Learning Lessons Post-Graduation

My major in college was Communications, with a focus in Public Relations. In the first two years, a lot of what I learned within my field was what some might refer to as “the basics.” Most of the information included swivelvocab words I aced on a test but would forget two weeks after the final exam. Don’t get me wrong, these classes were important in that they were an overview of the subject to which I was about to devote 4 years of school, not to mention the rest of my foreseeable career.

Later on, classes became more “practical.” Lessons referred to actual case studies. Our minds were tested on more than just words, but rather the application of techniques. In my senior year I took an extremely beneficial class that included all hands-on PR work. We even ran our own campaign for the local branch of the East Coast Greenway (and so I continue my “mandatory boasting”).

Obviously all my classes were important (in their own special way…), but I always found that the teachers who best knew how to teach Public Relations had actually worked in Public Relations. There is a difference between studying and doing, and when a favorite professor of mine failed to get a promotion simply because she didn’t have a Masters degree, I felt outraged! There was no doubt that her 20+ years of experience had proven more helpful to her students then any textbook teacher.

Well, I seem to be going off on a tangent from my original point of post.

I’ve been in the “real world” for about 2 years now, which means I’m just new enough to remember school, and just old enough to realize that there were some key points that our Communications lessons failed to mention. And so I have compiled a nice little list of things I wish I had learned in school, though perhaps some of these are merely lessons we each have to learn from actual experiences.

1. More Microsoft Suite, please.

I will admit that I’m grateful for having been trained to work on both Mac (my preference) and PC while in school, but despite what I had considered a thorough training in each field, I find that there was much still to learn. In particular– Microsoft Office. Let’s face it, unless you’re working for some fancy-pants (exaggeration) company, you’re probably dealing with Office ’98 on a PC from an equally distant past. Now here’s the thing– I thought I knew Excel pretty well. Nope. Barely scratched the surface. And don’t get me started on Publisher, a program I have since learned to worship as a god of efficiency. Oh, and Mail Merge. Mail Merging documents is a glorious time saver and I shudder to think of my life without it (I recently had to print out 800+ personalized letters…imagine typing each name and address…one at a time…I feel sick…).

2. Customer Service a.k.a. basic manners and tact

I don’t care what job you have, 95% of us will have to deal with customers/clients. Honestly, the majority of ‘customer service’ is basic etiquette. Watch what you say and the tone you say it in. Also, it extremely important that you learn to read people– position your statement or argument by what they value or feel. Simple social interaction is very important, especially in situations when you find yourself addressing someone who keeps you employed and helps pay your salary. The customer may not always be right, but you sure as hell should pretend they are.

The other half of social interaction, especially in the not-for-profit field, is the schmoozing. You may be making a measly salary, but you’ll often find yourself around the kind of people who spend the equivalent of your monthly income on one night of drinks. Here is where you must become a human chameleon; once again– read the audience. Fit in, but don’t put on airs. Be yourself, but maybe not the same self you present when hanging out with friends. Oh, and it’s probably a safe bet to say you should steer away from commenting on your own pile of student loans…they may be rich but they’re actually not looking to adopt a 25-year-old drowning in debt (drats!).

3. Writing. Editing. Simple, right? Wrong.

Years of writing classes, essays, and research papers– All for what? Well, I promise you one thing, practice makes perfect with writing and all that ‘practice’ will sure as hell come in handy in the career world. You will find yourself writing, no matter what your job:  composing an email to your boss, a proposal for a new program, a post for the website. You will write, and you will be judged. Perhaps one of the most disheartening moments of my (albeit brief) career thus far was finding out that one of my bosses, whose tactics and work ethic I admire, was an incredibly terrible writer. My respect for her didn’t decrease, though I will admit a slight wavering. Anyway, one of my personal favorite things to do for work is write. Because of that, I’ve been given more and more responsibility in different spheres of the organization. People take notice when you can write well. It will get you places and it will get you things– possibly just more work for the same salary, but you can’t beat the respect that goes along with it. So take advantage of all the writing you will do in school– not necessarily that paper about John Milton’s Paradise Lost; teacher’s should stress the different forms of writing, and how to make your point clear and concise (I always fail at the concise part).

