Monday, June 28, 2010

The Stigma of Frugality

Too many look for quick ways to judge the quality of something. The quality of people especially. They have a list to check off, and if something from that list is missing, they move on, whether it be blogs, music, jobs, applicants, or otherwise.

It's lazy.

Instead of investing the time to really understand what something or someone might offer, they want to follow some pre-conceived fad of a metric that has somehow garnered credibility. Often simply because that is the way it has always been. Or on the other side, because some guru blogs about it once or twice,  somebody tweets that blog post, and 6 months later, bingo; a trend.

"Let me see here," says a hiring manager before making a decision. (Or a publisher. Or a Gen-Y blogger. Or you.) "Does it have this much talked about and cleverly named single quality which supposedly indicates a whole lot of information in an oh so subtle way? Nope, move on, nothing to see here."

There are many of these metrics. Almost none of them legitimate. I could, (and probably at some point will) dedicate entire posts to each of them. But for now let's talk about one such asinine metric: money invested.

This is a favorite of the lazy and short sighted. The argument being of course that proof of investing money is somehow proof of dedication. Of seriousness. Of quality. It may not surprise you to read that I have a few examples, followed by a total debunking.

To begin with, you don't have to leave this very website to find an example of what I am talking about. This blog is on Blogger. It has "blogspot" in it's URL, because I have not invested money in buying a domain name. So you find this blog at "

Their response to this. (Believe me I have heard it multiple times.):

"Why would I ever waste my time reading the writings of someone that is too cheap to spring for a 10 dollar a month domain name? If he can't set aside 120 a year to create "", he must not be that concerned with the quality of his product. And if he isn't concerned about it, why should I be?"

My rebuttal:

I suppose you shouldn't be. Because the lazy,narrow-minded, sheep like conformist nature of your personality means you wouldn't get much out of what I would say anyway.

This blog has been featured many times on Brazen Careerist. Referenced on Twitter. Linked to. That doesn't happen with the snapping of a finger. And while I may not have 50,000 followers, (nor do I think that anybody who has those numbers really has that many dedicated readers), the traffic and comments I do get are because I think out what I am going to put on this blog. When I have ideas I write them down. I read other blogs. I spend time writing the posts, and editing them. I go through the effort of telling people I have posted.

In other words, I am dedicated to the quality of Too XYZ. I just don't express that dedication by paying a sum of money to buy a personalized domain name right now. Here, content is king. But nobody knows that if they see "no domain name" and assumes "no quality."

And even if I could set aside the money, I am not sure I would. You either like what I write, or you don't. But I am not going to buy a domain just to prove to you I deserve a chance. If you have read this blog more than once, taken the chance to get to know where I am coming from, and leave a few comments here and there, you already know this. And it is for that that I am grateful, because it means some effort has been taken.

Another example. Less personal but very prevalent today is renting a house as opposed to buying one.

Their response:

" It really makes no sense not to invest in a home. It is the American Dream, and you have to ask yourself what exactly it is people are afraid of who put off the ultimate statement in having grown up. What cord haven't they been willing to cut in order to own up and get a mortgage on something? Can a lifetime renter really be contributing that much, when they won't even put a down payment on home of their own? "

My rebuttal:

I actually don't have time for a full rebuttal on this one. Because there are somewhere in the area of a billion reasons why people don't want to buy a home. None of them relating to a fear of the so called "real world". Let's see, there are, shitty markets. Kids in college. Not enough money. A transient lifestyle. A lack of attachment to one location. An aversion to household repairs. A totally different definition of "The American Dream". (Which needs to be seriously redefined anyway.) All are possible reasons why people would rent instead of plunking down the larger some of money required to invest in owning a house.

But again, a truly probing, curious, conscientious person wouldn't care if a person rents or owns, beyond mere curiosity. If one isn't lazy, and looking for how close someone is to the Jones' as a metric by which to determine the worth of someone's contribution, one can see that the choice to rent is a choice born out of any number of factors. None of those factors need have anything to do with an unwillingness to invest. It may just be a preference. Someone's ambition then, shouldn't be measured by how much they spend on a house.

But of course, it is...

Let's turn now to education. College degrees, and even more so, college reputations are gatekeepers into society in some cases. You are in or you are out based on them. This of course is a crock for any number of reasons. (Read my recent highly controversial post to learn more on the potential uselessness of college.) But let's assume you do choose college. There are still plenty of lazy people who will judge the quality of your choice based on superficial factors.

And they go beyond the academic. People look at what you pay for the education as well. (Or what someone pays for it.) And if it is clear you didn't invest as much money in your education, there are assumptions made.

Their response:

" Community college is just high school with more parking, when you get down to it. The same with night school. You tend to get what you pay for, and let's face it, you aren't exactly paying a lot for the privilege of driving the 4 minutes from your parents' house to your local community college to take your two classes at a time. The truly ambitious, and those who want to be seen as taking their college education seriously will invest the  money in a reputable and well known four year institution. Sure, debt will be involved, but it at least speaks more to your ambitions and dedication if you go 80,000 dollars in debt at an Ivy League school, then it does sending one Starbucks check at a time to pay for your community college associates degree."

My rebuttal:

I again refer everyone to my previous post, the one I linked to a few paragraphs ago, if you want to hear more about my overall views on college. But something I didn't say in that post which I will say in this one is this;

The strongest academic college experience I had was my year in community college.

Yes, I said it, and it is true. There was far less bullshit and a lot more learning and teaching going on at Frederick Community College than at the 4 year colleges I attended. I don't want to get into a discussion of community vs. four year colleges here. But the fact of the matter is that FCC was both the cheapest and the most useful college experience from a purely academic standpoint. It, like any college, had a lot of annoying crap that went a long with it, but I could go home each day and recoup from it. You can't do that at a four year school.

This all relates to this post because once again people take the lazy way out when it comes to community colleges. They see "community" in the title, and assume, since they are cheap, (or at least cheapER), that they must be a joke. Such people don't examine a catalog, talk to teachers, check out the library. Research into notable alumni. They just see a lack of huge monetary investment and assume a lack of quality. (Not taking the time to consider that part of the reason they are inexpensive is the fact that they leave out a lot of the extras of a four year.)

