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Life and Work with Chiara Burns

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chiara Burns.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Chiara. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I didn’t learn to read until I was seven years old.

I was stuck in a body-cast that summer, which was the only reason anyone could get me to sit still long enough to learn my letters. I’ve always been a living pinball machine. Call it restless, excitable, or just good ol’ ADHD, but I have two modes: GO and asleep.

Confined to a bed, I spent that formative four months wandering where I could: the pages of beginner reader books, the grainy mise en scene of VHS tapes, and the endless lands of a PS1 console. I trace my love of storytelling back to that summer of broken bones and new worlds.

From that point on, it was never a question of what I wanted to do. I always knew. It’s only ever been a matter of “how do I get there?” I knew I wanted to put words on paper, play in universes that don’t exist, occasionally wax philosophical, and never have a steady office job. Naturally, I got an English degree.

When I graduated from college a year early, I decided to move to Thailand to teach English and study Muay Thai while I figured out what the hell I was going to do with said degree. Living abroad gave me the inspiration I needed. Nine months later, I came home to CA pregnant with a litter of idea-babies about the kind of life I wanted to carve out for myself. One of these seedling ideas was to make a living as a remote marketing writer.

My portfolio was limited to college essays and a few travel blogs I’d written while living in Thailand. I had no real credentials.

So, I did what anyone would do.

I started a business.

It’s pretty simple when it’s just a sole proprietorship. You pick a name, stick it in a newspaper to make sure that name hasn’t been claimed, and fill out some paperwork. BAM, small business owner. That’s how my sole proprietorship, Write Away Content, was born.

I quickly learned that starting a business is easy. Getting business is the hard part.

For the first eight months, it was just me, my nose, and a grindstone. I showed up to in-person networking events where I was almost always the youngest person by twenty years, trying to get my portfolio in front of anyone who would look. I sent hundreds of applications to remote freelancing jobs. I worked for pennies. I wrote for PC gaming sites, B2B software companies, PR firms, carpet cleaning franchises… I said yes to every opportunity that came my way. Some of it was exciting, some of it wasn’t (the things I could tell you about rug fibers).

And then, I landed my first full-time gig as an independent contractor for a hospitality branding firm. I spent the next year creating the stories behind luxury hotels, and occasionally traveling to them. One thing led to another, one client to the next, and today, I’m working with a fabulous, SD-based HubSpot consulting agency called Chief Martech Officer.

I still do a little freelance through Write Away, but most of my working hours go towards CMO’s B2B tech and software clients. It’s everything I love about freelance—remote and flexible hours—but with the warm security blanket of a W2 contract, and a BRILLIANT team that ranks high in the HubSpot Directory.

The freedom to craft my own schedule maximizes my productivity in the sense that I work when my mind is most focused, hit the gym when I’m mentally drained, and write fiction in those late-early hours when no one else seems to be awake.

In other words, it’s ideal!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road to anything worthwhile is full of potholes, obstacles, and the occasional viper. It’s up to you to hold the course, even when nothing seems to go right and no one can see the destination but you.

As for struggles along the way, mine weren’t/aren’t unique. Finding good work can be hard. Networking, especially for a digital generation, is hard. When you’re taking an unconventional path (i.e., not the 9-5) and trying to get a project off the ground, there will be days when you feel so exhausted and hopeless that you don’t want to get out of bed.

You get up anyway.

My #1 piece of advice is to train yourself to be resilient. That means different things to different people, but my strategy is something like:

(1) Shit happens

(2) How can I take this shit and transmute it into gold?

About two weeks after I came home from Thailand, our tiny papillon, Yeti, was mauled to death by a pitbull right outside of our house. It was the ugliest, most violent thing I’d ever seen. Coupled with the effect it had on my mom, the grief was more than I thought I could handle.

But whenever you get hit with something deeply painful (dog killed, sexual assault, family member passes, loved one falls ill, partner cheats, or any of the other tragedies we hairless monkeys experience in a lifetime) I think you arrive at a crossroads. You can either let it harden you, making you bitter and afraid; or you can do the exact opposite, and transmute trauma into gold.

Take everything that hurts, everything that’s wrong in your world, and channel it. Emotional pain can be a catalyst for radical change in your life. Use it as fuel. When we lost Yeti, I hired a personal trainer, poured stupid long hours into getting Write Away Content off the ground, and loved on my family more than ever. It gave me a reason to fight harder to make things better for myself and my tribe.

My point is this. Life kicks everyone in the balls–welcome to the human experience–but reframing pain as a catalyst for positive change is a coping mechanism that will take you far.

Which leads to a second, related piece of advice. This is specifically for young women starting on their journey: Not everyone is going to like your work or like you.

Be okay with that.

Learn to love rejection, or at least reframe it as an opportunity to learn. When people say “no” or flat-out don’t like what you’re doing, see if you can glean any wisdom from the situation. Then, move on. If they don’t like your work, it’s rarely personal. If they don’t like you, hey, guess what, it doesn’t actually matter.

This has been a hard lesson for me. I think it’s an especially difficult lesson for young women because our culture judges women on their likability. Do you know how men are significantly more likely to negotiate their salary than women? There’s a reason for it. Women are conditioned from a very young age to be agreeable. Whereas men are encouraged to be assertive and take charge, women face a social penalty for it. (This is a real thing. Check out “likability bias.”)

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re the nicest, most gentle human on our little blue space rock, there will still be people who don’t like you. The friggin’ Dalai Lama has a huge group of detractors. Haters gonna hate, as the kids say. So, with that in mind, that you will never please everyone, you may as well just be your damn self and do what you love.

Please tell us about what you do.
I’m a Jill-of-all-trades. I studied a lot of studio art and photography, ended up with an English degree, and now work as a marketing copywriter in B2B tech and software.

Three things that set me apart as a copywriter are:

(1) I’m not afraid of the blank page.

(2) I quickly grasp complex systems and processes and can translate them into layman’s terms. It comes in handy when writing about all the technical stuff.

(3) I love to learn and explore new things. It’s a quality that makes me good at my work. It’s also what makes me a bit of a wanderer/nomad and well-suited to working remotely.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
The challenges facing women have always been there. The fact that the issues are receiving media coverage is itself an opportunity. After all, bringing issues to light is the first step to fixing them. Aware of the obstacles, we’re better equipped to handle them. We can make a conscious effort to changing the status quo. And we are.

It’s hard to see sometimes because we’re in it, but the change is real, and it’s reflected in the media of our age. It’s in our stories—or our cultural myths, as Joseph Campbell would say. Look at a YA section at a bookstore and you’ll see a host of strong heroines. Same with the movies. More minority actresses are getting lead parts (still not enough, but it’s a start). Diversified workplaces. The growing number of female leaders being spotlighted and celebrated in our lifetime.

As for opportunities that women are particularly well-positioned for, I’m not sure I follow the question. I will say that in my experience, I’ve found my best opportunities under female leaders (i.e., current and past bosses). There’s a level of mentorship and understanding there that can’t really be matched. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure women are well-positioned for any particular role. I think you get what you fight for, even though in some circumstances you might have to work a little harder and dig a little deeper than your male peers.

But are the opportunities out there?

Yes.

Opportunity is everywhere for the relentless woman who knows what she wants.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.writeawaycontent.com (outdated, I mostly work from referrals now)
  • Email: chiara@writeawaycontent.com
  • Instagram: fightlikeawarriorprincess

Image Credit:
Jen Bergren, Zai Vang

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