4. Office Environment 101

Perhaps this is where the mandatory internships and learning from experience come in, but I don’t think I got a full dose of the Office Environment until my current job. So what is the “Office Environment”? Basically it’s another version of entering a new school: Where do you eat lunch? Who can you complain about work to? How should you dress? What sort of supplies do you need? Of course, the Office has a whole new set of learning blocks, for instance: How do I use a fax/copier/printer? Who handles my paycheck?  What’s the difference between vacation days and personal days? What are these mysterious “benefits” I suddenly have as a full time employee? How do I navigate the computer system? Most of these things are answered easily enough (hint: befriend the HR department), but its just the idea of playing by a whole new set of rules that can be difficult. So what should school have taught us about ‘Office Environment’? Basically that we just when we thought we were out of middle school, we get sucked back in. Minus the detentions, but plus the overtime without extra pay. Oh, and expect drama. Always with the drama.

5. How to work on a zero dollar budget

Okay, this is more of a personal one. Or perhaps other not-for-profit workers at small organizations can relate. I have literally been told to plan events on a $0 budget, to “use what we have,” and to somehow make money off of it. Pinterest is a saving grace, as is a vivid imagination. And then, of course, there is my own wallet which, when all else fails, sometimes comes into play. Thankfully, nowadays I’m usually given a small budget or reimbursed for my contributions, but never underestimate the importance of being able to work with barely a dime.

 

Remember, this list applies specifically to my own experience. I’m not attempting to rewrite any Senior Year curriculum, nor panic any soon-to-be-grads. In fact, I would be very interested in hearing what other people have encountered as educational blind spots– What is something that has proved so crucial in your career, that you didn’t learn in college but wish you had? Then again, maybe some of these things can only be learned from actual experience. What do you think?

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Just Be Kind

I like quotes. I’ve collected quotes for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I like them because of their message, other times I struck by the perfect combination of words. And while I could fill pages and pages (or should I say posts and posts) with favorites, I do think that perhaps one of the most important quotes I’ve ever come across is the following:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Plato (though apparently the author of this adage remains up to debate)

I was reminded of this saying today when, at the grocery store, I ran into a woman I know from my job. She tragically lost her only daughter a little less than a year ago. My immediate reaction, as it always is when I run into someone I know, was to say the typical: “Hey! How are you?” with a (not insincere, nor completely natural) grin plastered to my face. And of course, that is exactly how I greeted her. She was kind, we traded casual conversations–small talk about the frustrations of grocery shopping on a Sunday, and then we parted ways. It was a very brief conversation, but the whole time my mind was racing, thinking about the pain she must feel for the loss of her child. How each trip to the grocery store might wrack her with memories. How she was no longer buying the types of foods her daughter once loved. How every child she passed was a reminder of what she no longer had. Of course I didn’t express any of this. In fact, this was all projection on my part; emotions that I could only imagine I would feel in her situation. But it hit me– here is one woman in a store of hundreds. I happen to know her and know her story, or at least the bare minimum of her and her husband’s saga that eventually led to the loss of a young and sick child. Here is this one woman who I know has had this incredibly difficult ordeal. But what about the other people in this store right now? How many of them have recently had such terrible losses?

We all struggle with our own inner demons. Our issues vary in complexity, but not importance. We all have our own shallow troubles that can be blown out of proportion, but at the time they truly do feel like the end of the world. And, unfortunately, most of us will also have not-so-shallow drama; we will feel the all-consuming, mind-numbing pain of grief after an ordeal of such magnitude that it changes our entire world. At different phases of our life we have different worries and fears, but we are all fighting a battle. At the root of it, life is not easy. We will experience fun and adventure, but no one is without pain.

