Sunday, April 1, 2012

On Recreating Childhood

I have a friend who lives for her childhood.

She has spent much of her adult life dedicated to recreating the magic she experienced in those early years, and has channeled this through the meticulous purchasing of furniture to replicate that of her childhood home, filling her cabinets with familiar comfort foods, and watching re-runs of favorite Disney movies.

I describe this behavior as being associated specifically with her, but of course I know it is not. Of course I realize that many people, everywhere, do the same thing, to varying degrees. (While I in no way yearn to drag my parents' furniture into my bedroom, and am largely a "future-oriented" individual who is happy to leave the past well enough alone, I acknowledge the fact that I, too, have probably strived to recreate it in some way - namely, perhaps, my consumption of poached eggs, which take me back to summers spent with Grandma.)

For many of us, though, this "meticulous recreation" is what life is - a weaving and reweaving of one fabric; continuing on with the story that's established for us early on; and a filling-in of that initial outline. It's the reason we buy houses in the suburbs, the reason we still make turkey and greenbean casserole on Thanksgiving, and, yes, the reason we watch age-old favorite movies (whether The Lion King or The Christmas Story) in the moments we most want to be reminded of the associated memories.

This is how traditions are built. It's the way our sense of existence is defined.

It's these stories - their initial introduction, their acceptance, their embodiment at the individual level, and their willful, dutiful recreation - that serve as the narrative for our society.

And though I myself do not partake in the recreation with quite the same zeal with which my dear friend does, I acknowledge - and value - the role she plays in preserving our social fabric. I understand that, while some, like myself, commit themselves to the exploration of new meanings, new avenues, and the new context in which to tell a new part of our story, she - and many like her - are working hard to ensure the story's textiles hold strong.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Knowing yourself? Not as tricky as you think....

Assessment #1 (DiSC):
D – Dominant – confident, controlling, adept at dealing with issues
I – Influencer – communicative, convincing, magnetic, enthusiastic, warm
S – Steadiness – secure, stable, calm, possessive, undramatic
C – Conscientious – rule-abiding, regulated, structured, cautious, neat, accurate

Assessment #2 (True Colors)
Orange – playful, assertive, independent, rebellious, quick-tempered
Green – inquisitive, wordy, logical, independent, uneasy with emotions
Blue – compassionate, idealistic, empathetic, nurturing, passive, generous, sentimental, non-confrontational
Gold – consistent, traditional, realistic, responsible, rule-follower, conservative, obsessive

Assessment #3:
Red – leader, promoter: decisive, persistent, problem-solving, authoritative, self-reliant
Yellow – creator, performer: optimistic, enthusiastic, articulate, cooperative
Green – helper, supporter: loyal, agreeable, consistent, attentive, personal
Blue – organizer: logical, orderly, disciplined, precise, thorough, analytical

I’m pretty sure you can see the trends here….

Now, for the new-agers out there, add this one in:
Fire – bright, strong, controlling, confident, authoritative, emotionless
(Sag, Leo, Aries)
Air – talkative, communicative, articulate, idea-heavy, social, objective
(Aquarius, Gemini, Libra)
Water – conforming, emotional, sensitive, personal, trusting, stable, consistent, low-drama
(Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio)
Earth – stable, consistent, practical, accurate, routine, conventional
(Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oprah's Idea of Assessing Happiness

Two happiness quizzes from

(What? We all know I find myself on her site from time to time... don't you?!)

The First One

The Second One

Saturday, March 24, 2012

how to know when an idea is good

I'm pretty obsessed with lifestyle design and the decision-making process that defines it, for good or bad. As such, I'm pretty obsessed with the factors that drive our decisions as well as how decisions - both good and bad - come about. I have recently reflected on how to decipher between the two of these, and offer you my thoughts:

1. Good decisions feel easy.
You don't have to think about it very long to decide to do something that's a good idea. It just seems obvious - even if only to you.

I once put the entire deposit down for a 3-bedroom apartment before even having roommates lined up. It felt incredibly easy to make that decision, I was so sure of the apartment. I stayed sure about that decision for every one of the very happy 365 days I lived there (with the two roommates I did, in fact, ultimately find.)

2. Bad decisions feel "sticky."
The horrible decisions feel obviously not good. If the very process of even having to consider the decision makes you unhappy - if weighing your options feels off - leaning toward the outcome that would create a change won't be good.

On the other hand, maybe a decision does not immediately make you feel exactly ill at ease, and yet there's something about it that just sticks around. You can't say for sure yes or no, and something about it is poking you in the ribs a little bit. Maybe you want to like a certain outcome (say, accepting a job) but the decision feels... sticky. Not easy. Not horrible, but not obvious. Don't accept this job.

 3. Good decisions feel take little imagination
If you can immediately see yourself on the other end of a decision, it's a good one. If you can envision yourself waking up every two hours to bottle-feed a newborn, maybe you're ready to have one. If, on the other hand, you have a hard time envisioning yourself burping a baby, maybe you're not. Because...

