The Kindness of Strangers

johnny_automatic_coffee_coupleTuesday morning will be my first day of a new job with a new company after 5 months of unemployment. I am both excited and nervous about what-comes-next and I’m sure it will be the stuff of future blog posts. As I anxiously await these new adventures, I have reflected a bit on what I learned during my “in-between” time.

My family and friends have been awesome, although I pretty much already knew that. They kept me sane, or at least kept me company, during my darker days. My husband, who knew better than to try and tell me ‘everything would be fine,’ showed me listings for studio apartments in Hawaii along with calculations on how we could sell everything, take the cat, and move to paradise. It was never the reality of moving to Hawaii, but the idea of it, that he knew I needed. My friends met me for lunch, coffee, or drinks and did tell me everything would be fine when they saw that that was what I needed. My family encouraged my search efforts by offering either to move in with me and pay me rent or for me to move in with them and pay them rent… Those ‘threats’ were in jest, but I was comforted by knowing that no matter what happened my family had my back.

This experience, and the support I received, showed me what a truly blessed life I live. I have much to be thankful for and any complaints I have are, at their worst, mere inconveniences.

The biggest surprise for me in all this was the help I received from total strangers. One of my strategies based on online networking techniques I learned in my time at LexBlog was to target companies that I was interested in, based on industry (e.g., technology, social media, online marketing) and use LinkedIn to research local contacts within those companies. Once I had a specific name, I looked to see if I had any connection to them through mutual friends or some other common interest. From there I sent out emails that included specific questions I had about their role or their company and asked if they would be willing to meet for coffee. Of course, some of these emails were ignored or my request was politely declined, but I was delighted to find others who accepted my invitations.

These coffee dates were a godsend to me. One of the challenges of job searching is the amount of rejection you have to endure and yet stay positive and hopeful. Applications go ignored, or you talk to a recruiter and then never hear from them again. Not to mention those times when you make it to the face to face interview stage only to have the company go another direction or select a more qualified candidate, or in the case of one interview that went sideways have them re-post the position you applied for the next day. Your self-confidence takes a beating and you start to wonder if you actually have some sort of anti-job cooties.

Unlike interviews, having coffee with someone is more about sharing ideas than evaluating each other. I loved learning about what the people I met were doing, why they did it, what they liked about it, or didn’t like about it. I also enjoyed talking about what was going on in their particular industry. I was able to offer my own observations and sometimes we agreed and sometimes we engaged in lively debate. All of this left me feeling like I actually had something to offer the world. I would come home from these encounters high on a much needed dose of confidence-building.

Aside from the time these people shared with me (and I view time as a precious commodity), I was time and time again taken aback by the generosity of spirit shown to me. I was encouraged, offered free advice, and connected with yet other contacts. None of these people knew me and had no reason to help me, and still they all said yes. There are lots of reasons to be disheartened by the state of the world these days, but I saw that given the chance there are plenty of people who will reach out to a total stranger and offer a helping hand. None of the people I met with asked for anything in exchange, except perhaps to pay it forward. I was humbled by their humankind-ness and I have made a promise to myself to do whatever I can to offer the same to others when the chance presents itself.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word. ~Goran Persson
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The Real Me

vanity2Now that I’ve been at home, not working for a bit, I’m starting to uncover a few things about my true nature. Not that these traits are any big surprise, but I think we often see our work selves a little differently than we see our rest-of-our-life selves. As it turns out, I have some habits that are intrinsic to my personality, not a function of my job, workplace, or profession.

Here, in no particular order, are a few observations:

