Finding Your Voice, Minding Your Instrument and Using Your Vessel

Isn’t blogging amazing? Well, a blog in and of itself isn’t that cool. Unless some effort goes into the content (boy, do I know content, lemme tell you…), then all you’ve got is a blank digi-canvas. Even if it looks pretty and doesn’t have any substance behind it, then it might as well not exist. Or is that really the case?

Do we pass up our chances at self expression in one form to try and cry out loudly in another form? Have you ever met someone who blogs secretly and does an amazing job at it. Doesn’t even really promote their stuff… just does it to deal with the stress of every day life and whatever afflictions they may be dealing with? I have as much respect for those types of people, bloggers, painters, rappers, poets, whatever, that keep pounding away at the piece of hot steel that is a too-short human existence, often devoid of much deserved attention, in a simple attempt to form something beautiful, as I do for household names of people you and I know as “artists.”

One of my all time favorite movies is “Basquiat.” It’s about a painter, Jean Michel Basquiat,  from the late 70’s and 80’s who got his rep from graffiti originally and as he was discovered on the New York art scene, became the second coming of Christ, or Picasso for that matter. His style, coined as “primal expressionism” by some, spoke to me. On some level, when I write poetry (the stuff I don’t share on here), I can see why and how he expressed his ideas the way he did. Seeing his work gives you the impression that he’d use mud, pigs blood and excrement to paint his murals if the mood struck him. He was a tortured artist in the true sense of the definition. Completely trapped in his mind, but also in the society that he couldn’t cope with for most of his life, until he was anointed as the one to carry as a artistic deity.

Basquiat died in his 20’s from a heroin overdose. He made some truly powerful and important friends and advocates along the way, including Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel. I’d recommend this movie to just about anyone. It’s not really a “feel good” flick, but it’s beautiful in its sadness. A small example of this beauty is the story he tells at the end of the movie about The Little Prince. He burned out hard and fast and left a lasting impression on anyone who knew and might come to know his work.

The last blog post I wrote was about leaving a distinct mark on your work environment. That’s pretty feasible no matter who you are. But leaving a mark on your culture or society? That’s not so common, is it? Sometimes you must simply throw yourself up against the walls built around you (even if you built them) hard, repeatedly, until it hurts, makes you numb and leaves people thinking that you’re dumb for trying to prove something.

That’s what inspires me. The act defiance against constructs that pre-date your own life, without any tools but the god or nature given talents and ideas that you’ve acknowledged and cultivated over many years.

Take what you will about this story. I’d love to hear your interpretations of it.

Hey Benny, my mom told me this story – or was it a dream?

There was this little Prince, with a magic crown and this evil warlock kidnapped him, locked him in this cell in a huge tower and took away his voice. There was a window with bars and the prince kept smashing his head against the bars hoping that someone would hear the sound and find him.

The crown made the most beautiful sound that anyone had ever heard. You could hear it ringing for miles. It was so beautiful that people wanted to grab the air.

They never found the prince. He never got out of the room, but the sound he made filled everything up with beauty.

Connecting The Dots Of Your Career

When I was a kid, I loved doing the connect the dot drawings. Sometimes the pictures I found in the books were boring, so I’d make my own, but I always made sure to press down extra hard with my pen on every dot I made. I loved a clearly defined, dark dot to trace my lines between.

Big and small picture thinking is something I like to hop back and fourth on. I have a nice, big imagination, but also can lose myself in the act of small tasks where I concentrate on one thing. Developing a good career is a mix of both of these ways of thinking and acting. I picture it like connecting the dots in a coloring book. If the dots are not clearly defined, well inked and distinctive, the over-all picture will never take shape because you won’t know where to go next and you won’t be able to trace back your previous actions and decisions.

Sometimes I’m not a fan of talking about my job or my career. I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in what I’m doing, that the macro points usually don’t make sense to people not familiar with the industry. Plus, after I tell people about my professional skills and where I got them, it is almost always followed by a “wow, you’ve had so many jobs!”

I can guarantee that nobody is as aware of my dozens of jobs as myself. I’m not particularly ashamed or proud of it either.

