Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ghost blogging taking up too much time

I know it's silly to have a blog then post nothing for a month or two except a self-pitying birthday note. I'm a sad little blogger.

At least I am here. But I've been blogging my heart out elsewhere for a client, and it's been a strange experience.

For my part time job (no, they haven't let me go yet), I've been writing blog entries for three months now. The association I work for is taking a stand as a third party in the election going on now in my province, and among our tactics is to host a blog and to twitter. And as the resident writer, I've been writing nearly all of it.

At first it was just another writing assignment, one that required me to think against my own ideology. My name isn't anywhere on it, and just as well since my personal politics are quite a bit left of my employer's, so I could have fun with it. Still, my president read everything before I posted it and he notched up the right-wing rhetoric and/or the nastiness a bit every time. So one day I decided to do it his way and let him notch me down if needed. It was right around the time that the party we're against had a candidate make anti-Zionist comments, which offended me personally. And after that I had a small axe of my own to grind, and got a bit more nasty myself

Anyhow, for the last while I've been having a great time blogging for them. I write pithy comments, find fun stuff to blog about or tweet, and have really loved the writing.

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to air my personal problems in a public, yet semi-anonymous way, and to talk them out loud (in print). But it was also to become more familiar with the world of blogging. Clients of mine need me to explain these kinds of things like social media, so the better I understood them, the better I could do my job. And I've gained a lot of experience about what to do right (and even more about what to do wrong). But blogging for my client these last few months, I've gained an even better understanding of how to blog.

Now can I call myself a "social media expert" too?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

41...and counting

Today is my 41st birthday. And so far I'm not all that excited.

Forty was a big year.I did the triathlon, I challenged my assumptions about work. I started blogging. We took a trip to celebrate. Things happened around my 40th birthday. But 41? Nada.

Now, as I drift deeper into my 40s, birthdays are nothing special. I know, birthdays lost their luster sometime between 13 and 30, but either way, it doesn't seem worth bothering with a birthday anymore. I don't mind admitting my age, and am not suggesting that I'll hide it or start counting backwards or anything (don't laugh--I know several women who do just that once they get to 39!). But what's the point of this day itself anymore?

My day so far? Well, for starters, I'm still sick. I have had the flu for six days, and while this is my third day without a fever, I'm still lethargic, low in appetite and coughing et al. So fun fun there. I woke up at the usual early hour of 7:01 when my younger son charged in to tell us the time and ask permission to go downstairs. No "happy birthday mommy" or hugs or anything. Then hubby rolled over to show me he woke up happy, but still no greeting. So I get up, shower, and come back to the room to get dressed. At last hubby remembers to say Happy Birthday. Woopie. I go down where younger son remembers and hugs and kisses ensue momentarily, but frankly I need to leave to catch my bus. Older son ignores me and says nothing right until I walk out the door.

Lucky me today is an office day, so I start my work day with a meeting that piles on more work, where I firmly stick my foot in my mouth and later get chastised for it by my boss. Oh yeah, and for good measure he mentions that he is still unsure about working with me long term. Just when I was feeling mildly secure in my part time job. Not that he was being mean. I probably deserved it after the foot-in-mouth thing. I tell boss that he is taking up more of my time lately than agreed. He says figure it out -- stop doing some of my work. Not the answer I wanted (I wanted to bring in more help or be paid for more time). Not a great workday so far.

I got an e-card from my father. What ever happened to paper cards or phone calls? I did get a card from the office gang, which was a surprise since I didn't think they knew when my birthday was, as I'm a contractor and never had to fill in employment forms. But they did, so I have one of those cute cards where everyone writes a few cute words. It's sweet, in a not-very-personal kind of way.

And now I'm working the rest of the day here, feeling discontent with the job, worrying about all the other work I have to do this week when we're supposed to take the kids to Seattle tomorrow for a couple days of Spring Break. And feeling a bit sorry for myself that my birthday is such a non-event.

So I think next year I will lower my expectations significantly. Getting a year older is fine, but expecting the birthday itself to be special is silly. It's an antiquated idea I've carried over from my childhood, and once I think it's time I outgrew. I am not 10, nor am I 30. Maybe at 50 I can step up expectations a bit, for the next eight years after today, I'll expect nearly nothing.

And who knows, if the kids surprise me with a big dinner and cards and gifts (which I guess might still be waiting for me at home tonite), it will be even sweeter.

