Saturday, January 17, 2015

Networks are Lifelines

Inevitably, when you stop working full time (at an office), there will come a time when you lose contact with your colleagues. If you start freelancing and doing your work online, you also tend to isolate yourself quite a bit.

It’s inevitable that this should happen, though it need not be or stay that way!

Humans are social animals. Even if you can’t go out for a drink, lunch or dinner, or attend activities that require more cash than you have to play with, you should keep in touch with former colleagues.

These are the folks that will serve as your references in your job search. It is to your benefit to continue to have a relationship with them.

There are other reasons, that are just as valuable, to keep in touch. Through the professional network, and that is what it is (a network is a system that relies on connections and in your network you are that connection), you will keep informed on what is happening in your immediate circuits.

Not only will you be up-to-date on where people are going, but also on trends and jobs possibly before it becomes publicly known.

People are variables as well as factors, if you allow the mathematical reference. Therefore, it is important that you keep in touch because people may be let go, they may quit or retire, people may move, lose their phones and get new ones…

Keeping in touch makes you more likely to stay abreast of all the changes that go on even if you are not a part of your network’s daily life.
It is likely, especially if you are in the midst of a job search, that you have seen all these points illustrated in dozens of different articles and for many of the same reasons I have posted here.

There is another, vital, reason you ought to stay in touch with former colleagues: they know your work and your professional ethic, and they admire and respect you. 

This is important because, inevitably, you’ll hit a wall and start feeling that perhaps you’ve fallen in a Twilight Zone and will never, ever find work in this universe.

Don't despair, periods of unemployment always feel a lot longer than they actually are. If you feel your resolve begin to unravel, speak to one of the people in your network and allow yourself to see what they see in you.

It’s not just that you will get a confidence booster. Pay close attention because what these people tell you will often include examples of why they feel the way they do about you, knowing you, having worked with you.
These details are the selling points you must convey to prospective employers because it is what gives you an edge!

E-mail, call, visit whenever you can – if for no other reason than to remind your contacts what you look like and that you value their presence in your life. Their acquaintance is far more valuable than just a good word on your behalf. 
Professional networks are lifelines, literally and figuratively, and you must treat them with respect for their extraordinary worth.
Maintaining these relationships will help you keep your foot in the door, as it were, it also will help you cultivate your professional persona (so you can talk the talk and walk the walk) -- and this alone will make interviewing easier because you will not feel as if you've lost your professional mojo.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Happy New Year

We experienced a dramatic plot twist at the Temple of Doom. The heater in my home office burst and started gushing water, causing a leak downstairs…

So ended our Boxing Day, and started a drama that continues to this day. There was a leak in the kitchen. The heater in the bathroom burst too. There was more, but there's no need to go into details. 

At times, our New Year seemed fueled by some existential circus (did I mention the stove just up and died in the middle of all this?)!

The furnace replaced, and pipes in two separate rooms reinstalled; and along with these capital improvements, we have embraced a beautifying project that goes perfectly at hand with the chaos that befell us…

As a result, two very important things have happened for us, we are:
1.    Simplifying by ridding ourselves of useless things, and 
2.    Being brought closer to the family we've been living with for almost 30 years.
There is a blessing in both these things: only those things of value remain, because only what truly matters must remain.

While it felt rather oppressive as we experienced it, the truth is the worst it seemed to hit some members of the household, the more serene I became. It is an extreme way to be reminded that you have an awesome inner strength inherited from several generations of fabulous women that pushed their families forward in very demanding times.

For once, I am actually a little glad that I am not working full time, so I can be home to help. If I were working, I’d spend all day worrying what was happening at home and annoyed that I wasn’t doing my part to alleviate the pressure.

I haven’t been writing but I am keeping mental notes – which I should start writing down before the emotional component of this experience dulls into memories. At the very least, I could use some of the angst for future fictions.

I did find my drawing books and colored pencils. The moment things calm down I will sit down with a sketchbook and throw myself into art! That is my only resolution this year.

We expect other hits this year, and wish we could stop to brace for each, but that may not always be possible. Adaptability is what will get us through the hard times, and the confidence that we have the strength to survive and overcome.

