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Basking in the golden silence

13 Oct
Image

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.

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Recognizing Overextension Before It Burns You

1 Jul

broken-rubberband-300x225

Last week I was on it. Sunday had me at the track, sprinting until the only ones left going were me, my BF/trainer and his cousin. During the week, I managed to get in a day of yoga and two days of total body training. Coming up on the weekend, my legs were a bit tight but I was rocking and rolling, no stopping me now! Even though I knew sprint training was coming back around, I decided that a bike ride – only ten miles I told myself – wouldn’t be too bad on a pretty Saturday afternoon. Mind you, pretty is relative; it was near 100 degrees this past Saturday. After I made the loop, admiring the lake and views along the way, I managed to drag myself back home and shower, all the while questioning my own sanity for taking those hills on my novice legs.

Before I knew it, Sunday was there, staring me in the face. Cool breezes stirred across the red clay of the track. I shielded my face with a hand, took a deep breath and prepared to burst into my first sprint – 200 meters. Pace yourself, said the trainer. Just as I go to “turn over” (another track term I’ve come to know) I feel a cramp in my quads. It’s nearly impossible for me to pump my legs, they feel like lead. The remedy given to me was to try some 40 meter sprints, to stretch out the muscle.

First sprint, fine.

Second sprint, an ever so slight but definitely unable to be ignored twinge hobbles me.

And I’m pissed.

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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?

Why I Need to Live Like a Rap Star

27 May

How I carry my thug (via vermegrigio on Flickr)

How I carry my thug (via vermegrigio on Flickr)

I fully admit to being inordinately amused by the exploits of most rappers, especially in the antics and lifestyle outlined in their lyrics. I figure if an artist is truly about their business, they’re likely are not doing all of the extra activities they list. There are only so many hours in the day.

So, in the spirit of my ratchet music appreciation, and thinking of the conversation I had with one of my coaches, Dawn, I’ve decided that incorporating some aspects of the rapper lifestyle may not be a bad thing.

Fake It Until You Make It

Going back to my earlier statement, rappers are some of the bombastic creative people in the nation. A local star who still lives at home with his mother, works the stock room at Best Buy and records in his third cousin’s basement will have you believe he was just signed to the most well-known label with a million-dollar advance and has the hottest chick the game on his arm at all times. To use an overused term, it’s “swag.” Applying this to me, I have to be more prepared to talk about my ambitions for freelance work. No one wants to hear the hem and haw of tentatively describing aspirations for excellence. Claim it, declare it, own it. Rappers have this spirit in spades, even the ones who record in their closets. Why not adopt that in your business?

Roll With a Supportive Crew

What performer do you know that goes on stage with less than one hype man? I’ll wait…Exactly. Having a passel means rappers are never alone, bored, hungry and without entertainment. And they always have a fall guy, who doesn’t want that! For my needs, my crew  consists of my sorority sisters, family, my career coaches, former supervisors and various social media accounts for inspiration, laughs and thought-provoking commentary. Since I tend to avoid any kind of legal snafus, I never have to ask any of them to take the rap for me, which I’m sure they appreciate. Instead, this assorted group provides me with feedback and guidance, as well as accountability to do even better than I think I can.

Make An Investment

As Jay-Z said years ago in a line that epitomizes the rap life mentality, “Money ain’t a thang.” Cars, jewelry, houses – but I mean, who really looks at the price tag (thanks for that one, Nicki Minaj). Since it’s all about appearances, and I don’t have to impress the masses, my investments are a bit different. For example, one of the first things I did upon realizing that I have to build my brand outside of any company affiliation was purchase business cards and rent a P.O. box. Though my initial reaction was “Why am I spending money when I don’t have any coming in?” I knew it was the right thing to do to show that I was serious about my aspirations. Now when I go to networking events, I have my own card to hand out. And should I need to receive payments or contracts, I can have them sent to a location that is independent of my home address. As I go even further down the road of independent ownership of my work, I know additional investments will be necessary, though likely not dipped in gold like a Jesus piece. Mentally, this is part of the process for which I have to prepare myself (and my bank account). Thankfully, my momma didn’t raise a fool when it comes to saving and spending wisely.

So, that’s how I plan to adopt a limited scope of the rap star lifestyle. How are you embracing your inner rock and roll star: what would you add to this list?

Also, just for fun: my 90s rap name is Smoove V Tha Magnificent Thief. I will take that, expect T-shirts soon!

Theory Versus Real World: What Gets You A Job?

22 Mar

theory

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?

On Not Burning Bridges

27 Dec

burning bridges

I had the pleasure of spending time with previous coworkers of my first two jobs, and it brought to mind something that I think young professionals should keep in mind: keeping doors open. I can say, with pleasure and appreciation, that all three jobs in my post-undergrad career have come through an associate or a friend of an associate. Blessedly, the transitions I’ve made between jobs have been non-acrimonious and open.

When it can get sticky is when one takes internalized feelings that cause the new job search, like boredom or feelings of stagnation, and begins to outwardly make waves that cause the fracture of a network. The associations between professionals that can become a lifeline along a career begin the day you step into the new building, put forward your hand and say “Hello, my name is…” We all know that first impressions count, and so do second through fiftieth. The way you carry yourself, the energy you put out and the work you produce speak to you as a brand, and if you burn a bridge during a transition by slacking off, gossiping or generally leaving mentally before your physical self does, it makes things super awkward. Take for example my situation. I’ve been with my new company for a year, and within that time two people from my previous company have joined my now sister company. When I saw them, it had been nearly 12 months. However, we were able to converse and catch up about old and new topics because through Facebook, LinkedIn and good old-fashioned email, we were aware of each other’s moves and happy to see each other.

Another blessing I am experiencing because I didn’t forget those who I’ve met is that I have two fantastic mentors in my previous bosses. I’m able to email or call them and get their advice and support for whatever challenges may come. Because we have different perspectives based on our life trajectories and where we are in our careers,  their thoughts are completely unlike my own and they guide me into seeing what I may have blocked due to my own biases. Do I always agree…no. But I have a tendency to get inside my head – like wayyy deep inside – and sometimes their advice is exactly what I need to crawl back into the real world.

One challenge I have made for myself for the rest of this year, and the impending new year, is to extend that network beyond immediate previous coworkers and supervisors and reach out to the creative people who are on the peripheries of that network. I recently took the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment (seriously, I highly recommend you spend the $10 and take this, very insightful), which reinforced in me how much I love to learn about nearly any and everything. While grad school has curbed my ability to do this learning via reading for pleasure, it has not and should not stop me from taking a coffee or cocktail with those who inspire me with their fearlessness and dedication to pursuing their passions.

What has keeping your connections earned you over the years?

Inspiration for Continued Excellence

4 Dec

My mom keeps telling me I should write more and figure out how to make money along the way. This article is telling me the same…hmm…

Great profile on Andrew Evans of Digital Nomad on National Geographic