I could go on. And I almost did. The idea that community theatre must be crap because it's actors aren't paid. Or that a free concert in the park probably has lousy music. But you get the idea. The amount of money changing hands is not a reliable metric to determine the quality of something or someone.

Don't get me wrong here. Free/inexpensive things can suck. But expensive things can also suck. Dropping lots of money into something can certainly translate into an experience of the finest quality. Yet, a little research can yield high quality experiences that cost next to nothing, or nothing. It's all in how much effort you decide to put into understanding the nature of the person or the product.

Which in the end is my point. Put in the effort and find quality. Don't use "money invested" as a filter. You could be missing a lot of great stuff out there.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Christmas Equilibrium Day

Today, according to most "Western" calendars is June 25th. That means that for most people who celebrate Christmas in some fashion, today is exactly 6 months since last Christmas, as well as 6 months until this Christmas.

I love symmetry, don't you?

For the last few years I have used June 25th as sort of a "Mini-Christmas". Not much else is going on this time of year by way of celebratory holidays, anyway, other then the American Independence Day.

Many people/companies actually use July 25th, (aka, "Christmas in July") to do similar things, in order to pick up some extra dollars in what is otherwise a retail waste land. (July-September.) Some resorts go all out for it. Theme parties and everything. I don't go to all of that, but I'll sometimes pop in one of my Christmas CDs while I am cooking dinner that day. Or I may go to bed watching a Christmas movie. (Again in June as opposed to July, because I am a very symmetrical person in many ways.)

The point is, Christmas is never further away, technically, than it is today.

Which is why I also use today as a bit of a meditation. Despite my being more spiritual than officially religious, I follow the spirit of Christmas, (charity, mercy, gentleness, and all of that). There does seem to be a bit more of those things during the holidays. At least outwardly. (Unless you are at the mall...)

But I try to make those attitudes part of what I am, and not simply a side-effect of a specific holiday. (Which in many ways has become massively corporate and kitschy in some circles.) I want to show goodwill toward men, and recognize the miraculous in my daily life, not just between Thanksgiving and New Year's. As the Salvation Army bellringers, (they and their signs being a Christmastime staple in their own right) remind us;

"Hunger knows no season."

Indeed. Which is why, as an adult, I have tried to delve into my soul and bring out by myself at all times of the year, what the pine trees, cookies, music, (good AND bad) and Charlie Brown bring out somewhat more easily for me during December; a connection between my humanity, and the Divine.

So I whistle a few carols when it's 94 degrees outside. It's fun, and a reminder that it isn't in fact those tunes that make the real holiday what it is. Christmas is a state of being, not just a time of year. I can create inside of me what it means to me. I can conjure up and manifest the nobler aspects of my nature when I choose to do so. I don't need the trimmings. They are nice, and I cherish tradition and ritual to a great deal. But as I get older I seek to remind myself that such things are there to serve man in his journey...not for man to stop his journey in order to serve them.

That isn't to say that we can change the things that happen around us much. Those of you who have gotten to know me realize that I have quite a few ridiculous obstacles that have been thrown in front of me rather often in the past. But I do have the power to alter how quickly I recover from same. When and where I can shine a light.

Which means, friends, that you don't have to celebrate Christmas for the lesson of June 25th to apply. It can be a day that is 6 months on from any day that to you symbolizes and celebrates the better angels of our nature. Birthdays. A wedding anniversary. The Solstice. It doesn't much matter, so long as you take a moment during a day long removed from those holidays/recognitions to remember that whatever those days mean for you is actually what you bring to those days. What you muster up from within your spirit to shine upon the rituals of whatever observance it happens to be. Take some time, six months away from your most important day of the year, to ask yourself if the day puts those things inside of you, or if it is YOU that puts those miraculous things inside the day.

And if you find that you can put them into that day, whatever it is, you can put them into any day. Every day. You can be a holiday unto yourself.

What are your most meaningful times of the year? What rituals do they contain? What do you bring to them? What do you do when those rituals and holidays are long passed to keep their spirit alive within you all the time?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do You Need a Coin of Indecision?

"Some questions can never be answered. They must be decided."- - - -Harry S. Truman

In front of my on my desk as I type this post is a two pound coin from the United Kingdom. It isn't always there, but it's there right now because I used it about an hour ago.

How does a Yank in Maryland use a two-pound coin? It is my Coin of Indecision. (Also sometimes known as the Coin of Direction)

Before I get into the coin part, I'll talk about the indecision part.

You of course know how problematic indecision can be. It can paralyze you. Make you miss opportunities. Keep you afraid. Hold you back. Stress you out. Make you less appealing to the world around you. And worse. You get the idea.

And the above holds true regardless of what is causing the indecision. Whether you are wishy-washy and lack self confidence or like me, you tend to analyze things to death, there comes a point of no return past which if you have not made a decision in one direction or the other, you have probably done more damage than making the "wrong" decision.

We often go back and forth on something because we fear we will make the wrong choice. That we might lose money, or get laughed at, or screw something up. We want for all the world not to be in that position. So much do we want to avoid the wrong choice, that we become blind to the fact that making no choice is by far more destructive to our well being. Because when we sit still and ponder for too long, people that have made both the right decision and the "wrong" decision have one thing in common; they are flying right passed us in some direction or the other. They are, in other words, moving. And even those who move in the "wrong" direction end up finding the right one by virtue of their forward motion. Those who sit find nothing.

Sometimes I am guilty of sitting and analyzing, (or is it agonizing?) over a moderate to big decision for too long. And that is where the Coin of Indecision comes in.

You know where I am going next, don't you? A solution almost as old as time itself. I flip the two-pounder, and take whatever course it lands on. That is this coin's soul purpose. And I don't generally use it to make little everyday choices about dinner or movies. I generally save it for bigger things. In the very least, what project to tackle next, or what to dedicate my day to. And sometimes things larger than that.

Some will ask,

"You leave such major decisions up to Fate alone???"

