10.30.2019

I have a business, okay?

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, and started it, then stopped, because I don't want to seem too whiny or self-promotional. But I think there has been some misunderstanding from various people offline about what I exactly "do," and I feel like I should explain. This isn't an attempt to be defensive, though sometimes it feels that way because I've experienced judgement from clueless or snotty people, and I'm tired of being silent or self-effacing.

I mentioned over a decade ago that I created a company with the very same name as this blog, though there's an "LLC" after it. I took a business class earlier this year (for credit) and realized that I am a "solopreneur." The book we used (which was multimedia, so it was more than just a book) defined different kinds of businesses, and voila--there was the term that described me. I'm not just a freelancer, though I started that way back in the mid-90s. I am truly running a one-person business, which means a business bank account, taxes (which have gone up for people like me because the new tax laws and write-offs only benefit rich people and rich corporations), paying hundreds of dollars per year to the state and to a registered agent, paying to use an office, and basically trying to get work at various places.

It is not easy working for yourself, and I've done it for several years. When I was in college, many companies were going through corporate restructuring, which meant layoffs and upheaval and greed that was bolstered by changing regulations. I remember I was in an economics class and was very vocal about my worry about changes in the business climate, and someone pretty much yelled at me to not worry, they got a job after college, blah blah. Fast forward, and we know what's happened in the past thirty years.

When I lived and then traveled in Asia, I realized that people don't have to follow the predictable path of college, work, grad school, more work, conformity to a company, etc. There could be many paths, and by the time I got back to the U.S., I decided to freelance. Back then, not many people did that. People made sarcastic, condescending comments such as "I'm sure your resume is 'interesting'," or "maybe one day you'll figure out where you want to work." People seemed perplexed and disgusted that I was choosing a different way. I figured I could use my skills at different places, and while I wasn't making a lot of money, I was building a life that I created and doing work that people needed. I wasn't relying on a company to give me a break; I was making my breaks. I networked, went to grad school, took courses, talked to people, learned on the job, and really gained a lot of skills and insight. I have worked with and for many people in different areas of Chicago and the suburbs, and I've also worked with a diverse array of people as well. I have worked with different ages, economic backgrounds, ethnicities, etc., and I am proud of what I've accomplished.

Because I have a business, I can mix it up. For instance, I currently work for some higher education institutions, a media outlet, a publication, a small company, and even a fitness center. One time I was working the front desk at the fitness place, and someone who had retired from a prominent career, and whose child is working for one of the best companies in the world, saw me, and asked if I was doing okay. They probably thought I had fallen on hard times and "had" to take such a job. No, and that's the point...I can work where I want, as long as it fits in my schedule. Of course, if I want to promote the business, I have to choose what I say and what I emphasize because everything I do can't be neatly summed up in a cute little bow of an elevator pitch.

The mistake I have made over the years is that I haven't told people who've asked what I "do" that I have a business. I've instead just explained what I do, or just vaguely mentioned places I work. I realized the other day that I think it's because I'd faced ignorant mockers early on, and it caused me to be quiet, or to underplay what I've done. But doing your own thing is challenging because we can't wait for someone to favor us; we have to build relationships and trust, make deadlines, and do good work.

In addition to the business, I've also found time to volunteer. I don't do a ton of that type of stuff, but I've done it to balance out my life "portfolio." I also spent many years helping my elderly parents, which wouldn't have been possible if I had a regular 9-to-5 job. So while I was helping them (which is really worth another post), I was able to still get work done for places, to keep the business going.

I started doing several years ago what is pretty common now, but society and the media who salivate over the current generation haven't bothered to pay attention to people like me. Back when I started and for some years after that, it wasn't hard to get freelance or project work. Then the economy and societal norms changed, so that the market has become more flooded. Unfortunately, people are so enamored with folks of a certain age that they skip over people like me. Well I not only have more experience, but I've been getting stuff done for years, and being flexible is no big deal. I deserve credit and recognition, but since it's not automatic or assumed, I've had to motivate myself. And the fact that I'm still around shows that I am able to do it.

Maybe one day I will have a regular full-time job. I haven't had one in more than 25 years. Sometimes I feel like I'm on such a different path that I want to relax into one of structure, surrounded by a baked-in community, because whatever community I have has to be built by me, and is not located in one place but is more like an orbit. When I see people working together in the same place, going out, getting to know each other over the years, working on projects together, I think that one day I might want that. But society has to understand and appreciate what I've done, and people have to open their minds to accept that it's okay to be different, to not be a recent grad, and to respect people like me who not only have been able to work in different situations, but have been able do what's needed, including exercising when a lot of people my age let themselves go. Yes, it is possible to be sharp, creative, and nimble without having to be barely not a teen.

