How a simple book is changing the way I approach life

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I’ve been thinking about my vision recently. My purpose in life. My manifesto. What do I believe in? What do I stand for? What do I value in life?

It’s a surprisingly difficult thing to articulate. I understand why brands and businesses have such a hard time writing their mission statement or describing their goals or their brand voice. It’s difficult to put into words what we believe in.

I just finished this book called Start With Why and it talked all about how successful leaders and businesses don’t just sell products, they sell a WHY. They sell their beliefs. They get people to believe what they believe and in turn, those people buy their products. Even though the book focused on businesses and business leaders, this is clearly important for regular people too. Individuals need a WHY.

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Getting Gutsy – It’s All About the Journey

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The year of 2013 was big for me. I’ve probably said that about many other years, though. The year I started high school, the year I graduated high school and went away to college, the year I discovered television production, the year I graduated college… I keep thinking that those years where all the big stuff happens all at once are behind me. I keep thinking that life will level out and I will find my niche and all will continue smoothly without surprises or upsets. I keep thinking I’ll find that comfort zone.

I believe that I am a person who likes to have things figured out. I like plans, to-do lists, and the predictability of a schedule. But when I think about this past year, nothing I did was in “the Plan.” I’m not even sure what that plan was or where it originated, but I know that I never saw myself here.

After this year, though, I’ve realized that life is not about finding your comfort zone. It’s about getting away from it. Life is about change and struggle and loss and love. It’s about the journey. This past year held many firsts, was full of uncertainty and doubt, and overflowed with changes. I was as far from my comfort zone as I could be, and yet it was one of the best years of my life.  Continue reading

How to Land the Job of Your Dreams: The Arbitrary Interview Process

interview_blogI have been working at Beyond Spots & Dots for two full months. It feels like a lifetime. How did I get so lucky, when some people struggle to find a job they love?

I have been thinking  lately that the whole job search process is a blend of luck and strategy and wit and formula–therefore it is entirely and completely random. There is no “process.” No one is right or wrong, no one has the advantage. It’s everyone for themselves. Yet we try to help each other out by doling out these rules and say that they will work if you follow them to a T.

Like little robots, college students come out of graduation with resumes and cover letters in hand, and carefully practiced answers to interview questions. With a degree, some activities and an internship, they all look the same on paper. What it comes down to must be the interview. Continue reading

Choosing to Face the Ocean

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There were two ways my life could’ve gone. Be comfortable and complacent, taking the easy, known road, however unhappy I may be. Or step out of that comfort zone and dive into completely new waters, struggle through the unknown to discover something I love. I hope you can guess which one I chose. Continue reading

Real World Summer

This is my first summer in the real world. It’s the first summer where I have not had ample free time, hours to lay in the sun, or days to do nothing. It’s the first summer where I’m actually working a real job, a job that requires me to come in every day at the same time and leave when the sun has already passed its prime.

Last summer, I had graduated college, but I was still clearly not in the real world. I was still job searching and teaching swimming lessons and didn’t start working in a restaurant until later in July or August. I still had plenty of time to enjoy the summer months.

And all the summers before that my summer job didn’t count. As a lifeguard, I went in to work around 11 AM and spent my days in a bathing suit, soaking up the rays, lounging by a pool. I got nice long breaks where I could lay out or swim or read a book. I taught a few swimming lessons and left the pool at 7:30 PM, with time to either go home and relax or hang out with friends, knowing that I didn’t really have a care in the world, and that an 11 AM start time the next day was plenty of time to sleep in.

Just a typical day, on my break at the pool.

Just a typical day, on my break at the pool.

Unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate those days when I had them. I have had a summer job since I was 15. I started working at a pool–selling ice cream bars in the snack shack and cleaning up the wrappers that escaped the garbage cans. The next summer I was a lifeguard at a different pool and just couldn’t bear to leave that easy life. I knew that it was an easy job. It was a great job for a swimmer, and I could use the skills I already had. But by the last summer or two that I spent there, I started to hate it. I was tired of the sun. I hated putting on sunscreen every day. I was appalled that I had let myself sit there staring at water all that time, basking in boredom. And I had read too many articles about lifeguards getting skin cancer. I finished up my fifth year lifeguarding and never looked back.

