Dec 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Let's never speak of 2009 again
Here's hoping your 2010 is a big improvement over 2009!

Dec 29, 2009

Instead of traveling, writing and trying to figure out what we want, should we be marrying and having babies?

Welcome to Your Quarterlife Crisis - Eye Weekly - by Kate Carraway

When a contemporary 25-year-old’s parents were 25, they weren’t concerned with keeping their options open: they were purposefully buying houses, making babies and making partner. Now, who we are and what we do is up to us, unbound to existing communities, families and class structures that offer leisure and self-determination to just a few. Boomer and post-boom parents with more money and autonomy than their predecessors has resulted in benignly self-indulgent children who were sold on their own uniqueness, place in the world and right to fulfillment in a way no previous generation has felt entitled to, and an increasingly entrepreneurial, self-driven creation myth based on personal branding, social networking and untethered lifestyle spending is now responsible for our identities.

There is something about all of these critiques of quarterlife crises that kind of bother me. That quarterlife crises are almost wholly the province of middle to upper-middle class kids with an education and with a whole lot more opportunity for, to put it in nice terms, fucking about rather than working goes without saying. While I get tired of the "it's just a bunch of whiny rich kids," I can see where the argument comes from. But it's this look back over the shoulder to "a better time" that gets me.

"When I was your age, I was getting married and having children, not any of this nonsense about seeing the world or figuring out what I wanted."

Really? Is that the preferable path? That people once accepted the status quo, got jobs they didn't particularly care for, married and had children even if that wasn't particularly what they wanted, bought homes in neatly planned little subdivisions in the 'burbs, and then at 40 or so had the same kind of crises many of us are having in our 20s--self-doubt, self-worth, where is purpose and meaning, etc.--just with 20 less years to change paths?

I think one of the reasons why kids today have quarterlife crises is because we've seen how little happiness the myth that a house in the suburb with 2.5 kids and a dog and a "comfortable" job has afforded our parents and maybe even also our grandparents. We have the self-awareness to realize that just because this is the ideal that has been sold for 60+ years, that doesn't make it the right lifestyle for everyone, that it may not be the right lifestyle for us. At the same time, though, there is little opportunity to have a different kind of life. At every turn, people try to push you back into the mainstream. Get that 9-to-5 job. Buy that house. Snag that husband. Have those babies. Don't forget the dog!

There is also, of course, a fear that if we do something different, we'll end up in a place that we like even less, that we're even less suited for. Obviously, this is a phenomenon only for those who have the certain degree of economic privilege to make this sort of choice possible to begin with, and for that reason a lot of people treat considering making different choices as frivolous. At the same time, some of the questions that underscore the quarterlife crises so many experience are important. They challenge the idea that the status quo is the right choice, that it should be the only choice and the choice toward which all people should strive. A person having a quarterlife crisis asks: is this lifestyle really all it's cracked up to be?

I think overwhelmingly the answer is no. You're looking at a generation of kids who were raised in this "perfect" environment that has been touted as the paramount of personal achievement for most Americans at least for over half of a century, and they are rejecting "perfection" in large enough numbers that it is notable. You can argue that these youth are taking their privilege for granted or that kids these days don't appreciate what they have, but maybe what they are really saying is that all of the material things and material privilege don't bring significant meaning and value to life. Maybe what they are saying is that maybe we should value different choices, different lifestyles, because those choices might bring something better, both to individuals and to society at large.

The fact that young people are so harshly ridiculed for questioning the life they were born into ("you're spoiled," "you're entitled," etc.) is sort of confusing to me. Yes, these are essentially a bunch of (comparatively) wealthy kids who have privilege that many others don't, including the privilege to question the wealth and status quo they were brought up in and which gave them access to wealth and privilege to begin with. But is questioning whether the very wealth and privilege they were born into are valuable or if that status quo is worth perpetuating really a bad thing?

I don't know. For me personally, the answer is no. I've got a lot of questions. I may not know the exact direction I want to go in life. But I think the fact that I'm not just accepting the life handed me, the fact that I want something more--for myself, for those around me--is a good thing. Yes, I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to question whether or not the status quo is a smart choice, but who better to question the status quo than those most likely to perpetuate it?

Dec 16, 2009

The Oughties in Review

I'm having a hard time processing that a decade has passed since the Y2K scare or that we're now far away from my high school years that I can see how truly awful the fashion was or that I'm *cringe* 25. Really, I just can't believe how quickly, in particular, the last 8 years have passed. How college just flew by and how long it's actually been since I was in college. How grown up I really am.

The Oughties pretty much encompassed all of my late teens and early 20s, a pretty crazy period where you start doing all of that cliched "finding yourself" and making pretty epically dumb mistakes. All the same, it was so much fun. I thought I'd share my last decade with you guys.

Check it out, guys. This is in the spring of 2000. I'm posing here in my overalls with two of my equally styling classmates for a yearbook picture. Check out those tall socks. Oh, yeah. The epitome of cool.

This is the facial expression I wore pretty much all the time between the age of 13 and about 19. I'm wearing surprisingly little eyeliner here, considering that most of the time, I looked like a raccoon. Eyeliner = angst. The more eyeliner you wear, the more angsty you are.

My junior year I went to a youth leadership conference in Washington, DC. We were there the week following the 2000 election, which, if you will recall, was when we couldn't figure out who had been elected president. Looking back on it, being in DC at a conference that taught you about how government works during this "historic time" was pretty Forrest Gump-esque.

At the FCCLA (the name was changed from Future Homemakers of America the year before) banquet, waiting for officer initiation. Girls had to wear all white for initiation. I have no idea what boys would have worn, because we never had any boys as officers, or even as members, even after they changed the name to something less archaic.

You remember this. The white background and white props for senior pictures. I know in most places this trend went out with the 90s, but in the backwoods, they were still rocking this well into the middle of the next decade.

Prom blew. I wasn't a huge fan of my date. To begin with, he was someone I knew, which when I was 17 pretty much automatically put you on my HATE list. But also, as we were riding to prom in his pick-up truck, he told me I would never make it through college and would be back home within a year. I think I made it through that first year at college just to spite him.

High school graduation. Happiest day of my life up to that point. It meant sweet escape.

Midway through my freshman year of college, I got my first boyfriend ever (much to everyone's surprise) and joined a sorority (much to everyone's surprise.) This is us after my sorority's formal. Please note, I'm still wearing the heavy eyeliner.

Little known fact: I was the main character in the Orientation Advisors' musical skit "Burnt Orange Beauty" in UT's talent show, Texas Revue. It was really awesome.

Hanging out with some OAs on our trip to New Orleans. This was such a fun summer. I loved, loved, loved the OAs.

Bid Day during formal recruitment my sophomore year. This is the last photo I have of me with my sorority sisters, I think. This is the year I got super involved in Res Life, and pretty much was unable to attend any of my sorority functions for the next two years.

The URHA banquet at the end of my sophomore year with my BFF. SO CHATE!

Giving a speech about my dad at my sorority's Dad's Day my senior year. I'm really only showing this picture because, holy shit, look at all that hair. This was the beginning of my two-year streak of having BIG HAIR and BIG EARRINGS.

My 21st birthday at the famous Trudy's. This is probably the first birthday I celebrated with people other than my parents since I was about 12. A ton of people showed up, and I was blown away that people actually liked me enough to come to, well, any party that I threw actually. (Although in retrospect, they were probably just there to see me get drunk and make a fool of myself.) I had also just moved into a brand new apartment and was starting grad school in a couple of weeks. I was so unbelievably happy that night. The stuff of memories. (Kellen was there, too. <3)

2005Erica's 21st birthday! Another great night.

I don't think there was any particular occasion for this outing, but on this particular night, a group of us went out and got completely (please remember I was only 21!) trashed. It was so much fun. The next morning I woke up with one of the glands in my neck swollen to the size of a tennis ball (no exaggeration.) I had mono. How I still have a liver is beyond me.

This was the summer I lived with Kim and Elyse in a house in East Austin. That summer had such a distinctive feel. I can close my eyes and still remember it perfectly.

