Monday, June 28, 2010

Life lessons for the gainfully unemployed

One year ago, I became unemployed.

Now I like to call myself "gainfully unemployed". Sometimes I call it "self-employed", "freelance", or "doing what I love".

Other times I call it "drowning", "hanging on for dear life", or just "broke".

As I celebrate this dubious anniversary (which, not coincidentally coincides with my one-year anniversary of becoming a blogger), I thought I'd share with you some nuggets of wisdom that I've learned during this difficult, enlightening, and roller-coaster ride of a year.

1) If you're going to fall, at least hit the ground running.
I lost my job on a Monday, and by Friday I had my website and blog up and running, business cards ordered, and my name and resume on every job site I could get my hands on. Oh, yeah, I spent a couple of hours here and there crying and feeling sorry for myself, but I assure you I felt MUCH better doing something proactive rather than throwing myself a pity party.

2) Network, network, network.
This may not be quite a good comparison, but my mom recently told me about a friend of hers whose wife had just died. She asked how he was coping and his response was, "I am saying 'yes' to everything, whether I want to go out or not." That applies to networking. I never felt comfortable meeting new people or walking into a room of strangers, but I did it anyway. And you know? It's not all that difficult. I joined the Chamber of Commerce and went to the Business After Hours, attended Speed Networking, spoke at a Women's Group and took every opportunity I could to bring up my business and hand over my card. Turns out I don't suck at it. Bonus.

3) Manage your time, don't let your time manage you.
It's easy to say you work at home then not get any work done. It's easy to get distracted by household chores, online websites, yardwork... anything that takes you away from doing what you should be doing. Designate a specific time to do all these things, decide when work time will be, then get on with it. Make lists of what you need or want to accomplish during the week. Be flexible for that last minute meeting or new client who calls.

4) Budget your money, or lack thereof.
Being "gainfully unemployed" means you have money coming in, just not on a regular basis. Create a budget and try to stick to it. After a year, I'm certainly not in a position to buy a flat-screen TV or new car with my freelance funds. There's always that month between paychecks or that dry spell that you have to prepare for. A healthy savings/emergency account helps, too.

5) Don't try to do it all or you'll do yourself in.
This is advice I need to listen to myself. As a self-employed single parent, I am running from the moment I gulp down my first cup of coffee until my head hits the pillow. I don't watch TV anymore, nor do I read. To me, that's time I should be working, or playing with my kids, or doing something with my poor, neglected house. But I did manage to go on vacation with my kids, and I do try to get out every couple of weeks and decompress. I can tell when I've been neglecting myself - my work suffers, I suffer, and my kids probably suffer as well. I enlist the help of family and friends when necessary to give me a break and recoup my sanity.

6) Shut up and listen.
This is probably the most important thing I have learned over the past year. Listen. Wherever you go. You know how it's easy to get caught up in your own thoughts, whether you're in line at the grocery store or sitting at a bar with friends. Listen. To everything. You will be amazed at what you will learn and how you'll grow from it. Listening has given me valuable advice. Listening has gotten me jobs. Listening has provided me with ideas for job searches, blogs, or new ways of doing things. I can't fully explain it, just trust me. Listen.

It's been a tough year, but honestly, I know God doesn't give me anything I can't handle, and somehow, He's been right so far. I've risen above and gotten through it better than I ever thought I would. As I enter my second year of "gainful unemployment", I can only pray that He continues to be right.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rockin' South Dakota, Part II

Traveling with your kids can be hard. Traveling with kids who are not your own can be hard. Traveling with kids in a car for many hours can be hard. Traveling with kids who are not your own in a car for many hours can be hard.

Somehow, though, so far, we’ve managed to pull this trip off.

So, Day 4:
There is SO much to do in this area that I didn't think we'd do anything twice. But since a storm and bad footwear choices cut our first trip to the Badlands short, we opted to go again, properly attired and ready for any weather.

This is when traveling with four children of a variety of ages and athletic abilities gets a little challenging. Three were ready to climb to the tallest peak, and one was less than thrilled at the prospect. So we took two cars, climbed together for awhile, and when one started to tire, I headed back with her.