It was an easy job. But I still didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s hard to appreciate something until you’re done with it, until you’ve seen the other side.

And here I am. On the other side. And now I see that the old grass was greener.

I am a summer person. I love summer. I love sun and the beach and warm days put me in a wonderful mood. So now I wake up in the morning, shower and put on a sundress. But when I get to work, I can’t even tell if the sun is shining because my office doesn’t have a window. I leave work at 5:30 PM and I feel that summertime is passing me by. I find it difficult to do anything after work knowing that I just have to wake up again early the next morning. My skin will be permanently ghostly this year, unless I try really really hard on the weekends to lay out–but on the weekends, I have other things I’ve been waiting all week to do.

Summers in the real world have turned out to be much more depressing than I originally anticipated.

So this week, I am lucky to be on vacation. I am incredibly lucky that the organization I work for was able to give me a few days of paid time off (and that my vacation happens to be over the 4th of July holiday, when our office is closed anyways). And I can say for a fact that I am taking full advantage. I have turned off my work email syncing on my phone. Our beach house actually doesn’t have wireless internet connection this year, so I won’t have to worry about seeing all the emails pop up on my computer. (I’m writing this from a Starbucks.) I brought plenty of books and bikinis, with the expectation of clearing my mind and de-stressing.

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During those lifeguard years, I would get to the beach and it would be just a different version of my work-day. Sun, water, sunscreen. But this year…this is vacation. This is the true meaning of vacation. It’s a relief. Taking some time to yourself to unwind and relax, to get away from the real world for a short time. And to figure out how to better appreciate the real world when you go back.

So far it’s off to a rainy start. But honestly, I don’t even mind. There will be other days to lay on the beach. Today I will read a book.

Real World 101

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Is there anyone who is truly well-prepared to enter the real world?

Take the average American, middle-class, suburban person. They have both parents (or even one parent, whatever), a few siblings, a few hundred dollars from birthdays in their savings account, and let’s take a look at a brief synopsis of their life.

This person goes to public school. They go to a middle school that is just trying to prepare them for the “much-harsher” high school. They get through high school, with the goal of getting into the best college possible. They have this notion that their SAT scores are everything. They have to become an outstanding student, take AP and honors courses and get all A’s. They have to get into National Honor Society, join clubs, be President, and run the Prom committee. All because they have to improve their personal chances of getting into the best school.

So they graduate high school. They’ve gotten into colleges and they make their choice. They decide what will be best for them. They take into consideration what they want to major in, where they want to live, whether they will play sports. They weigh the merits of each school, the pros and cons. They make the best choice to further their education. And then their last days of summer are behind them and they’re walking the campus and taking 8 AM classes.

Now, they get good grades because it will help them get a job. They are trying to improve their personal rankings in the long line of graduates seeking the exact same jobs. Again, they join clubs, they learn skills, they discover their talents. They make themselves better people, because it’s all about them. It’s about them getting somewhere. It’s about how they will live the rest of their lives.

It’s all about them.

And then they get that job. Whatever that job may be, good or bad, high-paying or minimum wage. They get it. Congrats.

And then suddenly, it’s not all about them anymore. It’s about the company. It’s about keeping the boss happy. It’s about communicating what you’re doing in your daily tasks with the other people who are doing their own daily tasks, all in the attempt to make the company or organization or business better. It’s about anticipating what others will need before they have a chance to yell at you. If the company goes bankrupt, loses money, has to lay off workers, then you are losing money and/or out of a job.

It’s not about you. At all. 

So where did we go wrong? Or maybe the question should be, why?

Why are we told from the very beginning that it’s all about us, that we are individuals and we will succeed or fail alone, if in reality, it’s about the company and the group and the collective?

