Knowing Your Worth in the Real World

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Dear Soph-
I was two weeks away from college graduation and interviewing for my very first “real” job. It was a publishing company and I was interviewing for a position on their promotions team.

It started off well enough. The interviewer seemed funny. She regaled me with personal stories of promotional events, projects she’s worked on, authors she’d met. She talked and talked. And I listened. I would try to interject a question here and there to show my interest, but mostly, she just talked. Aaaaaaaand talked.

Then came the pop quiz. And it went something like this:
Her: “I’m going to give you a scenario – you tell me what happened and how you would handle it. You have a book signing set up. You and the author are there, a line of fans is quickly forming, but the author’s books are nowhere to be found. Even though the delivery service confirmed delivery. What happened?”
Me: “Ummmm…maybe the store manager received the delivery and accidentally put all the books out on the shelves for sale?”
Her: “Possibly…but, no, that’s not what happened. What happened?”
Me: “Were they delivered to the wrong location?”
Her: “Could be…but no.”
Me: “Okaaaaaaaayyyyy…” Awkward silence.
Her: “What happened was another manager had put the box of books in a back storeroom, but didn’t tell anyone.”

More awkward silence. Me nodding, with a perplexed look on my face trying to appear engrossed. The storeroom, you say? Fascinating.

After I’d miserably failed her whodunit caper, and she realized we were coming up on our hour time slot, this is how she chose to end the interview:
Her: “You know, I don’t think you’d be a good fit here. We need someone who can be a leader, not a follower.”
Me: “And I’ve given you the impression that I’m not a leader?”
Her: “Let me put it this way…if you came to work one day and you saw one of your coworkers wearing a black leather mini skirt, fishnet stockings, sky high stilettos and a dog collar, I think you’re the type of person who would come to work the next day wearing the same thing.”
Me: “A dog collar?”
Her: “Yes, that’s what I think.”

I could have told her she was wrong (which she so obviously was). I could have tried to defend myself. But what was the point? She was clearly the type of person who was quick to judge and yet a terrible judge of character. And not only that, she thought it appropriate to voice that judgment to me. After allowing me to utter a grand total of about 7 words during the entire “interview.” You may think I’m exaggerating when I say the only questions she asked me revolved around the “mystery of the missing books.” But I’m not.

So why would I  want to work for someone who took so little interest in me, but was ready and willing to trash me as a person? All that mattered is that I knew she was wrong. I couldn’t have cared less if she knew it. I would be successful – and happier – without her. This laughable misjudgment on her part would, ultimately, turn out to be her loss. I was a mere infant in the professional world, but I had enough respect for myself to realize that.

And you need to realize that, too. Even when you’re just starting out. When you’re nervous about your first real job. You’re scared no one will hire you. You’re intimidated or worried about how you will be perceived. The whole weight of this “grown up” thing is bearing down on you. Believe me, kid, I’ve been there. But keep that respect for yourself. You have a tremendous amount to offer. You are smart. You are accountable. You are hard working. You are kind. Know your worth. If they don’t see it, then it’s their loss. And don’t let ANYONE disrespect you. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior. I don’t care how important their title may sound.

So, instead of launching into a passionate defense about how I would never be a follower – how I always strive to be a leader and encourage others – blah blah blah, I simply thanked her for her time (knowing when to pick your battles is another lesson I need to teach you). She smiled, walked around the desk and held out her business card for me to take. I smiled,  took her business card and crushed it in my hand.

Dog collar, my ass.

Love, Mom

Don’t Be an A**hole at the Office

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Dear Soph-
I’ve worked in the corporate world for some time now…it can be an interesting place…full of interesting people. Whatever career you embark on after college, Corporate America or not, these tips will serve you well.

Cube Etiquette: Take your private calls on your cell phone – outside
I’m not saying you can’t call a friend (or your mommy!) from your desk; however, if you think there is even the slightest chance that you may raise your voice – or if you’re talking about something that you really wouldn’t want your coworkers to hear, then take a walk.

I sat next to a woman a few years ago who was always having inappropriate conversations at her desk. And when I say inappropriate, I mean yelling profanities like she was at a boxing match. She provided a fair amount of gossip fodder for the ol’ water cooler, but the time that takes the cake was her screaming battle with the poor folks at her cable provider. If I remember correctly, she was trying to get some charge reversed on her bill and having little luck.

They kept putting her on hold and passing her from one representative to the next, because – I can only assume – she was so verbally abusive to each person who picked up the phone.