We wish you all a happy new year, one full of joy and health, a little prosperity to make things interesting, and mostly we hope that if a little drama finds you that you find renewed passion for the things that really matter and you hold on to them with gusto!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Man

At the end of a year that hasn’t always been easy to live in, I was heading to Downtown Brooklyn this week, and I was thrilled to be the one to carry on this “chore” – I was going to pick up groceries at Trader Joe’s and a few noshes at Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue.

The fact that it was going to be a relatively stormy day with dark skies and intermittent rain did nothing to dampen my spirits!

I had my list and was ready to serve in my capacity as Santa’s helper.

On the bus, heading downtown, a woman with a small child began to move to the front, probably getting ready to disembark. An elderly lady stood and the bus lurched forward and stopped abruptly, in response to an irresponsible driver. The old lady lost her balance and fell onto the woman and the child.

This kind of thing happens. In this bus line, ordinarily, the next scene is one of concern and care by fellow passengers.

On Monday, what happened next was that the woman with the child started screaming obscenities at the other woman and accused her of trying to kill the child. Then it almost turned into a racial thing.

The woman with the child made a reference about “haven’t you people killed enough of our children” comment and I cringed.

I say “almost” because it was a young black man who squashed it immediately, “Nobody is trying to harm anybody. This is about gravity and physics, and she was a much a victim of it as you were. Were you trying to kill her when you slammed into her?”

The black woman did not reply. 

The child started to cry and the grandmother very loudly asked, “Are you hurt?” 

But the child wasn’t hurt as much as she was unsettled and replied, “Why are you yelling at the lady?”

The bus stopped. The woman shoved the kid ahead of her and dragged her off the bus. The other lady stood again (the young man had helped her sit when the incident began because she was too stunned to respond to the verbal attack).

That’s when you could literally feel the tension on the bus become palpable, when we all realized they were getting off at the same stop, and this could literally become a thing.

Thankfully, the women headed in opposite directions.

I was glad we dodged the bullet, but my relief was short-lived.

The greatest joy for me about shopping at Trader Joe’s (and Sahadi's too) is that it engages all my senses but also because it is a communal thing. It has always been a great social experience for me.

This week, for the first time in all the years I have been going there, nobody was speaking to anyone else. And it wasn’t the silence that followed 9/11 when everyone was emotionally spent. This silence was guarded, paranoid and ugly because it was splintering.

For the second time in this century, my city is broken, this time from within.

I’m not given to such whimsy but the first thing I thought of was the Whistler scene on Sneakers:

I want peace on earth and goodwill toward man.

It’s not too much to ask for. Please try.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Freelancing Profitably

The past few weeks have been all about freelancing. I was fortunate to find a lovely client with whom I have developed a good working relationship.

We tried one project on a trial basis, just finished our third collaboration, and are about to embark on our fourth shortly.

The client expressed some frustration at what I considered relatively easy projects.

Surely enough, while one project went without a hitch, we encountered some surprising hurdles in parts of the first and third project. She did her part. I did mine. However, it was the last part we had no control over that was sinking us (handled by a vendor that shall remain nameless here).

At any rate, the jobs were done and we finished all three projects on schedule. Getting paid is always a sweet moment to relish...

It was not without a few frustrations, mind you.

She sent me an e-mail and thanked me for doing the job she was paying me to do. She added that she was grateful I not only stuck with it but that I did not “bail out” like some previous freelancers. I noted the plural. I was horrified.

The economy, while improving in some sectors, is not so stable that you can find jobs at every turn. The competition, even for freelance jobs that pay a pittance, is stiff! Some might say it is stifling. Furthermore, when you freelance online your client base is international. When you screw up, you literally screw up globally!

I do not understand why anyone would take a job and not see it through. I do not understand abandoning your client because things may suddenly not be as cookie-cutter as you envisioned it starting out.

When a project runs into a problem, find a solution! If that doesn’t work, tell the client what you did and what you’ll do next to fix it.

It is true that your options may be limited in some situations, but you have to try! Nobody is suggesting you work for free, just that you earn what you are being paid for: finish the job!

Bailing out on a project is unprofessional and unethical. It is deplorable customer service. It’s also tacky!

