To Link or Not to Link, That…

… is really a decision that gets made on an individual basis, if I’m being honest.

Having ranted about What LinkedIn Is Not For, let’s talk about what LinkedIn *is* for, at least as I understand it:

  • To create connections between yourself and people you have worked with,
  • To create (potentially) connections between yourself and people you have worked withs’ connections, to expand your network (e.g., in order to reconnoiter on employment prospects, places of work, specific candidates, etc.),
  • To identify potential candidates for your open role (if you’re a recruiter or hiring manager),
  • To share your work/discipline achievements with your peers and potential recruiters/hiring managers,
  • To share news/media/thought leadership/anecdotes around your area of occupation or expertise,
  • To find candidates or indicate interest in candidacy for nonprofit or volunteer positions (board or otherwise),
  • To vet skills and/or educational achievements

It also gets used by consultants and service providers to find potential provide-ees, which I find questionable, but I’d totally roll with (if there were an option to opt out, see previous). With that, here’s my criteria for linkage.

  • We worked together, either in the same group or in the same company on a given project or product
  • We served board or volunteer time together (yes even PTSA)
  • You have provided goods/services in a professional capacity (the very best traffic lawyer in Washington is one of my links, you’re welcome)
  • You reach out and identify how we are linked (“I see you worked with Princess Buttercup, I did too back before she started working at Dread Pirate, Inc.”) AND you identify how a link would help either or both of us (“I’m looking to transition into program management from engineering; do you have time to talk about your experience?”/”I see there’s an open role in your organization that I think would be a perfect fit for me…”)
  • You reach out and do not identify how we are linked and/or aren’t really specific about why we should be linked (e.g., I can see from the tooling that you’re linked to Inigo Montoya, and I remember working with Inigo Montoya on that project for Vizzini, so I can infer that that’s how you found me; but I’m not really sure if you’re just clicking “link” to have a bigger network count or because you want something from me or what.)
  • You are “cold mailing” me out of nowhere (as part of your mail you don’t share how you found me/why you think the linkage is worthwhile),
  • You are using InMail to sell me stuff, and want to link me so you can sell my links stuff,
  • You are one of those aforementioned service providers with whom I haven’t actually transacted any business,
  • You are just trying to expand your network via searching for keywords/key organizations and clicking “link all”
  • You do things that make me question your judgement, either on LinkedIn or at work. This includes conspiracy theories, derogatory comments about others, grind shaming, self-care shaming, or just generally being a d*ck.

Linked Out

I have, as of right this moment, reached my tipping point with some Bad Behavior on LinkedIn — from “professionals”. I’m not talking about your coworker who posts political stuff or that link from 3 jobs ago who posts pictures of their kids’ graduation — spare me the “LinkedIn is not Facebook” drama; I understand that but can scroll by those posts just fine on the “let people live” principle.

I’m talking about proactive outreach that is ostensibly about opportunities, that is not in fact about opportunities. These actually really waste time, and not just the recipients’ time. They waste your time, recruiters and business opportunists. They make me think less of your organization. They make me less likely to consider your company and/or “opportunity”, ever.

I’ve grouped these broadly into four categories. If you’re thinking about doing any of these, please count me out.

The “Come Apply for This Completely Irrelevant Role” In Mail

In this one, you get the semi-form letter that says “Dear [your name here], I was looking across your resume/LinkedIn profile and think you’d be perfect for [their job title here]…” and then goes on to list the benefits of their organization and how to get in touch with them. So far, so good. Here’s where the red flags come in:

  1. You are pitching me for a level that I have exceeded by at least 3 stages and/or haven’t been at in 7 years.
  2. You are focusing on a skill set or keyword that is not in the last 10 years of my job history.
  3. You sent me this same mail 30 days ago, 60 days ago, 90 days ago, etc. and at that time I sent you a polite, “thank you, love where I’m at right now, might consider new options *next year*”.
  4. You are identifying a role or a skill set that appears nowhere, not anywhere, and in no way in my history. Like ever.

Looking at you, Major Seattle Tech Company, Major California Banking Company, Major Seattle Tech Company, Major Seattle Tech Company, and Major Silicon Valley Tech Company.

When I get these, they tell me either your algorithm is borked and coming from a tech company that’s probably not a good sign, or that you aren’t using an algo and your recruiters are so desperate they’re legit just looking for any name whatsoever to send a mail and make some sort of number/incentive, which is also not a good sign.