Now, as someone who dislikes conflict and cringes in the face of confrontation, my personal belief system focuses greatly upon the concept of being kind to everyone. Yes, everyone. I’m a thorough advocate of the “kill ’em with kindness” theory. But that’s another story. The point I’m trying to make is that it is SO incredibly important to be kind to one another. It takes little extra effort but makes a world of difference. We are all struggling, maybe not today or tomorrow, but each and every one of us is fighting something. Understand that, accept that, embrace that, act upon that assumption.

I may be something of a peace monger (in fact, I have a whole theory that World Peace could be achieved by nothing more than puppy dogs and warm cookies– an idealist doctrine, to be sure, but it would certainly work for me). The bottom line, however, is that this world is never without its hardships, so why not do our part to add a little more pleasantness to it.

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Social Media Through MY Ages

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We live in an age of constant updates, reposts, comments and likes. Who we are as an individual is greatly defined by the person we present ourselves to be on our social media sites– mainly because the majority of our ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ are (barely) acquaintances whom we might have met once at summer camp back in 1998. However, oddly enough, this doesn’t stop us from wanting to know exactly what they are doing, with whom, and how. Through the years, I feel we use social media different. Not just because one year we enjoy posting 140 character statuses and the next we can’t get enough of putting vintage-y filters on pictures of our pets. As we change and grow, the way we use and even interpret social media changes with us. But alas, this is far from a scientific discovery. Instead, I shall dazzle you with my own personal experience: Social Media Through My Ages.

Background for this– I was born in 1989. Graduated high school in 2007. College in 2011. Do the math, figure it out. Where in the world was social media at each point in time?

2003: MySpace made us realize that we could only have a certain number of “top” best friends. Like middle school needed more drama.

2006: Facebook stopped being an Ivy League gossip column and became accessible to everyone 13 and up.

2010: Welcome to Twitter, where brevity is the soul of wit.

2011: Time Magazine calls Pinterest a “top” website. Pin that where the sun don’t shine, Martha Stewart!

2012: Instagram hits over 100 million, because sometimes words are hard.

(Oh, and WordPress: 2003. Thanks for the outlet, guys!)

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Don’t pretend like you didn’t love these too!

Young’un Social Meda: The only way to describe this Age is: Foolishness. Myspace taught me so much about myself– mainly in the form of answering really deep information for my profile like who my favorite boy band was that week or the number of letters in my crush’s first and last name. Soon sparkly doll pictures could be added and at that point I absolutely knew I needed my own computer (Kids, back in my day, a “first computer” meant a 50lb clunker that took up at last 35% of my total tiny room space. I think I even had to move my blow-up blue sparkly chair out to make space!). Hours were spent changing backgrounds or, more importantly, finding the “cool” websites for those “cool” backgrounds (and glittery pictures, did I mention those?). On the plus side, my extensive use of MySpace supplied with my limited knowledge of HTML. If you wanted to make your profile REALLY cool, you needed to know all the secrets. So in-between IM-ing with friends, thinking up some pretty sweet Away Message (most of mine were quotes, like Mark Twain quotes, and I remember thinking that I was pretty darn cool for that), and updating my MySpace page, I slowly realized I had less and less time to interact with my friends face-to-face. Oh well, maybe we can have a sleepover tomorrow night and check out our MySpace pages as we doodle with gel pens and watch the latest episode of Lizzie McGuire. Sigh, nostalgia.

Early College Social Media: Surprisingly, little changed in our intents and purposes, but the format became much more sophisticated (by which I mean no more glittery pictures…well, for a of couple years). When we were younger, posts were all about trying to outdo and impress. I remember going away to college and feeling the intense need to prove that I was “having a great time” and had made all these fantastic new friend. Truth? While I did make great friends, my first year was plagued by homesickness and anxiety. Not that my social media pals would ever have known. Nor would I have known any fear or sadness taking place in their lives. Everything was dorm rooms, parties, new friends, awesome campuses, and “oh man, so much work!” Maybe our close friends knew how we really felt, but the 500 other people you graduated high school with were under the belief that everyone but themselves was living the best life ever. Of course, it also just occurs to me that maybe I’m alone here and everyone else really WAS living the BEST life ever their freshman year of college…

