My Dad Died Three Months Ago and Here's What It's like Grieving As a Freelancer


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My father died three months ago today on April 18, 2019. Some days I cry. Some days I talk to the sky — in case my dad hears me and I often yell at him for leaving my sister and I like he did. Every day his death crosses my mind, but as a freelancer — the grieving process has been complicated because when you own your own business, the show must always  go on…even when your father is on a ventilator with 0% chance of waking up again.

Many companies offer bereavement when you lose a loved one. Freelance life doesn’t come with bereavement. It comes with “Holy fuck, my dad is on life support” as clients call you while you’re on the line with the ICU doctor explaining aspirated lungs, sepsis, pneumonia, and the reality of the horrible nightmare of a situation. 

Grief is hard. Grief makes you tired. Grief can overtake you — especially when you have no time to reflect, sit in, and process the death of your beloved father because your to-do list is a mile long. Grief isn’t a fleeting emotion — it lingers, it stays hovering over your shoulders … no matter what freelance website project you’re working on or what copy you’re crafting for a blog. 

Death is a bearer of chaos. Even when a body is cremated and put into pocket sized urns, the chaos doesn’t stop…but you can’t turn a switch off to cut the chaos out of your life when you own your own business. You can pretend the chaos and the grief isn’t there, but in all actuality — it’s there and now it’s a part of your day-to-day routine.

I like to think I’ve done the best I can over the last few months given the situation, but even today — the chaos and grief from my father’s passing clouds my heart and looms over me as I try to pick up the pieces and push forward in my career and get back to my life, which I realize will never, ever be the same again. 

A lot of people have told me to take a break, go on vacation, or just stop working for awhile. It sounds tempting. It sounds just like what I need, but when I’m responsible entirely for my own income — I can’t just take off to Costa Rica to sit on a surfboard in the ocean and process what it means making the decision to pull your father off life support. Also, my dad would hate me to just halt my life, stop my work. A phenomenal business man himself, he would for sure tell me: “Charlsie, get the work done. Keep moving forward. You owe it to yourself. You owe your grief over me nothing.” 

With all this in mind, the voice in the back of my head — my Dad’s voice — has been a critical momentum driver for me to keep on keeping on. And his three most important life lessons have become a staple in just how I can move on (even on the hardest day), piece by piece…moment by moment. 


Dad’s rules: 

  • Kick ass and take names — According to my dad, work is all about “kicking ass and taking names.” He always told me that if you kick ass at what you do, no one can stop you — no one can slow your roll. He always told me that if you kick ass and take names, you establish yourself as an expert and an authority figure in your field. Despite being lethargic and filled with sadness over his death, I have promised myself to keep kicking ass and taking names…because he would want nothing more. When I’m tired or sad or emotionally drained by the reality that my father is dead — I realize with a little patience, this doesn’t mean I have to stop from rocking and rolling and kicking ass on all the work I’m producing for clients. 

  • Be a decent human being — My father had a wild streak of compassion in him that often surprised those around him (including me). Whether it was buying dog food for the homeless man down the street so he could feed his chihuahua or helping out a friend in need — no matter the cost or request, my dad believed that if you could wake up in the morning and be a human being to others through helping, listening, giving back, or just smiling at someone on the street … you were doing your job as a human being. My dad was a workaholic but despite his perfectionism in the workplace and his hard working mentality, he believed the best accomplishments he could make in life were the ones where he was “just a decent human being.” He never said be a “perfect human being,” instead he always said “a decent human being” is all that you have to do to truly get by and make an impact to those around you. Today, I wake up every day and hope that I can do something that would classify myself as a “decent human being” because with him gone, I still want nothing more than to make him proud. 

And lastly, his favorite rule of all time…

  • Always have fun — Growing up, my dad always had one major rule (especially on the weekends)…and he’d say it like this: “There’s only rule — you gotta have fun.” Despite not wanting to leave my apartment or acknowledge that I’m 31 year old without a father as I go through the motions of his death, his voice has remained constant in the back of my head: “There is only one rule and one rule only — you have to have fun.” Mourning the loss of a parent is anything but fun, but knowing just how much it would mean to my dad to give myself some space for fun fills even my worst days with some lightness. 

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In a demanding industry with clients needing this and that and new business inquiries coming in and meetings here and there — freelancing is not forgiving when those horrible, life shattering moments happen in your life. Freelancing is constant. Freelancing is all encompassing. However, the rules my dad lived his life by have been top of mind and because of this … I’ve been able to break the chains, a little bit, from the freelance beast that keeps you in a seat with your laptop and an endless to-do list. 

