Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Things New Grads Should (But Never Do) Think About Come First-Time Employment

The newly graduated 20-somethings in the world today face a lot of struggles in the personal and professional realms. Of course, college grads have a long history of struggling with the transition from college dorm rooms and heated academic lectures to office politics and frenzied company meetings. While our college careers certainly prepare us for some aspects of adult life and self-preservation, there are some areas of becoming a true adult that college, term papers, and frat parties just can't teach us. With the added challenges facing college grads in today's society, most 20-somethings are simply thrilled to be employed at all. But, even after all the resume sending, cover letter writing, and eventual employment, there are still many aspects of becoming employed for the first time that newbie graduates need to consider. These three things are employment musts that many first-time employees overlook and underestimate.

The Retirement Plan
I know, I know. How can you possibly start to think about retirement, if you only just found a job after months of searching? Trust me—I shared your sentiments as well. But, as far away and dull as it sounds, retirement plans are a very important aspect of becoming a responsible, employed adult. Look into your company's retirement offerings. You want to begin thinking about the future right away. By starting to think about and plan out your retirement now, you can set yourself up for a very comfortable future. At the very least, when you start your first "real world" job out of college, look into the retirement options you have. What types of plans does your company offer? What options might make the most sense for your situation? By simply becoming better educated on the topics of retirement and IRA accounts, you can more responsibly plan for your future and manage your finances.

Actual Financial Planning
While retirement falls in place with financial planning, there is much more to the topic than just thinking about starting a retirement plan. For many newly employed college grads, "saving" is not necessarily at the top of our to-do list. This is the first time that you're making "real" money for yourself and have only yourself (and your college loans) to spend it on. With this freedom comes a lot of reckless or at least thoughtless spending. You want to celebrate the fact that you've actually graduated from college, landed a job, and survived. Spending is easy to do and it seems logical in the first few months. However (and this is a big however), it's a very wise idea to look into your financial situation very carefully after you get your first paycheck. Sit down and look through things. See exactly how much money you earn, learn where that money is going (loans, rent, groceries, gas, etc.), and try to create a financial plan. Divvy up your finances and try to make a plan as to where things will go. How much will you spend on necessities (rent, gas, food), how much goes to "fun", and how much will you put towards savings?

Professional* Networking
One of the most challenging aspects of entering the professional world is learning how to navigate the social world of an office. This is by far one of the things I struggled with most in the first few months of my first "real" job. The bottom line is that communication and friendships just can't be the same when you're in a professional office atmosphere. Though you may be surrounded by people your age day in and day out (much like college), you can't treat these colleagues the same way you would college dorm mates. Of course, you're going to make friends and build relationships with your coworkers after a period of time. It's good to be friends with your coworkers, but you want to be careful with your interactions. The professional world is different from any other realm. You need to keep things professional. Watch the way you talk about certain aspects of your work like. Try to compartmentalize to some degree. If you become close friends with a coworker, remain solely coworkers in the office and solely friends inside the office.

An education blogger by trade, Maria Rainer loves to explore the connections between the web and a college education. She writes for on online student advice columns and substantive posts on the latest trends in online education. Please share your comments with Maria.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals” changes my fitness routine

Motivation for reading:
JKS Communications recommended I review Dr. Joan Vernikos's book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death - and Exercise Alone Won't. This book answers one of the great puzzles of modern medicine: Americans have struggled for decades to exercise more and get healthy, but we’re still fatter, sicker, and more tired than ever before. Why isn’t exercise enough? What’s missing? Since this pretty much sums up my situation right now, I agreed to review the book.
What is the book about?
Dr. Joan Vernikos, former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, has written a book that applies her research on Gravity Deprivation Syndrome to everyday health here on earth. She demonstrates how modern sedentary lifestyles contribute to poor health, obesity, and diabetes, and how health can be dramatically improved by continuous, low-intensity, movement that challenges the force of gravity. She cites her original NASA research on how weightlessness weakens astronauts' muscles, bones, and overall health, and presents a simple plan for maintaining good health throughout life by developing new lifestyle habits of frequent gravity-challenging movement. The book is divided into two parts. The first describes why you need gravity for good health while the second is about putting gravity to work for lifelong health.

