Exquisite Insanity: Moms Who Write

by Katrina on August 4, 2015

I spoke on a panel a few weeks ago at the Bay Area Book Festival. The panel was moderated by local literary icon, Michelle Tea. (If you need an escape, her latest book, “How to Grow Up” will make you laugh out loud.)

The authors on the panel represented a range of genres (from children’s books to literary fiction to non-fiction) but we all had two things in common: love for our kids, and a burning desire to write.

Most of us had never met until right before we took the stage, but that didn’t stop us from having a fun, intimate, and sometimes raucous conversation about what it’s like to create a life around children and a life around writing. The video of our session is now online.

Bay Area Book Festival 2015 panel "Exquisite Insanity: Moms Who Write"

Bay Area Book Festival 2015 panel. From left to right: Kate Schatz, Katrina Alcorn, Carolina De Robertis, Aya De Leon, and Michelle Tea

The experience was a little bittersweet for me. I started a new job in February—you know, a Big Girl job. Full time. Commute. It’s similar to the job I described in Maxed Out except way cooler, and I’m not maxed out, I’m really enjoying it. (Really!) But it has been well-documented here and elsewhere that I can’t do everything, at least not all at once. And so writing is on the back burner for the moment. Maybe you know what that’s like…

At least two of the writers on the panel, Caroline De Robertis and Michelle Tea, are at a point in their careers where they make their living from writing. Yes, you heard that right. They do what they love AND make enough to keep their kids flush in Honey Nut Cheerios. While others, like myself, make a living in other ways and then try to figure out how to squeeze writing into the margins. There’s no one right way to do this; everyone has made sacrifices in one way or another. Anyway, we talked about that and a bunch of other stuff. You can watch the video here>

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In other news, I’ll be giving a keynote in October with my colleague, Katrine Rau, at the Service Design Conference in New York. If there are any designer types out there planning to attend, please be sure to come say hello.

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As you can see, I’m posting infrequently. If you don’t want to miss any blog posts, you  can always subscribe by email. No spam, just the good stuff. Promise.


Book Giveaway: “Wishful Thinking”

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by Katrina on April 27, 2015

* We’re giving away 2 copies of Kamy Wicoff’s new book, “Wishful Thinking.” *
* Enter to win by leaving a comment at the end of this blog post. *

Six years ago, I left my full-time job because work stress and chronic busyness combined with the exhaustion that comes with raising very young children was making me sick. Then I started working for myself and found out that self-employment gave me the control I needed over my schedule. I could help support my family and still make time to chaperone the occasional field trip at my kids’ school, or pick them up early when they needed some extra TLC. I told everyone I was the best boss I’d ever had. I felt like I’d hit the working mom jackpot!

Then my kids started getting older, needing us less. They used to follow us around like baby ducklings. Now, they find our presence mildly embarrassing. I went from having the perfect work-life balance to feeling rejected and, a bit, well…bored.

A couple months ago, out of the blue, someone offered me a really cool job and I surprised myself by accepting it. Now I find myself back in the slightly over-busy life of a working parent.

Things are different than they were before—I’m not breastfeeding and sleep-deprived, I’m better about setting boundaries, and I have less guilt. But once in awhile, something comes up—a work event conflicts with something I’d planned with my kids—and I wish I had magical powers so I could be in two places at once.

If you have ever had this fantasy, then boy oh boy do I have the book for you.

Wishful Thinking by Kamy Wicoff, published last week by She Writes Press, is the story of a busy career mom who discovers a magical doorway into “having it all”: a mobile app that allows her to be in two places at once.

How many times have you wished you could take your kid to ballet class and attend a meeting with a new client? Get groceries on the way home from work and arrive at daycare before late pick up? Have a date with your honey and read the kids a bedtime story? What would it be like if you never had to choose between one thing and another, if you never had to say “I’m sorry”? I found myself completely drawn in to the story and think you will, too.

I have two free copies of Wishful Thinking to give to blog readers. To enter, just leave a comment telling us what two places you wish you could be in at once. In mid-May, I will pick two winners at random and contact them to find out where to send their books.


Update 5/30/15: The winners have been chosen! Gina and Laura — I sent you an email. Please send me your mailing addresses so you can get your books!


Do you love your job?

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by Katrina on March 17, 2015

It’s easy to find examples of what companies are doing wrong—micromanaging employees, burning out workers, stifling innovation, the list goes on . . .