Texas football! Colt McCoy's first season. I wasn't impressed then, and I'm not impressed now. (Sorry. I know that makes me a traitor, but it's just the truth.)

My last year in Austin was the year of the theme party. Starting with my Pirates vs. Ninja birthday and ending with Shivangi's hat party. Shortly after this, people began leaving the city and moving on. :(

Erica's wedding...

My 23rd birthday. I was only in Austin for another week after five years of so much awesomeness.

Posing with my roommies at flight attendant graduation! Only a few short hours from getting my wings and flying off to...Oregon. To see Kellen. :)

Then I got an office job and moved to Oregon permanently. Grown up life begins.

Then we got Pippin...

And then we got engaged!

I wonder what the next 10 years will be like. How much we will change. How much the world around us will change. I wonder what I'll be doing. When I was 15, I had so many plans, so many goals. I've accomplished a lot of them by now. Some of the others are things I still want, but seem to be impossible. Others I have abandoned completely and can laugh at now. At 25, though, I don't have nearly as much ambition. I have no goals, not even a particularly strong direction to head off in.

A lot of people are probably coming up with resolutions now for the new year. Maybe even some are thinking about where they'll be in 10 years and starting to set long-term goals. I don't know. Not only do I not know where I want to go, in a lot of ways, I'm not really worried about it. If there's anything I've learned in the last 10 years it's that life doesn't always take you where you want to go, you won't do the things you expect to do, and you won't become the things you think you'll become. I guess I just feel like putting a lot of my pressure to become something or to achieve something specific won't necessarily get me to a place where I want to be.

So for a while, I'm just going to take things as they come. Things always work out in the end.

Dec 8, 2009

An exciting morning...

The morning started off like any other. Kellen headed out the door at 6:20 for work, while I stayed in bed and watched 7th Heaven. About 20 minutes later, right before I hopped in the shower to get ready for work myself, Kellen called to say his car had died right in the big middle of I-84. The car had to be towed, I had to drive across Portland (twice) in rush hour traffic to get him, and chances are pretty good that his 1996 Crown Vic with 150,000 miles on it has completely lost its engine.

Which means, no more Crown Vic.

Thankfully, we still have the van that Kellen and Max bought to take to Burning Man--they were supposed to sell it as soon as they got back, so I guess sometimes procrastination is a good thing--so Kellen at least has transportation. We were also planning on getting him a new car in a couple of months anyhow. His new job starts next Monday, and his income will (hallelujah!) be doubling.

So it's not as if this is the worst thing ever. It just means we probably won't make as much money as we expected from selling his car. I can deal with that.

Kellen said sometime in the last couple of weeks that I don't seem to be worrying as much as I usually do. Think back, if you will, to February, when my old car was totaled and I was completely freaked out at the prospect of having to take on a car payment and the higher insurance that accompanies a new vehicle. My reaction to what is a very similar situation (loss of vehicle and taking on new expenses) is completely different. Kellen having a job I think is the biggest relief I can think of. We are now in a position where we can absorb those sorts of big, unexpected expenses.

Not super excited about the bill that is going to come from the body shop, still, BUT... It is nice that this whole thing happened NOW and not, say, a year ago, or even six months ago. It's nice to be able to take a bad situation and go, "Okay, not a super big deal, we can handle this."

Nov 17, 2009

Etiquette Cubed: a cube dweller's guide to a more tolerable work place

I'm going on almost two years of working in a cube farm and over the past two years, I've developed a fairly comprehensive set of guidelines for things you should and should not do if you, too, have the misfortune of working mere feet from dozens of your closest colleagues, with nothing between you but a flimsy wall that you can see right over when you stand up. Considering that many 20-somethings will find themselves in a cubicle at some point, I think this information is worth sharing.
  1. Smells. Smells carry in a cube farm, so you owe it to your neighbors to keep the odors at a minimum. These smells can include: general personal hygiene (shower regularly, wear deodorant), strong perfumes and colognes, food (seafood is off-limits and please don't throw away food products in your cubicle trash can--it could be a few days before anyone picks it up, and you don't want your cube to smell like a dumpster), post-smoke break smells (they may never say anything to your face, but people do talk about you and find your odor just as offensive as the guy who never wears deodorant), scented aerosols, plug-ins or cleaning products, and by all means, KEEP YOUR SHOES ON.
  2. Sounds. Sound carries even moreso than smell in the cube farm. Whether you are having a conversation with your cube mate or are in a phone conference with a colleague at another location, you should always be aware that the people around you are trying to work. Mind your voice level at all times, because many people will find your loud talking abrasive and distracting. Whenever possible, please take phone conversations or personal discussions with other coworkers to an area away from the workspace. Break rooms, meeting rooms, stairwells, the cafeteria. I don't really care where you are, so long as I can't hear your voice. Other sounds I don't want to hear: smacking when you eat (if you haven't learned to close your mouth while you chew yet, perhaps it's time you do), music so loud others can hear it despite your head phones, finger or toe tapping, clipping your fingernails or toenails (GROSS GROSS GROSS!), belching, farting, or any of the other things your mother taught you not to do before you even started kindergarten.
  3. Keep your business to yourself. This is an extension of the "sounds" section, but it's such an egregious offense, I felt it deserved its own special paragraph. No one wants to know about your medical history or troubles. Ditto on the medical history of anyone you may know or have even heard about. Nobody wants to hear about personal arguments with your significant other, family, or friends, and nobody wants to hear about any of their personal arguments with each other or anyone else. No arguing with divorce lawyers on the phone. No discussions of dirty nappies or diaper rash. Not only do those conversations have no business in the workplace, those discussions are often distracting and even repulsive to the people around you. Either way until 5 o'clock or step away from the cubes while you have those discussions.
  4. Mind your own business. If you overhear someone in a cubicle near you that has absolutely nothing to do with you, do not go and ask the people having the discussion later what they were talking about. If that conversation was for you, you would have been included in it. Do not look or read over other people's shoulders, whether they are looking through paperwork, reading a book, or on their computer. I'm not sure where you got the idea that this was appropriate behavior for any setting, but this behavior is inappropriate at work and inappropriate pretty much anywhere else you may go. Unless someone invites you to look at what they are looking at, keep your eyes to yourself. It's none of your business.
  5. What's mine is mine. Hands off! If it's not yours, don't touch it. If the owner is present, you may ask for permission. If the owner is not, DON'T TOUCH IT. If you are sitting in someone else's cube, do not touch their things or rifle through their belongings...even if they are sitting there with you. This might seem obvious to most of you, but I guarantee you that there are some people out there who are clueless. But let me reiterate: IF IT'S NOT YOURS, DON'T TOUCH IT, unless you have the express permission of the owner.
These are really the key things you need to know about working in a cubicle. There are many other items that I could list, but the offenses that seem to keep coming up over and over again, at least in my workplace, are summed up in the above. I think the whole thing can be summarized by saying: Keep your hands, eyes, sounds and smells to yourself.

Keep in mind that your neighbors are pretty much trapped in the same small space as you for at least 8 hours of the day. Be courteous, and be aware of how your behavior might be annoying others.

Nov 16, 2009

There are no safety nets in blogging

Ina over at Ina Nutshell (hee!) posed the age old question: how much personal information should I reveal and how much should I discuss my job on my blog in an age where people are more and more routinely fired for blogging? This is something I've vented my frustrations about in the past.

Generally speaking, I think it's silly that employers fire their employees over things written in blogs or on social networks, BUT it's one of the many obnoxious realities that must be dealt with. As such, I am very against revealing too much personal information, and I am even more against revealing too many specifics about where I work or whom I work with. As I've said before elsewhere regarding a litany of things I choose not to blog about, I choose to write a blog about my life and therefore I have permission (my own) to write about myself. The people in my life didn't choose to keep a blog, and they certainly didn't choose to be part of my blog. Out of respect for them and the fact that they don't have much choice over what I write regarding them, I try to limit what I write about them and be careful about how I portray them. I think this is a good rule of thumb in general when you blog. You wouldn't necessarily want people talking about you on their blog (with or without your knowledge), so why do the same to them?

