Friday, March 30, 2007

All Work and No Play Makes Co-Workers Very Dull

Working in a corporate environment that fosters competition between the masses has created a culture of individuals who adhere to an all work and no play policy. It is commonplace to hear bragging in conference rooms or the proverbial water cooler about how many hours people worked during the week, or over the weekend, or on a holiday. At the end of the year, it is amazing how many people boast about how much vacation time they are going to lose because they were too busy to take it. What shocks me most is the attitude around these conversations. They are not angry at having to work so hard, they are not upset at the amount of time spent at work rather then with those they love, instead, they are proud that they have given work the ultimate sacrifice; their time.

Time is a precious commodity. It is important to remember that how we spend our time defines who we are. Those who spend all of their time working essentially are their jobs. Who they are, how they characterize themselves, their definition of self-worth are directly correlated to what they do for a living. Risking sounding cliché, they don’t realize there is a distinction between what you do for a living and what you do for a life; ultimately, they have no life.

There is a profound difference between cultures on how they perceive work. Working overseas provided me the unique opportunity to learn this lesson years ago. My team tried to work later then 6:00 one evening in Luxembourg, a time that would be considered within the normal working day in the United States. We were asked to leave the building by the site director. He explained to us that Americans live to work, and Europeans work to live. While we were at his site working in his country, we would have to adopt the work to live philosophy. So, every evening we left work and enjoyed the beauty that is Luxembourg. I recall very little of the work I actually did in Luxembourg, but the city and its beautiful citizens will always have a special place in my heart. It was an important lesson to learn; it is easy to forget details of some job or project, but you will always remember amazing people and experiences.

It would be naïve to think everyone can just take on this attitude and survive in today’s workplace. Far too many people perceive those who dedicate their whole life to a job as the most committed and productive employees, and those who seek a work/life balance as less dedicated to the success of the organization. What has this produced? Really boring people at the top of the corporate ladder; people who are so one-dimensional that they are unable to talk about anything but work, who neglect the social and personal needs of their friends and family, and who are admired for how hard they work and not who they are. Executives and wanna-be executives who have few real life experiences to pull new ideas and concepts from, everything they do know about the world is from their B-school text books.

With the high-pressure, high-stakes world of U.S. business, a person who has balance, who puts their family and friends on top, and who takes their vacation time, will probably never move to the top of a major corporate organization. For those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to move ahead, I say go for it. I might never achieve my childhood dreams of being a CEO or President, but those other dreams around having fun and seeing the world are much more important.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Today's Terror Level is "Peeved"

A forward from my friend Jooli, a fellow Mary Washington Political Science survivor, who appreciates a good joke about world governments just as much as I do.

Heightened Threat Levels In Europe
An increase in recent terrorist threats has raised security levels all across Great Britain from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated," or even "A Bit Cross." The British have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. If threats continue to rise, levels may go to "Tiresome" or even a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British
issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

In a related move, the French government announced yesterday that it has also raised its terror alert level, moving from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Surrender" and "Collaborate." This rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

And it's not only the English and French who have heightened their respective levels of alert. Italy has increased its alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly," to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain for the Italians: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

Not to be outdone, the Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They too, have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

Meanwhile, the Spanish are quite excited about the deployment of their new fleet of submarines. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

A new season of Dancing with the Stars begins tonight, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit just how excited I am for the season premier. Dancing with the Stars is one of my many guilty pleasures. A guilty pleasure is essentially something a person takes pleasure in or enjoys with feelings of embarrassment or shame. Depending on who you are, where you come from and what friends you have determines what a guilty pleasure is. A person from LA with size zero friends might hide their love of fast food while someone from Chicago might feel horrible that they like New York style pizza.

Everyone has guilty pleasures, although some keep these from their friends and family to hide their humiliation. In the essence of full disclosure of who I am, it is time for me to come out of the proverbial closet and admit to some of my guilty pleasures.

