Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Rules for 'Having It All'

Who doesn't want to be able to have their cake and eat it too? Wouldn't it be silly not to? Click for photo credit.

In case you haven't heard me mention this before, I belong to Generation Y. By definition alone, this means I own an ipod, am a social media whiz, and possess a diluted sense of entitlement toward everything, including a fabulous career straight out of college. In reality, I only recently discovered my capacity for ipod-mastery, and I've somehow managed to steer clear from that holy grail of all social media: Twitter. Now as for the entitlement bit, well let's talk about that one.

Currently, my brain is waging a battle between two professional choices that more or less pit entitlement against accepting the situation. Choice No. 1 (i.e. entitlement) has me proposing an adapted work model and schedule to a brand new employer in order to follow a secondary fulfilling and fabulous, yet unpaid, opportunity (or FFU opp, for brevity's sake). Choice No. 2 (i.e. accepting the situation, as is) would be to forget about the additional FFU opportunity and just stick to the 8-5 model that was agreed upon initially, thus missing out on an incredible chance to gain valuable experience in a field of interest. I acknowledged the possibility for a Choice No. 3 which would be to forego my main employment gig to pursue solely the FFU gig, and work out the issue of income later. But I'd rather not resort to that, and if you read my entry on my current financial state, you'll probably agree that Choice No. 3 is not really a choice for me. So I have two choices. While I am positive about what I want, I'm not so clear on the rules: how far I'm allowed to negotiate, as a brand spankin-new employee, a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed young worker. On one hand, aren't workers granted the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment? Because no matter what people may say in their interviews, we're all in it for ourselves, to improve and gain a certain skill set, to advance in a certain field, to reach our professional goals. The FFU opportunity is absolutely a step toward my goals, so why shouldn't I be allowed to pursue it, and to negotiate for a work arrangement that can accommodate it?

On the other hand, am I just being selfish - one of those despicable Gen Y archetypes who hop from job to job on a whim, with seemingly no regard for their employers they leave in the dust; who think they are entitled to have it all: their full-time, well-paying job AND and the career equivalent of a side of delicious mashed potatoes - even if it means adjustments will be forced on the organization's part? With a grossly overflowing pool of candidates flooding the job market, part of me think I'm just plain stupid to consider a proposal like this.

So...Do I have to choose one over the other? Or is it possible to have both? Do I have to play only with the cards I've been dealt? Or am I allowed to bring in my own set?

What this boils down to is a question on rules and what we are allowed - or not allowed - to do/to ask/to present our employers. Everyone I've consulted on the matter can't seem to identify what the rules for this situation are. But I'll admit, even if there were rules, I probably would be inclined to not follow them anyway. In this tenuous, razor-edged competitive job market, where you can go from hired to fired in a matter of hours, and jobless to employed just as quickly, I would even argue that the rules - whatever they were - are fast becoming obsolete. The question at hand is no longer about how loyal you are to your company, what matters instead is whether or not you are able to do your job - and do it better than (almost) anyone else. And once you look at it that way, the notion of entitlement - being able to pursue the maximum amount of opportunities available to you, and to negotiate for them yourself - sounds a lot less selfish. Its actually smart.
Obviously, my decision cannot only benefit me while costing the organization, and this will be factored into whatever case I present to the boss. But I've decided I can live with the worst-case scenario of Choice No. 1, especially if failure is really the best negotiating tool, as Rebecca Thorman suggests.

I certainly don't have a whole lot to lose. Come to think of it, that might just be the reason behind Gen Y's brazen insistence on having it all.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Try your wings

Amidst my loftiest aspirations and plans for achieving cross-longitudinal, multi-tiered success - there is doubt. The minute I reach a goal or the chance to prove myself, I will probably freeze. Luckily, its usually just a temporary chill and not a full-out case of frost-bite in which I'm forced to cut off something - an activity, a habit, my arm. But still, the moment is daunting and sometimes, paralyzing. 

I've just entered one of those situations where I feel like I've bitten into a huge piece of steak, immediately followed by a spoonful of mashed potatoes, not to be outdone by a goopy glob of chocolate lava cake (who's hungry now?). And I'm worried it may have been just a bit too much. Of course, in the case of food, I tend to follow the mantra that too much is never enough, so this analogy doesn't really apply.

The thing is, my doubt is entirely pre-emptive.
This time, I think I'll try out my wings before I convince myself I'll fall. And keep in mind that falling is never really bad.  

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Out with the old, in with the "to do"

" Leave time, leave space, to grow. Now...not tomorrow."

