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Planting your flag - without the colonial overtones

Lizzie Cass-Maran encourages content designers to identify their niche by finding the joyful intersection of their skills, passions, and experiences. She emphasizes the importance of continuous learning, building a supportive community, and embracing one's unique perspective while avoiding the pitfalls of imposter syndrome and the problematic "flag planting" metaphor.

In this thought-provoking Perspectives talk, Lizzie Cass-Maran, a content accessibility consultant, invites us to rethink the concept of "planting a flag" in our careers. Drawing from her own journey as a content designer, Lizzie shares insights on how to identify your niche and carve out a space for yourself in the field without falling into the trap of claiming ownership over a particular area. Her presentation is a refreshing take on navigating your professional path while embracing collaboration, continuous learning, and the value of diverse perspectives.

Meet our speaker

Photo of Lizzie Cass-Maran
Lizzie Cass-MaranCPACC-certified Content Designer specialising in accessibility and inclusivity

Lizzie is a queer, disabled content designer who lives in Fife, Scotland. After a decade working for the University of Edinburgh in the central web team, she went freelance in 2021, doing content design, content strategy, and accessibility advice and advocacy.

She has been displaying a joke of the day on her noticeboard since Covid first hit, and is always on the lookout for short, clean jokes.

Photo of Lizzie Cass-Maran
Lizzie Cass-Maran

About this talk

Lizzie's talk is a breath of fresh air for anyone who's ever struggled with finding their place in the world of content design. Rather than encouraging us to "plant a flag" and claim a niche as our own, Lizzie invites us to explore the idea of finding our "joyful intersection" - the sweet spot where our skills, passions, and experiences come together.

Through personal anecdotes and relatable examples, Lizzie walks us through the process of identifying what really lights us up in our work. She prompts us to ask ourselves questions like:

  • What topics do I always come back to?
  • What do I lose myself in?
  • What do I bore people with?

By digging into these questions, Lizzie suggests, we can start to uncover the unique perspective and value we bring to the table.

But Lizzie is quick to point out that finding your niche doesn't mean you have to go it alone. In fact, she argues, it's all about finding your community - the people who share your passions and can help you learn and grow.

Throughout the talk, Lizzie touches on the importance of continuous learning, the realities of imposter syndrome, and the value of listening to and amplifying other voices in your field.

Whether you're just starting out in content design or you're a seasoned pro looking to refine your focus, Lizzie's talk is chock-full of wisdom and practical advice. Her approach is refreshing, inclusive, and deeply human - a welcome alternative to the often competitive and individualistic narratives that dominate the professional world.

So if you're ready to ditch the colonial overtones and find your own joyful intersection, give Lizzie's talk a watch. You just might come away with a whole new perspective on what it means to carve out your space in the world of content design.

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Lessons learned from Lizzie

Find your joyful intersection

Instead of trying to stake a claim on a particular niche, Lizzie encourages us to explore the idea of finding our "joyful intersection" - the place where our skills, passions, and experiences come together. By asking ourselves what topics we always come back to, what we lose ourselves in, and what we can't stop talking about, we can start to identify the unique perspective and value we bring to the table.

Embrace continuous learning

One of the key takeaways from Lizzie's talk is the importance of continuous learning. She reminds us that even after years in the field, there will always be more to learn and discover. Rather than seeing this as a weakness, Lizzie encourages us to embrace the mindset of a learner - someone who is always curious, always growing, and always open to new ideas.

Build your community

Another central theme of Lizzie's talk is the value of community. Rather than trying to go it alone, she suggests, we should seek out the people who share our passions and can help us learn and grow. Whether it's through Twitter, LinkedIn, Slack communities, or in-person events, building relationships with others in your field can be a powerful way to expand your knowledge, get feedback on your work, and find new opportunities.

Be honest about what you don't know

Lizzie also touches on the realities of imposter syndrome - the feeling that you're not qualified or knowledgeable enough to be in the position you're in. Rather than letting this fear hold you back, she encourages us to be honest about what we don't know. Admitting that you're still learning, she argues, is not a weakness but a strength. It shows that you're open to growth and willing to put in the work to get better at your craft.

