Career Advice

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Last week, my jaw hit the floor when I received an e-mail asking me for career advice.

“My internship is almost over and I’m trying to get the most from my experience by meeting with some of the global communicators with fascinating jobs. I was wondering if I can call you for a bit tomorrow to informally discuss your background, your job, and how you got here.”

People ask me for advice all the time, normally about food or fashion. I love what I do for a living, but I didn’t realize it was enviable enough to put me in a position where someone might ask how I got there. To be honest, sometimes I’m not quite sure how I got here. It feels like I woke up one morning and suddenly I was 3000 miles from home, with a Virginia voter registration card, a 401K, $50,000 in student loan debt, and a closet full of awesome clothing. Going to graduate school while working full-time can do that to you–it’s like a 2 year roofie.

As I think about it more and continue to watch so many of my friends struggle to find solid ground in the working world, I realize that I’m definitely not the worst person to ask for advice. Without further ado, my words of wisdom for the career-hopeful and newly-employed:

1. Forget Your Dream Job

Stop waiting for “the one.” There’s a very good chance you don’t know yourself very well, so don’t limit yourself to what you think you know. Find something that suits your skills, your talents, and your passion, not just your interests. Just look at House, he may not give a damn about the health of his patients, but he loves solving the puzzles of the human body. Given that you’re not yet set down a defined career path, you still have plenty of time to try out new and different things. Worst case, at least you still have a paycheck while looking for something else to come along.

2. Don’t Suck Up

Sucking up is a great way to encourage all of your coworkers to hate you, while also demonstrating to your superiors that you don’t have a mind of your own. In my experience (or at least in my theory), the best way to get yourself a real gold star in the workplace is respectfully disagreeing, and expressing self-confidence and conviction. Especially with the toughest bosses, being able to hold your own, demonstrating critical thinking skills, foreseeing (their) possible missteps, and having the guts to put someone in their place can go a long way.

3. Act Up

They say you should “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I think a similar principle applies for your work performance. Conduct yourself as though you have the job you want, and bring ideas to the table that will get you there. Don’t be limited by your job description.

4. Be Lazy

I always think its funny when people say I’m a hard worker. I’m not. I’m a smart worker, and I’m a smart worker because I’m extraordinarily lazy. I like to be efficient not for the sake of efficiency, but because the alternative is a waste of time, money, and energy. Sometimes investing a little extra work and energy up front means you can be so much lazier later. The shortest route between two points is a straight line–exploit the straight line. Be lazy, be efficient.

5. Show Up, then Leave

Show up, on time, even early, and make your presence known. I don’t mean have a parade when you show up for an interview, or constantly talk about how early you got into the office, but do something to stand out. Be proactive in meetings. Be more than a seat warmer. Share a good idea, baked goods, a joke or funny story. Leave your mark on every room you enter, because if they don’t remember you, they won’t miss you when you’re gone. Conversely, when possible, leave. Don’t burn yourself out. When you leave the office and have down time, take care of yourself. You’re no good to anyone if you have no mental energy left. This is also called “work hard, play hard,” but as I said, don’t work hard–work smart!

There you have it. Want to be successful in life? Just remember: forget your dream job, don’t suck up, act up, be lazy, show up, and leave! Also, I’m completely unqualified to provide any advice whatsoever, so I’m asking you to leave a comment, answering:

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received? 

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An Explanation

3534516458_48e4e8595fIf you are reading this post, I think it is safe to assume you are either family or a friend. Hypothetically, you should know a fair amount about me and what I am doing out here in DC.

I made that assumption. I thought, these people are my friends and my family. Turns out, not a safe assumption to make–not safe at all.

The night before I left for DC, my parents took me to a farewell dinner. It felt like my Last Supper–though, if I was going to have a last meal Roy’s wouldn’t be too bad. In typical Liane fashion, ever my Father’s Daughter, I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about myself. The waitress came over, smiling and waiting patiently as I blabbered about something I was “feeling” about the impending move. Eventually, I did need to pause to breathe and my mother politely turned to the waitress with pride and said, “She’s moving to DC for grad school tomorrow.” I excused myself to go to the bathroom and upon my return my mother throws this at me:

“The waitress asked what you were studying and I didn’t know what to tell her.”

