Ornamental Advice For Solid Business Success

Ornamental Advice for Solid Business Success | KOTAW Content MarketingThe first year when I was truly an adult — career, house and a mortgage — I asked my parents for a single Christmas present: tree ornaments.

They gave me four boxes of brand new, plastic blue balls, and I was crestfallen. What I’d wanted — what I’d asked for — were some of the ornaments that had hung on the family tree every Christmas, a sample of the delicate Santas and painted reindeer that I’d admired every year.

“Wait,” my mother said, “until you’re settled. Your living room is still cluttered with moving boxes.”

The following December I received the gift I’d requested, a shoebox full of old ornaments, nestled in new tissue paper. The tissue paper was an extravagance for my mom — she reused 20-year-old newspapers to wrap her own decorations — and I was moved that she’d sheathed the adornments and my memories with such care.

I tossed out the blue bulbs and decorated that year’s tree with my mom’s multi-hued, hand-blown glass treasures. The tree was large, and it looked pretty bare with a dozen ornaments, and more than a few people asked if I’d hired Charlie Brown to decorate it.

“Wait,” I said, “until you see what my tree looks like in a few years. This is just the beginning.”

From that day forward, I bought ornaments, one at a time or in pairs, from tacky flea markets and fancy department stores, on long vacations and short business trips. And I asked friends and relatives to contribute to my growing collection.

Tradition Continues

On my elder daughter’s first Christmas, two days before her first birthday, she reached for one of the ornaments on our tree and said, “please.”

“Wait, I said, “until next year, when it’s safer. I don’t want you to get hurt on a hook.”

When next December came, she had no interest in any of the ornaments on my tree. But there was one she wanted from my parents’. It was a dog angel, my dad’s favorite. I thought he’d say no. Instead he said,

“Wait five years, when you’re old enough to appreciate it. Until then, you can pick any ornament from the tree you want, one each year.”

And so she did. And, when her younger sister was old enough, they both picked an ornament from their grandparents’ tree.

Two days before her seventh birthday, my older daughter stood on her tippy toes and gently lifted the dog-angel ornament from a branch just slightly out of easy reach.

In early January, I wrapped her ornament in tissue paper and tucked it away with the others.

Katherine Kotaw's daughters with their granddad

Katherine Kotaw’s daughters with their (oh so tall!) granddad.

Tradition Travels

Before the next Christmas arrived, I was warned that my life was in danger and that I should pack emergency belongings in case I had to travel on little or short notice. Dutifully, I packed three duffel bags with what I was told were life’s essentials — underwear, toiletries, pajamas and coats — but I never took the process seriously. I borrowed toothpaste from the stash when I was too busy to go the drugstore and plucked rolled-up socks out of their hiding place when I was too tired to do the laundry.

As it turned out, we did have to move. More than a dozen times before settling into our current home, where we’ve lived for five years, the most permanent residence my daughters have ever known. We left furniture, appliances and cars behind. We never traveled with those duffel bags.

And that’s OK. It’s easy enough to find a new sofa, a washing machine and a minivan. We’ve never lived in a town that didn’t carry hand soap or hand bags.

But I smuggled, stowed, shipped and carried across country borders and state lines the things we could never replace: photographs, homemade gifts from my daughters and our Christmas ornaments.

My single shoebox has grown to 11 large plastic containers of ornaments, each with a story of its own. A few are stunningly beautiful and some are ridiculously ugly. Most are pristine, but some have puppy teeth marks, a few are chipped and one has yellowed with age. I love every one of them.

Every December, I’ve unwrapped the ornaments and watched my daughters hang them on our tree. Each January, I’ve rewrapped them in tissue paper and tucked them away until the next holiday season.

Tradition Takes a Holiday

The KOTAW Christmas tree -- illuminated by lights and Los Angeles sunshine!

The KOTAW Christmas tree — illuminated by lights and Los Angeles sunshine!