Amplify other voices

Finally, Lizzie reminds us of the importance of listening to and amplifying other voices in our field. Rather than seeing our colleagues and peers as competition, she encourages us to seek out diverse perspectives and to use our own platforms to lift up the work of others. By creating a culture of collaboration and mutual support, we can all benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience that exists within our community.

By taking these lessons to heart, we can start to approach our work in content design with a new sense of purpose and possibility. Rather than getting caught up in the race to plant a flag, we can focus on finding our own joyful intersection and building a community of support and growth around us.

About Perspectives Conf

This talk is part of Track #2 - Growing into a senior content role of the 2022 edition of our conference.

Perspectives Conf is the world’s first event specifically focused on the careers side of content. It’s been carefully curated to help people at all levels navigate the many facets of working in content – from being the first content person to hiring and growing a team.

Logo of Perspectives 2022 event
See full Perspectives 2022 program

Transcript of the talk

00:03 Thank you so much for coming on today. My name is Lizzie Cass-Maran and I am a content accessibility consultant as a term I made up.

00:13 And I'm going to go along short, but a little bit more about that in just a minute. First of all, just before we get started, I wanted to make, we know on the, um, accessibility of, um, the visual content of the slides today.

00:25 So just for anyone who is either not able to see the slides or is just multitasking, maybe at the moment and not looking at the slides, just wanting to reassure you that there was nothing visually there that you will miss by not looking at them.

00:37 So it's mostly photographs of flags. Um, I will describe everything that is on the slides. Um, on this, this it's mostly just me talking, um, in any case.

00:47 So just to reassure you that you won't miss anything, if you either can't or, or aren't choosing to see the, the visual content.

00:53 Um, and just on that note, um, uh, I've got the photo credit of all the photographs in the bottom right hand corner of the slide.

00:59 If there's no photo credit there, then it is my own photograph. So to get started, this first slide shows a Victorian brick house flying the Maori flag, and it gives the title of my presentation, which is planting your flag without the colonial overtones.

01:19 This next slide shows a whole bunch of flags hanging out to dry and an outside washing line. And this is what does it mean to plant a flag and to explain this properly, I'll give you a little bit of context on me.

01:31 I worked as a content designer at the university of Edinburgh for about 10 years left in January, 2021. I took redundancy, uh, for my health and just to be able to take a little bit of time out, to explore my next options.

01:46 And, um, other left a friend of mine, a former colleague, uh, recommended a book to me, which I read and read it in audio book format, by the way is totally valid way to read a book.

01:58 Um, I'm not going to tell you the title of the book or the author of the book. I am going to kind of criticize it, but that is not the point of today.

02:05 Also taught me a lot of useful things. Um, so it's that the point is not to criticize the book that talks about, uh, planting a flag and the author uses this as a metaphor for basically deciding where you want your focus to be, um, deciding where your level of expertise is and kind of just going in and

02:25 claiming the area. And I was kind of with them until the last bit, um, because in particular, they referenced an ideas out sketch that talks about flag planting.

02:36 And I started to get quite annoyed at this point because I am a huge, Eddie is not fun. Um, I have the signed DVD of the show of where she talks about flags.

02:47 Um, ID does use, she had friends at these days. Um, and this is it. This is a picture of Eddie, um, is a quote from that sketch.

02:56 It says we stole countries with the cunning of flags and, you know, the very point of the sketch. Is it going in somewhere, planting your flag to climbing yourself?

03:07 The owner is really, really bad. Um, so I got kind of quite upset at the misappropriation of the metaphor, but it also kind of highlighted to me that the fact that it's a bad idea holds true across the metaphor.

03:21 You can't just find a niche and claim it as your own, and sort of tell everyone that you're the go-to person for that, because that was already going to be in a flow of people that are working in the area, regardless of what you want to call it.

03:36 So this next slide says, where can you plant a flag? It's got a picture of that same house from earlier, and it's flying the trans flag this time, which if you don't know where it's blue, pink, white, pink live horizontal stripes.

03:52 Now this is actually my house, um, which is ridiculous. I'm in, I'm in the very odd position of owning my own flagpole.

04:01 And I like to literally have fun flying flags and it's my house I can within reason fly, whatever flag I want to.

04:10 And again, that kind of holds true across the metaphor. What flag do you want your house to fly by? Which I mean, where do you want to go?

