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Posts Tagged ‘mentors’

Who’s on your personal board of directors?

In behavior, business, domestic life, education, journalism, life, Media, Money, work on May 18, 2012 at 12:31 am
Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

As Mark Zuckerberg awaited, hoodie-clad, today’s IPO of Facebook, The New York Times did an interesting dissection of the wise and powerful players who helped refine his thinking and strategy over the years, adding value to his vision and therefore adding value to today’s offering:

But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.

One venture capitalist tells how, when he met Mr. Zuckerberg in 2005, the young man wanted more than the V.C.’s money. He wanted an introduction to Mr. Gates. (He eventually got one, on his own. Today, Mr. Gates regularly advises him on philanthropy and management issues.)

“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Mr. Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”

Here’s a fun post on a similar idea by a young Australian businessman, Jimmy Florida:

To make life really interesting a friendship group would have at least one of everything including a doctor, global wanderer, nutritionist, entrepreneur, writer, stripper, drug dealer, dentist, restaurateur, stock broker, accountant, recruiter, masseuse, farmer, banker, bum,  blogger, athlete, celebrity, venture capitalist, monk, artist, politician, Chinese doctor, arms dealer, people smuggler, politician, and rock star  –  you get the idea. This mix would make for a hell of a dinner party and some great conversation!

Whatever you choose to call it — brain trust or friendship group or board of directors — everyone with a shred of ambition needs one. This can start as early as high school if you seek out and cultivate a few wise mentors.

No matter what you know or have studied formally, there’s always going to be a pile of stuff you don’t know, and may actually need to learn (let alone use or publicly discuss or present persuasively) within a few hours or days.

Then you need access people who know this stuff who will help you.

Unlike Florida, though, I don’t just turn to people I know socially. I’m completely fine paying people for their expertise and usually turn to those with excellent references from my posse; I write off their fees as a cost of running my business.

Until or unless you’ve amassed a ton of social capital, do whatever you need to get the smart advice you have to have.
In my 30+ years working as an author and journalist, here are some of those I’ve assembled:

Agent

I’ve been through seven. ‘Nuff said.

Lawyer

Useful for scaring the shit out of greedy lying publishers and others who’ve tried to stiff me out of fees they owed for work I completed under contract — and they reneged. It works. Also useful for reviewing the work of your agent(s.)

Speaking coach

I was about to go on the Diane Rehm radio show, with 2 million listeners — live for an hour, with call-ins. No pressure! I spent two hours the day before with a speaking coach. Helped a lot. Here’s the transcript of that show. Here’s my coach, Christine Clapp. A lively and lovely young woman, she works in D.C. but can work with anyone anywhere via Skype. She’s great.

Career coach

Whenever I or my husband feel like we’re hitting a wall, we give her a call.

Massage therapist

Colorist/stylist

I’ve done a lot of public speaking, teaching and TV. I also live and work in New York, where appearance matters a great deal. A reliable and affordable hair salon (I have two) is a must.

Investment adviser

Personal shopper

When my newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” came out last April I was catapulted from home-in-sweats-world to being photographed for national media and being well-paid to speak at conferences and events all over the country. I needed a professional wardrobe, stat! I did something I’d never done before and it was wise indeed — I went to an upscale retailer, Neiman-Marcus, and threw myself (not literally) into the capable hands of the department manager. I felt fat, horrible, insecure. With calm, cool competence, he brought into the dressing room three dresses, two pairs of jeans and two sweaters. I bought everything! And when Marie Claire magazine asked me, with two days’ notice, to speak to their advertising staff — talk about fashionable women! — I felt completely confident and ready to rock.

Therapist

Even New York dogs have therapists. If you can afford the help and need it, go! Nothing wastes more time and life energy than wallowing in misery and repeating self-destructive behavior patterns.

Nutritionist

Trainer

Book publishing PR experts

I have two dear friends who both work in publicity for major commercial houses. I’ve learned a lot from them that helps me position and sell my books.

Accountant

Physical therapist

After four (!) orthopedic surgeries since January 2000: both knees, right shoulder and left hip replacement this past February, I know a lot about PT. I like and trust my PTs and they’ve taught me a great deal about my body. I even wrote about them in The New York Times. You can do a lot of good for an aging/weak/injured body before and after surgery. You can even prevent it.