Except this one. The cherished tradition will be put on hold. Until January, February, maybe Spring.

This year, when I contemplated shopping, wrapping, baking and tree-trimming — activities I usually begin in October and pursue with unbridled glee for the next 11 weeks — a voice inside my head said,

“Wait. Wait! There’s something more important to do this year.”

More important than buying presents, rolling out butter tart dough and hanging the dog-angel on the tree? What could be more important than doing all these things?

Writing about them.

Tradition Takes a New Turn

Penning the 12 Days of KOTAW has been the absolute best way for me to spend my time this December. Friends and partners may disagree when I tell them their gift this year is a dozen URLs, but I’m trusting them to understand.

These posts celebrate my distant past as well as the first six months of KOTAW Content Marketing, a company I dreamed of launching more than a decade ago. I wasn’t ready then. I didn’t have the team, the confidence or the business stability to create the agency I knew it could be.

But, just as I asked for and started collecting glass ornaments as a young adult, I solicited the people and support I needed to build my company. I waited for KOTAW, and it waited for me.

In a few days, as the new year draws closer, you’ll hear a lot of advice about pushing forward and fast-tracking success. You’ll be told you can discard bad habits as easily as you can haul a dead evergreen to the curb. Someone will tell you that it’s just as easy to get page one Google rankings as it was to stuff your holiday turkey. So-called experts will promise you social media success if you tweet automated messages two times a week.

They’ll be wrong.

Success is like my ornament collection. You must seek it, grow it and protect it. Reach out to the highest branches to get what you want, but be willing to wait for what’s really important.

It’s better to give than to receive, but I do want something from you: your comments!  Please share your thoughts below. Wishing you and your loved ones a fabulous holiday season!


  1. Aww..darling…

    How am I going to live without your Personal Branding messages? :( For the last 12 days, I have waited in breathless anticipation for your FB or G+ post that announces your next message.

    Your posts have made me laugh, cry and FEEL. I am going to miss these gems so very much :-(

    Thank you for being the master storyteller that you are.

    But – MOST importantly – thank you for being the BEAUTIFUL person that you are.

    LOVE you #HUGSSS

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Dear Kit,

      The bigger question is how I’m going to survive without your daily comments on my blogs!! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have had someone so excited every day to read my next story. I could not have asked for a better Christmas gift than that and I’m getting choked up as I write this because your support, enthusiasm and beyond thoughtful comments have tugged at my heart strings and made me smile more than you will ever know.

      Don’t worry because while it won’t be every day (I need to bake my cookies and regain my strength with lots and lots of sugar!) I will still be writing regular stories here on the KOTAW blog and will be back on New Year’s Day with a wrap up of the 12 Days and lessons on how to rock your digital marketing and branding strategy in the New Year! So stay tuned :)

      In the meantime, sending you lots of love and the best ever wishes for a happy holiday filled with love, warm hugs and much cheer and laughter.



  2. Oh Katherine,
    I’m with Krithika – I’ve looked forward to all of your posts. I have enjoyed them all – more than you could know. I have teared up more than once reading your beautiful prose.

    And It makes me think of two things. One – I hope that someday I get to meet you in person and hear you elaborate on some of these warm moments and memories over a cup of coffee. Two- I hope that someday when you have time, you will consider writing a book. You are such an amazing storyteller. Whether you decide to write a non-fiction account of your life or a fictional novel, I will be your first customer!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family and thank you for sharing such wonderful stories and marvelous tips!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      What a lovely gift, Elizabeth! I will reopen this on Christmas. I may even find some way to turn it into an ornament to hang on next year’s tree!

      Your warm words always make me smile, and I would be delighted to share stories with you over a cup of coffee (though I suspect it will be many cups). But only if you promise to tell me at least as many stories as I tell you.