My Thoughts:
Sitting Kills, Moving Heals has come along at the perfect time in my life. I’ve always been a regular exerciser attending aerobic and strength training classes 3 to 4 times a week. Over the past couple of years I’ve hurt myself 3 times – the last time experiencing shoulder pain that lasted six months. I am now in constant fear that I will hurt myself again and not be able to work out anymore. My fitness club and other clubs in my area are increasingly moving towards a high impact and boot camp type curriculum while offering fewer options for us older folks. Several of my fellow fitness club participants have also hurt themselves. Many of us tend to shy away from yoga classes thinking they won’t provide us with an intense enough workout for weight loss. Lately, I have been struggling with what classes to sign up for this fall. Should I risk injury and take the new kettlebell class my gym offers or should I search elsewhere for a yoga or stretching class?

Vernikos tells us traditional gym exercise isn’t enough and only partially improves health of people who, like me, sit all day long.

Exercise is not a substitute for activities that come naturally throughout the day, 365 days a year, for the rest of your life. (Pg. 52)
The most beneficial activity for your body is continuous, low-intensity, all-day, everyday movement that resists the force of gravity — simple habits like standing up, walking stretching, pacing and fidgeting. These activities are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), Vernikos writes:
NEAT is a much greater component of your body’s total energy expenditures throughout a typical day than are structured high-intensity exercises such as walking, running, bicycling, or working out in a gym. NEAT is defined as the small brief, yet frequent muscular movements one makes throughout the day, of which, changing position is the most effective: standing, sitting, lying down, bending over to pick something up, squatting, stretching upward to take something off a shelf, getting dressed and undressed, playing a musical instrument, and stirring a pot; even movements as small as crossing and uncrossing one’s legs, waving one’s hands while talking and fidgeting are helpful. It is these types of small movements and activities that do not happen enough when a person is habitually inactive. Whenever we move around, calories we have consumed are converted into energy by contracting muscles and are measured as generated heat-thermogenesis- the “T” of the “NEAT” acronym. Thus, people who move around a lot all day, even if they don’t go to the gym or engage in intense exercise, burn up many more calories than people who are sedentary. They even expend more calories than those who do go to the gym, but then spend the rest of their day sitting around. Not surprisingly, the research on NEAT has shown a connection between the lack of NEAT and obesity and metabolic diseases, like diabetes. (Pg. 36)
I also enjoyed the nugget that sitting too long at work or in a car contributes to erectile dysfunction.

Changing my fitness routine:
After reading Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, I’ve decided to change my fitness routine. Dr. Vernikos includes an action plan listing habits, activities and exercises that will increase our gravity fitness. I have already implemented some of her ideas into action. Vernikos says the easiest and most important habit you can acquire is to stand up more frequently throughout the day. She recommends standing up from sitting 32+ times over a 24 hour period. Beginning this week I am going to keep track of the number of times I stand up a day. I will be writing about some of her other suggestions as part of my strength challenge.  

I decided to forgo the kettlebell class and take a beginning yoga class instead. The book also includes a health and fitness pyramid giving basic activities that provide the foundation for optimum G-habits as the base tier. Yoga is included as a base activity and its benefits are numerous. Over the long haul yoga will be more beneficial for me than the kettlebell class (especially if I were to hurt myself). Basic activities like yoga give you the most overall health return for your effort and are the least likely to result in injury.

A real life gravity example:
Last weekend I visited my 95-year old grandmother. For being 95 she still gets around pretty darn good; easily getting out of her chair and walking to the dining hall with her walker. My Grandma has never been to a gym or taken a formal exercise class, but she also has never sat still. She spent her life working in her yard and gardens or puttering in her kitchen. Compare that to my 70-year old neighbor whose favorite activity, since his 30’s has been sitting on the couch. (I did give him my old exercise bike, but am not sure if he ever used it). He fell over Memorial Day weekend and spent most of his summer in rehab. Last week my husband received a call from him – could he please help him out of his friend's vehicle - he didn’t have enough strength to lift himself out of the seat by himself and his friend wasn't strong enough to help him. My neighbor had to wait in a car for over an hour before my husband was able to get home from work and help him.

