This New York Times story makes me want to throw a chair:
Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?
Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?
Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.
And, in case this didn’t piss you off quite enough — here’s some more wisdom from the Boy Wonder of techno-communication:
Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized — like asking someone for directions to a house, restaurant or office, when they can easily be found on Google Maps.
I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That For You.
In the age of the smartphone, there is no reason to ask once-acceptable questions: the weather forecast, a business phone number, a store’s hours. But some people still do. And when you answer them, they respond with a thank-you e-mail.
Pardon my intemperate tone, but for fuck’s sake!
If someone asks me for directions, which is rare because I generally offer them, unless I am in a huge rush, I’m happy to help. The weather forecast is also available (fogey alert!) on the front page of the Times, on television and usually on the radio.
But God forbid we should waste one another’s time. Because the time you waste reading my tedious thank-you email is exactly the time you were planning to spend playing Angry Birds curing cancer.
This sort of pretentiousness makes me want to vomit.
If you want to communicate with other people, try to understand a basic concept — we do not all communicate in the exact same way, nor using the exact same language nor the exact same tools. If you text me, you’ve just wasted your time. I don’t read texts, ever.
Is this rude of me? Quite probably. It also marks me as someone who prefers to use email, far more than telephone. If someone texts me, I won’t even see it. Not because I think I’m so important, but because I’m so goddamned busy that an email is, for me, the easiest way for me get on with things. I generally reply to emails promptly and I also reply to phone messages. I even make phone calls. (Feel free to face-palm in horror.)
I don’t wish to communicate in syllables, so I don’t tweet either.
Yet, somehow, I’m able to maintain friendships and business relationships with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, all younger than I. Maybe because they get the basic premise — we’re here to have relationships, not hand-flap our Huge Importance at one another and tell others exactly how they must communicate with us or risk their wrath.
How do you communicate: text, email, phone?
Do you alter your communication style for people older or younger who may do it differently?
You know, where they can make sure you’re being productive:
A memo explaining the policy change, from the company’s human resources department, says face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture — a hallmark of Google’s approach to its business.
In trying to get back on track, Yahoo is taking on one of the country’s biggest workplace issues: whether the ability to work from home, and other flexible arrangements, leads to greater productivity or inhibits innovation and collaboration. Across the country, companies like Aetna, Booz Allen Hamilton and Zappos.com are confronting these trade-offs as they compete to attract and retain the best employees.
Bank of America, for example, which had a popular program for working remotely, decided late last year to require employees in certain roles to come back to the office.
Employees, especially younger ones, expect to be able to work remotely, analysts say. And over all the trend is toward greater workplace flexibility.
Still, said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and executive coaching firm, “A lot of companies are afraid to let their workers work from home some of the time or all of the time because they’re afraid they’ll lose control.”
Excuse my language, but I call bullshit.
Every time a company wants employees all perky and visible and audible and crammed into cubes they insist it’s all about the innovation.
I worked for a martinet at my first New York City magazine job, who insisted I be at my desk “and working!” by 9:00 a.m. sharp, even though taking a slightly later train in from my home in the suburbs meant arriving at 9:15 or so.
It’s a power game, a way to demonstrate — just in case you forgot! — who’s in charge of your life.
I’ve been working, alone at home, since losing my last staff job, at the New York Daily News, the nation’s sixth-largest newspaper, in June 2006. Alone for almost seven years, working — yes, even as I type this — in sweat pants. Yet I’ve managed to produce a well-reviewed memoir, dozens of newspaper and magazine stories, edit others’ work, consult, fly around the country on well-paid speaking gigs.
Productive? I dunno. Look at my retirement savings account. I’d say so.
Every morning I get up and no one anywhere, tells me what to do or when to do it or how to do it. I have not one penny of income guaranteed to me. I have to hustle it up every single month, a minimum of $2,000 a month, just to meet my basic bills.
Any one of you who works in an office knows this — just because an employee’s butt is in a chair in some manager’s clear sightline doesn’t mean they’re not lazy, ass-kissing or politicking or backstabbing.
