Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The End of Education

I wrote the following essay for my college composition class freshman year (so please forgive the poor/formal writing style!) about Richard Rodriguez’s autobiographical exploration about the end of his education. I was reading over it the other day and realized that some of the main ideas in this paper would be interesting to revisit now that I’ve graduated college and am trying to find ways to continue learning in a post-formal-education life.

I discovered while reading Richard Rodriguez’s “The Achievement of Desire” that there is a stark difference between what I believe he refers to as the “end of education” and what I believe the “end of education” to truly be. Rodriguez’s education is not life-long learning, but rather an education ending with the end of formal education.

It has always been the idea in my mind that you never stop learning until you die. My grandfather has been the prime example in my life. He has been educating himself (teaching himself how to captain a ship and living on a boat for years, starting his own business, learning to speak Italian fluently, always reading a book about a topic of interest to him, taking up woodworking, and becoming an expert on ancient Egyptian culture including the language, art, and music) for as long as I can remember up until the present day. Out of passion comes a desire to surround yourself by everything that is the cause of that passion. If you are passionate about life, you will strive to surround yourself by everything that life has to offer.

In Mary Louise Pratt’s essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” she describes a new Cultures, Ideas, Values class: “It was the most exciting teaching we had ever done, and also the hardest… (who can forget Atahuallpa throwing down the Bible because it would not speak to him?)…Along with rage, incomprehension, and pain, there were exhilarating moments of wonder and revelation, mutual understanding, and new wisdom—the joys of the contact zone.” Without any passion in education, a contact zone would ultimately fail. Without passion, nobody in the classroom would speak strongly about anything (given they speak at all), and would therefore not become a place of sharing of ideas, and certainly nothing of the sort of classroom experience Pratt describes. A contact zone classroom is often a difficult place to be, but the way in which Pratt speaks of her situation, it also sounds like a wonderfully passionate place to be and to share with others.

The most passion comes from sharing my ideas with others who are interested in the same things as me. Since Rodriguez read and studied alone in the library, he rarely shared his ideas by talking to others. In fact, he “began to wonder: Who, besides my dissertation director and a few faculty members, would ever read what I wrote?” Following that thought he yearns for a more passionate life. If he were able to share what he wrote with the world, maybe he would have found passion somewhere in his thoughtfulness.

Rodriguez just never truly loved anything he studied but himself. His autobiographical essay did not show any passion about that which he studied, researched, or wrote about. Instead, his passion appears just through writing his own story about his own life. He has underestimated the role life-long learning has played in his own life. Although his autobiography mediates on how he has reached the end of his education, without even knowing it, Rodriguez managed to learn a great deal about himself and the world around him just by simply writing his own story. We can see this by the way his own perspectives have changed throughout the course of his life story. Rodriguez just needed to find his passion.
In the end, it is only fair to say that each individual has their own goal, or end, of education. As my grandfather has said, we will be of more service to our community as well-rounded individuals in life than as an individual with nothing more than a formal education degree. We all give our own meaning to life, but in order to have a life, you have to continue to explore life, and do so passionately.

A lot of us are out of school or about to be out of school. Do you feel like your education is over or that instead it has just begun? How has sharing and conversing about ideas (whether through a blog/twitter, an interest group, over a beer, etc.) helped you to continue learning post-college? And how do YOU explore life passionately?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December Monthly Goal Meetup

Thanksgiving Ham & Cheese Puffs - Trader Joe's Style

Oh yes, I definitely made those scrumptious looking cheese & ham puffs, and that was one of my goals for November! Now on to a recap of my November goals with my new December goals to follow:

1. Get out all of my holiday cards before Thanksgiving. They were all in the mail the day before Thanksgiving, but honestly I would have been really disappointed in myself if I didn't make this happen considering I'm in the business of marketing and urged all of my clients to get their own holiday cards out early this year, too!

