Friday, July 22, 2011

College Grads: 5 Tips for Navigating the Corporate World

Some might argue that accepting business advice from me is sort of like taking mothering advice from the likes of Casey Anthony. However, my business life has not been that much of a disaster, I promise. You don’t have to be the smartest in the room, the best negotiator or the shrewdest business person to have success in the workplace. I feel I have been able to at least semi-successfully navigate the corporate world for more than a decade by following a few very simple rules.

#1. Be nice: The ability to get along with people is an important part of business success. You can teach skills, you can't teach personality. Your boss notices. You can pick your friends and pick your nose (you shouldn't), but you can't pick your co-workers. Anyone can get along with a friendly person. It takes a special kind of person to get along with the difficult ones. If you don't take things personally, stay positive, act professional and keep emotions out of it, you can have a positive professional relationship with almost anyone. Don’t let your ego get in the way. But let me be clear, don’t mistake being nice for being a push-over. You always must firmly, politely, stand your ground, without emotion, for what you believe in.

#2. Accept and respect authority: There are a lot of bad bosses out there (no Jennifer Anistan pun intended). The worst of them possess such adjectives as jerk, lazy, inexperienced, uninspiring and stupid (to put it mildly). However, defiance and a bad attitude never got anyone anywhere. Suck it up. Make the best of a bad situation. Respect your boss the best you can to their face and keep what you really think about them to yourself. I've had some REALLY bad bosses and could tell you the horror stories (maybe a blog for another day). I basically always only had two choices; learn to live with it or find a new job. I've done both. (For the record, I have also had some really amazing inspiring bosses, and it was easy to be under their authority).

#3 Work hard: News Flash – A large majority of the people that I encounter in the corporate world really don’t work that hard. It seems that most people figure out pretty quickly what is the minimum amount of work they can get away with doing without getting in trouble (or fired), and then glide on through. I learned that if you come to work every day, care about it and work hard, then you will likely shine above 75% of your co-workers. Just thinking for yourself, doing what you you are supposed to do and not doing what you are not supposed to do (i.e. web surfing, personal calls, wasting time) puts you heads and shoulders above the rest. Be helpful to others and demonstrate a can-do attitude. Bosses notice a strong work ethic, because not many people have one.

#4 Adapt to change: The only thing that is constant, is change. Over the years, without a doubt, You will get a new boss, a new client, new responsibilities, new co-workers and a new menu at the cafeteria. Take every announcement of change on with a positive attitude and do the best you can to work with the new circumstances. Strive to learn from new experiences. Show your boss you are open and willing to embrace change.

#5 Take Responsibility and learn from your mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes. We are all human after all. Admit to your mistakes as soon as you realize them. Trying to hide from, cover up or pass the blame only makes things worse. Attack your problems head on. Admit when you are wrong, accept the responsibility and learn from it. The people around you will ultimately respect you for it.

You may have noticed there is a common theme among my list. A positive attitude goes a long way. I always say, "If people at work really knew what I thought of them, I would be in trouble!" You don't have to show every emotion, say every thing you think and be "right" all the time. It is so simple: Be nice, work hard, respect authority, embrace change, and learn from your mistakes. These are the things they tried to teach us in Kindergarten but most grown-ups haven't yet grasped the concepts.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Five Things You are Probably Paying Too Much For

There are certain things in life that once you become a self-supporting adult, are given life expenses. A mortgage or rent is one of those expenses. Want a roof over your head? You're probably going to have to pay someone for that luxury. Then, there is the electric company. You are always going to have to pay that bill if you want a way to keep your milk from going sour and you like your air to be conditioned. Then, of course, there is insurance, of all kinds. It's the right thing to do. With all that being said, there are at least five things I can think off the top of my head that most people pay too much for, without even thinking about it, writing it off as a part of life.