4. Bad decisions seem foggy.
If you can't easily visualize yourself working with the team that just interviewed you, maybe you shouldn't accept the offer. If you walk around a city without feeling "at home," maybe you shouldn't move there. If the idea of starting a bakery seems like a cake deal on paper, but you're not clearly sure where you see yourself in the mix of the everyday business, it's probably not for you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Making of a Horrible Manager

If you’re ever in a position of power and want to ensure that everyone on your team loses respect for you, simply follow these six easy steps:

1. Refuse to actually “manage.”

I know, I know. This one probably comes as a shocker to some – I mean, you would assume that when you accepted the role of “manager,” someone, somewhere, probably expected you to actually “manage.” Never mind all that… after all, the whole thrill of being a manager is the kick-ass title, pay raise, and bigger desk, right? Right. The fastest way to break down a team's perspective of you is to outright reject your responsibilities, particulary the most important. Does the concept of not managing sound a little crazy to you? Not as crazy as it’ll seem to your team when you fail to function as they foresaw. Fail to lead your team, and, over time, they will fail to follow.

2. When possible, answer all questions with ambiguity

An especially effective move with new hires, this step actually takes some sophistication to sustain. In short, every time an employee asks a question, give them a round-about answer, talk through it – largely to yourself – with no distinct conclusion, or, if you really want to knock their socks off, simply answer: “that’s just the way it is.” (As an aside, if the opportunity ever presents itself, don’t overlook the infinitely detrimental effect of simply laughing in response to an intelligent or insightful inquiry.)

3. Embody double standards.

If you really want to break down rapport with your employees, foster a double standard for all seemingly insignificant things – the pettier, the better – within your reach. If at all possible, try to target certain individuals in this quest.

Imagine, for example, telling a single employee that it’s inappropriate to wear the color green to work. Weird, maybe… but really no biggie, right? Maybe not at first… after all, they’ve got a closet full of other colors, and green’s not that great anyway. But now imagine the effect if, on the following week, your entire team – short the singled-out soul – is sporting the said “unsuitable” shade. And imagine their confusion when everybody remains blissfully unaware of the consequence of the color – except, of course, for them.

Moves like these are priceless.
And, while on that note...

4. Play favorites. Then give in to gossip.
We all know that you already have pet employees. Just make it really, uncomfortably, blatantly apparent - especially to those outside of the chosen few. Let them have a little too much say in decisions that are just a little too big - major points for letting a single team member decide how a peer will fare in a performance review or whether they'll even be around come next year. There's nothing like a little subjectivism to disrupt a team's morale.

5. Don’t follow through on promises

This one really goes without explanation, because it’s so stupidly simple. Tell your team you’ll do something, and then fail to actually do it. While this can be effective with small statements, they’ll take longer to accomplish your task. To really get a group galled, do it with big, important promises.

6. …Especially those promises you made in direct response to their concerns

To really make your charade worthwhile, focus on failing to follow-through on the promises you make in the moments when colleagues have made themselves vulnerable. Whether or not you realize the amount of effort and nerve it takes for employees to approach you to communicate their well-constructed concerns is largely irrelevant; all you need to do is receive this message with what they perceive as sincerity, and subsequently leave them hanging. Do this just once or twice and you’ll forever sabotage your standing in seniority.

So, there you have it: six easy steps to guide you in the making of a horrible manager!
Embody enough of these, and you’ll forever undermine your credibility as a captain.

Happy Inadequacy! Enjoy your sabotage of an entire team’s career satisfaction!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Basics don't cost six digits

Where would you rank yourself in the following statements?

a. I can't even afford the basics
b. I can barely afford the basics and nothing else
c. I can afford the basics plus some extras
d. I can afford the basics and the extras, and I'm able to save, too.

I think most of the people I know - especially those with whom I interact on a regular basis - would probably fall in category "c." I would even go as far as to say that a lot of folks - myself included - could even slot themselves into category "d."

I recently read an article that referenced a study done by WSL Strategic Retail stating that in order to rank as letter "d," you need to be earning at least $150,000 per year.


I don't know what kind of garbage survey this was, but I feel pretty confident that I sit comfortably in the "d" sort of range - affording "the basics," extras," and "saving - and I definitely know for certain that, as much as I'd like to say my annual income is in a six-digit range, I can honestly say it isn't.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one in that position.

So here's my thought on that "research," the "facts" that our buddies over at WSL/Strategic Retail collected, and the viewpoints held by those they surveyed:

You folks need a major reality check in how you define either "basics," "extras" or both. If your definitions of "basic" are this dramatically skewed, you don't need to occupy Wallstreet to resolve it. You need to join the real world and stop looking at it through a gilded lens.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why Credit Card "Rewards" are Ridiculous

I have talked before about how much I hate the misleading "rewards" programs touted by credit cards. in short, I think they're absolute garbage.

As much as I would've loved to never hold another, I had to take one out for the business travel now warranted by the new job. This being said, I wanted "the best" travel rewards credit card and, after some research, I had found it - the Capital One Venture was, according to several sources, my best bet.

After nearly $14,000 of business travel, I have 36,400 rewards.

Neat, huh?

It might seem neat, until you consider how those "rewards" translate...
As it turns out, 100 travel rewards miles = $1

So those 35,000+ miles earn me $350 to redeem for travel.

And you might say, "hey, now, KG - that's $350 of free! Everybody likes freeness! How can you possibly complain? You're so ungrateful."

And yea, I might agree... but I'm just a little less than impressed by the rest of the translation equation...

Dollars spent: $14,000
Miles earned: 35,000 miles
Dollars "rewarded": $350

Want to know the effective reward ratio? 0.025
2.5%! Two-and-a-half-percent.

Would you get excited about a 2.5% discount on anything else?!

(Would you go through any effort to save 12 (and a half) cents on a $5 sandwich?) Of course not. This is how laughable it is to get excited over a free $500 flight after spending $20,000... You're better off just setting that money aside as you go!