                         -Og Mandino

I'll never be one of those people with clutter-free tabletops, and I like it that way. Sure, I could stand to keep things a bit tidier, but I like to think that if my little home was a picture from the poor-man's Martha Stewart Living, I wouldn't be able to perform the immensely satisfying weekend-long clean-a-thon known as SPRING CLEANING! (Nice rationalization, huh?) That's what this weekend has been, and though it wasn't a complete overhaul it did shake up some dust and free some space. AND I even made some money selling the items in my closet that had won the contest for biggest dust-bunny collector. Success!

Of course, some of the greatest satisfaction that comes from cleaning is the mental space that gets cleared out in the process. Throwing out material objects, whatever they signify or don't signify, allows me to part with the stuff in my head. My home feels fresh again and new; I feel refreshed and renewed.

This mental version of spring cleaning has spurred a renewal in my motivation toward professional pursuits, and just in time. I've got a couple handfuls of part time jobs (to supplement my income) to apply to this week and am feeling excited about all of them. My to-do list is lengthy and ambitious once again, my day planner filling up with contact meetings.  I am finally getting a handle on my finances (long overdue). I have emptied out the physical and mental space for all this to happen, and it feels really nice.

We don't need the start of a new year to feel re-freshed, to start anew with our goals and plans and to be focused in them. Sometimes all it takes is a Saturday. And some dust rags.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last Days

Today is a hectic day. It's the last day I will be working at my job, and the last day that our office will be open at this location. We've got bins and boxes rivaling an airport security check line; opening a door is near impossible as is walking a straight line. The place is chaotic. While the change for me is not so signficant; for many of my co-workers who have spent ten or twenty years in this same office, today marks a huge transition. There's a distinct 'last-day-of-school' feeling floating throughout the whole building - and adding to this throwback feeling, a good old-fashioned pizza party! People you had previously acknowledged with a simple "Hello" are now sharing their histories and asking about your's. It always amazes me how these interactions tend to occur at the very last minute. Why does it take an ending to encourage these beginnings? Tired and trite as it sounds, there is really something to be said about treating each day as though it were your last. Who knows what kinds of relationships might be forged, what types of collaborations and ideas spurred...

The whole last-day syndrome also led me to recall a time in my life when I could not imagine a more terrible occurannce than an ending. Of anything! A tv show would air its finale and I'd be beside myself, the Spice Girls broke up and I composed a veritable thesis on my mourning. The last day of summer vacation was unbearable, as was the last day of school ironically. Basically, I never wanted anything to end. I was terrified of change, which was why the majority of high school was a pretty tough time for me. Obviously now, I can chalk up most of this to plain old growing pains - as much a part of childhood as Sesame Street bedsheets. But the funny thing was that I thought I would always have this painful aversion to change, that I would end up missing out on opportunities because I was too afraid of their inevitable end.

Now (thankfully), change is no longer the four-letter word I once imagined it to be. And indeed it has five. Now, I seek change. I welcome newness. Of experiences and people. Of places and events. And its not just because the new is inherently exciting and fresh - because sometimes its scary. Its not just because growth occurs in the situations most foreign to you - because you can also find ways to grow within the context of the familiar.

I guess I have learned to embrace change in the same way I've learned to embrace life - for all its fluctuations and circuitous movement. Nothing is static. There's both comfort and caution in the notion that what is here today may not be tomorrow. It is a relief to know that the bad will not stay forever, a harrowing reminder to enjoy the good that will eventually pass. Today, I walked home a little more slowly, looked at each person I passed longer, listened to the city's wild symphony more closely. Soon, it will have changed. I will have changed.

My new job begins on Tuesday: proof that our courses can change at a mile a minute. And for once, I'm loving every second.

P.S. How do you like the new space? For a girl with no clue about HTML/CSS/or whatever else you call it, it feels pretty good. Still working out some kinks, though. There is no fairy godmother of blogs, it seems.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How I became a money pit without even knowing it

My reaction exactly, Tom Hanks!

Finance is one of my least favorite subjects in the world - to talk about, write about, read out, or think about. Basically, I could go the rest of my adult life never uttering or hearing another utter a syllable that relates in any way to money. But unfortunately, when I say "finance" here, I'm also referring to my own finances. I've known that this ignorance-is-bliss approach to my cash stash makes a true recipe for personal ruin, if not macro-level, national disasters (Financial meltdown of '08). So after some nudging, in the form of unexpected bills, I've forced myself to take a cold hard look at the reality. And its not pretty, friends.

