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Monthly Archives: October 2008

There’s No Place Like High School

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Nothing makes you reflect on your past like high school reunions (except maybe having children, but I’m not there yet). I spent this past weekend in the company of the menagerie of wild animals with whom I kept company at boarding school; the rearview mirror has become especially clear. We laughed at the photos of ourselves from another lifetime, and queried the room about those who hadn’t made it back. We laughed about old hilarity and reminisced.

It’s impossible to capture all the moments, but there was one old friend who made me squint back in time and realize that the makings of this graceful woman were all there, just hidden under the easygoing tenor of her youth. We laughed when we realized that we shared a lot of the same old flames from those days, and I cooed over her gorgeous daughter as she cooed over my single life in California. I think there was a moment, just a moment, of wistfulness in us both. She is cool and pulled together, lovely and strong, and is managing to pull off a graduate degree program in statistics and a 5-year-old at the same time.

I had the sense to tell her how much I admired what she was doing, but I’m not sure it stuck. Somehow the everyday heroics of a good wife and mother are sometimes hardest for the woman herself to see. If you read this one, MA, my hat’s off to you.

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The Smell of Guavas

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Tonight I was out for a walk, and the dense, ripe smell of guavas washed over me with the breeze. October is their month to shine, and the distinctive fragrance is almost better than the fruit. The four planted outside my kitchen window have regaled me with their aroma and complemented many a dinner with their sweetly tart flavors. And as I walked, I had the thought that someday decades from now I’m going to smell a guava tree in October and think, “That reminds me of my first apartment in California, the one with the rock garden and the gorgeous landscaping, and the great neighbors who always tiptoed around and kept their porches tidy. Oh my goodness, cute little Ivan must be out of high school by now!.” And I realized that I’ll be thinking those thoughts with a beautiful nostalgia, because no matter where I am then, it won’t be right here; no matter how happy I am, it won’t be exactly this happy.

So I took a moment to stop and savor the guavas.

How Much Do You Really Have to Like Your Job?

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or The Ongoing Saga of Finding My Place in the World

You know those people who just love what they do? The ones who can’t stop talking about it? I want to be one of those. I wrote in a blog post this past July about how I was going to pull up my roots and make a big move, and try to start a career in publishing to be closer to one of the things I love: books.

But the more I learned about publishing, meeting with literary agents and copywriters and those in the know, the more I realized that a career in publishing wouldn’t get me closer to part I loved; if anything, it would turn reading into a chore with deadlines and make me cynical about the process. Seth Godin, a marketer and great thinker I quote often, summed it up nicely in a recent blog post entitled, “Maybe You Can’t Make Money Doing What You Love.” He describes a friend who made a move similar to one I was considering, with predictably unsatisfying results. So I scratched that one off my list. Working my way up the publishing food chain wasn’t the answer.

And because time was of the essence, and because I also love technology and communication, I took a job directing the marketing efforts at a great small software company that does truly valuable things and does them very well. A job I can be proud of. A job I can succeed at, that uses the skills I’ve so finely honed in the last decade in the field. A job that, I can already tell, will leave me unsatisfied and restless in about a year.

What’s a girl to do?

Fast forward to last night. I spent a lovely evening among colleagues of my architect boyfriend, all of whom LOVE what they do. It’s Saturday night, we’re celebrating a birthday, beers in hand, and they are all talking about architecture. Not their current projects, not work, or last week’s meeting, but creating memorable spaces, defining experiences, and creating buildings that seamlessly function to add value to those who use them.

These people have passion. The one I get to take home frequently waxes poetically on his field of choice. On the side he teaches students to take the same passion into their work, and holds their drawings and models to a dauntingly high standard – their work must be poetry. He loves what he does, with every breath.

So I’m standing at the party a bit jealous. I really don’t want to talk about my new job at all. Distracted, I notice an adorable kid wrestling with his Dad’s attempt to balance beverage and plate. And his sister is trying desperately to suction herself to Mom’s side. I take adorable baby from Dad and start a peek-a-boo game with shy sister. And I look up three hours later and realized I’ve barely talked to a grown-up since. We’ve named the fish in the coi pond, determined which parts of the deck are made of wood or metal, and explored the cool floating staircase. Shy sister is out of her shell and I just had the best evening. In case you can’t tell, connecting with kids wrestles with my love of words for the top spot on my favorites list.

So overnight something gelled in the mysterious land of dreams, something that I suppose I’d been trying to put my finger on for a while now and kept missing. I want to spend my career connecting with kids and teaching them to love to read. I want to find a way to make a living doing that. And I don’t think that means going back to school to teach kindergarten, necessarily.

