Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Interesting Perspective

Yesterday at the gym, my instructor made the comment, "That little voice in your head can tell you positive or negative things. You have to train it to say the right things to you."

For me, these blog entries are designed to help me remember to stay positive and keep a good perspective on life.

To help me in the initial stages of returning to the workforce in a new industry, I have a message written on my mirror: "One day at a time. Do your best." I see it before I head to work every morning. I try to internalize it as I get overwhelmed with the new jargon, procedures and people.

I've never written stuff on my bathroom mirror before. But, this is a year of great changes. I'm not 100% sure where I'll end up at the end of 2013, but I want it to be a better place than I have been the last six years of my life.

In the evening, I also remind myself that this isn't my first industry shift. It's just my first industry shift in a while. I have to remind myself that most aspects of job life are not mastered in a single day. I will make mistakes. As long as I make different ones, I'm improving (I got that sentiment from a January 2013 This American Life on self-improvement). Everything will come together for me; it just takes time.

Today I'm grateful for all of the new things that I have to learn. As overwhelming as it can seem at times, it's helping to keep my brain young (which is a nice antithesis to the gray hairs sprouting up around it :P).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What I Learned After Being Employed for 1 Week

Apparently, it's detrimental to a blog-three-times-a-week goal :-)

It took me a few days to get back into the swing of structuring a day around 8 hours of committed time (plus commute). To keep my sanity, I decided to eliminate all extracurriculars for the week and instead focus on catching up on sleep and getting back into the 9-to-5 routine.

By Friday, I had regained my confidence, realizing that I am once again a productive member of society.

Posting may be light over the next couple of weeks, but I hope to get back to a 3X posting schedule within a few weeks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What I learned by being unemployed for 7 months

First, I have to do a little victory dance -- I accepted an offer of employment and will be rejoining the workforce soon.

Here's what I learned from my personal journey through unemployment. Your results may vary.

1. Being let go from a job was not a personal judgment about me. It was also not a reflection on my professional performance.

2. It happens to "everybody." When I first lost my job, many people (more than I thought) gave me words of encouragement because they had been in my shoes -- long-term unemployed. Six months. Eight months. A year. All in a geographic area commutable to several Tier 1 (ie metropolitan) cities and many Tier 2 (ie large) cities. These were good people. Hard-working and intelligent. They were my inspiration. In this economy, lengthy job gaps are not a death sentence for finding meaningful future employment.

3. Unemployment is a serious test of mental and emotional fortitude. The experience is isolating and depressing. I needed to force myself to get out and network or see friends, especially on the days when I felt like staying in PJs all day. Also, I made it a rule to not wear sweats/PJs during the day unless I were going to the gym. I had been through unemployment previously, so I had a decent emergency fund available to me, but other friends in the same boat struggled with the emotional stress of financial challenges as well.

4. It's also great for the waistline. Between reduced stress, ability to work out regularly and having time to cook more meals at home, I lost 10 pounds and improved my muscle definition.

5. It gets better. The hard work will pay off. I tuned out all media coverage on unemployment because it seemed to focus on the impossibility of getting a job, which is the exception, rather than the rule. I was able to get to know myself better over these 7 months, make better decisions for my future, and realize that work should not be the be-all-end-all of my existence. I had job interviews within a few months, job offers within a few months (which I turned down because they weren't the right fit for me) and, now, a successful emergence from unemployment.

Looking back, my unemployment came at a good time for me -- personally and professionally. Personally, I was able to be available for my family during a very big transition. I was also able to use the time to realize that, as much as I didn't think I was, I centered a lot of my life around my job. Professionally, I was able to re-assess my goals to get a clear picture of where I would like to be in 5 or 10 years.

Today I am grateful for my last few days of "free time" before I get back to the routine of a 9-to-5 gig. I'll be getting my naps and movie-watching in while I can :-)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Can You Choose Success?

I read an article (and, apologies, I forget where it was online) about how entrepreneurs motivate themselves to success by simply "choosing not to fail."

Is it that simple?

The article's premise is that, if you have a singular goal (ie the success of your business), then failure is not an option.

Based on the failure rate of businesses, I don't think a myopic view of any goal is the simple path to success. I did watch a documentary, The Queen of Versailles, that detailed the struggles of a businessman who was pinned the success of his entire company on the launch of one new business unit. I could see the drive discussed in the "choose not to fail" article in this documentary; however, the documentary included interviews with people involved with the company who shared the perspective that the business overall would be successful if the owner stopped focusing on the success of the one business unit and simply let that part fail.

I agree that you have a choice between success and failure. I think, however, that to "choose not to fail," you need to have a broad goal. You don't want to be the dry leaf -- changing course without purpose -- but you also don't want to be so stuck to a myopic vision that provides limited opportunity for success.

