Remote Career Development: Super Julie Braun Of Super Purposes On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely
An Interview With David Liu
Collab Communication Station. Regular meetings are essential where the team can offer up solutions to problems in groups and one-on-ones. Sometimes we send long messages on threads, and a quick get-together solves the issue in a snap. Collaboration means integrating teams, so you are not working alone. It is important to add people from other groups within the company into your meetings to bring up what they know.
Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaboration with others and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Super Julie Braun.
Super Julie Braun (please call her SJ) is a socially conscious volunteer, vegetarian, and the Founder & CEO of Super Purposes™, based in Seattle, Washington. Through her struggles and obstacles, she maintained the mindset of never giving up by creating optimal organizational skills and priding herself on a self-deprecating sense of humor, being socially and emotionally intelligent, and leading with inspiration. She intends to spend the rest of her life helping others grow by attaining the career and salary they deserve!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
I lived in New York City when 9/11 happened, and the following days and weeks that proceeded, anyone who lived in town began to work remotely. And that’s when I started to work remotely, 20 years ago.
Many clients who, for whatever reason, would always say, “We have an office. Why would we ever want to work remotely?” That’s how everybody worked — in a physical office or factory or store, until COVID.
Today, I am an entrepreneur and the Founder & CEO of Super Purposes, and I live in Seattle, WA. Our teammates, who live all across the US, work together to help unemployed, underemployed, or job seekers get the career and salary they deserve without fear and formality. We’ve always been a virtual company, long before it was the popular trend it is now. Remote working allows me to live a minimalist, digital nomad lifestyle. It gives me time to focus on my passions: animals, the environment, my sobriety, and volunteering for socially conscious causes. My life’s goal is to help others, and I’m thrilled to say that we’ve helped over 16,000 people from all walks of life find purposeful careers regardless of their challenges.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A client of ours was a Manhattan real estate firm. They had an enormous office, and they had to commute hours between their home and the office. Additionally, they were paying for their office space, equipment, and operational costs. We were helping them with their internship program, and whenever we would meet with them, we — the intern team — would show up on video conferencing. Just envision it, a bunch of guys in suits in an office, and the intern team would be video conferencing from across the country; some would be outside with a hat on, and others would be in their bedroom.
The guys in suits would look around at each other and say, “Why are the interns working from home, and we’re coming to the office?” And I said, “I’ve been asking you that since the very first day I met you.”
Those clients didn’t understand yet that they were already working virtually. So, if they send an email while on the subway, they are working remotely. If they sent an email from their office, they’re working virtually; they could send that same email from home. And they all looked at each other and said, “We’re idiots!” because one was traveling from Long Island into the city and often had a three-hour commute. Another person was coming from New Jersey, and one was traveling from Connecticut. So many of them made long commutes to the office.
And I told our clients they should consider creating a remote office and have their employees work from home. “If a small satellite office is needed, have that, but there’s no reason they should be spending millions of dollars on real estate space when everyone is working in different cities and the tri-state area.” So, one year later, they closed their office, and that first year, they told me that they saved almost 2 million dollars.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It wasn’t funny then, but it is now. I left my last corporate job at Carter’s Childrenswear, and I took some time off. I was doing a lot of crazy things at that time. I helped produce an off-Broadway show; I did a lot of very artistic endeavors. Then one day, I woke up and saw my bank account, and there was very little money left. And I was thinking to myself, what am I going to do? I’ve got to do something fast, so I started telling people that I did marketing consulting.
One friend gave me a referral to a CEO and told me I needed to call this guy right away. “He has a $5 million business, and has no idea how to market his business.” I’m thinking, OK, that’s tiny because I was coming from a massive billion-dollar company. Instead of making the phone call right away, I waited. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I was playing hard to get like somebody wanted to date me. And I said in my head, “Oh, I’m not going to call him right away,” which is stupid because you should never do that in business. When you get a referral, you should contact them immediately.
Finally, one day, I thought, “Ugh, going to call that guy.” I’m wearing my pajamas, still had bedhead; I hadn’t even brushed my teeth, but I knew no one was going to see me because I was calling on the phone. I called the guy and was expecting to leave a voicemail, or maybe his administrative assistant would answer the phone, but instead, he answered. “Oh crap!” I was shouting in my head!!! I was utterly unprepared; I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to sell him. I didn’t have any questions to ask him. Here I was just working for the world’s largest children’s apparel company and not knowing what to say.