My current purple cow idea is to get publishers of books for children to pay me to do focus groups with elementary schoolers, disguised as classroom reading hour, (free to the school, a break for the teachers), and do one-one-one reading tutoring on the side. Oh, and volunteer for Room to Read or Reading is Fundamental, maybe someday help lead one of those great organizations, or help found one of my own.

Stay tuned. I think this could go somewhere interesting.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

There are no shortcuts

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Period. There is no shortcut to losing weight. No shortcut to raising decent children. No shortcut to learning new technologies. No shortcut to getting new products or ideas in the right hands.

It all takes continuous, genuine effort. The Web has sped up interactions and learning in a lot of ways, but it has also made identifying cheaters easier. What I mean is, it may be simpler now than ever to research a topic and learn new things, but it’s also infinitely easier to identify plagerizers and scammers. If you want to contribute genuine knowledge to the world, you still have to learn the material, assimilate the data, think innovative thoughts, and work hard to communicate them. None of which is easy.

And social web 2.0 sites like Facebook and Linkedin may make it easier to “meet” people or find old “friends”, but if you use those networks to plug a product (or yourself) too hard, you may find those “friendships” going stale. There’s no shortcut to real relationships, either.

Today ends my first week of my new job as director of marketing for a web security software company, and my brain is full. I’m learning new technology, in a new industry, speaking to a different audience, among different colleagues, in a different city. And there is no shortcut for any of the assimilation.
Not that I mind – it’s a terrific challenge brimming with opportunity, and one I think I am well-suited to conquor. There’s just a bit of overload going on, and companies always want to see the marketing team make sparks fly about a week after they’re hired.

So I have about a day to find the matches. Let’s just hope I don’t set my hair on fire in the process!

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Beverly Sills

“Effort is a choice, at least make it on purpose”

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Seth Godin is one of my favorite gurus. I started to say “marketing gurus” but in reality, he’s more of a life guru with a marketing background – his ideas are often as much about deleting extraneous fluff and focusing on quality efforts in daily life as they are about doing so in business. His post yesterday elegantly reminded me of some of the priorities I so often neglect. The second half of a great post:

(…) here’s a bootstrapper’s/marketer’s/entrepreneur’s/fast-rising executive’s effort diet. Go through the list and decide whether or not it’s worth it. Or make up your own diet. Effort is a choice, at least make it on purpose:

1. Delete 120 minutes a day of ‘spare time’ from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.

2. Spend the 120 minutes doing this instead:

Exercise for thirty minutes.
Read relevant non-fiction (trade magazines, journals, business books, blogs, etc.)
Send three thank you notes.
Learn new digital techniques (spreadsheet macros, Firefox shortcuts, productivity tools, graphic design, html coding)
Volunteer.
Blog for five minutes about something you learned.
Give a speech once a month about something you don’t currently know a lot about.

3. Spend at least one weekend day doing absolutely nothing but being with people you love.

4. Only spend money, for one year, on things you absolutely need to get by. Save the rest, relentlessly.

If you somehow pulled this off, then six months from now, you would be the fittest, best rested, most intelligent, best funded and motivated person in your office or your field. You would know how to do things other people don’t, you’d have a wider network and you’d be more focused. (emphasis mine)

It’s entirely possible that this won’t be sufficient, and you will continue to need better luck. But it’s a lot more likely you’ll get lucky, I bet.

You can read this post in full here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/10/is-effort-a-myt.html

You’re going to be tired at the end of the day…

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…so why not have something to show for it? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m really glad to be going back to work in an office on Monday. I’ve been working from home for my old firm back in Dallas, but the colleague who will be taking over for me is so competent that I’ve been more of a periodic advisor these last four weeks. Recently I’ve been feeling a bit restless and frankly, a little less valuable to the world.

The dissatisfaction took a few weeks to set in, probably because I needed a little break. The run-up to the move was chaos, compounded by me trying to make charts, maps, and schedules in order to feel in control of the chaos. And once I was here, I sank into enjoying the gorgeous beauty of San Diego and being 1,300 miles closer to my guy.

But last night at dinner with friends, when it got to my turn to talk about life’s daily adventures I had nothing. My day had been errands, and conference calls, and way too much time online. Not much worth writing home about. I’ve been thrilled to have the time to research the perfect job, unpack the last box, get to know the neighborhood. But I’m a dynamic, engaged, innovative individual. I want to be doing dynamic, engaging, innovative things.

So in case you’ve been thinking, “things are a little quiet around here. What’s different?”, I just want you to know: I’m back.