But now I’m looking for examples of what companies are doing right.

I’m setting up short (30 min.) phone interviews with managers at companies that

  • Foster innovation and creativity
  • Make employees happy and engaged
  • Use specific methods or management “hacks” to improve collaboration, motivation, and morale

This is all part of a project I’m involved with at my new job. (Yes, after years of being happily self-employed, I recently decided to take a full-time job. More on that in a separate post.)

To nominate your company, just leave a comment at the end of this blog post saying what you love about your workplace. Be as specific as possible. I’ll follow up with you via email to arrange a phone interview if I think your company is a good fit.

Here of the kinds of questions I’m asking managers:

  • Tell me a little about what it’s like working at your company?
  • How are management practices different from other companies where you’ve worked?
  • What methods have you used to get people collaborating across functions? Across locations?
  • In many companies, employees feel removed from the needs of the end-customer. What things do you do to foster empathy for the customer within the company?
  • Do you have any specific management “hacks” you find effective at improving collaboration, motivation, or morale?


Funny Feminists

by Katrina on February 23, 2015

Funny 2-min scene from Portlandia to get your Monday off to a good start. An all-male group sets out to “fix feminism.” (Hat/tip to my buddy, Sean.)

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In other news…

We have 5 winners for “The Sweet Spot” book giveaway (Erin, Anna, Heidi, Angela, and Champagne). If you didn’t get an email from me, I guess that means it’s time to buy the book.

I’m speaking at Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley conference tomorrow in Santa Clara. If you are attending the conference, come say hi! Our session is at 10:00 am and I’m doing a book signing directly after in the exhibit hall/book store area.


Book giveaway: “The Sweet Spot”

by Katrina on January 20, 2015

* We’re giving away 5 copies of Christine Carter’s new book, The Sweet Spot. *
* Enter to win by leaving a comment at the end of this blog post. *

the sweet spotWhen we don’t have the support we need from family, coworkers, and friends, (and policymakers), trying to work and raise kids can be impossible. But when we do have the support we need . . . it can still feel really hard.

That’s where Christine Carter’s new book—just released today!—comes in. What I love about The Sweet Spot is that it goes beyond the superficial self-help that seems to permeate women’s magazines, and focuses on research-based strategies that have been proven to help people live a happier life. Here’s the book description:

Learn how to achieve more by doing less! Live in that zone you’ve glimpsed but can’t seem to hold onto—the sweet spot where you have the greatest strength, but also the greatest ease.

Not long ago, Christine Carter, a happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and a speaker, writer, and mother, found herself exasperated by the busyness of modern life: too many conflicting obligations and not enough time, energy, or patience to get everything done. She tried all the standard techniques—prioritizing, multi-tasking, delegating, even napping—but none really worked. Determined to create a less stressful life for herself—without giving up her hard-won career success or happiness at home—she road-tested every research-based tactic that promised to bring more ease into her life. Drawing on her vast knowledge of the latest research related to happiness, productivity, and elite performance, she followed every strategy that promised to give her more energy—or that could make her more efficient, creative, or intelligent.

Her trials and errors are our reward. In The Sweet Spot, Carter shares the combination of practices that transformed her life from overwhelmed and exhausting to joyful, relaxed, and productive. From instituting daily “micro-habits” that save time to bigger picture shifts that convert stress into productive and creative energy, The Sweet Spot shows us how to:

  • say “no” strategically and when to say “yes” with abandon
  • make decisions about routine things once so that we can free our minds to focus on higher priorities
  • stop multitasking and gain efficiency
  • “take recess” in sync with the brain’s need for rest
  • use technology in ways that bolster—instead of sap—energy
  • increase our ratio of positive to negative emotions

Complete with practical “easiest thing” tips for instant relief, as well as stories from Carter’s own experience of putting The Sweet Spot into action, this timely and inspiring book will inoculate you against “The Overwhelm,” letting you in on the possibilities for joy and freedom that come when you stop trying to do everything right—and start doing the right things.

How to Enter

We have five free copies to give away. To enter to win, just leave a comment at the end of this post between now and February 1, 2015. Tell us one habit you’d like to change, or why you need the book, or what you ate for breakfast. Make sure you include an email address where I can reach you. (Your email will not be published, only I will see it.)

I will select five winners (using random.org) and contact you in early Feb. to find out where to send your prize.


