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Posts Tagged ‘college’

Stewf

Photo Credit: Stewf @Flickr

Inspiration is viral – I’ve been bugged.

Nisha Chittal and Aman Sanghara wrote posts regarding the validity and usefulness of Liberal Arts degrees. 

They’re sparking an already long standing debate on whether or not lib arts majors/degrees serve any professional (or social) value beyond having wonderful cocktail conversation at parties.

Essentially, I’m biased. But, I’m going to tell you that there are drawbacks that come with being a math and science brainiac.

My boyfriend was an electrical engineering and physics major in college. He designs light bulbs. He’s quite good at it. And, he constantly nags me about turning off the lights. He hates light.

Don’t ask.

Currently, he’s pursuing his masters degree in product development. What’s that? I can’t really tell you. Yet, from what I can tell, you learn the ins and outs of how to design, market and sell anything.

So far, half of  the curriculum has included classes on communication.

One in particular is the art of negotiation.

Dealing with the abstract frustrates those who manage the concrete – the absolute known. It annoys them in a myriad of ways. They also make no bones about letting you know how useless they think it is.

And, the reason it’s useless?

I can’t argue with your emotions. I can’t measure that,” says my boyfriend. Oh, lord – did you catch that word – measure?

Since there is no immediate and obvious value in the argument, it’s dismissed. Everything’s an argument – there aren’t discussions.  Compromise? Does not compute. And, if you catch them in place where they don’t think the argument can be won – you hear this: “We’ll agree to disagree.”

Technically minded folks are just as apt (if not more likely) to shut down during a negotiation. Concrete thinkers don’t work in abstract because the whole world is in black and white. Well, at least their world. It makes them uncomfortable to venture beyond that.

Unfortunately, that can make them very poor negotiators. When you are constantly seeking a yes or no, wanting either/or and not allowing a but, you lose out on a whole lot more than you bargained for.

Obviously, of course, not all negotiations are abstract. Some are concrete and allow little room for compromise. But, in those cases, technically minded negotiators take everything at face value. They fail at trying to probe for the deeper meaning.

After all, there are no hidden meanings in a math equation. This plus that equals outcome.

Negotiations, however, are more complex than that. But, we already know that, don’t we my fellow liberal arts majors? We have to round out theories with facts, but we aren’t tethered to the terms of right or wrong. Actually, it’s quite liberating when you aren’t limited by finite and measurable data. You’ve got a lot more possibilities.

That’s why they call studies like political science, history, economics, etc.  the social sciences. It involves understanding how people fit into the world, not the other way around. It’s centers on finding the balance (and appreciating it) between the concrete and the abstract.

I’m not saying that the sciences have no value – of course not! I’m only annoyed that science majors want to place competing (or better) value on their education based on something like salary or that they work in “numbers” (or, oddly enough, an intangible idea of validity in the professional world).

It’s lame, quite frankly.

The art of being professionally engaging is negotiating your own talents and interests with relevance to the world and the people in it. I’m hoping my boyfriend is at least learning that in his communication classes.

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Edward B @ Flickr

Photo Credit: Edward B @ Flickr

Humor can get you into trouble. Especially when you are making fun of yourself. Even when you think you are trying to make someone else more comfortable.

It’s 1998. I’m in my freshman year of college. 

There’s loads of pearl necklaces, girls wearing pink and green track suits (the school colors) and cheering our mascot – the vixen.  In spring semester, it was common practice to play ring games to celebrate marriage engagements. 

Students could indulge in a fake “sorority” system that took on an even more exclusive tone because girls had to be specifically chosen. Unlike real Greek sorority systems (that at least let anyone pledge) you had to be chosen to pledge in the first place.

The number of non-white women who enrolled freshman year was considered to be the largest group ever. A whopping 10…out of a class of (maybe) 200.

I’m not sure if this is still done, but upon enrollment, girls had to choose curfew options. Option A meant you could have guests (usually, this means men) visit you whenever you wanted on the weekends – provided they didn’t sleep in your room. Options B and C varied between never having a guy in your room at all or having your guest leave by 8 pm (or something like that).

I chose Option A. Not because I’m boy crazy, but I didn’t see myself telling potential visitors they had to leave by a certain time. When you see your dorm mates having their brothers, boyfriends and anybody else with a penis (or not) in their room, having a curfew just seems whacky.

After half a semester, I became pals with a few of the (Black) guys from a neighboring college.  One Friday night, they paid me a visit and spent time hanging out  in my dorm room. However, my guests didn’t attend school down the street – they had a 2 hour drive to get back to campus.

And, since we weren’t that friendly, my friends had to return to their own dorm rooms.

All this, at the late, late hour of 11 pm. As we were saying our goodbyes, one of my (white) neighbors came walking down the hallway.

