Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why I Don't Love Fiction

For years I've turned up my nose at reading fiction, defending my distaste on the premise that a memoir or biography offers better insight into a past era or foreign place. Yet that really isn't an accurate statement: there are plenty of fictional books that invent characters and stories but take place in a historically accurate era or offer an window into a foreign culture. Nonetheless, I still leaned on that excuse whenever refusing to read fiction simply because I still couldn't really articulate why I held that preference.

The last book I read, The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure is a memoir about the author's exploration of the places featured in The Little House on the Prairie book series. Although there are some small tidbits about the Prairie lifestyle in the late 19th century, the book really focuses on the writer's personal journey and her childhood passion for the books.

Even though I felt no connection to the places or projects the writer completed along the way (I never read the books or watched the TV series), when she closes her book, reflecting on why this journey meant so much to her, it hit close to home and brought me to tears.

As I silently sobbed (mind you this occurred as I was riding a crowded train to work), I finally began to understand why I prefer non-fiction to fiction. And it actually had nothing to do with my prior excuse of history or foreign cultures...

I kept a steady diary from the age of eight on. On nights when I was craving a bit of nostalgia, I'd flip back through the entries from years past and let myself slip back into the euphoria, sorrows or excitement of my own life. When reading the pages full of heartache, my eyes would well up with tears, remembering those feelings of disappointment. Even though those moments had come and gone, knowing that they were real, and understanding that pain made it permissible - at least in my opinion - to let the emotion run free.

I feel the same way when reading anything non-fiction. I'm able to justify my tears and happiness as true empathy for what really happened, but I just can't allow myself the same freedom when reading a fictitious story - no matter how historically accurate. When I know that the story isn't true, I distance myself and dismiss the validity of my own and the character's emotions since it's only pretense.

What I love about reading is how intimate the relationship is with the characters and the author: you're alone with the words and plot, experiencing more of the story and someone's life as you turn each page. And when that story is true, either a personal account or a biography, that relationship is even deeper. And suddenly, reading those emotions and experiences are as personal as if I were rereading my own diary.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Something Again

I’ve been really bad at updating my blog in recent months. I could blame this absence on a litany of excuses - 
  • Long work hours
  • Weekend travel plans
  • Non-profit commitments
  • Actually loving my job
  • Spending more time with people rather than my laptop keyboard…

But the truth is that I’ve had a hard time defining what my blog is about. I’ve had this URL for over two years now, and while it seems to focus primarily on career, I find it more challenging to motivate myself to write when I feel so pigeonholed. 

When I first reinvigorated my blog at the beginning of this year, I was steadfast in streamlining my content to one topic. I came to this conclusion after reading scores of industry leaders in PR, journalism, Internet marketing, etc. reiterate the value in consistency in order to gain readership.

In addition to the top-down advice, I also work with a ton of successful bloggers and am endlessly impressed with how frequent they post relevant content for a niche audience: Mommy bloggers share heartwarming stories and lessons learned about raising children; food bloggers set your taste buds aflame with gooey recipes and savory images; travel bloggers make me fiercely jealous and add 5-10 new cities to my wish list; fashion bloggers give me false hope that I can pull off those trendy looks and actually learn how to braid my hair into a fishtail; and so on, and so on.

So I gave it a whirl. I decided that my niche audience would be the hopeless young professional seeking solace in the similar experiences of another Gen Y/Millennial/Gen Always-On/Gen Whatever-we-are-called-these-days. I kept trying to tie everything back to some great meaning, doing my due-diligence, weaving in current events and always attempting to sound like an authority on being young.

But there were a couple of kinks in my tactics: I got bored always trying to write about my professional life and mostly, I am no expert on career or the "right" way to be young.

I love writing and blogging, but I was starting to get stressed about my self-imposed deadlines, and I felt the quality of my content was slipping. I write my favorite posts when I share what irks, inspires, enthuses or compels me - not what drives SEO.

In some ways, I’ve surrendered the hope that one day my blog will surpass 500 unique views per month. But then again, books like Wendy McClure’s memoir, The Wilder Life -- a book about her personal obsession and exploration of the history behind The Little House of the Prairie series (of which I know nothing) -- give me hope that good writing can conceal even the most simple of stories. (Only to say that I have little knowledge or interest in the book series, but McClure’s writing is addicting.)

I think the most challenging part of blogging for me is that I am practitioner of much; expert of none. I know that the key to a successful blog is to publish useful, evergreen topics, but I have to be honest: I started blogging because I love writing, and not because I expected to turn profits. 