I think that's the lesson I've learned in turning 41 -- lower expectations make it much easier to let life exceed expectations. Seems kinda sad for a birthday lesson, but I'm old now, I guess I'm allowed to wallow a bit, right?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reading resumes

Today a colleague at my part time job asked me to read over some resumes that had come in for a position he's hiring. I had written the job description, and while the job is for an executive assistant, there is hope this person we hire will have some communications skills to back me up, at least in an administrative capacity. So he asked me to read the resumes, the stack I got having been already filtered once to weed out the chaff. And I found myself surprised all the same at the reasons I had for ranking people.

It's funny what sticks out in a resume. One woman left a period off the end of her first paragraph. One girl's resume printed with really weird formatting. One lady wrote in what I think she thought was a witty style, but it came off as brash and self-important. Not a one of the resumes I saw mentioned the two software programs we listed as assets for the job. None mentioned that they had experience in the two industries our association works in, despite the assocation being clearly identified.

I think the strangest thing to catch my eye, though, was how much I liked reading about their interests or extra-curricular activities. One lady was into drag racing. She had a really strong resume, but the drag racing just made her seem so interesting. She's getting an interview.

For years as a freelancer I've heard about resume writing and how HR people look for anything to get one off the read-me pile -- anything to reject you -- but until I had to go through them today myself it hadn't really hit home. So here are a few tips from me:

1. Write a targeted cover letter: Don't just regurgitate the job description, but do address the main points. Don't just tell me you're the ideal candidate -- show me why. We really do read the cover letters -- they are much more than window dressing.

2. Proofread, spellcheck and PDF: The format and style of your resume does matter. Spelling mistakes are fatal, especially for a job description that includes admin work and proofreading. And bad formatting can ruin your chances, so always PDF the file you're sending to be sure it will print the way you want it to. We do print them out.

3. Be interesting: Finding the right person is all about how they'll fit in, so tell the employer something about yourself that isn't in descriptions of previous jobs. What do you do with your spare time?

4. Explain why you're job hunting: There's a recession on, so lots of people are looking for work. There's no shame in it, but you need to explain why you're looking. Want to go from part time to full time? Returning to work after a break? Bad fit at your last job? It's the same thing as meeting a great single person -- if you're such a great catch, why are you available?

5. Show that you know something about the company you are applying to: If it's a small office, say why a small office suits you. If it's in a particular industry, show that either you know the industry or that you're able to get up to speed quickly. Read the company's website, even if it's an admin job. It will give you the edge.

I hope we find the right candidate here. I can't say any of the ones I read today struck me as the ideal person, but interviews should help us figure that out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I dropped a ball

As a working mom, and more importantly I think, as a working freelancer, I am constantly juggling dozens of balls at any time. I have many clients, and have to keep all their issues in my head, all their tasks on my to-do lists (and I must have to-do lists!), and I have to remember to account for my time and bill and so on.

As a mom, I have to keep track of everyone's schedules, book lessons and playdates, sitters and daycares, summer camps and carpet cleaners, and so on.I live my life by the watch and the calendar, constantly trying to get everything done on time, kids to bed at the right moment, dinner served right at six, and so on.

It's a seriously difficult juggling act. And this week I dropped a ball.

I missed a key deadline. Not for a client, but for my son. I missed the Thursday deadline to sign him up for little league this Spring. And because I was two days late getting the application in, the league we've played in for two years (and I mean "we", since I've been coaching his team all this time), the one we really felt a part of, the one his closest friends play in, the sport he loves above all others, says they won't let him play this year. Somehow, if I'd gotten the application in on Thursday, they'd have had a place for him, but by Saturday, they didn't.

Now, it's not as dire as it sounds, because the league in the next neighborhood over from us is not as uptight as our old league about living within their boundaries, and their registration deadline was Sunday, and he will know a few kids from school who play in that league, and it's not that far from where we live. And they guaranteed him a spot. So he'll play there, and I will coach.

But of course both he and I are very upset about our old league. They had really made us feel a part of the community, of the little league association, or something important. And for two days, they've tossed us to the curb (and I begged, all weekend, but their exact words were "We're full. He's on the waiting list, but don't hold your breath."). I feel like I've been duped this past two years into belonging to something to which I never really mattered.

And we'll have to go back to the first league next year or the year after, because the in-boundary thing matters the older the kids get and the better they play (for all stars, etc.). But I won't coach for them again. I've been burned.

Anyhow, this bad thing happened, along with all the bad feelings, because I dropped a ball. I forgot about the deadline.

My son has forgiven me, but I haven't. I went out yesterday and bought a new wipe-off calendar for the fridge, with colour coded markers to write down everyone's schedules. And I held my first family meeting, telling everyone to take responsibility for their own schedules, and stop expecting me to remind you every day of swimming lessons and vet appointments.

