Friday, May 30, 2008

Why am I driving on bike to work week?

One of the best things about not having a downtown, 9-to-5 job, has to be the lack of a commute. In my city, everyone pours from the burbs to the city centre every morning, and rush hour runs straight through from 7 am to 7 pm every single workday. Ah, but in my workplace, rush hour ends when the boys leave for school, and the only obstacle on my commute from the kettle in the kitchen to my desk at the other end of the house is tripping over laundry or the cat.
My poor husband, drives downtown to work most days, and complains daily about the traffic. And don't I feel smug most days.

Ah, but not this week. This week I am still working on a very big project in another municipality in my region, one that requires me to go over a bridge for ever meeting. Transit on their side of the water isn't very good, and many meetings have been early morning or evenings, so I've had to drive. A lot. Today I left home at 8:30 am for a 9:30 am meeting, and just got in now at noon (ok). I'm spending more time in my vehicle this week than I usually spend in months. And this week just happens to be Bike to Work Week.

You know that I'm training for a triathlon, so biking to work would be ideal for me. And you know I've tried to squeeze in workouts whenever I can. But biking to these meetings would require a good 90 minutes each way, and did I mention that once over the bridge it's all uphill? Anyhow, it's just not doable for me. So I have been unable to bike to work at all this week. Shame on me.

At least my family is evening out the carbon emissions, because my husband has biked to his work all week.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oh, the stress, or Why can't I turn off my brain

Yesterday was one of those freelancer days when I wish I had a normal nine-to-five job. My day began with a 45 minute drive at 7:30 am, a morning chock full of meetings, back to the home office at lunch, work for five hours straight, stop for dinner, rush kid to coach his t-ball game for an hour (at which said kid did not show best sportsmanship!), then back into car for another 45 minute drive to another meeting. All told, I basically worked from 7:30 am to 10 pm.

Then I was finally home, but my brain couldn't figure out that it was time to chill out and stop thinking. And therefore I couldn't sleep. I was up until well past 1:30 am, which I never, ever do, then up again at 5 unable to sleep again. I kept thinking about work stuff, about kid stuff, about things I need to do around the house. I just couldn't shut my brain off after using it so much the whole day.

So today I am sleep-deprived and in a pissy mood, and not getting a lot of worthwhile work done.

Remind me again why I like freelancing?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some blogs I like

I've been so busy with work this past week that I haven't blogged. In case anyone is still checking to see if I write anything, I thought I'd better get something up here quick. I don't know how other bloggers do it. I'm overwhelmed right now just keeping up with work comitments, trying to remember what my kids look like, and catch up with my husband in the hour of the evening between getting home from a work thing and passing out in bed from exhaustion! I guess I'll just have to fine time on the weekend for blog entries.

In the meantime, I thought I'd quickly write this and share a few blogs I've found in recent months that I really enjoy. All three of these ladies blog about career and generational stuff:

Shifting Careers: Marci Alboher writes a regular column in the dead tree edition of the New York Times, and has this super blog where she goes into detail about topics that interest her, mainly about career stuff, changing careers, and what she calls "slash" careers -- where you have more than one profession, like lawyer/writer/pastry chef.

Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist: Penelope is one of my all-time favourite bloggers. She puts her heart, sole, and toenails into her columns -- and they are columns, not just short blog entries. She's witty, funny, crass, insightful, and very entertaining. She has a huge following, which is a good thing because she seems to tick off her readers a lot, a sign of contraversy and wit! And not that I'm on Twitter, but she's posted her tweets on her blog and they are the best, funniest use of Twitter I've ever seen.

Generation Xpert Suzanne Kart belongs to Generation X, and she has a lot of smart, practical and funny insight into the generation gaps.



Friday, May 16, 2008

Is instability stable for my business?

I was bemoaning the up and down nature of my freelance business yesterday, when my husband said something interesting. He said, "The instability is your stability." Let's think about that.

It's true that every freelance business has busy times and not so busy times. Well, it has been certainly true for me over the last decade. I can't really plan what my workload will be very far in advance, because just when I think I know what's on my plate, something gets canceled, or moved ahead or pushed back, or something else drops in my lap that I couldn't turn down. I think it's part of my charm, and part of my success, that I take on last minute work whenever possible. But it's also to my detriment that every slow period gets me very bummed out.

Yet if I look back on my total billings for the past five years (this is my judgment period, because in the years before that I worked less cuz I was having babies), they've been pretty steady year over year, and in a good way. Even this year, when things were scary slow for, I thought, two or three months, I'm on track to do as well as I did last year. And even my month-over-month billings haven't varied too much this year.

So is my husband right? The one constant in my work life is that it's inconsistent, that I go through peaks and valleys, that these ups and downs make me alternatively depressed or stressed? I guess so. Now the big question, is that a stability I can live with?

Hmmmm. Gotta think about that one. Although I guess in truth, that's what this blog is all about, thinking about whether I can stand another 25 years of instability as the basis of my work life, in return for the freedom freelancing allows. I don't know the answer today, but I'm still young, I'll keep trying to figure it out.

Happy long weekend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Boring meeting game

Via FreelanceSwitch, I found a great game to play in boring meetings. Since I've just taken on a new project that involves a lot of meetings, I've decided to learn the rules but adapt them (tongue in cheek) to my meeting experience:

Game: Phrases that should have stayed behind in the 80s.

Stuck in a meeting for hours? Finding staying awake and alert a problem?
Keep alert by playing: ‘spot the meeting cliché’

How to score:

Score two points for a meeting attendee for each phrase uttered from the list below, double points if two phrases are used in the same sentence.