When it comes to work, I've been fairly open about my complaints, but for the most part, I try not to be too critical of any one person, and I try to paint my job as realistically as possible. My job is far from being the worst in the world, and many of the problems with my job are a necessary part of the kind of job I have. I try to acknowledge that in all, my company works just fine for many people. It's just not a good fit for me. I try to frame my unhappiness at work as a personal problem as opposed to a problem with my company, and for the most part, that's exactly what my unhappiness is. Even if someone I work with does read my blog and does recognize me, I would hope they'd see my (mostly) respectful comments about work and look the other way. At most, I think I'd get a warning to be more careful about what I write.

What I worry most about is being let go because I am so dissatisfied, and if my employer read my blog, they'd become immediately aware of my feelings toward my job. However, I do good work, and I'm a valuable employee. Plus, I've already made my dissatisfaction known to key supervisors. If they were going to let me go, they probably would have already done so. To my supervisors' credit, they seem to be more interested in keeping me happy than they do in getting rid of me because I'm not a perfect of the many positives about the company I work for.

My advice to people who keep blogs: keep the personal information at a minimum--about you, about the people you write into your blog, about where you work--and keep it respectful. The worst thing you want to do is embarrass your company. Notably, you can do that even without bad mouthing your employer or your clients. You can also do that by talking about bad behavior on the weekend or irresponsible behavior outside of work, and for some employers, particularly those who are concerned with how you could be representing yourself (and by association, your employer) to potential clients, blogging about your non-work-related unprofessional behavior could be just as fatal as talking badly about where you work.

It's a fine line to walk, and ultimately you have to be responsible for your own actions and words. I don't think I would ever get fired over anything I've written, at least not in my current position. (Other places very well might react differently.) And even if I did, I feel fairly confident in saying that we'd be fine if I lost my job, and it wouldn't be the crushing blow it might have been even a month ago. So, I'm being slightly less cautious than I was before.

However, I'm still not going to call out colleagues in specific, give out identifying information regarding the company I work for, or give enough information on my blog that I could be found via a google search. (Although honestly, I'm still pretty easy to find if you know what to look for.) Just be cautious. And the more concerned you are that your employer would take your words seriously, the tighter you should keep your lips zipped on the subject of work and unprofessional behavior in your private life. Focus on personal performance and personal improvement in your blogging instead, if you choose to write about work, and save the rants for friends IRL or for a private blog/journal that is for your eyes only.

There is no safe way to blog if you do so for the general public. Everything you say goes out into the ether, and you have no way of knowing who will find those words, who will read them or how they will interpret them. Some people will like what you have to say. Others won't. And for the most part, the internet is filled with strangers who don't matter in the least to your day-to-day life. Occasionally, though, someone who does matter may find something you wrote and take it the wrong way. If you choose to write about your career or about your colleagues or about your personal exploits outside of work that may not be completely professional, you are taking a risk, and you must be willing to accept that as a possibility and be able to deal with the fall out.

If you're not comfortable with that risk, blogging is probably not the right medium for you.

The fiancee has a job!


It's with the company he interned for a little over a year ago. He really liked the company then, and when he went back for his interview, he spoke with many people that he worked with before. Not that his superior intellect and social skills didn't have a lot to do with it, too. But it certainly helped that many people were familiar with the calibre of work he turns out and know that he's an all-around great guy.

He's not as excited about the work he's going into right now because it will be moving away from the embedded engineering that he loves so much, but I think that Kellen, as he usually does, will make the most of it and end up loving it. I think he's just feeling a little disappointed because he had to pass up on the second round of Microsoft interviews, which he was so excited about. They were unable to schedule his next interview before he had to return an answer to the company that extended the offer. The good thing is, though, that if he does end up being unhappy with the work, Microsoft has agreed to hold onto him as a candidate and will extend him a chance at a second-round interview in the spring.

The upshot is that we won't have to move, and I won't have to find a new job. He will be able to start the new job immediately after he finishes his current one, so he'll be able to maintain income. I think my favorite thing is that the benefits at his new company are markedly better than mine, so not only will he have health insurance for the first time in over two years, but I will be able to move over to his. I pay $140/month on my premiums by myself, and both of us on his will only be $200/month. Plus, his plan has better co-pays, better coverage, and OOP limits. That will save us some money for sure.

Also, because his new job pays well, we're really going to be able to enjoy our wedding/honeymoon in Mexico, pay off credit cards and put a serious dent in our student loan debt, and generally speaking put ourselves well on the way to responsible adulthood.

I know this is a lot of talk about money, but...I've been so worried that one or both of us would be out of work come the new year, and that best case scenario I'd be trying to support both of us on my salary. This good news has been such a relief! Now back to worrying about wedding stuff (btw, you can track the progress of our planning process at my new blog, The Better to Wed You With /shameless plug) and my old standby: what I want to be when I grow up.

Nov 9, 2009

The recession is really still on?

Even knowing that we're going through a pretty massive recession, it's still hard to believe that a year later, things still haven't bounced back. I found a post from a friend from October of last year discussing the difficulties the recession has presented, particularly to young newly-graduated women. I did a double take at the "2008" date.

Has it really been that long? Good grief. Almost my entire professional experience has been framed by a recession, by the resulting professional stagnation. I have watched as coworkers have been laid off, as an increasing number of jobs that previously would have gone to my team have been funneled off to a new team in Malaysia that works for a fraction of the price that we do. I occasionally dip my toe into the job market, seeing what my city has to offer. (Not much.)

I've spent well over a year being afraid of losing my job. I've spent a year what-if'ing what will happen if Kellen doesn't manage to find a job shortly after he graduates. And even more worried what-if'ing over what we'll do if I lose my job, too.

You read things like this, which highlight the abysmal statistics of getting hired in this economy:

Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, job openings declined from 4.4 million to 2.4 million and the number of officially unemployed persons grew from 7.5 million to 15.7 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the 15.7 million officially unemployed workers were to apply for those 2.4 million jobs, the chance of any one of them finding a job are about 15 percent, or roughly the same odds as being accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.

The official figure only counts workers as unemployed if they have searched for a job within the past four weeks. But, does it make sense to exclude people who have not looked for work in the past month? Probably not, given that statistics show workers are trying harder than ever to find a job and only give up looking after prolonged periods of unemployment.

The average duration of official unemployment -- which, by definition, requires that people be actively searching for a job -- has increased to 26.9 weeks, or just over a half a year. But after many months of unsuccessful job hunting, some people do give up hope. And after four weeks of not looking for a job, they are dropped from official unemployment. It is primarily for this reason that since May, the official labor force has shrunk by 1.1 million people.

The exclusion of these so-called "discouraged" workers from statistics means that the official number of unemployed severely understates the weakness in the labor market. If you include these workers, the unemployment rate would rise to 13 percent, or 21.3 million. If these workers were to apply for the 2.4 million jobs available, the odds of securing a job would be 11.2 percent, or roughly the same as getting into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It gets worse. Another group excluded from the official unemployment report is the growing number of part-time workers who would prefer to have a full-time job. These workers are forced into part-time jobs or are forced to take part-time hours because no full-time work is available. During the current recession, workers who are "part time for economic reasons" have grown from 4.6 million to 9.3million.

Adding part-time workers to the number of officially unemployed and the discouraged workers, as labor market expert Leo Hindery, Jr., has observed, results in a rise in the real unemployment rate to 19.2 percent, or 30.6 million people. The odds of any one of these 30 million securing one of the 2.4 million full-time jobs available is 8 percent, the same as the admissions rate of the Ivy League gold standard, Harvard University.

Then you have articles like this, which say things like:

But the economy has shed well over 7 million jobs in this recession, and economist Lakshman Achuthan tells Mason the hardest hit is manufacturing. "Even if GDP grows at 10 percent, you're not getting those jobs back. It's a structural permanent change," he said.


