Tag Archives: money

7 Things I’ve Learned About Life… From Work

7 Things I've LearnedOne of the things I seem to struggle with is knowing my unique value proposition.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I know, you know?

Turns out, I am not quite as dumb as I look.  I’ve picked up a few things along my path that have turned out to be useful in my battle between thinking and feeling as a professional and in my quest to be a better human in the real world.  What do you think – do they ring true for you, too?

1)  Companies Don’t Love You; They Love Money.

I am mostly a starry-eyed jackass when it comes to the world.  I want to believe in the good of everyone and everything.  I do, still, hope for the best… always.  But no matter how cool/evolved/compassionate/balanced your work is – if you’re not making money, someone will eventually get sacked.  And maybe everyone.  I’ve worked for three companies who have gone belly up (call me Molly Brown) and been part of several more who have been acquired – wreacking havoc on executives and workers alike.  I’ve worked within two industries as they declined into almost oblivion and one that rebounded mightily.

I’ve taken more than a few jobs because I was impressed with charismatic leadership.  In the long run, however, it is more useful to think of your boss(es) like Stuckey from Pretty Woman.  Like Edward says, “You don’t love me; it’s the kill you love.  I made you a very rich man doing exactly what you love.“

There will be jobs and people who only ‘love’ you for what you can do for them.  It isn’t good or bad, it just is.  Learn to recognize them so you don’t  mistake value for emotion.

2)  Money Isn’t Everything

The best things in life are free.  Don’t tell my boss, but this is true at work too.  I do what I do because it supports a good life for my family but I feel my absolute best, not on payday, but on the days when I do something extraordinary for a client, a colleague, or the company.

When  I am able to use my strengths in a way that is not narrowly defined by my role, I know that I’m making a contribution that cannot easily be replicated.  And for me, being unique – being different – is among my chief fulfillments.  I enjoy being part of a team but only when I have a role in addition to the team one.

Find out what your fulfillments are and make sure you’re satisfying your non-money buckets.

3)  Balance Your Staff

“It takes all kinds.”  You’ve heard this before with respect to tolerance, yes?  Well, in the workplace and in life – it takes all kinds of people to create harmony and balance.  Having a staff of pleasers may make the boss feel awesome and create a superficially agreeable workplace.  But people who avoid ruffled feathers at all costs can nicey-nice a company right over a cliff.

Strengths in people build strengths in families and companies alike.  In the same way that opposites attract, if you have aligned goals but different talents there is less competition and more forward momentum – provided people are trusted and empowered to do that at which they excel.

It also helps to say “Thank you” to your counter-balance when she/he does the proverbial (or literal) dirty laundry in your world.

4)  Everyone Needs To Feel Useful

This one I’ve only learned recently and, embarrassingly, it caught me off-guard.  I went to work in an office for the first time in a while.  The team was established and had a rhythm established.  There was, however, a disproportionate amount of one-kind of personality – the “relationship builders.”  I failed to recognize that these colleagues value their connections with people above all else, they need their style to be reciprocated.  By NOT connecting with them on a personal level, they felt marginalized – even insulted.  Unintentionally, my actions told them “you are not useful to me.”  People hate that.

Since I’m a nerd for quotes, this seems like a perfect time for one:    “Everyone Is a Genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Einstein.

That quote bombs me into submission every time.

Now, I want to discover what everyone’s genius is as quickly as possible so that I can connect with them and learn from them and promote them for their strengths.

5)  [Some] People Are Mean

This is the hardest lesson for die-hard Pollyannas.  Some people suck.  They just do.  I don’t know why.  We may never know why.  But they do.  The thing is, though, that people often suck for a reason.  And it is probably not (really) about you.

I once managed a team where it was revealed that all of us were on anti-depressants.  I knew my situation was icky but in my myopia, I hadn’t thought about how bad it was for them.  I needed to cut them some slack – to give them greater empathy and help them navigate through a really uninspiring time.  I didn’t realize that until it was too late.

The advice I love best on this is that you can only control yourself – how you act, how you react.  YOU control that and nothing more.  So let people suck.  Don’t follow their example.  Two wrongs still don’t make a right.  But also, don’t let their moral bankruptcy (I love that phrase so hard), their bad attitude, their laziness, their obstinacy, their overinflated sense of self, whatever – change who or how you are.

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”  ― Thich Nhat Hanh

6)  Relationships Are All That You Can Take With You When You Go

Do people who are not creative types have portfolios?  I don’t.  I probably would have less of a confidence crisis if I could review some of the smart, original work I’ve done for clients and employers.  I’m not great at organizing the past – I still don’t have a wedding album for crying out loud.  I prefer the Josiah Bartlett life approach of “what’s next?”