The “Come Join Our Advisory Board as a Way to Give Us Cash” Opportunity

Admittedly I fell for that this morning, and it wasted 30 precious minutes of my life and also probably someone else’s. Here’s how this one happened: I have, on my LinkedIn, that I’m looking for opportunities in the nonprofit sector specifically in board support – either as member of a board or of committees (as I already am and have). Life is precious, time is precious and so I’d like to spend my ephemeral existence trying to help improve things. In this case, I got a mail for an advisory board role opportunity linked to a local educational endeavor, one I’m actually close to. I accepted the 7:30am call (because sure!) and the day before the call I got a link to “more information”.

Cue the red flags.

The first three pages of “more information” is/was the usual stuff around board support — this is what we do, this is what we need, these are the kinds of support. Then it got into phrasing like, “Work with the design team to select the format best suited for your organization and budget. Each activity and discussion will focus on your industry and company needs. Start your corporate program with as few as 30 employees…” which… somehow read as a sales pitch? For a board role? I responded to the invitation asking for clarity and, got none.

Here’s where I made my mistake: I attended the call. I should have taken the non-response as “we don’t want to answer that right now”, either because it would mess up people’s target call numbers or perhaps the plan is to get people emotionally invested in the first five minutes. Regardless, I attended the call. The inviter was five minutes late (fine) and after some initial small talk when I brought up my question about the “hey what kind of board role is this”, after some very scripted speech the ask was to start talking more about me and what I’m interested in. I was frank, “That’s another red flag for me; you shouldn’t need to know more about me or what I do in order to let me know how the board advisory opportunity squares with the language around organization and budget.” After some initial clarification, what came out is that prospective board members are expected to actually participate in the program the board advises on, to the tune of $5k (oh! but for special people it’s only $2.5k).

I have no problem donating money to nonprofit organizations and do so, on the regular, for ones that I do and do not participate in directly as a board member or advisor or committee member. This bait and switch, however, means that I would re-think any fiscal donation to the educational institution whose name shares this “opportunity” because this “invitation” feels like a scam, and frankly if anyone comes asking me about it, I will share with them my concerns and experience. I mean, if you’re looking to drum up cash just say so, don’t obfuscate it with a theoretical opportunity to actually advise or help.

The Come Use Our Irrelevant or Superfluous “This As A Service” Service

I work for a Very Large Company. There are a few Very Large Companies on my resume and that’s normal as I like the stability of Very Large Companies – you can move around within them without having to renegotiate health insurance sign ups, for example. When I get a LinkedIn email asking me if I want to consider using your HR services to administrate my HR needs, though, it sounds really tone deaf. Like somehow, I’d have the power or the inclination to bypass my existing company Human Resources organization (which is pretty darned great) and just– somehow use your company for my team? I understand when people offer contracting services — that makes sense, I’ve hired contract services before so that is normal — but when I get solicited for things like payroll services it is just a time waster — the precious minutes of life gone, reading that email.

The “Here Let Me Help You Even Though You Didn’t Ask for it and I Don’t Know You or Anyone You’re Linked To” Service

Executive Coaching. Financial Management and Estate Planning. I do not know or understand what the algo is here but I get one about once a month of someone offering to be my coach or manage my money. On one hand, good for you! Go get ’em. On the other hand, I wish LinkedIn offered us the ability to flag that we are not open to business opportunities. We have for example the ability to say we are “Open To Work” (for recruiters — which is not the case for me and I still get the pings), it would be great to opt out of “business opportunities” or better yet opt in to the ones we are looking for.

Hire Learning

I have at various times in my career been a manager, and more specifically a “hiring” manager. Management is a constant improvement cycle — I look back at some of my managerial experiences and cringe heartily, but I saw a good quote I try to employ whilst cringing: the ability to look back on a behavior and cringe means you’ve learned from it and won’t do it again. Or not as much.

The process of sifting through resumes, having “screening” calls, technical interviews, panel or individual interviews, as-appropriate interviews, offers and accepts, is a daunting, involved endeavor and I really, really wish it could be made easier for all – the candidates, the partners in HR, the interviewers, and the hiring manager.

I’ve just finished a round of hiring in my own team (two roles! different disciplines!) and a round of interviews for some other teams (as an interviewer but not hiring manager) and the most consistent thing I’ve observed is the sheer volume of nerves and anxiety involved. This stems from a positive place: as the candidate we’re nervous because we really, really want this role. It may be because it’s got the technology we want to play with or the skill set we want to enhance or the team we want to be in or the organization we want to be a part of or it may just be because it pays well, and money makes things work. (These are all acceptable reasons to go for a job, by the way. There is no shame in declaring you want to get paid and paid well.) We’re used to understanding this anxiety from the perspective of the person applying for the role; I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s a bit nerve-wracking for the hiring manager as well.