Frankly, I was offended that anyone would have so little regard towards their own responsibilities.  

On the other hand, I appreciate that their lack of business sense landed me a great client!

As for the technical difficulties we encountered, I now know exactly how to handle the problem when (and if) it arises again. I have learned a couple new tricks. It also means that I have focused on the next self-guided skill-enriching activities. More importantly, her words and the experience itself have helped solidify my own work ethic.

A freelancer is nothing without clients. “Bailing out” on your client will start the avalanche of your career crumbling into nothingness. And if you allow this to happen because you couldn’t handle a little heat in the kitchen, you deserve to lose your reputation and your business.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Definition of Insanity

There is a quote that has been repeated countless times in every sitcom for the last 20 years, and attributed on the Internet to Albert Einstein:

The same Internet tells us that Benjamin Franklin said these words...
The Internet also assures us that it was the wit and sage, Mark Twain, who uttered this line first. For the record, Oscar Wilde didn't say it either.

I just saw another use of the line in the ad for a sitcom this week. It made me laugh, because the line is ridiculous.

First, the actual quote is: Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Step Two in Twelve-Step Programs such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, it marks the point when Fellows come to believe that "a power greater than [themselves] could restore [them] to sanity."

Second, I am not a mental health professional, but for all the maladies that can affect the human mind, I am certain those words do not appear anywhere within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Seriously, I’d bet you anything!
-Mark Twain

Third, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of a perfectly sensible job search.

This is especially true of freelancing where your part-time job in the effort to find work is submitting dozens of proposals, over and over, in the hopes you can edge out dozens of others doing the same and competing for the same projects.

It is also true of looking for permanent, full time work. Sure, you customize your cover letter and tweak your resume for each job you apply for, but generally, you just do it over and over and over, and keep doing it until you hit the target.

It’s called perseverance and it is a virtue not a sign of weakness (which is the stigma of 'insanity'). More importantly, the patience required to complete a journey to reach a goal is not always going to come with instant gratification. Sometimes it takes what feels like an eternity to some to get the reward we seek.

I think the quote we must rely on is that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. Believing otherwise is defeatist and I ain’t no quitter, baby!

So I toil and plug away, and know that this is just part of paying your dues before success is finally mine. Hope and patience and perseverance... 

Clarity is the definition of sanity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Be A Virtual Tourist

There is an article – which will not be linked here because I do not buy its basic premise nor many of the points made in it – that claims that “new experiences are the reason we live.” I find that arrogant for many reasons.

Some might believe that we live to learn (in whatever form life affords us) and in the process of learning we are, we become.

I’ve known many who believe with their very souls that we live to serve others. I am sure we’ve all met at least one person who believes the reason we live is to serve God.

To each her own, I say!

I do agree that one of the things that bring quality to our lives is learning, and new experiences. Of course, access and affordability are serious factors to consider.

One of the most memorable experiences in my life involved traveling. If I had a little cash to spare, I’d take a trip. That day will come after I start working again.  

I miss traveling.

Years ago, you could buy travel books and magazines, or watch PBS National Geographic specials. Later, videos and even travel programming popped up.

These days, the Internet can supplement the desire to roam the earth for those who cannot afford it or be accommodated, or if they are agoraphobic.

I used to do theme weekends – I’d cook a country’s cuisine, play its music, watch a movie or see an episode of a travel show.

Fountain at Square St. Louis, Montreal

Every once in a while, I go to Google maps and I visit some of my favorite cities, some I have been to and others I wish to visit someday. All this is made easier with the Internet (before the technology, it would’ve taken hours of research, kids! And, like, actually going out to get stuff.)

There are sites that offer an immersive virtual visit to places far and wide. Is it anything near as exciting as the real thing? Of course not! But you can learn new things. You can aspire to be there in the future and plan accordingly. The experience is designed simply to expand your horizons within the limits of the technology.

I see the technology as a dream aid – it can populate the imagery that you dream about or it can fuel your passion and your bucket list.

Below are some sites that you might find worth exploring… Feel free to leave other links in the comments, if you wish to share your favorites.

