Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Future of High Speed Rail for Selfish Cities

my train to Milano stopped in BolognaThe Raleigh Department of City Planning hosts a lecture series called "Designing a 21st Century City" every few months. I went to my second lecture presentation last week where John Robert Smith (former Mayor of Meridian, MS and member of Amtrak's board) and James Corless (Director of Transportation for America) spoke about the future of high speed rail in the US and how it will affect our own growing city.

There was a typical talk about how the national transportation policy hasn't changed in over 50 years, how we could have raised enough money for rail transportation just by stockpiling the increase in gas prices or by taxing gas a few extra cents, how Americans are choosing to take public transportation more than ever because of the fuel hike, how the environment and political climate are suffering from the continued use of automobiles. Most people in the field already know all this. None of this is news. But we have a chance to really make high speed rail and light rail in our region a reality with the availability of new federal funds... but there's a catch. OH there is always a catch! They're only awarding transit funds to those states/regions that have their shit together. That means Raleigh will never get transit funds unless the rest of the region has a plan and only if each city in the region works together to create a unified plan.

My biggest fear is that we won't let go of our stubborn inability to compromise and will be left in the dust without any prize money to take home. The Triangle region is known for a lot of things including long-standing university rivalries between NC State (Raleigh), UNC-Chapel Hill, and Duke (Durham), but loving one another is not one of them. Raleigh thinks they're better than Durham and Chapel Hill thinks they're better than Durham & Raleigh and Durham just ignores the rest of the region hoping they don't slip away. I just want to tell all of our fair cities to stop the rivalries and start working together. And then when Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill start working together we can start collaborating with the rest of our region from Greensboro to Charlotte and back to Richmond.

The dream of taking a 110mph high speed rail train from Raleigh to DC is really just too exciting NOT to stop fighting. Don't worry Raleigh, we can still be unique and play nice.

UPDATE(01/28/2010!!): The feds awarded $545 Million to North Carolina today for high speed rail between Charlotte, Raleigh and Richmond. Keep it up! Story here: http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/6903052/ 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm A Human Being, Not A Human Doing

I've been meeting a lot of new people recently. Online. At parties. At networking events. On planes. Friends introduce me to their friends. Let's not forget it's high school reunion time, so: reconnecting with people I haven't talked to since high school (and that's like meeting a whole new person!).

There's a lot of people to introduce myself to. No matter what setting you meet someone in, you know the one question that will always come up is, "What do you do (for a living)?" And that's when I start wondering what I should tell them about myself.

For some people the answer comes naturally and simply. They may feel defined by their occupation and quickly answer, "I'm a computer programmer for IBM." They may be passionate and focused on their new venture and say, "Well I just founded a new social marketing measurement company," and continue to talk about it for the next 10 minutes.

There are still others of us out there who don't have such a simple answer. A friend of mine was laid-off from her first job less than a year into it and has since felt uncomfortable having to explain that she's coasting along on unemployment until another job comes along. What about all of the recent and soon-to-be college graduates that are working 2-5 part-time retail/food industry gigs because they can't get a full-time job and to be honest aren't really sure what they would want a full-time job to look like anyways. Then there are people like me: Full-time job that I refuse to let define who I am, a completely unrelated part-time position with my family's small business, a multitude of barely financially-rewarding hobbies, and with career goals in a realm of its own.

While answering, "What do you do?" can be daunting in any of the above cases, I think that it's actually easier to brand yourself one-on-one than in an online realm. In a one-one-one situation you can at least choose what you want to share with that person about yourself. Online though, anyone can Google you to follow you on Twitter, find you on Facebook, read your blog, check out your LinkedIn profile, and see every comment you've ever posted. It's sort of an information overload. It may be a more multi-faceted and multi-talented "you", but sharing all of that with someone one-on-one at once would just confuse them or leave them wondering where your real focus is.

So when I meet someone these days I try to keep some questions in the back of my mind to decide how I should answer the question; whether I should focus on my current endeavors or my aspiring goals; what takes up the majority of my time or what I wish would take up more of my time; my major source of income or my "hobbies"?
  1. What do they already know about me?
  2. Can I build on that or tell them something they might not already know about me?
  3. What do I already know about them?
  4. Is there something they should know about me that may be able to help them?
  5. What is relevant to the conversation?
  6. What is my purpose/environment? Am I networking for my side business?
  7. Am I trying to impress someone or try to sound as interesting as possible?
I usually end up focusing on one major aspect of "what I do" for simplicity's sake, but when the conversation is all said and done I can't help but feel so inauthentic. It feels like a cop-out to say "I work at [this company] and that's what I do" and at the same time feels like a sham to say "I'm a [writer/engineer/entrepreneur/photographer]" if I'm not employed or earning a living as that person. Such a dilemma.

If I had to sum myself up in one phrase? I guess I'm still working on that!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Getting Your Dream Job... And Taking A Job Away

One of my best friends just got his dream job as the Program Assistant for Communications and New Media at the Morehead Foundation, working back on the same college campus where he spent his undergrad years writing for The Daily Tar Heel as if it were his full-time job. He really is perfect for the position and he's incredibly happy being back in an academic atmosphere. As happy as he is though, he's incredibly modest and one of those do-gooder givers more so than a receiver.

