Category Archives: Work Life

Middle, Middle, Middle

A few weeks ago with no apparent preamble, I started to develop a thought thread – almost all of us, on some level, want the comfort of being thought of as normal but no one really wants to be perceived as being ordinary. The thought progressed. Somewhere along the edge of ordinary seems to be middle – middle income, middle age, middle America, middle child. I am a middle child grown to be in the midst of all this middle-ness.

 

Though if I am actually middle aged then I will live to be 100, which in this era of expanding life spans is still remarkable and therefore technically I passed middle age before I even thought what it might be. But I digress, and societally we seem to consider middle age to be late 40s through the 50s and sometimes into the 60s (which puts me in the middle of middle age…) so let’s get back to my main thought thread.

 

Normal, ordinary, middle – middle, middle middle (becomes a silly nonsense word if you say it enough) – are to be considered in the personal quest for meaning and our place in the world. Normal means we fit in, and despite the urge to be considered unique we do like to fit in. Ordinary has come to mean boring, and who wants to be boring?

 

I think back to childhood and that strong urge to blend in, because to call attention to oneself was to invite ridicule.  I had these socks that had cute little blue flowers on them, I believe my aunt gave them to me. I really liked them, but I wore them all of once. I was patterned in a sea of white knee socks and it was as if there was a beacon trained on my legs and therefore me. I decided to stick to something more neutral.

Capture

I Googled 'flowered socks'

I Googled ‘flowered socks’

Somewhere in high school I started the slow process of embracing my flower sock loving self.  Until here I am in the middle in so many possibly superficial ways considering the terrain of normal, ordinary and what it means to be in the middle.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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A Once Familiar Route, or Planning to be Disoriented

Every once in a while I become aware of the changes that have occurred in my routine for various reasons.  For years I headed east from my house – for work, family, errands.  Everything that I needed or wanted was pretty much east with the rare exception.  When my workplace actually moved closer to my home, my usual radius became about 6 miles, mostly east.

 

And then my life changed and now my well-worn route is south and north.  Work is south, with a slight alteration thanks to the onset of construction season.  (A quarter mile section of my regular road is being completely replaced, requiring me to go over a mile out of my way…)  New personal commitments and interests send me north several times a month.  Occasional jaunts take me to once familiar areas east of my house.

 

But I digress.  A person that I know is starting a new job this week, and my one of my sons started a new job a couple of weeks back.  Both are pleased with the opportunity for full time employment.  Both are interested in doing a good job and succeeding.

 

A new job is exciting. But it is also unfamiliar and disorienting.  A new routine, all new co-workers, tasks, procedures, culture, etc.  When we start a new job, we look forward to the additional money, the opportunities to use our skills.  We forget to think about the disorientation – all those new names and faces, the different commute – so much change.  That disorientation can really bite hard.

 

It wasn’t so long ago that I was in the midst of it myself.  At least being a writer helped me because of the necessary skills in observation and identification.  I never stopped being able to identify with new people at my previous job.  To help them to understand why their head was spinning.  Even still, I had to have more than one talk with myself when starting my current job to remember the plan.

 

How can a person plan to be disoriented?  A big part of the plan is just that – to know that it will happen, that it is a normal part of a new experience.  Normal means it happens to almost everyone.  The next part of the plan is to know that it is temporary.  Fairly quickly something will seem familiar, and then another something and another.  Friendly faces will offer assistance, ease the transition.

 

There is so much to learn and acclimate to in a new job, many go from being the person that everyone goes to for the answer to the person who feels lost.  But you are still you.  You still have the skills that got you the job, they just have to be applied in this unfamiliar place.

 

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Things that we look forward to – a baby, a job, a house, a move, a marriage – are stressful because everything that was once familiar suddenly is shifted and disorienting.  If it was an anticipated change we have trouble figuring out why we are discombobulated, disoriented and we get frustrated.

 

Sometimes familiar routes cease to be current routes, but fairly quickly the new route becomes familiar.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Number Stories

(Originally posted on 9/25/14 to a shared blog – http://blogtowork.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/number-stories/)

photo credit: Huffington Post

photo credit: Huffington Post

Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do.  I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook.  And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic.  It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.

 

Statistics are stories told with numbers.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?  Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense.  No, number stories – data meets the story arc.  Very intriguing.

 

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers.  We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news.  But there are state and regional unemployment rates.  Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.).  Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.

 

What about the workforce participation rate?  I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession.  This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay.  This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping.  The story is in understanding better why it is dropping.  And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?

 

Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking.  This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker.  This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position.  Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.

 

There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea.  These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one.  Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied.  The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.

 

It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple.  Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position.  At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.

Here You Go

Problem solving has been an important part of my job description for as long as I can remember.  I like to put on the detective hat and sift through things to find the parts that are important, put them together in the right configuration and arrive at a solution.  Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward to figure out and sometimes plenty about the situation is a bit ambiguous.

 

There is one thing about problem solving that got old a long time ago, but is part and parcel of the problem solver’s lot in my experience.  It is the person who makes it a habit to hand over partial information, or fragments here and there in multiple email or phone messages.  They want you to solve it, but they can’t be bothered to try to put anything together in any sort of cohesive single place.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I’ll take the person who isn’t sure what they want or need kind of problem over the person who dumps a mess every time.  Most times.  Every once in a while I use the big mess as an excuse to be left alone to puzzle it all into something coherent.  But mostly I see it as a different facet of rude.  That person’s time is more important than mine.  (Though I concede that there may be other ways of looking at it…)

 

Sigh.  Focus on the boost that I hope to get upon resolution and not on the drudgery of slogging through the junk. This is why there are stories of the really good stuff one can find hidden in junk.  Think of ways to prevent the junk dump from repeat offenders.  Get caught up in the chase for the best solution.