Inasmuch as it is tempting to believe a hiring manager sits atop their chair (or stands at their standing desk) and flicks dismissively through resume after resume, that isn’t it. For the hiring manager, this is an exercise in making the best possible choice: the role is open because someone has vacated it or because you have identified the need for it based on a backlog of work. In either case, every day that role remains open is a day that the needs are not met and the volume of stuff to be done grows (along with the pain of the absence). The absence of a human to fill the role is not the only problem, though: the human that you hire is now your responsibility — to foster their learning, their career, and their growth. This is a person you are going to advise and help — and probably help grow beyond what you can give them in this role. *Your* role in their career is transitory, and so the onus on you is to not only find someone who can do the work that needs to be done but find someone that you can help grow beyond that work.

In a perfect world, that is the sole consideration set for either side. The reality is that then another layer of stress is laid upon the effort: speed. How *quickly* can you land that job/ land that candidate/ schedule that interview/ get that feedback/ get the offer out/ get the accept/ get to that first day? Because every day that passes is a day you can lose them to another role, a better offer, a different company.

It is important to lay over this massively privileged stance a healthy heap of perspective: I am fortunate in that I am employed (and hiring within) the tech world, one in which the December unemployment rate was less than 3%. The movement we see is person moving from Job A to Job B, almost always to a better situation (money, location, tech, company size, whatever). If you’re in hospitality that unemployment rate is double. Same if you’re a woman in administrative services, or household support; if you’re a man in coal/petroleum or textile products it’s triple. The people I am interviewing and who come through our portals are folks for whom these roles are a good step up; there are literally millions of people for whom the job search is not anxiety-ridden because they may not get to work with a cool piece of tech but because they may not get to eat. Or they may get evicted. Or (from the hiring perspective) their business will go under (and then they will find themselves on the other side of that coin). The “problems” I face, and to some extent those that apply for roles like mine face, are objectively less problematic than others are facing right now.

My inclination (as an engineer of sorts) is to look at the system within which I work and try to figure out how to make it better — I am that person that sends unsolicited feedback to the teams I work with — like how can we be nimbler about counter-offers, how can we better screen candidates *in*, how can we make scheduling more efficient, and so forth. But as we look at the overall employment health here in the US, we have more work to do.

Bring the Pain

Learning is hard.

I’m not talking about casual, “oh that’s how Bob Ross turns that odd-shaped line into a tree” learning; or even “hey I was listening to my podcast the other day and they let me know that there’s actually only 8 species of bear in the world”; I’m talking about “you need to learn this new thing and be able to *do* it within a given period of time”, usually with a flavor of “for your job” or “for your life”. Requisite learning, not-necessarily-your-idea learning.

I’ve previously blogged about how I had to stumble through and learn a new query language and I hated every minute of it. It was such an unpleasant experience that the running joke with my teammates for about 6 or 8 months was how much I hated it. I use that query language every day though, and it allows me to do all kinds of analysis and make all kinds of cases that I would not be able to, or would be hyper-dependent on others to do. No pain, no gain.

The company I work for, like most major companies that hire a ton of engineering talent, looks for drive, initiative, and potential. The entire review system is based on ‘and what else could you do?’; you are measured on impact rather than delivery. (You can work all day and not deliver. You can deliver all day and have no impact. You are measured on impact.) The set of humans surrounding me are all people who are very used to being *good at a thing right away*, or getting good at it quickly.

When you’re in an environment with that level of expectation, and the culture is one of “growth mindset” (e.g., yes learning is hard but we lean into it), it can feel lonely. One is often looking across the Teams chat to identify if the person who is talking just naturally knows all that stuff (query language, given service architecture, etc.) or if they had a painful time drilling through it, too. Not unlike high school, where there was some subset of people who looked like they got effortless A’s (because you didn’t see the late nights, the weekends, the tutoring sessions, the agita. You saw the A’s.) You question if it’s just you, if you’re the odd person out, and this (unfairly) leads to impostor’s syndrome. I don’t belong here, I can’t do what these people do, how did I get here, etc.

There’s actually two things at work here: first, the invisible mountain those folks climbed or climb that you do not see (e.g., all the studying, or head banging, or side meetings with all kinds of other people to ask all of the questions), and second, comparing your step two to someone else’s step six. Or sixteen.

The only way to “get over” the idea of unseen investment is to acknowledge it exists regardless of admission. That is, not everyone shares their investment effort — some prefer to come off as “naturally good at things” and they may as yet be, or they may come from a culture where that is the expectation. I come from one where you share the investment and that potential embarrassment is the price of entry; I ask smart people stupid questions (thanks Ologies) and I share that I asked smart people stupid questions. The questions aren’t stupid and if it wasn’t evident to me/not easy to self-serve and find the information, there are others who are having the same problem. If there are others having the same problem they need to see that they aren’t the only ones. The struggle is real but it does not have to be lonely.