I looked at my parents in utter disbelief. I started planning for graduate school my third year of college–over two years before that dinner. I’d prepared a binder of all my options. Not just any binder–color-coded, alphabetized, quick reference fact sheets–this was the kind of binder that Type-A, OCD, control freaks dream about. I’d spent more than one Sunday morning drinking coffee and flipping through my options with them. They were there every step of the way, as I narrowed my options. I’d chosen my program months ago and spent the time before I left having to tell every person we met about leaving. My mother could name every single class that my brothers were taking, but she had no idea what Master’s program was moving her one and only daughter across the country.

My eyes turned to my Dad, certain that the self-proclaimed “ultimate boyscout” would remember. Don’t they teach mnemonics in the Boy Scouts? Nope, another blank stare.

Why am I publicly chastising my parents for this action?

(1) To explain why I have an attention-seeking personality

(2) To ease your guilty conscience, since I’m pretty damn sure you don’t remember what I’m studying either

(3) To make them feel guilty before my birthday which is in 13 days!

This is the part where I play psychic and answer all the questions you are about to have:

Well, Liane, what DO you study?
Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University

What the hell does that mean?
The program focuses on the place where politics, media and public affairs intersect. Still confused?

What’s the point of that? Are there even jobs in that?
Absolutely! Media, and social media, is one of the largest growing fields in the country–inside and outside of academia. This kind of degree could open doors in new and traditional media organizations, government, politics and business. So, anywhere really!

What do you learn?
Currently I’m taking classes in Media Theory, Media and Foreign Policy and Research Methods. I will probably talk about some of that more in detail at a later date.

My research interests within this realm of study are still a little fragmented.

Generally, I am curious in how social media will continue to shift the way politicians interact with the public. As someone who witnessed the development of new media “on the frontlines”, I have strong feelings about the value that it has to society. The shift of the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and the construction of individual identity has been staggering, but I think we are still just beginning to see where new media can take us as a society.

In terms of  the “public affairs” side:

  • Politics, primarily Elections –Working on the Hill made me jaded about the amount that people can do once their representatives are actually in office. Elections, in my opinion, are still the most vital part of democracy.
  • Education–The children are our future–and I hate dumb people and I wish there were less of them.
  • Foreign policy–Since our education system sucks, globalization reigns supreme, and I don’t have the time to learn Chinese.

Well, now that you know what I’m studying–I should probably actually go study

A toast, TO BOOKS!

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
~Cicero

First Impressions

Today was the first day of school.

I packed up my bag the night before, laid out my outfit, conjured up the perfect peanut butter sandwich for my midday snack and slept an unusually restful six hours. It was calm–I should have known.

In case you haven’t discovered this about me yet, I am a hot mess ball of stress. Anything that I could possibly worry about, I worry about. Even things that I couldn’t change, I worry about. Sure there are plenty of terrible things associated with this neurotic tendency–ulcers, poor sleep habits, irritability, etc.. But I CAN say that when an emergency or freak incident occurs, I am freakishly calm because I’ve already played out the scenario in my head a million times and I know what to expect and how to handle it.

Usually the night before a big event, I will toss and turn–playing out every possible thing I could stupidly do to ruin the next two years of my life. I plan my words carefully, anticipating every question to come my way.

Something has changed though, recently, I’ve been cool and collected. That internal pressure somehow balanced below the surface. Initially, I thought it was great. Maybe God, in his infinite wisdom, thought it appropriate to finally remove that stick from my ass.

It served me well enough at my interview on Friday. It actually couldn’t have worked out better.

But today…Today the Type-A, control freak, overacheiver within me let me down.

My morning started early-orientation at 9:30 (I realize this isn’t early for normal “working” people, but give me a break). Orientation went well. I met the 14 or so other people in my tiny department as well as some of the professors. Only once before in my life have I been surrounded by so many highly accomplished people (but that’s another story). There is something unsettling when the leading researching in your area of study laughs at your normally lame industry joke and says “Please, call me Sean.”

No, super-awesome-rockstar-professor…please let me call you Professor. Not even Professor So-and-So because your name is too sacred to be said aloud.

The director of the department kept stressing that now we were adults, and practically considered colleagues. We would be published alongside them and be consulted as experts in the making in our own areas. I almost laughed out loud at that one. Expert, me? No sir, just go ahead and tell me what to think; its much easier that way.

