Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Asking For It

I want to talk about networking. And yes, this does have a monetary component.

I'm an okay networker. I'm very good at making friends with people I work with - you know, the 'I really like you and want to hang out with you outside of work' kind of friends. And over time, that's become something of a network. These are people I genuinely like, so it's easy.

Leveraging that network is something that I have long tried to avoid though. Mostly because I hate the idea that I might be using someone in a way I would hate to be used. I avoid that like the plague. I'm not good at asking for things like work, consideration for a position, whatever. I'll advocate to to the skies for someone else. But for me? It makes me feel sorta queasy.

Oh, I do it anyway. It's a requirement of being a consultant to let people know how you are the perfect fit to help them with a problem. But it makes me uncomfortable, and feels shallow.

Or it did. Something recently changed. My husband got laid off. For a little while, I hesitated in asking colleagues, clients and others if they would pass on his resume. I didn't want to be considered needy, or make anyone feel uncomfortable. And I didn't want my husband to be judged for needing a job.

My biggest fear stems from the fact that our society is pretty judgy about out of work people, despite the millions of them - and seems to have an idea that perhaps getting laid off is a personal failing. So while I would mention it, I skirted actually 'needing' anything from anybody. Because my husband is freaking awesome, and anyone that judges him like that deserves a hand sandwich or a slice of palm quiche. Okay, that's the Marine in me talking. I wouldn't really.

I think.

The reality is the best way to find a job in this economy is to know someone. And I know a lot of people. And so I've found myself stepping out of my shell and asking if I can send along his resume. If folks know of anything. How great he is. I've been surprised at the response. It's been great.

And I've been surprised at the change in me. I found myself comfortably telling the VP that recently hired me how it was going to make things easier for him, since I knew the people and the culture that we were trying to change in my current role. He agreed wholeheartedly that it was a great fit for just that reason. And now I know what to say for the next thing that comes up in this organization.

It's true, it's simple, and it's a sales pitch - and that last thing doesn't invalidate the truth of it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

29 Gifts and the Kindness of Strangers

This week, I was the recipient of a gift. Quite a special one, actually. From a stranger.

We have a wedding to go to next Saturday, you see. The adorable one is invited as well. And well, she didn't have a dress.

Okay, so she has dresses - a couple corduroy jumpers for fall, and a couple really pretty holiday dresses that I got on clearance last winter, which it's a tad early to wear. But nothing for a wedding. And since that's the sort of dress that probably would never see another wearing, I hated to spend the money.

But, being her Mom, and seeing as we really wanted to bring her (this is a girl that loves a party), I bit the bullet, and started looking. I even asked for some input on a message board I frequent to see if I could come up with some inexpensive options.

And out of the blue, a woman, another mother, on the message board offered me the loan of a lovely dress her daughter had worn last winter. Just because my daughter needed a dress. You hear about the kindness of strangers all the time on the news, but this was one of those things that I never expected.

Along with the dress, she included the loan of a book, and a very nice handwritten note in a card. The book is called 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by a woman named Cami Walker - suffers from MS. Had her life turned upside down by illness and pain. The premise of the book is that giving comes from a place of abundance, and that sharing what you have in a deliberate manner can change your life.

I was, of course, one of the gifts in my benefactor's 29 days of gifts.

So I opened it and started reading. "Oh heavens", I thought. "Feel good drivel."
But then I couldn't put it down. I read it through to the end in 3 days. And I was caught. As much by the generosity of the woman who had sent me the book as the book itself. I'm not a big fan of these sorts of things. But the 29 Gifts movement is something different.

Today was day 1. I gave a baby gift to my friend Kath, who just had a baby, her 3rd daughter. And I gave another gift too - my town hosts the oldest agricultural fair in the country, and the fairgrounds is about a 1/2 mile walk from my house. Traffic is absolutely horrific for the 10 days of the year the fair is going on - it can take hours to go a mile or two. So Sander and I offered, like we do every year to friends and family, our driveway as a parking spot - saving the traffic and the parking fee. I also offered the same to some colleagues. And tonight one of my colleagues took me up on it, and brought his family to my driveway. It was a small gift, but what matters is not the size or the dollar value. It made me feel good to do, he and his family are wonderful people.

Tomorrow we host a cookout, delayed since August. I guess gathering and feeding people we love and care for is a gift of sorts, but there may be another opportunity for giving as well. And I have something special in mind for Sunday.

If you get a chance, read the book. It's worth it.

And I'll keep you posted on my giving, which already seems to be giving back. Because I feel pretty darn good.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No Better Option - At Least For Now

A lot of people read my blog - I know, because I look at the numbers, but I don't have a lot of followers or commentators. But interestingly, I had two fairly strong-minded commentators for my recent post It's Really Easy To Cop Out. Both came from backgrounds with an absence of abundance, and both decried the government as the way forward to social and financial well being for all.

It's a common refrain, especially these days.