“I can’t keep holding,” she seethed through gritted teeth, “I have a f*cking JOB!”

“Do you understand what that means? Or do you not understand because you’re just a f*cking customer service rep?!”

“Don’t put me on hold again.”

“Don’t…don’t put me…DO NOT PUT ME ON HOLD AGAIN!”

This went on for the better part of a half hour.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just stared at my computer screen unable to concentrate on my work. I half expected John Quinones to pop over my cube wall with the What Would You Do? camera crew in tow.

“Now, Emily, tell us why you didn’t step in here.”

“Well, John, because she’s batshit crazy.”

Email Etiquette: Think before hitting send
First and foremost…go easy on the “Reply All” option. We recently endured not one, but two, instances where someone sent an email to a group list (of several hundred – if not several thousand – employees) by mistake. I opened the email and realized, within about an eighth of a second, that it was an accident and was not meant for me. So I deleted it. What followed started off as funny and then just became sad. Hundreds…and I mean HUNDREDS…of people hitting “Reply All:”

“I think this was sent to me by mistake.”

“I don’t handle X, Y and Z.”

“You have the wrong John Smith.”

“Please remove me from the list, I don’t support this area.”

“Hey everyone, stop replying all!”

“STOP REPLYING ALL!!!!!!!!!!”

“This was sent to me in error…I’m not on that team.”

“Seriously just delete these emails…STOP REPLYING ALL!!! You are clogging up everyone’s email boxes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The irony was completely lost on all these people “replying all” and then angrily typing “STOP HITTING REPLY ALL.”

At some point, some jokester sent a picture of a goat to everyone and then the “reply all’s” seemed to die down. Good times.

Another thing that really grinds my gears is when people leave me hanging. I understand people are busy; I understand you might not be able to get back to someone right away or you might need a day or two to look into a request. But if someone sends you an email asking for your help at least let them know you’re working on it. Have the common courtesy to say “Hey, got your email…need to look in to this…I’ll get back to you by Friday.” Don’t leave anyone hanging. It’s unprofessional. And just plain rude.

Meeting Etiquette: Get in, get out, get on with your work
I’ve sat through A LOT of meetings. Some are extremely productive…most are not. Thankfully, I have found myself working for a leadership team that seems to know the difference and has narrowed down meetings to only the essentials. But when you find yourself in one of those pointless, agonizingly long and drawn out, seriously-just-send-me-an-email-instead-of-making-me-sit-here meetings, please keep the following in mind:

Do not ask a question just for the sake of asking a question and do not speak just for the sake of hearing your own voice. Nothing irritates me more than someone stating something blatantly obvious or paraphrasing the speaker’s words right back at them in an effort to appear more engaged or insightful than the rest of us who are probably glazed over staring at our blank notepads. Believe me, no one is sitting there thinking “Wow, John is so insightful…what a great question.” Instead, they’re thinking “Awesome…thanks for making us run over, John.”

If you are hosting a meeting that involves any kind of projection or technology – GET TO THE CONFERENCE ROOM EARLY AND SET EVERYTHING UP BEFORE THE MEETING BEGINS. Seriously.

If you are given a work phone, do not bring it in a meeting and if you do, do not sit there emailing. Unless you are working with a Vice President or above – or you are the Vice President or above – it can wait. I highly doubt the company will fold if you need to wait an hour to respond to an email.

Try to avoid using buzzwords. If I hear “low hanging fruit,” “quick win,” “value add” or “bandwidth” one more time…

So there you have it, kid. I could probably blather on here, but I figured I’d give you the three most important ones in my book. Oh and if you’re going to talk trash about someone, don’t do it over email…do it over coffee. Never leave a paper trail.

Love, Mom

Consider the Source

Dear Soph-
As much as I’d like to keep you little and protect you forever, I realize there will be times as you are growing up where you will have your feelings hurt. Someone might insult your appearance, or your work, or your character. And instead of hunting that person down and kicking the crap out of him or her, I will offer up a piece of advice that my mom often said to me when I was growing up:

Consider the source.

I’ll give you a (simple) example: I came home from school upset because Joey told me my art project was ugly.

To help make me feel better, my mom said this: “First of all, your painting is not ugly. You did a beautiful job. And second of all, consider the source.”

What does “consider the source” mean? Well, in the context above, it meant this:

Joey is a little asshole. What do you care if he doesn’t like your painting? What does he know? Do you like your painting? If so, that’s all that matters.