October was the 22nd straight month the U.S. economy has shed jobs, the longest on records dating back 70 years.

These numbers go flying across my dashboard over on Tumblr, a social network/blogging platform inhabited in large part by 20-something professionals (and an ever-growing number of grad students), almost daily.

I'm so tired of the recession. Thinking about it makes me physically weary. And I worry that it will never really end. That much of the job loss is permanent. That much of what is going on is the inevitable collapse after decades of poor business and political decisions which have allowed the jobs to be utterly drained from our economy.

I have two college degrees, special training in a tech field, and supposedly all of the things going for me (in terms of work ethic, ambition, intelligence, professionalism, etc.) that a young person should, and even I feel like I have failed to gain traction in the so-called real world. What must this be like for everyone else?

Nov 3, 2009

In honor of the boyfriend's second job interview...

I'm sharing a fantastic article I came across from CareerRealism: 10 Things Recruiters Won't Tell You.

A lot of these are things that you've probably heard about if you've ever taken a seminar on interviewing, visiting a career counselor, or, you know, read or heard anything about doing well in job interviews. What this recruiter drives home is how all of these little things which in better times wouldn't have gotten your resume immediately tossed are guaranteed deal breakers in today's saturated job market.

Read it, and then begin to think about how you could improve your first impression.

Some advice for employers

Prior to coming to work in my current ultra-corporate environment, I worked for a university. I held several positions there, but the last one was as a student web designer. My group developed various and sundry multimedia for professors, including websites. I adored my job, and not simply because they gave me total creative control over the websites I designed from the ground up. (Although that certainly helped!)

My previous supervisors worked very hard to create a positive environment, where the focus was as much on growth, creativity, and learning as it was on turning out a good product. If you expressed a desire to learn a new skill or work on a new and different project, you were not only allowed to do so, but given the resources and the support necessary to be successful. Obviously, if there was a time crunch, they would want the most experienced developers on the job, but for the most part, they did what they could to help their employees realize their full potential. This was good for the student employees because they were learning a lot and working on things that made them happy, but even better for the professors who relied on us for course materials and CV sites because our quality of work improved so rapidly and also for our organization as a whole, which had a steadily growing and improving body of work to refer to when trying to get more funding and more clients.

I have experienced none of this in my corporate environment.

My supervisors have more or less taken the position that whatever skillset you had when you began working here--or whatever skillset they decided you had, a determination not always based on your testimony or your portfolio--is the extent of your talent. If you were hired to do html and CSS, you can do HTML and CSS. If you were hired to do Flash, you can do Flash. If you have other talents or abilities, though, that you did not possess at the outset or that they were not made fully aware of early on, don't expect ever to incorporate those into your daily work.

There have even been a couple of instances where, instead of utilizing the existing talent pool, they've hired from outside because, as they say, "No one here has that skill." Or, in other words, no one here is currently using that skill, so instead of taking a chance on you and letting you prove yourself, we're going to keep you doing what you're doing and simply hire someone new.

The way my employers have put their employees in a rigid box has had an incredibly negative impact on the work environment. People are frustrated because they not only feel their skills are going unused, but they feel they are being passed over in favor of outsiders for team changes and promotions. It also highlights how disconnected management is from their employees and the lack of confidence they have in the people they have hired. What it really shows is how little they are invested in their employees.

Investing in the long-term growth of your employees is crucial to building a strong and capable team. Particularly in a tech field, your organization needs people who are constantly growing, learning, and building new skillsets. Failing to acknowledge and take advantage of the professional growth of your employees will have the effect of one (or all) of the following:
  1. Your employees will become angry and frustrated by the sense that management is not paying attention to its talent pool, and they will feel overlooked.
  2. They will become discouraged of learning new skills, since they know that those skills would be overlooked yet again.
  3. The best of your talent will move on to greener pastures, where their work and skills will be acknowledged and put to better use.

To be honest, there is no reason why you shouldn't be fully aware of your employees' abilities, their efforts to improve and develop their skills, and their goals in terms of long-term growth. Moreover, there is no reason why you shouldn't be taking advantage of their abilities and goals as you move your organization forward. There is little to gain in passing them over and failing to use their skills, and everything to lose: morale, your best talent, and eventually, the quality of your product and your clients.

Oct 27, 2009

If you wonder where I've been lately...

I'm not dead. I'm just planning a wedding.

Because I realize a lot of people are really not into listening to a girl blather on and on about flowers and frippery, I'm blogging about it on a separate website, located here: The Better to Wed You With.

I promise, once I get a few more things with venues and such straightened out and take a breather from the frantic oh-shit-I-only-have-five-months planning that's been going on for the last week, I'll be back to my regularly scheduled non-wedding blogging.

Oct 21, 2009

Getting Comfortable

Every few months, I toy with the idea of going back to school and completely changing directions in my career. I've considered going back for some sort of engineering. For marketing. For architecture. The idea of more school, though, really lacks appeal, and when it comes to making a decision, I find I don't really feel a strong pull in any of those directions. I always come back to the place where I am.

Let me be clear. I am not satisfied with my current job, and in terms of skill level, I've got a long way to go. But I think the field I am in now is generally the right place for me to be.

It's taken me a long time and a lot of struggling to say this is where I belong. I've been dancing around this career path since I was 13 years old, and while it's something I love, I think I've always felt I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough or talented enough to make it. But I think I can. There's no reason why I shouldn't, other than laziness or a self-defeating attitude.

So I'm going to do it. This is my career, and the only thing I can do to further my career is to progress within the field. It's time to focus.

Oct 16, 2009

I'm going home!

In just a few hours, I'll be on my way back to Austin. I can't wait! Hope you enjoy the video...thought it was fitting.

Oct 15, 2009

So something big happened last night...

Here's my, as my dad called it, engagement bling.Yesterday was our second anniversary. It's been two years since Kellen and I started dating (again), be honest, we didn't have any big plans for last night. Kellen had his brass ensemble practice, and I had big plans to do laundry and watch So you think you can dance? Exciting, right?

When I got home from work, though, Kellen was all excited because he got an e-mail saying Monsters of Folk were playing downtown that night, doors opening at 7, and he reeeaaaally wanted to go. Not only are they a great band, but one of the band members, Conor Oberst, was part of a little number called Bright Eyes. A Bright Eyes concert just so happened to be our first date, almost five years ago. It seemed like a pretty fantastic way to spend our 2-year anniversary.

I told him if he could swing some tickets and didn't mind missing band, I was down. (Very down.)

We headed downtown shortly thereafter and went to the box office to see about getting tickets, since we couldn't find any online. Just our luck, they had released some amazing tickets up close to the front. Kellen forked over some cash, and there we were--sitting 4 rows back in this amazing concert hall ready to watch us some Monsters. I'd never really been able to see the stage at a concert before (I'm really short), much less sit that close to the front, so I was very, very excited.

The show was SUPER FANTASTIC, and at the end, we were both amped up because it was a great performance. Kellen goes, "Do you wanna get someone to take our picture?" I'm a picture fiend, so I said sure. He goes over to a security guard and starts whispering to him. Then he hands the camera over, turns to me, and starts getting down on one knee while he holds out this black box.

I don't even remember him saying "Will you marry me?" I vaguely remember his mouth moving. I know I said YES! And then I poked him really hard and called him a jerk because I was completely surprised. Hehe. (I wasn't expecting it to happen for several months!) The ring was absolutely gorgeous, and I was more than happy to put it on my finger.

We got the camera back from the security guy and while he thought he'd taken pictures, he hadn't. BUT. Even without the pictures, I don't think I'll ever forget.


I'm super duper happy. I've loved Kellen for years upon years. I've loved him through good and bad, and I know I'll always love him, no matter what. Lucky, lucky me, he feels the same way. I feel like I've won the lottery with him. He's such a wonderful person, and to think I get to spend the rest of my life with doesn't get much better than that.