Not quite. Because to leave everything up to Fate alone would be to instantly flip that coin the moment any decision presented itself. No thinking. No working. Just flip the coin, and let it "choose" for me. And while I do believe that luck, fate, and miracles do sometimes play a role in our lives, it is not luck I am invoking when I flip the Coin of Indecision in most cases. It's forward motion.

After all the research, praying, thinking, sharing, discussing, blogging and screaming is done, a choice usually emerges. But when it doesn't, it often means that either choice is about equal in terms of risk and reward, and that based on anything I can possibly know at the time, one is no worse than the other. Time to just move. Enter the Coin of Indecision.

If you find yourself sometimes paralyzed by being unable to choose a direction, perhaps you could make use of your own Coin of Indecision. But I would advise a few things before you select one.

To begin with, have a little fun with it. Don't turn it into a project. Give it some thought, and be creative, but don't get all medieval about it.

As I said, make it a coin that is only ever used for this purpose. Let it build some mystique in your own mind. This thing will be helping you out of some tense moments sometimes. And whether you believe in Divine Intervention through the coin, or see it merely as a convenient kick in your ass, show it some respect.

Make it a foreign coin. Again, this separates it from the common coinage you would just pull out of your pocket. Let pocket change help you decide between Roy's and Wendy's. Keep your Coin of Indecision for the bigger stuff that you get stuck on because of fear.

And for the love of everything, if you do it, ALWAYS FOLLOW WHAT IT SAYS!  Once you toss it, don't disagree with it, or second guess it. That will get you right back to where you started. The whole point is to instantly set off doing whatever the coin lands on, so you don't stagnate. If you don't think you can commit to that, don't bother with a coin approach.

Some of the things I have used the coin for include:

-Which subject to blog about today.
-Whether or not to try out for a given production.
-Whether to apply to a specific job.
-Moderate purchases of various kinds.

It doesn't much matter which coin, or for what specific choices you use it, so long as you respect it and commit to it. Because in so doing you are both acknowledging your own predicament, but refusing to be held prisoner buy it.

Maybe that's the best reason to have it.

Do you have a Coin of Indecision, or some similar device/procedure to pull you out of the headlights?

Monday, June 21, 2010

College? Epic Fail.

I have been exchanging messages recently on Brazen Careerist with Demetra Allen. (Find her website here.) We were both part of a thread about how going to college has helped everyone leverage their talents, and get to where they are today.

When I answered that it had not in any way helped me at all, she became very curious, because she had not encountered many people who responded in such a manner about their college education. She asked me if I might be willing to expound upon the issue. Not being able to do so within the character limits of a Brazen Careerist post, I opted to post a blog entry about it.

Yet where to start? When something fails to live up to so many expectations, and is so far off of the success curve of so many other people, it can become almost impossible to pinpoint all of the exact reasons. But I will make an effort to illustrate some of them through the use of broad categories. This isn't a thesis or a study, so the categories are informal. This is just me sharing some observations and thoughts with you, as always.

To begin with, let's talk about the degree itself. 

The bachelor's degree in this country as a whole has been quite devalued over the last 30 years. I knew going into college I would never be able to walk up to my dream job, wave a diploma at them, get hired, and become rich and powerful. I was wise enough to avoid that delusion.

Yet I wasn't wise enough to realize that all of the time, expense, and work to get a degree might not ever open any doors. And it certainly did not for me. I thought that it would at least get my foot in the door of a mail room somewhere. Maybe a small cubicle on the first floor of someplace. Or at least get me some interviews.

I was given no full time job in 5 years of looking, and was granted only three interviews.

Having gone to a career counselor here and there, I was advised more than once to "hide the college experience." That when employers in my area see it they assume I am going to want more money than they can pay, and assume that my liberal arts background would make me restless and unwilling to sit down and do "real work".

As the years passed, the same advice was given because, "employers are going to wonder why someone with a degree has never been able to get a full time job."

So at first college was a drawback because I looked too smart. Later it was a drawback because I looked not smart enough. Same diploma.

Then of course many jobs advertise a need for people with a diploma. A diploma I did not have. A job I know I was perfectly capable of doing, but for which I was not qualified because I majored in the wrong thing. College graduation is not a reward in and of itself anymore.

So one reason college was a waste of time and money was the empty degree.

Another failure was the weak network.

I made friends in college. You almost have to. But that is just what they are. Friends. I don't want to get into a discussion of shallow friends and personal betrayals, but let's just say my friend pool from college was thinner than most. Even when friends bothered at all to keep in contact with me after college, they had no connections to any industry for which I would be qualified. Or they were going through similar post-collegiate employment difficulties. Or they all lived so far away that any connection they would have would prove to be of little use to me. Even if someone knows a guy who knows a guy in Oregon, what good would that do me in Maryland? Especially given that I had never made enough money to even think about moving to another state?

The career center at my college was not much more helpful. I went there once or twice before realizing they were not telling me anything I didn't already know. They would ask to see my resume, and advise ways to punch it up. They would offer, (though I declined) to give me a mock job interview and critique it. They would suggest things like, "Hmm, maybe if you look in the phone book under your interests and start making cold calls..."

Thanks! As obvious a tactic as that was, it was never going to happen. In other words, they had no personal connections to share with me. Half the point of a career center is to connect you with people that work with the college, or alumni of the same. But the only time the career center really had any thing to offer in that department was if you were looking for the corporate life. The business majors, or the PR people. Those looking to get into computer tech and that sort of thing. Want to get involved in community non-profits?

"Well, we don't really have anything like that at this time..."

Then there were the wonderful, life changing internships everybody always talks about. Lord how people love their internships. How they put them on the right path, and all that song and dance.

Not so much with mine.

It was a requirement for all political science students to have an internship. I figured I would go to my adviser, see the list of places with whom the college had relationships that led to previous internships before, and pick one that fit my style.

They basically had none. No relationships with businesses in town. My professor didn't know anybody. There was literally no sense of the college having established ANY community ties for internships. Nobody my professor could introduce me to. It really felt as though the department had never helped establish an internship before. It was as though students had always been 100% on their own in finding a connection and building an internship. I didn't know how to do that. I came to college because I didn't know how to do everything, after all.