Alright, I'm exaggerating a little. Its not that bad. I'm not going to be belting out "Hard Knock Life" on street corners for pennies anytime soon. I will, however, be belting out "Hard Knock Life" on street corners for fun, so get ready Seattle! But.. its definitely time that I begin to really assess my spending habits, and re-think my relationship to money.

I am, after all, an adult. Gulp.

You might think that this last sentence conceals a deeply embedded fear of growing up, that my disregard to spending marks a subconscious desire to remain forever young. But its really much more complicated than that. When offered money by family members, I typically turn it down. I've preferred to be financially independent for as long as I've had the means (aka, a job). In that sense, I've actually welcomed the financial responsibilities accumulating after college. Yet these responsibilities of mine were only sort of there, in the same way that you'll tell people you're doing one thing and believe you're doing that same thing. But your actions - and in this case, transactions show otherwise. There was a discrepancy between the responsibilities I claimed to want, and the way I was holding myself accountable for them. Essentially, I made a financial agreement with myself that was far too broad, lenient, and carried out sans intention. In the past month, my friends heard me repeatedly aspire to save more and spend less; yet an hour after my fifth grand proclomation that month, I'd be lounging comfortably in a booth sipping a G&T with my gals! Or, I would come up with a "budget", probably something written on a napkin at lunch and then tossed into my purse where it would sit for days. And though those numbers would remain in my consciousness faintly, they weren't present enough for me to refrain from that fateful shopping trip to Whole Foods. 

Wait, now I'm actually feeling nostalgic at the memory of the past few months, because - and I have to be honest - I lived like a modern day, middle class, urban princess! And you know what? It was incredible! The past couple months of my life have been one huge celebration of everything: my friends' accomplishments, my friends' birthdays, my friendships, my accomplishments, my non-accomplishments, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays...you get the picture, right? If I do a mental re-cap, I was actually living the kind of life I'd always imagined I'd be living at 23. A life that was full of adventure and challenges (trapeze and mountain climbing), great food and drink (both home-cooked and eaten-out), culture (live music, art, theatre). And I got to share it all with some of the best friends in existence. 

I realize that changes are necessary and I'm fully prepared to make them. I'm looking forward to meeting a realistic and smart budget, thanks to this neato site (it even texts you the second you go over your alloted spending). I'm looking forward to saving. I have lived incredibly over the past few months, and its time to start paying for it. Yes, literally and figuratively. And while it was ugly for a few days to take a good hard look at things, it was necessary. I'm learning. I'll find new ways to have my fun that won't require swiping the plastic. And I'm not going to wallow about my new strict budget, or bemoan the loss of my beloved nightcaps at Flowers. 

Because I am an adult now, and I guess that's just what adults are supposed to do. Hey, look, I didn't even gulp that time! 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Just Like a Woman

Kathryn Bigelow accepting her Oscar for Best Director - Click for picture credit

It's International Women's Day today (which I had never heard of until last night when I looked at my day planner, probably because its not an official holiday in the U.S.) and so, how fitting it is that on a day dedicated to celebrating the social, political, economic, and artistic achievements of women around the globe; here in the U.S., we just witnessed a woman take home a Best Directing Oscar for the very first time. Obviously, this achievement pales in signficance to those with truly resounding, large-scale impacts elsewhere, but I believe Kathryn Bigelow's win last night is far from frivolous. Its easy to get get excited when someone becomes the first to do something and even to promote and advocate for it just for novelty's sake. But I think there's so much more to this occasion than just the ability to say this marks 'a first'.

Watching the three and half hour long telecast, the prevalence of gender divisions within the film/media industry - like so many others - was more than obvious. The nominees in categories such as best screenplay, editing, sound mixing, special effects, cinemotography were predominantly male; while women's presence was visible only in the costume and makeup categories. And of course, women were most visible in the audience as beautiful, luminous, sparkling actresses. Not that there's anything wrong with being beautiful and sparkling - but it was an all-too-rare and inspiring moment to see a woman honored not for her work in front of the camera, but behind it. And yet, her movie itself was far removed from any of the politics inherent in the subject matter, a decision that allowed this story to unfold simply, beautifully, powerfully. This was not just a fantastic film by a woman director, this was a fanastic film, period.

Watching Ms. Bigelow accept her award, I couldn't help but think of how this moment had the potential to erase or at least make less visible those limitations and divisions found in the Kodak Theatre and beyond; how more women in film might  be encouraged (rather than turned away) to make movies which are not about love, fashion, and/or how to be fashionable while finding love. The significance of the moment has implications for women even beyond those in film; for the women whose stories might be shared as a result of outstanding female filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow, and for the millions of women who might be impacted in an invariable number of ways by these films, no longer relegated to small-scale, independent, and limited distributions.