I don't know how long the new system will work, especially because my husband hasn't bought into it. But at least it makes me feel like maybe I don't have to juggle everything alone.

Still, I dropped an important ball, and can't let that happen again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What generation are my kids?

Via GenXpert, I found another Gen X blogger, The Gen X Files, which led me to an interesting thought. Dave who writes this blog is a Gen Xer, and has a couple of kids, the younger of whom is 8, about the same age as my older son. And Dave says his kids are Millenials, or Gen Y. But are they?

I know we like to put labels on everything, to put people into convenient boxes so we can classify them, clarify them, and of course market to them. And that works to some degree, but sometimes we draw the box too broadly.

Take the boomers. They've been defined as the children of the post-war generation who came of age in the 60s and 70s. Who are now entering the last decade or so of work, starting to be grandparents, etc. I loved the label Generation X when Douglas Copeland first defined it. We were the gap generation, not the boomers, not the children of boomers. Our parents were born during World War Two. We came of age in the 80s, and entered the work world right when all the boomers swelled the ranks and left no openings, when bad times hit the economy and our hopes of life-long employers like our parents had had was a wasted dream.

The generation right after us, the echo boom, Gen Y, Millenials, or whatever name they go by, had it better. Their parents hovered, sheltered, and made life easier for them (which is in no way to be interpreted as a swipe at our parents, who did a fine job!). Because they were numerous where Gen X was few, they were a desired audience, so media paid attention to them in spades, as did marketers. They grew up in a more digital world, with video games, home computers, and ubiquitous cell phones and internet. They wouldn't know how to dial a rotary phone, load the paper in a typewriter, or maybe even crank the film forward in a camera.

Right. That's us, that's them. But what about my kids? They are the children of Gen Xers through and through, born at the beginning of the 2000s (does that decade have a name yet?). They are growing up in the shadow of Gen Y, although that shadow is nowhere near as suffocating as the boomers' shadow under which I grew up. Are they a generation of their own, or will they be lumped in with the group 15-20 years older than them? What do we know about my children's generation?

Wikipedia defines Gen Y as born right up to 2000. My son was born in 2001. Some have called this group Generation Z (we're going to run out of letters soon!). Another Wikipedia article says Generation Z starts with those born after 1997 (although the same article as says those born after 1991).

While my googling is hardly extensive research, I think it helps prove my point that whatever generation and whatever their defining characteristics come to define my children, they are not Gen Y. I hope their generation gets what ours lacked -- enough numbers to have advantages but small enough to not lose out in the workplace.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Being without a job is new to Gen Y

I have spent most of my career being between jobs. Of course, I've been basically freelancing for the last dozen years, so that's to be expected. But it's also a function of my generation.

I entered the work force around 1990, when a recession was underway (nothing like this one, which is global, but still there were no jobs) and full time jobs were unheard of for the average university grad. My parents worked for the same employers most of their working lives, but I came to work not expecting to stay anywhere for too long. Luckily I managed to cobble together a career out of it, but being without work was a pretty common thing for me.

So I pity the newly unemployed Gen Ys, especially those just starting to buy homes and start families. Because they've spent their entire working careers in a labour environment where they could call all the shots, ask for the moon and get it. And now this, where they may not be able to find any work, or at least any work above serving coffee at Starbucks (or are they laying off too?).

Okay, maybe pity isn't the first word I would have used there. I'm a typical Gen Xer -- bitter about the raw hand demographics and timing have dealt me, so part of me can't help but smirk, maybe even chuckle, at this situation Gen Yers are now in, because it's about time they felt my pain.

But then today I read Penelope Trunk's column on what to say to someone who'd been laid off, and her straightforward, make-it-easier-on-them advice kind of shamed me. So now it's more like pity.

And in that case, I offer some advice. You'll get through it, you'll still manage in the long run, and people like me are here to help if we can.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Twitter -- is there a point?

A friend and colleague dragged me into Twitter last week, and while I've now got 20 followers and have posted a bunch of stuff, I'm not sure I see the point yet. So people are pointing me to some links. Don't they have jobs to do that make these constant posts difficult? Isn't hearing from them once or even twice a day on Facebook enough?

What can you do on Twitter that you can't do on Facebook or email? How can it have any effect on my business or even my life? I can see how mundane it can be to see what everyone had for breakfast, but is it any less mundane to know what a blogger friend is working on before she posts to her blog?