Innovative? Collaborative? Cooperative? You wish!
With a phone call or email to the right colleague — whether in Nova Scotia or California — I can get serious, smart help and advice. At the Daily News, despite every effort to be collegial, I was ignored by colleagues and managers alike.
My husband commutes every day to The New York Times, at Eighth Avenue and 41st Street. It costs him about $600 a month to go to work in an office: $200+ for his train pass; $200 month for the taxis that take him to and from the train station in our town (too far to walk); $200+ for subsidized cafeteria meals at work. Plus commercial laundering of his shirts.
He also has six meetings every day; putting out a newspaper like the Times, like many enterprises, does require incessant discussion and teamwork.
Yes, some workers are indeed quite incapable of self-discipline and do better work under others’ supervision. Some workplaces really do thrive on having lots of smart people in the same building to rub brains and bump into one another in the hallways and suddenly come up with some fabulous, profitable new solution.
But mostly they want to Own Your Ass.
I spent a day last spring at Google reporting this story for the Times. It was a little creepy — OK, a lot– how much they wanted their hip employees, hoodies and all, to be there 24/7, providing them with free food, laundry rooms on-site, even a hair-stylist.
In the 21st century, long past the Industrial Revolution that took us away from artisanal work and attached us all to machines inside large buildings, here we are again.
Unless you’re a journalist — or fairly thoughtful consumer of media — you probably don’t think much about where “the news” comes from. Some of it, like elections, natural disasters and mass shootings, are fairly obvious subjects.
But many of the stories you read or hear or see come about through a fairly wide variety of ways, like multiple tributaries feeding into a river.
Here’s my latest New York Times story, out today, one which I suggested — as I do with about 90 percent of my work. The idea came to me because I was getting weary of hearing the usual tales of woe and misery, that being out of work over the age of 50 means you are essentially utterly screwed.
Having watched my own income almost double in the past two years, and I’m 55, working freelance in a lousy economy in a dying industry, I thought, “Nah. There’s more to it than that.”
I decided to flip the script and go find people over 50 who had indeed seen their jobs disappear — often several times — or their incomes plummet, but who had figured out a way to survive, even thrive.
Newspapers traditionally run on a “beat” system; like a policeman’s beat, the area each reporter is individually expected to understand and explain in depth after creating a broad network of sources and acquiring a deep knowledge of the issues. These include cops, courts, city hall, statehouse, health care policy, environment, medicine, etc. Many stories come from beat reporters who hear good stuff from their sources.
Some stories also result from press releases or aggressive courting of reporters by well-paid flacks, i.e. PR experts. Personally, I find much of that “reporting” pretty lazy. You’d be amazed (or not!) to learn how many front-page stories start this way.
As a full-time freelancer, I survive financially by coming up with a steady stream of stories I can sell quickly for decent prices.
Here are some of the ways I find and develop my ideas for blog posts, articles, essays and books:
Bright, knowledgeable sources passionate about their topic may make time for a long (45-60 minute) conversation, and digressions from the interview-at-hand often lead down interesting paths. I find some great story ideas this way. It’s an investment on my part, (unpaid time, since the story might not sell), and theirs (am I credible? worth their energy? have the contacts I say I do?)
Other print media
I read fairly widely, in print and on-line, but rarely find much there for me to work on. By the time the national press is on it, what’s new to add? So local or regional outlets are good, as are sources within others’ stories who might have only rated a mention or a few quotes. One of the best sources is letters to the editor — often written by experts in their field who know a topic but may not have a national platform for their insights or views.
I listen to NPR fairly consistently, to political, arts and business programs, all of which offer good stuff. When I have time, BBC World News (an hour) always covers stories that rarely show up in American coverage. Ditto for Canada.
On of my most fun stories came about because I sit through the very end of almost every film’s closing credits. At the end of “The Namesake,” I noticed that the film was shot in a town near where I live, which made for a great little story for my regional edition of the Times when I visited the house and interviewed the production designer and homeowner.