I will never forget driving out of the Badlands and thinking, "I just left my two boys IN THE BADLANDS. WHAT AM I THINKING???" I knew they were in good hands, but I still worried. We went back to Wall to shop and I waited not so patiently for their call. About 2-1/2 hours later, they showed up and I said, "How was it?" Their response, "WE LIVED." Apparently they had gotten themselves into a pretty precarious situation... upon reaching the summit of one of the cliffs, they had some issues in finding their way down. The hills out there are dirt/clay like, but just beneath the crusty stuff is a layer of slippery mud. My son lost both soles of his shoes and most of the back of his shorts from sliding down the hills. But they were both completely exhilarated at their feat, and I was thrilled that they were safe and sound.

Now, we've been absolutely blessed with the weather here - during the day, at least. The days have been warm but not unbearable, nice breezes, beautiful fluffy white skies... the nights? That's a different story. We had just walked across the street to a restaurant when the winds picked up, the temperature dropped, and the rain and hail came. We were under a tornado warning with pretty much nowhere to go. Eventually, it passed, but upon returning to the hotel, the power went out. Thank goodness for the flashlights I had in the van, which I sent my oldest son out to get. The next morning, I went out to said van, and the side door was WIDE OPEN. Miraculously, nothing was stolen, and luckily, it was left open after the storms.

Day 4: Kids 1, Mom 1, God 2.

Day 5: Aside from the whole gaping van door thing, Day 5 was another amazing adventure. We trekked to Deadwood, home of gold mines and Wild Bill Hickok. We toured a gold mine and discovered some amazing facts about mining, like, the men worked 10 hour days only by candlelight. One worker held the chisel, the other hammered. The chisel was turned clockwise, and the other hammered again. At the end of the day, a young, inexperienced worker was sent in to fill the holes with powder and ignite them, then run like hell. According to our guide, no loss of life was ever documented, but I'm pretty sure it occurred. The workers had to provide their own candles, so they blew them out while they broke for lunch. The guide turned out the lights and it was the blackest black I had ever experienced. I honestly don't know how these men did it.

After the tour, the kids were taught the art of panning for gold. They got their pans, swirled the rocks, and patiently waited for the gold to sink to the bottom. The look on their faces when they saw the little flecks was priceless, and they loved the fact that they were so heavy they sunk immediately to the bottom of the little vials of water.

We left with their treasures and went on to Saloon No. 10, the very place where Wild Bill Hickok was shot while playing poker. Ever heard the term "dead man's hand"? That refers to the hand that Wild Bill was holding when he was shot from behind - otherwise known as "aces and eights". Apparently, he never sat with his back to the door, but that one night he had no choice, and reluctantly did. Bad move, Bill. Bad move.


The drive back to Rapid City was so beautiful - the landscape so different than that of Custer State Park or the Badlands. Very lush and green with miles and miles of pine trees that you swear were planted exactly the same space apart. The sun and clouds cast amazing shadows on the mountains, and the even the rolling hills splattered with the tree victims of recent forest fires was an awesome sight.

Our last stop for the day was Reptile Gardens, which may sound cheesy, but if reptiles are your thing, it's a great place to go. In about an hour and a half, we saw a guy wrestle an alligator, touched a giant tortoise, laughed at some fat prairie dogs and shuddered at the snakes and spiders. In my opinion, it was worth the admission fee, and a nice, easy ending to an incredible trip.

Day 5: Kids 1, Mom 1.

I think the kids have done a great job of being flexible when differing opinions were involve, patient when asked to be, and genuinely thrilled with most everything we did. I managed to also be flexible and keep not only my sense of humor, but my sense of wonder as well.

Monday, June 21, 2010

South Dakota's motto should be "Your reward for driving through Iowa"

No offense to my Iowa readers, but your state smells like crap. Seriously.

On the up side, I've noticed that everyone we've met on this journey of ours has been friendly, polite and helpful. Like they really enjoy where they live and what they do. That is refreshing, and almost makes up for the odor.

So Day 1 of our road trip:
I was told it would be a long drive across Iowa, and I was right. Two hours after leaving Peoria, I introduced my kids to the I-80 Truck Stop (the World's Largest, you know) where they marveled at the overpriced trinkets and trucker accessories.

My goal was to stop every couple of hours and do something fun, but honestly, there weren't too many things that screamed "fun" on our route. We made the best of it at rest stops, where I instructed the kids to run around the "pet fitness area" and see who could come back with the least amount of dog poo on their flip flops. We marveled at the wind farms and ate sandwiches out of the back of my van - just like when I was a kid. We rolled in to Sioux City, ate dinner and let them play in the pool. They were fantastic travelers, and I kept my sanity and sense of humor.