If you don’t turn your homework in, you fail the class. You get a bad grade. Your GPA drops. Your class rank falls. You fail. Your poor work ethic doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself. 

But if you don’t finish the project that you’re working on at your job, if you don’t close the deal, it is the company that pays the price. The sales drop, you lose a client, you lose money. The fault might be yours, but the consequences affect the group.

How did we come up with this backwards way of teaching children and educating the young workforce? What if we had told students that if one person was failing, none of them would get an A? Don’t you think everyone would do everything they could to help that kid get his homework done? Maybe that sounds too much like socialism. People don’t like socialism. People like to know that if they do a good job personally, that they will be rewarded.

Usually that’s the way it is in the workplace. People who excel at their jobs get promoted. But you can’t excel at your job if you’re not looking at the bigger picture. If you don’t see the work that everyone else is doing and if you can’t align your needs with the needs of the organization as a whole, then your disconnected way of thinking will never get you anywhere.

Somewhere along the line, someone came up with this “me, me, me” attitude towards teaching in schools. But then kids get to their jobs in the real world and they aren’t prepared. They aren’t prepared to write someone else’s to-do lists and manage their boss’s schedules and book flights for their co-workers and file paperwork that doesn’t belong to them. It’s this whole new way of thinking. When all you have to do is worry about your own life and your own schedule, life is easy. But put the needs of ten or twenty or a hundred other people onto your to-do list and suddenly your public school, college education just went out the window, because you’ve never had to do that before and no one prepared you.

Real life isn’t sitting in class, taking notes and passing a test. So why do colleges think they are preparing us for our careers?

 

 

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First Day, First Job, Big Sigh of Relief

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Someday I will be able to look back on the time I spent post-graduation running around tables with martini shakers in both hands and ketchup splatters on a starched white shirt, and I’ll laugh. Someday I’ll think back on the time I spent shivering in a swimming pool trying to get a little girl to put her head under the water, and it will be a pleasant memory. Someday I’ll remember the days that I put in four or eight or twelve hours of work and didn’t make a dime, and I’ll be able to better appreciate it.

But today, on the first day of my first real job, all I’m doing is breathing a sigh of relief. Today, all of the temporary jobs and short-term internships and sporadic hours are too recent. The six months I spent in frustration and bewilderment after I graduated without a job are too fresh in my mind. So today, after my first day, all I’ll do is breathe. And someday six months will seem like nothing. The jobs I worked will seem so distant. Someday it will be funnier.

Today I started my job as an Administrative Assistant for Steeltown Entertainment Project, here in Pittsburgh, PA. After interning with this nonprofit organization for several months, the position opened up and was offered to me a few weeks ago. This was the first of hopefully many good days.

On the mountain that is life, I am at the bottom. I haven’t seen much of the world, I haven’t met many people, I haven’t climbed very high. But I have big plans for myself. I have things to do, places to go. I am happy to have this opportunity to take my first step.

I may not have gone very far yet, but I couldn’t have made it here, and I wouldn’t be who I am, without some really great people in my life. My parents are my rock and my home and they let me move back. Jim believed in me more than I believed in myself. Hannah is my therapy, with hour and half phone conversations every week, the best friend I could ask for. Some really awesome PR pros (hopefully you know who you are) served as my role models and social media guides. And some great friends, new and old, were the best distraction.

Thank you to everyone who gave me advice, everyone who taught me anything, and anyone who had to put up with my incessant lament, “why, oh why can’t I get a job?

Now I can stop being stressed and frustrated. I can breathe a sigh of relief and let it all soak in. This is the start of something big, I can feel it.

 

(photo via)

Enough of 2012, Bring on the New Year

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The last time I took a moment to reflect about an entire year, I was a freshman in college and had experienced so much change between high school and the University of Delaware that it would have been wrong for me not to think back on it and appreciate it. At that time, I was growing up, moving out, making new friends, having new experiences and learning from everything.

