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Posts Tagged ‘helping others’

I don’t want you to ‘pick my brain’!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Money, photography, work on August 6, 2014 at 3:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Will you share your secrets with me?

Will you share your secrets with me?

Here’s an interesting issue — when (or not) to let someone seeking work-related advice to “pick your brain”. Without charging them for your time and expertise.

From the New York Post:

“When people are self-employed, you absolutely need to think of how you’re spending your time,” says executive coach Mike Woodward. “That said, charging for the occasional mentoring service is a slippery slope. It’s one thing to brand yourself as a consultant if that’s what you want to do, but monetizing mentoring could become a distraction from your own career goals.”

But call the concept “consulting” and all of a sudden it makes sense to charge.

It’s one thing to brand yourself as a consultant if that’s what you want to do, but monetizing mentoring could become a distraction from your own career goals.

 – Mike Woodward

The eponymous creator of Anne Chertoff Media, a boutique marketing agency that caters to the wedding industry, found a similar niche.

“I honestly got annoyed with people taking me to lunch and thinking that the cost of a meal could equal my contacts, expertise and advice, so I created a service called ‘Pick My Brain’ on my website. For $500, I give 90 or so minutes of whatever advice the customer needs,” she explains.

We’ve got two competing impulses — the urge to be generous and helpful to others, which reflects our better nature and realizes that other have done this for us, likely, along our own path.

But in an era of $4.05 (yes, here in NY) gallon gasoline, when my weekly grocery bill has literally doubled in the past few years — and when my industry is offering pennies on the dollar for the most skilled among us, what’s the upside?

Time is money! You take up my time, without payment in any form, you’ve cost me income.

And some skills take decades to hone and sharpen. Anyone who thinks that “picking my brain” will vault them into The New York Times is dreaming; I’ve helped one fellow writer get there because she deserved it.

So I bill my time at $150/hour for consultations and individual counseling. I’m going to raise it in 2015 to $200 an hour.

But…didn’t a lot of people help me? Frankly, not really. A few, yes.

I have mentored many other writers and am, very selectively, still happy to do so.

But when and where and to whom is my choice. In my younger and more idealistic days, I assumed that my generosity would be reciprocated, even thanked. Wrong!

Now I’m too busy funding my own basic needs, and a retirement. I can’t afford to give away hours of my time. It is what it is.

The people I choose to mentor are: bright, highly motivated, say thank you, follow through quickly, and don’t argue endlessly with my advice, (they can ignore it, but arguing feels rude to me.) They do whatever they can in return and, I trust, will share their good fortune with others as well.

Do you let people pick your brain?

Do you ask others for this?

Is being generous a smart move? (Is being a tight-fisted (^$@#*#?)

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Media, urban life, US, work on April 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

Is this really a question?

Apparently so…

From the cover story in this weekend’s New York Times Magzine, (for you non-journos’s, a spot so visible and prestigious some writers would {and possibly have} kill for).

It profiles Wharton professor Adam Grant, 31, whose compulsive generosity seems a little…weird…to the writer, who is, (I met her, competing on the same story), ferociously ambitious and competitive:

Grant might not seem so different from any number of accessible and devoted professors on any number of campuses, and yet when you witness over time the sheer volume of Grant’s commitments, and the way in which he is able to follow through on all of them, you start to sense that something profoundly different is at work. Helpfulness is Grant’s credo. He is the colleague who is always nominating another for an award or taking the time to offer a thoughtful critique or writing a lengthy letter of recommendation for a student — something he does approximately 100 times a year. His largess extends to people he doesn’t even know. A student at Warwick Business School in England recently wrote to express his admiration and to ask Grant how he manages to publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Grant did not think, upon reading that e-mail, I cannot possibly answer in full every such query and still publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Instead, Grant, who often returns home after a day of teaching to an in-box of 200 e-mails, responded, “I’m happy to set up a phone call if you want to discuss!”

Grant suggests we each fall into one of three categories: takers, matchers and givers.

Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders…The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.

I find this question of professional generosity interesting — and always have. I’ve been a giver for decades.

Grants

Grants (Photo credit: Steve deBurque)

Oh, I’ve seen the looks of confusion or bemusement or pity when American colleagues — big-time takers, highly skilled matchers — see me giving away my time, expertise, contacts or skills.