Because as we can see, the U.S. has been less than active in promoting gender equality via policy; seemingly miniature milestones like this, and their ensuing patterns are then increasingly vital. Living in a large, progressive city and working alongside an abundance of influential, talented women, my reality is often deceptive. But its not hard to see there is still a long way to go to attain equal status in the everyday spaces we occupy. While we can look at women's earnings and work/leisure ratios in comparison to men, in fact, it seems the largest and most impactful inequalities are the ones so ingrained, so commonplace, that identifying or describing them is near impossible without looking outside of our immediate scope. To be sure, the work of women and men committed to these causes is relentless and ongoing, 365 days a year. However, this one dedicated day to applaud and examine their accomplishments thus far has some useful qualities, namely, to encourage discussions on where future efforts might be directed. It is time for women's voices to be given equal weight in the spaces we inhabit, locally and globally. Whether the changes that occur are tangible or symbolic is not so important. And while I was thrilled to celebrate last night's first, I'm looking forward to the fifths, the tenths, and the twentieths.

Update: NYTimes article on the impact of Bigelow's win, and what her refusal to be an explicitly "female-director" means: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/movies/14dargis.html?ref=global-home

Friday, March 5, 2010

just a poem


Photo credit: ME via flickr

Just a poem for today, to welcome March, and the weekend, and the new spring with the widest of embraces. There's just no better way to describe this feeling or this day or this season, and no better way to honor what has been lost, or left behind over the winter's course. No better way to come out of the season's perpetual shade than by thanking the trees which lend it.



There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

-Jane Kenyon

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On irony, and the importance of being earnest

I am so proud to include my first literary reference in my blog! My English degree is all Jennifer Lopez: 
Nearly six months ago, I was tiredly searching for a job and felt like I had exhausted all potential contacts, all avenues for revenue-gains, all cover letter templates, and worst of all, myself. My countless applications yielded little responses, and even less interviews. Those interviews yielded no offers, and well, you can see the pattern there.. And then, on one unassuming Monday afternoon, I got a call from the temp agency I had interviewed with a month earlier, to begin a job the next morning at 8 am. Fifteen hours later, I was planted in front of a computer screen and phone, answering job-seekers questions about their applications and resumes. It could not have been more ironic if it were in that Alanis Morrisette song (which, can we please talk about how someone should have proofread those lyrics because sister can't tell irony from just plain bad luck). Yet I quickly learned how perfecly the stars had been aligned in my favor, because this job was providing me with a birds' eye view of the hiring practices and structural layout at a major organization, one that I had been trying to break into for months. My mouth was foaming in those first few days at the expanse of information that was literally at my eager fingertips. If they only knew who they hired to put in this chair, I kept thinking to myself. Of course, my scope was more narrow in the larger scheme of things - the organization's size, and state-affiliation make it a not so average example; but still, this was a temp job that would prove tremendously valuable considering the short amount of time it has lasted.

Most importantly: I've gained some badly-needed perspective. On the job market, on the ins and outs of hiring, on the politics of office relations, on the incompetencies of massive institutions. Not to mention the technical incompetencies of waaay too many people out there. For instance, did you know there are professionally employed people in this country who do not have the technical capacity to copy and paste? Well there are, and I hope that I talked to all of them in the past six months, otherwise America's computer literacy is in worse shape than I ever thought possible. But all joking aside, this has been the part of the job I found to be the most enjoyable. I will generously estimate that I have spoken to thousands of candidates in this time, many unemployed, many desperately, desperately needing work. They have run the gamut of all spectrums, in profession, economic class, and ethnicity. I've spoken to custodians from Ethiopia and millionaire CEOs in China. They all wanted a job, and they all wanted me to help. Many of these conversations played out politely, generically. But many were wrought with anger, frustration, sadness as their various situations were described. And while there have been times that I've been thankful for the phone receiver that divides me and the caller, or given myself a headache from rolling my eyes too far back into my head; on the whole, I've actually been touched by these conversations in which people share so much of themselves. Their openness inspired my own honesty, and I hope its safe to admit that sometimes, I gave more help than was "officially" allowed. I never accepted bribes - bizarre, but there were offers - or gave out information that would give a candidate an unfair advantage, but I always gave my most earnest and sincere responses, no matter how many times I had to give them. And this approach wasn't only applied to clients (as those are the rules of customer service, after all), but to supervisors and co-workers as well. My ability to be sincere in my interactions and direct in my requests from them, ultimately, leads me into my next job. 

