Archive for November, 2011
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No matter where it came from, sometime after college where your degree came from may be largely irrelevant, and no matter what it cost, there may be times it holds no value. Whenever someone asks me where I was educated, I’d like to say boiler rooms, bars, cheap motels, jails*, and the inner city. Instead, I politely name the university I attended.
Recently, I had a conversation with a medical specialist. We were discussing the merits of old doctors vs. new doctors. On the one hand is the young doctor freshly educated, well-versed in the newest techniques and the latest findings, everything he’s learned is still at the front of his brain. On the other hand is the older practitioner, who has probably forgotten many of the things he’s learned, and may still be employing practices now considered obsolete, but his arsenal of tools includes the years of experience which add up to more than all he learned in med school. He knows much more than the most competent of his younger colleagues.
The very best doctors I’ve known fall mostly in that first category, but those who fall between newly hired and soon retired often represent the best of both worlds, because expertise and knowledge are gained two ways. Not just in fields like medicine, but in all aspects of life there are two methods by which we are educated:
A. Learn stuff
B. Do stuff
As I watch what’s happening in our country, I worry about education, our economy and the future. I also fear for those who would occupy Main Street, as one day they will be the middle-aged and/or the middle class. Many of these young college-educated visionaries are frustrated over not being able to find good jobs. I understand their frustrations, because I’ve been there. After college, I often found the only jobs available, were those for which I was over-qualified and/or underpaid. At those times, the value of a paycheck, always trumped the value of a college degree.
As a result, my own job history is one that doesn’t reflect my skills or aspirations. In fact, based on my resume, it’s a wonder anyone would hire me. Over the years, I’ve worked here and there, doing this or that. I took some jobs because they were available when nothing else was. I’ve done all kinds of things, from cleaning toilets to telemarketing, from working in pubs to public radio, from being a producer of illustrations to being the shop-girl who framed them. From offices to strip malls to shipyards, I’ve worked in places ranging from the gritty inner city and the hipper Silicon Valley.
I was under-qualified for some of the positions I’ve held, but over-qualified for most of them. Nevertheless, I learned more about being a competitive, as a waitress, as I did in college. I learned more about people through involvement with charities, than a four-year degree in sociology or psychology than a degree would have taught me. I learned more about business by watching the successes and failures of others, than Management 101 could have taught me. Through individuals and experiences, I have gained an unconventional, but extensive education.
The occupiers are convinced they have no future, unless they can make the rest of us atone for the mistakes they believe we’ve made. Most of them are too young to remember, when some of those who now occupy the jobs on
Wall Street, occupied Woodstock. I too was once like them, full of ideas about what my future would look like. My vision didn’t include moving into California during a dismal recession or ending up in towns with very few employment opportunities.
If only those of us who remember what it was like to be inexperienced and full of untested ideas, would join their encampments. We could stand on milk crates and share the things we’ve learned, but there would be no point. They wouldn’t listen, because they believe everything they need to know they learned at university. Many of of them have yet to realize the most valuable education is gained outside the classroom. If they really want to do something to change things, they need to get out and DO the things that will change things–at which time they will know the difference between the right to a job and the right to succeed. Though the ideas taught in a classroom are important, it is only when those ideas are tested that we become educated.
*I have never been in jail, but I have spent time in jails with those who were.
‘Tis the season, the season which ushers in that other season…
There are two times of the year, when invitations are too plentiful. The first occurs between spring and summer when end-of-the year recitals, picnics, and awards banquets are followed by graduations, weddings, BBQ’s and usually a baby shower or two. The second is the season beginning in fall, and lasting through the last pretzel of the Superbowl–guaranteeing that the already-too-busy holiday season will be even busier.
Parties are fun–at least they are supposed to be. Unfortunately, they aren’t all fun, and even when they are, not everyone enjoys them. There are those who live for the next party and those who dread them all. Most of us are somewhere in between, but even the most sociable can find it challenging to enjoy a party.
The invitations we receive are supposed to be optional, but many come with obligations or implications, which cause us to attend things we’d rather skip. As a result, we may find ourselves wearing clothes we aren’t comfortable in, talking to people whose company we may not enjoy, on evenings when we’d prefer the comfort of home, a bathrobe and Conan O’Brien.
Women seem to be able to muster more enthusiasm for social gatherings than men. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, considering we enjoy talking and dressing up more than most men. That’s a broad generalization, but try to imagine men using home parties selling stuff like car care products or grill accessories as an excuse to socialize. (In my head I’m trying to picture Beloved Soul Mate at a buddy’s house for a a home demo of Turtle Wax.)
Even if it is true that women are socially more at ease, more than 40% of adults consider themselves shy, and even those who would call themselves extroverts can experience anxiety in social settings. For those who dread the inevitable social functions, here are some obvious and simple tips; because enjoying a party isn’t supposed to be hard.
1. The most important thing is remembering you are not the only one who may feel self-conscious in social situations. If you are uneasy, it is likely others are too. Though it is natural to internalize the discomfort, don’t be consumed by worries about what others are thinking of you. The others are most likely just as anxious about making a favorable impression–or not making a bad one.
2. If you wait for other “shy” people to break the ice, it could be a very long chilly evening. By being the one who takes the initiative, you will quickly make the environment more friendly. It is as simple as introducing yourself, and while this will feel like a huge risk, it will put others at ease and cause you to seem more socially confident than you probably feel.
3. Once introductions are made, there is the inevitable small talk. Small talk is awkward, until you establish something both parties can talk about. Talk about the season, the decorations, the food, how the other person knows the host, or how long they’ve been with the company. You can even talk about how awkward it is to make small talk. Kids, dogs and sports are also easy fallback subjects.
4. Lighten up and have a sense of humor. The point of a party is to have fun, so if you make a gaf, don’t let it spoil your evening. Having a sense of humor is almost always a good thing, except on those uncomfortable occasions when someone makes an offensive attempt at humor. In those situations, you may want to quietly excuse yourself to refill your punch cup (or your shot glass).
5. Speaking of shot glasses..even when alcohol is served, you don’t have to drink it. Drinking is more acceptable at some parties than others. While passing out on a couch may be fine form at a reunion of the fraternity brothers, professional functions are a good time to practice moderation.
6. Every social function has unspoken rules. If you try to get a read on what kind of atmosphere the party hosts intend, you won’t feel like the only one who missed the memo. Be considerate of the hosts, by following suggested dress codes, contributing food or drink if asked, or complying with the parameters of the inevitable holiday gift exchange. While you’re at it, pick up a little something for the party host(s). This isn’t required, but it doesn’t take much effort and conveys thoughtfulness.
7. While you’re being so thoughtful, remember to R.S.V.P. Later, if your plans change, be sure to inform your host(s). If you’re expected to attend, do your best to show up, preferably on time. Being late may seem fashionable, but it is very inconsiderate, if it causes others to wait on you.
Parties are supposed to be relaxing, not stressful. If you’ve been invited, it is because the host or hostess is hoping you’ll enjoy the occasion. Showing your appreciation can be as easy as enjoying the food, company and atmosphere. In a season that is often frantic, do yourself a favor and have a little fun.