Friday, February 27, 2015

We're sick

This love story, fraught with facts I made up, plot twists, and gossip about my co-workers began with a sore throat.

I know full well that a sore throat is a harbinger for a cold or the flu and that ignoring it (or anything else, for that matter) is not very effective. I know too that if I tended to it early by staying home for one day, sipping broth, binging on really good TV and napping I’d likely quash it before it developed into anything worth writing about.

So I ignored it.

I went to work for a week through this sore throat and through every other symptom that followed it: the stuffy nose and headache and fatigue and cough.

How did I get it to begin with? I suspect from someone at work (whose identity I will protect because she knows too much about me), who instead of staying home showed up at the office through all her symptoms.

And of course I took down with me another co-worker, possibly two, who also came in feverish and coughing after they caught the virus from me.

It got to the point where I could barely stand. To stay home, all I needed was to get through that business trip – media training – meeting with the CEO – meeting with the executives – brainstorm – business trip.

To make a long story short, after nearly five weeks (five!) of fighting (and losing) against an exhausting, frightening bug and witnessing my entire team similarly embattled it occurred to me to ask myself: what the heck is wrong with us?

Once upon a time people used to take sick time. And I could blame the economy, the industry, the system, the infrastructure, how times have changed; but I’ll start with myself.

I recognize I am the creator of everything I complain about. That staying home makes me feel like I lost, like I’m weak, irresponsible, like I’m not being a hero, like I’m not a trooper, guilty. So it becomes a preposterous personal crusade instead of choosing to do something as basic and necessary as taking care of myself.

Which takes me to another matter under the category of taking care of myself: once upon a time people used to take vacation. And here again I will not bother blaming the industry and all the aforementioned higher powers and instead confess I have been known to go a year or two without taking any real time off. Travel used to be one of the great joys of my life and suddenly I can’t be bothered to set aside a date to go.

I don’t want to give the false impression that I work constantly. Rather, I have developed a faulty on/off switch with work so that it’s always flickering in the background, even when there is no need for it to be. I have lost touch with sprinting outside and slamming the door behind me because it’s recess.

An astounding 87% of employees do not take sick time or vacation time as often as afforded by the companies they work for. And yes, this is the made up fact I promised in the opening sentence, but still. I bet this is an epidemic.

We have convinced ourselves that our world cannot do without us for a few days (well played, ego) and are as a result impoverishing our profession and ourselves. And in the process we’re getting sick.

Why are so many people feeling somewhere between disenchanted and burned out? Why is the sense that we don’t know what we want to do next, that we lack purpose or have lost our way so pervasive?

How are we supposed to acquire a crisp vision for our life if we never allow ourselves to slow down, to rest, to get perspective?   

What is it that feeds creativity? Where does it come from and how can we get more? (Not in replying to one more email, that’s for sure.)

This is not a reflection of a mid-life crisis (not that I would ever consider a mid-life crisis a bad thing.) I’m not suggesting we collectively chuck it all and take a year off (although I would never discourage it.)

Let’s see how much inspiration we find in a daily dose of silence. Let’s find out how much clarity exploring another place for a few days grants us. Let’s see what revelation we experience from a long weekend lying on the beach doing nothing. (Yes, you can hold a slushy, fruity drink with an umbrella in it.)

And let’s stay home guilt free if we suspect we’re getting sick. Because you know that my aspirational day of sipping broth, binging on really good TV and napping sounded pretty good to you too.

Monday, February 23, 2015

His excellency

On occasion my dad would receive correspondence addressed to "His Excellency". He'd circle this reference with a course red pencil and scribble underneath "but you can call me daddy." Then he'd leave it on my desk.

We both thought this was hysterical.

His number

Early yesterday morning I turned to Boyfriend and said "I feel like I haven't talked to my dad in too long. I'm going to call him today". Boyfriend looked at me strangely.

Death is surreal. I bet you I could talk to him. I just don't have the number.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The best interview question in the world

This article was originally published in The Holmes Report.