Day 1 Score: Kids 1, Mom 1.

Day 2:
It was about 5 hours to our final destination in Rapid City, but somehow, it took us 13 hours. Our first stop was Sioux Falls, where we visited - what else - the falls. They were beautiful - these cascading falls in the middle of pretty much nowhere, it seemed.

Then it was on to Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace. Yep. Made of corn. Smelled like corn. All about corn. 'Nuff said.

After a stop at a breathtaking view and a search for poisonous snakes in Chamberlain, we drove on to the Badlands, which so far has been MY favorite part of the trip.

In the middle of nowhere are these spires, protruding from the ground like they don't belong. It's just indescribable. A storm was moving in, and the sky was the darkest, threatening blue I've ever seen, and made the hills gleam bright white. The kids were beside themselves, and I lost a life watching them perch precariously on the edge. We climbed, explored, and watched the storm move it. Just as we got in the car to leave, the skies opened up and it rained and hailed most of the way out of the Badlands. We lucked out, and could not have had a better photo opportunity.

So, you say we're done for the day??? NO!!!! We still had to visit Wall Drug - I mean, the billboards told us to. All 5,000 of them. We sampled the free ice water, grabbed a cup of 5 cent coffee and a buffalo burger and let the kids shop. Luckily for us, we didn't arrive there until 8:00, and they closed at 9, so their shopping was cut short. That put us in to Rapid City close to 10:00 - the kids were cranky, upset because it was too late to swim, and I was exhausted. Kids 2, Mom 1.

Day 3: The hotel here in Rapid City isn't the greatest, and I'm not sure what continent this continental breakfast is from, so we opted for Denny's. After an artery clogging breakfast, we headed to Mt. Rushmore.

I have to say, I wondered if it would be as cool as the photos. WOW. It's so much more spectacular in person than I ever imagined. Granted, the day itself was perfect - deep blue sky, light breeze and low humidity. I swear I saw the presidents smiling. I took a bazillion pictures and realized that it was probably here that determined people's absolute adversity to looking at other people's vacation photos. "Here's a picture of Mt. Rushmore. Here's another picture of Mt. Rushmore. Here's a picture of Mt. Rushmore with blue sky and a tree. Here's a picture of me standing next to Mt. Rushmore." Yeah, I get it.

I was misinformed after watching National Treasure that you could climb up to Mt. Rushmore. I guess that would be silly. But my son did climb up very very high - almost even with George - on an adjoining mountain. I must be a cat, because I think I've lost at least seven lives since I've been on this trip.

From there we headed down the road to some alpine slide thing, which was like a waterslide down a mountain, but without the water. Instead you had this little board that looked like those stretchers they put people on when they think they've broken their neck. You take a chairlift up, then ride down on your stretcher, which has a brake between your legs. The boys did this and I took pictures at the bottom, where I lost my eighth life. I have to start to conserve.

After a quick lunch we ventured on to Custer State Park, which was an absolutely breathtaking drive up into the mountains. We saw rocks balancing that shouldn't be balancing, the devastation from the forest fires, buffalo roaming, donkeys, steers, goats, prairie dogs, the whole shebang. The boys climbed to new heights, and I started to, but then broke out in hives and had to come down. My ninth life was spared... for now. Unfortunately, getting out of Custer State Park seemed to take about as long as the drive across Iowa. I felt bad, but after awhile, the "OOOHHHH!!! Look at THAT!" Turns to "Good GOD, where is civilization?????" Even the GPS couldn't deter my son from asking, "Are we there yet???"

I have to say, though, my kids are having the time of their lives. They are being great troupers with all the driving, and the things we are experiencing they are genuinely thrilled about.

Honestly, I couldn't ask for anything more.

Day 3: Kids 3, Mom 2. I think they're holding up better than I am.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

11 Things That Will Kill Your Road Trip

In the spirit of my impending trek to South Dakota, my brother was kind enough to send me this link on a few of the red flags of road trippin'...

I swear... you'll laugh until you snort. Enjoy!

11 Things That Will Kill Your Road Trip
(originally posted by 11 Points)

I can never pass up a good road trip.

