September 18, 2015

Empathy

I’ve recently become interested in the slow movement and over the summer I spent hours cooking delicious healthy ethical meals, took aimless lunchtime walks and attempted to carve a wooden spoon. Returning to campus has meant navigating the speed-walkers on the mall and smells of processed salad dressing in the hallways. On Thursday, I tried to keep up.

I was late to everything and got nothing right. I felt overwhelmed and under-appreciated and unhappy. The worst part is that I genuinely enjoy my work, all of my classes and most of my other obligations. So then I was upset that I was unhappy in spite of my wonderful circumstances.

I spoke with Nina Hale that day. She made time for our interview even though she is busy as founder of Nina Hale Inc., a digital strategy company that provides services like search engine optimization and social media marketing to large local clients such as Minnetonka Moccasin Co., The Guthrie Theater and Honeywell. Nina answered every question thoughtfully and unhurried.

The next morning I got to WAM early for Creative Mornings, a monthly breakfast lecture series presenting programs around the world with a common theme each month. This month’s focus was Empathy.

empathy
Illustration by Scott Biersack

Nina highlighted the importance of voicing our own challenges as a form of empathy. It is extremely important to spread awareness about things like mental health, cultural or socioeconomic differences and anything else that is unnecessarily and unfortunately taboo. When someone comes forward to talk about their own experiences, everyone else struggling with those issues feels empowered to ask for help and live unabashedly. Also, by communicating with your peers, friends and family, you enable them to extend empathy towards you and encourage them to share their own burdens.

Listening to Nina that morning, I realized that I wasn’t being very compassionate with myself. She reminded me that it’s okay to be late sometimes. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to slow down. Other people need you to.

ninahale

Nina has had a unique and inspiring career pathway, so I was eager to pick her brain and share her story with all of you students and budding professionals.

You studied American Civilization and Upholstery before going back to school to get your MBA. How do those degrees aid you in your career now?

A lot of [my American Civilization degree] was [about] folklore and popular culture. I’m really interested in subcultures and very interested in how things go viral. Why [do] people get focused on certain elements of stories? The internet is all about subcultures finding people [with similar interests]. Upholstery was just something I  really loved  (and I was really was confused in my 20s). So much about what I do now is a craft. And like upholstery, [digital strategy is] an extremely intricate craft where you really have to learn all the basics, and then putting it together almost becomes an art form.

What did you learn at the Carlson School of Management that you couldn’t have learned elsewhere? Was it a necessary step in your pathway to starting your own business?

The MBA really taught me to understand finances a lot more. It helped me understand customer service operations. I did a lot of marketing and business models. The [program] really helped ground me with a background in business. I don’t think it’s necessary for a lot of people who work within companies and learn that way, [but] I had sort of bounced around so I really needed that grounding point for myself.

Do you think it was helpful for you to “bounce around”?

I would say that sometimes in the beginning being a generalist is very helpful because it keeps you open to a lot of opportunities. There’s a point in which becoming a specialist in something can be really helpful because then you can really deepen your knowledge, but I don’t think you have to enter into the world saying, “I know exactly what I want to do!”

Do you have any tips for students who are hoping to become a specialist after working as a generalist?

It’s really good going into something with a couple of specific skills. In my agency, if a person knows [Microsoft Excel] and they’re good at analytics, that is super helpful because that’s the type of company we are. Network as much as humanly possible. Passion and curiosity are the two things that will distinguish you in the crowd of many other people. A lot of people change throughout their lives and a lot of people change careers and change directions and that is okay as long as you don’t expect that you’re going to be able to jump from the perfect thing right now to the perfect next thing. My first job out of grad school I made a lot of compromises that I would not have normally [made]. I took pay compromises, I worked at a type of company that I may not have always chosen right away. I worked way out in the suburbs, and that’s something I never like doing. [Ask yourself], what is the logical realistic steppingstone that will get me to that next thing that is what I really want in the future?

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If you’re ever looking for some inspiration, you can watch previous Creative Mornings lectures here!