Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Santa Baby...I want some Chalkboard Paint!

Today's post is brought to you out of absurdity. And tradition. Mostly absurdity.
You know how it is: you visit friends, speech gets twisted, things are said out of context, you say something horribly embarrassing and off color and it haunts you for a year. Which of course means your friends also coined some ridiculous phrases, but  YOU don't remember them. Why? Why so unprepared! I have a solution!

Need to write something down? Do it on the WALL!

Yeah, yeah. Quote boards are popular, and part of the tradition I mentioned earlier. I once bought a poster board on day #1 of a 2 week trip to Minnesota, and by the end we were cramming things to fit on there. Accidental innuendos spurred on by pulling all-night talk sessions ::cough, cough:: or wine....Anyways, it has since been laminated and is living in someone's closet. For a reunion maybe. Where we will laugh at ourselves. I heartily recommend the practice.

Well, fabulously creative phrases, and accidents, and sometimes poor comebacks just seem to "POOF!" into existence in my house. And I need a quote board. I know, "Don't you have an expo board for that!? I mean you are obsessed!" Well, no. Because, by definition Expo-topia is organized. And my quote wall should be anything but. ::petulantly sticks out her tongue::

When Sisterita and I were kids, my DAD actually brought home a 4x6 ft chalkboard. Sisterita loved it. I think she still laments its loss in the house sale. My point is, I got curious and decided to look into buying a chalkboard for capturing the quotes and fun and silly sayings! But...I discovered CHALKBOARD PAINT. The flexibility! The options! The stylish nature of it! I mean LOOK what I found!

Have a new obsession with Greek architecture? DONE.
Want to let your dinner party know the menu for the evening? Hell, they could rate it! 

Or, if you are a vampire and can't abide mirrors?
What if you have your own Wilson, you know from Home Improvement?
 Only your neighbor is mute. And mysterious... Probably anti-hero seductive. Well, now he can leave you notes. On the fence. In a gloomier garden, of course. More wild ivy, less sandalwood furniture.

The one I couldn't find: the one by the "facilities." I mean, how much easier would like for dive bar owners be if they painted stalls with chalk paint that they could wash, vs replacing metal doors vandalized by drunken, vindictive exes? You know I am right. I should invent that.

So, Santa...how about some Chalkboard Paint? I have been downright noble this year. Let's make it happen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Working Woman's Woes: Mentors

Feel like a post straight out of left field? Read the Overview here like a good reader! 

Best advice I was ever given: find a mentor. It isn't easy. I have not perfected the art by any means, and I wish I could have started at 17. Still, I have discussed the matter at length with friends all across the nation (and world), each in different professions. The need for a mentor never fluctuated in any of those situations. In several cases, the mentor presence made the difference between promotion at the 1 or 3 year mark. Same college pedigrees, same GPA profiles, similar college internships, often obsessive work ethics, similar corporate/non-profit cultures and still...different promotional timelines.

Seeking out that one great sounding board can be difficult for complicated reasons. There is the personality compatibility factor: you will not have success if you fail to identify with the person. There is the timing factor: sometimes there just isn't time to find one! We are busy proving ourselves! But find on you should. End of story.

Also, let us not forget the hard truth that not every industry has continuity: someone in hospitality can learn best practices for customer relations and apply them 80% of the time, while someone in public relations needs a mentor familiar with the regional and social markets that he/she is working in. Even more daunting, is the speed at which our communications are changing with the advent of social media. We may have constant access to knowledge, and the ability to share events and information, but there is still an etiquette of professionalism that applies to everyone...unless you are Perez Hilton. In which case, just stop reading. No, really. STOP.

"Would You Be My Mentor?"  