Earnestness in the workplace is something to strive for always. For all its power, it is undervalued and underused. Imagine if we all communicated with eachother with the utmost honesty; if we felt we were allowed to say what we mean to say at our jobs, within the codes of civility, of course.

So now, for old-times sake, I will reflect on a few additional take-away lessons as I prepare to depart this "little job that would":

-A back-slash can mean different key-strokes for different folks:You say  \  I say  / . Its best to describe this as "the symbol that shares a key with the question mark" just to err on the side of safety.

-If someone comes into the office thinking they've been shot, kindly offer them a seat but do not engage in prolonged eye contact even when they begin to talk about hot-button topics like gay marriage or Lindsay Lohan.

-Lastly, when someone smiles at you, smile back. When someone says 'thank you', thank them as well. It is these moments that brighten a dull day, and its only the least we can do. The very, very least.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Y" is for "YUCKIES"..?

The Times' Ben Schott features this recently coined acronym in his vocab blog today; thereby infuriating hundreds of thousands of young people around the world. Or maybe just me. To let him off the hook, Scott wasn't the one who came up with the term, which stands for "Young Unwitting Costly Kids"; and in fact, no one seems to be taking credit for this sweet little nickname which manages to both insult and deflate the morale of its 20-something namesakes. Schott pulls the word from an article written by a self-proclaimed YUCKIE herself (pushing 30, I hardly feel she can call herself a 'kid' but that's a whole 'nother story) who goes into the boggy statistics behind the word. To sum it up, Gen Y is eating up their parents' 401K savings accounts, regular savings accounts, vacation cruise, and emergency savings accounts - as if their lives depended on it. Because with unemployment hovering around 50% for this age bracket, their lives, or at least their livelihood, indeed do depend on it. And they're eating up a lot more than just money, as scores of them head for greener pastures - and stocked cupboards - in their parents' homes. These are apparently called the 'boomerang' kids, but make no mistake, as the article mentions a half million 35-44 year olds moved back in with Mom & Dad in the UK last year. But no worries, the parents do get to join in on the fun of having a new generational nickname! Now dubbed the "baby-gloomers", they face growing financial uncertainty and with that, a less rosy picture of retirement as a result of their adult children's postponed professional incomes.

You know what I want to say to that? Boo-hoo. Thankfully, the author quickly changes her tune midway through the article and adopts the same tough love approach. I've got a mountain full of gratitude for my parents and the various types of support they've given me without question, but we cannot expect to feel sympathy for the set of Americans who embarked on their adult paths during an era of low-cost higher education, and unparalleled economic prosperity and growth; when one could realistically expect to retire at age 65, sell their house for more than they paid, and drive their motor home around the country without guilt of carbon emissions. Yes, in case you were uncertain, that was feigned romanticism. But the reason we shouldn't feel sorry is because that will only make us feel guilty and we all know what a mess that can lead to.

Times are tough right now. But I don't believe in feeling guilty for being where we are (or where we aren't) or sorry for anyone, not even my generation whose professional development and subsequent lifetime earning potential will take a dramatic nosedive in comparison to previous generations, including those 'baby gloom and doomers'. I'll even go one step further to say that I'm glad this change is taking place. Because although job security and guaranteed pension sounds great, these things also meant you were expected to stay in one place for the majority of your working life. At one company. At one job - or maybe a couple if you count promotions and such. We've seen enough dramatizations, both real-life and staged, of the mid-century businessman to realize that this formula has a serious tendency of producing depressed, creatively stifled and claustrophobic individuals (in movies, always with drinking problems). This outdated  model also meant that the company had ultimate control over the direction of one's career, or at least, more control than they have now.  I'm happy about the predictions that show our generation will be changing jobs something like every 18 months, and shifting through sectors and careers at a pace of about every 5-7 years. Doesn't this just mean more opportunities for growth, for success? For innovation to occur more rapidly? For people to have greater autonomy over decisions regarding work and the way they fit work into their lives? I wish more people would begin to embrace the change, rather than lamenting the loss of 'securities' which were tenuous to begin with. And so what? You're 27 and living with your parents, or you're 58 and you've got a 30-year old in your basement.  Imagine the types of cross-generational intelligence that could be fostered within these new models, and the benefits it could bring to our towns and communities. The picture may not be the rosiest one, but it sure isn't black. 

I'm hoping for the quick demise of this insulting and inaccurate term. We are young, and certainly costly, but we are far from unwitting. My impression is that we're fighting to overcome the challenges we're facing, through hard work, acute awareness, and passion that fuels it all. So...that would make: H.W.A.A.P.? Alright, we'll work on that too.