This is the garbage of the rewards programs - even those regarded as "the best" are designed to mislead.

So next time you're feeling hot to trot and frenzied to flash the plastic, just remember that your "rewards" are effectively saving you $0.625  (that's, um, less than two-thirds of a penny...) on your coffee.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rescue the Drowning

I, of course, mean this literally.
But, more importantly, I mean it figuratively.

I will forever be an advocate of nurturing a personal list of priorities in any order that suits us – we can put our careers before our health, our health before our families… our quest for knowledge over our need for creativity – but there should always be room, at the very top of our priorities, to – at a moment’s notice – drop everything to help those in immediate need, in front of us.

It doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. We get caught up in our daily lives and become distracted with the energy we devote to accomplishing whatever tasks it is that we’ve set ourselves to. Ambition is admirable. But only if we retain our human capacity for compassion when its most critical.

I was once reading a magazine advice column and came across a letter written by a woman who explained, with obvious desperation and remorse, that she had hit a dog with her car just a few weeks earlier.

And left it.

She was on her way to an interview, she explained.
She said this simply, as though all of the world reading would automatically understand this rationale, accept it as justification, and commiserate with her decision.

I didn’t. I was reeling.
It didn’t help that she then went on to explain that she drove the same route the next day and saw the dog “curled up against a building.”

Curled up against a building.
That line makes my skin crawl as much now as it did when I first read it.
Each time I dwell on it, I feel emotion clawing at the inside of my throat.

Why? Look at that line straight on: that detail means that the dog didn’t die instantly, as this woman may have initially convinced herself. It died slowly. It died in a process drawn out long enough for the poor creature to move over to a wall and curl up against it.

This imagery absolutely shook me.
How could someone knowingly cause such harm and then walk away? How could they not only do it once, but twice? (You tell me: who’s to say the dog wasn’t still alive the second day? Here she had a second chance to turn back. And still she didn’t.)

I felt disgusted that I was associated with this woman by merit of species. I felt disgusted that human beings are capable of doing such ugly things and then, in their reluctance to accept responsibility for their actions, instead write to an advice columnist in an obvious plea for forgiveness – for someone to tell them, “hey, sweetie. It could’ve happened to anyone. It’s okay.”

“Please help me,” she wrote. “I feel so guilty.”
The advice columnist’s reply? “Maybe you could volunteer at a dog shelter to feel better.”
In short: this is easily resolved. And it’s okay.

It’s not okay.
(I wrote to the magazine - and the advice columnist - telling them so. I never heard back.)


I didn't understand how someone could adhere to priorities this blindly - how she could harbor such a distorted sense of what's important and, what's worse, feel that people will actually relate to and sympathize with it?

She wanted to feel reassured that other people would’ve done the same.
I want to live my life believing we wouldn’t.

I remember thinking: "I would never, ever choose the job interview over the dog. I know I would stop. I know a lot of other people who would, too. I cannot fathom how someone couldn’t."

What's more, I would still go to the interview afterwards. If a company looks down on you for that decision, they are garbage – not you. And you shouldn’t want to work with them if that’s the side of the moral fence on which they stand.

If we all defended our natural instincts rather than our socially-instilled priorities, maybe this woman wouldn't have had to write to an advice columnist with her (naturally-occurring) regret...


More than a year later, with the story of the dog tucked away somewhere inside me but not at all forgotten, I was reading Rachel Carson’s biography. It painted the image of a woman with such a strong love of the natural world, she pursued a career in marine biology - and eventually became one of the most respected scientists in the field.

Carson spent the middle of her career as the editor in chief of all USFWS industry publications. She embraced the role with tremendous seriousness, and was apparently a tyrant in the office, accepting no excuses and nothing short of excellence from her team.

Once, however, she came in to the office late – something that never happened for a woman who ruled it with an iron fist - with her work blouse covered in dried blood.

As it turns out, Carson had seen a dog, recently hit, on the side of the road that morning, and had pulled her car over and scooped the animal up, taking it the nearest vet and paying for its treatment.

When she was later asked about this, she explained, simply: “I always abide by Thoreau's 'Rescue the Drowning.'”

She later went on to write “Silent Spring,” the book that spurred the creation of the EPA and ended the use of DDT as a pesticide in the US.

So, it probably goes without saying that she was certainly not a woman of small accomplishments.
(And, presumably, she too was a woman who still took her interviews seriously.)

From whose shoes would you like to look back on your decisions in life?

Maintain larger-than-life ambition regarding your life purpose, and organize your priorities as you see fit…
But always, always: rescue the drowning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What you learn from colleagues left behind

I chatted with an ex-colleague over IM today. Though she is, like so many exes of our personal lives, not someone with whom I have regular correspondence, she's also a rare touchpoint into an old life; a portal into what could've been, had I stayed.

After the typical chitchat covering respective travel and significant others, I finally got around to asking: "how's the bank?"

She got me up to date on the recent hirings and firings; who got promoted and who up and left.

And then she admitted what I had no idea she felt:
"I want to leave," she confessed, "but I feel stuck."

My heart fell - because up until that point, I thought she liked the gig.

I pointed out to her that few people are as stuck as they feel, and that the perfect job is out there for her. "Believe me when I tell you, it doesn't have to be this way."

She came back with the obvious reasons against it: a comfortable salary and weeks of upcoming planned vacation.
"If I keep my head down and ignore most of it," she explained, "I can coast by for now... until I can figure it out."