This demands a lot of consistent reading/attention/linking/clipping. Old school journalists call it “saving string”, as we accumulate verything we think useful to future stories on a specific subject. Only when you pay sustained attention to an issue and read/listen widely to sources about it can you begin to see distinct and interesting patters or trends — often overlooked by other journo’s constrained by their beats and/ or by daily or even hourly deadlines.
You never know where you’ll find a story. Two of my best came to me out of the blue. My story about Google’s class in mindfulness, a heavily-read national exclusive for the Times, was a tip I got in July 2011 from someone teaching those classes, and for which I negotiated for six months to ensure it was mine alone.
As I buckled my seatbelt for the descent into Atlanta on my way to speak at the Decatur Literary Festival, I casually asked my seatmate, a woman my age, what she does does for a living. Cha-ching! Great business story.
Sometimes a well-written book sparks an idea or helps me better understand an issue.
Blogs and websites
I don’t carve out a lot of time to roam around on-line, even if I should.
I’m spending tomorrow and Tuesday attending The Big Show, the annual trade show of the National Retail Federation. I know there are all sorts of stories there for me to find.
I sat in a trendy Lower East Side restaurant this week and saw, several hours apart, two young men wearing almost identical outfits — bare-armed (in 40-degree weather!), thick, furry vests and jeans. One more sighting and I have a trend story!
Walk around your neighborhood and look closely at bulletin boards and signs. Watch what people are wearing and eating and buying. Eavesdrop! When you visit your hair stylist/vet/doctor/dentist/accountant/bike repair shop, ask them what’s going on in their world.
Pay close attention and start asking questions. You’ll soon find great stories all around you.
My own life
Too many new writers moan they have “nothing” to write about. When it comes to selling journalism, at least, you likely have plenty! I recently won an award (details to come) from writing about my injured left hip, which became a magazine cover story. I later sold several stories about the injury and surgery as well. Over my writing career, I’ve sold stories and essays about professors having affairs with students (not me!), getting married, getting divorced, my dog’s death, physical therapy, trying to rest in a noisy hospital room, why retail work is better than journalism.
Much as we are all special little snowflakes, our lives do tend to follow fairly regular paths — so if it’s happened to you, it’s likely happened to thousands or millions of others as well. Find them, talk to them and write it up!
For those who haven’t yet read my Welcome or About pages, I’m Caitlin Kelly, a journalist since my sophomore year of college, more than 30 years. Like every journalist, it’s my ongoing challenge to make total strangers feel comfortable talking to me within minutes.
The journalist’s job, contrary to popular current belief, is not to yammer on breathlessly about celebrities and their pets/kids/shopping — like a walking press release — but to get out into the world and find people with compelling stories to share.
And many of the best stories haven’t been told before, at least not to a stranger wielding a notebook, camera or tape recorder. Unlike public figures, like politicians or celebrities, trained and skilled at media manipulation, these people don’t even know the rules.
I’ve recently been writing features for The New York Times business section, like this one about Google. Many of the people I’m interviewing for these have never spoken to a reporter before. They’re “virgins.”
Several admitted to me beforehand how nervous they were at speaking “on the record” , knowing their words might end up in TheNew York Times; for those of you living outside the U.S., it’s hard to to overstate its power and prestige. I’ve been writing freelance for the Times since 1990.
There’s such an imbalance between how I feel walking into those rooms — excited, curious — and how they feel — often wary, anxious, unsure, wondering what willhappen next.
It boils down to trust. How much can they trust me to get it right? To tease out what they might not be able to fully articulate? Will they, as they fear, end up sounding stupid?
These “virgins” sometimes forget, or don’t know, that my every word is read and re-read by several editors who can question or challenge what I’ve written.
During my visit to Google, which lasted two days, two public relations reps tapped away madly on their computers and Blackberries, noisily noting everything I asked and what their staff said. Typically, only very senior executives and officials receive this much protectiveness.