I can't count how many road trips I've been on -- it must be approaching triple digits -- and I'm happy to say that the number just keeps increasing. On Friday, I'll be driving to Las Vegas with some friends -- a road trip path I've chronicled before in my 11 Highlights of the Los Angeles-Las Vegas Drive, yet one that never gets old.

Over the course of my dozens and dozens of road trips, I've seen it all -- the good, the bad, Nebraska. I've seen what makes a road trip succeed... and I've seen what makes a road trip end with everyone leaving the car and not talking for several hours, days or years. And now, I've coalesced that life experience into a list of 11 things that will absolutely murder your road trip. Read. Learn. Nebraska.

In no particular order (so numbered 1-11 instead of 11-1, for those that keep up on the day-to-day decisions of why I number lists the way I do)...

1. Video games and iPods.

Road trips are communal experiences. Each person in the car is an absolutely crucial element. To have an ideal road trip, your individual personalities need to combine, like Voltron.

As soon as someone in the backseat goes rogue and starts listening to their own iPod or playing the new, cool Nintendo DS game (which, I'm sure, is something like "The Pokemons Meet The Jetsons")... you're done. All of a sudden the communal experience is shattered and, before you know it, the other person in the backseat is asleep and the two people in the front seat are having a two-hour heart-to-heart about how good of friends they are.

2. Getting a ticket.

Getting a speeding ticket during a road trip is brutal for so many reasons. (1) Instantly destroys the good mood. (2) Makes you go the speed limit from that point on, therefore kills the fun of bragging about what good time you guys are making. (3) Leads to the awkward discussion of whether the driver is going to cover the cost of the ticket or if you're all going to split it because, odds are, you didn't do the equivalent of a road trip pre-nup regarding costs.

There are ways around this of course... besides going the speed limit. You can either go just a lil bit over the speed limit (like nine miles-per-hour or less), so at least the ticket won't hit thousands of dollars/felony level... you can only take road trips through rural Montana where there are no speed limits... or you can invest in some form of ticket prevention technology.

That stuff really can work, too. One time back in college, my friend Adam and I went on a mini road trip -- from school in Chicago up to his family's place in Detroit, down to my family's place in Cleveland, back to Chicago. We had one of those radar detectors and were shocked that it did, in fact, work. We began to praise it as a deity, but that's a story for another day.

3. Billy Joel.

It goes without saying that you have to prepare music for the road trip. And it really doesn't matter what that music is -- whatever you guys like, whatever will keep everyone happy, that works.

As long as it's not Billy Joel. Because I can say from empirical evidence that Billy Joel kills road trips.

Just try it once and you'll learn the hard way. As soon as your first few mixes are done and someone suggests you guys switch to Billy Joel, people will start falling asleep, rampantly texting, staring out the window as if drugged.

My friend (also named) Sam and I have theorized endlessly as to why Billy Joel is such a road trip killer and, ultimately, we agreed on a principle. Billy Joel has a decent number of songs that everyone knows (a good 12-15 of these)... and your average person likes Billy Joel. (Including me, by the way -- this point is not an indictment of Billy Joel.)

But, outside of the dozen-or-so known tracks, his music is pretty droning and depressing. And some mix of his melodies, his voice and his lyrics that always seem to spin folklore-ish tales have this badly hypnotic quality. You can't sing along to him, you can't bounce to him... you have to just sit there and listen like you're being sung to by a professor reading from his mostly boring memoirs.

With each song it gets worse, until the point where you go to sleep, because his songs and stories have kinda made you want to set yourself on fire. (And, of course, if you do, Billy Joel has already gone on record to absolve himself of blame.)

4. Supersizing.

I'm not sure why it happens -- there are few things we do in life that expend fewer calories than sitting virtually motionless in a car for hours and hours on end -- but people tend to want to eat huge meals during road trip food stops.

You need to fight that instinct. Going for the super size (whether it's Biggie Sizing or King Sizing or whatever) will guarantee only two results, both of which are road trip poison: (1) Indigestion/illness/even vomiting (2) The need for many momentum-killing bathroom stops.

Just get the smaller fries, the smaller soda, the burritos that don't weigh half a pound. It will benefit you in every single possible way.

5. Spontaneous arguments over whether or not to pick up drifters.

So you're on a road trip and you pass a hitchhiker. This inevitably leads to a debate. "What if he's a deranged murderer?" "But what if he's not?" "I say we pick him up and see what happens." "I already own a copy of '7-Minute Abs'."