As a result, without knowledge of the hill that person climbed (the investment they had to make), it’s easy to assume they are on step 2 just like you; in fact they are on step 6. This sets up for unfair self-comparison and expectation, which can bleed into other areas (so and so got a promotion and it was *just so easy* for them).

I’m not saying there are not people who are just naturally good at things. There are, of course. Some of us though are “naturally good” at a thing because we have been doing it so long it is no longer painful: when I started in the corporate world (in 1994) I was not “naturally good” at anything. Now I am “naturally good” at organizing and streamlining things, making shiny power points and anvil-spotting, because I have spent 27 years doing that (in various capacities). It would be unfair for me-of-’94 (or ’98, or 2000, or even 2007) to compare myself to me-of-now, because me-of-now has literal years of investment, experience, embarrassment and failure to build on.

There are areas I’ve doggedly tried to learn and have not mastered — and that is what growth mindset is. It’s going to hurt, it’s going to suck, and I’m going to pursue it anyway because I will learn and grow, and I know that I can because I have done it before. I’m “naturally good” at “A”, but I still am learning “B” (and I frankly have no clue about “C”). The phrase “A Jack of all trades is a master of none” is only a partial quote: the actual quote is “A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oft better than a master of one.” In our careers (and in our lives) we have the opportunity to sit tight and do just one thing, or go out and do and learn many things. In both there is opportunity to learn, and expand, and learn more — and it’s going to hurt. No pain, no gain.

Accounting on a Monday in May

Imagine a filled bubblegum dispenser, a big glass globe replete with colorful gumballs crowding the edges and filling to the top.  Imagine each of these represent at thing to do. Imagine that you are holding the great glass globe in your outstretched hands.

Now imagine the glass disappears and gravity does its thing. That’s a bit how I feel right now; I’ve decided May is the month of mania. Work is hectic, school is hectic, life is hectic. Enter a 3-day weekend, to give some respite.

As very little gets done on the home front during the week, all of the home front to-do’s get crammed into the weekend.  Usually there’s some spillover into Monday, kicking off an already frenetic week with additional to-do’s.  So it’s nice to have the catch up Monday.

At a cost.

Memorial Day is the day we reserve for those who went into uniform and never got out of it; the men and women who went to war and never came home (or at least not alive). (Veteran’s Day is for those who are remembered at Memorial Day *and* those who got to come home, in whole or in part).

Did you know that at 3pm local time you’re supposed to take a moment and remember those who died?  I knew the whole day was reserved, and that there are parades and postings. I knew about visiting graveyards (which is something I like to do anyway) and the pinning of poppies; I didn’t know there was a special time.

I do know a lot of people died*:

  • 620,000 soldiers died in the US Civil War (Memorial Day was started shortly after as Decoration Day)
  • 10.8 million soldiers in World War I (add in another 8 million or so civilians)
  • 21 to 25 million soldiers in World War II (estimates vary) (with up to 28 million civilians)
  • 600 thousand in Korea (another 600 thousand civilians)
  • 1.8 million in Vietnam (note: not including civilian deaths, which pushes it up to 2.5 million)

In more recent wars (the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War (still going!), the Iraq War (still going!), the tallies seem to muddle.  Accounts and numbers vary depending on the resource.  It’s notable that the more “sophisticated” we are and the more precise we’ve become, the less specific and discrete we get in how we count the dead.

As we see the increased attention to Iran and the “will we/won’t we” hype machine spin up, and as we review the meaning of this day, it would be as well to get clear about our accounting, and the very real ways we all pay.

Speaking of currency, if you’re interested in donating to a worthwhile charity, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation is highly ranked on Charity Navigator and supports veterans and their families in active duty and beyond.

 

 

*Yep, I know this is US-Centric.  Mainly it covers what our kids are taught in our schools, such as that is.  I graduated in 1991 and my World and US history books only had a paragraph about the Vietnam War, which had ended when I was born in ’73.

Facebook: Am I Doing this Right?

I am about a month into this Facebook experiment and I’m finding it alternately interesting and a chore.

The interesting parts come from the content that my friends and family post; it’s a real variety, as I’m sure it is for everyone on Facebook. There’s pictures of the kids’ latest games or school accomplishments, laughable moments when someone paints the family dog or puts make-up on a parent; there’s work rants and engagement notices and of course the ubiquitous happy birthday notices that scroll.  There’s tirades against the tyranny, protest against the patriarchy, support for soldiers and friendly philanthropy. I see windows into hobbies (miniatures, comic books, quilts, photography), windows into travel (Spain, Japan, England, Australia), windows into houses (parties, selling-of-the-house, buying-of-the-house, the ever-popular remodeling-of-the-house — oh, and the building-of-the-house).