I'm still waiting to see why I'd need this. In the meantime, I'll go tweet something terribly profound. Like how the sun is shining in Vancouver today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

No job? Join the army

Via Penelope Trunk, I found a link to an article from a couple months back that says that the recession is driving up enrollment in the US military. I suppose it makes sense. When the jobs disappear in this economy, rich 20-somethings will go back to university, and poor Gen Ys will enlist. Seems like a reasonable idea, unless there were a war on. Oh wait, there is a war on. Two in the US, last I looked.

In some cases, the peace of mind that comes with good benefits and a regular paycheck is overcoming concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which any new enlistee is likely to join.

Doesn't seem fair that poorer Americans are forced into this kind of choice.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Haven't posted for a while now...

I have become one of those people who has a blog but doesn't write on it. I guess I thought no one was listening, and got a bit tired of writing to myself. But maybe that's the point. If I write to myself, maybe others will come.

So I'm posting today, and will try to do it more often.

Of course, today's not the best day for this for me. I'm annoyed with my kids, my work, my clients, etc. I'm in a funk. You know, one of those moods where nothing in particular is wrong but you're upset anyhow, where you feel a bit angry but are not really sure at what. Where you have the vague sense that tears are close to the surface but there's nothing going on in particular that makes you want to cry.

That mood. Maybe it's hormones. After all, 41 is just around the corner, and I hear pre-menopause can start anytime now. Or maybe it's a general sense of dread because after my first mammogram last month, they want me to come in for a follow-up mammogram tomorrow. They're very reassuring -- it happens all the time, could be nothing -- but still I worry.

Or maybe that's not it. Maybe I'm just in a mood. But hey, I wrote about it. Anyone reading?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back to work in a big way

As a freelancer, there are busy times and slow times. I used to think I could predict the slow times. Summers were slow, so anything from late May to late August was slow. Christmas is a slow time, and anything after December 1 until January 5ish was slow.

There are exceptions. Some years I've had immensely busy summers. Well, one year. And a few times I had busy Christmas seasons, since I don't celebrate Christmas and agreed to work through the holiday time. But generally, these rules hold true.

When work is generally steady and busy, the slow times are a luxury. You can take it easy, enjoy the chance to shop, hang out, meet people for coffee, network, even spend time with the kids. And not worry about work, since things will pick up soon. Some lucky years I even had projects lined up to start in September or January, so I didn't have to worry about the slow times at all.

Of course, when things haven't gone terribly well in what ought to be the busy months, slow times are very tough. You can't enjoy the quiet because you're freaking out about when the next thing will come through.

Lucky enough (and surprisingly, given the general "freak out" about the bad economy), this is one of the enjoy-the-slow-season years. Summer was pretty calm, and I knew by late July that I'd have this part-time job coming in September, which guaranteed me a decent income and enough work to see me through. So I enjoyed the summer, took it easy, and spent time with my kids. Still, I was pretty grateful for school to start up again and them to head back out of my house and me to knuckle back down.

And now I have just finished a couple quiet weeks over Christmas, knowing that I still have the part time job for now, and that another contract was starting up this week. So I did take it easy over the break. It helped that I was snowed in a lot of the last two weeks and had little choice about going anywhere. But I actually enjoyed hanging out at home, seeing more of my kids (that's a first for me!), and taking it easy. I did have some work, and even came into the office for one day. But mostly it was quiet.

But all that changed this week. The new contract did come through and I have to kick it into high gear starting now. And the job is still here, and after a sit down with the President this morning, I've got a huge to-do list. Plus the project I did slowly over the holidays is back for revisions, which I must do this week.

Suddenly I'm in busy mode again. But for the first time, I'm finding it hard to get my ass in gear and put my nose to the grindstone (did I just mix metaphors?). I want to go back to the lazy mornings and easy days. I want to take it easy and not carry around the mental stress of all the work I have to do.

Alas, such is the life of a freelancer. Busy is good, because busy means income. So I'm supposed to be happy about this stage.

The only silver lining for me this week is that we're going on vacation next week. Six days till sun and sand. And all my clients know I'm going, and are working around me. Of course, such is also the lot of a freelancer. To take time off, I have to work extra hard before I go, keep on top of emails while I'm gone, then work extra hard when I return. But hopefully, I'll leave the mental stress behind and enjoy the beach.

Of course, we're taking the kids, so it's not like I can leave ALL the stress behind. ;-)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Recession will be tough for Gen Y

This isn't my first recession. I believe my career was defined in large part by the lack of work that came out of the last recession in the 90s, just when I finished school. So this doesn't scare me as much as it might some of the newer workers whose entire careers have been focused around their wants and needs. And part of me can't help but gloat a bit about that.

This Dilbert cartoon really sums it up: