7 Things I’ve Learned About Leadership

Let’s talk about being a leader.

Last year I launched Nashville Geek Life, a social non-profit dedicated to promoting and improving geek culture in our area. We provide regular articles, advertising services, an event calendar, press releases, video projects, local business guides and other related media. Basically, if it’s geek and in our area, we feature it. We’ve done some incredible things for the community, including hosting social events that have encouraged even the most dedicated hermits to come out. We are basically enablers of geek culture, and I’ve had complete strangers tell us how we have encouraged them to go forth and make things happen. It’s incredible some of the stories of heard, and I could never be prouder of what we do when I hear about them.

… But all squishy feelings aside? Man, LEADERSHIP IS HARD.

I never wanted to be a leader. I wanted to make cool shit happen, and I knew I could enable it. So, I did, and now a year later we’re a team of 15+ people facing thousands of fans, and we’re constantly growing our readership by the day. I volunteered to lead this gig because I knew I could, but I wasn’t expecting some of the side-effects, either good or bad. (For example, last week I was just talking to a PR rep from Marvel. Yeah. Frickin’ Marvel.) Despite all the incredible, amazing, good things that have happened this last year, it’s been a real struggle, and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned.

So, here we go. CUE THE GIF POST!

1. You will be under constant scrutiny. Get used to it.
You’re not allowed to make mistakes. In fact, you’re probably not allowed to be human, either. Having a bad day? Too bad, no one cares. People will judge you. People will gossip about you. People will misunderstand your intentions, and too often, people will assume the worst before assuming the best. It’s a harsh truth but it is what it is. Accept it.

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2. Not everyone is going to like what you do, and that is okay.
Personally I think we’re the best thing since sliced bread, but not everyone is enthused. Someone once sent me hate mail that they were tired of hearing of us all the time. Uh, sorry all your friends love us, bro? I didn’t respond, but I thought it was hilarious. Thankfully this hate mail met me on a good day and not a bad one, because it might have killed part of my soul otherwise. Haters gonna hate.

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3. Some days are awesome and some days just suck.
Leadership is like a rollercoaster. You start at the bottom, work your way up, do awesome things, get to the top, and you’re feeling good about it… Then something bad happens and you’re crawling under your desk, except WAIT YOU CAN’T DO THAT because you’re the leader and you are supposed to fix this, kiss it and make it feel better.

Maybe that’s not the best way to exp… wait, nope, it’s exactly like that.

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4. Telling other people when they are making mistakes is the worst, but unfortunately a necessary evil.

When I used to work for local conventions there were a few times leadership “smacked my hand” and I felt really, really annoyed about it. Looking back, though, I know why, and now that I lead a group, I completely understand. 

I hate making people feel bad. People volunteer because they are enthusiastic and I don’t want them to feel unwelcome. But if things aren’t done a certain way, things fall apart, and then only a few of us are left to pick up the pieces, and we’re really bitter for it. 

So, it’s hard, being the bad guy. But someone has to do it. 

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5. Eventually you are going to piss someone off.

In the past year, I have made a few enemies. I want to say I don’t care, but that’s a lie. I do care, and probably too much at times. Sometimes you have to make difficult business decisions, and all too often, you will be put in situations where making these decisions means that someone is going to be unhappy, no matter what you do. So choose your battles, and stick by them. You can’t make everyone happy.

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6. Leadership is overglorified. 

There’s a great TED talk by Derek Sivers called “The First Follower: How to Make a Movement.” In this talk, he talks about how the leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. However, a leader is not a leader without it’s first follower, and the first follower is actually the one who turns the lone nut into a leader. 

Seriously, just watch it. (It’s only 3 minutes long.)

7. Leadership is hard, but it’s worth it.
I work hard. I do a lot. I pull long hours at night, and I answer to a lot of people. It’s hard, it’s tiring, and it drives me nuts, but it’s worth it. I believe in our mission, and I believe in our people. We do good, we make things better, and we have fun. And honestly, that makes up for everything.

So when you’re looking down the long road of leadership, know that it’s hard, but that you’re not alone. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the courage to follow, because leadership is nothing without your support.

(And if all else fails, ask for a hug.)

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International TableTop Day, Gaming & Overcoming Anxiety

Today was one of the best days I have had in a long time. I didn’t participate in TableTop Day last year because I was at a convention, but this year I had the whole day off and decided to make an event of it. I drank coffee by the lake, grabbed lunch at my favorite sushi joint, hit up a game store for the first time in half a year, learned how to play Pandemic, and then went to my Pathfinder DM’s house to play even more games with friends. And for once, I even ran a game, and it felt pretty awesome.

The game I ran was Last Night on Earth, a zombie apocalypse-themed game by Flying Frog Productions. You can play either as Heroes or Zombies, and there are various scenarios you can choose from. We played the “newbie” scenario where the Hero team has to kill 15 zombies before sundown. I was the only one who had played before, so I chose to play zombies and basically GMed it while everyone else played the Heroes. Last Night on Earth is definitely more of a strategic co-op game than an RPG, but it was my first time orchestrating anything like this and it was actually really, really fun to do, despite having forgotten half the rules. (I mean, it had been three years since I’d played it, so can you blame me?) For some people this probably just sounds like any other game night, but for me, it was a pretty important moment in my gaming history. It was the first time I ever ran a game.