Who’s on your “board”?

The Touch of Fire

In behavior, business, journalism, work on January 13, 2012 at 5:51 am

If we’re lucky, at some point in our lives, we’ll feel the touch of fire — time spent with someone so inspiring, accomplished and genuinely interested in us and our talents, however latent — that brands us forever.

It’s happened to me twice (so far) in my life, both when I was in my mid-20s. The first was on my fellowship in Paris, founded and run by a charismatic, bossy, imperious, charming legend named Philippe Viannay. The man, even then in his 60s, dressed elegantly, laughed often and had created more social value in his lifetime than almost anyone I’ve had the privilege to meet since: he was a Resistance hero; co-founded a major newspaper; founded a home for wayward boys; founded a sailing school; ran a journalism school and, (whew) founded and ran Journalists in Europe, the program that chose me and changed my life and worldview forever.

We had an immediate rapport, and he introduced me to everyone as “le terrible Caitlin!” I was deeply offended until I realized it meant terrific. The fellowship changed everything for me: how I felt about myself as a person, as a writer, showed me I could thrive in another language and culture. I’m honored to have known him, and that he shared some of his time with me.

When I returned to my native Toronto, and got my dream job as a writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I briefly met Jill Krementz, a photographer whose work is well-known to Americans, and the widow of writer Kurt Vonnegut. She came to Toronto for a day-long photo shoot for a book called A Day in the Life of Canada and, as a reporter, I shadowed her throughout the entire day.

I’d started my career eager to become a photographer and then — in the mid 1980s — there were relatively few women working at her level in that field. The notion of meeting her, let alone spending an entire day with one of my idols? Swoon!

It was amazing to me, (even with parents working in film and television), that people of this stature would make time to talk to me, get to know me a bit, share some of their wisdom and insight. At the end of the day, back when shooters used film, Krementz sat cross-legged on her hotel bed as she counted film canisters, and I pelted her with questions about her career and how she’d achieved what she had. She was tough as nails. Is that what it would take?

(Yes!)

I have a young friend in Tucson, far from the bright lights and easy professional contacts of a New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris. Roxana is quiet, pretty, soft-spoken, Hispanic, not a culture that necessarily “gets” a young woman eager to sell her news photos for a living. In her social circles, the odds of meeting a world-famous, globe-trotting star of her industry is slim-to-none.

But she did, and her meeting with Chris Hondros — killed April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya while on assignment– touched her deeply. They spoke, emailed, stayed in touch.

With her permission, I include her account of this amazing and life-changing experience:

In 2007,  my first semester in journalism, I took an ethics course. One day we were viewing one of Chris Hondros’ famous pictures, the one with a little girl covered in blood where all you can see next to her are the boots of a soldier. Powerful, powerful image and story.

We were discussing in class about how it should be published. My opinion was front page and in color — people need to know. For the course I decided to write my report on war photography and focus on Hondros’ work. One day, I friended him on Facebook just in case. Maybe I would be able to ask him some questions personally instead of citing a book.

Five minutes later, he messaged me back. He wrote, “Perfect timing.” He was going to be in Tucson a few days working on an economy piece for Getty Images. I was so excited, I jumped from my chair, smiling ear to ear.

Minutes later we were talking on the phone and I was helping him with information about Tucson, while another of my friends, also a great photojournalist, James Gregg, teamed up to help Hondros find what he was looking for. When he arrived it was like meeting a celebrity.  He was in Tucson for four days. I went out photographing with him one afternoon and felt so lucky. I kept blushing and was nervous.

But Hondros was so down-to-earth. Every time I asked him about his work he gave short answers, very to the point. He was more interested in talking about my work.

The last night he was in town we had coffee and I brought my work for him to see it. It was my first real news portfolio, mostly pictures taken for my college paper. I was very nervous. He glanced at them very quickly closed the book and kept talking about something else — before we left I asked him about my work. “It’s a first portfolio. Mine was bad when I started.” We laughed.

But he told me that I was very passionate and he believed that I would become better. We walked to his hotel, he gave me a huge hug and told if I was ever in New York City to look him up.

I don’t have a picture of me and him, and I wish I did. I felt too embarrassed to ask.

I never knew that I wouldn’t see him again.

