A 4-Minute Backstory

I grew up in Tiffin, Ohio. That’s where American Standard was. Maybe your toilet came from Tiffin.

In high school, Mrs. Kizer rejected me from National Honor Society because she hated my oldest brother, Alex. I never even had a class with her.

I chose to attend Ohio University because, while visiting campus with my mom, someone walked by us standing in the natatorium hallway, stopped, and said “You should come here. You won’t regret it.”

I became an obsessive over-achiever in college, earning academic and athletic scholarships, 4.0 GPA’s, two degrees in five years, and awards for my grad research on “Sesame Street.”

I’ll show that Kizer lady.

After graduation, I followed a dude to DC. We broke up three weeks later. I didn’t expect to stay in DC, but I found a job. It was at Studio Theatre. I hated it.

Two months later I started working at George Mason University. One day, Tere Linehan — my original supervisor — told me I had to pay for a new college banner. This was because some alumni spilled meatball sauce on the original one during homecoming (held outside in February), and the dry-cleaner I chose “wasn’t acceptable.”

I was crying in the bathroom when Office Manager Gail Crigler walked in. She asked what was wrong, and I told her I couldn’t afford a new banner, so I needed to quit and move back to Ohio.

She told me to give her an hour. She said, “You’re a breath of fresh air here.”

An hour later, the dean walked into my office and told me I wouldn’t be reporting to Tere anymore. 

Gail Crigler changed the course of my life.

Then came my new supervisor, Audrey Kelaher. I thought she might be a dillrod because she preferred using the Oxford comma. Turns out I was the dillrod with a lot to learn about interacting with adults.

I’m a better person today because Audrey helped me.

I left GMU for a startup, World Championship Sports Network. I loved the speed, but I really hated working by myself covering badminton at 3 AM for 12 viewers.

I left WCSN for Viget Labs. I loved the people — especially one named Matt Swasey. I’m going to marry him. But I didn’t love the work as a project manager. I quit and took a job at another agency for almost twice the pay. A year later, I loved new people but still didn’t love the work.

Looking back … “duh.”

Anyway, I decided to spend the summer of 2010 doing freelance projects while looking for “the right fit.” I asked for leads from former clients Mina Ebrahimi, Les Rosenthal, and Bob Fox. I’d even clean their houses.

I’m pretty good at cleaning, you know.

Aside from my man — whose honesty and support came first — I credit Mina, Les, and Bob as my champions; they validated my independence by hiring or referring me.

Samantha Warren helped me get more involved in DC events, which never really led to contract work. Instead, they led to new friends; way better, really.

(Of course, sometimes we referred each other. Because that’s what friends do.)

I decided to try public speaking. My first talk came in the summer of 2010 thanks to RefreshDC and Dave DeSandro (now of Twitter). About 20 minutes before I was set to start talking, I walked out the front door and along the C&O Canal to panic in peace.

But I came back, Dave introduced me, and I started saying what I’d practiced 20 times over the 10 days prior. The audience listened. They laughed when I hoped they would. They cheered when I ended. They told me they’d learned something.

This felt awesome.

Since then …

I’ve spoken at SXSWi in Austin, FOWD in London, Beyond Tellerrand in Dusseldorf, Interlink in Vancouver, and on UIE’s Virtual Seminars from my home office.

I’ve worked with people who are smarter than me, launched a company, and published articles.

I got drunk, danced, and laughed with people I couldn’t have imagined meeting just two years ago — in cities I only had dreamed of traveling to.

Of course, I’ve made embarrassing and foolish mistakes along the way. Plus, I’ve been rejected by conference organizers, respected industry leaders, publishers, potential customers, investors, and MindShare (my modern-day National Honor Society).

But I can’t give up. That would be letting Mrs. Kizer win, after all.

I’ll show that Kizer lady.