This too, has been a year of changes. If I could have made a prediction years ago about where I would be at this point in my life, it would not be here. I would not be living at home with my parents, I would not still be serving at a restaurant, I would not even be in Pittsburgh. But now that I’m here, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Today, January 1st, 2013, looks just like yesterday, December 31, 2012. The sky is gray, snowflakes are falling gently from the sky onto what already looks like a foot of snow on the ground. The house is cold, the coffee is brewing, the TV is on. But people love a new year because we all want to say goodbye to the old and look ahead to what we have to come. We want closure for our troubles and we want a new beginning, a fresh start.

Well last night, my fresh start began with a glass of champagne and my dog, hanging out in the kitchen watching my parents and their friends play “Catchphrase.” I had to work last night. And I guess it was a fitting way to end the year. This year that I spent more time in a restaurant waiting tables than I did anywhere else. Why not end it that way too? But this is starting to sound depressing and my year was anything but. So I’ve said before, the best place to begin a story is at the beginning.

Last year I celebrated the new year in Buffalo, New York with a kiss from my boyfriend in a room full of strangers. It was a scene from a movie and it was perfect. A perfect prelude for the year to come.

I was finishing up my senior year of college. From January through May, my days mostly alternated between waitressing and going to classes. During my final semester, I only had to take three classes and had four day weekends. Which of course left more time for working. I worked a lot, but I made a little time for fun.

I enjoyed a memorable end to the production of my student-run television show. We successfully produced five shows during the spring semester and celebrated our accomplishments. I worked with some great people on that show, people with big ideas who will definitely go places. Without them, the show would not have been the same.

Jim and I took a short trip to Washington, D.C. in March to walk through all of the museums. It was an absolutely wonderful day. We went to Virginia Beach for a few days together during our spring break. The weather wasn’t on our side, but we had more fun than I thought possible in such a short amount of time.

In April I was honored to be a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding and watch her walk down the aisle to her new husband, so obviously in love and so obviously perfect for each other.

Jim dragged me to a Rick Ross concert at the end of our senior year. I tried to keep an open mind, allow my musical tastes to expand. But I don’t think they expanded that much.

I graduated from the University of Delaware at the end of May, one day before I turned 22. I graduated cum laude with a degree in Communication, a well-rounded resume and no job to speak of. I decided to celebrate anyway.

And then I had what I’m sure will later become known as The Summer of Frustration. The day after I moved back home, I pulled out the computer and typed up cover letters, tweaked my resume and scoured the job boards. I had goals, I had a system, I read “how-to-get-a-job” blogs and “how-to-ace-an-interview” articles (although I didn’t get many interviews). I updated my social media profiles and launched Measure with Coffee Spoons. I went on a solo trip to New York City to meet with a friend’s boss and talk about her company. And in between all that, I watched seasons three through seven of Grey’s Anatomy. Jim and I travelled back and forth between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. I went to a few Pirates games with my family. I went on my family vacation to Myrtle Beach. I babysat. I taught private swimming lessons. And I started running. All the while, wallowing in self-pity because I was job-less, living at home, and I missed my Delaware friends terribly.

By the end of the summer, I got hired at a new restaurant as a server and things started to look up. I took my nose ring out, got off the couch, and got a Macbook. I started interning at Steeltown Entertainment Project and loved it. I volunteered to work as a production assistant for an independent film being produced in the area.

Through all of that, I met some of the greatest people. I worked with some great servers and chefs and kids they call server’s assistants. People who love restaurant work and people who are in it for the money. People with big dreams and small incomes. People who are juggling school and work and children and husbands. People who are taking a break from school but when they go, they’ll make something of themselves. People who are perfectionists, who want every lemon on every plate to be facing the same way. People who don’t care, who bus the tables and get their stuff done so they can go out with friends. People who have climbed the ladder, who’ve fallen and gotten back up. You don’t know their stories, but they are inspirational.

I met great people on the set of “Lemonade.” People who are doing what they love, even if they don’t get paid for it. People who know what they want and are working to get there. People who don’t know what they want, but are figuring it out. People who have exactly what they want and every scene is a relaxing joy for them.