I de-muted a lot of folks shortly after the election because, like everyone else, I was in a bubble; however I note that I wasn’t missing the political posts so much as the non-political ones.  I can get my politics from the Economist and NPR, but the Economist and NPR can’t show me the progress my friend has made on her garden.

Which brings me to the chore: curation. What should *I* post on Facebook, to show that I’m engaged? Am I doing it right?

The concept of Facebook curation is not new and it’s been studied (particularly as to its impacts on mental health). The idea that I should/will consider what I post, the varied audience, etc. before I post means I am not being my “authentic” self and thusly am showing only the “best” side I have, therefore setting a higher standard for others.

This sounds so impressive, except that I’m pretty sure that my quest to find the very best protein powder, or inability to fire the correct muscle groups in my left butt cheek, or continual surprise at insomnia when it decides to rear its ugly head, all of which are authentic, are not my best side.  Perhaps I’m not curating correctly.

I therefore started to look through my feed to see if I could find an example of curation. I believe the point of curation is to show your very best self, so the criteria I used to identify curation was that the post itself had to be positive or show the post-er in a positive light (not neutral or negative).  The post couldn’t be commentary on a news item *unless* the poster had an accompanying lengthy position statement to demonstrate knowledge of the space.  The pictures must be flattering, if there are/were pictures.

I found three genre of possible curation: My Life is Instagram Fabulous, I Have a Lot of Friends, and I am a Positive Person.

My Life is Instagram Fabulous is the person who takes great pictures.  Either a set of three or four, or a polite collage, all framed properly and tastefully filtered or cropped.  Some of them are actual photographers so this makes sense,  and generally speaking their content is mostly photo and a little text.  Often this links to their Instagram account (I don’t yet play there but maybe I should). These are some of my more artistic friends.

The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. they are expressing themselves in the medium to which they already have an affinity (these are the folks who were running around with actual film cameras back in the day and were probably the school photographer) and 2. I know them and have seen how/when the pictures get produced; yes there is forethought and planning but it’s mostly to capture the *feeling* of the moment and not to convey something artificial.

I Have a Lot of Friends is the person who seems to be permanently at parties and gatherings.  As an extroverted introvert this exhausts me but I can see they are having fun.  Usually there are large group photos, group selfies and photos of tasty-looking food and/or the theme of said party. I have more than a few green pictures right now thanks to St. Paddy’s. The pics seem to be taken early in the party (everyone fresh!) and midway (everyone having fun!) but not towards the end, which we all know is when your mascara is running a bit and your lipstick has worn off and everyone is exclaiming that they don’t usually yawn at 9:30/11/1am but they got up early that morning. (A note about the photos:  one of my friends is a beauty queen — honest to goodness, complete with the sash — and never, ever takes a bad photo. Ever.)

The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. when was the last time you went to a party and took pics at the end? You didn’t. You were having too good a time, or you rationalized that you already took all of the pics and there wasn’t a point in doing more.  Secondly, the whole point of Facebook is to network among friends, so naturally events that tie two or more people together within the platform would be appropriate to post.

I am a Positive Person is the person who posts a lot of life-affirming, positive statements.  They can either be the someecard style, or the motivational-poster style. They tend to be posted in fits and spurts, leading me to believe that there is some aggregator of these things that people can pick one or more at a given time and simply share to their wall.

The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. these tend to be something that everyone could benefit from (or get a laugh from), so from the “my life is more wonderful than yours” aspect — which honestly seems to be the sort of curation that is criticized — it doesn’t add up.  If you want your life to be more wonderful than mine by comparison then don’t share a great lifehack about gym prep or affixing importance to given events (don’t sweat the small stuff). Secondly, I get the impression that the Positive Person is trying to boost themselves and others as an aspect of this, and that isn’t curation so much as it is, I think, affirmation.

As I review this list and attempt to see if I am Doing It Right it occurs to me that I’ve fallen prey to survivorship bias. If we posit that “bad” curation (the kind mental health researchers are rightfully worried about) is the act of displaying only a competitive, positive slice of your life at the expense of other parts of your life — I’m thinking teen girls mostly thanks to the literature around this — I don’t have many friends (even Facebook friends) that fall prey to this. (You could argue I don’t have many friends. That may be true.)  The sample set weeded itself out before I sent (or accepted) the invite.  You could make the argument that you pick friends and don’t pick your family — but my family is the one that helped create my mindset (think lots of Nova/Nature shows, learning to balance a checkbook at 10 and do my own taxes at 14, and a severe distaste for bullshit) and so they don’t tend to share this predilection.