He answered the phone, and I was stammering and stuttering and stumbling over my words; I could barely introduce myself. He asked me what sort of marketing I did. He said, “Obviously, you probably looked at my company website.” I hadn’t. He asked me what kind of marketing could help his company; it was just a nightmare.
I was sweating profusely, and I didn’t know how to use my words. I ended the phone call relatively quickly. I told the CEO that I would follow up in about a week with a proposal; I never did. When I hung up the phone, I said out loud, “I hope he never remembers me.” It was horrifying!
I was depressed, sad, and licking my wounds for a few days, which were all self-inflicted due to my unpreparedness. After that, I spent months reading every book, article, and blog so I could present a proposal, talk to new clients, persuade people, and network. And because of that, my business grew exponentially. The following year I started getting lots of clients. I started getting people to call me without making the first phone call. And I created processes and systems to build my business. I don’t remember the gentleman’s name; it was so traumatic that I blanked it all out of my memory, but I’m so grateful to have had that experience. And I’m sorry that I was so ill-prepared for the guy; I’m sorry I wasted his time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You’re in the middle of your miracle.”
A little over eight years ago, I got sober. I met my sponsor in her truck before our Sunday night AA meeting, and we would read from “The Big Book,” which is the Alcoholics Anonymous book. We were only a couple of pages in or something, and I just turned and looked at her and said, “I don’t think I can do this.”
She just smiled, hugged me, and said, “You’re just in the middle of your miracle.” Sometimes we are so early into a situation, and we tell ourselves, “I can’t do this.” There are times we’re in the middle of something, and we say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been working on this forever, and it is impossible.” But that’s because we’re in the middle of our miracle.
There’s a picture of these two miners, and one of them is chipping away. He has his pickaxe, and he’s just chipping away at a wall because he’s trying to get some diamonds, and he’s going at it. He has four feet to go, and that is quite a bit of work to do before he hits diamonds. The other miner in the mine shaft above him has only one inch before he hits diamonds, but he has given up and is walking away. “You’re in the middle of your miracle” reminds me of that image. We don’t know how close or far we are to reaching our goals until we get there. But once we get there, “Oh my gosh, it’s a miracle! It happened!” (Super Julie shouts with glee.) All of the work we’ve done up to that point is being in the middle of it.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
This one is challenging because it’s a total company culture mindset that employers have to accept wholeheartedly from the core of their being. They have to embrace that their employees are human beings first. Most companies treat their people like they are devoid of humanness, which is a fundamental failing in America. Many companies don’t consider that employees might have children, a sick family member at home, a mental illness, or are struggling in their personal lives somehow. And because of that, we hold everyone to the same standard, which is unfair.
We can look at solid people in the workplace and say, “They’ve got it all together.” Strong people should be concerned about and caring for weaker, poorer, and less able people. I’m a Socialist at heart. If I’m strong and capable of doing more, why wouldn’t I help others? Conversely, if I lose my footing, that is when I reach out to someone strong to help me get back on track. They might have to carry me for a bit, and I’m sorry about those extra pounds I added to your load. (Super Julie giggles.)
So, the advice to other business leaders is to change how they think about their employees and see them as human beings. Give them the freedom to take time off, listen to them and their needs, ask them to be a part of solving problems, and explain to them why you’re doing things. Include your employees in the big picture and provide them the flexibility to come to work when they want. Let them know it’s OK to take a break so that they can avoid burnout.
OK, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?
First of all, a lot less stress and a lot less anxiety. Because your commute from your bed to your laptop is usually 5, 10, 15 feet, right? Psychologically, you don’t have to psych yourself up to get into a car, commute, or get on a bus fighting the crowds and being in an environment where people might be sick during the pandemic. You don’t have to get on a subway, airplane, or train. You can say to yourself, “I have to show up at the meeting at 10 a.m. Um, I can wake up at 9:40.”
If I wanted to, I could splash some water on my face, put my hair in a bun, wipe the drool from my mouth, and I’m ready to go. We also can spend more time with our loved ones; our dog or cat, our children, and our spouses or partners. We can spend time with our elderly parents. We can have more of a work-life blend, not the elusive work-life balance.
We have an opportunity to take better care of ourselves physically. We’re not eating out every day. When going to the office, many people will stop at Starbucks in the morning. They’ll maybe be going out for lunch with some friends in the afternoon or ordering in, or they might go to happy hour after work. But, when you’re working remotely, you’re eating food that potentially is better for you. You will have more time for self-care, which can mean exercise or stretching or taking a quick yoga class online, or maybe you want to take a walk outside in your neighborhood. Better sleep is another component of the physical benefits.
