Digital Marketing Professional Bailey Parnell's Self-Discovery Lessons on Achieving Happiness

What skills have empowered you in pursuit of excellence? 

Connection with others is essential to our growth and well-being. The road to excellence can be lonely. Having a positive mindset and supportive crew are key skills that carry you forward.

Today’s guest, Bailey Parnell, knows the entrepreneurial journey well; today, she is sharing how connecting with others played a major role in her success.

Bailey is an award-winning digital marketing professional with a passion and talent for helping people and brands tell their stories better. Her work and expertise have been featured on CBC, CTV, and in other local Toronto media. Bailey recently founded SkillsCamp, a school for helping people and businesses develop the essential ‘soft’ skills for professional success.  As well, Bailey works in digital marketing at Ryerson University, Canada's leader in innovative, career-focused education.

I was introduced to Bailey through a talk she did about the Dark Side of Social Media. Later, I was excited to find out that we would both be at Social Media Camp in Victoria, BC, this past May (her as a speaker and I as an attendee). Connecting with her at the conference – I knew I had to ask Bailey to be part of the series and share her thoughts on entrepreneurship, confidence, navigating life’s transitions and her advice for students.  

Can you tell us a bit about your background and the path you took to where you are currently? 

My career started back in Brampton, Ontario, when I was just 16 years old. I worked at RogersTV, our local TV news station, as a mobile production assistant lugging cameras, building computer graphics, and filming sports. When a position opened up for a local news reporter, I got it. While working as a reporter, I moved to Toronto and started my academic career working toward my BA in Media Production in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University.  

My work at Ryerson has absolutely had the largest impact on my career. In the summer between my first and second year, I took on a full-time job as an event planner for Orientation Week. The woman who hired me had never hired a first year before. Because she took that chance on me, I am where I am today. Through that role, I made many connections in the Ryerson and greater Toronto community. One of those connections was Hamza Khan, the biggest player in my story. Out of that summer, he offered me a job as a social media community manager at what would grow to be one of the most influential student-run brands in North American higher education - RU Student Life. During my time at Ryerson, Hamza and I grew RU Student Life to be the number one student life brand in the country. Through our “by student, for students” model and game-changing campaigns like #RoadToRyerson, we as a brand and I as an individual earned numerous awards and accolades, media attention, and shared our knowhow across the world through countless conferences, webinars, writing opportunities, events, and more. This is how I built up my speaking career and my personal brand in marketing for higher education.  

Alongside all of my work in marketing, I was also heavily invested in media. Back at the beginning of university, I was determined to be a foreign news reporter. Between my second and third year, I even moved to China for the summer to teach English. I just wanted to be paid to travel. School always remained number one. I double minored in English and Journalism and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Along the way, I took as many short-term gigs as my capacity would allow and added brands like YTV, Corus Entertainment, and CityTV to my resume. In my fourth and final year of my undergrad, I worked in social media marketing for Bell Media’s music and entertainment channels: MTV, MuchMusic, E!, and M3. In my fourth year, I was also asked to join a social media think-tank at CBC. The connections I made there led to me landing a job as an assistant digital producer at CBC for the Pan Am Games in the Summer of 2015. The last thing I did in university was my thesis project Gen Y Perspective, an international multimedia project that explored Gen Y’s relationship with politics, religion, education, and careers. We worked with universities in Australia, the US, Israel, and Brazil. The project was covered by CTV News and picked up for air by Rogers TV. The project also made a profit. Though I resisted it for a lot of years, this project made me accept that my fate was to be an entrepreneur.  

Enter SkillsCamp, my current business. SkillsCamp is a school for soft skills. Through workshops, webinars, professional development, and custom curricula, we teach the soft skills needed for professional success. Across all industries, employers and industry leaders are identifying soft skills like communication, teamwork, time management, emotional intelligence, and leadership as essential skills for job hunters and employees alike. Yet, these critical skills and several others are relatively absent in the traditional education model. The result is students who become employees without the necessary skills to succeed in their careers. SkillsCamp teaches this “missing curriculum” to help people become more employable and more effective leaders and contributors. 

So here I am now about to start my Masters of Communication and Culture  at Ryerson in September 2016. If it isn’t obvious, a lot of my career happened concurrently. Who knows what will happen from here, but I’m excited! 

How did you develop the courage to stand tall & share your experiences with a global audience?  

This sounds like a copout answer, but I feel very fortunate to have grown up in two households with parents and siblings that all exude confidence. My parents were the ones everyone else wanted to be friends with. They commanded a room, but did it in a noticeably inclusive, non-invasive way. I had confident role models from a young age, and particularly strong, independent female role models, which has inevitably worn off on me.  

For better or worse, I have always taken my confidence from my professional and academic performance. I focus on good quality work over everything else. For me, media attention, followers, awards - all that stuff comes as a result of impactful work, not the other way around. Those wins boost my courage to try new and nerve-wracking things. When I’m faced with something scary or difficult, I remember a couple sentiments:

         i.  The worst thing that could happen is never really that bad.

       ii. If I try something new and it works, I grow and move forward. If I fail, then I stay right where I am now. There’s no downside to trying. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” right? (Wayne Gretzky) 

Sometimes it’s just about reframing how you see a situation to make it easier to conquer.  