She stared. And, I don’t mean she stared because she thought my friends were cute. And, I doubt she was staring because she’d never seen the male sex. This was obvious glaring – at least 5 full minutes. It made me uncomfortable. At least, that’s what I remember the most.

I smile, laughing a bit, and say, “Hey, [insert weird girl’s name here] don’t mind the Black folks in the hallway.”

Her reaction was like that of someone coming out of a trance. She made a huge gulp and replied, “I’m not staring,” and returned to her room. Weird, again. The night is over. My friends leave.

I go to bed.

Side Note: I much rather be called out for being a jerk and making a bad joke then someone mislabeling it and calling me a racist. Excluding the event if the joke is racist – then, you are a racist jerk. Personally, I think her next reaction is little over the top.

I get called down for a “meeting” with the Dean of Students (like I’m in trouble with the principal). Weird Girl reported me for making a racist statement towards her. The Dean of Students even told me it went into my “file.” I was instructed not to confront her. Otherwise, I’d be labeled as “hostile.”

Oh geez.

What really surprised me is that I knew Weird Girl. Well, I knew her in the way that she was comfortable enough to puke in my dorm room. She was comfortable enough to let me nurse her through Freshman Party binge drinking. We weren’t BFF, but I thought we were OK.

At least OK enough to have a normal, adult conversation. OK enough to at least be open to discussion. But, perhaps I was being naive about where I was planning to spend the next 4 years of my life. Progressiveness is not a guarantee when you go to college.  Perhaps, all those life changing conversations about sensitive topics happen on other campuses and not this one. And sometimes, people aren’t interested in having conversations at all.

To make matters worse, Weird Girl was telling anybody who’d listen that I was a horrible, racist person and no one should talk to me.  If you let her tell it, I was hanging dead white children across my door and proclaiming the speeches of Minister Farrakhan. Like that’s going to help anybody. Personally, I think she got a kick out of calling someone who was Black a racist. Obviously, she wasn’t doing anything to help change my hi-falutin “racist” ways. Just trying to alienate me from others. 

That only makes me question her “motives” further.

What makes Weird Girl truly earn her moniker? She insisted on talking to me. Very nicely. Chatty, genteel conversation. If you think someone is a raging, fanatical racist, do you really try to make nice talk with them?

Frankly, I can’t imagine why she just didn’t say something to me earlier. “Hey, what you said last night, I thought it was mean,” or “Hey, that wasn’t cool.”  At least I could’ve apologized. I always thought if you had to take issues up to higher heads, it’s because you think you’ve exhausted all your options.

Or, you think you are going to endure physical harm.

Or, it’s an emergency. Something like that.

But, if some jerk says something you don’t like, you move on and know they’re a jerk.  

What was she trying to “prove” anyway? That I was racist or that she wasn’t? It still boggles my mind. Despite the year being 2009, some people are (still) uncomfortable dealing with race. Even though the events I described transpired over 10 years ago, I imagine Weird Girl still feels she is justified in “outing” my racism and racist behavior.

Perhaps, from a cultural perspective, I made her uncomfortable. But, I didn’t have a problem with that. She did. And if someone is making you uncomfortable, you should try to figure out why. And, if it is truly offensive, take it as an opportunity to learn. 

So, Weird Girl had every right to “report” me. But I don’t think she learned anything meaningful from it. I did. But, in a not so glamorous and very uncomfortable way. 

People behave in a number of ways when someone that’s different from them makes them feel uncomfortable. They can be irrational. They can be mean. Or, they can be confrontational. You have to be careful.  You have to be more discerning. Learn from it. Hopefully, you’ll become more insightful.

Even when you believe you are right or justified (or being funny) – you still have to censor yourself.

Two things I learned:

  • Some people don’t get the joke
  • Other times, your joke just isn’t funny.

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Chicago ElI love where I live. I only have to take one bus to a straight shot downtown. I don’t have to walk very far to get to work. Yet, I trek north several times a week to do my shopping, eating and pub crawling. I’m always glad, nonetheless, to return to my (quiet) South Shore bungalow (or my boyfriend’s Bucktown condo – whichever is closest).

There are busloads of young Chicagoan twenty somethings that believe they should (and could) only live in the following three neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville and anywhere north.

I once knew a guy that worked for Chicago Apartment Finders. My brain would buzz with shock at how many calls he’d get from fresh (and not so fresh) college grads telling him they could only afford $2300 in monthly rent. Insisting that apartment scouting stick to certain neighborhoods, their missions involve keeping social circles tight. They want to be near friends.  

Like any typical Gen Yer, Chicagoan twenty somethings want to be close to the thriving bar life, local eateries and trendy clothing boutiques that scatter into the various, secluded neighborhoods. I wonder how they justify wanting all those amenities when their potential bar money, restaurant tips and clothing splurges are being devoured monthly in $1200 rent (even with a roommate or two).