So I think I’ll just keep posting whatever I think is appropriate to share on Facebook — with “appropriate” defined as probably not the contents of the morning’s bowel movement or things of a similarly super-private nature — and we’ll see if someone gets jealous of my insomnia or failing gluteus minimus sinister.

 

 

 

 

Vote

I usually resist posting overtly political messages — not because I do not have opinions (boy, do I have opinions), but because I can usually find someone screaming “my” message from the top of their lungs, participating in the cacophony that runs parallel to our electoral process.

I do not pretend to have voted in every election since I was 18. I have not. I *have* however voted in every election since 2000, when I returned to Washington State and in my own self assessment became a grown up (I had voted in every Presidential election previously, but like most younger folks I had largely ignored local elections). I vote because it’s one of the freedoms we have, an ostensible say in the selection of who is going to Speak For Us, and because there are still many in the world who do not have this freedom. I also vote because I’m a firm believer that if you don’t do what you can to improve things — in any way you can, the least expensive (in time and money) of which is to vote — then you don’t get to bitch about the outcome.

Which brings me to today, Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the day we honor those who have fallen in service to our country. Male or female, any branch of service, for hundreds of years. Some of these folks died to preserve our nation and some of them died to (purportedly) preserve similar freedoms in other nations. It’s important to remember that whether or not you agree with the reasons they were sent “over there”, they still went, they still died, and they still deserve respect for it. You can argue at the top of your lungs that you don’t agree with some of our most recent wars — and you’d be in very excellent company — but the fact of the matter is the responsibility for the Going To War is held on different shoulders than those who Go To War. Those who declare we are Going To War do so from a (hopefully) analytic mindset for the Greater Good. And those who Go To War are doing (hopefully) the best with what is given to them, be it direction, armor, or support.

That there is deficit on both sides is well-documented, maddening, and disheartening. We as constituents find out we went to war for reasons that were not as stated, or that don’t make sense, or to support an economic position, rather than a defensive one. We find out those we sent to war weren’t prepared, weren’t supported, weren’t properly supervised, mentored, and managed, and that horrible things happened to those we sent and those they were sent to protect. (The “fortunate” ones who get out, who make it back, often are equally unsupported – psychologically, medically, and financially).

This Memorial Day I have the following entreaty: Vote. It’s the simplest, easiest way to honor those who have fallen and exercise your right to pick the people who, in effect, get to select who falls next, where, and for what. And not just for the Big Ticket — vote for your members of Congress, because they’re the ones who can officially Declare War, and unofficially bring things to a grinding halt, as well we know. You may feel like this election is one of “voting against” rather than “voting for”, but at the very least you are having a say.  https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote 

Off

Greetings from my week off.  This is what it takes to get blogging time.

I have discovered that you really and truly can over-commit yourself, but more often what actually happens is you don’t manage the commitments you have very well. When I went to take this week off — which started at 3:30pm Friday April 1st, something heralded as an April Fool’s Day joke by those that know me — I would have said “I’m over committed and I need to step back”.

Three days in and I’ve already discovered part of my problem: my phone.

In order for this week off to “work”, I had to do two things: I had to arrange for Outlook (my mail service for work) to *not* automatically open when my laptop boots (done) and I had to detach my work email from my iPhone. The last time I did the latter was my wedding week in August of 2014.

I have had the most fulfilling, relaxing yet-personally-productive, best-sleep weekend. I had no insomnia Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights. I got a bunch of projects done around the house, I have taken time to actually thoroughly read my Economist (instead of jumping to the bits I usually read and then, if time permits, reading the rest). The best part of this is knowing that if I had had to go to work today, it would have been okay: I actually unplugged this weekend.

Here’s how this has worked historically: I use my phone the way many of us do; I have my Evernote for shopping lists and recipes etc., and my fitbit tracker, and my weather app, my stock market ticket and texting (the tether to my offspring these days). I use it for a variety of things, the least of which appears to be actually as a phone, and most prevalent is for email. Being the checklist-y, anal-retentive person I am, I really do not want to see the little red notification bubble on my mail that I have unread mail. It bothers me. It’s less clean looking. I could turn off the notification badging for email but that would be problematic during work hours (or on working days). So I roll over in the morning, check the phone and oh, there’s email: better answer that. I stop at the grocery store on my way home, and there’s email: better answer that. I pop open the laptop to get that recipe for dinner tonight and there’s email: better answer that. On weekends it would be get up, go to the gym, check in to the gym with my app and there’s email: better answer that. Stop by Home Depot, get those plants I need, let me cross that off my Evernote and there’s email: better answer that.

