Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My (Non) Plan for 2011

All right. In all accuracy what I am about to describe is in fact a plan. So much for my cutesy, eye catching title. But it could be considered a non-plan in more ways than one.

2010 was about a plan. I joined Twitter, and launched this blog in an effort to not only describe the nature of a square peg trying to live in the round holes of a materialistic, productivity-obsessed society, but also to join together with others who felt the same way. I wanted to connect with other people who wanted to get ahead, but found themselves to be Too XYZ. Though that has occurred to a small degree, and I have in fact connected with several great people as a result of my social media endeavors, I have not, (as I have written about before) formed a coalition of such souls. 2010 brought about many things for me, among them allies of varying stripes. For which I am grateful. But the establishment of a network of almost total like minds did not happen as I had planned or hoped.
 
I had decent exposure, through Twitter, Brazen Careerist, and other such places. I could always have more, as I have seen blogs younger than mine get lucky enough to take off like wildfire. But overall I have a network of well wishers. Yet what 2010 taught me was that I couldn't take people who are Too XYZ, and network with them in the manner that more conventional people do so. In other words, I had thought I could achieve my unique definition of success, using my own unique methods, by simply applying the social media rules and art form to people of like-mind. I have come to theorize, however that being an unconventional person, with unconventional methods and yes, unconventional weaknesses means that attaining even my own unconventional idea of success is nearly impossible when applying conventional tactics.

I know what many are thinking. There are all kind of gurus, super-bloggers, location independent freelance billionaires with passive incomes in the tens of thousands a month who got there by being exactly that; unconventional. Maybe. But as I have spent the last year looking into social media, and its alleged heroes, I have realized that for most of those types there is actually a common, and dare I say conventional thread. That common thread is their manner of marketing.

Leaving the rat race. Traveling the world. Living a dream. Saying "up yours" to the status quo. Creative visualization. LinkedIn. Blogs. Subscribing. Commenting. Linking. Tweeting. Re-Tweeting. TEDs. Podcasts. Conventions. Give-Aways. E-books. Asking "How can I help you today?" On and on and on. After awhile is all starts to sound the same to me. And maybe it is all the same, since in the end it all comes down to one (and I mean one) thing. Constantly selling.

Now, some people will flat out tell you that is it. Always be selling. Yourself and what you do. Sell, sell, sell. How? (See the above paragraph.) They make no bones about it. That's fine, for them. I actually respect them a bit more for just coming out and saying it.

But then there are those who disguise their riches, their new "free" lifestyle, their fame, their influence, in terms of how much they loved life. How much they faced fear. Made themselves uncomfortable. Went out there and "just did it!" And they encourage us all to do the same thing, because there is no such thing as luck, and anybody anywhere can do what they did.

To me that is buying the house based on how lovely the weather was that day. What all of these gurus, (some of them very well intentioned I will admit) are actual selling is....salesmanship itself. They only think it is their desire, their vision of their future, and their passion that they are selling. But really, look carefully at almost all of their stories, and you will find, in the end, that they learned how to sell, or hired, or got mentored by, or subscribed to the blog of, or was introduced by an acquaintance to someone who taught them how to sell the shit out of themselves and what they "offer" the world. In some cases it is clear that selling was far more responsible for their success than quality of their product...

Then others see the lives these people live, and how passionate, and eager to help, and lovely they are, and we start to think that it is those things that got them where they are. Those things may have kept them where they are. But in the end, selling got them there.

And you know what? I hate selling shit. I tried it as a career and it sucked every bit as much as I thought it would. I have tried to sell myself at networking events and you know what? It sucked just as much as I predicted it would. Good, talented people get ahead by selling. As do really lousy bastards. But to quote a line from one of my favorite films of all time, Primary Colors:

"I don't care. I'm not comparing the players. I don't like the game."

And I don't. This game of selling is for the birds. Actually I have a caveat; this game of selling as currently defined by most people is for the birds. This version of marketing yourself and your wares that people insist you need to master in order to get anywhere as a freelancer. The version of marketing yourself and your wares that even the most open minded, generous, and status quo hating individuals in social media will beat you over the head with, and insist is necessary, only to turn on you when you determine you cannot do it. A version of marketing yourself and your wares that has at some point transformed into a nebulous altar at which 90% of the ironically self proclaimed non-conformists gather and before which they all genuflect whilst immersed in the ecstasy of the game changing wonders of Social-Media marketing and networking.

Yeah. For the birds.

It's this manner in which we sell things, and ourselves, from which I am clearly unable to launch my life and my work. And reading the top 25 books on current marketing trends, subscribing to Seth Godin and 100 other blogs, stopping in on every web chat by every guru on this side of the equator (all of which have been emphatically suggested to me) is not going to change any of that. When it comes to traditional marketing (and social media does have its own traditions) I'm not worth a damn. Period.

And so 2011 is going to be about going at it my own way. And by my own way, I actually mean my own way. Not living life in my own way only to try to market it in a conventional way, but to proceed with my daily life, communications, research, passions, and yes, even marketing in my own way. If the gurus cannot cure themselves of their traditional social media marketing fetishes and help all of us, then I will do it myself.

And yes, I will be doing it. I never said that marketing and getting the word out in some form are wrong for me. I see their value. What I am saying is that it has be done at my own pace, using my own methods, and paying little attention to how it was done by "Cindy Happypants: Blogger Extraordinaire", who changed the world while writing about selling donuts and living a dream. (Though I would date such a woman if she existed...)

In 2011, it may come down to me living with my family again for a while. If so, I'll do it. It may mean less time networking, and more time alone, perfecting me. Fine. It will mean most of my day will be spent writing. Not selling my writing, or pitching my writing, or talking about writing. But the actual process of writing. Like doors closed, curtain drawn, I do this because this is all I know how to do, writing.

My novel at first, and then blogging, and then whatever time is left can be spent seeing if there are any magazines out there that want my stuff. And if I find them the days will be spent reading them, not making calls the schmooze the editor. And when I finally do decide I may have a piece worth pitching, I will pitch it. This may happen 10 times next year. Maybe more, or maybe even less. I won't be forcing it.

It will mean that I will be reading scripts, looking for acting projects and memorizing speeches. It will not mean saving up and moving to New York to make it on Broadway, because I don't want to be on Broadway. I want to be a better actor, and that means acting, and studying same. Not paying someone to tell me how to do it, but doing it my own way. It's not a hobby. It's what I do.

I won't be trying to learn to cook more things very often. I won't be attempting to tackle home economics or Apartment Management 101. I'll be going to bed when I am tired, and getting up when I am no longer so. I'll be writing in the passive voice, and not all of my protagonists will be different by the end of my book. I'll pass up the chance to  attend the local business card exchange and instead opt for an audition at a local community play house. And if I get in to the play, I'll blog about it on my acting blog that nobody reads, which brings in no money, and for which I have done all the marketing I know how to do, and for which I still have almost no readers.

I'll retweet things I like, and not because I want to get on the good side of someone else who isn't following me anyway. I will leave comments on friends' blogs just because they are friends and deserve to have their stuff read, whether they have "social proof" or not. I won't bother commenting on sites who require me to prove my expertise in something before taking me seriously and I will not prove my expertise through anything but the work that I do. Content shall be king in 2011. Judge my abilities by that, and not be a work history, or to hell with you.

And it won't matter what I know or who I know because I will be too busy being better than I was in 2010. And when it comes time to start knowing more people, I only want to know people who know how to behave in public, treat everyone with respect, and have the decency to return a message. Because nobody out there is important enough for me to sit around and wait weeks just for the chance of kissing their ass. I don't care how many pings their blog gets, whatever the hell they are.

And if I starve? Folks, half the time I am close to starving anyway. At least I'll starve while doing my damnedest to be productive in my own way, and not starve while trying to tweak a resume so that it can be summarily ignored by the 30 trillionth hiring manager who just doesn't have the time to understand that my "employment gaps" are due to misfortune and things beyond my control, and not because I'm not worth anything. If someone has no time to read what I write as a writer, and instead wants a flashy resume and some name dropping, they don't want me. Nor do I want them.

And just maybe, in so doing, I will get to the point where I do what I want, just like Cindy Happypants: Blogger Extraordinaire. The only difference being I'll get to be whatever I want first, as opposed to playing a half-assed game in order to have the privilege of doing so. Then I will have a product that will sell itself. (With a little bit of luck, which unlike most, I am not afraid to admit is a big part of our lives.)

And if anyone wants to join me...well...I'm still not Too XYZ for a little bit of company, and a little bit of help. And I am willing to give any help I can to anyone who wants it. But I'm not a guru, thank god.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There Was a Writer

Due to it being the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the history of the English language (verified), most people, regardless of their faith, are familiar with this piece, known now to history as "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus."