And so, perhaps this will be just another sporadic post on my page, and I'll return in future months with additional "insight" on why I didn't post more. But, at least for today, it feels so good to just write something again.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In the Mood for the Era of Today

A friend of mine has upon several occasions posed the question, "If you could live it any other era, which would you choose?" At first, I thought I'd love to have lived during the 1930s-1940s, drawn to the feeling of sacrifice and unity endemic to the 'greatest generation,' the feminine and classic fashion, plus the ubiquitous swing music.

But despite the draws of music, fashion, and attitudes from yesteryear, women of that era were hardly encouraged or empowered the way women of today are. I'm far too opinionated and outspoken to have fit in with previous generations, and the thought of constantly discussing menus for parties or design ideas for place settings sounds drab and stale.

I do love cooking, baking and putting together a good spread for friends to enjoy, but it's only a small piece of me. And in fact, I'd much prefer eating a bland meal over an engaging conversation of world history or political debate than a delicious meal where conversation focuses solely on how tasty the food is and remarking over the beautiful place settings.

I don't have just one calling, and my self worth certainly isn't tied only to my recipe book. I find more joy in a Saturday morning batting practice with my boyfriend, than in friends complimenting my dinner; I feel more pride in recognition of my work or my blog, than being told my apartment looks like a page torn from a magazine; and I feel most fulfilled in securing sponsorship for a fundraiser than in scouring Pinterest for a new tablecloth to match a painting. 

There certainly is time in my life for the latter named activities, but I'm so glad that today that is not how my merit is judged - even if that means I find few opportunities for swing dancing.

In The Mood by The Glenn Miller Orchestra on Grooveshark

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rain Drops Keep Fallin on My Head

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by B.J. Thomas on Grooveshark

Two nights ago I exited the bus a few blocks prior to my stop and opted to walk in the rain. I hadn't eaten a bite since breakfast, and my hunger pangs had given way to nausea as the bus jerked along San Francisco's clumsy streets. Though I had an umbrella en tow, I let the cold rain dribble down my cheeks and coat my frizzy curls.

Lately I'd lamented the belated winter rains, but that night, the moisture and damp air was soothing after a long day.

I tried to pull my thoughts away from earlier events: eyeing the cozy storefront of a used book store or listening to the din of wind chimes dangling from the awning of a sparsely filled Thai restaurant, but nothing could distract me from the clutter of earlier.

I love words, but that night, every configuration I stirred in my mind seemed flawed. So even after I passed my street, I kept walking and let the falling rain continue to drum against my head. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Winning the Big One

Ever since the lottery started encroaching on $300 million last week, I was steadfast in refusing to buy in. My reasoning was two-fold:
  • I didn’t believe I had any chance of winning
  • I didn’t want to win that much money
But as winners were yet to be drawn, the total grew and the excitement everywhere was undeniable. And so, I caved and decided to join history. Yesterday, I joined many of my co-workers in pulling together fives and tens to improve our chances of winning. As we walked to purchase our 325 tickets on behalf of the entire office, we joked how empty the entire office would be come Monday when we had all become overnight millionaires. (But, surprisingly, we did not win.)

Of course winning an unfathomable sum of money would be incredible. To never have to worry about making rent, no tussling over a car insurance payment, being able to take that dream trip and work only for your passions… But I don’t really want my life to be that easy.

With co-workers buying tickets on Friday

There’s something romantic about the challenge and the feeling of wanting something so badly and working toward it. If scheduling a trip to Europe becomes as simple as scheduling a date with friends, what value does it hold? My six months in Spain will forever be some of my most treasured memories because of the unique experiences I held there.

Here is what I would do if I had won:
  • Donate money toward public education
  • Donate money to Opportunity International
  • Toss a large chunk into a bank account to let it collect interest
  • Take a year to travel through South America and write
  • Master French
  • Keep working
On another separate but related tangent, I’m incredibly irked by the number of Americans willing to throw down a few to a few thousand dollars toward a chance to win big, yet how many are unwilling to do the same to support the social program (i.e. education) or pay their rightfully owed taxes.

And now that the several winners have been announced, let’s hope the split winnings not only improve their lives but also that of many others.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Winding Road for 20-somethings

A couple weeks ago, I joined my boyfriend’s family for a rainy weekend in Carmel to celebrate his mom’s birthday (two photos below). While out to lunch with his mom and sister, I expressed that I found my 20s to be incredibly more confusing than my college and teen years.

So far, my young adult years have felt much like trying to hack through an overgrown forest. While I might be improving at the method of dicing through thick vines and brush, I'm still not sure if I'm always going the right way, but it's almost even more frightening to contemplate turning around. Even now, finally in my career of choice and building up, I’m still torn on whether or not I’m spending my youth wisely.