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Who did you receive it from?  

It was likely more the timing of this advice then the advice itself. Between third and fourth year of university, I felt I had a life dilemma. I had planned on being a foreign news reporter forever, but my life and career had moved towards marketing and education. I didn’t know if I should stick with the original plan or move towards what I liked and what was opening doors. Remember that Hamza Khan character I mentioned in Question 1? I brought him my dilemma and he said:  

“Do what you like for as long as you like it.”  

It was so simple but heard at the right time and it made my decision very easy. I’ve since added:  

...or make moves to change your circumstances. 

I sound like a fortune cookie, but I believe we are all ultimately chasing our perceived version of happiness. We get married or have kids because we think it will make us happy. We want to make more money because we think the things we’ll be able to buy will make us happy. We sacrifice immediate happiness for greater happiness later on. If I’m doing something I no longer like, I start making active moves to change my circumstances and achieve happiness again.  

What advice would you have for someone who is scared to be seen online or on stage?

For one, focus on providing value to your audience. Don’t just showboat. I find if you actually try to help people and give them the tools they need to make their jobs easier, learn new mindfulness practices, gain inspiration - whatever it is for you - they care significantly less about things like where you grew up, what you look like, etc. Provide value above all.

Secondly, remember it’s always worse in your head, and your actions always determine the reaction. When my tech messes up on stage, I could get all nervous and sweaty and be silent and awkward. I could think everyone is judging me and I suck, but I don’t. My actions determine their reaction. I remind myself they’ve probably seen this happen a million times; I make a joke about the inevitability of tech failing on stage and play it off like it’s not a big deal. Guess what the audience then thinks? It’s not a big deal.

How do you deal with critics?

I’m a big thinker. Is it constructive or destructive criticism? I start by taking time to reflect and consider who it is coming from, what their circumstances are, and how much weight they hold with me. If they hold zero weight, I honestly give it very little thought. Then I consider what the criticism is about and analyze if there’s truth in it. I don’t take things too personally. If I see the truth, I think about how I can make changes to better myself. Ultimately though, I’m a fairly confident, non-emotional person. It’s a blessing and a curse. I don’t think my ways are perfect and I’m sure I can still learn, but it’s working for me so far.

How do you practice self-care in your daily busy life? 

I’ll admit I don’t have a huge self-care routine. I always have breakfast. Sometimes it’s after 90 minutes of morning work, but I have it. I also think a lot. I’m very comfortable, and quite happy, alone with my own thoughts, so I give myself time to do that whether it’s commuting with no music or planning alone-time in the week. Finally, I love good quality TV shows. I go-go-go all the time, but I like to watch TV shows as a sort of mindfulness practice when I’m getting ready in the morning or eating. It is calming. As for physical care, well I have some work to do there...

You’ve heard a lot of stories from prospective students and recent graduates. Any insight for someone who is struggling in transition to or from university?

Again, I feel very fortunate. Going to and from university felt seamless for me. I had the necessary tools in my box to navigate these tough transitions. However, I now own a school for soft skills where we try to help students develop those same tools so that challenges like this become easier.

In my experience, I’ve found recent graduates need to hear a few things:

         i. You’re not alone. You may feel you’re the only one going through this tough time, but I promise you there are hundreds of students feeling the exact same way.

        ii. Your university - whether going to or coming from - probably has more resources for you than you even know about. For example, career services are available to Ryerson alumni up to 5 years after they graduate and the school’s pushing to make that a lifetime benefit. Between them, your health and wellness department, professors and more, there’s probably resources and opportunities you haven’t found yet. Go looking!

       iii. Break overwhelming challenges into smaller, manageable tasks. You will feel more accomplished by completing more tasks and you’ll move towards your goals.

Lastly, how important is social support in overcoming obstacles?

In my experience, I have found it very helpful to have social support when making decisions. I like to bounce ideas off people and consider all views before drawing conclusions. If I tell people my problems, they may see solutions I do not. HOWEVER, I do not rely on social support. I believe in learning to find solutions on your own, and being confident and resourceful enough to navigate through and trust your decisions. I think social support should make you better, stronger and more informed, but if it disappears, I still want to be able to take care of myself and persevere. I also recognize everyone is different. If it hasn’t been evident in my answers here, I’m a fairly independent, self-reliant person. I see the benefit and drawbacks in that. My advice to people is just to spend time discovering yourself and really understanding what you need.

Thank you, Bailey, for being a leader on and off campus! I have to echo your advice for students and say the exact same for anyone out there struggling currently: “You’re not alone. You may feel you’re the only one going through this tough time, but I promise you there are hundreds of others feeling the exact same way.”

If you need momentum in moving forward, speak up and share your story with someone! You never know the impact of the conversation. Start talking :)