All of this email of course is not in a vacuum: answering email is step 1 and usually steps 2-48 involve updating some documentation, or sending another email to another person about the email you just got, or doing a power point presentation based off of the email you just received or the email that is due in a couple of days, or updating the excel spreadsheet so you can email the person with that and a link to the other thing about this particular thing, which reminds you about a third thing that you’d better send an email about.

It is a seemingly ceaseless stream if ingress and egress, with me as the human compute between the two; normally I like this but I’ve realized just how much it has taken over my life.  My first inkling was in checking my Delve numbers — my first instinct after seeing them was to be upset my coworkers aren’t as responsive as I am and my second was to realize I could never share these numbers with my husband else I’d get lectured.

The lesson of all of this is that I will make an effort to detach work email from my phone on weekends — or at least occasional weekends — going forward. I can commit to email — but I need to re-establish ground rules.

 

Listening Ears

The last month or so has been an exercise in emotional control and perseverance: there are the usual challenges (it’s the last productive month before people start to serially take off for holidays, trying to eat healthily when people bring in baked goods is difficult, etc.) and new and unwelcome ones (a dear friend has passed on, the car decided I needed to spend some serious cash on it, a coworker is leaving which in turn throws into sharp relief just how much I can separate work and life). As such I haven’t had time to blog or really reflect on much: I’ve spent most of the month reacting and creating contingency plans.

As November is gone and I find myself firmly in the twelfth month, I have either got better at dealing with these challenges or I’ve become numb to their effect. The result is that I can finally take some time to concentrate on a (relatively) new concept: being self-aware and open-minded during challenging times (especially meetings).

We’ve had some training on this recently at the ‘soft, and courtesy of a side-program I’m getting a larger tutorial in how perspective can shape an entire interaction for the better (or worse). Traditionally I am not one to necessarily assume the best of intentions in dealing with someone during conflict — it’s something most people do not default to. (I know of one person who I think can honestly say that during a contentious debate can keep her “opponent” in a positive light; it’s fitting that she is the extremely patient Executive Director of a nonprofit devoted to helping schoolchildren (and teenagers alike)).

The idea of unconscious bias is not a new one, it’s the reason I assume the teenager in the brand new Porsche in front of me is spoiled rotten (instead of thinking they may be enjoying a ride with Mom or Grandma in their car), that the guy who cut me off on the freeway is a jerk (instead of hoping that whatever emergency they’re rushing off to is quickly resolved), that the person at work who hasn’t got back to me is a slacker (instead of positing that their workload is just as heavy as mine). It’s the reason some bosses assume it is ill-advised to hire single mothers (and some deliberately hire them), why some tourists raise their voice to speak English increasingly loudly to the people who don’t understand them, and why most people think NPR listeners are Loony Lefty Libs. (Hi.)

Nor is the concept of self-awareness a new one, if not practiced terribly often. In an era of “selfies” and Kardashians, you’d think self-awareness abounds, but alas it does not. The next time you think you are self aware, check how long it takes you to calm down after an argument with your spouse: that is, once the issue at hand has been resolved and how long until your autonomic nervous system chills out (e.g., your tone of voice changes, your heart rate slows down, you stop grimacing and feeling like you’re still arguing but aren’t really sure about what anymore).

In other words, it’s hard, when the guy has just cut you off and your latte has landed in your lap, to stop and think “gosh I hope he gets there in time”. It’s equally hard to sit in a meeting with someone who is disparaging your product or questioning your priorities to believe they are coming from a positive (or even just productive) space. It’s a skill set to practice and a useful one at work and at home, to be sure.  It’s harder still when the media (“social” and otherwise) is screaming you about the impending Armageddon (be it ISIL or Climate Change or Global Economies or Airbags or Guns or Presidential Candidates), to be positive about much.

The suggested approach (from training, shortly to be invoked in different ways) is to practice active listening: in other words, to let the other person say what they need to say NOT with a view to “how much longer do I have to listen to this drivel” but with an earnest attempt to understand where they are coming from, and acknowledge that position. This, combined with assuming the best of intentions, should serve to deter the impression that the other person is wasting your time/out to get you. The other tool provided includes essentially a “so what are we going to do about it?” mechanism — it’s perfectly fine to air an issue, but come ready to solve it or to commit to solving it. This should serve to ensure that conflict — when it does arise — is used in a positive and productive fashion. These things sound practical and practicable, but I suspect in the heat of the moment they aren’t that easy to call upon. I think, however, it is better to try, in these trying times.