I leave (and encourage others to leave) a job when I either:

A) Have exhausted my options to learn in ways that will benefit me

-or-

B) Cannot stand my boss or the work I’m doing and determine staying any longer will be detrimental to me personally or professionally.

Option A has happened to be much more than option B in the last 12 years or so of me working. I’ve hit glass ceilings or been presented with opportunities such as college, a new job elsewhere or simply the ability to work on my own several times and usually my over-arching sense of progress takes president over the responsibility that some folks seem to project onto employees to stay put regardless of greener pastures.

Option A has always left me and my former employers relatively happy or content with the parting of ways. I literally focus so hard on developing within a job, that I rarely consider how my actions, attitudes or posturing might be perceived when it comes for promotion time. I am always more concerned with the work, producing quality in my output and getting along with my immediate co-workers.

I am not and never will be the kind of guy that works himself up the ladder at one company unless there’s a unique opportunity  to bond with my employer on a strategic, but also friendly plane. Instead, what I expect to do is bear down so hard and intently on every single project and role that I fill that I leave a distinct mark on the organization. That’s my “dot.” I also consider the relationships I make in and outside of work my dots.

Option B sucks to deal with, but sometimes you just can’t judge how a job or your professional relationships are going to pan out ahead of time and despite your best efforts, these situations need to be aborted sooner than later, rather than prolong them out of a sense of “owing” something to an employer. I’ve experience relatively few Option B’s, luckily and I’ve always found that moving on swiftly after separating is a good call. You don’t need to be ashamed of it!

I think this image of connecting the dots for your career is a good way to look at it. It doesn’t assume that everyone needs to hop around like bunnies and it also doesn’t assume that you’re a bad person or employee if you don’t stay at one job forever. Just as long as you bear down as long and hard as you can at every spot your find yourself in, you’ll have a beautiful pattern to look back on soon enough.

I Am King Of The Overshare (Even on The Huffington Post)

This got featured a while ago on The Huffington Post regarding people with big time student loan debt and I didn’t share it with most people I knew… but it’s gotten lots of page views and I figure… what the hell?

(I should have smiled)

Here’s my page: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/120000-in-debt_n_492092.html

Here’s a page with other people’s stories: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/22/college-debt_n_471023.html

I guess I just never subscribed to the “don’t talk about your debt or your salary publicly” ideology 🙂

What do you think? Am I nuts for putting this out there? Do you have a similar story? Or are you a financial prude that turns your nose up at this? Leave a comment either way!

College Orientation For Grown-Ups (sorta)

I’ve been running into people I met during Boulder Startup Week around town like you wouldn’t believe lately. It’s so cool and I feel like I’m growing into a community, rather than shifting about the masses in my day to day routine. But, what I find really interesting is the feeling I get when I see someone who I shared a moment with the last time I was in town during Startup Week… it’s like the possibility of sharing ideas and possibly even working with them makes me giddy. It’s not just passing someone by that you saw wasted at a party or bar last weekend, or maybe someone who you see at your office job that you never talk to really. It’s an incentive, even for introverts like myself to ask how someone else is doing that day, see what they’re working on and maybe share a coffee and a few minutes.

For some strange reason, I have particularly strong memories of certain social gatherings as I grew up that signaled a right of passage or new phase of my life. The first Young Writer’s Conference that I ever went to will always feel like it was just yesterday in my mind and the undergraduate orientation I went to at UMass Dartmouth, where I studied my first two years of college is equally fresh in my mind. I was a natural introvert being thrown into a really hectic and fast paced environment meant to be structured enough for people to get what they needed out of it, but also loose enough so that people’s creativity and personalities were not stifled.

I don’t always get this feeling at big events. Typically at over-crowded house parties where I don’t know anyone, I’m ready to take my beer and go sit in the corner if things get too crazy (or I go ahead and get crazy myself) and during massive conferences where people get shuffled around like cattle between speakers and speed networking events, I’d rather go sit outside on the steps and read a book.

The differentiators, in my eyes, is the purpose of what comes after the gathering, probably not so much what goes on during it. The events and goings-on are stimulation to create memories and conversation, but is that enough? Does an event that lasts a few days reverberate in meaningful ways into the future?

