Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Insider’s Look into the Scholarship Selection Process: See My Guest Post....

I have been a member of my professional organization’s scholarship committee for the past 4 years. I share the process we use to select a scholarship recipient and a few insider tips over in a guest post on Femme Frugality's site.  The competition may not be what you think.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How to Maximize Your Mentor Relationships By Femme Frugality

I'd like to welcome Femme of Femme Frugality as my guest poster today. Femme is a personal finance blogger who writes about money saving for students, brides, parents and Pittsburghers. She  shares how she maximizes her mentor relationships for greater career success:  

I work in a field where mentorship is not only highly valued, but an essential part of your career path.  Without it you never learn the ins and outs, you never learn the skills you need to succeed in your field, and you never build the connections needed to land employment.  Over the course of my career I have had mentors come in many forms:  boss, peer, professor, and, of course, the traditional role of a designated mentor where their entire goal was to work with me to better prepare me for the next step in my career.

Through all of this, I’ve learned some major lessons about the best ways to maximize the benefits of your relationship from the mentee’s side.

Learn to Love Feedback
Feedback is the biggest and most obvious benefit of having a mentor.  Learn to love it!  It can be uncomfortable to hear you faults and inadequacies, but the entire reason your mentor is there is to help you grow and improve.  That is impossible if you are not receptive to their feedback.  Don’t get defensive.  Don’t break down and cry.  Recognize that they want you to succeed, and that the best way for them to help you do that is to correct your mistakes.

You know you have a great mentor when you’re hearing positive feedback from them, as well.  There will be things you’re doing right, and they will recognize them.  Recognize it in yourself, and allow it to build confidence, but not to the point of arrogance.

Constantly Be Improving Yourself

If you get all that feedback, and then do nothing with it, you’re wasting everyone’s time.  Practice the skill during your off hours, even if it’s something as simple as how to handle specific conversations.  One thing I’ve tried to do over my career is seek out workshops that target my areas of weakness, and attend every last one of them.  One of my first bosses told me it was why they sent me out on difficult assignments.  “I see you going to all these workshops, trying to improve yourself as much as you can.  You’re new, but I’d rather send out someone new who’s trying to get better every day than someone with decades of experience who’s been treading in muddy water all these years.”

That was powerful to me, and has helped me never become complacent about where I stand.  In twenty years you’ll still see me continuing my education, because there is always, always, always something you can be learning and improving.

Build Personal Relationships

It’s good to be professional, but build a personal relationship with your mentor within that context.  You’re likely spending a lot of time together if you’re getting feedback about your performance, so there should be plenty of time to ask about their weekend, the kids, the wife, hobbies, etc.  I’m not suggesting you become a creeper, but have conversations that real people would have with each other.  Not only will it help build your bond and trust with each other, but that bond and trust will help you later down the line as you need references and networking.  Your mentor can become one of the most important connections in your career.  Build a positive relationship now so that you’re not just begging for a favor down the line.

Keep In Touch

If you do need a favor down the line, you’re going to have to be able to reach them.  I’ve lived a fairly transient life, and while I’ve kept in touch with a majority of my mentors, there is one that I regrettably did not.  Life got really busy for the both of us.  People moved, phone numbers changed, emails got lost in the shuffle.  I regret this professionally, but also on a personal level as I really valued that personal relationship we had built.

When you are keeping in touch, don’t just contact them when you need something.  Keep them updated when you reach professional milestones, being sure to thank them for their huge contribution to your career.  When something new happens in your industry, ask them their opinion on it.  When you’re wondering how they’re doing in general, shoot them an email asking them just that.  Don’t flood their inbox, but be in touch often enough that they remember you exist, and that they know you remember them and all they have done for you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

During your mentorship, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  It’s why you’re there.  If something comes up that makes your scratch your head, or a situation arises that makes you question ethical bounds, be sure to get their advice. 