A spectacular virtual experience that covers over 400 miles of 360° of trails at four national parks (some even include ambient sounds and allow you to take and save snapshots of the vistas): Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia, and Yellowstone. This site makes use of street view technology and puts you there. You can explore on your own or watch videos of the mapped trails. I can’t wait for virtual tech to become readily available (are you listening Oculus Rift folks? Hurry up already!) 

Grand Canyon at Sunset

Sequoia National Park at Night

Offers 3D virtual tours with 360° aerial panoramas from across the globe, including the Golden Ring of Russia, icebergs in Greenland, Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India, the holy places of Jerusalem in Israel, the Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, and even a rocket launch!

Aerial view of Paris

Gotta give props to my home state for a new site that lets you explore the Finger Lakes, the Adirondacks, Thousand Islands, the beautiful Hudson Valley, and some spectacular views of Niagara Falls among others.

Stony Brook State Park

You need not stick to the outdoors. You may take virtual tours of colleges, churches, museums, caves! Links for more follow, but I want to finish by saying that you can be happy where you are physically and still find ways to experience new things that do not require running and wandering, uprooting your life every fifteen minutes or living like a nomad. No matter what that article that shall remain unspoken here! 
You can chase your passion, but know that you make your own happiness; you cannot run to or from it. It is within.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coloring Books for Grown-Ups

Not too long ago, I came into the room and from behind some non-descript news desk an anchor was informing the viewers that, “coloring books for adults are apparently a thing.” There was some smirking and snark, and then they went to commercial.

I glanced over to the old barrister bookcases with the sliding glass doors, and spied a couple of my own coloring books and smiled: Alphonse Mucha posters, Art Nouveau flowers, Celtic knots, stained glass designs, Zeigfeld Follies, and Native American totem poles.

“I’m a trend setter!” I told myself.

Apparently, last month The Huffington Post site from Spain carried an article about the fact that in European markets, coloring books for adults are now best sellers. You can read the article (in English) here.

It essentially explains how these are used as relaxation tools (though they tend to regard it as a marketing ploy), even though Carl Jüng used it in therapy almost 100 years ago. He had his patients create individual mandalas (which he considered to be part of the collective unconscious).

These articles simply followed the trend from France where a publisher has printed coloring books for adults and marketed them for women with the words “art therapy” or “anti-stress” and their sales went up over 200%. For the moment, it seems, they are selling like the proverbial hot cake. Or perhaps like the proverbial anti-depressant, another best seller in France…
“I realised that colouring makes my headaches go away. I concentrate, my breathing slows down and I move into a deep calm,” said Cynthia Riviere, who manages a Facebook group of coloring book fans.
But this is not news for all of us.

To me the biggest question is whether to use crayons or colored pencils. You may use markers but only if the book is printed on a heavy stock – almost poster stock – so that the colors do not bleed through.

The very first time I experienced true fear and stress, I was about 6 and an accident put me in the hospital for weeks. The anxiety in the house with the adults was stifling – details of which no one was going to discuss with a child, but I did notice.

One of my most precious memory of this time was that my Mom bought me these oversized coloring books (one was Puss in Boots, another was The Three Musketeers). I could literally lie on top of it and get lost in the opened book, coloring for hours into a state of pure grace. 

The effect is the same as it was when you were a child. It is escapist and immersive and it allows you to focus on the task directly at hand, clear your mind and relax.

Coloring activates both cerebral hemispheres, according to the Spanish psycologist, Gloria Martínez Ayala
"The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates . . . vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala -- which controls emotion and is affected by stress."  

Some people write in journals, others doodle. It may require a slightly different level of creativity and focus, but the effect is virtually the same. Coloring is perfect for those folks that do not consider themselves particularly “artistic” but still need to de-stress. It’s just a less passive form of meditation, I suppose. It gets you “in the zone” and the rest is sweet, sweet relaxation.

Resources: click on any of the links below to find coloring pages for your enjoyment. Click on any of the images within this post (which include titles from my own collection) for affiliate links to purchase and help me earn a little cash. These are great stocking-stuffers, from the silly to the sublime and I recommend it as a good mental health non-med alternative.

For those of you interested in trying without buying (I love that phrase), I offer a little PDF gift: Sample Coloring Pages.