Current Social Media: At this point in my life, I find that my use of social media is primarily used for its originally intended purpose: keeping in touch with people who are in all different places. Well, that and a healthy dose of “stalking” those I might not know quite as well. We grow older and our friendship groups expand and disperse. There are the people we grew up with, the people we went to high school with, the people we went to college with, the people we used to work with, and then the people who are currently still in our lives, but– all factors considered–may soon also become former friends/schoolmates/coworkers, like the rest. Then, there is the element of contrast and compare. Face it, we look at other people’s lives and we, not so much envy them, but observe them in a selfish sort of way. Maybe we think: well, that would be nice. And in other situations we smile and think: good thing I didn’t end up like that. Whether it’s for daydreaming, self-affirmation or just to see what other paths people have traveled, something about social media keeps us company and support as we continue down our own path.

My Parent’s Social Media: And then there are the group that I will call “my parents,” though that’s technically not correct since none of my parents really partake in social media. For the most part, the baby-boomers whose social media presence I’ve studied are usually the parents of friends or even older coworkers. These “parents” are of a generation where they are just old enough to not have had it for most of their lives, but just young enough to learn the basics. The majority of their use is for reposting: recipes, chain posts, and the more than occasional “let’s see how many likes we can get for [insert often silly, probably fake reason/noun here].” Of course, it’s also used to keep in contact with friends. Many reconnect with former schoolmates or workmates. These are even more intersting reunions because rather than having become “facebook friends” while still knowing each others, these two will have been separated for decade before reconnecting. And, let’s face it, the kid who lived next door to your mom when they were growing up, is not that same person at 18 as they are at 58. There are whole lives to be caught up on. Oh, and of course there is the main reason why many “parents” have signed up for social network sites, though they’ll never admit to it and have since caught the social media bug themselves: They’re spying on their children. I mean, how else are you going to know what’s going through the mind of your 18 year old son. He’s not going to share with you directly but he will, oddly enough, share with 600 of his closest friends. No shame, parents. No shame.

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Oh, and these gems. Parents love these gems.

Years have passed, websites have developed, and vehicles of communication have multiplied (oh, have they multiplied!). The only constant in this crazy world is that things will continue to change: social media channels, technology, and our lives. And we will continue to come up with new and exciting ways to find out what a person we met once back in 2003 (you know, a cousin of a friend’s friend or the like) is up to now. And that’s okay. For whatever purposes we use social media, it will be there for us.

Bon Mots, Blood, Brother’s Blog.

Following up my last post comes the mandatory promotion of my brothers new blog.

It’s called Bon Mots & Blood and here’s why you should be interested in it:

It offers well-written reviews of books and video games by a variety of talented authors.

Or, to quote from the site’s About page:

“Here at bm&b, our goal is to give you reviews of over-critiqued books and criticisms of under-critiqued video games.

We can also offer excellent taste in indie rock music, scotch, theories as to why television is increasingly better than cinema, and pictures of dogs.”

So please, go check it out. And tell him his oh-so-talented sister sent you!

The Permanency of a Digital Legacy

Around the time of her 80th birthday, my Grandmother decided to write down her memoirs. Not for publication or as some sort of formal biography, but simply as a keepsake for the family. Having been born in 1919, she lived through a time of major changes and, whether kin or not, it’s hard to not find her stories fascinating. After reading them more recently, I began to wonder about my own legacy. Sure, it seems a bit morbid, but it’s hard not to wonder what you will leave behind after you’re gone.

That’s when I realized that, unlike my Grandmother, much of my life and experiences have already been recorded in perhaps an even more permanent format than ink and paper. Yes, I’m talking about the internet.