It might have reassured the people I spoke to. But once you’re “on the record” that’s it. Two people — days after the interviews were finished — emailed to tell me “You can’t use that” about a few comments. Technically, I can. (But I didn’t, a judgment call on my part.)
I’ve felt that visceral oh shitmoment when you create an official and frighteningly permanent representation of how (at that moment, perhaps) you think.
And none of us really knows what will happen to your story after you’ve shared it. The reporter might be stupid, lazy, disorganized, deceptive — or get it absolutely right.
It’s rare to hear a journalist admit how they feel when dealing with civilians….Here’s a blog interview with New York Times freelancer Devan Sipher:
The brides and grooms I talk to confide in me, and I take extraordinary time and effort to make sure what what goes in my articles doesn’t violate that trust. It’s not always easy, because the best quotes are often things they would regret having said if they saw them in print. One could argue that if they said it, I can use it. But the people I’m writing about aren’t running for public office (usually) and they didn’t steal anyone’s retirement funds. They don’t deserve to be embarrassed by an article celebrating their marriage. I feel I have a responsibility to protect them in addition to my responsibility as a journalist to write the best and most accurate story for my editor and readers. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
Here are a few tips, if you’re facing a first-time media interview:
— Find out the reporter’s name and media outlet as far in advance as possible. Google them and carefully read check their LinkedIn page for any mutual connections, like the same hometown, college or people in common. Find out as much about them, and how they write, as you can.
— Read a few of their stories and tell them you did. It’s both a compliment and a warning.
— Ideally, find out: which section of the paper or magazine it’s for, what the angle is and who else they’re speaking to. Some reporters are fine with this, others not. The more you know what they need from you, the better it’s likely to go.
— Try for more time, rather than less; i.e. 20-30 minutes instead of five or ten. Very few people with no media training are great at offering quick, pithy sound bites. But be ready to answer succinctly.
— Make notes of your three most essential talking points before the interview. Keep them in front of you, with all relevant facts and figures as necessary.
— If you’re not 100 percent sure of the accuracy of your answer, say so! Offer to get right back to them, (within minutes if possible), with the correct data, and a checkable source for them (like a report, study, poll or government statistic.) Never guess. Never lie!
— Get the interviewer’s name, phone numbers and email address so you can follow up or add something later. Be sure they get yours as well.
— Be very clear, before you say a word, if you want the interview attributed to you by name, on background or off the record. Be sure you and the interviewer have both agreed, and that you both agree on what these terms mean.
— Do not monologue! Take a breath, for heaven’s sake. Let the reporter ask their questions as well. Some people do this out of nervousness, but it’s also (perceived as) a way to control the interaction, and therefore annoying.
— Give the interview your full and undivided attention. That means carving out some time to do it and placing yourself in a quiet, private room with no background noises (dogs, kids) or interruptions (cellphones, assistants, etc.) We can work around these, but unless it’s an emergency situation, why make things harder on both of us?
— You can ask to see their story before it appears, but most won’t do it. Magazines usually use fact-checkers, who will contact you before the story appears to make sure the basic facts are accurate.
Meanwhile, there is the very Google-y approach of gathering data on precisely when the company loses women, then digging deeper to figure out what is happening and to try to fix it…
Google’s spreadsheets, for example, showed that some women who applied for jobs did not make it past the phone interview. The reason was that the women did not flaunt their achievements, so interviewers judged them unaccomplished.
Google now asks interviewers to report candidates’ answers in more detail. Google also found that women who turned down job offers had interviewed only with men. Now, a woman interviewing at Google will meet other women during the hiring process.
A result: More women are being hired.
Once hired, technical women were not being promoted at the same rate as men. At Google, employees nominate themselves for promotions, but the data revealed that women were less likely to do so. So senior women at Google now host workshops to encourage women to nominate themselves, and they are promoted proportionally to men, Mr. Bock said.
I find this fascinating, infuriating and sad.
But not surprising.