In all, I say this is building up to being the best week I've had in a very long time. Kellen got a second interview. We saw a great show. We got ENGAGED!!! We saw his parents last weekend for his birthday, and we'll see my parents this coming weekend. We're going to AUSTIN, my favorite city in the whole wide world. I couldn't have asked for a better week.

I still can't believe we're engaged!!! What am I supposed to do now? :)

Oct 13, 2009


Kellen got through to the second round of interviews at Microsoft!!!!!!!! We've heard the second round is a doozy, so I'm sure the next few weeks will involve a lot of studying and prep. BUT. I'm so proud of him, and again, any good vibes you can send our way are much appreciated. :) YAY!

(PPS: If any of you have ever interviewed with Microsoft and have advice for him, that would be great, too.)

Pam and Jim's wedding...

...convinced me that eloping is still the right decision.


Oct 12, 2009

When our parents get old...

Last week, Kellen went on a John Mayer kick. We listened to Continuum for hours on end. Not that I'm complaining. I love me some JM. Listening to the songs over and over, though, I started paying attention not just to how they sound, but what the songs were about. I'd never realized the song "Stop This Train" was about losing your parents, and listening to it got me thinking...

It's not as if I've never thought about my parents growing old or passing away before. I have. When I was 16, my mom ended up in the hospital for two months. I remember my younger brother and I having the discussion about how afraid we were, driving home from Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt's by ourselves. I got to experience what my life would be like without her. I didn't like it.

My parents are only in their 50s, and God willing, they'll have another 30 years of healthy, happy, independent lives. After all, all of my grandparents are still around and for the most part healthy and independent. And my grandmother had her parents until she was in her late 60s. But still, in my 20s, I'm having to come to terms with the fact that my parents are getting older. They'll be retiring soon. The list of doctors they have is growing longer, and the list of problems is starting to grow, too. Someday, I'll be the one taking care of them. And someday, I'll have to say goodbye to them.

My parents have always been at the center of my life. I've never made friends easily, and I've gone stretches of my life without anyone I could count on or lean on but my family. My parents are the people who always reminded me that I was loved, that I was special to someone, and that I had someone to go to, no matter what. They've gotten me through so much. It's impossible to imagine a world where they aren't there.

But I know someday, it will happen. How do people ever find the strength to get over that loss?

Oct 10, 2009

Twenty-Somethings in the News: "The Lost Generation?"

Business Week: The Lost Generation

So this is depressing.

In this piece, Peter Coy outlines the abysmal unemployment rate and long-term career prospects for young people. And boy is it ever abysmal.

For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of "lost generation." Studies suggest that an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.

Yikes. "Damaged goods"?! Really?! Apparently this argument isn't just doomsday sensational journalism, but is backed up by statistics:

For each percentage-point rise in the unemployment rate, those who graduated during the recession earned 6% to 7% less in their first year of employment than their more fortunate counterparts. Even 15 years out of school, the recession graduates earned 2.5% less than those who began working in more prosperous times.

Perhaps I'm being overly-concerned because I've got my boyfriend graduating from college in a couple of months, ending his paid internship, and entering the real world...which at this point looks like it's going to be the real world, sans job. (Keep your fingers crossed, say a prayer, throw a little salt over your shoulder--whatever it is you do--for him, please, that he'll hear back from someone in the next few weeks.) It's depressing to know that in the long term, our earning potential could be dampened by the recession. It's also depressing to know that my incredibly smart, talented and skilled boyfriend might be one of the casualties of the recession, something which I have (likely just to make myself feel better) been telling myself is IMPOSSIBLE for the past year or so. My boyfriend is way too smart and awesome for that to happen to him...right?

The truth is, there are just so few jobs to be had for young people. Three years ago, when my ex was graduating with an engineering degree, there were tons of jobs available for the newly graduated. Companies were actively recruiting college students, wining and dining even the mediocre potential employees. Now, many of the same companies that were hiring recent grads in droves have hiring freezes on, or if they are hiring, they're only hiring those with experience (3+ years is the lowest I've seen--the vast majority are looking for those with 10+ years of experience). It's depressing. And the number of people applying for the scant entry level positions out there is even more depressing.

If my boyfriend, with his holy grail of college degrees the engineering degree, his ridiculously high GPA, his year of real-world experience in a reputable co-op program, his willingness to transfer just about anywhere, with his professionalism and glowing employer reviews and impressive accomplishments and fantastic personality, can't get a job...what's going to happen to the rest of us? And what's going to happen to all of us in the long run? Are we really going to be lost?

Oct 8, 2009

Motivation? What motivation?

Last weekend, I put in somewhere around 12 hours on my sorority alumnae group's website, 8 of those on Sunday alone. Kellen and I woke up, got dressed, went out for brunch, then I came home and for 8 whopping hours and did serious work on a project that is, for all intents and purposes, optional. I didn't look at my gmail every 30 seconds, or my tumblr, or my twitter, or my flickr, or my google reader. Granted, I've been saying I would do this site since July and it needed to get done, but it was still something that I had no hard deadlines on and which no one would absolutely shit bricks if I never did at all.

I was kind of proud of myself. And then I started thinking, "Why am I not like this at work?"

I think approximately 500 times a day during the work week, "I seriously need to stop cycling through my frequently-browsed social networking sites and do the job I'm being paid to do." You know this routine: gmail, tumblr, twitter, flickr, google reader, gmail, tumblr, twitter, flickr, google reader. I seriously do it all freaking day. Every day. Even when I have an assignment due, one that's important, sometimes I still find myself not doing my work and instead flipping through all those other websites...even when I've read all the updates and am just staring at the same old crap I've been staring at for the last 2 hours.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I've got a serious case of ADHD or internet addiction or something. That's how difficult it is for me to focus. But then a day like Sunday comes along, and I realize that I have a crazy ability to focus...when I'm doing something I actually want to do.

I think my I'll-look-at-everything-on-the-internet-except-what-I'm-supposed-to-be-looking-at habit is borne partly out of the fact that I'm passive aggressively acting out my frustrations with my job on the assignments I'm given by procrastinating, and partly borne out of the fact that I'm just plain bored with the work and could do most of it in my sleep. (Some days, I'm not entirely positive I'm not asleep when I do a lot of this stuff.)

Part of the reason my direct supervisor was so adamant on shifting me to another team is that I was bored out of my skull on my old one, and the quality of my work was suffering as a result. (The degree to which it suffered, by comparison to my coworkers, actually put me about on par with a sizable chunk of the people I work with. But it was a notable departure from my usual omigodsoanalretentivethisallhastobeperfectorillhaveastrokeomg-quality work.) I can't say so far the change has been very beneficial, because in two weeks, I've had maybe 10 hours worth of work to do, and I get incredibly frustrated when I have so much open time that I have to figure out how to occupy. I don't like having to dig up menial busy work to fill the hours, and that's precisely what the suggested applications of my downtime are. I feel like that's just so many wasted hours of my life.

The problem is clearly motivation. And while yes, "This pays the bills, so I'd better do a good job," is sufficient reason to make me do passable work, it's certainly not inspiration to do my best work. I want work that I find exciting and interesting, that I see value in. I want something that makes me want to work, and that I get enough out of that I feel like my time has been well invested and my energies rewarded, if not in terms of praise from my supervisors (however rarely that happens anyhow), then at least in the sense that I did something that has value.

I want to be inspired. I want to be excited by what I'm contributing, and I want to be proud of what I've accomplished. I don't like thinking, "Yeah, I did some things....meh," at the end of the day. Maybe it's a lot to ask to be fulfilled by what you do, but that's precisely what I want.

Oct 5, 2009

I keep forgetting to tell people this...

kellen wins!
Did I mention my boyfriend caught the garter at his brother's wedding?

Some 8-year-old girl caught the bouquet, and it's not like it's even remotely appropriate to jump someone under the age of 12 in order to snatch something from their tiny little hands...the little snot. So I guess we'll have to settle for Kellen's victory over the mens.