After we talked about it, she ultimately signed off with, "welcome to my life."
I responded by reminding her, "I know. It was once mine too."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Millionaires Aren't Made by Saving

You see it all the time: the “how to become a millionaire” articles and books all sharing one big theme:
Marie Claire’s article “How to Become a Millionaire – Easy Money Making” recommends “withdrawing 80 percent of your take-home pay for three months and dividing it into envelopes marked long-term savings, short-term savings, rent, clothing allowance, food, cable bills, partying, etc.” (“Becoming a millionaire by 30,” they assure you, is “easier than you think.”)

In his book “A Million Bucks by 30,” Alan Corey talks about how he’s frugal almost to a fault, so “by pinching pennies… he watched a pittance blossom into a seven-digit bank account” in about eight years, earning a modest salary. Pretty impressive, right?

What does this advice have in common?

It leads the reader to believe that, by being a slave to their savings plan, they too can join the millionaire ranks in less than a decade.

And while it’s true that that strategy will almost certainly get you there over the course of your life (yes, I do realize that saving can and does make people millionaires) the fraud of the message lies in one simple fact: saving alone won’t get you there by 30. Telling readers otherwise is outright deceitful. If you want it in the first half of your life rather than the last, millions are not made through savings.

Basic math reveals the impossibility: to build up a million-dollar bank roll between graduating college at 22 and celebrating your 30th birthday – and doing so solely through saving – you’d have to be earning…

$125,000 per year.
And saving just about every penny.

($1,000,000 / 8 years… $125,000)

Now, obviously this doesn’t include interest – you’d be earning some, right? Let’s say you made some exceptionally good investment decisions and earned an average of 8%. Then you’d have to save less, right? Well, you’re right – at 8%, you’d only have a save a mere $95,000 every single year.

(Which is no big deal, really, since you followed all that good advice, and are busy “pinching pennies” and “living within your means,” right?)

To become a millionaire by 30, by 40, by 50 – whatever – you have to do a lot more than buy the bargain brand toothpaste and live off Ramen (which, oh by the way, our aforementioned Alan Corey actually did. More incredulously, he actually chalks his success up to this habit and proudly mentions it no fewer than three times in his book. Eat Ramen every day, is his message, and you too can manage to save $95,000 of your $40,000 annual salary...)

The thing people don’t tell you is this: numbers will always be numbers, and a million dollars doesn’t manifest out of spare change over the course of 8 years. It can happen in the long run, sure, but here’s the real way to go about it more efficiently:
Create or transfer something of real value.
Remember that hypothetical 8% you earned on savings earlier? Forget about that 8%. If you’re shooting for zero to a million in under a decade, your new figure should start at 50%. That’s what you should be earning on your “savings,” which, by the way, aren't in stocks or bonds so much as they should be in small businesses - preferably your own. Think about things more aggressively, stop sweating over the difference of several cents at the grocery store, and start thinking bigger - and more creatively - about the value you could yield.

So, while Alan Corey did really earn a million dollars by the time he reached 30, the reality of it all is that he did it through real estate and local bars – not through Ramen noodles. Sorry to say, Alan, but you could’ve saved yourself – and your heart – the sodium and probably still made it to six digits eating proper food.

And until he – and Marie Claire – start telling it straight, I want you, dearest reader, to know the truth:

If you want to become one by 30, millionaires are not made by saving.
They’re made through making value.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letting passion permeate professionalism

I think people are far too buttoned up in life.  

Now, to be entirely clear, I might be the most critical person in the room when it comes to advocating awareness and application of basic professional etiquette. (While I am especially critical of women - and am unable to whole-heartedly interact with four inch heels, short skirts, heavy make up or cleavage - I also take it personally when folks use poor grammar, fall apart in interviews, or gossip.)

That aside, once you've got the basics down and can interact with other people on a sufficiently appropriate level, loosen up. We don't laugh enough at work. We should laugh. And hug. And, when our colleagues ask about our weekends, we should talk about it genuinely - over lunch rather than hovering over the coffee pot. 

I was in a hot yoga class tonight, and as I was holding a pose and otherwise trying to focus on my breathing, a thought crossed my mind:
does the instructor (who was male and not un-hot himself) find women in his class attractive?

My first thought, in response, was: ohh, KG! That’s so unprofessional.

My second thought, however, was:  well, jeez, he certainly should! 

So then I got to thinking (which you’re not supposed to do in yoga to begin with; I find that this is the most difficult part of my practice)... we are all, at our core, real people. We all have biases, emotions, and - yes - chemistry that drive our decisions in life, including our professional paths.

So while I don't want my yoga instructor copping a feel as he adjusts my pose or sitting around comparing notes with fellow yogis, I also asked: is he supposed to shut down his normal, human elements? Of course not. He should celebrate them. I think that someone who's devoted his life to physial wellbeing, bodies and form should truly and deeply appreciate them.


He should let himself enjoy the elements of his work that led him to it in the first place.
He should let himself operate as a human being, and indulge his human tendencies.
We all should.

Letting passion trump professionalism makes our work more rewarding; we allow ourselves to operate according to our inner truths rather than the rules by which our work is governed, the former of which is more closely aligned with our happiness.

It's the doctor who tells her terminal patient: skip the treatment; spend your last few months at a beach home with your children.

It's the teacher who takes the child of an unhappy home under her wing.

