Saturday, February 27, 2010

Volume 5, Number 6: Career Quandaries

Last night, Lucy Knisley (a creative genius both as a cartoonist and a musician) posted her latest comic strip on her blog. It's about all the negative reactions one may receive after answering the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

In Lucy's case, an old man told her that cartooning was "a really difficult field" and "a man's game" and it got me thinking about similar events in my childhood and how that question has frustrated me almost my whole life.

I believe I was 9 years old when I developed an interest in archaeology. The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark had just come out, and I had read a fascinating article in Cricket magazine about how the dead were mummified in Egypt. The idea of unearthing and restoring old relics so today's people could see them... that was just so interesting to me (and still is today; for example, I saved and restored a 30-year-old snow thrower last August; it was just hours away from being hauled out as garbage). My Dad responded that it was a low-paying line of work.

At 13, I wanted to go into advertising, at the advice of one of my teachers. My Dad told me that it was a field where the supply far exceeded the demand; he envisioned a scenario where I would end up having to work in a factory, then be out of a job altogether after that factory replaced me with a robot.

(OK, now I'm about to go off on a tangent here, but it's related to the whole "what do you want to be when you grow up" subject:)

The most frustrating part came at 18, because when you go into college, you're practically forced to pick a line of work. Long story short, I decided on accounting (on account of my strength in math and my ability to pay attention to detail), but I didn't get into the University of Michigan's School of Business Administration. I had an interest in teaching but it would have required taking a whole new set of courses. So I settled on another major (Actuarial Mathematics) which is a field that is in demand, and did take advantage of my math skills and the accounting coursework I already had, but that subject was extremely difficult. So when I left college, I left with a slate that was almost as blank as the one I had when I entered college (save for a Bachelor of Sciences degree).

The first time I found a job that I both liked what I did and the pay I got, that happened in 1999, when I was almost 27 (I was a data analyst at a market research firm, sort of like the job I have today, except the job I have today is better).

That's too darn long.

The point I'd like to make is, our society should allow people as much time as they need to find the kind of vocation that suits them, regardless of what other people think, without being told they don't have the experience. I've met at least few people who wound up in a different line of work than the one they studied at college. My older brother left college as a software engineer, but is now a lawyer. My best friend graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in communications, but he became a very successful mortgage broker at Quicken Loans (he has since been promoted to a Regional Vice-President position). I have a friend who graduated with a master's degree in marketing, but has since moved on to nursing, a totally different field.

What we have today, instead, is a system where people have to go to college (and spend tons of money for the "privilege") just to get a job, then be told upon leaving college that they don't have the experience, then spend more time to find out that what they thought they wanted, wasn't for them after all. It's a waste of time and money orchestrated by Corporate America and today's colleges and universities (both of which care more about profits than people). The former doesn't want employees who want to "just try out" a certain line of work, and the latter doesn't train people for the real world. The end result is a load of unhappy, underdeveloped employees. It's a flat-out broken system and we're better off with one where people could explore vocational options--especially ones that may not have occurred to them--and go to college at the same time (and whichever employer wishes to develop that employee, would be paying for that employee's advanced education).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Volume 5, Number 5: A Novel Approach to Getting Rich

It's been a slow month, blogging-wise. I am watching certain shows on TV (Past Life, Life After People, Hoarders, Operation Repo, and Kitchen Nightmares). My car needed a new alternator and I just bought one today (haven't installed it yet). It's been snowing (but it's never gotten bad enough for me to break out that snowblower I fixed last August 1). The Pistons are struggling, and the Red Wings, with 19 games left in the season, are presently fighting it out with a few other teams for the last two spots in the Western Conference playoffs (and it's looking like the Western finals will be San Jose vs. Chicago--between those two, I'd root for the Blackhawks because I think Joel Quenneville is one of the NHL's best coaches).

So I thought I'd repost a column from one of my favorite writers, Dave Barry. Dave writes for the Miami Herald, and the first time I heard of him came through this column. (Knight-Ridder Newspapers, owners of the Herald, also owned the Detroit Free Press at that time, and this column appeared in a December 1986 edition of the Free Press' weekend magazine.) Barry, along with Freep columnist Mitch Albom and Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Downey, inspired me to take Journalism in high school.
MIAMI - I figured out why I'm not getting seriously rich. I write newspaper columns. nobody ever makes newspaper columns into Major Motion Pictures starring Tom Cruise. The best you can hope for, with a newspaper column, is that people will like it enough to attach it to their refrigerators with magnets shaped like fruit.

So I have written a suspense novel. It has everything. Sex. Violence. Sex. Death. Russians. Dead Russians. Here's what the newspaper critics are saying:

"A very short novel." - The Waco, Texas, Chronic Vegetable
"This is it? This is the entire novel?" - The Arkansas Dependent-Statesperson
"Not enough sex." - The Evening Gonad

No doubt you motion picture producers out there would love to see the novel these critics are raving about, so you can send me lucrative film offers. Here it is:

Carter Crater strode into the Oval Office. He looked like Tom Cruise, or, if he is available, Al Pacino.
Behind the desk sat the President of the United States. To his left, in the corner, stood the Secretary of State. Crater sensed that something was wrong.
"Unless we act quickly," the President said, "within the next few hours the entire world will be blown to pieces the size of Smith Brothers cough lozenges."
Crater frowned. "We had better act quickly," he said.
The President looked thoughtful. "That just might work," he said. "Use whatever means you consider necessary, including frequent casual sex."