And I’ve met great people at Steeltown. People whom I hope to get to know better. Because I’ve accepted my first real job with them. And I start tomorrow.

This past year was about meeting and spending time with some amazing people. They helped me get where I am and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Here’s to closure for 2012. Now bring on the new year.

(photo via)

The Pursuit of Something Else

Sometimes I compare things in my life with movies. I’m sure everyone does, but maybe I’m a romantic and you hear me saying it more often. You know the phrase, “-but that’s how it is in the movies!” or “it never happens like that in the movies.” And people respond “yes Meg, but those are just movies.” 

Well I found myself doing it again. You see, I have good days and bad days, as does everyone. On the bad days I wonder where my life is going and whether I’ll  ever get a real job and I think about my friends who live far away and can’t visit and the student loans I’ll have to start paying because my six-month grace period will be up….. And on the good days I remember that life is an adventure and I’m just living it- that everything will eventually work out and then when I’m old this will all be part of the awesome story I have to tell.

So the other day, I was having a good day. And for some reason I started thinking about the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is based on a true story about a young man with a wife and child living in New York City. The man is a door-to-door salesman, but his hospital equipment isn’t selling well. They can’t make rent and his wife leaves him and their son. And this man just thinks that if he wore a suit and worked as a stock broker in a big city building that his life would be happy. So he takes this unpaid internship, while still trying to sell the hospital equipment and raise a son, and he goes through arguably the hardest part of his life and comes out the other side.

I own this movie, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in awhile. Which is why I was surprised that I was just driving along and it suddenly came to me. And I wondered, are we really in the pursuit of happiness? I don’t know if that phrase is quite accurate.

I find myself in a similar, but most certainly not exact, situation. I took an unpaid internship, in addition to the job that makes the money, and at the end of it, I hope a real job will be in closer reach. I’m working almost every day and I’m busy and stressed. But remember, I was having a good day. So I kept in mind that I don’t have a spouse that just left me, I’m not saddled with a kid, I don’t have rent to pay (right now), my internship isn’t a full time job taking up all my time, and I’m not homeless and sleeping in subways. And suddenly I felt much better about the situation.

My internship is two days a week, four hours a day. So far they haven’t had me doing anything super exciting, but there is the prospect of doing exciting things down the line. I really like what the organization is doing and the projects that I’m working on. It’s all very peace-hope-and-love stuff that you can’t help but get sucked into. The interviews that I’m transcribing right now do give me a little hope for humanity, if only there were more people with as much positivity and kindness as this woman. And I love the atmosphere of this non-profit/public television workplace, the people who say hello to me in the halls and the good vibes you get when people love their jobs.

I’m definitely in pursuit of something, but I don’t think it’s happiness. Hopefully there aren’t a lot of people in the world who are in search of happiness. I think that happiness can always be there, but often people are too tired or stressed to notice and accept it. And so they think they’re not happy. In the movie, Will Smith had happy moments, I think. His son was a huge source of happiness for him, when he noticed. The problem was that he broke his life down into a tiny little word used to sum up the whole time period (example: “This part of my life is called running.“) But life is so much more complicated than a single word and he limited himself by boxing it all in like that.

As for me, I think I’m happy. I think I have a lot going for me if I have a good day and take the time to remember it. I’m in pursuit of something else. The pursuit of a plan. Or stability. The pursuit of a long-term achievable goal. I wonder if we could spell that wrong and make it a sequel. I’m clearly in pursuit of something, but if I weren’t, my life would be boring. And I’m really looking forward to having a good story to tell.

It’s the People at the Restaurant, Not the Tips

There are a lot of things I could say about working in a restaurant, and things that I already have.  Most things you notice about restaurants, whether you eat at them or work in them, are obvious. The food, the service, the tips, busy nights and slow nights and late nights. There is good service and bad service. People leave good tips for good service, or bad tips because they were never taught otherwise. Or no tips, I get those too. But I don’t want to tell you about tips. I want to tell you about people.