It took over a year. A YEAR of looking for internships, with several falling through in my own home town during the summer. ("We really don't have anything an intern could learn here. We're such a small town.") Finally, I went with one of the few connections the college did have, which opened up locally near campus. An internship with the local Congressman's office.

This sounded exciting. Meet a Congressman maybe. Help people. Maybe get to go to some speeches.

The internship consisted of my sitting at a desk and cutting out newspaper articles that contained certain keywords. I would then fax them to another office where they would do all the interesting stuff with them. I would just cut and fax.

Halfway through the internship, the woman that ran the office started leaving early, letting me lock the place up. Most of the time I interned, I sat alone in an office, cutting newspaper. Never even met the Congressman.

Believe it or not, this didn't open any doors for me either. I didn't even bother leaving it on my resume for any more than two years after I graduated. What would be the point? Do you know how embarrassing it is to try to spin that into something worthwhile to a potential employer? I wasn't even buying it myself.

Alumni Association? There is one for my alma mater. But like the career center it caters to certain types of students. And they, like anybody else, want a proven track record and long resume before they will even touch you. It helps if you already know somebody important that you can leverage within the Alumni community, too. In other words, useless for someone like me.

Plus, as I mentioned in a previous post, no professor took any active interest in me. So I lacked the advantage of having a professor for a friend.

So college didn't exactly grow my network.

College is also not personal enough.

There are a lot of colleges out there, and I can't of course speak for every one of them. But based on what I have read, and what I have experienced myself, not enough of them are tailored to the specific needs of individual students. Yes, I know that is a favorite bit of copy included in virtually all advertisements put out by all colleges ("tailored to the individual student's needs") but in practice, nothing is tailored. Colleges of any size tend to subscribe to cookie cutter mentalities. They have declared, within their insulated sphere what an education is, and those who wish to stay on campus must conform to same. My college certainly did, and it was a disservice to me. I graduated, and did so with good grades, but only because it was the only game in town. That was the system. I bucked it a few times, and predictably only managed to piss off well ensconced and out of touch professors in the process. That "outside the box" thinking they were famous for was never to be applied to the college itself.

A truly personalized experience would allow any given student to form their own approach to what they want to do with their lives, and remain flexible as those goals change. Not free reign to be willy-nilly, but the freedom of a self exploratory education. With faculty that is focused on helping students find who and what they are, not digest the next exam's answers, promptly to be forgotten during spring break.

My college didn't make things personal in this manner, and I have realized, in the years since, that despite my dedication to my education, I didn't belong, and was not served by the standard educational model I just described.

That lack of a personal approach sort of dovetails into the final category. College failed to teach me how it really works.

Again, I wasn't naive, but I was caught off guard by how different jobs, job hunting, and leveraging my degree, (not to mention student loans and debt) worked after college, as opposed to how they appeared to work while there. Most colleges, not just mine, offer no training for what to do after college. There are no mandatory classes about networking, or job hunting, or debt control, or how to handle your loans. Being a business themselves, they avoid telling you how it really works, and instead let credit card companies harass you outside of the lunch line. (I didn't get one!) They have career centers that tell you what you already know, but nothing you WILL need to know. They laud heaps of praise on the importance of getting an education, and the prestige of getting it with them, but don't explain that such an advantage truly died off in the 1960's.

In other words, they are not preparing you for life. They are isolating you from it for four years. And while I knew that for the loftiest, prettiest claims this was true, I didn't realize it was true even for the most modest, every day, run of the mill claims, such as, "this will be useful to you when you get out there." It wasn't.

I could go on, but I really think the point is made. And I think that any other reasons I could think of pertaining to college's failure would basically fall within the four meta categories I laid out here; the weakness of a degree, a failure to make it personal, the lack of a built in network, and the failure to prepare students for any real life experiences.

Many people will suggest that really all it takes is the right attitude, and hard work to succeed, and that college is what you make of it. That may be true for some people at some colleges. And while I confess I may not have had the highest fire under my ass all the time in college, I will not succumb to the notion that the reason it did nothing for me was because I didn't want it enough. The fact of the matter is that college, as advertised and explained in this country today, is supposedly the place to go to become prepared to go out and do those things. It is the place where that fire is supposed to be set, not the place where you have to already be on fire from the get go in order to succeed on campus.

College isn't what it used to be. People like me need a place where we can be educated in ways that both suit us, and prepare us for what's ahead. We don't care about school spirit, the proximity to historical landmarks, or the famous people that went to this school before us. We care about learning. Learning in a way that will make it worth the time, money and energy in the end. Getting an education that will actually guide us towards success. Not education for the sake of having gone to college.

I don't know if any college really acts like that anymore, but that is what I needed, and did not get. And if nobody gets that from college anymore, the perception we have in this country of what college is should at least adapt to it's reality, so those who can be helped by it can go, and those who are Too XYZ can go elsewhere.

Friday, June 18, 2010

There is No "Me" in "Mentor". No, Wait...

Jamie Nacht Farrell is one of the (mostly) like-minded people that I have thankfully encountered in my social media forays of the last year. She has her own blog, which you can find here. If you like some of what I have said here at Too XYZ, I think you will find common ground with her writings as well. Do check it out, and tell her I sent you.

Most of my contact with her has taken place on Brazen Careerist, where many of her blog posts have been selected as features. Rightfully so. Recently she started a thread over there in which I have become involved in a very specific way. I'd like to share some of that, and expound upon same with you here.

Jamie started a thread thus;

"I strongly believe it is clear that what society is missing are STRONG MENTORS in the more experienced generation; as well as companies not realizing how important mentorship is and making it a priority. What are your thoughts here?"

My personal response to this was as follows;

"I never had one, and I have suffered because of it...And outside of work, mentors can also play a huge role in shaping one's life. I didn't have any outside of work either, and believe me, it made everything harder."

As depressing as it is true. Jamie responded to my statement with this;

I happen to think you're one of the coolest people on this site (not joking) because you believe in what you say; you say what you believe; and you don't give a shit what other people think.