Unsigned at the time of its publication in The Sun in 1897, it was of course written in response to a letter received from eight year old Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas. Though over time there has been some amount of scholarly doubt as to whether or not an eight year old actually penned the letter bearing her name (appearing as "Virginia O'Hanlon" in the paper), the woman to whom the letter has been attributed lived a life that was rather well documented. Her Wikipedia page, as well as other more legitimate sources cover her life in plentiful, if not meticulous detail. Virginia herself received fan mail for the rest of her life, to which she graciously responded. She indicated near the end of her life that the attention she received as a result of her famous letter had effected her life in a positive way.

Several movies, animated specials, and other works have been created, telling the story of Virginia and her letter. She has become a rather integral part of the Christmas zeitgeist. At least in the United States.

Coming in a distant second to Virginia in this story, in regards to eventual fame, scholarly investigation, dramatic presentation in various media, and inspiration to generations of Christmas lovers? One Francis Pharcellus Church. Who was he? Nobody special. Just the man who actually wrote the editorial itself.

I don't want to go on and on about that. But I did think it worthy of mention that the author of the words which move so many of us that love Christmas, and the work of whom sparked the most popular editorial of all time seem almost to be an after thought.


"Oh yeah," folklore personified seems to say. "He took care of that whole writing part of the Virginia story."

Folks, nothing against Virginia, but in the end Mr. Church was the story. Mr. Church is the story.

Yet his section of the link I provided is basically just his picture. His Wikipedia entry merely mentions he wrote the piece, where he went to school, that he died childless and where his body is buried. It's barely longer than the piece for which he is (not so) famous.

Now I am not beating up anybody over this. Virginia deserved some attention and admiration. However I do confess it has over the years annoyed me a bit that though it is Mr. Church's work that instantly captured that hearts of millions, it continues to be Virginia's story.

So, that being said, allow me, on this Christmas Eve of all days, to talk a little bit about what this work of Francis Pharcellus Church says about him, and about writing.

Set aside how famous it is. Really think about the piece. The prose is eloquent but concise. Touching on a multifaceted and deep spiritual truth in a manner that is accessible to an eight year old without boring an adult reader. It both confirms the truth about "Santa Claus", without blowing the mystique of Santa Claus. It upholds the magical in a child's Christmas experience without telling one single lie or half truth. On top of it all its magnificent diction makes it perfect for easy recitation or performance.

In other words, it is a brilliant piece of writing that accomplished its mission. And far, far more.

There is much we will never know about the circumstances of Mr. Church composing this editorial. We cannot know what exactly Mr. Church was thinking when he wrote the piece. We probably have no way of knowing if it was assigned to him as opposed to being a request he made to write it. And certainly his muse, like those of all us writers, will  remain a mystery. Certainly more of a mystery than what Virginia went on to do with the rest of her life.

Still I think we can make a few assumptions safely. It is safe to say that this was more than a staff writer cutting his pay check. There is a superior quality of soul within the words. I find it hard to believe he didn't believe each and every one of them as he wrote it.

Safe, also, is the assumption that Church had no idea of the impact he was about to have on an entire nation's holiday experience over the next hundred-plus years and counting. Anybody who sits down to pen something with that as a goal needs to be locked up someplace.

He did know, as we know, one thing. He was a writer. It was his job to write, and to do so well. To live up to the standard's expected of him by his employer and by himself. Pursuant to that, he sat down (as so many of us have before and since) with a goal, a resource, his experience, his talent, and his words. And he penned something. Something to which he could not (or would not) attach his name originally. And as a result of his gift for words, he changed not only Virginia's life, but millions of others. Perhaps even Christmas itself to some degree. And all of that would be true whether or not the "Virginia" letter was really written by an eight year old.

This is why I write. This is why I seek out places and opportunities to make use of this talent I apparently have to assemble words in such a way as to effect, inspire, change, entertain, inform, provoke, and perhaps on occasion save other people. It is why I chose to be a starving freelancer for now. (Unless some perfect staff writing position should show up.) It is why I do my damnedest to write even though I know that nobody is reading. Why, despite a hiatus here and there I muster up within myself time after time that exhausting, that perplexing, that frustrating, that miraculous and inexplicable component within my spirit that accounts for me being a writer. This stuff isn't easy, folks. But it can be worth it, when you get it right. Even more worth it when the right people read at the right time what a writer composes. Just as they did for Francis Pharcellus Church. Just as they still do 113 years after he submitted it to the paper.

Was that ubiquitous yet beloved editorial a fluke? Did Church merely get lucky, and strike a cord or two, or a million? Maybe. But I think not. He was, as history tells us a "veteran" journalist, which means he had been writing large amounts of copy for at least quite a few years. That experience may have sharpened him and his words over time in just the right way to make his tapping into the consciousness of a whole culture more likely than it otherwise would have been. But that isn't being lucky. That's showing up. We get rewarded for showing up.

Thus far I have shown up to write far more often than I have been rewarded for same. And I get weary of it. Sometimes I even step away for weeks at a time. But the knowledge that showing up can lead to that one moment, article, sentence, speech or novel that changes everything eventually brings me back to the bottom of that hill, ready to push that bolder ever upward. I wonder if Francis Pharcellus Church ever felt that way.

As I mentioned, we know Church died having had no children. But did he? If children be extensions of ourselves and our love, while also taking on a life of their own as time goes on, I say perhaps the man did have at least one child. That child was an unsigned editorial in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun. And look at how many children, of all ages, it has touched in the decades since.

All because there was once a writer who showed up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Waiting for the Smiths"

You know that old expression, "Keeping Up with the Joneses"? Meaning the incessant need to have just a little bit more than those around you, and doing whatever it takes to obtain same, in order to save face? (In other words, a materialistic crock of shit life philosophy.) For the sake of the expression, "Jones" being a common enough name to stand for just about anybody with whom you see yourself (or your family) in competition.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I have never given a damn what the Joneses think. Nor have I tried to keep up with them. Even if I had all the resources in the world I wouldn't go out of my way to use them to make sure Mr. Jones didn't get too far ahead of me.

So I have not very often been guilty of that one.

But I must plead guilty to another concept. One that isn't quite the opposite of "Keeping of with the Joneses", but similar enough in method that I have dubbed it, "Waiting for the Smiths".

In this case, "The Smiths" are the term I use to stand in for any group of friends, or potential group of friends.

I believe that everyone is entitled to a certain demographic of friends. Not only entitled. We require certain types of people to be in our life in order to obtain any degree of fulfillment and contentment. All of us need at least some good friends that share our spiritual views. Our politics. Our own set of social graces and norms. Nobody wants to, nor should they, spend their whole life around people in whom the do not feel comfortable in confiding due to large differences in core beliefs and perceptions.

Yet in accepting that truth, I ask two questions:

1) How many potential friends are going to posses all such qualities in similar quantities to our own?

2) Can people with sometimes daunting variance in fundamental beliefs still provide each other with significant spiritual and emotional support?

My answer to the first question is not zero. But without doubts, the number is quite small over a lifetime. For most people, I dare say three or four at most, one of whom is almost certainly a spouse or future spouse.

The second question I answer with, "perhaps".

However not too many years ago I would have answered that question with, "no". I was convinced, (and to be honest part of me still feels this way) that a person in trouble or despair can never open up to, be honest with or supported by anyone with whom they didn't share very specific characteristics. Such people are fine for recreation. Or conversation. Some beer here and there. But no real connection at the deepest part of our humanity can truly occur.

In some circumstances, I am right. It can't be done, and it is foolish to think so. But I realize now that maybe it is foolish to wait until the ideal friends show up in our lives before we are open about our deepest selves. Honest. Vulnerable. If we wait for a group of people that make us feel 100% comfortable with sharing everything all of the time without any bit of fear or awkwardness, we may wait a very long time. A long during during which we have kept certain parts of ourselves hidden. And that may lead to more unhappiness.

This, my readers, if what I have dubbed "Waiting for the Smiths". The Smiths being, of course, those people with whom we have instant rapport, congruence at the deepest parts of all factions of our soul, and the ability to have fun to boot. As I said, there is a "Smith" out there for just about everyone. But maybe we shouldn't wait for them to show up before we open up.

Another way to "Wait for the Smiths" is to hope that friends we already have, people who are lacking in some quality we require, will some day other obtaining that quality, or worse than that, people whom we think we can change into possessing that quality so we can make use of it in our relationship with them.

Don't misunderstand me. We must still exercise discretion. Every single friend of ours does not need to know everything. Some of them shouldn't know everything because indeed we all have certain friends that we want to remain in the "have fun only" category. And that is fine. In fact, it's great. We all need those. But before you conclude that you have nobody to confide in, nobody with whom you can share your difficulties or worries, or fears, nobody that can keep you company when you need it, make sure you survey those friends you have, without holding them up to the "Smith Metric". They won't be able to do everything for you, but maybe they can do enough that day. If you give the right friends the chance.

