Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: April 2016

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Accidental Internet Fame and Life Lessons for Anne... in India

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I recently stumbled my way into digital fame... in India. And learned that accidental internet fame comes with a price - your life lessons

Here is my take on how to lead a life without regret - tips based on my life experiences, as requested, by the young enthusiast in India.  

Leyla's Life Lessons
Life Lessons from Leyla?
Maybe it's not that ridiculous.

Who remembers Quora? 

Quora is the question and answer site, popularity has fizzled in the U.S. but I still use the service - and apparently, so do people in India. I'm a Quora lurker. I read tech-related or lifestyle focused questions and answers. I rarely comment or post an answer - but I did recently - and here's what happened.

One morning I read the question: "What's it like to not get married and live alone?" I became sad for the person who worried about something that seemed so silly - marriage doesn't guarantee happiness. But then I recalled a time when similar nonsense worried me too, so I answered the question.

I wanted to be positive and uplifting yet truthful. I replied from my phone, as I was still in bed. I typed a quick answer and added a few pictures. It took me 15 minutes to craft the response. I didn't think about it again until the Quora notifications started.

My answer was upvoted by an influential member of the Quora community which started a ripple effect - generally how internet fame works. Then I started to get more activity, including 200+ comments - mostly from India. I replied to many of the comments, including ones that were quite personal. Take into consideration that comments were coming from a country where one does not have sex without marriage.

Stats on my answer to the question:
"What's it like to not get married and live your life alone"

If you read the comments on my answer, you may understand why I felt like I had to respond as I did. My words were few and written in haste but the reactions to my answer were intense. The gratitude, the curiosity, and the emotion expressed by commenters made me feel like I had a responsibility to honor.

Facebook friend requests and tweets came pouring in. One guy tweeted me about the link in my Quora bio, it was misspelled! I fixed it immediately. My internet fame was exciting and I wanted ensure my new friends had access all the digital Leyla they desired.

Next came the email from a young woman named Anne. Possibly the greatest compliment I've ever received.

A lovely email from a young woman in India.
I'm Anne, I'm a college grad from India. I just read a few articles about you that led me to your website here. I was actually inspired by the way you live your life and I realised somehow, somewhere I want to be able to live that kind of life.

And I say that in the most non-creepiest way possible. I am not a follower, I want to be able to do that in my own way. But some tips from you about it would be great. I want to be able to say I don't regret any decisions that I make/made for myself. And you just set a great example for me in that aspect.

I'm sorry if this took a lot from your time. But I would be SO HAPPY if you could just take a bit of your time to reply to a young enthusiast.

I was humbled to receive this note but I did not feel qualified to answer. Had I been misleading? My life was not planned and I've made more mistakes than anyone I know. I asked Anne to clarify.

How did you decided to pursue digital marketing, what made you take that direction was Anne's first question. Part one of my response on how to lead a life without regret is what follows. I will answer Anne's remaining questions with additional posts in the days to come.

I took a few wrong turns and eventually headed in the right direction.

I earned a degree in communications from a state school and worked in advertising for a number of years after graduating from college. I bounced around various agencies, working in promotional advertising, entertainment and event marketing for big clients. I liked the work but didn't enjoy the lifestyle of the agency world. I shifted to the corporate side but stayed in the same field. Eventually, I found myself working for a privately owed restaurant chain running their private event sales.

Backpacking in Europe 1995
Leyla at age 23
Backpacking (alone) in Europe

I was laid off in October of 2008. Shortly after I was let go, we experienced "the great recession". On Christmas Eve day I saw my dream job posted online. The position was for for Vice President of Event Marketing with a large bank. I applied immediately. I received a call from their Human Resources team a few days later. By the New Year, I had submitted over 300 resumes and landed only one interview.

After several rounds of interviews, they went with an internal candidate. I was crushed and became horribly depressed. I spent a month of feeling sorry for myself before I decided I could no longer sit around and wait for something to happen. So I went to Vegas for a weekend and ended up winning $3,500 playing craps - true story.

Leyla makes things happen with champagne
Leyla making things happen
And drinking champagne

I was in the right place at the worst time in history and I made it work.

In early 2009, the U.S. was facing an economic crisis, our banks were crashing and we had the highest unemployment rate since the depression era. Marketing and advertising professionals had it much worse, for us the unemployment rate was more than double the average rate. This meant that my colleagues and I were faced with nearly 35% unemployment rate (by some accounts).

Suicide was not uncommon. Everyday there was another news story about an unemployed senior level executive who threw him or herself in front of train or off a building. Many of my close personal friends lost their jobs, their homes and their life savings. One friend took his own life. The world as I knew it was coming apart at the seams. It was in this madness that I decided to start my own business. After all, what did I have to lose?


Digital marketing hadn't quite hit the mainstream marketing and advertising world and social media was barely a consideration for many organizations. My friends in "traditional" marketing and advertising roles had either lost their jobs or they were about to lose their jobs. But my friends who worked in "new media", or in the startup world, seemed to be flourishing. I knew the landscape of the business world was changing but I wasn't sure where I would fit in.

Over the years, I stayed in touch with an old boyfriend, he was running a small startup. Throughout the course of our relationship, as a couple and as friends, I thought of him as an unofficial mentor. Although we failed romantically, we complemented each other in other ways. He was ambitious and fast and I was smart and cautious. I often looked to him when I needed a kick in the ass, he turned to me when he needed someone to pick up his dry cleaning. Or to mastermind a calculated plan of attack.

In part, he was the one who encouraged me to take this direction and make the career change into digital marketing. I ignored him a lot over the years but I'm glad I listened when he said that social media would take over the world.

Recap of Leyla's Life Lessons: 

  1. Never stay too long any place where you aren't happy -- it's might be a sign that something needs to change. 
  2. Look for solutions -- a Lotus flower grows in shallow murky waters.
  3. Take advice from smart people -- they may be useless in one regard but helpful in others, take what you need and forget the rest.  

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