 While freelancing hasn’t let me fully have time to digest what happened and how it happened and everything from A to Z that comes from a parents death, I have to say … the things my dad shared with me for the majority of my life have been running through my mind during all hours of the day and night as I work to accomplish my goals.

So Dad, thank you for believing in me when I decided to freelance and thank you for leaving me with three bits of wisdom that  I will carry in my heart forever. I miss you. I miss talking business. I miss venting. But thank you for sharing your rules to success, even under such horrible circumstances — your wisdom has been a comfort blanket for the last 3 months and I’m forever grateful that those lessons will live on in my heart and in my work ethic.

10 Things I Want To See Marketing Departments Do...Sooner Rather Than Later.

My first and only job in high school was teaching people how to put contact lenses into their eyeballs. My first internship in New York had me zipping between Brooklyn to the Lower East Side carrying everything from vases of flowers that weighed more than me and important marketing materials for the feminist icon Gloria Steinem. My second internship in New York was me working for a journalist turned Internet sensation who ate a lot of dates (she had serious poop problems) and she would send me on errands to pick up head bands and designer dressers for whatever event she was going to that night. My first job out of college was me sitting in a cubicle copywriting about coffee for 8 hours a day.

And then I got my big break. A once in a lifetime opportunity. A random Craigslist ad said “Small publishing house looking for a marketing assistant” and well, the rest is history — I was hired as a marketing assistant and quickly promoted to marketing manager for what is now known as one of the world’s best selling children’s products: The Elf on the Shelf.

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Since then, I feel like I’ve seen it all. The good, the bad. Agency life. In-house life. A former cult meets ashram turned retreat. I’ve seen incredible teams with high energy and excitement and I’ve seen teams that were nothing but shells sitting under flickering fluorescent lights. And of course, I’ve experience firsthand of what it’s like to work for myself — I’ve done it successfully for the last two years.

I constantly get the question from younger, smarter marketers asking me “Where do you see marketing departments heading in the next few years?” And while I could give the usual “Digital! Social! Virtual reality! Content, content, content!” rallying cry — I’ve truly started to ask myself about where I see marketing agencies and in-house marketing teams headed.

So here is my list you didn’t ask for but definitely need to read:

Women dominating conference tables, director positions, and key decision making roles.

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It’s time. It’s 2019. Throw out #MeToo and #TimesUp — this has nothing to do with it (do not think for a second I’m discounting the sexual harassment women have endured in the workplace though). What I’m talking about is badass women owning their expertise and not being held back because they have boobs or wear violet pant suits or want to have families. I want to see marketing adapt to women and our unique brains and ways of thinking and bend to us for a change. I want to see intersectionality applied to every conference table in America. Beyonce sings “Ok ladies, now let’s get in formation.” We’re already in formation. It’s these corporate offices that need to listen to Bey and get in formation if they truly want to move forward.

Shhh….baby boomers.

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I’m so tired of hearing how millennials are killing this and that. I’m tired of baby boomers using the word millennial as a derogatory term. I’m tired of baby boomers trying to quote whatever latest headline they read about millennials and avocados and spinning it into some Wall Street is going to collapse, oh my god how will we survive nightmare. Baby boomers, get used to millennials — we’ve certainly become used to you (especially when you need help converting a Word doc into a PDF).

Throw some color around.

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Maybe it’s my love for Taylor Swift or my obsession with the color violet, but I think marketing departments need to give into adding a little sunshine, a little sparkle, a little pizzazz on their floors and amongst their teams. A little glitter never hurt anyone. In fact, shiny things like glitter remind people of water (I have the data to back it up) and water is known for its calming effects. Listen, I’m not asking for a rainbow to throw up in every marketing office across the nation but I’m just saying … a little buttercup yellow never hurt anyone.

SEO is for EVERYONE.

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Yeah, I said it — SEO is for everyone. Whether you’re a webmaster, a social media strategist, a content creator, an Account Director, or an editor … everyone should be on board with the basic understanding of what SEO can do for a brand on the world wide web. I want SEO to be a part of the discussion, not just some side discussion with a few key people. I want long tail keywords and short keywords to have their moment to shine when it comes to digital work. And most of all, I want everyone to have a tab open every day on their laptop to Answer the Public because it’s one of the most invaluable tools I’ve discovered in the last year.

Dogs.