The other people in my department had interesting back stories, but we didn’t get enough of a chance to really break the ice for me to decide whether or not they are people worth getting to know personally.

Orientation went well enough. I was optimistic. I thought maybe I could handle this…I was wrong.

Later that evening there was a department reception. Wine was served to students and faculty alike by a man in a tuxedo, and a dozen cheeses were prominently stacked on a silver platter on stark white table clothes. Industry witticisms that would normally draw blank faces caused the room to erupt in fits of laughter:

“My new media forum is taught at the Newseum, which is a wonderful place in DC, but if we listen to Professor X’s position we might as well rename it the Museum of Archeology”

^This had the room cracking up.

I’m sure at some point I will actually discuss the things it is that I am studying and my areas of interest–and why that statement had the room rolling.

I didn’t do too badly at the reception. Receptions are very popular in DC, and always extremely awkward. People tend to kind of stand around with a drink, maybe talk to people they already know, but networking doesn’t happen nearly as often as one would think. I am determined to not sit around quietly with a drink in my hand–I will not be that person.

My solution? Embrace the awkward. Uncomfortable situations happen, but what makes them uncomfortable is the unwillingness for people to accept that they are uncomfortable. The best ice breaker ever? “Wow, so this is really awkward.” Believe it or not, I’ve found that it works 99% of the time. Also “Hi my name is Liane.” I’m not sure if it works as well if you have a different name, but I guess you could try it for yourself and tell me how it works.

So you’re thinking, it sounds like you had a good day. But its not over yet.

Media Theory, sounds like a blast of a class, right? My professor is a USC alum, she proudly proclaimed as one of the students in the class said they had just graduated from there a few years ago. “This guy is going to be my favorite student,” she laughed as she threw up her little SC gang sign. Enter the mild sinking feeling in my gut. When it came my turn to introduce myself, I quipped “If he is your favorite student, I’ll be your least favorite–I graduated from UCLA” (This is one of the greatest school/sport rivalries of all time–In case you didn’t know-click here for more info)

imagesShe was smiling, but I could see the disgust in her eyes and the plot of terror unfolding in her mind. Her kind gaze had turned calculating and she quickly finished introductions with the remaining of the 15-2o students in the class.

“So,” she began, “Media Effects, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” Silence. Silence. She takes a deep breath. Silence. “Ok, you!” She says, the disgust and fervor for destruction reignited and she stares into my soul. In that moment I could have not recalled my own name. I was both blank and overwhelmed by a million things rushing into my head at once. Media effects is what I am studying, broadly. I could have passed by saying “the effect that media has on something”, but no…nothing. An airy breath escaped my throat that sounded something like “Pass, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed”– and she moved on–content that she had destroyed my spirit.

First question, first class, first day of Graduate school–my only mission was to NOT sound like an idiot…and I failed. I couldn’t even describe the basic idea behind why I was there.

If nothing else, the rest of the semester can only get better.

To……(8 claps) U (clap clap clap) C (clap clap clap) L (clap clap clap) A (clap clap clap), U-C-L-A Fight Fight Fight!

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
~ A strong challenge from UCLA’s finest, John Wooden

(I also want to say that actually the professor is really awesome, and I think she is going to make otherwise difficult/dry/boring material very exciting…but that makes less of a story, doesn’t it?)

Earthquakemaggedon

Last time I was living in DC, the city experienced an unprecendented snowstorm. Obama declared it “Snowmaggedon” as the city virtually shut down, falling victim to the largest snowfall in DC in recorded history.

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And now, only 5 days into my glorious & triumphant return to the Capitol city, yet another uncommon disaster has struck! As you may have heard, central Virginia was hit with a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in DC history, sending shockwaves up the Eastern coast where it has been reported the tremors were felt as far north as Manhattan.

I worry that if I should ever leave DC and return again the city may face a tsunami.

It is a day that people on the East Coast will remember for the rest of their lives. One day, many, many years from now, I will sit on my porch with my friends, sipping lemonade as the sunsets over the ocean (yes, I have a porch & an ocean view) and we will ask each other “Where were you during Earthquakemaggedon?” And I’ll say, “Hell if I remember, someone get my robot and have him read me my blog…”

I just stepped out of the shower in my Washington DC dorm room. I throw on a towel, and walk to my desk. I sit down. I was about to begin one of my epic stare-into-space-and-think bouts when suddenly, the room begins to lightly tremble. Some fatty stomping down the hall? The shake gradually increases. Construction down the street? The building is swaying and shaking, my brain tries to compensate for a logical answer, ideas flashing through my mind, “It feels like an earthquake….but…but….it can’t be. They don’t have earthquakes here, do they?”