Five Things in which you are probably paying too much:

1. Television: How much do you pay for 200+channels? I used to pay $75 a month without blinking an eye, and that didn't even include premium movie channels. It's a given, right? I have a good job, I can afford this "luxury". After an argument with a customer service rep at DirecTV with whom the irony of their job title was completely lost, I pulled the plug on satellite TV. I did this out of frustration more than any notion of saving money. I went to Wal-mart and bought a TV antenna for $20 (not the rabbit ears you remember from the 80's). Instantly, I had crystal clear access to all the local channels, plus a few extra channels that were unexpected. There is a channel called Antenna TV, which plays reruns of old sitcoms and even a channel that has home remodeling and design shows similar to those seen on HDTV. I subscribed to Netflix's live streaming service for $8.99 a month for instant access to past seasons of tons of television series, reality shows and older movies for those times that there was "nothing on" network TV. I learned VERY quickly that having less TV channels did not lessen my quality of life. Free TV. It's a beautiful thing.

2. Cell Phone Service: Someone tell me, just when did it become the norm to pay over $100 a month for cell phone service for one phone? Remember the good old days, when your cell phone was just a phone? When you just made calls? Those were the days, before the smart phone, but that doesn't sound very smart. I don't know how they did it, how they slowly over time tricked me into thinking $100 a month was OK for this service.  Then one day when I was paying my cell phone bill of over $200 for 2 people. I thought, "This is crazy, this is like a car payment!" My first point of action, I canceled my smart phone and downgraded back to a dumb phone. You know, one that just makes calls and sends texts. I was saving the data plan, but honestly I missed my smart phone. I had grown addicted accustomed to the convenience of it. Unlike my TV experience, I really did miss my smart phone. There had to be another way. Metro PCS was my savior from outrageous cell phone bills. Now I have an android powered smart phone and it's only $60 bucks a month for unlimited everything on the Sprint network.  I don't understand how one company can charge more than $100 for something that another company charges half, but I don't need to understand. I am going with half price.

3. Car Payments: I remember someone saying to me once a long time ago, "A car payment is just part of life. If you want to drive a decent car, you have to have a car payment". I remembering agreeing with them. Its amazing how you change. What? You don't have 30K sitting in your bank account to pay cash for your new car? Guess what? You can't afford a new car. People seem to think if the car payment works within their monthly budget, then they can afford the car. I don't believe this to be true. I can afford to pay $500 for a car payment. I choose not to afford the interest charges over five years for a car that is decreasing in value every time I drive it. I am not going to say that I never borrow money for a car. In fact, I am currently in the middle of a three year loan. I bought a used car, put a big down payment and chose a short term loan. I plan to use all that money that I am saving on TV and cell phones to pay off the loan faster than three years. When I get to the blessed moment when have the title in my hand, I will drive that car for as many years as it will allow. We paid off hubbies truck in a year an a half and he will drive it until the wheels fall off, hopefully well into the year 2015.

4. Credit Cards: In this day and age, I would hope that everyone would have stopped credit card use for anything but emergencies (a sale at Nordstorm does not qualify as an emergency). However, I understand because we've done it too. We spent too much and got us in a little over our heads. $100 here and there added up to thousands in debt. Thousands in debt is not fun. I know now, the interest and monthly payments will kill you and your month budget. If you don't have the cash, don't buy it. Period. It's so easy, but lost on so many. Work to pay off your existing debt without adding any additional and sooner or later you will be debt free. Debt free = free.

5. Shopping: I LOVE to shop. I love clothes and jewelry and shoes and home accessories and handbags and did I say jewelry yet? Shopping doesn't have to break the bank. Check out any thrift stores lately? My $15 Marc Jacobs skirt find might just be my prized thrift store possession. Not into buying used clothes? It's only one dry cleaning away from being new-to-you. But, there are other options. You don't have to shop at Nordstorm or Saks to be in style. Stores like Ross, TJMaxx and Marshall's have name brand clothing for considerably less than department stores. And who needs name brands? After nearly two decades working in the apparel industry, one thing I learned is that a label is only a label. Many times the name brand item and the knock off are being produced in the same factory, only with different labels. I can't remember the last time I bought something at Macy's or full price from a mall store. My theory is that if you have good taste, you can shop anywhere. You can find a cute cami at Wal-mart or a fashion forward skirt at Target. Heck, I wouldn't be opposed to buying a piece at Dollar General if was cute. If you know how to put clothes together, the WHERE you buy isn't as important as the WHAT you buy.