Dancing with the Stars: I will watch this dreaming that I had moves that made me look magical on the dance floor, mesmerized how professional dancers can make amateurs look so good, fully knowing there is no professional on earth who could make me look like anything but one of those dancing hippos from Fantasia.

Karaoke: If my singing skills came anywhere near my skills in business process modeling and requirements gathering I would have been a star. Unfortunately, I sound like a truck driver who got into an unfortunate accident with a helium balloon. But when behind the mic singing the Divinyls "I Touch Myself" I can pretend I'm on top of the charts.

The Cutting Edge: Everyone has a movie they love and are embarrassed to admit and I am no exception. A talented figure skater needs a partner. An injured hockey player just can't stay off the ice. They meet, they hate each other but they skate together anyway. They fall in love and win an Olympic medal. I cry every time.

Celebreality: I am anti-reality shows… except for those dubbed celebreality. There is nothing real about throwing a dozen people on an island and making them do obstacle courses or sending teams on a world-wide scavenger hunt to see who makes it back to the US first. Reality is seeing what a wuss Hulk Hogan is with his family. Going beyond celebrities, The Real Housewives of Orange County and Dr. 90210 are also more real and more entertaining then any of the scripted reality shows. Seeing these stars and rich people being stupid makes me feel better about myself. There, I said it.

Trashy Magazines: Us Weekly. People. Star. Hello! OK! Anything that gives me the dirt on who hates who and who’s not eating in Hollywood. I would like to think I am too high-brow and intellectual to care about Angelina’s latest adoption or Ashlee’s latest nose job, but I’m not. I’m so ashamed of this pleasure, I often hide trashy magazines in the middle of a Newsweek or National Geographic to give the appearance that I am transfixed on worthwhile news.

Asian Buffets: Chicken lo-mien sitting in grease over a hotplate. All the fried won-tons I can eat. Barbecue pork spare ribs coming out my ears. I love gorging at any good buffet, but there is something extra special about the risk of eating at an Asian buffet.

Black Eyed Peas and Hair Bands: Not the food, the music group. There is nothing I like running on the treadmill to more then “Pump It” or “My Humps.” Additionally, if Poison, Warrant or Motley Crue starts playing on the radio, I will start banging my head and thrashing my hair.

Hawaii: This one aligns with guilty pleasures being different depending on who your friends and acquaintances are. I would go to Hawaii every year, lounging on the beach, hopping on stage to show off my hula prowess and drinking Pine Coladas until I turn into coconut. This may sound exotic to most, but when your friends are people who surf in Bali, trek in Thailand, safari in South Africa, get massaged in the Maldives and sail the Mediterranean, Hawaii seems so mundane. But honestly, if you want to get away from it all, relax but not have to deal with challenges like language, monetary exchange and food poisoning that often plague exotic vacations, then go to Hawaii.

Dog Costumes: Okay, I guess I can’t be too embarrassed at this one since I dress up Luna and Solei quite often and share their photos with a greater part of the planet. However, I am aware of how the general populace feels about dog clothes and occasionally get a little quiet when someone makes a negative comment on dressing animals up. But frankly, I feel the same way about how people dress their kids up so the score is pretty even in my opinion.

I’m glad I finally got all that off my chest. I feel energized and liberated. Leave me a comment to confess your guilty pleasure… long term embarrassment is much more fun when shared with friends.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Open Letter to Those Under 30

I sometimes lament at how to deal with some of the younger people I've worked with and how they truly expect instant gratification with their job and are adverse to the hard work it takes to move ahead. This generational phenomenon probably has multiple reasons, from parents who gave their kids everything without having to work for it to society that has shunned things like bad grades and repercussions for laziness. Or, are they just a product of the technology revolution. Perhaps this email forward below sheds light on why Generation Y thinks life should come to them easily and are sorely surprised when they aren't CEO of a fortune 500 company by their 25th birthday.

An Open Letter to Those Under 30:
When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were when they were growing up; what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning... uphill BOTH ways! And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it! But now that I'm over the ripe old age of thirty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. You've got it so easy! I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a damn Utopia! And I hate to say it but you kids today -- you don't know how good you've got it!