After that visit I was in constant contact with him through Facebook, email, sometimes Skype. We chatted online when he was sent to Baghdad, or Afghanistan on assignment and I was always picking his brains.

The last portfolio I sent him to see, he said it looked good and sharp. He once told me that when I was ready he would take me to Getty Images. I was honest with him and shared my frustrations with journalism and finding a place to publish me. He would tell me not to give up on photography because I was good at it.

The day he died was so tough for me. I had never had anyone close to me die so suddenly.  I turned on CNN and there it was Tim Hetherington, confirmed dead, but Chris was still in critical condition. At the same time I was chatting online with a photographer from Kosovo living in France. He knew Chris too, and had helped him in Kosovo.

This community of war photographers and foreign journalist is small. Most know each other, and I’m so glad to be linked to them.

I prayed for Chris all morning and I didn’t leave my house. The hardest moment was seeing the woman on CNN say, “We have confirmed that Chris Hondros has died.” My mom held me tight.

I had spoken to him a couple of weeks earlier when he was in Cairo covering the revolution. All I could think of was our last chat. I didn’t think that he would leave so soon. I miss him so much. I still feel that he’s still out there photographing the world.

He is my drive and inspiration.

Have you been touched along the way by someone like this?

What effect did it have on you or your career?

Six Reasons I Might Not Help You

In behavior, blogging, books, business, work on January 5, 2012 at 3:09 am
English: There are no symbols that represent s...

Image via Wikipedia

I really enjoy helping people — to connect with one another, get jobs, get better jobs, meet a sweetie. I tend to do this automatically and have for many years.

But I recently turned someone down who came to me for help.

I’m done having my generous goodwill taken for granted.

If someone has turned you down for help or mentoring or advice, (and you don’t understand why) maybe it’s one of these:

The person who referred me to you hasn’t treated me well.

Just because you know someone who knows me doesn’t mean I automatically want to help you (i.e. helping them out.) The quality and longevity of my relationship with the person who referred you to me is what counts — because you’re a total stranger to me.  Your referring friend knows, (even if you don’t), this is as much of a favor to them.

Why, if at all, do I owe them (and you) my help?

You asked to “pick my brain.”

It’s taken me more than three decades of unrelenting hard work, surviving three recessions — (while some of you were still in diapers!) — to accumulate these skills, experience and contacts. Asking someone this question is rude and disrespectful. I charge up to $200/hour for my skills. You get what you pay for.

Here’s a recent Forbes blog post on the same issue. It surely hit a nerve, with 3,000 Facebook shares.

You didn’t even acknowledge that asking for my unpaid time is a favor.

Because it is. Your unpaid use of my time costs me income.

You asked me for information that is quickly and easily accessible elsewhere.

I don’t help people I perceive as lazy, no matter how charming they are.

You offered nothing in exchange or access to potential clients.

Epic fail!

I was approached about a decade ago, (not at all unusual), by a writer in another city I didn’t know who needed advice about writing and selling his first book.  In that first email, he also offered to put me in touch with some of his valued editorial contacts that might lead to paid work for me down the line.  We’ve since become good friends. He got it.

In contrast, a few years ago, another total stranger  — another young man, but this time with no ties in common — asked for my help getting started as a photographer. I made introductions to a few very powerful and connected professional contacts, the sort he could only dream of.

Now that he’s thriving, (and good for him!), a thank-you note or flowers would be nice. I had no expectation of that, but anyone who chooses to share some of their skills or contacts is giving you a gift.  Don’t just grab and run!

You didn’t follow though.

The person whose behavior prompted this post took the time to write me a long email asking for help. I took the time to write back and told her my fees.

I never heard from this person again.

Do you really want help?  If you want something badly enough to ask for it in the first place, why waste my time by walking away after I respond (not necessarily exactly as you had hoped)?

If you mentor, do you care what happens after you help someone out?

Has someone you helped come back to thank you or return your generosity?

I’m Fabulous, Dammit!

In behavior, business, journalism, women, work on November 17, 2011 at 2:55 am
Chelsea Clinton in Philadelphia

Yeah, I'll take an extra $300,000 a year, thanks! Image via Wikipedia

Women have a terrible time self-promoting. It’s considered unseemly, pushy, rude, entitled.

