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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How I Almost Killed Myself

Yesterday, I almost killed myself. I sent that message to a number of friends shortly afterwards, without realizing that I’d left out the word “accidentally.” So for all of you who nearly sh*t your pants at that, I apologize. Now, here I present to you, a more accurate portrayal of how I almost crossed the River Styx to meet up with dear old St Pete.

It begins with my psychotic landlord (now former landlord).

  • This is a man who counted the number of wire hangers that were left in the closet by previous tenants, then indicated that number on my lease. I wonder how much he charges for a missing hanger.
  • This is a man who calls me “Ms. Weissenberger” every 10 seconds so that I feel like I’m Neo from The Matrix.
  • This is a man who made me take off my shoes before touring the apartment for the first time.
  • This is a man who asked me if I realized that a lease is binding and I “can’t just decide to leave if it doesn’t work out with my boyfriend.” Which, of course, bothered me for two reasons. (1) Apparently, if a girl has a guy friend who lives close by and comes with her to look at an apartment, it must be her boyfriend. It wasn’t my boyfriend. (2) He must think I’m an idiot for not knowing how a lease/contract work.
  • This is a man who insisted on speaking to my employer on the phone prior to renting my apartment, despite having written confirmation on company letterhead that I was employed.
  • This is a man who I told in my 60 day notice that I’d be out “in plenty of time” prior to my move out date,  and then proceeded to call me three times this month to ask if I’d be out early. Funny story about how I paid until the 30th, and I’ll stay until the 30th if I want to stay. (I’ve been mostly moved out for days…I’m making him wait until the 29th out of principle)
  • This is a man who I just made plans to meet tomorrow at 6pm to return my keys, and then insisted that I call him an hour and a half beforehand “to confirm.” I told him I won’t do that, I made plans to meet him at 6pm, I’ll be there at 6pm.

I don’t know if this accurately reflects the man’s obsessive compulsive nature. Nonetheless, I know him to be an extremely detail-oriented, awkward, intrusive, condescending, sexist, cheap prick. As I was packing up my apartment, I could only imagine the kinds of little things he would try withholding from my security deposit. I took my grocery sack over to Safeway, packed it full with cleaning products that would make a maid blush and made my way back to my studio apartment.

I threw open the windows and like everyone’s favorite housekeeper, Amelia Bedelia, pulled up my hypoallergenic latex gloves and got to work.

After two hours of flying suds, lifted dust, sparkling grout, it still wasn’t quite enough. I could imagine “Dr.T” (as he likes to be called) scribbling down on his sheet that he couldn’t quite eat off the floor. Driven by disdain and determination, I threw down my medical-grade cleaning solution on the floor, because nothing less that utter sterile conditions would suffice. As the chemicals buzzed around my head during the obligatory 10 minute “soaking period,” I thought I’d double down and spritz some of my all-purpose cleaner onto the wall to clean up any remaining splashes from my vigorous electric mixing during baking sessions. It wasn’t until I started to get a wee bit woozy that I realized that the floor solution had ammonia and the wall cleaner had bleach and I might be about to pass out and die from noxious fumes.

I dropped the brush, threw on my pants (what, I didn’t want to get bleach on them), and hopped out the door, down the hall, and out the building to fresh air. I gave the apartment some time to air out while I cursed my own silly naïveté. It’s not that I didn’t know not to mix ammonia and bleach, I absolutely did. Sometimes, I’ve been told, smart people, do stupid things.

It might be fitting though, for that to be one of the last things to happen in that apartment. In many ways, my itty bitty studio in Rosslyn saw me grow up. The walls watched as I set of the smoke detector three times in my first week; pulled all nighters to finish papers; slept a weekend away; primped for nights out; snuggled up for nights in; knitted and baked; cried while watching movies that reminded me of home; learned to unclog sinks, toilets, and tubs; got my first job and subsequently struggled to understand benefits and a 401k; and, eventually, nearly killing myself while trying to move on.

Since moving out to D.C.-and then Virginia-a lot has happened. As new beginnings unfold, I find myself looking back at what I’ve learned and into the mirror–or the sparkling floors of my old apartment–at the person I’ve become. I’m not the person that I was when I moved into the apartment. Maybe I didn’t die, but the girl who moved in is certainly gone, and the young woman moving out is using bleach to dispose of the evidence. Seems fitting.