PS: Actually, I've yet to embarrass myself leaping for a bouquet or mauling another girl trying to get it in my clutches...or worse, convinced the bride to clear the floor of everyone except me so that I was sure to grab it. (Yes, I've actually seen that at a wedding before.) It's not as if I've ever been the kind of person to get that excited about getting married...but I am kind of competitive, and just for once, I'd kind of like to win that stupid bouquet.

Kick in the Pants Monday!

This week's kick in the pants is brought to you by William Kamkwamba, a 14-year-old Malawian boy who wanted to bring electricity to his village. Despite lacking the proper tools, loads of money, or even access to the local education system (he was kicked out when he was unable to pay the $80 fee for attending school), he did just that.

After finding a book about windmills that generate power at the library, he spent several months collecting materials, making his own tools, and then building the windmill itself. Despite being harassed by villagers, he not only built the windmill, but got it generating power...then built four more windmills. The windmills now supply power and water to his village.

I don't know what you were doing when you were 14, but I highly doubt you were bringing electricity to an entire community. I doubt you're even doing that now. So get off your bum, and go do something productive!

Thanks, William, for the kick in the pants.

Oct 2, 2009

Cooking really isn't so different from life...

melted pyrex dishI, like a lot of people who must depend upon my own culinary abilities if I want to eat, like to try out new recipes. The bulk of the recipes I learned growing up were Southern dishes (fatty, starchy, and delicious) and quickie foods (cheap, easy, and heavily processed) that, while often tasty, are not always good for you. And if the health reasons weren't enough to branch out, then the fact that I love food certainly is.

I'm not the best cook in the world. In fact, until I got my first apartment in college, I couldn't even boil water. (No. Seriously. I nearly burned the house down twice attempting to boil a pot of water to make tea.) And since then, I've had some pretty serious kitchen cooking disasters. In addition to overcooking and undercooking pretty much everything at least once, and accidentally leaving out ingredients or getting a little overly-ambitious with the ingredients, I once exploded an entire meat loaf all over my kitchen. EXPLODED. It went about 10 feet in every direction, and we were still finding errant pieces of pyrex and hamburger meat weeks later.

That being said, I have learned to cook a few dishes and cook them well. My vegetarian enchiladas are legendary, and my boyfriend thinks my meat loaf is the best he's ever tasted (as long as he doesn't have to eat it off the floor. *cough*) And because the possibility of delicious success is always enticing, I keep coming back to cooking, in spite of a few true disasters.

Take this week for example.

Wednesday night, while the boys (I have two male roommates, one being the boyfriend) were out doing other things, I decided to stay home and learn a new recipe. I've been eyeing this recipe for weeks and finally got all the ingredients together to make it. It was a challenging recipe for me. It was the first time I'd ever separated eggs whites from yolks on my own. It was the first time I'd ever even heard of a sabayon. It was the first time I'd ever whipped cream to soft peaks or folded whipped cream into anything. It was also the first time I'd had to improvise a double boiler on my own. In short, it wasn't an easy recipe, and I spent a lot of extra time trying to figure out the right way to do it.

The end results were magical. I was so proud of myself and all of the new skills I'd learned, and the best thing about food is, you always get to enjoy your success. The boys liked it too, and I gave myself a mental gold star for being so darned awesome.

Riding on the high of success, I decided to try another new recipe on Thursday night. I got some butternut squash last weekend at Kruger's on Sauvie Island. I've never cooked with butternut squash before, and I found a fairly simple recipe on Epicurious that I thought I'd be able to pull off with few problems. I had Kellen peel and slice the squash for me (he's my sous chef), and I basically stirred the cream and sage in a baking dish and made sure the squash was evenly distributed before I put the lid on the pyrex dish and slid it into the oven.

30 minutes later, I went to check on it, and...

Disaster. The lid on my pyrex dish was not oven safe. NOT AT ALL OVEN SAFE. Not only had it melted into the squash, I had little pools of red melted plastic all inside my oven. I was horrified. And embarrassed. Why couldn't this have happened the night before when the boys weren't home, and I could have dumped the evidence of my pretty epic mistake in the trash can without anyone finding out? And why had I been so stupid anyhow? I had my reasons (a friend of mine in college had had a plasticy baking dish, and I assumed wrongly that the lid for my pyrex baking dish was made of the same stuff), but it didn't keep me from feeling like a royal idiot. I got pretty upset about the whole thing, and really beat myself up about it.

But then, Max ran to the store to get a back-up side dish so dinner was still pretty tasty, and Kellen lifted my spirits, and the red goo was fairly easy to clean out of the oven. The only bad things that happened were I ruined a dish and still haven't gotten to make butternut squash. (And I probably added another item to the list of Ridiculous Things Katie Did in the Kitchen that No One Will Ever Let Her Live Down.) Oh, well.

Like most things in life, when you try to do something new, sometimes you fail. Sometimes you succeed, though, too, and often the failures are not as bad as they may seem at first. Either way you learn something from the experience. So whether you get delicious fig sabayon, or whether you get red-goo-covered butternut squash, the important thing is to keep trying, keep learning, and don't let yourself get discouraged by failure or the fear of it. Someday, you'll get it right.

Oct 1, 2009

So I switched teams at work...

A few months back, I expressed an interest to two of my supervisors in switching teams. I felt that after spending a year-and-a-half on the same team, I was growing bored with my work, that I wanted new challenges, and that I wanted to increase my visibility both with the rest of my team, but also the larger company my team works for. For a long time, it didn't seem like anything was going to happen, but then about a month ago, they announced layoffs.

After the layoffs, there was the usual shuffling of teams. It took several weeks for everything to be finalized, but at long last, I finally got shifted to the team where I had specifically requested to be moved (thanks to my direct supervisor advocating for me NOT to be moved to a team where he thought I would be unhappy and would be more likely to *ahem* reassess my employment situation.) This has been my first full week on the new team, and...

For the most part, it's just been kind of boring. Because I'm fully trained on the development platform my new team uses exclusively, I haven't needed to do any training or shadowing my fellow team members. Because the team was in the middle of a big project, and all the work was already divvied up, there also hasn't been much work for me to do. So it's been a lot of twiddling my thumbs, taking extraneous trainings (I've been looking into our social media training program), and waiting to wow my new team lead with my super impressive skillz.

There are some differences between my old team and new team. For one, my old team really pushed for the web developers to go the extra mile. If I was adding or removing content from one page and knew there was similar elsewhere on our website, I was encouraged to include those additional pages in my work. If I had an idea for how we could improve content I was working on, I was more often than not given the thumbs up.

Because I was on a small, tight-knit team before, it was more important that we all be aware of the content and ensure that we caught any problems, and it was more likely that if I recommended a change, I could go directly to the manager for my team and be given the go-ahead. My new team is larger and has a more formal relationship with those further up the ladder. You do not ask about additional work on other pages, and you do not make suggestions or comments on the content you have been given work on. You basically do what you are told. On that level, I'm not super-excited about my work, because I feel like I'm scaling back my skills several notches and losing, in a sense, my voice and my ability to prove that I am willing to (and often do) go above and beyond.

The new team also has more meetings, which is not super fun.

On the upside, I'm getting to share (and prove) my expertise with new people at work. A few weeks before I left my old team, we get a new person doing our quality assurance testing, and she was surprised by how thorough and how good our team in general was, and I know that her experience will be passed along, if to no one else, then at least to her supervisor. That sort of thing is good for my reputation at work. I feel confident that doing good work on my new team will also help to spread my reputation as a strong and conscientious worker. The biggest drawback on my old team is that no one except two or three people knew what I was capable of or knew the quality of my work. I know that my relative invisibile-ness didn't help me in interviews regarding promotion back in May.

Already, I'm working on building a better relationship between my old team and my new one. Because we work on the same platform at least some of the time, I think it would be useful to share knowledge about the platform between the teams, both about how to do things and about the latest problems we're having. I'm also taking on some new responsibilities regarding documentation, which should help me gain additional visibility and is good for demonstrating that I am willing to take responsibility.

This is probably the first time in several months that I feel I'm doing something really useful, both for my team and for my career. I'm hoping this horizontal move gives me some vertical oomf. Or at the very least, spices up my life a little with new teammates and new work.

