March 14, 2014

The Secret to My (Lack of) Success

I’m 45 years old, a college graduate, and the most I’ve ever made in a year is $30k.  My sister, in contrast, dropped out of school in the 9th grade, got pregnant at 19 and now makes over $120k.  Huh?  How does this make sense?

After all of these years, I think I’ve finally figured out why, and it has nothing to do with talent or effort.

Here are the pieces to my puzzle:

1. In Parade Magazine’s March 9 article, 3 Influential Women, One Powerful Message, they profile an effort by Condoleezza Rice, Cherly SAndbery, and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez to empower our girls to roles of leadership.  And while the article itself was interesting, what caught me was the sidebar, Lean In’s Lessons for Girls and the advice for educators: Observe dynamics in group work.  Girls often complete the work of peers who slack off.  If they get used to doing work without credit, they won’t learn to push for recognition when they deserve it.

2. The response to a “Dear Carolyn” letter on Sunday, “You [may] have the overdeveloped sense of responsibility and underdeveloped sense of self that dysfunctional homes tend to breed.”

3. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.  There are three ways of looking at the world: givers, matchers, and takers.  Givers will:

help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, [givers ]might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.

When I put these pieces together, the picture they formed was a woman who has, from childhood, put the needs — and happiness — of others ahead of her own.

It will come to no surprise, then, when I tell you:

  • In high school, I applied for a scholarship through Junior Achievement.  I told my friend, Ron, about it.  His response was to ask me if I wanted him to NOT apply because if he applied, he’d likely get it over me (he looked awesome on paper).  I, of course, encouraged him to apply as well.  Well, he got it.  One of many scholarships he won, while this one the only one I qualified to apply for.

  • During my first marriage, I quit my job to work for my husband’s business.  In the 3 years I worked for him, I helped to increase sales 300%, yet he never valued my contribution to the business.  When I left that marriage, I left with $2k in debt, no car, and no job.  And, no references since the people I had worked for before had either left their jobs or the businesses had closed.

  • During my second marriage, my husband got home from work 2 hours before I did.  As a result, he was responsible for making dinner so we ate before 9pm.  He complained about this responsibility every single day.  Instead of realizing that this maybe wasn’t the guy I should be with, I quit my job to start a quilting business so I could be home to take care of the domestic responsibilities.

  • In my current business, as a web designer and glorified Virtual Assistant, I often do work that I know needs to be done, but which my client hasn’t asked me to do.  The fact that I do these tasks makes my client more successful, but in a way that bypasses their own responsibility for that success.

Now that I see the pattern, it’s easy to see why I haven’t been more financially successful.  I work hard, but that work benefits others most of the time.

Even knowing this, I realize that I can’t change this pattern overnight.  I also realize that I also can’t change my underlying nature.

In other words, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I adopted a different way of being, one more like the takers or matchers in the Give and Take book.

I’m a giver at heart and I always will be.  I don’t want to succeed if that success comes at the cost of someone else.  No amount of self-awareness or self-work on myself will change this underlying reality.

But does that mean I am destined to be the low man on the totem pole forever?  Well, no.

In fact, this is the message in Give and Take: as you would expect, the givers ended up at the bottom of the economic ladder.  But, surprisingly, they also ended up at the top; matchers and takers were always in the middle.

It turns out, there are ways to be successful AND a giver and many examples are profiled in the book.  I just have to find a way that allows me to be of service, but also distances me from my clients a bit more so that I can’t take responsibility for their success.  Sure, I could go to therapy and learn how not to do this, but that would likely take the rest of my life.  I’d really like to experience some economic abundance in the short term, rather than at some distance point in the future.

As a result of this awareness, I am working on changing my business radically and shifting to teaching, rather than doing.  This shift will allow me to raise up my students by sharing my knowledge, but also leave their success up to them.  My business used to wear me out, but now, I’m excited about the future and what it possible.

Are you a giver like me?  Have you put other people’s needs ahead of your own?  What has that pattern of behavior cost you?

June 2, 2011

Labor Unions Are Dinosaurs And Will Soon Be Dead

Labor Unions are really dinosaurs that haven’t yet figured out the environment has changed.  They continue to function as if the world is the same as it has been for the last 100 years.  But the world HAS changed, and it has changed radically, and the only ones who haven’t noticed are the labor unions.

I predict that the labor union as we know it today will be dead within the next decade.