It's the airport employee who refuses to load an emaciated dog onto a flight. (And gets fired for it.)

It's everyone who lets instincts trump instruction; who lets their own feelings come to their surface and who surrenders to their need to be human.

It's all of us, on the inside; it should be more and more of us, in practice.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Experience versus Aesthetics

One of the best examples I have in making the argument between aesthetics and experience – and, to be clear, there are many – is The Platform Bed. 
 J and I once had a platform bed. Well, he had a platform bed. He brought it into my life when we first met and, in the days of early courtship, it was actually pretty cool. I liked that it made the room look modern and sophisticated; I liked it because it was trendy, sexy, and so delightfully anti-suburbia. But mostly I probably liked it because I had my own bed to go home to.

But then we moved in together, and it suddenly became my bed, too – like some kind of awkward stepchild you acquire through marriage. Except that , over time, I openly disliked it, rather than feeling it in clandestine. As such, I had no qualms about my plans regarding the bed’s future: it had to go.

The problem with the platform is actually exactly what you would think: while it looks incredibly cool in a room – I’m the first to admit that the minimalism and artful lines never did get old – the reality of interacting with it was anything but. Getting out of bed each morning was a task. In my early 20’s, I was made to feel like some senior citizen, heaving my body up against gravity each morning only after an excessive amount of effort and will power. Then there was the other critical factor: the bed made our dog eye level with us. This is fine until a.) it’s that time in the morning when he decides it’s time to eat, you think it’s too early to get up, and he's set to convince you otherwise or b.) the moment you realize that three truly is a crowd.

When J moved to Chicago, he left the bed. When I moved a year later, I did too.
I think we all knew it was time to move on.

Every time I see a platform bed in a catalogue, I still feel a little seduced by the sensuality and simplicity. They’re beautiful pieces. They make your room beautiful. And, in the beginning, they make you feel beautiful.

But then I remember the experience of having one, and I again feel fortunate to have a place to sleep that's conducive to me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On clubs and crowded trains

Every so often, I like to go clubbing. This surprises some people who know me, as I have evidently been moderately successful at getting folks to see me as a professional, mature individual. But yes -  sometimes - I like to go clubbing.

When I go, I don't wear suggestive clothes. I'm often the girl in the group dressed like she just came from dinner with her folks. I often drink soda water and lime, so I don’t go to get drunk. I dance, usually, but not with anybody in particular, so I don’t go to solicit attention, either.

(I have likely painted an image of being that super dud dancing alone in the corner holding her drink to her face and anxiously sucking her straw. I’m not. At least, I’d like to think I’m not. I go with girlfriends and we dance together. )

So why do I go clubbing? I go, I realized, because it’s one of the few places where you can be incredibly close with a lot of other people. That experience is, for me, is a deeply satisfying one. I feel comforted by closeness.

For me, there's something extraordinarily psychologically soothing about physical proximity. I am deeply affected by “space,” particularly my own, and I find closeness to be tremendously sensual – that is, pertaining to the senses – more than sexual, even when it pertains to clubs. The gratification of crowded spaces holds true in almost any setting with almost any group of people, sexually appealing or not.

I love crowded restaurants. I love tiny apartments; I love roommates. I love busy sidewalks and farmers markets. I feel a sense of connection with fellow passengers on a plane. I love sleeping right against someone else, under a blanket so heavy that my companion inevitably becomes too hot.

I feel disappointed – almost anxious – when a space is too big or there aren’t as many people in it as I sense there should be. I hate king size beds and superfluous square footage. There are few things more depressing than empty city streets, and I find it disheartening to dine in an almost-empty restaurant.

When I shared this with my friend Chris over brunch one Sunday, observing that I felt the restaurant needed not only more diners, but more tables, he laughed. And then, curious as I explained my love of nearness, he asked,

“Do you intentionally choose the most crowded car on the train, too?’
“No,” I mused, “I don’t do that. But if I find myself on a crowded car, I secretly relish it.”

(Incidentally, I would rather take the train or the bus than drive myself. It’s for a number of reasons, but one of them is definitely this.)

For me, one of life’s most beautiful elements is experiences shared with others, and the implied intimacy. And the simpler and more sensual the experience, the more gratifying it is to me.   

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why I hate Vegas (it's not what you think)

Vegas and I don't see eye to eye.

We were destined, from the beginning, to exist apart from one another. For me, Vegas' role will always be the acquaintance kept at arm’s length rather than the hot fling she is for everyone else.

Vegas embodies everything I dislike. It is not because I'm opposed to gambling - I think gambling is fine, in and of itself (and, quite frankly, each time someone writes off my feelings for Vegas as an issue I must instead have with gambling, I kind of write off their intelligence.) Vegas has an identity that runs deeper than gambling. Everyone knows what the issues are; few take the time to name them.

So, in the interest of clarify, here's my critique of Vegas:

·         It’s fake. The lighting is artificial. There are waterfalls falling out of and into nowhere. They pump oxygen into the air. (While I’m at odds with just about all the Vegas properties, it should be said that The Venetian’s “always-3 pm sunlight gondola” gives me some serious heebie-jeebies.) To be clear, I do know that, for many Vegas visitors, the charm lies in the fantasy. People often try to win me over by saying: “it’s like Disneyland!” (Often they emphasize their point by adding “…for adults!”) And yes, I can see the similarity, but that fact would carry a lot more weight if I liked Disneyland. But I don’t. (That shouldn’t surprise you – again, I too see the similarity...)