I mean, when I was a kid we didn't have The Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!! There was no email! ! We had to actually write somebody a letter ... with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox and it would take like a week or two to get there! There were no MP3's or Napsters. You wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the damn record store and shoplift it yourself! Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio and the DJ'd usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up!

We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting. If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal...that's it! And we didn't have fancy Caller ID Boxes either. When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your mom, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, a collections agent, you just didn't know! You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister. We didn't have any fancy Sony Playstation video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! We had the Atari 2600! With games like "Space Invaders" and "Asteroids" and the graphics sucked wind. You actually had to use your imagination! And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen forever. And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died. Just like LIFE!

When you went to the movie theater there was no such thing as stadium seating. All the seats were the same height. If a tall guy or some old lady with a hat sat in front of you and you couldn't see, you were just screwed... plain and simple.

Sure, we had cable television, but back then that was only like 15 channels and there was no onscreen menu and no remote control! You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on. Yup... you were screwed when it came to channel surfing. You had to get off your butt and walk over to the TV to change the channel or sit where the little box wired to the TV reached. And there was no Cartoon Network either. You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little brats. And we didn't have microwaves, you see. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove or go build a frigging fire. Imagine that if we wanted popcorn, we had to use that stupid Jiffy Pop thing and shake it over the stove forever like an idiot.

You kids today have got it too easy. You're spoiled. You guys wouldn't have lasted five minutes back in 1980!

The over 30 Crowd

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Discrimination against morning people

Yesterday, people all over the United States let out a huge groan when they woke up to find it pitch black outside. For most, rising at the same time on Sunday actually felt like morning with the rays of sunshine streaming through the window. Today, it was dark and dreary. Although your body and alarm clock said it was time to get ready for work, the sun was still dead asleep.

The recent changes to daylight savings time, starting 3 weeks earlier and ending 1 week later, have wreaked havoc on clocks all over the country. The shift of DST observance was referred to as a mini-Y2K, or Y2K7, disrupting computers, PDAs, cell phones, servers and even medical equipment. Essentially, any electronic device that was programmed to automatically correct its time to compensate for daylight savings time needs to be updated for the date change. Estimates on what this change cost companies in technology cost range from $350 million to $1 billion.

Businesses are impacted in ways other then the cost to upgrade technology. For many, calendaring programs just never catch up with the change. Productivity is affected by the number of meetings and appointments that are missed due to the time change. Not that most are complaining about missing a boring meeting for an hour, but it does cause management issues. This greatly effects the airline industry that has to account for the number of hours of sleep pilots and flight attendants are getting to adhere to FAA safety regulations. Flight cancellations and delays increase on the day clocks are changed.

And what about poor Arizona and Hawaii who stay on Standard Time 52 weeks a year? These states made the decision when Daylight Savings time was adopted to maintain Standard Time. This decision was based upon a number of factors, but primarily driven by the needs of nighttime dependant businesses. By extending daylight later, businesses like drive-in movies and planetariums were unable to operate efficiently. At least the one county in Indiana who refused to adopt Daylight Savings Time for decades changed their clocks this Sunday. This extension of Daylight Savings Time means that Standard Time is now only 18 weeks long. That would have been 34 weeks a year that one country had a different time then the rest of their neighbors. Can we really call 18 of 52 Standard?

Why the sudden change to take weeks away from Standard Time? There are some studies from scientists that increasing the number of hours of afternoon sunlight will decrease energy consumption in the United States. The US Government adopted the results of these studies into the Energy Bill of 2005. It is estimated that this change will equate to three one-hundredths of a percent decrease in annual electricity use. Did anyone in Washington D.C. ponder that the cost of this change could have been reinvested instead in energy solutions that could make a bigger impact?

