Dichotomies in Career and the Craft

I've noticed several dichotomies in my approach to work lately. I wanted to share them with you because perhaps you can relate. Stream of conscious-style here they are: Hustle and Margin.I'm passionate about hustling to make an impact but I'm passionate about making sure I have margin in my life. How do I work hard to make an impact and also have breathing room? 

Thriving on working with others. Thriving on working alone. I absolutely love creating a story on stage with a creative team and cast but spending my days alone in my sunny home office are irreplaceable. So am I a person who likes to work on a team or work alone? 

Energized by working hard all day. Energized by doing nothing productive all day. Lately I've worked so hard for so many days in a row nothing has been sweeter than watching 3 episodes of the Today Show *in a row.* (God bless that DVR.) Why is it that sometimes doing nothing productive at all makes me just as happy as having a killer day executing my passion? 

Aspiring to influence. Aspiring to seclusion. Part of me wants to leave a widespread legacy. Part of me wants to live acres away from my closest neighbor. Is it possible to be both influential and enjoy privacy in this reality show/social media platform era? 

Being moved by the roar of an audience. Wanting to avoid the crowd after the show. Nothing is more moving than an audience that shows appreciation at the end of a performance. But sometimes nothing can be more uncomfortable than milling about amidst the audience afterward. Why is it that chatting with patrons and taking in their kind words can be so uncomfortable after I've just braved looking like a fool in front of them en masse on stage? 

Do you have dichotomies in your work? Does any of this resonate with you? I'd love to hear your perspective.

April/May: HSL Creative Around the Web

It's been another great month for HSL Creative! (Ok, well two months since we didn't produce our digest in April.) April and May work included the content below as well as a ton of social media coverage, producing the monthly newsletters for Virginia's Region 2000, continuing to teach social media classes at Southern New Hampshire University and some new writing projects that should be published next month. As always, thank you for reading! Couldn't do what I love if there weren't people who stopped to read it.

HSL Creative Blog

How to Stay Calm During Transitions Finding Margin: Confessions of a Wayward Blogger 10 Quick Tips to Increase Productivity

The Clutch Guide

5 Tips to De-Stress5 Things to Do Now That the Weather is Warming UpMy Top 10 Summer Reads


Tragedy at Fort Hood | April 2, 2014Happy Stephen Colbert Day | April 10, 2014We're Thinking of You, Maren Sanchez | April 25, 2014Benghazi is Back | May 2, 2014May 7, 2014Hernandez Charged with Murder | May 15, 2014"I'm bigoted." | May 22, 2014

Finding Margin: Confessions of a Wayward Blogger

Hilary Sutton
Hilary Sutton

Hi, my name is Hilary and I’m a social media and writing professional who left my blog dormant for a month.

*Hangs Head in Shame*

But I have to catch you up on what’s been happening, why I haven’t written here consistently in the past six weeks and what I’ve been mulling over.

April (and the first 2 weeks of May) was busy.

Crazy busy.

Nutso busy.

Leave the blog dormant busy. 

They say that if you’re “too busy” for something that simply means it’s “not a priority.” While I do think blogging is an important aspect of my work, in this case “they” are right on the money.

I set the blog aside because I’ve been working long hours.

The good news is that I’ve been working long hours doing what I love.

I’ve been teaching a 300-level social media course for the first time at Southern New Hampshire University. I’ve been spending my weekends (and some week day mornings) performing in Disney’s MARY POPPINS at a 550-seat venue. I’ve been working as a part of a social media marketing team (of which I assure you I am the least cool/creative) for several Broadway shows as we head into Tony season. I’ve been helping to steer a social presence for a news startup. I’ve been editing and writing for a local magazine. I’ve been working with other local nonprofits to tell their unique and exciting stories. 

And I’ve also been wrestling with ideas like: 

Margin vs. Hustle.

Where’s the balance between making sure you have work/life balance and hustling to do great and impactful work? 

I knew that achieving balance for me over the past six weeks meant that I needed to put the “pause” button on my blog. I only had so much time, energy, creativity and mental toughness to give to my work. I knew that blogging each week over the past six weeks would have put me over my max. 

I need balance. I need to be able to have the time and energy to have a conversation with my husband each day, to get out and go for a run in my neighborhood, to call my mom. 

And it would seem that blogging is a cornerstone of my career and what is important on a daily basis but over the past six weeks it simply didn’t make the cut. 

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I’m recalibrating. My goal for the next season is to blog consistently, provide you some food for thought and helpful content that will help you achieve your goals.