Basically, I'm tired of being quiet about what I do, and going forward, I will talk about my business and my accomplishments. For instance, recently I was selected for a professional development training opportunity. I also got A's in that aforementioned business class and a marketing class, I was already offered a class to teach at a university, and I've done a good enough job at a few places that they want to keep giving me work. These examples don't come from a single institution where I've climbed some kind of job tree, but they are from different areas where I've carved out a productive path, where I've gotten along with people who think I'm smart and capable. And I'm not going to talk it down anymore.

10.09.2019

That didn't last long

Over the summer, I wrote about how it's harder to write while you're more on the inside than outside, and that's where I was for a bit. I was writing, but it was hard to find that drive, because I was too busy getting stuff done and being a part of groups larger than just myself. Now that the fall is here, I'm back to doing more quiet, solitary work (and I'm not an introvert, nor am I anti-social, as I've said many times before), and I'm not as overloaded as I was over the summer (I was working 50-70 hours a week...exhilarating times for an action-seeker such as moi). While I still work weekends, my schedule is not as packed, so I find myself with more time, which means more writing.

And it's not just about the freed-up time, but the freed-up mind. Because my brain is not wrapped up in deadlines or operating more socially, it has the tendency to collapse upon itself and observe and sense my surroundings in detail, because it's looking to channel the stimulation around me, or if I'm alone, to organize the lack in some way. So I've been writing more often, and I feel like I'm more of an outsider now. And what I mean by that is because of working in different places, not living the typical lifestyle of someone my age, and basically wanting to explore various areas and people and stay curious about life (and not having a single group, as this self-proclaimed outsider describes), it's put me back into more of the role of observer, which is easier to do when you're an outsider.

I was talking to some smart folks recently about how they grew up being different, and they've managed to create a life that's worked out for them. This outsider situation I've encountered didn't start when I was young, as it did for them; it happened in my adult life, and it's something I'm still getting used to. If I were a brilliant storyteller, perhaps I would've put out a bunch of fiction by this point, and while I've attempted to do it through the years, it didn't go anywhere because my fiction has not been worthy of a public audience, and it's just very hard to create. Yet because I probably will never totally shake off my outsider status (which I perceive; I don't know if others do, though some think I'm weird or intense), I've decided to try to channel it into expressing myself via fiction and non-fiction. I've discovered that it's important to find a space to control when things don't seem controllable, or thrilling, or different.

I wish I knew someone who made it work for them, but I just meet people who are trying to make a living, or who are coasting, or who don't deal with this issue at all. Even if I sort of mention it to someone who's on their own path, pretty much asking them how they stay motivated or how's their social life, etc., they don't have much to say. And since the Internet has become more superficial, it's hard to find the kinds of online confessionals that used to exist back in the day.

9.18.2019

The school with a run-on

I often walk by an elementary school in the Gold Coast, which is a nice neighborhood with money and education and clean sidewalks and nice dwellings. So it surprises me that they have a run-on sentence etched into its outer walls:

Ogden elementary Chicago

There isn't a period, either, so they probably made a stylistic choice. But why would they tolerate absolutely no punctuation in the midst of a statement about learning? Or I could understand if they at least they had a line break to separate the sentences, but to have nothing at all? It's not even accurate of the original quote, which was a comma splice (which I can't stand, but then again, it was the 18th century, Abigail Adams had no formal education, and a lot of her writing was bizarrely spelled, punctuated, capitalized, and pieced together, though maybe 18th century American English was like that, and the spelling was acceptable back then, and it's changed over the last couple-hundred years; maybe we're wrong, who knows).

This is the original quote, which is from a letter that she wrote:
"Roving is not benificial to study at your age, Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence."

Thus there are a couple things going on in the school's appropriation of Mrs. Adams' quote: they don't use her punctuation, and they don't use her spelling of "ardour" either. We modern Americans use "ardor," and since she was an early Yankee, she was probably still influenced by Britain. So really, in an effort to promote learning, the school might be undermining it by not being accurate; they should have directly copied what she wrote, especially since many of the students will most likely be more involved in academics as they get older.

9.15.2019

Better to underestimate and over-deliver than promise something you can't do

I almost had this post done, when I decided to delete what I wrote and start over, because it sounded like I was being way too critical of:
1) people who promise to meet you at a certain time and are late, even after promising they'd be there "soon," which sometimes could mean a half hour to a full hour
2) workers who promise to show up within a window of time, then show up after the window has closed, after not even bothering to call, and you have to call the company to find out what's going on, while they apathetically promise that they'll be there "soon"
3) tradesmen who promise they'll show up early, i.e., "you're the first in line, then you can get out of here when we're done," then don't show up until about two hours later, with no explanation or phone call, not even bothering to answer phone calls or emails to verify that they're even coming
4) companies that promise services that will arrive in "less than half an hour" and keep promising mere minutes but show up in three hours
5) shipping companies that promise to deliver a package by a certain day, then lie about not being able to deliver said package, even though there's always someone there to receive it
6) people who say they'll call back "right away," and the call never comes, or comes some days later
I could go on and on and bore people with details of people and companies that promise on-time something, and rarely live up to what they say. It would be much easier and more polite and honest to simply say what they really mean. If people aren't able to be somewhere, promising the impossible doesn't make us feel better; it makes us feel duped and annoyed if we're tight for time. The next time someone promises me something, I'm going to ask them what they really mean. Are they really going to be there in a few minutes, or are they going to be quite late? Are they really going to show up by 2:00, or are they not going to be able to make it because they have a lot of things lined up before me?