·          It's maliciously deceptive. This is deeper than artificiality alone. I know that the people around me are being seduced and duped, and I don’t like that feeling. It's like sitting in a bar and watching a nice girl fall for the good-looking, charming guy who dresses well, smells nice, and tells her what she wants to hear. It’s a sinking feeling to later watch her leave with him. She sees him as the materialization of a dream. He sees her one of countless girls with whom he plays out this choreography every single night. And to suggest that she “knew what she was doing" - just like Vegas visitors - while it may be true, doesn’t ease my discomfort that she’s being had – just like so many people who make mistakes because they’ve “fallen for” the casino environment. Knowing this is happening isn't "part of the fun" for me.

·          It's creepy. The "Big Brother" element weirds me out. Folks marvel at the sophistication of Vegas hospitality. I sleep in until 2 pm and the maids will never once knock on my door. The moment I leave my room for more than 5 minutes, though, my bed's made when I get back. That's not "cool." It's creepy.

·         There is no community. Nearly everyone in Vegas is either transient or paid to be a part of the experience. There is no feeling of depth, and there are few genuine "locals" who can actually vouch for anything without being paid to do so. There are no roots and no relationships. (In other words, everyone may “know your name,” but it’s from a place of showmanship rather than sincerity.)

·         There is no substance. Sure, gambling is obviously the biggest revenue for Vegas. The second biggest, however, is conventions and conferences. If your second largest economic driver is empty space, you don't have a soul. Plain and simple.

·         I don’t like the way it makes me feel. Women aren’t regarded very respectfully in Vegas. We don’t just get checked out by men; we get “valued.” Money buys you a lot in Vegas - to most of the guys strolling the casino floors, every woman is there to be paid off, and they have no qualms about eyeing her accordingly. I don’t like that.

To be brutally honest, my sentiment on Vegas is that it’s a place to escape the real world when the reality you’ve built isn’t good enough. And because I so deeply value the process of investing in a rich reality for ourselves, I will always be incompatible with a place that stands for escapism and emptiness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Everyone likes hugs

My colleague hates hugs.

At least, that's what he told me and the rest of our team at dinner after we left the office last week. He hates hugs.

He also hates feet and handshakes. "They're gross!" He clarified. And he's right - feet and handshakes can be gross - so I let that one go. But it didn't sit right to allow hugs to be grouped alongside sweaty palms and hairy knuckles. So I started giving him hell. We all did.

I mean, who hates hugs?

I listened while the others chimed in. I laughed along. I cut in where it seemed appropriate. I participated in the overall antics. But even while we chided and played along as though he did, in fact, truly hate hugs, on the inside I was thinking:

"he's lying."

He's either lying, or he's in denial.

Everyone - everyone - likes hugs, somewhere deep in their core. To hug is to indulge in one of life's most beautiful pleasures - a gesture deeply ingrained in our psyche. Recall your mother's embrace after the neighbor kid knocked your ice cream to the ground. Think, too, of the way it felt to wrap your arms around a much-missed lover; the drawn-out good-bye to a friend you're not sure you'll ever see again. All of these moments, caught up in a hug. To say they aren't a part of you is to deny a part of yourself altogether.

I felt very deeply for my colleague as he spoke. Amidst the laughing, I felt skeptical. And concerned. And determined to change his perspective.

He's a pretty typical guy: in his 30's (I have a horrible time at guessing ages so I tend to stick with ranges that span ten years. He's about 32-42. Ish.) He's single. He owns a home in central Massachusetts, where our project happens to be.

When I once told him that I thought the area was lovely, he laughed.
He laughed in the way people do when they sense they're being made fun of.
"Yea, well, it's no Vegas."
"I'd rather be here than Vegas," I countered: "Vegas is fake. And pretentious."
(Since that day, the team has chided me for my love of all things "real." Which is okay by me, because it's true.)

He wears a blue shirt every single day. Not the same blue shirt - he has several; they're just all blue. When I once called him out on this, he growled, "I refuse to wear any other color."

He once returned brow-beaten from a meeting that didn't go well, sat down at his desk and lamented:
"Maybe they just didn't like my shirt."
"Well," I chimed in, "that shirt is pretty risque."
It was Brooks Brothers. And blue.
He spent the next several minutes agonizing over how serious I was before I finally convinced him I was actually trying to make him feel better.

He likes dogs and hates sushi. He drinks coffee in the morning. He cheers for his home football team. His first name is one syllable, short for something that's been around forever.

A typical guy. Almost weirdly typical.

And therefore - I wagered - a person who does, in fact, like hugs.

"At the end of this project," I announced, at dinner, in a lull of laughter, "I'm going to give you a hug."
"No you're not." He countered, "I'll take the week off if that's your plan. I'm serious."

And he looked it.

So instead of making him anxious for three months, I gave him one the next day. I did it right after I'd packed up to leave for my flight home. To be entirely honest, I had to work up some courage, after all the "hate" talk the night before. I put my winter coat on, so it wasn't so scary, and after a moment of hesitation, I leaned to where he was sitting at his desk, working, and hugged him, awkwardly, from the side.

And he did not pull away.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A few of my favorite things

1.     waking up 5 minutes before my alarm – or, better yet, waking up early without one – and having time to myself in the morning

2.     simplicity in food – I could live off of salads, hard boiled eggs, apples and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, broken into bites

3.     simplicity in clothing – I could live in wellies, knee-high boots, white denim or trouser jeans, silk tanks or cotton tees

4.     simplicity in space – true loft conversion and the preservation of original features

5.      all animals, but especially horses. and my dog.

