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Basking in the golden silence

13 Oct
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Photo via Joel Jefferies on Flickr

When I’m asked, I always like to say that my family is my sister and my mom. Though I have an extended group of aunts, uncles and cousins, when I consider the mental image of family, it’s those two. Because of this, I am wholly unaccustomed to boisterous weekend gatherings of generations of assorted relatives, reliving the “remember when…” stories and having hours lapse before everyone starts to peel away slowly to do it again the following week. While not a solitary creature, I revel in a quiet household where not much needs to be said because it is understood that our shared time is entertainment and company enough.

Over the years in romantic relationships, I’ve learned that the same approach I take to family togetherness works best for paramours as well. I remember in my youth, being in each other’s pockets seemed like the place to be, and God forbid something happen to one of us while the other wasn’t there to simultaneous experience it. Honestly, I’m shocked I wasn’t more exhausted from sustaining these types of dealings.

With age comes wisdom, as well as your own business, which requires you to mind. As I move within my current relationship, I try to keep in mind that while there is an “us,” more importantly there is a “me” and “he.” I have to allow both of us space to decompress, unwind, unpack and reflect without the nagging feeling of “growing apart” and he does the same.

What I see as somewhat of conventional (romantic and non-romantic) relationship wisdom, many others don’t seem to get, if the anecdotal examples from various advice columns imply. Some of my favorites are Dear Prudence on Slate, Carolyn Hax on Washington Post and A Belle in Brooklyn Ask.fm page. Lack of basic communication practice (ask for what you want, be open to compromise, don’t accept less than you’re worth) seems to be at the root of nearly all exchanges for which people are seeking guidance, be it a relationship between mother-daughter, boss-employee, boyfriend-girlfriend or just two people who are exploring the dating scene. Reading the submissions is one of my guiltiest pleasures; people always find a way to reach new level of “Huh?” with each question.

Mind you, in no way am I saying that my communication style is ideal – I can be short of patience, I want people to get to the point quickly and I hate arguing with those closest to me. What I always try to keep in mind is to listen more than I speak, consider all the perspectives, even the ones that aren’t being presented, and that taking 10 seconds before speaking in anger or irritation can save a whole lot of feelings. The more I operate within these kinds of guidelines, the better my relationships work. And the more of that sweet, sweet silence I get to have in my happy household.

Digital Footprint in the Afterlife

20 Sep

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In “This Is How Technology Ruins Society” news this week, Facebook used a dead young woman’s tagged photo to advertise a dating site. Once it was brought to their attention, the social media site issued an apology and removed the ad. What makes this story even more tragic are the details surrounding the death of the woman in the image. Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life this past April after severe, aggressive and relentless online bullying following a sexual assault.

This incident sheds light on the larger story of how long our online identities live beyond our physical existence and how the sites where we are building and sharing our identities are using what we consider our personal content to earn revenue from their advertisers, mostly without our explicit permission. When my best friend died in 2009, Facebook was not yet using the photos we’d uploaded of our college days and fun nights out to promote weight loss, vacations or dating sites. In the aftermath of her very unexpected and painful death, I can’t imagine how upset I would be if I looked to the right panel of Facebook and saw her smiling face hawking some jewelry line or teeth whitening (she has a great smile, I wouldn’t put it past the algorithm to pick that up). I will say, I’m glad that her page wasn’t immediately removed in the months after her death, as her friends, family, coworkers and even people who didn’t know her sought to share their grief through posting memories of better times.

Never did I think that the 21st century of a baby book of memories, the Facebook album dedicated to the life of a child, would become fodder for online ads. The advancement in technology – facial recognition, anyone! – means that even if you don’t tag a person, the Internet can still recognize them, associate that image with them and connect the two with a simple search. Almost frightening and…sentient, isn’t it? Because of this, I refrain from posting pictures of the children of friends. What was a funny picture of a 1-year-old smearing cake on their face at their birthday party isn’t so funny when they’re in middle school and trying not to stand out as the “weird kid.” Interestingly enough, the FTC is creeped out as well. The federal regulator is launching an investigation to see if the latest round of privacy setting allowing advertisers to use photos violates a 2011 agreement.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with this thought, as evidenced by a recent wildly popular post by Amy Webb of Slate. Webb said that she and her husband refuse to post images of their daughter on the Internet- the Internet responded by finding pictures that other people had posted. Ahh, Internet justice, is there anything sweeter?

