Sunday, January 15, 2017

2016 – A Disruptive Year

I can’t bring myself to write about 2017, until I finish this post which I started writing on December 31st, 2016:

Many people around the Internet claim 2016 was a bad year.  For me, 2016 wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either.  The year my company's HR manager attacked my management skills causing my confidence to plummet for months was worse, so was the year my mom was diagnosed with cancer, the year my father-in-law had a stroke and the year my husband lost his job. And let’s not forget the years of the Great Recession which brought pay-cuts and job losses to many of my friends and co-workers.  For me, even 2015 when one of my key employees resigned was worse than 2016. 

In saying all that 2016 was a disruptive year full of change:

It began with an old oak tree falling in our back yard during a winter storm smashing one of outdoor structures.  This resulted in a month of insurance hassles and clean-up. 

Around the same time, I purchased a new vehicle throwing off my financial independence goal for all of 2016.  I had planned to keep my 2004 Acura TSX for 2 more years, but after putting over $2000 into in 2015 and faced with another expense (new tire rims to prevent my tires from constantly deflating). I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I went with a Honda this time. From now on I’m going to plan for a new vehicle or new to me vehicle every ten years.

In February I lost my beloved dog Buck who finally succumbed to lymphoma. He had been diagnosed in February 2014, so I was fortunate to have had him in my life for another year, but his death left an empty space in our home and hearts for months to come.

In March, my company’s President signed a contract with a new business software company to convert our software despite members of the software selection team recommending he wait a year.

The summer was good. I spent time with friends and vacationed in the Apostle Islands, a place I had never been.

Fall brought the software conversion.
It started out well enough with everyone working long hours cleaning up our old system prior to the conversion, but once the data was converted work slowed to a halt company wide.  Every single person struggled to learn the new system.  The training and support from the new company was/is poor.  Even my boss who is usually an optimist feels we were oversold. We continue to struggle in 2017 to make this system work for us.

In November my husband had bi-lateral knee replacement surgery:
Yes - bilateral means having surgery on both knees at the same time. Despite all of his preparation - building upper body strength which improved his ability to lift himself out of a chair - life after surgery was challenging.  He was in more pain than he imagined, he was more mobile than I imagined, but his insomnia was worse than either of us could have possibly imagined.

Thankfully his healing has progressed well with no major issues in 2017.


One of the bright spots of 2016 was my reading. I read 32 books up from my average of 25.  I have now read 33 nonfiction books as part of my 200-500 nonfiction reinvention challenge.  I did join a book club at my local library, so I read more fiction than I normally do.  Unlike book clubs I’ve participated in previously, the attendees of this one actually read the books, the monthly selections are good and it is well facilitated.* Plus, I don’t have to drive far, spend money on books or dining costs or have to host/entertain in my home.

2016 reading highlights:

The book I talked about, thought about and recommended the most in 2016:

Runners up are Andre Agassi’s book:
Open: An Autobiography and What I Talk About When I Talk About Runningby Haruki Murakami  

Best business book:
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, since reading this book I’ve decided to spend a good portion of my 200+ book challenge reading business books.

Book that didn’t live up to the hype: Roxanne Gay's book Bad Feminist

Author I’m not going out of my way to read again: Gloria Steinham. My Life on the Road is the third book I've read by Steinham, for being such an influential part of the women’s movement I find her writing to be uninspiring. 

The book I read everyone should read: Atul Gawande's book  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. (This one was recommended by my financial planner and should be read by everyone who is caring for the sick).

Most well-timed read: Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink during the Olympics. Author Juliana Barbassa returns to Rio de Janeiro, her birth city, to report on their preparation for the Olympics.                  
Runner up:
James Feldman's book A Storied Wilderness: Rewilding the Apostle Islands (this one is a bit academic can be repetitive). I read this one after visiting the Islands last summer.