I’d say yes, it can.

At the Young Writer’s Conference, i met other people who thought it was okay to be nerdy and geek out about fiction and poetry and I’d see them around and about Worcester writing events or even see them published in local newspapers and literary journals.

College orientation was cool too because everyone’s running around, feeling a new type of freedom from their childhood lives and a complete uncertainty about the future, but you’re still able to bond over exciting classes, clubs to join, road trips to take and maybe who’s going to date who the coming semester. Then you see these people around campus for the rest of the year, you maybe even become good friends with them and spend four years with them… maybe more.

I feel like as adults, we miss feelings from our youth that seem entirely lost. I even have a tendency of forgetting entire events or feelings associated with them because I figure what’s the point in dwelling over it if I can’t have it anymore? I’m trying to conjure up more of these memories and feelings as I’m wading through this new life that I’m making for myself.

I had a hunch I’d be moving to Boulder a long time ago. So, when I run into people who I chatted with at a social gathering over a month ago and they remember my name, what I do and congratulate me on moving to Boulder, it makes me even more excited for the semesters… nyet… months and years ahead and where these friendships, potential jobs, gigs and good times will take me.

Making Things Happen vs. Letting Them Happen

What’s the difference between making things happen versus letting them happen? Haven’t quite figured that out yet. Control (or the illusion thereof) probably has a lot to do with it. Packing your shit and moving across the country is something you can do whenever you want. Have a lease? Break it! Have a job? Quit it! No job? Everything’s easier! Well, except the money part.

FREE BIRD

That’s the interesting transition on this topic. A lack of a job (and dependents) makes transitioning a lot easier than if you’re tied down to something or someone. Eventually you want to be tied down when the time is right, but staying mobile and light on your feet for a period of time involves keeping your liabilities, both physical, material and non-tangible as low as possible.

PENNY PINCHING

But, money is needed all the time. There’s never a time when you don’t need it (so I’m told) and the importance of keeping an excess of it, or access to a small stream of it is crucial to do most things successfully.

I knew where I wanted to be (Boulder, CO), I knew why I wanted to be there and I knew that I had enough money to get there and sustain myself on some basic level until a job or sizable contract work presented itself after I networked like a savage.

The level of stress associated with trying to control things that you don’t have control over is an idea I’ve battled with my whole life. Letting go of certain things in life is something I’m getting better at, but knowing when to let go and when to grab life by the balls is a very fine line to walk. Purposeful nihilism? Sure, why not?

GET CAUGHT IN THE RAIN

Structure can feel good and give us a sense of purpose. But if the structure isn’t your own, or if you out-grow it, changing routine, scenery or other things isn’t so easy. If you nest in too deeply, you’re likely to never change or veer from the path you placed yourself on, unless something drastic happens beyond your control. Getting up and getting outside where things are not so controlled is a good way to take control of your situation and also open up your world to things that don’t exist within your structure. If you have a sound outlook and core, you’ll eventually adapt to the unstructured life that you’ve chosen for a little while and probably come into contact with something new worth building up and around.

“I KNOW THAT STARTING OVER’S NOT WHAT LIFE’S ABOUT, BUT MY THOUGHTS WERE SO LOUD I COULDN’T HEAR MY MOUTH”~Modest Mouse

Life’s not a big game up up-rooting every foundation you’ve ever built, at least it shouldn’t be. But, trying new things when the desire comes and knowing when to stick it out when the going gets tough are important impulses to experience, act upon and analyze when you succeed and fail at them.

Ideally, you’ll get pretty damn good at taking charge of when you give up control.

Survi(Thri)ving

There’s no better feeling than giving your boss notice, letting everyone know what you’ve decided to leave your job and pursue something that you’re passionate about. It’s a feeling of power, control and confidence that is thrilling and motivating. You’re in control of your life.

Getting called into a conference room on a Monday morning and being informed that you no longer have a job due to corporate belt-tightening issues sucks. In my case, I decided to not finish the day, walk out and go get sushi and see “Crazy Heart” at the movie theater. I felt numb, robbed and sick to my stomach (I would wind up coming down with the Flu that evening and being sick in bed for a week, oh life’s ways…) and I didn’t have any idea of what was going to happen next.