Thanks for hanging with me through this quiet spring. I needed that respite to provide excellence to my clients and to you. 

Check back soon for new posts. More to come soon. 

How to Stay Calm During Transitions

May is a season of major milestones and transitions. We've all experienced transitions of varying stress levels. Whether you're moving from student to graduate, single to married, childless to parent, or resident of one state to resident of another, transitions are exciting moments in which we know life will never be the same. Here are five tips to move through transitions effectively:

1. Be present. During the heightened emotion and excitement of transitional periods it’s so easy for it all to become a blur. This is one of my own greatest challenges during a period of transitions–being still and taking it all in. It’s so easy to jump ahead to the wedding day, the moment when you’re holding a baby in your arms, or even to worrying about what life will be like after college. Be intentional about engaging in the present.

2. Take stock. Transitional periods are a great time to evaluate your life. Are you pursuing your goals or are you just kind of going along with the life that seems to happen for you? Are you on the path to the career, relationship, calling that you desire and are meant to pursue? Now is a good time to look around and make necessary bold choices to get to the place you want to be.

3. Talk with supportive friends. Transitions are times of increased stress. Nothing is more therapeutic than letting it out and talking with trusted friends and family. Let your inner circle be there for you.

4. Prioritize. Plan your time based on what is most important. Be intentional. Make time for the people who matter most. What are the most important ways for you to spend your time during this period? What will matter to you looking back? A grade? Quality time with a loved one? How wise you were with your finances?

5. Don’t make decisions out of fear. When forging through times of change it is easy to freeze up and not make decisions at all or worse– make decisions based on fear. Look fear in the face and articulate the “worst case scenario.” When you say it, you can extinguish its power. Move forward with courage.

What has helped you through times of transitions?

Hilary is Principal of HSL Creative, a writing and social media firm. Learn more



How to Launch Dual Careers

Here on the HSL Creative blog I tend to focus on social media, marketing, writing and goal setting. I haven't chatted too much about my other career focus: acting. I wrote last year on Levo League's website about my dual career approach. It seemed to really resonate with people. So today I want to share some thoughts on launching two careers.

As a stage actor, one piece of advice that I hear over and over is, “If you can imagine yourself doing anything else, go do it.” But in 2012, the unemployment rate for actors was 28.5 percent. The life of an actor is hard; we spend most of our time working side jobs and going through what workers in other fields would consider the “application process.” For actors in places like New York and LA, the “job” is pounding the pavement every day going to auditions. The reward is when you actually get cast and someone wants to pay you for the work you have been putting in all along.

A few years ago when I was following that “only-focus-your-energy-on-being-an-actor” advice, I had an epiphany. I was working at a clothing store in Soho folding sweaters at approximately 12:30 a.m. I worked only at night so my days could be available for auditions. I had accepted the grueling life of auditioning during the day and working an hourly job at night, hoping that I would soon book a show. Then it hit me: I saw no certain end to this future of folding sweaters. Yes, maybe I would get a gig, but then I would go right back to folding sweaters when that show closed. I didn’t want to fold sweaters for years to come!

So I decided to recalibrate. I did some soul searching. I decided to further my education by getting a master’s degree in media, a field that was in higher demand. Since then I’ve steadily grown my freelance writing and social media management business, and the autonomy is extremely rewarding. I am able to continue performing in professional theatre without having to live on Ramen noodles. If this kind of dual-career life is something you’d like to pursue, I’ve got four tips for you:

1. Figure out your career goals. Can you succinctly visualize your end goal? Pursuing diverging career goals only works if you know exactly what you want. Don’t pursue a career in fashion design just because you happen to be good at it. You need that passion and drive as well. Flesh out your goals. Write them down and make a plan.

2. Do the romantic job, but collect at least one other skill that you can use on a regular basis. I am passionate about telling stories on stage. Unfortunately, the supply for stage actors far outweighs the demand. Hone a second skill that the marketplace regularly needs. Among my skills, my ability to craft a social media message somehow is more useful than my Julie Andrews impression. Supply a service that can meet a practical need.

3. Only do it if you can be incredibly organized. I have a color-coded calendar, a task list, and a daily schedule on my laptop. There is absolutely no way I would be able to juggle auditions, rehearsals, performances, deadlines, conference calls, and meetings without being supremely organized.

4. Get good at both. The bottom line is you can’t make it in two fields if you’re not serious about sacrificing for both crafts. More than one primary focus means you have to work that much harder than people who are just focused on one area. You have to read more. Practice more. Work more. Be better than your competition.

The good news is you don’t have to be a sell-out, and you can pursue your craft without being a starving artist. It takes passion, a commitment to excellence, and focus.

