Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lesson learned from a complete stranger

Today I participated in an interview via video-conferencing. Fortunately for my nerves, I was on the interviewer side of things. The candidate was from (and in) Germany.

This was very cool to me. Maybe it wasn't so cool for the person sitting behind the desk - half way around the world. He was understandably nervous, but did well. His first language is German, second is French, and he did the interview in English.

Out of everything, what impressed me the most was that this person was willing to travel here for an internship. He's from Germany, did some schooling in France, and now looking to travel to Canada for experience.

Hell, I don't even want to commute across the city for a job!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very comfortable staying in my part of the world. I would like to get out and visit different countries, but the idea of transplanting to a new country and culture for a year is scary (to put it mildly).

However, I almost did.

Way back when (the year I graduated from high school) I had the opportunity to be an au pair in England. I almost went – I agreed to go and starting telling others what my plans were, but when it came time to finalize things I bailed. I won’t even begin to make excuses – although I did at the time (I didn’t want to delay starting university, I was leery of what my role would be, I didn’t really know these people….blah, blah, blah).

Truth be told – I chickened out. I do not regret not going, but I do wonder how it would have been. I wish I had taken the chance and gone or at least had a better reason for not going. At this point in my life, it would not be impossible to go, but it would certainly be more complicated and affect more people.

So, I have to admire someone who is willing to take that jump when they have the chance. I don’t mean jump on a plane every time the real world comes a’calling (like many of the globe-trotting people I know – seriously, if you’re looking to find yourself, check in your backyard first), but those people who are willing to go somewhere new with the purpose of learning and working.

I am not sure if we will hire him, but I am certain that if he is given the opportunity – he will not pass it up.

I think there was a lesson in there for me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The power of the black dress compels you…the power of the black dress compels you…

Most mornings I stand in front of my closet and let the voices in my head help me choose my clothes. I should add that the voices belong to my fashion crew – I don’t try to copy any one of them, but do draw inspiration from them, based on my mood that day.

For the most part the Hepburns (Audrey and Katherine) do most of the talking, but occasionally Molly Ringwald whines that I have not worn anything remotely funky and that some colour would be nice. Then Laverne (Delvecio) pipes up that if I’m not going to add an “L” to my shirt then I should at least tie a scarf around my neck (oh, and chew lots of gum).

Then there are the days when all the stars align and the voices agree on one thing.

The black dress.

The Hepburns like it because it’s simple and classy, Molly likes it because no one wears a black dress to work mid-week, and Laverne calls it the “wiggle dress”. And there in the corner, Betty Boop is winking one of her enormous eyes and giving me the rocker’s bull’s horns.

This dress generally comes out for parties and weddings, but thanks to the magic of accessories, never looks the same. Occasionally I will feel the need to wear it for no other reason than I feel like it and/or need a boost. That was yesterday.

You see, like Jim Carrey in The Mask, wearing it does something to you. Suddenly I feel like I should wrap a scarf around my head, put on dark glasses, and go off driving through the countryside in my sporty little MGB. Only a young Gregory Peck beside me would make the moment complete.

Seriously, though - it is a total attitude adjustment. It is not a short or strappy little thing – it is a classic style, but it has “sass”.

I went looking for images of black dresses and found this article. I’ve cut out the blah-blah historical reference and left the meat of it.

The History of the Little Black Dress by Julie Moore

Every woman looks great wearing it, and every woman has her own. It is the default date ensemble when it is one of those “I have nothing to wear” days. In fact, it is so popular, so necessary, and so much an institution in women’s fashion that we had to ask: “Where did the ‘little black dress’ come from?”

To properly understand the fashion environment necessary to produce such a simplistically fabulous necessity for any wardrobe, we must visit the 1920’s. As women shed their long, layered dresses, cut their hair and enjoyed the fast-paced party life, society slowly became more accepting of women baring slightly more of her shoulders, back, and legs. The coveted silhouette of the era was generally very slender and youthful.

First introduced in 1926, black was previously considered to be a color reserved for funerals and periods of mourning. Truly simple and sexy, Chanel’s design was a sleeveless sheath cut just above the knee. She could have never predicted the immediate and lasting love women would have with her simple, chic black dress.

As Chanel was quoted, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.” Whether a woman’s little black dress cost $50 or $2,000 her intention is the same: to look effortlessly classic and appropriately sexy in just seconds. While most of us cannot afford to buy Chanel’s breathtakingly beautiful pieces, we can certainly wear our trusty black dresses with the modern, sophisticated attitude she possessed.