My New Year’s Resolution

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by Katrina on January 8, 2015

Every New Year’s Eve, after the kids go to bed, Brian and I read to each other from our journals. We’ve been doing this for 13 years. It’s a way of reflecting on the past year, and thinking about what we want to do in the year ahead. (I know what you’re thinking. Your husband keeps a journal? Yup…he’s cool like that.)

Our annual ritual was cut short this year. We have teenagers now, and they go to bed late, (and we’re old, and we don’t want to stay up until midnight) but we read enough to see that 2014 was a really great year for us…

We took our first family vacation out of the country, to Costa Rica. The kids successfully transitioned schools (Ruby started middle school, Martha started high school). Brian really focused on his health this year; he lost so much weight that for a while he looked like he was playing dress-up with his dad’s clothes. Clown pants. Nothing fit, and by the end of the year he had to buy a new wardrobe.

I worked a lot in 2014, but somehow I managed to speak at 20 conferences and other events about Maxed Out. And I received my first royalty check. For a first-time author, this was huge. It means sales were strong enough to earn out my advance and it will be infinitely easier to get a publisher for the next book, (when I’m ready to write it).

We have so much to be thankful for. My only complaint is that it went by WAY TOO FAST. My life is exactly what I want it to be, and yet, I have this nagging feeling that I’m not doing it right. I should be enjoying it more. Savoring it. These are the salad days. I should be eating the salad.

I hear this complaint from other other women—but especially self-employed women—a lot. We love the autonomy, the freedom of being our own boss, and yet, we find ourselves moving too fast, pushing too hard, working too much, never slowing down.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution for 2015: Meditate 5 minutes a day.

That’s it. It’s simple, specific, and achievable—all qualities I admire in a New Year’s resolution. I can do more that 5 minutes of course, but the goal is to get at least 5 minutes, every single day, as a way of slowing down, and savoring what’s here.

And because I work in high-tech, I have found an app for that: Buddify. (Actually, my friend, Kat, found it and told me to download it. Thanks, Kat!)

What about you? Did you keep last year’s resolution? Do you have one for 2015?

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Solicited Advice

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by Katrina on October 7, 2014

You guys! I need your help.

Can you answer one question to help to me prepare for a conference I’m speaking at next week? Here’s the question:

What is the single best piece of advice you’ve received on balancing work and family?

Please leave your answer in the comments below. (Or you can tweet it to me at @kalcorn or leave your comment on my Facebook page.)

Why I’m asking you this

Months ago I was invited to speak on a panel for a series of three conferences called The Conferences for Women—together they’re the biggest women’s conference in the country, reaching more than 23,000 attendees. It was a great honor to get this invitation—keynote speakers include Hillary Clinton, Diane Keaton, and Robin Roberts. The first conference, which is sold out, will take place next week in Philadelphia.

Our session is called “Survival Strategies in a “Lean In” World: Real People, Real Stories, Real Solutions” and it’s supposed to focus on tips for managing the day-to-day chaos of life.

I was looking forward to just showing up and answering questions under the expert guidance of Lisa Belkin . . . until I found out yesterday that she had to cancel due to a work conflict. And guess who they’d like to take her place as the “thought leader” (and moderator) for our panel? No, not Hillary Clinton. Me!

Now, some of you may note (as I have) that I wrote a book about how I FAILED to balance work and family and yet, I keep getting asked to speak about . . . how to balance work and family. And if you’ve read my book or followed my blog, you already know that I had my own little library of self-help books and I even followed much of the advice, but in the end it wasn’t enough for me. What helped the most was quitting my job and going to work for myself. Which is a real story, but not a real solution.

While the other esteemed panelists are sure to have some great answers, I’d like to be extra prepared by crowd-sourcing some advice here.

What has worked for you? Any and all stories or advice are welcome. The more specific the better.

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I’m not doing a lot of writing right at the moment (yes, the blog has been extra quiet), but I am doing a lot of speaking. If you can make it to one of these events, please come say “hi.”

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Update 10/7: BLOG IS HAVING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. (Argh!) We’re trying to fix it now, but in the meantime, if you aren’t able to leave a comment here, you can leave it on my FB page or try again later. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Blog comments should be working now, thanks to Kenny at fittedwebdesign.com. (That is a shameless plug for Kenny’s IT services. He’s the best.) Phew!



My Boss

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by Katrina on July 31, 2014

Like most people of my Generation (GenX), I’ve had a lot of different jobs.

