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Posts from the Musing Category

In November 2017, there was the Flat Earth Conference, where a small (yet surprisingly large) number of people convened to share and reveal in their belief that the world is indeed flat. To say that everyone in the world knows the earth to be round would be a false statement. I think we can agree that a vast majority of people do know and/or believe and trust the earth to be round… or spherical to be more precise. Who would go around quoting the dissent as a way to disprove the majority? Unless you, too, believe the world to be flat, accepting a fallacy.

Why then is this different when it comes to economics?

Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, my home state, said in an interview that she does not agree that the tax bill would increase the deficit.

She cited an economist, Glenn, the Dean of the Columbia School of Business. I get that. She found one. Maybe a handful. But she went so far to say that economists don’t all agree. True. However, at what point do you conclude there is enough consensus? How many experts — scientific or otherwise — need to form a consensus before it is enough?

When asked “what evidence do you have that this works in this way?” She provided an unresponsive answer. She did not cite evidence, but rather espoused the work of a minority of economists who agree with her position. This means one of a few things: a) Senator Collins does not understand the assumptions and requirements of the economic model she speaks of in a meaningful way as to address the question, b) Senator Collins does not require evidence in making her decision, c) the evidence provided by countless other economists was found unconvincing, d) Senator Collins has reason to believe this tax plan, unlike any other before it, will in fact spur the economy in a meaningful way, and e) Senator Collins does not see past tax cuts as being evidence counter to her point.

What politicians like Susan Collins have done is to change the debate. They have reduced these important conversations down to whether or not you have a single expert willing to go to bat for your viewpoint. We may never have 100% agreement on anything as a nation, and that’s okay. Leveraging that as a way to justify a position is weak and lazy. Our democracy deserves better.

That is to say that we deserve real debate in a format allowing popular or unpopular ideas to be presented and supported by evidence to create understanding. I suppose there are even times when the minority is correct, when a single voice can speak up and change our course. This does not give us permission to ignore facts, place causation where there is none, and set aside our own history.

So what is actually going on here? What are Senators — Republicans — trying to do here? One comment made on The Daily, a podcast from the New York Times, is that the tax plan will largely impact high-tax states, which also are the more left-leaning, in an attempt to get them to reduce spending by cutting services. Is that really the philosophy at work? What is the true motivation and intention by these elected officials? What forces are at play here and how is it that the press has not been able to push them on these points to get us one step closer to actual debate?

I don’t take tests well.

I’m not good at math.

I’ve never done it before.

I don’t have that credential.

I get distracted easily.

We all have moments of doubt, when we know that thing we loath is inevitable. When push comes to shove, we make excuses. It has taken me 32-years to realize mine.

What are yours? How are you overcoming them or coping?

This has been a long time coming. I divulged my interest in writing to a friend, Human Younessi, who urged me to just do it. He encouraged me to write about anything that was personal and even offered to read my writing. I recall the starting of a piece about my mother, at the time (whose health issues still plague her life today)[^1]. Several years thereafter, I had coffee with a college professor, Melissa Everett, who said just do it. “Start writing”, she told me, “there is nothing stopping me, but me.” I could not disagree, still I not done it. Three years ago, I found the personal motivation to start writing, realizing the importance of my own professional development, and my long-term need to become a thought leader. I spent more time worrying about a website, content layout, and distracting myself with nonsensical things than what mattered: creating content. When it came to writing, I worried more about what I was saying than saying nothing at all (i.e. not hitting the publish button).

During two trips to San Diego in the winter and spring, I found some inspiration in a freelancer friend who took it upon herself to practice her art — mainly painting. All told, I realized I needed a daily goal, like a pedometer for work. If I am to be a thought leader and if I am to build a personal brand and publish meaningful content, I need to practice. And there is no shame in failing. I can overcome failure, I cannot, however, overcome never putting myself out there.

I devised these four working-goals:

  1. Publish at least 300 words per day
  2. Start a podcast
  3. Leverage tagging to create topical threads and go down rabbit holes
  4. Document my many curiosities — become a thought leader!

The third one might be a bit odd, so let me explain. I appreciate podcasts and articles that address current events. They are timely and informative, but sometimes, if not often, it only scratches the surface of a topic. Experts come on a show, share their knowledge and opinions, and thirty-minutes later it is all over; ready for the next topic. I want to host a conversation and afterwards reflect, thinking about the unanswered or unspoken questions, only to share the episode with another friend, have them listen to the episode, and pick up the conversation with them. This time, going further — or digressing — based on the previous episode, thereby having threads of on-going conversations. It is almost like that game, where you start by writing a sentence and passing the sentence to the person on your left, who in turn reads your sentence and writes one of their own. After writing their sentence, they fold over the paper covering the previous sentence, such that only their newly constructed sentence is exposed for the next person to see, review, and write.