And who knows...perhaps people that you feel quite dissimilar to would in the end wind up being one of "The Smiths" some day.

Are you "Waiting for the Smiths" in your life?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Has My Social Media Experience Peaked??

For various reasons lately, all of this social media stuff has begun to feel quite heavy to me. The twittering, the emailing. The blogging. Actually among them all the blogging may be among the easier to do, since it is sharing my thoughts. Though I have not done so here in over a week.

My spirit has felt heavy lately because I am not sure if I am making a difference with all that I do. I appreciate it when people mention that it does, but one has to feel it themselves, and for whatever the reason, this last month I have not been feeling it. It hasn't made me feel better. It hasn't brought any new opportunities to me. It does not appear to have given me any tools to cause any good in the world I find myself in.I don't mind confessing that this is a more than a little depressing sometimes.

Which brings me to another sad point I need to make. When things suck, I say so. If I look back on something that sucks, I mention that it sucked. If I know why, (which I usually don't) I say why it sucked. If  I am in the middle of something that is beating me down, I will say that I am tired of being beat down. Especially when I am powerless to do anything about it. (Yes, one can be powerless to change something...)

I have always figured that if I can be happy and celebrate something positive when it happens, I should be just as entitled, logically, to lament when things are not working. Because let's face it, sometimes shit doesn't work. And for some of us, (frankly, like me) a whole lot more does NOT work, than does work. And I am not about to ignore the bad luck I find I have to deal with. Yes, I have had a lot of it.

But that honesty gets me in trouble in social media. It pisses people off, gets me called names, or accused of any manner of things that just are not fair. I had a pretty large disagreement with a social connection and friend over the last two days. I don't know, they may be a former friend at this point. I hope that isn't the case. But I do know I need a break from them, because they became very angry at me for being so "negative". And, like many of the articles I read they sort of laid into me about how there is no such thing as bad luck, that nobody ever fails, and that the only reason I am not where I want to be in life is because I do not choose to be happy enough.

This person with whom I had the disagreement is not, however the only person or source to declare this to me. I was more shocked and hurt by their anger with me because it was so personal, and seemingly so unlike them. Yet the incident was actually more of the straw on the back of my camel this month. The moment where instead of either ignoring it or moving passed the fact that someone had read me so incorrectly, I was instead very hurt, and unable to continue the conversation. Perhaps in the future...

But by no means was it unique in my social media experience. Instead of either taking my word for how unmovable my life has been for a while, or otherwise ask me some questions about my situation (which I am willing to answer), many people continue to make the assumption that I struggle because I am not happy enough. That if I were just upbeat all the time, I would have more money. Chances. Friends and success. That I somehow deserve whatever failures and loneliness I experience because my smile isn't broad enough for some people's taste.

I have gone over why I think this is a flawed approach for me. I have gone over it many times here on the blog, in fact. And I am not going to go over all of that again, other than to say everyone has their struggles, and no two people have the exact same type of struggle. So no two people can have the same solutions. What is true for you is not true for me and vice-verca. And I think the world would go a bit better if we just respected that. Especially when someone's issues, as mysterious and perplexing as they are to us, actually do not hinder or damage us in any way. Sure they may be odd to us, even a bit annoying, but are they really keeping us from moving forward? Does the fact that somebody perceives their life in a way that we do not really threaten us??

Which is one of the bigger problems I find developing with my relationship to social media of late. Yes I have made some friends, and learned some things, and found some interesting web sites and articles that I otherwise would not have. And when I can, I apply what I learn. But express your frustrations or try to explain why you have been caught in an unusually potent loop of failure, (which I have been) and the "advice" is almost always the same out here.

"Just do it. The only thing stopping you is you. Be nice. Think high. Refuse to fail, and already know that you are going to make it. Travel the world!!"

And so on and so on.


Look, here is the thing; it doesn't work that way for everyone. I am not saying that a good attitude is wrong. It is more useful than a bad one. Nor am I denying that there are ways to attain just about any dream at some point. But I do maintain that it cannot be done by everyone alone. That those who have nobody on whom to rely, nobody to guide them, nobody to offer advice, invest a little seed money, or any other of a million things that makes it easier for us to succeed simply do not have as good a chance, or indeed ANY chance of getting ahead. I am a firm believer in the fact that nobody ever truly succeeds 100% alone. Even those bloggers and authors out there who claim that they had nothing and nobody and still climbed the mountain to become a king are sort of fooling themselves. Something or someone was there at the right time. Yes, those things have to be used and hard work must be put into turning them into one's advantage. I don't deny the hard work of some of the people that have "made it". I simply deny that you can squeeze blood from a stone.

In other words, if you start with nothing, as in truly nothing. (No knowledge, friends, network, money, job, location), the odds of rising above nothing are very low. And the truth is some of us don't have those things, and never really have. And to some of us, they just don't come easily. And that is the crux of the matter.

Let's say your problem is legal blindness. You can see shadows, or things that are very up close. But for all purposes, you cannot "see". Going forward will be more difficult for you. But through much hard work, and the proper guidance and resources, a legally blind individual can attain a very normal, fulfilling life in Western society. That's inspirational.

But one solution not suggested is to simply, "Start seeing! You are only blind because you are not thankful enough!" In fact, that is almost sickening to ponder saying to a struggling blind person.

Yet we say that to people with less defined, unnamed handicaps all of the time.

Not everybody's issue has a name as obvious as "blindness". Which means that the solution to a person's issue may not be at all obvious. And half of their struggle may be just trying to figure out what the hell has gone wrong with them and their life, and find a way around their unnamed but severe obstacle(s), without having to alter it. But like the blind person, the solution isn't going to be "choose to be different". Some of us have to identify the obstacles and walk around them, and not eliminate them, as so many people out there advise.

How to find a way around them? Social media is my attempts to do so. To connect. Find ideas. Take baby steps towards a new career and possibly a new type of life. To find people who think like I do.

One of the things Too XYZ was supposed to be about was making sure that the things that suck in my life, and life in general are not ignored. Are not shoe-horned into "blessings in disguise", but actually taken for what they are; gigantic pains in the ass caused by more powerful people or unchangeable circumstances. The goal is to find others who have suffered in similar ways.

But there is another side to Too XYZ. This blog, while often pointing out the unfairness and the bullshit, also has a great deal of material dedicated to getting around the bad luck. Or at least the struggle to find a way to do so. It is about the effort. The journey. The weariness of a man who wants to be helped on his terms. Who is willing to learn and change, but not willing to pretend. Who believes that our natural tendencies need not, and probably cannot be run away from, but maybe can be slowly changed over time, when outside circumstances at last improve. Someone who wants to improve but doesn't want to read about going to bed tonight and waking up tomorrow as Seth Godin. (I don't even want to wake up in fives years and be Seth Godin. I want to wake up five years from now knowing I am a better Ty Unglebower.) Who wants to remain true to his world view, while still illiciting enough compassion, interest, and energy from other people to help him fill in the gaps that are missing. And maybe along the way helping a few other people fill in some of their own missing gaps.

Yes, social media. I do complain about things when they never, ever, ever, ever, ever,ever change, no matter what I try to do about it. (Keeping in mind, my efforts will not be your efforts, but they are still difficult.) Yet I have positive things to say as well. I have tried to look at some things differently. I am not always lamenting. If you doubt this, I suggest you read this. And this. That one as well. And throw in this one.And for God's sake, if I can find something positive to think about for this...

So am I giving up? I don't know. It doesn't seem like that to me, though I am somewhat exhausted. I have pursued some new avenues of information, and I am constantly pondering what I can do differently that doesn't involve forcing change to who and what I am today. But will I be continuing the Twitter, blogging, thing? I don't yet know. I may not, honestly. I do know I need to think about whether this experiment was the latest to not work for me, or if it is too early to tell. Or if I simply need to tweak something. Or if my mind just happens to be very, very tired this month.

The play I am in is in tech week. (The final week where a lot of little pain in the ass details are worked out, for those non-theatre types out there.) Thanksgiving, a potentially stressful event in its own right, is coming soon. I continue to fight this month old cold. So I think I will at least give some of that time to pass before making a 100% final decision.

Do you ever want to stop doing all of it? Think you ever will?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remember them ALL.

Here, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I remember the veterans.

ALL of the veterans.

We often think of the GI Joe, manly men, meat and potatoes, “For America, Jesus, and Apple Pie!” gung ho types on this day. Those that want to go “put a boot in their ass” and say so all of the time. The yellow ribbons, the medals of honor. The parades, and the constant “remember our troops!” bumper sticker culture we live in. The Audy Murphys. Which is good. Those “let me at ‘em” types are worthy of praise as well. But they certainly have the market well covered. I just wanted to take some time to speak on behalf of the other type of veterans. Their stories and attitudes may not make as good a country song or as good a movie. But they are all a part of OUR story.

I remember the women, of course. Who are sometimes forgotten today.