Many career experts smartly advise 20-somethings to save diligently, store away cash in 401Ks and travel when your nest egg is stabilized. On the other hand, there are the countless blogs and articles written by former corporate execs or employees that have gone rogue and chosen a nomadic life or travel and freedom. Each one shares the pains of mourning the loss of their youth, spent pent up in a cubicle, churning along just to get ahead.

I have to admit, the appeal of growing my savings account is equaled by the appeal of filling my passport. It's hard to know which I should pursue more now, and which I put off for my 30s.

I know, I know… a rubric or road map for life just doesn’t exist. Life isn’t like school where answers are right or wrong. But I do want to end up somewhere, and I worry that without a define path, I’ll end up nowhere. Yet if I only barrel forward with my head down, I’ll wake up at 30 and wonder where my 20s went.

 “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” 
– Lewis Carroll

Our cottage in Carmel for the weekend!

View out from Mission Ranch

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Women Can Be Cannibalistic

Recently, a friend of mine came to me expressing frustration for another woman in her office. The second party consistently writes blistering emails that condemn teammates, shirks responsibility to evade culpability and casts blame - but only against female colleagues. 

For my friend, an honest and supportive team player, the behavior is disheartening, frustrating and tiring. As she described the situation, it reminded me of a quote my boyfriend's mom once shared explaining women - 

"There are two kinds of women: those that are for you, and those that are against you."

For years I struggled to understand why certain close friends would suddenly whisper behind my back if I earned recognition yet keep close if they had bested me; why I was hacked off from the party list and offered a lame excuse from a 'best' friendor why a bully in elementary school contrived to turn me into a 'playground pariah' seemingly on a whim. I always held on to the hope that juvenile jealousies and taunting would cease once I was an adult, but, alas, today I still encounter women like this at work and in my personal life.

I wish I could claim that I've never muttered a mean word about another woman. Of that I am guilty. Yet I wouldn't hardly classify myself as an 'against you' woman. I do genuinely feel excited about my friends' success and feel honored when asked to help another woman in career or personal pursuits. 

There are, however, some women who habitually strive to put others down and claw at other women who earn success. For years I thought it would fade as we all matured, but it wasn't until my boyfriend's mom share the aforementioned quote that it finally clicked: some women will always try to tear down others to try to bring themselves up.

Photo credit: U.K. Daily News and appearing
in  February 2011 Technorati article
Competitive job environments seem to amplify the existence of the 'against you' type women. I once worked with an 'against you' type who began her attack my first day on the job. Despite the fact that we were not in any form of competition, she contorted all interactions into a head-to-head competition and rejected any input or feedback from me or others she felt were her 'competition.' Maintaining tact in these engagements grew increasingly difficult, and our relationship was highly strained. It was with great relief when she was no longer a colleague.

I do want to point out that a stern and demanding woman is not an 'against you' type. For a sensitive soul, it might at times feel like an attack, but it's quite the opposite: a woman that challenges others is a woman striving to help the others succeed.

Of course there also are men who lurk behind the scenes attempting to maliciously destroy another's career, but petty personal attacks and conniving against each other seems more prevalent among the 'fairer sex.' For whatever reason, 'against you' women indulge in cannibalistic tendencies, attempting to kill and feed on other women's success.

Analysts and experts discuss the presence of a "glass ceiling" in the workforce. I wonder, would it be so thick if women didn't try to push each other out of the way to reach it?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Your Best Self: Home or at Work?

Last month I read an article that said the ability to make and keep plans as a young professional vs. a college student is among key differences between the two stages of life. Conflicts with work, stress and exhaustion infringe on the ability to make the weekly game night or catch up over dinner.

Not only does work life conflict with plans with friends, but often times it also influences relationships with loved ones.

While in the office, we behave ‘professional’ for the sake of our job, employing tact in all circumstances regardless of stress or frustration. Being 'professional' allows no room for for those that struggle to accept criticism, defensiveness, the overly emotional, etc. So while at work, we cast aside any personal angst, put our heads down and smile through the stress. 

However, once home, the release of stress doesn’t always emerge so tactfully and can strain relationships. Like a tea kettle, we allow the stress to continue to build within us until finally we hit the breaking point and succumb to a fiery rage or break down into a puddle of tears.

We are so adept at taking work home – literally and figuratively – yet still struggle to apply that same tact to the relationships that matter most. To some degree I wonder, why do we save our best selves for the office, but then also, why does it seem impossible to be our best selves always?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood

Late Saturday night, after a few beers, glasses of wines and some champagne, my boyfriend and I, his sister and her new fiance dabbled in some couples trivia pulled from the Do You Know Your Groom and Do You Know Your Bride set. Both books pose questions testing couples on knowledge of their counterpart's fears, loves and habits. I was proud of how accurately my boyfriend and I were able to answer about each other, though one of his answers for me surprised me:

The question - What is she most afraid of?
His answer - Growing old.