At first, I thought the 300 words per day was it. I registered 300words.blog and I was off and running, but it never stuck with me. I am not sure any “theme” would keep me glued to this objective I’ve set, but it also seemed generic and too open. Two weeks ago, my husband shared some feedback he had gotten at work and the proverbial lightbulb went off. Feedback! This is what connects all my dots. Feedback and control loops, it all comes back to this idea of inputs and outputs, how we handle data and information — and how we react as a result. Immediately my mind went to that moment in Short Circuit 2, you know, where Johnny 5 bee-lines it into a bookstore to read what seems like hundreds of books in minutes. “Input! Input! Input!” He bursts while voraciously fanning pages past his eyes before flinging the books afterwards. “Need input!” He shouts. That was it. All my curiosities start from the same place: questions in need of answers. Before I can form a well-informed opinion, I need input. In other cases, I have an opinion, but need to get better informed.

However it goes down, I know what I need to do. Here it goes. This is my personal project to contribute to my personal and professional development, to become a thought-leader.

[^1]: I am attempting to find this document, but will have to dig a bit more as my initial search came up short.

A few years back, I was concerned my younger brother was not living up to his potential. After a number of phone calls, I knew I was being that overbearing family member, telling him all the buzzwords when it comes to getting a job. I decided to — as best I could — craft a list of actual goals and tasks, beyond the cliche advice. 

 


 

Hello Chris,

Here are some things I think you should do or to keep in mind with the UMaine Career Center people and jobhunt.  These are just my thoughts, but I would seriously consider them – maybe even bringing a complete list of questions with you so you make sure you cover everything you want to go over.  (I don’t know how much time you have with them, so you obviously need to be mindful of that, but unanswered questions could always lead to your next conversation with them!)  I know it can be easy to say “You should be networking!” or other such generic and meaningless suggestions.  I hope these are a bit more specific and useful.

I’ve broken this down into three parts, which is how I think of it:

Goals

  • To personally connect with the staff at the UMaine Career Center; they can become huge advocates for you and are often gatekeepers to professional alumni and/or University Relations contacts with corporations that hire UMaine graduates.
  • To identify ways for you to connect with professionals, perhaps UMaine alumni in engineering or university relations at companies of interest; sub-goal: to gain their advice and maybe leverage their connections in finding not only a place to apply, but a “good fit” for you
  • To get their advice on how to talk about or sell yourself to a prospective employer, i.e. how do you talk about what you’ve been doing in the last four years and relate any transferrable skills; sub-goal: identify ways to practice your interviewing skills, and to refine your resume
  • To be prepared for your meeting with The Career Center; 2 days prior to your meeting, confirm your meeting time, and ask if there is anything they recommend you bring.
  • What goals do you have?

Remember, finding jobs to apply for is the “easy” part.  Standing out as a candidate – being noticed – is another thing entirely.  You need to be doing both, and I hope The Career Center will be able to help you with the latter.  You might even say that to them.

Conversation Pieces, etc. (no particular order)

  • You should take the time to tell them about you (personal stuff too, about meeting your fiancé at the University, joining the fraternity, hockey, etc.), where you have been, where you want to be, your strengths and weaknesses; you want them to get to know you, and to be in your corner, sharing this information can help
  • Where you want to be: don’t worry about specifics, just speak honestly about how you are trying to get a career started and you really need help in figuring it all out (if that’s where you’re at right now); maybe mention your interests in environmental engineering, waste water treatment, etc., and that you have widened your search in the past year or two
  • Ask them about UMaine/Engineering career fairs they can recommend
  • What things do they recommend you should be doing right now?
  • Ask them about specific companies they might recommend, given what they know, who are hiring, where they might have strong University Relations contacts, perhaps an alumnus/ae whom they could refer to you (makes the introduction part a lot easier)
  • Ask them if you can leave a copy of your résumé, that you could setup a time to review over the phone
  • Do they have a résumé book?  i.e. a collection of student résumé that gets shared with companies
  • Bring copies of your cover letter(s) and résumé(s)
  • If you want, tell them your thoughts on leaving Walgreens by August, get their reactions, maybe even ask if it is a bad idea, and why.
  • You might ask if there are other graduates in similar positions – that is like you, and looking for a job – and what they are doing
  • (It’s okay to ask open ended questions, remember you’re there to listen too!)
  • Bring a complete list of companies and jobs you have applied for, if and when you interviewed for a position, and the outcomes (job descriptions if you have them too)
  • What are the challenges for someone who has been out of school since 2009 and is looking for work in their field of study with no prior professional experience?
  • Are there things you could get involved with immediately that might help give you some experience/credibility?  (e.g. I got involved with RPI’s Annual Giving Office as a volunteer formally just last summer; I met with the Director of Annual Giving at RPI and the VP for Advancement at Central Connecticut State University to get their advice on transitioning into a career in Advancement/Development/Fundraising; I was able to leverage both of these things on my resume, my cover letter, and in my interviews with RPI and Connecticut College.)  Maybe a local internship or project or something with a company could spur into a job, could lead to a more professional recommendation, etc.
  • Take notes!  Go with a pen and paper, write stuff down: jot down questions you think of, things to follow up on, anything and everything.  This becomes a list of things to follow up from, and some people see it as a sincere gesture that you are paying attention and possibly organized
  • Ask them about any Professional Development types of services/programs you might consider
  • Ask them about industry journals, publications, literature that you should consider reading.  (I am not quite where I want to be myself, but I am trying to build a better discipline to reading – I get the NYTimes on my iPad/web and The Economist.  I am also learning of other publications and conferences in my new job – asking my new boss on Tuesday if I can attend a conference in May.  You might consider this too – not these specific publications necessarily – as I think it is important to be aware of what’s going on in the world, in business, in science, in your industry, etc.  Employers are looking for qualifications, and they get this from your résumé, when they are interviewing you they are looking to verify your knowledge, but also looking for other things too, and I think reading helps round us out and keep us informed of other things too.  You can probably use my NYTimes and Economist login on your iPad too.  I’m sure Dad disagrees with my list of periodicals, HA, but it might be a starting point.  That’s my attempt at a joke, Dad.)
  • If you don’t know how to work a question into the conversation, try something like “My Dad/Brother suggested asking <insert question here>”.  It let’s them know that you are also talking with family and friends too.
  • What do you want to talk about?