I remember those who were not bred to be soldiers. The artists, actors, intellectuals. The meek and the quiet. These types have been summoned in our history as well. And they answered too. Some ended up as soldiers anyway. Others ended up in support. Drivers. Medics. Quartermasters. None of them enjoyed having to do it. All of them served. I remember the veterans that didn’t usually carry a gun.

I remember the ones that are unknown, but do not even have the fortune of having their remains guarded 24/7 at a national monument. Though whose bodies are lost at sea, never to be seen in mortal form again. Those whose families were denied a proper farewell.

But I also remember those who may have been lost to war, though not killed. Those who either disappeared forever into jungles, or perhaps into the tragedy of their own shattered minds. These types too were never heard from again.

I remember the soldiers who did not support the war they went to fight, but went because their Commander-In-Chief told them to do so, whoever he was at the time. I remember the veterans who came back from wars they didn’t like, and protested the very government that sent them into it. I remember the veterans who tossed their medals back. The ones who spoke out, and continue to speak out in loud, constant, belligerent opposition.

I remember the veterans that voted for Obama. For Kerry. For Gore.

I also remember those veterans that do not fight for God and County, but fight only for country, preferring to leave their maker out of it totally.

And I remember those that served who didn’t happen to believe that Jesus was the son of God. Those who were Hindu, Jewish, Muslim. Those who are Pagan, and those who are Wiccan. And those who choose none of the above. Those who do not believe there is a God to fight for.

And those who were black, that fought and died for this country, long before this country gave them anything worth fighting for. Long before any of them had anything to come back home to.

I remember the homosexuals that fought, bled, and died, throughout all of our wars, but had to deny what they were and who they were in order to do so.

Also I remember those veterans of the wars we hear little about anymore. World War I. The war of 1812. The Spanish/American. And all of the smaller, “secret wars” about which we are permitted to know nothing.

Of course I also remember today the veterans that died while serving, in accidents, or of disease in foreign lands. Occupational hazards, and deplorable barracks conditions. Those forgotten by their government.

And those that found themselves any given place in this country, or around the world that were lucky enough to not be injured in any way, but knew when they went that despite how calm things looked, the possibility was always there, hanging over their heads. Something might happen. “This could be the day. We could be the unit. Defense may begin right here, and now, with me.”

And of course I remember those who died in uniform when there was absolutely no indication at all that they would might be giving up their lives that day. Such as those at Fort Hood.

Finally, on this day, I remember those who prefer to remain anonymous. Who would rather go through life after their service and not speak of it. Not advertise it. Who don’t want to be a hero. Don’t want to be on television, desire no songs be written about them, and just want to go to the football game without the announcer asking the entire stadium to stand up and cheer for them. The veterans who now simply want to live their lives back home, having done what they set out to do, whenever it was.

I remember them all. I hope you do as well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brazen Careerist Presents: Network Roulette

I wanted to take just a quick minute to mention the launch of something over at BrazenCareerist.com. Those who frequent this blog know that it is my preferred career oriented networking platform, and today they have added another dimension to their mission. Network Roulette.

I have mentioned it before, but in sum, it is a program on their site for members to network instantly with people all over the world. Like speed dating, a person is randomly assigned another Brazen Careerist member, and a chat window opens up. The two then have three minutes to make a professional connection of some sort. At the end of the time, the session ends and both are moved to another person with potential networking value.

The service is free, as is Brazen Careerist itself. As an introvert, I love the possibilities Network Roulette brings to the table. If this interests you as well, sign up for an account at Brazen Careerist and see what I am talking about. And if you do, stop by Too XYZ and comment on what you thought of the experience.

Who knows? You and I may run into each other on the roulette.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Legacy: A Post in Cooperation with Brazen Careerist.

Sometimes it is extraordinarily difficult to think about one's legacy when one lives basically hand to mouth or less, as I do. One can get swallowed up in the every day and become so pre-occupied with finding a way to keep one's head above water that the very idea of a legacy seems not only distant, but vulgar. I find myself in this position.

But I have also found myself standing on the other side of the pendulum swing; maddening myself with thoughts of making a difference. Being remembered. Having mattered. And not having any of the resources or connections with which to make that happen, no matter how hard I try. Which in turn makes me try harder, and spin my wheels even faster, smoke, asphalt and dirt flying everywhere obscuring the view and accompanied by no real motion in any direction.

Yet even I attain balance sometimes, and can see both the challenges in the proper size, and the aspirations with a proper perspective. Time when I can evaluate the nature of what has come before me, what is around me now, and where it all might lead. And where I would like it to lead. Love it to lead. At such times I am most in tune with my truest self, and therefore most able to establish some sense of a legacy without obsession. A sense of mission without guilt. Of planning without punishment.

That may not be how most do it. But if you have read this blog anymore than, oh, twice, you know that I am not like most. I may even be unlike any but a very few. Because I have in my life, both by force, and by choice, come at life from an angle both unorthodox and unpopular. A slower course. A lesser embraced course. Not only the road not taken, but the road not mapped. There are a few grainy photographs of the road I take that have been filed away in the basement floor of the archive of life by a handful of people who have been foolish or brave enough to go this route. Those that have done so against all opposition from not just a cynical society, but from the inner critic that lives inside every marcher with his or her own drummer, no matter how confident they appear to be whilst moving confidently in the direction of their dreams.

Not all of us make it. Not all of us can keep it up. Sometimes I do not wish to. But I have. And I will as long as I am mentally healthy enough to do so. I will follow the road not mapped, and I will take some of my own pictures. But they will not be grainy shots snapped in the heat of a hurried moment. They will not be shots in the dark that only luckily captures some semblance of the lay of the land for future Too XYZers to use as a loose reference point. No, they will be crisp, clear, beautiful shots. Landscapes stretching into the horizon at dawn. Towering skyscrapers from every possible angle. Leaves of endless colors across the autumn forests and the cloud embraced, snow capped peaks of the distant behemoth mountains on the horizon.

And in all likelihood each of them will be taken from a vantage point that few others have considered. Or that have been rejected as too different, abnormal, or crazy by most others on their own journeys. I will have to take these life pictures with the camera of my heart amongst shouting and doubting. Sneers, jeers and scoffing. And worst of all, in the face of total indifference.

But I will experience those things. On this road. And take those pictures, those perfect pictures to lay out behind me, beside me, all around me, and around everyone else who wants to see them. I will, when all is said and done cut my own road towards my destination, with or without any help, capture the essence of the journey, and share it in an inspiring way, with those who want to make a similar journey but know not how to begin it.

In other words, I will find a way to get where I want to go while still being the strange me that I am. And I will leave behind something, or hopefully many somethings that are beautiful that move people to do the same thing with their own lives, should they find themselves Too XYZ to be branded and herded by society.

That is what I want my legacy to be.

This post is part of a blog series on Brazen Careerist being sponsored by Entrustet. They asked Brazen members to answer the question:  What do you want your legacy to be? 




Friday, October 29, 2010

Tasks vs. Goals

Before I delve into my point, let me say that I understand the importance of having goals. 90% of blogs, TEDs (whatever they are, I'm still not sure), podcasts, and other success oriented media will mention the importance of goals.

"You can't get anywhere until you know where you want to be. You need a focal point for your visualization."

I get it! Thank you so much.

Yet I think this goal fetishism can sometimes throw a monkey wrench into the works of some people at certain times. I think it overlooks completely a whole different type of person, with a distinct type of wiring. And it may not surprise you to learn that, in theory, I consider myself one of these people. I call them, (for now) task oriented.

Obviously, goals and tasks are closely related, and in some ways contain aspects of one another. Finishing a task is a goal, and what is a goal but a series of tasks to be completed? But when we get into the metaphysical obsession with long or even medium term goals, things get a bit murky.

Here is a prime example.

I am a freelance writer, part time. I hope to be a full time freelance writer some day. At least that is one of my options. I won't refuse an appealing nine to five job, but it will have to possesses certain characteristics. So I keep my eyes open. But whether it be a standard job or my freelance writing, I always hear, "what are your goals?"

Well, my goals are to be able to make most of my living as a result of writing. I'm really good at it.

"What sort of writing? For whom? How many pieces do you want to write per year? What sort of ROI do you want? Do you have a career impact statement? An elevator pitch? What platform best suits your needs and who do you want to meet in those areas? What are your goals?"

Well, my goals are to be able to make most of my living as a result of writing. I'm really good at it.

In other words, there are countless of ways to make a living that I would find acceptable. Even dozens within the writing world alone. I don't even yet know all of the ways in which I could be happy in a career. It's easier to know what I would be unhappy doing. I do have general goals; to make a living wage as a writer. To work in the arts. To be location independent in some fashion. Yet that isn't enough for most gurus who insist I need to have those laser focus goals, so I can accomplish exactly what I want. And so that people can help me out.

