Sunday, January 31, 2010
I used to accidentally say things like 'I'm sorry' when caught up in a conversation with someone who was very upset or angry. But after working for years in various jobs, I realized that some people take that sort of comment very literally. They automatically take your simple apology as an admission of responsibility, when all you're really trying to do is make them feel better.
I am also very careful not to commit to anything that I won't be able to provide. My tendency to take language fairly literally has also led me to demanding more clarity from those who are communicating to me.
But, I admit to being completely lost on one particular communication front: dating.
I was hanging out with this guy on Friday, who is nice and easy to talk to...and I like him on a very basic level. Boyfriend level, I'm not sure. But definitely enough to consider it. So, I gave him my phone number when he suggested that he could "get my number and call me sometime on purpose to hang out."
So...to a person like me, who loves the specificity that language enables us to achieve, I find myself wondering - what the hell does "hang out" mean these days?
I think that dating used to be a lot more formal and clear cut. These days I can't tell if I'm just making friends or heading towards a potential good night kiss. I think that they should publish an online guide, one that changes with the times, that tells you the new rules & definitions of dating.
There are certain areas in my life where I feel smart. But dating isn't one of them.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
He mentioned that he learned how to cook by taking a job cooking. But after several conversations, he explained further.
He decided that he wanted to learn how to cook. So, he approached a local restaurateur and offered to work for free. The restaurateur allowed him to work at one of his local restaurants and boy, did he learn. After about 6 months, he was offered a paid position at one of the other restaurants.
He turned the job down, but that's because he wasn't looking to work as a chef, he just wanted to how to really cook for himself.
My first thought was, well, good for you, it must be nice to have a luxury of not earning a living for six months. But then I realized that I have friends who have been laid off and they're not working anyway. They could be using this time off to learn something new.
The one thing that I've figured out recently is that creativity and hard work means more than anything else when you're trying to navigate this tough economy.
So, if you know of a field where you can work for free to learn about it, I say go for it - you never know. Employers are also dealing with a tough economy and they might love to take you up on your offer.
If you don't know of any companies to approach, or need more skills before you can make such an offer, consider taking online classes. Below is a list of some great universities and a couple other companies offering free courses online.
Free Online Classes/Courses
- University of California at Berkeley
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Tufts University
- Stanford University
- Yale University
- University of Notre Dame
- Carnegie Mellon University
- University of Washington
- Johns Hopkins University
- New York University
- Berklee College of Music
- Vanderbilt University
- Gresham College
- Open University (United Kingdom)
- Utah Valley State College
- Utah State University
Hewlett Packard Free Classes Online
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
My visual representation of 2010!
Goals for the Year
- Try one new restaurant every month (January was Leenie's in Longmont, CO)
- Blog more often (so far, so good...but that's how it always starts)
- Go out on at least one second date
- Do well in all of my classes (8 this year)
- Keep exercising and eating right on a regular basis
- Start using the Rosetta Stone products that I have
- Learn at least 2 new skills that will help me be more successful at work (MS Access is one...the other?)
- Clean out my closet and drawers and get rid of some stuff that I'm just not using
- Figure out a better way to store my onions, potatoes, etc., in my very small kitchen
I get the same increase for being here another year (a step increase) that every other clerical/administrative staff will receive.
I might have been doing a really crappy job this fiscal year. Or I might have been the best employee ever seen, saving the company millions, and I would have gotten the very same increase. While this a great on some level (if I ever decided to turn into a real slacker, I don't think I'd ever leave...oh wait - I just described some of my coworkers), I have a real gripe with this.
I feel like an actor (pronounced ak-TOHR), "What's my motivation?"
When there is no accountability built into my work year and also no reward or recognition, the only motivation is going to come from inside of me. That's great, but even for fairly motivated people, we still tend to perform better when we're presented with clearly outlined challenges and the knowledge that someone actually cares what we're doing.
At my last company, we had a personal plan for the year, outlining our goals for our development. Some were simple items that required nothing but self study, but other goals included the company paying for training. We also had annual reviews that tied in to our current responsibilities, feedback from stakeholders and those personal growth goals. It kept me honest and on track. I also really appreciated getting support to develop myself during the year. Feedback from my peers and supervisors was also invaluable (usually, it would be very nice comments but every once in a while you'd get a great insight about some area you could improve in or develop).