Emotionally it can be beneficial because you have a better opportunity to surround yourself with the people you love. You can spend more time; you can be a part of their lives. I have talked to many people who’ve said to me, “I can’t believe how much my children have needed me.” I think about that. If COVID had not happened, they would never know that little Johnny or Susie were having problems. Maybe they would never see their kids until they tuck them in at night. And now they start seeing their children and realizing, “My kid has a learning disability. I just realized that they’re not reading the way they should,” or “My kid has a social media problem.” So many parents are waking up, realizing that, “All these people in my life need me; why am I doing the rat race? Why am I spending two hours in a car getting to an office?”
Now, from a career standpoint, I think you have flexibility. So when you’re super productive at a specific time of the day, you can log your hours and be your most creative and best self during that period. You can show up and be the genius in the room. I think it puts many people on a level playing field because we’re all called into a meeting, right? Everyone can speak up. Everyone can raise their hand with video conferencing. Everyone has an opportunity to type out their ideas. Everyone has a voice.
When I think of opportunities working remotely, I think of the Employee Revolution. Now is the time for anyone who wants to work remotely. If you have access to a computer and the internet, you can work remotely. That’s the opportunity that I’m seeing for people’s careers.
Many people I work with will say, “Well, no one’s hiring in my town.”
And I say to them, “Wait! Do you think that you have to get a job in your town? Do you have a computer?”
“Do you know how to turn it on?”
We all start laughing.
“Great. Let’s get that computer turned on. Let’s get you connected. Let’s have you working from home and you can get a job anywhere in the country and even the world!”
I’m going to give you a quick example. One of our clients, Sally, had not made money in the last five years. She was struggling and constantly borrowing money from friends or family, and she ran out of money in the previous year. She said to me, “I have my real estate license, and I want to get back into that. But right now, I have to get some money flowing into my bank account. I’m down to my last hundred dollars.”
I said, “Not a problem. What can you do to make money today?”
And she told me she didn’t know, that that’s why she was here. Sally hadn’t been able to do a whole lot in the last five years; she was stuck. I said, “You’re giving me — what has happened to you. I want to know what you can do today?” So, we started to unravel some of the things that she loves to do; she loves to help people get organized for their move and settle into their new home. And I asked her if she knew how many people would want to hire her to do that. So that day, we went on to TaskRabbit, and we had her fill out a profile as a moving concierge. So when people sell their homes, she would jump in and help them get organized. She went from no money in her bank account to a couple of thousand dollars in the bank the first or second week I worked with her. And she asked, “Why did I wait five years?”
And so I think the opportunities of working remotely, there’s a couple of components. Number one is understanding, “What am I good at?” “What do I love to do?” Then, you search online where you can go to put your offering. Because people are going to come and say, “Oh, OK, I never even knew that someone like you existed.” And so you need to be in a place where people can easily hire you. And there are multitudes of platforms like TaskRabbit, Upwork, and Fiverr. Once you get clients, you can move off those platforms and start offering your client’s referrals directly.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
Collab Communication Station
We won’t be walking down the office hallway to meetings because we are working remotely. So what happens is we end up waiting for the meeting, or maybe send an instant message to somebody and say, “Hey, I’ve got this project that I need some help with.” We’re all on this different plane of expectations while remote working; collaboration will be complex. You can have a flexible schedule when you are working from home. There will be many companies that will make you clock in and clock out. However, as we become more comfortable with remote working, fewer and fewer companies will care about the time element. Instead, they will be more interested in the results, which is why communication is also critical. We don’t know about something until we see it, and we won’t learn something until we read that email or text message.
Remote working is asynchronistic; it’s all a “here it is” and “get to it later” kind of flow. We are in a less urgent mode of everything right now. That’s the communication challenge that everybody will experience because it is very different from being in an office. It won’t be everyone sitting down, making decisions, and saying, “OK, we’re going to do this.” It’ll be leaving a message and different people picking it up at other times. They’ll have different thoughts and ideas and then might all convene later in a meeting, but there’s this kind of flexibility. It also makes collaboration even more challenging. When you add this time element into that, it makes things even more difficult. You will need to feed off of other people’s ideas and have a sense of confidence. You need to have a tough shell and feel like your ideas are heard in a nurturing environment.
