For those who are new: I began writing a column called Bullish on a now-defunct women’s website in 2010.
Thirty or forty articles into writing about feminism and careers, I started getting a lot of emails, both asking for advice and just wanting to connect. (Social media was in its infancy, so email it was.) I put up a version of this website, and over the years started a conference, a store, and a membership society.
In 2013, I both founded The Bullish Conference and got married (planning a wedding is much easier than planning a conference because you’re not even trying to make a profit). I showed up to the first #BullCon five months pregnant and the fourth one seven months pregnant. That second one, I actually used an app to time my pregnancy with the conference, because you can’t fly after 34 weeks, and sometimes airlines will kick you off a flight before that (this kicked off the plot of the movie Away We Go, so thanks for that heads-up! I boarded the plane to BullCon draped in flowing robes and scarves, like some kind of vaguely cylindrical silken mass, just in case).
In 2014, I started the online store with a handful of products, and by 2016, I moved Bullish (an actual company by that point!) into a Brooklyn office where I was surrounded by thousands of products, and suddenly needed to sell more of them to pay the newly increased bills. So I became nearly a full-time e-commerce entrepreneur.
And it turns out I love manipulating spreadsheets of products.
Long ago, I ran a web design firm. And it was horrible. I’d spend ages trying to land a client, write them a long, custom proposal, hustle to get the down payment, and then once the work was done, I’d have another collections job getting the client to agree the work was done (yes, you see, I’m sorry this doesn’t look like you imagined it in your dream, but the dream you had was not part of our contract) and to pay up.
At that time, I had a fantasy that I would just quit everything and open a taco stand. Or an ice cream truck. It doesn’t matter – the point was that someone gives me the money, I give them the product, and we’re done! They want another taco? They can come back and do it again! That’s it! That’s the entire relationship! There’s no series of contractual deadlines! You don’t have to remember the names of some guy’s kids and chat amiably about them at Chamber of Commerce events!
E-commerce isn’t really about one-to-one relationships in the way many businesses are. Sure, some brands interact all day with their fans on social media! They have relationships! But some e-commerce companies sit in a warehouse in Long Island and ship pallets of deodorant to an Amazon warehouse. They don’t talk to anyone. You can do it in your comfortable pants with your full-time RBF. It’s nice to have that choice.
People have sometimes asked why I didn’t (or don’t) do more events in New York. You know, like workshops about careers. The answer is that there are a lot of events in New York and I don’t believe in duplicating effort, but also that the correct level of social energy for me to expend is one conference per year. That is where I will physically be! I will save up my social energy for the entire year and use it all in two days and it will be fucking glorious.
So, I like my warehouse. I like not networking. I mean, I know how. I’ve written articles about it. But I like to have the freedom not to.
One thing I haven’t done during that time is write articles. It’s been a long while. I make no apology. You know what more people should do? Shut the fuck up when they don’t particularly have anything to say. I spared you the dozens of listicles I could have produced, or even paid someone to produce. 9 Ways to Spice Up Your Resume in 2019! One Weird Old Tip That Will Change The Way You Think about LinkedIn!
I think not.
Here, in fact, are the posts I have bothered to write since tiny human beings stole all of the nutrients I was storing in my bones to use later when I’m old:
Of course there are about 500 articles from before that, so, you know, have fun if that’s your thing. I’m slowly going back and updating them (and posting about my “Fresh Edits” in The Bullish Society).
So now I’m back. Done gestating actual human people, which, JFC, can ruin a person.
The Jen who started Bullish … I’m not her, exactly. That Jen was younger and incredibly physically fit, and wealthier at least in the sense that she didn’t have to spend her money on kids. But she wasn’t blithe about any of it at all. She was kind of freaky morbid about it, actually. She – I, she? — well, let me say that I specifically remember thinking, on a daily basis, “My biggest life problem right now is smugness — and this cannot hold.”
I got this way reading Reader’s Digest, which is what people read on the toilet before smartphones. It was the only publication my parents subscribed to when I was ten and every month it ran a long piece in a series called DRAMA IN REAL LIFE. And then would commence a story in which someone was horrifically burned, or died of cancer, or fell while rock climbing and survived for days on a ledge the size of a lunch tray. A child died of AIDS. People lost all manner of body parts. Premature babies died. Cars exploded with people in them, and then the story would continue for a full, additional twenty pages about the tortures of burn care. All of this was very formative for me. My parents were always homebodies, so there weren’t adult friends around living uneventful lives. It was pretty much just my family and the unfortunate souls of DRAMA IN REAL LIFE, so I simply grew up expecting to lose limbs while being run over by a train. I always expected a DRAMA IN REAL LIFE.
It has not happened yet. Much more mundanely, I’ve simply aged and had children. Crumbling slowly is the alternative to DRAMA IN REAL LIFE, and generally the luckier of the two options. There is no third option.
So even at the height of my personal lifetime glamorousness, I knew the shit would hit the fan and I thought about it every day. I wrote about it. I advised others wanting to have children to endeavor to make twice as much money as you need so if your income is cut in half as a result, you’ll be okay. I would always follow up this advice with many apologies and caveats: “Of course this is not easy and is impossible for many – think of it as an ideal where getting partway there would also be great – but our system of rapacious capitalism is why the advice on how to make sure you’re okay is so fucking grueling. I wouldn’t choose this system. I’m telling the truth about an unjust system.”
I was not wrong about this specific thing. Trying to make twice as much money as you need in preparation for having kids is a fine, fine endeavor. In fact, how about twice as much of everything. Like be twice as physically fit as you’re okay with being, and have twice the network you need to make your career work. Just more. Just more of everything so when the walls crumble there’s something left in the ruins. Minimalism is really popular right now and I like a tiny cactus as much as anyone, but when it comes to life itself I am a goddamn maximalist. I’d rather do twelve projects and have nine failures than nurture one tiny little trying-to-be-perfect thing.
In my own, pre-baby life, I could not really have foreseen which of my dozen projects would crumble and which would be left standing in the ruins. The major thing I gave up in having children was long stretches of time during which I could concentrate. And at least while I was pregnant, taking care of young children, or on high alert while someone else was taking care of my young children, I was also mentally unable to concentrate – it’s a postpatrum phenomenon called “hypervigilance” – even if I had the time. (And honestly, try doing any kind of creative work while calculating what you’re paying for every half-hour of babysitting. Oh look, you had a thought that didn’t work out … that’s $10. You were stuck on a paragraph … you wasted at least thirty bucks.)
My e-commerce empire, though — that has felt quite natural for me to run while turning my life into a maternity ward. But if you had told my pre-baby self that, after two children, it would be easier to manage a physical warehouse full of 5,000 products than to sit down at a laptop and write a blog post … well, what the fuck kind of sense does that make? I couldn’t have known. Maximalism saves the day.
So here we are. And now that I’m back, and you’re back, what’s next?
On the Bullish agenda:
- New programming in The Bullish Society
- The 2020 conference – save the date
- All kinds of articles all up in here! Just keep checking back. I’m not going to promise an article every Wednesday or something because that’s how you get unnecessary listicles.
And, of course, the store never went on hiatus in the least. (Fun fact: aside from myself, our entire warehouse staff is made up of models, dancers, and puppeteers. This has no bearing on the speedy arrival of your packages. I just thought you’d want to know that this warehouse is fucking fabulous.)
So, welcome back. Welcome back to me, too. This is Bullish.
Come to BullCon!