Servers are there to make money. Let’s not step around that fact. We are there for the tips. The good ones, that is. But sometimes, every once in awhile, you get a chance to slow down a little, you step out of the kitchen and away from the computer. Your tables are happy and no one needs anything. And when you look around you, you get a chance to see the moments of other people’s lives. You get a glimpse into other people’s worlds. You can see what other people are going through, or you can imagine what their lives might be like when they get home to their kids. And this is something that I have found spectacular about working in a restaurant. You see so many kinds of different people, so many people, all the people. You say a few words to these people and watch them for a few seconds. You see them eat food for a few minutes and a whole world opens up behind them.

On busy days, there isn’t much time for people-watching, but sometimes there is the rare day when it’s a slow afternoon and at several tables are seated just the most intriguing human beings.

There’s the e-Harmony date. A man and a woman walk in and sit at a table near the bar. They sit across from each other and order a bottle of red wine at 12:30pm. The woman is rather loud, the man is more soft-spoken, with a kind face. They’re leaning in to each other and laughing a lot throughout their conversation. It’s probably a good date, maybe there will be a second. They sit there until 5pm, three bottles of wine later. Definitely a good date. She had mentioned several bad first dates she had been on, so maybe that’s a good sign. Maybe she’ll go home after the date and call up her girl friend and talk all about the kind, gentle guy she’d gone out with and how he’s completely different from the other guys she’s dated and she’ll talk about possibilities. Maybe he’ll go home and Google-search her for a third time. Make sure she’s not too good to be true. Or maybe not. But I saw that they were on a date and enjoying each other’s company.

There is a table with a very young couple. Probably about 17– at least driving age. At first the boy looks mad; it looks like they’re fighting. The host told me he had slammed the car door shut and walked in about 10 feet in front of her. But then they’re at the table and while we’re speculating what the fight is about, he starts crying. Maybe his uncle was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe his grandmother died. His girlfriend is comforting him as best she can and they are clearly not fighting. They have a quick lunch and leave together. Just a glimpse into someone’s life while they eat.

At another table sits an older couple. It’s the end of the night, the crowd has died down and they’re sitting next to each other in a rounded booth, clearly still in love after 40, 50, 60 years but quiet, as if maybe they’ve said all they needed to say out loud over the years and now words aren’t needed. So when I greet them they are anxious to talk and they tell me about their lives. The man told me that they were from Delaware, since I’d mentioned that I just graduated from school there. He said he went to school at Duquesne and it took him thirteen years to graduate, taking night classes, because he was already married with kids and working a full-time job. But he did graduate and he is still with his Mrs. having dinner.

Every table has a story. But as waiters and waitresses, all we see are the minutes when they’re sitting at the table and all we can do is speculate. But each table, each snapshot is unique. Each family looks different and acts differently. Some families are loud and messy, with lots of children. Their lives are probably hectic and they probably don’t get out to eat very often. Maybe they’re like my family and celebrating a good report card. Other families are quiet. The kids are older and don’t want to be seen with their parents but their parents love them anyways. Some tables contain old friends that haven’t seen in each other in years. They order a drink and wait hours to order their meal, just to make the time pass more slowly. They pay the check and sit for a few more hours, their glasses of water all but empty. Maybe they were college roommates, or maybe they both got screwed over by the same guy and found a common bond that lasted all their lives.

These are the moments that make up these lives. Their trip to the restaurant might become part of the story they tell their grandkids. Their moments are special and brief, for us, but maybe for a few minutes I can live vicariously through them. I can be at their business meeting or their jewelry party and be part of that moment. I can take a picture of the old friends and I can make small talk and smile. I can give them that because they all have given me these small glimpses into their lives.

Maybe this is what makes people like working in a restuarant so much. Seeing a moment of another person’s life, speculating what the rest of it might look like. It’s just a snapshot, but sometimes, a picture equals a thousand words.