 

Don’t be a here you go, dump and run person.  Please.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Galloping or Inching

Progress is progress I tell myself on a regular basis – whether by inches or gallops.  I need this reminder because inches don’t feel like progress, especially when new things get added on faster than stuff gets done.  (Clearly this is on my mind, I return to some version of this theme quite a lot lately.)  Did I push it forward, or can I change the priority, or can I get some help?

 

Most people I know, particularly women, focus on all the things yet to do which makes it harder to feel like progress has been accomplished at all.  There is always more to get done, it doesn’t matter what you are talking about – personal, professional, family household, etc.  Relentless obligations.  Job security.  Life in our modern, complex world.

 

We want to gallop through our endless lists, but mostly we inch.

 

Inches matter and they do add up, but sometimes we have to remember where we started at to see how far we have come.  Reminding myself of the steps that I have taken that day to affect progress is a habit that I work to keep up.  Done, started, planned, researched, delegated, reprioritized.  Don’t spend all the time looking at what hasn’t yet been done.  Breathe, and then review what was accomplished at the end of each day – work and personal.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I admit to being better at sharing this nugget with others than I can be at following it for myself.  Although this is one of the ways that I put myself on the path to being a reformed perfectionist years ago.  (It is a path with no finish.)

 

A coworker came across a free webinar offering about remarkable women in leadership roles and sent out an invitation for anyone interested to join her in her office for this presentation.  A handful of us expressed interest and so spent an hour together listening and actively thinking about where we are and where we could be.  This aspect of accomplishment came up in relationship to confidence.

 

If a women is apt to focus on this things yet to do then she is less likely to feel confident in her abilities.  A rearranged focus that acknowledges the things completed or well on their way is a step toward confidence.  Doubt loses some of its foot-hold.

 

I wanted to ask my coworkers a bit about this and some of the other points from the presentation, but since we had spent an hour listening everyone felt pressed to get back to their lists of to-dos.  The march to inch forward.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

How Many Things Can Your Mind Juggle?

Back in my early adulthood, I thought I was overwhelmed when I had a couple of issues at the same time; say one personal and one work issue.  Mind boggled.  But I slowly adjusted and found that I could handle a couple of different issues at the same time and maintain regular stuff as well.

 

Then I had kids and had to mentally juggle my stuff, house stuff and their stuff.  Sometimes I missed a few balls, but I did pretty well because there became an ebb and flow to activity that followed the school year.  My mind could rest a bit here and there.

 

I’ve had periods, sometimes years, when I had to adjust to constant mental juggling, without the relief of that ebb in activity.  Mostly I think I met the challenge.  Often by letting less important things fall to the wayside for a bit.

 

I was told once, by someone who should know, that our minds are suited to holding 7-9 thoughts or ideas in short term memory.  Any more and something has to go to long term memory or get dropped off the mental cliff.

 

public domain clip art

public domain clip art

So this idea of time management (and information management) is more than being in the right place at the right time with the right tools, it is conquering your short term and long term memory capabilities – because I know plenty of people, particularly women, who are trying to shove 25 items into their short term memory and feeling frazzled as a result.

 

I just rewrote my current to-do list of reasonably important tasks, appointments and such.  (Yes, still using pen and paper because that act helps me to keep everything clear.)  I am scheduling a roof replacement that has been on my list for about 3 years.  (The contractor said he has seen worse roofs, but I don’t want to get backed into that corner so getting this off my list will be a relief.  The next heavy rain won’t make me cringe.)

 

A few things were completed and didn’t have to be carried over onto the new list.  And a couple of things came up in the intervening time and had to be done without even making it onto the official list.  I remembered a few things that should have been on the last list, but got lost in the nether regions of my mind.  Plus a few new things.  So the list is longer and looks like I haven’t gotten anything done.  (Sigh.)

 

How many things can you mind juggle?  And do you live with the constant sense that you are forgetting something?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Staying Calm

Someone went in the basement of a government office in England a couple of years ago and found themselves a gold mine by unearthing a WWII slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. With my tagline on my old blog being Reasonable Expectations, which is along the same vein, you probably believe that I find the phrase has plenty of merit.  And I do believe in the sentiment.  (I almost bought a plaque myself when I first saw one in a catalog because it is a pithy and practical mantra.)

 

Google search of keep calm and...

Google search of keep calm and…

But ever since I was told the first time as a child in a tizzy about some long forgotten irritation to ‘calm down’ I have thought that is the most useless phrase in the English language.  In the history of the world the number of people who have actually calmed down just based on being told to do so might be legitimately calculated at one.  In my experience, both personal and observed, it is more likely to be equated to waving a red flag in front of a bull.

 

But, since chronologically we are all adults, we do need to temper our tempers.  We are civilized after all, aren’t we?  Therefore we must find a means within ourselves to defuse any mounting irritation, frustration, anger, or rage before it gets the better of us.  Before we get into full tantrum mode.  And there is plenty to be frustrated about – businesses seem to create rules for the specific purpose of frustrating their customers.  Or, knowing a particular time of day is a high volume time there will only be 2 cashiers with a long row of empty checkout stations and a longer row of people who have somewhere else to be.

 

Anyway, back to defusing frustration.  Reminding myself to breathe is a good mantra – have you ever noticed that your breath is shallow and rapid which makes your pulse get shallow and rapid?  And your shoulders head north toward your ears?  I can’t make the store bring out some more cashiers, but I can make myself breathe more deeply and shake out my shoulders until they are back where they belong.  And try not to listen while the man behind me tells the woman he is with to calm down.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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