I was planning on quitting my job in the Fall to pursue other options, but having that option taken from me suddenly made planning my life a little more complicated. I hadn’t been fully unemployed, ever and besides a small amount of money I was able to pick up on a contractor’s basis, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it financially.

Here ‘s my “all options are on the table” emergency triage plan I did and suggest you consider trying if you’re ever laid off:

  • PANIC! Seriously, freak out, cry, throw up, punch something, drink whiskey… get it out of your system. I got the flu and had to stay in my loft for a week immediately after getting laid off, so I didn’t even have to deal with temporarily losing sanity while keeping face in public. You need to try and move past the emotional part of losing your job as fast as possible because there’s no room for wimps or whining when it’s time to start kicking ass and getting back on your feet.
  • ESTABLISH YOUR SUPPORT STRUCTURES: You know that saying “don’t burn bridges” right? Yeah, times like this are why. Karma is not a bitch, karma’s a sneaky ninja that waits till you trip up to blow poison darts at your neck. Reaching out for help and being able to accept help, in whatever ways possible, from your network, is important. Being embarrassed about losing your job is counter-productive. Acknowledge the situation, tell people you’re looking for work and be willing to take small, less than ideal gigs on the short term to a) give you a little money and b) let people know you’re willing to help them if they help you.
  • TAKE MONEY OUT OF THE EQUATION: Deferring bills and payments when you have a job is one of the dumbest things you can do. If you have cash-flow, you can downsize your life as much as possible to pay your bills. When you have limited to no cashflow, it’s time to call up the student loan establishments, the credit card companies and whomever else you owe some skrilla and figure out how you can chill out for a bit on writing them big checks until you figure your job situation out and also (very importantly), not get hammered on your credit score for doing so.
  • CASH OUT- YOU’VE EARNED IT: Unless you’ve never paid taxes in your life, you will have earned a certain amount of unemployment insurance benefits from the government. Although this money doesn’t come in forever, you can buy yourself some time in re-building your life and career by collecting unemployment. Different states have different laws about who can collect, how and for how long, but you need to get on initiating the process of setting up your claim immediately after you’ve been let go. Your former employer is legally obligated to give you all your termination paperwork asap, so don’t wait.
  • PLOT FOR A LITTLE BIT: “Should I stay or should I go?” That’s what I asked myself. I moved half way across the country for a job that lasted 5 months and I had dedicated enough time to that job that I wasn’t able to make much of a social life outside of work. I was ready to leave Madison and try life somewhere else. But where? Luckily, I have no kids and at the time, was single. The world was my oyster. I have friends who are laid off and have families, homes, etc and it’s not so easy to pick up and leave like I did, however, the question(s) about location and job preference are worth asking. Depending on your situation or perspective, your safety net and ability to stay in a holding pattern may be smaller or entirely nill. But, I’ve found that asking questions of what you’d really like to change about your life is actually harder than the process of making it happen. What little money you have is better spent on traveling, going to conferences, networking and anything else that’s going to get you up, out of your house (and funk) and experiencing new things that may land you somewhere you never expected to be right for you.

Getting laid off seems like a burdensome thing to most, at first. I know people who’ve dealt with severe depression over it, however, a dose of perspective and support can help not only keep you afloat, but actually enable you to thrive during this transitioning time in your life and career. Even if you got launched out of a job you loved and wound up flat on your ass on the curb, the direction for which you were thrown a loop just may be a who new path that you were meant to take in life and it could be the best thing that ever happened to you.

*SIDE NOTE* I truly believe that “career experts” are only as valuable as their ability to be helpful. I don’t call myself an expert, but I’m always willing to lend a helping hand to someone in need. If you’re ever in a tight spot and would like some input or someone to listen to your situation, shoot me an email james[dot]r[dot]moreau [at] gmail [dot] com

Project(s) (Managers) That Suck

What’s the difference between an arduous task associated with a project at work and something that is exciting, where you can’t wait to see it finished not so that you can do something else, but because you know it’s going to be awesome? I’ve worked at many different types of companies, organizations and public works departments and I can tell you from a lot of experience that no one task or job really sucks if you’re equipped with the tools and initial guidance to get it done right. What often sucks is the leadership in evaluating and conveying the value of a task and projected outcome to a team.