I'm not going to tell you whether or not to pick up that drifter. But I will say this: Before you embark, the car should decide on its drifter policy... because you don't want to have a huge fight that leads to you turning around to pick him up after all.

6. Drinking more than three Red Bulls or cups of coffee.

Staying awake during a road trip is crucial -- otherwise, ya know, you miss the road trip. But you need to dig down and find some of your energy from within.

When you cross that magic line from well-caffeinated into hallucinating, you've got a problem. Suddenly the car feels very small. Suddenly you think everyone in the car is trying to kill you (especially that drifter you all agreed to pick up a few points back). Suddenly your heart is beating a little too fast and not even the soothing strains of "She's Always a Woman" can slow its pace.

And at that moment, you're officially on a bad road trip. It's like a bad acid trip, but with more farting.

7. Making a schedule that's too rigid or too loose.

Yes, a road trip is officially about getting from one place to another. But, really, it's just as much about the time in the car.

You want to have a schedule. You need to have a schedule. It gives you a goal, a constraint, a mission. (i.e., "We have to get to California for the Nintendo World Video Game Championships by tomorrow or that a-hole with the Power Glove will win!")

But you don't want your schedule to be too rigid. (i.e., "If we don't get there in an hour Amy Smart will have to call in a bomb threat.")

A different friend Adam and me did a California road trip a few years back. We had places to be, but no hard-and-fast schedule. This allowed us to stop wherever we wanted. Detour to UC Santa Cruz? Sure! Stop at every miniature golf course we see off the freeways? Sure!

On your road trip, you may spot something off the side of the road -- and you should have the freedom and flexibility to do it. Whether it's a water slide park, a blueberry festival (?), or a farmhouse where the generous and hospitable farmer serves amazing food but only has one rule and that's not to touch his blond virginal daughter... stop.

Just give yourself some form of a deadline, to keep your goal-oriented momentum up. (Plus, once his daughter comes on to you and he chases you out of the house with a double-barrelled shotgun and you and your friends jump in the car and peel out screaming, "Whoooooa!" you'll make it on time anyway.)

8. Traffic leaving your hometown.

It's a terrible start to a road trip when everyone gets in the car, all excited, you pull on to the freeway... and you're instantly met with a wall of traffic and a two-hour delay.

This is almost a guarantee in L.A. (or when leaving Vegas on a Sunday to return to L.A.) -- but it's a possibility anywhere if you leave during a rush hour zone. So plan your trip around a weird departure time. Ten in the morning, 11 at night or the ever popular three in the morning -- those will all make sure that, within two hours, you're no longer getting your hometown radio stations or passing cities whose names you recognize.

9. Sleeping in the passenger seat.

It's not ideal, but people fall asleep on road trips. It happens. (I've certainly done it -- on a road trip my senior year of college I almost managed to sleep from Denver to Lincoln, Nebraska... and then from Lincoln to Chicago the next day. Don't know how that happened.)

But it's not OK for the person in the front seat to fall asleep. They serve as the front seat-back seat conversation liaison, play DJ AND make the arm pumping motion at truck drivers. And, more importantly, if everyone else falls asleep, they're in charge of keeping the driver engaged and awake... so you don't ever have to find out if your car has the Navitron Autodrive System like Reliable Red Barclay's truck.

I mean, how can you fall asleep on Remington Steele?!

10. Not taking advantage of cool laws in other states.

A little research can change everything. Example: In Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia all the passengers are legally allowed to crack open alcoholic beverages. And in Mississippi, even the driver can join in on the drinking (as long as his blood alcohol level stays below the legal limit. (This would be perfect for playing the "It's Always Sunny" state name drinking game. I recommend North Virginia.)

Whatever does it for you -- legal brothels, the counties that ban ATM fees, cities with no sales tax, states where you're required to pump your gas, legal marijuana dispensaries, gay marriages, marrying your first cousin -- it's all out there for you on your road trip, you've just got to do a little research first.
When I update my list of the 11 best It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes, this one is definitely going to make the cut.

11. Sharting.

Because no matter what else happens on your road trip -- you steal a bus from a school for the blind and crash a black fraternity party, you inadvertently wind up driving into a Smash Mouth concert, you destroy the sun sphere from the World's Fair in Knoxville -- all anyone's ever going to remember is the shart. And your trip doesn't deserve that.