I’m a California girl, I know earthquakes. My body recognized “earthquake” but my mind was quick to step in and make the situation much more uncomfortable and stressful. Whether or not people want to admit it, I think most people thought we were under attack.

So I’m standing as the room about me continues swaying and shaking and I try to figure out what is going on.

I realize I’m still naked.

I throw some clean clothes on, whatever is going on, I don’t want to die naked and I want to have on clean underwear.

I look around the room. The door to the balcony is rusted, the shower head is too-both originals from when the building was used as a Howard Johnson’s, the carpet is dingy and stained… Logic, my personal demon, rears its ugly head, whispering into my ear “If they didn’t bother to change the shower head or the carpet, what are the chances that they retrofitted a building to withstand earthquakes in a place that doesn’t have earthquakes.”

I grab my phone and head for the door, quickly dialing my mom’s number.

“Mom, I don’t know what is going on right now, it felt like an earthquake, but I’m okay.”

I think it is interesting to see who people call first when they feel the threat of an emergency–real or perceived. For me, it’s my mom. I heard a woman outside call her boss, I hoped it wasn’t her first call.

There has been a lot of criticism about the way people on the East Coast have been handling the earthquake. Sure, I shook my head more than once at the kinds of things people said and did, both personally and institutionally after the quake. (Businesses closed down for the day!!!) But I want to put things in perspective.

  • The distance between where the earthquake epicenter was and where the earthquake was felt in say, NY, is slightly further than the distance between Los Angeles and Vegas. It would take a pretty decent earthquake to hit LA and feel it with substance in LV. I will attest, it was a pretty decent earthquake.
  • Watching people in DC handle an earthquake was the equivalent of how people in LA would react if they suddenly had a snowstorm. Screw that, people in LA can’t even handle driving in light rain.

Considering the fact that no one was prepared for it and didn’t have the knowledge of how to react to it–or what it was at first–I applaud you, citizens of Virginia and surrounding areas.

However, out of a mildly hectic situation, I managed to turn some good from it. As the only person who had ever been in an earthquake before, I was able to use my prior experience and literally thousands of earthquake drills to good use–making friends.

I introduced myself to a few panic-striken Southerners and East Coast natives. “Hi, I’m Liane. I’m from California, I guess I must have brought the earthquake with me, huh?”

The looks on their faces can be illustrated by this example:

The Setting: Restaurant
The Players: Waiter & Customer

Customer: Excuse me, sir. Can I see a menu?
Waiter: Of course. Hands him a menu. Would you like to hear the special for this evening.
Customer: That would be marvelous.
Waiter: The chef has prepared his specialty, Rocky Mountain Oysters for this evening. They are lightly battered and fried with a spicy homemade cocktail sauce. We rarely get the opportunity to serve such fresh fare, they are truly a delight.
Customer: Well  I’ve never had Rocky Mountain Oysters before, I’ll try them after such a outstanding recommendation.

Later, customer is served and begins enjoying his meal. The waiter returns to check-in.

Waiter: How is everything tasting this evening?
Customer: Why I do say, this is delicious. The flavors are superb! I never had oysters that taste quite like this before.
Waiter: Oh, I’m sorry sir, these aren’t oysters. Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles.

THAT–that face. That look of terror and disgust was stuck on the face of every student outside the building, still in shock from Mother Nature’s violent reminder of her power. I coddled their egos, explaining that I too-after years of earthquakes–felt my stomach lurch as the ground beneath me rumbled and the building around me groaned. They softened, “But what about aftershocks?” I smiled. “Doorways are the safest places, structurally they are designed to withhold collapses.” On the word collapses, I saw the flickers of light in their eyes go dim. “Oh, but aftershocks are really rare. I’m sure it’s fine just to go back inside and go back to your normal day. Back home if there’s an earthquake you usually won’t even stand up. You just wait for it to end and go on with your day.” They nodded, impressed by the bravery of the West Coast natives, who feel the Earth around them shake and just continue on with their day.

