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.