To bring things back to the job hunt (as that's where most of my energy is focused these days), my biggest goal when I became unemployed was to find unemployment that made the most of my previous work experience and provided a work culture that fit me. Specifically, I took a risk six years ago to stay at a company where I did not fit with the corporate culture so I could accrue experience in higher level management. Working in that type of environment was emotionally tiring (I didn't realize how much until I wasn't in it anymore!). I did not want to take a job below a management level because I felt (and still feel) that it would have meant those six years of emotional stress were for nothing. I also never want to put myself in a situation again where I discount the importance of cultural fit to my overall work experience (or think that, with enough positive attitude, I can change a culture from the inside without being the owner or president/CEO of a company). If I can't invent a time machine to make different choices, then I need to make the choices that I made count.

My goal was singular enough to focus my efforts, but not so myopic as to limit my opportunities. Depending on the size and complexity of an organization, management positions can be several levels deep. After reflection, I didn't feel that I needed to stay at my same level of management because, depending on the organization, a lower level of management may more directly correlate to my level of experience. While I have some experience, and a lot to offer an employer or client base (if I chose to go into business for myself), I'm not so short-sighted as to think that I have nothing more to learn.

I also knew that my interviews needed to be two-way -- I needed to grill any company that I met with about culture and leadership to ensure that I would feel that I fit the organization when I walked in on Day 1. I also needed to pay attention to my gut throughout the process. With my most recent work experience, there were numerous points prior to employment where I knew that the company would not be a cultural fit for me; I discounted those misgivings and rationalized the interactions. In the end, my gut was right.

Based on my goal choice, I am able to say that "failure is not an option." My goal is not limited geographically or by industry. If I need to make a calculated geographic or industry move to achieve the goal, then I will.

Today, I am grateful for getting one of the last flu shots at my grocery store and that the flu shot this year is on target for the strain(s) of flu going around. This is my first-ever flu shot. Seeing how severe the flu outbreak is in my area, and the fact that the immunization is on target for the specific strain being spread, I finally decided to bite the bullet. (Interestingly, my great-grandmother died of the flu; you would think that the experience, which left my grandfather motherless at a rather young age, would make me more attuned to the severity of the illness and the necessity for prevention, now!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Are you a wet leaf or a dry leaf?

In high school, one of my teachers gave an extemporaneous life lesson to my class. It's an image that has stuck with me for *mumble mumble* years.

She told us that we have to decide if we are going to be wet leaves or dry leaves in life. A dry leaf is carried by the wind, directionless. A wet leaf sticks and is difficult to move. Her closing statement, "Do you want to be pushed by anything, or stand for something?"

I've never been swayed much by negative peer pressure. Throughout my life, I've been fortunate to surround myself with people who provide positive peer pressure and, while they may present negative options from time to time, never make participation in negative activities a requirement for friendship. The idea of being "pushed by anything" didn't feel like an option to me.

The perspective that I've gained over the last *mumble mumble* years is that peer pressure isn't the only way to be "pushed by anything." I was looking at tornadoes and disregarding the light breezes. Apathy and rejection have been the light breezes that, at times, dried my leaf.

I've written before that I am very motivated. My natural state is "wet leaf." I want to make life happen for myself. I do my best to accomplish goals and put myself in the path of opportunity.

However, during very difficult times, I've been lulled by the dry leaf siren song. It's easier to do nothing and just see where you end up. Then, you're not responsible for what's going on in your life. You are simply life's victim. Sometimes problems have no solution. my core, as much as I would like for life to be easier, I don't believe in being a victim of life's circumstance. I don't believe that there is a life problem that I can't solve. Granted, I may not like the potential solutions that I come up with or that I may hear from trusted advisers, but "doesn't like" isn't the same as "doesn't exist." Also, having been through very difficult times before, and having come out the other side, I know that sometimes the hardest decisions are the starting point of the most positive change.

I work in a very competitive field. Knowing this, in college, I cold-called businesses in my local chamber of commerce directory seeking summer internship opportunities. (Unlike today, when I was in college, most businesses did not advertise internship opportunities) Did I like cold-calling? No, and I still don't! But, I had an end goal and knew that even though I didn't like what I was doing, it was giving me an advantage in the future job market.

In middle school, "everyone" was getting school jackets. At age 10, I was too young to be taken seriously as a paid babysitter and my family didn't have money to buy an expensive jacket that I would outgrow within a year or two. So, I did what I could do -- I wrote a children's story and sent it to Highlights Magazine in the hopes of getting published and making enough money to buy my own jacket. (I didn't get published, but I did receive a very nice "we'll keep your story on file for potential use in another issue" letter that I still have today)

Today, I'm faced with similar challenges. There are parts of getting through my current challenge that I don't like. But, they are the steps to an end goal that I know exists. So, I focus on the goal, rather than the uncomfortable steps of the process, and re-wet my leaf.

