2020 snapped me out of professional autopilot. The intense pressure of protecting my personal health, supporting my family and friends, and meeting my clients’ needs during a pandemic/recession/New Civil Rights movement/wave of environmental disasters has brought up a lot of feelings. The BIG feelings, as we like to say to my very expressive 5-year-old daughter. Anger. Pride. Anxiety. Gratitude. Sadness. Joy.

And that was just on a typical Tuesday.

While I am stuck in my house, I do know I’m not alone in that. That’s why I decided to invite my friend and frequent collaborator Laurie Ruettimann to give the keynote address at Managing Editor Live this year. She has a new book coming out in January, “Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career,” which struck me as the perfect message for the time we’re in now.

We recently caught up on the phone as we began planning her talk, and I wanted to share a few highlights of that conversation.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote this book because I used to work in human resources, and I wasn’t very good at it. I decided to take all the lessons that I learned from that experience and share them in a way that wouldn’t bore people to death. I’m on a mission to democratize HR, which means letting people know that if they prioritize their well-being and lean heavily into self-leadership, they don’t even need human resources. They can do a lot of this themselves.

One of the recurring ideas in your speaking and writing is the importance of self-leadership. What do you mean by that?

Before I knew anything about myself, I knew that I believed in self-leadership because I had always practiced this art of individual accountability. I’ve always felt accountable for my outcomes — No matter where I fell on the org chart, no matter what title I had or didn’t have, or whether or not somebody was looking or not. I was raised with this weird American sense that my performance and success are directly related to how much effort I put into it. Now, I know there are all kinds of systemic reasons why that’s a lie at times. However, I have found that in general, when I prioritize my wellbeing and take ownership of my work, whether I succeed or fail, doors open for me.

2020 has been a tough year for a lot of people. How do we lead ourselves through challenging times like this?

We must know what we stand for and what we believe. Years ago, because I’m a woman and because I was raised in the 90s, I went to therapy. My therapist had me do this simple exercise, in which she had me answer the question “What do you know to be true?”

So I created this list for myself: I believe that people are inherently good. I believe that a job worth doing is worth doing well. And I believe a Margarita can solve a lot of problems.

This exercise forced me to understand my values and hold myself accountable for putting them into action. For example, if I believe people are inherently good, then if I go to work and have conflicts, it can’t be because the people I work with are evil and out to get me.

Having that framework has allowed me to give myself permission to take a moment and dig a little deeper. That kind of structure can be helpful during a pandemic, social unrest or economic turmoil. Today is not tomorrow. And today may feel like the world is on fire, but tomorrow will definitely look different.

Wait, when did you become an optimist?

I think the world is generally terrible, but human beings have a weird way of surviving and thriving. We’re adaptable in really magnificent and beautiful ways.

Content marketing as a profession is a bit of a wild ride right now, with titles, pay, and responsibilities all over the place. What is your advice to people trying to figure out how to make their way in that kind of career?

I think that’s really the future of work.

Not only are these professional jobs all over the map, but some of them are full-time, some of them are part-time, and some of them are part of the gig economy. You are expected to do just about everything and tap dance to earn your supper. And it’s just the insidious, terrible nature of the future of work.

I think we get through this by establishing strong relationships. Stop competing with other people and start actually doing what labor unions wanted us to do, which is getting together, forming a network, and sharing information.

Sharing information is important because we’re not going to take a job for 10 to 20% lower if we know somebody who’s doing that job who’s earning more money, right? It gives us a little bit more opportunity to be brave, to stand up for ourselves. But we can’t do that until we start to assemble, which means viewing other people as collaborators, not competitors.

So, I think that’s really the opportunity of Managing Editor in your community; you’ve got a place where people can come, they can share information, and they can talk about what they do. And frankly, they can do it without their employer or their clients looking over their shoulders. It’s really a labor movement, Mary Ellen, which is why I love it.

Ah, you are totally on to me.

It’s about our ability to organize for our own best interests. For years, I worked for these companies that were unapologetically about putting their interests first.

And it’s not like, when I worked at Pfizer, they took a look at the marketplace and said, oh, I’ve got mommy and daddy issues, I don’t deserve to be successful. We’re going to let AstraZeneca have a good quarter ever. No. They think, if we’re not dominating, we’re going to cut expenses, reconfigure and spend money to attract the talent we need to win.

When I realized how cutthroat those decisions were, that’s when I changed my life and decided to start running my own life like a business. The business “Laurie Ruettimann” can kick butt and take names, but not if I’m weighed down by emotional trauma, baggage and guilt and shame, and all the BS that comes from just being a human being in 2020. I’ve got to put that to the side, or the very least, make an effort to get over it so that I can get on to the good stuff. That’s what life is all about.

What’s the good stuff?

The good stuff is our relationships. Our feelings. Having the freedom to make decisions without fear.

Miss the conference? You can still watch Laurie’s keynote for the inspiration and tools you need to shape the next chapter of your career. Her book is now available for pre-order.