The other day, I figured traffic would be bad, so I told someone I might be 15 minutes late. Instead, I was 5 minutes late. I told someone else I'd get something done by the morning. Instead, I got it done that night. It's a lesson I learned from Scotty: better to surprise people by getting something done faster than they expected.

9.01.2019

I got a free book but didn't like it

I was contacted by a major publisher about a book that I might be interested in reading (and reviewing) because it was language-oriented, and I was excited because I had just finished reading Laura Caldwell's The Night I Got Lucky, which was published back in the mid-aughts. It had been sitting on my shelf for several years, and I wasn't motivated to read it because I was more of a non-fiction type of person, and when I tried to read it, it seemed silly. But I didn't want to get rid of it because I actually met her, we exchanged emails, and she signed the book when I bought it. Now she's a very successful author and everything else, thus I had met her in the very early stages of her fiction-writing career.

After reading some other novels and really enjoying them (though not enjoying one whose movie was way better than the book), I finally picked hers up, and it was fantastic. It was entertaining and thought-provoking, and now I realize that she nailed story-telling and structure very well to the point that I want to do the same (though she now writes on more serious topics and seems to do a lot of stuff that isn't frivolous).

So it was at this point when the publisher contacted me, offering me a book because they thought it would fit with what I write about here and probably do for work (which requires me to apply lots of grammatical and English-language knowledge). I got the book and started reading it immediately. But there really wasn't much of a story, and I couldn't relate to the characters. I found that I didn't even really know the characters, and nothing was prompting me to keep turning the pages other than to find out if the first few pages would be answered (which they weren't for like a hundred pages later, where I wanted to give up anyway). The book seemed to glide over life instead of getting inside the characters' heads and hearts and letting us know what their struggles were. It skimmed the surface and seemed pleased with itself instead of turning outward towards us to pull us into the world where they had to deal with various trials, and clever phrases were uttered instead of genuine dialog. I seriously didn't understand why the book got such great reviews, and how the author got such a book published after having some best-sellers.

Was I missing something? I went online and found some reviews with thoughts similar to my own, then noticed that a number of people got free books through Netgalley or by being active on Goodreads or just being popular book bloggers. What's great is that some of the reviewers who got the book for free gave an honest review, even saying that they didn't finish it because it wasn't good enough to waste any more time. Others liked it, but weren't really specific. But other than those digital reviewers (and I have no problem with publishers contacting them or going through Netgalley or other sites to get exposure), I noticed that a lot of established, successful authors gave glowing reviews as well, which made me wonder if they were friends with the author or people in the publishing house or whoever was connected with the author/book/company/whatever.

Then I wondered if I should just say nothing online about the book, because the publisher had taken the time and money to send it to me, and they "deserved" a good review, and if I wasn't going to give one, I should remain silent. But then that's dishonest advertising, and would mean that they're essentially paying for positive publicity by giving us something for free. And there was nothing in their emails or snail-mail that suggested I should do that. They were totally ethical and just wanted to find a niche outlet that fit their book. I looked at discussions online, and found a blog post that said people should be honest in their reviews. Since I am not a dedicated book blogger like those other folks are, I really don't have to deal with this issue often, and if I don't like a book, I do a quick negative rating on Bookdigits and move on.

So I decided to write about my experience rather than the book itself, and if they ask me via email what I think, I'll be honest and say I didn't like it. Maybe if I were writing publicly I would be more diplomatic, but I just did not want to spend any more time with the book. And while I appreciate them reaching out to me, it doesn't guarantee a positive review. I'll just rate it at Bookdigits and move on to better books.

8.25.2019

I hate self-serving posts that are cheap teases for nothing

Sometimes I see someone's interesting blog post on LinkedIn or wherever (I don't know if LinkedIn would want them called "blog posts" at this point; I think they're called stories or updates or whatever), and I'll read along, thinking I'm going to get some good advice, and they'll end up being self-serving promotional pieces. Like (and I'm totally making this up, but it reflects the kind of stuff I've read) "and if you really want to maximize your personal branding, it's important to get a professional to help. We have many services that will get you on the right track." I was going to link to an actual "post" or "story" or whatever the professional was broadcasting, but I thought it would be rude, plus it would only give them more exposure, when what they were doing was deceptive and sort of manipulative.