Bottom Line:
If you are seriously interested in improving your fitness and health you may benefit from reading this book.

Please note, I am an Amazon affiliate


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Do I need to attend a funeral for my co-worker’s family member?

Recently I read the following question on twitter:

 A co-worker's family member passed away and a lot of my department is going to the funeral to support her. But I don't want to go. Am I cold?

This employee began working at her company eight months ago and has worked with this person, who is actually her department manager, quite often. She doesn’t do well at funerals, has never met the family member and has SO MUCH STUFF to do at work... plus it's in the middle of a work day. It is a pretty big deal and she is getting pressure to attend.

What should she do?

Initially I suggested she just send a card, but when I mentioned my response to my husband he said I was wrong.

My husband, who is better at etiquette and office politics than I, says she needs to attend. He thinks working with someone for eight months is a sufficient amount of time to establish a relationship. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t know the family member, the purpose of a funeral service is to show support for the living. It appears as though her department plans to attend the funeral as a group to show support for their manager. It would be a good move on the part of this employee to attend as member of her team.

She doesn’t need to stay for the actual service:
From the employee's tweets I think she is considering attending the actual funeral service. She needs to only attend the visitation to express her condolences to her manager and if appropriate her manager’s immediate family. A fifteen minute visit would be sufficient. It is usually customary to view the deceased and if appropriate spend a few moments in silent prayer, but this isn’t mandatory. She should also make sure she signs the guest book. The service itself is usually an intimate ceremony attended by immediate family and close friends.

Since the service occurs during the work day she may need to take time off  without pay to attend. If so, she could stay late or work through her lunch to make up time and catch up with her work.

A few of my husband’s co-workers attended both of his parent's funeral visitations. They didn't stay for more than fifteen minutes. My husband was cognizant of and appreciated those who made an effort to attend.

Last month my manager’s mother passed away. Her funeral service was six hours away. All three of my company’s owners traveled the six hours to attend her visitation. They did not stay for the funeral service which was held the next day. If the visitation had been local, I am sure every person in my department would have attended and that our company would have allowed us to attend without docking our pay.

Instead, individually we sent sympathy cards to our manager’s home and a token memorial in our manager’s mother’s name to the private school where she had taught for many years.

When I was the tweeter's age (I think she is in her early twenties) I probably wouldn’t have wanted to attend either, but now that I am older I realize doing the appropriate thing is more important than our own wishes and conveniences.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Special Exits - A must read for those caring for aging loved ones

I first became aware of Joyce Farmer's book Special Exits when Rick the Librarian wrote the following on his site:
I suspect many people who would really appreciate Special Exits have not seen it. Boomers taking care of their elderly parents are not as a group very aware of graphic novels. That's too bad, because the book dramatizes a situation in which they may find themselves - trying to respectfully manage the lives of people who have lost the ability to care for themselves. The complications are many: bad health, poverty, delusions, loss of memory, reluctance to accept help, etc. The demands are many: sacrifice time, negotiate calmly, tolerate idiosyncrasies, lose battles gracefully, and learn to guide the elderly to make the decisions that you know that they have to make.
I believe Rick is correct, most baby boomers including myself are not aware of graphic novels. I've only read one other in my lifetime - Maira Kalman's And the Pursuit of Happiness - and recall not being overly impressed with it. The fact that many of my friends and co-workers are now taking care of their parents and that my own mother is beginning to need assistance I decided to give the book a chance.

What is Special Exits about?
In an interview at Skylight Books Joyce Farmer tells us it is a memoir about her experience during the 1980s and '90s caring for her ailing elderly parents. Told chronologically, the graphic novel focuses on her father and stepmother's struggles to maintain independence in the face of lung cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and Farmer's increasingly all-encompassing role as their nursemaid and provider.

My opinion:
I was drawn into the book immediately; finishing it in a couple of days.  The storyline was at times funny at others poignant and in the end heartbreaking.  The books characters Lars and Harriet remind me quite a bit of my in-laws who remained in their own home caring for each other until my father-in-law passed away at age 90. My husband and his sister attempted to assist their parents in the same manner as Laura, Lars and Harriet’s daughter, attempts to assist them. Upon reading some of the book aloud to my husband he couldn’t help but wonder what really occurred in his parent’s home when he wasn’t present.  Lars and Harriet make several concessions such as not scheduling doctor appointments or purchasing medicines when it wasn’t convenient that severely compromised their quality of life down the road. They withheld many of these decisions from Laura until it was too late.  