11 Things That Will Kill Your Road Trip

11 Things That Will Kill Your Road Trip

Monday, June 14, 2010

What do you mean, we're DRIVING???

I try to keep things real with my kids.

I want them to see the country. The real country. Not the amusement parks, water parks, and tourist traps. I mean, we've done that. I want them to see the beauty. The awesomeness. The good stuff.

I'd rather not drive to get there, though.

To some, it's no big deal. Gas up the car, throw the kids in there with some snacks and a portable DVD player and go. Others even go so far to leave at night, hoping their kids will sleep through the journey (and that someone will take over for them upon their arrival).

I remember driving on what seemed like interminable road trips when I was young. I never expected it to be any other way, but oh, how I dreaded it. Hours and hours of fighting for the best seat in the station wagon. Sometimes that was the "wayback" seat, where you sat facing backwards and breathed in those awesome fuel fumes. Or if there was too much luggage, we vied for the window seat, but being the third of four kids, I usually got the middle anyway.

I remember bologna sandwiches out of a cooler, and puking up peach-flavored Hi-C because my stomach just couldn't take it. I remember feeling completely helpless as the highway stretched before us and the minutes dragged on. Reading made me carsick, so there was not much else for me to do but daydream and pray for sleep to come.

So, you can imagine my apprehension as I get ready to pack my two boys and my minivan for a trek out to South Dakota here soon. Things have changed since I was a kid. I doubt they'll want to play Auto Bingo or the license plate game. They've packed the laptop for watching movies, their ipods, cell phones and Nintendo DS's. We have home-made snacks, clear Kool-Aid (thank you, Kool-Aid gods) and enough Twizzlers to feed an army. The GPS voice has been selected ("Ken", our Australian guide), which will hopefully fend off all those "Are we there yet?" questions.

I've mapped out our journey, looking up pit stops along the way. My goal is to make getting there a part of the fun. I don't know if this is possible, but I'm sure going to try. Once you hit Iowa, it doesn't look like there's much between there and South Dakota. And this will be the first time I've been in charge of the driving, which is a little daunting, to say the least.

I want to do this, I really do. I think it's important for them to see the beauty of this part of the country - and I want to see it, too - the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, Crazy Horse, (yeah, we'll do Wall Drug and the Corn Palace, too).

So wish me luck. I'm sure I'll have stories to tell - both good and bad - upon my return. But if I can just get there and back with the same two kids and the same minivan and a few hundred memories, I'll consider the trip a success.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Who makes you happy?

Careful. That's a trick question. What was the first thought that came to your mind? "Spouse"? "Kids"? "Friends"? "Family"?

How about "Self"?

No, it's not selfish. More like self-preserving.

I'm not saying the other people in your life can't contribute to your happiness. Of course they do - from time to time. Overall. For the most part. But every once in awhile, the stars may not be aligned, and you may not be able to rely on those people for your happiness. Oh, you can rely on them for support... or advice... or encouragement. But happiness?

That's up to you.

I know some people who ride others' coattails for contentment. I've been guilty of it, too. There have been times in my life where I was in a place I wasn't comfortable with - wasn't used to. I needed something familiar because that's what makes me happy. That ended up being a "someone". Yes, it's easy to jump into someone else's life and live it for awhile when you're just not happy with your own. But at the end of the day, it's their life that you're visiting, not yours.

I've been accused of being "too independent". To me, again, it's a form of self-preservation. If I'm going to fail, it's going to be on my watch. If I'm going to succeed, I'm going to reap the rewards all on my own and know that I did it myself. I will appreciate those in my life, and I will realize their value, but I will not rely on them for my happiness. Yes, they are a part of my prosperity, but you never know when one of them might bail, so I'm not going to bank on them for my own bliss permanently, thank you.

Do I slip up? Yes. That's why I write this. I get in my happy place and decide that I can handle turning over the wheel of well-being to someone else and let them determine whether my day is going to be good or bad. Inevitably, I'm disappointed, and I return to the one thing I can count on - and be accountable for - myself.

I'm sure there are differing opinions out there on this - I wait for that email from my mother chiding my opinions - but that's OK. That's the risk I take when writing publicly. And obviously, your comments will be duly noted, and appreciated... but they won't make or break me.

Only I can do that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Great advice for submitting online resumes

I have implemented these tips in my resume practices, and they do work.