Anything that encourages attitude must be a good thing. If it makes you feel confident, good, or powerful then wear it! But like Uncle Ben (from Spiderman not Minute Rice) advised, “…with great power comes great responsibility”.

How do I apply this to my whole ode to the black dress (and can you believe I have managed to create a link between Coco Chanel and Spiderman)? The dress should be used in moderation. Wearing it all the time makes it common and reduces its effect on you (and others).

Part of the mystery is having people guess why you are wearing it and the answer shouldn’t be – “because it’s Tuesday – Tuesday is wear the black dress day”.

For the most part, the voices have not let me down – on the days I’ve ignored them and worn the workplace equivalent of a sweat suit I felt drab. I’ll continue to consult them and as long as I can keep Cyndi Lauper buried deep – I should be safe.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

One Mississippi…two Mississippi

I’m very tired and I don’t think I can afford to re-direct any brain cells away from work. This will likely be a brief entry.

We had a wicked storm last night with all the trimmings of thunder and lighting. I generally don’t mind these – I’m not a fan of thunder, but I deal with it – however both kids woke up.

There are many things that I have little patience for when it comes to the kids, but I will not give them a hard time about storms. I remember all too well how scared they made me when I was younger. How could I possibly tell them to suck it up?

So - there were four in the bed and the little one said, “Did you see that one? That thunder was super loud! I think it’s getting closer! Wow!”

From 2am until 3am we had two very different coping styles to contend with:

A held onto my arm and would squeeze it every time there was thunder…every little rumble…this prevented me from drifting off and caused my right arm to go numb.

E gave us a running commentary throughout the whole storm. Talk about nervous chattering.

The thing I found funny was how quickly we revert to things we did as kids. I realized about half way through the storm that I was “counting how far away the storm was”.

Flash of lightening…one Mississippi…two Mississippi…three Mississippi…then thunder. Okay, it’s getting closer/farther way.

Some things you just never outgrow.

As I lay there, I thought it had been a long time since we had either, never mind both, kids sleeping in our bed. They grow up amazingly fast and while we do encourage them to be independent, it is reassuring to know that even the forces of nature are no match for mom and dad.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My random act of kindness

I feel very good. I've done a good deed.

I noticed my boss leave at lunch with his briefcase. He did mention casually that he might take the afternoon off, but never came by to confirm this. I suppose that he was in a bit of a hurry...which is why he left his office light on....and his laptop open (but not on). I verified the calendar and yes, he had decided to take vacation.

I like to be helpful, so I went down and turned his office light off and closed his laptop.

Out of professional courtesy.

I mean, what if someone thought he was still in the office? Honestly, that's the way it might appear. I know he wouldn't want anyone to think he had just snuck out - so I did my bit to help him.

I'm not going to say anything to him. No doubt he would be grateful, but I don't want to embarrass him.

It does feel good to help others.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fly like an eagle...

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately...

...and not just because it’s something lacking at my work, but also because of my own experiences.

E is in a weeklong summer camp at an outdoor YMCA camp not far from our house. I pass the camp every day on my route to and from work. I am familiar with the camp because I went to a few Leadership Camps there during high school. The whole concept of a Leadership Camp is not unlike some of the initiatives that my company has (Leadership Training, Green Belt/ Black Belt Programs) – only in high school, immaturity was expected.

These camps had groups of people from every grade. Cabin mates and teams were assigned, which eliminated the clique factor. You were likely to have people that you never spoke to before in your group. It was cool. There were outdoor adventure activities, lots of team-building activities, and some stuff that obviously wasn’t too memorable. Late night cabin raids, watching unlikely couples hook up, and campfires were highlights.

To me, the best was that as a grade nine I was hanging out with the gods (grade thirteen students). At no other time did I interact so much with the oldest kids in school. I would have been fourteen and they were seventeen /eighteen. By the end of camp, we were all “friends” and had shared a great time.

I looked up to many of these people and saw that behind the coolness, they were normal. It would have been like sitting down to have a chat with a famous actor – only to find out that they were not much different from the rest of the world. Some of the most popular were total jerks and some of the most intimidating ones were the nicest. I also saw that the guys I had crushes on lost their shine when you saw them piss and moan about the smallest things.

Sadly, the following Monday, these same “friends” would walk by me in the hall without any kind of acknowledgement. It was my Breakfast Club moment. We only had Leadership Camp in common and when it was over – so was the bonding. I will admit then when I went to the Camp as a grade thirteen I likely did the same. I do not remember any of the younger people who were there, but perhaps I had an impact on them.

I also had a glimpse of how far some of the people in my grade would go to try to fit in with the older crowd. I have always had a knack for catching the subtle things people do when they think no one is watching or listening. I manage to catch the look that one guy gives to another when a certain girl walks in. I see the irritated gesture that a teacher makes, while smiling and answering a student’s completely retarded question. So at camp, I was able to see some of the hypocritical behaviour that went on between the campers. The grade ten, who was trying desperately to fit in - and thought he or she was succeeding – I saw the eyes roll and heard the comments from the older students.

So, once again, where am I going with this?

Think of the people that you know that are in a leadership position. How many times have you questioned their ability and whose ass they kissed to get where they are?

Now think back to high school and the people you knew – not just your friends – but the other people, particularly the older and sometimes popular ones.

Now is it making sense?

Odds are they have not changed that much since the days when they cut down the unpopular and when they were only friends with those who dressed, acted, and thought as they did. Back then, they had to put up a front so no one found out that they sucked in school or that they were completely insecure. They blamed the teachers (and got their parents to bail them out), they blamed their parents (who turned a blind eye), they copied other people’s work, and intimidated those under them.

Some people grew up. Some did not.

Some of the people that did not grow up are in positions of leadership (note that I did not call them leaders).

I know a few of them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mary, Mary, quite contrary...

We’ve been living at our house for almost four years now and things are finally get into a groove. There has been a lot of fixing, replacing, fixing again, moving around, re-designing, and maintenance. We’re finally down to fixing and maintenance.

One of the areas that I take care of is the garden. I like to pretend I’m able to garden, but the truth is I’m just good at weeding. When we moved in the gardens were completely wild. At one point they must have been great, but they hadn’t been taken care of for about two years. Since there were many other things to take care of, I left it the first summer. The next summer I started thinning it out and realized there were plants hidden underneath others. The third summer, I got nasty and yanked out all but some of the foundation plants – those that I really liked and that I knew would do well. This summer I finally have a good start at the garden I want. The plants I kept are thriving and I’ve added a few new ones that I’ve liked. The key is that all the plants in the garden are what I want and it’s much more motivating (and rewarding) to water and weed.

Where am I going with this?

I’ve realized, without giving it too much thought, that I’ve done the same thing with my “support group”. My friends. I’ve never had a big group of friends, but it’s smaller now than it ever has been. The strange thing is that I do not think I’ve felt better.

Over the past few years, I have been weeding out the people in my life that did nothing but add stress and negativity to my life. I do not mean I completely cut ties, but I have slowly pulled back. I pulled away from many friends and family members and kept the core group of people who I know that I can depend on completely. They are the same people who are whispering positive things in my ear.

I have a friend who reminds me of how far I’ve come (since she knows what I’ve gone through)
I have a friend who reminds me of what I’m capable of and encourages me (because he knows and believes in me)
I have a friend who reminds me of my parenting successes (because he tells me so)
I have a friend that encourages me to stay true to my perspective (and loves food as much as I do)
I have family members who are always willing to help me – no matter how snarky I get
I have a best friend who sticks with me – no matter what happens

Everyone needs people around him or her that are positive. Now don’t mistake this for insincerity. You need genuine compliments and support, but you also need people who will call you on it if you’re being an ass.

There are a few acquaintances that I chat and hang out with, but very few that I would call immediately if I had something good/bad happen. Or if I needed advice. Or if I was in need of a boost. The point is, when I call one of them I know what to expect.
I could repeat a cheesy mantra all day (“Gosh darn it, I’m a good person” or “Damn, I look good today”), but sometimes it’s nice to know that others think that too.

So rather than looking at my garden as a mass of plants – I’ve decided the enjoy the individual plants. They get more attention and I appreciate them much more.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Milli Vanelli were on to something...

Today's word, boys and girls, is BLAME.

1 : to find fault with : CENSURE 2 a : to hold responsible b : to place responsibility for - to blame : at fault : RESPONSIBLE

Now I don't want to tell anyone how to do their job, well that's not true, I do want to tell many people...but I won't. I know what I believe are good managerial qualities and what are not. I see countless examples of what shouldn't be done. In fact, I'm thinking of pitching it as an idea for a new show, "What Not To Do if You're a Manager". What I need are two catty, bitchy people to call these managers on their managerial faux-pas...oh wait, I'm in so that leaves only one opening to fill.