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Every office should develop a dog friendly policy. Whether it’s dog friendly Wednesday or an everyday thing, the best marketing offices should have dogs roaming around like the good employees they are. I want my dogs in my office. I want someone’s random dog in my lap. I want dogs to run offices because they already run the world, right? But seriously — dogs are too pure for this world and between their silly antics, kindness, and unconditional love, they are the perfect antidote to working under fluorescent lights.

Shine Theory.



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If you’re not familiar with the Shine Theory, step into my office and listen up. Shine Theory is the practice of mutual investment with the simplest premise that “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” Shine theory is a commitment to collaborating instead of competing. I want to see Account Directors and Creative Directors leading together with the Shine Theory in mind. I want unique brains to collide and collaborate. I don’t want marketing agencies to operate in silos. Let’s cross over. Let’s make sure everyone is shining.

Just say no to Christmas cookies.



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Maybe I’m alone in this but for fucks sake, companies — it’s time to eliminate holiday cookie parties. Listen, I’m sorry but I don’t need to stuff myself with 26 cookies and then vote on my favorite to celebrate the holiday season with my coworkers. Let’s move past this atrocity. Let’s just do a donut breakfast. Let’s just drink some champagne. Let’s leave the cookies for your neighborhood gathering.

1, 2, 3 … blast off!



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Marketing teams - big or small - should be set up for success like they are about to go on a top secret journey to space for NASA. If teams feel like they have momentum, energy, and synergy to achieve their goals — it doesn’t just motivate them, but it makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger, something exciting. Instead of creating cubicle environments and chalk walks or buying a pinball machine for the office, give teams the impression that what they are doing is as important as launching a rocket...even if it’s just a Facebook ad campaign. Let employees float out in outer space as they work together on a common goal.

Content touches everything.

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In the Lion King when Simba is told that everything the light touches is his — he ooes and awws over how massive the land is. Marketing agencies and internal teams need to look at content as the sun and know it’s going to touch everything. While a lot of companies have “Content Managers,” those roles cannot work alone. Whether they are getting strategy from someone else or working with a video producer, a true understanding that content has to be fluid in its creation is mandatory for success. Most agencies and internal departments aren’t operating like this and well, that’s why their content sucks.

So, with all that being said … do I expect marketing agencies and internal marketing companies to check all these boxes? No. But should they...eventually? Yes. If they care about the work they are doing and their employees and want to keep moving forward in the work they do and as a company itself— why not throw a little glitter or Shine Theory into the mix?





Yes, Instagram Should Get Rid of Likes

Rumor has it, Instagram is contemplating getting rid of likes. That noise you’re hearing right now is me screaming at the top of my lungs, “Hell fucking yeah.” 

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I love Instagram. In fact, it’s my favorite social media platform but as a social media strategist — I am constantly frustrated with the incessant obsession over what value an Instagram like actually brings to a client (or even a personal account). 

Solopreneurs, small business owners, and Fortune 500 marketing teams are always asking me the same questions: 

  • “Charlsie, how come we only got 2,000 on that last post? Shouldn’t we be getting more since we have 12,000 followers?” 

  • “How come the post on Thursday only had 40 likes? 

  • “Should we buy followers to get more likes on our posts?” 

Likes, likes, likes — it’s all client’s ever think about and while it’s a metric that has been put on a pedestal, it’s time for it to go away. 

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Instagram shouldn’t just be about the number of likes a post has on it (or even the follower count). Unless you’re Taylor Swift (Taylor, if you’re reading this - call me) and you’re rocking an average of 1.6 million likes per picture — likes shouldn’t be at the top of the social strategy food chain for any brand trying to make social waves. 

Quality content should be the driving force behind any and every Instagram post, including what is shared in Instagram stories (if you’re a brand and you aren’t using Instagram stories to talk to your audience — we need to talk). Having a kickass social content strategy for Instagram and producing one-of-a-kind, unique content that aligns with your brand will naturally help produce the likes that brands so badly desire.

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Working with social strategists to produce meaningful content strategies and brand specific content is the key to not only upscaling your social presence but authentically connecting with those that already resonate and hold a relationship with your brand (or could potentially form a relationship with your brand). 

Yes, if this potential hiding of likes passes on Instagram, influencers and celebrities are going to be pissed but in the digital age — we have to adapt to what’s best for each platform as it grows and expands and it sounds like Instagram has the same stance as social strategists everywhere: “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.” 

As my client’s know - it’s all about strong content. So for those worried about Instagram potentially taking likes away, I raise you this question — are you afraid your content isn’t enough to speak for itself? If so, your priorities are all wrong and it’s time to reevaluate. 

Look at this potential Instagram change as a challenge worth accepting and showing your brand profile (or even your personal one) who’s boss.