Resumes for the Digital Age
by Margaret Steen, for Yahoo! HotJobs

When you're applying for a job, you work hard to make sure your resume will command the attention of the first person who reads it. But it's increasingly likely that the first reader of your resume won't be a person at all.

Inundated with hundreds--or thousands--of resumes for some positions, many companies are using technology to streamline resume screening.

"Any time you submit a resume, you should expect to have your resume scanned for keywords," says Chandlee Bryan, career coach and owner of Best Fit Forward.

Companies use applicant-tracking systems to electronically sort through and store resumes. The systems search for keywords, sort the resumes, and give hiring mangers the most-promising candidates.

Although designing a resume that will impress both a computer and human readers may seem intimidating, there are some advantages.

"It used to be that when a recruiter said, 'We'll keep your resume on file,' it meant it was going in the garbage can," says Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers and the author of "Happy About My Resume." Now, they may actually mean it.

Experts offer these tips for making sure your resume stands out electronically and in person:

Choose the right keywords. Hiring managers and recruiters will use the applicant-tracking system to search for keywords related to the job they're looking to fill. To make your resume rise to the top of the list, you need the right keywords.

"Review the job posting for the position and try to mirror that language," Safani says. Find words and phrases that describe what the company is looking for and use them as much as possible.

Use variations of keywords. Some systems check how often a particular word or variation on a word is used. For instance, if you're looking for a job in accounting, use both "accountant" and "accounting."

Use keywords smartly. Some resumes have a keyword section that simply lists keywords for the computer to pick up. Others include a keyword list in white text on white paper, so that it is read by the computer but not seen by a human reader. Safani and Bryan don't recommend these techniques, though, because although they might help your resume get picked out initially, they can hurt you when a human reader takes a look.

"You don't want to write something that doesn't read well just because you're trying to get the word 'accountant' in 10 different ways," Safani says.

Make your job title generic. If most companies would call you a business analyst but your title is "process improvement specialist," consider listing "business analyst" on your resume (and perhaps putting your actual title in parentheses after it). Do not, of course, give yourself a loftier title than you actually have.

Don't go overboard. It can be useful to have a list of key skills on your resume, both for search engines to scan and to give human readers an idea of your strengths. But Bryan recommends listing no more than nine: "I don't think it fools anyone if it's not very deep."

Use text only. If you're asked to paste your resume into a website text box, make sure you use a text-only version. If you copy and paste from a Word document, for example, some characters and formatting may not translate properly (em dashes, bullets, indentations, italic or bold type, and even quotation marks, for instance)--making your resume illegible (for machines and people). You may want to save a copy of your resume as a plain-text file and make any adjustments in that file before you paste the text (plain text is offered as an option when you save a file in almost all word processing programs).

Follow directions. Every system is different, so the most important thing is to follow the directions on the site that's accepting your resume, Bryan says.

If all of this seems overwhelming to you, let me know. I'd be happy to help you create or tweak your resume and increase your chances of getting noticed and obtaining that interview!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Are you gifted? Yes.


What comes to your mind when you hear the word "gifted"?

Do you think of a musician like Yo-Yo Ma or an opera singer like Pavarotti? Does a genius come to mind, such as Albert Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci? Or perhaps someone who excels at a certain activity, like Bobby Fischer or Michael Jordan?

I found a few definitions of "gifted". The most obvious was "of high intelligence". But others included "having a great natural ability" and "revealing a special gift".

Now we're getting somewhere.

My son attends a gifted school. The students here have been recommended by their teachers and tested and meet the IQ and other standards for a gifted teaching program. Their curriculum is different than the mainstream schools. They do things a little faster, a little harder.

But like the rest of us, these students have deficiencies. Some may be extremely disorganized. Others forgetful. Some may be brilliant in math, but struggle in English. They're just as normal as the rest of us; however, their "giftedness" is based on intellect and therefore more apparent.

I believe we are all gifted in some way, and this quote by Thomas Carlyle sums it up best:

"A person who is gifted sees the essential point and leaves the rest as surplus."

Everyone - I don't care who you are - has "revealed a special gift". With me, I suppose, it is writing. However, I am wildly deficient when it comes to directions. A friend of mine has the most amazing information in his brain when it comes to current events, technology and history. But he can't remember holidays to save his life. Another person I know has a photographic memory, but dances like Elaine on Seinfeld.