Does the dual career approach resonate with you? What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

Hilary teaches social media classes at Southern New Hampshire University and is currently in rehearsals for Alluvion Stage Company's MARY POPPINS. 

How to Make Your Web Content Sing (Like a Blockbuster Musical)

Your website is your best opportunity to introduce your organization to the world. A great website is like a well-told story--even better, it’s like a Blockbuster musical. A PHANTOM. A LES MIZ. A WICKED. A LION KING. What can we learn from the best of the best most successful blockbuster musicals (that still pull in a million a week on Broadway--not to mention their various incarnations around the world?) Here are five applications:

1. Mix it up. The best musicals have scores that take the audience on a journey. They include ballads, big production numbers, a song with one woman singing on an empty stage with a spotlight. The pages of your website shouldn’t all look and feel the same. Implement a variety of layouts, photo sizes, and word counts. People get such an influx of content on the web now, we skim for digestable content. So make sure all your pages don’t look the same at first glance. Give your audience variety. You need “Circle of Life” but you also need “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

2. Take a cue from the godfather of musicals. Living legend Stephen Sondheim said of good writing: “God is in the details.” The same is true for solid web content. Your “about” page, your “services” page, and especially your blog should be rich with specifics. If you are a nonprofit include specific stories of lives changed. Paint a very specific vision. Think of the rich detail in Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

3. Have a through line. Every character in a musical needs a through line. He needs to know what he wants, what is driving him, what his purpose is throughout the entire 2 and a half hour story. The same is true for your website. What is the overall message of your website? You should be able to articulate both your organization’s purpose and your website’s purpose. The Phantom wants to not only make Christine a star but wants her to love him and marry him. What does your website want?

4. Choose images, colors and fonts that are an exciting version of you. Do you associate a color with WICKED? Green perhaps? Be thoughtful with your web image. Choose a design that makes your business look just a little bit cooler. How do you want your business to be perceived? Cutting edge? Sophisticated? Creative? Environmentally friendly? Choose a design that reflects your business on its best day.

5. Have a logical beginning, middle and end. Your website should read like a book (or like a well-written musical). Just as we read left to right, your website should tell its story from left to right. You start with a friendly intro. (See mine here). The Prologue in Les Miserables tells Val Jean’s entire backstory so when the rest of the cast comes in for “At The End of the Day” we already know how far Val Jean has come and we’re rooting for him. After you give your readers a solid intro (prologue) tell your readers a little about where you’ve come from, what you have to offer and finish it off by giving them a way to contact you. Include what is necessary for them to understand your business--but don’t include eeeeverything. This is Les Mis the musical--not Les Mis the 1500 page novel.

A website that is on point is like a musical that makes a million every week. Implement these five steps and your website will definitely sing.

What do you think is a key aspect of a website that pops? What has worked for your business?

5 Lessons We Can Learn From the Most Retweeted Selfie of All Time

By now you've seen it MULTIPLE times. The selfie that crashed the internet. Ok, maybe not the internet but it did crash Twitter. WHOA. 

So being the social media specialist that I am, I can't help but ask, what can we learn from Ellen's selfie that made the internet go bananas? Here are five lessons that you can utilize in your own social media strategy.

*Internet breaking results not guaranteed. 

1. Levity is irreplaceable. It helps people relate to you. Why did people go nuts over the group selfie? Because it's something we would do. And it shows that these celebrities aren't taking themselves so seriously that they're not down for a little awkward-angled fun. Brainstorm ways to show that your brand doesn't take itself too seriously.

2. The marriage of various modes of media elicits dynamite results. If we hadn't seen Ellen and co. take this pic on TV it wouldn't have been retweeted so much. We were there for the moment Bradley stretched out his arm and took the pic so we feel like we were a part of it. That is the magic of TV + Social Media. If you really want to make your mark marry two forms of media. Maybe it's print + radio. Maybe it's Facebook + Youtube. Think outside the box. Hit your audience from two directions and they're way more likely to take notice.

3. Indulgent things like “selfies” need to be rare. This particular photo wouldn’t be special or nearly as popular if Ellen had posted selfies with everyone. There was only one Ellen Group Selfie. Maybe you should offer discounts less frequently. Perhaps you should scale back on how often you post on Facebook. What could you do less of to maximize your results?

4. Turning rules on their heads can have amazing results. You’re not supposed to take selfies, right? Didn't we all decide that it was narcissistic and juvenile? This is part of the reason this selfie worked. Sometimes you have to do the exact opposite of the rules in order to surprise and delight. So what rules should you ignore to make an impact?