I was (and am sometimes) exactly like that and I still like people that are like me. That said, the first thing I was told by my first mentor (I was lucky - I was only 22 at the time) was, "You're brilliant and you're ambitious. But you're so opinionated and you've got a big F-ing mouth. If you can shut your mouth and learn to be open minded, I'll turn you into one of the biggest success stories in our industry". Obviously, my first reaction was to say "F U", but you didn't say that to this I said "ok" and I tried to (what I call) "be more corporate". I hated it and I still do ( ; but that said, he was right. I learned to hone down my 'mouth' and while I still had opinions, learned to present them differently, at the right times, etc... if you truly want to find 'the best' to mentor you, you've got to 'take a step back' and reassess the reasons why you don't have a mentor.

Believe me, I have spent a great deal of time assessing that very thing. And while Jamie made some legitimate overall points, I am not sure all of them apply to me directly. Online I am sure I appear that certain way, and in fact what I do online is truthful. But it is only one aspect of myself. 

There is also the taciturn type. The leader by example, (when applicable.) The soft speaker that carries a big stick, and such. I am that guy as well, and as I told Jamie later in the post, I have been overlooked, or judged "unworthy of time and effort" just as often for keeping quiet over the years, as I have been for offering opinions and criticism. It has been a sort of lose/lose for me in the mentor department. And while any given moment Jamie's observations could apply to me, the breadth, consistency, and duration of my "Mentor Repellent" history makes me believe there is something more to it than that.

And what is that? I haven't even the slightest clue. But I write about it here, because Too XYZ is not just about advice or observations. Sometimes it is about the unanswered questions in my life. The unsolvable riddles that would seem to keep me out of or away from what many folks find so easy to jump right into. That's where the whole Too XYZ motif comes from, after all. 

So then, am I just Too XYZ for mentors? Is there something about me that makes me untrainable? Is there really no room under anybody's wing for me? My whole history would sometimes appear to suggest so. And while I admit I have not gone around asking, "Could you mentor me," to every interesting person I have encountered, I have to conclude that just as many people with mentors have refrained from this approach as have adopted it.

But back to me.

Middle school teachers spent far more time polishing the "raw" talent of the more obnoxious children, (after telling them they had a detention.) High school teachers, when they said anything at all, would actually say things to me like, "what you need is a really strong guiding force for that wonderful intellect of yours. You need to be an apprentice to a great master who cares."

But of course they didn't do so themselves. Probably because a lot of them were threatened by all of the questions I asked that they felt inadequate to answer. More than one source has since agreed with that possibility.

College was the same. I never had a friendly relationship with any of my professors. Not that I fought with them either, (except in one case) but I always marveled at how some students would end up going out to dinner with their professors or advisors, or sitting with them at the bars, or get phone calls from them "just to check up", when half the time I couldn't even get a professor to return a voice mail.

But it isn't just the academic world. There is theatre. I am often looked to, but nobody really has a whole lot of advice for me, other than "you're doing it wrong." (Which isn't advice at all.) Same with my writing endeavors.

And the social emptiness of having everyone who could have played some kind of role in my development as a child and young adult vanish into thin air the moment my father died, (I was 7) never really to be heard from again. As though stepping up and offering guidance to a fatherless child could somehow contaminate their own life expectancy. Whatever the reasons, the possible "social mentors" even with my own family, (all of my aunts and uncles, certainly my one and only brother, and a few adult sisters) took a hands off approach to me, and for the most part still do. Anything from the changing of tires to the baiting of a fishing hook lie not within my realm of knowledge until, in some way, I taught myself, usually well into adulthood. (Mentoring, of a kind also covers those type of things, you know.)

I was even in the Big Brothers program for a few years as a pre-teen. My mother thought it may fill the place that my actual brother had abdicated. My "big brother" was a nice guy, but no mentor, as he would often remind me there was "little point" in laughing too loudly outside, while spending most of our sessions watching movies at his apartment, or going to McDonald's. I already knew how to do those things.

I think you get the picture. I have been so many places, and told I have so much promise and potential, and as a result have had many ideas that I think were great, but I lacked the network and/or mentors to help smooth out the edges. To help me focus my obvious talents and ambition. 

And as I result, I did, (and in some cases still do) flounder in the creek with no paddles. So much potential wasted because so few ever took a constructive interest in me.

In the last years I have begun to carve the path for myself, and have succeeded in various ways. But just as I think I would have benefited greatly from a mentor years ago in my so call "formative years", I believe that now I could make great use of the right one moving forward on my new course of the last four years or so.

But the silence in response is the same as ever. It is part of the reason I am a freelancer, (and hoping to become one full time in the future.) But I know it will take me longer than most, because I will be doing it all once again without any advice or personal guidance from anyone. .

Or will I?

Later in that same thread Jamie explored the idea that "mentoring" is sometimes poorly served by the image the word conjures up. I paraphrase here, but she mentioned that it often makes one think of an older, wiser, more successful father figure, who graces one with the pointing of his finger, and bestows upon same all of the secret knowledge that led to their own success. She goes on to say that these days, mentors can be any age, be struggling themselves in some ways, and don't have to be as mystical as we have traditionally made them to be. One can even be "mentored" by various different people. That social media, meet-ups, Twitter, and whatever can lead us to a sort of "team" of mentors, who can help us as we need it, instead of bringing us up in their own image.

I can buy that, and perhaps I  have made some use of this more loosely defined and fluid mentorship. As I try to expand my business in the coming years, I hope to gain something from all of that expertise floating around out there in cyberspace. (With the proviso that their advice is tailored to me, based on trying to understand my needs as opposed to just issuing that canned advice to everyone.)

Yet I admit that in the past I would have, (and perhaps even now might still) found great satisfaction and direction from the traditional mentor set up, at least for a while. If someone successful in the ways I want to be successful would deem me personally worthy of tutelage, and beckon me with that finger just once, to guide me to greatness, (so that I wouldn't always have to be carving every single path all by myself), I think some void would be filled within me.

