Steph Smith is an award-winning maker and digital nomad. She blogs at stephsmith.io. In this interview she tell us why consistency is key and the importance of long term thinking and the quantified self.
She is truly an inspiration.
Hi, could you introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m Steph. Four years ago, I left consulting and a 2+ hour commute to redesign my life. Now I work remotely, growth marketer, writer, and indie maker. For the past year, I’ve been working full-time at The Hustle, working on their latest product, Trends. Prior to that, I spent 3 years at Toptal, most recently leading their Publications team.
I love remote work and write about it over at my blog, alongside continuous improvement, women in tech, and learning to code. Since inception last year, I've been lucky to have over 300k+ read my thoughts.
How did you get into your current field?
It’s a long story and certainly a non-linear path. Just 5 years ago, I finished my degree in chemical engineering. Throughout university, I worked in laboratories and did multiple research projects: one in civil engineering, one in forensic science, one in liquid crystal displays, and another in battery material discovery. I found the analytical work compelling, but unusually slow-moving. So, after university I decided to try out management consulting. There were things I loved about that role as well, but I knew almost immediately that the 2h+ commute daily and the bureaucracy wasn’t for me.
I spent almost a year looking for a remote role that would allow me to travel the world, while still advancing my career. I happened to luck out on a growth marketing role at Toptal, and spent years there. That was truly my introduction into technology and ever since then, I’ve been obsessed. Throughout the past few years, I decided that I wanted to expand my skillset, so I’ve learned to code, design, and write. I think that our workforce is only getting more fluid, so who knows where I’ll be in 5 years.
What are your goals?
I actually publicly share my goals online. I think it’s a nice little way to stay accountable. In 2019, I shared my goals openly here, but I’ve been behind on updating it to 2020. I did publish an article with my 2020 goals, including:
📈 Hitting $3k MRR
✏️ Writing articles biweekly
💌 Reaching 5k email subs
⛓ Learning to automate
💪 Hiring support
🏃♀️ Exercising 182 days
📚 Reading 18 books
📘 Starting to writing my own book
🐌 Finally "slomading” (with COVID-19, looks like this one will be a certainty!)
👫 Invest in relationship
I do have some very long-term goals, but I don’t focus as much on these, as I have learned that life is too fluid and often these shift if they’re any more than 1 year out.
How to deal with setbacks? What kept you from getting discouraged?
There’s a couple things that have helped me here.
For one, I think having a longer term horizon is super helpful. A couple bad days within a week can feel like the end of the world, but across your entire lifetime is a drop in the bucket. The most important thing is that you are continuously progressing, even if it feels slow. One of my most popular articles is about exactly this, titled How to be Great? Just Be Good Repeatably, since I think it’s easy for many of us to forget this and get discouraged when we hit local minima.
The other advice I’d give, which I struggle to do at times, is to stop comparing yourself to others. Everything you see online is somewhat fabricated. Even if it’s “true”, it’s only a sliver of the larger picture. And it’s everyone sharing the best parts of their lives or their greatest successes. You rarely see the hard work or the fumbles that precede the “wins”. So despite it being difficult, try your best not to compare yourself to others, as that will exaggerate your failures.
What project are you most proud of?
This is a hard question! It’s like asking a mother which is her favourite child. I don’t think it’s necessarily the most impressive, but my favourite is Eunoia. It’s a searchable directory that I built in 24 hours and have pretty much not touched since. Somehow, it still gets shared a lot because I think many people share my love for languages (even though I can only speak one!).
You made FeMake- the home of data on female makers. What can the maker community do to foster more female talent?
There are so many aspects of this equation that make it painfully complicated. However, one thing that I learned directly from the FeMake project was that I think we need to spend more time celebrating female role models. I often see people on Twitter, for example, who will start threads saying “Who are the best people you follow?” and the thread is just riddled with all men. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with elevating the work of a man, but these subtle cues teach us who is worth praising; who matters.
We need to do a better job of showcasing the amazing work that many women are already doing and that was partially my goal in the end product of FeMake. Let’s raise all boats. I wrote more about my thoughts post-FeMake here.
How do you stay productive?
I track literally everything. I track my daily progress across each goal in a spreadsheet so that I have evidence of my performance and accountability.
I think this is the most important step that anyone can take. We are quick to set KPIs in our business or work lives, yet rarely set them and measure them in our personal lives. Without this tracking, many people have little idea how they’re doing, and more specifically how their daily habits impact their progress.
For example, say that someone wants to learn to code. Instead of tracking their daily progress towards the goal, they often just set a high level goal (perhaps at New Years) that they have the intention to learn. They may spend a few days invested over the course of a few weeks before eventually quitting. If you were to ask them about how much time they invested in the process and more importantly, what was working or not working, they typically have little idea.
I use a Google spreadsheet not only as tracking, but to further understand how I operate. I track anything that is important in my life, including learning to code, exercise, contacting my family, writing, and more. My spreadsheet feeds directly into my Open page, which I share publicly for additional accountability.
You are an advocate for the digital nomad lifestyle. What advice can you give to people who want more freedom in their lives?
It’s not so much that I’m an advocate for the lifestyle, but instead that people should have more freedom to live and work as they see fit. If you want to live in a new country every month, great! If you want to work at home and spend more time with your kids, more power to you!
I think remote work was held back for a very long time simply because of tradition, not because remote work was somehow less effective. We’re seeing this now with so many people testing it out during COVID-19. I would encourage people to really focus on isolating what parts of their job move the needle. Once you do that, focus on those parts of your job and not the others that “keep you busy”. If you can prove to your boss (and yourself) that you can move the needle, regardless of where you are, what hours you work, etc… it’s difficult to say no. I wrote more about my thoughts on remote work in this interview and in multiple articles at my blog.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I do not! I look up to and appreciate the work of many people, but I don’t have any mentors that I regularly meet with. I probably should, but I don’t. Instead, I try to read often and learn from a large subset of people that are much wiser than I am.
Do you mentor anybody?
I’ve done some mentorship in the past, but at the moment, I’m not actively mentoring. I think I’d like to get back to it, but I would prefer to stick with a mentor long-term that I know I can tangibly support. Sometimes when I get mentorship requests, I don’t even have the chops to help that individual! So I want to find mentees that I can support for a very long time, that is going through obstacles that I can actually be helpful with.
What’s the best way to keep up with what you are doing?
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