I'm not perfect when it comes to spending money. We spend entirely too much money eating out and are working on improving that. I am admittedly very frugal but I like to have nice things, to enjoy life and to look nice. I believe you can find ways to spend less and still live a full and modern life.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

No Complain, All Gain

I am a runner. Well, I fancy myself a runner. I’m not especially fast, or technical. Maybe a jogger is a better word, but I like runner better. Humor me.

So, what makes one a runner? I have a subscription to Runner’s World Magazine. Well, we all know having a subscription to Runner’s World doesn’t make you any more of a runner than having a subscription to Scientific America, makes you a Scientist. Sometimes, I flip through the pages of my running magazine and I don’t even understand all the technical talk. That doesn’t make me less of a runner.

What makes me a runner is that I lace up my running shoes and hit the streets on a regular basis. I’ve logged many miles on the street, at the park and on the treadmill. I’ve run 5K’s, 10K’s and even an ultra-half marathon once. I’m not breaking any records. Sometimes ladies pushing baby carriages whiz past me during the 5K’s. I’m ok with that. I’m still a runner.

Sometimes running in painful. Not physically painful really, but mentally. My heart is beating faster than what is comfortable, I am breathing heavy and my legs are working hard. My mind is telling me to stop, but this is the time that I have to push my body to keep going, to work harder. Just to be clear, I am not talking about physical pain such as in the knees, shins, ankles, hips, etc. If you have those kinds of physical pain, you should listen to your body and stop. I am talking about being uncomfortable from exertion and the mental tricks your mind plays on you during a run.

Other times running is relaxing and joyful. Yes, I said joyful. A slow comfortable pace to clear my head and exercise my body. Quiet time all to myself or quality time running with a good friend or my husband can be the best time of my day.

Immediately after a run is usually the most rewarding. Whether the run was easy or difficult, whether I was fast or slow, whether I ran alone or with a friend, it doesn’t matter. It is that infamous runner’s high immediately after a run that never fails to put me right smack on top of the world. I never finished a run and thought, “ Gosh, I wish I wouldn’t have done that today.” Which brings me to my point.

Yesterday it was 103 degrees at 6:30 in the afternoon. I had already done 30 minutes at the gym on the dreaded stair climber (AKA the Death Mill), but I got home from the gym and wanted to log just a couple outdoor running miles for the day. It was hot outside, I mean REALLY hot. It is Texas in the summer, after all. I was tired. I worked all day and already spent 30 minutes sweating buckets at the crowded gym. I ignored that little voice that told me sit on the couch and watch TV. Instead, I hit the streets. Then, almost immediately, I regretted it. Less than a block from the house, my temperature was rising, my heart was pounding and my legs were screaming. I was already contemplating doing a U-turn and going home. “Just keep going,” I told myself, “Only 2.5 miles today. You can do it.”

Then, I had a moment of clarity that fueled the rest of my run.

Running is a privilege. There are many people in this world that physically can’t run due to illness, weakness, injury or probably a million other reasons I couldn’t even dream up. There are people in wheel chairs and people without legs at all, that would give anything to lace up their own 2 shoes and go for a jog. I am physically able to run today, I have the time and the ability (not to mention a supportive husband.) There are no guarantees for what tomorrow will bring. Everything could change in a blink of an eye.

So, as I was running in the impossible heat I was reminded to be thankful for my two strong healthy (albeit tired) legs, my healthy heart and for the motivation and the desire to be there in that hot miserable moment. I was reminded to be thankful for the opportunity to clear my head and exercise my body. I was reminded that I should not squander any chance for daily exercise in exchange for time in front of the TV, computer or an extra hour of sleep. I shouldn't put it off for the perpetual "tomorrow," because there are no guarantees for tomorrow. Running is a privilege. I was so busy those next 2.5 miles being thankful, that I almost forgot about the pain. Almost.

What about you?  What are you grateful for?

Keep Running,


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photo credit: kaneda99 via photopin cc


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