2. Create a sitemap for the new website in Wordpress. Umm I think so? I got the designer enough information to create a preliminary design, but I'm still learning what all needs to be done. I'm not sure I know what a sitemap is anymore. Watch out-- Learning in progress.

3. Identify my company’s niche markets. Errr confusion. Fail. To my credit, I didn't have the full month to ponder this one. I did however have an unexpected Starbucks meeting towards the end of the month with Ron Baron, a leader in the promotional products industry, who I sat next to on a plane a month ago on his way back home to Utah. We had exchanged cards on the plane and called me up the day before he was flying back to Raleigh for some other business and asked to get together and chat. He was really helpful in hashing out some of the ideas I've had and sent me off in a good direction.

4. In the spirit of GenYGivesThanks (Sharalyn Hartwell’s brainchild), share with my family how I am thankful this Thanksgiving. Duh: see previous "Thanks" post.

5. Make a real dish for turkey day. See photo above! Well actually those ham & cheese puff pastries don't count because I actually bought those from Trader Joe's. But I did make an experimental baked cabbage dish I found on CNN. Oh, and a pumpkin pie.

6. Return the 2 books to the library that I borrowed back in July. Being held accountable definitely helped. My friend was just a little surprised when she came to pick me up one night and I brought 2 huge books with me and asked her to stop by the library on our way to our night on the town!

7. Clean my room! There's a difference I realized between cleaning and decorating. I did however hang my paintings, photographs, and lamps and reorganized my desk so that at least it feels more tidy and homey in here.

So November overall was a pretty good month. I hope it has prepared me for December because this month is going to be a whopper of a roller coaster. I'll start with the "easy" stuff and move to the more ambitious of my endeavors.

1. Do all the "easy" stuff that I just never seem to make time for. Does it ever take you a month to make an appointment or run your dreaded errands even though it would only take 5 minutes if you took a moment to pause, and JUST DO IT? I need to make a dentist appointment. It's taken me almost 2 years to just do it. I think it will help now that the new dentist's office opening down the street is offering a free teeth-whitening if I make an appointment this week. Merry Christmas to me!

2. Do something I've never done before. It doesn't have to be anything crazy like jumping out of an airplane. Something simple. Just to keep life interesting :)

3. Read a fiction novel. I've been reading a lot more than usual lately. However, it's all been non-fiction and at a computer screen for the most part. I miss getting lost in a book and looking forward to reading another chapter at my next free moment. Last year I read 3 novels in 2 weeks but that was because I was a) traveling oversees on long plane rides and b) landed in a foreign country with no internet access for 2 weeks. I'll settle for 1 good read this month.

4. Include more of my photos on the blog. I was telling someone about my new blog and explaining how I used to be so involved in photography and I've lost my groove. Her advice: "You should put some photography on your blog". Could it have been any more obvious? I think I will, thank you.

5. Go to a free yoga class on campus at least 2 times. Where I work [during the day] there is a gym and fitness classes throughout the day. I used to go every Friday at lunch to pilates, but for one reason or another haven't been in months. Since it's free and only a short walk from my desk there really should be no excuse not to go, right? Except that morning classes begin before I wake up and evening classes start when my stomach starts growling, too. Anyone have some advice on scheduling fitness?

6. Work & work hard. I have a lot to get done this month with the family business. We're launching the new website this month (goal is Dec 18th, but I'd be happy with anything in 2009). That means lots of mini-goals to reach the big goal. Mini-goal A: create a database of client case studies. Mini-goal B: Send out the e-newsletter by December 16th.

I know, I didn't include any family/friends/holiday goals this time, but I'm pretty sure I don't need any reminding or nudging seeing as how everything is going pretty smoothly on that front. Next time we revisit goals it will be 2010 - scary?! Good luck everyone on making the most of your last month in 2009!