Consider the source is about putting things in perspective. Taking a step back and looking at the situation and determining if someone’s opinion (or insult, or criticism, or back-handed compliment, or perceived slight) is worth upsetting you. Does what they say (or think, or do) really matter in the grand scheme of your amazing life?

If the answer is no – and take it from me, the answer will most often be no – then brush it off and move on. Why waste the energy on this person? Why let this person’s negativity get you upset? Or change the way you feel about a situation or about yourself?

What you need to do is suss out the people in your life who truly matter. When you get down to it, whose opinion really counts? Whose opinion do you care enough about to let it affect your thoughts about yourself and your outlook on life? Ultimately, this should be a short list. You need to live for you.

And yes, I realize this is easier said than done when you’re in the midst of the minefield that is adolescence. But it’s something you should try and keep in the back of your mind always. Growing up and in the “real world.”

My wish for you is that in the face of criticism or negativity you are able to step back and consider the source…recognize what an amazing individual you are and have the confidence to not let that negativity get under your skin. Always remember that if someone is trying to bring you down, it only means you are above them.

Love, Mom

It’s the Little Things…

Dear Soph-
I thought I would devote this letter to some of the basics. Just a few reminders that, upon first read, may not seem like much, but will take you far in life. Especially as you grow up and venture out on your own. It’s about confidence, common courtesy, positive first impressions, politeness, respect and accountability. All traits that I will make it my mission to instill in you.

A Firm Handshake
This is something that Grandpa taught me. Before college interviews, job interviews, or meeting new people, I had his voice in my head, reminding me to offer up a firm handshake. As a manager, he interviewed and hired many people throughout his career and he always used to say that he could tell a lot about a person from their handshake. Don’t offer up some clammy, weak, limp, fish hand. Be proud! Stand tall! Show your confidence and firmly and warmly shake someone’s hand. If ever in doubt, practice on Grandpa. (and don’t feel bad if all he says is “pretty good”…you’re a young girl, not the Hulk)

Hold the Door
If you are walking in or out of a store or restaurant (any public place) and you see someone walking up to enter said establishment, hold the door open for them. It’s the polite and courteous thing to do.

And for the love of all that is Holy, if someone holds the door open for you, SAY THANK YOU. Loud enough so they can hear you and with a smile on your face.

That is one of my biggest pet peeves…when I hold the door for someone and they just walk on by as if I’m not even there. Like the wind blew the door open. Like it was a mechanized door that opened upon their approach. It’s just rude…plain and simple. If this happens to you one day (and it will) you have my permission to loudly call after the person “YOU’RE WELCOME!” It probably won’t have any effect, but, damn it…it sure does make you feel a little better.

Eye Contact
This is simple, but can take some practice. Look people in the eye when you talk to them. There is nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than when I am having a conversation with someone and they look ANYWHERE but at me.

I had a colleague recently who had the habit of avoiding eye contact at all costs. He was the nicest guy, seemed very intelligent, but he would not look you in eye. Ever. It didn’t matter if you talked to him one-on-one or if he was talking in a team meeting. He would stare at the table the entire time he talked. It was awkward. Maybe he was shy, maybe he was nervous…I just found it slightly off-putting.

When you look someone in the eye, you show you’re interested in what the other person has to say. You show that you respect them. And you show that you are a confident young lady. Plus, you have your dad’s beautiful blue eyes…and who wouldn’t want to stare into those?

Be on Time
Punctuality, kid. It matters. When you’re on time you’re telling the other person that their time matters. Late for a job interview? Makes you look unprofessional. Late for dinner with a friend? Just annoying. Arrive late to the start of a play? Rude to the actors and disruptive to the rest of audience trying to enjoy the show. You get the picture. Now, obviously things happen. Traffic jams, car trouble, power goes out and your alarm doesn’t go off…it’s life, and, for the most part, people will understand. It’s when you make a habit of it that’s the problem. So make it a point to be on time. Even better, arrive early.

Please and Thank You
These are the true basics. A simple “please” and “thank you” is something I will expect from you from an early age. But I realize, like everything else, this must be taught. I remember when I was little, after my parents would take us out to dinner, or take us to a movie, or buy us something…as we were walking back to our car, my mom would say “What do you say?” And we would enthusiastically reply “THANK YOU!” This took practice and repetition. But, eventually there came a time when we no longer needed to be reminded to say thank you or please. And, as an adult, it naturally rolls of my tongue. Again, it’s about common courtesy. It’s about being polite. It’s about genuine gratitude.

