About MeAn experiment in leaving in the untidy bits
I am less and less interested in the ritual of introducing our public selves with a bulleted list of accomplishments. We are so much more than our resumes or highlight reels—both more ephemeral and more earthly. And of course, there’s a reason the ritual endures: we want to get a sense of how a person spends their days, what they’re devoted to, where they’re situated, roughly speaking, in the great big map of humanity.
So, here are some parts of my story that might help you situate me.
Where I’m from—and the places that shaped me.
Currently, I live and work on the stolen lands of the Massachusett and Wampanoag people, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I’m starting here as a practice of honour and respect for the land that supports and nourishes us, and makes all things possible; because as a white settler in North America, I have a lot of colonialist stuff to unlearn; and because as an activist, I am committed to justice and liberation for indigenous peoples.
My citizenship is Canadian, and prior to moving here, the place I lived the longest was Vancouver, BC, on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, səl̓ilwətaɁɬ, and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh people. I’m descended from several generations of white, mostly-Anglo settler Canadians who lived in various parts of Ontario—predominantly farmers, clergy, and homemakers.
Fun fact: while they had little else in common, both my grandmothers were named Eleanor. (One guess as to what my middle name is.)
I grew up steeped in community care and collective endeavours.
I was born to, and raised by, parents who worked in the nonprofit sector: my mother worked to provide (and advocate for) affordable and secure housing for low-income people, and my father was a minister with the United Church of Canada, a mainline protestant denomination with a strong commitment to social justice. I come from a long line of people for whom community care and mutual aid were and are a daily practice and a necessity for collective well-being.
My first real job was formative: I bussed tables at a quirky little restaurant in Vancouver called The Alma Street Cafe, which was owned by two brothers who were passionate about building community, culture, and equity through their business. Their values were baked into everything we did, from recycling the corks from the wine we served, to hiring local jazz musicians to play five nights a week, to sourcing all our produce from local, organic farms (which was pretty much unheard-of in the late 1980s). The experience of working there massively shifted my mental model of what a business could be—rather than a soulless profit-making machine, one could undertake a human, humane, creative, and generous endeavour. I’ve been applying the lessons learned there (and pining for Balbir’s peppery, creamy spinach-mushroom soup) ever since.
My early twenties = music + feminism, basically
While I’ve always been drawn to scholarship and education, my only post-secondary degree is a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the University of British Columbia. I sang professionally for a few years with an award-winning, self-directed* vocal ensemble called musica intima, of which I was a founding member. (* Meaning, we worked without a conductor and made our own artistic and administrative choices.) But I had made a deal with myself about my musical ambitions: I gave myself the duration of that four-year degree to see how far I could take it, and I committed to evaluating my progress at the end of those four years; if I wasn’t at or near the top of my class, I decided that I wouldn’t continue to pursue it professionally.
I wasn’t at the top of my class. So it was time to figure out an alternate plan.
I started, but didn’t finish, a Master’s degree in English Literature and Gender Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia—which furnished me with both a grounding in feminist theory and praxis, and the unforgettable experience of two winters in the “real north,” where the first snowfall could land before October did, and stay on the ground for six months.
If I’m being honest, I started grad school in a space of total cluelessness about what I wanted to do with my life. (If not music, then what?) At the time, I imagined that maybe I could improve my critical thinking and writing skills, and maybe build a career as a music critic. Happily, life stepped in and handed me another career option I hadn’t considered, in the form of one of my best friends.
The web, my first business, and my first book
While I was in Prince George doing my Master’s coursework, from 1996-98, my then-roommate was earning a living as a web designer — a rarely-heard job title in those days — and offered to teach me how to code HTML and design graphics in Photoshop. The next thing I knew, he was subcontracting his grunt work to me, and eventually, setting me up with my first real freelance design and dev gig. In 1997, he co-founded his own agency and hired me to work for him — and my web career was born.