Most relevant fiction book:
 Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  Many employers in my area down-sized older employees with outdated technical skills in 2016. Some of them certainly are also a tad curmudgeonly. 

·        *I was a guest at book club last year, where the discussion of Paula Hawkin's book The Girl on the Train became a competition between two members over who had the worst divorce.

Did anyone else have a disruptive 2016?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, December 04, 2016

I Am the Ocean: A Pleasant Surprise

When Samita Sarkar emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing her travel memoir, I initially hesitated.

Here is her description of what I Am the Ocean is about:
The memoir covers a backpacking trip along the east coast of the United States that I took during my early twenties. A Canadian traveler on a budget with a thirst for self-discovery, I slept on couches, buses, and in cramped hostels. I saw beautiful things and met many interesting people, but it was also a time of spiritual searching and personal development for me.
I wasn’t sure. Not another backpacking book! I’d kind of had my fill of those after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Susan Jane Gilman’s Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, but my intuition kicked in and I said yes. I am so glad I did - I Am the Ocean was a pleasant surprise.

After Sarkar graduated from the university with top grades she surprisingly can’t find a job. To pull herself out of her jobless funk she uses her savings to travel on a budget from Canada to Miami stopping in NYC, Washington D.C., Savannah and Miami along the way. Not to keep comparing her to Strayed, but her trip was well-planned, she trusted her intuition and used common sense. Though if she had asked me for advice, I would have told her to skip the couch surfing at single men’s apartments. 

I enjoyed her observations of traveling in the U.S., thoughts on Americans and our landmarks/tourist destinations. I also liked that she wasn’t afraid to travel off the beaten path. As a travel tip I’ve never considered visiting Miami, but am now sure it is not a place I want to visit; at least not while staying in a hostel.

I found her assessment of (an online community where people who wanted to learn different foreign languages and mark each other’s assignments) interesting: 

Because all good things most come to an end, their competitor, the language giant Rosetta Stone, eventually bought and ran this amazing resource with a thriving community into the ground. (pg. 5)

I recommend this book to any 20-something going through a quarter-life crisis, those who want to learn what it is like to travel on a budget, readers who enjoy travel memoirs or want to read a well-written, light book. I Am the Ocean  would make a great nonfiction beach read.

Personally, I love Samita Sarkar’s writing voice and want to read everything she has written and am heading over to her website to do so now.

Have you read any books lately that were a pleasant surprise?

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review and am an Amazon affiliate.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Is a Culinary Degree Worth It?

Today’s post was inspired by Chelsea Fagan’s article 3 thoughts I've been having about money. She writes about her uncomfortableness with the personal finance community and middle-class privilege, but the line "why the f*** is a woman in as prosperous a country as America six figures in debt for a Bachelor’s degree in the first place?" resonated with me. She goes on to write:
And what can we do, politically and personally, to ensure that more people do not end up in the same situation, rather than simply explaining the best and most efficient ways to crawl out of it?
I immediately decided to write about Alyssa, a line chef working at Huertas in NYC, who I learned about in my latest read Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dreamwritten by Karen Stabiner.* Alyssa owed close to $80,000 in student loan debt incurred while she attended CIA in Hyde Park, New York. She paid for her entire bachelor’s degree with student loans; at the time she thought the degree was essential because she hadn’t gone to college. She was well-paid for a line cook at $13 an hour – most New York City line cooks earned an hourly rate of between $8 and $12. Making ends meet after her loan repayment’s temporary reduction expired became impossible.

She ended up moving back to her childhood home in Southern California to live with her mom. Her first food job had been at a restaurant on the Disneyland property in Anaheim. She hoped to return to one of the Disneyland restaurants. They paid well and offered sizable benefits. She figured with no rent and no food costs she would be able to make a sizable dent in her debt in two to three years.

Other annual salaries mentioned in Generation Chef:

Sous Chef $36,000-$38,000

Jonah (restaurant owner) $50,000.

Is a culinary degree worth it?