So there you have it, kid. Some basic advice, but still important. And while I can say all of this until I’m blue in the face, I know that – in the end – actions speak louder than words. So I will walk the talk and live by example for you. And, should that fail, I will constantly remind you… all together now, “What do you say?”

Love, Mom

“Life’s About Changing…Nothing Ever Stays the Same…”

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Dear Soph-
Your dad did something today that I never thought he would do. He sold his 2002 Pontiac TransAm WS6…with a Corvette engine (dad requested I add that fact in here).

Now, seeing as how they stopped making that car in 2002 and Pontiac went out of business several years ago, this will, most likely, mean absolutely nothing to you.

But let me tell you…this is a big deal.

Your dad loved that car. And when I say “love,” I mean I’m pretty sure there were days when I came in a close second. He only drove it in the warmer months of the year…April 2 to October 2 to be exact. That Spring day in April became like another holiday in our house. We would have a countdown to April 2…I’m surprised a special calendar wasn’t displayed on our fridge. And in the fall and winter I would catch him opening the garage to just take a peek…or sitting in the driver’s seat and revving the engine, no doubt daydreaming about tearing out of the driveway for a joyride.

I must admit the car was a head turner. I felt “cool” riding in it. And I know your dad did, too. Your dear old mom never drove it, as I am incapable of driving stick (a skill you should probably learn one day), but I have many fond memories of riding shotgun as your dad sped around our little town.

While I don’t have an affinity for cars like your dad and Grandpa Don do, I can certainly appreciate the uniqueness of that car. Other car enthusiasts seemed impressed by it when we were out and about…often stopping dad to ask him questions. What year? How much horsepower? What kind of engine? I thought it was cute how much your dad liked the attention.

What I realize now, as I see your dad struggling with his decision, is that the TransAm was a part of his identity. He was a different man when he got it back in 2002. With a different outlook on life, a different job, different challenges and priorities. The car represented freedom and it made him stand out.

But I think he has realized that, over time, he has taken on a new identity. He has grown up and changed in so many wonderful ways. He has different priorities in life…different interests. And there are so many other things that represent the incredible man he is today.

There is something to be said for nostalgia…for holding on to our past. For holding on to the good memories and a piece of that person we were. There is a comfort in it. A type of security blanket.

But there is also something to be said for looking ahead. Making hard decisions and choices to benefit the new life you’re living and the wonderful new direction you are headed.

Change can be scary. But change is a part of life. It’s necessary, though uncomfortable, at times.

You will be faced with so many choices in your life. So many decisions to make. Some will be effortless and some will really make you think. But don’t shy away from those hard decisions. Don’t shy away from change. And hard or scary as it may be, don’t let nostalgia stop you from moving ahead.

I am so proud of your father.

Love, Mom

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Getting Your Priorities Straight

Dear Soph-
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain: Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

Take a minute and let that marinate.

Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

I found this quote when I was about 23. Living on my own, done with college, working my first job in marketing. I loved living on my own. I loved my apartment. I was (and still am) a very independent person and was thrilled to be in the real world. I was dating someone at the time who didn’t put me first. I was the option. And I was doing everything in my power to make him the priority. And you know what? It got old. I started resenting the way I was being treated. But I held on for a little while, thinking…hoping…that he would change. That one day he would realize how awesome I was and start making more of an effort. Start doing things that I wanted to do. Start wanting to really get to know me. But it didn’t happen. And I put forth all the effort. And went out of my way to make him happy. And it was never really reciprocated.

So I decided one day that I would rather be alone than be an option. If I was going to go out of my way to make anyone happy, why shouldn’t it be me?

This is so true for any relationship you have in life. Friendships and romantic relationships. Don’t allow yourself to be the option. And if you do find yourself as the option, I pray you find the strength and the confidence to make a positive change and walk away. You’re better off by yourself, finding ways to make you happy. Exploring the world around you and discovering what makes you tick. What you’re passionate about. What makes your life worth living. Because when you do find that someone, then you’ll know exactly what you want from them. And why waste the energy on someone who can’t find the energy for you?

So please remember that you are quite a catch. Anyone would be privileged to call you a friend or girlfriend or wife. Don’t waste your time or your tears on anyone who does not see that or who doesn’t fall down in prayer, thanking their lucky stars that you chose them.

Because I thank God every night that He chose me to be your mom.

Love, Mom

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