I don't remember the full range of options listed, but at first I contested, saying that wasn't my greatest fear. Yet he quickly reminded me of how hard I sob at movies that touch on growing up, find myself stressed with the idea of getting another year older and frequently fret about not having enough time to do everything. Perhaps it is true.

Yesterday, songwriter Robert Sherman passed away. As I listened to the report on NPR this morning highlighting his roster of work, including Disney's The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I began to mist up thinking about how much I'd love those songs as a kid. 

When the theme song to Winnie the Pooh played, my lip trembled and I flashed back to memories of slipping into my parent's room late at night, tugging at my mom's nightgown and saying I couldn't sleep. Reluctantly, she'd pull herself from bed, tote me downstairs and put in our VHS tape of Winnie the Pooh. Though it was the same tape, it never ceased to entertain me and slowly lull me to sleep. 

I don't know if I'm afraid of growing old as much as I am afraid of losing the time to dream and achieve. As a kid, I always dreamed of the future, and I think it's that warm feeling of hope that's deeply woven in childhood that I worry about losing. I still want to belong to that hopeful crowd that gets to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I'm getting close to my 25th birthday - the age I'd arbitrarily assigned to "officially" being an adult. I have faint laugh lines forming around my eyes and a slight line on my forehead from my habit of furrowing my brow. I don't want to erase any lines - I just don't want to stop dreaming.

Winnie The Pooh by Disney on Grooveshark

Monday, March 5, 2012

The House that Built Me

The House that Built Me (Acoustic Version) by Miranda Lambert on Grooveshark

I just booked a flight home for a full week in July. I'm overwhelmed with excitement to have a full seven days in my hometown. At my parent's house. In my childhood room. In my bed. Save for two trips at Christmas, this is the first time in four years that I'll be home for more than a couple of nights.

My enthusiasm for being home in the quiet rolling hills of Lancaster County is ironic. As a teenager, I lamented the place, dismissed the tranquil lifestyle and of the comforts of childhood and pined away for adventure in California. 

For every broken heart or tortured teenage moment, California always seemed like the answer. I was enchanted with the idea of going far away where no one knew my name. And now, there's no more intoxicating thought than that of returning to the place where everyone knows your name

Moving far away is an exciting adventure and just seems so romantic. It's a challenge to discover yourself in a new corner of the world, build a life and settle in. And while I love life in San Francisco and am flattered that it's accepted me in its sprawl of chic architecture, fashion, literature and history, in this moment, I can't imagine a better trip than one back home.

(It's not just my nostalgia that makes Lancaster wonderful - It was recently ranked No. 1 Mid-size city in Gallop Healthways' Well-being Index.)

Gallop Healthways Well-being Index - Lancaster, Penn. 

"You leave home. You move on, and you do the best you can."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Age of Hindsight (Part II)

When my parents purchased our little “farm-et” in the 80s, they knewthey wanted to fill its barn with horses. My dad grew up with significantacreage where quarter horses, Tennessee Walkers, an American Saddlebred and a pony roamed free, constrained onlyby a by a fence that rimmed the perimeter of the property and cattleguards that stretched across the driveway entrance. While my dad wasliterally surrounded by horses, my mom grew up in the suburbs with a yard barelylarge enough for a dog to roam. It was only in her dreams and the occasionalriding lessons that she was united with horses.

And so, when they bought their own seven acres in the country, itwas my mom’s long repressed childhood desire coupled with my dad’s familiaritythat led to the eventual purchase of their own ponies and horses for our stalls.I even had my own pony, Dusty, a stubborn and pudgy Shetland thatdid her best to kick, bite and puff up her belly while saddling her up – anythingto prevent the inevitable chore of exercise.

With Dusty, 1997 (age 10)
At first, I shared my mom’s passion for riding. In the fall, after thecorn stalks had been cut and fields were left barren for the season, we’d venture out into the corn field behind our property, galloping in circles, racing andparading about.

But as I got older, my interest waned and I picked up other hobbies. Andthen, one day, while again riding in the corn field, Dusty took off in a fullsprint, ignoring my every attempt to slow her. While we’d galloped across thisfield many times, I had always been in control. But this time, Dusty wouldn’tstop. The primary rule of riding horses is to never let them know you’rescared, but with Dusty racing on, I couldn’t stop the fear or the tearsfrom coming. By the time my mom and her pony caught up, I begged to end the ride for the day.