The idea of actually helping a potential competitor best me, at anything, marks me, in zero-sum America, as slow-witted, a rube, someone who simply doesn’t know any better.

The default position, certainly in journalism in New York City, is to stab everyone in the eye who stands in your way and suck up really hard to anyone you think could possibly advance your career.

Trick is — which one is which?

The old farts who used to rule this town journalistically are all desperately trying to re-invent themselves at 55 or 63 or 47, while the 23-year-olds are running the ship. Even A. J. Jacobs, a 38-year-old best-selling author, only half-jokingly, describes himself as “doddering.”

So I make a point of being nice to some people half my age — these days, in my industry, they’re the ones with jobs and work to hand out!

I also give away my time far less often than I used to, I admit. I’ve watched some people I once helped skyrocket to positions of power and acclaim. And, yes, it pisses me off that they’ve never once thought to reciprocate or even drop a “Thanks!” email or note or call.

But that just tells me what sort of selfish ingrates people they are.

In my view, helping someone succeed (intelligently), doesn’t mean choosing a life of ramen and homelessness. It means we both get to celebrate success, maybe not at the same time.

It does mean having the self-confidence you, too, will succeed. So, for me, being helpful is also a powerful measure of confidence in what I can do, and have done. And will still do.

I’ll still extend a helping hand whenever and wherever it feels right.

Because — it feels right. Helping others, judiciously, is the right thing to do.

Do you help others professionally?

Which one of the three are you?

What do we owe one another?

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, Money, news, politics, religion, urban life, US on November 19, 2012 at 3:28 am
Donations

Donations (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

In 1984, Canadian writer, academic — and later politician — Michael Ignatieff wrote a book, “The Needs of Strangers”. In it, he says:

“A decent and humane society requires a shared language of the good. The one our society lives by — a language of rights — has no terms for those dimensions of the human good which require acts of virture unspecifiable as a legal or civil obligation.”

In the United States, those who give money to charity, it turns out, are least likely to give it to those most in financial need, writes columnist Eduardo Porter in The New York Times:

Religious organizations receive about one-third of the nation’s total charitable contributions, not including donations to religious hospitals, schools and social charities. Donations to human services charities, by contrast, which work to ease poverty, feed the hungry and the like, amount to less than 12 percent of the total.

It’s a question I ask myself frequently – what, if anything beyond our taxes, do we owe to others in our world, whether that’s in our town, county, province/state, country, hemisphere?

Others’ needs for help are boundless and our individual resources with which to alleviate them — unless we are very wealthy or have no need, ourselves, to earn a living — extremely limited.

In the same edition of the Times containing Porter’s column is the full-page ad announcement of a multi-million gift to a college, bearing, of course, the generous donor’s name.

Asks Porter:

As the government grapples with how to address the nation’s deficits over coming decades, Americans have an opportunity to reassess the role of philanthropy in addressing the nation’s problems. Should we continue to provide lavish tax breaks? Should we demand that in return for preferential tax treatment, programs target more clearly the needs of the poor?

Many Americans might think that keeping tax breaks for donations to build, say, a new university football stadium when so many poor students can barely afford college, is not the best way to spend scarce resources.

Those on the right end of the political spectrum scoff at the notion of handing money to the poor and indigent, arguing that it merely enables them to continue their shiftless, lazy behaviors. Those on the left feel it’s immoral to let needy people starve, suffer and die from restricted or non-existent access to the basics of human dignity: food, shelter, medical care.

Last week my church, a small Episcopal parish in a wealthy town north of New York City, held its annual clothing sale, in which we donate our own clothes and shoes, for adults and children, sell them for low prices, then distribute the money earned to local charities. I worked a few days at the sale, and a few people asked when prices would drop to half-off, when they could better afford a wool hat at $2.50 instead of $5, or a pair of leather shoes for $7 instead of $14.

We raised more than $50,000, far more than if we’d been asked to open our wallets individually.

It’s humbling and sobering to see what sale shoppers need and can afford, and somehow ironic that the sale depends on volunteer labor — all the stay-at-home mothers with high-earning husbands flee at 2pm to pick up their children — and the only people who can offer their time are retired, unemployed or, in my case, who work freelance and may have a flexible schedule.