      The dramatic part of my life has actually been published as a book and is slated to air as a Lifetime movie next fall. (A lot of people say their life is a movie-of-the-week, but mine actually is — a dubious honor)

      There are happier books in my future, though, and I’m currently working on one. Storytelling is like oxygen to me, so I will never go long without sharing one. Please keep reading them!

      Enjoy a wonderful holiday — and tuck your ornaments away with care!

      • Many cups of coffee indeed – and I’d love to share my stories as well :-)
        I am not surprised about your book and upcoming movie. As I wrote the book comment, I wondered if you didn’t already have something out. Will you please keep me posted on the Lifetime movie. And I’d love to read that book if you wouldn’t mind sharing the information about it.

        Happy holidays to you and yours. I hope you get a little time to bake and decorate and enjoy! You deserve it!!

        • Katherine Kotaw says:

          Hi, Elizabeth,

          My apologies for the slow reply. I was going to post a picture of a bear on social media and say I was hibernating, but I think I will be more like a groundhog this week, popping up occasionally to make certain I don’t miss anything.

          Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and have happy plans for the rest of the holidays.

          I’ll keep you posted on the movie and will send you details about the book when I can.

          I look forward to hearing your stories!!

  3. […] Be Patient, Persistent and Passionate: Ornamental Advice for Solid Business Success […]

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  5. Kristen says:

    Another heart-felt blog Katherine that resonated. If you could see our tree, you would see that it is filled with homemade ornaments made by Danielle when she was a little girl. My favorite? A paper heart on which she drew a family portrait. Complete with a flat line for her daddy’s hair because she said she didn’t know how to draw “boy hair.” Then there is the handmade beautiful ornament given to me by my grandmother who received one every year from her sister. My great aunt loved making these treasures and my grandmother delighted in receiving a new one each year for her collection. Of course our tree would not be the same without all of the little photos that marked the passage of time as Danielle grew through the years. And, who watches and protects all these precious gifts? Santa of course! Just as he has done since my husband’s grandfather was a little boy. He may be a little worn with age, but each year he hangs proudly from the top reminding of the gifts of family, love & memories.

    Wishing you and your daughters a happy & blessed day full of joyful memories. And now, I must start a new day of memories myself. It is time to wake my family and get our own celebration underway! Sending you love and prayers this special day. May it bring you all great new treasures from the heart. XOXO

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      What a lovely message to wake up to on Christmas morning! I can imagine the family portrait drawn by Danielle hanging on the tree and envision the extra care you take to preserve the fragile heart. And all the photos! Each tree-trimming must be a joy-filled trip down memory lane.

      I am honored that you took time today to share some of your memories with me. My daughters, who were up until all hours putting the finishing touches on a homemade gift, will be delighted to read your note when they roust themselves out of bed.

      Your note counts as our first “treasure from the heart,” and we cherish it this year and for many Christmases to come.

      Merry, MERRY Christmas to you and your family, Kristen!



  6. Jill says:

    What a beautifully written blog post, Katherine! Thank you so much for sharing your precious memories. The sight of your sparkling decorated Christmas tree adorned with so many memories must fill your hearts with joy every holiday season!

    I love your comparison of your ornament collection to business success. Seek it, grow it, and protect it. You need to be constantly pursuing your dream but be patient enough to wait for what you really need and what’s most important to your success. In the end, all that you’ve worked for and the time it took to grow, will be worth it! :)

    Best wishes to you and your daughters for the happiest New Year! May the year ahead be filled with amazing moments!! Sending hugs to you all!! XOXO

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      It’s so lovely to see you here, Jill! Thank you so much for stopping by!

      It takes us a long time to decorate the tree each year — and take down the ornaments at the end of the holiday season — because each ornament has a story to tell. We enjoy, rather than rush through the process.

      It’s unfortunate that so many people think that business success comes as easily as ordering a pair of shoes on Amazon. They miss out on real rewards — and the joy of discovering them. Your passion and patience are well-modulated for sustained success, and I look forward to watching your growth and progress.

      Wishing you a million happy moments in 2016.



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