To participate in the meet-up:
1. Post a list of your career/life related goals for December, along with your checked off November goals if you’d like, on your own blog.
2. Go back to and leave a link to your post in the comments (*If you don’t have your own blog, feel free to share your list in the comments to join in!)
3. Then, check out everyone else’s lists as they leave comments - click their links, visit their blogs, say hello, meet, greet and support each other because that’s what it’s all about!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks to people, options, and technology!

1. Thankful to have such an awesome team at work. They ROCK. And I told them that today as we all sent out our PTO/work-from-home emails to each other. I couldn't pick my small team of me + 3. I was hired and thrown into this team, and really, they couldn't be better people to work with. Such attention to detail, so responsive, open to change (flexible), team players, really.

2. Thankful for options and choice. It seems simple, but some people have fewer options than I do. I had plenty of options of cars to buy this year. I have the option of where I want to work (even if my options scare me). I have options when it comes to the grocery store I prefer to shop at (team Harris Teeter!!), the clothes I want to present myself in, the people I want to spend my time with, the relationships I choose to form, the roof I call home, how I spend my free time, and what I spend my money on. There are so many options in life. You probably make more choices in a day than you'd like to think about. Remember that it's your life. Don't let someone else choose for you!

3. Thankful for my grandmother's health. My life would be very different without her here. She really doesn't even know how important she is to me. I think a lot of elderly focus so much on their impending death. And I don't mean in a bad way. They talk about dying as if it were the best thing to happen to them. Like they will finally be able to get rid of this old body and trade in their now boring life with a more exciting one. But I'm glad grandma is still with me. She cooks me dinner every night, but also teaches me. She keeps me company and listens to my problems when nobody else has time or wants to listen. She is my business mentor and gives me crucial business know-how each day. I know I can't take these things for granted, which is why I'm very thankful that she is still in GOOD HEALTH.

4. THANK YOU mom for finally separating from dad. I'm thankful that our family has turned a traditionally horrible experience (divorce) into a lesson in personal happiness. When we are each happier as individuals, we are happier as a family. Yes, there may be some awkward moments every now and then, but who cares? We're HAPPY! :)

5. And the last one (although I could go on all day about what I'm thankful for). Apple. My iPhone. The inventor of the internet. All of the computer & software engineers out there changing the world on a daily basis. I firmly believe that I was born into the correct decade, because I am genuinely thankful for all the technologies we have today that make my life easier but also more interesting and challenging. Some may find this superficial... but I would disagree. How many times have you said "Thank god for the internet!!"?

And now I will depart my work team to make pies and listen to pandora holiday music with my sister, mom, and grandma. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You're stuck in a room with... no computer!

So you're stuck in a conference room. For an hour. With no computer! OH NO! What do you do?

I was in this situation the other day and I got really anxious. I'm one of those people who needs to be doing something at all hours of the day. I even have trouble sleeping (well, I have trouble getting to sleep, but also waking up from sleep!). So when I found myself practically locked in a room for an hour with just a bunch of chairs, a table, a pad of paper and pen, and my iPhone, I began to anxiously contemplate what productive things I could spend the next hour doing.

Some things that I did, or thought about doing:
1. Check the twitterverse.What is everyone else doing? What news is being posted? Maybe I should ask twitter what I should do with my hour.
2. Stare at all the empty chairs until the hour passes (I tried that for about 30 seconds and started tapping my feet... moving on...)
3. Call my mom to plan dinner. Well... I did that, but it doesn't take a lot of time.
4. Brainstorm new blog posts. Does anyone else find it really hard to hand-write articles these days? It's good for jotting down ideas as they come to me, but I go off on so many tangents and can barely read my handwriting as it gets closer to the end of the page. Letters start blending together as my mind moves faster than my fingers. The keyboard was a great invention!
5. Use the pen & paper to plan out work goals, business ideas, or sales techniques, etc. The problem I found with this is that I hate to be interrupted in the middle of something like this. And hour seems like a long time, but often times not long enough.