Now I work in the public sector and have no goals or review. Maybe this is unique to my job, my office, my company, but I think this model may be found in other public sector jobs.
So, if you can't change the way they do business where you work, is there another method or system that, on a small scale, can foster motivation, self improvement and recognition/reward? And, it would have to be done without budget support and everyone will still get their step increases...so money can't be the incentive.
In my mind, it should include:
- clearly defined objectives/goals for work projects
- defined personal improvement/development goals
- guidance throughout the year to make sure employees are on track
- recognition amongst their peers, a way to be differentiated from others and give coworkers a goal to work towards
Monday, January 18, 2010
Doug, a young bartender at my local pub, has a story that is probably not too different from other people I know. He has his bachelor's degree in economics, with a minor in Spanish, and an associates degree in audio production. He's a bartender now, but that's because he couldn't find any work in his field and needed an income. But how did he end up here?
He was working in another state for a small start up. It was a company that focused on green building. Everything was going great, he loved the company, owner and the work. Then, the owner tells him that she doesn't know why, but they've run out of money and can't afford to keep him on. Later on, she found out that her accountant was embezzling and had stolen $200K from the company.
So, he took advantage of the opportunity to move to Colorado. He loves it here, but he couldn't find work in his field. He took a job bartending just to get by. Now, he realizes that he doesn't want to go into the economics field and heck...he sort of just doesn't know where he wants to go. He saw me doing an exercise designed to help one find their direction in life, and told me very seriously he'd like to know how that works out for me.
My grandparents never waxed on about how they didn't know what they wanted to be. They simply took good jobs, took care of their families and moved on. There wasn't a question about whether or not the loved their jobs. My grandpa worked for the city, managing the crews who paved the streets (hot and smelly). My grandma worked for the phone company as an operator. I think that we talked about how interesting their jobs were, but it never crossed my mind to ask if they liked their jobs.
So, why do we ponder this topic to death now? Why do we get degrees that we don't use, or get 3 degrees in completely different subjects? Is this the new "hippie" culture? Instead of experimenting with drugs and exploring deep philosophical questions, are we experimenting with careers and pondering job/life satisfaction?
I'm feeling my way towards a chosen profession, but even I'm not 100% sure yet. I'm working as a professional in the meantime and getting a real middle-of-the-road degree (business, legal emphasis) because, hey, it's never a bad idea to know about business. It always applies.
But why is it that we have such career ambivalence in so many of our Gen X and Gen Y employees? Is it indicative of a larger issue?
And more importantly, has anyone found an aptitude test that will actually tell me that I should eat great food, travel and have earth shattering sex for a living? Because, doesn't that seem like what we all want? To be told that you should 'do what you love' and 'find what makes you happy' and all that other bull that doesn't seem to exist in the real world (or, at the very least, let's admit that it can't exist for everyone...we can't all eat great food, travel and have sex for a living; after all, who would cook the food for us, fly the airplanes to exotic places and, um, I don't know, create flavored lubricants?).
I would love to see some online tools, tips and tests that have genuinely helped people figure out where they should be, career-wise, in their lives. Something that has real world value. If you've used something like this, let me know. And then I'll pass it on to Doug when I stop in for my next beer.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Seems like when we have a bad economic situation, like now, we talk about the negative aspects of it. Layoffs, foreclosures and a falling stock market become part of the daily news.
But when about 20 people at one of our locations were being "displaced," I saw a scenario where some people were happy about it.
Displacement (in my company) means having to find a new job in the company and if there are displaced employees who qualify for an open position, it cannot be offered to outside candidates (unless, I suppose, that the displaced employees all turn it down). But, basically, because most people don't want to take a job unless it's just right (location, coworkers, status, etc.), for many it just is a nice way of being laid off.
Several of the displaced administrative staff asked me if I knew of any jobs. They would ask over and over again, venting about the process and complaining because they were losing their jobs. Not fun to listen to (none of them were what I'd call friends), but understandable.
So it surprised me when some of the folks who didn't lose their job told me (very quietly) at lunch one day, that it was a good thing.
"We had been trying to get rid of that person for about a year and a half. They didn't do their job, they just hung out. So, we started the process of collecting information and counseling them, so if they continued to not do their job, we could write them up and eventually let them go.