The chefs featured in the article Chefs Weigh In; Is Culinary School Worth It? say it is not. Jonah, Huertas’ owner, describes culinary school as a “parochial” experience and is wary of graduates, although he feels hiring Alyssa was an exception.

Then there are articles like this one: Surprising jobs with $100K salaries -- after only a two-year degree. The #1 career on the list is pastry chef.  I was touting the earning potential of pastry chefs, to a friend when she brought me back to reality. Her niece made $11 an hour as a pastry chef only because she worked for another family member. After that restaurant closed, the niece moved to Denver where she now works at a popular restaurant earning $9 an hour frosting cakes and cupcakes.

Then there is the 14-year old daughter of an acquaintance who dreams of going to culinary school and becoming a pastry chef. Her father’s advice: become a software engineer, work in Silicon Valley earning $200,000 a year for 20 years, then retire and open a bakery as your second career.

*In Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream, Stabiner follows Jonah for a little more than a year as he fulfills his childhood dream of opening a restaurant. His journey isn’t for the faint of heart; despite all his planning and positive reviews, he faced staffing shortages, $700,000 of debt, failed liquor license approvals and not enough customers. If you have dreams of someday owning your own restaurant I recommend reading Generation Chef for a reality check.

What do you think: is a Culinary Degree worth It? 

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Life of the Party by Bob Kealing

I have to admit I had never heard of Brownie Wise prior to reading about Bob Kealing’s book Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire on Blogging for Books.

What is this book about?

Long before Martha Stewart, Mary Kay and other celebrated mavens of domesticity, there was Wise, the face and genius behind the iconic Tupperware Party. In “Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire,” we learn the remarkable story of how she built — and abruptly lost — a Tupperware Party empire.

My Thoughts:

I love a good historical business book and Life of the Party is a good one. It begins a little slow as we learn about Earl Tupper (Tupperware’s inventor), Wise’s early years and her life before she was promoted to sales manager. Once Wise moves to Florida the story becomes more interesting and I found the last half of the book which includes her rapid rise as the face of Tupperware and her eventual demise fascinating.

I also thought it was interesting to learn Tupperware’s home party division made their home in the Kissimmee/Orlando area of Florida long before Disney moved in. Florida was still quite racially-segregated in 1951, but land was cheap and it was thought it would be easier to convince salesman to combine family vacations with business seminars saving the company money.

Brownie Wise was an astute business woman ahead of her time, but if you are looking for a how did she do it type of book you will most likely be disappointed. This book is more of a “what she did” type of book than a “how-to.” Though there are snippets of business and marketing lessons scattered though-out.

I like this one on recruiting that could still be used today:

If she (a potential Tupperware dealer) isn’t eager to devote enough time to her first training, you should not appoint her. Beware of the applicant who thinks she doesn’t need thorough training. The odds against her are huge. (Pg. 76.)

Bottom Line:
I recommend if you are interested in business history, reading about business and career women, the 1950’s, trends in business and of course Tupperware and the home party concept.

Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire would also make a good selection for a business book club.  Bob Kealing remained unbiased when he described what happened to Brownie Wise, which in my opinion could lead to a great discussion.

Have you heard of Brownie Wise? If you've read this book, what did you think?

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Is It Okay to Quit Without Giving a Two Week Notice?

I recently talked with a 55-year old woman who had been so stressed working as a freight logistics specialist she quit without giving a notice.

When asked why she didn’t give a two-week notice she says she gave a two-year notice:

For the past two years she repeatedly asked her boss for an assistant and complained about her workload. She had told him if her work load didn’t improve she was going to quit. She felt it wasn’t her fault he hadn’t taken her seriously. After a particularly grueling Friday she went home, sent an email to her boss telling him she quit and never went back.

She spent the summer relaxing and spending time with her family. She had recently gotten a part-time retail job for the holiday season and is searching for permanent employment with a placement agency. She wasn’t looking for career advice from me. Instead she wanted to vent about her former employer and receive reassurance she had done the right thing.