A particularly interesting point in the lengthy and well-written comments was the idea that instead of supporting taxation for social programs, I should 'write a check to a charity'.
What's interesting is that we do support a lot of not for profit programs. We sponsor a child and give regularly in addition to World Vision. We support our church, which has a huge number of social programs it supports - in fact, I recently (gulp) became a co-chair of their capital campaign committee, which is working to create more resources to help more people. In addition to the dollars we tithe, I give up my time, missing bedtimes with my daughter, something I hate to miss, to ensure that their mission continues. Add to that our regular donations to a local food pantry, Beverly Bootstraps, the Salvation Army (bless them, really - they help the people most of us would cross the street to avoid, and that alone makes them worthy of our money), and our ongoing support of a Massachusetts living history museum that we love, Old Sturbridge Village, and I'd say that our giving is pretty well rounded.

I don't tell you this to toot my own horn. I tell you this so that you know that yes, we give - substantially in some cases, continue to give through a period of diminished income, and think that giving is important.

But there are limitations to charities. For one, they can pick and choose their audiences. I really don't believe in Catholic Charities social policies that demean women to lesser roles, and effectively rule out helping gays and other individuals that meet their perspective. I don't like it, but they are well within their rights to refuse to aid - it is, after all, their charity.

I'm not saying that the government does it all well or right. Obviously, they do not. But they have to help everyone - regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age or any other potential limitor in the private charity space. And because of their size and scope, they can literally force the requirement to help people down the throats of those who would rather not. Personally, I think that's good. If the free market system was working, we wouldn't be in the economic place we are. Remember, government oversight didn't create this mess. Lack of it did. If you think Lloyd Blankfein is working for the greater good, you need to put down your crack pipe. If you think that the richest 5% controlling 85% of the wealth is good - and if you think they all earned it honestly, I can't tell you enough how wrong you are. You probably won't believe me, but you are.

I'm not a fan of ever-expanding government, but I've yet to see a proffered better way. The markets don't take care of those who cannot, or will not, care for themselves- and really, on some level does it matter if the fact of the matter is that someone will not step up and take care of themselves vs. those that cannot? Sure, it's easier to want to support the cannots, but ultimately, the will nots are the cannots for whatever reason. I'm not saying it's right that some people game the system. But I am saying it is our responsibility as a society to ensure that everyone has a place to stay, food in their stomachs and basic health care.

The measure of us as a people is how we treat our fellow human beings -especially those that need the most. I for one don't think I should get to decide who is deserving of help and who is not, rarely do we ever have all the facts about our fellow man.

Your mileage may vary with what I have to say. But screaming about the failure of the government is screaming about the failure of yourself to come up with a better option.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Ebb and Flow of Money

Back in my early twenties, when I landed on the IT infrastructure project that would launch my career, I was pretty broke. To make ends meet, I had been duct-taping together temp work with after hours retail work. I could pay the bills, but I was definitely not getting ahead.

Then I landed on an SAP implementation. Massachusetts was undergoing deregulation in the electric supply industry, and the company I worked for was buying up the electricity generating assets. A consulting partner was brought in to provide the expertise to implement a new operations and financial system.

It was late 1998 and early 1999 - still the days of wine and roses in the IT consulting world. And I found myself living in a curious state of dichotomy - on my smallish salary, I would go home to my lightly furnished apartment some nights for a dinner of mac n' cheese, but other nights I would go out with the consultants, and find myself eating fine food and drinking excellent wine at some of Boston's top restaurants. I started travelling for work, and the gap between my actual (income) means and my (expensed) lifestyle got even greater. I would be taking colleagues out to high-end steakhouses on my corporate card and staying weekly at the Hilton, while privately wondering how I was going to afford groceries until payday on Friday once I returned home.

It was a pretty odd way of living, to say the least.

Over the years my career took off, my means improved significantly, and the gap between my means and my lifestyle got smaller. If anything, most of the time my lifestyle allowed for a fairly abundant amount left over.

But in May, my husband lost his job. And so all of a sudden, I find myself back down that odd little rabbit hole in which I started my career: a $200 dinner with clients one night, packing leftovers for lunch the next day. Curiouser and Curiouser, as Alice would say.

It's not that we are scrounging, in fact quite the opposite - our means in comparison to our lifestyle has allowed for us to build up a cushion that protects us from most of the worst that the current economy is dishing out. And in point of fact, I almost always prefer leftovers for lunch, coffee from home and cooking in. We're in no danger of going hungry or losing our home, and we're still able to give of our time and money to causes we believe in. But it is a fairly odd way to live.

In thinking about it, I realized that I agreed with Suze Ormon that money flows through our lives like water. Sometimes a rush, sometimes as trickle. If you make a fist, you lose it all, but if you cup your hands you can fill them up with enough to quench your thirst.

Right now, money is flowing into our lives, but not at the rate that it once was. That's okay, we're figuring out how to adapt. It's interesting, revisiting a place so similar to where I started, where life is overabundant one moment, and not so much the next. I've learned - from way back when - that I can savor the leftovers as much as the good wine. And so the ebb and flow doesn't matter so much to me any more. Sure, I'd still like a swimming pool full of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, but it's not necessary for me to be happy.

And that is abundance indeed.