Who — they hiss, chicken-necking and hand-flapping in the corner — does she think she is anyway?

Great recent column by a New York Times editor (I’m biased; she ran this column of mine, which turned into my new book, “Malled”). But still:

Last year, women held about 14 percent of senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, according to the nonprofit group Catalyst, which focuses on women in the workplace. That number has barely budged since 2005, after 10 years of slow but steady increases.

So what’s the holdup? Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst, says one factor can be traced to an “entrenched sexism” that is no less harmful for being largely unconscious.

“I don’t want to blame this on men,” Ms. Lang said. Rather she cites “social norms that are so gendered and so stereotyped that even though we think we’ve gone past them, we really haven’t.”

She describes a corporate environment that offers much more latitude to men and where the bar is much higher for women. In her view, men tend to be promoted based on their promise, whereas women need to prove themselves multiple times.

She maintains that unintentional bias is built into performance review systems. Words like “aggressive” may be used to describe ideal candidates — a label that a man can wear much more comfortably than a woman.

Other factors apply, like the dearth of women and men willing to use their accumulated social capital to help smart and talented women get ahead, seriously ahead — joining the same corporate boards, for example, as Chelsea Clinton just did, which will pay her a staggering $300,000 a year.

This year I had a terrific opportunity, precisely because a man I had never before met, living in another country, felt I was doing a good job describing retail work from its lowest levels, the front line associates. Thanks to his enthusiasm, I was asked to be the closing keynote at a major retail conference, paid to address senior executives from companies like Target, Best Buy and Macy’s.

We all need people with power and influence to step up and out on our behalf, no matter how much talent, hard work, experience or credentials we bring on our own. (Which — dammit! — should be enough.)

Has anyone helped you professionally in a significant way?

Have you helped a woman in this manner?

How did it turn out?

Want Your Photo In The NYT Business Section? Here's One Way In

In business, education, photography on May 1, 2010 at 7:29 am
NY Times Building

Image by jebb via Flickr

It can happen.

You’re an ambitious young photographer, but still in university or a fresh grad. You read — (you do, of course) — every agate/photo credit for every major photo moved by the wires and the agencies and the major papers — wondering when it’s your turn.

For two terrific young women, Samantha Sais and Marie deJesus, their dream came true this week, Sam’s photo illustrating a story about a Tucson  man who’d successfully fought off bill collectors and Marie’s of a coffee-shop owner in San Juan, PR, unable to get a business loan. It happened because they were chosen to participate in The New York Times Student Journalism institute, open every year only to student members of the NAHJ or NABJ.

Winners get paid to spend two weeks working closely with top editors from the Times and other regional papers, so when a shooter is needed and there’s a talented student in that town, they’ve got a good shot at the assignment.

The editor who assigned to both women — my sweetie. I’m proud of his commitment to finding and nurturing the next generation of talent, regardless of age or gender. Talent — and making the right contacts — can be enough.

It's J-Day: Mentors, Money and Where to Find Them

In business, Media on August 13, 2009 at 8:32 am
A helping hand

Image by Eduardo Deboni via Flickr

For anyone still trying to make a living doing serious, thoughtful journalism, it’s crazy out there. Staff jobs are increasingly hard to get and keep. Freelance budgets have been slashed. Blogs pay poorly for all but the big stars. Whether you’re trying to fund a project, a book, a pitch, a series, a documentary — or the travel costs to get to a great story –  the bills keep showing up, no matter how frugal you are or, if you’re really lucky, how generous, patient and understanding your parent(s) or partner.

What happens if you just hit bottom? You’re about to become destitute, despite years of hard, recognized work? Contact the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, of which I’m a trustee. Our maximum first-time grant is $6,000 and those in desperate need can get a check within a week or two. We listen carefully, read all details of a request, check your credentials (we’ve had people try to scam us), confer, vote and respond quickly. Our trustees include magazine editors of national magazines, past and present, and several veteran freelancer writers. We don’t approve all applicants, so please read the details. But we’re here to help, and we’re able to do so as well as we can, recently, thanks to a fellow writer, Cecil Murphey, who has made several extremely generous donations. As many of us know, some writers make a lot of money, while others live check to check. Sometimes, the smartest work can’t find a ready audience.

I also want to talk about mentoring, a fancy word for help. Read the rest of this entry »

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