• On the same page
• Take offline
• Think outside the box
• Talk me through it
• Blue sky
• Best practice
• Singing from the same songsheet
• Paradigm
• Moving the goalposts
• At the end of the day
• Comfort zone
• Win-win situation
• Rock the boat
• Core competency
• Action item
• Touch base
• Synergy

Two extra points allocated for any or all of the following: Ponytails on men, crumpled linen jackets, bow ties, PowerPoint presentations including graphs, flip charts, socks in colours other than standard grey, black or navy, more than 4 x blackberrys on the table at any one time.

2 – 8 points: generally allowable, though cliché sources should be treated with disdain

8 - 12 points: approaching a high level of bullshit and waffle. Put your head in your hands whenever he/she talks.

12+ points: cliché alert. Have the speaker run for Head of State, CEO of a global corporate or establish an internet start-up company.

Now I'm actually looking forward to my meeting later this afternoon just to play!

Monday, May 12, 2008

I don't need to know everything, or Why I don't understand the holes the City is digging in my road

My street is under construction, and has been for two weeks running. The City has been systematically making its way from one side of my block to the other, digging up half the road lengthwise. They tell me they are installing new sewers, which I basically understand. I've seen the holes they dug, I've seen the big cement cylinders and the smaller blue cylinders that they put into the big holes they dig. But now they're on their second pass, and this I don't get. They are digging back up the parts they dug last week, which they had covered with gravel (oh the number of dump trucks I've seen!). The workers tell me they now have to reconnect the houses on the other side of my street up to the new sewers.

Now I don't understand all this. I don't know why they didn't just do the connecting the first time they dug, instead of covering up and digging again. And I don't really know what it means to connect a home to a new sewer. I assume it has something to do with pipes into or out of the house, but I don't really get all that.

Anyhow, I was thinking tonite that I don't really care to understand it. After all, it's the homes across the street they're reconnecting, not my home. And while my neighbor across the way was out having long chats with the workmen, I don't really care to know the details. I am, by nature, a very curious person, but I've realized that I am content not knowing every detail about everything.

And this is also my attitude to technology, I've decided. I do not need to be an early adopter of the latest tech toys or the new Web star. I can wait to buy an iPhone (if they ever get to Canada). I didn't have an MP3 player until a few years ago. I only got onto Facebook last year. And I have no interest in Twitter, even though a social media expert I heard speak tonite says it is the next big thing.

I like to know the basics. I understand what Twitter is and how it's being used, but I don't need to know every detail. I understand that the work on my street is about installing new sewers, but I don't need to know exactly what's in the holes they dug.

I don't think this is a lack of curiosity on my part, but rather a mellowing that has come with age. I've realized that it's a big world out there and I cannot know it all. When I was 25, I think I thought I could know everything if I just tried hard enough. Now I know I can't be an expert on everything. I'll never understand Chinese politics or astrophysics or how cricket is played. I have learned some limitations to my knowledge, and I'm okay with it. I know I could find the answers if it were important to me, but I also know I don't have to know it all.

I guess that's a sign of maturity, right?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Biking to work

My consulting business has gotten very busy this month, which is great. And I think some of the clients I'm working with have potential to be longer term. My partnership is working out well too. We put in a bid for a project and we won it, so now we're knuckling down to do the work.

All this is great, but it's meant a lot less free time. Such is the life of a freelancer, of course. But when you're a busy professional and a mom, finding time for workouts gets harder and harder when your day life gets busier (and when you have to go back to the computer after the kids are in bed too!). So my triathlon training suffered a bit, until the sun came out.

We've had a lot of yucky weather in Vancouver this Spring, with lots of rain, not much sun, and here it is May but temps are still below 'seasonal', meaning the heat is still on, we're all wearing jackets and my son's t-ball games are being played without sunshine. Still there are some sunny moments, and they inspired me.

For the past few weeks, whenever I have a meeting within about 10 km of my home, I've biked. This may not seem like a big deal, but I live on a hill, in a hilly city, and there's a lot of uphill I have to bike through to get anywhere in any direction, especially returning home. But the city is also under siege by construction, so biking isn't really taking me much longer than busing or driving. And it gets my workouts in during the workday.

The best part is my wardrobe, which I believe I now have down a science. I don't want to take meetings in my biking tights, so I bring a change of clothes, but I 'change' in public. I wear 3/4 length lights and a black tank top under my biking shirt/jacket. When I get there, I change my runners for nice flats, pull a long skirt over my tights, take my biking shirt off (still wearing the tank -- see I'm never undressed!), and put on a nice top over my tank top. And voila, you'd never know I was on a bike. And since most of my meetings are downhill from me, I don't arrive too sweaty.

Last week I had a meeting at City Hall, which is on a busy street. I arrived, locked my bike on the rack right in front of the building, and proceeded to change. A driver who was sat at a red light on the street before me made wolf whistles as I changed. And frankly, I loved it!

But today's downtown meeting has just been canceled, so I guess I'll have to go biking sometime before I serve my kids dinner. Still gotta pound out those miles -- I mean kilometres.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mid career = 2 years?

A job posting crossed my desk last week from my professional organization. It was with a government organization I'm interested in working with (not necessarily a job, maybe consulting), so it peaked my interest. Right away I realized it wasn't for me, because the salary offered was at least 30% below anything I'd consider. But the part that has me bugged this morning is this:

You are an experienced mid-career ... professional who thrives in a fast-paced environment....You hold a post-secondary degree or diploma in communications, public relations or journalism and have two years as a Junior Public Affairs Officer or an equivalent combination of education and experience.

Since when is two years experience mid-career? And since when do "mid-career" jobs pay just above entry level salaries?

Who writes these things?!