I get beaten over the head with, "define your goals, define your goals, define your goals" that I get numb. Numb because despite having goals,  I don't think I work in a goal centric fashion. I don't ever really have an answer that is acceptable to most of my contemporaries to the question, "what are your career goals?" I mean, my career goals are to make use of any number of my talents in service to things I believe in, in a place that does not make me unhappy. As a result, I get a pretty standard reply to the uncommon requests for help I get.

"I can't help you. I don't know what your goals are."

Well, maybe on the level others want them,  I don't know either. There is a fine line between focused goal setting, and boxing one's self in, and I think for people like me the line is blurrier than for most.

That doesn't mean I lack ambition or a work ethic. Nor do I wish to just float through life, waiting for things to happen for me. I am accused of such things, but they are not true. But with so much out there that could potentially leave me satisfied, and me having been given so little chance to stretch my talents in life, I don't see as how I could possibly have the type of specific goals that people talk about. I try to describe through this blog and other media what I can do and what I am about. And I want to find a place in this world that will allow me to engage in such thing.  Such is my version of a goal setting.

But to most? This is goal setting;

"I want to use my expertise as a marketing guru and linguistics specialist to gain employment as a digitally based distance working community manager for a predominantly Jungian oriented mental health facility, geared towards troubled youth."

And you mean to say you haven't included in that goal statement which precise pair of underwear you will wear on the first day at said job? Where is the detail??

I just don't think I am wired to to be that goal oriented. I don't know at this exact minute if I want to be a content writer or a copy writer. I haven't chosen beyond a shadow of a doubt what subject, if any, I want my writing to focus upon. I really don't know if I have a "specialty". I write, damn you. I am a writer. And I write damn well. And I can prove it. And if you hire me to write whatever it is you need an excellent writer for, I will adapt and apply my skills to that task.

I'm task oriented. Why does there always have to be such a far reaching, meticulously detailed goal, summed up by the god-awful elevator pitch, in order to achieve something? A great deal of achievement takes place in the midst of accomplishing a task for me, and I would much rather be given a list of ten things I have to accomplish that week, and then be allowed to engage my resourcefulness and ingenuity to get them done. I want specific tasks to do. And I will earn your trust through doing them quickly and efficiently, before the deadline. I am less trustworthy because I do not have the very nature of what I want my life to be condensed down into a little 30 second speech? Is the fact that I don't lay out a specific goal for the trajectory of my next five or ten years really indicate I would not be a good employee? I fear for many, it does.

I go back to my writing. I can't predict in what precise fashion I will be most useful, or get the most satisfaction. I know I write. Everything beyond that is what I call false gravy. It's micromanaging the future. And while I see the benefit in doing some of it, I think I lose when I am judged, assisted, or defined based on my ability to do so. Because I really am no good at micromanaging the future. Sometimes the present is all I can handle. So I'd rather be judged for what I am trying to do now, not the fancy ways in which I describe how I'd like some theoretical future to unfold for me.

When did being goal oriented become synonymous with talent?

Clear results of predetermined tasks. That is how I like to begin. Perhaps how I need to begin. And it is tasks that I seek to clarify, not goals. I will make my own decisions, and I will certainly do the heavy lifting myself. But I, like anyone, require some help in setting course. Unlike many others though I don't want or need help in setting goals, or developing a five year plan. I need help in pinpointing the specific tasks I need to accomplish in order to get closer to the life I want. The life I talk about and write about. The life I share with all of you. The life I hope some of you can, over time, help me realize.

Yet I am Too XYZ for goal setting with a high, lifetime arc in most cases. I just think the future is too nebulous and fluid, and my history too full of sudden changes and surprises for me to work in concrete, no matter how useful it may be to some. Instead, I'd rather define the general principles of my life, and ask people to help me determine the smaller tasks that need to be undertaken in order for me to get closer to same.

I know that sounds like "tell me what to do". And it could be seen that way. I prefer to look at it as "show me what to do," since the conscious choice to do it will be my own. As will all of the creativity, work, time, energy and accomplishment.

Along the way I will have a better idea perhaps of what my ultimate goal is. Maybe after being led towards certain useful tasks, I can begin to more clearly work out my goal, as so many of you define the term.  But for now, tasks take precedence over goals in my mind.

Do you ever feel swamped, or pressured, by a micro-goal oriented society?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five Ways to Make Networking Events Introvert Friendly

"The world, especially business, runs on extroverts."

Horseshit.

Oh, it's easier to assume that it does, because by their very nature extroverts make the most noise, and work twice as hard to get noticed for…whatever it is an extrovert needs to be noticed for at any given nano-second.

But some of the best thinkers, and game changers have in fact been introverts. And while the era in which they lived, the nature of their work, or plain luck may have had something to do with their eventual success, you can bet that being an introvert played a large role regardless. Therefore to write off introverts as some kind of backward, dying breed is not only lazy, it is foolish from a cultural and business stand point. Yet often people make this mistake because introverts do not excel, (or have much interest in) the "look at this fantastic thing I can do, and don't you want me to do it for you!" school of networking.

If, however, you are a wise recruiter, company, or guru, you will actively cultivate relationships with introverts. For just as extroverts have many obvious "advantages" over us, we have many subtle advantages over extroverts.

But you don't meet us in the same ways, by and large. You have to work a little harder then free coffee and Nilla Wafers at the local AmVets building. You can't just turn us loose and watch the sparks fly. We don't work in sparks. So for those who do want to explore the Introvert Advantage, I have some advice for you;

Start creating networking events designed specifically for us.

Want to see a well planned networking event fill up faster than you can say "business card"? Proudly label it as an introvert friendly event. The introverted in the population would likely be jumping out of windows in order to get to it faster. That's because we introverts know how much people unfairly cater to extroverts. And we don't want to play that game. We want to contribute and meet people on our terms. Give us the chance to do so, and most of us will be there.

How? Read on…

1) Get away from the bars.

I have spoken to some people about this recently on Brazen Careerist, and though a few were inclined to prefer the boisterous, loud and "stimulating" environment of a bar as the perfect place to make new contacts, most actually shared my disdain for such networking events. I can't say all of them were introverts, but I feel comfortable thinking most introverts are not going to be into such an atmosphere when it comes to networking and marketing. Too crowded. Too noisy. Too…unpredictable.

The solution? If introverts want to network, the strictly networking events should be the opposite of bars. Quiet. Intimate. Spacious. Relaxing. Hold a meet and greet, networking style event in the local independent coffee house perhaps. Rent a whole room if they have one. Or perhaps a conference room at the local library. Anywhere an introvert can actually think, and process what is going on before reacting to it. They need that in order to thrive, so let them have that by meeting in a location suited to such.

2) Prepare a Syllabus/Homework

Introverts like to know the purpose of most things before they proceed. The more information they have on something, the more likely they are to speak or act on it. If the entire mission for an event is "Come meet people!" introverts on a good day will simply say no thanks. On most days, they'll laugh. That is because to an introvert, "meeting people" is not its own end in most cases. Such an event requires them to enter a totally random crowd, pointlessly meander about until they are warm enough to engage someone (if they ever are), and then try to begin a conversation that has specific merit. That is what we do. And since small talk has zero actual merit other than to exist, most introverts hate it.

But what if those who registered for a local event were emailed a list of things that were going to happen at the event? They knew who would be in charge, and where that person could be found upon arriving. Will there be any speakers, or will it be all free flow? Refreshments? What kind? This will give an introvert a plan. An idea of what to expect.

Even better, if they are told, "please bring with you answers to these five questions", they will be even more happy to attend, because that provides instant and common purpose for all attendees. Those five questions will be relevant to what is happening at the event. And it is through engaging in something that introverts more often get to know strangers. This leads well into my next bit of advice.

3) Do….Something!

We get it. Extroverts love talking to people as an activity unto itself. Which is why topics that have no real bearing on the day, or on anything, will suffice. That is the tool by which extroverts dig into the nature of someone, and find nuggets to harvest a relationship.

To introverts, that is just dirt flying everywhere. We hate being dirty, you know.

So give us a task at the event. Be creative with this, but don't be complex, either. Not yet anyway. If you set a goal for the evening, and introverts will come knowing what that goal is, you will get more out of them. Because then something tangible is being accomplished. Perhaps instead of thumping music, drunk co-eds, and numbers on napkins, as in a bar, the social focus is a discussion of a movie that will be played. Or maybe the organizer of the particular event has a very specific idea or obstacle they would like to share with the group. Remember the syllabus? Put this on there, and introverts will come to your event with all kinds of things to suggest. And through discussing the problem, or accomplishing the goal, or responding to the specific stimulus the event offers, introverts will be sharing who and what they are, and at what they excel.

And as a side note, get to this pretty quickly. If the event starts at 7:00, get the ball rolling at 7. The quicker you engage in the mission of the evening, the earlier the introverts will feel involved. Number Four on this list is related.