  • I have no attention span. I know, I know, I’m an American living in the land of instant gratification, but still I am amazed by my own lack of focus. I interrupt my own interruptions. I will walk out of the bedroom to take a glass back to the kitchen and stop to catch something on TV and then turn from that to check my email, then Facebook, then Twitter, which will make me think of something on the TV and then I will see my glass, but remember there was something else in the bedroom I wanted to get and you get the idea. It can take 12 hours for that glass to make it all the way to the kitchen sink.
  • I am a big procrastinator. Given that I have huge blocks of time at my disposal to finally get this or that big project done, one would think I would have started, something, anything. (Maybe I’m just too tired from all the ADD-based activity noted above??) Alas, I haven’t organized my scrapbooks. I haven’t created a menu plan with all new recipes I’ve never tried before. In fact, it took me almost two weeks just to get my cycling gloves back downstairs in my bike bag. Thankfully, I’m not a complete loser – I was able to tackle some of the important job-seeking tasks like updating my resume right off the bat. In fact, there seems to be some correlation between the level of priority and the level of procrastination. I do address the mission critical stuff in a timely fashion. I think I was just a little surprised to realize all those things that weren’t that important when I was employed (e.g., the scrapbooks) still aren’t that important.
  • I like helping others more than I like helping myself. This is not to say I’m not doing things to take care of myself – I am still going to Weight Watchers, I’m still running, and I am spending time each day on my networking/job hunt efforts. However, I find when I am doing the job search my mind tends to wander to other folks I think I would great for this or that opportunity. Today, after chatting with a recruiter about what I was looking for, we spent a good fifteen minutes with me telling her about this other friend of mine she should be talking to as well. Of course, I didn’t think that helping people was strictly tied to work, but I guess I had expected that I would become much more self-focused not being in a regular work environment every day. So it has been heartening to know that my desire to think about others has persisted even when home all day.
  • I’m still an extrovert. Okay, this is no surprise to anyone, least of all to myself. There is only so much hanging around at home that I can handle. Fortunately, I have been taking advantage of my flexibility to catch up with old friends for coffee or lunch and have been doing a little volunteering here and there to get me out of the house. Yesterday was one of those rare days that I was home all day by myself. When Brian got home, we went to run a few errands and bumped into a friend. We stopped at the corner and chatted for a few crosswalk cycles and it was amazing what a lift to my mood it was to talk to someone besides the cat.

As un-earth shattering as these insights may be, I do appreciate that I have had the mental bandwidth lately to observe and take note of them. I think a little self-reflection does us all good, and seeing some of the same patterns in our different walks of life helps reinforce what is “us” and what is our environment. As much as I would love to blame some of my short-comings on factors outside my control, I am actually glad to know that I’m the same (flawed and complex) me, working or not.

I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done. ~Susan Orlean

A Running (re)Start

I was on the phone with a client this past week who also happens to be a runner. I asked her how her training was going and she said not very well, that she hadn’t been running and was going to have to basically start over. We chatted briefly about how the “re-start” seemed to be a fixture for most runners.

There are those for whom running has become an ingrained fixture in their lives and they couldn’t imagine going more than a day or two without running. If that’s you, I’m both happy for you and hate you a little. I am not one of those people. It’s one of the reasons I train with a group like Team in Training. The group keeps me accountable and focused on my next endurance event. But I will tell you after my feet cross the finish line five months from now, the only running I’ll want to do is towards the sofa.

The price I pay for half a year of laziness is that I have to start over from scratch every Jan/Feb when I get itching to do another endurance event.  Here in the middle of February my body has figured out that things have changed… It’s discovered that those first runs were not a fluke and my hibernating muscles are being rudely awoken from their slumber. And like waking a sleeping bear, they are not happy about it. Things ache, muscles get sore, I get sore, I get sleepy. I probably have another good 2-3 weeks before my body settles back into the routine and ‘remembers’ what it’s like to be a runner.

I suppose my running life would be easier if I kept it up year round, if even just in a maintenance program of light running in the ‘off’ season.  But there seems to be something equally important for me psychologically of not running. I love doing the Seattle Rock N Roll half marathon precisely because it’s held in late June and am able to ‘take the summer off’ and save the very best of Seattle summer weather for whatever fun stuff strikes my fancy. That often includes being active – riding bikes, kayaking, hiking. But it also includes cloud gazing, porch lounging, and lazy Saturdays spent reading. I love being a runner and no matter how many times I leave it behind, I’m always drawn back into it. And I also can’t imagine a life in which there is no room for cloud gazing, too. I wonder sometimes if this time away is also part of the draw. I miss running which is what prompts me to sign up each January. It’s hard to miss something if you don’t have a little time and space away from it.

And other obstacles get in the way of our best laid plans. A runner’s life is inevitably filled with injuries large or small that take us off our feet for periods of time. Never mind life in general with work, travel, illness, family, weather, holidays. It’s easy to say those are simply excuses, and sometimes they are, but other times we have a few too many balls in the air and something has to give, and sometimes that thing is running.

The good news is there is much to be said for starting anew. I look forward to starting my training, meeting new people, seeing old friends again. The fun I get from these re-starts reminds me that you can get back on the horse. I have re-started so many times that I know instinctively that a break from running is far from a permanent situation. Success in running, or in anything really, is not about how many times you stop or fail, it’s about making the choice to start again.

Fall down nine times, get up ten…  ~Japanese proverb