6.     sensory experiences: the sound of mourning doves and passing traffic; the psychology of colors

7.     regional design and planning; walking to get from A to B; the concept of public transportation and the experience of using it; street-level retail; analyzing the way lifestyles are built depending on a city's design

8.     travel: the density of cities; open-air markets; the gritty, dirty, “ugly” parts; the design and study of the human experience

9.     book stores and libraries

10.  the ritual of "getting coffee" - particularly in the morning - and the taste of the first Guinness sip

11.  trees: the poetry of their silhouette, the contrast of bright baby leaves against wet tree trunks in the spring; the feeling of being beneath them in the summer

12.  random acts of kindness between strangers; the complexity of the human condition

13.  the color brown: it's the color of what's real (it’s earth, rust, some horses, all skin)

14.  the color orange: it's the color of vivacity and innovation; of brilliance; of challenging the status quo

15.  being critical and disregarding “the way it’s done”

16.  personal finance, saving, career planning, and being forward-focused

17.  spontaneity and surprises in all else

18.   the tactile experience of putting a good pen to a pad of paper; journaling; writing lists

Things like these define us. Life is too short not to dwell on them and build our lifestyles to include as many as we can.

What are yours?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The real first phase of our career

I have already reflected on the phases on my career. And I have forecasted the next phase on the horizon, which is largely in line with - while still an aggressive development of - my current phase.

But beyond that, I know that at some point, I will return to The Real First Phase – the one we suppress before we even realize it’s a phase at all – let alone the most important.

It's the phase we develop as children.

I know, at my core, what my purpose is: I am meant to be an architect.

I  loved combining my brother's Legos and cars to design cities in our basement. I later designed entire worlds for my toy horses - spaces sprawling across my bedroom floor - out of everyday objects. I obsessively sketched dream homes when I was nine. Gazing out the window while driving through low-income areas as a child, I recall informing my dad that "if I were ever the governor, I would build everyone better places to live." ("You can't," he told me, "those people own those houses.") I am exceedingly affected by my environment - my first criteria in choosing a college, after four years in a high school built to withstand bombing, was a "beautiful campus." I feel the psychological impact of space and light. I see beyond the superficial, and I love architecture not for the crown molding and "cool" floorplans, but for designing an enriching experience and beautiful lives.

My ambition was originally stifled because I was (and frankly, still am) repulsed by the salaries associated with the field – which I assert is one of the most invaluable to mankind. Isn't it? We certainly don’t treat it that way. We pay doctors millions to save us in the few moments we need them, but shaft the folks who design the very environments that influence our long-term wellbeing to begin with.

I also felt discouraged by the stifling reality of the field: it's highly hierarchical , and you can spend a decade with a firm without designing much more than a bathroom. You could spend a lifetime never doing anything more meaningful than track homes. I wanted more for myself. And, quite frankly, the field at large.

And, to be honest, I didn't relate to my peers who were pursuing the field, and resented their reasons - ranging from "I want to build houses with slides!" to "I'm gonna build mansions!" It's not the stuff on which society should be built. (Maybe that's why they're tasked with bathrooms for ten years.)

But one day I'll pursue the field. And one day I’ll change the way it’s done.

We all have that real first phase. The one before we understand what a career is supposed to be. What was yours?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A short history of career pursuits

In high school and college, my career development was more or less defined by what I thought I should do. I needed to prove that I could cut it in the real world – I wanted to know that I had a place, and that I had earned it. I also wanted to afford myself choices in life.

And so, at first, my objectives were defined, as many at that age are, by:

The yearning to make money – I went to business school. I chose finance as my major.
But I didn't want to suffer the economic shifts as drastically as those in finance often do, and so with this came:
The desire for stability - i.e., adding the other major: accounting.

When I graduated, I accepted a job in corporate banking, where I spent a year and a half. (Of my life. Of my youth.) It didn't fit, to say the least.

I learned a lot – a little bit about debt structure and probability of default; a whole lot more about how deeply flawed some people – especially those in positions of power – can be.

And it was during those 15 months that – between the job and the coinciding attempts at earning my Masters in Accounting – I realized two of my most life-changing truths:

1.     I hate convention. I hate rules. I hate letting details reign over my work. I hate hierarchies. And I hate being governed by “the way it’s done.” So it almost goes without saying that I hated corporate banking. And accounting. Hated.

2.     But more importantly, I realized: you create your own stability in life. If you’re scrappy and tenacious and good at learning to be great, you’ll create your own job security. Once I realized this truth, I began preparing to jump ship.

I spent an almost inconceivable amount of time in my cubicle at the bank doing what I called “soul-searching” – seemingly circular, possibly repetitive but absolutely comprehensive research and self-reflection. I looked at astrology; I colored my parachute; I took every self-assessment I could find. I read tirelessly about career development and happiness. So when my boss pulled me aside at year end and, eyeing me from between her blinders, asked me if I’d (please) consider moving on from the company, I knew what I was going to do. So I said yes.

(She pulled me aside a few weeks later to retract her suggestion, asking if I’d like to make the bank part of my “long-term plan.” Had I had any doubt in my decision prior to that moment, that proposition – and the evidence it provided on her competence as a manager – would have most certainly quashed it.)

