#KindnessWarrior (moonlighting as Head of Content Marketing for The Warehouse Group)

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Who or what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid I really wanted to work outside. Anywhere with plants, sunshine, the ocean, and the ability to breathe deeply of the world around me. I loved helping my Dad on building sites (I could put a roof on a house by 9yrs old!). As I got older, my passion for helping people became a driving force in my dreams for the future. For a long time I wanted to work for the Coast Guard on the Southern Californian Coast, but then I decided I wanted to bring people joy by being a back-up tambourine player in Elton John’s touring band. I didn’t end up working for the Coast Guard and I still haven’t played the tambourine on stage with Elton (though I have been on stage with him while he’s played the piano), but I’m pretty stoked with having created a professional career in which I’ve been able to play to creativity, empathy, & bucking the status quo at every turn.

What is your professional background?

My professional background is that of a very accidental marketer and creative strategist. I started working in a Law Library in San Diego where my Mom was the Dean of Admissions. This was pre-digital and I spent a lot of time changing out paper pages in text books to update laws as they changed. From there I worked in operations management and then quickly fell into recruitment. What I learned early on was mostly what I didn’t want to do to earn a crust. I didn’t want to sit in an office all day and be asked not to think. I also didn’t want to have to stifle my creative curiosity in roles that traditional were very black and white. So, I jumped into marketing when I was promised the ability to use my photography, videography, and copywriting skills in a single role.

After the birth of my daughter in 2006, I jumped headlong into what I then thought would be a very shallow pool of digital and social media marketing. I took a big decrease in pay, but spent every moment of the past 14 years enjoying breaking norms, connecting brands to consumers, and creating small moments of magic in the everyday lives of people in New Zealand and beyond. In the depth of my soul I fight against the tide of modern-day consumerism with every breath I take– whilst spending most of my waking hours working shoulder to shoulder with companies that rely on consumption to exist. It’s a push-and-pull way of working and living, but it fills me with hope for the future. I truly believe that the primacy of profit will soon fall from the top of the stack when it comes to defining business success.

When do you feel the most creative or inspired?

All of the damn time.

No, really.

Always.

What I mean by that is I’ve never seen the world as anything less than miraculous. Of course there’s sadness, grief, hurt, anger, and negativity – but the good that can counter each of these emotions is where I put my energy. We have this moment. Right now. And, that’s all. Nothing’s promised to us beyond the breath we’re taking right now, so why would we not see something inspiring or creative in normality. I love looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, it means the perspective I can bring to a conversation, a conclusion, or a challenge isn’t something that can be discounted outright. I truly believe that we’re all super creative beings, some of us have been taught to stifle our individuality – that makes me sad. Watching someone shine and step into the nuance that makes them who they are fills my heart with joyousness!

When are you happiest?

I’m happiest when other people are happy. When others feel free to be who they are and express their feelings openly my heart soars. When we dance, sing, and rise up together the world is balanced.

On an equal playing field with seeing other people happy, I also find moments of joy when I’m outdoors walking. A wandering mind being carried along by wandering feet is heavenly.

Meditation in motion is my Boo.

What’s the best stress relief advice you’ve ever been given?

The best stress relief advice I’ve been given recently came in the simple form of two words from a friend whose opinion I trust hugely. This particular woman is the kind all of us deserve to have at least one of in this lifetime – a perfect mix of humility, strength and take-no-shit-sass.

After struggling with some knocks to my confidence (ah, don’t we love living in the Land of the Tall Poppy?) I asked her how she dealt with abject meanness and passive aggressiveness IRL and online.

Her words to me were simple and clear: “Fu*k ‘em!”

She didn’t mean this literally, obvs. But followed up with “If they don’t know you or love you... fu*k ‘em Cass. Life’s too short to worry about anything that doesn’t make us all happy.”

And you know what? She was (and still is) right.

Just like that, I found my center.

I found my voice.

My confidence wobbles were stopped in their tracks from turning into confidence tsunamis.

Stress? What stress?

What is your most treasured possession?