04:18 And to me, what this is about is setting an intention. So feel like content design is really, really broad. You could be very, very into specifically copywriting.

04:28 You could be an information architecture. You could maybe be a specialist in health content or legal content needs. So all kinds of different types of specialisms and possible career paths.

04:39 Um, and I think as you progress your career, um, whether that's employee or whether it was a freelancer, um, it can be really, really helpful to identify where you want to go.

04:48 Um, and that might well mean carving out a little niche for yourself.

04:55 So to identify your niche though, a few different questions, I think that you can ask yourself, uh, this next slide shows, uh, we, uh, wait to blond girl, uh, find the pride flag.

05:06 This is actually my daughter. And yes, I do have had permission to use this photograph. Uh, for these purposes. She asked me a lot of questions about it.

05:14 That's fair enough. Um, so the three questions and it says, what topics do you always come back to? What do you lose yourself in?

05:24 What do you, what are you doing? And you kind of look up and you realize it's hours later. And what do you bore people with?

05:29 This last question is a little bit subjective because it does obviously really dependent. You're probably not boring people. Uh, but if there was something that you feel that you're boring people with, then it's because it's the thing that you come back to all the time and you keep talking about, even

05:47 if you think nobody else cares about it, even if you think that you're boring people and that I think is quite a good metric for working out what it is that you, um, that you're passionate about.

05:57 So, for example, when I was looking at this myself, um, I looked back at blogs. I do at night, looks back at projects I'd worked on and it came up to me that the message I had always been pushing was about accessibility.

06:10 Um, over the time that I was working at Edinburgh, I became disabled myself. So that gave me, um, to have a personal perspective on it as well, even for that had always been the thing that you seem to be focused on.

06:23 But often when you talk about accessibility people, um, often default to kind of thinking about the tech side of it.

06:29 So this is where I started to use this term content accessibility. I out of interest looked up on the LinkedIn job titles.

06:37 No one else would that job title, Does that mean that I made it up? Hello? Okay, no one exists in a vacuum.

06:47 That's what this next slide says. And it's got two cycles on it. One says me I'm with this everyone else.

06:52 And they were very far apart and I'm going to put a big cross through that because that is not how the world works is not how life works, not how it should work.

07:03 This next slide is titled find your joyful intersection. This one shows a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles. One says content design, once it's accessibility, one says inclusive design and the little overlapping area is me.

07:17 Now, this is simplistic for me personally, it doesn't include, include sort of bunch of smaller disciplines. Sub-disciplines it doesn't include my lived experience, which I think is a really important thing of that.

07:26 But Venn diagrams are three 3m easiest. Um, so it is always more complicated than that. But the point is, This is what it's about.

07:37 It's not about going in laying claim to new territory. It's about finding out how your skills, your work experience, your life experience come together to show your unique offering, identifying that is incredibly helpful in working out where to go next.

07:52 And so I do thank the author of the book for that message. It genuinely helps me at all. I can't honestly tell you where your intersection is, might be where higher education meets research shops or where like health inequality meets, uh, your experience as an immigrant.

08:06 It could, could be anything so you can, um, work that out and look at, see where your passions lie.

08:13 This next slide is entitled imposter syndrome, imposter syndrome. Colon, is it really though? And there is a picture of two small dogs.

08:22 One is a pug and one is kind of dressed up as a pocket. And this is because I've seen a lot of chat recently about in POTUS pasta syndrome and what it is and what it isn't.

08:34 So this is the best illustration for me. So when I first started using this term context disability, I use the word champion because that's what we wanted to do.

08:43 I just, it was it's so important to me. It was, it is still so important to me to champion making content really, really accessible.

08:55 More recently, I've started using the term consultant. Now I do consultancy work. People pay me money for this consultancy work.

09:03 I assigned kind of contract service agreements where I'm listed there as the consultant. It still feels to me like a huge lie or what I am in some way, conning people by using this time consultants and that's imposter syndrome.

09:18 Okay. And I think, um, part of where that comes from is the stereotypical image that I have. I think that a lot of people have of a consultant is kind of, middle-aged bolding white guy with glasses and you know, that's not me.

09:34 Um, probably except that I am a middle-aged white person glasses and I'm literally wearing a tie right now. Um, so I'm just, I'm not a bolding man.