If you are currently a member of a labor union, you might disagree with me.  You might see your union membership as a positive in your life, as something that actually supports your way of life.  And if you’ve been a member of the same union for a long period of time, you are right… but only to a point.  Let me explain….

Last fall, I took a part-time job as a grocery clerk to add a little extra money to the family budget.  Part of accepting the position was the requirement that I had to join the union.

My experience as a new member of a long-standing union was surprising, enlightening, and in the end, not a positive experience for me.  But it gave me an insider’s view into an otherwise closed culture.

Here’s a summary of the outdated thinking currently driving the Union management:

  1. The Union MUST control starting wages.   My manager wanted to hire me at a wage consistent with my experience, telling me, “If I don’t, you’ll go somewhere else.”  However, the wage she wanted to give me was above the Union’s approved starting range.  She attempted to get this approved by the Union, but was denied.  Controlling wages is a benefit to the employee when the wages otherwise offered by management are below what the market currently offers, or when they create substandard working conditions.  But when controlling wages results in a job offer that is actually BELOW market, the Union will not attract the best, brightest, and most qualified applicants.
  2. Membership dues are uniform and mandatory for all workers.  It didn’t matter that I was guaranteed only 12 hours a week, I still had to pay the $299 initiation fee, plus $45 a month dues.  Granted, if you are working full-time, those dues don’t seem excessive, but in my case, that was a significant dent in my take-home pay.
  3. Hours are assigned based on seniority.  Availability, quality of work, and attendance are not nearly as important as how long you’ve been a member of the union.  This policy gives long-timers the best schedules and leaves the less-desierable shifts to the new people.   This also makes it difficult to schedule the more seasoned workers next to the new ones to give them a hand.  On my first night closing, the most experienced cashier had been there 2 months.  I feel sorry for the customers who had to wait in line that night.  It didn’t matter what line you were in, they were all slow!
  4. Pay raises should be based on time invested.  The Union has a very strict  pay grade schedule that is based solely on number of hours worked.  This policy seems fair as it guarantees regular pay raises.  However, what it does in actuality is stifle creativity and innovation on the part of employees.  Outstanding service, going above and beyond your assigned duties, these may net you a sincere “Thank you” but they won’t earn you a raise or a promotion.
  5. Medical benefits are a right afforded to all workers.  During my first month on the job, the Union was threatening to strike over contract negotiations.  One of the biggest sticking points was that the Union objected to the company raising the deducible from $50 to $100 a year.  While this is a 100% increase over what the members have been paying, most people would consider a $100 deductible a luxurious gift.
  6. Labor Union membership is required in order to obtain reasonable work.  Whenever I had a conversation with my Union, they justified their policies by stating, “You are working in a union shop.  Everyone working there has already done/paid/agreed to this.”  This policy assumes that Union Membership is a requirement for obtaining reasonable work.  50 years ago this was true, before the rise of white-collar work, but it isn’t anymore.  Union membership is a choice for most people.

Labor Unions are promoting and supporting a work environment that simply doesn’t exist in the world outside of organized labor.  The expectations that they foster in their members are actually holding their companies back from staying competitive in an increasingly competitive world.  If labor unions refuse to adapt and change, they will be left behind.  Companies that are forced to choose between staying in business or keeping the Union, they will all choose to dump their Unions.

May 26, 2011

The Difference Between the “Ah-ha” and “Well, Duh!” Moment

Recently, I found that I was experiencing a lot of moments of insight — epiphanies — but instead of saying “ah-ha,” I was saying, “Well, Duh!” .

In an “ah-ha” moment, it is as if there is a sudden leap of understanding that occurs in your brain.  Something that was previously unknown suddenly becomes clear, often without any real understanding of where the insight came from.  It’s that lightbulb-going-off moment.

But a “Well, Duh” moment is different.

There’s the same excitement as the insight occurs to you.  So in this way, it feels like an “ah-ha” moment.  But this is where the similarities end.

For in a “Well, Duh” moment, the insight that suddenly occurs to you is something that you’ve actually known for some time. 