Is it weird that I don’t have any one thing that I’d call my most treasured possession? I’ve never really been one for coveting stuff. I’d say a few things I enjoy having around would be hand-written notes from my grandmother & other family members/beloveds. Moments captured on film & hung on our walls from when my daughter was a wee baby are beautiful memories to keep as well. But otherwise, as sappy as it sounds, memories are what I treasure most from a life full to the brim with love and lolz.

What is the most important thing life has taught you thus far?

I’ve always been drawn to the sea, and I think this is because of the tides. Like the tides, life itself ebbs and flows. These changing tides of life bring us beauty, love, connection, failure, success, kindness, hurt, re-imagining, hopefulness. The more open I am to change & to trusting the universe, the more magic I see in all of us. Being open to, unafraid of & adaptable to change is a super power.

What is your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in your industry?

Serve others daily.

If everything you do in your profession is in service of & to others, you’ll both survive & thrive in anything/everything you do. So many of us take ourselves too seriously. We think more = better. But big titles, big ‘ol paycheques & big awards aren’t the be all & end all. They can’t be. There’s more to life than feeding an ego. Connecting with others & truly serving them is what matters most.

What is your big project or goal for 2020?

Oooooooh, I’ve got a few lined up & ready to rock. Secret Squirrel is the approach I have to take on this one right now – but keep your eyes peeled! Selfishly, I’d like to get a book or two published & spend more time with my family & friends enjoying each other. I’ve got some events & projects/conferences/keynotes lined up here in New Zealand & overseas in early 2020 which are super exciting. Bring on a year of perfect vision.

2019 feels like it’s flown by in an instant – so maybe the BIG GOAL for me in 2020 is to somehow hack the algorithm of passing time & slow down by doing less? There’s a BHAG for me! ☺

Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?

Three things that are really spinning my wheels are:

Music

Lately I’m making more & more time for music. This year my ears & soul have really enjoyed getting to know The Highwomen as they bring ass-kicking female angst back to country music. Upon first listen, their album sounded like homecoming for me. Magical, magical, magical.

I’ve also been enjoying new & upcoming artists like G-Flip, King Princess, Lizzo, LP, & Lots Holloway. Music for me is about introspection & setting a scene. Sometimes, if I wake up knowing the day will be a challenging one ahead, I set my own mental commitments to staying positive simply by throwing on an album that reinforces narratives of strength. Brandi Carlile, Anika Moa, & deep dives into Tanya Tucker’s hits from the 80’s & 90’s have been my saving graces recently.

Also, with his tour heading to NZ early in 2020, I’ve re-discovered the beauty & nuance of Elton John’s discography from the early 1970’s through to present day. What Elton & Bernie produced from 1970 – 1975 alone is staggering. Bring on Captain Fantastic in Aotearoa!

Kindness

It’s a time of unrest & revolution in the world, & what really inspires me is a drive to enable, enact, & empower each other through acts of kindness.

It wasn’t all that long ago that a manager of mine told me I “shouldn’t be so nice to people at work.” as it made me look weak. At the time I was floored – quite literally – by how someone so seemingly smart could say something so regretfully stupid. I, of course, didn’t listen to her & kept bring kind to the people I worked with. I don’t know how to exist any other way really. And, looking back, the joke’s on all of the folks who believed then (or still believe now) such a load of icky unkind codswallop.

Today it seems that everyone from Emma McIlroy (The kick-ass CEO of Wildfang) to Claude Silver (The Chief Heart Officer of Vayner Media) are shouting from the rafters about just how integral empathy & kindness are to success, fulfilment & to leading a worthwhile life while we’re here on earth. I for one am forever grateful to my inner-voice for reminding me to always stick to my guns when it comes to kindness. Living kind is living free.

Sunshine

I’ve been in New Zealand for almost 17yrs, but you still can’t drag the So-Cal girl out of me! Summertime & Vitamin D refill my tank like nothing else. The promise of sunshine ahead over the holiday season is like a promise of renewal. I am, if anything, a child of summer. So, BRING ON THE SUNSHINE (& the wine & the ice cream & the chips + dip... #allthesummerthings)

What do you continually ask yourself?

Why am I here & how can I make this moment/place/instant better for others?

I find that the simpler the question I ask myself, the more pointy my self-reflection.

If I concentrate on why I am where I am & work to be wholly present, then I am able to make the world around me (at least in my little sphere of influence) better by default & through small but significant actions.