So I'm curious to know what my other Gen Y counterparts do in their "free-time" alone & sans computer. Do you try get work done in all your spare time between meetings and calls or do you find yourself trying to take a breather, relax, do some yoga, or what?

Please share!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November Monthly Goal Meet-Up

I discovered the “Monthly Goal Meet-Up” group on and at first assumed it was an actual meet-up in person in the flesh thing and felt so left out! Silly me; this is an online community after all.

So now I’m really quite relieved that I can join this already strong monthly goal group and I don’t have to start one myself. See, I’ve been telling myself for a few weeks now that I need just take a few minutes to write down my goals. I took the time to write 1 goal. And it was lofty. A “this is where I want to be in 1 year” kind of goal. That’s all fine and dandy, but I really need a place to share my goals so that someone will keep me accountable for them (whether it’s just the act of making my goals public or someone actually hounding me to get off my butt and do something about them, either one is great motivation). Proof that this might actually work: as soon as I joined the group and starting reading others’ goals at Rebecca Thorman’s blog, I scribbled 7 quick goals on my steno book and thought, “holy cow, I’ve got the goal-writing down so well that I think I need to focus on fewer goals.”

So here goes, my goals for November (albeit, a little late in the game):

1. Get out all of my holiday cards before Thanksgiving. Usually this slips my mind until a few days before Christmas and then my friends, family, and company’s clients are getting holiday cards after New Years. This is really ineffective, so I’m going to do it the right way this year!

2. Create a sitemap for the new website in Wordpress. I have a web designer already, but she really needs me to give her some direction on what the site needs and how everything should flow. This is my first foray into Wordpress or any website creation, so this could be difficult. and all of the wordpress bloggers groups are really overwhelming, so I’ll take any advice that comes my way 

3. Identify my company’s niche markets. Promotion Plus has historically worked with banks, schools, public government offices/services, and small business entrepreneurs. Now that I’m transitioning into the company I want to find the niche markets that I’m most familiar with. Hmm beer might be a good place to start ;)

4. In the spirit of GenYGivesThanks (Sharalyn Hartwell’s brainchild), share with my family how I am thankful this Thanksgiving. I am a true Gen Y and forget to thank people far too often. In fact when I was 5 I was embarrassed to say “thank you” in public and it took me many years to finally get over that and start saying “thank you” in public. This year I want Thanksgiving to mean something special.

5. Make a real dish for turkey day. Speaking of Thanksgiving… Usually I just get a can of cranberry sauce, put it in a pretty dish, and plop it on the table. I’m not a great cook, but this year with the new family dynamics (if you know me personally, you know what I’m talking about) I really want to try to be a part of every step and contribute to the feast--that I am so excited about!

6. Return the 2 books to the library that I borrowed back in July. Shameful, I know. I give in… I admit that I will never read them. I guess I’ll be donating a hefty amount to the Wake Country Public Library system this holiday season!

7. Clean my room! I start with lofty goals and slowly move to the more mundane activities of my life. The state of the cleanliness of my room reflects my attention to detail in other areas of my life, though, and I think this is important. Finally I will hang the lamp and photo organizer that I got for my birthday. Happy birthday month to me!

Alright. 1-2-3- GO!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nurture your relationships - even when you're not "getting anything out of it"

Something strange happened today. I created a Facebook page for my business that offers marketing, branding, and promotion solutions using promotional products a few weeks ago. To date I only had about 20 fans and I decided that today I would go ahead and send suggestions to the rest of my facebook friends to become a fan of the page. Now I sent this to just about all of my facebook friends not just for self-promotion. Yes, I am promoting the company in hopes, but not just to garner facebook fans. Fans are useless if they're not interested in what I have to offer. I have over 500 facebook friends and that's 500 people who are doing 500 different things in their work and/or personal life right now. I couldn't possibly know everything that everyone is doing. Someone could be planning their wedding and looking for a nice gift to send their guests off with. Someone else might need to keep themselves at the top of their customers/clients minds this holiday season with holiday cards or one of those awesome meat/cheese packages. Yet someone else just might be throwing a holiday party soon and will need decorations or a way to promote their event. I have no idea.