However, until then, the digging with the single shovel goes on. And I won't let whatever everyone's problem is with mentoring me derail me in the future as much as it did in the past.

I'm Too XYZ to let that happen.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How the C&O Canal Taught Me a Life Lesson

I live just about two blocks from the C&O Canal's towpath. (If you don't know what it is, click the link.) On most days, I cover anywhere from two to six miles on it, as part of my semi-regular exercise regime. I did this even before I lived right next door to it. For the last 3 years I suppose, I have been a regular visitor to "The Canal".

Lots of people use it. And lots of people make a mess out of it buy littering. Rare is the hike that I take where I don't find some sort of detritus from lazy ass people who just drop shit wherever the stand. Some of the worst offenders are the health nuts that are obsessed with their body's health, but not that of the ecosystem through which they run or bike. I see many a protein bar wrapper.

Litter pisses me off anyway. Litter in a National Park is worse. And for a time, I used to take a bag with me and pick up everything I saw, no matter what it was. That, as you can imagine, got tiring sometimes, to the point of ruining the walk for me. So, I didn't do that anymore. But the litter still bugged the hell out of me, and I wanted to give back to a Park that provided me with a service. So I came up with a plan that allowed me to both give back to The Canal, (and the National Park Service), while also still being able to enjoy it.

I decided, first and foremost, that I would designate certain days to picking up any trash. There will always be trash there because there will always be lazy, selfish bastards. I can't stop it, but I can play a part, and I can go into a walk knowing that it's a "pick-up" walk.

Second, in order not to be overwhelmed, even on a "pick-up" day, I made an agreement with myself that I would only pick up that litter which fell directly in, or slightly off of, my personal path. Both walking up, and walking home. No more delving into the sometimes thick woods, or mosquito infested swamp ponds to pick up a few cans. I figured if I stuck with what presented itself to me directly, there would still be plenty of trash to pick up. I would still be playing my part as custodian of that which I personally used.

Finally, I put limits on what I was willing to pick up, even if it crossed my path. An apple core, for instance, I know will decompose back into the earth. Might even feed a hungry creature. So I leave such things.

I do not touch cigar or cigarette butts, or anything that appears to have been directly in someone's mouth. I avoid used tissues as well. (Such things are harder to pick up with anything other than my hand, and though I could wash my hands later, there are some places I don't need to go.)

And so now, I have a more balanced, enjoyable, and hence effective way to play my small part in cleaning up the canal. (Well, the towpath, technically.)

Another thing one does a lot when walking the C&O alone is thinking. Sometimes the monotony of that "tunnel of trees" through which a person walks, sometimes in near silence, brings about automatic meditation. And one day it occurred to me that my new system for picking up trash on the Canal was sort of what I did in other areas of life. At least, it could be applicable to same.


There are many problems out there in our world. (All the litter on the whole path.) Some tend to take care of themselves. (apple cores). Some do not. (cans, plastic bags.) And some problems are just too deep, or problematic, or beyond us. (snot rags. cigarette butts.)

So we can't possibly spend all of our time trying to solve every problem. But if we set aside some specific time (my pick-up days) to do our best to make some problems that are within our reach (picking up the litter that lie in my direct path) better, we can get a lot more done, and feel less burned out in the process.

Sometimes my walks are just for me. Just as sometimes our time, no matter how brief, needs to be just for us. But to be grateful, and to acknowledge my place in the world, I put forth effort to make better that which crosses my path. A friend in need. An old man going into the same store as I. There will be plenty of that in a given lifetime, without having to get ourselves buried in the weeds everyday trying to solve all of the world's problems every time we leave the house.

So go forth, friends, and as you walk this long canal of life on earth, take some time for yourself, some time for others, and if something comes into your life that you think you can make better, do so.

And maybe, once in a great while, you can still delve deep into the woods, and pick up everything you see, just for good measure. Just don't get lost, and always come back to the towpath before dark. (It closes at dark, after all.)

I'll see you on the C&O...

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Hate Dating (A Featured Post on Brazen Careerist)

I am not a fan of dating.

There, I said it. Scoff, gasp, puke or faint. Do what you must, but I am Too XYZ for what most people think of when they hear "dating".

Not to be confused with Dating, with a capital "D", which, for our purposes, will refer to a serious, committed relationship. I have had those. And I have also had some ill advised superficial relationships. But more on those in a moment.

But I don't date. And although for some it serves the most basic human need outside of getting something to eat, I struggle with finding the logic in it.

Even when I was a teenager, when I was supposed to be desperately motivated to do it, I wasn't. Sure there were times I wanted a girlfriend when I did not have one. And like anybody that age, my teen awkwardness and shyness certainly played a part. But I just didn't have it in me to put forth too great an effort in overcoming those things because even then it made no sense.

You encounter a total stranger that your body finds attractive. You approach them, to talk them up, and hopefully, after deciphering something approximately as complex as the Da Vinci Code, you get their number, or, go straight to the guts, and ask them if they would like to "get some coffee" sometime.

Let's suppose they say yes. Let's also suppose that you are a bit classier than "one night stand" antics. So you do in fact mean a date.

This is exciting. And you think about this all week, as you buy new clothes, get a haircut, do whatever, hoping to put your best foot forward.

The day arrives, and you meet her. She looks just as done up as you do. You order, and you talk to one another. It's casual at first. It goes well. Then, if you are lucky, before the date is over you somehow come to realize that you both stand on the opposite side of the political fence, and can't stand each other's views. You thank each other, say you will call one another to be polite, but you never will, and the whole thing ends up a story she will send in to the "Bad Date" page in Vogue or whatever.

It doesn't get you down too long though. You need to go home, and freshen up, because you are meeting another stranger at the movies later that evening after she gets off of work.

And if that doesn't work out well, or hell even if it does, that is what next weekend is for. There is a whole world of people out there to ask out. How exciting!

Um, what???

"Now, now," the conventional wisdom, (not to mention my friends over the years) will tell me. "Dating is all about having fun, and getting to know each other better. How are you ever going to know who you want to spend your life with if you don't go out there and date a lot? You've got to find out these things! And even if it doesn't work, you'll have a great time meeting all kinds of new people."