Initiating the conversation that leads to the non-verbal "yes, I will be your mentor" should not be nerve racking. You do not have to deliver an evite equivalent to the "Be Mine" hearts of February. I mean you are not approaching anyone for a date. And if you are (mainly the sisters out there) you should seriously reconsider your intentions! Rejection should not be the greatest fear in this case. If you just don't know where to begin, try this:
  • Build a list of people whose work you respect, perhaps they are co-workers or superiors, but they might also be at another firm or organization. They might be in another career field.
  • Use networking events for easy initial meetings, or leverage your personal and professional relationships to score a one-on-one introduction.
  • Do not barrage anyone with 21 questions about work mere moments after learning his or her name; sometimes the most important lessons are in the personal details of someone's story. I.E. Why this area to work? Where was their start? So, listen. Find personal commonalities, like hiking or restaurants. The thing to remember is that GENUINE interactions should always be valued. You may be on an active search for a mentor, but you are also looking for a friend in this professional Yoda character.
  • Never underestimate the value of your friends and family; sometimes, they can identify more readily than you why an obstacle at work is standing in your way. After all, they are stuck with your personal and professional eccentricities. 
"I Got an Email BACK! Now what?"

Professional courtesy dictates that you be the available one, as you are the one who needs something. Be patient. Do coffee whenever possible. Keep in touch with emails, or whatever mode of communication is best suited to the person you feel you can learn from. The reality is, unless you are the incorrigible Jeremy Piven on Entourage, most colleagues want to foster new talent in their field. That said, those professionals have lives outside of their careers: they paid their dues, found their niches, and deserve to ignore you during an 8 week period in the summer. Use that time to beef up your resume, or hell, improve your golf game. Something!

The key to making the most of a mentor relationship is to be appreciative of any advice or time you are given. And to maintain (a non obsessive level of) contact. Learn what you can. Life will always be the best teacher, so you are going to figure out just what not to say to the client whose marketing account you are courting the hard way. It is going to happen: you will make a mistake and have no one to blame but yourself. The beauty is that your mentor will help out once you have made the faux pas, since more than likely, he or she can tell you how to pick yourself up and move on...or, if you are lucky, just how to fix it.

One last thing: never presume to use the advice or connections of your mentor without permission. You have been given a gift in his or her knowledge. Respect that. If your mentor is with a competing firm or agency, under no situation should you scalp their professional plans. I have seen it ruin careers and reputations. Do NOT do it. Success almost always follows the ambitious, but respect in your professional circle follows integrity.

When One Person Is Not Enough~

I mentioned earlier that sometimes a field is complex. How can an architect, or construction site manager, do his job without knowledge of the topography, current technologies available, or personality of the target audience or construction crew? Well, I never said you should stop at one mentor. You didn't stop at Psychology 101 did you, Mr. Psychiatrist?  No, I didn't think so!

Lists! (You know I love those.) What what help you? If you are in media, maybe you need to have a seasoned journalist in your friend set...but would it hurt to have someone who can walk you through the ins and outs of the local industry issues? After all, if presenting a sensitive labor issue how do you navigate relationships between plant managers and the unions without alienating either? Or maybe a situation calls for some marketing expertise: if you are writing a column or preparing a human interest piece, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have someone advise you on the way to brand a story, pictorially and semantically

Ultimately, the community or market that you are working in has a personality. It has quirks, preferences, a type of audience. They all affect your professional success, and a mentor is able to share the tips and experiences that helped him or her assimilate and prosper. 

Build a network of confidantes around yourself that will allow you to serve your employer first, development your career second, and serve your community always

Feel like a post straight out of left field? Read the Overview here like a good reader! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Working Woman's Woes: An Overview

Why Such a Serious Series?!
Melanie, I feel your working woes.
But I don't endorse the cigarette.
After recognizing just how often my friends and I debate career matters, it became obvious that  a "how to get by when getting by is unforeseeable" series just might be in order. Eh voila. This career thing was born.
This is potentially the most sensitive topical area that the blog will ever cover: the workplace. Yes, I know. Some might argue that relationships are more dangerous to speculate online about, but Sex and the City removed any concessions for privacy in that arena. Tweens now sit around and discuss the proper way of "dumping a boyfriend"; i.e. "can you text him if you have only hung out twice?". Or if you are older (mature? debatable...) the questions are more suited to general romantic rules, such as "under no situation should you buy pets together", or "do not forget a birthday, no matter HOW much he/she protests a celebration."
No instead, I tackle relevant workplace generalities. We should be sharing the pain of career development, no? The scenarios from which these lessons are taken, hail from various personal experiences, those of close acquaintances, and the often-revisited "coming of age" tales of my mentors.