Hungry for People (But Not in a Zombie Way)
When people work remotely, they have their family and many other people in their lives. That’s great. However, there are some people, I’m thinking of myself, that had nobody during this entire pandemic. I’ve been on my own. There’s a sense of isolation and loneliness that can come with remote work. You don’t see people, so it’s a good idea to turn your cameras on because we need that visual connection. That’s the human element. You can feel like you don’t matter because you don’t interact with anybody all day; it can seem like nobody cares, maybe because you’re not getting enough people time, which makes you people-hungry.
Discipline or Lack Thereof
When I started working remotely, it took me a good, probably two to three years of getting into habits, disciplining myself, and being in my growth area. Remote working takes discipline and commitment. The most successful people will master this very, very quickly. When we’re working from home or in a remote location, there will be many distractions. We will have a blend of life and work. I’m thinking about all the things in the house that I want to do, like washing dishes and doing laundry. All of those distractions are calling to me. Other people may also have additional distractions from people or pets in their homes.
Many cities with terrible wifi will be getting the technology they need with the passing of the new infrastructure package. Now technology goes beyond wifi; you need to set up everything to succeed in working remotely. New tech can also be a challenge because that means you will have to learn new technological things. I’m 58, and I can sometimes have trouble understanding something new. “I already know how to do 300 platforms, and you want me to learn what now?” The key is to adopt new technology quickly, effectively, and efficiently to make it work.
Unplug My Plug
Do you ever have a problem when you love what you’re doing so much that you can’t turn it off? It’s an interesting phenomenon when we get turned on by something. However, for us to be unhealthy too, we have to have some moderation in all things. So this problem can be solved by turning off the computer and saying, “I’m not going to work the rest of the night” or “I’m not going to work the weekend,” or “I’m going to turn off Skype notifications” or whatever, to set boundaries. It’s difficult sometimes because nobody has limits when they’re new to doing something. They’re learning to navigate that, and that’s a real challenge. This inability to turn off the mobile or computer is not just about the work. The inability to unplug is challenging for everybody, whether people are going to school or doing nothing during the day, except for watching Netflix or playing their video games. We are getting hooked on being plugged into things 24/7.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?
Collab Communication Station
Regular meetings are essential where the team can offer up solutions to problems in groups and one-on-ones. Sometimes we send long messages on threads, and a quick get-together solves the issue in a snap. Collaboration means integrating teams, so you are not working alone. It is important to add people from other groups within the company into your meetings to bring up what they know.
Hungry for People (But Not in a Zombie Way)
Get in touch with other people. If you feel like you’re doing it all by yourself and don’t have the framework to reach out to other co-workers, fill your calendar with social events, friends, and family to offset remote work. For example, pick one social engagement every week to attend with someone you love. It can be grabbing coffee, walking in the park, or window shopping. Just connecting with another human goes a long way.
Discipline or Lack Thereof
On paper, make two different columns, one for goal-achieving and one for stress-relieving tasks. I’ll use myself as an example. My goals are not always fun, like sending tax information to my CPA or working on a proposal. Stress-relieving for me is a little different. I know I’m a total weirdo, but stress-relieving things for me are:
- Doing the dishes.
- Washing my clothes.
- Emptying a cabinet, cleaning the whole thing, reorganizing everything.
Every time I do a goal-achieving activity to completion, I allow myself one stress-relieving thing to do. It’s a reward system. The reality is I end up doing the stuff I sometimes avoid and have a super clean, organized home. (Super Julie laughs.)
Full disclosure, I’m unconventional. I worked and lived in a co-working space for a year. Before the pandemic, people who worked remotely but didn’t want to work from home would go to an office and work with other people like themselves. These co-working spaces were usually open very early in the morning until late at night. I used to open the door at 8 a.m. to let everybody in, and around 6 p.m., everybody would leave. I’d lock the office door and transform the co-working space into my studio apartment. I would pull down the Murphy bed, and voila! I was home! From that experience, I became disciplined because I had to be. People were showing up at 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, no matter what. I had to be out of bed, showered, coffee made, and ready to greet them. Today, I still have the rule that my butt has to be in my chair at 8 a.m.
Some people will ask, “What about people who travel while they’re working?” That life-work style needs even more discipline and boundaries. For example, we have a client who came back from three months of attempting to work while traveling — they wanted to be a digital nomad — and they said, “I had so much fun, I lost all my clients.”