I think it may be too late for me; my face is out there, for better or worse. Thankfully I learned (fairly) quickly that putting down your drink of choice and not giving any ironic/offensive/odd facial and hand expressions makes for a safer (for life and job searches) online social presence.

What do you think of the fact that you can no longer disappear online? Did you start curbing and editing your identity?

The Power of Asking for Help

24 Jun

One of the most powerful messages I got last week was from KERA’s Think program. The exchange begins around minute 39 of this podcast, when guest Ben Hewitt said:

I hear a lot from people, what can I do to strengthen community in my area. One of the things that I think is really profoundly effective is to ask somebody for help. And the reason it’s so effective, I want you to think about the last time you offered help to somebody and what they probably said, which I’m guessing was ‘Oh no, I’m all set, thank you very much.’ I also want you to think about the last time somebody came to you and asked you for help, and how it made you feel. Which I’m guessing was pretty good.

Hewitt continued, saying that on an innately human level, we have a need to be needed. As I listened, all I could do was nod to myself because I’ve seen the effect that asking for help and offering help can have on a relationship. When I realized that it was time for me to make a change, I knew I would have to tap my network. The thought of asking for assistance set my teeth on edge; it felt like I was essentially going forth naked and begging in the world, without a cloak for shielding my need.

I took it slow, sending  a message to a longtime friend and sometime collaborator. As I hit send, I said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t recoil from the screen and feel insulted by my request (which was, in hindsight, truly very simple). Almost immediately, my message received a reply of support and agreement to assist where possible. Now, I’m not a huge crier, but the sense of relief was so strong that I let out a few watery drops.

Since that moment, I’ve made other requests from business associates and college friends alike, and I’ve never run into anyone who isn’t flattered and ready to offer help where they can. Instead of feeling putting upon, which is the reaction I expected initially, people were eager to assist, whether through an email introduction, recommendation and reference or just feedback to make sure I wasn’t going into left field with my ideas. As these favors have grown, I’ve made an effort to balance my requests with offers of assistance. Ben Hewitt is right, it is a pretty good feeling to help.

Oh, and since I talked book recommendations in my last post, Ben Hewitt is the author of Saved: How I quit worrying about money and became the richest guy in the world. It is most definitely on the must-read list!

Comment time: do you find yourself asking for help? If not, what holds you back? How does helping others make you feel?

Facebook Has Hashtags, Twitter Has Analytics: Does It Matter To You?

14 Jun

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As you may well have heard, everyone’s favorite social networks, Twitter and Facebook, both rolled out some new features this week.

Facebook’s addition was long-overdue: the ability to use a hashtag that is actually searchable. I say this because, despite the fact that people knew that their use of the hashtag did nothing on Facebook, they insisted on using it in their status updates. I truly considered defriending people for this, no lie. Well, those folks can now call themselves forward thinkers. According to the company (via Mashable), they want to make it easier for users to “find information.”  Considering that Facebook has consistently lost young users to sites like Twitter and Instagram in the recent years, maybe the company thinks this will shore up their interest. Best of luck with that Facebook. More than likely, I will not engage with Facebook hashtags because they have been synonymous with Twitter for so long. For me and others like me, this may cause some cognitive dissonance. Hopefully the FB team has thought of this and plans to address it by showing the value it brings to the user experience.

Speaking of Twitter, the company is trying to get more individual users to analyze their reach by making basic stats available for accounts. I’ve used Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, both of which give users an overview of their traffic. I found the analytic page straightforward, and I imagine small business owners who don’t want to invest in tracking software will be satisfied with the information as a starting point. Of course, social networks don’t create new features from the goodwill of their heart. The link to your analytics is under the page to sign up for Twitter ads, encouraging users to associate their analytics and buying advertisements. Smart move, and it’s likely some bloggers and online personalities will find value in this. For small fish like me, I’ll keep my coins.