Some of the stories that I have learned from came to me objectively: I was data mining, and asked specific questions or advice about specific situations. Other stories that corroborate some of my soon-to-be-shared claims came from a more "informal" manner. Translation: wine and food opened the venting flood gates in college, during unemployment (the wine was of a lesser caliber then), and while holding the long vied for career positions. Years of informal research! Friend sharing over meals just tends to happen--and can be a grand source for vicarious learning! And all of my research leads me to highlight the following commonalities of career development:
  1. Mentors: Get one. 
  2. Navigating buy outs, mergers, and restructures.
  3. Navigating sudden increases in work load. When there might not be an end in sight.
  4. Navigating dress, drama and the deadly gossip chain.
  5. Networking is not socializing. It just looks like it. 
  6. Bills, bills, bills.  Yes, you have to pay them. On your own.
All of the issues above are important to me and to my friend set. So, I can only assume they bear some degree of relevancy for a professional class still working their way toward the "10 years in the field" mark. In my first installment, and in what is sure to be a revisited topic, I will be addressing Mentors. I can only hope that something will be useful, or at the very least, foster some conversation with whoever is reading this verbose little blog!

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Navigating...ack, what AREN'T we navigating? Part I

    The following scenarios are real. They happened. In this order. Some are ongoing. Bah, stupid twenties.

    Property Manager is Missing in Action
    You might recall the previous blog post about our fire-storm escapades. Well, during that rather tense moment standing on the sidewalk and watching the firemen storm through the house, we were educated on kitchen safety. By which I simply mean, our oven is dangerous. And not working. To catch you up, Gentle Reader, about one month after moving in we had some difficulty with the heating element. After about 4 attempts over two weeks to get a response, the property manager finally called the property owner and the element was replaced. That lasted...one day. It all came crashing to a halt when we realized that not only had the owner deliberately replaced the element and left the unit unplugged, but that the oven wouldn't STOP heating. ::sigh::

    Fast forward 4 weeks: between Sisterita and myself, 6 aggressive emails and countless phone calls to every imaginable source had been completed. No word. Not from the property manager. We had no way to reach the owner. Dining out was getting expensive. And with the temperatures dropping, cold salad every night was not cutting it. At that point, we sent a nasty correspondence. I mean aggressive: demanding fixed equipment or back compensation for the 5 weeks of incurred dining bills. Not a proud moment, but it was a HELPLESS feeling 

    When I finally reached the manager's wife, it was to discover that he was out of the country. 
    On a mission's trip. Serving humanity. 

    At what point are we allowed to be self-centered and rate our kitchen needs higher than that of mankind?

    Mowing. Muscles. Mayhem.
    Little to say: one of us (what is the point at utter humiliation?) tried to start the push mower. The pulley got caught, wrenched back, and caused some very serious tearing in the muscle region. Minor panic ensued after a short call to Dr. Dad hinted at orthopedic surgery. Fortunately, that passed. But we were down one dominant arm.

    Two days after the pain and agony of trying to set up internet and cable (moving on up!), we had a minor setback. One day we woke up (cold, not able to make breakfast) and both laptops were dead. One personal, one belonging to the workplace.
    It took two days to figure out, but apparently both power converters were fried during a power outage. Some semblance of order has since been restored. Post 5 days with limited technology access.

    Frost Bitten
    It is 34 degrees outside. Coats have been pulled from the abyss of boxes. Sisterita and I have fought the necessity of finding windshield scrapers. Satin shoes have been put away, and boots have been pulled out. All of this is trivial compared to the real problem: it is 34 degrees and we have no heat. None.