For nearly two years prior to this dream job he was working at a generic 9-5 law firm. While he obviously left the position there for one which better suited his skills and passions, it was still a perfectly good paying job that many others would have been extremely happy to take. Except nobody had the opportunity to take the job that he left because the company decided not to replace him.

For my friend this was unsettling. He went to pursue a dream job and in the process took another job out of the economy. In his words, "That's one less family to put food on the table."

Now I would predict that this is happening fairly often these days. Employers have employees that they may not want to lay off necessarily, but if the employee leaves on their own accord, the employer feels financial pressure not to refill the position. So every time someone leaves for another position or leaves to freelance, they are ultimately taking jobs out of the economy.

Now I'm not an economist by any means, but it would seem that if employers would just start replacing those who leave, things would start to look up again.

Have you left a position that your employer didn't end up refilling? Do you think your employer would need to replace your position if you left (hypothetically)? Knowing that young entry-level Gen-Y's are so unsatisfied with their current jobs and having heard that many Gen-Y's left their jobs recently, do you think Gen-Y is partly responsible for the lack of entry-level positions?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Your Mailing List is Not a Place to Grieve

Because only CNN gets away with breaking the news about death. And even then it makes me want to sensor them so that I'm not constantly flooded with depressing news. It was my decision to sign up for CNN breaking news alerts to my phone or via twitter, though. I knew that they were a breaking news source-- and heck, that might include death. I was aware of what I was getting myself into.

Let's take another example of something that we all sign up for on the internet: newsletters with "valuable information" right to your inbox. We stumble upon a website, like what we see, or want that "free book chapter" (or something of the sort) and go ahead and sign up for the newsletter. Now we don't always know what we're getting ourselves into but we hope that the content we just signed up to receive will provide some semblance of value similar to what we already know about this website, business or individual.

Imagine you met someone in person working for an internet marketing company. You thought they might have some valuable content to share with you and they asked you for your email to add you to the mailing list. Sure, she seems genuine enough and you already got some great advice from her. So you sign up expecting to get e-newsletters related to internet marketing in some way. Over the course of two months you get a total of two emails completely unrelated to internet marketing: the first is a Happy Thanksgiving email; the second is subject: "he passed away :-("

What? Yes your internet marketing newsletter has sent you an email with an obituary of a close friend of hers that has died. Full with links to legacy pages and repeating text urging you to watch a video of said friend. You don't know this person.

What now? You find the unsubscribe link. Because only CNN gets away with breaking the news about the death of someone you don't know.

Just because you gather bundles of email addresses does not give you the right to write about whatever you please unless that's what your readers are expecting. Let this be a lesson in content you should not write about in your e-newsletter. Write about what you promise to deliver. Otherwise your subscribers will disappear.

Have you ever been surprised (in a bad way) by the content  you subscribed to? How often do you unsubscribe because the content you're sent doesn't match the content you were promised? Did you feel taken advantage of, naive, or just appalled?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January 2010 Monthly Goal Meetup

Shakespeare & Company, reading bed

I did much better in November with 3 weeks than in December with 4 weeks. December is one of those months that just falls into a black hole. Family comes in to town and somehow you're mind is warped into believing that a regular routine and goals are so passé. Let's give the review a whirl anyways:

1. Do all the "easy" stuff that I just never seem to make time for. Finally got my car checked out. Made a dentist appointment, went to original appointment, and knocked out 3 additional appointments all before December 29th (although these were not fun appointments, sadly). I'd say most of December was about doing the easy stuff; after all, I didn't do a whole lot of thinking the last half of the month :)

2. Do something I've never done before. ...yea, CHECK.

3. Read a fiction novel. Yes I did. It was horrible though, so I joined this site, LibraryThing.com that's giving me much better book recommendations and I'm going to read a bunch more this month!

4. Include more of my photos on the blog. Seeing as how I didn't really blog much this month, I can't really check this off at all. I should have made this more of a 6-month long goal. That's what I'll do now.

5. Go to a free yoga class on campus at least 2 times. For the most part I did as much as I could. I went to this restorative yoga class during lunch one day and nearly fell asleep-- it was that good. Unfortunately I had forgotten that all the fitness classes were canceled for the last 2 weeks of December... so I went for a nice relaxing & stretching type of walk around the lake instead.

6. Work & work hard. Mini-goal A: create a database of client case studies. Mini-goal B: Send out the e-newsletter by December 16th. Not sure why I thought I would work hard during the holidays since I never do. I did send out our newsletter & created my first web survey. I did make headway on the website and brainstormed on the framework for the content. I did not however get anywhere near to launching the site by January 1. In fact, there is still lots of work to be done. Ah, FAIL. Complete letdown.

For January, to start off the new year:
  • Take more photos with the Nikon SLR. (Just got the replacement lens in, so it's back in action!)
  • Read a book I like gosh darn-it!
  • Pay attention to me: sleep cycle, mental alertness, mood, physical shape
  • Make a 6-month work goal plan.
To participate in the meet-up:
1. Post a list of your career/life related goals for January, along with your checked off December goals if you’d like, on your own blog.
2. Go back to Brazen Careerist and leave a link to your post (*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!