Yeah, right. I'm an introverted writer and actor. I haven't the slightest desire to meet "new" people. I am still dealing with the shit from the people I already know.

Okay, I exaggerate. (A little.) But remember those relationships of mine that I told you about? Good, bad, indifferent, boring, deep, or superficial, almost all of them had one thing in common;

We never "dated". We already knew one another somehow. Maybe not very well, but there was a connection already established before we made the decision to "evolve" things. Or they just evolved on their own without a specific decision, if you catch me.

The point is, there have been all kinds of ways I have gotten to know someone, and to at least be friends with them first. Plays. Mutual friends. Once or twice in my life, the internet. But I knew them first. And because I am not into "one night stands", I feel I need to at least be acquaintances, if not friends, before I can develop feelings for someone.

I don't know if I have ever been "in love". Maybe. But I can tell you that if I was, I was friends with her first. I don't take women I barely know out to coffee over and over again to wait and see if that will happen.

And that is just it. "Dating" is about seeing if there is any proverbial spark. But like my story with the woman and the political views, that is an awful lot for me to go through, only to be derailed once something as clear as, oh I don't know, her religion comes up. If I have worked with somebody, or better yet, been friends with them a while, I already know what their fundamental make up is. I may not have intimate knowledge of everything that makes them tick, but I do know their personality. Their attitude. Some of their preferences and view points. What it feels like to be around them. Those are the things that, to me, would take years of "getting coffee" to establish. I should live so long.

They say you can't ever fall in love with "friends". That once you have established yourself as a woman's friend, (or a man's), that it is impossible to successfully fall in love with them. That romance must spring forth from actions that were taken based upon a first meeting's animal lust, and allowed to evolve from there, in order for a real passion to develop. "That's the way it's done."

Oh really? Check the divorce rate in this country for me when you are done pontificating, will you, Dr. Phil?

Not that I can prove a direct correlation, of course. But for my money, I am not going to let some initial attraction to somebody motivate me into playing some kind of game of "get the number", so that I can get all nervous, drain all of my arts-guy personal energy on meeting someone new, all in the hope that from Coffee Number One, an electricity will be present, which one day will lead her to becoming the mother of my children.

Even casual knowledge of the everyday, NON-dating persona of someone, (and boy is there a difference) can help save everybody a lot of heartache and time.

To be fair, I am the same way with just making friends. I don't go out and "make friends". Again, as an introvert, the very concept of making a choice to go somewhere and "make new friends" almost makes me break out in hives. Friendship for me, like any relationship, develops as a result of exposure to the same things and experiences. Through conversation, and a bit of effort. It takes, above all things, time.

And time seems to be of the essence for people who are "dating".

And lord, please don't even get me started on "speed dating". I'll have a stroke.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If I Ran YouTube (Or Any Internet Video Site)

It's not always serious advice and somber observations here at this blog. I am Too XYZ to concentrate on the directly productive 100% of the time. In fact, a little irony I like to live by is that only by chosing to step away from productivity once in a while, can we maximize it.

All of that being said, I hope you find some degree of reason to this list. A list which I have compiled that explains what I would require all people who post their own videos (not copyright infringed theft) to do, if they wanted to post to the site.

So, my edicts would be as follows:


Half the home videos end up being sound only, with an occasional light flicker as people walk or sit in total darkness. Why post a video at all? Post a sound file over on MegaUpload or something.


When you do this, the picture comes out sideways. Yes, i realize that the physical universe does not appear to be sideways through the viewfinder when you turn the camera, genius, but trust me, it will end up being sideways when viewed. This has been true for basically every single solitary camera ever made in the history of humanity. And people still think that it is a great way to fit more stuff into the shot...


I don't care if it's the the alien landing, the return of Jesus or anything or similar magnitude. If it's less than 20 seconds long don't post it. At least add a bit of an intro to it, or some commentary afterward.


If you must video and post your slumber party, focus on one object or person for at least 10 seconds before moving. You cannot walk around a house and turn the camera to every object or person you think of at the second they enter your mind. When you do so, nobody can tell what the hell they are looking at.


Let me be clear...there is no longer even the remotest amount of humor or entertainment value in speeding up an otherwise pointless, boring video to double speed so that everyone in it sounds like they are one of the Chipmunks. I get enough of that shit at Christmas time, I don't need it when I am trying to watch your video.


To begin with, music coming through a speaker, then passing through your camera, and then passing through my own computer's speakers sounds like shit. Secondly, few things are more annoying than people trying to prove they have some kind of musical talent by singing their cover of a song ON TOP of the original. I hate watching other people sing on YouTube anyway, but if you are going to do it, sing your own shit. Some people actually get marketed in that way. And if you must give us your pointless rendition of the latest Taylor Swift noise, get a karaoke copy of it so I don't hear you AND her. (Not that you are talented anyway.)


I think I fell for the very first one of these I ever encountered, circa 2005. But I suppose the gullible out there still can't see them coming right up Fifth Avenue. A long, quiet tracking shot on something either macabre, or out of place. Descriptions ranging from, "watch real closely" to, "I bet this video scares you." You really, honest to god don't realize that some half-assed image with a very loud obnoxious noise is about to blow your speakers away??


Something with 9-page story about the Twilight people disguised as a description of the video...a video which is actually only 15 seconds long with a slide show of Twilight characters and terrible fucking music in the background does not belong on YouTube. Or anywhere. If you want to rip off someone's ideas and write fan-fiction, go ahead. But write it.


To the uninitiated "ships" are a pathetically lazy way of referring to "relationSHIPs". Ship videos involve splicing together footage of two fictional characters from movies or TV that for some reason the creator wishes could be romantically involved with one another. All set to some sappy piece of shit love song. Pointless and a waste of time that borders on the immoral...


Ignore the copyright problem here. If you are going to transfer something from TV to youtube, get a vid-capture card already. Don't just point your camera at a TV that is playing the video you want. It looks and sounds like shit.