You need a camera, a microphone, and maybe a headset. It helps if you have a place to collaborate with your teammates online, like Slack, Zoom, ClickUp, Google Drives, or nTask. It’s best if your company designates a spot for people to share passwords and documents. Now we have a technology solution for the physical things we used to use in the office.
Unplug My Plug
Create boundaries for you, your team, your clients. Fifteen years ago, I used to work all hours because I had clients in Hong Kong and Sydney, so I was getting phone calls all the time; weekends, nights, mornings. I always had my phone on, which was a huge mistake. I was a wreck.
I had a dear friend who said, “Why don’t you just make up office hours?”
“What are office hours?”
“Tell your clients that you are available between noon to 3 p.m. on certain weekdays with the time zones, and you should also do an early morning and evening time block to satisfy all of your clients’ needs.”
“Why haven’t I thought of this before?”
I told my clients about my office hours, and you know what happened?
No one called me.
Instead, my clients would save all their questions and concerns when I would have my one-on-one meetings with them. It was just chock full of essential information versus answering their phone call at 3 a.m. when they had some random question that popped into their heads. It made them respect me a whole lot more. It would be best if you created boundaries; no one is going to create boundaries for you. You have to tell people what’s acceptable, what’s not, and then they have to abide by that.
Having a dedicated office space is also critical. Having your office space in your bedroom is OK because sometimes our bedroom is the most convenient place. There might be kids rolling around the house or distractions outside the bedroom, but create a space that is just for work. Please do not work in your bed. That is one of the worst habits. Having areas that are sacred to the activity that you should be doing in them is supreme. It would help if you were eating in the kitchen or at a table to sustain yourself. The bed is for a couple of activities, and work is not one of them.
I also think another way to solve this is to get out into nature. Take some walks. We need to turn everything off; we need to go out for dinner with someone we love. Do not bring your phone. Leave your phone in your pocket or backpack, turn it off, and be present with the person sitting across from you.
Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?
Structure time, real-time with your supervisor and your colleagues. Make an appointment and show up to your meeting on time. Bring an agenda with all the big ideas you have already provided to your company. We do so many things, we don’t even remember what we’ve done by the end of the week, and if we don’t remember, our supervisor isn’t going to remember either. Have a list of accomplishments.
I would also make sure that all of your colleagues are supporting you.
In the past, we used to look at our colleagues as competition. Now, we need to look at colleagues as being our allies. Ask a couple of your colleagues to go to your supervisor and brag about how awesome you are. Do you know how powerful that is?
Lastly, ask your supervisor to tell you how they will champion you for a promotion or a raise. They might have to go through several layers of upper management or paperwork so give them as much help as possible.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
Delegation. That’s the number one mistake that most managers make. They give all of the projects to the person who’s most capable of completing them, but they don’t give out enough projects to enough people to spread the wealth. Give people tangible goals. Managers and employers need to give people, “Here’s why we’re doing this, this is what’s going to happen, and here’s the outcome.” And when people get that, they’re going to be excited to do whatever it is because they’re a part of something unique. When framing projects like that, people become engaged, and it’s infectious.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’m probably going to make many academics angry. Sorry colleges and universities! Here’s the movement I want to start.
People should no longer attend college or university for years. What would happen if, at ages 18–21, people went from high school right into a paid service job instead? If all young people worked in retail, waited tables, delivered food, worked in landscaping, garbage collection from cities, roads, lakes, and oceans, or took care of children or the elderly, we would be a much kinder and gentler civilization. If we all did that kind of work first, people would be so much nicer to one another.
If you were to take care of older adults every day, Monday through Friday, you would understand how, in American society, we dispose of them by dumping them into facilities. That would set forth a new perspective and ideas on how to solve those significant societal issues.
And when we go get a cup of coffee and see the barista sweating to get us served or the person at the grocery store who’s filling the shelves, we would understand that job’s not easy either. We would be so much kinder and grateful to them.
So, somewhere between the ages of 21 and 23, people would be offered the option to go to college or a trade school because they would then have a better idea of what they want to do. If people take the time to work in service first and then go to school, they would be more mature and decisive in what they want to learn and the problems they want to solve.
At 23 or 24, the last requirement would be to complete a high-level internship while working in service or going to school. Internships give everyone a taste of what sort of job they should be doing. After a year, they move into a paid position, letting go of their service job and performing in their new purpose-filled career.
That’s what it would look like to me. Who knows? I’ll bet people are going to think I’m ridiculous. That’s OK!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.