Years later, I got back in the saddle to ride the family Quarter Horse,Risa with my sister and her new Breeding Stock Paint. Despite a few years of not riding, I quickly settled back in to the cadence of moving in sync with a horse. Before long, my sister and I were racing each other around the pasture,each time nearly clipping each other as we bounded around corners neck and neck.We were about to call it a day, but decided to race just once more beforeretiring.
My sister on Duchess, Dad on Jazz (Breeding Stock Paint)

As Risa and I sprinted across the final stretch, Iheard my sister call for help from behind. I turned to see her riding parallel tothe ground, her saddle slipped off to the side. The loose girth strapsent her horse into a frenzy, kicking and rearing as my sister worked to freeher feet. When she finally broke loose, she collapsed onto the ground, snappingher wrist and narrowly escaping the horse’s hooves.

I was busy with other hobbies and activities so I didn't have much idle time, but the two frightening experiences did deter me from riding. The rest of my family, however, continued to ride until they eventually sold allthe horses when my sister left for college. I didn’t think much of the horsesleaving our pastures, and I wasn’t even too jarred to learn that Dusty (the stubborn Shetland) had passed away just a few months after moving to a new home.

But for Christmas this year, my boyfriend purchased a Five Brooks Stables trail ride for us. At first I dismissed the outing as an afternoon sitting on lethargic and overfed horses as they ambled along in tethered circles or walked along well beaten path. It was his first time on a horse, and I was surprised to feel the excitement welling up within me as I guided him around the paddock, instructing him on how to move behind horses, how to read their body language and identifying the different breeds.

My boyfriend Jeff at Five Brooks Stables
Surprisingly, our guide was more liberal with the pace than expected, even allowing us to break out in a canter a few times. It wasn't the free range galloping I'd had access to as a kid, but it was just enough to awaken the passion I'd once had as a little girl.

Earlier, I posted the first part of "The Age of Hindsight," sharing my anguish for not having taking advantage of access to golf lessons as a child. Here again, as an adult, I'm remorseful that I only now appreciate horseback riding when it's an expensive novelty. Now that I have the freedom to make my own choices, I ironically am circling back to the same activities my parents had placed at my fingertips as a little girl.

Perhaps it's consequence of maturity or the lack of daily access, but finally, years later, my fears have subsided and I can't wait to get back on the horse again.

Back in the Saddle by Aerosmith on Grooveshark

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Silence is Golden, Outgoing is Platinum

Last month, Forbes published an article on author Susan Cain's new bookQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The book studies the evolution of American business from a culture of quiet integrity to a "culture of personality," noting that personality (heavily focused on how much of an introvert or extrovert a person is) plays a pivotal role in shaping a person's life and career threshold.

Cain contends that since the terms introvert and extrovert were coined in the 1920s, the American business culture has morphed into a paradise for extroverts, favoring the loud and outspoken personalities over the more silent and reserved ones. While it's led to more charismatic leadership personalities, she says that stacking a company with extroverts doesn't necessarily yield better results.

I can't contest this theory since I haven't read any studies that inspect the performance of an office that balances the two personality types vs. an office that favors just one, however, it makes sense why an extrovert personality would prevail over an introvert one.

One of the biggest components for business success is the ability to develop relationships with other people. While being an introvert by no means makes someone socially inept, someone with an outgoing personality is typically more skilled at striking up conversations that foster deeper business relationships at a faster rate.

Taking a step back from actual business application, a bubbly personality during an interview makes the interview run much more fluidly and can resonate much deeper with the interviewers. In an economy like today's where there are more qualified candidates than jobs, how well the candidate's personality meshes with the hiring team's is a deciding factor in determining which candidate gets the job.

Even before earning an interview, the ability to network is paramount. Not being afraid to say hello to someone - whether it be in person or via LinkedIn or Twitter - is a great way to get a foot in the door and your resume to the top of the stack. It's always easier to get in at a company when you know someone. And for those unafraid to find a way to get to know someone, there will be many more interviewing opportunities.

For example, I recently attended a networking event where everyone was asked to stand up and introduce themselves. One girl stood, said she was still job hunting, but then later on spent the entire night huddled in a corner with the friend she came with. Perhaps she is working hard at submitting applications, but she's walking during the most important laps of the race: meeting people and building connections.

When I first graduated, I didn't get it. I networked, but not with the fervor and focus I had to apply in 2011. I moved twice in that year, and it was only because I wasn't afraid to meet new people, ask questions, have conversations, let people get to know me that I was able to secure a job both times. I didn't have any preexisting connections - I made my own.

Cain's book purports that silence is golden, and that maybe that is true. But if silence is golden, then loquaciousness must be platinum, because silence certainly didn't get me to where I am today.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Fasnacht Day!

(Photo courtesy of a Facebook friend - Kristin Herr Shearer)

Two years ago, I partnered up with my cousin to start a joint food blog. The project tapered off as the excitement passed, I engulfed myself with my personal blog and we both pursued diverging paths for love. Anyway, one of my measly two posts was dedicated to a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that I mourn each year: Fasnacht Day. 

