I started working from home since I was 23 purely by accident. Nowadays that seems like it’s the norm but for my Gen-X contemporaries, the goal was always to have a kick-ass day job where you can wear your matching pencil skirt and vest with the uncomfortable heels that you insisted on buying. Yes, your stock was up as soon as you walked out the door. I held onto that notion for as long as I could. But in the late 90’s, it was an anomaly, much like being a stay-at-home-working-mom is now.
In 1996, I was working at my first job which was in media in New York City. I was more impressed with myself with the low paying job that I had in advertising considering I had a double degree in Russian and Spanish. I was told at my internship at Ogilvy & Mather the year before that the key to making in the ad-world was working for a multi-brand packaged goods account that paid little for their airtime in order to understand budgets and demographics, which is exactly what I did. This, was my first experience when I learned that my personality doesn’t really work well in a big corporate environment. Now, if I read this, I would think a millennial wrote it and I would call them a cop out. Having said that though and looking back to school when I had to have my seat changed in every class for being disruptive because I couldn’t sit still, it makes sense to me.
Magically, there was an ad in the bag of AdWeek Magazine, “Wanted: Media Director for Regional Russian TV Network.” Well – that called me name! Finally, a year into my arduous day job, that was my calling! An ex-pat package triple what I was earning, flight and rent paid for, a driver to take me to And from work, and BOOM! I went to Moscow! Was I over the moon that I could finally brag that my degree paid off!? (Insert millennial Instagram music of your choice for sound effects…)
However, within three months of nothing less than a wack-a-doodle work experience (including being told not to drink anything at the table during business meetings because you didn’t know who put what into it, a memo going out about the need to wear undergarments and a delayed flight to Yekaterinburg to check on a TV station that just decided to stop running the network) that I could make billions off of in a sitcom that no one would ever believe was true, the people who hired me disappeared without paying me and one day, my driver didn’t show up. (I should have taken of the red flags more seriously of when I was told “Do you see that computer – let’s hope we sell it so you can get paid.” So here I was, left unemployed in Russia in what seemed like ten minutes after I arrived. My parents were telling me to come home and apparently no one wanted to hire any ex-pats until Yeltsin won the second time (how I am dating myself, it’s not funny…) This, I decided, was my actual moment. This was my game changer. At the ripe old age of 24, I was going to make my mark. This, is when I realized what needed to be done.
There is the underestimation of routine and ritual to those without a job but to me that is the secret sauce of success. Every morning, I would go to the gym at 6:30am, come home, put makeup on, and get dressed. Granted I didn’t have anywhere specific to go and at that point, there were no plush coffee shops to fill your day, but I recognized even back then that without getting dressed, you do not feel like you are accomplishing anything.
There are TEDTalks about the need to make your bed but maybe it’s for a woman it’s getting dressed (perhaps because it’s implied that we were making our beds already.) The psychological impact of switching gears to “day-mode” is so important. This meant no sweats, no dirty hair, no gym clothes and shower, dry your hair, put on makeup and put on something that if you had a sudden Skype call, you would be ready. My friends used to tease me that I was more dressed up than they were but at the time, I had to overcompensate for my lack what I considered my perceived value to be. All of those lines “Fake it until you make it” are true because at that time, it’s what I needed to get by. By 9am, I was sitting in front of my computer, sending emails (via dial-up) and phone calls to try and sort out my next move to take over the world (or at least get a job.) My neighbors in fact were suspicious that I was running some sort of covert operation because I was still going out but coming right home as I was asked daily, “Where is your driver and why isn’t he picked you up anymore?”
After that time for what seemed like forever, I concocted a job that didn’t exist and run Cartoon Network’s branded block on a Russian TV Network from my kitchen. I still look back and wonder how I was able to convince someone in London that I was an expert and could be entrusted finding advertisers for the airtime of Tom & Jerry and The Jetsons in Russian. Finally, I had meetings and a reason to use those outfits that had more creases from me sitting awkwardly in my kitchen chair. But I still maintained my routine. I had primed and prepped myself for the daily grind of working from home. When they say babies need routine and structure, it’s never noted that adults do too.
Now, 20+ years later, my kids lament that I am putting my makeup on they will be late for school. (Truth be told, they aren’t as fast as they think they are so it’s really on them, not me.) I am on my second business which was an extension of my first in running the Independent Handbag Designer Awards, working on a second book and teaching and my routine remains the same. Being an entrepreneur or a hustle-preneur as I like to call it, demands that kind of attention. My older son had said to me before this school year ended, “If you are going to go get a coffee and then go home, why must you do your hair and put on eyeliner?” To which I replied, “Because I have to go to the office.”