Next Steps

It’s important to finish your conversation with them, but not to end it.  You want to be sure you identify – with them in some cases – your next steps.  The purpose of this visit is not just to get information and move on, it is to partner with them – realizing part of the University’s success is based on the professional success of its graduates – so if they become aware of a new opportunity they think “Oh, I bet this could be a good thing for Chris”.

  • You have asked about alumni/corporate contacts, maybe they have offered a name, maybe not, but ask them how best to get this information – perhaps they can make an email introduction for you and you can call the person back?
  • You have given them your résumé, maybe they can take a better look at it and you could connect by phone a week later to review together?
  • Send a “Thank You” note a couple days later.  I send a written note myself, but I do not have any evidence there is anything right or wrong however you do this.  (I just think a handwritten note stands out more these days with so much email.)
  • Anything you can come up with during the course of your conversation – it’s important to sit down, write other thoughts, observations, comments or anything so you don’t a) forget , and b) so you can follow up where appropriate – I recommend just walking up to the tables in the Union there and reflect on all of it.  I’ve even used the Reminder and the Voice Memos apps on my iPhone.  Whatever works for you.
  • Be explicitly clear on this stuff, even if it’s loosely defined (e.g. we’ll get back to you next week).  In the past sometimes we ask you when you might hear back and you say “I don’t know, I’ll call them next week if I don’t hear from them” – that’s no longer good enough.
  • What are the next steps you anticipate?

I am not sure if this is a complete list, but I think it’s a good start.  If I think of anything else I’ll add it and send to you.  I’ve Cc’d Dad/Mom to see what they think too. Let me know if you need any clarification.  Good luck!

Love

—Your Brother

Technology comes to mind. That computer which won’t boot up in less than 10-seconds. That car without integrated Bluetooth. 

What about humans?

Last week — during a conference in Indianapolis I attended — someone remarked over dinner how these old men were complaining about the millennials. And how out of touch “they” seemed. How old and curmudgeonly. Fair enough. They were. 

I then asked if he wasn’t giving them the exact same treatment. Particularly when millennials look at the oldest generation as being from another time and place so as to make them irrelevant (in some respects). Were we not giving them the exact same treatment? What makes them any different and will we know when we ourselves have become obsolete?

Can we avoid obsolescence? A computer can be upgraded. A car can be retrofitted. But sometimes it isn’t deemed worthwhile. Is there an analogous workaround for us? Where technology upgrades usually connotes hardware improvements, aren’t we searching for a mental enrichment? I suppose this would need to be the case, otherwise obsolescence would be inherent with age and there’d be nothing for us to do but to force fit a coexistence. 

Obsolescence may not be the most appropriate word. Defined as “out of date and no longer used”, it seems inaccurate that this should describe someone who is reluctant to change, who ceases to educate themselves in order to remain contemporaries, if not in age at least in mindset and mindfulness. Which word then describes this phenomenon?

I do hope to avoid this myself — I write this knowing full well it’s inevitable to a small extent. Moments when I share the distance I keep with Facebook or my skepticism with Snapchat and other so-called social media apps I feel it setting in. For myself I realize it’s enough to know and understand. To appreciate. Avoiding “obsolescence” does not require I adopt everything; just adapt.

Perhaps it’s important to reframe this from the avoidance of “obsolescence” to that of maintaining relevance. In that way, we can find belonging in an ever changing society.