Who do you collaborate with best?

I collaborate best with people who are voraciously curious and who ask a lot of questions. Regardless of perceived similarities or differences in colleagues or co-creators, the best & most creative times of my life have been when I’ve worked alongside those who strive to seek to understand the world around them in ways unknown to them. People who are up for a challenge & who enjoy change at pace usually work well with me. I’m not a big fan of doing things a certain way simply because “they’ve always been done that way.” In fact, I actively try to find new ways of solving problems instead of going with the proverbial flow. I trutly believe that when we look beyond the world we think we know & push back against the status quo, magic happens. Actual magic. So if there’s anyone out there who sees the world differently, who is keen to make new things, & who strives to do better by others – hit me up! I’d be keen to know & collaborate with you.

Who has challenged you to be better than you once were?

Almost everyone who’s ever loved me has challenged me to be better than I once was. My wife, my daughter, my mother, my grandmother...they’re only a few of the strong women who push me to push back against the status quo. My Dad & brother both taught me to swing for the fences. My ex-husband taught me more about growing up than I could write in a simple sentence (or even in a novel).

That said, the person who challenges me most is myself. Cliché, I know, but I’m painfully independent when it comes to being driven & a self-starter. I heard a quote once in high school when it came to training for sports which was “The maximum today becomes the minimum tomorrow.” And, whilst coach was talking about press ups at the time, I’ve taken that mantra into my life & applied it in a lot of different places. It’s very Simon Sinek to say, but I’ve been playing the infinite game for most of my life. My competition isn’t others, it’s myself.

How does courage manifest in your work?

Being courageous manifests in my work simply in the act of choosing to exist & thrive in a business that is stereotypically, well, stereotypical. In advertising, marketing, & creative spheres most people play by rules they had no hand in writing. They put their ladders up against buildings built by those who came before them & look to climb their ladder rung by exhausting rung. That’s not my idea of courage though. In fact, the well-trodden (& mostly male-helmed) path has never been one on which I’ve personally trod comfortably.

My chosen profession revolves around communication & connections, yet often both of these key skills/superpowers are overlooked in favour of fancy spreadsheets & budget lines. I often ask others to look beyond their own points of view at work which can be confronting. I’m not intentionally confrontational, but I also don’t take bull$hit as gospel or silence as acquiescence.

Asking anything beyond surface level is hard for most cultures, but Kiwis especially don’t tend like direct questions. Regardless, I ask them. Lastly, I have fun. So many people in the corporate world look down their noses at laughter, at levity, & at genuinely enjoying their craft. Not me. I embrace the entire rollicking ride that is work. No job pays enough for a person to be abjectly unhappy.

When has mentorship played a role in your life?

Mentorship – both formally & informally – has made me who I am today. It’s not a word of a lie to say I’ve had more than my fair share of amazing humans from childhood through to present day who’ve worked their asses off to me a better person when I didn’t believe I could be one.

Mentorship, to me, isn’t a simple transaction. It’s empathy, care, clarity, & service all wrapped up in a single idea. It’s also the cornerstone of my own ethical & moral foundations. As a young adult I had teachers, coaches, & family members who pushed me & my creative skills to the edge of what I thought was possible then. The lessons these people taught me & the tools they armed me with then continue to grow me now.

These magical humans taught me a lot – mostly they taught me that being important is okay. They taught me to look beyond the constructs of my own interpretation of the world in front of me. They taught me about the strength of diversity. And they all, in their own ways, taught me to find beauty in every single human.

As I’ve grown into my own professional & adult life, I’ve mentored young people as a way of giving back the gift that I received when I was their age. Whether in time, training, or simply just being there – mentorship is, in essence, love. And if there’s anything I believe, it’s that the world & everyone in it deserves love. Making the time to mentor is so very, very important to me.

What one thing do you think would improve gender equality in New Zealand?

The end of patriarchy.

Can that be my answer? Ha!

Beyond a crumbled patriarchal system, I think we need a lot more real conversation in more moments both big and small that lead to action. Open, honest, crucial conversations where men and women are engaged in (and dedicated to) driving change need to be had not just around boardroom tables, but around dinner tables, too.