Now, that the 3rd coast can boast being the hometown of a president, how will the residential landscape of Chicago change? Instead of the homely, stepchild of the Southside, will more young twenty somethings choose to move a little further south? Will it be cool to live near a president (or, at the very least, live in his neighborhood)? 

I am not sure. That probably won’t happen for a while yet.

But, Obama lives (or used to live) in the Kenwood area, it’s pretty upper crust. So, that’s high hoping if you think that Obama’s presidency could do much to transform the image of Chicago’s southern half.

Unfortunately, most Chicagoans have an uneasy, arm’s length relationship with the Southside. Unless you are a extremely familiar with its trappings, most newcomers don’t even consider living there unless circumstances (and finances) dictate otherwise, if that. The paradox of Chicago is that it is the home of a president and tops as one of America’s most dangerous cities. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Also, with the newest publicity B12 shot of becoming a finalist in the 2016 Olympics, one must ponder the mayor’s latest scheme to use Washington Park as part of the development. This begs  the question: what does Daley plan to do once the Olympics packs up and leaves town (or, never comes in the first place)?

The residential landscape of Chicago may change. Perhaps not. I think despite renewed interest in the Southside, the city’s residential tipping point will remain northward. Young and new transplants alike will continue to flock there. Anything beyond the borders of 57th street will remain highly suspect, inaccessible and “ghetto-ized.” Oddly, lots of interesting young people are merely seperated by geography (and not necessarily class or income).

What’s to become of Chicago once the shiny newness of a president begins to dull?

Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t screw with my commute.

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Marius!!! @Flickr

Photo Credit: Marius!!! @Flickr

“Jump out of the window!” may seem like irrelevant instruction when you hear it. After all, why jump out the window when you can walk out of the door? 

Nonetheless, when you are up several floors in a burning building and a crowd of fire fighters outside below you are holding a safety net, jumping out of the window can seem like the best advice yet.

After I graduated from college, I was still in the process of finding myself. I wanted to make a ton of money, but have a fulfilling career as well.

In reality, that didn’t leave me a lot of options. I did one smart thing though, I contacted a bunch of college alumni and grilled them about their current careers. I met a filmmaker, a real estate guru and some other random, interesting people.

However, I remember meeting with one particular alum that (should have) changed my life forever.

I told him I wanted to try my luck at consulting. Never mind what kind of consulting or what consulting actually means – I decided I should pursue it.

Also, I didn’t want to seem directionless. Consulting sounded sexy (or whatever word people use to make their professions sound cool) and they made scads of money for doling out information whether anybody listened to them or not.

It sounded like a suitable venture. In hindsight, considering my personality type, it was probably just as well I didn’t go into consulting after all.

Mr. Peacock (uncanny connection, don’t you think?) told me two things. “Consulting is hard on marriages – they get divorced a lot,” and “You need to start a blog.”

Both pieces of advice seemed totally irrelevant to me. As a very young twenty something, marriage was the furthest thing from my mind (not really, but it was not nearly as close to my mind as it is now).

Secondly, what was this blogging stuff? It didn’t sound like anything a freshly minted political science major did straight out of college. All the job choruses sang that liberal arts majors went into professions teaching, becoming lawyers or consulting.

Truthfully, I didn’t know a thing about blogging. I dismissed it as a labor of love for computer geeks or an adventuresome outlet for alternative journalists. Oh, what little did I know.

The trouble with good advice is that it always seems irrelevant when you initially hear it. That’s the good thing. If you only listen to what you want to hear you won’t learn anything . Or, if you follow the same tried-and-true counsel, it won’t work for you. Why? Because great advice leads you to undiscovered pathways. 

When you get weird, seemingly irrelevant guidance: pay attention. It will challenge you to do things you may not otherwise try. Whereas old, staid, been-there-and-do-it-again advice won’t get you much of anywhere.

Good advice is not meant to be comfortable or make you feel great about what you are currently doing.

It’s meant to confront you and change your mind.

That’s the other wonderful thing about good counsel. It’s more about action than pondering. It won’t encourage you to think more about your predicament. It will inspire you to do something about it.

It provides options not questions. If you are seeking the help, you’re already asking the questions, aren’t you?

Unfortunately, I ignored Mr. Peacock. I never contacted him again.  I figured that maybe he didn’t really understand me. How could he? We’d only met for cookies and coffee. Yet, that shouldn’t have mattered, good advice can come from someone even if they’ve only known you for five minutes. 

That’s the dark side of such a process.  People sometimes mistake that only those who know them can give valuable words of wisdom. Yet, the underlying current of all advice giving is to exchange ideas. 

Understand and trust that taking and giving advice is risky at both ends. It has little to do with how well someone gets you.