I have come to believe that the human brain does just what Carlyle says. In each of us, our minds see what is essential to our lives, and leaves the rest. I need to write. I love to write. It's what I do. But in my opinion, I don't need to know which way is west, so that information - if in fact it even exists in my brain - is buried beneath a sea of stories and synonyms.

My family loves to make fun of my inadequacy when it comes to directions, and I'm OK with that. But, we need to be careful when we chide someone for their deficiencies, lest they feel all-around stupid. The brain is not balanced, nor is the information in it. What feeds the essential point - i.e., the things we are good at, starves the rest as surplus - i.e., what just isn't considered necessary information to us.

In the end, what makes us whole is how we complement each other with our unbalanced brains. If I met a navigator who couldn't write, we'd make a great team. A forgetful dancer may fall in love with the anal-retentive guy with two left feet. Or, the detail-oriented employee may make the perfect secretary for the "big picture" businessman. It's why we hire accountants to do our taxes. Or why we have surgeons perform procedures. Or hire writers to say what we can't put into words.

So, take a moment to reveal your special gift, and look for it in others. And when a fault appears, remember... it's just "surplus".

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Looking for a job?

Me, too. But I'm getting really, really good at it.

So I'm going to pass on a few tips.

I haven't had one of those stable, "paycheck-every-two-weeks" jobs for nearly a year. Tough for a single parent, but the knowledge that I've gained in that year has been priceless.

I'm lucky in that I have a pretty marketable skill - writing. Within a week of being downsized from my "normal" job, I was up and running with my own gig, Kennard Communications. Granted, running your own biz is tough. I think I spend more time looking for work than I do actually working - that's just the nature of the beast.

But what I've learned about job searching - whether it be for that next freelance job or working for someone else - I feel as if I should share. I hope it helps some of you out there looking for work.

Sign up to get job email alerts.
Honestly, I've had little luck with sites like Careerbuilder.com and Monster.com. Indeed.com will send you daily or weekly job alerts pulled from different job sites - and I've found it to be the most all-encompassing. Also look for sites directed toward your field. In my case, I subscribe to job alerts on places like Creativecircle.com and TalentZoo.com. You can post your resume on any of these sites, however, be prepared to get a lot of emails and phone calls for insurance sales on the big ones. If that's your thing, then you should have no problem finding a job.

Visit company websites.
Many jobs aren't found on the online job boards, and you'll find very little in the Sunday paper anymore. Go directly to the employment sections of company websites for comprehensive job listings.

Think outside the box.
OK, so maybe you won't be using that degree. Or maybe you don't have one. What CAN you do? I can write, but I'm also very organized, and have had a few jobs that had "coordinator" in the title. That puts me in the running for jobs like "administrative assistant" or "marketing coordinator". Or maybe it's going to take brushing up on a few new skills. I found that many of the marketing positions I have applied for have listed "design skills", so I went back to school and took some design courses. Now I at least have a working knowledge of these programs and can list them on my resume.

Consider doing your own thing.
Risky? Yes. But if you can't find gainful employment, it may get you through until you do, or you may find you have a knack for working for yourself. I'm redoing a resume for a teacher who was recently pink-slipped and scrambling to find a job. I suggested home tutoring. There's certainly a market for it out there, she can make her own hours and not have to worry about daycare for her small children. Is there a service you can provide? Are you creative? Technical? Good at planning and organizing? If so, why not try your hand at something you love and can make money from at the same time.

Network, network, network.
Most - albeit all - of the freelance jobs I have gotten have been via word of mouth. Yes, I have my website and blog that I direct people to, but my jobs are usually as a result of someone telling someone else about me and my work. That means getting out there and moving and shaking with the rest of them. I joined the Peoria Chamber of Commerce and attend their Business After Hours. I have a Facebook ad and advertise on TellPeoria.com. I have published articles out there with my name and contact info. I let it be known what I do and that I'm looking to do more, and I have found that people for the most part want to see others succeed and will help them do so if they can. I am so thankful for all of the referrals from friends, acquaintances, and people I have never met. And the more quality work I turn out, the more work I get.

Above all, never miss an opportunity to let people know you're looking. Strike up conversations and ask what others do. Mention what you're looking for. There always seems to be a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy...

And if that doesn't work, feel free to email me with any questions and I'll try to help you out. I'm thinking of adding "job coaching" to my list of marketable skills.

Happy hunting!