All I hope is that those who think they might need a gift, cards, or any other promotional product in the near future will join the page and be aware of this new resource for them.

Alright so back to the original statement. Strange day. I sent off the suggestion to all my friends and 10 minutes later I get an email from an acquaintance that I had a sort of personal falling out with (but we're trying to remain cordial acquaintances), reading:

"I would like to keep our relationship professional. Could you please not send me this sort of thing? Thanks!"

I can only assume that he had not looked at the actual content of the page that I sent to him. I certainly can't expect everyone to even take the time to look at the page. Clearly he had not, so I responded with the following email:

"I'm sorry you misunderstood. This is my business's fan page on Facebook. I joined [the business] about a month ago and I would like my contacts to know about my new venture. However, you should not feel pressured in any way to connect professionally with my business on facebook."

Simple enough, I thought. He only misunderstood the content of my suggestion. Until he responded with the following:

"I guess what I meant by professional is that I would rather just hear from you when it benefits me professionally in some way.

Thanks for understanding"

It's hard to interpret this in any other way. If my contacts with him do not benefit him directly professionally, he would rather not have contact with me. I completely understand that he's busy and does not want to be bothered with communication from a business that he does not want communication from. I don't opt in to get emails from every website that I land on unless I think the content will benefit me in some way.

However, I know this person personally (whether we want to continue a personal relationship or not) and professionally. I would say that he is in my "network". We have worked together on multiple projects and events together in the past year and have many contacts in common. I view everyone in my network as having a symbiotic relationship with someone. The entire purpose of expanding one's network is to expand the network of people whom you can help and who can help you. It only works if it's a symbiotic relationship. If I were to cut out of my network all of the people who do not provide a direct benefit to my professional life at this moment in my life, I would be cutting out a lot of people. You have to nurture relationships; all relationships. Someone may not provide direct professional benefit to me now, but if we only communicated when someone was benefiting the other there would be no basis for a relationship. I believe that everyone should be treated as if they have the potential to provide you with a professional benefit at some point in time.

I worry that some people (ahem!) are so focused on networking for the sake of finding a job or finding the one person who will "benefit them" that they're not nurturing the rest of their relationships that they're seemingly "not getting anything out of". In the end I think those people will end up losing everything.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is management censoring you?

I was fired today. “Thanks, again, to everyone for your past service in this capacity.”

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working at this job for almost a year and a half now. Everyone has always stressed how important being involved in multiple ways has been: join a committee, go to events outside of work hours, say hi in the hallway, take as many classes as you can, ask to work on new projects, etc. A few months ago I decided to get more involved with the Social Committee at work that budgets, plans, and organizes the various social events for our entire department throughout the year. A group of us meet every now and then to talk about ideas for upcoming events like the Thanksgiving lunch, Christmas party, chili cook-off, a summer picnic, little afternoon snack breaks throughout the year, the costume contest for Halloween last week, and (so we assumed) any other ideas that committee members bring to the table to discuss.

Today I received the following email from the Vice President of the department (edited for anonymity):

First, let me thank all of you for volunteering to serve on the social committee this past year. I have been truly impressed with the number, diversity, and quality of events that were planned and carried out within the limited budget we have allocated for such things. And, in my opinion, this past year was the best so far.

However, as we begin the new fiscal year, I would like to constrain the size of this committee, which currently lists a total of 14 members, so that it might operate even more efficiently and effectively. For example, a smaller committee should find it easier to find time to meet and make decisions, whereas it’s almost impossible to find a convenient meeting time for a committee of 14 staff and, frankly, I don’t see how you cold hope to arrive at consensus with a group that size.