I remember the days (and other people do too) when the Internet was more sincere. People shared their ideas online and were more authentic. Of course, there were people who created clickbait and who wanted to promote themselves, which is fine, but now it's harder to find posts that are just enjoyable writing. I'm not saying there are no posts like that out there, and I'd say that in addition to the relatively few expressive non-self-serving bloggers who share themselves online more than the stylized snaps that have come to dominate the Web, LifeHack seems to be a commercial site that probably makes the founder lots of money, but contains writing that sounds human instead of a way to capture people with hollow content.

I know that lots of people got the memo that they should be into personal branding, which includes a website, social media, and a blog (though for some reason people are saying they don't really "matter" anymore, even though people like to read good writing and don't always want to look at just 100 words or pretty pictures), and I totally agree that personal branding is important. In fact, I'm in the midst of wondering what I should be doing because my online and offline life have changed, my goals are changing, and I really don't know how I'm going to present myself at this point. I'm pitifully scattered and really should be focusing more, but that doesn't mean I'm going to write advice columns that end up with the punchline that you should hire me for something, when you'll really find out the "secrets" to success or whatever.

If people promise advice or information in their title and their SEO-oriented subhead or topic sentence, then they should deliver it, free of pulling people into their agenda. Their writing should help people so that they walk away with life-enhancing content, not a sinking feeling that they'd been had.

8.18.2019

I had the best day at work yesterday

Initially, I wrote about this in my Keel's Simple Diary, but I felt like I needed to elaborate publicly, though waited a day to see if it was wise to do so (i.e., if I should get personal in the online world of carefully curated text and images).

But when I woke up, I still had the feeling that I had the best day at work, and I feel like I should publicly record such an event, though I can't be specific because the people involved have no idea that I'm writing this post.

First of all, I had to wake up way before dawn, so you'd think the odds would be stacked against me because I got only a few hours of sleep. When I walked in, I saw someone I'd known for a while, and talked about our podcasting efforts. They're very successful at it and make money, and I've lost steam due to having interviewed lots of people and wanting to do more stuff in other realms. But what I've noticed is that when you talk about your struggles and dreams with someone, it helps solidify your goals. I'm still working on setting new goals, but at least I had someone to talk to along the way.

Then I got down to work, and the boss of the day was super-chill and very kind when certain things weren't lined up as they should have been. The atmosphere in the room was very relaxed, which matches what a Saturday morning should be. I thought that would be the extent of the experience: the understanding, motivated podcaster, and the relaxed boss. But then I was able to talk to someone else I hadn't seen in a while about work-oriented issues elsewhere, and my worry about those issues was minimized. And later we talked about writing, editing, and how they got published, and I felt some of my questions were answered, though I still wonder how I can get my own act together to transfer the ideas of my fake blog into a developed story.

While I continued doing my work, I saw a story about research that reveals that a certain percentage of people cry at work. I admitted to the few folks who were there that I had cried in my work life, and then saw someone who used to work at a place where such crying took place (though that's not only place, thus why I read the excellent Asshole Survival Guide). We talked about stuff at that toxic place that I hadn't known about before, and I said that if I'd known they were going through all that, I wouldn't have felt so horrible or paranoid there, and I wouldn't have felt so alone in my struggles. What I've learned throughout the years of working in toxic situations, in addition to having to get out of there ASAP, is to talk to other people to avoid feeling alone and isolated, because in the past, I have felt that way. The person told me stuff that a lot of people around town don't know about, and it wasn't about gossiping but revelation, because I really had no idea they had experienced all that. I thought they were in the preferred group while I was struggling towards the bottom.

As daylight was clearly established and the hours were winding down, a cool coworker showed up, and they did their work while I did mine, which is refreshing because it's super-annoying when you're working on a team where some people are either lazy or not detail-oriented. We talked about random stuff while they let me get some work done that was due, and then I went home to take a long nap.

In addition to simply liking the work I did, I was working in an atmosphere that was what a workplace should be: not stressful, trustworthy and talented people, positivity, learning opportunities, insight, emotional safety, and freedom.

I've worked in various situations, and while I've gone home thinking I had a good day, got lots done, and had no dysfunctional incidents, I've still had to be on guard, shut my mouth, stay within my lane (because I'm not at the top of the hierarchy of personality), and be on my best behavior, essentially suppressing my personality to survive conformity. There are workplace-cultural rules that people should not speak out of turn, should not show exuberance, and should only work within relevance. Yesterday's experience defied all that and we all survived well, and still produced results. I dared to speak to others who were more successful and they didn't diss or deride me for it, and I felt like I had fun and connected with others, which is rare in the robotic world that the anti-social aggressors have established. There are more days like that, which I'll write about in the future, because they have to be publicly acknowledged so that we can work against the coldness of efficiency.