Fasnacht Day is the day preceding Ash Wednesday when Pennsylvanians enjoy a flaky, powdery donut filled with molasses. Sadly, this tradition never ventured west and most Californians are unfamiliar with both the word and the tradition. For years, the Fasnacht was my "go-to" for one last hurrah before a long period of intense chocolate cravings and lustful stares at desserts. These days, I'm still scrounging to find an West Coast variation worthy of taking its place. 

(You can read my post on Fasnacht here.) 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Age of Hindsight (Part I)

There’s something about coming of age that finally makes you recognizethe value of opportunities you took for granted as a child. It is only when wereach adulthood, with time stretched thin and consumed with responsibility thatwe can look back at the offerings from our youth and truly appreciate them. Finally, when we are forced to front the bill, our experiences glean their merited zeal.

I find the most common example of this to be the lamentation of youngadults for having resisted playing golf as a child. For some reason, walking for hoursalong a primly cared lawn and struggling to propel a stationary ball forward witha lanky club just doesn't appeal to kids the same way as football or soccer...

My parents would always try to convince my to take a lesson or join my dad for a round, but I'd reject the offering. While they did enforce some obligatory lessons and rounds, once I'd checked off the minimum requirement, I put off the chore of playing for another year. I always relied on the reasoning that I'd have to time to play golf later. I was just a kid, and the idea that I'd need it for business one day seemed so far away.

Just a few months after graduating college and starting my first job, a golfouting was set up for the executives and the new hires. It was a unique opportunity to pass several hours chatting and networking with senior leaders, but it came attached to the perilous task of doing so over golf. I was thankful to at least be able to whack the ball onto the fairway and for managing to hide my frustrations when I needed four strokes to sink a putt, but afterwards, I couldn't believe I'd spent years passing up lessons for another round of Sharks and Minnows at the pool. My convenient excuse that I still had time had long since expired.

It’s a shame our maturity doesn't work in reverse – beginning first witha keen sense of understanding andrespect that slowly trickles down as we age to where we only need to preoccupy ourselves with carefree indulgence. Should we be equipped with the skill ofanalyzing unique opportunities or knowing to heed our parent's advice, I’m confidentI’d not only be a great golfer, but I’d likely have avoided some frivolous miscalculationsof my formative years.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Early Bird vs. The Night Owl

The movie Little Women debuted in theaters when I was still in elementary school, but even at seven years old, one line from the movie resonated with me as much then as it does now.

In one scene, late at night, Joe March hunches over a writing table, only the soft glow of a candle illuminating the pages as she scribbles away. Joe explains,

“Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.”

I always had trouble sleeping as a kid. While I had ample time during the day to record the stories and words that danced in my head, it wasn’t until I was tucked in at night that the best lines would emerge. Restless, I’d lay in bed with a journal hidden under my pillow, waiting for my parents to extinguish the lights and retreat to bed to cue my nightly writing expedition.

I’d click on a  lamp in my room and let the words pour out from my pen. On a few occasions, I’d try to resist the calling and focus on falling to sleep, always promising myself that I’d jot down that thought first thing the following morning. But every time, I’d struggle to sleep, and by the time I’d awake from my fitful rest, the ideas and words had long since flown away.

These days, as an adult, I’m a chronic early bird. Even on the weekends, I can’t sneak past 7 a.m. before my mind blasts awake. Even if I try to rekindle my dreams, my mind stays alert and begins to digest my to-do list for the day, or I’m taunted by the book on my nightstand, it demanding my attention.

As wonderful as it feels to lounge in bed all day, I find myself fraught with remorse for having wasted my day. And even though at times I lament the lack of sleep, there’s also something so intoxicating about waking up early. Having those few moments to yourself, all alone, makes me feel as though I’m cheating the system – somehow squeezing out extra hours as the earth spins toward another sunset.

As an early riser, it would make sense that I would retire to bed early. And though I try, I’m rarely successful. It’s only late at night, literally in the eleventh hour, that my mind begins to fill with words. It’s not that I don’t find inspiration to write during the day, but it’s always just as I’ve turned down the covers and reflected on my day that words will inundate my mind.

As much as my busy-body adult ways have driven me to rise before the sun, the creative bursts of my childhood still seem to lurk only deep in the shadows of the night. It makes for an exhausting week, but for a delicious nighttime indulgence. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In the Forest of Youth

Today Facebook announced its $5 BILLION IPO - possibly the largest IPO in US history. 

(As I read the stories, I couldn't help but picture CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg sitting in a chic conference room, surrounded by his highest ranking "kronnies" announcing that the IPO would be $5 billion as he coyly raised his pinkie finger to his lip...)