    Apparently, we missed the memo that we have a dual electric/gas heating. So, with several appointments with the gas company made, missed, rescheduled and anxiously anticipated, we did they only thing we could: we put on hoodies and wrapped ourselves into a single multi-blanket cocoon on the couch.

    Disheartened over being successful 20 somethings with no heat, we were in emotional turmoil. The obvious answer was to have bowls of ice cream to numb our "pain".
    While shivering.
    Wrapped in quilts.
    The coup d'etat, the final blow to dignity, came abruptly when Sisterita yelled, "These sprinkles are the only things that make me happy anymore!" ::commence hysterical, dramatic giggles::

    And then we ran out of sprinkles. And the tenuous grip on sanity was broken. No system is perfect. 

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Oh to "Big Rock Candy Mountain"!

    New adventures! I might not be able to leap from a high travel bridge and bungee jump (not for lack of trying), but I can discover open air trains in the wilds of West Virginia!

    Don't laugh. It's a commitment people.

    In the charming town of Cass, West Virginia, time seems to have slowed. Not stopped exactly, but moving with the sort of lethargy and contented quiet found only at historical landmarks and inside quaint little museums. I offer as an example the home of Earnest Hemingway in Key West. But with fewer felines. Or perhaps the lighthouse museums of the Chesapeake Bay area.  But with fewer sea gulls (thank goodness! hate those things). Or any other little topical structure that shares stone/ivy/assorted greenery creeping up its stone steps and wooden lattice work.

    The object of the day trip to Cass is very simple: you are there to take a nice little open air train ride. Simply walk into the recreated train depot, chat briefly with the costumed attendant, wait for the whistles to sound, and climb on board the open air cabins for a little coal-engine trek through the woods. And if you are a member of my family, a.k.a. very very friendly, you befriend the adorable sister-brother twin toddlers peeking through the wooden slats as the tracks rush beneath our feet. And you might also feel compelled to learn the life story of the quiet Park Ranger assigned to your caboose. Who, as it turns out, is a native of the area and very knowledgeable about logging camps (even if he knows nothing about trains).

    Granny, Mom, Aunt Connie and I were very excited. Despite the fact that I was on one of those senior bus tours (Abbott Tours, thank you for my name tag), and that our trip was sure to be a fast one, I was ready! Trains! Let's get into character!

    Purchase conductor's hat. Check.
    Bring licorice and coffee onto the train for sharing. Check.
    Keep your ticket handy. Check....we wouldn't want to be "off boarded", now would we?
    Offer seat to kind grandparents with the twin toddler set. Check.
    Check your pocket watch for the time as the whistles blows.
    ...........ok, I forgot that accessory...

    I also forgot thermal underwear. It was FREEZING. By the time we made it up the mountain, with the train backing its way up and Mom and I breaking the wind from our perch on the caboose, I was a pop sickle. And not cherry flavored. I was one of those Americana striped ones that has melted and then been refrozen, sticking to the paper in uneven, oddly colored clumps: I walked as if my knees were locked, my legs were gnarly branches, and my teeth chattered in time with the whistle blowing. Unattractive, I assure you. But I kept on talking to strangers!

    All in all it was worth the cold: not only do I think that the quaint little town (it had a numbered map showing were the loggers lodged, where the post office was, etc.) was picturesque, but I befriended every Park Ranger on that train. The best of which let me, through some very persuasive wheedling, to climb over the railings with Mom's camera and capture some footage of an approaching train in the "switchback."

    For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it is a clever and simple section of track that is laid to avoid trains circling around a mountain in its attempt to ascend. We simply trekked along an extra 1000 ft of track, laid in a large Y fashion with the left fork descending and the right ascending the mountain, and reversed course. We paused in our descent to allow for an oncoming train to use the Y in wait, and allow us room to pass. It was curious. I wouldn't want to be the one who had to manually operate the "switch" on the ground. Apparently, they get left behind once a week. And, much as I enjoyed the day, West Virginia is not my future home!