Stephanie Zhong is a marketing & brand storytelling coach, copywriter, social justice advocate and the founder of Dear Anne Media.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m a marketing and brand storytelling coach, copywriter, and social justice advocate. I help purpose-driven companies and rising thought leaders find and tell their unique brand stories to grow their impact and influence in the world.
My company, Dear Anne Media, is named after my childhood hero Anne Frank, who taught me that anyone – even a 13 year-old girl – can change the world with her story. She empowered me to start writing at 12, and inspired me to seek out and learn from other people’s stories – especially those from underrepresented or marginalized groups.
My favorite feeling is the moment I help my clients uncover the hidden gems of their personal or organizational story, that become the ideas that spread for their business.
I’ve also developed an online course called Own Your Message, from my insider experience as a former journalist, podcast producer, writing instructor and marketing director. It pulls together tricks of the trade I’ve learned about compelling storytelling into a step-by-step framework.
It’s a powerful process that helps you crystallize the message only you were meant to tell. And helps you stand out naturally as an authority in your industry.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
As a creative professional, I resisted having a routine for years. I thought that sticking to a schedule would make me less creative. In reality, the opposite is true and research shows that structure can boost creativity. I got serious about creating structure that worked with who I am.
Through trial and error, I’ve learned I thrive best on a daily mix of structure and flexibility. I’m a parent and a business owner, so I have to switch up the routine every few months or when my family or I go through a major life change.
There are three things that stay constant no matter what. First, I devote the first hour of my day to meditation and prayer to center myself before I check email, or tend to the outside world.
Second, I identify my top 3 priorities for each week and put them on an index card to help me stay focused on achieving what matters in my work or personal life.
Third, I write the 3 things I need to do today on an index card, to make sure the most critical tasks get done. It keeps me from chasing sparkly objects, or going down rabbit holes when I jump into my email or on social media.
During this pandemic, there isn’t a typical day for me. But by sticking with these 3 principles, I end up feeling purposeful and productive no matter how I get there by the end of the day.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I’ve been remote working for over 10 years now. I’ve had three businesses and ran all of them from home, collaborating with clients online. My last position with a national nonprofit also involved a mix of remote working and monthly travel for in-person meetings.
I actually left that position because I wanted to have more in-person contact! But realize that the clients I’m inspired to work with are based everywhere – so I’m grateful for the crazy abundance of online tools we have.
It took time to learn how to “shut off” when remote working because you can definitely work anytime. I think the 24-7 nature of work is extremely unhealthy and ultimately, counterproductive. It’s a big problem in America, maybe in Australia, you are all more balanced.
I let clients know that I’m off on weekends and will respond to their emails when I’m back on Monday. I turn off notifications that things that ring or buzz when I’m doing deep work. I shut off at 6pm. If I do happen to decide to work a late night, I stay offline and delay my emails to go out the next day during typical work hours.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance means that I make time for what matters most in my business and my personal life without burning myself out. It looks different from week to week. Sometimes, my family needs me more attention and I shift the balance of hours more towards my kids or my mom.
Other times, I’m working on a big client project or course launch, and will make more time for that. I’ve learned to communicate in advance with my family, and plan my schedule in partnership with my husband. Balance when you’re in a relationship with someone is a team effort.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I restarted the habit of putting my 3 top priorities for the week, and 3 daily tasks on index cards. It’s been a God-send during the pandemic to have that laser focus when things change daily.
I’ve started and stopped morning yoga. I did 30-minutes a day for two years and it’s done wonders for my energy and focus when I do it. Honestly, I’ve stopped during the pandemic and think it’s time to get back to it!
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I recommend the book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. It’s helped me train my mind to find the hidden opportunity in every challenge. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp helped me break through some negative habits that hampered my creativity. And anything by Maya Angelou when I need to nurture my spirit and reconnect to my humanity.
As a podcast addict it’s impossible to choose. Skimm’d From the Couch which features honest, in-depth interviews with a variety of womxn founders and what they learned while scaling their empires and influence.
I’d like to shamelessly plug a podcast I’m developing right now called One Small Thing. It’s an audio documentary about the ripple effects that unexpectedly happen when kids in a small town decide to follow through on a simply, yet impossible idea.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I count Evernote to save and organize everything in my life so that I can find it easily. On my desk sits a Rosa Parks Barbie. I never liked dolls growing up, but my husband bought this one knowing how much I admire the quiet courage and power of Rosa Parks. Kindle to reading and highlighting all my great reads.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Michelle Obama. Also my friend and career coach Octavia Goredema. She seems to have found the magic elixir for scaling a business while practicing self-care.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Be clear on what truly matters to you and plan time in your calendar to achieve them. Don’t compare and despair. Celebrate small wins. And give yourself the grace and space to fail, learn and grow.
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