My response:

She isn’t the first person I’ve met who has complained about this company. I had talked to another employee around the holidays who had been furious when this company announced a surprise weekly shut down over Christmas. If employees didn’t have PTO time available they had to take four days off without pay. Since they received holiday pay for Christmas day, they would not be eligible for unemployment. So much for a holiday bonus.

This woman confirmed the shut-down story and also told me she had also received a pay-cut.

I told her many companies, including my own, had to institute these types of cost-cutting procedures to stay in business. I also think the business economy is more competitive than ever. Companies that don’t get scrappy don’t survive.

She did not like my answer, so I moved on. If our conversation had continued I would have told her the following:

There were two employees that left my company last year. Both had been with our company for several years. One had worked for me.  This employee had also been stressed for years and had asked repeatedly for an assistant. Her requests were denied because I and the managers above me thought she was inefficient and resistant to more efficient procedures. After a particularly grueling year-end she resigned to work at her son’s company. She gave a three-week notice and agreed to work part-time for several additional weeks to train her replacement. Since leaving, our company has utilized her son’s company a few times giving his business thousands of dollars of revenue. Also, my boss came to the conclusion my former employee was right – her job was too much work for one person and we have hired an additional part-time employee. We talk fondly about this employee and reminisce about her accuracy and knowledge.

Contrast this story with the other employee who quit last year. His wife suffered from a debilitating decease that required him to go home every day at lunch to care for her. He was assigned a new manager who felt these lunch breaks were excessive and told him he had to make other arrangements. This employee came in the next Monday supposedly to give his notice. When he discovered his boss was scheduled to be out of the office the entire week he sent the following email to all employees:

“It has been nice working with everyone. I quit.”

He gave another manager his keys and phone, left and never came back.

To this day when someone talks about being stressed at work they laugh and say, but I’m not going to pull a “Jerry.” This employee whose excessive lunches most likely were protected through FMLA, after 20 years of employment was now a company joke.

In hindsight, when the above woman realized her boss wasn't going to improve her situation she should have started to plan her exit; getting her finances in order, updating her resume, and taking much needed time off.  When the time was right, she could then resign with a two-week notice.

So is it ever okay to quit without giving a two-week notice?

I think unless your employment is severely effecting your mental or physical health it is in your best interest long-term to give a two-week notice. Who knows they might escort you out the door regardless, but at least you are giving them the opportunity to ask you a question or two and are giving your co-workers time to wish you well. As Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, you go high.”

What do you think – is it ever okay to quit without giving a two-week notice?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Do I Have to Give Presentations?

I received the following email this week from a reader:

I'm writing to get some advice from you and your readers on a small issue I'm having at work. I work at a large university in the enrollment division. I am a content writer, in charge of content marketing for the departments in my division. I update websites, write press releases, create newsy blog posts, write emails to prospective students, and write and review hard copy publications like brochures. I do not actively recruit students for the university. I am behind the scenes. This type of work pretty much exactly suits my personality. I'm an introvert. Shy in some situations, but not all. I like to write. I do not like leading meetings, but will if I have to, and I do a good job of seeming personable. My problem is that some of the people in my department are on call to give presentations to visiting prospective students from time to time (when there are no admission counselors available to give them). My boss has hinted twice (but not outright asked or told me) that she'd like me to give a presentation once in a while. Which terrifies me because I am not a confident public speaker. Especially when I'm essentially pitching the university (like a sales pitch). Should I ask her if she'd like me to start giving presentations and, if so, voice my concerns to her? Or should I continue to do my job per my job description and hope she stops hinting?
Dear Reader:

I too am an introvert. Growing up I was also painfully shy. So much so, that when I ran into an old classmate from high school he said the thing he remembered most about me was how shy I had been. During my entire 12 years of undergraduate education and most likely my entire college education too, I never once spoke voluntarily in a class setting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to overcome this shyness and reluctance to speak in public. Now I routinely share my ideas in meetings and ask questions during seminars and presentations, but I still am and always will be an introvert. Please see my post Why Can't I Think on My Feet? Also, if you haven’t read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking read it now.