When I started that position, I truly believed it was just going to be my day job while I wrote my thesis — but a few months in, I woke up one day and realized, “Uh, wasn’t the point of the MA to figure out what I wanted to do with my life? And am I not doing work that feels fulfilling and like a thing I enjoy doing every day? So maybe I answered the question without finishing the degree!” Working on the web was absolutely the right path for me. It gave me variety, purposeful work, fed my love of learning new things, and is totally communication-oriented, even when you’re quietly coding.
For the next fifteen years, I devoted the bulk of my at-work time to working with nonprofit organizations, values-driven businesses, and government agencies on hundreds of web projects: advising them on digital strategy, supporting them in connecting more effectively with their communities, and leading projects that helped them be more effective using online tools. In 2000, I co-founded a boutique web development agency of my own, Raised Eyebrow Web Studio, and operated that until 2012, at which point I sold my half of the business to my co-founder and stepped away to focus on other pursuits. (More on those in a minute.)
Alongside my main gig, I’ve always had a few side interests; writing and convening events are two that have persisted, and often intersected with my work. With my Raised Eyebrow co-founder Emira Mears, I published my first book, The Boss of You, in 2008; wrote a regular column in BC Business; wrote and edited an e-zine and then a blog; and convened monthly meetups and conferences for mostly-women, “grassroots” business owners, freelancers, and side hustlers. We were, to my knowledge, the only fully women-owned digital agency* in Vancouver at the time we founded the company, and we ran the company with an explicitly feminist lens — prioritizing a healthy and supportive work environment and values-aligned work. (* I certainly knew women operating as solo contractors and consultants, but to the best of my knowledge we were the only ones with multiple employees, and where the founders both had coding/technical experience.)
I like to talk. (Nah, really?)
I’ve done some public speaking here and there — never as much as I’d like, but I’ve spoken at SXSW a couple of times, done a bunch of local events for entrepreneurs and creative professionals. The largest crowd I’ve spoken to so far was about 1,200 people packing the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, where I gave a talk called “The Power of &” at Pecha Kucha Night in 2010.
Most recently, I gave a talk on care work, invisible labour, and open source software for the CloudFoundry Summit in October 2020. (My slides and a text transcript are available here.)
I genuinely love writing and delivering talks — I think my upbringing as a preacher’s kid attuned me to the art and power of a good sermon, and these days I live with a university lecturer. I’m also a devotee of dialogue and conversation, but I’m a sucker for good oratory.
What I do these days
Since 2012, I have been working in a variety different roles that combine several of my interests:
- My business coaching practice allows me to do focused 1:1 work with small business owners, nonprofit leaders, and consultants. My clients are fucking amazing and I love them with all my heart. Working with them is one of my most cherished privileges and a source of hope and joy.
- I have continued to write (albeit somewhat sporadically). You can find my writing on my blog, in my two books (The Boss of You and Curious for a Living), and my email newsletter. The latter is where I do most of my writing these days.
- I’ve created several courses for LinkedIn Learning on topics like building a career as a web professional, building a web design business, creating a web design portfolio, and managing collaborative design processes.
- I spent a year at a podcast startup called RadioPublic, hanging out with digital audio and mobile product nerds, and working closely with the only podcast librarian I’m aware of.
- Since the fall of 2019, I have been working with the absolutely brilliant team at &yet, a design and software consultancy. Our most recent work celebrates the joys (and strategic benefits) of finding your weirdos, and celebrating them.
My strong suits
People tell me that I ask good questions, listen deeply, and have a gift for digging beneath assumptions and standard operating procedures to focus on what matters most.
I’m at my best when I’m helping people get clear on what they really want, communicate that with kindness and respect, and align needs that might be in tension with each other (like profit and generosity, time constraints and quality assurance, collective wellbeing and personal needs).
You’ll find me applying those skills in all kinds of contexts, from business meetings and coaching calls, to volunteer committees and interpersonal relationships.
Want to reach me?
I’m at lb at laurenbacon dot com, or you can drop me a line on Twitter at @laurenbacon.