Those who came to shop included parents buying children’s clothes, teens snapping up fun stuff and a nun in her habit who, after I folded and bagged her sweater, asked with a smile: “Do you do closets?”

For many of us, the world has become a place where we rarely encounter, touch or speak to people whose lives are circumstances are unlike our own, whether richer or poorer. We attend different schools and colleges — if at all — travel by different conveyances, shop in different stores.

The clothing sale brings us together in a week-long fellowship. Like many people in this economy, I’m liquidity-poor, but time-rich.

I also serve on the board of a 30-year-old volunteer group that offers aid to non-fiction writers who have hit a financial crisis. We can mail a check for up to $4,000 within a week of getting an application. Usually, they have suffered the “triple whammy” — they’ve lost work, lost their health and lost the financial support of a spouse or partner.

Every letter we receive is a “there but for the grace of God” experience.

If I didn’t have a generous, loving husband with a steady job and excellent health insurance — which so many people do not — I might be writing one of those letters myself.

Few of us will escape our lives financially unscathed, without a crisis in which we desperately and suddenly need help from people who do not know, or owe, us — a dying parent, an ill child, a lost job (or several), a hurricane or flood — or both.

Poverty, misery and physical devastation are frightening. They smell bad. Storm-ravaged houses, crying children, old people huddled around a trash can fire. No one wants to be that person.

It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist than meet them face to face, seeing in their weary eyes and lined faces the existential terror that, one day, might be ours.

Blaming the poor and indigent is an easy out. There are few quick, simple solutions, as the miserable and angry survivors of Hurricane Sandy are still learning.

What do you think we owe one another?

Are taxes the only way to re-distribute funds from the better-off?

Do you do volunteer work and/or give money to charity?

All Mentors, All The Time

In behavior, business, education, Media, men, Money, parenting, science, women, work on September 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm
"A Helping Hand". 1881 painting by E...
Image via Wikipedia

Much is made of mentors — finding one, keeping one, making sure you have the right one.

Many younger and/or less experienced writers look to me for help. I just got an email from another of the many Caitlin Kellys out there, this one a college sophomore who hopes to become a writer or editor and asked my advice.

I, too, look to my peers and colleagues for their wisdom. I turn in the final manuscript (yay!) of my second book today, and it’s much stronger for the generosity and skill of my four “first readers”, fellow professional writers who made the time to read it and offer their comments and insights.

The secret of mentoring is that we’re all doing it, all the time.

My two most helpful mentors, recently, are women both 10 to 15 years younger than I. In this economy, even the most seasoned of us have to change gears mid-career — ready or not!

Where to find wise and generous help? Maybe not from the equally dislocated people our age, but from those successfully navigating different fields or industries a few steps down the ladder.

It’s counter-intuitive to look down instead of up, but these two women have taught me a lot. One comes from the world of business and corporate life — where people use words like “value-added” and “deliverables” — helping me prepare for a speech this week to some of the nation’s largest retailers.

My other friend is a successful blogger who began her career on-line. When True/Slant, my paid blogging gig for a year, was sold and 95 percent of the contributors who had built its value to 1.5 million uniques a month were tossed away, she consoled me. Print is brutal, but editors have loyalties. Not so in the online world, she explained.

This week, my partner spent an hour on the phone with a young photographer who turned to him for his wisdom — while he, too, is being mentored by several veterans of the new niche he is moving into.

No one succeeds alone.

Who do you mentor? Who mentors you?

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One Suburban Mom, One Injured Teen — Compassion In Action

In behavior, women on June 1, 2010 at 10:27 am
Reflection of a heart

Image by Nganguyen via Flickr

I like this story a lot, from The New York Times. It’s about a young man, Alex Carno, whose leg was shattered by a bullet who met a suburban Mom when he was in rehab:

With dizzying speed, the pace of his life slowed to a crawl. It now takes patience no teenager has to move to the door with a walker, to wait for a visit from a friend, to wait for someone to call someone who could arrange for the right paperwork.

But once or twice a week the phone rings or the apartment ringer sounds, and a woman with no official title or longstanding relationship to Alex tries to move his life into fast-forward.

Jenny Goldstock Wright met Alex in the recreation room of a Westchester rehabilitation hospital where her grandfather, 95, was recovering from a stroke. It came out that the two men — one young, one old — had both grown up in Harlem, three blocks away and 80 years apart. “It was like he was a neighbor or something,” Alex said.