After your mentorship concludes, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Things come up in everyone’s profession that will make them think twice about an upcoming decision or recent reaction.  Going to them when these things happen will not only benefit you via their advice.  It will show them you view them as an expert, worth drawing knowledge from even after the conclusion of your formal mentorship.  It’s also a good way to keep the lines of communication open, keeping in touch.

In a nutshell, everything I’ve learned has come down to total humility, a good work ethic, and building and maintaining relationships.  Be eager for feedback, even when it’s “negative.”  Use it to identify areas where you can actively improve, and then go do the things you need to do in order to make those improvements.  Ask questions when you don’t know the answers, and build a strong enough relationship that it will last for the long haul.  I’ve been so lucky to have such great mentors; I truly consider them some of the best people I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life, in any capacity.  And I feel so lucky that these relationships have turned into something deeper: friendships built on professionalism and respect.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Motivation for reading:

A few months ago Jessica Smock co-editor of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendshipand My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends recommended Gail Caldwell’s book Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendshipin response to my query for a list of her favorite nonfiction books covering friendship.*

What is Let's Take the Long Way Homeabout?

In my post Recovering From the Loss of a Friendship I wrote about reading the book My Other Exwhich was about friendship breakups. This book is also about friendship loss but from losing a friend through the worst possible scenarios – death. Here is the first sentence in the book:
It's an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.
Synopsis from Amazon: 
They met over their dogs. Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp (author of Drinking: A Love Story) became best friends, talking about everything from their love of books and their shared history of a struggle with alcohol to their relationships with men. Walking the woods of New England and rowing on the Charles River, these two private, self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with cancer.

My thoughts:
I read this book while on a much needed vacation. As I sat outside my rented cabin, I held this book in one hand while keeping my journal nearby. While reading, I took frequent breaks to write and reflect in my journal on my life, my experiences with my own friends and on grief. Here are some of the passages that led to greater contemplation:
I also had my first sense of something central about Caroline that would become a pillar of our friendship. When she was confronted with any emotional difficulty, however slight or major, her response was to approach rather than to flee. There she would stay until the matter was resolved, and the emotional aftermath was free of any hangover or recrimination. My instincts toward resolution were similar: I knew that silence and distance were far more pernicious than head-on engagement. This compatibility helped ensure that there was no unclaimed baggage between us in the years to come. (Pg. 28)
As an ISFJ, I am incredibly conflict adverse, so in most conflict situations with friends, family and co-workers I tend to flee or shut down rather than to approach. In the few situations I have approached I was always rewarded with greater understanding and a better relationship in the long-run.
It's taken years for me to understand that dying doesn't end the story; it transforms it. Edits, rewrites, the blur, and epiphany of one-way dialogue. Most of us wander in and out of one another's lives until not death, but distance, does us part-- time and space and heart's weariness are the blander executioners or human connection. (Pg. 123)
Suffering is what changes the endgame, changes death’s mantle from black to white. It is a badly lit corridor outside of time, a place of crushing weariness, the only thing large enough to bully you into holding the door for death. (Pg. 143)
Then I realized something else they don’t tell you in the instruction books for mourning: that we only fret about the living. I might well grieve Caroline for all my days, but I wasn’t worried about her anymore. (Pg. 174)
The real trick is to let life, with all its ordinary missteps and regrets be consistently more mysterious and alluring than its end. (Pg. 180)
Bottom line:
This book fed my soul more than any book I’ve read this year, so I was surprised to learn other reviewers on goodreads did not care for it. They felt Caldwell spent too much time writing about her own life, her own alcoholism and her dog and not enough about her friendship with Caroline. Perhaps it is because I can relate to both Carolyn and Gail; I am also an introvert, married late, have a former roommate who is an alcoholic and became a dog owner later in life that I loved this book just the way it is. Or perhaps this book came along at a time when I needed to do some soul searching of my own. All and all I enjoyed it and hope to read more of Caldwell’s books.