A book I recommend to every woman is “Women Don’t Ask”, which, even though it focused on an elite group, (MBA students), intelligently explores women’s ambivalence about asking for more at work, whether perks, money, power or responsibility.
From the authors’ website:
Women are much less likely than men to ask for what they want and to use negotiation as a tool to promote their own ambitions or desires. Sara interviewed nearly 100 people all over the country—both men and women—and found the same thing. Men use negotiation to get ahead and get what they want between two and nine times as often as women do.
(I’ve added the bold and italics.)
Why must women negotiate?
— We live longer than men and need more income in retirement to support us. The less we earn in our work-lives, the less we’ll have in old age.
— Women often take some time out to bear and raise children, lowering their lifetime earnings and reducing the amount they’ll receive from Social Security.
— Women who fail to ask for more — get less. No one’s going to offer you anything if you leave it on the table by not even asking for it.
Modesty is a charming quality. I prize it. But not at the literal expense of earning less or facing a shortened career with limited prospects.
Why do women fail to ask for more?
Fear of being disliked. Fear of others’ disapproval for being pushy. Fear we can’t actually do the job.
All of which, on some level, are bullshit.
I’ve been negotiating for more money and responsibility since I was a teenager writing for national publications and paying my own way through university on my earnings. This wasn’t money I was blowing on clothes and shoes and cool shit I didn’t need, but groceries, rent and utilities.
Oh, and tuition and books.
One day I was in the newsroom of the paper I wrote a weekly column for, earning $125 a week. I overheard my editor trying to dissuade a male columnist from dropping his column: “But you’ll lose $200 a week!”
That additional $300 a month, $3,600 a year, was serious coin in 1978, and just as valuable today.
Negotiating isn’t fun or easy, which is no excuse to avoid it.
If you feel you’ve got more to lose, or less to fall back on, you’re probably likely to take whatever they offer. When an editor recently called me to offer a magazine assignment, she initially offered me $1,500. I know the market and my skills and asked for more. She gave it. She could have refused.
So our ability to negotiate also relies on our level of self-confidence, our skills, our networks — and our comfort level knowing our market value and feeling at ease asking for the pay that reflects, and respects, it.
It’s easier, always, to grab the first (lowest) offer and run.
I grew up in a family of freelancers. No one had a paycheck or pension. Negotiation was normal, tough discussions typical, and we all knew that those hiring us would probably try to offer the least possible.
You can also out-source some of this. I’ve used agents and lawyers many times to negotiate on my behalf. Yes, it costs money. But well worth it.
Here’s a story you won’t read anywhere else in the world — my exclusive interview with Chade-Meng Tan, employee number 107 at Google, whose new book “Search Inside Yourself” was released this week. The story is in Sunday’s New York Times, on the front page of the business section. It’s now up on their website.
It’s about a super-popular course there, which Meng created and has taught since 2005, in mindfulness and meditation. In an environment that drives employees hard to achieve all the time, all the while remaining “Googly” — friendly and collegial — anything to help control stress, frustration and emotion is a helpful tool.
I sat in on one of the SIY classes and learned a lot about myself!
Here’s an excerpt:
One exercise asks everyone to name, and share with a partner, three core values. “It centers you,” one man says afterward. “You can go through life forgetting what they are.”
There’s lots of easy laughter. People prop up their feet on the backs of seats and lean in to whisper to their partners — people from a variety of departments they otherwise might have never met. (Students are asked to pair up with a buddy for the duration of the course.)
In one seven-minute exercise, participants are asked to write, nonstop, how they envision their lives in five years. Mr. Tan ends it by tapping a Tibetan brass singing bowl.
They discuss what it means to succeed, and to fail. “Success and failure are emotional and physiological experiences,” Mr. Tan says. “We need to deal with them in a way that is present and calm.”
Then Mr. Lesser asks the entire room to shout in unison: “I failed!”
“We need to see failure in a kind, gentle and generous way,” he says. “Let’s see if we can explore these emotions without grasping.”
Talking about failure?
Sitting quietly for long, unproductive minutes?
I snagged this story when I met a woman who had worked on the class with Meng and who told me about him. Immediately intrigued, I stayed in touch with her and discovered he was going to publish this book. In December 2011 I negotiated an exclusive with his publisher.
I flew from my home in New York to Mountain View, where all the tech firms are based, including Google — about an hour from San Francisco. I spent two days on campus in the Googleplex, which offered me an intimate glimpse into a company most of us know primarily as a verb, whose logo appears on our computer screens worldwide.
The campus is almost unimaginably lush, with every conceivable amenity. There are primary-colored bicycles available and at the entrance to each building are bike helmets hanging on the wall. There are umbrellas for those who prefer to walk. There are 30 cafes offering free food. Heated toilet seats. Apiaries. Swimming pool. Volleyball court. Ping pong tables.
The basic idea, as those of you who follow tech firms know, is to keep all those bright ambitious employees working without distraction — so there are on-site laundry rooms and the day I arrived even a large van containing a mobile hair salon.
While it knows a great deal about all of us who use it, Google, as a corporate entity is not chatty, so the level of access I was granted was unusual. I spent two full days and interviewed employees from different departments. It was interesting to see the contrast between the lovely, spotless physical spaces inside and out — including labeled grapevines and a community garden — and to hear how much Google expects/demands of its staffers, typically hired after an intense and grueling interview process.
The single most compelling memory? It’s not in my story.
Sitting on one of those Japanese heated toilet seats — and seeing a plastic folder on the wall beside me, with a (copyrighted) one-sheet lesson in it, part of their program called Learning on the Loo. Yes, really.
The photos, which are fantastic, are by San Francisco based freelancer, and a friend, Peter DaSilva. I loved having the chance to watch him at work.
The photo editor was Jose R. Lopez — my husband.
Great story and lots of fun to report and write. I hope you enjoy it and spread the word!
Here’s a 54 minute video from Google of Meng talking about his book.
What do you do when the boys from your past show up?
Facebook makes it easy.
So does Google.
So I’m now back in touch with three men I was crazy about in my early 20s, each of whom found me. They all live far away and one is happily married — I’ve been with my sweetie for eleven years.
Much has been made of the midlife nostalgia that prompts us to want to re-connect with the men and women who once made us swoon and indulge — certainly in my case — in some interesting behaviors.
One of the men, now a stolid, solid educator, was a hopelessly romantic redhead when we met, a mass of walking muscle training, he hoped, for the Olympics as a rower. I’d never seen anyone eat so much or so often!
Nor had any man, before or since, sent me a bouquet of flowers so enormous that I couldn’t see the deliveryman’s head. “I’m not dead!” I said, when I saw the mass of red roses. What an astonishing, lovely gesture from a fellow college student. I always wondered what had happened to him and was happy to hear how nicely his life has turned out since then.
Another man is a doctor, never married.
The third is a man I lived with in my 20s, who proposed, (and I refused), then went on to date and marry a woman working for the same company, where we all saw one another every day. Not fun! I would overhear her in the cafeteria gloating about their upcoming wedding. Even if I didn’t want to marry X, we had still spent several tumultuous years together.
Now, hard to believe but I’m fine with it, we’ve become Facebook friends after he reached out to me. He’s divorced, still good friends with his ex, his kids now adults. We live in different countries, so I have little concern this is a flame being re-lit, more of a mid-life reassurance that we’re not forgotten, that our shared memories still carry some currency.
I have no intention of zipping off into the sunset with them or exchanging steamy, longing emails.
But I am glad to reconnect with men who once loved me and who I loved in return. There weren’t that many!
Here’s an interesting post from my ex True/Slant blogging colleague Marjie Killeen about the dangers of re-connecting via Facebook.
Have you reconnected with a former beau/belle — or several?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this “entrepreneurial” thing of late.
One of the enduring challenges, sometimes the primary challenge, of working on your own, is knowing how to discern the predators and make sure you protect yourself from them, or stay out of their way. Whatever their motives, sometimes without motive — you’re just collateral damage — they can inflict serious harm to your income, your confidence, sometimes your reputation.
An an entrepreneur, without an excellent credit score, you’re toast. If people don’t pay you, (on time or ever) and you’re late paying your bills, kiss your excellent credit score goodbye. Bottom of the food chain, baby.
Welcome to planktonworld!
I learned this sad lesson when I was only 19, still in college, and working freelance like a madwoman to make as much money as possible; I lived alone and paid my way through university. One of the magazine publishers — this happens a lot, I would see over the next few years — screwed a bunch of us out of earned income for work used. We had to sign some “we won’t sue” document to collect pennies on our pay.
I ran into this guy at some party a few months later. Silly me! I thought he was…broke! I had pictured him wearing a barrel, begging for apples on the street, living in his car. Hah! Useful and memorable lesson. In the fall of 2008, two magazines in the space of two months tried, again, to screw me out of more money. Thank God for lawyers!
I recently heard — chutzpah! In the heartland! — from another deadbeat publisher who I had to sue to get my money from. Turns out I gave her all rights to my unpublished material in so doing (about four stories) so she made out like…a bandit. Now she asks if I’d like to work with her again.
See: snowball, hell.
Every single person who works for themself, for now or forever, needs to know these.
1) Join every possible professional group in any way related to your field, specialty, industry: alumni groups, LinkedIn groups, professional organizations. Even if you’re a fresh grad with no connections, make some, today. They have listservs and newsletters and on-line forums and chat rooms where pro’s will dish freely and name names. How else will you know who to avoid?
2) Because knowledge — of the deadbeats and cheaters — is power. For fear of being sued, very few professionals will name names publicly. But, for example, within the American Society of Journalists and Authors (on whose board I sit), we have a Warning List, available only to our members. Several Very Big Magazines are on there so we know not to bother working with them. It costs a fat $200 a year to join ASJA; saving your butt, if you meet our qualifications, is surely worth $16.66 a month. Freelance Success is also a great resource.
3) Know a lawyer who will answer your email and call promptly. Use them whenever necessary.
4) Keep an excellent FICO score and five-figure, low-interest line if credit open and available to you at all times. I am about to ditch Chase — hellooooo? — for their appalling, greedy new habit of charging me $30 every time I access my line of credit. The one they already cut and won’t restore and charge me double-digit interest on — and, wait there’s more! — told I was lucky it was only $30. After $90 in charges in one week, I took this issue to TD Bank where a banker said, “Hm. Sounds like extortion to me.” You have clout, use it.
5) Attend conferences and parties and events, nay, even the opening of an envelope in your industry — or the one you are trying to break into. You need to meet as many people as possible because some of them, yes, are going to be lying cheats — and some are going to be amazing, kind, cool mentors. The latter will help you suss out, or recover from the flesh wounds of, the former.
6) Be a lovely person. I mean it. Kind, funny, generous, helpful. What’s in it for you? Karma, baby. When the next deadbeat bites your ass and that line of credit just got cut and no one is hiring — you’re going to need a friendly voice on the phone or Facebook. I recently got asked for help by someone very new to me. Sigh. I have very little free time and a crummy income. Can I afford it? Can I afford not to? When it’s just you and your Blackberry and your sweatpants and a lot of prayers and talent, you need backup. We all do. If you’re likeable and have freely given it before, and now ask for help, odds are you’ll get some.
7) Create a posse. The minute I heard True/Slant was…mutating….I called three smart, tough, savvy friends, one of whom I’ve never actually met face to face. They have been advising me since. Corporations and non-profits have boards of directors. This is yours. Like all boards, they add a fresh perspective, multiply your brainpower and, occasionally, talk you off the window ledge.
Here’s a useful app — that turns your Itouch or Iphone into a rape whistle. From the Toronto Star:
On Friday, YWCA Canada announced its YWCA Safety Siren app, available free for download at the iTunes store.