Today, I'm grateful for the VS Semi-Annual sale that I stumbled upon at the mall. I love fun foundational garments, and I love rooting through the sale bins to see what's available, even if they're not things I will end up buying. I'm also grateful that I can get as much pleasure from window shopping, and knowing that cute/fun things exist as I can from actually owning those items.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pool Songs

I took advantage of some of the nice weather this week and walked around my neighborhood listening to my iPod.

Chicago's "I Don't Want to Live Without Your Love" came on and I smiled. It was what my siblings and I refer to as a "pool song," a song that was in heavy rotation during the summers when we were at the local pool.

With the exception of Billy Ocean's "Get Out of My Dreams and Into My Car," "pool songs" are pretty depressing songs. Yet, every time I hear them, they make me smile because they remind me of happy, relaxing times with my friends and family. John Waite's "Missing You" always makes me think of diving off of the diving board. It was the only place where you could actually hear the songs being played poolside, beyond the low and high notes.

Ah, life -- all about perspective.

In a larger context, I can look back on rough times in my life (present time included) and realize that, overall, the experience made me a better person, and are things that I should appreciate. Without everything that I'm going through now, I probably would have lost myself completely as a person because I was trying to make something work that was never going to work. It took me about six months to recover from six years of awful; while I'm not 100% yet, I keep getting closer to that every day. And, I don't know that the recovery would have been possible without being abruptly thrown from the life I was living at the time.

Today I'm grateful for nice weather in the middle of the winter. I'm enjoying the sunshine and looking forward to taking advantage of the nice weather tomorrow, possibly by going to the playground with my niece.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More thoughts on a meaningful life

One of the other big thoughts that stuck with me from Rabbi Kushner's book was this quote from the Talmud: In the world to come, each of us will be called to account for all the good things God put on earth which we refused to enjoy.

The quote provides an interesting perspective: instead of looking at choices in terms of morality, the quote invites you to look at choices in terms of meaning.

I consider myself (and the majority of people) a moral person. I'm not going to, for example, have to seriously think about whether I would rather go to work or sit in a dark alley shooting up heroin.

So the idea that, at the end of my life, Saint Peter and I will go over an audit of my moral failings doesn't really give me a direction to live. Yes, I come across moral crossroads from time to time (ie do I give change to this "homeless" person? Is the person really homeless?), but, in terms of life satisfaction, I need a different guidepost.

I find that this quote from the Talmud gives me a better direction in terms of day-to-day choices. (It also plays well into Catholic and Jewish guilt, as having to witness all of the times where I could have been happy and chose unhappiness would be depressing, especially if it also involved hurting other people)

For example, in my working life, I've given up vacation time in exchange for money. I've been on vacation and felt compelled to check in with the office.

That type of situation is the one where the Talmud, to me, gives perspective. What enjoyable things am I giving up today in exchange for things that may or may not give me pleasure in the future?

At my job where I was paid for unused vacation time, out of about two weeks of vacation, I would use a few days, and get an extra paycheck for the year in exchange for my unused time. The extra money did serve my need for financial security and provided some buffering for my emergency fund. also burnt me out on my job a lot faster than if I had taken the vacation time and spent it recharging.

The Talmud quote keeps me more "in the moment." I am a goal-oriented person, and I try to make decisions that set me up for future success. Sometimes "future success" can be nebulous. If I don't have a clear vision of where I'm going, then why sacrifice current happiness to get to that unknown destination?

Because of my need for security, I need to have hard answers to the following areas of my life:
1) Where do I want to go with my career?
2) What are my health/fitness goals?
3) How much of an emergency fund is enough?
4) What do I need to save for retirement?

(Full disclosure, I don't have hard answers to all of these questions, but I'm working on them!)

With those questions answered, I have the perspective to see the good things put on this earth for me to enjoy, like my family and friends. (OK, at this point, I guess I also have to disclose that my interpretation may not be the Rabbinical interpretation of the Talmud quote. However, as I've stated before, I'm very Type A, and I have difficulty just letting life happen to me. More on this in a future post.)

One of my friends put it best during a breakfast conversation, "I'll never look back on my life and regret the time that I spent with my family. I'll never say, 'I wish I did X rather than spend time with my kids.'"

Today I am grateful for the time yesterday that I spent making empanadas. One of my goals is to get better at cutting foods uniformly (onions, vegetables for cooking), and my onions were pretty awesome in this recipe. I also think I perfected the technique for prepping the filling, the shell and and the frying to minimize the stress of the entire preparation process.

I am also grateful that I have FINALLY (FINALLY!) started working through the large collection of scented candles that I have. My goal, at some point, is to have 1 large candle and 1 box of tea lights. I'm not there yet, but I'm 1 box of tea lights and 1 large candle down!