Bonds form fast in hospitals: Families see each other’s pain and fear, and they understand it, from fierce firsthand experience.

“I just felt instantly he was a good kid, and lonely and scared,” said Ms. Goldstock Wright, a 39-year-old philanthropic adviser who lives in Katonah, N.Y. She doesn’t know all the details of Alex’s injury — he told her he had been shot over a Marmot winter jacket he was wearing — or even much about his past life. (The police said the case was still under investigation.)

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” she said. “The system’s treating him like a throwaway. He deserves better.”

Real compassion demands action. It’s so much easier to write a check to charity — or not, or to ignore or turn away from another’s needs, especially if they don’t look or talk or behave like us or live in the same neighborhood.

I was a Big Sister for a while, to a 13-year-old girl also being raised by her grandmother in a poor and chaotic household. It’s not easy to enter the life of someone so much younger, make a commitment to them, let them count on you and know you have to keep showing up because they need you. It’s important and valuable and teaches both people a lot about themselves. But it’s challenging and for that reason alone, many people shy away from such intimacy.

I also live in Westchester, whose affluence can be stifling and smug, an insular world of Range Rovers and enormous mansions.

Kudos to Wright for doing the right, kind thing.

See Something, Do Something — New NYC CPR Program, Thanks To A Woman Who Did

In behavior, women on January 5, 2010 at 10:40 am

Hire her! It’s one thing to see a problem, another to not stop until you’ve helped to create a solution.

I loved this story in today’s New York Times about an unemployed woman, Laura van Straaten, who saw someone giving CPR on a slushy street corner, wanted to learn CPR and found that busy New Yorkers living in small apartments made rounding up volunteers tougher than she’d anticipated:

With the help of her city government liaisons, Ms. van Straaten, who previously worked mostly with glossy media outlets like NBC and The Daily Beast, started meeting with people at the Fire Department. Once the firefighting brass embraced her idea, it was easy to get New York Sports Clubs, which has gyms in all five boroughs and plenty of empty rooms during downtime, to commit to a partnership.

A month ago, Ms. van Straaten ran a meeting at City Hall with people from the mayor’s office, the Fire Department and New York Sports Clubs. That none of the people there answer to her or pay her is testament not just to her will but also to the city’s willingness to facilitate the unpaid workaholism of an obliging citizen. “I remember one long phone conversation about the details of the training program that I had with Laura as she was making stuffing the night before her first big Thanksgiving,” said Lisa Hufcut, public relations director for New York Sports Clubs. “It went late.”

Wednesday marks the official kickoff of FDNY CPR to Go, a three-month pilot program in which members of the Fire Department will offer CPR training at 28 gyms around the city. (It’s free for members and nonmembers alike.) If it works, Ms. van Straaten imagines that CPR training might expand to other fitness facilities throughout the city.

Even Ms. van Straaten, who is avidly pursuing full-time work as an executive at a media company, is a little surprised by how much has happened as a result of a routine walk to the grocery store that snowy December day.

Who's Your Angel? Finally Saw 'It's A Wonderful Life'

In entertainment on December 13, 2009 at 9:34 am
Henry Travers as Clarence after "saving&q...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s one of those Christmas rites of passage that’s uniquely American — watching the 1946 film “It’s A Wonderful Life” — about George Bailey, the small-town boy who longs so desperately to leave his small town of Bedford Falls but spends his life there until the night he decides to kill himself, despairing at his business’s ruin. He’s saved by Clarence, a bulbous-nosed angel.

I thought I’d hate the movie, so lionized it’s been. I watched it for the first time last night prepared to be unmoved.

Yeah, well, I cried by the first commercial. I loved its weird little details, the crow that lives in the bank (?), the squirrel that runs up a character’s arm, Zuzu’s petals (surely a great band name?), and I loved its message, character counts.

It made me think about my angels, the people who appeared in my life at a point when I most needed them, giving me a confidence and feeling of security and safety I didn’t think possible by that point. So, here — so far — are mine:

Gudrun. I found her through the guys at Reuters in Madrid, of course, the summer I spent four months traveling alone through Europe at the age of 20, writing 10 freelance newspaper stories along the way. She was their Barcelona stringer and, I was told, had a huge heart beneath her gruff, blunt, German exterior. She did. With only my nervous phone call as introduction, she welcomed me into her home, leaving me alone with her kids when she and her husband went out, as planned before my call, to a dinner party.