It feels like a new insight.  And in some ways it is.  It’s a way of seeing something that you already knew in a different way.  Here are some of my Well,  Duh!” moments:

  • Using a credit card’s balance transfer option to buy equipment for my business at 3.9% interest (until it was paid off!) instead of a business loan at 6.5% that required a complete business plan.
  • Seeing the name of my newsletter as the perfect umbrella to put my new business under.  Something I struggled with for over a year, although I’ve been sending out the newsletter for a year and a half!
  • Seeing a website header graphic that I was already using as “perfect” for my new business.  And then loving how it looked.
  • Resisting moving to the south end of King County because I lived here with my ex-husband, only to find the “perfect” house and grudging move,  and discover that I LOVE it here.

In my experience, I like the “Well, Duh” moments better than the “ah-ha” moments.  Mostly because in the “Well, duh” moments, I already have the tools at my disposal to act on this insight immediately.  This lets me get into action asap.

But an “ah-ha” moment often requires a lot of prep-work first.  After all, “ah-ha”s often skip some of the logical progression of a standard idea.  They often take you to fun, exotic locals, but the road to get there can be treacherous.

And the “ah-ha” moments are few and far between.  But the “Well, Duh” ones only require you to stop trying so hard to figure everything out.  You already have figured it out.  You just have to relax and see it.

May you have more “Well, Dub!” moments in your life.  I’d love it if you’d share some of them here.

July 31, 2009

The dog days of summer

Here in Seattle, we have been experiencing record-breaking heat.  Wednesday set a new record — 103 — which beat the old one of 100.  This is the official record that is recorded at SeaTac Airport; many outlying areas record different temperatures.  In fact, in Auburn, about 20 miles south of Seattle, they recorded a temp of 106, which was the same as Death Valley!  This kind of weather is not why we live in Seattle; we like the temperate summers and winters without much snow (except for this last year, which set a new record for snow — what is up with our weather anyway? — and anyone say, global warming?)

Most homes around here, including mine, don’t have air conditioning.  We only get a few days of heat in the 90s — at least in a normal year — so it is not a problem.  So trying to stay cool has been a real challenge.  There are lots of trips to places with air conditioning — the mall, the library, movie theaters, even the grocery store — at least for the people, that is.  Our 4-legged friends aren’t allowed in such places.  As a result, we have to find other ways to keep our friends cool.

At my house, there are 4 dogs here most days.  Only one is mine.  My roommates have two, which makes three that live here all the time.  Plus, my boyfriend has a dog and lives in a apartment, so instead of leaving him home in a kennel, the dog spends the day with me.  Four dogs, all hot, all miserable from the heat.

I got them a kiddie pool.  One of those hard plastic ones, with the sides that are about 10 inches high.

The youngest two were interested even before the water went in.  But the two older ones, including mine, weren’t.

The two youngest, Lilo (one of my roommates’) and Loki (my boyfriend’s), quickly discovered that their newest game was to chase each other around the pool.  It was pretty funny to watch, particularily since there was only room for them to stand nose to tail in the pool.  Chasing each other really ment going around, around, and around in a small circle.  Imagine a dog chasing its own tail; that was the motion they were making in the pool, chasing each other.

After they had done that for a while, one of them would jump out, followed quickly by the other one.  They would proceed to chase each other around the yard, getting filthy in the meantime, until they got hot again and went back into the pool.

An entire afternoon of this play and the dogs were happily back to themselves again.  The pool looked more like a mud puddle then any body of water that I would like to get in, but the dogs were clean!  I am not sure how they managed that feat.

Seeing them enjoy playing in the water reminded me of my own childhood, when summer meant running in the sprinkler and hanging out with my friends.  The only important thing was what was happening right at that moment, because we didn’t want to think about the end of the summer and the return to school.  We wanted each and every summer day to last as long as possible.

We as adults need to be reminded of this — to  enjoy each day, like dogs do.  There is so much fun just waiting to be discovered, even in your own backyard.

July 28, 2009

Water rings and forgiveness

In the spare bedroom at my grandmother’s house, she had some truly uncomfortable twin beds that my sister and I were unlucky enough to sleep on when we visited, and a beautiful dresser.   That dresser was solid maple, with a beautiful finish.  It was long, with 5 drawers down each side, and had a mirror above.  It was the mirror that we liked best; the two us would stand in front of that mirror for hours doing our hair.

When my grandmother died in 2004, that dresser came to live with me.  I filled it with my clothes and used it every day.  And every day I thought about my grandmother and how happy she would be that I still had her dresser and still loved it as much as she did.

That is, until today.