Over the years, I’ve had multiple blogs, some for school and some for personal use; social media accounts, ranging from the now-dated MySpace to the ever-popular Facebook; accounts at numerous sites, from shopping to gaming; papers or pieces published in online formats; and of course, any bit of local news with my name in it can also be found in the great online archive. So you see, if years from now my ancestors decide to look into who I was, they need go no further than the nearest computer.

Certainly there’s something less romantic about memoirs from the digital age, but perhaps the most frightening thing to take away from this is the permanency of all our online (and offline) actions.

In 2010, Twitter announced that the Library of Congress would be digitally archiving the tweets of all the site’s users since its inception in 2006. Phew, what a relief– years from now my ancestors can view my attempts at being witty with a 140 character limit. What exactly will they learn from this officially documented data? Well, they’ll find out I’m a bit of a complainer, not all that funny, and kind of boring. Of course, while sifting through the thousands of trivial tweets, they may come across some of my activities and opinions– you know, the kind of things one actually puts in a memoir.

But what about my other social media accounts? Well, I’m not sure if the Library of Congress has any claims of ownership on my Facebook, but then again there’s no telling what sticks around after you pass on. In fact, this has actually become a major concern for individuals– what happens to one’s online accounts after they die?

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter actually have policies set in place to deal with this and, with the proper proof, loved ones can delete the accounts of the deceased. In some cases, they can also choose to memorialize the account instead. Other accounts, such as those on PayPal or Gmail, also have systems in place to deal with such issues.

To make things a bit easier, it is becoming more and more common for individuals to make a Digital Will in which they leave instructions on the proper steps to be taken with digital accounts after the person’s death. There are also services, such as Legacy Locker, that store all of the information– passwords, usernames–for loved ones to access in the case of death.

So sure, there are plenty of steps to take in order to clear away some of your digital disarray, but there’s no way to completely erase your online presence. Then there’s always the fact that many people, myself included, don’t really care much what happens to those accounts after our passing. I mean, I’m dead and gone, what do I care if Amazon.com still has my order history on record. But then again, I also don’t have anything to hide…do you?

And that’s what it comes down to: our lives are out there, on the internet, and with just a little bit of digging, any number of things can be found out about us. And the scariest part is the permanency of it all.

So here I am, writing my memoirs every time I tweet, or comment on Facebook, or write a blog post. Look at me, I think I just wrote a whole chapter of my memoirs right here and now.

So what do you think? Is your digital legacy something you would like to try to erase, or just another chapter in your memoirs?

A Political Peace

They say you should never discuss politics with friends—at least those you plan on keeping. But the jury has yet to rule on whether or not it’s an appropriate conversation for blog buddies.
Well, this isn’t going to be some biased mumbo-jumbo, just some things I want to get out there and hope everyone will read with an open mind.

Here’s the thing:
I think the biggest problem with politics nowadays is that people are too quick to align themselves with a side, and thus that side’s opinions on a wide sweeping number of topics, rather than think about the issues separately.
Call it laziness or stubbornness, we are all too quick (myself included) to choose one side and condemn the other.
A two-party system is inevitable. It’s our human nature to over-simplify matters by dividing them into black or white, good or bad, with us or against us. We shun middle ground and label those who dwell there as flip floppers or indecisive. Therefore, no politicians who are truly independent even stand a chance of winning majority votes. We want to see extremes because to us those signify passion. But I digress…
Two party system. Democrat and Republican.
We are so quick to apply titles, and indeed to be a part of one of these groups, that we forget to look at the issues. We follow mindlessly because anything less would feel traitorous.
So maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but my point is that we should never forget about that beautiful colored area: grey. The grey area. The in-between. The place where we take a moment to use our grey matter and reflect on each issue individually rather than as part of an all-inclusive package offered exclusively by our party of choice.
So maybe I’ve turned into one of those “why can’t we all just get along” people, or maybe I’m just imploring people to think before they vote. Who knows? Who knows how I even got on this topic? Or what sparked my relentless rant?
I guess the take-away message here is that sometimes it’s okay to stray from the group, as long as you’re doing what you believe in.
I now take you back to your regularly programmed blog.