Within seconds of the news breaking, the banter around the cubes escalated. Most of my flanking cube neighbors, still shy of reaching 30, were mesmerized by the affluence Zuckerberg already achieved at about our same age. Wikipedia (ok, not the most reliable source - but convenient!) estimates his net worth to be over $17 million - money I doubt I will see at age 77, let alone 27. Begrudgingly recognizing we'd likely never see this kind of money, we consoled ourselves speculating that Zuckerberg probably works triple our hours and receives excessive amounts of hate mail. 

"How miserable," we concluded. 

It must be exciting to strike it rich so young and doing so by your own creation. It's rare that young people attain such lofty incomes, most of us take more time to grow our savings. In many ways, building your career and your finances is a lot like trees growing in an already thick forest, while entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg sprout up exponentially fast - like the beanstalk in "Jack & the Beanstalk" - for the rest of us, we're in forest, overcrowded and cramped. It's only those that are able to adapt, twist and turn that finally reach the sunlight. Along the way, we face brutal casualties - storms, fires, droughts - but that's what makes us trees so interesting as we grow. 

I'm not a beanstalk, but I'm not sure I'd want to be. (But that's not to say I'd ever turn away an influx of cash!) There's something exciting about the growth and the challenge. As difficult as 2011 was - moving twice without a job ahead and in a dismal economy - now that I can look back, it feels pretty good. It proves to me that I've got some fight, and I'm not afraid to twist in a direction for a chance in the sun.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What's in a Degree?

I've written a lot about the grieving process of "life after college," lusting over a daily routine that once encompassed studying, lectures and research. Despite multiple postings on this topic, I've never examined the value of a college degree. Saturday, the Washington Post and Bloomberg jointly published a column examining the purpose of a four-year degree and asking the question, is the intent of college professional development or personal growth?

Studies have shown that on average, college graduates earn a least a million dollars more in their lifetime. And despite protest and even recent government intents to make education more affordable, the average tuition in 2010 was $17,464. After four years, students emerge with a bill of nearly $70,000. My dad has often wondered if investing tuition money into the stock market and relying on internships or apprenticeships for career training would end up paying higher dividends in the end. And if it does, then why college?

This raises an interesting question on education: Should education provide an implicit fiscal ROI or is the value found in personal and intellectual improvement? (And if the answer is fiscal, should students call on an alma mater for a reimbursement if a career falls flat?)

I'd like to think my own college experience was a hybrid. With support from my advisor, I was able to tackle three degrees in four years - Spanish, public relations and international studies. I've successfully applied my public relations degree, but my Spanish and international studies courses have yet to yield a direct professional application. 

Perhaps one day I'll find a position that's my perfect "trifecta," but even without a current business application, I wouldn't discount the experiences I gained through through these majors. My semester abroad is still a treasured experience and helped to mold my independence, global awareness, political views and my appreciation of art and history. I don't think I need to defend the value for learning any language, but mastering grammar of a foreign language really tuned up my native one.

But then, yet again, there's the financial question: what if I'd passed up college all together, moved to another country, interned and worked my way through those four years. Would I have the same career opportunities today? Would I be further along? 

Although it's impossible to truly measure the value of petty college experiences, I found my college years to be valuable in exploring and forming career ambitions as well as learning about who I was. Outside of the term papers and exams, I learned a lot from social experiences and involvement in a variety of teams and clubs. I'm not sure I'd have as strong an understanding on who I am today had I not endured those activities.

If one day they develop a method for predicting which direction yields better financial outcomes, even if it's contrary to the college path, I don't know if I would be willing to sacrifice that period of personal growth. Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm retiring at age 70 (and wish to cash in on those precious moments), but for now, I wouldn't trade it - no matter the ROI.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Witch Hunt & A Broken Heart

November revealed some jarring news: a sex scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky riveted the university, the State College community, the sports world and Penn State alumni everywhere. Not only was the news of the scandal horrifying, but soon after the story broke, the media launched a crusade against Penn State's iconic coach, Joe Paterno. 

On the opposite side of the country, I was helplessly glued to news stories, reports and interviews, and my jaw dropped as the allegations against Paterno mounted. I cried listening to "experts" rally against Paterno for his "latent" response to the situation and my heart broke when I watched the board of trustees shamelessly announce his dismissal. To everyone around me, I fiercely defended him, even igniting debates on my Facebook wall.

To anyone outside of the Penn State community, crying over Joe Paterno's dismissal could seem dramatic. However, this is a man who donated millions to the university, was a community leader, a living legend and one of the few remaining big-time football coaches that still emphasized values and education to his players. 

"’They asked me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. 
I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, 
not that I was a good football coach." - Joe Paterno

As soon as the story broke, the media clenched their teeth into the juiciest angle possible: a celebrity coach, a legend, a man who has built his football empire on the motto "Success with Honor," played a sliver in the grapevine of reporting the allegations. But this mere sub-link was enough to crucify him and to boost those ratings. Sudden Paterno, a man always revered for his good, was suddenly portrayed as villainous - all to make the story richer. The media stripped him of his glory, his honor, his dignity. So heavy was the media focus on Paterno that I even had friends and co-workers ask me what I thought about "the Paterno sex scandal." Everyone could have done more, but such wisdom is truly the "benefit of hindsight."

"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

After over 60 years of service, the board of trustees callously dismissed him based on the volume of negative media attention alone. And just months later, Paterno passed away. Though he battled cancer in those final months, I believe that the once spry 85-year-old died of a broken heart. 

Only in the wake of his death did media change tune. Suddenly Paterno was immortalized as the great man he truly is - a far cry from the scathing commentary published just months earlier. 

Rumors have always circulated that Beaver Stadium's field would one day be name Joe Paterno field. After all he endured at the end of his life, I hope the university will bestow him that honor.

I leave you with this: a fantastic Huffington Post article, "The Final Judgement of Joe Paterno," published earlier this week. 

Joe, you did make Penn State a better place, and I am so honored to have been a student during your tenure. 

Impatience and Blame: American Politics

I’m the black sheep in my family when it comes to politics. Although nearly my entire life I was indoctrinated to share their views, when I finally reached voting age, my beliefs had shifted. Because I don’t share the same views as my parents, they routinely send me political email forwards that support their own view point. I can’t blame them for trying, but I never find myself swayed by these attempts.

All family political duress aside, I have a couple points of contention with the political conversation in the United States:

  • The Blame Game: If you review the policies enacted under past cabinets of both political affiliations, no single party eclipses the other in fault for leading to the dismal economic reality we endure today. Both sides like to point the finger and sensationalize the misconduct of the opposing party, but our current economy is the result of a crescendo of misguided foreign relations, irresponsible housing loans, war, growing national debt and a myriad of other variables. Rather than casting blame, I'd rather just hear solutions.
  • Impatience: It feels like the economy crumbled overnight, but it was a long time in the making. As I noted above, a series of events over several years led us to where we are today. If it took arguably at least a decade to make this mess (and making a mess is always the easier half), how could we possibly fix it in just three years? This is complicated. It's going to take some time.
This week, these frustrations surfaced when my parents emailed me this "article" - an email forward circulating the Internet. In the article, the author, Dr. Walter Williams highlights obvious and prevailing economic challenges and attributes them entirely to the Obama administration. However, Williams' continues on to say that Obama will win re-election because “the American people are notoriously ignorant of economics.” 

I don't think the main ignorance here is economics. It's understanding that layers of legislation, policies and foreign relations over time will yield economic repercussions - good or bad. Williams' provides a few shortcomings of the current administration, however these points fall short in both merit and analysis:
  • A Weakening Dollar: While living in Spain in early 2008 (pre-recession), the dollar to Euro exchange rate was around 1.8, and the US dollar was weaker than the Canadian. As I write this, the current dollar to Euro exchange rate is 1.3 and the US dollar has edged out the Canadian.
  • War: The war began in 2003, so why does Williams' regress to an issue that was initiated by his own party to decry the current administration? This just seems hypocritical.
  • Rising Gas Prices: Gas prices has been on the rise for years. Compared to the rest of the world, we have a bargain. (And let me remind Dr. Williams of the basic econ concept called supply and demand. When demand is high, prices go up.) 
What really irks me about commentary like this is that it perpetuates the practice of mudslinging - already pervasive in politics - and doesn't improve "ignorance" in America. The issues he points out have been prevailing for years. But rather than providing context, reviewing our decisions that led us here today, Williams' falls back onto comfortable ground and only reiterates the rumblings he's probably heard around the water cooler.

The United States is a world power, and I'd wager that we didn't arrive here by pointing a finger at our neighbors when things went wrong. So why do we allow campaigns to thrive on that practice, and then further perpetuate it by publishing independent commentary doing the same thing? Williams' article seems like an attempt to naively join in on the picketing, yet without a full understanding of the situation. I dismissed this articles just as another "Brick Tamland" shouting, "LOUD NOISES," in Anchorman. The sad thing is, this is far from an isolated example.

Also, as an aside and unrelated to politics, Williams' further exposes his own ignorance writing that college-education women will vote for Obama solely because "they swoon at his oratory. It's really not more complex than that." He does preface this statement by saying that this statement will offend. This assessment - that his comment would offend - was probably the only sound insight offered in the entire article. 

* *Since publishing this, it's been brought to my attention that this article may be incorrectly attributed to Dr. Walter Williams.