Running games is something that has always been a HUGE anxiety for me. I also struggle with anxiety disorders on a daily basis, which makes everything at least a little bit scary. Normally anxiety-ridden Bri would blanch at the idea of trying to run a game that she couldn’t remember the rules to, but I love Last Night on Earth so damn much (and my gaming group is so awesome) that I felt comfortable just jumping in and teaching everyone to play. It was really an eye-opener in the sense that not knowing the game 100% isn’t going to break the experience, as long as you know how to look up the rules when you’re not sure of something, and for the long term it made me more comfortable with the idea of GMing an RPG.

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Before heading over to the house for games, I stopped in to the Game Cave, a fairly new game store that opened here just last year. It was a bit packed for TableTop Day, but I chatted up one of the owners for a while before finally getting the courage to ask if there were any people in the store who were looking for players. It might sound kind of dumb, but just asking if there’s space to play has always been a big anxiety for me, too. It’s not that I feel unwanted at the table, it’s just that I’m always super afraid of imposing on what other people might be doing… But I guess that’s how a gaming store is supposed to be, full of people happy to play games with you. 

So, I played Pandemic for the first time and it was pretty fun. It seemed complicated at first (like many board games do — another common anxiety of mine) but I picked it up pretty easily. Unfortunately my first time playing, we played with the Bio-Terrorist, so our failure was pretty much guaranteed, but at the very least I got to learn a game I had never played before, and would love to try to play again (although maybe without the Bio-Terrorist this time - that was a bitch to work with). 

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Looking back, I had a really fun time. More importantly, though, I feel like a overcame a lot of gaming fears today, which would not have happened as easily if it weren’t for TableTop Day encouraging me to get out and just play. So thank you, Wil Wheaton, TableTop, and the Geek & Sundry team for encouraging my often too-scared self to get out there and explore a little. Thanks to the owners at The Game Cave for always being SUPER nice and helpful any time I walk in. And thanks to my gaming group, for always being patient and super fun to play with.

Time to go plan my first RPG campaign. I’m ready to rock this.

Drink up me hearties, yo ho!

Sometimes life is hard. Then you get drunk and run around downtown in pirate garb with the ones you love and everything is better.

Last night, Nashville Geek Life hosted its first pub crawl, and it went amazingly. I think the final count was around 30, and we had some people who drove more than two or three hours just to come drink with us all night. Seriously, I am impressed.

I’ve been struggling with some feelings all weekend. Not bad feelings — good ones, actually — but with how to explain them, I guess. Nashville Geek Life has been a labor of love (and sometimes, utter frustration) the past year and it completely amazes me how just making the effort to do things can make incredible, beautiful things happen. I’m a pretty introverted person, and never really anticipated that I would be helping organize events like this. And now I’m the leader of an organization that runs social events for geeks… like, for example, a pirate-themed pub crawl.

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Leading a crowd of 30 pirates around through the honky-tonks was kind of a surreal experience, mostly because the downtown crowd is mostly country lovers and college kids. I was afraid some people might be strange about it, but the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Most people just thought it was funny, actually, which added more to the experience. I can’t tell you how many compliments we got, or how many ARRRRR!’s we had thrown our way. I guess weirder things in Nashville have happened, but that was definitely one to remember.

One of the things I will never forget about last night was how nice the venues were. Fleet Street Pub — the pub we started with — was extra accommodating to our large dinner party, and Ms. Kelli’s next door played pirate-themed music in-between karaoke tunes, which was a lot of fun. Fleet Street is actually my favorite pub, an English-themed pub with excellent food and drink options. There’s some Whovian flavor, too, so of course us nerds gravitate towards it whenever we can. I also used to work across the street for two years, so it’s a comfortable landing point for me, drunk or sober. And now that we’ve hosted a geek life event there, I think it’ll have a permanent spot in my heart.

Anyway, I was pretty tired last night, at least when it started, but as the night progressed and more friends bought me energy drinks (and booze), things started to feel better. Amazing, actually, because I’ll be honest… the past few months have just fucking sucked. I was laid off, I was broke, I had to figure out how to freelance full-time while looking for a new job, I had a horrible flu over my birthday, had to miss an amazing con, and on top of it all, winter sucks. It just does. It’s cold, it’s icy, nothing is going on, and no one wants to leave the house. It was too cold to go LARPing, so I was going nuts from not having that outlet, either. I have never been so happy to see spring.

Speaking of LARP, I’m returning next weekend. I saw some of my LARP crew at the pub crawl for the first time in months, and it made me so happy. I’m so excited to go back. Three days in the woods, surrounded by lakes and mountains. No phones, no internet, no computers. Just friends, feasts, and foam.

Seriously, I cannot wait to swing a sword again. It’s been too long.

Anyway, thank you so much to everyone who came out, and to all my friends new or old who gave me drinks, hugs, and laughs. It’s been a hard few months and I really needed something fun. I’m really excited about how well it went last night, and I hope it becomes a regular event.