4) Share Ideas/Theories as Opposed to Identities/Positions

"What's your name? And what do you do? Here is what I do, and a 30 second pitch as to how what I do can help you do what you do. Since this isn't about me, it's about helping you."

Yeah right. That sort of crap isn't like running fingernails against a chalkboard for an introvert. It's more like running one's own teeth against a chalkboard.

Instead of introducing yourself and what you "do", and what you can do for someone else, (that old standby), what if you introduced who you were by sharing your biggest idea to a stranger? i have a Brazen conversation about this recently as well. Think of it...

"I'm Lisa, and my big idea is to find a way to incorporate electronic book readers with instant messenger services so that I can have part of a book sent to me at random times during the day to keep it interesting and non-invasive while I am at work!"

I already want to know more about Lisa and her idea. I want her to explain it to me. And, the shocker is, I will actually ask her. Yes, this introvert would ask the question. Because you see I have something substantial about which to talk. I don't have to do any of that digging.

5) Specialize.

This one isn't new. It does happen already. Yet not as often as the general "business card swap" type of events where a bunch of people gather in a room with bad coffee, and try really hard to pretend they find one another interesting.

I have been to one of those ever, and I was 30 years old before I did it. Guess what? It is highly unlikely I will ever go to another, because it sucked for me in all the ways I predicted it would.

But if the event were specifically for writers, I would more likely go. Because I at least know what everyone there is doing, or trying to do. And it would once again provide me with a specific to discuss, instead of small talk. Introverts like to know why they are where they are any given time. And as I said, "meeting people" is not enough. But meeting other writers? Other graphic designers? Other accountants? That we can handle.

This approach doesn't prevent one from encountering an extrovert, but I think it is the standard event format that comes closest to catering to the introvert way of thinking.

****

So there you have it. Five ideas to open up networking events to introverts. Or shall I say, open up introverts to networking events. There are more, of course, and ideally, a great event would combine two or more of these suggestions.

Introverts are here to stay, and networks, businesses, and extroverts ought to get used to that. One good way to balance things out is to make an already difficult process much easier for these highly valuable people.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Write What You Know? No, Write What You Love.

I have lately had a mini-crisis of sorts in regards to my still new, but no longer fledgling freelance writer status. I haven't been motivated to write much of anything. I see the thick book full of potential markets for future writings, with all of the specific instructions on how to make inquiries each, and got a little nauseous. I checked out a list of writer's marketing websites I have been collecting and occasionally perusing over the last few months and found myself almost wishing I'd lose my internet for a few hours just so I didn't have to read one more of them. And as usual, the very thought of finding a networking event to attend in person, business card in hand made me momentarily wonder if the priesthood might not be a viable way out of this whole career networking thing. (And I am not a member of a church...so think about that.)

More than once in the last week or so even as I fulfilled the writing responsibilities I already had, I pondered if it was all really going the way it should. Hard work I believe in. Miserable work I do not, and yet the whole process of finding places to make the most money writing was starting to wear me down. The research. The pricing. The budgeting. The potential for negotiation. (I haven't done much of that yet, as most of my work has a set payment from the source.) For being something I am supposed to be built for, I certainly didn't feel at all like a freelance writer.

Late last night, as I lay pointlessly in bed, sleep eluding me, something just sort of made its way into my thought stream.

"It all sucks lately because you are using all your energy to find a paycheck and not to write."

I actually sat up in bed a bit when it came to me. I repeated it out loud once or twice. And it gradually sunk in. This voice within my mind was correct. I've been trying to shoehorn my writing mission into available marketing scenarios, instead of creating a quality product that is unique to me, and presenting it on its merits to whomever I decide should see it. As a result, the creativity I usually tap when I write has been a bit plugged of late.

The time and energy I have spent in recent months trying to create an income stream has increasingly outweighed that which was dedicated to actually writing. My focus was on money. On not having enough of it. On desiring to make 100% of my living through writing. On paying off every penny of all my debts as soon as possible. My focus was not actually on writing. I was using writing as a tool to fix my financial situations, as opposed to writing because I have something that needs to be said. I wasn't burning out on writing. I was burning out on money grabbing. My focus should have been on the actual craft of being a wordsmith.

Don't get me wrong. I know that a freelance writer has to have some business acumen. In addition, I know that my acumen in that area is lesser than many others. But I also know that the business side of things can't really take the front seat. Not with me.

Many of you fellow freelancers will probably tear me apart for that, and if you do, so be it. But I am Too XYZ to just follow a business template because most other people follow it. It has to be true to me. And pursuing the money, and trying to adjust my writing to it wasn't being true to me.

No, I need to stop, and think about those articles, blog posts, columns and other writings that are already in my head, waiting to materialize. And I need to give them life on the page, and find later what to do with them. Some may call that writing on spec, and many hate doing so. But I need to create a sparkling product, and the better way for me to do that at this time is to write what I feel I need to write, and then find a market for it. (Or in the very least an audience, even if no money is involved.) As it stands now, many things are not being written because I haven't established enough connections in the business, or haven't found a perfect magazine, or I haven't found a contest that calls for my type of writing specifically. In the mean time, stress, doubt, and fear are filling the void left by the delayed composition.

Writing with passion is important, because it will translate into my work, and make it more desirable in any venue, free or paid. It will leave people wanting more. I doubt that it is a coincidence that my most passionate blog posts here tend to be among my most read. (Not always, but often.)

And what happens when the fire burns out, and I run out of things about which I feel a visceral need to put into words? My sense is that the more I allow myself to write the things I am inspired by, the more inspired I will be to write other things.

Plus, it will also encourage me to go out into the world and experience more in the coming year or so. Visit more places, read different publications. (Even meet more people, but only once in a while.) The more I am exposed to, the more I am going to be inspired to write about. And hence, the better my chance of selling something becomes. It has worked here on the blog, and it must work with the more business oriented I create.

I fight with writer's guilt a lot. I haven't always recognized that, or even admitted it when I did. But I do, and I guess lately it has gained some traction and got ahead of me. But I need not be guilty for being a writer. I can't let the inane and archaic Protestant Work Ethic, and the myth of merit based American Dream guilt me into either running everywhere for a paycheck, or abandoning writing altogether in favor of working at something I hate just to get a paycheck. My family won't let me starve, and I need to make use of that investment they make in me to become a more successful version of myself as a writer. I must not use that generosity as a source of guilt over having debt and needing help.

In the end, it really only takes one post, one article, one well phrase comment, or one reader, editor, or fellow writer to turn the tide and send me into my optimum student loan paying, independent living, sustained income version of myself. And that one single piece is more likely to find its way to the right places if it has been stamped by my own passionate desire to speak, as opposed to being stamped by my desire to convince anyone anywhere to print a piece for me, pay me, and add to my clip collection.

Writing is about sharing ideas. Communicating. Connecting. Educating. Moving. Sometimes even saving and changing. But it is always about us. Those who do the writing. The best writing exists because it has to. And I have not been letting the writing of mine that has to exist lead the way to success. I got caught up in money.And to an extent, in the approval of a nebulous society that has honestly never been ideal for me anyway. (What's the name of the blog??)

The business part of it all isn't over for me. Neither is my hatred of same. Nor is the quality of the products I do produce. My writing is always something in which I take great pride. But for a while, instead of spending hours researching who will pay me to do one of two things I do well, I am going to try to spend those hours researching a new topic that has caught my interest. Or finding sources for an argument I want to make. That way at least I know there will be a result each and every time. The result being a written piece. I can go from there. But the other way had zero guarantees, and I am not prepared to live with that much uncertainty right now.

These inspired writings may not always lead to inspired writing assignments. But they will best showcase my skill, because I will have been committed to them. And though the copy writing job I land may not give me a chance to be an artist, being an artist may give me the chance at the copy writing job.

So begins (again) the long process of being true to my writer self. Yes it will probably be a slower journey than yours. (I'm talking to you, fellow freelance writers that have become instant successes.) But it will be my own road, and I think I have swerved off of that lately.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nine Unfair Things Hiring Managers Expect From You, But NOT from Themselves.

What if most hiring managers, (or anybody in charge of hiring at a given Mom and Pop, no matter what their title) were to act in the same ways they expect potential employers to act? What if they were just as willing to be open about everything, professional and personal, as candidates are expected to be?

In other words, what if there were the slightest bit of equality, honesty, and fairness in the job hunting world.

Let's consider just a few things that the conventional wisdom proclaims a job hunter must do, without even the slightest expectation that those seeking to hire reciprocate.

1) Always spend a few weeks, or even months researching the firm to which you are applying. Make calls. Get people's names and deal with them personally. Get copies of their annual report.  Become as much of an expert on the company as an outsider can be. If you are not willing to do this, why should any manager expect that you are going to put forth your best effort if given the job?