None of these rules will ever be instituted of course. (With the exception of copyrighted material, which is already forbidden of course.) But you have to admit that if they were, the garbage quotient on YouTube would drop by about 90%.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Hate To Interrupt, But Maybe I Should? (A Featured Post on Brazen Careerist)

I really detest being interrupted while I am trying to have a conversation. I hate when people jump to another subject before I am finished my point. I hate it when people believe they know what the end of my sentence is going to be and finish it for me. And in general I hate to be in the middle of talking to someone else only to be approached, without pause or deference, by another person.

Which means, in turn, I am very unwilling to do all of this to other people. And as a rule, I don't. I was raised not to, and even as an adult, I see very clearly the reasons why I was raised not to do these things. It's disruptive, rude, and shows a lack of respect to the other person talking.

Exceptions exist of course, even for me. When I am with some of my oldest friends just goofing around we talk over each other about the dumb crap we usually talk about. A football game or the lame ass we used to know back in school. That's part of being good friends I dare say. But only when you know someone well enough, and even then, only when the subject matter is not of particular importance, do I feel that over talking and cutting off is acceptable.

But when I am first meeting new people,  I consider it very rude to not be allowed to finish what I am saying.

And yet sometimes I wonder if that is the only way people know how to converse anymore. And if that is true, is it the only way to clearly present the parts of you that are most interesting to a new acquaintance?

Anyone who follows me here, on Brazen Careerist, or on Twitter knows that I despise standard networking, and that I don't do much of it. But some of the reasons I hate it I think have an effect on my interactions with people even when I am not networking. Namely, I like to let people finish their points before I offer something to a conversation.

But more and more, people don't know how to finish their point, or are otherwise unwilling to just stop talking long enough for there to be any kind of pause to fill. As though people are afraid to stop talking. And so when they meet me, they end up talking in an unbroken string for 15 minutes, and I simply nod. That is because it is in my DNA not to interrupt someone new while they are speaking to me, if otherwise they are not being offensive, and not preventing me from doing something important. (And usually, they are not doing either.)

I wonder if the overall effect is that I seem like a boring person that hasn't done much, or doesn't have anything of interest to say. After all, if I had any passion for anything, I would interrupt once in a while, right? Maybe? And hence no connection is made.

I do hold other people responsible as well in this. The art of conversation, especially with people you have just met, dictates that you give and take. That you ask questions as often as you express an opinion or tell a story. But setting that aside, does the world find people who interrupt, and talk over, to be more interesting or engaging somehow than those that do not?

If so, I don't know if I could ever adjust to doing something to others that I hate being done to me. (This is perhaps why I much prefer written communication.)

Nonetheless, what do you think? Do people like me need to become comfortable with talking over, or cutting off people, or finishing their thoughts in order to make more of an impression during a conversation?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why "In Real Life" is a Convenient Fallacy for the Cold and Lazy. (A Featured Post on Brazen Careerist)

I read this post today over at Comma N' Sentence about excessive online openness and the subsequent superficiality it tends to attract. Laryssa is certainly not the first person to address this issue, (and oddly, several of my online colleagues have of late started to adopt very similar views over the last two months), but she does express it in quite an illustrative, if plain manner in this post.

Her post addresses the angle from the heads side of the coin, if you will. I won't rehash what she said here. Read her post.

And when you have read it, consider my approach to this issue on the tails side of the same coin. Instead of addressing the fear of commitment, I want to talk about the ease of insensitivity and rudeness.

Since my very first days on the internet, I have been of the mind that online communication ought to consist of just as much decency, respect, and effort as that in which we partake offline. In other words, if you wouldn't cross a busy highway, scour a store, and seek out the stranger with a certain bumper sticker just so you could say, "fuck you" to their face, don't do it online. Or if instead of staring blankly and walking away, you would do your best in "real life" to answer someone that politely asked you for assistance at a grocery store, do so online. If your "friends" can count on you to give them a minute in person when they ask for it, have the spine to give it to them online when they ask for it by actually returning texts and emails promptly for a change.

I have been consistently shot down, flammed, trolled, and attacked for expecting such behavior. Dating sites, message boards, chat rooms, emails, Facebook, comments, etc. I am told, ("told" is putting it lightly) "don't expect the same treatment online as in 'real life' when you talk to people. It's obviously different."

And this is the problem.

We get a text. An email. A Facebook message. And despite declarations that all of these technologies can bring us all closer together and make the world smaller, the first advantage we take of such things is generally to ignore them. We don't have the time or energy right now. With zero effort we can opt to pay no attention to a co-worker's question, a family member's complaint, or a friend's cries for help. "Just turn off a machine and that drama is gone" I heard one person say. Not that you even have to turn off the machine anymore...

We generally try to avoid drama and unpleasantness everywhere, of course. But the standards that define "drama" and the other things with which we don't wish to deal are skewed in the social media age. Our tolerance for interaction that isn't instantly gratifying has gone way down. Many of us have no problem clicking off a cell phone that wakes us up before we are ready. "I'll deal with that shit later," we say once we check the sender of the text message. Yet how many of you would, if a friend showed up at your door in distress at 2 in the morning actually close the door on their face, roll back into bed and say, "I'm so not into that drama right now"?

Like Laryssa says, the days of calling a land line or writing a letter required effort. But those days also required some effort and a sense of discomfort if we wanted to blow people off. (At least it did for people who are worth a damn.) But these days, even otherwise "decent" people can just punch a button and decide they are not in the mood to be polite to you. It has become ingrained into our subconscious that to ignore someone who is texting, calling or emailing us is acceptable, even among people who wouldn't think of  just ignoring someone that approached them in person and began to speak, for whatever reasons.

80% of my friends are notorious for this shit, actually. There are people who have not returned a my messages in two years. Years. People that have never, since having my phone number, actually called me back. They are "busy" or their "life is hectic".

And mine isn't?

When people are trying to reach out to us for something, in a sane, respectable manner, we should respond. Especially if they don't do so very often, like me. People, after all, are what we ought to be investing most of our time in. And it is, ironically, people that are easiest to blow off in the emerging world of social media ubiquity.