The Journey

the-hobbit_2422493bI’m going to begin by thanking all the people who helped me get to the airport this morning. To my mom, for giving me life and teaching me how to live it ever since. To my dad, for making my morning totally stress-free despite our natural inclinations for stressfests. To my grandma, for making me a whole pot of coffee even though I could only manage to drink one and a half cups (albeit large ones). To my grandpa, for driving me through LA rush hour and making me a PB&J so I have a little bit of home on the road. There are a million things I could thank them for, but there’s a few.

This morning was a blur. I slept fairly well considering my—well, considering my personality. By “sleeping well”, I mean two solid hours of sleep. Then I woke up and BLURRR and suddenly…here I am at the airport, an idle 4 hour wait before my plane begins to board.

As of this moment this has been the most hassled travel experience I’ve ever encountered. Although I typically maneuver two suitcases like a pro, today I feel the handicap of a lack of sleep and my cumbersome backpack, purse and pillow. I’m falling all over the place. The line for security was a nightmare (second only to the flight out of Dublin, which was hell on Earth). I’d decided, against my better judgement and prior travel knowledge, to wear my boots to the airport. Usually I go no-hassle and wear flip flops, but today I was that girl.

I’d already been suffering from an uncomfortable sweat for the last 24 hours which only seems to be getting worse and worse. So I get up to the scanner and I’m struggling to get my sweaty, semi-swollen feet out of my boots. My mother’s voice echoes in my head from earlier that morning, “Don’t you want to put socks on?” I could slap myself. In case there was any question about this over the last 22-23 years of my life, my mother is ALWAYS right about this kind of stuff (even if we ALWAYS tell her she’s wrong). As I’m writhing on the floor in an all out battle against my Calvin Kleins, I can hear a collective sigh out of the seasoned travelers.

I wanted to ease their minds and assure them, “I know what it looks like, but I know better—I swear. I’m one of you, truly. All I wanted to do was save a little weight in my luggage.” Was it worth it?? No, nope, not a bit. I motioned for the man behind me to move ahead of me, but he politely declined, “We aren’t going anywhere fast, anyhow.” Secretly, I think he was just enjoying watching me struggle with the suede beasts unrelenting in their attachment to my feet.

There was a moment where I thought I’d be stuck in Los Angeles, unable to pass through security and falling victim to my own vanity. It would have served me right. But, it worked out, as things tend to do. After hobbling down the line, pushing my four trays, I cursed myself, sat down on the floor and with a firm yank I finally pried my foot free of its fashionable prison.

Finally able to look at the security line ahead of me, I discover that instead of the usual metal detector, LAX has finally begun using the dreaded and highly contoversial body scanner. The women in front of me opted for a pat down, and were awaiting a female attendent. “It’ll be a few minutes,” the security agent alerts them.

I’ve been a little skeptical about the scanner, on one hand believing in the paramount importance of national security, on the other holding a strong libertarian belief in personal liberties. I know what David Morse is going to say about this, and so let me defend what I was about to do.

#1- In order to preserve national security, sometimes a minor “violation” of personal freedoms is necessary. There is a line, of course, a line between the reasonable and unreasonable restriction of freedoms. I believe in the power of the people to act as a check to determine for themselves which liberties they are willing to sacrifice. Blahdittyblahblahblah. It is obviously a very complicated issue which I’ve been weighing in my mind and I’m willing to admit that you (David) may be right, in fact, you probably are–but that brings me to…

#2- After the epic battle royale with my shoes, I was not waiting around in security anymore. The judgement of the 200 people waiting in line behind me (no exaggeration) was burning into the back of my skull. If that means that some lucky TSA agent gets a glance at my lady bits, so be it!

It’s amazing how quickly personal values get thrown out the window for something as simple as public humiliation.

#3- Last year, I had a particularly invasive pat down in Frankfurt, Germany by a very aggressive and masculine young woman. I’m talking under the bra and partial gynecological exam… I’m still trying to decide which is a larger violation.

 Update: As I was writing this David told me to opt out.
A) You are SO predictable
B) I fail.

Judge away public-at-large, I am at your mercy.

And so, as has become the custom, I leave you with a toast. After looking around the airport, I know who has truly earned this drink.

Here’s to you, TSA Agent who looks at the body scans, may the sight of naked travelers not force you to poke your own eyes out.

“If God really had intended men to fly, he’d make it easier o get to the airport.”
~George Winters