Then, they hurt their back at work. They filed a workers comp claim and were out on leave for about a month and a half. When they came back, HR didn't want it to appear that we were trying to get rid of them because of the claim. We had to back off and haven't been able to do anything about it since then. We're glad they're finally going to be gone."
I realized, that if you have employees that don't do their work, can't seem to get along with others, are bullies or have some other issue that prevents them from getting the job done, that layoffs are the perfect time to let some of those folks go. It may not be nice, but when you're forced to reduce staff and you keep the essential employees (read: the ones who do the work), that probably means losing some dead weight.
It's a great reason, even if you're tenured or past your probationary period, to be indispensable. Bottom line, do your job well.
I've survived one round of layoffs (at another company) where, by all rights, I should have been let go. Instead they let go of someone with more tenure than me and kept me instead. I was the only exception that they made to the rule. I'd like to think it was because I'd become too important to the 'powers that be' because of my skills and attitude.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Not that it's not true on some level. Most of us, even if our job sucks, are happy that we have an income. That part of our job is nothing to complain about.
But what I hate is that lately, with the economy being so bad, it's become this catch all phrase that really says even if you have a crappy job and aren't happy you shouldn't complain because someone else has it worse.
Well, hell, if that was the only reason to not complain - that someone else has it worse than you - then by all rights, none of us in the U.S. should be complaining about much of anything.
I don't advocate complaining (because, really, what does that get you, except for friends who don't want to hang out) but I do recommend doing something about it.
So, what can you do about it?
Change what you can about your current job.
Most of us feel either happy or unhappy about work because of the people. You can't get rid of your boss. And you probably can't get rid of any other employees. But you can protect yourself from coworkers that are difficult to work with.
Make sure that you're really doing your job. If they have a true gripe about you because you're not reliable or you come in late all the time, then you can expect people to be upset and express it. But if you're truly doing everything that you're supposed to be doing, it gives you a solid place to approach your (or their) boss from. Explain the situation with the difficult coworker and ask them if they can either limit your joined projects or intervene to correct inappropriate behavior.
I have a coworker who has been sending me tons of email, nagging that one of her contractors wasn't being paid on time. She sent several emails that straddled the fence of being professionally curt and being rude, basically insinuating that I wasn't doing my job. She used a tactic that she frequently uses, cc'ing her boss as if this would somehow get me into further trouble. (She has bullied a lot of people in my workplace, sometimes yelling, moving into their physical space and trying to get others in trouble. You can't believe how hard it is to get rid of some employees once they've been with a company for a while. Also, it doesn't help that she threatened HR a lawsuit based on alleged sexual harassment when she realized that she might actually get in real trouble.)
After having a conversation, her boss and I understood each other perfectly. Her expectations were way out of line. He told me that he would make sure she understood what to expect. She continued to send me emails harassing me about this situation every time this person had a payment being processed. She would push and push, again inferring that I wasn't doing my job.
The person who really mattered was the boss, because his opinion could affect me in the future. This lady likes to make herself seem more important than she is...she is constantly trying to control others and seize more power in our office.
So, I defeated her by cutting her out of the equation. I went back to her boss and said, "I thought we were on the same page on this." He agreed that we were. I explained what she was arguing over (same complaining, different day) and he told me that she was wrong and that he would talk to her about it.
I refused to let her intimidate me into doing what she wanted (which was apologizing, jumping through hoops and providing her with preferential treatment). I refused to let her make me look bad and even managed to make her look bad, but only because I was doing my job. I took away the power she was going after. I do battle with this particular lady multiple times a year, but she mostly leaves me alone now because of the way I handle her bad behavior.
Learn new skills towards a new job.
If you're already employed, you have the luxury of being able to learn something new for a future job. Get your current employer to spring for paid training, computer classes or books. Take those community college classes to learn to be a pharmacy tech. If you're unhappy at work, this is the perfect time to really figure out something new to do.
Tell your friends, family and church that you may be in the market for a new job. Join a professional group online (LinkedIn, Brazen Careerist, etc.) and start rubbing electronic elbows with others who share your skills or interests. Pick up tips and perhaps even learn about jobs from those you meet.
Get a different job.
It's never going to be the ideal time to look for a new job. But it will probably make you feel a lot better if you know that you're doing something productive towards finding new work. And even in a bad economy, there will continue to be good companies with good jobs. There may be more competition for those jobs, so I recommend making sure that you're putting your best foot forward (have an awesome resume, practice interviewing, clean up your party pics on your MySpace page, and get a great outfit).