Whether you work on a team of software support specialists doing data scrubs and analysis reporting on MySQL Databases or compiling ridiculously huge email lists for a specific newsletter marketing campaign, you’re literally going to spend hours doing minutea that in itself isn’t interesting. But, what makes you finish the procedure? Some people (simple minded people) are going to say “well, I’m paid to be here, this is my job and this is what they ask me to do, so I do it. No questions asked.”

This “no questions asked” mentality kills me. Nothing makes me question leadership more than when I’m squashed from asking simple process and philosophy questions that should be essentially easy to answer seeing as the person in charge is supposed to know what’s going on. Right? The idea of collaborating at work isn’t some hippy-dippy shit that de-values authority and knowledge, but rather it makes it easier for the points of work that people are good at to be more easily addressed and used to tackle a considerable problem.

Good leaders or project managers aren’t supposed to convince people that doing individual checks on hundreds or thousands of lines of data is something that’s fun and to be enjoyed. It’s a shitty job and somebody’s gotta do it, but that doesn’t cut it as why the project is worth doing. Is the task an essential link in the success of the larger projects or even a companies success? If yes, the person doing the annoying task is becoming bigger than what their salary may tell them they are, more important than their title entails.

This approach takes more time and care than going into crisis mode and barking orders or simply delegating tasks without a stated reason or explanation. The project managers and leaders who suck are the ones who sacrifice this crucial piece of process that not only keeps workers happier, but also helps them understand their role and their task better.

Oh, and be honest with your employees. If you over inflate the urgency and time-lines with arbitrary dates and times, they won’t trust you next time shit hits the fan and you’re down to the wire. Project managers and leaders that cry wolf and don’t explain themselves  will always lose credibility and hurt productivity in the long run.

It’s My Birthday And I’ll List If I Want To

I feel it’s my duty to play up the role of a representative of the much heralded “entitled Gen Y” by listing the things I want for my birthday.

NUMBA 1) I’m gonna do this song again! (Wesley Willis joke, if you get it, you rock)

NUMBA 2) A job in Boulder, Colorado. Full-time, part-time, contract or temporary. I have never been so itching to get to work and do kickass things for awesome people in my life. Seriously, just TRY and stop me from working if given the opportunity! (well, I’ll keep the work-life balance that Boulderites seem to cherish and maintain. I love that!)

NUMBA 3) I’m looking forward to getting my apartment situation squared away in Boulder. I’ve been driving and walking around a ton and there are so many awesome places to live. I don’t care if I live alone or have cool roomates, I just really am excited to make this place my (relatively affordable) home.

NUMBA 4) This is the 5 year old in me: I want a puppy! I’ve had dog fever for years now and have never quite had the opportunity to get a dog and care for it. I see a dog at every single turn here and I sooooooo want one! Pugs, Puggles, Boston Terriers, Pitbulls, Bulldogs, Muts… I love all dogs!

NUMBA 5) Most importantly, I want to say how grateful I am for what I already have right now. I am so damn happy right now with how things have turned out, how they are shaping up and how good so many people have been to me already. I am incredibly lucky and I hope to pay this forward to every single person that I meet and already know. Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes thusfar and I think 26 is going to be a kickass year!

My Move to Colorado: Update

First off, I’m here. (WOOT!)

Secondly, I’m surprised and grateful how generally smooth everything went getting out here. Packing was pretty painful for me, as I literally would have taken two suitcases and a few books if my mother wouldn’t have killed me upon finding out, but that being said, considering how much I kept after donating a hell of a lot of stuff to charity and selling some on Craigslist, I filled my car like a round of Tetris.