 

 

Pink and Blue

I was at a child’s birthday party/dinner last night and we were discussing pedicures. One of the boys was running around with his nails done and I had stated that I had asked my son if he ever wanted to do that (for he was welcome to come with me) to which he assertively said “no”. When I retold the story I included my pointing out to him that they have “plenty of ‘boy’ colors” to which a friend of mine (appropriately) chided me with the question: “What is a ‘boy’ color?”

She and I both knew the actual text of the conversation was my attempt to clarify to my son that if he wanted to have his nails done a color other than pink or red that that was available these days, and that my use of “boy” was to appeal to a child who had already had societally-driven color choices drilled into him; and that her attempt to tease me was the sort of thing friends do. I am sexist in some ways but not that one. That said it did open the wider discussion of gender color stereotypes, which is one reason I like hanging out with the people I hang out with, because we didn’t have to devolve into a contrived political correctness or a stunted conversation about color choice equality.

To provide some background: one friend has a boy and girl each, another has the same, a third has two girls. I have one boy, and elect to dote on girls by proxy. But this conversation, plus a recent review of the Mindware catalog, got me thinking.

It’s no secret that the toy aisles of Target, or Toys R Us, or really any other mainstream store, are segregated into three types: “Gender Neutral” toys, “Boy” toys, and “Girl” toys. The “Girl” toys aisles are helpfully marked by pink signage and include things like dolls, baby dolls, Barbie dolls, domestic dress-up games, and (possibly) Pink Legos. The “Boy” toys aisles are manfully black and blue and red and include Nerf guns, trucks, traditional Legos, new movie-themed Legos, and Legos that look fairly militaristic. In the middle you have card games, balls, and Slip-and-Slides.

Why do my friends’ daughter’s Legos need to be pink? They are defaulted to build houses and ice cream shops, fine: you can build a perfectly serviceable house out of red and blue and yellow Legos, because we all did that when we were growing up. And if they are red or yellow or blue you don’t have to build a house or ice cream shop, you can build a rocket. Or a scale model of the Revolutionary War.

Why does her son’s Medieval Lego kit have only armed soldiers? Anyone who spent time in their History class knows that most of those soldiers were buffeted 10:1 by peasantry, either in terms of someone to go get the grain that fed them to someone who took care of the horses. There’s no queen, no princess, no baker-lady (for gender roles *were* explicit in those times and so Lego would be perfectly correct to have them in a set identifying as that part of history). But no females of any kind can be found in the kit. This very manful Lego kit is full of manly manliness and action. Girls need not apply.

The Star-Wars new Lego minifigures this year at Target have two (2) females out of what looks to be about 50 new minifigures. They are Leia in the gold bikini and Padme in the ripped-midriff shirt. Not Leia in her Cloud City costume, or Padme in her full regalia (Lego has found a way to make capes, they could’ve rocked this). (If you go to lego.wikia.com you can see the full minifigure line-up, and there are plenty of other female Star Wars minifigures. But they’re not on display at the Target.)

Why must Goldieblox, that bastion of gender correction in educational toys, be pink for girls? The whole point to Goldieblox was to get girls interested in engineering, to rail against the pink conformist aisles of toys for girls. Why, then, is it pink? Why are the cookware “play sets” for children almost always manned by a girl? My son loves to cook. But the photos on the box are clearly stating that this is a largely female domain.

While there are darned few pink toys in Mindware, there are far more boys in the pages of toys that are about engineering and far more girls shown next to the beading kits. If we can’t get our arched-brow, intelligent-snowflake-producing toy catalogs to play fair how do we ever hope to rescue our girls from the clutches of Barbie?

From the 20’s to WWII, the color “ownership” between boys and girls was inverted: boys wore pink and girls wore blue. Before that children wore white (which, if you think about it, is practical as long as you have a ton of bleach lying about). After WWII this reversed and we have the color “preferences” we see today. With all the challenges our kids have and will have (underfunded schools, bullying made easier via the internet — and this is not just kids, as adults have been doing that for years) can we please not heap upon them color “correctness”?

When you’re first pregnant the question you are asked is “do you know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?”  Some parents elect to make it a surprise and there’s that moment of “discomfort” for the families because now they “have” to shop for yellow or green baby gear. I honestly don’t think the baby will care if s/he is housed in blue or pink; the larger purpose is the social signaling device for this tiny creature to his/her audience as to what his/her gender is. I’m considering making onesies for babies that say things like “Manly enough to wear pink” and “Girly enough to wear blue” just to poke fun at this.

We live in a country of astounding wealth and opportunity and we have larger problems than the color or gender appropriateness of toys. The only way to shape and change the offerings is to vote with your dollars; it’s effective but it takes more patience than some of us have.