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
When I moved to Colorado a few years ago, it was a new adventure, a state waiting to be explored. I've made a few small trips, to Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs and Estes Park. I've tried some local food in my area and in those places I visited.
These are a few places that I've tried and really got a kick out of (for either the food, the location, kitchiness or the people):
Johnson's Corner - it's a truck stop known for their "dinner plate cinnamon rolls" but I ate the chicken fried steak and pie (yum)
King's Chef Diner - the purple castle looking building is actually an old diner car seating 13; their green chili is excellent (spicy)
Radda Trattoria - a Boulder Italian restaurant that we really loved (try the roasted cauliflower)
Lucile's - a Creole cafe (think beignets with powdered sugar)
But my explorations haven't been as extensive as I originally imagined. So, after seeing this great list compiled by Westword, I asked my friend Judy if she would be interested in trying a new restaurant every month. One a month is not a lot, which is exactly the point. I don't want to feel overwhelmed and then abandon the plan, so I'm sticking to a safe goal.
This month we're going to try another southern food restaurant, called Leenie's up in Longmont. I'll be keeping up with my exercising this week so that I don't feel guilty eating the chicken fried chicken with gravy.
Next on my list (I hope that Judy agrees) is the udon noodle bowl at Bones, a new Denver restaurant that is kicking butt and taking names. Pics and reviews will follow.
Let the dining commence!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
My diet basically looked like this:
- Food (examples): whole wheat English muffins, tofu, low fat cottage cheese, veggies, low-sodium turkey, low fat, low sodium soups, etc. Low fat, low carb, low sodium are all things to remember. High protein stuff helps. 1200-1300 calories per day total.
- Frequency: I ate about every 3 hours and actually counted calories the first couple of days to get the hang of how to estimate my caloric intake more accurately.
- Simple Eliminations: I eliminated sugar and cream from my coffee and learned to enjoy it black. No sugar in my tea, either (it's funny how much more you can taste of the tea and coffee flavors when they aren't masked). I didn't put a tablespoon of butter on my English muffin when I ate it, and it was fine (who knew it could be).
My exercise was all indoors because it's winter in Colorado and many days this season have been well below freezing and snowy. I used 10 Days to a Better Body, a DVD that I bought on Amazon for about $9 plus shipping. It has 2 separate workouts, one for upper body and one for lower body. You are supposed to alternate the exercises every day.
This DVD rocked. I'll continue to use this. The best thing about doing these exercises is that my waist is slimmer than it was before, so it pulls in and gives me more of an hourglass shape.
Now that I'm done with the strict part of the diet/exercise process, you know what I'm thinking? It's time for a classic Smashburger with jalapenos.
I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed my dieting/exercising phase and have decided to incorporate a lot of the things that I learned into my long term regular diet.
Monday, January 11, 2010
January is a busy time for me. My vehicle registration is due, my AAA membership is due, and my auto insurance is due soon. I just enrolled and bought books for 3 new classes in my bachelor's degree program (I also started reading my books early..4 chapters down already). I got my son geared back up to return to school (I only had to listen to a few days' worth of whining). I got him signed up for a Kung Fu class and we went to our first session tonight.
So, I obviously have plenty on my plate already, but find that my mind gets into organizational mode and decides it's time to clean everything up. So, I moved old posts from 2 other blogs that I was successfully managing to ignore about as well as this one and deleted them. Poof. They are gone.
I also decided that it was time to go ahead and start looking at the things in my life that I would like to do/have and try to methodically work towards those. I have decided that I want to find out how much it would cost to get a tummy tuck and breast lift done. I'm tired of feeling self conscious about my body and I'm tired of worrying about what other people will think of me if I decide to do it. It's my money and my body. I'm the one who will have to heal.
I've decided that my own personal demons - my neuroses, fears and secret obsessions are not my enemies. They aren't signs of any particular kind of weakness. They are just me. I like being me and I'm pretty sure that one day (even though right now it feels like never) I will meet a boy who will like my brand of crazy, too. Here's to hoping he shows up soon (and in an amazing hot bod, to boot).
My house cleaning has more to do with mind cleaning than anything else. After getting a good night's sleep, eating decently and exercising, I feel pretty damn good. I'm ready to face 2010. Here I come.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
...I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.