And so on I went to the next phase, defined by:

The yearning to touch clients directly
The desire for influence – to add real value.

I hated being in the cubicle. I knew with certainty that I wanted to speak directly to the client. I also knew I liked travel, and would never aspire to a plush corner office. And, lastly, I knew I wanted to see my day to day work add direct value. Those truths made consulting a natural channel.  

In my search, I must have gone through thousands of company websites and sent out over a hundred resumes to secure interviews with about a dozen firms. I accepted one offer and quit the job four months later. Just a few months after that, I found the one I was looking for.

(During this transition, I also bootstrapped an overall 50% increase in salary in less than a year (8 months, to be exact.) It pays to know what you’re looking for, what you need, and what you bring to the table.)

And I already know the next phase – the soft elements not being satisfied in my current role:

The yearning to create.
The need to strike out on my own

And so the time will likely come to pursue those. Until then, I’m enjoying the sense of achievement in having realized phase 2 (as well as that earned by leaving phase 1 in the dust.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In work as in love

At The New Job, I was assigned the task of "mentoring my mentor" - giving him advice, much like he is giving me, on the sort of things on which I may be more informed.

So, while he helps me become a manager, I am helping him get his lifestyle enough in order to find a significant other.

The task seemed straightforward enough. So I took some time on a flight to put together a PowerPoint (yes, a PowerPoint - we are professionals, after all) outling the steps he should take to find The One:

1. Map out your values... so that you can look for someone who shares them
2. Identify your strengths... so that you can emphasize them when you meet her.

Seems simple enough, right? I thought so.

When our Director of HR saw the 20-slide document I'd put together, however, she was amazed, quickly shooting off an email that read: "Wow - I love this! I feel like you've done this before!"

I replied that, although I had, in fact, never before played "match-maker," the strategy in doing so was almost identical to the one I had researched, fine-tuned, and employed in finding the position I now held. (I got the job because I knew what I was looking for. And I knew what I was bringing to the table.)

(Her reply to this was, quite simply: "fascinating.")

So, here's the point:
Whether it's your dream job or your soulmate, there are but a few high-level introspective exercises that will get you what you want.

1. What are your values?
2. What are your strengths?

The first will help you identify positions or people that share or complement your deepest desires.
The second will win them over.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happiness Over Hotel Rewards

When I first got the consulting gig, one of the most popular conversations with my new colleagues surrounded the topic of rewards programs. With the industry standard being 80-100% travel in the consulting world, it quickly becomes exceedingly interesting to discuss which airline a new hire is choosing – or which hotel family; car rental company. There are suggestions reflecting personal preference; advice of “sticking to only one” company for each of these expenses; the possibility of a credit card whose own rewards would mirror – and amplify – those of my Chosen Few.

And as much as I’d like to say that I enjoy this system… I don’t.
Because, quite frankly: rewards bore me.

Upon hearing that I’d become a fellow Marriott Rewards member, J commended the choice with: “you’re going to earn so many points! You’ll have free nights before you know it!” (And the guy should know. I think he travels more than some of the flight attendants employed by his chosen airline.)

And as great as that sounds – and it does, in theory – it also just kind of really bores me. I don’t want to structure my lifestyle so that I’m spending my time earning the privilege to enjoy it at some point in the future. I definitely don’t work simply to earn a vacation – that’s the exact mindset I’m trying to avoid in the way I’m building my career and my lifestyle. I don’t want to suffer Monday through Friday for 50 weeks just to enjoy the benefits for 2. So why would I prioritize my time outside of work in such a way?

 Now, my stays at the Marriott Courtyard aren’t horrible – perks like a freshly-made bed and free wifi certainly aren’t as bad as a loathed job – they’re also not necessarily the stuff of dreams.

(When J himself saw my Courtyard, he noted that the hotel restaurant alone was one of the most depressing he’d ever seen. (And again, the guy should know.) Who wants to come “home” to “one of the most depressing” environments every day? No hotel in the world has a free night nice enough to make a year of that worthwhile.)

I value my lifestyle and my environment. I obsess over tiny things – like the specific street-level retail neighboring my apartment building, the width of the sidewalk, the walking distance to a decent grocery store – and I feel strongly that it’s these details – not the week in Belize – that create happiness. No matter the discount on the latter.

The Courtyard is my home three nights a week. Your home should make you feel pleased. Monday through Thursday, mine doesn’t. No amount of vacation vision-boarding will change that.

And for me, here’s the kicker: it would be one thing if I kinda liked hotels to begin with. Then maybe I could get over the whole Courtyard thing and get into the whole Caribbean payoff… but to be totally honest, I don’t even like hotels when I travel. I’d rather be surrounded by energy than comfort, and I think there’s no greater disservice you can do to yourself while traveling than hole yourself up in a “nice” hotel (except, perhaps, eat every meal there.) When I travel, I want to fully experience the local lifestyle. My favorite foreign accommodation while traveling? A rented apartment. And not even a “nice” one.

Which is, incidentally, my innovative and alternative plan to staying at the Courtyard and dutifully earning my points. I want to find a little apartment in the area, maybe a roommate or two. (I’m happiest with roommates. What rule says I can’t have one at my home away from home?) All this, and also expense my “lodging” costs to my client at a fourth of the current amount.  

Why deliberately spend time racking up points to earn something I don’t value? While free nights at hotels may sound like a terrific bargain to most people, I personally think it sounds a little bit more like: sacrificing something that makes me happy, to get something that doesn’t for free.