Oh, the actual packing part was interesting too. I was pretty busy my last few days in Madison, seeing friends, went to a Deftones concert in Milwaukee (best show I’ve ever seen them put on) and generally tried to make sure everything went well with the person subletting my place. I still haven’t heard from him yet about some final details he was supposed to take care of, but judging from his track record, he’ll be late. No point in worrying.

I also locked myself out of my apartment building the night before I was supposed to leave. I was planning a 5 or 6AM departure and was putting the last things in my car before going to bed and when I finally crammed a couple pots and pans in and shut the hatchback, I realized there was no jingling sounds coming from my cargo shorts. This is because I left my keys on the table for one of the last runs out to the car…. and it was almost midnight. So, I called apartment management, they wouldn’t come let me in. They actually advised me to mash all the buttons on the front buzzer board and see if anyone could let me up. Generally I am too nervous to piss people off, but after spending an hour and a half outside, half asleep, half furious that my neighbor wasn’t answering his buzzer, even though I saw him strolling about his well-lit apartment, I started to crack and come up with some BAD ideas.

1st Bad Idea) My car was not locked and I had a pillow and blanket in there somewhere. Maybe take a nap in the car? Considering it was so packed that neither seats reclined even a millimeter… not likely.

2nd Bad Idea) Drive my car up onto the lawn, which is a rather steep incline, then climb on top of my car and use those pullups I’ve been practicing to break into my own apartment. This was sort of appealing, but I pictured myself being carried off in handcuffs (vivid flashbacks), because my downstairs neighbor suddenly saw a car’s headlights coming verrrrrry close to her window and an un-shaven, savage looking fellow trying to break in upstairs. Too much noise, too much hastle, and plus the idea of how much bail would cost or even the cost if I tore up the lawn… yeah, to hell with that.

3rd Bad Idea) This one was good and probably would have gotten me the most physically injured. I started taking things out of my car and piling them up under my window. Granted, my loft was a second story apartment and was a good 12 feet off the ground. I started piling up suit-cases and laundry baskets. I tried balancing and shakily got on top. Before I could make my leap of faith for the railing, I heard the dumpster door slam and I fell off my victory pile and ran up to the fellow taking out his trash. He looked quite scared and confused, seeing as it was 2AM and I was standing on top of a pile of house goods, but he was a good sport and unlocked the door for me. Once I got back inside, I knew my luck had been used and I just went to bed at 3 after finishing some work that needed doing.

5AM obviously didn’t happen. More like 2:30 PM. But, at least I was rested! I made it all the way to Grand Island, Nebraska and stayed at a Hotel 8. I got about 10 hours of driving behind me the first day and got to Denver in about 6 hours after leaving at 9AM the next morning. Needless to say, I was very happy to have gotten through my actual trip very smoothly and have such amazing thing and people (and a particular person), to arrive to. Plus, the weather is great here!

So What’s Next…

Here are my plans:

  • JOB SEARCH! Well, actually I’ve got some Content Management, Community Management and Marketing Research freelance gigs that I’m working on or pursuing as well as a business venture idea with a friend, but I’m also looking for a full time job in the city of Boulder and the towns just outside of it. I’m pretty impressed with the community and industry in this town, so I’m confident this will work out as soon as I’m able to dig my heels in and get some face-time with people of influence. I’m actually really excited about it!
  • I’m staying with a relative just outside of Denver for the time being. It’s close enough to Boulder so that I can come here and job search/network the days that she doesn’t need me to take her kids to practices and such.
  • I’m starting to look for rooms and studios in the different areas of Boulder. Gotta keep the costs low, of course, but I’ve learned after a LOT of moving that you don’t have to sacrifice a good living experience for cheap rent.

So, uhm… yeah! That’s the update for your face. I’ve got some more business and freelance related posts ideas I’m tossing around, so I may not be posting all of this personal writing that I’ve gotten content with in the past few months, but I’ll definitely be keeping you all updated as much as possible! Per ussual, if I’m not updating you here, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from you! Many of you readers (you know who you are) are my driivng inspiration in life when I don’t get what’s going on and nobody get’s me either. You all rock and I’m excited to share this next piece of my life with you!

Oh, yeah… if you come to Boulder, you BETTER let me know! 🙂 Cheers!