When people don’t understand that, they indubitably screw up the whole point of getting advice in the first place.

And, that’s terrible. After all, Mr. Peacock was only trying to help. Yet, I’m thankful. Sometimes, you can’t recognize good help when you ask for it (or, get it) because you don’t know what it is. And, you won’t know what good advice is because you don’t know what it will sound like in the first place.

But, great advice is still good advice. It doesn’t expire. It won’t disappear. Instead, it’s timeless, universal and requires little change. So, even though I met Mr. Peacock several years ago in a River North cafe, I can’t say my idea of starting a blog was my own great idea. It wasn’t. It was Mr. Peacock’s idea. 

Therefore, taking good advice  is just as much a matter of when you do as it is what you do. What if I had not met Mr. Peacock? What if I didn’t have the blogging seed planted in my head?  Maybe, several years later, I would have never thought to blog in the first place. 

Timing is just as important when you act upon anything (good advice included).

The nicks and scratches I suffered along my professional journey to get here probably have made my posts more relevant to readers now.  Relevancy is a good thing.

Except maybe when it comes to good advice.

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mbaWith the economic downturn slashing away at jobs and businesses alike – some people have thought it best to hide out in graduate school.

And unfortunately, with college education becoming increasingly expensive, graduate school for many is becoming more of a distant dream than reality.

Despite popular opinion, I don’t understand getting an MBA, especially now.

Has anyone thought about learning business the old-fashioned way? Like through working, entrepreneurship and keeping their learning curve high?

So, B-schools put you in touch with lots of contacts,” official” classroom training and you even get a nifty degree with at least $50,000 worth of debt (if you aren’t so lucky to have your employer pay for it). But what’s stopping you from getting that in the real working world (without the debt)?

Experience is the best teacher. And sure, I may not be saying anything new, but the MBA is no longer an “it” degree. It’s becoming marginalized.

Just like no one really needs a degree in creative writing to become a writer (or blogger for that matter) – you don’t need a degree to justify or validate your talents and skills.

I hope more employers will see it that way in the future.

But in the meantime, I wish all the luck in the world to all the newly minted finance and banking MBAs entering the sour job market – they’ll need all the help they can get.

And this isn’t to say that I won’t (in the future, maybe) pursue a graduate degree – but for right now, I don’t know what that could possibly be since I don’t think there is a graduate school for bloggers who want to change the world.

With the exception of pursuing a career in which you must be licensed – what’s the point of getting a degree beyond your BA?

What’s the best way to distinguish yourself amongst the sea of indistinguishable degrees?

Experience and a high learning curve differentiates you from the rest of the pack for starters. It’s fine if you have an MBA – but if you nothing in to which to give it context (or experience in which to layer it with) – it just looks like an extra set of letters on your resume.

People miss the point of understanding why business school is only 2 years and working is for the rest of your life.

No matter how much you sit in the classroom and learn, you still have to get out there and work.

The working world is lot more interesting, flexible and teeming with boundless opportunities because you are in the fray. Plus, there’s not as much homework.

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mean-bossI read an eye opening post by Amoura Rose regarding job ego. I loved it so much, I added it to my writing Journal so I could refer it to it from time to time when I need a little encouragement.

This article would have been a life saver if I was able to read it 6 years ago when I began my career journey, but it’s still just as relevant now.

For those of you munching sour grapes about your career prospects, Ms. Rose offers a bittersweet and encouraging story about how she came to acquire a job she loved. She wasn’t always in the luxury beauty market and was forced, actually, to gain some professional experience by taking a job that included making coffee and doing dishes for people who probably thought she was an idiot (did I mention, she already had an MBA at this point?)

Ms. Rose only confirms the notion that education is not the deciding factor when it comes to landing a job you want. Sure, education helps, but it can’t mean much when there’s no experience in which to layer it (or give it context).

Also, keep in mind that some employers (or employees) may, unintentionally, hold it against you if you went to college or have an alphabet soup of degrees on your resume. This is not to suggest that those groups don’t value education, however, they are much more likely to stereotype you as the typical over educated, under experienced, egotistical Gen Y brat.

Jobs are not a life sentence. Throughout your career, however, you may have some pretty crappy jobs. Nevertheless, don’t think for a minute that any of them are beneath you. For whatever reason, you are right where you are supposed to be to learn whatever lessons you need to learn so you can move on (or up).

Imagine your journey as various episodes of “Quantum Leap” (for all you sci-fi fans out there), with the exception that there’s no Al giving you valuable hints about your future or what to do next. You can’t really “jump” to the next adventure until you learn the appropriate moral, complete a certain task or understand a much-needed lesson.

So, if you are answering phones, delivering mail, making coffee or just busy being the all-around office grunt take solace in remembering that it’s only temporary and look forward to leaping to a new and different path once the time is right.

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