09:48 Um, but I think the point there is the further you are away from a certain stereotype, it was setting in which that you may be, you or other people have of what a term means.

09:58 The more likely you are to experience imposter syndrome. And so the more likely, historically excluded groups are to have imposter syndrome because they don't fit in that stereotype because they've been historically excluded.

10:12 Um, so that's imposter syndrome, me recognizing that as someone who is paid for consultancy, I don't know everything. That's not imposter syndrome.

10:25 That is honesty, that's reality. Um, you can't know anything about a subject ever. Um, even in another 20, 30 years of doing this, I will still not know ever anything.

10:37 And I will still kind of feel like I'm always learning. I hope. Um, I think, you know, particularly in, in a field that sense of anything scientific or tacky, um, you know, things change really fast.

10:49 Like I said, at the beginning of this presentation that I was a content designer for 10 years, actually, that's not technically true because the term content designer did not exist when I started that job.

11:00 Um, I was still doing that kind of work, working with words, um, learning things, a lot of the things that I have learned along that way, aren't true anymore.

11:09 So I've had to relearn them. Um, and that's just, that's how it works. That's just, you should always be learning.

11:18 So, uh, this next slide says, find your community, uh, colon, who else is at your joyful intersection. And this to me is the key thing to kind of, um, to, to be a was learning.

11:32 It's really cheesy picture on this, apologies to those who can't see it. It's a Venn diagram with two circles once there's you, once there's meat in the middle is filled with hearts and it says happiness.

11:43 So then our, um, apologize. Um, but this is about looking at kind of your Venn diagram of where all of your skills and experience come together and see who is in all of those different cycles and building therefore your community.

11:58 Um, and it's about, uh, really hate the term networking. I kind of hate when networking some times, but now I think it's basically just having conversations with people.

12:07 Um, so it's about listening to them and it's about putting forward your own voice. You will know things that not everyone knows.

12:17 You will have a unique perspective on lots of things. Your voice is worth listening to so write blocks, get on Twitter, give talks, share what you're doing, share what you're learning in particular.

12:35 But while you're doing that, also make sure that you are listening to others than you're amplifying other people. Um, my good rule of thumb is to kind of spend about twice as much time learning and amplifying as you do, talking and sharing lots of good places to find your community.

12:53 And it sort of depends on just what works for you and what works well for your brain.

12:57 I'm a big fan of Twitter. I have ADHD and it's nice and short. Um, I think that's why, uh, that works well for me.

13:03 And there's some people worry that there's a lot of hatred on Twitter. I am a huge fan of the block button and by did use this use of the block button.

13:10 I've created a lovely little bubble of community on Twitter. Um, it's going to be a great place to ask questions about what you're working on, for example, um, now obviously some projects you have to worry about confidentiality.

13:23 There's been things that I haven't been able to ask. Um, on Twitter often I find you can ask a generic question about an area.

13:31 Um, I'm, you're always upping off interesting discussions, um, from that. Um, and generally I would say any organization that can work in the open as much as possible is better.

13:43 Anyway, don't be scared to ask questions by the way. I think I have this certainly sometimes I think, oh, if I, if I ask this question, then everyone will know that I don't know the answer to it, but also everyone will see that you're learning.

13:55 Um, and you know, admitting that you want to know more about certain area is not a weakness. It is a strength.

14:02 So, um, yeah, I like Twitter. I use LinkedIn a little bit. I don't go on so well with that, I know some people where you do know there's some great slack communities and other slack happening right now, um, at perspectives, um, I'm on a few slack channels.

14:15 I, I find it overwhelming personally, but different strokes, different folks find what works for you. There's also lots of different places that will fit you at one-to-one networking sessions.

14:26 So there's lunch club, um, there's randomized coffee trials.

14:29 I've met many interesting people through both of those. Um, and then you've kind of gotten to see formal events like this and conferences and things, just to add that, um, I have done all of this, my house, um, locked down from that perspective has been really good for me.

14:42 Um, I am disabled and I've always sort of struggled working from home because everyone else is not, uh, last couple of years, everyone is, and it's great.

14:50 And I have access to all he thinks is brilliant. Um, I, I love it. Um, I know some people really struggle with screen fatigue and me online.