How did I overcome my reluctance to speak in public?

I became active in my professional organization. For three years, I introduced the speakers at our monthly meetings. The first few times, I dreaded those introductions and had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach just like I did during my former public speaking classes in high school and college. Then I realized that by practicing – for me five times was key – I felt prepared enough to make it through the introductions without embarrassing myself. Slowly I started asking questions during the presentations and during our meetings. The more successes I had the more confident I became.

Your boss is a weakling:
I actually think your boss is at fault for not being more frank. Hinting or guilting an employee into doing something they could be afraid to do is not a healthy management strategy. Meeting with prospective students should have been part of your job description. Since it was not, she should have formally discussed this with you. Since she did not…

What should you do?
I think you should bring this up with your boss sooner rather than later. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is to not spend a lot of time worrying about things my boss may want me to do. I now come right out and ask him – “do you want me to do X?” You could wait until you have a formal performance review or bring it up during a discussion about your work load or your job duties, but I wouldn’t wait too long or lose too much sleep over this one.

If your boss insists this is something she would like you to do, I would provide your reservations and tell her you don’t think quick on your feet. Ask to practice first. See if you can observe the admissions department give a tour, have them observe you during a presentation and interject if you struggle. At the very least she should be providing you with a sample script you could read through ahead of time. She can’t just spring this on you and expect you to do a good job and not be flustered.

It is also possible once she hears your reservations she may say you don’t have to do give these presentations. There have been board members in my organization who never give a speech at a major event. They are not comfortable speaking in public and since we want to give a good impression we have a more seasoned speaker fill in for them. There is also a manager at my company who had a panic attack a few days before a presentation that resulted in a visit to the emergency room. His presentation ended up going very well and he and our company received industry recognition for it. Afterwards when our President heard about the emergency room incident he said despite the good results he would never “insist” my co-worker give a presentation again.

Readers – what do you think? Should our reader talk to her boss or continue to hope she stops hinting?

Please note I am an Amazon affiliate.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Born for This by Chris Guillebeau

Motivation for Reading:

I'd been following Chris Guillebeau's blog for a few years, but hadn’t read any of his books. I even signed up to attend one of his events held in Milwaukee, but didn’t attend due to his flight being delayed. When I saw his book Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Dowas available for review on Blogging for Books I decided to give it a try.

What is Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do about?

It is basically a career guide to help readers find the work they are meant to do.

My Thoughts:

Before attending the first seminar of my working life, a colleague told me if I take one thing away from the seminar it was worth my time. I finished reading Born for This several weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about the 24-hour project. The project is exactly what the title suggests:
Call it your personal “hackathon,” a type of event popular in tech circles where small teams compete to launch start-ups or solve a specific problem in a limited period of time, typically fueled by caffeine and the occasional break to play ping-pong. You too can use this model to make a quick-and dirty product in a short period of time. All you need is 24 hours and, to be fair, a bit of advance preparation so you know what you’re getting into.” (Pg. 167)
Perhaps this is how I finally get my eBook written.

So for me, reading Born for This was not a waste of my time. Overall, I thought Guillibeau’s writing was engaging and I enjoyed the career stories he included to reinforce his ideas. As to the career suggestions themselves: identify what we really want, make better decisions and to take more risks. There really isn’t anything new. The benefit of Born for This is Guillibeau’s ability to motivate. His own story – setting a goal to visit every country in the world and actually achieving it is motivating in itself.

Bottom Line: 
If you are looking for a book with engaging stories to motivate you to make a career change you may enjoy this book. If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to make that change you will probably be disappointed with Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do..
Have you read this book?  If so what were your thoughts?

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.