In high school I worked as a babysitter, a housecleaner, and a box office ticket taker for a local theater. In college I waitressed at Denny’s to earn tuition money. When I spent a year abroad, I earned my keep as an English language teacher in Chile.

After college, I held jobs as a union organizer, a freelance writer, and a media specialist for a health care reform campaign. When the campaign ran out of money, I joined the fundraising team. Eventually I went to grad school, became a journalist, soon became disenchanted with the state of journalism . . . and decided to remake myself as an Internet professional, a field where lasting six months at a job makes you one of the old-timers.

According to my most recent count, I’ve had more than 25 jobs in all. As you can imagine, having all these jobs means I’ve also had a lot of bosses, good and bad.

There was the owner of the pub where I worked as a cocktail waitress, who shamed me in front of the cooks about my wine-pouring technique (or lack thereof). There was the marketing guy who bought me my very own fax machine (this was cutting edge technology in 1991) so I could work for him as a copywriter from my dorm room in college. (This seemed like a magnanimous gesture to me at the time, but now I see it was a way to hang on to cheap labor.)

There was the guy who ran the video production house in San Francisco where I thought I was being hired to work on industrial shoots and learn to operate a Betacam, but instead spent most of my working hours dubbing porn (making VHS copies) for customers. There was the startup founder at my first Internet job who hired a masseuse to rub our sore shoulders because we were exhausted from working 12-hour days.

And there was the boss I wrote about in Maxed Out who, despite our occasional differences, was a true mentor. She gave me some wonderful professional opportunities and encouraged me to try new things, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

But all those different managers just make me appreciate the boss I have today. She encourages me to work on projects I care about, and she gives me all the flexibility I need to have a family, a life, and a career. She’s the best boss I’ve ever had. I wish everyone could have a boss like her.

Read all about her in my column, published today on MarketWatch: 7 Reasons I Love My Boss.


Making Work Work: Sliced Bread Design

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by Katrina on June 23, 2014

About six years ago, while I was busy “maxing out” at my full-time job in San Francisco, a friend of mine started freelancing for a company that sounded like a working mom nirvana.

It was a small web design firm in Silicon Valley called Sliced Bread. The owners (Julie Stanford and Ellen Siminoff) were good friends who had bought houses next door to each other. They set up a large shared office in the downstairs of Julie’s house, and because they had kids about the same age, they decided to share a nanny. Employees came into the office two days a week. The other days people could choose to come in or work from home.

A couple people at the company had babies at the time, and my friend said when she was on conference calls with coworkers, it wasn’t unusual to hear the dull groan of a breast pump in the background. No one thought this was weird. Everyone was just focused on doing great work, and doing it efficiently so they could enjoy their lives.

A few years later, after I left my job, I did a freelance project for Sliced Bread and it was just as my friend had described. (If they weren’t a 90-minute drive from my house, I would work with them more often.)

Since then, I’ve kept in touch with Julie, and I was really happy when she agreed to let me profile her business here on the blog. As you’ll see, she and her business partner have not been afraid to break social norms when they had a good reason to, and their business is thriving. What follows is edited version of our conversation:

Julie Stanford

Julie Stanford, co-owner of Sliced Bread, a web design firm in Silicon Valley.


Me: What made you decide to start your own business?

Julie: True story—13 years ago I was working for a startup that decided to let one of the designers on a two-person design team go. But instead of just deciding which designer to let go, they told each designer a different fictitious story about what was going to happen next at the company in the hopes that one designer would decide to stay on her own (because the future was so appealing) and the other would decide to leave on her own (because the future seemed so terrible).

This plot could have worked except for the fact that the two designers were good friends and realized they were being played. The designer who was supposed to stay quit, and the designer who was supposed to leave stayed around for a few more months being annoying. Then she quit, too.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I was one of these designers and the other designer was my business partner, Ellen.

We decided we were never going to work for anyone else under any circumstances.

Me: How did you and Ellen know you would be good business partners?

Julie: Ellen and I became great friends when we worked at the startup; it was through her that I met my husband—they were housemates at the time. Ellen and I always dreamed about having an agency together and when the crazy shenanigans at our startup happened, we were happy to leave and start Sliced Bread.

Me: Was it intentional that you bought houses next door to each other, or was that just luck? read full story

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The talk I gave at TEDx Monterey in April is now available online! “Maxed Out: Changing the Conversation About Women and Work.”

If you like it, please share it.