I’m going to skip the part where I tell you good interviewing skills are critical because hiring is - you know.  The right person changes the game and the wrong person is like a train wreck that destroys everything in its wake – regardless of level – and what you’d really like is for your interview to predict which the person sitting across from you is going to turn out to be.

Plus, you've hired the wrong person before.

And you will again.

While predicting the future is a noble undertaking, and while the company you work for should have in place a methodology proven to come close, what can you do as an individual to make sure that your insight contributes to a more fortunate hiring process?

(A lot, actually. But I’m going to stick to the subject, so will focus on this one little sliver.) 

My vote for best interview question in the world is:

Give me an example of a mistake you made and how you fixed it.

Most common answers: 
·      I can’t really think of one right now.
·      I haven’t made mistakes in a while.
·      (Gasp) I did make a mistake, but it wasn’t my fault.
·      (Double gasp) I did make a mistake, but it was her fault.
·      (Triple gasp) I made a mistake but it was because I was following orders.

I can talk a lot about the second part of the best interview question in the world (“how you fixed it”.) This alone reveals quite a bit about the candidate’s troubleshooting skills, her creativity, imagination, resourcefulness, thought processes and her ability to work within a team.

But my favorite is the first part: “give me an example of a mistake you made”, which is without exception followed by an audible intake of breath and a pregnant pause.

Within the answer to this first part of the question, I’d like to see a sense of humanity. An acknowledgement of fallibility; a sign that the person has already met with and recognizes her limitations as a mere mortal. If you never made mistakes you would not be flexible, nor adroit at mending broken things, nor well versed at assessing risk. Even worse, an individual who cannot own a mistake can’t learn from it, which is a good indicator of the person’s ability to grow within an organization.

I’d like to see accountability, with maybe even a tiny, healthy tinge of possessiveness. That mistake was mine, all mine and I have no one to blame but me. First, because it’s safe to say that a team member who points fingers before they even get the job does not bode well for a collaborative team environment, but more importantly because if you assign blame to someone other than you, you relinquish your power, and I much prefer working with powerful people.

I’d like to see courage. I am so scared you will think less of me if I tell you the stupid, stupid thing I did and maybe decide not to hire me but I’m going to tell you anyway because you asked and my mistakes are part of who I am so if you decide because of them not to consider me for this job maybe you’re not the right company for me so here it goes.

I’d like to see a sense of humor. A woman I interviewed once replied “just one example? Today alone I made about four mistakes before I’d even had coffee!” and proceeded to show me that her socks didn’t match. (Although now that I think about it, the look was sort of bohemian chic so maybe she was showing off.)

I learned this very handy interview question because one sunny morning, a long long time ago, someone asked me to provide an example of a mistake I had made and how I had fixed it.

My answer was, naturally, that I tended to not make any.

That was what I said, in part because I was really young, but mostly because I wanted very much for everyone to believe that I was perfect. (I have since aborted the mission because I was perpetually exhausted and because I found out later that no one was buying it anyway.) 

Which brings me to something else you need to remember about people when you interview them.

I hear over and over again the adage “people don’t change”. But you know what? Everything changes. The weather even after you check your really accurate new app, your intentions even if early this very morning you were brimming with resolve, your feelings despite being so vocal about the certainty deep in your heart, your preferences because when was it that Brussel Sprouts became so delicious? Your plans because as you have already noticed nothing ever turns out how you anticipated; even the precise interpretation of the promises you made, because that was then and this is now.

So it’s only logical to conclude that people do indeed change.

Go ahead and ask me to give you an example of a mistake I made. Just make sure you set aside some time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Elevate the conversation

Growing up we held huge family meals on Sundays. My Dad would regularly stand up and say "this conversation has slipped below my standards. Let's elevate it." We'd groan. 

I now suspect this is the root cause of a tragic, awkward inability to engage in small talk.

Thank you for all my flaws, papá. I take you everywhere I go.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Age sets you free

The first time I built a team I found it crushing when someone resigned. It took me years to understand that leaving and loyalty were unrelated. Now I find it hard to believe I ever perceived it that way.
Learning not to take things personally is one of the many gifts of getting older. Age sets you free.