means that your networking starts not when you go to the event, but when you initiate contact with the people of interest. Basically, ROI goes through the roof.

  When I invited some of Malmö's most amazing women to my flat for cava and biz, most of whom I'd previously met once or nonce.

When I invited some of Malmö's most amazing women to my flat for cava and biz, most of whom I'd previously met once or nonce.

...and skip what doesn't
I now do my best to avoid events I know will likely make me feel like shit. No more launches of this or that, no more corporate anniversary or Christmas mingles, no more networking events. The irony is that once I committed to this and made this my default mode, I started going to events that made sense and felt organic for me to go to. So yes, I still go to events that I neither speak at nor host. The difference now is that I've stopped signing up to them way in advance, so if I go it will be very spontaneous and I only go if it truly makes sense, e.g. if a friend asks me to go with them. Otherwise, I still find that events drain a lot more energy than they give.

  Hiding out in loos with my ginger ale. A scene long gone. And by long I mean approximately three months.

Hiding out in loos with my ginger ale. A scene long gone. And by long I mean approximately three months.

I still live with social anxiety. More in Sweden than anywhere else it seems, but finding ways to live and flourish with it has somewhat ironically enriched my life. It allows me to cut the bullshit, critically look at what it is I need and come up with creative ways of getting it.

And one final note - if you suffer from social anxiety, try to talk about it. You'll be surprised by how many others are in the same boat.

From drugs and sexism to the United Nations and Sex and the City - the rise, fall and resurrection of my career as a t-shirt designer

Most of you probably don't know this, but a long, long time ago, way before I'd heard the term startup or PR, I stumbled into a brief and intense career as a t-shirt designer. Completely accidental of course - back then my main calling in life seemed to be to provoke and outrage, and fashion was a great way to go about it. At the time my best friend and I lived and worked at a fashion/furniture/bicycle shop called Sick in London's East End. Sick was a very apt name for the shop - I've written more about living at Sick in this blog post. Our boss was a former punk who'd come out with pretty outrageous stuff every now and again. I remember him calling us "useless fucking females" whenever we'd done something wrong, which was all the time - pretty unsurprising considering we were two 18-year-olds, put in charge of a shop in spite of never having worked in retail before. Now, ten years later, I find it pretty horrifying, but at the time we thought it was nothing but hilarious. We never took it to heart but rather reclaimed and owned it in ways that our boss, ironically, loved. Part of that process was turning it into fashion.

  One of my first t-shirt designs. I was sweeter than I look. I think.

One of my first t-shirt designs. I was sweeter than I look. I think.

It started as a provocative joke but pretty soon blog readers started asking how they could get their hands on one. My blog then was much bigger than it is now, with thousands of daily readers at its peak, and it wasn't long before I made way more money on the shirts than I did at Sick. After Vice Magazine included some of the shirts in a shoot, a distributor doing punk fashion got in touch and placed a bulk order (see guys, PR works!). I should've seen this was a business in the making, but I was young and I just wanted to have a bit of fun.

Coke built this body - inspired by my grandfather's t-shirt that said "beer built this body"

  Jason Jail - inspired by my then-crush Jason, who kept saying he was going to jail (?)

Jason Jail - inspired by my then-crush Jason, who kept saying he was going to jail (?)

I'd hate me too - inspired by all the trolling I received on my blog
 

I fucked Franz Kafka - really not sure where the inspiration came for this one...

Other people definitely saw the potential, though. The French fashion label Vetements presumably nicked one of my designs for one of their t-shirts, which was then sold for $980 and worn by the likes of Rihanna. Oh well.

You Fuckin Asshole, by me, 2009

You Fuck'n Asshole, by Vetements, 2016

Anyway - a year later I'd abandoned my career as an East London Klub Kid to move to South Africa. I didn't know it at the time, but this was basically the beginning of what I'd now call my political awakening. I worked at a Cape Town shelter for homeless women and children, and spent most evenings reading about some of the most prominent socio-economic issues faced by South Africa. HIV/AIDS is one of them, and as a result I decided to do a fashion campaign highlighting World AIDS Day. I designed, printed, modelled and sold several different designs, all focusing on the huge problem of people around the world not knowing their HIV status. All proceeds were donated to UN's Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. At that point the blog was much smaller, but I still managed to raise and donate some £500.

Know Your Status - One of the biggest issues in battling HIV/AIDS is that people don't know that they carry the virus

Fuck Responsibly - Clue's in the copy

  HIV Positive - There's still huge stigma around HIV/AIDS, and I think few people who are HIV positive would display it on a shirt. Not necessarily just because of the stigma, but also because people are obviously so much more than their status. The main reason I printed this top was to point out that there's no way of knowing what sexually active person is HIV positive or not, unless you've seen their test results. And that goes for you, too.

HIV Positive - There's still huge stigma around HIV/AIDS, and I think few people who are HIV positive would display it on a shirt. Not necessarily just because of the stigma, but also because people are obviously so much more than their status. The main reason I printed this top was to point out that there's no way of knowing what sexually active person is HIV positive or not, unless you've seen their test results. And that goes for you, too.

That was in 2010 and since then I haven't printed anything - up until last night, when I printed my very own We Should All Be Mirandas t-shirt. It’s an excellent parody on Dior's terribly ironic $700 We Should All Be Feminists shirt - as the designers say themselves, “It’s hard being a Miranda in the age of Trump and $700 feminist slogan tees. But if Mirandas ruled the world, the world would be a considerably less fucked up place. We should all be Mirandas: smart, pragmatic, ambitious and unafraid to eat cake out of the garbage“. I first spotted the shirt on Instagram in October and have tried to get my hands on the original since then. Alas, I've been unsuccessful, but with some spare time on my hands over the holiday season I bought the same printing gear I used at Sick all those years ago, to print my very first shirt in over seven years.

It felt great.

  We should all be Mirandas - inspired by @everyoutfitonsatc

We should all be Mirandas - inspired by @everyoutfitonsatc