What do these changes mean for your business? Will you add Twitter analytics to your social media measurement, much like checking your Klout score? How do you (or your business) plan to use Facebook hashtags?

image via Satyrika on Flickr

A Skeptic Builds an Inspiration Board

12 May

As part of my continued practice of bringing positivity into my life by exhibiting positive attitudes, I began working with personal coach Mia Redrick. I’m not a mother in need of finding balance between home and work life, which is one of Mia’s areas of expertise, but the recommendations for her business coaching from associates said it wouldn’t matter. So, stepping out on faith on this one. The first group call demonstrated that there is a variety of women who are looking for the same thing I’m seeking, which reassured me. However, as we wrapped up the call, Mia gave us the first assignments: a vision board.

*insert record scratch*

Let it be stated that until this point in my life, I’ve never believed in vision boards. I believe in positivity, I believe in prayer and I believe in writing down your goals/objectives/wishes. It just went beyond my limitations that poster board, glue stick, images and some aspirational phrases would get me any closer to what I want in life. It’s all too Oprah-Real Simple magazine for me. Also, please remember I’m from Southwest Houston, we didn’t do things like make vision boards.

Also known as “not my cup of tea.”

After much harumphing and sighing, my sense of “why not” (and also my knowledge that this was part of a process of self-betterment that I’m paying for) overrode my long-held stance. I made my way to Target and got a nice black poster, started ripping through old issues of Inc.ForbesLucky and Women’s Health Magazine and next I’ll break out the glue stick to start organizing my thoughts into the most spectacular vision board ever made. I’ll make a note to share the final version on here.

What are your thoughts on vision boards? Do you think they were part of your success plan? Even better, share yours with me if you’ve done one before.

Are You Seeing This: Shifting Makeup of Media Production

3 May

In keeping up with the latest news on entertainment, I’ve noticed some trends that are exciting for more non-traditional media ownership.

I’ll kick it off with the latest news, the upfront season for television networks. I usually skim the news about what shows got the can, what shows are returning and what mid-summer drivel the networks will serve us. This year, as the Times outlined, there is a new crop of entertainment that made me sit up and take notice. Media companies that have not traditionally delved into video content are making waves – Microsoft, Yahoo, the Weather Channel (I know, right?) and the Wall Street Journal. The bottom line, as the article rightfully notes, is that media agency buyers are buying nearly as much in digital advertising as they are in traditional ads, and these networks have to show they have the content that will draw eyeballs. So if you are interested in a WSJ-produced reality show where “entrepreneurs will work with more than two dozen mentors like Richard Branson, Tory Burch and MC Hammer,” your time is now.

Next big thing is the amount of content coming from Netflix. Previously, when I thought of the company, I thought of airport layover entertainment and their pricing debacle with Qwikster. These days, Netflix has hit a nice stride with original content like House of Cards and the debut of a long-anticipated return season of Arrested Development (scheduled for May 26, do not miss it!). It’s a series of brilliant moves on the part of Netflix leadership, who were beaten down in the press and by customers after a mislaunch of a new pricing structure. By recognizing and, most importantly, providing on their own the content their customers were craving, Netflix diversified their value and output and likely at a low cost.

How can you not be excited about this? *starts singing “The Final Countdown”*

 

Finally, one of my favorite writers/producers/directors/generally hilarious people, Issa Rae, is one of five hosts of a new talkshow in the vein of “The View.” The show, which will be on the Magic Johnson-owned Aspire Network, is guaranteed to be awesome and much more relatable to women “like me.” There are a two things that excite me about this news: Issa Rae’s online origin and Aspire Network. If you’re not familiar with The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, seriously, crawl out from under a rock and watch seasons 1 and 2. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel some emotions and you’ll thank me, I just know it. ABG, as I will call it from here, began as a short episode, produced by Rae and posted to YouTube. Niche websites like Clutch Magazine promoted a Kickstarter account for the show, prompting people who were tired of not seeing themselves presented in such a positive and comedic light to donate enough for Rae to produce a full season. Enter Pharrell Williams and his production company, i am OTHER. With his backing, season 2 was even better and Issa’s name became more regularly known. Then came a television show with Shonda Rhimes and ABC. And we all know the power of Shonda when it comes to good drama, so imagine what she can do with Issa and comedy? Basically, started from the Internets, now she’s here, to borrow from Drake. Oh, and she has her own production company that is putting out new content regularly. Can I just say, my she-ro!