So, for this year, I am asking that _________ serve, again, as the Committee Chairperson, and that the following staff also serve as members: [head admin], [one of the former committee members], [another admin], and [the 3rd admin]. Of course, this is voluntary service, so please don’t hesitate to let me or the chairperson know if you cannot (or simply choose not to) serve on the committee for any reason.

Thanks, again, to everyone for your past service in this capacity.

-- [VP of Division]

Let me see if I read this correctly. “You did a great job last year. In fact it was the best year ever. But it’s clearly not working, so let’s cut out all the inefficient people. In fact, let’s just keep the chairperson and the admins, and I’ll throw in one of the members to make it look like I didn’t get rid of everyone. Thanks everyone else, you’re fired”.

I have many gripes with this email.

1) How is it that I can be removed from a voluntary committee that I do not charge time to the company for? If I want to provide input in an email or in passing in the hallway to the social committee for their next event or bake cookies for my coworkers or help negotiate with a charity for the holiday season, what is stopping me? Essentially this email is only telling me that I am being removed from the list-serve so that I will no longer have any information about what is going on.

2) It is common sense not to fix something that is not broken. If everything worked really well in past years, why would you change the system? (To me this suggests that other factors were in play, ie bureaucracy)

3) If there is a problem with finding a meeting room or arriving at a group consensus, I believe that other fixes should be attempted first before just removing over 60% of the committee. We are smart people. If the problem was ever brought to the group’s attention we could have thought of a solution. Break down the group into smaller sub-groups for certain activities. Plan monthly meetings ahead of time in a conference room that will fit at least 14 people. Reorganize into a chairperson, co-chair, secretary, etc and have the secretary send out an email to the rest of the group so that we could at least vote on which activities we support or ask us for our input via email. There are limitless solutions to a problem.

4) The remaining members of the committee do not and simply cannot represent my opinions at large. The remaining members are all fairly conservative, over 30, and rarely brought new ideas to the table. Every single employee under the age of 30 was cut from the committee (that’s at LEAST 4 of us). Every single “out-spoken” employee who suggested any sort of crazy or otherwise unconventional idea to the group was removed from the committee. Management, why would you remove all the young and creative staff from a committee that will only thrive on the success of fun? Young people know fun.

5) Most importantly, I am upset because management has set a tone. A tone that individual opinions are not accepted. A tone that anyone who dissents or rocks the boat will be cut. A tone that is unfair. Anyone in the department should be free to express their concerns or suggestions for social events because we all participate in them. I wanted to have an opinion, so I joined the committee (and let’s not forget that I was told that I needed to get more involved and be more social) and now I’ve been fired. Great.

My question is what was the VP trying to accomplish by sending this email? By attempting to control a more “efficient and effective” social committee, he has instead angered at least 10 of his employees, if not more.

Now I’m stuck in a catch-22. I want to make it clear that we are very upset at this move, but I know that if I say anything or rock the boat it will not be received well. It seems appropriate at this point to boycott the events that I am told I have no opinion in forming. What do you think about management getting rid of Gen Y? Have you had similar experiences?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The efficiency of water-waving toilets

Now we all want to save money, time, and resources. So someone out there created this great invention-- a 2-way toilet flusher. Normally these flushers work as they should. Pull up for #1 (less water) or push down for #2 (I suppose that would be a "normal" flush).

But the whole point of this little device is to save water. To flush less water down the drain. So this only works if people only have to flush the toilet once! It doesn't work if the flush is so weak that you have to push the handle down 2 or 3 times. And then when someone else comes into the bathroom they approach the toilet and have to flush it once more before they do their duty.

People don't want to leave remnants in the toilet no matter how water-saving it is. Does maintenance just expect that this little water-saving handle will actually be more efficient in the long range? I don't think so. You know what's really efficient: just don't flush the toilet at all. Just let it sit all day like a Port-a-Potty and do one giant flush at the end of the day. Oh, or even better, why don't we just invest in the toilets of the developing world: holes in the ground. That sure will save a lot of water, huh?