Sep 23, 2009

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

- Steve Jobs

Sep 21, 2009

Another weekend, another wedding

Austin, TXSo we were in Bend from Friday-Sunday for Kellen's little brother's wedding. It was a fantastic wedding, replete with karaoke, swords, and hurricane force winds. (Actually, that last one might be a slight exaggeration...but only slightly.) We had a great time. I only wish that every time someone asked us, "So when are you two getting married?", they had handed us a $1 bill instead. If they had, I could've afforded to take a recuperation day off from work today!

Only one more wedding to go, and that's not until next month...and it's in Austin!

I don't know if I've mentioned here or not that Kellen and I are finally making a pilgrimage back to longhorn mecca, but my friend Charles is getting married and I promised I'd make it back to town for that. We're super excited and have so many plans. I don't know how we're going to squeeze everything in to a single weekend, and I really wish I could stay longer (*siiiiigh*).

Have you ever had a place you love so much, your heart squeezes into a tiny fluttering knot whenever you think about it? That's how I feel about Austin.

Sep 17, 2009

Little Miss Goody Two Shoes

That's me.

I've always been sort of compulsively well behaved. I was the kid who always got perfect marks for behavior, who followed the rules, who lectured the other kids when they broke the rules (or even thought about breaking them.) I was the kid who never caved to peer pressure, who was an incredibly judgmental teetotaler until I was almost legal to drink, who never did drugs or anything even remotely close to drugs. I can count on one hand the number of times I played hookie...which is far less than the number of times when I attended all of my classes when I probably should have stayed home because I was so sick. I always pay my bills on time, and I always make good on any loans given me by parents or friends (though I honestly can't remember the last time I asked for one.) I have always been respectful, responsible, and the kind of kid parents always wanted their kid to hang out with and be like, but which no kid ever wanted to be with or even be seen with.

It's not like there was ever much I could do about it. I liked coloring inside the lines. I liked the positive feedback I received for doing the right thing, hated the negative feedback I got for anything wrong, and generally speaking had a strong enough belief in my own awesomeness that I never really had a hard time following through if I thought a certain action was right. I credit this for a lot of the success.

At the same time, though, as I get older I realize that sometimes always wanting to color inside the lines can be a drawback. I am the opposite of a risk taker. I don't like to be put in a position where I might not be able to do many of the things I feel that I, as an adult, am expected to do, and expected to do independently. I tend to make safe choices, and I also tend to take the path of least resistance. I like to be liked and approved of by my peers and superiors, and when I don't meet their standards, I work doubly hard to exceed them...whether or not their standards are in keeping with my own personal goals.

I'm a good kid. I always have been. But sometimes...I wish I were a little less good. I wish I could risk maybe not being able to pay all of my bills one month. (This is an idea that literally gives me heart palpitations.) I wish I could risk not having health insurance, or risk not having a "normal" place to live, or risk maybe not being exactly the sort of person I think everyone wants me to be.

"Well-behaved women seldom make history," or so the saying goes.

I want to make history, and sometimes I get the distinct feeling that behaving myself all the time is just getting me into bigger trouble.

Sep 11, 2009

The fear of failure is eating me alive

Last week, I had this really horrible nightmare that I went back in time and every single thing I had ever accomplished since I was in junior high, I managed to somehow screw up and not accomplish. I'm not even kidding. I didn't graduate from college. I didn't make straight A's in high school. I didn't make drum major in band or the cheerleading squad. The thing is, it's bad enough when you go out for something or you try to do something, and you fail. But knowing that I had already achieved these things once and was no longer capable of doing it? Ouch.

It doesn't take a psychologist to tell me what my problem is or what that dream meant. I'm having some epic issues with fears of failure and rejection, fears of inferiority and inability. I'm worried about applying for new jobs (something that is becoming imminent, as Kellen's job search rapidly expands beyond Portland), because I worry that I won't be good enough, that I won't have the right skills, that no one will want to hire me. I'm worried about trying to learn new things, branch out to new areas, maybe even change direction in my career. I'm worried that somehow, I just won't be able to do it. I'll just fail.

I've never really felt like this in my life. I've always been fairly convinced that I'm an awesome human being. I am, above all, one smart cookie, and have always been able to do pretty much anything I put my mind to, with the exception of sports. I have always previously done a great job of impressing my employers and coworkers that I am hard-working, highly capable, and professional. Generally speaking, there's no reason why I should feel nervous or apprehensive about trying something new or pushing forward.

...but I do.

I'm not sure if it's because I've struggled so much in my current position, where nobody except those who work in immediate contact with me think I'm valuable. It's been incredibly hard to feel like, no matter how hard I work, I'm not really gaining ground with some of my supervisors who don't have intimate knowledge of my contributions to my team. And...sometimes I just get everyone else's ability and skill worked up in my head that I can't imagine how I could possibly ever compete.

I've got to get over this nonsense. If I'm having dreams about it, clearly I'm letting it affect me way too much. I know I'm awesome. I also know that every time I have failed, I've always been able to redouble my efforts and make significant improvements. I've never said, "I can't do that." (Except for sports, but really? Who cares if I can't throw a softball in a straight line or more than 10 feet?) Because I've always known that, if I tried, I could. I might not be the best, and I might not be perfect, but I could do it, and I could even do it well.

I'm just going to have to throw myself into the snake pit, and stop worrying about how afraid I am of the snakes.

Sep 3, 2009

Someone get me a cookie, stat!

I finally paid off my credit card!

That's right. Every last penny of the debt that has been hanging over my head since my flight attendant days, when I was putting milk and bread on Visa, has been paid for in full...and then some. Now to keep that balance at 0.

Sep 2, 2009

Aaallll byyyy myyyyssseeeelllllffff...

So Kellen's been out of contact since Sunday. He's at Burning Man, where they have no cell reception and the nearest phones are a shuttle ride away and apparently shuttle tickets aren't easy to come by. I won't lie. While I really like having the house to myself, I'm going a little crazy without contact. I finally got an e-mail from him this morning, which is good because now at least I know he is alive and hasn't run off with a band of crazy hippies. We haven't been out of touch this long since, well, since we weren't speaking to each other several years back.

I got a call from his mom tonight. She wanted to thank me for being such a supportive girlfriend. And to check and make sure I was still alive without two big strong men in the house to protect. (My mom has been checking up on me more frequently than usual, too. Just to make sure no one has broken into the house to try to get at me, as we all know how irresistible I am.) I felt kind of bad about her saying how supportive I am, when five minutes before I had been thinking, "IhateBurningManIhateBurningManIhateBurningMan."

Sometimes, it's really hard to maintain separate identities and separate lives in a relationship, to avoid becoming one of those obnoxious codependent couples that can't go to the bathroom without needing the other one to hold their hand while they wipe. (Pardon the crudity, but you've probably known one of these couples.) Considering that I have talked to my boyfriend every single day for the last 2 years, even when we were 2,500 miles apart, it's really hard to go 9 whole days without talking to him. This is the age of internet and cell phones...and internet in your cell phones. I mean, seriously, it is insane that in this day and age someone could be out of touch for 9 whole days, right?

I think it's worth it though, because I personally think it's an incredible experience (even if my "ewww dust and trance music!" pretty much guarantees I will never go myself), and I know how much he wanted to go and how much he appreciates that I "let" him go. I can't imagine telling him not to go, anyhow. Who does that? Crazy girls, that's who. Plus, I get to be all smug about how independent and awesome I am at the end of all this.

So for now, I'm sitting around watching movies that I have a hard time getting Kellen to watch with me (and doing laundry, but that's not glamorous or cool, so we'll ignore that.) Tonight, it's The Sound of Music. And you might be surprised to know this, but I'm also downloading Bridget Jones and Chocolat, and despite this movie being nearly 40 years older than either of those, it downloaded about a thousand times faster. I'm so excited. I've had "The hiiiiills are aliiiiive," stuck in my head for days.


I'm off to be alone and independent and super cool some more.