How many of you have sat down for an interview across from someone who had both your resume and your cover letter in hand, and yet proceeded to ask you a string of questions, all of which are very clearly answered on both of those documents? Did they not put in the time to read them? Were they not motivated enough by the possibility of filling the position with the perfect candidate to even read your resume word for word several times, as well as your cover letter? Could they not have done the extra research before sitting down with you to find out all of these things? In fact, why tell them anything at all? If they want you, they'll check up on you, and research your talents. At least for a few months before they give you the interview. They should know you like your best friend before you sit down across from them. And if they can't be bothered, do you really want to work for them?

Doesn't happen. Never will.

2) Be prepared with salary history and current salary requirements. The manager's job is to get the maximum amount of work value out of someone while spending the least amount of the company's profits as possible. Manager's need to be able to see what you have made at your previous three jobs to see that it isn't too high. But they also need to see that it isn't too low, so you don't appear to be desperate. But each job should also have paid you more than the last to show your motivation. This may be illegal, but that's life. Managers are going to want to know these things, and it's your job to provide them.

"Thank you for taking the time to interview me for this position. Before we get started, I'd like to know what I can expect you to be pulling down this year. Since you will be my immediate supervisor, and the lion's share of my work load is going to come directly from you, it is only fitting that I be given this information. I want to make sure that what you make is commiserate with how well you are providing me with proper supervision. I'd also like to know how much you made at your previous post within this company, and the company before this, so I can determine how fair it is for me to work under someone who made less than I do now. You see it is my job to obtain from you the highest amount of money possible, while supplying the least amount of work. I don't inherently trust you and never will, so the best we can do is low ball each other, and I have had a lot of interviews today. Surely you understand why I need something to cut you out of consideration easily."

This has never been said, I would dare say. And if it were, the person would never be hired.

3) Be ready for curve ball questions during an interview. Manager's need to weed out candidates who don't respond well to the unpredictable. These questions have nothing to do with the actual position, and will use up time and energy, but the more prepared you are for possible off-the-wall questions, the better you will look to a manager who asks, "If you had to move Mount Fuji five miles to the west, how would you do it?"

"Thanks for taking the time to interview me today, Mr. Smith. I wanted to let you know I may or may not have a Colt-45 in my suit pocket right now. I am four feet from you. If I do have one and I were to pull it out now and attempt to put a cap in your ass, how would you avoid death or serious injury?" Then reach into your pocket. After all, management requires split second, vital decision making all of the time. Do you want to work for someone who has no solution to this potential problem?

Oh, that would be a silly time wasting stunt that doesn't teach anybody anything about the your candidacy? Really? You don't say?

4) A handwritten thank you note shows professionalism, class, and proves that you valued the manager's time enough to thank them for it. Email is still such a new-fangled device, and so impersonal! And saying so in person at the start and end of the interview was nice, but if you want that extra edge, show them what you are really made of and buy some solid, high end cards, and write out your gratitude freehand.

Spend time writing a thank you card to a guy who took 20 minutes to ask me about the resume he is holding, followed by questions about Mt. Fuji, and from whom I will never hear again, even if it is to let me know someone else was selected? I should show class by engaging in something that basically went out of fashion 40 years ago, for the benefit of someone who will not even so much as return my phone calls (I'm showing initiative!) a week or two after the interview? Put forth effort into doing something totally out of character and out of step with modern communication, all for the sake of a manager who basically did nothing more than do his job that day?

Every time I have an interview I check my snail mail for three weeks in hopes of a "Thank you for choosing to take your time to express interest in our company. I really enjoyed meeting you!" card. I have never received one of these. Ever. But then again, as I am often reminded, managers are busy people who look through hundreds of resumes and talk to dozens of people a day, and don't have time to sit down and write out a thank you letter to every candidate. Silly me. I tend to forget that my time is not valuable, and that I, as a candidate that is expected to write a thank you letter, could not possibly ever be busy myself.

5) Don't make it about you. It is absolutely, positively never about you. Do not seek what a potential employer can give you. You are not there to get a job. You are there to tell the company that you admire their mission, and that your unique skill set can help them do it, faster, easier, and cheaper. Make them see that you are eager to enhance anything and everything that Acme Inc. is all about. (And you will know what that is, because you researched them for 6 months before applying for the position.) It is unprofessional to discuss or even hint at what they can do for you. Remember priorities.

Nothing is in it for me? Perhaps I should forgo a salary then. If I am not supposed to be concerned with what a company can give me, perhaps I shouldn't be concerned for me at all. Perhaps I should just be a cog for them, and put that on my unread resume that the manager is now holding.

No, no. That would be absurd, of course. I will simply ask him during the interview what's in it for me. I will ask him to convince me why I will be getting more by working for him than working for any other company to which I have applied. Naturally the manager will bend over backwards to explain to me that Acme Inc. is here to serve me, and will be more than honored to prove that it can improve my life simply by hiring me. No need for that silly mutually beneficial arrangement. Just have him prove what he will do for ME.

6) Provide them with some sort of insurances that you don't intend to be a job hopper. Managers want to know that you are in with the company for the long haul. Any indication that you could move to another state within the next ten years, or that you have a college degree that might make you restless in the position should be avoided in the conversation. Manager's hate turnover and having to do all of this again in a few years.

I'll tell you what. I'll make a solemn pledge, in writing, that if hired, I will not even think about moving out of the area for at least 15 years, if you sign a legally binding pledge to not fire me, down size me, lay me off, or in anyway decrease my salary over the same period. Deal? No? No guarantee of stability is possible in this changing economy? Wow. I could have sworn you wanted me to assure you of that very thing from my end. Could you rephrase the question?

7) Always address inquiries and job related communications directly to the person responsible. Know their name, their title, and when the best time to reach them is. Nothing shows a lack of respect more than getting someone's name wrong.

My name has two letters, and half of the time people get it wrong. My last name is pronounced just as it is spelled. Except to just about everybody that has ever given me an interview.

8) Be lenient with the illegal questions. Yes, they are not supposed to ask you about children, health, and age, but the fact is they do, and let's face it, it may just be more advantageous to go along than get along with such things. A manager needs to take every step they can to assure that a candidate is going to be ready to go from day one, and you really leave a bad impression when you start quoting employment law to them during the interview. You will come off as a smart ass.

If they are willing to break the law by asking you the "Forbidden Questions", so long as you don't call them on it, just what else exactly are they willing to do that is illegal? You do not want to work for someone who asks "those" questions, and gets huffy or ends the interview when you will not answer them.

9) Be open with your social networking presence. Just what reason do you have to keep anything private online anyway? Nothing says, "potential drunken slut" to a hiring manager more than a Facebook profile that is locked away on "private". What are you hiding anyway? If your online life is that much different than your offline life, a manager is going to start wondering what is wrong with you. Like it or not, social network investigation is here to stay from employers, and you had best be on the right side of it.

"That very attractive blond you have on your arm in that picture on your desk...is that your daughter, or your wife? I'd like to know, for more than one reason. Not the least of which is I don't think I can work for a man of your age that likes to get it on with someone who appears to be, at best, 19. Do you see her socially? You appear to be on the beach. Does she like to wear those g-strings when you go to the beach?  That would be rather slutty if she did in my opinion. How's that reflect on the company here? It's none of my business? Get out of your office? Well the picture was in plain site to anyone who walks into this office. It's public now. I think I am entitled to know who that piece of ass is and why you are touching her. If I don't have the right to know, perhaps you shouldn't display it like that."

Point made on this one, I think.

So there you have it. Just nine of the first things that enter my mind when I think of this offensive, impractical, yet deeply ingrained and endorsed employment dichotomy in this country. There are many other examples of unfair expectations for job candidates I am sure. But my point is clear; we need to stop acting like Oliver Twist, begging for more in the employment world. We need to start insisting, en masse, that managers behave and act as we the job seekers and foot soldiers are expected to act. Nobody is better or worse than anybody else, and this isn't a game. These are people's lives. Allowing managers to get away with murder when they seek to fill a position is a direct result of the working man deciding they are willing to put up with anything just to get hired.  Take a stand. Don't settle for being treated worse than you are required to treat others.

Would you add anything to this list?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Memoriam

video
I didn't have it in me to write this, so I made this video. I identify myself in it because it was also posted to Jay's Facebook wall for those who may not have known who I am.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Applying My Theatre Superpowers While Not On Stage?

Every night last week I drove a half an hour or more to spend 2 or three hours a night in a small room working on a project with people, some of whom had not prepared at all for the event, some of whom tried to take over the entire project, and some of whom would become so nasty at the slightest indication that they would need to compromise that they threw things and yelled at the people in charge. (This behavior coming from someone in their 70's.) Then I'd drive for 30-40 minutes back home every night, sometimes as late as 11:00PM.

Last week came at the end of a five week process during which their were many absences by team members, scheduling conflicts, habitual tardiness, ego driven task driving, and in some cases a total lack of respect for other people.