I want that bubble gun!

Lastly, the Aspire Network excites me because I can’t stand the majority of the programming that is supposed to be targeted to my “demographic.” Aspire is a partnership between Magic Johnson, Comcast and NBC Universal, and I’m quite upset I don’t get it with my AT&T Uverse. While it’s nice to see that some media companies recognize the influence of the Aspire target audience; just wish it wasn’t limited to one provider.

What are your thoughts about the explosion of original content? Does this pose a threat to traditional television channels?

 

 

 

 

Theory Versus Real World: What Gets You A Job?

22 Mar

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cube Both look so appealing, don’t they?

I have to say, lately it feels like “The Onion” is trolling my life. Between poking fun at how little time we truly have to dedicate to our passions and then a too-close-to-home joke about the usefulness of a communications degree, my ego is a bit bruised. Though I’ve still not forgiven them for their “joke” about Quvenzhané Wallis (for a review of that mess, read Awesomely Luvvie’s thoughts), those two articles are the epitome of the snark, sarcasm and punch to the gut smart writing the site is known for.

Let me not lead you to think that this post is about “The Onion” and their capacity to make you feel things, all of the feelings. The reason why the article on the communications degree hit home so hard is because that was my life in the first six months after graduation. Now, as I approach December graduation for this Masters degree (silently cheers), the question of how communication schools are appropriately preparing students for the tough job market really comes to the forefront. When I was an undergrad at SMU, my major program was known as corporate communications and public affairs. Very clear, right? The school offered three tracks: corporate communications, public affairs and nonprofit. I ended up with multiple internships and met some nice people at the organizations. But really, what do you learn on internships, other than how much you hate filing and how to be shuttled around as you shadow person after person who doesn’t have time to really delve into their role because in five months, you’ll be gone anyway. I don’t know how much interaction the school had with the companies who hired SMU interns, but that relationship could have used an overhaul and direction on what the students should be learning. The evidence of the lack of collaboration was apparent when, in an interview not long after I graduated, I realized I could have an hour-long discussion about critical theory but I couldn’t tell you what an editorial calendar was and I had no idea how to pitch the media.

SMU has since revamped their program underpinnings, and current undergraduates can focus on communication studies or public relations and strategic communication. Many non-theory related skills that would have helped me as a student who was transitioning to the real world – video production , photojournalism, production, campaigns – are now core classes. Perhaps, back in 2003-2007, we didn’t truly understand the way the communications field would shrink, requiring practitioners to be Jacks of all trades. However, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. Don’t misunderstand, I love theory – I should hope I do, since I’m in graduate school. Hindsight being the all-knowing pain it is, I now understand that combining that theory with cross-departmental offerings would have been a benefit for me, and I’m sure others.

As “The Onion” points out ever so cleverly, the kind of real world training obtained in internships and junior positions can be limited as well, and communication studies programs need to proactively influence the preparation students receive. Yes, the ability to keep organized files is important, but if that is the highest level of involvement an intern receives, it’s a waste of everyone’s time – except for the company who gets dirt cheap labor for summer.

In my previous position, the intern was an eager student who wanted to learn as much as possible, exactly what one would want from young workers. I made it my goal to make sure her internship did not mirror the experience I had  years ago, waiting on the next assignment and considering how I was going to apply the little I was learning to my resume.

The best feedback I received when I left: she felt blessed to have had me as her manager. So I guess something good did come of yesteryear, if I can take the complete opposite of my experience and apply it to her internship.

What would you say made you prepared for your first job out of school: theory or internships? A blend of the two? Any intern horror stories you want to share?