Then one of the women eased up and began making conversation. We were joking and smiling and then she says, “Yeah well I camp out under that bridge over there and I could see the whole thing just moving from side to side.”

Our smiles briefly faltered then became forced. We quickly exchanged glances. No, none of us had known that she was one of the crazy homeless people who lived under the bridge. We politely excused ourselves, finding that we’d rather brave the building than the rest of that conversation.

To be fair, it is EXTREMELY easy to mistake a graduate student for a homeless person and vice versa. This is why:

  • Bad Fashion. Currently the whole “hipster”, my clothes smell mildly like a dumpster, I-don’t-try-at-all thing is trendy–I get it. Men don’t feel the need to shave or shower. Not my thing, but some people are into that.
  • The smell. (Many, though not all) Academics have terrible hygiene. My oceanography professor’s teeth were dark yellow and you could see his plaque from 10 feet away. Also, for some reason they sweat a lot. I tend to believe it is due to the constant pressure to prove that they are actually as smart as people think they are/as smart as they want people to think they are.
  • Lack of food. Both the homeless and grad students are undernourished. There simply isn’t enough money to go around. Both are likely to beg for food. Some do it out of principle: A friend of mine recently met a girl who called herself a “freegan”. No not a vegan, a freegan. That means she only ate food that was free. By the way–she did NOT make it up, it’s an organized movement. Doesn’t it make you hate snotty, elitist, entitled, pseudo-intellectuals just that much more?
  • Lack of sleep. I actually believe that a homeless person probably gets more sleep than a graduate student does, but both are likely to wake up with bloodshot eyes and the lingering smell of cheap beer.
  • Bad Fashion, Again. Graduate students can’t afford anything. Tuition, housing & books suck up a huge portion of a graduate student’s budget. So when your casual clothes and shoes get faded, smelly, torn, bleached, tattered–you do what you can and just keep on trucking. Sure you might shell out for work attire, but a pair of jeans or sneakers probably won’t make the cut.

A toast, to the homeless because they are probably drinking anyways.

“I used to sleep nude — until the earthquake.”
~Alyssa Milano

An Outing

In my last post I vaguely and somewhat distractedly recounted the beginning of my adventure in Foggy Bottom. Here is a continuation of that outing.

Foggy Bottom, as I said before, is the area of DC where GW is located. It is a beautiful part of the city as well as one of the most historic.

Click here for a wikihistory of the area.

(Including where the name Foggy Bottom came from)

One of my favorite things about  DC is the architecture. The houses are built up against each other but each one has such a distinct personality. You can almost imagine what the people who live in the house are like based upon their house. I mean there is definitely not an MMA fighter living in that pink house on the right. The pale grey house with the black trim and red detailing is striking, I imagine that whoever lives there is extremely stylish and artistic, a perfectionist with an eye for details. The teal house on the left is more likely to house a person who wants to stand out but can never quite muster the courage, he/she/they are no fuss and easygoing, maybe even a little reckless. Do you see what I mean? What do you think?

Washington DC is a classy city. People are (almost) always put together and refined. They edit themselves, sometimes to the point of boring, but let’s reserve judgement. A perfect example of the kind of city DC is? This 7-11. Is this not the classiest 7-11 you’ve ever seen? It’s borderline ridiculous.

This is a bust of George Washington, a reluctant first President of these United States. If you haven’t seen the John Adams HBO Series, you should. GDub is a baller, but not as much as Thomas Jefferson. John Adams is a whiny jerk & Ben Franklin is a manwhore.

This is the Media & Public Affairs building at GW. In case you didn’t know, I am studying to get my Masters in Media and Public Affairs. I’ll write an extended post on that at some point.

 

 

In the window of the Media and Public Affairs building, I saw this statue. I thought it was pretty interesting. It reminds me of the statues throughout Berlin of the Berlin bear. (see Notebook of a Nomad for a post with dozens of pictures of me next to these statues) I’m not sure how I want to interpret this one though.

I’ll let you vote (this is just an excuse for me to play around with all the little extras):

This is the Trustees Gate at GW. I included it just because I think it is pretty and I’m dying to study in that courtyard. Doesn’t it look inviting?

A Toast, “To George Washington: the man, the myth, the legend”

One of my favorite quotes, and something I strive to live by, despite what this blog may lend you to believe:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”
~George Washington