In this day and age, people don’t stay put.  People move house, town, country.  They change jobs with greater (and greater) frequency.  The smart media plan you did for so-and-so, the partnership you brokered while doing blah-blah-blah… those have already been absorbed into the company and taken credit for by someone who couldn’t tie your shoelaces but has all the boot-licking skills necessary to be a lap dog for a very, very long time.

The thing that you have that they never will are the relationships that enabled you to win that business, broker that deal, make the introduction, etc.  Anyone can exchange business cards.  Anyone can throw around a company expense account.  Amassing a network of people who know you and respect you as a person and a professional is a value that is unique to you and cannot be touched.

Leave people better for knowing you – whether five or five thousand – and they will stay in your corner no matter what is said about you.  Even if you’re the one spouting the slander.

7)  It Isn’t Greener Anyplace Else

No one, and I mean NO ONE wants to admit this.  But every company, family, group, organization is a shit show.  There are varying degrees of shit, true, but anything made up of humans is going to have flaws.

Everyone is a brand of crazy and the goal is to find someone (or some place) whose crazy matches your own.  You can change jobs and you can create your own family.  But getting itchy because things aren’t going well doesn’t mean it will be better anyplace else.

An industry friend once gave me some sound advice – forget about “smart,” everybody is smart – look at the what (do you believe), look at the who (are they moral), and look at the how (could this game plan work for the next play – because game plans always change… they have to).

This was so damn simple and wise – it made me feel like a jackass for not knowing it already… but just for a minute.  Because that is what HIS genius is – distilling messy complexities into pocketsize wisdom.

Now I just need to figure out what’s mine.

If this is Schugar, why does it leave a bad taste in my mouth?

I’ve been rereading some of my posts to see how closely my project is aligning with my mission.  It seems that I talk very little about this “schugar” I claim as my own.  Money is a funny thing in my world.  It is very personal and usually painful to discuss.  Some of this is residual inheritance that I haven’t cured and some of this is my own wackadoo creation. 

This past week I finished Michael Lewis’ The Big Short and watched Too Big To Fail  on HBO.  If you’ve a strong stomach and enough mistrust for rich people to want to study them like lab rats, I recommend both.  The WSJ reviewed the latter as more aptly titled “Too Boring To Watch” but if you approach it as documentary-like viewing, you’ll be fine. 

I do agree with Mark Gongloff (the reviewer) on two things – I wish the characters had been more developed and more “real” people had been included.  Don’t misunderstand me, the characters were all actual people – but I hardly count the ex-Chairman of Goldman-Sachs as representative of the rest of us, even if he tries masking his shady background with a bit of public service.

Now here’s where I endure a little painful confession:  Before I read the incredibly compelling Lewis book, I really didn’t understand that Wall Street was like Vegas without the strippers. 

A couple of important things to note: 

  • everything I know about Vegas is 2nd hand or from the movies
  • I’ve had a 401K and separate stock portfolio since my late 20s
  • investing, saving, and money management were not among the lessons taught in my childhood home

One thing at a time.

The third bullet, my financial upbringing, warrants its very own post.  I just have to consider how to tactfully discuss in print.

I’ve never been to Vegas because it appeals to me the same way that a Pride parade, Jersey Shore, or the actual Mardi Gras do – not at all.  I support others’ right to enjoy them but I find them vulgar and tacky.  I actually enjoy gambling.  I like to play cards – blackjack and hold ’em.  I usually play the pokies when in Oz.  I’ve even won a bit of money at cruise ship gambling which purchased a pair of diamond earrings.  It’s a pasttime, a source of entertainment, and I can’t possible imagine throwing money on a felt table expecting to “hit the jackpot.”  That, my friends, is sucker behavior in my world.  Nothing comes for nothing.  At least, not for real people like us.

Yet, I have regularly invested my little pennies in a retirement fund because “it is the responsible thing to do.”  I thought that my investments into individual stocks (companies I support directly or believe in conceptually) and in mutual funds were my “vote” (put your money where your mouth is) for their success.  By supporting their stock I was saying to the company, I think you’re worth saving please keep up the good work.  Except, that’s just a teeny weeny part of investing.  There are masses of jackholes who are betting – literally gambling – with their own and other’s money AGAINST companies.  So instead, they are saying – and usually with much more significant sums than my 15% – ‘we bet you suck it big time. ‘ 

The book(s) and the movie that startled me out of my naive investment cloud told the story of how massive deregulation, minimal oversight, bribes, incompetence, greed, marketing, and widespread sucker behavior allowed a whole lot of people and companies to bet that we’d all ‘suck it big time.’  And anyone who didn’t bet that, lost their asses.

The thing about the financial industry that blows my mind – no matter what happens in the market, someone is making money.  It just isn’t usually you or me.