This morning, I discovered that my boyfriend had carelessly left a glass of water on the top of my grandmother’s dresser.  There is now a huge water ring that mars the otherwise beautiful finish.

I was angry — very, VERY angry — that this had happened.  I used some profanity to express my displeasure.  My grandmother, a church-going woman who never uttered a swore word in her life, would probably have seconded my sentiments.

Once I calmed down a bit, I started to look at the problem a bit differently.  I wanted to be able to forgive my boyfriend.  Although we have been dating a relatively short time, he is a great guy and I didn’t want to end the relationship over something like a dresser.  It really is just an object and objects are never as important as people.  This I know, but I wasn’t feeling it.

So I thought about the concept of forgiveness.  Recently, I was reading The Disappearance of the Universe, which is an odd book on many levels, but one that I find has ideas that make me see my life differently.  In that book, life is described as an endless series of events that give you the opportunity to see yourself as reflected in those around you.  Or, that events happen that gift you with the opportunity to forgive yourself.

It wasn’t that I had to forgive my boyfriend.

I had to forgive myself.

Because, as angry as I felt I was with him, I was actually even angrier with myself.  I had let my grandmother down.  She had owned that dresser for the entirety of my life and never gotten even a scratch on it.  I ruined it.  How was I to live with that?

So, I decided to forgive myself.  Right then and there.  Mistakes happen, even with the best of intentions.  And the dresser can be refinished.

Once I had forgiven myself, forgiving my boyfriend happened instantly.

My lesson to you: if you find yourself angry at other people, take a moment to realize that you may be angry at yourself.  Practice the art of forgiving you, of accepting that you are doing the best job you know how to do in this moment, of being gentle with yourself.  Your life won’t be magically different overnight, but keep practicing, pay attention to the opportunities given to you, and your life will be better for it.

July 27, 2009

The NBC film crew comes to my house

Today, there was a film crew at my house to shoot a story on my roommate.  He’s a military veteran from the war in Iraq and recently got a new job through a program called Helmets to Hard Hats.  The piece they shot will air on the NBC Nightly News in about a week or so.  I’ll post again when it does.

So the crew wasn’t here to shoot me or my house, but it felt that way, at least at first.

I’ve lived in a lot of different places and this is not the best of them, so I wouldn’t have chosen it to be on TV. But life doesn’t always give you the easiest of the options, but it often gives you the one with the greatest lesson.

My first thoughts were of embarrasment.  This house is a rental and not well cared for by the landlord.  There are a lot of things that I have done to make improvements, but it still remains a well-worn house from the 1950’s.

One of my friends, a guy who works in the TV field, kindly pointed out to me that I will be the only one who sees my house at all; everyone else will only see my roommate.  Great advice which helped lessen the stress over my house being on TV.

But that left the fact that people that I didn’t know were going to be in my house.  And regardless of who they were — and wether or not they carried cameras — there were a few things that I felt I had to do before they were here. 

How to choose?  I didn’t want to go overboard, but I did want to do something. 

My solution was to create a short list.  To pick the things on it, I used these criteria. It had to: 1) be already on my list, I couldn’t create any new projects just for this occasion (like remodeling the bathroom or such), 2) cost little or nothing, 3) have a good bang for the buck (or in this case, since I wasn’t spending money, good use of my time), and 4) be something that would embarrass me if it wasn’t done.

Surprisingly, once I figured out the criteria, it became rather easy to choose my items: clean the carpet (with 3 dogs, it was a disaster) with my mom’s carpet cleaner (no $$ outlay), weed eat the front yard (didn’t need mowing since the grass was dead), and de-clutter one of the front rooms.

All three items took less than a day total to do and cost nothing but my time.

Want to know where they actually shot?  There are a lot of times in life where we spend a bunch of energy on something that turns out to be a waste, but that wasn’t the case this time.  They actually used my rockery out front (where I can carefully cut down the weeds) instead of going to a park (!) and shot a piece in the front room that I de-cluttered.  They also used the dining room and back yard, neither of which I spent any time or energy on.

It would have been so easy to focus on the little things, like making sure the windows were clean, or the closets organized, or a long list of little details that no one (with the exception of my mom), would ever notice. Instead, I stayed focused on the bigger picture and came up with a win-win, even without knowing what the crew was going to choose.  From my perspective, even if they hadn’t used a single location in my house, I still felt good about what I had done.

UPDATE: Here’s the video from NBC.