*Other friendship books recommended by Jessica Smock:

She Matters: A Life in Friendshipsby Susanna Sonnenburg

The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendshipsby Kelly Valen

Friendshipby Emily Gould. This one is fiction, but is about workplace interactions and friendship, as well as career choices and writing. (Hmm... I might make this one a future book club selection)

Have you read Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell? If so what were your thoughts? Do you have a favorite book about friendship?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Monday, October 06, 2014

Recovering From the Loss of a Friendship

When Jessica Smock initially wrote to me about her upcoming book My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving FriendsI was apprehensive. In my 52 years I’ve come to terms with most things that have happened in my life; an abusive upbringing, the breakup of a long-term relationship with my boyfriend, joblessness, money problems, loss of family members and never having children of my own. The one thing I’ve never quite gotten my arms around was being dumped by my best friend from second grade and her subsequent bullying.

We had been inseparable. Shortly after she moved to our area we began sharing a seat on our school bus. We decided together to grow our hair long and to wear maxi-dresses. We had sleepovers, danced to the top 40, went for long bike rides and learned to swim in her pond. She was the one who informed me of the birds and the bees on one of our sleepovers while handing me my first cigarette (which I didn't smoke). Then one day during junior high everything changed. She had recently become a cheerleader and for some odd reason decided she no longer wanted to be my friend. She stopped sitting with me on the bus and no longer talked to me at school. By the end of the week she had convinced our other two friends not to talk to me either. She then started bullying me; making faces at me, calling me names, criticizing my appearance, my family and my every move. Others on the bus joined in her taunting. I retreated to my books and studies. It was during this period I vowed to leave our area and to someday make something of myself.

I would go on to make other friends. My college years were filled with friendships. So were my early twenties where my job at the brokerage firm introduced me to several females who would become my friends. Back when I was 12 and recently dumped I had thought if I ever made another friend (life can seem so limited when you are 12) I would be the world’s best friend. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. My poor communication skills and aversion to conflict caused me to hurt and lose a couple of friends in college. Then life, relocations, marriages, divorces, children, job changes and my return to college in my 30’s all got in the way. I am now sad to say I am no longer in contact with most of my friends from those earlier years. I would like to think if Facebook had been around when I was younger that wouldn’t be the case, but I am not so sure.

The book My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger is a compilation of 35 personal stories of friendships gone astray. Reading these breakup stories has been therapeutic. I still may not understand why my friend turned into a bully, but I no longer feel so alone or that this experience has to be a big dark secret. As I read the stories, I was also reminded of other friends I haven’t thought of in years and can now see in hindsight why they were destined to fail – I had a tendency to make friends with the cool girl. Eventually I would witness a cruel side to this person and immediately move on without letting them know why. Reading this book helped me realize I was most likely reliving my bully friendship over and over then running before I got hurt again. This is also why I am so obsessed with the manager who personally attacked me.  

Today my friends are mostly really good acquaintances. The walls I’ve built up are pretty thick and with my busy work schedule making time for friends is usually not high on my priority list. I squeeze them in between hair appointments, workouts, commission deadlines and the end of the month. My current best friend, also an accountant and CPA, was the daughter of Texas shrimpers. Both her parents died of lung cancer at an early age. Neither of us talk much about our past and both of us give each other plenty of breathing room, we seem to understand where each other is coming from without having to discuss it.

As to my best friend from second grade, I looked her up on Facebook a few years back. She stayed in my hometown, married the year we graduated, had three children and now has grandkids. I clicked on her oldest daughter’s Facebook profile. Under favorite books she had written, “None I hate reading.” I wasn't quite sure what to do with that little tidbit except realize if I had remained friends with her mother my life would probably be very different than it is today. 

I recommend My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends to anyone who has experienced a friendship breakup.

Do you have a friendship breakup story?

This post was inspired by My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends. I received a free copy of the book for review purposes.

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate