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Archive for April, 2009

In 2004, rather than coming back to Washington, DC for my first semester of my junior year in college, I took off from Boston’s Logan Airport headed for Amman, Jordan, where I would spend my fall semester. It wasn’t an easy choice to leave behind the center of our political universe (and my academic and social life) for a Middle Eastern country I had never been to before and a place where I didn’t speak the language (but that’s a story for another day).

I arrived in Amman in the middle of the night, anxious and excited, ready to start learning right away. Once I was picked up by our program director, my first question was “What’s the most important word I need to know?” Surprisingly, the response was not the Arabic equivalent for a greeting, nor for ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. What my director said was “Wasta”.

Loosely translated, wasta means influence, connections, pull, or power through people. In the Middle East, as well as around the world, who you know gives you as much, if not more, power than money. After all, even if you lose your money, you still have connections. The more personal and professional connections you have, the more clout you gain. The same is true for wasta. Wasta, however, refers both to the amount of power and pull you have, as well as the connections with those people. Wasta is your network and, in Arabic culture, the more wasta you have, the better off you are.

hands2

I would say the same is true for our culture. It is especially true in this crazy city of Washington, DC. If I were to do a poll of my friends, nine out of ten would tell you that they were introduced to their job, apartment, or significant other by a personal (or professional) connection. While some may complain that this ‘system’ of connections is unfair, it really is all about who you know. But more importantly, it’s about how you treat them.

With social media networking becoming the next big thing and people making connections online in a more social, rather than strictly professional, arena, it is increasingly important to build full relationships with people. Networking isn’t just about the work you do or the money you pay; networking is also about the way you interact with people. The more reciprocal the relationship, the better off you (and your connections) are.

Tips on how to improve your Wasta:

  • Shake hands (with a good, firm handshake). I know this sounds corny, but it shows you are professional and friendly.
  • Smile genuinely as often as possible. A positive attitude can do wonders if you let it!
  • Always send a hand-written thank-you card when appropriate.
  • Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner. This demonstrates that you are attentive, concerned, and timely.
  • Use niceties, such as ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘you’re welcome’. Even the littlest things can make a huge difference.
  • Join Twitter, follow people in your field or whose Tweets (or updates) you find interesting. Listen, respond, engage.
  • Be careful not to engage in sarcasm or snark around people who don’t know you well. This prevents people from mistaking your dry sense of humor for rudeness. (Be especially careful not to use sarcasm or snark online, since tone is not as obvious without your voice or body language.)
  • If you read blogs often, comment with a link back to your own blog to encourage interactions.
  • Give before you take. Don’t ask for something unless you are able to give something in return.

So, why is wasta important? Not only can it bring about fulfilling personal relationships, but you never know how personal networking will come into play when thinking about other aspects of your life. Think of every connection and contact as a potential ally, business partner, or friend.

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Today, April 28, 2009 marks the day that that a woman’s salary (on average) catches up with that of a man’s from 2008. She would have to work an extra four months to be paid the same amount as a man in the same position earned in the previous year (source).

The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.12 and S.182) was introduced January 2009 by then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The bill expands damages under the Equal Pay Act and amends its very broad fourth affirmative defense. In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act calls for a study of data collected by the EEOC and proposes voluntary guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs with the goal of eliminating unfair disparities. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on January 9, 2009. (source)

Instead of writing my own blog post about why everyone should support legislation on this issue, I decided to round up a great bunch of links to others sites and blogs where they’ve addressed this issue already. Alright, here we go:

  • How the Paycheck Fairness Act Will Strengthen the Equal Pay Act (pdf from the National Women’s Law Center)
  • National Committee on Pay Equity (site)
  • Let’s Get Even: Numbers Worse for Minority Women (blog)
  • Take Action! Email Your Senator with This Easy Form! (form courtesy of National Association of Working Women)
  • The Women’s Museum: Facts on Equal Pay Day (blog)
  • Why Pay Equity is Even More Important in a Struggling Economy (pdf from AAUW)
  • Find Out What the Pay Gap is for Women in Your State! (table)
  • Weight Discrimination Could Also Contribute to Glass Ceiling Effect (study findings)
  • Women’s Weight Compounds Wage Gap Issue (blog)
  • Add Your Blog to National Women’s Law Center Blog Roundup for Fair Pay Day (form)
  • Follow the Discussion on Twitter (twitstream)

I’m breaking the Glass Ceiling:

I’m blogging about it, tweeting about it, and emailing both my senators and my representative today: Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Ben Cardin, Representative Chris Van Hollen. I’m working on other actions to take on this today and throughout the year.

What are YOU going to do to break the Glass Ceiling? Tell me your strategy. Ally with me on this issue by linking to my blog here (I’ll add you to my blogroll), following me on twitter (I’ll follow you back), or leave other suggestions in the comments! Feel free to add links to your own blog or other great sites in the comments, as well, and I’ll add them to my list in this post.

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And it strikes at the oddest times.

 

Monsieur IV by Blanca Gomez

Monsieur IV by Blanca Gomez

 

While I was working on some menial administrative tasks at work, the inspiration struck me how to draw the logo I’d been wanting to create for a friend’s make up artistry business. Not only did I find the strategy I needed for her logo design, but a great name for her business and online identity struck me. I went to her and proposed it offhand, thinking she might not like it. However, not only did she like the idea, she even picked a theme song based on it!

It seems that inspiration can strike any time, day or night, no matter the circumstance or surroundings.

But this got me wondering when and where I do my best work. Where am I the most creative and efficient? Is there a specific time of day that I work best?

Personally, I do my best reading and research early in the day, when the sun is rising, with a cup of coffee or tea in hand, before I have a chance to interact with anyone else (hence why I recently decided to work from 8:30am to 4:30pm at my office). In regards to administrative, management, and other business-related practices, I tend to do best in the middle of the day in front of a computer, where I can manage things by spreading them out across a table or desk and can access any files or other materials I might need to stay well-informed and organized. However, I often do my best creative and artistic work long after this, at night, once the quiet of dusk has settled and I am alone again, usually sitting on the floor or close to the ground with materials spread out all over the floor. For some reason, my center of balance is extremely important to the way my brain works.

 

When do you do your best work? Do you find different times of day for different types of work? If you could set your own schedule, what would it be like?

Mine might go something like:

06:30 wake up, greet the day, etc.

07:30 coffee/tea, breakfast, emails, Tweets, RSS feed

08:00 research, reading, etc.

10:00 go to the gym, work out, shower, change, etc.

12:00 have lunch, get organized for the afternoon, check emails again

13:00 administrative tasks, other business-related tasks

16:30 take a walk, clear my head

17:00 finish administrative work, other business

18:00 make and have dinner, chores, errands, etc.

20:00 creative work

22:00 wind down, watch tv, read a book, catch up online

23:30 bed

I know my body likes best when I get a work-out in mid-morning, but unfortunately, having a normal 9-5 type job prevents me from having this ideal schedule, so I do what I can with what I’m given. However, at least I know what times of day and what situations maximize efficiency and creativity. Under what condiditions do you best work? How would your schedule differ from mine?

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Do you Twitter at work? Do you read your RSS feed while having breakfast? Talk on the phone and respond to emails at the same time? How many tabs do you have open in your internet browser right now? How many applications are running on your computer?

As many of us go about our days, we find our attention being pulled in many directions: family, work, school, friends, hobbies, taking care of our bodies and minds… I’m sure all of these things sound familiar to you. But how to you have time to balance and juggle all of your responsibilities (and even add a little fun and entertainment into the mix)?

Many people answer: I multitask. We all do it. But should we?

For someone like me whose mind tends to wander, multitasking can make or break my day and, ultimately, my career. I’m certain that there are times when ‘multitasking’ is appropriate in the sense that we should write down an idea to come back to later or that we should take a break from working on one project to work on another and come back to the first later. I am not convinced that my habit of working on more than one task simultaneously is such a great idea. After all, the allure of getting two things (or more!) done at once is hard to resist!

It used to be the case that employers wanted new hires who could multitask and even asked for the skill specifically. However, if you really do your homework, ‘multitasking’ isn’t really what employers (or anyone else) should be after. Why? Let’s take a look at the definition of the term and its etymology.

Following is the entry for multitasking in the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary:

definition of 'multitasking' from Mirriam-Webster online dictionary

definition of 'multitasking' from Mirriam-Webster online dictionary

Note that the first definition is specific to that of a computer performing more than one task simultaneously. Before computers, this concept had never been conceived. Now, in the Golden Age of computers and online media, it’s almost unheard of to NOT multitask, at the very least in the original sense of running more than one program on a computer.

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but humans are not computers and vice versa and there are reasons why two have yet to converge into one entity (though sometimes it does seem like our online identities can shape our ‘real life’ identities perhaps more than even we like or expect). Humans are imperfect and computers are only as intelligent as their programmers. But when it comes to multitasking, computers excel at processing more than one thing at a time and in running multiple programs, while humans tend to be most effective (read: accurate and precise) when their attention is not divided in ten different directions at once. The New York Times confirms that Multitasking Can Make You Lose… Focus, and the APA (American Psychological Association) has been claiming this very fact since 2001, saying that Shifting Mental Gears Costs Time.

So, while multitasking may have that allure, its promise to get things done faster and more effectively really holds no water. For the sake of my own health and sanity, the integrity of my work, and the sake of my personal relationships, I am making a commitment to leave behind the multitasking. Say what you will about how you can do a handful of things at once, but I would rather excel slowly at one thing at a time than find myself mediocre at everything I do.

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Today is the second day in a row that we have had beautiful weather in the Washington, DC area. It’s cool, but sunny and not yet humid (in the summer, DC often feels like a sauna outside due to the fact that it was built up over a swamp). The cherry blossoms are just past peak and the green is starting to show. The return of sunshine and green and flowers to this area always makes me want to take a blanket, a book, and plop down on the Mall for an entire day of reading, people-watching, and lazing about.

In addition to the celebration of Spring in general, one thing about this kind of weather is that it genuinely motivates me to get out and take photographs, write, and work on other creative projects. I often draw inspiration from nature and the outdoors and most often feel in tune with myself and my own creative intuition when I am close to the ocean. With so many activities and events to look forward to this summer in the Washington, DC area, I’m itching to get out and take photographs and write about it all.

It seems in this great city that there are always things to be inspired by. At the moment, I’m working on two fabulous projects for friends. One is a website for a local theatre company, a non-profit that my roommate and a couple of her friends just started; the other, a logo, and eventually also a website, for a colleague and make-up artist.  With source material from both and all the inspiration I need right outside my door, I am anxious to get both of these projects off the ground.

The architecture in DC is bathed in sunlight, the green is sprouting up everywhere, and even the birds have started chirping just a little bit louder. Is there really anything more I could ask for?

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For a twentysomething from a small town living in a big city, trying to figure out her place in the world, at least I know where I want to go and what I want to do in my life (which is more than I can say for many). My Five Year Plan includes the following goals: become a freelance graphic designer and web developer, buy a house within half an hour’s drive of the ocean, rescue a dog from the shelter. Now… how do I get there?

For some time now, I have been contemplating going back to school. Like most people my age with motivation and drive, I find that I know very little in comparison to what I could and possess less skills than desired. But with the economy in a recession and my student loans from a private undergraduate institution still yet to be paid off entirely, I find the concept of spending money on more education less than appealing. In addition, I work a full time job and commute about an hour each way to work, which means it would be hard to find classes that would both be affordable and convenient.

I have done a little research on taking classes online, but in doing so have found that I might as well just teach myself. The field I want to go into lends itself well to self-teaching with various media, including books, online tutorials, and trial and error process.

In college, I started off using Gimp with no instruction. I mostly learned to use it by playing with it in my own spare time. I graduated to Photoshop after a while, but again had no instruction. I learned how to use some of the program, but had never been properly instructed on how to use the software until someone spent a few hours tutoring me on it yesterday. Following Grace Smith’s blog post on Insanely Useful Photoshop Tips & Tutorials and many discussions with Grace and other designers and developers in the field via Twitter, I started to wonder… what if I could teach myself all the skills I need to become a freelance graphic designer and web developer?

In addition to the links posted on Grace Smith’s blog, there are a whole host of other links that I have now bookmarked in my del.icio.us account. Of course, this list that I have compiled thus far is nowhere near exhaustive and some tutorials and tips are better than others. However, with the wealth of information shared on the internet and with an investment in a few printed materials (books, periodicals), it seems to me to be plausible.

Are you someone who self-taught? Do you wish you had? What are the pros/cons of self-teaching in a field like graphic design and web development?

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