In the Kremlin, General Rasputin Smirnov frowned at Colonel Joyce Brothers Karamazov Popov.
"It is absolutely essential that the Americans do not suspect anything," Smirnov said.
"Yes," agreed Popov.
"Shouldn't we be speaking Russian?" he asked.
Popov looked thoughtful.
"We should at least have accents," he said.

Suddenly, it struck Crater: The Oval Office doesn't HAVE corners.

Some 2,347 miles away in East Berlin, a man and a woman walked briskly eastward on Volkswagenkindergartenpumpernikelstrasse. Talking intently, they did not notice the sleek black Mercedes sedan, its windows tinted almost black, as it turned off Hamburgerfrankfurterwienerschnitzelstrasse and came toward them from behind, picking up speed until, travelling at 130 kilometers per microgram, it roared into a parked garbage truck.
"Too much window tint," the woman said.

Some 452.6 miles away, Crater had sex.

"Ach," said General Smirnov. "Zees American agent, we must keel heem."
"Dat's de troof," agreed Popov. "'Less we do, he gon' mess up de plan to blow up de worl'."

Crater handed the microfilm to crack intelligence expert Lieutenant Ensign Sergeant Commander Monica Melon.
She studied it carefully for about 15 minutes. Finally she spoke.
"There's something written on here," she said, frowning, "but it's really teensy."

Smirnov frowned at Popov. "Blimey, he said."

In the darkened room, Crater could see the shadowy figure who threatened to destroy the world, who had led Crater on this desperate chase across nine continents, a race filled with terror and death and women whose thighs could have been the basis for a major world religion, and all of it leading to this moment, Crater and the shadowy figure, alone in the gloom. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Crater reached for the light switch. He flicked it on. The shadowy figure turned, slowly, slowly. At last, Crater could see the figure's face.
It was a big surprise.

"Good job of saving the entire world," the President said. "But I have one question: How did you know Miss Prendergast never heard the cathedral bell?"
"Easy, sir," answered Crater. "You see, Lord Copperbottom is LEFT-HANDED, so the gardener couldn't possibly have taken the key from the nightstand."
"I never thought of that," said the President. He frowned at the names coming up out of the floor and drifting toward the ceiling so the audience would know who had played what parts.
"Hey," the President said. "These names are BACKWARDS."
The preceding column is probably still © 1986 by Knight-Ridder Newspapers. (But it's been over 23 years, so I don't know if Knight-Ridder or Dave Barry will raise a stink.)

Bye for now. Safe to say, next time I blog, I'll have a new alternator in my car, the Winter Olympics will be over and I'll be catching the last few episodes of Ben 10: Alien Force.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Volume 5, Number 4: Attitude and Incentive

In my life, I've found that attitude and incentive go hand-in-hand.

What do I mean by that?

Consider the workplace--any workplace. From an employer's perspective, an employee with a good attitude is more likely to do good work, stay with the company for a long time and be considered for promotions down the road. On the employee's side of the coin, if they work towards an incentive and that incentive gets yanked away from them, or they work for a company for a long time but are not considered for promotions or even pay raises, their attitude towards their job and that company will ultimately go south.

People have lost jobs, loved ones and even freedom due to a loss of temper. What does that have to do with attitude and incentive? Well, they lost sight of what they stood to lose--the incentives--and why? Because they put their emotions ahead of everything else--a poor attitude adjustment.

When attitude and incentive are out of balance, there's something wrong. Certainly, the 2008 case of a Michigan postal worker failing to deliver mail was beyond wrong; what happened in that instance was simply criminal. Jill Hull, a mail carrier for 3 1/2 years prior to resigning on August 16, had stashed more than 9,000 pieces of mail into a storage unit. According to postal agent Douglas Mills, "When asked why she did it, Hull stated that she could not do the job but needed the job."

When people seek even greater incentive than the more-than-adequate compensation they were already getting for a job, that can be construed as another example where their attitude toward a job had changed. Consider two recent cases from the world of sports where individuals compromised their morals in order to obtain something more for themselves. NBA referee Tim Donaghy used his whistle depending on whether some oddsmaker wanted the "over" or the "under." Evidently, his six-figure salary wasn't good enough for him. And as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, baseball slugger Barry Bonds just wasn't satisfied with having the richest contract in baseball; he resorted to steroids and other performance-enhancing substances to steal the records for the most home runs in a season and the most career home runs in Major League Baseball history.

You could also apply the principle of attitude being tied to incentive to the realm of learning. I wasn't interested in learning how to repair or maintain a car until I had my own car. I had no interest in the inner workings of my washing machine until that day four years ago when it broke down. Being interested in a given subject can be construed as characteristic of a good attitude; if, on the other hand, someone says they're not interested in whatever you're talking about, that doesn't resemble a good attitude.

So next time you find yourself occupied with some great reward someone gave you, or have a bad taste in your mouth over a transaction that went sour, consider the balance between attitude and incentive. You just might see the matter in a whole new light.