The alarm — with a choice of three ear-splitting wails — goes off with either a press of the pink button or a shake, converting an iPhone or iPod Touch into a 21st-century version of the rape whistle.
Not only does the siren sound, but an email is automatically generated while a phone call gets made (if you have an iPhone) to preset emergency contacts. Both can attach a Google map pinpointing your location…
There are other safety apps already available, including an “I’m being assaulted’’ app that sends emails. There’s also an “Am I safe?’’ app that rates locations as go or no-go zones.
But neither combines all the features of the YWCA app, which is more than a siren. Hit the “Safe Date’’ button and there’s info on how to avoid trouble before you step out. The Health icon describes healthy ways to hook up. Dating 101 is a guide to guys, good and bad. Finally, the Geolocations tab will pop up a map showing the nearest health and rape crisis centres.
Even the most charming — often the most charming — of men can turn predatory. I doubt (m)any women are carrying rape whistles or Mace these days.
The wisest move, as every smart woman knows, is to let a friend know where you’re heading before going on a first date and/or avoiding a stranger’s car or apartment until you have some idea who he is. Having ended up in the clutches of a former felon, a man as handsome, well-dressed and chatty as they come, I know well that appearances mean little.
I think this is a smart idea.
The interesting question is what happens after that blast of noise — will anyone come to your aid? Or is it most useful as a distracting device, a chance to give you a few moments of surprise to flee?
I heard yesterday from someone I never thought I’d encounter again. He’s had a Big Star career, with degrees from Sciences Po and Oxford and ran a national newspaper — and found me today on Facebook.
“Didn’t you used to be a redhead?” he asked.
Well, yes, for about six months in my 20s, when we both worked at The Globe and Mail, both ferociously ambitious. We weren’t close friends or even distant friends, but such is Facebook and such is life that, like some odd comet circling the heavens every 235th year, people are now finding me again after 20 or 30 years, and vice versa, of late.
While some people, maybe those in their teens or 20s, collect “friends” to reassure them of their popularity, I — like others in my cohort — see it as more useful professionally. I recently spoke on a panel of fellow career journos, about 15 of us, many of them in their 50s, 60s or beyond, to a room full of publicity seekers. We were asked how many of us are on Facebook and almost all of us raised our hands, eliciting a gasp of surprise from the audience. I expected it, no matter what my colleagues’ age.
I’m happy to re-connect with real friends but am also smart enough to recognize the value of the additional social capital of friending people I’m not so fond of or, sometimes, don’t even know. But they know people I like and trust, so, occasionally, I add them. The guy who emailed yesterday had 1,500 friends, among them a writer I need to know.
One of the first FB rediscoveries was also a redhead when we first met, in college, a tall walking muscle of a man hoping to make the U.S. Olympics rowing team. He was gentle and kind and sent me a bouquet of red roses so enormous that I said to the delivery boy “I’m not dead!” We met on a college exchange program, he an American, I Canadian. He was, still is, a lovely man, now on his second (long and happy) marriage. The last time I saw him he was a new Dad, married too young to the wrong woman, and he knew it. It is good to know he is happy and thriving.
Also thanks to FB, I’ve re-found my best friend from when I was eight, now living a four-hour drive away, another lost redhead. We’re both dieting, fighting terrible arthritis, trading memories — some wildly inaccurate, some true — of one another’s parents.
It’s like finding a fly in amber, staring back into those pasts and comparing notes on what we then felt, but were often too young to know or to say. Turns out we know, in common, yet another redhead (I am not making this up; my ‘red’ hair came out of a bottle!) named Kate who knew Becca in Grade 8 and who I met in college and later again in New York.
It’s a little disconcerting — always the case — how much older/different the men look. I wouldn’t have recognized a few of them. The women, without Botox or surgery, look great and fully themselves.
Who’s been your best (re)-find? Who ‘s found you that you’re happiest about?