The number one "what not to do" thing this week is blaming others. People screw up - it's true. The ball gets dropped, the lines get crossed, heads get buried in the sand (or in other people's asses)...whatever the reason, it happens. What shouldn't happen is a manager saying to other managers (or anyone for that matter) that something didn't get done because of so-and-so messed up.


Yes they screwed up, but you are responsable for that person. It is your job to ensure that that person knows what to do, when it's due, and whether it's on track.

A second type of blame is the kind of blame that just doesn't make sense.

Like this example: a manager accepts an invitation to attend a brief meeting at 1:00pm. Focus on the word accepts. He then walks in to the meeting 15 minutes late - as it is ending. His excuse, well it shouldn't have been scheduled so close to the lunch hour. But, but, knew it began at 1:00pm and you accepted this and agreed to be there at this time. Don't blame the person who took the time to schedule the meeting and send out invites.

Second example ( oddly enough it's about the same manager) has the manager stumbling around trying to find work for a summer student to do. This student, up until this morning, was helping one associate. The work was completed. Now the manager is ticked off because he was not advised that the student was out of jobs to do. Why wasn't he told? He is not prepared to deal with this - someone should have warned him.

Okay. Take a deep breath.

The student finished the work yesterday afternoon at 4pm. It is now 8am the next day. What kind of frickin' warning should he have gotten? Should we have called him last night to advise him?

Please, please, please keep it in perspective. You are not prepared and it's not because someone didn't tell you that the student was doing his job. It's not because the concept of finishing work that is started is foreign to you. It's not because others are able to manage the student. You are not prepared because you are unorganized and unable to manage people - don't blame this on others.

We start this blame game early on ("She did it!" "He made me do it"), but most of us outgrow this tendency and start to take responsibility for our actions. Like these words that I'm typing - I could say that the devil made me do it or that my manager's ineptitude has forced me to do, but the truth is that I made the conscious decision to share these thoughts.

So, despite what Milli Vanelli told you, you can't blame it on the rain - be prepared to get wet if you don't listen to the weather forecast, look out the window, and bring an umbrella.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Forty things to pass along...

Things to teach the kids:

1. Fair does not mean equal
2. There is almost always a positive angle to a situation
3. You always have a choice - you just may not like the choices
4. You can be mad at someone and still love them
5. You don't have to like everything that someone does
6. Candy and ice cream should never become "bad" things - enjoy them
7. Saying "sorry" is a start, not a finish
8. Don't be in a hurry to rush to be older - you don't get a chance to re-do being a kid
9. Being a kid is a stage - not an excuse
10. Make mistakes and learn from them
11. Don't be afraid to ask for help
12. Before you ask for help - try to do things on your own
13. Sometimes you're going to be better than others at something - don't apologize for this
14. Sometimes others are going to be better than you - deal with it
15. Don't lie - it's not worth the trouble
16. Doing the right thing all the time is overrated
17. Don't apologize for your moods and feelings, just don't take them out on others
18. Get use to dealing with people you don't like (classmates, teachers) - there will always be people you don't like
19. It's okay to be bored
20. Make sure you do a few things that will be cool to tell your kids about
21. Don't be quick to drop your friends
22. If you have to be talked into doing something - it's a sign that it may not be worth it
23. Aside from driving or drinking alcohol, there's no right "age" for most things...go with your gut
24. There are plenty of doctor and lawers out there - don't think you have to be one too
25. Don't stop reading
26. Don't believe everything you hear, especially if it's gossip
27. Stick up for your friends and they will stick up for you
28. Don't stop asking questions (even if it drives us nuts)
29. If you start something - try your best to finish it
30. If you are part of a team then other people are counting on you to show up
31. Being smart is a good thing - don't pretend otherwise
32. Clothes and hair colour are meant to be fun
33. It's okay to look up to someone, but don't try to imitate them
34. The only person you can control is you - if someone gets mad, that's their choice - you can't make them be mad
35. Don't blame others for things you do - they can't make you do things
36. Your family doesn't just include people you are related to
37. Make a list of things you want to do and try to cross things off
38. Learn to enjoy being quiet
39. Don't put off doing the hard things - they don't get any easier with time
40. Getting older is not a bad thing - if you play it right, you can still be a kid inside but get to do adult things