Aug 25, 2009

Newsflash: I'm going to "The Bins" with Mei Mei Pomegranate.

This is her legal last name. No, really. She's my roommate's younger sister. I've been hearing stories about her for months, including how she changed her last name to Pomegranate when she was 16. My feelings toward her are something akin to worship.

It's like meeting a celebrity.

I'm so excited.

(Also, "The Bins" is the Goodwill cast-off store. I have no idea if that's what it's actually called, or if that's just what Kellen and Max are calling it. From what I understand, it's some cross between Gollum's lair and Antique Roadshow jackpot. Still excited.)

Aug 23, 2009

Attaching my personal brand to my job search? I don't think so.

So last weekend, my friends Kim and Will were in town. (Yes. I had a life for a whole 48 hours. This translates into months of blog fodder for the girl who has no life the other 363 days of the year.) As I said before, both of them do web design and are interested in running their own companies and blah, blah, blah. We were talking about "personal branding," (it's one of those hip buzz phrases that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but whatever, it's the only phrase I've got for it) and whether or not it is smart to attach your online personal brand to your professional image.

Let me be completely clear. I am a girl who got a facebook account before facebook was available to the general public. There are pictures of me on facebook doing things that I never want any employer to see me doing, and while yes, I can un-tag all of those pictures, I would say the far safer and easier thing to do is just to throw up privacy settings all over the place so no employer will ever be able to see those photos. And, I still get to be myself on Teh Internetz.

Generally speaking, this describes my entire approach to recreational internetting. I have a facebook account: totally private. I have a myspace account: totally private. I have about 20 different blogs: not private, but completely devoid of my name, and therefore impossible to find on any kind of search. Despite having a sizable web presence (i.e. the 20 blogs, the tumblr, the twitter, the facebook, the myspace, etc.), you really can't find me on the internet unless you know what to look for. I like it this way.

My "personal brand" so to speak is not necessarily what employers would want to hire, I don't think. I am a pessimist. I complain. I'm not all. 99% of the advice I give on this blog is directed at myself: the procrastinating, the needing to actually DO something if I want to BE something, the how-to-get-noticed at work business. Nothing I blog about is very, well, professional. I am not speaking as any sort of expert: not on my field, not on career building, not on life. When I read the blogs of the 20-something girls who do attach their names to their blogs (you know who I'm talking about), I think, "Oh, fuck. I'm so fucked." I'm not inspired. I'm not motivated. I just feel deep, overwhelming inferiority. Because I am not, and never have been, one of those girls.

I am 25, and most days, I'd prefer to be in jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops. I do not blow dry my hair, and it's some combination of curly and A GIANT EFFING MESS that prevents me from ever being able to just wear it down and let it air dry. So it goes straight into a ponytail as soon as it air dries enough that it won't still be wet when I pull it out of the ponytail at 10 PM. I do not wear make-up. Most of the time, I can't even be bothered to pluck my gigantic manbrows or cut my toenails. I dream of doing approximately a bajillion things, but most days, I make no meaningful strides toward any of them. Occasionally, I blog about them. The thing I get most riled up about is what lies the GOP is telling about health care reform today (and I'm completely obnoxious and over-emotional in my response, and succeed only in irritating people, I'm pretty sure) and what happened at work that day (and am completely obnoxious and over-emotional in my response, etc.)

This is who I actually am, and there is no way in hell that I want potential employers, or even my current employers, to know the full extent of my actual personality which I freely communicate on the internet, but try my best to keep under wraps everywhere else. It's not attractive. And I really, really do not want to write another one of those fucking blogs where I'm the Perfect Girl who does everything Just Right and tells everyone else How To Be Perfect, Too. I could probably do it. I could probably do it well, attach it to my resume, and have future employees go, "What an impressive young lady."

And I'd be forced to gouge my eyes out every single day for trying to tell people they should be something even I am not capable of being. Actually, really, I think it would just make my insecurities worse if I tried to write every single day about how to be Perfect.

Maybe there are companies out there who could appreciate me for who I am. Who would read my blog and see something real and legitimate and that a lot of people go through. Or they could just see another fucking whiny kid (and I know a lot of the people who read this blog often times think this, so I'm not going to kid myself by thinking other people wouldn't). Maybe it would be better if I could let potential employers see who I actually am and let them pick me on the basis of my...quirks...rather than picking me on the basis of someone more perfect and awesome than I actually am. I would probably be happier in a place where people actually like me, than being in a place where people constantly expect me to be something else. (Right now, I think the ideal at my company is some combination of Tech Genius and Brainless Corporate Drone. *sigh*)

But let's be honest. The economy isn't in a place right now where I can afford to be myself. Maybe in a year or two when things are back on track and maybe I've got something other than my bitching on the internet to show potential employers...

What do you guys think of this issue? Is it better to show employers who you really are, or to hide your true self from the job-offering public in an effort to make yourself more broadly appealing? Would you be okay revealing your webbie self to the potential-employer universe? Or do you just try to make sure that your webbie self is your most perfect and awesome self that it's not a completely horrible thing if employers make the connection between you and your web presence?

Aug 18, 2009

Grad school vs. real world...maybe grad school isn't that bad?

A while back I wrote a post that discouraged all but the most passionate from using grad school as an escape from the real world and the real recession. In it, I quoted Thomas H. Benton's persuasive summation of grad school: "Grad school is a confidence-killing daily assault of petty degradations. All of this is compounded by the fear that it is all for nothing; that you are a useful fool."

Having been out in the real world a while now, though, can I just say...I think you could substitute "Entry level jobs" for "Grad school," and that statement would still be just as true.

Aug 17, 2009

Gen Whine?

Our parents told us a number of things. Stay in school. Study hard. Stay off drugs. Keep your grades up. Get into the best college there is. Be the best at everything you do. Learn. Research. Excel. For me, the all-nighters doing homework started in seventh grade. School followed by extra-curriculars would start a bit before 8:00 in the morning and, for some parts of the year, could run until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Then I started studying. Through college, commitments might go until well after midnight. Do all of this now, we were told, and when you finally graduate there will be a job for you. It may not be easy. Nobody is handing anything to you on a silver platter and you might get some dirt under your fingernails. But we had an understanding. There is, we are told, a rational system, and if we are smart enough and work hard enough, things will turn out okay. Will you achieve all of your dreams? Realistically, maybe not—but you should at least be comfortable. So what happens after graduation?

Congratulations, graduate! Go out and take on the world. What? No job? Surely you applied? You interviewed? Maybe you’re being unrealistic. Have you considered temp agencies? Retail? They’re flooded as well? Have you called? Dropped in in person? Pounded the proverbial pavement? Have you tried working your network? Is that really a stack of a hundred rejection letters? You must be doing something wrong.

For those who just graduated, there was no job. That’s not technically true. There was a job—but somebody older has it and isn’t letting go. It turns out the whole system is rigged. Education and intelligence and everything we were told was important turn out to be worth nothing next to seniority and experience.

Maybe the system was relatively fair twenty or thirty years ago—but it certainly isn’t now. Maybe there was a time, relatively recently, when young job seekers could weigh different offers or meaningfully negotiate salaries. When things got tough, that was the first thing to go. As the economy contracts there is a larger and larger focus on protecting people who already have jobs—or those who have recently lost them. Extending unemployment benefits won’t help recent graduates. In today’s economy, seniority is more important than merit. And through all of this, the wealth gap keeps expanding.

Sure, the economy is tough. Nobody meant for this to happen. People screwed up. Accidents happen. Normally, if you bungle something up and can’t fulfill your end of a bargain, you would and try to make it right. You broke it? Fix it. Or at least look embarrassed. That hasn’t happened. I turns out, we’re just whiners. We did everything that was asked of us … and when the older generations don’t deliver their half of the bargain, it’s somehow our fault.

- Squashed

If you would like to read a well-researched, well-written blog on progressive politics, Squashed is pretty awesome. But sometimes he turns out non-political gems like these, too, and they are also well worth reading. Highly recommended blog.