14:59 Hopefully things are opening up for the people that do struggle, um, and there will be more in-person events as well.

15:07 So the next slide shows my skin and it's got a little yellow flag, which has good dinosaur on it, which is kind of hard to tell, uh, two clicks might not be on the Catherine dinosaur flag.

15:22 Um, and the title says, what if no one recognizes my flag? What I mean by this is if you know, your passion, for example, sits at the intersection of microcopy and windsurfing.

15:36 Um, how many drugs are out that advertised for a windsurfing micro copywriter? Um, you know, are you painting yourself into a corner by, um, sort of finding your niche?

15:47 And this was a real worry for me when I, when I first died a year or so ago, I wanted to be open and flexible to what came my way.

15:54 And that makes it tempting to sort of mold yourself into what a job description is asking for and kind of say, oh yeah, I do that.

16:01 I do that. I'll do anything. Um, and not doing that, you know, is that too rigid? In fact, this kind of comes back to you being at the intersection of different disciplines within them, that kind of Venn diagram, and you're not in a brand new area.

16:15 Um, I mean the first contract I had freelancing was someone who wanted a content person, um, and had a chat with them.

16:23 I said, that's great. That all sounds really interesting just to let you know, I'm also like my focus is on accessibility and that's kind of the big thing that I will be kind of calling out on and, and focusing on.

16:34 And they said, yeah, great. Like that's actually, that's what we've seen yourself from that what I do. So it works really well, both ways kind of by being out there they'd found me.

16:44 And it was able to be honest about my focus there.

16:48 Um, since then, you know, I've done work doing digital accessibility of he's doing content strategy of giving advice and inclusivity.

16:54 I've done a little bit of physical, um, accessibility I move use. Um, so by putting myself at this kind of joyful intersection, it's not a limitation of saying that it's just, it means you've got the whole area to work in what was focusing on there.

17:10 So my, uh, my main contract I'm working on is as a content designer. So when I sent my CV over, it's a content design at the top because I wanted the job.

17:19 Um, but again, interview, I was really clear that this is kind of my main passion. This is why I was interested in.

17:25 So it's about kind of balancing that up a little bit. Um, I was able to kind of say, look, I don't, I don't want the job unless you're happy with that.

17:38 The fact that that'd be my focus that is privileged, and I really need to acknowledge that, okay, if you are desperate for a job, for whatever reason, either you don't have one or you're stuck in a really toxic drug job is much harder to kind of just know what we'll do yourself into, what people, what

17:57 you think people looking forward to, and to be kind of strong about what you want your focus to be. That is really hard.

18:03 I don't have the answer to that. I just wanted to acknowledge that really. Um, my advice would be that if you are in a job that you don't hate, but you're kind of thinking of moving on, that's the time to start looking about, um, and you can have chats and you can explore opportunities and that kind

18:17 of thing, um, without that immediate stress, um, and then you can say no to the wrong thing, um, meaning that you can then say yes to the right thing when it comes along and you will learn stuff from the thing that you said no to the chassis you have to, and the networking, the ed that as well.

18:38 So I'm stepping out, but slide shows my house again in this snow flying the Aboriginal flag and the three summary points of what I've talked about today.

18:48 Um, find your joyful intersection. So if you're trying to work out where to go next, find your sweet spot, your happy place, um, what actually brings you joy.

18:57 Um, you will have unique and valuable experience that relate to that intersection. Um, and that doesn't mean that you stop learning.

19:05 Second point here is be a learner, not an impostor. And the third point is talk, listen to network, go out, find your communities and start chatting to people.

19:15 Um, you communities that, that cut across these different intersections

19:22 And that's me. So, uh, this is my house again, this time flag white flag, because it is much, um, and, uh, it's, this has gotten touched because my Twitter handle at Lizzie Kasner on my website, Lizzie customer-owned dot com.

19:36 Um, or if you are out and about, and you see this house, then, uh, do feel free to come in, knock on the door and say, hello.

19:43 This is also of course my office. Um, I'm not gonna promise to work with you at length, but I will tell you about our latest glass.

19:52 Um, do you honestly get in touch? And if you'd like to share anything at all, and I look forward to talking to you, thank you so much.

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