When I returned to Spain weeks later, sick as hell with a really bad cold, arriving late at night with a few Spanish coins, (having planned to stay in France but deciding to keep going by train that day), so dizzy and feverish the floor was moving beneath my feet. I was smelly, sick, broke and alone in the train station at 10:00 p.m. I had no idea who else to call, and called Gudy, who was in the middle of a dinner party. “Come over at once!” she insisted, paying for the taxi, putting me into a hot bath and into a comfortable bed.

Philippe. A tall, white-haired, elegant Frenchman, he was a legend: the founder of a journalism school, a journalism fellowship, a home for wayward boys, a sailing school and a French daily. Oh, and a Resistance hero. I met him after being chosen to join his program, Journalistes en Europe, a life-changing eight months in Paris, with paid travel across Europe to write articles. He was funny, sharp, demanding, loving, irascible. He believed in my talent in a way that stunned me, at 25 just starting what I hoped would be a long and successful career.

He died in November 1986, when I was working in Montreal at the Gazette; impossibly, perhaps, two other former fellows were working in that same newsroom, all of us bound by our love and respect for this man. I finally visited his grave in June 2008, in his Breton hometown of Concarneau. I searched the graveyard in vain for an hour, looking at all the tall, noble obelisks and angels. He was a great man, nationally respected. Surely, one of these was his. Instead, his grave was marked by a raw slab of granite from the islands where his sailing school still runs, his marker a piece of raw wood. I sat with my hand on his stone for half an hour, profoundly grateful to be there, and for the gifts of his life.

Gabi. Our friendship ended about six years ago, but she was there for me when I needed her. I had a knee surgery scheduled for 7:00 a.m. on a day that began with an enormous blizzard. She came by train all the way from downtown Manhattan, then took a cab that could not make it the rest of the way up our steep, winding hill. So, up to her calves in snow, she tromped the rest of the way through it to my door to make it in time. She soothed me before the OR and, literally, caught me falling head-first into a bathroom door afterward, when I was still dopey from anesthetic.

Bill. I’ve blogged here about falling into the clutches of a con man, a vicious criminal who’d done time in Chicago for bilking women and businesses alike. At the point where I feared for my sanity, and my safety, I met — through a night out with Gabi, on a first date with an accountant — Bill, a former NYPD detective. Gentle, calm, quiet, he knew at once the danger I was in and helped me escape it. No one else understood or knew what to do, and he arrived at exactly the right moment.

Have you had an “angel”? Who, when and how?

29 Days Of Giving Can Change Your Life, Says Author With MS

In Health, women on December 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm
A Clock - and a Remembrance of Love

Your time is a gift...Image by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

Altruism can, quite literally, make you feel better, reports The New York Times. A new book, “29 Gifts: How A Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” chronicles the decision by 36-year-old Cami Walker, an L.A. woman diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, to focus her energy every day on others. The result? Reduced pain and a slowing in the progression of her disease.

Ms. Walker gave a gift a day for 29 days — things like making supportive phone calls or saving a piece of chocolate cake for her husband. The giving didn’t cure her multiple sclerosis, of course. But it seems to have had a startling effect on her ability to cope with it. She is more mobile and less dependent on pain medication. The flare-ups that routinely sent her to the emergency room have stopped, and scans show that her disease has stopped progressing.

“My first reaction was that I thought it was an insane idea,” Ms. Walker said. “But it has given me a more positive outlook on life. It’s about stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else.”

And science appears to back her up. “There’s no question that it gives life a greater meaning when we make this kind of shift in the direction of others and get away from our own self-preoccupation and problems,” said Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University on Long Island and a co-author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People” (Broadway, 2007). “But it also seems to be the case that there is an underlying biology involved in all this.”

An array of studies have documented this effect. In one, a 2002 Boston College study, researchers found that patients with chronic pain fared better when they counseled other pain patients, experiencing less depression, intense pain and disability.

Do you make it a point to give to others every day? Is it a gift of your time, money, attention? How, if at all, has it changed your life?

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