As of this moment, the end result of the project in many ways has been mediocre, with some semblance of excellence here and there.

The final bit of information regarding all of this? I didn't get paid for any of it.


What I have described is an amateur theatre production of  A Thurber Carnival. More details can be learned by reading my other blog related to acting.

There can be a lot to hate about community theatre. Some of which I have described. Most of which I have no patience to deal with for very long, despite it being rather common in some places and with some actors. I'll admit that the pain to pleasure ratio has slipped slowly towards pain over the last few years in most of my theatrical endeavors. It can become a draining process, with sometimes little reward. And yet I end up doing it anyway.

Why? To begin with, I do it for what it can be. I have been in amazing shows. Rewarding experiences which have forever altered my view of myself, and of performing. Shows that I can promise you have equaled or even surpassed the quality of a professional show you could see any given day. Shows with inspiring, dedicated people, true artists that I would otherwise have not had the chance to meet and befriend. The frequency of such experiences has decreased in my theatre career over the last few years, but I cannot stop looking for the next chance for that to happen.

The fact is, (and I know I will get some flack for saying this), one can be an artist longer, and in more ways in community theatre than one can as a professional. Or in the very least, one has more freedom than an Equity actor would have. Non-Union professional actors have considerably more artistic freedom than unionized actors do, but that is another post for another time. Suffice to say that despite my love for performing, and the very positive feedback I always get on the quality of my performances, I have no motivation to go the, "make it as a professional actor" route at this time. I deal with politics enough as it is...

Yet there is something about acting in the theatre that is connected to what I am. I know this, because like I said, I keep going back to it. Despite the sometimes ultra-high levels of straight up bullshit in theatre, my pain threshold is much higher when I am working on a show. I get pissed at people and their nonsense, don't get me wrong. But when I am in a play, especially one that is going well, I can summon up more energy, find more time, deflect more crap, bear more pain, create more efficiently, and recover from setbacks more rapidly than in any other single endeavor in my life.

In these things acting surpasses even writing for me in terms of input/output ratios, adaptability, productivity, and return on investment. When it goes well, anyway. And even when it does not go well, I still can handle more. If any other endeavor caused as much trouble as theatre can, (especially lately) I would have washed my hands of it long ago. Yet it endures.

It seems clear to me that theatre acting is something for which I am built. (If you need any more proof, consider the fact that I spell it "theatre".) Which to some would indicate that it should be the thing I pursue as a career. Do what you love, and all of that. But as I said, I have no stomach for that. Because then you get into politics. Management. Marketing. Things for which I have almost no stomach in most cases. Yes, I deal with some small aspect of them now, but I would have to marry myself to them to make it as a professional in the conventional way, and I guess despite my passion for the stage, I am Too XYZ to fall in love with such things.

Yet I have been asking myself what I can learn from my nearly ten years as an actor. I know the nuances of it. I continue to build my skills arsenal. I write about it. Most of my friends and network I met through it. I seek greater challenges within it. I have been doing it consistently since the year 2000. 30 shows. Dozens of venues.You know, all of the things the gurus say make you a highly sought after employee??? I mean if I were this deeply entrenched in the world of marketing, or accounting, or journalism, I'd have a full time, high paying job by now. But of course, nothing like that has ever happened. This obvious part of my DNA has never been translated into anything else.

Yet it is more than just a hobby. It's a hobby for some people, or even most people I work with on the stage. But a hobby doesn't give you that kind of strength. Insight. Resilience. Fantasy Football is one of my hobbies. Stage acting is one of my purposes.

But I wonder if there are aspects of it that could also be found elsewhere. Is there something intrinsic in the components of theatre which can also be found in some other field? And if so, would my sometimes superhuman abilities in same translate into the new field? Is there not some sort of career path or paid position that would tap into the same obvious talents I posses? Something that could make me money when I am not on stage, and allow me to enjoy the stage when I am not making money.

This is one reason I have in the last year or so looked around and tried to become involved in arts organizations. One doesn't perform while working for an arts organization, but one does put forth a lot of time and energy into supporting those who do, and educating others about same. I theorized that if I am built for the arts as a performer, some sort of position with organizations that are dedicated to arts and artists would be also benefit from my powers. But I haven't been very successful as of yet, despite Twitter and other such tools. Possibly because one needs a different set of traits to work for an organization than one does to be an artist. Maybe you have to love things like accounting and meetings and such to work well in any type of organization. I don't know.

Either way, I still wonder if these theatrical traits of mine lend themselves to other careers, even outside of the arts. Freelance writing will hopefully take off, and still give me the freedom to pursue whatever I want afterward, but writing can be tiring. It's return is slower. My recovery time from writing a lot is longer. It is a good second place, but to tap the powers I have when in a theatre would change everything. That, at the moment, is one of the goals I have. And one of the main things that makes me what I am, I dare say.

I have mentioned in the past the idea of starting my own non-profit theatre company, based on these same reasons. A company that ran on my own acting principles, and not someone elses. But that isn't a career.

A job doesn't have to make you happy. But one is more likely to be productive, and hence, content with one's job if one is using one's natural talents and engaging in one's desires, right? That way at least work will not prevent one from being happy.

Any ideas on where I might use these superpowers to benefit my non-freelance career?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Defense of Yelling

Psychopaths often yell and scream in anger. They can also be gruesomely silent, and even polite. (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?)

Very decent, mature, all around good natured people can be soft spoken and calm. They can also be...

Detect a bit of a hitch there? If not, points for you. But for many people, and society in general, I think that those who yell are seen as being de facto unstable. Angry. Bitter people who cannot control their emotions. Anger is seen as an unacceptable emotion, and yelling while angry, a mortal sin.

This attitude on yelling in and of itself make me want to yell.

I have been through the fire in many ways. And have come out of it. I am a more secure person than I was ten or even five years ago. I am introspective, and am getting to know myself more and more as time goes on. I am spiritual and polite. I try to be helpful to those who need it, and I work very hard on forgive those who have wronged me to a certain extent. I am, by most standards that matter to me, a good man.

And when I am angry, I yell. At people. At things. At myself. At nobody. I yell.

Now, I don't yell uncontrollably all the time everywhere when something doesn't work out. I have to be pushed to a limit. (Longer with people, shorter with inanimate objects.) That limit is much further than it was ten years ago, ergo I yell less now. But certain things will push me to the point of yelling faster than other things. Usually when it involves something or someone that is very important to me.

Each of those catalysts could be it's own post, but in general I'll yell when I feel it is the only way to get someone's attention about a very important subject that I feel that are sidestepping. (Life, safety, and innate dignity matters, usually.) I'll yell when I get excited or passionate about something non-personal (A football game. A news story.) And, perhaps most significantly, I will often yell when I am yelled at first. Call me what you will, but to me, to sit back and calmly shake you head and whisper every time somebody yells at you is ceding some of your dignity. Even if it doesn't put you in an all out rage, (and I am almost never in one of those even when yelling) you should meet bluster with bluster, at least the first time out, if that is how the other party is going to play the game. Evens the playing field.

I don't make threats of violence. In most situations, even while yelling I avoid swear words. I do not charge closer to someone when I am yelling at them in a confrontation. (I'll even walk away while yelling sometimes, to put a natural, unthreatening limit on it.) But the fact remains; I do yell. And I often get looked at funny for doing so.

I have never understood why people look at me that way when I do it. Probably because most of the time, I am not yelling. Some I suppose get used to a person who yells all the time, and they get away with it. But the person who doesn't do it as often is judged more harshly, maybe. Or at least causes more confusion.

Plus, when I yell, as with everything I put that much energy into, I do it with passion. If I am going to do it, I am damn sure I am heard.

Bottom line: I think yelling can be cathartic. It can be a relief. It can be an effective tool in extinguishing the far more destructive "slow burn" of silent anger. While some argue that by default if you have reached the point of yelling, you have lost control of yourself, I maintain that yelling, like any other emotional expression can, and should be a controlled situation 98% of the time. There are times and places where it will never do, and those are the times you just leave. But sometime it makes a statement. It gets attention, and at least in my case, I am angry for a lot less time if I allow myself to do it, than if I bottle everything up.

So I wish more people would grow up about yelling. This idea that if I can yell in anger at a quarterback on television, I must by default be capable of beating my girlfriend, (I have gotten that complaint before!) is as unfair as it is silly. Yelling can be used in a healthy as well as an unhealthy manner, just as crying, laughing, sex, or alcohol can be used for healthy or unhealthy purposes. It is not some kind of failure, or indication of smallness of spirit. It is simply a faster and louder way of doing what everybody should do in some way or another, and that is deal with reaching one's limit.

I don't hide from my yelling, and I like being around other who don't hide from it either. Speaking softly and carrying a big stick works for much of life. But once in a while, I toss the stick and just yell from a distance.

Why are so many people against any kind of yelling, regardless of the circumstances?