So what is our alternative to investing?  Pensions are all but dead.  Social Security will be insolvent when I’m 52.  My parents, your parents, and pretty much everyone over the age of 60 will bankrupt us when they run out of retirement funds and have no healthcare.  At 38, and the bread-winner for my family, I’m pacing so far behind my personal savings that I will work until I’m dead.  And I’m way ahead of the average woman.

Do you know the financial statistics for women?  They ain’t good, honey.  Pretend for a minute that women make as much as men for the same work (they generally don’t) and that earning less over a career equates to a smaller pension/social security payout.  About half of us are out of the workforce at least part of our foundation or earning years because of children.  Even if we work full-time throughout, our earning power is impacted by our breeder status through job-changes, missed promotions, under-utilization/employment.

Now consider this – 50% of marriages end in divorce in this country and 70% of married women are widowed at some point.  Please TELL me you aren’t counting on a man to take care of you.  Even if he is the most kick-arse, generous and loving man…  you are responsible for your own financial health.  To believe otherwise is sucker behavior, my friends.

Try these statistics on for size:

  • women live seven years longer than men, on average
  • over 70% of the US elderly poor are women
  • one year after divorce, the average mid-life woman remains single with an average income of $11,300
  • women have higher healthcare expenses
  • over 58% of boomer women have less than $10K saved in some form of retirement

(Some of these statistics come from the slightly outdated and heavily dog-eared WOW! Quick Facts on Women 2007 edition I keep by my desk.)

Scared yet? 

Now think about the absurdly insulated jackholes in charge of our stock market who make money whether your stocks go up or go down – who are betting against your mortgage, your life insurance, and your employer.  Who are handing over big campaign contributions to other jackholes to make sure they don’t get hampered by any pesky rules of engagement. 

I change my mind – Wall Street is like Vegas meets UFC, without the strippers or the blood. 

And these people have my money.

Holy fuck.

Numbers Game

In one week, I celebrate my 38th birthday.  Well, ‘celebrate’ might be too strong a term. 

Not to say that I’m fretting over this number or birthdays in general.  I’ve already lived longer than I expected to and known more joy than I ever allowed myself to hope for.  So why am I feeling ambivalent about this year’s marker of my birth? 

Ordinarily the entire month of February is a cacophony of self-congratulation.  I’m a firm believer in asking for what you want and I ALWAYS ask for people to celebrate with me.  Most people (in the North) think of February with dread and lethargy.  I think of Valentines Day and Mardi Gras and a three-day weekend I like to call “Christine’s Birthday Gift from the Government.”  (I was President once, you know.) 

Plus, it’s a mini-month.  It’s over before you know it. 

I’ve felt 38 since my hub’s birthday in September so there won’t be anything to remembering my new age.  I’ve been saying it for months by accident.  And this year is undoubtedly going to be my best since my 35th.  I know this truth in my soul and am manifesting it all over the place.

When I was 35, I became a mom.  The rollercoaster joy of motherhood is something I never expected to experience.  It is a largely unacclaimed role but undoubtedly the most substantial one I’ll ever earn, undiminished by the volume of peers in the field.  Whatever my professional aspirations, this windfall of importance and comedy and humility has made me richer than I ever thought possible.

Yet, I thought, in my hubris youth, that I’d have more to show by this point, that I’d have accomplished something tangible and laudable.  I expected my achievements to be showy, enviable, and unmatched.  And like any self-respecting-perfectionist-first-born, NOT having ‘reached my potential’ makes me want to wad up the sketch of my life and toss it in the bin.

Just when I get to that point of self-loathing agony, mourning for my lost chances and unruddered choices, my wise old-soul of a husband discusses starting points.

I feel like I often write about life and love ‘not being a competition.’ And maybe I need the reminder as much as I need to share my belief.  Life, for sure, cannot be competitive because no one shares the same starting line.  We aren’t given the same legs to run on.  We aren’t given the same course to navigate.  Looking at friends (or foes) with more or less of anything we desire and feeling failure is tragically flawed logic.

A surprising source of perspective came from a former manager, who while we worked together almost drove me to homicide, but since has become less a tyrannical figure and more of a sympathetic one.  Indeed, she observed my impolitic professional life with dispassion saying that I still had time to make the ascent to real leadership and influence.  It was one of the most hopeful things I had ever heard and from such a pragmatist, I couldn’t justly dismiss it.

In fact, at 38, I am not quite middle-aged.  The lifetimes I packed into the last two decades were, in fact, only warm-up acts.  Nancy Pelosi won her first elected seat to the House at 47 and became the first female Speaker at 66.  Arianna Huffington launched her magnum opus, Huffington Post, at fifty-five.  The youngest female CEO in the Fortune 500 is 47.

I’ve still got time.

And right now, I’ve got a birthday to plan.