This recent change is a government conspiracy against morning people. I am a proponent of Daylight Savings Time; however, disagree with the logic of this recent change. Switching our clocks does not give us additional daylight, it shifts the hours of useable daylight. The morning starts around 6:00 am. It should be dark prior to 6:00, to which Daylight Savings time is quite useful in the summer when Standard Time would have the sun rising prior to 5:00 am in many areas.

Changing the clocks this early in the season has actually decreased a morning person’s number of useable daylight hours. It is pitch black in the morning. It is dark until past 7, when many are on the roads getting to work and children are already lining up for the bus in the dark. For some, this change might be business as usual, but they obviously don’t have two dogs that demand a morning walk.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What do people say about you?

We all talk about people. This is not meant to be a derogatory statement but just sheer fact that everyday we talk about other people for a variety of reasons. After leaving dinner with friends the other night, my husband and I went on with our usual post evening out banter; so and so looking like they’ve lost weight, so and so getting a nice haircut and can you really believe so and so are having a baby. Suddenly, the idle chatter turned serious when my husband posed the question, “What do you think people say about us?” It had never really hit me that others might include me in their conversations like we chatted about others.

Thinking people are talking about you constantly displays a certain level of paranoia or narcissism, but thinking no one ever talks about you is naïve. Unless you live under a rock, chances are someone says something about you on any given day. It suddenly felt weird to think that there are conversations that occur daily where I am the topic and I don’t know anything about it. I felt very exposed and vulnerable as I racked my brain for every given thing people could say about me.

If you have friends, family, neighbors or co-workers then you are most certainly the topic of a conversation somewhere. Chances are there are total strangers in your life who have mentioned you to their friends and family, if not by name then by some other feature that makes you stand out. We have all had those conversations where we mention someone random who made an impression on us, either positively or negatively. I know in the past few days I have talked about a 6 foot 1 stunning 14 year old girl who I see getting coffee with her dad every morning, my mechanic who has changed car dealerships and a female in a pink snowsuit who we couldn’t figure out if she was a child or an adult. It is this randomness that we all are guilty of that has me wondering would talk about if I was the topic of their conversation.

Parents are always telling their children they shouldn’t care what people say about them, the whole "sticks and stones might break your bones but names will never hurt me" philosophy, but the reality is words do hurt and we do care what people say about us. It is weird to think that total strangers might mention you to others, your friends might gossip about you, your mother talks about you to everyone she meets and your name could become part of your co-workers dinner conversation with their spouse. We are each more “famous” then we think and somehow have effected the lives of others in such ways that we become conversational topics. Ultimately, we can’t stop people from talking about us, but we can impact how people talk about us.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Non-Essential Worker

Today was one of those days I truly appreciate being a high-tech professional. Waking up this morning, seeing 6 inches of snow on the ground, knowing that was just the beginning of what was going to be a very long and sloppy day, I decided to work from home. I don’t do blizzards.

I often take for granted what a luxury being able to declare “I’m not driving in this crap so I’ll work from home” is, but I got a major reminder today. Time on my couch was interrupted by the realization that I was required to conduct a job interview at the office. On my way in, I witnessed several accidents during my 5 mile, 45 minute drive into the office. The 1 hour drive back home was just the reminder I needed on how lucky I am to work from my house when the weather is bad, or I am running a fever, or when the dogs are suffering from diarrhea.

Many companies are allowing their employees the opportunity to work from home if the job permits, even if only on occasion. This is a practice I deeply commend. There are so many benefits to this if managed well, higher productivity and employee retention just to name a few. There are also times when giving employees this choice lends itself to the greater good of the community. Tomorrow, as the upper mid-west digs out of snow and many southern states dig out of rubble, governments are asking non-essential workers to stay home. Non-essential basically equates to anyone whose job is not directly related to taking care of a human life. Doctors, nurses, firepersons, cops, hospital staff, caretakers, etc. This allows the plows and other rescue crews to do their jobs by clearing up the roads. As difficult as it is for a type-A, competitive, egotistical person to admit, I am non-essential. However, it is really not that difficult to use that as an excuse for taking another snowday to work in my pajamas.