Bottom line:
I highly recommend anyone who is caring for an aged loved one to read this book. It may help you make better decisions when faced with similar situations as those portrayed in this book.  For me, I wouldn’t be surprised if Special Exits ends up on my list of "best books read in 2012."

Please note, I am an Amazon affiliate

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Observing Purple Martins - Calming my Crazy

I’ve had problems with insomnia ever since I was a young girl. Growing up I spent many a school night starring out my bedroom window wondering if there was anyone else out there who was as wide awake as me. (I had been forbidden from waking-up my sister to talk when I couldn’t sleep). Now that I am fifty I’ve lost my tolerance for sleepless nights and have added discovering new ways to quiet my mind as part of my Finding my Strength challenge.

I have to admit Chopra Center's 21-Day Meditation Challenge has not worked out for me. I had a terrible bout of insomnia the night before the challenge was to begin and had all I could do just to make it through the next day let alone meditate. I skipped day one with every intention of catching up on day two. Well that never happened and when I received the “we’ve missed you email” from Deepak I didn’t bother opening it.

Which brings me to my new calming hobby – observing Purple Martins - which I discovered quite by accident. Earlier this year my neighbor took a fall and was spending time in a rehab center. His Father’s Day wish had been for his children to drive to his home and take a couple photos of the ‘flock” of Purple Martins nested in his yard. Since they were unable to comply, he called wondering if I wouldn’t mind taking a few snapshots. I was happy to oblige.

Those first Father’s Day photos weren’t very exciting, so my husband convinced me he could do better and spent the next several weeks observing and photographing the Purple Martins. He picked out his favorite photos and we put a book together. Last Saturday when my neighbor returned home I gave him the book as a welcome home gift. He said it was the most awesome gift he’d ever received. 

My neighbor has always had a passion for Purple Martins. His father had taught him when he was quite young to be on the lookout each spring for the arrival of Purple Martin “scouts” checking out the previous year’s nesting area. After spotting the scouts, the two of them would rush to put up their Purple Martin house. If the house went up too early they risked Sparrows taking residence and chasing off returning Martins. When his father passed away my neighbor inherited the Purple Martin house and continued the tradition. He was devastated a few years ago when the birds stopped using his house. He took it down and discovered the wood had rotted. The next year he erected a new house in the same spot, but still no birds. His colony had moved on. He then discovered The Purple Martin Conservation Association and added another new house with gourds based on Purple Martin Conservation guidelines. This new house did the trick; he now has a new ‘flock’ of birds that return each year.

Here are some of our photos:


The next day I filled my cup with coffee and took my two dogs outside. I sat on my bench next to my perennial garden with my dogs at my side. It was a beautiful crisp summer day. It had been another week of sleepless nights including one with a horrific wind storm that had downed a few major branches in our yard. The sailboats were out participating in a regatta and a lone duck was feeding on our shore line. I looked up and saw several Purple Martins flying overhead and really listened to their song. I counted ten birds. I put my head back and thought this is bliss. Several years ago after I had first moved into my husband's lake home, a friend had said, “Living on a lake you must feel as if you are always on vacation.” I had responded with, “No that is not what it is like, not at all.” As I sat there watching the Purple Martins, I knew this is what she had been talking about. At that moment I did feel as if I was on vacation. I sat there for another ten minutes taking it all in before I went back inside, back to my never ending to-do list. That night when it was time for sleep I thought about that moment; the beautiful day, sitting on the bench watching the Purple Martins. My mind was quieted and I slept.

Today the birds appear to be gone – left for their migration back to South America.  It is sad to see them leave so soon after my calming experience, but I am already looking forward to their return next spring.  I plan on joining my neighbor in his lookout for the Purple Martin scouts and anticipate observing them for the entire season and for many seasons to come. In the meantime, I will try to remember those ten minutes of bliss observing the Purple Martins from my garden bench when I need to quiet my mind and get a good night of sleep.

According To Denise