5. Joining forces and not getting the credit can still do wonders for your business. Keep an open mind. Bradley Cooper took the pic but didn’t get to post it on his Twitter account. So it wasn't his Twitter account that blew up. He still got the payoff for being in the most retweeted selfie of all time. Sometimes we have to let go of the credit to ultimately see a payoff. Should you join forces with another small business to offer special combined services? Maybe you should take part in an event where your business is not the main sponsor? Sometimes taking a bit of a backseat reaps great rewards.

Have anything to add to this list? What did you think of Ellen's selfie? Did you retweet it? If so, do tell--what made you click "retweet"?

HSL Around the Web: February 2014



It's been another busy month around here! Magazine issues going to print, some ghostwriting projects, new social media clients and a plethora of articles published, take a look at where HSL has been around the web in the last 28 days! HSL Creative

7 Hacks for Shaking Off the Blahs and Getting Out of ProcrastiNation HSL Creative helmed the content writing on Board One Chess Academy's new website.

The Clutch Guide

3 free or low cost arts & culture events in Lynchburg One Year Later: 10 Lessons from the first year of marriage

Ben Stroup Enterprises

8 reasons CloudMagic is my mail app of choice
6 Ways Toggl has Made Us More Efficient

Profile Magazine

Data Fables: Advocate Health Care's information framework allows doctors to quickly assess a patient’s story

Hispanic Executive

If You Give a Man a Fish He Eats For a Day: Profile on Telacu's Michael Lizárraga 


Day in 10: February 6, 2014 | ‘If one of us dies of an overdose …’
Day in 10: February 13, 2014 | Al Roker vs. Bill de Blasio
Day in 10: February 20, 2014 | Hey, WhatsApp?
Day in 10: February 25, 2014 | Welcome to ‘Late Night,’ Seth Meyers!

HSL Creative: a story about discovering your purpose

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

And thus begins the launch of HSL Creative. After 13 years of school, 4 years of college, 4 years of living all over, 2 years of grad school, and finally supporting myself as a freelance writer, social media specialist and actor, this day has come. I'm not starting a new job this week but I am finally embracing what I do and sharing it with the world.

I’ve always been a person who was curious. I’ve liked lots of things and had trouble narrowing down my interests. Choosing one major and one minor in college was challenging. (I ended up with 3 minors. Who does that?) Saint-Exupéry’s quote above resonates with me because I’ve finally gotten to the point where I know what my life’s work is:

My passion is to tell stories. Whether they're ones that I've made up, ones other people have lived, ones I perform on a stage or ones I share in a magazine article, telling stories is what I know I'm meant to do.

So with the launch of HSL Creative, there is nothing left to take away. This is the next step in living a life on purpose. I'm a storyteller. And I look forward to continuing on this journey of sharing humanity with you through the written word.

5 Tips to Kickstart Your Social Media Presence

Social Media Logotype Background
Social Media Logotype Background

At this point every one knows their business needs a social media presence but maybe you’re not sure where to begin. Here are five tips to make sure you’re doing it right.

1. Determine your audience’s location. In order to reach your intended audience with your brand’s exciting message you first have to figure out where they hang out online. Thoroughly carve out the image of your customer. Does she tweet? Does he have a smartphone? How busy is she? Figure out where that person spends time online and invest your social media presence there.

2. Be predictable. Content may be king but consistency is queen. Post regularly. Your following will grow if they come to know what to expect from you. This doesn’t mean you have to post 10 times a day on the hour. But it does mean that you should stick to a regular schedule. Consistency is a characteristic of brand credibility. So be credible.

3. Contribute something. Social media users only follow brands that provide them with something--whether it’s entertaining, inspiring, or useful, people have come to expect to get something from the businesses they allow into their social media feeds. So while plugging your own stuff is a necessity from time to time, give people content they’ll find interesting even if it doesn’t lead to a shopping cart.

4. Check in regularly. While some of your online presence can be automated, you can’t schedule a connection with your audience. Be sure to check in regularly to comment, reply and take part in discussions online. Your absence will be noticeable if you don’t.

5. Keep it PUFI. PUFI? Yes. Pleasant, Useful, Fun, and Interesting. Your posts should fall into one of these four categories at all times--even better if you hit 2, 3 or 4. Keep your content light. Social media is not the right medium for heady debates. Your content needs to provide your audience with a good experience. So be useful, enjoyable and fun to follow.

These are five surefire ways to get your social media presence off on the right foot. Have anything to add? I’d love to hear it in the comments.